Eight hours. That is how long I sat there in silence, simply staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. I had been thinking all that time, about my past life. I was such a weak person, back then. Never had the balls to speak for myself, never had the balls to try and be witty, to stand out. Here I was, a creature thats entire existence was about doing just that, being discreet, and yet, I didn’t feel like doing that anymore. I didn’t want to be the un-noticeable man I once was. I didn’t have to be like that anymore, I could completely reinvent myself despite what I was. I could even have friends if I wanted.
Speaking of which, Sunbeam was stirring near me. Despite the fact that I may not have liked her much, she was a friend. The first friend I’d made in a while. Back home, I had one friend, just one. Sure I had quite a few acquaintances, but only one true friend, one I was going to miss. But I couldn’t think of that, I was in Equestria, dream come true, right?
Looking down at my wounds, I realized that it really was. I’d never realized that fighting, even if you get hurt like I did, was something I loved to do. The numbing pain in my arm confirmed my thoughts. If I hadn’t been sent here, I never would have known just how good it truly felt. You might call me ‘emo’ but feeling pain is much better than feeling absolutely nothing at all.
“How long was I out?” Sunbeam asked groggily, bringing me out of my thoughts.
“I’d say about eight hours by now.”
“Why is it so dark?”
“Because you passed out in the middle of the afternoon, lo and behold, eight hours later it’s night time. Who could have possibly guessed that would happen?” I made sure to put as much snark into the statement as I could.
She giggled slightly. “Hush you.”
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad travelling with her now that I thought about it. At least she got my humour, which was a rarity. It was always hard for me to find someone who could laugh at my jokes. Probably because I was never all that funny.
“You ready to go? Because we’re leaving,” I asked as I stood up.
“Isn’t it a little late at night to be wandering around like this?”
“You say that as if we didn’t just do that the other night.”
“That was different. We were lucky and you weren’t hurt then.”
“We’re not any safer sitting here, you realize that right? If anything, it’s more dangerous for us to be sitting in one place for too long. Now shut up and let’s get moving,” I remarked as I walked past her, motioning for her to follow. She did so.
I’m not even sure how long we were walking before I began hearing her complaining again, but the sun was rising. Luckily however, by that point I had pretty much learned to tune her out whenever she was getting irritating. The thing that was notable however, was a sudden feeling I was getting. I didn’t even realize it, but I had felt hungry, and somehow, my hunger was getting satisfied. So, I decided to begin following the source of this feeling.
It took another hour or so of walking before I began to hear the distant sounds of strange carnival music in the distance, of all things. It made me somewhat uneasy, but I knew that we had to be close to civilisation, because what were the odds of finding a carnival out in the middle of nowhere? Not to mention that those feelings were getting stronger the more I moved towards the sound. I couldn’t comprehend what the feeling was exactly, but I didn’t care, I was close to civilisation, where I’d be able to get this wound bandaged up, and maybe stitches for my nose if I was lucky.
About five minutes later, I began to see the outline of a couple buildings, and a very large tent. It wouldn’t be long now before I finally reached my destination; ‘Whatever The Hell That Town Is Called.’ I turned and looked back at my companion to see a smile on her face as she looked at the outlines while we walked. Her complaining had all but stopped once she started hearing the music. I said that we’d be parting ways at the next town, but somehow, I felt that there was no way I was getting rid of her so easily. Nor did I really want to.
“Ah madame! Welcome, welcome to our carnival! The Carnival of Styx!” We were stopped by an incredibly irritating, but obviously faked voice. “I, am-” I cut him off by clamping my paw around his beak. He was a griffon that was slightly bigger than Gilda from the show with white feathers that were tinted pale blue at the edges, through the feathers on his face, he had a surprisingly dazzling and vibrant shade of blue in his eyes, I could make out a small scar underneath his right eye.
“Cut the act. The voice is pissing me off.” I saw his eyes widen considerably at what I growled out.
He dropped his fake voice immediately, bringing his own down to a hushed tone. “Y-you can talk?”
“Yeah, what of it? Never seen a talking bear before?”
He looked all around before he leaned in, speaking at only a whisper of his trembling voice. “It would be best if you let your mare friend there do all the talking around here. A talking bear is not common, and there are some who would be overly intrigued, if you catch my drift.”
What he said surprisingly made sense to me. Being able to talk in this form surprised me, I didn’t think bears could talk, even in this world, and it seemed my initial thoughts were correct. I simply nodded to him in confirmation before turning to Sunbeam.
