It's only a week left until Heart's Warming. How do I know? Well, Dawn doesn't shut up about it, I guess she's dissatisfied with her social life. I would lie if I said she's an interesting pony but her babbling about everything helps with the unending boredom at least for a moment every day. What's scary is how much better she looks as a mare with my every day spent here.
Oh well, it shouldn't last long.
"You know? I did time in a griffon prison and this is definitely a huge upgrade," I mumble while watching Dawn mop the floor, enjoying how she's now actually wiggling her hips whenever she's facing away from me.
"What did you do there?"
Her curiosity about me borders on obsession, she would get over me killing a newborn with a smile. Is it possible I'm the first one to compliment her? I mean she's nothing special but that shouldn't be the case.
"Some nomads overwhelmed us while escorting a caravan through one of the southern deserts. We tried to fight but ponies have it pretty difficult against griffons if they are well armed. Guns are the biggest problem unless you have a unicorn experienced with shielding spells in the group. We had but nopony expected an attack of such size. It turned out we were passing through a territory belonging to some warlord who was trying to tighten his hold over the place."
"I thought the Griffon Empire was ruled by a Holy Emperor."
"It is, technically, but the Empire is made of states with their respective governments like Griffonia and Griffonistan. No, not all of them are named after griffons. Some of the states are pretty small and are more city states rather than small kingdoms, similar to the Crystal Empire."
"You've been everywhere, have you?"
"I was born near Stalliongrad so I came back there when Crystal Empire reappeared just to see what it was about. Well, those little griffon dominions are ruled by sheiks and warlords who just take over land by force and that was the case. He wanted to ransom the stallions and male griffons and keep the females as concubines. Unfortunately for us, mercenaries never have anypony who would pay for them, it's a solitary life most of the time in terms of having somepony close to you."
"Not really. It helps you avoid responsibility and you see a big part of the world if you're lucky."
"What if you're not lucky?"
"You see a big part of the underworld pretty quickly."
Dawn gasps and stops her mopping.
"Aren't you scared? I mean whenever you take a new job."
"Not really. I like the job and I don't plan for the future, no real point. It's better than doing the same thing every day for the rest-DAMN!" I clutch my chest and break into a coughing fit.
Dropping the cleaning utilities, Dawn runs over to me and hits my back few times.
"No! Don't! STOP!" I break out of her attempt at clearing my tubes, "I'm fine, I'm fine. It's just a healing wound."
I point at a patch of twisting fur on my chest, the only disfiguring scar on my well-maintained coat.
"What did that?" Dawn puts her hooves on the scar and kneads it a little. Who am I to stop her desperate desire for a physical contact?
"A pissed off mare, actually," I grin.
"Oh!" she scowls at me.
"On a mission, a mission!" I wave my hooves defensively.
"Reeeeally?" she raises an eyebrow.
"Ye, the one that got me stuck here. I wonder, what did Celestia tell the public about the invading force that appeared out of nowhere from the Everfree Forest and captured Canterlot on the way to the Crystal Empire? Aside from what she explained when I pushed her."
"Nothing really. The rumors were that some ancient king rose up and with his servants he tried to take over the world again. His goal was the Crystal Empire and he would have succeeded if it weren't for the valiant effort of prince Shining Armor and the Crystal Guard."
"Heh, right. Yeah, that's as far away from the truth as it can be, at least the second part. I had to find out information during my mission that sort of break the story completely."
"Why would princess Celestia lie to us?"
"If a story ends neatly nopony asks questions. The truth is that king Sombra really was defeated but not by an armed force but a single unicorn who was leading his attack on Canterlot. I didn't manage to find out how but I managed to track him down to a small town called Ponyville where he lived with his female companion."
Dawn shows an unusual sign of intelligence and points at my chest.
"I bet she wasn't too happy about it."
"Yeah. Princess Luna hired me to find them and to protect the Elements of Harmony which was later called a foalnapping just so Luna didn't get flak for it. I thought I was smart but the crazy mare noticed I was tracking her and her unicorn friend and we ended up fighting."
"She beat you?"
