You cross your legs as a pleasant breeze sweeps over you, the book in your hands as enthralling as you remember. The words wrap you in their grasp and hold you tight. Birds chirp eagerly to steal your attention and you grace them a glance and smile. Isn’t this easier than all the crap you have to deal with? Well of course, but no one’s life is a vacation. You’ll have to go back soon, there’s no avoiding it.
Your eyes wander back to your book with relief. But right now, at this moment, you’re enjoying yourself. Work later, fun now. Must be why you were never a great employee. Anyways, back to Cultures in Conflict.
You open the doors to the library with books in hand. Turns out you read faster when you’re on a deadline so now you need another item to take up your time. The menacing shelves do little to intimidate you and you give them a browse. But what to read now? You could go back to history, but they get dull fast. Essays always bored you and journals increase your snore factor by five. Then again… you are limiting yourself to books about gryphons. There’s literally tens of thousands of books here. You can hear the patter hooves come up next to you. ”How’re we doing today?”
”Good to hear,” she joins your browsing, “Anything I can help you with?”
Petal nods and looks to your arms, “Mind if I take a look?” She relieves you of your books and looks them over. ”Sure are interested in gryphons lately are we?”
“W-work.” Pull back the spaghetti.
She chuckles at your answer, “And what does a janitor need with these?” You don’t respond at first and let what she said sink in. ”Oh, Anon I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“It’s ok. I was fired anyways.”
“I may have insulted an emissary from back east.”
Her eyes widen, “A gryphon?! You’re lucky to be standing here. They’re brutal from what I’ve heard.” That’s an understandable view, though false when examined.
“Only if you believe Runner’s Critical Review of Eastern Society. There were some glaring flaws in his work, faulty research, misquotes, hell, even spelling errors.”
”Wow. I’m surprised it even got published.” You were too. ”But you’ve met one of them before, so… how are they?” Though it’s been a week your interaction with Gilda is still fresh in your hand.
“You don’t want to know,” you rub the recovering cut on your arm.
”Celestia! What happened to you?”
“It’s a long story.”
”And I’ve got the time.” It’s just you and her anyways, not like anyone’s going to spy on you. Besides, a person to confide in is just what you could use right now. Therapists are expensive as balls. She sits you down and you spill the beans. You’ve got to admit that it feels pretty good to have someone just listen, not talk.
“It’s just- I want to do the right thing here, but it’s not what I do. It’s not me.”
She keeps her attentive expression, “Then who are you?”
“I’m…” you chuckle a bit, mood dropping, “I’m nobody.” You sit there in silence in the wake of your statement. Nothing. It’s so peaceful now, just how you like it. And then she slaps you.
You cup your face before she can do it again, “Nobody? Are you kidding me? How can you even say that?”
“But it’s the-“
She raises her hoof threateningly, “If you dare say it’s the truth…” Alright, she’s made her point. ”Do you have any idea the things I’d do to be in your position? You’re not just lucky; you’ve been blessed with a gift. The princess saw this in you and took interest and you’re thinking of turning your back on her because it’s not you? You’re lucky it’s hard to slap you from across the table.”
“You don’t have to be so rude about it,” you grumble, rubbing the growing mark on your cheek.
”I did. You needed a push,” she pauses as you avert your gaze, “Look at me. It’s not that I don’t like you Anon, quite the contrary. I don’t want to see you lose something great over something so small. I may only be some librarian you know, but this librarian knows you’re going places.” She places a hoof on your hand and smiles, “Go get’em tiger.”
You fit the last of your books back on your shelf and flop onto your chaise lounge. Petal’s pep talk is still rolling around in your cranium as you crack open a book. The words seemingly dance around your eyes methodically and the more you try to read the more it takes its toll. What use is a guy like you? You’re not cut out for this type of work, you’re just not. Gilda steamrolled over you and she knew it. And who was she? Just some drunkard with a-
Look at yourself Anon. You’re rambling and trying to blame her for this. She didn’t make you who you are, but she did present a wakeup call. You’re definitely not cut out for this work, not as you are. The princess has lived for thousands of years if she’s to be believed, and you managed to make an impression. She wants to take you out of your shit hole of a life and allow you to prosper, and in return all she asks is that you attempt to peek out of your shell. You gave up at the first sign of danger, a gryphon with a temper. How pathetic.
A knock sounds from the door and you look away from your book. You weren’t expecting visitors, you never expect visitors. Who would want to see you? If you stay quiet they’ll go away so that’s what you do. Time ticks away, another series of knocks ringing out every minute or so. But just as you predicted, they stop. You stand with an air of triumph and make your way over to the door, listening close. The sound of hooves tippers off at long last and you open up earning a face full of armor. Shit. ”Anon, correct?” Why can’t anyone just leave you alone?
