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Dregs of Humanity Ch2 v1.0

By Forlorn_Zebranky
Created: 2023-03-13 01:35:36
Updated: 2023-03-16 10:44:53
Expiry: Never

  1. Dregs of Humanity
  2. Chapter 2
  3. (Rail)Road Trip
  4. or
  5. I Hope This Doesn’t End Like Easy Rider
  6.  
  7.  
  8. -
  9. Alpanu, blue feathers sticking in wet clumps and grayish-blue fur clinging to her body, tried shaking herself to get a little more of the water off, “I’d call this one a mitigated failure.”, flinching as she tried to extend her right wing, setting it back against her body, still sticking out at an angle indicating injury.
  10.  
  11. Bad Example stood and dripped, unsure what to do after her dramatic escape, “Your wing.”, she said lamely.
  12.  
  13. “It’s fine. It’s not broken, just-,”, she stiffened again, “-unhappy.”
  14.  
  15. No-Name was squeegeeing out the black hair of his tail, “Thanks, Alpanu.”, then he adjusted the small satchel over his shoulder to pour the water that got into it onto the grass.
  16.  
  17. “’Thanks’?”, Alpanu raised a brow and cocked an ear at the Man-Pony.
  18.  
  19. “For saving us – for saving me.”, he was having trouble meeting the Gryphon’s gaze, “Especially me. You didn’t have to save me from my friends, but you did, and that means a lot.”
  20.  
  21. The gryphoness looked over to the mare, locking golden eyes onto blue for a moment, then turned her gaze to the stallion, “No-Name, they were going to beat you to death with rocks. It’s time to stop calling them your friends.”
  22.  
  23. No-Name stumbled over his words, “You can’t, you can’t give up on someone like like that!”, he looked at last into those piercing golden eyes, “You...You’re right. I can’t. They’re not. They haven’t been.”, his lower lip was trembling, “Haven’t been for a while...”
  24.  
  25. His legs gave out, sending him to his knees in the grass. He covered his face with his hands.
  26.  
  27. “No, please don’t cry.”, whispered Example.
  28.  
  29. Alpanu’s natural impulses got the better of her and she was suddenly at his side, wrapping her good wing around the shaking stallion.
  30.  
  31. “I don’t want this.”, he managed to choke out, “I want.”
  32.  
  33. Alpanu pressed her forehead against his, “It’s okay.”
  34.  
  35. “Am I a good pony?”
  36.  
  37. Bad Example came in, getting nose-to-nose with No-Name, “Everypony is a good Pony, you just have to remind them from time to time.”
  38.  
  39. No-Name wiped some salt water out of his eyes, “You think that they’ll…?”
  40.  
  41. Example hesitated.
  42.  
  43. Alpanu interrupted, “Maybe someday, but for now, we need to get as far from them as possible.”
  44.  
  45. The Man-Pony was starting to sober up, “Yeah, they were pretty mad, this time. Even angrier than when they cursed me.”
  46.  
  47. The Earth Pony sighed, “I guess it’s time to head back to the herd.”
  48.  
  49. The Gryphon put a claw on the Pony’s withers, “Exy, you can’t go toward your herd.”
  50.  
  51. “Why not?”
  52.  
  53. “Hey, No-No, what would you to to a bunch of Ponies?”
  54.  
  55. “A bunch of Ponies?”, his mood was beginning to lighten, “What would I not do to a bunch of Ponies!”
  56.  
  57. The two females were amused for a moment, as the male made a series of ‘ooh’s and ‘mmm’s, a few spanking motions into empty air, and ended with hugging himself and waggling his tongue around his open mouth.
  58.  
  59. Bad Example giggled, then froze.
  60.  
  61. “We can’t go to my herd.”
  62.  
  63. “Yep.”, Al agreed.
  64.  
  65. “They’ll follow us!”
  66.  
  67. “Yep.”
  68.  
  69. “The Man-Ponies are going to follow us to the herd and-”, the visions of what would follow were once again driven into her head on a wedge of dread, “-do things to us!”
  70.  
  71. The Earth Pony trotted in place, hooves rising and falling, -except for the right front one, that still hung limply off the ground - as she frantically looked around for a place to run off to, “What are we going to do? Where can we go?”
  72.  
  73. “We can head to railroad.”, heads turned to No-Name as he spoke.
  74.  
  75. “Railroad?”
  76.  
  77. -
  78.  
  79. “Railroad.”, Alpanu echoed herself.
  80.  
  81. Slipping from one patch of trees to another, watching the skies, the trio had made their way north to the ‘railroad’. The pathway of thick-packed gravel was overgrown at the edges, but stood noticeably above the surrounding ground.
  82.  
  83. “All the metal and stuff got taken up years ago, but it has streams and stuff all over, and even if it rains, we won’t get all bogged down in the mud.”
  84.  
  85. “Better than nothing.”, Alpanu shrugged, “Let’s keep moving.”
  86.  
  87. -
  88. Hooves, paws, and claws crunched on the gravel as they headed west, inland.
  89.  
  90. “How did you do that thing with the auras?”, Bad Example limped along, glancing up at No-Name.
  91.  
  92. No-Name looked down at Bad Example, “What thing?”
  93.  
  94. “You stuck your hoof-spider-”
  95.  
  96. “Hand.”, corrected Alpanu.
  97.  
  98. “-your hand in it and just threw it off. How can you do that?”
  99.  
  100. No-Name held his hands out in front of himself, palms up, staring at them, “You stick your fingers in and you can move someone’s telekinesis if you’re fast enough.”
  101.  
  102. Example was baffled. Alpanu clarified, “Humans never had much of anything in the way of magic power, but they are experts in manipulating magical fields. They can even grab magical energies with their monkey paws and fling them around, like our friend here did with those unicorns’ aura.”
  103.  
  104. No-Name beamed.
  105.  
  106. Example looked off into the distance, considering something with a slight tilt of her head, “I wish I could do that. My little brother used to grab my ears with his aura and no matter how much I tried to get it away with my hooves, I couldn’t.”
  107.  
  108. “That’s because you don’t have fingers! You were hoofing,”, he reached down to scratch Bad Example behind her ear, “when you should have been trying to fing!”
  109.  
  110. The mare started leaning into the hand with a growing grin, but the gryphoness on the other side, slapped No-Name in the thigh with the back of her claw, “No funny business.”, she warned.
  111.  
  112. -
  113.  
  114. No-Name kicked at a broken, rotten, squared-off log as he passed it, “Did they really have them?”
  115.  
  116. “Hmm?”, Alpanu looked up from inspecting her wing.
  117.  
  118. “The railroad, and stuff. Did they really make giant metal snakes that would swallow you whole and poop you out in another place?”
  119.  
  120. That got a laugh out of the Gryphon, “That’s the most interesting description of a train that I’ve ever heard.”
  121.  
  122. “A metal snake that eats you.”, Bad Example was wide-eyed, “In the stories I heard they were carts, but magical.”
  123.  
  124. Alpanu nodded to the worried mare, “A little of both. They’re a bunch of wagons linked together, all pulled by a locomotive at the front of the chain.”, she looked ahead to where the sun had drifted near the horizon, east-south-east, “They move a lot faster than walking, that’s for sure. Easier, too, just hop on and rest until you get where you’re going. They can be almost as fast as flying.”
  125.  
  126. The light-gray mare shook her head, “How do you know so much about railroads?”
  127.  
  128. The gryphoness puffed out her chest a little and gave a proud smirk, “We’ve got a few of them in Gryphonstone, of course.”
  129.  
  130. Example was startled at the mention of somepony actually possessing the legendary machines, no longer scanning the skies behind them, but openly gawking at Al.
  131.  
  132. Unlike Bad Example, No-Name could get his mouth to work, but not his brain, “Really?! Can you get us one?!”
  133.  
  134. The Gryphon stopped and stared for a moment at the grinning Man-Pony, “Get a train?”
  135.  
  136. No-Name nodded.
  137.  
  138. “Twenty tons of machinery and the miles of track needed to run it on?”
  139.  
  140. No-Name nodded again, less certain this time.
  141.  
  142. “Sorry, left it in those saddlebags I forgot back in Manehatten.”
  143.  
  144. No-Name crossed his arms and glared at the ground. Alpanu walked on, tail swishing.
  145.  
  146. Suddenly, the humanoid stallion was digging at the gravel.
  147.  
  148. “No-Name, are you okay?”, Bad Example turned back to see No-Name rush off into the brush and come back with a stick, to widen the hole he started. She muttered to herself, “Please, this is no time for a temper-tantrum.”
  149.  
  150. Alpanu flattened her ears, “Let him get it out of his system. You know how a gryphon, a stallion can be.”
  151.  
  152. “Ha!”, No-Name held up something shiny and yellow-gold, with patches of green patina.
  153.  
  154. Example craned her neck up to peer at the object, “Gold?”
  155.  
  156. “Brass.”, Alpanu corrected, “He found a railroad spike.”
  157.  
  158. “I found a spearhead! I just need a shaft for it.”
  159.  
  160. Alpanu smiled, “Can you find your shaft, unassisted?”
  161.  
  162. The Man-Pony’s eloquent response was a protruding tongue and a, “Phhbbbt.”
  163.  
  164. -
  165.  
  166. The trio decided to stop for the night as the sun dipped below the horizon, then bobbed back up, then back down again. By the time the sun had made a second bob, then stayed down, they had settled in under the trees beside the once-railroad-track, waiting for the moon.
  167.  
  168. With surprising steadiness, the moon rose to the middle of the sky, setting in place firmly.
  169.  
  170. The Man-Pony tapped a finger to the end of his muzzle, “Wasn’t it a gibbous moon, last night?”, just as the thin crescent sprang to near-full, “Oh. There it is.”
  171.  
  172. The gray mare and the blue gryphoness settled in on either side of the green stallion, helping to keep away the chill of approaching autumn.
  173.  
  174. “Alpanu?”
  175.  
  176. “Mmm?”, Alpanu’s eyes glittered gold in the dark as she looked over to No-Name.
  177.  
  178. “I can,”, he held up a hand, wiggling his fingers at Alpanu’s awkwardly-held wing, “do the stuff to help you with that.”
  179.  
  180. Alpanu stiffened, but, “Okay.”, she sighed, “But you have to promise: No funny business.”
  181.  
  182. “You got it.”, the Man-Pony stood, “Cross my heart,”, he drew a finger in a cross over his chest, “hope to fly,”, he scrunched up his arms to hold his hands up at his shoulders a made a flapping motion with his fingers, “stick a cupcake in my eye.”, he drove an imaginary confection in the indicated direction.
  183.  
  184. Alpanu stared at him, beak agape. Bad Example merely said, “Oh.”, in a quiet and serious tone.
  185.  
  186. The Gryphon tilted her head, but she was not nonplussed, Gryphons don’t get nonplussed, they merely have to take a moment to carefully consider situations, “What crawled out of Tartarus to make you do that?”
  187.  
  188. “It’s a Pinkie Pie Promise.”, Example explained, “The most sacred of Pony promises.”
  189.  
  190. Al decided her wing would take priority over detailed discussion of Pony traditions, “Sure thing.”, she extended her wing the best she could and No-Name knelt down to start carefully rubbing up from the base of the wing.
  191.  
  192. “What’s...’the stuff’?”, Exy asked after a minute or so.
  193.  
  194. “It’s – ah, keep going – you know how,” Al closed her eyes, “I said humans can move telekinetic fields?”
  195.  
  196. Bad Example nodded, then realized Alpanu had her eyes closed, “Yeah.”
  197.  
  198. Alpanu stretched out her wing a little further, “They can do the same to the inherent thaumic fields of living beings, enhancing tissue regeneration, angeogenesis, and autothaumic flow.”
  199.  
  200. Example nodded, ears splayed and eyes wide.
  201.  
  202. No-Name leaned towards Bad Example and whispered, “It means I can move around the glowy stuff inside you and it makes you heal faster and better.”
  203.  
  204. “Oh.”, Example snapped out of her befuddlement, “What glowy stuff?”
  205.  
  206. “Your glowy stuff.”, his teeth glinted in the dim light as he smiled, “It’s easier to see in the dark, like this,”, he pointed to a spot halfway down Alpanu’s wing, “See how it’s bunched up?”, he rubbed, spreading the feathers apart with his thumbs, “And now it’s better.”
  207.  
  208. Alpanu stretched her wings out to full.
  209.  
  210. Bad Example nodded, “Wait, no, I don’t see.”, she squinted at the wing, “What was glowing? I didn’t see any glowing.”
  211.  
