Some say that his chest hair is actually steel wool, and that his natural prey are vegetarians. All we know is, he's called Rust.
88w, 2dHuman in Equestria
94w, 3dWriting Gold
71w, 2dThe Writer's Group
85w, 19hAussie Bronies
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80w, 5dMLS' Creme de la Creme
79w, 5dUnique Transformation
78w, 6dThe Usual
78w, 5dChess Game of the Gods
71w, 3dbronys united
53w, 6dStories I've read
46w, 5dVillains of Equestria
46w, 6hCompleted Story Compendium
38w, 4dThe Pack
15w, 3dxbox bronies
35w, 5hThe Good HiE List
29w, 1dHumans turned ???
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25w, 5dJanus's chat box
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8w, 2dDriz's Fanfiction Emporium
11w, 3dHuman turns into X
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7w, 4dWhy am I _X_?
4d, 1hHidden library
6d, 9h[Untitled] 22 comments · 190 views
5w, 3dRegarding My Absence 44 comments · 322 views
6w, 2dReturn Of The King 54 comments · 376 views
12w, 6dBrief Abuse of Power 12 comments · 259 views
15w, 6dGoodbye! 47 comments · 588 views
16w, 5dNo School But the Old School 37 comments · 343 views
18w, 5dStorytime With Rust 39 comments · 371 views
21w, 15hWorking on a One-Shot 13 comments · 211 views
22w, 3d"...Ha! Good 'ole fimfic." 32 comments · 414 views
25w, 6dActually Sorry This Time 15 comments · 218 views
INTO THE WILD
It is a common misconception that the first steps of any journey are often the hardest ones to take.
I'd like to call bullshit on that one, if it pleases the court. They were the easiest ones I'd ever taken.
The few days of rest I had in Wethoof before we departed were comparable only to those I spent at the treehouse. I filled the time with familiarizing myself with our new ride (the six-wheeled Equestrian version of a monster truck, BOOYAH!), perusing many of the maps and documents that Daring had brought back, and generally taking it easy.
We hadn't decided on a name for our transport yet, although we defiantly each had our own suggestions as to what it should be. It went something like this:
"The Intrepid," suggested Daring Do.
"Spirit of Curiosity" I offered on a piece of paper.
"The Hunk of Junk," Ginger muttered.
"The Shagwagon." Disarray said it with a completely straight face.
Coconut was too busy laughing at that to come up with a name of his own.
At a crossroads, we voted on it. You know how it is - democracy, fair vote, equal voices, yadda yadda yadda. Unsurprisingly, we all voted for the name we chose (democracy at its best)...all except Coconut, of course, who thought Disarray's choice was completely hilarious.
Popular vote decreed that the vehicle that would carry us on our grand voyage be called...the Shagwagon.
There was much facehooving, indeed. With the exception of the three males of the group; Coconut, Disarray, and I (who eventually succumbed to my inner juvenile) often sniggered wildly at the idea of it scrawled across the side of the wagon. Ginger and Daring Do simply shook their heads in a mix of disbelief, pity, and a loss of all faith in democracy. To make matters worse, Disarray even poof-ed up a vanity licence plate that stated in big bold letters: "SW4G" and fused it to the rear of the wagon, where it became a permanent fixture. Needless to say, the mares refused to let a ridiculous decision like this stand.
The coup was swift and brutal. The masculine majority was overthrown by the terrifying prospect of facing the wrath of Daring's whip and the heat of Ginger's fire. It doesn't help that I folded like a deck of cards the moment Daring asked me to.
That being said, afterwards, it was usually the mares who made all the big decisions. And the decorative choices. And pretty much...everything else.
The second day of rest, I found myself lounging about my room. It was a highly reminiscent of a cabin on a ship, with a small mattress along one wall that folded up to make more space. The bedsheets, a pale blue, had been torn up into long strips by yours truly, and wrapped tightly around my forearms like bandages. They covered the burns well enough, thank goodness. I felt like a monster every time I saw them. A sturdy desk took up the opposing wall, and I fell in love with it immediately. The other two walls were covered in bookshelves! Squee! However, most of them were empty. A few books were present, though, like a tome about the three pony species, another book about the subject of magic, and another providing a rough description of some of Equestria's regions.
