• Published 19th Nov 2013
  • 9,776 Views, 90 Comments

Soft Diplomacy - Bastinator



After arriving in Equestria, Anon was at the mercy of life. He has a crap job, a boring life and he can't even speak up for himself if his life depended on it, but books have always been there for him. What if they got the attention of royalty?

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Chapter 7: Capital Hill

Your feet hit the finely laid stone road before you, your butt a little sore from the long trip over. ”Greetings sir,” the gryphon bows extending a talon, “May I take your bags?”

“Uhh sure I guess.”

”That won’t be necessary,” your new pal comments, imposing himself on the scene. “Last time I was here I made the same mistake. I still miss that toothbrush,” he whispers. It was nice of Iron Will to accompany you on this venture, though the pay might’ve made the offer all the more pleasing.

”God it’s been a long time,” Gilda groans as she departs the carriage, “I’m starting to remember why I left.” It’s not all that bad you think. It certainly doesn’t smell like home, the air here is far thinner than Canterlot’s.

You shiver as a chill sweeps across the convoy while the rest of your bags are transferred off, “Feel that icy breeze. Brbrbrb… Reminds Iron Will of his own home. You couldn’t take a piss without it freezing halfway down,” he booms outwards echoing against the towering walls.

”Take off that fancy coat of yours and we’ll see how fun it is. We gryphons grew up in the cold,” Gilda challenges, “You’d be more like Ms. Sissy Pants over here.”

“I’m actually quite fond of the cold,” you shrug, “Beats sweating my ass off in the tropics.” Your guide takes a step back as you get a tad closer to the gates. “We certainly aren’t in Equestria anymore.”

Gilda puts a talon on your shoulder, “Nope. Well Anon, let me be the first to welcome you to my home. Aviaris.” It could use some color.

”If you’d follow me sir, I have been instructed to give you the tour.” Ring ring ring! Bells going off up here. Why does that sound familiar?

“I don’t think that’s necessary sir. We can get around just fine.”

”My instructions were very clear sir.”

“Was one of them to show me a good time?” He nods, “Then let us get there in our own time. I’ll put in a good word for you. No worries.”

The Equestrian guards finish up unloading your bags, the captain saluting, “We’ll be setting up camp just outside the city limits sir. We’ll have a sentry stationed at the gates in case of emergency. Should anything go wrong…”

”Nonsense! These men are tired and could use a warm meal,” Iron Will persuades.

“No no, the good captain here is right. If memory serves no foreign garrison may enter the city, save for those of the personal guard. Correct Gilda?”

She nods, Iron Will visibly irate, “Then employ them all as your guard.”

“This isn’t 300. The men were made aware of this before their venture. I requisitioned enough supplies to keep them comfortable for a few days at least.” It was the most you could do giving the circumstances. You yourself had little time to pack when word came from Celestia. While this has been marked merely a social visit to ease tensions, you know something’s going to go down. She wouldn’t send you otherwise.

The soldiers dismiss themselves and you gather up your effects with the others. You look up at the menacing doorway, the thickened barricade engraved with the markings of their ancestors. It was said to have been pieced from planks of the Elder Roost, the mythological birthplace of their kind itself. That just goes to show what type of culture would desecrate their own holy grounds for a gate. ”It’d take a hundred minotaurs a hundred years to put a dent in that beauty.”

“They tried,” you comment, “They got splinters and went home.” That was a very violent saga in their history, but when it came to gryphons they might describe it as their most glorious.

”Can we just get a move on? I need to stretch my wings here.” You’d imagined your entrance to be full of buzz or at least dismay, but instead you’re greeted by a silence that makes the weather seem toasty. It’s as if you’d visited a cemetery by mistake. The gryphons are ghosts in your presence, silent and not entirely there, so to speak. From upon their homes they look down at you with their expressions of stone. Regiments of soldiers cease their chants to look upon your trio.

“Is it hot out here or is it just me?” you joke.

”It’s intimidation,” Gilda explains to you, “Stare right back at them and don’t show weakness. The second you do, you’re as good as dead.”

You laugh it off as her trying to rile you up, but Iron Will soon joins in, “They’ll back off in time, but for now you’re public enemy number one.” Thank Celestia you brought Iron Will with you. You’re still sore from your alley-incident. The buildings appear to be carved into the mountain to preserve resources and heat, the brownish stone well kempt, but the obvious signs of wear stand out like a sore thumb. You haven’t been here long, but it’s clear this place has seen better days.

