• Published 27th Mar 2024
  • 420 Views, 39 Comments

Parks and Wilderness - stphven



A routine monster hunt goes wrong, stranding a lone guardsmare in the desert.

  • ...
3
 39
 420

Chapter 26 - Oak

"WHAT IN TARTARUS IS GOING O-"

"Shhh!"

I blink.

I am Sergeant Oak, of Their Megesties' Royal Guard. As a sergeant, shouting is my natural dialect. I can go entire days without lowering my voice. But something about the purple pegasus frowning at me gives me pause.

Maybe it's the novelty of a sergeant being shushed by a private. Maybe it's the mare's confidence - the quiet authority of a medic looking after her patients. Or maybe it’s because one of those patients is a freaking human. Given that the human appears to be asleep, maybe shushing is a good idea after all.

Licking my lips, I start again. Much quieter.

"Ahem. Private Punch. I'm tremendously happy to see you've found my lost Glacier. But could you please explain to me why she appears to be sleeping in a human's lap?"

I can't help but goggle at the strange scene in front of me. Judging by the muttering behind me, neither can the rest of my squad. We’d all been out searching until about an hour ago, when a signal flare caught our attention. Despite working through the night, we immediately took off through the desert. After a gruelling gallop, we’d arrived to find an injured and seemingly delirious Corporal Trail. And now… this.

Glacier, scuffed and dirty, is draped carelessly over the human's crossed legs. The strange, elongated creature is slumped forward over her, cradling Glace protectively. Its deep, slow breaths are matched by her cute, quiet snores. Both mare and monster are covered in fresh bandages. Though thankfully none of the injuries look too severe. Well, none of Glacier's; I've no idea what to make of the human. I doubt I would have even recognised it as a human, if not for-

"See? I told you!" Feather Trail chirps, far too lively for a mare being carried on a stretcher. "An honest to Celestia human! I told you so! Now who's the crazy pony? Hahaha!"

I rub the space between my eyes. It’s going to be another long day.

"Yes, thank you, Trail. I concede you're no crazier than usual. Now please shut up and get some rest."

Fruit Punch - sitting casually by the human - giggles quietly into her hoof.

"I had to give Feather some painkillers," she explains. "She may be a bit, uh… Loopy."

"You don't say," I answer dryly.

"As for the human..." Fruit continues, shrugging. "Well, it seems Glacier found a new friend out in the desert."

She nods approvingly.

”Good on her.”

As I struggle to formulate the proper response to this suggestion - something along the lines of “Are you crazy?” - Glacier’s ears twitch. With a lazy yawn, the crystal mare sits up, rubbing her eyes.

"Mmhmf... Wha- Sarge? Oh, hey, everypony. I guess you found me." She still sounds a little bit out of it. "Does this mean I'm -yawn- rescued?"

"I'm not so sure yet," I admit, eyeing the human.

I instinctively raise my weapon an inch. My squad immediately follows suit.

Glacier’s eyes widen. She sits up straighter, waving her forehooves.

"Woah woah woah! Okay, let's slow down here. Yes, there's a human. That's not exactly normal, but please don't freak out?"

"Bit too late for that," one of my guards mutters, nervous. Privately, I agree. Even among hardened veterans of the Parks and Wilderness Guard, few can claim to have survived a monster from The List. I study the seemingly sleeping creature warily. Standing orders in this situation are to disengage and fall back. Glacier knows this, but she's showing no sign of trying to move away.

Could this be a trap? Is she bait to lure us in? I note the long, powerful arm still resting on Glacier's withers. Waiting, perhaps, to wrap around Glacier’s throat if she misbehaves?

But that doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve worked with Glacier for years. Learned her expressions pretty well. And right now, she looks genuinely more scared of us than the human. And Fruit Punch - well, I don’t know much about her, but she looks far too relaxed for a hostage. If anything, she seems amused by this standoff.

In either case, alerting HQ must be our highest priority. Without taking my eyes off the human, I bark out my orders.

"Pitter and Kite, head back to Tranquillity. Find the lieutenant, tell her what's going on. Then, I want you on the next train to Canterlot. You're to report all this to HQ, in person. On the double!"

There's a pair of affirmatives, then the beating of hooves as the two guards hurry back to civilisation. At least they’ll be safe; I chose Pitter and Kite specifically because they're the youngest. The rest of my squad are veterans; they know what they’re getting into.

