Chapter Forty - My Name is Chunk
Tuchanka Wastes, Tuchanka, Aralakh System
April 23, 2183 CE
Twilight wasn't sure of where exactly the krogan was taking them, but she hoped that wherever it was, there'd at least be medical supplies she could use to take care of Rarity's concussion. She had been fading in and out of consciousness for the past few hours, despite Twilight's best efforts to keep her awake. There was only so much she could do while trying to follow the krogan through a sandstorm that had fallen upon them, while also levitating Rarity safely above her, shielding her from the grit and violence of the storm.
Beside her, Gilda was keeping an eye on the krogan, while also making sure that none of their little group lost the way. She was sure that if that happened, they'd never see the lost pony again, and some creature would end up with a nice little snack.
They'd been walking for nearly two hours, and the krogan had yet to say anything else to them since he'd saved their lives. He ignored all questions they asked of him, and simply continued trudging onwards.
It was around the third hour that Twilight noticed the mountains the krogan seemed to be leading them to. They towered over the ravaged landscape, dark red, as if they were dripping blood. The sun glowed dimly through the gathering clouds, casting great beams through the sky.
In a violent, utterly Krogan way, it was beautiful.
Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen, and each of them quietly wondered to themselves if she had become Kalros’ latest victim. They didn't dare say it aloud though, and Twilight was grateful for that. She had reached her wits end long ago, and she had a feeling that anymore setbacks would send her into a tailspin she could never recover from. This entire mission was on a razor's edge, and she didn't know how much longer she could keep it balanced.
The mountains turned out to be just as vicious as they all thought they would. The Krogan traversed the precarious slopes with long practiced ease, but as for the rest of them, it took every ounce of effort to keep from tumbling back down the slope. Such an accident would most likely prove fatal.
After nearly an hour of climbing, the Krogan finally stopped, not even winded. He chuckled when he noticed how exhausted his followers looked. “You should thank Celestia we came along. You lot wouldn't last a day on this planet on your own.”
They took issue with that, but none of them had the energy to put up an argument. Instead, they waited for the Krogan to make his next move. Surprisingly, that was push an impressively large boulder out of the way to reveal a cave opening it had previously hidden. The krogan stepped aside, waiting expectantly for them. “Are you going to come in, or do you want to wait out here for the first predator to come along and tear you to pieces?”
Twilight paused, a hoof lifted in hesitation. “We don’t even know your name. Why should we trust you?”
The krogan grunted in response, eyes narrowing as he studied Twilight’s face. “Fair enough. My name is Jorgal Chunk. Now get inside.”
“What about Fluttershy?” Twilight persisted, despite the growing pit of fear at the bottom of her chest. The winds behind her wailed like some ghastly wraith coming to rip out her very heart. “Why aren’t we waiting for her?”
“Fluttershy, unlike you lot, knows how to keep herself alive. She’ll be along shortly. Now get inside, or you lot can stay out here all night. It doesn’t matter to me one bit.” Chunk turned, plodding into the cave and leaving them alone, their backs to the howling wind.
They only hesitated for a moment, before galloping into the cave after Chunk and out of the growing sandstorm.
“He’s going to kill us, and eat us, and turn us into throw rugs.” Gilda slunk in beside Twilight, body crouched low and every muscle tensed in anxiety, muttering in her marefriend’s ear as they went.
“At least we’ll look nice together. Griffon and Unicorn. I hear we’d sell great on the market.” Twilight smirked to herself and just kept walking after Chunk as Gilda stopped in shock.
Passing by her, Applejack rolled her eyes in annoyance. “Bad joke, darlin’. Twi can be a bit dense at times. Means nothin’ by it.”
“Yeah,” Gilda tried to ignore how her voice cracked, her wings fluttering anxiously, “well, it was a bad one.”
“Not sayin’ I disagree.” Applejack said over her shoulder.
Gilda huffed before following the rest of them inside to what promised to be relative safety. Turning a bend that completely sheltered the cave from the wind and dust outside, she was met with a surprising, if homely sight.
Despite the appearance from outside, it wasn’t a dirty, dark hole in the ground. Instead, the cave had been turned into as close an approximation of an Equestrian home that Gilda had ever seen since leaving her home planet. The walls had been smoothed down and warm carpets covered the floor, thick and plush. A small fireplace sat in one corner, a little blaze happily crackling away that Chunk tended to. Two armchairs sat facing it, one pony sized, the other an unholy pile of metal, dirty welds, and a knitted cushion. Above the fireplace sat a mantle, a single picture of a rabbit on Fluttershy’s hoof on it, Chunk standing to her left in an awkward pose of someone who had never had their picture taken, looking vaguely hungry at it. Branching halls of the cave led presumably to other rooms, one of which had to be a kitchen as the smell of tea and biscuits of all things wafted past Gilda’s nose.
