• Published 22nd Apr 2012
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Into the world of Hooves and Hands, Through a Humans Eyes - paladinwolf



A series of stories about a human adventuring in Equestria through no fault of his own

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Through a Humans Eyes

Into the World of Hooves and Hands



Through a Humans Eyes...



~~~~ Justin

“Where the hell am I?” Or something along those lines were the first coherent words out of my mouth.

A glance at my surroundings told me I was far from home. The lush forest I was currently laying in was unlike any I had ever encountered before. That says a lot with the numerous places I have been! Deciduous rainforest stretched as far as I could see. The smell of loam permeated each breath of air. It smelled so clean and refreshing! A small amount of steam could be seen, and felt, rising from the ground. Probably due to the temperature, which was a tad too warm for my liking, and some recent precipitation. Everything was so green! At about that point, the realization that I was laying prone in a forest sank in. Not that I had any problems with laying down in the woods but I should probably try to figure out where I was. How I got there would be nice too!

Getting to my feet with a grunt, I took stock of my situation while wondering again where in blazes I was. While dusting myself off I paid more attention to my surroundings. It was hauntingly beautiful but quiet. To break the strange silence I found myself in, I spoke out loud. The deep baritone of my own voice reassured myself a little. “This is definitely one of my more pleasant dreams.” One hand removed my stetson the other rubbed my forehead. Several deep breaths calmed my nerves and prevented me from panicking. Last thing I would allow myself would be to panic, especially in a dream! I had been in stranger places. A lot of them less friendly ones too. “Not as vivid as this though!” I said with a chuckle while remembering bits and pieces of a recent one. That was a strange dream to be sure.

Wisps of memory floated fleetingly through my jumbled mind. Something about some odd version of Ponyville, hugging a princess, the name Eclipse, and Fluttershy... That last thought brought on a smile. I wondered if she was as charming and engaging as I remembered, until I realized I was comparing a figment of my imagination to a cartoon character. Like always, it seemed so real. Just as quickly as the thoughts came, they vanished.

A depressed sigh escaped my lips. “One of these days the doctors will stop sedating me with anesthetics that cause me to trip like this!” Replacing my stetson, “Least this is a nice dream too. From what little I remember, the last one was too. Who knows,” I said with a smile, “Maybe this time I'll remember the dream. Maybe have an exciting adventure!” My smile turned upside-down as I thought, “I don't remember any new surgeries... Last ones were a few months ago when they burned the nerves out of my neck...” Perspiration and heat distracted that unpleasant series of thoughts.

When I went to remove my leather jacket to escape the heat, I noticed that I had some type of modified satchel and a canteen crossed over my shoulders. Needless to say, I had to remove them first. “Funny, I don't usually carry supplies in my dreams,” As I set the equipment down to finish removing the coat. “Normally I just think up whatever I need at the time. Maybe this is going to be one of those 'more realistic' dreams.” I said with a chuckle, “May as well play along and enjoy it!”

I had to empty the main pockets of the coat to finish tying it around my waist. The lock-blade knife went into my jeans pocket with a, “Always seem to have pappy’s old knife no matter what dream I'm in.” The half pack of cigarettes and lighter made me wonder. I never smoked in my dreams, especially since I was trying to quit. I secured the smokes in one of the inside pockets of the coat and placed the lighter in the other pants pocket. “Maybe I will need the lighter and it just came as part of the whole? I mean, I don't feel any need to smoke.”

After making myself as comfortable as I could in the almost oppressive heat, I turned my attention to the mysterious canteen and satchel. The canteen was exactly what it appeared to be and full of fresh water. That I crossed over my left shoulder. I turned my attention to the bag.

It was far more curious. It looked as if someone had cut a saddlebag in half then stitched a long harness from what was left. Whoever made it must have put some thought into it too. Not only did it have a shoulder strap but also had a couple of loops along the back of the pouch that looked like it was made to secure around my belt with snaps. The bag portion would run from my hip almost down to my knee. I even noticed a lower strap that was intended to secure it to my thigh, likely so that I could run without the satchel impeding my movement. The front of the pouch lid caught my eye. There seemed to be some type of embossing. A large personalized letter 'J' surrounded by calligraphic lines and whorls. Truth be told, it was far nicer than anything I would normally carry. I wondered why, and how, I had dreamed it up!

“Ah well, enough wondering why. Lets see what my subconscious thinks I will need!” Without further hesitation I opened it. I hadn't figured that the blasted thing would be compartmentalized! How in the world so much stuff could be packed into something that was smaller than a backpack I could barely fathom. “Good goddess! What are you? A bag of holding or something?” A small rolled up piece of paper fell out as I boggled. Thank goodness there wasn't a strong wind or I would have lost it.

Opening the paper, I barely managed to decipher the chicken-scratch handwriting. 'Welcome to option 3, Justin. One first class transport and a leg-up, just like I promised! Have fun ~ E.' What in the hell was that supposed to mean? Was my subconscious sending me notes in my dreams now? I vaguely remembered a voice. Something similar to what was written in the note. It hurt my head to think about it.

“Riiiight, enough wondering too much about it.” I said this while securing the satchel-thing correctly. The strap and belt combo felt like a baldric. The leg strap helped distribute the weight so well I barely noticed it at all. Boots were tight. Jacket was secure. The note was placed into my wallet for safekeeping. Nothing left behind. I chose to set off in the direction of the setting sun. I suppose I could have used the compass in the satchel but figured one direction was as good any. Why bother to figure out what direction it was if I had nothing to compare it with? Except maybe that rock formation over yonder. That looked promising!

Stopping to look back at the sun I stated, “Damn the torpedoes!” Chuckling as I continued walking I began to sing, “East bound and down, loaded up and walking. I'm gonna do what they say can't be done. I've got a long way to go and a short time to get there...”

Oh, how little I knew...






~~~ Daring


This just hadn't been a good day! First, I got caught in that sudden storm. Then that trap hurt my leg and my wing... again! Somepony beat me to the treasure! To add insult to injury, the locals captured me! They think I robbed their temple! Not like I wouldn't have 'liberated' an artifact or two given the chance... A chance I was trying to take too. Only it had already been liberated!

