• 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.

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Chapter 29 - Homeward

“Welcome back, Miss GlaciAAAAGH SHADOW MONSTER!”

I sigh. I am Fruit Punch, and I haven’t even finished climbing out of the chariot before Sandy Miles has found something to panic about.

“Hi, Sandy. Hey, everypony. Yep, we found your monster.”

I hop from the polished wooden step down onto the dusty street. The Royal Chariot has landed smack dab in the middle of Hoofrest. Rustic old buildings and equally rustic ponies gather around me, painted orange by the setting sun. I recognise most everypony here from the search teams. Though instead of welcoming smiles, they’re all looking a bit shocked and/or terrified as Anon emerges behind me.

He practically tumbles out of the carriage, chattering cheerfully as he sets his feet on solid ground. He’s halfway turned around, helping Glacier out of the carriage, so he doesn’t immediately notice the crowd.

Then he does.

Stopping in his tracks, he turns slowly. Blinking at the dozens of faces staring up at him. A long moment passes. He raises an arm, kinda stiffly, and gives an awkward little wave. When the ponies don’t respond, he turns to me, eyebrow raised in confusion. I shoot him a reassuring smile, then address the crowd once more.

“Everypony, I’d like to introduce Anon the human. Anon, say ‘Hi’.”

”H-hi,” he repeats timidly.

The crowd begins to murmur to itself. Sandy Miles cautiously peeps her head out from behind her aunt Rose, where she’s taken shelter.

”Y-y-y-you brought the monster here!?” Sandy whispers loudly. Rose absently swats her with her tail. But even the older ex-guardsmare is looking a little stunned.

“Don’t worry, he’s actually a big softy,” I insist. I give the human a friendly pat to show he’s safe. “The whole ‘Shadow monster chasing you through the desert’ thing was just a misunderstanding.”

By now, Glacier has finished climbing down, careful of her bandaged leg. Taking up position on Anon’s other side, she calls out:

”Ahem. Thank you everypony for being here to welcome us back. And thank you for all your help in the last few days. I’m very sorry for all the inconvenience I’ve put you through. But it is extremely heartening to know there’s so many wonderful ponies willing to help a stranger in need.”

Aww, look at her go. My normally stoic sergeant isn’t too bad at this public speaking stuff. She’s even smiling a little bit. She’s not exactly Harmony Corps level, but, y’know. 'A' for effort.

Several ponies in the crowd smile at Glacier, though the overall mood is still a bit leery.

”Now, I believe Anon has something more to say?”

She gives Anon a gentle nudge. Looking extremely awkward, he crouches down, coming to rest at about eye level. Clearing his throat, he gently nods to Sandy Miles.

”Err… Eyem zzorry?”

Rose and Sandy blink. Scanning the faces in the crowd, I see some of the trepidation start to drain away, replaced by surprise and curiosity.

”He doesn’t speak Equestrian very well,” Glacier admits. “So on his behalf, I’d like to apologise. He’s very sorry he scared Miss Miles the other day. As Private Punch said, it was an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

”Ahhh,” Sandy stammers. “I, uh, t-that’s, um… That’s okay?”

Anon holds out a hoof - er, hand - ready to be bumped, just like I taught him. Sandy stares at it for a moment. Then, inching forward, she very carefully bumps it with her own.

I smile.

“Funny story, but Anon here actually helped rescue Glacier! He may look kinda scary, but he’s a hero!”

”R-really?” Sandy asks, looking up at Anon with wide eyes.

More murmurs from the crowd. More curiosity and interest. A few ponies near the front dare to come a little closer, while those at the back crane their necks. Dusty Rose leads the way, taking a more confident step forward.

”Well, it sounds like there’s quite the story there. But first, welcome back to Equestria, sergeant! I’m Rose. Happy to finally meet you.”

She lifts a hoof to Glacier, who bumps it firmly. Then, without missing a beat, Rose offers her hoof to Anon, who smiles and bumps it in turn.

”Thank you, Rose,” Glacier says, looking happily at the interaction. “Fruit Punch told me you were a huge help in organising the search party. I’m very grateful.”

”Aww, any time, sweetie. Now, you three are looking pretty roughed up. Why don’t you all come inside? We can get you nice and comfortable with a cup of tea, some hot food, and then settle in for the night.”

Glacier shakes her head ruefully.

”Thank you, but we can’t stay for long. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Princess Twilight herself is actually in Tranquility Springs right now, and she’s summoned us personally. We wouldn’t want to keep the Princess waiting.”