Twilight had paid all of the surroundings absolutely zero mind, as she settled Rarity down on the floor, finally able to perform first aid on the unicorn in safety. Rarity spoke in a tired, whiny voice (though that wasn’t much of a change, Gilda thought), too low for her to hear from her place just a few feet away, and Twilight matched her volume, though she was able to catch the soothing undertones of her marefriend’s voice rumbling in her chest every so often.
“Alright, I’ve only got three cups, but they’re Krogan sized so it won’t be a problem for you ponies to share. Heh, I’ve seen Fluttershy eat. It’s like two bites, and she’s full. More for me.”
All of them, save Twilight, startled at the deep voice of Chunk as he returned from the kitchen. A thick apron faintly tied around his waist, he balanced a tray with a nice tea kettle resting on it, as well as three almost comically oversized cups. In fact, tilting her head, Gilda wondered if they just weren’t bowls with little handles welded onto the side.
“Here you are,” Chunk said, handily passing one of the bowl cups to Big Mac before delicately pouring tea from what Gilda now realized was a much larger teapot than it first appeared. “It’s a special blend. Grew the leaves myself. Fluttershy says she hasn’t ever had its match.”
There was no small shortage of pride in his rumbling voice as he passed out the last two cups and filled them to the brim with his steaming tea. He set down a small platter of biscuits on the little side table next to the more traditional armchair. “Please, drink up, Fluttershy should be along shortly. The cookies are good too. They’re her recipe.”
With pleasantries out of the way, Chunk tossed the tray over his shoulder and left the little living room, grumbling under his breath the whole way.
Hearing a door slam shut further into the cave (or maybe it should more accurately be called a home, Gilda figured), Gilda watched as the ponies relaxed ever so slightly. They might be civilized and they might have a civilization that was the envy of the rest of the galaxy, but that didn’t mean that deep down they were a prey species who could recognize an active threat.
“How’s Rarity doin’, Twi?” Applejack asked after a moment, readjusting the hat on her head. “Do we need to get her to a hospital?”
For a moment, Gilda wondered if Twilight had even heard the question, but she looked up after a moment, her expression grim. It wasn’t a look of dire worry though, Gilda reassured herself. She prided herself on the fact that she was starting to be able to read the unicorns emotions and facial cues. If she was correct, Twilight wanted to get Rarity into the med-bay as soon as possible, but it wasn’t an extremely urgent matter. Not since Twilight had received as much training as possible in first aid and even some with Canterlot urgent services in no small part thanks to Celestia’s and Shining Armor’s urging. Needless to say, Rarity was in as good of hands as possible on this goddess forsaken planet. She didn’t have any worries.
Twilight of course, took nearly five minutes to explain all of that in excruciating detail, and it was only thanks to a quiet cough from Gilda that she didn’t start throwing her holographic spells up to show charts and diagrams of pony anatomy. She’d done it before, and Gilda knew they had other things to focus on.
“Right, yes, of course.” Twilight nodded, pretending she wasn’t blushing. “We can’t stay here too long. We need to convince Fluttershy to come with us, and we need to get a message out to Solar One. It can pick us up here, and we can leave this place behind us.”
“Maud and I can send the message,” Pinkie spoke up, her voice barely a whisper. Still, nopony missed it, and she received a nod in response from Twilight. Pinkie gestures toward the entrance of the cave. “We’ll just be outside…” she let her voice trail off as she stood and left, Maud hesitating for only a moment before following after her younger sister.
Both Gilda and Applejack watched Big Mac as he stared after Maud’s retreating form, before he noticed their eyes on him and whipped his head away so fast that both of them winced in sympathy for his poor neck.
“Too loud…” Rarity slurred out, and Gilda was sure that she was the only one aside from Twilight that heard it. Sometimes, being a griffin was a plus. Her hearing was definitely an advantage, especially as not many ponies actually knew just how sensitive it was. She imagined it was a lot like when Twilight pretended to be listening to headphones but was actually listening to conversations around her.
“Right, sorry Rarity, we’ll stay quiet,” Twilight murmured to her, before turning to look at the others, keeping her voice quiet. “The only thing we can do now is to wait for Fluttershy to return.”
“Oh, well, hello.”
