"Okay, Etch, Growl. Thanks for setting up camp. Now, for your next jobs. I convinced old Frosty to let you in. There's a diamond dog named Echo he wants me to kill. He's the guy who burned a hole in the gate. Before I decide to do anything, I need you two to get a good look at him and give me your opinions on him. If he can do that to the front gate, odds are, he's a badass. I wanna know just how much of a badass he really is. We'll go from there. While any other day we'd just loot the place, we can't. They've got Trixie's life in their hands, so we have to be on our best behaviour. We get in, get a quick look, then get out and meet back here."
"I don't like this one bit. They've got us, and we've pretty much gotta do whatever they say." Gilda voiced her concerns.
"I don't like it either, but we don't have a choice. If things head south, I'll bail the dogs out, you grab Trixie and as much of that medicine that you can. Then we'll head west, away from Wethoof, closer to the volcanic wastes. IF things go wrong. The code word telling us to get the hell out of there is ponylicious. It's not something anyone would normally say, so it'll stand out. I hope we don't have to use it. We'll meet here an hour after entry. Gilda, you fly around up above and be spotter and coordinator, Etch, Growl, you use the shadows and alleyways. If it looks like you're gonna get caught, head underground. I'll strut through town like I own the place to throw off suspicion and be the distraction if need be. I'd also like to get some armor, so 'shopping' will be my excuse. We might get spotted as pirates, and I don't feel like dealing with overzealous guards or bounty hunters, so we use different names. I'm Edge and Gilda, you're Silver. Let's move. If I need you dogs, I'll smack the ground with my sword from a hidden location. If I need you Silver, I'll reflect the sun off it's edge."
Air lifting the dogs into Wethoof was easy. We came down inside a cloud, dropped them off, then headed out on our respective jobs. Gilda took to watching the town from her cloud, the dogs headed under to avoid being seen, and I marched right in. Strangely, the Wethoof ponies didn't care that I was there. A few of them took passing glances, but it was more of a 'you don't see that every day' look then a 'get out bird brain' look.
'Hmm, so they're racist, just not against griffins. Probably all that d-dog hate, they think if a griffin is around, there's no way a dog will be. That will work in my favour. Okay, first, get some armor. If I'm gonna be a tank I need to be able to take hits, and this leather harness just won't cut it. Glad I'm freaking loaded, although this'll probably take all the cash and gems I've got. Then the hospital. I wanna see Frosty's daughter. If Echo is wandering around in the open, he shouldn't be too hard to spot.'
I found a smith, busy at work, banging his hammer on an anvil. He looked consumed by his work, and he also looked quite skilled at it. I wanted some armor, so someone who was skilled and focused would get me some fast.
"Hey there." I called in a chipper tone.
"Ah geez. Lemme guess, need a weapon? Sorry kid, there was a new law passed saying I can't make, give, or sell any killin tools to a non pony." He seemed bummed about it.
"Nah, as you can see, I'm well taken care of in that regard." I showed him my sword. "I just need some armor, strong, but flexible, and not too heavy. Gotta be able to fly with it on savvy? Mostly for stopping arrows. Physical blows and spells, this sucker can take anything you throw at it." His eye caught my blade, and he began rubbing his chin with his hoof, admiring the craftsmanship.
"Oh, and if you're worried, don't be. Frosty already okay'd me. I'm supposed to be helpin with some hydra problem, and I'm gonna need armor."
"Lemme guess, you need it to work with that there fancy harness you got on ya? Where'd ya get that? It looks kinda shoddy. Name's Bellows by the way." The smith introduced.
"Yeah, may seem strange, but I'm actually used to being ridden by a pony, believe it or not. As for the crafting, of course it looks like junk, I made it myself. I'm no tailor. Name's Edge."
"You some kinda royal escort? Fancy blade like that, lettin a pony ride you all over?" This smith was asking way too many questions.
"Nah, I'm freelance."
"So, mayor think's Echo's gonna fail and took to hiring a merc. Explains why you made your own gear. Just wish Frost would give him a chance. He may be a dog, but he's a good kid. Doesn't have a bad bone in his body. So, you just gonna sit there, or you gonna let me look at your stuff? Seems like you've been on the road quite a bit and need someone to fix your gear up."
After letting him take a look at my harness and Hades, he went about fixing them up. It took him a bit, but he fused a steel bar into the scale base, then affixed that to the bone, finishing by giving it a new wrapping. It would be about a hundred times sturdier like this. He couldn't understand how it hadn't fallen apart before just by me swinging it. Then he took my measurements and looked at my harness design, told me to come back tomorrow and he'd have a new one and some chain mail ready for me. He also said to hold off on the payment till he finished it. Something about his work ethic demanding he not accept money till the customer was satisfied or something like that.
