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  1. Unless one is a total coward, or a total pacifist, holding one's own in a fight was an essential skill. As Prince Blueblood was resolved not to be the first, and lacked the mental and moral fortitude for the second, some training was in order. A lot of training, actually, in light of his recent 'diplomacy' in Whitescar. To this end, he'd asked a friend of his to help him brush up on the basics. He'd reserved the back gardens of Canterlot palace for the purpose, since the grass and flowers would provide a softer landing place than the floor of a gymnasium. He wondered, briefly, if it would be worthwhile to install a training room in the manor while he waited for Java to arrive... ~ And as if by queue, the stallion arrived. He'd announce his prescence if he could, but his jaws were currently occupied carrying a rather heavy duffle bag for his little tutoring session today. He was being lead by one of the castle guards whom held the typical aloof expression. Though this did lead the stallion into wondering about something. Did the prince just do this often enough that the guards paid no mind? Or had he reframed from alerting the guards of his activities to prevent a crowd. But then... his eyes turned to their destination, where he could see the Prince waiting... in a field of flowers. The stallion's brow quirked a bit at the unusual location. Sure... the flowers might be softer than a gym mat. But if the prince was so concerned about keeping up apperances... he should be glad that the stallion he invited was carrying something that doesn't say "This is a date and not training." ~ If the Prince was not caring about appearances, it was a sign of how nervous he was. Misconceptions were one thing, but pain was quite another. The prospect of pain was at this point more of a worry than the prospect of rumor circulation. What that said about Blueblood's courage was for a psychologist to analyze. "Ah, there you are Java. You may leave us, officer." He waved the guard away, probably not assisting his case. "Did you come with a lesson plan? I wasn't sure where you were planning to begin." ~ The stallion looked back to the guard who was leaving. He could of sworn he saw his expression cracking. Looks like the barracks will have some racy story telling happening tonight. The stallion shook his head some and then finally dropped the bag to the ground. "You... didn't think about this location did you? I kinda knew that stallion back when I was in the navy. So... in his eyes... a prince and a stallion - whom's barndoor is know to swing both ways - alone, behind the castle?" The stallion waited, giving the prince a flat stare. He waited for some signs of that sinking in before finally sitting down and giving a light nod. "But yeah, I came with a lesson plan. My sister and mother might end up killing you if I don't get you practicing some of the basics. These things I'm gonna show you are technically designed for earth ponies. But it applies just as well for the other two races." ~ Blueblood returned Java's flat stare with a blank one. It took a minute for the little hamster in the Prince's head to get the wheel up to speed, before realization dawned. "Eh, what? Oh. Oh!" The unicorn sighed, being a little too high-bred to actually face-hoof. However, it was too late now. He'd just have to deal with... whatever story was cooked up by the guard to explain this situation. Saying that he'd brought Java here just for 'sparring practice' would probably not help the situation in the slightest. "I didn't expect you to try to teach me magic. I'm actually half-decent at that part, it's the rest that I'm rubbish with." Vain as he was about his looks, Blue was honestly humble about his skills. At least, after his due humiliation at the hands of the Caribou King. And Sigrun, for that matter. Being swatted like a golf ball will knock the cockiness out of any pony. ~ The stallion lowered his head down, and bit down on a zipper, and pulled it down the length of the bag. He was only half listening, only because he actually expected to hear this exact thing the moment he stepped up to the palace gates. "Right right..." he hummed as he now bit down on a sack and gave it a light tug. There was a sound of shuffling as a few items spilled out of the bag in the wake of netted bag of tennis balls. "So... firstly I'd like to ask a few questions," he mumbled around the bag. He then set it down and pulled it open. Tennis balls were a really good training excercise when it came to teaching ponies how to move, and dodge. Raised reflexes, and in some cases taught ponies how to deflect oncoming punches if they were too scared. It was a win reguardless if done right or not. But... Java wasn't working with a boxer... or a fighter. No... he was working with the prince... so that required a lighter touch. "How good of a dancer are you?" ~ Blueblood blinked at the question. For a moment, he wondered if Java really had something like a date in mind. This was not a notion he wished to overly encourage. "Well... decent. It's one of the many things expected of a Prince." The tennis balls he saw emerging from the bag only served to deepen his confusion. "Look, I'll admit I haven't been to many dojos or whatnot, but... really, what in the name of Tartarus is all that, and what does it have to do with fighting? Or dancing? and what does dancing have to do with it anyway, I didn't ask you here to dance." ~ The stallion tossed it up in the air with a cheeky grin. "Well you don't have to get uncomfortable with the question, Blueblood. I think we established already that I don't exactly have any romantic interest in you. Annnd if I did, I think I'll be a red smear on the wall if Crusader found out." He paused at that. Then thought about it. Blueblood really was the mare's first date. Would she be furious? Maybe? "Er... actually I don't know about that... BUT POINT IS..." he quickly blurted out. He caught himself, gave out a light cough, and started again. "The point is... fighting is a lot like dancing. There are stances, your hoofsteps, your holds, your tosses, your ducks, your wances, et cetera. Your hoof and body movement are going to be incredibly important in later lessons and survival." "So... it's imperative that we get you started on this now. The fact that you can dance means I can actually skip ahead a bit. But I need to know how far." ~ Admittedly, yes, Java had said that, but one could never be sure. At least, Blueblood never was. Chalk it up to vanity and habit, but the Prince always subconsciously assumed that any expression of attraction in the past, even just a look, was something that had to be kept in mind for all future interactions. Living among the neuroses of the upper class had probably warped his judgment on that point, but that was probably why he'd been attracted to Star Crusader in the first place. Her stoic countenance was straightforward, rather than enigmatic, coy, or disingenuous. Although, that didn't provide him with any more knowledge than Java about how she would react when the inevitable rumors reached her. That would probably depend on how much she took after her mother. Yeesh, disturbing thought. The Prince banished it to the back of his mind, forcing himself to pay attention. He nodded along to the explanation. "That... that makes sense." He began to stretch his legs, loosening up in preparation. "So... the tennis balls?" ~ Java felt it absolutely unnecessary to bring this to the Prince as lightly as possible. He signed up for this, and he knew that he may end up with some bruises. The stallion raised one up and looked to the stallion with a deadpan serious expression. "I'm going to throw these at you." He waited for some time, before continuing. "Your goal is to keep as light on your hooves as possible, and try to dodge as many of these balls as you can. But... if you want to improve, you're gonna have to dodge them with as little movement as possible." ~ The deadpan delivery at least served to make the matter relatively clear. Even the Prince wasn't completely dense. "Oh, alright then. Seems simple enough." He'd handled tennis balls before, though he'd never actually played the game. Thus, he knew then as light spheres of fuzz, and not as whizzing projectiles ricocheting from the court. Hence, the relaxed expression as he prepared himself for the initial test. "You may begin when ready." ~ The stallion blinked, wondering if the Prince actually knew the difference in strength that a good number of earth ponies actually had over pegasus and unicorns. But... he seemed fairly confident enough. That said... the stallion decided to start it off on "easy" mode for now. He scooped up another ball into his wrist, now creating two possible projectiles. He gave the pair a squeeze to hold them in place as he reared back. A second later, his body lurched forward, hurling the two balls at the same time at the awaiting stallion. But perhaps now would be a good time to annotate what easy mode is. Easy mode details the rate at which balls were thrown... and not speed. So... that being said... Java might have accidentally sent two balls hurling at the Prince... as hard as he could... as fast as he could throw them ~ Until a sufficient time of training shall have passed to trump one's inborn instincts, or to put it more bluntly, until a pony conquers his bad habits, he defaults to them. Thus, instead of dodging, Blueblood immediately threw up his hooves to guard his face, trying to deflect the balls with magic at the same time. Since his eyes were covered, this did not go well. "Ow..." He waved his left forearm; the impact stung. "Ah... let's try that again, shall we? I didn't think they'd be that fast." ~ The stallion gave an understanding nod, and waited for the stallion to get himself situated. "Alright... here's a bit of advice. Do not focus on the ball all the way. Focus on how my hooves are moving the moment I let go of the ball. Then how it moves for just a second. Don't follow it. It's path won't change much after that." ~ "Right.... watch the hooves, not the balls. Got it." Nodding at the sage advice, he readied himself once again. This time, it worked a bit better. He didn't flinch automatically, though he only dodged one. "Mph.... didn't think they'd leave a mark." ~ The stallion sent another set out after waiting for the prince to ready up. "Relax... you'll get the hang of it soon enough. And then we can move faster. Now... get your feet moving. You don't have to stay in the same position." ~ They say the third time's the charm. In any case, the third time, Blueblood didn't get hit. Granted, the way in which he dove head-first to dodge was probably not the most efficient use of his energy, but his alertness was high, at least. "Ptuh!" He spat out he bit of dirt that got into his mouth. "Well, that's a bit better, I suppose." ~ The stallion blinked as he watched the prince eat that dirt. This... might take longer than he had initially expected. But, at least the prince is showing signs of improvement. That is always a benefit. "Er... right. I'm gonna ask you to stay on your hooves. The last place you want to be in any sort of fight in close range... is on the ground. Good way to give your opponent domination over you." ~ "Oh... er, right." The image of a certain caribou jarl standing over him, sword in hand, was more than enough to drive home the wisdom of sensei's words into Blueblood's head. He got to his hooves with alacrity, brushing them down with a bit of vigor. "Well, at least I'm starting to see why it's all gone wrong for me before. Don't know why my parents neglected to give me lessons." ~ The stallion tossed a tennis ball up in the air, and caught it with the opposite hoof as he reguarded the stallion for a moment. "Well... Equestria is mostly at peace. So... the need for learning how to fight is slim I'd imagine." He then thought for a moment, "Really, I think only Luna and Celestia knows how to brawl when it comes to the royal family." He then tossed the tennis ball to the prince. "Here, I think it might help to see another do it." he hummed as he kicked the rest of the sack towards the stallion. "Just throw the balls at any rate you want, then watch how I react. But, I want you to really watch how I move my hooves and where my eyes are looking. ~ Blueblood could not remember himself the last time he'd seen either of his Aunties 'brawl.' True, they'd fought, with magic, but that didn't seem to count. Especially since Celestia had still ended up captured by invading changelings. Twice. The Prince set his game face; he wasn't going to be subject to such a fate if he could help it. Not again. He picked up a few tennis balls out of the sack, picking up one with his hoof and two with his magic. "Alright, let's see how you handle this, then!" Java might have known that Blue had played cricket back in the day. He was not so good at the bat, but had been a decent bowler back in the day. The windup was elaborate, but the force with which he threw the tennis ball was justification for the odd run and hopping start. The other two followed after, somewhat irregularly. This would not be an easy pattern to dodge... ~ The stallion set his hooves in motion. His body bouncing on just the toes a bit lightly, never quite leaving the ground but almost like he was raising and lowering himself just by the toes alone. Java kept his eyes on the prince as he threw the first round of pitches. The first one caused the stallion's eyes to fidget when he noticed how quickly it left his focus, and entered his peripheral vision. Now, Java was actually surprised by the first pitch he had seen come from the buck. He had never really pictured him to be the star bowler for a cricket team. But... well this as proof enough. The next two... seemed a bit sloppier... but intentional. The stallion's body shifted to the right, just as his body dropped for it's next bounce. And just as his body rose up, the shift in the angle caused him to slide off to the side. His hooves all moved at the same time, hardly falling behind one another. It almost looked like he was just scating across the ground as he drew his hooves back under him. The first ball, whos impact would have been the right side of his body, now tore through the air in a curve passing his left cheek. On his next drop, the stallion skipped a beat when it came to rising back up. This time the next balls flew over his head and back. ~ Blueblood had to admit, he was impressed. He'd never seen a batter move like that before. Well, except for Willow Proudhoof when he knocked one of his leg bowls for six, but even Willow only had to deal with one ball at a time. "Ah... I think I see it now. It really is like dancing. More like a rapid tango than a waltz." ~ The stallion rose back up, moving a hoof to rub his left eye. That... came a little close to actually beaning him right in the eye socket. Yeesh. "That's right. But... push come to shove. If canes don't work for you, try pelting the poor sod with rocks." He grunted. Before moving his hoof a in a gesture to recollect the tennis balls. ~ "I'll keep that in mind." Indeed, given how much a hollow ball could sting, a solid rock would be quite the weapon. Of course, so would pretty much anything that came to hoof. "I've known wine bottles to work pretty well, too. I'm more likely to have them to hoof, given the sort of places I'm usually seen at." The Prince began to ready himself again, trying to get a feel for how Java had kept so light on his toes. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine music. A strain from some long-ago ball traveled through his brain; humming it under his breath, Blueblood felt his limbs loosen and free themselves. "There, now let's try this again..."
  2. An outside observer would rarely come to the conclusion that Caribou politics were all that complicated or sophisticated. Clans did what they needed to survive, and hit each other if their needs conflicted until one side stopped. Like most such simple views, it lasted in the mind of the tourist until he first came upon an inconvenient fact, such as all the blue-colored caribou that seemed to be spread about over Whitescar. These strange beasts were members of Clan Breen, and they were all over the place because a great many of them had chosen service in the Vakstrya, the guardians of the roads of the continent, over expulsion from the limited clan territory. Over time, they had more or less begun to take over that organization, putting themselves in charge of it's way stations, trading posts, and fortifications across Whitescar. Which could be considered problematic, if you were, for instance, King of Whitescar, and harbored concerns about clans with independent bases of power. Clan Breen was... not exactly a follower of the current High King's standard. They didn't oppose his policies, but they maintained an aloof attitude towards his agenda, focusing more upon their own affairs, and waiting to see how the chips fell. After all, the roads would need guarding, no matter who called themselves King. One such member of the Vakstyra, Halvard, was making himself conspicuous in Heil, spending his winnings from the Arena in Saarvergerg. And not making a secret of where the gold came from, either. As the King had actively discouraged arena battling of the sort of stakes that Halvard would be talking about, this was perhaps not a development that he could afford to ignore... ~ To say the politics of Whitescar were not the normal faire would be an understatement. No one knew this better than the High King, who rose to power through feats of strength and became known for his wisdom after he had visions. Though many of the clans have either allied or defected, one clan remains aloof in the grand scheme, performing the duty it has for generations. Clan Breen. They did their duty and they did it well, however their nonloyalty to the greater clans of Whitescar was worrysome. Havardr did not mind so much lack of loyalty to him, but the lack of loyalty towards their people was something not to be permitted. Gaining power for the good of Heil-Barn, maintaining a place within was something to be applauded. The king still valued strength, because strength was still required to maintain peace. It was vicious usurpers like the Red Jarl, whom seemed to thrive on violence and carnage that was not the be tolerated. The King got word of one of Breen fighting for money in the Arena. The king didn't always like the arena, even though he once did the same for honour, but fighting for money seemed dirty in a way. The king made his way there and saw the bull he had heard of, Halvard of Breen, Vakstrya of Whitescar. The king made his approach as he was collecting his winning. "Fighting for honour is one thing Halvard of Breen, but fighting for large sums of money is quite another. It is a perversion of the traditions of the Caribou." The king opened to Halvard. "I do believe it is time to discuss the stance of Breen among the clans of the land of Whitescar." ~ Halvard was not what one would call a boisterous sort. Well, relative to most caribou. He could drink and carouse, for that was in the blood of all his people, but in character he was more of a wry sort, and more apt to spend his money on equipment upgrades to the full suit of armor he insisted upon lugging about everywhere. He was just concluding his business with the smith when the King approached him. The heavily-loaded caribou was nonetheless quick with his reply. "I fight to sharpen my own skills against opponents of many kinds, and there is only one arena in this continent where I have the widest range of opponents. If they choose to give me gold, that is their business." Clan Breen did have a reputation for pragmatism, and Halvard was doing nothing to dispute it. "I'm flattered that you think us politically important, and me politically fit to discuss such matters." His tone was dry and even, almost amused. Certainly not the sort of reverential respect one would expect to give one's king. But then, Halvard himself had never sworn loyalty... ~ The king listened to Halvard and his flippant attitude. Everything he had remembered about Breen seemed to hold true to this moment. Still, if the king wished to secure the support of Breen, he would need to go to most of them individually, and this was his first stop, as it was a rather important route. The King listened to his reasoning and nodded. Fighting for the betterment of himself was a worthy endeavor. The King once had skirimishes for similar reasons, the only difference was lack of prize money, which is why the king looked down upon that. When money gets involved it clouds one's judgement usually... "Do you know why I disapprove of these fighting arenas? It isn't because I disapprove of fighting." The king gave a pause. "Quite the opposite, I have found in my years that fighting for monetary gain in such arenas clouds the judgement and can send those with good intentions down a dark path...." He looked at Halvard's demenor and his current attire "However, you do not seem to fall into that category. I hope you continue on the path you are on and the ignore monetary gains." And there it was the comment about self importance. Well it wasn't that he was the most important of the clan, but the Vakstyra were unique, often acting on their own. "In the grand scheme, the individuals of Breen are as important compared to the whole. As the Vakstyra are often on their own paths ensuring safety I felt it most beneficial to discuss such matters with everyone individually. If it makes it to the clan as a whole, then so be it. Yours is a passage that seems of the greatest important for trade, and so I have elected to speak with you first. " The king looked upon his fellow bou and saw that he really didn't care for his position, which was fine. He was not an advisary like the Red Jarl and should not be treated as such. "I merely wish to make an agreement so that we may all be on the same page. Whether or not you swear fealty is irrelevant, so much as your oath to keep the roads safe and to not ally yourself with enemies of bou kind." ~ Well, it seemed his majesty wasn't going to push the point of arena fighting. Which was just as well. It seemed the king had a dim view of mercenary attitudes towards combat, though Halvard wasn't quite sure about what 'dark path' he was referring to. The bull shrugged, which was impressive when one considered the weight of metal that he bore upon his shoulders. "There's more efficient ways of getting money if one wants it in any case. Haven't much to spend it on, myself, aside from equipment and the like." His features grew a shade more serious as the king discussed the reasons that individuals were being sought out among his clan. It was true, Clan Breen tended to value the contributions of individuals, both in material and decision making, somewhat more than other clans. Mostly this was because so many of them were spread out, and to send word back to the jarl every time a decision needed to be made was inefficient, to say the least. But increased initiative from the parts did not make it easy to achieve a consensus from the whole... "An agreement..." Halvard considered the matter. "It's worth much to us already to keep the trade routes open, and our guard posts garrisoned. Much of what the Vakstyra swear to do already is according to what you wish..." The bull frowned, considering the last point. "With all due respect, however, we perform such for all clans, whether they are sworn to you or not. Many times, we can bargain to keep caravans from being raided, or at least minimize the dangers to trade, because we are known to deal evenly with both the friends and enemies of the king. We are many, and strong, but not so much as to continue our patrols across swaths of hostile territory." ~ Havardr nodded at the response to the arena. "This is true, there are better ways, but still it is wise to be weary." The king did not wish to press the issue, nor did he see any value in it. The king laughed under his breath with a bit of a "heh." Clearly Halvard did not understand what he actually implied. "You seem to misunderstand..." The king started "I am well aware of your clans desire to remain neutral, however, there are enemies which wish to reign in chaos to the world. The agreement is in regards to these, or rather your actions in regards to how you bargain. And naturally in return, you will have not only my support but the support from my allies which I am always seeking to expand. Peace, you see, is my overall goal. However peace cannot be obtained without some use of force, as I'm sure you are aware. Your keeping a fair hold on the trade routes is a large part of that. If you ally yourself with those whom wish to bring chaos, things may not work in the favour of anyone. This is why I said you need not pledge fealty to me or anyone else, just reach an agreement of total neutrality to prevent anyone from causing damage to the trade routes which may disturb my efforts toward peace. There is one in particular who might seek your aid to prevent caravans from the Crystal Empire through some of your routes as we are currently trying to repair relations." The king honestly only wanted Breen on his side so much so as anyone wished to have a clear trade route. His fear was more of an enemy destroying the trade route, perhaps through means that did not seem overtly destructive. The routes would also be used diplomatically and having a poor impact there could lead to further war and destruction... ~ Ah, so this had to do with the King's international efforts, did it? Halvard tended to consider such things above him up to now. Being forced to consider them brought new thoughts into his head that he wasn't sure how to deal with. When he spoke, it was slowly and carefully. "In my experience... there are few who truly wish for chaos. Mostly, they wish for honor, traditions, and goods. And they don't seem to care much whether the latter come by trading or raiding. Granted, they would trade with caribou and raid ponies, but that is an issue resolvable by use of our trading posts. We can store the goods in large depots, and have merchants buy and sell from there, rather than having one caravan make the journey from the port at Barn out to the clan lands. If you don't mind us selling to all, we can ensure the goods will be delivered." ~ The king listened intently and needed to formulate his response carefully... "Trading posts can only do so much. And Breen's involvement within them is still great." The king paused as he considered his next words carefully. "And to suggest that it is an impregnible system is foolhearty..." The king decided to go in for the big attack, something he heard whispers of. "It would seem to me that Breen would resist agreements that could only strenthen the clan. No one within the clans that consider me their king are under any obligation to remain allied with me, but they all benefit from the strength of the alliance." ~ "No defense needs to be impregnable. It only needs to last long enough for succor to arrive. And no trading post we establish is without without a Vakstyra garrison, nor farther from a days march from another." As quick to reply as before, but now there was a shift in Halvard's attitude. It was subtle, but the king might be able to sense the change from the quipper to the haggler. "Our clan's strength is dependent on informal alliances. No clan bordering the roads we patrol would make themselves our enemy, for if we tell their neighbors that they threaten their travel..." He smiled, but only briefly. "Our coverage is not yet complete, however. And we are now bordering on territories where we cannot establish our garrisons if we are seen to be too close to you. But, once we were to secure those passages... Well, we should endeavor to keep them peaceful and open, and would accept aid from those who would share this goal." A first offer. An understanding, more than a formal alliance, but one that promised to pay dividends for patience. ~ Havardr gave a bit of a laugh and a wry smile. He was no fool, he quite plainly saw where Halvard was going. A shrewd negotiator without a doubt, but not too terribly subtle. "It is not your enemies I'm worried about, it is those whom would act under false pretense. But let us leave that for now." The High King paused and looked at Halvard appraisingly. Breen's ambitions were no secret and Havardr knew this well and had long since planned to use it to his advantage. "Let us not feign false pretense for this meeting..." Halvardr's demenor changed markedly from his lighter demenor which he had sported to start this discourse. "You claim you have holes in your coverage, and wish to strive for peace. I believe that an accord can be reached between your clan and myself to meet our common goals." ~ "Thank you, your majesty. It is a frank relief to be free of the necessity of walking around rather than straight to the point." Harvard's shoulders lifted, as if some great burden had been shifted off his armor plating. "I simply wanted to see if you were willing to do business on equal terms. But perhaps we should at least talk over the deal somewhere more private?" ~ Havardr nodded at the response. "The round about starts are always stifling but are somewhat necessary for talks such as these. Knowing the state of mind and disposition of your opposite is a rather important part of any discussion." The king replied. Upon hearing the suggestion to moving to a place more private. "Yes, privacy would be good now that we are moving to the actual discussions. Do you have a place in mind?" ~ Halvard considered the question. "There is a Vakstyra station nearby, which may afford privacy. But if you would prefer to conduct such negotiations in your own stronghold here, I would understand." ~ The king would normally prefer to do this in a clan stronghold, however there were many advantages of using the Vakstryra station, chiefly that it was part of his aim. "You did not need to suggest my hold. I approached you, not the other way around. The Vakstyra station is also closer. Time is a valuable commodity, and one which should not be wasted frivolously for an illusion of comfort or security." The king replied giving his subsequent reasoning. "Please lead the way." ~ Halvard nodded, and set off towards the station. It was... not quite like anything else in Whitescar. Or rather, it had elements of almost everything, in a way that few buildings attempted to encompass. Within a set of fortified walls, one had a small barracks to house the Vakstyra caribou themselves, a small storehouse and shop for merchants to trade goods, and a lookout tower to observe the roads and sky for travel conditions. The bull posted at the gate was evidently surprised to see King Havardr enter, but a nod from Halvard made him keep his peace. "We shan't be disturbed, and he won't tell half the city where you are." Halvard explained as they walked in. ~ The High King was very familiar with various outposts. He was quite active in his youger days but even still, having such a cold reception was rather different for him. Even before he was king he was a well known leader. He wasn't sure what would have happened if Halvard hadn't given the signal to be at ease to the guard, but any avoidable confrontation was appreciated by him, especially for peace talks. "I see your security is even willing to stand against one such as myself." The king was of course referring not only to his being a king, but his imposing stature and his history of being adept at battle. He continued to follow Halvard to a room where they could discuss business. As a sign of trust Havardr removed his trusty spear and left it at the door to the room. "I do not think such things will be needed here, unless you think it wise we both remain armed..." The king said slyly. "So now, down to business. I do believe we can reach an agreement of mutual benefit. And fear not, I do not ask anyone to swear fealty, that is not conductive to anything." The king nodded and continued... "Put simply I have resources and you have control of the trade routes. While I'm sure the Vakstra are rather strong, I'm sure using the my resources to bolster your power and influence on deeper trade routes would not be an adverse arrangement." ~ It was, actually, something of an open question of what would have happened if the King had made an aggressive move. The Vakstrya were strong defensive fighters, but most of them would be out on patrol at this hour. Long-term, of course, any fighting between them would be disastrous to both, hence each's willingness to come to terms. Halvard left his own weapon beside Havardr's, but kept his armor on as he moved into the room. "It would certainly be a boon, your majesty." The bull replied, taking a seat by the stone table in the center. In the flickering torchlight, there seemed to be a great many markings upon the tabletop. Closer inspection would have revealed it to be... a map of Whitescar, carved into the rock! Not exactly to scale, though; the Western side of the continent was proportionally larger than the Eastern side, but the reason for that was apparent enough: the map was of all the trade routes and Vakstrya stations, which were much more densely packed in the west than in the east. Halvard watched the king for his reaction. "Not many bou outside of our clan or organization ever see this map. Those who do are often surprised at all the roads they never knew about." ~ The king smiled at the reaction of his would be guide into the hold. Clearly they thought the same about altercations. There would be no good to come of it, and that is why they were together at this moment. With both their weapons at the door, Havardr felt they could be on equal terms. This is despite the fact that Halvard sttill had his armour, however the king considered this to be less an affront and more habit. He too was a young bull believing that being in armour meant being ready for anything. It was not a foolish thing to consider either, but the king's confidence had become such that relinquishing such once thought necessities was no longer even a question in his mind. "The boon would be to both, make no mistake. Peace is far more profitable than war. In more ways than one." They came to a table which had a map inlaid. The great stone map had various trade routes in the west layed out in intricate detail. The king nodded at this map. "I'm not sure if you were aware of my history, but I was once known as the "Wandering King" seeking both war and peace in my younger years. Seeking to expand my influence through all of Whitescar." This was in all likelihood a silly question since the Vakstrya were one of the clans that resisted this more... forceful approach. "I became aware of many routes across the whole of Whitescar... And even still there are some on this map in the west that I don't recognize. The expanse of these routes is most impressive, and I can only consider that some only were created after I had ceased traveling as much as I did after the Vakstrya truely came into their own as a clan controlling the western trade..." The King paused when he said this. He looked up at the queues from Halvard, hoping that he did not cross any lines. "However your cover in the east is abysmal." The king smiled. "I can see why you are not adverse to talks..." The king reached into a small bag he was carrying at his side attached to the light magic reflecting armour that was so well known in Whitescar. Against caribou this armour would be shattered in seconds, but it was not something that he was all too concerned with. The king rolled out the parchment onto the table. Since you have shown me yours I shall show you mine. The map was quite a bit different. The two sides were more equal in size, but the east was far more detailed. The main trade routes in the west were well documented but as the king realized, they were scarcely incomplete. Most of the additions he did on his own from his travels. The east however had just as much intricacy as the west of the stone map that the parchment rested on. "I believe we can say we have opposite problems when it comes to trade, though we are slightly more selective on who may move through our routes than the Vakstrya. This however can be negotiated of course, in the interest of expanding global trade." The king paused "However, I have heard whispers that expanding trade routes is not the only thing the Vakstrya are after...." ~ Havardr's younger years were before Halvard's time, and it was not until after his Will Test that the bull had taken much interest in the world outside the fjords and valleys of Clan Breen's home country. But he could understand what it was that had led the King to wander, to defy distance and impose his wishes upon the land. Perhaps he, too, felt that there was magic in the roads themselves, in the way that they seemed to squeeze far places together. Of such magic was the Vakstyra's sacred trust. Halvard took no offense on the King's remarks about their eastern coverage. "We have had to work our way across the continent station by station. And the further we are from our homeland, the less we tend to be trusted by the locals. I myself have been in talks with potential allies but... Royal Aid would certainly not go amiss with us." He stared, fascinated, down at the map the king now spread out. "This is... valuable. Though I don't know how many would estimate its value truly." Raising an armor-clad leg, Halvard traced along the road that led up from Barn to Heil, and then east to the territory of Clan Askr, all the way through to Saarvergerg. He didn't look up immediately after Harvardr remarked on further plans of the Vakstyra. When Halvard replied, it was with words chosen carefully. "We... have developed our own opinions about the best course of action which the caribou as a whole should take, with respect to their traditions and their future. We seek to persuade through what methods we have to use, for the good of us all." ~ Havardr surveyed Halvard's expressions closely. This was where things could get interesting. Both have shown their hand with the core of this meeting, the trade routes. Next would be the strength of their abilities in combat, but this is something Havardr hoped would be secondary to the meeting. "There is no other way to increase one's coverage. There are no short cuts. Even if one manages to take a kingdom by force, if one doesn't explore for themselves, things are often missed." The king was speaking from experience here. In the beginning when clans were joining with him, not even by force, not all was known. The map he had placed down was the result of not only his exploration, but him sending out special scouts with cartography skills to learn everything they could. "As for being trusted by locals, it all depends on how you present yourself. A show of force can only get you so far... I learned that the hard way. Learning to inspire hope rather than fear was an important lesson." The king smiled "As for having royal aid... that is why we are here." Halvard surveyed the map more closely, clearly impressed... "Yes, intelligence is the greatest weapon and asset. The wise understand its value." The king said appraisingly of Halvard. "As for the path of the caribou, I would be interested to hear what your 'opinions' are. However, bear in mind, I do not think there is a caribou out there that wishes the destruction of our kind, even the Red Jarl believes what he is doing is for the best, as misguided as he may be." ~ The Vakstyra guard was not ungrateful for the generosity with which Havardr spread the wisdom of his years. Far from it; it was not only valuable in and of itself, but it gave Halvard an insight into how the mind of the King worked. Nevertheless, he couldn't help but add some clarifying commentary, "It must be said, however, that a show of force is often very effective, in its way. Although, not always in the way most bulls would expect. For example, in my last trip to Saar, I matched up against Jarl Sigrun. According to the judges, I lost the match, but given that my performance was enough to win her respect... I was able to win full approval for Vakstyra establishment within Askr territory. I doubt a battlefield victory could have gained so much as that Arena loss." Not to mention the fact that it was unlikely in the least that he could ever gain battlefield victory over the Silver-Eyed Queen of the East, but that was another matter. As to the king's last question, though... Halvard frowned. The old bull sounded as if he were fair-minded, but there were a great many things about Clan Breen that he did not know. Perhaps it was best to start with an obvious fact, and it's implications. "You see on the map, how the home territory of my clan is in the Far West of Whitescar? The Southern Wilds are on the Far East of the continent. Which means that every single caribou of our clan, from time immemorial, has had to go all the way there, and all the way back. On average, the journey takes up to a full year, and that's not including the time dedicated to the Will Test itself. And it has occurred, to many of us, as we were spending all that time tramping the roads, that there were a great many more useful things we could be doing with that time." Halvard had spoken slowly, deliberately, at pains to emphasize his reasonableness. True, Havardr had been known to be willing to cast off a few old caribou traditions, but what the blue-coated young bull was saying here had capital-R Radical implications. The Will Test wasn't just a tradition, it was the tradition, one of the common touchstones that all caribou shared. To suggest that it might be cast off, like a useless period of idleness, betrayed a strain of thinking in Clan Breen that even His Majesty might find a little hard to swallow... ~ "We seem to be talking about different shows of force" The King began is calculated response. "Trial by combat, what you refer to, is a time honored tradition among Caribou and a way to gain respect." The king smiled "Do you think I gained the power I did among the caribou by being a weak king incapable of winning in single combat?" The king was leading into the brunt of it though. "I am talking about war and skirmishes... they are rather different... They often do not work... Subjugating people, any people, can cause a resurgance or uprising of those whom feel the occupation or control is unwarrented or unjust. It is this realization that took time to see in my long life..." The silver-eyed queen Jarl Sigrun was brought up specifically... "As for the young Jarl... she is a fine cow with an extreme pride. She respects strength almost to a fault. Due to this she almost fell in league with the Red Jarl... But that is not important, she like many other bulls and cows will respect a caribou combatant if they fought well in single combat, though she would more than most in my experience..." The young bull of Clan Breen answered his inquiry rather directly. And his answer was intriguing to say the least... To suggest the removal of the Will Test was.. curious. But not without reason, and the idea piqued the king's interest. With a raised brow, the King answered succinctly "You mean to suggest the removal of a time honoured tradition...? It is something that helps weed out the weak. But... please continue with this... I want to hear more of how you mean to employ this while protecting those under your charge..." ~ "War may not work... but you are in one, all the same. I am curious as to how you propose to bring it to a successful conclusion." It was not sarcasm on Halvard's part; he really was curious. Knowing the High King's endgame plans would give Clan Breen good information on how to best position themselves. But now, the conversation was now solidly on Clan Breen's position upon the traditions. Halvard took a deep breath; this was something that he had been thinking on for some time, but not dared crystallize into anything like a hard manifesto. Like lava upon a glacier, the cracking and crashing might cause too much destruction in the world of his thought. But now, the words were coming. "We... in the clan, began to wonder what was meant by the word 'weak.' The Will Test might spare our best warriors, but take from us our best beekeepers. And after a very lean winter long ago, we began to think the trade was not a beneficial one. It is known that even those who do not pass a Will Test may earn their entry by other means; Jarl Sigrun's own sister is an example. Our own clan began to be creative in how many we allowed, and for what purpose. The Vakstyra was one of these, which is why it is still almost entirely made up of our clan. It is also why we have had enough caribou in our clan to patrol the whole of the country. We didn't waste them by sending them one at a time into a hostile country to swell the ranks of undead armies." His voice had grown flatter and more sardonic by the end of it. "Waste... that's what it is. A waste a time, a waste of good caribou. What could we have done with those that we threw away?" ~ "One can consider the current state of affairs "war", however there is no one singular entity with which the caribou, as a collective of clans or individual clans are taking up arms against. There is of course the Red Jarl's forces, however he seems to have turned gurilla, and so we are not engaged in open war with him. As for skirimishes with other clans, there are hardly any. As I've said, I've tried to take a more diplomatic apporoach in my old age." The king smiled wryly, because while he was considerably older than many caribou under his charge, he was still among the most athletic and imposing in battle, and many recognized and respected this fact. Halvard began to explain Clan Breen's position on the will test. "Interesting..." The king began "Honestly, to begin with, the will test was never meant to cause great harm to those whom undertook it. However, I do see your position..." The king gave a pause while he considered his words carefully. "While it would be difficult to see all clans removing the tradition, I see no reason why Clan Breen could not follow that path. I have removed many traditions from my clan back when I was a Jarl, traditions which I felt were archaic and not conducive to prosperity. Many other clans saw this as an affront to their own values and until they united under me and made me High King, it was difficult to find common ground with them. Though most still respected my strength and the strength of my clan. That said, I have never imposed my will regarding traditions on clans at large, I do not see the vaule. Many clans have traditions that I do not agree with and I make my position known, but the ultimate decision rests with the leaders of that clan. Whether they take my council is up to them. I... see no reason why your clan must adhere to the tradition of the Will Test, especially after you have discussed and found it ill to your clan's well being..." ~ "I see..." Halvard regarded the High King with a measure of favorable respect. The blue-coated caribou now felt as if he had a good idea of what the royal policy was. "So, if I understand you correctly, you believe in extending a great deal of self-determination to the clans as regards most of the old traditions... save for the suicidal expeditions to the Spine." He gave Hravardr a wry smile. "I have to say, we're with you one-hundred percent on that one." He took a deep breath, leaning back from the map on the stone table. "Well! I think we have come to an understanding, and agreement. I feel you're the sort of bull one can take at their word, but it would be a convenience to me if I could have a written charter to bring back to my chieftain." ~ The king gave a smile, as he felt they were finally coming to an understanding. "Even the trips to the Spine, I would not impose on anyone. To begin with, it is a choice. I imposed no choice on that particular tradition when I was Jarl, not for the sake of tradition, but to purify my decaying clan. We were in a state of disarray, and the clan surely would have fallen if not for that expedition that left only the strongest and most loyal, for even those whom weren't strong were carried by their bretheren." The king stopped, realizing this was a rare occurence... Very rarely had he ever before stated why he, himself, after casting away so many ancient traditions, forced his entire clan to join him to the Spine. "And I am glad we are finally reaching an understanding, and that you feel I am worthy of being taken at my word." The King gave an almost inaudible chuckle. This was rather a new thing for him. Most took him at his word because of his prestige and legacy. For someone to tell him that he was trust worthy was something rather new to him. Halvard brought up notating a charter. "If you have a writing impliment handy we can get started on that charter for your chieftain" ~ "Oh, so that's the story, is it?" It was somewhat different from the picture of events that Halvard had held. But then, Clan Breen had never imposed such an expedition upon itself, and as such had only a vague idea of what it actually involved. Halvard himself had always thought of it as a kind of blood sacrifice, but apparently that wasn't quite accurate. In any case, he was quick to fetch the writing implements. The Vakstyra kept them handy to record trade and inventory. "There you are. Mind the ink; it is some time before our next delivery." ~ The king nodded "It was not one of my finer moments, but to this day I felt it necessary to save my clan and bring us forward." The king did not feel any more needed to be said regarding this matter as he picked up the quill and dipped it into the ink to start drawing up the charter. To conserve ink the king made an abbreviated charter using bullet points. He outlined the Vakstrya's rights to continue to guard the roads of Whitescar, including royal support to aid in expansion and setting up new garrisons where they had little coverage previously. This would be in exchange for the Vakstyta's aid in keeping the King informed of those whom might want to do harm to the caribou and their goals. Thje king did not put details as that would be up for discussion with the Chieftain when the official charter would be drawn up by them both so that the arrangement would be mutually beneficial, but the chieftain would understand the core of the arrangement. The next set of bullet points detailed self-governace. From the clan's ability to keep ruling as they see fit, to ability to set their own traditions and laws, so long as they didn't go against the core values of the clans under the king. Once again those were not outlined as the parchment detailing those would be brought when the official charter would be drawn up by both clans in unison. The king signed it and rolled it for Halvard. "I think that should cover everything discussed. This is not an official charter, and the final would be drawn when your chieftain and I meet officially to solidify the agreement. Feel free to read through it, I kept it short to ensure the lowest amount of ink used, so to not deplete your stores. However there is still ample amount should I have missed anything that you would like me to add, but I feel I hit most of the main points from this meeting..." ~ Halvard took the piece of parchment, reading it over before blowing once to dry the ink. "I believe this will be sufficient until the official charter is drawn up." He replied, as he began rolling it up. "I shall convey it to our chieftain and shaman personally." He brought out a small tube in which he secured the preliminary charter, before replacing it in his satchel. "Once again, your majesty, thank you. I believe Whitescar shall benefit from what we have agreed upon here." ~ The king smiled at Halvard's words. "I agree, and look forward to the response. Feel free to send any correspondance directly to my hold. I shall inform them that discussions have been opened with Clan Breen, so your messangers shall be welcomed as honoured guests." The king extended a hoof to shake. "A shake to the future prosperity of the Caribou nation. I look forward to future meetings with Clan Breen." With that the king moved to retrieve his spear that he had left at the entrance at the beginning and holstered it. "Until next time, unless you feel that it best you escourt me out." The king said with a bit of a laugh, knowing how the guards looked at him as he entered. ~ Halvard took his hoof and shook it. "To our future prosperity... and peace." And with that shake, they both took their leave of the place. The King stepping back into his duties, and the Vakstyra guard into a new phase of his career.