  212. “I told you, No-No, you have to be Human to be able to see thaumic-”, she caught herself, “-the magic glowy stuff in people. In everybody else, the fields are too strong, and it drowns out the stimulation of the occipital – you can’t see it because your own field is too ‘bright’.”
  213.  
  214. “So you’re saying No-Name isn’t very bright?”
  215.  
  216. “Hey!”
  217.  
  218. Alpanu smiled, “Or you can say it’s like trying to hear a whisper while you’re talking.”
  219.  
  220. The Gryphon stepped back and spread her wings, taking to the air for a few feet before drifting back down, “So much better.”
  221.  
  222. No-Name smiled, “I can help you, too.”, he pointed to Bad Example’s dangling hoof.
  223.  
  224. “Oh!”, the mare walked up to the stallion and held out her hoof, “Careful, it still hurts.”
  225.  
  226. She felt a tugging, not just at her foreleg, but something deeper. She could feel her energies drawn through her other hooves to pool at the base of her right front cannon.
  227.  
  228. Then something gave. Her blood rushed in her ears, sounding like a landslide of sand. Her limbs went numb then sensation seeped back into them. No trace of the sprain remained.
  229.  
  230. Bad Example could feel the world flowing through her hooves. The mountains to the north, the plains to the south, the fading scar of the old railroad, she could faintly feel and smell them.
  231.  
  232. She wrapped her hoof around his hand, staring into his eyes.
  233.  
  234. “Exy?”
  235.  
  236. Energies of the Earth flowed like lightning through her, into his hand, completing the circuit. She mashed their muzzles together, warm breath mixing, banishing the chill of the air.
  237.  
  238. “Exy! No-Name! I said no funny business!”
  239.  
  240. The brief moment of enlightenment faded. Bad Example blinked, lips pressed against No-Name’s in a half-kiss.
  241.  
  242. No-Name grinned, lips parting against Example’s. Bad Example reared her head back, blinking, “Um, er, well...”, she glanced down at her hoof wrapped around the Man-Pony’s hand, “that’s...”, she pulled her hoof back, tapping it against the ground, “Thank you.”
  243.  
  244. “No pro-hah-nnn-blem.”, No-Name yawned out, his eyelids growing heavy.
  245.  
  246. Alpanu stepped between No-Name and Bad Example, pushing the mare away from the Man-Pony, “You promised no funny business.”
  247.  
  248. But No-Name had already fallen onto his back in the grass, snoring lightly.
  249.  
  250. “Is he alright?”, Exy peered over Al at No-Name.
  251.  
  252. “He gets a little tired when he manipulates- when he does this stuff.”, the Gryphon explained to the yawning Pony, “It looks like it wore you out, too. Get some sleep, I’ll keep watch, for now.”
  253.  
  254. Bad Example’s legs were heavy as she shuffled through the grass to lay at No-Name’s side.
  255.  
  256.  
  257. -
  258.  
  259. A blue owl locked its golden eyes on a light blue mouse hiding at the base of a cluster of trees. With a silent swoop, the owl rose back into the night clutching its prize.
  260.  
  261. “Tree!”
  262.  
  263. Alpanu found herself suddenly grabbed by a pair of hooves.
  264.  
  265. “Tree?”, the gryphoness looked to the trees around them, looking for anything out of place.
  266.  
  267. “Three.”, Bad Example pawed at Alpanu’s chest with a pale gray hoof, “Three-tree.”
  268.  
  269. “Exy? Are you alright?”
  270.  
  271. “You have to catch her. She’s blue and fast, but you’re blue and fast, so you can catch her. Under the three-tree.”, rambled the half-awake Pony.
  272.  
  273. The Gryphon looked around for a ‘three-tree’, but found nothing, “You’re dreaming.”
  274.  
  275. “Huh? Yeah. Oh, yeah.”, Example let go of Alpanu, resting her hooves on something between them, “Sorry, I get these weird dreams sometimes. Usually it’s when I get stressed out, and, well, this is...”
  276.  
  277. “It’s okay.”
  278.  
  279. Alpanu settled back down, “Since you’re awake, do you think you can watch for a while?”
  280.  
  281.  
  282. -
  283.  
  284. No-Name chewed on a mouthful of grass, “She was catching a mouse?”
  285.  
  286. Bad Example was grazing a few paces away, “Yeah, she was an owl, like Owl.”, nodding over to Alpanu.
  287.  
  288. “It’s ‘Al’, not ‘Owl’.”
  289.  
  290. “Hunh?”, asked No-Name, mouthful of grass almost falling out.
  291.  
  292. Alpanu found a patch of bare dirt and scratched two groups of arcane symbols into it, “Al-panu”, she said, emphasizing the first syllable heavily, then pointed to the other cluster of symbols, “Owl. Totally different.”
  293.  
  294. “You’re a lorekeeper?”, puzzled the stallion.
  295.  
  296. “No, I’m in logistics and – what’s a lorekeeper?”
  297.  
  298. “He’s the Pony who knows letters and stuff,”, he grinned, “and he knows what they say and can make new ones.”
  299.  
  300. “You mean literacy? Everyone in Gryphonstone can read, it’s part of basic education.”
  301.  
  302. “Woah.”
  303.  
  304. “A whole herd of lorekeepers?”, marveled Bad Example.
  305.  
  306. “Which one is your name?”, No-Name looked between the two clusters of scratches.
  307.  
  308. “That one.”
  309.  
  310. He pointed at the shorter word, “What’s that one?”
  311.  
  312. “That’s ‘owl’, the bird.”
  313.  
  314. “What’s my name?”
  315.  
  316. “No-Name.”
  317.  
  318. “I mean in writing.”
  319.  
  320. Alpanu scratched ‘IDIOT’ into the soil.
  321.  
  322. “Neat!”, No-Name beamed.
  323.  
  324. “What about me?”
  325.  
  326. Al scratched ‘BAD EXAMPLE’ under the other two names.
  327.  
  328. “Aww, why does she get more squiggles than me?”
  329.  
  330. Alpanu sat back on her haunches, “You two finish stuffing yourselves. We don’t have time for lessons right now.”
  331.  
  332. “You’re not going to have breakfast, Al?”, Example nibbled on some more grass.
  333.  
  334. “I’m a carnivore, I don’t have a cecum like – I can’t eat grass and live off of it like you two. I have to eat meat.”
  335.  
  336. No-Name sliced another handful of grass with his small stone knife, “You don’t have anything to eat?”
  337.  
  338. “Back with my saddlebags, in Manehatten. I don’t think they’ll let me go back and get them.”
  339.  
  340. No-Name bit off a chunk of the grass and talked with his mouth full, “Even if you asked nicely.”, he stuffed the wad into his cheek and chewed a bit, “Hey, I’ve got a squirrel in my bag.”
  341.  
  342. Bad Example raised her head, “A live one?”, she felt a bit queasy at the thought of the Gryphon ripping into a live, screaming animal.
  343.  
  344. No-Name rushed over to dig around in his satchel. He pulled out an oblong bundle tightly wrapped with leaves, “A roasted one!”
  345.  
  346. Alpanu peeled off the covering, “Smoked squirrel.”, she pried off a limb and tore off a piece with her beak, swallowing it, “Not bad!”
  347.  
  348. No-Name grinned as Alpanu tore into the rodent remains.
  349.  
  350. “You two get done eating, we need to get moving as soon as we can.”, she noticed Example’s face turning a color similar to No-Name’s, “Hey! None of that! If you throw up, I’m not waiting for you to stuff yourself with more cellulose.”
  351.  
  352. Bad Example managed to keep her breakfast down, after Alpanu went behind a tree to finish her squirrel out of sight.
  353.  
  354. -
  355.  
  356. Setting out along the path of the old railroad once more, they were making better time, now that Bad Example had all four hooves usable. They kept a steady pace and at least one of them watched the skies for any sign of pursuing Man-Pegasai.
  357.  
  358. “I see something!”, Bad Example pointed a hoof at the horizon.
  359.  
  360. “That’s a hawk.”, Alpanu squinted, “I’m pretty sure that’s the same hawk you saw, earlier.”
  361.  
  362. No-Name was still scanning the forest for something he could make into a spear shaft. He spied an odd formation of vegetation, “Hey, Bad Example, when you saw that tree in your dream, did it look like that?”
  363.  
  364. The mare gasped. Three trees grew from a tangled mass of roots, looking exactly as it did in her dream. Unlike the other trees around them, all of its leaves were fresh and green, untouched by the encroaching autumn. She rushed over to circle the trees.
  365.  
  366. Alpanu scanned the underbrush, “Should I get ready to eat the rat you flush out?”
  367.  
  368. No-Name started to run along with Bad Example, “That’s neat. Do you think I can get some dreams about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, too?”
  369.  
  370. “Precognition isn’t a reliable science at the best of times, and trying to force it-”, but Al cut herself off at the sudden movement when No-Name grabbed Exy and halted both of them.
  371.  
  372. “You feel that? It’s...”, he tapped a hoof on the ground.
  373.  
  374. Example pawed at the grass, “It’s like a pit.”
  375.  
  376. “Or a building with a hidden basement!”
  377.  
  378. Alpanu looked between the Pony and Man-Pony, “You can feel holes in the ground?”, she tilted her head, “I guess it’s like a Gryphon’s sense of a cloud she’s standing on, but for earth.”
  379.  
  380. “If we can get into it, we can get Alpanu her mouse!”, No-Name grinned.
  381.  
  382. “Or whatever is down there. It was a mouse in the dream, but I’m not a owl.”
  383.  
  384. After much stomping, pawing, and literal beating around the bush, the trio managed to find a heavy creosote-coated door atop a slanted entrance leading beneath the trees. Their combined strength heaved it loose, revealing a dark pit. Stale, musty air drifted out of the opening.
  385.  
  386. “I wish we had a Unicorn. Her horn could light up this place.”, Bad Example peered down into the darkness.
  387.  
  388. “We could make a torch of some sort, but that would take even more time.”, Alpanu gave the skies another glance, “We don’t know how close the Man-Ponies are getting.”
  389.  
  390. “I have a Unicorn!”, No-Name started rummaging in his pack.
  391.  
  392. Example froze, mind racing with visions of the stallion pulling out the ragged, bloody horn of some unfortunate Pony. Fortunately for her sanity, all he pulled from his pack was a hoof-sized bluish-purple crystal.
  393.  
  394. “Ta-da!”, he held it between his hands and concentrated on it, his eyes going crossed, and little fleck of light sparkled inside the crystal. More joined it. Soon, the dots became an outline, then a monochrome image of a unicorn looking out of the crystal with a sad gaze.
  395.  
  396. “That’s different.”, Al reached out to grab the crystal, but No-Name pulled it away.
  397.  
  398. “No! She’s mine!”
  399.  
  400. “I’ll need it to see down there. If the dream is precognizant, I need to be the one to grab whatever it is.”, Al held out her claw expectantly.
  401.  
  402. “She’s mine and you can’t have her.”
  403.  
  404. After a bit of glaring and mutual grumbling, they decided to go into the darkness together.
  405.  
  406. The pit was once a shelter of some sort.
  407.  
  408. Long-since-corroded and ruined containers of foodstuffs. Rotted winter clothing. Fuel oils long since turned to useless gunk. Everything that a rugged survivalist mare of a hundred years ago would have needed.
  409.  
  410. Along with the skeleton of what must have been that rugged survivalist mare in the middle of the floor.
  411.  
  412. No-Name held the glowing crystal closer to the skeleton in the middle of a nasty-looking stain in the wooden floor, “Do you think her name was ‘mouse’ or something?”
  413.  
  414. Alpanu raised her head sharply, “North wind’s mercy, I hope not.” She looked away from the remains. She was hungry, but not that hungry. “Wait, there’s a box up in the rafters.”
  415.  
  416. “Dibs!”
  417.  
  418. No-Name held the crystal up, getting a better view of the ceiling. He reached up and grabbed for the thickly-painted metal box stuffed in the narrow space between the rafters and the ceiling. Something slid off of the top of it as he pulled.
  419.  
  420. “Ow!”
  421.  
  422. The fist-sized crystal bounced off his head and Alpanu snatched it out of the air.
  423.  
  424. “Hey! That’s mine! Give it back!”, No-Name rubbed his head.
  425.  
  426. “This one isn’t yours.”
  427.  
  428. “If it’s not my crystal, why does it look exactly like my crystal?”
  429.  
  430. “Your crystal is still in your hand.”
  431.  
  432. No-Name looked to his hands. One held the box, about a foot long, about half that wide, and half that thick. The other held his glowing crystal with the blue-purple-white Unicorn staring at him. She looked disappointed.