“Yes s-sir, what can I do for you?”
”We’ve got a visitor for you up at the gates, but we wanted to double-check the request’s validity.”
“I’m sorry but I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
”I thought so. We’ll escort her off the grounds.”
You stop him as he’s about to leave. “One second sir, did you say ‘she’?”
He nods, “Yes sir I did. A real persistent one I’ll tell you, she’s been trying to get through for almost a week apparently.” Please don’t be her…
“She wouldn’t happen to have a bad attitude would she?” He nods. “Prone to insulting others?” Again. “Stench of dead fish and beer?” One more time. “She’s a gryphon isn’t she?”
”Yeah, you know her then?” Why? Just why?
You follow the guard outside with your head hung. This must be some punishment for a past life. You must’ve slammed your car through a nursery home of puppies or something to have to deal with her. And why’s she coming to see you? There’s no logical reason, but then again, you’re in Equestria. Logic doesn’t seem to count for shit here.
The two of you traverse the garden and get to the gate where a small group of guards are keeping it blocked. You still have time to turn back if you move- “Anon!” Her head peeks just above the others and she bores a hole straight through you. ”About time you showed up.”
”I guess I was wrong Miss. Let her on through.” She flares her wings through presentably as if to glorify her entrance.
”Show off,” the guard mutters as Gilda comes up chuckling smugly. You can tell he’s uncomfortable being around her, “Well if you don’t mind me I’ll be doing my rounds.”
”By all means do something useful,” she stabs as he walks away. “Keeping me away like that for a good week. He’s lucky he’s in uniform.” Or else she’d give him a good whatfor, yes, you know. ”A whole damn week and you didn’t even call. I’m insulted.”
“I’ve been busy.”
She rolls her eyes, “Sure you have. Lazy ass mother…” It’s going to be one of those days. Oh, she’s still going. Ugh, might as well go back inside. If you’re lucky she won’t follow you.
Gilda cannon balls atop your chaise lounge, her claws tearing up the cushions with her carelessness. Make yourself comfortable why don’t you. ”Ooooh,” she groans as she continues to roll around, “This is some soft stuff right here.”
Your eyes almost fall out when a white puff rolls out the furniture. “Can- Can you watch the talons?”
Her movements slow as she sits up and stares at you, “Come again?” Every time she looks at you it’s as if you’re smacked in the gut.
”Damn right nothing, punk ass trying to tell me what to do…” she rambles off looking around. You stand across from her rubbing your palms which swiftly grow moist with sweat.
”I’ll hand it to you,” she sprawls out, “You’ve got it made up here. They hiring?”
“Not that I know of.”
She humphs with a smirk, “Knew it. Still, I could get used to these digs.” She’s certainly helping herself to them now.
”You going to get me something to drink?”
“Why would-“ she meets your gaze. “I uh, think I’ve got something around her.” You scurry off, returning with a glass of water.
She snatches it out of your hand and sniffs, “What’s this supposed to be?”
With a flick of her wrist she tosses it over her back and sighs, “I’ve got to do everything myself.” Gilda leaves a pile of fluff as she sets out in search of what you assume is going to be alcohol, leaving you to clean up her mess. Good thing you know how to do this type of work. ”Where do you keep the good stuff?” Of course, alcohol.
“I don’t drink. Not normally anyways,” you wipe up the water.
”Not a lick? I don’t buy it,” she calls out, “Even in flight school we knew where the instructors kept their stash. It’s all about knowing where to look. Bingo.” She comes back as your tossing the last bits of fluff in the bin and launches herself back onto the furniture, glass of spirits in talon. ”I don’t drink,” she quotes sarcastically taking a sip.
Just take a deep breath and ask her. It’s not so hard. But what if she attacks you again? You aren’t exactly looking forward to another gash. This one’s barely healed as it is and it’s going to be there for the rest of your life. You can do this though, Celestia has faith in you, Petal believes in you. “What are you doing here?”
She raises a brow behind her glass, “Come again?” She really should get her hearing checked.
“I asked- *gulp* What’re you doing here?”
This time she furrows her brows angrily, “What, you want me to leave?! Is that it?! A friend can’t just come to hang out?! Fuck you!”
“Wait- I never- I didn’t mean- It was just a-“
”Just a what? Question? You’re an asshole. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been trying to see you? How much paper work I had to do? Of course not, you just hide behind that door and piss your life away. Douche.”
