Hammer swallowed in futility as he tried to get rid of the dryness in his throat. He didn’t remember the sun being so bright, nor how many trees he had bucked. The throbbing pain in his back legs gladly reminded him of his stupidity of challenging a pony who did this for a living.
“Done yet,” he finished. Summoning up what small puddle of strength he had left, he firmly bucked the tree behind him and slumped on the dirt. Thankful that the trees around him gave a small amount of shade, he started to feel tired. “Mmm, comfortable ground,” he mumbled as he closed his eyes from a brief moment.
He opened his eyes as applejack ran by, noticing she was started to slow as well. She had plenty of strength to spare and would probably be continuing to work until the job was done. While he could buck anything to oblivion, with the help of his horseshoes of course, he couldn’t win when it came to endurance. His limbs felt heavy as he slowly got up after the short rest. It reminded him of a full work day on the Rippling walls. Everything ached when you were done and the only thing on your mind was to go home to sleep the pain away.
“You alright, hun?” Applejack asked hammer, who was still laying on the ground. A tinge of worry was in her voice. “I think you should head back for some rest. Just be sure to get Big Mac to help me finish up here.”
Hammer always had a strict work ethic whenever something needed doing. He never backed down on a job or left it half done. So of course leaving the rest of the trees unbucked made him cringe.
“Just give me a second,” Hammer huffed. “I can still finish the job.” He took an unsteady step forward, but Applejack stopped him with a hoof to his shoulder.
“Easy there, partner. I don’t want you to hurting yourself, especially when its on my farm. Now get going or I’ll haul you there myself.” Hammer locked eyes with her for a moment and saw a determined look that clearly said she wasn't going to back down. He didn't doubt she could drag him all the way back without breaking a sweat.
“Uh, which way to your home? “Hammer asking while looked around, only spotting apple trees as far as the eye could see. Applejack pointed the way without a moment of thought, making him wonder if she had an inner compass or something. Thanking Applejack, Hammer slowly trotted back to her home.
“... nearly got him too, but that brusher pike was perfect for fighting anklegators. Queen Anne didn’t stand a chance.”
Hammer had returned to find Rucks storytelling his adventures in Caelondia. He must’ve just finished his story about his trek through Roathus Lagoon. Queen Anne was one of the biggest anklegators he ever seen. With just her head sticking out, she easily towered over kid. Sadly the calamity destroyed their population and she was the last of her kind. It was quite a surprise when he found an egg laying on the ground nearby, allowing him to raise one as a pet.
I wonder if Little Anne is still on the Bastion...
Hammer walked in to find Rucks sitting down at a table with a large red pony across from him. To his left was a yellow filly with a red mane in a pink bow. The room they were chatting in They were too busy chatting to notice him and were content talking and drinking something from their mugs. However, Hammer still needed to get answers about the bastion and right now seemed like the perfect time.
“Hey, Rucks,” Hammer greeted as he got closer to the table. Rucks took a drink of whatever he had in the mug and smiled. Big Mac greeted him as well and asked if he was thirsty, which he responded enthusiastically. “You have no idea.” Taking it as a yes, Big Mac gave Hammer a large glass of water, which was promptly downed like it was liquid sunshine.
By the gods, that hit the spot so hard...
“Hey, Kid. Did Applejack send you back here after losing your little race?” He laughed and set down the mug. His laughter increased when Hammer groaned at the teasing. Hammer set the glass on the counter next to the sink.
“If you must know, I tired myself out too fast from bucking too hard,” Hammer admitted. “Applejack seems to know the right amount of force for each tree to save her energy in the long run. Needless to say, I would’ve lost sooner or later.” He looked toward the big red pony whom he assumed was Big Mac. “By the way, Applejack needs your help with the southern part of the orchard.”
“Eeeyup,” was all Big Mac said before donning a yoke and leaving the room.
“A pony of few words,” Rucks mumbled through his mug before he took one last gulp. “Ah, that was some mighty fine cider.” Hammer took the seat where Big Mac was sitting earlier and stared at Rucks.
“You have some explaining to do.”
“I suppose I do,” Rucks replied casually. He frowned at bit that his cider was empty so he placed it to the side. “Ask away and I’ll answer.”
One thing had been nagging in the back of Kid’s head even since Rucks told him he lost the Bastion: How do you lose track of a floating island?
“Where’s the Bastion, Rucks?” He asked flatly. Rucks was slightly annoyed at having to repeat himself.
“I told you, Kid. I lost it somewhere in the sky.” Hammer’s mood turned sour with that answer. Rucks started fiddling with the mug, deep in thought. Kid knew Rucks’ well enough to know he was hiding something. Whenever he took his mind off the situation like scratching his facial hair or playing with an object, it was an obvious clue.
“Rucks...” Kid was honestly starting to worry about the truth and it showed in his tone. “Where is it?”
Rucks looked at the yellow filly who was soaking in the conversation they were having. “Little miss, why don’t you go outside. I appreciate your company, but this here is something I’d like to keep between me and Hammer.” The filly showed her disappointment with a long “aw” and left the room. Rucks leaned back in his chair, starting at the far wall for a moment. Hammer was about to repeat the question when he spoke up.
“Its gone, Kid. The Bastion is gone.” Rucks admitted with a grimace on his face, like he ate a bad egg. “Something stole it while we were still figuring out where the hell we were.” Hammer’s eyes widened upon hearing this, but kept silent. “Got a good look at their stealing faces though. They were avian in front from their head to their wings, but ended with fur after that. Never seen anything like it. They were clearly intent on taking our bit of paradise though.”
So half bird, half beast creatures stole our island... fantastic.
