No title yet, MH Anon thing.

shukaku20 Jul 21st, 2016 (edited) 2,897 Never
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  1. >The train rattles along the track, your armour and that of the others clanking lightly on your packs.
  2. >You and your three car-mates watch the scenery go by as you head to your destination.
  3. >"Still have your orders, Lieutenant Shining?" Brass Rings asks you from across the car.
  4. >Commander Brass Rings, rather.
  5. "Yes ma'am," you reply, "I have both the written copy and it's contents memorized."
  6. >"Good, because this isn't a tea party picnic, and I don't need an upstart colt messing things up."
  7. >Bowing your head a little, you avoid meeting the gaze of the others in the car.
  8. >They're both Lieutenants as well, but you're the only Stallion.
  9. >Instead, you turn to look out the window, the open plains of Equestria shifting to the more heavy woods and stone hills of Labarynthia.
  10. >The two lieutenants, Stormy Skies and Cherry Popper half whisper to eachother across the car, loud enough to be easily heard by you.
  11. >"Can't believe they sent a colt with us on this," Cherry whispers.
  12. >"I know, right," Stormy replies, "This isn't a PR job, this is serious."
  13. >"I bet he was sent along to 'help' us, you know," Cherry says with some lewd hoof gestures.
  14. >You feel Stormy's gaze wander over you, before she whispers back, "I dunno, I woulda prefered a colt with a little more, you know, meat on him."
  15. >"Quiet, both of you," Brass snaps, "he's already claimed, and you'd do well not to fool around with him."
  16. >"It'll be fine commander, I'm sure his mare won''t mind if we have a little rumble in the jungle with him, and if not, well, we can bend the law a bit, can't we?"
  17. >Out of the corner of your eye, you can see Brass's stare harden.
  18. >"If you want to mess with the colt of a princess, go ahead, but it will be your head on the block, not mine."
  19. >You can hear them gulp, and it gives you a small smile, before Stormy says, "W-well, I guess we know how he got to be a lieutenant, yeah?"
  20. >"We will see," Brass says, "You can only get so far with no skills, and that is part of what this job aims to test."
  21. >Her gaze turns to you, just as cold as it was for the others.
  22. >Hiding your nervousness, you stare out the window.
  23. ~~~
  24. >Step by step, handhold by handhold, you make your way up to the plateau of the Iron Boro's.
  25. >The guild smiths need one caught, live, for materials.
  26. >Reaching the edge of the plateau, you peer over, examining your quarry.
  27. >There, crunching on rocks and the ground are about a dozen and a half Iron Boro's, ranging from bulls to a few calves.
  28. >While most would call them cows, the evoloution of the two must have branched a few millenia ago or more.
  29. >Where cows were about three and a half, maybe four feet at the shoulder, these behemoths reach around 6 and a half for a full grown bull.
  30. >Cows developed a hivemind-esque social structure and sapient intelligence, while Boro's developed massive physical stature and iron skin.
  31. >Quite literally.
  32. >An Iron Boro's diet consists primarily of minerals, which are refined within it's body to form it's rocky, iron hide and deadly horns.
  33. >Despite all this, however, when in a herd like this, they're rather skittish, running at the first signs of danger.
  34. >And this is where rookies make their first mistakes.
  35. >Pulling a tranquilizer pellet from one of your pouches, you load it into your sling and take aim at a young adult bull.
  36. >The pellet flies true, crashing into the bull's forhead and exploding into a cloud of tranquilizer dust.
  37. >It's by no means enough to knock it out, but...
  38. >The bull you struck lets out a bellow of surprise, the dust swirling around it's face.
  39. >All around it, the others start to run, and you pull yourself up onto the plateau, readying your alchemical impact lance from your back and putting on your shield.
  40. >Like the dust is meant to do, the bull is disoriented and lethargic, not managing to run far before the rest of it's herd is gone.
  41. >Through the confusion, it spots you, and it's temperment changes.
  42. >Most rookies learn the hard way, when isolated, an Iron Boro becomes extremely agressive.
  43. >Lowering it's head, it charges you, movement still impaired by the tranquilizer.
  44. >A quick dodge to the side leaves you free to attack while it stops, shaking it's head to clear the dust.
  45. >Right behind the front shoulder, you thrust your lance, the rounded end impacting it's skin with a thunk.
  46. >Bracing your arm, the second stage of the impact lance kicks in, the front two feet of it suddenly shooting out about half a foot as the chemicals inside expand explosively.
  47. >While the bull staggers to the side, you step back, vents clearing the pressure and chemicals from the system.
  48. >Pressing the tip of the lance into the ground pushes the chamber back closed while you watch the bull for it's next charge.
  49. >It's charge is again slower than usual, leaving you plenty of time to dodge and land a series of quick blows to it's side and thighs.
  50. >Sliding in a new impact charge, your lance is ready to deliver another heavy hit.
  51. >The Boro stomps it's hooves, the stone below them cracking, before charging again.
  52. >Bracing yourself, you shift right and angle your shield to accept it's hit, it's head lashing to the side to try and gore you.
  53. >Turning to attack, your spear get's kicked as the bull lashes out with it's back hooves, front hooves set in the ground.
  54. >You barely manage to pull the nose of your lance low enough to get a glancing blow on it's back as the impact charge goes off.
  55. >Vents hiss as pressure is let off, but you don't have time to close the chamber normally.
  56. >Backing off, you move yourself between it an a rock.
  57. >With a loud snort, it lowers it's head again and charges, the lethargy of the tranquilizer mostly gone.
  58. >Diving to the side at the last second, you evade it's attack and it crashes headlong into the rock.
  59. >A normal cow would be knocked out or at least dazed with that, but Boro's are too hardheaded for that.
  60. >Still, it's horns have dug into the rock and immobilized it temporarily, so you reset your lance, charge and all.
  61. >Climbing onto the rock, you aim your lance at it's forhead and thrust.
  62. >The force of your blow jars it loose, but before it can back away, the charge goes off, delivering a knockout blow to it.
  63. >With it down for the count, you feed it some more tranquilizer as well as a sleeping pill, designed to keep these creatures unconcious while they're shipped.
  64. >Speaking of shipped, the cart should be arriving soon enough, better send up a signal.
  65. >Lighting the smoke packet, it slowly burns, giving off a distinct red smoke.
  66. >Now you wait.
  67. ~~~
  68. >Brakes screech as the train finally pulls into the station, and setting your pack on your back, you disembark with your commander and allies.
  69. >"Cherry, Stormy, go find us a hotel, we only need one night, since we'll be heading out tomorrow. Shining, you're with me."
  70. >Saluting like the others, you follow the commander as she starts off through the city.
  71. >Through the market, your eyes wander to the many amazing and unique items visible, from jewlery and decorations to armour and weapons.
  72. >"Out here is monster country, so the Minotaurs hunt and kill them for food and materials."
  73. >"Most of what you see here is made from dead monster."
  74. >Repulsion makes you shiver, the armour on your saddlebags jingling as you do.
  75. >"Where we're headed is where you can hire those who hunt those monsters, known simply as the Guild."
  76. "Do we really..." you start, before your eyes lock on a cart going by.
  77. >On it, a wild, rocky looking cow creature of immense size, easily large enough to walk over you without issue.
  78. >It's side rising and falling slowly, a literal pile of muscle.
  79. >Without another word, you hurry to catch up with Brass.
  80. >Soon, you come to a massive building, with doors twice as tall as the tallest minotaur you've seen.
  81. >Even Brass has to struggle a bit to get them open, and you hurry inside after her.
  82. >You almost immediately regret the decision, but orders are orders, and you're gonna prove yourself.
  83. >All around you are monstrous heads, mounted on the walls.
  84. >Ahead, a desk with a well muscled minotaur bull behind it, scanning over some papers.
  85. >Looking up from his notes, his eyes trace over Brass and you, before the papers are set aside and he gives you a smile.
  86. >"Welcome to the Guild, how can I help you?"
  87. >"We're looking to hire some hunters for a job, the details are here," Brass says, pulling out a sealed scroll from her bag.
  88. >The minotaur takes and opens the scroll, briefly going over it's contents.
  89. >"Well, this looks like a tough one, I'll have to ask the boss who we've got available."
  90. >Brass nods, saying, "Swiftly, please. We're hoping to start tomorrow, since if our information is correct, we don't have a lot of time."
  91. >The bull nods, before hastening through a back door, hips swaying as he moves.
  92. >Not that you'd notice.
  93. >Nothing wrong with admiring a colt that takes care of their body.
  94. >Brass seems to like it too.
  95. >The door closes behind him, leaving you and Brass in a room filled with severed, preserved heads.
  96. >If you can't see them, they can't see you.
  97. >And thus you closed your eyes.
  98. >Hiding in your own little happy place, you barely hear Brass giving a huff, and the door opening after a few minutes.
  99. >Peeking out, you see the minotaur bull there, and beside him a minotaur cow decked out in brown armour.
  100. >"Unfortunately, miss, all of our A class hunters are occupied, but Anna here is a B rank, and her partner just got back from a job, so they should be able to help you out."
  101. >"And they are skilled enough?" Brass asks, looking the minotauress over.
  102. >"You see these heads around you? I could hunt each and every one of these alone," She says with a sweep of her hand, "when paired up, me and my partner can match any A class in a hunt."
  103. >Keeping her gaze heavy, she looks over the room, before nodding.
  104. >"Alright, you'll do. Payment will be provided upon completion, just like it says on the request. Meet us at the city entrance early tomorrow morning."
  105. >Anna gives a small smile and a salute, and Brass turns to leave.
  106. >You follow, keeping your head low, avoiding the stares of the many monsters around.
  107. >"How are we going to find the other Ma'am?"
  108. >"We just return to the train station. They will wait for us there, or we will wait for them."
  109. >Nodding meekly you follow her back through the city.
  110. ~~~
  111. >Watching the ponies leave, you press a hand to your forehead.
  112. >"Sorry, Anna, I know you hate jobs working with other races, but the pay's good," Erik says, rubbing one of his wrists.
  113. "It's fine, Erik, you know what you're doing, and I know my job, but it always sucks when they bring along a colt."
  114. "Ponies are bad enough, but colts are just dead weight most of the time, and that's when they do what they're told."
  115. >"At least you have Anon with you this time, the males always seem to flock to him."
  116. >The thought of your partner brings enough of a smile to your face to crack your frown.
  117. >"Speaking of, I heard his hunt went well."
  118. "Naturally. Since he hasn't shown up here though, I guess he must have gone home already."
  119. >Picking up a sheet of paper from the desk, Erik looks it over and says, "Well, it was a Guild job, so payment is handled automatically."
  120. "I guess I have no reason to stick around then," you say, giving him a wave, "Take care, I'll be back when the job's done."
  121. >"Stay safe."
  122. >Passing through the front doors, you make your way home, stopping to grab some food on the way.
  123. >Being a hunter means being away from the house for days at times, and that means most of what you eat is gotten fresh.
  124. >Extremely so, with some jobs.
  125. >Nothing like a prime cut, fresh from the kill.
  126. >Seasoned with mushrooms from a Spore Walker...
  127. >Your stomach grumbles, and thankfully, you're right outside your house, so you'll be able to appease the beast within.
  128. >The door's still locked, which is a little strange, until you feel arms wrap around you, just as you're about to enter.
  129. >"Honey, I'm home," Anon whispers in your ear, one of his hands drifting upwards from your stomach.
  130. "Welcome back," you say, catching the roaming hand, "Now, how about we get dinner made and some sleep before our next job tomorrow."
  131. >"Another already," your other half groans, releasing you.
