History Goes In Circles: Dawn
The sight of familiar white spires comforts me and brings tension at the same time. While I am fairly positive that anything that might happen to me here will be better than the judgement in the Empire it doesn't mean the outcome will be pleasant.
To my utter amazement noone tried to stop us after escaping Jones and his followers and the journey, while slow, was uneventful. If one talks about marauding griffon armed forces and not his friends turning against him, of course. Well, Heavy is still pissed for what I did, Darky is keeping her distance. which is my fault entirely for pushing her not to stop thinking about Mistake, and the changelings, while friendly, are keeping themselves to themselves. As much as I enjoy thinking about Three and Shaky as a ruthless killing machine toying with her terrified prey I wish them the best of luck in their relationship.
"Thanks for not flipping out at me like Heavy did," I mumble all of a sudden while watching the snowy landscape of Equestria again with my talons on the railing.
Mistake chuckles, looking anywhere aside from down at the frozen forests.
"Heavy is the patriotic sort. That's one of the things I like about him. He kind of balances me and Chokey not giving a buck."
"What do you mean? Aren't you the big hero, the savior of Equstria, the bane of Sombra?"
"Add one more the whatever of whateveria and you'll end up like Jones. Not a single thing I did was for Equestria. I didn't really care about Equestria in my reality and that hasn't changed much. From what I remember all of it was like - Chokey might get hurt, oh noooooo! BOOM, shadow king is dead. Those were fun two years."
"Aaaand now she doesn't want to get to know you again."
"It's not that simple. Four years ago. three for her, a certain long dead innocent part of me caught her attention and led to our relationship. I can't really bring it back after doing all I've done and I have no intention of lying to her."
"She'll come around," I pat his shoulder, hoping for it not to be the case.
"Either way is good," Mistake smiles and no matter how hard I try I can't find the slightest bit of falsehood in it, "If we end up together - great. If she finds somepony better - also great."
"You are one heck of a wet rag," I shake my head.
"Works for me," he shrugs.
"CANTERLOT, GET OUT OF MY SHIP, LANDLUBBERS, HA HA HA HAAAA!" Icy Gaze's voice rings through the ship intercom.
"Eeehm, I better go shackle him again before Chokey cuts his legs off," Mistake rolls his eyes.
"Why is she so mad at him?"
"Nothing big, nothing big. He just worked for Luna, found us living in Ponyville, ratted us out, got me killed in a way I wouldn't have been able to come back from without Sombra, aaaand thus made Chokey choose to give up her memores when Void offered. So... I better run. Luna might not push Icy's sudden horrendous suicide by running into a horseshoe blade twenty times too hard but I pity the pony sent to clean it."
Wow, he's actually running downstairs.
I look down on the landing pad on the top of Canterlot castle. To be honest, I've never noticed it but at the moment the group of well-armed guards occupies my attention juuust a little more. It might be possible they are here so Icy doesn't escape but with my unexpected, but definitely not unwanted, rescue from the Empire I think my luck left on a well-deserved vacation.
Five guards taking their places in a ring around me answers the unasked question.
"Princess Luna requests your presence," says the leading Nightguard.
I bite down the question about what would happen if I refused and follow them. Let's just hope I won't be alone there, I've never talked to princess Luna before but from what I've been told she scares me.
The Nightguards lead the way to a small room with metal walls somewhere in the castle dungeons. Not visiting the underground aside from the gym, I get lost pretty easily. The soundproofing makes the butterflies in my stomach develop their own butterflies. When a midnight-blue alicorn enters the room and all Nightguards leave they start throwing up in unison. Without a word, she nods to one out of two chairs by a table in the middle and sits down to the other.
"Cromach, is that your name?" she asks.
"Yes, your Highness."
"Leave out the unimportant. Were you, prior to leaving Equestria previously, contacted by a griffon spymaster?"
"Yes, your- Yes."
