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Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of Halogaland

Ar-Adunakhor Mar 6th, 2018 (edited) 2,605 Never
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  1. You are Anon Y mous, Hierarch of the Kingdom. And you are dying.
  2. You went out the only way befitting a warrior of your Order - cutting a bloody trail among the forces of the enemy besieging the citadel. So great was your fury, so great was your valor, that the entire enemy line faltered, if only for a moment. And yet the time you bought with your charge was enough for your brother-in-arms to shore up the breach in the walls, denying the enemy his prize
  3. By Týr's will, no heathen shall ever set foot where Irpa herself walked - no blasphemous Northerner shall ever walk where Haakon Sigurdsson himself sat and ruled.
  4.  
  5. They shall sing song about you, Anon Y Mous, for in your last moments before his bodyguard brought down, you made sure that the self-proclaimed "Ruler of the North" would never live to his claim become reality - your warhammer made sure of that.
  6.  
  7. As the spears pierce you and your vision fades, the dark void greets you like an old friend, and left alone with only your thoughts for company, you dream..you dream of the green field of Halogaland in the summer and of the shining mountains of ice in the far north; you dream of glory, of when you joined the Order as a child, of the adventures you dreamt of living..
  8.  
  9. More than anything else, you dream of the single stone upon which you built your life - your faith.
  10.  
  11. You were a deeply religious man, Anon of Halogaland. You lived and died by this single commandment - "Honor the Gods with every action you take"; you left your home and family behind to serve your king and your patron god, Týr. And yet, you renounced it all for love in your last days - you were strong, yet you were only a man. When you went to die, your final thoughts were not for the gods that you swore you'd always follow and honor, but for your love and the family you'd raise together after the war.
  12.  
  13. "Love is the most powerful force known to mankind" - said the High Priest of Tronder in the South. While once upon a time you'd have laughed at his words, now you'd agree with him, even considering where where this path has led you.
  14.  
  15. You are an oath-breaker in the eyes of the gods, whose only destiny is the eternal dark void.
  16.  
  17. And yet the destiny laid in front of you does not scare you - you have no regrets. You are no judge of souls, but did you not live and die according to their commandments? Wasn't Freyja herself that told mankind to honor her by raising families? Wasn't Týr himself who told mankind to honor him by defending their loves ones?
  18.  
  19. "Our gods are not merciful Anon, but they are not without honor" said brother Harald once during your period as a novice..you would disagree with him right now. "But what about justice?" you asked him - "Justice in the eyes of the gods is what you make of it Anon; you are your own judge in the end - they are only the executioner of your own judgment".
  20.  
  21. You shall now see if what the Order taught you is true, for you have no regrets..and no desire to join your forefathers as of yet. You died a hero to your people, Anon Y Mous, and a loyal servant to Týr, your patron God and master.
  22.  
  23. You wish to be given a second chance.
  24.  
  25. A chance to redo it all, to relive the glory of battle, to taste the sweetness of victory and the bitter taste of defeat. More than anything else, you wish to fall in love once again..if the gods are as honorable as brother Harald said, they will grant you your wish.
  26.  
  27. After what could have been a minute, or an eternity, you see a constellation in the shape of Týr's spear disappear in the night sky as the sun breaks dawn - as you ask yourself how is that possible, you fall on your knees and cry, for the Gods granted your wish - you cry, watching the dawn of a new day.
  28.  
  29. You do not hear the scream of fear and surprise originating from behind you, nor do you turn to see the pink tail disappearing in the bushes...
  30.  
  31. ----------------------------------------------
  32.  
  33. "Please reconsider your Highness! If there is a monster in the woods, it would be advisable to call upon reinforcement from the capital before trying to apprehend it"
  34.  
  35. You are a very annoyed Princess Twilight. Why are you annoyed? Because that silly stallion that is the liason between you and the Ponyville Royal Guard detachment has been annoying you for the last half an hour.
  36.  
  37. About what? About MANY things! How you should totally go on a date with him (even though he rejected you in front of all his friends when you were still a simple librarian..), how you should allocate more funds to the local guard barracks (apparently it is considered "normal" by stallion guards to have a warm swimming pool in the barracks..why do they join the guard again?) etc etc.
  38.  
  39. And now this! Fluttershy reported seeing a "strange ape-like creature" in the Everfree Forest, and the colt is too scared to do his job! ..mom always said that the only place a colt should be are the kitchen and the bedroom. While you disagreed with her, you are currently re-considering her wisdom.
  40.  
  41. "For the last time, Spearhead, no. We are NOT going to call upon the entire garrison of the capital for a simple search in the Everfree and this is final!" - "But.." "This is FINAL, Spearhead. Go to your post, NOW". You watch the angry colt going back to his post - to spread rumors about how much of a bad employer you are for ignoring your employees safety for sure (as granny said, Tartarus hath no fury like a scorned colt) - and remember that you still have to call the others to meeting.
  42.  
  43. "Spiiike!" - call and it shall be done, at least when it comes to your purple assistant! With his head poking from the hallway, he asks: - "Everything alright Twilight?" - "Everything is fine Spike, but I need you to run an errand for me: go fetch the girls, I fear we might need to use the Elements" - "..should I be worried for you Twi?"
  44.  
  45. Aawww! your little dragon tries to act all protective of you even though he is a member of the gentler sex! So cute!
  46.  
  47. "Don't worry Spike; we only need to make a quick sweep of the border of the Everfree to check on a report" - "oh ok then - I'll go right now!" aaand he's gone. Seriously how do colts manage to move so fast when they want? You might not be as athletic as Rainbow Dash (it's not fat! It's winter fur!), but you doubt even she could match a colt running once he'd heard of a discount at the local spa...
  48.  
  49. ----------------------------------------------
  50.  
  51. You have been walking for hours in this damned forest where you woke up - the trees seem to never end! Yet, you dare not to stop - you have already made the acquaintance of the local fauna. You are no learned man, hence you do not know where in the nine worlds the gods put you, but you really doubt that the giant Manticora you just met is native of Halogaland or Midgard.
  52.  
  53. The good news is that your physical prowess is the same as always - the runes engraved in your skin shining brightly is the bad one.
  54.  
  55. Aldhir, the rune-shield, has been shining the brightest you have seen it do in years, since the time of your glorious campaign against the ice-witches of the north in fact. Since you made sure to check for the presence of other human beings around the place you woke up, this must mean that the magic is in the air itself - this is not good.
  56.  
  57. Humans do not possess the power of magic - it's a power that belongs to demons, the giants and the gods, not mankind. To mankind the Aesir gifted the 9 runes of power, holy symbols to bind the wild magic of the other races and turn it against them.
  58.  
  59. You lived in a dangerous world Anon; magic was strong in the blood of the enemies of your Kingdom and so, as a gothi, a warrior priest, you had them engraved in your own skin. While this was part of the course for all aspiring gothi in the Kingdom, you were particular - you did not possess the physical prowess of the others, nor their strength. What you possessed was a natural talent to manipulate the runes to obtain the effect you wanted - your faith in the gods made you strong, your willpower gave you the tools to bend the world.
  60.  
  61. Your favorite tool has not failed you yet - you have been sensing the presence of beings in the direction you are going. A scream off to the side catches your attention, and you notice that you are, indeed, almost out of the woods and a small village lies off in the distance; yet, a strange creature that resembles a small horse lies in front of you, almost as if your sight scared it.
  62.  
  63. You were never formally instructed in the care of horses - gothi fight on foot, to honor the example set forth by the Aesir themselves - but even you recognize that it is not, in fact, a true horse - its eyes are too large and its mane is too colorful, to begin with. On top of that, even someone as untrained as you are can recognize the signs of terrors on its face..
  64.  
  65. Kneeling down to examine the strange animal, you perceive something flying in the air and dodge to the side - looking back, you recognize a  javelin, whose manufacture escapes you; before you spend more than a second examining the strange creature and the javelin now embedded in the soil, another one of these creatures jumps out of a nearby bush, this one garbed in golden armor.
  66.  
  67. "Get away from her, monster!" it screams. By whatever sorcery this creature is employing, you can understand it, as well as understanding a simple fact of life - no matter where you are, you are a gothi - you gave your life to your god, and it seems that he is not yet done testing your resolve to fight in his name..
  68.  
  69. ----------------------------------------------
  70.  
  71. You are Quick Shot, member of the Royal Guard detachment stationed in Ponyville. Your entire team were sent out by sergeant Spearhead after a distressed parent reported the disappearance of his foal - He might have cried and screamed for help (according to his own rendition of what happened), but you are SURE you saw that stallion gossip with his friends at the park, totally ignoring his foal the other day. It is thus no surprise to you that sooner or later the little foal would disappear while her stupid parent gossiped - you are surprised he even noticed his child disappeared!
  72.  
  73. Still, it seems you found both the foal and the creature that the princess' friend claimed to have seen roaming in the Everfree. You never liked her. Too colty for your tastes - you are a mare of the Guard! Discipline is your bread and personal courage your butter! Having said that...even if you originally doubted the colty mare claim - come on, she is afraid of her own shadow! It MUST have been a strangely-shaped tree what scared her!, it's hard to argue now that you have said creature in front of you.
  74.  
  75. It is BIG! Far larger and taller than even you when you wear full armor! You are not sure, but you bet it'd give a run even to the Princesses in the height department! Of course this is neither here nor there - you have to save the foal before the monster harms it and bring it to the dungeon to allow the Princess to decide what to do with it .
  76.  
  77. Actually..thinking about it, you wouldn't be surprised if IT was the cause of the foal disappearance! After all, you DID find it near the foal in the forest..
  78.  
  79. "Get away from her, monster!" you yell, having already thrown your first javelin
  80. ----------------------------------------------
  81. You close your eyes and the world goes dark, until it is not dark anymore - "Sizel Na Uruz" you think while holding the silver sigil of your god in your left hand, and the darkness behind your eyes lights up with blue flames. Sizel, the Rune of Vision, burns the location of your enemies in your mind - a minor Rune, yet as holy as all the other gifts of the Gods, to be called upon in times of need.
  82. ----------------------------------------------
  83. Luckily for you the creature seems to have stopped moving for the moment - time to call reinforcements!
  84. "We have found the foal ma'am, but there might be a problem; the creature is here" - a simple telepathic message is sent and you quickly receive a reply from your squad commander - "I see you Quick Shot - keep it distracted! We are moving in position!" it's the short reply.
  85.  
  86. You look around yourself and truth to be told, you can easily spot your squad members stealthily moving toward the target.."So, what exactly are you by the way?" you ask it - you only need to keep it distracted a little more and all of this will be over and you can go back to the barracks to relax
  87. ----------------------------------------------
  88. Two behind you, one in the air, two more in the trees to your right, the one in front of you and the one that threw the spear at you.
  89. Seven creatures in the area, six which seem to pose a credible threat and one that they seem to be protecting.
  90. Keeping your eyes closed, you move toward the downed horse...just to quickly dodge to the left as one of the two creatures behind you jumps forward to block your movement.
  91.  
  92. The Gods did not see fit gifting you with a body as strong as the bear, nor with the speed of the stag - what they gave you, were the reflexes of the wolf. You are a predator, your warhammer your fangs - the equine creature never saw your weapon move toward its path, hitting it squarely on the side
  93. ----------------------------------------------
  94. "Shit! It hit Aura! Converge on it - do not let it escape!"
  95. You are a very pissed off Aqua Shadow. You just saw the Minotaur-like creature (mino-ape?) hit your soldier with what looks like a heavy mallet. That seals it - you were gonna try to bring it in unharmed, but NOBODY messes with your squad
  96. ----------------------------------------------
  97. "They are sloppy" you think while dodging to the side once more to avoid another javelin from the creature in front of you.
  98. Yet, numbers do make up for their sloppiness - you took one out of commission, but are yet outnumbered 5 to 1.
  99.  
  100. They taught you to fight in light armor since the tender age of 8, passing to heavy armor once you passed to the next rank as an Initiate at 14 - you do not tire easily. Even then, you are fighting enemies that operate as a team, two of which seem to be airborne - you have experience fighting airborne enemies and it can turn ugly very quickly if they are not taken care of; they will eventually tire you out, and then you will be at their mercy...unless you manage to end this quickly.
  101.  
  102. "Ægishjálmur!"
  103. ----------------------------------------------
  104. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
  105. Run.
  106. Do.Not.Think.
  107. Just Run
  108. You are specialist Quick Shot, and you have never been more terrified in your life. The creature not only took out one of your squad-mates in a single hit, avoided javelin after javelin, but has now transformed in your worst nightmare - A giant spider. You are severely arachnophobe.
  109.  
  110. You start flying toward Ponyville, seeing the other members of your team do the same
  111. ----------------------------------------------
  112. "A Shapeshifter!" is the last coherent thought you had before you grabbed the tiny foal and started running for your life.
  113.  
  114. You might be a veteran of the Guard, a squad leader, but even you have a breaking point - Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes. Not only it is agile enough to avoid being hit multiple time by the javelins thrown by Quick Shot - it is also a shapeshifter! As soon as you saw it transform into a giant snake, you started running - your instinct being the only thing that made you snatch the foal.
  115.  
  116. ----------------------------------------------
  117.  
  118. As soon as the creatures that attacked you vacated the area, you stop the recall of the Rune of Terror - Ægishjálmur, gift of Odin to mankind in its hour of need.
  119.  
  120. "The Gods respect strength" was a mantra often repeated in the ranks of the Initiates - a common saying to push the youngling to their limits in their efforts to impress their elders and their patron gods. Once, in your youth, you doubted the truth of said mantra.
  121.  
  122. Until you experienced yourself the terror-inducing effects of Ægishjálmur, and learnt its history: Odin himself gifted the rune to warriors fighting in his name against the godless hordes of the Far North - it is said that the valor of those soldier impressed even the Great Lord. Outnumbered 10 to 1, they made their last stand, decided to make the enemy pay dearly for each and every meter they gained. It would have been a massacre..if the Father of the Vanir had not intervened. "Ægishjálmur!" he burned the knowledge of this rune in the minds of the soldier..as well as on their skins. "Ægishjálmur!" they screamed, and the massacre began. The massacre of the heathens, that's it.
  123.  
  124. You approach the downed equine - for this is what it resembles, and this is what you will define it as - and quickly work to tie its legs and wings. As terrified as it is, it's easy work that takes little time, letting you pick it up on your shoulders, before you start heading back the way you came.
  125.  
  126. Once arrived at the cave you chose as your temporary adobe, you put down your captive and sit on a nearby rock to think. It is clear that you are NOT anywhere you are familiar with - such creatures have no place in Midgard. It is also crystal clear that you are in dire need of information...lucky you, that you found a willing informant and took it with you.
  127.  
  128. Everything reminds you of the home you left behind, yet this land is deeply different from your native land. this and a thousand similar thoughts go through your mind as you observe your captive - A pegasi the priests of the crucified god would call it. At the court of the Jarl they spoke of a land far to the south of Nidaros where such creatures lived.
  129.  
  130. While this gives you hope you might one day return home, the nature itself of your captive gives you doubt: as soon as you touched it Aldhir reacted by shining more brightly. It radiates magic, the poison of Jotunheim and the weapon of your land's enemies - if you were in Halogaland, this creature would be already dead..but you are not in Halogaland anymore and you need information.
  131.  
  132. "You can stop faking to be asleep, creature" you say with certainty in your voice "We have much to discuss".
  133. ----------------------------------------------
  134. You are Aura Breeze, Scout of the IV Squad of the Ponyville Guard Detachment, and you are a very, very unlucky mare.
  135.  
  136. First you got dumped in this damned town, where every other day a monster shows up; then you discovered that your CO's CO...is your ex.
  137. Pfffff if only. You wish...the detachment is all female. Mom always told you to never enter the guard.."a taco party" she described it when you were older. Oh Celestia if she was right - the few colts in the guard that you have seen have all been either eye-candy, or bitchy officers - what does a mare have to do to get some??
  138.  
  139. Nice things do not happen to you. Just couple weeks after you got assigned here, a nice stallion caught your eye; last month you finally tried to hit on that nice big stallion..just to discover too late that it was the brother of one of the Elements. Next thing you know, you have a black eye (thanks to that stupid farm mare) and are facing extra cleaning duties as disciplinary measure for "being undisciplined", brought up by that fatherbucker of the sergeant. WHAT! You just talked to the shy stallion and nothing else..in front of everybody else to boot! Plus it was his stupid sister that started the brawl, not you!
  140.  
  141. Thank Celestia, that got cleared up pretty quickly: seems the sergeant is one of them "stallionists" and the Princess knows to take with a grain of salt whatever he brings to her attention. Ah! You show him, sister!
  142.  
  143. Still, things did not go much better after that. You just get your first call to action in MONTHS and what happens? You get downed by a strange Minotaur with a single hit.
  144.  
  145. Yep, one hit. Head on.
  146.  
  147. You wouldn't be surprised to discover that you are the new laughing stock of the barracks when you report back...the thought that you might NOT report back gives you the chills and makes you shiver.
  148.  
  149. "You can stop faking to be asleep, creature"
  150.  
  151. IT saw you move. Oh well, the gig is up..wait, its voice sounds strangely alluring.."What do you wanna do with me you monster?!", you would like to say loudly to its face, hence why you are trying to turn around to look your captor in the eyes - you manage to do so just as it starts to speak once more..and you notice that your captor is, indeed, a colt.
  152. ----------------------------------------------
  153. "What are you, creature?" you ask her with caution in mind. It would not be the first time you fought creatures that could mesmerize and capture a man with naught but their voice and beauty.
  154.  
  155. "Answer me" you repeat, keeping a hand on your warhammer - while you possess a limited set of runes inscribed on your skin, a gothi's weapon is as much part of him as his own arm; this amplifies the protection provided by Aldhir.
  156.  
  157. "Hello there, hot stuff" is the unexpected reply.
  158. ----------------------------------------------
  159. You are once more Aura Breeze, and while this day started like shit, it might just turn out to be your lucky day - you went out searching for a monster..and got captured like a rookie; on the bright side, you just found out that the mysterious monster is not a "it", but a "he"!
  160.  
  161. ..not that this changes anything; you still got to free yourself and capture him, even if he's a colt! And you will do your duty, as the proud soldier of Equestria that you are!
  162.  
  163. First things first! Gotta show this colt who he is dealing with!
  164. "Hello there, hot stuff"
  165. ...Celestia, smite me now.
  166. ----------------------------------------------
  167. It seems your hit was stronger that you thought - your captive is speaking nonsense. You are fairly sure you hit it on the barrel and not on the head - could you have so grossly missed your target? It might be possible - while you commitment to the path you chose to thread is as strong as it was the day you joined the Order ranks, if not stronger, you are far older.
  168.  
  169. "Can you understand me, creature?" you ask it once more.
  170. "Stop calling me that, I have a name you know?!" it replied loudly. You sincerely doubt it has understood its condition, given its tone and its previous comment.
  171.  
  172. "I think you do not understand the situation you are currently in, so let me make things clear. You are my captive. I need information and you will give them to me. Now - What.Are.You."
  173. ----------------------------------------------
  174. Is he serious? Has he never seen a pony before? Taking your head out of the gutter for a second, you actually take note of his armor and weapon - clearly of foreign manufacture.
  175.  
  176. It could be that it has, indeed, never seen a pony before...or that he's just faking. Better to try and gather some information about him while you plan how your glorious escape! And it WILL be glorious! All the other mares at the barracks will beg to shake your hoof after you bring him back to que..
  177.  
  178. "Answer me!" - he screamed in your face - it seems you got lost in your own little world once more..
  179. "I'm a pony, isn't it obvious?!"
  180. "Lies. No horse or pony can speak or fly. Even the Pegasi of the far South can't talk. So, what are you?"
  181. "I'm a pony, I told you! Aura Breeze, of the IV squad of the Ponyville Detachment - the team that you assaulted in the forest!"
  182. ----------------------------------------------
  183. You are Anon Y Mous, and while you keep interrogating your captive, you feel your blood run cold. If it is not lying, you are indeed very far from home, gothi of Halogaland.
  184.  
  185. How did that old saying go? "The Gods will grant your wish, just to see you jump from the frying pan in to the hot flame"?  You start thinking it is true – and in the back of your mind you hear a distant laughter at your thought...
  186. "I simply defended myself. Another creature like you threw javelins at me, or would you deny that too like you are lying about your race?"
  187. "..."
  188.  
  189. That seems to have shut it up for the moment. Good. You have a lot to think about - if you are indeed stranded in a foreign land, stranger among strangers, you need to plan your course of action.
  190.  
  191. The full moon will be visible in the sky - the great Máni shall shine brightly in the sky tonight, as his sister Sól shines by day. You have much to plan for, old gothi - you are alone in a foreign land, with only the Gods to guide you. Compounding your problems is what your captive said.."it" said to be part of a military unit if you understood it correctly. This means more potential enemies to account for.
  192.  
  193. Yes, you have indeed much to think about...
  194.  
  195. ----------------------------------------------
  196.  
  197. Meanwhile, at the castle..
  198.  
  199. "What do you mean you LOST your squad member?!"
  200.  
  201. You are Aqua Shadow, leader of the IV Squad and you wish you weren't the squad leader right now. Dealing with sergeant Spearhead is always such a great joy! Serving under this bucking colt is such an honor! I mean, it's not like he was promoted simply due to quotas and being a hot piece of eye-candy, right?!
  202.  
  203. You want SO MUCH to just tell him what you (and the entire detachment as far as you know..) think of him!
  204. But. It would cost you your commission; you LIVED for the Guard, and frankly it would be hard to re-integrate in civil society a a veteran...this on top of the current situation, of course! Aura is still MIA, presumed to have been taken prisoner by that strange creature that you faced at the edge of the Everfree.
  205.  
  206. At least, that's what you hope - that said creature is rational (as it seemed to be from its use of tactics and weaponry) and that Aura is safe and sound.
  207.  
  208. You already made your report to the Sergeant and had already reported to the Princess herself, hence your irritation at being chewed out by this stupid colt when the Princess herself didn't do so!..you kinda deserved it though; the Guard is what protect Equestrian citizens everywhere from danger, be it mundane or magic in nature - that you faced unknown magic is not an excuse...especially when you have a unicorn in your unit.
  209.  
  210. You have to get your rookie back.
  211.  
  212. ----------------------------------------------
  213.  
  214. You are Twlight Sparkle, Princess of Stress of Ponyville.
  215.  
  216. Why are you so stressed? Because according to the report delivered by one of the squads assigned to the search of the creature in the Everfree, said creature captured a member of their team. Moreover, according to the same report, the engagement lasted less than a minute and it concluded with a retreat on part of the team members, who abandoned their comrade in the hands of the creature itself.
  217.  
  218. This is a disaster.
  219.  
  220. Princess Celestia is SO gonna have your ass for this!
  221.  
