• Published 27th Jul 2014
  • 4,340 Views, 263 Comments

Foreigner - AugieDog



Gilda has taken a posting in a far-flung corner of griffon territory in the hope of never seeing another pony again. That hope is, of course, in vain.

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7 - Partner

"What was that?" she heard Derpy ask behind her, but by then Gilda was already halfway down the corridor to the little front room, her wings slicing her through the air as quickly as she could force them.

"Hmmm..." Discord's baritone rumbled, and everything flashed white. A few blinks cleared her vision, and Gilda found herself hovering in the sky above the ruins of Catlatl's slaughterhouse district, Godfrey and Derpy on either side of her, Discord floating below with an ear trumpet pressed to the side of his head. "You know, I'm not sure, Derpy, but I think I may have heard a slight noise as well."

Spinning, Gilda focused on the Eyrie and the three tiny figures circling over the mountain peak. "Get us some information, Aedile," she said.

"Praetor." Godfrey sucked in a breath, and Gilda braced herself. After all, he'd already been the loudest griffon she'd ever met before absorbing the ancient magic Professor Gloriana had tried to take for herself; she had to wonder—

He screeched the cry for 'report,' and the sound smashed over Gilda as forcefully as a windstorm. She arched her wings against the sudden turbulence and was almost sure she could see the cry shooting straight as a slung stone through the quarter mile of empty air directly toward the signal corps cadets.

She half-expected them to tumble like bowling pins when it hit their position, but they just wobbled a little; light began flashing in coded pulses from one of the figures, though, a crispness to the motion that made her think it must be Gutierrez still aloft and on mirror duty.

"It's a report relayed from Gimble six minutes ago just above Sawtooth Pass," Godfrey was saying, Gilda catching about two-thirds of the message the way she usually did with flash code. "The cadets are facing a quarter of the regular troops stationed at Northern Marches as well as a contingent of the Grand Imperator's guard from the capitol." Godfrey's crest went flat against his head. "That will be nearly two hundred griffons, Praetor."

"But how?" Gilda bunched her talons into a fist. "They couldn't've gotten here from Northern Marches so fast! Unless—" It came to her then, and she just wanted to spit. "Damn Gustavus! He's such a stumbleclaw, his aides prob'bly noticed he was gone ten minutes after he left there this morning and scrambled all available paws to track him down."

Godfrey nodded, still watching the flashes. "The Grand Imperator has taken command of the force and is trying to lead them through the pass. Gyre has been employing delaying tactics but has so far avoided any direct confrontation." He glanced sideways at her. "That can't last, Praetor."

"It doesn't have to." Gilda dove to where Discord was floating on his back and eating a sandwich. "Discord! We need to be where Twilight and the others are! Now!"

He swallowed and waved the sandwich. "Some of us didn't get any eggplant earlier, you know, since some of us didn't even know about this party till it had already started."

Rearing back to start yelling, Gilda was interrupted by Derpy bobbing up and down beside her. "There they are, Gilda!" She pointed a flailing hoof over Gilda's shoulder. "Look!"

Wheeling around, Gilda saw a big crystalline bubble floating toward them from the north, three figures inside it—pink, orange and silver-white—a purple one flying beside it, a yellow one behind with gray specks trailing after, and a rainbow moving a good deal faster out ahead of the whole parade. "G!" Dash's voice echoed, and in half an instant, the pegasus herself was skidding to a halt in front of Gilda, wisps of cloud stuff scattering from her hoofs like dust. "Did'ja hear it? When those rock bombs went off? I mean, I thought it was gonna blow me clean back to Ponyville!"

"Oh!" Discord waved his sandwich some more, pieces of it falling out, sprouting wings, and fluttering away. "The ignominy of it all! Why, if I'd been there, I could've made sure that happened! But no! I had to be all noble, sacrificing myself to protect Equestria from—!"

"No time!" Gilda raised her voice. "Twilight! We've gotta get over these mountains—" She crooked a claw at the Eyrie. "—and down to the southern end of the next valley! Gustavus met up with his forces there, and they're already engaging with the cadets!"

Purple light flared, and the bubble picked up speed, Gilda seeing now that Spike was riding between Twilight's wings and that the gray specks—Gilda stared, her breath catching in her throat—were a whole flock of peregranite falcons apparently following Fluttershy. "What about Gloriana?" Gilda heard Twilight call. "Is she—?"

"We got her!" Gilda wasn't anywhere near ready to explain everything that had happened, not with the kids in danger. "But now we really need to get to—!"

"Hang on!" Twilight's horn flared painfully bright, and the temperature around Gilda rose a few degrees, the air thicker, too, like she'd dropped a couple hundred feet.

A blink showed her the jagged teeth of Scaleback Ridge, and she almost crowed—right on target! But the not-so-distant shrieks of griffons focused her attention on the gray, gold, and brown streaks spinning and whirling around and against each other above Sawtooth Pass just ahead.

Derpy gasped beside her. "Gilda! They...they're all fighting!"

"Not all," she said, her mind quickly sorting through the scene. In fact—and Gilda sent a quick chirp of thanks to the Cat Mother and the Eagle Father—the vast majority of the griffons, all wearing the dark green vests of Northern Marches Garrison, were hovering at station behind the engagement. Those mixing it up were in the burgundy of Gustavus's troops and the dun of her own cadets. "Aedile!" Gilda yelled, taking off at full speed. "Get their attention!"

The screech he gave then roared past Gilda like a squall, a command every griffon who'd ever trained at a military base would know from sparring practice: 'Suspend!' The sky seemed to boil behind the shriek, and flying into its wake, Gilda couldn't stop a chill from rustling down her back at the thought of anyone other than Godfrey commanding that kind of power—especially when the shout plowed into the targeted griffons like a cannonball dropped into a lake and they splashed everywhere, bodies tumbling, wings wheeling, claws flailing.