There’s various “Awww”s from the crowd (and an “Ohmygosh!” from Sandy). I quickly add:

“But we just had to stop by and say thank you, and let everypony know everything’s okay. Although,” I turn to Glace with a grin. “Now that we’ve landed, I’m sure our gallant pegasus charioteers would like a break. Maybe we can stay for just one drink?”

The Royal Guards hitched to our chariot fluff their wings, standing proudly. They don’t look tired at all, but flattery goes a long way. Glacier just rolls her eyes and fails to hide her smile.

”Well, I suppose the captain’s still on his way,” she says, glancing up at the sky. The second Royal Chariot, carrying Captain Gallus, Lieutenant Cookie, and a few others, is circling overhead, slowly descending. Somehow our chariot had managed to get a few minutes ahead of them. “And it would be impolite to turn down the hospitality of such wonderful ponies. But just a few minutes, okay?”

“You hear that, everypony? The drinks are on me!”

There’s a cheer from the crowd, and they start making their way to the local tavern just across the street. Though a few linger behind to personally congratulate me and Glacier, and even shake Anon’s hoof. Er, hand.

While Sandy is gushing about something guard related to Glacier - who is looking a bit overwhelmed - I turn my attention to Dusty Rose. The greying mare is smiling warmly at her niece.

“By the way Rosey, whatever happened to Sheriff Pear? I haven’t seen him since we got back.”

”Oh, he’s back at Tranquility Springs. He left a few hours ago. As soon as he heard that Glacier was safe, and that there was suddenly a Princess back in town, he decided he’d be more useful there than waiting around here.”

She chuckles, a wicked grin on her face.

”I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he meets the ‘Shadow Monster’. I’ll be teasing him about this for months!”

“Go easy on the poor stallion!" I giggle. "Sounds like he’s going to have his hooves full for a while. Missing ponies, desert monsters, Sandy, and now a visiting Princess!”

We continue chatting happily while we slowly make our way to the eatery, drawn towards the delicious smells wafting across the street. Anon has proven surprisingly popular. Sandy keeps looking up at him in awe as she walks, before inevitably bumping into some hapless bystander or lamp post. Old Mare Marmalade, completely fearless, is dragging the human inside, prattling on about needing to fatten him up.

I follow them all with a smile, though I pause at the doorway. Glancing back, I notice Glacier is still out in the street. The second chariot is just touching down a few houses away, but Glace seems to be looking beyond that. Ears perked. Eyes staring intently.

“What’s up?” I ask, trotting over.

”You see that?” she asks softly, nodding towards the mountains in the south. “Four hundred metres, at the base of that sound dune.”

I stiffen.

“It’s Her,” I say quietly.

Glacier nods. Just beyond the edge of town, a dark pony-shape watches us. Her outline shimmers, blurring into the evening shadows around her. But I can still make out the smokey wings and horn.

We regard each other silently. I should be panicking - all my previous encounters with the Sand Witch seemed to lead to disaster. But somehow this feels different. An aura of calm quietly envelopes me.

Slowly, the figure raises a foreleg. Holds it up as though she’s waving to us. I raise my own in acknowledgement. In my peripheral I see Glacier doing the same.

The distant figure seems to vaguely bobble. Perhaps nodding to us. Then, despite my pegasus senses telling me we’re in a dead calm, a gust of wind catches the figure. Her dark form dissolves, spilling into the air like a cloud of ash. Soon, all that’s left is a streak of silvery sand.

I blink. The spell is broken. Glacier and I let out a shared breath, before exchanging looks.

“Well…”

”Yeah.”

“So she’s alright after all?" I wonder aloud. "Guess it takes more than a sand wyrm to kill an alicorn.”

”I guess so. Whoever she is.”

Glacier looks like she wants to say more, but then a third voice calls out:

”Hey, fillies. What are you two doing out here?”

We turn to see Lieutenant Cookie happily trotting our way. Behind her, the rest of the passengers are exiting the newly landed sky carriage.

Glacier thinks for a moment, frowning. Then she smiles.

”I think we were saying goodbye.”


“Well hello there.”

”Anon, no!” Glacier scrambles up, cheeks reddening. “This is the mares’ washroom! Stallions’ is next door! Shoo! Shoo!”

I wish I had some popcorn. A delightfully flustered Glacier is trying to hurry a very naked Anon back out through the door he just entered.

