ReebAnon

Black Mage Anon CYOA

Feb 4th, 2017
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  1. >You are Anon.
  2. >You're a pretty decent black mage if you do say so yourself.
  3. >Which you'd have to.
  4. >...You have no friends.
  5. >Which is part of the reason you're in the city of Adeakin.
  6. >You need to carry all of your gear, which is starting to get you hurt.
  7. >Yeah, one or two furs, a book or two, and your food are pretty light.
  8. >But you need thirteen or fourteen furs for a decent profit and they're starting to slow you down.
  9. >So you're here to buy a pack horse.
  10. >You don't have very much money, but you saved a lot by getting a cheap room at the inn.
  11. >By cheap room you mean a horse stall for ten gold.
  12. >Normally a room would cost you fifty gold, but the innkeeper felt bad they were out of rooms.
  13. >Something about officials coming from Adraych and a festival to celebrate?
  14. >He certainly didn't pity you enough to let you sleep in the stall for free...
  15. >At the moment you're walking through the market, realizing two things.
  16. >Firstly, not a lot of people sell horses.
  17. >Secondly, those that do charge a lot of gold.
  18. >The first place you checked had a minimum price of over a thousand for just a horse.
  19. >The second place didn't have set prices but asked how much you had to spend.
  20. >He laughed at you when you said you had 860 gold.
  21. >So now you're wandering the streets, looking for lunch.
  22. >"Hey! You! The black mage!"
  23. >Not seeing anyone else dressed in blue robes and a huge hat, you figure he's trying to get your attention.
  24. >Turning your head, you see a greasy looking man in the characteristic robes of a black mage, without any hat.
  25. >You remain silent as he runs up to you, panting from the exertion.
  26. >Straightening his robes, he begins to speak
  27. >"A friend of mine said you were in the market for a pack horse?"
  28. "Yeah, but I don't think I'm gonna be able to meet your prices if those guys were your friends"
  29. >"Don't worry about that, how about a pack pony?"
  30. >If this guy is selling ponies, they might be a little cheaper than a full grown horse...
  31. >Doesn't mean you should let him know how much you need something to carry your stuff, though.
  32. "Depends. How much can it carry? I need it to be able to carry a decent amount."
  33. >You really don't, just a couple of books and furs.
  34. >Not fighting bandits with thirteen furs strapped to your back is something you look forward to.
  35. >"Oh plenty! Follow me and I'll show her to you."
  36. >He starts moving before you can even respond
  37. >"I never caught your name, I'm Issac"
  38. >He sticks out his hand as you walk through the streets, a little awkwardly as you both move through the typical marketplace crowds
  39. "I'm Anon."
  40. >You shake his hand firmly as he leads you into the residential district
  41. "Your friend sent you to find me, without giving you my name?"
  42. >"He's pretty forgetful, you know? He remembers the names of his horses better than his friends"
  43. >He gives an awkward laugh and stops suddenly.
  44. >"Well, we're here"
  45. >In an exaggerated gesture, he swings his robed arms and points to a small thatch house
  46. >...It actually looks like the worst house on this street
  47. >"It's not much, but it's mine! Want to take a look at the pony now?"
  48. "Yeah, wouldn't want to have made this trip for nothing, would I?"
  49. >Honestly, this house looks a little run down.
  50. >Your worries about entering his house are evidently unjustified, as he walks directly behind it.
  51. >As he rounds the corner, he calls back to you
  52. >"I've got a stable for the animals back here, if you'll just follow me"
  53. >Without responding, you continue until you see what is basically a thatch roof and six or seven high fences that you assume constitute 'stalls'.
  54. >With another exaggerated wave of his robes, Issac motions to a chained up purple...unicorn?
  55. "This...is not a pony"
  56. >"W-well she's just as good as a normal pony! She's not even a real unicorn, no magic or anything!"
  57. "Look, that's not the problem here. This is a fucking unicorn, why are you trying to sell me this?"
  58. >Unicorns were insanely rare and in the south, it's frowned upon to touch them, let alone sell them.
  59. >Although, unicorns [spoiler]or their parts[/spoiler] can be sold up north for obscene prices.
  60. >"It's not even a real unicorn! It's u-um a magical experiment!"
  61. >Suddenly his back straightens, but looks at you guiltily
  62. >"You caught me, this has something to do with magical experiments, okay?"
  63. >He begins to grin
  64. >"I'll give you a low price for her, though."
  65. >You're poor, but are you suspicious-wannabe-insane-mage-unicorn-salesman poor?
  66. >...You honestly might be
  67. "Let me get a look at her before I commit to anything, alright?"
  68. >He slams his palm into his forehead.
  69. >"Of course! Of course!"
  70. >He calms down and looks back at you, smiling once again.
  71. >"Look for as long as you want!"
  72. >Ignoring Issac's borderline insanity, you take a closer look at the unicorn.
  73. >Her coat and horn are a light purple, with her mane a darker purple, with stripes of pink and indigo.
  74. >On both of her flanks there's a pink star with small white stars surrounding it.
  75. >There's an unfamiliar glyph branded on her left flank, in stark contrast to her otherwise normal coat.
  76. >She stares into space, though, which contradicts the stories you'd heard, of unicorns with almost human-like intelligence.
  77. >Other than the sort of creepy silence in the air and the blank stare of the pony, everything looks okay to you.
  78. >She does look strong enough to carry your books and furs, probably even more than that.
  79. >Perhaps sensing you were done examining the goods, Issac begins to smile again.
  80. >"So I was thinking I could let her go for about 800 gold?"
  81.  
  82. >>Accept the offer
  83. >>Argue that's way too much his creepy science experiment
  84. >>Threaten to report him in an attempt to get the pony for free
  85.  
  86. >>Argue that's way too much for his creepy science experiment
  87.  
  88. "I think you can go lower. If this is your creepy little experiment, then you're charging a little too much."
  89. >For a brief second his face morphs into an ugly scowl before returning to an almost unsettling smile.
  90. >"How about 700 gold? I'll even give you a ring of animal friendship!"
  91. >From his robes he pulls out a ring marked with the same glyph on the pony's left flank.
  92. >"It'll only work on her, though. S-she'll do pretty much whatever you want, though!
  93. >You don't know a lot about rings of animal friendship and animal friendship related accessories, but that sounds a little strangeā€¦
  94. >Although judging by his stutter, you can get him lower.
  95. "500 gold with the ring"
  96. >Whether or not it's suspicious, it'd be useful judging by the unicorn's practically catatonic state.
  97. [spoiler]>Plus it looks really cool. Gives off that mysterious mage air.[/spoiler]
  98. >He just scowls this time, halting all attempts to hide his displeasure.
  99. >"Anon. You're killing me here. 600 gold, I'll give you a bridle and some hay."
  100. >Judging by his scowl, this is as far as you'll get in terms of bargaining.
  101. "It's a deal."
  102. >Pulling out your coin purse, you pay the man.
  103. >He passes you the ring, which you put on, then hands you a bag stuffed with hay.
  104. >When he goes to hand you the bridle and assorted straps, he pauses.
  105. >"You need to keep your horse bridled, but you shouldn't need to handle that until you get back to wherever you're staying."
  106. >You look at him, slightly confused.
  107. "Can't you just help me put it on here?"
  108. >"No. I have some urgent business to attend to."
  109. >To punctuate that statement, he begins to walk towards his back door.
  110. "Hey! What's the unicorn's name?"
  111. >Without turning his head, he stands in the doorway and begins to speak.
  112. >"Whatever the fuck you want it to be."
  113. >With that, he enters his house in earnest.
  114. >Some people have no respect for proper black mages
  115. >I mean sure, most of you aren't much better than mercenaries, but you'd think you'd get some respect.
  116. >Cutting off your internal rant, you turn to your newly purchased unicorn.
  117. >Unchaining her, you try to think of a name.
  118. >Purple-something?
  119. >Nah, color-based names would make you look like an imbecile.
  120. >Taking another glance at the stars on her flanks, you figure that's a good enough defining trait.
  121. >'Star'
  122. >Not much better than a color name, but you have yet to see any other animal with those markings on their flank.
  123. >Having unchained her, you put everything Issac gave you in your bag and start to leave.
  124. >As you walk away, you realize the unicorn is still standing in its stall.
  125. >This whole 'owning a unicorn' thing is going to be rough, isn't it?
  126. >You walk back to Star, to her blank expression and silent demeanor.
  127. >Well, actually she's just completely silent.
  128. >You snap your fingers, just out of her range of vision, in an attempt to get her attention.
  129. >She slowly turns to look at your hand after a second or two
  130. >Well, that's definitely not normal...
  131. >Maybe the ring Issac gave you will help?
  132. >You run some mana through the glyph, but see there's already mana circulating through some sort of system.
  133. >...Actually, you have no idea what's going on.
  134. >You aren't an idiot, but this isn't any type of magic you've seen before.
  135. >Well, maybe it works with verbal commands or something
  136. >You point at Star
  137. "Star, follow me."
  138. >She gets up without hesitation and stares at you.
  139. >Okay, guess that's how the ring works.
  140. >Gotta get somebody to look at that at some point.
  141. >But now it's time to go back to your inn.
  142. >...Rather your stall in the stable.
  143. >Damn Adrachians will take any chance to get your gold.
  144. >Although it looks like you've spent most of the day with Issac and Star, judging by the setting sun.
  145. >You start walking and Star follows, as silent as ever.
  146. >You better get back to the inn before curfew...
  147. >With the tribal rebels in the south attacking any cities allied with Adrachian empire, most cities have enforced curfews.
  148. >You don't know much about the southern tribes, just that they practice white magic, worship unicorns, and hate Adrachians.
  149. >Thanks to them, hunters in the east and west have been recalled to Adraych to serve in their army.
  150. >So, less competition for you.
  151. >Honestly, you'd like to learn some of that white magic, but they don't teach it to outsiders and half of the white mages are supposedly eunuchs.
  152. >Red mages haven't been around for years either
  153. >So no white magic for you
  154. >Suddenly, you notice you're back at the inn.
  155. >Or rather, the inn's stables.
  156. >Echoes of your father yelling at you for getting lost in your thoughts run through your head but are quickly dismissed.
  157. >Last you heard, he went way past Pinestall.
  158. >Which is the farthest south you can go without being attacked, about five or six towns from Adeakin.
  159. >You shake your head in annoyance
  160. >The irony isn't lost on you, though.
  161. >Getting lost in your thoughts about being lost in your thoughts.
  162. >Realizing this is going nowhere, you navigate to the stall the innkeeper gave you.
  163. >Opening it, you grab the thick woolen blanket that the innkeeper probably left for you.
  164. >As you settle down with a book, you notice Star is just standing by the stall door.
  165. >She stares blankly into the darkening sky.
  166. >It's a little early so you read for a few hours, a spellbook about status affliction spell.
  167. >They were surprising useful in hunting.
  168. >After a while you light a candle and realize you'd forgotten something.
  169. >Glancing up again, you see Star still standing there.
  170. >Staring.
  171.  
  172. >>Order her to get under the blanket with you, it's pretty chilly out.
  173. >>Go look for the innkeeper to find another blanket, she doesn't need to share yours.
  174. >>Let her do what she wants, she'd do something if she were uncomfortable.
  175.  
  176. >>Order her to get under the blanket with you, it's pretty chilly out.
  177.  
  178. >It's pretty chilly out, so it's really for both your both your sakes at this point.
  179. "Star, come sit over here."
  180. >Just like when you asked her to follow, she responds without hesitation.
  181. >She sits next to you as you lay down on your chest.
  182. >You pull the blanket over your back, covering Star as well.
  183. >You turn to see how she's doing, and are greet with yet another blank stare.
  184. "Star? Star?"
  185. >You try speaking to her, but get the same blank stare in response.
  186. "I know unicorns are smart, there's no reason to be so quiet."
  187. >No response
  188. >Almost every unicorn you've ever heard of can understand common, some can even communicate back.
  189. >Maybe it's because she's Issac's experiment or something?
  190. >Maybe she just has the intelligence of a normal pony?
  191. >Then again, she has made a single noise as long as you've had her.
  192. >So, there are three options here:
  193. >First: She's smart enough to have a reason not to talk.
  194. >Second: She's stupid or this is the result of Issac's meddling.
  195. >Third: This isn't a unicorn.
  196. >Honestly, none of those options are too terrible, but you might as well figure out what's going on here
  197. >Reaching your right arm towards your bag, you feel around for a particular scroll
  198. >Draping your left arm around her withers, you feel her shiver.
  199. >Finding what you're looking for, you pull out a Sight scroll.
  200. >Normally you'd use this if you couldn't find any prey, but it has other uses as well.
  201. >Quietly chanting the words off the scroll, your vision begins to change.
  202. >The world becomes wreathed in the blue light of mana.
  203. >If you really focus you can see other things too, but for now you're just worried about Star.
  204. >Her stare is now lit up by the mana as well.
  205. >Looking directly at her, you see a flow of mana between the ring on your right hand and the brand on her flank.
  206. >From the brand, it flows along the rest of her body to her head.
  207. >That's how the ring works, you suppose.
  208. >There's normal mana flow as well, centered mostly around her horn.
  209. >Other than that, you can't make out too much.
  210. >This damn spell always gave you a headache.
  211. >Closing your eyes for a moment, you think.
  212. >She's definitely a unicorn, but she can't be too stupid.
  213. >Mana creation, (in humans, at least) is connected to intelligence.
  214. >In unicorns, you have no idea.
  215. >Hers was certainly above the human average, though.
  216. >Sighing, you figure this can wait until morning.
  217. >Pulling her closer with one hand, putting the candle out with the other, you lay your head against your bag in an effort to fall asleep.
  218. >Surprisingly, sleep comes easily to the both of you.
  219.  
  220. >When you wake up, it appears to be about noon.
  221. >Star is already up and staring
  222. >Feeling annoyed, you take your index finger and press lightly against her nose.
  223. >Her muzzle suddenly scrunches as she tries to stare at your finger.
  224. >She looks back at you, almost annoyed.
  225. >You let out a quick chuckle
  226. "Have anything to say to that?"
  227. >After a few seconds her stare slowly goes back to its usual blank state.
  228. "Fine. I can play the long game."
  229. >No response except for a low growl.
  230. >Wait.
  231. >That was your stomach.
  232.  
  233. >>Do you want to put Star's bridle on and get on the road, eating later and avoiding the afternoon rush of travelers?
  234. >>Same as option one, but you don't need to put her bridle on. The city guard is usually pretty lax and Star hasn't disobeyed an order. No real need for a bridle.
  235. >>Get lunch at the inn and leave later. Food on the road is never as good, right?
  236. >>Get lunch and try and do something else in the city. You still have some gold, after all.
  237.  
  238. >>Put Star's bridle on and leave the city
  239.  
  240. >Despite your hunger, you suspect it would be best to leave now.
  241. >That way you can avoid the bulk of the inevitable rush of travelers later on.
  242. >You gotta just try to avoid thinking about a warm inn-made breakfast.
  243. >You move around the stall, gathering your belongings, when you see Star's bridle.
  244. >Remembering Issac's advice on the matter, you call Star over.
  245. >Wouldn't be much point to trying to leave the city quickly if you got held up by the guard.
  246. >First, you attempt to place the bit in her mouth.
  247. >She opens her mouth to accept the bit without your prompting.
  248. >Next you slide the straps over Star's head, with her horn in between what you think is the brow band and crown.
  249. >You adjust the slightly tangled reins, making sure they're in the right position.
  250. >Throughout the whole process she gives no indications of discomfort, no indications of anything, really.
  251. >It does worry you, but she does listen to you and it wasn't a joke when you said you were willing to play the long game.
  252. >Tightening the bridle until it appears to rest comfortably, you take Star's reins and strap your pack to her side.
  253. >At least, you assume it's comfortable.
  254. >Her silence isn't really a great indicator of her emotional state.
  255. >In less depressing thoughts, you should be able to carry a lot more furs now.
  256. >Before, you could really only carry a max of ten safely.
  257. >Any more and you were slowed down by your equipment too much.
  258. >Yeah, you could handle a few hits from bandits.
  259. >Potions aren't cheap, though.
  260. >Sadly, a lot of furs are pretty cheap.
  261. >Still better than selling yourself as a mercenary or something.
  262. >You'd make five times as much, you haven't heard great things about southern POW camps.
  263. >Probably because they don't exist due to the fact those tribals leave no survivors.
  264. >Well, that got dark real quick.
  265. >You just said you were going to think about something less depressing, too.
  266. >Deciding to look around for a minute, you see a few people are giving you second glances, but no one is outright staring.
  267. >People in the city have probably seen weirder anyway, a purple unicorn isn't as weird as some of the stuff you've seen
  268. >Actually you aren't sure.
  269. >Is a rabid five legged racoon weirder than a purple unicorn?
  270. >Probably doesn't matter and you just reached the west gate.
  271. >A guard in plate armor stands on either side of the gate, checking everyone's papers.
  272. >After about a minute you reach the guard on your left.
  273. >"Papers, please?"
  274. >You silently fork them over to the guard.
  275. >"Mage guild, Okay. freelance work, Okay. Trading license is still good. You got papers for that thing?"
  276. >He points his gauntlet-clad finger at Star
  277. >She turns and stares at him, actually looking a little annoyed.
  278. "What? I need papers for her?"
  279. >"Well, I figure you do. You're selling that thing up north, right? You'll need a license for that."
  280. "No. She's my pack horse. I'm not planning on selling her."
  281. >The guard sighs.
  282. >"I'll let you pass cause I don't really got a case against you. Just try to have some papers for that thing, with the mess going on down south and all"
  283. "Thanks."
  284. >You take you papers back and give him a smile as you walk away.
  285. >You never understood why guards always said they didn't want trouble, while doing things like that.
  286. >Well, whatever.
  287. >It's good to know the forged guild pass worked.
  288. >You haven't paid the guild tax in ages.
  289. >The trading license is real, though.
  290. >Things are cheap anyway.
  291. >Although, now that you think of it...
  292. >The guard might have a point, although you couldn't sell her in the north.
  293. >You could get a pretty penny for her in Pinestall.
  294. >Or they could just kill you.
  295. >Probably just kill you.
  296. >You should probably just stick to hunting.
  297.  
  298. >>Go hunt deer in the forests to the west. Less profitable, but safer than hunting other animals.
