• Published 22nd Apr 2012
  • 9,049 Views, 220 Comments

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

  • ...

A not so hard decision

Chapter 2

Through a humans eyes...

A not so hard decision...

~~~ Daring

A few hours later, still before noon, I convinced Justin we should leave. Alright, he didn't need much convincing once I explained to him that I didn't think Sasha was dead and why I thought that. Now, I don't want to sound ungrateful but, I wish he would let me walk. I was a big pegasus! A broken leg wasn't that big a deal was it? Oh, yea, broken wing too... Whatever! At least he was nice enough, gentle too.

Anyway, this guy was fairly interesting. At first I thought he didn't speak much. Boy was I wrong! Once I got him started he wouldn't shut up! True I didn't understand a lot of things he said. Some was just too crazy to believe. I mean, would you believe in giant metal things that flew through the air faster than the birds? Ya, I didn't think so! There were points that I wondered if we were still speaking the same language! Then something happened.

“What?” I asked him. I thought I had misheard him.

“I asked about some of these 'adventures' you've been on.” He turned his head to look me in the eye. “Would ya care to tell me about some? Who knows, I may learn a thing or two.”

I chuckled. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not all that modest. Of course I had more than, as he put it, a thing or two to teach. Since he was being nice, and saved my life... twice... I would be nice. I told him about the time I had managed to rescue the 'Sapphire Stone' from that evil creep Ahuizotl.

To his credit, Justin didn't interrupt too much. When he did, it was usually to say something somewhat intelligent, as opposed to my usual audiences 'oh my!' or 'what did you do then?'. He tended to nod a lot, as if he agreed. The only thing that put me off was when he would ask 'why would you do something like that?'. I normally would have browbeat my audience, but he didn't sound malicious. More concerned for my well being. So I just asked him, “Well what would you have done?”

He surprised me with, “Probably gone around the obvious pit. True I can't fly, so things like that might worry me more.” Then, “Well, having not been there it's hard to judge, but I think I might have looked for a way to disarm something so easy to detect. I mean, ya knew it was there right?” He was driving me nuts! The worst thing was, looking back on it... he was right. Most of the time I leapt without thinking. That was action!

I must say he tended to sound, rather smart. Much smarter than I thought at first. He was also correct, he hadn't been there. I made sure he knew it too. Much as I enjoyed a 'captive' audience, I didn't like to be the one who had to explain all the obvious things. Most ponies just listened with rapt enjoyment. They didn't blow holes in my logic. I could tell he would be trouble. So I decided to turn the tables on him.

“Lets take a rest over there.” I pointed with my good hoof. “Ya, that open spot near the river.” We had been traveling upstream with the river. I knew a city wasn't too terribly far in that direction. Once he set me down, OK I will admit he was pretty gentle, I rummaged around the basket with the fruits. Finding a nice papaya I munched absently waiting for him to settle himself. Once he selected another orange I said, “Why don't you tell me about the ruins?”

“Hmm?” He mumbled through the orange.

“Well I thought we were trading stories.” I waited till he nodded. “I would like to hear about the ruins you found the Amulet in.” I smiled sweetly, waiting to poke holes in everything he did. I was the expert in danger, after all!

Justin chuckled a little, “You sure you wanna know?”

I cocked my head in irritation, “Would I have asked if I didn't want to know?”

“Might upset ya...”

I looked at him like he had a hole in his head. “Try me.”

“Remember, you asked!” Justin chuckled.

~~~~ Justin

I chewed the orange while collecting my thoughts. “Well, I only arrived in this goddess forsaken place the day before yesterday. I arrived with what you see on my back, and the shirt you are mostly wearing.” I smiled at Daring as she looked at her bandages. I wasn't about to tell her it was my favorite shirt. It was, but that wasn't the point. “I chose to walk in the direction of a rock formation. It was pretty far away, and took me the better part o the day to get near it. At first I thought it was just a big rock, but as I got closer I could see that wasn't the case. It had carved edges and such. Being that it was in pretty rough shape, I didn't hold much hope of finding anyone there, still ya never know until ya try.” I picked up a new stick to start whittling. “Am I right?”

Daring nodded at me. I took that as my cue to continue, “So I checked it out. From a distance I mean. No telling what was in there.” My knife took small bites from the long stick as I spoke. “At first, I didn't see anything of note. After a while I found what appeared to be paw-prints. Now, I figured they would be wild dogs or some such thing.” I made sure to make eye contact with her every now and again. “See, diamond dogs, as you call em, don't exist where I am from. Neither do you pony folk. So I was more than a little surprised when I saw a dozen of those l'il guys. Oh, they didn't see me. I watched them for a while. Tried to figure what they were doing. Reminded me of aboriginals from stories back home.”

I paused to sip from the canteen then offered it to Daring. I continued my tale as she drank. “I watched them late into the night. I paid attention to were they walked and where they paid heed not to go. Several times I wanted to go down and talk with them, but something in the back of my mind kept telling me that was a bad idea. Probably saved my ass too.” My voice hardened as I remembered. “I recon it had to be close to midnight when I heard it. I had fallen asleep in the tree I had been watching them from ya see. I woke with an awful fright at the sound. It was the sound a man makes when he draws his last breath.”

I had Daring’s' full attention now. She was paying rapt attention to every word I spoke. “I could smell woodsmoke heavy in the air. The sound didn't repeat itself, but as I strained my hearing I was able to make out some sort of chant in the distance. What I could see from my vantage wasn't more than shadows dancing around in the flickering of the firelight.” I paused to remember the correct sequence of events. “I left the safety of the tree to get a closer look. I mean, I wasn't gonna learn anything from where I was, right?” She nodded and I continued, “I used the darkness the way I had been taught. Become one with the night, or something like that!” I chuckled. “As I slinked closer I caught a wiff of something, I dunno, wrong.”