  222. The only good sign is that the private that has been captured - Aura Breeze, according to the report of her Squad leader - is still alive. You were able to ascertain this at least. Sadly, you didn't manage to locate the creature itself - it's almost as if something is causing "noise" in the ether, rendering it almost impossible to discern its aura.
  223.  
  224. It doesn't matter though - what matters is that you might still be able to savage this situation!
  225.  
  226. The private is alive, and you might be able to reason with it: according to the report it made use of manufactured weaponry and armor, hence it must be capable of rational thought. If it is capable of rational thought, you can try to talk to it...who are you kidding - you are going back to kindergarten for this.
  227.  
  228. It burns to admit it, but you must report back to Princess Celestia about this whole situation. The creature might not be reasonable in the end and while you and your friends have the Elements if things got out of hand, extra help never hurts. The kind of help your old teacher would be more than able to provide.
  229.  
  230. "Spike! Come here, I have a letter to send!"
  231.  
  232. As you take a piece of paper to write the letter, you do not notice the small symbol that appeared at the bottom of it – even if you did, you probably wouldn't be able to understand its meaning. “<”, Kaunaz, the Rune of Loki..
  233.  
  234. ----------------------------------------------
  235.  
  236. What is this place?
  237.  
  238. You have lived for centuries, braved the loneliness of the Moon itself, yet you can't make sense of everything that you see. A palace of wood and gold; a battlefield full of corpses; a silver medallion in the shape of a crow - the laughter of a Goddess, the pride of a Father.
  239.  
  240. You are Princess Luna, and you are sure you have found the dreamscape of the strange creature Twilight Sparkle spoke about in her last message to your sister.
  241.  
  242. How do you know this? Simple - every dream has a unique texture to it, so to speak. Your Sister's dreams are light, like clouds in a day of summer - and yet feel heavy of too many memories; the dreams of young Spike are innocent and pure, like drinking at a river's spring.
  243.  
  244. But this creature? Its dreams remind you of a bygone age, of when Equestria was young and the tribes united on a war foot to defend your fledgling nation from aggressors. It dreams of glory in battle, of honors gained by defending its home..it dreams of home.
  245.  
  246. You have studied its dreams for the past nights and you have reached a conclusion: whatever this creature is, whoever it is, it must be brought to Canterlot.
  247.  
  248. Why? Because of many reasons - it is not a mindless animal, yet it is not an harmonious being that can be left to its own devices either - your duty is to your country and the ponies that live in it. For theirs and its own good, it must be brought in front of you and your sister, so that it might be examined and it can be decided whether it is a danger to be neutralized..or a lost soul, like you once were.
  249.  
  250. You won't remember it by the time you'll wake up, but while you are dreamwalking behind its back, jumping from a dream to the other, a single element stood out from the ever changing background: a lone crow, with a single eye, observing your every movement
  251.  
  252. ----------------------------------------------
  253.  
  254. Your dreams are troubled tonight, as they have been for the last few days; a shadow is always following you whenever you dream, disturbing your rest. You do not know what it is, nor do you care - the Gods protect the faithful.
  255.  
  256. This was another mantra taught to you in your youth - at the time you doubted it, like you doubted the existence of the Gods themselves. As you aged, you took stock of their presence - in the forms of the clouds, behind the rainbow, in the soft wind blowing in your face as you sit by the fire with your captive.
  257. "So, you claim to be a pony of Equestria, whose name is Aura Breeze"
  258. "This is the tenth time I repeat the same story!" it replies from its position "I see you that you don't believe me, you know? I am not stupid" it continues
  259. "I never said yo.."
  260. "I know what you are thinking" - it interrupts you - "I am just a dumb guard for letting my guard down and letting a COLT bring me down"
  261. "As I was saying, I.."
  262. "..Well I'll let you know that I am not a simple rookie! I scored highest in terms of stamina at the Guard Academy and I took part in over 3000 border raids on bovine grazing, I have over 100."
  263. "Silence!"
  264. "..." - good, that seems to have shut it up for the moment.
  265. "Let's start over - why did you attack me?"
  266. "..we thought you were gonna hurt that foal"
  267. "You mean the little horse I found at the edge of the forest?"
  268. "yes.."
  269. "..you know that I just happened to find it while I was moving toward the edge of the forest, right?"
  270. "..." - it seems that pushing the hard fact it its face has shut it up once more - "..I'm sorry" - or maybe not.
  271. "Mmh?"
  272. "..I know I seem dumb, but I understand how it must look from your point of view if things went how you say - you have never seen one of us ponies before, and the first thing we do is attack you"
  273. "..."
  274. You are momentarily at a loss for words - while you expected to have to extract the truth from your prisoner by whatever mean was necessary, an apology from an enemy was not what you expected.
  275. "Why are you apologizing?"
  276. "Uh? But didn't you just say we attacked you without reason?"
  277. "Let's say for a second that I believe your story - you lack discipline, but you acted to protect a life. There is no shame in that".
  278. Silence reigns for a few minutes, interrupted only by the crackling of the fire; you could stay like this forever - warmth from a roaring fire, a gentle breeze in the last evenings of summer..
  279. "..what are you?" your captive asks after a while, interrupting the silence.
  280. "I'm a human"
  281. "I've never seen anything like you before. I thought you were a Minotaur under that armor" it says, looking you over with its big eyes
  282. "And I've never seen a horse like you. I guess that makes us even"
  283. "I'm a pony, I told you!" - by the All-Father, it's so easy to rile this creature up - "I'll have you know that..why are you laughing?!"
  284.  
  285. You can't help it. The facial expressions it makes would not be replicable by any human being you know - and yet they seem to truly come natural to it.
  286.  
  287. Even in your situation, you laugh - let the night be filled with laughter, as Gefjun wished to be, and not with the noises of pain.
  288. Laughter to ward evil away, laughter to bring joy even to your aged heart..laughter to lighten the mood.
  289.  
  290. "This entire situation is beyond absurd, but so be it - I am Anon Y Mous, of the Golden Order of Halogaland, Aura Breeze, Pony private of Equestria" - the look it gives you is priceless, conveying perfectly the fact that it must think you just lost your mind. It couldn't be wronger - you just made up your mind: so be it.
  291.  
  292. Yes, so be it. In the dark void of death you found your answer - the Gods are real and they protect the faithful. If you sojourning in this strange land is their wish, so be it. You are a gothi of Halogaland, a warrior priest, and you shall obey your Gods will.
  293.  
  294. Power is nothing without purpose. This has always been one of the commandments you lived for.
  295. You served the Gods, whose great power was given purpose in their eternal fight.
  296. You served your King, whose power was given purpose in the vigil defense of your people.
  297. You served your people with all your willpower, strength and arcane knowledge - this gave you purpose.
  298. But now, alone in a foreign land, what is your purpose, priest of the Æsir?
  299. "So, what are gonna do to me?" the pony asks you
  300. "For now, I am going to ask you some questions. Depending on your answers, I will decide what to do with you"
  301. Its eyes open up even more than you thought possible - good, a fearful prisoner will talk much more easily than a strong-willed one.
  302. Not that you really think you'll need to bring to bear strong methods to extract the information you need from your captive - she has been extremely trusting so far, for a horse..pony, in her position.
  303. "Begin to tell me where we are, and about the local situation"
  304.  
  305. ----------------------------------------------
  306.  
  307. You are Aura Breeze, guard of Equestria, and even though you try to appear fierce to your captor, you are terrified.
  308.  
  309. Why? Because even though it has made no move to hurt you since it captured you, you know how these things go - the veterans at the barracks always told you about the savage barbarians of the South...tribes that made their MALES fight! Inconceivable!
  310.  
  311. Moreover, they said, a terrible fate would befell any prisoner these tribes took...they would tickle you until you were out of breath! And THEN...then they'd beat you up! With pillows none-the-less!...ok, re-thinking about what they told you (and that you just believed 100%..), MAYBE you are a bit gullible.
  312.  
  313. ...it's not your fault though! They are veteran mares! Of course you'd believe them!
  314.  
  315. Calming down, you manage to think that on one thing they might not have lied, at least - the warrior in front of you is indisputably male. "Begin to tell me where we are, and about the local situation" he asks - "What do you mean, where are we? We are in Equestria obviously! Home of the Two..Err, Three Princesses! Wait, does Princess Cadence count? Err.."
  316.  
  317. You were never very good at school. You always dreamed of flying out in the field and earn glory while defending Equestria from its enemies!
  318.  
  319. You are a soldier, not a scholar!
  320.  
  321. "Anyway! We are near Ponyville, where I was stationed, until you..strongly requested my presence" He smiled at your joke! Yes! You still got it, sis! Smooth as ice! ...Celestia end me - trying to flirt by joking with a potential enemy that captured you.
  322.  
  323. "And what makes this Ponyville, that it has a detachment of your military in it?" he ask. While you think for a moment whether you should reveal why you are stationed in Ponyville, it's not like anybody..except the entire world, that's it, knows that Ponyville is home to Princess Twilight and the Elements of harmony.
  324.  
  325. "Weeell...I am part of a local detachment of the Royal Guard of Equestria - we defend the citizens of Ponyville and.."
  326. "Do not lie to me" he replies with a much colder tone than a second ago.
  327.  
  328. Buck.
  329.  
  330. ----------------------------------------------
  331.  
  332. You are Anon Y Mous, and it seems that your prisoner needs some more..convincing, in order to tell you the truth. It is all for its own good in the end - you do not really want to have to hurt it: its story does sound true, and it has been pleasant company so far.
  333.  
  334. Moreover, if you are stranded in this land, it might be a good idea to start seeking allies.
  335.  
  336. While going in the lion's den might just be the end for you, it is not like you have many options: from what you captive told you the other night and today, you are a sitting duck out here. You are in the literal middle of their Kingdom, a stone throw from the capital..and you are considered a dangerous creature apparently.
  337.  
  338. It is only a question of time before they will send someone that you won't be able to defeat.
  339.  
  340. Better to present yourself and solve the situation by clearing any mistake made during your...introduction to the guards of this nation, than to be taken to their dungeons in chain. But to do that, you need two things: information, and an ally.
  341. The first is easy to obtain, the second..you might need to convince your "guest" to go along with your idea.
  342.  
  343. ----------------------------------------------
  344.  
  345. "You are free" he says and the ropes holding your legs fall apart
  346.  
  347. "Uh? What do you mean?" ..seriously, is that all you could come up with at being freed? Celestia above, you might as well bury yourself. "You are free to go, Aura Breeze. From what you told me there has been a gigantic mistake - you and your comrades thought I was going to hurt that child..foal, while i thought you were attacking me for no reason"
  348.  
  349. "Uh..yeah! That's exactly how it went!" - smooth as ice. "So I'd have a proposal for you, if you'd listen to me" he says, bending down to be at eye-level with you. Celestia, he's tall! You know what they say about the tall ones being "tall" in every part..Unf.
  350.  
  351. "Tell me - I'm all ears!"
  352.  
  353. "I am currently looking to rectify said mistake and I might need your help in doing that - would you, as a fellow soldier, be willing to help me out in clearing my name?" - as if he even has to ask! This is exactly like the stories you used to read when you were a foal! The protagonist, the strong and charming mare, has to help the stallion to remedy to a wrong done to him! ...Ok, this is nothing like the stories you used to read, starting from the fact that Anon Y Mous (what a strange name!) is not a stallion to begin with - but the similarities are there ok?! It's the thought that matters! Moreover, thinking more professionally, in helping him you are going to do your duty and bring him to the Princess - a win-win situation!
  354.  
  355. "Sure I'll help you!"
  356.  
  357. ----------------------------------------------
  358.  
  359. You are Aqua Shadow, and you are currently moving as fast as possible to the last place you saw the creature with Aura with the rest of your squad. Your team was given permission directly from the princess to re-deploy as soon as possible to solve the crisis.
  360.  
  361. Not that you are complaining, since that's exactly what you were going to ask her.
  362.  
  363. "Ok, squad! I want a quick sweep of the area - find me ANY trace left by the passage of the creature! Such a big being cannot have vanished!" Just as you finish speaking, you hear leaves rustling - turning your head, your shoulders lock up and you get ready to pounce. The creature you were looking for it's here.
  364.  
  365. ----------------------------------------------
  366.  
  367. "Twilight! Where are you?!" - you heard your purple assistant shout while mulling on the situation - he probably wanted some bits to go buy himself a snack - he might be a dragon, but he is still a colt..he's got such a sweet tooth that it rivals your friend Pinkie's! maybe you'll join in..you seriously need to distract yourself from the chaos that this situation is becoming.
  368.  
  369. "I'm coming Spike!"
  370.  
  371. A quick teleport spell, and you find yourself at his side..and eye to eye with one of your guard.
  372.  
  373. "Twlight there you are!" - says Spike, while the guard turns toward you and bows - "Princess, I am sorry to disturb you, but I am here to make report about the creature in the Everfree".
  374.  
  375. Not even the time for her to finish the last sentence and your stress is back. Great.
  376.  
  377. "Yes? Tell me everything, soldier" - "We have the creature, Ma'am!" she replies. "You mean you captured it?!" - you ask excitedly - "Not exactly..it came by its own free will to meet us at the edge of the forest ma'am" - she continues the report while tying to look serious and at attention.
  378.  
  379. "Why aren't you there then? A simple telepathic spell from your unit unicorn would have sufficed"
  380.  
  381. "Well, ma'am" - you notice she scratched her foreleg nervously -"My squad leader thought it would be wise to ask your presence if that was possible, or direct orders if that's inconven.." - is all she can say before you interrupt her - "Wait! What of the soldier it kidnapped? Is she alright??" - "Yes ma'am - private Aura Breeze was returned without any harm done to her" - you release a breath you were holding without even knowing it.
  382.  
  383. "Before we go there - what can you tell me of this creature?"
  384.  
  385. "Very little ma'am. It seemed on friendly terms with the private when I was sent here. Corporal Aqua Shadow chose to not engage due to its unknown capacities". Yeah, unknown capacities her plot - you read and re-read the report; let's not joke here, Shadow squad got their plots handed to them on a silver plate by this creature.
  386.  
  387. At least the young corporal has the common sense to avoid a repeat of the situation. Sorry Spike, but this will take precedence on that snack.
  388.  
  389. "Stand close soldier - we are going to teleport directly there. It's the fastest way".
  390. "Wait Twilight! What about.." - that is the last thing you hear Spike say, before the scenario changes in front of your eyes, becoming the familiar scene of the Everfree Forest..and there, sitting on a log by the fire surrounded by your guards, you find the root of all your recent problems - the strange creature that confronted your guard, sitting with who you assume is private Aura Breeze by its side.
  391.  
  392. ----------------------------------------------
  393.  
  394. You are an old man to play at war, Hierarch - not that this fact ever stopped you from partecipating in the usual brawl that younger, more hot-headed members of your Order started.
  395.  
  396. You have seen War, Anon Y Mous of Halogaland, and you have partecipated in it for the largest part of your life. You do not crave war, unlike many men serving the Order, but you understand that violence is a necessity of life. The world you lived in was a simple one - there are good people, and there are bad people looking to prey on the former.
  397.  
  398. At least, that's what you always told the children that you met along the way - you did not tell them of the death on the battlefield, of the blood and pain that comes from partecipating in the carnage.
  399.  
  400. "Violence is not the answer!" claimed some philosopher from the Far South. Bullshit you say - it's easy to claim that while living in a golden tower - you fought for the people of your kingdom and knew the reality of things.
  401.  
  402. Reality is that as long as there will be things worth defending - be that a loved one, your family, one's possessions or a title - there will be people seeking to take said things for themselves.
  403.  
  404. These and a thousand other thoughts danced in your head while you pretended to not take notice of the fear and anxiety these little horses were showing..except for your ex-captive, that's it. An intriguing little being, this pony - you captured her, dispersed her comrades, interrogated her, and yet she doesn't seem to harbor much fear of you.
  405.  
  406. This might be from the fact that you didn't hurt her while she was your captive, or simply from her being trusting - to tell the truth, you think it's a mix of both. Why is that? Because in the half an hour that you..kept company, to these creatures, you noticed how the tiniest shift in one's mood would influence the others. They are not a hive mind from what you can see. A very emphatetic race, maybe?
  407. Whichever the case, the entire situation went smoothly in your opinion: while at first they seemed very hostile, your ex-captive managed to smooth things over very quickly by explaining how everything that happened had been a giant, big mistake.
  408.  
  409. Well...maybe that was not 100% true, but close enough to the truth that what looked like the leader of the small team stopped looking at you like she wanted your guts after Aura explained that you hadn't, in fact, hurt her while she was your captive.
  410.  
  411. You sat down on a nearby rock, sensing the wary looks the small horses gave you while you were trying to start a small fire.
  412. "What are you doing, creature?" - on of them asked you, looking at you suspiciously
  413. "I don't know you, but I am beginning to feel cold. I'm starting a fire as you can see"
  414. "Mh-mh" it says, looking unconvinced -not that you blame it, you would be as suspicious of them if the roles were reversed.
  415. "Unlike you, I am not so lucky as to possess a warm fur to keep me warm"
  416.  
  417. While you could set the wood on fire with a quick snap of your fingers, the last thing you want to do is to make the situation any more tense that it already is - age taught you well how to deal with an enemy that outnumbered you: do not make them nervous or you might regret it.
  418.  
  419. Once you finally manage to make the small timber catch fire, you turn around and find yourself eye-to-eye with the pony your ex-captive called "Corporal Aqua", the apparent leader of this small squad.
  420.  
  421. "I do not trust you, creature" - it says - "But if what Aura says is true, I can see how all this situation came about from a mistake; a mistake that I am sure will not be repeated" - she says while shooting a nasty glare to a member of her team. You recognize that pony as the one that threw javelins at you the other day - to go as far as to say that the entire situation is its fault would be a mistake though: faced with an unknown force and outnumbered, you reacted with overwhelming force.
  422.  
  423. "That the situation has been smoothed over is enough for me, Corporal - I happened to find myself at a loss for directions; it was a coincidence that brought about our meeting".
  424.  
  425. "Might be, but I still need to take you in for questioning - orders are orders. I am sure you can understand from your armor" - it says, pointing at your chest piece.
  426.  
  427. "The fact that I willingly released your soldier, and that I willingly met you should show my good will, Corporal"
  428.  
  429. "It does speak well for you. Let's be frank, creature - you are an unknown, defeated my squad in combat and then kidnapped a member of said unit. While I can appreciate how it all come about from a misunderstanding, you have to try and see things from my points of view - I can't just let you go". She made a valid argument. Moreover if you truly want your plan to work you will need to at least be familiar with the local figures of authority.
  430.  
  431. Plan..that's too much of a word for what you have in mind, to tell the truth: you need to defuse the situation, gleaning any useful information in the meantime.
  432.  
  433. "Set yourself for a wait, creature - I am sending a messenger to ask the Princess orders" it says as you start sitting down on a fallen log nearby the fire.
  434.  
  435. "Name's Anon".
  436.  
  437. "Corporal Aqua Shadow" it says, moving back toward the rest of its squad, leaving you momentarily alone..until you hear the log slightly move and you see your ex-captive coming close to the fire.
  438.  
  439. "Mind if I join you? It's getting colder" she asks lying down on her belly by the fire "I don't mind the company, Aura - I don't bite" is your laconic reply - "You never know!" - she says, smiling - "Why are you still wearing the helmet? The Corporal gave the explicit order that no harm is to be done to you Anon"
  440.  
  441. It seems she started using that stupid nickname - people have shortened your name all your life. You got used to it, yet it still annoys you a bit that even in death that bit of your old life followed you.
  442.  
  443. "It might be so Aura, but I am not blind to the uneasiness that your comrades are showing due to my presence"
  444. "Uh? They are not show.." - she interrupts as soon as she takes a good look around herself - "..I see what you mean" - by the Gods, this horse is naive. "Can I ask you something, Anon?" - mulling over her request, you reply - "You can, so long as I get to ask you some questions too. Seems only fair no?"
  445.  
  446. "Hey! You asked me a lot of questions in the forest, while I didn't get to ask you anything!" - her behavior and naivete points at her young age - "It's only fair that I get to ask you now!"
  447.  
  448. "Ok, ok - ask"
  449.  
  450. "What are you?" - she asks - "No wait...I got that you are a human, ok? But what ARE you? You look like a fur-less Minotaur, yet I've never heard of "humans" before. Where do you come from?"
  451.  
  452. Ah, the crux of the issue. You knew that this question would come up if you went ahead with your idea of meeting the comrades of Aura head on. The problem? You have no idea how to respond.
  453.  
  454. This is not your world. This much was clear the first night you spent here - the night lights and constellations of this night sky are foreign to you - neither are you in a land of the Far South.  In your youth you traveled a lot to spread your faith, far and wide. Eventually, you stumbled down the mighty Tigris river to the Southern Ocean and crossed into the Far South following the merchant ship convoys. The stone-built walls of the Hamar, or Mogadishu as it is known to the Frankish merchants of the West, sits under strange skies and even stranger constellations. You spent years under that strange, unfamiliar night sky - yet you didn't recognize constellations of your native land, nor constellations from that far land in the night sky you saw the other night.
  455.  
  456. You are truly alone, Anon of Halogaland.
  457.  
  458. "Like I told you before Aura, I.."
  459.  
  460. You hear a strange sound come from the limits of the small camp formed by the guards; as you lift your gaze, lifting the pivoting visor at the same time, you see a newcomer - a strange pegasi with a horn.
  461.  
  462. "Princess Twilight!" calls out your companion, bowing down.
  463.  
  464. It seems your wish to meet a figure of authority has been granted.
  465.  
  466. ----------------------------------------------
  467.  
  468. You are Princess Twilight Sparkle, and you were totally unprepared for what you see AND perceive.
  469.  
  470. While the creature seems to be sitting in a relaxed position to everybody bar you, you perceive the air itself moving away from its form. This is not natural - this CAN'T be natural. Even then, you have seen some unnatural stuff in the time you have lived in Ponyville - the resident God of Chaos being a prime example of not-judge-a-book-from-its-cover.
  471.  
  472. "Princess Twilight!" - turning around, you see the Corporal move toward you and bow - "Report, soldier - how are things coming along?"
  473. "Everything is fine for now ma'am" - she replies - "It..He, says that his name is Anon. According to what he told us, the entire situation might, in fact, just be a giant misunderstanding"
  474.  
  475. "What do you mean, a misunderstanding? Did it not kidnap one of you subordinates? What do you mean with "he"? It's a colt?"
  476. "Yes ma'am..I'm ashamed to admit it, but the story he told us checks out with the version of the facts we remember and with what private Aura said" - she started scratching her foreleg, a common nervous tick among ponies, you notice
  477. "And..?"