“I’m sorry,” you lower your head. And then she punches you.
The blow hits your arm and you clench your body for the second one. A stifled laugh peeks your eye open revealing Gilda holding onto her side. ”I’m just fucking with you Anon, jeez. Take a joke. Damn.” She has to calm down before she can get back to your drink.
“I guess it was pretty funny, hehe.”
”Who said you could laugh?” she says sternly.
“I just thought that- Sorry.”
She shakes her fist, “Seriously you need to limber up. Do some grass, lick some salt, something.” Her words ring true, though you think a chime would work better than banging on a gong.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. It’s just-“
”Stop apologizing too. That gets old fast.”
”I can hurt you.” Space Pablo and Gilda? Point taken. ”But you were saying…”
”You were saying something,” she twirls her glass, “Go on.” An uneasy sensation fills you, almost like a combination of fear and curiosity. She sighs, “I promise not to hit you again unless you act like a complete dumbass.”
“Can you just promise the first part?” Cold eyes are your only response. “Is that a maybe?”
”You’re pushing it.”
“Ok, ok I’m-” Don’t say sorry. “I lost my train of thought. Give me a second?”
”Are you asking for permission to think?” You think about that for a second. Are you really this fucking beta? Well yes but…
“Give me a second.”
”Much better.” You sit down and try to gather your thoughts, Gilda handing over her glass. ”A swig goes a long way.” To refuse a drink is to insult their honor, her words ring in your head. Fuck it, you think as you pour the last half down the hatch.
“Gah,” you clutch your throat, “There are some things about this job that I’m not looking forward to.”
”You should’ve read the brochure,” she jokes. “Now get me a refill.” You find a book cracked open near the balcony, the inside’s scooped out with a glittering amber vial snug tight within the pages. ‘A Look West’, interesting. This was one of the first books you read when you got here. It was about an earth pony that had succumbed to his vices and was headed down the rabbit hole. He lost everything, but was saved when a vision came to him telling him to go west. It ended with him reaching the top of Candid mountain where Canterlot rests today, and when he saw the open plains before him all of his problems just seemed fade away. Shit this was a good book. It’s a shame someone used it to store some booze.
”How’d you find this?”
”Experience taught me that p0nies tend to hide this kind of stuff someplace innocent.” Makes sense. Who’d think to check a book for alcohol? That’s the last place you’d check. ”In fact,” she calls out behind you, “I almost missed it entirely.”
”It was so freaky when I saw that book. It’d been so long since I’d seen that damn thing I just had to take a look.”
“You’re- you’re kidding?” you ask handing off her glass.
”I’m completely serious. This has to have been one of my favorite books.” Well shit, she definitely doesn’t strike you as the type. Gilda seems to know exactly what you’re thinking, “I’m not some dweeby egghead like you though.”
“I’m not an egghead...”
”Whatever you have to tell yourself,” she sips.
“You’re not telling me the whole truth here. You wouldn’t just tell me this.”
”True,” she nods, “But then again, who’d believe you if you blabbed?” True enough. ”But come on,” she slaps her thigh, “Stop stalling.” You really don’t know what to say to her. Come on Anon, just let go.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know why you’re here. It troubles me something bad and I just… I just think you should go.”
She nods, “Go on.”
She sighs, “Don’t give me that shit. Keep going.” What is up with this girl? You’re done, can’t she see that?
“What else do you want me to say? There’s nothing else.”
Gilda sits up boldly, “You’re scared, is that it? You don’t know anything about me so you’re nervous. How the hell did you even make it this far?” Not without a good deal of hand-holding. ”Tell me Anon, the last time we met I asked why you were at that bar. Why did you talk to me?”
“It wasn’t my idea.”
”I know, but why do you think Celestia would pick me? A, if I remember correctly, self-centered, conniving, violent drunk.” You’re stumped. ”Who says I don’t know Celestia?”
“What?” That definitely got your attention. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
”Doesn’t it though,” she chuckles. “Think about it. How many gryphons do what you do? How many of them come through Canterlot? Why would she take you to some seedy ass bar if she didn’t know someone on the inside? Think about it.” Holy… Now that you think about it she’s right. There’s no reason…
“This was all an act? Why?”
”Meet the worst, you can appreciate the best.” This entire test was a hoax. Celestia tricked you into thinking… How could you have been so misguided? ”I’m surprised you didn’t see it sooner.”
“So am I, but, where do we go from here? Now that I know about the two of you, what do I ask?”
She shrugs, “Whatever you want I guess.” This entire time Gilda was hiding this. It’s almost like she’s an entirely different person now. She wants to help.