  3. "So... Halvard. I wanted to apologize for what happened in the Arena." ~ "Mph... No apologies are needed for a fight fairly won." ~ "Oh no .. not that I was apologizing for sneezing on you." she said with a slightly embarassed chuckle. ~ "Ah!" Enlightenment dawns on his face, and he begins to chuckle as well. "I don't seem to have caught anything from that, so no foul. Besides, that's one more tactic I have for my arsenal. Never know when an unexpected sneeze might come in handy." ~ "You and me fighting on a battle... you with a pike in hoof with a feather on the blunt end for me to sneeze advancing troops away from us?" she suggest with a laugh and twitch of her snout. ~ Halvard may have smiled at the joke, but some day, in the future, Sigrun would find that from that day forward, he kept a feather in his travel bag. "Indeed. It is to learn such novel tactics that I came to Saar. The Caribou who innovate will have a future." ~ "Indeed they shall... I look forward to seeing another great warrior in the fature when my mane goes grey and I'm to leave the future of us to the next generation." ~ Halvard nodded. The future... he was beginning to think seriously about it for the first time in his life. He'd had time to think about the King's pronouncements, and a letter from home had told him his own chieftain's thoughts. He wondered, now, how close he and Sigrun were in their visions. "I think... the future they go into may be very different from the past that we have known. We are living in a time of changes." ~ We indeed do... some being changes for ourselves... the bull I thought was to be joined with me wound up becoming a rebel and no w his little brother has become like the son I never had..." THe cow chuckled nostalgically and looked to Havard. "If you'd told me this was how my life was going to go... I'd have... well I wouldn't punch a face like yours unless I had to... maybe slapped." ~ Halved had to laugh at that. "I don't know if I would have reacted so violently myself; things have rather turned out better than I could have reasonably expected. I met you, for one thing. Not something any bou from my homeland would have expected, if only because of the distance involved." ~ "I admire you for making the trip... I do hope you'll stay a while. " she smiled at him ~ Halvard hadn't been sure how long he would stay; after all, he had his patrol duties... but looking at Sigrun, and her smile, seemed to convince him. "I should be happy to! I fancy there is much that we have to talk over." He could always spin it towards Vakstyra business, after all; the East needed patrolling as much as the West. And as for his conversations with Sigrun... if he mentioned politics from time to time, maybe he could justify the time to the chief as well-spent. ~ "Just talk?... oh you have so much to learn about my clan's ways." she said with a mischievous smile upon her lips ~ Halvard raised an eyebrow, but continued smiling. "Ah... well then, I am willing to be your humble student, then." ~ SIgrun walks calmly along side Halvard before breaking her stride, her muzzle scrunching up. ~ Halvard stops short, seeing that Sigrun is about to sneeze. In full armor, he couldn't run, and had no cloth on him to catch it. So, the only thing he could do is brace himself... ~ "hahh... ahhh.... haahhh HAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH... Gotcha." The cow smirked mischievously. ~ Halvard let out a whoosh of breath, his armor clanking in relief. "Please don't do that too often; I might be caught off guard the next time you really do let loose." ~ "Don't worry... so long as we're not in equestria that's not as likely to happen." ~ "Ah, that's good to know." Halvard smiled, a little curious. "I have never been South, and I am curious... I have heard many contradictory things about those who live there. Some say that they are peaceable, soft... and others that they are patriotic and fierce defenders, clever in battle and undefeated in war. Quite the range of testimonies." ~ "They have... a worrisome history but they are primarily peaceful. They also have access to a powerful magic that only they seem to be able to use most efficiently." she said with a soft laugh before looking to the bull. "It can make some caribou worry how we coudl defeat such an enemy if they shoudl choose to destroy us. In the end for now they are simply pacifists who are not afraid to fight... " The cow scrubbed a hoof to an itchy snout, "and their greenery is the most active iI've ever experienced." ~ Laughter rumbled from the heavily armored bull at the last words, but he paused, thinking. "I wonder if their greenery has anything to do with their pacifism. What would they be like, if their land were as cold as ours?" ~ "I'm told it was for a while and it almost destroyed them... but sometimes even they dont seem to understand their own history." The cow shrugged , "If we switched climates with them though I probably would never have bother to learn to fight or lead my clan ." she admitted with a slight laugh. ~ "Hmm...." Halvard's brows furrowed in thought, before suddenly rocketing up as he stomped the ground. "By the Nameless, I've figured it out!" He turned to Sigrun, talking excitedly. "The key to the contradictory behaviors of the sudden nations! They are peaceable now... because they are living off the spoils of their ancestor's conquest! When they spread across their lands, they fought winter... and won. I have even heard tell that now, it only comes on sufferance, and that they hold the power to make it go away whenever they wish. Do you not see in that the power of a conquerer over a defeated enemy?" ~ "I could ... but the fact is in whitescar there are many conquerers who wish to conquer each other... I'm technically one of them with my campaign in the east." She admitted, stepping back a moment at the hoofstamp so as not to cause repeat of the previous day at the arena. ~ "Yes... the clans fight each other from time to time, but we all must fight winter. But we have never fought winter with the intention to win, only to survive until the next." Halvard shakes his head, looking out towards the snow-capped peaks upon the horizon. "Of course, I don't know how we would. Perhaps we can't, here. But if you ever wanted to know what I should wish to conquer... well, I aim high." ~ The Jarl smiled a bit, "I'm listening." Her ears perking slightly and swiveling towards Halvard as if to punctuate her statement. ~ Confronted with an eager listener, Halvard's reticence abandoned the field without a fight. He raised a hoof to sweep across the whole vista. "The Land. Many say that, but mean simply that they wish all caribou to obey them. I wish for the Land to Obey us. That it shall bring forth from its soil what we desire and need, and nothing more. That it shall not freeze before we wish it, and shall thaw when we dictate." "We have lived too long being ruled by Whitescar. It is time that we conquered our own homeland." ~ Sigrun grinned, "That is a belief I could get behind.. but it will require the unifcation of all of whitescar... including the rebelsand I can promise you they will not let us change them without getting somehting in return ~ Halvard nodded. "And so we come to the question: should our efforts be spent in crushing them... or in getting something attractive enough to bring them to the bargaining stone?" [~ "I've already invested heavily in crushing them... but they are stubborn... I cannot think of something they would want that could console then," ~ "Access to the riches of the South." Halvard states, as if outlining a potential trade. "For centuries, it has been the measure of a jarl's prestige that they could provide such to their warriors and tribe. But not every clan is able to put together a successful raid. Many fall under the Red Jarl's rule because that is the only way they would ever see such wealth. They know they shall see none of it if they surrender to you, or are defeated." "But, suppose... there were a means of acquiring such wealth, and controlling its distribution, that we could offer it to their clans as a price for their loyalty?" ~ "Well... the Highking has been trying to open up negotiations with the chieftain of the red jarl's clan... If you like I could see if you could make them an offer personally..." ~ Halvard snorted. "The name of the high king matters less in some parts of the land than mine. Or rather, that of the Vakstyra. Some may not bow their knees, but all must walk the roads, and respect those who guard them." He stopped walking, looking at Sigrun to judge her reaction. "Clan Breen, and for that matter, the Vakstyra, do not pay the High King homage, but neither do we actively oppose him. Officially, we are neutral to both sides, so that we may trade and deal with each. If we complete our coverage of the roads, we will be in a position to control internal trade... and therefore, to dictate the terms upon which goods from the South shall travel in Whitescar. Havardr himself has confirmed us in our intentions, but I don't think we are in position to make our offer just yet. But when the time comes... we will be grateful if you choose to help us." ~ "You're clan may not oppose him... and that is fine. But there are still traditions that we should keep hold of. the high king is indeed a bull worthy of the respect of all but not unqestioned obedience... he is aware that I wouldn't waste a second turning on him if his actions cause this land's poulation pain." "Halvard." She stepped forward and placed a hoof to the bull's snout. "WAs there really question in whether my pclan woudl support your own? I had already agreed to provde you my clan's support. My clan will not go back on our word, not while I am in chrge. " ~ "I... must confess, there are a great many traditions that I have lately come to question the value of." Halvard spoke reluctantly, but he could not stop himself. Sigrun was not a cow easy to keep secrets around. "It is the High King's willingness to discard those that did more harm than good that I have come to respect the most about him-" He was pulled up short by the hoof on his snout, but he smiled underneath it. "No, no doubt. It was simply that I was not sure if I had let you know fully what your word had let you in for." ~ "I may have some worries about ho w your plan could be manipulated in the future... but it could potentially be a great thign for all of the caribou... I merely worry about the hooves it will fall into once our days come to leave this world..." "Also I shuld confess, I find myself inspired by Equestria's prosperity.. but I have to wonder if we really could reach their heights without the great advantages they have." ~ "The best thing we can do before we pass is to lead by example. Perhaps, it may be that they do not follow our plans, but at least we will have given them permission to see if they can't think of something better." It is Halvard's turn, this time, to boot Sigrun's nose with his own paw. "Ah, but have we not advantages of our own? No sailor in this world is more courageous, no merchant better able to fight for their wares, no farmer more inured to the wilds of nature. And that's not even touching the way we fight." ~ "I suppose you have a point." she laughed slightly as she felt the pressure on her nose, blushing a bit at the action. "Hey, careful with that... you know what it's capable of!" she said jokingly while pushing her soft snout into the bull's hoof with a playful grin. ~ "Ah, but no caribou ever got anywhere by playing it safe!" Halvard joins in her mood of playfulness, drawing closer. "We value the bold in all things, do we not?" The Bull wasted no time in testing that proposition. Letting his hoof drop, his muzzle darted in for a kiss. Which was certainly bold, though whether or not it was wise remained to be seen. ~ The kiss definitely took Sigrun off guard. But once it was done she simply s******ed in response and pushed back with her own lips before eventually breaking it and laughing. "You're definitely a bold one... not many would try a kiss from a hieftain so eagerly... thena gain I'm a chieftian whose pretty happy to indulge..." The cow laughed heartily for a moment before she sniffed sharply and looked down to her snout which was wrinkling up, "Y-yah might want to.. maah ahh...." ~ They said that Victory favored the bold... and it seemed that they were right! "I had hoped so..." Halvard was smiling when the kiss broke, but that soon changed to an expression of worry as he saw another sneeze coming on. "Right." He shunted out of the way as best he could... ~ "Hehha hh... HAAAAAAAAAAH HAAASSHOOOOOOOOO!" THe cow felt her body thrust forward with the force of her sternutaion , a powerful wind overturning a cart nearby as the Chieftain laughed haertily and rubbed a hoof to her snout, "Gotta say, to some degree that feels good to do ." The cow smirked and looked back to Halvard. "I do warn you though, the peace talks will still ikely happen and the Red jarl's clan... are much more of an "honor before reason" type of clan so I have no idea how it may turn out." ~ "It must... certainly be a relief." Halvard was still amazed at how powerful the chieftain's sneezes really were. She had a right to be proud of them, really. "Well, in that case, you will be able to count on our support as well." He nodded solemnly. "It is interesting... our own Chieftain is sometimes seen to value reason more than honor, which has colored his own reputation... though, for some reason, no bou calls him the Blue Jarl." Halvard was, like all of clan Breen, colored blue with his clan dye. "I wonder why; it seems obvious enough." ~ The Jarl chuckled, "a curious choice... I dont think my clan has ever been given a color we just have a symbol." the cow pulled her cloak to the side to expose a tattoo emblazoned on the right side of her plot. ~ Halvard tried, he really did try. But he couldn't resist a low whistle at the sight. "I... haven't seen tattoo work so elaborate in Whitescar before." Nice save. "Who in your clan has such talent?" ~ "It was first done by our clan's artist... but i needed to have it touched up adn an artist from manehattan detailed and added on to it..." ~ "Ah... so, that is a Southerner's work? Interesting..." Halvard's thoughts were wandering along paths, paths of perhaps being a gatekeeper of services as well as goods. But that would require ponies and griffons to come north, and there was admittedly little to attract them in the way of business, currently. "It's very nice, I have to say." ~ "Talking about the tattoo, or what it's attached to?" she asked with a playful bite in her voice before she returned the cloak to its normal postiion with a smile. "So... I don't believe I'm met your chieftain before... perhaps he's not too interested in coming all this way ." ~ "Yes." Halvard decided on what the Equestrians called a mathematician's answer to that question, before moving on to the somewhat safer subject of his chieftain. "No, I don't know if his old hide and bones would stand the trip. It may not be long before we have a new one, though, so perhaps a summit might be arranged in the near future." There was a slightly troubled tone in that remark, though, which he soon clarified. "He... has not selected a successor."
  4. It wasn't often that Earth Writer sat down to take stock of his supply of cousins. While his family were by no means so widespread as, say, the Apple Clan, he could find blood relations in pretty much every area of Equestria if he looked hard enough. The search could sometimes prove difficult, given that distant relatives tended to stay distant. Without something like a common crop to serve as a family tartan, clans dispersed and stayed out of contact for the most part. This was on the whole unfortunate, but it did mean that when there were reunions, the journalist could count on meeting all sorts of interesting ponies. So, when he heard that a distant cousin from the Stalliongrad branch of the family was actually a guard stationed in Canterlot, Earth decided to write this Dawnguard a quick note, asking if it would be alright for him to come by the barracks when his shift was over. Always good to meet a new cousin, after all. ~ Secretly unearthed family relations? Reunions spanning across the great expanse of time and country? Other Avengers of the Raging Riptide sharing in the wealth of their shared blood of heroes?! Yes...yes, he could feel it in his spear hoof. The Dawn was rising. Though it wasn't as if he had been expecting anything even remotely similar to the letter he'd had received during the weekly distribution of mail and packages to all the soldiers. Oh sure, Dawnguard received a letter from his mother every few weeks, and returned them with all due haste, and his younger sister often sent him candy, an exceedingly delicious variant of licorice that he had to hide in an armor display case to keep it out from the grasping hooves of his barrack mates. But never before had he received an official missive of wayward cousins and desired meetings, a call to unite those whose veins coursed with the blood of heroes. Would it be safe? Dawnguard wasn't sure. Too many hooves of Righteous Fury in an enclosed space could havecataclysmic results...but he had to take that chance. Because the forces of Evil in Equestria awaited no one, and to bring together two souls of Justice was too powerful a chance to miss. And also he'd cleaned his armor about a hundred and one times that week, he needed something else to do for pity's sake. And so it was with great flourish that Dawnguard wrote a returning letter, expressing the design of the fates for the two estranged cousins to meet and affirm the blood of heroes within them. Just in time as well, for the Pegasus had no sooner slipped his letter into the outgoing mail when his Sergeant was bellowing for a line-up, causing the young stallion to barely avoid tripping on his spear as he hastily joined his unit. Until that fated morn... Or, afternoon, or evening. ~ It was afternoon. At least, afternoon from the perspective of most ponies. It might as well have been morning for Earth Writer, who had just woken up half an hour ago. Journalists and other Bohemians tended to not have steady sleep cycles, and were often seen patronizing the sort of establishments open at half-past two in the morning, alongside even less respectable ponies. Earth Writer was certainly dressed like somepony who didn't care what the respectable thought of him. A Brown Trilby with his press card in the band, grey shirt, bright orange tie, and powder blue jacket made for an ensemble that caused many a noble to look askance. But he didn't care! Today, he was going to meet a new cousin, and wouldn't you know it, there was a young guards pony approaching him now. Earth waved over at him. "Hello there! I take it you're Dawnguard?" ~ His team-up sense was tingling. And for good reason too! Even relaxed and refreshed as he was - for there was nothing quite as refreshing as a brisk shower after an intense training session that had left him feeling like an unfortunately delicate flower under the maddened wheels of a runaway carriage - Dawnguard could sense that sudden change, the slightest shift in the wind that turned his head around, slowly, a moment perfectly frozen in time as his eyes sought out his fated meeting with - A-wuh? Hmm. Dawnguard wasn't sure exactly why, but for some reason he'd been expecting...something else. Perhaps another suit of armor, or maybe even a hammer and majestic red cape. Though the bright orange tie did stick out rather nicely against the blue jacket. Ah, no matter! His kin of blood was here, and the white Pegasus couldn't keep the grin off his face as he trot forward, a spring in his step as if he hadn't had any training today at all. "Ho, my good cousin!" he called out as he came close enough to hear the Unicorn's own greeting, and ignored the waving hoof to grab the other stallion in a full embrace. "By my twitching spear hoof, how fortuitous our meeting! 'Twas not mere chance, but fated by the red threads of providence before our time! WHAT SAY YOU?" ~ Of all the things Earth Writer had been expecting.... this had been pretty far down the list, judging from the surprised "Guh!" Being the only response the unicorn could muster to the unexpected hug. "Need... to breathe..." It took a minute for him to extricate himself from Danwguard's grip, and to regard the stallion more closely. Never before, outside of some very amateur theatrical productions, had he ever encountered a stallion quite so... hammy. 'By my twitching spear hoof?' Really? "Me? I'm just wondering if you're like this all the time, or just putting on a show for me." ~ Well that was a silly inquiry. "Not just for you, for every - hey wait, that's not the point!" Dawngaurd exclaimed as his brain caught up with the knee-jerk remark, frowning a bit at the Unicorn still clenched within his forelegs. It was...true, that he sometimes, occasionally had to practice his heroic speeches in a mirror, and sometimes rewrites were required. Because "Dispenser of Lone Wolf Justice that Makes All Evil Tremble in Front of my Mighty Spear Hoof" did not sound as good as "Avenger of Justice Who Delivers All from the Black Void by his Righteous Wrath." The white Pegasus eventually let the Unicorn go however, the strange question not doing enough to deter the REA guard from the excitement of meeting an unknown fellow of his blood. "How were your travels, my good cousin?" he questioned genially, adjusting his spear to lean it over the other shoulder, "'Tis hopeful you did not run afoul of any woebegone demons of ill whilst you traveled from...from...er, where abouts did you travel from, again?" ~ Oh-ho, so he put on this sort of show for everypony, did he? That was too rich. Earth had met many an eccentric in his career, but this was a new one for the collection. He had an urge, almost, to take him around the city and show him off. Which would be a little cruel, perhaps, but entertaining. "Uh, travels?" The unicorn shook his head. "I live here, actually. Moved out to the big city after getting my education, and starved in a garret until I found work for the Canterlot Chronicle. Of course, I don't know if you've been down to the Artist's quarter; it's like a whole different city from the famed White Marble palaces of Canterlot." The reporter smiled at Dawnguard, a plan forming in his mind. "Actually, would you like to go? I know of a few places that are well worth seeing." ~ Aaah, a fellow Canterlot dweller then? Dawnguard nodded sagely as if he'd known all along, even though he could have sworn Earth Writer's note mentioned needing to travel to meet him at the barracks. Somewhere between his loudly written pleasure of discovering the bloodline of heroes amongst his family and a wish to enact their faced meeting bespoken upon his third eye. Mmm...yes, yes. It was definitely in there, somewhere. But no matter! The white Pegasus continued to nod his head, ears perking as the other stallion suggested a tour of Canterlot. Or at least a side of Canterlot he had yet to see. "An excellent idea, my most introspective friend! It is true, I've yet to spread my Wings of Valor over these...Artist's Quarter. Let us venture forth and cleave a path of righteousness!" Dawnguard exclaimed, and shifted his spear again to give his cousin an expectant look, armor gleaming in the sunlight. As it should, considering it's one hundred and one cleanings just that week! ~ "Be careful that you don't actually hit any pony when you're 'cleaving a path of righteousness' with your 'spear of justice.' Pedestrians tend to take a rather dim view of that sort of thing." With an amused smirk, Earth Writer gave a mock salute to the guard, and took the lead down the cobbled streets of Canterlot. You could mark the boundaries of the Artist's quarter of the city accurately enough by demarking the streets where carved marble was replaced with brickwork, somewhat South and East of the University. After two blocks of student housing, you began to see old apartments and studios that were inhabited by starving artists, much like migrating colonies of bats. Lights would go on at all hours of the night, and there was always a strain of music coming from somewhere. Often, it was two clashing strains, which tended to lead to an altercation between competing schools of music. Today, Jazz was holding court on the streets, and Earth Writer tossed a bit into the hat of a busking saxophonist as he passed. "You really should see the place at night, of course. All sorts come out to have a good time. Even a few slumming nobles." ~ Ah yes, of course. His cousin was well aware of the mighty power contained within his right hoof that threatened to break forth with each and every passing moment, potentially bringing about cataclysmic events of unparalleled disaster upon the innocent. The blood of heroes was strong in him, indeed! The fact that he and his mysterious cousin were so alike was almost enough to send Dawnguard skipping down the streets, but he was able to restrain himself well enough as the duo took off, down into the hustle and bustle of Canterlot until it became more of a...low and sedated hum, rather than a hustle. The area was entirely different from what the white Pegasus was used to, gleaming white towers replaced by brick and mortar. It was almost as if he'd stepped into a different world! "Nighttime does herald the calling of wayward souls together in the harmonic dissonance of Good vs Evil, true," Dawnguard agreed, unaware of his hind leg tapping slightly in rhythm to the saxophone player. "But where the righteous congregate, so do the forces of the blackened Void, who'd see our fair country torn in 'twain! What manner of surveillance and protection do the citizens of these Quarters see from the valiant guard, cousin?" the Pegasus demanded, head casting side to side. ~ Again with the rhetoric! Earth Writer couldn't help but be impressed at how natural Dawnguard made it sound, however. Most ponies he knew who talked like that were unsuccessful theatricals trying to attain and retain attention from the audience. "Eh, it comes and goes, depending on how long it's been since any pony did something impressively illegal here. Not much in the way of major villainy happens here, and the petty stuff is generally taken care of without assistance." Sometimes, true, the methods used could be grounds for calling in the guards, such as when a photographer chased a welching debtor down the street using his tripod like a lance. It made life piquant here, though, and furnished journalists with a constant source of copy. ~ Hmm...hmm. Dawnguard wasn't sure if he fully believed that...but then again, it was very obvious his stalwart cousin was more attuned to their current environment than the white Pegasus himself. Still, with the bloodline of heroes coursing through his veins, Dawnguard cast another watchful glance around the Quarters, warily taking in the rounded sun high in the sky. Not close to nighttime, not yet...the forces of Evil would be amassing. Soon. Which left them plenty of time to keep exploring this area, something that had Dawnguard grinning in anticipation. "The Artisan keeps his trade treasured and cherished like a fabled weapon of old, I see," he nodded. "'Tis admirable, yes...admirable indeed!" ~ Earth looked a little sideways at Dawnguard, trying to determine if that sentence was just fluff said for the sake of saying something, or if some actual meaning was to be put behind it. In the end, the journalist decided to answer as if it were the latter, as it allowed him to pontificate on his own views of art. "There's something in that. Oh, I don't mind art for art's sake, but there's always been something... pugnacious, I think, about the greatest works of art. They say something that the artist would be willing to defend, even if it be their own pacifism. It aims to strike and conquer the heart." "Speaking of which... have you ever given thought to creative effort yourself? I write a bit, of course, but I could name a few amateur actor groups that wouldn't mind having you about." ~ Like his willingness to defend his stash of candy from wily barrack mates who did not understand the meaning of hoof's off! Yes, Dawnguard shared in these artist's pain. That moment of bonding over imagined and future slights tugged at his core, prompting the white Pegasus to set down his own bit into the musician's upturned hat. "May your haunting melodies strike fear into the hearts of your enemies," Dawnguard murmured, spear hoof curling in front of his chest, "or at least cause some mild ear aches." Earth Writer spoke up then, causing Dawngaurd to return his attention back onto his cousin, super serious expression fading into some surprise at the inquiry - though it didn't last. "Oh yeah," he said earnestly, pleasure spreading across his face, "Ma says I'm a natural! I write all my stuff myse - I mean," he backtracked, "such might have been my destiny in another world, but in this one, 'tis my sworn duty as a Chosen One, to bring an end to all strife and conflict." Hmm...that would make an excellent chapter in his story. A magical portal that teleported him to an alternate universe where he was never born a hero, forcing him, Dawnguard, to bring peace and tranquility to an Equestria completely overrun by the avaricious forces of Evil until he sacrificed all to bring about the defeat of the True Emperor of All True Evil...of All Time. He needed to write that down before he forget. Blast, he never had his parchment and quill when he truly needed them! Something Earth Writer had said stood out, however, and it was only a moment later that Dawnguard figured it out, his ears once again swiveling towards his cousin curiously. "You write?" he repeated, a bit needlessly. "Ha! It runs in the family, I see! And what is it you have written? Epic ballads? Serious dramas? Tales of your heroic exploits of heroic legends in heroic iambic pentameter?" ~ Earth Writer frowned a bit at the ear ache remark. "I don't think anything's worth compromising the quality of one's work. I don't have many scruples, but that's one of them." The unicorn had to raise an eyebrow at what, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be a moment of lucidity. So, this all was practiced and written beforehand? His mother was right about him being a natural, though the guard was bound to be typecast for every part, now. "All strife and conflict, eh? Well, good freaking luck with that." The journalist had seen too much of both to believe that one hammy pegasus could accomplish that particular destine. "And I write... well, mostly about the ponies and places I've seen. Non-fiction, mostly expansions upon my articles that wouldn't fit in the paper. I've a notion of publishing them one day." ~ "I should think so as well," Dawnguard retorted, firstly addressing the Unicorn's confusing comment, "but what one pony deems 'quality' differs from one to another, does it not? The arts are, in their very nature, subjective to the wills and whim of ponykind." At least that's what he learned from his sister. The bugle horns of the honor guard rang like the sweetest peals of Justice in his ears, but she claimed them to be nothing but the headache-inducing warblings of a dying hydra. Poor naive, little sister. Earth Writer spoke up about his writings though, and despite himself, Dawnguard couldn't help feel a bit disappointed. Nonfiction...sounded so boring. Unless it was nonfiction about a Princess, or the beloved Elements of Harmony, or something equally righteous. Otherwise... Well, sometimes interesting and semi-righteous things happened in unusual places, so there was simply no telling the wondrous things Earth Writer may have been privileged witness to in his lifetime. "Ah!" Dawnguard exclaimed, a curious look overtaking his face, "cementing your heroic exploits in quill and parchment, for the future generations to read upon its long-aged wisdom, eh? What sights have you played witness too, good cousin, that has been and will be immortalized in your writing?" ~ There were few things Earth Writer liked better than a good argument. Even if the dispute were over an idle remark, he'd keep it in play for the sheer conversational sport of the thing. But, as Dawnguard was speaking in terms of one of the reporter's few sacred principles, the unicorn was especially determined to remediate his art schooling. "Multiplicity of kind does not affect the question of degree, and vice versa. For every thing a pony can do, there is a way of doing it badly, and a way of doing it well. And one ought to do a thing the best one can." Of course, Dawnguard had his own bugbears of the mind, to which he was perpetually returning. Acts of heroism, eh? "Heh," he muttered and shook his head. "I'm a journalist. I record the news, I don't make it. And I've been everywhere, man. To a city that lives off of art like most of us do bread, to a town of false fears made true, to the center of an undreamed-of war, to the place where we dream of a peace beyond our knowledge. How do you like that for a jacket cover, eh?" As much as their outlook on life might differ, the two stallions did have a similar gift in language, it seemed ~ Now Dawngaurd was even more confused, so much so that he hardly heard the Unicorn's explanation on his writings. From what he could tell, it seemed Earth Writer had misinterpreted his earlier statement, because Dawnguard could only conclude that the two were debating very different topics. "Wuh?" the white Pegasus said intelligently, focusing on the first bit of their conversation, "you misunderstand, my good cousin. Degree is not in question, not by my fair thinking. I simply meant to say how, hmm...say, that good musician there," he extrapolated, pointing a hoof towards the saxophone player they'd just passed, "may play to the best of his valorous abilities, yet a pony may complain of an ear ache from his enchanting melodies, simply by virtue of their own opinion." Dawnguard really wasn't sure what had sparked this debate, especially since he agreed with the Unicorn's opinion on performing to the best of one's abilities. Perhaps his cousin believed that he, Dawnguard, had advised the saxophonist to deliberately downgrade his skills in order to strike fear into the beating hearts of his enemies? Which was just silly. Everyone knew a mighty spear was a far better tool for that! ~ Earth Writer waved a hoof at Dawnguard's point, though whether in approval or dismissal was hard to judge. "If a pony cannot appreciate good art, that is a misfortune to be commiserated. But that is so, I refuse to give any consideration to their opinion. They who cannot appreciate the good have no right to judge the bad." He gave a frustrated sigh. "You would not believe the number of philistines that we have had to deal with down here." ~ Ah-hah! So there lay the issue, and it was enough to induce a nod of shared contention from the white Pegasus. "I cannot begin to comprehend your artist pain," Dawnguard bemoaned, reaching out to sling a comparable foreleg around his cousin, "nor the pain of these Quarters, for those that offer upon the world their sacrificial talents, only for them to be swept under the rug like an depraved bunny of dust." Evil, evil bunnies of dust. "But!" he exclaimed suddenly, with a friendly and powerful smack on his relative's shoulder "'tis good to rejoice, this bond we share, eh cousin? When the fates aligned this meeting of heroism betwixt two of the heroes' blood, I had no knowledge of how much in common we would have! What's good is good, be it music or art or the bloodline of heroes, and the bad may fall to the wayside before the mightiness of the dawning sun!" ~ Earth Writer had to admit, it was a bit of a surprise how much they had in common. A reporter who'd seen too much of life to spout idealistic cant, and a guard still innocent enough to say such stuff sincerely. And yet... at the very core of themselves, a commonality. Thus it was that the reporter decided to offer Dawnguard an invitation he rarely extended to non-artists. "Say... I was thinking about getting dinner at the Veiled Garden. I don't think you've even been there, it's one of the best-kept secrets of the Quarter. But... I think they'll like you there." ~ Dawnguard gave his cousin another amiable slap on the shoulder as he stepped back a pace, now doubly pleased he'd agreed to meet said long-lost relative. To think he shared so much in common with another family member, once, twice, six times removed - well, it was a wonderful feeling. Some relatives never even got along at all, much less shared a bond of their caliber. The mention of dinner shook the white stallion out of his thoughts however, head tilting inquisitively. "The Veiled Garden, you say?" Dawnguard murmured, stroking a hoof against his chin, and almost felt a small little shiver go up his spin. Yes...yes. This restaurant's name sounded...mysterious. Alluring. A perfect place for their dual-creative minds to sit down, enjoy a