  478. "It seems that he reacted to us attacking it first - I am truly ashamed of it Princess, but it seems Specialist Quick Shot attacked first, throwing javelins at him, with the intent of protecting a foal"
  479. "This was not included in the report Corporal - why?"
  480. "Well ma'am..because I was not aware of it, to be honest with you. Specialist Quick Shot admitted to it after being confronted with said fact by the creature"
  481. "I see..thank you for your honesty Corporal. Anything else worthy of note about him, before I approach?"
  482. "Nothing of note from my side ma'am - we kept an eye and listened to the conversation it started with private Breeze, but nothing noteworthy came of it"
  483. "Thank you Corporal for your efforts in protecting Equestria - I'll take it from here"
  484. "Ma'am" - she says, moving away
  485.  
  486. Damn. You really hoped for something more to go on before meeting it..him. While it's EXTREMELY unusual to see a male in armor, even you have a couple of colts in the Ponyville guard. Moreover, he looks like a Minotaur - you know of tribes if the Far East that field their males as honor guard for their chieftess; could he be from there? If so, he's very far from home - how could he have arrived in the Everfree Forest?
  487.  
  488. That line of thought dies as you see him move his helmet's visor upward- yeah, that's not a Minotaur.
  489.  
  490. As you approach, you see him stand and beat his clenched fist to his chest, producing a loud noise that puts even the rest of your guards at attention - a military salute, maybe?
  491.  
  492. "Greeting, I am Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria. And you are..?"
  493.  
  494. Better to be diplomatic to start..he might be a colt, but according to the report, he put down an entire squad of guards (this same squad, you mentally note with disappointment) in seconds, making use of unknown magic. As he starts to speak, you notice a single particular - as he open his mouth to produce sound, a scar on the side of it starts to shine.
  495. ----------------------------------------------
  496. You bring your armored fist to your chest, beating on the armor piece – the traditional salute to an authority figure of your Order – before giving a short bow of the head at the newly-named Princess Twilight.
  497.  
  498. It seems that you were right in the assessment of their race you made during the time spent with your captive and her squad: these creatures - these ponies, are similar to their animal counterparts from your native land; they are a very emphatic race, that you'd bet is primarily driven by emotions. It was only logical that they would overreact if you "overwhelmed" them with emotional inputs - first by approaching them by your own free will with their "lost" comrade by your side, then by pushing the narrative that everything that happened so far was due a misunderstanding caused by their own actions.
  499.  
  500. It was a gamble on your part, and it paid off.
  501.  
  502. "Greeting, I am Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria. And you are..?" asks their princess
  503. "Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of the II Cohort of the Golden Order of Halogaland, at your service your Highness"
  504.  
  505. While being polite toward figures of authority was bread and butter for an officer of your stature back home, here it might just mean the difference between being considered an enemy to be eliminated and a potential ally. Age taught you well, Hierarch - do not presume that you will always prevail. Strength will not lead you far here - you will need to be diplomatic if you want at reaching your goals.
  506.  
  507. "Strange thing to say, after you caused us so many troubles as of late" - you got to give it to her, she is good - your reply didn't move her in the least. But what else were you expecting from a ruler?
  508. "I am well aware of this, your Highness, and I am terribly sorry for what a simple misunderstanding caused"
  509. "A misunderstanding? From where I stand, while my guards did indeed attack you, you responded with the use of mind-affecting magic and then kidnapped a member of their unit. This seems more than "a simple misunderstanding" to me!" - she replies, taking a step toward you
  510.  
  511. You bow your head, taking off your helmet and resting it under your left arm, while extending the other in the typical gesture you saw so many supplicants do in front of the judge, with the palm of the hand facing upward and fingers extended.
  512.  
  513. "You are of course right Your Highness - my response to their actions was wrong and me taking private Aura Breeze prisoner is inexcusable" - this is by far the hardest part of your plan - you got to seem truly remorseful AND make it appear as if you bonded with your ex-captive..and pray to the Gods that she will act like you planned she would.
  514. "Of course, I shall make amends in whatever way you deem necessary Your Highness"
  515.  
  516. She seems surprised from your declaration - maybe she is not as good as you thought. Did she really expect you to try and pass blame on to her soldiers when you are the foreigner, stranded in her land? If it's so, so be it - if the Norns in their wisdom decided to pass you such an occasion, you shall make the most of it: you need to push the narrative of everything being a misunderstanding and you shall do so.
  517.  
  518. "..if you would allow a guilty man a last request before passing judgment Your Highness, I would ask you to be clement toward the guards that met me - I was trespassing on Your land, armed and barded for war. It is only natural they thought me an enemy"
  519.  
  520. If she seemed surprised by your words before, this left her silent - could it be that it worked? You silently pray the Gods that it be so.
  521.  
  522. "Well, seeing your remorse at your actions, I comman.." - she begins to say, only for Aura to move forward and bow down, before beginning to speak.
  523. "Princess, before you pass judgment on him, please hear me!" - yes, you judged the little private right - she is a naive, yet honor bound soldier.
  524. "Private Breeze, right? Are you really going to defend you captor?" - you perceive genuine surprise in her voice
  525. "Yes my Princess - while it's true that Anon to" - she is still using your nickname; you didn't think she would.
  526. The fact that she is using a nickname didn't escape the Princess either it seems - "Anon? Are you on such good terms with him, private? Didn't he kidnap you after the fight with your unit?"
  527. "Yes your Highness..but he did it only because we attacked him first!" - poor Aura..she really seems distressed seeing her ruler about to pass judgment on you. She is a good pony, if naive - "Moreover, he didn't hurt me in anyway Princess. He fed me and the only thing he requested was for me to give him information!"
  528. "What kind of information?" - aand there it is, the suspicion you were expecting
  529. "Information regarding the local state of Equestria, your Highness. He asked me where we were, who ruled the land and..." - here she seems to blush a bit - "He asked me about Ponyville and why I was here"
  530. "..you do realize, private, that it's very hard for me to trust what you say - who wouldn't know that we are currently in Equestria, when we are so close to Canterlot?"
  531. "I am not a local, Your Highness"
  532. "I can see that, Sir Mous. But you must understand why it would be hard for me believe you, or my own soldier for that - you made use of mind-affecting magic in your confrontation with my guards. The fact that you claim to be ignorant of the fact that we are in Equestria seems to point at further use of that kind of magic on private Breeze"
  533.  
  534. Well, shit. This is quickly going down a very bad path for you - maybe you misjudged your skills at talking your way out of problems.
  535.  
  536. "Princess, I'd like to intercede for the prisoner too if you'd allow it" - surprised you turn around and see Aura's superior and another member of her team coming toward you - Quick Shot you think it's name was..wasn't it the one that threw javelins at you?
  537. "Corporal Shadow, you too would speak in his favor? After he beat you and kidnapped a member of your team?" - she sounds surprised once more, but you can easily discern the suspicion in there
  538. "Yes ma'am. While I can't confirm nor deny the usage of mind-affecting magic on private Breeze, I can confirm that we attacked first - Specialist Quick Shot here admitted herself that she threw the first javelin without thinking about trying to talk to the creatur..to Anon Y Mous, first" -
  539.  
  540. You can clearly see the newly-named Specialist Quick Shot getting more and more nervous by the second under the combined gazes of all the presents
  541.  
  542. "Is it true, Specialist?" - is the simple question asked by her Princess
  543. Even you can see the Specialist blush under the gaze of her ruler - "Yes ma'am..as soon as I saw him move toward the little foal I attacked without thinking - I just FELT the need to protect the foal" - she admits
  544. "Well..I guess this clears up the part regarding the confrontation, Anon Y Mous. But..I will now check the mental state of private Aura. Let it be clear - while I do find you innocent of provoking a confrontation with the Royal Guard, usage of mind-affecting magic is a serious crime and if I find traces of it you will have to pay for your actions"
  545.  
  546. After saying her piece, she closes her eyes..and you feel a burning sensation in your forehead - whatever she is doing, it's sending the Rune-Shield in overtime and it's giving you a splitting migraine.
  547.  
  548. Magic. That's the only explanation.
  549.  
  550. Everything makes sense now - how horses can talk and act so human-like, how some of them can fly..and how their ruler can check for such a thing. These beings possess the power of magic, anathema of mankind. At the realization, you feel your rage spike, before you quickly douse it with cold, hard logic - so far they have not taken any real hostile action toward you, forgetting the struggle of the other day. You shall wait and see before judging them.
  551.  
  552. As quickly as it came about, the migraine disappears and the Princess opens her eyes.
  553.  
  554. "Mmmh..I have found no trace of magic in her brain patterns. It seems you told the truth Sir Mous" - now it's Sir, eh? It seems that she is starting to buy your narrative. Good. "While this clears you of any real crime, I'd still prefer if you remained close to Ponyville for now - you are not a local from what you and private Breeze told me, nor do you know our laws, otherwise you wouldn't have made use of prohibited magic"
  555. "Of course Your Highness, as you wish. I can only offer once more my sincere apologies for any inconvenience I caused"
  556.  
  557. You bow your head once more, before throwing a quick look around you. The Corporal - Shadow was her name? - is looking as stoic as ever, while the Specialist that attacked you is looking ashamed. Aura..is smiling at you and standing by your side. You are starting to like this pony.
  558.  
  559. "Well, if everything is cleared I shall entrust you to Corporal Shadow - give him a place to stay in the barracks for now, Corporal..separated from the rest of the guard, of course" - she adds, looking at her sternly...is it your imagination or you saw the pupils of the corporal dilate, for a second? - "Help him learn the basics of our society, while I clear my schedule and help with the task.."
  560. "Of course Princess!" - she replies quickly, before lifting her right foreleg in an imitation of a military salute you saw the Geats use - "We will help him in any way we can!" -
  561. "Good, I have to leave you for now, a...urgent matter requires my presence" - and having said that, with a purple flash, she is gone.
  562.  
  563. As you stare dumbfounded at the spot the purple pony just disappeared, thinking that everything went better than you could hope for, you feel a light jab on the side on your leg
  564. "Mmh?"
  565. "Hey Anon, aren't you happy? I told you that it was all a mistake and that Princess Twilight would be understanding" - says Aura, smiling at you
  566. "Yes..you were right Aura. Yet, it seems only right to express how sorry I am to your teammates too"
  567.  
  568. Moving toward the Corporal, you notice her talking with the rest of her squad and manage to catch the last words of her discourse - "..funny business, understood?" - "Yes, ma'am!" - they reply in chorus.
  569. "Corporal Shadow, a word if I might..?"
  570. "Anon Y Mous..would it be acceptable if I shortened it to Anon? It's much easier to say for me" - at this you don't know how to feel..unhappy that the stupid nickname seemed to be catching on, or happy that the tension that was present so far seems to be dissipating like mist at sunrise.
  571. "Of course..so long as I can drop the formal tone as well"
  572.  
  573. Your reply brings a small smile to her lips as she nods - "With this out of the way, what did you want to tell me?"
  574. "I just wanted to express once more that I am sorry for my actions the other day"
  575. She start to raise her foreleg and reply, but you stop her by raising your hand
  576. "I know that your subordinate made the first move. But I didn't think about trying to defuse the situation either"
  577. At your words she smiles once more - " I think we can both agree that we all wish we had acted differently" - seeing you nod she continues - "What matters is that everything was cleared" -
  578.  
  579. "Now" - she continues - "..by order of the Princess, you will stay in the barracks of the Guard" - suddenly, the brave and stoic corporal disappeared, leaving in her place a nervous mare that is scratching one leg with the other
  580. "..I just want to assure you that you got nothing to worry about Anon" - this makes you raise an eyebrow - "I know what they say about us mareguards, but I want to reassure you - no funny business ever happened in the Ponyville Guard on my watch!" -
  581. "..Moreover, you won't be the only colt in the barracks. While very few, there are some" - you think you heard her add something along the lines of "even tho they are only good as eye-candy, useless morons..", but she restarted before you could ask her - "So you don't have anything to worry about. I got to go now, but if you need anything before we arrive, feel free to ask me or any other member of the squad" -
  582.  
  583. With that she takes off toward the rest of her team, currently packing up to move. By Sizel you perceive Aura move toward you and stop a few meters from you.
  584. "So, you are gonna stay with us for the time being eh?" - she asks with a smile
  585. "It seems so Aura...Aura, I have a question"
  586. "Mmh? Ask away HumAnon" - she replies still smiling.
  587. "Wait. HumAnon?"
  588. "Yep. Everybody now will call you Anon, so I got to come up with a new nickname to call you! Can't be called a name-stealer eh? Gotta keep up my reputation" - it's her serious reply, totally ruined by the big smile threatening to split her lips.
  589. You turn to look at her.
  590. "..."
  591. "..."
  592. "..."
  593. "..ppppphh!  Hahaha" - it seems she cracked up first – "Ha ha..so, Anon, tell me about your home while we go back to the barracks; it sounded really interesting from what you told me so far"
  594. You sigh and start walking by her side toward the direction you presume leads to the famed "Ponyville"
  595. "You see Aura, I'm from a land called Halogaland, where..."
  596.  
  597. ----------------------------------------------
  598.  
  599. (For whoever didn't get it, this part describes the same events as before, but from Twilight's POV)
  600. Better to be diplomatic to start..he might be a colt, but according to the report, he put down an entire squad of guards (this same squad, you mentally note with disappointment) in seconds, making use of unknown magic.
  601. As he starts to speak, you notice a single particular - as he open his mouth to produce sound, a scar on the side of it starts to shine.
  602. "Greeting, I am Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria. And you are..?"
  603. "Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of the II Cohort of the Golden Order of Halogaland, at your service your Highness" - he replies..and you notice that the shining is coming from a scar that is located on the side of his mouth
  604. Everything about this situation seems strange to you: the creature that attacked your guards is now courteously greeting you?
  605. While you friends have often made fun of you for being paranoid (you aren't paranoid! It's just that many situations could have easily gone down a bad path..better safe than sorry you say!), this situation screams bloody danger to you.
  606. He might be a colt, but you have to remember that according to the reports you received he can shapeshift: the guards saw him transform into a serpent and..a..spider...at the same time. Wait..this doesn't sound right - how could he transform in two different shapes at the same time? That's impossible, unless..enchantment magic! That's it! He is not a shapeshifter - he makes use of mind-mending magic!
  607. ..this just changed the situation from "potentially dangerous, but not really" to "potentially catastrophic".
  608. You need time. Time to prepare to defend yourself at the first sign of danger from him..and to teleport all your guards with you.
  609. "Strange thing to say, after you caused us so many troubles as of late" - You say, while taking a sweeping look around yourself to find the location of all your guards - buuuck! They are too dispersed! You are SO gonna buck this up! You just feel it! While you have experience with enchantment magic, you have absolutely no confidence that you would manage to resist a direct blast of it!
  610. You sigh, drawing in a huge breath - "Calm down Twilight - you can do it. Maybe he won't even be an enemy after all! So far we are both been civil, no?" you tell yourself
  611. "I am well aware of this, your Highness, and I am terribly sorry for what a simple misunderstanding caused" it..he says. He LOOKS and SOUNDS sincere, but with a master of enchantment magic? You could already be under his spell and not even know it! How could you check this without giving you away?
  612. You need more time.
  613. "A misunderstanding? From where I stand, while my guards did indeed attack you, you responded with the use of mind-affecting magic and then kidnapped a member of their unit. This seems more than "a simple misunderstanding" to me!"
  614. You step toward him and you notice that the shining coming from the scar intensifies - that's it! You think you figured it out - you can gauge his mood and whether you are under a spell by that scar! According to the report, both Corporal Shadow and other members of her squad noticed that his arms were covered in scars that were shining during the entire confrontation..and that shone more brightly just before they saw him shapeshift, aka being put under a mind-affecting spell.
  615. You are as tense as a the cord of a violin, ready to 'port away yourself and the guards closest to him at the first sign of magic coming from him.
  616. You HATE enchantment magic - it's a forbidden branch of magic and for a good reason; even though only a small minority of the entire unicorn population of Equestria possesses the mental strength and sheer magical power to make use of it, in the hands of a skilled user it can be used to subjugate entire armies (or towns..) and make ponies little more than puppets for the puppeteer..sadly in your own time you got first-hand experience of its effects..the horrifying sensation of being imprisoned inside your own body, while what you would define a secondary personality takes control of your body and obey any and every command.
  617. Never again.
  618. You see him move his head, taking off his helmet and extend his arm toward you - you didn't think you could be even more tense than before, but here you are. You prepare yourself for the spell that you are sure is coming your way..
  619. "You are of course right Your Highness - my response to their actions was wrong and me taking private Aura Breeze prisoner is inexcusable" - That's right, keep talki...wait, what?
  620. "Of course, I shall make amends in whatever way you deem necessary Your Highness" he says, seemingly having finished his piece.
  621. ..is he for real?
  622. "..if you would allow a guilty man a last request before passing judgment Your Highness, I would ask you to be clement toward the guards that met me - I was trespassing on Your land, armed and barded for war. It is only natural they thought me an enemy"
  623. ..could it be that you truly misjudged the situation? Could it be that while he did make use of forbidden magic, the entire situation was TRULY a misunderstanding? After all, nobody got hurt - even private Aura was returned seemingly unharmed..seemingly.
  624. "Well, seeing your remorse at your actions, I comman.."
  625. "Princess, before you pass judgment on him, please hear me!" - As you begin speaking, you are interrupted by private Aura
  626. What could she possibly want to say? As you are about to reply, you think quickly that this would be a perfect occasion to see whether this being is truly remorseful - if he is, surely he wouldn't mess with your guard's thoughts to make her act in his defense.
  627. Yes, let's hear what she has to say.
  628. "Private Breeze, right? Are you really going to defend you captor?"
  629. "Yes my Princess - while it's true that Anon to" - Anon, uh? A nickname?
  630. "Anon? Are you on such good terms with him, private? Didn't he kidnap you after the fight with your unit?"
  631. "Yes your Highness..but he did it only because we attacked him first!" - she seems very vocal in her support of him; while this raises more red flags in your head, it is true that your guards opened fire first..
  632. "Moreover, he didn't hurt me in anyway Princess. He fed me and the only thing he requested was for me to give him information!"
  633. And here is the crux of the situation.
  634. "What kind of information?"
  635. You ask - whatever small measure of internal calm long since evaporated.
  636. "Information regarding the local state of Equestria, your Highness. He asked me where we were, who ruled the land and..." - is she..blushing? "He asked me about Ponyville and why I was here"
  637. That's it.
  638. "..you do realize, private, that it's very hard for me to trust what you say - who wouldn't know that we are currently in Equestria, when we are so close to Canterlot?"
  639. "I am not a local, Your Highness"
  640. "I can see that, Sir Mous. But you must understand why it would be hard for me believe you, or my own soldier for that - you made use of mind-affecting magic in your confrontation with my guards. The fact that you claim to  be ignorant of the fact that we are in Equestria seems to point at further use of that kind of magic on private Breeze"
  641. Having said your piece, you try to remember a good, quick-to-prepare and cast spell to check for enchantment magic..just to be interrupted once more.
  642. "Princess, I'd like to intercede for the prisoner too if you'd allow it" says Corporal Shadow, coming toward you with another member of her squad. Sighing at the new interruption - preparing and casting even the simplest spell takes a toll (however minimal) on the caster you stop and turn toward her..just to be surprised by the stern, convinced look she has on her face.
  643. "Corporal Shadow, you too would speak in his favor? After he beat you and kidnapped a member of your team?"
  644. "Yes ma'am. While I can't confirm nor deny the usage of mind-affecting magic on private Breeze, I can confirm that we attacked first - Specialist Quick Shot here admitted herself that she threw the first javelin without thinking about trying to talk to the creatur..to Anon Y Mous, first" -
  645. As the entire group turns their attention to the newly-named Specialist Quick Shot, even you notice that she is getting more and more nervous by the second under your combined gazes.
  646. "Is it true, Specialist?"
  647. A simple question, straight to the point at hand - while this leaves the issue of prohibited magic, it would clarify once and for all what in Celestia's name happened...and put a band aid on the huge headache this whole situation is giving you. When you became a Princess you didn't think it would be this stressful! You expected some hardship, yeah, but nothing like what you had to deal with - Starlight, now this..without saying anything about the ever-present new villain that seems to pop up every other week.
  648. Quick Shot blushes at being called on her mistake, before replying -"Yes ma'am..as soon as I saw him move toward the little foal I attacked without thinking - I just FELT the need to protect the foal"
  649. Ok, this clears that particular subject..but it still leaves the issue of mind-affecting magic on the table. Clear your head Sparkle! You got a big fish to fry..like passing judgment on what to do with this creature...Minotaur..colt.
  650. "Well..I guess this clears up the part regarding the confrontation, Anon Y Mous. But..I will now check the mental state of private Aura. Let it be clear - while I do find you innocent of provoking a confrontation with the Royal Guard, usage of mind-affecting magic is a serious crime and if I find traces of it you will have to pay for your actions"
  651. You close your eyes and concentrate on finding Aura Breeze's presence in the ether - every being has a unique magic signature, be them pony, griffon or other; a skilled magic user such as you can easily determine if a being is affected by magic by simply looking at their ethereal imprint. You perceive immediately your own presence - the fact that you are so powerful even non-skilled ponies can perceive your ethereal imprint is something that has always improved your somewhat lacking self-confidence - and almost immediately notice Corporal Shadow's imprint, colder to the "touch" than your own, Specialist Quick Shot's imprint, warmer yet tempered, and..
  652. ..and you recoil. You mentally recoil away from what you perceive: while private Aura's imprint is clear as day in the ether - sign that she was in fact telling the truth and she is NOT under any kind of mind-affecting magic -, Anon Y Mous imprint is simply not there. Better yet, it IS there, but it's superimposed with another one which effectively "hides" it away, making it almost impossible to perceive his own imprint. Yet it's not what you perceive of his own imprint that makes you recoil - it's the OTHER one that is affecting his.
  653. You feel yourself under the scrutiny of something greater than yourself. Celestia, you'd bet this presence is even bigger than Princess Celestia's! As you study it, you perceive a vague shape from its imprint - a creature similar to Anon Y Mous, with a missing hand.
  654. ..the more you study it, the more you feel it shifting its attention from Anon Y Mous toward you, until you abruptly cut the ethereal link and shift your attention back to the physical world.
  655. What is Celestia's name was THAT?! is all you can think while you try to calm yourself and not go into a panic.
  656. It is then that you feel the familiar, soothing "clang" noise produced by your guards sabots - anything familiar is a welcome respite that brings to you the reality that you are back "here".
  657. Breath in, breath out..like Cadence taught you when you were younger. As you feel your heartbeat go back to normal, you open your eyes and see the entire group looking at you - oops. Maybe you got caught up in the moment, but after seeing what you have just seen..you have much to research.