I looked at Daring over the edge of my knife, “You've smelled cooking meat right?”

She blanched a little and nodded. “Ya, lots of places I go cook meat and serve it too.”

I stored that little ditty of info for later. I didn't feel like scaring her by telling her I was descended from carnivores just yet. Besides, it wasn't like I needed to eat meat. I just happened to like it. I simply nodded back to her and continued talking. “Well then, you will understand what I mean when I say something wrong. Cooking meat has a particular smell. Some think it's a good smell, others don't like it. All agree that it smells clean.” I held up my hands as if to say, 'meet me half way on this.' I could tell she wanted to interrupt me, but held her tongue to let me continue. “This didn't smell like that. It smelled, dirty... uh... tainted may be a better word. I know I didn't relish finding out what it was.”

Daring looked a little ill. “You know, I am starting to believe you now. This is upsetting.”

I took a bite from some type of apple that I couldn't ID, but Daring had assured me was quite good. After deciding it was indeed tasty I stated, “Oh, I haven't even gotten near the part I figured would upset ya.” She looked at me with disbelief in her eyes. I put my right hand over my heart and said, “Swear, I figured you for a hardened adventurer. Didn't think this would unnerve ya quite so bad. I can stop now if ya want.”

She pouted. It startled me just how human she looked at times. “ I can deal with it.” She said defiantly.

I wasn't so sure she could, so I decided to silently tone things down for her. I didn't feel the need to upset my only friend here. Sure she was a blowhard, but I liked her enough not to want to make her sick. Especially when I realized I called her professionalism into question. There wasn't any way for me to apologize about something like that, so I agreed with her request as if nothing was wrong.

I smiled and nodded, “I know ya can.” I made sure not to sound patronizing. “I can tell when folks are made of tough stuff, and you are definitely tough. I am sorry to upset your stomach though. What happens next isn't pretty, so steel yourself.” She nodded for me to continue. “Well, I shadowed my way through the sections of the ruins I had noted the dogs using. Oddly the more firelight I could see, the more shadows I had to hide in. I came upon what must have been the whole village.”

I sipped the canteen again before continuing. “They were cavorting and dancing in ways I had never dreamed. There were several small fires, but the biggest one in the center was what drew my eyes.” I pondered how much to leave out for her benefit. “They had, um, cooked some...thing.” I left out that it was still screaming. “I am fairly sure it was once as intelligent as you or I.” I also left out that it was one of the pony-folk. “The smell was rancid to me. Those little beasts ate to their hearts content. It was some type of foul rite.” I cut off her coming question, “I don't know how I knew it was, I just knew it was. Lets leave it at that, OK?” She nodded in agreement. I think she realized I was 'abridging' things for her by this point. “I won't go into detail what they did, needless to say I am quite positive they were worshiping some foul god or other. I was pretty disgusted and was about to sneak my way out when I saw something that caught my eye.”

Daring blurted out, “The Amulet?”

“Eh, no.” I looked anywhere but at Daring. “I saw a shiny jeweled... um, something...”

She glared at me. The gesture she made with her good hoof was human enough for me to realize I had better get on with it. “Ya... It was some statue on my way out that had these.” I pulled a pair of quarter sized rubies out of my hip pouch. They were gorgeously faceted. “I pried them out with my knife.” I smiled at her. “But I digress. When I found out there were reliefs with gems in them... I had to go back and take a closer look. For the sake of science, of course!” I stuck a pose at that.

Daring chuckled with me and said, “Of course! I would have had to take a second look if I found those as well. In the name of archeology, of course!”

We shared a laugh for a few moments. “It was on my way back in that I noticed the Amulet.” She nodded sagely. “It was bedecking some statue. A horrid caricature of a, I think you called them Diamond Dogs?” I waited for her verification nod. “Around it's neck. Getting to it was interesting. I waited till all the little cretins were gorging themselves and otherwise preoccupied. Then I just snuck up behind the statue, nicked the necklace, and waltzed out of the place.” At her look of disbelief I amended, “By waltz I meant drifted from dark shadow to the next very carefully. Oh, and I am positive I was praying with all my might to the moon.”

I stood, deciding that our break had lasted long enough. “There really isn't a whole lot more to tell, until I met you that is.” I gathered our meager belongings and shouldered the papoose full of pegasus before continuing, “And that, as they say, is a different story!”

Daring tapped me on the noggin to get my attention. “There is only one thing I would like to ask.” She said.

“Shoot.” I said as I started walking.

Her voice came from behind my head, so it sounded a tad peculiar. “You said there was something that would upset me a lot, aside from.. umm...ya that.”

I chuckled, “That I did, didn't I!” She bopped me in the back of the head. “OK! OK! Damn it, not so hard!” I rubbed my skull, “I didn't want ya to think I was making fun of ya.”

“Out with it, Justin.” She deadpanned.

“Fine,” I sighed, “But no more hitting me in the back of the head!” I think she mumbled either an apology or something ignorant. I wasn't sure but continued either way, “What way did you enter the ruins, Daring?”

“Through the front. Duh!” She said caustically. “You always start at the beginning!”

“Ya. That was all a trap. The whole front was nothing but a facade to lure in the unsuspecting.” I stated dryly. “While watching the mongrels I noticed the real entrance was in the back of the ruins. Hidden to look like nothing more than debris.” I stopped and craned my head to look her in the eyes, “Any real adventurer would have spotted that trap a mile away.”

She spluttered, “But! The storm... and I couldn't see...” She stopped and gathered her wits. “You made that up!” She accused.

“Not a bit of it.” I said while continuing to walk.

“Wait a minute! If you left before sunup, how come you were still there when I got captured?” She challenged.