nice meal, and strategize to ward off the forces of Evil. "A most excellent suggestion!" Dawnguard bawled a moment later, one hoof raising triumphantly into the air. "Let us go then, to this shrouded garden of unfathomable righteousness, and partake upon a feast to fuel our never-ending quest for Avenging...Avengness!" Thoughts of cucumber and mulberry sandwiches already filling up his mind, the white Pegasus wasted no more time hefting up his spear as he started down the street, stopping a moment later to turn back to Earth Writer. "Er - and whereabouts may we be Avenging towards, my good cousin?" ~ An amused smile played around Earth Writer's face. "I'm not sure any pony I know would call it a 'garden of righteousness.' Your sort don't normally patronize the establishment; it's mostly actors, authors, artists, reporters, and other such reprobates." The personality clash alone would make a show worth the price of admission. And since the price was 'free,' it was an unbeatable value! "We'll find the entrance down this street. Well, one of the entrances. I think it's the best; the effect of the architecture and landscaping is second to none when you catch it at the right angle." So far, however, this 'right angle' was leading them to what looked like the wrong side of town. Or, at least, the downside of whatever curve most ponies hoped they'd bought property on the upside of. Moss of a decidedly unattractive greenish-grey grew through the mortal of the brickwork now, which was bolted as best it could to what looked like the refuse of a granite quarry, banged into a perpendicular front. This depressing wall dipped for a moment into an alley, barred by an iron gate. "It's not actually locked." The reporter explained, as he fiddled with it. "You just need to know the right buttons- aha!" With a clank, the gates opened, revealing a short brick path with a sharp turn ten feet in. Following that path would lead to- Verdant overhangs of vines, coloring the reddening sky of sunset as the pair looked into a lush landscape, with winding paths commanded by a dais and porch, where already ponies were gathering around a bar, the strains of a guitar in the air. The reporter had trotted ahead, just to see the look on Dawnguard's face when he saw it. "Nothing like it in all the city. Nor in all the world, leastaways the parts I've seen." ~ Dawnguard was well and truly flummoxed. For, by passing through the somewhat decrepit looking entrance way, the white Pegasus had entered outside rather than in, and the illusion was so powerful that he was literally stymied for a moment, standing at the entrance with his bottom jaw dropped like foundering fish upon land. All of his keen and precise senses were narrowing in on a single feeling, one that encompassed everything the garden of righteousness exhibited. Cool. "By, my, twitching spear hoof," Dawnguard breathed, taking a few steps further in as his head twisted this way and that, as if to take in every single aspect of the establishment, "what manner of magic is this? Such a verdant spread amidst yonder walls..." Or least he assumed there were walls yonder. They had walked into a building had they not? There had to be walls somewhere...even if he couldn't exactly see them. "How...how, under the great broiling sun, has this wondrous establishment escaped the attention of every hoofed being in the magnificent land of our country?!" ~ Ponies up on the veranda began to turn in interest towards Dawnguard, guessing from his manner that he was an actor. Possibly, this was the evening's entertainment! In any case, it was a free show, of the sort Bohemians tended to appreciate. Earth Writer, for his own part, laughed out loud at his cousin's reaction. "I'm afraid I can't give you a detailed explanation of how they did it. You'd have to ask the architect, and he's been dead for fifty years now. As for why it's not more well known..." He shrugged. "You saw what sort of neighborhood we're in. This is a city where ponies value the appearance of virtue even more than its substance." ~ What a shame, that such a wondrous place was not more well-known. A cry against ponykind! ...Then again, perhaps such was for the best? Where beauty and purity lingered, so was Evil drawn to it, to corrupt and mar and taint with its villainous black heart. Perhaps some things were simply left unknown to the world at large, so that they may remain floating above the dark, black waters of the unjust and impure. "Yes," Dawnguard murmured, right hoof curling in front of his chest again, "yes, perhaps, for the sake of its beauty and innocence, things must be protected by...not protecting them. Openly. In the open." Hnnrgh, he needed to work on a good 'protection' reel. But that would be later, because right now, there was the Veiled Garden in all its splendor to partake of! "And where does a Warrior of Light indulge in the unfortunate mortality of his stomach? The bar? To the bar!" Dawnguard exclaimed, slinging a foreleg around Earth Writer and attempting to drag the Unicorn towards said bar. For all the ravenous hunger gnawing at his belly, it was if he hadn't taken his lunch after his shift the day. Which he totally had, but that wasn't so important right now. ~ Hm, it would appear that Dawnguard's impromptu repertoire could use a little work. Earth Writer might have considered arranging for lessons, if it weren't for the fact that his cousin was so amusing when stuck for a line. Probably best to keep his skill level where it was; otherwise, ponies might go from thinking the pegasus a mere performer to someone actually insane. "Seems you've grasped our little paradox. Life's full of little contradictions like that. I'll have to point out a few examples sometime about how things can be concealed by drawing attention to them." He laughed, even as he was being dragged to the bar. After all, he was by no means averse to that location. Taking his regular position, he nodded to the barkeep. "We're on my tab. Two sandwiches for afternoon breakfast; I'll take egg and tomato on mine, how about you?" ~ Ah-hah, a passing of introductions to directly partake of their meal? His esteemed cousin was surely a prominent, or at the very least, continued patron of this Veiled Garden. It vaguely reminded Dawnguard of that one dinner he'd shared with Darkness Knight, a valiant champion of the Blackened Void of night, where the other Pegasus had led him to a rather posh restaurant to feat upon the most succulent of foods. Thankfully, Earth Writer hadn't taken him to a private table in the far back of the area, however, which already made this experience less awkward than his last. "A cucumber and mulberry sandwich, good maiden," the white Pegasus exclaimed, taking a seat next to his cousin, "and a glass of your finest barley water, if it pleases you!" As soon as his order had been given, Dawnguard turned back to the Unicorn, curiosity sparking in his eyes. "You frequent this establishment, it is clear to see," he stated, though with a bit of inflection at the end of his comment. "Exactly how many seasons have you spent exploring this veritable garden of bliss, my dear cousin?" ~ The mare at the bar raised her brows at Dawnguard's order, tilting her head as she looked over at Earth Writer as if to ask 'is this guy really serious?' The Unicorn could only nod solemnly. "He takes life... well, honestly, more seriously than most of us, I'll bet." The barmaid shot back. "Yeah, well, the only thing we serve that's made from barely and water is beer; and I ain't serving that to a guard unless he's off duty." He waved a hoof. "Just water and lemon, then." He said, before turning back to his cousin. "I've been coming here for... four years, now? Ever since I joined the Chronicle." ~ Hrngh, no barley water? A real shame, that, as barley water was quite refreshing. The same sort of, tang a bag of green tea had on ice cold water, except a bit stronger. Still, 'twas pointless to complain about it, and in all honesty Dawnguard didn't mind all that much, because 'ye alicorns! Sandwiches! Of the mulberry and cucumber variety! The white Pegasus barely contained from rubbing his hooves in glee, as he had more important things to attend to, such as restraining the excitable build up of power in his spear hoof from spilling over and annihilating every poor pony in its path. The responsibility of his bestowed power...it was almost too much to bear sometimes. "<i>Chronicle</i>?" Dawnguard piped up, shifting a bit in his seat as his golden armor settled in some uncomfortable places. "That is the paper on which you transcribe your visions seen across the great expanse of the world?" He wasn't familiar with it...but then again, Dawnguard received all his news from the REA, firsthoof. ~ "Ye-e-es." Earth Writer was now looking at Dawnguard sideways, elongating his enunciation in incredulity. The pegasus spoke as if he had never heard of the paper, which to the Journalist was absurd. "The Canterlot Chronicle. The biggest Daily Paper in all the Foothills and Heartland." He would have said the biggest in Equestria, but the Manehattan Times had them beat for circulation numbers. "You've... never read any of my articles before now, have you?" ~ "I have not," Dawnguard admitted honestly, without any trepidation or hesitation. "For a Chosen One, the universe speaks unto my inner core, the changes in the world that quicken and recede like a mighty wave..." Or, wait, no, the tide was the better analogy to changes coming and going. Argh, he always forgot! "Plus, I get pretty much all the news I need from command," the white Pegasus continued abruptly, "and my bunk mates! I tell you cousin, nothing spreads faster outside of the barracks." Like a group of chittering old mares they were, gossiping hither about the going-ons in the city and the suspiciously secret looks the higher-ups gave each other over something. Utter bedlam. ...Not, that he knew anything about the gossip circles throughout the barracks, no. No, he'd just <i>heard.</i> ~ "In other words..." Earth Writer's voice began to be colored with a sardonic tone, "Your idea of a hero is a pony who gets all his information from rumor and heresay." It might have been a little mean, but to so ignore a pony's calling like that was by no means an unhurtful thing. It would be as if the unicorn had said that ponies who cared for justice were unnecessary in modern Equestria. Which would have been unfair. ~ What had begun as just a hint suddenly took a turn, causing Dawnguard to pause in his glances around the Garden as the Unicorn's voice gained a hint of scorn to it. The words, too, had his forehead furrowing downwards as well, in confusion rather than disdain. By the Void, his cousin was a knowledgable pony, of that he had no question, but speaking with him was akin to wandering the most circular of mazes. One thing said could lead directly to something anew or completely changed, and it was no easy task keeping up. "My dear cousin," Dawnguard began, just as slowly as the Unicorn had moment's before, "do you often attribute one trait or observation to be equal to the whole? Is a mind for artistic quality the <i>only</i> trait of an open-minded individual?" ~ The unicorn's lips, unconsciously, twitched into a smile. His needling had provoked a response, and now he could have a vigorous discussion over breakfast. It was almost as good as coffee, and as he had both... well! He'd be all gunned up and ready for a hard night's work! "A trait may be what we call... representative of the whole. A stallion who thinks nothing of speaking to shame a mare's appearance, for instance, is likely to have a great many other unpleasant qualities. Others follow logically from each other; I never met an open-minded pony who did not have some appreciation of art." He sipped his coffee. "And I never met a pony who was content to merely believe heresay reports of events without doing any confirming work that wasn't a fool in other respects." ~ More valleys to navigate within, his dear cousin. Dawnguard had the sneaking suspicion that were he to spend any further time with the silver-tongued Unicorn in the future, he'd need to invest in a thesaurus! Or rather, a much more extensive thesaurus than his current one. But the white Pegasus was at least able to pick up on at least one more interesting fact about his cousin, causing an appreciative grin to light up his face. "Ah, like how all journalists twist and bend the truth in order to sell their stories," Dawnguard stated, remembering a rather...passionate, rant one of his sister had given after a particularly vicious article published against their mother's city-wide policies. "Yes, I suppose I see your point," he conceded after a slow moment, though with much more reluctance than his previous statement. It would not exactly be...proper, to explain that the "single source" of his news came from the most trustworthy, what being the REA and all. Gossip was one thing, but a news article about a break-out fight within the commons paled in comparison to an actual debriefing of the event. "So then, you base your judgements of one pony's self on any such singular trait?" Dawnguard pressed, leaning forward against the bar slightly, "Enough to confront them about it?" He'd actually never thought about it that way, when he went about his business, but now that Earth Writer had brought it up, Dawnguard could make sense of it - evil was evil, a singularly revolting trait indeed! "Such are the similarities between us, Cousin! For a thief who steals into the night to take what belongs not to them, is surely Evil-bred from dawn to dusk!" ~ Earth Writer had enough of a sense of humor to take Dawnguard's jibe at his profession in stride. It was exactly the sort of banter he faced... pretty much every time he came into the Veiled Garden, actually. Not for nothing were journalists lumped among the Bohemian reprobates by the more bourgeois ponies of Canterlot. "I just hand in the copy; the lies are inserted afterwards by the Editor." The playful cynicism was not without a soupçon of truth, but the unicorn had long since reconciled himself to living in an unperfect world. "Of course, the key thing about journalism is the fact that the daily paper is, well, daily. I have to get my facts, impressions, and judgments quickly because the column spaces need filling every 24 hours. I have to write and think in shorthoof." He held up his notebook in example, it being full of such scribbles that would be incomprehensible to any pony outside his profession. "Hence the need to draw parallels in personality from what I can see." He took another bite from his sandwich, chewing over words in his mind as well as the food in his mouth. "One difference," He mused, after swallowing, "When I confront a pony, it's usually in order to listen to what they have to say for themselves, which usually gives a more complex picture than initial impressions would suggest. And that's when you have to put in the legwork to get at the Truth. Now, whether the Truth makes it in print is another story." ~ The white Pegasus wasn't entirely certain if Earth Unicorn was simply acting in jest about the reputation of his occupation, causing his eyebrows to furrow downward. A pony of valor and justice would irrefutably deny any claims of blackened lies in his work, undoubtedly, but his cousin merely shrugged them off, like a power attack glancing off the indisputable might of his spear. Was it true? Did editors mess with the articles after they were hoofed in for inspection, inserting their words of un-truth to make a story more interesting? And Earth Writer was alright with it? Or maybe he was simply reading too much into the playful statement, because his cousin's honeyed words could make anyone's head spin! But hmm, there was a key point, that. Though it seemed contradicted by his earlier statement, if Dawnguard were keeping up with his quick-witted cousin as well as he hoped. "But, as you say, you have little to no time to investigate these Truths," the REA officer objected, sandwich held in front of his mouth as if he'd simply forgotten it was there to eat. "Surely you are unable to discover any further than your initial impression at times, what with the fleeting whims of circumstances and fate. And you must discern truth from those singular impressions - such as Evil!" ~ "It all depends, honestly, on whether the editor is willing to run multi-day stories, or be willing to run a dull paper on Saturday for a better one on Sunday." Realities of business often went hoof-in-hoof with the reality of news, or its falsity. "There's always something there to dig for, but we have to decide if its worth the effort to find out? Often that comes in terms of cost/benefit analysis done on the back of cocktail napkins." ~ Dawngaurd was now confused, a feat he could readily admit was a relatively easy feat to achieve when sitting across from the Unicorn he was...well. Sitting across from. "So," he started slowly, confusion coating his voice, "you know there is truth in everything you are recording, yet only sometimes decide to discover it? And of these times you choose not to pursue truth, you proceed to present only the first impressions and singularities you have found as the truth?" So then...Earth Writer did follow his own ideal of discerning Evil with a single glance...but only part of the time? "And you are okay with this, Cousin?" ~ Earth raised an eyebrow at his cousin over coffee. He'd gathered, as an impression, that Dawnguard had a significant degree of naiveté, and had inwardly been attempting to judge whether or not it would be worth the effort to educate this stallion. Probably not, but he at least had to try, for the honor of the family, if nothing else. "Uh-huh. You see, the way the world actually works is considerably different from the Fairy tales they print in books. Or on the front page, for that matter. Evil is rarely found pure in a pony; it's mixed with other qualities, and generally there's an explanation more than 'he's just a bad pony' for why they act the way they do. Many a bully was made that way by a bad parent, and many a robber baron fancies himself a Robin Hood." "And then there's me." He chuckled. "I've often had to act quite rudely to get the interviews that give me my daily bread. And the press churns on, giving us a sigh of relief every day to find that the leading article is not printed up-side down, nor Princess Celestia congratulated upon discovering the North Pole. Sheer bloody accident accounts for a lot more than ponies suppose." ~ "But you have failed to answer my inquiry," Dawnguard pointed out, now so engrossed in Earth Writer's confusing back-and-forth that he was leaning rather precariously on his stool, sandwich in constant peril of slipping from his hooves. "You say that evil is mixed with other qualities - " other qualities such as EVIL, a fact that the white Pegasus would need to correct his cousin on in a moment - "and that there may be an explanation...and yet, you have no qualms ignoring said explanation when time is running short? You sit well with yourself, painting Evil as Evil in your news stories when such, in your belief, may not be the case?" Maybe his sister had been right? Earth Writer acknowledged that there may be two Evil sides to evil, yet he was committed to finding those two sides only when it suited his timetable - and if it didn't, then the one side of Evil was published. From everything Earth Writer had said, it was, in fact, the journalists who wrote in lies and falsehoods in order to push a story out on time. Perhaps not done on purpose, or with maliciousness...but done all the same. ~ "Ask your commanding officer some time what the REA could do if it had infinite time and resources. It doesn't, so it has to prioritize their allocation, and things have to slip through the cracks." Pretty big things, sometimes. Such as a mad returning monarch and two invasion forces. But, those would have been cheap shots. "I treasure the times when I can dig in, and have to live with the times I do not. I write the Truth as far as I know it in the time I'm allowed. And if I get it wrong, there's usually a letter sent in to the editor to correct it." ~ Erp. His direct commanding officer, mayhaps...but the one that really mattered to Dawnguard? At least in terms of disappointing him with a potentially silly question such as that? He shuddered to think of it. But that was food for a different thought, and the food he was partaking of was for something entirely different. "You speak of different circumstances," Dawnguard protested, sandwich completely forgotten in his hooves as he struggled to come up with a fitting analogy. "I may have some rendezvous to make, but a tight deadline will not prevent a Chosen Warrior of Light from responding to a desperate cry for Righteousness!" The thought was utterly abhorrent, and the white Pegasus didn't know of a single REA member who would ignore a cry for help in favor of making roll call on time. ~ "Now there's an interesting point." A careful listener might have detected a shift in Earth Writer's tone. The sense of playful banter had gone, replaced with... something else. Steel, though whether in the form of a backbone or a blade was hard to tell. "That sort of attitude would explain why the REA couldn't put together a defensive line during the first changeling invasion. Miss your rendezvous points, and you leave gaps for the enemy to drive right through." His tone wasn't... accusatory, but it was firm in its declarations. "I can't fault you for courage or good intentions, but those aren't what makes a military effective. Discipline and organization mean more in the long run." ~ Any other example of the lack of foresight the otherwise heroic REA had admittedly made, Dawnguard might have acquiesced. But the battle where is own father had risked life and limb to save those more helpless than he was not one of them, and it showed as the white Pegasus' faced darkened slightly. "Not all enemies force their way through sheer blundering," the REA officer retorted, "but instead rely on trickery and dark magics to enchant those who would fight for Good - even to the highest level." That the two Princesses had been just as unaware of the imposter posing as their niece and fellow Princess was a point that had been made quite profusely by most dissenters of their Righteous reign. To Dawnguard however, such a point merely drove him how exceedingly Wicked the forces of Evil were. "You believe, then, that one life means nothing," the white Pegasus pressed. "That a Hero should, when faced with the option of saving one life, simply - pass by, for discipline's sake? That is the Righteousness you seek in the Royal Equestrian Army?" ~ Earth Writer wasn't about to be talked down by an idealistic private. Dawnguard may have idolized the officers in charge of the defense of Canterlot, but the journalist had been on the ground when it happened, and had seen the impact of that failure to "hold the line" with his own two eyes. "The trouble with you, and all those who refuse to have any kind of sympathy with those that they call 'Evil', is that you have no real way of dealing with the sort of things they actually do. Such things are unthinkable to you, therefore, you never think about them, and can't counter them. "But I'll absolve the commander of that failure; it wasn't as if he didn't have a plan." The unicorn reached into his jacket pocket, to pull out a folded street map of Canterlot, unfolding it on the bar table. Using a pencil to sketch and point out features, Earth ran rapidly through what he'd picked up from his after-the-fact interviews with the officers. "Granted a total enemy infiltration of the city, which is a worst case scenario, there really isn't a good quick way of getting rid of them... save magical serendipity, but neither you nor I can cast spells of that caliber, so we'll leave that aside." He circled the three Canterlot Guard stations immediately surrounding the Palace. "Now, the plan was to set up defensive perimeters immediately around the stations, and then expand them out, pushing back the invaders and letting the civilians filter into safety. But, given the numbers involved, and the fact that the changelings could fly, it required total coordination and discipline to pull off, especially between the ground guards and the pegasi. But... discipline broke down, resulting in a city where no place was ultimately safe." Earth Writer sighed and shook his head. "It's not that I believe one life means nothing. It's just that I recognize the dilemma of the one vs. the many. And as a guard... you have a responsibility to the many." ~ In all truth, what his cousin knew of the Canterlot Invasion, at least as it happened in the moment, was about as much as the white Pegasus knew himself. He'd been but a small lad - well, not <i>that</i> small, riding just on the cusp of Righteous stallionhood - when the Changelings had invaded. News of his father's heroic deeds had been, in fact, the trigger into earning his cutie mark. But the precursor into this sudden explanation was utterly confusing, a fact that the REA officer sought to rectify immediately. "And how, pray tell, would sympathy for these Evil Doers have prevented them from infiltrating and knocking down our defense?" Dawnguard questioned, head tilt to one side inquisitively. What did it matter how much he, <i>sympathized</i> with a Changling that was charging its way towards him? Especially when their existence had not even been conceived of before that very invasion! "The many is comprised of the few," the white Pegasus continued onwards, an insistent tone in his voice. "What company of Heroes could the REA claim to be, abandoning the one in times of need? That is exactly what <i>EVIL</i> craves, to have the Righteous compartmentalize lives as nothing more than a single unit of measurement, instead of the individual and unique flames each soul represents. Such generalizing is how the tyrant Queen reigns in her subjects, stripping them of identity and reducing them to numbers on parchment!" ~ Earth Writer sighed. Of course, at the tactical level, it was hard to put his ideas across, and as Dawnguard was a private, the tactical would be all the pegasus had any sort of knowledge of. "Pre-battle intelligence, or even being aware that one has enemies, requires espionage. Espionage requires that one be able to convincingly imitate one's enemies as one travels among them. And to convincingly imitate, one must understand what they are all about. And to understand another, one must feel what they feel." "And furthermore," The reporter went on, his own voice rising to meet the insistent tone of his cousin. "What do you actually know about the Changeling Hive, hm? Have you gone and seen it for yourself? Have you taken any time to sit down and listen to a changeling speak for himself? Have you even talked to any pony who has? You keep making these assertions to justify your attitudes, but I happen to know in this case that you insist falsely. Changelings have names, and the Queen knows them. The knowledge may be used for good, or evil, but for all that, we do not have the right to condemn her people to death by starvation. And if we're to find some alternative to an endless war of extermination, we cannot treat our negotiating partners like comic-book villains!" ~ Dawnguard did not fail to notice how his stalwart cousin had ignored the implications of reduced individuality concerning Equestria's own citizens, instead jumping on the idea of Changelings being...well, the Pegasus wasn't even sure how this conversation had come up. He'd questioned Earth Writer about the concept of individual worth, but the Unicorn had twisted their discussion onto the very nature of Good and Evil. He was beginning to sense a pattern in his cousin's verbal debates. "Where abouts has this arisen from, Cousin?" Dawnguard questioned, genuine confusion and incredibility entering his voice. "I asked you not of Changelings, but of our own citizens you feel amount to nothing more than numbers! And you speak of insisting falsely," he continued, eyes narrowing a bit, "but what proof have you that the Tyrant Queen knows the names of <i>every</i> individual in her armies, not just the useful ones? What truths do you have, that she does not simply categorize the foot soldiers? Such is the intelligence <i>we</i>," here, the white Pegasus gestured quite empathetically to the star on his breastplate, "have gained, knowledge that - if you'll forgive me, dear cousin, has been gained from the securest of sources." After all, any newspaper that claimed to have accurate and reputable information that the Equestrian <i>government</i> was not aware of was, quite frankly, kidding itself. ~ It was true, Earth Writer had been guilty of a digression. His style of verbal fencing often involved a lot of ducking and weaving, which was particularly useful when he felt that he didn't have a good reply to the subject at hoof. By talking up a point he did know something about, he could buy his brain time enough to catch up to the conversation. At this point, he was prepared now to answer his cousin's original question, though now the reporter unicorn needed to clean up the digression he'd thrown out. "You are cloudy in your point-making. There is a pretty big distinction between recognizing no individuality in a being, and not knowing that being's name. If it comes down to mere memorization, I doubt if even Princess Celestia knows the name offhand of every guard in the REA. She has better things to do with her time. That far up, you can only give orders in a general sense in any case, evaluations of individual capabilities are trusted to NCO's and junior officers, who are closer to the privates. "In any case, I'm by no means so confident in our intelligence, given that it never saw Nightmare Moon coming, gave no warning of the first or second Changeling Invasions, nor of the Caribou attack on the Crystal Empire." He refrained from mentioning Discord, Sombra, or Tirek, as Earth Writer had to concede in the first two cases that no warning could possibly have been given before the event, and in the latter warning had been given... though the actual plans to take care of the matter left a few things to be desired. "Even if I grant the point that our Intel services give good information, clearly somepony somewhere is not actually paying attention to what they are saying. Again, failure of discipline." Having cleared the field of his own caltrops, he rounded upon Dawnguard with the summation of his point. "But to return to your original point on the value of individual Equestrian citizens against multiple, let this individual Equestrian give his point of view: If I had been saved by you, or somepony like you, and later found out that you had let 5 die to save me, I should feel as if I had killed those five with my own hooves. If, on the other hand, I saw you pass by me to save those five, I should have felt that my sacrifice had contributed to your heroism. If the word 'Citizen' does not imply some degree of self-discipline and self-sacrifice for the good of our country and our fellows... then it means nothing!" He set down his cup with the force and finality of the judge's gavel. He had made his point and philosophy clear, and felt in no mood to argue further. After all, at some point today he needed to get around to actually working. ~ Such an abhorrent thought, so much so that Dawnguard was figuratively floored - and literally rooted to his perched position on the bar stool. "But you'd trust your own intelligence far so the better," he said incredulously, the words lacking an inquisitive timbre as the Pegasus recalled Earth Writer's seemingly confident words that implied intimate knowledge of the Tyrant Queen and her inner workings. "I fail to recall any such forewarnings from the citizens of Equestria before any such events." And it was perhaps foalish to try and compare the majestic REA to a newspaper, especially when Dawnguard had to, reluctantly, concede the Unicorn's point on the illl-prepared guard in the face of Equestria's most dire moments. Even if many of those threats had been so far out of their league even their Righteous Blazing Rulers of Sun and Moon had been blindsided and completely neutralized. But still, to be talked to as if the Unicorn's information was so much more accurate than the countless and tireless efforts of the REA, of the <i>General</i>, was more than Dawnguard could bare. His cousin could not claim to have more precise knowledge of events yet disparage the REA's lack of foresight working off of <i>less</i> accurate information. "And this you think should be known fact, Cousin?" the white Pegasus finished, "that your life would cost the lives of five others? When in the rage of battle and blood, the bloodline of heroes calling out to someone in distress, a Chosen One should just ignore them for the chance of saving five others? Or, perhaps, to simply stand in line for a muster of the troops? Knowingly trading a life for what may or may not be - that, dear cousin, is exactly the mentality that strips the word 'Citizen' of its worth, and makes it mean nothing!" His spear hoof came down on the bar with force, an unconscious imitation of Earth Writer's own cup hitting the surface - though, he brought it back a moment later as he felt something wet dripping down his hoof. The remains of his poor, neglected sandwich greeted him from all over his hoof, particularly on the bottom where he'd unintentionally squashed the sandwich he'd clutched through the entire debate onto the bar top. And as if on cue, a pang of hunger shot through his stomach. "BY MY TWITCHING SPEAR HOOF," Dawnguard cried out, his clean foreleg wrapped around his stomach as another pang of hunger ripped through him, "my sandwich! How many ways do the Forces of Evil deign to sunder me vulnerable, by enticing such arguments of Good and Righteousness with my dear cousin!...hungry..." ~ Having stepped back from the bar, Earth Writer was now in a position to see what the rest of the customers had been making of their little spat. Bohemians all, they treated it like a piece of free theater, well acted, with genuine emotion! And such clever construction, too, soaring high into a debate on serious public matters, before descending to bathos with a bump and splatter of sandwiches. The audience then duly laughed and applauded at Dawnguard, which can't have been good for the poor young stallion's ego. The unicorn took pity on his cousin. "You can put another sandwich on my tab; I've got to get to work now." He didn't continue the argument, it was done. Or, if not done, at least the impasse had been met, and there was no point in beating a tired horse to death. ~ So fixated on the pitiful remains of his ill-gotten sandwich was he, that it took Dawnguard another moment to understand the sounds he was hearing as riotous applause, prompting him to glance upwards from squished mulberries to the other pantheons of the Bohemian, seated at various intervals. It took the white Pegasus even longer to realize they were applauding <i>him</i>, for whatever reason, and once he had, he could do nothing more than raise a hoof towards the crowd. Hesitantly at first - just to make sure, you know - then with more gusto as the cheers for a reigning Champion of Light fell forth from the crowd. And perhaps even more than that, his stalwart cousin offered another sandwich to satiate the hunger gnawing at his belly. "A most generous offer, Cousin!" Dawnguard exclaimed, though he was a little added by his impending parting. Though they had clearly not agreed on certain Righteous issues, dining with Earth Writer had been...an experience. "But never fear," he abruptly continued after a moment, "for we shall meet again. It has been fated of the stars..." Or, wait, was that his rise as the Last True Hero of Equestria? Was he mixing up his prophecies again? Bah, no matter. Dawnguard hopped down from his own stool to grab his cousin in an earnest bear hug, near lifting the other stallion off the ground, before setting him back down with a hardy slap to the shoulder and turning back towards the bar to claim his reward. "Fair barmaid! Another mulberry and cucumber sandwich, if you will! The righteous fury of my twitching spear hoof is ever rising...can't...control!..." ~ In truth, Earth Writer had been about to take his leave, having granted the Bohemians this evening's performance. Thus, his cousin's sudden seizing of his person caught him off-guard. "Bwah! Uh, ah, yeah. You're welcome." Taking a little time to dust himself back off, he re-oriented himself towards the exit. "I'll be sure to see you again, of course; after all, we're in the same city now. It's not that big. And more than likely you'll be on-site next time there's some big story I have to cover." Finally, he was off to actually do some work... but caution led him to give a parting shot: "DO keep that spear hoof of yours under control; I am not paying for any property damage it inflicts."