  658. "Mmmh..I have found no trace of magic in her brain patterns. It seems you told the truth Sir Mous. While this clears you of any real crime, I'd still prefer if you remained close to Ponyville for now - you are not a local from what you and private Breeze told me, nor do you know our laws, otherwise you wouldn't have made use of prohibited magic"
  659. Yes, this will solve the problem temporarily...if he truly did make use of forbidden magic due to his ignorance of your laws, that can be forgiven (due in no small part to the fact that nobody got hurt in the end). What you really need though is TIME..time to study what just happened when you gazed toward him in the ether, to study him and his magic.
  660. Moreover, it WOULD be very much against what you mother taught you to simply dump an ignorant colt, whatever his race might be, in a world that is unknown to him..
  661. "Of course Your Highness, as you wish. I can only offer once more my sincere apologies for any inconvenience I caused" - it's his reply. Polite to a fault uh? Maybe you can start to believe his version of the story..but you have much to think about right now.
  662. "Well, if everything is cleared I shall entrust you to Corporal Shadow - give him a place to stay in the barracks for now, Corporal..separated from the rest of the guard, of course" You add, looking at her sternly...while the idea of putting a defenseless colt among horny guardmares would be against everything you hold dear, you think that it would suit this colt - he has already bonded with private Aura it seems; this will allow him to stay close to his "friend", while it will allow you to keep a constant watch over him to make sure he IS harmless.
  663. Yes, sometimes you surprise yourself with good ideas you come up with.
  664. "Help him learn the basics of our society, while I clear my schedule and help with the task.."
  665. "Of course Princess!" - she replies quickly, before lifting her right foreleg in a typical military salute - "We will help him in any way we can!" -
  666. "Good, I have to leave you for now, a...urgent matter requires my presence"
  667. Having said that, with a purple flash, you reappear at the castle.
  668. "Spiiike!"
  669. You call up your purple assistant
  670. "I'm right here Twilight" - it's his reply from the kitchen - good old Spike. A golden heart and an excellent cook; your little brother will make some mare very happy one day.
  671. "Listen Spike, I got a very urgent letter to send to Princess Luna - give me 5 and then come up to my studio, ok?"
  672. "Sure thing Twilight! By the way I'm making myself a quick snack - do you want something?"
  673. "A sandwich, thank you"
  674. And with that, you walk upstairs to your studio, thinking how to word your request for assistance from the Princess of the Night.
  675. Looking outside of the windows for ideas, you notice something strange: you see a crow with a single eye looking in your direction, laughing.
  676.  
  677. ----------------------------------------------
  678.  
  679. You are the best javelin thrower of the entire Ponyville Guard Detachment, hence you must be Quick Shot.
  680. You are also the ONLY javelin thrower of the Detachment, but that's beside the point!
  681. It has been a very interesting day to say the least - to think that just a couple of days ago you were complaining to the Corporal about the tediousness of this deployment!
  682.  
  683. You thank Celestia above (how can she be above, if she is in Canterlot? Is is because she is in her palace, on top of the mountain of Canterlot?..that saying always confused you) that nobody got hurt in the end and that Aura was back safe and sane!
  684.  
  685. Speaking of Aura, you can see her from your position at the end of the squad, chatting away with the strange being that has been the focus of gossip in town for past day and a half (Anon Y Mous he called himself in front of the Princess, right?).
  686.  
  687. Once a member of the guard went missing and the sergeant chewed out the poor Corporal in front of the entire platoon, the rumors about your squad confrontation with the "creature that came out of the Everfree" spread like wildfire – first among the guards, then in town. Before nightfall, everypony knew of the "Giant beast with eight arms that shoots fire from its mouth" which supposedly kidnapped the "poor, defenseless private Aura Breeze".
  688.  
  689. What a bunch of bollocks – he might be tall, but he is no "giant with eight arms", nor have you seen him spit fire from his mouth – he can't do that, right?! -. Whatever his capacities, you got to admit that the decision of the Princess to place him in the barracks surprised you (as well as the other members of the squad, you'd bet) – a lone colt among guardmares! Still, it's no place for you to judge Her decisions – you are a professional after all! Not that you don't miss getting some..the guard is a taco fest and Ponyville a desert as far as stallions are concerned.
  690.  
  691. Seriously – while it is normal for stallions to be outnumbered 3 to 1 by mares, Ponyville is a train crash in slow motion – a social disaster waiting to happen, with mares outnumbering stallions around 4 to 1.
  692.  
  693. You aren't the sharpest tool in the shed – you accepted this fact long ago -, but even you can see the writing on the wall: the big cities attract all the young stallions, creating areas in which the already precarious balance between the sexes would soon become unsustainable. Sadly, you got an intimate understanding of the issue - your own hometown went through the same thing years ago – once a thriving farming community, it has seen its population decrease substantially over the past 50 years.
  694.  
  695. Ponyville was going through the same process of depopulation in slow-motion, even though there were signs of recovery (according to the Mayor, but who trusts a politician?). Bah – you have been stationed here for almost four full years and didn't see any “recovery”! Few stallions, even fewer herds with free places in them and essentially no herd-free stallion. Ok, maybe a couple..but still. With these thoughts on your mind, you approached the Corporal.
  696.  
  697. “Got a moment Corporal?”
  698. “Mmh? Tell me Quick, what do you need?” she replies, lazily moving an ear to signal that she heard you
  699. “Just a doubt ma'am - how will it work? You know...with the colt staying at the barracks”
  700. You are not the subtlest of mares, but you've always preferred to be blunt and honest, rather than tell a subtle lie.
  701. “We will make it work, Specialist – the Princess gave an order, and we shall follow it” - eh, not much of an answer.
  702. “Of course Corporal, but I meant in practice – where will he stay? Thanks to Sergeant Spearhead hogging for himself and his pals the east wing barracks, there isn't much free space at the palace...”
  703.  
  704. You leave the rest unsaid; it was common knowledge among the Detachment that the Sergeant was here only due to quotas and got his various “privilegese” thanks to his talent at licking clit – seriously, how else would you explain advancing from simple private to Sergeant in a mere 3 years? Corporal Shadow had been in the Guard for the most part of two decades, yet she just made Corporal a few months after your deployment in her squad here in Ponyville!
  705.  
  706. The Corporal sighs, before turning toward you - “Look Quick, it sucks, I know. It's a stupid decision. I know it, you know it, and I think every single member of the squad knows it – tartarus, I'd bet even our soon-to-be guest knows it. But, the Princess decided this way, and so it shall be” - she concludes, turning away once more.
  707.  
  708. You are left silent, not because you don't have anything else to say about the situation, but because the Corporal just summed up your feelings and your thoughts.
  709.  
  710. “Look at it from another angle Quick” - she starts after a while - “you're always complaining that the guard is..what expression did you use the other day at the pub? Oh yeah, a taco feast” - she grins, making you blush at the memory - “From how I see it, a new, herd-free colt just joined our merry company” -
  711. “Joined our company? We fought against him just yesterday Corporal!”
  712. “True, but even the Princess seemed convinced of his sincerity when he apologized today. Moreover, he returned Aura to us. Unharmed I'd add, even though he had every right to consider her a prisoner from an enemy force” - she keeps on talking, sounding more and more convinced -”I am willing to give him a chance Quick, and I suggest you do the same – after all, the Princess gave us the task of teaching him about our society. We will spend a LOT of time in his company”
  713.  
  714. You hang low your head, defeated. The Corporal is right, of course..and it was your stupid need to prove yourself that put you all in this situation to begin with (you silently thank Aqua for leaving that little bit unsaid), but the situation still doesn't sit right with you - a colt (or whatever he is – you think you heard him refer to himself as a “human” while talking with Aura, whatever that might be) that you attacked just the day before will now sleep few meters from you – it just ain't right, whatever your orders.
  715.  
  716. Still, Aqua is right: you ARE going to spend a lot of time with him, like it or not.
  717.  
  718. Maybe Aura had the right idea, trying to befriend him..you could do the same. Or at least you could just express that it was a mistake on your part to attack him yesterday..after all he IS right – he didn't threaten the foal in any way; he hadn't even approached it yet when you started throwing javelins at him.
  719.  
  720. You have always been a very prideful pony. Admitting that you are in the wrong has never come easy to you. But you are also a firm believer in doing the right thing, and now the right thing to do would be to go to this “human” and ask forgiveness for your mistake.
  721.  
  722. “Pffff..ok, I'll go and talk to him Aqua”
  723. “It's Corporal Aqua while in service, private” - she replies, still grinning
  724.  
  725. Celestia how you hated the fact that she made Corporal before you! She always reminded you of the fact! Not in a bad way of course..you and Aqua went way back. Tartarus, you met her in Canterlot before she was assigned to the Ponyville Detachment – and that was years before Princess Twilight's ascension! Imagine her surprise when you managed to be re-assigned to her same squad after they began expanding the size of the Ponyville Guard!
  726.  
  727. “Screw you, CORPORAL”
  728. You make a point of putting emphasis on her rank this time
  729. “But Quick, you didn't even buy me dinner first!” - it's her reply, before you both start to laugh at the stupid joke - “Go now, you don't have much time before we reach the barracks if you are serious about talking to him you better do it before he gets swarmed by the other guards”.
  730.  
  731. “I'm going, I'm going!”
  732.  
  733. As you move toward the center of the column, you start hearing some snips of the conversation the “human” has kept up with Aura.
  734.  
  735. “No Aura, there are no flying cows where I'm from. Nor talking ponies for that” - it seems that he was just discussing his native land by the response you just heard. It might be a good idea to listen to their conversation for some time before talking to him – who knows what you might learn. Not that you are the only one listening on their conversation from what you can see – Fair Winds is very obviously pushing her ears to catch all of it.
  736.  
  737. “You know that everypony can see you listening on them, right?”
  738. “Pfff for all I care everypony can suck my clit” -  the refreshing no-bullshit attitude of your comrade is always a pleasure. While to many this might have seemed like a jest at her expenses, it was more often than not the truth – you were never the type to withstand the backhanded compliments that the nobles and the average officer threw at each other in their endless contests of wits and popularity - “And just so you know, it's very interesting! Can you imagine a land where ponies don't speak, and where the night lasts for months every year? It's so fascinating!”
  739.  
  740. Fair Winds has always been very excitable when presented with new information about far away lands – you lost count of the times you and her started talking about the great travels you two would go on “as soon as we get out of this stint in the Guard”...that was years ago, and you both are still here; it seems though that Fair has never let go of that dream, even when to you it became just that – a far away dream.
  741.  
  742. “So, did you hear anything interesting about him while you were oh-so-masterfully listening on their conversation?”
  743. You grin while you ask this – Fair's lack of stealth (despite being part of a reconnaissance unit) has always been an easy target if you wanted to get under her skin – and as predicted, her reaction doesn't leave you waiting.
  744. “Oh buck you Quick! Anyway why the sudden interest in him? Let me give you a tip - if you are interested, when a mare tries to “hit on a stallion”, she usually doesn't try to make look like a porcupine!” - this causes you to stop grinning and start to blush.
  745. “It was a mistake...”
  746. “A mistake my plot Quick – you wanted to show off, admit it!”
  747. “Yeah yeah. So, heard anything interesting or not?”
  748. “Hmm..and what's in it for me, to just reveal my secrets?” - she asks. Damn her, you need this – but you know already what she wants.
  749. “The next round at the pub is on me. Sounds fair?”
  750. “You bet it does. So..get this – it seems that we met him just a few hours after he began walking in the Everfree, ok? Well, guess what he beat up with his warhammer before we encountered him?”
  751. “What? That zebra that lives in the forest by any chance?”
  752. “Stop being mean to Zecora – she is a nice mare. But no, a Manticore! Can you imagine that?”
  753. “A colt brought down a Manticora. Sorry Fair but that sounds like bs to me”
  754. “Oh yeah? Remind me who kicked our collective ass ALONE, just yesterday? Oh that's right, the colt walking in front of us. As far as I'm concerned, I believe him – have you seen the size of that weapon? I'm surprised Aura was not left a bloody stain on the grass when it hit her”
  755.  
  756. She has got a point there.
  757. “Anything else?”
  758. “Mmh? Not much else. I can't really hear much with all the “cling-clang” that we make marching, you know?”
  759. “Ok..thanks Fair”
  760. “No problem sis..but don't forget about the round at the pub this time eh?” - you hear her say as you move upward the column and reach Aura and her strange companion.
  761.  
  762. ----------------------------------------------
  763.  
  764. Walking in step with these little equines is revealing itself to be harder than you thought it'd be - you are bipedal, while they walk on all four legs.
  765.  
  766. Still, you are pretty satisfied with yourself – and you have good reason to be: it seems that your actions so far had the intended effect on the guards - as you kept talking away with your self-appointed “guide” (aka your ex-captive), you have taken notice of the occasional fleeting glance in your direction – curiosity more than fear you noticed, pleased with yourself.
  767.  
  768. “..so, are you really telling me that your nation doesn't have a Princess that moves the sun in the sky?” - Aura asks, with eyes comically wide in surprise. What can you do, but laugh merrily? This little horse has kept on barraging you with questions since you started walking in step with her – or, more correctly but also more comically, she started trying to walk in step with you despite the obvious size difference.
  769.  
  770. “No Aura – we do not have a Princess that moves the sun in the sky”
  771. “But..but! How does it move then?! Only a Princess like Princess Celestia can move the sun!” - by how quickly she breathes in and out, the poor little thing must be close to hyperventilating right now.
  772. “Aura, look at me”
  773. She does just that, her eyes still comically large
  774. “Calm down Aura – breathe in, breathe out”
  775. You say, gently putting your hand on her armored back, exerting a slight, rithmic pressure to make her do as you say; as she follows the movements of your hand, steadying her breath, you can clearly see the redness leave her face (just how it's possible that you can actually SEE this pony blush or getting a red face is beyond your understanding – her muzzle is covered in fur, for Máni's sake!).
  776. "Uffff...thanks Anon" – she says, taking deep breaths and calming down.
  777.  
  778. As you let Aura breathe on her own (you took notice of the fact that at some point you stopped referring to her as "it" and just started treating her how you'd treat a human being – something to do with the familiarity she has shown you, coupled with her obvious lack of fear?), you close you eyes and get a feel of the land.
  779.  
  780. The world is different, seen through the Rune of Vision; Sizel burns in your mind a great blue flame against the darkness - a large congregation of beings half a Rast in front of your group (Note: 3.5 miles), and a smaller one moving toward you. Your group would soon reach the town by following this road, and apparently another member of the maniple was moving upward the column.
  781.  
  782. "Specialist Quick Shot, am I right?"
  783. You call out without turning around; hearing the sound of your voice Aura turns around and then toward you – "How did you know she was coming?" - aaand the comically large eyes are back.
  784.  
  785. You laugh once more. Frankly, you have been laughing more in this past couple of days due to this pony than in the entire last year – whether this is due to Aura being funny, or due to your joy at being alive you don't know. Probably a mix of both.
  786.  
  787. “Yeah, that's me” - the Specialist says in a surprised tone, moving on your left side, thus putting you between her and Aura - “Actually that's a good question – how did you know it was me?” - she asks looking at you with a surprised look on her face (while Aura is by far the most expressive of their lot, you are pretty sure by this point that every pony is much more expressive than the average human being).
  788.  
  789. “Secrets of the trade, Specialist”
  790. She scrunches her muzzle at your reply – a sign of annoyance?
  791. “Regardless, how may I help you, Specialist?”
  792. Hearing this, her eyes widen slightly – almost as if she had just remembered why she sought you out - “Just..I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for what happened the other day” - she says, looking at the ground.
  793. “I know what you think about it” - she continues, having glanced upward and having seen you about to interrupt her - “I heard you talk with the princess and the Corporal; I heard you ask for forgiveness for attacking us. But it was ME that started the whole thing by not waiting and just attacking you. For what's worth, I wanted to tell you I'm sorry and that I'm really happy that nobody got hurt by my recklessness” - and with that, she turns her gaze to the ground once more.
  794.  
  795. You are not the best judge of characters, but even you can see that she must feel genuinely bad about what happened – the expressiveness of these ponies has made it very easy to read them, so far . Your plan was to insert yourself in their society, no? Considering that you will probably spend quite a bit of time in her company in the near future, cheering her up and being friendly toward her could only help you in the long term.
  796.  
  797. “I do not fault you for attacking me, Specialist”
  798. She quickly turns toward you, a surprised look on her face
  799. “I was an unknown element, close to a civilian that your duty demanded you to defend. I'd have probably acted the same way you did, were our roles reversed”
  800. As you continue talking, you can see the surprise quickly morph into a small, if honest, smile - “Thank you. Really – I know that I didn't make the best first impression due to my behavior...I just wanted to ask you if we could start over, if that's ok for you?” - she asks, nervously looking at you. Gods, she must have really been beating herself up due to this.
  801. “It'd be my pleasure, Specialist”
  802. “Quick. Quick will suffice” - seeing your surprised expression, she adds - “I heard you asking the Corporal to drop the formalities, and you are already calling Aura by her first name – I just thought that if we were starting over, maybe we could do the same, exchange names and start from that?”
  803. It's your turn to smile. Planned or not, being friendly toward these creatures is revealing to be much easier than you thought it'd be – not that you are complaining about it.
  804. “It's fine by me, Quick. Anon Y Mous, or just Anon if you so wish”
  805. Seeing you smile, she smiles back at you.
  806. “So, I heard you were talking to Aura about your world, Anon? Could I stay here with you both and listen?” - she says
  807. “Sure thing – I was just telling Aura about..”
  808.  
  809. Time passes quickly after that; before you know it, the composite group of seven mares and a tall, bipedal figure is marching down the main street of the aptly-names Ponyville. As you expected, your group attracted more than enough attention on its way to the Castle barracks – for good or for worse, the main (and only) road from the Everfree passes straight through the middle of town.
  810.  
  811. While some of the residents observed your group's passage in town from semi-closed doors and windows, the vast majority vacated the area as soon as you came into view – with a notable exception: a single pegasi with a multi-colored tail, standing in the middle of the road, wings extended out and shooting a nasty glare in your direction.
  812.  
  813. “Stop right there!” - she screamed at your group, once you were within hearing distance.
  814.  
  815. “Why did you stop? Move!” -  screamed the Corporal from the back of the column.
  816. “Can't do so, ma'am – it seems that a civilian is blocking the path” - replied a member of the squad in front of you - “So what? Tell her to move it, or move her!” - it seems that the oh-so stoic nature of officers never changes, be it in your previous life or this one.
  817. “Can't do that ma'am – it's one of Princess Twilight's friends” - replies the same pegasi from the front line.
  818. “Oh for Celestia's sake, who is...oh no, anypony but her” - it seems that Corporal Aqua knows this mare – while you can't say the same, from her tone of voice it seems that her presence does not bode well for you.
  819.  
  820. You might not have been an officer back home, but even you know that in certain situations, the less fuss one creates the better it is, and you are ready to bet your warhammer that this is exactly what the Corporal will try to do – to solve the situation without making a scene.
  821.  
  822. You switfly recall Sizel, switching its focus from your eyes to your ears – while something that you are loathe to do in unknown situation, this time it might just be worth it to temporarily lose access to its vision properties in order to be able to listen to what is going on. After all, your ears are not nearly as good as the ones of these ponies as your previous confrontations demonstrated.
  823.  
  824. “A fine day to you, Ms. Dash; how may I help you today?”
  825. Looking at what's unfolding in front of you, you can clearly see the Corporal being very tense as she passes you and moves toward the newly-named “Ms Dash”.
  826. “What is THAT THING? And why is it here?!” - she asks the Corporal in an aggressive tone.
  827. Even you can perceive the immediate change in the Corporal's body stance and tone of voice.
  828. “That thing, as you called it, is a personal guest of her Highness Princess Twilight, Ms. Dash” - it's her cold reply. Sadly, it seems that this “Ms Dash” is not the brightest being around – or she just doesn't care about what the Corporal thinks; being a close friend of a royal, she might as well have been untouchable – hence why you believed it to be more a case of the latter rather than the former.
  829.  
  830. “It might be so, but why is it HERE? Last time I checked, even Twilight didn't have a policy of allowing monsters that randomly attack the Guard in town!” - hearing that shatters any hope you had of a smooth transition. On the other hand – what were you expecting? Every action has a reaction.
  831.  
  832. “Wait a minute you!” - says Aura, flying toward the Corporal and the other pegasi.
  833. “Private Breeze, return to your place in the column” - says the Corporal without even turning around.
  834. - “Wait a minute – private Breeze? Are you by any chance Aura Breeze, the guard that monster kidnapped yesterday?”- the multi-colored pegasi asks surprised - “I thought you were gone” - as she moves toward her, Aura pushes her away rather violently before exclaiming -“What's wrong with you?! Are you blind and deaf? I'm here and well, and the Corporal told you your own friend allowed his presence here! Or are you going to question even me being here now?”.
  835.  
  836. Where did that come from? It seems that you were not the only one surprised by Aura's outburst, judging from both the Corporal's and the other pegasi reaction...even though this one recovered faster than the Corporal did.
  837.  
  838. “Who are you calling blind, you...you...!” - before she can act, the Corporal puts herself between Aura and the enraged pegasi.
  839. “I think that's enough, Ms Dash. As you can see, no guard was “killed off in the dead of the night” as I heard you say yesterday evening at the pub, nor does he have eight arms” - as she goes on, the other pegasi turns her glance downward – with your enhanced hearing, you can easily pick up her muttering something along the lines of - “Yeah yeah...I can see that...I'm not blind”.
  840. “If that's cleared, we will move on then. Have a good day” - concludes the Corporal, before moving back toward the column, with Aura in tow.
  841.  
  842. Thanks to the Gods this situation turned out in your favor – many ponies looked out of their hiding places (aka out of their windows or doors, even though you could swear you saw a pink tail twitch from under a nearby bush) hearing the exchange. You might be wrong, but you are pretty sure you saw some of the actually checking you out, just to confirm to themselves that you do not, in fact, have eight arms.
  843.  
  844. As your group starts moving forward once more on the newly-cleared road, Aura positions herself by your side once more, smiling at you. You are really starting to like this pony.
  845. “Thank you Aura, but you didn't have to disobey orders to defend me”
  846. “Don't even mention it. That bucking Rainbow Dash is always picking fights around town – if she wasn't such a close friend of the Princess, she's have been ran out of town years ago. At least, that's what I heard from the veterans at the barracks” - she says, walking by your side - “From what I can see, they didn't lie to me about this at least. She really seems like a troublemaker”.
  847. “And what are you, private?” - says the Corporal descending from the air by flapping her wings and kicking up a cloud of dust near you - “I gave you a direct order Aura. I expect to be obeyed when I do so”.
  848. “I know Corporal...sorry” - she replies, looking at the officer - “It's just that...that damn dyke is always picking up fights, always so self-assured of being invincible. I can't stand her!”.