For the second time in nearly as many minutes, the ponies in the room all startled at the unexpected voice at the cave entrance. Gilda just barely managed to keep her cool, though she didn’t think anypony noticed. After all, they were too busy being startled themselves to pay attention as closely as she did. That was mostly engrained in her thanks to… the dark period of her life. You always had to keep at least one eye on the masters to see if you had managed to raise their ire.
“Hello, Fluttershy.” Twilight didn’t move from her seat next to Rarity, nor did she pause in keeping the unicorn awake, though she did offer a small smile to the pegasus. “Thank you for saving us. I’m not sure what we would have done if you hadn’t come across us.”
“It wasn’t a problem.” As she stepped further into the cave, the rest of the group finally got a good look at Fluttershy. Like most ponies who left Equus, she wore clothing, though it was heavily armored and bore a worrying amount of scratches and gouges. Painted white, it covered her neck to tail, and some of the paint had started to flake away. The armor itself wasn’t very thick, though the barrier projector sitting on her chest looked state of the art. If one took a closer look, they might see that though it was well made, it had still been fashioned somewhat haphazardly from preexisting suits of armor, most likely by krogan hands, maybe even from Chunk himself. Fluttershy ignored the attention, starting to unlatch her armor. “Kalros can be very temperamental sometimes, especially this close to nesting season. She was just protecting her territory, and I explained you meant her no harm.”
Fluttershy slid out of her armor, lifting it with her wings and setting it on a little stand next to the fireplace.
“So, Fluttershy,” Applejack said, shuffling her hooves uncomfortably, “is that bunny one of your pets?”
“Bunny? Fluttershy paused, blinking, before she followed Applejack’s meaning of the picture on the mantle. “Oh, you mean Angel Bunny. He was my pet. He followed me everywhere, even when I left Equestria.”
“I’m sorry he passed away.” Applejack bit her tongue, trying not to step in any more insensitive matters.
“Oh, no. Don’t worry. You did nothing wrong.” Fluttershy put a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder comfortingly. “Chunk has learned his lesson. You don’t eat pets.”
From somewhere deeper in the cave, Chunk’s voice tumbled out. “I said I was sorry.”
“Yes, and I forgave you.” Fluttershy responded, and Gilda wondered if there would be no end to the changes from the journal of friendship that Twilight had found. Nearly everypony that had been written about within it had been different in some fundamental way, and spoke of a drastically different, and infinitely friendlier world. This Fluttershy, for instance, seemed to have a quiet confidence that was lacking from the journal Fluttershy.
As she turned back to look at the group, she continued, “Chunk was the first Krogan I met after leaving Equestria. He was the janitor on the ship, when he ate Angel Bunny. It was sad, and I was very, very angry, and we ended up in prison together, after I, well…” Fluttershy spoke the next part so quietly that everypony had to strain to hear her.
“I’m sorry, did you say you knocked out an entire Asari dance troupe on the ship while chasing the Krogan, before beating up the security team that came to stop you?” Applejack said in the most matter of fact voice Gilda had possibly ever heard.
“Yes,” Fluttershy said, blushing and hiding a little cough behind her hoof. She sipped at her tea to hide her embarrassment.
“Is there something that I can help you with?” Fluttershy asked, a tiny smile never leaving her muzzle. “It’s wonderful to have guests, especially ponies, but I get the feeling that you aren’t here just to visit.”
“Yes.” Twilight sighed, and Gilda noticed in that moment just how frazzled her marefriend looked. “We were actually looking to recruit you.”
“Recruit me? Oh I couldn’t possibly, but I’m flattered.” Turning away, Fluttershy entered the kitchen, where she retrieved a pony sized cup of her own and poured herself a cup of tea from where Chunk had left the teapot. “There’s so much to keep me busy here I. Tuchanka. All the poor animals have been so confused and angry ever since the krogan blew it up. I was actually thinking of bringing more ponies in to help. I’ve been speaking to several of the clans about expanding the scope of my help here.”
Twilight dropped down on her flank with a huff, and it looked like the weight of the entire universe (or at least the Equestrian Sphere) dropped onto her shoulders. Fluttershy stepped forward, concerned. Gilda supposed that despite all the changes, there were some things so fundamental about ponies that they were cornerstones to their very being. Fluttershy’s kindness seemed to be unchanging. Anypony who willingly spent their time on Tuchanka to help animals who made the Krogan look cute and cuddly could be nothing but.
“Is everything alright?” Fluttershy asked.
“No.” Twilight shook her head and let out a long, rattling breath. “Princess Celestia gave me a task to find the Elements of Harmony, which nopony has seen in a thousand years, by going on a crazy, half baked quest for some ponies mentioned in a journal that had replaced the elements and I’m pretty it’s all just some stupid, elaborate prank!! I don’t even know what the point is anymore. We’ve been shot, chased, yelled at, shot at again, stalked, and kidnapped! I miss my home, I miss my mom and dad and Shining and Cadance, and I just want to go to bed.”
