Holding area for previous monthly side stories.
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Full Circle - Mauti Damu
Mauti stepped slowly and carefully through the underbrush of the Everfree Forest. It was clear why Ponykind found the place so hostile- or rather, why the forest found Ponykind so distasteful. The entire forest was alive, like a single, massive organism. Mauti closed her eyes and slid her hooves sensuously along the trunk of the nearest tree. She could feel the very pulse of the forest beneath her hooves, a visceral, primal flow of magic that the ponies were too arrogant to acknowledge. Or perhaps, too fearful. It didn't matter, not really. For Mauti, a stroll through the forest, guided only by her own desire and the forest's innate magic, was a deep, almost visceral pleasure, a rush of feeling for which words are incapable of describing, filling her mind and body even as it connected her to the life of the forest- and to all life within it.
And in that connection, Mauti could infuse the forest with her innermost desire. The one thing, above all else, that drove her every action, that consumed her every thought and dream. To return to a homeland, cleansed of all but her own people, her own blood. And with her entire family and tribe dead and dust, there was only one way to truly repopulate her ancestral home, without corrupting it with the crippling weakness of the ponies she loathed with every fiber of her being. It had taken the better part of a year to find somepony who knew of the old legend, and a good two weeks to coerce it out of him. coerce, not torture- Mauti was not so stupid as to believe torture produced viable information. Torturing somepony only made them tell what they thought you wanted to hear, not what they knew. The only way to get at that was to make them want to tell you. And this particular legend, of magics far older than any pony, was only known to the oldest lineages, those among ponykind whose blood traced back beyond the warring pony tribes. And even that was not enough, only unicorns- the creatures Mauti hated most of all- possessed knowledge of magic. She had to find a unicorn, from an old family, who knew of the primal forces that ruled Equestria when Celestia was no more than the word used to describe the sky beyond it. Imagine her surprise when, after months of research, of interrogating friend and foe alike, she came to discover that she had known this unicorn- the son of a long line of unicorns- the entire time. Flame Mane, as it turned out, was her best lead.
She had tried bribing him- a potion that would regrow his horn, in exchange for what he know of the old stories. When that had failed, he tried bartering- giving him back his horn, and the pile of gems that had paid his wife's ransom- even though in so doing she had made an enemy of the only male on the planet she had ever held feelings for. Tide had nearly killed her when he found out- as it was, he threw her (literally, in this case) off his ship. With nowhere to go and no allies, Mauti was moved by desperation to try surrendering to him- approaching Flame Mane, head low, and turning herself in as a prisoner. She had seen for herself that even griffons who turned on their own kind were treated as honored allies. Unfortunately, Flame was still upset that she had decidedly crashed his wedding. No, emprisonment alone would not turn his head. She offered him tactical information- names of Council members, names of traitorous ponies, maps, battle plans, she had even gone so far as to use her skills to help deliver his firstborn. That had proven to be his weakness. He no longer saw her as an enemy, but as a friend. Mauti still spent most of her time imprisoned, but from her cell, she could talk to Flame- she told him sob stories of her home and tribe, she regaled him with tales of battles against all manner of nightmarish creatures in the pursuit of totems and materials for her magic. She listened with a seemingly-sympathetic ear as he told her of his own family, the struggles he had been through, and the hopes and dreams he held for the future.
It was infuriatingly slow work, earning this stallion's trust. Anypony else, and Mauti could have simply seduced them into spilling their guts, then spilled their blood and left. But noooo, not this stallion. He bristled whenever her voice turned even a sliver towards sultry, his hackles raised whenever the subject of physicality came up, entire days of effort earning his trust could be wiped away with a poorly chosen phrase. No, sex alone was clearly not going to be enough. Not this time. It didn't seem like Flame truly wanted anything... until Mauti discovered that his little daughter was ill, in a way that not even blood magic could mitigate. That meant that he did want something, after all...
"A pity nopony remembers where the Mirror Pond is," Mauti said, feigning concern. "My people had a legend- on the banks of the Mirror Pond grew a flower that could grant the greatest desire of whomever consumed it- but it only grew on the mirrored side of the pond. To get it, one had to become duplicated. One copy would get its deepest, fondest wish, the other would remain in the world on the other side of the mirror, watching helplessly, as the first copy achieved everything they both could want. My people believed that the Mirror Pond was a reflection of a whole other world, the contact point between this twin realm and our own, and to duplicate oneself was to drag the twin from that realm into our own. To get this flower, then, would mean switching places with the twin from the other world- while they lived your life and reaped the benefits of all your deepest desires, you would remain in the twin world, helpless to do anything but watch somepony else get everything you most want," Mauti told him. "Some said it was just a story, meant to teach us of the folly of wasting time wishing for things instead of appreciating what we have. But I believe this flower exists. I heard ponies, and even some zebras, claim that they had seen it. If I only knew where to look," she added, slumping against the bars of her cell forlornly.
