All Roads Lead To Canterlot: Lost Soul
[Linked Book Entry]
She willingly chose to do it.
Discord was right, I did cause her only pain after all.
Why does some small part inside me keep blaming her? She did the sensible thing.
If there's somepony to blame then it's Void and yet... I can't be mad at him.
If the damn alicorn of Death did his job properly then I wouldn't be in this mess anymore. Yet, he failed and stole the only pony who mattered to me. He did give her back her wings, the things she loved the most.
Same goes for me. I had three chances to put an end to this and failed every single time.
Heh, I won't fail this time. There's nopony who even remotely knows about me... nopony who would pointlessly save me.
She willingly chose to do it. She willingly chose to do it. She willingly chose to do it. She willingly chose to do it. She willingly chose to do it. She willingly chose to do it.
The answer has always been there, I was just too blind to see it.
Thank you, Discord.
Void? The black guy at Zeph's?
He did say he regretted doing something. Hmph, a week ago I wouldn't believe in fate but now...
"Let's not get too metaphysical here. I've got enough of my problems," I mumble.
That's not actually true. With the money looted from the pirates I'm now fairly well off. I'm not exactly sure what the price range in this... Canterlot would be since it's supposed to be the capital city of Equestria but at least the train ride from the port was cheaper than what I'm used to from the Empire.
Equestria isn't too different from the Empire with the exception of few minor, totally insignificant details.
IT'S WINTER HERE!
Snow's freaking everywhere and I had to buy some clothes not to catch cold. It's surprising how a completely different climate can exist just a day's ride from the Empire but the weather here is supposed to be controlled by the flying ponies and this time of the year is designed to let the land rest.
Don't get me wrong, I'm used to cold, especially after walking through the desert after dark but the kind of frost threatening to take away your limbs because they're not only cold but wet as well is something new. I had to find a clothes shop soon after reaching land because my desert hat and a backpack were sorely insufficient in this weather.
That leads me to the second important difference. Noone, or nopony as they say here, is throwing rocks at me. Yes, the ponies act with reserved indifference around me but that still is better than to how ponies are treated in the imperial heartland. With how xenophobic we are I can't blame ponies for being careful around me.
Still, arriving in a port town helped because the local traders were apparently used to my kind and clothes weren't difficult to find. The fun thing is that even a slightly taller than average griffon like me towers above all but the largest earthponies. Well, that might be slightly too overexaggerated but I'm taller than most ponies.
When I was waiting for the train to Canterlot some little ponies, foals I think they're called, thought I was a snow sculpture wearing a sweater.
Strange country. Smaller than the Empire as well. I bought a map and Canterlot seems to be in the middle of the continent. Despite that, the ride took only hours whereas travelling from the coast to the imperial capitol would take almost a week.
I've got to admit that Canterlot is something. The city is build into the side of the mountain like a gigantic balcony. White towers presumably belonging to the castle and other significant buildings threaten to pierce the clouds. Yes, the clouds are hanging fairly low thanks to the pegasi flying between the spires but that doesn't diminish my amazement at the architecture... too much.
I've never been to the imperial capitol but I've never even heard about such fairy tale-esque buildings anywhere in the Empire.
My amazement fades slightly when the train enters the city via tracks set in the side of the mountain and a more familiar architecture belonging to a bustling city appears. This place isn't just a magical ponyland no matter how much it might seem like it. There are businesses, guards, supply routes and ponies have their lives just like griffons instead of just singing and dancing in the streets and magicking up a cake to eat here and there.
That might sound weird but that's how uneducated griffons percieve Equestria. Once again I'm happy for listening to the tales of sailors and soldiers drinking in port taverns.
Hell, I used to believe that as well before joining the Legion and recieving the training. They really did give me everything I have.
Canterlot train station is full of ponies who gawk at me stepping out of the train. These guys aren't as used to griffons as the seaside ones are so my guess about local griffons settling in a bigger city may have been wrong. Nevertheless, I'm going to just look around now that I'm more used to, and better prepared for, the cold.
It's late afternoon but I'm in no rush. A visitor unused to social life might be inclined to look for a hotel or something but the real idea is to find a bar where normal ponies go after work and ask about affordable place to stay tonight there. That way I won't get screwed by a business trying to rip tourists off.
"Watch where you're going!" I hear an annoyed voice of a unicorn nearby.
"Hm? Oh, sorry, sir," mumbles someone flatly.
The complaining unicorn growls but keeps going after being bumped into by a smaller unicorn.
Maybe not smaller but just one slowly walking with head hung so low he probably can't see too far ahead.
I grin to myself. The behaviour is one I know from the bazaars in the Empire. Pickpockets would often try to look inconspicuous or unapproachable and self-absorbed while bumping into griffons and stealing from them. I'm pretty sure the complaining unicorn is currently missing few coins from his saddlebag.