  299. >>Go hunt wolves in the aforementioned forest in the west. Twice as profitable as deer, but they're more dangerous and make you more likely to have to deal with bandits
  300. >>Hunt exotics in the south. Pretty stupid, hunting everything from bugbears to wyverns, but with obscene profit margins.
  301. >>Try to sell Star. Insanely stupid, but she is damaged. If you can find some white mages, you can probably get a good price for her.
  302. >>Just go home. You have an old shack in the woods to the east, why not take a break to relax until you're actually out of gold.
  303.  
  304. >>Just go home, make her forged papers
  305.  
  306. >You've still got two hundred gold and a decent amount of food, so there's no harm in going back home.
  307. >You can forge some papers so that you have an excuse for using Star to carry your stuff around.
  308. >Maybe even figure out how to get Star talking.
  309. >You turn to face the east, stealing a glance at Star.
  310. >Her annoyance at the guard has evidently faded, she's returned to her old neutral expression.
  311. >You can totally play the long game.
  312. >It would be nice to have someone to talk with, considering how much time you spend alone.
  313. >Do unicorns talk aloud?
  314. >You don't actually own a bestiary or anything, so you've only heard stories about unicorns.
  315. >Most of that is mixed up in southern religious mumbo jumbo, so you aren't sure what's true and what's myth.
  316. >Maybe you can ask Star once you figure out how to get her to talk.
  317. >Wait.
  318. >What if she had or orders not to talk or something?
  319. >Shit, maybe she thought it was a test or something when you asked her to talk.
  320. >Hopefully that's it, and she'll start talking if you make that clear.
  321. >Well, not hopefully, that's actually pretty messed up.
  322. >It's worth a shot though.
  323. >You stop and turn to her, trying for a stern tone.
  324. "Star, you are released from any standing order to not speak."
  325. >She sort of just stares at you, stopped on the side of the road, now staring back at her.
  326. "Or communicate in any other form."
  327. >No response.
  328. "Officially."
  329. >No response.
  330. >You sigh and return to walking.
  331. >Maybe if you talk to her?
  332. >You turn while walking and catch what you think is a faint, fleeting, glimpse of a grin.
  333. "I'm not going to punish you for talking."
  334. >She neither smiles nor responds.
  335. "Or smiling. I guess I didn't mention that before."
  336. >Nothing, again.
  337. >Dammit.
  338. >You stop again, having only made a minute's progress from your last stop.
  339. "Well, I'm having lunch now and you're aren't getting hay unless you ask for it."
  340. >You sit down, in the middle of the currently deserted road.
  341. >You reach into your bag and pull out half a loaf of slightly stale bread.
  342. >Star sits across from you, sort of like a dog, and stares at you.
  343. >It's not begging, just staring.
  344. "Don't look at me like that Star."
  345. >She turns around, facing the road.
  346. "That's not what I meant, c'mon"
  347. >She turns to face you again and starts pawing at the ground.
  348. >Hoofing at the ground?
  349. >You can't watch this anymore.
  350. >Grab the bag of hay and put it in front of her.
  351. >She sticks her head in and begins to eat, albeit slowly.
  352. >Lunch passes quickly and soon you're back on the road.
  353. >The rest of the trip passes mostly in silence, but it's still better than being alone.
  354.  
  355. >Your house isn't actually yours, it belonged to your dad.
  356. >He's missing now, though.
  357. >So it's your house for now.
  358. >Probably forever.
  359. >It's actually quite nice, if not a little weird.
  360. >It's three bedroom house with indoor plumbing.
  361. >By itself that's not that weird.
  362. >But your house is in the middle of the woods, barely even in a clearing.
  363. >You turn to Star, not actually expecting a response anymore.
  364. >You literally have not heard a single sound from her yet.
  365. "Well, this is my house."
  366. >You open the door and Star follows you into the kitchen.
  367. "You can have the room over there-"
  368. >You to a door down the hall.
  369. "-that's the guest room."
  370. >You grab your writing materials from the bags she's carrying.
  371. "You can just drop those wherever you want."
  372. >Now she's just carrying your food, some gear, and a few books.
  373. >You watch her trot off, probably to set up in the guest room.
  374. >Now what should you do?
  375.  
  376. >>Forge some ownership papers for Star, you might need them.
  377. >Might as well forge some ownership papers for Star.
  378. >You don't actually know what the papers look like, so you'll write up some transaction papers.
  379. >Guards can't exactly contact fictitious salespeople to double check.
  380. >Not that they usually give more than a glance for proper format, signatures, and seals.
  381. >That's not saying everything is easy to forge, just that guards are easy to fool.
  382. >Your forgeries wouldn't stand up very well against, say, a tax collector.
  383. >You pull out some paper and a quill, and get to work.
  384. "Note of Sale, Incognito to Anon, two thousand gold."
  385. >Reading some of it aloud, you think it looks pretty good now.
  386. >Two thousand gold was pretty low for a unicorn but anymore would be suspicious for a hunter.
  387. >Just like usual, it will fool a guard and not too many others.
  388. >For a moment you wonder how Star is doing...
  389.  
  390. >>Check on Star, it has been a few hours since you last saw her.
  391. >>Check on Star without wearing the ring, it's obviously connected to her somehow.
  392. >>Strip down and go to Sleep, she can wait until morning.
  393. >>Research those glyphs, maybe your father's library has something on it.
  394. >>Read one of your books and then go to bed.
  395.  
  396. >>Check on Star, then research the glyphs.
  397. >You should probably check on Star.
  398. >Not that you think she'd do something to get herself in trouble.
  399. >The opposite, actually.
  400. >You're more worried she wouldn't do anything, which is probably more of a problem.
  401. >You wonder for a minute, would it be easier if she were more intelligent?
  402. >If she wasn't acting like an animal that you're currently using to carry your stuff?
  403. >That would probably present its own problems that are better not think about, despite the fact that's sort of the goal you're heading towards.
  404. >Enh...
  405. >You'll cross that bridge when you get there.
  406. >Walking up to the door of the guest bedroom, you debate on whether you should knock.
  407. >Figuring it wouldn't serve any purpose, you open the door.
  408. >The sight that greets you is actually quite odd.
  409. >Star looks rather strange, her purple coat contrasting with the drab brown of the bed, as she lay silently upon the covers.
  410. >At the sound of the door opening, she turns to look up at you.
  411. >She's still wearing the whole harness, minus your bags, which are stacked neatly in the corner.
  412. "Star, come over here for a second."
  413. >She lowers herself off the bed, one side after the other.
  414. >She stares and this time you stare back, the sound of hooves on wood the only sound in the room.
  415. >You quickly undo the straps on her harness, then removing the bridle and giving her a quick scratch behind her ears.
  416. >Star leans into your hand, ever so slightly, but you don't miss it.
  417. "You can go to sleep if you want, I'm just going to be reading a little bit before bed."
  418. >After a few seconds, she pulls away and lays atop the covers.
  419. >Laying like that, she doesn't look unlike a common cat or dog that you'd find in a farmer's home.
  420. >You sigh as you close the bedroom door behind you, just thinking about how weird this whole situation is.
  421. >Just the other day you were selling wolf pelts in Solva, now you have a mute purple unicorn sleeping on your guest bed.
  422. >Heading towards your father's library, you buckle down for a long night.
  423. >After a few hours you realize a few things.
  424. >Firstly, 'Animal Friendship' is supposedly a spell from the school of white magic.
  425. >It's one they can't seem to replicate in potion form, but not for lack of trying.
  426. >Personally you thought their failure might have something to do with 'animal parts in an animal friendship potion that they tested mostly on flighty herbivores'
  427. >Nobody asked you though.
  428. >Secondly, the only mention of glyphs was in a book on expert level black magic.
  429. >According to the book, they were used in permanent or long lasting spells and served as a middleman for the caster and target.
  430. >The key word being 'used'
  431. >Nowadays black mages focus mostly on killing a target as fast as possible.
  432. >According to the author, at least.
  433. >...So the ring is almost definitely not a ring of 'animal friendship'
  434. >As you twirl the ring around your finger, you remember one thing about white mages.
  435. >While white mages lack the same expansive and destructive arsenal that black mages possess, they do have access to holy and wind magics.
  436. >Holy magic only hurt if you'd been disrespecting Gods, but wind magic could pack a punch at higher levels.
  437. >At the medium levels it was mostly debris causing the damage, but at the highest level?
  438. >Soldiers told tales of men in plate armor being cut in half.
  439. >Supposedly, white mages were taught by unicorns.
  440. >Following that logic, do unicorns have the same offensive capabilities?
  441. >You'd never heard stories like that, but still...
  442. >What if Issac had a reason for making a ring with old magic?
  443. >Maybe, despite being his experiment, he couldn't control her?
  444. >Could the mute unicorn sleeping down the hall really be that dangerous?
  445.  
  446. >>Wake Star up and try to question her, forcing her to answer, if need be.
  447. >>Go to sleep, this can wait until the morning. Nothing has happened yet anyway.
  448. >>Go to sleep without the ring, see if she's different in the morning.
  449.  
  450. >>Go to sleep without the ring, see if she's different in the morning.
  451.  
  452. >Well, you can't imagine anything good coming from interrogating her like this.
  453. >For now, you'll go to sleep and try figure something out in the morning.
  454. >Stripping down to your undergarments, fiddle with your ring.
  455. >You honestly can't say exactly what it does, but you take it off anyway.
  456. >Might as well see if there's a difference in her behavior tomorrow.
  457. >You can probably handle her, right?
  458. >Despite the thoughts whirling through your head, you're asleep the moment your head and the pillow make contact.
  459.  
  460. >Rolling out of bed, you rub the sleep out of your eyes.
  461. >Pulling on your robes, you give them a quick sniff.
  462. >...
  463. >They'll be good for another week.
  464. >Making your way to the kitchen, you ponder what you could have for breakfast.
  465. >You think you still have some potatoes, maybe?
  466. >For a drink, your father's 'wine cellar'.
  467. >In reality, it's just a pantry he filled with cheap wine and whiskey.
  468. >Grabbing a potato from a low cabinet, you direct mana to your finger.
  469. >Forming a small flame, you cook the potato with your finger.
  470. >Although, you forgot that you still need to carry the potato.
  471. >Dropping the hot potato, you let out a few choice words, mostly about the potato's mother.
  472. >Tossing the potato on the plate, you walk up to the wine cellar.
  473. >Opening it up, you wonder which you should choose?
  474. >They probably all taste like mildly alcoholic grape juice.
  475. >Based on that assumption, you grab the closest bottle.
  476. >Grabbing a mug, you pour some wine for yourself.
  477. >As you sit down and enjoy a meal of slightly burnt potatoes and mildly alcoholic grape juice, you realize you've forgotten something.
  478. >Where's Star?
  479. >Corking the bottle of wine and finishing your potato, you head over to her room.
  480. >When you reach the door, you open it without knocking.
  481. >The scene before you is perhaps the most surprising thus far.
  482. >A burning candle sits atop the dresser, doing very little in the early morning light.
  483. >That's not the surprising part, though.
  484. >Star is reading one of your books atop her bed, where the candle would presumably cast enough light for reading.
  485. >At the sound of the door she jumps and turns to you, a startled look in her eyes.
  486.  
  487. >>You need to firmly tell her she can't go through your stuff. If you aren't going to be wearing the ring that presumably gives you control over her, you'll need to lay down the law.
  488. >>Begin to interrogate her, you want some damn answers and you want them now. You're tired of waiting, you're getting to the bottom of this, whether she likes it or not.
  489. >>Uncork your wine, take a swig and stare back at her in confusion. It's too early for this shit.
  490. >>Ask her what she's reading, as if this isn't weird as fuck.
  491.  
  492. >>Ask her what she's reading, as if this isn't weird as fuck
  493.  
  494. >Trying to maintain your composure, you stare at Star for a moment.
  495. >You lean against the door frame.
  496. "S-so, what are you reading there, Star?"
  497. >Nailed it.
  498. >The nervousness in Star's eyes fades away at your slightly ridiculous attempt to remain nonchalant.
  499. >She tilts book so that the cover faces you and points her hoof at the title.
  500. "My copy of Layman's Guide to Status Ailments, huh?"
  501. >She nods at you, gets off the bed, and walks past you while carrying the book with her mouth.
  502. >That's actually a little gross...
  503. >Deciding there's no harm in following her, you step out into the kitchen.
  504. >She walks through the kitchen and steps outside, as you follow closely.
  505. >She sits down in the dirt and uses one hoof to flip through the book, while the other paws at the dirt.
  506. >She draws an arrow in the dirt, pointing to the top of the page.
  507. >The arrows points at...
  508. >...Silence.
  509. >She continues writing, now using a stick in her mouth.
  510. >"1) I suspect I've been afflicted with the 'silence' status ailment, do you have any Echo Herbs?"
  511. >"2) Also, my name is Twilight Sparkle. Not 'Star'"
  512. >When she finishes, she drops the stick and gives you a nervous smile.
  513.  
  514. >>"Can I still call you Star?"
  515. >>"No, but I know a place up north that sells them."
  516. >>"No, but I know a place not too far south of here that sells them"
  517. >>"Is 'Twilight Sparkle' what Issac called you?"
  518.  
  519. >>"No, but I know a place not too far south that sells them."
  520.  
  521. "There's a place not too far south that sells them"
  522. >St- er, Twilight Sparkle starts to write again.
  523. >"How far is it from here?"
  524. "A little more than a two day walk from here, I'd say."
  525. >Her muzzle scrunches up as she scratches out a response.
  526. >"What about by train?"
  527. >Train?
  528. "Is that a spell or something? I don't know any white magic?"
  529. >She gives you an odd look before starting to write.
  530. >Great, now she doesn't just write, she thinks she's smarter than you.
  531. >"A metal vehicle propelled by integral motors or-"
  532. "Okay, okay. I don't know what that is because we don't have them here."
  533. >You shake your head as she erases what was written so far.
  534. "We'll need to go hunting on the way, it's the only way we'd afford food and echo herbs"
  535. >She looks at you, determination in her eyes, and nods.
  536. "Hey, is it okay if I still call you Star?"
  537. >For a second she looks confused.
  538. "I already think of you as Star, not as 'Twilight Sparkle'."
  539. >"Yes. That's okay with me."
  540.  
  541. >>"Is 'Twilight Sparkle' what Issac called you?"
  542. >>"Can you tell me what the ring does?"
  543. >>"So are trains a southern thing?"
  544.  
  545.  
  546. "Is Twilight Sparkle what Issac called you?"
  547. >"No. He didn't call me anything."
  548. >So is that what she called herself?
  549. >In the second you spent thinking, she's begun to write again.
  550. >"What Issac told you isn't true. I'm not from around here."
  551. >So she's just some rare breed of unicorn?
  552. "Where are you from, then?"
  553. >"Equestria."
  554. >The name is completely unfamiliar to you, although geography isn't your strong suit.
  555. "Where's Eques-"
  556. >Before you can finish speaking, she's already guessed your question.
  557. >"I do not know where Equestria is in comparison to our current location, nor in comparison to this continent."
  558. >Well that's not good.
  559. >Although if she did, that would bring a whole new host of issues.
  560. >Maybe she can shed some light on the issue of the ring?
  561. "Do you know what the ring that Issac gave me does?"
  562. >For a moment she frowns, but begins to write anyway.
  563. >"It-"
  564. >She wipes away what she had been writing before and begins anew.
  565. >"The ring targets a living creature marked with the brand on my flank and shuts down almost all higher brain functions.
  566. >She pauses for a second and then begins to write again.
  567. >"In terms of the symptoms, it becomes hard to form complex or coherent thoughts and your sense of time becomes distorted."
  568. >"It essentially forces unwavering obedience from the target and, due to the long range communication spell cast on it, can do so over very long distances."
  569. >The slightly pained look on her face shows that she knows this from experience.
  570. "And Issac set this up?"
  571. >This time she simply nods.
  572. >Now would probably be a good time to change topics.
  573. "So, I guess we'll go down to Falsecrest for the Echo Herbs."
  574. >"How soon can we leave?"
  575. >If you get all your stuff packed up quickly, you can probably leave in a few hours.
  576. "As soon as I get my stuff packed up, I guess"
  577. >She smiles at you and practically gallops back inside.
  578. >You're happy she seems relatively normal, but now she's seems completely different.
  579. >More like a person, less like an animal.
  580. >Sighing, head back inside.
  581. >Walking into your Father's study, you look around for some his old stuff.
  582. >He used to keep a piece of slate and chalk for arithmetic lessons.
  583. >After a few drawers, you find a few pieces of chalk and thin piece of slate.
  584. >Star could use this when you're inside, that way she wouldn't need to go out and use the dirt to communicate.
  585. >You find Star in her room, staring at your bags and the harness.
  586. >You can guess what she's thinking.
  587. >You did buy her to carry your bags, not for anything else.
  588. >If you hadn't taken off the ring, she might still be a practically mindless animal.
  589. >But that didn't happen, so there's no need to dwell on 'what-ifs'
  590. "You won't need to wear the bridle because the south worships unicorns. They'd actually get pretty pissed if they saw that."
  591. >You put the piece of slate atop one the bags and hold out the chalk to her.
  592. >She takes it carefully in her mouth and begins to write.
  593. >"Do you still need me to carry your bags?"
  594. "Yeah, I need the extra mobility for hunting, otherwise I'll make too much noise."
  595. >"I understand. We can't afford Echo Herbs without the hunting trip as well, right?"
  596. "Well, not if we want to be able to afford an inn and some food"
  597. >You give an awkward laugh, your joke wasn't actually funny.
  598. >She smiles back at you, anyway.
  599. >She grabs the harness with her mouth, and presses it to your hand.
  600. >Taking it from her, you slide her head through and adjust the straps.
  601. >Finally, you attach your bags and head out.
  602. >A little more than a day later, you've had a relatively uneventful trip.
  603. >It's nice being able to talk to someone, even if they can't talk back directly.
  604. >You initially told Star a little about yourself, but she displayed much more interest in the political climate.
  605. >Apparently, if what she wrote was anything to judge by, she didn't know anything about the tribals and the Adrachian Empire.
  606. >So you explained a bit about the Adrachians coming from the north and how that aggravated the tribals.
  607. >In exchange she told you a little about where she came from.
  608. >It was apparently filled with unicorns like her, in addition to pegasi and normal ponies that could talk.
  609. >It was ruled by a diarchy, two princesses who represented the three races.
  610. >At first she was happy to tell you about Equestria, but she was always sad by the end.
  611. >She tried not to show it, but even for you, it wasn't hard to tell.
