All Roads Lead To Canterlot: True Self
With a backpack still on my back I run outside. Thankfully noone is trying to stop me.
Jones wasn't satisfied with twisting the knife in my back, he had to coat it in venom, set it on fire and break it inside. I just want to know why. What could I have done to deserve this? I guess I'll never know. A legal bounty hunter contract is on my head which leaves me with two only options. I can either run away to the desert and join a nomad group or I... have to leave the Empire.
No matter how small a town I might want to hide in would be the Legion pays handsomely and someone would eventually talk. Possibly if I manage to make enough friends before the hunters find me then the prospect of gold might not be tempting enough to ruin a relationship.
Might is a scary word.
No, there isn't anyone who would hide my presence if gold was involved. The Legion soldiers or just normal hunters can make up any bullcrap story just like they did with my parents. The gay stuff won't help either. It's not just the Legion that has outdated standards but they definitely enforce the punishment the hardest. Normal griffons are a bit more inclusive to guys like me but they still harbor some prejudice.
How does life as a nomad sound then?
Even if I discount the extremely high probability of the first contact with any militia ending up with me imprisoned and sold to slavery I'm not sure about that being my desired career. Endlessly roaming the desert and watching dirty roads for potential prey doesn't sound too interesting but I might be able to become a leader and rip the fortress that almost became my grave into pieces... and then rip out Jones' throat and watch him groan and bubble as he fades into oblivion. Of course I would make him beg first, give him false hope and then impale his head on a spike in front of the main gate.
Chances of that happening? Minus one.
I just have to run like I'm doing right now. It's not like I can just clear my name, there isn't anything I could say to anyone willing to listen because technically Jones is playing by the rules. No, this isn't the time to plan some bookish revenge. I have to run, leave the Empire and choose a place that actually cares about its citizens enough not to let them get killed by agents of a different superpower.
Frozen wastes ruled by minotaur tribes are out of question. While those guys aren't as hostile to visitors as they used to be just thirty years ago they still frown upon most sentient species. Well, frowning is fine but the ripping heads off and making clothes out of ponies and griffons alike is bit of a turn-off.
Travelling east into the shattered remains of the old Empire and settling in one of the city states sounds plausible until one realizes that it would involve riding the train for over a week nonstop through the heart of the Empire. I can't risk going that way.
South... nope. Zebras are basically just less friendly ponies and I must admit I enjoy the perks of advanced civilization way too much plus I don't want to spend the rest of my years living in the desert. Yes, I am aware that here, in the southern part of the Empire, I'm surrounded by sand as well but the Empire is huge and the deserts are just a very small part of it.
That means going west across the ocean to Equestria. It's supposed to be a peace-loving country that somehow makes all other superpowers tremble and keep an eye on them. To at least have a chance at getting there I'm going to need to get a ride on a ship but first I even have to get to the closest port.
I look around and, finding where I am after panically rushing through the town, I fly back to the train station.
Few minutes later I'm once again sitting on a train but this time I'm headed in exactly the opposite direction. I chose to buy a ticket to a port close to the one I was stationed in because it represented the fastest way out of the Empire. I could try to go north first and avoid the main Legion border outposts but every day spent on the train will increase the risk of me getting caught by hunters or soldiers.
With my hat casting shadows on my face I'm suddenly ecstatic that I paid a little extra for a private coupé as a pair of Legion soldiers passes me. Careful not to even brush against someone to avoid attention I slink through the train and in the end hide in my private room.
Now to avoid other griffons for three days.
That dream dies a split second later when a ragged griffon jumps through the door, presses a claw to his beak, opens a window and rolls under the wide bench serving as a place to sit or sleep during long trips.
The two soldiers I saw after entering the train rush inside as soon as the griffon slides under me.
"Where is he?" yells one of them.
I'll be damned if I ever help a legion soldier in my life. Putting on the most surprised expression I can muster I point with my shaking claw at the window.