'Okay, next, the hospital. I wanna see this Ginger Snap. Something bothers me about Echo. The more I hear about him, the less he sounds like a typical diamond dog and the more he sounds like..... I don't know. Saving Daring Do, good kid, mayor thinks he'll fail? Wait, does that mean he's helping fight the hydra's, and the mayor wants me to kill him off before he becomes a town hero? Why is he doing that? He's a diamond dog. What I've got is a mystery.'
Heading towards the hospital, well, more of a medical tent, I spotted a very tall looking bipedal creature, wearing some armor, a harness with pauldron like Cloud from FF7, and a hood with cloak. I fought back the urge to whistle at the make of it, headed around the back, and smacked the flat of my blade on the ground. Yep, much sturdier than before. After about a minute, I did it again, causing Etch and Growl to pop out of the ground in front of me.
"Alright, I've spotted 'Echo' on the other side of this tent. Head underground, come up in an alley, and get a good look at him. Then come back here, and I'll get Silver to come get you. Don't bother talking about it till we're back at camp. Don't get spotted, don't give yourselves away. Go."
As they burrowed back under the earth, I took out Hades and caught the sun on it's edge, sending a signal to the sky. She saw it and came flying down to meet me.
"What's up?" She said, keeping her voice down.
"Okay, tall dark and gruesome is on the other side of this tent. I'm getting the hounds to take a look at him. They should be back in a couple minutes. I want you to take them and all of you head back to camp. I'm gonna take another look around, see what I can see. Once I get back, we'll share what we've learned. No idea when I'll return. Probably at dusk. I need to find out everything I can, and I'd hate to miss out because of a time limit."
After a couple more minutes, they popped up again. They were about to tell me what they saw, but my stern look reminded them to save it till we were back at camp, and out of ear shot. Just as I have awesome eyes, he has awesome ears. I really hope he didn't hear me. Gilda picked them up and air lifted them out. Satisfied, I flew up, circled around a few times, them landed in the street across from the tent. I walked up like I owned the place. He didn't even notice me. He was either deep in thought, or asleep. He also had a spear with a shimmering gem on top of it. It didn't look like normal d-dog spears. I walked right past him into the tent.
"Alright, who ya here for?" A very tired and annoyed nurse asked.
"Blue unicorn with jungle fever. I was also hoping to talk to Ginger Snap. Mayor sent me." Apparently, the 'mayor sent me' line will get you anything in this town. Good. I intend to keep using it. She let me walk right in. There were a few injured ponies of various variety scattered about. I found Trixie lying on a hospital bed with one of those needles and drip bags. She was awake, but not looking too good.
"Hey Trix, how ya feeling?"
"Like I got run over." She replied.
"You caught jungle fever. From now on, we drink rain water. Don't worry, they'll take care of you."
"But we're..." I cut her off before she could say 'pirates'.
"Don't worry about that. I met the mayor, and everything is fine. No need to worry about anything. It's all going to be taken care of. He's having me do a little job for him as payment is all. Once that's out of the way, we'll be back on our merry way. You just focus on getting better. Let me worry about the details."
"Thanks Gr." I put my claw over her mouth.
"No no, you just get your sleep." Then I whispered that while the mayor, and some the guard, were fine with it, it wouldn't do to have the general population knowing about who we were. Most didn't know, and the ones who did were on express orders not to spread it around.
"And, Ginger Snap, oh, right across the hall, that's convenient."
"Oh just great. First hydras, then diamond dogs, and now a griffin. Do you think you could convince the nurse to just kill me?" She asked sarcastically as her mane smoldered slightly.
"Oh ha ha, very funny. Your pops sent me to check up on you. That, and I've got a few questions about this 'Echo' I've been hearing all about. Nothing official, just curiosity." At the mention of her dad, she tensed up a bit before calming down.
"Tell dad that I'm fine." She replied with spite. "If you wanna know about him, go ask Daring. She's all chummy with him. You should find her in the barracks. As for you, why are YOU here?" She spat.
"Hydra's." I just left it at that. Let her figure it out. Wasn't gonna tell her that I was here to kill Echo, as I have no idea what her relationship is with him. She seemed to dislike him, but it's also probable that he saved her life. I'd need to find Daring. I exited the tent, noticing that my target was no longer standing at the entrance. I hope he didn't hear me. I REALLY didn't want to give him the heads up that I was hunting him. I flew up, looked around, then found a building that armored ponies kept going in and out of.
'Looks like the place. Better stay on guard.'
I flew down, god I love flying, landing among a group of guards who stared at me sternly, sizing me up as a threat. These were clearly not noobies like the ones watching the gate were. My assumption is that when the hydra problem first started, a large number of the citizens got drafted to help deal with the problem, and so were still reigning in their nerves, while the existing guard were tough, grizzled veterans. I could tell that they had stared death in the face several times, and were no longer afraid of it, and thus, me. It actually started getting to me. I'm used to having everything equestrian get the hell out of my way with a single look, while these guys had an air of confidence. After all, they HAD been holding hydra's off for a while, maybe even months. Despite that, it was nice to not have these ponies running and cowering as soon as I came around.
