All Roads Lead To Canterlot: Sweet Home
Luck, pure luck.
Nothing else describes my situation in any sort of detail. Finding the legendary safe haven, not having my throat cut by the raiders and partaking in the best spicy cooking in the world had nothing to do with my abilities whatsoever. I guess sometimes you just need to stop thinking about things and focus what's in front of you.
In my case it's a set of glimmering lights reflecting off the sand on the horizon.
Two days have passed and I'm finding out that my first assessment of how far I was from the nearest inhabited place was correct. Four days in the desert were my punishment and that's drawing to a close.
Taking a deep breath, I push onto the last stretch of my journey.
After the raid at Zeph's I was allowed to stay and rest for few hours while the debate between the ponies slowly died down and all of them left. It seemed like they haven't seen each other for a long time but knew one another like a family would. When it was only me and Zephyr remaining inside I decided to put my money to good use and bought some things that might help me get through sand safely. It wasn't much but a second water bottle, a sand colored hat, a small backpack with some dried beef and a lot of bandages were enough to bring me here.
Travelling through the night became my favourite with the new equipment. Thanks to a set of bandages wrapped around my burned paws I was able to walk without getting frostbite at night and the backpack on my back sheltered me from wind well enough.
Thank you. I don't know what deity was watching over me the day I saw the wind barrier but... just thank you.
Heh. I'm getting all sentimental.
The lights get closer.
I was right in the assessment that the soldiers flew me into the desert southeast of the fortress. That means whatever city I'm walking into must be built around the railway tracks leading from the ocean the mainland. I can buy a ticket home from there. I am a free griffon now, I survived.
The desert fluidly changes into cobblestone streets and buildings lit by street lamps. The night air is refreshing but not more than the feeling that my predicament is over. Few griffons in turbans throw questioning glances at seeing me come from the empty desert but in few minutes I'm just a part of the crowd. Noone likes doing their business in the heat fo the day so one can say the Griffon Empire has the best night life of every culture ever.
The train tracks were visible from afar so I just keep going in one direction, knowing that I have to reach them eventually. It doesn't take long and I enter a humongous construction looking like a half of a dropped watermelon with tracks converging into it from both sides. Just few more minutes and I'm set for the ride home.
Finally sitting on a train headed in the right direction, it's going to take me some two days to get home and all I can do is rest. Even with better equipment, past days have been dreadful, uneventful but dreadful.
With the train humming around me I lean my head on the window and watch the desert flow around me, glad I'm finally inside an air-conditioned train rather than baking in the sunlight.
The nightmare is over.
What should I do when I get home?
My parents must have already recieved the news about me dying while protecting the fortress from a nomad raid. What am I going to say? Do I just greet them and watch the tears?
Something in the back of my head kicks me. It's just a nagging feeling of things not being right.
Fine, I'll have to lie. It's not a big deal, the Legion lied first. Alright, let's get the details straight.
It was a sunny day back in the desert when I, standing on early morning watch as a dutiful soldier would, saw the glimmer of weapons on the horizon.
Nah, that sounds too bookish. Even if I discount the fact that it's really unlikely for a nomad force to attack a port fortress. Should I throw in some pirates as well?
Okay. The fortress was attacked by a well-coordinated force of nomads from the desert allied with a bunch of pirates owning a fully equipped battleship. The morning watch part is good, better leave that one in. Why? Because early morning watch is the most despised shift by everyone in any occupation. Late night watch is fine because you can sleep until noon. Evening watch is the best because you go to bed when you normally would and morning watch begins when griffons usually wake up anyway. Early morning though... you get only few hours of sleep at night and you can't go to bed when the sun is already up. Yeah, let's keep that in. It will just show my folks how disciplined I became in the Legion.
Attacks on small port towns aren't that unusual so it should pass as truth pretty easily.