'Regroup to Praetor!' she heard Gyre's unmistakably piercing voice cry out, and the cadets spun into a defensive line just below her. A quick glance—spots and smears of red here and there over the gold of their fur and the white of their feathers—showed her they were all accounted for and airborne, but she couldn't spare them more than that. Not with Gustavus's troops regrouping just as quickly under the Grand Imperator less than twenty yards away.

"There!" Gustavus was screaming, his shaking claws pointing in her general direction. "There's the traitor!"

The eyes of his entire troop focused on her, and when Gilda recognized the griffons in green flying slowly up behind Gustavus, her throat went even dryer: not just Gregory, the imperator of Northern Marches, but both Gerhilde and Garfunkle, his two praetors. Six of their aediles held position at the far end of the pass as well as six orderly ranks of soldiers, a quarter of the garrison just like Gimble had reported.

And here she'd really been hoping that the fledge had exaggerated or miscalculated...

She sensed more than saw the motion on both sides of her, Godfrey's steady and expected grayness moving into place on her right, a surprising but very welcome multi-colored mane and blue body sliding in on her left. "Go get him, G," Dash muttered. "We got'cher back."

"See?" Gustavus was still screaming. "What did I tell you? She's absolutely unfit, betraying everything we griffons stand for by consorting with ponies and monsters and—!"

"Monsters?" Gilda couldn't've kept from shouting even if she'd wanted to. And she definitely didn't want to. "The only monster I see here is you, Gustavus! Conspiring with Professor Gloriana to destroy Catlatl? There can't be anything more monstrous than that!"

It was a stab in the dark, Gilda knew, but the fear that flashed across Gustavus's face told her she'd hit truth. "What?" Gregory swooped in beside Gustavus, his praetors closely flanking him. "Praetor Gilda, that's an extremely serious charge to be leveling, and I—"

"Mining geodes, Imperator." Gilda fixed her gaze exclusively on him when she sketched her salute and had to fight against smiling when Gustavus's crest feathers sprang up at the slight of her so pointedly not saluting him. "Sixty of them planted throughout the city." She gestured over her shoulder without glancing back: if Dash said they were there, then they were there. "Princess Twilight Sparkle and her companions were able to locate, remove, and dispose of the items, but if they hadn't been around to help, the touchstone of our cultural heritage would now be nothing but dust and memory!"

Gustavus waved his talons. "Quite the enchanting tale, Praetor! But all we have is your word and the word of these foreigners that any of this took place!"

Gilda put as much disdain into her voice as she could manage. "I've got six empty crates that those explosives came in, sir! I didn't sign any requisition orders or bills of lading for the damn things, but they somehow ended up in my HQ!" She folded her arms across her chest and focused on Gustavus like he was prey. "Makes me wonder who might've had the contacts to procure magic items from pony territory and the ability to get them delivered way up here. And makes me wonder if he might've been stupid enough to put his name on the paperwork."

Gregory's gaze shifted to the Grand Imperator as well, and Gilda knew she'd scored a point: Gregory had been Imperator of Northern Marches for most of the past decade, after all, and Gilda was sure he'd seen more than his share of Gustavus's idiocy in that time.

"Enough of this!" Gustavus's neck feathers were puffing out like an oversized dandelion. "Imperator Gregory, I want this traitor arrested and a path cleared for me and my guard through this rabble and these ponies! At once, do you hear?"

Not a single griffon moved.

"Well??" Gustavus glared at Gregory, then at his two praetors, then finally at his own imperator, hovering below him with the fifty or so soldiers dressed in Aquileon burgundy. "Gilhooley! Arrest these traitors!"

Gilhooley, a muscle-bound sycophant that Gilda had never heard a good word about, just flapped in place, sweat dripping from nearly every part of him. "All of them, sir?" he asked, his voice cracking.

A cackling giggle pulled Gilda's attention up to Discord, floating above the whole scene with what looked like a bag of popcorn in his claws. "Yes, please, go right ahead!" He waved at the hundred and fifty griffons from Northern Marches. "And don't worry! I'm rooting for you!" He pulled several carrots and potatoes from the bag, then peered into it. "I might even have a parsnip in here if you prefer!"

Gilda could practically smell the smoke from Gilhooley's whirling brain, but at least it kept him stationary. Tamping down her desire to throttle her superior officer, Gilda let herself drift toward Gustavus and lowered her voice. "It's over, Gustavus." And while she still wasn't quite sure how the bits and pieces fit together, she had enough details to fake it. "We know what you and Gloriana were looking for in Catlatl, and we know that she double-crossed you this morning when she went after it by herself."

Gustavus's eyes grew wider and wider the closer Gilda got, Gregory and his praetors' brows wrinkling more and more. Gilda spread her front talons. "The thing is, see, Gloriana found it. Right exactly where old Glendora's manuscript said it would be."

"No." The word slipped from Gustavus's mouth so quietly, it almost got lost in the breeze gusting up the pass. "If she— Then I— Then you—" His eyes narrowed again, and his expression took on the same hard edge that Gilda had seen there when he'd been at his craziest earlier this morning. "You're lying! You must be! Because if that fool Gloriana had gotten to Glendora's magic, she would've unleashed it on your pony friends here first, then gone to destroy Canterlot!"

"Magic?" Gregory looked like he's been kicked in the stomach. "In Catlatl?"

"No!" Gustavus screamed the word this time. "It's a lie! She's insane, Imperator! Arrest her at once!"

Gilda shook her head and kept her attention focused on Gregory. "It's griffon magic, sir, really and truly." She shrugged. "We had to take it away from Professor Gloriana because, well, as the Grand Imperator said, the professor was getting ready to use that magic against our pony allies." And knowing that the future of, well, of just about everything hinged on what happened next, she raised her talons and motioned for Godfrey: he had advanced with her, of course, was hovering as always just to her right. "Aedile Godfrey took control of the magic, though, so—"

"What?" all four of the griffons in front of her shouted at the same time.

