• 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.

  • ...

Chapter 30 - Goodbyes

”Are you nervous?”


”You should be!” Fruit Punch squeaks, her short mane quivering with agitation. “This is THE Princess of Friendship we’re talking about! There’s not a nicer, more powerful, more important pony in Equestria! This is a Big Deal!”

Wow, this pep talk sucks. So much for Fruit’s Harmony Corps training; I'm actually feeling more worried now!

I am Sergeant Glacier, and in just a few moments I’ll be brought before the highest authority in the land to explain exactly why I repeatedly disobeyed orders and put multiple ponies in danger. Or at least, that's what it feels like.

Yeah, yeah, I know; that's probably not what's going to happen. The Princess is here to meet the human; She wouldn't concern Herself with something as mundane as military discipline. This will likely be a quick meet and greet; "Welcome to Equestria, please tell Us about yourself, blah blah blah." But still, I can't stop my imagination from running wild. All the ways this could end very badly. All the ways I've already let the Guard down.

So am I nervous? Absolutely. But I refuse to show it. It's time to mare up, accept responsibility for my actions, and face what's coming head on. And besides, somepony's got to act professional around here. With Fruit Punch apparently having a meltdown, that duty falls to me.

"Why are you so panicked, anyway?" I glance over to Fruit, pacing carpeted hotel room as she straightens her armour for the twelfth time. "Isn't the Princess supposed to be super nice? Haven't you met Her before?"

"Yeah, I met Her. At graduation! We spoke for all of two seconds! And of course She's super nice! That makes it all the more important everything is perfect! She deserves perfection! Now where's my helmet gone?!"

I roll my eyes. Not bothering to point out her helmet's still on her head. Like it was the last time she asked. Instead, I turn to check on Anon. I could use a bit of sanity right now. (Part of me is still amazed to be associating sanity with a human.)

The big guy is currently checking himself out in the room's large mirror (still not tall enough for him). Lieutenant Cookie was sensible enough to place a rush order last night for some brand new clothing. Can't have Anon meeting The Princess in his old rags. And given he doesn't have nearly enough fur down there, going clothesless isn't an option either.

His new ensemble consists of something like a plain white tunic, bound with a wide belt. And draped over his shoulders is a colourful poncho that looks suspiciously like it might until recently have been a tablecloth. Topping it off is one of Sandy Mile's decorative hats: black, sweeping, and with far more buckles than I'd have a thought a hat could ever need.

Does he look good? Uhh... Couldn't say. I never really know what counts as "Fashion". He certainly looks much more civilised. I could picture him going about town, standing out no more than your average yak or minotaur. Which I suppose is the point. He looks safe. Buuut, if I'm being honest... it does feel like kind of a let down? He's a human, that one part of me still insists. He's supposed to be this half-naked savage. Rough, and dangerous, and primal, and exotic or some other word that sounds like exotic.

But, er, this is fine too! Definitely more Princess-appropriate!

"L-looking good there, Anon," I cough, forcing a smile.

He gives me a companionable smile in return. Though it quickly morphs into something more playful. Still eyeing me through the mirror, he begins striking a series of poses. Very silly poses. Completely shattering any possible fantasies anypony might be having about cool, mysterious hunks. Hmph! Well at least he seems to be enjoying his clothes!

I can't help but giggle at his antics. Though to me, it's a bittersweet moment. With all the excitement yesterday, it only occurred to me this morning that we may be parting ways soon. Very soon, even. I'm still a Parks and Wilderness Guard; as soon as I finish rehab, I'll be shipped off to lead a squad of ponies in some remote corner of Equestria. Meanwhile Anon will probably be taken back to Canterlot. Perhaps even straight after this meeting. Watching Anon goof around in his silly clothing may be the last private moment we share together.

The thought makes me choke up a bit. I can't quite hold back a sniffle. Raising a hoof, I quickly rub my eyes, hoping he didn't see anything. I- Isn't it weird how quick you can get attached to things? I've only known Anon for three d-days...


He pauses his posturing.

Three days, zero languages in common, but already he can tell when I'm feeling blue.

"It's ok, Anon," I say softly.

The human kneels down, concern clear on his face. One hand reaches out towards me. Hesitates, uncertain.

