• Published 13th Feb 2012
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The Ballad of Echo the Diamond Dog - Rust



A human finds himself in Equestria... He decides to forsake Ponyville and see the world instead.

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(3) A New Den

CHAPTER THE THIRD


A NEW DEN

The intoxicating aroma of freshly cooked burgers hit the roof of my mouth, and I salivated furiously as I watched the greasy cook slap together my order. I'd planned this for days, now. There was absolutely nothing that would keep me from enjoying this feast, and one fit for the gods at that!

"Order up."

Those words, oh, those heavenly words! Like the finest of symphonies delicately whispering their opening notes into my ears, I was all too aware of the fleeting experience that awaited me. Such beauty, such art, such pure, unrestrained uncomprehendable unimdomitable flavor! And it was all mine... mine, mine, mine! I clutched the treasure in the crumpled paper bag to my chest as I hurried to a secluded corner of the restaurant. I had already torn it open in my eagerness to consume the meal before my ass had hit the plastic upholstry of my chosen feeding ground, er, booth.

The burgers fell out of the bag in a glorious waterfall of cheap, greasy, crinkling wrapping. Like a jewler examining a priceless diamond, I negotiated through the pile with a practiced eye. Always start with the best one. Ah, and here it was! I delicately stuck a finger into the fold of the wrapping, slowly, oh so slowly, teasing it open, inch by delicious inch.

The sandwich gradually revealed itself to me, the pinnacle of modern cuisine. It was beautiful; a sloppy, oozing, greaseball that resembled a charred hockey puck more than an actual slab of meat, clumsily slammed in between two flat, shining buns of questionable freshness. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the double-bacon cheeseburger. Fast-food style.

My eyes closed in dreamy contentedness as I inhaled the scent. Oh, by Odin's magnificent chest hair, that smelled like seventeen different kinds of amazing. This was what wars were fought over. Men died for such perfection. Kingdoms had been lost, sons had been sacrificed, villages pillaged, gods cast aside for this single glorious sensation of rapture that was only comparable to-

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

I opened my eyes to find myself staring into the beady little peepers of a policeman. "What's the matter, officer?"

"You've been rubbing that burger on your nipples for the past ten minutes now. Plus, you're naked."

I glanced down in shock, and sure enough, there I was, sitting in a fast food joint in nothing but my birthday suit, with grease tracks all around my chest. The remains of my glorious feast were crumbled in a ruin in my hands, a casualty of my ravishing ecstasy.

"Are you all right, sir?"

I looked up at him again. His voice had changed, somehow. "Could you repeat that?"

"Are you all right?"

He sounded eerily familiar, but I couldn't place him.

"Are you all right?" he repeated. "You need to wake up now!"

What?

"Wake up."

Everything faded away from me, and I lunged forward to try and snatch the pile of food from the table before it fell into nothingness. The cop grabbed me by the throat and held me up in a superb one-handed choke-hold. It burned like the fire of a thousand suns, and I gagged and wheezed in his grip.

"WAKE UP!"

Then, I woke up.

In the real world...

My eyes flew open, and I whipped myself up into a sitting position, coughing and wheezing furiously as the pain in my throat intensified immensely. My paws, for they were no longer hands, went up to my neck and clutched it. Oh god. I felt something there that shouldn't be. Oh god what is it this isn't normal what's going on what's going on holy shit I'm gonna die-

BAM!

Something hard smacked into my face, snapping my head to the side. I felt... oddly calm, now. I turned around to face my attacker, one paw rubbing my face, the other still trying to figure out my neck.

Daring Do evenly met my gaze. Her muzzle was covered in blood, as were the tips of her wings. Where did all that blood come from? She hadn't been hurt in the fight - was that mine?! My memory came pouring back at that instant. The flash of claw in the sunlight, the grinning face of that blue bastard, Auihzotl. But, I could have sworn he ended me...

Daring Do must have read my expression of confusion correctly. "Do you feel all right, Echo?" The concern on her face was touching, yet surprising, considering how she'd first reacted to me.

I tried to speak, but the second I moved the tattered remains of my throat, the pain skyrocketed to unbelievable levels. I winced and fell back, clutching my throat piteously.

She was at my side in an instant, and gently pulled my massive paws away. "Easy. Your neck took one hay of a beating, there. I've only just stitched it back together, so try not to tear anything."

I leaned back again, stunned. She saved my life. I guess that made us even, then. But what had happened? Where was I now? My eyes roved around, taking in as much as I could. I was in a room that appeared to be made out of planks of a smooth bark, with bamboo poles making up a surprisingly tight flooring. A single window was carved into the wall above my head, letting in the soft glow of sunset. A gap in the paneling served as what I assumed to be a door, as a flap of cloth was hanging down from the top, like a curtain.

