by That 1 Guy

Chapter 2: Live Life For The Moment

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Clockwork would’ve sighed, were it not for the unpleasant (to put it very lightly) scent of the world that surrounded him. In times of mental strife, the pegasus would always fiddle with technology or let his body wander while his mind went somewhere else. He had no trinkets on him at the moment, so he ended up doing the latter. His legs had ended up taking him to the Industrial District, the part of Ponyville where machines made machines. The Industrial District was also referred to as the “Slums” by some of Ponyville’s denizens, taking note of the grime and dirt that covered just about everything, including the poor mares and stallions unable to afford a home anywhere else. Unlike back home, there were no friendly neighbors or clean roads, and equal amounts of scrap metal and criminal activity were present throughout.

Those traits, among many others, were just a few of the reasons Charger once ventured down here to get her cutie mark. No matter how ill planned, badly executed, or both, Clockwork would always tag along in support of the plan.

“Today is the day. I am sure of it.” she would recite. Clockwork would always nod and shrug, knowing that somepony would need to be there to bandage her up afterwards. They had come down to the district a few times before, but like always, no success.

“Third time's the charm.” Charger had told him. The mare’s intent was to build a monolithic robot from the scrap (it still made Clockwork blush to know that she had that much faith in him), which could only be destroyed by Charger. In a worst case scenario, Clockwork would just hit the kill switch. In was a daring idea, filled with more holes than a cheese grater, but it sounded like another adventure worth having.

The two set out in the early hours of the weekend, running nearly the entire way. A good portion of the day was devoted to scavenging for almost everything they would need. The list ranged from wires and rebar to a concrete mixer and a defunct cider maker. The duo had managed to find a relatively secluded alleyway to set up shop, and began gathering and construction. The entire process was actually going over well, all things considered. Unfortunately, there’s always a kink in the problem, or five, in that day’s case.

That number referred to the number of thugs that appeared just before Charger was ready to inset the “brain” of the machine. Thinking back on it, who wouldn’t have tried to jump two foals given the circumstance? The crooks didn’t look too different from everypony else that occupied the District, except their eyes glimmered with an intent Clockwork would rather not remember. Even if Charger had set her gloves to “Self Defense”, it was a gamble to think that they could take down even one of them. So, they did what foals their age did best. They ran.

And run they did. Clockwork couldn’t remember how long they went for, only that his legs were on fire by the time they stopped to rest. The crooks still hadn’t given up the chase, and Clockwork, at the time, would’ve discussed terms of surrender had it not been for a group of new, younger ponies grabbing them and pulling them into a hidey hole of sorts. Said hole was big enough only for himself and his friend, and before either occupant could figure out what the Tartarus was going on, the strangers, whom Charger would later identify as foals at the least, took off to give the thugs a different lead to chase after.

Just as the two were beginning to leave, Charger acknowledged a fact that Clockwork hoped she wouldn’t discover that his cheeks had turned a bright red from being so close. The pegasus hastily shrugged it off and began to leave, only to be stopped by another colt. He looked the same as the foals from before, but he was a bit older, and the first words to leave his mouth made Clockwork blush harder.

“Well, don’t ye two make a cute couple?” he asked.

Just as they did a thousand times before, the duo responded with a synchronous “we’re not together”, which was dismissed with a wave of the stranger’s hoof. He offered them shelter, a place to rest for a while, and some food “worthy of even the snobbiest of snobs in Canterlot”.

To any other pony, that offer would’ve been immediately declined, followed by the sound of hooves slamming against packed dirt as the duo would run in the opposite directing. Yet, there was something different about this urchin, in addition to his young age, a certain light behind his eyes showed that he meant only good intentions. After a bit of argument, the duo agreed to go with him, and after some time snaking through surprisingly clean back alleys, climbing a few ladders, and even jumping a rooftop, the three finally arrived at-


Clockwork jumped at the sudden, booming voice. After he had made sure that the fur on the back of his neck lay flat, the stallion looked about. He and Charger were brought here. Before the pegasus was an unassuming pile of scrap metal, old sanding belts, and other various pieces of salvage were all centered on a few large dumpsters. With a practiced eye, Clockwork looked at a certain point in the junk pile and found a pair of eyes staring back at him.


Clockwork took a deep breath, raised his right hoof, and recited the sacred oath of passage. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” he lowered his hoof and smiled. “It’s good to see you’ve still got that voice, Gavroche. I swear you’ll end up being a singer one day.”

“It is good to see you as well, sir!” replied the colt in a much higher pitched tone. The near-invisible pony tapped on the dumpster nearest him with what Clockwork knew was a makeshift, yet effective, spear. “He’s back!” he cried out.

