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Extending Tentative Talons Toward Tomorrow (Open to all!)

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Gilda the Griffon gave a garbled groan as she gazed gradually across the park green. "You got this, Gilda," she muttered to herself as she looked down upon her tiny wooden table and the arrays of griffon scones which lined it and then back at her oven cart where more were baking.


There was a part of her, which rejected what she was doing as lame and uncool a thing as there possibly was. World Friendship Expo? Seriously what was that? Not very many weeks ago Gilda would have mocked anyone who even thought to scope out such an absurd event as that.


Pinkie Pie had changed her in a way probably more profound than she'd care to admit. Maybe it was her own laughable softness, but she sure had a way of letting completely insane ponies who she didn't understand ruffle her cool. It didn't matter though. The damage was done.


Gilda had been born in her Talonopolis and lived her early life there, but Griffonstone, where her mother had called home which had more shaped her character. After returning from Dash and Junior Speedsters, she had lived in that crumbling city with her Grandfather and let it harden her edge as it did any griffon who stayed for any length of time. Eventually it had gotten too depressing and she had bailed on that life, taking up her trick flier gig which would take her across Equestria a few time. Hope and any sense she was making a name for herself or any profits eventually evaporated  however. Not long after escaping from an underground Aquellian prison, she had retreated back to Griffonstone where she took up the miserable and thankless task of peddling rock hard scones on the least grateful population in the world.


Seeing Rainbow again after their falling out, Gilda had, with Pinkie's help, been able to re-examine herself (and learn how to make her scones taste a lot better). She had changed, and for it, now, somehow, she was taking the friendship and the baking a lot more serious.


The task of changing Griffonstone was a difficult one and far from complete, but part of it would depend on bolstering new relations with the rest of the world. It was a forgotten city--even the other griffons in Aquellia shunned it and seemed content to pretend only the storied version in the history books existed. She was going to try her best to change that; introduce the rest of the world to modern Griffonstone.


There had never before been a Griffonstone presence at the World Friendship Expo, but this year that would change. Now, of course, her little set up was not one the big sanctioned booths like Aquellia got. It was just her and her oven cart and scones, a few shoddily put together brochures her and Greta had put together and not really much else, all set up on the park grass halfway between the Maretonian booth and the Aquellian one.


As she stood waiting for the event to start, Gilda sighed off her building anxiety. It was hard to say what would happen. Friendship was weird like that. She had hope it'd be worth it though. An awkward smile crept onto her face. Yeah. She was sure it was.


When the crowds finally started going by Gilda gave a call "Fresh baked Griffonstone griffon scones! Get 'em while they're hot!"

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It was as if Celestia herself had set this event up with perfect weather, the sky being almost completely free of any pesky clouds! If Aquaria didn't know any better, she might have thought that ponies could alter the weather with their feet but that would be silly, her grabbers couldn't and they were even better than hooves for grabbing things! She had matters even more important than aliens, spies and mystical weather. The tiger striped griffoness was at the friendship expo to make new friends and learn about the wonderful land of Equestria and all of its diverse residents. The pointy beaked hybrid was prowling the streets, looking for the friendliest creatures to befriend when her rose colored eyes spotted the most glorious creature of all! She had seen them in books, at home, and even in the mirror! It was a griffon, and a weird colored one at that with gold plated grabbers! With her black wings tightly clenched to her sides, the overeager lifeguard snuck around the booth and stealthily slipped her head underneath the back cloth of the stall.


"Wow, a griffon! Griffons are like the rarest thing in Baltimare, well rarest after space deer! Can I be your friend. Everypony says griffons are scary because they like eating fish, but I think you are really pretty and nice," Aquaria cooed cutely, her eyes lighting up as if she just met a superhero. The dark plumed diver had the most excited of grins plaster across her black colored beak, the lifeguard unable to contain her excitement as her striped hips shook eagerly just out of vision of the baker. Aquaria didn't know much about scones, but guessed that they must have been made of some delicious griffon food like fish or jerky. At the mention of griffonstone though, her already awkwardly placed head contorted slowly in very visible confusion. She wasn't sure what this thing was but the lifeguard loved guessing games. Learning stuff was like her fifth favorite thing after swimming eating and making friends!


