Basic Training: Selfish
[Linked Book Entry]
I must admit Sombra really is top notch when it comes to using magic. Unfortunately for him, the royal library is simply too big so finding whatever he's looking for might take long time. Unfortunately for me, I have no clue what I'm looking for. In general it should be some book regarding necromancy and the possibility of coming back to life.
Hmmmm, maybe not. Maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way. If I can't learn enough in time (which I very probably can't) I need somepony with enough knowledge of the dark arts to help me. Preferrably somepony who owes me a favor.
Luna comes to mind but let's explore the possibilities which leave me alive after the attempt. Discord is off the table and he might release Sombra and kill me just for cheap giggles anyway. Twilight would tell Celestia about me and I'll have to go through some ineffective nonsense I think. Void wouldn't do it and his power is devouring his magic so a complex spell is completely out of his reach.
Scream though... she really is just Luna on steroids considering magic power and knowledge and she might help me. She might also just decide to help Sombra since she might still think about him as her apprentice. Still, I think she's was on our side ever since she got Void back.
That means taking few days off to get to the Everfree Forest portal. Weekend should be good enough.
Now, how to help the poor griffon?
"What's going on?" Mistake asks when he sees me sitting on the floor, bawling like a little chickenkitten.
"He... he got my family."
"Start from the beginning," he sits down on the floor next to me and forces me to stop looking at the picture.
"He found me the day you got hurt. I went to the bar you recommended and he gave me a message he found me. Today he got inside this apartment and set up a dart gun with the second message and..."
I'm looking at the picture of me and my parents again and Mistake shakes me softly and forces me to look at him again.
"How could he get the picture?"
"I don't know!"
"THINK! I've had my share of panic attacks and you need to look at things objectively."
"But my family-"
"Might be completely okay. He could have killed you at the bar. He could have waited for you here or set up a loaded gun, not a basically harmless dart gun with a message."
"Come on," he hugs me, "let me help you."
"T-the picture is me after I finished basic training and right before I got shipped out to the port fortress I was stationed in. It's about six months old. It was supposed to be a memento for my parents in case something happened to me on duty. Only they had it which means they are-"
"You told me your family set bounty hunters on you. You told me the Legion lied to them. If this is the most recent picture of you they had they might have given it to somepony to use it... like a wanted poster perhaps."
"B-but why would he-"
"I don't know. How long ago did the contract on you pass?"
"Week and a half at most, I guess?"
"Is that enough time for a pony to get to wherever your parents live in the Empire and back?"
He's making sense. His calm but firm tone slowly dispels my shaking and he guides me back to the real world where fear can be controlled.
"No. The picture might be a copy. We have the technology."
"Focus on that possibility, not on the other one. The other one is something you can't do anything about. Now, the guy decided not to kill you and the reward definitely isn't for returning you to the Legion alive. It might just be a way to soften you up, make you careless and break you down."
"Still, he did get inside here through the window."
"It's not difficult to get inside. Even an earthpony could get in and the window might just be a ruse. Following you must have been easy as there aren't that many griffons around, especially completely white ones."
"Thanks... really, I mean it."
"No problem, really, I mean it," he parodies me.
"Yes problem! Who knows how I could have ended today. I wasn't in control, even a bit. He could have had just walked through the open door and slit my throat without me reacting. I owe you my life."
"You owe me nothing!" he bonks my head, "I chose to help you of my own will. I neither need nor want anything from you. Focus on yourself first, it's not over yet."
I will find a way to repay this to Mistake no matter what he says.
"Damn. I just want to go to bed now."
"Let me just grab something to eat and I'll turn in too. Thanks for the sleeping bag, by the way."
It's Friday and I'm getting ready for my practice session with Heavy Hoof. Things have been pretty quiet since my little meltdown and thanks to Mistake who has been by my side every time I walked home or to the training lessons my nerves are good as new. Yes, that involved me waiting an hour or two in the castle after the evening ones but since the other recruits are fairly talkative I didn't mind.
I honestly have to say that both changelings are pretty fun to be around. Turns out the normal one has been inside the hive all his life, being told that ponies are ordered to destroy any changeling on sight, and was sent to Canterlot as a joke for failing something I didn't really understand. Not beaten or eaten, I think he likes the place. The blue female changeling spends most of her time with him but she seems curious about everything concerning normal day to day life. On the other hand, she's one of the most physically capable members of our recruit group.
There are few of us rising above the usual kids trying to get into uniform, the ones with past military experience. There's me, Valiant, the weird changeling, Mistake and one or two military academy graduates but the rest are just normals set on protecting their homes despite the fact that they saw war with their own eyes. It's sort of admirable, actually.