Anypony else would’ve probably jumped out of their fur at the sight of the dumpster opening in a way it wasn’t meant to. The hole underneath the garbage container was large enough for three ponies to go down all at once, shoulder to shoulder. However, it was a rule of the Lost Foals that they always enter Lost Foal Fortress single-file. After Clockwork descended the ladder within the hole, he was treated to the sight of clean light, no smog to turn it a faded yellow brown.

Colts and mares no older than himself were skittering about, partaking in dozens of different tasks. As he made his way down the main underground hallway, he took note of how little the place had changed, yet it somehow looked bigger and better than before. The walls were lined with scrap beams to prevent cave ins, and long wires tipped with light bulbs. Dirt was almost non-existent on anything but the fillies and colts that occupied that tunnel, old posters of all sorts plastered the walls to make a beautiful yet gritty collage, and the hum of the base’s steam generator was almost inaudible. It was amazing what a group of young ponies could do whenever-

“Ah! It’s great to see ye again, Clockwork! What brin’s ye here today?” A familiar voice cried out. At the sound of it the pegasus turned towards its source, and found exactly who he was looking for. Before him stood what most would consider the apex of charming orphan foals. His coat was a light brown, his eyes bluer than the sky, and his mane and tail as grey as gravel, through which poked two floppy ears. Atop his head sat a worn driver’s cap. His jacket wasn’t in any better condition; crude patches salvaged from other various articles of clothing dotted it like the pony pox. The mule’s name was Moppet, he was about twelve years old, wise beyond his years, Clockwork’s rescuer, and his only other best friend.

The pegasus smiled, glad to know his friend was alive and well. “Just thinking.”


“Yeah. My legs brought me back here. My mind’s been all over some stuff lately.”

“I see. Where’s yer yellow lass?”

Clockwork shrugged. “She couldn’t come, something about a ‘headhunter’ to help secure her financial future.”

Moppet’s eyes went wide. “'Headhunters? Finance? What the hay kind of job was she bein’ interviewed for?! Ye best not drag me into any of this!”

“Not that kind of headhunter.” Clockwork batted his friend’s shoulder. “It’s a slang term for a pony that seeks out potential employees. Unfortunately though, Charger’s got her eyes set on a. . . different career.”

Moppet said not a single word, but only snickered. “What job’s she lookin’ for, then?”

Clockwork sighed once more. “She wants to have some sort of position in the military. She didn’t say much else, only that she wanted to fight. I’m guessing she’d probably want to be a squad leader or something similar. She’s one to take charge.”

Moppet coughed several times at the revelation. He glared at the salad before him before turning to look at his companion once again. “T’aint right for a mare young as her to prepare for a war that may never happen. She still thinks it’s o’er the horizon?”

“Don’t we all? I mean, this “Cold War” has been going on since Discord was dethroned.”

The room took on an eerie silence, the younger ponies that occupied the room having heard the god of chaos’ name and gone silent. It was only after a gentle reassurance from Moppet that they were safe did the children continue eating. “Lad, ye know what that damned Draconequus did to the world a few years back. Don’t mention him around the younger ones. The creature got into the minds of ponies that caught nary an eye of the beast. Somnolent is still havin’ nightmares. Poor colt.”

Clockwork only nodded.

“Yer really down. If I can’t help to cheer ye up, why did ye come down here?”

“Look around.” Clockwork flared out his real wing and swept it around him. “You’ve been caring after some twenty-odd parentless foals since before I knew you, and you lead them with such efficiency and charisma that they don’t want to head to an orphanage. I’m pretty sure a few of them are older than you. How difficult is it to do something like this on a day to day basis?”

“I hold no authority o’er the Lost Foals; I am only the group’s senior member. They’re free to leave whenever they wish. I can’t really say how difficult it is to keep control o’er ‘em since I’ve been doin’ this for as long as I remember.”


“Lad, don’t tell me ye actually believe in all yer girlfriend’s war suspicions? Ambassador Bellum, one of the highest rankin’ members of the Griffon species, is smack dab in the middle of Canterlot surrounded by the Royal Guard, the changelin’s have been gone since the weddin’, and the Consortium’s been keepin’ to themselves!”

“One, you sound like my dad. Two, she’s not my girlfriend; she’s just the only female friend I have!”

“Then why’re ye turnin’ redder than that fire ruby ‘round yer neck? As I recall, she gave that to ye a long time back. Does it hold some sort of sentimental meanin’ to ye?” The urchin couldn’t stop himself from laughing at his friend’s obvious embarrassment.