"What's a griffonstone? Is that like an egg or is that a place like Aqua-ellia. I think they named me after it or something. Or maybe something like water, I don't know. Oh, my name is Aquaria, nice to meet you," she remarked hesitantly not quite sure how to even pronounce the country of her species. She clearly was not familiar with anything about her own species, the oddball loon practically thinking she was a pony herself! It was clear as day that she was raised amongst ponies, her awe betraying any facade of professionalism she might have tried to maintain.

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What was with Gilda and attracting crazies? She groaned bitterly as her eagle eyes found a glare directed at the other griffon.


"Hey! On the other side of the table. I'm workin' this booth, not you!" she squawked roughly. "Now, scram!" She pointed her talon out across the table.


A moment passed and she realized she was letting her feathers get ruffled again. She took a breath and thought of Pathfinder and Pinkie Pie and what she had learned from them. She was here for friendship. She might not like idiots crowding her space, but she needed to learn to put up with it if she was really going to change the Griffonstone spirit.


"What I mean to say is..." Gilda started, forcing her boiling temper back to a slow simmer. "Sure. Maybe we can be friends. I don't know. I'm workin' here though, so I'd appreciate if you don't get all in my face like that," she added tersely. "I have scones to sell."


She took another deep breath to keep herself from exploding. "As for Griffonstone, it's... well... it's your ancestral home. Before there was Aquellia, there was Griffonstone. Ain't much of it left these days, but I'm, y'know, trying to change that a little where I can?" Gilda said. She reached for one of the brochures she had written. "Here, you can learn a bit more in this thing..." She sighed and the grabbed a scone. "Go ahead and try one of these too."

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Aquaria looked cute and clueless, the lifeguard not intimidated by the grumpy griffoness as her own smile remained firm. "Oh, I was trying to sneak up on you. Ponies love spooks, they always scream and fall over. You're a brave pony! I'm sorry for invading your top secret lair Miss..." she cutely remarked, used to referring to everything as a pony, even herself most of the time. Whoever this griffon was, she was super brave and a baker on top of that. She wondered if this visitor was some sort of baking super hero or something, the lifeguard needing more information to come to a conclusion on her secret identity.


With her apology given, the loon scrambled around the booth and took a seat an in front of it, her large griffon form easily able to see over the counter as she looked back at Gilda. She listened to the baker taking about personal space, some sort of idea that ponies didn't want strangers climbing all over them. The idea was odd to her, people apparently not thinking hugs were the best thing in the world after fish, but she would abide until she forgot. "Okay, I won't bear hug you too much. Unless you want one," she explained excitedly, giving her new best friend of the day an opportunity to ask for a hug. She was only interested in friendship, but would do whatever it took to make them, even if it meant eating fishless scones. Her nose could detect the lack of fish slime but she was willing to try the deadly food to get a friend, even if it was probably deadly like a daffodil sandwich.


Her rose-colored eyes looked for some sort of nonexistent tell from the food as to what it was going to taste like, but after struggling for an answer, she snatched up one and ate it. After a few crunches with her long pointy beak, she swallowed the meal and squirmed excitedly. It was an unusual taste for her, the delicious pastry having some sort of gourmet extra taste that only a master chef (or tutored apprentice) could manage. "Wow, that is really good, it is almost as sweet and delicious as fish. If you added fish to this, I think ponies would love them even more! Don't you agree?" Aquaria excitedly suggested as she seemed to forget that ponies didn't like meat as much as her. While she often thought of herself as a pony, the hybrid clearly had some identity issues as she had troubles understanding pony vegetarian diets!


After being presented with the brochure, she cooed intently and stared at the maps and pictures. The lifeguard giggled as she looked at all the strange looking griffons inside, finding them all almost as weird looking as herself. "Griffons are weird, they are like a random birds and cats put together. I'm like a duck tiger or something," she explained with a giggle quack, clearly knowing how absurd she was with her striped white tiger form. She had so much to learn and only a couple dozen hours in a day, she had to speed up to learn it all! "So, you do like bits or pearls as payments? I need to be a good friend and pay for your delicious food," the mischievous diver presenting a shiny pearl atop one of her gleaming golden bits. The orb was clearly more valuable than a bit, but she wanted to be a good friend and offer Gilda a precious symbol of her job. The option was there, and it seemed like a close choice to the lifeguard, both able to gleam so brilliantly in the sunlight!

