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The Mountain Keeper

By Tsar_Anon_I
Created: 12th May 2021 01:00:51 AM
Tsar Anon I Azure Daggerspear Royal Guard Mare Thread Royal Guard Mare /rgm/ i really need to pay attention to when I'm signed in I'm sorry ponepaste admins

  1. >The Watchers of the Mountains and Lakes; Keepers of the Wailing Mountains.
  2. >Supposedly, a prestigious position to be appointed to in the Empire.
  3. >An important step up in the world for a Bannerpony, such as yourself.
  4. >The reality of it, however, felt as though it stood in stark juxtaposition.
  5. >Quite alone at your post, with other recently-"promoted" Bannerponies stationed at other, more distant watchposts in these eerie mountains.
  6. >The only other pony that lived anywhere near you was your accompanying partner in this endeavor, a mare of the more northern clans, by name of Faithful Shield.
  7. >A stocky earth pony mare with an orange mane and off-cream coat, all paired with golden eyes and taller than you by quite a noticeable margin, built like a proper machine of war.
  8. >Though, for the most part, she was actually a bearable bunkmate in the watchpost you shared with her.
  9. >Even if she was an incredibly-heavy sleeper.
  10. >You'd mistake her for a statue or a mare in a blunt-force-trauma-induced coma with how unmoving she was in rest.
  11. >In fact, she was still sleeping pretty hard and comfily as you were getting ready for the day of patrols and trail maintenance.
  12. >Because the best use of a trained, disciplined soldier in the finest army in all the world was to make sure some rarely-used hiking trails were good enough to not get somepony's horseshoes in a twist.
  13. >You sigh in subdued frustration, not exactly sure why your Banner's Staff Officer sought out your appointment to this lonely post.
  14. >'Something to be revealed in due time,' no doubt.
  15. >Glancing into the mirror in the watchpost's bathroom, you were met with your tired reflection.
  16. >The small bags under your navy-blue eyes stood in darker contrast to the rest of your saffron coat, making it all the more evident of your long hours.
  17. >Fortunately, your platinum mane couldn't get into your eyes or be that messy.
  18. >The mandatory short queue for all soldiers across the Empire left you with little choice on the matter.
  19. >The queue was more a stallion's manecut, and you would normally don a more...marely-appearing style, otherwise.
  20. >Manestyle ravings aside, all those details reflected in the mirror came to form an image of you.
  21. >A very weary, tired version of you.
  22. >Your name was Azure Daggerspear, Earth Pony as so many of your fellows and soldier of the White-Red Banner.
  23. >Currently, you were stationed in the weirdest parts of the Saghai Empire.
  24. >Though you could probably lament the decisions of your superiors forever, the day would begin without you if you did so.
  25. >Whilst your compatriot snoozed quite heavily, her snoring audible from the bathroom, you prepared for a long day of patrol and making sure nopony got too lost out here in the high-altitude wilderness with the standard morning rituals.
  26. >The brushing of the teeth, the taking care of business, and most importantly: the delectable shower.
  27. >If there was ever something to make you smile, it was feeling lukewarm water pouring down from on high, washing yesterday's memory of marching away.
  28. >The moment you turned the knob with your hoof, the snoring of your fellow watchmare came to an abrupt pause.
  29. >And within but a few more seconds, you could hear heavy hoofsteps make their way over to the bathroom.
  30. >Somepony's finally up...
  31. >With Faithful Shield taking part in preparing for the day ahead, you assumed the shower was warm enough for bathing comfortably.
  32. >You were mistaken.
  33. >Still quite frigid, the icy water was not the most welcome sensation against your coat.
  34. >It felt exponentially worse as it assailed more...sensitive areas of your body.
  35. >You yelped in shocked surprise, finding yourself caught in a particularly hairy situation.
  36. >Promptly thereafter, your hind legs locked together and your body broke out into shivering, yourself repeating a mantra of "coldcoldcoldancestorsabovethisissocold."
  37. >Or something like that.
  38. >As the water did thankfully start heating up, Faithful Shield did take this time to have a giggle.
  39. >Of course, at your expense.
  40. >"Somepony not stick their hoof in? No testing of the waters?"
  41. >You glare a deathly glare of the tenth degree at where you believe the voice of the other mare came from.
  42. "Knock it off, Faith, or I'm going to waste all the hot water!"
  43. >You could feel the intensity of that shit-eating grin she was probably sporting at whatever retort she had in mind.
  44. >"What, and get yourself cold twice?"
  45. >Your mouth opened to offer rebuttal, but nothing was coming up.
  46. >You groaned in the realization that she had you beat in this duel of the orators.
  47. >And so, you elected to instead tend to your shorter queue, tail, and coat.
  48. >Though you were indeed a soldier, there was no use trotting around, smelling and feeling like a long-past-expired cadaver if you could manage it.
  49. >How other ponies could stand it, you did not know exactly.