I smile at him, willing my eyes to stay dry. With only a slight ache from my horn, I levitate my helmet off my head, setting it aside. Then I step forward, gently guiding his hand to my mane. Silly human just loves petting my mane.

"It'll be ok."

I'm gonna miss this goofball.

"Now presenting: Anon the human."

The ornately armoured hypogriff steps aside, allowing us entrance to the hotel's luxury suite. Several more guards - including Captain Gallus - line the richly decorated entrance hall. If they're surprised or concerned about letting a human in, they're too professional to show it. Though the human certainly shows his surprise.

Anon shoots me a nervous glance. His eyes asking if he should be worried. It's probably all the increased security and formality; he doesn't know we're about to meet royalty. I can't break my professionally neutral expression, but I give him a subtle shoulder bump. The warm touch lingers for a moment, as he leans slightly into me. Then a quick nod, as though he's satisfied with my reassurance, and he begins striding forward. Fruit and I follow on either side, Fruit moving with stiff, overly formal precision.

The three of us enter into a spacious (by Tranquility Springs standards) penthouse. Floor to ceiling windows, arched in the local style. Silk carpets from Saddle Arabia, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. Ostentatiously plush couches - the kind you only ever see in magazines - arranged around a central low table. And seated at the head of the table, in a grand lounge chair which still seems woefully inadequate for the occasion, is The Princess.

Everypony's seen photos. We all know what Twilight Sparkle looks like. But actually meeting Her...

The aura of an alicorn is overwhelming. Poets have tried to describe it for centuries. The PWG taught us to be wary of it. I've even experienced it firsthoof. But Hers still catches me off guard.

The Sand Witch's presence asserted power and authority; I was in Her domain, and only for as long as She allowed it.

But for Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, Ruler of Equestria:

Hers is an invitation.

A playful wink, saying that all this "Princess" stuff is just playing dress up. That She'd genuinely love to hang out and grab a hayburger with me, at any time. That She's ready to really listen to my worries, to help me with my problems. Because that's what friends do.

I bow low. Suddenly appreciating Fruit's sentiment: the Princess deserves our admiration.

Opposite me, Fruit Punch is already bowing. Anon follows suit shortly. I don't know whether he feels the same profound respect we do, or whether he's just correctly deduced that the floating-maned, crown-wearing alicorn is a Big Deal.

"Welcome to Equestria, Anon," says the Princess warmly. Her voice is strong and smooth, but with a youthful vivacity that occasionally bubbles to the surface. "Please, rise. And welcome home, Sergeant Glacier. It's wonderful to have you back."

She sounds like She means it.

"Thank you, your Highness," I reply, barely keeping my voice steady. My eyes go misty for the second time today. It really feels like I'm finally home.

I haven't forgotten my duty as translator, however. After a pause to get my breathing under control, I gently nudge Anon out of his bow.

"Anon," I start, thinking how best to phrase this. "Um... Equestria. Friend. Anon."

I gesture broadly in all directions, hoping he remembers "Equestria" from when we were talking about the map. And Fruit already taught him "Friend" yesterday; one of the first words she shared. It's not exactly "Welcome to Equestria," but I think the meaning is close enough, and it's the best I can manage on the spot.

Anon seems to follow my reasoning. In his deep voice, rough by comparison to the Princess but still earnest, he replies:

"Anon friend Equestria."

The Princess's smile widens, excitement dancing in Her eyes.

"That's wonderful to hear, Anon. And thank you for your help with translating, sergeant. I'm actually quite interested in learning about Anon's language, and his linguistic adaptation to modern Equestrian. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Please, have a seat everypony."

We do so. I subtly guide Anon to sit at The Princess's right, while placing myself next to him. Fruit takes the seat opposite us, still stiff as a board. An attendant gracefully places a tray of fancy looking biscuits between us, and asks for our choice of drinks. Her Highness picks a delicate sounding tea, which Fruit quickly copies. I stick with ice water, and recommend Anon has the same. Don't want to accidentally poison him with something that's safe for ponies but not for humans. (At least, not in front of The Princess.)

