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By HolyJunkie

Thanks to the following for helping a brotha out:



It was a nice day today, what with the cloudless blue skies and no impending unfriendly weather on the horizon. Then again, the days at Canterlot were always nice. All of the windows from every ivory tower in Canterlot glinted in the high noon sunlight. Said windows were perfectly shaped, curving with the walls of the spires, and polished by means only a real craftspony would know.

Almost every pony who lived at the Equestrian Capital made a habit never to look up at the towers. The reflections of the sun could blind somepony with relative ease. Besides, everypony knew that the best views were either at night, or early morning when the sun was low enough to reflect away to the roads.

A rather unremarkable young colt with a red coat and a navy blue mane and tail walked along one such road. Kurt Foalington was strolling with his parents and two siblings, on the way to a restaurant on their weekly Family's Day Out; a tradition held since Kurt's older sister Kaia was a filly. Kaia had discovered her cutie mark, a spade dug into a mound of earth. With the cutie mark, she discovered her calling and took up a career in gardening. The family of five clopped their way to a nice restaurant called Panmarea, and took their seats on a balcony table. They had the unimpended view of a fair portion of Equestria.

Cloudsdale lingered in the sky many miles off- the only presence of cloud in the otherwise spotless sky. Manehattan's own towering skyline was far to the East. Those were really the only two cities Kurt had ever heard of aside from his hometown of Canterlot. To the family of five, a view like this was ordinary. To a tourist, the view would have been to die for.

The family idly chatted as they enjoyed their meals. Kaia munched on a carrot-based salad, Kurt ate a tulip sandwich, and the younger brother, Cornelius, munched on some grass- simple stuff. Cornelius was a very conservative colt. Their parents ate some food too complex for Kurt to describe. It was a more complete lunch meal rather than the relatively smaller snackage the siblings ordered. Kurt took a bite from the tulip sandwich, embracing the bitterness and amazing texture. He liked tulips, as if it really needed to be said.

There was the sound of a Sonic Boom. Before anyone could figure out where it came from, a blast of purple lightning erupted from a nearby tower, followed by a massive crash. Everypony looked up, stunned to see a rather deformed infant dragon spacing-out as it tried to squeeze its massive neck through the busted windows. More purple electricity covered this particular broken ivory tower. Just what was happening over there?

"That's the Gifted Unicorns School, isn't it?" Kurt's father asked. He looked entranced by the indescribable display. The mother didn't reply. She didn't know how to respond to this. Heck, how could anypony respond to this?

The Princess Herself flew hurriedly into the tower. It should be expected, after all. Nothing like this has ever happened. Royal attention would obviously be necessary.

Kurt took another bite from the sandwich, nonplussed. Gifted Unicorns, eh? He wondered who was causing the commotion up there. Was it a pony he knew?

After a short time, the lightning stopped. After much silence, everypony resumed what they were previously doing. Kurt had already finished his sandwich by then.


Kurt stumbled out of a bin. He patted himself free of dust and walked home while massaging a bruise in his left fore leg.

After two weeks of school, he found himself the target of four pegasus bullies. The bin was the end result of Kurt fighting back. The Pegasus ponies had their flight capability, something the Earth Pony lacked.

By the third week, Kurt knew that the abuse wasn't going to stop anytime soon. He felt as though he had nopony to turn to. His parents were too busy, Kaia was too busy, and Cornelius was too young to even speak. He began to devote his time to training his body in a self-taught variant of self defense.

During the encounter that put him in the bin, Kurt did a lot better. He managed to knock out one of them before they took him down. He just needed to keep improving.

Improve, he did. His physical prowess began to take form. At his age, he became surprisingly muscular. Nopony really knew how or why Kurt changed the way he did... Except the bullies. They knew too well at this point.

A few months later, the proverbial score was at least a hundred and fifty to nil. The bullies' flight and numbers always allowed them to come out on top.

One day, during recess, the princess was across the street, inside a shop with a young purple filly in tow. Accompanying the two were three royal guards. The bullies didn't seem to take their presence into consideration when they made their move against Kurt. The first of the four started flying low, planning to knock Kurt off his hooves.

The earth colt ducked to avoid a flying tackle. A second tackle was incoming, so Kurt thrust his hind legs forward, spinning on his forelegs. There was a swift and easy connection. It didn't take a genius to realise that two powerful hooves to the face would knock out any pony.

The bully was down and out within seconds of the encounter. That was a first. The last two flew in to lend support. Both got on their hind legs, ready to stomp down on Kurt.

The Earth Pony rushed in low and planted a headbutt into the stomach of one. The impact knocked the breath out of the pegasus. Kurt followed up by repeatedly punching the bully in the same place. The second one dropped to the ground, groaning in agony.

The first and third bullies backed away from Kurt and the two downed ponies.

The two glanced at each other, and split off into two directions. Kurt lowered his stance. He wasn't able to pay attention to both at once. The bullies seemed to smarten up and get tactical.

Not good. Kurt knew that his makeshift training was still not a match.

Kurt saw one round a corner of the school. The other was nowhere to be found. A few seconds later, Kurt realised that the last two had retreated, leaving the first two on the ground.

"What has happened here?" boomed a powerful voice. Kurt's ears drooped down as his eyes widened in fear. He slowly turned, then quickly bowed once he realised who it was that asked the question. The Pony equivalent of God stood before him, looking down at the young colt.

"He beat us up! He's a bully!" The still-conscious pegasus shouted.

The Princess glanced between Kurt and the other two ponies. Before she could say anything, one of the guards whispered in her ear. "Apparently, there were four of you. How could one terrorize four?"

Kurt looked at the downed, but conscious pegasus- who did not answer.

Princess Celestia slowly nodded, apparently fully understanding the situation. Without another word, she clopped off with the guards. A young purple unicorn filly walked at a faster pace at the Princess' side- possibly a personal assistant to Celestia.

Kurt rose from the bow, and walked away. He was nervous now. What would the teacher say? What would his parents say? Heck, he was surprised he kept this whole scenario a secret from his family at all. On second thought, would his parents even care?

Wait, no. Kurt figured he should look on the bright side. Princess Celestia herself was dedicating time to figure out a perfect solution to this problem. Little more could be asked, or even contemplated. Her apparent lack of reaction implied that she was going to do something about this elsewhere, after all.

The young colt hoped she wouldn't tell his mum and dad, at least.

The rest of the day went like normal business, aside from the last class, where a guard entered the classroom and asked for Kurt. The teacher nodded, then beckoned Kurt to go with the guard.

Oh jeez, this put Kurt in the spotlight for every other pony. He never got called for any reason.

"Tough it out," Kurt told himself, "Just get to the door." He ignored the whispers between fillies and colts alike. He just needed to get to the door.

"Thank you, ma'am," the guard professionally stated before following Kurt out of the door. Once outside, the guard pushed Kurt to another room. The cafeteria was empty at this time of day, and very open. It was the perfect place for a meeting.

Kurt just looked at the ground during the walk to the cafeteria, wondering what this was all about. Once inside, Kurt looked up. The Princess was there again, Alongside a more well-decorated guard. The cute purple filly was nowhere in sight.

"An interesting report from Sergeant Baton," the decorated one said, using his horn power to hold up a fresh-looking piece of parchment. "Fought off four pegasus bullies at once. At your age, that's an impossibility."

Kurt didn't reply. He didn't know what was going on.

"Baton did say your technique was sloppy, however..." the decorated unicorn added.

"It does raise the question, how did you learn to fight in the first place?" Celestia asked."

"I... I didn't..." Kurt stammered.

Celestia looked at the decorated one. Her gravity-defying mane didn't change direction at all. The decorated one continued. "The report also states that you seemed to smile during the whole ordeal."

Did he? Kurt wasn't sure. He was concentrating on just preventing personal injury.

"We also questioned the four who bullied you. They all admitted that you appeared to smile during the more... recent encounters."

Where was he going with this? Kurt tilted his head. Were they going to expel him? Some form of punishment?

The decorated Guard closed the parchment, now speaking to Kurt directly. "We have the feeling that you seem to take a certain joy in fighting- which is why Princess Celestia, Sergeant Baton, and his cohorts have asked me to consider you for a position in the Canterlot Guard."

Kurt's eyes widened, not because it was "all he ever dreamed" but because he was not expecting something like that at all.

"After you've completed your schooling, and have actually grown up- of course."

Kurt maintained the confused expression. "Huh?"

"In order to prepare you for this eventual position, we have asked your parents if we could dedicate your physical education school time in physical training so that once you become of age to wear our helmets, you will be fully prepared."

What? They told his parents? Kurt shuddered, then stuttered "M- My parents?"

"They both said that you were old enough to make your own decisions."

Kurt knew that was a lie. His parents either paid attention to Kaia's success as a gardener, or Cornelius' upbringing. Being the middle child, he rarely got much attention if any. It got him to thinking: Could he really make this decision for himself? He would need to ask his parents... or get Kaia to ask them instead.

"We know you're still a young colt. We'll give you time to think, talk about it with your family. That is all."

At that, the guard Sergeant Baton returned Kurt to class.

"What's being a guard like?" Kurt asked on the way.

Baton didn't answer, but his eyes did indicate deep thought. There was no answer by the time they arrived at the door.

"Maybe next time," Baton said before the door opened. Kurt entered the class and returned to his seat.

He seemed to space out for the rest of the class. This day held many key events to his future career. It all seemed... too easy, like a cheesy pony's tale. Like young pony fantasies to become great workhorses for the good of Equestrian society, famous heroes to be remembered for years to come, even.

Well, in Kurt's case, he wanted it to be the former, while most everyone else usually wanted the latter. Kurt didn't like being in the spotlight. Most ponies said his stage fright was a phase.


The young, strong colt was nearly done with school more than a few years later. He became a popular pony from his physical prowess alone. He didn't like the company of the classmates much, preferring to climb around in the pony playground, saying little- if anything at all. Thinking about it later, Kurt's colthood flashed by pretty quickly.

He barely even remembered the incident with the purple lightning, or the fight against the bullies- two moments in his life so far that made all the ordinary days of learning and training seem to blend together in a tall glass of blandness.

As he left the school- alone as usual- he noticed Sergeant Baton strutting by. "Well I'll be. Look how you've grown, Kurt!  How goes things?" Baton asked.

"Pretty good, I guess," Kurt replied. "Long time no see."

Kurt joined Baton on the stroll around the block. It was on the way back to Kurt's home, anyway.

"Indeed," Baton replied, "I was re-assigned to Cloudsdale for a change in scenery. Got re-assigned back again recently."

Kurt nodded. After some silence, his face lit up when Baton said "I still haven't forgotten the question you asked me."

"And?" Kurt asked.

"I really can't answer it with certainty. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes something big happens. Even if little things happen, they could be big things to you, or anypony."

"Like if a fashion-centric serpent loses a lock of a mustache?"

Baton chuckled. "I do like your sense of humour, Kurt. Definitely a breath of fresh air for the barracks."

"What do you mean?" Kurt asked.

"Everypony else always seems bored, like they feel being a guard just isn't for them." Baton stopped and turned his head. Certain that he didn't see anything suspicious, the two continued the stroll. "Unlike you. You liked the fight, didn't you?"

"I'm really not sure."

"But it felt natural to you."

Kurt slowly nodded. Indeed, his early practice and the fight itself felt like second-nature, almost as if he was meant to do both. The same could be said for his more private training.

"I see you got your cutie mark too," Baton commented.

Oh yeah, Kurt thought. The mark itself was a simple kite shield. He got it soon after when he accepted the offer from the Commander.

"You do know why you were offered this in that fashion, right?"

Kurt shook his head. He still thought it was just some cheesy pony fantasy to be a unique dude.

"The vast majority of the Guards are Pegasus ponies or unicorns. We rarely get an Earth Pony in the service."

Oh for Pete's sakes- it was just a cheesy pony tale thing. Kurt would've cringed, but he didn't want to display such an action in front of somepony who's basically his superior officer.

Conversation spiraled into news about Canterlot, how Cloudsdale was, events that would be happening soon in either city or with their respective families. Kurt talked about how Cornelius was still trying to find his way while in school, and Kaia's being promoted to Assistant gardener for the Princess's palace herself. Baton tried not to mention much family, aside from his parents and siblings- all of whom became guards.

"How much longer until you graduate?" Baton asked.

"Next week," replied Kurt.

"How's the training?"

"Getting easier, though I prefer it tough."

"Well, when previously tough things get easy, you know you're ready to take on the world."

Kurt hummed in response. If it started off easy, sometimes it wasn't worth persuing.

They stopped by a donut restaurant. Baton nodded a goodbye before flying off. Either he already ate, or his schedule was full. It wasn't Kurt's position to ask... yet.

The young colt entered the donut shop. He forgot to pack half of his lunch this morning in a slip of the mind that came with studying for exams.

"Hello there," said a well-covered horse with an orange-yellow coat.

Kurt responded with a "Howdy," himself.

"First time here, eh?" the pony said.

As he took a seat, Kurt nodded.

"Name's Pony Joe. What can I get for you?" The pony asked.

"I'll try today's special- with tea, please," Kurt said, producing some coinage from his backpack.

Pony Joe nodded with a smile Kurt could swear was well-practiced. Joe turned around to prepare the donut and tea, leaving Kurt to look around.

There was one other pony in the shop, aside from Joe. It was a purple filly with a purple and green infant dragon sitting at a table. They appeared to be discussing the subject of two books laying spread out on said table. The conversation sounded too complicated for Kurt.

He then noticed the horn, and realised it was the same purple filly from the first fight Kurt won- the one that trod under Celestia's wing. Perhaps the unicorn was enrolled in the Gifted Unicorns school thing. In fact, Kurt recalled seeing her with the princess after the fight. He then noticed she looked about his age.

Kurt turned around to see that Pony Joe had already finished the tea and donut. The younger colt nodded and dug in.

The filly was kinda cute, though... Nah, she wouldn't go for an earth pony from an ordinary school. Especially not one who's special talent is basically fitness and violence.

Thinking about it, it had been years since that last fight. Not the fight against the bullies, but the one fight that got Kurt his cutie mark.

The bullies had their own go-to pegasus for problematic victims. It was a much shorter fight compared to the last one. Taking place three semesters later, the fight started at an empty park during a weekend. They had it all set up, where they tried to pick on some smaller ponies. Kurt stepped in, and the big bad arrived as the bullies expected.

What they didn't expect was that Kurt made it quick. Five minutes later, some guards arrived to clean up the mess.

There was no blood, just a horribly-groomed pony with two dislocated front legs, and four others still shocked at what had just happened. The two victims never stopped talking about the fight for the next two days.

The guards sided with Kurt, of course. There really was no way for them to side with the one who attacked first, could call for aid from a large posse, and was already known to bully others.

It was a nice example of self-defense and standing up for others. That probably would explain why the cutie mark was a shield rather than crossed swords like Kurt expected.

He finished the donut and tea, nodded his thanks, and left. Despite his confidence and training, he couldn't summon the courage to even say hi to the filly.


Exams and graduation came and went. Kurt did considerably well, within the top twenty percent at least. This was just the standard education everypony gets in their lives. Maybe in the future, Kurt would apply for something more advanced. For now, his calling was being a guardian.

The popular ponies later announced a get-together of the graduates. After much thinking, Kurt decided that he would go. It would be nice to leave off on a more social note before he figures he'll never see any of his classmates again.

After school, Kurt walked by the donut shop. It was on the long path home. The purple filly was there again. She probably goes there often, Kurt mused.

It was still a few hours before the party. When he returned home, Kurt lay down on the living room sofa to rest his eyes.

"Kurt?" Came a younger voice. It was Cornelius.

"Hm?" Kurt asked, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hooves.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, jus' resting my eyes," Kurt responded, stretching his back.

"You're going away as well pretty soon, aren't you?" Cornelius asked.

Kurt opened an eye, then turned his head to his younger brother. "What makes you say that, Cor?"

"Kaia's moved up to the palace, we haven't seen her since."

"Doesn't she write?" Kurt asked.

"Well, yeah," Cor replied, "Not often, though. Too busy working on the garden, she says."

"She still writes. That's not a bad thing, Cor."

"I know it's not, but..." Cor paused. "I'm the only one who reads them."

Something in Kurt's head clicked; he understood completely. Mom and Dad were always too busy nowadays. Kurt had been making both his and Cornelius' lunches every morning, and Kaia before him.

"Well, that basically means you'll be the stallion of the house... and you'll need to make your own lunches from next year on."

Cor teared up. "I don't want to be left alone here."

Kurt slowly nodded, "I know, buddy... Though fending for yourself like this will prepare you for more than the average pony will need to go through."

"Like what?" the younger colt asked.

Kurt didn't have an answer for that. He instead resorted to "Something... Well, I'm still not officially part of the real world yet. I'll write to you once I find some answers.

"Every day?" Cor asked, his face lighting up like the proverbial idea bulb.

"I don't think the barracks would allow that many letters, but you never know."

Cor hopped in place. It was more like a half-hearted hop, but a hop nonetheless.

"Tell you what, wake me in an hour, and I'll teach you how to make your lunches just the way I make 'em."

The hopping became more energetic. Cornelius then left the room, leaving Kurt to close his eyes for a power nap. It was part of his training to be able to feel fully rested while wasting minimal time.


Kurt clopped down the street. The get-together party was a few blocks away. The reason it was across Canterlot from the school was beyond Kurt. Maybe it was something symbolic, like how the school system was no longer their master, and the distance represented their freedom from the clutches of the education machine.

Or maybe that was just where the ponies lived.

The popular ponies were two females and their posse, consisting of both fillies and colts. They seemed to dig Kurt for his physical prowess alone. He didn't like them much, always being the loudest classmates in the entire classroom, always distracting him from studies and homework.

Oh, they did their schoolwork just as well as the next pony; they just never shut up, even once in a while.

Ah well, it was part of their personalities, and no one else seemed to complain.

The colt stepped up to the gate of the designated address. There were several others waiting around as well. The spire in the center of the wall and hedge-surrounded courtyard loomed rather cheerfully. Well, to folks outside of Canterlot, it would seem intimidating or ominous.

Ominous mainly because aside from the several others waiting, the gates were still closed. Was Kurt early? He didn't think so; the party was supposed to be at seven-thirty. He stood at-attention as the others continued whatever conversations they had been participating in.

The gate suddenly opened as more of Kurt's classmates arrived. On the other side were the two popular gals. They didn't seem to notice or care that they were late in starting their party. Both shouted cheerfully "Come on in! Make yourselves at home!"

Much like the other buildings of Canterlot, the spire was made from white stone, marble, and gold. Massive windows spiderwebbed with golden frames comprised an entire side of the building. The roof was also a solid gold colour; a massive smooth, pointed dome that stabbed into the sky.

Some galloped across the courtyard for the heck of it, others walked slowly to continue whatever conversation they were engaged in. Kurt was among the gallopers. He enjoyed a self-imposed hoof race.

On one side of the spire was an elevated deck, complete with several patios. Despite giving a public hangout aura, it was very much a private estate. Nopony displayed public envy. After all, this was Canterlot. There were dozens of places like this. The only difference was that this was the place for an unofficial graduation party.

Kurt pondered what that one purple filly was doing for her graduation. Maybe that school for gifted unicorns had options for continued education and training. In a way, it reminded Kurt of his continued training under the royal guard.

The party went on like most parties Kurt went to. He kept his trap shut, ponies shook their flanks to the music, groups formed up for talking, or lawn games, or pin the tail on the pony.

The party was not unlike other parties hosted by the same duo. Kurt just stood around awkwardly. Despite his well-kept appearance, he was really not sure why he should be here.

Needless to say, Kurt was not fond of parties.

It was then that he noticed the pegasus bullies were also there, though they tried to keep as much distance from Kurt as possible.

He climbed up onto the deck. Many of the tables were filled, but Kurt took a seat at an empty one. All he really did was keep watch over the area. Might as well get used to standing guard, alert for any signs of disturbance of the peace.

Why did he feel awkward about it anyway? This was basically what he was going to be doing for the rest of his life- as far as he knew, anyway.

Kurt almost wished a fight would break out, and he would join the fray.

Two hours passed, and no fight occurred. Three ponies had joined Kurt's table. They attempted conversation, but all Kurt could really talk about was his training, or the parties he had been to- which everyone else had been to as well.

Despite his physical prowess, he was the least interesting pony at the party.

No no, Kurt thought to himself, I can't be the most uninteresting. There's got to be somepony less interesting.

It was actually kind of fortunate that the three ponies enjoyed talking about themselves. Kurt just continued the conversation by asking relevant questions, or cracking jokes that were responded with quick giggles. He at least had that going for him.

The doors to the patio opened, and a bunch of other ponies carried out large plates laden with smaller plates and bowls- each containing sandwiches, salads, and assorted mixes of fruits and nuts. Everypony perked up at the sight of the grub. "Come and get it!" one of the popular ones shouted as the plates were spread out on three connected tables.

Kurt managed to squeeze through the slowly forming crowd and picked out his own stuff, a tulip sandwich and a bowl of mixed salted nuts.

He returned to his table, soon joined by the other three, plus two more.

"So what's being a guard like?" one suddenly asked after taking a bite from her own sandwich.

Kurt paused, raising his head from the bowl. He crunched the mixed nuts and swallowed before answering "Well, I'm not a guard yet."

"But you were training to be one, yes?"

Kurt nodded. He wasn't allowed to delve too deep in the training sessions.

"What's the training like?" the female pony asked. The other four were intently waiting on an answer.

Kurt thought for a bit, eventually resorting to, "Tough, but after a while, you get used to it. It becomes second nature, much like walking."

"Any others who train with you?" another female asked.

"Yeah, mainly the official guards. I'm really not allowed to talk too much about it. Security reasons."

The others nodded, seemingly disappointed. Well, it wasn't Kurt's fault. Sergeant Baton and the Commander both said he couldn't talk too much, so he can't.

"You fight in your training?"

Kurt couldn't answer. If he could, he would've said "No." Although the new thought spawned an odd feeling in his gut. He felt the most alive during those few and far-between fights. They also never seemed to let him fight.

Sure there was sparring, but that wasn't actually fighting. It was just honing fighting skill under a controlled environment with minimal- if any risk to injury. It wasn't enough, Kurt found. He wanted- no, he needed a fight.

This was Canterlot, a city mostly populated by unicorns and some pegasi. Earth ponies weren't as common as say, a small town, or one of the big cities in Equestria. The unicorns never really entered physical confrontations- if any at all. Pegasus ponies usually kept to their own winged comrades- aside from the rare bullies, anyway. Either they stay, or are sent to Cloudsdale.

Kurt's one of those unlucky few, in a way. In Canterlot, the crime rate is nil. Again, this is because the equivalent of a God resides there, along with the majority of her royal guard.

He needed a fight, but starting one would make him seem like a bad guy in the eyes of all of the ponies who learned to know him throughout the school years.

Maybe he needed to move out, or at least get stationed elsewhere, where the Princess couldn't dedicate attention towards.

Kurt was lightly punched in the shoulder. He didn't feel any pain, his shoulder was rock solid at this point. He turned to see his old bullies.

"Hey, we were wondering just how good you've gotten. I'm betting these ladies here wanted to know as well."

Kurt rose a brow.

"Come on, it'll be fun!"

This was odd, coming from the group of dudes who grew to fear Kurt's ability.

"Okay then," Kurt replied. This might satisfy his craving for the fray.

The announcement was passed around, so nopony would display much shock. Kurt was kind of nervous. He hadn't willingly shown off in front of a crowd of this size before. Maybe it would be kind of fun. Kurt had stopped eating his food, since fighting on a full stomach was worse than fighting on an empty one.

The rules were simple, basically don't seriously injure the opponent or opponents. Again, Kurt was taking on the four pegasi like the first fight he ever had. He loosened his shoulders and stretched his joints. The preparation for the fight was quick. He didn't want to be flashy about it... yet.

The crowd formed a circle. In the makeshift ring was another unicorn, apparently working as the referee.

The ref used his magic powers to set up a countdown timer. Kurt lowered his stance slightly, ready to spring into action.

3... 2... 1-

Kurt suddenly felt an ethereal force pull on his hind legs. Surprised at this sudden turn of events, he dropped onto his stomach.

He managed to get a glimpse of the ref's horn glowing as he glared maniacally at him. The glimpse was cut short by the four pegasi beginning their own attacks.

A trap, of course. Kurt wasn't aware that some ponies could hold a grudge for years on end. Where he currently stood, he couldn't do anything, aside from move his front legs over his face to block the rapid kicking from four ponies.

Nopony seemed to want to stop this.

He couldn't even get a chance to shout "Why?" before another blow clocked him in the jaw.

His adrenaline spiked. Everything seemed to slow down around him. He swung a hoof at one of the incoming kicks. The hoof impacted on the shin, followed by a distorted snapping sound. The pegasus dropped to the side in pain.

Kurt used his other hoof to force the others away. The unicorn ref was doing this, holding him down so the pegasi could take advantage. With a swift motion, Kurt grabbed a rock between his hoof and winged it at the unicorn.

Despite being from a prone position, the throw was straight and true. The rock cracked against the unicorn's forehead, causing his eyes to roll up before collapsing unconsciously onto the ground.

The guard-to-be felt the magical presence leave his legs, so he quickly got back up.

Rejoice, Kurt thought to himself, for I am going to break each and every one of you.

Everypony backed up. Not fast enough though, as Kurt lunged at the next pegasus on the list and shoved a hoof into his jaw. The uppercut sent the pegasus flying a full meter before landing on some of the deck stairs- breaking said steps.

The other two barely got a chance to get away. Kurt was too fast, and too angry. A clean fight, they said. Kurt was taught that liars were not nice people. He was taught what the Royal Guards did to liars. One got a hoof to the face; the force could've reverted the pegasus' lower jaw into dust for all Kurt cared. The other got a broken leg.

He wanted to do more, his anger made him need to do more, but the thrill wore off. Kurt was shaking all over. The rush had faded; the dream was gone..

His awareness to his surroundings returned. Everypony appeared to have left the area.

Kurt turned to see the last pony enter the spire before slamming the door shut. They left Kurt standing amongst the five ponies-in-agony.

He felt his own jaw. It was also broken. His forelegs were bruised all over, and he could swear he tasted blood. It was a familiar taste, back when he lost fights.

Kurt could barely walk, he was shaking so much. As he made his way to the gate, he pondered why the other classmates didn't help him. Did they not like him? Did they think he could fight his way out of such a disadvantage? Did they fear the pegasus bullies as well? Were they ultimately afraid of this level of violence? Any of those questions answered, it still made the fighting colt wonder: were they feigning their previous "respect?" during the school years?

Whatever the reason, Kurt figured that at this point, he looked terrible. It was a long walk to the nearest hospital. Hopefully the shaking would subside.

The walk was relatively uneventful. Not many ponies got out at this time in the very late afternoon. The sun was inching ever closer to the horizon and the shadows stretched thrice as long as the objects that cast them. Kurt's shadow reached across the path easily.

He passed by an older couple, who went wide-eyed as Kurt passed by.

"Are you okay?" The male of the couple asked.

Kurt attempted to respond, but his broken jaw made it painful. He instead nodded his head, then shook it, telling them "Yes and no."

The couple continued paying attention to Kurt, almost expecting him to collapse. The pain was enormous at this point, but he trekked on. He didn't plan on going home so soon.

Really, the thought of his younger brother reacting to Kurt's sorry state gave him strength to get to the hospital- so he wouldn't look so horrendous, or make his little brother worry about him if he's told that Kurt was found unconscious on some walkway.

After a few more blocks, he made it to the hospital. He entered and limped to the receptionist.

She took Kurt's appearance like anypony would, with a flinch and an immediate appointment. Two coat-wearing unicorns entered and got Kurt onto a stretcher.

He never had to go to the hospital before. Injuries were never this serious. Even with the early fights, Kurt managed to prevent major injuries.

Before they brought Kurt to the ER, he pressed his hoof onto his jaw. The pain subsided, and he said "There are some other... injured ponies at the-" he paused, feeling a wave of pain, "The Saffron Spire."

"I'll be sure to get someone dispatched," the first doctor said disinterestedly as he magically applied some form of magical morphine.

Kurt dozed off. The sharp pain in his jaw finally got to him.


Waking up, the first thought on his mind was "I am in so much trouble now." Five injured, one or three possibly permanently damaged, the entire graduating class probably now feared or hated him.

He felt his jaw with the back of his hoof. The doctors mended the bone back to perfect shape using their magic. It was pretty efficient. His arms still ached, and bruises were still present. The doctors probably found traces of internal bleeding and fixed that up as well.

Kurt sighed and looked around from his hospital bed. He spotted a mirror, so he pushed himself up. His arms ached like the dickens, but he managed to get a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

There were no stitches, but he did see that the area around his left eye was darkened. It was a wonder why his left eye otherwise felt normal. Unsurprisingly, lightly touching the black eye resulted in pain. Kurt lay back down again, muttering about how long this will take to heal.

The door opened a few minutes later. In entered Cornelius and Kaia. "Hey," his older sister said, "I heard what happened,"

"Mom and Dad?" Kurt asked.

"They heard as well, but they're in Manehattan and Baltimare."

"Aw cripes," Kurt didn't mean for this to happen.

"It wasn't your fault." Kaia pulled up a stool for Cor to stand on. "Bullies sometimes stay bullies, no matter how much they've aged."

Kurt nodded, "I was talking about Mom and Dad. I didn't want them to worry."

"Kurt... you should know." Kaia replied.

"Know what?" Cor asked.

Kurt knew better than to answer that question. Kaia instead answered with a lie. "Kurt's just stubborn, always trying to be tough enough to never warrant their worry."

In reality, Kurt had never spoke to either of his parents ever since Cornelius was born. He had even forgotten what either sounded like. The reason he didn't dare answer truthfully was because it would obviously spawn a guilt complex in their younger brother.

"Kurt, why did you fight?" Cor asked,

It pained Kurt to have his sister lie to his brother, let alone himself. Especially considering the psychological conditioning he had to go through to punish liars. It was taking every bit of will to prevent himself from acting out.

"Ask me again in three years, okay?" Kurt replied.

Cornelius tilted his head, unsure of what Kurt meant. Before the younger brother could ask some more, the older brother appeared to doze off again. Kaia beckoned Cor to leave with her.

Kurt was faking the sleep. He wanted to avoid the question. It definitely wasn't a good idea to tell a young mind that his older brother- the pony who had been taking care of him for the past few years like a second father, had a deep-down passion for violence.

Heck, nopony would be ready for that kind of news even if they weren't even related to Kurt. It made the older brother start to think. There was something more to why they gave Kurt special treatment, wasn't there?

For two weeks, he rested. The magic mending was no longer required, and his bruises were completely healed. He was basically back to tip-top shape like before the fight.

As he left the hospital, Kurt had conflicting emotions. On the plus side, he was happy to be officially rid of the bullies who did those injuries to him in the first place. On the downside, he no longer had anyone he could beat down to satiate his hunger for the fray.

Now he was to report to the barracks and officially claim his royal guard armour. Kurt galloped to the barracks, excited for what his future held for him now.



        Thanks to the following for helping a brotha out:


"So you got into one last childish fight. I can't say I appreciate that," Sergeant Baton commented as Kurt entered the barracks. The sergeant was behind the front desk, sorting through letters, complaints, and junk mail.

"Sorry, sir," Kurt said.

"Don't fool yourself. I know you're not sorry." Baton snapped, sharply looking up at the younger pony. "I just wanted to point out that it's more paperwork for the fillies and colts that sort through all the data."

Kurt didn't know what to say. An awkward silence fell between them. Considering Kurt just got out of the hospital, he half-expected the sergeant to be a little concerned for the well-being of a co-worker- let alone a friend.

The silence was broken when Baton chuckled. "Well, I guess they deserved it, kicking you while you're down and all that."

"Wait, How do you know?" Kurt asked. Baton wasn't even there, and there couldn't have been anyone around to make an accurate report besides Kurt himself.

"Come on, Kurt." Baton said, as if the younger one were missing something blatantly obvious. "I've seen that strategy employed before; unicorn magic to incapacitate an opponent. There's no way those bullies could've caused those injuries if you were free to do anything about it."

Kurt nodded. He wasn't quite sure if Baton was angry or understanding. The Sergeant's demeanor could very well be made of stone. If not for the white hide, blue mane, and golden armour, he could well have been an imposing ornament behind the counter.

"Walk with me," Baton ordered crisply, as he walked around the front counter. "Let's get you into a real uniform."

Another guard took Baton's place as the Sergeant led Kurt to the armoury wing. The long corridor was five stories tall. Both sides were covered in weapon racks and lockers. The Commander was also there, speaking with two other guards Kurt had never met.

The room itself had a gold tint to it all, mainly because all of the armour was golden in colour and cast the dominating hue across the room. Sergeant Baton waved Kurt to hold position before approaching the Commander.

After an exchange Kurt couldn't quite catch, the unknown guards flew up to one of the lockers. Baton and the Commander approached Kurt.

