by SpiralWriter

First published

Oddjob awakens to a much different Equestria . . .

Disclaimer: Do you see a crossover tag up there? No. This has nothing to do with the James Bond character.


With unforeseen circumstances and higher powers at play, Oddjob awakens from his long due nap. His eyes fall upon Equestria, only to find that he's been asleep for almost a decade. With a ragtag group of friends new and old, he is assigned to investigate mysterious going-ons across Equestria, granting him a chance to see the land he's so longingly loved. And heck, maybe he'll learn a lesson or two about friendship along the way?


Rated T for some fighting, cursing and the like.


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He smiled as he performed his tasks with effortless ability and cold calculation. Just the tiniest bit of magic and the slightest flick of the tip of his horn, and the others were freed. No longer would they be under the spell of the wretched queen. No longer would they mindlessly wander about, their only driving force her words and will. He was doing them a favor, he was showing them the way of truth.

They tried to fight him at first, tried to resist him. He even had to kill some of them. Such a shame, really. But he did not blame them, only felt pity that their last moments on this world was as an enslaved mind. But he would avenge them. He would free every last soul and lead them to the Deliverance. But for that, the Deliverer would require an army. An army of able-bodied souls who sacrifice everything, all in the name of being delivered from this atrocity that was considered freedom.

This hive was once considered one of the most powerful and productive hives of all changeling colonies out there, but now it was just a hollow shell of its former glory. He should know, he used to be one of her slaves until the Deliverer showed him the true path. Now, he would bring his brothers along with him, whether she wanted him to or not.

The changeling was rather odd, if being an emotion-harvesting insectoid filled with holes wasn't odd enough. He was lean, long, and taller than most other drones that roamed the land of Equestria. His sleek black carapace had strange, almost rune-like markings etched into his hide that glowed occasionally with an eery iridescent sheen that matched the green motif of his wings. The runes came up his neck and along his face in an almost warpaint manner, outlining his wide, never-blinking eyes in a skull-like pattern. Behind him, several more changeling drones shambled behind, their movements almost zombie-like and erratic. The displayed muscle twitches, and the same glow from the runed changeling also appeared in their eyes.

But besides these few followers, there laid an entire chamber of dead changelings behind him. Some were still, their lifeblood flooding the floor, while others desperately clung to their last few moments of breath. The tall changeling smiled almost sympathetically as he approached one of these dying drones, bending low to stare into its eyes. "Do not worry, brother." He said in an almost whispery tone, as if his voice was soft as silk. "I know you know not what you do. I forgive thee." He chuckled as he raised a foreleg and smashed it down, crushing the changeling's skull with a sickening crunch. Once he had wiped off the blood from his hole-filled hoof, he continued on.

The hive he invaded had once been called his home. He knew every corner, every nook and cranny of the pulsating pustule that hid within the Everfree Forest. Assaulting it was a breeze. His scent marked him an ally, and no drone would ever think him a traitor. Every soldier and scout was out hiding amongst the ponies, collecting love for their feeble queen, and the few behemoths the hive had were in slumber deep underground. It was perfect.

Now, as the changeling walked the green-lined halls of the hive, he came upon a familiar room. A small smile lit up his face, but he would have to pass up on the occasion to meet her. He didn't feel like prattling on while there was work to be done.

Down, down, down to the deepest reaches of the hive they went. Most of the hive had been alerted of their presence, and had either evacuated or been slain upon trying to stop them. He did not mind. If they could not be saved, then killing them would be a mercy from their brief existence as common slaves.

"Ah, here we are." The changeling said cheerily, the ones behind not responding to his optimistic tone at all, only continuing to shuffle behind absentmindedly. They arrived within a massive chamber that echoed with their every movement, the only thing visible was shadows and the dull glow of the taller changeling's runes.

The changeling moved to the center of the large chamber, a hulking pod as large as a boulder sitting in the center. It was vaguely egg-shaped, and pulsed ever so slightly with the small movements coming from within the pod.

"Oh look at you, a baby behemoth. I pity thee . . . so young, so innocent, only to awaken to a world where you cannot decide." The changeling shook his head. "But do not fear, young one. I am here to rectify that." He laid his head upon the side of the pod, the tip of his horn just touching it, a small spark of green energy shooting from it to course into the behemoth's pod. There was a small squeak of pain from within, then silence once more.

"There . . . when you awaken, and you're all big and strong, come and find me. The Deliverer will take you in with open hooves."

They left to the sound of frenzied panic and scared buzzing, something that does tend to happen whenever you leave a small fire going in the hive. The small fire would eventually grow into a big fire if left unchecked, and it appeared that had happened. The tall changeling took off with his entourage around him, their flying forms speeding across the night sky, only illuminated by the orange glow of a raging forest fire behind them and the screams of changelings trying to put it out. As the fire began to spread, even the fearsome beasts of the Everfree fled from the hungry flames that licked at them.

The changeling, scarred with runes of ancient heritage, turned around one last time to catch a glimpse of his hoofwork. The Deliverer would be ecstatic to know of the new additions to his army, Queen Chrysalis would not be, considering those additions were stolen from her very home.

I - Living Curio

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By: Quisky


Chapter One:

Living Curio

. . . It was . . . dark, and that was just about all I knew.

Had it always been dark? Part of me wanted to say yes, but one small, insignificant bit of my mind clung to the fact that it hadn't been. I could almost imagine pictures and memories of something long ago. They were blurry, and some had light in them. Some were of faces that were too blurry to recognize, and some stirred emotions within me that I could just almost feel. I would like to believe in that infinitesimal amount of hope amongst the black, but let's be honest here. It's been nothing but the darkness. Occasionally I could hear voices that originated from no mouth.

I liked to tune in on them sometimes, thinking that I wasn't the only one within the dark. They spoke of different things many times. Some were of their children, some complained about guard duty, and some of something familiar. A word called 'Oddjob'. It might refer to a name. Heh, nice ring to it.

But, nevertheless, I was simply left to my own thoughts and machinations. I thought I would be insane long ago, but something inside me said that had already been done and played out, and staying sane and content within the confines of the shadows would settle me much easier. Waiting it out seemed as good as any plan, but what exactly was I waiting for?

His acute nose easily picked up the scent of the being drawing closer and closer. Sweat, he had been walking for some time now, and the humidity present in the forest didn't help any. Metal, specifically, a gold compound with sturdy iron lacing. Musky cologne . . . and something else? He couldn't quite pick up on it, but this stranger had a curious scent about him.

The fallen leaves crackled under the approaching stranger's weight. His body tensed, his muscles ready to spring, his claws and fangs ready to tear at a moment's notice.

". . . Legion?"

The stranger was unafraid. Neither was he.

". . . You speak to Legion, Solar Guard."

"I have been commissioned to return you to Canterlot by Princess Twilight. It is imperative that you come with me."

"Why? There is no need for us to be there."

"I ask politely, I will use force if necessary."

"We would like to see you try . . ."

"You'll change your mind once you hear the news . . ."

The pony clad in the signature armor of Celestia's Solar Guard smiled knowingly. The albino form of the diamond dog known as Legion raised his muzzle slowly. Dead, white eyes staring up with mild curiosity.

The sun was just lowering, signifying that an old day has passed, only to make way for another tomorrow. The sky slowly melded into a brilliant shade of twilight, then eventually into a cool and calming night. Princess Celestia observed this all from the balcony of her private study, allowing a content smile to pass her regal features. Night Court would quickly begin, allowing her time for personal matters, or even a quick rest of her own. Even being a goddess, she did tire every so often.

She trotted back into her study, the glass-framed door leading to her balcony, one of many that dotted Canterlot Castle's towers, closed with a light snap of her magic. The white alicorn of the sun sat herself down comfortably amongst a pile of plush throw pillows, nestling in until she felt she was sure her bottom was satisfied with the softness it rested upon.

Her horn glowed golden, her telekinetic magic retrieving several items from the nearby desk that she never really sat at, the pillow pile was much more fun to do work from. A bottle of ink, a quill pen, and several documents. Most were petitions for various reasons; farmers wanting more land for their crops, pegasi claiming rights to chunks of the sky, some mad ravings of a pony claiming doomsday was upon them all. Usually those were sent to her assistant to be placed through the shredder.

After signing off only a a few of the papers and ignoring the rest, not everypony who is 1/36th royal blood gets access to the treasury, she turned her attention to the last paper at the bottom of the stack. Her schedule for tomorrow. It was hoofwritten, signed off in Twilight Sparkle's cursive. Even after all these years, Celestia loved the little fact that the studious purple mare still left her notes and letters every now and then, even when they didn't refer to friendship or magic. Those days were gone, but they were still lovely to revisit.

The paper hovered in front of her face as her eyes read along the lines. It was the usual stuff. Morning, eight o'clock, breakfast with her sister and comrade. Mid-morning, 9 o'clock, stroll through the castle and inspect the staff, give them their daily scare that she's going to banish them. Eleven o-clock, Day Court begins and lasts until one in the afternoon, freeing her up for a late lunch only to return to another session of court. Five o'clock, court ends, and her duties are over until she has to lower the sun.

That is, if this had been written by her assistant. Twilight wrote this one, and at the very bottom, there was a change in the schedule. It was underlined and bolded in purple ink, just the way the young alicorn liked to emphasize on things.

Book of Prophecy! Jabberwocky statue in garden!

She sighed, laying the paper down back into the neat stack. Had it come time already? She herself had not even payed attention to the times, or even the stars for that matter. Those little twinkling lights did have a funny way of knowing what was going to happen next in the universe.

. . . Had it already been ten years?

"Canterlot has not changed one bit since we were last here."

"You've been to Canterlot before?"

"On two occassions. Still reeks of pony greed and political backlash."

". . . You don't step in civilized areas much, do you?" The guard said, walking alongside the diamond dog as an escort through the usually bustling streets of the thriving capital known as Canterlot. They had just arrived, it being early morn, the sun about to rise and the air crisp with fresh dew. The only other living things noticeable were the birds chirping from their nests or an early-rising pony enjoying the brilliant view of the city from their loft.

"We still do not fully understand why you have brought us here." Legion said in that dead, emotionless tone of theirs.

"I already told you. Princess Twilight wishes your presence here." The guard replied, sounding almost exasperated.

"But you have not given any details beyond that."

"It's something big, I'll tell you that." The guard looked up towards the castle that overlooked all of Equestria. "And scaly, and a bit furry too."

The dark had been getting louder lately. The voices and sounds that sometimes permeated through the shadows seemed to be getting stronger and much more abundant. Was that variety I heard? Not just grunting males, but something female as well? Was that clattering?

I was ecstatic. This had been the most eventful thing to happen to me since . . . I couldn't remember. I think I did things before the dark, but as I have constantly reminded myself of, there has always been the dark, and there will forever be the dark.

. . . What was that?

A . . . sound. Buzzing. Getting more higher-pitched and stronger. It doesn't sound . . . right to me. Wait . . .

It's getting harmonic in a sense. Very lovely, if I had any taste in music. What was music again? Something that was . . . pleasing to the ear. I think. Or maybe it was just noise that had to be heard. Either way, it was a break from the monotonous blackness that consumed me. That, along with the voices, seemed to be . . . bringing me out of it. For the first time in seemingly forever, I took a gasp of air.

"Good morning!"

"Oh, and a good morning to you too!"

"It's very lovely today in Canterlot, isn't it?"

Princess Twilight Sparkle, or simply Twilight to her friends and family, strolled through the hallowed halls of Canterlot Castle, greeting everypony who passed her by, whether they be bowing visitor or busy staff. Even after such a prolonged time to her royal stature, becoming accustomed to it was always . . . awkward to her. She couldn't go out on her own without an escort of guards, and trying to carry on a conversation with the other pony's face in the dirt did become annoying sometimes.

Still, there were perks to all of it, like right now for example. She was about to take part in one of the biggest parts of an alicorn's duties: carrying out an act predicted in the Equestrian Book of Prophecy.

The book was old, incredibly so, but an enchantment casted long ago kept the words from fading and the pages from rotting. Twilight was just giddy. She had heard rumors of the book and the many stories to be told from it, but when Celestia herself told her of what was going to happen, she had to do what she did best: organize a checklist.

This particular foresight was known as the 'Prophecy of Deliverance'. Much of it was scrawled in Old Equestrian, so she had to take time to translate what was actually written down. As with all prophecies and matters involved, it was an enigma at best, a conundrum at worst. What did pester her the most was that Celestia and Luna would not reveal many details about what they knew. Both were quoted "It's best not to know and find out rather than to know and be disappointed."

From what she could gather, it took place in three parts. Twilight magically shifted about in the satchel she had at her side, picking out her own personal copy scroll of the prophecy, unfurling it in front of her face to read it. The first part read as:

From which Chaos holds
An old foe grows
Unlike which the land has seen

This foe becomes friend
And brings Chaos to an end
But for a price of stone

Simple enough. That had already happened.

Ten years pass
And the Scourge is in our grasp
To which war shall bring

The friend will rise
With magic at his side
To bring Equestria peace

In a hollowed giant he will find
The Scourge at his side
To begin the battle brew

Equestria's mane is threatened
The land shall be blighted
The sky with green and wings

But the friend will rise
With magic at his side
To bring Equestria peace

Twilight rolled the scroll back up and placed it back in her satchel, the carrying bag's lock clicking in place. She would have to focus on the third part of the prophecy later, as for now, the second part was already happening. The foe, then 'friend' was obviously the Jabberwocky in the garden. Not actually a living one, but one that he been petrified nearly a decade ago. After Discord's last major assault on Canterlot before his turnabout, the facts had been gathered, and the stories told. Once it had been heard, she implored that the creature be freed from his prison. But, the diarchy deemed it unnecessary until the correct time.

She felt bad for leaving him alone for so long, but maybe the harmony blast would leave him comatose. The Elements of Harmony did have different effects upon different beings. On Nightmare Moon, it banished evil. For Discord, it petrified him. And from what Celestia and Luna had told her, the elements reduced King Sombra to nothing but a mere wisp of bad magic.

Hopefully these examples would not be the case for the jabberwock, and her original theory would be correct, or they would have a very angry beast on their hooves.

The purple mare made her way towards the castle gardens, nodding and greeting every guard she passed, who only replied back with either a silent salute or a grunt and a salute. Eventually she stepped out into fresh sunlight, liquid gold streaming overhead in a bountiful arrangement through the treetops and various other flora that made up the gardens.

The princess of twilight trotted towards the center, various statues greeting her silently along the way. Some were of heroes long dead, but their actions and memories preserved for generations to come. Others were of foes defeated, ones that would never harm another soul again. One foe was free however. Twilight momentarily glanced over at the empty pedestal that held Discord upon it. She did not know where the spirit was, seeing as he was bound by only his own agenda, and only popped in at random times to tell her a joke or let Celestia know that she was gaining weight (He would then vanish just before a blast of holy fire scorched the earth where he once stood). As long as he did not use his chaotic powers to harm another and instead aid, he was free to do as he pleased.

Finally she approached the pedestal of the jabberwocky. He stood up straight and true, bearing a striking resemblance to the draconequus, but she knew his species was entirely different. The jumbled up creature's name was Oddjob, from gathered reports. Various intel on him was sketchy at best, seeing as he hopped around from a backwater town in the desert to the shadiest cloud in the sky.

A few minutes passed, and three solar guards arrived and greeted her by saluting, two standing guard beside the statue and one beside her. One more would be joining them, as with a guest personally picked by Twilight. Stories of the Legion were infamous amongst those who enjoyed a good tale of ancient glory, and she ecstatic to know that a living legend had a paw in aiding Oddjob during the last battle of Canterlot.

Gathering Oddjob's allies had been a troublesome task indeed. Legion had all but vanished, leaving nary a trace to find him for all these years. It had taken the military's best scouting party to track him down, and took them three years to do so. The diamond dog was very intelligent, and spent most of his time underground, where most ponies couldn't go. Whenever he surfaced, it was in a deep forest teeming with critters and natural dangers or in other areas dangerous to ponykind.

Zola had gone to uncharted territories in Zebrafrica, and sending an Equestrian scout into their neck of the woods without permission risked angry tribals with unknown magic and spearheads banging at their door.

Alamo Wall was actually easiest to find. He had a record as both criminal and war hero, and he was found predictably back in a saloon in Appleloosa. But when asked to come back to Canterlot, the soldiers returned home with bruises on their foreheads and bullet holes in their armor. It was thought best to wait to contact him.

More time passed, but the event would transpire quickly, as Twilight scheduled. An earth pony of an almost jade green color approached her, her mane tied up in a bun and spectacles outlined her already wide eyes. Twilight smiled.

"Good morning, Miss Inkwell." The purple princess curtly smiled,

With her name not lying, the pony did have a pot of ink upon her flank as her cutie mark. Inkwell smiled back and bowed slightly. "And a good morning to you too, Princess. Now, are we ready to proceed?"

She shook her head. "No. Princess Celestia must be here."

Inkwell chuckled a bit. "You really want to impress her with this new spell, don't you, your majesty?"

Twilight almost blushed, a shy smile now forming. "Well . . . it's not everyday that you craft a spell that can emulate the powers of harmony." She briefly paused. "Though, I don't know if it's correct or not. What if my calculations are off? I might turn this poor creature even more into stone than he already is! Maybe we should use the real elements of harmony instead! Postpone this! I'm sure in a few weeks we can get Rainbow Dash off from her tour as a Wonderbolt or retrieve Rarity from working on her new fashion line . . ."

"Same old Twilight, already worrying over something that hasn't happened yet."

Silence fell as every non-alicorn present bowed as highest ruler in the land, Princess Celestia, gracefully strided over to the group in front of the statue. It felt like instinct for Twilight to bow, seeing as how she spent a good portion of her life in awe of the sun alicorn before her, but she had to hold it down. Now was time to do some impressing.

"Celestia, good morning." Twilight grinned, trying to keep herself from add 'Princess' to the beginning of the sentence or 'Your Majesty' as well. Maybe in a century or two she would have this down.

"Good morning, Twilight. Is everything prepared?" Celestia asked, to which Twilight nodded eagerly.

"Yes, I had Miss Inkwell prepare everything else while I readied the spell." Twilight replied. Inkwell nodded. It was her duty to be Twilight's assistant, and she would be damned if she didn't carry out her duties to the most OCD-complexed pony in Equestria.

"Are you sure it will work without the actual elements present?"

". . . Maybe. The spell is only meant to mimic a portion of the elements' powers, the one that can turn to stone or free one from it. Trying to actually handle the vast powers of harmony is a much harder task . . . but I think I nailed this one."

"Very well." The alicorn of the day nodded. "Proceed, Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight nodded back before turning to face the statue of the jabberwocky, prepping herself by rolling her shoulders cracking her neck. She breathed in and out a few times to calm herself before mentally beginning. The tip of her horn beganto glow ever so slightly in the spark of magic that was predominate amongst unicorns, her own personal aura of shades of lavender and purple beginning to emit from her horn. She braced her body, wings flared, and face concentrated as she let loose the spell, a burst of a single beam of purple energy shooting forth to hit the statue.

Legion paused, his body standing absolutely still, the only thing moving upon him was his twitching nose.

" . . . Is there a problem?" The guard asked, becoming more and more annoyed with the dog as time passed. They had just entered the main lobby of the castle, and they still had to reach the gardens.

"There is a new scent present. We smell something . . . familiar. A mix of many beasts, but a hint of cinders and heat within them, alongside something deadly and decaying."

" . . . What?"

"We smell a friend."

Oh my God did it feel good to breathe again.

It was as if my lungs had been on standby for eternity, and when that gush of lemony-fresh air went through my mouth and into them, new life was born. I could hear the voices, but the music had died down. I think that was what freed me. I could also hear something crackling, breaking off. That was what held me.

I was free.

Oh God I was free and I could do whatever I wanted. The darkness was gone.

I opened my eyes, forcing them to see the new world around me. It was blurry at first, but clarity came fairly quickly. The blurs sharpened into visible shapes, and those shapes became horses.

. . . Why were there horses in front of me?

One stepped forward. I backed away ever so slightly, but she had a gentle presence about her. She was purple, that was sure. I looked up slowly to meet her own eyes, and she smiled.

"Welcome back to Equestria, Oddjob."

II - A Hero in Our Midst

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By: Quisky

Chapter Two:

A Hero in Our Midst

". . ."

"It's a lot to process, I know. Just take your time."

". . ."

"I can imagine that waking up from a deep slumber in stone could be rather surreal. Just let it all soak in."

". . ."

"More tea?"

The tea didn't really help at all, but it did feel nice to have something quench your thirst after ten fuckin' years. Waking up for the first time had left me incredibly dazed. It took them almost thirty minutes to shake me to recognizable consciousness and get me back up on my feet. I was lead inside the castle, most of the ponies around me rambling about something or other. I barely had any of my senses going, and my head was still foggy as a seaside lighthouse at night.

It was only when I was given food that everything started working again. Subsistence never fails.

'Things', as I liked to call them, started coming back piece by piece. My life before the insane events caused by that one email, my adventures in Equestria and the faces I came to know. The last thing I remembered before my mind became a total blank was a sensation of falling and a blast of color overcoming my vision. After that, the dark took over. It wasn't until dear Twilight Sparkle herself filled me in on the details.

I'll repeat myself. Ten. Fucking. Years.

At first I believed the purple pony to be kidding me, plus I thought her wings were fake as well. After tugging on them and having several guards point spears at me proved otherwise.

I was very . . . upset. I had been left stoned for a decade, even after my deeds of heroism began to spread, they kept me under lock and key. Twilight wouldn't go into details about why, but when I asked, she averted my gaze, and looked almost ashamed of herself. That left a twinge of mercy to overcome the seething anger beginning to build, eventually allowing it to cool into a sort of sizzling heat that could roar up again at any time.

Now, I simply sat there quietly to contemplate my thoughts, in a small room within Canterlot Castle, finely furnished, sipping bland tea and talking to Twilight Sparkle, a character I had always wanted to meet, there in the flesh.

" . . . Ten years . . ."I repeated to myself, finishing up my cup, looking down at the emptiness of it, not bothering to ask for a refill. I placed at down on the table before me, the china settling with a light chink. Twilight look at me sympathetically, a small but sad smile upon her face. It kind of warmed me to see it.

"I'm sorry Oddjob . . . it's just that . . . it was important to do so."

"Important enough to forget about me?"

"Forget about you? Oh no . . . here, let me show you something." She stood up from the table, motioning for me to follow her with a flick of her head in the direction of the gardens. I stood up and alongside her. When we exited the room, she turned to the guards and spoke sternly. "I will not need a company of guards, I'm just showing a guest to the gardens."

Before the guard could protest, she silenced him with a "ssh!", one that librarians use to silence those who would dare threaten the sanctity of a library. I chuckled and followed her. The castle hadn't changed much since I last saw it, except it wasn't driven by insanity and you could actually go where you wanted to without being dropped off in another dimension.

"So uh . . . mind if I ask a question?"

"Go ahead." She said cheerily.

"What's up with the wings?"

"It's a . . . long story."

"Shorten it up for a guy who's been asleep for ten years."

"Well," She took a small breath. "I received a book about Starswirl the Bearded, you've heard of him right, and every spell he's ever accomplished, except for his last one, it was unfinished. I read it aloud and unknowingly altered all of my friends' destinies, switching around their cutie marks and basically causing disaster for Ponyville. After lots of singing and soul-searching, I decided to fix it by helping them remember who they were. Eventually everything went back to normal except near the end I the elements of harmony came together and blasted me. I came into a pocket universe, I think, for Princess Celestia to greet me and show me everything I had ever done since moving to Ponyville. It was wonderful seeing all of that, then she told me about my own destiny. Suddenly, I was taller, I had wings, and I was a princess now." She exhaled, took a small intake of breath, then gave me a small smile with that twinkle in her eye.

". . . Uhh . . . nice story?" I said, not really knowing what to say actually. I'd imagine a lot of people would be pissed off about that, but I was pretty cool with it. It did kind of make sense, seeing as her name was Twilight, the balance between dusk and dawn. Still, I could just imagine the butthurt flowing through thousands of angry fans. Glad I was here and not on the internet for that.

"Thank you." Twilight quipped as we left the hallway behind us and into the gardens we went. It was beautiful. Plants and trees I hadn't even seen before grew up from the lush, green ground. Sounds of animals in the distance alerted me to the fauna that thrived here in their own little ecosystem, while some skittered by, not even bothered by the appearance of a pony princess or a towering beast composed of several of them.

We passed several statues, and my natural curiosity could not be sated. "Who's that?" I pointed at a dashing earth pony clad in armor that looked like it weighed a ton.

"Earthshaker, one of the first earth ponies to be Captain of the Guard. His strength was legendary, and it was rumored he could move mountains in an afternoon's time."

"Her?" My claw went to a pony who appeared rather . . . unique. She appeared ponylike, but had liquid water flowing around her, and her back legs were replaced with an mermaid's tail.

"Pacifica. She was the first Seapony to make contact with Equestria."

Seaponies. I really gotta visit them one day.

Before I could have anymore of my questions answered, we stopped before an empty pedestal. It was mine. Twilight pointed with a foreleg at the base of it, and I stepped closer to read it. The inscription read:

Here stands Oddjob the Jabberwocky. Though it is not known whether he was indigenous to Equestria, he represented all of its people as he fought off Discord and his henchmen during the Seizing of Canterlot in the 1024th Year of Celestia, Third Month, First Day. Oddjob had performed many tasks, such as ridding the San Palamino Desert of the Worms that plagued it and disbanding the The King Crime Family. Along with allies such as Alamo Wall, a zebra named Zola, and a mysterious Diamond Dog, they had stalled Discord long enough for the Bearers of Harmony to arrive and defeat the spirit. Here he now stands, a symbol of unity and bravery.

I stood back up, feeling kind of . . . honored. Even though the statue was actually me, they considered my actions inscription-worthy?

"You're a hero, Oddjob. Not the biggest one in Equestrian history, but a hero nevertheless. A month after the attack, they had Oddjob plushies being sold everywhere." Twilight came up and stood beside me, giggling.

