You Can Go Home: Like Glass
There's still some time before the meeting but my legs are shaking already. I haven't run away and stewed in the desert just to get picked off in some dark alley in Canterlot due to a stupid mistake of someone else. It's possible to just not go. Whatever punishment I might face would still be preferrable to a dagger in my neck. I doubt running away would solve anything though. I don't know when the delegates will be leaving and faking sickness for about a week would draw attention.
Noone could fault me for coming a little late to the party, right? Got the news late, wasn't ready, had to go back home for the uniform, blah blah blah. Could a mane dye work for me?
Suddenly, I have way less time than I thought. Not bothering with returning back to the gym to clean up, I open the closest window and fly outside. Canterlot blurring under me, the apartment building comes to view and I start smashing my fist into the landlord's door.
The messy pony isn't too happy I woke him up but gives me directions to a dye shop. Hey, how could I know he'd be sleeping in the late afternoon? Honestly, the amount of fucks I give about him couldn't be counted by a good mathematician with a microscope. Fortunately, the shop is just few blocks away. Unfortunately, it's not a shop but a manedresser's. The bell on the door rings as I open it and a small pegasus mare looks at me with saucer-like eyes.
"What'll it be, good sir?"
"Well, ehm, I know this might sound weird but do you do full makeovers? Like fur, feathers, everything?"
She takes a step back at my storming in.
"I-I, well, griffons-"
I slam a bag with fifty bits on the counter, making the mare jump slightly. I'm pretty sure that considering the prices written on a poster above the counter I'm paying her what a good day of work would bring.
"I... I can try, sir."
"Good. How fast can you do it?"
"I don't know. I've never had anypony of your size," she blushes, realizing what she said, "I mean I don't know whether our dyes work on you or not."
I crack the knuckles on my talons.
"The money is yours no matter what happens. I just need it fast and durable enough to last until tomorrow," I wink at the tiny grey pegasus. She's not a filly, all the mare-like proportions are there, but she looks like a normal pony built on three quarter scale, "Remember, it's not about the size of the dye can but how you use it. Speaking of the size of the can..."
It takes her a while to understand my grin but when she does her grey face turns tomato red.
"Um, c-come in me, I mean with me, with me then."
It's the smile, muscles and the green eyes. Noone can resist that.
I follow her into a room filled with cans of various sizes and colors. We stop before a bathtub which, not really surprisingly, is too small for me.
"Damn!" the manedresser scowls.
"I can fit inside," I comment and turn around to see the little pegasus coughing, choking, and threatening to set fire to the closest wooden shelf, "Lady, you are lovely and I would enjoy spending an evening with you BUT right now I REALLY need you to stop fantasizing and put your hooves on me or however you do what you do."
Emperor's infinitely firm butt, she's panting now.
I wave a hand in front of her face and she snaps back to reality.
"Deal! I mean-"
"I know," I say, putting one talon on her lips to silence her. She smiles like an idiot and squeals happily. She's so cute it can't be legal but I need her to work my body like a pro, and not in the way I'd usually like.
I squeeze myself into the tub. It's not that bad despite it obviously being designed to hold a mare comfortably or a Mistake-sized stallion. Too bad our apartment only has a shower. We would have had some really interesting times otherwise.
Just like that the moment of cheer fades.
"What color do you want, sir?"
Unless it's green or pink I don't really care.
"What do you think would look good on me and would make me look completely different."
"I think black would go well with your eyes."
It would also make me stand out like an elephant surrounded by midgets at a party guarded by a bunch of white and gold ponies.
"I don't want ponies walking into me on accident during night patrol," I smile at her, "What about rusty fur and brown head?"
"Sure thing. We aim to please," she says in a singsong voice.
"And so will I later."
She drops the can she's holding. I can't help noticing the little jiggly butt as she leans down to pick the container with her mouth.
I sigh as the pegasus pours some warm water inside and mixes the dye in. She must have worked at a spa or a massage parlor because every touch of her hooves soothes my burning muscles in addition to spreading the dye up to my neck.
"What's going on?"
"You were moaning, sir," she answers, looking at the floor.
"Ah, sorry. I just overdid it at the castle gym today and everything hurts. Well, at least before you touch it."
"Hehe, thank you. Try to keep it down though. I don't want the other customers to get the wrong idea."
"Well, we CAN go a bit further and give them the right idea," I scratch her ear unthinkingly and realize I made her mane a little rusty, "Oops, sorry. I was just kidding, I really need this done as fast as possible."
She nods energetically and resumes kneading my body. I'm not sure she realizes that my hindquarters won't get dyed any more but with how skilled her hooves are I'm sure as heck not complaining.
Emperor bless me! She's preening my wings with her mouth before applying the dye. The soft touches and the lightning fast licks feather after feather make me shiver all over. I have zero doubt about what sort of massage parlor she used to work at before starting here. Her size and openness with the customers are enough of a clue.
"Awwww," I mumble in disappointment.
"You can come later to get the dye out. I'll be happy to... serve you."
Looking in the mirror with the full-body manedrier humming, I almost can't recognize myself. The guard badge should allow me to get through the gates easily and I can talk my way out of anything.
I pick the grey pegasus in one hand and kiss her muzzle quickly.
"I can't refuse that."
She giggles and when I'm dry and the dye is set we leave the room. I'm now a rust-colored griffon with brown head feathers and she's still a grey pegasus with blonde mane although she might need a bath herself now.
As soon as I fly outside I'm shaking. After the warm bath the frost outside almost hurts but what warms me inside is that the snow doesn't seem to be interfering with the dye whatsoever. I think I'm safe for today.
