The Guardian

by Colombiaguy

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - A Deal is Struck

Chapter 1 - A Deal is Struck

Life... is complicated. Lying on, what will be, my death bed I can see how easy death is. The benefit of hospital staff ensuring my final moments would be... relatively painless, was also a wonderful assurance. I had nothing left to worry about. I have my will taken care of, my estate was sold and the money split between my two sisters, and what little funds I have left will cover what’s left of my medical expenses. My sisters, Jana and Anna, agreed that they’d take care of my cremation and burial. I’m ready. By tonight... I’ll be gone... Okay, maybe not entirely ready. Maybe, I’ll never be ready, but death isn’t going to wait for me to be ready.

Sorry, that was a bit depressing. Life wasn’t easy and even this disease feels like life’s last attempt to mess with me. However, with my two sisters watching over me in my final hours, life doesn’t seem so bad.

“We got the last of the... estate money today,” Jana says sorrowfully. She’s on the verge of tears. She’s just barely holding them back. She’s dressed in a simple sweat suit, which is a change from her usual business uniform, and her usual long brunette hair is all tangled and messy. Considering she’s been watching over me for nearly a week and a half, I’m surprised it’s not messier.

“That’s...good,” I force out through what minuscule lung strength I have left, a machine making sure enough air got into my lungs to allow me to even converse. “Be sure... to... save enough... for yourselves... And don’t... let those... bastards at the... funeral home... ” I try to finish my thought, but I have to stop to gather my breath.

Anna puts a hand on my chest and tells me not to worry. “We’ll make sure to follow your instructions. We promise,” she finishes. She usually has short brunette hair, but she recently got some brighter blond highlights at the tips of her bangs. It looks good on her. Kinda nice to see her without makeup for once. She’s a beautician in her spare time, but she has such a beautiful face even without makeup. It’s nice that I’ll get see her like that before I go... I’m still not comfortable with that line of thinking.

With as much strength as I can muster, I move my right arm and grab Anna’s hand. I attempted to squeeze her hand, but I could barely muster enough strength to get a good grip. I think the girls could tell I wasn’t too happy with my current state, both of them wore the same look of sadness on their faces. Big brother weak and helpless. I wish they didn’t have to see me like this. I’m gaut... weak... feeble. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to leave my sisters like this. I don’t want their last memory of me to be... like this! I-... I... I’m not ready.

I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes the more I think about it... Don’t cry. Not in front of them. Never in front of them. I turn my face away from my sisters, it’s the most I can do to keep to keep them from seeing my weakness.

Despite my efforts, they saw through my guise. Not a few seconds later, I felt two sets of arms wrapping around me. “Jericho, you don’t have to act tough anymore,” Jana states with a trembling voice.She’s crying... her and Anna both are. “We’ll... be okay. You’ve done enough.” As she says that, I feel a pain in my heart. Was it guilt? Maybe longing. No... Something is wrong. The pain in my chest is getting worse. My heart monitor is beeping erratically. No, they shouldn’t see this! Not now! Please, God, not now! I... I... don’t... let... them... see. “NURSE!” is the last word I hear before a darkness envelops my vision.

I feel nothing. I hear nothing. All around me is an endless void of black. I can’t even see my own body. Am I dead? I can’t be dead. I didn’t get to say good-bye. I can’t leave my sisters without saying good-bye. Please, God, I need a little more time. Please!

“I can help.”

Who said that? Sounds like a woman... is God a woman? “Can you give me more time with my sisters?” I call out into the void.

“I can... but there will be a price,” The voice responds. She doesn’t sound happy about that... also I’m certain God doesn’t make deals. Usually, God does or asks.

“What’s the price?” I asked cautiously. This could be a devil's bargain.

“All I ask is that you help me fulfill a promise. Do this, and I will give you as much time as you need with your sisters,” the voice answered calmly. Her voice is so melodic... soothing almost. I don’t know if she is trying to trick me... but if she is telling the truth, and she can let me have my moments with my sisters... then... maybe it’ll be worth it.

“If I agree... you’ll hold your end of the bargain? No matter what?”

There was a momentary pause before she gave her response. “I will,  to the best of my abilities, uphold my end of the bargain, so long as you uphold yours,” the voice responded. She sounds sincere... for a disembodied voice. Whether she is trying to screw me or not, I don’t have many options. Either I accept death and never be able to say my goodbyes or I do what she asks and get my last few moments with my sisters.Hmmm, hope for the best, plan for the worst.