Where are the flowing banners of Gustau had so admired? Where is the music that made even the princes of Saddle Arabia feel envy? Where is the Aviaris you had so longed to see with your own eyes? And what… What is this hollowed being left in its passing? “This is no grand city of the gryphons. This is the resting place of a civilization long dead.” You can tell Gilda feels the same way by that look on her face. “You left when you were still a teen right? This can’t have been the same place.”

”What happened here?” she mumbles to herself as you work your way up the steps.

”You’d see more cheer in a graveyard.” No smiles, no laughs, nothing. You’d heard of their military discipline, but that is no excuse for this sort of behavior. The gryphons resume their normal pattern of behavior, albeit there’s no trace of humanity in it.

When they barter their words don’t carry the emotion a pony’s would. Everything about this place… it’s just wrong. ”Up there,” Gilda points to the peak of the steps, “That’s where we’re headed. The upper class has always sat their happy feathers up there and peered down at the rest of us.” There’s no mistaking the fire in her voice, that same fire which is absent amongst the rest of her people.

”Thirteen thousand four hundred and seven steps.” Both you and Gilda look at Iron Will cockeyed. ”What? Iron Will ran these steps everyday for a year. Helps to stay in shape.”

You’d bet. “I’ve never been up this far,” Gilda admits, “We were always kept further down in the lower districts.”

“How does it feel to finally be up here?”

She stops and looks back down, scanning the city, “Sad… Whatever, let’s just keep going. This place is starting to give me the creeps.”

”Starting? My fur’s been sticking up since we got here, and it isn’t because of the cold.”

”All the more reason to hurry this up. This isn’t the Aviaris I grew up in.”

You finally reach the top of the stairs and grab at your chest, Iron Will stopping you from leaning over. ”Keep your chest up. The best impression’s a first impression.”

You do as he says and push down the pain as the welcoming committee comes your way. “Howdy.”

The gryphon guards are equipped in their ceremonial armor, twice as thick as the Equestrian standard but also heavier. It’s impractical for wartime use because it weighs down the wearer, but for guard duty it’ll make troublemakers think twice. Between the two of them is a third gryphon, definitely older by the silverish hue of his feathers, who bows gracefully, “Ahh welcome. My name is Rinn and I serve as the Senate Overseer of Gryphonnia, it is with great privilege that I greet you here today.” You bow in turn, just as Gilda had told you, and introduce your two friends.

“The pleasure is mine. This is Gilda, my personal guide and hopefully, friend.”

She nods to the official, “It’s an honor.”

“And this is Iron Will, my personal guard for the time being.”

He salutes sharply, “Good to meet you sir.”

Rinn greets the both of them with his warm yet fragile tone, “The honor is mine Ms. Gilda, and your reputation precedes you Iron Will. It is this great regret that I come to a loss at your name sir.”

“M-me? Oh uh well…” Dammit Anon stop being a baby and talk! You’re not the coward you used to be. Don’t come this far and face plant where it counts.

You smile and recompose yourself, “Is there a problem?”

“No sir. My name is Anon. Anon of Equestria.” Let’s not fuck this up.

”And where is the esteemed princess? I was told to expect her arrival with your own.”

“Ah yes, the princess had some matters to attend to before her departure, to which she apologizes.”

The official is unfazed by this development however, “Her affairs must certainly keep her busy. Alas, good things come to those who wait, wouldn’t you agree?” You couldn’t agree more in fact. This gryphon is certainly a seasoned player in the political realm of this land. Well of course he is, he’s the Senate Overseer. He’s one of the three most powerful individuals in the Eastern Kingdoms. ”But enough chatter,” he remarks waving off his guards, “You must’ve had a long journey. Would you care for some refreshments inside?”

He doesn’t have to ask you twice as he leads you within the heart of their city. The torches burning bright grant a strict contrast to the chilling winds outside and you soon begin to feel the tips of your ears once more. The lavish interior is one to behold, all the riches of their kingdom gathered together to overwhelm the eye. This is exactly the type of wealth that could be used to rejuvenate that ghostly population of theirs. Snap out of it Anon, this isn’t about them. Focus. ”If you wish I can have one of the guards here escort you to your quarters.”