  849. At this, the Corporal frown relaxes slightly and she sighs before replying - “I know Aura. You know that we all think the same, but while she might be annoying, she isn't breaking any law. Moreover, she IS a Wonderbolt and an Element of Harmony”
  850. “But that's!” - as Aura start to speak, the Corporal interrupts her, continuing where she stopped - “As I was saying, we all think the same, Private. But that's not an excuse for disobeying my orders. 5 laps around the barracks after we arrive. Have I made myself clear?”
  851. “...yes ma'am” - is the quiet reply of Aura, who looks dejected to the side.
  852.  
  853. “Good. Now, Anon Y Mous” - she looks at you - “When we will arrive at the barracks, I expect there will be a bit of...confusion, let's say, at your appearance. Please do not hold it against them or us if somepony reacts badly to you at first – you have to understand that the all they know about you is what we were able to report yesterday about our confrontation in the forest and your subsequent...kidnapping let's say, of private Breeze”.
  854. “I understand Corporal. How do you plan to proceed then?”
  855. She sighs before replying - “I guess the Princess will have something figured out – I don't know, maybe she'll have already told everypony about what really happened. If not, I guess we'll have to talk to everypony on our own. Right squad?” - she asks loudly, to which a resounding - “Yes, ma'am!” - is the other ponies' reply.
  856. “Yeah, let's go with that plan” - she concludes, nervously.
  857.  
  858. It is clear as the sun that she is not up to date with what is going on at their base. If you were to take a guess at Aqua's personality and age, you'd guess she is the oldest among the squad, and that she worries a lot – in the little time you spent in her company you have seen her worry more than any other member of the team about what was going on – after you, of course (but she isn't the one stranded alone among a foreign species).
  859.  
  860. “It sounds like a sound plan to me, Corporal”
  861. You say, trying to cheer her up with a bit of optimism.
  862. “I hope you are right. In any case, those are the barracks – you can see them, extending from the western end of the Castle to the eastern end”
  863. To tell the truth – no, you can't see them. Better, you can see what she refers to as the “Castle” - a gigantic mass of crystal sitting squarely at the center of small plane just outside of the town – but you can't distinguish where these barracks begin or end.
  864. “Err...suure thing, Aqua”
  865. Aura giggles at your obvious lie - “Dropping formalities once more are we? Don't worry Anon – I had the same reaction the first time I saw it”.
  866. “Well, you asked me to Aqua. They taught me to always obey the orders of a ranked officer”
  867. She smiles at your witty reply coupled with a smile – you noticed Aura straining herself before while you talked to her; apparently the fact that your face isn't nearly as expressive as theirs makes it harder for them to pick up when you are joking and when you are being serious. It might be a pain, but making an effort to be as expressive as possible might just save you from misunderstandings.
  868.  
  869. “Anyway” - continues Aqua - “I want you to wait outside with Specialist Quick Shot and A.R. Fair Winds while we go inside to see what the situation is, ok?”
  870. “We are in your element, Aqua – if you think that's the best way to go about it, I'll follow your lead”
  871. She smiles at you, before saying - “You know, for being a supposedly “violent monster” that attacked my squad just yesterday, you have been much better company than many stallions that join the guard” - she looks pensive at sky for a second, before adding - “Not that it takes much to be better company than them though, so don't let it go to your head”
  872. “As you order, ma'am!”
  873. Your reply makes Aura giggle once more and causes Aqua to shoot you a dirty look, before looking at Aura and saying -”Just for this, make that 6 laps instead of 5, Private”.
  874. “But! I didn't do anything!” - Aura protests; - “Yes you did – you lack respect for your superior, when even a foreigner can show me respect” - even you can see that she is not being serious, but this is too good to spoil it.
  875.  
  876. “Aaaah!” - and with this, Aura hangs her head down, saying in a low, soft voice “yes, ma'am”.
  877.  
  878. “Good. Now, wait us here Anon. Aura, others, come with me – not you, Fair Winds. You and Quick Shot stay here with Anon, just in case anything happens”
  879. “Yes ma'am!” - is the reply given in unison by both mares.
  880.  
  881. You sit on a nearby crystal jutting out of the ground, watching the group (minus Quick and the newly-named Fair Winds) move toward the barracks door.
  882.  
  883. ----------------------------------------------
  884.  
  885. “Repeat it to me once more Corporal, since I REALLY want to hear what happened from a mare that was present when the Princess gave such an order: why. is. that. creature. here.”
  886.  
  887. Aaah, such a nice “welcome home” from your favorite Sergeant! Of course he's be all up your plot (and not in the fun, good way) as soon as you'd walked inside the Common Room! It is always such a pleasure dealing with him!
  888.  
  889. You are Aqua Shadow, and as always, you wish SO much that your superior was anypony but this colt.
  890.  
  891. On one hoof, he's being his usual asinine self – nothing new under Celestia's Sun -, but on the other hoof, you can actually see where he's coming from this time – it seems that the news regarding her Highness' decision have spread like wildfire among your fellow guards, if the reaction of Sergeant Spearhead is anything to go by.
  892.  
  893. “Sir! The Princess herself gave us the direct order of bringing the creatu...the human, here”
  894. It's not like you really thought mentioning that little fact would stop his ranting, but it was worth a try. As predicted your reply does nothing to stop the raving officer – if anything, it pushes him even harder - “The Princess gave such an order Corporal? Excuse me if I fail to see why she would do such a thing...unless, of course, she decided that the creature was the responsibility of the ones that created this entire situation to begin with”
  895.  
  896. Now this you didn't foresee – this conversation could turn very ugly, very quickly unless you calm him down. The last thing you want is to be pinned down as the one that brought a dangerous creature to the barracks – the only place many of the guards could call “home”.
  897.  
  898. “Sir! Forgive me but”
  899. Not even letting you finish, he continues his interrogation - “Tell me, Corporal – wasn't your squad that met the creature first?”
  900. “Yes Sir, but”
  901. “Then what REALLY happened that caused the Princess to give such a command? Tell us, given that you were the one that spoke with Her!”
  902. “Because we attacked him first Sir!”
  903.  
  904. You just had enough of this asshole. Buck discipline and buck the chain of command – if this moron won't let you speak, you WILL speak over him. You never understood why in Tartarus the Sergeant had it out for you...no, that's wrong. You knew perfectly why the colt had it out for you – your mane.
  905.  
  906. The Sergeant is a bucking Celestarian, with everything that comes with it.
  907.  
  908. Not that you had anything against Celestarianism in itself – after all, it was only natural that a country led by a literal Goddess would see the rising of a religion center around her. It had always been an extremely widespread religion in Equestria, reaching its peak during the millennia-long exile of Princess Luna; the primordial cult of the Sun Mother, incarnated in the Princess of the Sun – it was only natural that the zealousness of its most fervent believers would reach a new zenith with the return of the “Mare of the Night”, the long-lost Princess Luna.
  909.  
  910. No, you don't have any issue with the religion in itself – what you DO have personal issues with is the bigotry that many of its more “zealous” practitioners harbor against the ponies they associate with “the night”. Their stupid idea that anything associated with the night HAS to be evil in nature (or with a high likelihood of being corrupted) caused you much grief in your younger days in Canterlot - you were born with a very dark mane and preferred the calm of the night to the noise of the day, end of the story.
  911.  
  912. It is a testament to the stupidity of ponykind that there are still a lot of ponies that truly believe in such superstition.
  913.  
  914. Sadly, it seems that even after you asked to be transferred out of the capital this idiocy would come back to haunt you, this time in the form of Sergeant Spearhead.
  915.  
  916. “Did I give you permission to speak, Corporal?!” - aaaaand here we go, with his “I am so much better than you” attitude - “Moreover, you admit it – your underlings caused this entire situation.”
  917.  
  918. Now you know where this asshole is going with this – he's trying to make it so that you'll be seen in a bad light by implying that it was YOUR personal fault that the Guard will have to play host to the human, even though it was 100% the Princess' idea.
  919.  
  920. Just as you are about to reply, Sergeant Red Flare enters the room.
  921. “What's going on here? I just came back from patrol and first thing I see is a strange thing sitting outside our barracks, while the first thing I hear is your whiny voice screaming like you chipped a hoof Spearhead!”
  922.  
  923. This causes a wave of giggles among the guardmares – you can almost physically feel the tension evaporate in the room as Sergeant Spearhead goes as red as a tomato under his fur.
  924.  
  925. As he turns to face Red Flare you hazard a quick look around the room and internally sigh in relief – you see much confusion and some hostility in the eyes of the other members of the Guard, but not the nearly the amount you thought you'd find.
  926.  
  927. “Red Flare, stay out of this – the Corporal is giving me a report abut her actions” - he snorts in the direction of Sergeant Red Flare, who for her part simply passes him and moves in your direction - “Well then, it seem that today is my lucky day! I managed to come back just in time to hear how the valiant Corporal Shadow managed to subdue the “Monster of the Everfree”, while at the same time rescuing private Breeze from his grasp!” - she concludes, winking at you.
  928.  
  929. Thank Celestia for Sergeant Red Flare! She has saved your ass more times than you can count.
  930.  
  931. “Thank you for the compliment ma'am, but the being gave up private Breeze without a fight”
  932. At this admission, even Red Flare's eyes widen.
  933. “Without a fight you say? Now that's a story I got to hear” - she says putting away her helmet - “Come round, mares...and gentlecolts” - she adds with a mock hat tip in the direction of Spearhead and his buddies.
  934.  
  935. As the guards gather around and you start telling the story from the beginning, you notice the rest of your squad moving among the mares and starting to quietly whisper to their neighbors – you don't doubt for a moment what they are doing; you'd bet 10 bits they are trying to turn the platoon's opinion in your favor. You saw Evening Star chat with the others before Sergeant Spearhead began screaming and you, while you saw her grasp Aura by the neck later on, just as the latter started to walk toward the Sergeant with an angry expression on her face. She's the most level-headed of your subordinates by far and this is exactly what you'd expect from her.
  936.  
  937. “We met the human around noon yester”
  938. “What is a human?” - is the first question asked, interrupting your narration
  939. “The creature...he told us that's the name of his species, he”
  940. “Wait, did you just say “he”?” - aaaand of course, there we go.
  941. “Yes, he. His name is Anon Y Mous, and he is”
  942. “Wait Corporal! Are you telling me that we are getting a new colt?” - just as you are about to reply to the question, the Sergeant does so for you, turning and yelling at the poor guard - “Let me remind you that IT is an animal, that attacked your comrades! Celestia's sake, get your heads out of your gutter for a minute!” -
  943.  
  944. As Spearhead turns his head, you can clearly see the other colts nod with their heads and say something along the lines of “Well said”. Typical stallions – no comments or jokes that might offend their delicate sensibilities in front of them, please! Bah!
  945.  
  946. Thank Celestia, it seems Sergeant Red Flare thinks the same.
  947.  
  948. “Listen Spearhead, things might be different for colts, but us mares got it hard as it is – if we can't get it, at least we'll talk about it. Capisce?” - as she talks, you can see many among the ponies smile or nod at her words.
  949.  
  950. “And that's exactly why you “can't get it” as you put it Red – stop thinking with your plot” - oh colt, here we go. The Sergeant has always been VERY sensitive about her lackluster love life. Red Flare turns toward him and takes a couple of steps, before speaking once more -”Spearhead, if you value YOUR plot enough to not wish to wake up with a couple of hoof imprints on your ass, I'd suggest you shut up and let the poor Corporal continue with her story”
  951.  
  952. “Umpf!”
  953.  
  954. ...Did it work? Did it really work?
  955. Whoa..when you make Sergeant (a mare can dream...) you'll have to remember that line – it works wonders to shut Spearhead up if nothing else.
  956.  
  957. “Where was I...oh yeah. He's a human. Apparently the entire situation started when we were...”too forceful in the execution of our duties”, so-to-speak”
  958. “What do you mean, Shadow?” - asks Red Flare
  959. “We thought he'd hurt a foal and acted on our instincts. There, happy?” - says Aura, raising her voice - “And we were wrong – he just happened to be there at the same time as us, end of the story”.
  960.  
  961. She has been acting pretty protectively of your soon-to-be guest since she came back with him – you'd suspect her to be under his mental control, but even Princess Twilight said that her behavior is genuine. For now you'll simply grant him the benefit of the doubt – after all, he DID bring Aura back to you.
  962.  
  963. “Thank you Aura. Now, after the confrontation he took Aura with him, befo”
  964. “You mean he KIDNAPPED her, right Corporal?” - says Spearhead
  965. “Yes Sir, he took her PRISONER”
  966. You put emphasis on the words prisoner on purpose; he noticed it, if his scrunching is anything to go by.
  967. “After the human took her prisoner, he proceeded to interrogate her, quickly reaching the same conclusion as Aura – that the entire situation was the result of a misunderstanding. This morning our squad went back to the Forest to search for his whereabouts, but it seems that he decided to make the first move and brought Aura back to us, unharmed”
  968. You put even more emphasis on Aura well being – two can play this game, Spearhead.
  969.  
  970. Just as you think you won this round, another guard asks a question that you dearly hoped nopony would ask - “Corporal, is it true that the “human” can control ponies with his magic?” - a collective gasp followed this.
  971.  
  972. The taboo against mind-bending magic ran deep in Equestria even after a thousand years – the stories of how Nightmare Moon enslaved entire towns and conscripted ponies to fight for her are still used to make colts and fillies behave; it's no surprise that the appearance of an unknown being who can use such kind of magic would cause a scandal among the ponies that heard of him.
  973.  
  974. Sighing, you prepare to answer, just as Aura intervenes once more -”Yes, it's true”- another gasp is heard – nopony expected her to so bluntly confirm the rumor.
  975. “But he used it because he didn't know it is prohibited!”
  976. You swear to Celestia you SAW Spearhead smile before getting up and starting to talk.
  977. “It may be so, private, but a crime is still a crime, regardless of what the criminal thinks”
  978. Seeing ponies agreeing with him, Evening Star raises her voice to be heard -”Of course the Sergeant is right!” - you look at her surprised -”But Sergeant you are a unicorn – wouldn't you use a levitation spell if you were about to fall to your death in the mountains of the Griffons?”
  979. “Pffh of course I would. What's your point, Specialist?”
  980. “Sir, according to your logic you'd be a criminal under Griffon law”
  981. This causes you to giggle – Aura is not as subtle as you or Star (who is just slightly smiling) and starts laughing loudly, causing Spearhead to look at her meanly -”Heard something funny, Private?”
  982. -”No Si...si...hahaha!”-
  983. You SWEAR you saw Spearhead charge his horn for a moment before regaining control of himself.
  984. -”For this, 5 laps around the barracks private”-
  985. -”But! But!”-
  986. -”What's that? Want 5 more, private?”-
  987. Aura gulps, before replying -”No Sir!”-
  988. -”Good. If I were you, I'd get to them right away, private, before you say something else that might lead to you having cleaning duties for the next week”-
  989. At this, Aura runs out of the door and you all look out of the windows – and there she is, running like a madmare.
  990.  
  991. -”Now, finish your story Corporal”- says Spearhead, apparently in a better mood than before (you swear this colt gets off on having power over others).
  992. -”Ehm...yeah. The short version is that the human, Anon Y Mous, was subjected to an interrogation by the Princess. She decided to allow him to stay here at the barracks for the time being”-
  993. -”We know this Corporal. Tell us what are we missing?”-
  994. At this you look at him strangely – you got absolutely no idea where he's going with this. Seeing your expression he rolls his eyes before clarifying -”Think Corporal. According to the orders you relayed us, we will have to play host to an unknown being that – misunderstanding or not – attacked our fellow soldiers and dispersed your squad on his own. Tell us what you think, since it's due to your subordinates that we are in this situation”-
  995.  
  996. -”Sir, it was an honest mis”-
  997. He interrupts you, raising his voice - “I don't care, Corporal! If you want to call it a misunderstanding,  let's play with this narrative: it was your subordinate that attacked him and thus caused him to retaliate. You are Specialist Quick Shot's CO, hence it was you duty to restrain her from acting harshly!”-
  998.  
  999. Damn that colt. He has a way with words it seems – as you look around, you see the majority of the other guards nods (though you take note of that fact that Red is not nodding, but seems deep in thought instead) at his words.
  1000.  
  1001. ”Now. Forgetting what caused this situation, we have our orders and we are going to follow them. He'll require a personal guard, both to keep a close eye on him and to...”instruct him”, as the Princess put it, in the ways of our society. Given that your squad is responsible for this situation Corporal, I am SURE you''ll be thrilled to know that I am going to assign you seven to be his guard and instructors”
  1002.  
  1003. You don't even need to look around yourself to gauge the reaction of your fellow guards and the other officers – you can clearly hear the “yeah, he's right” coming from some other guards; you take notice that you don't hear anypony expressing dissent at Spearhead words.
  1004.  
  1005. You have lost this round.
  1006.  
  1007. Buck that colt, seriously.
  1008.  
  1009. Sighing, you do the only thing you can do in this situation: you look him in the eyes with a resigned look.
  1010. -”As you command, Sergeant, we will take charge of the hu...”-
  1011. As you speak, Specialist Evening Star interrupts you by coming close to Sergeant Spearhead and shaking his hoof, before speaking to him with a big smile on her face -”Thank you Sir! Forgive my forwardness, but I just wanted to thank you!”- even Spearhead seems confused at her reaction; seeing this, she continues -”This is an incredible opportunity for us, Sir! I wanted to thank you for the faith you put in us by giving us the opportunity to be responsible for the discovery of a completely new species and the integration of its only member in our society!”
  1012.  
  1013. Realizing what she's implying – just about at the same time you realize it -, he tries to back out of the hole he dug for himself -”Ehm...no Specialist, you got this wrong, I meant to say that”-
  1014. It seems that Red Flare understood what is going on, seeing that she intervenes herself interrupting the Sergeant -”What my esteemed peer is trying to say, is that we all have faith in your team to teach this being the magic of Friendship. After all, isn't that what Her Highness is constantly preaching? And if a Princess preaches a doctrine, doesn't that mean that it MUST be true?”
  1015.  
  1016. She smiles at Spearhead, perfectly knowing that his own religion teaches that. It seems that you won this round after all, thanks to your friends.
  1017.  
  1018. Maybe there is something to this “Magic of Friendship” thing that the Princess IS always talking about...
  1019.  
  1020. “We won't disappoint you, Sir!”
  1021. You say to Spearhead, raising your hoof in a mock-salute. By how he clenches his jaw and you are 100% sure he understood you are mocking him.
  1022. “You better not, Corporal. I want a weekly report on your progress with the creature”
  1023. And with that final taunt, he retreats with his buddies to their rooms.
  1024.  
  1025. “Now, Aqua..how about you ring in this mysterious colt that according to the friend of her Highness has 8 arms, shoots fire and can “make you blind just by looking in your direction”? I'm really curious to see him” - Red tells you in a loud voice, drawing the attention of the other guardmares.
  1026. “Err..sure Sergeant. Evening, go fetch Anon Y Mous”.
  1027. “Sure thing, Sergeant!” - she replies with a military salute, before going toward the doors.
  1028.  
  1029. ----------------------------------------------
  1030.  
  1031. As you watch the members of Aqua's team walk inside the barracks, you close your eyes and empty your mind.
  1032. You don't need to dig too deep to find what you're looking for – you simply trace in your mind the rune of your patron god before opening you eyes and the world becomes a show of lights.
  1033.  
  1034. What many young members of the Order never realize is that everything is connected – it's the etheric current that  connects the Nine Realms, the power behind the Corner Stones of Midgard. Some of your brothers-in-arms called it the Gods Blessing, while others called it the border between humanity and the monsters that lurk in the dark. To you, it's simply another facet of reality – as the rain falls to the earth, so does your spirit breathe in the power that permeates the Worlds of Yggdrasil.
  1035.  
  1036. It is the power that gives you certainty in your faith and that allows you to see the true reality of this land – it is as you suspected: everything in this blasted land is permeated by magic. It permeates the cracks of reality itself – you can clearly see the sky burning with ether, while the Sun is nothing more than a mockery of the bright Goddess that lights your homeland.
  1037.  
  1038. A corpse lit by an ethereal fire.
  1039.  
  1040. The land itself is not much better off – you can clearly see the rot within.
  1041.  
  1042. Of course, you have no pretenses to know the whole truth – what you see is only what the Gods in their wisdom deem necessary for you to know. Yet what they show you it's enough to understand what needs to be done – this land needs healing, but of which sort, you are not sure.
  1043.  
  1044. Magic is anathema to life. That much was clear in Halogaland.
  1045.  
  1046. Yet, the ponies themselves radiate magic – how this is possible, you are not sure; it's clear as day that while some rules still apply, you have to question the majority of what you took for granted.
  1047.  
  1048. While thinking this, you look over to Quick Shot and take note of how strange she looks through your new eyes – while she retains her bodily shape, you can clearly see the power running through her – you see how it pushes against gravity itself to let her remain airborne, yet you don't see the rot that should be there.
  1049.  
  1050. A magic user gets corrupted by its power, for only the Gods possess the strength to tame that absolute force.
  1051.  
  1052. Another "certain truth" that you have to call into question now that the lack of corruption is under your very eyes.
  1053.  
  1054. Could it be that there are multiple types of magic? After all, their Princess managed to reach into the ether and check on Aura even with you nearby – this shouldn't have been possible, yet she managed to do it, giving you a splitting headache in the process. Had it been a witch of the Far North back home in Halogaland, she'd have found herself burning inside out from her magic going haywire due to the presence of Aldhir, the Rune-shield.
  1055.  
  1056. Yet, that didn't happen to the Princess.
  1057.  
  1058. Could it be that you are onto something here – that you are not, in fact, within the Nine Worls? While the thought itself is enough to send a shiver down your spine, the more you think about it the more it makes sense – magic doesn't follow the same rules it did back home, you have never heard of “ponies”, be it in Midgard or from the Oracles that traveled to the other Realms (or so they claimed...) in their trances; yet, you are still connected to the Gods – otherwise the Runes would not respond to your commands.
  1059.  
  1060. This leaves you only one option to consider: the Gods granted your wish of a second chance...in a world so far away from your native one that the only connection you still share with Halogaland are the garments you don and the Gods you worship.
  1061.  
  1062. ….Fuck.
  1063.  
  1064. You stand up, drawing the attention of both Quick Shot and the pegasi you assume to be Fair Winds.
  1065. “Everything all right Anon?” - asks Quick Shot - “I've just realized that it's getting quite cold – do you think the Corporal would mind if we were to start a little bonfire while we wait for someone to come calling?”
  1066.  