  50. >With the last of the grime from yesterday's wanderings washing down the drain, your bathing for the day was complete.
  51. >And the fun part would begin.
  52. >Doing all of what you did yesterday all over again.
  53. >Stepping outside of the shower after turning the water off, you grab a towel and give your sister-in-arms a chance at washing away the remnants of any foamy sweat from the more rigorous tasks of your station.
  54. >Drying off as Faithful Shield was getting herself drenched, you went to the small, cordoned-off armory afforded for the equipment you and the mare with whom you shared the building.
  55. >A military mare outside of uniform whilst on assignment was most decidedly unprofessional.
  56. >Resting on two stands was the lamellar armor padding - standard issue - that you and Faith donned.
  57. >Underneath that was a dark brown cloth undergarment, worn underneath the small, woven-together metal plates.
  58. >The laced-up steel rectangles glinted in the morning light, as though a beacon.
  59. >One that, in a way, reminded you of the important duty you fulfilled in service to the Emperor in His Imperial Majesty's army.
  60. >As you threw on the cloth "undergarment" and prepared fit the actually-protective cuirass on, the familiar sound of Faith's voice called out from the bathroom, followed by the shutting off of water.
  61. >"Hey, Dags; do we have any new orders for today, or is it more of the routine?"
  62. >You stop for a moment, not recalling any new notices magically appearing in the building's mailbox or a Staff Officer thundering down from Heaven.
  63. "I really don't know, maybe you should check? And can you stop calling me that? You know I don't like it!"
  64. >You pout towards the end of your request.
  65. >"It's fun when you get so flustered over it, though! I'll go check the mail, if that at least makes you happy."
  66. >Ever since that mare became your sister-in-arms, she had decided you needed a pet name, for whatever enigmatic reason.
  67. >At least Faithful Shield wasn't too mean about it, for the most part.
  68. >Resuming the tedious chore of actually getting your equipment on, you sense the familiar additional weight of the steel armor come to rest where it had innumerable times before.
  69. >All that was left was your pointed, felt helmet, the single steel spike possessing a single green ribbon of silk fashioned around its stem.
  70. >Well, enough of staring at the damn thing.
  71. >With an unceremonious plop on top of your head, the helmet snugly came to rest, your short-cut queue resting comfortably against the back of your headgear.
  72. >Turning your attention elsewhere, you spot Faith coming back in with what appeared to be a scroll of orders from - presumably - your superiors.
  73. "Is that from who I think it's from?"
  74. >You question, feeling excited in the possibility of finally leaving this isolated and dull post, and maybe even having a more interesting assignment.
  75. >"It's from the Boundary Commandant; so, yes."
  76. >Faithful Shield put it out there for you, bluntly.
  77. "Well then, don't just stand there, tell me what they're saying!"
  78. >You blurt out, excitement roiling within you at the thought of a change of scenery.
  79. >Seeing your overeager reaction to what your superiors had sent down the chain of command, you swear Faith broke the seal and unfurled the scroll much slower than was necessary.
  80. >"Addressed to Faithful Shield and Azure Daggerspear; Heaven and Ancestors watch over you both in the mountains. Word has come to me from Supreme Commander Eternal Fronts of a small group of Equestiran Soninkhachin that have petitioned the Emperor for an archaeological expedition to sites of interest in the Wailing Mountains. They have also bequeathed a handsome sum of bits for this journey, and in doing so, have ensured His Imperial Majesty's favor. The both of you have been chosen to protect them on their ventures due to your stronger grasp of the Equestrian language than other watchpost crews in the area. In the following days, expect their arrival. Signed and Delivered, Under His will; Boundary Commandant Big Halberd."
  81. >At first, you weren't quite sure what to feel about the news.
  82. >It was at least more interesting than trotting down a trail and making sure these abandoned mountains were safe.
  83. >You still weren't getting away from the soul-crushing isolation out here, though.
  84. >With no small hint of mounting frustration, you sigh in acceptance of your situation.
  85. "So...we're on a bit of foalsitting duty for the foreseeable future? I guess that's more...'exciting...'"
  86. >Cocking her head to the side with that telltale smile on her face, Faithful Shield inquires a bit further.
  87. >"This has to be more exciting than smashing me at mahjong, or even one of those smut stories you keep in your quarters."
  88. >Your reaction was instant, your face rapidly becoming alight with a crimson blush as you correct her on her obviously-wrong terminology.
  89. "T-Those are romance novels and you know it!"
  90. >She had you now.
  91. >"Sure they are, Dags. Nothing steamy like one of those new saunas!"
  92. >You swear on your Ancestors, this mare was going to be the death of you through embarrassment overdose.
  93. >Either that, or from severe disciplinary action.
  94. >You didn't want to drill until your very soul ached ever again.
  95. "Hmph! So what if they do have some...some l-lewdness. What does that matter?"