  612. >At the moment, you two weren't conversing.
  613. >You stand in the forest, ready to hunt.
  614.  
  615. >>Go hunting for deer alone, lower profits but not very dangerous.
  616. >>Go hunting for wolves, by yourself.
  617. >>Go hunting for wolves with Star. She won't be alone but she arguably she's in more danger.
  618. >>Go hunting for exotics, by yourself.
  619. >>Go hunting for exotics with Star. She won't be alone but she arguably she's in more danger.
  620.  
  621.  
  622. >>Go hunting for wolves by yourself.
  623.  
  624. "Star, I'm going to go hunting now. Just stay here and make camp."
  625. >She starts scratching something into the ground.
  626. >"Just be back soon and stay safe"
  627. >She smiles at you and begins to unpack your camping supplies.
  628. >Heading deeper into the woods, you make sure you have everything.
  629. >Your bow is already strung, arrows poking out of your bag because you don't own a quiver.
  630. >Your is in its sheath beneath your robes.
  631. >Finally, you packed your self a sandwich.
  632. >Despite popular belief, wolves don't just jump out at people, so you'll need to bait them.
  633. >Stopping at the edge of a clearing, you begin to look for tracks that would mark the presence of deer or other animals.
  634. >But apparently luck is on your side, because after only fifteen minutes of tracking, you spot a rather large buck.
  635. >Deciding that this buck would provide the perfect bait for the wolves you plan to bait, you take aim.
  636. >Perhaps seeing the glint of the metal arrowhead, the buck stiffens for a second.
  637. >In another second it would have bolted and escaped, but it's too late.
  638. >Almost silently, your arrow hits and the buck falls to the ground.
  639. >Unsheathing your knife, you walk over and get to work.
  640. >You skin the deer, but only take some of the meat.
  641. >You'll need the rest to lure the wolves into the clearing.
  642. >Taking a deep breath, you let out the loudest facsimile of wolf's howl that you can muster.
  643. >It was always a bit if a risk when you did this, but It'll help speed up the process if you're successful.
  644. >After a few seconds you hear a return howl, too close for comfort.
  645. >Scrambling up a tree, you cast temper on your next arrow and wait.
  646. >After only ten minutes, you spot the wolves circling the edge of the clearing.
  647. >Circling and circling, they get closer and closer to the deer corpse.
  648. >They can probably smell you, but think you've left.
  649. >The larger one walks up to the deer, sniffing it.
  650. >You take the shot.
  651. >The arrow hits the wolf right in the head, which isn't that impressive considering you're only about fifteen feet away.
  652. >As it collapses to the ground, the smaller wolf catches your scent.
  653. >The small wolf rushes towards towards your tree, leaping and snarling.
  654. >It makes quite a horrifying picture, foaming and growling at the base of the tree.
  655. >You aren't actually worried, considering wolves can't climb trees.
  656. >That doesn't mean you take your your time, though.
  657. >You let another arrow fly, hitting the smaller wolf.
  658. >Climbing down, you unsheathe your knife yet again
  659. >Falling into this familiar rhythm, it's almost like you're on your own again.
  660. >It's actually sort of weird not having Star a step or two behind you.
  661. >Shrugging those thoughts away, you get to work.
  662. >Almost two hours later, you have three more wolf pelts and are heading back.
  663. >The two wolves showed up after the first couple, luckily you were prepped and waiting.
  664. >Everything went well, although one of the wolves ran around for a little before dying.
  665. >You didn't get hurt, but now you're down an arrow.
  666. >Despite the small loss, the five wolf pelts and deer skin will sell pretty well.
  667. >You should be able to afford to restock your supplies, buy the Echo Herbs, and make a tidy profit.
  668. >You're giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done when you hear talking from the campsite.
  669. >You immediately place the furs and silently creep forward.
  670. >Best case scenario, some travelers found Star and are trying to have a friendly conversation with her.
  671. >Worst case scenario, some hunters caught her and are planning to sell her up north.
  672. >Preparing for the worst, you peer through the bushes.
  673. >You see Star, with her flank facing you. Next to her is figure dressed in the distinctive white and red robes of tribal mages.
  674. >You try to catch snatches of conversation, but the fire is too loud and the participants too far.
  675. >The white mage doesn't look to be harassing her or anything.
  676. >You're just more worried about yourself.
  677. >You've grown quick fond of being alive with all your limbs attached.
  678.  
  679. >>Cast a lethal spell at the white mage. Star might be shocked, but those mages are dangerous.
  680. >>Cast Shade and try to get outta there as quick as possible with Star. (Success will be based on post number, I can give clarification on this if needed)
  681. >>Shoot her with an arrow and try to run.
  682. >>Wait for her to leave.
  683. >>Join them and act like there's completely nothing wrong with this situation.
  684.  
  685.  
  686. >>Join them and act like there's completely nothing wrong with this situation.
  687.  
  688. >Well, you better just go in there and pretend like nothing's wrong.
  689. >You quickly grab and your furs, entering the clearing normally.
  690. >They both turn towards you and you realize that the white mage is a woman.
  691. >She's tan and looks a couple years younger than you, maybe 22 or 23 years old?
  692. >She's got dark brown hair too, but in terms of body type, you can't tell much because of the flowing white and red robes.
  693. "Hey Star, who's your friend there?
  694. >You try to crane your neck a bit to maybe see Star's side of the conversation.
  695. >"Guardian...Silence...hunting for..."
  696. >Most of it is blocked, but it seems like she was just asking about her situation.
  697. >You aren't sure what the guardian bit is about, though.
  698. >You white mage stares at you for a minute, before turning to Star.
  699. >"Star? I thought you said your name was Twilight Sparkle?"
  700. >Well, it looks like she speaks common.
  701. >You actually aren't sure if most tribals speak common.
  702. >You always sort of figured they had their own language and only a few spoke common.
  703. >Although, that could still be true.
  704. >Star turns around, writing where you both can see.
  705. >"It's Anon's nickname for me, based off of my cutie mark design"
  706. >"Huh, I guess I can see that."
  707. >The white mage turns to face you, a slightly angry expression on her face.
  708. >"So you're the black mage escorting a unicorn, yeah?"
  709. >She says that like you just kicked her dog or something.
  710. >Although the escort thing is technically true, you figure Star didn't mention anything about the whole 'he bought me as a slave thing'
  711. >Well, you best remain civil.
  712. "Yep, that's me. Is there something wrong with that?"
  713. >The anger drains away from her face, as if her anger was empty bluster and bluff.
  714. >"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy you're a decent guy. Most unicorns who meet with black mages, well..."
  715. >She trails off, glancing back at Star.
  716. "Yeah, a lot of black mages-"
  717. >She cuts you off by waving her hands.
  718. >"Let's just say I'm glad you aren't one of those black mages."
  719. "I guess I'm glad for that, too. It's definitely not as much fun traveling alone."
  720. >Her expression darkens a bit.
  721. >"Yeah, if not for Twilight, I probably would've attacked on sight
  722. >Her face turns into an expression of mock rage
  723. "I'm honestly more pissed at the fact you're hanging out with a unicorn! Do you know how few people actually spend this much time with a real unicorn?"
  724. "Really I thought you tribals spent most of your time 'hanging out' with unicorns?"
  725. >Her expression darkens at the use of the word tribal and Star looks nervously between the two of you.
  726. >But the look disappears and she smiles
  727. >"I don't really appreciate the word 'tribal', but while unicorns are holy figures, few are allowed to see them."
  728. >She points a thumb at Star
  729. >"Imagine my surprise when I see a unicorn tending to fire in the middle of the woods."
  730. >Star begins writing again, quick strokes scratching out a simple message.
  731. >"Well, it was getting dark soon and I wasn't sure when you would be back. I figured you'd need a fire for the meat anyway."
  732. >The white mage laughs, the sound echoing through the forest.
  733. >"I came over and introduced myself to Twilight, but I guess I haven't introduced myself to you."
  734. >She pulls down her hood and sticks out her hand
  735. >"Name's Gloria"
  736. >Well, it can't hurt to try and be friends.
  737. "Anon. But it sounds like you already know that."
  738. >"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Twilight told me all about you."
  739. >Crap. Maybe you can get her to fill you in?
  740. "O-oh really? What did she say?"
  741. >Star looks a little nervous too, she isn't very good at hiding it
  742. >"Just about how you found her wandering up north and offered to help her and all that"
  743. >She waves the question away, seemingly not wanting to talk about things you supposedly both know.
  744. "About that, do you think you could cure Star's Silence? You white mages can cure things like this, right?"
  745. >Gloria gets a sheepish look on her face.
  746. >"Yeah, a lot can..."
  747. >She rubs the back of her head, looking at the ground.
  748. >"I can't do that, sorry."
  749. "Okay, sorry for asking, I guess..."
  750. >"Enh, I don't care too much. Not like I don't know white magic, just not all of it."
  751. >She gets and pulls up her hood.
  752. >"Well I better get going, maybe I'll see you two down the road."
  753.  
  754. >>Invite her to at least stay for dinner.
  755. >>Ask her if where she's headed is the same way as you and Star. Maybe she can travel with you?
  756. >>Let her leave. While being seen with a white mage won't get you killed, you certainly wouldn't be very popular unless you went a bit further south.
  757.  
  758. >>Invite her to at least stay for dinner.
  759.  
  760. "You sure you don't want to stay for dinner?"
  761. >As you speak, you start slicing the meat into smaller strip that can be roasted over the fire.
  762. >Gloria smiles at the sight of your freshly caught dinner.
  763. >"Well, how could I refuse an offer like that?"
  764. >She sits down again, across from you this time.
  765. >You start cooking some small strips of venison over the fire.
  766. >The smell of cooking meat fills the air, making your stomach growl.
  767. >Despite your anticipation for dinner, Star doesn't look quite as pleased.
  768. >She's currently munching on some hay, looking rather uncomfortable.
  769. >Gloria has apparently noticed, as well.
  770. >"You okay there, Twilight? I know you guys don't eat meat, but nature-"
  771. >Star cuts Gloria off by waving a hoof in denial.
  772. >Despite her proximity to the fire, you need to squint to see Star's writing in the dim lighting.
  773. >"It isn't the meat itself, it just smells weird. I understand the necessity of hunting in some societies, cooked meat just smells a bit funny."
  774. >Star goes back to eating her hay and Gloria just sends an odd look your way.
  775. >"You're gonna keep cooking that?"
  776. "What do you mean? She just said it smells funny, this is dinner right here."
  777. >Gloria frowns.
  778. >"Well, she's obviously uncomfortable. Don't you have any fruit or something?"
  779. "No, but if you go back to your camp, we can eat your fruit."
  780. >You gesture at the strips of meat still cooking over the fire, almost completely cooked.
  781. "It's almost done anyway."
  782. >"I don't have any meat, but Twi-"
  783. >Star claps her hooves together, obviously trying to get you and Gloria's attention.
  784. >She actually looks annoyed at the two of you.
  785. >"Stop fighting, all I said was that I found the smell unusual."
  786. >Gloria looks sort of sheepish now.
  787. >"Gloria, you need to understand that Anon is providing me with food and protection, I can put up with the smell of cooking meat"
  788. >Star turns to you.
  789. >"Anon, you know that her culture values my opinion over your own, you should know better than to justify your argument without my input."
  790. >So basically, you can't let her get suspicious about our story and defer to me a bit.
  791. >At least, that's what you think she's trying to convey.
  792. >That or she's acting like your mom.
  793. >Well, even if it doesn't have a deeper meaning, it's still good advice.
  794. "Sorry, Star..."
  795. >She shakes her head a little and starts writing again.
  796. >"I just don't like seeing people fight"
  797. >It gets a little quiet after that.
  798. >You gave her some of the cooked venison, but it isn't just the silence of the hungry.
  799. >Gloria looks ashamed at her behavior, despite only raising her voice a little.
  800. >You suppose getting scolded by something you idolize is a bit rough.
  801. >Might as well break the silence.
  802. "So, where are you camped?"
  803. >She frowns, but quickly replaces it with a smile.
  804. >"Right here! For now, at least."
  805. >So, has no supplies this far away from any settlement that would give her a warm welcome?
  806. "So you don't have any supplies beyond the clothes on your back?"
  807. >Her tone becomes much more lighthearted than before
  808. >"Hey! I can hunt pretty well with my magic!"
  809. >Muttering a few unrecognizable words in what you presume is the language of white magic, she lets loose small puff of air.
  810. >...which slices some of the venison you were eating in half.
  811. >Luckily, it just falls on your lap and not the ground.
  812. >You jokingly jump up and begin yelling at her, despite being a little nervous about her display of magic.
  813. "Shit! You almost killed me, Gloria!"
  814. >You even throw in some crazy hand gestures.
  815. >She laughs hysterically at your reaction.
  816. >Even Star smiles at your obviously overblown reaction
  817. >For a little while, you forgot the person sitting across from you was a member of a race that harbored extensive hatred for your kind.
  818. "You're just trying replace me, so you can travel with Star!"
  819. >Gloria takes a deep breath and starts waggling her fingers.
  820. >"Yes, the spooky white mage is going to steal your unicorn away from you!"
  821. >Star starts inhaling and exhaling quickly, holding a hoof to her mouth.
  822. >You think she's laughing, but it actually looks a little creepy because of the Silence.
  823. >You ignore it though and continue on.
  824. "I knew it! You unicorn stealing scum!"
  825. >The back and forth continues for a few minutes, but quickly breaks down after not one can talk from the body shaking laughter.
  826. >You don't know about the others, but it isn't really the words that carry the humor for you.
  827. >Sitting down for dinner is weird, but dinner with a tribal, black mage, and unicorn is patently absurd.
  828. >You guess stereotype on both sides were wrong.
  829. >You're certainly no bloodthirsty thug working for cash and Gloria isn't an uneducated and murderous maniac.
  830. >Not that you aren't suspicious of her lack of camp and other odd comments, you just want to take everything at face value for now.
  831. >Gloria finally get up, brushing herself off.
  832. >"Well, I'm actually going to leave now."
  833. >Turning towards the north, she waves goodbye.
  834.  
  835. >>Ask her to travel with you. Despite the consequences, she could be useful.
  836. >>Keep a watch during the night. She WAS acting a little suspicious.
  837. >>Wave goodbye and go to bed. She's just a wandering tribal, after all.
  838. >>Tell Star about your worries and walk through the night to get to Falsecrest. You just have suspicions but you want to be as far from Gloria as you can.
  839.  
  840. >>Ask her to travel with you, but check with Star first.
  841.  
  842. "If you don't have a camp, you can stay here for the night."
  843. >Turning slightly, Gloria rubs a little at the nape of her neck.
  844. >"I mean, if it's okay with the both of you...?"
  845. >Star nods, offering Gloria a quick smile.
  846. >Yawning, she returns it.
  847. >You think Gloria could be a useful companion, despite the drawbacks of traveling with a white mage.
  848. >It might be useful to get Star's opinion, though.
  849. >Probably shouldn't let Gloria know what you're discussing.
  850. >Getting up, you wipe the dirt off robes.
  851. "Star and I are just going to discuss some stuff about tomorrow, holler if you need something."
  852. >She shrugs her shoulders, "Sure, go make your secret plans or whatever"
  853. >Star tilts her head, probably knowing full well there isn't anything to discuss.
  854. >Grabbing a burning stick to serve as a makeshift torch, you beckon Star over.
  855. >You begin to speak, but Star beats you to the punch, holding her piece of slate close in the torchlight.
  856. >"Has something changed? I thought we were going to arrive in Falsecrest tomorrow?"
  857. >Lowering your voice, you figure it'd be best to just get straight to the issue at hand.
  858. "I was thinking about asking Gloria if she wanted to travel with us. I figured your input might be helpful."
  859. >"Well, how much of a problem would her being a white mage be?"
  860. >Scratching at your stubble, you take a second to think.
  861. "She could probably just wear different clothes and nobody'd ever know."
  862. >"As long as she's willing to, more friends can't hurt."
  863. >Technically, she could get you hurt.
  864. >But you're willing to take that risk and it looks like Star is too.
  865. >You flash Star a nervous smile and walk over to Gloria.
  866. >Gloria is currently sprawled across her robe, which is set up in a fashion not dissimilar to a picnic blanket.
  867. >She has also stripped down to a short white shift, and she is pretty easy on the eyes.
  868. >She's muscular, but not enough that it takes away from her lithe form.
  869. >Her tan skin-
  870. >"You gonna start painting me or something?"
  871. >Your face instantly turns redder than that of the legendary mage's robes.
  872. "W-what?"
  873. >"Well, you've been staring at me for almost a minute. You going to start painting now or later."
  874. >To punctuate that sentence she stretches her arms, causing her shift to slide up a little.
  875. >If it's even possible, your blush further deepens.
  876. >"Aw, shit!"
  877. >Like lightning, she pulls her shift down again.
  878. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see Star covering her eyes with her hooves.
  879. >Well, it looks like that myth about tribals is true...
  880. >When you look back at her, she's blushing just as badly.
  881. >"A-anyway, what did you come over here for?"
  882. >Shaking your head to clear your thoughts, you remember why you came here.
  883. >"Uh, anyway. I wanted to know if you'd like to travel with us? Star told you that we were heading to Falsecrest, right?"
  884. >Furrowing her brow, she stares at you for a second before responding.
  885. >"I mean, I don't really need to get anywhere urgently, so sure. Why, though?"
  886. "What do you mean? Why would I ask you to travel with us?"
  887. >"Yep. Aren't you worried about traveling around with a white mage?"
  888. >This isn't what you expected at all.
  889. >Clearing your throat, you think for a second before responding.
  890. "Well, you can just not wear your robes, right? There's safety in numbers and all that."
  891. >Gloria sighs and shakes her head.
  892. >"You're missing the point completely. I mean personally okay with traveling alongside a white mage."
  893. >Oh.
  894. >Rubbing her forehead, she continues.
  895. >"I have a guarantee you're a good guy, unicorns don't make friends with just anyone. But me? You met me a couple hours ago, yet you aren't worried."
  896. "Well, no I am worried. But Star agrees that it's a good idea, so why not?"
  897. >At the mention of Star's approval, she cracks a toothy grin.
  898. >As if summoned by your mention of her, Star comes over, carrying her piece of slate.
  899. >Moving your torch, you read it aloud to Gloria.
  900. "You should know unicorns aren't always nice, I knew plenty of ponies you wouldn't want to trust."
  901. >Still smiling, Gloria reaches up to scratch Star's withers.