“I accept,” I state reluctantly.

The moment I accepted the deal I heard a hum beginning to emanate around me, and was getting progressively louder. “Very well. The pact is made... now, you must wake up.” A light suddenly appeared in the void and was quickly began growing in size in tune with the hum. Before long the hum reached a fever pitch and the light became so blinding it began to hurt. Just when the sensations became too much to bear, I felt my eyes fly open. Pure white filled my eyes and I felt myself take an involuntary gulp of air as I regained my sense. The sounds of birds chirping filled my ears and the air smelt fresh. Actually... Taking a few breaths on my own, I didn’t feel a machine helping me breath. Out of pure curiosity, I took a long deep breath to see how strong my lungs were and felt them expand to capacity before I let out a long exhale.

I can breathe on my own.

Did the deal actually work? It wasn’t bullshit? I took a few more breaths just to be sure and was delighted to find I wasn’t struggling at all. It was easy and effortless. For a moment, I was actually getting excited, but that quickly disappeared when I felt something that wasn’t quite right. It felt like... grass? Why do I feel grass? I used my left arm to wipe my eyes and try to clear the white light from them.

A little wiping and a few blinks, my sight began to return. When the white began to fade from my eyes, I was surprised to find myself laying in... a forest? How in the hell did I get here? There are towering trees all around me with small bushes and lush grass carpeting the ground. None of this looks familiar... well, not like I spent much time in the forest, to begin with, but I was just in a hospital.

On top of my confusion to my new location, I felt strange. It might be the disorientation from being in one spot then ending up in another, or something else entirely. I felt like I was... bigger?

I attempted to stand up but found I was being held down by something. When I look to investigate what was holding me down, I noticed... several things that were definitely wrong with my body. For one, it looked like I had wood growing out of my arms, shoulders, and chest. There was even some wood growing out past my pelvis, like an armored skirt. To make matters worse, my lower half wasn’t even human... my pelvis looked like it was fused with a horse. Much like my upper body, my lower body had wood growing around the torso and ending at the tail. A long... blond tail? What? I looked upward toward the top of my head and noticed a few blond strands hanging off my head. I... don’t have blond hair. I have brown hair like my sisters. In fact, I noticed that I was in amazing shape. I had rock hard abs and my arms were well toned. What did this deal do to me? Am I cursed... or a blessing? Physically, I’m only partially human and even those parts have wood growing out of them.

I feel my heart rate escalating as panic began to seep into my body. What was going on? Was this like a death dream or something? Was I even alive? Was this like some kind of twisted hell? I had to forcibly grab my torso to stop the tremors moving through my body and actively slow my breathing to keep me from hyperventilating. I couldn’t freak out. Having a panic attack now wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing. I needed to make a plan of action and get moving.

Okay, mossefirst things first, I need to assess my current state after I unstick myself from all this... foliage wrapped around me. Second, get on my... hooves, and then determine who or what I made a deal with. Third, complete my end of the deal and get back to my sisters.

I had to get free before I could do anything. Most of what was holding me down was mostly overgrown grass and moss. Thankfully, my new body had enough movement for me to reach around and yank the surrounding moss off my right arm and part of my midsection. The moss on my arm was hard caked on, but a bit of force broke it off fairly easily. The grass was a little harder since there were actual roots holding it together and holding it on me. I had to twist a bit to reach my backside, but I managed to rip most of moss and roots off of me.

Okay, Now that I’m free, it’s time to get up. So...uh... how is this going to work?  My front legs are stretched out in front of me and I think... yeah, my back legs are tucked under me. So... let’s experiment, figure out how everything moves and bends. Front legs seem pretty simple everything moves about the way I figured, like human legs but with more joints.  Back legs... are going to be a problem. They curl differently and I’ll need to adjust how the hooves rest.

I tested each leg to get a rough idea of how everything moved and what the limits of my articulation. However, as I moving my right legs, I felt one of my hooves hit something. Whatever it was, it felt fairly solid. I looked down to see something sticking out the ground. It looked like another root, but following the length of it, there was a distinct point to it. And not like it had broken at an edge, but like a spearhead, an emerald green crystalline spearhead. Could it be a weapon? Hmmm, if it’s a spear, I could at least use it as a crutch until I get used to moving. Couldn’t hurt to investigate.