It was the tome of magic that I was reading, leaning back in a chair at my desk and thoughtfully holding a short rod of quartz in my mouth like a lollipop, when Daring knocked on the door.
I let loose a two-toned whistle, indicating that I had heard and she was all-clear, and set the book down. I'd been researching spells or enchantments that might have a way of granting me some communication skills. No luck yet...
Daring almost skipped into the room. The last few days she'd been spending hunting around Wethoof for supplies and the like. The effect for her was akin to a shopping spree for an average human female.
Except Daring shopped for ice-axes, explosives, rope, torches, and rations. She was like Lara Croft in a pony's body.
"Hey Echo~!" she sang, holding something out with a wing. "Look what I found!"
I watched her with interest as I switched my quartz-pop over to the other side of my mouth. It tasted like butterscotch.
Daring tossed the object over to me. I leaned backwards and caught it in one paw. It appeared to be a scroll of some sort, much wider than what I'd imagined. I unraveled it on top of my desk, and smiled broadly as greens and blues and browns sprang up at me.
It was a map, containing the entirety of Equestria.
There were a lot of blank spaces.
"If we're going to see it all, we need a plan," Daring said as she stood behind me, resting her chin on my shoulder to look down at the map. "And since this is all your idea, I think that responsibility falls to you."
She had a good point.
We had a method of transport, but no clear idea where we were going. Equestria was vast. I estimated it to have the same landmass as Africa, back on Earth. Though it looked a little like Australia, rotated 90' degrees clockwise and squished. Daring's maps not only showed me that, but some of the surrounding land as well.
In the southeast bulge was the Great Southern Rainforest, sometimes called the Haysead Swamps, where we currently were, flanked by mountain-borders to the south, and the sea to the east. There was only one marked town in the entire huge region, and that was a city called Rio de Maneiro, much farther to the west, where the rainforest began to thin out.
Along the inwardly-curving southern border of the land was a great desert. I picked out a few cities here, with names like Dodge Junction, Hooverville, and...drumroll please...Appleoosa, nothing more than a speck way out in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly, it was the closest one to us! Farther out into the southwestern sands was another country, called Saddle Arabia.
The northern reaches of Equestria were rolling plains and temperate, scraggly forests. Bush country, really. The north border was made of pure mountains, the Crystal Mountains; highest mountains in Equestria. Beyond them lay the Frozen North, land of the reindeer, as well as a scattering of diamond dog packs that called the place home.
To the West lay the sea, sealed off by rocky, coastal scrub-lands and small, dry woods. But that wasn't what earned my attention to the area. No, what pricked my interest was the fact that there was a name of a country printed into the surface of the ocean.
Atlantis, to be precise! Seaponies are canon, bitches! I smugly thought to myself.
I dug into my belt and removed my claw, spinning it around in my fingers for a few seconds before placing it down onto the center of the Rainforest. Lightly, I began to trace a large counterclockwise spiral around the map, following the borders first, then slowly circling inwards to the very center of Equestria, where three names rested in a rough triangle. Cloudsdale, Canterlot, and...Ponyville. The end of my journey. And after that? Well...I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
I don't know what happened to the claw, but Ginger must have baked it so hard that it turned somewhat flaky. As a result, it could be used as a sort of marker, or a pencil. Go figure.
"Hmmmm..." Daring murmured over my shoulder. "Not a bad plan. We'll cover pretty much everything in a couple years, and the actual path won't deviate too much from the line. Any reason you want to go here, first?" She tapped the eastern desert regions with a hoof.
I flipped an edge of the map over to write. "Apples."