"Did you agree to share secrets paramount to the safety of Equestria and potentially this entire world with him?"
"In my defense, the secrets weren't really too secret, I just verified the info Jones already had. Everything aside from the things about the mirror world."
"Yes or no?"
"Yes," I look down at the table.
"Good. Stick to the subject, please."
"That will get me killed!" I squeal.
"Unlikely," princess Luna narrows her eyes, "but possible."
She knows when ponies lie around her. Does it apply to griffons too?
"Would you do it again?"
"If I knew Jones was lying from the beginning?"
"Answer! Would you do it again?"
Is it a catch? Is there a trick?
"Yes!" I burst out, "I would. There was no way for me to know he was lying. Yes, I should have suspected the bastard. Yes, he did offer me everything I wanted, no... needed."
"And yes," princess Luna stops me, "That should have been your greatest clue in itself, young Cromach. Nopony can offer you EVERYTHING you desire, only bits and pieces. Putting those bits and pieces together is called making friends. Friends who, despite desiring to bash your head with a steel club, don't want you dead or banished."
"Why the questions, if you don't mind me asking?"
"To see if you were worth sparing."
Her calm tone chills me to the bone.
"So... you weren't just going to listen to what my friends wanted?"
"Remember this because it might one day save your life. No matter what I feel I owe to your friends, no matter what they did for me or how they feel about you, my first concern is the well-being of Equestria and I will not hesitate to eradicate ANY threat, even those close and dear to me. Me and my sister once ruled Equestria uncontested and while I enjoy the misguided politics of those who think they are in power I have no problem with returning to that state of matters."
"You think I am scary?" my eyes bulge when she answers my thought, "You should see my sister."
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" I run out of the room which is completely unlocked and run randomly through the dungeons.
"By the way," Luna's voice, now in my head, snickers, "You are late for your evening training session."
Some remaining part of my mind takes control and runs straight to the training grounds.
"It seems we have a volunteer for today's combat presentation, one who is used to his enemy abusing underhooved tactics," Heavy Hoof readies his staff and looks hard at me who is still spitting parts of his lungs out, "Cromach, will you rise to the challenge or should I turn my back to you first?"
Inhale. Count to four. Exhale. Count to four.
Mistake has such high opinion of you, Heavy, and you show yourself as petty? Okay. For the first time since meeting you I won't think of you as a friend. Jones, no matter how screwed up bastard he was, taught me a lot.
Without reaching for a practice axe I grab Heavy's staff and pull it out of his feeble pony grasp. I am going to teach him a lesson in humility. My following kick would have been barely dodged if I wasn't a griffon. Right now I will use everything in my power to drop Heavy down a notch just on principle, health can go screw itself. Pulling out the claws on my paws adds only a short range but it's enough to score four bleeding lines across Heavy's stomach. How did I know it would work? Heavy always uses the minimal effort needed to outskill the enemy not to show his full power. A minimal effort on his part can be countered.
Going for the practice battleaxe now, I grab it while rolling to the side and the sharp stab into the ground tells me I was correct to do so. As long as I can keep dictating the pace of the fight I can win. If I relent only for a second then Heavy will crush me, it's as simple as that.
Well, I have a habit of being wrong from time to time.
Heavy easily sees through me baiting a quick counterattack with a wide and slow swing and times his staff twirl followed by an upswing just in time to get enough momentum to punt me off my paws and make my world go round and round and round...
My drop was just me falling over but being completely unprepared I have my breath knocked out of me. Heavy jumps in to stab his staff right next to my head to end the duel, a blow which, if hit, would crush an armored skull.
Luna's words ring in my head. One day Mistake's fate might be in my hands more than it was the day we met. I will have to win even if the enemy will be Heavy.
I know Heavy will not try to at least knock me out so I can do some last second measurements and...
... push myself forward to kick Heavy directly in his nuts. Well, counting pony size, cantelopes.
Props to him, he's not throwing up. Granted, being a stallion, he's not getting up either.