I kept up the mental monolog while being carried by the pygmy diamond dogs. Well, carried was one way of putting it. I had been tied to a pole and four pygmies were struggling to carry the pole. I was pretty sure they were taking me home to meet the family. Probably have a feast in my honor. One that I wasn't particularly interested in attending! These ignorant natives didn't even realize I didn't have their artifact! At least escape would be an easy task once they got me back to their village. I was nothing if not resourceful and these guys were totally inept! I just had to wait for an opportunity.

I could hear them yelling ahead in their high pitched barks and yips. 'Figures,' I thought to myself, 'they don't have the decency to speak a real language.' What little I was able to piece together from words and phrases that I could make out was something to the degree of, 'catch thief', 'no find shiny', and 'big monster'.

The last bit had me more than a little worried. Compared to a 'normal' diamond dog, these guys were absolutely tiny and pathetic, heck I was almost twice their size! Under normal circumstances they wouldn't ever have caught me, but being half buried by a collapsing wall changed things. I couldn't count the number of times my back hit the ground while they had been 'carrying' me toward the village. I was pretty sure they weren't referring to me when I heard them refer to a big monster.

'There's a real monster out there, and I'm defenseless here!' I would have yelled out in frustration, if only the pygmies hadn't threatened to muzzle me. 'If they don't eat me, whatever the Monster is will!' I wasn't normally a panicky pony by nature, but today had been one of the worst in my life. Being injured, humiliated, and captured by natives that normally couldn't catch a cold by themselves all added together to make me one giant bundle of nerves! 'Wait! I just might be able to use this! Wait till the little guys are spooked, and I can make a break for it!' Inwardly I smiled. 'I bet there isn't any monster! Probably just a regular animal! These guys are just freaked out! I bet they jump at their own shadows!' My eyes and ears moved constantly. Every noise and sudden movement were taken in. Waiting and watching took patience, and that was the hardest part for me. I was a mare of action! Planning wasn't my strong point and neither was patience.

'Just a little farther. I can see the crude huts surrounded by a wall of sticks! Once there they will have to put me down to...' I gulped a bit, '...build a fire... or something... Still! That should be all I need to escape! I already have one hoof almost free. Won't take much to get the others loose too.' I judged that, by the number of huts and general size of the village, there couldn't be more than twenty or so of these little guys. Even without my wings and with a twisted leg I knew I could outrun them. 'All I have to do is wait till they are occupied and bang! I am out of this dump!'

She was so preoccupied with her escape plans, she missed the cold and alien eyes watching from a nearby treeline.




~~~ Justin


'Oh this gets better and better!' I sub-vocalized to myself while absently rubbing the silver and gold pendant I found earlier.

'Mini dogs that walk on two legs carrying a pony that wears cloths.' I stroked my goatee in thought, 'Strike that, it's a pegasus of sorts. That's what it's called when a horse has wings. At least I think so. Maybe it's a pony-sus or some such thing.' I squinted a little, 'How in the world is that pith hat staying on it's head?'

Shadowing the small group was almost too easy. 'They must be half blind in the sunlight, or something! I know I am good at moving silently, but didn't think I was that good!' Thinking about it, 'Besides, you would think canines would have smelled me by now.' All I could do was shrug.

I started following the group ever since I heard the high pitched yipping, that had oddly sounded like words that I just couldn't grasp. Every time they would bark, growl, and yip at each other I swore I could understand a word here and there! If I was correct, and likely I wasn't, they thought the pony-pegasus-thing they were carrying stole something from them. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why they hadn't just checked it for whatever they had lost. Then again, who knows what was considered normal for these folks. I mean, they were talking dogs!

I was pondering whether I should intervene or not. There was the possibility that it was a criminal or something. As long as they didn't plan to eat it, I would just watch and learn. The longer I watched the progression, which was pathetic, the more I felt there was something familiar about the pega-pony-sus... (I'm just gonna call it a pegasus until I know different!) How I could find anything familiar about a creature I had never laid eyes on before, and in my dreams to boot, I had no idea! This place just kept getting weirder and weirder!

I was starting to get bored watching these micro pups try to carry the pegasus. They were small enough for me to shot-put, looking to weigh maybe twenty to thirty pounds a piece at most. Even though they had four working together to carry the pegasus, I didn't think they would make it to the village before sundown. I could easily see it too. Less than half a mile away. A collection of ramshackle huts that looked like they would collapse if I sneezed too close to them. I had to stifle a chuckle when I thought about going down and helping them carry their burden just so I could see what was going to happen next!

I spent the better part of the next hour whittling a large stick I found earlier into some semblance of a walking stick. I was pretty much done by the time the pups got to the village. Their actions were very interesting. With all the pantomiming and yip-barking to each other, I was able to piece together roughly what they were saying. By the looks of things, they were planning a barbecue.

Now while I am generally not one to turn down a good barbecue, when the pegasus started to protest vocally and with the eloquence of a New York cab driver, I decided it was time to intervene. Besides, at least I knew I would be able to communicate with it. 'Her', I corrected my thoughts. Only females reached that pitch or ever used those kind of slurs and cusses. I would have to ask where she learned them, they were extremely creative too! Maybe I could get her to teach me a few new ones... after I rescued her of course.

“Hmmm, now how the hell am I gonna get her out?” I muttered to myself. I was almost inside the village and still no one had noticed me. It seems that is always when the bad things happen. That is when the pegasus bit the important looking dog creature. That is when several of them started beating the snot out of the pegasus. That is when I was forced into action...




~~~ Daring


'Mental note,' I thought through the haze of pain, 'do not bite the chief. Even if it seems like a good idea at the time!' All I could do was curl up into the fetal position and use my hooves to shield my bruised face as best as I could. The blows landed again and again. Each one was a new world of pain and suffering.

As I was loosing consciousness, I could have sworn I heard a deep and sonorous voice yell out, “Hey you! Ya you, ugly! Cut that shit out!” The panicked wailing of the pygmies would have been funny if I could open my eyes.

By sheer force of will alone I managed to crack my good eye open and look up just in time to witness a flying pygmy. 'I didn't know diamond dogs could fly.' I thought deliriously. 'Or make a sound that resembled a watermelon being dropped onto concrete...or, oh sweet Celestia, I hope that shattering sound wasn't my head...'

