>Live in the woods with Breakspear for a while.
It doesn't take much to convince Breakspear to abandon Dragonfall as a lost cause. We were both thinking it. Faced with the imminent possible destruction of the entire city, and a monster that I can see no real way to kill, we opt instead to live in the woods like savages until this whole thing blows over.
We retreat further into the forest to put some distance between ourselves and the remnants of the western wall. All around, the mud is black with ash and charred wood, the trees are missing their leaves, and I notice a lot of dead, burned animals. Not as many dead animals as the city proper, but still a lot.
Breakspear and I spend much of our forest vacation looking for suitable firewood. We come up short, needless to say. Nearly everything appropriately combustible was already combusted by the blaze, and anything left is too damp from the rain to catch fire. It's an impossible dichotomy, given the circumstances; how can something burn so quickly and thoroughly in so intense a rainstorm? More importantly, how could something like this have happened in the first place?
I suppose it doesn't matter all that much, given that Breakspear and I just escaped death by slime. My not-so-subtle groaning and grumbling worsens the longer we walk, and the more we come up short. I simply cannot accept that we traded certain, agonising death for certain, prolonged, possibly more agonising death.
"Sir," Breakspear says, out of the blue. "Permission to speak freely?"
I grunt noncommittally, not really caring about anything at this point.
Breakspear almost doesn't continue – I suppose my response didn't fill him with confidence – but, cautiously, he speaks his mind.
"Do you find it ironic that the two of us escaped one deathtrap, only to land in yet another, different deathtrap, which offers only a slightly more agonising form of death?"
I pull to a stop, my mouth agape as I stare at him. Breakspear realizes I've stopped walking after a little while, and turns to look at me quizzically. "Sir?"
"I was literally just thinking that." I swallow. "We're so in sync, you and I."
Breakspear's lips stretch into a taut line, and he turns to keep walking. I stare at him a while, sighing, and then fall into step again.
"To answer your question, though, I do find that ironic." I shudder, shaking droplets of rainwater from my coat and armor, and flapping my wings in a vain attempt at drying them. "What the hell happened to spring two completely unrelated deathtraps within spitting distance of one another? And why, in Celestia's name, do we find ourselves caught in both of them, one after the other?"
Breakspear pauses to strip a few intact leaves from a low-hanging branch. He chews them thoughtfully, then shrugs. "Dragonfall hates us?"
I snort. "As good an answer as any."
Because that's Dragonfall for you in a nutshell, I suppose. It fucks you bloody from two directions at once, and expects you to thank it for the privilege.
In time, we find a cave – a little dip in the earth, sized well enough for a couple of wet, uncomfortable ponies to slip in and spend the night. Still more luckily, whatever must've called it home lies charred and blackened outside the cave. From the bits of flesh still clinging to its blackened bones, I judge it to be some sort of crocodile-snake-lizard, and guess that it was caught in the fire within sight of whatever safety its burrow offered.
I spit on it as I pass it by, following Breakspear inside its home.
MY home now, bitch.
The lizard-thingy's cave is warm and dry, but offers little in the way of creature comforts. There are feces everywhere, for one, and the spots that aren't carpeted with feces are carpeted with the splintered bones of its prey. I call dibs on the most bone-free spot of land right away, though it's covered in lizard droppings. I may like Breakspear, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sleep with ribs and femurs poking into my skin all over.
Neither of us are what I'd call comfortable in our bedding, though. Breakspear's rolling around, groaning, probably because he's got ribs and femurs poking into his skin all over. As for my bed, well, my bed is made of literal shit, so it's got a whole bunch of additional unpleasantness going for it. Belatedly, I realise that rolling around in lizard dung might cause me to get some sort of infection, especially given how many wounds I've accumulated over the last twenty-four hours. I must needs seek out a better bed, I realise.
I look forlornly at Breakspear, who looks modestly more comfortable on his his feces-free bone-bed – at least, he isn't tossing and turning and wincing as much as I am. Immediately, I hatch a brilliant scheme in my mind, and I set to work implementing it. I will need to employ all my powers of persuasion, my silver officer's tongue, to win him over.