  96. >Her teasing gave rise to a feeling that brought you back to when you were naught but a teenage filly.
  97. >"Oh, I wouldn't say that it's just 'some' lewdness...what you're reading is certainly saucier than that!"
  98. >The mare giggled, her singsong voice punctuated with a gesture emulating her hoof stroking something...tubular.
  99. >And probably a bit on the long side.
  100. "B-By the Ancestors, Faith! Do you h-have no shame!?"
  101. >You thought that your blush couldn't feel any more burning in its intensity, nor any more deeper a shade of red.
  102. >However, her foreleg's movements appeared to be so...well-practiced, and her lurid display wasn't doing any favors in helping you forget about this moment as soon as possible.
  103. >"Your reaction was priceless, Dags! For a mare who reads about such smut, you sure are shy when it gets brought up!"
  104. >At least she was having a wonderful time, her chortling upgrading to bubbly laughter.
  105. >Did you say Faithful Shield was actually bearable as a bunkmate?
  106. >You think that may have needed some rephrasing, she was only partly so.
  107. "Well, th-that's because it's a private kind of t-thing, between a mare and her stallion! Can we stop with this now?"
  108. >As her laughter subsided, you awaited her response impatiently, as though hoping the both of you would finally move onto something a little less...well, anything was better than the situation you had painted yourself into.
  109. >"Oh, you're no fun today...fine, let's get our workday over with, Dags. Mind helping me out with my armor?"
  110. >Feeling a weight lifted off your shoulders, you eek out a nod intermingled with a sigh.
  111. "Sure thing, Faith. If you'll learn to stop snooping around my quarters..."
  112. >You grumble the latter half of your utterings, eager to move on and get through the day.
  113. >Trying to put your thoughts elsewhere, if only for the sake of getting that visual Faith gave you out of your mind's eye, you oblige in assisting the mare in getting her armored vest on.
  114. >Being that she was somewhat less flexible than a mare such as yourself, an extra set of hooves made the process move much smoother.
  115. >That, and she was also partial to being lazy regarding the little things like this.
  116. >Besides, if she bothered you enough or particularly viciously, you would make it ride in an ever-so-slightly uncomfortable way.
  117. >Before long, the both of you had matching attire, the sets of donned armor softly emitting a rustling of the weaved plates.
  118. >All that was left was a quiet, quick trip to get your weapons, and the both of you would be off once again on patrol.
  119. >Faith took a Dao, joined shortly with a shield, her specialty focused on exceptionally-close combat compared to you.
  120. >Your weapon of choice and proficiency was the Ji, of which was your namesake, curiously enough.
  121. >Though, you carry the classic Jian at hoof's reach, just in case somepony gets smart enough to try and break the shaft of your spear.
  122. >Then again, with a competent sister-in-arms, who would be clever enough to outwit two soldiers of His Imperial Majesty's army?
  123. >With confidence that little would stand in your way that could pose a remote threat in the mountains, you and Faithful Shield were almost prepped to embark.
  124. >You just had to go over a mental checklist, because getting lost and starving on the slopes might not be ideal.
  125. >Packs and kits loaded with jiaozi, among other rations?
  126. >Check, after a quick need to refill some of the more-spent provisions.
  127. >Weapon's in good shape?
  128. >Definitely a check mark on that one.
  129. >Emergency gate-fire scroll-sender?
  130. >Thankfully, you were able to find it after a few minutes of searching.
  131. >Without anything else needed to keep you and your fellow mountain-keeper from being weighed down, it was about time to hoof it.
  132. >Upon crossing the threshold into the outside world, it was easy to judge it was still early in the morning, the sun just about to lazily crest the mountain spires.
  133. >The light, chilly mountain air seeped through your lamellar armor's vest and penetrated the cloth undergarment, reaching your coat of fur and giving you a proper shudder.
  134. >Being a mare of the nigh-tropical southern lands of the Empire, you really didn't like it getting this cold up here.
  135. >Faith didn't seem too bothered by it, or at least, she put on a tough enough face to keep you from getting your horseshoes in a twist.
  136. >The rising sun illuminated the outcropping you and Faith shared the watchpost with one another, the verdant alpine grasses possessing a yellowish hue as golden sunlight streaked between peaks.
  137. >The great, clear blue sky stood above as always, a few platinum bands of cloud swirled betwixt the cobalt sea above.
  138. >Adding to the eerie majesty of these ancient highlands, the snow-topped peaks almost seemed to shine like jeweled settings to a crown.
  139. >If you squinted real hard from this mountainside perch, you think you might be able to see Tengerleg Ordon from here.
  140. >Maybe.
  141. >However, you and Faithful Shield couldn't just stand there and gush about the scenery.
  142. >There was work that needed doing.
  143. >Taking lead for today's little reconnaissance, you trotted at a steady pace down one of the loose stone paths deeper into the mountainous plateau.
