"Three more days till we arrive. We'll spend a day there, name the place, probably have a nice party or something in celebration of our first colony being successfully built, then we'll head to Canterlot for the Gala and concert, and finally, head back north to start doing our job again. We've been taking a lot of time getting the best preparation we can, but it's almost to the point of procrastination now. We just get our unicorns, and then we'll be set. No more putting it off." Despite the fun we were having, I was eager to get back to the job at hand. Every day we waste, more die.
"Yep. Well, I'm hungry. Wanna raid the kitchen?" Gilda suggested.
"Sure, I'm for it."
The two of us went down to the mess hall, into the kitchen, and to the large freezer at the back. We lifted the thick steel bar locking it closed, and swung the door open. What we saw..... well, it was a shock to say the least.
"Um. Gilda?" I asked, my jaw dropped.
"Uh, yeah?" She replied, in the same state.
"I don't remember stocking live unicorn in the freezer."
There she was, icicles coming off her snout, as well as her eyes having frozen tears, shivering, using a spell of some kind as well, desperately trying to keep herself warm, was Lyra. Her eyes went wide when she saw us, and she practically dove out of the freezer, into the kitchen, and collapsed on the tile floor. Gilda looked to me and raised an eyebrow, and I just sighed.
"Well? Any ideas?" She smiled.
Warm. So warm, and fuzzy. And snugly. I like warm. Fluffy. I rolled in bed and grabbed the pillow, wrapping my hooves around it, burying my face in it. So soft. I shivered slightly, and found a thick blanket draped over me, then felt myself being pushed further into the pillow. Wait..... who did that? I'm grabbing the pillow.... so who?
"Hey, I think she's waking up."
Who said that? I squint my eyes, trying to open them against the light. They barely open, just barely, and I spot a white blur.
"Well well, look who didn't die."
'Die? Why would I..........' Everything came back. Climbing up the ropes after the concert, stowing away on board the ship to try and find the human, dodging the cats and griffins on board, getting hungry, and finally, to avoid being caught, running into the freezer, somepony being agitated about the freezer being left open, and locking me in it, pounding on the door in desperation, spending a day and a half, maybe two, lost track, trying to stay warm, and awake, knowing that if I closed my eyes, I wouldn't open them. Being so cold, so tired, so hungry, (I can't eat frozen food can I?) as soon as I got out of the freezer, I passed out. Yeah, not my brightest moment. I CLEARLY didn't think this through all the way. That means....
Lyra literally jumped, and if it wasn't for my powerful wing holding her against my side, she would have fallen right out of bed. Given how cold she was, I asked Geirmund and Nadene, and they told me she had to be warmed up slowly, or else the massive rush of blood to her head could kill her. Apparently, unicorn bodies are different, and on other ponies, it's actually better to heat em up quick, but with unicorns, it needs to be slow. So, the best way to do that was sharing body heat. Gilda and I both lay on our stomachs, side by side, with our wings over her body in between us, pushed up against her, keeping her warm and, now that she was awake, more importantly, still. We kept her pinned, and when she tried to use a spell, I flicked her in the horn to break her concentration, a trick I learned from Sweetie Belle in the gossip episode.
"Hey, just 'chill' out okay?" Gilda groaned at my attempted joke.
"That's no way to talk to the ones who just saved your life. Which brings me to my first question, what THE HELL are you doing on my ship?"
"Grif, can't you see she's been through something traumatic? Give her a chance to get her bearings." Gilda scolded.
"Uh, fine, but I expect a full explanation. She's been passed out all night, I think I've waited long enough to know why there was a unicorn-cicle in my freezer." She tried to get up, but we just held her there.
"You get to lay right here till you tell me how you got on my ship." She fell back asleep, and snuggled up in my feathers again.
"Great, just great, she wants to stay here."
"It's your own fault for being such a suck, letting her lay in bed with us to warm her up."