My last thoughts before darkness were strange. Something about floating and being warm...




~~~ Justin


“Thank goodness the rest ran off!” I stated to no one in particular. “Hope I didn't kill the one I punted across the village.” I shook my head in bewilderment, “Who woulda thought it would try to bite me? I mean jeez, I know they look like dogs and all but... ah whatever.”

I rushed to the fallen pegasus. I was no doctor, but I didn't have to be one to know this was bad. The one wing was definitely broken. So was the front leg. Limbs simply shouldn't bend like that, even in non-humans. Then there was the blood. I decided to stop the bleeding first then I would worry about setting bones. I thanked whatever god or goddess was listening that her breathing seemed steady while I worked.

By the time I had bandaged her open wounds and splinted the wing and leg, there wasn't enough scraps of my shirt left to bother putting back on. Fortunately, aside from some moaning, she stayed unconscious the whole time. I'm not sure if I could have set the bones if she was screaming the whole time. I double checked my handiwork and realized it was the best I would be able to do.

“Not bad for a few courses in first aid.” I muttered. “Now,” I pondered, “how am I going to carry you without aggravating those wounds? I'm sure you would rather leave with me than stay here, right?” I nodded for her, “Right then! Don't you worry, I'll figure something out.”

And figure something out I did, though I am sure the dog things would be very happy with my ingenuity. I managed to fashion a backpack, of sorts, using materials from what I thought was the chief's home. I figured he could sue me! Besides, they owed this poor pegasus a lot more than the few blankets and wooden rods I appropriated. By the time I was done, I had a rudimentary papoose full of pegasus fitted to my back. Lucky for me she didn't weigh more than fifty pounds or so. I had lugged easily over double her weight back in the service, but I also wasn't in as great a shape as I was back then.

I toyed with the idea of looting the whole village, like when I used to play dungeons and dragons, but decided against it. The less I took, the less of a chance I took with them coming after me. In the end, the only additional things I took was a basket of various foodstuffs. I would need this to help the pegasus, and figured she deserved it. Once I had everything in hand, I set out toward where I remembered some cave-like formations near a river and falls. Too bad it was going to take several hours to get there.

“Who am I kidding, with the extra load it's gonna be midnight before I get there.” I said sourly. My voice softened a bit, “Pretty sure it's better than sticking around here. No telling how long those cretins are gonna stay scared! Last thing I need is for them to catch me in the open, weighed down with her.” I smirked as I secured her pith hat back on her bandaged head. “There ya go! I know I wouldn't take to kindly to loosing mine.”

I was unfortunately accurate as to how long it took for me to get to the caves. The second guess that is. Only partly due to the extra load too. I had sadly miscalculated the distance. Only six or so hours of walking, not the couple I had hoped for. I was fairly positive the mini-pups gave up following me after the first hour. They were worse hunters than a three year old stalking the family cat.

Along with the pegasus and dog-creatures, I had noticed a multitude of strange fauna. Thankfully none of it appeared hostile. Or maybe they were all simply scared of something as large as I was. Nothing I had spotted during my trek had been any bigger than the pegasus I was carrying. She was only half my size and one third my weight soaking wet. More likely she was closer to a quarter my weight.

Thinking of her, I worried more than a little. She hadn't done much more than moan in pain a few times during the entire walk here. I was uncertain if her wounds were more severe than they looked. She could be bleeding internally for all I knew. The only thing I could take as a good sign was the fact that she was breathing steadily and I could feel a strong heartbeat.

This led me to another problem. I was hesitant to set her down to inspect a cave or two. Just because nothing out here seemed like it wanted to tangle with two hundred pounds of easily angered human, didn't mean there wasn't anything that would take advantage of a helpless pegasus. In the end, I decided to keep her on my back for the time being, just in case I had to run for any reason.

Lacking a flashlight, I decided the best course of action would be building a fire then making a torch. I thanked the goddess of the moon for the umpteenth time that night for being full and bright. The moonlight was bright enough for me to see reasonably well in. Collecting firewood was a cinch with so much dead-fall around the caves. Getting it lit was a different ball of wax. If not for the lighter in my pocket, there would have been no fire that night.

Once I had a nice little blaze going, fashioning a functional torch was simple. Equipped with my makeshift light, I discovered that the closest cave to where I had built the fire-pit was surprisingly dry and empty. It wasn't particularly large by any means but would serve my needs perfectly. I situated the battered mare in the back of the cave as comfortably as possible with only a few blankets to work with. By the time I had managed to move the fire to the entrance of the cave, I was beyond exhausted.

I lowered myself close to the cave entrance. I idly wondered if I would wake up in a hospital bed or continue with this interesting dream. Halfheartedly I mumbled, “Rest well madame pegasus...person.” A large yawn split my face before my eyes closed.




~~~ Daring


“Ugh...” Was all that escaped my lips when I meant to say, 'Oh! My head is killing me!'

My eyes wouldn't open. I couldn't move. Why would I want to move when whatever I was laying against was so nice and warm? Soft too...

Swaying. Moving. I was moving. Only 'I' wasn't moving. Was I riding something? I didn't remember getting in a cart or anything. 'who cares?' I thought as I snuggled against that soft warm, whatever it was while mumbling, “Oh..nghhh...”

Cold. Hard. I wasn't laying on the soft warm, uh... bedding?...anymore. I wasn't really that cold either, just not nearly as warm as I had been. That managed to pique my natural curiosity. I opened my eyes, or at least I tried to. The right one didn't seem to want to open and I couldn't open the left one since I was laying that side of my face.

I didn't let that unnerve me. I knew that those mongrels had beaten me pretty badly. I thought as hard as I could with my pounding head. 'At least I know I'm not dead... I hurt way too much to be dead! OK, what happened? Last thing I remember was that voice. I guess whoever it belonged to saved me, but who was he?' I stopped and thought about that a moment, 'He? Well it had to be a he. A voice that rich and deep would never come out of a she.'

I tried to shift my position but pain changed my mind quickly. Instead I focused on my other senses. Swiveling my ears around let me hear a few things. There was a fire nearby and it was burning low. Judging from the slow and steady sound a few feet away from me, somepony was sleeping.