"She surprised me and when I didn't want to kill her, just tie her up, she stabbed me with a blade hidden in her horseshoe. She must have caused some internal wound that makes my chest hurt from time to time, making me cough. Something your, ehm, gentle ministrations didn't help."
"I would ask you for an apology massage but I don't want to get trampled."
"Hey! I'm not THAT bad with my hooves-"
I point to the bucket suddenly hanging on her front leg.
"-HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?" she swings her hoof, nearly misses me, manages to dislodge the bucket which bounces from the wall and hits her head.
"Are you okay?"
"Yaaay, Two Icys!" she wobbles, tongue hanging out.
"Well, you can help if you want to."
"Listening!" she shakes her head and stares at me.
I lean to her ear, making her shiver as I breathe into it.
"Bring me the keys to the cell and a set of Royal Guard armor so I can get out of here," I knock on her head and start laughing.
"I, erm, well, you seem like a nice guy but I can't really do that. Sorry," she blushes and stomps the floor nervously.
Wow, she was actually thinking about it.
"Don't worry. I have no reason to cause trouble but there really is something you can do."
"For real?" she almost jumps into the air.
"There's a home remedy you can make out of household ingredients. If you could brew it in the kitchens," I quickly stop myself at the thought of drinking something Dawn prepared, "Or better yet, if you could just get me the ingredients and time near a stove I could make it and you could bring some tea to pour it into."
"What will the potion do?" she asks, ears perked and eyes wide.
"It's just something for the pain, a minor muscle relaxant and analgesic. Field medics use it if they need to transport wounded patients during combat."
And a decent paralytic agent if dosed incorrectly.
"Tell me what you need and I'll get it."
Heavens help me!
"Just come tomorrow with some papers and pens and I'll write down the ingredients. Bring your machine friend as well, it might turn out to be a pleasant afternoon."
"Oh, and wear something silky and see-through," I grin.
There she goes again.
Dawn just sits there, panting, locked in her own imagination.
Without any reaction from her I bring the cleaning supplies out of the cell and then push her still sitting on the floor outside as well. It would be less creepy if she didn't slide out surprisingly easily and leave a sticky trail behind her.
That filly's got it bad. Well, at least she has something to fantasize about in the shower tonight.
Alone again, I lie down on the bed. After a day spent by doing makeshift physical exercises I want to get as much rest as I can, not that I have a choice.
"Now don't move until I say so, okay?" I tell the mechanical pony brought to the cell by Dawn.
"Observation - stillness makes ponies uncomfortable."
"True but if you move I won't be able to make a precise... picture of you."
"I'm curious about technology and I haven't had a chance to lay my hooves on something like you before."
"Limited physical contact allowed."
"Thanks, I guess? Now shut up unless it's important. You're distracting me."
I might not be able to do what I want with the machine but it seems willing to give me information I could sell when I get out. For now I need to grip the pencil in my mouth as steady as I can and catch as much detail as possible while drawing. I'd be lying if I wasn't curious about the internal structure of the robot but I doubt I'll be able to produce correct blueprints.
Speaking of blue and prints...
"Say: Draw me like one of your ponies from Prance!"
The raspy voice repeats my sentence emotionlessly while I grin.
I was planning ahead when Celestia sent me to save a griffon traitor from the Empire in order to shorten my sentence and I requested few of my friends to serve as a crew. All of us, of course, acted like complete gentlecolts the entire trip, not causing trouble whatsoever and helping pass time of the mirror world crew by questions and genuine interest.
Oh Celestia, how engineers like to share ideas...
Long story short, with enough gold paid to my friends they spent the entire trip talking and drawing, leaving me with complete blueprints of the Lightbringer, its weapons, and a hoof-operated gun. Two thousand bits it cost me but if I find the right pony it might fetch me ten times more, maybe a hundred times more.
From what I understand it is impossible to trade material goods between our world and the mirror one because they would teleport back if the stable portal closed but services and ideas still carry their value. I like to dabble and there's no way I'm gonna get enough information...
...is there? The robot seems dumb enough to give me the specifics.
"Hey, bucket, what do you know about how you were made?"
It looks at me for a second and then the strange blue circles in its black eyes get smaller when it refocuses.
"When two typewriters love each other very much..." it trails off.
My withering stare doesn't seem to work at all.