  902. >"Unicorns are plenty better than people, whether you believe it or not."
  903. >Star frowns and begins to write again.
  904. >This time, Star leans down so Gloria can see it
  905. >"I'm just trying to tell you that it would be a very bad idea to trust everyp0ny you meet"
  906. >"Okay, okay, I'll take your word for it, Twilight."
  907. >Rolling over, Gloria essentially lays face-down upon her robes.
  908. >"I'm going to bed now. Good night Twilight, good night Anon."
  909. >Turning to you, Star rolls her eyes.
  910. >In return, you offer her a shrug.
  911. "G'night, Gloria"
  912. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see a hand wave at you from the now bundled up robes.
  913. >Tossing your makeshift torch back into the fire, you cast a quick Blizzard to put it out.
  914. >Star has already pulled out the blankets from within your bags, setting up two adjacent makeshift beds.
  915. >Shedding your robes, you climb right in.
  916. >Reaching over to Star, you give her a quick scratch behind her ears.
  917. >She just rolls her eyes again, but you know it doesn't really bother her.
  918. >You hope not, at least.
  919. >She's so fluffy for a pony and you'd be pretty disappointed if she didn't let you pet her anymore.
  920. "Good night, Star"
  921. >You receive a smile in return, before turning over and letting sleep overtake you.
  922. ~
  923. >You wake up to the sensation of being shaken.
  924. >"As cute as it is to watch you two sleep next to each other like this, we need to get going."
  925. >Letting out a rather loud groan, you open your eyes.
  926. >...to a sun that hasn't even risen yet.
  927. "Too early. Sleep time is now."
  928. >Closing your eyes, you never see her coming.
  929. >Gloria pulls your blanket right out from under you, exposing your bare skin to the morning chill.
  930. >You turn to give her a piece of your mind and are greeted with a set of robes in your face.
  931. >"Let's get going! I'd like to be there in time for dinner, if you don't mind."
  932. >Pulling the robes away from your face, you see both Star and Gloria are ready to leave.
  933. >Star gives you a tired smile, juxtaposed by Gloria's exasperated sigh.
  934. >Pulling your robes on, you point an accusatory finger at Gloria.
  935. "Okay, I'll go, but you're never doing this again."
  936. >Gloria begins to walk away, but you can hear the smirk in her voice.
  937. >"As long you get up a little earlier, certainly."
  938. >Shouldering your pack, you catch up to Gloria.
  939. "Seriously, though we need to talk about how this is going to work."
  940. >Raising her hands as in surrender, Gloria slows down.
  941. >"Okay. I won't wake you and Star up anymore."
  942. "No, I'm talking more generally. If we're going to be traveling together, I need to know what spells you know, what equipment you've got, and stuff like that."
  943. >Crinkling her nose, she looks you dead in the eyes.
  944. >"Asking a lady what spells she knows is like asking her age. Do you really wanna know?"
  945. >It is a personal question, but you do need to know.
  946. >Pointing your thumb at your chest, you offer the only response possible.
  947. "Blizzard, Blizzara, Fire, Shade, Focus, Temper."
  948. >Gloria gives an exaggerated slouch, but continues walking.
  949. >"Well, I've got a few. Cure, which is a pretty basic healing spell, cuts and scrapes is all it can handle. I've also got Shell, which reduces the effect of magic damage."
  950. >Summoning a small ball of wind, she continues.
  951. >"Then I've got Aero, Aerora, and Aeroga. The first can cut a branch, the second can cut a person, the final can cut a small clearing.
  952. >You begin to speak, but she dismisses the orb of wind and raises a hand to stop you.
  953. >"Aeroga'll take up all my mana for the day, so don't get any ideas about taking on a big group."
  954. >She suddenly smacks her hand against her forehead.
  955. >"Oh, I've got Haste, too. That one can speed you up a bit."
  956. >She seems like a pretty capable mage, but you're hoping you won't need to test that out.
  957. >She seems relatively versatile, she can probably even save you some money on potions, too.
  958. >Besides Gloria, they're the only method of healing you have, and they aren't cheap.
  959. >They're made from unicorn blood, which isn't exactly common.
  960. >Your thoughts are interrupted by a tapping on the side of your head.
  961. >"Hello? anybody in there? You aren't going to compliment my mage skills?"
  962. >She throws her hair back, striking a pose.
  963. "Yeah, you're great and all. Just trying to think about how that affects our capabilities and all."
  964. >Gloria furrows her brow for a second, before pointing at Star.
  965. >"And what can Twilight do, when she isn't Silenced and all?"
  966. >Looking over at Star, you realize you never asked Star about her magic.
  967. "What can you do, Star?"
  968. >Star blushes, but stops so she can write on her slate.
  969. >Luckily, you've been walking long enough that the sun has risen enough to illuminate her writing.
  970. >"Basic Kinetics (Push, Pull, Hold, Concussive), Mid-level healing (Target, Self, and Group), Teleportation (Self, Object, and Group), Cloud Walking, Wings of Morning Dew (I suspect this one only works on ponies), Transmutation (Sentient and Object), Time Travel (which I don't recommend trying), Reveal Disguise, Basic Spell Reversion (Target and Self), Dark Magic (Enchant Target), and Basic Shielding (Target, Self, and Location).
  971. "Holy shit"
  972. >"Well, I guess the elders don't study under unicorns for nothing."
  973. >Hearing your and Gloria's reactions, Star's blush deepens.
  974. >Wiping away the list, Star replaces it with a single sentence.
  975. >"I used to be really good at magic."
  976. "Well, I think we can both see that..."
  977. >She'd mentioned she trained with one of her princesses before, but she really didn't go into detail.
  978. >Obviously they were pretty good teachers
  979. >"Do you guys just know that stuff naturally or do other unicorns teach you guys this stuff? And why the Dark Magic? I thought unicorns specialized in Holy Magic?"
  980. >Star practically shrinks back at the barrage of questions
  981. >"Well, the dark magic was just one specific incident. As for where we learn it, I learned from books and my teacher."
  982. >Apparently Star refrained from mentioning Equestria to her.
  983. >As you walk, you tell Gloria about Equestria.
  984. >It's a lot more efficient than waiting for Star to write on her slate.
  985. >You tell Gloria about the three races and two princesses, with the occasional interjection from Star.
  986. >Gloria listens closely the whole time, enraptured by the concept of a nation populated by unicorns.
  987. >When you tell her that neither of you know where Equestria, she practically sheds a tear.
  988. >By the time you're done, you all stop for lunch.
  989.  
  990. >> Ask Gloria about why she's wandering around. She might not give you a straight answer, but it's worth a try.
  991. >>Ask Star about how she got from Equestria to the border of Adraych. Gloria seemed to be curious as well.
  992. >>Ask Star to teach you some magic. It could be useful to learn some new stuff. (Class Change: Mage)
  993. >>Ask Gloria to teach you some magic, maybe teach her some as well? (Class Change: Red Mage)
  994.  
  995. >>Ask Star about how she got from Equestria to the border of Adraych. Gloria seemed to be curious as well.
  996.  
  997. >Carefully placing some deer jerky on slightly stale bread, you realize something.
  998. >You still haven't figured out how Star left Equestria without knowing where she landed.
  999. "How did you end up leaving Equestria without knowing where you were going anyway?"
  1000. >Star looks up from her hay, looking a little reluctant.
  1001. >Gloria visibly leans forward, obviously not noticing Star's discomfort.
  1002. >"So this'll be the first time you tell the story?"
  1003. "Y-"
  1004. >Star nods, hesitantly pulling out her slate.
  1005. >Wiping away the short answer, Star begins to write.
  1006. >"Where I come from, only unicorns can utilize teleportation magic for travel. In studying some old texts in Princess Celestia's library, I found unfinished notes on using objects as a focus for teleportation spells. I thought it a miracle, a spell that only required one energy expenditure but allowed anyp0ny to make use of instant transportation!"
  1007. >As she wipes the slate clean, you see Star frown.
  1008. >"I brought the notes home and realized they only needed a few changes. I swapped celestial energy for that of several unicorns and updated the nonsensical coordinate system."
  1009. >She wipes the slate clean again, frowning.
  1010. >Her story reminds you, yet again, how much of a magical powerhouse she must be.
  1011. >Nobody has re-written spells in recent memories, yet she writes it as if it's something anyone can do.
  1012. >"When I finished the spell a few weeks later, I wrote to Princess Celestia to tell her about my breakthrough. After I sent the letter, I got nervous that she would want I demonstration of the teleportation focus."
  1013. >After wiping away the slate, she tosses it aside and begins to write in the dirt.
  1014. >"I had yet to test it, so before Celestia could respond, I gathered some friends to test it. For some reason, the spell required specifically a mirror as a focus. I set a big standing one up behind my house and with the help of a few local unicorns, I cast the spell. We tried to send Applejack, an earth pony friend of mine, through the mirror. She just ended up walking directly into the mirror, bumping her nose into the glass."
  1015. >Gloria gives a muted chuckle at that thought.
  1016. >"I checked the spell again and found that the destination coordinates had duplicated themselves, setting what I suspected was an anchor location for the spell. Changing the second set of coordinates took a lot of energy, causing me to stagger slightly at the unexpected expenditure. My horn made contact with the glass, somehow causing the mirror to shatter outwards. After waking up, I found myself in a forest, completely drained-"
  1017. >After a while, Star gave up on constantly erasing the slate and now writing covers the ground around.
  1018. >Despite the fact Star was still writing, Gloria interrupts her.
  1019. >"So that's where you met Anon? After the mirror spell failed?"
  1020. >If Gloria eyes practically shining with curiosity didn't give her excitement away, her tone certainly had.
  1021. >You shoot Star a nervous glance, knowing that this conversation was getting into dangerous territory.
  1022. >She returns your glance with a look akin to exhaustion, her withers slouching.
  1023. "Well-"
  1024. >Star beats you to the punch yet again, already scratching out a response.
  1025. >"Yes. The coordinates I gave were for the other side of town, but I ended up in a forest."
  1026. >Almost as an afterthought, she adds one final piece.
  1027. >"Then I met Anon and you know the story from there."
  1028. >At this point, you'd finished your sandwich and so had Gloria.
  1029. >Star's writing certainly wasn't slow, but it did take a while.
  1030. >"So how do you think you get back to Equestria?"
  1031. >You begin to pack up, with both Star and Gloria mimicking your actions.
  1032. >"Well, I guess I'll just have to find a mirror and try the spell, maybe reverse the coordinates?"
  1033. >Throughout the exchange, Star avoids eye contact with you.
  1034. >Maybe she's worried you'll somehow give Gloria a hint as to the truth?
  1035. "Glass isn't hard to get, but metal clean enough for a mirror?"
  1036. >You pause for a second, she's still meeting avoiding your gaze directly.
  1037. >You'd think she'd realize you can keep a secret by now, it's been almost a whole day with Gloria.
  1038. "We might need to go a little deeper into the Empire for that."
  1039. >Smirking, Gloria raises a finger.
  1040. "Nope! Further down south, some chieftains have trinkets like that. Get on their good side and maybe they'll help you!"
  1041. "And that's easy to do?"
  1042. >"Well, no. I can't actually talk with those chieftains and..."
  1043. >Gloria looks down at your robes and gestures at them.
  1044. >"You might want to get rid of those,though."
  1045. "Well, that's an issue to deal with at another time."
  1046. >Either way would be dangerous.
  1047. >Your forged Guild membership might not hold up to the intense scrutiny up north, making getting into some of the nicer cities difficult.
  1048. >Down south everyone would want to kill you and only Star might prevent that.
  1049. >Key word being 'might'
  1050. >Gloria's laughter breaks you free from your thoughts
  1051. >"You're just afraid of white mages, aren't you?"
  1052. >Adjusting your robes, you respond without looking up.
  1053. "You aren't afraid of a camp of black mages?"
  1054. >She shrugs, as if you had asked her what she thought of the weather.
  1055. >"Well, yeah. Aren't you black mages supposed to fearless and bloodthirsty, though?"
  1056. >You barely refrain from laughing aloud, having covering your mouth with your hand for a second.
  1057. "And saving a unicorn and asking you to travel with us is bloodthirsty and merciless, right?"
  1058. >Your dad wasn't much of a black mage in terms of personality either.
  1059. >Gloria strokes her chin for a second, as if pondering your last statement.
  1060. >"Well, I guess you are a bit of a wimp."
  1061. "And y-"
  1062. >Your retort is cut short by Star poking you with her horn.
  1063. >"We need to get going, unless you want to spend another night sleeping outside?"
  1064. "Well, you were the one telling us your life story..."
  1065. >Star rolls her eyes and starts to go without you.
  1066. >C'mon, you were just bantering with Gloria.
  1067. >The second she turns away, you rub the spot where she poked you.
  1068. >Those horns are sharper than they look.
  1069. >Whatever, you're just glad she's looking you in the eye again.
  1070. >Shouldering you bag, you catch up with the rest of your party.
  1071. ~~~
  1072. >Before you arrive at Falsecrest, you make Gloria put on a spare pair of your leggings and a jerkin.
  1073. >"So where's the clothier?"
  1074. >Now she'a constantly talking in fake boy's voice.
  1075. >Star's laughing silently, you think it's just annoying.
  1076. >Shaking your head, you point at a turn off Main Street.
  1077. "Just follow that street, I can see the shop from here. Walk down Main Street to meet me at the herbalist."
  1078. >At least that's still the same.
  1079. >Hopefully the herbalist is still in business.
  1080. >Taking 60 Gold, she rushes off into the evening sun.
  1081. >Falsecrest has certainly changed since you were here as a teenager.
  1082. >You used to come here with your dad on hunting trips, a decent sized town that was a little rough around the edges.
  1083. >Now it's got twice as many buildings in the same amount of space, meaning only half of what you remember is still accurate.
  1084. >Streets you used to know are now alleys, and alleys you used to know don't even exist anymore.
  1085. >Star fidgets a little, obviously ready to get going.
  1086. >As you walk Main Street, you can tell that the town has gotten worse.
  1087. >You can hear some poor sap being beaten up ahead, cursing and grunts of pain.
  1088. >Leaning down, you grab the straps of Star's saddlebags and whisper in her ear.
  1089. "We can't get involved here. Just try not to look."
  1090. >While you know it isn't the best advice, you don't exactly have the time to explain gangs to Star.
  1091. >Do unicorns have gangs?
  1092. >Even if they did, you doubt Star would know.
  1093. >She seems to have hung mostly around the upper crust, not exactly the type to be harassed by gang members.
  1094. >You lead Star past the alley by the straps of her saddlebags, but can't help overhearing some of the abuse.
  1095. >"...don't give a shit if you weren't selling it, you need a guild license unless you're buyin'..."
  1096. >As you walk away, the sound of the blows raining upon the man lessens.
  1097. >Ah, guild disputes.
  1098. >Possibly even worse than gangs, although you didn't think there were any guilds this far south.
  1099. >Finally you reach the herbalist.
  1100. >The old man greets you with a crooked smile, slapping his hands down on his stall.
  1101. >"What can ah do fer ya, sir?"
  1102. "All I need are some Echo Herbs."
  1103. >He rubs his hands together.
  1104. >"How about 120 Gold? I know betta than ta get out more outta the guild."
  1105. >You rub the stubble on your chin, pretending to think about the price.
  1106. >This price is actually about half what you expected to pay.
  1107. >Even weirder, being a black mage normally made then raise prices, not lower them.
  1108. >Looks like this city has really changed.
  1109. "Alright, I'll take it."
  1110. >Reaching under his stall, the herbalist pulls out a jar with a few leaves of Echo Herb.
  1111. >"Just toss these in boiling water, make a tea out of it, and your Silence will disappear!"
  1112. >He punctuates the 'disappears' with a wave of both hands.
  1113. >You count out the proper amount of Gold and pass it to him.
  1114. "Thanks for the Herbs."
  1115. >He waves you off.
  1116. >"You can thank me by not getting me in trouble with the guild."
  1117. >You walk off, your slight worry juxtaposed by Star's clear excitement.
  1118. >A familiar voice suddenly interrupts your thoughts.
  1119. >"Hey Anon! How's it look?"
  1120. >Running up to you, Gloria wears a green skirt over your deerskin leggings.
  1121. >She gives a quick twirl obviously happy with her purchase.
  1122. "You just bought a skirt?"
  1123. >Gloria frowns at you, planting her hands on her hips.
  1124. >"Well, these leggings are pretty nice and I figured I might as well just get one nice piece of clothing, rather than a whole crappy outfit."
  1125. >Shaking your head, you start off towards a nearby inn.
  1126. "I'm just not buying you a new skirt if that one gets dirty."
  1127. >Both she and Gloria begin to follow you, Gloria laughing at your last statement.
  1128. "What's so funny? It's a nice outfit you'll be wearing in the wilderness!"
  1129. >This time, Gloria is shaking her head.
  1130. >"You realize I come from a group of people who wear almost exclusively white, right?"
  1131. "How-"
  1132. >Turning to ask Gloria about the miracle of stain-free robes, you never see the giant of a man.
  1133. >He was standing right on the side of the street, right behind you.
  1134. >Naturally, you walk right into him.
  1135. >Turning to look at him, he's decked out on full chainmail, bow and quiver slung across his back, knife and longsword at his side.
  1136. >You try to look into his eyes, but they're almost covered by his shaggy brown hair.
  1137. "S-sorry about bumping into you."
  1138. >He lets out a hearty laugh, as if you'd just told him a fantastic joke.
  1139. >You want to leave, but he stares directly at you throughout his laughter.
  1140. >"You weigh half as much as me. I truly do not care that you bumped into me, my problem with you is completely different."
  1141. >He punctuates the 'you' by poking you in the chest with a gauntlet-clad fist.
  1142. "I don't actually know who-"
  1143. >He waves away your answer, letting out another, albeit quicker and quieter, chuckle.
  1144. >"This isn't a personal problem with you, you just don't have a guild license, do you?"
  1145. >Pulling out your forged Black Mage Guild papers, you hold them out towards him.
  1146. "Look, I have all my-"
  1147. >"Black Mage papers, for fuck's sake! I can see you're a black mage!"
  1148. >He waves at Star, who shrinks back.
  1149. >"I'm talking about your Medical Guild License!"
  1150. "Medical...?"
  1151. >He cracks his knuckles and out of the corner of your eye, you see a faint glow of mana around Gloria's hands
  1152. >Oh fuck.
  1153. >Out of nowhere, you hear a voice you haven't heard for years.