Sniffing delicately told me that the fire was actually down to coals. Almost hidden by the smell of charred wood was a thick musky scent. 'Definitely masculine' I thought, with a heavy undertone of sweat. A tad of BO too, but that was common enough when traveling outside civilization. I didn't think I smelled all that great at the moment either. The thing that bothered me was I couldn't place this strange ponies scent. I considered myself as well traveled as could be, and I was usually able to identify scents with areas of residence and species. This pony was, to put it mildly, alien. Not bad, but very different. I wasn't sure if this was a pony or not and that was unnerving. More so because I was injured.

I was startled to hear 'his' voice suddenly, “Morning.” A loud yawn followed.

I tried to play at being asleep still to try and get more info on my new companion. Several moments passed when I heard his voice again, “That's rude, yanno. But hey, that's cool. You had a rough time.” I then heard a large body rise up followed by a few snaps and pops before the voice rumbled once more, “Maybe you will feel like talking later. I'm going down to the river. Back in five.” I listened intently for hoof-falls but heard none. That voice rumbled once again, “Your ears moving like that are a dead giveaway that you are quite awake.”

I then heard loud hoof-falls walking away. I noticed two things immediately. First, he was purposelessly walking heavy for my benefit. Second, he walked on two legs not four. I wondered with a shiver, 'What have I gotten myself into? He sounds huge! A minotaur maybe? No, they have hooves. Whomever this is, he doesn't have hooves. He doesn't have the uncoordinated gait of a diamond dog either. And I would have scented a dragon immediately. What is he?' my brain was working on overtime now. 'Could he be one of Ahuizotl's lackeys? Unlikely, he didn't have that feline scent that all of his minions acquired. If he wished me ill he wouldn't have saved me. Maybe I should be asking what he wants?' I didn't like to be at a loss, yet I was. I would have to be very careful. Whatever he was, he was strong enough to beat off an entire village of diamond dogs, even if they were only pygmies, and that couldn't have been easy.

All of a sudden I realized that the mystery-pony’s scent was all over me. This forced my head up against all the pain. Gritting my teeth, I managed to raise my head enough to look around the now empty cave. He wasn't anywhere in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief and gave myself a once over. I was startled to note that I was bandaged all over with a strange soft material. It smelled strongly of my mysterious benefactor. The bandages appeared to have been torn into uneven strips from some piece of clothing, most likely a shirt. The one splinting my wing had a lifelike printed pattern of a wolf howling at the moon. I quickly took stock of my numerous wounds and realized I was lucky to be alive at all.