Gustavus, though, kept shouting. "It's mine, d'you hear? Mine!" He leaped toward Godfrey with his claws spread. "After all these years, no one deserves it but me!"

"Godfrey!" Gilda flared her wings to shoot forward, to intercept the larger griffon before he could injure her aedile, but—

The air just...just shivered somehow, a shimmer that sprang swirling to surround Gustavus. "Forgive me, sir," Godfrey's calm voice said beside her. "But the Uniform Code of Military Conduct forbids an officer from attacking a subordinate and further allows a threatened subordinate to take all reasonable defensive actions. And the slipperiness I've given to the air around you will, I think, render you effectively immobile." Gustavus was flailing away inside his shimmering bubble, fear radiating all sharp and sour from him, and Gilda didn't need to look at Godfrey to know his eyes were on fire: she could feel the warmth washing through her feathers.

She could see the shock on the faces of the others, too, Gerhilde and Garfunkle moving instantly into defensive positions to either side of their imperator. "Gregory," Gilda said, praying to the Cat Mother and the Eagle Father that she might find the words she needed, "please. This is Godfrey. You know him. You trained with him; Hells, he trained all of us in the right way to do what we do!"

Gregory might as well have been carved from granite, nothing but his wings moving. Gilda tried not to let the panic rising inside her color her voice. "And what is it that we Guardians do, Gregory? We wield power in service to others!" She waved at Godfrey, chanced a look at him, hovering perfectly in position despite the gold and crimson flames that played shining across his fur and feathers. "Yes, this is magic! But it's not the magic that destroyed Catlatl and nearly destroyed us all twelve centuries ago! This is the magic that could've saved the city if we'd had it! And, y'know, if the griffon who discovered it hadn't been bat scat insane."

She was getting off track; she shook her head quickly. "But it's griffon magic, Imperator, through and through. You can feel it; I know you can. And there's no griffon anywhere I'd trust with that magic more than Aedile Godfrey."

"Hooray!" Derpy's familiar voice rang out behind her.

Gilda couldn't keep from grinning, but the continued dry and wary scent wafting from Gregory's feathers made that grin pretty short-lived. The silence, though, that seemed to just go on and on, even Gustavus going still, his eyes shifting back and forth, up and down as if he was still trying to figure a way out of the situation. The wind whistled through the rocks of the pass, but this time, all Gilda could hear in it was the wind.

"Imperator Gilhooley?" Gregory said then, and the big oaf seemed to come awake, blinking and shivering out of his Discord-induced stupor. "These circumstances, I think, call for a formal inquiry. Do you agree?" And while the look Gregory gave the younger imperator wasn't aimed at Gilda, she still felt its weight like half a mountain's worth of avalanche.

Gilhooley swallowed so hard, Gilda could hear it. "Of...of course, Imperator Gregory! We must prove the, uhh, the traitor's guilt before we can punish her as she deserves."

Gregory's gaze didn't lighten in the slightest. "I'll ask you and your troops, then, to escort the Grand Imperator back to Northern Marches." He gave a 'ten-hut' whistle, and his two praetors snapped to attention. "Gerhilde? Take half our contingent to help guide our colleagues." His smile was all predator. "We wouldn't want them to lose their way, after all."

Gerhilde wheeled and squawked a series of orders that brought three of the green-coated aediles forward with a group of griffons not quite twice as large as the group of Aquileon soldiers. They moved into positions surrounding the smaller force, and only then did Gilda feel comfortable turning to Godfrey. "If you would, Aedile?"

"Praetor." The shimmering field around Grand Imperator Gustavus vanished, and for all that Gilda half-hoped he'd make a break for it and save everyone a lot of rigmarole, she was pretty sure he was too savvy a politician for that. And indeed, he merely nodded to Gregory, scowled at her, then drifted down to join Gilhooley and Gerhilde before the whole crowd of them started down the pass toward Northern Marches.

"Princess Twilight?" Gregory's voice brought Gilda's attention back. "I certainly have no authority over yourself or your companions, but your testimony would prove invaluable to the inquiry I'm about to begin into these events."

"Of course, Imperator," that perky voice rang out at once, and while Gilda had known how Twilight would answer, the clench in her gut still eased a little when she heard it. "We're happy to help our friend Gilda in any way we can."

Gregory bowed, then his gaze slid back to hers. "Praetor Gilda, Aedile Godfrey, I..." He trailed off, a mix of wonder and fear flashing across his face. "Damn," he whispered. "What in the thousand feline Hells have you two gotten us into?"

And for all that Gilda wanted to reassure him, tell him they had it under control and that everything would be just fine, when she opened her beak, she found that she couldn't quite make the words come out.

Beside her, though, a throat cleared. "Permission to speak freely, Praetor?" Godfrey asked.

Gratefully, she nodded, and Godfrey floated forward, flames still fanning from his wings. "Honestly, Greg?" he said quietly, spreading his front talons. "We don't know what this is yet." He flicked his claws, and the flames puffed away, left him looking exactly like the aedile she'd respected, trusted, and worked with these past three years. "This power, though, we know that it belongs to all griffons everywhere, and we know that we can't abandon it anymore than we can abandon the ruins of Catlatl." He cocked his head, that little not-quite-a-smile curling the corners of his beak. "I'm hoping that makes a bit of sense."

For an instant, nothing; then Gregory gave a snorting sort of laugh. "If it was anyone but you, Godfrey, I'd be laying eggs right now," he said.

And Gilda couldn't help it. "Yes!" she crowed, pumping a fist.