Clockwork slammed his head into the table. Instead of yelling though, he sighed. “What am I going to do, Mop? She’s the most wonderful mare out there, and I don’t have the guts to make any sort of move. Before I know it, she’ll be snatched up by some meathead or scientist and that’ll be the last I ever see of her.”

Moppet downed the last of his hay shake and readjusted his hat. “Clocky, I’m goin’ on thirteen in a few months, and I know next to nothin’ ‘bout mares. Why not just talk to her? Take her out for a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city? Ye don’t need to confess nothin’ to her, just make sure the mare knows that somepony cares ‘bout her.”

Clockwork strained a laugh. “Ever the romantic.”

“I’m an optimist, nothin’ more. Sure, war may be on the horizon or it may not. Either way, I choose to live life in the moment, without too many worries or cares. Speakin’ of worries, if there are destined to be tragedies in our lifetimes, well, there’s next to Jenny we can do ‘bout it! Worry not when somethin’ bad may happen! Live life to the fullest, and worry not for tomorrow, for it may never come. Hug yer family and friends, kiss yer lover, eat yer favorite food, and dance like nopony’s watchin’!”

The unicorn suddenly jumped onto the table and raised his voice at the already attentive crowd of foals. “Life is a precious gift that none should squander. With the bad comes a greater amount of good. For too long, Equestria has focused on the former, what with suspicions of war and violence and death plastered on everythin’! Me though, I’m not gonna let a war that may or may not happen get my spirits down! I’m sure as Tartarus gonna take a few precautions, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna live my life to the fullest! Can all ye fillies and colts say the same?” Moppet removed his hat and held it out to the audience that now surrounded the table. Said audience erupted into joyous cheering, and Clockwork couldn’t help but smile.

The cheering was suddenly cut off as the hollow metallic boom of Ponyville Clock Tower echoed through the tunnels. The lights overhead flickered with each chime. Some fillies covered their ears and a few others grabbed onto each other out of fear.

Somehow, Moppet managed to speak over the noise. “Worry not, Lost Foals! ‘Tis only the Tower tellin’ us the time!”

Said time turned out to be five o’clock. Clockwork’s eyes widened as he asked himself how he could’ve already spent two hours away from home. “Gah! I’m really sorry guys, but I have to get home!”

“Cheval! Peu!” Show our fine friend a safe way out an’ back to the Cloud District!”

Two fillies of equal height and similar appearance popped up from the crowd and nodded before coming up on either side of the older pegasus. As they tugged on his jacket, leading him in the direction of the exit, Clockwork couldn’t help but wonder how such young ponies had matured so quickly. Perhaps a life of poverty, dirty air, and a good leader had a much more profound impact than he originally believed. As he climbed up the ladder to exit the fortress, he heard his friend call out to him once last time. “Live life for the moment, everythin’ else is uncertain!”

Victoria Urbem would've been alive with activity any other day of the year. Any other day, soldiers would've patrolled the streets; scribes would've been copying down historical texts, and musicians practicing their instruments. However, this was not the case in the great capital city of the Griffons, resembling a massive red and golden flower halfway in bloom, each massive stone petal a district to itself, and the center palace the heart and center of its activity.

Today, all that was known by the common people was that representatives from the deer nation of Prance, a powerful and magical country that was a fair-weather ally of Equestria from across the sea, were meeting for talks of an unspecified nature.

At least, that's what the most foolish of griffons would know. Of course, the informed majority of the Empire knew full well that that was the cover story, but no one said a word. Even non-military citizens knew it was a ruse to cause distrust between allies, let alone creatures as magical as the deer and their cousins. Divide and Conquer, an old, yet well tested and successful strategy, was in full force, and most were satisfied with this.

However, a select few griffons knew the truth, certain portions of it anyway. Those nobles who pressed, for example, were told that the arriving deer were in fact the eternal high queen and her personal guard, and that her father was an old ally of the Griffons. No one dared question the Emperor’s word. Those in the military knew that the queen was interested in containing the threat of the lands overseas, and that the ever present threat of Boardor and its rogue dragons were the talk of the day. Those of the Red Order, the Priest-Warriors of the Empire, knew that the queen was connected to very old powers, including that of the Fey and perhaps even that of the spirit world.

Despite the general air of unease as the streets were cleared and the skies emptied, those few that occupied the streets stood with silent respect. It only took about an hour or so before the Prench transport reached its destination; the Griffon Capitol Building.

It didn't look so much like a building of governmental progress as it did a hybrid of a palace and a military fortress. Just a few of its features included great looping sides and an ornate base, it’s squat bulk majestically decorated and it’s dozens of outcrops flying welcoming banners. To many, it was the secondary symbol of the Empire, the first being its flag. Many would’ve commented on the lack of a musical ensemble to welcome the queen, but salutes were much more respectful.