“You do the talking from now on,” I stated plainly. She just nodded quickly.
Suddenly, a cream coloured unicorn stallion with and slick-black, short mane wearing a red and white striped shirt came up to us and stood beside the griffon that was talking to us. He had a gold ring sitting beside a crown adorning his flank.
“Varen, what are you doing over here when you should be working, hmm?” That voice. It literally took every ounce of restraint I had to keep myself from shoving my fist down his throat, just to shut him up, as well as to keep myself from saying something on the matter. It was eerily familiar to me.
Varen, that was the griffon’s name, put his fake voice back on. “Oh, I was just welcoming this lovely mare here to the carnival, Ringleader. It won’t take me much longer and I’ll get back to preparations, I promise sir!”
The stallion named ‘Ringleader’ eyed me - and more specifically my wounds - curiously for a moment before turning back to Varen. “You have five minutes,” he said as he turned around and left us.
When Ringleader was out of earshot, Varen turned to us in a bit of a panic. “You need to get out of town, fast. I saw the way he was looking at you. He always looks at the ones he wants like that before he takes them, like me.” Suddenly, he lifted some feathers on his neck to reveal a silver collar that was wrapped tightly around his neck. “He’ll put a collar like this on you and you’ll never get it off. He’ll shock and even kill you if you try, I’ve seen it happen. So for your sake, do what you need to do quickly and get the heck out of here!” He didn’t allow for us to respond as he turned and flew off to perform his duties.
Slaves. That one word is what screamed to me about this whole situation. Just my luck, of course I would have to deal with this kind of crap. If there’s anything Fallout has taught me, it’s that slavers are evil pieces of shit and deserve nothing less than death. Or Varen could potentially be lying to me, after all, the only griffon characters I knew from the show were a bitch and a sleazy chef. But then, why would he have a weird collar on? Guess I’d have to go with my gut feeling on this one. Ringleader gave me a bad vibe, Varen did not, easy choice, believe the bird. But what truly got me, was the fact that something like this could even happen in Equestria, maybe it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows after all; first I learned that dragons attacked and killed ponies, now this.
Then, Sunbeam turned towards me. “Maybe he’s right. Maybe we should just get out of here,” she said. I snorted at the idea, no way was I going to let this go so easily.
“You can leave if you want to, but there’s not a chance I’m going to let this go on. I’m not scared of some fru-fru pony, no offense,” I replied, then looked down at my arm. “Besides, I still need to get this fixed up and I’m not going anywhere until I do. So first things first, we need to find some kind of doctor, and remember, you’re going to have to do all the talking.” She nodded signalling that she understood so I continued, “we should probably head into town, see what’s there, and find the medical building or whatever.” With that said, I walked past the entrance to the carnival and headed into the town with Sunbeam.
Despite the large carnival sitting at the entrance to the town, it was actually a fairly modest little town. I understood why the carnival was in such a small town rather than a big town or city, because there were no guards. No guards were around to bother the creepy carnival owner, thus he could go on with his fucked up show without a hitch, at least until now. Looking around the town, there were several brightly coloured houses of various different hues, there were several stalls in a market in the middle of the town selling various fruits and vegetables as well as other supplies, there was also a blacksmith I saw that was working on some kind of weapon. Then, I saw what I was looking for, there was a dark green large tent with a big white circle on the side of it with a big red cross over top of the circle. I pointed at it and we began to walk towards it, however we were stopped as we passed the blacksmith when he spoke up.
“Hello there little lady, could I interest ya in some nice armour for your big protector bear there? It would make him or her that much better at being a protector, and they won’t get any more wounds like that, guaranteed,” he asked in a fairly thick country accent. Honestly, the thought crossed my mind of getting some kind of armour, but it wouldn’t really work for me, being a Changeling and all. The only way I could see armour working for me is if the armour somehow changed with me to fit every different form I would take, which was likely impossible.
Sunbeam shuffled her hooves, clearly unsure of what to say. “Well, I don’t know... I don’t really think he needs it...”
“Nonsense. Look at those wounds he or she has, with a nice pair o’ armour that won’t happen again. It wouldn’t be safe for you or them to go without it.”
Sunbeam clearly didn’t know what to say in this particular situation, I could see that by the way she kept looking at me trying to find what she was supposed to say. This was just one thing that I clearly couldn’t let her talk about for me. I heaved a loud sigh. “Look, armour won’t work for me, nor do I need it. And I’m a guy, so you can stop referring to me as ‘he or she’ and talk to me.”
