You Can Go Home: Dreaded Visit
It's tomorrow and I don't want to get out of the bed even if the alarm clock says it's after noon. There's no reason to - no practice to go to, no guard duty to fulfill, noone to mess with in the morning, just the dim light coming into the apartment through a cloth serving as a window curtain.
My stomach requests disaster relief. Well, I haven't eaten since last morning so I'm not too mad. I guess a sandwich wouldn't hurt. Too bad I can barely taste it.
I drift off again, sitting on a chair, propping my head with my arms, and staring blankly at the wall. The table should be wobbling but the previous owner put a book with the title 'Psychology for dummies' under the shorter leg.
Staring at the empty sleeping bag next to my bed, I realize I haven't moved for almost half an hour. It's not the fact that he might be dead already, it's the thing that I wasn't able to do anything about it. That and the doctor saying that we, as close friends, should take care of his affairs. Well, Mistake didn't talk about his family. When I met him he didn't have a single thing someone could get after he died. I found him at the point when he didn't have anything or anyone.
He was a pony who didn't exist to anyone. Heavy didn't know he was alive. The batpony wanted to never think about him again.
The lump in my throat grows.
I can't just keep sitting here, I need to clear my head. The morning practice should be over but I can at least kill some time at the gym. I must admit Guard recruits have it pretty sweet if you can endure the agony of every muscle burning every day and the occasional ruptured eardrum from some drill sargeant yelling too loudly. The recruits get paid as well but with us being sort of reserve force we are getting a bit more, at least from what Mistake told me...
I gotta get out. I can't look around without remembering cuddling the black unicorn in the bed and then carrying his helpless body to princess Luna's tent.
It's funny how Canterlot in the morning looks much more grim and grey than at night. Maybe it's because of the lack of lit lamps or because most ponies are at work and the streets are much emptier than I'm used to. It comes to me that I haven't really noticed the heartbeat of the city because every time I walked through it I was either really tired or it was evening already.
The castle doesn't look as dead as I expected it to be with quite a lot of troops still stationed in the Everfree Forest just in case of the portal being opened from the other side. The few guards on gate duty are having serious trouble accommodating all the incoming carriages that range in shapes and sizes. Luckily, none of that matters to me because I just wave my badge and use the service entrance without any waiting.
The gym is dead empty so it takes me a while to turn the heating on and find something relaxing on the radio. Not that I'm in a hurry. With the day off I can just spend the entire day here, working every bit of myself just so I don't have to think too hard.
An hour passes which would normally be my clue to stop but being alone in the big room I can just cram an entire week of training into one day. Granted, my entire body will ache tomorrow but as long as I don't mess up I won't hurt myself and this should help in the long run. Speaking of not hurting myself, I should grab a small snack and have a break. The training machines won't run away.
Walking aimlessly around the castle, I observe all the foreign guests who seem to be ushered by servants to guest rooms the castle is so full of. There are ponies from Saddle Arabia who are taller but thinner than those from Equestria. There are strange shiny ponies who look like they have coats made of crystals. There's a group of changelings, the normal ones, who look positively terrified of everyone around. I can sort of understand why. Princess Celestia might have offered queen Chrysalis a helping hand- hoof but changelings are hated and hunted in almost every part of the world. Still, noone seems to be too hostile towards them as they pass a group of minotaurs who look completely out of place with their well-groomed hair and long robes.
I hide behind a pillar in the entrance hall when I see the incoming delegation. It's an ambassador from the Empire surrounded by Legion soldiers armed to their beaks. What's worse is that even from here I can recognize a certain griffon I've hoped never to see again. That's not entirely true. I was sort of hoping to see him again right before shooting him in the head. The brown fur, wings, and white feathers on his head make him remarkably easy to fit into any griffon crowd but I could recognize the cold expression anywhere.
His black uniform tells me how it was possible for him to put so much pressure on the brass to execute me. He wasn't a normal sargeant, he was a Legion Black Ops one which meant he was of a higher rank than anyone else in the fortress. Why he was stationed there I have no idea but right now I'm unwilling to find out. For a second I regret not going out in uniform today because I know as well as any soldier that Legion specialists don't really care about laws in foreign countries and Jones with his cronies might just shoot me on sight and deal with politics later.
That's unlikely though. I doubt my death would be worth further increasing the tension between the Empire and Equestria. Still, no reason to risk it, right?
Taking great care to stay in the shadows and hidden from sight of the griffon delegation, I wander the castle again. I should just chill for about fifteen more minutes and let the muscles settle before going back to the gym so I shut my brain down and let my legs lead the way.
It seems the legs have brains of their own and bring me somewhere I was trying to avoid by coming to the castle.
The infirmary, or the hospital wing as it's officially called, is just a floor with some ten or so rooms, mostly because no serious injury usually happens in the castle and the small ones are treated on the spot. On the other hand, the princesses and the nobility use the services of those working here so they must be experts in their field.
There's a different expert sitting on the bench next to the door to Mistake's room, one I definitely wasn't expecting.
"What are you doing here, Da- commander?" I ask, trying not to let the coldness in my voice show... too much.
"I was just taking a break from some paperwork and I saw a group of ponies running around. They seemed doctor-ish but I didn't know them so I followed them here."
My heart jumps.
"Wait, didn't we get a day off today?"
"Well yeah, I just... had too much on the table in my office."
"Can I at least go inside to say goodbye?"
"Nope. They're still not letting anypony inside. Well, even more than last night. They didn't let Heavy in when he came earlier."
"Not even you?"
"Not even me. I was there last night after you and Heavy left and... he wouldn't be able to hear you anyway. It's just machines barely not letting a body die in there."
The question 'Why?' is on my beak. Should I?
"I would still like to see him before... you know."
She shakes her head.
"No can do."
I slowly breathe out. It's not like she's the one keeping me out. No reason to lose my temper with her, at least not for this.
"What's with all the hotshots from all over the world today anyway?" I force a smile.
"Heart's Warming Eve is next week but that's a pony festival. The princess decided to throw a meeting in the same spirit tonight so it doesn't interfere with every delegation's end of the year celebration but still fits the theme. By the way, due to some Royal Guards leaving for the Everfree Forest our day off is cancelled and we're standing watch in the ballroom."
Not good! Not good!
I'm not exactly sure whether the Black Ops would go for me or just leave the matter to the Hunters but I'm positive that revealing my location wouldn't help in any way.
"Is there a chance I can avoid this? Anything. Patrol duty, toilet scrubbing, library."
She looks at me questioningly. It seems Heavy didn't tell her about my predicament.
"No, sorry. I've drafted the shifts already and changing things this late would only lead to mess."
"YOU did this?"
"Yeah, I'm responsible for shift management. I used to do it only for the Nightguard but now I head both branches. Come on, it's gonna be a relaxing evening. Nothing bad can happen and as long as you don't get hammered you're more a guest than a guard."
"You don't understand," I hiss, "I had to leave the Empire because the Legion was on my ass. I can't show myself now, not with a Black Ops guy and bunch of other specials around, and expect to survive. A bounty hunter almost killed me at the party you organized. In fact, he would have killed me if it weren't for Mistake so forgive me if I'm not too excited by this 'relaxing evening'!"
"You have to get me out of this!"
"I can't. The schedule is already in the hooves of princess Celestia which means it's final."
Growling, I punch the wall and storm away, completely ignoring the stupid batpony.
A griffon in Royal Guard armor can't stand out too much, right?
I wonder... how much money would a little crystal berry farm in the frozen north cost?