"Want me to hold your hand and give you a kiss for good luck?" Mistake grins, packing some things.
He's been messing with me from time to time ever since I, ehm, fell from the bed after that evening and 'accidentally' used him as a pillow. Yep, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. In public everything's okay but when it's just the two of us he teases me quite a bit. He might be hiding it well but I know how others react when they are used to sleeping with someone else and he wanted the company as much as I needed the safety. Heh, that's exactly how my affair with Harrison started. Two privates forced to stay together with very little money in a small room. I was the one used to occasional company of club chicks and Harrison had a girlfriend back home. Unfortunately for him, her saucy pictures did very little to relieve tension, the opposite to be exact, and it began as us sharing a bed just to have a warm body to sleep next to. One thing led to another and...
...now I'm here.
"Maybe later, after sargeant Hoof breaks every bone in my body."
"Heavy's a good guy. He dabbles in everything so if you need help in any respect then he might give you pointers or tell you where to look for somepony more qualified."
"I'm not worried about him exactly but about the Hunter."
"You'll just have to watch your back. I'm leaving for Ponyville in less than an hour so he might get inside here again and this time not just to threaten you. Although if he sends you a picture of your favourite pet saying 'Fluffy won't ever lick your face again!' you should be fine now, right?"
"I'm still worried. I don't want to have to watch my back for the rest of my days and unfortunately I can't just find and kill him because technically he's doing nothing illegal."
"Nothing illegal in the Empire. I doubt that a murder for money would pass unnoticed here in Equestria."
According to what the mercs at Sole Regret told me that's not exactly correct.
"Baiting him and killing him in self-defense seems to be my best option but I doubt he's the type to fall for it."
Mistake suddenly grins to himself.
"This is a long shot but did you notice the necklace Chokey's wearing all the time?"
"The one with black and white circles locked together?"
"Exactly that one. Steal it and wear it!"
"Is it magical or something?"
"Something is the more correct option."
"Let me guess. You gave it to her to protect her from something."
Totally worth it just to see Mistake start choking on his own saliva and not stop until his coughing fit sends him to the floor. Well, he doesn't know I can read his journal entries in my book.
"..." he opens his mouth and closes it again.
"Sorry," I grin apologetically, "I couldn't help but notice you try to avoid her whenever we're doing hand-to-hand and the fact that you got your ribs and leg broken to protect her was pretty cute."
"Cute?" he groans.
I think I broke him. Time to turn him off and on again.
"Nevermind. What does the necklace do then?"
"Erm, it might do nothing whatsoever since," he gives me a murderous glare, "it's been quite a while but if you're in real trouble then just call for Betty to help you."
"Not at all. I'm not promising anything but if the situation comes when it's Betty or death then what will you have to lose?"
"The only chance to say some epic last words? Okay, okay. Thanks."
"Don't thank me. I have no clue if it'll work or not. It's just that little bit of last hope when everything else fails."
"Damn! Couldn't you just say - It's gonna be fine. It'll blow him up and summon a hot chick to blow you?"
"False hope really isn't my thing."
I just sigh. Mistake can be such a downer sometimes... most of the time... always.
"Good luck on your trip, buddy."
"Be safe, Cromach," he straps a set of small saddlebags to him and leaves me alone in the apartment.
The late afternoon trip through Canterlot feels peaceful despite it being dark. I can't tell if I was just too freaked out last time or some long-forgotten instinct acted and warned me about the Hunter visiting my apartment but tonight I'm calm.
Our meeting place is the castle gym where all recruits and guards have full access at any point of time. I thought I haven't seen a batpony before but the first few features, especially slightly different ears and slit pupils, of the ponies strapped into the torture machines tell me otherwise. Commander Darkness is a batpony despite her wings being completely different from them.
Speak of the red-maned devil, she's currently trying to get past Heavy Hoof's defense and failing miserably. I watch the two of them fight it out on a set of mats and it's easy to see which one of them is better. Even despite Choking's agility Heavy is able to block most of her moves and the little blows she can inflict mean nothing to the muscular earthpony.
"One deadly blow, one near-fatal wound. You're getting better, commander," Heavy smiles when he trips the annoyed batpony who stomps the mat three times to admit defeat.
"Ya need a math lesson. That was two death blows and one crippling wound," she sticks out her tongue.
"I hate to break it to you, commander, but stallion armor is made to protect, not to show off how firm and toned your butt is like the mare one. Your kicks in the old family jewels wouldn't have worked."
"Blah, blah. Still TWO death blows though."
"I must have missed one then," Heavy shrugs and Choking throws a foam noodle at him. I have no clue why it is there but I suppose it's just some training equipment.
"Three death blows now?" Heavy snickers and Choking tackles him. Well, tries to tackle him but just harmlessly bounces away from the rock-solid earthpony.