  1067. She seems to think about it for a moment before turning to her comrade - “He's right you know Fair? I feel the wind biting, and he doesn't even have fur to cover him”- hearing this Fair Winds turns to look at you and then assumes a pensive pose -”Well, buck. Do you happen to have any wooden stick in your backpack Quick? Because I sure as Tartarus got none”
  1068. Quick Shot lands and quickly rummages through her backpack, before sighing and replying -”Nope. Got only some javelins...and no, we are NOT burning those Fair. Do you remember what the Sergeant did the last time we used them as fire wood?” - Fair Winds turns a slight green shade before answering -”Celestia-on-a-throne, how many times do I have to tell you to stop reminding me! It was bad enough that we had to clean the toilette for a week, but that we had to do it bare-hoofed? Bwah!” - this sends Quick Shot in a laughing fit, causing you to look at the strange scene – a pony literally turning green, while the other must be having a seizure from how hard she is laughing.
  1069.  
  1070. You do the only thing a sensible adult would do in front of such a juvenile scene.
  1071.  
  1072. You laugh.
  1073.  
  1074. Hearing your laugh causes both ponies to turn toward you and observe – before joining in.
  1075.  
  1076. By the Gods – either there is something seriously wrong with you, or these creatures are simply funnier than other humans are. You suspect it's the latter, mainly due to the incredible level of expressiveness that the ponies' faces have.
  1077.  
  1078. Calming down, you simply take out a small piece of wood from your belt and show it to the mares.
  1079.  
  1080. “See this?” - they look at it and then at you -”Yeah, it's a block made of wood. What's so special about it?”- asks Fair Winds - “It's how we keep ourselves warm back where I'm from. Let me show you”
  1081.  
  1082. You put the block on the ground, before extending you right hand toward it and quickly closing it to a fist, while thinking “ Agher”. The wood catches fire instantly, before rapidly expanding in height and width as you re-open your hand.
  1083.  
  1084. You turn to look at Quick Shot and Fair Winds, just to find the first looking at the fire with a marveled expression on her face, and the second looking at you with an extremely wary expression on her face.
  1085.  
  1086. "What did you do?" - asks Fair Winds, looking almost ready to jump at you if you gave the wrong answer...until Quick hits the back of her head with her hoof –"Ouch! What the buck, Quick?!"- Quick glares at her before answering –"What does it look like to you, dummy? He created a fire"– she then adds in a tone that makes you sure you weren't meant to hear what she's saying – "What did the Corporal tell us at the Forest? Keep an eye on him, but don't overreact at everything he does! Tartarus.." -
  1087.  
  1088. Well, that's nothing you weren't expecting – it seemed too strange for them to accept you just because their Princess seemed to believe your story. Not that you fault them for their response to you – you are an unknown to them; you'd react in the exact same way they are...that's a lie. You'd probably react in a much harsher way were your roles switched – they are showing you considerable patience and tolerance as it is.
  1089.  
  1090. "Forgive me if I startled you – that was not my intention"
  1091. Fair Winds turns toward you, seemingly calmer now –"It's ok – guess I'm just a bit on edge"– she moves closer to the fire, before asking -" So, you can create fire? Are you a wizard of some sort? Wait, didn't you tell Aura that you are a priest or something along those lines?"
  1092.  
  1093. Ah, so she admits it – you were certain she was listening on your conversation with Aura (not that you were speaking with a low voice to begin with). While you don't know if letting them assume you're some kind of wizard would be advantageous or not, you decide to play it safe and simply tell a partial truth.
  1094.  
  1095. "Yes, I'm a priest – but I received some training in the Art during my lifetime"
  1096.  
  1097. The Art. Puah! Calling the abomination that is magic by the name its practitioners gave it back home leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Yet, these creatures' magic might not be the same thing you call "magic", going by your earlier reasoning. You'll need more proof before giving judgement.
  1098.  
  1099. "Training? You mean that one can LEARN magic even if she is not a unicorn?!" - the pony moves extremely close to you, with eyes wide open – she has the same obsessed expression that some soldier addicted to painkillers had back home. Better snap her out of it.
  1100.  
  1101. You do this in the simplest manner – imitating what you saw her comrade do a moment ago, you flick your hand and a pebble hits the back of her helmet.
  1102.  
  1103. "Ouch! What the Tartarus Quick?!" - she turns around, just to see her comrade meters away from her, sitting in front of the fire. Hearing Fair Winds the pegasi turns toward you two and with a smile she says -" I think he figured out how to snap you out of it Fair. Give it up – you are not a unicorn"-.
  1104.  
  1105. Fair Winds scrunches her muzzle and then goes to sit near the fire too, letting you remove your helmet before joining her and Quick.
  1106.  
  1107. "Unicorn? You mean like your Princess?" - Fair Winds moves shakes her head before replying -"No, she is an Alicorn – she has both the horn and the wings. A Unicorn has only the horn" – interesting. As you think about this newly-acquired piece of information, you feel something brush against your side – it's Quick's wing you discover turning around.
  1108.  
  1109. "Uh? What is it Quick?"
  1110.  
  1111. "Well we have got some free time before they'll call us – how about we trade stories? You can tell us something about your world and we can tell you something about ours! I mean, it's not every day that you meet someone that comes from so far away" – this seems to catch Fair Winds attention, since she turns toward you and asks -"Wait, are you telling me that you were serious when you told Aura that your come from another world?"-
  1112.  
  1113. You shrug your shoulders before answering – you have nothing to gain from hiding this tidbit of information; you know next-to nothing of this world and this makes it risky for you to lie about your origin – better yet, you could try, but due to your lack of local knowledge you'd risk to end up caught red-handed, thus making them consider you even less trustworthy than they must consider you right now.
  1114.  
  1115. "Yes to both of your questions – I'd gladly swap stories Quick, and yes Fair Winds" - she interrupts you -"Just call me Fair, seriously. You already call half of our squad by the shortened version of their names, and if you're gonna stay here at the barracks we'll spend a lot of time with each other. Just give me some stories to associate with your name, so that when the others call "Anon!" in the barracks I won't be looking around asking myself what in the Princesses name they're talking about"- she concludes with a smile
  1116.  
  1117. Maybe it's just an order they received from their Corporal, or maybe these ponies are naturally more trusting and socially-inclined than you, but you're discovering that being friendly toward them comes very easy to you.
  1118.  
  1119. "Sounds Fai" - she interrupts you once more -"If you finish that phrase, I'm gonna hit you Anon. Wizard or not, creature or not, I've heard that bucking joke one too many times"- at this you simply start laughing once more, quietly this time.
  1120.  
  1121. "It was not my intention to make a pun at your name, Fair"
  1122.  
  1123. It totally was.
  1124.  
  1125. "Suuure. For this, you owe me a story – tell us something about your world now!"
  1126.  
  1127. And so the time passes, with you three trading stories and little more happening, except for the coming and going of patrols from the barracks – more than once you noticed some of the guards looking in the general direction of your little group, and once a couple of them even moved toward you before their officer recalled them.
  1128.  
  1129. Just as Quick is finishing narrating to you a story about how she "single-hoofly beat two manticores" (heavily altered to glorify herself, you are sure), you see a member of their squad come out of the barracks and move toward you three.
  1130.  
  1131. "Come – the Corporal sent me to bring you to the Common Room" – she says, seemingly nervous enough that Quick took notice of it -"What's wrong Star?"- the newly-named Star looks in your direction for a second, before replying -"It seems that things didn't exactly go how we thought they'd go..we got an audience".
  1132.  
  1133. She turns toward you -"How do you feel.." - seeing her drawing the phrase out, Fair intervenes -"Just call him Anon. It ain't like we won't see him around the barracks if he's gonna stay there"-
  1134.  
  1135. At this, you hear the black-furred pony mutter under her breath something along the lines of "You got no idea how right you are dear"; she turns toward both her comrades and quickly brings them up to date with what's going on – inadvertently bringing you up to date too in the process.
  1136.  
  1137. "So...yeah, it seems that thanks to the discussion started by Spearhead we're gonna have an audience. How do you feel about this...Anon?" - she concludes, looking at you as if to gauge your reaction at her using your first name.
  1138.  
  1139. You sigh before replying – you knew this was going to happen from the moment their Princess said you'd be staying in her Guard's barracks.
  1140.  
  1141. "Look...Star" - she doesn't seem fazed by you using her first name, so you continue -"Let's speak frankly, ok? Your Princess decided I'd stay among you all so that you may keep an eye on me"
  1142.  
  1143. As Fair starts to speak, you raise your hand to stop her.
  1144.  
  1145. "It's nothing personal, I get it – I'm an unknown to you all; an unknown that you met under...not the best of circumstances. I get why she'd want me to remain here for the time being. Moving on – if I'm going to stay in the barracks, the minimum I can do is to assure the other guards that I'm no danger to them"
  1146.  
  1147. All three of them look at you strangely – even if you'd bet for different reasons: Evening Star looks at you calculatingly, almost as if she wasn't surprised by your reply, while Fair Winds is looking at you with a strange expression and Quick Shot has simply gone silent, looking between you and the ground, almost as if she was ashamed of the entire situation.
  1148.  
  1149. Evening Star is the one to break the silence this time, with a more self-assured tone than the one she used earlier -"If you'll be honest with us Anon, I'll be honest with you"- hearing her tone, both of her comrades turn toward her -"You are right. You ARE an unknown to us; an unknown that will be sleeping close enough to us that he might turn us to red paste...or that we could turn to red mist"- both Quick and Fair look at her with horrified expressions.
  1150.  
  1151. "What the buck are you talking about Star?!" - says Quick, but Evening Star continues -"Look, I'm just telling the truth.  I know it's the truth, you know it's the truth Quick, and he knows it too. Let's stop beating around the bush and let's face reality, ok?"- at this, Quick turns her gaze to the ground and falls silent.
  1152.  
  1153. "Good"- continues Star, before looking at you and softening ever-so-slightly her tone of voice -"Look Anon...I can appreciate how everything that happened so far was due to misunderstanding and just bad luck – you and us were both at the wrong place at the wrong time, that's all. But having said that, you can understand why the Princess would want to keep an eye on you, for the time being at least, no?" - she concludes, looking at you expectantly.
  1154.  
  1155. You sigh once more before replying -"No, you're right Star. Were our roles reversed, it would be the minimum I'd do – to keep a close eye on the "strange being that appeared from the forest". I don't have a problem with that. I just hope that, in time, everything will solve itself. I'll be honest with you: I'm not looking for conflict with you all – I'm simply looking for a way home"
  1156.  
  1157. Evening Star nods, before replying -"Thank you for your honesty Anon. I don't know about the others, but I appreciate that we can at least speak frankly to each other"- seeing both Fair Winds and Quick nods at the affirmation, she continues -"I think it's about time we go...I'd rather not have the Corporal send somepony else looking for us, thinking that you captured us as you captured Aura – after all, one time was bad enough for our reputation, no?"- she concludes with a small smile on her muzzle
  1158.  
  1159. You smile too, before nodding and getting up.
  1160.  
  1161. "Let's go"
  1162.  
  1163. With a simply flick of your wrist the fire is put out; you pick up the small piece of wood and put it back in your belt, before moving toward the barracks, falling in step behind Evening Star.
  1164.  
  1165. You enter the barracks and find yourself in a long hallway, leading toward a second set of doors, half-open.
  1166.  
  1167. As the little group moves toward the new set of doors, you holster your warhammer to the back of your armor and quickly take a look at the walls – yes, seeing them closer confirms what you suspected from earlier: tiny rivulets of magic run deep within the crystals that seem to compose this structure.
  1168.  
  1169. Looking downward you see them moving deeper underground until even your enhanced sight loses them – it's almost as if this entire structure sprung up from the ground up – as if it was conjured into existence, rather than built; given what you've seen so far in this world, you wouldn't count on that being impossible.
  1170.  
  1171. Turning your gaze toward Evening Star, you take notice of a particular item that escaped you earlier – magic coalesces around the gemstone on her armored neck; a disguise? A reserve of power? You have no idea, but you're sure that were it not for Aldhir, you'd have turned into an abomination long before now given all the magic you're coming in contact with.
  1172.  
  1173. Yet, you feel no fear at the thought: you have given your life for your Kingdom and your Gods; one would think that a man who experienced death and was given a second chance would be terrified at the thought of dying once more – not you.
  1174.  
  1175. You got the final confirmation that the Gods are real.
  1176. Your faith has been vindicated – your faith is the one true faith.
  1177.  
  1178. While you were certain of this before, now you burn with conviction – the Gods brought you back to life and your life is theirs to do what they will with it.
  1179.  
  1180. You are brought out of your musings by a jab to the side from Quick -”Pss, Anon!”- you look upward and notice that you were apparently “out” for a good ten seconds – more than enough to reach the “Common Room” as Evening Star called it.
  1181.  
  1182. You can see why it's called a common room – you see well over fifty guards sitting around, almost all looking in your direction. As you blink, you reduce your connection to the ether current to a minimum, rescinding the rune you were holding in your mind so far – too many ponies and too much magic while you are actively looking for it equals a giant headache for you.
  1183.  
  1184. You can see Aqua Shadow by the side, looking at you nervously, while you notice that Aura is missing from the group – maybe she went to refresh herself? Stopping your musing, you bring your closed fist to your chest in the same salute you gave their Princess.
  1185.  
  1186. The noise seems to have put some of them on edge, but it also causes the pony sitting close to Aqua to smile toward you – looking at her, you do take notice that the helmet by her side is crested – an officer maybe? The Old Empire in the Far South used crested helmets to denote their officers; could it be that the same thing is happening over here?
  1187.  
  1188. You go with this assumption and turn toward her before proclaiming - “I'm not good with discourses, so I'll be brief – I am the so-called “Monster of the Forest”” - at this you can hear a resounding gasp from somewhere to your left, before continuing - “As you can see, no, I do not in fact have 8 arms, nor am I evil incarnate. Sorry to disappoint”.
  1189.  
  1190. The sporadic laughter that you hear tells you were right in addressing these guards as you would address fellow soldiers back home – getting on an even level does miracles to build camaraderie.
  1191.  
  1192. The pony you assumed to be an officer walks toward you, before replying with a smile on her face -”Well I guess we'll have to make do with what we have, even if we didn't get the monster we were promised”- this causes some more laughs among the assembled soldiers -”Allow me to introduce myself – Sergeant Red Flare, vice commander of this Detachment. And you are...?”-
  1193.  
  1194. “Anon Y Mous, Hierarch of the Golden Order of Halogaland...even though I doubt that means something to you” - you add, hoping for a glimpse of recognition – while you rationally accepted that this isn't your world, emotionally you still keep the vain hope that it might be and that you just happened to be far, far away from your homeland.
  1195.  
  1196. Sadly, her confused expression tells you everything you needed to know – she has no idea of what you're talking about.
  1197.  
  1198. “Err no, it doesn't tell me anything in fact. Though I presume it must be some kind of military order, given how you're dressed?” - she says, pointing with one hoof at the armor covering your body - “Aye, it is. Just a vain hope that someone might have heard of it and might point me toward home”.
  1199.  
  1200. This seems to resonate slightly with her, if the softening of her features is anything to go by.
  1201.  
  1202. “I'm sorry, but I really doubt that anypony here ever heard of where you came from, Anon Y Mous – you're in fact the first of your kind that we've ever seen”- she concludes, with a sad smile on her muzzle.
  1203.  
  1204. You give her a short nod, which she takes as a sign to continue, which she does, with a harder expression on her face -”According to the orders of Princess Twilight, you'll be hosted here at the barracks for the time being; forgive me if this might sound a bit harsh, but this entire situation smells like bullshit to me”- at this you can hear many guards gasp; with a quick glance around you notice many nodding at the Sergeant words too.
  1205.  
  1206. After a couple of seconds, she continues -”Now, maybe that came out off a bit more hostile than I meant it to be – what I'm trying to say, is that all we know about you and how this situation came to be is from second-hand reports. I think that if we could hear from YOU what exactly happened, it would help a lot in calming the nerves...and it would allow us to get to know you a bit. After all, if we're gonna share the barracks, we're gonna see each other VERY often. I think that starting with the right foot could be beneficial to all of us in this situation, wouldn't you agree?”- she concludes, looking at you.
  1207.  
  1208. You look over to Aqua and you see her giving you a short nod – while she might be a stranger to you, you're in her element out here; better follow what she tells you to do.
  1209.  
  1210. “Seems perfectly reasonable to me, Sergeant. Do you want me to tell you what happened from the beginning, or would you rather ask me questions? Both work fine for me” - she seems to think about it for a moment, before replying -”I think that we got the general gist of what was going on – you met Corporal Shadow's squad and got attacked by them, before proceeding to disperse them and take private Breeze prisoner. We also heard what happened afterward – the meeting with the Princess yada yada” - she continues, moving her hoof as if to imitate the motion you'd do with your hand -”So, how about we ask you some questions and you answer them?”- she concludes, expectantly.
  1211.  
  1212. You sit on a nearby table – their chairs are way too low for you to be comfortable – and look at the assembled guards.
  1213.  
  1214. “Ask away. I'll respond to the best of my ability”
  1215.  
  1216. You can clearly hear the low “hum” noise that the unicorn in the background is making; while you have no way to be sure of it, you'd bet your warhammer it is preparing to check if you're going to lie, somehow. Not a problem – you don't plan to lie at this point: you're in too deep to try and weasel your way out. You're outnumbered, in the lion's den and far away from home. The only way is forward, trying to be as diplomatic as possible.
  1217.  
  1218. Nodding, the Sergeant starts talking once more -”I think it'd be simpler if I were to ask some questions, before giving the floor to the others. So. What are you? I've never seen anything like you”-
  1219.  
  1220. “I'm a human”
  1221.  
  1222. Seeing that this means nothing to her, you think on how to best put it, before continuing
  1223.  
  1224. “To help you understand, let me tell you a theory that some people held true about what we humans are, and our origins: think of me as a highly sophisticated version of a much simpler creature. In other words, take the simplest creature you can imagine and then imagine that countless eons have passed, during which this creature matured and changed; maybe not that creature itself, but its progeny and its descendants, with each generation making the creature just a tiny bit more complex – imagine this continuing on and on, until you reach me, a human”
  1225.  
  1226. While you always found the theories of the Greek philosophers to be the raving of mad men at best and heresy at worst, you're a learned man and knowledge of foreign ideas was expected of you; while the theory of Anixamander of Miletus about humanity being descended from fishes has always seemed nothing more than the delusions of an old man to you, many of the learned men of the Court agreed that it made sense. Puah! Heretics all of them; you wouldn't be surprised if they had agreed with the pupil of that madman too – Xenophanes argued that Earth came from Water, and that all life came from the ocean. You had always laughed at the fools that believed in such idiocies, yet your knowledge of their ideas might just be useful in this situation, since it allows you to give a simple, yet logically sound explanation of what you are.
  1227.  
  1228. “That...actually makes sense, you know?” - says Red Flare, looking at you with a strange expression -”While it doesn't really tell me much about you, I guess it IS a good explanation for what you are. Moving on, you're clearly not from Equestria. To tell the truth, I've never heard of your species Anon Y Mous before now – where are you from?”
  1229.  
  1230. As you prepare to reply, Fair Winds raises her hoof in the air and the Sergeant nods in her direction, giving her permission to speak -” I'm actually pretty curious too Anon! You spoke a lot about your homeland with Aura and it sounds fascinating! Is it true that you don't have a Princess to move your Sun?!” - at her words, you can almost FEEL the entire room staring at you.
  1231.  
  1232. “You are correct, Fair Winds – we do not, in fact, have a Princess to move our Sun”
  1233.  
  1234. Just as you spoke, another hoof shot in the air – given permission to speak from Red Flare, the guard raises her voice to be heard -”But if you don't have an Alicorn to move the Sun, how do you do it?”- ah, the age-old question that pushed many learned men to madness. As far as you are concerned, the answer is pretty straightforward – the great Sol, daughter of Mundilfari, rides the chariot pulled by Árvakr and Alsviðr. Yet, you know of at least 2 other interpretations of the phenomenon – one that came to Halogaland shores with the priests of the crucified god, and one that came from far-away Hellas, brought to your kingdom by merchants hailing from the Old Empire.
  1235.  
  1236. “To be completely honest with you, there have been many discussions about this among my people. Yet, I know for a fact that the one responsible to move the sun is the one we call Sol, goddess of the Sun. Before you ask me how I know this, it's because I've seen it with my own eyes”
  1237.  
  1238. They collectively gasp at this, but you didn't lie – in your younger days you doubted the existence of the gods and tried to open yourself up to the etheric current, before directing your sight to the sky. What you saw that day haunts you even now – not because you saw something horrifying, but because the beauty of what you saw made the world seem less...alive, if that made sense. Almost as if after having been witness to the beauty of a true Goddess, the everyday life seemed meaningless.
  1239.  
  1240. Another hoof raises, and another guard poses her question -”You worship the goddess of the Sun in your homeland too? We worship her too, through her avatar, Princess Celestia. Could it be that you know her under a different name?”
  1241.  
  1242. After thinking about it for a second, your simple reply is to shake your hand. -“If your “Princess Celestia” is a pony, then no – I've never seen a pony before meeting Corporal Shadow's squad”
  1243.  
  1244. The guard seems to deflate a bit hearing this, and goes back to play with her medallion – in the shape of a stylized sun, you notice.
  1245.  
  1246. “So, where are you from exactly?” - asks the Sergeant, seeing no more hooves raised -“I hail from Halogaland, the Northern Kingdom. We're the northern-most inhabited land that we have knowledge of, to make it simpler”
  1247.  
  1248. “So..kinda like the Crystal Empire?” - asks another guard, before being hit on the helmet by another, that replies -”Dummie, if he's not from around here, how can he know about the Crystal Empire or where it's located?”
  1249.  
  1250. You observe the exchange, before another hoof is raised -”What is it like over there?”-
  1251.  
  1252. “It's...” - you actually never thought about it. Halogaland is home to you, that's it. “It's my home. My homeland is a cold land, with fair summers and cold winters; yet, it's a beautiful land, with vast forests and walls of ice in the far north, where the sky seems to join the endless ocean” - maybe you were a bit more poetic than it really is, but the wide-open eyes of the guard tell you that you managed to convey a majestic image.
  1253.  
  1254. The next question comes from Aqua Shadow herself, to your surprise -”Tell me, Anon: we heard what the Princess said about mind-bending magic, but I wanted to ask you since we met this morning – what did you exactly do to us in our confrontation? I sincerely thought you were shapeshifting”- at this the entire room goes silent and the ponies turn toward you – it seems that mental control is a big taboo around here, by what Aura told you and by their reaction to Aqua's question.
  1255.  
  1256. Something to remember for later on.
  1257.  
  1258. “I instilled terror in your minds, nothing more, nothing less. I wasn't controlling your minds if that's what you're asking – what I did was to simply make you see whatever you're most afraid of” - this causes Aqua to scrunch her muzzle – she's clearly unsatisfied with your answer, and the rest of the guards seem to feel the same, if the huge shift in the mood is anything to go by; you wisely decide to continue explaining.