Putting the golden armor on, I decide to walk to the castle instead of flying. The snowstorm outside is getting worse and my entire upper body feels like it belongs to someone else. Thankfully, it doesn't hurt due to the massage.
When I reach the castle I feel the entire camouflage is completely useless because of me looking like a walking snowgriffon. The guard badge works though and the service entrance clicks open with me shaking the white coating off. With the ballroom as my destination, it seems I'm going to be there on time and unrecognizable.
The servants are looking at me when I enter but the golden armor is enough to avoid all unnecessary questions. At least from them, definitely not from the white earthpony with blue mane of almost my size walking straight towards me.
"Heya, Heavy," I salute.
"In the flesh."
"Should I even ask?"
"Well, the griffon ambassador is guarded by the guy who's responsible for the kill order on my head so I decided that a small change of style was in order."
"Good disguise. I didn't recognize you and I thought one of the griffon guys tried to infiltrate the Royal Guard, very poorly I must add."
"You underestimate the Legion, Heavy. If they wanted to get an agent here then they would. I think they do, as a matter of fact."
"In the same way the princesses have agents at the Emperor's court. Politics, Cromach."
"Well, I just want to see tomorrow."
"Don't worry, we keep an eye on our own."
I shake my head at how naive Heavy is. Noone can protect me from five 'random' and 'drunk' ponies attacking me in a dark alley. They might get caught and put to prison but that'll be too late.
"Keeping myself from being found is the only way I can survive to see the new year."
"I can stick my neck out for you and let you go home. The princesses won't be too happy if I refuse to explain why but it shouldn't be too bad for me."
"Thank, big guy, but no. I have to deal with it myself because even if I move to some other city the Hunters will eventually find me and all this will repeat. I'm not going to let you get demoted or something for me. I think I should be fine if I don't get too close to the delegation anyway."
"You're smarter than you look," Heavy grins, "which isn't too difficult."
I fake a hurt look.
"Keep saying that and I won't grace your bed with my presence one day."
Contrary to my expectations Heavy just chuckles.
"Speaking of which. How about we go out on new year? I wanted to spend Heart's Warming with Tio but he's going to be with his unit. They're the only family he's got."
"You mean we wrap ourselves in a blanket, drink some hot chocolate, and listen to the crackling of a fireplace?"
"Add some crystal berry wine, fake wrestling, and a large bathtub and you might get the right idea."
"I'm more a cocktail pony but I was saving this bottle for... a special pony who likes wine more than he should."
"Well," I try to break the sudden silence, "You can drink it with a special griffon who likes stallions more than he should."
"Sounds like fun."
"Why aren't you with your family? If it's not too personal."
Heavy raises an eyebrow.
"For a similar reason you aren't. They live back in Trottingham and they aren't too happy about my choice of partners. I prefer spending my free time with those close to me."
"Awww, I'm blushing."
"So... next Sunday at your place? Well, your office since I have no clue where you live."
"Wear something nice," he boops my nose, "Something like whipped cream and strawberries."
"At this time of the year? Silly pony."
Looking around to see if anyone is near, we're both giggling like idiots until Heavy leaves to do his rounds and keep an eye out for the arriving guests.
The evening goes on without nothing happening. The ballroom has pillars on its sides behind which servants and guards move not to disturb the guests and I spend most of the time leaning on some of them and watching the bustle. With two interesting dates already arranged, I'm not too keen on mingling so I just watch the minotaurs nervously paying respects to the purple changeling queen I remember from princess Luna's camp in the Everfree. Shadowstep was her name? With Cross and the white unicorn mare by her side she seems out of place but not uncomfortable. Queen Chrysalis must be too busy to attend then. Same goes for Guiding Light. Speaking of whom, there is no Nightmare changeling delegation anywhere in sight.
I try to keep my distance from the griffon ambassador and his entourage until I notice something. To be precise, my nose does. On a small table carefully avoided by all other guests lies meat, something I've been over two weeks without. No wonder I'm an emotional wreck. No longer! No longer shall my stomach suffer!
Looking for a time when no other griffons are around, I slink to the table and start ravaging the meat supply. It's cold not to offend the other guests by smell but I couldn't care less. I keep stuffing my face until an irresistible burp stops me. I can always come back later.
From a corner where I have a good observation point over the entire ballroom I can see Choking Darkness enter. She's wearing the official silver armor of the Nightguard and stops shortly to look around the room before picking a direction. I can't look away from her slowly walking through the large room and looking more at the floor than at the guests.
She reaches the place where Heavy Hoof is standing and asks him something. Heavy nods in my direction and Darky looks at me. She turns back to Heavy and nervously draws a circle with her front hoof on the floor. She says something. Heavy's staff drops from his hooves but he grabs in before in falls on the floor. Darky shakes her head and starts walking towards me.
I ignore her and keep looking at Heavy who hides behind a pillar, sits down and cradles his head in his hooves.
That can't be it.
Please... let it be anything other than that.
Darky arrives in my corner, draws a breath, and looks straight at me.
"I don't know how to say it-"
My heart stops and then begins beating at a breakneck pace. Still, it's not faster than the coming tears.
"-Mistake passed away five minutes ago."
She says something else but I can't hear her over my armor clanking as I rush out of the room and into the closest bathroom. The memory of the Hunter catching me here last time is drowned by me pushing the button and making the water run from the tap.
Someone enters the bathroom, I splash more of the cold water to cover my crying and turn to the entering... griffon.
Perhaps this bathroom really is unlucky.
"Well, well, well," says Jones, grinning, "Nice to see you again, green-eyes."
In just few moments the entirety of my new life gets shattered.