With hospitality and etiquette now satisfied, Twilight eagerly returns to the conversation:

"Before we get started, I'd like to try casting a translation spell on Anon. Just to make our conversation go a bit easier, you know? Do you think you could communicate this to him, and ask for his consent? I realise this might be a bit of a challenge to convey."

"Of course, Princess," I reply. My voice stays level, but I feel my stomach sinking.

Darn. I didn't know "translation spells" were a thing. I'd... I'd hoped to stay on as Anon's translator a little while longer. But I can't hold it against Her Highness. It's a perfectly reasonable suggestion; we should try anything that makes it easier for Anon to communicate. And, I admit, I'm a little excited at the prospect of conversing with him freely, in Equestrian or however the spell works. Maybe I'll even get some answers out of him, before we part ways.

I glance over at Fruit, wondering if she has any ideas for how to start the translation. The smaller pegasus is chewing her lip, clearly thinking hard. At least the task has finally distracted her from her own silent panicking.

I turn the problem over in my own head for a moment longer, before a new thought occurs to me.

"Actually, Princess, I've just remembered: Anon seems to have some kind of... magic resistance? I- I noticed I can barely affect him with my levitation magic. Would that make any difference to your spell?"

"Interesting," Twilight hums, Her amethyst eyes alighting on Anon. "Humans do seem to have a funny relationship with magic. Hmm. If you'll excuse me for just a moment..."

With a flash from Her long horn, a notepad and quill appear floating beside Her. Anon flinches in surprise. (Though, to his credit, only slightly. He's getting used to unicorns and their flashy tricks. I give him an encouraging pat under the table.) Though I'm rather surprised myself; the Princess sounds like She knows something about humans. But before I can work up the nerve to ask Her, She continues:

"If you don't think he'd mind, I like to conduct a few quick tests. Nothing dangerous or painful! He won't even know I cast them. Probably. They'll just give us a baseline to work with for estimating the efficacy of future magical effects."

Fruit and I exchange glances. The pegasus shrugs, knowing nothing about spellcasting, and probably not understanding even half of Twilight's jargon. I hardly know much more myself, but surely we can trust the Element of Magic when it comes to this stuff? Those wild stories about a younger Twilight Sparkle causing weekly magical mishaps are probably all made up, right?

I give the Princess a hesitant nod. The magenta glow around Her horn brightens. No visible effect or change comes over Anon. He and Fruit just wait quietly, both looking slightly confused. I'm not sure what's happening either, but I can at least feel something. There's a... kind of magical hum, is the best way I can describe it. Like a tone, right on the edge of hearing, constantly shifting in frequency. No idea what any of it means; it feels vaguely similar to the diagnostic magic the doctors performed on us last night. But that was foal's play compared to this.

Every few seconds the Princess takes a note on Her pad, nodding or frowning to Herself. After half a minute of silence, the tone stops. The glow around Twilight's horn dims, and She smiles up at us.

"Right then. You're quite correct, Glacier. Anon has a most peculiar blend of - as you called it - "magic resistance". It's fascinating, really! I've already got some ideas on how to work around it. But, for today, it's probably best if we leave the translating to the two of you." She winks. "From what I've been told, you've been doing a great job."

A smile makes its way to my lips. Both from the praise, and relief at not being replaced just yet. Though I quickly school my expression as we get down to business. For the next half hour, Fruit and I do our best to translate for the Princess. It's a slow, sometimes frustrating process, involving lots of pointing and miming and stick figure drawings. But Twilight is patient - even offering a few insightful suggestions - while Anon is eager to hear what She has to say. Though we're performing in front of an audience of elite Palace Guards, with the four of us working together I don't feel at all embarrassed.

Our efforts steadily bear fruit. To summarise: Princess Twilight had already spoken with Captain Gallus, Sherrif Pear, and Sergeant Oak last night. The latter had relayed my report in detail, so She already knew pretty much everything I did about Anon. Maybe even more! (Seriously, I'm getting the feeling that the Princess knows a lot about humans that we were never taught in the PWG. Which seems a bit unfair!) Twilight was saddened to hear that Anon had become separated from his people, lost in the Badlands with no way of knowing where he was. She promised (through us) that Equestria would welcome him as a guest for as long as he stayed here, and pledged to help him in his search for his people. She even hinted that She has some ideas of where to start looking!