I stopped and looked her in the eye once again. This time she looked defiant. This time I was mad. I don't care for being accused of lying. So I brutally stated, “I went back to bury the poor bastard who got ate. What was left of him, anyway.”

“Oh...” She didn't say anything for quite a long while.

~~~ Daring

I felt awful. I didn't feel like that often. I didn't like it. Not at all. It sucked. Sadly, I wasn't sure what to do about it. I suppose I could just apologize. I didn't like that Idea either. So, I just remained quiet for a while. I figured something would come to mind. If nothing else, I could pretend nothing happened. That could work. Then again...

Justin stopped rather suddenly. He pointed so I could see a buzzing mass several hundred spans away. I wasn't positive why Justin was edgy. They were just bees. Nothing to really worry about, unless he wanted honey. With the way he seemed wary of them, I doubted that. “Ya, bees. Nothing too out of the ordinary.”

He looked at me like I had grown a second head. “JUST bees? Just bees? K-rist...” He then turned and slowly walked away from the hive. “Those little murderers aren't gonna get me!” He muttered under his breath.

I wasn't sure what he was thinking, but he was the one walking for us both so I went with it. Like I had a choice! In any event I let him decide where to take us. He didn't stray too far out of sight from the river and kept going the general direction I wanted him to go. Seems like we...OK, he walked for five minutes or so when we came upon what appeared to be a road.

“No kidding!” I shouted. “You are too lucky, Justin!”

He looked at me, “What are you talking about? It's just a road.”

I bumped heads with him lightly, “Just a road? How many roads do think there are in these parts?”

Understanding seemed to seep into his eyes. He nodded before saying, “Point taken. I'm willing to take whatever luck I can get.” He looked to the sky before scanning the road. “Guess we should keep going in this direction.”

Since he actually managed to divine the correct way towards the city, I let him go. I thought we were making very good time now that we had a road. Even though Justin seemed to exhibit an endless amount of endurance, I knew he was beginning to falter. The smooth and gentle gait from before was becoming bumpy and he began to smell, uh... musky. Not bad, actually sort of enticing. In a dangerous kind of way. What worried me was the amount of water dripping off of his body. I wasn't unaccustomed to sweating, but I had never before seen anypony perspire like him. It was so bad, he was constantly wiping his face just to be able to see. Even then, the dark glasses he wore, I guess to shield his eyes from the light, became smeared so badly I don't know how he could see.

Oddly his breathing wasn't as labored as you would think. I know when I would exert myself to the point of sweating like he was, I would be breathing so hard it would hurt. Not him. Maybe that was just the way all humans were? I would have to learn more about what he was, and soon. For the moment, I needed to persuade him to stop for a while. It wouldn't do either of us any good if he keeled over from exertion!

Fortune was with us yet again as I spotted a pullover. That is a curved spot in the road meant to be used by wagon caravans to pull over for the night. I pointed it out to him, “There. That is a great spot to rest and, if we are lucky, meet up with a friendly caravan.”

He didn't say anything through his deep breathing, but did acknowledge me with a nod of his head and a deep grunt. His speed slowed a bit as we closed the distance. Though I would never say so, I was glad. My wing was throbbing painfully and could use a good rest.

I was surprised with the way he approached the pull off. He seemed to be stalking it. I knew from the way he would move quickly one moment and slow the next, that he wanted to make sure it was safe. Once he was sure that it was unoccupied, he walked us both in like we owned it. I really wasn't sure what to make of him at times. True, we hadn't spoken more than a few words in the last couple of hours. I had to remember that he was likely still mad at me. I would worry about that when I had too.

He set me down with a gentleness I was fast becoming used to. It still clashed in my mind as I could clearly remember how he dealt with Sasha just that morning. “Thank you,” I muttered. “See the pit over there?” He nodded. “There is usually a pile of wood nearby. Custom says we are supposed to use it and replace what we take once we are set up.”

Justin wasted no time. He left what little we had with me and proceeded to start a small campfire. I wasn't sure why he wanted one so early. It was only late afternoon, but it seemed to make him happy. Once that was done, he made me take the last few pieces of fruit and took the empty handbasket. “Going to see if I can find more to eat. Back in a few, I won't go far.” He then stalked off into the nearby wooded area.

Left to my own devices, I decided to take care of nature before he returned. That done, I returned and spread the blankets near the fire to make the ground a tad more comfortable. I figured Justin would be a while gathering food, so I spent some time writing the events of the past couple days into my journal. I had a lot to catch up on. I lost track of time while jotting in my notebook. So much, I didn't notice him wander back into camp until he set the, now full, handbasket down next to me.

I know I must have made a sound that amused him, by the look on his face. “So,” I stated, “You're the type who likes sneaking up on unsuspecting mares, huh?”

He chuckled in a subdued way. “Nah, I made so much noise I coulda woke the dead!” He chuckled a little more before stating, “Found more of those apples. I think those are peanuts and cashews...” He pointed to some nuts that were indeed what he thought them to be. “This,” he picked up an oddly elongated, football shaped, green pod. “I don't know what is...”

I smiled and stated excitedly, “A breadfruit! I love those!”

Justin looked at me. “Really? I heard of them before but never seen one.” He studied the cantaloupe sized pod then looked at me over it. “Any good?”

“Oh my yes!” I managed to stop him from cracking it open just in time. “You have to cook them first. Were there any more? That you could get to easy, that is. I know they grow high up.”

He smiled at me and held up his 'walking stick'. “I could reach a few more. Since you seem to like 'em so much, I'll meander over to the tree I found that one at.” He moved to walk back into the forest before stopping suddenly and yelling over his shoulder, “How many ya want? I don't wanna grab too many and waste 'em!”

I thought about that a moment. I knew once cooked they could last several days and were considered by many a delicacy. It tasted, and to a degree resembled, baked bread. They were grown locally by many farmers, but tended to be rare in the wild. “Can you reach them safely?” I saw him lean on his stick with a 'what do you think' look. “Well, several would be good. We can cook them up and they will stay good for several days!” He nodded and disappeared into the forest.

I rolled the breadfruit into the fire and used a long stick to move it around. Depending on how long he took, I might have this one ready by the time he got back. It only took a few minutes to cook one in the fire Justin made. He didn't skimp on the wood! I hoped that he didn't plan to keep a blaze this size all night. It would give us away for miles!

In less than ten minutes he strolled back into the camp with his coat wrapped up like a shoulder sack. He, much to my delight, opened it up to reveal ten of them. He spoke quietly, “Since you know how to cook them, do you mind?”

I nodded and looked up at him. I was taken aback at his look. His eyes had become sunken and he was even paler, if you can believe it! The wounds on his arms, what of them I could see from the bandages, looked red and angry. He looked like hell! “Justin, you should rest up! You don't look well.”

He nodded and muttered, “Don't feel too well.” He sighed, “Just gonna lay my head down for a spell. Wake me in a bit for a bite, 'kay?”

I nodded and watched my towering friend lower himself onto, mostly, one of the blankets. He tipped his stetson over his face and was out like a light. I wasn't really surprised. He had been in a brutal fight, walked for several hours, and even set up camp before resting. His day had been hard, to say the least! I hoped that some food and a good nights sleep would help him. I don't think I would be able to cart us both if he fell ill.

With that thought in mind, I cooked all the breadfruit. Once I was certain the male was sleeping, it was hard since he didn't make much noise, I checked under his bandages. I guessed he was extremely exhausted, since I didn't wake him. The wounds seemed to be healing too fast. The red I had assumed could be infection, was in reality new skin forming over the lacerations. They were all healing at an alarming rate, except the bad gash on his hand. That one looked pretty bad. I would have to get him to let me lance and clean it again to make sure it didn't get infected... wonder how I would go about that?

