All Roads Lead To Canterlot: No Mercy
"Are we there yet?"
"That's sargeant Jones, walking corpse."
"I'm a civillian now, peck me. Was I really that bad at mindless asskiss- soldiering?"
"Your every breath shamed my profession and your wannabe smart comments do it still."
"Come on! I've never seen you do anything more than I do daily. The only difference being you were yelling at me during practice and I was actually doing it. Speaking of which, you should really cut down on the donuts or you'll need rockets to keep you flying at all."
"Spit out as much of that nonsense as you like. I'm done with you and so is the Legion."
"Really? Just for banging Harrison? What's the big deal? I saw you double-teamed by two other dudes. I know you visit the brothel in the city. I know commander Johnson enjoys the barrel as much as anyone. So why am I gonna get screwed over this?"
Barrel in this case being basically a wooden box with many holes and enough space for one griffon inside. The term gloryhole comes to mind but with many more holes... glory-sieve perhaps?
"Aah... your misery just makes my day so much brighter. Moreso because you don't realize how worthless you actually are and were. You are good at using weapons, you are in a good shape and you do what you are told, or yelled at to do it. Do you think that's unique? You are trash, Cromach! Every single Legion member can do that. None of that is your doing. THE LEGION has the best training methods, THE LEGION can make soldier out of pretty much anyone and THE LEGION gave you all you're good at."
Jones' speech ends in shouting. I gotta admit it sort of hurt and not only my ears.
"Then why, sargeant? Why can't I just be a normal patrol grunt?"
"THAT'S WHY! THAT QUESTION IS THE EXACT REASON!-"
Jones takes a deep breath.
"-We are the strongest military in the world and we have a reputation to uphold. As long as everyone fears us we won't have to fight. Griffons like you get filtered out by the system. Do you really think we care about whom you bang? That rule is just a convenient excuse to get rid of those who have none of the talents the military really needs... like you. We are the best. We need only those who can go beyond the call of duty, who can push themselves harder than anyone else and who can keep their cool under pressure. You are just a useless sack of meat who recieved military training, that's all."
"Hey! Now that I know it I can do that. Would you prefer killing me instead of me becoming a supersoldier?"
"Cromach, we aren't stupid. If the Legion recruitment poster said 'Every part of your body belongs to us and you'll die if it doesn't.' noone other than psychopaths or griffons with death wish would join. We don't need those either, that's what foreign legion is for," Jones chuckles, "The Legion can teach a lot of things but we only keep those who are worth teaching in the first place. Do you see the problem?"
"Well, can't you just give me a dishonorable discharge or something?"
"No. I feel like I'm doing the world a favor by taking you out of it. You, who has been blessed in all respects other than your heart, just want to be an average nobody. I can't stand that, all that wasted potential. Maybe it's because you're young and stupid, maybe it's something deeper. As you are now you are of no value to anyone. No griffon should waste their time with you, not even as an assistant cat litterbox cleaner. You. Are. A. Waste. Of. Oxygen."
He's not lying! He's right about everything! How? Was it that obvious from day one? I am smart! I am physically capable!
Have I ever tried something new, something I wasn't hundred percent sure about?
"Finally realizing it's over?" he continues, "All that bravado gone? Yeah, that usually happens... right before the begging starts. To be honest, I'm surprised you chose the desert instead of the firing squad."
I can't control the sudden shaking.
"Because griffons like you are cowards. No exception. Too afraid to use their natural talent to reach for the stars and fail. Smart ones are the worst, always knowing the reason why they shouldn't bother trying. I actually liked your sleeping-in-armor trick. Pretty ingenious."
"Would begging help?" I keep looking at the ground rapidly whizzing under us.
"Of course not. It might make me feel better though."
Our flight slows down and gradually stops, meaning the two griffon carriers have burned through half of their fuel supply. The sun is slowly setting. Judging from the speed of our flight, I must be at least four days' worth of unassisted flight in the desert south of the fortress. That means I can get to the ocean by going west... too bad I have no clue which direction is which.
