The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 4
The Grey Potter
I could not get out of that pony home fast enough. Not only did denounce Father, a crime unto itself, but was completely called out on it by the teeny tiny Luna? Makes me wonder if Celestia noticed. Makes me wonder if I’m going to be written up or reported. Are they spies? Am I doomed? Ah, why did I give my real name? I could have faked one, given out Crusher’s name, I don’t like that guy. I was only joking in the face of the enemy! I really have no problem with Father, he’s… distantly okay.
But if they were pony spies, wouldn’t they have the authority to just kill me outright? I really didn’t know what to think at that point. I just knew that on the surface I had a pretty fun night. Besides the kerfuffle that kicked it off. Most of the time, both ponies treated me with respect. With kindness.
I started thinking on that walk home. Did I know what kindness was before this night? Deciding to not rip off limbs in a fight, I thought that was kindness. A teacher promising to only to smack you once when you fail a lesson, that was kindness. And yet, at the pony home, not one person tried to hit me. Bullied me, yes, but almost by accident. And apparently being held upside down is considered mean to them? That’s what little kids think is cruel before an adult teaches them otherwise.
Holy Flank, is my life really that terrible in comparison?
I mean, I knew that it was bad.
But yeesh. Worse than expected.
I decided to not risk any more mess-ups out here. Night wasn’t even half over, but if I was going to turn right around and try to catch ponies, then I clearly learned nothing today. And what I learned is that I don’t know jack all. Not a bad lesson.
I didn’t meet many Draconequus on my way back. No ponies either, of course. By this time of night, it was difficult to catch anything, since most ponies were asleep. Or smart enough not to go out. I’ve heard that some ponies think themselves as clever sneaking around after dark, but they’re far and few, maybe one or two every few days. With so little to do, most Draconequus weren’t patrolling. They merely spread themselves lazily across roofs and towers, flicking at loose pebbles or chatting with one another in low growls. The few that I passed on my way back to the castle ignored me completely.
Speaking of the castle.
Compared to the vastness of the city, with its huge walls and topless towers, the castle itself would have blended in if it wasn’t clearly separated by a moat. Same stone, same banners, but with an almost crowded feel to it. The shape was like a dozen of the normal towers had been jammed together. Some stopped without clear reason, but the majority of spires jutted up into the sky, beyond the clouds. There was no drawbridge to get across the moat, nor any obvious door on the exterior. Thus, the underground tunnels peppering the city, with over a dozen surrounding the castle itself. Some ponies know about the obvious ones, since the Stallion did need day workers. The grunts came and went through a passage in their barracks. But most entrances were secret, the doors only made operable by a spark of magic.
I snuck in through one of these, an ordinary hole on the side of an ordinary wall, and descended into my home.
Inside, there are torches occasionally, brackets stained black from pitch and soot. It was just enough to let a Draconequus see. A pony would find the castle to be almost pitch black. As for what I told Celestia… we didn’t exactly live underground, this was still part of the castle. The part of the castle with no light from outside. And water on every surface. It may be underground, actually, I can’t tell. I’ve been high enough up the corridors to be convinced I was above ground. But the main body of the castle itself didn’t have that special kind of weakness known as windows, so I couldn’t be sure.
The main body of this castle was built in circles, to conform to the shape of the towers. The corridors would tightly or slowly spiral both up and down. The stone passages would circle around huge open meeting areas, or past dozens of smaller enclosures, staggered of a plane. All rooms tended to have little in them, sometimes they had spartan furnishings for certain needs. But mostly, there was just straw. Everywhere. We slept on the stuff, of course, but straw was multi-function. It could also serve as a couch, a chair, or in trying times, a desk. Cleaning consisted of tossing down straw and letting it get swept aside as people passed by. Also, dogs. Scrawny, silent dogs. I don’t know how dogs helped clean, I think they caught the rats we didn’t get ourselves.
I thought of going back to my bunk, basically a cell I shared with four other young Draconequus, but what was the point of that? Sleep the night away? Anyway, I had missed breakfast sitting on Ruin’s head, and those oats were… new. But not filling, not in the least. I needed some lunch. So I followed the tight circles, the steeper slopes, down into the lower levels. Where the water begins to frost, stinging the soles of my feet as I stepped on damp straw. I was heading for the larder.
The larder wasn’t a very large place, built for the smaller creatures of Equestria. Also, lit for the smaller creatures, with torches and lamps hanging everywhere. But only the younger Draconequus were expected to go down there if they wanted to eat. Adults had their own bunks, their own personal bowls that were always kept stocked. Me, I had to go down here, beg for food, eat it right in the room, and then leave. And I was lucky, Brine didn’t hate me. If anybody got on that guy’s bad side, well, I heard in some cases he would starve the kids until he decided he wasn’t holding a grudge anymore.