"Wanna have sex?" I blurt.
Breakspear immediately rolls over, wide-eyed. "Excuse me, what?"
"Do you want to have sex?" I repeat, striking a casual pose on my bed of feces. "You know, just to pass the time."
It's the perfect plan. By having sex with Breakspear, I ensure myself a spot on his vastly more appealing bed of bones, for surely he would hold me close and stroke my mane and whisper sensual words of comfort in my ear as we drift off to sleep, not send me away to sleep apart from him. And by having sex with him, Breakspear also gains the comfort of my body heat for the night, the feeling of my expert ministrations, and he no longer has to live with the shame of being part of the 40% minority of Sunhearts that I have not yet slept with. It's the very definition of a win/win scenario.
Breakspear's eyes travel along my taut, thestral form, his lips pressed into that thin line again.
"Sir..." he says cautiously.
Oh, I've heard that tone before. It's the judgmental tone, the tone of misunderstood intentions, and it leads nowhere good.
"What?" I say defensively. "Just to pass the time! Don't mean anything gay about it. Just two guys having sex, that's all."
Breakspear hangs his head and sighs, and shifts his body to sit up, as tall as he can with the low-hanging cave ceiling. "Sir, that's – what you're proposing is incredibly gay. 'Two guys having sex' is the very definition of gay."
"It is not!" I whine, in a seductive and masculine way. "It's just sex! Sex between guys! You know how much I like mares, Breakspear! You see me with them all the time! Could somepony who sleeps with as many mares as I have possibly be gay?"
"The answer is no. The answer is an emphatic no. I am as rigidly straight as an engorged penis. Now." I huff. "Do you want to have sex, or not?"
"Lieutenant Agony," Breakspear says through gritted teeth. "If you like mares, and you like stallions too, then that makes you bisexual. Not straight."
I recoil, blinking. "Bi... sexual? What is—"
"It means you like both," Breakspear says in a strained voice. "Mares and stallions. If you like both, then you're not gay, and you're not straight. You're bisexual."
I sigh. I hang my head. I chuckle condescendingly.
"Breakspear. Sergeant. You can't be attracted to mares and stallions. Everybody knows that."
"Lieutenant, you were just now asking me to have sex with you—"
"And you had to make it into a whole thing!"
"—And in the same breath, you were bragging about liking mares. So, clearly, you—"
"Exactly, see? I like mares, you can't like both, and there's no such thing as being bicameral. QED."
"No, that's not—" Breakspear stops, fumbles, stammers, and finally just groans, defeated by my superior arguing tactics. "Never mind. Just... let's just try and get some sleep, sir."
He throws himself back down on his bone-bed. My ears wilt, and I can't help but feel the sting of his rejection.
"Does... Does this mean you don't want to—"
"No, I don't want to have sex. Sir." Breakspear mumbles incoherently, then adds, "Do we still have that Equine Resources officer in the platoon?"
"Yellowshine?" I have to think about it for a moment, before remembering. "No. She died a little while back."
"...How did she—"
"Of course," Breakspear grumbles. "Damned Sunhearts."
I don't know what he's complaining about. I'm the one who has to sleep in shit.
Breakspear doesn't make eye contact with me the next morning. That's just fine with me, because it's not like I would have wanted to look into his eyes and feel their warmth penetrate deep into my soul or anything. We instead mutter a few terse, perfunctory words about finding food and better shelter in the woods, before heading out of the lizard-cave.
Almost as soon as we emerge, a pack of bandits in rusty armor and threadbare clothing spring out of from both sides of the entrance, and encircle Breakspear and I.
I roar with frustration. Of course there were bandits waiting for us. We may not be inside the city proper, but we're still Dragonfall-adjacent. By that logic, I suppose I should thank fortune that none of them are pint-sized orphans with shivs. There are seven of them in total, five ponies and two griffons; the larger of the griffons steps forward, rearing onto his hind legs and clapping his talons together.