". . . Thank you."

"No, thank you."

I turned to look at her. "So what now? I live out my life in luxury as one of Equestria's moderately-known heroes?"

"Not exactly . . ."

III - A Schedule to Keep

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By: Quisky

Chapter Three:

A Schedule to Keep

"So where are we going?"

"I'm going off on my own. I do have duties to attend to. But you Oddjob, you have a schedule to keep up to."

"Say what now?"

Twilight Sparkle giggled as she reached into the satchel that strapped across her side, telekinetically floating over a scroll to me. I snatched it out of midair and unfurled it, neat cursive written in black ink formed a long list of things to do, all the things that I had to do. Oh man it was like High School all over again.

"I've composed a list of things for you to do. Once you've completed them, just check them off until you're done."

"What is this, an RPG where I go on fetch quests and shit?"

"Say what now?"

"Nevermind . . ." I waved at her, dismissing her confusion and began reading the list. 1. Be freed from stone. I looked up at her with a 'are you actually serious' expression, and was replied with a wide smile. I rolled my eyes and looked down, only to see that the first item had somehow become scratched out with black ink. I looked back up, only for the purple alicorn to give me a sly smile.

"Self-check off list. A spell perfectly made for busybodies such as myself. You don't have to worry about carrying around a quill and a bottle of ink to scratch off your work, the list does it for you."

Nice. I nodded in approval and went onto the second item on my forced to-do list.

"Number Two . . . meet Metal Storm in the Forgery and retrieve packages. . . who's Metal Storm?"

"The Royal Smithy. He makes all of our guard-standard weapons and armor. He also set the standard for forge safety. Haven't had a pony with a hammer-smashed hoof in years!"

" . . . Okay. Well, I'll see to it that I get this list done, Princess Twilight." I chuckled, giving a slight bow with a flourish of my hand. Twilight chuckled and gave a small curtsy back. "Very well Oddjob. Off with you then! We both have a busy day ahead of us!"

She turned around and trotted in the opposite direction, leaving me to fulfill the list she had left. But before she was out of earshot, I called out. "Wait!"

Twilight turned around to look at me quizzically.

"Just . . . two more questions. The tunnels that I collapsed . . . it didn't damage the land too badly? And what about Las Pegasus?"

Another knowing smile from her. She's already become so much like her teacher, it made the fanboy inside me ache to see such character development.

"The trade routes were a bit off-kilter for a while . . . then we found that some undamaged worm tunnels could be used much more efficiently. As for Las Pegasus, under new management, and just as bustling as ever. But it did take a while to find every last cloud piece that made up the city.

I smiled. "Thank you, Princess Twilight Sparkle." Another bow, another nod, and we were off to be left to our own machinations. I had a meeting with a certain 'Metal Storm', and if he was as awesome as his name, then maybe this day wouldn't be so bad after all.

"When will we be seeing Oddjob?"

"Sometime this afternoon. Princess Twilight is very picky about her schedules. Until then, simply relax, you have the best of Canterlotian service offered. Would you like anything while you waited?"

"We would prefer waiting alone without you keeping an eye upon us the entire time. We will not steal anything, at least, roughly 980 of us will. The other twenty really want that vase we passed in the grand hall."

" . . . Anything else?"

"Meat. We want meat."

Getting lost in Canterlot Castle wasn't nearly as bad as it was last time. The guards were very courteous and helpful to direct me in the path that I needed to go, albeit some of them were so stoic in their duty that I had to find another pair of guards to aid me. Bloody blighters were good at what they do, stand around all day and keep other people out of whatever they were standing in front of.

The forge was located in the rear of the castle, leading out into a tunnel carved into the side of the mountain the entirety of Canterlot rested upon. The stone walls were decorated with lanterns, their soft glow guiding me into the depths at which the forge was stationed. My eyes quickly adjusted to the dim lighting, and my flickering tongue with each breath could taste the earthy-richness filling the air. As I went in deeper and deeper, the ding of grunts and banging metal could be heard.

I stepped into a world of sound and a very angry pony. The cavern was large, at least a dozen earth ponies running around in aprons, welding masks, or goggles, some carrying tools in their mouths or hooves, while others hefted up giant chunks of metal to be made into various other items. It was grim, dark, and grimy all around, the air muggy with heat, and my coldblooded body tingled with pleasure. Overhead on a walkway that could oversee the entire operation, a unicorn of a dark brown color shouted out orders.

"Get those hooves moving, we can't keep the smelter off for too long! Hey there apprentice, your hammer blows are at an awkward angle, the blade will come out weak and bent! Oh for Celestia's sake, am I the only pony in this entire forge who knows how to make chainlink armor?!"

I thought of whirling around on my heels and come back another time, but his next shout was directed at me.

"You! The jabberwocky! I got a few things to say to you!" The unicorn bellowed, making his way down the walk and onto the ground floor, stomping his way towards me, and I swore I could hear the ground shake every time his hooves made contact with it. The forge workers were wise to step out of his way. I had only been awake for an hour and I already had somebody mad at me.

The first thing I noticed at how burly he was for a unicorn, almost comparable to a larger earth pony. He was older, not as old as Alamo, but up there enough to start showing some wrinkles. His mane and tail were greasy and flat, and upon his side a hammer striking an anvil appeared as his cutie mark.

"Err . . . hello." I said, his face almost awkwardly pressing into mine as he reached up and yanked my neck down to his level with telekinesis.

"Hello nothing. Do you know how far you've set me behind? 'Cause of you, our shipment of armor that's supposed to go out to Fillydelphia today was delayed, as well as several other big orders."

"Erm . . . I'm sorry?"

"Sorry nothing. You better put what I made you into good use."

" . . . Made me?" I raised a scaly eyebrow. He released his magical grip on me and motioned towards some workers. They dragged a box big enough to fit two ponies over towards me, pushing the top aside to view the contents it held within. Nestled snugly among packaging peanuts, a folded up piece of clothing laid.

"Go on, pick it up." The unicorn commanded with a nod of his head. I promptly did so, pulling it up by the shoulders to reveal it all. It was a trenchcoat of sorts, perfectly fit for a creature of my stature. It was a mako shade of blue, the collar lined with a dark fur. Armor attached within it clanked with movement, dull silver shining against the light. Underneath the coat, still in the box, a set of greaves and gauntlets laid in waiting.

I pulled the armored trenchcoat over myself, thinking it would be complicated to with the armor, but somehow it almost chinked over my body like a glove. It felt comfy, it felt good. I reached down and pulled on the greaves, each one form-fitting over my kangaroo and pony leg. Finally I picked up the gauntlets, pulling them over my bear and eagle claws. The palm and fingertips were open, so I had some wiggling room. I raised my right hand to my face, examining a symbol upon the back of my now armored paw. The symbol of the Equestrian Diarchy greeted me, Celestia and Luna chasing each other around a half sun and moon.

" . . . Go on, say something." The very loud unicorn said, which I took him to be Metal Storm by now. I looked up, smiling slightly. "Thank you . . . but why this?"

"Princess Twilight's orders, and I'm not one to disobey my favorite ruler . . . don't tell Princess Celestia or Luna that I said that." Metal Storm chuckled, patting my arm roughly.

"I used the best materials I had at hoof to make the armored parts. Used a combination of silver, steel, and some runes lying about to give it just that certain durability. Working it into the fabric was the hard part."

"Who made the coat part then?" I asked curiously, rubbing the length of the long and actually very soft fabric of the trenchcoat.

"Some bigshot fashion designer we got here in Canterlot." He shrugged, but I could feel a sly smile coming upon my fanged face.

"Was her name Rarity, by any chance?"

"That's it. Close friend of the Princesses, bearer of one of the elements. Don't know her personally, but I hear she's quite the looker, and knows her way around a needle and thread." Storm chuckled, and several other workers within range nodded in agreement.

"Oh, one more thing. Tug upwards on your collar, the fur-trim bit." The blacksmith pony suggested. I shrugged, deciding to go along with whatever he was suggesting. I reached up and placed a forefinger and thumb of each paw and claw onto the respective sides of my collar, tugging up. At once Something shot up from within the coat, forming a sort of hood that was suitable for my long neck and high-up head. I ran my fingers along it, feeling holes that my spines perfectly fitted through, and some more armor plating around my head.

"Touch-based magic hood that's collapsed flat within the back of your coat. Retracts whenever you want it to, just tug back down pal."

I did so, and the hood automatically retracted downwards just as quickly. Oh holy crap this was sweet. "Thanks Metal Storm, I do appreciate this fine piece of badassery." I nodded in approval.

"Just don't get it scratched up or nothing." He waved at me, turning around to signal that our meeting was over. He returned to shouting at the ponies around him, as if his voice would never go hoarse.

I looked down at the scroll in my hand, the second line already crossed out, the magical flowing ink pressing outwards on the page to scratch out the words. Instead of holding it as I had done, I opted to place it more conveniently in the pockets that I now possessed. Okay, this was pretty sweet, anybody had to admit. Some sweet new duds that was armored for reasons unknown? Fuck yeah I'll wear it.

Onwards to the third item then.

Princess Luna scowled at the sunlight that streamed in through the windows along the grand hallway in which she walked. In her youth, she had loved frolicking about in the day with her older sibling, but in her eternal age she had come to take up a more nocturnal sleeping pattern and she was missing out on some lovely sleeping right about now.

Twilight was very eager to arrange everything, but involving an ancient custom wasn't necessary in the slightest. Unfortunately, an ancient prophecy did delve into ancient things, and the studious, busybodied unicorn always kept to the book, no matter how old it was. The night alicorn paused to hear the slight patter of a soft pawstep and the clop of a hoof, signaling that her designated meeting time was about to happen. She smiled at how on-time he was. Twilight was always good at making things work like clockwork, no matter who was involved.

My next task on the list was to receive something, but the scroll wasn't the most descriptive thing ever. It just said to meet someone in the east wing of the castle, a hallway not too far away from where I had left the forge. With the coat on, I could tell a difference. When I walked, there was almost no weight, as if the fabric and armor were almost feathers upon me, but it gave me warmth, something my draconic body craved. Glad I wouldn't have to worry about being cold again, Lord knows that was a friggin' terrible time.

I made my way down the hall, greeting several more guards, in which only silence or a grunt was replied. Maybe I could get them to laugh one day like Rainbow Dash did. The further I went down, I could make out a figure waiting for me, probably to grant me whatever next I was going to receive. It was like a holiday and a birthday all wrapped up in one, and both had been good to me over the years.

It was then that I stopped dead in my tracks. Just a couple yards away stood Princess Luna, and I could very well feel the adrenaline kicking in and pound against my skull. Why, you ask? The inner fanboy within was screaming right now as my favorite pony was right there in flesh and blue fur. Maybe it would be better if I stayed a statue rather than almost choke to death in front of her. Before I could turn around and go ask Twilight if she could reverse the process, as if on cue Luna turned to face me, her royal gaze staring right through me.

"Ah, the jabberwocky. Oddjob, is it not?"

"Uhh . . ." I almost gagged on the words. If I could sweat, I would be right about now. How the fuck was I supposed to act in front of her? Play it cool? No. She would see right through that. Actually fangasm right there and risk her flaying me with her mind? Nope. Standing there and blabber like an idiot seemed what my brain had decided upon.

"Yeah . . . I'm Jobodd. I mean . . . Oddjob. Yeah. Oddjob is my name."

She raised an eyebrow curiously as she approached me, her hooves silently moving against the floor, making not a sound. Made sense she was night incarnate. The Night Mare stood in front of me, the tip of her horn just reaching underneath my chin, telling me that Celestia was about as tall or a taller than me. Man, we were giants to these regular ponies.

"There was something Princess Twilight requested that we bestow upon thee." She said, her words flowing out in that superfluous dialect of hers.

"Y-yes? I mean . . . yes, your majesty?"

"In ancient times, it was rather . . . difficult for ponies to find their path in life, so my sister and I had to guide them. As with you, I will bestow upon you your destiny, your path."

"Pardon me?"

"Your 'cutie mark', as the modern term would dictate."

". . . You're going to put a tattoo on the side of my butt?" God fucking dammit. Might as well glue my mouth shut.

" . . . Nothing quite like that, we assure you. This one has a less permanent fixture, but just as much meaning." Her horn glowed blue, and seemingly out of thin air came a pure white bandana, a symbol upon it. She hovered it over to my right arm and tied it around the sleeve, the emblem showing proudly.

"What is it?" I asked in an almost whispered, reverent tone.

Luna acknowledged my awe with a nod of her head and a smile. "It is the symbol for amalgamation, commonly used in alchemy and such. It signifies that you are not just composed of many beings, but you will bring those beings together, dearest Oddjob." Another sly smile from her. "Now, if you'll excuse us," She yawned, and it was so adorable. "We have a royal nap to catch upon. Fare thee well, Oddjob. May the night protect you."

With that, she turned around and went her separate way. I looked down at the side of my arm, still in awe. Princess Luna, all-around best pony, had given me a somewhat version of a cutie mark. Nothing else that happens today could top this.

IV - Friends New and Old

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By: Quisky

Chapter Four:

Friends New and Old

I strutted down the hallway, whistling a happy tune (even though I had no idea that I could whistle). Every pony that I passed I greeted with a wide grin, flashing the mark upon my arm proudly. They, of course, had no idea what it meant, and probably were weirded out by the seven-foot tall jabberwocky just marching around the castle in a blue trenchcoat and armor.

I had never felt so good before. That time I won the claw-grab machine in the arcade four times in row? Nothing compared to this. How about meeting Buzz Lightyear at Disney World? Nope. Learning the joys of endless internet hours? Not even close my friend.

Princess Luna herself had given me a cutie mark, and I'd wear it until the fabrics that composed the bandana would wear out.

I sighed in almost a giddy fashion. Still riding off the happiness of the event, I reached into the jacket pocket, pulling out the scroll and unrolling it, the third item already magically scratched out in appearing ink. The fourth item upon the list was to meet up with somebody that 'I knew' in one of the guest rooms of the castle. Who was this mysterious person? No idea. In my previous travels, I had met many . . . characters, some pleasant, others not so much.

I paused to think of who it might be. Alamo? I allowed a sneer to cross my face. The old geezer kicking after ten years? I hoped so, but it wasn't very likely. A few more names topped my head, but I wouldn't really know until I got there. I made my way through the castle and towards the guest room in which the meeting was to occur. Before I could open the door, it slammed itself open and something very big, very furry, and very white pounced on me.

"So what's your story with the statue anyway?"

Legion casually looked up from his plate of raw meat, blood staining his white coat and stringlets of beef dangling from his jowls. It took every hardened nerve he had for the guard not to throw up. Ponies obviously weren't carnivores, and the process of retrieving the meat was . . . unsavory for them. They usually kept the meat of a mystery creature stored away just in case a griffin or even a dragon was a guest at the castle.

The diamond dog swallowed before speaking, making a hacking noise to force the sheer chunk of blood and guts down his gullet. "Nearly everypony knows of the Seizing of Canterlot. We heard that the newspapers played off of the story for weeks, some calling Oddjob a hero, others just a monster that decided to try and repent for his crimes."

"That was ten years ago. What do you say?" The guard averted his eyes from the disgusting display of eating.

"We say that the Fiery One was wronged. In the last few centuries, your ruler hasn't changed a bit. She kept him encased within stone for a decade, despite his heroic efforts." The dull voice took on a growling tone.

"I'd keep your complaints about Her Most Fair Majesty down, she's got eyes and ears everywhere, and I'm one of them."

"We were cursed with life. Celestia would not have us killed."

"I know it seems harsh at first . . . but the princess knows what she's doing. She's older than almost everything on the planet."

"Age may guarantee knowledge, but does it guarantee morals or even sanity?"

"Seems pretty pessimistic of you."

"Look beyond your role as just a pawn in this grand game of the universe. You try living underground for nearly three-hundred years, or be a living statue with just yourself as company, then come tell us that we are being pessimistic."

". . ."

Legion merely shook his head at the silence, only went on with eating the meat before him until there was nothing but a bone left, licked-clean and picked of meat. The beast licked his chops, savoring the last taste of flavor upon his tongue. At a moment's notice, his ears perked up and his nose began to quiver.


He leapt out of his seat and dashed across the room, nearly knocking the door off its hinges to tacklepounce Oddjob to the floor, licking his face and wagging his tail ecstatically. The Alpha had returned.

I had come to recognize the 'taste' of certain beings by flicking out my tongue and gauging the air around them. Legion had definitely bounded upon me, still smelling of dog and that somewhat ancient scent that all old things carried with them. It was like being greeted by your fuzzy best friend when you got back home from a long day at work or school, and this kinda made me happy.

"Okay, down boy." I chuckled. "Down Legion. Down . . . down . . . enough with the licking . . ." I spat out as he persisted. "Down . . . down . . . DOWN!"

I heaved him off me, standing up and wiping his shedded fur from the jacket. I turned to see him standing up on his haunches, those dead eyes looking up at me, but his tongue lolled to the side of his mouth and panting. I could only chuckle and grin at him. "It's good to see you too, Legion."

"And you as well, Alpha Oddjob."

"Alpha?" I curiously raised an spiky eyebrow.

"You never officially had the rank taken from you. You are still Alpha to Fenrir Pack."

"Oh . . . well, thanks?"

". . . It is agreed. Six-hundred and eighty of us want you to remain the pack leader, while three-hundred and twenty do not. You may remain Alpha."

"Ooookay . . . ?"

"You are lucky we did not settle this with a bloodmatch. We have become much more democratic in our approach to settling matters of the pack."

"Glad to see you're still weird, Legion."

"Glad to see you are still composed of many animals that do not match together."

". . ."

"We tried to make a joke."

"Keep working on it."

A short cough interrupted our regathering. I turned to see one of Celestia's Solar Guards step out of the room Legion himself had barreled out of. The pony himself wasn't very striking, average build, colored white, but his armor did denote something of rank. It was sleeker than the rest, didn't appear as bulky, and his helmet seemed to bore spikes instead of the crest upon the other golden-wearing guards.

"Sorry to break up this reunion, but you do have a schedule to keep sir, and you don't want to know what happens when Princess Twilight's schedules get broken."

I smiled to myself, knowing fully well what would happen if Twilight Sparkle had a schedule broken, but I shrugged anyway. "Alright, I'll be off then. Can Legion come with?" I jabbed a finger towards the mutt.

The guard nodded. "Actually, we both are to escort you."

"Oh. Then what's your name, soldier?" I thought adding 'soldier' to the end made me sound pretty official and military-like.

"Goldguard, sir. I protect the royal treasury, patrol the outer walls, and occasionally hunt down scraggly dogs of legend for a couple years."

". . . Your name is Goldguard, who wears gold, and literally guards gold?"

". . . At least my name secured me a decent job."

It kept everything that I had in my store of willpower not to guffaw right there in the poor chap's face.

V - Oddjob's Quest

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Five:

Oddjob's Quest

Goldguard (still giggling to myself about his name), lead the two of us through the elaborate and sufficiently huge castle. With four items completed on my list and only two left, I found my day winding down to a close. In the meantime, Legion and I chatted it up.

"So, what have you been doing these past few years?" I asked.

"Surviving." Came the many voices of the Legion.

"Care to elaborate on that, Scooby?"

"Hunting. Eating. Sleeping. Avoiding capture."


"There are many seekers out there who would wish to hang our head as a trophy."

"Sounds rough, but glad you've stuck it out."

"And how was your time in stone, Alpha Oddjob?"

I paused. Even though it had just happened this morning, I didn't want to go back a relive that purgatory. I shuddered despite the warmth offered by the coat and the sun shining overhead through the windows.

"It was . . . unpleasant."

"We sense you do not wish to speak of this."


"Very well. What other topics do you wish to speak of?"

"Mind if I cut in, gossip girls?" Goldguard interrupted from ahead of us, turning a corner down another long hallway. "We're just about to enter the main throne room, so keep your heads low, mouths quiet, and stench far away."

"Why are we heading to the throne room?" I asked curiously.

The guarder of gold who had the same namesake did not reply, only opened the door and lead us in. It was as spacious as ever with grand pillars holding it up and banners proudly displaying Equestria's royalty. Down the throne room, seated regally upon the throne, an alicorn of ivory gazed at us with calm eyes, but these eyes judged.

"Greetings." Princess Celestia stated as we approached. Goldguard bowed, as did Legion, but his motions were much more forced. I followed suit, then almost mentally facepalmed myself. I didn't bow to Luna earlier. I didn't bow to motherfucking Princess Luna earlier. God I hoped that wouldn't get me executed.

"Your majesty, I bring you Oddjob the Jabberwocky." Goldguard said from his kneeling state.

"Rise." She commanded, and we did so. This situation definitely reminded me of a certain pegasus who's ego was too big even for all of Las Pegasus to hold. But there were many differences between the King and Celestia herself. First off, she didn't even emit any sort of . . . danger at all. The day alicorn seemed to hold an air of a serene beauty about her, but something mysterious as well, as if not all the puzzle pieces were on display. Her tone was much kinder, and her bodyguards didn't crowd around her and threatened to stab you if you looked at her funny. Plus, there was the lack of suffocating cigar smoke.

"Oddjob," She turned her head to face me, and I nodded at my name. That's what you did right? Or was there some sort of code to follow? Somebody really should've prepped me before doing this.

"It has come to attention that you have been freed from your prison of stone. Do you know why?"

"No . . . your majesty. No." I tried not to stutter and rattle my fangs as I spoke. Damn this anxiety. I shoved my hands into my pockets to keep from fiddling with them.

"It is because you are needed. There have been disturbances within Equestria, and I need a suitable . . . creature to fulfill the role of investigator."

"I'm sorry your highness . . . but why me?"

"You have crimes against the kingdom that have gone unpunished. Even though you did fight Discord and stall him long enough for the bearers of harmony to arrive, there are almost one-hundred and twenty accounts of you breaking Equestrian law. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself from these crimes."

Okay, the bitch meter just went up a smidge. I fought Discord, and what do I get? Ten years as a lawn ornament, and still I'm guilty. I held my tongue, calmed the fire building up. Not the best of ideas to explode on one of the most powerful beings in the land, especially one who was considered a goddess and commanded an army. I needed to play it cool. Even though it was bitter and I hated the thought, Celestia must've had a fucking reason to do this.

Keep calm, keep cool, and let her finish talking. I nodded.

"You will go to the places in which these happenings occurred, accompanied by Goldguard for accountability and your pack."

At least it was nice she recognized Legion, though one dog with a thousand voices in his head didn't really make it as a 'pack' to me. Plus, I wasn't a diamond dog, so the term didn't really mean anything to me.

"Any questions can be taken up with Miss Inkwell, you will meet you outside in the lobby. Dismissed."

We all bowed one more time before leaving. As we neared the exit, Legion leaned over and whispered to me. "We hate her so much."

"Don't be so har-" I was cut off by a low growl from him.

"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet the best secretary, receptionist, and second most busy pony in Equestria, Nibsy Inkwell." Goldguard lead us into the main lobby of the castle, probably the only part civilians were allowed in, seeing as how some browsed around, waiting their turn for a chance to speak with their ruler.

A small, jade green earth pony greeted us with a nod of her head. "That's Miss Inkwell, Mr. Guard." She corrected him, adjusting her pointy librarian glasses. She turned and nodded at me and Legion respectively. "Mr. Job, the Legion, it is an honor to meet you, especially you, Mr. Job. I was there when you were freed, quite the spectacular sight, seeing a legend of our lifetime be given a chance again."

"Nice to meet you too, Miss Inkwell." I nodded at her with my most gentlemanly smile. Legion simply stared at her. I really needed to get them to work on their people skills.

"I believe you were told of your duties, correct?"

"Just the gist of 'em. I'm to . . . investigate something?" Huh, just saying that made me feel like Sherlock.

She nodded curtly. "Correct. Across Equestria, there have been reports of changeling sights all around, though none have actually been confirmed. Some in Manehattan, Neighagra Falls, the nearby village of Hollow Shades, and the Everfree Forest as well."

"Changelings are always in the Forest, we can avoid that one." Legion stated.

". . . Other than that, there's not much more for you to work with, Mr. Job. All we need you to do is find out if and why they're happening, and report back to Canterlot upon your findings."

"Sounds . . . easy enough."

"I've compiled a list of witnesses and evidence you will need to inspect upon arrival."


Inkwell nodded.

". . . Aren't you going to hand me the list?"

"Check the scroll the Princess gave to you this morning."

I reached into my pocket and pulled it out. unfurling it to find that not only had it grown in length, but more words of magic ink had filled the new space.

"Princess Twilight Sparkle always thinks of making life so much more efficient." Inkwell chuckled.

Amazed at the simplest of magics, I rolled it back up and placed it back in my pocket, I would have to check it out later, I still had that final item of the schedule to check out, but it was vague, as almost all the others were. Twilight had grown into her role as a douchebag overseer.

"Umm . . . you wouldn't happen to know what I was supposed to do for the final item on my to-do list, would you?"

"Head to the Armory, then the Stocks. Goldguard can show you to both. Afterwards, you may rest, then begin your duties tomorrow morning." Another nod from the pony before she turned around and trotted off.

I looked over to Goldguard, and he nodded his head in another direction, the signal for me to follow him yet again. Legion and I quietly padded behind, each lost to our own thoughts. I was supposed to do some 'investigations'? I could hardly find the remote, let alone figure out why changelings were spotted. What, did Celestia believe I had some detective skills or something? Give me a Rubiks cube, and I just tear off the stickers and move them around. Give me a puzzle in a video game, and I looked up a strategy guide on how to get past it. She really picked the wrong guy for the job.

Eventually we arrived at our destination, the Armory still on castle grounds, but outside the main building. It was nestled in a small building just near the guard barracks, as I could see several squads of all three pony races doing drills to shouts and whistle-blowing.

We all entered, rows upon rows of shelves containing various weaponry and armor greeting us. I could make out blades, maces, shields, and just about every other weapon imaginable upon the wall. I was confused as to why the guard didn't incorporate firearms into their stock, but that was a question for another time.