She looked at Flame from the corner of her eye. His face was rife with conflicting emotions0 he was clearly waging a war within himself between his desire to cure his foal, and his desire to see Mauti behind bars. As she knew it would, the side wanting to cure his daughter won out. "I've... I've heard my uncles mention something like that, once, when I was young. They thought it was in the Everfree Forest- but, nopony in their right mind would set hoof in there. It's dangerous- there's all sorts of hostile beasts and massive monsters. It's like, the forest itself is just one big monster," he said, his voice trailing off a bit. Mauti stomped her hoof to get him to snap back to reality. She could feel it, she was close now, and didn't want any more delays. "There was a rhyme, too... hang on. It was something about vines... "Where the brambles are thickest, there you will find, a pond beyond the most twisted of vines. That's the first part of the rhyme, the only part that says where it is. The rest goes 'And into her own reflection she stared, yearning for one whose reflection she shared, and solemnly sweared not to be scared, at the prospect of being doubly mared.' I think that means it only works on females? I don't know, since nopony ever actually found it. I guess that's not much to go on."
"Not anything to go on, really. I'm stuck in here, remember? Not that you really need me. I bet you can navigate a massive hostile forest filled with gigantic magical pony-eating beasts just fine on your own," Mauti said, miffed. Flame hesitated- clearly torn about releasing her. But his desire for this magical cure overcame his apprehension, and a moment later, his telekinesis grabbed the lock on her cell door, fitted a key into it, and let her out of her cell. Mauti smiled broadly at him as she approached him. He smiled back, and turned around to lead her out. About halfway through, he must have realized how stupid it was to turn his back to her- but it was too late. Mauti sprang at him like a spring-loaded tiger, easily easily wrapping herself around his body and pulling her forelegs tight against his throat. "I really must thank you, Flame. I'd begun to lose hope that the Mirror Pond even existed. I'd have felt quite the fool then, spending six months locked in here surrounded by pony filth, all for nothing," she said, whispering in his ear. He struggled at first, but grew weaker in her arms as he slipped towards unconsciousness. Mauti had no desire to kill him, not yet. She leaned in close, a hair's breadth from his ear, for her parting gift to him. "Oh, and there was never an enchanted flower that can grant wishes, not even in the Mirror Pond. Like everything else to leave my lips these last few months, it was a lie, calculated to get you to lower your guard and trust me," she said, before slowly teasing the rim of his ear with her tongue. "We shall see each other soon, dear Flame. And when we do, I want you to remember this betrayal- I want to see the hate in your eyes. I want to see what strength you have, as all you have shown me was your frailty." With that parting shot, she squeezed a little harder, felt Flame go limp, and dropped him like a sack of potatoes.
Compared to spending six months in a jail cell trying to get Flame to trust her, the Everfree was a piece of cake. The forest gladly guided her to the place she sought, her will sent out into the forest, and its very life energies sent back into her, showing her exactly where to go. A large boulder stood in her way when finally the Mirror Pond lay in reach, but it was no match for some enchanted blood and a little bit more patience. Finally, Mauti trotted down the winding path, towards the Mirror Pond itself. The words came to her easily as she gazed into her own fierce red eyes. "And into her own reflection she stared, yearning for one whose reflection she shared, and solemnly sweared not to be scared, at the prospect of being doubly mared!" she said, plunging into the pool. A split second later, a pair of striped hooves pulled her out of the pool, grinning at her with the same glint of madness it its bright red eyes as she had worn since her family had died. It really was the only way to repopulate her homeland with the people who rightly belonged there- since she was the only one left, she would have to be the only one there. The only being Mauti could ever truly love, after all, was herself.
Playing the Game
Real Deal couldn't help but smile when he saw the Royal Guard enter the interrogation room. Not quite a rookie, but still wet behind the ears. And he wears the armor well.
"Real Deal," the Guard began, sitting across the table. "Black market dealer, information broker, and lieutenant of the crimelord Fence. You're a real piece of work."
"I've paid my taxes and aided the Royal Guards enough times to practically be a hero," Deal replied casually. " Sure, they can't go throwing medals at little old me, but the Guard usually does the next best thing and doesn't arrest me."