"Do you know when to throw away your principles and fight dirty?" I whisper into Heavy's ear and let him fall back to the ground when he accepts my outreaching hand.
He just groans.
"When you fight for someone worth fighting for," he falls for my bait again and kisses the ground for the second time.
"Ooooh dear," Darky's voice interrupts my playtime, "Back to work."
Ordering us to do a physical training routine all of us know by heart, she helps Heavy crawl away and applies snow so abundantly lying all around to his crotch. When we're done she lets us off the hook early.
I would go but something I'm not sure how to feel about is going on.
Valiant Charge, the heartless, pirate killing monster, is walking around in circles, going closer and closer to Darky.
"I..." he starts and falls quiet.
"Yes?" Darky says in a tone meaning 'One wrong word and I can have your head legally'.
"I know it is stupid but I need to get this off my chest."
"No," Darky answers flatly.
"Oh... okay," Valiant's ears go limp, "I thought I could try to make amends for what I did."
"And I told you not to waste time," Darky says in a voice putting glaciers to shame, "NOTHING you can do will EVER even begin to be enough for what you did to me."
"I know," Valiant hangs his head, "and I'm not looking for anything in return. I just want to see your smile one last time. The only thing I've ever wanted."
"You wanted every piece of me - my body, my mind, my soul, freedom, everything. AND YOU GOT IT. I was your slave, no... less than that - a belonging you only remembered when you wanted somepony to take your abuse to feel better. You KILLED three of my coltfriends and sent me pictures. You drove many others away by blackmail. You threatened to kill me if I opened my mouth. Does this ring a bell? You almost... almost killed a pony who really DID just want my smile. The only reason you are alive despite all that is because Celestia didn't want your politician dad to screw her over during a weak year when Luna came back. NEVER, EVER, talk to me again and I might not go look for the pictures."
"I," Valiant looks Darky in the eyes and leaves immediately.
If this was what Mistake stopped then Darky should never stop kissing his hooves again. Heck, her head should never be separated from his crotch. I can't blame Valiant for leaving though. In that moment Darky could have ended his life with a nod and noone would stop her.
"Leave this to yourself," her death glare continues, this time focused at me, "This is only between the princesses, me, and Mistake. Not even Heavy knows the whole story."
"Yes, commander," I salute and turn to leave. After all, it is the only sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, my self-preservation instinct is on holiday as well, "How do you remember?"
"I don't. I just fill the blank spot in my memories with him and things often make sense. Dismissed!"
Valiant's attempt keeps bugging me on my way home. I'm still not too used to flying during cold weather and the longer route lets my mind wander.
I tried to apologize to Heavy aboard the Lightbringer and he just lashed out at me. I beat him up, barely, when he tried to work out his frustration in a way that wouldn't hurt me too much. I cheated and overdid it. Not doing a crappy job is in order, I think.
I might need a pony with better understanding of the softer mind. Mistake comes to mind but I don't need a twisted one, just a pony who would have an idea what stallion straddlers, stud stuffers or whatever the term is, might appreciate. Now, where would a draft destroyer - colt cuddler, right - go to keep himself looking so Emperor-damn cute? A gym. I know some guards but noone nearby. A manedresser!
The little ex-massage parlor pegasus mare jumps when I slam her door open.
"Hello there, gorgeous lady," she giggles at my impish grin, "Do you get any stallions here who prefer the company of other stallions?"
Seeing a murderous glare twice in one evening can't be good for you.
"I need a peace offering for a friend whom I've inadvertently hurt and he's of that sort. I have no clue what to get him," I explain.
"A friend, eh?" she says and the swaying of her hips whenever I'm around disappears.
"A really good friend I'd like to keep. Speaking of which, our date still stands, at least from my side, and for this I'll even stay for breakfast and cuddling."
It's the smile and the green eyes, I keep telling you. Works every time. For some reason the image of Icy Gaze passes my mind.