"It's back here." Goldie pointed to a chest in the corner of the room, angling us past several mannequins that had elaborate armors upon them. "Metal Storm spent weeks crafting it," He said, unlocking the chest and flipping it open. "Took him a couple of tries to get the wood to warp right, arcanite is a real tricky substance to work with."

Within the chest, a stave about as long as a baseball bat greeted us. The handle was wooden, curving in some places, to end in a metal point. A leather grip had been built in the center, and at the very tip, it curved thickly into a somewhat draconic shape. I picked it up, feeling the weight in my hands, tracing my claw along it. It felt sturdy, lightweight, but something seemed different about it. If I listened closely, it almost hummed with a rhythmic sense, as if it emitted a sort of power.

Underneath it came a holster with a lather strap. I swung it around my shoulder, placing the stave in its carrying place.

"That my friend, is one of Metal Storm's finest staves ever produced. It's made specifically for hitting stuff hard, and for conducting magic, considering the sheer amount of arcanite put into its core." Goldguard explained words to me that I didn't understand. All I knew is that I had a cool new toy slung over my back. I looked to Legion, and he nodded.

"Arcanite is magic made physical." He explained. "The more you have of it, the better spells produced. The only downside is that too much contact with it deteriorates the mind."

"Which is why it's made with thick oak!" Goldguard interceded before I could throw the big stick down. I eventually released my grip from the handle, eying him steadily. I can't go crazy again, already dealt with that shit.

He breathed a sigh of relief before gathering himself with a cough. "Well then, looks like you're done for the day, Oddjob. We have a room prepared for you in the castle, and you can ask the castle staff for anything you might require. Don't get used to the comfort though, we're up and leaving at o' seven-hundred tomorrow morning." Goldguard stood rigid, saluted at the two of us, and marched off in the direction of the barracks.

"What are you going to do?" I asked as I turned to Legion.

The dog shrugged, never blinking those white eyes that almost blended in with the coat. "We will leave for now. Spending the night in the castle is . . . unnatural to us. We have a den located nearby, so when the time comes, we will meet up with you and the Guarder of Gold, Alpha Oddjob."

"Fair 'nuff." I said, nodding. "It was good to see you again, Legion."

"And you as well, Fiery One. We believe this new quest with you will be . . . interesting." Legion gave a quick bow of his head before sprinting off, every muscle made for speed. He was over the castle wall quicker than the guards who stood stationed there could blink. I chuckled, then looked towards the castle. I did have a quest ahead of me.

VI - The Journey Ahead

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By: Quisky

Chapter Six:

The Journey Ahead

"Thank you, your majesty!"

With three subjects groveling away from her, Princess Celestia's Sun Court had ended on a rather cheerful, if not tiring, note. Once again, a petty dispute that could've been settled in a lesser system or amongst themselves had to be brought to the attention of their wise ruler. Two ponies, both earth, claimed their stake on the same plot of land, saying it belonged to their ancestors, only for a goat to come in and say the same thing. After hearing all three sides and digging up some old records, they had found it belonged to none of them. The rightful owner had been contacted, and the three 'cheated' out of their land grumbled away. She was just glad it didn't come to blows, those two ponies along with the guards present would be in the hospital for a couple days because of a goat. You never wanted to fight one without being prepared, their hooves could hit like iron and their headbutts is like getting rammed with a engine behind it.

The regal white alicorn stood up from her throne, stretching briefly to work out the kinks in her muscles that had built up during the hours of sitting down. Though her royal tasks her menial physically, they did exhaust the patience and mind sometimes. Luckily, she has had millenniums to work on that. Her hoofsteps echoed in the halls as she made her way towards her private study, every guard and staff member she passed either saluting or bowing her presence. She only nodded and smiled gently at them.

Occasionally, she would run into her fair sister on the way so that they might have a nice chat before the exchange of day and night occurred. This was just so an occasion.

Down the hall as she made her own way towards the throne room, Princess Luna's midnight blue form nodded and smiled at her sister, her mane of the cosmos embodiment flowing with the movement, even with no wind around to blow it. Celestia returned to smile as she approached, affectionately nuzzling her.

"Greetings, dearest sister. Did Sun Court go smoothly today?"

"It did. Nothing interesting happened other than a fight almost breaking out among two ponies and a goat."

"Our money would have been betted upon the goat." Luna chuckled.

"Mine as well."

"Oh, did thou meet the jabberwocky today? He did not proper greeting etiquette, but he seemed very . . . reverent when speaking to us."

Celestia nodded. "I did, and i gave him his task."

Luna allowed an expression of disappointment to cross her face. "An assignment to 'investigate changeling sightings'? Why dost thou not tell him the truth, Tia?"

A tired sigh escaped the sister of the sun's lips. "Several reasons. One, the bureaucratic waste I would have to wade through if the nobles did not get their way."

"A pox upon the nobles, they are not worthy of their bloodline."

"Agreed, but would you like to sit through an hour's worth of them nagging at your ears?"

"We would simply have them put in the dungeon or executed."

". . . That's still not acceptable these days."

"We know, we still would have done it if it ever fell upon the Night Court."

"Plus, there is always the prophecy."

At this, the Night Mare raised an eyebrow. "You do not wish to tell him of his role? This will have repercussions, sister."

"I know Lulu . . . I know. He will learn, just not now. It is too early."

". . . Very well."

Another nod and brief hug between them, and they were off, Celestia to lower the sun, Luna to raise her moon and precede over Night Court. Celestia approached the door to her own study, opening it and closing it behind her with a quick thought of telekinesis. When she turned around, she saw Discord lying amongst a pile of her throw pillows, a rose in his mouth, candles lit around him, and seductive jazz music playing from seemingly nowhere.

"Helloooo, Celestia." Discord growled, waggling his eyebrows.

He was replied with a telekinetic slap that sent him sprawling, extinguishing the candles, and making the music come to a record scratch.

"Tcht. Kill the mood why don't ya?" The spirit of disharmony grumbled as he removed a pillow that had gotten stuck upon one of his horns. Celestia only shook her head in disgust.

"What do you want, Discord?" She said, annoyance dripping along every word.

"Still haven't forgiven me? It's been nearly a decade since my rehabilitation, you'd think one would let go of a grudge countless centuries old." He stood up, dusting himself off.

"I have, it's just that every time you show up, it's either you joking around or to steal cake from my pantry. Just make your own!"

"But I lack that certain touch only your Canterlot chefs can create . . . plus it's more fun to steal from you anyway." He chuckled, plopping himself back down in the pillow pile. Celestia merely rolled her eyes and went over to her desk. She'd rather sit there than with him anyway.

"C'mon Celly, let's reignite that old flame we once had going. Sure, we're not everybody's OTP, and we start some flame wars every so often on the internet, but that doesn't mean we can't at least try." He cackled.

"No." She replied flatly.

"Fine. You've always been a bore anyway, sunbutt." He crossed his arms, sounding more like a pouting child than anything else.

"Why are you even here, other than to mock me?" She dared to ask, shuffling papers around on her desk to appear busy. Trying to actually get some work done around him is as useless as a leave fighting against the currents of a tornado.

"Eh, mocking's good enough, but I wanted to check up on my little side project."

". . . The jabberwocky."

"Dismay, but we got into an argument over that with it ending with him sticking his fists into my eye. It's just Oddjob."

"Why would you want to see him?" She asked cautiously.

"I did sorta bring him here, so I do feel partly responsible for the tyke."

"You? Responsible?"

"I know, the word burned my tongue just by being spoken. Look, I'm not going to do anything that might mess with your little 'plans' and 'prophecy' and whatnot." He added an extra enunciation of mockery at the words beginning with p. "Just wanna help move him along, that's all."

"Very well. But if you do anything to-"

"Thanks Tia! Ciao, my lovely lady!" Discord hopped up, chuckling madly and disappearing with a flash of light.

" . . . What did I just allow?"

A small note popped out of midair in front of her to land right on her snout.

You just allowed me to possibly change the course of Equestrian history.

-Discord, Lord of Stuff Randomly Combusting

The moment she finished reading the note it incinerated itself into ashes.

I was perfectly fat and content. I reclined back into the well-cushioned and perfectly plush bedding, patting my full stomach, letting out a belch that sent cinders into the air. I had been offered the luxury of royalty, and I would be damned if I didn't try to eat the royal family out of house and home.

I hadn't realized just how truly hungry and thirsty I was. With the day ridden out and the daze of being de-petrified gone, the one true thing that I could rely upon called out to me: the gurgling of my stomach. I went right to ordering upon the arrival within the room that I would be spending the night in, apparently it was made for guests who were much larger than ponies. I didn't bump my head upon the doorframe, and the bed was actually big enough to fit my whole body with room to spare.

The castle staff, or more likely indentured servants, didn't mind my appearance in the slightest. Either my story was known to them, or they were simply accustomed to the castle having irregular guests. Either way, they brought me the food I requested, and I was happy. Would've tipped them too if I still had a bit to my name. I never truly knew what happened with that sum of money I received way back in Appleloosa . . .

Piles of fruit, sweets, and various other edible substances came towards me in platters. I did crave meat, but I knew actually ordering it would probably sicken some of them, some I kept myself from doing so. Being an omnivore around herbivores still would take getting used to.

Down my gullet it all went, a countless rainbow of flavors satisfying my hunger. From the sultry-sweet tang of strawberries and watermelon to delectable cakes and pies, especially apple and pecan. As for the drinks, I ordered mostly juices and water. Rum would've been on the list, but working up a hangover was not advisable when I had some seemingly important stuff to do tomorrow.

"Could you pass the quiche, please?"

"No prob, mate." I absentmindedly reached out and handed a plate of the stuff to an awaiting hand beside me.

"Thank you, Oddy." Discord said. I smiled and nodded briefly at him before jumping right out of the bed and slamming into the nearby wall in panic.

"You!" I almost screeched.

"You as well. How are things?" He casually asked, nibbling at the plate of food passed to him. Before I could actually assault him with my newly acquired big-hittin' stick, it seemed to have disappeared from the holster across my back and into his paws.

"Very nice weapon you have here." The draconequus noted as he examined it. "Very durable, good for knocking some teeth out of people you don't like. But that's not the only use it has . . . the question is, why give it to a pup who doesn't even know how to do magic? This nifty little branch should belong in the hooves of Equestria's Archmage."

"Give it back, or you'll end up charbroiled." I said, growling to rev up the heat inside me, sending tendrils of heat and flames to whip out from betwixt my fangs.

"There's no need for us to fight." He shrugged and tossed it over to me, and I caught it, gripping it tightly in my hands.

"And why's that? Afraid you'll lose? I'm not letting you take over Equestria this time."

"Hmm . . . you're a little late on the uptake." He snapped his claws, bringing forth from nothingness into reality a laptop. Technology, huh. Hadn't seen that in a while. It landed on his lap, and he began to tick-tack away on the buttons. "Here, this should get you up to speed." He turned the screen towards me.

". . . 'Keep Calm and Flutter On'? What the everloving fuck is that other than an adorable quip hinting towards a Fluttershy-related episode?"

"It's where I become reformed. I'm a good guy now, at least, good enough."

". . . I don't believe you."

"You don't have to."

"Your only proof is a website that you could've conjured up yourself. You are Discord the Liar, y'know."

". . . It's the MLP: FiM episode list on wikipedia. Contrary to public belief, They don't just let anyone edit any page."

I eased into a slightly less hostile stance, but nevertheless, I had to keep vigilant. This guy tricked me more than a con-artist at a two-bit carnival show. "Okay . . . say I believe you. Does this mean you're allowed out in public? That you're accepted? What do you even do now that you're not spiraling the whole world into insanity?"

"Not really, some still shy away. It's probably due to my overwhelming handsomeness though. As for what I do, most of my schedule consists of righting wrongs, popping into business that isn't mine, and screwing it up at the beginning only to save the day near the end, in which we all laugh forcibly as the screen fades out to black. Then the credits roll!" He cackled in that old, maniacal way of his, but it sounded much less threatening, a tad less evil, still all the crazy though.

". . ."

"It's okay if you don't believe me, I've come to understand friendship, and it takes some. You'll warm up to me!" He grinned, yet I still felt no warmth from it.

". . ."

". . . Bah! Well maybe I don't want to be your friend! I have plenty! Fluttershy, that old hobo down the street who plays cards with me . . . though he usually ignores me and rambles to himself. Tom the Boulder . . . but he's a rock and rocks don't talk normally. Fluttershy . . . Sheogorath . . . no, not him. We usually end up fighting over who's more chaotic and end up destroying several alternate dimensions. F-Fluttershy . . ."

"Sounds like you have a whole lotta friends that mostly consist of one yellow pegasus." I chuckled.

He turned on me with a sour look upon his face. "Don't mock me, she's all the friend I need." Then his features softened. "She's absolutely wonderful."

There, right there, I felt something different about the spirit. He sounded sincere and almost kind with those words. They were just enough to get me to believe him . . . only a tad.

"Good, glad you have a friend, Discord." I retracted from my fighting pose, putting my stave back in its holster, it sliding in neatly.

"Hey, sorry we got off on the wrong foot pal, considering we both have no actual right feet." He stood up after finishing his plate, eating that as well before trotting over to me, still slightly taller. I calculated in my head that in height it was Discord, Celestia, myself, Luna, then all the other shorter species. But . . . was I almost eye level with him now?

His arm wrapped around me , and I tried not spazz out and start punching. "Here, I'll teach you a little trick to start out your magicking ways." He flicked my forehead. "Even though I could do anything I want from the very beginning, the same can't be said for you. From what I know, little baby unicorns always start out with levitation, and that takes concentration and knowing how to form the aura around the object."

". . . And?"

"And that's pretty much it. Why are you asking me for help? I'm not a unicorn." He laughed once more at his own joke as I only rolled my dichromatic eyes.

"I'll be seeing you Oddjob." He stepped away. "You'd better get some sleep my boy, you've got a journey ahead of you, and it's not going to be easy." With that and a flash of light, he disappeared, along with all of the food that I still hadn't eaten yet, and my stomach grumbled for more.

I sighed as I opened the door to my room to try and catch the attention of some staff members nearby, but when I looked out into the hall, it was utterly dark save for the dim moonlight filtering in through the windows, no sight of any living creature around. I looked back into my room, a small numeral clock overhanging the bed, telling me that it was well past five in the morning, leaving me only two hours of sleep before I had to start.

. . . How long had we been talking?

VII - On the Road to Manehattan

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Seven:

On the Road to Manehattan

For those two mere hours, I slept naught a wink, my brain buzzing about with the information overload that had occurred earlier in the day. All in all, it was a lot to take in, too much for my simple thinker to process. Petrified then awoken for unknown reasons? Sweet gear that really made no sense to receive? Discord a good guy now? Waaaaay too much to take in all at once.

What was the reason for it all? To me, it all boiled down to the very top of this land, Celestia. Each one came down to a different motive, entirely unknown to everyone else save for the sun alicorn herself and possibly, possibly, her sister and the rest of the royal family. The latter seemed very unlikely however. You don't end up an immortal ruler and not keep a few secrets to yourself.

I sighed, knowing that this mystery would have to stay unsolved for now. I rolled over in the bed (perfectly made for my size mind you), and sighed. At least my time here had been comfy. The pillows were fluffy and stuffed with solid cloud, the blankets silky to the touch and warm. It was perfect if you could actually sleep. I tried to close my eyes, allowing the dark that overtook your mind when sleeping to come as quickly as it could, only for it to quickly flee at the sound of something knocking at the door. I groaned, rolling until I fell out of the bed to land with a thud on the floor, tangled up in the bedsheets and too lazy to stand up.

"Come in . . ." I muttered, my body sprawled in tiredness and not caring in the least.

"Good morning, Oddjo-" Goldguard entered, only to pause as he looked around to see an empty room. I raised a claw into the air so he could see and pointed down towards myself. "Here. On the floor." I groaned out.

". . . Do you normally sleep like that?"

"Only on Wednesdays." I said as I stood up, removing the sheet from myself and stretching, the sound of popping bones audible. I twisted my neck and felt the tight muscles within release, at least that made me feel a bit better.

". . . Today's Tuesday."

"Well maybe I'm mixing up my schedule. You ready to head out?"

He nodded. "We'll grab a bite to eat in the mess hall then head towards the path leading out of Canterlot. Grab your possessions."

I looked down, the stave hanging loosely across my back and the overcoat still being worn. "Done." I said with a shrug, following him out. It was just early morn, the new day just breaking over the old night, faint gleams of sunlight crawling across the horizon. Stars were still visible, but they were fading fast as their much brighter sibling rose higher and higher. It was always a sight to behold the sunrise, here and back on earth, an art form only the gods could master.

Mr. Hilarious Name led me out of the castle and back towards the guard barracks, the same soldiers in the same place I had last seen them, performing the same drills. Either they were on a strict schedule with very little alterations to the routine or they had stayed in the same spot overnights.

We entered the supposed mess hall,a rather spacious building with rows of benches, guards sitting at them and eating what appeared to be a mess of gruel, everything a nutritious, yummy breakfast needs, minus the nutritious and yummy parts.

"Grab a seat, I'll get us some food." Goldguard went to wait in a line on the other side of the hall, nodding at his fellow guardsponies, even chuckling as some tossed playful remarks his way.

I scouted the area, spotting an empty table near the corner. After shoving my way past some guards, who thankfully did not draw any weapons at the sight of me, I sat down at it, waiting for Goldguard by whistling (I still couldn't do it), twiddling my thumbs, and awkwardly smiling and waving at the guards around me. Some switched tables, others scooted away, while others seemed content with being near me.

I heard somebody's weight sit down at the table, and I looked up, expecting Goldguard. I was wrong.

"Greetings, jabberwocky." Sir Vorpal Blade said, barely withheld anger lacing every word.

My eyes widened, my instincts kicking in to tighten every muscle and give him a good smash right across the table. But he had not yet attacked me, so I was pretty much bound by the nice guy's code to keep from starting the fight.

"Morning." I replied, smacking my lips and making sure to show my fangs.

"It seems the Princess has finally released you, pity." He took off his helmet, setting it aside, polishing it with his hoof. He had worn it the entire time I had seen him before, so now i was finally getting a good view of his features. Vorpal appeared aged, yet in a refined way. His fur coat was smooth, and his features sharp. Those green eyes of his still pierced wherever they gazed, and his mane was slicked back meticulously. His horn glowed, and I found my stave floating out of its hold to hover beside him. Before I could reach for it, he snapped it out of my reach to hover overhead.

"Calm down, I'm going to give it back, just examining it is all . . ." He rolled his eyes. I huffed and reluctantly returned to sitting back down, watching him with a wary eye. He took my stick.

"Hmm . . . yes. A fine piece of work . . . Metal Storm really outdid himself. The finest oak compressed to the sturdiest of design, practically brimming with arcanite, and the dragon design was a nice touch." He gave it a test wave. "I could've been a mage you know, had the talent and the magical power."

"Interesting." I said in the most bored of tones, leaning my face against my hands. "Now just give it back."

"Instead, I preferred becoming a knight, much more glory involved." The knight continued, ignoring me entirely. "Maybe if I had chosen a different path, this stave would have ended up in my hooves instead."

"Give. It. Back."

"Tsk, tsk.Do not be so touchy, Mr. Job. I witnesses that temper of yours when we last clashed."

"I witnessed that you're a psychopath."

"Mistakes were made, words were said,"

"Swords were stabbed." I interrupted.

". . . Regardless, it's been ten years since then, enough time to let old wounds heal." With a mental flick, he set the magical weapon back in its holster.

"I just want to you to know one thing," Vorpal's disposition changed almost instantaneously, going from calm and collected to seething with a tense fury you could just feel burning the atmosphere. I looked directly into his eyes, those bright green orbs staring right through my soul.

"I will be watching you. Your every word, every movement, every infinitesimal muscle twitch, I will see. If you do anything that would threaten ponykind or any Equestrian citizen, it is within my right and duty as a knight in Celestia's Holy Order to slay thee with extreme prejudice."

He drew his face closer to mine until I could almost smell his breath, the last two words a whisper. When he had finished, he stood back up, placed his helmet upon his head and trotted off, passing Goldguard carrying two plates of concrete-gray gruel.

The guard sat down where Vorpal had been, whistling in an impressed manner. "You know Vorpal Blade?"

I nodded briefly, looking down at the plate of semi-food before me. Suddenly, I had a very little appetite.

"Impressive. Nopony knows anything about except for those high and mighty Cantelot officials. There's the occasional rumor or two about his uh . . . bedroom antics, but in all honesty, he's the best knight in the whole kingdom, heck, best weaponcaster on the planet if you ask me."

"I can believe that." I said, drawing from personal experience. I looked down again and poked at the grey slab, finding it to be somehow mushy and hard at the same time. I extended my tongue and wrapped it around the goop, pulling it into my mouth and began chewing, only to find absolutely no flavor at all, even with my hyper-sensitive tongue.

It was quiet as Goldguard ate his so-called breakfast, only the chatter of guards around us filling the room. Eventually, they all filed out, leaving only us two and the cook.

"You ready?" Goldguard asked, interrupting my daze.

"Yeah . . . sure."

We both got up, Goldguard leading the way, and left. My mind wasn't fully there as I followed behind, I kind of automatically walked like a robot would follow a command to their code or something. I had thought most of my old threats were gone. Looks like Vorpal was here to stay for a little longer.

Goldguard lead me through the streets of Canterlot, the cool morning atmosphere still present, the dew just as fresh and the sunlight just beginning to lighten the sky. Down the cobbled streets we went until we came upon an entryway, a gate in and out of the city that rested mountainside. A carriage greeted us, its towers two sturdy earth ponies who greeted us with a nod.

"We'll be heading to Manehattan by carriage, seeing as how we would have to wait until ten for the train heading there. We'll be there in an hour's time, leaving you plenty of time to investigate. We should meet up with several witnesses there, a businesspony by the name of Stock Smith. Owns a shipping company."

". . . Looks like you did most of the work for me." I leaned against the carriage. Goldguard shrugged in reply.

"In all honesty, Princess Twilight is the one who gathered all of the information. You just have to follow through with it and see what you find."

"Fair enough." I nodded.

"We ready to head off?" The unicorn asked, entering the carriage and holding the door open for me.

"Don't we have to wait for Legion?" I added, but the moment my sentence was finished, a white and furry body dropped from the sky and landed atop of the carriage.

"Fair morning, Alpha Oddjob. Shall we depart now?"

". . . Found him."Goldguard chuckled, scooting across the seat and letting me inside. I rolled my eyes, and got in. The carriage was spacious enough, but only for two people, or ponies for that matter. Legion did seem content with just chilling on the roof though.

"We're ready." The Solar Guard said to the ponies pulling the carriage. They both reared back, neighing, and pulled forward, their combined strength enough to get a good momentum going at a reasonable pace. We were off for Manehattan on a mission I didn't really want to be part of. Changelings? Detective work? A big and bustling city? Sounds like a plot to a movie or something.

The ride was fairly quiet. None of us really wanted to start a conversation, which was fine by me. I loved silence, it was somewhat comfortable to me when needed. I didn't prefer talking unless it was necessary. Like retorts, or witty comebacks, or saying nice stuff.

With only an hour to kill, I gazed out the window and just soaked up the scenery. Now this, this was nice. This was the Equestria that I wanted to see. Along the road the carriage took, we passed fields and meadows of dazzling flowers, through forests that you just knew teemed with life. The air was so fresh and clean, every breath was like a purifier for your lungs. You could even see a pegasi pony or two flying overhead through the clouds, sometimes disappearing in the cover that blotted out the blue.

"Enjoying the view?"

I turned, Goldguard awaiting a response. I nodded with a small grin. "Yeah, it's beautiful."

"What, haven't got this where you come from?"

"Where I come from . . . you can't really see most of the land."

"You haven't seen anything yet." He chuckled, leaning back in his seat, his armor rustling with a metallic sound. "Y'know what the most beautiful spot to me is in Equestria? Seeing it from on high, right from Cloudsdale. Higher than any point on the map, nearly off the planet, and you can see for miles."

I vaguely remembered my times in Las Pegasus. Wouldn't want to think about those high places and falling.

". . . I don't do very well with heights."

"A creature with wings, afraid of heights?"

I gently fluttered the back appendages, covered by the coat. They were pitifully small, and wouldn't even be able to lift me an inch off of the ground.

"Not so good at flying either. Can't fly at all really."

"Huh, you jabberwockies are weird."

"Need I remind you about your name again?" I could hear the two pulling ponies ahead chuckle.

"Let's just both agree that we are . . . 'odd' in different ways."

"Make it double for Legion." I rapped my knuckles against the roof. "A dog who should've been gone centuries ago with a thousand voices running around in his head."

"We will not engage in this conversation." Legion's many voices called overhead.

"You're weird Legion, admit it." I yelled with a laugh.

"Do you want us to admit, Alpha?"

"Yes. Your Alpha commands it."

"We are weird."

". . . The victory is kinda hollow when it comes from your weird voice . . . voices."

"Isn't that the point, Alpha Oddjob?"

". . ."

"Oh, look!" Goldguard interrupted, leaning out of his window and pointing forwards with a foreleg. "Manehattan, dead ahead! Celestia, always a sight to see."

I leaned out of my own window and smiled a bit. An entire cityscape stretched out before us, towering skyscrapers living up to their names touched the sky, the road we were on leading directly into the bustling center of it all. Well, here we were, Manehattan.

Goldguard and I got out of the carriage, while Legion hopped off the roof and landed beside me nimbly. We didn't know if our investigation would take hours or days, so the carriage was sent back to Canterlot. If we needed transport, a taxi carriage or the train system would be used.

"Alright Oddy," Goldguard said, standing beside me. "It's your show now. What would you have us do?"

I looked around, countless ponies in the crowd milling about, each to their own lives and daily schedules. Sounds of shouting, clopping hooves against sidewalk, and just city noise filling my senses. Hey, if you could make it here, you could make it anywhere . . . at least, that's what it meant in New York anyway. Did ponies even have a New York equivalent, or was Manehattan just it. The statue of a giant green liberty pony confirmed that thought.