~~~ Justin

I hadn't gotten to sleep for more than a moment when I felt something touch me. I managed to suppress that panicky feeling to lash out at whatever had touched me. Instead, I used my other senses. Through a combination of hearing and smell, I knew it was Daring. What was she doing? She was lightly poking at my arms. I squelched a hiss as she inspected my hand. She was checking my wounds. I wish she would have asked me first, but then again who knew what her people considered normal. Maybe this was how they made sure their own were well?

I let her alone, taking stock of my situation. Except for extreme exhaustion, I didn't hurt anywhere near what I should have. The bruised feelings had left me after an hour walking. The cuts itched like hell, but aside from that didn't bother me much. The deep cut on my left hand, well that throbbed. All in all, I felt better than I had in a long time. The nerve related pain I was constantly under never surfaced. That had me curious, but this was all a dream. Nobody felt pain in their dreams, right?

Wait a tic! Those claw strikes hurt real enough. So did my back after carrying Mrs know-it-all over there. How could those feel so real. My dreams had never before 'felt' real. Maybe it was a side effect? I only felt what my real body was feeling? That made no sense. If that were true, I would hurt from head to toe, like normal. This was something to think about, later that is.

Daring left me alone after a short while and I could then hear an odd cracking sound followed closely by the smell of fresh baked bread. I wished that I woken to that. Brought back memories of when I was little. Every Sunday morning, mom would bring home a loaf of fresh baked bread from the local bakery. Oh that smell! It was at that moment, I missed my mother. That hit me in the gut. How could I miss her? I saw her only, what... um... I realized I didn't have an answer to that simple question. I should have been able to answer that immediately. It bothered me more than a little that I couldn't.

My thoughts were scattered by Daring’s husky voice. “Hey sleepyhead!” When I didn't respond immediately, I felt a hoof gently rock my shoulder. I toyed with the idea of springing on her like a monster, but discarded that thought. It would be funny to me, but likely she would be pissed. I really didn't need that. Things were conspiring to make me believe that I was going to need her help a lot more than she needed mine. I didn't like that train of thought at all. I decided, instead to pretend to wake like a normal guy. You know, lots of groaning and stretching.

I opened my eyes just in time to catch what Daring tossed at me with a friendly, “Catch!” My brain immediately notified me that it was hot... really fraking hot! I yelped and tossed... it from hand to hand. Slowly I realized it was one of the melon-like pods I had collected earlier. Only it was burnt black and was still quite warm.

I tried to look cross as I said, “Gee, thanks.” Only I couldn't manage to keep from chuckling with her. I looked at the now blacked and extremely hard breadfruit. “Soooo, how do I eat this thing?”

Daring chuckled, “You crack it open and enjoy the insides.”

Instead of using the rock she motioned to, I gripped the breadfruit with both hands and twisted with all my might. My left hand complained at the abuse, but the look of astonishment on Daring's face was worth it. The 'fruit' sheared in half with an audible groan. Looking at the grainy bread-like substance inside, I decided what the heck! I handed one half to the still stunned mare and proceeded to scoop out the innards.

After a tentative bite I couldn't help but state, “Not bad. Not bad at all. Little salt and this would be really good!”

Daring recovered from her shock and smirked at me. “I knew you would like it!” She then proceeded to devour her half with a very unladylike gusto. She stopped at the look I gave her. “What? I'm hungry!” She said with her mouth still full.

We both chuckled as we ate. The apples I carved up accented the breadfruit well enough to become the most filling and satisfying meal I had had since appearing in this weird land. Daring proceeded to grill me more about where I was from and what exactly a human was. I decided not to hold back anymore, so I told her pretty much everything she wanted to know.