"Can't say I appreciate you getting into one last fight before officially taking up this mantle," the Commander said.

"I already told him, Sir." Baton replied.

"Good stuff, Sergeant. Now then..."

The two guards lowered, carrying a locker between them. They stood it up and opened the single locker door.

It was a guard's uniform, no-doubt. Back plate complete with saddle, chest plate that strapped to the front, assorted pads for the legs, golden boots, and a helmet. Where a unicorn's horn would be, a three-quarter-foot blade stood- sheathed, of course.

The Commander had a different variant of said helmet. Instead of a blade, it looked to be a hollow point. This was, of course, because he was a unicorn.

The armour glistened. It was to be expected; it was brand-new. Kurt approached the locker as the others left the armoury.

Kurt was free to try out his new duds. He had his sizes recorded for the armour before the graduation party, and this was the result.

Beautiful. That was really the only word that popped into Kurt's head at the sight and feel of his new armour. He strapped everything up to a comfortable tightness. The helmet slipped over his short dark blue mane pretty easily.

His dull red hide complemented the gold, because red always goes well with gold. Kurt walked around, getting a feel for the armour. It was a snug fit, like an extension of his own body. He took off the helmet and pulled off the sheath.

Three quarters of a foot long, the blade was clean and not at all serrated. From a distance, one could mistake it for a ridiculously well-polished horn.

Kurt gave the locker a once-over. Satisfied that he got everything, and left the armoury to inform his superiors.

Later that day, he checked himself out in a mirror, absent mindedly wondering what that one purple filly would think.


Kurt was bored. Those were really the only three words that could describe the next five weeks. He stood motionless on the left side of the entrance to Canterlot. The view was fantastic and all, but Kurt had already counted every tree he could see off on the horizon as he stood sentry. There really was little else to do aside from be alert and take note of everypony or other citizen that came and went.

Were the other guards used to this? Were they also born fighters? As far as Kurt knew, they never got special treatment.

The purple filly and her baby dragon compadre passed by. However, due to protocol, Kurt couldn't talk. He watched out of the corner of his eye as another opportunity entered the city walls and out of sight.

Kurt's eyes darted to the left, only to see the mountain side. There was never any movement from the mountain aside from pebbles being knocked around by strong winds from the top. It was a solid mountain with no cracks to be seen. The mountain was therefore uninteresting.

Kurt looked ahead down the path. There were still a few carriages approaching. One appeared to be an import of apples. Not surprising, considering Canterlot was a city built high into a mountain. Aside from the Royal Garden and sometimes the Agricultural Science Building on Anything-Goes Experiment Day, (Pony mileage may vary in that case) the city really had no way for self-sustainance. The carts pulled along like a line of ants. Fitting description, considering their current distance and Kurt's perspective.

How much longer until shift-end, 3 minutes? Ten bits said it would feel like another three hours.

Kurt won the bet, although he didn't get the prize money on account of not actually betting.

Maybe he could catch up to the purple pony and her dragon, hopefully introduce himself. Kurt strolled at a natural pace, his eyes darting around, looking for trouble brewing, or the purple one. This time, it was slightly more exciting. He's self-imposed an objective, and he's moving instead of standing still waiting for something to never happen.

Kurt passed by the donut shop from before. Craving a snack, the guard entered.

"How's it going, sir?" The shop owner asked as the guard took a seat at the same stool as last time.

Kurt took off his helmet and placed it to his side on the counter. "Pretty well. Boring day, anyway."

"Yeah, I know how you feel. My brother's also a guard, stationed at Baltimare last I heard. Anyway, what'll it be?"

Kurt ordered the same as last time: the Daily special. Orange pekoe and a sprinkled chocolate donut this time, rather than the green jasmine and plain glazed donut from last time.

After paying, the guard looked around the shop, noticing the purple pony wasn't there.

"Something wrong?" Pony Joe asked.

"Last time I was here, there was a purple filly with a dragon," Kurt replied.

"Yeah, I know her," Joe said.

Kurt's eyes lit up- only slightly, as not to catch Joe's attention too much. "You do?" He asked.

"Sure, that's Twilight Sparkle, the Princess' apprentice." Pony Joe lowered a brow. "You mean you've never heard of her?"

"Not really. I went to the standard schools."

"Never talks to others much aside from her dragon friend. Heck, Spike's the more social one of the two. Come to think of it, she's never without a book and note pads. Pretty antisocial, I think." Joe prepped the tea and donut, leaving it in front of Kurt. "But none of that came from me."

Kurt nodded and dug in.

"I take it you're interested in her." Joe asked after a moment, a knowing smirk on his face.

Kurt huffed amusedly. "She does help keep my mind off of the boredom." After a pause, he asked "You won't tell her, will you? I don't want to come across as some stalker pony or something."

"Don't you worry, sir."

Kurt nodded in relief. "I forgot to introduce myself last time. I'm Kurt."

"Kurt," Pony Joe repeated, then repeatedly muttered the name to himself. "The same pony who ruined the graduation party a month or so ago?"

Kurt stiffened. Did the bullies tell people? How many others did they tell? A drop of sweat emerged on his forehead, rolling down the side of his head. Eventually, he regained composure. He couldn't lie, after all. "Unfortunately, yes."

Pony Joe's lips flattened. "Well, I heard all this from a bunch of pegasi in casts, saying you went right out and started hurting others."

Kurt twitched; he hated liars. That was what he was conditioned to believe during his training, anyway.

"Liars and bullies, that's all they are," Kurt growled. Pony Joe's brows rose in nervousness. "They wanted a friendly spar, started trying to break me, and now they're saying I was in the wrong."

"Well, they didn't seem like the kinda ponies who would've told the truth anyway. No way I could believe one guy can take down five."

"I did," Kurt replied. "And they put me in the hospital for two weeks."

"Wait, seriously?"

"Yeah, they got a unicorn friend of theirs to pull me down so they could take turns hoof-stomping me."

Pony Joe looked at him in confusion. "How did you beat them then?"

Kurt didn't answer, only looked at Pony Joe with a "What do you think?" expression. "I wouldn’t be in the Guard if I couldn’t take them. Anyway, if you need someone to vouch for me, ask the doctors of the Indigo Spire."

Kurt went back to his donut. A good ten seconds passed.

"Well, this changes things," Pony Joe finally said. "Since the Guard trusts you to wear that uniform, I'll help you out. I'll make sure this gets around. To me, you don't look like a spontaneously violent fellow."

Kurt paused for a split second, then looked up from his food again. "Thanks Joe."

"Doesn't mean I'm gonna introduce you to Twilight Sparkle. You gotta make that effort yourself." Joe said with a little grin.

Kurt smiled, and finished his donut and tea. "Thanks again," he said before donning his helmet once more and leaving.


Later that day, Kurt returned to the barracks dormitory. He slumped onto his bunk and dozed off.

Five hours passed before he woke up, and he realized he had forgotten to write something to his little brother. Pulling out a quill, ink bottle, and a scrap of paper, he paused for a full minute. He had nothing to write.

What could he write? The past three weeks were just a series of repetition. Main gate duty, watching ponies and carriages come and go, night shift by the main castle- but opposite from the garden so he couldn't visit Kaia.

Cor's letters back only talk about what he's learned in school so far, as well as his experiments with the sandwich recipe Kurt taught him, Last time, he mentioned that Mom and Dad came back home.

At the end of that letter, Cor added "P.S. I told Mom and Dad that you made it into the Royal Guard. I thought they'd be happy, but they didn't seem to listen. Did you do something? Did I do something??"

Kurt decided to dedicate this next letter as a response. He felt his stomach knot up as he tried to choose his words carefully.

"Dear Cor,

I was offered this career path during school. I told Mom and Dad about it, but they didn't seem to listen back then. Even today, I'm not sure why."

(It was a half-truth, since Kurt had a pretty good idea.)

"I'm fine with it, though. My point is it's not your fault, Cor. If anything, they're probably too exhausted from out-of-town business trips. I doubt they would need to worry about me either. After all, I am a guard.

Still, let them know I said hi. Alright?


Kurt folded up the paper and walked to the barracks mail bin on the opposite side from the dorms.

The letter was packaged and sent, lifting one more thought from Kurt's mind. At this point, he realised he was completely awake and unable to get back to sleep. His next shift wouldn't start for another five hours.

"How could I spend the next five hours?" he wondered.

He decided to work up some fatigue so he could get back to sleep. Four and a half hours later, Kurt awoke, ready and willing to take on the next shift.

... Spoiler alert: the next shift was boring.


Every time Twilight Sparkle passed by, Kurt couldn't speak to her. It was all because of his orders to stay "in character" when on-duty. Deep down, Kurt was getting frustrated. He couldn't find her off-duty, and any time he did see her, he couldn't say anything.

A couple of years later, Kurt was on a walk. It was his second three-week vacation since he first joined.

Kurt entered the donut shop. Pony Joe was at the counter as usual.

"How's it going, Kurt?" Joe asked.

"Well enough," Kurt replied as he sat down on the same stool. "On vacation now."

"I didn't know guards got vacation time," Joe said.

Kurt put down an order for the daily special. "We're real workhorses, but we're not indestructible."

Joe chuckled as he prepped some green tea and a simple chocolate dip with boston cream filling. The more stout pony put the snackage in front of Kurt.

"Any luck with Twilight?" Joe asked.

"Never get a chance to talk to her. I only manage to see her whenever I was on-duty-"

"What do you want with Twilight?" curiously piped a young voice from behind.

Kurt turned his head. It was that purple dragon that always accompanied Twilight Sparkle.

"He likes your boss," Pony Joe said, helpfully. Kurt could hear the "I'm going to have some fun with this" in his voice.

Kurt twitched. Joe appeared to notice it.

"Well, you wanted to meet her right?" Joe said with a smug expression. It was like he took a pleasure in making others seem nervous, and therefore weak. "What better way than to get her personal assistant to help?"

Kurt had to agree, it was a sensible way to go about things, though the suddenness of Pony Joe saying that stuff took him off-guard.

Still, he took a few seconds to gather his bearings. "I'm Corporal Kurt," Kurt said to the dragon.

"A guard, eh?" the dragon asked.

"Yeah, a guard," Kurt replied.

"I'm Spike."

Kurt held out a hoof. The baby dragon took it and they shook. Spike stiffened when it turned out Kurt was shaking the dragon rather than his hand. It was pretty funny to see a dragon get flailed around on the spot.

"Oh, whoops," Kurt said as he put the dragon back onto the stool.

It was the dragon's turn to get his bearings. Suddenly the dragon appeared to throw up. Kurt flinched, unsure if he caused that.

Spike upchucked some green dragonfire- though he was considerate enough to puke away from the counter. The fire itself spiraled into a tiny point in the air, and out of the compressed energy materialized a rolled-up scroll. The dragon took it and opened it. After a moment of reading, Spike gasped, but his eyes lit up in blind excitement. Before Kurt could say anything, the dragon ran off.

For an infant, Spike could run remarkably fast. Kurt bounded after the dragon. However, by the time he looked out the door, the dragon was nowhere to be seen.

The guard-on-vacation trotted back to his seat and planted his face into the counter, releasing a deep sigh.

"Cheer up, Kurt. You did better than not being able to talk at all."

"Thanks, Joe," Kurt replied as he paid for the snack.

It was the last Kurt saw of Spike the baby dragon. Two days later, Kurt learned that Twilight had been sent to Ponyville to prepare for the Summer Sun Celebration that year.


Kurt was outside his usually-assigned gate of Canterlot, sitting at the edge of the road. The two guards on-duty at the gate seemed to want to talk to their comrade, but their orders were to not talk unless there was an emergency.

Considering this was Canterlot- the home of the Royal Guard, there were rarely emergencies that were serious enough to warrant guards talking.

Kurt looked over the edge of the road. It wasn't a dangerous fall; the slope wasn't steep, but was remarkably smooth. Perfect for sliding down if one had the guts to. Kurt did, but he decided against it. Instead, he started walking down the path away from Canterlot.

He felt like exploring. Every step he took down the mountain path was another new record for farthest distance away from the city traveled. Kurt didn't care if he wasn't allowed to be so far outside the city in the event that he needed to be called back into service. After all, he had his wallet. If he got horribly lost, he would have the bits necessary to pay for a hotel, or a ride home.

Nothing ever happened at Canterlot.

Nothing ever will.

Kurt officially went AWOL for the first time. He galloped at a speed he was accustomed to; more specifically, he ran very, very fast. Before the other two guards figured out that Kurt was ditching the city, the young fighting horse was already at the bottom.

In the distance, Kurt could hear shouting from the gate. Apparently they took this as an emergency. 'That was oddly quick, Kurt thought, aren't I supposed to be on vacation anyway?'

He figured he just had bad timing, and the Commander needed Kurt back at HQ. Kurt muttered to himself "Screw that noise! Vacation's still a vacation, and I only live once."

He disappeared into the massive expanse of forest along the path. It looked rather menacing with the overgrowth covering the shrubs and bushes. The trees were covered in vines and other plants Kurt could only remember from his old biology studies and what Kaia described whenever she came home- which by itself was rare.

The forest itself was overgrown with no distinct path ponies or... well, anyone could take. Kurt bounded through the tight spaces between the mass of trees that surrounded him no matter where he went.

Kurt eventually slowed down as he approached a small clearing. There was a clean pond next to even more shrubs. Upon the pond were assorted aquatic critters. The iconic sound of frogs broke the relative silence of the nighttime forest.

Kurt slowly approached the pond itself to examine the contents. He wasn't thirsty, and he wasn't about to get thirsty anytime soon. Kurt watched as the frogs looked back up at him. After a while, the smaller creatures continued with their night business as if the muscular pony wasn't there at all.

Kurt heard more shouting, which caused the frogs to pause completely. Kurt started moving and jumped into a load of shrubs. It was an excellent hiding place.

Pegasus guards flew over the canopy, combing over the forest. They appeared to be looking for Kurt.

He counted seven of them, but the distant shouting suggested more. Were this many really necessary for sending a message to one pony?

This whole situation didn't make sense to Kurt. If they needed him back into service, they'd have just sent one comrade with a message. They wouldn't send entire search parties.

It wasn't at all like the guards Kurt knew. He at-first thought that they were looking for somepony else, but that was not likely. Kurt was the only one that ran down the mountain path and into the forest for the past hour. Indeed, they were looking for him, and Kurt couldn't figure out why.

Looking at the mass amount of effort, Kurt probably didn't want to know why.

He inched further back into his hiding place before turning around and crawling underneath the massive bushes. It was like a canopy beneath a canopy, and Kurt was beneath said canopies. The pony made sure not to disturb the shrubs at all. His training allowed him to crawl very efficiently in every situation, after all.

He heard the shouting pass over him. He couldn't make any of it out, since he was busy crawling under the plant life.

The shouting became more and more distant. Kurt knew better than to reveal himself. They were obviously going to turn around and perform a more thorough search, literally box in their target.

Kurt continued moving. Eventually he found a hole in a small hill. Kurt took a look inside to find it had been abandoned a while ago.

The guard inched into the foxhole and hid in the shadows. There, he waited.

Kurt suddenly heard hoofsteps outside. The pegasus guards had returned.

"Kurt!" called the familiar voice of Sergeant Baton. "Kurt!"

Kurt didn't dare respond. Baton didn't sound worried at all. Rather, he sounded like this was a major annoyance.

Kurt didn't look outside of the foxhole, but the faint shadow over the faint source of light implied that Baton was investigating the hole.

"Kurt, we can't allow you to leave Canterlot. You should know why!" Baton shout as he moved away from the hole.

Kurt didn't make a peep. He waited until the hoofsteps increased distance before Kurt couldn't hear any more guards. A good ten minutes later, Kurt slowly and silently moved out of the small cave. Nopony was around, fortunately. The sky was significantly darker.

Kurt stood up slowly, and silently trotted through the forest, still thinking about what Baton had said.

After much thought, Kurt figured out that he actually did know why. With that revelation came another: he didn't care. His talent was frowned upon by every aspect of the society he lived in. It got him to thinking: Were there others whose talents were fighting as well? He wanted to meet such ponies. He wanted to find trouble to stop, not let it come to him.

He wanted to see the world, see a different society. Canterlot was boring, full of intellectuals doing what they love. Kurt didn't blame them, but he was the only one in the entire city (as far as he knew) that had such a different talent. Even so, Kurt didn't think the Princess was going to be too happy that a muscular hoofed ball of violence is out in the Everfree Forest, poised to arrive... well, anywhere.

After an hour of thinking and walking, Kurt found a nice spot to rest, under a low thicket. The leaves were broad, easily covering the area from outside viewers. After a minute of trying to get used to this new surrounding, Kurt closed his eyes. However, he kept his ears open.


Somewhere beyond the forest, a rooster shrieked its iconic cock-a-doodle-doo. The AWOL guard was already awake by then, continuing his exploration of the land.

Seven hours had passed since he bolted down the Canterlot mountain path. Kurt figured that his comrades weren't through with the searches. If anything, they were getting everypony available together to find the missing fighting horse.

He planned to continue his run through a single direction in the forest until he found a river. Said run took three hours, but Kurt barely broke a sweat. That's what he would say to anyone watching. The truth was that he was panting by the time he found said source of running water.

Kurt stopped to take a drink. In this case, the water was moving, and therefore not stagnating. The river was clear and relatively silent. The guard could see the fish hiding among the rocks that settled at the bottom.

After the quick drink, Kurt took a rest for a good five minutes. His panting lessened to the point where he sounded like he was breathing normally again.

Kurt crossed the rather warm river and bounded back into the trees. He would hang near the river, but not actually be there. After all, pegasus guards could come across the river and see Kurt easily if he didn't hide.

The next two hours were just Kurt following the river from a distance. He stopped at a cliffside, where the river dropped into a hundred-yard waterfall.

The AWOL guard checked the cliffside for a good way down, then checked the skyline. The forest stretched as far as the eye could see, but there was some smoke further in the distance- where the river was going.

"There he is!"

Kurt cursed to himself. He had let his guard down. He leaped back into the forest to dodge a tackle attempt. A quick glance, and Kurt found that it was a 3-pegasus scouting party.

They were closing in. Orders or not, Kurt already knew he was being imprisoned by this career. He wasn't about to get thrown back into his cell.

He jumped at the two other pegasi. He threw both hooves out, clocking each of them in their faces.

Kurt and the concussed guards dropped into the rapids. Despite his immense strength and fitness, he couldn't beat the water. He and the other two therefore dropped off of the waterfall. The third pegasus guard flew down, obviously to catch Kurt or at least the other two. The water was too intense for the pegasus to get close enough, and Kurt didn't want to be saved.

He plummeted into the giant pool below. Now he was at a bad place to be in a fight against flying opponents. Kurt held his breath as he remained submerged, swimming as quickly as he could to the shore. He didn't want to be caught in the middle of the river.

Kurt sputtered as he raced to the shore. He got to the shallow area and just booked it toward the forest.

He looked back to see that the third one was concentrating on getting his knocked out brethren out of the water. Kurt's conflicting personality wanted to help the guards, but he couldn't deny his craving for the thing that he loves to do.

He decided to compromise, hide in the forest, and if the other pegasus needs help, Kurt would run in to help.

Fortunately, the one pegasus was able to get the other two out of the water. Kurt vanished back into the woods as the last guard performed CPR.


Kurt looked above the canopy, following the river at a distance again, and racing towards the source of the smoke pillar. The trees, despite looking all unique, at the same time started to look the same.

An hour passed. Kurt decided he probably wouldn't be able to escape the search parties now. He was going to become unbearably hungry soon, and the only logical choice for a city slicker like him is to find some "civilized cuisine."

Kurt wasn't even sure what exactly was edible in this forest. The grass looked too... natural...

He slowed down to try a bite of the grass. It tasted... actually remarkably good. The texture was really excellent. The taste: bitter- just as he liked it.

After a few more bites, Kurt continued- this time at a slower pace. It wasn't good to run after eating.

Pretty soon, Kurt found the source of the smoke. It was a small shack with foreign-looking decorative masks hanging from assorted branches. Even though the masks didn't look pleasant, the place smelled pretty nice.

Kurt cautiously stepped out into the clearing, examining everything. He flinched when he heard a deep voice.

"My dear wandering wild child, welcome to my abode of mild."

Kurt cocked an eyebrow as he tried to find the source of the voice. "Wild child?"

"You are one who's travelled far in this forest"

Kurt nodded before spotting the source. A striped black and white pony standing at a net-equipped window to keep insects out of what Kurt assumed was the source of the fantastic smell.

"To determine that, my effort is modest."

Kurt paused, wondering why the zebra had the constant urge to rhyme on a dime. He didn't mind; he could understand it at least. "Okay then, um... Where can I find the nearest town?"

"South-East, you go to Ponyville. Find it empty, I'm sure you will."

Kurt assumed the zebra spoke from experience. He thanked the pony and continued on his way.

"You, my friend, go north. Turn around and trot forth."

Kurt chuckled to himself for the foolish mistake, and then followed the advice. He bounded through the forest once again.

Wait a second... Ponyville? As in the town Twilight Sparkle went to? Kurt had new reason to continue his gallop. He wanted to meet the purple filly, and nopony was going to stop him.

Not the guards, not even Princess Celestia. Deep-down, Kurt wondered if this obsession is supposed to be scary.

Was it? He started to think it would be. Was it better not to obsess over meeting a complete stranger?

He then decided that wanted a chance. That's all he really asked for. Just a greeting, a quick conversation, and a hoofshake.

What if the Royal Guard already questioned everyone Kurt had extensive contact with? What did they say to his parents? What would Cor think now?

Kurt sat down under another tree, stopping his trek for the time being. They could have asked Pony Joe for any information... Nah, Pony Joe promised not to spill any beans, and he looked incredibly experienced at keeping secrets. Kurt's parents probably wouldn't care, but Cor would no-doubt be devastated.

For all intents and purposes, Kurt basically filled the role of Cornelius' father figure. Only now did Kurt fully realise how much of a negative impact he'd had over the years.

Horse apples, Kurt thought, Cor looks up to a pony who might as well be a psychopath.

Kurt whispered a military hymn to himself. He needed to regain his bearings. Was it still a good idea to go to Ponyville?

Kurt rocked side to side. For the first time in years, he was uncontrollably nervous.

What time was it?

Overhead, the clouds collided at glacier-level speeds. The sun wasn't out.

Kurt then realised that the sun wasn't out because it was still nighttime. He was too distracted by continuing his trek and avoiding the guards. Why did that rooster crow? Was it its biological clock telling it to do that?

Wasn't it supposed to be morning a few hours ago?

Realising that it was still nighttime got Kurt to think about other things, such as just how physically exhausted he was. He attempted and failed to get his mind off of his strain, and collapsed.

The ground was sloped slightly, but the pony was too spent to do anything about it.

He tumbled quickly, but surely to who-knows-where.


Kurt awoke with an ache in his neck. He apparently stopped in an uncomfortable position. It was made even worse considering it was cold. His hooves shivered, even when he planted all four onto the ground and lifted himself up. Kurt stumbled a few paces before leaning again.

His side felt stone... Wait, a stone wall?

Kurt turned his head, flinching when he pinched the ache slightly. It was a stone wall of some ruins. Above, an immense collection of energy shot into the sky from spiraling rainbows.

The guard didn't need to decide to investigate; his hooves were already on the way to finding an entrance.

A definitely female voice was shouting "No!" in a hammy fashion as the massive energy shot down in an intense rainbow beam.

As Kurt rounded the corner, the carnage happening within the ruins peaked, then vanished. Within seconds, silence consumed everything. The only thing making noise now was the guard's hooves putting every ounce of strength left to finding an entrance.

He didn't find any entrance, but he did find a window. Cautiously, Kurt peeked in.

The purple filly! Six others lay haphazardly around the interior of the ruins. Twilight seemed to be grouped with five others, while the seventh one seemed to be laying amongst destroyed pitch-black armour.

Kurt rose a hoof to tap at the window when they all woke up. Kurt tapped at the window, but the ponies didn't seem to hear it. Instead they were celebrating the apparent victory over the seventh one in the busted armour.

Light suddenly started to fill the room. Kurt then realised that it was the sun finally rising. He took another look into the ruins to see that Princess Celestia Herself was there.

Kurt sat down, away from the window. There really was no place for him in this society, was there? This was a utopia, generally free from larger-scale violent conflict that he was born for.

He couldn't send mail to Cor either. Kurt didn't give his younger brother any codenames or anything.

Maybe he could send it anonymously, mention something only he and Cor would know, let the younger colt know that Kurt was okay.

Kurt lay down for a quick rest. He needed to find a way out anyway.

It was a one-hour power nap. Uneventful, quick, effective. Compared to earlier, Kurt felt on top of the world... Well, save for the ache in his neck anyway.

Kurt massaged it with his hoof before looking through the window again.

The ponies were gone, items and all. It was as if they were never there in the first place.

Kurt decided to try to find a path. This was an artificial structure. It wouldn't have been built without a clear path to and from it. Even if it was an outcast sort of abode like that Zebra's nice-smelling place earlier.

Kurt found the path within a couple of minutes, and started his way across a rope brid-

A snap, and a sudden rush of gravity pulled Kurt down.

He was already through the fog before he realised that the bridge broke under the big strong colt's mass. Maybe it had seen too much usage, maybe he stepped on a bad plank that ruined all the rest.

It didn't matter anymore. Kurt impacted on the ground below the mist. He was now in wholly uncharted territory. There was no plant growth down here; only stone and heavily-packed dirt.

Kurt checked himself for injuries after he took several deep breaths. Thankfully, he didn't land on anything sharp. The fall merely knocked the wind out of him.

Even then, it was difficult to breath down here. Kurt stood up and shook himself off.

He found himself face-to-face with what appeared to be ...dogs?

"Hi?" Kurt asked.

The dogs didn't answer immediately.

"Is there any way back up there? I'm kind of in a hurry."

"We're in a hurry to move our gems to the Dirt Fields South from here, and want a workhorse to pull our carts."

Kurt shook his head. "Out of the question. I really can't be slowed down."

He could've used a longer power nap, barely dodging the first aggressive swipe.

"You work for us now!"

Kurt started feeling adrenaline pumping through his systems. His face turned from civil to savage pretty quickly. "Make me."

"With pleasure!" One attempted to say before Kurt dug a hoof into his neck. The other two swiped with their own claws, but Kurt was already out of the way, repeatedly beating the first one with his horse shoes until the dog's face was completely covered.

After that, Kurt thrust both hind legs back in a powerful buck. The bigger dog caught both hooves in the chest with a sickening crunch before dropping to the ground as well.

The third, smaller one was petrified within microseconds. Kurt turned his attention to the third dog, and rose his forelegs into the sky before slamming down. After which, he lunged at the dog in a destructive headbutt. The third dog got cracked in the face by said headbutt.

The fight was quick. As Kurt galloped off, he overheard the first one groan "Next time, we'll find more vulnerable-looking ones." The voice was a lot more raspy, as if Kurt actually did some permanent damage to the dog's voice box.

Unfortunately, the AWOL guard didn't have time to worry about the well-being of... well, anyone right now. Kurt galloped at a good speed through the canyon, trying to find a way back up. There didn't appear to be any for the next... well, it felt like a mile. He slowed down as he started looking for areas in the stone walls that looked capable of holding a fully-grown fighting horse.

Attempting to climb proved difficult, but the guard managed to make it at least several meters up. Unfortunately, the fog made it impossible to see the front of his own snout. Kurt had to resort to feeling for a good, solid place to plant a horse shoe safely.

He climbed slowly, but surely. His internal clock burned out as he concentrated entirely on getting out of the valley without incident. He wasn't even sure if it was nighttime again or whatever.

Fortunately, it was around noon by the time he broke through the top of the river of fog. The sun was in the dead center of the sky from Kurt's perspective. He didn't pay attention to it. He didn't think Princess Celestia was that powerful as to determine the exact location of anypony by just hovering the sun in an area... Even though she is basically the pony diety.

Kurt ached. He just wanted to get out of the forest at this point. The adrenaline rush had worn out long ago and he felt just as he did before he passed out the first time.

He found the path leading away from the ruins pretty easily once he finally got out of the valley. From there, he just walked down the path away from the ruins. Kurt didn't care if he was spotted anymore. He's had too much bad luck the entire time.

Hours passed as he limped his aching legs down the path, hopefully leading out of the forest. Kurt later stopped at a river. Off in the distance, a serpent leaned on a small cliffside, snoring.

Kurt took a few laps of the river before attempting to cross it.  As he waded through the water, he kept an eye to the sky, watching for other search parties. The skies were completely clear. Did they give up on finding him? Did something of greater importance take priority to them?

If the latter, what could be more important than reclaiming an indirect threat to the non-violent society? Did it have to do with that event in the ruins Kurt saw hours earlier? Was that dark mare with the broken armour a greater threat?

Well, Kurt did recall noticing that the dark mare was a unicorn. Perhaps she had unbelievable magical power. An ex-student from that School for Gifted Ponies, perhaps? An ancient heir that lost the throne to her elder? The armour pieces around her looked ancient, after all.

Kurt wasn't quite sure. History was one of his more favoured classes back at school, but nothing he learned involved the depiction of a dark mare with untold power. The only thing that was close was the Rhino Conflict- where a tough warrior attempted to invade Equestria, but was brought down through a combination of tactical prowess from the Guard and Celestia's clever usage of her immensely powerful magic. It was one of Kurt's favourite lessons, probably because it was the most violent one he ever learned about.

Irrelevant, however... Maybe he was reading the wrong history book.

Kurt stopped his train of thought to notice that he collapsed on the other side of the river. He cursed himself for not noticing the coldness of the water didn't juxtapose well with his more than warmed-up muscles and joints.

He massaged his legs with his hooves, then pulling himself under a thicket, he resumed the massage in the safety of shelter. After all, Kurt couldn't be sure if the other guards had really given up on him.

The thicket itself seemed like a good enough place to rest regardless. Kurt lay down after massaging his seized-up muscles and closed his eyes.


He came to a few hours before the sun came down. Rather, he was woken up by that giant serpent in the distance... What was he doing, anyway? Whooping over a mustache?

Kurt didn't care at the moment. The last thing he wanted to do was attract the attention of a giant creature that could easily be seen by even the most distant search parties. He crawled out of the thicket and continued down the narrow path.

The canopy thickened as he trotted along with his still-sore legs. They weren't as messed up as when he first clambered out of the valley, but sore nonetheless.

His sense of time was out of sync. It should've been going dark, but it was still mid-afternoon. Then again, the night did seem to last much longer than usual... Or did it? Kurt wasn't sure anymore.

What exactly happened while he was hiding, anyway? Did it have anything to do with those ponies at the ruins? What was that purple filly's part in the whole debacle?

What were the search parties doing? Despite his continued practice of caution, Kurt couldn't help but notice that he had not seen or heard any voices beyond the serpent, the zebra, and whatever went on in the ruins ever since his encounter at the waterfall. He hadn't heard any shouting despite resorting to walking on what he assumed was the main path between the ruins and a way out of the Everfree Forest.

As Kurt walked, the sky vanished from view; it was replaced with the utter darkness of the underside of the canopy. There were specks of light in the distance- obviously the way out of this thick section of forest.

Kurt watched his step, checking the ground for every hoof he placed.

It was dark. Very dark. More hours seem to pass. The light at the end of the dark area seemed to dim, indicating that the sun was starting to go down.

Kurt picked up the pace, while still remaining aware of the terrain. It was beginning to strain on his stamina- especially considering he had been in Everfree for... about three days, almost constantly on the move with only quick rest stops. Well, the rest stops were actually pretty good. What was Kurt missing?

It then occurred to him: he was worried about Cornelius. How was Cor going to take this? What would the Commander or Baton say? Would they fabricate some false truth to make Kurt seem like an enemy to the state? No matter which way Kurt could imagine they would explain this to his younger brother, the colt would be devastated.

Kurt stopped to sit down and massage his sore muscles and joints. Pain flooded every inch of his body, but he knew that was a good sign- that he was healing around the clock.

Another hour passed. Kurt spent that time wondering what they would do with Cor in response to this. It would be easy to consider him an orphan. After all, their parents were always busy at other big Equestrian cities. He suddenly started regretted his decision to try to avoid visiting as much as possible. Kurt knew he was not the best influence for a budding youngster in Canterlot society, but damn it, they were still brothers.

Well, there was no way he could return to Canterlot now. The Royal Guard would be all over him if he even got close to the mountain where the city was built into.

"Where the heck am I?" Kurt asked himself as he stood up from his rest again. It couldn't be any farther to the end of this thick canopy. After a good ten minute gallop, he finally broke free from the artificial nighttime.

The light turned out to be also artificial, of the optical illusion variant. It turned out the sun had set recently. That was short; was Celestia making up for lost time from that longer night, or has Kurt completely lost his sense of time?