You hold the door open for her, letting Gilda through the doors to the Canterlot Library. ”They must be compensating for something.”
“That’s not very-“
”You too Mr. Manners Boy. Who holds the door open anymore? Chivalry’s dead.”
“The age of chivalry has gone; the age of equines has come. You know who said that?”
”Do I care?”
”Diamond Heart, Pre-Equestrian Councilp0ny.”
”You have a point somewhere?” You do, but you know when you’re wasting your breathe. Turns out her personality wasn’t exactly an act after all. You can recite the 100 Maxims of Stallionhood at a later date.
Looking around you don’t see Petal Peach at her desk. “Huh? Petal!?” you shout out. Aaand elbowed in the stomach. Your short gasps for air are drowned out by the ringing in your ears as Gilda leans down to your hunched body.
”Shh, this is a library,” she whispers.
“Noted,” you wheeze wiping a year from your eye. Right on cue you spot Petal Peach’s head pop out from a book case, her auburn mane held up in a bun.
”Anon,” she rushes over as you stand weakly, “Are you alright?”
“Never better,” you reply with the ounce of air left in your poor lungs. Her eyes meet those of Gilda’s and she perks up in curiosity.
”Pardon my manners. My name is Petal Peach. I’m the librarian here. Who might you be?”
”Gilda,” she replies sharply, eyeing Petals’ outstretched hoof.
Petal retrieves her hoof, “Gilda? You wouldn’t happen to be-“
“The one and only,” you cough, still weak from the blow.
”Well this is certainly a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to meet you so soon,” she grins at you.
”Yeah well, Wheezy here thought to take me someplace nice. Must be a real hit with the ladies,” she jokes.
“I just thought- you’d like to meet Gilda,” you grasp your chest.
”Are you sure you’re alright Anon,” Petal asks, “You look like you’ve gotten the wind knocked out of you.”
”Yeah Anon, I’d have thought you’d been hit in the gut?” Gilda tacks on knowingly.
“I’m just peachy.”
Gilda groans quietly making her boredom quite obvious. ”Why don’t I give you the tour? This place has a rich history after all.”
“I don’t think-“
”Sure, beats standing around with Mr. Sars.” You’d laugh if you had any air to spare, Petal still not entirely convinced of your condition.
“I’ll be good here. I’m just a tad winded.”
”It sure is hard living in a castle after all,” Gilda explains… bitch…
“Go on, I won’t be far.”
”Alright, but take it easy ok?” You give her a thumbs-up and ease down into a seat until they’re out of sight. What you wouldn’t give for a respirator.
”Anonymous.” Your skin turns to ice as the princess’s shadow overtakes you.
“C-celestia?” She hums her acknowledgement, moving opposite of you and taking a seat with that ever-illuminating smile. What’s she doing here? Did she know you were here? Would she even care?
”I thought I’d check up on the library’s records. There’s so much information just lying around, I thought poor Petal could use some help.” Holy shit she’s like a psychic. If she can read your mind- Don’t think about last night, don’t think about last night!
”You seem tense. Is there something wrong?” Oh yeah, you still have lips.
“I’m ok princess. How- how about yourself,” you force a grin.
”Fine I suppose,” her eyes soft and welcoming orbs of magenta. Damn you could get lost in those things. Shit! Snap out of it Anon.
”How is your research coming along?”
“Huh?” What resear- “Oh that? It’s going… slow. I hit a road block, but I think things I’ve gotten past that.”
”That is wonderful news. Tell me then, what is it about them that most fascinates you so far.” Their ability to lie for one, not that you can tell her that. It still unnerves you ever so slightly that Celestia would go behind your back like that. You take a relaxing breath. You can’t blame her though. It was the right call, and you appreciate it.
“Their entire race is a sort of mystery all in itself. They train for years on end in military fashion to become the best they can be…” You look over to Gilda, her boredom clearly having doubled in prominence.
“They’re not so different from the rest of us. I don’t mean she’s like a p0ny, because let’s face it, she isn’t.”
”Then what do you mean?” Gilda looks to you, mouthing for you to help her and you can’t help but chuckle.
“She’s the closest thing to another actual human since I’ve gotten here.” Too bad she just took the negative parts.
Celestia eyes shift downwards before leaning back to Petal, “So a gryphon can be human, but not a p0ny.” That tone in her voice- You insulted her.
“No no no no no, I didn’t mean it like that. It was a- a- slip of the tongue.” Now you’ve done it Anon. Space prison here you come.
”I most certainly understand.”