  132. "It's going to be a challenging one though, since they wanted an A class originally."
  133. >A kiss finds it's way to your cheek, and he steps in ahead of you.
  134. >"Well, I'll grab a quick shower while you prep dinner then," he says, "And after, well, we'll see what we have time for..."
  135. >Smiling at him, you get a quick smack on his butt before he heads for the bathroom, which makes him give you a saucy grin.
  136. >A grin you wish you had more time to have fun with.
  137. >But time is short, so you take your groceries to the kitchen and get started.
  138. ~~~
  139. >Dawn stirs you from your bedroll, the others already up and packing.
  140. >"Hurry up, Lieutenant Armor, We haven't got long," Brass says sharply before setting her helmet on her head.
  141. >Scrambling to your hooves, you start rolling up your sleeping accomodations and uncliping your armor from your packs.
  142. >Regretfully, you have to skip doing up your mane and polishing your hooves, but you manage to get ready just after the others.
  143. >Putting on your helmet to cover your horrendous bedmane, you follow them out.
  144. >In the streets of town, you do your best to keep looking ahead, standing proud.
  145. >You are one of Equestria's guards, you are a display of strength, you must stand tall, for your country.
  146. >A shadow passes over you, belonging to a minotaur in plate armor and carrying a sword longer than you are tall.
  147. >Turning back, you keep your eyes locked on Brass and the others, heart pounding like a drum.
  148. >Don't show fear, prove you belong here.
  149. >This is a mission from Celestia, and you were chosen to come.
  150. >Over the buildings ahead, an oddly misshapen stone arch becomes visible.
  151. >However, as you get closer, it's shape becomes more defined, and you begin to feel a sense of awe.
  152. >What looked like a lumpy arch from a distance proves to be creatures, carved out of stone and given the semblance of life.
  153. >Ornate scales cover a draconic beast, while a ursa major's hide glitters with stars.
  154. >You can't help but stare as you get closer.
  155. >Reaching the entrance, the street opens up immensly, and you can see the full magnificence of the arch.
  156. >It makes you feel like one of the tourists you see on patrols, gawking at the castle.
  157. >Managing to tear your eyes from the artwork, you see Brass and the others a bit ahead, talking with a pair of armored minotaurs.
  158. >Cows, since they both lack distinct horns.
  159. >It would be hard to tell otherwise, what with how much armor they're wearing, and just like the minotaur earlier, they're both carrying massive weapons.
  160. >The one from yesterday, Anna, you think, is carrying a massive looking sword, sort of.
  161. >It looks more like a sword that wasn't intended to be a sword, all wavy and with a really thick base.
  162. >The other has a weapon more like what the guard carries, a Lance and shield, though both are several times larger.
  163. >Your own spear feels like a toothpick compared to that thing.
  164. >"All here?" you hear Anna say, her voice cutting through the soft morning noises surrounding you, "Alright, now we have two rules you all have to follow."
  165. >"One, if we're not fighting, you listen to what we tell you to do. These lands are dangerous, and extremely different from your Equestrian ones."
  166. >"And two, if we are fighting, you either fight with us, or hide. We don't need you getting in our way or dying."
  167. >"Got that?"
  168. >Brass nods before turning to you and the other lieutenants, and you all nod as well.
  169. >"Good, now let's get moving, we have a lot of ground ahead of us."
  170. ~~~
  171. >Scanning the job request, you sigh, before putting your shoulder to the wagon's handle.
  172. >You drew the short straw, so you're stuck pulling the supplies today.
  173. >As long as you don't have to haul one of the ponies too, you'll be fine.
  174. >Despite being so small, they're surprisingly heavy, and unfortunately, the're also not very good at long distance travel.
  175. >The lunch break will have to be extra long, and dinner will probably have to be early...
  176. >"Hey, cart lady, you haven't even introduced yourself," one of the ponies says, a light grey pegasus.
  177. >Not gracing her with a response, you push on the wagon harder, picking up your pace a step.
  178. >"Don't just ignore me, I'm talking to you."
  179. >"Don't mind them," Anna says, "They're not really friendly with strangers."
  180. >"More like a jerk if you ask me," Stormy huffs, walking back over to the other ponies.
  181. >You give Anna a small smile, barely visible behind your helmet.
  182. >The heavier armor may be a bit of a pain, but it's better than dealing with mares.
  183. >Your last group almost got themselves killed trying to protect you, even though you certainly didn't need it.
  184. >At that point, you had to cancel the hunt and drag three seriously injured ponies back to town.
  185. >As long as they don't find out, this hunt will go fine.
  186. >Unless the colt causes too many issues, and he will.
  187. >That too always happens.
  188. >They see you as an important figure, and thus cling to you.
  189. >Even moreso when the fighting starts, and that just leads to problems again.
  190. >If they're behind you, you can't dodge, and there's no way you're blocking things like a head on Iron Boro charge.
  191. >And today, you're stuck with both.
  192. >"Take a look out that way," you hear Anna say, drawing your attention up, "There's a herd of Orein Elk. They're fairly common in the plains and woods around here, and don't worry, they're quite passive."
  193. >"If they're passive, why are you brining it up? The red maned unicorn asks.
  194. >"Well, Cherry, I figured you all would want to learn a little about the local wildlife and plants, in case something happens."
  195. >Brass speaks up, saying, "Knowledge is a powerful thing, especially when in unfamiliar places."
  196. >"That's right. Just take those flowers up ahead, for instance," Anna says, gesturing to a patch of soft pink flowers, "While they may look harmless, they're actually filled with a delayed toxin that causes paralysis."
  197. >"Eat a few too many, you'll die before your body gets over it, and you will rot and feed the flowers."
  198. >The three less experienced ponies gulp, while you spot a smile on the commander.
  199. >"But just because something is dangerous doesn't mean it isn't useful. This flower, we cultivate and refine it in town, and turn it into pellets we use to help capture some monsters."
  200. >Leaving the info session to her, you continue down the hunters trail.
  201. >Everything is going fine and dandy until you notice the colt, Shiny something or other approaching you.
  202. >"Excuse me, miss?"
  203. >Here it comes...
  204. >"Do you think you could teach me how to use a spear better? During breaks and at the end of day and stuff, I mean."
  205. >Staring down at him, he shakes and shies away at your gaze, but does not retreat.
  206. >Neither his question nor his reaction are quite what you expected, and this gets you thinking.
  207. >He's at the very least braver than the other colts you have seen.
  208. >But a colt is still a colt until proven otherwise.
  209. >With a heavy step, you push the cart, making him scramble out of the way before returning to his comrades.
  210. ~~~
  211. >Watching Anon scare off Shining, you feel yourself let out a small sigh.
  212. >He's a nice colt, but Anon's got a good reason too.
  213. >Keeping your eyes out for trouble, you also scan the hunter trail, looking for tracks that don't belong.
  214. >In the distance, there's a sudden, shrill whistle both you and Anon recognize.
  215. "Get behind the cart now!" you exclaim, herding the ponies to the right side while Anon takes his shield off and uses it to extend your cover.
  216. >With you at the front and Anon at the back, ponies between you, you peek around into the field.
  217. >The herd of Orein Elk, still visible, are shifting around, dazed by the Thunderlung's initial attack.
  218. >A nasty beast that has left many a hunter with permenant damage, it tromps out of the far trees, towards the confused herd.
  219. >Reptilian, and with an appearance close to desert lizards, wide and flat; it is most easily identified by the two large horns on it's head.
  220. >These horns are the source of the whistle, though it's intesity was severely diminished from the range.
  221. >The elk, however, are not as lucky, as such close proximity causes their very sense of balance has been disrupted by the power.
  222. >Even from this distance, you notice the beast inflating slightly, and you quickly turn to the ponies.
  223. "Cover your ears," you say, blocking your own with your hands.
  224. >There's a crack of thunder, and the grass bends with the shockwave as the Thunderlung expels an explosive, focused breath.
  225. >Peering out again, you see it focused on the ground, the herd scattering as best as it can, a fair number of them missing.
  226. >Head suddenly rearing up, the Thunderlung swallows an elk whole before grabbing more in it's jaw and turning back to the forest.
  227. >You wait for it to dissapear into the trees before motioning to the others that it's okay.
  228. >"Wh... what was that?" Cherry asks, looking around.
  229. "We call it a Thunderlung, a nasty beast that uses sound to attack."
  230. "That first whistle was it stunning the elk, and the thunder sound was a shockwave it can fire."
  231. >"It shoots shockwaves?"
  232. "Ever seen a confetti popper? it's a good example of how it works. It builds up pressure in a special organ in it's chest, before releasing it out it's mouth in an instant."
  233. "The direct shockwave is enough to easily kill smaller or more fragile creatures and severely injure larger ones like us if we're too close."
  234. "Even this far away, if we didn't cover our ears, the pressure wave could have caused some disorientation or lightheadedness."
  235. >"A well timed warning then," Brass says, with a slight bow, "Thank you."
  236. "It's part of my job," you reply with a smile, "now let's get moving again, we need to cover as much ground as we can, before the target moves too far."
  237. >"You know where it's going to be then, right?" Stormy asks, taking to the air.
  238. "We have a fairly good idea. Your scout reports with the job got compared to some of our tracking history by our logistics group, and they provided me a map along with the supply wagon this morning."
  239. >There's a creak as the wagon starts moving again, Anon back on the handle.
  240. "We should get moving, I don't think it ate all it's kills so smaller predators will be flocking to the area soon."
  241. >"Agreed. Troops, packs on, let's move."
  242. >As you pass Anon to take up the lead again, you give him a pat on the shoulder.
  243. >He doesn't respond, and it just makes you wish this was a hunt with just you and him.
  244. >The two of you creeping through the trees, crawling through mud, fighting back to back.
  245. >Huddling up next to eachother by a fire, barely covered from the rain.
  246. >When you laid a challenge to earn his hand, and he accepted.
  247. >Beating all who came, and embracing him before all.
  248. >Him embracing you back...
  249. >A warm tingling wraps around your chest at the memory, covering the slight sadness from his lack of interaction.
  250. >You just have to wait till tonight, when the ponies are asleep.
  251. ~~~
  252. >Inhale.
  253. >Exhale.
  254. >Take a drink of water.
  255. >You've done full day patrols, but even those weren't this hard; it's not even lunch and you're getting tired.
  256. >Can't fall behind.
  257. >Got to keep up with the others.
  258. >"Just a little further and we'll break for lunch," Anna says, turning back to look at the group, "We'll rest and refill our waterskins then."
  259. >You have to hold back a cheer at the thought of a break, need to save your energy.
  260. >A very tiring fourty minutes later, and the group is brought to a halt.
  261. >"Rest up and refill your water, I'll whip us up some lunch," Anna says heading to the wagon.
  262. >Lining up with the others to refill your canteen, you can't help but glance at the other minotaur with your group.
  263. >They're just standing agianst the side of the wagon, looking off into the distance.
  264. >Your turn comes, and the water pours from the tap into your canteen, crystal clear and ice cold.
  265. "How does...?" you start, before Cherry nudges you aside to fill her own container.
  266. >"There's an ice crystal cooling system on the back, helps keep the water, and by extention us, cool on longer trips."
  267. "That's impressive. Our caravans tend to use magic to keep water cool."
  268. >"Where ponies use magic, other races like us tend to use natural or scientific means to accomplish things."
  269. >A bowl is suddenly passed to you by her, and you take it in your magic.
  270. >It's contents, a rather bland looking mix of nuts and dried fruits, as well as a suspicious block of something or other.