An 'as you were' chirp from Gregory made Gilda swallow her excitement and pull herself back to attention: this was totally gonna work, though! "First things first, Praetor," the imperator said. "We still need to escort you, your aedile, and your, ummm, non-griffon associates to Northern Marches for the inquiry, after all."

That sobered Gilda up quicker than anything else could've. "And the cadets?"

Gregory blinked. "I don't see that we'll be needing their testimony."

"Thank you, sir." She spun in place. "Gyre!"

"Praetor?" The cadet rose quickly out of the ranks below to hover in front of Gilda.

Looking from her to the other fledges, Gilda found her throat too tight to speak. She swallowed, though, and forced out, "As of this moment, you've all earned the highest possible honors, and I want you to know that, if I never see you again, it's been the greatest privilege of my life serving as your commander. That being said, I'm afraid this training exercise will continue until further notice." She brought her gaze back up to Gyre. "Return to the garrison and guard the city: you know how to do it, and you do it well. I'll try to get word to Gillian and Doc and Cookie and the professors and all, but till then—" She reached out and rested a talon on Gyre's shoulder. "Catlatl's in your claws, Praetor."

Gyre's eyes wavered, but the resolve in them glowed almost as brightly as Godfrey's magical fire. "We won't let you down, ma'am."

It took some effort for Gilda to turn away, and her vision went suddenly blurry as she heard Gyre shriek 'fall in!' A hundred wings flapped with the whoosh of a single pair, and Gilda gritted her teeth at the sound of her troops heading back to Catlatl without her. "Imperator?" she managed to say to Gregory. "We're all yours."

***

All this choking up was really starting to get old: Gilda swallowed, but she knew from sorry experience these past three weeks that it wouldn't help. Her voice was gonna crack no matter what she did.

Three weeks. How could it possibly have been the better part of a month since the last time she'd stood like this at the head table in the mess hall at Catlatl Garrison and looked out over a group of griffons all standing and looking back at her?

An all-too-familiar clearing of throat made her shoot a glance at Godfrey in his usual place against the wall, Gimble beside him looking as uncomfortable as ever. The glance also showed her the dignitaries standing at the table to her left: the two consuls themselves, Gabriella and Gilbert; Gyre, rapidly graduated and named Praetor of Catlatl Garrison, her new badge gleaming on her spotless vest; and five imperators including Gregory from Northern Marches and that foul parakeet Gilhooley, who'd somehow come through all this without a scratch even while his former boss Gustavus had gotten—

Another clearing of throat, Godfrey not just displaying that infernal smile of his but adding a cocked eyebrow to it. And as much as the sight made her want to pound the table and shout at him, Gilda instead focused on the consuls and gave them a nod. She then turned to her right and nodded to the pony delegation: Princess Twilight and her friends, of course, but also—and Gilda's heart kept threatening to seize right up and stop every time she saw the two of them standing tall and serene and scary as all the thousand feline Hells rolled together—Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.

Needless to say, the aediles had had to haul the big table out of storage for this particular dining-in...

Letting herself take one more breath, Gilda faced the two hundred griffons who'd somehow managed to cram themselves into the mess hall. "Please be seated," she said, and the words emerged clear and crackless despite everything, thank the Cat Mother and the Eagle Father.

Shuffling and scuffling, the whole crowd of them settled to their cushions, borrowed for the occasion from Northern Marches, and Gilda let her moving gaze rest briefly on Doc and Gillian and Professor Garibaldi at their tables, Cookie standing back by the kitchen door, all the cadets and the others who'd been here when Gustavus had stepped in that afternoon and started this whole thing careening down the hill that had led to—

She cleared her throat herself this time while sending a scowl in Godfrey's general direction. "Thank you," she said. She tapped her notes. "I was gonna start by quoting that old draconic proverb about the curse of living in interesting times." She nodded to Spike, seated beside Twilight at the far end of the table. "But you know? I'm really not feeling all that cursed right now." She looked at the consuls, the two of them smiling in a way too phony to be real but too real to be phony. "Honored is prob'bly the best word for it: honored by your trust in appointing me to this position."

Not that they'd had much choice. Two-and-a-half weeks ago in the Consulate's Great Hall with every senator and curial surrounding them, she'd given Glendora's manuscript to the consuls and had explained everything that had happened back in Catlatl. She'd asked Godfrey to demonstrate and had stood beside him while he'd called up fire and wind and a tiny little snowstorm. She'd then gaped at her aedile as he had calmly informed the assembly—after asking her permission to speak freely—that he would only exercise these new powers of his under Gilda's direct supervision.

Things had moved pretty quickly after that. The formal inquiry into Gustavus's actions had become a trial in the well of the Curia, and while he'd tried to blame everything on the still-comatose Professor Gloriana, by the end of last week, the Grand Imperator had been found guilty on fourteen counts including dereliction of duty and the physical intimidation of a subordinate. His appeals were denied, his resignation accepted, and less than twenty-four hours later, Gilda was raising her right foreclaws and swearing to serve, protect, and defend the Consulate as the new Grand Imperator of all griffondom.

"I'd even say doubly honored," she went on, shifting her attention to the five imperators. "I know my appointment's come under some unusual circumstances, but I'd like to thank the Imperators' Assembly for their overwhelming support."

That had also been Godfrey's doing: he knew them all, and they all knew him. "I've never served with a finer griffon than Praetor Gilda," he'd told the hastily-convened Assembly, Gilda choking up quietly beside him, and they'd voted sixteen to four to allow her simultaneous promotions to Imperator and Grand Imperator, something that had never happened before in the history of the griffon military.

"And while I've made some changes—" She glanced this time at Gyre. "—including the way I've inflicted myself and the entire Grand Imperator's staff on the Corps' newest praetor, I think this'll prove best for the situation we find ourselves in." Gilda's insistence on transferring the flag from those plush suites in downtown Aquileon to the drafty classrooms of Catlatl Garrison had caused a minor revolt among some of the career bureaucrats, in fact. But after she and Godfrey had given the demonstration of griffon magic to the whole office and had told them how they would be instrumental in exploring the way it worked, a surprising number had decided to stay on.