"Change of plans!" I brought my wing in close to my body, put it under the sleeping unicorn, and promptly flipped her out of bed, making her land on the floor. She groaned as she lay on her back.
"GRIF!" Gilda yelled, quite upset.
"Hey, remember, she stowed away, at this point, I'm allowed to do pretty much whatever I want." I leapt off the bed, and landed laying on top of the extremely frightened unicorn. I put one arm to either side of her head, essentially pinning her in position under me. She looked into my eyes, with tears in hers, a look of terrible fear present on her features.
"Ready to tell me why you were on board?" I glared. She let out a sigh, and explained that she stowed away to try and find the human I was hiding on board, she got hungry and tried to sneak food from the kitchen, then got stuck when someone closed the door. The lever inside used to unlock it was frozen solid, and she couldn't get out.
"Yeah, I figured that's what happened."
"Then why'd you ask me?"
"Because, I wanted to confirm."
"So, where are we now?" The seafoam green mare asked, still pinned.
"We're over the ring sea, three days from our destination, and a half day from the next island and.... wait, you're in no position to be asking questions!" She winced as I raised my voice, and following a stern look from Gilda, I backed off and let her up.
"Well? Are you gonna come with me? There's still the matter of your punishment for stowing away on board. Once that's out of the way, we'll figure out what to do with you."
Lyra reluctantly followed the two of us onto the deck, where a number of cats and griffins were waiting. They all gave me an 'ahoy' as I came up, and I returned their greeting. They were wondering just what I was going to say regarding our little intruder, so, I decided to play it up a bit.
"Alright everyone, so, you're no doubt wondering, who the heck is this? Well, give em your name." I elbowed Lyra in the side, and she stepped forward nervously.
"Um, I, I'm Lyra." She stuttered.
"And what are you doing on board this ship?"
"I, um, I stowed away.... to, um, try and find the human on board. I'm been hunting for humans my whole life, and, I found out there was one on this ship...... so, um, did something kinda stupid."
"No kiddin. Now, there's the matter of your punishment. Normally, we'd have you walk the plank, except that we don't have one. Then there's keelhauling, except it only works if the bottom of the ship is under water, otherwise, it's just a walk on the underside of the ship. So instead, I'll give you a couple options, and you'll get to choose your punishment." She perked up at this, thinking she could just pick something easy and get out of it.
"First, we have marooning you. We drop you on the next island, and leave you there. It'll be up to you to live there, or try and escape. It'll be the same as being shipwrecked, except instead of having the wreck of the ship, anything you had on you, and anything that washes up on shore, you'll have nothing. Not too fun eh?" Lyra gulped, clearly not liking that choice.
"Two, you become the ship's wench, and all the boys, and, some of the girls who swing that way, get to have fun with you whenever they want, and I don't mean card games." I smack her on the flank so she gets the picture. A couple predatory grins from some of the crew instantly drives the thought of that choice from her mind. No way she's going to let these hungry animals have their way with her. Not that they would, most of them are already in relationships with each other, and I am totally NOT okay with taking someone against their will, part of my anti-slavery thing, but she doesn't know that. I just have to make sure she picks the next one.
"Or, three, the Tartarus drop. I'm not gonna explain it, but, put simply, it has a high chance of survival, you're free to go afterwards, and, I'll even show you the human which you couldn't find on your own, in all his bipedal glory." She was clearly liking that idea, although the name 'Tartarus drop' was still ringing in her mind, and the fact that I refused to explain it made her even more wary. Though, the prospect of having to deal with one of the other two helped her make up her mind.
"I pick number three. The....*gulp* Tartarus drop." She started shaking as I walked towards her.
"Good choice! It's really quite fun actually. I hope you're ready, because you're in for the ride of your life!" I flew up and grabbed her in my claws and paws, keeping her steady. She started freaking out a bit.
"You have to hold still, or I'll drop you...." She kept shaking, until I got us over the water.