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Gilda looked at the other griffon scrupulously. She had given the scone not really requesting payment for it, and now here this ridiculous bird was asking if she'd rather have a bit or a pearl. She rolled her eyes in disbelief. She was pretty sure even Pathfinder had sense enough in her not to present the two as if they held equal value.


The griffoness knew what the old her would do, what the tradition of Girffonstone would see her do and it was tempting. Her eyes lingered on the pearl, which truly was a prized specimen. She then clicked her tongue and shook her head. Griffonstone wasn't going to change if she didn't do it right. She had thought to turn down any payment, but the words the other griffon had said--that to pay was something felt she needed to do to be the good friend--stuck with her and force a a sigh from her beak.


"The bit will do. I'm just asking a bit per scone," she said and snatched the bit from the other griffon's claw before she could insist otherwise.


She put the bit in a sack and then let her mind wander back to some of the other things the strange griffon had said. "You really seem confused," she said. "I'm not a pony, and we're not any strange than they are, if you ask me. Dopey looking dweebs with all their ridiculous colors and silly little symbols on their flanks. They don't eat fish either."


"Glad you like the scone though," she added, seeming genuinely pleased. She was still very much unused to anyone actually liking the scones she had made, but evidently Pinkie Pie's adjustment to her recipe had worked wonders. "I think Grandpa Gruff once told me somethin' about griffons a long time ago topping them with fish and stuff, but the waters off of Griffonstone are pretty depleted so it's only been these plain ones we've had for a while time now."

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Aquaria watched eagerly, wondering if Gilda wanted the bit or the pearl. She knew that pearls weren't technically money, but they were like 'way' shinier! When Gilda graciously accepted the mere bit, she knew Gilda was the nicest griffon around. Either that or she had no shiny detection, and if that was true, Gilda must have lived in a dreary existence!  Regardless, the lifeguard could tell that her golden counterpart took the money just to be nice and found herself leaping up to her feet, but managed to restrain herself before she could hug the life out of the baker!


When lectured about the differences between ponies and griffons, she watched in awe, taking in the wisdom of her new best friend. Her words made sense, at least the ones she could follow! "You're not a pony? Everypony is someone, even griffons! You're like the nicest griffon in the world! Are there any other nice griffons from Griffonstone? My parents are nice, and so is Riptide, but they don't make scones! I don't think that most ponies look dopey, except the ones that have painted faces and don't speak. Those are kinda scary actually," she explained going on about some sort of entertainer that probably haunted the lifeguard in her youth! She placed a black talon on her equally dark beak as she thought about ponies being weird colored and having cutie marks. "Yeah it weird when ponies have multiple colors in their manes. I saw a pony with 3 colors once, I thought it was mane dye, but they said it was normal! I mean, my body is one color, I wonder how they do it," she explained with a giggle, not considering herself as strange even though she literally was tiger striped with two different colors.


"I wonder what my cutie mark is. I'm a blankflank after all! I guess I can't pony up to get one. It would definitely be a fish, or boat or water. Can ponies have a cutie mark of water," she mused excitedly, clearly not able to completely divorce herself of the idea. She loved to daydream about what she would be as a pony, but her imagination always ended up making her some sort of alien pirate or a zebra pegasus that was basically as silly looking as she already was. In regards to fish though, she shook her head defiantly, having a terrible argument that her friend needed to hear. "I made a pony a fish sandwich and they ate it once! I looked away for just a second, but they totally ate it because it was gone. There was a weird fish on my floor later on in the day though. I must have made an extra or something, I don't know," she explained aloud, her hips shaking excitedly while living out a past memory that she clearly liked for one reason or another. In her world, everything could be explained or spun into a positive light and she seemed to do it with just about everything in order to maintain her perpetually positive personality.