  271. >"Make sure you eat it all, you'll need the energy," Anna says after everyone has their bowl.
  272. >Even the other 'Tauress has hers and is eating, the bottom of her helmet moving with her jaw.
  273. >Holding the bowl with magic, you munch on some of the fruits and nut mix, before taking a drink and lifting up the mystery bar.
  274. >A sniff doesn't tell you much, so you take a tentative bite.
  275. >The outside is actually slightly sweet and tastes slightly of milk, while the inside is a fair bit less pleasant.
  276. "What's in this?" you ask, holding the bar for Anna to see.
  277. >"It's a compact nutrient and energy suppliment, with a cream based coating to make it not taste as bad."
  278. >"Don't worry, dinner will taste better, I promise," she adds, "We just don't have time to make something better right now."
  279. >The other minotaur sets her dish back in the wagon and pulls out her lance and a smallish bag.
  280. >From the corner of your eye, and totally not obvious staring, you observe them performing maintenance while you eat your meal.
  281. >Sharpening the point, checking for cracks or dents.
  282. >And oddly, a lot of poking around some holes on the front.
  283. >They must be part of the design, they don't look like damage.
  284. >With everyone packing up, she returns her lance to it's spot on the wagon and takes up her place at the handle.
  285. >Still, as the group gets moving, the tiredness you felt before the break is mostly gone, replaced by energy.
  286. ~~~
  287. "Time to set up camp for the night!" you exclaim, the ponies behind you all but collapsing.
  288. >Their commander, Brass is able to hold fairly well, but you can see the exhaustion.
  289. "Pitch your tents, and I'll get the fire and dinner going."
  290. >Removing your weapon from your back, you grip it's trigger and swing down, the tip folding back and the heavy base sliding to the end before clicking into place.
  291. >The ponies recoil at the sudden action, but with a smile, you walk into the woods to find some firewood.
  292. >Half an hour and a hefty armload later, and you have enough for the evening.
  293. >When you make it back to camp, most of the ponys are relaxing in their tents, armor stripped off.
  294. >One however, Shining, is over with Anon, watching as he does some exercizes with his lance and shield.
  295. >Setting up a fire pit and pot hanger, you get started on some soup.
  296. >It's not long before the smell brings the ponies from their resting places, drawing them to the fire.
  297. >"What's cooking?" Cherry asks, peeking into the pot.
  298. "Just soup," you reply, "Though we have some travel bread to go with it."
  299. >Stormy grimaces a bit, before saying, "is that the bread that's hard and tasteless, but last for weeks on the trail?"
  300. "Not quite. The stuff we have with us isn't as long lasting, but it tastes better because of it."
  301. >"Well, it's better than nothing, I guess."
  302. "That's the spirit," you say with a smile, "Even if it's unpleasant, having food is better than starving."
  303. >Even though it put a little damper on the mood, the rumbling of stomachs keeps everyone but Anon close.
  304. >He's still exercizing, Shining drifting between the soup and him.
  305. >In what seems like no time at all, it's ready, and everyone starts dishing up.
  306. >Anon is very quick to take his bowl and bread and move off to the side, just at the edge of the camp.
  307. >"Anna, do you think you could tell us a tale? We'd love to hear about your hunts," Stormy says, bowl cradled in her wings.
  308. >"Yeah, like that Thunderlung, I bet you've beat one before," Cherry adds just before stuffing a bit of bread in her mouth.
  309. "I suppose I can," you say, stirring the pot, "and I have killed a Thunderlung, just not alone."
  310. "It was, hmn... Seven, maybe Eight months ago, in the dead of winter."
  311. "We've learned that it's the best time to hunt them, since we can wear thicker clothes and ear protection without risking overheating."
  312. "But anyways, it cold, snowy and windy when the two of us tracked it down..."
  313. ~~~
  314. >Crouched down, you listen to the soft, low hum in the air, carried by the wind.
  315. "It's not far now," you say, shield already out to help block the wind.
  316. >"Last chance to turn back," Anna replies with a smirk.
  317. "Like hell we can. We'll be a laughing stock for weeks if we wimp out now."
  318. >The hum suddenly changes into a whistling sound, and the two of you immediately put on your ear protection.
  319. >A muffled roar echos through the trees, the Thunderlung claiming it's territory.
  320. >Territory too close to a town, which is why you're here.
  321. >The crunch of snow underfoot is inaudible to your plugged ears, but you can still just make out the steadily growing louder hum.
  322. >Her Switchaxe is already swapped to axe mode, a phial of oil plugged in for the switch to sword mode.
  323. >Stamina toxin, while not what you'd pick, it's still a good option for this fight.
  324. >Your own lance is primed and ready, and you have reserve juice in various pouches on you.
  325. >Reaching the last trees before the clearing, you peek out, looking for the patchy yellow and grey hide of the beast.
  326. >While not quite warm blooded, the large reptilians like it are still quite active during the winter, just like this one.
  327. >Bones litter it's nest, mostly small to mid sized prey, but a few things you'd rather not see there as well.
  328. >While it doesn't seem aware of you yet, it is still somewhat expanded, probably digesting a meal.
  329. >Splitting to attack from different angles, Anna moves left around it, while you move right.
  330. >And while this may leave you in front of it, your weapons not as effective here, but your shield is valuable.
  331. >Your chest expands as you take a deep breath, before you let out the loudest whistle you can, moving into the clearing.
  332. >The beast almost immediately turns to you, inhaling for a whistle of it's own.
  333. >Crouching behind your shield, you cover your ears, hoping Anna is doing the same.
  334. >It's whistle rings out, easily audible through the ear padding, but thankfully it doesn't have enough power to cause any harm.
  335. >Resuming your advance, the Thunderlung opens it's jaws, steak knife sized teeth lining the orifice.
  336. >Beyond it, Anna approaches from behind, still unnoticed.
  337. >Lumbering towards you, the lizard starts inhaling, so you press the trigger on your handle.
  338. >Two glass canisters inside your lance are shattered, the chemicals mixing in the chambers before they expand and combust.
  339. >Flames pour out of the front ports of your lance, filling the air in front of you and the thunderlung with a blazing inferno.
  340. >It's charge halts and a whine escapes it's horn as it's body deflates somewhat from the sudden change in motion.
  341. >The beasts halting gives Anna enough time to close in and raise her axe.
  342. >It's blade glints in the snow reflected sun, coming down with all her might and raising a spray of blood as it cuts into the Thunderlung's tail.
  343. >This causes it to turn to Anna, it's bleeding tail leaving crimson spots all around the snow and bone.
  344. >Flames still roaring from your lance, you push forward, making them wash over the creature's side.
  345. >Backstepping a tail swipe, you lunge forward, stabbing your spear in the smaller scales between it's rear leg and tail.
  346. >Scales scorch and go black as the flames start to run out, a bloody hole left behind as you remove your lance.
  347. >Up front, Anna lands a glancing blow before tumbling away from a sharp bite.
  348. >A sudden swelling of the beast gives you warning of it's next attack, but Anna has no cover from it.
  349. >Dashing towards her, she moves towards you as well, the Thunderlung's head tracking her.
  350. >The inflation stops, and you dive towards her, shield between you and the beast.
  351. >She dives as well, pulling as much of herself as she can into safety.
  352. >There's a namesake crack of thunder and your shield feels like it got hit by a battering ram.
  353. >All around you, snow and bones have been launched into the air, a small cone of safety untouched snow behind where your shield is.
  354. >Both you and Anna scramble to your feet, well her to her hooves, and ready your weapons again.
  355. >The head of her axe drops down to the hilt, the tip flipping up and a sickly yellow fluid starts driping down it's length.
  356. >Splitting left and right, you and Anna both strike at the same time.
  357. >Her swing at the head is avoided, but you manage to make a scratch along it's leg.
  358. >It's attention turns to you, teeth bared and chest expanding.
  359. >Anna's blade bounces off the creatures hide on her side, the plates hardened by the pressure backing them.
  360. >As soon as it's attack goes off, however, Anna's follow up strikes both leave small cuts, the poison from her sword sinking into them.
  361. >Before it can turn to her, you throw a tranquilizer pellet at it's face, the dust all getting sucked up as it inhales.
  362. >Almost immediately, however, it get's expelled by what some might call a sneeze.
  363. >Still, it interrupted the attack, and that gave you time to pull out a pair of vials for your lance.
  364. >Opening the twin ports, flames still flicker inside it, the shards of the previous vials glinting in the light.
  365. >Keeping an eye on the Thunderlung as it breathes heavily, you slide the two vials into place, before closing the ports.
  366. >Inhaling swiftly, the Thunderlung lets out a loud whistle, making you grit your teeth.
  367. >Even muffled it still hurts, and with hands occupied you can't really cover your ears.
  368. >While still whistling, the Thunderlung lumbers unsteadily towards you, shifting to the side for a tackle.
  369. >Diving out of the way leaves you unable to react before it's tail lashes out at you, clipping your side and flinging droplets of blood all over you.
  370. >Knowing it hit, it turns back to you, inflating for another shockwave while you fight to your feet, staying as behind the shield as possible.
  371. >However, this also leaves it's backside open to Anna, who doesn't hesitate to wind up a swing.
  372. >As her blade comes down, she presses the trigger to switch to axe mode, the heavy head slamming into place just before it cuts into the beast's tail.
  373. >This time, the strike slices clean through, bone and all.
  374. >While not severed, the tail is only holding on by about a third of it's muscle.
  375. >A pained howl comes from it, blood escaping the wound quite rapidly.
  376. >It goes to turn to the one who caused the injury, but you interrupt with a lance to the shoulder, deep enough to interfere with the muscle movement.
  377. >Pressing your own trigger once again, flames erupt from the vents and wash over the creature's yellowy hide.
  378. >Withdrawing your lance, the flames move with it, angling up to it's face.
  379. >During your distraction, Anna has recovered from her swing and has brought her axe around again, cleaving through the remaining tissue holding the lower half of the tail on.
  380. >Another roar of pain, but this one leaves it open to your final attack.
  381. >Driving your lance, still spitting flames, upwards, it plunges into the back of the Thunderlung's mouth.
  382. >There are a few twitches before it collapses, draging your lance down with it.
  383. >"You alright?" Anna calls, moving over and removing her ear guards while you drop down to sitting.
  384. "I'll live. Don't think it broke any ribs, but damn if it doesn't hurt. Are you good too?" you reply, taking out your ear protection as well.
  385. >"My shins are a little bruised from that first blast, but other than that, I think I'm fine."
  386. >Pulling a pouch from her pocket, she lights it with the still fiery end of your lance.
  387. >After a moment, it begins releasing a purple smoke, and she tosses it next to the body.
  388. "Now we wait for pickup," you say, leaning back a bit.
  389. ~~~
  390. "And that was about it, I guess," you say, tapping your chin.
  391. >The four ponies stare with rapt attention and awed smiles.
  392. >"That was pretty cool sounding, I wish I could have seen it," Cherry says, sitting back.
  393. >"You and your partner work quite well together," Brass says, "I rather hope we have a chance to see your teamwork."
  394. "Well, we do have the job, so..." you start, before Cherry interjects.
  395. >"We know that, but we're going to be fighting with you. I think our commander means seeing you two fight something we come across on the way and can't avoid."
  396. >"I kind of want us to go back and find that other Thunderlung from earlier for them to fight," Stormy says, before yawning, "but it's way too late. I'm gonna hit the clouds."
  397. >Yawning as well, Shining says, "Sleep sounds good. goodnight."
  398. >The ponies all return to their tents, and after handling the fire and pot, you enter your own.