Anon was overjoyed when we managed to convey this. He actually picked me up and hugged me! I mean, he's hugged me before, but this was in front of Fruit, all the other guards, and the Princess! I couldn't decide if I was happy or mortified! I think he would have hugged Twilight, too, if not for all the jumpy looking guards with spears glaring at him when he moved in Her direction.

With that initial excitement over, it's clear Anon now has a hundred questions he wants to ask. (I do too!) Just what does the Princess know about his home? And how does She know it? Unfortunately, we still lack a lot of the vocabulary necessary for this kind of back and forth. That, and Twilight seems to be deflecting most questions for now.

"I'll be happy to answer your questions later," She promises. "And I've got quite a few questions of my own, believe me! But I really shouldn't keep you much longer. You've already had a lot to take in this morning. Plus you're all still recovering from your ordeal in the desert. I promise, once you're a bit more rested, and either we've got that translation spell working or you've taken a few lessons in Equestrian, then the two of us will sit down and have a nice, long talk."

Ah. There it is. "The two of us."

My excitement dims again. Reading between the lines, it looks like I won't be part of Anon's story much longer. Understandable, really; between the Princess's spell and Anon learning our language, there simply won't be any need for me. Heck, Fruit Punch is already just as good at translating as I am. I'm completely redundant.

Fruit begins dutifully translating the Princess's message. I do my best to help, but... my heart just isn't in it. I catch Fruit glancing at me while we work. But she's being a good guard and maintaining her professional neutral expression, and I'm not in the right head space to guess what those glances mean.

After a few more minutes, we (mostly Fruit) finish translating the gist of the message. The Princess smiles down at us once more.

"Thank you, my little ponies. You've both been a big help today, and I'm sure Anon appreciates it, too. I'm afraid we can't stay too much longer, but if either of you have any questions or requests, I'd be happy to help."

My mind latches on to the "We". So She's leaving with Anon? Right now? I guess this really is goodbye...

It's... hard to look in Anon's direction right now. I want to ask if we'll get to see him again. But it's obvious I'm no longer needed. He'll go to Canterlot. I'll go to my next assignment. Maybe, in a few months when I get some time off between postings, I'll be able to see him again. Do they let random ponies visit royal guests? Will he even still be in Equestria by then?

I shake my head, ready to-


I flinch as Fruit practically growls at me. Anon stares at her across the table, equally surprised.

"Is... everything all right?" Twilight asks, genuine concern on Her face.

"No!" Fruit continues, glaring. "Glace, I can see you getting all... all gloomy, and defeated! What is up with you today? Why are you giving up on Anon so easily!?"

"I- I-"

"I'm sorry, Princess, but Glace is getting some things twisted around, and she really needs a few things clarified! Things like, what happens next? Where are you taking Anon? And the one Glacier really wants to ask: "Will she ever see him again?""

I flinch. Harder this time. Twilight's eyes widen in dismay. She quickly waves Her hooves placatingly.

"Of course! Of course she'll...! I never meant...!" She stops. Takes a breath, composing Herself. Then, with an apologetic smile: "I'm sorry, I worded that all wrong, didn't I? I meant my guards and I need to leave soon. Not Anon. I actually wanted to talk with you about this afterwards, Glacier, but it seems I'd better clear a few things up right away."

The churning, sick feeling in my gut pauses. Starts to drain away, a little. Feels like I can breathe a bit deeper. I'm still not quite in full control of my voice yet, so I just nod.

"Anon's future will be up to him, of course," Twilight continues, looking at each of us in turn. "But for now, I recommend he remain here, in Tranquility Springs. He needs time to heal, and to get used to Equestria. I was actually hoping the two of you might stay with him, while you recover. He'll need guides. And, more importantly, friends."

A rough, warm hand takes my hoof beneath the table. I look up in surprise. Anon's eyes flickers to the other mares as they speak, but never leaves my face for long. He gives my hoof a reassuring squeeze.

"Eventually, I'd like to take him to stay at the castle. Of course, wherever he ends up, you're more than welcome to visit each other as often as you like." Her smile turns a little wistful. "It's true we all have our own duties to attend. And they can keep us from our friends for longer than we'd like. But that certainly doesn't mean that will be the end of your friendship! It just means you'll have to fight a little harder for it. And from what I've heard, the three of you are fighters! You'll be okay; I'm sure of it."