The Apploosan Apples, to be precise. That, and I'd always wanted to go to a "Wild West" sort of place. I'd visited the American West a few times, but there wasn't exactly much frontier in a country that stretches from sea to shining sea. Besides, I'd always wanted to meet some of Applejack's extended family.
"Apples?" Daring asked.
I nodded resolutely.
I screamed it inside my head: Applejack is best pony!
I was totally not biased. I might have been saving Ponyville for last, but that didn't mean I couldn't meet some of the other well known stars of the show along the way.
...starting with the best ones, of course.
"Well, if we've got the route estimated, then put the compass down on it and she'll take us where we need to go."
I gave her a confused look.
Oh! Right! I gently looped it off my neck and set it down on the map. Daring reached over and flipped it open, but kept a hoof on the edge of it. Her face scrunched up for a moment in concentration. I watched in disbelief as the needle immediately ceased its rapid spinning as if held by some mysterious force. Slowly, the needle slid to point off to the East.
Daring took her hoof off it and smirked. "Like it? It's called a 'Homeward Rose.' Might not point north, but she'll get you where you want to go. Just think of a place, and hey presto! Of course, it only works for places you've already been..." She paused for a moment, scratching her head with a hoof. "Not exactly the most useful thing on a journey to unexplored territory. But it'll guide us to a general area, and from there we use my compass."
I cocked an eyebrow at her as I picked up the Homeward Rose from the map. Upon contact, the needle began to spin again.
Daring smirked as she turned to the side and flicked her tail against her cutie mark. "It's just one of the many notable talents of yours truly," she said proudly. "I don't get lost..."
I gave her a flat look.
"...I, uh, just take the scenic route from time to time," she finished, somewhat lamely. "Now then, I think it's time we get you out of this stuffy room of yours. You've been pouring over these books for the past couple days. I think it's time you actually come outside."
Pouting, I spun in my chair to take the tome of magic down off the shelf, before presenting it to her. She blew some dust off the cover before opening its faded pages. Wedged in between the sheets were scores of notes I'd taken on certain things. I'd read a good half of the thing so far, and had just gotten to a section containing some spells used by the legendary Star Swirl the Bearded.
Daring took out a few of the papers and laid them over the map. "Huh. So you've been trying to find a new method of communication...with magic?" At my nod, she continued glancing through them. "I'm sure there's a spell in here that could solve this, but tonight is our last night in Wethoof, Echo. Let's make it special, yeah?"
I twirled the claw in my fingers for a few seconds, before scrawling: "What do you have in mind?" and slipping it into the wrappings on my left arm.
On the faint summer breeze
Hooves dirtied and manes all awry
I said 'Hey, come and stay!"
So for a night and a day
Four hearts found a safe place to lie
My tavern is warm,
And the beds so much more
So sit and please drink for a spell
I've got stories a-plunder
And laughter like thunder
Is ringing this tavern quite well
Hey-yo, life's full of whimsy!
Hey-yo, so best get a bit tipsy!
Cause we're sure it'd make more sense
If you're drunk up to your eyeballs
And slamming through my drywalls
'Put it on my tab!' will be my recompense!"
The tavern swam before my eyes in a haze, a pleasant warmth fueling a furnace in my gut. Coconut and Disarray stood on the bar with the bartender, all three of them of them blindingly drunk and staggering as they roared out the next verse of the ballad. It was a riot of noise and soft light, and I was reminded of several pubs I'd frequented when I'd spent time in London.
Rockcider, they called it. "Cider that's hard as a rock," to be more precise. It seemed to be the only thing with enough punch to get me drunk.
AND DAMN DID I HAVE A LOT OF IT! WHOA-HA-HAA-HAAAAR!
I happily swayed to the tune on my seat, a small mountain of empty steins spread out before me on the counter top. Ginger sat to my right, nursing a glass of some evil-looking beverage. "You know," she said slowly, her eyes somewhat unfocused, "that guy knowsh how t' carry a tone. Tune. I shaid tune. Where'd he even learn 'ow to shing like that?" She pointed at Coconut, who was in the middle of a doing a shockingly good version of the Can-Can some distance away, kicking bottles and glasses alike.