“Maybe I should just thank him.” I whispered with a thoughtful look out of the cave.




~~~ Justin


I couldn't help stretching again while refilling the canteen. Sleeping in a cave wasn't conducive for back alignment. Once my back felt roughly straight again, I figured a quick dip in the clean river would do me a world of good. The waters weren't very cold and it would feel nice to wash a couple days perspiration off. Lucky me, there was a deep pool not far from the waterfall. It was calm and safe enough to swim in as long as I watched out for the undertow.

Since I didn't have a shirt anymore, it only took a minute or two to disrobe. The boots took the longest. I folded and piled my clothing on a dry rock near the bank and slipped into the water. As long as I avoided the rapid current near the center of the river, I felt quite safe. The sound of the nearby waterfall was soothing, almost musical. While washing I couldn't help but start singing the first song lyrics that came to mind.

“But for every dream that's shattered... There's another that comes true... This car was once a dream of his back when it was new... He told me to take her and make her my own...”

A throaty and sumptuous voice from behind me lazily stated, “Mmm, interesting song.”

I flailed around at the voice, only to see what appeared to be a snow leopard on the other side of the river. A snow leopard in a tropical forest? Will weird shit ever stop? It seemed to be enjoying the warmth of a rock near the waters edge. I was fairly sure it wasn't there before, but I could be wrong. It did look like it had been there for some time. I began to swim toward my clothing while keeping focus on the new arrival.

It yawned mightily before continuing in it's oddly purring yet seductive voice, “Was it about someone you knew?”

A puzzled look crossed my face. “What?”

“The song, silly.” The leopard seemed to be smiling except those eyes were far too intent.

“Oh...” I made it to the beach. “Ya. An, old friend.” Of course I was lying to buy time. I stared some small talk while dressing, “So, what brings an arctic species into this blasted heat?”

The winning smile never left it's face, “Why, I'm an explorer my good sirrr.” The way it purred that last word made me blush self-consciously. The voice was startlingly feminine.

“Really?” I had managed to struggle into my pants, much to the leopards mirth. “What are you exploring, if I may be so bold?”

Those mirthless eyes bored into me. “I was looking for the temple of Sok'ko'kull, but it seems upon my arrival the natives were more than a little restless.” It...no, it's a she. She licked her lips thoughtfully, “Seems they'd been robbed recently.”

“Tough luck, huh?” I muttered while the unmistakable talisman bounced on my chest. A few quick twists of my fingers finished tying my boots tightly. “Any leads?” I knew I had to keep this thing talking. I out massed the large cat by at least double, but those sharp claws and teeth put me at a serious disadvantage.

“Well, it so happens,” Those eyes seemed to be able to look straight through me, “Yes.” She stood slowly as my coat was secured. The way it began pacing would have unnerved a lesser man... OK it unnerved me a little... OK A LOT!

My eyes never left the predator, “And?” as I took up my walking stick.

“It seems I have found the thief.” She made a startlingly human gesture at me. “You. It would be hard to miss the Amulet of Stars around your neck.” Her eyes narrowed and focused on my chest.

Zipping up the jacket I dryly stated, “Oh, that old thing.” I made a dismissive gesture, “Worthless trinket from my gram. Just an old heirloom.” I managed to harden my voice toward the end. It was my hope to out bluff this feline death-machine. At least, I figured, it was unlikely that she could easily cross the river.

The leopards eyes softened as she sat and pondered me. “Oh, don't be like that.” Her voice was almost melodious, “I would be proud if I had singlehandedly bested an entire village, stole their captive, and made off with the treasure too!”

If I hadn't known better, I would have thought it was trying to be seductive. The way it... err... she toned her voice was pretty convincing. I was fairly sure she wasn't being friendly for no reason. So I asked, “What do you want.”

The leopardess seemed taken back. “Me? Why I simply wanted to congratulate you! I figured since we are both adventurers, you wouldn't mind another companion.” She smiled broadly at me, “Besides, I might be able to tell you a thing or two about that, what did you call it? Worthless family heirloom.”

Well, being allergic to cats made my decision easy. I was about to turn down her polite offer when, to my astonishment, she bounded across the river. It did take her two jumps to do it. Nonetheless, it was extremely impressive the way she effortlessly sprang from rock to rock. Quite a bit intimidating too.

Before I could voice my negative, she sauntered around me. Not too close, but too close for my comfort. Felines just have an unnatural grace about them. One I found exceedingly unnerving, and slightly attractive at the same time. Her slightly sultry voice interrupted my thoughts, “Yesss, you seem competent. Nice assets." She looked me up and down while licking her lips, leering the whole time. "Strong too. I think we could work well together. Maybe become close friends.” I really didn't like her 'friendly' smile. It made me feel, uh, funny...

With a cough, I managed, “I have to apologize ma’am. I travel alone.” I had to keep pivoting due to the fact she wouldn't stop circling me. “You understand, I'm sure.”

The snow leopard looked hurt. "You are traveling with that... that..." She nearly spat the word, "pony!" She began pacing slower with her head lower to the ground. "Oh, wait. I think I understand. I'm not good enough for the likes of you." She looked like she was going to start crying for goodness sake!

"Hey, wait a minute. It's not like that." I was confused. Felines where I was from tended to be emotional, but this was a snow leopard for crying out loud! My weird-shit-o-meter was pretty much at breaking point now. "I don't even know who I rescued! Just someone in need of a whole lot o help. I was in the right place at the right time is all."

"Oh, sure. You males are all alike." She sniffed and sat down with her back to me. "You reek of her. Even after washing." The leopardess looked at me over her shoulder with a strange look in her eyes.

"What? I had to lug her around for six hours!" I slowly edged toward the sniffling leopardess. I don't know what possessed me, except that I'm a sucker for a sobbing lady, as I reached out to pat the oversized kitten.

That's when all hell broke loose. I was almost caught unprepared for her attack. Good thing I was paranoid! She moved like lightning. It was all I could do to keep blocking with the staff. The high pitched yowls emanating from her hurt my ears and had a way of forcing me off balance. She seemed to be nothing but blazing claws and teeth.

After the initial explosion of activity, she seemed to change tactics. The circling began a new. I was breathing hard and looking for anything I could do for an edge. The damn cat seemed to have all the advantages. I was constantly on the defensive. Thank the silver goddess for those years of training, they had already saved my sorry arse several times. Even though I was good, she left no openings to exploit. I was unsure what she would try next.

I couldn't believe she began cat calling, no pun intended. It was ridiculous! Almost laughable in its simplicity. It was nothing more than a sorry attempt to get me to drop my guard. Basic training taught me this crap years ago. Clearly she wasn't used to fighting a professional. Her pathetic taunts about my shape and how out of breath I was, became annoying quickly. In reality, they only served to distract her enough for me to maneuver to better ground.

Things were still beginning to look grim for me. I was forced to give more and more ground and was fast running out of ground to give. My poor staff was starting to resemble kindling by this point while her claws were as sharp as ever. With the huge gouges taken out of it, it was only a matter of time before it would sunder completely. That would leave me almost entirely defenseless against her razors.

Thankfully, she was tiring more rapidly than me. Her assaults became less frequent, leaving me time loosen my tight muscles. She continued to eye me hungrily as I would do so. That alone unnerved me more than any taunt. Would she eat me after killing me? I didn't want to find out! I was going to take the offensive, one way or another, and soon.

Thinking of a solution, I shifted my weight and shuffled around to keep the leopard wondering what I was up to. I was actually surprised I managed to limit her vision as much as I did. The loud click of the heavy lock-blade caught her attention however. She only caught a glint of light as I turned my body into a sideways stance while dropping the nearly useless stick.

I was pleasantly surprised when she took the bait and charged me, thinking to end the dance. It was a hefty gamble. I let my body twist and fall backwards with her leap attack, praying all the while that the leather of my coat would shield me from her claws. Her scream of rage changed from victory to horror. I knew pappies knife had bit deeply. The hot and sticky wetness that coated my hand were proof enough.

I was on my feet in a flash. The leopardess didn't recover nearly as fast. She staggered several times while blood flowed freely from her wound. It was easy to hear her breath come in labored gasps. She spat out, “So, you do have claws! Play time is over now.” The foam on her lips had become tainted with red.

"Surrender." I only just realized I didn't know the name of the person trying to kill me. "It doesn't have to end like this." My stance was still a half crouch poised to kill. "I don't want to kill you."

Though she bled profusely, she looked no less dangerous. If anything, she looked more deadly. The slightly sadistic yet lethal playfulness was completely gone. Her eyes were now the eyes of a killer. Cold. Remorseless. Evil. I realized then that she had been toying with me the whole time, like a cat with a mouse. I was in deep shit now. She was going to kill me.

She began to stalk me for real. I never saw the first blow land. Hurt like hell! True my leather coat really saved my left arm, but the pain! Goddess protect me! I needed all the help I could get now. Blood ran freely down my arm and stained the ground. Oh, it wasn't a deep or life threatening wound. Oh, no. It was a shallow debilitating injury. The kind that slowly wore you down.

The second and third blows were similar. Thankfully someone must have heard my plea for help because my coat absorbed most of the damage. I even landed a shallow cut across her forearm. This only angered her even more. That's when I saw it. My only hope.

"Oh, what's wrong? Kitty doesn't want to play no more?" I began to return the taunts to the leopardess with far more effect than they had on me. Who would have guessed she couldn't take what she dished out? "Red really becomes you..." I waved the stained blade for her to see her own blood. That enraged her enough for me to land another shallow wound to her shoulder.

We traded several blows before either of us spoke again. I broke the silence with something other than a taunt for a change, "One of us is likely to die here, will you honor me with your name?"

We both panted for breath. For a time I thought she would ignore my request. I was startled when she spat out, "Sasha." The animosity projected at me was palpable. "I have honored you. Now honor me!"

I considered laughing in her face. It would likely earn me another strike or two in my favor, but I simply couldn't lower myself to her standards. True she gave me her name, but I know she only did so to buy herself some extra breathing room. She was breathing as hard, if not harder, than I was. I was likely the toughest opponent she ever had. I decided, even in the face of death, I had to remain true to myself. "My name is Justin. I wish we'd met under better circumstances. I have no wish to kill you, at the same time I will not allow you to kill me."

Sasha gave me a curious look, "We do what we must. You have honor, I'll grant. For that I will remember you." The strange feline extended her right paw toward me in a curious motion with her claws bent inward. “I clearly misjudged you to be yet another disgraceful prey species.”

I thought it to be some form of salute. So, without releasing the upside down blade in my right fist, I returned the gesture. I was shocked when her face darkened and she hissed, "If that's the way you want it, so be it!"

Oh come on! What did I do this time? I really couldn't do anything right today. I managed to stammer, "Wait, what..." before she sprang at me.

I did the only thing I could that didn't end with me being impaled, lacerated, or torn to pieces. I fell backwards and kicked her as hard as humanly possible. I wish I could say I planned this, but it was mostly a reaction. Sasha made a very undignified yelp as my heavy boot connected with her gut and amplified her, already substantial, inertia. She corkscrewed through the air directly into the middle of the river with a loud splash. Her head broke the surface just in time to yowl in terror before plummeting over the waterfall.

"What are the chances?" I muttered, still able to hear Sasha’s diminishing scream.