"Thank you, Your Highness," I manage, thickly. Hearing that from the Princess of Friendship really does help. "And thank you, Fruit."

"Any time, boss," she grins happily at me. "Oh, a-and, um... S-sorry about m-my little outburst there, P-P-Princess."

Aaand Fruit's back to being a nervous filly. She really flips between outspoken and insecure, huh?

Twilight beams at her.

"Not at all, Fruit Punch. I'm glad to see you looking out for your friend. You do the Harmony Corps proud. Though, er, maaaybe a tad less shouting next time?"

Fruit's dark cheeks turn bright red. Her wings fluff and re-fluff, seemingly on automatic. Twilight laughs.

"Alright, I promise I'll get back to you with some of those other answers soon. But we really can't stay too much longer. If there aren't any more urgent questions...?" She looks to each of us. We shake our heads, and the Princess continues. "In that case, thank you for your time, Anon and Private Punch. Sergeant Glacier, if you wouldn't mind staying for just a few more minutes, there's still a few things I'd like to discuss with you."

What have I got myself into now?

Icy winds ruffle my fur. Frigid air fills my lungs, making my breath mist. The sunlight feels distant, brittle; a fragile warmth, set in a crystal blue sky. Thick packed snow crunches beneath my hooves, the ground level for a few steps before spilling down a steep mountain slope.


"Eight and half kilometres north of the Crystal Empire," Twilight states matter-of-factly.

I'm still reeling from the sudden shift. Fruit Punch and Anon had just said their polite thank-yous and goodbyes, Anon giving me one last squeeze as he went. Then Twilight asked Her guards to step outside, too. That struck me as odd, but they had complied without question. For an awkward moment it was just me and the ruler of all Equestria. Then She smiled and asked "How are you handling the heat?" In truth, the hotel room had been uncomfortably warm for me, and I told Her as much. She'd lit up Her horn, and then-

"I thought you might be more comfortable here."

I look around, still in shock. White and grey peaks extend to the horizon. Snow-laden pines cling to the steep slopes in thick clusters. Some distance to the south, I can make out the very tip of the iconic spire of the Crystal Palace.

"We- we just teleported? We're outside of Equestria?"

Twilight nods. Breathes in deeply of the crisp mountain air, sighing happily.

"Just for a few minutes. To be honest, I'm not much of a desert pony, either. I grew up in Canterlot; I'm a mountain mare, too."

It's strange to think of Twilight as anything other than an ageless alicorn Princess. But that little tidbit about her past fills me with a sudden sense of kinship. For a brief moment I see a vision of a little purple unicorn filly playing in the snow. Perhaps not so different from my foalhood.

"I like to come here sometimes. When I need some fresh air."

Twilight winks at me conspiratorially.

"Don't tell Gallus. He hates it when I don't take a guard with me."

"Uh. Well, um, technically you did take a Guard with you..."

I don't know what I think I'm doing, making jokes with the Princess! But out here, with just the two of us - I don't know, it just seems more natural?

Twilight laughs. Not the dainty laughter of a princess in court, but an inelegant, dorky snort.

"Pffft! You're absolutely right. Though I think perhaps Gallus meant a guard fit for active duty... Still, his fault for not specifying."

The Princess grins at me. I grin back. Again, it just feels more natural in this place.

A quiet moment passes between us. It really is nice out here. I savour the chill seeping into my coat, the fresh pine scent clearing my head.

"So... What was it you wanted to talk about, Your Highness?"

"Please, just Twilight is fine."

"Okay. Twilight. So, what's up?"

Deep amethyst eyes peer into my own. Curious, probing, but not critical. A teacher getting to know her new student.

"I have a question for you," she begins slowly. "But before we get to that, I feel it's only fair you should have your own questions answered. You've done a lot for Equestria, without understanding the full picture, and I know how frustrating that can be. Previously I avoided answering some of Anon's questions, for various reasons. But now I promise to do my best to answer yours."

Twilight beams, looking like an eager filly.

"Let's chat."