She nods, “Harmony changes, it is true. Our kind differs greatly down to the roots of what makes us who we are.”
“Thump West once said that the troubles that face Equestria can only be solved if one is willing to understand the other. That’s obviously paraphrasing because the bastard took an entire chapter to say it.” The princess manages to giggle at your little joke and that makes you smile. “I guess it’s a good reason you chose me huh?”
You’re a prime candidate for this type of work after all… Except for the stage fright… and the fragile body language… and the spaghetti. Okay maybe you weren’t the cream of the crop after all, but she chose you. And that’s good enough.
Gilda slams herself on the seat next to and rests her limbs about wherever she pleases, her paw nudging firmly into your mouth. “Gldacldutakpawawa,” you mumble through your tightened lips.
”Sorry I can’t hear you,” she stretches her arms out and cracks her neck, “Man I needed that.” Please lord forgive me for the depravity I am about to commit. You lips quiver as you open them wide, Gilda’s paw finding it’s way into your mouth.
”DUDE!” she yanks her paw back, wiping it off, “Not cool.” You wipe the hair of your tongue, shuddering as a real cobra unwinds from your maw. ”If you wanted me to move it you should’ve just said so.”
“I did…” you whisper to yourself. She rubs her now mucus covered talon over your shirt leaving the shimmering trail of gunk across your shoulder. “T-thank you.”
”Just doing my job.” Please say it’s temporary.
Petal Peach waves to you and continues filing her books away allowing you to talk to the two of them alone. ”So you’re the gryphon Anon’s been telling me about. I didn’t catch your name.”
”Gilda,” she looks over to you, “And he better have only been saying the good stuff.”
“What good stuff?” you mumble under your breathe. So Celestia’s still playing the acting game. No need to break the spell- Wait a second. No.
“You don’t need to play coy princess. I know about the two of you.”
”Excuse me Anon?”
”Yeah, excuse her,” Gilda huffs as she grooms herself.
“You knew Gilda all along. There’s no need to hide it.”
Celestia’s face is plain, “Anon I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Of course she doesn’t. She’s trying to keep up the act.
“Sure, but Gilda and I know it don’t we?” you look over to Gilda. She’s sitting very still, almost paralyzed. “Gilda? Gildaaaaa…”
She chuckles nervously, “What harm’s a little white lie?” Your heart stops beating and your blood chills as you look back over to Celestia. “Oh fu-“
How could you have been so stupid?! Celestia wouldn’t go behind your back like that. EVER!
Oh god you’re sweating like a pig in an oven. You never fuck up like this. You bury your head in your arms in embarrassment, your face hot enough to melt the chrome off a prostitute’s bum. That doesn’t even make sense!
Tap your shoes together. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. “I’m so sorry princess. I never thought…” God you’re pathetic. “I’m sorry.”
”Anon. Look at me.”
“I don’t wanna,” you groan in your sleeve. She gently nudges your chin up with her magic until you’re staring straight at her face.
”Stop saying you’re sorry.” She knows well you can’t. ”Gilda, can you wait outside for a moment?”
She’s up without a second to spare, “Don’t have to tell me twice.” The door slams shut with an echoing silence. You can almost hear the mechanical ticks of the clock.
”You too Ms. Peach.” A soft squeak comes from behind the bookcase, followed by another door being shut. Just pull the lever and get this over with. Celestia looks at you for a long while, her breathing slow and methodical as she inspects you. ”That cut on your arm was from her wasn’t it?” You nod, head sunken like a puppy who’d gotten into the garbage. ”Come Anon, you have lips so speak.”
She shakes her head, “I thought you knew me better than this. At least I had hoped.” You’re just ripe for disappointment aren’t you? ”It appears I was overzealous in my expectations of you. Misplaced perhaps.” You can’t be canned twice, that’s just… depressing.
“Please Celestia, give me another chance. I- I can change.”
”No matter how much you change, you can’t know what’s best for Equestria if you don’t know who it is you’re helping.”
“B-but I do know. All those books- I can read double, triple if you want. I can name every city this side of Smokey Mountains, and the mayor’s of every town going west.”
”You are smart, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but knowledge is not synonymous with experience.” But- She’s right. She mistook your smarts for wisdom and this is what she got. You knew you should never have gotten these ideas into your head. You’re not destined for fame or fortune. Once a loser always a loser. Anon… Anon never changes.
“I understand… I’ll have my stuff packed first thing tomorrow.”
”Good, you’ll be needing them where you’re going.” Wait. What? ”You didn’t think you were fired did you?” she grins. That- What… Why would she do that to you?!