I reached down with my right arm and found a shaft just barely below the surface. Curiosity urged me to see what this thing was, I got a good grip on it and gave it a strong tug.The tug caused some of the grass and dirt to shift,  revealing more of the spear. The bottom end revealed itself to be, what looked like, a broken pole. Maybe this thing is one of those ancient spears tribal people used.  Hell, even if this thing is in bad condition I can always use the spearhead for protection.

I managed to slowly rotate my back end around enough to get my left hand on the shaft and gave it another good tug. I felt some more give, but the thing was still stuck. It isn’t resisting me as much as before, so I gave it another good yank and, sure enough, the damn thing came loose. And, this was more than a spear. It was a halberd, I’ve never seen anything like it, though. The whole shaft of this thing looked like a twisted root that was unnaturally straight. Then the wood just... grew into the ax and tip. How could that be possible? Unless maybe it’s just metal made to look like wood. Looking at my right arm, I had a quick way to test this thing.

I rapped the halberd against my wooden vambrace and I was astounded by the solid clatter it made against my wooden arm brace. This damn thing is actually made of wood. How...? The connection of wood to crystal is seamless. It’s not like crystals grow on wood. Maybe this is some kind of... some kind of... I don’t know. I can’t think of anything that’ll explain how this is remotely possible.I need to get some answers once I’m mobile.

Speaking of which, time to get on my... hooves. Now, how am I going to do this? My front legs are tucked under me, but my back legs are in a good position to push my back end up. Maybe if I get my ass end up I could unfold my front legs and stand up fully. If that fails, I’ll have to try something else.

Okay, here we go. I planted the pommel of the halberd into the ground before me and tightened my grip on the upper part of the shaft. Bracing myself, I slowly pushed my front legs into the ground, slowly lifting me up. Once I had myself propped up, I pulled myself forward using the halberd’s shaft. I was actually surprised how sturdy the wood was, it barely bowed with my weight pulling on it. With the halberd’s help, I was able to get both of my back legs firmly planted and I stood upright for the first time in almost a month. Better yet, I could actually feel my legs. I could move my legs. I had strength again. The feeling was... cathartic. I could move again, I could interact, I was alive. I wasn’t a husk in a bed. I wasn’t withering. I was actually alive.

I savored the feeling for a while, occasionally flexing my legs one at a time and enjoying the feeling of weight upon them. I even stretched out my arms feeling how far they could go and how flexible they were. Feeling the muscles tighten and stretch was a welcome sensation. Before, doing this would have resulted in a long wheezing session and some extremely achy muscles, but now. Now, I barely felt a hitch and I’m breathing with no issues. This was wonderful!

After a few minutes of enjoying the feeling of having a working body again, I decided it was time to get moving. Cautiously, I took my first step, using my weapon as a means to support myself. I took a few more with my other legs to get the hang of moving, and I’ll admit the cadence of four legs was a bit weird at first. It took me some time, but, eventually, I felt like I was getting the hang of four-legged walking. Thankfully, anytime I felt uneasy or wobbly, I was able to plant my halberd in the ground and lean on it for support. I doubt I was going to be galloping anytime soon, but at least I’m getting the basics. Just need to be careful I don’t trip. Once I found a good rhythm, I began to make my way through the forest.

I ended up walking for short amount of time before I noticed the sound of running water in the distance. Considering I was in a forest and I wasn’t sure how long I might be here, I opted to follow the sound in the hopes of at least finding a water source I could drink from for a bit. Hopefully, it’d be clean.

I tracked the sound further into the forest. As I went, I noticed the amount of life scurrying about the forest. Birds of various sizes, species, and color flew amongst the branches of the trees. Squirrels and chipmunks ran around in the trees and along the ground, collecting nuts and assorted twigs. The various animals seemed well aware of my presence, but they didn’t seem adherently concerned that I was near them. I even noticed a few birds occasionally perching on my back. While this struck me as strange, it wasn’t anything dangerous. I’m not sure how I’d do against anything predatory. Yes, I have a weapon, but I can only use it effectively in front of me and maneuvering quickly with these legs wasn’t going to happen. I’d likely just end up on the ground and vulnerable.

That idea lead to more gruesome thoughts I’d rather not entertain. I put my focus back into following the sound of rushing water and kept a cautious eye out for anything threatening.

I spent the next, what I assume was, few minutes following the sound of the water and eventually came across a fair sized creek that ran right through the forest. The water was an inviting light blue and it was easy to see the very bottom. I could see some small schools of fish just below the surface. The water seemed clean enough. Hopefully, a few sips wouldn’t hurt too much. I kneeled down, slowly to take a few handfuls of water, when I noticed my reflection in the water. What I saw... was deeply disturbing.