I shrugged, before slamming another empty stein down on the counter and popping my rod of quartz back in. "Oh, wait. Here! Let me get that for yeh." Ginger mumbled, as her horn flickered to life, eyes narrowing on the end of my delicious gemstone.
A thin lance of green fire zipped in front of my face, continuing on to strike the far wall in a small explosion of sparks and smoke. Nearby ponies cheered vigorously.
Glancing down, I noticed the end of my quartz was on fire, much like a cigar. How is that even- I began thinking, before cutting it off. You know what? Screw it. Go with the flow.
I took a tentative puff of my mineral cigar. Butterscotch-tasting smoke slid over my taste buds. A perfect ring issued forth as I exhaled a puff of pale vapor. Grinning, I lifted a fresh stein in the air at Ginger. She lifted her own glass and they met with a clink! "Cheers." Ginger took a deep pull, while I simply drained the entire thing in one go.
That's some good motherfucking cider, right there.
Disarray plopped down into the seat next to me, cracking some joke or another that made Ginger's drink come right out of her nose. I forget what it was, but it didn't matter - there was just too much happy to go around. Everything sort of went comfortably blurry at that point and I simply basked in it like the afterglow of a long night's loving.
Somehow I ended up across the tavern, where a small crowd had gathered. I found Daring Do matched up against a swarthy green unicorn, surrounded by a bunch of onlookers.
They were playing...horseshoes?
There were marked differences, though. The small posts one would throw the shoes around were sticking straight out from the wall. There were four, arranged in a rough triangle with a smaller post in the center of the shape. I watched as the green stallion tossed his end over end until it clanged down onto a post, one of the larger ones. His horseshoe, colored blue, knocked off a red one that had already been hanging there.
"Hah!" he laughed to Daring. "Beat that!"
The explorer saw me push through the crowd to the front. "Heya, Echo!" She sashayed over and leaned up against me. "There you are. Say, think you could hold my drink for a sec? Teacher's gotta class to teach - this fool here needs to get schooled." I took her drink in paw, some of that blue wine I'd seen a while ago. She gave me a wink and waltzed back over to the stallion. Was it just me, or was she swaying her hips a little?
She produced a blue horseshoe and spun it around her foreleg for a moment, thinking hard.
"Wassa matter?" asked the stallion. "Can't think of a way to win, that's it."
Daring smirked. "Nah. Just figuring out how many points I'll be leading by."
"Ohh? And how many will that be?"
"Dunno. Depends on whether or not this is against the rules." With that the mare removed her pith helmet and tossed the horseshoe inside. In one smooth movement, she gripped the helmet with one hoof and pulled the brim back with her teeth, stretching it taunt like a bowstring.
"Watch thiff," she mumbled through the helmet.
Aside from Daring, I was the only one who knew what was coming next.
I hit the deck like I was on fire. Stop, drop, and roll, bitches!
The helmet launched almost fast than the eye could see...in the opposite direction.
It bounced off the rim of a drinking trough...
Straight through the mane of some unwary mare, somehow shaving her down to a stubble...
Knocked Coconut, still singing, off the bar...
Ricocheted from the ceiling corner...
And promptly went out a window.
The stallion burst out laughing, as did most of the crowd. He good-naturedly clapped her on the back. "Good try, lass! Good try!" I peeked out from where I'd been cowering on the floor, finding where I'd dropped my cigar to stick it back in my mouth for another sweet puff.
"Wait for it," said Daring.
Whatever the stallion was going to say next would forever be lost to the annals of time.
A streak burst through the window on the opposite side of the building it'd left, impacting right in the middle of the array of posts. When the dust settled, there was Daring's hat, resting perfectly from the center peg! She casually strolled over to it and flipped it off its resting place to her head, revealing the blue horseshoe hanging perfectly underneath.
There was absolute, thunderously booming silence.