  5. BACKGROUND INFO: While flying in their airship to see the Jarl of Askr, Java and Presteza are shot down when bad weather leads them to inadvertently stray over a secret island base of WRAITH's. The two ponies are captured, stripped of all clothing and belonings, and thrown into a detention cell together. Little do they know that WRAITH's base hides a dark terror..... ---------- Voronoi Javasun Fractal: It's been some time since Java has last spoken. He just stood there staring out into space through the cell bars in deep thought. He originally had been shaking and hyperventilating when the first shots went off... setting off some past experiences... but he has long sense calmed down. His ear flicked back when he felt something stir on his back. A soft feline like yawn was all that was there to remind him that Sine was locked up in the cell with him and resting on his back. Of course the cat didn't run off like any other logical creature. She was as weird as he, and his special somepony. That reminds him... "Pressy..." Java finally spoke up. His tone quizzical, with a tint of humor in it. "Why is it that every time we go on a date... the world seemingly ends around us?" Presteza: The creamy coated mare across the room was seemingly thinking deeply about something before she was jarred out her little thought based trance by the voice of her special somepony posing a rather fascinating question. "Erm... Luck maybe? I say just luck because sometimes I can't tell if it's bad or good luck..." The mare scooted closer to the stallion beside her and leaned into his side. "I'm sure we can figure somethin' out that can get us outta here..." Java: "Weell...." Java began. His eyes falling on the guards for a brief moment and then back to his jacket. "My jacket has a lip balm in it. I could have used that to open up the door I guess." He hummed, moving a hoof to scratch the back of his head. "Now I kinda wish I had it. It's nearly negative twenty four degrees. At least there's no draft in this cell. Least there's a bed. Though I'm sure just by looking at it some pony had found the bitter end of eras awaiting him a night's sleep away. They also took my horse shoes... which had a file, and a fold in utility knife... sooo yeah." Pressy: "And they put this stupid ring on my horn that's keeping me from channeling magic... If they'd foregone it I could just sneezed the door of it's hinges or something'" she said with an awkward laugh trying to lighten the mood a bit. Java: That did pull a soft smile out of the stallion. Though it wasn't really something that made his internal mood better. Just... poured fuel on the fire. Actually, no that can actually put out fires. More like threw the gas can into the inferno. "Welp. Definitely better than me. Outside of farming, and engineering earth ponies are strong. Oh yeah sure... if you disregard the fact that many of us still depend on the laws of physics." Pressy: "I'd shake my hoof at entropy but I think that'd only make it stronger right?" she asked with another little joke to try and help. "So... what do you think they want with us now?" Java: The stallion gave a small shrug. "Well... worse case scenario. Brainwashing. Saw a bit of that at the tower raid. Best case scenario..." He turned his eyes to look down to the obligatory skull lying in the cell. It seems that every evil cell must include one these days. "That..." he hummed as he picked up the skull and placed it over his own head like a mask. Pressy: "Well... that artist Vincent Van girth went down in history after he died... and unlike him I'll be with the pony I love if that happens so... I'm a bit better off I suppose." Java: "Ah! Vincent van Girth... wonderful artist, poor fellow with some bad luck," The stallion sighed and shook his head. But he smiled then nodded it softly. "But... I'd rather not go down in history as a nerd whom is only dating." ???: So the reports were true; two ponies were taken by WRAITH from the crash site and thrown into a detention cell. More incredibly, both prisoners were identified as Trottingham ponies of noble blood: the stallion Voronoi, and the mare Presteza. The mare was of great interest to WRAITH’s vile guest, the fugitive King Sombra. Presteza was the unicorn daughter of Duchess Silver Belle; a descendant of the powerful magic-wielder Aethermare. Voronoi... was nothing more than an unremarkable earth pony, so the Dark King saw him as nothing more than dirt. Sombra thus demanded that he meet the prisoners in their cell, and WRAITH granted his wish. But not before reminding their “ally” of his place. Even as he and an uniform-wearing lieutenant to WRATH’s leader entered the detention area, within earshot of the prisoners, the lieutenant made sure to mention; “Number One will need to learn any information you acquire.“ In response, Sombra snarled. WRAITH’s guards opened the cell doors, and in stepped a wicked-looking stallion with newly forged armor and an unsullied red cape... the tell-tale outfit of the Lord of Shadows. Sombra said not a word; he merely cackled cruelly as he stood there in the doorway, gazing down at the helpless captives. Pressy: There was a silence that hung heavy in the air for a while before anypony spoke, "Ahem!" said the painter beside the pony with a skull on his head. "Are you just gonna stand there in a menacing fashion and not say anything? Or are you going to tell us why we're still alive?" Java: Pressy's voice snapped the pony out of his thoughts, causing him to look up to see... King... bucking... Sombra. Well that's just fantastic. Though... he did smile softly to himself... why wasn't he scared? Oh... right.... "I think he's waiting to see if we cower before him like the crystal ponies. Honestly, I'd give him the benefit of knowing that in normal situations... I would. But... a few notes to that. You see... after reliving a wonderful time in my past military career, nearly getting blown up... annnnd the fact that I can't feel my body in this freezer. I would actually be trembling. Or... that may be hyperthermia." The stallion tilted his head... the skull fell off and thudded to the ground. "Though... your apperance doesn't... exactly match with stories. Handsome face. Thought you'd be taller. Menacing yes, but not quite to the level of overbearing. Soo... forgive me for being... emotionally dim." King Sombra: His eyes fuming with anger, King Sombra decides to make an example out of the earth pony. With a flash of his horn, Sombra telekinetically grips Voronoi, slams him onto the cellroom ceiling, and holds him there in place. "Do you fear me NOW... Earth Pony?" Java: Java’s feline companion had long sense jumped off of his back and disappeared from sight when the evil overlord had entered the room. And the stallion let out an audible gasp as he cracked against the ceiling. But... it wasn't out of pain. The cold has done a fairly good job at numbing him up it seems. However, it also seems that self-preservation and fear has fleeted his body at some point. Perhaps he just accepted the fact that he was a dead buck. Or maybe he was just incredibly irritated? Sure… he’d be excited to see Sombra himself… he’s living history and from description one mean mother bucker. But right now… Java’s pride was destroyed twice over, only driving an inner urge to kill some pony. No… check that… annihilation. "Oh... he speaks! Press! Take note and document this day, for which the king’s voice heralds out a warning snarl to the lowly pony pinned to the ceiling with frivolous might! Honestly though… I get sneezed off a cliff daily.” The stallion then looked to Pressy with a flat expression. There was a very obvious hint of truth to his words Pressy: The painter galloped over to Sombra almost as soon as her mate was seized in his grip, a futile effort on her part as she charged with her horn lowered, "Put him down, Ya lousy King in name only!" Apparently her wit wasn't sharp at this moment as she attempted to ram into the much larger stallion, her horn only bouncing off his armor harmlessly... Sombra: It seemed like the mare needed to be put in her place too. With an animalistic growl, King Sombra backhoofed Presteza for her insolence. His attack would hurt extra because of his hoof armor. Satisfied that the mare was subdued, Sombra resorted to using even greater cruelty on Voronoi. For the first time in about a thousand years, the King of Evil... resorted to the forbidden art of blood magic. Taking magical control over the earth pony's internal fluids, Sombra caused Voronoi's arteries and veins to painfully contort. Java:The stallion's body twitched softly when he felt something stir inside his body. His brow quirked softly as he felt movement under his skin... then finally. He let out a startled, but choked back cry in agony as his own veins seemingly began to strangle themselves. He clinched his jaws together to prevent himself from biting his tongue, as his body spasmed violently against the ceiling. The king's efforts weren't in vain as the pain soon grew to a threshold high enough to pull a few tears and a whimpering groan from the stallion. Pressy: The freckled painter grunted as she tried to pull herself back up to her hooves, "Did you bring us here just so you could kill us?" she asked, trying gain some of the air that was knocked out of her previously back. "Please put him down." she said giving the taller stallion a rough glare. Sombra: For a few moments, King Sombra gave no reply as Voronoi continued withering up on the ceiling. Finally, the dark stallion acknowledged Presteza's plea with coldness; "As you wish....." Sombra released his magical griphold on the earth pony, sending him tumbling down towards the floor. Java: The stallion dropped to the ground with a loud thud. He continued to compulse on the ground for a bit, as his body still seemingly continues to attack him before quickly reverting it's self to normal operating conditions as quickly as it could. Eventually, his compusions died down to soft twitching then stillness. Java panted slowly as he rolled onto his stomach, and slowly moved to stagger himself up to all fours his insides felt like they were on fire still. "... H-haoh jeeze..." the stallion groaned softly to himself, "Feels like organ failure... w-wait... no...everything still together." Thank you earth pony resiliance. The stallion's head twitched, and jared up and down softly as he lifted it up to look to the dark king. "Pressy... I don't think thats the case. Records say he's not the killing type. In person anyways. 'It's beneath his stature' " Pressy: The painter slowly backed away from Sombra , turning around once she was close enough to inspect her mate, "Anything broken?" she asked. Sombra: Before Presteza could inspect her cellmate, King Sombra magically levitated Voronoi's body up into the air again, taunting; "So are you... Earth Pony." Voronoi is forcefully brought against the wall again, although not as violently as before. Making further use of his dark magic, Sombra causes dark crystals to burst from the floor, pinning the prisoner to the wall for the time being. ".....Never forget that." Java: "No..." The stallion rasped through his gritted teeth. Though he found himself no longer on his feet now, instead he was now being pinned to the wall by a series of crystals. The stallion frowned, and rolled his eyes down to observe the crystals that held him. He gave it a light tap with a hoof, studying it before turning his gaze up to Sombra. "Noted... Can we have an explanation on why you are seeing us personally?" Pressy: The mare looked back to Sombra and then right back to Java before sighing, sitting close to the coffee colored stallion, "I'd like that to, personally..." Sombra: Not paying close attention to the prisoners' questions, King Sombra turns his piercing gaze towards Presteza, eyeing her like a dragon eyes a coveted treasure. "You are of the Line of Aethermane..." a flicker of a cruel smile appeared; "Blessed with the hereditary gift... of powerful magic." The king started inching closer towards his captive..... Java: The stallion thunked his head onto the back of the wall, and let out a low sigh. It seems that the king is making a move onto his marefriend, and there's not much he can do it about it right now. Not when he still feels like garbage. "Well I'm sure she's flattered, sir. But I believe she's already seeing a pony. That'd be the ole lowly earth pony pinned to the wall here." The buck rasped with a bitter note in his tone. Pressy: "Exactly and this earth pony is the best thing that's happened ta me. If you want my magic you can have it but I'm stickin' with my coltfriend." She looked to Java and placed a hoof on his own... Java: "Wait..." the stallion pursed his lips together... he reran the words in his head then lifted his head up to look to the King. "Wait, who's Aethermane?" Pressy: "Another mage from Starswirl the Bearded's era. My mum is her latest living descendant before me. She was called an 'archivist' by a few historians because she had a tendency to look for strange spells and possibly secretive magics and hide them in her secret library." The painter recited seemingly out of habit. Java: The stallion looked at the mare with his lips pursed. Secretive magics and a secret library? Well that's something he had never remembered the mare saying before. He guessed that others must have asked for the same thing then... But that would mean... The stallion then looked to King Sombra for a moment. Yeah... he definitely jumped to some conclusions before. "I've never heard of power being a hereditary thing. So you're not looking to take magic. You're trying to find it." He paused for a moment looking back to Press, then to Sombra. "Either you're looking for a location, or you've found it, and are looking for a key." Sombra: Yet again, King Sombra neither confirms or denies the guesses of the simple-minded fool. Instead, he advances towards Presteza to where she is backed against the wall. With the captive right where he wants her, Sombra swiftly moves to grab Presteza's chin with his hoof, forcing the mare to look straight into his malevolent eyes. "I knew your ancestors," the King gloated; "I gave them the opportunity... to share in my rule. .....They were fools for coming against ME!!!" Java: The stallion leaned his head on one of the crystal spires as he watched the events unfold. It... looks like this is something personal now. He sighed as he turned his gaze to look out of the cell just briefly with a distant expression then back to the two. There really wasn't anything he could do right now other than watch. Pressy: The mare in question shuddered at the touch of the king, she glanced sidelong at Java as if to ask what he thought she should do. Until he answered she was still on her own in a sense. "W-wow... you're older than I thought then. But wasn't it... the sister princesses that imprisoned you?" Java: "Annnd... a baby dragon that foiled your plans according to the bards of the Crystal Empire..." Sombra: Hearing this insolent talk fills King Sombra with rage, as seen in his eyes. "Don't you DARE," he's essentially spitting in Presteza's face at this point; "Mention those... COWARDS in my presence AGAIN!" Java: The stallion purses his lips then lifted his head. "Well... with all do respect. You've probably gotten further than most others had. Pretty much legendary to historians and still feared. I... don't know what in the nine hells happened more recently.." The pony began... being sure to not mention the dragon. "But... I'm kinda wondering exactly what does this have to do with Pressy's herritage. Aethermane is likely six feet under. What ever remains of her body is now one with plant life and earth worms. Unless she happens to have a family lich..." Pressy: Presteza could only give the towering stallion a flat-look as spittle rained on her face... also what is it with villains and bad breath? is one of the first things a dark sorcerer forsakes the art of oral hygiene? The painter coughed, "Well What I'm assuming he wants is the way to get in to my ancestor's secret Library... but It's pretty well hidden so I don't think he'll be getting in... unless he's got a specific plan fer me." Sombra: The Evil King roughly took his hoof off Presteza, turning his back towards the two captives. "All will be revealed... in tiiiiiiime," Sombra menacingly answered as he twisted around again to face the two ponies. "The two of you will join me in my quarters for dinner this evening. I'll assure that you'll be..... cared for before your meal." Java: "Er... before you go. I'd like to ask you a question out of curiosity sake. Well less of a question and more of your opinion to an old family parable... spoken by a Endless Void before the buck's untimely death... or at least that's what I've been told. Details get lost through word of mouth with time." The stallion then tilted his head. and cleared his throat. "Two blind bucks waited at the end of an era contemplating beauty. They sat atop the world's throat, overlooking the land and seeing nothing. 'Can beauty be taken from a stallion?' the first asked the other. 'It was taken from me,' the second replied. 'For I cannot remember it.' The stallion who's speaking was blinded in a childhood accident. 'I pray through my breath each night to restore what was lost, so that I may seek beauty again.' 'Is beauty something one must see, then?' The first asked. 'Of course... that is nature. how can you appreciate a work of art without seeing it?' 'I can hear a work of music,' the first said. 'Very well, you can hear some kinds of beauty - but you cannot know full beauty without sight. You can know only a small portion of beauty.' "A sculpture,' the first said. 'Can I not feel it's curves and slopes? The touch of the chisel that formed common rock into an uncommon wonder?' 'I suppose,' replied the second. 'that you can know the beauty of a sculpture.' 'And what of the beauty in food? Is it not a work of art when a chef crafts a masterpiece to delight the tongue?' 'I suppose,' said the second, that you can know the beauty of a chef's art.' 'And what of the beauty of a mare," the first said. 'Can I not know her beauty in the softness of her caress, the kindness of her voice, the keenness of her mind as she reads philosophy to me? Can I not know this beauty? Can I not know most kinds of beauty, even without my eyes?' 'Very well...' said the second. 'But what if your ears were removed, your hearing taken away. Your tongue ripped out, your mouth forced shut, your sense of smell destroyed. What if your skin were burned so that you can no longer feel? And all that remained to you was pain? You could not know beauty then. It can be taken from a stallion." The stallion stopped, then pursed his lips. "And what do you think?" Sombra: King Sombra recalled the name that Voronoi spoke of. Endless Void had been another famous pioneer in the Dark Arts. Although in some respects he might have been foolish, part of Sombra couldn't help but respect a stallion who sacrifced his equinity in pursuit of so-called forbidden knowledge. As the Dark King would personally attest, to be a true master of Dark Magic meant a willingness to corrupt one's soul. Mildly impressed with Voronoi's knowledge, Sombra thus humored the earth pony by listening to the parable. At the end, the black-hearted lord gave his reply; "The stallion would still know beauty... because he would still remember the beauty of the life... that once was. And it is this memory... that causes the stallion to wither in agony." Sombra now trotted closer to the earth pony; "The pain only stops... when the stallion renounces the existence of beauty. Only then will he know beauty NO MORE. And THAT, is what frees the stallion from the torment of light... so he can embrace the darknessssssssss....." Java: The stallion blinked. A sweat drop rolled slightly down his head as he mulled over the other's thought. It seems that the other may have heard such a thing before. He'll give him credit, it was a well thought out answer. More well thought out than from others he'd told the same parable to. "Well, nearly mistook you for a romantic. Not entirely sure how you can expunge the light, when darkness exists because of light. Sure I guess arbiters of justice vow to destroy darkness... and lords of the arts desire to eliminate the light. But the problem still is that they are at tug of war. If one pushes too hard, it utterly breaks the system." "Like preservation and ruin... what happens when light beats out the dark? Laws become too strict, and no one would break them. Life hits a stand still and never progress. When Darkness overpowers, the all that can happen is ruin. No one will follow another's lead, for they wish for their own fortune." The stallion chirped as the answer lingered in his head. "Though... the speed of which you answered it means that you've met the buck and respected him long enough to hear his parable." Sombra: "Yesssssss....." King Sombra's vague memories of one part of his past flashed back to life. He was a wanderer, far away from home, searching for dark secrets. "I knew your... ancessssstor. Void's mind was..... warped and broken when I found him. I learned what secrets from him I could....." With that, Sombra headed back towards the cell door. Without bothering to look behind, the dark stallion used his magic to make the crystals binding Voronoi to shatter. "There will be time for more discussion... later. Enjoy your solitude... while you still can." Sombra walked out of the cell; the stationed WRAITH guards shut the cell door behind them. *TO BE CONTINUED*
  6. Part 1: Where Blueblood Buys a Broach There was something in the very nature of Jewelry that implies something more solid than any other gift. It was unambiguous and conspicuous in its meaning, at least insofar as affection was concerned. Hence, to see Prince Blueblood in this particular part of the Canterlot shopping district was cause for the rumor mill to grind. He didn't seem to be particularly directed, in fact, currently he looked a little lost, looking in the shop windows... ~ Fleur was humming, she had cast some nice pieces, which were cooling, set in a few beauitful purple stones in a necklace, and was now sweeping the floor a bit, seeing the lost looking Prince in the window, she chuckled, moving to tap at the glass gently to get his attention. "Monsjourrrr You will have a better look einside zhe stoore~" ~ The Prince started, like a dozing bird that had his cage tapped. "Bah! Oh, um, Good day, Fleur. What are doing- do you work here?" Blueblood was first made familiar with the mare from her modeling career, but he'd heard that she'd chucked it to go back to an earlier job. Was this it? ~ "Oui Come on in ief you are looking for something! You cannot see zhem proper in zhe window~" She chuckled, going back to sweeping, she always thought the Prince rather cute ~ He paused to consider the point, but only for a moment. It was quite clear that he was going to get nowhere just staring into windows. The shop, of course, had the little bell that announced customers. "So..." He wasn't quite sure where to begin, as Fleur was something like an acquaintance. He was unused to knowing shop-ponies personally. "Well, I'm looking for something, though I don't know what, really, you know?" ~ "Oui! Eis it for you? Or for a accquaintance? Or perhaps" She smirked, batting her eyelashes softly "A mare you 'are 'oping to woe?" She teased, though knew what a flirt the other was. ~ Blueblood may have had a reputation for a flirt, though in truth there was some slight exaggeration in it. And he certainly received flirting with less aplomb than he was said to give it on at least one memorable occasion... Here, at least, he only gave a slight smile and cleared his throat. "Well... its not for me." ~ "Well Vhat does zhis other being like? Colors? Shapes?" She asked, moving to be behind the display cases, all glittering with a wide variety of jewelery ~ Blueblood looked over the Jewelry with the look of a complete amateur, to whom it all seems the same at first. "Well... It's hard to say. They, well, she... I've never seen her in anything... ornamental." ~ "So you would like somezhing a bit more subtle?" Her horn glew, and all the flashy, ornate pieces had their lids closed to not distract. ~ "Hm, Probably, though I don't know if it's possible to be both large and subtle, when it comes to Jewelry." Blueblood remarked, eyeing over the pieces. "She isn't what you would call a 'petite' mare; statuesque is the word I would use." ~ "So you want somezhing to accent her features? Perhaps a necklace?" ~ Yes... That would probably work." The Prince seemed still not quite sure, but Fleur could tell that he was now thinking more constructively. "I'm afraid I can only give you her basic colors, I don't know what sort of thing she wears when off duty. She's a... pale sky, whitish blue in the coat, reddish blonde mane." ~ ""HnN Well what are some of her FAVORITE colors? FOr instance, I am of a pale champagne color, and with light pink, but I do so adore a good red gemstone..." ~ Now came the hard questions. Blueblood's lips pursed as he tried to remember some, any clue, that would help him here. "Well... you see, I've not ever seen her off duty, so I've not really had a chance to see her preferences. I'm not even sure if she has any, especially." ~ "Zhen I suggest you get a tad more information before buying something so personal" SHe chuckled "Zhough maybe something small to test zhe waters? Like a Broach?" ~ The Prince let out a huff of air at that. "Well, that's no easy task, you know, with a bodyguard like mine! There's never point when I'm around her that she's not on duty, which makes sense, I suppose, but it makes it hard to bring up these sorts of things." Blueblood paused, realizing he may have raised his voice just a tad. "Sorry, but yes, I suppose a broach would be best to start." ~ She raised a brow at the raised tone of voice "Zhere is no need to shout at me mousiour.." She muttered, opening a few boxes of broaches, getting one that had a beautifully shaped sun, with a stone that seemed to EMIT light.. "It would go with her uniform.." ~ "I know, it's just..." He trailed off, then shrugged at Fleur. "I have no idea what I'm doing, really." The Prince had less doubt upon seeing the proffered broach, however. "My word, that IS impressive. She'd look marvelous in this... how, how does it do that? ~ "Eit is a special kind of stone, a Diamond Dog sold eit to me recently, it absorbs light and then reflects it out ward, it's simple and magical, perfect for a mare I do zhink" ~ "I should say so!" He pictured it in his mind, the light from the stone reflecting and making Star's armor shine with it's light. "You know, I believe I shall buy this. Thank you!" ~ She giggled "But ofcourse" Already wrapping it up to look like a lovely gift. ~ Purchases among the upper class were rarely a matter of cash payment. Merchants usually billed the noble House for their commission, and to be fair to the nobs, they rarely defaulted on their commitment. Taking the package gently with his own magic, Blueblood gave a little bow. "Until next time, then. Will you be at the Gala this year? I'm leaving Canterlot pretty often these days, and that's the next major thing I'll be in town for." ~ She chuckled "I will try my 'ardest to attend , If you are zhere I shall try even 'arder to " She winked at him, she was fond of the prince, she was sure they could be dear friends if given the chance. ~ "That is very good to hear. I look forward to seeing you there. And perhaps I shall be able to introduce you to Star." Blueblood was smiling. It was very much possible that they could be friends. ~ "I would love to! Oooh you could tell her as an extension of zhe gift you have reserved zhe entire jewelry store just for her browsing pleasure?" ~ Pursing his lips, the Prince had to think if Star was the sort of mare to enjoy browsing the store. "I... shall, yes. Will you be there to guide, though? I think she would appreciate somepony to talk with about this." ~ "Of course! Why else would I offer eit?" She flipped her mane a little bit "I'll help learn her tastes, to make sure you will know for sure~" ~ Blueblood smiled at that. An ally! Navigating the roads of actual affection was a new challenge for the Prince, and having somepony help in figuring out how best to shower gifts upon his favored mare was, in its way, a relief. "Very well then. Until next time, Au revoir." And with a bow, he made his exit. ~ "Au Revoir!" She called after him, making a note to her boss with a request for a day to reserve the shop, this should be the start of something wonderful! It was about time BlueBlood got a true relationship, one based on affection at that! She was proud of him!
  7. I have a problem. A Skype problem. It works perfectly fine on the Beta mode on the Skype site (lacking some abilities like video calls), but it DOES NOT work on the app. I use Windows 8, and the app works perfectly fine with my other personal Skype account. It only goes wiry with my Eccentric Maverick account...which is driving me crazy. By "going wiry", I mean: -contacts don't show up -conversations don't load -all conversations with the contacts that don't show up, don't show up either If anyone could provide some insight on this, that would be great! I really, really want to use my Skype properly. Other than the problems above though, it seems to work just fine.