Those who'd still wanted to leave, she'd transferred to Gilhooley's staff, and she'd given him the office suites, too. Because yes, Gilhooley was a useless pile of cat meat, but he breathed politics and knew he owed everything he had entirely to Gilda's forbearance. She didn't trust him, sure, but she trusted that he would watch out for his own interests by watching out for hers in the capital.

"It'll be a challenge." Turning away from the griffon dignitaries, she gave what might've been her first actual smile of the proceedings so far to the various non-griffons seated on her right. "But this adventure we've embarked on here—not just us griffons but all of Equestria—it's gonna be one challenge after another. Fortunately, with the help of our friends and allies who have a little more experience with magic, these'll be challenges that we can meet and overcome."

On arriving at the garrison two days ago, the Royal Sisters had calmly assured Gilda that they held no grudge against the griffons for Glendora's actions twelve hundred years ago and that they would do everything in their power to help. Which was great, but Twilight had so far proven to be a little more enthusiastic than Gilda liked. Several times, in fact, Gilda had found herself physically pushing the youngest princess of Equestria back down the hallway to the guest rooms just so Godfrey could get a break from her.

"But Gilda!" Twilight had said this morning when Gilda had escorted her once again to the ponies' quarters. "This magic of yours! It's—" She'd brought her front hoofs up, and Gilda had seen that they were actually shaking. "Incredible! Like nothing I've ever even imagined! Just the way it deals with the variable nature of tau particle creation and destruction makes me want to rethink the whole structure of—"

"Twilight?" Gilda had wrapped her claws gently but firmly around the princess's muzzle. "Right now, we're trying to figure out how to tell time, not how to build a clock."

That had gotten a laugh from the other ponies in the guest room, and Twilight had blushed all the way out to the tips of her ears. "Baby steps, Twilight," Fluttershy had said, putting a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Baby steps."

Gilda became aware of the silence around her in the mess hall and realized that she'd stopped talking. She glanced down at her notes, but, well, she'd kind of been ignoring them so far and couldn't really remember what she'd just been saying. "So." She looked back out at the assembled griffons, those she knew and those she was just getting to know. "We're ready for this is the thing. Yes, we messed it up before, both ponies and griffons." She nodded to the windows overlooking the ruins of Catlatl covered with evening's shadows in the valley below. "But ponies learned from that mistake, turned away from the coldness that almost destroyed them and us, and became better because of it. Now it's our turn to see if we can do the same."

Which was when the throat-tightening she'd been expecting since she'd started speaking finally caught her. She reached a suddenly shaking set of talons for her water glass and almost dropped it when applause burst out all around: claws clattering together, squawks of approval, hoofs stomping the stone floor.

Maybe the speech was over, then.

***

The dinner afterwards buzzed by in a blur, and Gilda only remembered small scenes from the reception following that: Doc and Princess Luna engaged in what seemed to be a fairly heated discussion in a corner of the Officers' Club, though she saw them smiling during it, too; the members of her new staff clustered around the architect's model of the Grand Imperator's HQ which crews were already building down the east side of the peak from the garrison; Princess Celestia chatting amiably with the consuls, all three of them looking like they took part in violating unspoken cultural taboos every day.

Godfrey strayed from her side exactly once the whole time, asking for permission to be excused before disappearing into the crowd. Not long afterwards, though, while refilling her glass of punch, she caught sight of him talking with Discord of all people out on the balcony that ran along the northern side of the club. The odd creature laughed at something Godfrey said, slapped his lion paw against her aedile's shoulder, and exploded into a storm of confetti that quickly whisked itself away into the night sky.

Shaking his head with that smile on his beak, Godfrey padded back inside and headed straight for her. Gilda filled another glass of the red, fizzy, pineapple-flavored whatever-it-was and held it out to him. "Let me guess. He wants to call you 'Papa' from now on."

"Please, Imperator." He took the glass. "I'll ask you not to give him any ideas." With a sip, he shook his head. "He merely wanted my reassurance that I wouldn't be calling any more creatures like him into existence. I told him I had no plans to, and that seems to have been the correct answer."

Then another group of well-wishers was approaching, and the evening swirled on. Fortunately, the consuls left early along with the imperators and their escorts—Catlatl simply didn't have the room yet for such large delegations to stay overnight, and it was a few hours to Northern Marches. But with the big harvest moon shining brightly over the peaks, even the consuls' smiles seemed to become genuine, old Gilbert shaking his head and saying, "Haven't been for a moonlight flight since my courting days."

Gyre and Gimble, the other aediles, Doc and the professors, the ponies, they all started trickling away not long after, but Gilda found she didn't want to leave. Someone had opened all the balcony doors at some point, and the night washing in smelled warm and alive, Gilda's feathers tingling. She was about to charge down the hallway, roust out Rainbow Dash, and challenge her to a little moonlight flying of their own through the cadets' obstacle course when Godfrey's discreet throat clearing pulled her attention away from the gorgeous night outside.

Her mind froze, her eyes trying to tell her that both night and day were gleaming right there in the room with her. Several blinks later, she managed to see Princess Luna, her smile as slight and mysterious as the newest of new moons, and Princess Celestia, standing beside her sister in what seemed to be her very own puddle of sunshine. "Forgive us, Grand Imperator," Princess Luna said, "but two old and very dear friends of ours wished to unencumber themselves from their accustomed obscurity and deliver their heartfelt congratulations to you and your aedile."

Princess Celestia's face beamed, and she gestured with her wings toward the balcony. Blinking some more, Gilda turned again to the open doors, and—

Two figures melted out of the night and the moonlight: a curl of pure and perfect feline darkness and a silver-white and golden flex of aquiline wings, eyes simultaneously piercing and smiling appearing to focus on her.