After letting her ask me several questions I began to ask my own. “So, what is the name of this place anyway? I remember you mentioning Equestria, is that where we are?”

She finished a mouthful of apple before answering, “No. That is where I am from. Equestria is across the sea. We are currently in the land of Equagga.” Daring stopped to take a bite of cooked breadfruit. “Much farther to the north from where we met is the beginning of the Dragonlands.” She sipped from the canteen I offered to her. “We, currently, are on the road to Riverside. It's nothing more than a small trading city. If not for the rivers around it making travel easier, it likely wouldn't even exist.”

I pondered what she had told me. I had that nagging feeling that I knew everything she had just told me, but I couldn't hold onto the memories until she told me of them. Just like older memories were fleeting, I wondered if I would be able to remember what she was telling me. That was a sobering thought. What if I couldn't remember things past a few days. That would suck, and I would have to pay close attention to make sure that wasn't the case.

Since I ate more and also ate slower than Daring , I asked her, “Tell me a bit more about here? Some of this is oddly familiar, almost like when you read about something then actually experience it. Kinda messed up, to be honest.”

She looked at me with that odd look she so often had, “Are you positive you didn't strike your head?” I shrugged, we had already covered that. She sighed and continued, “Well, this area is mostly rainforest and savanna. If we had continued north, really far north, we would have run smack dab into the Dragonlands. Those are the beginnings of a mountain range that even Celestia hasn't explored. Since you can't fly, you won't have to worry about that much.” She looked at me with hard eyes, “Guess why they are called the 'Dragonlands'.”

I sighed between a bite of food, “Lemme guess, Dragons?”

She smiled, “You aren't as dumb as you look!” At my unfriendly look, she coughed, “Anyway, to the south is Riverside. Farther south and east is the major city of Nijan. If you go farther south and turn a bit to the west you will run into the coast and the port city of water, Gentra.” Thinking a bit, “I never had to think about things in walking distance. My best bet is that it would take several weeks, if not more, to walk all the way to Gentra.” She muttered, “If I hadn't lost my map, I could have just shown you.”

I decided not to rib her about loosing a map. After swallowing a bite, I asked, “So, Riverside is close huh? Tell me more about it? What kind of people live there?”

“Ponies,” she said. “What kind of ponies live there.”

“That's what I asked.”

She snickered at the way I sidestepped that comment, “Sure. Whatever. It is a small city, more like a town than a city, but they call it a city.” She chuckled, “As if they would know! Riverside is made up of a central part, the city, and lots of outlaying villages and towns.” I nodded and she continued, “It's a diverse place. Most of Equagga is. We will likely run into ponies, pegasi, the occasional unicorn, zebra, gryphons, mules, and the extremely uncommon dragon. Most ponies will be of the common three and zebra. Gryphons are pretty common as well. Mules are not all that common but you'll likely see a couple. Dragons tend to stay to themselves, and if we are lucky we won't run into any. Oh yea, almost forgot, might see a few Diamond Dogs too, but they aren't very common either.”

“I gotta ask, when you say 'dragon', do you mean giant fire breathing lizard?”

She nodded at me, “Yes, quite. They can get to be as big as a mountain and all tend to be bad tempered.” At the way my eyes must have bugged out she continued, “Like I said, it is very unlikely we will run into one. If we do, be polite and let me do all the talking. Hopefully it will be a knowledge seeker. They are nice. It's the other ones we need to worry about.”

I nodded, “You got it, chief.” I said with a thumbs up.

She chuckled as I ate the last few bites of my meal. “You are a strange one Justin.”

I stuck my tongue out at her. “You're a peach yourself, Daring.”

Daring continued to chuckle a little as she took off her pith hat. After checking that the Amulet was secure inside the recessed strapping she laid it down. She shook her head trying to get her matted mane to cooperate. The multicolored dark hues simply didn't want to. They seemed content to stay in one large jumble. “Figures,” she sighed. She pulled a comb of sorts from one of the several pockets of her of green blouse. She then began to fight with her mane. I thought the mane was winning too.

After a few moments of watching her do battle with her mane, I realized she wouldn't be able to do much without help. I shook my head and shuffled next to her. I snaked the comb out of her mouth and said, “Hold still.” Then began to assess the damage with dexterous fingers before attacking the knotted and tangled tresses.

Daring squeaked, “Hey! You don't have too...”

“It's nothing.” I said while smoothing her main out. I know I had done this many times in the past, just not with a pony. “Besides, with that broken leg this would be kinda hard. Plus that wing doesn't let ya bend to well.”

She sighed and relaxed a little while I worked. After a short time I had the major knots and tangles sorted out and was able to pull the comb through without jerking her head or ripping out hair. It was remarkably similar to human hair, the odd coloration notwithstanding. Once I had her mane semi straightened I could see that the coloration was much different that I had assumed at first. It was layered shades of blacks and grays. Almost like an inverted rainbow. Kinda pretty, in a weird kinda way.

It took me several additional minutes until I could truly run the comb through her hair....er, mane. Once I had managed that feat, it was easy to brush and astonishingly soft. It sounded like she was purring, only ponies don't purr, do they? This one seemed like she did. It was cute, again, in a strange way.

While I was brushing her mane I hear her voice, “Justin?”