  1154. >"Luke, calm down! That's Simeon's kid."
  1155. >Practically out of nowhere, Asher begins to calm 'Luke' down.
  1156. >Luke turns to you, taking a second look.
  1157. >He slams a gauntlet-coated fist into his forehead, not even flinching.
  1158. >"Sorry, Asher. I never got to meet Simeon's family."
  1159. >Asher laughs, patting Luke on the back.
  1160. >"S'okay, I barely recognized him, myself!"
  1161. >Asher was one of your dad's friends, another hunter and a retired Black Battlemage of the Adrachian army.
  1162. >He retired and started hunting exotic creatures, like Cheshires and Lesser Drakes.
  1163. >Tuning out their conversation, you look at Asher more closely.
  1164. >He's decked out in the gray robes of a doctor, but you can see a staff strapped to his back.
  1165. >He looks the same, short black hair and piercing blue eyes on a consistently clean-shaven face.
  1166. >You haven't seen him for years, but he still seems the same.
  1167. >"...So he gets Simeon's License! Although I see he's got some good stuff already!"
  1168. >Luke salutes you, his voice much softer than before.
  1169. >"Sorry about that. Maybe I'll see you around?"
  1170. >He offers you an easy smile.
  1171. "Uhh...sure?"
  1172. >Luke walks off, his business concluded.
  1173. >Asher flashes you a smile, leaning down to whisper in your ear.
  1174. >"Why dontcha send the lady and the goods back to the inn and we'll talk?"
  1175. >Goods?
  1176. >Turning to Star and Gloria, you pass them enough gold for a room at the inn.
  1177. >You look at them, a pleading look in your eyes.
  1178. "Can you head over to the inn and get a room?"
  1179. >All of Star's previous excitement has drained away and Gloria just looks confused.
  1180. >"Okay. It's one we passed already, right?"
  1181. "Yep, don't let them overcharge you."
  1182. >Gloria just nods, nudging Star to get her going.
  1183. >Asher whistles as they leave.
  1184. >"I gotta say, you're definitely Simeon's son."
  1185. >He shakes his head, looking down and laughing.
  1186. >"I mean using a virgin to lure unicorns for capture? You got some stones on you, kid."
  1187. >Everything clicks at once.
  1188. >Sudden growth in size, Medical Guild in control, Asher hanging around.
  1189. >It's hunter's boom town.
  1190. >Something that benefits medicine must've been found in the forest beyond Falsecrest.
  1191. >Well, there's only one way to find out.
  1192. "Yeah, I didn't realize this had become a boom town, though."
  1193. >Spreading his arms, he gestures at the town as a whole.
  1194. >"Falsecrest has become the greatest source of modern medicine in the whole Empire."
  1195. >He pulls out a vial of a crimson substance.
  1196. >"One drop of this stuff? Cure a few scrapes. Two, a life threatening gash. Three? You can heal a hole blasted through your chest."
  1197. >He shakes it a little, causing the fluid inside slosh around.
  1198. >"Status ailments, disease, this stuff can do it all."
  1199. >Yep.
  1200. >Unicorn boom town.
  1201. "Yeah. Fantastic, all it costs is the life of a unicorn."
  1202. >Seeing your distress, Asher pats you on the back.
  1203. >"That one unicorn? It will save countless human lives."
  1204. >Distancing yourself from Asher, you begin to walk away.
  1205. "Yeah. I gotta go now, though. See you later."
  1206. >Asher steps closer
  1207. >"Aw come on! I know you use the peaceful method, but I can show you how to really catch a unicorn! Or if you don't want to do that, I can help you get a good price at the Guild's auction tomorrow!"
  1208.  
  1209. >>Head along with Asher to hunt a unicorn, but try to stop him during the hunt. It might not be subtle, but if you can save one...?
  1210. >>Head along with Asher to hunt a unicorn, but keep the unicorn to do what you wish with it.
  1211. >>Refuse Asher's offers and leave tonight. He's always been nice, but this is a little much for him.
  1212. >>Refuse Asher's offers and leave in the morning. Everyone would enjoy sleeping in a bed tonight.
  1213. >>Hit him in the face and run.
  1214.  
  1215. >>Refuse Asher's offers and leave tonight. He's always been nice, but this is a little much for him.
  1216. >Offering a sympathetic smile, you shrug.
  1217. "As much as I'd love your help, I've already got a buyer lined up."
  1218. >Asher opens his mouth to speak, but you quickly cut him off.
  1219. "Buyer up north. Very picky, hence the whole 'virgin' scheme. You know how it is, right?"
  1220. >With that, you begin walking down the road backward.
  1221. >For the briefest of seconds, Asher's smile turns into a frown.
  1222. >It happens so quickly that you almost think you imagined it.
  1223. >"Yeah, I know the feeling! Maybe I'll be seeing you tomorrow?"
  1224. >You let out a quick inhale of false disappointment that Asher probably can't even hear, followed by several rapid-fire sentences that you barely understand yourself.
  1225. "Sorry, gotta get going early tomorrow. He wants her intact and we can't let her see the auction. Hopefully, I'll see you around here in a few weeks?"
  1226. >He calls out to you, flashing you a quick thumbs up.
  1227. "Of course. I'll see you soon, Anon."
  1228. >You return the thumbs up and turn around.
  1229. >The second you're out of sight, you speed up a little.
  1230. >Asher isn't a bad guy, but he did make you realize that this town was significantly more dangerous than you initially anticipated
  1231. >Silently admonishing yourself for bringing a unicorn into a town filled with unicorn hunters, you enter an inn.
  1232. >Stepping up to the counter, a short man with a scruffy black beard greets you.
  1233. >So short, all you see is his face above the counter.
  1234. >"You with tha unicorn and the lady in the jerkin?"
  1235. "Uh, Yep. That's me."
  1236. >He tosses you some keys on an iron ring, which you fumble with for a second.
  1237. >"Just don't get unicorn shit on the sheets or something."
  1238. >You aren't really sure how to respond to that, so you don't.
  1239. >Rushing up the stairs, you try to figure out a plan for escaping Falsecrest.
  1240. >The north exit is closer to the inn and a lot safer than heading south at this point, so you figure you should head that way.
  1241. >Searching for your room, you figure leaving sooner rather than later would be the best option.
  1242. >Finding your room, you quickly unlock and open the door.
  1243. >Stepping into the room, you're greeted by Gloria, mana forming at her fingertips, and Star, head held low, presumably to charge an attacker.
  1244. >Quickly backing through the door, you stammer out a response.
  1245. "Uh, it's me? Anon."
  1246. >From inside the room, you hear Gloria's slightly flustered voice.
  1247. >"Sorry Anon, that guy was giving off some weird vibes. You can come in, we're not gonna attack you or something."
  1248. >When you step back inside, a different picture greets you.
  1249. >Gloria rubs the nape of her neck sheepishly, eyes not meeting yours.
  1250. >Star is just sort of pawing at the ground awkwardly.
  1251. >"Sorry, I couldn't shake the feeling that he was bad news."
  1252. >Star trots over to her bags, pulling out her slate.
  1253. >You give an awkward sort of chuckle, scratching at your scalp absently.
  1254. "Well, Asher's a pretty nice guy. He was a friend of my dad, and all that."
  1255. >Twilight scratches out a question on her slate.
  1256. >"He seemed very nice, but Gloria and I began to worry when you sent us back to the hotel."
  1257. >Gloria chimes in, having read Star's slate as well.
  1258. >"He just looked untrustworthy, did you see those weird gray robes?"
  1259. "Well, there's two things I should say about that."
  1260. >Holding up a finger, both Star and Gloria take a seat on the bed.
  1261. >Star actually looks sort of cute, sitting on the bed like a cat or dog.
  1262. "First of all, those gray robes mean he's a doctor. They're really the closest thing we have to white mages, in terms of healing at least."
  1263. >Holding up a second finger, you continue.
  1264. "He also told me that this is Medical Guild boom town. Which is probably the worst-"
  1265. >Twilight holds up her slate.
  1266. >"Shouldn't that be a good thing?"
  1267. >Craning her neck, Gloria reads Star's slate.
  1268. >"I mean, I don't know much about how you guys handle medicine, but isn't Twilight right?"
  1269. "Well, the thing is that the medical guild..."
  1270. >Gloria frowns, rocking forward in her seat.
  1271. >"What? Are you gonna tell us or not?"
  1272. >You pause for a second.
  1273. >You don't know how much either of them are aware of.
  1274. >You know that you aren't to blame, you've never hunted anything sentient before.
  1275. >Still, it bothers you that the man who was practically your dad's best friend is involved.
  1276. >Knowing what you do, it imparts a combination of second-hand shame and questions about your father.
  1277. >Did your dad kill unicorns?
  1278. >To your knowledge, no.
  1279. >But then what was he hunting in the south?
  1280. >"You can't just leave us waiting like this!"
  1281. >Gloria's almost-shout brings you back to reality.
  1282. >Rubbing your eyes with your forefinger and thumb, you sigh.
  1283. >It isn't as if there's a nice way to say it.
  1284. "Look, they offer a lot of money to bring in exotic animals, okay?"
  1285. >A look of realization dawns on Gloria's face and she steals a quick glance at Star.
  1286. "It causes towns like this to expand really quickly, then they'll get abandoned once the auctions end."
  1287. >Gloria keeps a neutral expression, maintaining a calm tone.
  1288. >"And everyone in the town, Asher included, is one of these hunters?"
  1289. >Trying to mimic Gloria, you respond.
  1290. "Yes."
  1291. >Twilight frowns, scratching something out on her slate.
  1292. >"I'm not a foal. Are they hunting unicorns or not?"
  1293. >"Twil-"
  1294. >You cut Gloria's response with one of your own.
  1295. "Yes."
  1296. >Twilight's frown turns into a neutral expression as she wipes the slate clean.
  1297. >"So enslavement is uncommon? Killing unicorns for medicinal products is the norm?"
  1298. "Yeah. People will kill and sell unicorns most of the time."
  1299. >Catching up with you and Star, Gloria gives you both a confused look.
  1300. >"Slavery? Does the empire actually let people do that?"
  1301. >Hanging your head for a second you think about telling Gloria about how you and Star really met, weighing the pros and cons.
  1302. >Looking up, Star has already shown something to Gloria.
  1303. >"Oh. Sorry Twilight. Anon would know more about that."
  1304. >She turns and flashes you a nervous smile.
  1305. >Before she erases it, you read "I was just wondering if there were survivors we would need to free."
  1306. "The point is that we need to leave. The longer we stay here, the more likely it is that some poor hunter gets the jump on us."
  1307. >"But what about the Echo Herbs?"
  1308. >Gloria turns to Star, obviously unhappy with your decision.
  1309. >"Don't you think it would be better to cure your silence first? Don't you want to be able to speak and do again?"
  1310. >Star dons a particularly grim expression and quickly scratches out a response.
  1311. >"As difficult as this, It seems to be the best idea to follow Anon."
  1312. >She clears the slate, not waiting for a response from either of you.
  1313. >"Besides, we can't beat an entire town with my magic. The most we could do is teleport away, but we don't know if I'll experience any fatigue when my magic returns."
  1314. >Gloria slumps her shoulders, putting her head in her hands.
  1315. >"How do I get myself into these situations?"
  1316. >You offer Gloria a smile you know she can't see.
  1317. "Well, it probably started when you walked up to a lone unicorn in the middle of a forest?"
  1318. >When Gloria looks up from her hands, she's practically beaming.
  1319. >"I wish it started there. Let's get going."
  1320. >You return her smile and pull the curtains open, revealing the darkness of night.
  1321. >Everyone still has their bags, so you creep down the stairs and out the back door.
  1322. >By some miracle it was unlocked and you all try to walk through the streets as quickly as possible without arousing suspicion.
  1323. >The streets are practically empty, the only light coming from the open doors of the various bars you pass by.
  1324. >When you reach the north gates, no guards prevent you from leaving.
  1325. >They're simply left open.
  1326. >Continuing until midnight, you stop and make camp.
  1327. >"Anon, do we have any food? I'm starving!"
  1328. >Gloria whispers, but when you start the fire, you see she's making exaggerated fainting motions.
  1329. >Sighing, you point at the bags.
  1330. "We have two bags. Star's and mine. The foods in one of those bags."
  1331. >Hearing the movement of papers and who knows what else, focus more on using your magic to heat the fire further.
  1332. "Look, we obviously have more food, just toss me the Echo Herbs, alright?"
  1333. >Hearing the exchange, Star sits next to you, excited for obvious reasons.
  1334. >Gloria drags your bag into the edge of the firelight, practically sticking her whole head inside.
  1335. >After several seconds of rifling through your stuff, a hand clutching the Herbs rises from the bag.
  1336. >With a flick of Gloria's wrist you're holding the Herbs, Star tapping her forehooves in anticipation.
  1337. >You place about half of the full leaves in a water skin, using a stick to hold it above the magically enhanced flames.
  1338. >You sit watching the flames, Star at your side, and Gloria reading something across from you
  1339. >After about a few minutes, Star's hooves suddenly slow their tapping.
  1340. >Star fidgets and shakily writes on her slate.
  1341. >"I hear two people a little past the edge of camp. I think they have been circling around us for a few minutes."
  1342. >Gloria raises her voice above a whisper for a second.
  1343. >"Anon w-"
  1344. >You raise a hand and immediately cut her off.
  1345. >She can't see what Star has been writing from across the fire.
  1346. "Gloria quiet down for a moment."
  1347. >You try to look around, maybe spot whoever this is.
  1348. >"No. Anon-"
  1349. >You stand up, cutting Gloria off again.
  1350. "Please."
  1351. >Gloria and Star stand up in turn, just in time for two figures to materialize from the shadows.
  1352. >One is a man in a green and gold robe, wearing a headband adorned with a single horn.
  1353. >The other is a smiling Asher.
  1354. >Well, this can't be good.
  1355. >"Sorry to drop in so late. It just seemed like something was fishy about our meeting."
  1356. >Asher steps closer, but you stand your ground.
  1357. >You try to give Asher a stern look, but maintain a calm tone.
  1358. "Asher. What are you doing here so late?"
  1359. >His smile somehow widens and he draws his staff.
  1360. >"Well I thought it was curious that-"
  1361. >He points to Gloria, who is clutching some paper in one hand and charging mana in the other.
  1362. >"-you were traveling with a known thief to lure unicorns."
  1363. >You want to glance back, but you know this isn't the time.
  1364. "Well, all you need is a virgin, right?"
  1365. >You point a thumb behind you.
  1366. "She's cheap."
  1367. >Asher looks annoyed for a moment, slamming his staff into the ground.
  1368. >He glances back at the man in the green and gold robe.
  1369. >"You know, I would have thought Simeon would have taught his kid more..."
  1370. >Spinning back around, he looks you dead in the eyes.
  1371. >"Virgins don't work. It's innocence!"
  1372. >Gloria apparently takes offense to that.
  1373. >"Hey you don-"
  1374. >Asher sighs, loudly.
  1375. >"Please? I'm trying to help my best friend's kid here?"
  1376. >You can practically feel the anger emanating off Gloria, but Asher continues.
  1377. >"Anyway, she is anything but innocent! Now, how would you charm a unicorn into following you to slaughter?"
  1378. >This time, you step closer to him.
  1379. "Maybe I'm better than you think?"
  1380. >Asher frowns, gesturing towards a battle-ready Star, horn poised for a charge.
  1381. >"Nobody's that good."
  1382. >He gently places his hands on your shoulders.
  1383. >"Look, I know it's tough. We don't want to kill sentient creatures, but it's for the greater good."
  1384. >He sighs.
  1385. >"Do you think I wanted to kill people in the army? No! I did it because I was saving the lives of everybody back home."
  1386. >You want to move from his grasp, but he holds you in an iron grip.
  1387. "Unicorns don't want to kill you, though!"
  1388. >This time, he stares into your eyes again.
  1389. >"Nature does. But nature also provides a cure. That cure is a unicorn, but not just for one human."
  1390. >He takes a hand off your shoulder and points at Star.
  1391. >"Just give me the unicorn and I won't even take your license."
  1392.  
  1393. >>Try to distract him by talking until the tea is done. Star might be able to drink some in secret and teleport you out of there.
  1394. >>Get Gloria to cast Aeroga to cover your escape. She'd be completely vulnerable after, but if you can make a clean escape...
  1395. >>Stab Asher, try to take on the other mage. He looks like a doofus wearing that headband, he can't be that strong.
  1396. >>Fight them head on. ((Choose five spells to queue))
  1397. >>Hand over Star.
  1398. >>Write-in
  1399.  
  1400. >>Get Gloria to cast Aeroga to cover your escape. She'd be completely vulnerable after, but if you can make a clean escape...
  1401.  
  1402. >Looking over both Asher and the unknown man, you realize it would probably be a bad idea to fight them.
  1403. >Glancing back, you look at your ragtag party.
  1404. >Star looks nervous, fidgeting a little as she stands off against Asher and his cohort.
  1405. >Gloria just looks angry, her mouth a hard line.
  1406. >Well, it's time to do something stupid.
  1407. >Jumping backwards and falling on your ass, you you yell at the top of your lungs.
  1408. "Aeroga Gloria!"
  1409. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 4): 20 [/spoiler][spoiler] CRITICAL! [/spoiler]
  1410. >Perhaps it's the weight of lifting his staff that slows Asher down, or maybe just age.
  1411. >Either way, Gloria casts first, forming a green tornado that blocks the fireball he launches.
  1412. >Before your eyes, the tornado grows more and more.
  1413. >Somehow, you don't feel the pull of the wind, but you certainly feel the sticks and stones hitting you.
  1414. >You walk right into something and jump back, ready to attack.
  1415. >The spell dies on your lips as you realize you've bumped into Star.
  1416. >She tries to pull out her slate to write something, but fumbles with it.
  1417. >Torn from her mouth, it gets pulled into the raging tornado.
  1418. >Putting a hand on her withers and leaning close to her, you yell into her ear.
  1419. "Keep close to me! We need to get out of here!"
  1420. >Covering your eyes with one hand and holding on to Star's withers with the other, you pick a direction and go.
  1421. >After about half a minute, you no longer feel any debris hitting you, so you uncover your eyes.
  1422. >You're in an unrecognizable patch of woods, with only a few new bumps, bruises, and scratches.
  1423. >What you are missing, is Gloria.
  1424. >Looking around, you see the tornado still raging behind you and clear woods for as far as you can see.