"Seriously now, haven't you ever wanted to fly?" She tried clinging to me, but with her hooves under her, and me keeping them that way, she had no method of turning herself over to grab me. I flew her up above cloud level, which was hanging pretty low today. Seeing the massive ocean of white right below her seemed to calm her quite a bit, as she wouldn't get vertigo from looking a mile down at the ocean below.
"Well.... this isn't so bad. Kind of pretty, clouds beneath us and all, and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. So, why do you call it the Tartarus drop?" She looked at my face, to see me with a mile wide smile. Then I sharply turned upwards into a climb, threw her straight up, then landed on the clouds. The look on her face when she realized I wasn't holding her was priceless.
"Hey Lyra! You may want to flatten yourself out! It'll prevent blood rushing to or away from your head, so you don't pass out, and you'll fall slower." She flailed, most likely failing to hear me, and I waved as I lay on the cloud layer and she fell past me, passing through it, screaming the whole way. I jumped through the hole she made and dove after her.
Interesting thing about being a griffin, we can do falcon dives no problem. When we go into diving position, instinct kicks in. We hold our breath, and all our muscles contract, sealing off the blood vessels. This holds all the blood in our torso and upper body, and prevents it from flowing to the extremities, so we don't pass out from the g-forces drawing blood away from the head. We also have a kind of protective lens, like a second eyelid, but clear, that goes over our eyes to protect them from the buffeting winds. I think pegasi have it too, the blood thing, not the eyelid thing, since RD squinted against the wind when she did the rainboom, and pegasi wear goggles when they fly at high speeds, but I don't really know. Earth ponies and unicorns on the other hand, don't have either, which is why I had her flatten herself out. She was screaming as she fell, belly flop position, eyes closed.
She must have heard that, because she opened her eyes and saw me, upside down, dropping at the same pace that she was.
"Are we having any fun yet?"
"I'm gonna die!"
"Aww, but that's no fun! You should really live, because if you don't, how are you going to see the human?" I pondered, scratching my chin, while free falling, upside down.
"I'm gonna splatter when I hit the ocean!" She screamed, tears in her eyes as she awaited the end.
"Oh, alright, I suppose I can save you. Just, don't go kicking me in the face, or I'll get knocked out and you really will die." I flared my wings a tiny bit, then rolled so I was in position above her, still falling at the same pace, and locked my arms under her forelegs, then positioned myself in a dive while she was still flat, so she wouldn't pass out.
"AhahahahahaIdon'twannadie!" She screamed.
"WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW!" I wanted to wait till the last possible moment, but I remembered I had extra weight, so I decided to go a bit earlier. I flared my wings, feeling the painful strain on them as the wind tried to rip them off, we started moving forwards instead of straight down, and I pulled out of the dive just in time for the wind coming off us to kick up a spray, soaking us both. Now that we were parallel, I wrapped my back legs around her waist, and pulled up, heading back to the ship. I deposited her on the deck, then ruffled my feathers to shake off any water. She lay there on her back, wheezing, desperately trying to breathe, her heart smashing against her chest like a beast in a cage trying to break it's confines.
"Congratulations!" I called to her happily. The rest of the crew was laughing, even Gilda. Everyone knew I wouldn't have let her die, but we just enjoyed scaring her. She immediately got up and rushed to the main gun, hiding behind it, shaking in fear.
"Aww, didn't you have fun?"
"NO!" She screamed. I listened closely, then realized I heard crying and whimpering. Ahh crap, this isn't the fake crying, this is real. I probably scared her within an inch of her life. I felt a pang in my heart.
'Guilt. Go away.'
I then squashed the feeling I was getting for being responsible for the unicorn's torment, picked her up, despite her protests, and hauled her down to the mess hall, her thrashing, trying to kick me the whole time. I set her in a chair, and Maria put some tea on.
"Well, guess what, you survived the Tartarus drop. In fact, there was never any danger in the first place. To top it all off, if you had picked option one or two, I just would have thrown you in the brig till we got to Canterlot instead." Her fear was replaced with rage.