  399. >A pile of armor rests beside a mound under blankets, and divulging of your own as quietly as you can, you slide in under with him.
  400. >His arms find you immediately, meeting your hands under covers.
  401. >"Thanks for heling keep this a secret," he whispers, shuffling closer.
  402. "Of course," you reply, reaching a hand over his back, "it's no problem if it's for you."
  403. >A hand moves up, brushing your cheek before resting on your head, thumb caressing your little horn nub.
  404. >"Dinner was great, thank you," he says before leaning in and kissing the tip of your short snout.
  405. "Geez, you don't have to be such a bull about it," you reply, rubbing your nose to cover your blush.
  406. >Arms encircle you, pulling you to his chest, only two layers of underclothes seperating you.
  407. >"Let's get some sleep, love," he says softly, before closing his eyes.
  408. >Bringing your arm back around him, you snuggle up tight.
  409. ~~~
  410. >Pushing yourself from your sleeping bag, you magic over your brush.
  411. >There's no way you're going two days without brushing your mane, work or no.
  412. >The sun seems to be just starting it's morning rise, faint rays of pink and orange entering your tent.
  413. >Hopefully you'll have time to prepare properly.
  414. >You can faintly make out the sound of fire going, and traces of an unknown odor filter in.
  415. >Back properly awake, you start packing up.
  416. >No need to get chewed out when you know you're all going to be moving again soon.
  417. >Outside, it seems the others had the same idea, only Cherry and your tents are still up, and she's starting on hers.
  418. >However, instead of Anna cooking breakfast, it's the other 'tauress.
  419. >And now that you're outside, you can see what's cooking.
  420. >A pan of ugh... eggs and sausages.
  421. >Another pan beside the first one gives you a moment's hope for a more appealing breakfast until you see it's just for making toast.
  422. >An egg, yolk still intact surrounded by white, is loaded onto a piece of toast and plated, before Anna takes it and adds an apple to it.
  423. >"Who's next?" she asks, holding out the dish.
  424. >Cherry floats it over, so you can only assume the others have gotten theirs.
  425. >Commander Brass is currently doing some maintenance on her gear, so she's probably done, and Stormy is half visible behind her pack, focused down.
  426. >Another egg is cracked into the pan, and the sausages are removed onto another dish, which Anna takes.
  427. >It's not long before this one is done for you, and the plate passed over.
  428. >Seeing your reluctance, Brass says, "It's protien, it's good for you, especially with lots of activity."
  429. >Nodding, you lift the toast and with a grimace, you take a bite.
  430. >It's about as pleasant as you expected.
  431. >Still, you're not going to complain, they are providing the food, and it could be far worse.
  432. >Where the bread was bland and the egg unpleasant, the apple was delicious, succulent and fresh.
  433. >Breakfast downed, you quickly but efficiently pack your tent.
  434. >After preparing eggs for the two of them, the unknown minotauress and Anna eat breakfast together in silence before cleaning up the firepit and grill.
  435. >Before you know it, everything is tidy and everyone is ready to go.
  436. >Today, however, Anna is pulling the cart, while the other is in the lead.
  437. >Seeing them from behind like this, they feel larger, more imposing than Anna, though it may just be the massive shield on their back.
  438. >Falling into line, the group sets out, ready for day 2.
  439. ~~~
  440. >Watching the Lieutenants, you scrutinize their movements.
  441. >The first day of travel will always be difficult, but it's the following ones that will test their dedication to their training.
  442. >Even with a night's rest, traces of the prior day's exhaustion will stick around, and it will only get worse from there.
  443. >If they have skipped out on training too much, there's no way they will make it to our destination.
  444. >Both of your hunters are seemingly unaffected, though their jobs have switched, likely to minimize the effects of hauling the wagon and supplies.
  445. >It seems however, that today will be a little quieter, as Anna isn't your guide for the day.
  446. >Silence reigns as the sun rises in the sky, save for the occasional banter between Lieutenants.
  447. >While you'd prefer a little talk from your guide, it's far better than having a chatty gaggle of new castle guard colt recruits.
  448. >Dear Celestia you hated that assignment...
  449. >The chatting wasn't the worst part though, it was when they got too tired of training and started complaining.
  450. >You wanted to rip your own ears off at that, but your job is your job.
  451. >At least this time there's only one colt, and when he gets whiny and tired and gives up, or can't stand the sight of the hunt, you'll be able to take him back to Canterlot.
  452. >Sure, you'll get a little bit of a public scolding from his marefriend, but knowing mare, since you are one, she'll thank you in private after for scaring her colt away from a dangerous career.
  453. >Maybe give you a little gift from the royal cellars.
  454. >Still, he's doing rather well, given the rougher path, trail food and lack of time for proper hoof and mane care.
  455. >A hand rises from your guide, and you can see the three ahead of you ease up until Anna lets out a sharp whisper from behind you.
  456. >"This isn't a break," she hisses, bringing the wagon to a quiet stop, "Stay low and stay quiet."
  457. >Crouching yourself, you lower your spear and hold it at the ready.
  458. >The lead hunter lowers their shield off their back and advances slowly, their open hand held open towards the rest of the group.
  459. >"Wait here while they check it out," Anna explains, a large knife the size of a pony sword drawn from her belt.
  460. >As you wait, you begin to notice a faint, unpleasant odour in the air.
  461. >A ways ahead now, the lead hunter steps into the thicker and taller grass off the path, before turning back and returning to the group.
  462. >They put their shield back on their back and makes a beckoning motion before returning to their advancement down the trail.
  463. >As you get nearer to where they stepped off the path, the smell becomes worse, and when relatively close, you notice there's an empty spot in the top of the grass.
  464. >"Don't look, just keep walking," Anna says, turning away from the spot.
  465. >A sudden gust of wind amplifies the smell, making you gag, and the lieutenants ahead of you to dry heave.
  466. >They all hold it down though, which is vital.
  467. >Any lost nutrients here could be catastrophic down the line.
  468. >Everyone hurries past whatever it was, the air clearing before long.
  469. >Looking back at Anna, she makes a slashing motion across her throat, before gesturing back.
  470. >Something dead; it would explain the smell.
  471. >It's good none of you looked then.
  472. >If one of you went, you'd all be blowing chunks.
  473. ~~~
  474. >The nauseating smell of decay gone, you take a quick swish of water to rince any lingering taste from your mouth.
  475. >It seems the ponies held in their breakfast pretty well.
  476. >Rather surprising, actually.
  477. >Some can't even stand the sight of fresh blood, let alone a fresh kill.
  478. >Something that has been half eaten and left out for a day or two like that would probably scar them for life.
  479. >Still, it's better than it could have been.
  480. >There are a lot of beasties out here that wouldn't hesitate to jump and eat a soft, squishy little pony.
  481. >Most smaller predators do avoid you and the minotaurs though, but your size does little to deter the big baddies like the Thunderlung from yesterday.
  482. >The grass next to you rustles, and just as you are about to grab your knife, you notice it's Shining, trotting next to you.
  483. >"So, um, miss, about yesterday, will you consider training me?"
  484. >Glaring at him again, he manages to avoid shrinking at your gaze.
  485. >This is probably going to happen every day, so with a sigh, you nod.
  486. >Seeing your agreement, he makes a little happy dance that causes the corners of your mouth to turn up.
  487. >He falls back in line with the others, and some chatter starts between the ponies.
  488. >Doing your best to ignore it, you keep your senses tuned for anything that might be looking for lunch.
  489. >This becomes harder when the ponies move up around you again, all save Brass.
  490. >"Tell them you're going to teach me, they don't believe me," Shining says.
  491. >"Of course we don't," Cherry says, "There's no way a professional hunter like her is going to waste her time teaching a colt like you to fight."
  492. >"She's probably just going to have you suck her teats when you're alone or something," Stormy adds.
  493. >"She is not," Shining retorts, "and just because I'm a stallion doesn't mean I can't learn to fight."
  494. >"Keep telling yourself that, Shiny, and who knows..."
  495. >Beyond the talking of the ponies, however, you hear a sound you'd rather not hear.
  496. >Soft chirping from several directions.
  497. >Unlatching your lance from your back, the ponies suddenly step back.
  498. >There are brief clinks as Anna's blade is readied as well.
  499. >Seeing the two of you taking out your weapons, the ponies cluster up, spears being brought out.
  500. >The chirping shifts and gets louder, before the grass suddenly parts.
  501. >Timberwolves leap out, fangs and claws bared, but years of experience has prepared you.
  502. >The first get's impaled on your lance, driven into it's chest in a single sharp motion.
  503. >Swinging down and around, the corpse is freed from your weapon and you bring it to bear against the next, a crunching sound indicating a kill from Anna.
  504. >Their initial strike having failed, the remaining wolves close in, growling replacing the birdcalls they were making.
  505. >But with you on one side and Anna on the other, there's no way they're getting a pony meal today.
  506. >"Hold formation," Brass say's sharply, "or else we're gonna be food for these guys."
  507. >Anna lets out a bit of a chuckle, before cleaving through one timberwolf with a rising slash then turning the strike and switching to axe mode to kill another.
  508. >As always, her weapon is better at handling smaller enemies, but your strikes are still deadly, and before long, there are near a dozen dead Timber wolves, the rest retreating to conserve numbers.
  509. >While the ponies gather themselves, both you and Anna take out your knives and carve up the dead wolves.
  510. >Most of their bodies are useless, being mainly plant material, but they have a magical core often used in a lot of low end magical tools.
  511. >With all them carved, you have 7 cores as well as some spare firewood.
  512. >The ponies are a little rattled, save Brass, but overall, everyone's fine.
  513. >"Now, if you please, can you not bother them while they're leading?" Anna says with a smile.
  514. >The ponies are quick to nod in agreement.
  515. >Finally a little quiet.
  516. ~~~
  517. >Watching her set up for dinner, you putter around while you wait for your new teacher to be able to teach you.
  518. >Tents went up quick and easy, and it seems she's preparing something different from what you've seen before.
  519. >A low flat pot like thing and oil are being used to cook veggies, and it's smelling pretty good.
  520. >Anna is handling the work the other Tauress did last time, but mainly, everyone is waiting for food.
  521. >It's not long before bowls are passed out again, this time filled with a fried mix of veggies.
  522. >Admittedly, you eat in a bit of a hurry, but things go better when Anna offers to do cleanup so you can start learning.
  523. >Still in full armour, your teacher takes her weapon and shield out and heads just outside of camp.
  524. >Turning, they stare you down, but you keep up a strong front.
  525. >You're not going to be scared, you're going to prove yourself.
  526. >Before you can ask a question or do anything, her lance sits at perfect level and thrusts at you, stopping mere inches from your face.
  527. >All before you can react.
  528. When you have found your nerve again, your back legs collapse, and you fall back onto your rump.
  529. >She takes a half step back before turning to the side, and thrusting again.
  530. >After this, she turns to you, and speaks the first words you have heard from her, soft, barely audible.
  531. >"Thrust, Shining"
  532. >Confused and slightly aroused, oddly, you stand and grip your spear in your magic.
  533. >Giving your best thrust, she watches your strike.
  534. >Her shield slams down in front of you, and she says, "Thrust" again.
  535. >Thrusting again, you feel yourself jar a little as you strike the shield, even through your magic.
  536. >It's like stabbing a castle wall.
  537. >"Practice. Thrust harder."
  538. >Laughter suddenly erupts from behind you, and you turn to see Cherry and Stormy laughing their flanks off.
  539. >"At least someone's teaching this colt to thrust," Stormy says, a wing clapping Cherry on the shoulder.