  1425. >Wiping off what you can from your robes, you turn to Star.
  1426. "Did you see Gloria?"
  1427. >Star simply shakes her head, trying to look for Gloria as well.
  1428.  
  1429. >>Go back into the storm to find Gloria. You seem to be protected from the worst of it, anyway.
  1430. >>Keep going, she'll catch up with you.
  1431. >>Head a little further north and then make camp. It could lead to Asher finding you, but Gloria would have an easier time locating you.
  1432. >>Stay here, wait for the spell to wear off. Asher and the other man probably left already, so there's no need to worry.
  1433.  
  1434. >>Go back into the storm to find Gloria. You seem to be protected from the worst of it, anyway.
  1435.  
  1436. >Staring at the opaque green winds, you realize you need to at least check.
  1437. >Gloria said that she can only cast one Aeroga before she runs completely out of mana, leaving her pretty much defenseless.
  1438. >Glancing to Star, you realize it would be a bad idea to bring her back into the storm.
  1439. "Star, can you go check that way-"
  1440. >You point a finger northwards and away from the possible danger of the localized tornado.
  1441. "Just go out a little and come back. I'll check to the west and we'll meet up here."
  1442. >With a serious look, Star nods and gallops off.
  1443. >Turning around, you head back into the tornado.
  1444. >Covering your eyes, you maintain a straight path, heading for the eyes of the storm.
  1445. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 7): 9 [/spoiler]
  1446. >As you're wishing you had some sort of goggles, you feel something huge barely miss you.
  1447. >It brushes the back of your cloak but passes by quickly.
  1448. >After almost being hit by whatever that was, you speed up significantly.
  1449. >Suddenly, the pounding on the front of your body stops and you look into the eye of the storm.
  1450. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 9): 16 [/spoiler]
  1451. >At the edge of the eye, the man in green and gold stands next to a giant wearing nothing but a loincloth and golden bracelets.
  1452. >Neither notices you, staring across the eye to an unconscious and bruised Gloria.
  1453. >Taking a second glance you notice two things about the man.
  1454. >One, his feet are encased in stone and he's visibly exerting himself.
  1455. >Two, he has no visible weapons.
  1456. >In the second you take to analyze the situation, he points a finger towards Gloria.
  1457. >The giant begins to lumber forward, albeit slowly.
  1458. >Neither have noticed you yet, possibly due to the roaring wind and debris.
  1459.  
  1460. >>Attack the giant with a spell/bow/knife.
  1461. >>Try to rush the man with a spell/bow/knife.
  1462. >>Try to sneak around the back of the man.
  1463. >>Retreat and wait to see what happens.
  1464. >>Write in.
  1465.  
  1466. >>Try to sneak around the back of the man.
  1467. [spoiler]I gotta remember to put something in about how many checks they'll be for some choices[/spoiler]
  1468. >The giant looks too strong to take on.
  1469. >If you try to rush the man, the giant would come running
  1470. >Despite Gloria not exactly being the perfect travel companion, you can't just leave her behind.
  1471. >Well, if you can't take them head on, you'll just need to try a less direct route.
  1472. >Stepping back into the storm, you try to follow the edge of the eye.
  1473. >You quickly head around in a circle, barely inside the main storm.
  1474. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 14): 15 [/spoiler]
  1475. >By some miracle, he doesn't notice you as you loop around the eye.
  1476. >As travel through the opaque green winds, you catch glimpses of flying logs and other large debris.
  1477. >Being close to the eye, you're able to step into the slower outer edge of the eye, avoiding any large debris.
  1478. >After several close calls, you stand behind him.
  1479. >Drawing your knife, you ready yourself.
  1480. >All you need to do is kill him, then Star and Gloria will be okay.
  1481. >That's all you need to do.
  1482. >Mustering your courage, you go in for the kill.
  1483. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 11): 2 [/spoiler]
  1484. >Perhaps he sees you in the corner of his eye.
  1485. >Maybe he hears you over the wind.
  1486. >As you dash towards him, he makes a series of wild gestures and the giant turns away from Gloria.
  1487. [spoiler] (1d20 vs 6): 18 [/spoiler]
  1488. >Slamming your knife into his gut, his arm movements stop as he begins pounding on your face and shoulders.
  1489. >You can feel the pounding of the giant's feet as he runs toward you.
  1490. >He starts screaming, a cry of pain right into your ear.
  1491. >It hurts, but you pull the knife out and slam it back in, aware of the ever-approaching giant.
  1492. >His blows become weaker and he slides to the ground, feet still encased in stone.
  1493. >The pounding of the giant's feet dissipates and when you look up, he's gone.
  1494. >You let out a laugh, clutching your head with your bloody hands.
  1495. >Y-you just killed someone.
  1496. >But it was to protect Gloria and Star.
  1497. >Yeah, that is right.
  1498. >He started the fight by showing up at your camp like he did.
  1499. >You saved Gloria and probably Star.
  1500. >You only killed him because you had to.
  1501. >Kneeling down, you pull out your knife, wiping it and your hands clean in the grass.
  1502. >As you head towards Gloria, you try not to look at the body too much.
  1503. >You didn't want to kill him, after all.
  1504. >Reaching Gloria, you see she's bleeding from many small cuts that cover much of her exposed skin.
  1505. >Suddenly you hear a loud cracking noise from across the clearing.
  1506. >Jumping to up at once, you ready yourself for round two.
  1507. >What you see, instead of a new enemy, is the stone surrounding the man's feet begin to crack.
  1508. >With once final groan, it recedes into the earth and the corpse begins to move.
  1509. >But this wasn't an undead mage returning.
  1510. >More quickly than anything flying through the tornado, the corpse is swept out of the eye.
  1511. >Within the blink of an eye, all that's left is a bloodstain and a memory.
  1512. >...That explains the stone boots.
  1513. >Turning back to Gloria, you think about what to do.
  1514.  
  1515. >>Try to bring her back to Star and get going. The tornado might aggravate her wounds, but it's time to get moving.
  1516. >>Wait until the spell ends. She isn't losing too much blood, but you don't want to risk anything. It's already been a solid 15 minutes anyway.
  1517. >>Go now, but try to use one of your potions on Gloria.
  1518. >>Wait, but try to use one of your potions on Gloria.
  1519.  
  1520. >>Go now, but try to use one of your potions on Gloria.
  1521.  
  1522. >Despite the cuts covering her body, she looks oddly serene.
  1523. >You imagine you can't say the same of yourself.
  1524. >You have a lot of questions, but you need to get out of here.
  1525. >Not like you can ask her right now, anyway.
  1526. >Pulling a potion from your pack, you lift Gloria slightly.
  1527. >You place the bottle against her lips and slowly pour the potion into her mouth.
  1528. >Somehow doesn't choke, her wounds starting to glow.
  1529. >You continue until the bottle is empty and the glowing begins to fade, placing the bottle back in your bag.
  1530. >You've only got one potion left and those things are not cheap.
  1531. >Maybe Star would be willing to donate some blood?
  1532. >Potions are pretty much just diluted unicorn blood in water.
  1533. >You could probably take a small amount safely and make a few potions in case your healers are ever out of commission.
  1534. >Sort of like now.
  1535. >Returning to the situation before you, you gently lift Gloria in a bridal carry.
  1536. >You walk through the storm, this time with your face only protected by your hood.
  1537. >The sticks, stones, and other unknown objects fly past you, but never make contact.
  1538. >This time, you feel the wind even less than before.
  1539. >Glancing down at Gloria, you figure it must be the protection afforded by being the caster as opposed to being someone who wasn't targeted.
  1540. >Without the constant barrage of assorted debris, you make your way through the storm significantly faster.
  1541. >When you reach the spot in which you left Star, the spell has run its course.
  1542. >You lay Gloria down, glancing momentarily at the aftermath of her magic.
  1543. >A large swath of forest is missing from where you last made camp, smaller trees and plants litter the practically bare land.
  1544. >The dead man still lingers at the back of your mind.
  1545. >He's among that debris as well, but you don't even know his name.
  1546. >He didn't receive a proper-
  1547. >You hear a rustling from the bushes and you take a battle-ready stance.
  1548. "Who's there? I don't want to hurt anyone, just show yourself."
  1549. >Star slowly edges her way out of a bush.
  1550. "Thank the Gods. Are you okay Star?"
  1551. >Sitting down next to you, she starts writing in the dirt.
  1552. >"I couldn't find you when I doubled back, so I occupied myself with finding some firewood."
  1553. >When she finishes writing, she tilts a saddlebag filled with dry branches of various sizes.
  1554. >You pull some of them out, starting to build a base for the fire.
  1555. >You were far enough from town that you felt safe and you hadn't seen Asher since Gloria first cast Aeroga, about an hour ago.
  1556. >Star begins to help out and you contemplate a few things.
  1557. >Firstly, the duration of Gloria's Aeroga.
  1558. >Sure, it knocked her out, but that was still an insanely long time.
  1559. >Secondly, what happened in the eye of the storm.
  1560. >Yeah, you killed him to protect Star, Gloria, and yourself.
  1561. >But should you go back and give him a proper burial?
  1562.  
  1563. >>Yes. Tell Star what happened and head back to bury him
  1564. >>No. He tried to kill you and you can't risk heading back there.
  1565. >>No, but try to talk about what happened with Star.
  1566. >>Yes. Tell Star you need to do something and leave.
  1567. >>Yes, but wait for Star to remove her silence first.
  1568.  
  1569.  
  1570.  
  1571. >>No, but try to talk about what happened with Star.
  1572.  
  1573. >Thinking it over, you realize you can't afford to bury him, for a variety of reasons.
  1574. >For one, it's dangerous heading back towards Falsecrest.
  1575. >Asher might not be around, but it doesn't mean that a group of hunters weren't just as dangerous.
  1576. >Breaking away from your thoughts for a moment, you set up a stand to use with the water skin.
  1577. >For another, you should really cure Star's silence.
  1578. >Not being able to speak definitely sucks and she's waited long enough.
  1579. >You set up another water skin, having lost the other in the storm.
  1580. >Star stares at you as the Echo Herb is placed inside once again.
  1581. >For the mental baggage, talking to Star or Gloria would probably be the best idea.
  1582. >Lighting the fire, you keep an eye out for unwanted visitors.
  1583. >Sure, you were screwed if Asher showed up.
  1584. >It didn't mean that you wouldn't want to know he's coming before he walks right up to you.
  1585. >Glancing at Gloria, she looks healthy, but there's no way she's waking up any time soon.
  1586. >She's dead weight for now, but at least she's pretty light.
  1587. >You aren't exactly the strongest person around, but you can definitely carry her for a while.
  1588. >She's gotta weigh less than a hundred pounds and she can't be taller than 5' 6".
  1589. >Sooner than you expected, Star is tapping on your shoulder and pointing at the boiling water.
  1590. "Okay, Okay"
  1591. >Getting up, you grab the water skin by its strings, in order to avoid burning yourself or dropping it.
  1592. >You channel some mana into your hands, coating them in a thin layer of ice.
  1593. >Star watches from less than a foot away, curiosity and impatience showing on her face.
  1594. >You place your cold hand against the water skin, using your mana to cool it to a reasonable temperature.
  1595. >You hold the warm tea-filled skin out to Star, a smile on both of your faces.
  1596. "Drink up."
  1597. >She holds the string up with one hoof, using the other to tilt the the skin itself so that she can drink it.
  1598. >She brings the opening to her muzzle and chugs all of the tea in one go.
  1599. >You gently take the water skin as she wipes her muzzle with a hoof.
  1600. >Star massages her neck for a second, almost as if she were warming up to sing.
  1601. >In a way she sort of is.
  1602. >"D-did it work?"
  1603. >Her voice doesn't sound the way you'd imagined it.
  1604. >It's a little higher-pitched than you imagined, but it fits her well.
  1605. "Sounds like-"
  1606. >Your response is cut off by what you assume the pony equivalent of a hug is.
  1607. >Her hooves on your shoulder and the side of her face pressed against yours.
  1608. >It seems more like she's tackling you, but you don't want to ruin the moment.
  1609. >After probably half a minute, she pushes off your shoulders and back into a sitting position.
  1610. >"T-thanks, A-anon."
  1611. >She glances at the ground for a second, before her horn is suddenly encased in a purple glow.
  1612. >"My v-voice is a l-little rusty, but I j-just need to check my magic."
  1613. >You watch the little water skin stand disassemble itself and reassemble itself, encased in a purple glow the whole time.
  1614. "Damn. That's some pretty impressive control you have over your mana, Star."
  1615. >She blushes slightly and then disappears in a flash of purple light.
  1616. >The same light goes off behind, causing you to spin around looking for the source.
  1617. >You're greeted by Star's chuckling visage.
  1618. >"Y-yeah. Magic was my s-special talent, after all."
  1619. >Scratching at your scalp, you realize her mana never changed color.
  1620. "So, your mana never changes color?"
  1621. >At this, she takes in an expression of annoyance.
  1622. >"All unicorns only h-have one color that their mana shows up as, unless you're performing d-dark magic. I haven't seen anyp0ny have it change, but all y-you humans seem to have a mana color b-based on what spell you're casting."
  1623. >Looks like you might have some teaching to do.
  1624. "Well, we form mana in specific ways that causes it to reflect light differently, but that's not important right now."
  1625. >She's floating a quill and a piece of some sort of parchment not far from her, already taking notes
  1626. >...You have no idea where she got those.
  1627. >"L-learning is always important, Anon!"
  1628. >You scratch at the nape of your neck.
  1629. "Well, the thing is that Gloria wasn't alone when I found her..."
  1630. >The parchment quickly rolls up, the quill slipping inside.
  1631. >"W-what do you mean? Did you have to h-hurt someone?"
  1632. >You avoid Star's eyes for a moment, ashamed of what you had done.
  1633. "Someone was going to kill Gloria and I stopped them the only way I could."
  1634. >Star moves to meet your eyes.
  1635. >"And you r-really think it was the only way?"
  1636. >You think about it for a moment, rubbing at your eyes with your hands.
  1637. "Yes. If I didn't kill him, Gloria and I would have both died."
  1638. >Star sighs and closes her eyes.
  1639. >"The taking of another l-life is wrong and I can't c-condone that, but..."
  1640. >She places a hoof on your shoulder.
  1641. >"You did what you h-had to in order to keep us all alive. It was w-wrong, but you had to."
  1642. >You both remain silent for a minute, before she removes her hoof.
  1643. >"Anon, you're a good p-person and that's w-why we need to t-talk about something."
  1644. >You try to look at Star, but this time she refuses to meet your eyes
  1645. "Star, I didn't want to kill him. I just needed to-"
  1646. >She waves a hoof, cutting you off.
  1647. >"N-n-no. I know you didn't w-want to, but this is something else."
  1648. >Before you can even guess at what she's talking about, she continues.
  1649. >"I know you t-told Gloria that y-you would help me leave. W-was that an act for h-her? Before, y-you never talked about that..."
  1650. >It is true, you hadn't thought about freeing her before you met Gloria.
  1651. >But with Gloria unconscious and Star so accepting, you need to make a decision
  1652.  
  1653. >>I just need you to stay with me until I have enough money to buy a pack horse, then I'll help you leave. I might not be able to make ends meet without some help.
  1654. >>Of course. I just want to help you get back to your friends.
  1655. >>I'm sorry, but it's just not possible for you to get back. You know I don't abuse you, but you won't be leaving.
  1656. >>I bought you and I need your help. I'm not trying to be mean, just telling you how it is.
  1657.  
  1658. >>Write-In/Combo
  1659.  
  1660. "Star, I'm sorry that I didn't say anything about that before Gloria. It wasn't an act, though."
  1661. >You see some of the tension drain from Star's withers as you pause.
  1662. "I can't help you get back to Equestria immediately, though. I do still need a pack horse, so until everything settles down, I'll need your help."
  1663. >Star sighs, glancing momentarily at the ground.
  1664. >"Y-yeah. I understand that it'll p-probably take a little while to g-get back to Equestria, a-anyway."
  1665. >Star fidgets a little, but it looks like a weight has been taken off her shoulders.
  1666. >It probably has, who knows how long she's been carrying that.
  1667. >You gently put a hand on her withers.
  1668. "Don't worry about it, Star. It's just business. As much as I like you, I can't just starve myself."
  1669. >You both exchange awkward smiles as you remove your hand from her withers.
  1670. >"Y-yeah. I wouldn't w-want you to go that far."
  1671. >Behind her, you see Star's bedding floating and preparing itself in midair.
  1672. >"W-well, goodnight."
  1673. >Grabbing your stuff, slightly jealous of Star's use of magic, you set it down by the fire.
  1674. "G'night Star."
  1675. >You slide into your blankets and turn towards the still-unconscious Gloria.
  1676. "G'night Gloria."
  1677. >You receive no response, not that you expected one.
  1678. >You roll onto your back, staring at the stars until you drift off to sleep.
  1679.  
  1680. >You awake to the sound of quiet talking and a rising sun.
  1681. >Rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, you catch a few hushed words.
  1682. >"...You'll be staying?"
  1683. >The voice clicks in your head and you realize that Gloria must be awake.
  1684. "You two are awake already?"
  1685. >You can't see them, but you hear some shuffling
  1686. >"Yeah, we didn't wake up too long ago. I was just talking with Twilight until you woke up."
  1687. >You stand up and stretch, feeling a little cramped.
  1688. "Crazy, isn't it? I sort of became used to her being so quiet."
  1689. >Gloria is still laying on the ground where you left her the night before.
  1690. >Star sits beside her, levitating a few rocks in a circular motion.
  1691. >"T-trust me, it's p-pretty weird for me."
  1692. >Taking a seat across from Star, you pull some jerky from your nearby bag.
  1693. "You feeling better? Mana exhaustion seemed to hit you pretty hard."
  1694. >Gloria groans, propping herself up on her elbows.
  1695. >"I'll be fine. Just a little tired and a little confused."
  1696. "I imagine it wasn't supposed to drain you that badly?"
  1697. >You take a bite of your jerky, Gloria frowning at you.
  1698. >"Ha, ha. That and the fact that everything from yesterday afternoon on is a blur."
  1699. >Star opens her mouth, pausing before speaking.
  1700. >"I-is mana exhaustion common in humans? It d-doesn't occur much in ponies."
  1701. >Star puts the rocks down as the conversation takes on a more serious tone.
  1702. "Not usually. Gloria just doesn't seem to know her limits."