"Then, I did all that for NOTHING!!???!" She screamed, still crying.
"Nope, instead of spending the next two weeks in a cell, you get to move about as you please, and, I'll show you the human."
"Yeah right. I never should have believed you. Bon bon was right. Chasing humans is just stupid. Look what I got myself into. First, I nearly freeze to death in your freezer, and then you trick me into taking a dive at terminal velocity, all so I can find a creature that doesn't even exist!"
"So then, you're going to give up on your dream, just because it almost got you killed a couple times?"
"I..... I don't know. I can't go chasing fairy tales any more. Unless I find some solid proof, there's no point in continuing this foalish chase."
"Aha, well then, it looks like that's not a problem. You snuck on board my ship, survived two days in a freezer, and took a ride on the express elevator to hell, all to find a human, so, I guess I have no choice but to show you now don't I?" She looked up at me with eyes red from crying. She nearly died, and then I nearly scare her to death.
"Stop. Just stop okay. I know humans aren't real. All this time, I've never found any solid proof of one, and you just used my obsession to throw me around and have fun at my expense. Just stop." She hung her head. Nothing worse than finding out that everything you ever believed in is fake, then have someone torture you for your belief. Too bad she's not listening.
"You're right. Well, anyways, you're stuck on board till we get to Canterlot, unless you want to live in the griffin colony, so, I suggest you cheer up, or this'll be a long trip." I passed her a cup of tea that Maria brought on a platter, taking a sip of my own.
"Also, I have something for you. Have someone show you to the mess hall in about an hour. In the mean time, I'm gonna put you in bed. You've had a busy day."
"Stupid stupid stupid. How could I have been so stupid? The letter, the music, when I saw him sitting like that....... I was wrong. I can't believe I just did that. I left home, everything I knew, and snuck on the ship of a bunch of criminals! Then I got locked in a freezer, and then he drops me from above the clouds. I'm gonna go home, and throw out everything human related. I don't even want to think about it, it makes me sick!" I lay in the bed they let me use, quivering. Then, my stomach growls. I realize I haven't eaten anything since I got locked in that freezer.
"Uggh, I'm hungry, gotta eat. But, he is in the mess hall too, I don't want to see him, not after what he pulled."
"Hey? You coming or what?" I heard the voice of Gilda, the one who had been nice to me when I was laying in bed. When I didn't answer, she just walked in anyway, picked me up, lay me across her back, and started walking.
"Come on, it's not so bad. So, I guess you're not an adrenaline junkie like we are. Didn't you have any fun at all? I know it's not a griffin thing, because Trixie is an even bigger thrill seeker than the rest of us."
"Right, I forgot, she's on board too. She rides him around doesn't she?"
"Yeah, in fact, just about everyone who can't fly rides someone who can. We're pretty close with our partners. I'm sorry he was so hard on you, but, I mean, you DID sneak on board the ship, and we've got an image to keep as 'scourge of the sea and sky' so it's not like we could just let you off. Actually, he went pretty easy on you compared to what he could have done." She explained as we walked.
"He said that if I had picked one of the other options, he just would have thrown me in the brig.... is that true?"
"Yeah. He's not one to just dump someone, and there is no way in hell he'd let anyone take advantage of you like that, it goes against his very being, he just really wanted you to pick the last option, so he could have some fun with you. Remember, he gave you three options, and on the third, he gave an extra reward."
"Yeah, 'see the human' I was pretty stupid to have fallen for that."
"Don't be so sure."
"Wait, what do you mean by that?"
"Oh look, we're here!" She let me off her back, and opened the door to the mess hall, where I heard music coming from a piano. I poked my head in, and then I saw it. Flat face, small nose and eyes, ears on the side of the head, mouth that was just a line, sitting upright, two arms, two hands, wearing clothes. Oh my sweet Celestia he wasn't lying. It's a human! It's a human and he's playing piano with his HANDS. Okay! Gotta play it cool. Don't be super excited, they're supposed to be skittish, I mean, why else would they be hiding all the time? .... Can't scare him, gotta approach slowly and carefully, make no sudden moves.....