  8. All of Dunder's daily duties were completed, the kitchen was cleaned and all the food was cooked. Enough food to feed an army. At least, an army of workers that kept the wheels of the house turning. Now was Dunder's time to do whatever he wanted and he wanted to feel like a guard again. Out back he strung up a sack filled with cotton on a tree, a good analogue to test accuracy with his rapier. Currently he was taking his stance, thrusting with the sword, and recovering from each strike. ~ Blueblood, too, was headed out to the back. The autumn was passing through, soon to herald Hearth's Warming, and with it a planned visit to Fet Loch. As this visit was going to involve a planned match between him and the Duchess Star Breezer for the right to officially court her daughter Star Crusader... he was taking every opportunity to practice. This led him to the same training ground Dunder was in. He nodded at his cook, seeing him there, while brining out his own weapon. It was a dueling cane, essentially a slim rod of strong metal encased in ebony. He gripped it in his hoof, warming up with a few practice strikes of his own before speaking. "Out here regularly?" ~ Dunder was too absorbed in combat to catch sight of the approaching stallion. Each strike had to be precision, and each strike brought a bigger hole in the center of the target, and moe cotten strewn on the dirt. When Blueblood spoke, Dunder jumped. Normally he would have pointed the sword at Blueblood, but the voice of the stallion Dunder recognized in an instant. "Yes, yes." Dunder said, "Are you out here ever? I've never seen you use that cane." He said, the brown eyes tracking the path of the metal rod as it was swung, "I thought it was just for show." ~ "Hm, we seem to miss each other, then. You're usually cooking at the times I regularly practice." The Prince did a flurry of five strikes at the dummy, before planting the end of the cane in the ground and leaning on it. "And yes, I've been taking lessons from Star. I haven't been able to practice on any pony else though." He began to eye the rapier speculatively as Dunder held it. "I wonder... have you got time for a match before dinner?" ~ Dunder's eyes kept on the cane as it was planted to the ground, but when the stallion offered a match, Dunder grinned. "I've always got time for a duel." He said and brought his eyes to lock with Blueblood's for a second. Excited, Dunder's wings flared out, and he did a loop to land by the tree, pulling out two masks and a cap to make the rapier point dull. With a wing, Dunder tossed Blueblood one of the masks, "Wuldn't want to punch out your teeth!" Dunder commented, putting on his own mask and securing the cap on the rapier tip. "How hard do you want me to go, by the way?" ~ Blueblood smiled as Dunder looked into his eyes. It was good to have a friend willing to spar on short notice like this. Of course, there was the complicating factor of the fact that they were technically Master/Servant, but it was hard for Blueblood to feel that way, even when giving him orders. He caught the mask in his magic, fixing it on as he replied, in a somewhat serious tone. "I'm prepping for a match with Star Breezer. If I'm not good enough yet, I need to know now, and not later." ~ "Alright. I'll fight you like how I would fight Star Breezer." The mention of her name, it sent a shiver down Dunder's spine. "Of course, I'll try not to break any bones. Don't worry about me, act as if you were trying to kill me." Dunder took his stance on his hindlegs, one hoof behind the other, his torsofacing away from Blueblood. Rapier point trained on Blueblood's face, and free hoof right under the pony's chin. "En garde." ~ Blueblood took his own stance, gripping the cane slightly above the pommel, to balance out strike leverage with security of grip. Getting disarmed wasn't going to be a fun experience, but he wasn't sure he could win a fight of endurance yet either. When he struck, it would have to be hard. He kept on all three hooves, ready to move. Rapiers thrusted rather than slashed, so that would affect his footwork. Right, here we go... "En Garde." The first movements were fast, an opening thrust, a quick sidestep to the right, cane held ready to parry the next thrust. ~ Dunder was sizing up Blueblood. The thrust was good, enough to make Dunder catch the foible of the cane between the blade and the cup of the rapier, knocking the thrust off course. And with the step, Dunder stepped forward and to the left to stay lined up with his opponent. He was silent as he worked, pulling the cup hilt of the rapier to the middle of the cane, and dropping the point to make a thust for the thigh of Blueblood. ~ Blueblood reared to avoid the downward thrust, coming down to deliver a powerful strike at Dunder's withers, with another coming from the backswing. A potentially damaging move, but it did cut his mobility down to almost nothing for the duration, which could leave an opening to the quick and clever... ~ The cane point dropping and the pony rearing back was enough to telegraph to Dunder that Blueblood was countering. The point strike missed, but a quick trasnition from his hoof from low to high allowed the pegasus to protect his withers from the brunt of the strike. And the backswing was a terrible idea. To punish Blueblood, Dunder dropped his sword, and used his wings to get chest-to-chest with the royal pone. with one hoof blocking the unicorn's tied up forelegs, and his free hoof going for a punch at the ribs ~ There was no dodging this one. Blueblood had made an amateur mistake, and got socked on the ribs for it. A little late, he realized neither had put on pads, so he took the full, lung-emptying brunt of the blow. But he wasn't done. Being a unicorn, he was able to shift the grip of his cane from his hoof to his magic, ramming the pommel into the side of Dunder's head, trying to break out and retreat. ~ All the pommel strike do was make Dunder mad, mad enough to step his hindleg behind Blueblood's and grip the unicorn's barrel, twisting and falling to bring the two down, Dunder on top. But from there, Dunder tapped out on Blueblood and stood up, "Remember, don't ever put your body between your weapon and the enemy's weapon. And a good idea when closing distances is to grab and push the horn of the opponent, it's usually enough to counter a magic strike." Dunder trotted back to retreive his rapier ~ And the whole affair ended just as any pony would expect it to, with the amateur being quickly dispatched by the professional. Which, Blueblood supposed, was probably a good thing. Dunder had been hired partially upon the strength of his combat abilities, so it would be a troubling sign if he could be defeated by the pony he was supposed to guard. The thought, however, brought little consolation through the immediate pain and humiliation of being thrown and pinned. Still, the Prince got up quickly enough after, and the mask meant he didn't even have to spin dirt. "First point to you, I suppose." And second, third, and fourth according to the technical rules, but who was counting? ~ Dunder grinned behind his mask as Blueblood counted off the point. "Here, I'll make it a tad more interesting." He said while trotting back to his bag, he laid the rapier back in it's scabbard and pulled out his buckler, with a golden inlay depicting the sun. "I'll use only my buckler, you can use whatever weapon you wish. I only have a rapier, longsword, and parrying dagger, though." ~ Oh, boy. Was this a handicap? Or did Dunder know fiendish weapon tricks that could turn a buckler into a deadly offensive force? Heck, he probably did, but would he use them? Probably, actually. "I'll stick with what I've got." Blueblood said, eying the pegasus warily. "Have more practice with it than bladed weapons." ~ "You should attach a point to it. That way it becomes more effective of a weapon." Dunder said and held the buckler in his right forehoof, facing it towards blueblood as he assumed the same stance as before. "En Garde, when you are." ~ "It's a tool of self-defense. I'm not trying to kill any pony with it." Blueblood readied himself again, this time in a posture with a lower center of gravity. He wasn't being thrown again this time. "Besides, the point is not to make it look like a weapon." Practical education would be best for demonstrating what a heavy blunt object was worth in a physical contest, but first the Prince had to score a hit. "En Garde." His tactics were more cautious this time, feeling out how Dunder would use the buckler with a feint to the left, before a strike to his right leg. ~ The buckler stayed facing the cane. The feint to the left would have been disasterous, but a step back with the leg proved enough to void the strike completely. "Try not to drop your weapon too much while going for the legs." Dunder said, keeping his eyes on the unicorn. "If you want to know why, do it again." ~ Now was a decision point; learn a lesson in defeat, or try trickery for a chance at a sneaky victory. There was a slight pause as Blue thought this through, but he chose the lesson now, and victory later. Besides, whatever move Dunder used against him was a move he would then know, right? So, the Prince did it again ~ Dunder brought both of his hindlegs together to void the attack, and at the same moment, he threw the buckler right at Blueblood's mask, the shield colliding with the horn and the skull. Normally Dunder would have stopped there, but Star Brrezer was no pushover. In the temporary daze of Blueblood, the pegasus grabbed the cane weilding foreleg and the cane. "When you lower your body to make a low stike, it exposes your head more. If I had a sword, and a will to gurt you, I'd have broken your horn off." ~ "I... had a sort of feeling, you know..." Blueblood muttered through the pain and stars in his vision, "That you were going to do something like that... I'll take the lesson to heart, thank you." He wasn't quite so quick to call for a round two this time. Two points out of three was surely good enough for a before-dinner match, right? And showing up to the table with visible injuries would do no pony any good... ~ Dunder took off his mask, looking genuinely concerned, "Are you okay? I tried not to throw it that hard." On the side of Dunder's head, red liquid was creasing down the sid of his head, probably from the earlier pommel strike. ~ Blueblood winced under his mask at the blood, though the sight revealed under his own as he removed it was hardly prettier. His right eye was blackened from the impact to the eye socket that he'd taken, and the skin around the base of his horn was raw and bleeding itself. "I... think we both hit a little harder than is usual for a spar." ~ Drunder grinned, "Well, this is why we wear masks, am I right?" Dunder said and grinned, trotting back over to his sword bag and putting everything inside. "Sometimes you get hit. If it's a self defense situation, they might not be so easy on you. If it's any consolation, I made you your favorite food for dinner." [what is Blueblood's favorite dish?] ~ (Stuffed mushrooms and strawberry salad) "Mm, and also why more sensible ponies wear helmets, I suppose." The ringing in his ears hadn't yet gone away as he put away the mask and cane. "And thank you, by the way; I can certainly say I've worked up an appetite!" As the smell of the mushrooms wafted out of the kitchen and to the pair of ponies, Blueblood smiled. He'd certainly made the right decision in hiring Dunder as the household cook, but that brought with it another question. "Dunder... I have to ask. Are you happy in your position?" ~ The question seemed out of left field, but Dunder didn't think about it. "Well, yeah. You let me do all my food stuff and hardly tell me what to do more than what you want to have for breakfast." He stood up after tieing the bag closed. "And everyone teels me that my food tastes good. Also I get to cook whatever I want. Which taco night is coming up, by the way." Dunder said, tapping his hoof on the chin, "And telling mares I am a prince's head chef is pretty sweet." ~ "Hm." It was true, that the Prince had a rather lazies-faire attitude towards his servants, once they were hired. They largely trained themselves, handing down the skills amongst themselves from generation to generation. It was a whole different culture below stairs, one that recruited outside of those familiar with it about as often as the nobility took in commoners. And yet... here was Dunder. "I ask, because the last thing I imagined you finding attractive was the prospect of being a rich pony's servant." ~ Dunder suddenly stopped burying into his sword bag, then turned around to look at Blueblood. "Don't call me a servant again. I'm here because ponies need to eat, and should eat good food. Regardless of their upbringing." Dunder said, and began to get back into his bag, pulling out a dark green glass bottle and some bandages. ~ Right. So, apparently, Dunder dealt with matters in his situation incompatible with his character by ignoring them. He didn't like to be thought of as a servant, so he asked no pony to call him that. It didn't change the fact that his life was pretty much dedicated to the service of others, and a particular other at that, on a permanent basis. "Is that anti-septic?" The Prince asked, changing the subject while gesturing at the bottle. "I could use some when you're done." ~ "And It's not like I don't want my friend looking down on me. A friend who I want to work for because living alone in Cloudsdale non-stop working drives a pony a little crazy." Dunder started to shiver, rubing his hoof against the side of his head, smearing the red liquid on the side of his face. "Here, you can use it." Dunder said and tossed the glass bottle to the pony. ~ Ah, there it was! Blueblood smiled as he thought he finally got at the real reason, though it stretched into a grimace as the sting of the rubbing alcohol hit his broken skin. "That I can understand, I suppose. And you are a part of the house now, as much as any pony else. I know you've had... trouble, filling your own." The Prince wasn't sure if he ought to have said that, but... it was something he'd observed in his friend. Not that they'd really talked about it seriously, just in passing. ~ Dunder wasn't sure to be upset or not. Hiding it until later was probably the best option. So he just smiled at Blueblood, "Yes. And thank you. I do my work." He said, lowering his head. "Don't get any in your eye. You should also pat it down with something incase you want to cover up the bruise." Dunder said. ~ Subject broached... no explosion yet. Truth be told, this was something the Prince wanted to discuss eventually, but his own aversion to uncomfortable conversations held him back. Taking a kerchief from his pocket, he dabbed the wound, keeping his eyes shut. "There. The table's open for you, as usual. Unless you prefer the company of the common pony in the kitchen, a lot of the maids do." And Celestia knew, he'd never known Dunder to resist the charms of pretty ponies... ~ "Why can't we eat with you in the main dining hall? Are you just going to eat alone?" Dunder asked. Truth that Dunder didn't want to say, but he wanted things to change around the house. It'd have to be slow though, knowing how stubborn the unicorn could be. ~ "...Not everypony likes to eat with the m- well, me." Blueblood admitted, shrugging. "Besides, the big table isn't brought out except for guests; the house-maid and butler sometimes eat with me, along with a few of the honor guards." ~ "Why don't we all eat together? Like, if you don't want to then it's your call, but I don't see why not. We all live in the same house after all." ~ "Well..." He tried to picture exactly how many servants there actually were in the whole manor. The thought of hosting that many, who would either behave stiffly and awkwardly, or else descent into loud chattering... the prospect overwhelmed him, and Dunder could see that in his eyes. "Uh... perhaps later. Though I would like to talk to you over dinner." ~ Dunder could tell Blueblood wasn't open to the idea, so he shook his head, "Well, it's up to you. I prefer not to be alone constantly. I will eat with you. As long as there is wine involved." Dunder said, "I made sure that there was a portion of the budget cut out specifically for drinks." ~ Large changes should be taken a little bit at a time. It probably wouldn't have surprised any pony that Blueblood's philosophy tended towards the conservative in life, and to a certain extent in politics. Hence his relative unwillingness to discuss it over dinner. Though that might be less awkward than what he has planned... "Wine? Of course, old chap. Always have wine with dinner." It was good tradition and good sense, as far as he was concerned, although his grandfather's trick of downing 3 bottles of champagne in a sitting was unlikely to be repeated ~ "Good. If you don't mind, I'm going to go get my food, put my stuff away. I'll meet you in the dining hall." With that, Dunder spun around and trotted off. He wasn't sure why Blueblood invited Dunder to dinner. And in about 10 minutes, Dunder trotted into the dining hall. On one wing was a bowl of something steaming, and delicious smelling. On the other wing was a carrying-case filled with jugs of the deep red liquid. ~ Blueblood nodded, and took himself off to clean off the rest of the blood (and put a little something over his eye to cover the bruise and blackening). His salad and mushrooms were waiting for him at the dining table; courses would be served together this evening. He took his seat, waiting for Dunder. Seeing him, he nodded approvingly. "Properly decanted. Not that I should have ever doubted you." ~ "Yeah, I brought plenty." Dunder said as he took the seat next to Blueblood. If there was no seat there, he'd make one. The pegasus set down his food, chilli beans with sour cream and cheese. Next to that he slid the jugs of wine. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?" Dunder asked, politely waiting for Blueblood to commence the beginning of dinner. ~ Blueblood poured out a glass of wine for the both of them. They'd probably be needing it by the end of the night. "Well, a few things." He took a sip of his wine, trying to figure out how to best approach the matter. "You remember when I came to visit you, as Bluebelle, back in Cloudsdale, right?" ~ At first, Dunder was just going to take a sip of the wine. But after hearing what Blueblood brought up, Dunder downed the rest of his glass and moved on to pouring himself another. "Oh, how could I forget?" Dunder said, letting out a weak chuckle as he filled his glass with more wine. ~ "Right... not our proudest moment." Nor, perhaps, was starting the conversation out on this hoof. Blueblood decided to drain his own glass, to keep the keel even, before he continued. "See, here's the thing. You've always been on call, you know, for whenever I needed you to help keep my neck out of trouble, you know? But thinking over it, I mean, I realized then that you've been through a lot that I never offered any help to you for. And... that's not fair to a friend, really." ~ *Just one more drink.* Dunder thought, finishing off his second glass. "Sure you've offered me help. I mean, you gave me jobs that paid well and I did them. I got a share, that led to more work in the royal realm, you know?" Truly, Dunder prided himself on not needing much help himself. ~ "That's... not quite what I mean..." The Prince sighed, before biting into his salad. Dunder wasn't going to meet him half-way for this one, and truth be told, Blueblood couldn't blame him. "Because, you know... that's a business relationship. Any pony could have given you a lucrative contract! A friend's who you turn to for personal business." Another drink of wine. "You were there... for when I was learning how to not be a jerk. That couldn't have been easy." ~ "You're right. When you first hired me, you were a royal pain whose reputation preceded him and it was very difficult to work with you. I'd have probably punched your teeth out if Fire wasn't there to calm me down." Dunder said it how it was. "But I stuck around, because I liked pushing your buttons, then slowly grew to like you as a friend." Dunder went to diving into his food, silently pulling mouthfulls of the beans and tomato and hay mixture into his mouth. ~ Ooh, Blueblood could remember that almost-punch. Fire had not calmed Dunder as much as physically restrained him. At least, that's how the Prince remembered it after two glasses of red wine. "Glad to hear..." Another bite of salad. "Here's the thing, though... I know, back in Cloudsdale, I shouldn't have looked at all that. I know. But... I can't un-see it, you know what I'm saying?" ~ Dunder kept digging into his beans, picking up his pace. "What are you saying? You saw what you saw, and I know what you saw. You know what you did was wrong." Dunder said, his words slow and deliberate. ~ "I saw..." Blueblood opened his mouth, and then closed it. How could he go farther than this? Obviously, Dunder didn't want to talk about the things he kept secret, that was why he kept them secret! "Well, you're right. But it just occurred to me, that I'm probably the only one you could talk to now about any of that stuff without giving it away. More than it is, I mean." He was aware of how lame that finished, and so began inroads into a third glass, along with the mushrooms. ~ Before Blueblood could snatch up more wine, Dunder grabbed one of the jugs and began to drink from it directly. "Oh yeah? Sure, talk about my secrets, everything is on the fffff---" Dunder cut himself off, "Everything is on the table now." His words were getting more and more jaded. ~ The Prince now had a creeping sensation that he had wandered into a conversational minefield, and was now so far in that going back held just as much a risk of an explosion as going forward. "I've... you understand, I've gone through much of my life ignoring the pain of others. Well, that's not on, and you've helped to show me that. I can't just... leave it alone when I see it now. It keeps me up at night, wondering just what I can do." ~ Dunder felt some empathy when Blueblood mentioned staying up at night haunted by thoughts, but the pegasus didn't show it. "Ey. Don't worry about me, I'm good." Dunder's voice went calm and he even smiled at Blueblood. "What is it you want to talk about? Helping me? Why do you need to help me?" Dunder's voice was just beginning to get slurred. ~ "You're... part of the House." Blueblood's own voice wasn't slurred, but it was obvious by the care he put into not being slurred that he was drunk. "I'm... responsible for those in my House. Legally, I mean. If you're sued, the lawyer's on me. Part of... the contract. Law, y'see, the one you signed when you joined on. I have responsibilities... to my own..." ~ Dunder started to bust up laughing, the fit carrying on for a few seconds, and ended with Dunder burying his face in his hoof. "Is that what this is about? Some sort of legal concern? I'm not going to sue you, I'm not going to get sued. You just need to calm down." Dunder went back to eating from his bowl, which was started to get empty by now. ~ Uh... Well, that was something of an explosion, but caused by a squirrel that had suddenly run onto the minefield. "No, no, I mean... not legal... just... well, I just care for you, alright? And I feel responsible, now that you're part of the house, is all." There. He'd said what he had to say, and it would very likely have turned out fine if his drunk mind didn't let his mouth go on to say, "And I'll admit to being curious if that list at the end was what I thought it was." ~ Dunder was surprised. "You care about me? I never thought I would hear you say that." Dunder chuckled again, holding off on wine for a moment. "And you feel responsible? I can assure you, I'm not a lost kitten." The pegasus said and wiped a hoof across his snout. "And that list at the end of the journal? What do you think it is about?" ~ Blueblood nodded. "Strange as it may sound." He chuckled himself, hoping the humor of the situation would help it go smoother. "That's not a list of the ponies you slept with?" ~ Dunder busted up laughing again, this time even longer. The pegasus grabbed the wine, still chuckling, and poured the liquid onto his hoof, until it dripped down his foreleg, matting his coat. "Red hoofed." ~ Blueblood wasn't quite drunk enough to take his friend spilling wine over himself in stride. He looked at Dunder oddly, though he refrained from comment on the gesture. "Quite the list, then." ~ Dunder stared at his hoof, flexing his hoof and watching the trapped wine squeeze out of his coat. "Yeeeeeeah. Is that what's bothering you?" "I've always thought... promiscuity a dangerous thing." Blueblood resisted the urge to pontificate, and that was no easy task while under the influence. He could be a chatty drunk. "Particularly when it leads to some of the places it must have been. I mean, Duchess Star Breezer? that's not safe, man." ~ "Yeah, go through your whole life scared of everything. Are you just mad because it's Crusader's mom? I have hardly even gotten a hug out of Crusader." It was a reasonable concern, as much as Blueblood found Dunder unattractive. ~ "Not... mad, just..." He'd noticed, and remembered, that the list included Java and Star Breezer, but not Crusader. If he had to put it into words, it was just... weird. "I mean, I'm sort of friends with you, Duchess, and Java. Kind of weird to find out this sort of thing was going on without me knowing about it. What signs did I miss?" ~ "It's not that big of a deal. Java, his mom, and his dad are all giant pervs. It started with Java and just moved on the more I became friends with Java." dunder legitimately saw nothing swrong with the whole situation, and didn't understand Blueblood's concern. ~ Blueblood sat back, almost stunned at this level of casualness. "Should I have seen this coming?" From the angle of his head, he was talking to the ceiling, rather than Dunder. "Really, should I have? Does it matter? Well, I should think so! I know them well enough myself, do they do this to everypony, or is it just you who takes it so easily?" His head fell back down to look at Dunder. "Enjoy yourself, did you?" ~ Dunder leaned back in his seat, taken aback by the outburst of Blueblood. "It's just something that happened. From what I gathered, it's not a common thing that happens. I mean, Star Breezer is crazy, but she isn't going to make you do anything you don't want to do." Dunder started to feel more self concious. "Now I'm second guessing if I liked it." ~ Not a common thing... well, that made sense. Canterlot society was pretty quick to fix the label of pervert on the Duchess (though it rarely said so without circumlocution), but if it was as easy as all that to get into her bed... well, there would have been much worse labels being thrown around, sans verbal screening. "I guess... It's just... is that how you really want to live your life? With these things just coming and going like that?" ~ Dunder shook his head, "there's nothing better for me." He let the words hang for a moment, then downed some more wine from the jug. "I already have a plan laid out, so don't you worry." ~ Did he really mean that? Blueblood himself was in no position to judge whether this was a case of in vino veritas, or just the drink talking, but taking it all together with what he'd observed about his friend... that was probably what Dunder really felt in his heart of hearts. And for Blueblood, who really felt himself to be on the verge of something better... it was a little heartbreaking to think he'd be leaving a friend behind. "What happened to you, that made you think you were the unsolvable problem? I mean, in terms of sheer superficial hopelessness, I had you beat any day of the week!" The wine had loosened the Prince's own tongue, it seemed. His humility was becoming quite uncharacteristic. "There's a lot going right in my life right now because other ponies didn't take my opinion of myself at face value; and you were one of them! It's only fair that I ressy-reci- ahem re-ci-pro-cate." Words were becoming harder now. Was that, what, the fourth glass now? ~ Such was the way of wine. Everything became hazy and distant. Dunder's mind was only able to make out some shapes and forms from his memories. Why did he think himself the unsolvable problem? there was wine, after all. the pegasus finished his first jug and moved onto his second, having to supress another chuckle while Blueblood struggled with his enunciation. "You knoooooooow. I didn't take you at face value, that just lets you know that you should trust me. Maybe it's true that some ponies can't feel right unless they got a lot going for them. I think I am one of those ponies." ~ "Well... well, you've got me going for you." Blueblood nodded sagely at this observation, repeating it to allow it's wisdom to roll over his tongue once more. "You've got me going for you, and that's a lot. Anything that you've been willing to do for me, well, all you have to do is ask, old chap, and I'll do it and... and more. What is a Prince, if not generous to his friends?" ~ "Uhhhhh... A prince that isn't nice to his friends is a butt. so I guess you aren't a butt...anymore." Dunder looked a little confused, "And why would you be nice to me like this? There's no reason for you to do this, other than you being my friend." ~ It was the Prince's turn to look confused. "So... I need another reason?" His brows furrowed in the effort of drunken thought. Said effort eventually proved too much, which prompted a snort and the draining of his glass. "Pah, well, I don't know. I just want to, is all. I'm a happy pony, and I don't like thinking that others aren't as happy as I am." The Prince took a long, contemplative look at the jug, before shaking his head decisively. Enough for him. "Explain this... plan of yours, to me." ~ Dunder was having some trouble rememboring. "What plan? I have a bunch of plans. Not all of them you can be involved in, though." Dunder said, he was begining to look in the later stages of tipsiness, almost getting to where the wine would overcome him. ~ Yes... they were just about getting to the point where rational conversation was nearing impossibility. Soon, the butler would circulate the brandy and cart them off to bed. But before that... "Well, if you've got schemes to cure your loneliness... hic let a friend vet 'em first." ~ Dunder shook his head, swaying side to side as if he was weighted down, "Sorry, but I'd have to do that one alone. And telling somepony doesn't let me do that alone, right?" ~ Blueblood felt deflated, but at least he could rest his conscience in the fact that he tried. "Alright. Just... keep me updated on how it turns out, alright? And don't do anything stupid." ~ Dunder began to chuckle, "Noooooo promises." He said, a big smile on his face ~ Well, that was about all he could expect. Blueblood turned away from his friend, to stare at a snifter of brown, aromatic liquid that had somehow gotten there on the table. Brandy, of course. Right. He lifted the glass, in a silent toast to Dunder, and then slowly drained it. "I think... dinner is over... goodnight." The Prince was visibly swaying, trying to get down from the chair ~ The pegasus didn't have a chance to drink his brandy. Dunder shot up to his hooves, grabing Blueblood with a wing, helping the unicorn get down from his chair. "How about I take you to your room?" ~ 'Sloshed' was a pretty good word to describe the Prince's state, given how it felt as if a tidal sea were going up and down in his skull. It wasn't a bad sensation, except that it gave him sea legs on land, for some reason. "Lead the way! I feel almost up to running... but I don't think so... no, bad idea. No running in the halls." ~ While Blueblood was catching his footing, Dunder was casually flying overhead. "No running? You never said anything about flying.~" Dunder's forehooves behind his head, his hindlegs crossed as if lounging on an invisible couch. ~ "Hm..." A few steps later, and blueblood felt that he had found a pace that would not end with him tumbling face-first into a piece of furniture. "you... should be good, if... you're not too fasht." The Prince had by now given up the fight against slurs and stumbles, his only thought was to make it upstairs intact. "Needsh... I needsh to shtop drinkin sho muchsh. Heh.. yer a.. bad influenchsh" ~ "I am the worst influence!" Dunder laughed, his reckless flying seemed not to bother the stallion as he glided along, above and in front of the unicorn. "Are you s-sure I don't buurp have to c-carry your butt?" ~ "Shtop goin back and forth... you're confushing me." Blueblood set his face in a determined expression, and braced himself against an end table. "I... shpeshifically forbid you to carry my butt." And with this firm resolve, he set off... and managed to actually get to the staircase without incident. Attempting to actually get up the stairs, however, was a much more laborious process... ~ "I'm not going back and forth, ya fookin' ingot." Dunder said while doing just that, unaware of his own constantly changing flight path. In his mind he was just having fun. When Dunder reached the stairs, he bumped his head into it. "Oh, frig who put a staircase here? This wasn;'t here last time I cheched." The pegasus turned to face it, "But it's a nice staircase." He said while gliding his hoof over it, "So cool and relaxing~" Dunder said as he pressed his cheek to it ~ Blueblood was hardly finding the staircase relaxing. "Frustrating" would be a better word. If those bloody steps would just stay steady for five minutes...! Gripping the railing, he raised himself upon his hind hooves and began a sort of shuffling climb. "Hah, take that..." He muttered. One step at a time, he ascended, passing Dunder on the way. Or rather, he would have passed him had the Prince not stepped on the pegasus' wing, tripped, and sent them both tumbling back down. "Oww...." ~ Dunder was enjoying snuggling the staircase when something fell on his wing, the ensuing pain and panic sent him tumbling down the staircase with what felt like a large sack of potatoes. The two taking turns on which step they hit. At the bottom, in the pony pile, Dunder groaned loudly, his eyes going derp. "Cherry chimmy...changa...." The pegasus's head was swimming, and his stomach was churning, "That was one hlepphh of a flail. Please get off of me, potato-pone." ~ The storm of pain and confusion inside Blueblood's mind took a while to settle, much like a disturbed snow globe. When it finally snowed out, it left the conviction that trying again was not worth the effort. Also, lying on top of something warm and soft meant that it was safe to fall asleep. "Ah... don't thinksh sho. Nnniiight..." ~ Meanwhile Dunder was getting crushed by the weight of the pone, but in his inebriated state the pegasus didn't do much else other than breath laboreously on account of the extra stallion's weight. When Blueblood wished Dunder goodnight, Dunder only grunted out his displeasure, "Guuh." Was all he said before passing out too. [blueblood's gonna get spooned] ~ [Wonder what Star Crusader would say if she found them there.] And so, the two of them slept at the foot of the stairs. The maids consulted briefly on whether they should disentangle the Master of the house and send him to bed, but on further consideration, they concluded that one uncomfortable night would discourage heavy imbibing on his part for the future. [Makes a suitably comedic ending, I think]
  9. - That Somehow Ended in an Equally Righteous Dinner Date ----------------- The canterlot's castle. Home of the two Alicorn princesses of Equestria, as well as the location of the barracks of the royal guards around Equestria. In here, ponies go to join and train for any of the two mayor sections of the REA. The royal guards, or the night guards. Darkness, a big grey pegasus with a dark mane and tail, was training with some other night guards at the side of the castle, in the training grounds. He was just a recruit, so he was training. He joined not so long ago, and was still under training, but he had high hopes of going up in ranks. ----------------- Everything ached. His muscles ached, his legs ached, his neck - in fact, he would swear on Celestia's throne that his eyebrows were aching. The days training had been just as rigorous, intense, and arduous as every single day before it. And he loved every. Single. Moment. Training in the REA had, just as he'd hoped, tempered the uncontrollable lust for battle his spear hoof had near every second of the day, taming it to a more reasonable urge to see justice done every other minute or so. Still, even with the intense training that had him sore and tired by the day's end, Dawnguard couldn't help but stare out over the towers of Canterlot, feeling his hoof that was holding his spear twitch slightly as he just imagined what sort of glorious battles his fellow REA members were engaging in at that very moment. Right on cue, a shiver passed through his right foreleg. "Down, spear hoof," Dawnguard chided, a gentle breeze pulling stray strands of his mane into the mysterious wind, "the evils of Equestria shall not be long for this world...they will all bend before the mighty fury of the dawn." ...Eventually. At least after his belly stopped growling, which meant that, instead of satiating his cavernous well of wrong-doers being brought to light, he would first satiate his empty belly. A hero had to eat, after all! With that, the white Pegasus pulled away from the battlements to glide off to one side, intent on passing over the training field to drop in on one of the many establishments worthy of fulfilling the ravenous hunger of a hero. Before he could get more than a few meters down from his height however, something caught his eyes, causing the Pegasus to pull up abruptly with a short gasp. The ponies training in the yard below him were similar in appearance, and stature...but their armor! Those that were wearing armor wore metals that were dark in color, fathomless obsidian spiraling downwards to suck in all the light. Dawnguard knew, instinctively, that he was watching the Night Guard, or at least some of them, during a training session, and despite a protestation from his stomach, he couldn't help touching down at the edge of the field. Though he didn't stay there for long. "'Ho, fellow warrior!" Dawnguard called out as he trot forward, sticking out like a sore hoof against the muted and darkened ponies all around him. The Pegasus wasn't at all bothered however, coming up to the nearest stallion, a great grey fellow who seemed focused on his training. "You are truly impressive, almost as much as I! Pray tell me, to what division do you belong?" ----------------- Darkness was having a training fight with another guard. He was skilled with swords and shields, but he was only fighting with his sword. At closer inspection, the pegasus had scratches arouns his body but chest, even one crossing his left eye. The fight ended up in a tie, but it was clear he had sort of an advantage. He smiled and cleaned the sweat out of his forehead, his hooves aching. He heard another pony and turned around, seeing a day guard walk towards them. He seemed nice. "Hello there~" he said to the stallion. He had a deep and calm voice. He streatched his hoof and shook his. "Night guards, main division." He said smiling to him. Most ponies were in that one, and he was between the reserves of them, but still a recruit. ----------------- So he had been correct after all! Of course - the instincts of an Avenger of Riptide Justice such as himself were rarely wrong about these sorts of things. "Well met, my most impressive friend," Dawnguard crowed, shaking the proffered hoof with a quick up-down. He used his left hoof however, rather than his right - such power in his spear hoof could not be unleashed on an unsuspecting stallion. "I am Pvt. First Class Dawnguard, Solar Guard, Dispenser of Justice and Bringer of Despair to All Who Follow the Path of Evil!" And also the Water Colt from time to time, but that was neither then nor now. "And you?" the white Pegasus continued, ignoring the other night guards to focus on the warrior in front of him. "What gallant titles to the citizens of Equestria bestow upon you?" ----------------- "Recruit Darkness Knight." He replied smiling, then shrugged a bit in embarrasment. "I... don't have titles like you and others though..." he said a bit embarrased. "Though a few guard call me the shield of the night, thanks to my skills with the shield." He said feeling less embarrased. "And because I only use heavy plate armor" he added. Darkness noticed he used his left hoof for the shake, so he did the same. Darkness didn't seemed that strong like the Dawnguard, but apperances coud be deceiving. ----------------- Dawnguard was surprised for all of a second - an obvious warrior like the Pegasus in front of him, with no title that signified his valor and prowess in combat? Not everypony was a chosen Avatar of the Dawn, of course not, but to have nothing at all? Madness! The other Pegasus soon cleared up the issue however, causing a relieved smile to break over Dawnguard's face. "HA HA, you almost had me, Recruit Knight!" the Pegasus bellowed, sitting down on his haunches as he adjusted his spear to rest propped against his shoulder. "Because you see, a stallion such as yourself is clearly a worthy adversary to any evil-doer attempting to wrong the rights of Equestria. And any worthy adversary needs a title befitting them!" How else was a guard suppose to ignite fear and terror in the hearts of those who sought Equestria's destruction? "So...a master of the shield, eh?" Dawnguard questioned, though he didn't really expect an answer. "I, myself, favor the the ever faithful spear in battle." The Pegasus pulled his right hoof up towards his face, curled into a loose roll as his head bowed slightly. "For my ever mighty spear hoof constantly seeks to amend the injustices thrust upon the innocent. So, much, raw fury...sometimes I can hardly contain it! You know," the white stallion continued, head whipping back up to face the night guard, "you understand the responsibility of containing such a great power! I can see it in your eyes...we are kindred spirits, the two of us!" ----------------- darkness smiled at all what he said. He was starting to like this guy, though all that bringer of justice and stuff could get annoying at some point, it was somewhat silly for him, and inspiring. Dawnguard had a really clear goal, and he respected that. "Yes, indeed we are." Darkness replied smiling. "I serve to protect others with my shield from the heatred." He added smorking softly. "Perhaps one day we could out our skills at practice." He added, wishing he could see him in action. ----------------- Ah-hah, yes! A kindred spirit, indeed! "Perhaps one day we shall," Dawnguard was quick to agree, feeling a thrill of pleasure course through him. Shield and armor bypassing had yet to be throughly covered in his training - it would be a challenge indeed to learn from a master of the art himself! "I would even suggest having at it now, but alas," Dawnguard curled his right hoof in front of his face again, expression darkening a bit, "'twould be disastrous, letting loose the broiling energy residing in my spear hoof right now." Yes...a disaster of truly Tirek-sized proportions. Righteous fury needed to be controlled at all times, even when it felt close to bursting forth in a fiery blaze of Avenging...Avengness. Even if he hadn't been focusing on controlling his twitching spear hoof, Dawngaurd's stomach chose that moment to rumble again, startling the white Pegasus into forgetting everything but the gnawing emptiness that was his stomach. "Hrk," he groaned, his spear faltering a bit as he clutched a foreleg around his midsection, "I forgot - food! I haven't eaten in days," Dawnguard moaned. ----------------- Darkness noticed his hoof as he spoke. "Seems that you over exhausted yourself." Darkness said. He sighed and walked over to the side, then took a first aid kit. "Here, this will help..." he said as he used some bandages to make presure in his hooves so they hurt less. "Something I do when I train to much." He said smiling to him, then heard what he said at the end. "Hmmm... I hadn't eaten also. Shall we go together to eat?" He asked smiling. ----------------- Ah yes, he had - Wait, what? "Wuh, i-it's not..." Dawnguard trailed off, bemused, as Darkness walked off to retrieve what looked like a first aid kit from the side of the training field. Exhausted himself?...well yes, he'd worked particularly hard at training today. He'd been in top form, the energy coursing through him like frenzied lightning charges across the sky...but he hadn't though he'd exhausted himself, not really. It wasn't until the other Pegasus had wrapped up his spear hoof in bandages, though, that Dawnguard realized he'd been misunderstood for having an injury. By then it was already done, causing the white Pegasus to start at the sudden offer to eat together with his fellow warrior. "Ah...ah, yes, food would be good," Dawnguard supplied, heaving himself onto his hooves. Hmm. Perhaps the bandages would help control the raging lust for Justice his spear hoof held. "Where to, my insightful friend?" the white Pegasus cried, perking back up as he spread his wings. "Someplace with good food and a cold brew, to satiate the raging fire for Good that sings through the blood of heroes within me!" ----------------- Darkness smiled when he accepted. "I know a place outside of the castle that we can go, they usually do discount to guards." He said smiling to him aa he let the kit at a side. "Oh, and you should keep moving your hoof constantly. It will keep it warm and it wont hurt anymore. The bandages will also help with that." He said with a grin as he walked to a side of him. "I will lead the way, just follow me." He then added once he was by his side. ----------------- Hmm, yes, the bandages were fairly warm, and quite comfo - wait no, that wasn't the point! "I uh, think you've misunderstood, my fairly astute stallion," Dawnguard said a bit gingerly, not wanting to offend his newfound companion, "I have not sustained an injury - though you may think it! No, this," the Pegasus explained, waving his bandaged spear hoof around a bit, "my mighty spear hoof, could not be so easily rendered by a little training!" Never mind that one time a Timberwolf had bitten it, hard. Or the time he'd been so exhausted from training he'd fallen flat on his face and twisted the hoof he'd thrown out to save himself. Or that time - "No, my spear hoof twitches from the relentless power surging within," Dawnguard continued, pulling said hoof closer to his chest. "If such power were to be released against any except the forces of evil...woe to anyone whose caught in its path of sheer, unending, POWER. And AWESOME." Well, that was cleared up - buuuut, the bandages were rather comfy, he'd keep them on just a little longer. "Then lead on, Sir Knight!" Dawnguard demanded, eager grin on his face, spreading his wings once more. "Lead us into the vast night sky, littered with the glittering hopes and dreams of Equestria's citizens, so that we may discover our destiny!" ... "The destiny of our dinner!" ----------------- Darkness looked over to him when he started speaking at first. So... he could barely control his spear hoof? That was... rather interesting. "Oh. alright. I will keep that in mind then." He said with a soft smile to him, then heard his explanation of why it moved like it did. He chuckled softly at what he said at the end and smirked at that. "Is that so? That really sounds amazing." He said chuckling some more. All this was somewhat silly, mostly for how he was saying it, but as an experienced fighter, he knew he should not risk it, at least until they were training. "Now, lets go. I am quite hungry as well." He said shortly after he heard his stomach growl. He smiled and lead him out of the castle, towards the city itself. ----------------- Ho ho, a fellow warrior indeed! Dawnguard could hear it in his voice - Darkness knew the struggles of keeping ones righteous fury in constraints all the time. A heavy burden and great responsibility...but for the good of Equestria, nothing was too great! Save an empty stomach. "Whew! You're telling me," the white Pegasus commiserated as he flew behind the dark grey Pegasus, feeling his stomach let out another rumbling groan of hunger, "I feel I could eat an entire wheat field!" The glistening buildings of Canterlot seemed to fairly shine under the rising moonlight, causing Dawnguard to squint a bit against their luminescence. "Pray tell, what bounty will we partake in this establishment of yours? Two warriors such as ourselves need sustenance fit for a Princess!" ----------------- "Oh, dont worry about that, they have a bit of everything, so you can choose what you wish." Darkness replied smiling as he flew by his side. He smiled at how the city looked at this time of the day, it was.., amazing. Darkness seemed also rather fast, as he sometimes flew infront of him without noticing, but always slowed down so he could catch up. "Tell me, what made you become a guard?" He then asked as he turned to him. He was getting interested on him. ----------------- The idle flight over the gleaming city was soothing on the raging fury broiling in his spear hoof, calming it to a rippling murmur as Dawnguard followed behind his companion. He didn't bother flying any faster than his current speed to catch up whenever the grey Pegasus started pulling ahead, no - this serene glide was perfect as is. Darkness spoke up however, explaining a veritable banquet of foods to choose from, causing Dawnguard's stomach to give another hungry rumble. Ah, most excellent...the cucumber and mulberry sandwiches would be the first to be devoured, followed by an orange scone or two. Or six. The white Pegasus was momentarily distracted from his thoughts when Darkness began talking again, causing Dawnguard to perk up in interest. "When the blood of heroes flows in one's veins," the stallion said enigmatically, "'tis only natural to take up one's spear and render the blackened void of evil in 'twain! And what of you, my grey feathered friend? Did you also feel the call of righteous justice as a babe? Fated to ward off the evils of the world from the moment of your birth!" ----------------- Darkness smiled at when he asked him why he joined. "Well, sort of." he said smiling to him. "I... come from out of Equestria, from a rich family, and came to Canterlot to become a knight, but well, since nopony is a knight anymore, I joined the guards. I felt that I could do more by helping others being one than doing nothing from where I live." He explained to Dawngaurd with a soft smile as he lead him around. "And...a more personal reason..." he said as he looked away, with a shy smile and blushing slightly, he then realized what he said and blushed more, looking away. "Uhm... sorry..." he said, embarrassed before regaining his composure. Ahhh! He had screwed it up! It was supposed to be a secret! How did he planned doing it if he just told somepony he just met! He shook his head and facehoofed, still embarrassed, before calming down and sighing. "Just... sometimes happens..." he then added ----------------- Dawnguard had been right, it seemed. Unsurprising, given the obvious kindred Avenger of Righteousness that was flying beside him, but it still felt good to hear it out loud, causing the white Pegasus to nod along with other stallion's words. Yes...yes. A passion for knighthood in all but name, a desire to bring peace and joy to Equestria, the will to fight the never-ending maelstrom of Good vs Evil - there was probably a prophesied destiny to find a legendary weapon of some sort, thrown in there. All signs of a great hero, signs that he himself shared. Indeed, his instincts had been most correct! A personal reason that resulted in blushes as fierce as the unrelenting sun above to - Wait, what? "Er, what was that last part?..." Dawnguard asked a bit hesitantly, though he really needn't have - the red spreading clear across the grey Pegasus' face was all the answer he needed, resulting in Dawnguard's eyes narrowing curiously on the other stallion. "Come come, we are all heroes here! No need to be shy my companion, speak your mind!" ----------------- "Uhm... nothing! I... didn't said anything about doing it for somepo-! Ahhh!" Darkness started saying before interrupting himself mid sentence realizing what he was saying. Why was so easy let out those silly things that easily with him?! Just why?! Ahh! He felt like dying in that very moment. He sighed and looked at him, not wanting to say more as the blush in his face became stronger and brighter before looking away. "I... er..." he started saying, embarrase. He shook his head and facehoofed again, his feeling going wild here and there, not able to control them at all. ----------------- Hmm. Perhaps this was a point of sore contention for his fellow guardian of Equestria, or maybe one that had hurt him in some way, an aching wound on the very marrow of his soul. An embarrassing anecdote? A memory of happier days? An emerging spirit of Righteous Fury that was slowly encompassing every core of his being until it was liable to be unleashed upon Equestria in a torrent of star-hewed victory?! What?! He had to know! "Now hold one moment!" Dawnguard demanded, swiftly flying directly in front of the other Pegasus to bring him to a stop, mid-air. "These feelings you have...whatever such passion your are containing, you must control it! The blood of heroes is responsible for containing the righteous wrath of justice within ourself - our destined burdened!" Here, the white Pegasus crossed his forelegs in a considering manner, spear balanced in one crook of his legs. "But you, my friend...your passion is so great I can feel it bubbling under your skin! You must control it, yes...but to speak of it, might help you obtain that control. To overcome your weakness, you must face it, say it out loud!" And now he was insanely curious. What was it already?! ----------------- Darkness looked at him, unsure what to say or add regarding all this, tell him what was in his mind, what was making him go al this crazy? He doubted he can do it, and at the same time doubted he could retain is a secret for much more. How did thing escalated to this? Just... how? They were supposed to just go and eat, not tell him his main source of inspiration to push himself up every single day... she... "I..." He nodded, understanding why he said that and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and hold the breath for a small while to calm down before releasing it. "It... is a secret... so you must not tell anypony..." Darkness first said to Dawnguard. "Promise me that..." he added as he felt somewhat better. "The real reason I joined... is for a mare... to be closer and have a chance with her..." he said as he looked away, landing on a nearby cloud to be able to tell him without making any incidents. "And... that is..." he blushed heavily and closed his eyes somewhat fiercely before saying it. "... Princess Luna!" he said, clearly embarrassed for telling him, he knew it was a foolish dream, as she was an Alicorn and he a small pegasus guard, but he could dream... ----------------- This was, quite clearly, a very important subject for the grey Pegasus, and a hero such as himself knew the importance of confidence. "On my oath, Darkness Knight," Dawnguard pledged, crossing his left foreleg across the chestplate of his mail, "not a word of your confession will pass my lips, even if Taurtarus itself arose to pry them from me!" He wasn't sure if it was his words or the other Pegasus' own breaking point that finally allowed him to relent, leading the duo to a nearby cloud so the grey stallion could presumably find a steady surface beneath his hooves. Despite himself, Dawnguard couldn't help but lean forward a bit expectantly as he waited with bated breath, inquisitive beyond the sun itself to the nature of Darkness immense embarrassment and passion for Equestria. And waited. And waited some more, until Dawngaurd was forced to realize that he hadn't misheard - allowing a few scant seconds to pass by in silence, before he tilt his head to one side. "Well yes, I mean. That's also a pretty natural reason," he stated slowly, confusion evident in his voice. "Love for one's Princess and kingdom is a fine reason to join the guard. But come now, tell me! What's the real reason? I mean, the reason that flows within you, that ignites your hero's blood! The one that told you, in your deepest heart of hearts, that you were required to - no, destined to become a guard!" ----------------- "No, you don't understand. SHE is the reason!" Darkness replied to Dawnguard when he spoke again, thinking he was talking about loving them in a way a subject loves the good leader. "I mean it. I love her with all my heart..." He said as he shrugged in embarrassment and looked way. "...she is the reason I joined. So... I could defend her and be with her..." he said in a small sad and embarrassed tone "I rally want to defend Equestria and it's citizens, but... she is even more important for me." he added with a sigh. He was getting somewhat against telling him, but it was too late, he already told him. He just hoped he could keep it a secret, and seeing how he was, he knew he would do it. "You...are the first pony I ever told that..." he then added in a low tone. -----------------