The guard snorted at that. "Yeah, that'd work, if you didn't go and kill two stallions last night just outside one of Fence's little hangout spots."
The broker rubbed a hoof against his temple. "Self-defense. If you checked their IDs, you'd know they were Mafia scum. They've been mad at Fence for a long while now, trying to get at him through me." A half-truth. Really, the Mafia had been pissed because he-- Deal, in this case-- had a few nice things stolen a week prior. Apparently he miscalculated and the Don wanted them back.
"No love for the Mafia, then?"
Deal gave a roll of his eyes. "Nopony really wants to do business with the Mafia; they just have a habit of making things difficult when they aren't involved in the operation. The only solace is that Manehattan has one of the saner branches; you couldn't pay me to socialize with the branches in Filly or Trottingham."
"So..." The Guard raised his eyebrow. "If there's no love for the Mafia, then surely you wouldn't mind helping us in our latest operation against them."
"You're going after the mob?" The unicorn whistled. "You, Officer..."
"You, Officer Tyrfang," Deal continued, "are a braver stallion than most. And you manage to wear that armor decently."
"That's not a yes-or-no ans... wait, what?" Tyrfang looked perplexed.
"Never mind that, just an objective observation." The broker waved his hoof. "Anyway, as much as I would love the Don to stop breathing down my neck-- and really, I would love that-- I'm not sure I see what's in this for me."
Tyrfang scrutinized him for a moment. "The murder charges will get waved off, for one. Assuming it was self-defense."
"Of course they were." Deal leaned forward, tapping his cuffed hooves together. And here's the gamble. "But I think we can make it a sweeter deal."
"You're not really in a position to demand anything," the pegasus observed dryly.
"Just hear me out," Deal replied. "Drop the charges, and say yes to a cup of coffee."
"You. Me. Tomorrow. Go out, get coffee. I'll pay. We can make small talk, get to know each other." Deal shrugged. "A small sacrifice of time on your part in the name of justice, wouldn't you say?"
Tyrfang was silent for a moment, expression suggesting that he was unhappy for some reason or another, and then he sighed. "Fine."
"It's a date," Deal smiled.
A short while later, after it was agreed that a folder full of critical information be left at a drop-off point the same time Deal and Tyrfang were to meet elsewhere for their arrangement, Real Deal walked out of the Royal Guard station unshackled and feeling like a million bits. Sure, things were going to get a bit shaken up when the Manehattan mob came tumbling down, but he kept his name clean, struck a blow against a powerful foe, and managed to score a date with a Royal Guard.
Whether that last thing went anywhere was a complete unknown, and just a bit of a risk; it could lead to the broker's downfall, it could provide a perfect source within the RGs, and-- an outside chance-- it could end up being an actual relationship. That kind of a gamble was common in the Equestrian underworld; that was they game they all played. And Real Deal was not only good at the game, but he enjoyed almost every minute of it. Today was no exception.
Swords and Arrows
It was Hearths Warming Eve and the holiday party at the Golden Griffon was just winding down. Archer watched mindlessly as various ponies,griffons and zebra hybrids paired off and left the meeting place. Alone at the bar she just took another small sip of her cider and pondered going back to the base and cleaning her equipment...again.
It was sad. In the corner, a sad sack of a pony was lying face down, sobbing into his twentieth some mug of cider.
"*sniff* Wh-what happened..." He blubbered. "Why? ...Why did she go with... *Hic* with hiiiiiiiiim!"
He threw the table halfway across the room, before curling up in a ball, and continuing to sob. It wasn't too hard to figure out what happened to any ponies watching outside. After all, they did see Spirit leave with Mustang, along with the other pairings. Razor and Breaker, Clockwork and Lewis, the usual crowd. The guard of the night took a look at the sad lump of pony and scooted over to him with a sigh. "Maybe because they had a connection? Maybe she likes taller stallions. Maybe he can hold his cider better." She paused and took another small sip. "Or maybe, just maybe it's because they happen to have a foal together?" Tyrfang looked, and his eye twitched at the mare's words. He slammed his mug down, hard enough for it to crack. "What in Tartarus would you know about that?! How would you know that that's why when you've never been with either!"