  540. "Sh.. shut up," you say trying to not go red with embarassment, "It's not like you girls are practicing."
  541. >"We don't need to learn to thrust, we're not colts, after all."
  542. >"That's not quite right," Anna says, walking up behind them and making them jump a bit, "For those with spears, lances and other stabbing pole weapons, your initial thrust is often the most important."
  543. >"If you can kill the target before they can get close to you, you don't have to worry about injuries."
  544. >"Take the timberwolf earler, for example. They drove that lance clean through them. I doubt you could do anywhere near that much damage with your spears."
  545. >You feel a bit of a smile forming, until you realize her statement includes you as well.
  546. "We just need to practice more, and that's why I'm getting taught."
  547. >"Taught how to thrust," Stormy says with a snicker.
  548. >Trying to ignore her, you turn back to your temporary teacher.
  549. "So what's first, teacher?"
  550. ~~~
  551. >Well, if the ponies are going to give up, now's going to be the time.
  552. >Thick mud and murky water surrounds your ankles, kept dry only by the protective boots you and Anon have.
  553. >The ponies are stuck going in bare.
  554. >Brass is the only one without external displeasure, but she's probably not too happy about it either.
  555. >And since it was this or spend two extra days going around the swamp, you're all slogging through.
  556. >The only upside is you don't have to worry about leeches because of a parasite repelling drink everyone had to drink this morning.
  557. >When you told them it was this or leeches, they quickly ignored the taste.
  558. >Anon is doing a great job hauling the cart, it's wheels swapped for skis.
  559. >You really wish you could let him take off his armor, he must be boiling under there.
  560. >A lot of your bulkier armor already finds itself on the wagon, only a few core pieces still on.
  561. >Glancing back at Anon, you notice he suddenly drops the bar for the wagon, sprinting towards you.
  562. >Turning back, you see several ripples heading towards you, a mound rising from the muck.
  563. >The ripples reveal themselves to be the heads of a Hydra, jaws opening to you.
  564. >You're unable to react in time, the jaws about to clamp down on you.
  565. >A firm hand pushes you to the side, Anon's back blocking your vision.
  566. >Metal crunches under it's jaws, the head pulling back, the front of Anon's breastplate in it's mouth, blood dripping from it.
  567. >Other heads rise, examining the first's stuck jaw, before it spits out the scaled metal.
  568. >Rising to your hooves, you unhook your switchaxe, eyes flickering to his bloodied side.
  569. >A few scraps of leather are all that hold on the back half of his plate, hanging loosely off him.
  570. >Shield up and lance ready, he faces the numerous heads of the Hydra.
  571. >Taking up a place at his side, you can get a better glance at his wounds, and thankfully, they aren't serious.
  572. >"Stormy, see if you can gather up a storm cloud, it doesn't need to be big," Brass says, "Cherry, Shining, start throwing rocks or things at it."
  573. >"You two, hold it off till Story gets a cloud, the shock should be enough to knock it out."
  574. "That's not a problem, but I hope you don't mind if we kill it first?"
  575. >Dodging left while Anon goes right, a head strikes the muck between you, and you swing your axe around.
  576. >The soft flesh and bones part, severing it, and without a word, Anon's lance starts spewing fire, cauterizing the stump left behind.
  577. >Rearing back in pain, the hydra roars with it's remaining heads, before lumbering forward, heads spreading around to attack.
  578. >Slashing off another one, it's stunted by Anon as well, his shield blocking another head on the other side.
  579. >His flames have already started to run out, but thankfully this hydra only had five heads, three now.
  580. >A head going for his exposed chest is stopped by a barrage of stones and mud, flung from those behind you.
  581. >This opens enough of a gap for you to slash at an exposed neck.
  582. >By nature, it doesn't evade, the head being cut clean off.
  583. >As the gore that would form a new head starts, the end is seared by flames for a third time.
  584. >Rearing back, it realized what is happening, before letting out a powerful roar.
  585. ~~~
  586. >Covering your ears, you can only watch as Anna and her partner fight the Hydra.
  587. >As ordered, Shining and Cherry are both hurling rocks, and Stormy is off trying to find a useable cloud.
  588. >And yet, as their commander, there's nothing you can do.
  589. >With only two heads left, the hydra does something you had only heard it does in rare cases.
  590. >One head bites the other clean off, halfway down the neck.
  591. >The ensuing fountain of gore forms two new heads, which start a frenzy, heads being bitten off rapidly and regrown again.
  592. >By the end, it has almost a dozen heads, all angry and snarling.
  593. >Your hunters, however, seem unconcerned.
  594. >Anna's even drinking a potion of some sorts.
  595. >As it goes down, a red sheen slowly crawls over her body and armor, flames sprouting at where her horn nubs are.
  596. >Leaving a spray of mud in her wake, she charges while the other fiddles with their lance.
  597. >You spot stormy rushing back with a cloud a little smaller than you'd like, but crackling with lightning.
  598. "Wait for a moment she's not attacking," you call out to her, "strike then and clear out."
  599. >A hard to hear "Aye," is your response, and the cloud is forced above the Hydra.
  600. >Heads dive for Anna, but are sundered by her axe, blood and bone scattering to the winds.
  601. >Reaching it's body, Anna pivots, swinging her axe around, slashing through necks, right at the base.
  602. >The other dashes forward, shield dropped and lance up.
  603. >Renewed flames pour from it, searing the Hydra's flesh where Anna had cut.
  604. >She herself has ducked down and back, staggering a little from the spinning strike.
  605. >With Anna no longer in contact with the Hydra, Stormy's cloud suddenly rumbles as she kicks it, before unleashing a massive bolt of lightning.
  606. >As it strikes, the Hydra locks up, twitching at the current running through it's body.
  607. >Axe brought down once again, the remaining heads are cut off in droves, burned by the flames from the lance.
  608. >As the last head falls, a quiet settles over the area, the only sound coming from the hydra's dead body, muscles still occasionally spasming from the lightning.
  609. >Returning to the wagon, the chestplateless tauress scrounges around a bit before pulling out a large water sack.
  610. >"Wow, she's got smaller teats than I do," Cherry says from next to you, "No wonder she hides her appearance."
  611. >"What do you mean?" Shining asks.
  612. "To minotaurs, large teats is a sign of mareliness, and the sign of a good mother. With them being that small, her odds of finding a mate are near zero."
  613. "I'm sure you've noticed, at least, but Anna is even rather small, but her job holds a lot of weight, so she'd be likely to snag a nice bull."
  614. >The sound of rending flesh suddenly fills the air, drawing all your attentions to the Hydra.
  615. >The Hydra currently being carved open by Anna.
  616. >You can't pull yourself to look away, and after some hacking, she pulls out a massive heart, easily the size of your torso.
  617. >The water skin is attached to the heart, and the whole lot is tilted, the waterskin filling with the contents of the massive organ.
  618. >What happens next makes you look away, far too much for you or your subordinates.
  619. >Detaching the waterskin, the heart and blood within are poured over Anna's partner.
  620. >"Well, we'd better get moving before the leeches and scavengers come," Anna says, grabbing the shield and damaged breastplate as she comes.
  621. >Keeping your eyes averted, you nod and start to move with Anna after she dumps the gear on the wagon, the other ponies following quickly.
  622. ~~~
  623. >"Ugh, this mud is horrible," Stormy says, "hey, Cherry, since we're set up, what do you say we head to that stream Anna mentioned at dinner?"
  624. "Sure, it wouldn't hurt," you reply before leaning in, "I noticed Shining went out that way with his teacher not too long ago."
  625. >"You think...?"
  626. >With a shrug, you rise from your tent entrance, noting the lance and shield at the hunter's tent.
  627. >A sign that points to something other than training.
  628. >The kind of something that a mare like you could enjoy watching.
  629. >Maybe even getting in on it.
  630. >Picking up your step a bit, Stormy floats around overhead, looking around actively.
  631. >It's not long before you pass Shining on his way back, armour and spear at the ready.
  632. >"The river's not too far from here, but you should hurry, it's going to get dark soon."
  633. "Your teacher still out there?"
  634. >"Mhm, she agreed to watch out for me, since she needed a cleaning too."
  635. "After that fight, I agree."
  636. >"Don't get lost," he says as parting words, before heading back in the direction of camp.
  637. >Snorting, you continue on.
  638. >After all, real mare's don't get lost.
  639. >Twenty minutes later and you're still repeating this to yourself as Luna's moon is starting to rise.
  640. >However, Stormy lets out a call, pointing ahead.
  641. >And lo and behold, there's the river, and a small lantern's glow as well.
  642. >A silouhette stands in the water, tall and minotaurian, Anna's partner, likely.
  643. >Stormy lands next to you, and the two of you approach rather slowly.
  644. >The moon comes into view behind them, wreathing their body in a silver glow.
  645. >You can't help but find yourself looking over her body, free from armour.
  646. >Strong shoulders, flat teats, unaroused penis dangling from their waist...
  647. >That's a penis.
  648. >A penis that shines with a halo of silver.
  649. >Your back half starts winking, and you're pretty sure Stormy is feeling the same.
  650. >Looking at her, she's looking back, and the two of you nod.
  651. >Turning back, you both head back for camp.
  652. >You may not be sleeping well tonight.
  653. "I wonder if Brass knows?" you ask, well away from the river.
  654. >"We should let her know tomorrow."
  655. "Really though, I can't believe Anna would make a colt fight a hydra."
  656. >"And the wolves, and even the Thunderlung from her story," Stormy adds, "We have to stop him from fighting, I think, make Anna realize she can't push him around anymore."
  657. >Nodding, the two of you head to your respective tents when you reach camp.
  658. ~~~
  659. >"HE'S A STALLION!"
  660. >Sudden yelling from outside your tent shocks you awake, and you scramble to your hooves, magic fumbling for your spear.
  661. >"How could you hide this from your employer?"
  662. >"I never hid it, you never asked."
  663. >Poking your head from the tent, you see Brass is rather Livid, shouting at Anna.
  664. "What's going on?" you ask, lowering your spear a little.
  665. >"Nothing you need to be concerned about, Lieutenant Shining, tidy your tent and prepare to leave after breakfast," Brass says, briefly turning to you before facing Anna again.
  666. >Turning to start cleaning your tent, you notice Stormy and Cherry patting your teacher's legs, but more surprisingly, your teacher isn't wearing her armour today.
  667. >Just some light clothes and armour straps.
  668. "Teacher, are your injuries okay?" you ask, looking over at her.
  669. >"Just fine," she replies, her voice causing you to pause.
  670. >Was it always that deep and strong?
  671. >No...
  672. >"Hydra blood has regeneration boosting properties, so I'm all healed up now."
  673. >Her shirt is lifted, and you can see the marks, but things get strange when Cherry whistles.
  674. >"Just take it off, let us take care of you."
  675. "Don't bother her, she said she's fine right?"
  676. >"You didn't know, Shining?" Stormy says, "Your teacher here is a colt."
  677. >This forces you to stop, and a frown forms.
  678. "That can't be. We saw her teats yesterday, and everyone knows male minotaurs don't have them, and they have horns too."
  679. >"I'm not a minotaur," he says, "I'm a human, and my name is Anon."
  680. >"And he is going right back home this instant," Brass says, "I already have one colt to look after, I'm not going to deal with two."
  681. >"I guess your eyes were closed yesterday then. I can handle myself better than you can."
  682. >Brass glares at Anon, but he doesn't so much as flinch.
  683. >Given how he fought the Hydra, it's not really surprising, but still.
  684. >You would have cowered at the sight of that.
  685. >"He's not going back, and neither are you all. This mission is urgent, isn't it, so we can't just abandon it."