  10. Valen's mind was a flurry with the news of a new Princess. Well, not new as in the sense that somepony had been ascended. That would have been outrageously unlikely, but rather something far less world-shattering but perhaps even less expected. Prince Blueblood had undergone a transformation and was now Princess Bluebelle. There was a lot of mystery as to how or why, but the one thing that most were certain was that Bluebelle was anything but unhappy with this. It was such big news, almost every tabloid had it running as a day to day front page running story. Good for Valen in some sense- better than having a few sniffing around who Gilded Lilly really was. He had enough connections to make that a terrible day. But this was better. Valen was curious what it was like. How he felt. Why the change. Valen was a little confused himself but he didn't know what was confusing him exactly. But now there was a famous pony he could talk to. And that was good, because famous ponies were generally much better at the talking. So Valen looked at his schedule. He had a show in Canterlot soon. Not a big deal to do the show, sneak out as Valen, and hope to find him, right? So he planned on it. Going from Gilded to Valen took some effort. Hopefully the Prench accent would die on its own a little. He was having some issues with that lately. The day of, plan worked. Gilded did her show for a few hours, working herself to the bone. He showered, cleaned in the company of the few who knew, and made his exit. Not long afterwards, he was in front of Bluebelle's place. A nice estate to be sure, though living in Canterlot made one immune to the charms tha usually accompanies grandeur. Only one thing to do now- Valen knocked. ~ The door was answered, as per usual in this neighborhood, by a servant. But not the stiff-faced, gooseberry-eyed Butler of the smart set novels; no, this was an older colt or young stallion, only a few years older than Valen. He was dressed dapperly, but not ostentatiously, wearing a monocle through which he viewed the world with a kind of detached amusement. "May I ask, who is calling, and for whom?" ~ He had expected maids. Blueblood was famous for those. Maybe Bluebelle was wanting butlers now. Did preferences change along with the rest of the stuff that had changed? Interesting. "I am Valen Orange, here to see Princess Bluebelle. Please?" ~ "Ah. For a moment, I though you were an IMAGINE recruit. I am the secretary of that organization, as well as to hi- her majesty, at Present. You may call me Psmith." He bowed aside, letting Valen in. "I shall let her know that you are here to see her... shall I give a reason for your visit?" ~ IMAGINE? he'd heard of it. Hadn't really considered who'd have run the majority of operations, or at least the paperwork end of it. Makes sense to have a secretary once you really put your noggin to it. And also nice to hear that even the hired help was having some difficulties. It would make the conversation less awkward for all involved. "Thank you so much. Just tell her I have some questions about recent events. Not from any newspaper or tabloid, mind you. Just curious." ~ "Hm..." And here Valen would feel the look of Psmith a little less comfortably, as if the unicorn were trying to determine if the young colt was telling the truth or not. "We have had issues with journalists about the place. Some... unfortunate incidents, involving the housemaids, a skeleton key, and the koi pond. But, if you are here as a personal matter... Well, I shall see if she will come down to see you." And he stepped off, silently as a valet. Valen would find himself waiting for a moment or two, out of earshot of whatever conversation the secretary and Princess were having. Eventually, however, a different set of hooves could be heard coming down the stairs, and soon... the Princess entered the room. She was pretty much as the papers had described her; an equivalent in female attractiveness as the Prince had been in a male way. She was currently wearing a dark blue, almost business-like dress; apparently she had just finished some IMAGINE work. Closer examination would reveal the cloth to be cut and sewn by none other than Rarity. Before the guest could get so close, Bluebelle had fixed him with her own blue eyes. "Psmith said you had some questions for me?" Her tone was guarded, as if awaiting some unpleasant barrage which, nonetheless, politeness and social duty forbade avoidance. ~ She really was very fetching. If he was just a little older, perhaps he'd be enraptured. As it were, he noticed the signs of stress. A mane hair loose here or there. A scuff on a hoof from writing or signing. The tell tale bridging of the spine and placement of the weight on the back haunches to give the illusion of comfort. It was all something Valen was intimately familiar with in his modeling career. The Princess, it appeared, was busy. Perhaps with that organization Psmith spoke of. But it was telling that even while encumbered with activities that tired oneself she took the time to meet with a random colt at a random hour. Very kind of her. “It is an honor to meet you, Your- ooh, that's Rarity's stitching!” Valen noticed with excitement, bouncing over. He was good friends with the best designer in Equestria. He could tell her stitching and hoof-cut patterns from a mile away, especially since he had worn just about all of it. “Very well hoof-cut, even by her high standards. And look, she used the lagarage magnifique cut on this pattern! How excit-” he caught himself, “oh, excuse me, Your Highness. It's an honor to meet you.” ~ As much of a breach of social propriety it may have been, Valen's gushing outburst of Rarity's handiwork did apparently do something to relieve some of the apprehension in Bluebelle's face. At least it revealed a common name, and a place to start. "Yes, she does excellent work. I had this made personally... after offering an apology for, hm, well, I don't think we need to go into that." She pursed her lips a bit, waving past the subject. "In any case... may We ask to what do we owe this visit? Or rather, what you hoped to find out?" ~ Yes, yes. The more pertinent question. Valen straightened himself out, even as he saw the change in body language. At least they were onto something there. But for better or worse, that wasn't why he was there today. A somewhat more confusing subject than the dress, sadly. It would be nice to discuss stitching methods though he half suspected it was a lost subject on Bluebelle. “Yes, yes. Why I'm here. I apologize!” he cleared his throat, “I was just wondering...what it was like. Ya know. And stuff.” ~ A broad question, that. From the blankness of Bluebelle's expression, perhaps a little too broad. "What was... what like? I've... been through a lot lately." Which was true. The sudden change in gender was only the latest in a string of things that had put the Prince in the headlines. There was, for starters, his actions in the caribou attack, his founding of IMAGINE, testifying at the first High Treason trial in centuries, traveling to Whitescar and picking a fight with the High King of the Caribou, getting himself entangled yesterday's washing in the king's antlers... It took a few seconds for the Princess to realize that Valen was asking about the change. "Oh, this..." She looked down at herself, and then at the floor, almost in a kind of... embarrassment? "It's... rather a silly story, if I'm being honest. you have to understand, I didn't... intend for any of this to happen." ~ "You didn't?" Valen searched for why that could be. Well, did anypony really intend to such craziness to slam into them? No. So perhaps it wasn't as off-base as he originally though. "Well, I have time. Tell me this silly story, if you'd like to indulge a little colt." ~ "I'm... not sure I would classify it as a story entirely appropriate for little colts. It depends, we never really did figure out what exactly happened that night in Los Pegasus..." She trailed off, blinked, and then cleared her throat. Perhaps most of that could be skipped over anyhow. "Well, the upshot of it all was, after going out with Auntie Luna, I got very, very sick, and asked Twilight Sparkle to help accelerate the healing process. It worked... except I sneezed at the wrong time, and, well, the spell kind of messed up." Even in the abridged version, it sounded absolutely absurd. But that was par for the course as far as his, or her, life had been going lately. In fact, given how much had happened in the last few years, who could say what was truly crazy, or impossible? ~ What an unusual set of circumstances. A sneeze at the wrong time and suddenly, a mare? It would be unbelievable in the best of situations. Concerning the Princess of Friendship, noted a probably the best user of magic in generations if not ever? Well, that became a comedy Valen wasn't sure he was willing to buy into. It seemed just as likely that this had been requested but Bluebelle was having trouble herself. A hasty change based on desires, but wracked with concern? Such a quick event would have left no time for second guessing, after all. Quirks and curious decisions abound at such a high level of magic use. “I see. That's unfortunate, I guess. But you seem to be taking it rather well, though. I don't know how well I'd take it when-if the tabloids got something on me like that, hahah. What's your secret?” ~ As unusual as the circumstances might sound, they were true. Magic was a tricky business, as Bluebelle had found out. So far, Twilight had not been able to find any certain way of reversing the spell. Or, at least, said she hadn't... In any case, the new Princess had had to adjust as best she could, and, as Valen had observed, she had done so smoothly enough. "Well, I'm rather used to the tabloids. My parents taught me to read using the stories about my foalhood self. I suppose that's how I've handled it; It's just part of the world I grew up in." She shrugged, smiling at the colt as she added. "It probably doesn't hurt that I, or rather the Estate fund, hold shares in most of them. From time to time, when I was younger, I would act up in order to get an allowance boost. That was, until my parents figured out what I was doing." ~ Ha! That was a detail Valen was unaware of. Seemed like something somepony would have had in the rumor column at some point. Well, maybe not. That would ruin the whole charade if a tabloid ran a rumor saying that one of their biggest bit printers was acting up on purpose, wouldn't it? In any case, that helped explain it. And she moved so smooth. It was only making Valen think more and more that she was more than okay with the current situation. That made Valen wander more about the initial question he had asked, and the real answer he had been expecting. Not that this was a bad path for the conversation to take, mind you. Just not one h had all together expected so quickly! “Ha! Now that is something I did not know. Pretty funny, if you ask me. But- umm, let me repgrase my first question. What was the change like itself- ohhh, ahhh, what's it like being a mare compared to a stallion and...all that?” ~ Ah, yes. There it was. The 64,000 bit question. Also, the only one Bluebelle didn't have a pat answer for. Sure, she looked OK with the transition, but that was all part of being a noble. You couldn't look unsure about anything that you did, or you broke the whole spell, or illusion, that aristocracy rested upon. The Princess felt this more instinctually than intellectually, of course, and even if she could articulate it to herself, it would not have been politic to spill the secret. And in any case, there could be less harm in giving initial impressions. "Well... I'm not sure. It isn't like anything else that's happened to me, so there's nothing really to compare it with. I had to re-learn a lot of things; how to walk, even. My honor guard, actually, helped out a lot with that. I've noticed, too, that I've been turning more heads when I go out in public, though that could be more for novelty's sake... mares as well as stallions, now that I think about it. Besides that... well, there's certainly a lot more clothes to choose from!" ~ It wasn't as in depth as he had perhaps desired. Of course, how could he expect such an answer from Bluebelle? It must have been such a wild change, especially when it happened with no warning. Even if the story included a softer landing than had been leaked or preparation unheard of at the moment. So yeah, not an unexpected answer. There was a bit of positivty at the end, and one he could get behind. Filly and mare fashions certainly trounced the stallionware of Equestria. Anypony who thought otherwise was a bit of a kook. Valen laughed at that, one hoof to his mouth sheepishly as he tried to contain it. “Yes, that is most certainly the case. So many more designs! When did you get this one made? Miss Rarity has her time so consumed with shows like tonight's or her bevy of other orders. I would think this would have made bigger news! Was it an emergency, or made with some good time to work on it?” Valen asked, looking at the dress with a trained eye. ~ In actuality, Bluebelle was a little more ambivalent on the bevy of options presented to her upon her change. After all, when a stallion dresses himself, he values not having to dedicate too much effort in selection. Not to say that he minded variety, but when one had to deal with multiple occasions in a day, each of which had a separate level of dress formality... having one suit that fitted all was a blessing. Still, this young lad didn't look as if he had to deal with social realities like that yet, so she let it pass. "Well, I only had one dress made to order. The rest were taken off the rack, as it were, and trimmed to fit. I had to get a whole wardrobe in a hurry, after all." ~ "Well, I suppose when it is a Rarity you only ever need one dress made to order. She does have a way of making even a purpose made piece sparkle under almost any light," Valen began before resetting his mind on more pertient matters. "But yes, a hurry and all. Geez, how much did that cost?" ~ Cost? Beyond a certain height in the socioeconomic ladder, cost was a thing other ponies thought about. Bluebelle, for the life of her, could not even think of the ballpark figure. "Mm... how much do you think half a dozen outfits go for these days? ~ Hmm. Assuming five or six formal dresses, one made to specification, and a dozen extra sets of outfits...one thousand for the best, seven for the rest, four for the other outfits..."Oh, a mare of your stature? Hmm...ten thousand bits?" ~ Ten thousand? Ten thousand? She was certain it was closer to five than ten thousand. "Hm... I think that might be overstating it a bit. Rarity does excellent work, but I don't think she could keep as large a clientele as she does with prices in that range. She said herself, did she not, that it was not only high society that she made dresses for?" Sure, but the best were still reserved to the highest bidder. In any case, the Princess seemed to grow tired of the subject, or perhaps just tired of standing on her hooves. "Oh, I do beg your pardon, I've kept you standing in the parlor. Were you planning to stay longer? I could show you to a come comfortable seat, at least." ~ This was true, but..."Oh, of course not for the average consumer, but look at the patterns and the stitching- beyond perfect. No doubt she must have cut you a fair deal however, due to your situation. But that combination of seam, cut, pattern, the way it hugs the foreleg- well, no jewels or whatnot so maybe that is why it sinks below the value..." he laughed, realizing how much of a nerd he was. "She makes many dresses for many ponies, no doubt. And sure, let us find a place to sit! This is all so interesting. Thank you for your hospitality," Valen said with a slight bow, though truth be told he was unaffected by the standing. Models stood and posed, sometimes painfully, for hours after all. ~ Despite having the looks for it (to say the least) neither Blueblood nor Bluebelle had ever seriously considered modeling. Hence, her leading the colt to the comfortable seats in the drawing room. "I gather from the depth of your expertise you are interested in fashion. you're not with one of the magazines, are you?" ~ "Oh, Celestia no. I don't have the patience for any of that photo-tography stuff. I just happen to know Rarity well enough, I suppose," Valen replied simply, realizing the gaffe he had made. Nopony must find out about Gilded, after all. ~ "Oh? A friend, or protege?" Bluebell asked, not yet put off the scent. After all, a high society figure had to be aware not only of designers, but their apprentices also. After all, knowing who might be up and coming before they up and came was essential to being ahead of the fashion curve. ~ "...A friend," was all Valen responded with, though it was more close to say protege. Between the modelling and his time in her shop, no doubt he knew more of her method than anypony else not related by blood. ~ "Well, she certainly has a lot of those." the unicorn mare shrugged, as a maid came in bearing a tray with two filled teacups. "Ah, thank you." Nodding to her servant, Bluebelle sent her off, levitating the teacup to her lips. "Now, tell me... did you really come all this way just to talk about fashion? Or was there something else you wanted to ask me?" The Princess' current working theory was that Rarity had sent him to check up on her, to make sure her apparent reform was genuine. ~ Well, that was the important question. Why was Valen here? He didn't really know. He had questions but they were intrusive. He was curious but polite, confused and enamored and scared and filled with excitement. He could do more than talk her ear off about fashion but he couldn't really detail his reasons for being here, especially to somepony who had such an in with the tabloid press. So, really, why was he here? He couldn't simply tell her but he couldn't be rude. He didn't want to lie but he couldn't tell the truth. There was some sort of middle ground? “Oh, not all about fashion. It is just so fascinating what happened. Could you imagine what this could do for ponies going through difficulties or who are confused? Oh, thank you,” Valen said to the maids. Even the maids were beautiful! “Your maids are really fetching.” ~ Curiosity about the situation in general seemed to be this colt's motive. Well, that couldn't be helped; after all, when you hear of a unique or odd situation, it's the natural response. Still, Bluebelle was still wondering what specifically drew Valen here. "I see. Well, I will say, most ponies don't take the direct route when they're curious about royalty. Most will ask everypony except me what I've been doing lately." She nodded and smiled at the remark about her maids. There was something else, though, in what he said. Something that rang a little odd. "I'm not sure how you think this will help, though. I mean, it isn't as if there are many ponies who suddenly wake up in a new body." ~ “I've always believed in asking the primary source whenever I want information. It may also help that I deal with several of the Elements on a regular basis,” Valen replied, focusing back on topic. “Well, think about it. Imagine a pony was having...ya know, gender issues or confusion. It would be interesting if they could see this all. That there was some sort of magic that could help them.” ~ Ah, right. Rarity was, as far as her importance to Equestria went, practically nobility. If she wanted an actual title, she could probably get one. As it was, any close associate of hers would be a close associate of Princess Twilight and... well, that would probably reduce the feeling of fear and majesty a pony generally felt in the presence of royalty. Never mind that only a few minutes in Blueblood's company would have done the same once upon a time... "I suppose... but it's not as if these sorts of spells haven't been around. the trouble is, so many of them are temporary in nature. A friend of mine, two of them, actually, got hit with one in Los Pegasus. Didn't last longer than a day. And even this..." Bluebell waved a hoof down at herself. "Isn't certain. The tabloids don't know about this, but the transformation isn't constant. It switches back and forth, and no one seems to have figured out why. Or, at least it did. Seems to have settled down now." She sighed, and took another sip of tea. That first week had been the toughest, not being able to get used to... well, any of it, frankly. ~ This was a new leap. “Oh, so it isn't consistent? Very interesting. Yet it has stabilized? What has happened? Has Twilight come to help you?” Valen asked, his mind buzzing. Why, if they found a way to contain the switches...that would be the holy grail of spells, wouldn't it? Permanent as long as you wanted it, but easily variable. So wonderfully organic a solution to all troubles. ~ Now Valen was heading straight through the fields of the Princess' experience to the deep miasmic swamp of her ignorance. Blueblood had never been a scholar, magical or otherwise, and was shaky even on basic theory. Complex spells like this were a nightmare for him to wrap his head around. "Well, yes, Twilight has come to help me, but it's... slow work, as I understand it. She had to snip off a piece of my... aura? Essence? I forget what she called it. Anyhow, new magic, new rules, we don't know what they are yet." She took another sip of tea, frowning. "The worst part is, I can't help but feel that its obvious, that I actually knew once, but forgot. But then, I don't know how my minds been working these days." ~ New revelations came at a consistent pace, Valen less enamored with the minutia of the matter as he was with the process of things. It was an amazing experiment if it was one. It was an amazing experience if it was simply that, but it was an imperfect model of the perfect solution iff it was as murky and ill-mantained as it seemed to be. Valen sighed. “Life can be rather confusing at times, can't it? Though I doubt may would have such issues remembering. Side effect or do you suspect more?” ~ "Well, technically, this whole gender-swap thing is the side effect." Bluebell felt it worth pointing out. At no point had he or she asked for this; it was just one of those accidental discoveries that happened all the time in magical research. Perhaps that was how it all happened, and magical research was essentially just a bunch of mad wizards casting random spells to see what happened. Wouldn't surprise Blue in the least. "See... honestly, I don't know how to feel about the whole business." She suddenly blurted out, after a moment of pondering the closed halls of academia. "It's as if... I'm not just one pony anymore. There's two of them in my head now, or at any rate, some kind of echo or... something." ~ Valen's ears drooped. There was a lot of troubling potential in that statement. “What do you mean?” Two ponies? Multiple personalities, or something more aetheral? Twilight wouldn't have done anything untoward to him. Her. That would mean that there was something more. Either some sort of magical mistake, in which case he imagined Twilight would have stuck it out a little more, or even sequestered him for safety and study. Or was it something more psychological, perhaps...? ~ What did she mean? That was a question tough even for Bluebelle to answer. The unicorn was no psychologist, and even as a regular pony, not much given to fruitful introspection. You didn't actually see all that much of yourself in a mirror, as it turned out. "Well... before all this happened, I was comfortable in my own skin. Never had any issues with who I was, even when ponies said I should have. But now... no matter what switch form I've got, there's always some part of me that feels... left out? I don't know." ~ Hypnosis was a lie. In reality, a pony could never be trained or told to do something they didn't want to do, if they apparently did so without being physically forced. That made it a useful way of gauging who a pony really was. In this case, maybe Twilight found something while doing the health spell and was making Blueblood confront something about himself that he had buried beneath his normally famously arrogant ways? “Very weird. Sometimes I feel the same way too- err, disregard” ~ Blueblood had a... thing, about other ponies assuming they knew more than they did about what was going on in his head. Usually, it was an overestimation; there were just some ponies who could not believe that a stallion could genuinely be thinking of "nothing" when asked. But they could, and Blueblood was quite notorious for not thinking. And the whole business had been an accident. There was nothing there before. But when you go through a sudden and dramatic situation... things come into you that weren't there before. Such as a spine, for instance. All very odd, she had to agree. "Mhm- wait, what was that you said?" ~ "Say? I didn't say anything. This tea is very good, by the way. Manechurian, I believe?" Valen said, his cool exterior betraying nothing of the panic he felt at having almost blown it. The topic was Bluebelle, not Valen, and what ponies could learn from Bluebell rather than what he could. Or that was what he told himself to distract from the selfish nature of this meeting, anyway, no matter what others thought. ~ Bluebell raised a delicate eyebrow at the young Orange colt. "Yes... it is Neighponese, actually." She gave him a good, long look, but he didn't buckle under it. Perhaps she had misheard, but it would be nice to be sure. Time for some conversational angling. "Well, it's good to think that this all might help somepony feel more comfortable; I can't say it's helped me yet. Although maybe that's the point you were trying to make; that the notion that somepony else feels the same sort of discomfort is, in a way, comforting?" ~ Valen nodded. “Yes. Not schadenfreude per se, since that means taking pleasure in the misery of others. This is more like taking pleasure in the knowledge that you are not alone in the same struggle, even if an element or two of it is perhaps dissimilar to your own. Companionship in struggles, if you were. If that makes any sense, anyway.” ~ Bluebelle nodded in turn. "That does make sense. I mean, it's what I meant." She sipped her tea, thoughtfully. "It's one of the reasons I rather think highly of my ancestors. They faced so many things, therefore proving they can be faced. Of course," She looked down at herself again. "They probably didn't face anything like this. At least, I don't think so." ~ “Well, pony history is very long and there is so much unknown. I remember when I was foal, being taught about the Mare in the Moon as a fairy tale. I didn't know Luna ever existed! That was the same for most of Equestria. A Princess condemned to the tombs of history, and yet that was more recent than many other elements of Pony history. And bigger. Yet forgotten. Maybe you are not nearly as alone as you think you are, yes?” ~ Bluebelle was beginning to suspect that she was very much not alone, that one who shared her situation, at least somewhat, was talking to her right now. But how to get Valen to come forward with that? "Well, it was a... pleasant, mostly, surprise to find I had a new Auntie. My own family can't come back like that, though. At least," She frowned at the memory of a certain incident at her summer house, "Not in any socially acceptable form. Ghosts and zombies are, well, vulgar is frankly too mild a term. But enough of that. Do you have somepony in mind, that you think I am helping?" ~ “Ghosts and zombies don't exist, no matter what my cousin says. But yes, it is always nice to feel like you have somepony else coming to your life with a special connection to you. That is how Rarity is to myself, in all honesty, though her emergence as important to me came with considerably less suddeness and global recognition,” Valen said, laughing while trying to think of an answer. “Oh, somepony in particular? Hmm..can't say. You know, I am speaking in global terms, of course,” he said, playing on whatever cruel ego remained. ~ "Pardon me, Valen, but they do." Bluebelle replied in the stern tone of a mare who does not appreciate being called a liar. "I can produce four witnesses to that effect. Granted, they're almost nothing like what most ponies say they are, but not anything you want around the house." Not wanting to dwell on the subject too much, she put down her tea cup, taking a small biscuit and dunking it. "Special connection, you say? Do be careful how you speak. I know certain unscrupulous reporters who would take those words and twist them into a headline about Rarity being a cradle-robber." She shuddered, remembering dealing with certain rapscallions of the press. Owning part-shares did not give you sufficient control of the staff, in her opinion. ~ "What's a cradle robber?" ~ There was a slow realization of the vast gap of experience between the two of them. Long enough, at any rate, for the dunked biscuit to crumble in the tea. Bluebell sighed, putting the cup of sugary sludge aside. "It's a term referring to a pony who romances another pony much younger than themselves, possibly too young altogether. Not a thing that happens all that often, but it's one of those labels that always gets a shock reaction, and so the unscrupulous rumor-mongers look for opportunities to use it." ~ “Ahhhhhhhhhhh I see. That's creepy. Luckily, you're not an unscrupulous pony, right?” Valen said, drinking more tea. “Though I guess I should still say that I always did find the rumors of your wild behavior mostly unfounded beforehoof anyway. You do seem to have a much better reputation now. Sort of night and day. Inspiring!” ~ "Well, I should like to think I wasn't!" She replied, with some vehemence. "And you're right, my behavior was far from what you would call 'wild.' Not to say it wasn't, well, bad..." Bluebelle was a pony concerned over her image, but some things could not be covered over. "Just, not bad in an expansive way. Cowardice played a large part in that, but... well, you can't live like that, and keep a sense of self-respect. Or be any real kind of friend. That's all, really, that it stemmed from." She sat back, thinking over the past few years. "It really has been inspiring, I suppose. I will say, I think the change over the past few years in my life, with the friends I've made and the things I've managed to do, is really more of a dramatic change than this latest one. As far as my real person goes, at any rate. A change of soul, rather than of the body." ~ There was a quote that he loved regarding the nature of courage. “Falsehood is cowardice, the truth courage,” he replied, nodding his head both to the meaning and what she had said. It was very difficult to live life in the shadows of your own ill-temperment or worse, live it in fear of your own actions. Cowardice was a disease that could strike anyone and required nothing other than courage to fight. In that way, Bluebelle was a symbol of courage to many as whether or not she was a mare at heart or not, her recent transformation from one of the most selfish and ill-received ponies in Equestria to a paragon of justice was a sight to behold. “You've done such marvelous things already. Who knows what the future holds for a mare such as yourself? The bravery you've shown so far can only be equaled by what you'll do in the future. My mother always says we exist on a staircase, and we always ascend as long as we wish it. I think yiu are experiencing something very similar, if a bit off the beaten path, and inspiring all the same.” ~ "Hm, well, she wouldn't be the first to say things like that to me. I believe Rarity said something similar when I dropped by for the dresses." She gave a most charming and sweet smile to Valen. Reformed or not, the Princess was quite receptive and susceptible to praise. "So tell me, have I inspired you in any particular way?" ~ Well, the truth was he didn't know. It was so exciting to see somepony seemingly embrace an identity they had. But learning that this wasn't exactly the case, that there were elements to the story that had the hint of not necessarily being on the same page emotionally as she was now physically, dampened what it could mean. Unless that was all just a cover, which he wasn't about to say was an impossibility. “Well...hmm...maybe? It is hard to say, in all honesty. I can see some relations, but many differences.” ~ That was an answer so vague as to not actually be an answer. Valen had been giving these to Bluebelle every time she tried to enlighten herself about this colt, and it was beginning to rub her the wrong way. Was this what Auntie felt like every time they talked? The Princess was moved in sympathy for her adopted relative; transparent evasiveness irritated more than it concealed. "You know, there's not much that any pony can do to help you unless you're willing to be more up front about what you're feeling. Of course, I understand if you're discouraged by other ponies telling you what they think you are feeling, and not listening to your own account. I've had to deal with that several times over the past few weeks." ~ There was a great universal truth in there. Few things were as constantly irritating as ponies informing you who you were and what you thought. That seemed to be more his purview, didn't it? But that didn't stop ponies from doing it. His parents, Miss Rarity, Sweetie Belle and friends- all had opinions and all had thoughts and all shared everything, assuming they were his own views hidden deep inside. All that did was make it considerably more difficult to get a real answer out of himself. “I suppose that is true. I wish I knew myself, but I guess there is a starting point that would be easy enough to start at. Tell me, do you pay attention to the fashion scene at all?” Valen asked, an air of confidence born out of throwing away worry more than any actual bravery showing through. ~ "Oh, one has to keep up with it, in my position." Bluebelle replied to Valen's inquiry about the fashion scene. The Princess was beginning to sense that she had finally started to get at what was really eating at her guest. She felt confident in letting him take the lead on conversation. "At the consumer end, I mean. What names to look out for in design, where to go to get them, what ponies will think of you when you wear them. I don't have many ties in the industry itself, though I'd considered investing or sponsoring a show or two. I couldn't name more than a few models, for instance." ~ "And what models could you name?" ~ "Er..." Put on the spot, Bluebelle suddenly found herself blanking. "There's... Fluttershy, but she doesn't do that work anymore. Fleur de Lis... who hasn't done much either lately..." Alright, so a Princess was no industry figure, but this was embarrassing! "I believe Rarity also mentioned someone she was working with. A Prench mare? I can't recall her name right now, I... well, was distracted." The name had come up in conversation while she was getting fitted for the dress, but before Bluebelle had dropped the bombshell as to her true identity. Hence, her mind was not exactly paying attention.... ~ A mare? My my, was he that good? Hah. Not likely. Just a 'filly'. “Oh, let me guess. Did Miss Rarity mention...Gilded Lilly?” ~ The name ran up the belfry and rang the tower's bell. "Oh, yes, I believe that was the name." It began with G, that much the Princess was certain of. The rest of the name rang true, though he could have said Glitzen Glamour, and Bluebelle would have nodded. ~ Valen nodded, then tossed his name. “And tell me, Rarity said,”- Prench accent activated, “zat it was a Prench filly, oui?” ~ It probably shouldn't have taken Bluebelle by surprise, but it did. The shift in accent, carriage, poise, and mannerisms was almost as startling as a full transformation. It didn't take her long to put all the pieces together. "Ah... and now I think I see why you wanted to visit me..." ~ Valen laughed, relieved in a small way. There was more in common in confusion that certainty sometimes. “Yes! Though I must say, it takes some people so much more to believe it. And the accent can be hard to drop after a few weeks.” ~ "Really... I suppose it would be." Now that she knew what was what, somewhat, Bluebelle stood up to take another look at Valen. "Although, in my case, the switches tend to be quicker. I'm not sure why; but after half a day, I can walk and talk like my old self. Or new, for that matter." ~ Valen nodded. “I would think so. After a few hours of actually being a brand new body I'd guess whatever is causing it would probably help you adjust, especially with how...well formed it appears to have been. No need to hide or try and pull the wool over their eyes.” ~ After considering, Bluebelle nodded. It made sense, being able to transition fully, in front of ponies who knew what was going on, probably made it a lot easier. "I have to give credit to my friends and staff, then. It would be a lot harder to go through without their support..." She paused, looking at Valen with softened eyes, "I take it, then, that you do no enjoy similar advantages" ~ Valen put hoof to chin, putting thought to it. “Well...yes and no. But maybe yes? Miss Rarity knows. She is the one who first asked an has helped me become as qualified as I am. And though they don't know I am a colt, all the makeup artists are good to me. Though it is very nervewracking, seeing as if I make one small mistake I can ruin not only my career and reputation, butt Mis Rarity's.” ~ The Princess gave a sympathetic laugh. "Oh, I know that pressure. Although, technically, I rather have ruined a reputation, which I am now rehabilitating." She shrugged, taking her seat again. "Tabloids can make a tempest in a teapot; you'll just have to learn to weather the storm. Sugar helps, in moderation." She remarked, adding a lump to her cup. ~ This was true. His reputation had once been a shattered form of a progressively less tolerable stallion, who existed in whatever good graces he did because of his royal blood. “That is very true. Nopony liked you. Now a lot more do. There is always hope when you know the path, but for me I just feel...less aware, I'd say, of it," Valen said as he dutifully got more sugar. ~ "So, if I'm hearing you right, you're not sure of what you actually want to do? Or be known for?" Bluebelle wasn't sure how much she could help there. True, she had come up for the idea of IMAGINE, which was now her guiding star for all House Blueblood's public initiatives... but he'd come up with that idea while drunk. Therefore, Blue had a reasonable hesitation in offering himself up as an emulatable example. ~ Valen considered it. What was he after? Was he after anything, or did he just want to know about a pony who had been through what Bluebelle had? Valen sighed. “I wish I knew myself. I came here because of what happened to you. It seemed so...well, I'm sure this is hard for you, but so simple compared to the amount of effort that goes into my lies. To a certain extent, does that seem true?” ~ Bluebell tapped her chin. "Well, I suppose in a way, it is simpler. I was honestly surprised myself on how simple it was, when I got down to it. But I suppose the main difference is that I just had to deal with what was happening to me as best I could. I didn't have to fool anypony." Well, besides Rarity, temporarily, but that was beside the point. ~ Valen nodded. “You don't need to lie. My problem is I need to lie, and the lie is not just about what I am, but who I am. And I guess I worry about what I am, and even then, who I am.” ~ "The lie has obscured what the truth is for you?" Bluebelle asked softly, a little worry starting in the back of her mind. Valen might soon ask an important question that she did not feel at all qualified to answer. ~ “Maybe. But on the other hand, maybe I'm really good at the lie for a good reason? I was a crossdresser even before I had to go further.” ~ Bluebelle shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know what the inside of your head is, and I won't presume on it." She felt that was the right answer, but it felt distinctly unsatisfactory. The Princess tried to probe with a further question, "I couldn't have pulled off a dress so well myself, but then I didn't have the figure for it. How did you find out that you did?" ~ Valen laughed. “Oh, I was always a crossdresser. Just preferred the styles and my family had the money so I could order them to fit. Didn't know I could pass as well as I do or as easily as I do until Miss Rarity needed help. When did you figure out after your transformation that moving came so natural?” ~ "It... didn't, actually. My honor guard, wonderful mare, had to teach me how to walk without my own hips twisting my legs in a knot." It was true; Bluebelle had been a fast study, but the early days were... awkward, to say the least. "I suppose you had your own troubles at the beginning?" ~ Valen had to stifle a giggle. “I could imagine how difficult that was, what with the new body and everything. The real issue there is less the difference between how a mare and a stallion moves and carries the body, but how to work the muscles,” he nodded, “as for me, Miss Rarity helped me a lot. It was somewhat...embarrassing, of course. But she said I already carried myself with- how did she put it- 'feminine grace'? It came rather easily after a while. Now it is sometimes hard not to! Same with the accent.” ~ "Well, I'd long been of the opinion that grace, regality, and the like were not exclusively feminine, though..." And here she gave a half-wry smile, "Not everypony thought I proved my point." She stretched out on the couch, stress from bending over IMAGINE paperwork easing out out of her back. "Ah... forgive me for making myself a little more comfortable, but things have been piling up. I had to take a little time off of, well, everything to get used to this, and now I've had to deal with the backlog. And now you've entered the working world yourself, so to speak. What do you think of it?" ~ Valen nodded. “It seems like it piles up sometimes. I have two separate lives, but one needs to be compartmentalized from the other, Makes it difficult, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it. I'm really good it- I look great. I think I feel great...and I'm treated like a billion bits. Heck, I feel like royalty! No wonder it was so hard for you before.” ~ "Mmm... I won't deny, though it might sometimes have gotten a little tedious to have to show up to certain soiree's again and again, I loved that part of being born who I was." She giggled. "Still do, to be honest, though towards the end I was treated more like a joke than a Royal. My own fault, I suppose. I... really haven't gotten a sense of what the public thinks of me now. But I guess I don't care as much anymore." She didn't know if that would be helpful, but it was the most helpful thing she could think of from her recent experience. ~ “Well, that depends on who you're speaking with. Many ponies, because of how well you've carried yourself, think this isn't an accident and that you're comfortable. Your actions seem to them to be vindication- they look at you as a brave pony, if I am being honest. Those that believe it is an accident think it is just another point of shame, if a more comedic one, in a long line of one. Still others don't have much of an opinion and will justa ccept what you say, regardless of what the truth is.” ~ "You have a point there; the papers often give a false unanimity to public opinion." That was a truth which Blueblood had taken a while to learn, and still now required reminding of. "So... what exactly are you worried that ponies will think of *you*?" She asked, turning the question back upon Valen. ~ Valen looked down, his hoof slapping gently against the floor. “...That I'm weird, maybe. That what I do is weird or wrong, that I'm wrong, that something is off about me. I'm worried they'll think my family is awful for allowing me to do it, and that Miss Rarity needs to be punished. Also the opposite- that I'm better that way and need to stay the way, and the problem is I don't know if any of them are right.” ~ Hm, certainly a difficult issue. Bluebell wondered if there was anything from her experience that would help the colt; despite the superficial similarity of their situations, they were fundamentally different in that she was purely reacting to her situation. She, currently, had no power to choose one path over another. But... but Blue had chosen to not be the same sort of pony he'd chosen to be before. Maybe that would help? "Well... I don't see that you'd have to lock yourself into anything now. I mean, you're still figuring it all out, right? But... well, take it from me, this is not the sort of thing one can easily keep secret. Or that one should, really. Just having it all out in the open takes a load off of the mind." ~ Valen nodded, looking up at the Prince turned Princess. “That would be best. But no matter what, I don't know if I'm happy because I'm happy with myself or because I'm making others happy with my choices. I've always succored myself on the well-being of friends and family. I'm certain whatever my identity is I'll be comfortable with it, but I just wish there was a way to just get that solved already.” ~ Ah, so it was the simple fact of not knowing how things would shake out, and being impatient for the resolution. That Bluebelle could completely sympathize with. "You and me both, then! But there's no substitute for time in some things. You can't rush research, as Twilight told me when I asked how long a cure would take." Say, now there was a thought... "Maybe if you approached it like an experiment, taking notes of reactions, relations, and changes between the two, it would help? Break up a big problem into small questions? That's what I've had to do to get IMAGINE's projects off the ground." ~ Valen considered this. It would seem to work, and when it came to judging what others thought it could work. And since he did live on that sweet nectar of approval, it would seem to be a good method. “Well, I think that sounds brilliant. But how would that be done? I'm too close to the issue...” ~ Hm... so he needed some impartial monitoring? "Well... my staff have been keeping a pretty good watch on me. Maybe I could... have you borrow their services somehow?"