There was a face I’d never seen before staring back at me. Long blonde hair rolled off the sides of his head. His light brown eyes hid under a large wooden crown that extended down to the bridge of his nose and grew to encompass his entire forehead before ending in six horned crown. Two of the horns were small and curved toward each other. The two next to those were much longer and barely had any curve to them at all. Then the last two horns were not only the thickest but also the longest of the horns and held the outermost position on the crown.

This can’t be me. It can’t me. The face before me looked like it belonged to someone in their mid-twenties... but it moves to my commands and reacted as I did. This was my face... but how? How is any of this possible?

“Through very powerful magicks,” the voice from before answered hesitantly.

I flinched at the sound of the voice responding so suddenly. I looked around to see if I could locate where the voice was coming from but saw little more than forest, bushes, and grass. Where was it coming from?

“I’m speaking directly to you through a mental link,” the voice responded. She chuckled sheepishly as I continued scanning the area. “There is no point looking for me. I’m not near you.”

Did she just say magic? That’s... well, I want to say ridiculous, but given the circumstances, I’m a little more willing to accept that. “Okay... so you are using... magic to talk to me,” I repeat for hesitantly.

“I am. This is a special magic made possible by our pact. I can hear you perfectly despite not being near you,” the disembodied voice states, sounding less hesitant. I'm not sure if she was nervous to talk to me or not, but it felt nice that she was addressing me in a more casual manner. Plus, now I could get some answers.

“Okay, so, that means you can hear me no matter what?” I inquired. I hadn’t questioned the deal out loud. I had thought it. The voice seemed to have picked that up.

“Y-yes. That is another aspect of the pact. I’m sorry to say, all your thoughts are open to me... at all times.”

“WHAT!?” I yelled in shock, causing a few birds to flee.

“I-I’m sorry!” the voice stated in what sounded like sincere regret. “If it was my choice, the effect wouldn’t be there, but it’s part of the spell and I didn’t know how to change it.”

“What did this ‘spell’ do?! I look... like this” I stated gesturing to my new form. “My mind is an open book, and I don’t even know where I am.”

“The pact links your soul to the body you currently occupy. Part of my magic will keep your body on your world alive and healthy. When I will it, your soul will return to your original body and you can have your time with your sisters,” she explained.

“So... I’m your slave then?” I countered feeling a bit of unease and worry creeping in.

What?! No! No!” the voice recoiled clearly disgusted by the statement. “... well... sort of, but I don’t see our agreement like that! It’s like... uh... uh... a service trade!” Her tone suggested she meant what she said, but I was still wary.

“And what service am I providing?”

“Well... um... uh...” she was quiet for a few moments before she came back with a response. “Maybe it would be better if I showed you.” After she finished, I felt a strange tingling sensation flow through my head. I rubbed the sides of my head to try and make the feeling go away but stopped when I noticed a vibrant, glowing, green trail suddenly shooting through the forest. “Follow that trail and it will lead you to me.”

Huh, so she is willing to meet in person. This should be interesting. “Okay, I’m on my way.”

“Genis,” she piped in quickly.

“Excuse me?” The statement came a little sudden and I didn’t quite know what she was talking about.

“My name. It’s Genis.”

Odd name, but I guess it’s better than referring to her as “the voice”. “Okay, Genis. I’m Jericho Pollis,” I offered in return.

“Pleasure to meet you, Jericho.”

Making my way through the forest, I decided to ask some more questions to Genis. If I was going to be here a while it’d be best to learn about the land. “Okay, so where am I exactly?” I inquired as I slowly navigated a downed tree.

“You are in a place known as the Forgotten Forest,” Genis replied.

“And that is where?” I pressed.

“It’s in a land called Equestria,” Genis explained.

I wanted to make a comment about how strange the name sounded but I opted to keep it to myself, for now. Clearly, I wasn’t on Earth anymore. “Did you have more questions?” Genis asked gently.

I was moving down the slope of a small hill with several rock outcroppings when she asked that question. The uneven ground felt weird to navigate with hooves and I had to take my time lest I twist all four of my ankles.There’s an unappealing thought. “Sure, why am I in this body? You couldn’t have put me in something with two legs?” I was still navigating the slope when I asked the question, which was beginning to feel stranger the longer it continued. I’m talking to a voice in my head. I’m thankful no one is around to see me asking random questions to the air.