  433.  
  434. “Oh.”
  435.  
  436. No-Name put the crystal in his hand into his mouth and grabbed the other crystal.
  437.  
  438. “What in Tartarus?”, Al’s other claw covered No-Name’s hand, “Let go!”
  439.  
  440. “Ughh wnnna theee ivv id wuggs.”
  441.  
  442. The new crystal began to shimmer. The light in the room doubled as No-Name took away his hand and took the crystal out of his mouth, wiping it off on his coat, “Cool! It does work!”
  443.  
  444. Alpanu’s crystal showed a confused-looking Pegasus mare.
  445.  
  446. “Now gimmie.”
  447.  
  448. “What?!”, Al fluffed up a little in indignation.
  449.  
  450. “I called dibs, you heard me. Right, Bad Example?”, No-Name called up through the doorway.
  451.  
  452. Bad Example was trotting in place, “I think I saw something.”
  453.  
  454. “No, heard, you can’t see dibs.”
  455.  
  456. Al sighed, “Exy, what did you see.”
  457.  
  458. “Something in the sky, out on the horizon.”
  459.  
  460. “Was it that hawk, again?”
  461.  
  462. “Not unless hawks have those weird chest udders that Man-Ponies have.”
  463.  
  464. Alpanu held back a laugh, “’Chest udders’?”, she whispered.
  465.  
  466. “I could see the outline of them when she turned around.”
  467.  
  468. “The right word for those is ‘bazongas’.”, No-Named called up, “And were they really big? Like ‘Wow, I can’t believe she can fly with those things, they’re huge’ kind of big?”
  469.  
  470. Alpanu looked to the Man-Pony, “You have someone like that in your herd?”
  471.  
  472. “No, but a stallion can dream.”
  473.  
  474. “They looked normal-sized, I guess.”, the mare looked over her shoulder, “It was the blue one, I think.”
  475.  
  476. “That would be Storm Angel, she likes scouting ahead.”
  477.  
  478. The two rejoined the third on the surface.
  479.  
  480. “Did she see you?”, Alpanu watched the image of the Pegasus slowly fade, then looked to the skies.
  481.  
  482. “I don’t know.”, Bad Example crowded close to her herdmates.
  483.  
  484. “They’re getting close. We need to get moving – No-No, would you stop messing with that?”
  485.  
  486. No-Name had his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. The antique box was flipped and turned in his hands, before he began fiddling with some greenish metal on one edge of the box, “I think I can get the lock – Ah!”, the lock came apart, a spring hitting him in the forehead and gears and wheels scattering to the grass.
  487.  
  488. No-Name set the box down and attempted to gather the scattered pieces.
  489.  
  490. Alpanu’s feline half asserted its curiosity, and she gingerly opened the lid of the box with a single talon. Inside was a stack of papers, well-preserved in the tightly-sealed box. On the glossy page at the top was a picture of an immaculately-groomed Pegasus stallion puffing out his chest.
  491.  
  492. “Rough Draft,”, Alpanu read, disbelieving, “A literary magazine for the discerning gentlemare.”
  493.  
  494. The gryphoness carefully opened the magazine, slowly turning through pages of stallions in various alluring poses, with blurbs on the side detailing their published or soon-to-be-published works. When they reached the middle of the magazine, the gryphoness and the mare found themselves staring at a fold-out of a stallion spread across three pages, striped socks on display and a rose in his teeth.
  495.  
  496. Alpanu startled, her wings rising involuntarily. Bad Example looked up and gave a slight start of her own. No-Name had adopted the same pose as the stallion in the magazine, though he had no socks, and a yellow wildflower in his teeth, instead of a red rose.
  497.  
  498. “Let’s put this back.”, said Alpanu.
  499.  
  500. “Wuh?”, asked Bad Example.
  501.  
  502. “These old papers are too delicate to haul around. If we get out of this, we can come back for them some time. I’m sure the museum of Gryphonstone would like to have it.”, Alpanu grinned at No-Name, “Unless you really need pictures of hot young stallions.”
  503.  
  504. The flower fell out of No-Name’s mouth, “What? Not gay!”
  505.  
  506. After returning the box to its place and closing the door, the trio set off once again, this time with a greater sense of urgency.
  507.  
  508. -
  509.  
  510. “Mine’s cooler.”
  511.  
  512. “Cooler? How could a Unicorn be cooler than a Pegasus?”
  513.  
  514. “Because they are, duh.”
  515.  
  516. Somehow, No-Name and Alpanu were keeping up an argument about who had the better crystal as they jogged along.
  517.  
  518. Alpanu flapped her wings, lifting her off the ground a bit, “Pegasai can fly”, her crystal, inactive at the moment, hung from her neck, wrapped in a macrame of cord, “That makes them cooler.”
  519.  
  520. “How much cooler?”, No-Name’s own crystal hung from his neck, Alpanu having made him a necklace at his request.
  521.  
  522. “You want a numerical value to how much cooler flight is than magic?”
  523.  
  524. No-Name nodded.
  525.  
  526. Alpanu took to the air so she could better wave her arms around in exasperation, “It’s qualitative, not quantitative! Giving a number like that is meaningless, nonsensical!”
  527.  
  528. “So you can’t do it.”, No-Name jogged backwards for a moment, raising his fists above his head, “I win! Unicorns are cooler! Right, Bad Example?”
  529.  
  530. Bad Example looked up at No-Name, “Well, my brother Bad Idea could really get you with his telekinesis if you weren’t paying attention, and my sister Bad Weather could fly, but if I got my hooves on either of them, I could wrestle both of them to the ground. I guess we’re all about even.”
  531.  
  532. Alpanu was grinning, “You ponies and your names.”, she whispered to herself.
  533.  
  534. No-Name was also grinning, “So, you have a sister?”
  535.  
  536. “No funny business.”, Alpanu stuck a talon into No-Name’s ear and swizzled it, messing with the fine hairs inside, making him lean away and flit his ear.
  537.  
  538. “Hey! I wasn’t doing any – Movement!”
  539.  
  540. Alpanu glanced back and landed on the ground when she saw the blue shape coming over the treeline. She turned to face the newcomer while holding her left wing’s tip jutting out to the side.
  541.  
  542. “Storm Angel! How’s it going?”, No-Name waved to the Man-Pegasus mare.
  543.  
  544. Storm Angel hovered at the level of the treetops, the blue mare’s wings buzzing, “Don’t you ‘What’s up’ me.”, she tossed her yellow mane.
  545.  
  546. Bad Example moved in front of No-Name, putting herself between him and the Pegasus. Alpanu simply glared up at her.
  547.  
  548. “Grawlix and the others will be here, soon.”, Angel pointed at the stallion, Example flinched and got ready for a charge, “And he’s gonna take care of your stupid face,”, she jabbed a finger at Alpanu, “And your stupid monster girlfriend.”, Alpanu made a dismissive grunt. Angel crossed her arms, “And he’s going to claim your pet mare, too.”
  549.  
  550. Bad Example stood as tall as she could, “I’m no pet.”
  551.  
  552. “Yeah, they’re both my girlfriends.”
  553.  
  554. Alpanu countered the Man-Pegasus’s smug grin with her own, “Speaking of pets, where’s that little yellow pet of your own?”
  555.  
  556. “Ugh! You’re not getting near Swift! I won’t let you shove his balls into his nares and eat his penis.”
  557.  
  558. “Heh. Eat a dick.”, No-Name laughed quietly.
  559.  
  560. Alpanu covered her eyes with a claw, “Pancreas, not penis. I was going to eat his pancreas.”
  561.  
  562. “Oh.”, the mare hovered in place for a moment, “What’s that?”
  563.  
  564. “It’s an internal organ.”, she raised her claw and wiggled her talons, “It’s the lumpy, yellowish one, across from the liver.”
  565.  
  566. “What’s it do?”, asked No-Name.
  567.  
  568. “It regulates blood sugar and produces digestive enzymes.”, Al answered refexively.
  569.  
  570. “There’s sugar in blood?”, No-Name glanced down at his arm, and presumably at the blood inside it.
  571.  
  572. Storm Angel interrupted the impromptu lesson, “Aaaa! Stop it with the questions, you big, fat, stupid, nameless idiot!”, pulling at her mane.
  573.  
  574. “Sorry!”, No-Name leaned toward Alpanu slightly and whispered, “What’s a nares?”
  575.  
  576. Alpanu tapped the top of her beak, “It’s your little breathing holes.”
  577.  
  578. No-Name started giggling, “You’re going to rip off his balls and stick them up his nose?”
  579.  
  580. “It doesn’t matter what she said!”, Angel interrupted again, “He’ll be safe up here, and you’re stuck down there, with your...”, her ears quirked in confusion, her orange eyes narrowing, “Didn’t I kick you in your right wing?”
  581.  
  582. Alpanu looked back at her wings, “Oh, you’re right.”, she folded her left wing flat and stuck out her right wingtip, “My mistake.”
  583.  
  584. Storm Angel’s eyes widened. She leaned back and began to fly slowly backward, heart beating nearly as fast as her wings.
  585.  
  586. Alpanu spread her wings fully. With a couple of slow flaps, she was at Angel’s level.
  587.  
  588. Angel’s mind spun for a few seconds, then landed on “flee”. The Man-Pegasus whinnied in terror and sped off back down the track, presumably toward her herd, swerving, rising and dipping.
  589.  
  590. Bad Example nodded, “Nice panic.”
  591.  
  592. -
  593.  
  594. They were running, now. No-Name set the pace. While faster than a Human, the Man-Earth-Pony wasn’t as fast as the full-blooded Earth Pony by his side, nor the Gryphon flying low overhead.
  595.  
  596. “I’ve lost the value of surprise, but the look on her face was worth it.”
  597.  
  598. “You know.”, No-Name panted, “I think that was the only time I’ve ever seen her scared.”
  599.  
  600. They were following the path of the tracks, and making good time, but ahead loomed a mountain.
  601.  
  602. Behind, quick glances showed the Man-Pegasai popping up, closer each time, and the sounds of hooves on gravel were also getting louder.
  603.  
  604. As the mountain rose higher, the gravel path started to be crossed with broken railroad ties, then the fleeing trio could see discarded rails of greenish metal on the sides of the tracks, giving way to a reasonably-intact railroad leading into the mountain, itself.
  605.  
  606. “Over or through?”, asked No-Name, looking into the cave devouring the old tracks.
  607.  
  608. “Over! We’ll be trapped down there if they follow us in!”, Bad Example scanned the treeline behind them.
  609.  
  610. “I can’t carry the two of you and fight off the Pegasi. Maybe we can get to a cliff, somewhere and drive-”
  611.  
  612. Alpanu was cut off when the air around them rippled. Multicolored blobs streaked in an instant to surround them. In the same instant, the blobs squashed flat, stretched tall, and with a sudden rush of air became a dozen Man-Ponies, all holding hands and shouting a strange chant.
  613.  
  614. “-KEYS. TELL. NO. LIES. SQUA-Eeee!”, Alpanu’s ears flattened back as they were assaulted by the girliest noise she had ever heard come out of anything male. The yellow Man-Pegasus stallion in front of her shot skyward, taking the two Man-Earth-Pony mares by his sides for a few feet into the air, before they released their hands, breaking the circle.
  615.  
  616. Alpanu spread her wings and gave a shrieking call (ironically, manlier than the one Swift Breeze had just given) and reared up, read to claw anything that came close enough. No-Name fumbled with his pack, digging out his railroad spike (he still hadn’t been able to find his shaft) and held it in his fist to add some weight and hardness to his blows. Bad Example lowered her head, snorting and pawing at the gravel.
  617.  
  618. Grawlix Typeset staggered, the Man-Unicorn’s horn still sparking, “Oooh, swirly...”, his eyes focused, “Oh, no.”, he raised a hand high, “Everybody get back! Here, to me!”
  619.  
  620. The other Man-Ponies backed off, circling around the trio to join their leader.
  621.  
  622. When his herd gathered around him, he spoke once more, “Well, well, well, it’s our little adventurers:”, he met eyes with the Gryphon, “Alpanu,”, then the Earth Pony, “Bad Example,”, then No-Name, “and Idiot.”
  623.  
  624. “That’s not my name.”
  625.  
  626. Grawlix grinned, a twinkle in his gray eyes, “That’s what was written for you, with the other names.”
  627.  
  628. No-Name dropped his railroad spike.
  629.  
  630. “Looks like we’re going to find out if the spell really works.”, grinned the blue mare beside the Man-Unicorn.
  631.  