To the robed representatives that exited the vehicle though, it didn't even look remotely like the structures that dotted their homeland. It seemed as alien as they were.

The figure that emerged first from the transporter acquired some amazed looks from griffons that had yet to enlist in the military, albeit for understandable reasons. The slender yet powerfully built cream brown doe was sparsely decorated, with only a light shade of orange makeup ringing her eyes and the ornate robe she wore showing her royalty, but she was large. Each slender leg was taller than some junior members of the guard, and her sleek figure and barrel-like body made some believe that someone in her bloodline was a giraffe.

After she exited her transport with grace that bordered on the unnatural, she quickly made her way into the building, flanked on all sides by her own hoof-picked guard, great horned bucks with shaggy fur and wide almond eyes. Each soldier held a spear at the ready, silver armor gleaming in the orange light of the midday sun. They moved in perfect unison, something that made even nearby members of the Red Order pause for thought.

The walk into the inner sanctum was a brief affair, great golden carpet-lined walls draped with pictures detailing griffon history and lore. At one point, to the unnerve of the guards down the hall, she paused at one rather bloody scene detailing the slaying of a stag, hummed slightly as if in amused approval, and continued to walk down the almost sacred halls.

Eventually, the queen made her way into the central chamber of the castle-fortress, and the heart of the Empire. The room was rather scarce in regards to furniture, with only a single massive table set dead center in the room, one chair at each end of it. A few important looking pieces of parchment framed on the walls, and a single large stained glass window replaced the wall opposite the entrance. It was elegantly crafted, depicting a griffon's claw holding a yellow sunburst within its talons. It was the flag of the Empire, and it was the same one that the Empire had flown since its founding countless millennia ago.

"I doubt you came all this way simply to admire the artwork, Ninn-Aras." an echoing voice grabbed the doe's attention. It sounded like a hundred griffons harmonizing into a single god-like voice, a baritone concert of a sentence. At the chair opposite her and her guards sat a griffon. It was not just any griffon though, it was the immortal Emperor of Griffonia. ”Or perhaps it is Aranel-Del?”

"Enough," the doe responded, slowly making her way across the room, her guards standing near the Emperors own. “This is no time for games, my fellow royal,” the large doe said, gazing at the massive griffon seated in his chair. “Would it be so rude as to ask for your own name? For all my own knowledge, I have been excluded to know his eternal majesty’s personal birth-title. Surely, it is not a state secret, as I know most of them already,” she said, her voice, once deep and matronly, now dripping with sarcasm. One of the guards stifled a gasp at the blatant insult. No one in their right mind would insult the Emperor in a safely secured bunker underground, let alone in his own chambers.

The Griffon Emperor wore a mask of platinum, sculpted to a dragon’s likeness that adorned his head like it was forged on it. His own reaction was never more than that of cool analysis mixed with trace amounts of fury tempered to a point as sharp as a single ray of sunlight. Nevertheless, his voice was light and almost amused.

“I doubt you would understand the deep connections my name has in the old language of the Empire, knowing your youth. In your own, it would translate to something akin to Dagor-Del.”

The great queen of the deer hissed, and her guards all but charged, only to stop when their queen raised a hoof off the ground and bowed lightly.

“Oh, how could I forget why I am here,” she said with faux-despair, “After all, I am before a great and powerful tyrant who fought the armies of Discord himself, raised the great god of griffondom to power, and slayed the first dragon-king! Oh, woe is me!”

The Emperor’s guards were taken aback by the deer queen's mocking of their eternal leader, but the great griffon merely folded his arms and leaned into his throne.

“Enough with the game you are playing. In the Empire of the griffons, we have images to uphold, actual reputations we must cultivate and keep unsoiled. Remember why you are here,” he said amiably, simply staring at the massive creature lying prostrate at his throne’s steps, bawling fake tears.

At that, the doe all but flew onto her slender hooves, a move so fluid that the other griffons in the room could only believe was assisted by magic. She smiled widely, great slanted blood-orange eyes sparkling with something that made the veins of even the most hardened griffon freeze, and trotted over to the left of the room, where an abstract painting of the world itself graced the walls in minute detail. She looked hungrily at it, and pawed roughly at the spot where Equestria was with her dainty leg. Peering closer at it, she circled the Canterlot mount between the two points of her raised hoof, and after a few moments turned to the great griffon sitting on the throne, eyes twinkling with a sort of bottomless, carefree malevolence.

“Ah yes, of course, the issue of. . . Oh, how did it go? Feeding our subjects?”

Next Chapter: Research & Development Estimated time remaining: 13 Hours, 4 Minutes
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