• Published 5th Nov 2011
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Equestria: Total War - emkajii

War comes to Equestria: with despair, with starvation, with sacrifice and with heroism.

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IV. Mt. Kali'gryph, Kingdom of Gryphonia. July, 1251.

IV. Mt. Kali'gryph, Kingdom of Gryphonia. July, 1251.

Twistbeak pranced down the barren hall towards the staircase. War, perhaps? Wouldn't that be something! Man! Crazy. And all because of...well, no not because of her, but...heh, yeah, because of her. Own it, Twistbeak. You're awesome. Not everyone can turn a fact-finding mission into a mobilization for war. Amazing. What would her old friends think of that? Heh. She had sworn never to return to Ponyville after that humiliation, but...ha, circumstances can change. It might be fun to pay Dashie and that damn pink thing a little visit in a few months! But first...well, first whatever errand the king was sending her on.

She arrived at the staircase. It was dark. She knew that "dark" and "Gryphonic Palace" were words with a long and storied love affair. But usually it was at least possible to tell where one was headed. Or what kind of staircase it was. Or where the stairs were. She tested it with a foot. Hm. A soft stone, whatever it was. And...and there it ended. She reached tentatively for the next step. If there even was a next step. Did it just...no, no, there it was. Quite a step down. Hm. And it's a spiral staircase, but going the wrong way 'round. Well. She had her orders. She began feeling her way blindly down the dark descent.

It was a long staircase. She was beginning to think she had missed an exit or something, that she was climbing all the way down to the valley below, when she realized she had hit the bottom. But yet she was still in perfect darkness. She felt around her. The walls were rough, and uneven, but gave no hint of a door. Not in any direction. The floors, too, were bare. She looked around helplessly, though she could see nothing. Had she gone down the right staircase? No, this must be right. She searched again, this time examining every square foot, her talons checking every crack and bump for a sign of a handle. Nothing.

She sighed. Great. She had managed to get herself lost in a staircase, of all places. She kicked a wall in frustration.

And it opened. The stone rattled and groaned, as the wall sank into the ground. And there she was, before a long sandstone hallway (or passage, it wasn't quite either), lit by a single torch.

She stepped into the light, blinking, and glanced back over her shoulder. The staircase remained in absolute darkness, rejecting any possibility of illumination.

"Halt! State your name!" a thin voice called out. She stopped. Nobody was there. She looked around. Nothing. She looked down. Directly beneath her field of vision was the most pathetic-looking gryphon Twistbeak had ever seen. She was small. Runtish. Her feathers were tattered and torn. It looked like someone had been grabbing clumps of them in their beak and just ripping them out. She was thin, dangerously thin. Her eyes looked unfocused. Her fur was dirty. Her beak was chipped. But she had a calm look on her pathetic little face.

Twistbeak shrugged. "My talons need sharpening."

The little guard raised an eyebrow--or tried to, at any rate. She didn't have an eyebrow to raise. "I didn't ask you about your grooming habits, missy. I asked you your name."

Twistbeak looked blankly at her. "My. Talons. Need. Sharpening."

The guard rolled her eyes. "And. I. Asked. You. Your. Name."

Twistbeak glared. "Look, runt. The king told me to come here. He told me to say those words, and those words only. So I'll say them again. My talons need sharpening. My talons need sharpening. My talons need sharpening. I can do this all day, kid."

The guard laughed. It was a weak little laugh. It would inspire pity if she wasn't beginning to get on Twistbeak's nerves. "Of course you can't do this all day! You're fat! You'd fall over asleep if you missed your snacks, wouldn't you?! Ha ha ha. But really. What's your name."

Twistbeak looked back at the staircase. Clearly something was not right here. "Look, kid. Where's the guard. I need--"

"--you're looking at her. And not answering her questions." The little guard bounced back and forth on her paws childishly.

She snapped. "rrrrFINE! My name is Twistbeak! And my--"

The guard interrupted, with a rattle of short sentences. "--I asked you your name. That's not a name. That's silly. You're not taking this seriously at all. I should just send you back. With your embarrassingly dull talons. And you'd go to the king and he'd look at your talons and say--" her voice here dropped to a child's caricature of an angry father "--Twistbeak, you silly-named gryphon, your talons are still dull!"

Twistbeak was indignant. "What, is this a test of some sort? You're testing me, aren't you."

The guard laughed again. "And you haven't even filled out your name on the paper yet!"

Twistbeak drew her head back, with all the poise she could muster. "My name is Twistbeak. That is the name of my father. That is the name of his father. That is the name I took when I entered the service of the Court. That is my name, per the customs of honor. That is what you will call me."

"Nope! You're Gilda," the guard said, as plainly as if she was informing her that she was a gryphon.

"What? Why did you even ask me then?" she spat, her cheeks turning hot.

"To see if you're a liar. And if you follow orders. You are. And you don't. Hee hee. The king told you to say only four words. I told you to say your name. You didn't do either of those! You just did what you wanted! That's dumb." The little gryphon turned, and plucked a feather out of her left wing. She then looked back up at the bigger gryphon. "Bye bye!"

Twistbeak's eye twitched. No. This little runt was not going to treat her like this. Not her. Not today. With her right hand, she grabbed the tattered little gryphon around the neck. It was time to put her in her place.

The little gryphon's expression didn't change one bit. Twistbeak guided her right middle talon into the guard's throat. She spoke with all the ancestral menace she could summon. "Now listen. We're going to start over, you and I. You're going to say 'halt.' I'm going to give you the code phrase. And you're going to take me where I need to be."