Glace nods approvingly as the two rookies gallop away.

"Ok. The warning's been sent. So now there's no reason for anypony to do anything rash, right?"

”Right,” Fruit Punch nods. “We’re all friends here.”

Glacier looks up at me expectantly. A slight flicker of her ear betraying her nervousness, but she seems genuine.

I grunt.

"I sure hope you’re right."

With a gesture to my squad, they begin lowering their weapons. With understandable reluctance. They’ve probably reached the same conclusion as me by now: whether this is a trap or not, we don’t want to provoke the human if we can avoid it.

"Now Glacier, don't take this the wrong way - I'm pleased as punch to see you, all alive and in one piece - but what in Tartarus is going on? And can you please step away from that thing?"

"Huh?” Glace follows my gaze to the human. Realising she’s still sitting between his legs, she hurriedly climbs out, cheeks glowing red. ”Uh, right! Right."

I breathe a sigh of relief as she extracts herself without incident, stepping out of the beast’s reach. Trotting up to me, she continues in a low voice:

"Look, Sarge, the human saved my life a whole bunch of times. He even risked-"

"'He'?"

"Has a penis, Sarge, so I'm assuming he's male."

"...I'm not going to ask how you know that," I say, eyeing the clothing around his waist.

"Well, I want to know," Feather Trail chimes in from somewhere.

"Shush."

”I kinda want to know too,” Fruit chirps.

"The point is," Glacier continues, blushing harder than ever. "He risked his life to save me. There was a sand wyrm attack; it was a whole thing. Fruit Punch saw it all. Right, Fruit?"

"He totally charged in to save her," Fruit nods, eyes sparkling. "It was awesome."

"Right." Glacier takes a steadying breath. "I know he's from The List and everything, but I don't believe he's a threat to us. He's just lost, and alone. Like I was. We obviously can't take him back to town, and I'm not saying we shouldn't be careful. But after all he's done, I- I can't just leave him here."

Ugh. This is getting more and more complicated. The whole situation is way above my pay grade. And Glacier chooses now to start disobeying orders?

I let her know what I think of all this by way of Frowning at her. A serious, sergeant-grade Frown. The kind that sends lesser guards scurrying for cover.

Glace returns my gaze steadily. Steely turquoise eyes, gleaming in the morning light. Familiar eyes. Tired eyes. But no less determined.

I maintain the offensive, searching for any sign of doubt or weakness. But I know Glacier; when she makes up her mind about something, she can be as immovable as her namesake. Eventually I relent, sighing in exasperation.

"Whatever happened to my dependable, by-the-book little Glacier? You know, back when you were a corporal, you never used to cause me this much trouble."

She grins. A real full-faced beam. Stars, it's good to see her smiling again.

"Guess that promotion went straight to my head, huh?"

"Eyup. Happens all the time. Now come here, you."

I step forward, hooves open wide. Glacier trots into my embrace eagerly, squeezing me tight.

The moment doesn't last long. Armoured hugs are always awkward, and neither of us are the hugging type. But this is something we both need.

Other members of our squad soon gather round. A quick hug; a pat on the shoulder; a ruffling of her mane - Glace may not have many friends, but her sisters-in-arms will always be family.

I step aside, letting them have their moment. Somepony's got to keep an eye on the human, after all. Now that he's not looming ominously over Glacier, he does seem a little less threatening. Still dangerous, but I'm starting to notice the scars and signs of malnutrition. Whatever humans are, they're clearly not invincible.

I cautiously inch my way over to Fruit Punch. The purple mare’s still sitting right next to the human, eyeing some bandages critically. I'm not sure if she’s incredibly brave, or incredibly foolish. Why are all pegasi like this??

“Is it - er, he - really asleep? We haven’t exactly been quiet.”

Fruit gives me a gentle smile.

”From the sounds of it, he and Glace have been having all sorts of adventures for the last two days. The moment I finished patching him up, he was out like a light.”

Her smile turns impish.

”Plus, I may have given him some slightly stronger than normal anaesthetic. Feather Trail seemed kinda freaked out by him-”

”I’m still freaked out,” Trail supplies helpfully.

”- so I thought it might be best if he took a nap.”

“Huh. Good thinking.”

I let out a low whistle.

“So. A real, live human. Never thought I’d see the day. I guess all those rumours about there being a wild alicorn out here had the wrong cryptid.”

”Um. Well. About that…”