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Autumn Leaves

Dio

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This is me being a nutjob and hammering out 1300+ words in two hours when I feel like I have a knife in my neck.

EDIT: I'm killing my own rules with the revisions, which push this piece up to almost 1800. I'm such a horrible example.

Autumn. Crisp air, falling leaves, bountiful colors, blue skies, and cold breeze all wafted together in a slowly swirling cornucopia of sensation.

Cobbles. Cold, hard stone held to cold, wet mud with cold, grey concrete and slowly crumbling mortar.

Clip-Clop. Pedestrian traffic traversed the cobbles, ticking out a steady rhythm of hoof beats punctuated with the jingles of harness hardware and the burbling of cart wheels on hewn stone.

Leaves. Brown and gold and ruddy red fluttered about, borne on chill winds funneled through the streets and alleyways of Canterlot by capricious zephyrs, flung from the cobbles of the street onto the patios of a local coffee shop.

A single golden leaf flitted up as if given wings, borne by a sudden updraft against the curb. Around and around it went, perambulating about the concrete patio, brushing up against canvas umbrellas perched on glass and iron tables. It danced, it floated, it dangled, and finally lingered for just a moment, caught on an updraft, before lazily spiraling to the table. The leaf split a single wisp of steam from the heated mug on the table as it drifted down on an imminent collision course with the glossy chartreuse surface of the liquid inside.

Lower and lower it drifted, now just inches away. Suddenly, the leaf stopped, as if frozen in time. The wind continued to blow around it, the wisps of steam flitted and flowed below it, but the leaf itself was held fast, isolated from the material world by the flickering, sparkling azure glow of the immaterium. The aetheric field shifted with practiced precision, spinning the leaf about its axes, as if it were having its every nuance scanned and memorized by some arcane cogitator. But just as quickly as it had come, the field vanished, releasing the leaf to float off once more to wherever it pleased.

Captain Fletcher multitasked, simultaneously releasing the leaf and taking a sip of his steaming mug of gunpowder tea while methodically penning in the numbers in Equestria Daily’s number grid puzzle. As he set his mug down on the table, he stifled a yawn. Before the newspaper had even touched the tabletop, the number puzzle was complete—flawlessly so.

There are only a finite number of patterns from the printers, all from finite combinations and finite solutions, packaged in an easy to calculate format. The Captain thought. The strikingly blue unicorn idly fiddled with his scarf and saddlebag buckles as he half-heartedly scanned the newspaper headlines for anything of interest. As usual, there was very little.

Open source intel just doesn’t cut it anymore, he mused. But why bring work with me on my day off? As he sipped his tea, Fletcher closed his eyes, hearing the faint resonant strains of jazz music flowing through the open doors of the café.

When he opened his eyes, it was dark outside. The streets of Canterlot were alive. Ponies shuffled to and fro, many in uniform and quite a few of those with fillies at their side. The fairie-lanterns above were aglow in all their aetheric splendor, casting dancing golden lights across the cobbles and patios in that little corner of the Equestrian capital.

Picking up his stein of Hoofington Pale Ale, Fletcher ambled into the café proper, which at night converted into a bar. Between the clumps of multicolored ponies he weaved, his gait never faltering and his magic holding the pewter stein steady. A corner of the bar had been cleared as a makeshift dance floor with a wooden riser erected behind to support a multi-piece band. Jazz music continued to flow, titillating the ears and softening the soul.

“I was wondering when you would show,” a sultry voice called from behind. Without looking, Fletcher stepped backwards, taking a seat at a seemingly unoccupied table.

“I was giving you some space,” the blue unicorn chuckled, unfazed. “After all, what’s the fun in the chase if there’s no threat of losing your quarry?”

“You seem confident of my intent to pursue you, Fletcher...”

A cream-colored unicorn mare slid around the table to Fletcher’s side, finally revealing her face as she leaned into the dim light of the venue, giggling as she spoke. The lady unicorn settled into the seat next to Fletcher, subtly brushing his leg with her tail as she did. A drink smelling strongly of gin floated lazily next to her head, sparkling in the dull fluorescence of her aetheric glow.

She’s a piece of work herself. Fletcher remarked. Cadenza feigned disinterest, but Fletcher could read her like an open book. That ever so faint blush, the lazy circles she traced with her hoof on the table, the furtive glances up and down his uniform— they all screamed attraction.

“If I wasn’t aware, I wouldn’t be any good at my job, Cadenza,” Fletcher said, nonchalantly sipping at his ale. “And I’m very good at my job.”