That… was unsurprising, Gilda had to admit. Twilight was young, and she had spent the majority of her life under Celestia’s wing in safety and comfort. Ever since being tasked by the Princesses, she had been under pressure from nearly every direction, not in the least her own expectations of herself. Her parents had been less than supporting of their relationship, and she could sense some underlying tension from Celestia herself towards her.
Equestria was in the midst of events beyond anypony’s imaginations, and they all seemed to lead back to Twilight Sparkle. Despite finding all of the ponies who wore the Elements in whatever universe the journal was written in, they were none the closer in finding the Elements themselves.
“I see.” Fluttershy sat still for a long moment, studying Twilight’s tired form. What she was thinking, Gilda couldn’t say.
Standing suddenly, Fluttershy trotted out of the room, leaving them all staring after her. They could hear her retreating into the cave, followed by crashing and banging, with harsh whispers between her quiet pony voice and Chunk’s gravely voice, then more crashing and even a minor explosion.
“What the hay was that?” Applejack adjusted her hat, and Big Mac shrugged at her. Twilight had nothing major to contribute, as Rarity decided then would be the best time to acquaint the floor of Fluttershy’s cave with the contents of her stomach.
“I’ve got no idea,” Gilda said, scratching at her beak, the prosthetic suddenly itchy in its setting. She was very aware of its presence in an unpleasant way, and did her best to ignore it (though not very well, as it was all she could do to just stop herself from taking it off and scratching the scarred tissue like mad).
Before she could give in to her own thoughts, Fluttershy returned from the back room, a frown on her muzzle. Chunk followed behind her, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest. He stared at them with inscrutable eyes, looking over each of them with what appeared to be a mild distrust.
“Why did Princess Celestia ask you to find these Elements of Harmony?” Fluttershy asked, her wings twitching nervously. Gilda was sure that she wasn’t even aware she was doing it. It was a subconscious reflex in most winged beings on Equestria, and she even found herself doing it occasionally.
“Did you experience the dream?” Twilight asked.
“What Equestrian didn’t?” Fluttershy nodded, obviously able to recall the same dream with perfect clarity like every being born on Equus. “It was very scary.”
“Her screaming must have woken up half of Tuchanka,” Chunk said, his deep rumbling chuckle shaking the chest of everyone in the room.
“Yes, well, what does that have to do with the Elements of Harmony?” Fluttershy asked.
“Princess Celestia thinks that the Elements are the only thing that can protect us from whatever danger the dream was talking about, and I happen to agree.” Twilight pulled out the Journal of Friendship, showing it to Fluttershy. “We found this journal when we went to retrieve the Elements. It was written by us, or at least a version of us that existed somewhere, somewhen else. We were the Element bearers, so because we couldn’t find the Elements themselves, we’ve been searching for all of us. You’re the last pony we needed to find.”
“And now that you’ve found me, what are you going to do? What’s your plan?” Fluttershy watch Twilight carefully, as if she was judging her (and now that Gilda thought about it, she most likely was. After all, she would want to get the measure of anypony who barged into her home, interrupted her business, and ask her to come along on a quest that might result in loss of life or limb).
“We don’t have one,” Twilight admitted, a blush burning across her muzzle. “Events are lining up in such a way that planning anymore than one or two moves ahead is nearly pointless. After we found you, the best option seemed to be to see if anything magical happened. It’s been doing us pretty good so far.”
"So, you're winging it?" Chunk chuckled. He looked very pleased with himself.
"Essentially." Twilight shrugged, ignoring Chunk's painful pun. "It's worked so far, and at this point, I'm not sure that there isn't some god leading us on this journey with breadcrumbs and vagueness. Before you found us, we found a new map connected to our journey, but none of the planets are on any map I've ever seen. If you come with us, I can't promise anything. I don't know where we are going to go next, and I don't know where all of this will lead, but it will most likely be dangerous, and the very survival of Equestria might hang the balance."
Fluttershy and Chunk shared a look, a whole conversation passing between the two of them with just a single look. Gilda actually felt a little uncomfortable with the amount of emotion that had suddenly filled the air between them, kneading her claws into the floor of the cave.
"We'll join you, Twilight," Fluttershy said, turning away from Chunk.
"Good." Maud spoke up from the entrance, her voice flat. She gestured over her shoulder with her hoof, her face expressionless. "Because the ship is here."