Wait! I can deduce that from the way they decide to fly back unless they do a quick reacharound to confuse me.
We land, Jones unties me and the two carriers let me drop on the searing sand. Yelping, I stand up immediately. My hind paws feel like they're on fire but fortunately the talons on my arms are way less sensitive. Within seconds I am sweating. The only thing keeping me from being too depressed is that all three griffons around me are in way worse shape.
To explain Jones' talk about me being naturally physically gifted for a griffon - I am completely white from head to paws. Well, the talons are black but who cares, they're not important. It's one of the most useful colors a griffon can be born with because here, in the desert-ridden Empire, it allows for greater resistance to the heat of the sun. The second best is the color of sand for obvious stealthy reasons.
I also have green eyes. That's not exactly useful in any special way except that it looks hella good. Hey! I have to somehow keep my spirits up... at least while I can still think without talking to the rocks and sand.
To my surprise, Jones hands me three items. One is the loaded gun I was expecting. The second one is a full water bottle and the last one jingles when I take it from his hand. It's a small bag filled with gold coins.
"What is this?" my eyes dart from the bag to Jones.
"This is a unique punishment as very little griffons actually choose to go with it. Trust me, you will regret doing so pretty soon. There are two upsides though. You know about the one that will allow your family to escape shame," he smiles to himself as he says that, "The other one is that if you somehow survive you will be a free griffon. You will have passed the harshest test the Legion can put you through and that is remarkable in some way. There is gold and even gems in that bag. You will never be able to join the G.I.L. again but..."
"This will help me start a life somewhere," I finish Jones' thought.
"I wouldn't count on it though. I consider you to be a worthless turd."
"Heh. I'll show you, Jones. I will get through this and prove to you you're wrong. I'm not a coward. I'm just too smart for wasting energy pointlessly."
Those words feel empty and Jones' laugh doesn't help.
"To me? I'm finally done with you, Cromach. It might be a good idea to start proving something to yourself."
The trio jumps into the air and after few flaps of their wings they spread them and start the thrusters. They clear the horizon before I can blink more than few times.
So here I am, alone, with enough water to last about a day or possibly two if I ration it correctly and my white feathers are as good as I think at reflecting sunlight.
My eyes involuntarily stop on the loaded gun.
There's no reason to think about that yet. I'm in a fairly good situation all things considered. After drawing an arrow in the sand pointing in the direction the others flew away I take flight as well. The point is to fly as high up as I can and look for the ocean to find out which way west is.
The attempt is disorienting though and when I return I'm glad I drew the arrow. Having had nothing to eat and drink for the entire day, I have to take a sip from my water reserve.
I walk and walk and walk.
I could fly but I see no reason to waste more energy. Endurance and patience are way more important traits to have than speed. The leather strap on the water bottle around my neck feels heavier and heavier. It was easy to ignore both the bottle and the little bag hanging on the belt around my waist at first but after about an hour of walking even the gun feels heavy... and inviting.
Head hurts. Feathers aren't as good at reflecting the setting sun as I thought.
The main problem of travellers crossing long stretches of sand isn't the sun. That kills only the unprepared ones. The real deal is the lack of direction and the natural tendency of living creatures not to walk straight. I have no clue how it works but I heard stories about lost caravans the members of which killed themselves after finding their own tracks and realizing the've gone in a huge circle.
The evening comes and the heat subdues.
I can't help thinking about Jones' impression of me as much as I try not to. Griffons back home liked me despite me being fairly good at everything and overshadowing them quite often. I've never been a threat to anyone so maybe that's why. Everyone around wanted to have a family, to be the top of their field, to roll in gold or other things.
I wanted to have fun. Seriously, what's the point of living for eighty years but spending most of it by working my ass off? I can't be kissing one chick, groping another one and boning the third, all that while being pumped from behind by the hottest dude I can find when I'm sixty, right? What's so wrong with me wanting to do my eight hours of work with as little effort as possible and then enjoy myself with friends?