  1259.  
  1260. “Imagine it this way – your mind knows what you're most afraid of – I don't. The only thing I did was to tell your mind to push whatever scared you at the front of your thoughts, so that you'd mistake that for what was happening.”
  1261.  
  1262. The Sergeant interrupts you, this time with a harsh tone in her voice -”In other words, you commanded their minds to terrorize them, and it did so. I don't know what the law is in your homeland, but here mind-bending magic is not taken lightly, Anon Y Mous”.
  1263.  
  1264. You nod, acknowledging her remark
  1265.  
  1266. “I am aware of that now, Sergeant, but as you can clearly imagine I wasn't when I met Corporal Shadow's team. How could I, given that they were the first ponies I had ever met?” - she's clearly annoyed by your answer, but your logic is sounds – nobody can fault you for breaking a law you were unaware of.
  1267.  
  1268. After a little while, she takes a look around the room and notices that many guards are chatting among themselves, probably discussing what you just said – you notice various emotions playing out on the assembles ponies' faces: rage, frustration, sympathy..you take note that there is a lack of open hostility though, much to your relief.
  1269.  
  1270. Red Flare sighs, before moving toward the center of the room -”I think that's enough for today – let the colt rest for now. I'm sure you won't deny us another round of questions at dinner, right?” - she turns toward you; seeing you nod, she continues -”Then the show is over ladies! Move on! I want the next patrol out in 5!”.
  1271.  
  1272. With much grumbling, the rest of the guards go back to their various duties (even though you can still notice some looks in your direction), while Sergeant Red Flare and the members of Aqua's team move toward you.
  1273.  
  1274. “According to Sergeant Spearhead decision...which I agree with, you'll be Corporal Shadow's responsibility for the time being. While you might be a civilian according to what Princess Twilight said, if you're gonna live in the barracks, you're gonna be subjected to the same discipline as the other guards, am I clear?”
  1275.  
  1276. “Crystal, Sergeant. Just a quick question – what will that entail?”
  1277.  
  1278. At this, Aqua takes the floor and speaks up -”We'll go over that soon enough Anon. For now, I just want to know if you're willing to follow my lead – if you're going to be my responsibility, I NEED to know that you'll follow my orders”- she sighs, before continuing -”Understand that I bear no ill will toward you Anon – while the circumstances under which we met were not the best and you ARE an unknown to us, you've been honest with us and the Princess herself vouched for your honesty after the interrogation. That's enough for me to not be mad at what happened – if you're willing to start over with all of us, I think we could all look forward to a new day” - she concludes with a hopeful smile
  1279.  
  1280. You simply bow your head in her direction, before raising your closed fist toward her -“If I wasn't completely sure that this entire situation came about due to a misunderstanding, I wouldn't be here with you all. You've been fair and honest with me, so I'll reciprocate that. If I'm going to be your responsibility, Corporal...then yes, I'm willing to follow your orders”-
  1281.  
  1282. You can clearly perceive Aqua exhale, almost as if she expected you to reject her request.
  1283.  
  1284. If she really thought you would, she's really wrong – even forgetting that you're stranded in a foreign land, what you said IS true – these creatures...these ponies, have been completely honest and fair with you. Were your roles reversed, you're ashamed to admit that you doubt your fellow humans would have extended them the same courtesy.
  1285.  
  1286. You've decided – no more plans. If they are willing to give a complete stranger a roof over his head and a fair chance at a new life, while asking in return only your honesty, these creatures are worthy of it in your eyes: unless your Gods give you a clear sign, you'll see where your decisions lead you.
  1287.  
  1288. While having these thoughts, you suddenly feel as if a heavy weight was lifted from your shoulders – you feel almost like when you were a child and your father was looking at you proudly due to your accomplishments and for turning out an honorable young man. It might be your imagination, but you could swear you felt as if something approved of your decision – could this be the sign you were asking for?
  1289.  
  1290. As if reading your mind, the world suddenly lights up as if you'd completely opened yourself to the ether, before a single rune traces itself in the air in front of your eyes – Tiwaz, the rune of your patron God.
  1291.  
  1292. You're sure who you're talking to now.
  1293.  
  1294. Bowing your head slightly so to not alarm the ponies surrounding you, you send a single message in the ether.
  1295.  
  1296. “Your will be done”
  1297.  
  1298. You feel the pressure disappear from your shoulder, while the world goes back to normal in front of your eyes.
  1299.  
  1300. “..so yeah, I get the top bunk now!” you hear Quick say, seemingly arguing with her comrade -”Nope. I saw it first, I get to keep it”- the Corporal is holding her head with a hoof, almost as if she's resigned to such discussions. Thankfully for her, Evening Star intervenes to calm them down -”You do realize that you're arguing like children in front of the new colt, right?”- she says, smiling.
  1301.  
  1302. This seems to have an instantaneous effect on the two mares, who try to appear as professional as they can – a sight that makes you laugh, a laughter that Aura (who apparently arrived while you were having your...conversation with your God) joins in, quickly followed by the rest of the squad and the Sergeant.
  1303.  
  1304. Calming down, Red Flare speaks up -”So...I think I'll leave you to figure out your new sleeping locations until dinner time. Team Shadow, you're dismissed. Now, speaking unofficially? I'd request a new sleeping location with separated rooms, you know..for privacy purposes”- she concludes, smiling in Aqua's direction.
  1305.  
  1306. It might be your imagination, but you'd swear that Aura and a couple of her comrades were blushing under their manes.
  1307.  
  1308. ----------------------------------------------
  1309.  
  1310. In the end, you're given a bunk bed to rest for a few hours if you so wish, while the majority of the squad chooses to go elsewhere in the barracks, each one busying themselves to pass time until dinner is called; as you prepare to go to sleep, you hear a “mhmh”.
  1311.  
  1312. Turning around reveals Fair Winds lying on another bed(who decided to remain - to keep an eye on you for sure), seemingly looking at the wall, even though you can occasionally see her glancing in your direction.
  1313. “Look, level with me ok?” - she turns toward you; seeing you nod, she continues -”Things are embarrassing enough as they are right now. Let's try to keep things as professional as possible, k?”
  1314.  
  1315. You simply nod, since you can clearly see where she's coming from; from what you've seen so far, there are very few males among their ranks. Moreover, from what little you've seen during your “introduction” to the garrison, the males try to stick together. Personal preference? Maybe, but it would make perfect sense to expect males and female to sleep separately.
  1316.  
  1317. This brings you to the current situation – the fact that you're gonna stay with Aqua's squad (temporarily, you hope) might create unnecessary tension.
  1318.  
  1319. Seeing you nod in understanding, Fair Winds exhales, seemingly relaxing. This causes you look at her expectantly.
  1320. “What? “
  1321. “You just seemed to expect me to object to what you said”
  1322. “Ah, that” - she looks downward, clearly uncomfortable with the discussion -”Look, no offense intended but you're a stallion. A mare never knows what to expect from you lot”
  1323. “Stallion? You mean a male? Well...wait, what do you mean with “never knows what to expect from you lot”?”
  1324.  
  1325. Maybe it was your tone, maybe your expression, but Fair Winds starts moving her hooves in front of herself
  1326. “Nothing, nothing! I meant...aargh” - and she hangs her head, in seemingly defeat; for what, you got no idea.
  1327. After a good 10-20 second, she raises her head and continues talking - “Listen, I got no idea how things work back where you're from, so do me a favor and throw me a bone ok?”
  1328. “Ask away”
  1329. “HOW do things work where you're from? Give me something to work with...wait, let me rephrase that”
  1330. She drags herself up and then sits on the bed with a pensive expression on her muzzle, before continuing
  1331. “I GET that you're not a mindless brute, ok? I GET this was a misunderstanding, but look where it brought us: you're for the time being stuck with us, and us with you. And I got no idea what to expect from you! So, mind helping a sis...err...helping me out?”
  1332.  
  1333. You look at her before sighing (you were REALLY looking forward to resting for a few hours) before moving slightly upward under the sheets – not enough to uncover you, but enough to look her straight in the eyes.
  1334. ...is it your impression or her eyes darted on what little of your body is left uncovered by the sheets?
  1335. Whatever.
  1336. “This might surprise you, Fair – is it okay if I shorten your name too?”
  1337. Seeing her nod you continue
  1338. “As I was saying this might surprise you, but I'm just as nervous as you are”
  1339. This actually gets a reaction our of her, if the surprised expression on her face is anything to go by
  1340. “I'm a foreigner, that just yesterday many of your comrades though was a monster skulking the forest. You just got your team member back, and now I've been dumped on your squad by your superiors. I get why this entire situation seems unfair and, to repeat what you said earlier, a huge pile of shit”
  1341. This actually brings a little smile on her face – you pat yourself on the back mentally.
  1342. “Look Fair, I'm sorry if that will cause..scratch that, it's already causing problems to you all, and I'm sorry for that”
  1343.  
  1344. You notice a change on her face – maybe it's your imagination, or maybe it's the fact that she's just beginning to understand that you aren't, in fact, a vicious monster. Whatever the case, when she speaks her tone is much softer than the one she used before
  1345. “Thank you...Anon” - she looks at you, as if expecting you to chide her for daring to call you by your name; it seems that the strong, outspoken Fair Winds disappeared at some point of this conversation, replaced by this reasonable but insecure pony. You simply smile while nodding, to signal her to continue, which she does.
  1346. “Maybe this won't be so bad, after all” - she concludes
  1347.  
  1348. You watch her turn on the other side, before going under the sheets yourself to try once more to fall asleep.
  1349. “I really hope you're right Fair, I really hope you are”
  1350. This is the last thought you have before the soft darkness of sleep claims you.
  1351.  
  1352. ----------------------------------------------
  1353.  
  1354. You fly high above the creature in its dream and take in the sight.
  1355. It's glorious.
  1356. A city made of marble and gold, cast on the background of a wall of ice.
  1357. Is it dreaming of its home? Or is this someplace he visited in its life?
  1358.  
  1359. You do not know, nor do you truly care right now; this creature intrigues you.
  1360.  
  1361. When the apprentice (ex-apprentice you remind yourself) of you sister came to you for help instead of her trusted mentor, you were very surprised – a rare thing since so little can surprise you anymore. Yet, you were not disappointed: the dreams of this creature are unlike anything you've ever seen. They positively shine with life, like gems against the usual darkness of the dreamscape.
  1362.  
  1363. Resting during daytime gave you all the time you needed to think about what you saw last night in its dreams. This coupled with the letter from Sparkle convinced you that meeting this being might be a more delicate matter than you expected it to be – if it truly is not a direct danger to your subjects (as the letter Sparkle sent you seemed to imply) and it is truly willing to cooperate, maybe Sparkle had the right idea in letting it remain in Ponyville under the close watch of the Royal Guard. Maybe her solution is preferable to your earlier idea of bringing it to Canterlot...for now that's it.
  1364.  
  1365. While mulling over your thoughts, you quickly decide that you'll pay a visit to this being tomorrow – while this will completely wreck your sleep cycle, it might just be the best option at this point.
  1366.  
  1367. No offense to your sister, but both her and her apprentice are absolutely horrible when it comes to diplomacy – they're too stiff, too unwilling to compromise.
  1368.  
  1369. And this time, you WILL have to compromise.
  1370.  
  1371. You're sure of it, if the gigantic figure standing on the horizon of the dreamscape is anything to go by.
  1372.  
  1373. You're the Princess of the Night, the Queen of Dreams; nothing escapes your control in this realm...except for the silent figure looking at you, that's it.
  1374.  
  1375. It's relatively calm by this point, but when you tried to come close to the creature (Anon Y Mous you think its name is, by what Sparkle wrote you), the giant figure started unsheathing its sword. As you moved away, it sheathed its weapon once more.
  1376.  
  1377. It seems you're at an impasse. You can't get close enough to this Anon Y Mous to get what information you need without causing the giant to attack you. Moreover, it seems that your magic is not working properly – you doubt it's the work of the silent giant, so much as the work of the other beings you see around yourself; from the giant whose face is split between a rotten skull and a healthy, smiling face to the one-eyes being sitting high in the sky on its throne.
  1378.  
  1379. You are a true mistress of dream magic – you know that nothing is as it seems, and yet you feel as if you're an uninvited guest to a spectacle, a show with the creature knows as Anon Y Mous as the protagonist.
  1380.  
  1381. As you land on a cliff so to have a better visual of what's going on, you see Anon Y Mous running toward a beast conjured by its minds – a true horror made of arms, talons and teeth. If you didn't know for a fact that this is just a dream, such a being would've caused even you, who fought a thousand battles in the distant past, to pause in horror.
  1382.  
  1383. Yet it gives no pause to Anon Y Mous, who is charging the monster.
  1384.  
  1385. “Tir!” is its battle-cry, as it charges the monster head on with a war hammer in its hand.
  1386.  
  1387. As the hammer strikes the monster, the dream shatters in a thousand pieces, sure sign that it..he, is waking up.
  1388.  
  1389. Before being ejected from what's left of his dream, you look upon the one-eyes figure high in the sky, and you see a thin smile spread on its face.
  1390.  
  1391. You will yourself to wake up and get up from your bed.
  1392.  
  1393. As you finish getting ready and get out of your bedroom, you see the surprised expression on the guards' faces – the fact that you are very much against living during the day is a well-known fact among the guards of the castle by this point.
  1394.  
  1395. “Tell my sister that I won't be back today – I have urgent matters to attend to”
  1396. As the guards nod, one asks -”Your Highness, what should we tell your sister if she were to ask your location?”
  1397. You think for a second, before replying with a smile
  1398. “Tell her that she was right: I need to be seen among the population. What better place to start than Ponyville?”
  1399. The guard stands at attention, while you move to a nearby balcony, spread your wings and take flight.
  1400.  
  1401. Yes, this being, this Anon Y Mous, truly intrigues you, and you shall get the answers you seek very soon.
  1402.  
  1403. ----------------------------------------------
  1404.  
  1405. It seems that resting did nothing to assuage the migraine you've been feeling for the past couple of days; not that you expected it to really help since you suspect that the headache is a consequence of the fact that Aldhir has to “work” in overdrive to keep all the magic in the environment from seeping in your body.
  1406.  
  1407. As you lie down on the bed, you think back at the dream you had – the same nightmare that has plagued your dreams for the past decade: a clearing in a dark forest, in which you are facing off against Vali, one of the monstrous children of Loki.
  1408.  
  1409. This wouldn't be anything exceptional were it not for the various presences you felt – you have no idea who they are, but one of them, the smallest, was the same shadow that has plagued your dreams for past couple of days.
  1410. A large horse, with a fur as black as the night.
  1411.  
  1412. You've no idea why, but even though its presence was by far the smallest, you felt drawn toward it.
  1413.  
  1414. You sigh, opening your eyes...and see various mares turn toward you.
  1415.  
  1416. Just as you turn around, Aura flies up, so to be eye-level with you before sitting on the part of the bed that you're not occupying.
  1417.  
  1418. “Hey Anon! Got some rest? You looked like you were just about to fall asleep on your feet earlier” - she says with a smile plastered on her face; you got no idea what she did in these last few hours while you were asleep, but whatever it was, it seems to have put her in a really good mood.
  1419. “Hey Aura” - you reply before yawning
  1420. “Is it only you or all humans sleep this much?” - she asks, cocking her head to the side
  1421. “What do you mean?”
  1422. “Well, you slept for a big part of the afternoon” - she says, pointing with her hoof toward a wall clock.
  1423.  
  1424. Well, fuck. She's right.
  1425. By the Gods, what in Hel's name is wrong with you in these past days – you feel heavier than normal, and this damned migraine is not helping.
  1426.  
  1427. While you never made use of the time-keeping technique of the Old Empire, you learned enough of its basis to see the similarities between it and the contraption on the wall – they both seem to use 2 cycles of 12 hours to measure time.
  1428. What a waste of time – your people's system is so much easier – divide the sólarhringr (sun-circle) in 8 eykt (sun-marks) and that's it.
  1429.  
  1430. As you sigh, Quick Shot flies to the level of your bed and drags Aura down with her
  1431. “What the buck Quick?!” - Aura calls out, quickly turning so as to not end up on the floor head-on.
  1432. “What the buck? What the buck are YOU doing Aura – let the colt dress for Celestia's sake!”
  1433. Aura turns toward you -”What, he's naked like the rest of...us. Oh.” - she seems to realize just now the implications of you not being covered in fur, if the extreme redness spreading on her face means anything.
  1434.  
  1435. As you take a brief look around, you notice that Aura wasn't the only one that hadn't realized it, since a couple of her comrades are blushing as well.
  1436.  
  1437. This does nothing but make your headache worse, since you now understand even more what a pain in the ass this entire situation is – having to share a bedroom with members of the opposite sex in such a context won't be nearly as funny as it might sound.
  1438.  
  1439. ...if they were human females at least. Meh.
  1440.  
  1441. As the two mares discuss, you get up – luckily for them and for you, you rarely slept naked; as high-ranking member of the Order, you were on-call at all times, for whatever reason.
  1442.  
  1443. As you jump down from the top bunk bed, all eyes turn toward you, and you're sure you heard a disappointed “buck!” from somewhere.
  1444. “Don't worry, Quick – as you can see, I don't have an habit of sleeping naked”
  1445. Well that's only partially a lie – you sleep naked until your waist.
  1446. While you quickly put on the rest of your clothes, you notice that various members of the squad are looking at you, even if you'd bet for different reasons: Aura and Quick are as red as the sky at sunset, while Evening Star and Aqua seem to look at you with a detached interest, almost as if they were analyzing your body structure and biology.
  1447.  
  1448. Finishing to dress up, you glance at the clock and see that it is indeed late in the afternoon
  1449. “I wanted to ask you what's the schedule Aqua”
  1450. She shakes her head, as if coming out of her musings -”Schedule? You mean the one my squad follows, or the one of the barracks?”
  1451. “Well..both? Things such as at which time you eat, etc; I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't I follow your lead from what Sergeant Red Flare said?”
  1452. She nods, with a pensive look on her face -”Yes...we still have to talk about it actually”.
  1453.  
  1454. She turns around, gesturing to Fair Winds -”Go fetch Silver and Amethyst, we might as well get this out of the way”
  1455. Fair stands at attention before going out of the room, presumably to get her other squad-mates.
  1456.  
  1457. You sit down at the table (and make a mental note to either build yourself a chair of your size, or to get someone to build it for you) and cross your arms.
  1458. “So..I guess I've been impressed in the Equestrian army?”
  1459. A stupid joke. Yet it seems to work as you hear a snicker from Evening Star and see a smile on Quick's face
  1460. Aqua shakes her head, before replying -”Anon, I get you're joking, but it might as well have been what happened”
  1461.  
  1462. Aura turns toward the Corporal, with a surprised look on her face -”What do you mean Corporal? I get that he has to stay here by order of the Princess, but she didn't say anything about this”
  1463.  
  1464. Gods, this pony is naive.
  1465.  
  1466. It seems that Aqua thinks the same, as she starts explaining to Aura -”Not the Princess, Aura –Sergeant Red Flare orders. She has put him under my responsibility, or nopony told you what happened while you were outside? And you can stop calling me by rank when we're off-duty, it's ok” - she concludes
  1467. Aura scratches her head, before replying -”No ma'a” - she stops as Aqua looks at her with a semi-serious look -”Err..no, Aqua, nopony told me anything. I was too dead after running and just went to refresh myself”
  1468. “Seriously, buck Spearhead – buck him and buck whoever promoted him” - says Quick Shot
  1469. The rest of the squad simply murmurs along the lines of “Yeah”, “You're right”.
  1470.  
  1471. Aqua sighs, before speaking up -”Look girls” - she looks in your direction -”and colt, I think we all agree that not all officers can be as amazing as yours truly, but let's get back on topic, ok?” - she says with a thin smile.
  1472.  
  1473. While you have no idea who this “Spearhead” is, you get the feeling that it might be in your interest to find out – if you're going to be staying here, it would be better to not be on any ranking officer's black book.
  1474.  
  1475. “So, I guess a welcome is in order Anon. It seems that by order of Sergeant Red Flare you're now under my command, at least for the time being” - she says looking at you, as if to gauge your reaction
  1476. You simply nod, inviting her to continue, which she does -”We've been honest with each other so far and I'd like if we kept it that way; while the situation might have been cleared as far as to what happened yesterday, I trust you saw that your arrivals...caused some excitement so to speak”- understatement of the century in you opinion -”Err..look, I can speak only for myself, but I don't have anything against you. Evening Star, cut the link”
  1477. Evening Star looks at Aqua as if she had just grown a second head, before speaking up -”You do realize that no link was ever established, right Aqua?”
  1478. Aqua turns toward her with a surprised expression -”What do you mean no link was established? Then what in Tartarus was Frozen Sapphire doing earlier?!”-
  1479.  
  1480. Hearing them talk among themselves, you think back at the “interview” you had before going to sleep and suddenly the pieces fall in place: Frozen Sapphire must have been the unicorn trying to cast the spell in the background. Well..it seems that the cat is out of the bag – might as well admit yourself before they find out and have one more reason to doubt your sincerity.
  1481.  
  1482. “I'm immune to magic, Aqua”
  1483. This catches everybody's attention and they all turn toward you
  1484. “Look”
  1485. You open your hand and show her the runic scars on the palm of your hand, softly shining
  1486. “See this? This is called “Aldhir”, and it's what protects me from magic”
  1487.  
  1488. They all come closer to take a look, with Aura taking your other hand in her hooves to examine it closer
  1489. “I thought it HAD to mean something since I saw it the first time! I knew it!” - she exclaims, while Evening Star looks at you with suspicion in her eyes
  1490. “Strange that you mention it only now that we would have found out on our own, eh?”
  1491.  
  1492. “It's not strange, Star – it didn't come up so far. I didn't think someone would try and cast a spell on me”
  1493. You put emphasis on the last part – if she wants to play the blame game, two can play it.
  1494. It seems to work, since she grumbles a bit before moving closer and taking your hand from Aura's hooves
  1495. “At least let me get a good look”
  1496.  
  1497. As the interest wanes after a bit, Aqua sits back at the table and look straight at you
  1498. “Look Anon..I'll let it pass this time since you're right – you didn't give anypony a valid reason to warrant the casting of a spell” - she raises her hoof to interrupt Evening Star -”I know Star. He was and is an unknown and that might have been reason enough. But frankly, I want to form my own opinion on this colt. He spent the last day answering our questions trying to prove his innocence and even the Princess believed his story. I'm willing to give him a chance; you can do whatever you want, but that's what I've decided and you won't change my mind” - she concludes her speech looking you in the eyes.
  1499.  
  1500. The message is loud and clear.
  1501.  
  1502. “Now, anything else that we might need to know, Anon? If so, now's the time to speak up”
  1503.  