The fire in my neck was bearable now that I'd calmed down. I met Daring Do's gaze again, and swept my paw around in an encircling arc, pointing at her, then me, giving another shrug to indicate my question.

This mare was sharp as a tack, and read my gestures with frightening accuracy. "I don't know for sure, but when Auihzotl knocked us into the river, I think that snapped my wing back into place," she said. "I dislocated it in a crash a day ago. I managed to drag you out of the river, then. Auihzotl had left by this time, you see, he never stays to see if I'm dead or not." She chuckled at this. "That's probably why I keep coming back to make his day miserable. Anyway, once I got you out of the river, I saw your throat wide open. I used to work as a medic in college, so I know how to patch up a gash or two. Plus, being an adventurer like myself means that sooner or later you're going to get hurt. It pays to know how to take care of yourself.

"I used the needle from my compass, but I didn't have any string. I went in your pockets and sure enough, I found some really tough stuff. Thick, but tough. I stitched you up right there on the riverbank. It was touch and go for a while, and I wasn't able to save your vocal chords. Those are damaged beyond my skill. I'm sorry, Echo, but I don't think you'll ever be able to speak again."

I let that sink in for a moment. Something bothered me though. Why did I have string in my pockets? I gently ran a finger over my tender new wound, feeling it out. Sure enough, there was a thick cord holding my neck shut. Wait a minute... holy shit. The texture felt familiar, crushed in some places as if squeezed, but thick in others. I suddenly realized what she used.

Daring Do had saved my life with the needle from her compass... and my shoelaces.

Bwa-hahahahahahahahahaha!

I doubled over then in silent laughter, rocking back and forth in hysterics. I had absolutely no idea why this seemed so funny to me. Maybe it was the shock from my near death experience wearing off, or just my way of dealing with the fact that I was now a mute.

"What's so funny?" She asked, clearly interpreting my shaking for laughter, not a seizure.

I smiled and pointed at my neck, then mimed removing the string. I dangled the imaginary cord in front of her for a second, then acted out lacing it through an imaginary shoe on my foot.

"Those were... bootlaces?" She looked astonished.

I nodded again, a big loopy grin plastered to my face.

She looked down at my imaginary boots, then back to me. And promptly burst out laughing.

We laughed like that for a while, like a pair of kindergartners high on acid. Man, I remember kindergarten. Those guys know how to party.

Eventually, we calmed down enough so that I could manage to think again. Ok! Pop quiz! You wake up in a strange place, with a pony you barely know, a wound on your neck so gory that it makes the Joker's smile look friendly, and you're having a great time. Chose from the following.

A:) You're completely insane! Join the club, we've got jackets. Straight-jackets, that is.

B:) You're dead, and this is the afterlife. Congrats, you bastard, I'll be pissing on your grave.

C:) You're just damn lucky.

In my case, it was option C all the way. With this in mind, I gazed around my surroundings with new found reverence. After all, who knew when I'd be savagely mauled again? It's not like you can just kindly ask the nearest hibernating bear to beat the living tar out of you. No, you've got to do all this registration, and then there's the paperwork and...

... Sorry. A little delirious from the blood-loss, here.

I swept both of my arms around again, and patted the ground, fixing Daring with another questioning look.

This one took her a moment to figure out. "Where are we?"

I nodded slowly, careful of my neck.

"We're in my little piece of paradise, out in the middle of nowhere! Come on, I'll show you!" she said with a smirk. After she helped me stagger unsteadily to my feet, she led me through the covered archway on the opposite wall. After a small hallway, we came out into a lare, open room.

Despite the pain, my jaw dropped ten stories. Holy jack-in-the-box.

The room was completely circular, with the same bamboo flooring, woven rush mats scattered as haphazardly as the wicker furniture. There was what looked like part of a tree running up from the center of the room up into the tent-like ceiling, and from it were several small hangers, my backpack dangling from there alongside Daring's hat. Leaning up against the far side of the tree was a small stove, probably powered by some kind of magic. There were no walls aside from the hallway we just left. Instead, the room was built like a gazebo, with a loose netting strung up in between slender support beams along the outside. Through the netting, I could see the jungle spread out far underneath me in the setting sun.

Despite the situation, my inner child was completely stunned. This was, without a fucking doubt, the coolest treehouse I'd ever seen. This was like something out of a fantasy world! Oh, wait. Well, that explains a lot.

Daring laughed again at my expression and went across the room to jump into a hammock hanging from the central pillar and one of the support beams. "Well, what do you think?"

What did I think? At this moment, I wasn't even sure if I could think at all!