"Well . . . we should go find Stock Smith first, I suppose."

My two comrades nodded. "Alright. Now,you wouldn't happen to know how to get there?" Goldguard asked.

". . . What? You don't?!"

"This is like only my second time here. And I got lost the first time!"

"Perhaps we should ask for directions." Legion recommended. He reached out with a paw and tapped a passing by pony on the shoulder. "Excuse me, you wouldn't happen to kno-"

"Buzz off, fleabag!"

". . . They were quite rude. And angry."

"City slickers." I shook my head with a sarcastic tone in my words. "We should probably find a map or something. Gotta be a tourist trap somewhere around here that offers them."

We walked until we stumbled upon said tourist trap, a souvenir stand selling cheap snowglobes and plushies. I picked up a map, but before I could open it, the purveyor of the stand halted me.

"Uh-uh, buddy. Pay first, then you can peep at the map."

I nudged Goldguard with my elbow. "You heard 'em, pay the man."

"What? Didn't you get any royal sum or something before we left?"

"Nope. I'm as broke as a soccer player's shin."

". . ." Goldguard grumbled as he rustled about in his armor, pulling a small bag from within and tossing two coins in the direction of the awaiting hoof of the pony. He nodded at us once his bits had been received.

"Paying for this out of my own wallet . . ." Goldy grumbled and I patted him on the back.

"How about I pay you those two bits back later?"

"You'd better."

I opened up the map, and whoo boy, was Manehattan big. The districts had districts, the street names had names for the names. But just downtown, we could make out a small building . . .

Boxes and Bags Shipping, a subsidiary of Flim and Flam Incorporated
Managed by Stock Smith


VIII - It Came With Packages, Boxes, and Bags

View Online


By: Quisky


Chapter Eight:

It Came With Packages, Boxes, and Bags

"This the place?"

"Definitely. You can just smell the sleaze and greed in the air."

". . . I thought that was general smell of the city?"

"Oh, it is, but much more concentrated here."

"You seem very proud of that." I remarked towards Goldguard, who only shrugged back to me as a reply. With the map we had garnered from the ever-so kind shopkeep of the streets, we had stumbled upon the very business my investigation was to begin with. It was, in all honesty, just a really big warehouse down by the docks with the fanciest sign splayed on the front. The title of the establishment, 'Boxes and Bags Shipping', was pretty noticeable, but the big part of the lettering was displayed in boldly and in a much larger text size. 'A Subsidiary of Flim and Flam Incorporated'. Looks like those two didn't spare any modesty here.

This area of the city wasn't nearly as loud as the main heart of it, but it did retain some kind of busy aspect. Down by the docks one could make out pony sailors scurrying about on the decks of the ported ships, while in the distance factories released steam and grey smoke from their towers into the atmosphere. That looked absolutely healthy for the environment.

Legion stepped forward to join us after examining a nearby garbage can, apparently the remains of thrown away lunch and rotted fruit was appealing to him. His nose wiggled, sniffing the remnants of scent in the air before saying his own piece.

"We do not smell any 'sleaze' or 'greed', as you say Goldguard."

"I can." I interrupted.

". . . But we can smell the layer of smog hovering over the city from factories and several distinct chemicals that are harmful to ponykind."

"Gotta love Manehattan!" Goldguard chuckled, taking in a big whiff of air, only to cough out loudly. I rolled my dual-hued eyes at both of them before stepping forward, opening the entrance door to the facility and stepping inside, having to duck my head seeing as how the ceiling suddenly took a long drop to accommodate for pony-stature only. Legion seemed pretty okay with it, seeing as how he was low to the ground on all fours anyway.

We now found ourselves in a small reception room, complete with uncomfortable plastic chairs, a table lined with magazines nobody wants to read, and a small female earth pony of a cream color sitting at the receptionist desk, too busy delving into her own book to notice that we had entered. Behind her was a door that probably lead into the main part of the warehouse.

Goldguard nudged me forward, and I coughed, adjusting the tight armor around the base of my neck. I approached the desk, coughing a little louder so that she would hear me. No dice, not even a glance upwards. It better well damn be an insightful page-turner for her to be so enthused with it. I coughed again, and again, and again.

With that getting me nowhere, I noticed a little bell on the side of the desk with a neat little sign in front of it. 'Ring for service' it politely stated. I lightly tapped the top of it, the small bell releasing a ding that resounded through the tiny room. No immediate response, so I went with the only logical course: Repeatedly smash the bell until someone tells me to stop.


". . ."

". . ."

"I broke it."

"You did." The receptionist looked up from her book with an annoyed glare, setting her book down and turning her attention to the three strangers in the room. She didn't look very happy. "How may I help you?" She asked, each word dangerously laced with explosives that could go off at any minute. maybe I should've been patient and just waited.

"Um . . . yes." I coughed again, this time more out of nervousness than anything else. "We are here on behalf of Princess Twilight Sparkle. Your employer, Stock Smith, has information regarding an important investigation we are conducting. When might we be able to see him?"

Fuckin' nailed it with being proper and businesslike.

Her steady gaze of annoyance never left despite my proper conduct of words. "Right through that door, probably on the shipping floor. Watch out for falling crates, we tend to get a couple of our workers squished every now and then."

"Thank you for your time . . . and sorry about the bell." I nodded at her as I stepped over to the door, the three of us going through before those explosives of hers could go off. God have mercy on whoever trifles with one who has been reading and disturbs them.

"Real smooth with the bell and everything." Goldguard commented. "No, really, ringing it more than one time until it breaks really put our investigation off to a good start."

"Stow it before I feed you to Legion." I grumbled in reply, looking around for whoever this 'Stock Smith' was. The warehouse was big, as most were. Crates and shelves holding smaller crates were stacked to the ceiling, ponies running about doing various tasks, larger earth ponies carrying the crates to and fro, pegasi flying overhead with clipboards, taking stock of what they had and where it was going.

I tapped on pony on the shoulder, and when he turned to me, it was the familiar 'What the everloving fuck are you' stare.

"Excuse me, you wouldn't happen to know where the shipping floor is, would you?"

He nodded in the general direction, down a narrow walkway to a much more wider area in the back. I gave him a quick smile and a nod of my own before we headed off there. We found Stock himself bellowing orders to whoever passed his way. He was a portly fellow of earth pony origin, light brown with obviously a shipping crate as his cute mark. He wore a little bowler's hat that covered his mane, and he seemed rather . . . sweaty.

"Err . . . Stock Smith?" I inquired, stepping towards him slightly, but not too closely. I didn't want any of his sweatjuice flying onto me.

He turned around, chubby face screwed into an expression of confusion. "And you are . . . ?" He had a voice one would expect from him, upper-class, but slow and deep to match his body.

"Oddjob. This is Goldguard and Legion," I pointed at the two beside me. "We're here on behalf of Princess-"

"Oh thank goodness! I thought you would never come!" He bellowed in relief, sighing a great deal. Still his sweating did not go down. It wasn't even that hot in here! Well . . . not to me, anyways. I wondered how my warmblooded friends were faring?

"You seem very . . . excited about helping us." Goldguard mused. "Glad to finally see some civilian cooperation."

"Helping you?" Stock Smith said curiously. "But . . . aren't you help I requested from the castle to aid me with my problem?"

"Um . . . nope." I said bluntly. "We're here to ask you about certain occurences relating to an investigation beset by the princesses."

"Oh . . . oh yes, I did get a memo about that today . . . nevermind."

"There's been talk of . . . changelings in the area?"

"Bah, don't believe everything you hear. Some of the night crew said they saw a pack of them, flying in the night sky overhead. I don't believe 'em, it was dark and they were probably drunk, it could've been some pegasi for all we know."

"Can we speak with your night crew? Are they here now?"

"Normally, they are, but I fired them a couple days ago."

Goldguard flinched noticeably. "You . . . fired witnesses that could've helped us?"

"Eh, they were costing me too much money to keep anyway, much cheaper to add extra time to other worker's schedules anyway."

". . ."

"Do you know where they are?"

"I do." He nodded.

". . . Mind telling us where?"

This time, he shook his head, but a smirk crossed his flabby features. "Now that, my friend, comes with a cost. You want something, and I want something. That usually leads to an agreement made between the two parties."

"You're . . . bargaining with us?!" Goldguard snapped. "You're impeding a royal investigation, we could have you sent before the noble court for this."

"But you won't." He shrugged, still smirking. Alrighty then, Stock Smith going on a list of people I don't like.

"It's fairly simple. You do what I want and I tell you where my fired crew normally spends their time. It's a win-win."

"Fine." I said, Goldguard whipping around to shout "What?!" I raised my hand towards him, trying to calm him down, guy took his job pretty seriously. "Goldy, this is my lead, and like you said, I'm in charge. I say we hear what Stock has to say."

"Listen to your strange friend, he seems the most reasonable out of you lot." Stock chuckled deeply. Slowly, Goldguard simmered down to a point where he could contain himself. Once he seemed calm enough, I turned back to the businesspony. "Alright, what to you want?"

"I refer back to the help I've been needing earlier. I sent a request to Canterlot for help, but you know how slow those royal guards are." Ooh, sharp blow right to Goldguard. I inched a little in front of him to keep him from jumping at Stock and making him a pile of fat with cuts and bruises.

"Recently, a certain . . . package was stolen from my warehouse say . . . three nights ago? What was inside is very valuable, to myself, investors, and to my employers."

"Flim and Flam?"

"Exactly. They'll be arriving here any day now to see how this part of their business world is coming along, and they'd be very . . . upset to find that their special package was missing from the inventory."

"You want us to find this package and bring it back." I crossed my arms. "Seems easy enough."

"Oh, it is. I know who stole it and where those ruffians are probably hiding out."

"Then why haven't you alerted the local authorities to do their job?" Goldguard said through gritted teeth.

"The thieves have too many ties in this city. I needed help outside of Manehattan, which just so happened that you came onto my doorstep. What do you say?"

"We'll help. Just give us any information you have on the thieves, and we'll have your package back in no time."

"Ooh, delightful!" He chuckled again, sending a wave rolling down his body. Note to self, always eat healthy and exercise. Maybe. I do enjoy pie every now and then.

"These hooligans normally 'hang', as you younger folks say, around the shadier part of Neigharlem. They're probably camping there right now, ready to move the package at any time."

"Anything else we need to know, or are we good?"

"Just that the thieves are the Talons, but that shouldn't be any problem for ones as heavily armed as yourselves."

I bidded adieu, and we left. Just outside the warehouse, I stopped Goldguard. ". . . Who're the Talons?"

"Talon Company, a mercenary band." He replied with a bit of disgust in his mouth. "Nasty group, just as bad as the King Family you took out years ago."

Great. More criminals.

"Most of their numbers consist of griffons and drakes, so they are to be wary of." Legion added, going back to observing the trash can again.

"And how would you know that? That isn't common civilian knowledge." Goldguard said.

"If you have not noticed, Guardian of Gold, we are not common. The Talon Company have hunted us before for our rarity, we are a prize to be won and sold for quite the bounty."

"Yeesh, looks like we're dealing with some nasty customers here then." I shrugged. "Nothing I haven't faced before." I reached into the pocket of my overcoat and pulled out the map, unfolding it to get a good view of the city. "Now . . . where's Neigharlem?" I gazed at the paper world before I found it. That area of the city had been darkened, a skull sitting beside it and words of wisdom.

Danger, enter at own risk of being shot, stabbed, maimed, or otherwise horribly scarred.

IX - Never Go to the Shady Side of Town . . .

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By: Quisky

Chapter Nine:

Never Go to the Shady Side of Town . . .

Coming here? Not the brightest or the best of my ideas. But, you take what you can get here. What I was taking was stolen cargo, what I was leaving with would possibly be severe injuries and a unconscious body I'll have to tow behind me. I knew Legion could handle himself in a fight, but Goldguard I wasn't so sure about. He probably has military training and all that, but if what we were dealing with was as serious as they were claimed to be, I doubt running drills and a couple of push-ups would help me.

Still, it was nice to know that I had somebody watching my back. Felt this way too when I had Alamo and Zola with me. Wonder how they were doing? Thinking of them wouldn't help me now, but it was nice. If I returned to Canterlot safely after all this mess, I could possibly ask around, maybe Twilight or Nibsy, and see where my old pals are.

The streets were dirt, the buildings were run-down, and the residents stared at you with daggers for eyes. So warm and welcoming, I was surprised they didn't send out a greeting committee.

"Ah, Neigharlem." Goldguard said, breathing in once more the putrid air and coughing quite thickly.

"What, you've been here before?" I asked as we continued down the road, it being cracked and littered with old newspapers and some substance I did not wish to know the origin of.

"Yeah. Remember the first time I said I came to Manehattan? This was the area I got lost in!" He sounded almost proud of that. "Got mugged down that alley." He said, pointing a foreleg at a certain dark and dank alleyway we just passed.

"What got stolen?" I dared to ask.

"My wallet. Didn't have much in it to begin with, so i didn't mind." He shrugged, sending a chinking sound through his armor. "Ooh, got robbed down that one too." Another point towards another alley, surprisingly the same as the last. "My helmet was taken there."

". . ."

"And down that alley as well. Had my boots taken. Down that one, my chestplate . . . that one my greaves . . . that one my dignity . . ."

"Did you just get robbed on every fuckin' alleyway in this neighborhood?!" I almost shouted, but lowered my voice at the last moment to prevent anymore attention to be drawn to a towering jabberwocky in armor, a pure-white diamond dog, and a royal guard in loud, golden armor.

"Um . . . yes. I did. The Royal Guards found me two days later naked and crying down this alley." He paused. "I can't remember much of what happened . . ." Another pause as he gazed upwards towards a more warehouse-like building. We had left behind the residential area for a more industrial zone, like the area we had just been in with Stock Smith and his own warehouse, except this was appeared utterly abandoned and creepy as shit. There was a heavy presence in the air, like you knew you were being watched by something very malevolent. The walls were rusted, the ground was littered with garbage, and the air was permeable with a heavy stench of something unwashed.

"Except," Goldguard continued. "Except I remember getting beat down by some Talons near this warehouse."

"This is their spot then?" I inquired, stepping forward. There didn't seem to be any real entrance on the side were on.

"Definitely." The armored pony nodded. "I think. Like I said, I have a hard time remembering what happened. I woke up in my bunk the next day sore, armorless, and broke. I had to do grunt work for weeks just to earn all of my armor back."

Legion had ignored our conversation entirely, sniffing around with that keen nose of his firmly pressed to the ground. "Cedar wood. Metal? Metal. Bird Droppings. Sulfur." He mumbled to himself in that many-voiced way. "We could faintly pick up scent of package back in Round Pony's warehouse. It is box. Big. Made of cedar wood, something metal inside. Scent matches what is inside this warehouse." Legion paused to sniff once more. "Twelve griffins inside, ten males, two females. Watch out for females, much more violent of species. One drake, big."

"Alrighty then." I cracked my knuckles one by one and rolled my shoulders, claws itching and fangs grinding. It had been quite a long time since I was in a proper fight. I almost felt ready to bust some heads around and knock out teeth.

The two of us followed behind Legion, his nose being our guide to the back of the warehouse, a bolted metal door with a chainlock greeting us. Before I busted it down, Goldguard placed a hood on my shoulder.

"Wait, we're just going to break in?"

"Eeyup." I nodded.

"No plan? No stealth? Just barge right in and hope we don't get killed?"

"Pretty much."

"Alpha Oddjob normally goes with this route." Legion interjected. "It works most of the time."

Goldguard sighed and took a step back to let me do my work. I nodded at him with a wide grin before pulling my fist backwards, revving it up for one good strike. I sprang forward on my heels, moving my torso in a twisting motion so that the momentum moved upwards and into my fist, slamming directly into the door, which was promptly knocked off of its hinges with a heavy clang.

I wiped off my hands and stepped forward, entering the warehouse with Legion and Goldguard at my back.

X - . . . You Could Get Hurt . . .

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By: Quisky

Chapter Ten:

. . . You Could Get Hurt . . .

The busted-down door lead us into a narrow hallway that gave off the feeling of dirty grime upon your skin, making yourself feel unclean just standing in it. A small, swinging lantern hung overhead as the only source of light, illuminating very little opposed to what it should have been. Looks like the Talons had never heard of the phrase 'spruce up the place'.

Our collective of claws, paws, and hoofsteps upon the dirty floor was the only sound save for some muted out shouting up ahead. Sounded like a lot of voices, all belonging to a lot of heavily armed thugs and thieves. I could just tell that this was going to be such a fun time.

As we reached the end of the hall and turned a corner, every last one of us froze in place, muscles locked tense at the sight. A griffin stood ahead, back to us, scratching at himself, seemingly on guard duty. A door laid behind him, probably to the larger part of the warehouse. He was roughly pony-sized, scraggly with brown feathers, either natural-colored or he didn't bother taking a bath, I was guessing the latter given the stench.

I turned towards the two behind me, nodding with my head towards the guard. I tried to mouth the words 'Rush him at the count of three', but when I turned back around, the guard was staring directly at us, beak agape. There was a sudden clatter of movement as we all bum-rushed the poor blighter, ramming into him. Legion had his wings, Goldguard his limbs, and I held his beak shut with my hands. Bloody little prick put up a fight too, squealing and rustling about, sending feathers everywhere.

With quite the struggle going on, the guard had managed to slip quite literally through my fingers, biting my bear hand with his sharp beak and making me wince. Angrily I jerked him right out of the grips of my friends and heaved him forward, sending him slamming into the metal door, taking both it and him into the next room with a heavy clunk. Well, if they didn't know we were here earlier, they did now.

All three of us entered the warehouse area, most of it empty save for the usual stack of boxes here and there, and the dozen or so griffins in the room. Each one eyed us warily as we entered, switching between our menial group and their unconscious, twitching mate on the floor.

"Um . . . hello." I greeted with a weak little wave. "We're uh, just here to retrieve what you guys might've stolen." I continued, Legion beside me and sniffing like crazy, pointing forward. A large crate that came roughly up to my torso stood on the far end of the room, nothing but angry griffins of varying sizes, all looking gruff and armed with a blade, standing us.

"That is what we are seeking, Alpha Oddjob." The diamond dog said in monotone. I nodded before turning back to the griffin group. "Now look," I coughed, trying to look as intimidating as possible, baring my fangs and sizing myself up. "We don't want to fight, but if you do, you might want to rethink that. You have a highly trained Solar Guard, a slash-happy diamond dog, and a jabberwocky with a big stick all at your doorstep. All we want is that package you stole, then we'll leave happily."

They replied by charging forward with weapons drawn and unleashing terrifying eagle screeches. We reacted in the same way, Legion howling, Goldguard shouting at the top of his lungs, and myself roaring, all of us spearheading directly into the center of the warehouse for a clash.

Somehow we divided the dozen of them between us, four each for a pummeling. I rammed my fist directly into the beak of one of them, feeling the full weight of the blow crack his beak and send him flying backwards into some crates, knocking them over. Another had taken to flying over me, swooping in only to annoy the fuck outta me with little blade swipes that left stinging cuts that thankfully healed easily. What surprised me the most was how undamaged I was in this fight. Normally I took a lot of punishment, but the coat and armor seemed to be absorbing what I was too stupid to dodge or block.

While I fended off my three remaining attackers, I glimpsed to the side every now and again to see how my companions were faring. Legion, of course, was doing excellently, not even a scratch on him. He, she, it, moved gracefully around any strike aimed towards the pristine white coat, retaliating with swift blows and claw strikes, dispatching the griffins with ease. In only a matter of seconds, three of his were down and the last was just barely defending himself from Legion's assault.

Goldguard was doing surprisingly well. It appeared that he was a weaponcaster, much like Vorpal. A shimmering blade of gold swung through the air, parrying any other sword heading towards its master. Looked like I really underestimated him, proven by him swinging his magical blade and disarming every griffin around him before proceeding with a quick buck from his backlegs, sending them reeling.

With a deft backhand from me, my armored gauntlet smacked directly into that griffin that had been aerial, pushing him aside and made him wish gravity wasn't so cruel. I took a step back, the last remaining griffin looking so unsure of himself, taking a few steps back. All three of us stepped closer to him, and in return, he screeched, turned heel, and ran smack into a pile of crates, crashing through them and definitely what was stored inside crashing down on him.

I chuckled to myself, allowing such an amusing moment to calm me down after the fight. Eventually the adrenaline wore off. "See, wasn't so bad?" i said with a grin, strutting towards the box, only for something very big overhead to land on the roof, sending a rumble through the building, followed by a roar that sounded very familiar to my own.

I had almost forgotten that the Talons also had drakes in their employment.

XI - . . . Or Worse

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Eleven:

. . . Or Worse

We all gazed upwards, a glass skylight overhead darkened with the shadow of a mighty large form. With but a press fom the shadowed figure, the glass cracked, sending a sprinkling shower to the ground below. We cleared the way as a drake forced his way through the opening in the roof, landing with a heavy thud in the warehouse, followed by two more griffins who hovered overhead.

The drake was something to behold. Even though they were a lesser cousin of dragons, it did not mean they were any less intimidating. The drake's stature dwarfed even my own by an entire torso of height, and that didn't even include wingspan. He was of a stocky, muscular build, a mixture of light blue and greenish scales upon his form. Spines rippled down his back, making my own twitch in anticipation. This would be interesting.

With a loud rumble, the drake scanned the area, slitted eyes narrowing at the sight of the dozen unconscious griffins. We stood in his shadow until he turned to us, a gruff, death-roary voice befitting of his species. "You took out my men." He bellowed, the two griffins that followed him in landing on opposite sides of him. Looks like we were about to enter round two.

"We did." I replied, tensing myself for what may come. My own dichromatic eyes scanned the situation, tongue flicking out to taste the air. Sweat, fear, anger, and a hint of leather followed by a familiar tang of sulfur. Adrenaline kicked in once more, slowing time and heightening my senses. Griffin to the drake's left was male, bulky, bigger than both Legion and Goldguard put together, feathers rustled and almost missing. Looks like the bird had seen some fights given the scars along his body and patches of bare flesh, might take Legion to take him down. Griffin to the right was female, slightly larger than a regular pony. She was slender, odd to see in a griffin. Wore a set of leather greaves around her legs, some light armor as well. Almost had a combination of cream and brown feathers, her 'hair' feathers tipped with pink colored, styled somewhat in a fauxhawk like haircut. A longsword matching her body length was strapped across her back, readied for battle.

It started differently than the last time. In our previous bout with the Talons, one could feel the tension in the air until it reached its breaking point. Now, we all just rushed into it, no build-up or excitement, just a good old fashioned brawl for survival.

Legion took the male, Goldguard the female, and I the drake. Seemed pretty fair. With the two of us roaring a deep, ear-splitting battle cry, we rammed into each other, my strength just enough to match his own. Almost like two lineman in a football game pressed up against each other, we shoved and pushed, trying to get the upper claw, our fangs bared and our eyes alit with fury. Of course, I wasn't as bound by animalistic instinct as he was. While we were in our little lock, I went like a inboxer, holding him back with my shoulders and performing severe body blows, each hooked fist smashing into his abdomen.

It looked like the tactic was doing at least some form of damage, each blow making him grunt and push a little harder back against me. Only when his wings came into play did I start losing. A loud gush of wind was created when the drake extended them, and then a more powerful force slammed into me, sending me flying across the warehouse, only to land with a painful crunch in a concrete wall on the opposite side of the building.

I groaned as I picked myself up from that, already feeling the soreness in my back. I looked up just in time as the drake took a swipe at me with his claws. I narrowly dodged by ducking, the tips of the razor-sharp appendages just grazing the top spike on my head. With momentum on my side, I rebounded upwards, slamming a ferocious uppercut directly into his jaw, feeling the wonderful crunch of metal-coated fist into scale and bone.

He made a little gagging sound, stumbling backwards from the counter. I followed up with several more jabs to the abdomen, but I doubted that got me anywhere in this fight, too well-protected to actually feel some amount of pain. Would have to keep to the headshots, but those would be rare to get in, seeing as how my first one only made him stumble. Drakey would be getting wise as this fight dragged along.

The drake came back at me in full force, seemingly unhurt from previous attacks. I took my stance and stood my ground, weaving around his attempted swipes, trickling in light blows between his. Experience from beforehand had really upped my fighting game, both in Equestria and back on earth. Except back then I didn't have superior strength or a healing factor.

Through the haze of our bout, I caught glimpses of what was going on in the other fights. As I avoided claws that could tear me asunder, out of the corner of my eye I could see Legion acrobatically moving around the griffin, but something seemed off about the mutt. Looked like he was limping a little. As for Goldguard, it appeared he was just barely holding his ground, the female griffin shoving him backwards with strength that did not match her size, her large broadsword she held in her front limbs knocking Goldguard's blade of magic easily aside.

I had lost track of time for how long we fought, something that normally happened when duking it out with somebody. You lose sense of what was going on, only that the other guy needed to go down before you did. The drake had managed to land a nasty tear across my cheek, thick green blood oozing down the side of my face and neck. It stung like a motherfucker and couldn't heal fast enough.

It did appear as though I was making progress. He was beginning to show signs of slowing down, his breathing becoming a bit ragged now after all of those body shots I had placed. But unfortunately, I was beginning to as well. I couldn't react quite fast enough, getting bitch-slapped right across the face with a heavily scaled hand, sending me tumbling back, only for another blow to strike me directly in the ribs, the armor doing squat to protect me.

Across the warehouse did I go once more, my body flying into something wooden and making a cracking sound. I think I hit a crate, breaking it along a couple ribs. My vision was doubled and blurred, a bad combination as I struggled to steady myself back up to my feet. I could feel the ground shaking from the weight of the drake making his way towards me, evident by the growing shadow darkening my vision. At least I wasn't slipping into unconsciousness, but that might be happening soon as a heavy hand smacks into the side of my head, making my senses go numb for a moment. I could taste the heat of blood in my mouth from the blow.