  1504. You weight your options – it seems that the rune-shield works fine, granting you a partial immunity to magic (even if you've no idea how immune you might be in this world). They cannot check if you're lying it seems. This would allow you to lie your way out of the situation...but you decided to be honest with these ponies, so be it.
  1505.  
  1506. You nod to yourself, before speaking up
  1507. “I'm a gothi. A priest that fights the enemies of his kingdom with his brother-in-arms. Essentially, an auxiliary member of the army”
  1508. Everybody nods hearing this, almost as if they expected it – which to be honest they probably did.
  1509. “We humans do not possess magic, what” -
  1510. Quick Shot interrupts you, pushing herself up -”Wait a minute. If you can't do magic, what was that in the forest? Or the fire before we came inside the barracks?”
  1511.  
  1512. At this exact moment Fair Winds comes back with the last two members of the team, the newly-named Silver Shine and Amethyst Star.
  1513.  
  1514. “We're back Aqua! Wait..what are you all discussing?”
  1515. Star puts her hoof on Fair Winds shoulder, before telling her -”Ah, Fair..you just missed out on hearing the secret to learn how to cast spells without being a unicorn!”
  1516. This gets a reaction out of Fair, as she widens her eyes and starts looking around the room panicked -”She's joking, right?? I didn't miss that, right??”-
  1517.  
  1518. After a giggle, you start once more
  1519. “No Fair, you didn't miss anything. I was just beginning”
  1520. She exhales, before taking a seat at the table. With the entire team assembled around the table, you start speaking once more.
  1521. “As I was saying, we humans don't possess the power of magic. What we have is the capacity to call upon the power the Gods gifted us at the dawn of time”
  1522. “In other words you do magic, just using a different source” - says  Amethyst Star
  1523. You shake your head
  1524. “No. Magic is nothing like the Runes. For example – how do you light a fire using magic?”
  1525. They all look at each other, before Aqua looks at you
  1526. “Anon, you do realize that nopony here can cast spells, right?”
  1527.  
  1528. This actually surprises you – you thought that while only the ponies with a horn (didn't Fair call them “unicorns”?) could truly make use of magic, every pony could at least cast basic spells, with all that magic running through their bodies.
  1529.  
  1530. “I truly thought that all of you ponies could use magic. My bad”
  1531. Aqua interrupts you -”No Anon, you're right in that. ALL of us ponies make use of magic, just in different ways. Us pegasi use it to stay airborne for example, but only unicorns can truly use it to cast spells”.
  1532.  
  1533. You stop to think for a moment how to explain the difference to somebody that doesn't know what magic feels like.
  1534. “Try to imagine it like this – Magic is like a mighty river that flows around you. When you cast a spell, you simply open yourself to the current and let it bring you under. The more power you pour in a spell, the deeper underwater you dive and the stronger the current becomes, making it harder and harder for you to come back. Do you follow me so far?”
  1535. Aqua nods, while the rest of the mares seem to be either thinking about what you just said or (in Amethyst case) just confused.
  1536. “Ok, another way to look at it is this one: magic is everywhere. In my world, it is like a veil that shrouds the land, but it doesn't fit in the natural order of things and thus is actively rejected by the living being. Magic corrupts where I'm from”
  1537. Evening Star raises her hoof, speaking once you acknowledge her -”This might be true where you're from Anon, but I've never seen a magic user being corrupted simply because she made use of magic”
  1538. You nod.
  1539. “True. I suspect that magic works slightly different here. You all emit magic – look”
  1540. You move your hand closer to Fair Winds, and the scars start shining brighter
  1541. “See? Aldhir reacts to the presence of magic”
  1542.  
  1543. Aqua looks at you with a surprised expression -”So, are you telling me that you got absolutely no magic in yourself?”
  1544. “Exactly”
  1545. “Bullshit” - says Silver Shine -”No living being can live without magic”
  1546. “This might be the case HERE, but back where I'm from no living being can use magic and not be corrupted by it in some way”
  1547. She shakes her head -”Let's say that what you say it's true – how do you manage to achieve the same results a unicorn would with her magic, if you don't use said magic?”
  1548. “As I was saying, I simply call upon the power that resides in the Runes”
  1549. “So..you're the equivalent of a unicorn, just using your people's “magic” “ - concludes Silver Shine
  1550. You laugh – this pony's got you on this one
  1551. “Eh, I guess you're right. I'm a unicorn with a lot of limitation in what I can do”
  1552. This time Aqua speaks up -”I'm interested. You explained what magic is, so what is this “power” you can call upon?”
  1553. “We simply call them “the Runes”, since that's what they are. Think of them as an alphabet of sort ok? When you arrange certain runes in a certain order, you can call forth the effect you wished for. For example, look”
  1554.  
  1555. You put your hand on the table to let everybody see what you're doing, before rotating your hand and calling out “Agher”. As soon as you finish the last movement, the candle on the table catches fire.
  1556.  
  1557. Everybody moves back, surprised
  1558. “Whoa” - says Aura, before trying to poke the candle with her hoof
  1559. “What are you doing, Aura?”
  1560. “Just checking it's real and not an illusion like in the forest” - she replies
  1561. “No, it's the real deal”
  1562.  
  1563. You cross your arms, letting the mares look at the flame, passing the candle among themselves, until eventually everybody has seen it close up.
  1564.  
  1565. “So..ok, thank for your sincerity Anon” - says Aqua, before turning toward the other mares -”It seems we snatched ourselves a spellslinger”- she concludes, smiling
  1566. “A spellwhat?”
  1567. “Spellslinger Anon. Essentially one of the few decent unicorns that doesn't sit on her ass all day trying to look holier-than-thou and mighty due to their magic ability, but chooses instead to join the rank-and-file of the guard to help keeping Equestria safe” - says Fair Winds
  1568. “Yeah. Think of them as heavy armored unicorns that are trained to cast under pressure or enemy fire” - adds Amethyst Star.
  1569. You nod – a satisfactory explanation and a correct comparison.
  1570.  
  1571. Aqua speaks up once more as you got silent -”So, to go back to the original topic – by order of Sergeant Red Flare you're under my command for the time being Anon. I know I asked you earlier, but I want confirmation – is this ok for you? If you are my responsibility, I NEED to know that you'll follow my orders when the time comes”
  1572. All the members of the squad turn toward you, with an expectant look on their faces.
  1573.  
  1574. You nod.
  1575.  
  1576. “Then, I'd like to welcome you to our team Anon” - says Aqua, with a huge smile on her face
  1577. You don't even have the time to nod once more that a pony-sized ball of excitement hits you in the side – it seems Aura is very happy at the news.
  1578. “I told you that everything would solve itself Anon! And you didn't want to believe me!”- She's right.
  1579. “You were right. Happy?”
  1580. “Yup” - she nods, happy with herself.
  1581.  
  1582. Still smiling, Aqua continues her speech -”Now, speaking of more serious matters, to keep up with being honest with each other, you'll still be under close scrutiny Anon, but I think you already expected that, right?”
  1583. You nod – it's obvious that even these ponies, as trusting as they seem to be, would not let you off the hook so early on.
  1584. “Then there is nothing more to discuss – tomorrow we'll figure out your role in our team, but for now...who else is hungry here?”
  1585.  
  1586. “ME!” is the unanimous reply that comes from the team, while you can feel your stomach roar from hunger.
  1587. “Me too”
  1588. Quick Shot raises her voice to be heard - “So, listen! While going to town with our new member” - she looks at you -”might be a stupid idea since the civilians might freak out, how about we take some bottles of hard cider and bring them here after dinner?”
  1589. Fair Winds hits Quick with her hoof
  1590. “Ouch! What in Tartarus Fair?!” - Fair shakes her head -”Are you suggesting we get the new COLT drunk, Quick?”
  1591. Quick blushes hearing this, but you raise your hand, interrupting them
  1592. “I could go for a good cider”
  1593. Aqua looks up at you, raising a brow -”You drink back home, Anon? No offense, but I don't want drama caused by something said while drunk”-
  1594.  
  1595. You aren't a genius, but even you caught on the fact that gender relations are slightly different here than back home – the majority of the soldiers are female and by how they speak (from defaulting to female pronouns to cracking harsh jokes about their male counterparts) this dominance extends to various sectors of their society – without even counting that they mentioned various Princesses, but not a Prince, King or any male equivalent.
  1596.  
  1597. You shake your head
  1598. “Correct me if I'm wrong Aqua, ok? Your society is a matriarchy, dominated by females”
  1599. She nods, while you see Silver Shine roll her eyes, before speaking up -”Well yeah, like everywhere else: what's the point?” - she gets a nasty look from Aura, which shuts her up.
  1600. “The point is that I'm not from your society. To you Silver Shine, matriarchy is the social norm. But where I'm from, males are in charge of society”
  1601.  
  1602. And with that, all the mares start asking questions.
  1603. “Bullshit! How could such a society work?! Colts are too dumb to rule themselves!” - says Shine, just to be overwhelmed by Quick, which replies -”Know off the sexist bullshit and let him speak”, and so on.
  1604.  
  1605. Before the situation degenerates, Aqua knocks her hoof on the table
  1606. “Stop it! What in Luna's name got into you?” - she chastises them -”I get it, today was heavy. Just calm down, ok?”
  1607. As they nod, she motions you to continue
  1608. “Look, I get that to you might seem strange, but trust me when I tell you that the idea of a matriarchy seems just as strange to me. What I wanted to tell you is that you don't need to check your behavior – I'm not a pony, but I can drink and crack a joke”
  1609. Evening Star comes forward -”So, you won't go cry in a corner if you chip your..nails while training with us?”- she looks at you for confirmation
  1610. You erupt in a sincere laughter at the absurdity of the situation, before replying to her
  1611. “No Star, I won't go cry in a corner – I'll just demand a good mug of beer as payment”
  1612. She smiles hearing this, before bowing her head -”That's good for me. Sorry if I'm so suspicious – it's nothing personal. I'll try to knock it off and give you a chance too Anon, like Aqua did”
  1613. You bow you head too – the solemnity of the moment kinda ruined by Aura pocking your side
  1614. “If you're done being so serious, can we go eat something? I'm STARVING!”
  1615. And with a smile, you all head out to the common room to eat.
  1616.  
  1617. Dinner is a simple affair: the guards go to what you'd call a mess hall to get their rations, before either eating it there or in the common room.
  1618.  
  1619. It's similar to the solution your own kingdom adopted back home really – in the past couple generations the old King decided to adopt a revolutionary concept – a permanent standing army. This came with a stew of practical issues, such as “how do we feed so many people in an ordered manner?”; well, building a mess hall solved that particular problem.
  1620.  
  1621. You got to admit that the barracks of this “Royal Guard” are much comfier than the ones you slept in back home; maybe your homeland could learn a couple of things from these ponies.
  1622.  
  1623. The walk through the hallways was still an awkward moment; if nothing else just for to the difference in height between you and the ponies (Odin's will, they barely reach your chest!).
  1624.  
  1625. Yet, the more time you spend with them the more you think you were right in your earlier assessment of their species – they share many traits with horses back home. This would explain the speed with which they seemed to accept your presence in the mess hall – as soon as you entered everybody froze, looking at you. Yet they went back to whatever they were doing as soon as you bowed your head in recognition and they saw Aqua's team enter the hall alongside you.
  1626.  
  1627. They're a pack species in essence; get accepted by some members of the “herd” and you're in – further evidence of this being the fact that by the end of the dinner almost no one was paying you attention (even though you're sure that you noticed some ponies look in your direction from time to time, be it out of curiosity or else).
  1628.  
  1629. Those are your musings while you scan the hall looking for Amethyst Star, which in her excitement for dessert ran away from your group.
  1630. “Found her” - said Quick Shot before appearing from the mass of ponies dragging Amethyst with her.
  1631. “Leave me Quick! I was just about to get some cake!”- says Amethyst, pushing away her comrade
  1632. “You do realize that with how many sweeties you eat as of late, soon you won't even be able to get airborne, right?” - replies Quick, poking her in the belly
  1633. “Stop that!” -  Amethyst moves backward without looking, bumping into the table, causing Fair Winds to sigh -”Just sit down Star; Aqua was waiting you to tell us what's the plan for tomorrow”
  1634. “Sorry...” - with a sad expression, she takes place at the table with the rest of the squad
  1635.  
  1636. “So, now that you're all here, let's talk. This concerns you Anon, so listen carefully ” - began Aqua, back in her “Corporal mode”; in the (brief) time you spent in her company it became very clear that her behavior changes radically depending on the situation – whether the team was in an informal/relaxed situation or in a more formal/active one.
  1637.  
  1638. “According to the Princess' orders, we're to...”help you get used to our society, while learning about yours”- somehow she manages to bend her hooves to make the “quote, unquote” sign that you can do with your fingers. Just how different from the horses native of you homeland are these ponies?
  1639. “In other words” - she continues, this time in a much more serious tone -”She wants us to observe and report”
  1640. Seeing you nodding, motioning for her to continue, she does so -”Look Anon...don't tell me you didn't expect this”-
  1641. You shake your head before replying
  1642. “It's fine Aqua. Let's not mince words ok? I can see how I AM still an unknown and how this would make your Princess want to get answers...from putting me among her armed guards, to task these same guards to befriend me and keep an eye on me”
  1643.  
  1644. Hearing this, various members of the team start protesting what you just said, before you raise your hands to make them stop
  1645.  
  1646. “I'm just stating the facts. I'm not mad about it, nor am I complaining. If anything I'm quite happy with how things turned out! I'm just saying that if I'm going to stay with you for the time being, I was expecting something like this”
  1647. This seems to have the intended effect on the mares – maybe it was the calm tone of voice you employed, maybe hearing that you're ok with it, but it seems to work.
  1648.  
  1649. Aqua, as stoic as ever, continues talking -”You're right Anon. I won't lie to you: the Princess wants...no, that's wrong. We all want to know what you're capable of. After all, you're the first of your kind we've ever met, as well as the newest member of our squad” - As she was about to finish, Aura spoke -”Wait! Does this mean I'm not the rookie anymore?” -
  1650.  
  1651. Aqua sighed, nodding to Quick Shot, who looked at Aura with a glint in her eyes, as if she was going to savor the next words -”No, rookie. You're the youngest and thus will always be the rookie”.
  1652.  
  1653. You laughed seeing Aura's comical face at hearing Quick's reply.
  1654. Calming down after a few seconds, you noticed that you weren't the only one laughing at the poor pegasus – all the team, even the ever-stoic Evening Star, had joined in the laughter, while Aura had a grumpy expression of her face.
  1655.  
  1656. “Ha ha..Aura, we're joking” - said Quick, putting a hoof on Aura's shoulder
  1657. “Very funny...”- replied the white pegasus sounding dejected, before her friend went for a hug -”It was a joke Aura, really” - said Quick, hugging Aura, who seemed to relax before sighing -”I know Quick. It just seems that everypony is moving forward...be it a promotion, a new skill or whatever, while I'm just stuck at “being the rookie””.
  1658.  
  1659. This caused you to stay silent, lest you interject in a private moment.
  1660.  
  1661. “Aura, there is nothing wrong in taking it slow” - says Aqua in a softer tone -”You know how long it took me to just make Corporal, right? YEARS”.
  1662. This seems to lighten up a bit Aura's mood, who to your surprise looks at you before asking -”And you Anon? Were you ever the “rookie” of your..team? Unit?” - she asks, testing out words to see how you react to them.
  1663. You nod.
  1664. “Yes Aura. I've been a novice, a “rookie” as you put it, for the best part of 25 years”
  1665. This causes many to turn toward you in surprise.
  1666.  
  1667. “Just HOW old are you, Anon?” - asks Fair Winds, looking you up and down, trying to gauge the answer; too bad she won't, since the usage of the Runes completely messed up your body and the natural erosion of time.
  1668. “I'll celebrate my 140th birthday soon Fair”
  1669. As soon as the words leave your mouth, chaos erupts...just for it to be quickly ended by Aqua's hoof hitting the table.
  1670. “For Celestia's sake! Calm down! You're attracting attention”
  1671. She points at the rest of the room, and you see many ponies quickly turning their heads back to their meals.
  1672. “Sorry” - says Fair, scratching a leg with her other hoof in embarrassment.
  1673. Turning to you, Aqua motions for you to speak up -”Explain please Anon. No pony lives that long, excluding the princesses”.
  1674.  
  1675. You think for a second how to put it before deciding that simply speaking matter-of-fact would be for the best.
  1676.  
  1677. “The average human lives for..60,70 years. If they were in excellent health and had plenty of food, maybe they could reach 80 or 90 years, ok?”
  1678. They all nod, before Silver Shine speaks up -”That's still a lot less than what you're claiming. I've seen Granny Smith of the Apple family here in Ponyville; she's the oldest pony I've ever met and while she's not NEARLY as old as you claim to be, she is in FAR worse shape than you”- she is interrupted by Evening Star, who quickly corrects her -”You're right Shine, but he isn't a pony; maybe his species ages better than we ponies do”.
  1679.  
  1680. You shake your head before extending your right hand and, having recalled Agher on the underside of your index finger, you imprint the shape of Barzhog, the Rune of Life, on the table. A quick recalling later, the Rune starts softly shining, as it enters its active state.
  1681.  
  1682. “Star, didn't you hurt your foreleg yesterday when you hit that tree?”
  1683. She looks at you with venom in her eyes at your reminding the team of her “accident” (she ran into a tree while trying to escape as soon as Anon recalled the Rune of Terror during their first confrontation), before giving a short nod.
  1684. “Place it on the Rune please”
  1685. You say, pointing at said Rune. She does so cautiously, just for her eyes to widen in surprise a second later -”It stopped hurting!”-
  1686. Aqua quickly looks at you before taking her foreleg to examine it. Everybody can see that the swelling and the redness, very pronounced earlier in the day, have receded to the point of being barely noticeable under her dark fur.
  1687. “This is how the members of the Order stave off aging. It's not a secret – everybody back home knows about it, yet while everybody can draw the symbols, only a Hierarch can draw forth the power of Barzhog”
  1688. Aqua nods at your explanation -”If you're truly as old as you claim to be Anon, I can now see how you achieved it. And you say that every member of your military is gifted with such a Rune?”
  1689. You shake your head, before explaining
  1690. “No Aqua. My order was not a part of the standing military – we took part in their campaigns when the King ordered us to, but we were a separate organization. Only the higher ranking members knows how to make use of the Runes. Why?”
  1691. She takes a look around, before speaking up -”Let's continue the discussion elsewhere, ok? Fair, take them to the Conference Hall, while I go call the Princess” - seeing your expression, she quickly adds -”Don't worry Anon. You opened up to us in good faith, and we won't disappoint you. I just ask you to trust me on this one, alright?”
  1692. You look deep in her eyes, but you don't find any sign of deception, thus you nod.
  1693.  
  1694. As she trots away, Fair and the other mares go with you toward the newly-named “Conference Hall”, which reveals itself to be nothing more than a private room in which various tables and comfy-looking chairs are situated, with a sofa sitting in front of a fireplace.
  1695.  
  1696. You made sure to burn the table surface over the Rune, making it unrecognizable to anybody, before cutting its flow, rendering it nothing more than a burned surface – you aren't worried that somebody could steal the secret of the Runes from you, so much as worried that maybe you're opening up a bit too quickly to these ponies.
  1697.  
  1698. With these thought on your mind you sit down by the fire; while the rest of her comrades make themselves at home on the various chairs around the room, Aura comes to sit by your side, resting her head on your thigh after you made no sign to push her away.
  1699.  
  1700. “Anon...don't worry, everything will be fine” - she lifts her head, looking you straight in the eyes -”I know that I'm not as smart as Evening or as strong as Fair; I'm no Corporal or Sergeant either. I'm just the “rookie”- she continues, stopping you from interrupting her -”...but I've decided to give a shot at being your friend back in the forest, remember? So whatever happens, you will always be able to count on me”- she concludes with a smile on her lips.
  1701.  
  1702. While you've refrained from physical contact so far with these ponies, you do the only appropriate thing after such a declaration and hug Aura close to your body.
  1703.  
  1704. ----------------------------------------------
  1705.  
  1706. “I like the boy” - said the one-eyed god to his younger son, both looking at the crystal clear liquid in the pond at the center of the room. A crystal clear liquid that showed events happening far away, in a land where a lone man was trying to find a way home...or to make himself a new one.
  1707.  
  1708. “Puah. I don't know what you find in him, Father. He's nothing exceptional” - said the younger son, spitting on the floor in disgust.
  1709.  
  1710. “You might think so, Deceiver. But to me he's been an honest acolyte” - spoke Týr, patron of the man in question -”He's followed my orders and has behaved according to my creed. I won't let you interfere with him”
  1711.  
  1712. “Really? I'd really like to see you try, old fool” - replied the younger god, Loki son of Odin, before getting up and raising his hand, already shining with Bjarkan, his namesake Rune.
  1713.  
  1714. “Careful, youngling. I might just take you seriously” - said the God of War, his remaining hand on the pole of his spear
  1715.  
  1716. “Stop at once” - screamed the All-Father, whose voice had been magnified and could be heard in all the Halls of the Gods -”Stop this madness. Týr, you won't threaten my son again” - he said, looking the one-armed god squarely in the eyes, before turning his glance to his own flesh and blood -”And you shall respect your betters, least you be cut down before your time”.
  1717.  
  1718. Seeing both the gods calm down, Odin sat down on his throne, before speaking once more.
  1719. “We shall test this gothi of yours, Týr. You granted him something invaluable, that was denied to even my own son Baldur: you granted him the right to decide his own destiny - Valhalla or Hel. Yet, you respected his decision when he refused to choose. Tell me why we shouldn't see for ourselves if this..man was worthy of being granted new life, when even the beloved of the gods, Baldur, was denied such an honor?”
  1720.  
  1721. At this, even Týr fell silent.
  1722.  
  1723. “I won't deny your wish, God of War. Your service in binding Fenrir grants you the right to be the judge, most honored of the Aesirs. Yet I won't be denied either. If my own son shall languish in the underworld until Ragnarok while your priest walks the green fields of this realm so close to Miðgarðr (Midgard), I will judge for myself if this man is worthier of life than a true God”
  1724.  
  1725. Turning to his son, the Father of the Gods thus spoke:
  1726. “He's always dreamed of crossing arms with a beast capable of test his mettle in battle, hasn't he? We shall grant him his wish” - Odin paused, a cruel smile painting on his face - “Loki, do not think I forgot what you've done. Call for your son Narfi. The Wolf shall hunt. Whether he shall dine on human flesh or whether another one of your traitorous sons shall fall, even I don't know...but I'm burning with the desire of finding out”
  1727.  
  1728. As he concluded, Loki went pale before nodding -”As you command, Father”
  1729.  
  1730. Dismissing his son, the All-Father turned once more to the crystal pond, with a pensive expression on his face.
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