"Sunny ponies," he says, grinning in an almost Crackshot-esque way. "Thank you, thank you, for coming out yourselves instead of making us go in after you."
His words are seasoned with some kind of accent, one that slickly stretches and warps his vowels. I look him over – his armor's more intricate-looking than the other griffons, emblazoned with some kind of old silver emblem of a talon. It looks like good, quality armor, if a little worn in places. I can't help but wonder where a degenerate like this must've gotten his claws on it.
Breakspear glances between each of the bandits, his face tense and wary. "How did you find us? Were you tailing us last—"
"Breakspear," I say. "Be quiet. I'm the commanding officer here, and he's talking to me, not you."
Breakspear's eyes widen. "Agony—"
"That's Lieutenant Agony to you, sergeant! You have no place getting familiar with me!" Certainly not after turning me down last night – first-name basis is reserved for lovers, or for sexy, hired swords who could do me grievous harm if I deny them. "Now, guard your tongue, and let me deal with the nice, reasonable griffon."
There's murmuring and muttering among the ranks of the bandits, and said reasonable griffon looks thoughtful. "Lieutenant. And sergeant. I heard you correctly, non?"
"Yes. You did." I draw myself up and stare at him as imperiously as I can. "Now, the two of us have had a rather trying night, and we don't wish to start the morning on an unpleasant note. I'm sure you don't, either."
"Perish the thought," the griffon said slimily, drawing out his words as if each one offered a mini-climax.
"...Indeed. Then we're in agreement." I clear my throat. "So, then, since we're all on the same page, perhaps you and your little band might step aside, and my associate and I will be on our way."
The griffon nodded sagely. "We could do that. We could. Or, you could turn over your valuables and come quietly."
My ears flatten as the bandits close ranks around us. I back away, my flank bumping into Breakspear's as the two of us are tightly encircled.
I gulp and force myself to grin. "J-Joke's on you! We don't have any valuables!"
The griffon points at us – myself first, then Breakspear. "That armour – is it gold, or just gilded?"
My face drains of blood. "N-Neither! It's brass!"
But the griffon chuckles and shakes his head.
"Honestly, it doesn't matter. We'll take it anyway."
Breakspear and I are taken deeper into the ashen forest. The bandits keep close ranks around us, and watch us carefully the entire time. A lice-ridden earth stallion has already slapped on Breakspear's armour; it's entirely too big for him, and he looks like a foal who stumbled into his father's armoury and decided to play dress-up. He clangs and rattles with every step he takes. On the other hoof, none of the bandits wanted to try on my armour, stained as it is with lizard shit. It's being flown in the talons of one of the griffons, who holds it as far in front of his face as he can, wearing a disgusted grimace.
The trees open up to a clearing where the bandits have made their home. Canvas tents, patched with materials which are definitely not canvas, are scattered among a few wooden huts and bungalows, some still bearing faded signage for some ranger's agency. There are more bandits here, at least a dozen ponies and a single griffon, and they eyeball Breakspear and I greedily as we're moved into the center of the camp.
The shout comes from a rather portly unicorn, whose horn bears a long hairline fracture along its length. He approaches my captors, swaggering, with a burlap saddlebag tied upon his flank, and steps right up to the griffon in the fancy armour.
"It's pronounced 'Gugliermo,' Baldric," the griffon, Googlymoo, says pedantically. He eyes the pony's saddlebags. "Good haul this morning?"
Baldric spits from the side of his mouth and shakes his head. "Bloomin'' Soonhearts ran us oof, they did. That barsterd with the moostash again." He unties the bag at his side with his teeth, and out spills a meager haul of tiny turnips, a single ear of corn, and a pig fetus in a jar of formaldehyde.
"Ah, the Sunny Ponies – a pain in the tailfeathers for us all," says Googlymoo, clapping Baldric on the shoulder. "But, if nothing else, we eat well tonight, eh?"