A pair of them stand at every doorway, each standing on their hind legs to overlook their visitors. Unfortunately you’re not pony, so you and Iron Will stand comfortably over them. You do admit that these bags are getting quite tiresome. Iron Will takes him up on his offer, grabbing the rest of your effects with Gilda and moving off. Tension finds you alone with only Rinn and a dozen guards as company, it doesn’t help. ”Come, my study isn’t far.”

~~~

You follow him skeptically, this entire visit reeking something foul. You just hope Celestia will get her soon. She always helps calm your nerves. Rinn shuts the door to his study, moving behind his desk, a towering bookcase behind him. He grabs a crystalline bottle of amber liquid and wafts some towards his nostrils with a sigh. ”It’s been a long while since I could enjoy a drink with another in peace,” he pours you a glass. Don’t deny a drink from a gryphon, you repeat in your head sipping at his offering. This stuff isn’t too strong when compared to the battery acid Gilda’s stuffed down your throat, in fact it has a nice smoky hint to it.

“King’s Bane?” you ask trying to discern the nature of this drink.

”You have a skilled palette young Anon. It’s been the bane of many a king who’ve succumb to its temptation.”

“This tastes rather aged. This couldn’t go for less than several hundred bits.”

”True enough, though sale is forbidden as per the Copperfield Initiative.”

“You know of the Copperfield Initiative?”

”Of course, I have access to a fair selection of books myself if you couldn’t tell.” Well you’ll be. He’s not so different after all. ”What are your thoughts on the recent attempts to repeal it in Cloacia?”

Cloacia, that’s the southern city that runs along the coast of the Neighing Sea. That place has never been the nicest place in the gryphon kingdoms, but it was one of their top producers in exotic alcohol until the Initiative cut them down to size.

“Quite honestly, their efforts were quite short-sighted and frail. Did they really think they could eliminate the entirety of the bill that easily?”

”You didn’t think the mass riots were enough to convince the committee?”

“It’s hard to convince anyone when half the ‘rioters’ could hardly stand they were so drunk. A pitiful performance.”

”True enough, but the message it sent must’ve got them thinking.”

“Thinking about why they let this go on for so long maybe. Copperfield only tightened the noose on the sale of hard liquor after.”

”Hmm… I seem to have pegged you incorrectly.” You ask him how so, sipping the last of your beverage. ”I’d thought you another lackey sent to amuse us. I apologize for misjudging you.”

“And I as well sir.”

”For what?”

“I haven’t liked this place the second I stepped through those gates, but you’ve shown me how similar we two can be.”

”I’m glad to hear it.”

His smile is as genuine as they come and has an almost comforting warmth to it. He’s the gryphon version of Celestia if such a thing existed, “So I take it you’re partial to that drink.” You never commented on the- He stalls your mind with a laugh, “After so many years of this I’ve come to understand what others are thinking without even meaning to. Call it a snag, comes with the job.” So he has to know why you feel the way you do, the disappointment that weighs you down. ”I can’t fix the woes of this city by myself, there is little more I wish to do than return these lands to their former glory. Here,” he hands you the bottle, “A gift. I have little need for it.”

“T-thank you. Is there… Is there anything I can do to help sir?”

”Help?” he chuckles to himself taking a seat, “And why would you wish to help me?”

You sit opposite of him and reveal your vision of Aviaris and beyond. He’s enthralled at your depth of knowledge in Gryphon history even surprised at some points. “I just… If I can, I want to see what those authors and historians so fondly wrote of. My duty to Celestia comes first, but- If there’s anything I can do to help, just tell me.”

”That- That’s most gracious of you. The Gryphon Kingdoms need all the aid the can receive after…” Rinn pauses before smiling, “It is of no consequence. As much as I would love to continue our chat there is the matter of dinner to sort.” Your stomach audibly agrees with his notion. “Shall we?”

~~~

Gilda and Iron Will are chatting it up when you arrive at the entrance hall, but the two immediately quiet down when they see you. ”Took your sweet time didn’t you- *pow* Hey!” she gripes at Iron Will who returns his to his side.

”Remember where we are Gilda.”

“I take it the two of you have toured the place a bit.”

”We tried, but the guards were being a bunch of…” Iron Will gives her a stern look, “They weren’t cooperating.”

Rinn glares at one of the patrols, “I don’t know why I expected anything different. Some of the newer policies have… Well it is not my place to say.”

“Do you have no say as the Senate Overseer?”

”My hand is required in those of foreign affairs, but my word matters little in domestic ones,” he explains as he leads you to the Great Hall. ”Those matters are lead by the Vice General and the King, for now.”

“For now?”

”I have said too much already young Anon, and this is not time to despair,” he cheers up, “Welcome to the Great Hall, the home to the finest feasts in all Gryphonnia.” Your mouth hangs wide at the golden glow of the cutlery that adorns the table, goblets of encrusted diamond and the great chandelier that hangs overhead. ”I hope this is more what you’d expect Anon.”

“Fuck me…”

”Anon!” Gilda hisses with irritation. Most likely because she got snapped at for her use of language.

”It’s quite alright,” Rinn explains, “I don’t hear such words often in my company and I welcome it.” Okay, he really is the gryphon version of Celestia.

”Oh,” Gilda sighs, “Well shit this place is nice.”