Jones might be right about me being able to do way more than I've been doing. He might be right about me being a horrible soldier but I DO have a goal. I want to enjoy myself. I'm smart enough to make that happen and the fact that I don't care about work enough just means I can do whatever I stumble upon. I can sell vegetables or I can repair mechanical stuff, it doesn't matter. Well, I really enjoyed soldiering. Small town girls were really into fit young soldiers capable of making them squeal the entire night.
With the dry, burning air turning into pleasantly warm, I take flight. I know I have to control my thirst if I want to get out of this damn place so I take just a sip again. The wind rustling in my feathers feels like someone running their hands all over my body.
I cough. The temperature keeps going down and I have to drop on the sand again just to keep my paws warm. Unfortunately, the night is sapping the heat from the sand dangerously fast.
I had my head full of plans and rationing so I didn't die of thirst...
...so much that I forgot the night is as deadly as the day.
Freezing to death, that's new.
Okay, think fast! Air is beginning to sting me, paws are getting numb.
Running? Cold sweat... death.
Flying? The same problem.
Quick walking? Not good enough.
Something between all those options seems possible.
I start marching as fast as I can without having to breathe too much and jump in the air every few steps. It looks retarded but it sort of keeps my paws from freezing too much and it is warming me up enough.
Another problem arises. As good as my constitution is this pace is exhausting after about two hours. I'm lucky the moon is bathing the desert in its light and I think I'm going in the right direction. Unfortunately, the sand keeps shifting with my every step and the pain in my muscles is becoming too intense.
I have to rest but I can't fall asleep. I take another sip of water. It is warm! It being so close to my body actually allowed it to stay warm enough.
Quarter of the bottle is gone now. I stop sitting on the ground and hugging the bottle which is slowly going cold. My loss of control thinned my chances of survival considerably.
On the other hand, I can now keep going. Perhaps I'll be able to catch few hours of sleep in the morning before it's too hot. Feathers or not, the cold is barely bearable. Most of the night has passed but I'm now coughing, sneezing and shivering.
With the moon finally hiding beyond the horizon, I fall into the sand and pass out. Morning and evening seem to be the best times to sleep in the desert if you have no cover. Well, maybe not but I can't go on anyway. With twinging in my every muscle I start the new day.
My wings are burning. I got lucky that the idea of covering my head with my wings to prevent heat loss was more helpful than expected. It stopped me from waking up with devastating heat stroke or not waking up at all. Unfortunately, I think I won't be flying any time soon, every movement hurts too much.
I have to stop myself from drinking again and again.
Walking through the day is way more grueling than the late afternoon yesterday.
I can't go on. I have blisters on my paws. My wings are half-baked from shielding my head and the water bottle is almost empty.
I have to.
Stop looking at the gun!
"Yeah, stop trying to take the easy way out," says the passing pink elephant on a bicycle.
My vision is blurring and I rub my eyes. It doesn't help.
I avoid looking in the distance just to stop myself from seeing the endless dunes.
A groan escapes my throat as I fall on the sand and burn myself yet again. It was supposed to be a scream but the quiet agonized wheezing is the most I can pull off. Clawing at the sand, I pull myself up and resume walking.
Something is in the distance.
The day burned away my illusions about surviving in this place long enough to return to civilization. The sun is slowly going down but it will still be long time before the air stops burning my lungs with every breath.
My determination lasted almost an entire one day. This really is the harshest punishment the Griffon Imperial Legion can put me through.
I look at the gun again.
If the shimmer in the distance is an oasis then it's good. If it isn't then I still have the gun.
I won't let Jones beat me. I won't let him win by breaking me!
Pulling out the pistol and cocking it, I aim into the air and pull the trigger.
I try again and when the bang fails to happen I realize Jones didn't load the gun. He didn't give me the option of taking the merciful way out.
"FUCK YOU, JONES! YOU HEAR ME? FUCK YOU! YOUR ENTIRE FANILY! FUCK YOUR MORALS AND PRIDE!"
My only answer is the hissing of my tears when they touch the sand.
Sobbing and whimpering to myself, I press on towards either an oasis or a sand illusion.