  1703. >You can practically feel the glare that Gloria gives you.
  1704. >"Well, you're the one who told me to cast it!"
  1705. >Kneading at your eyes, you sigh.
  1706. "You said it would take all your mana, not knock you out."
  1707. >Gloria practically flies into a sitting position.
  1708. >"That doesn't normally happen!"
  1709. >Star puts a hoof against Gloria, preventing her from getting up.
  1710. >"G-Gloria, you're going to hurt yourself."
  1711. >Gloria gently pushes Star's hoof away, crossing her arms.
  1712. >"I'll be fine, Twilight. We should probably get going soon anyway."
  1713. >Star frowns, looking between you and Gloria.
  1714. >"S-she can't possibly leave in this condition. If y-you really want to leave, I might be able to t-teleport us back to A-Anon's house."
  1715. >Both Star and Gloria stare at you, waiting for a decision.
  1716. "I haven't even said anything about leaving yet..."
  1717.  
  1718. >>Have Star teleport everyone back to your house, you don't want Gloria to get hurt (requires an easy skill check for Star)
  1719. >>Start walking back, Gloria will be fine.
  1720. >>Go hunting and decide later. Gloria might feel better by then (roll on the Rare Creatures hunting table and pick who you'll take with you.)
  1721. >>Try to talk to Gloria about what she was trying to tell you before the attack.
  1722.  
  1723. >>Go hunting and decide later.
  1724.  
  1725. "We don't need to decide now either way. We can afford to wait a few more hours around here, I'll hunt and Gloria can rest."
  1726. >Star frowns, floating your bag into your hands.
  1727. >"O-okay. I still think we should go, but G-Gloria does need rest."
  1728. >Gloria falls back, arms still crossed.
  1729. >"I'm fine, though. Just a little tired."
  1730. >You can't help the smirk forming on your face.
  1731. "Sure, you're completely fine. Just complete mana exhaustion."
  1732. >Judging by her frown, she finds no amusement in this.
  1733. >"I'm completely fine, why won't you two listen to me?."
  1734. >Star leans closer to Gloria, practically leaning over her.
  1735. >"Y-you don't want a book or something to read?"
  1736. >A few books float out from Star's bag, a medical tome and a book on black magic.
  1737. >Gloria grabs the book on black magic out of Star's magical grasp.
  1738. >"Might as well if I'm not going anywhere for a couple of hours."
  1739. >Star smiles and gives a little chuckle before staring at a few rocks.
  1740. "You can read, right?"
  1741. >Opening the book to the first page, Gloria refuses to meet the gaze.
  1742. >"I can read just fine, thank you. Are you going hunting or what?"
  1743. >Shouldering your bag, you decide to go west.
  1744. "Alright, get some rest, Gloria. I'll see you both in a couple hours."
  1745. >Before you turn around, you catch a glimpse of Star practicing some levitation with a few rocks, which Gloria studies closely.
  1746. >The book remains open, but Gloria isn't even looking at it anymore.
  1747. >Looks like you weren't the only one impressed by Star's magic.
  1748. [spoiler]1d20: 18 = AUE?[/spoiler]
  1749. >After walking for about half an hour, you find some unusual tracks.
  1750. >They look like hand prints, but are scattered around in little clusters.
  1751. >You know that there are some weird creatures around here, but this is just odd.
  1752. >Does this thing have hands for feet?
  1753. >The tracks are clearly defined as well, meaning whatever made them was heavy.
  1754. >It's still better than following nothing at all.
  1755. >You follow them, taking care to remain quiet.
  1756. >Don't want to spook whatever you're following.
  1757. [spoiler](1d20 vs 15): 17[/spoiler]
  1758. >The tracks quite fresh, but you don't seem to catch a glimpse of the creature.
  1759. >Sure, there's broken branches and other signs it was here.
  1760. >It just that you can't see whatever made these tracks.
  1761. >All you can tell is that, not only is it heavy, but fast as well.
  1762. >It takes about an hour before the tracks become sparse and difficult to follow.
  1763. >Despite this, you follow them as far as you can.
  1764. >You suspect, whatever this thing is, it's almost definitely valuable.
  1765. >The dirt of the forest gives way to way to pebbles, pebbles give way to rocks, and rocks give way to boulders.
  1766. >The tracks end at a rocky outcropping surrounded by gravel, rather out of place in the forest.
  1767. >Looking over the outcropping, it appears to form some sort of pillar.
  1768. >Not that you were an expert on the south, but you'd never seen something like this.
  1769. >It stood about twice your height when standing and looked to completely unstable.
  1770. >Maybe it was unnatural?
  1771. >Could humans have built this?
  1772. >Or was it unicorns?
  1773. >It could have even been another species entirely.
  1774. >As you think at the edge of the clearing, a unicorn appears.
  1775. >It appears to be a stallion with a light brown coat and solid white mane.
  1776. >Just like Star, he has a cutie mark.
  1777. >This one appears to be four green gems in a diamond-like pattern.
  1778. >His eyes on the ground, he heads for the pillar.
  1779. >Could he be from Equestria?
  1780.  
  1781. >>Call out to him, asking if he knows what it is.
  1782. >>Call out to him, telling him to avoid it.
  1783. >>Leave him to his business and try to follow the tracks from before.
  1784. >>Watch what happens.
  1785. >>Write in.
  1786.  
  1787. >>Perception check
  1788. >You decide to take a closer look before deciding on a course of action.
  1789. [spoiler](1d20 vs 18): 8[/spoiler]
  1790. >Looking closer at the stallion, you realize he's frowning and kicking at some of the smaller pebbles.
  1791. >He moves his lips, but you're too far to hear what he's saying.
  1792. >Whatever it is, it certainly isn't positive.
  1793. >Having gleaned all you could about the stallion, you take another look at the pillar.
  1794. [spoiler](1d20 vs 11): 13[/spoiler]
  1795. >Looking closer at the pillar, you realize it isn't what you initially thought it to be.
  1796. >Instead of a solid pillar, it appears that the rocks are placed to form a small tube.
  1797. >Judging by the size of the largest rocks, a pony would be able to fit through comfortably.
  1798. >A human could probably squeeze through as well.
  1799. >The only issue is that you aren't close enough to see a rope or ladder.
  1800. >From here it looks to just be a straight drop.
  1801.  
  1802. >>Call out to him, telling him to avoid it
  1803.  
  1804. >Throwing away any pretense of stealth, you leap to your feet.
  1805. "Stop! Do not get any closer to that pillar!"
  1806. >The unicorn practically leaves the ground at the sound of your yelling.
  1807. >His head jerks around frantically, probably searching for the source of the warning.
  1808. "Over here!"
  1809. >You wave your arms for extra emphasis.
  1810. >He makes eye contact with you, fear flashing over his face.
  1811. >The look of fear is soon replaced by an easy smile at the sight of your ridiculous arm waving.
  1812. >"Uh, thanks for the advice, mister."
  1813. >Closing the gap between the two of you, you offer a smile in return.
  1814. [spoiler](1d20 vs 20): 15[/spoiler]
  1815. "No problem. I'm pretty sure that pillar is a far cry from being safe"
  1816. >The unicorn looks past you, tilting his head to the side.
  1817. >"Pillar...?"
  1818. [spoiler](1d20 vs 19): 4[/spoiler]
  1819. >You point a finger at the pillar to your right.
  1820. "That pillar."
  1821. >You squint your eyes at him a little.
  1822. [spoiler](1d20 vs 16): 12[/spoiler]
  1823. "The giant pillar made of rocks and boulders?"
  1824. >Realization suddenly dawns on him.
  1825. >"Yeah, that rock pillar. Sorry about that."
  1826. >He begins trying to walk past you.
  1827. >"I'll definitely avoid that. I'll just be going on my way, if that's okay with you."
  1828. [spoiler](1d20 vs 18): 11[/spoiler]
  1829. >Geez, this guy is in a real hurry.
  1830. >You step in front of him, blocking his path.
  1831. "If you don't mind, I have a few questions. You aren't headed anywhere urgently, right?"
  1832. >He sighs and shakes his head.
  1833. >"I suppose I'm not. What do you wanna know?"
  1834. >Scratching at your chin for a second, you think about what to ask.
  1835. >You stick out your hand.
  1836. "First of all, I'm Anon. Nice to meet you."
  1837. >"The name's Rare Find. Thanks for the help back there, I suppose."
  1838. [spoiler](1d20 vs 17): 7[/spoiler]
  1839. >He encases your hand in a green magical grip, giving it a firm shake.
  1840. >Looks like unicorns do know about handshakes.
  1841. >Might as well get straight to the point.
  1842. "I'll be blunt. Are you from Equestria?"
  1843. >He gives a quick chuckle.
  1844. >"Well, yeah. Suppose the cutie mark is a dead giveaway, huh?"
  1845. >Well, shit.
  1846. >Looks like Star isn't the only one who got dragged over.
  1847. >Scratching at the nape of your neck, you smile.
  1848. "Well, yeah. No other unicorns around here have those. How did you get here anyway?"
  1849. >He grimaces, pausing before answering you.
  1850. >"Well, I was just minding my own business. Out of nowhere, a spell goes off and I wake up here."
  1851. [spoiler](1d20 vs 15): 11[/spoiler]
  1852. >You wait for Rare to continue.
  1853. >He doesn't
  1854. "That's it?"
  1855. >He huffs indignantly.
  1856. >"Well, sorry I can't have a better story for you."
  1857. >Sounds like its time to change the subject.
  1858. "So, where are you headed?"
  1859. >He glances past you again.
  1860. >"Nowhere in particular, I guess."
  1861.  
  1862. >>Ask him for help following the mysterious tracks. (Med Skill check)
  1863. >>Ask him to come back to camp with you, its still dangerous with hunters out and about. (Hard skill check)
  1864. >>Respect his desire to leave and head back to camp.
  1865. >>Leave him alone and keep following the tracks (Med skill check)
  1866.  
  1867. >>Ask him about Twilight.
  1868.  
  1869. >If he doesn't know where he's going, you might as well ask where he's from.
  1870. "So where are you from, in Equestria?
  1871. >You're no expert on Equestrian geography, but Star taught you some of the more important cities and towns.
  1872. >He grimaces slightly, just long enough that you notice it.
  1873. >"I lived back in Ponyville. Made a decent living off of digging up gems and such."
  1874. >You scratch your chin for a second.
  1875. >Ponyville...
  1876. >Where was that again?
  1877. >Isn't that where Star lived?
  1878. "Did you know a unicorn named S-"
  1879. >You catch yourself.
  1880. >Force of habit.
  1881. >Rare gives you an odd look for a second, waiting for you to continue.
  1882. "A unicorn named Twilight Sparkle, by any chance?"
  1883. >Rare looks pretty surprised for a moment, but begins to speak.
  1884. >"You mean Twilight Sparkle, brother of Shining Armor and student of Celestia?"
  1885. >You scratch the side of your head, unsure if whether he's serious.
  1886. "Is there another?"
  1887. >He frowns at you.
  1888. >"How do you know Twilight Sparkle?"
  1889. >You take a second before answering, conscious of the fact a unicorn wouldn't want to hear about a unicorn being enslaved.
  1890. "Well, I travel with her. She's a pretty powerful mage, after all."
  1891. [spoiler](1d20 vs 18): 19[/spoiler]
  1892. >You realize what had been bothering you before.
  1893. >There's mana circulating around Rare's body, encasing it completely.
  1894. >It definitely isn't just the normal flow of mana.
  1895. >He must have some sort of spell cast.
  1896. >He smiles.
  1897. >"She's one of, if not the, strongest unicorns in Equestria."
  1898. "Well, you seem to be a pretty decent mage yourself."
  1899. >You wave your hand in a circle, trying to indicate the circulation of mana around his form.
  1900. >He backs up slightly and squints his eyes, his mouth forming a hard line.
  1901. >"What are you saying?"
  1902. >You try to offer a friendly smile, surprised by his unexpected reaction to your compliment.
  1903. "I just noticed that you have a spell going already. Did I say something wrong?"
  1904. >His expression visibly lightens, but he remains at a distance.
  1905. >"No, I was just worried for a second. Thought you might have been insinuating something."
  1906. >You scratch at the back of your head for a second, at a loss for words.
  1907. "Not really, just meant it as a compliment."
  1908. >What would he have been thinking you were talking about?
  1909. >He steps closer, breaking the silence.
  1910. >"They're just shield spells. Not all humans are as tolerable as you."
  1911. >Oh.
  1912. >He must have thought you were a hunter.
  1913. >Not sure what his magical strength had to do with that, but you don't know much about unicorn hunting.
  1914. >Might as well put it out in the open.
  1915. "I'm not a hunter, if that's what you're worried about."
  1916. >He sighs.
  1917. >"I can tell that, but there's more than just hunters to be worried about."
  1918. >You give a slightly pained chuckle, remember last night's encounter.
  1919. >The dead man.
  1920. >Asher.
  1921. >At the thought of Asher, a certain phrase returns to you.
  1922. >'a known thief'
  1923. >...You should probably talk to Gloria about that.
  1924. >The sound of Rare speaking brings you back to reality.
  1925. "Sorry, what'd you say?"
  1926. >He frowns yet again.
  1927. >"I just was asking you if you had trouble with them."
  1928. >This time it's your turn to frown.
  1929. "Yeah, we had some trouble with them last night."
  1930. >Rare tries to keep his voice steady, but you can tell he's nervous.
  1931. >"How far from here?"
  1932. >You might not know the unicorn very well, but you still feel like you should warn him.
  1933. >He seems like a decent fellow, if a bit skittish.
  1934. "There's a whole town of hunters, not too far south from here. They might come through here, so I'd recommend finding someplace safe."
  1935. >His only response is a grim nod.
  1936. >"So do you think I would be able to make it to the south without running into them?"
  1937. >You shake your head, knowing that neither of you have any knowledge of the trails they follow.
  1938. "Not really. It might be your best bet to just hole up somewhere safe."
  1939. >He waits a second before responding, staring into space.
  1940. >"How long would we have to hide?"
  1941. >You rub at the nape of your neck, fully aware that might have led hunters through here.
  1942. [spoiler](1d20 vs 8): 13[/spoiler]
  1943. "I really don't know, maybe a couple of days? How many are you traveling with?"
  1944. >He cocks his head, looking at you like you're crazy.
  1945. >"What do you mean?"
  1946. >You return the look, pretty sure of what you had heard
  1947. "You said 'we' once or twice."
  1948. >There's silence for a second as he gives you a sort of blank look.
  1949. >"Nope. Must've misspoke. There's no one else that I'm traveling with."
  1950. >Okay.
  1951. >That's sort of suspicious.
  1952. >But why would he lie about something like that to you?
  1953. >You're once again broken from your thoughts by Rare's voice
  1954. >"Look, I don't really have anywhere to go. Can I travel with you guys?"
  1955. >If he had asked you before, you probably would have agreed without a second thought.
  1956. >Now?
  1957. >You're not sure.
  1958. >It is pretty likely that he just said the wrong thing.
  1959. >But considering your recent encounter with Asher, you're a little more wary.
  1960. >The other side of you is calling you slightly crazy for suspecting a unicorn.
  1961. >This one did come from a land of friendship and other talking horses, right?
  1962. >Either way, he probably shouldn't come along.
  1963. >He watches silently as you raise a finger.
  1964. "Firstly, it isn't safer because I'm traveling with Twilight. If anything, it's more dangerous."
  1965. >You raise a second finger.
  1966. "I know that most unicorns from Equestria don't have much beyond basic kinetic magic. Your shields might help, but if we get into a fight, that probably won't be enough."
  1967. >You raise a third finger.
  1968. "I don't exactly have infinite funds, so you'll need to help us earn money."
  1969. >You wouldn't force him to give you his blood, but you don't want him to think that he can tag along for fun.
  1970. >He slowly nods.
  1971. >"It's better than being hunted down."
  1972. >As his horn lights up green, he smiles.
  1973. >"I'm no slouch in the magic department. I can cast elemental or physical barriers on targets and myself."
  1974. >A green shield of mana covers you.
  1975. >"There's also elemental enchantment on things like your arrows or a sword. I can also confuse or slow enemies with magic, but I won't demonstrate those."
  1976. >Sighing, you rub your eyes.
  1977. >Looks like you'll need to make a decision.
  1978. >Do you let him travel with you?
  1979. >He doesn't have any directly offensive spells, but you can't deny that he would be useful.
  1980. >You still feel a bit worried about some of what he's said.
  1981. >Is this because Asher betrayed you?
  1982. >Or is something going on here?
  1983.  
  1984. >>Let him travel with you and head back to camp.
  1985. >>Let him travel with you, if he helps you follow the tracks and hunts down whatever this thing is.
  1986. >>Nope. He's not traveling with you, for whatever reason you choose.
  1987.  
  1988. >>Let him travel with you and head back to camp.
  1989.  
  1990. Alright. Do you have any supplies or anything?"
  1991. >"Nope. Just been grazing for a while now."
  1992. >He looks relatively healthy.
  1993. >You don't know much about what a sick unicorn looks like, but you can't see his ribs.
  1994. >It must not be too detrimental to eat like that.
  1995. "I'll show you where we're camped, then. We're about half an hour from here
  1996. >Turning around, you begin retracing your steps.
  1997. >He trots up to your side, paying the tracks no heed.
  1998. >You don't trust him fully, despite letting him tag along.
  1999. >If he's just a normal, great.
  2000. >You'll have a new friend to travel with.
  2001. >If not, you just brought a fight back to camp.
  2002. >Glancing at him brings no new revelations.
  2003. >He just looks forward, keeping pace with you.
  2004. "So, any idea what might've made these tracks?"
  2005. >You wave your hand, indicating the path you're following.
  2006. >He slows down for a second, staring at the tracks.
  2007. >"Those-"
  2008. >He points a hoof at your boot prints.
  2009. >"-Are you. But these?"
  2010. >He hovers over the odd set of clustered hand print shapes.
  2011. >"I have no idea."
  2012. "Hmm. Thanks anyway, I suppose."
  2013. >With that over with, you continue at your previous speed.
  2014. >After a few minutes, your thoughts wander back to last night.
  2015. >So much happened in such a short period of time.
  2016. >Did what happened with Asher and the other mage change you?
  2017. >Is that why you're suddenly questioning why a unicorn would be happy to travel with you?
  2018. >Whether or not your mindset has changed, is it okay?
  2019. >Harboring a healthy degree of skepticism could help.
  2020. >Regardless, you haven't done anything yet.