"I'm looking for Tythus." The soldiers guarding the gate looked at me incredulously before letting me through. Knowing the guard captain's name and using it without title gave the impression that I knew him personally, thus letting me enter unbarred. I love manipulating these fools. It's so much fun!
The barracks served as armament storage, sleeping quarters, training hall, and mess hall. I could probably get something to eat if I threw my connection around. First to find Tythus and Daring. I need to know their opinions on Echo. Daring was up first. I spotted her signature hat easily, and almost squee'd with fanboyism.
'Not now, gotta play it cool. I can gush at Gilda later. She'll be so jealous.'
"Daring Do?" I said in my smoothest voice. She turned, showing her orange face. Her mane was styled the same way as Rainbow Dash's, except it was a brown/black mixture. It felt like I was looking at Indiana Jones, probably because I was. When she saw me, her eyes went wide in surprise. She clearly wasn't expecting to see a griffin.
"Hello?" She asked, not with trepidation, but with confidence. She was definitely every bit as brave as the stories made her out to be.
"Hey, name's Edge, huge fan. Anyway, old snowstorm called me in to deal with a hydra problem. I'm supposed to be working with some diamond dog named Echo? I wanna know a bit about him before I meet him. As you might be able to tell, griffins and dogs have a bit of....... bad blood.... between us. I don't wanna jeopardize this job, so I wanna learn about him before I meet him, that way I don't offend." I said with what I assume to be typical merc swagger.
"I see." The voice of a gruff stallion came from behind me. I turned my head around to spot a pony wearing armor different than the norm. It was battered and beaten, yet still somehow seemed impressive. Easy to tell that he was the guard captain.
'Crap! I didn't want to talk to them at the same time! I wanted to get more info to prepare for the conversation.'
"Listen Griffin and listen well." He said, saying griffin not as a description of my race but as my name, but so nobody else would know. He knew who I was.
"I have been informed of your presence by mayor Frost Snap, and while he seems to think it's a good idea to have.... mercenaries...." He was about to say pirates. "in Wethoof, I do not. You will not interfere with my guard in any way, nor will you interfere with the operation of this village. Failure to comply will result in VERY harsh discipline." He said staring into my eyes. I'll be honest, I've cut down a massive dragon and fought dozens of diamond dogs without batting an eye. This pony, this, Tythus, scared me.
'Is this what it's like being under a Fluttershy stare? In that case, I'm glad I didn't meet her in Ponyville. At the same time I kinda wish she were here right now. I need a hug.'
"Yes sir, I am well aware that I am to be on my best behaviour. The mayor left out some key details, so I'm just trying to gather more information about the job. I'm supposed to be working WITH your guard, as well as this 'Echo'. That's all he told me. He gave me no information whatsoever on the specifics of that, so I'm taking to gathering it myself. I swear, they give me these jobs with no info just to piss me off." Better play nice with Tythus, don't wanna end up with my head on a pike. With that, he walked off. Thank goodness. I don't like him one bit. He's a solid wall, and I can't find a crack. Makes me uneasy.
"What the hay was that all about?" Daring finally asked.
"I guess he just doesn't like me or something. I'm used to it. Anyway, so I know the little hydras are being taken care of by a gunpowder trap which is already prepared, and I'm supposed to be helping out, but with what? I mean, he didn't tell me squat about the details of this plan, or what I'm supposed to be helping with. I asked Ginger Snap about it, and she just told me to go ask you."
"I take it she doesn't like you either?" She asked.
"Oh well. What are ya gonna do right? So yeah, I need to know what the heck I'm supposed to be doing, as well as more about who I'm working with."
"Well, hydras are attracted to heat, so Ginger and Echo were going to stand in the middle of the pit, light a signal to lure them in, and then we blow them all to bits. Ginger is in the hospital now, so that presents a problem." She explained.
"Yeah, her mane was smoldering when she looked at me, so I figured she's a fire user. How's the dog supposed to help?"
"Well, Fluffy does this weird thing where he clicks his claws together till they catch fire......"
"WHAT? What the hell! I've never heard of that before. Not with regular physics. Gotta be magic."
"If you'd let me finish... yes, it is a kind of magic. I can't really explain it to you because um, I don't really get it myself. He can't cast spells though." She was hiding something.
"Also, he can't talk because he got his throat slashed by Ahuizotl, so he talks by drawing the words with his claws, or charades. Imagine my surprise when he asked me to teach him to write."
"Wait, diamond dogs can't read or write?"