As expected, his eyes widened. “You can talk? Wow, now ain’t that somethin’. Never met a talkin’ bear before. So, why were ya making the mare talk for you when she clearly didn’t know what to say?” This guy was actually fairly smart, at least smart enough to deduce what was going on.
“Because I didn’t want anyone to know I could talk, that’s why. I don’t want that creepy carnival owner to know there’s anything even remotely special about me, I know how his carnival works, and I’m not going to get taken into it just because I’m different from most bears.” Why I was telling him this, I didn’t really know. “Now then, as for armour and weapons... I already said that any kind of armour wouldn’t work for me, the same goes for weapons, I wouldn’t be able to use a sword effectively. The only thing you could possibly make for me that I would be able to use is a lightweight metal staff of some kind, that’s the only weapon I know how to use. However, we won’t be in town long enough for you to make anything even if I did want something, not that I would have the bits for it anyways,” I said.
“Oh, that...” he deadpanned. “Ah know what yer talkin’ ‘bout with the carnival. A lot o’ folks ‘round here are oblivious to what’s really goin’ on there, but ah ain’t. Ah’ve seen those collars around his ‘performer’s’ necks. Why the hay would you need to put somethin’ like those on your performers, unless they aren’t exactly willin’? Wish ah could do somethin’ ‘bout it, but I’m only one pony. Anyways, I shouldn’t keep ya up, ya should probably get those wounds there treated at the infirmary just over there. Your secret is safe with me, but I wouldn’t recommend talkin’ to many other ponies ‘round here.” He waved us off as he went back to his work; I heard him say under his breath, “Metal staff? Hmm...”
We walked a little while more, as there was no sense in continuing the conversation, nor did I want to. Soon, we were directly in front of the medical tent that was set up. I had no idea if they had a hospital, but I assumed not if this was here. I heard a small grumbling sound emanating from Sunbeam, which caused me to facepaw, I had completely forgotten about food on the way here, obviously she must have been starving after all this time. I was surprised she never complained about that. I turned to her. “Okay, after you get the doctor to fix me up, you need to go down to the market and get yourself some food. Seriously, I have no idea how you haven’t collapsed yet.”
“What about you?” she asked. Of course, she didn’t really know much about me. Probably still thought I needed traditional food.
“I’ll be fine, just worry about yourself. I don’t need food like you do. But, what we are going to need is various maps if you can get them. We need a full map of Equestria, maybe one of the entire world if possible, and finally we need a map that shows just this town and an area of about twenty kilometres outside of town.” She gave me a bit of sideways look.
“Kilometres?” Right, they must have different measurements of distance.
“Oh, right... For example, a kilometre is about the distance of... here, to just about past the entrance of the carnival. Can you work with that?” She nodded in response, so I opened up the tent flap and let her in first before I followed.
The inside was much bigger than it looked from the outside, but most of it was just unused space with free beds for the sick. There were only a few patients in the massive tent -I counted three- but there were even fewer healthcare workers, actually there was only one there, and I’d know that face anywhere. We walked right up to her.
“Uh, excuse me,” Sunbeam said politely to get the other mare’s attention. When she looked up towards Sunbeam, she immediately went from frowning in her focus, to beaming happily.
“Ah! Sunbeam! I’d recognize my sister’s favourite patient from her descriptions anywhere! Speaking of which... I haven’t heard from her in a while...”
“I... I’m afraid I have some bad news about that... A-a dragon attacked our town... Redheart of Stableton, was one of the many ponies who died in the attack...” At these words, the nurse’s ears drooped and she looked down. At the same time however, I couldn’t help but make the observation that Nurse Redheart is basically the Nurse Joy of Equestria.
“That’s exactly what I feared,” she said with a sigh. She must have seen the confused looks on our faces, because she continued with, “dragon attacks have been growing more frequent. Nopony knows what stirred them, but the results have been disastrous. Seven towns have been attacked in the last two weeks, not including Stableton. When communication suddenly stopped from there, I feared the worst. But then you showed up here and just for a moment I thought that things were better than I initially thought. Seems I was wrong in getting my hopes up, though.”
What I got out of all of that was one simple fact: I had more shit I would have to deal with. There was no way I was going to try and fight a dragon. Let the Dragonborn handle that, or at least this world’s version of that anyways. What I was going to have to deal with, was avoiding getting eaten alive. While kinky to some, I am not, and will never be, in to vorarephilia.
“That’s horrible...” Sunbeam replied, sadly. “No one knows why?”