Even though the larder was built for smaller beasts, it felt crowded and cramped. Barrels were everywhere. Barrels and sacks, some covered in a light layer of ice. Strings of plants hung from the ceiling, swinging among chunks of meat that hung from hooks. The floor was stained with something nasty, and was usually mopped up inefficiently with water. It made the ground even more slippery and cold than the corridor. Also, the larder smelled like mildewing paper. And if that doesn’t sound bad, it happily overpowered some of the more unsavory scents hanging around.
It wasn’t long until I found Brine, the butcher. I’d call him our cook, but I’ve never seen him cook a thing. There was an oven in here, but I’ve never seen it lit, or even dirty with soot. Brine was a gnarled griffin, thick bodied, but with skin that sagged and hung off his flesh, old scars making his feathers stick out at crazy angles. He only had one eye, but it was sharp, and could cut you deeper than his knife ever could.
This griffin looked down at me between the stacked barrels. With a heavy swing, he wedged his butcher’s blade deep into a cutting board.
He yanked down a bowl with his beak and dropped it as his feet. I had to catch it before it rolled away, and hold it steady as he dropped a snapped half of a cucumber, a raw potato, and a chunk of lettuce towards the floor. A slab of red meat slapped into my bowl, hanging limply over the rim.
“Thanks Brine… thanks.” I slinked backwards, dragging the bowl behind me to eat quietly in a corner. I had to find a spot that was both out of the griffin’s way, yet within his line of sight, so he could see I wasn’t stealing anything. Luckily my place was open, a small alcove between bags of potatoes and a barrel of… something. Honestly, this barrel was one of many that never moved.
I squeezed into my spot. Either the potatoes had shifted slightly or I was getting too big for this, who knows which was better. I looked at my bowl before hesitantly picking up the chunk of lettuce. The vegetables were all fine… It was impossible to get all the dirt off the potato, but I managed. Meat was meat, and that was usually the best part of the meal, crappy as the cuts were. But I knew what the meat was, and maybe I should just… set is aside. For now. If I was going to try and make friends with, or just learn about the ponies, then maybe eating this would be in poor taste. I waited until Brine wasn’t looking before I quietly shoved the chunk behind the potato sacks.
I slid the bowl back across the ice to Brine, who shoved it right back with the others.
I’m not sure what I did all night. Wandered? Half hearted pranks? Sometimes I liked to remove and place the images of doors where they shouldn’t be, that’s good for a few seconds of laughter. But all I knew later was that I was hungry again, not even an hour later. Vegetables are not filling, like those oats. That dinner, when a chunk of red chuck was dropped in front of me I gobbled it up instantly. My commitment to this new line of thinking was clearly thwarted by my base instincts. I crept back to my bunk at dawn with a guilty conscious and a painful stomachache.
I didn’t sleep well that day. That was nothing new. Even without a stomach ache, Havoc and Carnage always practice fighting in our cell, and often enough try and turn it into fighting and/or beating up me and Crusher. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. Their technique is all about being bigger and stronger than the opponent, so what’s to practice? I can convince them that Crusher deserves to be fought more than me, but I know I’m smarter than them, so is it fun to practice tricking morons? No. It’s dumb. I get out of bed long, long before the sun has set.
It’s easy to be alone, if you put enough effort into it. Plenty of places in the castle are rarely used, or too small for the average Draconequus. Or even not part of the original design. If a juvie was willing to sneak past the massive basement elders, there was a natural stone wall with a crack in it, leading to an underground river. That’s where all the ‘cool’ kids were, all two of them, and it was best avoided. Instead, I found a small tunnel off the back of the dungeons that lead to something like a drainage grate. I watched day as it passed me by.
Daylight hurt my eyes a little, but it wasn’t as bad as some adults told me it was. It didn’t burn my skin off, blind me for life, or transform me into a pony mutant. It just impaired some of my best vision as my eyes became far too concerned with color.
And boy, contrary to what my night vision told me, the ponies sure were colorful.
Both Luna and Celestia were ‘normal’ as far as I was concerned. Within the range of expected colors from night vision. White, and dark, dark blue. But just watching the street, ponies seemed to be all colors. Pink, purple, tan, black, some with multicolor streaks in their manes. A tattoo was on nearly every flank, making Luna and Celestia seem like the odd ones out. I caught a few names as they passed me by. Dizzy Days, with a spiral tattoo. Garnet, with diamonds on her flank. The Big Guy, with a silver scale. All kinds of shapes and sizes. Some had horns, some didn’t. Some wore clothes, most didn’t. Some had hooves that blended in color with the rest of their legs, and some had a very clear dividing line between hair and hoof.
I wondered, how much could I learn by just watching these ponies wander by? I’ve already learned that they most definitely do not eat meat, or if they do, then they don’t mention it. I learned that a lot of the unicorn ponies are richer than the earth ponies. Speaking of, I learned that an earth pony is a pony without a horn.
Slowly, my subjects drifted away, each cantering at their own pace. Fewer and fewer passed by, until there was nopony left. I came to the conclusion that it was probably night. I squeezed between the bars of the grate, and crept into the dark, abandoned streets.