Valiant Charge said he was going to rejoin Royal Guard and that he might put in a good word for me if I tried to join as well but catching a thief in act could be a point in my favor. Truth be told, I'm not exactly keen on seeing Valiant again.
Using my white feathers and fur to my advantage, I follow the thief. Guys like him might look like they're ignoring everything going on around but are actually watching their surroundings carefully for someone going after them or for another victim.
"Hey!" another bumpee complains.
"Sorry," the unicorn just mumbles.
I couldn't see him move a muscle suspiciously during the impact but I think all unicorns can levitate things so that might be it. Even if I might fail to catch him in the act it wouldn't hurt committing his looks to memory. It's easy because even despite the cold he's not wearing any clothes.
His coat is completely black with longer patches of fur around his hooves. Not the midnight black but just the shabby, faded black a long used and repeatedly washed article of clothing would be. Both his mane and tail are slightly darker shade of blue but still light enough to contrast heavily with the rest of him. From walking fairly close to him I can see not too obvious patches of missing fur such as someone with deep scars on which the fur doesn't grow anymore might have. He's actually in a pretty good shape, perhaps a soldier down on his luck?
With him not trying to avoid my following him whatsoever my interest turns slightly pervy because... why not?
Gotta admit I have a thing for ponies and this guy doesn't look half bad from behind. When I compare him, ignoring his posture, to other stallions he is slightly smaller and his muzzle isn't that prolonged.
I'm soooo devious.
He's moving pretty slowly so I fly ahead of him, far enough for it to look like I've just appeared from around a corner, and set a collision course. He should see me ahead of time and if I feel anything move in the pouch on my belt I can catch the pickpocket in the act. Then it should be pretty easy to either get him to the nearest guard outpost or...
I grin to myself.
...persuade the cute thief to be of use to me in more ways than as a guide.
"Careful!" I say as he bumps into me.
"Sorry, sir," he looks at me and mumbles just like all the times before.
Nothing. Not a sliver of a reaction is in his pink eyes even after running into a griffon. Most ponies at least froze or recoiled whenever that happened but to him I'm either a normal sight or he didn't even notice.
Okay, this is getting creepy.
He crosses the road, completely ignoring a carriage missing him by a hair.
His steps are unsteady as if he was drunk but nothing in his voice or no smell around him points at it. He looks more like someone who had an incredibly bad day and...
He starts taking stairs upwards leading to the city walls, a popular tourist attraction from what I've heard.
...he definitely doesn't look like someone going home.
The stone steps are well-maintained and not slippery at all but I'm not walking too fast anyway. The view is stunning, and this time I don't mean the stallion's backside. From up here one can see tracks of land that must take almost a day to reach and the towns and cities dot the landscape.
The black stallion steps with his front legs on one of the crenellations and pulls himself up to sit on it. If his eyes weren't closed I might, just might, think for a second he's admiring the view like I was.
With our hind paws we, griffons, are naturally sneaky compared to ponies and their hard hooves but I notice a twitch of his ears proving he knows about me. He doesn't turn his head though.
"Everything all right?" I ask.
"Hm?" he looks at me, his pink eyes wide open, "Yeah, everything's fine."
His appearing smile is comforting and also completely fake.
'Why do you want to jump?' doesn't seem like a good conversations starter so I go about it in a different fashion.
"Are you from around here?"
"No, not really," he shrugs. Despite having no real grip on the frozen surface of the rock he doesn't slip at all. He seems to have an amazing sense of balance.
"Damn," I fake disappointment, "I've just arrived and I could use a guide."
"I could give you some pointers, no problem."
Surprising. Someone with his presumable aim in mind would be more likely to just send me on my way. Was I wrong in my assumption?
"I thought you weren't from Canterlot."
"I'm not. I used to live here for quite a while."
"What made you move away?"
He chuckles to himself.
"I wanted to find peace."
"Why are you back then?"
"I didn't find it," he sticks out his tongue and seems to cheer up a little, "I'm not important though. What did you want to know about this city?"
"Most of all where I could find a cheap apartment."
He points in one direction.
"There are complexes with one-pony apartments on the other side of the city. The cheapest ones are the ones closest to the mountain where tourists don't go anyway. It's easy to find your way, lot of earthponies around there."
He seems helpful and willing to spend as much time as I need but...
... that just makes me return to my original assumption. He has no plans for today.
"I could... use a guide. I can make it worth your time," I jingle the pouch on my belt.
He sighs and looks into the distance. Without hesitation he jumps down from the crenellations. Fortunately, he lands in front of me rather than on the ground shimmering in the depths under the city.