I nodded dumbly. Even if I could speak, that's all I could have done, anyway. I slowly strode across the room and pushed through the netting, stepping out onto a narrow porch that circled the entire structure. Off to my side, a set of stairs ran up to the roof of the treehouse, probably up to some kind of water collector to harvest falling rain. Far above, the arcing boughs of the tree blotted out the apex of the sky, but in the faint twilight I could see a few stars beginning to poke through the gaps in the leaves.

I gaped out at the jungle spread out several dozen stories below me. Damn, we were high up! As if to confirm this, Daring fluttered over from her hammock to join me at the railing. "Yep! This is the safest place in the jungle! The tree's too big to climb for the predators, so the only way up is to fly."

To fly up? It was then that I realized she must have hauled my furry ass all the way up from the riverbank. Now that's what I call dedication. We weren't even anymore. I owed her now, twofold.

I pointed at myself, and then at her wings, and made a flapping motion with my arms.

She half-groaned, half-smiled. "Echo, you are the heaviest thing I've ever carried! I swear if you hadn't saved my life back there I'd have left you on the ground. Honestly, what do you your mothers feed you Diamond Dogs?"

I shrugged.

It took her a moment to realize that I was completely serious. "Wait... what?"

I pointed at myself, then shrugged again. Translation: I have no fucking idea, sugartits. Your guess is as good as mine.

"Echo, where exactly are you from again?" There was a tinge of worry in her voice now.

I turned to look out on the jungle again. The sun was setting directly in front of me, so I could assume that was west. Did the sun even set in the west here? Bah. I'll find out later. I roughly estimated where the river was, and sure enough, I could see the indentation in the forest from here. Now, if I could just retrace my path from - ah! There it was!

Way off in the distance was the pyramid I'd woken up on. I waved her over and pointed at it vigorously.

She gave me that weird look again. Uh oh.

"You're from there? Are you sure?"

I nodded, with zest. Zesty motions are just so much more satisfying.

She frowned, and turned back into the treehouse. I followed her inside, my long arms reaching over her head to pull back the netting, but she didn't notice. Daring went over to a small table by a wicker chair, and opened up a small cabinet on it. She pulled out a large, dusty book that had several faded note cards sticking out of it. It smoothly opened up to the desired page as she plopped it onto a larger table by the tree, probably used for eating. In the last glimmer of twilight, she hurriedly read the page, pausing over a sketching of the pyramid. I looked over her shoulder to see, but at that moment I was completely dumbfounded by the strange, hieroglyphic lettering before me.

I couldn't read Equestrian.

Shit!

How am I supposed to read dirty magazines now?

And yes. I do read the articles. Old school; that's just how I roll.

Daring was mumbling something under her breath, and worriedly glanced out at the pyramid in the distance. The tension was palpable. This probably wasn't going to be good news.

In actuality, it wasn't good, or bad. But it was pretty damn serious.

She finally broke the silence. "Echo, that's called the Temple of Chaos. It's been sealed up since Discord was turned to stone... and apparently, if anything ever comes out of there... that means he's back."

Suddenly, I recalled a bit of conversation from the old man in the coffee shop.

"... Throw a little bit of chaos into the mix..."

Discord!

Discord was the one who sent me to Equestria! Discord had been on Earth... and more importantly, that crazy fuck kicked me in the face!

The sound of Daring Do slamming the book shut startled me out from a lovely daydream of unleashing an army of ferocious dancing lobsters on a certain draqonequus.

"Well, then! I guess I know where we're going next!" she proclaimed happily.

We? Well, why the hell not. As if I've anything better to do!

In true explorer fashion, Daring was chomping at the bit to get at the recently opened temple. I didn't blame her. I wanted to come too. I wanted answers, and the best place to find them was where I began.

"We'll set out in a few days, to give you some time to rest. That sound okay?"

I nodded, and then pointed to the book.

She looked shocked. "You want to read it?" Oh, gee, I'm guessing that Diamond Dogs aren't much for scholars.

I nodded again, then pointed to the symbols on the page and shrugged, before looking at her in what I hoped was my very own version of a puppy dog face.

"You want me to teach you how to read?"

Nod, nod, nod. Jesus, I feel like a bobble head.

She laughed at this, though it was with me, not at me. "You have got to be the weirdest Diamond Dog I've ever heard of. All right, fine. I'll teach you. But in return, I want your help excavating some ruins I can't get at after we go to the Temple of Chaos. With your natural abilities at digging, I can unearth some fresh treasures! That sound good?"

My tail wagged happily at this. Oddly, the prospect of shoveling pawfuls of dirt sounded very appealing.

Daring smiled again, the last vestiges of sunlight sparkling in her magenta eyes. "Good. Now, come on, let's get something to eat. I've got some gems lying around here from a recent raid on a crypt. They're tiny, so you should be able to eat them without hurting your throat."

And so ended my first day in Equestria.

What a long, strange trip it's been.