“I apologize, but it was the only vacant vessel available for me to put you in,”  Genis replied, sounding a bit dejected about the entire thing. “You do seem to be handling it very well, all things considered.” She added the last bit with some encouragement.

“The halberd helps,” I responded coming off the slope and back to even ground. I was picking up the body’s locomotion as I went, but the terrain was pushing me to learn quickly. “Don’t expect me to be moving faster than a walk for a while.”

“I-I don’t, but your ability to adapt to the unfamiliar is... quite impressive. You’ve learned to maneuver on four legs quite quickly.” I couldn’t tell if she was trying to make small talk or flatter me, but I honestly wasn’t feeling it. I was somewhere between inquisitive and focused at this point. Mostly, I was looking to complete whatever task I had signed up for.I wanted to get back to my sisters and the only thing stopping me was this deal.

I continued my trek through the forest, asking questions to Genis along the way. “So, Equestria, what kind of place is it? If I’m... this, there has to be some interesting people walking around.”

Genis seemed a little more chipper answering this than the other questions. “It is a wonderful place. It is ruled by a council of three, one for each of the main tribes. They rule from a city far to the north of here.” Her enthusiasm continued as spoke more of the land, “And yes, there are a variety of creatures that inhabit this land. Dragons, Griffons, Minotaur, and, of course, ponies!”

“Excuse me?” I interject, coming to a complete halt. “Ponies? You list all that then throw in ponies?”

“Well... they are the natural citizens of Equestria,” Genis clarified nonchalantly.

“So... you’re saying. That this land is inhabited by ponies? Sentient ponies?” I had to be sure I was hearing this correctly because the mental image of a bunch of horses debating politics reminded me of a political cartoon I saw once... or was it donkeys?

“Yes, that is what I said. I can understand if that is a bit strange considering where you are from, but I assure you, they are very similar to the people from your world,” Genis assured me in a positive tone.

Hmmm, interesting. A world full of Mr. Eds should be fun at some point. “If you say so,” I replied with a light chuckle.

I continued through the forest until the green trail simply ended at an open field with a singular tree in the center. Looking it over, it was a bizarre-looking tree. It was twisted with four solitary roots holding the tree’s base off the ground, and the trunk had this strange bulbous growth. In fact, the growth was the majority of the tree’s mass. The willow-like branches that extended off the top of the tree were minuscule compared to the rest of the plant. I wonder if it’s sick.

“I am not sick,” Genis chimed in.

This comment prompted me to look at the tree a second time and with more scrutiny. I knewGenis could hear my thoughts... but she wasn’t really implying that this tree was-

“Yes, I am the tree.”

... Somehow, I should have seen that coming with the way this day has been going. “So... I’ve been talking... to a sentient tree?” I groaned, realizing my soul was bound to a plant. A fucking plant.

“No, you’ve been talking to me,” Genis countered with a bit of annoyance. “If you had let me finish, you would have heard what I said.”

I looked at the-... I looked at Genis with a continued scrutiny and, admittedly, a bit of curiosity. The logic here was definitely different than Earth’s and I suppose her being a tree has something to why she needs my help. Despite my reservations about my situation, I needed to know what was going on. “Okay... sorry,” I yielded. Making assumptions here was clearly the wrong thing to do. Best I pay attention.

“As I was saying, I am trapped within this tree due to a curse placed upon me many years ago. The curse holds me within this prison. It is part of the reason I require your assistance.” Okay, getting somewhere.“I need you to help me break this curse and protect me while I try to find my sister.”

God... damn it, of course, it has to be breaking a damn curse. What else would it be in a world of magic and cursed tree people? Uuugh. “Okay,” I stated pinching the bridge of my nose and letting out a long aggravated sigh. “And how do I go about breaking this curse?”

“I’ve been scrying for a solution for a while, unfortunately, my view is greatly limited,” Genis admitted. God....- “However, I have found someone who might be able to help.” Okay... patience, let her finish.

“Okay, who am I looking for?”

“She is a unicorn who has a home on the outskirts of the forest. She may have knowledge of the artifact that put me in this prison. She seems to be knowledgeable about those sorts of things,” Genis explained before going into detail about what said artifact looked like. “The artifact you are looking for is a scepter, of some kind. It’s golden with two... flanged orbs at the top and bottom. Then.... it uh... it had some...” Okay, this is not good. She doesn’t sound confident at all about

“Okay, wait,” I interrupted planting the shaft of the halberd in the ground and giving the- Genis a stern look. “Do you know what this cursing... stick thing is or not?”