Disarray, sitting back in a a bar stool, began to slowly clap. "Now that's a spicy meatball!" That broke the dam, and soon the entire tavern was rocking with cheers. The pegaus was swarmed with admirers and congratulatory back-thumping. Ever the gracious winner, Daring shook hooves with the unicorn and even offered a few words of advice, though over the dull roar of tavern, I could not hear them.
Then she was standing in front of me, yelling something over the noise. I put a paw to my ear and bent down to listen. "It's getting pretty crazy in here, want to get some air?" At my enthusiastic nod, she grabbed me with a hoof and hustled me through the press. I barely had enough time to extinguish my cigar and stick it in my wrappings.
...Ever seen a diamond dog used as a battering ram?
I felt the fresh breeze hit my face the moment we managed to squeeze through the door. I remembered leaving my duster in the Shagwagon, and was suddenly glad I did. It was well past sunset now, the last remnants of the day bleeding out from behind the horizon. Wethoof was thronging with ponies, and through my pleasant buzz I briefly thought I was looking at a kaleidoscope.
We made our way past the outskirts of Wethoof's wooden lillypads. The pavilion was still set up in the field where the memorial. A few ponies were sitting in the grass, rustic instruments beside them as they looked over sheets of music. Traveling musicians, maybe?
It was at that moment I was struck by a crazy idea. Whether it was the prodigious amounts of liquor flowing through my veins, giving me courage, or the sheer perfection of the situation, I'll never know.
I released myself from Daring's grasp and extended a finger, indicating that she should wait there for a moment. I approached the musicians and gave a deep bow of greeting.
One of them, a russet-collered earth pony mare, spoke up. "Hello there. Can we help you with something?"
I removed the claw from where I'd kept it in my wrappings and took up blank piece of sheet music. "What's he doing?" asked one of the musicians.
"I think this must be the mute we heard about from the locals," said the first one. "I heard he writes instead of speaking. Let's see what he's doing." They crowded around what I had been scrawling onto the sheet. "Oh-ho! This is interesting! Flat, Sharp, look at this!"
"I was wondering if I could ask you to play something for me," I quickly wrote as they looked on, "for my friend and I over there."
"Your friend, eh?" The russet mare looked over to where Daring was standing, awkwardly scuffing a hoof on the ground. "Mhmmmm." One of the others picked up something that looked like a harp and a guitar put together. Somehow, without any fingers whatsoever, he plucked a few precise notes that rang crystal clear. "I think we can do something for ya. Go get her, dog."
I bounded back over to Daring and swept her up over one shoulder. "Whaaaahaha! Echo! What's going oooon-!?" That was a far she got before I took a mighty leap and sailed right up to the pavilion, and swung her off, into a graceful spin.
I heard something behind me whisper my name. I glanced back to see Disarray and Coconut peeking over the edge of the pavilion. "Oy! Fluffy! It's dangerous to go out alone! Take one of these!" Disarray hissed. Coconut threw a rose at me, which I caught in my teeth, before giving them a thumbs-up. They vanished from view like a pair of evil gophers.
I spun back around to Daring, rose in grinning mouth, and struck a dancing pose the exact instant the music began to play.
Yep. Way too much to drink.
Daring, unbelievably, simply laughed and struck a pose of her own, an eyebrow arched as she tossed her hat aside. "Bold. Very bold. I like it."
And then...we danced. The spicy rhythm set my heartbeat jumping out of my chest as we spun across the sunlit stage and met, paw in hoof.
Any fool daring to call himself a gentleman must learn how to dance. Tango, Salsa, Bachata, Mambo, Salsa...they fit the music perfectly. I was no ballroom master, but damn it, I'd dropped more than a few jaws when the time called for it. I met her steps with ones of my own - rusty, but still skilled.
The few moves that I'd always been troubled by - I spot them coming a mile away, almost matching her pace for pace, a second shadow.
She suddenly spun back into me and I instinctively bent her over into a dip. I was pleasantly astonished to see that the rose was in her mouth now. When did that happen?