  11. The Canterlot Palace gardens were not open to the public at this hour. Not tonight, anyhow. Tonight was one of the nights when they were reserved for Royal Use only. That ordinance was meant to reserve them for the two ruling Princes... but technically, they allowed in Princess Bluebelle as well. Many ponies would come out here to admire the moon. And one might say that the mare was doing so... in it's reflection on the pond. Although, a more realistic observer would say that she was engaged in studying her own reflection... ~ Prince Artemis was out and about himself, enjoying the night sky, gazing up at the moon that long ago had been his prison, enjoying his peace, his silence his... Artemis turned his head slightly, and spotted the blob of white in the distance, and sighed, walking over quietly, leaning in to be behind his /dear/ niece (That's what Celeste said, but alas her birth was before Artemis's return...) "Good evening dear" ~ "Hm?" Bluebell had been often described as "vapid," which was a word that the commoners used when they didn't look as good as a noble. Of course, only half of her looks were due to noble blood. The other half came from constant effort! Hence, the attention paid at all times to it... "Oh, hello Uncle. I was just seeing how the moonlight affected my mane." She tossed her golden locks to show how the silver highlighted them... even Artemis would have to admit she used the Moon's light to great affect. "What do you think?" ~ "It looks very nice, but there are more important things for a young Princess to be dwelling on, for instance, how goes your studies?" Artemis was not one for vanity, not in himself, nor others, and despite his Niece's brilliant beauty, he was far more concerned about her education and brains, she did bare the title Princess after all.. ~ "Studies?" Bluebell got all the looks in her family... but there weren't enough brains for a sibling, so she was only filly. She was an academic nonentity, as far as grades were concerned. But, that wasn't to say that schooling was teaching her nothing. For example, she was learning the all-important art of delegation! In charming other students to write essays for her... "Oh, they're progressing quite well, I should say." It was something of a testament to her social skills that she could keep a straight face saying that. ~ Artemis just stared at her, in a look of utter deadpan irritation "I see, then you wouldn't mind telling me who invented the spell of teleportation?" He asked, starting to circle her then.. ~ Bluebelle's answer came swiftly, confidently,... and erroneously. "Starswirl the Beardless." That mare had been associated with so many spells that her name had managed to penetrate into even the Princesses' skull. It was usually a safe guess." ~ "Very good, and what is so important about Starswirl?" He asked, as he continued to circle around her.. "What is her true significance?" ~ Oh, had she got it right? Excellent! Soon, she'd have Uncle Artemis officially off her case! Except... now he had given her what amounted to an essay question. She wasn't good at answering those herself. But, as no pliable stallions were in sight, nothing for it. "Uh... if it wasn't the spells.... was it the fact that she was... er, a she?" The Princess remembered something vaguely about that; beyond was nothing but a frontier of pure ignorance. ~ "Correct, Starswirl was the first female unicorn to ever acquire the status of Wizard, it is very important for you to study about her, she is a wonderful rolemodel, for you see, alas in Equestria's darker times, before My brother and I took rule...the world was not kind to females who wished to advance their magic, since you have no such limitation it is wise to advance yours" He nodded "Not only for what it expands your mind to, but to honor those who worked hard so that you have this chance.." ~ Outwardly, Bluebelle presented the picture of the ever-diligent pupil. Inwardly, she was sighing in boredom. Really, the reward for a question well-answered was another lecture? And it was all pointless anyway. Magic wasn't her strong suit. She knew it. The tutors knew it. There was no point in letting oneself grow pale and wan in a library when the tools of beauty and social grace came more naturally to a pony. Just because some egghead in the past had done something great, now every female unicorn was expected to follow in her footsteps! The Princess' internal mood passed from boredom to anger, but she kept calm throughout, only saying, "Yes, uncle." ~ "I want you to make sure that other ponies know that you are not someone to be trifled with " He said sternly, THOUGH that was sugared with obvious affection "I do not like the thought of others thinking that you are some pretty bauble with more mane than brains" Oh he listened to rumors, he heard dreams, he knew that her best features seemed to be only skin deep. "Besides, learn the right spell and it can make your mane literally glimmer like the stars~" ~ If Bluebelle had minded the rumors, she wouldn't have leveraged them to her own advantage. Ponies were easier to manipulate if they thought they were smarter than you. Still, the idea of not being trifled with was something quite appealing to the young Princess. The part about the glimmering mane perked her interest too. "Really? I've been trying to get that effect for months. I thought it had something to do with a shampoo/conditioner combination. I experimented with... pretty much everything I could get. Including Mayonnaise." She shuddered. "I swear, the key lime shampoo actually made it fizz. Maybe it had something to do with... acid composition? They don't put that on the bottles, you have to just try it and see what happens." Bluebell wasn't without brains, or scientific skill. She just had a very narrow range of application. ~ "Oh do NOT use Mayonnaise! It is only for headlice, and if it's the brand of Key Lime shampoo I am thinking of? Oh it frizzes the mane dreadfully.." He said, turning to glance at her "Yes really, in fact it's a reletivly simple spell if you wish to learn it " True Artemis was not vain....except about his hair, then yes yes he was... Moving a hoof to lightly touch her locks "Hmm, it does look well kept but perhaps it could use a nice, creamy conditioner to add added silk?" ~ "Yes, well, that would have been helpful to know before, uncle." Bluebelle replied in mock irritation. Truth be told, she was quite happy to have discovered a point of vanity in her Uncle Artemis. The Princes could be downright oppressive with their airs of Perfection, if you didn't know the flaws... "Well, I certainly won't say no to the lesson." She smiled, narrowing her eyes as she took a quick look over her uncle's hair. "Hm... if it's texture you're going for, yes. Coconut is always popular, but I myself have always preferred shea butter." ~ "Oh goodness, I am allergic to Coconut" He wrinkled his muzzle, "Shea Butter can work wonders, come along, let's go inside and find a good spot to practice, it really is a wonderful spell, I also know one for changing mane color, I used to turn your Uncle Celeste's mane random colors all the time when we were younger~!" ~ "Oh?" Bluebelle filed that under 'useful information' as she walked in her uncle's wake. "I've never had much use for changing mane colors myself, mine works well with my coat. Of course, other ponies aren't so lucky." She tried to chuckle along as Artemis recounted his foalhood pranks, but honestly, she sympathized with Solaris in this matter. Imagine waking up to find your mane had turned puce! It didn't bear thinking about. ~ "Oh I'd always change it to match his outfit, though he did rather love the fire red I did his mane once, it looked very fetching on him, but alas he preffers looking like the pastels decided to coexist souly upon his scalp..." ~ Hm, fire red... tempting, but no. That color came with stereptypes that were not at all useful to her. She could see why her uncle would like it, though. "Interesting. Oh, the east court looks empty, why don't we try there?" ~ "Excellent idea" That area WAS always rather empty, perfect for study... "I do not care much to change my mane color, but if I can glitz it up a touch I tend to do so, a thousand years upon the moon makes one rather bored..." ~ As Bluebelle entered the court, she tried to imagine what a thousand years on the moon would be like. All things considered, she would prefer banishment to Tartarus. At least there one had others to be admired by if one took care of one's appearance. But alone... "I'm surprised you still bothered, after so many years of nopony actually seeing you. I honestly have to admire that kind of dedication to aesthetics." ~ "Darling" He flipped his mane then "We do not look good for the sake of OTHERS, We look good for ourselves~" He said, glancing at her as he kept walking through the halls, glancing out the windows "Them liking how we look is just a side benefit~" ~ Well, that was certainly a philosophy to live by, as far as Bluebelle was concerned. And upon reflection, even when alone, she would not consent to actually look bad. Or, at any rate, feel as if she was looking bad. Not necessarily the same thing. The opinions of others were a useful correction to self-delusion, in her experience. Vanity may be a vice, but it did at least value the opinions of others. "The results do speak for themselves." She said admiringly. "Now how about showing me how you did that?" ~ "Very well, first and foremost this spell requires a clear mind...and the basic knowledge of a light spell, like so" He raised his head up, horn pointing straight up, it glew with the cyan blue of his eyes, which were now closed, before turning into a bright light. ~ Right... Light Spell. She knew how to do that. Hers required a little more concentration, but soon her own horn was glowing the teal of her own irises, brightening into a white light. ~ "Now I want you to focus on that light, feel it's warmth around your horn, tip your head back just slightly, and focus on that glow, that warmth flowing through you, consuming your mane in it's brilliance" ~ Hm... this required not opening her eyes, as that would likely blind her. Just feel... the warmth spreading back behind her ears, lighting up and lifting her mane. Slowly, the glow suffused it, before releasing in a bright flash. Bluebelle's mane held the glow just long enough for her to open her eyes, and see it fade. "Oh... this is going to take more work, I think..." ~ Of course Artemis's was glowing with the radiance as he had much more practice, but he looked proud "You did well for your first time, it requires focus to get it to stick, but once it does...It really does suit you, perhaps we can perfect it before the gala, and you can make quite the entrance hn?" ~ Failure was something Bluebelle had grown used to in magic. Never before, however, had she been so motivated to overcome it. That was the power of practical demonstration, and personalized tutoring. "I'll be sure to practice it, Uncle. I'll just... need a few minutes before I try again." ~ "Take all your time dear" He'd make a magic user out of her yet, one spell at a time.. ~ After a few deep breaths, the Princess was ready again. She gathered a glow to her horn, letting it grow gently this time. Soon, however, her magic was glowing even brighter than before. Bluebell began to infuse her mane with it... and her control slipped. BAM Once the smoke cleared, it revealed a slightly singed princess... with a mane styled like a dandelion. "Ow... Uncle, how bad is it?" ~ She was doing good.....doing...He grimaced at the boom... "Oh..Oh it's.." He focused , horn glowing "Oh hold still dear and I'll fix it..don't ask how it looks.." ~ Bluebell whimpered, as her imagination filled in the gap left by her uncle's lack of description. 'Bride of Frankenpony' immediately came to mind. She kept absolutely still as Artemis began to fix her mane. ~ Artemis came closer, and closed his eyes, her mane gently glowing as he focused on repairing the damage, infusing a bit of glow in it as he went, temporary ofcourse but after that disaster... "There..." ~ Bluebelle began to relax as she felt her mane being fixed. It was one of the instinctive reactions of ponies, known as the Brushie effect. Once Artemis was finished, the Princess sighed and smiled, opening her eyes... "Thank you, Uncle." She reached back to feel her mane, the glow tingling on her hoof. "Oh..." She immediately began looking for a reflective surface, finding one on the polished marble tiles of the floor. "It's... wonderful..." ~ He chuckled "You'll be able to do that yourself soon... come, shall we go back to the lake, so you can view it properly...?" After all the floors didn't quite do it justice.. ~ Bluebelle's expression was bright and hopeful, everything a teacher could want in a pupil. "Oh, yes!" She trotted out, humming to herself. Soon... soon she would be able make herself even more beautiful; a suitable look for a Princess. Upon arrival at the lake, she looked in... and saw the stars themselves in her mane, lit all by the light of the moon. The sight took her breath away... ~ Artemis was pleased, it was good to see her so bright and hopeful, true it was for a rather vain, and frivilous reason, but...well they seemed important to her, it wouldn't kill him to let her be herself... "I take it you like it then....?" He asked quietly. ~ When she next looked up, Bluebelle's eyes were shining like her mane. "Oh, yes Uncle Artemis! It's wonderful..." To her credit, she kept her head up for a few 10 seconds before her gaze was drawn back down... "Wow... when did you first come up with this?" ~ "When I went to my first Gala" He shrugged "I..I was a rather vain child, and I wished to make an entrance, I worked on the spell tirelessly, and made quite the dazzling entrance" He thought on it a bit,and smiled fondly, it really was a lovely memory.. ~ She nodded. It made perfect sense. Of course you would want to go all out for the biggest event in Equestria... "But how did you even get the idea? What made you think it was possible?" ~ "I...might..have been staring at my reflection, trying to think, and noticed the stars behind me, and that my mane matched the night sky...and.."He flushed "Oh don't let me prattle on, it makes me sound so..." So vain. ~ "Oh, don't be so hard on yourself, Uncle. It all sounds perfectly reasonable to me!" Not, perhaps, the most glowing of endorsements. Still, vanity had its advantages. A teacher could make good use of it as a lever, and Artemis had done so. Come next Monday, Bluebelle would be paying a good deal more attention in magic class. ~ He chuckled "Well it made a striking entrance, and in time..you will do so as well " He was glad to know he had interested her "It's really a beautiful night.." His wings itched to fly...but alas his dear Niece did not seem to posess wings... ~ The lake surface reflection held the night sky. Almost nothing else could, but even then it only held a small portion. Once again, Bluebelle's eyes were drawn upwards to the night... and how it framed Artemis. "You know, it's almost an unfair advantage for you, being able to shape the background as well as the show." She teased. ~ Artemis glanced at her and chuckled.. "I do suppose that is true, but mhm when you got it, you got it" He glanced at the moon again "...Bluebelle...would..." He paused. ~ 'When you got it...' yep, Artemis had it right. Bluebell smiled, but then tilted her head, curious, as her Uncle paused. "...What? What is it?" ~ "..Would.. you like to go flying with me...?" He finally finished. ~ That... was unexpected. Bluebelle had never considered flying before in her life. It was what pegasi did... and ailerons too, she supposed. Which meant that it was royal, and she was royal... so why not? "I... would like to... but how?" ~ "It would be temporary" He assured her "Just..just till Celeste raises the sun...but I could do it.. for a few hours at least..if you truly wanted to" ~ It took a few minutes for it to dawn on the Princess. At first, she had just thought Artemis might carry her... but he was implying that he would actually give Bluebelle wings! "Oh! I... I would!" ~ A soft smile crossed his face "Very well, stand over there a bit please.."He wouldn't be able to do this EVERY night, but tonight, just a moment between them, it seemed like the perfect time to do so.. ~ Bluebell's eyes had been shining before, but not so brightly as now. For tonight, at least, she would be a full Princess. Horn, wings, beauty, no arguments from no pony! Why didn't she spend more time with Uncle Artemis? He was a really awesome relative! ~ It took a bit of focus, his horn glowing as he raised it up, spreading his midnight blue wings out, before lowering his head, aiming at Bluebelle, it lifted her off the floor, and the blue and white tinted magic swirled around her, causing a bright flash, when it cleared, she would have a lovely pair of white wings. ~ The change felt... weird. There was no other word for it in her vocabulary. How else do you describe the growing out of bones, the branching out of nerves, the overflowing sensation of becoming something new, something greater.... Once it was done, Bluebelle flapped her wings, feeling the air underneath as something almost solid, that she could just push against and be aloft. "Oh... my..." ~ He chuckled, wings still outspread "Now do remember, it's just for tonight..." He didn't want her hopes up too high.. ~ The knowledge that it was temporary may or may not have imprinted itself on Bluebelle's brain. In any case, she seemed in a hurry to go and see what she looked like. Rushing back to the lake, she saw.... Well, somepony that was not quite her. An ascended version, as it were. "That... is that me?" ~ Artemis walked over, looking down at her reflection and chuckled "Yes, yes that is you, that is all you could be ...." ~ "All I could be..." Her voice trailed off, as her gaze went from the present, to the possible future. Could... could this really be what she would become? If... she would... Bluebelle rocked back onto her haunches, wings automatically unfolding to catch her. "Whoa... uh... really?" ~ "Why yes, the world is different now, in order to be come as you see yourself now, you must understand yourself, you must find that one goal, that one destiny that seizes you, that helps you fufill your potential, that benefits not only you but all of Equestria," He said and chuckled, "Now come, we will discuss it later..~" ~ Her one goal... her destiny... up until tonight, Bluebelle hadn't thought of her destiny as being anything but the most beautiful and admired mare in Equestria. Maybe a little diplomatic work, but nothing major in her ambitions. But now, her imagination was stretching with her wings. She wanted to bite the air. She wanted to fly. "Alright. I want to get some use out of these before sunrise!" ~ Artemis bent his legs then and lept in the air, taking flight "Come along then, and perhaps come the end of the night, you might be interested in an offer I have for you" ~ The Princess had never flown before, but there was a magic in her wings. No surprise there, considering that magic had given them to her. In any case, her body knew what to do before her brain. With a bit of a running jump, she was airborne! Her wing flaps were frantic at first, tilting her to and fro as she sought balance. Eventually, however, her motions evened out, and she began to enjoy the ride. It was thrilling, to feel the wind in her sparkly mane as she sailed freely through the sky. "This... is amazing!" ~ "It is indeed, now keep your wings open, let the wind dance with you!" He turned to the side, dropping slowly and then twirling up, flying up into the light of the moon. ~ Bluebelle wasn't quite so confident as to try to mirror her uncle's moves, but she certainly let the wind dance with her! She dipped, swooped, and sailed in graceful arcs, laughing with delight. ~ Artemis watched her carefully, ready to spring into action should she show a moment of distress, but seeing her take to it so well... well he had to smile, she was quite the flyer.. ~ The joy of motion was obvious, but regaining a steady pace was a far more... awkward business. Bluebelle shed more than a few feathers with her desperate flaps to re-orient herself. "Wh-whoop! Whoa..." She got there at last, though, breathing heavily. "There! That was... fun alright..." She looked over to Artemis, smiling. "You... said something about an offer?" ~ Artemis glanced forward once she seemed to be stable "Well as you know..My Brother has a student, whom she teaches all of her magic, and skill to...one who she takes under her wing..." ~ Bluebelle nodded. "Oh, yes... Dusk." The stallion in question was undeniably a prodigy, often at the Palace, but... well, never really talked to any pony. Always had his nose buried in a book, never going out, talking to any pony, or socializing in general. In fact, it was the impression that he'd left on her of what magical scholarship was like that had repelled Bluebelle from the subject. "What about him?" ~ "...Well...I have..recently been thinking of acquiring a ...Student of my own " He said, coughing a little bit as he kept his gaze forward. ~ "Yes....?" Either Bluebelle was slow on the uptake, or not wanting to accelerate the extension of the offer. Whether that was from reluctance, or simply because she liked to see her uncle stammer like that was hard to tell ~ "....Would..you be interested...?" ~ Well, there it was. The question... before tonight, Bluebelle would have refused out of hoof. but with the stars in her mane, and on the wing... well, how could she turn down studying under Artemis now? "You make a tempting offer!" She laughed, trilling like finely-crafted bells. "Let me think... why, of course!" She swooped once again, pulling out with more grace this time. ~ Artemis was practically glowing, turning to look at her, watching her swoop "Truly? You are not just agreeing to be polite?" Then again he'd seen her manners... ~ "Uncle, I don't do that sort of thing. If I don't want to do a thing, I'll let you know, all right!" Many ponies could testify to her curtness, even biting sarcasm, under those circumstances. ~ That seemed to satisfy his worry, and his smile returned... "Oh..Very well ~! I'm so glad! I've been wanting a student of my very own~" ~ "Ahaha, really? Well, I suppose you would, being such a good teacher and all." Bluebelle had been curious, though; as far as she could remember, Uncle Sol had been going to every entrance exam for his school, looking for promising talent. Artemis had been... more reclusive. Perhaps he didn't want to horn in on his brother's territory. ~ Artemis had a more..personal style 'Yes , I mean I am uncomfortable making students compete for well..such a position..I figured it would be best to simply find someone I care about and take them under my wing.." ~ "Well, you found me, so it worked!" The Princess wheeled about in the air, full of joy.... and possibly herself. Dear old Uncle had taken on a long-term project, alright! ~ After that flight and a good nights rest, Artemis was waiting the next day, what if she didn't show? What if she changed his mind? What if he wasn't cut out to TEACH!? ~ As for the student, her mind was less on the upcoming lesson, and more on the fact that... she was no longer an alicorn! True, Uncle Artemis had said that it would be temporary... but still! She wanted to be able to show off just a little! Oh, well. Only thing to do now was to figure out how Artemis cast that spell in the first place! And that started with knocking on his door. "Hello? It's your beautiful niece here!" ~ Artemis glanced at the door, and tried to not over eagerly spring towards it, magic throwing the door open 'Good Morning my dear! How did you sleep last night?" ~ "Oh..." She yawned, almost certainly on cue. "The excitement was a little much for me, I admit. You just can't stay still with a night like that behind you. And a possibility for more in front!" ~ Bluebelle stepped with excitement into the room, though being what she was, she moved with more of a sashay than a bounce. Still, for today, she was the eager student. "So... what's on your syllabus, Uncle Artemis?" ~ "Today I figured we'd go to the Starswirl the Beardless section of the Library" He said calmly, though there was a smirk on his face..a faint one. ~ Oh, a library day... Bluebelle's enthusiasm began to drain at the mention of the old wizard's name. "Um... OK, I guess." ~ He smirked as they entered the wing....there seemed to be a table with a box on it.. "Well I got you some supplies for your studies" ~ Bluebell's sashay had long since downgraded to a shuffle as they ended up in the library. "Supplies...?" She asked, lifting her head in the very mildest of curiosities ~ "Go on and have a look~" ~ Artemis' tone caught her attention, and she finally noticed the smirk on his face. "Hm? And just what are you up to?" She asked, but with a smile returning to her face as she opened the box... ~ Inside was a rather lovely broach, it was the color of the night sky, with glittering white diamonds all around it, though in the center very carefully etched in the very color of BlueBelle's eyes, was her cutie mark "I figured I'd start with a late birthday present, and then we could go into town for lunch, and plan how we shall do things..." ~ The Princess' mouth dropped open in surprise as she saw the broach, eyes sparkling as she lifted it out. "It's... beautiful..." She said, reverently, before looking up at her uncle. "You... you incorrigible prankster!" She shook her head at Artemis, pinning on the broach. "Thank you, though, that does sound lovely." ~ "The look on your face was utterly priceless~" He smirked and chuckled "I'm glad you like it" ~ "Hm, it was well chosen. Speaking of which... where did you plan lunch?"