Genis was silent for a bit. Whether she was thinking or just hesitant was hard to tell. Trees don’t exactly give off the best facial features. When she did eventually return with an answer, there was clear sheepishness to her voice, “It... I’m sorry. It has been a long time since I was cursed. My memory is clearly... faulty.” No shit.

I let out a sigh and did my best to keep my agitation subdued. “Okay. Let’s work on what you do know and I’ll see what the unicorn” That’s going to be interesting. “-has to offer.” It’d be better to have something rather than nothing at least. Hopefully, this trip would yield something a little more definitive. Lord knows I don’t want to be on this quest for longer than needed.

Genis, thankfully, saw my reasoning and offered what little details she could about her cursing artifact. Apparently, the object I was looking for was gold with an orb at the top and bottom, the orbs may or may not be flanged, and it was possible it may have some inscriptions on it. So, now it was time to see how much of a pain finding this thing would be. “Okay, where can I find this unicorn?” I inquired pulling my weapon from the ground.

“She resides slightly to the north-west of here. I will direct you to her. Simply follow the path I set out,” Genis explained as a new green trail materialized in my line of sight. The trail led into the forest that was laying behind Genis.

I prepared to start following the path, but Genis halted me. “W-wait, I should warn you before you head out.”

“Warn me about what?” I asked, feeling concerned about the tone Genis took in that statement.

“Ponies... have a bit of a negative view of Centaurs,” she said, but I sensed she was dancing around something. Also, Centaur? That’s what I am now? I suppose it matches up. Not sure where the wood fits in.

“How negative?” I pressed, feeling I wasn’t going to enjoy the answer.

“Well... they... Perhaps, it might be best I explain how your weapon works before you head to the cottage,” she stated a bit uneasily. Again, the way she said that gave me no confidence for what was coming in my near future.

“Okay... So, can I assume this thing,” I held the halberd up. “Has some kind of special abilities?”

“It does,” Genis replied. “It holds a bit of my magic within its blades. As my... guardian, you can call upon my magic to manipulate the forest and nature itself to do your bidding.”

Well, that’s pretty cool. So, I can use magic... nice!

“However, you can only do so while holding the halberd. If you don’t have it, you will not be able to use magic.”

Okay, keep the magically imbued weapon on my person at all times, noted. “Oh yeah? How do I use magic then? Some magic words? A flick of the spear?” I inquired looking over the weapon a bit more interest.

Genis was keen to explain, “It is usually a complex action of morphing raw magic into an action; however, I have simplified the complexity into merely thinking the action and directing the magic with the halberd.”

Huh. Interesting. “Okay, so what can I do?”

“You can only manipulate and control plant life, but I’m sure you’ll learn to use it effectively,” Genis replied. She sounded like she was being sincere, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was still uneasy about something. Regardless, my tool was now more useful than before. Hell, might as well give it a test and see how difficult this would be.

Considering the abundance of trees around me it made sense to test out some “magic” on one of them. I pointed the halberd toward the tree closest to me and thought of the simplest thing I could to make the tree do, grow a new branch. As I leveled my gaze at the tree and thought about the action I wanted to be performed, I noticed that the blade and spearhead began to glow a viridian green. Soon, I saw the tree beginning to emit a similar glow and I noticed a new appendage beginning to sprout. First, a few small leaves began to sprout, then a thin green branch extended outward, then more tiny branches began to form. Soon, the tiny branch was much thicker and coated in rough brown bark.

Out of curiosity, I pulled the halberd away and stopped thinking about the branch growing. Sure enough, the glow from the weapon and the tree disappeared.

Well, hot damn. That’s pretty cool. I got the next best thing to a green thumb. Definitely, a perk of this deal. Limited, yes, but another tool in the toolbox is a still useful. “So I can use this anywhere? So long as there is plant life?” I inquired. Best I know the extent of this power.

“Yes, but only what is present. You can’t make something grow or change if it isn’t there, to begin with.”

Hmmm, interesting. “What about seeds? Can I make seeds sprout with this?”

“Of course,” Genis replied with amazement in her voice. “You’d just need to plant them. The magic will ensure the roots take hold and spread.”

Excellent. That could be useful later. “Okay, anything else I should aware of?”