After our brief stopover at Hoofrest, we’d all hurried on back to Tranquility Springs and our meeting with the Princess. It was dark by the time our chariot landed. It had been a long day - a long couple of days - and we were all exhausted. Unfortunately, royal meetings come before rest.

Or so I had thought. But after trudging over to the hotel where the Princess is staying, we’d barely entered the lobby before receiving a message from Her Highness. Apparently Captain Gallus had reported our various injuries to the Princess, and She’d immediately insisted we take the night off. Not only that, but She’d organised a team of doctors to check up on us. And ordered a hot meal be delivered to our room. Best Princess ever!

It had been fun watching the doctors puzzle over Anon. Eventually - after being poked and scanned and bandaged and magicked - we’d all received verdicts of “Should make a full recovery.” Phew! Though we’re all to take medical leave and complete some rehab programs. Oh, and Feather Trail will be joining us! I’d last seen her this morning, being carried off to town on a stretcher, still loopy from painkillers. The doctors had treated her earlier today, and are confident of her eventual recovery. The four of us are to report for further treatment tomorrow. But tonight our orders are to rest and relax.

And so Glace and I find ourselves in the hotel's cosy little washroom. The same washroom we’d spent our first evening together in, at the very start of our adventure. It’s a familiar scene. Wisps of steam curling around the low wooden ceiling. Moisture gleaming on the tiled walls and floors. A nice hot tub for me to soak in, while Glacier cools off in her little ice pool. Just me, her, and her twelve hoof tall bare naked human.

”N-no, you can’t bathe with me again!” Glacier whines. “That was a one time thing! A-and Fruit’s here, too! So! You have to wash elsewhere!”

She’s frantically trying to shove the confused human towards the door. Though given how much larger he is, he’s not exactly easy to budge. Fun as the scene is, I should probably intervene. My sergeant is supposed to be relaxing, after all. If she slips and faceplants into his crotch (which is looking increasingly likely), she'll be wound up all evening.

“Ehh, just let him stay," I say from the comfort of my tub. "He’s not doing any harm. I certainly don’t mind the view, and it sounds like you two are already bath buddies.”

Glacier pauses, cheeks reddening as she realises what she just said aloud.

“Besides,” I continue, waving a hoof. “If you send him off unsupervised he’ll just run into some poor pony in the corridor. Probably give them a heart attack, and definitely make a ruckus. Better to keep him here where we can keep an eye on him.”

The flustered unicorn bites her lip, glancing toward the doorway and pointedly not towards any pieces of anatomy on display. Anon looks down at her, honest concern on his face. He hesitantly reaches down to pet her mane, asking a question in his human language. Then, like a switch being flipped, his expression shifts to understanding and embarrassment. He quickly backs up a step, one hand covering his stallion bits, while the other snatches up the closest towel. In a flash, he’s wrapped the fluffy pink thing around his midsection, tying it in place with a simple knot.

Glacier and I can’t help but stare. The comparatively tiny pink rectangle doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Somehow, it even makes him seem lewder. Still, the human seems pleased with himself.

”Gray safe, yes?” he asks, pointing at the towel. The sheer earnestness in his voice finally sends me over the edge.

“Pfffhahaha! Oh, sweet Harmony, yes! Yes, that’s perfect, Anon! We are so very safe now.”

Glacier, meanwhile, is trapped somewhere between laughter, embarrasment, and indignation. Her nose scrunches, her cheeks puff, and a high pitched whining builds up in her throat. Finally, with an explosive sigh, she slumps down.

”Yes, Anon, fine, whatever,” she grumps, defeated

Making her way back to the bench she was sitting on, she flops down lifelessly, knocking aside a hairbrush. Anon gives her a happy smile. Reaching down, he ruffles her mane with his hand. She swats him away, glaring, but it’s a familiar glare. The one she uses when she’s trying not to smile.

”Actually, since you’re here, you can make yourself useful.”

She picks up the brush and thrusts it towards Anon. He takes it, looking a little uncertain till Glacier gestures to her mane. Her thick, blue curls have been washed and re-washed, expelling prodigious amounts of sand. Now they’re dangling limply around her neck in thick clumps. Sparkly clean and horribly tangled.

”My horn still hurts,” she pouts. “And brushing by hoof is a pain. So you can brush me instead.”

She tries to sound snobbish and dignified, but can’t help glance nervously at Anon. For his part, the big guy seems delighted with his task. Taking up a clump of mane in one hand, he begins carefully working the brush through, using his long fingers to gently separate the strands.

