This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Beginnings are always hard, right?
I could start with my being drafted into the army but it was obvious to my family that I was an excellent soldier material and the order would come eventually. How much of that sentence is true? Very little. Am I a liar? Of course not! I just like to put things in the one perspective that suits me. Like what kind of moron would speak the truth all the time?
Well, it sort of really began when my father wanted me to stop rolling my ass all over the couch and do something with my life. Something in this case being a short career in the Griffon Imperial Legion. Okay, I am lazy. At least lazy enough not to bother with defending myself. Not lazy enough to be a slowly walking blob of fat, heck no. I used to be in a decent shape even before I joined the G.I.L. and the first months in the training center left me sneering at civillians. Not too openly, of course, since the recruitment and training was in my home town and most griffons knew me.
I gotta admit that despite my initial aversion to being told by a griffon with even less brain matter than an average dinner before preparation that I'm just a worm and the army is there to make something out of me I actually enjoyed the short recruit stage of my career. The stories about Griffon Empire being threatened by minotaur tribes from the north, zebra warlords from the south and the peace with ponies from the west overseas caught my attention. Yes, griffon army considers peace a threat as well. They just prefer to think about it as a delayed war.
In short, it was fun listening to griffons with mechanical legs, tasers in their prosthetic talons and ocular enhancement in one eye and their tales about wiping out manticores, sandworms or even... changelings. It was fun to be doing exercises while they recounted escorting our dignitaries through pony territories, to listen to their experiences with pony magic or fighting dragons.
Then the fun was over. After about half a year of swinging practice weaponry and running around in the sand like an idio- soldier I got shipped out.
I was in the batch of newbies sent to reinforce our western border fortresses because of rumors of an alliance between ponies and changelings being prepared. I have no clue how ponies could be that stupid but they're digging their own grave. Still, our glorious emperor deemed it necessary to be safe against their growing military might and sudden increase in information warfare capabilities.
Yes, their spying is still limited to sending their new changeling pets or their usual snobby diplomats while we can acquire images directly with long-range cameras but even with our technology being few steps ahead of them their magic is always the real problem.
With my head full of combat theory and desire to protect the homeland I arrived here... the Imperial fortress number I-don't-give-a-crap and got a bite of reality sandwich.
First it was the history lesson. Ponies have recently suffered an attack by an unknown enemy using superior magic, technology and training. They somehow won, surprising our media everywhere. About one month later the changeling peace treaty really was signed and then the high officers began soiling their pantaloons. Another month passed and the worst fears of the brass came true. NOTHING was going on. Not a single movement of pony military was visible which meant only one thing - they were preparing for a total war.
Yes, we are a slightly paranoid race. In our defense, being surrounded on all sides by enemies for most of the Empire's existence tends to stick.
How does the entire thing relate to me?
In no way whatsoever. No, really. What the army recruitment officers sort of held off from telling the newbies was that while everyone starts in one of the border strongholds they also end there unless some big conflict occurs. Fortunately, I found things about myself that help me actually enjoy this place.
Border soldiers are freaking LAZY. Surrounded by desert on three sides and a sea port city on the fourth one all they can do in peace time is do the drills, patrol the city, get drunk and, let's say, enjoy the close company of each other.
To explain things a bit more clearly, there is very small amount of female griffons serving in the military and the ones that are there...
...well, after taking one look at them I realized I enjoyed male butts way more than anything they had to offer. Don't take it the wrong way, I PREFER girls but these golems are scary. Funnily enough, a lot of the guys around here feel the same way. Some of them have girlfriends or wives back home but enjoy the paid company of 'experienced' female port workers. The problem lies in the fact that gambling and banging are the only decent passtimes around and border soldier's pay isn't the best.
Why am I dancing around the subject that much?
Well, being gay is strictly forbidden in the military. In truth it's an open secret that most guys bang each other around here but as long as it doesn't get excessive noone cares too much. As I said, I would prefer having fun with one of the girl soldiers around but that sort of goes away when I realize most of them could crush my ribcage with one long-taloned hand. Truth be told, there's something to guys though. Maybe it's the way my fellow bunkmate is currently drilling me from behind and making my beak drool or maybe it's maybelline.