  144. >Your bunkmate saw this as opportune time to break the fluttering wind-broken silence between you and herself.
  145. >"You think we might find anything today, Dags? You never know out here..."
  146. >Internally rolling your eyes and externally shaking your head in disapproval, you voice your response.
  147. "I doubt it...nothing's happened in the time we've been reassigned here, and I wouldn't be surprised if it continued to remain that way."
  148. >For the first time in a while, Faith seemed surprised with something you'd uttered.
  149. >"Heaven bless you, Dags, have you not heard some of the legends about this place? I'm amazed we have yet to see anything."
  150. >You never took Faithful Shield as one of the more superstitious types...
  151. "I'll be the judge of whether those stories are true or not. If the Wailing Mountains really are strange, I'll believe it when I see it."
  152. >You would be more inclined to entertain the mythical tales of these great spires if you weren't feeling bitter about having to be here in the first place.
  153. >She quieted down soon after your aside about the supposed legends of the highlands, going back to watching for anything abnormal.
  154. >On either side of the both of you, the titanic edifices of the surrounding summits were all you could view, the only real difference being in front and behind where the winding trails ventured.
  155. >Occasionally, along the trail, the both of you would pass by a small ancestral shrine or something to a similar vein, always perched in a spot overlooking a bend in the trail.
  156. >Nothing too weird, considering they were quite commonplace throughout Saghaic lands.
  157. >Things did start to get weird about a half-hour after you ran into the first few stone-hewn shrines, as the sun's rays felt less intensive on your face when a choking, misty fog seemed to come almost out of nowhere.
  158. >This immediately put you and Faithful Shield into alertness, not knowing what may be laying in wait behind the veil.
  159. >Before long, the shape of a presumed bipedal creature was starting to come into view.
  160. >As the silhouette came closer and closer, sauntering at a relaxed pace, both you and Faithful Shield knew instinctually to prepare for a confrontation with something neither of you understood.
  161. >You couldn't exactly get into a Firelance Square formation, but pointing your Ji in the direction of this mysterious figure was good enough.
  162. >In the seconds she had before the inevitable encounter, Faithful Shield drew her Dao sabre and stood ready to engage this unknown entity.
  163. >For a few long moments, time had begun to slow down.
  164. >Pre-combat adrenaline coursed through your veins, there to give you a preemptive edge should this hitherto undescribed beast was walking its merry little way on over to a small group of Bannerponies.
  165. >One thing you did notice was that it was tall.
  166. >Taller than you, and even your compatriot.
  167. >For a moment, you may have thought a minotaur had been in front of you, however its frame wasn't as bulky.
  168. >As it finally crossed through the mist, close to your position, it was a shock to the both of you.
  169. >Before you stood a human, appearing as shocked as you both must have been.
  170. >The misty overcast began to disperse, retreating to cling to the slopes and summits higher up.
  171. >A long, still silence hung over the mountain pass, the human rubbing his eyes as though attempting to make sure he wasn't in a dream.
  172. >Or having a whale of a time with some poppy seeds.
  173. >Finally, after a glacial amount of time that had passed, weapons trained on the unknown individual, the human spoke up in a masculine voice.
  174. >"Uh...you ponies are real, right? I'm not hallucinating this, yeah?"
  175. >The human stallion spoke in Equestrian, glancing around and appearing to feel weirded out by where he was.
  176. >The both of you nod slowly, weapons falling slightly as the human appeared to pose no threat.
  177. "You appear real enough to me. How did you even get here without anypony else noticing?"
  178. >You couldn't help but question, not having any foreknowledge of humans in the area, as most of them tended to stay in Equestria and the Crystal Empire, where the primary portal was situated.
  179. >He sighed heavily, still getting used to the thinner mountain air and the temperature shift.
  180. >"I dunno, was just taking a long hike out in the woods back at home- er, Earth, that is - and this...this fog seemed to come out of nowhere. Couldn't see my hand in front of my face, but I decided to give walking forward a good try. Got colder, and harder to breathe...and now I'm here."
  181. >He seemed to not know what to feel, trapped in uncertainty if this was happening.
  182. >Perhaps there was a hint of apprehension and trepidation, understandably so given the circumstances.
  183. >"So...is this that 'Equestira' I've been hearing about on the news?"
  184. >The taller, northerner mare at your side shook her head in denial.
  185. >"No, this is the Saghai Empire. We're much farther west from Equestria."
  186. >With a quiet 'hm,' the human nodded his head, processing the information he had been given.
  187. >You pondered what might be going through his head, ripped from his homeland, lost in a foreign field.
  188. >It was probably some degree of subdued turmoil.
  189. >Soon enough, the realization that he had no place that he could call home struck you, and so you offered what you could.
  190. "Sir? Would you be willing to come with us back to our watchpost? We can't guarantee the weather will remain fair, and you're many miles from civilization."