I almost couldn't make out her low toned voice, “Thank you.”

~~~ Daring

As I lay here staring at the darkening sky, I let my mind wander. Oh, how I wish I could contact Celestia. She would know what to do. I don't often let myself acknowledge how much I relied on the princess's wisdom. I was her go to mare! When she needed something recovered, and that was a lot more often than most ponies knew, I was there! Only now, I was here, not her! I didn't know what to do with this, human. Normally I would have just said 'thanks' and jetted homeward with prize.

I tried to flex my wing. I didn't do more than tweak the muscle before agony rolled through my shoulder. My leg was a lot better, but still in bad shape. A deep sigh later, I thought with a wry grin, 'He is right. I need a doctor. Preferably one who can preform magical healing.' I straightened the splints on both wing and leg to make myself more comfortable.

I found myself with another conundrum. He had acknowledged me as a friend, possibly the only one he had in this world. He certainly has been instrumental in my escape... 'OK, lets be honest, he singlehandedly rescued me. Obtained the artifact. Took out the assassin following me, that I didn't even realize was there. To make things worse, he carried me! He bucking carried me the whole way! On his back!' My internal monologue wouldn't stop.

I muttered, “How in the world am I ever going to live this down? Me! The best, most awsomest, most well known, bestest, adventurer! Carried by a... um... whatever a human is.”

I felt bad. The whole time he had helped me without asking a thing in return. All I did was complain and accuse him of things he likely didn't even know about! So far, he had been a true friend. He helped me while I was down. He rescued me with no other reason except that 'It was the right thing to do'. He fended off an assassin without knowing why she was after me. He carried me on his own back. He tended to me like family, almost. Sure he did get a little angry but that was my fault too, not that I would admit it to his face. Why did he have to be so damn nice all the time? It would be easier to not like him if he wasn't so nice! If I wasn't so damn feeble I wouldn't need him at all!

I looked to the prone and resting form of my bipedal 'friend'. What was his game? Ponies out in this Celestia forsaken land didn't do things from the kindness of their hearts. They all wanted something. He had to want something. Ponies with his abilities didn't just fall from the sky! Did they? Only he wasn't a pony. He was a person.

My mind spun to a different topic of thought. I figured he wasn't from Equagga. Likely he wasn't from this world either. He freely told me about where he was from, and he even admitted it wasn't the kindest of places to live. It was unlike anyplace I had been, and I had been pretty much everyplace worth going. He made points to tell me of all the good his people were responsible for, but he also didn't hold back all the bad. His people had lots to answer for. He didn't seem too troubled about being here. He even went so far as to tell me these past few days had been the best of his life! Not the part about dealing with Sasha. He wasn't too keen about telling me about her. He did, but he was very subdued. Almost as if he would rather not have fought her at all. Considering how much he knew of combat, tactics, and fighting in general, I had a hard time believing him. Only, nopony can feign that kind of remorse. I had seen those who could, and even they had something that gave them away. He was pretty much an open book to me.

I muttered, “It's almost as if you wanted me to judge you, and you expected me to find you guilty of something.” I spoke to his sleeping form, “I don't know what you are guilty of, but I know you have been nothing but good to me, my friend.”

Having spoken those words was almost an epiphany. He was my friend. I could do with that what I wanted, but it was that simple. He was a friend. Nothing more, nothing less. I didn't need Celestia to tell me that. I knew it. Likely he would follow me into hell and back, I only had to ask. How I knew that just by looking at his sleeping form, I did not know. I knew it all the same. He would never hurt me, like so many in my youth. He would never sell me out, like many had before. He would never leave me behind, like that one pony whom I will never speak about... I derailed that train before it could get started.

As the moon began its upward trek in the sky and the sun began its slow decent, I studied my friend. I drew his form in my journal. I was pretty decent at drawing, from all the times I had to in the past. I was no artist, but I think it was a damn good rendition. The dwindling light of the sun coupled with the firelight and moon beams made him look surreal. Almost ethereal. As if I looked away and he would be gone. Simply a figment of my imagination.

With the way my mind was wandering, it was no surprise that I didn't hear the coming caravan until they were almost turning into the pullover. My head shot up at the close sound of tinkling bells and the creak of wagons. I roughly shook Justin while hissing into his ear, “We have company!”

I was caught completely unaware by his explosion of movement. One moment he was sleeping, the next he was gone. Only the rustling of a nearby shrub betrayed him. All I could say was, “Wow! And I thought I was paranoid.”

~~~ Justin

Darkness shrouded me as I wiped sleep from my eyes. My new staff was in hand. I wasn't sure how I had managed that feat, but nonetheless it was with me. I gazed out upon the pullover. With the diminishing sunlight coupled with the lunar light and campfire, I could see virtually everything that moved. I counted two massively sized wagons. Each was pulled by four ponies, or maybe they were zebras. There seemed to be an additional six moving in front of the caravan, outriders I guessed. Probably at least as many in the rear with an unknown number on the sides that I couldn't yet see. They were armed with spears, among other things, but no armor that I could detect.

I heard Daring call out a friendly greeting, at least I thought it was friendly. “Well met travelers! Are you headed toward Riverside as well?”

I saw that the 'outriders' moved slowly and cautiously closer while the caravan halted at a distance. I heard a distinctly feminine voice call back, “That we do, and who are you?”

“Names Daring, Daring Do! Maybe you've heard of me?” I heard my friend's voice.

The other feminine voice stated, “That is true, in these parts all know one as famous as you!”

“Rhymes? Seriously?” I sub-vocalized while keeping a close eye on the newcomers.

The strange female spoke again, “In this poor light, I thought I saw another take flight.”

Daring called out, “My friend is easily startled. Once he is sure that you mean no harm, he will show himself.”

“Tis good to know my vision is not in need of repairing, my dear adventurer Daring.” The almost musical voice was really grating on my nerves.

I watched the leader more closely. She seemed a bit shorter than Daring, but approximately the same, slender build. She seemed to be covered in a zigzag pattern of whites and blacks. 'Must be one of those zebra Daring mentioned' I thought. 'Do they all talk like that?' I wondered.