Aaand I'm set. I wasn't killed. only captured. I got out, killed few of the captors, stole their equipment and got out of the desert. Easy. My parents should be happy enough not to question any inconsistencies that might arise. Now... how to explain why I can't return to active duty? Post traumatic stress disorder sounds like an easy excuse but the G.I.L. has pretty good psychiatrists. I could include some shivering to be more persuasive.
That should buy me few days to think about what to do next. I guess a job will be necessary. The club scene in my town isn't comparable to the big cities but there still is enough griffons to keep things interesting. The status of a heroic soldier might let me score with some low class noble as well.
When life gives you lemons, sell them and buy booze. I have enough gold to rent an apartment somewhere if I want to and enjoy myself. Exactly what I've always wanted.
With nothing more to work on I drift off to sleep. I'm done with all the crap, I'm officially a hero and I can do whatever I want.
Damn... the desert will stay with me. Not the nonsense at Zeph's but the loneliness and pain in every part of my body. The dying hope when I tried to fire the gun.
Fuck you, Jones. I won.
The little house where I grew up greets me. Yes, literally. The house really begins talking to me and says 'hello'. I might be stretching my lying muscles because I'm going to need to be in my best shape to present myself to my family.
Stopping my hand just before my talons reach the doorbell, something still keeps nagging me. I'm smart though, I have thought of everything during the train ride. I'm leaving nothing to chance.
Taking few breaths to stop the shaking, I push the little button. My heart is pounding but when the face of my mother appears in the opening door and her hand suppresses the gasp I feel the relief wash over me. I'm home.
"Mom," I hug the aging griffon. Truth be told, even if there aren't any tears in her eyes I have trouble stopping myself from crying.
"What are you doing here?" she's at loss for words so she returns to something instinctive.
"Can I come in? I've been through a lot."
"Well, I'm not sure... you know what? Come in so we can talk about things."
She's confused so I can't blame her for being out of it after seeing me.
"Cromach is home, honey!" she announces when we enter the living room and I see my dad.
The even older griffon watching TV in the living room just looks me up and down, turns the TV off and stands up.
"You've got a lot of courage to show yourself here," his gruff voice makes me shake.
"Hey!" I object, "I've almost died in the desert just to return here after fighting a bunch of pirates-"
"Riiiiight," he growls, "You know what? Sit down and let me listen to your story."
I sit on the couch and recount the story in my head.
"The fortress I was in got attacked. I got captured, had to fight my way out of the bandit camp and then-"
"Mhm," he smiles, "The letter about your desertion came yesterday."
"De... ser... tion?" cold sweat drenches me faster than a winter rain.
I suddenly realize what has been bothering me all this time. If Jones lied about the loaded gun then what was stopping him from...
"Read this, you abomination," my father throws a letter in my face.
I'm fast enough to catch it mid-air and I open the folded piece of paper.
We regret to inform you that your son was found guilty of abominable behaviour according to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell act. Private Cromach was seen cavorting with an another male member of the Griffon Imperial Legion by sargeant Jones Fergusson.
Upon their monstrous act being witnessed private Cromach attacked a pair of Legion enforcers and flew away to the desert. In case of him surviving we implore you to inform the Legion about his whereabouts or take care of the standard process yourselves.
Private Cromach is to be charged with a case of desertion and dealt with accordingly. The Legion will of course pay for all expenses for Hunter services in case you decide to use them.
- Sgt. Jones Fergusson, G.I.L. -
The paper drops on the floor because I can't feel my hands.
"Why...? What did I do to you?"
Someone is yelling at me.
It's probably my dad. He's saying I'm a liar, filth staining the family reputation. Mom's crying but even she joins in the blame.
Something gets through the haze.
"Hunters?" I whisper.
"Everything is sealed and signed. Because you were once a member of my family I will give you twenty four hours before I tell them you were here," says dad.
Hunters... bounty hunters to be exact. Griffons hired to deal with any problem requiring cleaning up. They will go after me no matter where I hide and law will be on their side.
I just don't understand. I've never done anything to him that would warrant this.
Oh right... I've just been punched and told to leave this place at once.
Can't stay in the Empire.
They will find me.