Backing away and regathering myself seemed the only viable option right now other than get beaten into a pulp. I quickly retreated around the drake, my shuffling feet clumsily moving me around him. Luckily his large stature made him slower than me, so the clumsiness factor of my fatigue leveled it out. Eventually my vision cleared just as a fist of blue scales came flying towards me. I jerked to the side, it just grazing my snout and leaving a weird tingling feeling in it. Quickly did I find myself backing up again, hop-skipping away from the punches and tearing claws that threatened me every second until my back hit another wall, the drake closing in fast.

With an angry roar, he shoved both hands forward, claws aiming for vitals. I rolled to the side at the last second, feeling the rush of wind from his movement. Now, the tide turned to my side, his hands deeply embedded into the concrete. He struggled, trying to pull them out, nervously switching from looking at his predicament and the wily smile forming on my face.

I reached behind me, pulling the stave from its holster, and brandishing it directly in front of the big scaly brute, teasing him. Cracking my knuckles and gripping the weapon tightly, I took a batter's stance, swinging heavily directly into his stomach, sending a loud whack! through the area. I then swung it upwards into the under-area of his chin, making him slam his own mouth shut.

"It's the bottom of the ninth, eight seconds on the clock, and Oddjob's Oddballs need a homerun to take home the championship . . ." I monologued allowed, taking on a fake announcer's voice, tensing my entire body as I swung the stave back over my shoulders, feeling the momentum and strength build up in my back and arm muscles, only to rocket forward through the stave's ornamental head, smashing directly into the drake's face. He was cut free from his trap, the sheer force sending him toppling over, fangs and splatters of blood flying from his mouth. ". . . And it's outta here!"

He landed with a heavy slam, and once I was sure that he wasn't moving anytime soon, I holstered the stave, patting it and wiping some of the blood stains off. Now to get a sense of where Legion and Goldguard were in their own personal battles. I turned, eyes falling on them in the rest of the warehouse. We had done a real number on the building, broken crates and pieces of shattered and splintered wood everywhere. Cracks that weren't there before now ran freely along the walls and ceilings. Fortunately, the crate we were to retrieve was unharmed.

Legion's opponent was left beaten and bloodied in a corner. At first glance I thought him dead, but a shuddering breath from the griffin proved otherwise. Goldguard himself stood to the side, armor beaten in with large dents and scratches, as well as a large gash across his cheek. He was panting heavily, but proved otherwise victorious, as the female griffin's own weapon was a few feet away from her and she was feebly crawling towards it.

I stepped forward in front of her, making her stop and glare up angrily. Whoah, talk about daggers, those eyes were intense. Legion and Goldguard joined me on either side, both pretty banged up. We would need a little R&R after this. I looked down towards the griffin, coughing to prep my throat.

"Alright," I began. "First, you're going to tell us a couple things."

"Fall and never flap." She hissed out. I confusedly turned to Legion. He shrugged. "Common insult amongst winged species."

"Thank you, but I'd prefer not to. Anyways, a few questions, and we'll let you go, easy as that."

". . ."

"To begin, your name?"

". . ."

"This is a formal matter, ma'm, and all formal matters require names. I'll start. Hello! My name's Oddjob."

"Oddjob. We'll put that on our hit list. I'm Agatha."

"Alright . . . Agatha. Why did you steal the crate?"

"Money. Worth a pretty penny too."

"What's inside?"

"Dunno. It's heavy though."

"Who hired you? I hear you're a mercenary group, so you took on this job from somebody else."

". . ." She narrowed her eyes, locking into mine. Good, I could make her uncomfortable. I flared the colors of my eyes, the thin pupils locking onto hers. I even added a little blink from my lizard-like sideways eyelids.

" . . . A changeling. But that's all I know, only met him once."

.We all shared a quick glance. This could definitely have something to do with the investigation. "Um . . .scratch that part about us letting you go. We're taking that crate, as well as you as a suspect."

"Wait, what?!" She shrieked, looking about to leap on me before both Legion and Goldguard both subdued her between them. I nodded before heading over to the crate, hefting it up with both arms and carrying it over my back. It did have some weight to it, but nothing I couldn't handle.

"C'mon," I nodded towards the door we entered through, the two carrying the struggling Agatha between them and her confiscated items, Goldguard wearing her longsword across his back. he might've taken it as a trophy.

Whatever this meant with the changeling, at least we were one step closer to finding out what exactly was going on.

XII - Oddjob's Delivery Service

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By: Quisky

Chapter Twelve:

Oddjob's Delivery Service

Through the streets of Manehattan we went; Victorious, a tad beaten, and drawing attention to ourselves. I heaved the package along my shoulders, while Goldguard and Legion tended to restraining Agatha. If one pony got too curious and approached us with mouth open, Goldy would reply with : "Official Canterlot business. Carry on, citizen." Have to say, the armor does him well.

Eventually we arrived back in the warehouse area of the city, coming upon the building of Boxes and Bags Shipping. We let ourselves in, nodding at the receptionist, who was still delved into her book. She glanced up momentarily before rolling her eyes. We entered the main floor of the warehouse, heading into the back of the shipping floor, only to pause. I could hear whimpering and a lot of heavy breathing.

We continued back until we reached the shipping floor. Before me, I could make out three ponies. Stock Smith was practically soaking in his own juices, his tiny bowler hat nervously gripped around his hooves. Two taller ponies of lean build stood in front of him, shaking their heads simultaneously in disapproval. I recognized them instantly. Coats of lightish olive, apple slices for cutie marks, vests of striped and bowties, and those old-fashioned businessmen hats. Flim and Flam, con-men extraordinaires, were speaking with their employee Stock Smith, and they did not sound happy.

"We are not happy Smith, not happy at all." Flim said, tsking.

"No we are not, and we expected so much more out of you." His mustached brother, Flam, continued. "We gave you this warehouse on a silver platter, full reign on it, and you take advantage of our trust."

"But I-" The portly pony tried to intercede, having to wipe away a layer of sweat from his brow.

"No buts!" They said at the same time. "We entrusted you with one little crate, nothing bad. And it gets stolen?"

"I . . ."

"-Have it right here." I declared loudly, slamming the crate down so it would make a heavy thud that echoed through the warehouse. All three of them turned to me, Stock Smith sighing in great relief and the two brothers curiously gazing over.

"And who are you?" Flim asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oddjob, royal investigator, jabberwocky, and procurer of packages." I said proudly, tapping my knuckles against my chestplate. "Got your crate here, safe and sound, along with one of the perpetrators." I jabbed a thumb over my shoulder to the griffin gal.

The two unicorns shared a glance before both bursting into a big smile and guffaw. "Well, my good man," Flam started. "We thank you for taking the task upon yourself!" They approached me, giving me a pat on the back, which was pretty awkward . . . for me at least. Once that was done, they went over to the crate, examining it.

"Oh thank you so much." Stock Smith said as he as well approached me. He reeked of the stench of sweat and some kind of cheese.

"Uh . . . no problem. But I thought you said they would be here later?" I asked.

"I wasn't expecting it either . . . they came in for an early 'surprise' visit to see how things were going."

"Well, at least I got their box back. And you can finally give me that info . . . which you should've done in the first place. Out of the goodness of you heart. Like any decent living being."

"I will. Just . . . let my employers see if their cargo is safe first. If it's damaged, no deal." Smith wiped a globule of sweat from his nose.


"Just business, my good fellow." Chunkbutt replied with a huff, swaggering past me and to join the two brothers by the crate. I was literally one wrongly-worded sentence away from making him a chewtoy for Legion.

"Yes . . . the integrity of the crate seems to be in order." Flim stated.

"But what about the insides?" Flam added.

"True, true. We'll just have to crack it open and see. Smith," Flim made a little whistling noise, to which he loyally came up like a hound dog. "Fetch us a crowbar, would you?"

"No need, gentlemen." I interjected, stepping towards them and brandishing my claws. "If you don't mind . . .?" I pointed towards their precious package. Another look was shared between the two before nodding.

"Go right ahead, my good sir." Flam said.

I nodded before taking both of my mismatched hands, extending the claws on all fingers, jabbing them into the side of the crate. I grunted and flexed the muscles in my arms and hands, ripping one side of the wooden box right off, chucking it clear across the room. "There." I stated, wiping my hands of wood chips.

The two businesssponies nodded before looking inside, blocking us out as they examined whatever was inside.

"Yes . . . good. Hull intact."

"Wiring seems to be in order . . ."

"No visible damage. She's still a beauty."

" . . . She?" I asked.

"Well," They pulled their heads out of the crate. "Since you did help retrieve it, we believe it's only fair that you share in her reveal. This was going to be done in front of the board committee for our company, but we can't let those blowhards be seeing our secrets, can we?" The two brothers chuckled before stepping to the side.

"Oddjob, Stock Smith," Flim nodded to us. ". . . Diamond dog, Guard, and Griffon," Flam absentmindedly waved over to the others. Legion didn't seem to care in the slightest, Goldguard actually appeared amused, and Agatha . . . well, she looked angry.

"We have toiled for years in this craft. Our company is know for its ingenuity in the most advanced gadgets and gizmos . . ." Flam started up as if he was trying to sell a business pitch.

"But this goes far beyond what we have done in the past. Moreso than any other machine out there."

"We present to thee," They knocked on the box, sending the other sides tumbling down, revealing what was within.

"The Persnickety Everybot Nine-Nine Young automaton. Or, just P.E.N.N.Y. for short."

Now unveiled and in the light, my eyes peeked up in curiosity. A seemingly normal-sized pony stood before us . . . if you could call it normal. It indeed was pony-like, having the body type, but almost steampunk-y in a sense. Instead of fur, it had copper plating aligned with rivets holding it together. Instead of a mane, circuits connected the back of the head to the base of the neck. Instead of a cutie mark, a buzzing, glowing, internal battery could be seen.

"Now Penny, time to wake up dear." Flim said almost gently, patting the top of 'her' head, making a light metal ding of a noise.

Slowly, through the grinding of gears and buzzing of electricity, Penny whirred to life, her eyes coming alive like LED lights, looking around curiously with a small smile upon her face. "Hello." She greeted with a computerized voice.

XIII - The Amazing Autonomic Robotic Wonder-Mare

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By: Quisky

Chapter Thirteen:

The Amazing Autonomic Robotic Wonder-Mare

". . . Does it work?" Goldguard asked, stepping forward to examine the revealed cargo we had retrieved, leaving Agatha to be detained by Legion. He circled around the robotic pony, tapping her gently on one of her eyes with his hoof, making a small ping. She quickly turned to him in reaction, making him stumble backwards.

"Of course it works! And 'it' is a she, thank you very much." She spoke, every syllable sounding a mixture of a woman and a computer's beeping. Reminded me of one particular AI from a video game about science and portals.

Goldguard immediately retreated behind me, obviously very wary of the technological pony. I could see where he was coming from. Lived in a world of magic, not of machines. Once the initial startup was over, Penny let out a small cough, as if she were actually clearing her throat.

"Greetings all, I am Penny, each letter standing for a component in my programming. Created by Flim and Flam Incorporated on the ninth day in the ninth month of Celestia's Year, I'm an everypony's bot! Too many chores around the household? I'm equipped with several cleaning devices for any tough stain or mess. Getting too rickety for yardwork? I'm more than capable of trimming your lawn to the finest degree. Any task, any problem, I can handle it." She smiled quite proudly.

"Penny dear," Flim chuckled, walking over and placing a hoof over her shoulder. "We didn't wake you up to sell you to these kind folks, merely a showcase."

Her eyes flickered, now switching to a narrowed view of annoyance. "Then that was pointless."

"No," I chuckled. "Quite different. Nice to meet you, err, Penny." I said, extending a hand towards her. She looked down at it, seemingly perplexed.

"You shake it, my dear. It's a form of greeting." Flam explained walking to the adjacent side of their creation and wrapping his own foreleg around her neck, crossing over his brother's.. She made a little 'O' with her mouth as if finally understanding some deep mystery. She promptly reached forward with her foreleg, the movement actually very fluid, something I didn't expect, and shook my hand, creating a small gear-whirring sound. As expected, she felt very cold, given that she was made of metal.

"A pleasure to meet you as well, strange dragon."

"More like a jabberwocky. Name's Oddjob."

Her eyes briefly flickered with those lines of numerical, binary code. The next instance, they returned to as normal as digitally-generated eyes could be. "Oddjob. Stored away, won't forget."

I smiled a little. "Glad to hear that."

The two brothers both smiled, obviously pleased with how the introduction of their latest and greatest invention had come about. They removed their hooves from hooking around her, nodding over to Stock Smith, who ambled over to them as quickly as his stout body could.

"We'll be right back," Flim started.

"Have a few loose ends to tie up." Flam continued. "In the meantime, would you be so kind as to keep our dear Penny company?"

I shrugged in reply. "Why not? Just let Smith speak with me when you're done."

"Fair enough, my good man." A tip of the hat, and the three went away, probably to some secluded office, away from the officials and the workers.

I headed back over to my companions and captured witness, Penny striding alongside me, her hooves making a small, metallic clank with every step. She still held that small, childlike smile, digital eyes curiously examining us all.

"Who are you?" She piped up towards Legion.


"Hi, I'm Penny."

"We heard." If Legion's tone could have sarcasm in it, I was pretty sure it was in those two words.

"And you?" Now nodding towards the griffin. She was met with the fierce gaze of an eagle's stare, but the automaton seemed unfazed.

"I'm Princess Celestia, who do you think I am?" Agatha spat out.

"A griffin with a sense of humor." Penny chuckled.

"She's uh, our witness." I said. Felt weird to refer to another being as such. Witness to an investigation I didn't even want to carry out.

"Witness to what?" She continued on questioning, sounding sincerely curious within her almost auto-tuned words.

"Um...we don't know that yet." I admitted. "We were going to ask Smith, see what he has to give us, then move onto Agatha over here. It's all related, somehow." I shrugged. "Just know it, y'know? That gut feeling you get when you can feel a connection?"

"I don't have a gut." She replied with a beeping chuckle. "I have a little panel that goes over an empty storage space, if that counts as a tummy."

"That's adorable." I point out, to which Goldguard nodded in reply, but Agatha gagged and Legion merely remained emotionless as always. I stepped forward towards the griffin, bending low as to look her in the eyes. Yup, still just a smidge intimidated by that glare.

"Look," I began. "I think my boys here are getting tired of holding onto you, so I'll cut you a deal. They stop holding you, but you stick around to tell your story."

"And what makes you think I won't try to escape?" She spited.

"You saw me take down your boss." Was all the words I had to say.

". . . Fair enough."

I nodded towards Legion and Goldy, both releasing her at the same time. She hit the ground with a small thunk, scrambling back up to her feet, wiping the dust off and stretching her wings. Once she stood up, I saw that she was slightly large than Goldguard, and even he stood at a bulky height. I looked around, gauging heights once more. From shortest to tallest, it ranged from Penny, Goldguard, Agatha, Legion, then myself.

A scuffling of hooves interrupted my thoughts, and the three businessponies joined us once again. "He's all yours, Mr. Jobs." The brothers say in unison, Stock still looking as if he was about to sweat enough to fill a riverbank. I lead him aside, crossing my arms and looking down at him stoically. Thus, the sweating continued. I hoped he was drinking enough fluids to replace all that.

"Alright Smith, we made a deal. I kept my end, now do your part."

"Fine, fine . . ." He mumbled. "Most of my workers spend their freetime at a little brewery down the way. The ones I fired are probably still there, spending their last earned bits on getting drunk." He gave me the directions to the pub, and I nodded with a grin. "Much obliged."

I went back over to my crew, snapping my claws, sending small sparks to scatter in the air. "Right everyone, move out. Got a location."

"Finally." Goldguard grumbled, rolling his eyes in the direction of Stock Smith. Right before we left the warehouse, I was interrupted by a sudden cough from Flim, followed by another cough from Flam. I sighed and turned back around, seeing both of them, along with Penny, smiling at me.

". . . What?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.

"We have a proposition for you, Mr. Job." Flim began. Uh-oh. Hope they weren't trying to sell me anything. I'd probably end up buying like, three of whatever they were offering. I had horrible shopping skills, and whenever I had money, I had the urge to spend it on needless things.

"Erm . . . about what?" I continued. Back out now man, don't go any further. You'll end up selling them your armor and stick to pay for it.

"Penny spoke with us. She finds you quite interesting." Flim said.

"Um . . . go on?"

"Now, she's an A.I., that's Artificial Intelligence for those of you who aren't in the know-how of fancy lingo," Flam continued. "As she does, she learns. But unfortunately, she hasn't learned enough. We've had her cooped up in that crate for quite a while, so her skills may be a bit rusty."

"I don't have any rust on me." Penny interrupted meekly.

"We've noticed that you're going places, Oddjob, we can just feel it. So how's about this? You take Penny with you? She gets experiences, you get the most technologically advanced piece of machinery in all of Equestia. What do you say, my good man?"

"Erm . . ." I smacked my lips, thinking it over. All in all, it sounded really, really cool to have a robot following you around. Who wouldn't jump at the chance? But, it might slow down whatever investigation I was carrying out. On one hand, fucking cool robot. On the other, having to take care of her and probably plug her in every night to recharge her batteries. Decisions, decisions . . .

"Sure." I gave my answer quickly. "Penny can come along."

"Yay!" Penny clapped her hooves, banging them together that emulated a sledgehammer hitting a railway spike. She went over to join us, smiling up at me sweetly. How could I ever think of saying no to that face?

"Well, you be off then!" Flam chuckled. "From what Smith tells us, you have a royal investigation to carry out! May wherever you go, riches and good fortune follow."

I nodded and smiled, all of us leaving the warehouse, a new companion in tow.

"Um . . Sirs?" Stock Smith interceded, two sets of eyes falling upon him. "Was that really a good idea? Wherever that fellow is going, I'm sure it won't be safe. The product could get ruined . . ."

"I'm going to stop you there." Flim said, stepping forward. "First of all, Penny is not a product, no matter what we may say in front of other ponies." He said rather sternly, Smith having to back up from the two brothers advancing towards him. "She's a living being, something we don't intend to sell lightly."

"And we know the dangers of sending her out, but she requested it herself, something she hasn't done in a long, long time." Flam continued on with the speech, backing Smith into a wall. "Are you a father, Smith?" He asked, to which the heavyset pony shook his head.

"Then you won't understand this. Penny is our creation, and we feel responsible for her. It felt like letting a child go, but we knew we had to."

". . ."

"We can't keep controlling her, stuffing her into a box and moving her around like just an object."

"But sirs . . . she's just a machine . . ." He immediately regretted his words, both of them plowing into him, shoving him against the wall hard.

"She's our daughter." They said at the same time.

XIV - A Pub Crawl Away

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By: Quisky

Chapter Fourteen:

A Pub Crawl Away

I could imagine that we were quite a . . . curious sight to see walking down the street together. Fortunately, we were among a crowd that couldn't even care less. This was Manehattan after all. Everybody had seen everything a pony could see, so caring for anything out of the ordinary was far below their mindset. And what was ordinary to them? Hell if I knew.

Since I was the tallest of the group, ponies could see me coming and simply change their stride to avoid me. Goldguard at my side was getting bumped into, and it was he who was apologizing, poor bloke. Legion, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Ponies seemingly wanted to avoid him, and I didn't blame them. Whoever even entered his personal bubble got a "Sorry sir." or "Excuse me."

Didn't know much about Agatha, our temporary companion. She seemed . . . angry and perfectly in her habitat. Whoever she bumped into growled at her or told her to 'Move it!', in which she would do a lion's roar or shove them away. Griffins, go figure how violent they were.

Penny, the little robot that could, was apparently having the time of her life. Her glassy eyes of digital lights would look around in child-like wonder, mouth open into a little smile as she took in all the sights and sounds. "Ooooh!" She would say, gazing up to the towering skyscrapers above that peaked into the clouds. "Aaaahhhh!" Towards billboards and signs and the passing-by taxi carriages that kicked up paths of dirt in their wake. She was . . . honestly enjoying herself, enjoying life, far as I could tell, far more than the bored-eyed and disgruntled crowd around her. Funny when a machine could appreciate something more than a living being could.

After several blocks of walking, getting lost, checking the map, losing said map and having to buy another one (courtesy of Goldguard), we finally came upon the bar Stock Smith's former employees were in. A small hole-in-the-wall kinda building, tucked away between a dirty alley and a dumpster. Man, what a class place.

"The 'Wooden Hoof'?" I read the glowing neon sign over the entrance, some letters flickering between life and death. " . . . Eh. Seems like a place warehouse workers would spend their downtime." I said with a shrug.

"It's a piss-hole." Agatha stated blatantly.

"It looks like fun!" Penny exclaimed with an excited little high-pitched beep.

"I was here once." Goldguard said with a smile. "Went here right before Neigharlem in fact."

I raised an eyebrow in reply. " . . . Really? Don't seem like the bar type, mate."

The armor-clad pony merely shrugged. "I'm not, I was just looking for directions to the train station."

" . . . And you got sent to Neigharlem instead."

"Yep." He nodded he nodded, the motion causing his helmet to make a clank of a sound. "Told me there was one right on the other side of the neighborhood, and well, you know the rest of the story from there."

"No comment." I sighed, approaching the entrance and heading inside, my little posse following right behind. Felt weird to be the first of something, a little outfit of misfits behind me, if you will. A taste of leadership wasn't really something I needed, knowing that I would eventually fuck it up sooner or later. Surprised that thing's have gone this well so far.

The moment we stepped in, a record player came to a scratching halt, the muffle of conversation in the air silencing to turn the gaze of every occupant towards us. From what I already deduced from outside and Agatha's astute comment, the establishment was indeed a piss-hole. Dirty floors, rotten smell, creaky woodwork, and every pony in there giving us the evil eye.

I smiled as kindly as I could and waved awkwardly, heading towards the counter and taking a seat there. Man, deja vu. Felt like I was back in Appleloosa for a minute there. I coughed and turned to the barkeep, catching his attention. "What can I do ya for?" He asked, turning to me with a bored if not wary glare.

"Um, does any of Stock Smith's employees come down here? The warehouse down by the docks." I asked, to which a shuffle of movement could be heard behind me. Every pony present in the bar raised their hoof. "Um. . . . you all work there?" To which a collective nod came.

" . . . Okay. How about three who were recently fired?"

A table in the back nodded to me, and I stepped up towards them, sitting down in an empty seat. The rest of my crew had dispersed out through the bar. Legion stood by the back door, vigilantly gazing over the whole scene, Agatha and Goldy by the counter ordering drinks, and Penny tapping a jukebox to the side out of curiosity.

"Wha'dya want?" One pony asked me after downing a mug of frothy substance. He was earth pony, burly, as were the other two. "Well," I flashed the royal insignia on my gloves, causing their eyes to widen a bit. "I'm here conducting an investigation of sorts. Smith directed me here, said you claimed you saw changelings."

"We did." Another of the burly bunch said. "Working the night-shift, packing crates, moving crates, storing crates." He said.

"We worked crates." Burly McThird added. "Best craters on the whole dock."

"If there's a crate to be crated, we probably crated it." The first one piped in, adding a belch afterwards.

"I-I get it." I interrupted, holding up my hands. "You guys . . . worked with crates. But I'm here about the changelings. What did you see?"

"Well," The all said in unison. "Was out moving cargo from the docks into the warehouse, then we heard some kinda buzzing overhead."

"Thought it was mosquitoes at first."

"Cept I said it wasn't mosquito season."

"Too brisky for 'em yet."

"Then I said I saw a whole crate full of them earlier."

"Then I said, 'Who ships in a buncha mosquitoes in crates?!' Crates aren't meant for that."

"Then I went on about the mosquito farms on the outskirts of the city."

"Then I called him a liar about the farms."

"OKAY!" I nearly shouted, interrupting them once more. "Go on. About. The. Changelings."

"Oh yeah." Burly the second said, scratching his head. "Well, after all of that, we looked up, expecting to see Princess Luna's pretty moon and stars, but instead saw somethin' movin'. Whole buncha shapes, dozen of 'em, all a buzzing and chittering. Had to be changelings. Could see the green on 'em."

"Cept boss told us the morning after it was just some pegasuses, and that we were probably drunk . . ."

"We weren't drunk! We were buzzed. There's a difference y'know."

"So, he fired us. Here we are now." They all shrugged, drinking from their bugs after the story was finished.

I tapped my chin thoughtfully. "Any idea where the changelings were heading? Sense of direction for them?"

"Yeah, headed west." Burly McFirst stated.

"Definitely west." McSecond went on.

"To the forest I think between the Foal Mountains." McThird rumbled out.

"Forest?" I asked.

"Big place."

"Almost as big as the Everfree up near Ponyville."

"Just as creepy too. Tiny little town in it, Hollow Shades. Don't know why anypony would want to move there."

Another pause as I gathered my thoughts. "Thanks mates, you've been a big help." I said, standing up and nodding at them before I turned to see a little bit of a . . . mess. Mess is an understatement, mind you. The floor is flooded with beer from an overturned keg, Goldguard meekly moving away from it with an empty mug he was probably going to fill. Agatha was growling at the barkeep, two ponies unconscious on the floor behind her, looking to about to get into a brawl with him, and Penny had the jukebox playing at full volume, giddily switching between the tracks. I turned to look at Legion with a 'done with this shit' look, and he nodded.

I stepped outside, leaning against the brick wall and hearing the commotion within. In a matter of moments, Legion walked out with the rest trailing behind him like a bunch of pouting children.

"Alright," I clapped my hands to catch their attention, making a dull and heavy thud in the emptiness of the alleyway. "Looks like they went to a little place called . . . Hollow Shades? Goldguard, know where that is?"

He nodded. "Really the only settlement in the area for miles. Rest is swampland."

"Kay." I nodded back before looking directly at Agatha. "And you, I want what you have to say on your employer."

She stared at me angrily with a permanent scowl, but slowly nodded, mouthing the word 'Okay' before coughing. "He met us once, and only once. Looked weird too, didn't expect to actually meet a changeling outside of the Badlands or the Everfree. He paid us bits upfront to take the bot," She pointed at the naively smiling Penny. "And smash it over the side of a canyon wall."