”Why do I even try to keep her under control?”

“Because you’re such a nice guy,” you answer, a line of officials entering from the other si- Oh my would you look at that. You didn’t expect to see him here.

”It appears the others have arrived as well. I will say, do watch your manners around them, they can be… old fashioned.”

“I’m more worried about them to be honest,” you sneer happily moving towards them. The majority of the gryphons are posh and clean-cut, obvious political elites by every stretch of the imagination, even their feathers are polished. You can tell just by looking that they give bureaucrats a bad rep. Then there’s the other two, definite soldiers through and through. ”Anon, I’d like you to meet Vice General Reuben. He’s the acting ruler while-“

”That’s quite enough Rinn. So you’re the new player on the field. Hmm....” Gilda’s talons pull into fists but she keeps calm, “In any case, I welcome you to Aviaris.” You concentrate less on his insults and more on the soldier beside him, or should you say knight.

“It’s been a while Sir Rivot.”

”Sewer breath.” So he does remember you.

”What did you just say to him?!” Reuben snaps to his underling. The knight keeps his mouth shut, “Answer me boy!”

”N-nothing sir.”

”Excuse me for a second Anon,” he pulls the knight away angrily.

Rinn leans in, “What was that about?”

“You know how Pranceylvania was contested land until Sir Rivot provided invalid documents?” he nods, “I was the one who invalidated them.”

”But, why did he call you sewer breath?”

“Oh,” you look down, kneading the floor with your shoe, “I was a janitor when it happened.”

”And look how far you’ve come,” he nods.

”…put too much at stake to get you here you ungrateful child. Don’t make me regret it.” The two come back over, that grin still stuck on your face, “I believe Sir Rivot has something to say to you. Don’t you,” he snarls.

You can see the venomous words caught in his throat, “I- I’m sorry.” Wonder how much will it took to get those two puppies out of his voicebox.

“Apology accepted sir.”

”Mongrel…” he mutters to himself, Reuben smacking him outright with little regard for his company.

The Vice General cracks his neck, “Now then, where is the princess?”

”She’ll be here soon,” Rinn reassures him.

”Then what are we waiting for,” Reuben bellows, “Let’s eat.”

~~~

Roast beef, stuffed turkey, braised lamb, a heap of steak? And it’s medium-raaaare… You know how Gilda felt when she saw all that beer. The gryphons begin digging in and you too engage in what will be known as the Battle of Red Meat. You manage to get a little bit of everything before realizing you’re missing something. “Umm, do you have any silverware?”

”Silverware?” Reuben chuckles, “This is the Great Hall of Aviaris, not an Equestrian hospital. We all eat as warriors here.” Their culture their rules. You go ahead and sink your teeth in the first steak you’ve had since you came here over a year ago. You might need a new napkin after this, and a change of pants. ”So Anon,” he calls out, “How did you get mixed up in these affairs? I don’t see many of your kind around.”

You clean your mouth off, hastily swallowing your food. “That may be because I am the only one of my kind.” You garner some attention at this, “At least, in this world.”

”Oh I do enjoy a good story,” one of the nobles yawns.

“I don’t know how I came to be here, but I have put that behind me. I look to the future, not dwell on the past.”

”Says the egghead,” Gilda chortles.

”The texts of old have always guided those who wish to learn,” Rinn replies quickly, “I believe Anon understands that well.” As you do.

“As far as how I got here today? Well, that’s a simple matter of chance. The princess saw potential in me after I had interrupted an important meeting with the Gryphonnian representatives. Afterwards-“

”Wait,” Reuben stops you, “You were the one who had embarrassed my son so?”

“I had no idea that Sir Rivot was-“

He erupts into a fit of laughter, slamming the table and rubbing the patch covering his left eye. Did- did you miss something funny? ”Kudos to you Anon. If only I’d known that earlier I would’ve shook your hand.”

“Did I do good?”

”Good? You cut this little runt down to size. What was it that he told you Rivot? To read instead of what?”

“S-sticking his head in the clouds.”

”HA! Why haven’t I met this one sooner Rinn?” you can’t help but smile at his praise.

”I was only made aware of his presence upon his arrival. Perhaps if you’d taken the measures I had suggested-“

”No business at the table, you know that.” This dinner’s going a lot better than you expected honestly. Rinn is a combination of you and Celestia in a humble gryphon. Reuben’s a rough and hardy soldier, but he’s grown fond of you for embarrassing his piss ant son, of all reasons. Rivot got smacked, hard too. Their names all start with R don’t they? That’s kinda weird. Actually, you’ve met the Senate Overseer and the Vice General.

“Quick question, when do I meet the king?” The table grows silent in seconds, the entire table ceasing mid-bite. “It’s just that I haven’t met him yet and-“

”That’s impossible,” Reuben comments suddenly.

“I’m serious I haven’t met him yet. I was looking forward-“

”I mean it is impossible for you to meet the king.”

“I- I’m not sure I understand.”

Rinn steps in, “The king is currently preoccupied in affairs of a sensitive nature.”

”Pfft,” Gilda appeases, “If he just wanted to spend some time with the misses, you should’ve said so.”

”This is not a laughing matter!” Rinn snaps, catching himself swiftly thereafter, “The king merely requires time alone as of now.” Gilda paws at her food after being scolded, though Iron Will lays a comforting hand on her shoulder. Welp, you managed to fuck it up.

Rinn senses this as well and stands, “The hour grows late indeed. It would be best if we all get some much needed rest.”

”And what of Celestia?” Reuben announces, “Do we simply excuse her tardiness?”

”Yes, yes we do.” Damn he’s a nice guy. If only you’d met him before.