She bent farther over and flipped out of the dip. Still grasping a hoof, I pulled her down and whipped her through my legs. A powerful gust of air sounded as she vaulted off the stage and pressed herself to me, back to back. We stayed like that for a split second, and then the dance continued.
It was almost like playing with fire, in a way. She was wild and free, and I didn't so much as lead her as I did point her in the right direction and watch as she worked a different kind of magic. I could respect that. Some men lead, some follow. I preferred to go side-by-side.
She was a whirling dervish of movement using her wings just as much as I used my paws, morphing the moves into mind-bending aerial twists and spins. We swayed and swooned and leaped and kicked through the final moments of daylight, beating out a furious stacatto on the wooden planking as if were an instrument itself.
Although I held the dominant position, she was somehow guiding me as much as I did with her. I didn't complain, picking up on the minute cues to twirl her around at almost frightening speed. The world was spinning and swirling and there she was, at the very center of it all, smiling and laughing, enjoying herself like it was the last day on earth. At that very moment, I realized a truth - there are moments in everyone's life they never forget. This was more than that, though. This was one that would define me.
I embraced the moment. Carpe diem. The day shall be seized.
I was in a haze of joy. Rapture, even. The way the sunlight flickered through her wild mane into those eyes, the soft rush of wind as she snapped her wings to and fro was all I could see. There was no formula for what we did, no guide. It was deeper than that, something else guiding our steps. I could never remember being any happier than that instant. And it was all thanks to the beautiful mare dancing beside me.
She pirouetted swiftly and fell back as the music reached the final note, I twisted to catch her, cradling her in sure paws.
...or I would have, had we not danced too close to the edge. In a tangle of fur and feathers, we tumbled over the side and crashed into the ground with a powerful whump! I wheezed as Daring landed right on top of my stomach, the rose flying out of her mouth. As I caught my breath, I suddenly became aware of her position, and fell still. Daring sensed it as well, and looked down from where she was lying over my chest, laughing gently. I reached up and wrapped my arms around her, careful not to pin her fluttering wings. My entire world shrank down to those two breathtaking eyes, that flushed face, that small, cocky smile...
I moved first. Our lips met as the moon crested the horizon. I closed my eyes as sparks flew in my brain, wild jolts of happiness and warmth. My chest burst with fireworks as the universe faded away to leave the perfect sensation of her soft mouth against mine, her tongue delicately teasing my own. Her hooves came down and rested against the sides of my neck, caressing me. I could feel her heart beating, almost matching me, beat for wild beat.
I opened my eyes as she slowly pulled away, face flushed red, eyes flickering. "Took you long enough to work up the guts," she said softly. "I've been wanting to do this for a while." At my bashful grin, she simply laughed, before diving down for another deep kiss that scrambled any coherent thoughts I'd had in my head.
Through the haze of pleasure, I finally let go.
No right or wrong.
There was only her and I.
And I needed nothing else.
The day of our departure had arrived. We left early in the morning, or as early as we could manage to get up, due to the fact that we all had whopping hangovers.
That...and I was rather enjoying sleeping in, dozing comfortably in the cabin across from my own, a tannish-gold pegasus nestled against my side.
Thank the gods for alcohol.
Liquid courage, some call it. Well, it certainly worked wonders for me, aside from a splitting headache. Oh, yes. Wonders, indeed. The "wonderful" part definitely fit the bill, if last night had been anything to go by. Of course, ever the gentleman, I had at first resisted the idea, but once Daring Do sets her mind on something, she usually gets it. I was no exception.
I smiled to myself as I snuggled down into the bedding. Daring reflexively curled up against me and murmured something in her sleep.
Screw the code. That...was worth every damn second.
As with all good things, however, the peace of the morning was ended when I felt the call of nature. I gently lifted myself out of bed and crept out the door to the common room, where I found Disarray sitting on a cushion in his draconequus form, staring into the fading embers of the metal fire pit that took up the center of the floor.