The little gryphon laughed. Twistbeak screeched in rage. With her other hand, she swung at the little gryphon's face, talons extended. As expected, her talons dug into flesh. Contrary to expectations, the flesh was her own face. Her right hand was empty. Her left was dug into her own face. And the little gryphon was nowhere.

Twistbeak freed her hand from her face, and looked around hurriedly. Wherever she went, she'd just--

--and the universe was a constellation of lights, blue and red and green and iridescent, shimmering, shining. She floated in space, she fell through time, she was overtaken and consumed by the lights, the lights, the lights, the humming, the buzzing, the one white light, the one light, the torch, there was a torch, and she was on her back, and there was a hallway. She was on her back on a hallway. There was a torch above her. She picked her head up. It was heavy. The room spun. And above her, there stood a small raggedy gryphon. Oh. Right. She tried to pick herself up off the ground. She couldn't. Too dizzy.

"Boy!" a little disembodied voice said. It must have been the little guard's, but it wasn't coming from anywhere in particular. "You're a really bad fighter, Gilda! Probably the worst I've ever seen! And you're fat, and you don't follow orders, and you lie about your name, and you're really easy to make angry. And your talons are really dull, he didn't lie about that! Boy, you must be awesome!"

Gilda shook her head, her eyes closed. "Huh? I don't understand. I don't understand anything anymore."

The guard laughed. "You're probably the worst recruit the king's ever sent us! No, you're definitely the worst! We've never, ever had some out-of-shape scribe in robes with a silly court name! One who couldn't fight or keep a cool head or follow directions or anything! I've never seen someone so poorly cut out for the Talons. Never! Never ever! I could pick a lion off the street and he'd be a better Talon than you--and they don't even have talons! I bet you'll be amazing." She said the last bit like a child talking about a birthday present she might get. Maybe she actually was a child.

Gilda put a hand to her forehead. "Look, kid. You beat me. In every way. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what you did to me, or what you're saying. Just let me know what's happening, please."

"Yes ma'am!" The little guard saluted in a caricature of military efficiency. It would have been cute--endearing even--in other circumstances. "You're Gilda. You're underneath the palace. My name's Frankie. Short for Francesca. 'cause I'm short too. I'm a Talon. You will be too, but I don't understand why yet! You'll be really great, though, because if the king thinks you should be a Talon even though you have absolutely none of the attributes that make a good one, then you must have something else in you that means you'll be able to do stuff none of us can. He's never wrong, you know."

Gilda sat up. Her head was a bit clearer. "Okay. Frankie. Hi. Yeah. So I'm a Talon, then? That's why he sent me here? Because I'm a Talon now?"

"Nope. You're not a Talon any more than you're a zebra. You will be, though. Ha ha not a zebra, though, don't be silly. Well, no, unless you die. Then you won't be a Talon. But most of the recruits don't die. The king only sends us strong ones. But you're not very strong, so I don't know what he's thinking, but I bet he knows what he's doing anyway. Yep. You'll be fine. Now get up and get moving! You have a lot to learn. Boy, do you have a lot to learn! I'm surprised you can even figure out how to feed yourself. Ha ha, but you clearly have that one down pat! Fatty fat."

Gilda stood, bracing aginst the wall. She was still a bit confused, but at least she could see straight again. She took a step forward. And another. And another. And--huh. She was naked. She looked back. Her robes were in a heap on the floor behind her. She turned to retrieve them.

Frankie said in her little sing-song voice, "Nope. Sorry Gilda. You're not Twistbeak any more. Twistbeak needs robes. Gilda doesn't. But you know that now, right? Twistbeak is dead. Hopefully Gilda won't be!"

Gilda ran a talon along her beak. Okay. Sure. Why not. She thought the robes were stuffy anyway.

The two walked down the hallway together. Gilda thought a bit. She could deal with this, maybe. A Talon. She didn't know what that meant, but if even Twistbeak didn't know what that meant, it was probably pretty awesome. Plus, this kid had just cleaned her clock in a way she didn't even know was possible. It would be pretty sweet to do that to somebody else. And yeah, she was sick of being Twistbeak. She had become a scribe after returning to Gryphonia--as family honor demanded, sigh--but truth be told, she never really liked the lifestyle. She wanted action. Sure, she was good at being a scribe, yeah, but she was good at most things. Well...she thought she was, anyway. Not according to Frankie, it seems, but Frankie's a different story.

She looked down at the little gryphon. "Alright. Sure. So, yeah, Frankie. Couldn't help but notice that you're not exactly the model of grooming yourself. Give it to me straight, doc--am I gonna look like you soon?"

Frankie looked back, confusedly. "Huh? What's wrong with the way I look? My talons are sharp! See?" She held up a claw.

Gilda laughed. "No, kid. Your feathers. Your beak. Everything else."

Frankie's expression didn't change. "Um...I dunno. I don't really bother worrying about that. There's so much more important stuff to think about. As long as your talons are sharp, you're fine! But I guess if you wanna spend your time preening yourself like a pretty little baroness, you can do that too!" She smiled and looked ahead. "We get some free time, you know. You can preen then! And brush your fur, and take bubblebaths and be pretty! Ha ha, a pretty Talon! We've had a few, you know. But they don't stay here. They do other things. I don't know what."

Gilda looked around. The hallway was longer than it looked. They walked on, Gilda silent, Frankie humming.

Then they reached the end of it. Gilda glanced at Frankie. Frankie nodded impishly. Gilda tapped on the wall in front of them. Frankie jumped up on Gilda's back, then chirped in her ear, "Good luck! I bet you won't die!"

Then she leapt off, and flew back down the hallway--surprisingly fast, given the state of her wings. Gilda looked back at the wall in front of her, and tapped it again. And the floor opened, and Gilda fell.

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