  191. >Rubbing his chin for but a moment, the human nods in acceptance of your proposal.
  192. >"I don't think I would mind, no...beats getting stuck out in the rain and being lost forever..."
  193. >With a quick gesture of your head, you take lead once more of the now-larger group.
  194. >Faithful Shield sheathed her Dao, glancing between you and the human stallion before following with.
  195. >Reflecting upon your earlier statement, you supposed that you have been thoroughly-proven wrong.
  196. >Now, your foalsitting detail would start just a hair earlier than you'd been anticipating.
  197. >This only brought up some more questions in your mind, such as what would the Boundary Commandant do about him?
  198. >Or how would you get him home, if it was even possible?
  199. >What had even brought him from Earth in the first place?
  200. >Whatever the answers to those questions may be, you hadn't the foggiest.
  201. >Putting aside those pesky details, you noticed that you had forgotten your manners.
  202. >If you were going to be stuck with him for the foreseeable future, it wouldn't hurt to at least introduce yourself.
  203. "If you don't mind me asking, Sir, what is your name? I'm Azure Daggerspear, and that over there is my fellow watchmare, Faithful Shield."
  204. >The mare in question stopped to give a friendly, short wave before picking up her pace once more.
  205. >"Well, it's nice to meet the two of you...in the event of this not being some fever-dream or a bad acid trip, my name's Anonymous. You can call me Anon, if you want."
  206. >You had no idea what the snick-snack an "acid trip" was, but you'd hope it wasn't as horrific as it sounded to you.
  207. "A pleasure to meet you, too, Anon."
  208. >You smile softly, continuing the journey with Anon in tow.
  209. >The sun above began to illuminate the foothills and valleys below, the shadow of the Wailing Mountains shrinking in kind.
  210. >The vast, verdant fields broken with snaking trails of deep, sapphire-esque rivers born from these great summits.
  211. >Wildflowers occasionally interspersed within this pristine painting, adding streaks of dashing, vibrant color to a marvel of nature's own creation.
  212. >You could pick up a gasp from Anon, that of almost foal-like joy upon laying his eyes on the view from the mountain's ramparts.
  213. >"Wherever we are...it certainly is gorgeous, that's for sure."
  214. >Nodding to him, you take a moment to appreciate the sight and let him catch his breath.
  215. >Home wasn't too far away, after all, and you could afford a moment's rest.
  216. >That moment of rest, the admiration of the majesty of the Emperor's lands, would come to an end soon enough.
  217. >As the three of you relaxed, intermittently gazing out to those verdant foothills and steppes when looking at each other got boring, the sprawling and crawling shadows of great clouds were starting to gather.
  218. >Glancing upwards to the vast and expansive blue sky above, your suspicions had been confirmed.
  219. >A storm had begun to brew, likely part in parcel with unpredictable mountain weather.
  220. >You weren't one of those Equestrians, what with their hocus-pocus pegasi and their predictable weather control.
  221. >But you did know a storm front when you saw one.
  222. >Standing at attention, you gathered your little motley band of ponies and...human stallion.
  223. "We should resume travel to the watchpost, unless any of you want to be caught in the coming storms."
  224. >You advised, gesturing to the heavens above in case they may have been too distracted with the seemingly-endless reach of the vast Saghaic heartlands.
  225. >You could feel it almost certainly within your very bones that a good rain was coming, too.
  226. >If it was going to be torrential, you might as well enjoy whatever safety the small outpost could offer.
  227. >Naturally, Faithful Shield and Anon agreed to follow you back, not wanting to be drenched out in the cool mountain air.
  228. >With the distant rumble of great thunder from above, another chilly wind came, seething through your armor and undershirt to lash at your coat.
  229. >Trotting back to your little home in these mountains, you did have to admit some slight concern regarding how rapidly this stormfront was coming.
  230. >Especially regarding how it seemed to come out of the blue, on such short notice.
  231. >Faith was quick to provide her own take on the matter, glancing between you and the darkened sky as she spoke.
  232. >"Do you think we've disturbed something, or perhaps angered any spirits?"
  233. >She pondered, her words dripping with trepidation.
  234. >Normally you'd probably chastise her for the choice of words, pretty sure there might be some other, less fantastical explanation.
  235. >But after seeing this human waltz out of a sudden fog, something that might as well have been impossible?
  236. >You couldn't really rule out that something mystical could have happened, however unlikely.
  237. "I wouldn't know what we could have done, if that was the case, Faith. I don't believe we have intruded on any sacred grounds, or defiled an ovoo on our patrol."
  238. >To the human stallion that followed behind, all of this must sound akin to a madmare's maniacal ravings.
  239. >"Is, uh...is this place cursed, at all? You guys are making this place sound like it's Mount Doom, or something. And what's an 'ovoo' supposed to be?"
  240. >Case in point.
  241. >As thunder clapped far in the distance, you supposed now would be as good a time as any to assuage Anon's concerns.