He trekked onward through the bottom of another valley. Kurt watched the sides, still wondering if there were still any search parties. There didn't appear to be anything up on either side aside from trees and vines climbing messily down the cliff edges.

Kurt froze when he heard a growl that rumbled the ground. He turned to his front to see a manticore. Feeling like he should make a witty quip to relieve the sudden tension, Kurt instead backed away slowly. He wasn't sure how best to deal with this.

Living in Canterlot gives one a distinct lack of experience in dealing with wild animals... especially larger ones.

There was no way for Kurt to take on this massive scorpion lion, not while he was still sore. It won't stop him from trying; his real objective is getting around the manticore so he could book it to who-knows-where.

Kurt was still nervous. He really didn't want to bite off more than he could chew-

Wait, scratch that. The manticore took a swipe, and that caused his adrenaline to spike. Kurt leaped forward to avoid the claw, and lunged at the Manticore.

With three of his hooves, he managed to grip onto the creature's mane. Kurt then repeatedly swung his free hoof into the manticore's face. He got off several hits before the manticore reared onto its hind legs and started swiping at the proverbial mosquito.

Kurt let go, narrowly evading the one claw that would've hit him. He landed and rolled under the creature's hind legs and ran like the wind. He made good distance before the manticore realised that the pony had escaped.

A deafening roar reached Kurt's ears, so he dared to look back. The manticore was giving chase. He noticed blood flowed from the manticore's snout. Not surprising, those punches weren't pulled. Even though the Manticore made the first attack, it was still peeved off as if it were the victim.

The fighting horse also realised that it was faster.

Kurt had a few seconds before the manticore caught up. He needed an edge, something to get this manticore to stop. He zigzagged around some naturally-formed rock pillars- which were then pulverized by the sheer bulk of the massive manticore.

The pony repeatedly cursed under his breath as he continued to round more rock pillars. In the distance, Kurt spotted a large cliff- a dead end.

Still, there was a lot more room over by the dead end, more room for Kurt to maneuver- which by connection of "being in a fight with" means the manticore also had more room to move with.

Kurt turned around after making it to the center of the large field. The manticore blasted through the last few rock pillars before charging at the pony.

"You really want to do this?" The pony lowered his stance, rearing for an opportunity. The manticore swiftly closed the distance. It raised a claw to strike.

Kurt took this chance, lunging at the manticore's face again. "I will end you!" Kurt barked in a voice he rarely uses as he dug both front hooves into the sides of the Manticore's head. The creature yelped in pain. Its eyes spun off in different directions. Kurt didn't stop from there. He continued pounding the manticore's face until the massive critter finally gave up on standing.

By some instinctual nature to not get beaten, the manticore finally got a good swipe in. Kurt didn't see this one coming, and got gashed across the side. As the manticore ceased its movement, Kurt dropped to the ground, suffering a panic attack.

He's bled before, on account of the bullies back when he lost fights. These were four wounds the likes of which not even the Royal Guard blades could pull off.

The fighting horse screamed, something he didn't think he was capable of doing. Eventually, he regained his composure, taking deep breaths. Breathing started to hurt as well. Just how much damage did that swipe do?

Kurt could feel the wounds, but he couldn't make himself turn his head to see it. He lay on his side for a good few minutes. During which he calmed himself down and regained stamina. Eventually, he summoned the strength to push himself back onto his hooves. His left leg hurt to move, and hurt even more to step with. Kurt kept it in the air, now walking with the other three legs.

Now there was just the question of getting out before the manticore woke up. Kurt didn't know if the massive creature would or could, but he really didn't want to stay and find out.

Kurt limped his way to the cliff. He spotted a ramp leading to the top- which twisted and turned to who-knows-where. The pony sighed, wishing for an actual shortcut. He took another deep breath to avoid another panic attack on account of the gashes, and continued.

Half-way up the cliff, Kurt turned right to look behind him. Surprisingly, there was no blood trail. He didn't dare look at the results of the manticore's good hit regardless. Instead, he clopped forward.

An hour passed. Kurt felt a lot weaker by the time he made it to the top. He cursed to himself repeatedly during the climb, asking himself "Why did you let him make a hit? You're better than that for Equine's Sakes! What the heck is Cor going to think if he sees you again?"

Kurt then started wondering if he ever will see Cor again, or Kaia, or his parents. Would Cor let go in the same fashion as Kurt when Kaia took care of him?

At that point, Kurt realised that his taking care of Cor was parallel with Kaia taking care of him. The sandwich recipe Kurt taught Cor was the same one Kaia taught him.

The pony still pushed forward, hoping to Celestia that he would find the exit soon. Another few hours passed. Eventually, it became morning again. The nighttime frost melted rather quickly, and a light fog flooded the path.

It wasn't thick, so Kurt could still see where he was going. The sun was still not quite up yet, but the sky was still bright.

The contrast of the bright sky with the still-dark forest was what made it more difficult to see. The path was still pretty clean, often-trodden to flatness by passerby ponies or whatever other creature, sentient or otherwise.

As he pondered what manner of creature would've passed by, Kurt realised that he had finally broken out of the Everfree Forest. His face was suddenly covered with an almost maniacal smile.

He jumped in the air on his hind legs, whooping for his victory against the merciless, faceless adversary that covered most of the continent he knew of.

Kurt stopped his makeshift victory dance when he heard a single scream. He turned to the left to see a pale-faced female pony with a breezy pink mane. The ex-guard slowly lowered awkwardly from his hind leg stance, "Is something wrong?" Kurt asked. He then realised the pony wasn't looking at Kurt- well, not his face anyway. Without thinking, Kurt turned to his left.

Four clean gashes. Blood covered a good half of his coat. Kurt flinched, winced from the pain of flinching, and blacked out. The AWOL guard, now fully realising the extent of his injury, just lost all willpower to continue standing. He dropped to his side again- the clean side.





        - B.

"He's waking up. Excuse me, are you alright?"

It was a soft voice, it reminded Kurt of his sister.

"Good morning, Kaia," he weakly said. He couldn't feel anything. There must have been some kind of painkiller administered throughout his body. Heck, Kurt recalled his one look at the wound. Even though the glance was quick, he knew painkillers would be necessary.

"Kaia? Who's Kaia?"

"She taught me the most incredible recipe," Kurt blathered. "She is a great older sister."

"Can you see my hoof?"

Kurt's vision was incredibly blurry. He squinted to try to focus on a leg with a yellow coat.

"She is a great older sister," Kurt repeated almost automatically as he tried to remember the question just asked to him.

"My hoof, do you see it?" the soft voice asked.

"Hoof, hoof, I see something... something yellow," Kurt really couldn't see much.

"Okay, that's close enough." The yellow blur retracted, and the voice continued. "Do you know where you are?"

Kurt giggled. The painkiller was starting to wear off, and the wash of feeling through his body started to tickle. Of course, the funny feeling turned into pure pain. Kurt cringed. "Come again?" he asked.

"Do you know where you are?"

Kurt's vision started to clear. He found that he was in a sterile-looking room with white walls, obviously a hospital room.

"Oh no," Kurt said to himself.

"You don't know where you are?"

"No, not Canterlot. I can't be back at Canterlot," Kurt replied after shaking his head to regain his senses. "Oh Celestia, please not there again."

He turned his head to the right to see that yellow pony from earlier, along with some other ponies who appeared to be nurses. He shot his glance to his left leg, completely covered in a cast.

"What happened?" Kurt asked. "Where am I?"

"You need to rest," one of the nurses said when the patient attempted to get out of the hospital bed with the cast still on.

"But where am I?" Kurt asked as he felt himself barely move his left hoof, confirming that he would still be able to use that leg- as far as he knew, anyway.

The nurses looked at each other, then to the yellow one with the pink mane. "Thanks again for bringing him in," they said.

The yellow one left, obviously realising she's done with whatever she needed to do. Kurt assumed they needed her for the soft voice, since neither of the apparent real medical experts had that nice, soft voice.

"I like getting answers," Kurt said. "It gets my mind wandering. Wandering minds ignore pain."

"You're in Ponyville," the more experienced-looking nurse replied. "You were found on the edge of the Everfree forest with..."

"Yeah, I had a scrap with a manticore. Did you say Ponyville?"

"Manticore?" The second nurse asked.

Kurt still felt the painkiller affecting his responses. "Heh, you should see the manticore. He's the one who'll need painkillers."

The nurses looked at each other, then left the room. Kurt didn't get a chance to ask anymore questions, aside from "What? Was it something I said?"

Kurt slumped his head back onto the hospital bed pillow, fondly recalling the last good fight he had back at Canterlot. That time, it was three weeks for a magically-mended jaw. Ponyville- Kurt assumed- seemed to be an Earth Pony-centric community. Did they also have unicorn doctors?

The question was answered pretty quickly when a unicorn entered carrying a clipboard with telekinesis.

"You got hurt by a manticore. Somehow, the worst that you'll end up with are some major scars. Average full recovery time for something like this would be in a good several months. However, you seem to have an affinity for recovering more quickly. According to the nurses, that isn't the most unbelievable thing about this... case."

Kurt looked up again, waiting for the doctor to continue.

"They said you said you fought a manticore," the doctor added.

"He attacked first, if that's what you're implying," Kurt said.

"Manticores don't usually attack first unless they're hungry or previously provoked," the doctor said. "Which begs the question, how are you still here?"

Kurt shrugged with his good front leg. "Are manticore attacks common?"

"Admittedly, not really. They, along with many other creatures, are the reason nopony goes into the Everfree Forest."

"Meaning..." Kurt said.

The doctor face-hoofed. Obviously the ex-guard wasn't getting it. "Bedside manner aside, you really should been dead if you were attacked by a manticore. What really happened?"

Oh, Kurt thought, suddenly knowing that his previous talk about the fight with the manticore would've been taken as blatant bragging.

"Okay, civility aside," Kurt replied. "I beat the stuffing out of the manticore."

The doctor gave an amused expression, but Kurt was dead serious. Painkiller or not, he knew what happened in that fight. He made an effort to remember all of his fights - the only times when he was most alive.

Oddly enough, he regretted almost every single fight. Kurt figured it was out of his childhood, being repeatedly given contradictory messages by multiple teacher figures over the years. He wanted to fight, but he didn't want to fight just anything at any time.

Eventually, the doctor's amused expression vanished. At the same time, he dropped the clipboard. "You're serious," the doctor asked.

Kurt nodded. "These wounds weren't tree branches."

The doctor pulled up a chair and sat down. "Who are you, exactly?"

Kurt paused, then asked "Don't tell anyone, alright? I'd rather tell anyone myself."

The doctor nodded, obviously caring more about finding out who this strange fighter of manticores was.

"People call me Kurt. Last name's Foalington. I... I was a guard."

"Why the pause?" the doctor asked.

"I kind of went AWOL. I figured it was okay, since I'm currently on vacation. They sent search parties almost as if I were a criminal."

The doctor cocked a brow. "Sorry, I didn't catch that. Are you a criminal or a guard?"

"I am a guard. I am an upholder of the law. They gave me vacation time, so I left Canterlot to explore. They sent search parties as if I were a criminal."

"Are you?"

Kurt gave the doctor a "What do you think?" stare. "My service record is clean, I guarantee it... Though don't actually look it up, it would lead them here."

The doctor slowly nodded.

"You're going to go tell someone, aren't you?" Kurt asked.

"If it weren't for bedside manner, I would," the doctor replied.

"Thanks," Kurt said with a warm smile. He lay his head back and blacked out once more. The bed was comfy. After living in a cot at the barracks and resting several times in that forest, it's been a long time since Kurt was last in a real bed.


He smelled tulips. Opening one eye, he noticed the hospital window was open to let the air in. Apparently someone was growing tulips close by. Kurt looked around to see if the bed was secure to anything besides a blood transfusion apparatus. It was then that he noticed he was being donated blood in the first place.

Odd, don't they do a background check on ponies? Then again, Kurt never went to the doctor to get his blood checked, as far as he knew. Then again, the doctor had a lot of free samples to double-check with when Kurt first arrived.

He took a look at the label, O+. Kurt didn't know why he cared. Maybe he just wanted to get his mind off of the delicious smell outside.

With his good front leg, Kurt pulled the transfusion thingamajig close, then attempted to push his bed towards the window.

The bed was too tall. His outstretched leg missed the floor by an easy foot. No nurses around either. Just who the heck was growing tulips at this time?

Suddenly, Kurt felt the bed being pushed. He couldn't twist his head to look at whoever was doing this unexpected favour, but she seemed overly optimistic about... Well, that was beyond Kurt.

"Here ya go. Now you can see the tulips!"

"Wait, how did you know I like tulips?" Kurt asked.

"I didn't!" the mysterious cheery voice replied. Before Kurt could manage to turn his head, the apparent source of the voice zipped to the end of the bed to look out the window. It was a pink female pony with the messiest mane in existence.

Kurt wasn't sure what to say in response to that. This random visitor was... random.

"Do I know you?" Kurt finally asked.

"Nope! I know everypony in Ponyville!" She zipped the right side of the hospital bed, extending a hoof. "I'm Pinkie Pie!"

With a confused expression on his face, Kurt shook hooves with the stranger.

"Not to be rude, but why are you here if you don't know me?"

"Everypony needs to make friends, especially when they get lost and hurt in the Everfree Forest and wind up in the middle of nowhere!"

Kurt cocked a brow. How did she know all this? In fact, he even asked, "How do you know all this?"

"Everypony's talking about you."

"What?" Kurt attempted to get up, but the cast seemed to limit his torso flexibility. "Oh no, I can't be found here."

"Don't be silly, everypony knows you're here! Hide and Seek isn't fun if you already know where everypony is!"

Kurt once again paused in confusion. Just what the heck was this pony's problem? If everypony in Ponyville was talking about Kurt, the chances that the Guard would find him are incredibly high, if not guaranteed.

"Look, Pinkie Pie, I need to speak with the doctor."

"He's busy."

"Okay, a nurse."

"Neither of them are in today."

"Somepony who works here?"

Pinkie rounded the back of the bed. On the left side, she appeared, and suddenly was wearing a white coat and surgeon's gear.

"You know what? Nevermind," he gave up on trying to reason with the clinically insane ball of cheers. "Could you get me out of here?"

"Before you finished healing? Are you loco in the coco?"

"I don't even know how long I've been here. I just want a place to relax without being interrupted."

"You're here, doesn't that count?" Pinkie asked.

Kurt flattened his brows, staring at Pinkie Pie. The female pony's disturbing-looking cheerful smile slowly vanished as she said "Ooooohh, I see." Pinkie Pie simply left after that, humming a light tune to herself.

Kurt was now thankful for the peace and quiet. Oh wait, Pinkie never said how long Kurt had been here.

A few minutes later, the doctor entered. "How long have I been here?" Kurt asked.

"About five days," the good doctor replied, looking at his clipboard "You were out for three of them."

"Is it true? Everypony in Ponyville's talking about my arrival?"

"Yeah. It's a small town. Small towns tend to get overrun with gossip very easily."

"I'm not sure if I like small towns. What if they knew what I did?"

"The whole Manticore business? They know you were hurt by one, but that's it."

"Okay, good," Kurt replied. He was already known as a violent addict of the fray by a fair number of citizens of Canterlot- especially the Guard. They could dismiss the manticore attack as some random attack by a hungry predator, but the victim beating down the beast would sound off every proverbial alarm in their collective heads.

"Why is that good? You fought a manticore and survived. Shouldn't you be proud of that?"

Kurt didn't answer. The doctor still continued.

"Why is the Guard after you, anyway?" he asked as he took a seat in the same chair as before.

"It's a complicated story."

"You got a nutshell?"

Kurt thought for a moment. "I beat the manticore's face until it stopped moving."


"They're after me because I can do that. More than that, I earned my cutie mark from a similar situation during my colthood."

The doctor nodded. Pieces seemed to fit together in his head.

"It must suck to be born with your talent," the doctor said. "This society, where Princess Celestia is the sole reason we've never gone to a full-scale war for who-knows how long."

"It does," Kurt replied,  "I crave the fray. It's what makes me feel alive. It's what I was meant to do."

The doctor nodded with a half-amused hum.

"Aren't you scared?" Kurt asked.

"Eh, not really," the doc replied, "You're not the first one, and you certainly won't be the last. I've met two other ponies who came here because they were born to fight."

Kurt looked out the window again, then turned back to the doctor. "What were they in for?"

"They both got in a brawl with a manticore as well."

"And me fighting one surprises you?"

"Actually, the two lost, but escaped by falling off a cliff so the manticore couldn't follow. You on the other hand..."

Kurt slowly nodded. He wasn't sure whether or not to be proud of being the only fighter pony that single-hoofedly took on a manticore and won. "Stupid, though. I let my guard down for that last swipe."

"Well, magical mending's going to fix you right up, but the scar tissue's probably going to affect your flexibility. You just need to take it slow."

"How long will I need this cast, anyway?" Kurt asked.

"It'll be off tomorrow, or the day after. Depends on how fit you are."

Kurt nodded, then lay his head down on the pillow again. The doctor left the ex-guard to hope the Guard doesn't find him within the next forty-eight hours.


The removal of the cast was performed the very next day. Kurt sat up on the bed after the removal to take a look at the results.

There were scars alright, and his entire left shoulder and torso felt very stiff. Kurt softly massaged the areas and stretched it all very slightly.

"Well, you should be good to walk. Not sure about another manticore attack," the doctor jokingly said. Everypony laughed, since it was the best medicine. "But seriously, don't overdo it until you actually can."

"Thanks again," Kurt said as he trotted out of the hospital. He was now on the stone brick and neatly-trimmed grass main street of Ponyville. The ex-guard could see everything from this vantage point. Almost every building looked like it was designed with the idea of small-scale merchandise in mind.

The pony walked north at a steady gait, taking in the sights of the small town. He didn't appear to notice the assorted other ponies taking notice of the ex-guard and the massive scars that covered his left side.

Oh, he knew they were watching. Maybe his effort to ignore the attention was to hopefully get the attention of the lay-days, or maybe Twilight Sparkle.

After all, she was here, wasn't she? Last Kurt heard, she was here. Or was the Summer Sun celebration done already and she went home?

Wait a minute, that baby dragon hanging around some fancy-looking clothes store.

Holy Cheese, it's Spike! Kurt walked up and asked if it was Spike. "Spike?"

The dragon turned, flinched at the look of the scars. "Oh, you're that one pony they found."

"Remember me? Kurt? Donut shop?"

Spike slowly nodded, then sped up the nod. "I remember. You wanted to meet Twilight... How did you get that, anyway?" He asked, referring to the scars.

Kurt wasn't sure what exactly to say, so he replied with, "Don't ask."

The dragon belched that same green fire again, and once again the fire condensed to a single point before erupting as a closed-up piece of parchment.

"Does that happen often?" Kurt asked, "It doesn't seem enjoyable."

"You get used to it after a while," Spike said as he checked the label.

"A missing ponies poster?" Spike asked, more to himself than Kurt.

Kurt's heart skipped a beat. "Who's missing?"

Spike opened the rolled up parchment to reveal a larger mass of rolled-up posters. The baby dragon turned it so both the horse and the dragon could take a look.

It was Kurt's brother Cornelius. He didn't even need to check the name, which sure enough said "Corelius Foalington."

"Oh no, not Cor," Kurt whispered.

"You know him?" Spike asked.

"He's my brother. How could he have gone missing?"

Spike shrugged. "Well, I'd best get these posters up. Want me to drop you off at the Library to meet Twilight?"

"Unfortunately, no. Family comes first." Kurt replied as he galloped off. He felt pain as he stretched the scars a smidgen too far, so he slowed his gait.

Cor more or less lived alone. Nobody would've been watching if he ran away. Even so, why would he run away? Did he find out Kurt went AWOL? How long has he been missing in between reports, initial investigation to the printing and shipping of the missing pony posters?

It was still during the school year, as Kurt remembered and added up from the days he had been out of commission. Maybe the staff and students noticed Cor's sudden absence. Kurt even remembered (according to Cor's constant letters to the barracks) that his younger brother was never late for school.

Kurt sat down on a bench outside the posh-looking mini-palace. Whoever lived there was most likely a fish out of water in this small rural town. It reminded Kurt of Canterlot, probably the best place to think about events that happened at Canterlot, anyway.

Kurt, being an ex-guard, knew the process of the missing ponies system. Assuming the school absences occurred the day Kurt was fighting the manticore, this would be the time when posters reached towns farther from Canterlot.

After Kurt determined a basic timeline for events, he now needed a next step. He needed information; He needed to get home. He needed to get back to Canterlot. After this stunt that directly resulted in his arrival to Ponyville on a stretcher, would the guard even allow him within a mile of the city? Kurt more than doubted it. He would definitely need help to get there again.

As much as he hated it, he would need to hold his position and meet the ponies of Ponyville. He repeatedly told himself that there was no way he could find Cor unless he had a breadcrumb to start with, and therefore needed this relaxed plan. At the same time, he was getting infuriated that the longer he stayed at Ponyville, the greater the chance that his younger brother could've gotten attacked by a manticore... and Cor was certainly not Kurt.

Kurt pressed a hoof onto his forehead, massaging it to retain coherent thought over his crave for violence. It wasn't helped when he accidentally imagined Cor getting mauled by a manticore.

He barely managed to refrain shouting, or breaking the bench. To get his mind off of all these horrible implications, Kurt glanced at his scars. He would need a week or so to regain his flexibility with the scars anyway. Looking for his brother at half of his true combat capability would be a waste of time, and would probably ruin him in a more horrifying variant of permanence.

"Is something wrong?" A posh-sounding voice entered Kurt's ears. The fighter turned to his right to see who asked. It was an incredibly well-groomed unicorn with a wavy, curly mane and tail that spiraled to a point. Kurt never knew hair could be shaped that way. Perhaps this pony liked to experiment with fashion.

"In a way," Kurt replied. Talking to the pony would definitely distract him from the worst-case scenario thoughts. "Posters are going to be put up around the town."


"Missing pony posters."

"Who's missing?"

"My brother." Kurt replied as he hopped off the bench. The scars didn't seem to frighten the unicorn when she saw them.

"You're that one they found outside Everfree, aren't you?"

Kurt nodded in response.

"How did you survive, exactl-"

"Don't ask." Kurt interrupted- which was met with a "how rude" expression. "Sorry, I get asked that a lot."

The unicorn pouted.

"Anyway, I can't find my brother as I am right now. I need to get to Canterlot and at least find a clue of any kind, and-"

Kurt stopped when he realised the posh unicorn had closed the door a while ago- possibly because she was more offended at the rudeness than the ex-guard imagined. "Oh," he said before sitting down again.

This wasn't a good start. All the friends he's got so far is the doctor (who's always busy with his practice) and Spike. Even then, that dragon always seems to be constantly busy.

He didn't take into account the frightened yellow, beezy pony who found Kurt in the first place. Kurt didn't blame her. Anypony would've had the same reaction to a pale, fatigued horse covered in his own blood.

No doubt she'd be at the hospital, having a full psychiatric work-up, or something...

Overall, Kurt's got no allies that could help him achieve these self-imposed objectives to find his little brother. He would need to fix that.

A gray pegasus flew down wearing a mail bag. The female pegasus approached the door to the unicorn's place and slipped an envelope into the door's mail slot.

Mail... Maybe Kurt could find a way to hide amongst packages going to Canterlot. Wouldn't hurt to make a few friends in the Equestria Post.

"Hi," Kurt said, trying to achieve the effect of a friendly neighbor, despite not actually living in Ponyville. Come to think of it, Kurt didn't have a place to stay for the time being. Where could he sleep for the night-

"Derp!" came the response. Kurt then noticed the pegasus' eyes didn't seem to point the same direction.

"Uh... What?"

"Hi, I'm Derpy!"

Kurt immediately regretted this plan. He started flashing back to that Pinkie Pie pony, except Pinkie seemed to know what was immediately around her. This Derpy pony's eyes weren't straight - completely wall-eyed.

"Is something wrong?" Kurt asked.

"Nope! Just delivering the muffins!"

"Mail?" Kurt corrected.

"That's what I said, muffins."

Kurt didn't plan on correcting her again. Muffins and Mail both started with an M, maybe the mix-up was understandable.

"Anyway, do you ship things to Canterlot? Assuming you send packages all over Equestria, anyway."

"Muffins go everywhere!"

"Is that a yes?"

Derpy cocked her head, maintaining her own goofy smile.

"Okay," Kurt said, "I'll take that as a yes."

"Bring the Muffins to the Post Office. Are the Muffins for the Reinstating of Princess Luna?"

"No- Wait, what?" Kurt asked. It was too late, however. Derpy flew off.

"Derp derp derp derp derp."

Kurt sat down on the grass. what the heck just happened? The ex-guard hasn't been this confused since Pinkie Pie crashed his hospital room.

"You're still out here?" The unicorn's voice again. Kurt turned to her, then stood up.

"Sorry, I was just sitting there, trying to set priorities. I'm not from around here."

"Oh? Where are you from?" The unicorn asked with a half-hearted interest.

"Uh... Canterlot."

The unicorn's eyes lit up in an expression Kurt could only assume was excitement. Despite that, the only change in her speech was that her half-hearted replies ceased to be half-hearted. "You don't look like somepony who would be from Canterlot. Isn't it a unicorn-dominant society?"

"Well, I was born and raised there," Kurt replied.

The unicorn expressed genuine interest this time around. "Who are you?"

"I'm Kurt, I'm a... I'm an ex-guard."

"Why are you here instead of Canterlot?"

Kurt almost automatically replied "It's a long story." Although at this point, if he were still in uniform, he'd be back on shifts. Besides, lying and fabricating the truth wasn't a good way to get people to trust you.

"What about the scars? Or are you going to interrupt me again?"

Kurt looked at the scars. Indeed, they looked fresh. "Yeah... Manticore attack... I- I don't want to talk about it."

The unicorn, obviously trying to forget the mention of the manticore, flashed her horn alight. The envelope Derpy slipped through the door floated up to the unicorn's face and she read it.

"Ooh! An order from Canterlot!" she said, most likely trying to get Kurt's attention with the mention of Canterlot.

Canterlot, an order to Canterlot, meaning packages would be sent. Kurt formed a plan in his head.

"I need to get back there," Kurt said.

"Why's that?"

"I mentioned earlier that my brother's missing. I want to get back there to find any clue to where he could've gone."

"Why can't you just go to Canterlot?"

Argh, damn that Guards Never Lie training. This pony looked sophisticated and intelligent. If Kurt remotely started on about his fugitive status, he held the risk of losing all chance for support to find his brother.

"I'm... kind of a fugitive."

"That figures. Nopony ever really announces himself or herself as an ex-guard," the unicorn replied. "Still, finding a missing family member is one of the noblest causes a pony can do."

"Yeah. Anyway: since I'm a fugitive, the Guard would spot me within a mile of Canterlot. Given the fact that none of them are me, they would overlook evidence left behind at my home regarding my brother's... well, lack of presence. That's why I need to go there and find clues they wouldn't have found... and then I need a way out."

"Well, Derpy works for the Post Office, maybe they can help you with that."

"Yes, thank you miss..."


"Thank you Rarity." As Kurt turned to leave, he paused to ask, "What was this event about?"

"Let's see," Rarity replied as she checked the full letter. "Oh, a formal reinstating of Princess Luna on the throne. It'll be on the night of the next full moon."

Kurt was silent, He wasn't sure what day it was anymore. "Which is when?"

"At least two weeks."

That was enough time to get friendly with the rest of the town. Kurt nodded his thanks and left. Rarity closed the door behind her, obviously getting to work on the order.

Well that was easy, Kurt thought to himself. He's met Derpy, one step to getting transportation. He's also got a method and a cover for his return to Canterlot. All he needs now is confirmation on his transportation, and maybe a disguise to prevent any guard from recognizing him. Maybe change the colour of his mane from navy blue to... Maybe a dark brown, or a yellow.

Kurt found the post office pretty easily. All of the buildings here were unusually stylized. It definitely gave the small town a lot of personality. He entered the giant mail box that marked the location of the post office, taking note of the giant pegasus-pulled postal trunks in and out of the top hangar.

Through the large double-door entrance, the ground floor room was large, with a long desk stretching the entire length of the room. There were two large doors. One sat in front of a foldable section of the counter- obviously for larger packages.

"Hello," Kurt said to the unicorn organizing envelopes alphabetically before sending them to the back.

"Hello. I haven't seen you around here before," the female (Kurt noticed there were a lot of females in this town) replied, not appearing to look up.

Kurt tilted and lowered his head to look the pony into the eyes. Looked like she was an excellent multi-tasker.

"Is there something you needed?" she asked, somehow maintaining a friendly voice.

"Yes, I want to get to Canterlot."

"You have a package?"

"Yeah, the package is me."

"You want us to smuggle you, is that what you're asking?"

Kurt flattened his brow. She was good.

"Yes and no. You see, Rarity's got an order for-"

"The event, I figured that was what that letter to her was for. Why do you come in?"

"Well, she's asked me to go with the costumes so I could later put the costumes into storage at Canterlot after the event. As for why I'm here instead of Canterlot, it's a long story involving a manticore."

Wow, that seemed almost too natural. The unicorn even looked up.

"That made so little sense, I accepted it anyway... So you're the manticore survivor I keep hearing about."

Kurt tried so hard not to punch himself for the surprisingly clever lie. Then again, he could tell Rarity of this new plan once he got back. "Some people call me that."

"What else do they call you?"


The conversation was a little awkward. Aside from the reaction to the lie, the female never looked up from her duties, but she acted as if the only thing she was doing was the conversation itself.

"Anyway, I'll tell Rarity that everything's going to work out."

"How do you know Rarity, anyway? Last I heard you were still recovering."

"They let me out this morning, and I came by her place while stretching my legs. Anyway, see you later."

"Bye," the filly replied, still as always working.

Kurt left, pondering what exactly that conversation really did for him. Once he was out of the door, he felt his good hoof clock himself in the face. Surprisingly, no broken bones.

The fighting horse made his way back to Rarity's place. Half-way there, he heard an awe-struck "Whoa!"

Kurt turned to the source of the voice, finding a lone orange pegasus filly. She appeared to be entranced at the scars on Kurt's left.

"Uh..." Kurt tried to say something, but what was this filly on about?"

"How'd you get that?"

Kurt blinked. "Get what?" He asked, just to make sure the filly was talking about the scars.

"The scars, how did you get them?"

Deep-down, Kurt wanted to sigh. At the same time, he didn't want to come across as a guy who doesn't like children. Still, almost everyone in Ponyville had been asking him how he got the scars. "It's a long story, with a moral," he said.

"What moral is that?" the filly asked.

"Don't ever try the same thing," Kurt replied.

"Sounds good, Sir. My name's Scootaloo!"

Well that was random. Kurt wondered if everypony in Ponyville was crazy. Even Rarity seemed too posh for somepony living in a small town. All of the architecture also seemed to indicate some form of insanity.

"I'm Kurt," he said.

"So where are ya headed?" Scootaloo asked, joining Kurt's side as he continued the walk back to Rarity's place.

"I'm going to Rarity's."

"My friend Sweetie Belle lives there. She and I are trying to find our Cutie Marks."

"Good stuff?" Kurt asked.

"How did you get yours?" She asked.

Kurt wasn't sure what to say. She was a young mind, and a story about breaking both forelegs of the biggest bully at Kurt's old school probably wouldn't bode well sinking into said mind. "That's also a long story with a similar moral."

Scootaloo giggled. "You're funny, mister."

Kurt smiled, deep-down hoping this Scootaloo doesn't ask too deeply into his psyche and recent actions.

"Do those hurt?" she asked.

Kurt wondered when they would arrive at Rarity's. "They do if I over-exert myself."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Well, not about the scars, but I hurt myself playing a sport. The teacher told me to not over-exert myself for a few days, but that time was boring. I never got to do any cool stuff like making sweet jumps with my scooter."

Kurt nodded slowly. He knew this story as well.

"Oh hey, we're here!" Scootaloo announced.

Thank Celestia, Kurt thought as Scootaloo just barged into the door. Kurt waited a moment in case Rarity started to reprimand the filly for charging in. With no resulting noise, Kurt decided to follow suit.

Scootaloo was next to a unicorn filly, wearing what appeared to be an apparatus that held spools of thread. Rarity seemed entranced with moving some fabric through a sewing machine.

The orange pegasus groaned. "Hey mister, could you get us out of this?" She called to Kurt.

"Your help is much appreciated, darling," Rarity said to Scootaloo, not appearing to notice or care about Scootaloo's apparent suffering. The elder pony then spotted Kurt. "Ah, what brings you here again?" She asked.

"I talked with the Post office," Kurt replied "and told them I could bring the costumes into storage after the event, so I've got a way back to Canterlot."

"That's good."

"Canterlot? Can I come with?" the other younger filly asked. "I always wanted to visit!"

"No you can't," Rarity replied in the same way a mother would say "No" to a child. "Kurt here is going on this errand for me so he could get back home in Canterlot."