The tiny mare stops giggling and leans over the counter to me.
"One of my high-profile clients, not naming names, told me the hot news this winter is the upcoming production of Changeling Invasion On Ice - A musical. Tickets have only been selling since yesterday."
One hand is enough to pick the tiny pegasus up and plant a kiss on her muzzle.
"Nine hundred and ninety nine to go, lady. I even keep my word from time to time."
Her incoherent mumbling as I leave the shop makes my determination harder than my...
A quick runby inquiry towards the location of the box office aimed at a patrolling guard sends me the right way.
"Frozen changelings tickets please, twice."
"Bugponies - huff - ice skates - huff - the gayest stuff you can imagine."
"This IS the opera house box office, sir," the clerk rolls his eyes.
"For you and your partner, sir?"
"Yeah, yeah, two tickets."
"Three hundred bits, please."
"GNNNNNGH! HURRRRK! WHYYYYY? Okay," I slam a bag of gold on the counter.
"Thank you, sir. Can I offer you a lifetime membership card? You can gather points for-"
"Do I have to go graphic about where you can ram that card of yours and wiggle it?"
"Not at all, sir. After all, this IS the opera house."
The sight of Canterlot during winter night is... strange. For some reason everyone is blurry and keeps jumping away when I run past.
Knocking on the door of Heavy's apartment resonates throughout the well-decorated, yet cheap on the outside, building.
"Not on this bathrobe, please," says Heavy, looking questioningly at the visage of a wet, sweat-soaked, shaking, and loudly-breathing griffon drooling on his doormat.
"Bugs. Very cute. Expensive. Socks. Scarf. Playing hockey or something. You and Cross."
He examines the two pieces of paper in my trembling hand.
I take a deep breath.
"Heavy, I did something awful and yet you agreed to come for me. You can stay mad if you want but I want to try to make things a tiny bit better."
"By buying my forgiveness..."
"No... I... screw it. I'm too dumb to sweettalk you. Mistake puts a lot of faith in you and you dashed it by letting me piss you off enough to make you act like an asshole, right?"
His mouth slooooowly opens.
"I hope that's just you practicing for when you and your boyfriend come back home from the best show of this winter," sometimes being witty works, sometimes idiocy rules.
The door and his mouth both slam shut.
"I'll think about it!" comes from behind the door.
Take the small victories, right?
My apartment is on the other side of Canterlot but now I finally don't have to rush. I have no idea what Heavy will say later but that's a problem for future Cromach, poor guy.
As worrying as the prospect is, I can't keep thinking about it as a unicorn silouhette slumped by the door of the apartment building I live in makes me run again.
"Hey, hey," I steady Mistake with my arms. I could easily carry him but my head is in overdrive and telling me it wouldn't help, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine... mostly," he mumbles and sways around when he tries to take a step, "Damn!"
The steady him up plan works right until the point when his legs completely give out and the mechanical arm quickly follows. Not letting him fall down the stairs, I sling him over my back and carry him to the apartment.
"Just drop me off here," Mistake chuckles when I carry him over his sleeping bag.
He ends up on the bed, his complaints unheard.
"So... gonna ravage me here in my helpless state? I had a hunch you were a hopeless romantic," his words come out slowed by exhaustion.
"Tell me what's going on or spanking is due."
He's not drunk. He's not hurt. Drugs don't seem to be the case either. After all, what would actually work on him?
"I'm fine, I just can't, well, move... much," he raises his hoof with the effort of a trained ironpony picking up an entire cart, "I was trying to understand the limits of this body and I think I might have passed them... just a little."
The raised hoof uncontrollably drops back on the bed.
"Can I help?"
"What? No no no. I should be just fine tomorrow."
A thin string of saliva starts coming from his mouth and seeping into the bed. It stops when I close his mouth manually.
"Emperor's feathers! You STINK!" I realize the smell in the apartment isn't coming from me.