My hearing was quite good. I could hear others inside the treeline. They didn't rhyme. More like a type of semi silent communication using lots of gestures. They seemed to be 'communicating' with others outside my field of vision. I didn't like that at all. I wish I had my camo gear now. A better weapon would have made me feel more secure as well. Like an M-16!

I decided to slowly and silently move to a location directly behind Daring, but still far enough in the wood-line that I couldn't be easily seen. Or so I hoped. Thankfully, my jacket covered most of my pale skin. At least if they attacked, I would be able to spring out... and likely die with her. I thought, 'Great place to stop, Daring. Remind me to wring your neck if we live through this!'

I missed much of what was said while displacing, but picked up Daring's voice again as I settled, “...have any ponies in the woods? I wouldn't do that. My companion is easily startled and that could end up bad for all of us.”

“Then perhaps you should call out to your friend. If truly peaceful he is, our hooves we would like to extend.”

Daring looked thoughtful. She was probably weighing our options. There were a lot of people, err ponies, in this caravan. Far more than I could deal with. Before she could call out to me, I slowly stalked into the firelight making no aggressive movements.

I could make out a general gasp of surprise and quickly heard Daring speak up. “He isn't dangerous, so long as you don't threaten us. He is my...” she looked over at me, “...friend. And he has really done nothing but take care of me.”

I could make out a different voice from the caravan. A masculine voice called out, “What is that?” One of the guards perhaps?

The rhyming voice added, “Indeed, as my companion wishes to know, tell us please so as to let our confidence grow.”

I stood slowly. As I reached my full height, I heard a number of gasps and could see many of the caravan pull back closer to the wagons. To the leaders credit neither she nor the guard cowed back like the others, even if I towered more than head and shoulders over any of them. I took stock of the movement all around us. I still was unconvinced these folks were as friendly as Daring hoped. My voice, low pitched as it was, cut through the chatter like a hot knife through butter, “Daring, if these folks are as friendly as you think they are, would you ask them to call back their stalkers? Maybe let our confidence in 'them' grow.”

The male voice overrode the females, “We have no guards in the woods!”

The female spoke quickly, “Indeed, all of our guards, have pulled back several yards!”

Daring was likely going to try to talk to me, but I raised my voice in a lethal way, “Bullshit! There are at least a half a dozen troops stalking the woods on both sided of the road!”

The stupid look on the zebras' faces was all I needed to yell out, “To arms you fools! We are under attack! Defend yourselves!” I took a defensive stance over Daring’s yet prone form. Why did I always have to be correct? The things I mistook for caravan guards slinking through the woods were actually bandits that had been stalking the caravan, likely waiting for them to bed down for the night. The only thing I was horribly mistaken about was their numbers, there were a lot more of them than I had guessed.

Fortune smiled upon us. The bandits had lost the element of surprise. All the caravan guards, as well as the pullers, had armed themselves during the time we had spoken. By the time the forest erupted into madness, the caravan was prepared. Sadly, they were outnumbered. I managed to drag a half limping Daring toward the dubious safety of the caravan while cracking the skulls of two Earth Ponies who charged at us from the undergrowth. I wasn't sure if they were dead or unconscious. I also didn't much care at that moment.

The caravan guards were doing well, but seemed disorganized. It was as if they were prepared but had no actual combat experience. I roared at the top of my lungs, “Defense! Protect those wagons, boyos! Don't let the attackers inside!”

The previously quiet forest was now a roiling melee. I was amazed the zebra caravan guards hadn't stabbed me in the back yet. I was good, but no one could defend all sides perfectly. At one point I thought one was stabbing me, but as I ducked he ran a bandit gryphon through. I nodded and covered the guards next to me. Wounded and dead were piling up on both sides. I managed to snatch up a fallen bandit's sword. It wasn't well balanced, but was better than the crumbling stick I had been using. Thank goodness I knew how to use it quite well. The guards were no pushovers either. It's not that they weren't skilled, simply green with inexperience. They regrouped well as I bellowed orders to protect areas that were less defended and where bandits would undoubtedly try to break through.

The bandits took heavy losses, but so did the caravan. I managed to team up with a taller zebra who must have been a veteran of some kind. He knew his job and together we managed to bolster faltering areas of defense. That was until he took a thrown spear to the flank and collapsed like a lighting struck bird. I was fairly certain he hadn't been outright killed, but likely severely wounded, if not mortally so.

'I hope this caravan has a good healer!' I thought as I managed to drag him to one of the wagons before jumping back into the melee. 'He was a worthy soldier.'

The combat became more and more sporadic. Every defender had suffered at the very least minor cuts and scratches, more than half wouldn't be able to stand once the adrenaline wore off. Many more might die of shock and blood loss. Myself, I had shallow cuts in a dozen places, but none had slowed me yet. I heard a few guards muttering something along the lines of 'we won!' and 'they are gone', but I knew better. They were only regrouping for a last ditch rush at us. They hoped to catch us with our guard down. I could actually hear some of them in the woods and, oddly, I could see them somehow.

I spoke to the guards nearest to me, “They are regrouping. They are going to attack again. Pass it on to be ready!” I moved among the defenders who, while skittish at my presence, didn't stab me as I pointed out the bandits I could see regrouping. I didn't know how I could see them at all. My night-vision, while excellent, had never been this good!

I thought it was a good sign that the wounded were being taken care of by passengers in the caravan I hadn't seen before. The bandits gave us more time that I expected them to. This allowed me to point them all out to the remaining defenders and focus our defenses at the points most likely to be attacked. I even found an undamaged spear that I planned to throw at the first bandit I saw.