"That sounds like a fun ride." Penny giggled.

". . . After that, we'd get paid another good bag of bits. Easy job, till you came round."

"That it?" I asked, and she merely shrugged.

"I answered your question. Can I go now? Gotta round up my boys so I can get your names out there." She smirked with her arms crossed. "You'll have the entire Company running for ya."

"Hmmm . . . Good point." I said. "Goldy, can we take her under arrest?" I turned and asked him, to which he chuckled and nodded.

"We most certainly can."

"Right then." I turned back to the griffin. "You're under arrest."

She sort of paused, eyes narrowed, beak gritted into a sort of menacing frown.

"You can try to run." I shrugged. "Or fly for that matter. But I got Legion here who could track you down for miles or take you out before you even leave this alley." I bluffed. "Goldguard can call in backup and raid your hideout, and Penny, well, she has two of the wealthiest ponies in Equestria as her makers . . . probably has pull on them."

" . . . You're a piece of shit."

"Thank you." I smiled.

"The moment I get the chance, I'm ripping your throat out with my beak." She threatened, growling a bit, walking right up to me and staring me in the eyes. You could just feel the anger seething off of her in waves of heat.

"Duly noted." I said, pushing her away. "Till then, you're sticking with us. Where's the train station?" I turned to ask Goldy once again. He opened his mouth to speak, but I stopped him momentarily. "And not 'the one at the end of' Neigharlem."

XV - Little Town, it's a Quiet Village

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By: Quisky

Chapter Fifteen:

Little Town, it's a Quiet Village

"Stop sitting so close to me."

"But I love your feathers!"

"I will rip your rivets right out and watch you fall apart."

"I just wanna feel them . . . let me preen them for you."

"You're a robot! You can't feel anything!"

"I can pretend to." Penny giggled, rubbing her hooves along Agatha's wings, much to her dissatisfaction. After gathering information at the bar, and correctly following directions on a map instead of Goldguard's presumptions to head through Neigharlem again, we went to the Manehattan train station and boarded on a one-way ticket to Hollow Shades. The fare was pretty cheap, and Goldy once again paid our way through. I would feel bad, but he probably got paid a pretty bit to be a Solar Guard.

We had all boarded, being the only ones on the train, all in the same cart. I sat by myself, Legion by the exit door, Goldguard alone as well as he gazed out a window to the scenic Equestrian view. Penny and Agatha sat across from each other, which seemed to be . . . working out decently for the moment. I just hoped I wouldn't have to separate the two or keep Agatha from ripping Penny to pieces.

"How do you even know what preening is?!" Agatha griped, pushing the insistent little bot away. "You're only a couple hours old!"

"Couple months old, thank you very much." Penny stated with a huff, which only came out as steady beep in her voice.

"Whatever." Agatha deadpanned.

I chuckled, imagining that they'd have a very . . . unique relationship through this little venture. I had no idea how long we were going to be keeping the mercenary bird around, or even how long it would take to even complete this investigation. Days? Weeks? Months? I only knew that is was one of the few things that allowed me to explore this land, something I was richly craving.

Though . . . I couldn't help but feel that something was off about all of this. Suddenly being freed from ten years of stone just for Celestia to command me on a random search for changelings? Felt too set up to be honest. Felt as if something were in the works behind the scenes, as if a bunch of big players were gearing towards something very grand, whether it be for better or for worse.

As I rolled the thoughts around in my head, I stood up and stretched, careful not to bump my head on the ceiling like so many times before. I trotted over to Goldguard to try and strike up a conversation while we waited for the train to drive us towards our destination. I looked out the window, a view of green fields sprawled out before us. "Lovely place." I chuckled, sitting across from him.

"Equestria, paradise on earth." Goldguard replied, turning to me with a smile. "No other place like it. We got greenlands, forests, deserts, mountains, swamps, you name it. All picture perfect and pretty."

"I see that." I said, tapping the window with a clicking claw. "Where did you grow up in Equestria mate?" I asked, reclining back. Goldguard chuckled, deciding to relax as well, actually removing his helmet. Stoic-looking fellow with short-buzzed blonde mane, had the features one would see in a military man, in a pony sorta form, but had a genuine smile and kind eyes of blue.

"Canterlot, though I didn't grow up one of those rich ponies you see roaming the streets. Not everypony is wealthy there. I was raised in the old backstreets with my brothers."


"Yup. I'm the middle child. Big brother was Pewter Patrol, younger Copper Constable."

" . . ."

"We uh . . . all came from a family of law enforcement. Dad was a Solar Guard himself, mom a city guard."

" . . ."

"Anyways, we all looked out for each other. Got into plenty of tussles with all the other boys too. We always came out on top though." Goldguard said, sounding very proud.

"I'm uh . . . sorry. I'm still not over your brothers' names. Pewter Patrol and Copper Constable?"

After a lengthy discussion about name origins and destiny and all of that shit, Goldguard let me go with a chuckle. I sighed and moved on, thinking he needed time alone to think about his brothers. It seemed to cheer him up considerably talking about them. Wish it did the same for me.

I looked out into my train cart, Legion still standing diligent, while Agtha had somehow convinced Penny to go play with a ball of lint, all of us waiting out the ride. We had been warned by the conductor earlier that the ride would have been long. Hollow Shades wasn't exactly a tourist destination, and the traintracks were pretty rickety from under-use, so we had to go slower than usual or risk it collapsing underneath it.

I could at least try to make more conversation with our less than pleasant guest. I walked over to Agatha, her keen eyes narrowing at the sight of me, beak curling into a grimace. "What do you want?" She hissed out defensively.

I raised my hands in a sort of peace sign. "Just here to talk is all."

"Nothing to talk about." She replied with a bit of a mope in her voice. After officially unofficially arresting her, I had thought of dropping her off at the nearest jail, but thought better of it. Her changeling employer felt connected to all of this somehow. What cold I say? I liked to follow my gut sometimes instead of analyzing and situation and thinking it through.

"Could find something to talk about." I said, sitting down in front of her, causing her to inch away from me, her leather armor rustling over her sleek form. We had opted to give her back her longsword because Goldguard got tired of how heavy it was, and it now rested beside her in it's sheath. A beauty really, looking perfectly crafted to open up intestines and remove limbs from bodies.

". . . Nice sword." I began, motioning towards it. The griffon eyed me funnily before replying. "It is. Had it before I could even fly."

"Bet you could barely swing it." I chuckled, imaging a tiny hatchling trying to pick up the blade.

"Better than you can swing that stupid stick of yours." She retorted sharply.

"It cracked your boss's jaw wide open." I said with a shrug. "And that's all I really need it to do."

" . . . But it's like . . . a magic stick right? You see some of them in the merc business, mostly held by unicorns though. Didn't know you could do magic."

"Um . . . I can't." I admitted. "Really have no idea why I was even given it." I shrugged, pulling the stave out of its holster on my back and holding it up for examination. Agatha smiled at it in a knowingly way, one who was attentive to the detail of a fine weapon.

"Has an arcanite core?" She asked casually, to which I raised an eyebrow.

"Um . . . yeah. How'd you know?" I replied, curiously eyeing my own weapon.

"It brims, hums." She shrugged. "Raptor vision and hearing. Plus, look at the ornament." Agatha pointed at the ornamental dragon head, just at the open mouth. "It's an opening point for the release of the magic source."

". . . Know your stuff."

"Gotta. I stole plenty of them in my time."

". . ."


"I thought mercenaries were paid just to do jobs and stuff?"

"Yeah. I was paid to steal a lot of staffs and staves at one point."

Thus I learned the inner-workings of a bloodthirsty band of mercenaries and their various dealings, ranging from bodyguard and escort work to some high-stakes grand theft shit. It was interesting enough, but it made me unsettled at how Agatha seemed to be enjoying her work, whether it be slicing up a poor bloke who couldn't pay up or taking away precious goods from an unaware salespony. I think she was just generally happy with breaking the law, any law in fact.

I nodded at the sellsword, who had become partially more tolerable with me, nodding back. Standing up and stretching, I gazed out the window, only to see that the sun was beginning to slink over the horizon, cascading the land in a glorious hue of orange. I think our ride was almost over, feeling the train pick up speed a bit, but that didn't mean I didn't have to stop my little run of conversations. Felt kinda nice, as if I were in a RPG game.

Penny smiled as she rolled the ball of lint around between her hooves, gazing at it as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world. I sat down beside her and chuckled. "That lint ball is pretty interesting, huh?"

"It is." She pipped. "Every time I roll it around, the lint strands move in a different direction. Thus far, strand 1372 has coaligned with strands 245 and 1034 twenty eight times in a row."

"You've . . . counted all the lint pieces that make it up?"


". . . I'll come back another time."

I did not need miscellaneous information about lint. A convo with Penny would have to wait as I felt a bit of lurch underneath me, signaling that the train had come to a stop. "Destionation, Hollow Shades!" The conductor shouted out, to which we all picked up our heads, nodding to each other and heading outside.

The moment I left the comfort of the cool train cart, I felt the extreme shift in conditions. The air was almost physically thick with humidity, something that I didn't mind, but could tell that it affected my more warm-blooded companions. 'Cept Penny. She was staring at a group of fireflies in the distance.

With the sun finally finishing its rounds of the day and the moon rising to take its place, Hollow Shades remained what I had envisioned it to be: creepy and a perfect visage of its namesake. The main area of the village was only roughly a dozen or so buildings and homes, all within close vicinity of one another. They appeared to be log cabins and huts, something befitting the natural resources available around them.

The sound chirping crickets and bellowing frogs echoed through the night, the area surrounding the village encased in a thick marshland of rising dead trees and unsavory-looking bogs of water filled with muck and scum. Yup, seemed like such a welcoming place.

As the train picked up and rolled off, I noticed one last thing, strange thing in my examination of our newest surroundings: There were no ponies in sight.


XVI - Resting Time at the Sleepyhead Inn

View Online


By: Quisky


Chapter Sixteen:

Resting Time at the Sleepyhead Inn

"Um . . . hello? Anybody here?" I called out, only for the symphony of a moonlit swamp to reply. Not a soul in sight other than my companions and the buzzing insects, to which Penny had taken quite an interest in, following them around with a giggle.

"I warned you about how creepy this place was . . ." Goldguard muttered from beside me, looking quite nervous, his armor shaking, melding in with the chirping crickets and the hooting owls. "No ponies around, in the middle of a swamp, and there's ominous cracking of twigs in the distance and a shuffling sound behind us." He complained, said sounds uttering the moment he finished his sentence.

"Maybe we're in a horror story." I joked with a shrug much to Goldy's dismay and his noticeably terrified face. I began to scan the area, noting the buildings nearby. One seemed much larger than the rest, sitting at the edge of what I assumed was Hollow Shades territory, maybe a town hall or something? A marketplace with stands was neatly tucked away into a corner right in the shadow of the larger building, but notably no produce or goods were available, the stands as empty as the rest of the place.

The homes had no visible lights, the windows and doors shut tight. The place felt . . . abandoned, almost as if it were a ghost town. I felt a veritable chill run down the sharp spines on the back of my neck despite the warm atmosphere. I picked up on the padding of Legion's paws, turning to him with a curious glance. His empty eyes and singular face belayed no reaction as he spoke.

"Alpha Oddjob . . . this place smells different. Wrong."

"I picked up on that myself." I replied.

"No. We sense something else."

"Well, what do those thousand voices in your 'sense'?"

"We do not know."

". . ."

"It is a scent we have not come across before. It is familiar . . . but we cannot pin it."

"Get back to me on that." I said, pointing a claw at him. "Sniff around a bit and see what you can dig up. Not literally though. I don't want you bringing me a bone or anything." I stated, to which the diamond dog nodded, pinning his nose to the dirt and began smelling, perking up every once in a while to note the noises around us.

"Maybe this place is haunted." Agatha chuckled darkly, Goldguard shaking his head furiously in reply. "Don't say that! It'll end up being true. We could be on an ancient burial ground or there could be a swamp monster around or . . ."

"Or a creepy old lady could be staring at us from a porch." I interrupted.

"Or a creepy old lady could be staring at us from a porch." Goldguard said, pausing and doing a double-take, following my gaze to possibly the second-largest building in the village. It was about two stories, very wide , a flat porch in the front of it, rickety and dusted. A creaking rocking chair was visible, a fragile, pale pony gazing at us with a cold look. How . . . how long had she been there? I didn't see her earlier.

We all shared a glance, walking over to her cautiously. "Um . . . hello ma'm." I called with a slight wave. The creaking of her rocking chair ceased as she paused at my words, a smile spreading her her wrinkled face, revealing a crooked grin and yellowing teeth.

"Why hello there!" She cackled out in a voice befitting of a witch from any halloween cliche, getting out of your chair and shuffling over to us. You could literally hear her joints creaking with age as bad as her chair did. "We normally don't get many visitors in Hollow Shades."

"We can see that." Agatha replied dryly with a bored expression.

"Well, you're more than welcome to stay here." The old pony wheezed out in half laughter, kicking the wall behind her, sending a spray of rotted vegetation and dust fall from the roof of the old building. I looked up, a once obscured sign now illuminated in the moonlight, outlined by the twisting and reaching limbs of the dead oaks beside us.

Sleepyhead Inn

Quaint. Very quaint. "It would be much appreciated." I said with a smile before furrowing it into a frown. "Oh. I'm sorry ma'm, we don't have any bits to pay you with." I turned to Goldguard, and he narrowed his eyes, shaking his head. Looks like our bank to his pockets just ran dry.

Her smiled never faded, as did her cackle. "That's fine honey, we'd actually enjoy the company. It's been much too dead around here."

". . . Really?"

"Yes honey. My staff's been lazybones, so you all being here will get them back on their hooves."

"That's very hospitable of you ma'm." I grinned.

"It's no problem at all dearie." She replied, turning to head inside, motioning for us to follow her. We all ascended the steps of the porch, making it groan under our footsteps and weight, heading into the small inn with the old woman. "We've been dying to have company for dinner." She added as we entered.

Inside, it was a dimly lit place by candles and flickering lightbulbs. She waddled over behind a nearby counter, dusting it off and smiling. "Hello, and welcome to the Sleepyhead Inn!" She greeted. "My name is Ms. Creaks, how can I help you?"

"Um . . ." I paused, offset by the sudden employee-turn in the old pony woman. "We uhh...need some rooms. For . . ." I turned, counting my companions. Legion had gone utterly missing. Again. I sighed and turned back. "A room for me and the walking armory here," I pointed at Goldguard. "And a room for our two lovely ladies here." I jabbed a thumb at Agatha and Penny, the griffon's eyes widening in terror while our little automaton giggled in glee.

"I'll see f we have any rooms available sir." Ms. Creaks replied, true to her name, every movement of hers crooked, slow, and shaking. She reached behind the counter, pulling out an equally dusty book as the rest of the place, slamming it down and blowing off what laid on it. She opened it with a thunk and began browsing the pages. "Hmm . . . you're in luck. We're pretty booked tonight, but we have two rooms available."

"That uh . . . that'd be nice."

"Good!" She smiled, pushing the book forward. "Just sign your name into the records, and I'll take you to your rooms," Ms. Creaks then produced an ink quill from under the desk. I took it in hand and signed in scritchy letters. I didn't really have the best handwriting. Once Oddjob was signed onto the literally blank page at the top, she closed the book with a slam, putting it back where it belonged, every movement kicking up dust. I forced myself not to sneeze out of politeness.

Ms. Creaks moved from behind the desk, motioning with her foreleg for us to follow her down a nearby hallway. "Now, we have some set rules here in the Sleepyhead." She said aloud, her voice the only sound, the entire inn strangely quiet, no sound coming from any of the rooms we passed. And where was her help she was talking about? I was seriously beginning to think on what Goldguard feared earlier, how truly creepy this whole place was.

"First of all, utter quiet. No rough-housing in your rooms." She listed off. Okay, I can understand that explaining why it was so quiet. "Secondly, there is a service bell in your rooms. Ring it if you require anything."

She stopped, turning with a smile. "Alright ladies, this is your room for the night." She motioned at Agatha and Penny, opening the door. Agatha shook her head, right before Penny pushed her inside with surprising strength, making her yelp, bouncing inside and closing the door behind her. "Have mercy!" Agatha called beyond the door, only for us to be further down the hall, lead to our own rooms.

Right before we could head inside, Ms. Creaks held a hoof in front of me. "One last thing." She called up, eyeing me. "Under no circumstances should you leave this room past midnight."

"Um . . . why?" Goldguard squeaked out, once again shaking in his armor, making it rattle.

She stared at him blankly, blinking once. "It's for the best, we have night patrons who don't like to be disturbed."

Once again, creepiness factor goes up. "Um . . . okay. We'll keep note of that." I said, Ms. Creaks moving out of the way and smiling her jagged smile. "You all have a nice night. See you in the morning." She chuckled, heading back down the hallway, disappearing into the dimly lit darkness that went beyond the lights.

"Oddjob . . .?"


"Will you hold me?"

". . . Get in the room Goldy."

He sighed, walking in, myself following behind and closing the door. After fumbling around a bit in darkness, I managed to flip a switch, the light fixtures in the room barely coming to life, giving the room an eerie glow. Smelling of age, dust, and mold, it was tackily fixated with ugly floral wall patterns. A chair sat in the corner, there was a closet, and a single bed sat against the wall. Wait . . . a single bed?

I shared a glance with with him, and he shrugged. "You don't mind sharing, do you?"

"I swear if you try to fuckin' spoon I'm tossing you out to deal with those night patrons."

"Stay over there."


"I said. Stay. Over. There."

"Like this?" Penny asked, facing a corner with her back to Agatha.


"But how are we going to commence in the 'girl-talk'? I have found many sleepover articles in my databanks."

". . . One: Never say 'girl-talk' in front of me ever again. Two: Stay in that corner." Agatha said, the robotic wonder-mare already moved from her position in the corner to sitting right beside the griffon gal, cuddling up to her.

"So, who do you have a crush on?"

"I've only known you for a couple hours. Please go back to your corner."

"We should paint each other's nails."

"You don't even have nails!"

". . . Oddjob?" Goldguard's voice rang out in the dark after we had somehow awkwardly positioned ourselves onto the bed. We had both stripped our armor and laid our possessions to the side, my large size taking up some of the bed, pushing Goldguard to the edge. Felt kinda bad for him.

"I said not to talk."

"I can't sleep."

"Count sheep."


"Ponies don't do that?"

"We count hay bales. What, you count sheep where you're from?"

"I don't want to get into a discussion about this, just go to sleep."

". . ."

". . ."

". . ."

"Remove your hoof from where it is and cease the cuddling."

"But I'm so scared . . ."

" . . . Please?" Penny pitifully beeped.

"No." Agatha replied with narrowed eyes and crossed arms.

". . . Please?"

"NO. We are not having a pillow fight. We only have one pillow anyway, and I'm sleeping on it."

"We can use something else!"

"No . . . no . . . no . . . Penny, put the bed down!"

"I still can't sleep Oddjob." Goldguard called from the corner of the room.

I sighed from the bed, not really being able to sleep myself. Between Goldguard, this incredibly uncomfy mattress, the swamp outside not shutting up, and the overall creepy atmosphere of this place, one could barely catch any shut-eye at all. Man I missed my bed way back home, the only place I could actually get some decent rest.

"I can't sleep either." I replied groaning, rubbing my eyes and sitting up. "This place is terrible, no wonder we're like the first visitors in a couple decades."

"Or maybe all of their guests just went missing." Goldguard shuttered. "We hardly ever get any reports from Hollow Shades, the guards that are supposed to visit this place hardly ever do. We haven't had any info on this settlement for years."

"So . . . an entire village goes dark, just like that?"

He nodded. "Oh, it was very busy when it first began. We had very eager volunteers to set up a colony in the swamp. But as time went on, we simply lost contact with them. The letters became more infrequent, coming down to a trickle, then finally nothing."

"Nobody ever thought to come and check up on the place?" I asked, leaning on my elbows.

"It . . . wasn't really a priority." He shrugged.

". . . A town going utterly quiet isn't a priority?"

"We thought it was okay!" Goldguard held up his hooves defensively. "Normally they send a last later stating that they don't need supplies anymore, and are completely self-efficient."

". . . You never got that letter, did you?"

". . . I thought we did. I only visited this place once."

". . ."

"About twenty years ago."

". . . Canterlot hasn't gotten any information on a town . . . for twenty years."

"Well, kinda. You hear ponies talk about Hollow Shades ever so often, and it's on every map. It's just . . . there. Nopony's just visited it I guess." Goldguard paused to contemplate on the weirdness of it all himself.

". . . Weird." I stated the obvious thought, standing up and stretching fully. Least the room was accommodating to my height, my top spine narrowly avoiding the ceiling by a couple inches. "Well . . ." I sighed, sitting down on the floor in front of him. "What do you wanna do?" I asked.

Goldguard shrugged. "Contemplate our place in the universe?"

Before I could reply, a small rattle interrupted me, making Goldguard jump a little. " . . . What was that?!" He exclaimed, eyes frantically looking this way and that in our fairly empty room.

"Sounds like it came from the closet." I replied, standing up and eyeing the door. Sure enough, another rattling sound came from within, Goldy quickly scrambling to his hooves to hide behind me. I slowly approached the door, my footsteps making the ground creak. Every step closer to it seemed to build the tension, and I could almost feel myself sweat as I lifted up my hand to the doorknob to turn it.

While Goldguard's teeth chattered behind me, I creakily turned the knob, ready to punch whatever came out, bear arm cocked back for a sudden blow. Unless it was actually a ghost, then I might need some salt and some iron to help me. With a final turn, I pulled the door open.

A blur of a small body shot out, screeching. I dodged out of the way, shoving Goldguard aside as the form fluttered about, screeching all the while. "Kill it, kill!" Goldguard shouted, magically summoning his golden sword and beginning to wildly slice through the air, nicking me in the arm and making him grab him by the shoulders and shake him a bit to calm him down.

"Would you quiet down mate?! It's just a bat, see?" I said, lifting him up to look at the beastie. It was still shrilly screeching, but flying more slowly, so it at least wasn't a blur.

"Oh." He said simply before I dropped him. "I knew that." He stood up, regathering and dusting himself off. ". . . Not just any bat, a fruit bat." He added with a small laugh.

I examined the creature more closely and chuckled. It indeed was a fruit bat It was bright red in color, having both fur and a strangely strawberry-like texture to its form. The bugger had latched itself to the ceiling, gazing at us warily. I walked over until my head was decently close to it, making it cringe away from me a bit.

"Hello friend." I chuckled. "How'd you get stuck in there?" I asked as if the creature could reply. It merely blinked a couple times with those big dark eyes.

"Looks like it lived there." Goldguard answered my question, looking into the empty closet, a large hole in the corner of it, probably where it nested.

"Sorry for disturbing you friend." I said softly, to which the bat moved a bit closer to me in a much more normal hanging position. I offered up one of my fingers to it in a sort of apologetic way, and surprisingly, it nuzzled against it. The little critter felt warm, and a strange mix of both soft fur and the waxy berry feeling. My heart melted.

". . . Can we eat it?" Goldguard interrupted, to which I turned around and gave him a light blow on the head.

XVII - The Sun Hides

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Seventeen:

The Sun Hides

"Uuugghhh . . . am I dead?"

"I can't feel my face . . ."

I groaned an inhuman sound as I rolled off of the small bed, my whole back sore and wracked with muscle kinks. Goldguard wiped a line of drool from his lip as he slowly stood up from the corner, both of us having slept terribly. The whole fiasco last night left it impossible to get any rest, and only a smidge of barely an hour of false-sleep, the kind of rest you get that leaves you more tired than when you go to bed.

Well, one good thing did come from the previous night. I smiled tiredly down at the small red form cuddling up to my chest, nuzzling his head against my finger. After the initial fright settled down, the little literal fruit bat had taken quite a liking to me, something I had no objections to. Always wanted a little fluttering bat for a pet, even if he was partly edible fruit.

I stood up and stretched, extending my finger up to the ceiling, the little bat switching from hanging from my appendage to latch onto the ceiling, watching us keenly. Goldguard stumbled around, dropping his armor more than once as he struggled to get it all back on, creating such a clanking and chinking racket. I myself wasn't faring any better, stumbling about in my tiredness as I worked my own armor pieces and overcoat on.

"Need food to compensate for lack of sleep . . . "Goldguard muttered as he shakily made his way to the door, and I nodded in agreement, no truer words spoken from the solar guard. I reached back up and the little bat hopped right back onto my extended finger. I opened up my coat and placing him inside, surprisingly warming up to one of the pockets within. Looks like I had a new traveling companion.

We made our way outside, stumbling about tiredly and bumping between each other and the wall. Common direction somehow got us down the hallway, fumbling atop of one another into the room where the main desk was, sending up a spray of dust collected over years on the floor. Ms. Creaks herself smiled down at us with that incomplete grin of hers from behind the desk, chortling dryly.

"Well, lookie who's awake."

"Just barely." I replied, voice muffled from underneath Goldguard, who had decided to take a nap atop of me. I pushed him aside and stood up, wiping off my jacket while he snoozed on the floor. Ms Creaks cackled in reply, waking up Goldy with a start.

"Your lady friends are waiting in the dining area. As is a . . . big white diamond dog." The old mare pointed to the opposite end of the room, a small entrance leading into a wider room. When was that there? Probably didn't notice because how eerily dark it was last night, obscured by the inky blackness.

"Much obliged." I nodded at her, hefting Goldguard back up to his hooves up by his collar. "C'mon Goldy, food." I stated, dragging him along behind me. I ducked under the door into the dining area, noting the rest of my companions sitting at a table. Legion waited silently, watching us as we entered while Agatha kept Penny at bay while trying to eat a breakfast by stuffing her beak with pancakes.

"What do pancakes taste like?" Penny chirped, smiling at the griffin.

"I dunno, like pancakes." Agatha grimaced in reply, pushing the bot further away, her chair squeaking against the wooden floor.