"You're not from around here?" Scootaloo asked Kurt. The response was a shaking head.

"Anyway, I just wanted to let you know," Kurt said.

Rarity thanked Kurt before he left once more.

Alright, Kurt thought, now I just need to wait until the order is done... How long would that take, anyway? A few days, maybe? With fitting and polish, it would take a few days. Not like I know the exact process of costume-making, anyway. I'm just a guard.

It was now mid-afternoon. He would need to find a place to rest and he doubt the doctor would be willing to let him sleep in the clinic again. The fighting horse wasn't sure if Ponyville even had a hotel.

"Hang on," Kurt checked his person. He left his wallet back at the hospital. Kurt cursed to himself and galloped to the hospital. Once again, he felt the pain of pulling on the scars too much, so he toned down the pace once more.

Entering the hospital, Kurt walked up to the receptionist. One of the nurses he met before. "Hey," Kurt said.

"You left your wallet, Sir," the nurse automatically said.

"Yes, thank you." Kurt said as he accepted the wallet from the receptionist. As he left, he wondered what exactly the hotel would look like, considering the stylized looks of absolutely every building in Ponyville.

Eventually, he found it after about an hour of walking around. He didn't ask for directions due to a combination of pride and his desire to explore. Along the way, Kurt still got lots of looks from assorted citizens out of the scars.

Speaking of which, the scars would need to be covered as well. Considering how Ponyville's citizens are reacting, Kurt wouldn't last two seconds on the streets of Canterlot without being spotted by a guard, whether or not he looked like himself.

The hotel itself was really more of a bed and breakfast. It was a large house shaped like a massive bed with windows.

How did the Mayor of this town get the funding for all this theme-design? How did they maintain all of this? This town is crazy...

Kurt entered the double door entrance to get smacked in the face by a wonderful fragrance. Somepony was baking in the kitchen, as if that needed to be stated. Other actions that happened that the fighting horse deemed irrelevant to the smell was the ringing of an entrance bell- which summoned a middle-aged workhorse.

"Howdy," the workhorse greeted.

"Hello," Kurt replied, raising a hoof in a short wave.

"Hey, you're the one who survived a manticore attack."

"I don't get enough of that," Kurt quipped sarcastically.

"Well you ain't from around here, which means you ain't got a place to stay. Stella and I already got a bed ready for you." The workhorse walked up and shook Kurt's hand. "We're the only Bed & Breakfast in Ponyville, after all. Name's Patrick, by the way."

Kurt shook back, only being polite after all. "I'm Kurt."

"You got a strong hoof there, Kurt. Even stronger than mine. How old are you?"

"About 20," Kurt said.

"Twenty? Holy cow, ye gotta be the strongest horse I've ever met."

This horse could tell that from a hoofshake? Kurt started to wonder if he should hoofshake as often as he had been earlier.

"Anyway, I'm bettin' ye want to be checking out your room. Right this way."

"What about payment?" Kurt asked.

"You, paying extra for surviving a manticore attack?" Patrick scoffed.

The lobby reached up to the second floor, a massive open hall for what's basically a bed & breakfast.

"At least a discount price then," Kurt reasoned. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to accept a free bed & breakfast. "I'm probably going to be staying more than one day."

"Very well. First night's on us," Patrick replied as the duo trotted up to the second floor. "It don't feel right to charge someone who just finished recovering. Never sure how them doctors do it."

Kurt hummed in acknowledgement. Patrick led the ex-guard to Room 5, on the opposite side of the giant hall that was the lobby. "Stella's gonna have dinner ready in about an hour. You make yerself at home, alright?"

The fighting horse thanked Patrick and entered his room. It wasn't a big room, but a bedroom never needs to be big. Even a small town would have so much to do, this bedroom would only be used as the place he could sleep and organize his thoughts and plans. Kurt tested the bed with a hoof, finding it remarkably soft. He then rolled onto the bed. As he rolled, he pressed on his scars- causing sharp pain. Not a smart idea, to say the least.

Staring at the ceiling, Kurt pondered how exactly he'll be able to pay for five straight days at a bed & breakfast, not counting meals at restaurants, or other supplies he would need to survive the week and his investigation into Canterlot. Kurt checked his wallet, only partially satisfied. Counting the free day here, he figured he had enough to last him for a week- only paying for the nights, anyway.

Despite having few friends outside of the Barracks, Kurt usually pitched in whenever other off-duty guards went to the salt bar. He wondered if he should regret those rather expensive nights. If he didn't, he'd have had enough to last him for over four.

Kurt decided he would find things to do to improve the collective opinion on him, helping out around the town, making it an easier place to live in. Every small town could use some extra muscle, right? The only flaw in this plan was "Maybe there was nothing he could help with. Maybe the fact that the collective opinion is "That Manticore Survivor" and nothing more. Maybe not everypony trusted him for reasons unknown."

Kurt power-napped for an hour, later woken up by the rapid metal clash of a triangle. He didn't remember how he knew it was a triangle. A lot of the knowledge he attained throughout his school years had settled to the back of his mind, only brought forth when something directly influenced a flashback to that old information. It didn't matter anymore. The triangle signified that dinner was served.

Downstairs, said dinner was delicious fresh bread complete with custom toppings. It was at the table where Kurt realised he wasn't the only one staying here. Among the guests were a high classy-looking pegasus couple, a white unicorn mare with a crazy blue mane, and a grizzled-looking light red unicorn wearing a burgundy fedora.

The couple sat down next to each other, trying not to discuss events in Manehattan. Kurt figured this out when the mare mentioned, "Dear, we are on vacation. We should not worry about whatever is going on back home."

The stallion seemed tense, as if he were a businessman. Kurt was reminded of his father- also a tense horse. Too bad his mother was the same, or they would probably be taking a vacation like this couple.

The crazy-haired unicorn seemed to bob her head almost naturally. Kurt pondered why. Was there a tune in her head? Why was she even here? Why did she even wear sun shades indoors?

The one in the fedora was equally as confusing to see here. The grizzled stallion looked like he belonged in the alleys of Canterlot. Kurt wondered what all of them did. More importantly, he wondered why they didn't double-take at the sight of his scars.

"Hey," Kurt said to the old horse in the fedora- the only one who didn't seem mentally preoccupied.

"Howdy," the old one said, "Name's Floyd."

"I'm Kurt."

"Pleasure to meet ye," Floyd said, extending a hoof across the table- which Kurt automatically shook. "Ye out on the road as well?"

"Well, in a way," Kurt replied.

"In a way?" the head-bobbing mare asked. She seemed to have been aware all along. Kurt wondered if he came across as rude. After all, she looked preoccupied, what with the head-bobbing and the glasses that hid her eyes.

"Well, it's a long story. I'm trying to get back to Canterlot."

"Why not walk there?" Floyd asked.

"Well, these scars make galloping difficult," Kurt replied, "And the Royal Guard wouldn't let me look for my brother there."

"Brother? Ye mean that missing colt, Cornelius?"

"Are the posters up already?" Kurt asked. He remembered that it had been a few hours since Spike got the posters in the first place.

"Well, I saw one on the way back here. Cornelius Foalington. Cute name, cute kid."

"Yeah, well he's my little brother. The Guards wouldn't let me near the city so I could try to find him myself."

Floyd shook his head. "Ain't that tragic, keeping brothers from takin' care of each other."

"Well, yeah," Kurt sheepishly replied.

"So whatcha gonna do now?" Crazy Hair asked.

"For now?" Kurt asked, "Well... live here, I guess. I'll need to scrounge up some bits to pay for extended stays. I'll have a better way into Canterlot within a week, so I'll need to keep myself busy until then."

The crazy-haired one and Floyd glanced at each other, then returned their attention to Kurt. "Well, I've talked with Vinyl here on account of bein' musicians," Floyd referred to the crazy-haired one. "We both got shows tomorrow and the day after. Not sure about the lass, but I know I could use an extra set of hooves.

Kurt nodded. He would need to get his left fore leg nice and limber to reduce risk of further injury in that case. Dinner was served, and the classy couple immediately shut up. Both of them seemed to relish in the amazing aroma of the so-called "peasant food."

During dinner, Kurt talked some more with Floyd and Vinyl, even managing to pull Patrick, Stella, and the classy couple into the conversation as well. Names and professions were passed around.

Floyd was a guitarist, usually performing small shows with audiences that usually grew to the hundreds or to the thousands. It all depended on which town he played in. Bigger cities meant bigger audiences. Floyd also mentioned that the small towns seemed a lot more... real. Kurt wasn't sure what to make of it; he wasn't a musician.

Vinyl was a disk jockey, out on a tour through the Earth Pony-dominant area that Canterlot overlooked. Ponyville, being one of the larger of the small towns, looked to be promising for an excellent show. Kurt wasn't even sure what a disc jockey exactly was, but he smiled and nodded.

Patrick and Stella, obviously, ran the bed & breakfast. They mentioned that before they set up the B&B, they were an accomplished bucking duo at the circus. It helped explain Patrick's remarkable farmer-level fitness even for one who lives near the dead center of the town.

The names of the upper-class duo were Silver and Judy. Silver was the businessman of a company Kurt never heard about, while Judy was the stay-at-home mother of five kids and an accomplished painter. When asked about the kids, Silver seemed to overreact about the safety of the children- only calmed down when Judy reminded her husband that three of them were old enough to take care of themselves.

Kurt envied each and every one of them. They got special talents that they could do whenever they wanted, wherever they wanted, without being judged universally poorly by society.

"So what do you do, Kurt?" Stella asked.

"Myself? I'm a guard... well, I was a guard."

"They fired you?" Judy asked.

"I was on leave," Kurt pointed out, "Oddly enough, when I decided to check out the Everfree forest, the Royal Guard sent search parties immediately."

"That's unusual for them, unless you're a criminal," Floyd commented.

Kurt nodded. He couldn't figure out how to word this without lying. After a sigh, he said, "You're an accomplished guitarist, Floyd."

Floyd tilted his head, visually gesturing "Eh, so-so."

"And all of you have these special talents that you enjoy doing."

Even Silver- who had a silver briefcase for a cutie mark- nodded.

"Well, I was born a fighter."

This announcement was met with confused and shocked expressions from everypony except Floyd, Patrick, and Stella.

"I've met several in my lifetime," Floyd replied. "Only three of them were nice young fillies and colts."

Kurt cocked his own head. "Really? What happened to them?"

"The bad eggs would have to be in the proverbial ditch by now, while the good eggs were brought into the Guard. Not sure about after that, though." Floyd took a deep breath, "Really, the uniforms make all the guards look the same."

"We've known two of them," Stella added, "In the circus, there were two who enjoyed fighting each other. All friendly stuff, and the audience seemed to find entertainment from it."

Kurt slowly nodded, complementing his meek smile. Hearing about these other fighting horses made him feel better about his identity.

"I'm gonna consider you the fourth good egg," Floyd said, "If there's a good story about those scars."

Now the new-found comfort vanished, and Kurt deep-down cursed the grizzled guitarist for requesting that story. He still managed to keep his cool. "I survived a manticore attack."

"Which is all fine and dandy," Floyd retorted, "until ye consider the reasons why a manticore would attack in the first place."

Kurt was officially in a corner. There were three reasons why a Manticore would attack: If it was provoked, if it was hungry, or if it was previously provoked by something else and hadn't cooled off.

"Nopony purposefully provokes manticores at this day and age," Floyd said, "At least, I hope nopony does. That leaves the option that it was hungry."

Kurt nodded, knowing full well where this was going. Everyone else listening intently wasn't helping either.

"Now if he managed to get ye once," the guitarist continued, "Especially a hit like that, there would've been no way for ye to escape."

"I fought it," Kurt replied.

"Ye fought it?" Floyd asked. Even though it was what the guitarist implied all along, Floyd still wasn't ready for the straight-up confession.

"Yeah, I fought it, and I beat it."

"Beating a manticore by oneself is an impossibility, you realise that, right?" Floyd asked.

Kurt's mind raced, like most interrogated minds do. He took a deep breath and replied "Yes, it is."

"Ye don't seem to like this conversation," Floyd glowered.

The ex-guard cringed and closed his eyes, not yet ready for the words "Get out of this town, violent scum!" or something similar. Instead, he felt a tough hoof on his back. Floyd had rounded the table to pat the ex-guard's back. "I'm jes' teasin' ye, boy. Didja see the look on his face? His face was more red than his hide!"

Kurt almost wanted to punch Floyd in the teeth for the awful prank, but he didn't seem to be alone on the "That was awful!" bandwagon. At least, that's what he assumed, considering the unamused expressions and lack of laughter.

Instead, the ex-guard looked up at Floyd. The grizzled stallion's face reddened as well, realising just how awkward he made the situation. The guitarist slowly navigated around the table again and took his seat.

Silence filled the dining room, only broken by Floyd taking a reluctant bite from his fresh bread.

"You beat a manticore?" Vinyl asked.

"What's a manticore, exactly?" Judy asked like the obvious city-slicker she and Silver were.

"It's a massive beast with a lion's mane and a scorpion's tail," Patrick replied, "I heard Twilight Sparkle and her friends took on one, but they wouldn't have beaten it with the six of them."

"That doesn't make my experience seem pleasant," Kurt commented.

"Hey, you play to your strengths. We can't blame you for that," responded Silver.

Floyd was about to say something, but decided against it when everypony looked at him almost condescendingly... except for Kurt, of course.

"Thinking about it now," Floyd said, "I had been teased in the same way when I was younger than you, Kurt. That's a story for another time, though."

Kurt acknowledged that Floyd wanted a bit of fun, try to make the dinner seem more lively. Even if the ex-guard wanted to punch the guitarist's lights out.

The dinner went by pretty calmly after that. The conversation was mostly dominated by Silver and Judy talking about Manehattan to Vinyl, Kurt, and the Bed & Breakfast couple. The upper-class children were all between Kaia's and Cor's age, aside from the youngest- who was a year younger than Cor. Judy talked about some of her artwork being displayed at the Manehattan Museum, while Silver mentioned all the big companies he got to work with.

Kurt didn't recognize any of the names. Then again, he never really got a chance to talk with his parents regarding their business. He hasn't talked to any of them for... actually, the ex-guard didn't remember.

Even when the others tried to get Floyd on their collective good side, the grizzled one didn't pitch in, stating his reason as "I never enjoyed the shows I did in Manehattan."

Surprisingly, nopony mentioned the scars or the manticore at all, aside from the obvious "When are they going to heal?" Kurt guessed about two or three weeks. Given his fitness, his blood flow was strong and efficient. Natural healing would go by faster.

After dinner, Floyd did ask one more question regarding the Manticore. "How did the manticore come out of the fight?"

Kurt blinked, drawing a complete blank from his memory. "I really don't know," he replied.

Floyd nodded and excused himself from the table. Everypony else followed suit, bringing the empty plates to the kitchen.

"That was some fine eatin', Stella. Thank ye." Floyd finally added before retiring to his room. The upper-class couple thanked her and Patrick in a more formal matter before leaving together out of the doors- possibly for one more tour around Ponyville. Kurt and Vinyl trotted side-by-side up the stairs.

"You do realise I'm telling my pals about how you beat a manticore, right?"

"Please don't," Kurt immediately replied, not wanting to talk about it anymore.

"Well if you're not open about who you are, nopony's gonna ever trust you."

Kurt gave Vinyl a look. "That sounds like the cheesiest thing I have ever heard."

"Well, I learned that from a good friend of mine before I got into music," Vinyl said. "Besides, it's not everyday a pony survives a manticore, let alone fight and beat."

Kurt nodded, not exactly listening anymore. Vinyl split off to Room 2, while Kurt continued to the opposite end back into Room 5. Floyd's room, 4, was left open. The old stallion appeared to be looking through three cases- each containing a unique-looking guitar. Kurt decided not to intrude, instead trotting straight to his room.

Once inside, Kurt locked his door. For the next two hours, Kurt stretched his limbs and joints. He wanted to be limber for the work he would do tomorrow.


The rest two hours later was warranted and desired- if not required. Kurt felt like a trillion bits, and was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, he couldn't actually take on the world; it would make him seem like a bigger jerk than Floyd when he played that joke.

In hind sight, Kurt acknowledged the humour. However, he wasn't sure how everypony else took it. Whatever way anyone sliced the cake, It was still a tragedy without enough time. Was the manticore even alive? Kurt wasn't sure. He tried to get the whole thing out of his mind as he hopped into bed two hours later. Tomorrow, he'd help Floyd get set up for his show.

The morning came quickly, but Kurt was fully rested. The pain from his scars was significantly less than before. The fighting horse attributed that to the stretches he performed last night.

Kurt had woken up early, so he spent the first hour of his day with more stretches. That left him an hour before breakfast was usually served. At least, that's how the schedule worked back at the barracks.

Or did it? Kurt wasn't even sure what time it really was at the moment. Yesterday was a pretty busy day that he had forgotten to check the time.

Outside of Room 5, Kurt checked the clock that hung above a door at the bottom of the stairs. It read 6:02, with the second hand moving at the pace it was meant to move.

The fighting horse made an effort to make sure his footsteps didn't make too much noise. He silently moved down the stairs and out of the front door.

The earth was dark, but the sky was bright and empty. Kurt couldn't even see Cloudsdale- probably because it was hidden behind one of the many rooftops of Ponyville. The tallest of the houses was a remarkably large three-story circular building which Kurt assumed was the Town Hall.

He tried a light jog, passing by said Town Hall toward the West End. The scars didn't emit pain, so Kurt picked up speed. Unfortunately, Kurt started feeling the sharp agony that came with scars once he reached half of his maximum gallop speed. Kurt still had a lot of recovering to do.

Kurt instead resorted to the fastest jog he could do, and maintained that pace as he navigated Ponyville for a more official tour. Floyd wouldn't be needing Kurt's help for several hours anyway, and the ex-guard needed to kill time. He needed to do something so he has a reason not to do the thing he wants, loves, and needs to do.

Outside the West exit, Kurt came across a fork. In the northern direction, the Everfree Forest stood. In the other, a massive apple orchard surrounded the path, only bordered by a well-built fence. Being from Canterlot, Kurt had seen many railings. The fence here looked rustic, simple, reliable.

Especially reliable. Kurt never found himself trusting the metal pipes and unknown materials that for all he knew, were only meant to mark the edge off the mountain city and nothing more. It really was a wonder how Canterlot manages to keep itself standing in general. Maybe the mountain is surrounded by bedrock, and the nearest fault line was hundreds of miles away.

At least, that's what he barely remembered from some of his homework on plate tectonics back in school. It all seems so basic on hindsight; the knowledge that by all means should be commonly known. Kurt wasn't sure how schools worked in Manehattan or Ponyville or Cloudsdale. What did the pegasi usually learn about in the Cloudsdale schools? Efficient flying techniques? Did they get lessons on plate tectonics?

Would the average pegasus even know what an earthquake is? Thinking about it, Kurt's old biology classes never really specified anything on pegasus wings, just the basic functions of a pony's internal systems and the unicorn horn.

The majority of the students- nay, the majority of the ponies in Canterlot were unicorns. Perhaps that visually hinted to Kurt that it really wasn't his kind of town.

Is this even an ideal society like Princess Celestia hoped to achieve? There are few conflicts on a large scale, only small one-on-one conflicts that rarely turned violent.

Kurt thought of this to try to distract him from deciding whether or not to take an apple from one of the many trees. Eventually he thought against it. The owner of the orchard could be some overly-specific pony that could spot a missing apple like a green spot on a red carpet. Besides, Stella was going to make breakfast in a few hours.

The ex-guard turned around and resumed his jog back through Ponyville. This time, he moved to the East side. The only structure beyond the proverbial border was a large schoolhouse complete with a bell tower. Beyond that was... The Everfree Forest again?

Wait, no. The trees didn't have vines or fungi growing on them. They looked more like a temperate forest. An odd contrast; the only thing separating the two vastly different masses of trees was this small town, apparently.

Kurt decided to check out this more friendly-looking forest. He had an hour or two to kill before the rest of the town started waking up.

As he trotted, he had the feeling that he was being followed. He turned to his right to see a bouncing pink pony with a messy mane- Hey wait a minute, it was Pinkie Pie! That same one that visited Kurt in the hospital for reasons unknown.

Kurt jumped away a smidgen in surprise. How the heck did she get so close without him realising it?

"Hi!" she cheerfully quipped as she bounced on all fours like... Kurt wasn't really sure how to describe it. Next to Derpy, this one was the strangest pony he had ever met.

"Why are you following me?" Kurt asked.

"You're the only one awake! Being alone's boring, I'm here so you won't be bored!"

Kurt blinked. "I guess that makes sense, but-"

Pinkie Pie interrupted the ex-guard. "We all have a dark side to say the least. Get it? It was a pun, cause it's still dark out! Puns are funny, and they rhyme with Ton. I make tonnes of cake at Sugarcube Corner! You should come by sometime! Everypony does! I don't know a single pony who wouldn't, unless they're crazy- but hey, what do I know?"

Kurt found this to be a very disturbing one-sided conversation. He started to try to ignore Pinkie Pie.

"So what is this place?" Kurt asked.

"This is Whitetail Wood. It's a lot nicer than Everfree. No yucky swamps or humidity that ruins the streamers. Every fall, the ponies run through the woods to knock the leaves down!"

"Sounds like a big effort," Kurt commented. The deciduous trees were massive and numerous. There must have been a lot of ponies that took part in this annual run Pinkie spoke of. Back in Canterlot, the season changes were accomplished using magic. The ex-guard wondered if things were done differently at Ponyville. As his train of thought ran off, Pinkie continued talking about how she commentates on all of the runs through Whitetail Woods in amazingly unnecessary detail.

Would he live here? Kurt would need a more permanent place to stay if he had decided to officially live in Ponyville. That rose another problem by itself: He would need a real house to himself.

What the heck was he saying? He's got his brother to find. The only reason he thought of it was to keep Pinkie Pie's motor mouth off his mind. Later in the day, he would help Floyd set up for a show, then Vinyl tomorrow. That's really not much.

Crazy idea, Kurt thought before turning to Pinkie- who was suddenly talking about her favourite kind of oatmeal. "You know anypony who could use help with anything? Grunt-work?"

"Grunt-work? Wouldn't you prefer to do good work?" Pinkie asked.

"No- Wait, yeah, but I-"

"Everypony could use help in anything. All you need to do is ask."

Kurt nodded. He realised that as well, having already followed the very same advice when asking Floyd and Vinyl for work. He wondered if it was a good idea to continue pressing Pinkie for information. At this point, he wondered if ponies even did run through Whitetail Woods every autumn.

Kurt stopped to stretch his scarred leg. It felt pretty good- albeit tense. He massaged the leg slightly, careful not to cause any real damage.

He had to wonder: Why the heck was Pinkie Pie awake at this hour? Was she experienced in power-naps and meditation as well? It didn't sound likely, given her extremely energetic nature. Possibly insomnia? Pinkie's natural energy didn't suggest insomnia.

Nothing seemed to explain how this energetic pony would be up and bouncing around at six in the morning. By all fundamentals, she should not be here in Whitetail woods, trotting with Kurt- still a complete stranger to her.

"Is there something I can help you with?" Kurt finally asked. He stopped due to being annoyed beyond measure.

Pinkie didn't respond. She had gotten a light-hearted tune in her head- which she performed through light-hearted hums.

Kurt remained rather silent for the entire walk to wherever Pinkie Pie was going. The sky lit up brighter, while everything else started to form actual details out of the vanishing darkness. By the time Pinkie decided to separate from Kurt, the ex-guard found himself back at the entrance.

He blinked once more, wondering just how the heck he had gone in circles. He also wondered just what happened to those two hours.

Two hours? Breakfast should be ready soon. Kurt started galloping at the same comfortable pace back to the Bed and Breakfast.

He politely stopped at the door to wipe his hooves before entering through the double doors. Once again he was punched in the face by a wonderful scent. It smelled like... syrup. It was a fragrance he hadn't smelled since one time when Kaia was home while Kurt was sick.

"Pancakes are almost ready," Stella announced from the kitchen.

Silver and Judy were in the lounge at the top of the stairs- the one area that separated the left and right rooms. Kurt couldn't get a good look at what they were doing.

"Thank you!" Judy replied.

Kurt then noticed Vinyl stumbling out of her room. She appeared to be still fatigued. The fighting horse partially didn't want to know what happened. He walked to the dining table to join Patrick.

Patrick was sitting in the seat Floyd used last night, reading the local newspaper.

"More hype-building around the re-crowning of Princess Luna," Patrick mumbled as he rolled up the paper, "Rest of it is just politics in Baltimare as usual." He then noticed Kurt. "Hey, good morning Kurt," he greeted.

"Morning," Kurt replied as he took his seat at the table.

"You were out this morning, I take it?" Patrick asked.

Kurt simply nodded. "There was this Pinkie Pie character."

"You've met Pinkie Pie, eh?" Patrick asked, "I know what you mean. Despite what you may think, she is the best when it comes to parties."

Kurt didn't want to believe Patrick. Regardless, the subject was changed rather quickly when Vinyl arrived at the table.

"Sweet Celestia!" Patrick exclaimed, "You look like you got hit by a train!"

"I couldn't sleep," Vinyl slurred.

"Was the bed faulty? I could fix that," Patrick replied.

"No, it wasn't the bed. I just couldn't sleep."

"Something on your mind?"

"My ex-boyfriend's been following me since Baltimare. The fact that he's doing that has made me nervous, even with the doors and windows locked."

Patrick nodded. Kurt's mind ran through the memorized book of laws and civil rights, developed by a large portion of Equestria's government, law enforcement, and other intellectuals who determined said rights. Among them was "Stalking with unknown purpose will warrant investigation at the very least."

Actually, that was just one of those things Kurt learned to accept. He had to deal with stalker cases before. Both of them went by rather peacefully. Kurt never got to punch out the punks anyway- though he wanted to.

Kurt suddenly felt nervous himself. Considering he seemed to be stalking Twilight, would his stepping into this case contradict one of the reasons he wanted to get to Ponyville in the first place?

To not visually reveal his nervousness, he changed his mental train of thought to the only thing he took priority over: Cornelius.

Okay, the fighting horse felt better. He offered Vinyl if he could also serve as a bouncer for the show. After all, he needed things to do while waiting for Rarity to complete and ship the costume order.

"I never had the need for a bouncer, but alright."

Kurt nodded and assumed he'd need to stick with Vinyl whenever she goes out. Who knows where this ex-boyfriend really is.

"Well, you're safe here. You shouldn't have to worry," Patrick said.

Vinyl seemed more relieved. Breakfast was served soon after, and Floyd, Silver, and Judy joined the table.

The breakfast was pancakes and fruit. Apples, to be more precise. Straight from Sweet Apple Acres, Stella claimed. Kurt dug in, unsure where exactly Sweet Apple Acres was. It could've been that orchard he passed by this morning for all he cared.

He started caring once he tried the apples. All-natural, and delicious; easily the best apples he's tried as of yet. Even those imported to Canterlot seemed to be missing something.

The pancakes were delicious as well, especially with the thick maple syrup. Needless to say, the table got messy pretty easily- except for Silver and Judy.

The upper-class couple seemed to be confused at the messy eating of the pancakes. Obviously they were posh, neat, and tidy. They wouldn't be caught dead with maple syrup on their precious, perfectly trimmed snouts. Eventually, after a go-ahead from Stella, Silver and Judy finally gave in to the urge to eat unlike civil and proper ponies.

Kurt found their initial reactions to the goofy lower-class habits as hilarious. He couldn't laugh on account of having his mouth full of sticky maple syrup and pancake. The breakfast went by with conversation regarding the general positive feel of the whole town. Kurt understood a fair bit of the gossip on account of having a chance to explore the town and meet some ponies.

Most of it was regarding the attractions, such as a baking workshop called Sugarcube Corner. Kurt remembered Pinkie Pie talk about such a place. Apparently it had some of the best treats "evar."

The ex-guard hadn't tried a sugary treat since the last time he was at Pony Joe's. Pinkie was right, he figured he should drop by sometime.

For now, helping Floyd set up for his show was still a few hours away. To pass the time, Kurt hanged around the house while Silver and Judy left to explore Ponyville some more. Vinyl returned to her room- possibly to get a better rest. That left Kurt to help out around the building.

After an hour of cleaning up, the fighting horse return to his room and continue his never-ending training and stretching. The scars would soon become mere aesthetics, leaving Kurt at maximum combat potential.

The hours passed. The building started filling up with another smell. Stella was at work concocting a delicious meal once more. Before the proverbial triangle was struck, Floyd knocked on the Room 5 door. Kurt met the grizzled guitarist in Room 4, where they both loaded up assorted equipment onto their backs. Floyd carried his guitars, while Kurt- being obviously younger and stronger- carried almost everything else.

They left the Bed & Breakfast in the early afternoon. The show was to be near the front of the Town Hall- where most every show takes place. Outside the hall, a stage was set up- obviously for Floyd and Vinyl's respective performances. Kurt and Floyd worked together to get the stage equipped with speakers, instruments, the whole nine yards for concerts.

Oddly enough, there were no drum sets or extra instruments for background musicians- only a microphone and the sound gear. Kurt wondered what exactly Floyd could do.

He never found it really necessary to ask. His business was really to get something done so he could pay for a night at the Bed & Breakfast- or at least a more positive reputation than "That stallion who survived a manticore." It wasn't to question the guitar skills of an old horse.

The preparation took about five hours. By then, the sun was hanging low on the horizon. Floyd thanked Kurt. After the show, Floyd said he would help pay for a night.

Kurt left Floyd to the last bit of preparation. It would be time for dinner soon, and the fighting horse wanted to get back to the Bed & Breakfast before then.

Dinner came and went. Later at night, everyone left the bed and breakfast to check out the show. Kurt wasn't a good judge of music, but everypony seemed to like it.  Floyd was indeed a polished guitarist, strumming the guitar with a pick strapped to his hoof, while his horn emitted a floating ball of energy that slid up and down the neck, appearing to press on different strings to make the different sounds. It was a unique variant of unicorn magic- one that Floyd obviously spent almost his whole life honing.

Regardless, Kurt wasn't a music critic. He also had a greater priority: staying at the back of the crowd, making sure he had a clear view of Vinyl. After all, he was supposed to be a bodyguard, right?

Nothing happened throughout the show. Vinyl's Ex-boyfriend didn't make an appearance- or maybe he did, but didn't try anything. Kurt never figured it out for sure.

Tips were thrown onto the stage. Apparently, Floyd was a crowd favourite. Vinyl decided to leave immediately after the show was over. Kurt stuck to the DJ's side, alert and watching for the reason he was a temporary bodyguard in the first place. On the way, Vinyl talked about how skilled Floyd was despite being a jerk. Kurt didn't want to reply to that; he put the awful joke behind him the night before.

Or maybe Vinyl was saying that to try to spark conversation with the ex-guard. It's a little late for that. Contrary to popular belief, it is impossible to multi-task, especially when the tasks demanded differing mindsets. Alertness didn't mix well with friendliness.

Patrick and Stella met them at the Bed & breakfast. They had left the show earlier so the building would be open for everyone else later at night.

Vinyl returned to her room while Kurt sat at the living room- to the left of the entrance hall. The ex-guard scanned the assorted unique furniture and paintings on the walls, passing the time between then and when he went to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, Kurt yawned and returned to Room 5. The next day, he would learn that Floyd paid for the next two nights. Patrick knocked on the door to inform Kurt early in the morning. Perhaps it was some form of material apology. Kurt felt he should be annoyed, but he was thankful for the help. Assuming Vinyl even gave a day's pay for a day's work, Kurt would save on at least an extra day. Extra bits for whatever Kurt needed to get before leaving back to Canterlot.

Maybe he could pass by Rarity's tomorrow, maybe get a different look to throw off the Canterlot guards. Kurt would need something to cover the manticore scar, anyway. Maybe dye his mane and tail- or even so far as his hide.

No, Kurt thought, hide-jobs always look fake. He's seen some model ponies pass by the Canterlot Gate while on-duty. They always catch the attention of his comrades, but Kurt somehow could detect the fake hide jobs. Their manes and tails always looked great no matter the colour, however.

Alright, alright. A nice summer suit to conceal the scars, and a mane and tail job. That shouldn't be too expensive, and should be enough to disguise himself against his own comrades... Then again, his eyes were still the same. Spectacles? Kurt figured he could get some cheap shades or something. Ponies always looked different with glasses on.

Once he gets back, he'll have a week to blow before he gets his chance to escape again. Since Cor's missing, there would be nopony left in their spire of a house. Kurt's parents never could fork over the money required for a house sitter, anyway- and Kaia was an excellent big sister. Even after Kurt left, Cornelius talked about how he was faring despite being home alone-

Oh jeez, he was home alone? Kurt shook his head in disbelief as he sat up on his bed. He hadn't noticed that fact this whole time? It's no wonder the younger brother could've gone missing. Even with Kurt's plan to get back into Canterlot, it was just him working with what he had. If a real deal pony-napper got the resources together, a pony-napping in Canterlot would've been easy!