I glance back at Breakspear, making a disgusted face. He makes a face, too. It's one of fear. I snort, and turn away – if he can't see the humor in the situation, then there's not much I can do for him.
"Oi!" Baldric snaps, taking a step forward. "Yew havin' a laugh, eh? 'Ew's this, Googlymoo?"
"Gugliermo. And, ah..." Googlymoo winks at me. "We have not yet been formally introduced. But I gather he's a Lieutenant Agony. Of the Sunheart Company."
"Soonhearts, eh?" Baldric steps up to me, wearing an ugly look, and I tense my muscles just in time for a forehoof to collide with my barrel. The wind goes out of me, and I drop to my knees, choking on my breath. Baldric follows up with a kick to my stomach that makes me tuck and curl my legs against my body.
"That's for the bloody Soonhearts." Baldric spits again. "What'choo bringin' 'im back here for?"
"We sloice and doice?" calls another pony from behind Baldric
The thin, balding, pockmarked earth stallion grins, baring a mouth of rotten brown nubs.
"Sloice and doice and make all noice?" he asks again.
Googlymoo gestures placatingly at him. "We could do that – we certainly could. But did you catch his rank, by chance? Lieutenant Agony, of the Sunhearts. He's an officer. And an officer would fetch a pretty ransom, I don't have to tell you, Baldric."
"Actually, you probably do," I wheeze out. "Baldric looks about as sharp as Sloice-And-Doice's front teeth."
That earns me another kick in my stomach, and I decide to shut up for the nonce.
The bandits, under Googlymoo's direction, tie us to a pair of posts in the center of the camp. Googlymoo assures us that our stay will be brief, one way or the other.
"Take heart, Sunny Ponies! We won't be keeping you long. Once your friends in Dragonfall deliver the ransom, we'll send you on your way!"
"Ransom?" I rasp
My lungs aren't working so well; I'm having trouble catching my breath after Baldric's beating.
"Indeed." Googlymoo's eyes glint. "Surely, a ranking officer in the storied Sunheart Company, and one of his sergeants, would together fetch a goodly ransom from your... ah... Captain Blackheart, I believe?"
He wanders off, ruffling his feathers and laughing smarmily, leaving me to ruminate on this latest twist in fortune. Sloice-and-Doice stands nearby, his ample hindquarters pointed toward us. I pray that we're downwind of him.
Breakspear's leans toward me, straining against the ropes binding him to his post. "That's not so bad, sir, is it? If they're planning to ransom us, then we might get out of this alive."
"Doubtful," I grumble. "Killjoy might try to spring for our release, but the rest of them hate me."
Were Blackheart still alive, I'd have said that we had good odds of getting out, so long as the ransom wasn't too unreasonable; he was shockingly inept as a leader, but never left ponies to die if he could help it. Until he stabbed me, that is. But with him gone, our fates are in the hooves and other appendages of my fellow lieutenants, and most of them have even less love for me than Blackheart did. There's always the possibility that Crackshot will catch wind of my peril and fork over the money, but it's just as likely that they won't see me as worth the expense, and will seek out someone else within the company.
Breakspear's mouth twists. "The other Sunhearts—"
"Are self-serving mercenaries who don't give a shit about us, Breakspear. You know it, and I know it. Pretending otherwise helps nopony." My gaze zeroes in on our watchpony, and I lick my lips nervously. "No, this is situation where we're better served taking matters into our own hooves."
I lift my head, and, fighting back residual stomach pain, call out to my captor. "You there! The scary-looking one keeping watch over us! Might we have a word?"
Sloice-and-Doice turns and regards me with a look that's somewhere between stupefied and dumbfounded. Smiling broadly, I nod, and he toddles over corpulently, jiggling with every step.
Breakspear pales. "Sir, what are you—"
"Celestia helps those who help themselves, sergeant," I hiss through my teeth, just before Sloice-and-Doice stops in front of me.