"Too much training. Muscles failed. Magic came to help. Not enough magic. Tired. Even my pain is in pain. correction, agony."
"Let me wash you, idiot. This might be the cheapest apartment in Canterlot but it still isn't a pig sty."
Silence spreads, accompanied by a blush on Mistake's face.
"Dun wanna be a vegetable," he mutters.
"Shut up, patient! Sexy nurse coming through," I take off his saddlebags, cap, and horseshoes.
Throwing them into a corner, I do the same myself and sling him over my back again. It's pretty depressing how he just slides into the shower with no control whatsoever.
"Weeee. I'm jello," he snickers.
I can see little tears form in his eyes, completely bypassing the goofball smile, and the term vegetable comes back. Mistake didn't want to be a burden in his good shape but right now he can barely blink without help. Everything will be okay though, at least for tonight, because nurse Cromach is here.
"Not sure what I shouldn't touch. I mean," I sit into the corner of the shower and pull Mistake close so the back of his head is under my chin. Also, the soft flesh of his rump is pressing into my groin, "aren't zombies supposed to break into pieces?"
"I think a construct might be a bit better term for my state but-"
"Just a normal body with few small differences."
"See? That wasn't so hard."
He shifts his position, sliding-
Emperor's infinitely long shaft, it feels so goooooood!
-the crack of his rump around my suddenly sprung-up interest.
"Definitely not as hard as that," he mumbles, his tired tone returning.
Enjoying the little sandwich down there, I put my hands on his shoulders and dig deep. Mistake is surprisingly soft considering his combat ability but it now makes sense how he's rather bad at hardcore physical exercises. The muscles are there, the hard bulges that fail to yield under my touch, but there is a layer of kneadable flesh that makes his body curvy but shapely as heck.
"Mmmmmm," he loses control again and leans his head against my armpit.
I just let my back rest against the wall and brush his mane with my free hand as the hot water flows over us. I'm not sure whether it's because he can't move or he doesn't want to but he keeps humming quietly as I massage the warmth into his chest and belly. For the first time since our meeting aboard the Lightbringer his body seems to warm up even inside.
Is this the day?
Experimentally, I let my hand wander even lower without any resistance or disapproving sound. Even the clicking of his mechanical arm is gone.
Tonight I will rock your world, little unicorn!
Drawing my talons gently over his inner thigh, Mistake's long sigh makes me shiver all over...
...a long sigh followed by a loud snore.
Careful not to shake him, I turn the shower off and grasp for the towel hanging on a rack I can reach even from the floor. Emperor bless pony design.
Wondering whether to let him dry out in the warm room or not, I conclude that a warm bed would be much better. Mistake's soft breathing doesn't change whatsoever as I pick him up and curl with him in the bed.
*knock knock knock*
I swear, if the reason isn't 'everyone will die if I don't open' I will Emperor-damn make sure the first part comes true!
The earthpony outside is certainly one I wouldn't ever expect here.
He peeks inside and grins when he spots Mistake in my bed.
"Sorry to mess up your evening, kid, but we're on guard duty tonight, library patrol. Grab your things and meet me outside."
My annoyed sigh turns into an angry growl by its end but I nod.
Slamming the door shut, I take last look at Mistake before putting my armor on.
Oh for Emperor's sake!
Leaning in, I plant a kiss right under his horn and leave.
"What's going on?" I ask as I follow the earthpony through Canterlot.
"Aside from few Nightguards everypony stationed in the Everfree Forest got a day off so you and some others are the only ones free for duty thanks to your little trip back to the Empire."
"You were in the Everfree as well, right?" I poke a hole in his explanation.
"Yeah but I have to rack up some good points just in case."
I know he's in hot water with the crown for what he did to Darky but I want to hear his version.
"Because I acted like an idiot a long time ago and it keeps hounding me. I don't really want to explain."
"Fine with me."