"You know what? I apologize, you're way too cynical to be just a machine. Must be Dawn's fault.-"
I dodge a splash of dirty water.
"-Good job, now get mopping again.-"
"-Do you actually know anything though, robot?"
"No direct schematics found. Material details analysis available."
"That might be good enough," I quickly go over what I've drawn already. The general shape is there, the notes about what's metal plating, what looks like a mechanical component, and the strange cables under the plates are there as well although they don't say much. Time to fill in the blanks, "What have you got?"
"Crystalline skeleton - Decentanium crystal dust infused into compressed microsteel. Low flexibility, high durability. Thaumic-"
"-magical component serving as a way to allow biological materials to repair the structure."
"Waaaaait a minute."
"It's just a figure of speech. What does that mean? Doesn't somepony have to, I don't know, come with a screwdriver and replace a broken part?"
"Not necessary. I can digest food and remake the organic nutrients into materials repairing the unorganic structure. Crystal structure inside the steel allows it."
He can't have been made in the mirror world which means the methods and materials are in this world. Those methods are probably known only to few individuals or somepony willing to experiment.
"Armor plating - ashen steel with dragon scale peels to increase heat deflection."
I run my hoof over what seems to be the outer shell of the robot. The grey steel feels similar to a leaf, a slick material with thin veins pronounced enough to be felt but not enough to grate.
"Magic resistance - crystal batteries draining thaumic energy absorbed by cable musculature."
I write frantically as the details about chemical structure of used crystals, their properties and processing methods, flow from the robot. I don't understand much of it but an experienced chemist or an engineer should get hard from the amount of information I'm getting.
"So what makes you tick?"
"Internal clock set to general Equestrian timezone."
"Buck me," I roll my eyes.
"Pleasure appendage engaged."
In utter horror I stare at the black column growing between the robot's hind legs.
What twisted, insatiable individual invented this thing?
The buzzing of the vibrating thing is drowned in the noise of Dawn's cleaning utensils crashing on the floor.
"T-that would kill me," she whispers.
She doesn't look TOO horrified about the prospect.
"Target species - ascended unicorn. Change size?"
"No, put it away before she has to mop the floor again," I stretch, stiff from long time of lying on the bed, drawing, and writing, "Out of sheer stupid curiosity - what comes out of it?"
It didn't look like a normal pleasure instrument but like an oversized replica of a pony genitalia so I just had to ask, if only to see Dawn's reaction.
"One percent of nutrient intake is reserved for the creation of healing salve to repair possible tissue damage caused by pleasure appeandage overuse."
A clopbot injecting healing potions.
"I think I'm more done than a mayo sandwich left in the desert sun. One day I will die a happy pony knowing I've seen everything the world had to offer."
"Finished! I-" Dawn wipes her forehead.
"Don't move!" I jump up from the bed and put the cleaning supplies outside before she spills everything again, "There, I don't want you to pass out of exhaustion from having to clean this one more time."
"Thanks, I just don't know what's wrong."
"Glasses recommended," says Cloppy, the jackoff all trades, "Low peripheral vision detected."
Dawn growls but ignores him and turns to me.
"Well, see you tomorrow," I ruffle her mane.
"I... well, Heart's Warming is in two days and, you know, I'd like to... ehm."
"No family to go home to? I know the feeling."
"Yeah, the castle will be almost empty so we could borrow a guest room for the evening and... I could help you make the tea thing you wanted."
A little spark of pity grows in me as I watch the mare fail to stutter out her true wish.
You might have no wings but I will help you reach the stars for one night.
"Sure thing, Dawn," I wrap my wings around her, "And bring that oversized armor of yours, I know a trick or two with the leather straps."
Smiling like and idiot and almost crying at the same time she runs out of the cell and Cloppy follows.
It's difficult to tell time in a cell where there's no sunlight, only the periodic shutting down of a light embedded in the ceiling, but I think today is Heart's Warming. For some reason Dawn wasn't here yesterday which, to be honest, made the day boring as heck but allowed my nerves to get ready for today. I've got a plan. It's risky and, if failed, would result in me staying here possibly forever but I can't just sit here, it's killing me inside.