Gilda didn't dare breathe. "Cat Mother," she whispered. "Eagle Father."

All her knees folded her into a bow, Godfrey to her right doing the same, and the feline darkness gave a snort. "None of that, now."

The aquiline brightness seemed somehow to be smirking. "Why d'you think we left the mortal world behind, hmmm? All this groveling and scraping: don't see how Sunny and Starry can stand it, truth be told."

"We manage, Uncle," Princess Celestia said with a laugh from somewhere behind Gilda.

The Cat Mother waved a paw. "And you manage it splendidly, Nieces, the both of you." Her attention shifted and seemed to grab Gilda by the scruff of her neck. "As for the both of you," that impossibly rich voice said, flowing over Gilda so deeply, she thought she must be hearing it with her entire body. "Father and I have offered this gift to our children before and have been very disappointed in how it's been used."

"Steady, now, Mother." The Eagle Father's light shone bright but gentle. "Third time's the charm they say, and, well, I find myself liking the way these two carry their wings."

"We'll see." Her tail snaked around to tap Gilda on the beak. "You will keep directing your catty little comments our way, won't you, dear? We quite enjoy them."

Not sure if she was supposed to reply, Gilda found herself saying, "I'll do my best, ma'am."

But the figures were already going foggy, the voices going distant. "We know you will." She heard the Eagle Father like the echo of a whisper wavering through her thoughts. "Take care of each other, and all will be well." The whisper suddenly rose to a full-throated screech. "Lovely to see you again, Nieces! Keep up the good work!" And as quickly as that, the night was just the night and the moonlight was just the moonlight again.

"Imperator?" Godfrey rumbled in her ear, and when she shook herself, blinked, and managed to focus on him, she saw that he was holding out a cup of punch. She took it with a nod, not quite able to speak, and drained it to the last drop.

A sigh drew her attention to Princess Luna, her dark eyes fixed on the balcony doors. "We must invite them to visit more often, sister," she said.

Beside her, Princess Celestia gave a nod, then she smiled at Gilda. "I just wanted to say again, Imperator, that should you or your aedile ever find yourselves with questions, please get in contact with us."

"Anytime," Princess Luna added, "of the day or night."

The two Royal Sisters bowed their heads and left the room, Gilda staring after them till the swirling shadows they cast disappeared down the hallway.

Feeling suddenly very tired, Gilda turned to Godfrey—

And heard a ragged melody being hummed somewhere nearby. Looking past him at the rest of the empty ballroom, she saw that it wasn't quite as empty as she'd thought: Derpy was sitting slumped against the side of the punch table, her eyes curled shut, her head bobbing more-or-less in time to the tune jittering out of her throat.

Warmth tickled Gilda's chest, and she padded over to the pegasus. "Derpy? Ev'ryone's going to bed."

"I'm not." Derpy's head kept bobbing. "I'm practicing."

For an instant, Gilda flashed back to that morning not quite a month ago when she'd stood beside Godfrey in the middle of ancient Catlatl and tried to figure out where this odd little pony had come from. The only difference being, she thought with a grin, that now she would call her friend 'wonderfully odd' instead of just 'odd.' "Practicing what, Derpy?"

Those lop-sided eyes rolled open. "The song I'm gonna sing at you and Mr. Godfrey's wedding," she said.

Gilda's ears pricked, waiting for the immediate snort from Godfrey, but it didn’t come. Glancing over, she saw him smiling that not-quite-a-smile, his gaze fixed entirely on Derpy. "Indeed?" he asked. "And why do you think the Imperator and I will be getting married?"

Derpy's brow wrinkled. "Well, because!" She waved her hoofs. "That way, see, you can come to Ponyville on your honeymoon and meet Dinky!" Her whole face seemed to curve with her smile. "I've been telling my little muffin all about you, and she's already drawn three pictures of you both for me to hang on the refrigerator!" Her wings puffed out, began buzzing, and flapped her into the air. "So, y'see, you've got to get married."

Her feathers feeling suddenly too warm around her, Gilda said, "Good night, Derpy."

Another big smile, and Derpy swooped toward the door.

Silence settled over the room like a blanket on a cool night, then Godfrey said, "May I escort you to your quarters, Imperator?"

Gilda couldn't help grinning. "And nothing else, Aedile?"

He shrugged ever so slightly, his beak showing her a full-fledged smile. "I'm yours to command."

That got a laugh out of her, and she turned for the door. "How 'bout we stick to one massive, world-shattering paradigm shift at a time, Godfrey?"

"As you wish, Imperator."

Comments ( 42 )

And they all:

Live happily ever after!

Mike

This is a great story. Good characterization, plausible and fascinating worldbuilding, Discord can't simply snap away the plot, and above all its a glimpse into the non-pony characters that is sadly lacking from most pony fiction.

Hey! No fair laying down a sequel hook with no sequel in sight!

And I am ashamed of Discord. He forgot to bring popcorn to the fight.

Augie, this is beautiful. Please tell me you'll file off the serials and publish this. People who have yet to understand how amazing ponies can be need to see this.

Man. Now I wonder what other nations out there have magic that's just waiting to wake up.

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He brought Parsnips!

5206814
Well, everyone except Gustavus; I imagine he'd have to settle for 'grumpily ever after'.

5206814
oh, we know that never happens!

Still, an amazingly wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it with us all.

There is something the Eagle Father said though... third time's the charm? Either I missed something from before, or that is a delightful little morsel of sequel bait right there.

But, again, wonderful read! Until next time.

Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful story. The fact that their goods are real was a nice touch. I can't gush enough. One of my top 10 stories now.

Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful story. The fact that their goods are real was a nice touch. I can't gush enough. One of my top 10 stories now.