"See you're all off to a good start." I greeted, tossing Goldguard onto a chair, only for his face to smack down audibly onto the table, his grunts and moan unintelligible as he tried to pick himself up. "Sleep well?" I asked, sitting down myself.

"I don't sleep." Penny giggled. Legion grunted and shrugged in reply. "Swamp is strange place to rest, but managed."

"I slept decent 'nuff. after I shoved the walking toaster into the closet and told her to be quiet." Agatha replied through a beakful of pancakes. Really need to get some myself, my stomach demanding a sacrifice through rumbles. Wonder where she got them?

I was answered by Ms. Creaks coming in, balancing two plates of steaming pancakes, piled high and drizzled with syrup, topped lightly with fruit. My mouth watered at the sight, tongue flicking over my fangs. The scent even made Goldguard sit straight up, forcing his eyes and mouth open, readying himself for breakfast. They were set down in front of us, along with a set of cutlery and a glass of juice. Didn't know what kind it was, didn't care. Hunger gnawed at me and commanded that I stuff my maw to make up energy for the lost sleep last night.

Grabbing the fork and ignoring the knife, I ripped a pancake from the stack and stuffed it right into my mouth, sighing contently as I didn't even bother to properly chew. Warmth filled me as I swallowed, smiling at the fluffy pancakes and sticky syrup gracing my palette.

I continued this eating frenzy mindlessly until only one pancake was left on the plate. With another satisfied sigh I stopped to belch and pat my stomach, sending a spray of embers into the air. I looked to my side and chuckled, Goldguard having stuffed every single pancake into his gob and trying to force them all down at once, shoving his hoof into his mouth to help his breakfast run down his throat. Interesting strategy, perhaps he should try incorporating chewing into it?

A small squeak could be heard from within my coat, and I reached in, pulling the small fruit bat out and settling him on the table. Agatha across from me merely arched a brow in expression to the little red creature. ". . . What's that?"

"A fruit bat." I replied, pinching off a bit of the last pancake and placing it in front of him, the bat taking it in his tiny hands and nibbling at it thoughtfully. "His name's Berry Barry." I went on with a small laugh.

". . ."

"Y'know . . . as in berry, the fruit? Then barry the name? It's funny . . . cause they both sounds the same."

". . ."

""You're not laughing."

"It's not funny." She crossed her arms, watching Barry with a spiteful glance. I rolled my eyes at her disdain for him, while Penny seemed to have taken quite a liking for the little mite already. "Hello-o-o-o friend!" She beeped, leaning across the table to get her face right in front of him. "I'm Penny. Nice to meet you Barry."

The small strawberry bat turned to her wistfully, small nose sniffing her own, almost touching, before squeaking as if in greeting before returning to eating the pancake bit I had given him.

"What is the plan, Alpha?" Legion interrupted, blank white eyes drilling into me. I turned to him and coughed. "Same as before, find out info on the changeling sightings, see if the locals know anything." I stated, pointing at each and everyone present. "Legion, did you find anything last night?" I asked, knowing full well the dog was probably up sniffing all night.

The diamond dog shook his head slowly. "No, Alpha Oddjob. We could not find anything on the strange scent. It is all around, yet we cannot pinpoint it. Perhaps it is just the general smell of the area, but we have never come across a swamp that smells quite like this."

"Wot dosfsh eet smurll laike?" Goldguard asked through his mouthful of foodstuff, still trying to shove it all down, now employing the use of his juice to try and soften it all up, only succeeding in making himself gag.

"Old. Stone. Cold. Scent a swamp should not have. Swamp should be muggy, slimy, wet." Legion replied. "Scent almost reminds us of . . ."

". . . Tartarus?" I finished, knowing what Legion was speaking of all too well, getting a taste, quite literally I might add with my hyper-sensitive tongue, of the underground dwellings of the most heinous of monsters. The mutt nodded in reply to my words.

"Maybe we're above one of the . . . entrances and exits to the damned place?" Agatha suggested an answer. "Rumors are there are hundreds of them all over the world, Tartarus running deep through the earth. Would explain why some monsters reappear."

"Maybe." I nodded, but sighed. "Not here for Tartarus or any monster down below, just the changelings. Ask about 'em, and if possible, find 'em. Then maybe we can be one step closer to finishing this investigation."

Most nodded, Agatha merely rolling her eyes and sighing. She'd be helping whether she wanted to or not, seeing as how we had to tow her around now. Sure, could let her go, but that would definitely bring about a group of angry griffins and drakes upon us, something I do not definitely want.

"Agatha and Goldguard," I nodded at the two, thinking she wanted some time away from Penny. "You two stay here and talk to Ms. Creaks, see what you can get." I said, to which Goldy saluted and Aggy frowned.

"Legion, keep looking round the area, see what you can gather."

"We understand, Alpha." He nodded, many voices replying at once.

"Penny, you're with me." I pointed at her, to which the robotic mare nodded, clapping her hooves and cheering lightly. I stood up and stretched, picking up Barry and tucking him back into my jacket, feeling the small warmth rest against me as he hung inside it. "Everyone ready?"

They all nodded and stood up, Goldguard and Agatha heading towards the front desk, Legion slipping by them and outside. I smiled down at Penny, who beamed up just as brightly. "I don't have many files on changelings, sorry." She beeped upwards to me. "Uncles Flim and Flam didn't really bother with info on them."

"It's fine." I chuckled, leaving the dining room, motioning for her to follow beside. I nodded at Gold just as he began ringing the bell, the strange old mare not behind the front counter anymore. I opened the door, feeling the incredible mugginess of the area overtake us, making me blink. A steady rain was coming down outside, and the sky was filled with darkened clouds, already making the gloomy village moreso.

"Oh. Water." Penny said uncertainly from beside me, tentatively peeking outside. "I don't really like it."

I nodded, tapping my scaly chin. Electronics didn't really work well when wet. I smirked, taking off my overcoat, leaving me in just my breastplate, greaves, and gauntlets. "Here, you keep yourself and Barry dry." I said, draping the large coat over her. She giggled, peeking her head out from under the fur collar, eyes glowing in the shadow. "Thank you Oddjob."

"Welcome." I nodded with a chuckle, stepping aside to allow her outside first. Manners Oddy, manners. Penny raised a foreleg and slowly placed it on the porch, myself following behind and closing the door behind me.She stepped out onto the wet and muddy ground, her legs actually rising up via a twisting corkscrew gear connecting her hoof to her limbs. I chuckled as she giddily giggled, safe from the moisture and wet around her, walking around in a marching manner, as if mocking the very elements that once threatened her.

I stepped out, feeling the rain pouring down cover myself, feeling cool on my scales and matting down my fur. Every drop did chill me a bit, but I reached down into the pit of myself and let a bit of fire roar up within, seeping like smoke through my fangs. I smiled at the internal furnace I had going on, watching the fumes spiral upwards only to dissipate quite quickly from the raindrops piercing through them like falling bullets.

"Where do we start?" Penny asked, dancing around a pool of mud that had gathered near the entrance. I looked up, spying the small market stands I had noted earlier the night before, seeing some forms move around them.

"So just let me do the talking."

". . ."

"I've got it covered. Years of military training and guard duty has given me quite the silver tongue and conversation skills. We'll get our information, don't worry." The Solar Guard smiled, patting Agatha on the shoulder with a hoof. She swatted it away and glared at him.

"Touch me again and I'll rip your leg off."

"Duly noted." Goldguard replied, about to ring the bell once more before the wrinkled mare jolted up from out of nowhere, shocking him quite a bit and making him jump back to her cackling. He collected himself and coughed, puffing out his chest as he stepped forward to speak with her.

"Yes sonny, how can I help you?" Ms Creaks chuckled at his visage of bravado, leaning against the desk with a cheek resting against her hoof.

"Yes." Goldguard replied, deepening his voice as much as he could. "My companions and I have come to Hollow Shades for investigative purposes."

"Oh, and what are you investigatin'?" She asked, mildly interested, playing with the particles of dust floating around her.

"Recent reports have indicated that changelings are on the rise again, and we wish to settle this matter before it escalates to the point of the great changeling invasion of the royal wedding some years ago."

"Yeah?" She smirked, half her teeth gone, half cracked and rotted.

"We seem to have information that changelings have been spotted in this area, or coming to this area. Do you have anything to comment about that?"

"Nope." She shrugged. "All I do all day is dust inside the inn. Have the help go get me my supplies. Could ask them."

"Okay then . . . where is your help?"

"Have the day off today."

"Do you know where we could find them?"

"Nope. They don't live in the Hollow."

"Then . . .where?" Goldguard asked, deep voice lightening up to more of his regular tone.

"The swamp."

". . . Where in the swamp?"

"The swamp." Creaks repeated, now sounding entirely bored with the conversation, only for her eyes to widen as Agatha slammed her forelegs onto the desk, making every inch of the room shake and sending dust flying everywhere, almost sending Goldguard into a sneezing fit.

"Listen lady! We know the changelings are here!" She shouted, adding a pound for every word for emphasis. "So tell us what we want to know! NOW!" She added a booming lion's roar at the end, shaking the whole inn. Goldguard retreated behind her, not wanting to face such a wrath.

"Fine." Creaks shrugged, only backing up a little from Agatha's shouting and desk slamming. "But you'll have to take it up with the help."

"You said they're not here." Agatha growled.

"They are now." Ms. Creaks said, clapping her hooves. Every lit lantern suddenly went out, engulfing the room in a very familiar darkness. Before Goldguard could shout or Agatha draw her blade, something grabbed them in the shroud of blackness.

Legion padded lightly through the swamp, avoiding any areas that seemed too unstable and where he could sink in easily. His entire coat was wet and matted down from the rain, but he did not mind.

"We have been this way already." Came one voice inside the head, a grunt.

"The scent is very familiar." Siria's voice called. Fenrir merely growled in reply.

"Fine then. Where do you suggest we go?!" He shouted, voice echoing against the nine-hundred and ninety-nine other souls.

"Perhaps that small open area we passed on the way here?"

"I say we leave Alpha Oddjob. I do not trust shiny metal pony with him now."

"Ooh, ooh, let us howl and run around in circles."

Fenrir sighed. More than three centuries, and he still had not become accustomed to every voice of his clan speaking at once. Siria let out an inner howl, and they all quieted down. They had opted to just keep moving forward and see if they could catch any new scents.

Legion walked on all fours before feeling the ground give way a bit, soft and muddy, even softer from the rain. Not safe to go through, so he turned around, only to feel the area behind him just as unsteady. The dog growled and whined a bit as the area he stood on now became just like the rest, forcing the dog to sink steadily, paws stuck in muck.

"Hold your breath." Came a command from the clan. "Get ready to dig."

The ancient diamond dog reared up before diving straight down, sharpened and honed claws digging straight through the earth, powerful forelimbs ripping right through the gooey ground and bringing it deep down. They all expected to keep digging until they found much dryer dirt, then surface. They didn't expect to land in an underground tunnel reeking of the scent that had been eluding them this whole time.

The scent of old. Of stone. Of Tartarus.

XVIII - Fear of the Dark

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Eighteen:

Fear of the Dark

"Ohhh . . . " Goldguard moaned, stretching his neck from the soreness in it and the throbbing pain spreading its tendrils through his head, starting from the base of his neck. Cheap shot, hit on the back of the head into unconsciousness. He slowly opened his eyes, only to trade one darkness for another. Looks like they were someplace completely without lights. It was cold, and smelled rather dusty, but what was the difference between this and the inn?

He felt lighter, much lighter before, and the comforting cold feel of his metal armor was gone, making him shiver a bit. Looks like he was without his armor . . . again. Goldguard sighed, knowing he'd get chewed out by Captain Armor for such a travesty. And he had kept it so shiny and dent-free.

He tried to stand up, but found himself immobile, ropes cutting up against him, bound to a chair no doubt. The solar guard sighed, having to be content with being tied up by unknown assailants and shoved into a dark room for now. His ears perked up at a scuffling sound coming from somewhere behind him, followed by some choice words echoing quite angrily.

"Bucking . . . flying feathered . . . no good sons of . . . " A voice growled from the dark.

"Agatha?" He asked tentatively.

"What is it?! Can't you see I'm busy?!" The griffin roared back, sending a shake through the room, dust and dirt falling from the ceiling around them. Goldguard had to spit some out of his mouth before he spoke.

"You're shouting angrily at nothing . . . "

"No! At whatever knocked us out and tied us up!"

"Oh, you're tied up too?"

". . ."

". . . That was a stupid question, wasn't it?" He asked sadly, already knowing the answer to his own question.

"Glad you figured it out on your own. "Agatha sighed in exasperation, her grunts ringing along with the sound of her struggling against her own bindings.

"Can't get out either?"

". . . No, I'm just sitting here shuffling the chair around for my own amusement."

"You're a very rude griffin."

"Have you even met a griffin before?! We're all rude!" She growled, more scuffling from her side of the room.

"I'm sure there are some nice ones out there." Goldguard replied encouragingly, moving side to side, trying to loosen up his own tight ropes around him. All he really did was give himself bad rope burn across the shoulder of his forelegs and over his stomach.

"Just gotta . . ." Agatha mumbled to herself, followed by the sound of the chair hopping up and down. Even with the noises, the guard could not tell what was going on behind him. "Agatha . . . what are you doing?" He asked as the motion only persisted.

The griffin, despite how dark it was, could manage to find where the ropes were on her just fine. With a great lurching motion, she reared her head up then jabbed her beak downwards, the sharp point making contact with the rope, splintering it. She repeated it over and over, feeling the fabric of the rope fray more and more after ever attempt, until finally, with a roar and a push of her forelimbs, she tore the rope right off of her.

"Ha!" She exclaimed triumphantly, standing up and knocking her chair aside. After stumbling about in the dark for a brief moment, her forehand came over a door latch. With a light tug, she opened it, revealing an eery lantern's yellow glow to fill to the room. Her silhouette was briefly illuminated for Goldguard to see in the doorframe.

". . . Agatha?" He asked, eyes blinking to get used to the light. With a smirk and a chuckle, she stepped out, closing the door shut and enveloping Goldguard once again in darkness, now alone in the room.

He sighed, knowing all too well she'd leave him. At least he could do what he needed to do to escape now. His horn flashed briefly as he casted a spell.

Pawpads silently waded through a small puddle of water that had gathered on the cavern floor, most likely from the eternal drip from a leaky crack above, forever to drop ancient water time and time again. Legion was tense, every voice buzzing as they took in their familiar surroundings.

"We're trapped . . . again!"

"I smell the weird scent."

"Can't be stuck again . . . can't be . . ."

"Would all of you just shut up?!" Fenrir growled, quieting most of the other voices instantly. Even after centuries, most still respected his word. "All we need to do is find some even ground to dig, then we can head upwards." He said mentally, words echoing through the vast corners of his mind to the rest of the pack, who all listened intently.

"Something seems different about this tunnel though . . ." Another voice called out, Siria. She made the body of the Legion pause and feel the dirt and rock neath their paws, sniffing with a bit more vigor to really take in the scents around them. The grain of the ancient ground beneath them felt rugged, freshly dug, and carved out from something other than pony digging tools or diamond dog claws.

Legion's nose went into the air, then back to the ground, and even sniffed along a nearby wall. The ancient scent of Tartarus was everywhere, but upon further inspection, only the heaviest layer of scent, not the oldest. It was new, introduced to this tunnel recently. Underneath the layer of the hellish pit, the Legion found a new scent. Cold. Scratchy. Insect.

"The changing bugs are here."

"Me thinks they're called changelings."

"Why would they build tunnel here? There is no hive around."

"It really makes no sense." Siria mused. "The only thing around here for miles is the Shades and swampland."

"Which reminds me that we have to leave. Get back to the surface. I hate this place." Fenrir growled, sounding a bit nervous, something one such as him rarely was. A diamond dog made its living underground, and felt no more natural than in the dirt and under the earth, but something about Tartarus just changed the dog's mentality. Centuries of walking the undermines gave a innate fear of the dark and rocky, whatever echoed in those tunnels could've been anything from your own breathing to a hungry beast just around the corner.

"We can't leave. Not yet." Siria shook her head as much as a disembodied voice could shake one's own head. "Alpha Oddjob told us to investigate the scent. We found this tunnel, but need to find out why it has Tartarus smell all over it."

This sent the thousand souls into a frenzy of discussion and argument. Some sided with Fenrir, wishing to leave the tunnel they found themselves in as quickly a possible, not wanting to stay a second longer than they needed to, while others did want to stay with Siria and do as their Alpha commanded. Some really were just shouting and babbling random nonsense to be heard. Being just a soul shoved into a frail mind does tend to fracture one's psyche after some time.

Eventually, the shouting match came to a close as the voices died down to allow the two most prominent ones to duke it out verbally. It almost always came down to Siria and Fenrir making the big decisions like always, each one opposite and a radically different choice for the pack. Fenrir more irrational and relying on emotion and instinct, Siria loyally and logically following commands and facts. They were still somewhat mated in the eyes of the pack, so it was like watching two parents squabbling to them.

"Staying is death!"

"Oh please, we've survived much worse than a silly tunnel."

"Tartarus is here!"

"No it's not, just the scent is. This tunnel isn't actually part of the pit."

"Still we must go. Not safe."

"Not safe up there either. Noticed many more sinkholes. Plus, strange feeling from Hollow Shades, makes my fur crawl."

" . . . "

A small silence fell over the clan as Fenrir mulled over his mate's words, scratching his own chin slowly. " . . . Fine. We stay. Alpha Oddjob would want it."

"Good. Glad you agree." Siria smiled coyly. The body of the Legion let out a sigh as it continued to trek through this unknown tunnel, gathering as much information it could find on the varying scents available. The changeling scent was almost as fresh as the newly-introduced Tartarus stench, but the changeling seemed . . . different as well. Chitinous, cold, but much colder than usual, almost carrying the reek of dead matter. Very unsettling.

As the white-furred diamond dog slowly trotted trodded through the darkened cavern, examining whatever odd whiff or feeling underneath their paws, a sound in distance forced his ears up to take it in. Steps. Slightly heavy. Bird, eagle? Cat, lion. The griffin, Agatha. What was she doing here?

"Aren't you cold?" Came the digitized voice of Penny, dinging out amongst the pitter-patter of raindrops falling on various surfaces.

"Naw, got a fire going on inside." I replied, puffing out a few sparks from twixt my fangs, only for them to die out as they were slain by the hailfire of falling water droplets.

"Fires normally mean electrical problems. You should see a technician about that." She sounded very serious in her reply.

I turned to look at the robotic mare and blinked a couple times. " . . . Thanks, I'll, uh, look into that."

"Good! I have a few I can recommend." Penny beamed with a broad smile, trotting through the rain unaffected by the elements that would normally have her circuits fried in a second. The coat would be soaking wet later on, but for now the thick material it was made of seemed to be keeping her and Barry the fruit bat quite dry for now. I could see his little red form peeking out of the inner pocket, gazing around as Penny and I made our way closer to the figures we had spotted earlier.

They seemed to be ponies running the marketplace stands we had noticed yesternight. Their motions seemed slow and apathetic, as if running a nine-to-five job and trying to sell your wares for a living in pouring rain and cold conditions sucked the energy and life outta you. Just a helpful tip from experience: it does.

A small patch of land just outside of the ominously looming town hall held a dozen stands and a dozen ponies, one at each, all mumbling to one another and halfheartedly trying to convince one another to purchase their selection of soggy fruit, hoof-made crafts, or itchy-looking clothing. As we approached, I noticed something a little . . . off about each one of them. Now normally the ponies of Equestria were a brightly colored bunch, every shade and hue of the rainbow visible. But these ponies here . . . they were as colorful as the splotchy gray sky above. They just oozed an aura of tiredness, a field of soul-sucking boredom around them, their eyes glazed over and mouths slightly open as they stared into the abyss.

"I wanna buy a hat." Penny smiled as she approached the first stand nearest to us. The merchant pony of gray noted us with barely the slightest of nods. "Oddjob, give me bits." She turned to me, extending her hoof just enough from out of underneath the coat to accept the money that I did not have.

I shrugged and shook my head. "Sorry, no cash on me. I've been kinda jobless for the past decade."

She frowned, followed by a downtrodden deepened beep that relayed her mood. I sighed and gave her a light tap with my hand. "Hey, maybe later. If I'm getting paid for this investigation, you'll be getting a hat soon."

"Yay!" She clapped her metal hooves. "I want a bonnet."

With another nod, I turned from her to the pony running the stand. Speaking of the investigation. "Umm, excuse me." I coughed at her, eyes glancing up at me with no spark of interest whatsoever. Her eyes seemed almost dead, very similar to a little mutt I knew.

"Yes, err, hello. I'm here from orders of the Princess," I lifted up the sleeve of my jacket so that the sigil of the royals was visible. "And I'm conducting an investigation. Word traveled that there were changeling sightings around this area. We were wondering if you knew anything about that."

Slowly did she raise her head to look up at me. No emotion, no sign that even the lights were on upstairs. Her mouth pantomimed a voice that seemed straight out of an old film, scratchy and hard to understand. "No. Swamp's been quiet. Always has been, always will."

I honestly didn't believe her. Every last one of us had a strange feeling about this place the moment we stepped foot in it. "Well, evidence goes against that. We came from Manehattan, some eye witnesses declaring that some changelings had been seen on the way. Are you sure nothing out of the ordinary has happened?"

"The only out of ordinary thing here is you, stranger, and your friends. You're not welcome here, the swamp does not like you."

". . . What?"

"The swamp does not like you. We do not like you."

"Well that's rude. Hmmph!" Penny beeped, stopping her mud splashing to interject into the conversation.

"The dear is right, that is rude." A voice from behind muttered out. I turned slightly, noting Ms. Creaks hobbling over towards up, the rain pattering against her body and soaking it. She didn't seem to mind enough however. Maybe she was used to it?

"Why don't you let the jabberwocky know what's going on?"

"Yeah! Why don't you let the jabberwocky-" I paused. I mean, it was obvious I was one, but I don't actually recall telling her that. My mind worked out the fact that I had somewhat become a famous figure, but the story might've died down over the ten years I was petrified. Echoes of Goldguard's voice went through my head. In over twenty years, no reports had come from this little town, and probably nothing had gone in. Nobody ever visited, nobody knew anything.

Creaks and the stand-owner shared a glance, the air crackling with tension, my scales and feathers standing on end, aware of the danger before it even happened. I ducked out of the way just before something long and spiked slashed in the direction of where my neck had been seconds before, intentions of decapitation most likely. I reared back up in a fighting stance, but what I expected to see was not there. With wide eyes, I cringed.

The pony morphed in front of me in a slur of body parts and visceral mass. From fur to blackened chitin it became, jittering and twitching with insectous, dead eyes, mouth slightly parted to reveal fangs and foam. The foreleg spastically shifted from what had appeared to be a literal fucking blade back to a hoof filled with holes. A changeling, much unlike what I had seen on the show, hissed at me, crawling over the stand in an attempt to attack.

"They're all yours. Let the Scourge know I did my part." Ms. Creak's chuckled with an old, hollow laugh, heading back to her inn just as the storm began to pick up, the rain pouring down even heavier than before, as if a wall of wet was falling continuously, thunder booming overhead with flashes of lightning illuminating the area.

My eyes darted back and forth as I backed away from the encroaching overgrown insect, sounds of hissing and chittering rising over the splashing and roar of rain. There was more of them. From the swamp they came, rising out of the muck, literally coming out of the woodworks in droves, dozens of changelings, all bearing that odd twitching motion, looking slow and lumbering like so many undead in a zombie flick.

Goldguard was right. We were in a horror movie.



View Online


By: Quisky


Changelings rarely had to communicate verbally. Normally it was through subtle expressions, or through chits and clicks, the common tongue escaping them in most conversations. This situation however warranted shared words and a glance.

"What is THAT?"

"I do not know brother. It's like some kind of . . . tunnel. It must have opened up during the digging."

The Hive had been looking to expand, and a new nest as an offshoot from the main one seemed a perfect place to begin as any. For the past few days a group of builders, scouts and soldiers had been sent to erect this this place for the Queen's children to call home, and things had been going smoothly until a curious new tunnel, one they had not made, appeared. The stone cut out from it was hardened, dusty, not the soft earth they were used to molding. This was far, far older than what they imagined, as if it had been built long ago.

Two changelings, one a builder and another a soldier, shared a glance. Though they were of different occupations they had been hatched from the same egg brood, and thus had been raised together, kept together it seemed on purpose by the Queen. The builder was smaller, sleeker, but the holes in his body denoted not randomness, but purposeful, useful for holding tools or for digging. The soldier, while taller and more solidly built with heavy chitin plates naturally, appeared the more nervous of the two.

"We should investigate." The builder said with a grin, about to enter the tunnel until a foreleg placed in front kept him from proceeding, bumping into it with an 'oof'. He took a step back and glared at his sibling.

"No, we shouldn't, Flick. We have a deadline, and the Queen expects this hive to be done in a few days." The soldier grunted.

"Oh come on Scourge, we're ahead of schedule! I'm sure mother wouldn't mind if we . . . deviated a little." Flick chuckled mischievously with a wink, having to morph a little to actually have an eyelid. He had seen other creatures use the gesture as a form of jest.

"We work tirelessly to do as the Queen wishes. We will not stray, we will not falter. Now, go get some other builders to help seal up this tunnel, I'm sure-HEY!"

Scourge was interrupted as Flick suddenly dashed around him, laughing as he ran into the tunnel. Standing their stunned for a moment, Scourge's face finally screwed into a combination of annoyance and anger, turning around and running into the tunnel as well. Furiously the soldier charged behind, yelling insults and curse words in buzzing and clicking, the sounds echoing off the hallowed walls of the ancient tunnel, their hoofbeats stamping along in grounds that had gone untrodden in centuries.

"Haha! Can't catch me! You were always the slow one, brother!" Flick snickered, turning his head and sticking his tongue out at his pursuer, which only gave more incentive for him to run faster.