They must have pulled off a similar operation to what Kurt planned to do now in the first place!

Kurt cursed to himself, planting both of his toughened hooves over his temples. He massaged them, trying to recollect his thoughts. His fury was starting to build up- mostly targeted at himself. He knew this was a premature rage, and he had to save it for when he found the ones who took his little brother.

It's starting to strain on his willpower. Kurt Foalington needed a fight. He needed to punch something. There was a worm in his skull, trying to nip at his brain, tell him "You must hit something. You must make something suffer physical pain. You were born for this."

"I was born to protect peace." Kurt repeated to himself, trying to drown out this worm.

Focus, damnit! Focus! Kurt slapped himself. He didn't feel like going outside his room now- but he must. For Cor's sake, he must get work done for Vinyl so he'll have the funding to find Cor.

With a deep breath, Kurt slipped out of his bed. The triangle rang- indicating breakfast- and the fighting horse left the room.

Everyone and Kurt had toast. There was a lot of toast too; enough to feed everyone thrice over. Patrick mumbled something that sounded like "Maybe a bit too much toast, Stell?"

The motherly mare smiled and nodded. Kurt then noticed that Stella was never without a smile. She looked very content with her life with Patrick, and there was no underlying tone only the most experienced with subtlety could notice.

Kurt found that inspirational. She cooked and lived with the circus, found love, and started a requirement of a tourist attraction so she could continue doing the thing she loves. The twin frying pans was a fitting cutie mark, really.

The fighting horse hid his growing jealousy, however. He ate his toast and tried his best to not imply that he was troubled. The last thing Kurt wanted was to make his new-found friends uneasy. After all, he's been living with this worm in his brain ever since the first fight with the bullies.

Become stronger, it said, become faster. Reach the pinnacle of your abilities and go farther than ever imagined.

Reach it, he has. He beat a manticore. Now why was he ashamed about it?

Floyd was staring at Kurt. "Somethin' wrong, Kurt?"

Kurt shook his head, deep-down chastising himself for dropping his feigned friendliness.

"It's nothing. I'll be fine," Kurt replied. "Thanks, by the way."

Floyd shrugged and went back to his toast. "Ain't the first time I've met a pony trying to scrounge for the money needed for a noble quest."

Kurt nodded. Noble quest, noble quest, find little brother. Got to keep that mind on the noble quest. That worm can go shove a broken broom handle through its gut. The fighting horse finished his last slice of toast and diverted his attention to the conversation.

Once again, it was about Manehattan. The brick buildings all built by-hoof by almost every construction pony ever born. Not a single construction pony has ever lived without doing a job in Manehattan- at least, that's what the proverbial "they" said in those "We want you" advertisements for the Equestria Construction Service.

Wait a sec... Wasn't that the company Kurt's dad worked in? The fighting horse couldn't quite remember. He'd need to investigate their spire house in full once he got back to Canterlot, anyway.

The table conversation dissolved to more of the same stuff. Patrick and Stella talking with Silver and Judy about the differing lifestyles between urban Manehattan and rural Ponyville. Vinyl and Floyd talked about the music industry and shows they performed in the past. After mentioning last night's show, everyone started asking Floyd questions regarding his career as a guitarist.

Kurt had to admit: he was impressed at the massive number of things the guy has done for fifty years after he discovered his passion. He played with four bands, another several for collaborative singles, and other music industry jargon Kurt didn't fully understand.

Equestria was a bustling world, always expanding, leaving behind whatever or whoever doesn't meet up with the ever-growing standards, save for few lucky stiffs. Lucky stiffs such as Kurt and the other good-hearted fighting horses around the world. What was he to do?

Cornelius. He had to find Cornelius. Why was he repeating himself, anyway? That worm in his brain?

Kurt thanked Stella for the breakfast, dropped off his utensils, plates, and cup near the sink before leaving the Bed & Breakfast.

Once more, it was a beautiful day. It was, however, windy for once. One look at the sky, and Kurt found out why.

A cyan pegasus mare was blasting across the sky at speeds Kurt couldn't comprehend. The sight was intense, but the thrill wore off rather quickly. He just wanted to find someplace with something he was allowed to punch, maybe a hay bale back at that one farm from yesterday morning.

On the way, Kurt blinked. In the split second before he opened them, the speedy pegasus was on the ground, looking straight at Kurt.

Wait, not at Kurt; she was looking at the scars.

"Manticore attack, huh?" she asked in an almost squeaky voice- the kind of voice nopony would expect to take part in singing. Not that Kurt was a judge for that, anyway.

Kurt nodded. "Well, survived."

"Well I took on a manticore!"

Kurt's eye twitched. Was that really something to be boasting about?

"So how'd you survive?" the pegasus asked.

Kurt mentally conflicted between telling the truth or using the same trite alibi he had been using. The doctor wasn't a fool, and neither was Floyd. This pegasus looked like an athlete who'd know physical limits like the back of her hoof.

"I beat it."

The pegasus paused, apparently not expecting a simple answer. "Come again?"

Kurt shrugged. "Make of it what you will. I honestly don't care anymore." This was like, the seventh time he had been referred to as "That Manticore survivor," and he was getting sick of it.

The cyan one seemed to visually imply that her mind was racing. "You... beat a manticore?" She asked. She looked like a loose cannon too. Kurt wondered if he would realise if that was a good thing or not.

"How'd ya do it?" she asked rather calmly, apparently trying not to squeal in... Kurt wasn't sure if she would squeal in terror. Rather, she looked like a crazed fangirl Kurt once had to detain for almost assaulting an upper-class fashionista.

"I just... beat it," Kurt replied, "Then got hit, so I escaped."

"Rainbow Dash!" called a voice that was now all-too-familiar to Kurt. Rainbow Dash twitched, letting her mane seem to lose its life and drop over her face in shock. "Gotta go!" she announced immediately before darting down the street.

Pinkie Pie approached. "Hey Kurt!" Pinkie said as she pranced past the fighting horse.

"Hey," Kurt replied. Suddenly, something clicked in his mind, and the ex-guard added "Wait, I don't recall telling you my name,"

"Everypony knows your name now! You're the nice stallion who helped that guitarist."

Kurt blinked once more. "How does that involve you knowing my name?"

"Patrick and Stella came to visit Sugarcube corner and told us! You should drop by sometime."

"Could you show me the way?"

"It's down the street- you can't miss it. Anyway, I need Rainbow Dash for something! Bye!"

At that, Pinkie continued hopping without a care in the world, coupled with her head-in-the-clouds variant of over-the-top humming. Kurt once more thought if that pony's craziness brushed off of others. Was she the key to the kind-hearted, cheery nature of almost everypony around? Was she also from the circus?

Regardless, Kurt had time to kill before he had to help Vinyl, so he made tracks to find Sugarcube Corner.

Pinkie was right; it was impossible to miss. The large house looked to be made of assorted sweets, with a chocolate-covered gingerbread-looking rooftop. Just how well-funded was this town to have such theme-oriented buildings, anyway? Was it not enough to just have signs? Stylizing an entire building seemed like overkill to Kurt, anyway.

The place was closed, however. It was still too early. Kurt decided to further explore Ponyville until the time came to help Vinyl set up.

The houses that weren't commercial bases looked like houses, with thatch-roofs and window sills, not one gimmick among them, aside from whatever hanged on the front doors, and whatever was growing in the respective gardens of each house.

There was a giant hollowed-out tree amongst a few of them. The cedar sign next to the door had "LIBRARY" carved in.

Kurt hummed, approached, and knocked on the door.

Spike answered the door. "Hey Kurt," he said.

"Hey Spike," Kurt replied, "Got any books on the history of music?"

Spike thought for a moment, then snapped his claws. "Be right back," he said before running back into the library.

Kurt stepped to the side and assumed a professional guard stance- one of the few that seemed to be completely hard-coded into his brain since the long days on-duty. The sun slowly inched its way to the top of the sky, where it would then slowly drop below the horizon for yet another night. It was still a few hours before Lunchtime. Kurt decided he would read this book while waiting for lunch and helping the disc jockey. It gave him something to do, anyway.

The baby dragon eventually returned with such a book, titled Musical History of Music. Kurt frowned at how lame the title was. The dragon seemed to agree, but didn't speak. Spike fit the book securely onto Kurt's back before he closed the door again. Prior to that, Spike flashed a salute to the ex-guard. Kurt smiled automatically, but didn't mean it.

Meeting Twilight Sparkle was currently on the back of his mind, which was why he didn't take the opportunity to ask Spike where the unicorn was. On the way home, Kurt wished he had unicorn powers, so he could use the commonly-known telekinetic powers to read the book as he trotted.

The ex-guard was curious about the history of music in Equestria, given the experience he's been ingesting these past few days. Floyd and Vinyl's conversations at the table, the shows, the technology utilized for the shows, everything was an unknown to Kurt- and all he did was carry stuff to and around the stage.

Back at the Bed & Breakfast, Kurt spent the next three hours reading in his room. He learned of the earliest recorded music by assorted ponies from small towns a good few years ago.

Before he could get started on the invention of Rock & Roll, lunch was announced.

Downstairs, lunch was spent the same way as breakfast- save for different topics in the conversations. Kurt realised that his ultimately loner attitude landed him with little to contribute to... well, any subject- aside from the workings of the Guard. Even though he wasn't part of the Royal Guard anymore, Kurt knew better than to disclose information about them. Sure they were trying to keep him in his proverbial prison, but some of the guards were still brothers from other mothers. In other words, he literally had nothing to talk about. Even when Floyd and Vinyl talked about music some more, they referred to eras Kurt hadn't read up on yet.

The food- as always- was delicious. Assorted flowers and grasses were the main meal of the noon hour. Kurt indulged himself to the tulips, with some sweetgrass on the side. Lunch was consumed rather quickly; apparently everypony had things to do.

After everyone was done, Vinyl beckoned Kurt to her room to pick up equipment for the show. Turntables, computers, all the bells and whistles were all in boxes that Vinyl loaded onto Kurt's back.

The gear was heavy, but not too heavy. There was definitely more stuff than what Floyd had yesterday. Kurt realised a pony not as strong as he would barely manage to carry half of what Vinyl loaded onto his back right now. The disc jockey held the doors open for Kurt on his way outside the Bed & Breakfast.

Once everything else was picket up, Vinyl and Kurt left for the stage together.

"Thanks again for helping, Sir," Vinyl said.

Kurt's eye twitched. "Sir?" He asked.

"You're a Guard."


"My cousin's a guard at Baltimare," Vinyl added, "One thing his superiors said was that from the moment you get the armour to the day you die, every guard is your brother."

Kurt nodded in agreement; he had a similar message told to him during his early training. He was still an ex-guard. "And that still makes me a Guard?"

"You try to achieve justice," Vinyl replied, "You're looking for Cor."

"Yeah," Kurt said. "I've still got two more days before I'm off-"

Suddenly, that cyan pegasus darted past them at an even greater speed than last time Kurt saw her. Pinkie Pie hopped along at a slow, but constant pace after the cyan blur.

"You don't see that everyday," Vinyl laughed.

Kurt wasn't sure whether or not to laugh at this point. Pinkie's insane, and Rainbow Dash seems to act like a fangirl at times. He felt scared for his life if either of those two were given free reign in this town without repercussions. The ex-guard resorted to a smile.

"Anyway, Tomorrow and the day after, and I'm going back to Canterlot."

"Aren't the Guards looking for you?"

"Considering this Princess Luna pony, I'm thinking the Guard would have better things to do than find little old me," Kurt replied. He managed to feign the confidence behind that statement. In reality, he wasn't sure if he would manage to get into his own house and remain there until his chance out of Canterlot arrives.

Kurt decided he would get Rarity's help in changing his look the next day. For now, Vinyl's show and bouncing.

The preparation went by smoothly. Vinyl hanged around, forcing Kurt to remain at the stage as well. The hours passed as Vinyl got everything running smoothly, and occasionally engaging in conversation. It was rather one-sided. Kurt listened while Vinyl talked about Baltimare and her ex. All the while, Kurt listened, but kept an eye out for said ex.

"You don't talk much, do you?" Vinyl asked.

"I'm inexperienced," Kurt replied, "I only know things everypony already knows.

Vinyl laughed. "What about that manticore? You know how to deal with one."

Kurt twitched. At this point, he realised Vinyl was just teasing him. He should've realised it sooner with Vinyl claiming she'll tell all her friends about the fighting horse.

"Well, yeah... But that's only one thing," Kurt replied.

"Everypony's born with that one thing they're good at, Kurt."

Kurt nodded. "Society doesn't seem to want mine."

"It goes against the peace we've more or less kept around Equestria, but I understand its usefulness. Look at what you're doing now."

Kurt was sitting on the edge of the stage.

"Your cutie mark is a shield, you're protecting the stage." The disc jockey paused to fit a USB cable into the side of the turntables. "You stand to defend anything from anything."

"I dunno, I just wish I had a talent ponies could like- like you and your music. Everypony likes music, nopony likes violence."

"You like violence," Vinyl interrupted.

"And that's just one pony," Kurt added. "Out of Canterlot and here, that's one in millions."

"Only tyrants wish to stop what we can't help," Vinyl said, "There was a time when EDM was considered an evil genre of music- and beforehand, Rock & Roll. Look how they're faring today."

Kurt was silent, now wishing he had brought the book with him. "They're doing good?" he finally asked.

Vinyl didn't answer, but was head-bobbing to a tune on her mind. Apparently the answer was obvious.

In a few more hours, the show had begun. Vinyl started playing and ponies gathered around. Kurt avoided the spotlight, instead standing in the shadows with a clear view of the stage and crowd. He was security at this point, and he had no distractions.

The music was upbeat, and it got the crowd moving. Interestingly enough, it was a different- but still positive general reaction by the crowd. Kurt figured the answer to that question was "Both genres are well-accepted in the eyes of everypony."

Perhaps if Rock & Roll could get accepted, maybe his crave for the fray would be accepted as well.

Moment of truth. A reserved- but angry-looking stallion approached the stage, not taking his eyes off of the DJ.

Kurt was ready to move out to intercept. Turned out his preparation was necessary, as the angry one started clambering onto the stage. Behind her shades, Vinyl seemed uninterested. The crowd's energy seemed to diminish as the party-pooper began approaching Vinyl with ill intent. Even a quick glance would tell anypony that this angry stallion had ill intent.

The ex-guard was on the scene. His hooves slammed onto the secure stage, solidifying his position between Vinyl and her angry ex-boyfriend.

"And who are you?" The angry one asked.

Kurt's inner guard took over to give this one a chance. "The stage is off-limits to unauthorized ponies."

"Get out of my way," the angry one growled, "This doesn't concern you."

Kurt didn't get out of the way. "I'll give you five seconds to get off the stage and let everypony else enjoy the show."

"What if I don't?" the angry one mockingly asked.

Kurt's blood started to boil. His addiction started to overtake the inner professional. "To be perfectly honest, you do not want to know."

"This is between me and Vinyl, punk!" the angry one shouted as he reared onto his hind legs to swing a hoof.

In a blink, there was a resounding crack. Those who didn't miss it saw Kurt tackle the angry one, shoving a hoof into the angry one’s floating ribs. The following shove threw the angry pony off the stage. The force of the punch seemed to break something within the ex-boyfriend's torso. The angry horse dropped and rolled onto the ground.

"One chance, my good stallion," Kurt growled in a tone of voice he hadn't heard since the manticore.

The angry one got onto his hooves and lunged at Kurt.

"Thank you," Kurt said as he threw a hoof into the angry one's face. The tough-as-steel hoof impacted on the angry one's face. "Thank you for choosing the right option."

The ex-boyfriend dropped in a similar manner as the manticore. Eyes rolled up, snout slowly getting covered with blood from the broken nose.

Kurt was about to leap off the stage for a finishing move, but assorted ponies gathered around to pull the knocked-out one away. None of them could miss the scowl the fighting horse wore.

Said scowl wore off as he mentally told himself to cool it. He shook his head to regain his senses. The fight was over; the ex-boyfriend was no longer a direct threat.

It was too short. Kurt wanted more of a fight. He was expecting more of a fight. Still, he better appreciate what violence he could get in a society like Equestria.

The worm in his brain wouldn't hear any of it, though. Kurt distracted himself by turning to Vinyl. The disc jockey was looking out for her ex. Once she was certain the others had taken the problem individual far enough away, she continued the show.

The energy of the crowd- having been killed when the first signs of aggression revealed themselves- started to get revived once more. The show went on, leaving the fight behind them.

Kurt's anxiety was what Ponyville would think of him now- having beaten down another pony to unconsciousness with little to no effort. Would they start showing nervousness, or would they find use in the ex-guard's craft?

Time will tell. For now, the show must go on.


The next morning, Kurt felt a lot better. However short, the quick beating helped set his mind straight again. Once again, it was early in the morning, so he left the Bed & Breakfast on a jog.

The scars felt far better. The ex-guard was able to gallop for real this time. He ran to Whitetail Wood on a bout of exercise- exercise he sorely needed.

Running from and to the Bed & Breakfast took two hours. By then, the town was waking up.

It was a good day as always. Kurt wondered if it ever rained in Ponyville. Maybe the pegasi were behind schedule. The trees did have quite a few loose branches. Perhaps they're waiting until the town gets together to clean up.

Kurt returned to his temporary home, ready for breakfast.

Vinyl had paid for the next two days- according to Patrick. The middle-aged workhorse was setting the table as he told Kurt. The ex-guard nodded, and offered to help set the table.

After washing his hooves and setting the table with Patrick, Kurt sat down at his usual spot. Soon, everypony else arrived for breakfast. More sweetgrass and bread. Everypony made their own custom sandwiches this time.

Conversations were once again about subjects Kurt had little knowledge or ultimate care in- except for the troublesome ex-boyfriend. According to Floyd, Vinyl's problem contact was in the hospital. Word on the street was that the doctor was actually laughing. Kurt knew full-well why, and he suspect Floyd and the others already pieced it all together.

"I saw that happen on the stage too. Ye've got some incredible speed there, kid," Floyd commented. "That guy never knew what hit 'im."

Kurt shrugged in an attempt to be modest. He didn't want the spotlight over him since last night. His body language was enough to give the others the hint to change the subject. Breakfast went by quickly, and Kurt had a game plan for the day.

He spent an hour after breakfast reading the history book, then left for Rarity's place. Kurt knocked on the door, and was greeted by a younger filly. She was the other filly who was "abducted" for work alongside that Scootaloo character.

"Hello, is Rarity in?"

"Yes she is, but she's still busy on that order."

Kurt acknowledge the information with a nod. "Well I just wanted to get my mane and tail dyed."

"I'll tell my sister then," she said before turning and galloping on her short filly legs. Kurt entered the boutique- which generally looked the same. Minor differences included more mannequins, more mannequins covered in exotic outfits, and a dress cart holding expensive-looking costumes.

In the room beyond the entrance hall, Kurt could see the young filly try to get Rarity's attention. The fashionista was apparently in the zone. Fortunately, Kurt had all the time in the world,

A good fifteen minutes later, Rarity finally finished another dress and directed her attention to the immediate customer. "Oh, hello Kurt," she said.

"Hello," Kurt greeted in response. "I just wanted to get my mane and tail dyed before I return to Canterlot. Is that too much to ask?"

"Not at all," she said before beckoning the ex-guard to another room filled with giant dome-shaped hair-dryers and other hair care equipment. Her younger sister followed, apparently curious to learn the trade of the big sister.

Kurt wondered how Cornelius was doing. At this time, Cor would be a bit older than the younger filly at Rarity’s side.

"Over here," Rarity said, indicating a chair. Kurt sat down, letting his tail poke through the opening in the back of the chair. The chair itself was designed specifically for mane and tail-related things, but was also quite comfortable.

The dye job was rather quick. Kurt asked for a colour that matched his coat, maybe the same read. Rarity didn't seem to acknowledge that the ex-guard had even said anything, commenting on how ragged the mane and tail were. She even asked how Kurt slept at night with such an unruly mane.

Kurt blinked, unsure of how to respond to that. He finally shrugged, assuming that his saying he never noticed might offend the upper-class-acting pony.

Rarity went the whole nine yards on Kurt's mane. She cut it evenly in a way only a proper stallion would have it... At least, that's what she said she'd cut it, anyway.

The ex-guard felt rather uncomfortable as his tail and mane got lighter bit by bit. However, he managed to calm himself down by remembering that Rarity had a studio like this- and was no-doubt a professional.

"Now that's a more stunning look, monsieur," Rarity commented after the snipping finally stopped.

The fighting horse flinched, obviously not used to hearing French. Before he could say anything, Rarity pulled the chair to a double-sink. Two bowls for the mane and tail respectively. Kurt closed his eyes as hot water splashed over his head and flank.

"Now then, let's see what suits you to a tee," Rarity asked aloud to herself.

Kurt regretted his decision to come here. Was this pony insane? She seemed once more in the zone. The fighting horse looked up to see the younger filly, who looked as nervous as Kurt felt.

"Sis, I don't think he knows what's going on anymore," the younger sister said.

"Nonsense!" Rarity exclaimed in an almost completely bonkers fashion, "I will have this stallion dazzle all of Canterlot once he returns!"

"Actually, I don't want to draw attention to my-" Kurt started, but was interrupted by a nice-smelling hoof pushing his head down into the sink again.

Time seemed to blink past for Kurt as he closed his eyes to avoid getting water in them. Eventually, the involuntary movement finally stopped, and the ex-guard finally opened them again. The involuntary movement was replaced by a nice warm towel on his neck.

"Now then," Rarity continued, pulling Kurt to one of the giant domes with her own unicorn magic. Kurt closed his eyes again, legitimately afraid of what was to come. The dome came down over his head and blasted its heat down his mane and back, Another smaller dome covered the tail.

Kurt opened an eye to see Rarity look almost completely insane. The younger sister contrasted well against the displayed madness with borderline fear. The ex-guard almost wished the younger filly wasn't even there to begin with.

Eventually, the heat stopped. Kurt almost stumbled, but was saved from falling by the younger filly. Rarity grabbed a large mirror with her telekinesis and pulled it to Kurt.

Sweet Jumping Hydras! Kurt thought to himself. He was about to shout it aloud, but then experienced an even more horrifying epiphany: He looked really good!

"Whoa," Kurt commented, checking out his now-shortened tail and now-even mane. Both of them were dyed the same colour as his own hide- no longer the navy blue of before.

It was also the first time he actually got a good look of his own scars in the mirror. Aside from his blue eyes, Kurt could not recognize himself anymore.

That was good, in fact. If he couldn't identify himself, what chance did the Guards?

Actually, that wasn't a perfect question to ask, Kurt realised. The guards always had a good look of Kurt, and probably would still recognize him regardless.

Then again, it has been more than a week since any guard last saw the fighting horse. Rather than think too much about it, Kurt paid Rarity in full for the hair job.

"By the way, do you have anything that could cover this?" Kurt asked at the front counter, indicating his scars.

"And throw off the ravishing look I made for you?" Rarity asked, "You'll be the center of attention at Canterlot."

"That's... kind of what I wanted to avoid," Kurt replied.

Rarity pouted, causing Kurt to expect a "How rude" treatment like before. However, she seemed to understand. The fashion unicorn left to the sewing room and returned with a gold-coloured suit that covered part of the torso and the forelegs.

"That looks real expensive," Kurt commented as he was checking his wallet further.

"Think nothing of it," Rarity said, folding the suit and draping it onto the ex-guard's back. "You're looking for your brother."

"But the suit-"

"It was a returned order. It had already been paid for," Rarity said- her voice suddenly a bit shaky.

Kurt blinked several times, processing all the oddities about the whole situation. "But-"

Rarity gave Kurt a look he could not really describe. Kurt looked between Rarity and the younger filly, and started to get an idea of why Rarity was being so generous.

"Thank you," Kurt said, "So long."

Upon that, he left the boutique with suit draped onto his back.

At least, he almost left, except a random citizen burst into the door, announcing a party at Sugar Cube Corner. This seemed like a good time as any to visit the place. Just as soon as he dropped off the suit back at the Bed & Breakfast, anyway.

The ex-guard jogged to Patrick and Stella's place to toss his newly-acquired suit onto the Room 5 bed next to the music history book. Then he lightly galloped toward Sugarcube Corner.

Along the way, a tormented-looking griffon stormed up the street. An odd sight, Kurt thought. He hadn't seen a griffon before.

This one looked angry, and it was looking at Kurt.

"What are you looking at?" the griffon barked.

Kurt didn't seem to want to answer the question. After all, he was looking at the griffon, wondering what made her so angry. "Is something wrong?" Kurt asked.

"You think just because my best friend turned lame on me means you get to stare?"

That was... the dumbest piece of logic Kurt had ever heard. The griffon inhaled, then let out a guttural roar directed at the ex-guard.

"Just trying to help here," Kurt attempted to reason. Deep-down, he was hoping to Celestia that the griffon would throw the first punch.

Come on, Kurt thought as the griffon's face turned red.

Finally, the griffon rose a claw and swung it.

YES! Kurt's mind screamed. He blocked the claw with a foreleg and landed his other fore hoof into the griffon's beaked face.

The griffon stumbled back, now officially over the edge of reason. Kurt was rather grateful; this fight will last longer than the ex-boyfriend. Perhaps this would hold him for a week at least. She shook her head to regain her senses, then lunged at the ex-guard again.

The claws looked rather nasty- though not as bad as the manticore. Not exactly desiring more scars, Kurt concentrated on not getting hit. He waited for an opening from the rampantly-attacking she-beast.

Eventually, there was one. Kurt got in close and started pounding on the griffon's ribs with his hooves. Just as quick as he struck, he opened the distance again. The griffon staggered as she attempted to breathe comfortably again.

Kurt took advantage of the staggering by jumping in and whaling on the griffon's face. She never knew what hit her, to say the least. The ex-guard stepped back a few paces to get a glimpse of his handiwork. The griffon was out cold, and Kurt didn't care what he broke.

He felt good now... very good.

Before walking on to join the party, Kurt hoisted the unconscious she-beast over his back and carried her to the clinic.


"I don't say this often, but nice work," the doctor said.

"Thanks?" Kurt asked.

"I was just kidding," the doctor interrupted, "While I like having things to do, I'd prefer not feeling guilty over having to clean up somepony else's mess."

Kurt nodded, encountering a flashback to Sergeant Baton. The fighting horse replied "To be fair, she did strike first."

"Was she provoked?" the doctor asked, "Griffons don't usually attack unprovoked."

"Well, she was provoked- but not by me."

The doctor hummed and nodded. "You're leaving soon, though. Finding Cornelius Foalington?"

Kurt nodded. Tomorrow was the day, and he still needed to visit Sugarcube Corner and return the music history book. Only two things left, and he had all the hours he needed.

"Well, in case we don't meet again, good luck with that." With that, the doctor trotted into one room to look after the newly-acquired patient.

Kurt smiled after the doctor. He was a nice pony- helping others no matter the species. A real constructive individual to contrast against the ex-guard's destructive nature.

However, by the time he got back to Sugarcube corner, everypony was leaving. Kurt refrained cursing to himself- not wanting to risk anypony hear said cursing. At that point, he realised that he had missed lunch... and dinner too.

He entered Sugarcube corner to see that some ponies still had some party left in them. It was a rather different party compared to the last one Kurt had been to. Ponies were dancing, the treats were all real treats, no one wanted to break Kurt's jaw, or try to murder him, the purple filly was there- wait, what?

The purple filly, Twilight Sparkle, was there. This was his chance!

Kurt approached the buffet table- still covered in sweets, despite the crumbs, empty, and half-full cups left everywhere. This was his chance. What would he say to one of the main influences that caused his act of going AWOL?

“Erm, hello...”





Rarity's generously-given golden suit jacket fit nicely- if only a bit loose. Kurt preferred it loose, anyway. It didn't impede on his flexibility. If anything, he needed the flexibility if he was to sneak through Canterlot without being spotted.

The mail carriage bumped upon entering some turbulence. It was a good hour or so before arrival at Canterlot. As Kurt sat between some secured crates, he thought about the night before, when he said "hi" to Twilight Sparkle.

However, it seemed more like a greeting to her and the two other ponies with her. An orange mare wearing a hat and... hey wait a minute. Wasn't she that one breezy-looking one who was the first to see Kurt?

The yellow and pink one was looking at Kurt through locks of her mane. Apparently she was still mentally scarred from first seeing Kurt. She didn't speak... ever... It was something Kurt couldn't blame, even if it had been nearly two weeks.

"Howdy," piped the orange one. "You're the one who helped the DJ, huh?"

Kurt acknowledged and answered. He was rather thankful that nopony was referring to him as "That Manticore Survivor" anymore.

The conversation boiled down to how great the punch was, to how great the party was, to something regarding a jerk griffon. Kurt's eyes darted back and forth, not sure what to say regarding the griffon.

"You weren't here before," Twilight said to Kurt, "Did you see an angry griffon causing trouble?"

Kurt slowly nodded, then shook his head. At least now she wasn't causing trouble anytime soon. "She got hurt. Probably out of anger, anyway."

The two ponies visually expressed concern. It seemed odd to Kurt, considering they described the griffon as a hot-blooded jerk. He managed to shake the hooves of the orange one and Twilight Sparkle. That was one goal down. The mentally-scarred one seemed to hide behind the other two. Kurt almost was afraid that she would speak out about how maniacal the ex-guard must have looked upon exiting the Everfree Forest.

Kurt helped himself to one or two treats - both delicious - before leaving early for the Bed & Breakfast. The next day, the ex-guard dropped off the book, which he still hadn't finished yet. He then got his suit and arrived at Rarity's.

The rest, as they say, is history. Now, Kurt donned his suit, had a touch-up on his makeover, carried the crates to the post office, and was sitting and waiting in the carriage.

Suddenly, he realised that he had forgotten something: his cutie mark. He had no way to cover it up. Would the Guard notice? He figured they wouldn't. The uniform did cover the flank rather nicely, and Kurt didn't know of anypony who would've paid much attention to his cutie mark... aside from his mentor Sergeant Baton, and whoever's in charge of unit data.

Actually, every other guard would be on the lookout, and would therefore know Kurt's cutie mark. Of all the things to forget, the fighting horse had to forget to disguise his own cutie mark.

What a way to start off a plan to get in and out of Canterlot: a screw-up, and no way to fix it except to rely solely on luck. Until his scars fully recovered, Kurt would need to rely on nopony really caring to notice.

Eventually, the carriage set down in the postal hangar in Canterlot. Kurt took this opportunity to ready himself to push crates. The back doors opened, and Derpy and another pegasus entered.

Kurt pushed the rather heavy wooden box down to the hangar floor. Together, the three ponies emptied the carriage of all the items sent for Canterlot incredibly quickly. After waving goodbye, the mail carriage soared toward Manehattan- the next stop. Kurt took a look at the boxes left on the hangar floor for actual workers to take care of, then left discreetly.

No guards on either side of the immediate street. That was excellent, Kurt figured. He was easily three blocks away from his home. Kurt took back roads and shortcuts on the way- cutting the time into thirds. Still no guards. Kurt stood outside the back door to the spire that was his home. Even in Canterlot, doors were rarely locked. Kurt entered silently without any problems.

No one was home, as Kurt expected. Mum and dad were rarely home, and they certainly wouldn't be here when their prized sons were missing.

Kurt wondered what Kaia was thinking now. Despite being his older sister, Kaia was rather difficult to understand. Then again, he never had an eye for gardening, and she didn't know several effective ways to painfully incapacitate another pony.

After a quick search of the house, Kurt felt a lot more comfortable. He was certain nopony saw him enter the spire. Now was just a week until Kurt's chance to leave arrived. Easily enough time to comb the entire spire for clues to the whereabouts of Cornelius.

It turned out Kurt was right. His dad did work for the Equestria Construction Service. His mother worked for the Baltimare Fashion Press- a big-name fashion magazine. Kurt remembered spotting a few copies at Rarity's place.

Kurt checked the fridge as he entered the kitchen once more. Ingredients and other stuff. They didn't look or smell expired. Kurt wondered how long ago the fridge was resupplied; probably a week at least. Nothing expires that fast aside from expensive delicacies.

The pantry, however, was full of canned food, so Kurt was definitely set for the week before the big event coming up. With that worry out of the way, Kurt started searching for clues.

The search over the first five floors took several hours- and the ex-guard was utilizing all of his investigative training. Nothing so far, and it was starting to get dark out. The next day was equally as fruitless. The last five floors didn't have anything. Kurt then started searching the cellar. Still nothing stood out- nothing gave Kurt an idea where Cor was taken or how he went missing. No suit threads on sharp bits, no hoofprints, no dirt, no nothing.

The Guards were definitely thorough- as they usually are. Perhaps they did get such a clue only Kurt would know the significance of. Maybe they didn't know such significance.