  2021. >Looking up, you realize that you've reached the end of the trail.
  2022. >Gloria looks to be sleeping and Star is facing away from you, floating rocks in odd patterns.
  2023. "Well, this is it."
  2024. >You wave an arm over you over the clearing.
  2025. >At the sound of your voice, Star turns around.
  2026. >She clears her throat, lowering the rocks behind her.
  2027. >"H-hey Anon. Who's the new pony?"
  2028. >Before you can respond, Rare is trotting up to her.
  2029. >"Name's Rare Find. Glad to meet you, Twilight Sparkle."
  2030. >He sticks his hoof out.
  2031. >Star smiles, taking his hoof and shaking it.
  2032. >"Nice to meet you. W-where are you from?"
  2033. >As they begin to chat, you walk over to Gloria.
  2034. >As you shake her awake, you listen in on what they're saying.
  2035. >Rare seems sounds vaguely disappointed.
  2036. >"I'm from Ponyville. I used to run a little business mining gems"
  2037. >"Oh, s-sorry. I don't quite remember you..."
  2038. >That doesn't bode well.
  2039. >Taking a seat, you shake Gloria awake.
  2040. "Fine, right?"
  2041. >She rubs the sleep out of her eyes, rising silently.
  2042. >She looks at Rare and Star, discussing something about Diamond Dogs.
  2043. "You gonna-"
  2044. >You interrupted by Gloria hitting you in the face with her blankets.
  2045. >In the distance you hear Star and Rare go silent.
  2046. >"I swear Anon, how the fuck do you do this?"
  2047. >Star gasps.
  2048. >You rub at your reddened cheek, completely confused.
  2049. "What? What'd I do?"
  2050. >"G-Gloria, I don't think that language is justifiable right now!"
  2051. >Rare chimes in, currently blocked from your view by an angry Gloria.
  2052. >"I know Anon didn't consult you before asking if I could-"
  2053. >Gloria whirls around, whacking you with her blankets again.
  2054. >At least it was an accident this time.
  2055. >Gloria's tone is significantly softer, as if she were engaging in a casual conversation.
  2056. >"Sorry, you two. Just a quick matter between me and Anon."
  2057. >She points you and shrugs.
  2058. >"Sometimes, he just does some very aggravating things. And you're welcome to stay here as long as you want...?"
  2059. >She trails off and it takes him a second to get the hint.
  2060. >"Uhh..Rare Find. Or Rare, if you want."
  2061. >"You stay here as long as you want, Rare."
  2062. >She whirls around again, hitting you in the face a third time.
  2063. >Before she can say anything, you hop to your feet.
  2064. "What the shit, Gloria? I can't bring a unicorn back to camp?"
  2065. >For the moment, you ignore his suspicious activities.
  2066. >She doesn't need to know that right now.
  2067. >For the moment, you ignore his suspicious activities.
  2068. >She doesn't need to know that right now.
  2069. >You think you hear Star saying something about language, but she's soon drowned out by Gloria.
  2070. >"That is the problem! I live in a fucking tribe dedicated to unicorns!"
  2071. >She starts waving her hands every few seconds.
  2072. >"Yet I haven't seen a unicorn in person before a few days ago. Somehow, you meet two unicorns in the span of a week!"
  2073. >She says it like you somehow robbed her of some great opportunity.
  2074. >...That's not really what you were expecting.
  2075. >You scratch at the back of your head, staring directly at Gloria.
  2076. "Are you actually mad about that? Seriously?"
  2077. >The two of you maintain eye contact for a few tense seconds.
  2078. >Not really tense, more awkward.
  2079. >She breaks away first, huffing and puffing as she sits back down.
  2080. >"Look, you don't understand."
  2081. "Okay. I don't, obviously."
  2082. >You start backing up, heading towards Star.
  2083. "Just remember that unicorns are some sort of resource."
  2084. >"I know that, Anon.
  2085. >She lays back down, covering herself in blankets.
  2086. >Alright, then.
  2087. >Time to talk to Star.
  2088. >Both Star and Rare are staring at Gloria, neither speaking.
  2089. >You decide to break the silence.
  2090. "She's not usually like that, just ask Star."
  2091. >Rare stares up at you for a moment before you figure it out.
  2092. "It's a nickname. For Twilight"
  2093. >You gesture awkwardly in her direction.
  2094. >Star takes that as a signal to pick up the conversation.
  2095. >"G-Gloria is normally much nicer."
  2096. >Rare turns towards Star, looking as confused as ever.
  2097. >"Are you okay? I don't remember you stuttering like that before."
  2098. >You are sure whether it's nice of him to ask if she's okay, or rude to point out her stutter.
  2099. >Both you and Gloria tried to just ignore it.
  2100. >Star turns to you for a second, smiling.
  2101. >"I-I'm fine. I just got my voice back after losing it for a little while."
  2102. >Rare glances between you, Gloria, and Star.
  2103. >"Okay, good to hear you're doing well. I'm going to graze a little now."
  2104. >He begins to walk away, but call after him.
  2105. "You know we have hay and stuff, right?"
  2106. >"I even picked some d-daises, if you don't want to go too far."
  2107. >He shakes his head, uninterested in either of your offers.
  2108. >"I'm okay with grazing, maybe I'll join you guys for dinner?"
  2109. >You flash him a thumbs up and a smile.
  2110. >This is probably better anyway.
  2111. "Sounds good to me!"
  2112. >He returns to smile, but not the thumbs up.
  2113. >Those can be pretty difficult without thumbs.
  2114. >Once Rare reaches a suitable distance, you lean down and whisper into Star's ear.
  2115. "I think there might be something weird about Rare."
  2116. ~
  2117. >As you tell Star about a few of Rare's odd quirks and verbal missteps, he occasionally glances back at the two of you.
  2118. >You don't see him eat much, just wandering around past the edge of your camp.
  2119. >You doubt he can tell what you're saying, but you still keep your voice barely above a whisper.
  2120. >Star keeps a neutral expression throughout your retelling, with only the occasional "uh-huh" or "okay".
  2121. >You keep it completely accurate, only skipping over your thoughts involving Asher.
  2122. >She doesn't need to know about how you think last night could've changed you.
  2123. >When you finish, she doesn't say anything.
  2124. >She gets an almost glassy look in her eyes, as if she's a million miles from your camp in the woods.
  2125. "So, what do you think?"
  2126. >Her eyes snap back into focus as she looks over at Rare.
  2127. >"Do you know what a c-changeling is?"
  2128. "Never heard of 'em"
  2129. >You can bet a decent amount of gold on what they do, though.
  2130. >Star lowers her voice so you can barely hear her.
  2131. >"They change into other ponies so they can f-feed off of the love of others."
  2132. >You shift uncomfortably, trying not to look at Rare.
  2133. "Does that hurt the ponies?"
  2134. >Star winces slightly, not looking at you or Rare.
  2135. >"I-it's not fatal, but it can weaken a pony quite a bit."
  2136. >If he is a changeling, then you definitely fucked up.
  2137. "Is there any way to tell if he is one?"
  2138. >"W-without a spell? Most changelings can only perform magic with a g-green aura."
  2139. >Crap.
  2140. "Check that off, anything else?"
  2141. >"They don't like eating any food that isn't l-love. Have you seen him eat anything?"
  2142. >Finally giving in, you glance over at Rare.
  2143. >He faces away from you, nibbling at some grass.
  2144. "Not anything besides that grass."
  2145. >Star sighs, glancing at him as well.
  2146. >"The verbal mistakes make it seem like he could be traveling with the rest of hive."
  2147. >Before you can respond she leans into your ear.
  2148. >"A-Anon, we should perform the spell to confirm. Then we-"
  2149. >Her voice cracks a little.
  2150. >"We'll need to get rid of him."
  2151. >Well fuck.
  2152.  
  2153. >>Don't do anything. He hasn't done anything to hurt you or your friends yet. You'll head back to your home and rest
  2154. >>Don't do anything. He hasn't done anything to hurt you or your friends yet. Gloria is exhausted still, so you'll teleport back to your house.
  2155. >>Confront him verbally about being a changeling. If you can convince him to leave you could avoid a fight when Gloria isn't healed.
  2156. >>Use the spell that Twilight has. If he is a changeling, just attack him.
  2157. >>Attack him. You have enough evidence supporting that he's a changeling.
  2158. >>Write in
  2159.  
  2160. >>Verbally confront him about being a changeling.
  2161.  
  2162. >Looking over at Rare, you make a decision.
  2163. >In the past you'd responded calmly and things had worked out fine.
  2164. >Gloria dozes nearby, an example of a situation you didn't overreact to.
  2165. >You can totally handle this.
  2166. >"A-Anon?"
  2167. >Star stares up at you, fidgeting slightly.
  2168. >Leaning over, you whisper in her ear.
  2169. "Don't worry Star, just trust me."
  2170. [spoiler](1d20 vs 15): 19[/spoiler]
  2171. >Steadying herself, Star nods.
  2172. >As you and Star approach Rare, he cocks his head and stares at the two of you.
  2173. >"Something wrong?"
  2174. >Sticking your hands in the pockets of your robes, you offer an easy smile.
  2175. "Well a slight one."
  2176. >You rock back and forth on your heels, trying to seem casual rather than nervous.
  2177. "I'm pretty sure you're a changeling."
  2178. >His expression goes blank, but his horn lights up.
  2179. >You can see Star's light up in response from the corner of your eye.
  2180. >"You-"
  2181. >You wave your hand and cut him off.
  2182. "Not that I have a real problem with that, if you are are one. I haven't met a changeling before."
  2183. >You're smooth.
  2184. >So smooth.
  2185. >Star flashes you a quick look of confusion that Rare probably catches.
  2186. >Maybe you aren't as smooth as you think.
  2187. >You turn back to Rare.
  2188. "Why don't you just go back to normal and we'll talk. How's that sound?"
  2189. [spoiler](1d20 vs 17): 19[/spoiler]
  2190. >You feel like you don't break eye contact with Rare for a full minute.
  2191. >It probably wasn't more than ten seconds, before he bursts into green flames.
  2192. >Star mentioned those to you in passing, but you can't help but jump back a few feet.
  2193. >When you look up again, Rare Find no longer stands before you.
  2194. >Now there's an expressionless black bug shaped like a horse where Rare once was.
  2195. >His legs are filled with holes and his horn lacks the distinctive spiral of a unicorn's.
  2196. >When he opens his mouth, you can't help but notice his forked tongue.
  2197. >Freaky.
  2198. >"Is this better for you?"
  2199. >His voice sounds similar to before, but with an undertone not unlike a hissing noise.
  2200. >Star backs up slightly, but give no other indications of any fear.
  2201. >Her mouth is a hard line, ceding nothing to you or the changeling.
  2202. >As for the changeling, he gives you what you think to be a smile.
  2203. >The fangs make it hard to tell.
  2204. >The bright blue eyes without pupils don't help either.
  2205. >Despite his unnerving appearance, you maintain a smile.
  2206. >It isn't just the fact that he's essentially a giant shapeshifting bug with decent magic.
  2207. >It's the cracked chitin and the difficult to to read expression.
  2208. >You have no idea where you actually stand in this situation.
  2209. "Yep. No need to hide or lie it when it's just us."
  2210. >He shifts back and forth and opens his mouth to speak, before being interrupted by Star.
  2211. >"A-Are you okay? There's extensive damage to your chitin, which looks as if-"
  2212. >His eyes narrow to slits as he returns the favor by cutting Star off.
  2213. >"I'll get to that soon enough."
  2214. >Star goes silent, but the changeling doesn't continue.
  2215. >He shifts from side to side, clearly nervous.
  2216. >"Since you don't seem to be planning on killing me right now, I think you should know the rest of the hive is on its way over."
  2217. >Images of the hundreds of bees in a hive come to your mind.
  2218. >Except this time, they would be much more dangerous than bees.
  2219. >Taking a deep breath, you calm yourself.
  2220. >The changeling just stares at you, completely still.
  2221. >Or is he still Rare?
  2222. >Do changelings have unicorn names?
  2223. >Or do they not have names at all?
  2224. >"A-a full hive is on its way?"
  2225. >Star brings you back to the current issue, speaking in a firm tone despite her stutter.
  2226. >Rare's-
  2227. >You'll just call him Rare until he corrects you.
  2228. >Calling him 'the changeling' could get confusing if there's hundreds more on their way, possibly to attack you.
  2229. >Rare's eyes close slowly, as he tilts his head up towards the sky.
  2230. >"Nowhere near that many. Only two more scouts."
  2231. >His eyes open even slower than he closed them and he lets out a deep breath.
  2232. >"We were just a set of scouts when we were sent here anyway."
  2233. >You let out a breath you didn't know that you were holding, images of fighting armies of giant bees disappearing from your mind.
  2234. >That does raise a few questions about the changelings heading here.
  2235. "Why did you tell changelings to come back to our camp?"
  2236. >Rare doesn't make eye contact with you, staring instead at Star.
  2237. >"We can't feed from humans. We showed up far north of here, where we couldn't get access to a single unicorn."
  2238. >His gaze swings over to you, his expression still unreadable.
  2239. >"We're starving. We need to feed."
  2240. >That explains his enthusiasm about Star.
  2241. >She steps even closer now, practically nuzzling your leg.
  2242. "So you want to drain on Star? Is this because of what happened with your Queen?"
  2243. >Not once does Rare break eye contact with you.
  2244. >"No. Let the rest of my hive arrive, then I'll continue."
  2245. >When did you ever tell him that inviting them back here was okay?
  2246. >You certainly don't remember telling him that.
  2247. "I'm not sure I'm okay with you just inviting changelings over here."
  2248. >You try to keep your voice level, but you speak more quickly than normal.
  2249. >You swear you see amusement flicker across Rare's face, but it's hard to tell.
  2250. >"Then, for this, I'm sorry."
  2251. >Before you can say anything, the sound of flapping wings can be heard.
  2252. >Star takes a step closer to you, looking towards the source of the sound.
  2253. >You sigh, more annoyed than scared at this point.
  2254. >Two pegasi fly in, landing behind you.
  2255. >One is a greenish blue stallion with a blue mane.
  2256. >The other is a smaller mare with an azure coat and white mane that's streaked with light bluish gray.
  2257. >Both turn, beaming smiles on their faces.
  2258. >When they see Rare in his natural form, their smiles falter.
  2259. >The mare lets out a screech.
  2260. >"Changeling! It-"
  2261. >Rare sends what you assume is a withering glare towards the mare.
  2262. >"They know, Coxa. I recommend you both change back."
  2263. >Coxa frowns, glancing at the stallion next to her.
  2264. >He shrugs and they're soon engulfed in green flame.
  2265. >Before anyone can say a word, they're engulfed in green flame.
  2266. >When the flames die down, two nervous-looking changelings stand in place of the pegasi.
  2267. >One wears a blue helmet and matching barding.
  2268. >The other is smaller, wearing nothing.
  2269. >Neither look as bad in their unchanged form as Rare.
  2270. >The changeling stallion opens his mouth to speak, but you silence him with a wave of your hand.
  2271. "Before anyone talks, I need your names. I can't just refer to you as 'changeling'."
  2272. >Everyone present stares at you.
  2273. >Shrugging your shoulders, you point at Rare.
  2274. "I guess I could call you Rare Find, but is that your name?"
  2275. >Before anyone can respond, you turn and point at the changeling mare.
  2276. "Rare called you Coxa, is that your name? I don't know."
  2277. >Even more quickly, you point at the changeling stallion.
  2278. "I haven't even heard anyone say your name yet."
  2279. >As you turn back towards Rare, you hear him mutter "Tarsus".
  2280. >Huh, his voice is a bit deeper than Rare's
  2281. >Rare sighs and points a hoof at the changeling mare.
  2282. >"She is Coxa"
  2283. >He points at the stallion.
  2284. >"As he already said, that's Tarsus."
  2285. >Tarsus smiles, pointing at Rare.
  2286. >"And he's Prosoma, current acting-"
  2287. >Tarsus suddenly stops, Rare giving him another glare.
  2288. >Or Prosoma now, you suppose.
  2289. >Star suddenly speaks up, for the first time since the other changelings arrived.
  2290. >"So changeling naming conventions are based off of bug morphology as well as life cycles? With on only Chrysalis for a sample, I was curious whether you had names at all."
  2291. >You turn to stare at her, completely confused at how that's relevant.
  2292. >You gives a sheepish grin in return.
  2293. >"Y-you brought it up."
  2294. >Tarsus interrupts, tapping one holy hoof idly against another.
  2295. >"So, do we not have a meal now or...?"
  2296. >Star presses against your leg, almost hiding behind you.
  2297. >Coxa responds with a swift kick to his hoof.
  2298. >"More subtle, you imbecile."
  2299. >Prosoma merely stares at the sky, not looking at any of you when he responds.
  2300. >"Now is not the time for this. Although I do agree that we should perhaps be more polite when we are guests in peoples' homes."
  2301. >Trying to sound more confident, you adopt a stern tone.
  2302. "I don't care how polite you are, I'm not letting you drain Star dry."
  2303. >Tarsus cocks his head.
  2304. >"Who's Star?"
  2305. >Prosoma sighs before lowering his head to make eye contact with you.
  2306. >"That's what he calls Twilight Sparkle. We won't drain her dry, anyways."
  2307. >Tarsus leers at Star.
  2308. >"You weren't kidding, huh! What's with that mark on her-"
  2309. >Coxa silences Tarsus with another kick.
  2310. >"Polite."
  2311. >You can practically feel Star shaking as she begins to speak.
  2312. >"I-I understand that you're s-starving, but-"
  2313. >Prosoma cuts her off before she can deny his request.
  2314. >"If you don't, we will die."
  2315. >Star looks up to you, clearly wanting your help in dealing with the changelings.
  2316. >You give her a quick scratch behind the ear, mouthing "Trust me".
  2317. >When you look back at the changelings, Tarsus and Coxa are silent and give nothing away with their expressions.
  2318. >Prosoma on the other hand, is clearly grinning.
  2319. >"Anon. All we want is some of Twilight's love."
  2320. >He gestures gently at her.
  2321. >"She'll just feel drowsy for a day or so. Maybe a little quiet."
  2322. >He trots a little closer as he speaks.
  2323. >Star presses closer to you in response.
  2324. >"After that, we'll get out of your hair if you want. Tartarus, we'll do whatever you want. All we want is to live."
  2325. >By the time he's done speaking, Prosoma is barely less than a foot away from you.
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