"Let's go. Consider it a welcoming gift."
I follow him, having no idea what to say. That's mostly due to the fact that when he's not alone his posture is completely different and he walks steadily with a a goal in mind. Well, another chance to let my eyes feast on his body. He's not specifically amazing in any way but his slightly less stallion-y yet fit build is more enjoyable to look at than the buildings around.
"What's your name? Mine's Cromach," I slap his shoulder and feel the muscle moving under the skin. He doesn't object when I can't help myself and squeeze a bit.
"Cromach? Like the immortal griffon hero who ironically died about two hundred years ago, killed by the citizens he was supposed to protect from changelings?"
My eyes go wide and my beak drops open.
He chuckles to himself.
"I read- used to read a lot," he explains.
"So what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Oh, right. Errm... call me Mistake."
"Your parents must really hate you."
"You have no idea."
He successfully avoids all my questions about himself but is a fountain of knowledge concerning Canterlot. He seems to know every dark alley and every white tower the city has to offer.
"What brings you to Canterlot?" is his first question aimed at me.
"Dunno. I think I'll try to join the Royal Guard."
"You're in luck."
"Royal Guard has only accepted ponies for quite a while but right now, with the changeling peace treaty signed, they are horribly understaffed and might go for a griffon as well."
"I used to be in the Griffon Imperial Legion. I think I might have an advantage already."
"Really?" I say sceptically.
"Griffon-made cutlass and a pistol, hidden out of well-balanced muscles proving you're used to wearing heavy armor rather than being a bodybuilder."
How the hell did he...? Well, I'm not a pushover in these things myself.
"You seem to know what you're talking about and you know way too much about Canterlot. Any experience with the duty yourself, an ex-guard perhaps?"
He just smiles to himself and doesn't answer.
We enter a five-story building that looks decrepit on the outside but inside is simple, yet well-maintained. Mistake leads the way to the closest apartment and knocks. After short haggling I get a key to a single apartment and pay my first month's rent in advance.
I just follow the blue-maned stallion upstairs and he unlocks one of the doors. The place is basically a one room with a door leading to a storage closet and another to the bathroom.
I couldn't care less. It's still better than sleeping in the Legion barracks where I had a similar amount of space but shared it with Harrison. The price is pretty sensible as well.
"Like what you see?" Mistake asks.
I look all over him and stay focused on his backside for noticeably long.
He bonks my hat softly and makes it slide over my face. I expected direct outrage or basically anything negative but not the little laugh. Perhaps ponies are much more accepting of those kinds of interests?
"Well, have a nice dream tonight then. Oh, and don't overdo it with jokes like those. Equestria isn't like the Empire but with there being a lot less stallions than mares there still is some disdain towards... that."
"Yeah. I... have something to take care of."
"Good luck then," I wave at him.
"Thanks," he closes the door.
'Something to take care of'... how stupid does he think I am? Not at all probably. He just doesn't care. That's why he was willing to help for free and spend the remaining daylight by helping a complete stranger.
I need to be sure.
Giving Mistake a minute headstart, I follow the unicorn.
He's back to his slinking through the streets and bumping to careless ponies. He's taking a different route but we end up on the city walls again. For the second time today I watch him look into the distance and sigh heavily.
"So... still planning to jump?" I ask.
He twitches. It appears he didn't notice me this time.
"I would talk to you but that would be a waste of time," he shakes his head, "Do you need anything else?"
"Maybe for the guy who helped me not to go splat all over a huge circle?"
A simple question... to which I don't have an answer. Everything like sanctity of life and general things like that seem trite, impersonal. If someone has a problem that has already broken their self-preservation instinct then abstract ideals mean nothing anymore.
The desert made me think a lot.
"Because I want to repay you."
"It was for free, Cromach. There's nothing that needs repaying."
"There is. I'm a Legion deserter and they want me dead. They told my family who set bounty hunters on my head. Everyone I've ever known will either try to kill me or rat me out for a reward. The little thing you did was helping me start a new life here. I feel like I owe you."
"All that and you still want to live?" he asks.
"What I WANT is to find the guy who lied about me to my family and rip him apart limb from limb. What I'm going to settle for is becoming a guard here and finding a pony or a griffon to bang silly every night."
"That has nothing to do with me."
He hasn't refused anything I asked him for yet. He might be resisting but he hasn't refused a single request for help.
"Help me get into the guard and I will stop bothering you. When I'm pouding the pavement and three ponies in the meantime you can slit your throat for all I care."
I didn't expect that.
He doesn't have to know I'm lying my ass off.
Mistake sighs and drops down from the crenellations one more time.
"Just... just lead the way," he mumbles.
I slap his butt.
"Top or bottom?"
I wonder if he know I'm not talking about a bunk bed.