~~~ Daring


“I know he said he would be back in five minutes but it has been over fifteen.” I thought out loud. “Maybe I should go and see what's taking him?”

I had just made it to the mouth of the cave when I thought I heard a deep voice singing some nonsense. Then the female voice that could be heard sent shivers down my spine. I knew that voice! Sasha! One of Ahuizotls' assassins! How did she find me?

“I thought I lost her a hundred miles north of here!” I whispered to myself. "Guess I really pissed her off last time... jeez, it was only an emerald!" I couldn't help but smirk at the memory of that escapade. I had managed to get away with the 'Cats' Eye' emerald. Took it right out from under Sasha’s guard too!

I limped as quietly as I could and found a shrub nearby to hide behind. It had a decent vantage of the river and waterfall area. I know my mouth hung open at the sight of the powerful mostly naked male facing off with the leopardess that I knew all too well. “What in Celestia's name is he?” I wondered. It was obvious the mystery male knew Sasha was dangerous as well, what with the way he kept facing the leopard as he dressed.

I knew all too well how Sasha operated. Lull the opponent into making a mistake. Make that mistake it's last. I only wished I could make out what they were saying. For all I knew they could be friends. I hoped not.

"Definitely not friends," I mumbled as they began fighting. Sasha tried to take down the male quickly, but he didn't seem to like that idea. They 'danced' for a while before the male became serious and pulled a knife. Once the knife bit the feline, things changed.

I had never before seen Sasha fight, only the aftermath. Now that I was watching I knew she was a professional. Sasha stopped playing and tore into the male several times before he could regain his footing and return many savage and bloody blows to the feline.

“Wow...” I muttered. I couldn't be sure who was winning. The male bled from several long scratches along his arms and legs and although he fought differently than I had ever seen, he really knew his stuff too. Sasha’s' once beautiful white pelt was stained red in so many places, it was hard to guess the extent of her injuries. The dance of death became a slow opera of thrust, parry, and riposte. The male seemed to be the better fighter as things went on, but both were obviously battered and weary.

My hearing wasn't the greatest, but I managed to hear them talking. Somehow the male had gotten Sasha to name herself. I listened more intently, because my life could very well depend on what was being said. "what is just in? And what kind of drivel is he spewing down there? Just kill her already!" I murmured. I wasn't your typical pony. Most ponies in this situation would just pray to Celestia in hopes of salvation. I was a tad more practical. Though I hadn't ever had to actually kill anypony before, well directly in any case... I had certainly caused great harm on more than one occasion to escape bloodthirsty baddies. I didn't like the thought of killing, but liked the alternative a lot less.

"Oh no!" I almost yelled, "Don't fall for that!"

What happened was too fast for my eyes to process. All I knew was that the male (uh... thing?) was standing on the sandy beach and Sasha was trying like hell not to go over the waterfall. The cry of the hunting cat was haunting as she went over. I took my pith hat off and held it over my chest. Solemnly I stated "Goodbye Sasha. Even you didn't deserve that kind of death..."

I wasn’t positive, but could swear I heard 'Next time!' echo through the trees in Sasha's voice. I shook my head in disbelief and placed my pith hat back on, while muttering, "Leave it to Sasha to evade a certain death." I shook my head and slowly wandered down to the pale skinned male.

“He may be strange... and scary looking,” I shivered remembering his fighting prowess, “but I owe him my life.” Looking around at all the blood, “Twice now, it seems.”

It was a painful journey to where he was. I studied him for a few moments. I couldn't fathom why he kept washing his hands. Sure the cuts needed washed, but he already had, and the bleeding seemed to have already stopped too. He kept washing his hands though. He was definitely saying something under his breath, but I couldn't make out what. Probably just cussing.

After I listened to the babbling for a short while I decided to break the tension. “Hey!” I watched his head snap in my direction. Damn, He was edgy! Fast too. “Uh, I just wanted to thank you...” This males eyes made me feel weak. I knew he had sized me up and dismissed me as a threat, as he looked back to the falls where Sasha recently had gone over. When he said nothing I continued, “I would have been a goner if you hadn't shown up.” This seemed to catch his attention, but still he only stared at me. “And, I mean, I didn't realize Sasha had found me. No telling what that assassin would have done to me if you hadn't been here.”

His eyes hardened at mention of the assassin. Still he didn’t speak. I decided to keep talking because he seemed to understand me just fine and he was unnerving me with all the staring. “You don't say much do you? Well, my names Daring. Daring Do! Famous adventurer! Finder of the lost, and all round great pony! You've probably heard of me, I bet!” My incorrigible smile and bravado must have gotten through his tough shell. “So, what should I call you? Hey you, only works for so long you know!”