  632. No-Name let out an unnatural choked noise. Alpanu and Bad Example watched in horror as No-Name’s guts literally churned.
  633.  
  634. “It was a joke! I didn’t really give him a name!”, Alpanu screamed out.
  635.  
  636. She caught her stallion as he fell backwards, “I’m so sorry.”, she whispered to him.
  637.  
  638. No-Name felt his midsection and gasped a few breaths, “No problem.”, he managed out.
  639.  
  640. “Aww. You’re still no fun.”, pouted the blue Man-Earth-Pony mare, fists on her hips.
  641.  
  642. “Come a little closer, I’ll show you how much fun I am.”, Alpanu snapped her beak at the mare.
  643.  
  644. No-Name reached down and reclaimed his spike, strength slowly returning to his limbs, “Yeah...”, he added, uncertainly.
  645.  
  646. “Yeah!”, added Bad Example with a bit more confidence.
  647.  
  648. Grawlix held his arms wide, “I see twelve of us, and three of you.”, he chuckled, “I don’t think the odds are in your favor.”
  649.  
  650. Alpanu stalked forward, “You’ve forgotten someone: my pet roc.”
  651.  
  652. The Man-Ponies’ eyes went wide, some taking longer than others, but all recalling the fourth ‘name’ written in the dirt, “Your what?”, asked the pink mare.
  653.  
  654. “Get ‘em, Owl!” Alpanu shouted.
  655.  
  656. Grawlix crouched, turning around and looking skyward, his horn lighting, “Scatter!”
  657.  
  658. Alpanu snatched up Bad Example and No-Name and, in a flutter of wings, sped into the cave.
  659.  
  660. The panic was intense, but the confusion cleared quickly.
  661.  
  662. “It was a trick!”, the blue Man-Pegasus flitted around angrily, “She! She doesn’t! Aaagh! Damn you! Stuff you into Tartarus with a dozen weasels in your bum!”, and started after her hated foe.
  663.  
  664. Grawlix commanded, “Stop! Storm Angel, get back here, now! Nobody get near that cave!”
  665.  
  666. “But, Grawlix,”, she whined, peering into the darkness, “They’re getting away.”
  667.  
  668. “Don’t worry. They won’t make it out of there.”, he twirled a finger in the air and pulled a balled fist downward, the Man-Ponies gathered and got ready to leave, “We need to get away from here before nightfall.”
  669.  
  670. -
  671.  
  672. Alpanu shut her eyes tight, ignoring the screams of the mare and the laughter of the stallion.
  673.  
  674. “Woo! Did you see the looks on their faces?”, No-Name gripped her left foreleg.
  675.  
  676. Alpanu kicked her hind feet, feeling the whirls of air that bounced back from the floor of the cave.
  677.  
  678. “I can’t see anything!”, Bad Example was squirming in her right foreleg.
  679.  
  680. She could feel the waves of air pressure from the upstrokes and downstrokes bouncing off of the floor, ceiling, and walls, but ‘seeing’ ahead this way was limited. She could only hope the tunnel didn’t have any sudden turns, or-
  681.  
  682. -
  683.  
  684. The three blinked away the swimming stars clouding their vision. The resulting blackness was soon relieved by a smaller pocket of swirling lights, that collected into the image of a concerned-looking unicorn.
  685.  
  686. “Everybody alright?”, asked No-Name, his face lit from below by the crystal in his hands.
  687.  
  688. “This is the first time I ever wished my front half was a bat, instead of a bird.”, Alpanu rubbed her beak, “Am I bleeding?”
  689.  
  690. The Man-Pony came closer to the Gryphon, “They have bat-gryphons?”
  691.  
  692. Bad Example stared up at the projection of rock that jutted out of the ceiling, the product of a partial collapse long ago. She could see the faint but distinct impressions of a beak and two equine muzzles on the side facing them.
  693.  
  694. “No, but if it were, I could use sonar – that’s sound-seeing – The Man-Ponies!”, Al looked back at the entrance, maybe a hundred yards away, shaking off the confusion of the impact.
  695.  
  696. “They’re leaving?”, Bad Example raised a hoof to block the glow from the crystal, “Why would they just...Oh, ambush.”
  697.  
  698. Alpanu nodded, “Ambush.”
  699.  
  700. “That’s what I’d do.”, No-Name looked behind them, into the darkness, “Guess we’re still going through.”
  701.  
  702. “Cover the light.”, Alpanu stared at the inky blackness until her eyes adjusted, “Yeah, I think I can see a light back there. We just need to follow the track and we’re clear.”
  703.  
  704. No-Name pulled the crystal out of his pack and put it back around his neck.
  705.  
  706. The light didn’t reach far, but it was enough to keep them from tripping over things, and each other.
  707.  
  708. They had to stop after a while as the light from the crystal faded.
  709.  
  710. “Woah, just a sec.”
  711.  
  712. “There’s no light from outside, anymore.”, Bad Example could hear her companions breathing (and in No-Name’s case, grunting in concentration as he pushed his energy into the crystal), but couldn’t see anything at all, “Did the sun set, already?”
  713.  
  714. “It must be later than I thought.”, Alpanu’s face slowly came into view with the purple-blue-white light, “Time flies when you’re being chased by angry Man-Ponies.”
  715.  
  716. Bad Example felt a growing unease as they continued down the tunnel. It was more than just being in the dark tunnel. There was something – SOMETHING – in here with them. She felt like she was defiling a grave, and a vengeful spirit of some sort was going to be upon her at any moment.
  717.  
  718. But that was just her nerves. Right? This was a train tunnel. The lair of one of the giant metal snakes. (Don’t think about that!) It wasn’t actually a grave site.
  719.  
  720. She stepped on a rock that fell apart under her hoof. Some teeth fell out of the rock, hard enamel glinting in the dim light. The ‘rock’ stared up at her accusingly with its remaining eye socket.
  721.  
  722. Somepony was screaming, but that didn’t matter, she needed to get away from the grave of the unfortunate Pony she had just defiled. Fortunately, there was a side-tunnel to the main line. It was dark, but it was a clear path, and, most importantly, it let her get farther away from the skeleton she had stepped on.
  723.  
  724. -
  725.  
  726. “AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa…”
  727.  
  728. “Exy!”, Alpanu called after the fleeing mare, “It’s not...ugh, she can’t hear me, anyway.”
  729.  
  730. The Gryphon turned to the Man-Pony, “I want you to stay right here, you got that?”, she pulled her necklace off, “Charge my crystal up and I’ll go after her. We’ll follow your light back. Nobody gets lost.”
  731.  
  732. “Okay. One condition: You have to admit mine is better.”
  733.  
  734. “WHAT?”, her disbelief echoed off the walls, mixing with the faint whinnies and shouts coming from the side-tunnel.
  735.  
  736. “You heard me.”
  737.  
  738. “Fine! Your stupid little picture of a Pony is better than my stupid little picture of a Pony. Happy?”
  739.  
  740. No-Name shrugged, taking the crystal in his hands, “Good enough.”, the crystal soon glowed with the face of a Pegasus, seemingly in disbelief about the argument going on about her.
  741.  
  742. -
  743.  
  744. “Bad Example!”, Alpanu stalked down the rough-hewn floor.
  745.  
  746. A panting Pony was leaning up against the wall, the Mark on her flank smiling in stark contrast to the haunted expression on her face, “Ghost!”
  747.  
  748. “No, Gryphon.”
  749.  
  750. “Al?”
  751.  
  752. “Yeah, let’s get back to No-Name.”
  753.  
  754. Alpanu put a wing over Bad Example and turned her around, leading her back down the tunnel.
  755.  
  756. “The light! The light’s going out!”, Example nosed at the crystal as the image broke into fading dots, “No, no, no, no...”
  757.  
  758. Alpanu pulled her wing tighter, “Stay with me, Exy. We just need to get back the way we came.”
  759.  
  760. “I need the light back on. I don’t like this darkness.”
  761.  
  762. “I know, but I can’t light up the crystal, myself. I tried. I even tried using my flight magic through my wings. There’s something to it that my magic can’t seem to overcome.”
  763.  
  764. “No-Name can do it, and Man-Pony magic is weak, right? Maybe it needs a Pony to do it?”
  765.  
  766. “It’s worth a try.”, Alpanu found Bad Example’s hoof and held the crystal against it.
  767.  
  768. Bad Example could feel a slight tingling at her hoof, but the sparks inside wouldn’t stay lit. She brought up her other hoof, concentrating on the crystal, as she had seen No-Name do. The crystal began to glow.
  769.  
  770. And then it began to talk.
  771.  
  772. -
  773. [see crystal logs: Rainbow Dash]
  774. -
  775.  
  776. “Rainbow Dash.”, Bad Example pointed a hoof at the crystal as Alpanu put it back around her neck, “That’s her mark, she was one of the Elements of Harmony.”
  777.  
  778. “Some kind of recording crystal, with a message from one of the old heroes of Equestria.”, Alpanu draped her wing over Bad Example again, “This thing has to be worth a fortune.”
  779.  
  780. They made their way slowly back up the tunnel, “What was all that stuff she was saying? It sounded like Humans were causing a lot of trouble.”
  781.  
  782. Alpanu smiled, “Some things never change.”, and she dropped her smile as something came clopping out of the darkness, “Case in point.”, she muttered, sighed, then asked the Man-Pony, “No-No, didn’t I tell you to stay put?”
  783.  
  784. “I did, but there’s darkness in the tunnel!”
  785.  
  786. Example gave a side-glance to Al, an ear flicking in amusement, “You have your light, don’t you? Why did you let it fade?”
  787.  
  788. “I didn’t mean to, you see-”
  789.  
  790. -
  791.  
  792. No-Name stood, a stalwart sentry in the darkness, beacon of hope to lost mares and gryphonesses, alike.
  793.  
  794. But this beacon was fading. He’d need to recharge it soon.
  795.  
  796. But, lo! What terrible beast approaches from the darkness? A pair of baleful red eyes seem to slip out of the emptiness itself, drifting closer to the brave stallion.
  797.  
  798. “What in the blazes are you?”, he asked, dumbfounded.
  799.  
  800. I mean, “Halt, fiend!”, the noble Man-Pony challenged!
  801.  
  802. A jagged red glowing line split the air beneath the eye-spots.
  803.  
  804. The stallion struck down the monster! The display of martial prowess looked nothing like swinging his fists wildly at the red glow, and certainly didn’t involve any screaming in terror. Those were battlecries.
  805.  
  806. With each blow, chills shot up his arms, his hands going numb. Fragments of glowing red flew off the thing, some fading into nothing, but some pooling on the floor of the cave. He stomped and jumped on the red glow until the cave was completely dark. The numbness now gripping his hooves nearly making him lose his balance.
  807.  
  808. But our hero wasn’t out of danger yet! More eyes were forming from the darkness. He fled toward the only light he could see, fleeing – dashing down the side-tunnel toward his compatriots.
  809.  
  810. -
  811.  
  812.  
  813.  
  814.  
  815. “-but now I can’t feel my hands or my hooves. I’m pretty sure if they get my heart, it’ll stop working.”, No-Name leaned against the wall, “Anybody know how to get rid of spooks?”
  816.  
  817. “Silver.”, Alpanu scanned the path, stiffening when she saw faint flickers of red, “Ghost hunters use silver gauntlets, or a silver-plated shield and a silver-tipped spear.”
  818.  
  819. “Got any of those?”, No-Name asked gamely, almost whimpering.
  820.  
  821. The trio crowded close together as the eyes began to surround them.
  822.  
  823. “Not even in my saddlebags.”, Alpanu shook her head.
  824.  
  825. Alpanu’s necklace pulsed and began to fade as the eyes closed in. Beneath each pair, the darkness opened up into a zig-zag, like a prey animal’s idea of what a predator’s teeth should look like.
  826.  
  827. “I know!”, the eyes fell back, then continued to drift forward as Bad Example shouted, “A song!”
  828.  
  829. “A song?”, Alpanu gave a smile that threatened to extend off of her beak, but didn’t reach her eyes, “Sure! What do you want to sing?”, her voice cracking.
  830.  
  831. “A song I learned to make bad things go away!”
  832.  
  833. Bad Example took a deep breath.
  834.  
  835. “When I was a little filly
  836. and the Sun was going down.
  837. The darkness and the shadows
  838. would always make me frown.”
  839.  
  840. Alpanu and No-Name could only stare blankly as Bad Example slowly made her way forward, putting a hoof forward with each verse.
  841.  
  842. “Bad Example! No!”, No-Name whispered, and made a lunge for her, only to be held back by Alpanu.
  843.  
  844. “Wait.”
  845.  