It has to be late afternoon because even though I usually wake up late I'm done with all exercises, my body hurts as if a minotaur has been kicking me the entire day, and I'm ready to rest.
The door clicks.
"Uh, hi," Dawn, this time without the usual mop and bucket, waves at me, "Come here."
"Yeah, sorry I wasn't here yesterday, I had to do other stuff to have an evening off today. I've done all the other cells already and you, well, you won't need yours tonight, right?"
"So, what's the plan?"
"We can go outside again if you want first. It's a blizzard out there but if we keep to the castle walls we can get some fresh air."
"Thanks. Let's go then," I follow her out of the cell, "Wait. Wouldn't the guards object to me not wearing shackles or anything?"
"There's nopony on duty at the service entrance and everypony is attending the Heart's Warming party in the castle ballroom. It's a mixer for those who don't want to be alone at this time of the year. We should be fine."
Aside from the stairs it's surprisingly short way out of the castle through the guard entrance and we're soon being whipped by the ice crystals outside. Wrapping my wing around Dawn for protection and warmth, I lead her along the castle walls to stretch my legs. It might seem stupid to non-pegasi but even the hail striking my feathers feels much better than the stuffy air of the cell. I walk in silence, happy despite getting colder and wetter with every minute, and Dawn just leans on me and lets me take the lead, enjoying the touch of our bodies.
I don't understand how she could be so desperate. After all, by doing this she's risking getting imprisoned herself or even killed if I turned out to be a secret psycho. Well, I'm not but she's stupid to do this. I mean, she's nothing special but she must be undergoing a guard training as well as cleaning the dungeons every day and her toned side pressing tightly into mine proves that's the case.
"Let's go back, you little idiot," I mumble after we circle the entire castle.
She nods, not even protesting.
"I don't know the layout of the castle so you have to lead the way," I whisper as we reenter the entrance halls of the castle, "You look really tired though. We don't have to do this if you don't feel like it."
Well, we do but...
"No no no, I'm fine, I'm fine, I just," she yawns, "spent the entire last night cleaning the top floors and you can't take a break when a batpony is watching you, am I right?"
She laughs weakly but walks through the halls, determined to get the promised action.
"This is the guest wing," she stops in front of one of many doors and fishes out a key from her saddlebag, "I borrowed this from a maid friend of mine."
She unlocks the door and a large room, or an entire apartment, opens before us. I ignore most of the overly decorated furniture and look straight at the king-size bed and next for the door to some place I could... damn.
"Do you have the things for the tea?" I cough weakly and rub my scar.
"Yeah," she taps her bag, "I got us the guest room mainly because it has a small kitchen in case foreign guests want to cook something not available here."
"You're a miracle."
"Thanks. I'm glad you think so," she sighs.
I put a hoof under her chin and look into the chocolate eyes.
"Dawn, I don't know what possessed you to throw your lot in with a prisoner but let me assure you it's nonsense. Yes, you are clumsy and have an overactive imagination but I can easily see you're inexperienced with colts and if the clopbot was right you might need glasses. Both of those problems have easy fixes. You are a guard in training and you're spending most of your free time doing chores possibly caused by, once again, a simple problem. Do you trust me?"
"Yes," she whispers, stunned.
"Well you shouldn't. You are lucky I'm not a murderer or a rapist or some crazy pony set on eating your teeth and making a necklace out of your earwax," I boop her nose and she giggles, "You look good, you might be a little dim, but you... ehm, I don't know where I'm going with that."
"How often does a mare like me get a chance to spend time with somepony like you who is gorgeous, well-travelled, and adventurous?"
"A mare like you should enjoy the service of somepony like that every evening."
A compliment costs nothing and she does have a really nice smile.
"I think I lo-" she blushes when I put a hoof to her mouth.
"No, you don't. I'm just the first one to show you how it should feel," I slap her rump with a wing, "Now go have a shower, you're drenched. I'll make the tea."
"He he," she covers her face, "The herbs are in my bag in a small box."
She trots off to a different room of the guest apartment and I wait for the water to drown out all noise.