Her excitement soon bubbled over into fear and alarm when Gilda explained that their fish stores were basically gone. The usually calm lifeguard found herself darting under the desk of Gilda's booth as she timidly looked up at the probably perturbed baker. "H-how do you live in a life without fish. Ponies like grass to survive, do you have to eat grass? Grass is gross," she mewled weakly, clearly not liking the idea of fish being rare. While it was hard to come by in pony society, Aquaria found herself diving for it on a regular basis. "I don't know my grandparents, but I think they would like fish! Maybe I can catch some fish for your village. I know I would get grumpy if I never got to eat fish," she explained in a more upbeat tone as she seemed to discover the real reason why Griffonstone wasn't the happiest place in Equestria! Images of fish filled her mind as the diver thought of all the smiling griffon faces she could make with a long morning of diving and fishing!

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If Gilda was wondering why her booth was attracting an almost exclusive audience of oddballs, the explanation was simple enough: outliers attract other outliers.  And that is exactly what Griffonstone had become, as far as the rest of the world was concerned.  Aquellian griffons cared too much about their own affairs and ambitions to spare a thought to the remnant of ancient, irrecoverable glory, and when the rest of the world wanted to deal with griffons, they went to Aquellia.


Thus, you had to be either a historian, or otherwise out of the ordinary way to spare the town a thought.  If any historian had been present at Gilda's booth, however, he would have collapsed on the spot from laughter at the figure now approaching.

In contrast to Aquaria, he was built according to the classical griffon model, with the keen front of a bald eagle fused to the tawny body of a mountain lion.  He'd seemingly served in a military capacity from the style of his walk, and had apparently kept himself up to that standard of fitness.


Beyond that, however, there was nothing typical about him.  For one thing, he had cultivated what had to be the most magnificent set of dark grey moustaches ever seen on his species, aggressively curled and waxed to the point where they could have doubled as kukri knives in a pinch.  His costume, as well, was a perfect mishmash of everything that could be remotely associated with the word "imperial," from the broad, hill-shaped plumed hat, scarlet sash with a saber worn over with a military jacket, all decorated with stars and spangles purchased from a pawn shop.


He looked as if he'd donned the costume to serve as a walking photo op for tourists, but any camera-wearing pony would soon discover that this was not a mere case of dressing up.  No, this griffon was Norton Breakbeak I, self-styled Emperor of Breakbeak City and the outlying realms.  Where this idea had come into his head from, no one knew; the leading theory was sunstroke.  In any case, he'd gained notoriety and fame in his adopted city through his frequent public acts, and even a certain degree of respect due to his sincere dedication to the "improvement of his realm."  Most of the citizens saw no harm in letting him be "Emperor" if it meant that the streets looked nicer and outsiders who could be sold to came to see him.


However jokingly he was taken, Norton meant every word he said.  He had grown disgusted with what he called the "omnipresent corruption" of Aquellia's politics, and had resolved to take matters into his own hands by reviving the office of Emperor.  It was slow going getting his subjects to recognize their rightful ruler, but he could be patient...


It was in such musings that the scent of scones tickled his beak, and when he looked to see their source, his eyes lit up.  "At last!"  He cried out, as if seeing some kindred spirit after decades of exile in a howling wilderness.  "I had almost thought all memory and care for our true heritage had vanished altogether!  You do my heart good to see you, young lady, and, if I may say so, I should like to see if your scones will do my insides as much."

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The more the tiger-striped griffon talked, the more Gilda zoned out. This was an exceptionally silly creature, she couldn't help but find. Compared to her, even Pathfinder followed proper logic. There was something serious knocked loose in her mind and Gilda had neither the energy nor the patience to try and set it back in place. Instead she just breathed and tried her best not to let herself appear too annoyed.


"There isn't a lot of niceness in Griffonstone in general," Gilda admitted, unused to be considered nice herself. "But we're working on it, you know? Greta and a few of the other griffons around are starting to come around. We want to make it a better place."


She groaned, not expecting the griffon in front of her to really be able to follow along. "As for what we eat, well, most of us have scone recipes.. but there's been limited trade now for quite a while so hardly anyone has things like baking powder to make them right, so we gotta make do. Mostly we live on fruit and grain, whatever is cheap and will grow easily. Everything else is kind of a luxury," Gilda explained the sorry state of things in Griffonstone. "If you came to Griffonstone selling fish you caught, you'd definitely find a lot of interested griffons."


