Sentinel spat out another line of blood as he trudged back towards the gravesite. The entire left side of his face was aching, and a black eye was blooming spectacularly under his armour. A blood vessel in his nose had burst, and blood was slowly dripping down from his right nostril. He hadn’t had such a thorough beating since the first few weeks of guard training, when he was but a cheeky colt.
The pegasus rubbed a hoof against his cheek as he walked, wrinkling his nose and spitting out another splat of mingled saliva and blood. He could taste the metallic overtones of blood in the back of his mouth, and it was making him nauseous.
How could Celestia have thought he would stand to escort a changeling? Maybe she had been testing his ability to sense the changelings? But then, that left the question of what the changeling was doing going along with the princess. It made no sense at all. And her adamance that she wasn’t a changeling was amusing. He could sense the changeling blood in her. It was strange; he had never used his ability before, but he could just sense what lurked inside her. It was like a glow of green inside her eyes, or her aura, or something. He didn’t understand it, but he knew.
Sentinel decided that it was a test. If there was some reason for him to not to harm her, then Celestia would have said so.
Deciding that his head was clear, and concussion-free enough to fly, the young pegasus took to the air, launching himself upwards and spreading his wings.
Cool air stinged against his wounds, burning, reminding him of the damage and cooling the blood. He needed to get clean before anything else. The golden glow of the setting sun bounced a reflection up off the winding form of a river, and the pegasus headed for it.
As he splashed down in a shallow bend of the river and began to discard his armour, he scrubbed a hoof up over his face to try and clean some of it, wincing as he touched at the wounds the changeling had given him. She had a pretty strong hoof, that one. Mentally, he berated himself for thinking of it as a female. It was a changeling. They didn’t have a set gender. They were it’s.
The guard swilled his armour in the shallow stream, before sliding it all back on, once more shiny and no longer sticky with droplets of his blood. He bounded a few metres along the shore and then took to the air again, heading back for the gravesite.
After a few minutes, the pegasus dropped neatly to a stop in front of the grave site, moving over to his supplies and sitting down, beginning to shed his armour. He placed his chest piece against a rock and used it as a mirror, admiring his new look in the distorted, blurry reflection. Even with the imperfect reflection, his black eye was quite visible. Scowling to himself, he picked up the helmet and slid it over his head, squinting at the reflection again. At least, beneath his helmet, it wasn’t so obvious.
The pegasus shook his head and took his helmet off, digging around in his backpack, and coming up with a packet of novelty peanuts to snack on. They were all different colours, denoting the different flavours they’d been soaked in. He had just gotten the top open when a shadow fell over his form. At first, he thought it might be Spike, and he turned to look up at the figure, his eyes slowly widening.
“Why hello there, little pegasus. Fancy meeting you all the way out here...alone,” the creature said with a warm smile, leaning closer. “Tell me, little pegasus, do you like chaos?”
Sentinel swallowed hard, and rolled backwards, snatching up his helmet and jamming it on his head, squaring his stance to face the Draconequus, head lowering in readiness as he hissed, “Discord!”
“Discord plus three,” he said with a smile, waving an arm in a presenting fashion to reference the three Diamond Dogs behind him, who stepped out of his shadow casually, their eyes narrowing.
Raindrop took a long, long time to calm down. Her hooves hurt both from both smacking the stupid guard and from grinding them into the rock beneath her. Her insides burned with the injustice of it all. She couldn’t help what she was, but that guard had made his mind up about her instantly. She was a changeling, she wasn’t to be trusted.
It was unfair and made the inferno of her rage burn hotter and brighter. And it took her a long time to calm down. But when she did, she was ready, fortified. She would find the Elements of Harmony, and then all of this would be fixed. All of this would be just a bad memory.
She stared out over the dark savannah as the sun set, and gave it another half hour for Sentinel to have gone to sleep, before she went back to get her stuff. Spike was the only lead to the Elements of Harmony. Possibly. But Celestia would have other leads. Raindrop didn’t need to wait at the gravesite for a dragon who might, or might not even be coming.
Rustling her wings with a huff, she bounded a few steps and then threw herself into the air, squinting against the darkness and the rushing wind as she coasted low and fast towards the grave site. Hopefully, Sentinel would be sleeping, and she could get her stuff and be gone before he even knew she was there.
Raindrop landed quietly, creeping a few steps across the rock, before pausing. Something wasn’t right. Sentinel wasn’t there. But all of his gear was.
The pegasus scowled faintly. Hopefully, the stupid guard had gotten lost finding his way back, and would end up wandering the savannah for a few days, lost.
It was as she was gathering up her supplies, however, that she caught a reflection of moonlight glancing off something shiny an metallic. She strode over to the edge of the rock, and peered down at the object, reaching out with a hoof and picking it up, her brow furrowing deeply. It was a helmet, a guard helmet.
Frowning deeply, she placed the helmet down, and then cast a glance over at the guards supplies. Now that she looked closely, they looked disturbed, like they’d been kicked...or like somepony had been thrown against them with considerable force.
And oddly enough, there were a few strange-coloured peanuts scattered around. Raindrop blinked at them, picking one up and sniffing at it curiously, before tossing it aside. Sentinel had obvious run into actual, tangible trouble.
She cast her gaze about, and then spied a yellow peanut sitting at the end of the rock. She crept down off the rock and walked a few metres towards the direction the peanut was in, and found a red one. A trail.
Raindrop scowled for a moment, before moving over to her gear and packing it up. She bundled it all into her packs’ and slipped it onto her back, taking wing again, heading away from the gravesite. She settled instead on a hilltop a good distance from the gravesite, far enough away that she wouldn’t be seen by anyone at the gravesite itself.
She fully intended to follow the trail of peanuts to see whom had taken her ‘valiant defender’. Maybe she would shake their hoof when she found them. But it was a strong possibility that whoever took Sentinel had a good reason to. A reason related to the Elements of Harmony. It was a slim lead, but it beat heading back to Canterlot and asking for further information from the princess.
It was too dark for her to find peanuts, even if there was a trail and not just one or two that were thrown free. Either way, she wasn’t going to lift a hoof to help Sentinel. Not that night. Maybe not even if she found him.
She would show him what a changeling was like.