  846. The eyes were drifting slowly back from the mare.
  847.  
  848. “You just got to-”, a step forward.
  849. “Stand up tall,”, she did.
  850. “Learn to face your fears,
  851. You’ll see that they can’t hurt you,
  852. Just laugh to make them disappear.”
  853.  
  854. “Ha!”, The eyes and mouth ahead of her were silently blasted to bits, as if from a phantom explosion.
  855.  
  856. “Ha!”, another one was gone.
  857.  
  858. “Ha!”, a third tried to leave her line of sight. One eye and half of the mouth were caught in the ‘blast’. The eye widened and the jaw dropped in what might have been fear on a living thing, as the rest of it fell apart, scattering and fading.
  859.  
  860. The awestruck pair followed Bad Example as she sang and laughed through the crowd of life-sucking phantoms.
  861.  
  862. One pair drifted close to No-Name, “Ha!”, his laugh making it ripple and fall back, but it was not stopped, “Woah-woah-agh!”, No-Name’s sensationless legs gave out, sending him spilling to the floor, falling heavily on his elbows and stifles. The jagged mouth loomed large in his vision.
  863.  
  864. “Ha!”, Alpanu was suddenly standing over him, wings spread. Her laugh banishing the specter.
  865.  
  866. “Giggle at the ghostly!”, she sang, high and sweet.
  867.  
  868. “Guffaw at the grossly!”, responded Bad Example, coming to her side as the gryphoness scooped the stallion onto her back.
  869.  
  870. “Crack up at the creepy!”, harmonized Alpanu and No-Name, the Gryphon and Man-Pony letting themselves be swept up into the Song.
  871.  
  872. Together they laughed and sang. Before they knew it, they found themselves under the full moon, Bad Example and Alpanu prancing and laughing, No-Name on Alpanu’s back, held between the Gryphon’s wings.
  873.  
  874. -
  875.  
  876. The two walked as far as they could before finding somewhere to rest.
  877.  
  878. Hooves crunched on the bare gravel, “The tracks are gone from this part. I think that means those things don’t get this far. My hooves can’t take much more. Let’s stop.”
  879.  
  880. “I still can’t believe that song worked.”, Alpanu slowly lowered No-Name into the grass.
  881.  
  882. “Ow-ow-ow-Me neither.”, he curled up onto his side, “Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow.”, sensation, of a sort, was returning to his hands and hooves, “You’ve busted up ghosts with it, before?”
  883.  
  884. “My moms used to sing it to us when we had nightmares, when we were foals.”, she settled in in front of No-Name, careful not to touch his aching parts, “I never used it on monsters.”
  885.  
  886. Alpanu nestled in on his opposite side, “You’ve never used it in battle?”, she draped a wing over the other two, “Good thing it worked.”
  887.  
  888. “And good thing you’ve got such a great voice. Your singing was amazing.”, Bad Example rested her head in the grass.
  889.  
  890. “No, it wasn’t, Gryphons don’t sing.”
  891.  
  892. “But I heard you.”
  893.  
  894. “Just like they don’t purr,”, No-Name shifted to a less-uncomfortable position, “Ow.”
  895.  
  896. “Exactly. Now, let’s all just get some sleep. Hopefully, nothing will kill us.”
  897.  
  898. -
  899.  
  900. The Sun rose, moving smoothly to take its place overhead, where the moon still rested. The Sun and Moon circled each other a few times, then the Sun set. In the north. A few minutes later, the Sun rose once again and the Moon set. In the south.
  901.  
  902. The three exhausted travelers slept most of the day away, ignoring the sun and waking up only when cold rain began to fall on them.
  903.  
  904. Bad Example and No-Name watched the small blue shape climb higher and higher. It disappeared behind the towering cloud. A few moments later, lightning strobed through the cloud, flashes spreading and descending from the flat head, followed by rolling thunder. Alpanu, hopping off the impact site on the top, skidded down the side of the cloud, slaloming like a skier on flesh powder. As her claws tore expanding rifts in the cloud, the rain from it became a downpour, then a torrent.
  905.  
  906. The Pony and the Man-Pony watched the wall of water creep up to their camp, but stop short. By the time the Gryphon reached the hastily-thrown-together lean-to, the dark cloud was a pale gray.
  907.  
  908. “That should do it. That cloud is stalled out. The worst of the storm should go around it, and us.”, explained Alpanu as she crowded in with the others, “Well, if I remembered my weather service tricks. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a weather team.”
  909.  
  910. “I’ve never seen cloudwrangling like that.”, Bad Example craned her neck out to see the now-white cloud hanging overhead, “The Pegasai just kick apart small clouds, and for the bigger storms they push around the big clouds, and the rest of the clouds follow them.”
  911.  
  912. Lightning flashed and rain fell heavy on the forest around them, but the lean-to suffered no more than a light drizzle.
  913.  
  914. They had little to do, except drip and shiver.
  915.  
  916. “Why are you here?”
  917.  
  918. Bad Example was befuddled by No-Name’s unexpected question, “I, um, I’m running from a herd of Man-Ponies, like you.”
  919.  
  920. “I mean, how did you end up in Manehatten? We never saw ponies swim to the island, before.”, No-Name nodded toward the Gryphon, “Alpanu was there to look for apples. You never told me why you were there.”
  921.  
  922. “You were looking for apples, too? Why would a Gryphon want apples?”
  923.  
  924. “Booze.”, supplied No-Name.
  925.  
  926. Alpanu looked away from the Pony’s stare, “Cider. It was reportedly the greatest alcoholic beverage in the world. I thought if I could get it growing, I’d be rich, famous, and getting Gryphonstone a new food source wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. Apples are one of those things that any race can eat.”
  927.  
  928. “And you didn’t find any, either.”
  929.  
  930. “Yep.”, No-Name gave a half-shrug with the shoulder he wasn’t laying on, “No apples in the Big Apple, any more.”
  931.  
  932. They sat for a moment, thinking of what else to say, the rain filling the silence.
  933.  
  934. Bad Example brought her nose close to No-Name’s stark-white hands, “How’s the...ghost bites?”
  935.  
  936. “Hurts.”
  937.  
  938. “Good.”
  939.  
  940. “Al! That’s mean!”
  941.  
  942. “I didn’t mean it that way. It means they’re damaged, instead of dead. They won’t be rotting and falling off.”
  943.  
  944. “Well.”, Bad Example’s eyes widened, “I guess that is better than...the other thing.”
  945.  
  946. Alpanu spread her wing over No-Name and he curled up, to make sure his hands and hooves were kept warmer, “I wish we had some potions or spells.”, the stallion said as he buried his nose in her feathers.
  947.  
  948. “If I can find the right stuff, I can make a poultice, but I don’t know if there will be anything growing this time of year to make it.”, Bad Example settled in under Alpanu’s other wing.
  949.  
  950. “Maybe...”, Alpanu unbuckled a small pouch from around her neck. She pulled out a simple brass tube, about the width of a thumb, one end a blunt point, the other a screw-on cap, and opened it. Taking care not to drip on anything, she nudged the contents: five white disks with holes punched through the centers, “No, no, and no.”, she slid the half-cylinder that served as a tray for the tablets back into the tube and resealed it, “They’re all the wrong type.”
  951.  
  952. No-Name’s nose buzzed with the overpowering scent of mint, “What type are they?”
  953.  
  954. “These seal punctures, cuts, lacerations. You need something for frostbite, or at least bruises.”
  955.  
  956. “They close up holes?”
  957.  
  958. “Yep.”
  959.  
  960. No-Name shifted to lay on his back, “So if you take one when you’re not injured, it closes up your butt, or something?”
  961.  
  962. Bad Example buried her face under her hooves, shaking with quiet laughter, “Why would anyone,”, she forced out between chuckles, “make a potion that did that?”
  963.  
  964. Alpanu fastened the pouch around her neck, the blue stain of the leather blending with her feathers, “No, these only close up holes you aren’t supposed to have. Though if they did, that might explain the attitudes of some of the guards.”
  965.  
  966. Their shared laughter drowned out the rain for a while.
  967.  
  968. -
  969.  
  970. The next day, they were up with the Sun, which seemed to be back to normal, rising out of the east after the Moon set in the west.
  971.  
  972. “Can you see her?”, No-Name lay on his side, resting in the sun and nibbling on the grass that he could reach.
  973.  
  974. “That’s the seventeenth time you asked that, and, yes, I can still see her.”, Circling above their little camp, Alpanu was keeping an eye on both the Pony as she searched the forest and Man-Pony as he languished in boredom.
  975.  
  976. After a couple hours of searching, a light-gray mare stomped out of the brush with mud coating her fetlocks and twigs and leaves entangled in her mane and tail.
  977.  
  978. “I think I have enough.”, Bad Example slung No-Name’s satchel off and started dumping out the contents, “I found a Xander root, a witch-hazel bush, some fly amanita, a garlic bulb, a horn-lilly bulb, a Brock flower, and a bunch of marshmallow root.
  979.  
  980. “Xander root?”, Alpanu poked the hairy rhizome in question, “Those aren’t native to this climate.”
  981.  
  982. “It was in a patch of sand up on a ridge.”
  983.  
  984. Alpanu scanned the forest, ears swiveling.
  985.  
  986. “Don’t worry, I know it was somepony’s garden, but it looked like it had been abandoned for a really long time.”, Bad Example scanned the forest along with Alpanu, “At least I think so. I didn’t see anypony. No hoofprints, or anything.”
  987.  
  988. “Horn-lilly? Gross. Those things are like an onion’s evil twin.”, No-Name shuffled over to the pile of findings on elbows and stifles.
  989.  
  990. “You don’t have to eat it.”, Bad Example rolled her eyes, “And would you please stop crawling around, you need to rest.”
  991.  
  992. Alpanu walked away with a claw over her nares after getting a whiff of the mushrooms, “Now that you’re back, I’m going to see what I can catch. Don’t get eaten by hydras while I’m gone.”, and took to the skies.
  993.  
  994. Bad Example found a rock and started mashing things up into a paste under her hoof, “Why did you bite into a horn-lilly bulb?”
  995.  
  996. “I didn’t mean to, my sisters made me.”
  997.  
  998. Bad Example froze mid-smash, “They held you down and forced you to eat it?”
  999.  
  1000. No-Name flopped onto his back with a sigh, “No, they roasted an onion and peeled off the outer layers and wrapped up the horn-lilly in it.”, He held up a hand, fingers stiff and unmoving, “’We roasted some onions, do you want one, A-ack!”, his hand fell to his chest.
  1001.  
  1002. “No-Name?”
  1003.  
  1004. “I need to stop doing that.”
  1005.  
  1006. “Your old name?”
  1007.  
  1008. “Yeah.”
  1009.  
  1010. “You just relax.”, Bad Example returned to her task, “This will be done in a minute.”
  1011.  
  1012. -
  1013.  
  1014. The Sun set in the east, and the Moon rose in the east, full and bright, and if it noticed the Sun’s faux-pas, it did not mention it.
  1015.  
  1016. “How did you get her to do it?”, No-Name had the ends of his extremities coated in the healing paste, then wrapped in leaves to keep the mess in place, then wrapped in another layer of leaves to try to keep the stink in.
  1017.  
  1018. “Get who to do what?”, Alpanu was over as far as she could go without actually being outside of the lean-to.
  1019.  
  1020. “I made the poultice because I wanted to.”, Bad Example was leaning on Alpanu, her head almost on the other side of the Gryphon, where it contemplated making another lean-to, or simply braving the chill night, unprotected.
  1021.  
  1022. “Your Pegasus, how did you get her to show you her butt?”
  1023.  
  1024. “Show her butt?”, Bad Example raised her head, tail curling between her legs.
  1025.  
  1026. “I saw her in the cave, she was showing off her butt when I ran up to you.”
  1027.  
  1028. “Oh, that. That’s something we forgot to show you.”, Alpanu took the crystal from around her neck, “Exy, can you?”
  1029.  
  1030. Bad Example charged the crystal with her Pony magic, and the image of the ancient hero went through her rant, with the Man-Pony watching in rapt attention.
  1031.  
  1032. “Woah.”, he shifted, leaves crinkling as he crawled toward his satchel, “Make mine do that!”
  1033.  
  1034. Bad Example put a hoof to No-Name’s forehead, halting him, “Okay, I will! Just lay back down! You’ll hurt yourself!”
  1035.  
  1036. Alpanu was already pulling No-Name’s crystal out of his satchel (that they had washed thoroughly in a stream to get the lingering smell of the mushrooms out before putting No-Name’s things back into it).
  1037.  