Kurt climbed up to his room to collect his thoughts. There had to have been something. Kurt remained in his home, hiding in the shadows of his room, away from the large, tinted windows. He didn't want to risk anything. Even sleeping, his ears were open. He felt like whenever he stopped to rest back in the Everfree Forest: always alert.

He did not speak for the past three days. The searching continued- this time a much more thorough search through Cornelius' room. He searched under the bed, in the closet, everywhere in and around the toy box, even looking for hiding places in the mattress or behind paintings on the wall.

There was nothing on or in Cor's desk either. The older brother even pulled the desk over and searched every surface of the drawers and desk itself.

Kurt then noticed one of the drawers had a hole in the bottom- a hole that didn't show on the other side. The ex-guard gripped a pen between his teeth and pushed it through the hole.

The board rose, of course. Kurt wondered how the heck Cornelius knew of this interesting stash system- or how the Guard never caught it. Inside the cache was a small pile of neatly-pressed sheets of paper. Kurt pulled them out and spread them across the desk.

They were all copies of the letters to Kurt. He remembered every one of them very clearly, but he read them anyway. He missed the look of his little brother's writing.

They were all the same- save for one. One letter was something Kurt had never read before.


You're probably never going to find this, but I wanted to get it down on paper anyway. Mom and Dad were just told that you ran away. I doubt I'd ever know why. Kaia came home that afternoon, and she was also worried.

I'm scared, bro. Not because you ran away, but because Mom and Dad seemed almost... grateful.

The letter wasn't finished. The overall by-the-books letter structure seemed a lot more complete in all the the other letters. With this one, it seemed to have been stopped part-way through, then left in the stash along with all the others.

Kurt wondered how the Guards had missed this. Wouldn't they have noticed an oddly-placed hole among all the otherwise smooth-bottomed drawers? Maybe he just lucked out with this find.

His parents seemed grateful? That implied so many things to the ex-guard. His parents were grateful that he had run away, never to be a problem again? Maybe they hoped Kurt would've gotten caught and imprisoned for real.

The fighting horse assumed they were grateful because they deep-down never wanted a violent son. That theory went out the window when Kurt realised that his parents have always treated him with... well, they didn't treat him like anything. To them, Kurt was just another set of legs in the spire, doing his own thing. They were too busy looking out for Kaia- who'd been practicing her art, working the many window gardens set around the spire.

They just didn't care... But if they didn't care, they wouldn't have seemed grateful- like Cor noticed and recorded in the letter.

Kurt sat down on Cornelius' chair, looking over all of the letters, trying to find something else- anything. Some kind of code? Kurt and Cor never practiced making a secret code most closely-knit brothers sometimes do.

Then he realised: He had an objective after all. He had to confront his mother and father and ask them what happened to Cor. For all Kurt knew, he was pissing in the wind. In all honesty, it wouldn't hurt to find Mom and Dad.

They both went between Manehattan and Baltimare whenever they weren't home. It would be Kurt's first time over in either city, provided he got out of Canterlot. The only chance for that, however, would come with the Princess Luna ceremony a few days later.


Kurt didn't turn on any lights or heat up any stoves. He opened a can of sweetgrass and chewed slowly. He was deep in thought amongst the silence. It was around two in the morning, and he had just woken up from a nap that more than rested him well enough.

Even with a clear mind, he couldn't get to sleep again. Outside the tinted windows, Kurt watched the night life. Guards changing their shifts, some party-goers stumbling their trot of shame from whatever nearby salt bar.

Kurt's gold suit lay on his bed in an effort to keep it as clean as possible. Any household system that relied on an outside source, Kurt didn't want to risk using. Maybe somepony could tell where materials are going around the city; some random pony who monitors utility usage throughout the city.

The sweetgrass was the kind that could use cooking, but it tasted just fine on its own, and it got the ex-guard fed. He sat at his window, looking down at the streets, up toward the palace, to the barracks, to his school.

Twilight Sparkle shook his hoof, he reminded himself. It was an almost magical feeling, like a weight had been lifted. His goal to actually meet the purple filly had been complete. Once he was done with this, he'd probably return to Ponyville and try for the next step: a full-fledged sentence for once.

Something of interest caught Kurt's eye: a pony covered with a dark cloak, carrying a large opaque liquid container, approaching the spire itself.

Kurt threw on the suit and finished off the sweetgrass in one more bite. The ex-guard picked up the saddle pack containing more canned foods, the letters, money and packaged ingredients before making his way downstairs.

He neared the windows and tried to look out of them at every angle while keeping his distance from the actual surface. He hid in the shadows, looking for the cloaked pony with the container.

A splashing sound reached Kurt's ears from the cellar. The ex-guard inched his way to the cellar door in the corner of the kitchen, and opened it slowly.

A stench reached Kurt's snout, distracting him from the sounds. It was that of... gasoline? Kurt wondered what the hell somepony was doing with a canister of gasoline when the pouring stopped.

A light followed... A bright red-orange light. The sound of an inferno came with it.

Kurt slammed the door shut and galloped upstairs away from the door. The cellar door flew off its hinges as fire splashed through and started setting the kitchen on fire. The sound of blazing fury flooded Kurt's ears and only slightly shook the ground.

The ex-guard immediately regret his decision to run upstairs rather than run out of the back door- or the front door. The flames trapped him upstairs. Thinking on the fly, Kurt continued bounding up the stairs. Eventually, he reached Cornelius' room. Within was the big windows every upstairs room had, and a smaller window that fed the occupant a nice view of the window of the next-door building.

Kurt threw the window open and checked the distance. Living in Canterlot gave Kurt an uncanny lack of fear of heights, fortunately. Regardless of that, he still thought he had a really stupid idea. He concentrated energy on his back leg muscles, and shot himself across the empty space leading far down to the alley.

Kurt impacted on the window, and grabbed a hold of the surprisingly secure sill. With his snout, Kurt attempted to open the window, but no dice. Kurt got a better grip with his left foreleg and swung his free hoof at the window.

He didn't have a horseshoe on, so it took several hits before the window finally shattered. Panicked, Kurt pulled himself through the window.

Kurt scrambled away from the destroyed window, panting loudly. Somepony planned to destroy the spire. He wasn't sure if the pony even knew Kurt was there.

Damnit, Kurt thought, If only I had taken the back door instead. I could've sneaked up on the guy and beat his damned head in...

His rush died, and so did his loud panting. The spire was burning. At this point, Kurt had no way to contribute. He could do nothing but wait for fire control ponies to get informed of the disaster. The ex-guard wasn't a firefighter. Even if he was, the fire had already become too great for him to handle with absolutely no equipment.

Kurt sat down on a chair, with his face in his hooves. What could he do? Punch the fire?

No... He got what he needed. Sustenance for a few days, money he found in emergency stashes he knew of, and evidence he would need when confronting his parents. The money was easily enough to last him four weeks if he rationed properly.

The last question on his mind was "Whose house is this?"

"Excuse me," said a voice that petrified the ex-guard.

The light turned on, and there was a young teenage filly looking straight at Kurt. Kurt stared back. Both blinked at each other, wondering the exact same thing.

"Okay, I'll just go find whoever's burning the next-door spire down - cause it's kind of my spire," Kurt finally said before standing up and turning to the stairs.

"There's a fire?" the filly asked as she got out of bed to investigate the broken window.

"Yeah, there, uh, is... Sorry about the window." At that, Kurt bounded down the stairs.

Outside on the street, Kurt galloped around the now-engulfed spire. He was undergoing yet another panic attack.

He was out on the streets. He was exposed, and he had no safe house anymore. The saddlebag did a decent job covering his flank and cutie mark, but he still was spotted breaking a sixth-story window by a filly.

Kurt forcefully transformed the panic into anger. Somepony just tried to burn his spire down. His Celestia-damned home. Let the officials deal with the fire. Kurt needed to find that cloaked one.

There were faint drops leading toward the school. Kurt raced after the path, sniffing for the gasoline. In a minute, the smell would have completely dissipated. By the next morning, all evidence that the spire fire was on purpose would have vanished completely. He didn't give up quite yet. By all means, the cloaked one had all the time in the world to find a bin to discard of the container and hide.

Eventually, Kurt finally gave up. The smell had gone, and he was in the middle of the old playground at his school. The arsonist could've gotten anywhere by now.

He stamped his hooves in frustration, causing sand to bounce into the air. This was the last thing he wanted right now. Kurt needed someplace to stay, and quick.

"Think, Kurt, think," he muttered to himself. He was trying to remember what ponies he was on good terms with...

Pony Joe... Kurt didn't know where the guy lived. Maybe he could hide near that donut shop. Kurt kept an eye out for guards on-duty and off. At this time of night, the guards were few, but were in key areas, such as the palace, the barracks, the entrance, and around the city perimeter. Anywhere else, the peace and quiet could be easily broken by even the softest of whispers. It only takes one pony screaming to call down the thunder.

In fact, Kurt was surprised that the young filly didn't scream when the ex-guard pounded the window into shards.

Pony Joe's was surprisingly open. The owner had his eyes closed, obviously sleeping on the job. Kurt checked around him and entered the donut shop.

The owner shook his head and cleared his throat. With a hoof, he wiped the fatigue from his eyes. "Good evening, sir. Uh... kind of late to be rolling out for donuts, eh?"

"If that were your opinion, why do you keep your shop open this long?" Kurt asked.

"The guy who's supposed to be taking this shift had to call in sick... Wait a minute..." Pony Joe squinted his eyes to get a better look at Kurt. "You sound familiar, man."

"It's me, Kurt," Kurt said. He knew he was blowing his cover, but he found that he could trust Pony Joe.

"You're alive?" Pony Joe asked, cocking a brow.

Kurt blinked, but didn't think too much on the question. "Uh... Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Radio announced your death last week," Pony Joe replied.

"That's impossible," Kurt replied, "They never announce KIA without a body."

Pony Joe took his turn to blink, He had no idea how to respond, it seemed. A pony is announced dead without following protocol, and said thought-dead pony arrives with a nice haircut and suit, and now he's standing in a donut shop for reasons unknown.

"I need a place to stay. Now more than ever," Kurt said.


"My little brother is missing, somepony just set my old home on fire, and now they're breaking protocol to deem me dead," Kurt replied, "I honestly don't think I'm mindlessly paranoid."

Pony Joe absorbed the information. "Your brother? Cornelius?"

Kurt nodded.

"He came here quite a bit, now that you mention it. I didn't know you two were brothers!"

Kurt's heart skipped a beat in excitement. "How was Cor doing?"

"Always friendly," Pony Joe boasted, as if Cornelius was his favourite customer. "Sometimes with his friends, sometimes alone. Always happy either way. He enjoyed the donuts, and I enjoyed making them. What more can ya ask for?"

"When did you see him last?" Kurt asked.

"Well, that was the one time he seemed troubled," Pony Joe replied, "Come on, I'll lend you my room. Lemme just close up."

Kurt looked at one of the remaining donuts, then placed a few bits onto the counter. Pony Joe smirked and accepted the money. After picking up the donut with his mouth, Kurt left the donut shop.

The lights turned off, and Pony Joe locked the front door behind him. Pony Joe gestured the ex-guard to follow. The duo approached a nearby spire- an apartment spire. By the time they entered, Kurt finished off his donut.

In Pony Joe's apartment, there was a makeshift bed and a sofa. Kurt found the returned trust rather surprising. Was Cornelius that friendly a guy to Pony Joe that he was even friendly to family? Kurt wasn't sure if he alone warranted this level of trust.

"The one time he seemed troubled?" Kurt asked.

"The little guy was talking about how his brother went missing. He never gave me any names. He seemed really distressed." Pony Joe hanged his jacket up on a hanger in the tiny kitchen. "That was over two weeks ago, now that I think about it. About two days after the last time you came in."

Kurt acknowledged the information. "Did he mention anything about parents?"

"He asked me how I would feel if my parents would've been grateful if I up and vanished without a trace, never to return," Pony Joe sniffed, but tried not to tear up. "I don't have parents like that, but I can almost imagine how life would be if that did happen..."

Kurt nodded. Somehow, he wasn't welling up. Deep-down, he had gotten over the sadness stage. Now he wanted answers. He needed information, and he needed to get to Manehattan and Baltimare.

He had the names of the companies his parents worked for.

"I'm really not sure why I let you in my apartment," Joe slumped onto his bed. "Before the report, the Guards said you were dangerous. Truth is: I honestly cannot believe that, since you've got such a well-mannered younger brother."

Kurt continued where he left off, not responding to the direct compliment. "Somepony burned my home down earlier tonight. It was all set to look like some random act of some unknown force or something. It was a cloaked pony with a large container of gasoline.”

Pony Joe didn't respond. He was snoring, apparently he was kidnapped by sleep.

Kurt wondered if the guy's fatigue contributed to his lack of thinking before letting this deep-down ball of violence bunk with him. The ex-guard was thankful, and suddenly realised that he was finally getting tired as well.


Kurt woke up on the sofa with a kink in his neck. He got up and did some morning stretches. Pony Joe was in the kitchen.

"How'd you get the scars, anyway?" Joe asked.

Kurt automatically replied, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Get asked that a lot, eh?" Pony Joe asked. "Where was I, regarding Cor?"

"He asked you about strangely grateful parents. What came after that?" Kurt asked.

"Frankly, he was silent the rest of the day." Pony Joe answered after a quick recollection of said conversation. "So was I, in fact. Getting asked that gets you thinking."

Kurt nodded. Pieces were coming together. His parents were grateful that he was gone. Between the time Cor vanished and Kurt arrived in Ponyville, the announcement of death was broadcasted... If anything, it implied that Kurt's parents purposefully tried to move while he was gone. The unexplained arson felony at his home seemed to support that idea.

That would mean Cornelius was with Mom or Dad... and the ex-guard could figure out exactly why.

"I need to get to Manehattan," The ex-guard finally announced, "Or Baltimare - whichever's closer to walk to."

"Manehattan," Pony Joe corrected.

"Yeah... My one chance of getting out of Canterlot without being spotted should come up during that big event coming up in... what, two days? Three days?"

"The Princess Luna fiasco?" Joe asked, "Everypony's been getting ready for that. Who'da thought, long-lost sister to Celestia."

Kurt flashed back to the ruins of Everfree Forest. The dark unicorn with the ruined armour was Celestia's sister? Then again, he did recall seeing wings. At the time, he thought they were pieces of the ruined armour. An alicorn as well - with both extra pieces to a pony Kurt and others lacked.

Pony Joe let Kurt stay for the three days. Having a goal that required him to not be detected by the Guard, he didn't dare consider taking advantage of this rather shocking display of trust. In fact, he never considered considering said morally unsound idea.

Kurt had to stay in the apartment, so he took the liberty to reorganize everything- much like everything used to look in his old bedroom. Pony Joe was a bit of a slob, with newspapers everywhere, empty containers not disposed of yet, some dishes that needed washing. The fighting horse also needed something to do. Three days in self-inflicted confinement was really boring without something to do.

Nothing seemed to result of the teenage filly witness, who only contributed that some stranger told her there was a fire. She also mentioned that she was tired and didn't remember too many details. Shockingly enough, she didn't mention the window. Kurt wondered if that filly was all there in the brain - or at least mentally matured enough to put all the care in the world into the situation. Then again, windows were dime-a-dozen here in Canterlot.

The time passed, and Pony Joe had no comments regarding Kurt's self-initiative to clean up his own mess - a mess the donut shop owner seemed to like. It definitely wasn't going to be anything positive, but the donut shop owner seemed to understand why Kurt did it. Boredom is a key ingredient to insanity.

The night eventually came. Everypony who was anypony was there. The streets were packed. For a pony who's trying not to be spotted by the Guard, it was ironically Kurt's best hiding place. His gold suit didn't seem that strange after all, given the glamorous dresses and other costumes worn by almost every present guest.

He hoped nopony would take too much effort to identifying his cutie mark. After all, there were hundreds of thousands out on the streets already. All moving, all pressed together, all part of the crowd of a massive parade.

On one float, Princess Celestia and her younger sister stood. The elder looked rather proud, and the younger seemed almost broken to tears of joy. Kurt was right: it was the same filly, and she in fact was an alicorn. The outstretched wings kind of made it obvious.

All of the Guard were present as a massive marching band behind and in front of the Royal Float. Their gold armour recently washed and polished to a mirror shine.

Seeing them there gave Kurt a crazy idea. He weaved through the crowd discreetly, and made his way to the barracks.

The doors were locked, obviously. Kurt knew the secret knock, so he tapped it several times in an odd succession. They opened, and Kurt tackled whoever opened the door. Before the guard could determine what happened, a hoof slammed into his unprotected cranium. He was out cold.

Kurt gasped for breath. This was his first time making the first move. It felt... odd. Every other time, he swung his hoof in reaction to something - be it a bully or a rampaging beast of the Everfree Forest. This time, he attacked first - and planned on it.

The guard Kurt knocked out was none other than Sergeant Baton himself. This made Kurt feel so terrible on so many levels. At the same time, it made him feel good. That worm seemed to expel some kind of... happiness-inducing chemical into Kurt's brain...

"No, focus," he hoarsely whispered to himself, purposefully disguising his voice in case there were other guards present. He dragged Baton behind the desk and galloped to the armoury.

Once there, he looked through the lockers until he found his own. He remembered he number: 213D. The locker still had his gear, so he grabbed it all. Putting on the suit over the formal attire was easy - Kurt had done it twice every day since he first started. Kurt couldn't help but wonder why they still kept his uniform despite the official report that he was dead. Maybe they had plans after capturing him again - plans to make sure he behaves.

The implications started getting to ridiculous levels that the ex-guard still believed. He also emptied the locker of his badge and other trinkets he always took with him: a shield, tonfa, and a blade. All of them were designed to attach to his foreleg plates. It was all standard-issue.

As quickly as he got in, Kurt got out and locked the door behind him. He only hoped Sergeant Baton didn't get a good look at him. The ex-guard didn't think so, having struck fast and unexpectedly.

Of course, he had a more conspicuous disguise - but how else would he be able to carry the armour and his saddle pack? Pony Joe couldn't hide him anymore, meaning he was officially on his own.

Kurt initially avoided the crowd, trying to find a way across the parade. Just my luck, he thought. The postal headquarters was on the other side of the street. A real spotlight area, that street - what with all its magic fireworks, loud parade music, and spotlights everywhere. He wouldn't be able to spend a nanosecond beyond the edge of the crowd without being spotted by even the most disinterested colt.

He wanted to find a darker way around, but time was running out. Instead, Kurt pushed through the crowd and onto the street. He timed this mad dash when the least guards were nearby. Some audience members paused and wondered what the heck this certain guard was doing. With his picked-up speed, Kurt leaped over the crowd. Fortunately, they were more than willing to push open a spot to land on. The ex-guard blasted through the crowd, and vanished around the corner of another building.

Kurt was officially compromised. However, if he got to the post office quick enough, he'd be gone before any guards are informed, let alone sent. He rounded buildings as much as he could, self-imposing a maze to throw off the guards if they called for directions.

The postal building was in sight after one final corner. Kurt burst to the fastest gallop he could. The scars stretched, catching him off-guard.

The stupid scars, of course! Kurt winced in pain and slowed down. He was so damn close to the post office. He could smell the adhesive ponies lick to secure envelopes. He could smell the unique paper and tape used for packaging.

The door, however, was locked.

Kurt banged his armoured hoof onto the ground, then started rounding the building- looking for an entrance he could improvise.

Wings flapped closer. Looks like they finally got wind of this unusual behaviour. Kurt couldn't let them see him. He needed a real hiding place.

The ex-guard stopped when he reached the farthest edge he could reach of the building- an edge with the same cheap, yet ornate-looking railings that merely served as markers rather than safety devices.

Kurt jumped over the railings and wrapped his hooves around the strongest point of the otherwise useless railings: the base.

On the underside were supports like nopony could imagine. None of them were close enough for Kurt to swing to, especially with such an uncomfortable grip.

"I see something!" shouted a voice.

Kurt huffed in frustration. There had to be something. A convenient vent? A fault in the construction that he could use as a grip? Anything?

"Ah, there ye are," said the same voice - much closer this time.

Kurt looked up at the guard, and furrowed his brow.

The guard's cocky expression slowly vanished. "Uh... Sir?"

Before the superior officer could respond, Kurt lifted himself up and pulled the guard down with him, ultimately letting go. The guard's expression immediately changed to shock as Kurt pulled him through the railing and over the edge.

The guard yelped in surprise as Kurt kept a firm grip on the pegasus guard. The guard's wings flapped wildly as the duo plummeted down the mountain. Back up on the edge, Kurt spotted the rapidly-shrinking sight of several other guards looking over the edge. Kurt didn't get a good enough look, but he assumed their own expressions resembled the falling guard's.

Soon, the duo neared the slope. Kurt shoved the pegasus guard away and reared himself for a better landing.

His hooves touched the slope, and he started to roll down the mountain. The saddle bags were secure and his armour was tightly-fit. Kurt was absolutely certain that nothing would burst and spill contents everywhere.

Regardless, the rolling got more and more intense. He was certainly tough enough to roll down a rocky slope, but this big a rocky slope? The ex-guard knew he'd need a way to stop rolling, and fast.

Amidst the impact on the rocks, Kurt could hear more shouting coming close. It seems the other guards were getting in on the action. Kurt pushed himself from the ground and attempted to steady himself.

Indeed, six more pegasus guards were bearing down on him. In another direction, three others were trying to catch their pulled-down comrade. The ex-guard landed on his boot-encased hooves and slid to a stop. The slope had gotten flatter as it neared the low hills.

Success, Kurt thought. He was now out of Canterlot. The next problem to tackle was the guards.

Kurt lowered his stance, assuming a savage expression on his face. He was this close to freedom to investigate his missing brother, and these guards want nothing more than to stop it.

The thought made him angry- and he wanted to get angry. When angry, his philosophical side took the rodeo seat and hoped to Celestia that the raging bull didn't buck it off completely.

The pegasi zoomed toward him, and Kurt responded by unsheathing the blade of his helmet.

"He's serious, lads!" the sergeant of the group announced. Kurt lunged forward, forcing the guards to split off around him. After that, Kurt continued bounding down the hill. He slipped the sheath into his saddle pack as he did so.

His hooves pounded onto the solid purple rock that comprised the mountain, and he kept his eyes and ears out for the guards circling around him like vultures.

Patience, Kurt thought. None of them had crossbows. Even if they did, they had limited shots. Just need to wait for them to get close enough... Now who'll be the lucky colt this first round?

One swooped in, and Kurt swung a hoof in an uppercut fashion. The hit was true, right in the pegasus' jaw. The guard's wings went limp as he impacted onto the slope and started rolling.

Two more guards split off from the main group to help their comrade. Kurt decided that was a good thing. All he needed to do was get them all distracted from saving their buddies, then find a place to lose them in.

Unfortunately, Everfree Forest was on the other side of the mountain. As far as he could see, there were no trees or mountains in the direction he galloped. Manehattan's skyline slowly disappeared as the low hills rose in his perspective.

The last three guards swooped in, realising the error of their friend's ways. Kurt slid to a halt, and two of the guards flew into each other. The last one - the sergeant - was quick enough to slow down himself.

The sergeant landed in Kurt's way, where they got good looks at each other. The other four guards announced that they were on the way from back near the top.

"Kurt?" the sergeant asked.

"Broke protocol, eh?" Kurt growled, "Official report states I'm dead."

The sergeant didn't have anything to say. Kurt figured the guy was mentally preparing himself to take down the ex-guard.

"Take it from me, Sir," Kurt continued, "Since we're now all about breaking protocol, go back and tell them I died on impact. There is no damn way you or anyone are stopping me now."

"That's a shame, Kurt, cause stopping you is our number one priority," the sergeant bellowed in that authoritative voice Kurt hears in every other sergeant's voice. "You know full well why we can't let you loose."

"You're right, but my brother is missing," Kurt replied. "Remember the Royal Guard code? If not protocol, you should at least remember that."

The sergeant wouldn't have enough of it. Despite "from the day a guard dons his uniform to the day he dies, every guard is family", the sergeant unsheathed his own helmet blade and lunged at the ex-guard in the stolen uniform.

Kurt lunged as well - except he side-stepped and tripped the sergeant with his back leg. The sergeant's face smashed into the rocky side, and he fell unconscious. The blade stabbed into a small crevice in the rock and got stuck as a result.

The ex-guard continued galloping down the slope, followed by the last four. This was never going to stop, was it? In fact, why did Kurt care about when it was going to end? ... Oh yeah, every guard was a brother or sister. He finally figured out why he felt horrendous after beating Baton unconscious.

Kurt continued galloping until he reached the low hills. Oddly enough, Kurt couldn't help but notice that silence seemed to follow him instead of wings flapping. The ex-guard turned his head to see the other four tending to the sergeant. Apparently they gave up on the chase.

He knew why they decided to stop. They had to report that Kurt was alive and made off with equipment and other stuff in saddle packs. They could easily assume the fighting horse was making his way to Manehattan, and would no-doubt send word to the guards stationed there.

The ex-guard in the stolen uniform did not stop his run. He put as much distance as he could between himself and Canterlot. Overall, the mission was a success... but at what cost?

His home was burned down, the guards knew he was there and where he was going, and he certainly wasn't going to try to bring trouble back to Ponyville. The ponies there are too nice to warrant such a thing.

Kurt kept low, snaking around the lowest points between the hills. Eventually, he found a nice foxhole hidden behind a dam for a power nap. Sheathing his blade again, he lay down in the empty cove and shut his eyes.


Armoured hooves filled Kurt's ears. Search parties again. Kurt's lapse in judgement landed him in a worse position than before.

"You have got to be kidding me!" Baton's voice echoed between the hills. "Kurt! Assaulting a superior officer has serious penalties! We've got every search party looking in these hills! We WILL find you!" Kurt definitely was not feeling good. After all, he reserved real heart-felt respect for Sergeant Baton - his mentor.

Kurt slowly inched into the shadows. His armour was heavily scratched, so it didn't shine so well. The plates were still bright regardless. The ex-guard slowly slipped the protective leather off of his helmet blade. He was in a corner now, with no way to slip out

"We got a foxhole! I want every damn grain of sand searched in there!" Baton barked.

This was it, moment of truth. Kurt attempted to instill anger into himself, hopefully enough to disregard the fact that these were all his brothers and sisters he planned to tear through with no regards to their overall health.

It was no use, however. By the time armoured hooves landed outside the hole, Kurt still had no way to take the initiative to strike first. There were too many, and Kurt's always unwelcome civil side had too much of a grip on the mental wheel. The worm in his brain didn't seem hungry for once.

In his mind, he was sobbing. He wanted to see Cornelius safe and sound. He wanted to know why his parents disregarded him throughout his childhood. He wanted to see Twilight Sparkle - probably in bed, or someplace romantic. Kurt's mind wandered, wondering what other nice fillies he could have met if it turned out he never had a chance with Celestia's own apprentice. Vinyl seemed nice, so did Rarity.

The outstretched legs outside of the foxhole did not bend. Some hushed chatter reached Kurt's ears- which was met with Baton's verbal gibberish that implied frustration.

"Gentlemen," Baton started, "We've got new orders back at Canterlot, Priority One."

After a pause, Baton added, "Kurt..." in a now-calm, but concerned manner... then nothing. It almost seemed like he was following up with a sigh, but Kurt never heard such sounds. Instead, the air suddenly became laden with the sounds of wings flapping. The sounds died in the distance until nothing remained but a single bird chirping to find a mate.

Kurt's mind drew a complete blank. Just how lucky was he? How the hell did that even happen? Celestia ex Machina much? Kurt asked himself. New orders that came at the exact moment he was about to be found? How convenient can life get?

Suddenly, Kurt realised that it actually did happen, and he screamed in shock. This wasn't meant to happen. The guard were so close to finding Kurt, and then he'd probably wound - even kill - at least two guards before he's torn apart by the frustrated garrison.

He shivered as he crawled out of the hole. Kurt gasped for air as his eyes darted around every hill around him. Every guard was gone, and Kurt wondered if this was an act of a power greater than even Princess Celestia. The spirit of the Queen? A preceding monarch? His mind scrambled all these thoughts together into complete incomprehensible garbage.

Kurt wanted an explanation. He wanted something to serve as a foundation to why he should be thankful for this out-of-the-blue chance to continue.

After a few deep breaths, Kurt clambered over rocks and the beaver dam that resided near the long-abandoned foxhole. He still shook everywhere in confusion, so his gait was slow.

As reason started returning, Kurt realized that his scars hurt like the dickens. That run down the hill must have messed something up. Kurt massaged them slightly from the outside of his armour and formal suit- which was now dirty and sweat-ridden.

He sheathed the helmet blade again, and sat down near the top of a hill. The sunrise over the barely visible skyline of Manehattan was... beautiful.

That was the only word Kurt could think of. The sunrise reminded him of the purple filly; of the disc jockey; of the grizzled guitarist; of Patrick and Stella; of Pinkie Pie, and Scootaloo, and Rarity. He wanted to see the Ponyville doctor and his nurses again. He wanted to meet the pony with the soft voice that reminded him of Kaia.

He wanted to meet more well-mannered ponies, experience new things like he did before returning to Canterlot. It was decided: Next chance he got, he would return to Ponyville, and do everything he would be able to do there. Last he was there, Kurt concentrated more on making sure he was ready and able to go find Cornelius, that he never got to truly enjoy all of the things he did while in Ponyville.

For once in his life, Kurt had a regret he only realised after a brush with the equivalent of eternal damnation itself. It made the fighting horse wonder what other things he regretted.

He regretted having Kaia lie to Cor for him. He regretted never speaking up when his parents ignored him. He regretted mentally scarring the breezy-maned mare with his scars and blood covering his hide.

Most of all, he regretted not being an honest enough brother... and now was the time to remedy that. With mind now collected and stable, Kurt stood up and galloped into the distance.  He had an investigation to complete and a young colt to save.





It was late evening the next day by the time Kurt arrived at Manehattan. The angled-roofed and flat-topped buildings and straight walls made the whole city look entirely different compared to Canterlot- with its streamlined spires with hundreds- nay, thousands of architectural influences applied to its construction. Manehattan was a lot simpler, with buildings that served to function, rather than be individual works of art like the spires of Canterlot.

Despite all the good things Kurt wanted to say about the architecture of Manehattan, they ultimately were inferior to Canterlot's buildings, since... well, it's the Capital City of Equestria, after all. Obviously the royalty would be given the best by the subjects who respect them so, and those who live near royalty would have the budget to pay those highly-respected craftsponies and architects to design another spire among the hundreds that comprised the Equestrian Capital.

In Manehattan, Kurt avoided the main roads. He knew his scratched-up armour was definitely not inconspicuous. If he was to disguise himself better, he'd need to clean up everything. He needed soap and water, at least. A public bathroom would serve nicely as a cover for him to change and clean up- but he'd need to find one.

Such a public bathroom was surprisingly enough easy to find. Near the edge of the city was a public park- complete with a building dedicated to restrooms. The city never sleeps, but the night life was a lot more reserved than the daytime... apparently. Kurt had a feeling that the surprising lack of ponies out on the road implied that. The bathroom was lit, so Kurt could see what he was doing. He reorganized everything in his saddle bags so he could fit the formal suit jacket, then started washing his gear with soap and water.

It wasn't anywhere near the quality as the cleaning methods back in the barracks, but it'll do. The dirt washed off nicely, leaving only the scratches. Kurt couldn't do anything about the real damage in the armour suit- all the deep scrapes and scratches were there to stay. At least he looked decent.

Now that he looked more dignified, Kurt could come across as a guard on-duty. With a laid-back gait, Kurt left the restroom and patrolled the streets. Hopefully no real guard would take notice that the current guard population suddenly increased by one. His goal was simple: find a now hiring poster for the Equestria Construction Service... or the main building if he was lucky. He could just ask around the assorted night life, hope somepony had an idea.

Kurt spotted an upper-class-looking pony couple, so he approached them. "Excuse me, sir and ma'am," he greeted.

"Kurt?" asked the male. After a split second, the ex-guard realised that it was Silver! Kurt's face got ridden with a huge smile. How convenient can his expedition into an unknown city get?

"Silver? Judy?" Kurt asked, "By Celestia! How are you guys?"

"We just got back from our vacation," Judy replied. "What about you? Why are you here; in uniform, even?"

Kurt flinched. That's right, he told them he wasn't a guard anymore. "Well, it's my uniform straight from the locker. I just needed to borrow it so I could find Cor."

They both gave Kurt odd looks, but they thankfully decided to dismiss their suspicions. "Still looking for him?” Silver commented, “It's been two weeks now, I think.”

"Yeah, and I've gotten back to Canterlot to look around," Kurt replied, "And I think... I'm getting more and more certain Mum and Dad are behind this."

Both Silver and Judy paused, and lost their own warm expressions. Kurt nodded in a ‘Yeah, I can't believe it either’ sort of fashion.

"And that brought you here?" Judy asked.