  686. >Gritting her teeth, Brass turns back to her tent with a huff.
  687. >Putting your spear away, you start packing up your tent, the smell of breakfast just starting to reach you.
  688. >After having done it for three days in a row, it goes down quickly and you're ready to eat.
  689. >Through breakfast, you slowly get more and more irked that Stormy and Cherry are practically clinging to your teacher, just because he is a male like you.
  690. >You're not jealous, you have your own lovely marefriend back home, but rather just annoyed that they'd lose composure like this, despite being royal guards.
  691. >Anon is taking the lead today, with Anna pulling the cart, which in it's own way helps calm Brass a bit.
  692. >Still, things are quiet in the back, with Brass and Anna, which is nice compared to the constant chatter of Cherry and Stormy, working their wiles on Anon.
  693. >And you just stuck in the middle.
  694. >A sudden creak draws your attention, along with Anons.
  695. >Several trees topple in the distance, a large form moving out of them.
  696. >The two mares immediately move towards it, and Anon manages to say "stop," before being cut off.
  697. >"Don't worry your pretty little head, colt, we can handle this," Cherry says, sauntering off, spear drawn.
  698. >Stormy takes off, flying above Cherry as they charge the creature.
  699. >It comes into view, a massive, snake like creature with heavy legs supporting it.
  700. >Brass suddenly passes as well, spear ready, leaving you alone with your two hunter guards.
  701. >As they rush to attack, you turn to the two hunters.
  702. "So why aren't you helping?"
  703. >"It's a herbivore, and a passive one at that," Anon says, "It wasn't going to attack us, unless we attacked it."
  704. >"Besides, that one doesn't even taste very good, so it's no use as food for us," Anna adds.
  705. >Before you can ask if they're going to stop them, there's a loud cry, and a small tremor.
  706. >It's tail whips around with a crack, just over the heads of the groundbound ponies, making them flinch and cower a bit.
  707. >Anon and Anna take a seat, and after a moment, you join them, watching the guards try to fight the giant plant eater.
  708. >The fight doesn't last long, as they only manage to cause some minor wounds before Brass takes a tail swipe head on, tossing her across the field.
  709. >Both Stormy and Cherry back off to go help the commander, the creature leaving with them no longer attacking it.
  710. >"You three idiots done now?" Anna asks as they return, helping keep Brass on her hooves.
  711. >"We chased off that monster, no problem," Stormy says, puffing up her chest in your and Anon's direction, "What do YOU mean, idiots."
  712. >"Yeah, you didn't even try to help protect the colts," Cherry chimes in, helping Brass sit down.
  713. >"It was a herbivore, and a harmless one at that," Anna says, digging through the cart's contents, "If you left it alone, it would have left you alone."
  714. >A green bottle filled with a thick liquid is pulled out, and held to Brass.
  715. >"Drink up, it'll help you recover. In the mean time, you can ride the cart."
  716. >Brass nods, and with some help, gets into the cart among the supplies.
  717. >The bottle is uncorked, and her nose scrunches.
  718. >"Suck it up, you all are the ones who decided to attack them," Anon says, "Let's get moving now, we have to reach town before nightfall."
  719. "Town?"
  720. >"You'll see."
  721. >With a general sigh, the group starts moving again.
  722. ~~~
  723. >Hauling the added weight of the beaten pony really starts to drag on you, and during lunch, you have a quick chat with Anon.
  724. >He agrees to swap with you for the rest of the day, and the moment he starts to go pulling the wagon, not only does Brass get off, despite her pains, but Stormy and Cherry take the reins from him, hauling it themselves.
  725. >And despite the weight of the thing, they manage to keep up while pulling it.
  726. >The day drags on till it's about an hour till you'd set up camp for the night, where you call the procession to a halt.
  727. "Alright, Get yourself something to drink, we're not setting up yet though."
  728. >The two pulling the wagon let out sighs of relief, while Anon grabs his chestplate and the Timberwolf wood.
  729. >Before they can catch their breath enough to even make a pass, he's walking off ahead.
  730. >"H-hey, where's he going," Cherry says between pants, trying her best to look composed.
  731. "To the village ahead. We're waiting here."
  732. >"I refuse," Brass says, stepping in front of you, "I'm not going to allow you to send a colt alone into a town this far off the maps."
  733. "You'll die then. The Kirin won't even let you near their gate."
  734. >"Then you're just letting Anon walk to his death?! What kind of female are you?"
  735. "He will be fine," you snap back at her, voice increasing in volume a little, " Only those who are trusted can enter, and I'm staying here so you all don't get removed before you find the town."
  736. "Now calm your fucking teats and rest, he'll be back soon enough."
  737. >Still fuming, Brass sits down, drinking from her canteen.
  738. >Just shy of dragging themselves to you, the two wagon pullers plop down before Stormy asks, "So, uh, what's a Kirin?"
  739. "Well, I guess you could call them dragons," you say, scratching your head, "But at the same time, they're like ponies."
  740. >"A dragon and a pony? How does that work?"
  741. "Nobody's quite sure on their origins, but while they look similar to unicorns on the surface, they share more biology with that of dragons, including scales instead of fur."
  742. >"So why didn't you go instead of him, let him stay with us?" Cherry asks, "It must be safer than him going there."
  743. "They trust him more than me, he's a lot safer there than here, now enough questions, time for rest."
  744. >With a huff, they shut up and you all wait for Anon to return.
  745. >But while the three mares rest, Shining excersizes, doing basic routines with his spear.
  746. >Including working on his thrusts, as your partner had instructed.
  747. >He'll need a lot of practice to amount to much, but he has the drive for it.
  748. >And in the end, that can get you far.
  749. >With a soft groan, you push yourself to standing, taking your SwitchAxe from the cart.
  750. >Joining Shining, you perform some basic excersizes and combos, letting the weight of the weapon flow, rather than fighting it.
  751. >Almost an hour after he left, Anon returns, a Kirin beside him.
  752. "Welcome back, Anon, and who might this be?"
  753. >"A doctor. I figured we should get Brass's injuries looked at, just in case."
  754. >"Who is injured?" the Kirin asks, voice deep and smooth.
  755. "That would be Brass here," you say, gesturing to her.
  756. >"I am fine, I don't need a stallions help."
  757. >The Kirin's eyes turn to Brass, and a series of small bolts shoot off it at her.
  758. >Before anything can be said, she collapses and the doctor approaches her.
  759. >Stormy and Cherry both go to defend her, but are stopped by you.
  760. >"Fear not, she's simply unconcious for now. It is best if she doesn't struggle."
  761. >Kneeling next to her, the doctor scans over her body, small jolts jumping between them here and there.
  762. >From a pack, he takes out a salve, pouring some out onto Brass's side.
  763. >A rough brush is removed next, scrubbing the salve into her coat.
  764. >Lastly, a bandage is wrapped around the affected area.
  765. >Rising, the Kirin doctor says, "Now make sure she rests. The injury isn't severe, but too much activity may aggravate the wound."
  766. >Turning to Anon, he adds, "Your request is done. Take care."
  767. >Your man gives a small bow back, and turns back to the group.
  768. >"So, did I miss anything?"
  769. "Nothing important. So what do you say we back off some before setting up camp?"
  770. >He gives you a salute and a smile before taking the reigns of the wagon.
  771. >The two mares are too tired to complain this time, and instead trudge along with you.
  772. >Brass gets stuck in the wagon, still out cold.
  773. >The sun is just starting to set as you set up camp, far enough away from town to not have to worry.
  774. >Dinner is cooked quietly by Anon, and before long, everyone is ready for bed, the weight of the day bearing down on the ponies.
  775. >Maybe they'll actually stay safe this time and listen to yours and Anon's instructions.
  776. >...
  777. >"No, I refuse to allow you to sleep in the same tent as Anon."
  778. >Or maybe not.
  779. "None of your tents are big enough for him or I, so this is our only option."
  780. >A grumpy looking Brass glares at you once again, and you give her a smile.
  781. "Unless, of course, you want to fight over it?"
  782. >The pony cowers back as you flex a little, intimidated by your stature and experience.
  783. >"I'll fight you," Cherry says walking up confidently.
  784. "One on one, no weapons, we fight till the other surrenders or is unconcious," you say stepping to an open area.
  785. >"Sounds good," Cherry replies, standing across from you.
  786. >Anon and the others watch from the sidelines, and while Stormy is making rather innapropriate comments about threeways, Anon just looks mildly bemused.
  787. >You've both been through this rodeo before, after all.
  788. >It's always some cocky unicorn who things their magic will let them win.
  789. >Raising a hand, Anon proclaims, "Fight!"
  790. >Her horn starts to glow, but putters out almost immediately as it tries to grab you.
  791. >All you can do is smirk as you step towards her, realization dawning on her face.
  792. >Before she can stutter out a response, you deliver one well placed punch, knocking her to the ground and out cold.
  793. "Nobody takes MY partner from me."
  794. >Anon gives you a smile before heading to your tent.
  795. "Now get her off to bed, we are leaving early tomorrow."
  796. >The other ponies quietly do as you ask, while you enter and start undressing.
  797. >"They always do that, don't they," Anon says, toying with a pendant, "Too bad these things protect us from it."
  798. "It's a good thing they were developed. I'd hate to have to fight a Psychosaurite without one."
  799. >"I'd hate to have to fight one without you," he replies, grabbing your wrist and pulling you down.
  800. >You hardly put up a resistance to this, sinking into his warm embrace.
  801. "Almost halfway done, think they'll hold up?"
  802. >"They'd better. The hard part starts here."
  803. ~~~
  804. >With the rays of the early morning sun, everyone rises, ready to face the day.
  805. >Some with a few more groans than others.
  806. >Food is eaten, camp is packed and the lot of you head out again.
  807. >The heavily wooded area around the Kirin village suddenly shifts to rocky, open plains, the last day of travel ahead of you.
  808. "Everyone keep quiet as you can while we move. It may look safer out here, but that just means both predators and prey are hiding," you say, dressed in your recently fixed armour.
  809. >"Don't you worry, Anon, we can protect you," Stormy says, fluttering about your headspace.
  810. "Focus on keeping yourself safe first. You're just going to get yourself killed if you worry about others instead of yourself out here."
  811. >Stormy rolls her eyes before drifting back to Cherry.
  812. >"Colts," she says exasperated, before giving Cherry a nudge.
  813. >You ignore any remainder of their conversation, if they're gonna get attacked being stupid, you're not going to stop them this time either.
  814. >It's always like this.
  815. >Even when proven wrong, the mares insist they are doing the right thing to protect the colt, or in this case, you.
  816. >And Shining, though he seems to understand what is going on and has actually been aware of his surroundings, weapon at the ready.
  817. >Sharp stones bite at everyone's feet and hooves, yours protected by your boots and Anna's by hardened horseshoes.
  818. >The others are not so lucky, save Stormy, who gets to fly.
  819. >Still, they don't complain.
  820. >The job is almost over, a fight waiting for you tomorrow.
  821. >A hunt for a most dangerous of beast.
  822. >Hunting down the Alpha Karrakoth.
  823. >Normal ones are hardly a threat, entry level D rank monsters that are dealt with here and there.
  824. >When an Alpha comes, however, things change.
  825. >The normally placid stone clad beasts suddenly get riled up, and will follow the Alpha to wherever it goes, causing serious damage as it goes.
  826. >And with the way they're heading, Equestria is looking at some serious property damage if they aren't stopped here.
  827. >Several soft rumbles shake the ground, the group almost immediately drawing weapons and getting ready.