Kid remembered the book Twilight gave him and tried to envision in his mind some of pages. Sadly the introduction was long and the two with any information on them was useless. He doubted knowing anything about a three headed dog or a beast with a chicken head was useful. He only managed to read five pages before Twilight showed up at the clinic.
The fact that these creatures Rucks mentioned having wings didn’t make him feel any better. The avian wildlife in Caelondia was bad enough to keep at bay without having his eyes poked out.
“Why didn’t you tell me the first time, Rucks? We could be over there by now and kicked their sorry butts off our land.” Rucks only shook his head.
“I don’t doubt that you could, Kid. I’ve seen you fight, but what they did... they struck home.” Rucks tapped his chest. “I built that thing with my own two...” he paused to look at his hooves before continuing. “Now they have the gall to steal it from an old man and a young woman. When we’re clearly outnumbered? That doesn’t sit right in my stomach one bit. They made this personal, and I’m going to kick their feathery butts to get my Bastion back.”
Hammer looked a Rucks with his jaw hung in awe for a moment. He never seen him so worked up over something that resorted to using violence. Then again, the Bastion was never stolen from him. Attacked and nearly destroyed, yes, but not taken away.
“How many were there?” Kid inquired.
“That’s the problem. There were enough to make it a very bad idea to fight,” he replied with a shrug. “I may have fought in the past, but these bones aren’t what they used to be. The creatures were at least nice enough to fly us to the ground since we were so high in the air. They deposited us in the middle of some grasslands and pointed in the direction of the nearest city.” Hammer easily put the rest of the story together in his mind.
“I’m going to guess from the newspaper that the city was Trottingham. After reading it, you decided to come to Ponyville and find me?”
“In the shortest way to put it? Yes. We didn’t know if it was you or not, but it was better than wandering aimlessly.” Rucks slouched with a heavy sigh and the conversation died for several moments. “Look, Kid. Let’s get to the point. I’m sucking in my pride here and asking you to help take back the Bastion. If I was younger, I’d be going back there myself.”
“I never took you for being prideful,” Hammer pointed out with a disbelieving look.
“I’m very prideful with my work, Kid,” Rucks stated in defense. “The Bastion being possibly my finest. When the Ura almost destroyed it... ” he trailed off while his mood saddened. He stared off into space before finishing his sentence. “They might as well have ripped my heart out.”
Hammer frowned as he began remembering the look Rucks had. He would wander around the Bastion with a dull look in his eyes as if his soul was gone. He couldn’t blame him though, they did a number on the Bastion. Pillars of black stone jutted through the island and cracks threatened to tear it apart. It was a terrifying sight indeed, knowing the hope in restoring their homeland was close to dying.
He knew he had to snap Rucks out of this daze. They wouldn't be able to take the Bastion with this attitude. With one swift motion, Hammer slammed his hooves on the table. The sound knocked Rucks out of his trance and he stared at him in a mix of anger and confusion.
“Get it together Rucks!” He yelled. “That was the past and we still managed to repair the Bastion. Stop dwelling on what was already done and focus on getting back what you lost.” Hammer knew what he was going to say next was cheesy, but it rung true.
“Focus on getting back your heart.” They both stared at each other and Rucks let out a chuckle.
“Well said, Kid.” A small smile appeared on his lips. “I never took you for being such an uplifting speaker.”
“It comes with being like me.” Hammer boasted, putting a hoof to his chest to try and look dignified. He starting choking on his words to show he was joking and they shared a short laugh. “But seriously, I’ll help you. I have an idea, but I’ll have to ask for help from my recently made friends.” Rucks was going to retort, but Hammer cut him off. “Unless you can suddenly sprout wings and fly up there, we’re going to need it.”
“Somepony said they needed help?” Rucks and Kid look toward where the voice came from to find Rainbow Dash staring at them.
“Hey, Rainbow. What brings you here?” Hammer said in a friendly tone, doing his best to hide their previous conversation. He motioned toward an empty seat which she flew over and plopped down.
“I came over to get some cider before I start organizing clouds for today’s overcast for Ponyville,” Rainbow replied quickly. She glanced around the room, looking for something. “Have you seen Applejack? She told me to not drink cider without her around. After almost drinking an entire keg by myself, she’s limited how much I can drink.” She gave a nervous laugh upon remembering that situation.
“She’s out in the southern orchard getting help from Big Mac,” Hammer responded. “She should be back soon.”
“Awesome!” There was a long pause before she continued. “So... what were you both talking about?” Hammer looked at Rucks who signaled with a nod to tell her.
“Remember me telling you and your friends about my past? About the Bastion?” He continued after getting a quick nod from the pegasus. “Well apparently it’s here in Equestria, but something took it for themselves.” Hammer pointed a hoof at Rucks. “He says it was taken by a group of half bird, half beast creatures. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about them, would you?” Rainbow leaned back in her chair and thought for a moment. She asked for specifics from Rucks, who gladly obliged with telling exactly what he told Kid.
“I’d have to say you lost this Bastion from a bunch of gryphons,” Rainbow stated confidently. “Sorry to hear that,” she added.
“Is that bad?” Hammer asked
“Kind of. Gryphons aren’t what you would call friendly. Most of them enjoy terrorising us ponies and taking what they think is theirs. I try to not hate all gryphons, but its hard when most of them are mean.”
“We still need to find transportation up there,” Rucks pointed out. Rainbow Dash’s grin returned in earnest.
“I’m sure Twilight will help you with that. She has a-” Their conversation was cut off as the heavy hoofsteps of Big mac returned, with Applejack close behind.
“Howdy, Rainbow! I suppose you’re here to get some cider?” She said with a knowing grin. Rainbow threw a hoof in the air in excitement.
“You know it!” The two mares quickly left before Hammer could get Applejack’s attention, leaving him with a bemused expression. He planted his face against the table as something else raced through his mind.
When do I get paid?