"He-he just barged in, opened the window and jumped out, officers."
"Damn!" one soldier looks at the other, "You check the train roof, I'll go around the station!"
"Yes, sir!" the other one salutes and jumps out of the window.
When the sounds of pursuit die down I kick with my paw into the crawlspace under the bench.
When he crawls out I take a look at the middle-aged griffon. He's got thick belts strapped around his chest that on a second look prove to be hollow storage spaces. A little satchel hanging around his waist completes the visage of someone used to carrying rather large amounts of small items extremely inconspicuously.
"Erm," he scratches the back of his head, "Thanks for not ratting me out."
"Don't mention it. The Legion can kiss my ass. What are they on your tail for?"
"I'm just a travelling merchant who doesn't want to deal with the authorities."
"A smuggler," I grin.
For once I thank my soldier training because I'm fast enough to dodge the knife thrown at me by the hand hiding behind the smuggler's head. He's not so lucky and his beak cracks unnaturally when I slam his face into the wall.
"Let's start over. What are you smuggling?"
"Trinkets and small machinery from the Empire to Equestria and pony magical items back here."
"See? That wasn't that hard," I release him and sit back down.
"Damn that hurt!"
"Your own fault."
"So what now? The guards are gone."
"Mind if I use the window? I doubt these were the only soldiers on the train."
"Not so fast, kid," he grins and winces when his beak cracks again, "A good deed can't go unpunished as they say. Here, take this!"
He pulls out a small black book from his satchel and gives it to me.
"What is it?"
"A little trinket, as I said. It's a magical book I swiped from a salespony in Equestria. Some place called Ponytown or something like that. It's supposed to be a linked book, the kind sold to lovers and tourists. Whatever is written in one of the pair becomes visible in the other."
"Where's the other one?"
"No idea. I managed to steal only one of the pair so the other one is probably still in the shop or somewhere in the trash."
"Think of it as a memento of the time you helped a soul in need, kid."
"Yeah yeah. Just go, mister merchant," I snicker.
He slides the window open, pops his head through and jumps out. I make myself comfortable on the bench/bed and open the little book. Contrary to my expectations there is something written on the first page.
"Death will come for me when I want it, not the other way around."
That's what he said...
... I just wish he hadn't brought me back with him.
That's the only thing in the entire journal. Skimming through the remaining pages I sigh in disappointment and stash the book into my backpack. Nerves finally catch up to me and I fall asleep.
At least I could trust my parents to give me the promised day to run away. They actually gave me more than that though. The train ride was free of trouble and I suppose it's because the hunters were called to the wrong place at the wrong time.
I'm definitely not complaining. At least I'm now standing on the sea shore and watching the promise of my freedom being boarded by passengers. It is a gargantuan ferry loaded with raw resources, machinery and anything that large corporations and even smaller merchants want to try to sell overseas. The tickets are usually much cheaper than on passenger-only ships but one has to find a place to sleep themselves. The amount of griffons and ponies getting on board shows how little they care about the lack of comfort.
The queue is moving and the guards checking the tickets don't seem to belong to the Legion. I almost miss my turn thanks to turning my head around all the time to check the dock for more official soldiers.
"Thirty gold pieces," announces the guard in my line when I ask him for the ticket. His nametag reads 'Ferris'.
"Here you go."
"And your passport?"
Oh fuck me backwards... different country.
How could I have forgotten? Okay. Being sentenced to death sort of took my head over but still.
The gears in my head go to overdrive and I pull out few gems out of my money pouch.
"Will this suffice?" I whisper to the guard.
The griffon tilts his head and I pull out some more gems. He smiles.
"Hey, Butch!" he turns to a different guard who seems to be a little more armed, "This guy forgot his passport. Escort him away, please."
The sickly sweet tone makes me want to claw his head off but I can't afford to make a scene. Better to cut losses, big big losses, and leave without being shackled. The pieces of my bright future disappear into the guard's pocket.