“I don’t give horse apples about your job,” Cadenza said candidly, idly putting a displaced shock of her auburn mane back in place with a hoof. Striking. The Captain thought, idly sipping his ale. Cadenza had a girlish charm about her, but the way she moved, conversed, and carried herself marked her as anything but a naïve, foolish school filly. She handled her liquor and she handled her stallions. Cadenza was a walking conundrum, a single fish swimming through a pool of sharks without a care in the world.

“If all you are is Captain, you’re not worth the uniform you’re wearing,” she continued. For the last bit, she leaned close, whispering straight into Fletcher’s ear. “I’m far more interested in Fletcher.”

Fletcher laughed a hearty laugh, slamming his bierstein onto the table hard enough to shake the legs and draw irritated glances from the other patrons at neighboring tables. “Well then! If it’s Fletcher you want, then it’s Fletcher you shall have!”

The Captain stood up, extending a hoof to Cadenza. The unicorn mare giggled at his straightforwardness and lightly touched it as she stood up before settling down on all fours for the walk to the dance floor. As she passed, Cadenza floated her gin glass to a nearby table, casually sliding it across the polished cherry to another patron, much to their surprise.

The band kicked into a lively bop tune, giving them ample reason to cut loose on the dance floor. In spite of her refinement as a conservatory filly, Cadenza moved with grace, passion, and aplomb, daring Fletcher to keep up with her. The REA soldier smiled as he kept up just fine. The race was on and he intended on coming out the victor. Alternating between shuffling his own hooves and matching hooves with Cadenza, Fletcher stepped, slid, and swung the mare around him, both of them laughing with glee. One song ran into another, and soon they found themselves locked cheek to cheek, dancing to a slow song.

“So what do you think will come of this?” Cadenza whispered.

“Something more, I hope,” Fletcher said. “And I don’t mean that in the way you probably think I do.”

“You misjudge me, Captain,” Cadenza smiled. “Of all the other eligible stallions in this joint, why do you think I chose you?”

“I don’t know,” Fletcher chuckled. “Because I’m better-looking and infinitely more charming?”

“Oh it’s a bit more complex than that.”

“Many things are complex, Cadenza,” Fletcher said with uncharacteristic candor. The captain paused for a moment before adding, “Though I must say, I very much enjoyed tonight.”

“As did I,” the lady unicorn whispered, gently nuzzling his cheek.

As if on cue, the rhythm section segued into yet another slow song, allowing the two unicorns to linger in their embrace a bit longer. Though he was far from intoxicated, Fletcher gradually felt his awareness wane as the song went on. The background noise of patrons faded to muted babbling, the slow strobe of the ceiling fan blades against the café lights blurred to mottled watercolors, and the once sharp clip-clops of his hooves on hardwood flooring echoed against the aether around them.

As the song came to a close, Cadenza was the first to speak. “I would hate for this to be our last night together.”

“Not one to drag your hooves, I see,” Fletcher chuckled.

“Perhaps, but I’m just a needy Conservatory filly if it’s unrequited,” Cadenza shrugged, replying with her trademark candor.

“Would it hurt too much to say I feel the same?”

“Ask yourself that question.”

“Cadenza,” Fletcher said, stopping them both in mid-step. “I’d love to see where this goes.”

“That’s all I needed to hear,” Cadenza replied, quickly pecking him on the lips. “Come now, the night is still young! We have places to be!”

“… some place to be?” The gruff masculine voice snapped Fletcher out of his reverie.

“I’m sorry?” he replied, simultaneously irritated and slightly embarrassed at his lapse of awareness.

“You’ve been standing there for a good twenty minutes,” the barista said. “I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong.”

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Fletcher replied, looking at the bottom of his now-empty mug. He floated the mug back to the bussing bin and pulled enough bits out of his saddlebag to leave a generous tip. As he did, he retrieved a velvet pouch stowed within.

The REA soldier stepped back outside onto the patio, tightening his scarf against the frosty breeze. Borne by aether, the pouch untied itself, producing a ring of white metal, cold to the touch, exceptionally light, and shining like polished silver. Fletcher gently gripped it with the aether, spinning the ring about its axes and admiring every square inch of it.

“Still as strong as the day you were forged,” he whispered, a twinge of sadness creeping into his voice.

The blue unicorn quietly slipped the ring back into its pouch and reverently replaced it in his saddlebag. Fletcher looked up to the sky, an open blue sky dotted only by a few puffy cotton-ball clouds and broken by the ruddy colors of dried leaves flowing between the alabaster spires of the greatest of Equestrian cities. He took a deep breath of the crisp air, murmuring softly as he stepped off the patio and onto the cobbled thoroughfare.

“Happy anniversary, Cadenza.”



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