  828. >The rumbles stop for just a moment, before the ground erupts in several spots, brownish red creatures springing from the ruptured terrain.
  829. >Skewering one before it can react, you fling it's carcass across the field, the other worm-like creatures shifting to avoid it.
  830. >Watching the others, they let out a hiss before advancing with a lurch.
  831. >Stormy flies up higher, spear ready while Shining, Cherry and Brass group up to stop their attack.
  832. >The first few, however, are cleaved by Anna stepping in with her weapon in axe mode.
  833. >Jaws open and filled with countless teeth, the worms rush the ponies.
  834. >Spears meet them far out, held by the two unicorns magic.
  835. ~~~
  836. >Holding your spear with magic, you hold steady against the monsters attacking.
  837. >The hideous creatures dive forward, and like you practiced, you thrust.
  838. >Even through the magic, you can feel the metal tip pierce it's flesh, it's body wiggling and writhing on your shaft.
  839. >Beside it, Cherry's spear deflects off a different one's jaw.
  840. >She's unable to recall her spear fast enough, and Brass is busy with others.
  841. >Just before it's jaws close down on her, your spear pierces through it's head region, bringing it to a halt right before her.
  842. "Maybe you should practice your thrusts," you say, shaking it off your spear before brandishing it at the next one.
  843. >Your master is having no issues at the head of the group, skewering two or three before shaking them off, and Anna's titanic blade is cleaving them with ease.
  844. >No time to be distracted though, as several more spring from the ground.
  845. >A wave of flames wash over the worm things, and they let out horrid screeches as they burn.
  846. >"We have to move NOW," Anon says, moving into view, "with these things dead, other predators and scavengers will be coming in."
  847. >Anna pulls up the wagon and Anon loads some canisters into his lance again.
  848. >"Get yourself rinsed off if you got blood on you," Anna says, pulling the water barrel to the back for access, "It'll leave a trail to us otherwise."
  849. >Taking a moment to look yourself over, you realize you did get hit with some stray drops, on top of the large ammount dripping off your spear.
  850. >Pouring water from your canteen over your spear, it cleans easily, the fresh blood not having had enough time to soak into the wood.
  851. >You feel eyes burning into you, likely the two mares who aren't professional expecting you to pour water over yourself to clean up.
  852. >Instead, a quick and simple spell has your coat clean and white as your first day at school.
  853. >At least, the start of it.
  854. >You were a bit messy by the end, but it was a fun day, so...
  855. >"Make sure you have what you need, because we're not going to stop unless we have to today," Anon says, snapping you from your memory.
  856. >"That includes lunch, so grab something you can eat as you go," Anna adds, opening up some of the food bags.
  857. >A couple apples float out in your magic, as well as a small crusty bread loaf.
  858. >Making sure to refill your canteen as well, you start walking with Anon.
  859. >The others follow not long after, once they get their supplies from the wagon.
  860. >Not even twenty minutes have passed before loud roars can be heard from where you were before.
  861. >Cherry, Stormy and yourself all spare glances back, thankful to not be in the middle of that.
  862. >As a sigh of relief slips from your lips, another roar comes, this one far closer.
  863. >And ahead of you...
  864. ~~~
  865. >A screeching roar shakes the air around you, coming in from ahead.
  866. >Releasing the cart, you draw your blade and pass the ponies.
  867. "You guys take the cart and keep moving. Leave the monster to Anon and I."
  868. >There's not a word of complaint, and the four of them take up the pull bar, in magic or mouth.
  869. >Hurrying next to your partner, you advance towards the source of the roar.
  870. >Suddenly cresting a hill, a large jawed bird wyvern type lumbers into view.
  871. >It lets of another roar, flecks of purple goo flying from it's mouth as it does so.
  872. >With great, lumbering strides it runs at you, maw ready to snap you up.
  873. >You and Anon split, and as it passes you hook it's leg, sending it face first into the ground.
  874. >Wings flap, blowing you back but Anon pins his down with his lance before dropping his shield and running up it.
  875. >He's able to get a grip on it's back before it pulls it's wing free, a massive hole torn in the webbing.
  876. >Left and right, the creature flails, trying to get it's unwanted passenger off.
  877. >Anon clings on however, and whenever the creature stops, his knife comes out to bite at the scales of it's back.
  878. >A final stab bites deep, sending the beast tumbling in pain as a leg gives out momentarily, Anon diving clear.
  879. >You're already ready for this, and the moment it hits the dirt your axe swings down, narrowly missing a vital blow on it's neck.
  880. >Still the wound causes blood to spray out, slowly draining the creatures strength.
  881. >Inhaling, it spits a glob of purple at you, forcing you to tumble out of the way.
  882. >A well timed shield bash from your partner draws it's attention away long enough for you to recover your footing.
  883. >Turning, it's tail suddenly whips around, only to meet Anon's shield and push him back.
  884. >It's bite is easy for you to stop, and it leaves it's flank open for Anon's lance to pierce.
  885. >Switching to sword mode and ducking under it's turn, you thrust up at it's soft underbelly, piercing up into it's ribcage and into it's vitals.
  886. >The avian body begins thrashing wildly as it's life force drains out, yanking the blade from your hands.
  887. >Both of you retreat as it lets out a death howl, drawing more attention to your group again.
  888. >Half a minute of thrashing more and litres of blood spilt, and it finally collapses, letting you reclaim your sword from it.
  889. >The ponies come up with the wagon, and you can see the disgust on their faces.
  890. "Hurry up, this is going to draw attention as well, and unless we want to have to keep fighting, we need to go."
  891. >With an accelerated pace, the ponies haul the cart past the corpse, and you and anon rinse off on the fly.
  892. >Nine hours, another worm attack and a brief scare with a young adult dragon later, and the group is finally at the end of the stone wastes.
  893. >Everyone is tired, sore and generaly unhappy, but alive.
  894. >Tents get pitched quickly and a campfire is set up for food.
  895. >While Anon cooks, you clean the blood from the many nooks and crannys in your weapon.
  896. >The smell of food slowly fills the air, bringing an odd sense of ease to everyone.
  897. >Those who finish their setup find themselves laying on the ground by the fire, resting their tired hooves.
  898. >"I don't want to have to do that again," Cherry says with a faint whine.
  899. >"You can say that again," Stormy agrees, Shining just nodding.
  900. >"Training doesn't prepare you for that..." He says.
  901. "Not your training, no. At least, not for this kind of terrain," you say, "Out here, hunters go through hard training before we can even be considered hunters."
  902. >"Having footgear helps as well," Anon adds, sticking a booted foot into the conversation.
  903. "Keep your feet out of this, I don't need the smell ruining the food."
  904. >He just sticks his tongue out at you, while Stormy says, "mare, what I wouldn't give for boots right now..."
  905. >"You have wings, you can just fly," Cherry snaps back, "I'd need those boots before you."
  906. >"Hey, hey, no fighting at dinner," Anon says, pulling the lid off the pot and releasing a powerful wave of smell into the camp.
  907. >A sigh comes from everyone but him, and all reach for bowls.
  908. "Eat up, get some sleep, everything rests on tomorrow," you say before going to town on Anon's cooking.
  909. >The others follow with maybe a little less gusto, and as they finish, they crawl into their tents.
  910. >Soon it's only you and your partner up, tending to the last of the fire.
  911. "Let's see if our luck holds out for tomorrow," you say, wrapping an arm around his shoulder.
  912. >"Let's hope they keep following our orders tomorrow," he replies, leaning into you.
  913. "Want to..." you start, letting a hand drift down to his thigh.
  914. >His larger one rests on yours, and he says, "They'd kill us if they found out."
  915. "They won't know if we're quiet."
  916. >"Says the girl who loves to scream my name..."
  917. >Giving him a light shove, you walk into your shared tent.
  918. "I'll be waiting on your answer," you callwhisper.
  919. >Either way, tonights the last moment of peace before the real fight.
  920. ~~~
  921. >Everyone is up before the sun, and breakfast is cold, fast and filling.
  922. >Based on projections, the Karrakoths and the alpha should be coming through here around noon, giving you the optimal time to prepare and fight.
  923. >Camp packed, wagon hidden and all necessary supplies arranged, you start going over the battle plan with the ponies.
  924. "Now, this isn't going to be easy, nor is it going to be neat. Anna and I are going to fight the Alpha Karrakoth, the rest of you just need to keep the lesser ones at bay."
  925. >"But..." Cherry starts, before you fix her with an intense stare.
  926. "You are going to do this, or you are likely going to die if you don't flee. You don't have to kill them, just distract them or drive them off."
  927. >"As long as you can keep them off us long enough, they'll scatter once we deal with the Alpha."
  928. >The ponies look at eachother unsure while you stand.
  929. "It's that or flee, back through the stone fields without us."
  930. >"And the swamp," Anna adds, "and of course, you have to make sure you don't travel too close to the kirin village..."
  931. >"We get it, we get it," Stormy says, "We fight the little guys while you fight the big guy, everyone stays safe, we all go home in one piece."
  932. "How's your injury Brass?" you ask, turning to the older mare.
  933. >"I'll hold up," she replies, "That kirin did a good job."
  934. "Good to hear. Don't need you giving out on us during an important moment."
  935. >A sudden crunchy, grinding noise echos from the distance, drawing everyone's attention.
  936. >In the distance, a karrakoth crests a hill, pounding the ground and grinding it's backstones together.
  937. "Looks like our guests have arrived. Armor on and weapons ready. It's going to be a long day."
  938. >More of the ape-like karrakoth appear from the hill, their grinding joining the first's, slowly filling the air with a sound similar to an avalanche.
  939. >Dozens have gathered before a massive one appears, easily three times the size of the smaller ones.
  940. >It pounds the ground, sending tremors you can feel all the way across the field to your group.
  941. >A small horde of them rush down, maybe half still remaining up with the alpha, watching as the lessers approach you.
  942. >"Seems the party is starting early," Anna says, drawing her weapon, "and it looks like we'll get to help out here at the start too."
  943. "Spread out a bit, watch and learn how they fight and cover eachother's backs."
  944. >The Karrakoth at the front suddenly curl up, turning into balls that continue rolling with the momentum, dirt flying up in their wake.
  945. >The distance between them and you is closed quickly, but doesn't take much for the lot of you to avoid the balls.
  946. >Rolling past, they burst out of ball form, skidding to a halt on rocky knuckles before making a brief show of slamming the ground.
  947. >Ignoring the ones behind, you focus on those still charging, ready to meet them with your lance.
  948. >As they do, they stop short, slamming the ground and howling, trying to intimidate you.
  949. >All bark and no bite is a good way to describe these, as they're usually quite passive and just try to scare away predators.
  950. >When their intimidation fails, they stop for a moment, the perfect time to strike.
  951. >Several scatter and run as you charge, others howling in another attempt to intimidate you.
  952. >This does reveal their main weak spot though, their soft underbelly.
  953. >One is speared through before it can crouch down again, several nearby run as well.
  954. >With the others, the Karrakoth begin to scatter as well, before a gravelly roar stops them all in their tracks.
  955. >The ground shakes as the Alpha starts it's way down, the lessers following in behind it.
  956. >It's knuckle bound gait tears holes in the dirt as it descends before it, like those before it, curls into a massive ball of stone.
  957. >Where the Karrakoth's descents ripped up grass and dirt, the Alpha's massive body carved a channel into the hillside as it rolled, mud and grass caking it's grey hide.
  958. >Evading it is not a challenge, but the rumbles it causes as it passes do cause all those on the ground to stumble.
  959. >Several of the lesser Karrakoth are not able to escape it's path in time, their rock hard bodies crushed under the massive weight of the alpha.