Well, this is an interesting beginning of a saga. It's sort of fitting that the pony who started it was there at the coda.

That was well and truly fantastic, from start to finish. This story is the best thing I've read in months, and at the rate I get through books that's saying something. Great job, Augie, and I look forward to your future stories, whatever they may be.

I hope you don't mind my saying: for much of this chapter, I found myself thinking that Godfrey struck me as in many ways resembling Jeeves, though under a very different employer (and more straightforward). That, of course, could only be a good thing, however strange it feels coming from something so much less comedic.

You know you've done a good job when your deities show up at your victory party.

That sequel hook though, now I really want to see that.

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And Gloriana, too:

Now that I think about it. She'll likely to be really mad about all this if she ever returns to consciousness...

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Thanks!

This was heavily influenced by me being a judge in the "Outsider Insight" contest over the summer. And when I got the word "foreigner" as my prompt for the EqD Pre-Reader Battle, the rest just flowed naturally.

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A sequel?

I didn't mean to put any particular "sequel bait" in here, but, yeah, this is definitely "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" if I might quote one of the best closing lines to any movie ever. I don't like forcing sequels, but if another adventure for Gilda and Godfrey springs to mind, I'll certainly be happy to write it up.

5211933

Most definitely Jeeves, though Godfrey actually gets his name and a lot of his personality from the character played by William Powell in the fine, fine old film "My Man Godfrey."

Mike

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Because everypony:

Loves a good parsnip. Unfortunately, of course, there aren't any good parsnips... :twilightoops:

Mike

Excellent!
Great world building and I loved the Gryphon military structure and tradition you created.
Great character development of the Gryphon cast and use of the pony characters.
The appearance of Cat Mother and Eagle Father was an extra special treat!

Godfrey is a really good accidental choice for being the first non-crazy magical gryphon. I'm not completely certain what the aedile rank represents, but I'm getting the impression it's a NCO rank, and one that is high enough that anyone in it would be familiar to a fair percentage of the top brass of the gryphon military. And Godfrey in particular is not just familiar, but is also respected and admired.

She sensed more than saw the motion on both sides of her, Godfrey's steady and expected grayness moving into place on her right, a surprising but very welcome multi-colored mane and blue body sliding in on her left. "Go get him, G," Dash muttered. "We got'cher back."

:rainbowdetermined2:

Man, Gustavus sure convicted himself here. If he had kept his cool and been properly slippery and spinny he might have been able to get out of it, or at least been able avoid the public near-arrest.

Interesting structure for the gryphon nation. Based on the Roman Republic, I'm assuming?

Wow, Gilda's star is quite thoroughly ascendant. She's probably a bit overly young for her new position, but I imagine Godfrey will help her grow into it properly.

Gilda's insistence on transferring the flag from those plush suites in downtown Aquileon to the drafty classrooms of Catlatl Garrison had caused a minor revolt among some of the career bureaucrats, in fact.

With that particular change, I have to wonder how many decades it'll be before the Ruins of Catlatl turn into the repopulated City of Catlatl.

Gotta love Twilight.

Holy crap, it's the Cat Mother and the Eagle Father in the incarnate flesh. :rainbowderp:
And they're Celestia and Luna's aunt and uncle? Neat.

Those lop-sided eyes rolled open. "The song I'm gonna sing at you and Mr. Godfrey's wedding," she said.

Heh, Derpy ships just like the fandom does. Aggressively.

That was a lot of fun Augie. Great story, and such interesting world building with the gryphons.

Dat ending...

Have you ever read the short-story The Road Not Taken by Harry Turtledove? It deals with an identical similar somewhat tangentially related issue.

The story is about an alien invasion of Earth. The aliens have achieved interstellar travel through reactionless gravity manipulation and things look very bleak for Earth as the alien troops deploy from their dropships—right up until the aliens form battle lines and attack Terran soldiers with flintlock pistols and muskets.

The kicker to the story is that the gravity based reactionless technology is surprisingly easy to create, once you know how. If you have the capacity to smelt bronze and create an airtight vessel, then you can achieve interstellar travel. The downside is that it causes all further technological development to stagnate and halt. As a result, the average level of galactic development is actually middle bronze age. The aliens invading earth were, up until that point, the most advanced civilization in the Milky Way, having discovered gunpowder before stumbling upon the gravity technology.

I cannot help but see some parallels between humans in that story and the griffons here. Griffons had to adapt, and grow, and strengthen in order to live and thrive in the face of a severe handicap. Now griffons are given access to magic on par with Equestrians' plus whatever technological development and strengthening arose to overcome their magicless handicap. Once griffons learn how to fully utilize their magic, how long will they equal allies with ponies?

Sure Godfrey is the only one with magic now, but what happens when it has filtered down to all the hoi polloi? There are bound to be a few more nationalistic bad eggs out there with a hatred of "inferior" ponies and a willingness to follow in Gustavus' paw prints. With the combination of the newly rediscovered griffon magic along with centuries of strengthening from living without magic, Gustavus' dream of attacking and conquering Equestria may yet be realised...

(Of course I may just be talking complete bollocks out of my arse...)

5214039

Heh, Derpy ships just like the fandom does. Aggressively.

Ship it! Ship it like Maersk!

5213829 Well, there's two potential sequels that come to mind. One is Gilda and Godfrey and their romantic escapades.

The other being Godfrey learning to work the magic for something other than summoning annoying anthropomorphic personifications of existential concepts. Possibly taking on students, including the one who inevitably turns on him and has to be destroyed. Or he ends up fighting to get Twilight to leave him alone, so he can research it on his own. Of course, having Gustavus be behind whatever trouble he encounters is entertaining as well.

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Thanks, folks!