The guard notices my furious and yet bitter expression.
"You'll thank me later, kid," he leans in, "Bribing attempt is a pretty serious offense."
"So is accepting a bribe," I growl.
"Take the life lesson and get out," he flicks my beak with one talon.
Must not kill him on the spot. I could probably take the three guards no problem even while armed with nothing but an unloaded pistol. What would that lead to though? I'm sure to nothing positive.
I hate everything.
My safest hope of getting out of all this is getting ready to leave the port. My desperate gazing doesn't seem to work as enough of a rope to keep the ferry docked.
There are guards patrolling the deck for anyone trying to fly onboard but they seem to be blissfully incapable of looking down. Leaving my paws and talons touching the salty water I fly to the thick chain sticking out of the ship's back. Keeping my backpack above water I wait, hanging on the steel anchor chain almost as thick as my body.
A foghorn announces the planned departure and a large trapdoor opens just above the water line and the chain is pulled inside along with me into a completely black room. There has to be a light source somewhere otherwise engineers wouldn't be able to inspect the anchor from time to time.
Tripping on metal every second I manage to get to the wall and search for anything resembling a door. The cold touch of iron is interrupted by a small rectangular piece of plastic. Upon making sure it's a switch and not a button or anything like an alarm I grit my beak and push it.
Light fills the room. Aside from a mass of steel ending in an anchor there is nothing in the green room. Aaaand the door right next to the switch.
No rush. I have to dry out as much as possible not to draw attention. I could stay here during the entire trip but I'd prefer at least to look for some escape routes and find out the layout of the ship in case I have to run.
The room isn't heated so I'm shivering and praying noone comes in. I have to wait. The guards right after departure must be checking the ship for stowaways but that should end in few hours. From what I've heard the entire trip doesn't take even a day.
Heh... what I wouldn't give for the desert heat right now.
When I stop dripping water I carefully open the door. I must be in the bowels of the ship. Sneaking through the maze of pipes and ladders I creep upwards and eventually open a heavy blast door behind which I lay my eyes on much friendlier interior designed for passengers.
That means guards.
Getting spotted is inevitable anymore and in such situation the best idea is to walk as if I belong here. My fit visage, practiced Legion salute that even local soldiers know and which serves to identify more than a badge and the precisely timed marching I learned in the fortress see me through this and I decide to up the ante.
I stop a patrolling guard and salute.
"Brigadier General Cromach, Griffon Imperial Legion. Where can I find someone named Ferris, private?"
The poor griffon almost empties his bowels.
"R-r-room 220a, sir, deck A, soldier reserve, sir!" he lifts a shaky arm, "That way, sir."
"Good. At ease, private!"
Without another look I go in the direction he gave me.
My poker face stops anyone from approaching me and I knock at the door of the room.
"Yeah? What's up-"
Ferris can't finish his sentence as I punch him in the stomach and push him back inside. One more punch and a kick closing the door later I clench my talons around his neck.
"You fucker! Want a life lesson?-"
Kick in the crotch.
"I used to be a nice guy but then selfish assholes like you happened!-"
Claws on my lion paw penetrate his leg.
"I was betrayed by griffons I believed were the best of the best.-"
I can't control it. I just want to see him suffer so I stomp on his shredded paw.
"My family wants to see me dead!-"
His beak cracks and parts break off under my relentless punching.
"And you wanted to be smug with me?-"
One well-aimed stab takes his eye out.
"I've lived through shit you can't imagine, you filth!-"
He just keeps groaning with my hand choking him.
"What do you have to say for yourself?-"
Nothing. He'll never say anything anymore. I release the grip on his neck and Ferris' body drops on the floor.
I search his body for the stolen gems and kick him few more times for good measure. My stomach feels full of acid but my brain takes over and I open the cabin window and throw the body into the ocean.
Toilet is next.
I've just killed a griffon. Not in self defense but in rage.
I have to throw up everything that makes me me.