Dragonfall

by DannyJ


Chapter 1

Princess Celestia once famously said, "Everything in this world, no matter how dark, has a spark of light and goodness in it that makes it worth saving. Except for Dragonfall, which is irredeemable."

She said it in jest (probably), but having now seen the city for myself, I agree completely. This place is a sty. I've woken up in literal gutters cleaner than Dragonfall. Unfortunately, I signed a contract, and the Sunheart Company have been hired to protect the city for at least a year. I'm pretty much stuck here until it comes time to renew my contract in the spring. Even then, if I do decline and manage to get out of here, I'll also be out of a job.

I can't go back to civilian life now. Not after everything I've seen and done. I can imagine their disbelieving stares now, their judgemental gazes. I so totally went to fight in an actual war, and I was a total badass too, but none of them would believe me! I don't have any scars to show for my fighting, because I was too good, and they'll all think I'm either a liar or that I was just involved in some sissy pie-throwing war. I can't face that. My dignity is already at an all-time low from being in Dragonfall, and I cannot sink any further from here.

My name is Lieutenant Agony, and I am a distinguished mercenary veteran who first signed on with the Sunheart Company ten years ago, because a career of war and fighting sounded preferable to spending any more time with my mother. In the intervening time, my brothers and I have won ourselves gold and glory both overseas and within Equestria, but none of it offered any consolation through my endless nightmares. Which, again, are not as bad as spending time with my mother. I get the feeling, however, that Dragonfall will be worse than both.

As I march my platoon through the streets, I contemplate my immediate future with a sense of despair and dread. The very fact that I'm here in the first place is worrying. Most cities in Equestria don't need to hire mercenaries to protect their walls, because they usually have a town guard for that if a regular police department isn't enough. Dragonfall did have a guard, I was told. Then they all died in a monster attack. Apparently this is a pretty regular occurence here. I am not filled with confidence about this job.

And again, the city itself is absolutely disgusting. We've only been marching for fifteen minutes, and I've already seen a dead homeless guy being eaten by rats. And while that obviously tops the list of disturbing sights so far, it's far from the only omen we've run across.

A public masturbator streaked through our ranks at one point, until one of my soldiers punched him and broke his nose. A malnourished orphan colt stole another soldier's wallet mid-march, or tried to at least, because he also got punched and broke his nose. And then the platoon were stopped by City Maintenance, who had closed the street ahead for reasons of giant unexplained craters in the road. But their forepony did eventually let us through after he was punched in the face and broke his nose (Private Punchy has had a lot of fun today).

Of course, in hindsight, I think we probably should've gone around the road like the forepony said. The craters were actually so deep that they exposed the city's sewers, and about half of them had turned into geysers of waste, leaking sewage all over the road. Still, we walked through all of it anyway, because we couldn't very well turn back. That would've been like admitting defeat, and I refused to give those City Maintenance bastards the satisfaction.

Still, not for the first time, I wonder why in the name of sanity I and the rest of the Sunhearts are here. Certainly I didn't consent to this. And I'm a lieutenant, commanding an eighth of the company's strength. My voice is supposed to matter when the captain calls a vote, but madness won by 5-4 and promptly declared no take-backs or do-overs. What's even the point of democracy if my side doesn't win, I ask?

My subordinates and I are currently on our way to our new home for the forseeable future, the northwest barracks in the city's western wall. Dragonfall is built like a fortress, with the entire city surrounded on all sides except the the north by miles of huge, grey stone walls. The northern end of the city, where we are now, has no wall, because it instead creeps right up onto the Crystal Mountains, like a drunken stallion getting too touchy at a party. The mountains contain the mines that are the city's only wealth, and so this cesspool that we're in is called the Mining District.

Given that the Mining District exists to harvest crystals and gemstones, not coal or metal, one would normally expect the city's mining operations to be relatively clean work. But they would be wrong. It's barely any better than the sewer road. The smog in the Mining District is so thick that I could choke on it, and I'm not even sure where it's all coming from. Seriously, I haven't seen any forges or factories around, or any kind of industry that could explain its presence. There's just a massive smoky haze covering the north end of the city for no discernable reason. This fulfills every expectation I had of Dragonfall.