“No... but I would recommend approaching with caution. If only to avoid scaring or antagonizing her. I’m not sure what her temperament is,” Genis warned. Goody... more unknowns. I let out a long breath through my nose and started my trek into the forest to find this unicorn.

Genis left me alone as I made my way through the forest, which was nice as it gave me time to ruminate on my situation. I was now a centaur... but only because my spirit was in an empty vessel? So... did that mean that whoever had this died at some point? If that was the case, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel being in this body. Ugh. Magic is pretty cool but that idea... nothing but goosebumps. Eeegh.

I suppose that, by comparison, my new ability to control plant life is a stark contrast to my current state of being. The near dead man who controls that which breeds and supports life. That has to be some kind of twisted irony.

Despite my strange scenario, I found the setting to be fairly calming. The air was fresh and clean, the wilderness was alive with the sounds of animals scurrying about and leaves rustling in the wind. If I weren’t working on a task, I’d be fairly content to just listen to the sounds of the forest and letting my mind wander. Guess it could be another perk of the deal. Shame I can’t enjoy it at this moment.

Regardless of my desires, I continued my way through the forest for some time. It was hard to track time without a watch. Either way, the forest eventually stopped at a small half circular clearing with a decent sized wooden cottage in the middle. The cottage had a thatch roof with a small brick chimney. Around the outside of the cottage was a small cobblestone wall with a sparse garden on the side with various greenery popping out of slightly asymmetric rows. Apparently, the owner of the cottage was not very good at plowing fields. Looking around I noticed a small window on side of the cottage facing the garden. There was a flickering light coming from within, so I assumed the owner was home. However, the thing that caught my attention was that the home was small. My head would probably be close to poking out of the roof. Actually, with the wooden horns on my head, I probably couldn’t get far without keeping my torso parallel to the ground. Hmm, maybe it’d be best to stay outside. I’d rather not get trapped in someone’s house. Tends to put a damper on negotiations.

Approaching the front of the house I realized I’d need a plan of action. The way Genis was talking about these... ponies. They don’t particularly like Centaur. So how to approach this? Hmmm, could knock and attempt a friendly conversation. Except, there is the chance that when she sees me, she may refuse to speak with me. I could try to trick her, but if I wanted her help it might not be the best idea. Hmmm... I could try and appear non-threatening. Show I’m not here to do harm. Hmmm, might not be the worst idea. Just need to be cautious and watch my steps.

I approached the front of the cottage. Thankfully, there was only one window near the front door, which meant this might work. I positioned myself in front of the door, away from the window and gave a few knocks. It took a moment, but I soon got a response from behind the door. “Hello? Who’s there?” a small and distinctly feminine voice called out.

Well, she hasn’t opened the door yet. That’s a good start. “My name is Jericho. I was told you might be able to help me find an artifact,” I responded trying to sound as cordial as possible.

“An artifact? Why do you need to find an artifact, Mr. Jericho?” the voice pressed. Part of the statement sounded like she was confused about something, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“I need it to release someone from a prison, of sorts. She was turned into a tree. They said you might know something about the artifact that trapped them,” I explained. I figured it is better, to tell the truth, and keep this open rather than skirt around the issue.

“Turned into a tree you say?” she responded with what sounded like a hint of curiosity. I heard the sounds of hooves approaching the door and I quickly began to worry about how she would react to seeing me at her front step. So I quickly interjected, “Wait, are you coming to the door?”

“I was. Is there a problem?” she asked with worry in her voice.

“There may be. What are your views on Centaurs?” I asked cautiously.

There was an awkward moment of silence before a response came. “Why do you ask?” She sounded suspicious now. Hopefully, I didn’t mess up already.

I opted to stay truthful. “I was told that Centaur are... not viewed positively among your people. I wanted to ensure we started off on the right foot,” I offered. I kept my voice level and calm. My hope was that my demeanor would encourage her to at least humor me.

I heard more hoof steps and the door handle turning. I prepared myself for what might happen when this... mare saw me. My grip on my weapon tightened as I watched the door open slightly and I was greeted by the sight of a light yellow coated pony with two baby blue eyes and a short blue mane peeking at me from behind the door. For a moment, I worried she would slam the door shut, but she didn’t. She just looked at me with a discerning eye, like she was judging me. After several awkward moments of silence, I decided to try something. I slowly knelt down, which was much harder than getting up, and placed my halberd on the ground. “I’m not here to cause trouble. I’m just looking to find an artifact,” I stated slowly and methodically, keeping my hands visible.