The male smiled slowly. His voice was a low rumble when I heard him say “Justin.”

I was a little confused and I said so, “Just in what? Sorry I don't understand.” Maybe he doesn't speak my language after all?

A smirk crossed the males face, least I think it was. His voice was a bit louder but just as deep, “Justin time, Justin case” He sighed, “Justin is my name.” He sighed much deeper this time, “And I suppose rescuing hapless ponies is my game.” His smile turned wry, "Oh, and no. I never heard of ya." He then turned back to staring at the spot where Sasha had disappeared while fixing the stetson on his head.

I watched him. He seemed perturbed about dealing with Sasha. "Don't tell me your thinking of shedding tears over that worthless ball o fluff, are ya?" I decided to cut my new friend off. "I wouldn't. She has caused more pain and suffering than the Black Dragon plague!" He paid attention to me now. "All meat eaters have to kill to survive of course. That is just a cold hard fact of life. Most do not eat those of us who can complain about it. Her kind however, have no compunction."

He grunted, oddly I thought it was some kind of agreement, before speaking in a curiously low pitched and subdued tone, "That so?"

I nodded. "Most of us all get along fine. Gryphons, Diamond dogs, even dragons don't, as a general rule, eat sentients. There's plenty of other things for those carnivores to eat." I smiled at his confusion. "Fish, lizards, lots of different things that don't ask them not too. Then again, ponies like us can eat just about anything else." I waved my splinted leg at the forest. "Almost every thing that grows out here is edible. A few are bad but, all things considered, I like my food not to talk back!"

Justin, as I had to remember to call him, chuckled. "Agreed." He said with an odd smirk. "Not too fond of my food talking back either." He looked at his injuries. "Least these stopped bleeding. Huh, thought they were deeper."

"Here, let me take a look." I offered. Not only to get a closer look at him, but also because I had fixed my fair share of injuries. Many of them on myself. They were quite nasty scratches, and even I was surprised by how shallow they appeared. Maybe he heals fast? Nah, Sasha just wanted to bleed him. Topical wounds hurt the most, and she knew what she was doing. That and Justin’s coat was abnormally thick. The only really serious gash was on the back of his left hand. I am rather surprised he let me poke and prod. Must have hurt like the dickens, but he didn't so much as complain. "This one could use a couple of stitches. The rest should be bandaged to stop then from getting dirty and infected."

He nodded. "'Bout what I figured. Got a few strips of my shirt left. Should do the trick."

I motioned for him to follow me. "Let's get back to the cave then." I turned to limp back to the cave. The sound that erupted from my lips likely deafened Justin. Since I was elevated to his shoulder as if I weighed nothing, I was able to look him in the eyes.

"Mighty powerful set of lungs ya have, ma'am." He stated dryly.

I stuttered, "I...I...I can w..w..walk on m...m..my own, thanks!"

"Sure, and I can fly." He stated sarcastically. "I'd like to get there before sundown Mrs Daring." One moment he had an Appaloosen twang, the next he spoke in unaccented proper Equestrian. How he managed that, I will likely never know.

I huffed, "Fine!" All I could do was enjoy the ride. At least he was gentle and no one could see me humiliated like this. Oh sweet Celestia, I hoped this part of the story would be left out when we were asked to tell it. I resolved to mention that later. I did have an image to maintain after all!

Once he set me down in the cave, I kept trying to get more information out of him. Simple things. Like what he was. Where he was from. What was he doing in these parts. Things like that. All I can say is that his answers confused me more and more.

I learned he was something called a human. He was from some place called Pennsylvania, though if that is a country, city, or province I had no idea. I mean, I am far traveled and I haven’t ever heard of it. That and I hadn’t ever heard of anything called 'human' either. The fact that he had no idea what he was doing around here was the last straw.

“What do you mean, you don't know? How can you not know why you are here? You had to travel on purpose to get here!” I tried not to sound mad, but hey it's me! Not knowing how you got here, sheesh!

“Look, It's like I already told ya. I woke up here. I didn't travel here. Hell! I don't even know where here is!” He said while absently tearing an orange apart. “All I remember are some hazy bits and pieces of some strange dream.” He munched absently on a slice of orange, “Kinda tasty for a dream.”

“But you don't just wake up someplace new! It simply isn't done! Are you sure you didn't hit your head or something? I have heard that can cause all kinds of havoc on memory.” I was thoughtful enough to give him an out. When he shook his head no, well I knew he wasn't going to give in that easy. I suppose he could have triggered a trap that tossed him in this area randomly, but the more I talked to him the more I didn't think he was from this world let alone this part of it. It's not like he was a species I recognized, and I thought I knew them all!

He looked at me for a long moment before shrugging his shoulders in a cute way and stating, “Look miss Daring, I'll admit something has royally screwed up my memory. Fact is, feels like there's a bloody hole in there you could drive a stagecoach through. But as to how I got here, I know sure as I'm sitting here talking to a, um, you are a pegasus right?”

He waited for my sarcastic, “Duh!” before continuing.

“Riiiight. Well I know sure as shit I didn't walk here. So if I didn't, how the hell did I get here, hmmm?”