  242. "While the Wailing Mountains are a place of cultural, historical and spiritualistic significance, they are not cursed as far as I am aware, Sir. Though they may have a number of legends surrounding them, there is doubt that the mountains themselves are afflicted with some foul curse."
  243. >These highlands might be quite strange, what with creatures coming out of nowhere, but cursed?
  244. >You had some dearth of ground to be skeptical, for the time being.
  245. "And to answer that second question...an ovoo is a sort of shrine, anything from a small stone heap to a veritable temple."
  246. >Sadly for Anonymous, you didn't know everything about the history of your homeland, leaving the other, secretive tales unspoken.
  247. >It was nicer for you, however, as you didn't wish to spend all your days lecturing these strange foreigners on Saghaic history like some libationer.
  248. >You weren't paid enough for that distinction.
  249. >The quiet trot back home was not too long, your group arriving at the watchpost right as the rains began
  250. >It could not have been a moment too soon to usher the others inside.
  251. >Droplets gave way a growing louder pitter-patter, those individual raindrops starting to come down in discordant and unified sheets.
  252. >Any longer out in the glorious outdoors, and you would have more than a slightly dampened mane.
  253. >Anonymous, for his part, glanced around the admittedly-austere entry, spotting what few pieces of furniture were afforded to those who served at this remote posting.
  254. >"This your watchpost? It's...rustic, I'll give it that."
  255. >The human shifted in place uncomfortably, the affixed gazes of two sets of eyes following his moves infrequently.
  256. >"So...what next? Am I gonna get arrested for trespassing, or get sent somewhere until someone figures out how I got here?"
  257. >Anon's words carried a bit of uncertainty, his fate at this moment unknown.
  258. >After a moment of contemplation, you shift your gaze to Faithful Shield, having a request for her.
  259. "If you'll keep an eye on the human for a moment, I need to draft a report to the Boundary Commandant. We'll approach the matter of Anonymous from what orders we recieve from him."
  260. >Returning your request with a mildly-sarcastic salute, Faith duly noted the command given.
  261. >After leaving your Ji outside of your shared room with the bigger mare, you prepare your letter for Big Halberd.
  262. >Sitting before a small table adorned with an inkwell, caligraphy brush and parchment, you take the aforementioned brush with your mouth and deftly begin penning your inquiry regarding Anon.
  263. >Unlike the typical and traditional script these northerners write in, you grew up utilizing the Empire-wide square script, watching the ink-doused bristles create the angular script.
  264. >Before long, you had your report, requesting instruction on what to do with the human who had - to the best of your knowledge - simply appeared out of nowhere.
  265. >Giving some basic information about the human, should he be more than he seemed, you requested that your superior could respond as quickly as possible.
  266. >Satisfied with your report to the Boundary Commandant, you sign and seal the letter in full, preparing it for send-off.
  267. >A messenger bird would take plenty of time to arrive, and with the foul weather outside being punctuated by a great, splitting thunder, you doubted one could make it through at all.
  268. >Fortunately, the Bannerponies of Saghai didn't need to rely on such primitive measures.
  269. >At the left-hoof edge of the small table, there was an ingeneous arcane device known to you as a gatefire shrine.
  270. >It did indeed bear resemblance to the shrines somepony would see on entry to most Saghaic cities and villages; a small, ever-burning candle rested in the geometric center, its baleful green flame offering little illumination.
  271. >You weren't a courtly scholar-bureaucrat, so you didn't understand how it worked exactly, what you did understand though was that sent a missive across vast distances by burning the letter in question.
  272. >At first, you were a bit skeptical of the device, because it seemed a bit counterintuitive to burn a confidential piece of mail.
  273. >Which it is, let's not be fooling yourself.
  274. >But as far as you knew, that magic those islander hornheads came up with to make these little devices worked as intended.
  275. >With the parchment catching light as you guide a tip of it into the emerald flames, you watch as it is rendered into naught but smoke and ash.
  276. >Now all there was left to do was wait for your next set of orders.
  277. >Not like you've gotten enough of those in your Bannerpony career.
  278. >True enough, after several minutes had passed in near-silence, a responding letter arrived.
  279. >Ashes and embers congealing together to form said letter as it was, there was no doubt that it was from Big Halberd, his seal stamped firmly as ever.
  280. >Breaking the seal, you curiously eyed your new set of instructions regarding this human you had encountered up in the valleys.
  281. >'Addressed to Azure Daggerspear; Your sudden finding is curious to say the least, much more so unprecedented. With this human's sudden arrival into your hooves, I ask that you take him as part of your charge for the foreseeable future, as on such short notice both Castle Uulyn Zürkh would be ill-suited for housing civilians and said travel would disrupt plans already set into motion. Should Imperial records be correct, the watchpost you are stationed at with your coadjutant would be able to properly house and accomodate this "Anonymous," alongside the archaeological team due for arrival,'
  282. >You weren't exactly sure why they wouldn't be able to care for some foreigner how got lost via unclear means.