I was going to try to mix some Aztec and Incan bits in with the Roman stuff for the griffons, but that ended up not happening. And, yeah, Gustavus is fairly blunt as a villain. For any possible sequel, we'd need someone a bit smoother to give Gilda and Godfrey more of a challenge. :twilightsmile:

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Harry Turtledove's stuff is usually great fun to read. As for the future of griffon/pony relations, well, we'll just hafta rely on the magic of friendship to see us through, I reckon. :scootangel:

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Another possible jumping-off point: we never did learn what happened to Gloriana's book after Godfrey took it and leaped into Spite's column of magic. :trixieshiftright:

Mike

I don't want to be the guy in the Youtube comments that says your frags aren't good because the other team is just bad, but this chapter would have been hella tense if Gustavus wasn't completely incompetent. Imagine if the evil Grand Imperator was someone who'd actually earned the position. Give 'em enough points in Speechcraft, they might have convinced me.

Actually, make that the last chapter as well. If Gloriana hadn't been woefully underpowered, Godfrey's sneak attack would have been a lot more impressive.

That's really the only nitpick I have at this point. There were a few instances of questionable wording, but I can't remember them, so they must not have been that bad. 10/10, would read again.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Discord being petulant over eggplant is fantastic. :D Ah, this was a trip, well done!

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Thanks, folks!

I could've done more with Gustavus, I'll grant you that. Mostly, though, I really wanted to paint him as a very particular sort of coward to play off the contrasts between him and Gilda. Still, I'm glad folks enjoyed it!

Mike

5213829 Well, at the very least this Godfrey's Carole Lombard love-interest has a straighter head on her shoulders. (I damn near had kittens when you mentioned My Man Godfrey. I love that movie.)

Even if I weren't biased by being madly obsessed with Gilda and all manner of pro-Gilda character development that promotes her from lousy one-shot bully to fully fleshed out character with her own complications; even if I weren't a huge fan of griffon world building, this is a damn great story. I loved every minute of it. And then you go out on a the best of Princess Bride references? Forget it, just take my money.

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As soon as I decided:

That all the griffons would have names beginning with "G," I knew exactly what Gilda's partner's name was gonna be. There was absolutely no other option. :pinkiehappy:

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Thanks!

I had never considered writing about Gilda before, I hafta admit. But when I got the word "foreigner" as my prompt during this summer's Equestria Daily Pre-Reader story exchange, I thought to myself, "What two characters in the series would be the most foreign to each other?" And I then answered myself, "Why Gilda and Derpy, of course." And everything just built from there! :eeyup:

Mike

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I know what you mean. a year and a half ago, I didn't even really think about Gilda. She was just another one shot character, like Cranky or Iron Will. Then, during the great Five Score explosion, I wanted to get in on the action and write a story in that universe, but most of the major characters were taken. So I looked at who was left, and saw Gilda was open. I figured, what the hell, that could be an interesting story. And 100k words later (god, I haven't updated since May, I need to get off my ass and finish), I'm madly in love with that fucking catbird, and griffons in general. I was really fascinated to see how your interpretation of griffon culture differed from my own. (yours is a little more developed, and the history is obviously not the same, but overall they're not too terribly different. Plus, a tendency to give them G names. I didn't do all of them, but a lot. For example, Gilda's siblings are Grizelda, Gilda, Brynhilda, Glenda, Galia, Aquila, Gwendolyn, Gracia, Gia, Gisilbert, Gerald, and Quetzal.) So my hat is off you you sir. I'm overjoyed to see where you took the character. Take a mugshot for the road: fc00.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2014/079/9/f/jail_bird_by_drahkenkahn-d7aw7rm.png

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Thanks again:

And, y'know, if you were serious about that "just take my money" line, I do have a selection of non-pony novels and short stories for sale over at Amazon... :scootangel:

Mike

Fan-effing-tastic! :pinkiegasp: That was just awesome, through and through. Loved Cat Mother and Eagle Father, loved the interactions between Godfrey and Gilda, loved Derpy, loved the whole freaking STORY! (Discord too! Can't forget about him!) What a blast! Really, absolutely wonderful, thank you for writing this.

Please keep writing, I'll keep reading!

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Thank you:

For reading it!

Mike

Pretty good story. Although I have to say I enjoyed the build up more than the end. The griffin magic angle was interesting but it felt like it came too quickly, and the dr deciding to try and summon another discord or something seemed a bit strange.

over all this is a good story you have hear but I'm not shore that some chapters just need some work to help it all to go in the timing flow of it. becomes some were on the run up to the climax the story seem to stall in is flow a part from that I give this :heart::heart::heart::fluttercry:

An utter delight to read, from beak to tail. Capturing magic is not a hobby for the faint-hearted.

You got all the voices spot-on, and were the Griffonstone episode not canon, I could believe this a candidate for the MLP film. Heck, if the reporting is accurate, I would support you trying out for writing episodes of Guardians of Harmony!

Thank you for bringing back a sense of wonder.

This was a really great story, I'm really glad I read it. The long chapters were in-depth, and the world building was spot-on. Catlatl reminded me of the ruined cities in Shadow Of The Colossus. Thanks for writing :twilightsmile:

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Thanks for reading:

Originally, I was going to do more Incan, Aztec, and Mayan stuff with the griffons, so Catlatl was inspired by Chichen Itza and all those ancient Central and South American cities. But then the griffons ended up being more ancient Roman than anything else... :twilightsheepish:

Mike

7986175 Or it's just a really crappily-built wall.

Have to ever SEEN some of the QUALITY ancient stonework? Machu-pichu? You can't just knock that down.

I just finished reading the story in one sitting and was thinking to myself: "Man, I really hope the author is still active."
And you are. So, hooray, you're still here and thank you for writing this.

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Glad you:

Enjoyed it. But, yeah, I'm still writing here as well as under the name of Baal Bunny.

Mike

Lovely story. I especially appreciate the Princess Bribe closing.

That was fun. And d'awwww~

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