"Hi!" I greet them when it seems their practice is done.
"A random sexy griffon arrives," Choking waves at me.
"Griffon yes, random no," Heavy nods at me, "I asked him to show me how a Legion soldier fights and he graciously agreed."
"Oooh nice! Two fit, sweaty, interracial hunks fighting for my amusement. I'm gonna sleep well tonight."
Choking doesn't even bother lowering her voice and when I just stand there in disbelief I can hear quiet chuckling from some of the other ponies working out. It appears her behaviour is well-known to everyone around here. Now if only I was able to banish the image of the batpony moaning under her sheets while thinking about me wrestling with the godliest looking piece of meat on this planet...
"Heavy, he's panting!" Choking laughs out loud and the other ponies join her. She nudges the sargeant next to her, "And I don't think it's me who he's looking at."
A blue-maned white earthpony and a pure white griffon temporarily turn fiery red which doesn't seem to phase anyone in the room and when they stop grinning during their breaks they return back to working out.
"Is this a good time to-"
Both of us start at once when Choking leaves to get a drink.
"What is your preferred weapon, Cromach?" Heavy focuses on business.
"Ah yes, the 'screw your armor' style of combat," Heavy walks to a large chest in the corner where the practice weapons are kept and brings a familiar shape but one with padded iron where the blade would be.
I wonder why ponies would have such weapon but my guess is that some unicorns like the 'I hit you once, you stay down' approach.
Heavy readies himself on the opposite end of the mat, stands up on his hind legs and readies a practice quarterstaff. From what I've seen him do during the lessons he uses a simple steel staff in comparison to, let's say, Valiant Charge who has his wooden one with metal spikes on both ends.
"Dance for me, slaves!" Choking returns and bangs her front hooves together.
Well, can't disappoint a creepy lady.
Okay, I wasn't expecting to win but I was at least expecting to hold my own, not being tripped up and gently pushed down on the ground. In my defense, staff is sort of a needless weapon in the Legion where deadlier instruments are usually employed and spears-users fight in a completely different way than the pony standing above me.
The next round is better. Well, longer at least. Still, it ends with a hard hit to my talons, quick twirl of a staff forcing my weapon out of my weakened grip, and Heavy's shoulder charge sending me flying.
Breathing heavily, I stand back up. I think I figured out his style. I was expecting crushing blows with long wind-up like Valiant was using but his staff swing killed someone if they got hit thanks to the spikes, armor or not. Heavy is using short and extremely quick moves that make him feel he's way faster than he actually is.
But not stronger than he actually is. This time I was ready and expected the burst of speed so I tried to make him overextend and quickly reposition to force him to use longer swings. My mistake lay in thinking his hasty counterattack would be weak and I might be able to disarm him. After all, ponies can't exactly grip polearm weapons.
Well, here I am, kissing the ground again, after Heavy's surprise push with his weight behind it ended that theory. Damn, I did catch him off guard though.
I slap the mat three times.
"Awww, don't be sad," Choking slaps her butt on the mat right next to my face, knowing full well the fleshy orbs are something to raise the spirit of the utterly defeated, "Ya can't really beat Heavy. He's the best of the best."
"Not the best," Heavy waves her off and shuts her mouth when she tries to speak again, "but a close third."
He sits down on the other side of my face.
I will have some sort of victory!
Rolling around, I grab Heavy's waist and bury my face into his flank.
"The best," I mumble into the sweaty coat.
"Get a room, ya two!" Choking grins deviously at me when I sit back up and I know I now fit in the 'Heavy's worst teasing nightmare' category as well, "Or better yet, a shower. Let's go."
My heart almost stops when she without hesitation walks into the stallion showers as well. Funnily enough, noone else seems too bothered.
Don't stare at her wet tail swishing around and showing everything she has to offer from behind!
I guess the other stallions are used to this kind of thing or maybe it's just the fact that most of them are batponies who are in perfect physical shape themselves and have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Still, whenever one of them looks her way and she catches the stare she just smiles back and blows him a kiss.
Hmmm. She's not wearing the necklace. Perhaps she left it in the locker?
Quickly washing myself, I leave making Heavy pick up the soap for some other time and go back to the locker room. Equestria really must be quite something because the locker room is more an unlocker room and Choking didn't bother bringing her own padlock and neither did I. I feel pretty awful for stealing something she wears all the time but I'll return it back to her after the nonsense with the Hunter is over, that's a promise.
Taking away something so important from someone so friendly feels disgusting but...
...in the end the necklace is in my bag.
I suppose I should get out as soon as possible so I put on my clothes and, watching every shadow, I go back home.
Sick to my stomach.