"Bat Pony make words," he slurs around his rotten teeth-stumps. "Make words at Mort. Make talkings at Mort."
I ignore the pejorative. "Mort, eh? What a lovely name that is. It certainly suits you—"
Mort gives me a stinging cuff behind the ear, reminding me once again why showing any kind of civility – even fake civility – is pointless.
"Why Bat Pony make talkings? Make words at Mort?"
"...Because, Mort," I groan, keeping my grin going and trying to ignore the throbbing in my head, "I need to talk to you about something important. Something very important."
"Yes! Yes, very important!" I lower my voice. "The kind of thing that only important ponies are supposed to hear. You look like an important pony, Mort. Does that mean—"
"Mort impo'tant!" Mort proclaims, nodding his head vigorously. "Mort very impo'tant!"
It takes everything in me not to laugh at the simpleton. "Well, if you're that important, Mort, then I suppose I can clue you in."
Mort leans in closer, introducing me to stenches which defy description. I take a deep breath through my mouth, and whisper.
"I want to join you and your friends. I know you've been having trouble with the Sunhearts – I think I can help you out with them."
Mort's eyes bug out, and he pulls back. "Bat Pony want be.... bad pony? Bad Bat Pony?"
"Yes! Bad batpony!" I nod vigorously. "But like I said, this is a message that only important ponies, like you, are allowed to hear."
"Mort impo'tant!" Mort stomps, once.
"Yes you are, Mort, you're so important. But I need to talk to the most important pony around here – the smartest one, the one who makes all the decisions. Help me out, Mort – isn't there somepony around here who's the most important pony?"
"Smart... pony..." Mort's lips pout and his brow furrows as he tries to fully process my question. "No smart pony. Ponies no smart. All dumb-dumbs – Googylmoo say so."
Well, I certainly can't argue with Googlymoo on that.
"How about Googlymoo, then? He's smart, right? And important, too?"
"Smart an' impo'tant!" Mort confirms, grinning his brown stumps at me.
"Then I think we should bring Googlymoo into our idea, don't you?" I waggle my eyebrows. "What do you say, Mort? Untie these ropes, and take me over to Googlymoo, and I'll bet he'll be very grateful to you."
Mort, convinced by my sage reasoning and expert manipulation, fumbles at my ropes with his stumpy teeth, accomplishing very little in the process. I roll my eyes, and wait, until he's loosened them just enough for me to wiggle my forelegs free. That done, it's a simple matter of snaking my way out from the rest, and leaving the coil of rope behind. I stretch my wings, crack my neck, and smile broadly at Mort.
"Take to Googlymoo now," Mort says, waddling off toward the largest of the encampment's huts. "Googlymoo smart, impo'tant. Talk to Googlymoo 'bout fightin' Sunponies."
"Lead the way, Mort, you smart, important pony, you."
We pass by Breakspear, who gawps at us from his comfortable vantage. "Sir, whatever it is you're up to—"
"Can't talk now, Breakspear – important pony business needs attending to!"
"Look, whatever you're doing, I don't care one way or the other!" Breakspear cries, wriggling and writhing against his restraints. "Just don't leave me here!"
Googlymoo's hut is lavishly decorated in all sorts of plundered finery: throw-rugs and tapestries and velvet curtains, gold and silver goblets, and two intricately carved chairs at a circular table. There's also a bottle of red wine on a nearby table that makes my mouth water, and not a hint of WISKEE in sight.
The griffon himself looks disapprovingly at Mort for just an instant, but just as quickly as it appears, it's replaced by that mask of congeniality that card-carrying villains so love to wear.
"I don't usually mind visitors," he says, "but I do prefer some notice before a 'body drops in on me. Knowing the Sunheart Company's reputation, I'm sure you feel the same, Lieutenant."
His turn of phrase isn't especially clever, but it makes me smile. I have a feeling that Googlymoo and I could have been friends in a different life. He seems like he'd understand me.
"Sorry for that," I say. "But once I explained to Mort why I needed to speak to you, we both agreed that it simply couldn't wait."