Interesting. His voice changes inflection with his mood! I need to see how many other accents he has. Nothing like a fun game of 'piss off the giant' while I was waiting for my leg and wing to heal. While I was pondering how 'not' to irritate him, though I was enjoying how he seemed to manipulate his vocal patterns and those facial expressions, he took off his strange and lacerated coat. What to my startled eyes did I behold? Oh, I knew he had the blasted thing, but seeing it was different. Right around his neck was the Amulet of Stars! He was wearing the damn thing like a piece of cheep jewelry!




~~~ Justin


'She sure has a way of pushing my buttons! One moment all grateful that I saved her, the next all insulting! WOMEN! They were all the same, even ones of different species!' I thought while shoving an orange slice into my mouth. At least it stopped me from saying anything else stupid. I couldn't believe she got me to slip into that damnable southern accent I picked up in Tennessee. Normally I didn't let that slip, ever. I hated how people tend to think I'm uneducated when I speak like that.

Fortunately, staying mad wasn't one of my specialties. I was about to change the topic when I looked up and saw that Mrs Daring Do was staring at me. What kind of name is 'Daring Do' anyway? Did her parents hate her or something? Meh! I don't much like being stared at. Makes me feel like something was wrong with my face or something. So I simply asked, “What? I miss my mouth or something?”

She pointed at me in a very human manner and said in a deadpan voice, “You're wearing the Amulet of Stars.”

I looked at my chest. There was the strange silver and gold amulet I had nicked from the ruins the other day. “Oh! Is that what this is called? Come to think of it, that's what Sasha call it too. Know anything about it?” I took the amulet from around my neck and held it up in the light to get a better look at it. I had forgotten about it in the ensuing... events, ya that's a good way to refer to them.

Her eyes were glued to the amulet. I couldn't help myself. I moved it around until she realized what I was doing. The face she gave me was priceless! I looked at the amulet and stated, “You seem to have a way with the ladies. I haven't seen that kind of attention in ages!” I turned back to Mrs Daring with a cheesy grin.

She did not look amused. All she said with a huff was, “Not funny.”

I really don't know what got into me. My retort was on the lines of, “Of course it was. Not my fault you don't have sense of humor.” While leaning against the cave entrance twirling the amulet.

She scolded me, “That is no way to handle a priceless artifact!”

“This?” I was definitely confused but stopped spinning the pendent by the necklace. “I figured it might be worth a couple of bucks. Nothing remarkable about it.” I turned a questioning look at my 'companion'. “What's so special about this piece of junk?”

“That,” She somehow managed to do the quotes gesture, “Is reputed to hold the power of the constellations themselves!” Daring smirked as she knew she had my undivided attention. “Not so worthless now, huh?”

“Let's pretend for a moment that I believe you.” I looked at the amulet thoughtfully. It was a pretty trinket, but there were no runes. No sigils of power or magic words. It was as plain a piece of jewelry as I had ever seen. True I enjoyed wearing it, and I am sure my cross didn't like it, but that doesn't mean it was magical. True it did always feel warm and there was that odd feeling I got while holding it... “What does 'power over the constellations' mean? You have to admit, that's pretty ambiguous.”

Her front legs were crossed, as best she could with one of them broken and splinted. “The legends are not specific. That's why they are legends. One possible translation could be 'power over the night sky' another 'power to control the flow of night'.” She seemed a tad exasperated, “All I know is, that kind of power doesn’t belong in the hands of Ahuizotl. There's no telling what that creep would do with it. Only the princess has any business playing with power of that caliber.”

I cocked my head to the side. “Princess huh?” Somehow that was familiar. But why? Some memories were crystal clear while others were always slipping away. To be fair and honest, Daring was familiar in some way too. I just couldn't put a finger on how or why. Maybe she was right about the knock to the head. I did happen to just wake up in a rainforest without any knowledge how I got there, excepting a mysterious note that kept slipping my mind.

Daring nodded, “Yes.” It dawned on her that I didn't know who she meant. “Sweet Celestia! You really don't know, do you?” I shook my head negative and remained silent waiting for her to explain. “Well it's simple. Princess Celestia is the goddess of the Sun and moon. Celestia raises the Sun and the Moon.” At my lack of comprehension she added, “The big ball of fire in the sky right now... The big shiny thing in the sky at night?”

I chuckled, “That isn't how it works! This ball of rock we are on,” I thumped my foot on the ground to emphasize, “revolves around the sun. Yanno, the big ball o fire. The moon rotates around us. Oh, by the way, the moon's name is Luna.”

She looked at me like I was crazy before voicing just that. “You're a loon! Either that or you are a lot farther from home than I first thought.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully with a hoof. “One thing is for certain, you are very wrong about the celestial cycle here.”

I raised an eyebrow, “You mean to tell me some princess is responsible for the celestial cycles here?” Daring nodded and looked totally serious. I felt like I was being punked so hard. All I could do was laugh and laugh. Just when I thought I could get a grip on myself I would look at her and the laughter would start again.

After several minutes I heard a very upset voice, “Are you finished yet?” I am pretty sure I snerked a few times before adopting a serious face. Daring rolled her eyes, “About time. I thought you were going to choke to death and leave me to clean up the mess.”

It would be unfair of me to say I managed to hold a straight face the whole time, but I was mostly in control of myself at this point. “Look, if it's so important to ya, ya shoulda jus said so!” With that I tossed the pendant to a flabbergasted Daring Do. That familiar feeling hit again as I watched her grab the amulet with her hoof. How she managed that without fingers I couldn't tell, but again seemed so familiar.

“You're just giving it to me?” She narrowed her eyes at me in an unfriendly way. “Why?”

I must say I sobered up quickly. “Well if it's as dangerous as you say, I imagine you know what 'not' to do with it. Likely a safe place to take it too.” I shrugged, “Besides, it isn't worth anything to me. You got a broken leg and wing outta the deal. Least I can do, I guess.”

She looked at the pendant, which still resembled nothing more than a trinket to me, and seemed a lot friendlier when she spoke. “You really mean that?”

Nodding, “Yup. Though I do expect half the cash in. I may be generous, but I'm no fool.” I stated with a sly grin.

Daring gave me an interesting look, appraising I would guess, before asking, “Partners?”

I smiled, “Partner smacks of unspoken rules and expectations.” I smiled and held a hand out, “How about, friends.”

Daring thought a moment before smiling and taking my hand, “Friends can mean a lot of things too.”

“Let's cross that river when we get there, shall we? For the moment, my friend needs a doctor and sadly I have no idea where to take her.”

“It's a good thing you have me to guide you in this harsh world!” Daring couldn't help but laugh and that was enough to get me too as well. “You're insane. But you already know that don't you?”

The smile never left my face, “Crazy like the wolf.”

“I thought the saying was, 'crazy like a fox'?” Daring cocked her head much like I do when asking a question.

“Nah, I howl at the moon. So I know I'm a lunatic. Thus wolf.” I smirked, “What's your excuse?”

“Must be a tad moonstruck myself.” She muttered.

“Oh yea,” I though out loud, “good times ahead!”



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