Gilda was pleased to then see another potential customer finally approach. It was yet another griffon, albeit one of more similar composition to Gilda herself. He was no less strange than Aquaria, despite this, for he had a massive moustache and an utterly bizarre costume. Gilda really had no idea what to make of him, but he was definitely very silly. When he spoke, Gilda found herself just staring back at him in disbelief for several moments.


"So, you know about Griffonstone then?" Gilda eventually asked somewhat impassively as she pushed a scone his way. She supposed it only figured that it would be some whacked out clown like this who would be the only to come along actually knowing something about the city she was there to represent.

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Aquaria listened intently, clearly worried for all the griffons who didn't have enough happiness in their lives. She wasn't sure sure how to catch enough fish to feed every griffon in Griffonstone, the wacky hybrid expecting the city to hold at least 10 or even a million griffs! She might have caught half that throughout her entire life, maybe she wasn't the best 'fishing pony' around like she thought! "Equestria is a weird place Gilda, but they know strange magic things! Did you know that if you plant disgusting watermelon seeds in the ground, they grow new watermelons! I tried to copy that with fish, but all i got were super huge plants. I must not be very good at plant magic. In school, they taught me that earth pony's are super good at farm magic. Maybe one can help you with a fish farm! What if you like planted the fish in the water and watched them grow big. I'm only an expert at eating fish though, so you might need to hire someone else," she explained, excitedly, coming up with the idea of a fish hatchery but absolutely butchering her delivery as she poorly articulated her wild thoughts. Her huge imagination let her occasionally figure out a few life problems, but it usually just lead to incoherent nonsense that was indecipherable.


The lifeguard tried to think up a dozen more schemes to fix the troubled city, but as usually was the case, her attention was quickly lost by the next shiny thing that entered her vision. This of course meant that she never managed to focus for too long, but who could blame her. There was a new friend here to make! He was a weird looking golden griffon like Gilda, but wearing some fancy clothes. Her rose-colored eyes were drawn to him for some reason, the male being dressed like someone important. But more important than that, some sort of monster was curling out of his face. Some ponies might have called it a mustache, but she knew better! It was too majestic to be a simple mustache, but she couldn't find the words to describe it! Something was afoot, but what was it!


She lurched ever so close to the 'royal emperor'. The inquisitive hybrid unable to control her own curiosity as she 'spied' on him in the light of the open day! Aquaria quickly spotted his clearly displayed weapon and immediately knew what he was! Only two types of ponies ever carried 'weapons' and those were sports ponies and guard ponies. He wasn't wearing a jersey, so it quickly became clear to her that he was definitely a guard pony. She smiled broadly, having used her 'vast knowledge' to determine his secret identity entirely. "Hi Captain! Are you the head guard pony in town? You seem to be dressed like the boss of all the town guards or ball player! I didn't know that Princess Celery had griffon guards. Then again you are only like the eighth griffon I have ever met," she theorized aloud, displaying her well groomed ignorance as she weakly covered her second guess with a low whisper. Conclusions reached, and guesses made, she couldn't restrain her desire to inspect the legendary mustache before her.


"What is your name mister? I'm Aquaria and she is Greta! We want to make Griffonstone a nice place and if you know anyway to, we would love your help. I might be able to scrounge up a few fish if you are really helpful," she explained excitedly to him, Aquaria referring to Gilda as the only name that exited her mouth that didn't have a grandpa in front of it. Her chest was proudly puffed out in pride of her many discoveries, the diver usually finding herself caught up in her own misguided hype. But before she could celebrate too much, her nature took over as a black talon raised from the ground and extended towards the equally crazy male across from her. With one fluid movement, Aquaria had touched it! Her talon poked his well sculpted mustache, the practically sharp hairs maintaining their well sculpted shape even as she investigated them with great glee! It moved after she poked it, the curly monster seeming alive as she watched it return to a normal position. She gasped audibly and looked across to Gilda for direction, unsure of what to do with the fierce beast before her!