  283. >Was it really in that dilapidated a state since you last saw it, or was there some other issue you weren't aware of?
  284. >Reading on, you ponder how grating it might be to share this little 'home' with even more guests; though Faith could be palatable when she wasn't digging around your drawers, you didn't know if anypony else was going to be as much a pain.
  285. >'I do understand such a decision will put more strain on the watchpost's resources, and that is why the rations to be delivered to your post shall be increased, both in quality and quantity for your host. In the meanwhile, I will be inquring with my own superiors and connections to determine whether Anonymous is a potential danger to the Saghaic people, and if there is something better to be done than holding him in custody. Signed and Delivered, ever His servant; Boundary Commandant Big Halberd.'
  286. >The notion of improved rations sounded delightful, as a diet of dumplings, dried meats and rice did become a bit stale after a while.
  287. >And it had most certainly been a while, as far as your tastebuds were concerned.
  288. >Regarding the latter part of the letter, however, you were pretty sure Anon didn't appear to be that much of a threat to anypony.
  289. >Appearances can decieve, however unlikely.
  290. >This you had to learn if you were to stand as a Bannerpony.
  291. >Letting the Commandant's missive rest on the table, you depart from the comforts of your shared quarters to see what Anon was up to with Faithful Shield.
  292. >Crossing the threshold, you saw Anonymous and Faithful Shield, sharing small-talk unheard as the rains continued to pelt your station.
  293. >Upon seeing you exit the barracks, Faith smiled, waving to you with a foreleg.
  294. >"Back with the small world of our keep, Dags? Have you received a response from the Commandant so quickly?"
  295. >She spoke with that strong-yet-friendly voice of hers; you nodded in acknowledgement, naturally.
  296. >"Well, don't just stand there and be a stranger, Come on over and tell us the big news from our region's overseer. I'm certain Anon over here would like to know, yes?"
  297. >For his part, Anonymous smiled nervously, his fate upon arriving in the Wailing Mountains having long been unknown to him.
  298. >"Just a little bit, yeah. What did they say, Miss Daggerspear? Do I gotta pack my bags?"
  299. >Trotting over to take a seat with your company, you shake your head to Anon's question.
  300. "No. You'll be staying here, Sir. Our orders regarding you are to...for lack of any better term, guard you as you reside here until orders arrive stating anything otherwise."
  301. >His posture and demeanor seemed to relax, though he still tapped his index fingers together as he questioned a bit further.
  302. >"Okay, okay...so I'm not in trouble, then? Wasn't trespassing at all, was I?"
  303. >You look at him with a visage of incredulousness.
  304. "Ancestors Above, no, no you aren't. Anypony can hike the trails here."
  305. >After having reassured him that he wasn't in trouble for crossing dimensions against his will, Anon calmed significantly, now starting to ask about things more oriented on the future.
  306. >"Hm...alright, so I'll be staying here with you guys, for the foreseeable future. Is there any particular place you want me to stay in, at least here?"
  307. >His question was well-founded.
  308. >The guest room for anypony, anticipated or otherwise, was still reserved for the achaeological team that was still on their way.
  309. >Tapping your chin with a hoof, you voice your thoughts to Faithful Shield, thinking she might appreciate knowing and discussing what you might have planned.
  310. "I believe there's a third bed in the barracks that will be free, since the guest room will be occupied very soon. Anon could stay there, given that there's a free bed."
  311. >Taking a moment to mentally savor your quandary, Faith broke out a slight smile.
  312. >Heaven forbid she was thinking what you thought she was thinking...
  313. >"You do raise a good point, Dags...Anon seems to be a colt of good manners, so I wouldn't mind sharing quarters with him."
  314. >Alright, so maybe you could escape the same scenario you had painted yourself into this morning.
  315. >Sighing a breath of relief, you move onto the subject of getting the human stallion acquainted with the general layout of the building.
  316. >Admittedly it was a small building overall, but it couldn't hurt to make sure he knew which rooms were which, right?
  317. "So it's settled; Anonymous will rest in our quarters. If it isn't too much trouble, Sir, would you accompany me for a moment to show you where you'll be staying and such?"
  318. >Anon didn't seem to mind, shrugging his shoulders and giving a nod of affirmation.
  319. >"I don't see why not, Miss Daggerspear."
  320. >Getting up from your seat and gesturing for the human to follow, you were interrupted by a familiar, teasing voice.
  321. >"Showing a colt to your room so quickly, Dags? You certainly are a quicker operator than I!"
  322. >As Faith chortled with mischevious delight, you stopped in your tracks, face slowly becoming alight with a new crimson tint of embarrasment.
  323. >And you realized there was no escape from her all-seeing eye.
  324. >She was probably going to make it even worse, as a matter of fact, considering there actually was a stallion under your care.