  1038. They watched the image of of the Unicorn sigh, then talk of long ago…
  1039.  
  1040. -
  1041. [see crystal logs: Twilight Sparkle]
  1042. -
  1043.  
  1044. “Aww, she didn’t show her butt.”, No-Name nosed the crystal, its image nothing but a field of bright points.
  1045.  
  1046. “Ponyville.”, Alpanu was fiddling with her pouch again, pulling out a slimmer cylinder this time, “That’s a name I recognize!”, she pulled at a tab on the side of the tube, unrolling a small, detailed, meticulously-copied map, “Here, south of Mount Canterhorn,”, she pointed a talon, trailing along a striped line, “We can follow the railroad right there.”
  1047.  
  1048. “Ponyville is where all the stories say the best apples came from! If it’s still around, we’ll be all set!”, Bad Example bounced in place where she was laying, resisting the urge to jump up and prance around the lean-to.
  1049.  
  1050. “Prepare yourself, it’ll be a long trip, and you’ll be even farther from your herd.”
  1051.  
  1052. “That’s okay if we’re going far. I want to get a thousand miles from that Grawlix and his,”, the mare shuddered, “plans for me.”
  1053.  
  1054. “Five hundred miles.”, corrected Alpanu.
  1055.  
  1056. “Why would she want to be half as far?”
  1057.  
  1058. Alpanu held up a claw balled into a fist at No-Name’s question, he shied back and forced a disarming smile. To his surprise, she gave him an explanation, “The world is a sphere one thousand, two hundred and forty miles in circumference. If you move more than six hundred miles from something,”, she moved a talon of her other claw from one side of the fist to the other, “you’re actually heading back toward it.”
  1059.  
  1060. “Woah. You can get so far away from something you get closer to it.”, he stared at the fist for a moment, “Hold on, if the world is only a thousand miles around, what about the old Human kingdom of Mare-Ka? That was supposed to be three thousand miles from one end to the other. Did it wrap around the would three times?”
  1061.  
  1062. Alpanu shrugged, “Humans like to exaggerate how long things are.”
  1063. “Yeah, you got us.”
  1064.  
  1065. “We can head out as soon as No-Name can walk. That means you should get some sleep.”, she wagged a talon at the Man-Pony, “Exy, keep watch, I’m going to see if I can catch anything.”
  1066.  
  1067. “You were unsuccessful at hunting all afternoon?”, Bad Example settled herself next to No-Name.
  1068.  
  1069. “I wasn’t ‘unsuccessful’ at anything, I just haven’t found anything, yet.”, she snapped and took off.
  1070.  
  1071. -
  1072.  
  1073. During the night, the Moon drifted off to the west, setting halfway, where it sat, ignored, as the Sun rose to the center of the sky.
  1074.  
  1075. Alpanu sliced another tuft of grass with the stone knife, then bundled it up with the other grass clippings and brought the whole mess to No-Name.
  1076.  
  1077. “Why don’t you use your claws for that? They’re way sharper than my knife.”
  1078.  
  1079. “It’ll make a mess of my claws.”, she held one up and wiggled her talons at No-Name, “Do you want to suck grass gunk off my talons?”
  1080.  
  1081. No-Name gave her a wide grin, that Alpanu stuffed with a bundle of grass.
  1082.  
  1083. The gryphoness glared at the stallion as he chewed.
  1084.  
  1085. “Quit looking so smug.”
  1086.  
  1087. She drummed her claws on the ground.
  1088.  
  1089. “Can you finish that, already?”
  1090.  
  1091. No-Name chewed a little faster.
  1092.  
  1093. Alpanu kept glaring.
  1094.  
  1095. No-Name swallowed his mouthful of grass, “What’s wrong?”
  1096.  
  1097. “I’m hungry!”
  1098.  
  1099. “You didn’t find anything, yesterday?”
  1100.  
  1101. “No!”, she flopped onto her back, wings spread, “There’s nothing – NOTHING – out there. It’s all been picked clean! I checked every burrow and knot-hole, nothing.”, she covered her face with her claws, “Something got to them first. I found bits of fur and some splatters of blood, but it’s all gone.”, she rolled back to her feet, sighing. She stared walking over to where Bad Example was grazing.
  1102.  
  1103. Bad Example froze. The Gryphon was walking toward her with a mean look.
  1104.  
  1105. A hungry look.
  1106.  
  1107. “Food that talks is not food! Food that talks is not food!”
  1108.  
  1109. “What?”, Alpanu’s eyes widened, “I-”
  1110.  
  1111. “Food that talks is not food!”
  1112.  
  1113. “Oh, Exy, I didn’t mean-”
  1114.  
  1115. “Food that talks is not food!”, the Pony kept chanting.
  1116.  
  1117. “Bad Example, would you listen to me?!”
  1118.  
  1119. The clearing was silent.
  1120.  
  1121. “I’m hungry, but I’m not that hungry.”
  1122.  
  1123. Bad Example still looked like she was ready to bolt.
  1124.  
  1125. “I’ve only had half a squirrel in the past few days, but that’s no excuse to start eating your friends.”, her held a claw palm-up as she rambled, “Studies of survivors of extreme conditions show it takes-”, Alpanu turned her head away, “Sorry, I must look like I want to rip your liver out or something. I just wanted to tell you we need to move sooner than we thought.”
  1126.  
  1127. Bad Example stumbled back a few steps, nodding.
  1128.  
  1129. -
  1130.  
  1131. Bad Example’s hooves crunched on the gravel. No-Name balanced on her back.
  1132.  
  1133. “I’m pretty sure there’s a lake or river to the north, but I don’t want to leave you alone with whatever it is out there eating everything.”, Alpanu made slow circles around the pair on the ground, “Maybe we can make a detour and do some fishing.”
  1134.  
  1135. “I think I still have a hook and some line in my bag.”, No-Name pointed a leaf-bandaged hand at the satchel on his back.
  1136.  
  1137. “Hook? You mean bait a hook and throw it in the water, then sit around and wait?”, Alpanu laughed.
  1138.  
  1139. “Yeah, fishing.”, No-Name turned his head left and right to track the Gryphon.
  1140.  
  1141. “The most boring kind of fishing. For the dumbest of fish. How dumb does an animal have to be to bite down on a hook just because it has a little bit of food on it?”, her stomach grumbled.
  1142.  
  1143. “How hungry are you?”, he smiled.
  1144.  
  1145. “Yeah, yeah, I get it, but wouldn’t you rather swoop down on the fish,”, she was now hovering in front of Bad Example, “Feeling your talons sink into it, biting into it and feeling its guts slither down.”, she licked her beak.
  1146.  
  1147. Bad Example lowered her head, flattening her ears, and focused on the moon on the horizon in front of them, picking up her pace.
  1148.  
  1149. Alpanu floated in place as the the Pony forged ahead.
  1150.  
  1151. Alpanu sighed and turned around, “I’m sorry, Exy, I’m just hungry. Every time I try to think of anything else my brain just circles back around to: ‘Eat! Eat! Eat!’”
  1152.  
  1153. “Eeeeeeeeat!”, a loud buzzing voice came from the forest.
  1154.  
  1155. Something hopped out of the brush, flopping awkwardly as it landed. It was a mass of slimy green skin, lumpy and gouged with scars. It shoved itself upright, revealing a belly of paler green.
  1156.  
  1157. Bad Example half-turned, shuffling back from the thing. No-Name gripped with his bandaged arms and legs to stay on her back.
  1158.  
  1159. The thing was a frog, of a sort. It looked like someone had taken a frog and tried to turn it into a Human, but gave up at some point. Glassy eyes sat atop a flattened skull. The nose was nothing more than a couple of holes above the swollen-looking red lips that extended across the entire head. Spindly arms hung loosely off of sloping shoulders, long enough for the elbows to nearly touch the ground as the hands rested in the grass. The only thing well-formed about it was a pair of muscular legs folded on either side of the bloated torso. Another leap brought it halfway to Bad Example and No-Name, the floppy breasts on the top of its torso flying up and slapping against the jiggling belly as it landed.
  1160.  
  1161. It’s throat ballooned out, then deflated with another, “Eeeeeeeat!”
  1162.  
  1163. “No, no, go away!”, Bad Example had turned around fully, looking back to keep the Man-Frog in view, “Is there anything in this forest that doesn’t want to eat Ponies?”
  1164.  
  1165. “It’s a frog, right? Those don’t even have teeth. We should be okay.”, No-Name looked back, “Maybe it’s not after us at all. Maybe it’s just imitating things it hears.”
  1166.  
  1167. The thing’s lips squirmed apart, showing a mouth of yellowed, crooked teeth. It looked like many of them were missing, or never formed to begin with. Her throat swelled again, “Big eat!”, she croaked.
  1168.  
  1169. Bad Example raised an eyebrow at No-Name.
  1170.  
  1171. He smiled and admitted his mistake, “I guess you were right and I was wrong. Let’s get-”, and then whinnied as the Man-Frog latched onto his bandaged hoof.
  1172.  
  1173. The double-layer of improvised leaf-bandages kept the thing’s teeth from reaching flesh, but she was persistent. No-Name’s kicking worked the bandage loose, leaving her with a mouth filled with the bandage and its contents (except for No-Name’s hoof).
  1174.  
  1175. The Man-Frog’s eyes disappeared into her skull as she swallowed, then bugged out even farther than before, her eyes wide enough that the eyelids could scarcely be seen. Her lips sagged into a frown, then her jaw sagged into open-mouthed disgust.
  1176.  
  1177. The Man-Frog’s throat swelled and it let out an unnatural screech. It sounded like a mix of a wild boar dying from tree branch it had somehow driven through itself (Bad Example used to have nightmares about the time that wandered into the herd’s camp one night) and somepony gargling mud (Bad Weather used to do pretty much whatever you dared her to). She flailed her spindly arms around wildly, upset at her choice of appetizer, and, had she had the capacity to consider such things, the very concept of the sense of taste.
  1178.  
  1179. Bad Example gave a buck that connected solidly with the Man-Frog’s jaw. The pair of hooves shut her screeching mouth and sent her hurling back to the treeline. Brown and yellow leaves tumbled down in the wake of the Man-Frog’s skull impacting on a trunk. She fell onto her back at the roots, dead, or at least dead to the world.
  1180.  
  1181. “Exy! No-No! This way!”, called Alpanu.
  1182.  
  1183. More of the Man-Frogs hopped out of the forest. Not as fat as the first one, but no less ugly, and at least half a dozen of them.
  1184.  
  1185. Alpanu directed Bad Example from just at the treetops, “They’re clumsy, we can cut through the forest and get around them.”
  1186.  
  1187. “You’re a meat-eater, can’t you take them?”, Bad Example started trotting between the trees.
  1188.  
  1189. “Rule number one of carnivory: Don’t get into any fight you don’t have to, especially if you might lose.”
  1190.  
  1191. Bad Example picked up her pace, Alpanu pointing out Man-Frogs hidden in the undergrowth. She led a winding path through the forest.
  1192.  
  1193. “Something’s wrong. I don’t like this.”, Bad Example slowed to a halt before a stagnant pond, “This feels like a trap.”
  1194.  
  1195. “A trap? Fish fur! I’ve been outsmarted by a bunch of frogs!”, Alpanu landed alongside Bad Example.
  1196.  
  1197. Bones of dozens of unfortunate creatures littered the shore of the small pond. Sodden tufts of fur tossed at the edges as the water began to stir. Something big rose from the depths of the stagnant pond, algae clinging in clumps to the knobby green surface.
  1198.  
  1199. It was another one of the Man-Frogs, a big one. While the others were only about eye-to-eye with Bad Example, this was was half again that tall, and nearly twice as wide as it was high, most of it’s body an enormous gut. Coarse hairs stuck out of the skin beneath its mouth. It resembled a beard in the same way the aftermath of a forest fire resembles a forest.
  1200.  
  1201. “Eat!”, it croaked, the stubble on its throat becoming more sparse as its throat expanded.
  1202.  
  1203. “Eat.”, “Eat.”, agreed a couple of smaller males, emerging behind the larger one.
  1204.  
  1205. “I think I got this one.”
  1206.  
  1207. “What?”, hissed Alpanu to the obviously-insane Man-Pony.
  1208.  
  1209. “These things can talk, maybe I can reason with them.”, and he carefully slid off of Bad Example’s back, leaves on his still-bound hoof crinkling as stood unsteadily.
  1210.  
  1211. No-Name held up his arms, “No eat!”
  1212.  
  1213. “No eat?”, croaked the big frog, eyes becoming unfocused as it tried to process this alien concept.
  1214.  