"Yeah, pretty much, they're uneducated. He's different somehow. He has a huge capacity for learning compared to the rest. He's also got a good heart. He's been ragged on nonstop since he got here, and he never let it get to him. He even saved Ginger Snap, twice, despite her hating his guts. Of course, she won't admit it. It's like he's not a diamond dog at all." She had an almost dreamy look in her eyes.
"Well, I gotta go, very busy soldier for hire. I'm staying in a camp outside town, up in the trees. Don't feel like spending on room and board. I'll be back tomorrow to pick up some armor I ordered, think you can introduce me to him?"
"Yeah, you're not like most griffin's either. You two will probably be like two pea's in a pod."
I left Wethoof and headed back to camp, Gilda and the dogs already eating. They seemed a little annoyed to see me, probably since I came back so late.
"Well well, look who finally decided to show up. Where the hell have you been?" Gilda scoffed.
"Well, instead of slacking off like you lot, I was getting more info using my endless charm and wit. I figured out what Frosty was hiding too. That'll have to wait though, I need to know what was so important that Etch and Growl almost blew our cover to tell me." I said sternly.
"Alpha." Growl replied.
"Echo is an alpha diamond dog." Etch elaborated, looking almost afraid as he said it.
"I thought that alpha's were the pack leaders? I noticed he's taller and more burly than you two, so, does that mean alpha is a genetic trait?"
"Yes and no." They had apparently told Gilda before and she pieced it together.
"While alphas are the pack leaders, they are as such because they have a superior bloodline, being stronger, faster, smarter, and more vicious than their kin. While a regular dog can take command of the pack if they somehow outsmart the alpha, it's really uncommon, and it normally doesn't last very long." She explained.
"Got ya. So, we've got ourselves an Alpha. Now for what I've learned. As it turns out, this 'Echo' guy has been going around making himself a hero. He makes the whole thing we did with Blueblood look like we were just randomly killing and happened to get the bad guys."
"Isn't that what happened?" Gilda mocked.
"Besides the point. He's a regular voice of the people, loved and celebrated. Pretty much, the ONLY one who hates him is Frosty. Also, magic. While he can't cast spells, he clicks his claws together to make fire. I'm guessing that how he tore through the gate like that. Which brings me to the third point."
"Which is?" The three of them asked.
"Well, the whole plan to waste the hydra younglings revolves around luring the lot of them to the gunpowder trap and then lighting it. Hydras like heat, and they're lighting a signal fire to lure them in. Originally, a unicorn named Ginger Snap who's special talent is burning stuff was going to do it, but she's out with a broken hoof. That means that they NEED Echo to pull it off. If we kill him, their whole plan falls apart."
"So basically, Frosty wants us to kill Echo for petty revenge, and in doing so, doom his entire town." Gilda caught on, the dogs whimpering at the thought of fighting an alpha.
"Ok, so vote time, we can try to kill the dog, which I have a way of testing the waters without risking our lives, and if we succeed, we doom the town. In fact, the town will probably look to us to kill several hundred hydras after we make their plan fail, followed by Tythus ripping my head off. Or do we warn him about the attempt on his life, help save the town, and get to be hero's along with him. Or three, we grab Trix, grab the meds, and get the heck out of here, leaving them to their fate. Since we lack Trix, you two get to vote as well.
"Well, as much as I want to kill him, I don't feel right burying the entire town in hydra droppings. The whole point was to change the world right? If we just take the easy way out here, what kind of example are we setting for the future. We can't kill him, which pisses me right the hell off. The other two options are riskier, and equally so." Gilda was looking forward to some bloodshed.
"Okay, so, we either help him and the mayor arrests us for being pirates, in which case, we lose Trix. Of course, I have a plan to get us out of that as well, or, we bail. We sneak in, grab Trixie and her treatment, then run for it. Either way, we're gonna have to bail from this town. Etch and Growl, you'll sneak in and get her while we do whatever. So you two, do we bail right now, or do we do the...... right....... thing, save everyone, and come out looking like total badasses." I didn't like being a hero. I'm supposed to be the bad guy damnit! I'm supposed to be going around, killing things, taking over, not being some idol for little kids who wanna play pirate. Then again, fighting hydras would be good experience, and it was a perfect way to get our name out there.
Etch and Growl looked at each other for a while, saying nothing. It's almost as if they could read each other's minds. Finally, they looked at me and Gilda.
"We have village to save."
"Oh, one more thing? Do either of you read or write?" The dogs just shook their heads no.
"Then why didn't you TELL ME? That kind of thing is important! If I had known you couldn't make a lick of sense of what's in that book, I wouldn't have wasted your time." I face clawed.
"If we're gonna work together, you guys have to throw me a freaking bone now and then alright?"
"Looks like we're in need of a sixth team member, someone who can make potions." Gilda replied nonchalantly.
"Yeah, and I have no idea who."
Dear Princess Luna,
Have you ever mooned someone?