Googlymoo quirks an eyebrow. "And why does he need to speak to me, Mort?"
"Impo'tant batpony wan' be impo'tant badpony!" Mort proclaims, bludgeoning me in the withers with a bowling ball-sized hoof. "Wan' be impo'tant fo' Googlymoo!"
Googlymoo grins delightedly as my face burns.
"What he said," I clench out from between my teeth.
Googlymoo strides around to the end of the table closest to me, and pulls out a chair, patting it invitingly. "If I'm interpreting Mort properly, he means to say that you want to join my merry little band of raiders. I'm sure you and I could come to some sort of understanding, provided your offer is on the level."
I nod vigorously.
Googlymoo glances at Mort. "Thank you, my friend. Take your leave, and I'll call if I need you."
"Mort helped." Googlymoo looks at me, his eyes narrowing for just an instant. "Mort helped quite a bit."
Mort squeezes out the door, shutting it behind himself, and I begin to sweat.
"Tell me something," I say, taking the seat that Googlymoo offered me. "You kept correcting that other pony when he mispronounced your name, right? Why don't you get annoyed with Mort when he does it?"
"Because Mort has a speech impediment, obviously. Baldric is just a cunt."
I confess, I've never understood the griffon convention of using the names of genitals and sexual acts as swear words; I find genitals to be quite lovely.
Googlymoo circles around the table, to the other side, watching me all the while. "So, I've answered a question of yours. Perhaps you would answer a question of mine: Why would you want to stab your comrades – your fellow Sunny Ponies – in their collective backsides, mm?"
I clear my throat.
"Because they, too, are cunts," I venture.
Googlymoo throws back his head and laughs. He pushes away from the table, standing up and turning his back on me.
"Well, you have the right attitude to join, I'll give you that."
"Does this mean I pass the interview? Can we move on to the test portion?" I examine the wine bottle on the table carefully – the cork's still in, and the bottle is entirely full. "Because I'm good at examinations. Oral exams, especially."
"I can tell."
I frown, wondering what he means by that. But I don't have time to consider whatever implications there might be underneath the surface of the remark. Googlymoo seems to be busy staring at one of his hanging tapestries; he's wide open, and there's a full bottle of wine right in front of me. I lean forward, and take the neck into my mouth, making as little noise as I can. Then I rise, and tip-hoof toward him.
Googlymoo keeps his back to me all the while. "If your offer is legitimate, then I'd be inclined to accept. As I'm sure you gathered from the conversation outside, the Sunhearts have been a nuisance of late. Our hauls have been far lighter than is the norm. We ambush caravans, the Sunhearts show up, and we have to leave most of our booty behind. Worse yet, I'm fairly certain they've been taking what we leave behind, and what kind of self-respecting bandit would I be if I tolerated that?"
The longer he talks, the closer I come to him, until I'm within swinging distance. I draw my neck back, aiming for the back of his head, and I swing.
He spins, and effortlessly catches the bottle in his talon. The look he gives me is flat and unamused.
But he's fallen for my trap, the poor simpleton. Had he only been paying attention to my expertly delivered innuendo, he'd have an inkling of how good I am at blowjobs. How good, one might ask? So good, I can suck the cork from a wine bottle.
And I do just that, pulling it free with all the force of a vacuum. I drop the bottle, and spit the cork directly into Googlymoo's right eye. It strikes him with enough force to emit a bone-splintering crack, and as he's recoiling, I stomp the bottle to shards, and grab a triangular piece of glass between my teeth. I lunge, grabbing him around his neck, and pressing the glass shard point-first against his neck.
"Yeah," I say, my teeth clenched tight against the piece of glass. "Really."
1. Cut Googlymoo's throat and start fighting everyone, because Agony is just that awesome.
2. Hold Googlymoo hostage to ensure Breakspear's release, and then run like hell.
3. Assert dominance, and usurp control of the bandit clan from Googlymoo.