  1215. “Got him thinking, that’s good.”
  1216.  
  1217. “Good.”, echoed one of the lesser frogs in the pond, the surrounding female Man-Frogs silent.
  1218.  
  1219. “You’re green, I’m green, we’ve got that in common. Why don’t we talk?”
  1220.  
  1221. “Green.”, “Green good.”, the lesser frogs croaked, then then big one focused on No-Name and gave a suspicious, “Talk.”
  1222.  
  1223. “I’m a man, and you’re a man, we don’t have to fight.”, the frog on the right echoed, “Man.”, No-Name continued, “You feel me?”
  1224.  
  1225. “Feel.”, but the big one inflated and let out a deafening, “Hungry!”, and a quieter, “Eat.”
  1226.  
  1227. “Woah, woah, we’re hungry, too.”, holding out his bandaged hands, “We’re looking for food. If you let us go, we can get more food and bring it to you.”
  1228.  
  1229. “More?”, “Hungry.”, the big Man-Frog’s lips parted, revealing a set of teeth in even worse shape than the female’s from before, “More food. More eat. Big eat!”, he wobbled happily, sending fetid waves through the pond. His eyes narrowed, dreaming of the bounty the Man-Pony would bring back.
  1230.  
  1231. No-Name smiled, “Now you’re feeling it!”
  1232.  
  1233. “Good man.”, “Good feel”, but this heartwarming moment was interrupted by a battered Man-Frog hopping into the clearing.
  1234.  
  1235. It was the big female. She had a swelling lump on the top of her head and her lips were even more puffy and purple than before. She lifted a ragged-nailed finger to point at the Pony, Man-Pony, and Gryphon, her swelling throat revealed a pair of hoof-shaped bruises and she let out the loudest gurgle-screech she could muster as her spindly arm shook with rage.
  1236.  
  1237. The big male’s eyes snapped open, all thoughts of peace gone from his tiny mind. His throat-pouch swelled and he let out his own gurgle-screech.
  1238.  
  1239. “Baby!”, he croaked. His legs worked as he tried to hop out of his pond, making slow progress. His long, flabby arms reached out for No-Name, “Kill! Kill! Eat! Big eat!”, he croaked.
  1240.  
  1241. Alpanu tackled the big frog as he made it out of the pond, making him jiggle, but little else. The slimy wall of pale green flesh fell on her, burying here under the flabalanche.
  1242.  
  1243. Bad Example readied a buck as the female hoped toward her. She leaned back and shielded her bruised face, but Bad Example went low, knocking the wind out of the Man-Frog and doubling her over. Another of the females jumped in and bit into her flank, but the Pony brought her head around and the headbutt send the frog sprawling.
  1244.  
  1245. The big frog was still reaching for No-Name, his throat-pouch swelling for another bellow. The shriek turned into a raspy wheeze as Alpanu’s beak sank into the ballooning skin and popped it. Wild kicking of her legs started to shred the Man-Frog’s belly, spilling out a wave of yellow fat and then a wave of red as her claws found arteries.
  1246.  
  1247. No-Name was on the defensive, his hands and hooves still sore and weak, throwing punches and kicks that looked threatening, but didn’t connect, to keep the frogs distracted as Bad Example delivered kicks that sent them flying.
  1248.  
  1249. Alpanu emerged from under the oversized frog. Painted eartips to tailtip in red, she spread her wings and let out a shrieking cry.
  1250.  
  1251. The two lesser males leapt from the pond in opposite directions, fleeing with most of the females following them.
  1252.  
  1253. The big female crawled on her belly, “Kill!”, and lunged to bite into No-Name’s leg. The Man-Pony fell over screaming as the dirty, jagged teeth broke through his hide.
  1254.  
  1255. Bad Example reared up, bringing a hoof down on the base of the Man-Frog’s skull, and she went limp.
  1256.  
  1257. -
  1258.  
  1259. “But, but, food that talks is not food!”, Bad Example said again.
  1260.  
  1261. “Probably not food.”, corrected Alpanu.
  1262.  
  1263. They had used a couple of Alpanu’s wound-healing potions. Bad Example’s sinuses still buzzed with the smell of peppermint.
  1264.  
  1265. “But it’s cannibalism!”, the mare was making little headway convincing the gryphoness not to eat the remains of their opponents.
  1266.  
  1267. “Last I checked, I was neither Human, nor frog.”
  1268.  
  1269. “Can’t you eat something else?”
  1270.  
  1271. “I would,”, Alpanu waved a meat-laden stick at the severed head of the big Man-Frog, “but our friend here already ate everything.”
  1272.  
  1273. “Ugh!”, she sighed in defeat, turning to No-Name, “What about you? You’re Human.”
  1274.  
  1275. The potions had sealed their wounds, but she could see the bruises in the hairless patches where the open wounds were on his leg,
  1276.  
  1277. No-Name piled some more globules of fat on the skewered meat he had roasting over a low fire, “Yeah, but I’m only half-Human, and these things are only half-Human, so that’s only, like, quarter-cannibalism.”
  1278.  
  1279. -
  1280. The Sun zipped up from the east, then zipped right back down to the west. The Moon followed suit, making a full “day” in less than a minute. The Sun rose once more, setting just as fast, then the Moon again. Day. Night. Day. Night. Day. Night. Day. Night. Day. Night.
  1281.  
  1282. It was fraying on Bad Example’s already-frayed nerves.
  1283.  
  1284. “I still can’t believe you did that.”
  1285.  
  1286. Alpanu was walking along slightly in front of Bad Example, keeping herself and No-Name’s satchel full of wrapped-up roasted meat downwind of the mare. She looked over her shoulder, “I had to. He was going to kill us. You killed some of them, too.”
  1287.  
  1288. The Earth Pony and the Gryphon stared at each other as they walked for a full “day”, Alpanu’s face disappearing into shadow and revealed again as the Sun rose behind Bad Example.
  1289.  
  1290. “You know what I mean. You didn’t have to eat him.”
  1291.  
  1292. Alpanu turned away with a sigh, “I did.”, she adjusted her wings, shifting the meat-laden pack resting on her withers.
  1293.  
  1294. “No, you didn’t!”
  1295.  
  1296. The gryphoness rose into the air a bit, so she could hold her head in both claws, “How to put this in terms you would understand…?”
  1297.  
  1298. “I’m not stupid.”, the mare exaggerated slightly.
  1299.  
  1300. “It’s not that you’re stupid, you’re just not a carnivore.”, the turned around to point a talon at Bad Example, just as the moon was setting, pausing to give the Gryphon a cratered halo, then finishing its descent, “Look at it this way: What if there were a plant that sucked up the nutrients from every other plant around it. Now imagine this plant goes around and wilts all the other plants you can eat and becomes bigger and meaner in the process, letting it suck dry the other plants for miles around. When you finally find this thing and kill it, you’d be really hungry, right? Wouldn’t you eat it.”
  1301.  
  1302. “That’s different.”, Bad Example stamped, sending gravel scattering out in a circle, “This was a person, not a plant. Besides, plants like that don’t exist.”
  1303.  
  1304. “Yeah they do – ah.”, No-Name turned away as he was blinded by a sudden sunrise, “They’re not around here anymore because giant crabs pulled them all up and took them away.”
  1305.  
  1306. Bad Example had to stop for a moment, “You’re making stuff up.”
  1307.  
  1308. “Heh, yeah, how could you tell?”
  1309.  
  1310. “That was even sillier than what you usually say.”, Bad Example resumed walking with the sunrise, “I don’t see why you’re taking her side, she’ll rip off your penis-”
  1311.  
  1312. “-pancreas-”, a flatly-intoned correction slipped in.
  1313.  
  1314. “-just like she will with that other Man-Pony!”, the moon setting with her words.
  1315.  
  1316. “Is that?”, Alpanu landed and started walking back, toward Bad Example, who stopped with a snort, “I didn’t mean that. I was just...”, she tapped a talon on the pebbles, “Okay, here’s how it happened:”
  1317.  
  1318. -
  1319.  
  1320. Alpanu had made it across the ocean, barely. She had glided down onto a concrete pier that made some disturbing noises as she landed, but held up, with the last of her strength. Since then, she had to sneak around this tribe of Man-Ponies that she had discovered still lived in the island of Manehatten.
  1321.  
  1322. “Hi-ya!”
  1323.  
  1324. Especially this green one that seemed to make it her mission to throw a rock into every shadow in this former-city.
  1325.  
  1326. But she wasn’t the real threat, that would be the bluish-gray one with his white mane in a damn pompadour, of all things, he seemed to have at least half of a brain behind that silly-looking little horn of his. He was directing the others to search, getting closer and closer to the bush Alpanu was hiding in.
  1327.  
  1328. She couldn’t fly away, her wings were still cramping, and she was too tired to outrun them. And that Man-Pony on the top of the building across from the U-shaped brick building the bush was growing in the mouth of had just seen her.
  1329.  
  1330. Alpanu cocked her head and give the green Man-Pony a big smile and a wave. The Man-Pony seemed surprised but he returned her smile and wave. She froze when a rock whizzed past her beak.
  1331.  
  1332. “Sis, you’re going to use up every rock in the city at this rate.”, the pink mare was laughing at the green mare.
  1333.  
  1334. The green Man-Pony stallion above them was looking around frantically. He vaulted over a firewall between two buildings and put his shoulder to a chimney that toppled into the street two stories down.
  1335.  
  1336. The thunder of crashing brick rang through the city. In the wake of the crash, into the silence that followed, “My bad!”, the stallion poked his head over the edge of the roof, “Everybody okay?”
  1337.  
  1338. The blue-gray Man-Unicorn took a deep breath and ran his hands through the mane at the sides of his head. Raising one hand, he snapped his fingers and pointed a finger in the general direction of the green Man-Earth-Pony. The noise and commotion of all of the other Man-Ponies rushing off to harass the chimney-dropper made perfect cover for Alpanu as she scaled the side of the U-shaped building, aided by a few flaps of her cramping wings.
  1339.  
  1340. She was in the clear. Except for that Man-Pegasus she had tackled as she came over into the roof. It seemed he was too distracted watching the green stallion running and leaping from roof to roof to get out of her way.
  1341.  
  1342. She wasn’t in the shape or the mood for any decent fight, especially against an opponent that could fly when she couldn’t, but this was a stallion that she was on top of.
  1343.  
  1344. “Hey, there,”, she raised slowly and as steadily as she could, “I’d love to play, but I don’t have the time right now.”, hopefully this one would be as risk-adverse as some other males she had known, “But when we do, I’ll be sure to rip out your pancreas and eat it – you can watch me do it if you want.”, her wings spreading slightly to widen her profile.
  1345.  
  1346. The yellow stallion glanced down and back up to the gryphoness, his hands covering his crotch.
  1347.  
  1348. “Oh,”, she puffed out her chest, leaning back slightly to give the stallion an avenue of escape, “That’s an idea,”, she tapped the side of her beak with a talon, “I can rip off your testicles and shove them in your nares. What do you say?”
  1349.  
  1350. -
  1351.  
  1352. “I say: What happened to ‘no funny business’?”
  1353.  
  1354. Alpanu stopped her story, looking over to Bad Example before noticing something nudging the fur of her belly. She looked down at a grinning No-Name, lying on his back beneath her, and jumped back, off and away from him. She sat a few paces away from No-Name, rump on the ground, forelegs stiff and straight, wings folded tight, her expression a perfect neutral. Except for the bright blush on each cheek that threatened to meet in the middle.
  1355.  
  1356. Alpanu curled her tail around her legs, “I was telling a story.”
  1357.  
  1358. “Tell it again!”, The sun swept across No-Name’s grin.
  1359.  
  1360. Alpanu rolled her eyes, “Anyway, that Man-Pegasus took off, like I had hoped.”
  1361.  
  1362. “But you were going to do that stuff to him!”, Bad Example was still defiant.
  1363.  
  1364. “No, I was just trying to scare him. It’s not really in me to hurt a tom, no matter how much he deserves it.”, Alpanu stretched out in the grass, resting her head on her claws, “You said you have a brother, right?”
  1365.  
  1366. The mare nodded.
  1367.  
  1368. “You know how it is, then. You have to scare them a little, sometimes, to get them to respect you. If you don’t, he’ll be shredding you for fluff to line his nest.”
  1369.  
  1370. “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”, Bad Example glanced away as the sun rose, then back to Alpanu as the sun set, “You really don’t want to hurt Ponies?”
  1371.  
  1372. “Nope.”
  1373.  
  1374. “Pinkie Promise?”
  1375.  