Quiet minutes go by. I dreamily watch him work, fascinated. Glacier finally starts to relax again. Her eyelids droop, and she lets herself lean into Anon’s strong hands. Nopony says anything as we all just soak in the atmosphere. Warm steam filling the air. The plip-plip-plip of a dripping tap. An occasional happy murmur from Glace.

I almost start to feel jealous. If my hot tub wasn’t so comfortable, I’d be tempted to snuggle next to the human too and ask for my own brushing. Though my mane isn’t nearly as long or pretty as Glacier’s. Hmm. Perhaps the human can do massages? I bet those fingers could do wonderful things…

I let my fantasies idly play out for a while. Eventually my focus drifts away. I wander from thought to hazy thought, half asleep. Recent events play over in my mind, coming and going in no particular order. Bathtubs. Sand storms. Alicorns, and Princesses.

“Hmmglais?” I mumble.

”Hmm?” Glacier asks, eyes still closed. I clear my throat, and try again.

“Hey. Glace? Random question.”

”Hmm,” she almost purrs. “You did this last time, you know.”

“Wha? Did what?”

”When we were last here. Ask questions out of the blue. Not a fan of long silences, I take it.”

“Oh. Uh, sorry.”

”It’s fine,” she chuckles. “What’s up?”

“It’s not important." I consider leaving it at that, but now that I'm a little more awake: "I was just wondering. How’d Princess Twilight hear about Anon so fast?”

One cyan eye cracks open, looking at me with sleepy curiosity. The rest of her remains completely still, as Anon continues his ministrations.

I bring my hooves up out of the water, tapping them to emphasise my points.

"So, like, our search party finds you this morning. Oak is all “Ooh, there’s a big scary human, let’s all freak out about it.” He sends a couple of messenger ponies to report this to HQ. It’d take ‘em, what, most of the day just to reach Appleoosa, right? Let alone Canterlot? So how did the Princess know to get here by, like, lunch time?”

Glace gives a lazy shrug.

“Magic.”

I level an unamused stare at her over the rim of my bath. Eventually she cracks, smiling and waving away my frown.

”No, really! Okay, okay! So, since we operate in so many remote places, each commissioned officer in the PWG is given an enchanted scroll. They're these single-use items which can send a message to HQ instantly. They're super expensive, though, so we save them for emergencies. I’m guessing that when Oak's messenger ponies told Sugar Cookie what had happened, she decided to use her scroll. After all, a confirmed sighting of a human is pretty much the textbook use case.”

Anon places a firm hand on Glacier’s withers, preventing her from moving about so much. The mare recomposes herself, smiling and nodding at Anon to continue.

”From there, HQ would have immediately alerted the Princess." She frowns slightly. "Though the part that I don’t understand is how she reached Tranquility so quickly. Even if she received a scroll as early as noon, surely it would take Her least a day to fly here from Canterlot, yes?”

“Oh, I know the answer to that.”

”You do?”

I smirk.

“Magic.”

Glacier snorts.

”Pfft! Alright, I walked right into that one. My apologies. But seriously, do you actually know?”

”I mean, she’s literally the Element of Magic,” I shrug. “I hear she can teleport from one side of Equestria to the other, as easily as you or I could walk across a room. She was probably all like “Oh, a human? Perhaps I shall pop in for a quick visit after supper.” Then POOF!, she casually ‘ports herself and her entire palace guard to Tranquility, easy as.”

”Hmm. Perhaps you’re right.”

“Yep.”

We both chew this over for a while. Too drowsy to think of anything more to say.

The quiet washroom sounds take over again. Groaning timbers. Quiet breathing. Anon's steady brushies. He's really doing a great job over there. Glace’s mane is looking sleek and gorgeous. Normally the human likes to be included in our conversations, but he seems to be fully engrossed in his work. That, or he’s just too tired to ask for a translation.

Which suits me just fine; I'm too tired to translate. Besides, it’s probably time we all head to bed. Bath water’s starting to get a bit tepid.

With a reluctant groan, I flop out of the tub, onto the cool tiled floor. Anon kindly uses his super long arms to fetch me a towel.

“Thanks, 'Non. I think I’m done for the night. You heading to bed soon, Glace?”

No response. I blink sleepily in her direction. Then smile.

Coming from the fuzzy blue bundle leaning against Anon are the cutest little snores.