"Well, well, well! The walk of shame, in all its glory," he said. As a flush of embarrassment crept up my face, he continued ,"How'd it go, Fluffy?" he asked me. "You know, we placed bets to see how long it took you two to finally get together." He frowned. "Coconut won, the son of a goat. So. How was it?"
I merely shrugged, but failed to suppress a satisfied smirk. I certainly wasn't going to be telling anyone about what happened last night. Gentleman's code of honor, and all that. Show some respect for my lady. Er, mare, in this case.
Disarray grinned wickedly. "Alright, fine, I won't press...I have but one question for you."
I waved a paw at him, imploring him to go on.
I gave him a flat look.
"So is that a yes, or a n--hey get those paws away from me!"
Some time later, I stood outside the Shagwagon, enjoying the sunrise as it painted the sky a bright cyan. It would be the last sunrise I saw here. Might as well savor it. I took a deep breath of morning air and readjusted all of my wrappings, before taking my hooded duster off a nearby wheel and slinging it on. I tensed my legs and sprang to the driver's seat, silently scrambling up onto the wagon's roof. I crossed my legs and sat down, listening to the light breeze and the distant sounds of crickets and cicadas.
I had been given a wonderful chance to do something truly incredible here. I'd never asked Discord why, though. Why me? He'd said I was a harbinger of change. That my very presence was significant enough to bring about shifts in Equestria. That could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what's changing. Maybe it was pointless for wondering, but I couldn't help but do so. There were undoubtedly others more qualified for this.
If I were Discord, why would I choose just me?
Maybe he didn't choose just you.
Now that...was a very sobering thought.
But even if I wasn't alone, why would I be among these few?
I imagined what Discord would say about that. "Why not?" I pictured him saying coyly.
Bah. Thinking makes my brain hurt.
I pushed the debate away, intending to consider it later. Instead, I simply focused on clearing my mind, on the sights, sounds, and smells of a new day.
My meditation was interrupted, however, when I heard the sound of hooves on the wooden boardwalks of Wethoof. I opened my eyes to find that the sun had risen a good distance, though it was still early. How long had I been occupied? I turned about to inspect the newcomers, and was greatly surprised to see who it was.
Major Tythus came to a halt a few paces away from the wagon, flanked on either side by Duke Borealis and Duchess Australis. "Good morning, Echo," the old soldier greeted me cordially. The two graceful alicorns beside him murmured their own greetings. I hopped down from the wagon and deeply bowed before them to return the greeting. "We have come for Disarray. He swore an oath to my lords here, and it must be upheld."
Did he now? Huh.
Borealis stepped forward. "While the Prince may have renounced his role, he still owes his family some time, my sister and I included..."
Australis answered in perfect timing. "...He promised to return to Canterlot, to see his mother and the others once again, for the first time in two millennium. We have missed him greatly," she said with a twinge of melancholy.
"The Patchwork Prince," Tythus said quietly. "I had thought him a legend. Did not believe it myself until-"
"-Until I revealed myself to you, Major," Disarray said, stepping out from behind Borealis as if he had been hiding there the entire time. "I could see why I faded into obscurity. Ponies do not generally think that their beloved Princess could be capable of creating something...like me." He clacked his lobster claws. "Easier to forget a mistake than acknowledge it, eh?" He laughed at that.
Australis shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps, but your mother was burdened by your loss for nearly a century. The Royal Family thought you forever gone, cousin..."
"...Make no mistake, we searched high and low for you, until Celestia herself called off the searches at the end of her grief. One hundred years may be a smaller period for those as long-lived as we..."
"...But the ponies who came and went during this time soon began to doubt you had ever existed. But we remembered."
Disarray coughed politely. "Yes. Memory is the key, after all. I thank you for that, I suppose. Fear not, though. I intend to go with you. But make no mistake, I do not intend on staying in Canterlot. My place is here," he said, sweeping a bear-arm towards the Shagwagon, "or at least until the journey ends."
Major Tythus nodded, face expressionless. "As long as you meet with the Royal Family, your word is fulfilled."