~~~

You pack up for the night, laying down in your silk sheets, another bonus to being in this line of work, but even still you find yourself unable to sleep. Slipping back into your clothes you walk out into the courtyard, running your hand along the bark of one of the twin trees that grace the tops of the mountain. You lean against the railing as you’d done many a time back home in Canterlot and watch the stars. You never had this problem before, the inability to sleep. Even when you first arrived you hadn’t felt like this. It can’t be being homesick, can it? How does that make sense? You’re homesick here in Aviaris, but not in Canterlot when you’re true home is a dimension away. Canterlot is your home isn’t it? That’s a funny thought.

Before you came here you never would’ve thought you’d miss living with a bunch of little ponies who’d take advantage of you. Then again, not all of them were like that were they? You had Celestia. You had Petal Peach. You had… ”Crap…” a gryphon yelps, stubbing her paw on a loose stone as she tries to slip past you.

“Gilda?”

She pulls her hood down and grabs the paw, “Look what you did, you ass.”

“What’re you doing out here?”

”Can’t a girl take a walk? Besides, I could ask you the same thing.”

“I can’t sleep, what’s your excuse?”

”I already said.”

“No you didn’t, not really.”

”Just… shut up Anon. I’m taking a walk.” Usually you’d comply, but she was flustered which doesn’t happen easily. She hastily works her way down the steps and appears to be cradling something in her arm. Is she- Shit she isn’t stealing from them is she? This can’t be good. You move after as swiftly and quietly as you can, most of the gryphons having retreated into their homes. Hiding behind a corner she looks both ways before heading further down the steps.

You track her down to the lower eastern side, the slums of the city. What is she doing here? If she’s trying to pawn that stuff she needs to do that outside the city. They’d turn her in in a heartbeat, less considering her affiliation with you. You have to stop her before she gets herself in trouble. You peek your head over the roof, Gilda glancing about one last time. She heads into the fire lit interior of a rundown structure, a home if it was fixed up a bit. Crossing over the rooftops you nestle yourself right by the door and peak in through the window.

So it is a home after all, though smaller than even your apartment in Canterlot. On the table is the parcel you saw Gilda carrying, wrapped in black cloth. Gilda removes her hood, resting it on the table next to her. What is she… Wait…

An older female comes out from the back, the bags sagging heavy beneath her eyes. The muscles around her wings are weak and frail. It’s likely she can’t even fly. Her limbs shake as she walks and you can almost feel the pain shooting through her with every step. But when she sees Gilda, despite all the agony she must be in, she smiles. Gilda wraps the gryphon in a hug and you catch a glimmer run down her cheek. The gryphon openly weeps in her arms, that long lost piece finally home. They soon part, Gilda grabbing the parcel in her talons and holding it out for her. Inside, is not a goblet of gold, nor a silver chalice, but a loaf of bread, still hot from the oven. She can hardly speak or say a word, only embracing her once more.

You feel almost ashamed to be spying on her like this, in such an intimate moment. She has to know… You step out of the shadows and into the doorway, “Honey, who is that?”

Gilda turns around, eyes red with moisture, “A-Anon? Wha- what are you doing here?”

“I didn’t mean to intrude, but when I saw the two of you…” You bow your head in shame, this wasn’t a good idea. You hear her paws against the dirt floor and welcome her punishment, but instead you only feel her talons around you.

”I wasn’t going for a walk,” she admits, a dripping sensation falling down your neck. “I wasn…” She sniffs and wipes her beak off on your shirt.

“It’s ok. It’s ok Gilda.”

She turns around and wipes the tears off her eyes, “Anon, this is my- *sniff* …my ma.”

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