  960. >Grinding sounds out it's motion as it's body twists and unfurls, fingers gouging furrows in the ground to halt itself faster.
  961. >Indents are left as it slams it's fists down before roaring again, the proximity forcing all to cover their ears.
  962. >Scattering left and right, the royal guard move away leaving you and Anna in it's line of sight.
  963. >Rocky hands dig deep into the dirt, clods the size of ponies hurled at the two of you.
  964. >One collides with your raised shield, the force of it enough to shove you back several inches, while Anna tumbles to dodge the other aimed at her.
  965. >Lumbering towards you, the Karrakoth's movement fills the air with the sound of a distant avalanche.
  966. >A wide sweep of it's arm is easy enough to dodge with a backstep, it's follow up slow and obvious enough you can step inside it's reach and get a jab at it's underside.
  967. >To the side, Anna's sword form weapon cuts a slice into the underside of an arm, both wounds drawing blood.
  968. >You have to dive aside to avoid it's arms coming in to smash you while Anna backpedals a bit, giving her room to switch as needed.
  969. >Air rushes overhead as you duck another swing, the attack leaving an opening at the back.
  970. >Anna can't do much with it, however, as the heavy, stone covered back is extremely resistant to blades.
  971. >Still, a few small cuts make it through, drawing crimson lines on the muddy stone hide.
  972. >While minor, the damage is enough to draw it's attention and as it turns to the new threat, your lance strikes out, biting into the joint of it's thigh.
  973. >It lets out another gravely roar, before slamming the ground, forcing the two of you back.
  974. >The ground caking it's back starts falling off as it inhales massively, chest swelling.
  975. >It's muscular chest takes on a reddish hue, the cracks on it's back showing this as well as it becomes enraged.
  976. >A massive clenched fist delivers a hammer blow to the ground in your direction, cracks and mounds forming in it's path.
  977. >You have to dive aside to avoid being thrown off your feet, it's next blow coming in the form of a fast charge.
  978. >Moving to it's back, Anna looks for an opening but is forced back by a swift backhand.
  979. >It suddenly crouches, muscles tensing, making it's stone hide grind together.
  980. "Get back!" you yell, scrambling away as it makes a sudden vertical leap.
  981. >Midair it curls up, before plunging straight back down, but with your warning, even the ponies are out of range of what's to come.
  982. >Like a curled up dive into water, it hits the ground hard, the terrain rising in waves around it.
  983. >Dirt and stone are forced up and out, more than capable of wounding or killing those too close.
  984. >At the same time, however, the transformed earth provides a barrier protecting it as it unfolds and rights itself.
  985. >Using the central crater rim as a sort of springboard, it leaps at you, it's massive form dropping shadows over you as you rush forwards, past where it's legs would land.
  986. >It flies over your head and you pivot to stab, but the tip of your lance glances off it's hide.
  987. >A backhand driven by it spinning around clips your shield as you try to duck under it, knocking you on your ass.
  988. >Out of the corner of your eye you can see Anna running towards you as fast as her hooves can carry her, but there's no way she'll make it in time.
  989. >Above you, a hammer like fist swings down before it meets a suddenly appearing pink barrier.
  990. >The barrier bends but holds, giving you time to get up and making the Karrakoth back off a moment.
  991. >It also provides enough distraction that Anna can draw and swing her weapon in axe mode.
  992. >With it unaware, her axe hits it's calf dead on, the heavy blade cutting deep.
  993. >A pained howl comes from it's throat before it reaches down to grab at her.
  994. >Her reflexes and strength mean she can avoid it without losing her weapon, and with it distracted, you glance around a moment, looking for the source of the shield.
  995. >Shining Armor stands in the distance, horn glowing bright with the same colour as the shield, while Brass is beside him defending him.
  996. >Your eyes meet for a brief moment and you give a small nod before turning back to your fight, and he does to his.
  997. >Dashing at the monster, you stab at the back of it's thigh while it tries to swing at Anna.
  998. >Left behind is a bleeding hole as you pull out and step back.
  999. >Digging into your pouches, you take hold of a pair of incendiary vials meant for your lance.
  1000. >The Karrakoth turns to you, but the damage to it's leg causes it to give out momentarily bringing it to a knee and leaving it wide open for you to hurl the vials at it's face.
  1001. >They shatter against it's tough skin, the contents mixing as they splash out, consequently suddenly combusting.
  1002. >A massive hand swipes in front of it, blinded by the flames, while the other tries to rub off the chemicals, spreading the quickly depleting fires around.
  1003. >You don't even need to avoid it's blinded strike, and moving inside it's guard, you thrust into it's unprotected underside again.
  1004. >To the side you see Anna's axe making another massive wound, this time on it's thigh, and between the two injuries, blood starts to really flow.
  1005. >Both it's fists slamming down shakes the earth as you try to create distance again, stumbling you, but at the same time, it's red, engorged state fades to a normal grey.
  1006. >More dirt is hurled around, this time in a wide arc, spattering over your shield and whatever parts of Anna weren't blocked by her weapon.
  1007. >A fist comes flying at you as you peek out from behind your shield, making you duck behind again, steeling yourself.
  1008. >The blow is heavy, but weaker than the earlier ones, a good sign in this job.
  1009. >Anna lands another strong chop at it's already severely wounded leg, causing it to let out a howl and swipe at her.
  1010. >As she ducks back, the Karrakoth turns tail and starts to limp away, blood squirting from it's wounds with every step.
  1011. >Tracking it like this would be easy, but this is a slaying mission.
  1012. >And neither of you have any plans on letting it get away.
  1013. >Flanking it, you drive your lance into it's knee from behind, causing it to stumble then fall with a ground shaking thud.
  1014. >Leaving your lance behind, you drop your shield as well and draw your knife, clambering onto it's back.
  1015. >Your knife fits between the cracks, forming a solid grip as the Karrakoth flails around on the ground, trying to get up with a lance in it's knee joint.
  1016. >Meanwhile, Anna moves to it's head, avoiding the wildly swinging arms.
  1017. >A hand reaches for her, before it jerks back as your knife digs in deep near it's middle back.
  1018. >This gives her the opening she needs, and switching to sword mode, her blade thrusts into it's exposed eyes.
  1019. >The howl that comes from it is loud and agonizing, it's body jumping and flailing violently, forcing you to cling on.
  1020. >Finding a good spot, your knife is plunged into it's back, working it's way between vertebra after a few stabs, halting it's lower body.
  1021. >Up front you see Anna's horns glowing with flame, just like with the hydra, and as she ducks between blind strikes, she finds herself beside it's neck.
  1022. >It's arms reaching for you instead of her means she has little to worry about as she lines up her swing, muscles swelling under armour, bolstered by the drugs.
  1023. >The click of her weapon changing from sword mode to axe mode is the only warning it has before the axe severs it's head clean from it's body.
  1024. >A final twitch of it's muscles tries to push itself up, causing you to lose your grip and tumble off.
  1025. >Before you can recover yourself, you feel something trying to pull you up, and see Stormy there.
  1026. >"Are you okay Anon? That was quite the tumble."
  1027. >Magic sparks around you, trying to get a grip as Cherry rushes towards you as well, before pushing you up with her head.
  1028. >"And this is why colts should be off the battlefield," she says with a huff.
  1029. >All around, the remaining Karrakoth begin to flee at the death of the alpha, a few brave or foolhardy ones staying briefly but being repelled by Shining Armor and Brass.
  1030. >Before too long, the lot of you are returning to camp, dirty and tired but overall in good spirits.
  1031. >The job is done, Equestria is safe, and you don't have to worry about these mares tripping over themselves to suck your proverbial dick.
  1032. >At least, for the most part.
  1033. >Back at camp, everyone almost immediately grabs water and food before flopping down by their tent.
  1034. >Before he can get settled, you lay a hand on Shining's shoulder and give him a smile.
  1035. "Thanks for the help back there. I would not be in good shape if you hadn't stopped that attack."
  1036. >His white fur does nothing to hide the blush that sprouts under it as he glances away a bit.
  1037. >"It was nothing. Shield spells have always been my best ones. I mean, they are my cutie mark after all."
  1038. >"That may be true, but it doesn't change the fact you went above your duties, Shining Armor," Brass says, before downing a mouthful of water.
  1039. >He flinches a bit until she continues, "But you did so to save another, and that is our duty as Royal guards."
  1040. >From her seated position, she gives him a salute, and after looking to eachother, Stormy and Cherry do as well.
  1041. >The blush returns and grows, before he hastily not quite dives into his tent.
  1042. >Rising from her spot, Brass walks over to Anna before saying, "Thank you for all your help with this, and you as well," she adds at the end, turning to you.
  1043. >"Without you both, there is no way we, or the Equestrian forces could have dealt with this without casualties."
  1044. "Well, we still have to get you all back home first," you say, before looking over at Anna, "But first, I think we need a clean up hun, you're a bit dirty."
  1045. >She rolls her eyes and lets you push to the water barrel.
  1046. ~~~
  1047. >The train rattles along, your armour clinking faintly in tune as you and your three cabinmates watch the scenery outside change.
  1048. >"Hey, Uh, Shining, I don't think I ever said thanks for helping back with those worm things," Cherry says, glancing in your direction, but unable to meet your eyes, "So, uh, thanks."
  1049. "It's not a problem," you reply with a smile, "After all, it is our job to help those in trouble."
  1050. >Turning away, you look back outside, enjoying the swiftly returning familiar terrain.
  1051. >The silence that fills the train car is familiar, but at the same time, much lighter.
  1052. >"So, you all interested in going to the bar when we get back? I know I could use a drink," Stormy says, stretching out her wings.
  1053. >The others voice their agreement, but you shake your head.
  1054. "Sorry, but I have a nice mare waiting for me when I get back. You'll have to enjoy yourselves without me."
  1055. >After your curt dismissal, the car sinks into silence again, and this time, it remains, all the way to Canterlot.
  1056. >Donning your armour before the train arrives, you step off, chest held high, a new colt.
  1058. The end.
  1061. Epilogue:
  1062. >Sitting on your cushion, you float over the calendar for the seventh time today.
  1063. >And for the seventh time, you are assured that today is the day he gets back.
  1064. >Outside the door, heavy steps approach, but they are not the ones of your aunts, who's rooms flank your shared suite.
  1065. >No, they are the tired steps of your coltfriend.
  1066. >Marely instinct tries to force you to the door, to open it for him and carry him inside like the prince he will be eventually, but this is his moment.
  1067. >He survived the entire trial time, he should be able to make it here himself.
  1068. >But how much has he changed?
  1069. >You've heard of fresh faced fillies going on this test and coming back grizzled mares with teats of steel.
  1070. >There's some brief fumbling at the door before it opens and he walks in, bags just shy of dragging on the ground.
  1071. >"I'm back, Cadey, you would not believe the two weeks I've been through," he says, dropping his stuff and making a tired rush over to you.
  1072. >His normally well kept mane is untidy, his coat has some grease and grime in it, and his face bears the tiredness of more than two weeks, it seems.
  1073. >Armor hits the floor with gentle clangs, and as soon as he reaches the couch, he flips himself onto it, belly up.
  1074. >"Cadey, honey, could you book a spa appointment for me? I don't thing I can last much longer without one.
  1075. "Of course, the usual place?" you ask, rising from your mare chair.
  1076. >"Please."
  1077. >As you head to go prepare a letter, you hear him say to himself, "Boy, the colts at the salon are going to love this story."
  1078. >You can feel yourself smiling.
  1079. >Perhaps he hasn't really changed at all.
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