He grabbed another mug, and started swigging it down. It was dribbling down his front, and continued dribbling down as he moved on to his twenty second, and the twenty third. Archer shrugged and placed a hoof in front of glass number 24. "Observation. And common sense. It's what most ponies have when they haven't downed...however many drinks it is you've had. Get a hold of yourself, soldier. Romance is just a distraction in war anyway." Tyrfang snorted, and started laughing. "Yeah, yeah! Pfft, because you're definitely a better soldier because of it. Why do yo fight then? Because you definitely wouldn't have somepony special to come home to do ya?!"
And despite the fact that Archer was blocking the way to his next mug, he still tried reaching for it anyways.In her tipsy state Archer paused for a moment, her brain taking awhile to come back with a response to Tyrfang's latest quip. "Because duty. I don't have to care about coming home or not. I might be less inclined to take risks if I had somepony special to come home to. So yeah, it does make me a better soldier." She finally said, pulling her hoof around the cider that the pegasus was reaching for and started sipping it.
"Feh, duty." Tyrfang said, spitting the word out. "'S a load of *yay*. Duty just tells ya to go jump off a bridge without questioning the pony that told ya to. Duty just tells ya to die for your country, rather than to protect your country!""Fight to protect the land your family will grow up in! Fight to protect the future your children will be born into! Without that, you're just a mindless drone fighting for nothing!" He spouted, while pounding a hoof on the table. At this point, the swordspony was starting to get tipsy. In fact he even tried to drink from a mug that wasn't there, and started to drink nothing."...Where'd my drink go?" He said, confused.
"Right here" Archer said, placing the empty glass in front of Tyrfang. "And duty isn't all that bad. I've got a mind. I just chose to trust those above me instead of questioning them...at least to their face. I do think about what I'm protecting. I understand that fillies and colts and civilians should be kept safe, and that in keeping them safe my life doesn't matter. What's wrong with that?"She looked over at a bucket of ice on the counter and plucked a cube from it and placed it behind Tyrfang's ear. "But I think you're too drunk to figure that out. Nice speech though."
"Reeeeally now..." Tyrfang said doubtfully, grabbing another glass, and flicking the ice away from his ear. "But do you understand, that only you are you. you are protecting the civilians. It's your actions that are helping to keep them safe. It's... well, you."He finished the flagon, and just slumped in his chair. "...So then what'll they do when you're gone?"
Archer shrugged, she might have had a bolder response at any other time, but she was too tipsy for that now. "Then I'd be dead. Others would take my place. Others like you. One of the many reasons I want you to just be responsible is that I prefer you to stay in a 'not dead' state." "Yeah, well what if I'd not want you gone then?" Tyrfang said, staring her dead in the eye. "What if I preferred you staying not dead over me staying not dead?"
Archer sat in silence for a full minute, returning his stare. Or was it a gaze? Or was it a look of concern? "And that I guess there's other reasons I'd like us to both be not dead. Maybe I don't want to die, I'm just willing and in denial about what I might loose."
For a moment, Tyrfang just stared back at the mare. After hearing what she had said, he wasn't sure how to respond. However, the alcohol was giving him a nudge by kicking his doubt to the corner.
For a moment, he looked like he was going to say something. Or at least, try to. But then he decided the best thing to do, was just dive in for the kiss. Archer was a little surprised at Tyrfang's action, but she didn't do anything to stop the soft muzzle from touching her own. What surprised her more was that she returned the action. Repeatedly. Maybe it was cider, maybe it was enjoyment. She really wasn't sure, but she wasn't going to stop. For a while, the two held that moment for who knows how long. For Tyrfang, it felt like ages, and he didn't mind. And In fact, there was a bit of sadness when they finally parted.
Tyrfang was silent for a moment, before becoming sheepish.
"...Guess I owe you dinner now." He said. Archer shrugged. "I'd rather just join the other paired off couples, I've had plenty to eat and I owe you dinner as much as you owe me. Unless of course you mean for all of the times you've been a pain in my plot, in which case...yes,we'll need to do that sometime. Though I think I'd miss having the annoyances, I've rather come to like them."
Tyrfang gently bopped the bowmare on the nose. "...Will you stop being dense and take the date invitation already?" Archer returned a boop. "Sure, just trying to figure it all out, Monday sound good?" "...I kind of meant now." Tyrfang said, sighing. "Well fine, if you really want to, let's go home."
"Oh" Archer said,looking down and then reluctantly got up and shook herself a bit. "I guess that works, we could just get something small and talk more than eat...I'm ready when you are." Tyrfang sighed, finally getting through the dense mare. But he smiled, nodding. The two then left the bar, simply chatting. Almost similar to how they walked in with the other freelancers. Except they were alone now, and things seemed to have gone past the point of friends with many shared interests.
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