Humming, I spend the next minutes boiling and crushing the herbs. In the end I'm left with clear liquid that I pour into a glass separate from the tea, not worried about Dawn touching it. Spiking my tea with small amount, I bring the tray with a pair of cups to the main room. The dull throbbing in my scar caused by the cold outside subsides.
With an evil grin, I open the shower door and walk inside just to hear Dawn squeak and throw a towel over my head. I quickly return the favor and while she's blinded I begin toweling her mane and neck.
She quickly stops resisting and just enjoys my attention while I try to dry myself as well as much as possible without breaking physical contact.
"Comfortable?" I rub my muzzle against her neck.
I nod at her to follow me and offer her some tea. The amount of sugar she puts into it can't be healthy but whatever.
"Aaaaahm!" Dawn yawns again, belly full of warmth, and drops on the bed, mumbling, "I don't care if nothing more happens. Best Heart's Waming ever anyway."
I could just leave things as they are but my stallon's pride doesn't allow it.
"And miss the main course?" I tower over her in the bed, lean down, and gently bite her neck.
"I've never done-"
I silence her with a kiss. She's horrible at it but right now I find it cute rather than annoying.
"I noticed," I tease her a little, rubbing her belly, "Don't worry though, just leave it to me."
Her moaning and joyful tears are her reward for trusting me.
Sitting on the bed next to Dawn passed out from lack of sleep and her first active night, I persuade my shaking limbs to listen to me and go to the kitchen to get some more tea...
...and the rest of my potion which I slowly pour into Dawn's mouth.
Her breathing slows down even more after a while and I throw the blanket over her.
Good night, little filly.
Not worried about making sound anymore, knowing that Dawn won't wake up, I put on her armor which is a little tight on me but if I don't breathe too much I should pass for a Royal Guard. Unfortunately, I am unarmed so I have to settle for a knife from the kitchen. I come across a tiny bag of gold in Dawn's saddlebag while looking for the keys and I leave it where it is.
I don't need your gold, I've got plenty of mine.
I pull out a spare blanket from a drawer and slice it into pieces which I wrap around my hooves and stuff into the empty places in my armor so I don't freeze to death later. Unfortunately, my next steps will not lead me out in the safe way so I have to take precautions. Taking one last look at Dawn, I peek out of the room and when I don't hear nor see any guards I walk outside, looking for the closest stairs up.
I can hear the music coming from a certain part of the castle which must be the party still going on. My muffled steps lead me upwards towards the library tower from where I can get to the airship landing pad on the roof. Thankfully, Dawn's keyring had the key guards use for opening castle windows and the library is unguarded tonight. There's one more thing I have to yet retrieve.
The entrances to the library are not doors but steel bars such as standard prison cells have. The ones with large hinges behind which a pony could stash a small, hollow tube filled to the brim with rolled-up parchment. All of my friends got searched while leaving the castle after our mission aboard the Lightbringer but nopony bothered with a unicorn engineer hiding a scroll case behind one of the hinges. Yes, the steel grate wouldn't open but from what I heard nopony uses the library anyway and if they do they always use the entrance closest to the stairs.
Hoping for that to be the case, I reach through the empty space between the bars and tap all over the lowest hinge. A long, metal case gets dislodged by the knocking and I roll it towards me, unscrew the lid, and make sure the blueprints are still there.
Hoofsteps coming from the stairs down make me thank whatever possessed me to wrap the blanket pieces over my hooves and I rush to the stairs up, chewing Dawn's keyring in my mouth. The universal guard key works on the door on the top of the stairs and soon I can hear the howling wind from outside. Whoever was coming will eventually notice the door leading here is unlocked, at least if it was a guard, so I have to gather all my courage to walk outside on a large platform whipped by the ongoing blizzard.
For a second I ponder taking the guard armor off but being heavy might help me not get too bashed by the wind so I take a deep breath and jump.
The spikes of pain spread through my wings but I just grit my teeth and ignore the ice lacerating my face while fighting to stay in the air. Fortunately, it's not too long before I touch the cobblestone roads of Canterlot city.
I'm freezing. I can't feel my hooves, I, unfortunately, can feel my wings and I wish I couldn't but...
And without spilling a drop of blood. Violence is for those who have nothing else to offer.
Time to get my money and leave the town to find a buyer for the most advanced technology known to this world.