I beckon one of my sergeants with a whistle, a red stallion with a thick black mop of a mane, and he comes over to walk with me. Breakspear, his name is. I've always liked him. He takes himself seriously, never smiles, and has utter disdain for almost everypony else around him, which is a rare and appreciable quality to a cynical, bitter mishippope like myself. Also, he works out, and his body is frankly a work of art. I could stare at his muscles for hours. No homo though.

"What do you make of the city so far?" I ask Breakspear in hushed tones.

"Permission to speak frankly, sir?" he says dryly.

"Granted."

"It looks and smells like a mule's backside. This smog is coming from nowhere, walking through that road was worse than the first time I killed a pony, we've passed two corpses on the way here, and I'm pretty sure I can hear screaming in the distance."

I can too, now that he's mentioned it. Sounds like a dying cat.

"Wait a minute, where was the second corpse?" I ask.

"There was a homeless guy in an alley we passed, being eaten by rats."

"No, I saw that one. What was the other?"

"Some animal on the side of the road. I think it was a fox once, but it was hard to tell."

"Huh."

I lapse into silence, unsure of what to say in response to that. Breakspear and I get along, but our conversations are typically short and to the point. One of these days, I'm going to have to find a topic that we can have an in-depth discussion about, but it's so hard to determine what he likes. Come to that, I'm not really sure what I like either. Maybe the answer is to bond over our hates? In that case, I'm sure Dragonfall will serve my purposes well. Still, to avoid things getting awkward, I clear my throat, thank him, and send him off again to rejoin his squad.

Ahead, the western wall looms ever larger. I relish the thought of finally getting out of the cold and settling in, and I imagine my platoon must feel the same. This far north, the temperature drops quickly in the evenings, and it was already late in the day when we all arrived. Even now, I feel cold enough to shiver. I won't, though; I have an image to maintain.

Soon we all arrive at the small fortress built into the base of the great wall, making our way into the barracks through an archway protected by a guardstation. These are the northwest barracks, and I have no idea what to expect inside, so I enter with baited breath.

"Oh."

Even the new living quarters are disgusting. The beds of the northwest barracks are neither clean nor comfortable, instead being dusty and full of insects. Cobwebs hang from the ceiling, and the whole place has fallen into a general state of decay. It's as if my platoon are the first ponies to have set hoof in here for decades. There are even rats scurrying about. In fact, there are more rats in here than there were in the streets of the Mining District.

My soldiers are already actively complaining about the situation, as I would be if it were me in their place.

"Okay, okay, calm down!" I shout. "I get that this is far from ideal. Believe me, I was expecting our barracks to be in livable conditions as well. We've all been lied to. But there's no use crying about it. Our spaces have already been assigned, and the other barracks are probably just as shit as ours anyway. So we may as well pull together, act like adults, and try to make something of this. Okay?"

I glare at all the ponies around me, looking as many in the eye as possible. They all give me some sullen looks, but they're not about to argue with me. Besides, we've all been through worse than this. A mercenary's life is not always a comfortable one. The only issue here is one of raised expectations. They thought that playing city guard would be less unpleasant than trench warfare. If only they'd known that they were going to Dragonfall.

At that point, one of the mares of Breakspear's squad pops her head into the room.

"Sir? The basement level is flooded."

The news makes my eyes bug out.

"What?" I shout.

Sure enough, she's right. It is flooded. Completely flooded. As in, the entire basement level is totally underwater. From the top of the stairs, I stare down in the murky depths. Several others crowd behind, also gawping at the sight. My eye twitches slightly as I wonder whether I could get away with murdering my captain.

Also, I'm pretty sure I have a mouth ulcer.

WHAT NEXT?:
1. Just deal with it and try to fix up the northwest barracks.
2. Move the platoon into a hotel instead and make a NEW barracks.
3. Find the captain and have a shouting match.