  1376. Alpanu drew an X through her chest-fluff, “Cross my heart,”, flapped her wings, “hope to fly,”, and brought her cupped claw to her face, “stick a cupcake in my eye.”
  1377.  
  1378. Bad Example let out a sigh of relief and started breathing again.
  1379.  
  1380. “So you trust me, again?”
  1381.  
  1382. The Pony rushed up and hugged the Gryphon, who tensed up a bit, “Of course I do! I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”
  1383.  
  1384. “Great! Because I want to get us to Ponyville fast, but you’ll have to trust me.”
  1385.  
  1386. -
  1387.  
  1388. Bad Example found herself seated behind the wings of a Gryphon, leaning forward to wrap her hooves around the Man-Pony seated in front of the Gryphon’s wings. The Gryphon, herself, was carrying them higher than they already were, which had to be at least a thousand hooves.
  1389.  
  1390. “I’m still trusting you!”
  1391.  
  1392. “Don’t worry!”, both gryphoness and mare were shouting above the wind, “I just have to get high enough to find...”, Alpanu swept out a wide circle, “There it is! This wind should take us right to Ponyville.”
  1393.  
  1394. Bad Example stuck her nose over No-Name’s shoulder, “Are you sure?”
  1395.  
  1396. “As sure as I can be.”, Alpanu pointed at a tall mountain in the range to the east, it’s peak was even higher than they were flying, and there was a huge mass of crystal sticking out of one of its shoulders that looked like a giant sculpture of a gnarled tree, or a misshapen hand gripping something, “Do you know the name of that mountain?”
  1397.  
  1398. “Billy.”
  1399.  
  1400. Bad Example leaned away slightly so she could look at No-Name’s face, “You know the names of the mountains all the way over here?”
  1401.  
  1402. “No, he doesn’t.”, Alpanu craned her neck around to stare at No-Name in disbelief, “’Billy’? What kind of name is ‘Billy’ for a mountain?”
  1403.  
  1404. “He looks like a ‘Billy’ to me.”
  1405.  
  1406. “Maybe it was named after a Goat.”, Bad Example suggested, “They climb stuff all the time. Maybe a Goat named it after himself.”
  1407.  
  1408. “No, it wasn’t, because that is Mount Canterhorn.”, she pointed to some large buildings dwarfed by the ‘tree’, “The site of what’s left of Canterlot. Ponyville was south of it.”, she regained some lost altitude as she brought her focus back to flying, “We caught a north wind. We’ll be there in no time at all.”
  1409.  
  1410. They glided south, circling around the big mountain. The “tree” of the mountain stayed lit with a pale blue glow that became visible when the sun set.
  1411.  
  1412. Bad Example looked to the northeast. The valley they walked along led up to the ridge of mountains they went under. She wondered if those Man-Ponies were still after them, and if they were, how close were they? Thunder rumbled in the distance. She shuddered from the thoughts and the chill of the air at this height. Another rumble of thunder came, then a trio in rapid succession.
  1413.  
  1414. “That sounds like a heck of a storm, but I don’t see any clouds, do you?”, shouted No-Name, calling Bad Example’s mind out of the worried circles it was running in.
  1415.  
  1416. “I’m pretty sure that’s not a thunderstorm.”, Alpanu was focusing on something in the rolling plains beside the forest they were flying over.
  1417.  
  1418. “If it’s not a thunderstorm, what is it?”, and No-Name’s question was answered when the sun set again. Flashes of light burst in plains below, followed by rumbles of thunder, dozens of flashes turned into a continuous rumble, “Woah.”
  1419.  
  1420. “Al, why are heading toward somepony who’s throwing around lightning magic? Shouldn’t we be going away from them?”, Bad Example wanted to run around, or at least run in place, but sitting on the back of a Gryphon made that impractical.
  1421.  
  1422. “We need to know who that is. They’re between us and Ponyville. If they’re heading the same way, I want to know all we can about them when they sneak up on us.”, Alpanu circled high above, then made a rapid descent after a sharp turn as night covered them.
  1423.  
  1424. The Gryphon unloaded her cargo and lead them toward the now-silent mysterious party. They crept forward under the darkness, moving from cover to cover in the short time the moon was up.
  1425.  
  1426. When they got close enough, they could see a wagon, and half of another wagon, both with coppery-red tubes mounted on posts sticking up from the backs. All around, Unicorns were milling about. Some were bandaging injured Ponies, while most were moving around rune-painted boxes.
  1427.  
  1428. They did their best to not rustle the drifts of brown leaves piled up around the bushes while they watched the Unicorns.
  1429.  
  1430. Bad Example looked from the Gryphon to Unicorns and back, “Who are they?”, she whispered.
  1431.  
  1432. Alpanu nodded at the wagons, “See that flag?”, a dark blue flag with gold and silver embroidery shifted in the breeze on a post at the front of the wagon, “That’s a flag of Canterlot. Their war flag.”
  1433.  
  1434. Bad Example squinted to make out gold and silver winged unicorns circling a light blue shield in the center of the flag.
  1435.  
  1436. “Canterlot? The old kingdom? They’re not evil, right?”
  1437.  
  1438. Alpanu shook her head, “Anyone carrying around a flag is trouble, I wouldn’t trust them.”
  1439.  
  1440. “They’re at war? Who are they fighting?”, No-Name looked around at the sundered trees, pits in the ground, and the occasional splash of blood in the browning autumn grass, “And where’s the lightning-mage dude?”
  1441.  
  1442. “I don’t know, I don’t know, and there is no lightning mage, that was the cannons.”, Alpanu rolled her eyes, following the path of the moon as it slipped overhead again, “Now be quiet. We need to find out everything we can about these Ponies. That’s the first rule of carnivory: Always find out as much as you can about any possible opponent.”
  1443.  
  1444. “Okay.”
  1445.  
  1446. Bad Example glanced down, “You said the lightning was from,”, she lifted a forehoof and wiggled it, “’cannon’. Is that some special thunder magic that uses hooves?”
  1447.  
  1448. Alpanu smiled, “No, not that kind of cannon.”, she put a forelimb around the Pony, “Do you see those big bronze tubes on the back of the wagons?”
  1449.  
  1450. Bad Example nodded.
  1451.  
  1452. “Do you see those big boxes the Unicorns are hauling around?”, Alpanu pointed a talon.
  1453.  
  1454. Bad Example nodded.
  1455.  
  1456. “Do you see that stupid Man-Pony sneaking up on the Unicorn on top of the wagon?”
  1457.  
  1458. Bad Example nodded, “Should we…?”
  1459.  
  1460. “Don’t move. They’re looking this way.”
  1461.  
  1462. -
  1463.  
  1464. The mare’s light blue mane stirred in the wind, amber eyes scanning the treeline for any movement.
  1465.  
  1466. “Woah.”
  1467.  
  1468. The Unicorn’s silver-trimmed, blue-enameled plate armor rattled as she shifted to look at the source of the voice.
  1469.  
  1470. “Hi!”, No-Name grinned at the dappled-gray mare as she nearly tripped over the helmet lying at her hooves.
  1471.  
  1472. “Hi, there?”, she glanced back at the rest of the gunnery crew, all equally frozen in shock.
  1473.  
  1474. “What’s that thingy?”, the Man-Pony pointed a green finger at the long bronze tube with a circle of metal sticking up from the closer end.
  1475.  
  1476. “My cannon?”, the Unicorn tapped one of the stylized flames jutting from the ring.
  1477.  
  1478. “Yeah, is this where the lightning was coming from? How does it work?”
  1479.  
  1480. “Oh...”, then she grinned just about the evilest grin that a Pony could grin, “You want to see it in action?”
  1481.  
  1482. No-Name returned with a smile that was considerably more genuine, “Sure!”
  1483.  
  1484. “Well,”, the Unicorn reached a hoof behind her and made a circular motion. The other unicorns started rushing around one of the rune-inscribed ammo boxes, “These are the levers you use to aim the cannon.”, she tapped one of the pipes jutting from the sturdy-looking collection of gears supporting the large tube. No-Name immediately began playing with them, making the heavy machine wiggle around.
  1485.  
  1486. The unicorn’s smile became strained, but did not falter, “And you aim it with this sight, here.”, tapping the smaller tube set atop the large tube, inside the circle of metal.
  1487.  
  1488. “Shiny! Is that silver?”, No-Name pushed one of the levers.
  1489.  
  1490. click
  1491.  
  1492. The Unicorn’s eye twitched as the Man-Pony dry-fired her precious gun, “No. That’s nickle.”, a quick glance back at her compatriots showed that they had unloaded a pallet of paper-wrapped cylinders and had brought them up to the wagon, “Now, don’t touch that firing lever again.”, click, “Yes, that one, don’t touch it.”, she said through the clenched teeth of her smile, “I just need to dog that lever-”, thunk, the ring of metal turned slightly “No, that’s the selector.”, skrink, “Ah.”, the Man-Pony wouldn’t stop touching her cannon. Why is the Man-Pony still touching her cannon? At least he had opened the breech, so this will be over, soon.
  1493.  
  1494. “We just need to load up the chambers with shot.”
  1495.  
  1496. A paper-wrapped package floated toward the cannon, wrapped in a pale pink aura. No-Name plucked it out of the air, leaving one of the armored mares with crossed eyes and a hoof rubbing her horn, “Ooh, what’s this?”
  1497.  
  1498. “That’s the shot and powder. Go ahead and put it in the chamber.”
  1499.  
  1500. No-Name stuck a finger in one of the soot-coated tubes mounted in the ring.
  1501.  
  1502. “Yes, that’s the chamber.”
  1503.  
  1504. No-Name added a second finger and wiggled both of them while waggling his eyebrows at the mare.
  1505.  
  1506. “Just put it in – No, the other way around.”
  1507.  
  1508. “Sorry.”, No-Name wiggled the charge out and put it back in shot-first.
  1509.  
  1510. Soon all twelve chambers were filled.
  1511.  
  1512. “Good, now, GET HIM!”
  1513.  
  1514. No-Name was thrown off of the wagon, engulfed in swirling aura.
  1515.  
  1516. Clack, skrink, the Unicorn closed the breech and started aiming the cannon at the green stallion as he floated in the air, “It’s bad enough that those Diamond Dogs keep causing trouble, now they’re working with Man-Ponies?”
  1517.  
  1518. “Woah! Woah! I’m not working with any dogs!”
  1519.  
  1520. “Sure, sure.”, she lined up the sights with the center of the Man-Pony’s silhouette, “I’m sure you and your friends in the bushes had nothing to do with that ambush you caught us in.”
  1521.  
  1522. “But we’re just looking for Ponyville! We’re not ambushing anybody!”
  1523.  
  1524. “Yeah, yeah, sure you’re not. Die, corpse-eater!”, and she pushed the firing lever.
  1525.  
  1526. click
  1527.  
  1528. click-click-click
  1529.  
  1530. “What the?”, the Unicorn frantically worked the levers, switching to the other chambers.
  1531.  
  1532. thunk, click, thunk, click, thunk, click-click-click
  1533.  
  1534. “What...what did you do to it?!”
  1535.  
  1536. The gearing gave a whine of metal-on-metal that sounded like the whimper of a dying animal. Then the whole cannon pitched forward, falling to the ground and burying its barrel in the dirt. The ring fell off and, with the sound of the world’s most spiteful gong, the breech and chambers flew off and scattered.
  1537.  
  1538. As the Ponies gawked at the pile of scrap that was, until a moment ago, their most effective weapon, No-Name tugged on the aura holding him, sending it skyward and propelling himself earthward, where he landed painfully on his tail.
  1539.  
  1540. A Unicorn clad in blue armor that had gold trim, instead of silver, ran toward the wagon, “Celestia’s Teats!”, she whipped off her helmet to properly glare at her subordinate, blond hair waving in the breeze and her blue eyes glittering with the passing sun, “Private Sunstroke! What do you think you’re doing?!”
  1541.  
  1542. “But, but, I’m a sergeant.”
  1543.  
  1544. “Not when I’m done with you! Why in this good, green earth did you do that to your cannon?”
  1545.  
  1546. “It wasn’t me!”, she pointed a hoof, “It was that Man-Pony.”, but he had already disappeared into the forest.

Dregs of Humanity Ch0 v1.0

by Forlorn_Zebranky

Dregs of Humanity Ch1 v1.1

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Dregs of Humanity Ch2 v1.0

by Forlorn_Zebranky

Dregs of Humanity, Crystal Logs: Rainbow Dash

by Forlorn_Zebranky

Dregs of Humanity, Crystal Logs: Twilight Sparkle

by Forlorn_Zebranky