"When I get my hooves on you-"

"You won't!" Flick interrupted with a sharp laugh.

"I'm going to throttle you!!!"

Deeper and deeper they ran in, the tunnel coming to a steady incline downwards, as if heading into the depths of the earth itself. They both ran tirelessly, changelings built for the extreme, their bodies adaptable to most anything. Need more power? Give yourself a little more muscle. Better breathing? Widen that torso and enlarge those lungs. Shapeshifting really was the handiest thing.

Eventually they did begin to tire, having ran for the span of half an hour. "Flick, we, we should turn back! See? there's nothing in this tunnel, it just goes on forever!" Scourge breathed out heavily, noting that he was sweating. Must've forgotten to unshift away the perspiration glands from when he had shifted from being a pony earlier while out on patrol.

"Yeah . . . fine." Flick finally stopped, leaning against a wall to catch his breath. "I was sure there was something down here, but guess I was wrong . . ."

"Let's get back." Scourge caught up to him and placed a hoof on his shoulder. "We can take a break then have this thing sealed up."

"Yeah, su-"


". . ."

The Deliverer awaits. Come.

"Did you hear that?" Flick asked, tilting his head, a faint whisper echoing against the sudden breeze flowing through the tunnel. "I swear there's something . . ."

"I didn't hear anything." Scourge shook his head, turning around. "Come. You must be dizzy from running for so long."


From deeper in the tunnel, a brilliant green light shone, illuminating old crags and ancient, runic writing upon the wall that had went unseen before with an eerie glow. Now both changelings gazed forward, sharing a glance, noting the nervous energy between each other. They should probably head back up and never come back down here, warn the others and make sure this tunnel is collapsed, but no. Instead they seemed drawn towards the light. With shaking hooves did Scourge lead them down.

It wasn't much longer to the light, nary a few yards before they came upon a wide opening, leading into an enormous cavern. The rush of water flowed below, just beneath them a massive river. Underground waterways were not unheard of, but at this scale it shouldn't be so. It shouldn't be glowing green as well.

"Where are we, brother?" Flick asked in a mildly unnerved tone, peering from behind his larger sibling.

"I do not know . . ."


"Did you say something?" The two brothers asked one another before realizing the voice from before was echoing once more, this time closer, more powerful, as if it was right behind them yet all around at the same time. Suffice to say it was unsettling.

The River Styx. Come.

Now it was as if the words were coming right from the back of their skull, crawling inside of their minds, creeping into their nerves. "Brother, I . . ." Flick muttered.


The cavern shook with a deafening roar, rock splitting and ground tearing. A quake began to rip through the area, toppling ancient stone, chunks of earth beginning to fall from above, walls collapsing and even the face on which they stood began to become uneven. They both scurried back, the rumbling continuing to grow more powerful. At once did the ground beneath their hooves giving way, both taking flight to keep from falling.

"Quick! Back through the tunnel!" Scourge shouted at Flick, only for his words to die out as another rumble shook the very air. They both stared upwards, a large shadow blotting them into darkness as a chunk of the ceiling neared them. They both fluttered in space briefly, stunned at the revelation that they might be crushed in an instant. Flick found himself roughly shoved with enough force to send him slamming into the wall adjacent to the tunnel's opening, cringing from the impact as Scourge had moved him right before the boulder's impact.

He caught a brief instance of before the soldier's demise, eyes widening in fear as he watched the wall of earth take the place of where Scourge had been seconds before, falling far below with a mighty crash into the green river. It took him a few moments to process this, breathing becoming heavy, mouth souring into a wide open howl of despair. A cry echoed in the cavern long after its originator had left.


XIX - Lost and Bound

View Online


By: Quisky


Chapter Nineteen:

Lost and Bound

Crack. A quick strike from the end of my stave sends one flying back, bowling over a group of them into a pile of hissing and flailing hooves. Smack. One that tried to fly overhead and attack from above was sent sprawling from a good old fashioned batter's swing, sending it crashing to the ground and hitting the earth with an audibly loud, if not slightly wet, thunk.

Despite my best efforts they still came in their many numbers, never ceasing, never ending. If I took out one, three would replace it, their multitude enough to fill the small marketplace and even the square area of the town to standing room, and yet they continued to pour in from the surrounding swamp. The worst part was that they wouldn't stay down. My usual brute force tactics that could render most unconscious only slowed them down slightly, the changelings showing no sign of pain nor discomfort, only that twitching and erratic movement. They seemed to be immune to blunt trauma.

"Umm, Penny, any plans ya got in that computerized head of yours that could help us?" I asked, slowly backing up, looking at the robotic mare beside me, glowing eyes peeking out from underneath my coat, calmly and almost analytically looking over the mass of changelings surrounding us. I briefly considered why she wasn't panicking like I was beginning to, but she was a machine. A machine with emotions it seemed mind you, but perhaps she saw this in a different light, one without fear. Eventually we had our backs pressed to one of the large, gnarled trees that overlooked the tiny town, its many twisting limbs offering a somewhat shaded protection from the onslaught of pouring rain, but sadly none from the encroaching swarm.

". . . Yes." She replied quietly, turning her head to look at me, the whit of gears in her neck creating a small clink. "Move a little to your right. The ground is a bit dryer."

"Uhhh, like this?" I asked curiously and followed her instruction, looking down just to see what she was talking about. In the patch of ground we stood it was only damp, the kind of wet, mushy grass and dirt from the rain, probably protected from the tree overhead. Outside of the general area in which we stood it was mud and puddles up to my ankles, which was saying something of the ceaseless torrent from the sky.

We get it. It's a swamp, the scene is meant to be scary, ease up nature.

"Perfect." Penny smiled, stepping forward in front of me, clanking in preparation, rearing up until she was at her full height, forelegs held in a bent position. In the brief moment before she slammed them down, I noted little sparks, trails of blue light zipping along on and around them, filling the air with static and a electric hum. With a giggle she brought her hooves down with a great crack, letting them meet the in-between area where our dryer ground ended and the puddle began.

Time seemed to momentarily pause, allowing my eyes to see the beginnings of the biggest bug roast ever. All at once it sped back up, a surging shockwave of blue lightning coursing throughout the surrounding area, every changeling standing in the water surrounding us getting quite the shock as electricity arced through all of them with rapid succession. It was really a sight to behold. The ones that were closest got the worst of it, their bodies almost exploding on sight, chunks of hardened chitin and melty goo flying through the air at hazardous speeds. Talk about your bug zapper. The ones that were further away met with a slightly less gruesome, if still not terrifyingly frying fate. The sizzle of burning bugs and their screams filled the air, Penny not letting up until every last one of them laid still on the ground, twitching their last as the jolts died down, the rain washing away most of what remained of the smoking bodies.

"Whooh." She shook her head, stepping back and removing her hooves from the water, turning off whatever electrical source she had in them. Penny had to take a moment to regain herself it seemed, looking as if she were about to topple over on her own from exhaustion, as if cold metal and wires could feel tired. Her eyes flickered slightly to a dim, dying low light before bursting back to life in their usual glow. "Batteries are a bit low, can't do that again any time soon."

I stood there briefly with my jaw agape, closing it slowly and bending down to poke one of the changelings, its body unmoving and its dead eyes staring into me. "Well . . . that . . . solved it. Thanks Penny. You good?"

With a quick nod she replied. "You're welcome! And I'm fine, really. I have good battery life, I won't need to recharge for a while." She pinged happily. "We should really find the others, this place is dangerous. Plus, we found the changelings you were looking for!!"

"Yeah . . ." I stood up, turning my gaze towards the Sleepyhead Inn, eyes narrowing. ". . . But first, we should have a chat with Ms. Creaks. We need to check out."

"Bloody . . . bucking . . . flying feathered no good . . ."

Agatha snarled, underlined by a guttural growl that belayed her lionlike nature. Turning a corner and running into another dead end, her eyes almost popped with anger as she gritted her fangs, feeling like punching the wall. So she did. Hard. Her clenched fist left a resounding echo in the tunnels, a bit of blood and crumbling rock falling to the ground once she removed it from where she had struck. 'Damn that felt good', she thought even as the dull throb of pain began to work its way through her shaking hand.

"I hate this place . . . c'mon! How do I get out of here?!" She groaned aloud to herself, turning around with a resigned, frustrated sigh, the occasional lion's growl and annoyed eagle screeh slipping into her voice. "The cat in me should lemme track the scent out of here . . . but all I can smell is shit and rocks! Rocks, rocks, rocks! Nothing but dirt and stupid stone! Ugh!!"

"Perhaps we can help."

The griffin nearly jumped out of her feathers from the voices calling from the dark. The tunnels were not illuminated very well, and even with her keen night vision granted by the feline portion of her blood it was still hard to see everything. A white figure approached her from the shadows, slipping into view and revealing Legion the Diamond Dog.

"Oh." Agatha huffed, coughing and readjusting herself, making it seem like it hadn't scared the Celestia outta her. "It's just you. Hey mutt, you're good with digging, mind showing me the way out of here?"

"Yes. We can do that, but first a question. How did you get down here? You and the gold guard were supposed to interrogate the old pony innkeep."

"We tried to. Something conked us out from behind and dragged us to what appears to be the inside of the earth's armpit."

"You would be quite correct in that comparison. This tunnel system is connected to Tartarus."

". . . By The Emperor's pompous arse . . ."

"You seem shocked. Understandable. Luckily we are only a few meters under the surface, this being one of the higher up underlying channels. Oddly enough, it shouldn't exist. It was freshly dug, this earth soft and rich, much like the mud of how a swamp should be. Something took advantage of the swamp's underside to dig this to access Tartarus. But why?"

"Well, I'm not sticking around to find out." She grunted. "Now, help me find my sword and a way outta here. Once that's done I'm flying the coop on your weird squad you got going on. The Talons are gonna have such a fun time picking you all off."

"Alpha Oddjob gave you a task. You are to complete it and report back." Legion replied in deadpan, the many voices as one echoing together in the still silence of the underground passage.

"Oh can it barkboy! Are ya gonna help me, or get in my way? I'm perfectly capable of seeing myself out."

The dog's eyes narrowed into slits, their eery milkiness only adding a sense of foreboding dread. "Dissidence within the pack is not allowed. It will not be tolerated."

"WHAT pack?! I'm not part of your ragtag team. If you don't remember, you all brought me along against my will."

"The pack must stay together."

"Alright," Agatha said dismissively, and in a show of manner aggressively shoved Legion aside, enough to send the vessel painfully thumping into the rock wall. Walking past but not getting very far, the diamond dog tackled her from behind, bearing down and pinning her against the ground in a predatory stance, hackles raised and fangs bared.

"The pack must stay together, and we will beat that into your head if we must." The legion's hot breath washed over her, giving a great reminder of why not brushing for a few centuries is a bad idea. Agatha growled back just as loudly, lifting her back paws up and kicking them off, jumping back up to a fighting stance herself. Legion landed with a small dog's whine, but immediately shot back up, bearing claws.

"Alright barkboy, if you want a fight, you got one." She hissed, the two beginning to circle one another.


"Now just . . . wow, I forgot how tiring that was. Yeesh, it's been a while."

"Though . . . I COULD have just weaponcasted my sword and cut the ropes like that . . . "

"But it was dark and I might've cut myself. Yeah, shouldn't have risked it."

"Okay, I'm going to rest a bit, find my armor, switch back, get out of here and warn the others. That's a good plan-wait hey what's that?"

The voice talking to itself in the dark heard fighting, grunts and shouting amidst the the sounds of scuffling. Whatever could that be?

We barged right in, door kicked open and everything. The rafters shook with the impact, sending a new rain of old dust and debris down. "CREAKS!" I bellowed, voice echoing in the halls of the inn, my only reply its dying tone. "C'mon, she has to be here somewhere. The old hag couldn't have gotten very far."

"She could have wobbled into the swamp, but that'd be dangerous. There's quicksand and bogbeasts and crocogators and . . ."

I let Penny ramble on as I searched, looking behind the desk and not seeing much. Just a few pens, the guest check-in book, and oh guess what, more dust. The upkeep of this place was terrible, and the service lousy. One star on yelp.

The two of us began to scour the small building all over, checking each room, finding something very odd. Most of them were empty, and looked like they hadn't been occupied in years. The only ones with furniture were the ones where we had stayed, talk about creepy. After going twiceover in every corner, we met back up in the front entrance, my annoyance almost as permeable as the muggy atmosphere.

"Uuuuugh. Where could she be?!"

"I'm sorry we can't find her." Penny frowned, removing my coat and handing it back to me. I slipped it back on with a defeated hunch, hearing Barry squeak in annoyance from being disturbed.

"It's okay . . . not your fault." I groaned, slouching over the desk. "But there's something going on, and she's a key to it, I feel it in. I'm just . . . uuugh! We got duped! I feel so stupid."

"You're not stupid." She beeped assuredly. "Just the little old lady pony seemed to be clever."

"I feel like breaking something."

"Go ahead, no judgement here. It's good to let your aggressions out every now and then."

"You''re really helpful, y'know that?"

"I come installed with several hundred articles on therapy. Just in case I was bought to aid somepony in that respect."

"Thanks Penny." I smiled at her before raised a clenched fist and slamming it down onto the bell sitting on the desk, a sharp ring following. I repeated this several times over, not satisfied until the bell was a crumpled piece of metal deeply embedded into the cracked wood of the desk's surface. "Ahhh . . . " I sighed in satisfied manner, briefly pausing afterwards. ". . . Just one more."

I raised my fist high once more, then slammed it down with the intent to break the desk itself into smithereens. I did that, but did not expect to fall right through a hidden compartment in the floor. I yelped slightly as I tumbled down through the woodwork, stumbling down a flight of stairs, hitting the bottom with a rough "Ouch!"

Looking up, I could see that a mechanism connected to the desk could allow a panel underneath it to slide open, revealing the staircase I had just taken a fall down. Penny's frame appeared above, digitized eyes illuminated in curiosity. "Hooray, you solved the thing!" She exclaimed cheerily, raising her hooves in a celebratory manner and eliciting a small, familiar tone of victory.

"Well, looks like I did, unexpectedly." I stood back up and brushed myself off, Penny clunking down the stairs to my side, the two of us staring down the darkness that purveyed whatever we were about to get into. Hidden stairs leading into the dark never go anywhere good kiddies, take some advice from me.

"Here, I come with a flashlight feature. Let's see what's down in this nasty old darkness . . . " Penny opened her mouth as wide as possible, a bright beam of yellow piercing the veil and illuminating what once before had went unseen. I wished it had stayed that way.

Hundreds of changelings heads jerked in our direction, filling a vast cavern.

They both clashed fairly evenly, Legion's experience matched by Agatha's own ferocity and willingness to take damage in turn for giving it. The two beasts circled one another much more slowly now that they had gotten a feel for one another, Legion having a few bloody chunks torn out of their fur, while Agatha had three long, thin, razor deep gashes running down the side of her body. While the griffin was panting, the dog showed controlled, if not slightly shaky, breathing.

"You're good barkboy, I'll give you that." She spat out, eyes still showing murderous intent behind them.

"As are you. But we have not come this far just to be bested in some tun-" Legion paused the sentence abruptly, turning from Agatha with head raised and ears sharply perked. Sniff. Chitin. Sniff. Familiar? Sniff.

"Hey!" Agatha snapped. "We're fighting here, or do you want me to rip your throat out-"

"Silence." Legion spoke. "There is changeling nearby."

". . ." Even she had to pause for that. This is what they had been looking for, right? Maybe now the mutt would let her go and she could be free to get the Talons on these suckers. Ooh, she would relish it so. Definitely get Bruiser to crush the royal guard like a grape, and maybe have Fangface rip the dragon wannabe a new one.

Soft, pattering hoofsteps could be heard making their way across the rock. Both turned their heads in the direction of the sound beginning to rebound against the echoing tunnel. A figure came into view. "Legion, Agatha! Am I so glad to see you two . . . oh. Wait."

". . ."

". . ."

"I probably messed up."

". . ."

". . ."

"There's a lot of explaining to do, I know."

XX - Truth

View Online


By: Quisky

Chapter Twenty:


Keep moving. Keep hitting. Keep alive. Do not allow them overtake. Do not let them get the upper hand. Or hoof in this case, or whatever you called the changeling version. I was briefly reminded of a time from my childhood when I was swarmed in a game of playground football by several kids from two grades above me, or the time I picked the wrong fight and ended up tasting cement on a basketball court, except this was far, far worse and much more deadly. I had to stay one step ahead, or-

Swing swing thrust jab swingOUCH.

One of them bit me, fangs digging into my shoulder. I grimaced. It wasn't deep, but it did draw blood. At least the acidity surprised the changeling enough for it to recoil or have it lose its jaw, giving me a brief window of time to send it flying into an approaching crowd of its swarming siblings, watching it crash into them with multiple sounds of crackling, no doubt their shells breaking from the impact, ringing through the air. Through the haze of battle I could not keep track of Penny in the mass of bodies that tried to overwhelm us, but I could occasionally hear her yell or beep followed by electrical static sounds and various other mechanical noises. Looks like she had turned on the bug zapper again. Just hoped it would be enough, there were too many to count, too many to fight. We had to hold our own until their numbers dwindled, or by some miracle backup in the form of our other companions showed up. It was only a matter of time before we toppled, either from exhaustion, or wounds, or both.

Had to fight. Had to keep fighting. Had to-

And then it happened. Dozens of bodies, biting, gnashing, stinging, pulling and ripping and tearing. I couldn't get all of them off of me in time, and the ones I did manage to rip away were replaced before I could react, rushing back to latch on and drag me down. I fell to the ground with a slow grunt, their growing weight only adding to the crushing pile. I struggled briefly, but could not sum up the willpower or strength. I couldn't breathe, and was fading fast from consciousness. Ceaselessly attacking, blood and bruises formed along almost every inch of my body, my chest feeling like it was going to collapse, struggling just to heave in a single breath.


A voice deeper than the echoes of the cavern we were in carried out, sounding warped and faded, far away yet right beside my ear all at the same time. The swarm instantly obeyed, off of me within the second of the command being spoken. I could still feel myself being restrained, but the weight was off of me, for now at least. I muttered something intelligible, lost even on my own tongue as I tried to muster any sense of feeling that could drag me back into consciousness. Bleary-eyed I gazed upwards, sensing some presence judging me from above. I blinked to clear the blurred tinge of fog that had gathered around the edges of my sight, staring at the figure that controlled the changelings.

Trailing upwards, I recognized the dark chitin that covered the insectous pony mimics, except this figure seemed much more lengthier, taller and more elongated in a sense. I could notice breaks in the armor, as if the body containing it was stretched beyond what it should naturally be. Imprints in the body, like tattoos but pressed inwards into the skin and chit, faintly glowed with a sense of archaic energy, trailing up and over in a ghastly green color. I soon met the gaze of the creature's face, noting the skeletal features, sunken and drawn it, the entire head almost covered in these brandings. White eyes greeted me with nothing but malice, examining me in morose boredom.

"This . . ." It began almost in contempt. ". . . This is the one that shares the chaos? The one who has been seeking us? I would be impressed, but you hardly even seem feet to scrape the dirt from the bottom of my hooves."

"Ooh, this is your whole evil monologue isn't it?" I managed to croak out. "Can we speed this up a bit please? I should probably get back to the front desk and check out of the hotel, or there will be fees I'll have to pay." Being smarmy was most likely not the best idea in this situation, but I really had not much else I could do. I could feel my body healing itself, but it was a slow, excruciating process as sinew stitched and bones mended back together.

"Impatient, aren't we, master Oddjob?"

"You know my name?"

"If one can hardly call it a name. You may refer to ourself as 'Scourge' if you will." The proclaimed Scourge began to pace back and forth in front of me, all I had to do was bide my time until I was back to fighting strength.

"You came rather far in your attempt to 'investigate' the recent changeling sightings, but sadly the Princesses curiosity ends here. They cannot be allowed to interfere with what is to come, and you and your compatriots will not live to tell about it."

"What is coming?" Keep them talking, that's usually how this sort of stuff worked.

"The end of an age." Scourge breathed this almost rapturously, shuddering as if overcome by a great power.

"How very vague." I added snarkily, shooting up sparks from my fangs.

"I do not expect you to understand. Just know that he will be free, his time will come, and vengeance will at hand."

"Don't you mean hoof?" I could feel it. The fire deep down was relit, and it was ready to come out.

"Hand, hoof, paw, claw, it's all interchangeable really. But why am I telling you this? You're a dead man."

"Because-" With a mighty roar I flung the changelings off that held me down, fist clenched and rising. In the cleanest, tightest uppercut I rose with the punch for that extra 'OOMPH!' of momentum, slamming my tightened knuckles into Scourge's chin, expecting him to crumple as so many had done before. Except . . . he didn't it. He stood stoic, unshaken by the blow, and as I removed my hand it quivered. It took me a few moments to recognize it, but my hand was healing itself, for it had broken upon impact, my knuckles misplaced and feeling as if something had shattered. Almost gasping I looked up, the heightened changeling chuckling at my attempt to harm him.

"Cute. It's my turn, correct?" His crooked horn glowed bright before it blasted me with enough force to rocket me across the cavern, slamming me into the wall with a painful crack of shifting rock. I gave a weak wheeze, trying to pull myself out of the imprint my body had made in the stone, Scourge casually approaching with amused eyes.


"YOU are not Goldguard."

"I am I am! Just . . . different. Hehe." The voice sounded nervous, unsure.

"Silence, changeling." Legion growled, turning from their previous opponent of Agatha the griffon to the changeling that stood before them, fangs bared, claws out.

"I'm not a changeling!! I mean . . . I am, but not a bad one. Not the ones we're looking for, mind you. See?" Before their very eyes Goldguard reappeared in the place of the changeling that had stood in the same spot seconds before, albeit lacking his signature armor.

"So . . ." Agatha began to slowly back up, figuring now would be a good time to try and escape. "Did a changeling replace you when we weren't looking and you're just stupid, or were a changeling this whole time and stupid?"

"Changeling this whole time." Goldguard shrugged but paused, realizing he wasn't really helping his own case with Legion looking ready to pounce. "But-but-but! I'm still G-Goldguard! Really!! I'm with you guys, not against you!!!"

"Why could we not recognize your scent as changeling!?" Legion bayed aggressively.

"Because most of my kind don't bother to change it! I knew I would be working with you, which is why I made it more . . . ponylike. Honestly, you don't give us shapeshifters enough credit." Still not helping, he continued to realize.

"Ten seconds. Explain or we rip out your throat, Goldguard or not."

"Fair enough! Fair enough! Okay, um . . ."

"Nine . . . . eight . . . ."

"ItstartednineyearsagowiththeoriginalGoldguard.Hewaspatrollingnearourhiveandwasgrievouslywoundedbyanursaminorheandhiswholepatrolunitwascutdown.Iwaswanderingnearbytoreturntomyqueenwithlovewhenifelthiscryofemotion.Seeingthathewasinpainwasmorethanenoughformetofeelforhim.Youdontseemtounderstandthatwechangelingshavereallypowerfulempathylinkslikeweliterallyfeedoffofemotionyouwouldexpectusto.Okaysoafterfindinghimneardeathhewasafraidofmebuticalmedhimdownandmadehimoffer.Itsrarebutonoccasionachangelingcanchoosetobecomethatponyforever.Iwouldassumehisroleinlifewithmyqueensfavor.SinceIreallydidnthavetimetoaskherimadeahastydecision.Goldguardacceptedwithhislastbreathandibecamehimbodymindandsoul.WellmaybenotsoulsincemysoulisstillmyownsoulbutnowitsmoreGoldguardlikesinceicopiedhim.Fromthereonoutilivedhislifefoughthisbattlescriedhistearsenjoyedhismoments-" He had to take a second to breathe.

". . . Wow. Impressive. He did that all in under ten seconds." Agatha remarked, sounding thoroughly impressed.

Legion however was still quite wary, the many voices within delegating whether to believe such a tale or not. "What of your true form, deceiver? Who were you before becoming Goldguard?"

"Well . . ." Goldguard looked down at himself, entire form shifting once again, this time slowly and separately instead of all at once. An obsidian carpacian plate grew over and replaced flesh and fur, eyes became pupiless and unblinking with the odd tint of fuchsia as coloring, but the mane lengthened over the shoulders, changing to a shade of softly pastel pink, while haphazard wings of a similar color with random holes shot out of the back, flittering softly. ". . .I don't really get the whole 'evil green' color scheme going on with most changelings. I mean, we've moved beyond that, most hives taking on a different color, but no, my home hive refuses to change." 'Goldguard' spoke with a voice that was far different that what they recognized.

". . . Why are you a girl." It had to be pointed out, and the mercenary was greatly confused to the point even she had to stick around to understand this debacle.

The newly feminized changeling arched a brow, looking genuinely unamused. "Excuse me. Gender really means nothing to a species that can shapeshift. Well, I suppose it does matter in regards to the Queen, but that's simply a title. Automatically assuming all drones are male is pretty derogatory when you can just as easily assume them as agender-"

"Oh my god, shut up I did not ask for a lecture on changeling sociology." She was looking ready to bail once again.

"You're . . . different from a regular drone. Personality. Appearance. You're a-" Legion began.

"-Queenling." The insect finished, looking a tad ashamed.

"Alright can someone explain why changelings add 'ling' to the end of almost everything." The griffon was so close, but the conversation kept pulling her back in.

"They're made just in case the residing ruler over a hive passes, an heir if you will." Legion seemed to be calming down, but still held a tense posture, sniffing the air. It was friendly, but their instinct and senses fought them to try and mangle the creature before them.

"Pretty much. We eat royal jelly and feed off of love until we're strong enough to be the next queen. I just sort of . . . neglected to accept that role."

". . . Which is a reason why you were so quick to become Goldguard."

"Hey, the guy was dying! Plus it . . . hurt to feel his emotions like that. The anguish, the worry of what was going to happen, of what was left behind. I wanted to help put him at peace before he passed."

"So, 'princess', who were you before becoming the biggest loser in the Solar Guard?" Agatha scoffed.