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Insanity was no reason to take leave of one's manners.  Princess Celestia herself could have found no fault in the grace and dignity with which Norton accepted the scone, as one would a rare and valuable gift from a foreign ambassador; nor in the delicacy of taking a bite, careful to leave no crumbs.  "Mmm.  Yes, I do.  My office rather necessitates a close familiarity with our kind's grand past-"


And then, sudden ducktiger attack!  For a Manehattan minute, the Emperor of the Griffons (and Lord Protector of Equestria) was caught flat-pawed and completely croggled by the spectacle before him.  At the end of that minute, however, he recovered himself, as far as he could, and swept her webs away from his moustache with a decisive gesture.  "Ahem!"  He cleared his throat loudly, in an attempt, mostly futile, to stem the tide of nonsense from Aquaria's bill.  "I am Emperor Norton Breakbeak I, of the Griffons.  I know nothing of this 'Princess Celery' of which you speak, and furthermore I doubt any of my subjects are under her command."


He huffed, running a claw over his moustaches to fix them back into place.  "Of course, the realm has more or less fallen apart under the current stewardship of those corrupt crows they call the Aquellian politicians, and our heritage is left to rot under their callous, greed-driven neglect.  No more, I say!  We will have no more of that now I have returned."

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Gilda stared blankly at Aquaria. She didn't even know how to respond to half the crazy things that left this griffon's confused mouth. Seriously. Fish farm? What did you even say to any of that? It wasn't just that something was knocked loose with this griffon, something important was clearly missing from her brain entirely. She did her best to ignore it and just mouthed a sigh.


Then Aquaria's attention went to the newly arrived guest and Gilda soon had every cause to say something. "I'm not Greta, you dope, I'm Gilda," she corrected, narrowing her eyes. "And I'd appreciate it if you don't harass my customers, please. Not everyone appreciates you being all up in their beak like that. Really gotta ask before you touch."


Gilda took the moment to wonder how it would go if this griffon actually did come to Griffonstone. How long would she last before one of the griffons not nearly as nice as Gilda took a talon to Aquaria's face for getting too touchy-feely.


Her eyes went to stay when with the other one, this Emperor guy. Now here was another confusing character. What exactly was he claiming to be Emperor of? She cocked her head aside and stared at the guy a while, just kind of perplexed by the whole thing.


"So..." she started, not quite getting it. "Are you crazy too, or is this for real and your like some long lost descendant of that Guto dude or whoever...?" she asked, perfectly blunt


She gave a curt laugh. "Either way, you come to Griffonstone saying those kinds of things and you'd probably find at least a few griffons ready to prop you up as king just out of hope of recapturing all  the lost glory."


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Most objective observers would have said that the most likely answer to Gilda's question was that Norton Breakbeak was crazy.  After all, he had been medically discharged from the Aquellian Marines after being led by an incompetent commander into a long desert patrol.  And his own answer to that question was not reassuring, though he meant it to be so.


"I can assure you, young lady, that I am not a mere babbling lunatic."  Which was exactly the sort of thing a lunatic would say.  "I will admit, my connection to the Imperial line is through the salic bar.  However, as no heir apparent has come forward with a better claim of legitimacy, I see no reason not to press my own."


He finished the scone after saying this, chewing over the pastry along with the words of its baker.  "It is indeed pleasing to hear that my subjects will be welcoming when I return to my seat, but before I make my triumphal entry, I should like to have sufficient resources to ensure a return to greatness.  I do not wish to be yet another posturing poltroon who promises without delivering.  The Imperial line has had quite enough of those."  He huffed, moustaches bristling like poked cats.  Once again, he had to muster the stray hairs back into order, talking to himself as he thought through it.


"Yes, I have made preparations.  A certain Prince here was all too happy to hear me out, so I can be assured of assistance there, though it may gall the hardliners to accept pony assistance..."  He blinked once or twice, as if suddenly recalling where he was.  "Ah, ahem, I do beg your pardon," He bowed once again to the both of them, "Affairs of state weigh on the mind.  I must take my leave of you two, though I suspect," And he turned to Gilda once again, "That we shall not be long parted, if my dreams are not thwarted, for the Emperor shall return to his own."


And with that, the apparition departed, leaving almost no trace of whether or not he was actually for real.  Except, perhaps, for the coin he left to pay for the scone, which was much older than a modern Equestrian bit.  In fact, it wasn't Equestrian at all, but one of the old copper coins of the Griffon Empire.  Not too uncommon, you could pick them up in any pawnshop for three bits if you didn't mind cleaning them yourself.  But still, that's commitment...


(Last post from me)

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