"Dad works for the Equestria Construction Service, so I need to see him," Kurt replied grimly. "Speaking of which: do you know where the ECS building is?"

"It's on the West End," Silver replied, "Actually, we'll take you there. It's on the way home."

Kurt nodded his thanks, and joined them. "So how was your vacation?" Kurt asked as they trot their way through Manehattan.

"Ponyville was such a nice little town," Judy said, "Although a dragon had set up a nest nearby for hibernation, and was covering the area in dreadful smoke."

Kurt cocked an eyebrow. A dragon setting up shop and covering Equestria in smoke? That sounded almost inconsiderate of the dragon.

"Anyway, the mess was sorted out before any permanent damage was done," Judy continued, It was rather interesting- to say the least. We've never seen a dragon before- aside from that cute little guy at the Library."

Kurt smiled. Spike was a cute little guy, wasn't he?

The conversation dissolved into Silver and Judy giving Kurt a bit of a tour, pointing out some buildings and what they were for. They also pointed out company buildings either of them did work for- whether it's Silver for his business, or Judy with her art. They passed by a museum. Judy reminded Kurt that she had some pieces set up in there. Kurt wanted to check them out, but it was nighttime; the museum was obviously closed.

Eventually, they arrived near the ECS building. It was rather easy to spot from the rest. A giant back-lit sign depicted "ECS" near the top of the east side of the skyscraper.

"Well, here's your stop, Kurt," Silver said, "Just promise us something."

"Anything," Kurt responded.

"Try not to get anymore scars."

Both males laughed, but Kurt understood completely; The manticore scars by themselves were a pain, and they were conspicuous. Getting more would do nothing but make him look even less appealing than he already is.

Once the couple vanished into the night, Kurt approached the building. The doors were locked, but there was a security pony sitting behind a large console obviously filled to the brim with monitors connected to all-seeing cameras.

Kurt knocked on the door and produced his badge. He hoped the security guard would see that the badge was real and not get that officially, the owner of the badge was dead.

The security pony approached the door, and Kurt flashed his badge. No questions asked; the security pony opened the door and let Kurt in. "Is something wrong, officer?" the security pony asked.

"I'm looking for Karl Foalington," Kurt replied, "I've got a few questions to ask him.”

The security pony got behind the desk again and grabbed a phone. After a few button presses, the guard said, "Mr. Foalington, there's someone who wants to see you."

"Tell him it's a business proposal," Kurt whispered.

"It's a pony hoping to pitch a business proposal," the guard replied. After another pause, the security guard nodded. "I'll send him up."

The guard hung up and looked at the ex-guard. "Has Mr. Foalington done something illegal?"

Kurt started toward the elevator and replied, "If I'm right, yes."

The third elevator on the left was open. Kurt trotted in and watched the doors close behind him. The elevator shot up, catching Kurt off-guard. As he rode the elevator, he was thankful that Silver and Judy were oblivious to what Kurt had planned to do. He didn’t think anypony would’ve wanted to know. After a few seconds, the elevator finally stopped. The doors opened, and Kurt trotted out.

The fighting horse continued down the one corridor available to him. He was looking for his Dad's office. Foalington... Foalington... There's Mareisson, Stall, Capony, Trotter, MacColterman... Ah, there it is. Behind the door labeled "K. FOALINGTON," answers awaited.

Kurt softly opened the door and entered.

"No..." came the immediate response from the only other pony in the room.

"Hi, Dad," Kurt said through gritted teeth. His hind leg closed the door just as softly.

Karl Foalington reached for the intercom, but the ex-guard displayed his own speed. He bounded across the room and slammed an armoured hoof into the intercom, smashing it to pieces.

"Kurt!" Karl stumbled backwards out of his chair, "My, how you've grown, son!" he added in an almost proud fashion.

Even an idiot could tell that the father was just trying to play nice. "Where is Cor?" Kurt growled as he approached his surprisingly smaller father.

"Cor? He's missing. I've been trying to-"

Kurt gave an unamused expression. "The pieces fit together, Dad. Kidnapping Cor so he couldn't be influenced by me. It all works out, because neither you or Mom ever come home. My disappearance is like sending me off to camp and moving- except you save money."

"That's- That’s not true!” Karl Foalington stammered, “Somepony's been lying to you-"

"Then who,” Kurt interrupted, “Has the motive and ability to send somepony to burn our house down in Canterlot? This is a construction company, with heavy machinery. The heavy machinery would need fuel. You therefore have access to fuel."

Kurt's father scrambled to the right, but the ex-guard kept himself between the panicking elder and the door. "Our house?"

"Rather, my house. I've lived in that house more than you or mom ever did combined. I took care of it. You got somepony to burn it down and make it look like an accident. I guess ye didn't count on me coming back to Canterlot."

Karl Foalington didn't speak. He was too busy whimpering. Kurt saw himself in his father at this point- back in that one foxhole, surrounded by an angry family.

Kurt was angry. "Horse apples aside, Dad," he continued mockingly, "Where is Cornelius Foalington?"

"You're a bad influence, Kurt! You're Celestia-damned mental! I never wanted a son like you! Do you know how much your mother cried on flights? At night? In her own office? She was crying because of you, son! She was crying because you're the biggest mistake we've ever ma-"

Kurt lunged, and started punching his Dad in the face. All these beyond-offensive insults thrown at once. The worm thrived on this to the point where the fighting horse's civil side got left in the dust.

Regaining control, the ex-guard stopped and shoved his dad onto a sofa on the side. In the same manner as when he taunted the Manticore, Kurt barked, "Call me a mistake one more time, Dad. I dare you."

"Cor's destined to be his own stallion. He doesn't want you, Kurt. Nopony wants you in their lives! Equestria is about creating new things! What do you have to add?"

Kurt punched Karl again. The older stallion spat out teeth and blood. "Exactly that, my boy," Karl Foalington laughed in agony. "Heh... I still call you "Son," but... this is all you're good for. You're only good for violence."

Kurt huffed, then replied, "I don't deny it, Dad, but I still know justice. I just want to make sure he's safe."

"Go to Hell, Kurt,"

Kurt twitched. He was hoping he'd get something out of his dad at this point. The worm in his brain continued chewing, so the fighting horse grabbed his father by the collar and pulled him out the door.

Down the corridor and into the nearest bathroom. The ex-guard didn't care if a security camera was installed.

"To think I still love you for bringing me to Equestria," Kurt muttered. His eyes started tearing up as he stood his dad up- leaning the badly-beaten elder stallion near the sink. "I... really am thankful," he continued.

Karl shivered as he attempted to keep himself up. His son once again was the only obstacle between himself and the door. What was Kurt doing?

"Still, kidnapping is a crime... I'm letting you off with a warning because you're family... However, if you don't tell me where Cor is, so I can finally make sure he's safe... and finish business before I leave your lives for good..." Kurt lightly punched both forehooves together, "I will go and ask Mum- but that would mean I'd need to make sure she doesn't know I'm coming after her."

"You wouldn't!" Karl slurred through missing teeth and a busted jaw.

"The security pony didn't lie. I did come with a business proposal," Kurt said, "Let me see Cor one last time, and you will not only walk away from this whole thing with the rest of your content, comfortable lives left... but I will put all the effort in the world to make sure you never hear of me ever again."

Karl stumbled. Apparently the pain from a busted mouth finally got to him. Kurt turned on the sink and splashed water over his dad's face. With his hooves, Kurt snapped his father's jaw back together. The water and sharp pain woke up his father again.

"Did you miss any of that?" Kurt asked.

"You still care about family after what you just did to me?" Karl asked weakly.

"You raised me right," Kurt replied, "Actually, Kaia raised me right. Send her flowers next chance you get."

"Cor's in... in Baltimare... Vera has him..."

"Now here's another thing you should know: If you warn her so she can get better security, I will not only break through every single guard they throw at me, but... well, you know..."

Karl Foalington stumbled and dropped to the floor- now sobbing himself. Kurt picked up his father and carried him back to the office.

"So long, Dad," Kurt said before leaving.

Inside the elevator, Kurt wiped off the blood. On the way to the ground floor doors, Kurt passed by the security pony- who seemed rather concerned. "You look like you got hit by a train, officer," said the security pony.

"Mentally... yeah," Kurt replied. "What's the fastest way to Baltimare?"

"Train, I guess," the security pony replied, almost smiling at the so bad it's good joke.

"Thanks," Kurt said before leaving. He didn't ask where the train station was, figuring he would find a map easily. The security guard locked the door behind the ex-guard, then galloped to the elevators. Kurt figured the guard was going to see Mr. Foalington and his condition.

Outside on the streets again, Kurt scanned for an open corner store, or somepony who he could request directions from. Manehattan never sleeps, so finding such a pony was easy to do. The first pony Kurt found was kind enough to point out the railway station. After a quick thanks, Kurt continued on.

Surprisingly enough, he hadn't come across any other Royal Guards. Was there a subdivision dedicated to Manehattan? Have they not received word that Kurt was on the loose? Heck, why did Baton and the others call off the search when they were mere inches away from catching Kurt. What kind of orders requires immediate attention that takes priority over even tracking those last few inches?

Nothing made sense anymore... Now he just wanted to see his little brother again, then disappear- possibly from Equestria entirely. This whole situation was tiring, and Kurt hadn't even had a decent bed since his home burned to a crisp.

The train station seemed rather foreboding, as if it had been used as a location for many suspenseful movies filmmaker ponies made. Kurt heard that Manehattan had such theatres, and figured he would visit one once this was all over... before escaping Equestria, anyway.

The ex-guard clambered up the stairs, suddenly noticing that he was feeling weak in every muscle in his body. Kurt had failed to notice that his legs were so beaten from the run down the mountain, the constant walking, and beating and carrying his father. The saddle bags and armoured uniform certainly didn't help, but the latter certainly prevented cuts or bruises, or even worse things. The ex-guard collapsed at the top of the entrance stairs, unable to continue onward.

Despite that, he still wasn't mentally fatigued. He remained awake, looking at the ground, and the doors that he could almost smell, or taste if he could stretch his tongue out a few feet.

Summoning more strength from seemingly nowhere, Kurt managed to drag himself to the door, and pulled himself inside.

A single employee was on-duty that night, and she immediately raced to Kurt's side, with the usual "Are you okay, officer?" question.

"Fine, actually," Kurt said, "Just overworked."

The younger filly lifted Kurt onto his hooves. Kurt felt a familiar sensation similar to the unicorn that helped the bullies back at graduation. The employee was a unicorn. She was straining to keep the ex-guard up, obviously not well-practiced in the usual magic most- if not all unicorns possess.

"I want to get a train to Baltimare," Kurt said.

"Not in your condition, you're not," the filly replied sternly, managing to get Kurt to lean on a rail before she lost control of her magic.

"It's imperative that I get on the first train going there," Kurt replied.

After a sigh, the employee panted"Well, the next train to Baltimare isn't coming for another hour.” She was catching her breath from the strain of the magic. Kurt kept both his forelegs on a railing to keep himself up.

"Let's get you to the loading dock at least. There are some seats there," she said, offering to carry the saddle bags.

Kurt would've shrugged, but he was too exhausted at this point. The young unicorn’s horn lit up again, sliding the bags off of Kurt’s back. She seemed shocked at how heavy it all was. Even Kurt wondered why it felt like a massive weight had been removed.

"Well no wonder you're exhausted," the filly exclaimed, putting down the saddle bags before hurting herself. She used her telekinesis, of course. Given that she almost overexerted herself by lifting up Kurt, she had a not easy time carrying the bags. At least Kurt was able to walk again without collapsing.

"Really, thanks," Kurt said.

"Part of the job, sir," the filly replied through clenched teeth as she continued carrying the saddle bags via magic.

Eventually, she managed to place the saddlebags on the bench, and Kurt finally collapsed as well, with no intention of getting up anytime soon.

She was panting like crazy. Kurt wondered if he should be grateful he wasn't born a unicorn- with such an energy-spending gift such as that crazy magic stuff. At the same time, magic would make his life a lot easier.

"I'm Porta," the filly said.

"Kurt," the ex-guard replied. He rose a hoof, but it wouldn't stay up to shake the pony's hoof. The filly had some strength left, so she did the shaking.

Kurt wondered why exactly she deemed it necessary to introduce herself. Then again there were no other ponies here, and she seemed to be the only employee present. Small talk also helps the time pass by, so the fighting horse rolled with it.

"So what's your story?" Porta asked.

"Family business in Baltimare. Very urgent," Kurt replied.

"Do those scars have anything to do with it?" Porta asked.

Kurt checked to see that his scars did in fact show in areas the armoured uniform didn't cover. His suit jacket was in his bag on account of being too dirty to remain inconspicuous.

Regardless of all that, the ex-guard wondered why this mare was prodding too much into his personal life. At least Vinyl, Floyd, among others had better reason to. Kurt didn't plan on spending a night in the train station. Was this train station pony lonely? She appeared to be the only employee around at the moment.

"No," Kurt replied as he closed his eyes for a quick power nap.

Porta remained for a good minute before returning to her post up in the main lobby. Kurt still wasn't sure what she planned to accomplish by asking those questions, but he couldn't help but feel he wasn't being a nice dude to the filly.

A half-hour powernap was exactly what he needed. During which, he considered how exactly he was going to spend the next half-hour. More specifically, how he's going to interact with Porta without making it seem like he was interested in her- because he isn't.

He felt infinitely more rested than before. That is to say, he felt rested. To replace the aching, Kurt felt like he did something truly awful.

The ex-guard sat up on the bench, scanning the mass of tiles that comprised the floor, the walls, the drop ceiling. He wondered how those tiles were made. Was there a factory? Were there ponies who made these clay-looking tiles for a living? How did they do that?

There are a lot of other jobs out there, each with their own contribution to Equestrian society, Kurt thought. Dad was certainly right about his inability for real constructive services, and Kurt even knew it since he went AWOL- no, when he got his cutie mark. It didn’t explain why he still felt terrible about it.

An approaching clopping sound reached the ex-guard's ears. He turned to see Porta arrive with a pizza box and a first-aid kit. Both of which were from the break room almost every non-residential building always has, or should have.

"What's this?" Kurt asked.

"You look like you haven't eaten in a while," Porta replied.

"What about the first-aid kit?"

"Well you barely could stay standing-"

Kurt responded by shaking his head. "I'm fine, really."

"You sure, officer?"

Kurt nodded, then his stomach growled. "Okay, more specifically: no medicine."

Porta giggled, a sound Kurt didn't immediately recognize. Last he heard that sound was his graduation party.

"They're leftovers," Porta added as she placed the pizza box on the bench next to Kurt. "I'm never liked tulips anyway."

Kurt's eyes lit up at the sound of tulips. There was something he hadn't eaten in a while. He looked up at Porta once more and said, "Thanks."

"You work for peace and justice in Equestria," Porta replied, "I don't think anypony could ever thank you fillies and colts enough."

Kurt smiled as he opened the box. Indeed, delicious tulips covered the base, only partially covered by extra cheese. Two slices left, but it was still a meal fit for a schmuck in armour. His smile, however, was a false one. It didn't mean he wasn't grateful for the pizza.

After a brief moment of silence, Porta left up the stairs to the main lobby once more. Kurt, however, indulged himself on the leftover pizza.

Work for peace and justice in Equestria, eh? Kurt wondered if he really was working for peace and justice, beating his own flesh-and-blood father, and going after his mother to hopefully be asked to do the same. He just wanted to see Cornelius one last time.

One last time.

He'll be out of their lives forever. It will be like he was never there... well, save for Karl Foalington's missing teeth. Equestrian technology these days and the father's high class and generous funds, replacement teeth can be easily acquired.

Eventually, a train whistle blew. Kurt had finished the pizza and tossed the box in a public garbage can earlier. Hoisting his saddlebags onto his back again, he felt just as he did when he first entered Manehattan. That feeling was tired, but not completely exhausted.

The massive earth ponies that pulled the train slowed down as they neared the station. They soon came to a full and complete stop. Assorted ponies left, while an usher loudly announced "Current stop: Manehattan. Next stop: Baltimare."

Kurt smiled, and boarded the train. He had paid for a ticket earlier through Porta, and who were they to interrupt the business of a guard on-duty? As Kurt sat his saddle bags down next to his seat- a flat, surprisingly comfy cot next to the window- he realised that his wearing of his armour was wearing a lie on his sleeve 24/7. To keep Kurt from reprimanding himself, he muttered that he paid for the ticket honestly. The suit made no difference, except do a decent job making his scars not so conspicuous.

The usher passed by Kurt and tore off half of the ticket, thus confirming that Kurt has the right to remain on the train. There were a few other ponies in this car in particular. There were obviously more throughout. The ex-guard, feeling secure in this train, took off his helmet and closed his eyes once more.


The power nap took him to early next morning. The train was still moving. Kurt wondered if he missed his stop. The ex-guard put on his helmet and hopped out of the cot. A quick search through his saddlebags informed him that nothing had been taken.

"Hey, did we pass by Baltimare?" Kurt asked to the white-coated pegasus across the aisle from him.

"Nope," the pegasus replied, not taking his gaze away from the window.

Kurt then realised before he slept, the cot across the aisle was empty. Either this white-coated pegasus moved to the bed, or there was another stop.

"Were there any other stops?" Kurt asked the white-coated one.

"No," The other pony said before turning his head. Kurt had to commend Sergeant Baton for managing to disguise his voice to the point where the ex-guard couldn't recognize it.

Baton's face was bruised, compliments from the ball of violence back in Canterlot.

"Sir," Kurt gulped. If Baton was here, that would mean other guards were present, correct?

"Don't," Baton replied before Kurt could complete the one word. "Gotta say, man, you had a clean hit," he added, pointing a hoof to the bruise on his face.

Before Kurt could apologize, Baton said "Don't say you're sorry. It tells your brain that a good hit was a bad thing- and your technique starts getting sloppy from hesitation."

Kurt nodded, immediately followed with Baton asking, "You know why I'm here?"

"To arrest me?" Kurt whispered hoarsely. It was at a volume that the sergeant could hear, but no other passengers could. The conversation continued in a similar fashion from there.

"If that were true, I'd be in uniform, and backed up, and we wouldn't let you wake up in peace."

Kurt blinked in confusion.

Sergeant Baton added, "It turns out your going AWOL can prove advantageous to Celestia. She sends Her regards, by the way."

Kurt slowly nodded, still not understanding where the sergeant was going. Last the two heard of each other, Baton was angry beyond measure.

"Make no mistake, Kurt. You owe me for internal bleeding. It nearly killed me."

"No disrespect, but I don't think you can manage the same amount of damage," Kurt replied, trying not to smile.

Baton did, however. "I know, so I'll call it even on your dime in Baltimare. I know a good place- a good place where we can talk... after you're done with your business there, of course."

Kurt wanted to ask how Baton knew, but he didn't say anything. Kurt never went anywhere without a reason, even back in Canterlot. For all the ex-guard knew, Baton didn't even know Kurt's mother was the target.

"Meet me at the Maremaid Stallion's Club tonight," Sergeant Baton added, handing Kurt a slip of paper containing an address, "I doubt your business would take twenty hours."

Kurt slowly nodded. What exactly did Baton need to discuss? All answers would be attained at the club, anyway.

"Listen, Kurt," Baton started once more, "Everypony else wants your head on a platter- make no mistake. Especially the ones you beat up."

"Why not you?" Kurt asked. He punched the sergeant in the face, after all.

"Because I know you, Kurt. I know why you do what you do. Her Highness knows why you do what you do. I also read every letter to and from you. You only have one contact, need I remind you."

Kurt nodded, officially understanding completely.

"I'll see you there," Baton added before hopping out of his cot and leaving the train car itself, toward the caboose. "By the way," he said, "Could I grab a can of that sweetgrass? Those saddlebags must be torture to carry,"

Kurt was still nodding. His mind was racing, wondering how Baton knew he was on the train, why Baton was not there to arrest him, why Baton was calm and understanding. The thoughts didn't distract the ex-guard from handing a can of sweetgrass to Baton, however. After a nod of thanks, the Sergeant left for real.

There still had to be a better reason than "Sergeant Baton just cares." The Sergeant specifically stated that Kurt's wild card status could prove advantageous. These questions should be answered once Kurt was done with his business with his mother. Vera, Vera... What has become of you, keeping family away from family?

The train arrived in Baltimare, another city that never sleeps. Kurt left the station, fully rested, carrying his saddle bags. He had to find the Baltimare Fashion Press headquarters now. Unlike the club, Kurt didn't have an address.

It would've been easy to get lost in Baltimare. Even if somepony could manage not to get pulled into the multiple rivers of ponies, almost every building was five stories at least. The tallest building could almost rival that of the Canterlot Mountain itself- and that's even counting the spires. Every wall for every skyscraper was covered in metal and tempered glass, while everything not a skyscraper was made of brick of varying kinds. Kurt figured his dad's company worked on a fair number of the buildings here in Baltimare. Altogether, nearly every building looked the same regardless of height.

Fortunately, Kurt's badge, and uniform got him some help pretty quickly. The first pony he asked was more than willing to help. Within an hour, Kurt found the building.

0700 hours. Kurt was doubtful that Vera would be there at this time. He entered regardless to meet a similar security official to the last building the ex-guard had been in. This guard looked fresh, probably because he just started his shift.

"Good morning, officer," the security guard said.

"Good morning," Kurt responded, "I'm looking to have a word with Vera Foalington. Is she in?"

"No she isn't, sir. Could I take a message?"

"I can wait," Kurt replied, looking around for a place to sit down. "When is she supposed to come in?"

"At nine, like most everypony else."

Kurt nodded, and trotted to a bench on the far left side from the entrance.

"Has Mrs. Foalington done something illegal?" the security guard asked.

Kurt replied "Yes."

The security guard looked concerned now. The ex-guard didn't blame him. Kurt imagined the guard was wondering what crime Vera Foalington had committed.

"I take it you don't have a warrant," the security guard said.

Kurt shook his head. "Not looking to arrest her yet. Just need some questions answered."

The security guard nodded, and attempted to remove the worried look on his face. An hour or two later, Kurt's mother entered.

She paused, then turned pale as the ex-guard stood up. "Mrs. Foalington," Kurt said.

Vera didn't run.

"I have questions. Could we take this to your office?"

The security guard and Vera looked at each other, hoping the guard would do something about it. Unfortunately for Vera, the guard did nothing.

Kurt gestured Mrs. Foalington to the elevators to her office. Both entered the elevators, and Kurt simply glared. "Where is Cor?" the son asked.

Vera said nothing. The elevator started moving up.

"I guess Dad didn't phone in."

"They said you were dead." Vera whispered.

Kurt replied, "I'm more alive than ever. Anyway, I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Dad: A business proposition of sorts."

Vera's teeth clenched in an attempt to not seem fearful of her son who could very easily snap her legs in two- or rather, anypony's legs in two.

"Let me see Cor one last time," Kurt continued, "Then I'll disappear entirely. I will put effort into making sure you never hear from me again."

The elevator stopped at a random floor. Both left and walked down the corridor, looking as natural as they could. Vera's attempt to get angry failed. This was a fashion magazine. Every employee probably tries to maintain at least a charming look.

"A better idea, Kurt," she started, "How about you tell me what you wanted to tell Cornelius, and I'll tell him for you."

Kurt shook his head, replying "That won't work. He needs to hear it from me."

"But I don't have him. He's not in Baltimare."

Kurt stopped to plant an armoured hoof to his armoured forehead. This was seriously getting tedious. "Then where? Where is he?" He asked.

Vera didn't reply. Kurt really wanted to punch her for... actually, he didn't even remember the reason at this point. She then sighed, followed with "Fifteen minutes with Cor, and you're gone forever?"

Kurt nodded. "I saw the Missing Pony posters, and I got worried... and angry, like any family member worth their salt does."

Vera sighed once more, then turned to Kurt. "It's impossible to love you like most parents with their foals. You know that, right?"

Kurt shook his head. "Real parents wouldn't mind that sort of thing."

"You know that for sure?" Vera asked.

Kurt gritted his teeth. His mom was just wasting time.

"Look: the sooner I get to see Cor again, the sooner I'm gone."

"Canterlot, with Kaia," Vera replied.

Kurt's eye twitched in a sudden flush of anger. Seriously? Back at Canterlot? For Celestia's sakes! All this effort and pounding his own father's teeth out, and he could've just stayed at damned Canterlot?! Before Kurt completely lost it, he turned and marched straight back to the elevator. He didn't even get a chance to say thank you, he was just so mad.

Unlike Karl, Vera was a more public figure in the fashion world- a remarkably large industry in Equestria. Breaking her jaw would call upon far more media attention than his contract-making Dad. That didn't mean Kurt didn't want to break Vera's jaw. However, once inside the elevator, the ex-guard wanted to break something... anything.

He resorted to the fancy handlebars- made of some material that wasn't metal, but looked metallic anyway. The boot dent would be easily noticeable to whatever pony cared to look at it, anyway. Kurt was still mad, so he punched next to the dent to leave a similar one.

Still no rush of calm to overtake the anger. What's it take, huh? A punch to the face of a flesh-and-blood pony?


The elevator stopped. Kurt took a deep breath, which barely helped. He was calm enough to fake a less negative expression. He passed by the security guard- who still looked worried.

"Is Mrs. Foalingto-"

"I have to return to Canterlot," Kurt replied. "What's the fastest way there?"

"Well, no railways lead up there," the security guard replied, "so you're either walking or taking a flight."

Well that was a waste of time, Kurt thought. His only option is to walk at that point. Hopefully by the time he got to the mountain, he'd have a plan of entry... a real plan of entry...

He ran different plans of entry in his head. There was absolutely nothing that could work in his favour now. He had no easy flight in, and the gate guards would see him coming a mile away. Even if he could get close enough to the guards, he'd need to knock them out in order to have an easily covered entrance. Even then, he still had five minutes afterward before two events: an inner city patrol passes by the gate, or one of the gate guards regains consciousness and reports the assault. Five minutes is barely enough to get even remotely close to the Palace.

Perhaps Baton cold help. Officially, he's not in Baltimare, so Kurt could ask. The Maremaid Stallion's club was across the city. He still had another six hours even if he started his way there immediately after leaving the fashion press building. It could most certainly be a trap, even if Baton didn't arrest Kurt on the train despite having every chance in the universe to do so.

His stomach rumbled, so he trotted to an alleyway and relieved the weight of his pack by another can of sweetgrass. For a big city in Equestria with such typically nice, citizens under a benevolent monarch, the alleys were surprisingly messy.

Kurt was still hungry, so he devoured another can of food. After a good hour's rest, Kurt hefted the now-lighter saddle bags onto his back again. He started his way across the city to the stallion's club.

He doubt the bouncers would allow him in, equipped the way he is. Even if they could, having an apparently-active officer in one's club wouldn't look terribly well for business. Kurt would need a place to store his armour and such; a preferrably secure place, anyway.

On the way, Kurt spotted a familiar burgundy fedora.

"What are the chances? Kurt called after Floyd.

The grizzled one turned and rose a brow. "Next to none, Scar-man," he laughed as he and Kurt bumped hooves. "Stronger than ever, eh?"

The duo moved to hug the wall of a random building, allowing the crowd flow to continue unhindered.

"What are you doing here?" Kurt asked.

"My home town, Kurt. She's got a real ugly mug, don't she?

Kurt shrugged, saying "I wouldn't say that."

"Yes ye would. I ne'er liked these... buildings so tall not even the dumbest pegasus would climb." Floyd shuffled so his guitar pack. "Salt's real good, though. I know a good place near the warehouse, Maremaid Stallion's Club."

"Actually, I have a friend who wants to meet me there," Kurt said. He looked down at his uniform and added, "Can't go in wearing this, though."

"Well, ye can drop it off at my place," the grizzled guitarist responded, "I was just on my way home from a morning show at the station."

Kurt hummed. He didn't hear Floyd's guitar at the station himself, maybe they missed each other entirely. The duo rejoined the river of ponies and made it to Floyd's condo. The gear was dropped off, and Floyd picked up a different guitar. Since the gold suit was still mucky, Kurt left it behind.

The duo trotted out onto the streets again, making their way to the Maremaid Stallion's club. Another hour had passed by then- if only for the crowded streets.

Along the way, Kurt asked Floyd how the guitarist had been doing. The response was surprisingly short. He had gone to Manehattan for a show before returning to Baltimare about a week ago. "I could'a played a song for that lovely Princess Luna, but I didn't have a flight," Floyd chuckled, "Watched the thing on television. Man, she sure looked nice."

Kurt smiled, even though he never saw Princess Luna himself. At least, not when she looked her best. The ex-guard never did get a good enough look to identify her wings, let alone her face and mane. He'd just need to take Floyd's word for it.

At the bar, the bouncer seemed to recognize Floyd- not in a negative way, anyway.

"What about this one?" a bouncer asked, glaring at Kurt's scars and musculature.

"He's okay, fellas," Floyd replied.

The bouncers reluctantly accepted the claim. Apparently they knew Floyd well. As the duo entered, Floyd glanced to the ex-guard.

"You will be okay, right?" Floyd asked, "You've been tense this whole time."

Have I? Kurt wondered. It's been hours since meeting with his mother. He should've naturally calmed down by now. "Yeah," he replied, now looking to see if Baton was early.

There was no white-coat stallion in the bar, but there were a number of stallions of all shapes and sizes, and they were enjoying the shows done in-part- No, wholly by mares.

Lovely mares at that. Lovely mares with styled manes and dresses specifically designed to accentuate certain parts of the pony body that the stallions dug. Kurt preferred cute, which was why he was still holding out for the purple filly. Sure, at this point he stood no chance of returning to Ponyville as far as he knew, but still...

Floyd gestured Kurt to an empty table, and trotted to the bar for some salt. Two blocks of salt were placed on the wood, which Floyd carried over to his and Kurt's table with his unicorn magic.

"Live a little, son," Floyd cheerfully boasted at a louder than usual volume, "At this point, ye must have found yer brother, right?"

"Not yet," Kurt replied as he took a small nibble out of the salt block and started savouring the taste..

"Oh," Floyd said, sans cheerfulness, "But soon?"

"Gotta go to Canterlot," Kurt replied.

"Didn't ye just go there? Like, one- two weeks ago?"

"Don't remind me," Kurt replied, "It's all a goose chase... and I've got no idea how I'm going to get in again. I can't just call the same favours in Ponyville. I don't even know where it is compared to Baltimare, or Manehattan, or whatever city in Equestria."

"Kurt, you showed up,"

Floyd flinched, and Kurt turned to see the Sergeant. The ex-guard then flinched himself. Baton was accompanying a hooded navy-blue mare with wings.

...and a horn.





It was the first time Kurt got a look at Luna's face. He had to side with the grizzled guitarist on this one: She sure looked fine. Despite apparently being over a thousand years old, she really kept her figure.

"Well hello, Dolly," Floyd playfully commented as he got a look at Princess Luna's face. Despite Luna smiling modestly, Kurt lightly slapped a hoof onto the back of Floyd's head, and both started to bow.

Luna, however, stopped them with her magic. "Officially, I'm not here," she said.

"But, uh... this is a club," Floyd said, "Witnesses, ye know?"

"A stallion's club with witnesses?" Baton whispered to Floyd, "Take a look around you."

Kurt looked, and indeed saw that everypony was more concerned about the dancers- who no-doubt had impaired vision due to the spotlights shining onto them and their shiny, sometimes glittery outfits. He huffed at the strange cleverness of this meeting.

"With me," Baton said, "You can explain your friend later, Kurt."

The two stallions glanced at each other, and followed the royal guard and royalty figure into a back corridor, followed by entrance into a dimly lit back room. A table was in the middle of the circle of purple light- the only light in the room. Surrounding the table were four chairs. Beyond the chairs and sliver of light catching onto the black curtains was pure darkness. The four of them took their seats and looked at each other for a good five seconds.

"Who are you?" Baton started, referring to Floyd.

"Howdy. Name's Floyd," Floyd answered as professionally as he could. That is, he couldn't answer that professionally. "I met Kurt while he was in Ponyville."

Baton nodded, shocking Kurt with this unexpected lack of care for professionalism. Usually, he'd snap a quick "Just answer my question." to the grizzled guitarist. Then again, Kurt still never figured out how Baton's thoughts processed. Even after a few years together, and the Sergeant could very well be somepony else.

"How's your search for Cor?" Baton asked to Kurt, "You finished your business here, yes?"

"Yeah," Kurt replied, "He's in Canterlot, with Kaia-"

"Correct." Baton interrupted. "However, that's the least of the worries you should be having."

Should be having? Kurt asked. What in the name of Princess Celestia is that supposed to mean? What the hell's more important than being concerned about one's own little brother. Especially one's little brother who was kidnapped, leaving one to spend the better part of an entire month trying to single-hoofedly find. After all this effort, his so-called enemies are trying to recruit him back into that disguised cage they called a career?

Kurt gritted his teeth, and caused Sergeant Baton to sigh, "Kurt, we need your help."

"You ran out of inmates in the Guard? No thanks," Kurt replied.