“That’s correct,” the nurse answered. “... But we can’t dwell on it. I’m sure sompony is going to figure it out, and then things will get better,” she added. I saw Sunbeam look over to me somewhat expectantly at this; my response was to give her a look that said there was not a single chance in hell I was going to do something like that.
It was only then that the nurse finally looked over to me, slowly looking over the cuts in my arm, then she looked back to Sunbeam. “I’m sorry, but your bear friend seems to be hurt, shouldn’t you get him to a vet?” A vet? A VET!? I growled at her without even thinking. She shrunk down a bit. “Sorry...” By god it felt good to be scary; I didn't even know why that was.
“Nurse, you know there are no vets in this town. He needs medical attention, that’s why I’m here. Can you fix him up?” Sunbeam asked.
“You’re right. Well... I can’t say I’ve ever operated on a bear before, but I can try.” After saying that, she walked over to me and quickly inspected the wounds on my arm. “These are pretty deep... When did he get these, and how?” she asked, turning to Sunbeam.
“Yesterday... A manticore attacked me in the woods, and he fought it.”
“A manticore? This must be some special bear to be able to fight one of those and come out with such minor wounds, in comparison to what could have happened.” She turned back to me and lifted my arm, with one of her hooves, close to her face so she could look closer. “I’m surprised that the wounds don’t seem to be infected after all this time they’ve been open to the air. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I’ll just stitch them closed and bandage the arm and the wounds will heal in no time.” She looked up to look at my face then, now noticing the fact that my nose was cut open. “... However, that one won’t heal quite so quickly, and I can’t bandage it up.” She turned to Sunbeam once again. “I’m guessing this should take about 30 minutes. You can leave him here while you go grab something to eat, you look like you haven’t eaten in days!”
Sunbeam nodded and trotted out of the tent. The nurse lead me over to a table and had me sit atop it - I was almost surprised that it didn’t break under my weight. Then she went over to a cupboard and opened it, pulling out a bunch of string and a lot of bandages. She came back over to me and set to work with a needle.
While she worked I allowed my eyes to wander around the tent. It was mostly just boring stuff, medical supplies, a few patients here and there resting soundly. However, there was something that caught my eye; there were three wanted posters pinned up for two griffons and a pony. One of the griffons I didn’t recognise, but the other griffon and the pony I recognised immediately. They were Gilda and Trixie. Looked like they had turned to crime after their time in Ponyville, and from what I could gather from reading the wanted posters, they were working together with the griffon I didn’t recognise. Gilda I could understand being into the whole crime thing, she was a massive bitch, but Trixie not so much; could she really have lost so much after the incident in Ponyville that she had to resort to crime? In any case, I knew I didn’t want to run into either of them, nor was it likely that I would, so I decided to stop thinking about it so much.
After about a good twenty minutes -which included me feeling really awkward, having the nurse’s mouth so close to mine while she worked on my nose- she was finished patching me up. I brought my hand up to feel my nose, but the nurse raised a hoof and slapped my paw away. “Don’t play with the stitches or they’ll come loose,” she said; I rolled my eyes at that, but it did make sense.
Sunbeam came back in a few moments later, looking a lot better than when she left. I got up, Sunbeam and the nurse said their goodbyes, and we left the tent.
I lead us all the way to the outskirts of the town before I spoke. “Did you get the maps?”
“I got the map of Equestria and the map of this town plus just a bit outside of it. I couldn’t find a map of the regions outside Equestria. So, where are we going?” she replied as we continued to walk out of town.
“We’re leaving town for just a little while, then we’re coming back, or rather, I’m coming back. You’ll be staying behind. I’ve got a plan.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Why am I not coming back with you?” We stopped moving.
“Because when I come back it’ll be too dangerous for you to be there.”
“I can handle myself-” I cut her off.
“Plus, I’m going to have to be incognito for a bit. You being around could potentially blow my cover.”
“I... I...” She stopped and took a breath before continuing. “I guess you have a point.”
I simply nodded in response and we continued moving. Ten minutes later, we came to a small clearing. There was a nice pond -it didn’t look natural- as well as a hollowed out tree. To say that the sight was beautiful would be a bit of an understatement.
My ears perked up at a sound. It sounded like footsteps that were trying to be unheard but were failing. Then the footsteps picked up in both pace and noise level. I turned around just in time to grab hold of a large stick that was coming down towards my head, and used my free hand to punch my attacker hard, knocking them to the ground.
What laid before me surprised me to no end. I had never seen anything like this from the show.