Sitting at the piano, (my parents made me learn when I was little, I hated it, and even though I was okay, I quit, just another thing they were disappointed in me for, and also, for some reason, Equestrian piano's are easier to play, like they guide your hands or something) I saw the door open and Gilda poke her head in, so I began playing. Lyra followed shortly afterwards, her eyes shot wide as she looked at me, scanning me, and went even wider when she apparently found what she was looking for. She looked like she wanted to run right at me and pounce me, but was holding herself back as to not scare me away, like I'm a bunny or something. Whatever, just focus on the music.
She got closer as I continued to play, now she was right next to me, and her eyes locked on my hands as they deftly flew over the piano keys. I turned away when she looked at my face, closing my eyes and just focusing on the music. When the song finally ended, I opened my eyes and turned to the unicorn sitting next to me. I think I'll play it a bit, change my voice.
"You.... know my.... name?" I let out a hearty laugh, smiling to show off my teeth, which she immediately locked her eyes on.
"I know many things. For example, you've been looking for humans your entire life."
"So then the letter...."
"Yes, I wrote it."
"You wanted me to find you?"
"Ah, no. I simply wanted you to know that I was out here, and I'd eventually find my way to you. I honestly didn't expect you to go to such lengths to find me, especially when I would have found you all on my own. I often forget that others don't have the clarity of thought that I do."
"You have no idea what I went through to find you."
"Oh, I'm pretty sure I do. What I don't know are the legends surrounding us. Care to enlighten me?"
She proceeded to tell me all about how we were supposed to be geniuses, masters of magic, and makers of incredible technology that made what ponies had come up with look like cheap toys. Basically, we're Equestria's version of the Skyrim Dwemer. I explained that we had already been to the moon, had seen the future, and, lastly, although not by our own power, traveled between realities, and that in our own, we have no magic.
"Wait.... so then....."
"That's right, I'm not a native of this universe. I was sent here by a being far greater than I, for a purpose I do not understand. There are no hidden cities of man, caves, magic barriers, or anything in this world that hide us. There are humans here, but, they are spread out, and don't know who the others are. As I said before, hidden in plain sight, even from each other."
"Wait, as you said before? But, Griffin was........... *Gaaaaaaaaasssssssssssspp*"
"Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but I'm a human, so hug me maybe?" I used my regular voice, then laughed again. She pouted angrily.
"Aw, come on, don't be mad. I told you I'd show you the human, you just never expected it to be me." She turned and looked away from me, so I put cupped my hand on her face, and rubbed her muzzle with my thumb. She shuddered, so I started to scratch her ear. She growled.
"How can you be so mean, and then so nice, and then so mean?" She asked, genuinely confused.
"Well, there's a bit of a reason why I'm here, see, although I'm not sure why, I was given a choice on whether or not to come, and I jumped on it." I pushed her away gently, and pulled up my shirt to show my scars. I pointed to them one after another.
"Knife wound, donated a kidney to save a life here, the guy who got saved, and his friends, gave me cracked ribs here, here, and here, needed surgery to fix them." I pulled it all the way off and showed my back. "Whipped by my dad's belt here, burns from having coffee thrown at me by a girl at school here. Dozens more bruises and scars that have already healed over. I had a...... bad life, although I was more of a punching bag than a person, so I wouldn't really call that a life. I guess it left me more than a little messed up." Lyra looked like she was about to puke, so I put my shirt back on, and she steadied herself. I cracked my neck, side to side, making her jump at the noise.
"Well! Now that that's over with, reverti." She watched as my form changed into that of a griffin once more. Hands to claws, feet to paws, mouth and nose to beak, eyes widen, feathers sprout, tail appears, wings grow. I threw my amulet on, and walked over to the large window separating the kitchen and the mess, and ordered a fillet of fish and salad. I sat back down, and Lyra looked like she was going to cry. She threw her hooves around me and held me close while she wept.