Ignoring the comment, Baton continued. "We found the manticore; it's dead."

The gritted teeth ceased as Kurt felt a shiver down his spine. At the same time, he felt a rush of calm overtake the tenseness. The combination wasn't comfortable, but the ex-guard strangely felt better. He managed to feign concern, or something more... positive... at least in the eyes of ponies who aren’t him. "How did you find it?" Kurt asked. Last he left it, it was somewhere in the Everfree Forest.

"Well, it was an open canyon with no fog. One of our remaining search teams found it a few days ago. Gotta say, Kurt: nice work." Baton then looked at the scars, adding, "Well, almost."

"Not that we like having to deal with a murdered inhabitant of the Everfree Forest," Princess Luna added, glaring at Baton- who immediately apologized for making the manticore's death sound like a positive thing. "My sister certainly didn't need news like that."

"Anyway," Baton said, "We've got a problem in the form of an entity who's threatening Equestria. A Steppe Rhinoceros named Kurgan Indrik."

Kurgan, Kurgan Indrik. Kurt recalled the name from... somewhere. "Why does that name sound familiar?"

"It's the most famous name from the Rhino Conflict. Considering your affinity, I'll assume you know about it."

"Like the back of my hoof," Kurt replied. "Kurgan Indrik... he was the leader, wasn't he? How is he-"

Sergeant Baton gave the answer early, "It's not a descendant. The punk's an immortal."

Kurt blinked, trying to grasp his mind around this. They want him- just a pony who can kill a manticore- to take on a problem individual more than forty times his senior- and possibly with forty times the training? The ex-guard looked at Floyd, who silently expressed that this all was way over his head. As the guitarist shrugged, Sergeant Baton continued the brief.

"Kurgan's coming back," Princess Luna added, "trying to use the public happiness regarding my return as a perfect opportunity to strike. I still remember the conflict, and so does my sister."

"You just want me to take down the Rhino leader..."

"By yourself," Baton said.

"By- By myself? What!?" Kurt sputtered.

"You beat him- maybe kill him- and it sends a sign to all other Rhinos, how their champion, a two-thousand year old vet, was taken down by just another average pony," Baton said.

"That don't sound pretty at all, Sir," Floyd said, "Still, it would make one heck of a headline, eh?"

"This is insane! Can't I just see Cor first?" Kurt asked.

"Living a life of regret gives some ponies an unwillingness to bite the dust," Luna replied.

Kurt was stunned at how stupid and insane this plan was. The ex-guard had to admit: what Luna said was pretty clever- if only a bit cheesy. Despite the cleverness, he hated the fact that he wasn't to see his brother until this task was done. Considering this is a bloody Steppe Rhinoceros- a creature with greater strength than a Buffalo war chief, and with a massive horn that was bigger than a full-grown stallion. Kurt was almost thankful that the Steppe Rhinoceros was nearing extinction in favour of the smaller but more efficient species, save for the immortal Kurgan Indrik.

Eventually, Kurt gave up. If this was the only way he was going to see his brother one last time, he might as well feed himself confidence that he'll have Kurgan's head on the proverbial pike. "Fine. Point me to the fray," Kurt sighed. He figured he should be grateful; given a purpose to serve Equestria in a way that doesn't feel like a dull cage that looked roomy on the outside. It was all he ever really wanted since before his desire to meet Twilight Sparkle, or find his brother.


Within two hours, they landed back in Canterlot. The carriage holding Kurt, Floyd, Baton, and Princess Luna landed in a designated landing area- basically a patio with the furniture moved. It would mark the first time Kurt had been within the palace walls, or even looking within. Being an Earth pony, he was unable to fly and look around. All of his shifts as a guard were right next to the entrance, and not once did he have a chance to look inside while on-duty.

Baton and Princess Luna left the carriage first, followed by Kurt and Floyd. On the smooth patio floor, the four approached the palace itself. Princess Celestia and even more guards stood at the doors leading from the patio to the palace interior. Luna raced to her elder sister's side, while Baton and the other pilots boxed in the ex-guard and guitarist. Security reasons, obviously.

On either side, the massive gardens Kurt's sister helps tend to stood. All the plants were healthy, and trimmed nicely. Kurt couldn't identify any of them- considering he never took an interest on botany. All he really cared about was that the gardens were all beautiful.

"Kurt Foalington. It's been a while," Princess Celestia said as the two non-guards bowed. "And... Floyd Gilmare."

"Pleasure to meet ye both, yer majesties," Floyd said with a grin.

Kurt was at a loss for words. He was concerned about what she had to say regarding the infiltration, escape, and general antics while in Canterlot last time. Celestia's giant gravity-defying mane was bigger than the ex-guard himself. Kurt distracted himself with Floyd's rather odd last name. Gilmare sounded just silly, but that was only Kurt's opinion.

"Sister, why is he here exactly?" Celestia asked to Luna, referring to the grizzled guitarist.

Luna stifled laughter, and urged the elder to ask Floyd that herself. Princess Celestia asked Floyd, and was replied with "I missed the parade, and I wanted to play a song to ye both."

Celestia motioned for the guards to strip Kurt's uniform. After that was done, The Princess took a good long look at the scars. She looked... disappointed. Should I ask? Kurt thought to himself. Hundreds of questions were being raised at this point, and he couldn't organize them into questions he should ask Celestia, and questions he should ask others.

"It's good to see you're healthy," Celestia said.

"Likewise, Ma'am," Kurt replied.

"Kurt?" came a sudden voice. Kaia arrived from the garden on the left. She got a clear view of the scars. "What happened?" she asked.

"Nothing you need to worry about, Kaia Foalington," Celestia replied, almost perfectly like a mother to an infant. The ex-guard couldn't help but notice that almost everything Celestia says is in such a voice. Even after fifteen years, She sounded generally the same.

Kaia approached, still staring at the scars. Kurt had no words, and was hoping Celestia would successfully turn his older sister away.

"They said you were dead," Kaia said.

"An error I will have to speak to the Commander about," Celestia replied.

Kaia's eyes started to water up. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Kurt brought himself not to look at his older sister. Kaia galloped to her younger brother and gave him a long hug. "I have Cor with me,” she said, “He never spent an hour without voicing his worries."

"We can't let them see each other right now," Princess Celestia interrupted.

"Why not?" Kaia asked.

Kurt replied for the royalty. "I'm needed... and I need something to look forward to after the job is done."

"Kurt," Celestia stated invitingly. Kurt looked at Kaia once more, and followed the regal sisters, alongside Sergeant Baton. Floyd stayed behind, with another guard to keep an eye on the grizzled guitarist. The four of them entered the palace, for a more secure place to speak privately.

"Kurgan Indrik. I'm sure the sergeant and younger sister had already told you," said the Commander as the four of them entered a large room with a massive scale model map of Equestria and neighboring provinces in the center. The decorated Commander appeared to be occupied; he was picking his teeth with a figurine pin as he tapped a hoof on the scale model of the Everfree Forest area.

"Indeed, sir," Kurt responded respectfully as everypony circled the map.

"You understand that he is immortal, yet you wish to take on this quest?" Commander said as he moved the toothpick piece on the map from Manehattan over a railroad to Baltimare. Kurt figured the decorated one was trying to replicate how the ex-guard had been moving the past few days.

"If it means I get to see my brother one last time," Kurt replied.

After an amused huff, he stated with a grin, "Despite the trouble you caused, I don't think I can ever not like you. You treasure family, despite everything you do. From-" The Commander then noticed the scars. "How well-healed are they?"

"I don't really notice them anymore," Kurt replied as he stretched the left foreleg to feel next to no pain whatsoever.

"Best make sure it gets better than that, Corporal," the Commander said, "Kurgan Indrik is a force to be reckoned with, named the King of Animals many times where he's from. If you're going to be finding a way to take him down, you'll need to be in the best shape possible."

Kurt nodded swiftly. Despite not being in the Guard anymore, he still was alert and at-attention when the Commander spoke. Then again, who couldn't?

"My father once said: the next time the Rhinos would try another invasion, it would need to be stopped before it began." The Commander started a speech Kurt could swear couldn't have been improvised. "After two thousand years, ponies haven't been as hardened and grim as the ones who served during the Rhino Conflict. At a time like this, we need somepony who should've been born two thousand earlier, but still found a way to skip a couple millennia."


"To stop this new conflict before it starts, we need to show that immortal son of a cockatrice that despite appearances, we are still vicious stallions and mares. To defeat Kurgan Indrik would kill the rhino morale like you wouldn't believe."

"I understand that already, sir."

The Commander smiled, even if Kurt flinched at the accidental insubordination. "At ease, Kurt. I figured it was obvious."

"Well, in front of our rulers, my mentor, and yourself, sir..." Kurt replied.

"Heh, yeah."

Baton produced a figuring of a rhinoceros with a massive tusk, and placed it on a border in Equestria. "Our scouts report that he's rallying troops on the line, about here. They will cross the border by next week."

"That is pretty much it. You go in, break the toad's legs, and drag his flank back here. Any questions?" the Commander asked.

"What am I going in with?" Kurt asked.

"No need to worry about that. It's being taken care of," the decorated one replied.

"What happens if I fail?" Kurt asked.

The Commander burst out laughing. Apparently he got something everypony else in the room didn't. It almost disturbed Kurt, considering he was serious about the question. "Anyway, dismissed. Best get yourself ready," the Commander managed to say between breaths. The royal sisters remained with the Commander while Baton brought Kurt to a guest room.

"You know when I said a number of guards wanted your head?" Baton asked.

"On the train, yeah," Kurt replied as he looked into his guest bedroom.

"I wasn't kidding,” Baton said, “It makes me a little disappointed, how they're not so willing to forgive family."

"I find it difficult to believe I forgive mum and dad," Kurt said.

"I guess the Commander will need to give the others a review lesson on how every guard that ever donned his or her own uniform is part of a family, In the meantime, you gotta stay and train here- in this room- where the others- and especially Cor- won't find you."

"Solitary confinement?" Kurt asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Baton said as he closed, locked, and barred the door after Kurt entered the guest room. The ex-guard sighed as the last lock clicked. He was too tired to get angry at this point, and he certainly didn't want to waste the anger on a gold-trimmed door that doesn't bleed.

The whole room was full of purple, red, and gold. All warm colours, which contrasts surprisingly well to the cool colours in the side room that contained bathroom essentials. The one window in the room was rather large, but Kurt knew better than to open it. He knew he needed the regret to keep his fury blazing at the moment of truth.

The question still plagued him: What if he does fail? Will the rhinos plow through Equestria, taking everypony with it? Would they destroy Manehattan and Baltimare? Would they destroy Ponyville? The Commander's laughter didn't make sense to the ex-guard. Maybe he was just tired, and a good night's sleep would give Kurt required time to figure out what it all meant. The fighting horse jumped into bed and fell asleep immediately. He was reminded of Room 5 back at Patrick and Stella's Bed & Breakfast.


The next morning, Kurt didn't have an answer, but he did get a good look at a hot meal and two blades meant to be part of Kurt's new equipment. The blades were much like the one Kurt wore on-duty, a thick shin plate with a complex mechanism that shot the blade out whenever the ex-guard needed it. Fact of life is that he never got to use it back then, so his own swordsmanship would easily be considered rusty.

After eating the meal and a bathroom break, Kurt sat at the window, examining the clear skies, and Cloudsdale out in the distance. It wasn't good to begin rigorous exercise immediately before or after a meal, after all.

He spent an hour pondering about... well, everything. He wondered what he was going to do after this task was done. Would the Commander and Princesses let the fighting horse go out to live a real life, away from cities and disguised cages?

It all seemed to have less an impact on Kurt's mind, but the questions did help distract him from the big one: What if he failed?

"Who would I fail?" Kurt asked himself. His parents wouldn't care. Kaia never liked her younger brother's talents, Cor certainly never knew Kurt was born to be violent. Everypony else, he never really got to know on the same level as Baton, for instance.

His classmates became blobs in his memory, only remembering the four bullies, and the one unicorn he smacked in the face with a rock. All of the ponies that were involved with the fights he had been in.

How was that one frustrated griffon, anyway?

What if I fail?

Perhaps time will tell. After the hour was over, Kurt began training. He was used to non-stop training, having done it for the better portion of his life. Now more than his life depended on it.

His mind was blank as he trained. He couldn't afford to be distracted as he handled the expertly-crafted blades- gold like before, but they seemed different. They seemed more... balanced, hardened, like more effort was put into the creation. A more expensive, time-consuming method with indisputable results.

If they wanted a champion to take down the immortal, might as well make him or her the best champion conceivable. With that in mind, Kurt was almost excited to see how the rest of the gear turned out, if it would be all designed in a similar fashion to these truly excellent blades.

During a break, the ex-guard recalled his study on rhinos. A study he performed by himself as a result of his interest in the conflict during history classes. Kurgan Indrik was a feared character, with a horn the size of a grown stallion, with massive legs with similar build to a pony's own legs. Kurgan's immense strength and agility displayed during records of raids was always described as "unnatural."

Perhaps he would need to meet this Kurgan fellow before Kurt could formulate any good strategies. For the past week, Kurt trained, and received more pieces of the custom suit, until he got the entire set. One more set of training exercises with the full suit, and Kurt felt ready to take on several Rhinos.

It all went by so fast to the ex-guard. The training blurred together into what he would call a second nature he forced upon himself, tattooed into his brain and reflexes.

In another day, Kurt was on the flight to the border, with Princess Celestia, Luna, and a platoon of other guards. An escort, and an audience to witness this history-making event. They landed on a massive stretch of plain. In the distance, a sea of gray and hairy beasts approached. Leading the pack was a massive carved stone throne, hoisted into the air by four large armoured rhinoceros.

Atop the throne was a face Kurt remembered from the history books: Kurgan Indrik, the King of Animals. Warlord of Elasmotheria- the kingdom of the rhinoceros.

Kurt almost found himself admiring the guy, using his power to unite a people for a common goal for the greater good. Too bad this greater good was conquest of otherwise peaceful lands.

The carriage landed. Celestia and Luna stepped out and allowed Kurt to exit himself. The rhino army ceased movement as Kurt approached on his own.


"Good morning, champion," Kurgan Indrik greeted with an immense grin, displaying surprisingly well-kept gnashing teeth. Behind him, an army of rhinos stood, patiently waiting for what would be to come. The ex-guard wondered how Kurgan figured he was a champion. Then again, being sent alone by the royal sisters would imply that, if anything else.

The sky above, the field below. Kurt lowered his stance, and tried not to show fear; despite the fact that he underestimated the rhino's size. Good Celestia Almighty, was the guy massive. The horn itself was as big as Kurt. The rest of Kurgan was even bigger. Each of the hairy flat-feet-tipped legs were almost the same size as the horn, and each of the humongous shoulders looked to be as big as a buffalo war chief. Those were just the damned shoulders!

"Good morning," Kurt responded professionally, "I'm here to kill you."

The army roared in laughter, and Kurgan stood up from the humongous intricately-detailed stone throne- which was carried by four giant rhinos by itself. The throne itself appeared to have been carved into for several years, with much patience and toil. The leader looked amused.

The massive leader looked at the ex-guard, and at the other ponies in the distance. "Normally I wouldn't waste my time with... small ponies," Kurgan said mockingly, "But you seem to have it in your head that I can be killed."

Kurgan Indrik stepped down from the throne, and jumped onto the grassy plain. The four throne carriers backed up along with the massive well-equipped army that stood behind their colossal leader.

"Lesson 1: I am immortal," Kurgan coldly stated as his insane girth darted toward Kurt at impossible speeds.

Kurt grinned. Since the manticore, he had never been so excited. He shot to the side at the last moment and swung his blade at the joint of the immortal's left foreleg.

The strike was true, and blood was spilled, but the rhino did not seem to react. "Lesson 2: Two thousand years of training has made me immune to pain!" Kurgan bellowed as he swung the massive tusk at Kurt.

The ex-guard dropped to the ground and rolled under Kurgan's massive head, narrowly dodging the horn. Kurt shot up and shoved a blade into the rhino's neck. This was responded in full with the horn swinging back. The massive piece of ivory impacted, sending Kurt flying several meters away.

The stab was deep, and it had to have hit a vital.

"I must commend you: for a blind slave, you're the first one to spill this much blood," Kurgan commented as he hoisted himself onto his hind legs, then slamming down in a form of taunt.

"Thanks," Kurt replied.

"You must have trained for a moment like this your whole life."

Kurt didn't reply. He decided to make the first move. In the blink of an eye, Kurt closed the distance, shot to the left, and attempted to thrust a blade into Kurgan's cheek, right below the horn.

Kurgan's foot rose and thrust forward, clocking Kurt in the face. It was the ex-guard's fault, really. He underestimated the massive beast's speed, and he was going too fast to see it coming.

The ex-guard's senses were scrambled like eggs, and he found himself on the ground, with Kurgan's stamping foot pushing on Kurt's chest plate.

The blades were out, and Kurt repeatedly stabbed the leg that was crushing him. The billions of strands got stained a deep red from the many wounds Kurt inflicted. Kurgan didn't appear to notice any of it. "You can't win, pony," the beast stated grimly.

Kurt didn't respond. Instead, he reached quickly and shoved his right blade into Kurgan's face.

There was a howl... A howl in agony. Immune to pain, Kurgan said... Explain that, Kurt thought.

Kurt pulled out and stabbed again and again. He couldn't get a good look on where he was striking, but it appeared to be the only good thing. The rhino's leg lifted up, and Kurt rolled to his left as the raised leg stamped down with the force that could crush a hydra's femur. Kurt scrambled to his feet, catching his breath, and taking a gander at his blind handiwork.

Kurgan Indrik no longer had an eye. In its place was indescribable stuff. "No!" Kurgan shouted as he attempted a turn so his good eye could see Kurt. "I am meant to rule the world! The prophecy of the ancient ones said so!"

"Got anything about losing eyes?" Kurt asked as he stepped with the Kurgan's turn, preventing the good eye from spotting the ex-guard. The question only served to annoy Kurgan, whose turn picked up in speed until Kurt was within the beast's field of vision. This was followed with another remarkably fast charge.

Kurt didn't have enough time to dodge, and got hit in the chest by the tip of the horn. The steel buckled, and pressed hard against his bare chest. He could feel his ribs strain as he breathed.

It hurt.

A lot.

As Kurt yelped in pain, Kurgan rose its massive head, throwing the pony another several meters across the field.

Panicked, Kurt fumbled as he started pulling his chest plate off. He could barely breathe without enough room for the lungs to stretch.

The chest plate dropped onto the field, and Kurt gasped for real breath.

Kurgan wasn't done yet, charging in and trampling the fighting horse. The ex-guard was lucky none of the massive rhino's feet stamped onto his chest throughout the randomness of the trampling.

Time slowed down as Kurt rolled past the forelegs and under the creature's belly. He thrust both blades into the gut and repeatedly twisted the blades. With his hind legs, he hoisted himself off of the ground, holding on via long tangled rhino hair and the blades.

Having a large pony hang off of a wound like a massive earring must have done something- anything. There was another howl. This one, however, was more annoyance than agony. Kurt continued stabbing with a single blade, using the other to keep himself attached like a tumor.

Kurgan Indrik jumped into the air, and shot his legs outwards. Kurt had no way to get out from under the body slam before it connected with the ground. The slam shook the field, making Kurt wonder how his brothers, sisters, and leaders were taking this.

The beast was heavy... unbelievably heavy. Kurt could feel the warmth of the damage he dealt drench himself. He gasped for breath as he attempted to futilely push the colossal body off of him. Slowly, Kurt's hind legs started to fall asleep.

The Indrik beast finally rose on his own and turned to get a look at the downed guard. "I see you have lost," he said as Kurt struggled to get up.

"Tell that to your intestines," Kurt wheezed.

"They will regenerate, I assure you," Kurgan replied as he took a deep breath and rose onto his hind legs- rearing to finish Kurt off with a stamp that would revert any solid object underneath into dust, or a liquid. "Thus ends the lesson."

What if I fail? Kurt thought as time slowed to a stop. In his mind, the worm had been asleep.

Why the hell was it asleep? I had to do this! Kurt thought to himself. He had to do this...

No... more than that... He wanted to do this...

Kurt then realised that whether or not he has the regret of not talking to his brother, he knew he must still win. For the purple filly's sake, for the dressmaking unicorn, for the fillies and colts at the post office, for Patrick and Stella, Vinyl and Floyd, and the doctor and his nurses, and all those great ponies he had met. He figured out what the Commander found so funny.

The Commander knew Kurt must have met some great ponies out there on his own. It was obvious: the fact that Kurt got inside Canterlot without the guards knowing easily implied that. The Commander's real answer to Kurt's question was a resounding "You won't."

All those intricate houses in Ponyville that looked to be expensive as hell to design, let alone construct. If he failed, they would all be ruined by senseless violence. Senseless violence Kurt deep-down would enjoy... if he were the one doing it.

But he wouldn't. He liked the people out there too much to consider it beyond what the worm in his brain told him to crave. He wanted to save that wanton destruction for his own bare hooves. There's no way some stupid rhinoceros could beat him to it.

The forced separation of the brothers was merely another reinforcement to give Kurt the sense of responsibility, to answer the call of duty he first answered when he self-trained himself to beat the four bullies, and next answered to protect the younger ponies from the bigger one, to don the golden uniform, and to begin his unending efforts to find his little brother.

The worm awoke, and began its meal. Kurt let it run its course for the first time in his life. As his eyes glazed, Kurt felt joy. The adrenaline removed all evidence of pain.

Kurgan did not expect Kurt to roll onto his hooves and lunge forward to stab the other eye, let alone in the blink of an eye. The ex-guard continued stabbing and slicing the beast's face, regardless of what the rhino did.

Immortal or not, if it bleeds, it can tire. It can lose strength from blood loss. All he needed to do was be faster than the rate of regeneration. Kurt did not stop. He pulled himself up and wrapped his hind legs around the horn. He held on with all the strength he could unwillingly summon. The stabbing did not stop, but neither did the earth-shaking howling on account of the King of Animals.

Eventually, Kurt thrust his blades into the back of Kurgan's neck, and began slicing through just about everything.

"Good morning," Kurt repeated in that ever-so-unfamiliar voice, "I'm here to kill you."

"No!" Kurgan shouted, muffled on account of his damaged voice box and all the fluid spilling up his neck and onto the field. "I am immortal!"

Upon cutting through the vertebrae, muscle tissue, and tendons, the massive weight of the horn did the rest of the work. Decapitation had been accomplished.

"I am... immortal..." Kurgan's speech pattern slurred, and eventually stopped. The head rolled onto the side, throwing Kurt off and onto the blood-stained field.

The adrenaline rush wore off, leaving Kurt fatigued more than he ever thought possible- even more so than the Manehattan station, with Porta. Unable to move aside from the automatic rising and lowering of his chest as he breathed, the ex-guard was unable to watch the amputated ends glow in a blue light before dissipating into sparks that snaked into the field.

"Cor," Kurt Foalington panted, "I'm sorry. I'm a murderer. I can't do anything about it. I can't live with you, or Kaia, or mum and dad."

The worm, well-fed, fell into slumber once more. As Kurt lost consciousness himself, the silence was broken by a receding stampede.


The warm colours of the guest room reflected the sunlight onto Kurt's eyelids, straining on his eyes and forcing him out of unconsciousness. The room looked the same. Furniture in the same places as always, nopony else around, closed doors and rest room with cool colours.

The fighting horse, sat up, and suddenly realised that he felt funny. The funny feeling was similar to the painkillers when he was back in Ponyville. He suddenly scanned his body, looking for whatever would warrant the painkillers. There didn't appear to be anything. No scars, no lost limbs. As far as he could tell, he was perfectly fine.

Kurt inched his way to the edge of the soft bed and stepped off. Despite the painkillers, Kurt felt pure agony as he stood. He clenched his teeth to tough it out, and approached the door.

It was unlocked for once. The light push was still painful. Kurt wondered what damage he had suffered during the fight. His copious amounts of adrenaline made him ignore the pain...

Come to think of it, what happened after the fight? He recalled it clearly, up until Kurgan Indrik's last words.

The entrance hall resembled that of a hangar; massive and roomy. Kurt looked up and down the balcony he stood upon, then down to the ground floor of the hall. Nopony was around. The well-insulated doors no-doubt did a perfect job of blocking the sounds of Canterlot's day life.

Kurt sat onto his flank and massaged his legs. They felt rather normal, aside from the pain that was sharp enough to pierce the veil of the painkiller effects. He needed to see the doctor who administered it.

Where was everypony?

"Hello?" Kurt called, listening to his voice bounce off the walls once before fading beyond his range of hearing. The ex-guard used the railing to keep as much weight off his aching legs as possible as he reached the giant sets of stairs. He needed to find somepony, anypony.

He saw a face he hadn't seen in a good few years. A face with a wavy, navy-blue mane, and a tinted yellow coat.

Kurt stumbled down the stairs at a faster pace, lost his balance, and dropped to his side on the ground floor. His younger brother galloped to the downed ex-guard. Behind Cor, Kurt spotted Kaia round the edge of the doorframe, and ran up as well.

"Hey bro," Kurt winced.

Kaia called back to the door, and was followed soon after by Sergeant Baton and Floyd.

"Hey Kurt, you look like crap!" Floyd said.

The ex-guard ignored Floyd. He saw his little brother again. He saw that Cornelius Foalington was safe. He had missed Cornelius obtaining his cutie mark- a piano.

"Nice cutie mark," Kurt said as Sergeant Baton hoisted him back onto his feet.

"Another musician in the world. I can't complain," Floyd said as he softly tapped a hoof onto Cor's noggin.

Cor seemed speechless. Either his seeing his older brother for the first time in years, or seeing his older brother in a shape similar to that of an overly-dependant elder whose wheelchair had been broken for a day or two. Kurt was satisfied that his little brother was at least smiling. He had a nice smile.

Baton nudged his head to Floyd, and the grizzled guitarist took Kurt's other side. Together, they returned to the room Cor and the others left.

The smell was familiar... too familiar. If Kurt could move without immense aching pain, he would've said hello to Patrick and Stella. The Bed & Breakfast ponies were there for some reason. Kurt wondered how or why they were here.

"How did you guys get here?" Kurt asked as Baton and Floyd sat him down onto the cafeteria table.

"Shut up and eat," Patrick replied jokingly as he pushed a steaming hot sweetgrass and tulip sandwich to Kurt, complete with cheese all on a slice of baguette.

Everypony else sat down at the table as Patrick and Stella brought out more meals.

Before the last dish was set, a doctor pony entered. He rushed to Kurt's side upon spotting the ex-guard. "You can't be walking, sir."

"Too late for that," Kurt replied as he attempted to raise his hooves to eat the sandwich.

"You've got fractures in almost every bone in your body," the doctor pony said, "We mended it all back together, but it needs a lot of time to set. Did you hear any cracking as you walked?"

Kurt shook his head as his legs dropped again. He wasn't able to get to the sandwich. As Kaia reached to help, Kurt said "No, no, I got this." He reached forward with his snout and nibbled on the sandwich, savouring the taste.

"You still need a few days’ rest, regardless..."

Kurt slowly nodded, adding "After breakfast... lunch... whatever time it is..."

The doctor sighed, and joined the table with his own meal.

"Where's Princess Celesia and Princess Luna?" Kurt asked.

"They're with the the Commander, meeting with the Rhinos. They're negotiating a non-violence agreement," Sergeant Baton said.

"That's good," Kurt said. Two seconds later, he wondered if that was a lie or not.

Lunch went by rather quickly, and Kurt was brought back to the guest room. Kaia remained with Cor as everypony else left. "Cor," Kurt started.

"You're a fighting horse, I know," Cor said.

"That means I can't stay. I have to go and leave everything behind."

"Why?" Cor asked.

Kurt replied, "I fight because it was what I was born to do. It’s that one thing that makes me special. I can't not be myself. It's just... unnatural. It's unnatural to not be yourself."

Kurt told Cor about how he came upon this decision to leave forever. He talked about how his parents never paid any attention to Kurt. Even when he was born, they paid more attention to Kaia. When Cor was born, they paid attention to him, leaving Kaia to take care of the middle foal. He told Cor about the four bullies, and about his improvised training. He told Cor about the fights he had been in, how he got his cutie mark, and how Sergeant Baton called him out of class.

"What about when you left?" Cor asked, "I thought you liked being a guard."

"Being a guard is about maintaining peace, not fighting for it," Kurt said. "Equestria hadn't had a major conflict since the first time the Rhinos invaded. I liked the uniform, and I liked the idea that I was fighting for justice... Then I realised I really wasn't fighting. I wasn't fighting anything."

"And that's why you ran away." Cor finished.

"Yeah. At first, I thought I ran away because I wanted to meet a cute filly I never got to meet," Kurt paused to take a deep breath. "Then I realised that I didn't want to meet her. I just wanted to live free."

Cornelius Foalington nodded. Kurt then noticed that his little brother was staring at the scars. He didn't want to raise attention to them, so Kurt continued. "Then I met ponies out there. They were all great ponies too, like Patrick and Stella- they made the meals."

Cor's nodding went wild. Apparently he really enjoyed the food.

"Anyway... I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I had to lie about everything. As soon as I recover, I'm going."


"Somewhere," Kurt replied. "Maybe find a small town, get to know the locals, live without regrets, find a filly not out of my league."

"What about the scars?" Cor asked.

"Have Baton or Floyd tell you about them," Kurt replied with a smirk. "They'll do a better job telling that story."

Surprisingly, Cor's eyes didn't fog up. No tears were pouring out. Did the younger brother understand everything? He must have matured well throughout the month. Kurt lay back on the bed and closed his eyes as Kaia ushered Cornelius out of the room.

Yeah... that's a good plan... lead a simple life. Kurt was used to it already, having a childhood that could be described with fewer sentences than a pony had legs, and the complications of the past few weeks were minuscule compared to the day-to-day life of somepony like Princess Celestia.

Kurt rested for two days. The pain subsided, and his bones didn't strain with the smallest of force. The flawlessness of the mending reminded Kurt of the time his jaw was busted. Canterlot was the capital city. Obviously Celestia wanted the best for a city that had the best in everything else.

Without anyone noticing, Kurt left the palace. He wasn't sure where the saddlebags went, nor did he know what happened to the canned food he packed, or the letters he salvaged, or the gold suit jacket Rarity gave him. He still had his wallet. The last stop he made was at Pony Joe's.

"Welcome back. You still on that wild goose chase?" Joe asked.

"It's over," Kurt replied with a smile. He sat down and ordered the daily special. "Found my brother. He's safe and sound."

Joe served it lickity-split. Green tea and an elephant-ear donut. "That's good... Heh, I see your dye job's losing its roots," Joe commented. "I can see the blue again."

Kurt smiled before taking a bite from the large donut. "I finally got to meet her... I forgot to tell you, actually."

"Twilight Sparkle?" Joe asked, "Any luck?"

With a huff, Kurt shook his head, and added the reply "She's out of my league, Joe."

Joe chuckled, almost as if he knew that something like that would happen. "Well, you finally found him, and you got over her. What's next for you?"

"Now... I'm leaving."

"Leaving Canterlot?" the donut stallion asked.

"Yeah, maybe Equestria," Kurt replied.

Pony Joe's cheerful demeanour vanished. A single word came from his mouth: "Why?"

"Got nothing left, man. Gonna go out there and live," Kurt replied.

Joe blinked and looked down at Kurt's half-eaten donut and finished tea. He then looked back up at the ex-guard. "You do realise you'll be leaving behind more than you think, right?"

"Perhaps," Kurt replied before getting to work finishing the large donut. "I'll find out whether it was worth it or not."

"C’est la vie," Joe replied, "Take care of yourself out there, eh Kurt?"

Kurt smiled one more time, and paid for the donut and tea. "So long, Joe."

Joe nodded a goodbye, and Kurt left for the gates. The guards did not stop Kurt as he trotted down the mountain. At the bottom, there was no shouting. A mile away, there was still no shouting. For once in his life, Kurt was free... and his sense of morality was set in stone. The only path the ex-guard had now was forward.

Records of his existence ceased once the guardian of the ivory tower vanished into the Everfree Forest. Only those who truly knew Kurt would know where he'd have gone, if they put all the effort in the world to finding him.


Two years later, an envelope was delivered to the palace, addressed to Kaia Foalington. There was no return address- which didn't seem to stop Derpy from clumsily dropping into the garden, breaking postal protocol by delivering a letter without a return address.

Cornelius was elsewhere, practicing for a show in Baltimare, leaving Kaia as the only sibling available to help the downed cross-eyed pegasus. The gardener dropped the small spade between her teeth and rushed to help Derpy up. Afterward, she received the envelope.

As the post pegasus left, Kaia Foalington opened the envelope. Within was a card- which Kaia unfolded to see nothing, save for a deep orange tulip pressed onto the inside, and seven scrawled-on words.

All of a sudden, I miss everyone.


The End