"Pah. Words mean nothing unless you make them so." He turned to me and clapped my shoulder with a bear paw. "Well then, big guy, I guess this is goodbye for now. You know, it's kind of funny. I'm sort of leaving family to see family." At my confused expression he leaned forward and whispered in my ear. "We share the same father, in a convoluted sense. He created your body from nothing, but sired me the old-fashioned way. You're kind of like a half-brother." He grinned. "Yet another royal castaway. I wonder how my mother would take knowing that the former king had kids on the side...heh. Don't worry, Fluffy. I'll put in a good word for you. Ta-ta!" With that, he pulled away and joined Major Tythus, shifting into his alicorn state with a flash of light. "Ready, Freddy."
The four of them raised their horns, the tips aglow with a harsh radiance. I shielded my eyes with a paw, wincing. A sharp crack filled the air, and when I lowered my paw...they were gone.
Two thousand years, and the Patchwork Prince was finally going home.
Lucky bastard. I wished I could do the same. At least for a while.
"Huh. I was wondering when he'd leave." Ginger's voice shocked me out of staring at the place they'd been standing. I spun about to see her leaning on her...spear? The spearhead was missing! "Here," she said, tossing me the shaman's staff. The wood felt wonderful in my scarred paws, even through the wrapping. I rubbed the top with a finger, feeling the disfiguring ripples where the arcanite blade had once been.
"I don't care what the other dogs do. I'm not a dog, and this is a new pack, so I will lead it a new way. Starting with this," she stated. Ginger turned a bit, and I could see the former spearhead sticking out of a short scabbard over her side, a small wooden handle replacing the staff. "I'd start learning how to use that thing, Echo. A beta is more than just a deputy position."
I gave her the finger.
"What does that even mean?" she asked. "You do that all the time."
I struck a salute.
"So it's a sign of respect or something...?"
Yeah. Sure! I nodded earnestly. I could have some fun with this. Maybe she'd make it our official salute, or something like that.
I imagined a huge pack of diamond dogs, standing at attention as Princess Celestia made rousing speech upon a podium, Ginger and I by her side. At the closing, hundreds of middle fingers were raised in respect and admiration.
Ginger snorted and tossed her mane as she strode away to the wagon entrance. "I don't know what you're chuckling about, but knock it off. Come on, it's time we leave."
The former gate to Wethoof passed by overhead as we made our way out onto the thick plains that covered the former wasteland.
I padded slowly alongside the wagon, while Daring perched atop the driver's seat, keen eyes peering out over the land. Coconut lumbered along in his harness, pulling the wagon without too much trouble. Ginger Snap trotted up ahead, having volunteered to scout the path and make sure our way was clear.
Being fully outfitted felt surprisingly comfortable. The hood pulled low over my face to shield the sun, duster hugging my fur. It was light and airy, as spider-silk tends to be, but had the strength of steel. The wrappings around my wrists were a soothing presence. I noted somewhat grimly how much I preferred to keep the scars covered. Over the wraps were the bracers, thick and dense, my only protection besides my thick hide, sharp rear claws and teeth, and a staff strapped to my back.
The day was still young. In the distance, I could hear the sound of birds. The rainforest beckoned, drawing me closer. What sights would we see? Who would we meet? Where would we go? The forest gave no answers, but a stiff breeze rustled the leaves of the mighty trees; nature's soft sigh.
Beyond lay Equestria, in all its glory.
A new world, ripe for discovery and new stories to be written.
I glanced around again at the ponies who had chosen to embark alongside me. For better or worse, we had found common aims. I looked at Coconut. To spread cheer. Ginger turned back at us before continuing forward. To redeem. I observed my paws as they struck the ground with steady rythym. To change. Finally, I watched Daring Do as she relaxed in her seat, eagerly watching the world pass by. To have one last adventure... We were bound for greatness, to become legends in our own rights.
I grinned to myself and picked up the pace.
It's a magical world...let's go exploring.