When they finally came, it was a massacre. They must not have had the ability to see as well as I could, though I thought the gryphons would be able to. The bandits charged straight into a wall of spears and pain. The one I was planning to throw my spear at was instead shot by our only archer. I didn't even know we had one. The largest bandit Zebra I had seen yet attacked. As I moved toward him, thinking to do battle with the enemy leader, he was struck down by a well tossed spear and then turned into a pincushion by several vindictive spearponies. As I watched the remaining defenders make mincemeat out of the last of the bandits, I made a mental note never to piss these guys off. They were brutal! I didn't have much to do in the last moments of the ill fated attack. The guards counterattacked with a precision I hadn't expected possible.

Later I would learn that the leader of the guards had taken a well placed crossbow bolt in the opening moments of the melee. That was why they were so disorganized. None of them knew how to take charge. If I hadn't yelled out like I had, it is very likely they would have been overrun. During the time between the attacks, and unbeknownst to me, a charismatic young zebra had taken command and listened to what I had to say. It was he that convinced the others to listen as well and organized the counterattack. I can't be positive, but I do not think any of the attackers were able to flee. If they did, it was between combats, because these guys left none standing at the end.

Once things had calmed down and I didn't see anymore aggressors, I said, “We need to get the wounded inside the caravans and move them off the path.” The remaining guards and drivers must have thought I made sense because they did as I asked. “I also need three volunteers who aren't seriously wounded and have strong stomachs.”

That got several to mumbling, but in the end I got my volunteers. I divided us into two squads of two, each armed with a spear and sword. “OK soldiers,” I stated, “It falls to us to dispatch the enemy wounded and locate any wounded friendlies.” I took the youngest looking one with me, more to tell me who to stab than to actually do the dirty work.

By the time we made sure all the bandits were truly dead and had accounted for all the guards, the caravan had been moved into the turnoff. They wasted no time taking care of the wounded. Even Daring was helping as best as she could. It seems she knew several of the caravan's ponies and zebras. The caravan's death toll was much lower than my estimates. Only six dead out of thirty souls with three times that in wounded, myself not included.

In my opinion, we had gotten off very lucky. I had to talk to Daring and mention the oddity of the strange night vision I had developed. Like I had mentioned before, I had excellent night vision but this was more like wearing night vision goggles! I didn't know what to make of it.

As I and my young zebra friend, whose name I learned was Kemal, walked among the wounded, I was pulled over to one of the medical zebra. They wouldn't take no for an answer, so I let them dress my wounds. Seems like they had accepted me? I was still unsure of them, but at least they didn't consider me a bandit. Most seemed to be leery at my presence as well. I could deal with that. The last thing I heard before passing out, was Daring calling my name. All I managed to say in return was, “Thank the goddess, your safe...” Then oblivion took me.

~~~ Daring

I had never been so scared in all my life! At first I thought Justin was attacking the zebra caravan. Then all the screaming and fighting and clashing of weapons! The ponies charging at us. Justin attacking them and calling for for the zebras to defend themselves... All I could do was stumble to the zebra caravan and hope they would protect me. The smell of blood was everywhere, but the whole time Justin protected me.

I moved on automatic. Helping wounded and pulling injured away from the fighting. It was truly monstrous! I had been involved in small scale fighting, a few ponies fighting with a few others, but this was different. This was war! There were dozens of dead and dying.

I watched as my friend, the man I thought to be a pacifist, rallied the zebras. He formed them into a cohesive unit. I knew his people were combative, but this? His mere voice gave hope to the outnumbered zebras and I watched him butcher the enemy with a furor and efficiency that was terrifying. I was uncertain if I would ever be able to look at him the same again. He was a predator. A cold hard killer. Still...

I looked upon his ravaged body. He had still been weak from his fight with Sasha, yet he fought like a daemon! I used the medical supplies given to me to sew his injuries shut with my own hooves and teeth even though one of the zebras offered to help. The actual medics were too busy with their own wounded, and likely he would have bleed to death if not for my ministrations. He had been cut over a dozen times and had been bleeding freely for far too long. Once I managed to get one of the elder zebras to look at him, they gave him only a fifty-fifty chance to wake up again.

I pleaded with the leader of the zebra caravan, her name was Zecella, to grant him one of her precious healing potions. I figured since we were old acquaintances she would give me one. She refused at first. She already knew of his courage in the face of danger and how hard he fought, but she had many wounded of her own. She claimed he only fought to protect me, so I had to beg and plead. Even then, she only offered to grant me one under the condition that I tell her all I knew of him and his race. I promised her this and more, I promised that he would tell her all she wanted as well. Only then did she bestow upon me one of her potions, one she said would guarantee Justin’s recovery.

As I stood over his prone and unconscious form with the potion in hand, I wondered why I begged so hard on his behalf. This potion could easily heal my busted leg and wing in a few hours. I could fly home. True, he had saved me time and again. Sure, he had carried me all this way, but I had no allegiance to him. Why, oh why, did I care?

I could almost hear the princess's voice in my head, 'Because you have so few real friends, and he IS your friend. You would die for your friend, just like he was willing to die for you.' As I thought this, the potion went down his throat. My friend would live!

I muttered to myself with a smile, “Thank you Celestia!”

I never saw the elder zebra Zecella, as she smiled at my decision.

Chapter two is here, and I would like to thank all you folks for reading. The amount of view and favorites the first chapter got overwhelmed me! I didn't think my story would get much attention at all, but 291 view (as of my typing this) really blew me away! I can only hope you all enjoy this one as much as the first. As always, please drop a comment. If ya like it, tell me whats so good. I might add more of what ya want that way! On the same respect, if ya didn't like something... Tell me how to improve! Honestly, I would like to become better at writing in general, so tell me whats on your mind! Even if it's just a 'HI THERE!' I like those too! Oh yea... As we all know, I do not own MLP... blah blah, this is a non-profit work... blah blah blah... I HOPE YOU ENJOYED IT!