It's just another lazy day in the Griffon Empire and me and my roommate are doing our 'warm-up' before the morning practice.
"YOU'RE LATE, MAGGOTS!" the door to our room slams open.
The terror passing through me at hearing that voice makes my partner scream in pain as my butt clenches hard enough to snap a metal bar.
What did I say about the open male-on-male relationships within the army? Yeah, we're in deeeeeeep trouble.
"It's not what it looks like," I grin like a total moron.
"Help... meeeeee..." groans the griffon stuck inside me, currently probably worrying about the possibility of ever having kids.
Even in a situation like this I have enough dexterity to bend my leg and push him away.
"Private Cromach! I'm pretty sure I've just caught you in flagranti with private Harrison over there. The wind still whistling inside your backside is a decent giveaway."
Okay, I'm dead. When I said that behaviour like this isn't tolerated I meant it. I guess my last choice is going to be gun or rope.
"Um, I was just warming up not to underperform during the morning practice and-"
"-and poor Harrison groaning in unspeakable agony at the moment just happened to think you were a vampire and impaled you with his morning wood," drill sargeant Jones completes.
Screw it, if I'm going down then I'm going down swinging.
"I knew we were soulmates, sarge! We already finish each other's sentences."
I was hoping Jones would either find it funny enough to let me off the hook or at least make him boil in case he wouldn't. I was wrong. The little grin on his feathery face just shows how little time I have left.
"As little as I enjoy this," Jones grins devilishly, proving he indeed enjoys this way too much, "I have to report this abominable behaviour to my superiors-"
"Sir-" Harrison tries to stop the inevitable verdict.
"Shut up, private Buffy," snickers Jones and continues.
"-As I said, I have to report private Cromach's behaviour. This isn't the first time this happened and endangered the security of the fortress."
"That's a bit overkill, sargeant," Harrison defends me.
"Do you wish to join him in his sentence?"
"Wait... I'm not being hanged as well?"
"I'm not an unfair griffon, Harrison. You are an example of good behaviour and I'm willing to overlook this in your case. Comach, however, is basically this unit's free lay who can't even stand on watch properly!"
Oh... that. Jones has hated me since my coming here but he hates everyone. Unfortunately, few days ago he found out about why I loved to sign up for night patrols. The official armor covers a big part of griffon's body and is very heavy and padded. I found out that if you stick pieces of bent metal into the gaps around knee guards and arm guards you can make the entire thing stand up by itself and sleep inside it.
Ah well, greatest minds are so often misunderstood. It also didn't help that I fell asleep in an alley next to a store being robbed and the patrol sent to investigate led by Jones found me.
"I realize I might not be an example of the best soldier-" I begin.
Jones' eye twitches.
"-nevermind. So... when is my trial?"
"Trial?" Jones laughs, "You're not getting any of that sort. I'll just give you a choice. We can either drop you off in the middle of the desert and tell your family you died heroically in battle, slaying dozens of attacking nomad raiders, after all we don't want the prestige of the Legion to drop. The other option is that we execute you outright but tell your family the truth and let them live with the shame. It would be much less painful than the 'slowly starve and go insane in the desert' option though. Guess which one I would prefer."
"The 'Let Cromach go and clean the latrines for a year' option?" I ask innocently.
Jones mirrors my tone.
"Swing and a miss, private. I would much rather let what little brain is in your head boil in the heat of the midday sun, THEN bring your dribbling and mumbling self to your family, tell them the truth and watch them disembowel you on their own."
"Graphic," I comment, "Let's go with the desert option. Do I get a gun with one bullet?"
"Of course! We aren't monsters."
Hah, joke's on him! If I have to die anyway then I'll protect my family's honor and can off myself as soon as they clear the horizon.
Stay positive! Stay positive! I might be able to get out of the desert, right? Some novels said it was possible.
"How long do I have before you take me away?"
"We're loading the thrusters already."
Damn. That means Jones had all this planned out. I guess our morning routine with Harrison wasn't too difficult to find out. Soon, soldiers will strap me to their backs and fly me off to the desert using small rockets to boost the flight distance during one session to prevent me from just flying back in the same time it takes them to return.
Then they'll give me a standard issue army gun loaded with one bullet. After all, they aren't monsters.
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