The mare continued to look at me with a peculiar glance. She broke her glance away for a moment to look at my halberd before returning her focus to me. Silence set in once again, but the mare eventually spoke up again. “Where did you get that weapon?” she inquired using her head to motion to the halberd.

“It was lying next to me when I woke up. I’m not entirely sure where it came from,” I responded solemnly.

“And who is it you are trying to free exactly?” she pressed with growing suspicion in her voice.

“Her name is Genis. She is trapped in a tree in the forest behind me,” as I explained, I quickly realized I should have asked more questions about the person holding my soul captive. Ugh, dumb mistake.

The mare continued to stare at me with clear contemplation, but eventually, she offered some glimmer of hope. “Leave your weapon there and back away from my cottage. I’m coming out,” she said very sternly. Based on her tone, this was a warning but also a test. So, I decided to do as she asked. I slowly got up, leaving my halberd on the ground, and backed away slowly. I say slowly as if I was trying not to startle her, but in truth, walking backward with four legs is trickier than walking forward.

Once I was far enough away, I saw the door open fully, revealing the mare I had been talking to. However, I was able to get a better look at her now. She stood maybe four feet tall, not including her horn.  Her mane was kept in a neat bun while her bangs covered her forehead. Interestingly enough, she was also clothed. She was wearing some sort of blue velvet cloak that went over her back and covered her back legs. It seemed like the cloak even had some pockets on the side that held a variety of... feather pens? Okay... that’s different. She even had some paper... well it looked like paper. It was brown and looked a bit wrinkled. It kinda reminded me of the paper used in medieval times. Considering what has happened so far, I wouldn’t be surprised that I’d arrived in past time period.

During my contemplation of the mare’s attire and choice of writing utensils, I heard her say something, but I didn’t quite hear her. “What?” I asked for her to repeat.

“You left your weapon... and you’re alone... and you’re civil,” she repeated in a perplexed tone.

“That’s surprising?” I prodded.

She looked at me like the answer was obvious, but I’m guessing my uncertainty showed on my face. “You... are a strange Centaur, in more than just looks,” she mused. Her horn soon began to glow with a violet aura and my halberd became encased in a similar aura before it lifted off the ground. “Why are you talking first?” the mare inquired as she inspected my weapon.

Wow, were Centaur that bad? The way she’s acting, I almost feel like she expected me to ransack the place with a horde of thieves. “Well, it’s how you ask for something.What did you expect me to do? Attack?” I asked jokingly.

“Yes, actually,” was her curt response.

The bluntness of her response caused me to flinch slightly. At first, I figured she might be joking herself, but the way her serious expression held firm the whole time gave me pause. “You’re serious?”

“Yes, I was. Surely, you would know this,” she stated with mounting confusion.

“Not really... I’m new to the area,” I explained while awkwardly rubbing the back of my head.

This caused the mare to look at me weirdly as she put down my halberd. After a short time, she approached me cautiously and looked me over. I just let her do her investigating. If this was a means to earn her trust I wasn’t going to stop her.

“How did you get that wooden armor?” she asked curiously.

“I woke up with it,” I responded nonchalantly.

“You woke up with it?! It looks fused to your body, that process would be extremely painful. One doesn’t simply sleep through something like that,” she responded incredulously.

I honestly didn’t have a response that would explain my wooden growths, but I could try to ask Genis later. “I’ll explain when I have an answer,” I replied with a defeated sigh. “Are you willing to help?”

The mare is silent as she finished her inspection of my weapon and sat down in front of me. She just sat there and looked me over. For a moment, I saw a moment of deep consideration mixed with conflict cross her face. I suspected that my being a Centaur was greatly affecting her decision. She was taking such a long time to come back with an answer, I was positive she was going to turn me away, but she said something that gave me some hope. “Come back tomorrow, and I’ll see what I can find.” She sounded a little reluctant. I suspect she was a little hesitant to work with me, which might come back to bite me in the ass later. I’ll have to be cautious on my return trip.

As she started heading back to her little cottage, I figured it’d be worth it to at least thank her for helping me in whatever capacity. “Thank you...um,” did she say her name? I don’t think she did. “... Sorry, I never got you your name.”

She stopped and looked at me with visible surprise on her face, but she eventually gave me a name. “Scribe, you can call me Scribe,” Scribe stated with a small smirk. Something told me she was giving me a nickname in place of her real one, but better to have something better than nothing. Guess, for the time being, I’ll just have to wait.

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