  325. "In the name of the Emperor, F-Faith, that's n-not what this is about at all, and you know it! I'm just...just s-showing him where he'll be resting his head at night!"
  326. >You chastise with eagerness to get the luridly-minded mare to shut it, not wanting a repeat of this morning when you had company.
  327. >"If you say so, Dags. In the meantime, I think I'll prepare some of the jiaozi we have sitting around for a hearty meal. You are hungry, are you not, Anonymous?"
  328. >She bats an eye to the stallion in question, who had begun to nervously laugh from his position in the spotlight.
  329. >"Well, I've only had like, a few snacks on my hike...now that I'm thinking about it, food does sound nice. What exactly is a 'jiaozi,' though, if I may ask?"
  330. >The stout mare soon got up from her seat, the last one to leave the gathering spot to tend to her own activities.
  331. >"Oh, trust me, you'll like it. Now don't have too much fun, you two!"
  332. >Faithful Shield punctuated her parting words with a pointed, singsong tone, leaving you and Anon be.
  333. "Trust me, we won't...forgive her 'particular' humor, Sir. Faithful Shield isn't entirely mean-spirited, simply a mare with a different taste in comedy. She most likely didn't mean anything by it."
  334. >You speak, sighing heavily in frustration at your sister-in-arms.
  335. >Reflecting on it, you weren't sure if you were trying to convince Anon or yourself of it.
  336. >Fortunately, the stallion disarmingly waved his hands, not appearing too troubled by how Faith liked to push all sorts of buttons.
  337. >"It's fine, Miss Daggerspear. Don't worry about it. Do you still want to show me where I'll be staying?"
  338. >Well, you weren't a mare of half-measures...
  339. "I suppose. Follow me, if you will, Sir."
  340. >And with that, you leave unimpeded this time, arriving in no time in the barracks proper.
  341. >As though welcoming in a new recruit, you show the human stallion around, letting him soak in all the perks of living out in the middle of nowhere.
  342. >The beds weren't exactly fit for the Emperor's palace back in Tengerleg Ordon, but they were certainly better than some impromptu earthworks with a note tucked inside saying "bed."
  343. >It may have been a bit on the short side for him, but there really wasn't too much choice on the matter.
  344. >Either this, or a cot on the floor somewhere.
  345. >The bathroom really wasn't too much a step up, certainly being spacious enough for a small group, but as always it wasn't in the lap of luxury.
  346. >At least the water ran hot, from time to time.
  347. >There really wasn't that much to show in the barracks proper otherwise, beyond a couple of drawers for whatever other clothes or belongings he might have.
  348. >Anon, for his part, didn't seem to be too perturbed by the watchpost's furnishings.
  349. >Mayhaps he thought it would be rougher, more "military."
  350. >You weren't going to complain, however, since you didn't have to deal with a civilian of a more whiny disposition.
  351. >As the short tour concluded, the colt under your care and supervision commented on his new surroundings.
  352. >"It's quite a nice place to be staying, if we're out so far away from civilization. And...thank you, for letting me stay here. I really don't know what else I'd do, otherwise."
  353. >Feeling some percievedly-undue attention, you deflect the compliment partly.
  354. "You're welcome, Sir, though your thanks should probably be directed to my superior in part."
  355. >Anon nodded slowly, taking a seat upon his new bed, the furniture creaking under his weight slightly.
  356. >With Anonymous having been situated, you believed your work had been done.
  357. "If everything's settled, Sir, I'll probably take my leave. You're free to use the facilities, should you need to."
  358. >Before you could part ways for now, your keep had one last quandary he wanted some form of answer to.
  359. >"Uhm...Miss Daggerspear? Can I ask you a quick question?"
  360. >Stopping prior to crossing the threshold to the main room, you glance back to Anonymous.
  361. "You may. What's on your mind?"
  362. >"Do you know if it's possible for me to go back home? Like, back to Earth?"
  363. >The question was most certainly a surprise, yourself not having any real answers to give to the colt.
  364. "I...I really can't say anything with confidence, Sir. If I am not mistaken, the Boundary Commandant is currently looking into the matter. Should anything come to my attention, you'll be the first to know."
  365. >Anonymous looked down for a moment, quiet in contemplation, before returning a grateful gaze to you.
  366. >"I appreciate it, Miss Daggerspear. While dinner's being made, I guess I'll take a shower. Probably need one..."
  367. >You nod to your keep, taking it as your queue to leave.
  368. >It wouldn't do to walk in on him coming out of the shower, and making a right fool of yourself.
  369. >Moving onto a different subject to prevent your mind from going down the same gutter that Faith's must perpetually be in, you couldn't help but possess some empathy for the lost human.
  370. >You weren't even sure if it was possible for him to return to his proper homeland, and it made you ponder as to what life he must have led.
  371. >What he might have been ripped away from so suddenly.

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