It truly is. I will remember the shock when I saw Imperial forces attack the pony port town for a long time. Every time I look into Heavy's eyes it comes back, the fact that I almost ruined an entire nation.
Truth be told, I'm kind of happy Valiant doesn't want to talk too much because I can just let the minutes of walking to the castle, going to the top floor of the largest tower, and patrolling in circle for the next six hours pass by without too much effort.
Since neither of us is a unicorn we can't keep going on and on so each of us picks an electric lamp, we walk few of our rounds, put the lamps back into the chargers, and have a short break.
The sky around the castle turns from pitch black to mere grey, signalling our shift is almost over.
Sitting at the recharging post with Valiant, I hear a little click that wouldn't be audible at all if the hall around the library wasn't completely silent. Putting a talon to my beak, I tap Valiant's shoulder and nod to the shadowy hall. He carefully takes off his horseshoes and points to my boots which I remove as well. My paws are great for sneaking but Valiant's hooves definitely aren't. Still, it's better than walking on pieces of steel.
Sneaking through the slowly melting darkness, I take point and soon spot a silouhette carefully treading the stone floor. It's a pony whose hoofsteps for some reason make absolutely no noise. I stop Valiant and point at the pony. He shakes his head and just keeps watching the intruder.
A good idea. We could take him out right here and now but knowing what his goal is would be much more valuable.
As the pony passes by the spot where our lamps are, he picks up the pace. Fortunately, he seems to be too preoccupied by finding his way around and keeping up his silencing magic to notice us. It looks like he doesn't know the exact layout of the castle but knows the general area he wants to get to. It doesn't take much detective work because he takes the stairs down until he reaches a certain floor and then starts checking door after door.
This is the floor where princess Luna's quarters and the Nightguard head office are. It's not too big of a guess to assume the unicorn is headed there.
"You there!" a female voice breaks the silence, making two ponies and one griffon almost void their bowels.
"Tch," the intruding unicorn snarls and charges Darky who noticed him while standing guard at princess Luna's door. His horn starts glowing green. As the glow intensifies it doesn't take a degree in magicology, or whatever they call it, to note that it's not a good sign. Seeing green glow illuminate the hall completely, Valiant rushes to the unicorn and as I start running as well he kicks me backwards.
The several seconds of me standing back up tick away.
The white unicorn jumps straight at Darky, ignoring the hidden blade stabbing his chest as he does so, and pins her to the ground. The green glow reaches painful intensity.
"May you and your fake princess rot in Tartarus, bat filth!" the unicorn growls.
The crushing kick from Valiant sends him flying away, leaving no doubt that every bone in the place of impact must have been broken. Valiant doesn't stop and throws the unicorn over his back and runs away with him.
The sound resembling a wet pop of a bubble of swamp gas stops Valiant's movement.
"THE DAWN HAS ARRIVED!" the unicorn's magically enhanced voice rattles the windows on this floor.
Everything slows down as the green glow of the unicorn's horn solidifies into a shockwave throwing Valiant back at us and spreading out from the unicorn.
It's not an explosion. It's a green wave that melts everything in its path. Floor, walls, glass windows, ornate door to princess Luna's room... Valiant Charge, the unicorn himself.
Valiant's body hits the floor close to me and Darky and I know immediately that one candle of life has been extinguished. Only bones remain from his legs, most of his head is just a skull with bubbling strands of flesh, and I can see his organs through melted muscles on his front body.
Darky sits next to him and tries to find a way to keep him alive, the futility of such effort easy to see.
"-king," bubbles Valiant.
"I'm here," she says and leans closer.
The bone of Valiant's muzzle boops Darky's nose.
"-orry... f-... -thing."
Darky's eyes go wide as if until now this was something to wake up from in a sweaty bed.
"Valiant?" she whispers.
He articulates slowly and carefully as if just hearing himself say the name eased his pain.
The remains of his eyes glaze over, all movement stops, but his smile stays.