"Hey, what's the matter? Don't tell me you're feeling sour about my scars. Since coming to Equestria, I'm a lot happier. I've got friends and family, I get to blow off some steam once in a while, plenty to eat. Earth isn't all that bad, it just was for me. There's plenty of happy humans out there, I just don't know any myself, but they are out there. I met one after coming here actually. He was brought over as well, we had a bit of fun, and by that I mean I threw him through a wall, and he set me on fire. You know, fun? Like the fun we had."
"Human's set each other on fire for fun?"
"Well, the crazy ones do, but yeah, and they normally put each other out afterwards. Or they go skiing off their roofs, or go down a hill in shopping carts to see how long they can before they fall out, or throw beehives at each other. Then there's the normal ones who hang out, go shopping, watch movies, eat popcorn, play sports, do that stuff. And then there's the ones who hurt others for fun. I have a big problem with them, but the majority aren't like me or them. Just normal folks. It's just a couple towns, or parts of towns, are just really bad. I lived in one of them. And it's sad, but some humans kill themselves. You know something? I would have been one of them if it weren't for you ponies. Didn't know it was real, but seeing a world of happiness gave me hope for the future, and now that I'm here, and I see that while Equestira is great, the rest of the world isn't as it should be, I need to fix it."
"So then, that's why you're doing this?" She asked.
"Yep. And I've got a question..... why are you ponies so damn soft and huggable?" She must have thought the question was funny, because she laughed. She then looked up at me, and replied.
"So says the supposed predator that's softer than my mattress. I really need to get pegasus feather pillows."
"So, you still mad at me for dropping you?"
"Good, because we're almost there. You get to be present for the naming ceremony of the first city of the new griffin nation. This is a historic moment, marking the start of a new era. Also, let go of me. You hugging me for so long breaks the rules of awkward hug prevention, and my mate is getting jealous." Lyra let go of me immediately, then turned to see Gilda glaring at her.
"Um, sorry?" Lyra offered weakly.
"Yeah. I know he's all mushy and stuff when he's not being a complete psychopath, just don't get any ideas."
"Yeah, I was just a little emotional from, you know, almost dying, twice, fulfilling my life's dream, then hearing the saddest thing ever. I don't like him like that."
"Good thing too, because there's no way you'd be able to handle me. The only reason Gilda and I get along so well is she's a massive bitch who can put me in my place." All three of us laughed a bit, until she got a seductive look in her eye.
"Excuse me Lyra, I've got a girlfriend to take care of."
"Rules of awkward hug prevention?"
"Yeah, it's a thing. Like when hugging someone, based on the type, the hug can only last so long, have a certain amount of force, be in a certain position, stuff like that. If you go outside the boundary, it get's awkward. Comforting hugs should come from the front, have less force than the one being comforted uses, but only just, and should have a slow, gentle back rub. Crying hugs where the person isn't in their right mind should also come from the front, and should be firm but gentle, like when you wrapped your wings around me. There's a whole set of rules. The hug Lyra gave me was too strong, came from the side instead of the front, and lasted too long, making it awkward."
"Oh? So, what does.... THIS.... one mean?" She grabbed me from the side, had a wicked smile, and held me tightly so that I was somewhat restricted in my movement.
"That hug says 'I'm gonna eat you.' So, position?"
"You know, for all the times we've done this, you've always been a griffin for it. Predator-predator. I wonder what it would be like being predator-prey?"
"You want me to turn into a human so you can dominate me?"
"Hey, I'm just sayin.... It might be fun to do a bit of role play." I raised my eyebrow.
"Forma versus." Back to a human again. She grabbed each of my arms in her claws, and began flying me to our room.
"Oh no! I've been caught by the ferocious griffin! She's taking me to her nest!"
"That's right." She gave me a very slight nip in the side. "You look delicious, but it's so lonely atop the mountain, I think I'll have a bit of fun before I eat you." She grinned, I grinned back.