  12. Breakbeak city was hardly what any pony would call regal. "Dirty by-product of Industrialism" was more like it. Fact was, most ponies or griffons who called it home didn't really love it enough to make it beautiful. In fact, most didn't care anything for beauty or looks in general. Which was what made Norton Breakbeak I such a contrast as he proceeded along the only wide boulevard in the place. He was dressed resplendently in red, blue, and gold, with regalia polished to a shine. Citizens saw him coming for a quarter mile. Most actually bowed, though more in sarcasm than in earnest. They all knew about "Emperor" Breakbeak, but were willing to tolerate his foibles, mostly because, at the end of the day, he really did care about them, and would often stop to help sweep off the doorstep, or clean the coal dust off the windows. He wanted a clean and shining city, and so would put his claws where his beak was, so to speak... ~ This city was surprisingly far away from the city of Baltimare, apparently stuck in the vicinity of a desert. If someone tried to fly such a cross country trip in a single day, their heart might explode from exhaustion! Luckily there was a pretty well known mountaintop city called Canterlot that travellers could rest at on their journies! And if you were a particularly inexperienced flier, you might get distracted and flounder about in some local lakes whenever you got tired of flying. Aquaria had heard a lot about Breakbeak City from one of her newest friends of late. Cydonia, her hippogriff friend, said her parents had met in this city, a loving mare and her griffon mate! Or was it a stallion and a griffoness? In fact, she couldn't quite remember if the pair had actually met in the city of Breakbeak, but enough information made vague enough sense to tingle the deeper parts of her brain. After spending such a long time flying, the odd looking lifeguard landed atop someone's metal roof, only to let out a few worried squawks at the shack nearly burned her sensitive talons and paws! The ducktiger griffon had dark colored feathers that held a long and pointy beak with a set of curious rose colored eyes! Her cat portion was white, stained with long jagged stripes that she often jokingly referred to as making her a zebra! The griffoness gasped as she blow on her now burning black talons, only to forget her injuries as she gasped in awe at the spectacle before her! "Ten, eleven, twelve..." she thought to herself, trying to add all the new griffons to her mind as they walked by! She had met so few in her life that Aquaria could actually assign them all numbers, but there appeared to be more here than she could keep track of. Before she could run over and introduce herself though, the young adult spotted the shiniest person she had ever met! "Wow, you are dressed up really nice! You must be like really important! Have you ever met Princess Celery? I hear she has tons of spies across the land," she excitedly asked, her tail shaking wildly while looking over the strangely dressed griffon before her. ~ The squawks and scrabbling drew the attention of the ponies and griffons in the streets below. As most of the citizens were of the rough and simple sort, they pointed at laughed at the ridiculous figure on the hot tin roof. A few called out remarks from below, "Smooth landin', 'ot claws!" And the like. One citizen was so careless as to do so while next to Norton, which earned him a freezing glare. "You will not speak to a fellow subject of the Empire like that in my presence!" He turned back, to suddenly find the newcomer all up in his beak. "Steady on there!" He called out, trying not to lose his royal dignity or personal space. "I have not, in fact, met this... Princess Celery that you speak of. But you have long since passed beyond the domain of any royal personage save my own." ~ Aquaria was almost excited to hear a few compliments come her way, the big striped goof not very good with sarcasm either before hearing a few laughs directed at her. The lifeguard quickly realized that the locals were mocking her, but that didn't matter, she had to meet this king before he ran off to do royal business! When he scolded a local, she gasped in awe, amazed that she was a subject in his empire. "Wow, what empire am I a part of? Are you like Princess Celery and Luna's boss? I thought that they ruled the world or something," she excitedly asked, sitting on her haunches while her tail wagged uncontrollably. Her mind tried to rationalize the existence of some super griffon she had never heard of! Unfortunately for him though, she did have a tendency to forget about personal space! "I passed what domain? How did you get such a shiny scepter. It must have been super valuable sunken treasure! All the best treasure in Equestria is hidden under the sea! My name is Aquaria, what's your name Mister? You look like a griff who is in charge of a lot of stuff. Emperor Dark Claw, ruler of the dark wastes! Surveyor of chaos itself. Ruler of all beings, both light and shadow! Is that who you are," she asked cutely, looking down to see if he actually had Dark Claws too. She had a tendency to make broad theories aloud without actually doing any amount of research before hand. Some rare times though, it all seemed to work out! ~ Norton smiled benignly upon Aquaria's naiveté. Of course, there were many poor fools of griffons who had to live under inferior governments due to lack of knowledge of their true Ruler. This would be corrected in time, and was not really their fault, anyway. The corrupt personages who aped his authority, on the other hand... "You, my dear, are part of the Great Griffon Empire, of which I, Emperor Norton Breakbeak the First, am the head." He waved a claw dismissively at the mention of pony princesses. "They are, shall we say, lesser royals. I have not let any monsters ravage my lands in all my reign." It was both true and impressive, though less impressive when you realized that his reign only started when he went completely off his head a few years ago, and his lands consisted mainly of this city. "Oh, this?" He lifted his scepter to catch the light. "A piece of the traditional regalia, thought lost to the centuries. It was, however, recovered and preserved by a loyal subject within this city, awaiting its true heir." In truth, he found it in a pawnshop, to which he promptly gave a Royal Seal to hang upon the door... which he had also just purchased from that establishment. It was probably not even real silver, just polished steel. But that only meant it was more of a real mace, which griffons could respect. ~ Aquaria was quite easy to classify as a fool, the lifeguard very eager to accept things that didn't make much sense to begin with. She wasn't particularly interested in uncovering the secrets of the world, but that didn't stop her from piecing together a universe of her own design based on her wild imagination and the lies of blusterous individuals. "Being a griffon makes me a member of the griffon empire? What about my friend Cydonia? She is a hippogriff, is she half part of the empire? And what if I like my home in Baltimare. I know that Princess Celery is an evil spy, but I really like swimming in the ocean. I don't think a lifeguard could get a job out here, there isn't very much water around," she mused aloud wondering what Norton was like in secret. "Well technically, my old school identification says I am actually a pegasus. Maybe that disqualifies me from being your subject," she excitedly remarked, reaching into her neck feathers to pull out a laminated school ID of a slightly younger her. The school identification had three holes for the three main pony species, and her identity card had the hole punced in the pegasus area, the school not expecting to have a griffon student! After seeing his mace glimmer in the sun though, she was even more enamored by him! "Emperor! That is like the second most precious treasure I have ever seen. The only thing more magnificent is..." she excitedly explained before going silent to watch who was spying on her. She knew that princess 'Celery' had spies everywhere and only the most trustworthy 'ponies' could know her secrets! The overeager hybrid leaned in uncomfortably close before whispering her secret to him. "My treasure horde in Baltimare! It has the dingiest antique coins, shiny rocks, corals, sunken treasure chests and an honest to goodness griffon pirate hat. Not to mention some pearls, gems and bits, but they aren't nearly as shiny as the rocks," she excitedly explained, clearly being almost as mad as the griffon before her. ~ Truth be told, there is a kind of obverse to gullibility, which Norton had in spades. He would give a whole philosophy of the universe to any pony, griffon, or whatever that took him seriously. But first, to get away from the staring and still not-quite-restful crowd. "The street is an inconvenient place for conversation. Let us go towards the plaza. If you would allow me to escort you there...?" And with a bow most regal, he extended a claw for the duck tiger to hold. This was probably the most serious anyone had ever taken her, come to think of it! On the way, he did his best to return the battery of questions with a barrage of answers. "If your friend wishes to claim her citizenship, she may do so. I do hope she will. And my empire, as you have no doubt figured out, rests in the hearts and minds of those who I call my people. All governments do, in fact; it's just that some employ hired bullies to police boundaries. When my true rights are recognized, that is one of the nonsenses I shall do away with." He listened with polite interest to her tale of a hoard, possibly filing it away for Imperial taxation. That was a nonsense he was not planning to do away with, though he could hardly implement it now. "I hardly consider the errors of ponies disqualifying you from anything. It is such errors I mean to correct. Ah, but here we are!" He spread his claws, as if to indicate something magnificent. And indeed, it was the most magnificent part of the city. A fountain of shining and clean marble, in the middle of a cobblestone square in front of the town hall. It looked like a real city, instead of a dirty hub. He had a right to be proud of this, for it was through his own cajoling that the citizens had bothered to create it. He believed in the city, and those who lived in it. That counted for a lot, in their estimations. "What do you think?" ~ She giggled excitedly, the dark lord of light and shadow offering his talon to her! He must have believed her and wanted to exchange stories with the young lifeguard. Most people laughed and just called her weird, but this ruler seemed to be a lot more nice than the ones she heard about. "Of course Emperor, please lead the way," she whispered cutely, following him over to the slightly less busy part of the town. Her tail wagged with anticipation, the wise ruler seeming to have a great answer to each of her questions! "Wow, so everypony can be in your empire you're pretty nice! I remember hearing about how princess Celery banished all of her enemies to the moon. Be careful, I heard that the moon is sorta cold, you might get sick if you get banished there. But you said that you never have any huge end of the world problems either? I remember one day it got super dark in the middle of the day. And one day all the ponies lost their magic. Apparently ponies need magic to swim or something. I had to rescue a lot of ponies that day! Did you like save the world each time that happened? You must be a superhero," she explained excitedly, gaspsing loudly while covering her beak with both of her talons. Aquaria was quick to believe almost anything, and this was definently in her realm of reason should he accept it as fact. "I actually met a superhero once. There was this griffoness named Ryx! She was like the size of a house and had super strength," she added excitedly while wondering if he was emperor of the superheroes as well! When he mentioned that her identification was a mistake, she giggled and nodded, hopping up onto the edge of the fountain while talking to him. "Yeah, my mom said that the school didn't make griffon identification until after I left my school. Oh well," she added with a giggle, sprawling out a bit as she spread her huge black wingspan out to sun herself like a beach tourist! When asked about the fountain, she giggled and squirmed excitedly. This fountain is amazing, it is so warm. I feel like I could fall asleep here," she explained before gasping loudly and staring in awe of her discovery. The faint glimmer of an underwater bit caught the corner of her vision, causing Aquaria to let out an excited chirp of her own. The professional lifeguard dove into the shallow fountain, splashing water on the emperor before she fished up two golden bits. "Wow, I even found sunken treasure in the desert. I must be a great expert diver," she giggled, offering her emperor one. The water seemed like it might be a bit cold for most, but it was quite clear that Aquaria swam for a living, her body expanding to absorb as much of it as possible while she looked completely unphased by the temperature. ~ "I have heard of such things, my dear, but I simply did not allow them to happen here." Norton had strayed from plausibility straight into delusion here, but the sequence of time had been scrambled. He hadn't completely lost his marbles before most of those happened anyway. "We tend not to encourage sleepers in the square; I like to see all my subjects have a house of their own-" He was taken off-guard by the sudden dive, the spots of water showing up dark upon his Imperial uniform. "Ahem, that is technically City property. Ponies throw bits into the fountain to help maintain it." Tourists, mostly; Breakbeak citizens wouldn't waste a bit ~ "Oh, you just sent Nightmare a sternly worded letter that said stay off my lawn. Wow, I always thought that sternly worded letters never worked. I guess I never really wrote anything sternly worded though," she mused aloud while floating near the surface of the relatively shallow water. Her dark feathers managed to look even darker in the water, the lifeguard seeming very at home in the water. She looked at her treasure, not sure of what he meant by it all being City property. The lifeguard slipped her bounty beneath the surface and swam a lazy lap around the neat fountain. "If you are a citizen of the empire, don't you technically own part of the city anyway," she was reasoned aloud, not exactly knowing how all of the rules for private and public property. Her paws idly played with one of the coins as he mentioned something about sleeping in the square. "Ponies sleep here? That's a little bit weird. I only sleep outside when I'm travelling across country! Although being in this nice cool fountain is making me a little bit sleepy. You should hop in, the water is nice," she offered with a yawn, starting to fluff up a bit as she absorbed more of his city water into her feathers and fur. ~ Norton chuckled at Aquaria's notions about property. Truth be told, she wasn't far off from a certain branch of Socialism, but the discussion on whether or not the notion was 'bird-brained' got political fast. "Not in this city, no. The Emperor, of course, holds its assets in trust, but I am pleased to note that the mayoral stewards has lately begun to use his granted resources much more wisely, as regards proper, city-centered use." The notion of joining her in the water, however, he treated with more asperity. "The Emperor cannot be seen cavorting around in a public fountain. Actually, you probably shouldn't be either, but I will grant you a pardon, as the swimming facilities are not yet completed." ~ "Wow, everypony must trust you a lot to let you control all the city money on your own. You must be like the nicest ruler of all if everyone trusts you," she commented excitedly, almost seeming to have a perpetual smile painted across her maw! While she was probably a bit crazy herself, the lifeguard was similarly well meaning like the crazed emperor, always on the lookout of ponies to help!. "Aww, I wouldn't want to be Emperor if it meant I couldn't cavort. That sounds boring, but that makes you an even better pony than me," she excitedly remarked, struggling to expand anymore, nearing her limit of possible excitement. When he mentioned that she shouldn't be in the fountain either, the awkward lifeguard hopped out of the water and balanced on the cool smooth marble. "You're building swimming facilities here? That sounds amazing. An olympic sized pool would be fun. I can't remember the last time I went to one. I can dive to the bottom of them and sit at the bottom for a minute. I'm really good at holding my breath," she added excitedly, about to hop off the ledge and hug the emperor if he didn't find a way to calm her back down. ~ By now, the pair were collecting quite the crowd of onlookers. Of course, the Emperor always had a following of "devoted subjects," but the juxtaposition of two fools was public theater of the first degree. And all staged for free! Can't beat that deal. "There are burdens to rule, it is true." He remarked in solemn tones as the duck-tiger emerged from the fountain. "And currently Our plans are less ambitious. After all, many of my subjects have yet to learn how to swim, so We shall begin with a suitable teaching site- Whoah!" For a second, his tone almost reached back to sanity as he was suddenly hugged by Aquaria. How unexpected! "Excuse, miss... ah, the Royal Personage is not to be lightly handled." ~ She quickly realized that in her excitement, the lifeguard had lifted the emperor himself off the ground! Aquaria giggled awkwardly before carefully placing the now wet lord of the universe back on the ground. "Sorry about that! I lose control when I get real excited! If you ever need an expert swim teacher, I would love to come out and do classes for everypony," she added with a grin, her hips wiggling with excitement. "But ya, it must be hard to get a good swimming spot built out in the middle of the desert. I could tell by your hot rooves that water probably doesn't like to be out in the sun too much. Might want to build it in the shade, maybe inside of a nice and cool building or something," she added with a smile, giving the emperor a thumbs up with her talon, proud of her idea as if it were some great scientific breakthrough. ~ Well, now his uniform was covered in dark water-marks. They would dry out in time, but it did rather cut into his dignity in the meantime. "I shall... keep your generous offer in mind. The Empire will need contributions from all its citizens, in whatever capacity, if it is to prosper." Norton was becoming less sure of how to handle Aquaria; it wasn't often that every word he said was believed. He was filling up conversational stopgaps with platitudes, saved only by the fact of his sincerity. For he was sincere; the insane always are. "We are... considering the matter of shading." In truth, the project only existed in his mind and the editorial columns of the local newspaper. "But tell me, little Aquaria... have you any concerns that you wish to bring before me?" ~ She was always eager to help, her wiggling hips clearly the most overt sign, even if she had no idea about what else she could do. "That's great that you are thinking of shading! You can save a lot of water if you don't let the hot sun steal it all for itself. Sometimes I wonder if Princess Celery purposefully makes certain days really hot just to be mean. Like, if somepony is hot and tired, she should lower the sun or something. Heat exhaustion is a real thing after all," the griffoness explained with a frown, looking a bit concerned as she spoke. "Well aside from building a lake or pool here, I dunno! Maybe you could like build a cool off station between here and the next town. Sometimes it is really hot outside and ponies need rest stops you know," she offered calmly while sitting on her haunches in front of him and looking up at the wet emperor like an expectant child! ~ Once again, the two fools were taking each other seriously, no doubt providing a subtle comedy for the masses, along with an education into rudimentary politics. "The difficulty is, of course, the size and extent of the matter. Dimming the sun of a hot pony might lead to another getting frostbite. I believe that is why weather is delegated to the locals. That is an arrangement that I think should be left intact; it is much easier to get a few clouds from a local weather pony than to dim the sun for everyone. Hm... perpetual cloud shading for the swimming place? I must bring that up with the mayoral steward. It would save on construction costs..." ~ Aquaria looked up to this emperor! Well, she looked up to anyone who plausibly could be an authority figure! She tried to understand the complexities of weather management, but luckily she never had to attend weather classes because she was a griffon. She was the only flyer in her whole school who never studied cloud dynamics and weather control, not that she minded, the lifeguard liking swim classes much more. "Yeah, I don't know anything about weather control, but then again, I don't have my cutie mark yet! My teacher says that griffons don't get cutie marks, but I think that she just thought that I didn't have any special talents. Little does she know that I am an open canvas who can do anything I want. I just probably wont get my cutie mark until I find the best sunken treasure in Equestria!" she explained with a smile, looking at her striped flank that would look sort of weird with a mark anyway. ~ Norton looked a bit miffed. "If we griffons got these... cutie marks," He pronounced the phrase as if it were a foreign language, "Then I should think that I would have gotten one by now for being emperor by now." It would certainly put paid to all his naysayers, for one thing.
  13. Tincho hummed to himself as he trotted softly down the road. It was a cool morning. The nice coat he work keeping the chill away. He noted clouds in the distance. 'Hmm may be i am walking into a storm again. I should likely find a place to latch the cart down and ride it out.' He thought to himself. As he kept walking he began to look around. He spotted a few other traveling ponies. Stoppong his art he tried to hail their attention. "I say! Does any pony know of a suitable place by which i can park my cart? I do not wish to get caught in the storm!" ~ Flying Brick wore no coat, never had. She'd tell any pony who asked that it was because it impeded her movement; that she wanted the freedom to break out into a run or a dance at any moment without being tripped up by fabric. In reality, the more pressing reason was that she could rarely afford one. An affluence of bits was a rare occasion for a street performer, and any she got generally went to good meals or nights in an actual bed. Still, one had to pay a price for liberty! It wasn't bad, usually; Equestrians were generous folk, and the weather was nice enough to make sleeping outside more attractive than otherwise. Today, however, promised to be one of the miserable ones. Cold, wet, with a long walk in front of one. The earth pony mare, therefore, was keeping a lookout for any kind of shelter herself when the stranger called out to her. "Eh, maybe set up by tree group?" she pointed to a grove in the distance. The trunks looked thick, but the foliage thin ~ The stallion looked her over and smiled. "Thank you kind mare. Here. For you." He turned his head. Though his facade was of an earth pony today, his cart opened magically. Producing a cloak and levitating it out to her. "No fair mare should be without a cloak on a day as this. Parchance do you need a place that is dry? My cart is open of you need somewhere to stay." ~ "Eeyy!" The earth pony mare was apparently impressed at the stallion's little trick. Perhaps that was because she'd shared her street corners with practitioners of legerdemain before, and had developed an appreciation of the art. "Many thanks! Is good to find generous pony right before rain, da?" She laughed, trotting up beside him as they made their way to the glade. ~ "Indeed my fair mare. I have food as well. Come. You may relax while i prepare a meal for us to share. And while the storm passes over we can remain dry tonight." He spoke with a gentle tone. One well accustomed to speaking to ponies he didnt know." As they approached the glade he watched the birds seeking shelter as well. "Seems to be a bad storm. I am glad to have met you. It is not often i have company in my travels. Would you be so kind as to tell me your name?" ~ "Smooth talker, generous hooves. You sweep the roads for mares like this, eh?" She laughed again at her jokes, even louder this time. Quite the jovial pony, this one. In any case, she wasn't one to look a gift, or gift giver, in the mouth, as it were. "Am Flying Brick. Ah, but you think bricks don't fly? Never seen Stalliongrad construction site, then!" And she laughed again, disturbing the birds from their perches. ~ The stallion laughed as well. "Pleasure to meet you Ms. Flying Brick. i am Tincho. And... No i have not seen stalliongrad. I hear it is lovely. But yes.. i am a traveler. And if i meet a pretty mare, well i can not help but believe that there is a reason for meeting every pony." As they came to the glade. He turned ans backed the cart between a pair of trees. Once he was sure the cart was settled he pushed the locking break in place. Then set wooden wedges fore and hind each wheel. Once done he opened the back of the cart. Levitating out a simple pot on a stand. He brought out a pre cut log and set it under the pot. Then came the matches. Carefully lighting the log he let the fire crackle merrily as he moved to examine what to cook. ~ The wind was starting to pick up, streaming the smoke from the fire through the glade. Flying Brick, for her part, moved to the fire, eager to get close to the warmth. Growing up north may have toughened her to the cold, but also had made her hungry for heat. And food. She was always hungry for food. "What is the cooking? No fear for my stomach; I'll eat anything. Not picky, not after grandma's borsch!" ~ The stallion came out slowly holding a basket of bread and cheese. As well as several vegatables. "I think soup with bread would be lovely. Just let me get the water from the can." He set the basket down and moved to the side of the cart. Picking up a large cup he used magic again to open the large metal milk can and fill the cup with water. After sealing the can he came over and poured the water into the pot. Then he began chopping the vegitables magically as he spoke. "You seem rather calm to see an Earth pony using magic. You either have seen this before or you dont care my lady." As he spoke he levitated an apple out to her. He was calm. No sign of aggression. He was actually wondering if she had met some of his kind before. And as it was, he was frankly tired of the facade. It had its perks where rich ponies lived. But ... in the lower class places he wanted to be one of them. Comfortable and happy. And not hiding behind a mask. ~ "Eh, I see more impressive tricks." Brick waved a hoof dismissively. Apparently, she didn't think it real magic, and that was understandable enough. Many stage magicians were earth ponies, it made their shows of "magic" all the more impressive. Still, she looked at him curiously as he levitated the vegetables and ingredients, plucking the apple out of the air with raised brow. ~ He smiled. "As well. I do not often perform. Only when trying to sell something." He continued cooking until it was all in the pot. Then he let it simmer. As itwas cooking he smiled. "Where all have you been? Im sure a pretty mare as yourself has been many places." ~ So... Brick was puzzled at this pony. He was a sales-stallion... who incorporated legerdemain? "Well, it keep ponies from slamming door in face, that for sure! Free show, good stuff for cheap, That your pitch, eh?" She laughed, and didn't stop when he called her pretty. It wasn't too off-center; she had the lean, toned looks of a dancer, but she hadn't had a bath for a day or two. Dust and raggedness accumulated fast when you lived out in the open. "Me, zherebets? My looks get me nowhere; my hooves take me everywhere." ~ He chuckled softly in return. "And that my dear is where you are wrong. Your hooves take you from town to town. But your beautiful smile keepa their eyes on your performance." He checked the pop. Nodding he sat again. It was almoat ready. "Tell me something. How is it that you came to be ao far out here on your own?" ~ "Eh..." There was only so long that a mare was going to deny a compliment. Catching a whiff of the delicious-smelling soup, she grinned, showing off that selfsame smile. "Out so far? Could never stay in one place long. Restless, perhaps. But also need to vary location; routine get stale if you repeat it too long. Share with others, get enough bits to get to next place. Alone...." She didn't have so ready an answer for that. "Eh, never joined circus. Could not stand ringmaster." ~ He nodded knowingly. "As. As well myself. I never found a shop to settle into... and many a stallion stares at me angrily as i leave town. I find it best to keep moving on." He patted the cart. "Tis why i pirchased this cart. Shes sturdy, warm, dry, and above all has room enough for my wares and the occasional companion." The pot began to bubble. And just in time too. Thunder rumbled close by. As he picked up the pot he motiones her to follow. Setting it on a rest in the cart he bade her enter first. "Fair maidens first. I shall extinguish the camp fire before joining you." ~ She perked up curious as Tincho mentioned the reasons he never stayed put either. The elliptical reference left a gap to be filled, but her memory of his effusive compliments did the trick. "Quite the sly wolfhound you, eh *zeherebets*?" She chuckled as he finished cooking. Nodding as his chivalry, she spooned a bow of the stew before bowing into the cart. It was like its owner said, warm and dry. Good shelter for the coming night. ~ As he joined her after putting out the coals, the rain began to fall. He pulled the back door and curtain shut. Lighting a candle. The cart was packed at the front, leaving the back open for occupants. As well there were two bedrolls and pillows. As he took a portion for himself he spoke. "I am glad i saw youm i would hate to think you out in this at night." As he sat to eat, he opened a small pipe in the roof. The top was covered, allowing air to circulate but not let rain in. ~ "Glad I see you too! Cheers to happy coincidence on road, eh?" Raising her bowl in toast, she dove into it's contents with loud slurps of appreciation. In a few minutes, the bowl was empty, and she sat back, satisfied. "Is good. Is very good. Where you learn to cook, mother's knee?" ~ He smiled to see her enjoy his cooking. When asked he shook his head. "No. No my mother had many foals. I didnt see her often. I... well i learned on the road. Mostly self taught. Here i have a book." He reached a hoof up ans tipped a book off a shelf. It was a small book and landed on a bedroll with a light thump. 'How to cook on the road. Easy recipies for hungry travelers.' The cover said. "I learned from that. Its mostly soups and simple sandwiches. But it tastes good." He ate his slowly. "There is more left if you are still hungry." ~ "Oh, big family then? Hard to get attention in loud house? I get you. Had one like yours in floor below flat when growing up." She eagerly took up the offer of seconds, refilling her bowl for another eager dive into the stew. After a few minutes, when she emerged truly satisfied, Flying Brick stretched out on one of the sleeping mats. "Hm... so, where you say you come from? Cannon place your accent. Mine is more obvious, da?" ~ He set his bowl down. And sighed. "I'm not from Equestria... im from... well....just promise not to scream ok..?" He closed his eyes and gathered his courage. "I came from the Changling Hive. I am a changling...." There. He said it. As he sat there he tried to pick up his bowl again. His appitite was less now. But he was still hungry. ~ Flying Brick stared at Tincho for a while, and then threw back her head for the loudest laugh so far that evening. "BWahahahaha! Pull one of other ones, has bells on!" Apparently, she didn't think the stallion was serious... But as she stopped to breathe, and noticed that he was not joining in, her laughter faded. "Wait... are serious, *tovarich*?" ~ He set his bowl down. As the illusion faded, the strong stallion was replaced with a slightly undersized changling in the same clothing. He didnt seem menacingnor threatening. He was docile and quiet. As the illusion retuenes he picked up his bowl again. ~ Brick's magenta-tinged irises shrank as the whites of her eyes grew wide. She began to breathe more rapidly; she'd heard stray rumors than changelings were beginning to live a little more openly in Equestria, but she hadn't paid them much mind. Besides the sudden shock, though, was her history. She had been at ground zero during one of the Hive's forays into Equestria. Of course, she'd be lying if she didn't think the fight as exciting as it was frightening, but it still left its mark with her. And here the mare was, alone, with one of them. He was... just there. Not doing much. "*Tovaritch*..." Her tone was lower, a little less benign than before. "You call me up here, flatter me... because you hunger?" ~ He shook his head. "No. No i make it a point to never lure a pony for that. If i needes that... i would wine and dine one of those stuck up mares in upper Canterlot. Thats how i feed that... no. I.." He hesitated because of how stupid his next sentance would sound. "I invites you in here because im lonely. I wanted some pony to speak too. As well you looked tired and hungry. I hoped i could help you out in return for you spending a few days traveling with me.." he knew what happened. He was in Canterlot for the wedding assault. What was more was that this was one of the survivors of the school raid. His cowardice proved his salvation. He had scampered away while thw rest were fighting. ~ Flying Brick stared hard at Tincho throughout all his speaking. Her face was stark and unreadable, like a wall with no graffiti. "Lonely and hungry seem to me same thing for changeling, da?" ~ He didnt speak as he just looked down. After a moment he looked up. "Normally you would be right. But i am not of the hive anymore. I have lived among you ponies for a while. I have seen what it means to be alone... and i dont like being alone. I dont like lying about who and what i am. But i dont want to frighten any pony. I..... i just want to belong somewhere. Its hard when i play the same role every day. Ponies notice so i have to move on and not come back for a while." He stopped talking and just sat there. After a moment he summoned up some courage. "If you think i am lying then do what you will. Lying my be my way of life... as it always was. But i dare say... i do not lie to a pony i would have considered my friend."
  14. Princess Celestia was always slightly busy, never seeming to have any time to herself, or her family and friends. Between ruling Equestria in the day, to running a school, diplomacy and the like, it was tiresomework. She really only had time to interact with her sister, and even that seemed at times minimal. However, the one pony she never really seemed to have time for was her nephew Prince Blueblood, whom, apparently became a princess rather recently. She wore a devilish smirk as she decided it was time to catch up with her nephew and called upon him[or rather her] for a day out. Naturally because he was now a she, the princess booked a reservation at her favorite nondescript salon, and made her way to the Prince's home. Upon arriving she gave a knock at the door and announced herself to the staff at his home that she was there to pick him up. Naturally they tried to tell the princess what had happened, but Celestia, knowingly, cut them off and instructed them to just summon the Prince for their long awaited time together. ~ Prince Blueblood had, at best, a tense relationship with his Auntie Celestia, and this was mostly his fault. After all, when one claims familial relation based on royal rank, and then forgets to respect one's elders... well, let's just say that Celestia had exercised the patience of a saint in not disowning him. But, said patience was bearing its fruit, in making a certain pony less unbearable. Blueblood was changing, becoming a different pony altogether. For the most part, he was a willing participant in these changes, but this latest one, which involved him not exactly being a "him" was, to be fair, a little much. "Princess Bluebelle," as she had decided her current self would be called, sighed as the maid brought up word of Auntie's arrival. "I suppose it couldn't be put off forever. I hope she doesn't take the news... badly." What 'badly' would mean in this context, she hardly knew, but she went downstairs, trying not to look like a mare condemned to be hanged. "Oh, hello Auntie." She greeted Celestia, trying to be as casual as possible. Perhaps if she acted normal, this whole awkward business could be pasted over. Or maybe this was all a dream, prank of Auntie Luna. Whatever kept her from babbling ~ As the "prince" made his way to the recieving room of his estate, she very clearly tried to play it cool, which naturally, Celestia would have to do the opposite. All the while the butler trying to tell the Princess what had happened, eventually the Princess had to break character and whisper to him with a smirk "I know," and with a start the butler seemed to finally understand. As Blueblood, or rather Bluebelle came into view and greeted her auntie as cooly as she could, Princess Celestia wore a look of surprise as best as she could. "Greetings Blue...." there she stopped "Oh my! Whatever happened to my nephew?" She said with clearly forced surprise. "Are you sure you are Blueblood, or are you one of his mares?" She said playfully, while desperately trying to keep a straight face. ~ It had been a vain hope. Clearly, Celestia was not going to pass up the occasion to make a bit of a fuss. Really, Blue should have known better. She sighed, not looking forward to giving the explanation again. "Look, I don't know what you've heard, but this was all a magical accident- wait, hold on, what do you mean, one of 'my mares'?" The last phrase had struck a bit of nerve, as she was pretty sure it had reference to one of half a dozen completely unsubstantiated rumors that circulated in the tabloids. ~ Clearly offended the "prince" made reference to the jab that Celestia made. "Do you mean to tell me that the tabloids are comple..te..ly... false..." she couldn't keep the ruse up any more and she started to slowly giggle before finishing the sentence, and at the end finally breaking down almost into full tilt laughter. "My apologies my nephew... or is it niece now?" She said wiping away a tear. "I simply could not help pretending that I knew nothing. Honestly I had wanted to have Luna and Cady come along so we could have a girls day out together, but unfortunately neither was available." Celestia said playfully with a wink. "I have been looking forward to spending the day with you for sometime though, I've been hearing many good things about you lately and wished to catch up." Celestia switched to being rather sincere, honestly seeing the look on 'her' face was rather telling of how she felt about all of this, and even though this was not the last time she was going to have fun with her this day, she did not wish for it to eclipse the true nature, which was to catch up with her now neice. ~ So... she knew all along, did she? Blueblood had never been a chess player, but even he had known better than to challenge Celestia. There were just some sorts of beatings that a sense of self-respect never recovered from. Thus abandoning her attempt to out fox her auntie, Bluebelle sighed, and waited for the storm of laughter to pass. "Frankly, neither nephew nor niece seems to fit right in my head right now." She shook her head, running a hoof through her mane. she paused, looking at her locks. Limp, ragged. Something needed to be done about that. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. "Well, it has been a while, hasn't it?" She tried for and managed to produce a small smile. "I suppose I should get some fresh air, at least. I've been holed up, defending the house against reporters. It's been taking its toll on me." ~ Celestia said as she noticed Princess Bluebelle fiddling with her mane. She could only smile knowingly as she looked upon this. Even if Princess Bluebelle didn't know what to consider herself as right now, she clearly had at least some marish tendencies. With the remark about the reporters, which Celestia had been dealing with her entire trip there, and her Royal Guard escourt having their hooves full she decided to pull out her secret weapon. Celestia instantly opened up both of her saddle bags, revealing hooded cloaks. "Here, put this on, we have a ways to walk, and you and I both would rather avoid reporters, especially if we are going to ditch the escourts that followed me here." Celestia smiled "Naturally if you'd prefer we use the guards and ditch the cloaks we could do that as well" Celestia put on her cloak which concealed not only her wings and etheral mane but her cutie mark as well. She still had her height and horn, but there were still other unicorns in Canterlot that had a tall stature with a horn like Celestia's so she was not worried so long as her defining features as a princess were hidden. ~ It was a measure of the limits of Blue's imagination that she had never put any thought into concealing clothing. Perhaps it was because the hooded cloak is eternally unfashionable, at least when made with rough brown material. On the other hoof, no pony would ever suspect a pony from House Blueblood would ever wear such a thing... "You know, Auntie, that sounds like an excellent idea." She said, though her enthusiasm was tempered by the thought of having to wear something like that. But, she donned it anyhow. It certainly was good at concealing the figure, even one like Bluebelle's. With her somewhat closer-to-average height, almost no signifying features could be determined. "Is it... very far, to where we are going?" The 'princess' remarked, trying to avoid looking at her reflection. The change had done nothing to reduce her vanity, it seemed. Quite the opposite, if anything ~ Bluebelle seemed reluctant to wear the cloak, but did so anyway. Celestia giggled at the thought of such a simple cloak putting Bluebelle out of her comfort zone. At Bluebelle's query Celestia smiled and shook her head "It isn't terribly far, however to avoid people we aren't taking a direct route, so the path is a bit longer than it would normally be. I'm sure you remember the path we used to take from Canterlot Castle to the rear gate of this estate..." Celestia paused for a moment to allow Bluebelle to remember. "The path is an off shoot of that as the place we are heading is not too far from Canterlot Castle, and naturally we will enter through the 'secret' enterance of the place we are going." Celestia made a point to not reveal the details of where they were going, but if Bluebelle remembered that path there were only a few things on the way that they could goto together to have a nice outing. ~ Bluebelle did remember the path, though she couldn't quite recall what was on the way. Gardens? Maybe they were just going to smell the roses? Well, that made sense, she supposed. Auntie was always big on the simple pleasures. "Alright, then." Bluebell started to trot towards the door, but tripped on the hem of her robe and face-planted. "Oof!" She cried out from her very undignified position. "I... need to remember that walking is different in this body." She got up quickly enough, with dignity in tatters, but she pressed on bravely, without any further spillage. "Entrance... I suppose you're not talking about the gardens, then." ~ Seeing Bluebelle fall flat, even the princess had her limits, while she enjoyed pranking ponies, and playing with their misconceptions of her, laughing at a pony's misfortune was not something she would do. At least she wouldn't show it outwardly.... She dusted her off with her hoof gently after Bluebelle had gotten up. "Are you alright Bluebelle...?" Celestia paused, realizing that calling her by that name might be a surprise, though perhaps not considering that she was made privvy to the situation. Celestia naturally lead the way, ensuring to avoid, not only her guards, but also tha paparazzi that they were currently fending off. It was a lovely diversion really, but it wouldn't take long for the guards to realize that they were set up... again... and immediately send out a search party. A while later they arrived at a rather nondescript door with a sliding door for just eyes. With a rhythmic knock Celestia tapped on the door. The eye hole opened and upon setting eyes on the princess the door immediately opened. And the pony at the door graciously greeted the Princess thanking her once again for her patronage. Inside was a rather lavish beauty parlour and spa, with marble columns cascading falls and a rather scerene atmosphere. Celestia inquired to the pony whom opened the door if all the necessary arrangements for their visit had been made, which is to say that the place was rented out for two hours ensuring no other pony other than select staff would be around. Celestia turned to Bluebelle and whispered "I figured it would be best to do something outside of the public's eye" she said with a wink. ~ Upon hearing her new name on Auntie Celestia's lips, the Princess shot her a look, which was hidden under the shadows of her hood. "Did Twilight tell you about this?" It would make sense if she did, the former student being in good correspondence with her mentor and fellow Princess. But... that might mean the full circumstances might have gotten to her as well. Being sick invites pity, but when illness is resulting from having a compromised immune system from a wild night on the town with the Princess of the Night... well, one might say that an accidental gender swap was only karma. With those troubling thoughts, Blue followed her aunt through the twisting byways, not looking around, for fear that would attract the attention of the dreaded press. It was, therefore, a little while before she realized her surroundings. "Wait... I know this place..." She muttered, before the door was opened, admitting the two princesses into the salon. "Oh, yes! I've been here before..." She paused, realizing how that sounded. Clearing her throat, she specified. "They, ah, are good at giving lessons. And securing supplies. You need connections to get, ah, really good conditioner." ~ Celestia smirked at Bluebelle's query. It was true Princess Twilight contacted her about it. A gender swap from treating an ailment was not the most common of things, so Twilight had asked her mentor about it. She didn't go into the details, but it did not take long over all to find the full details. Still, it was not the worst Blueblood, or rather Bluebelle had ever done, so to bring it up was not a real concern. "I did hear it from Twilight, but fear not she did not disclose all the details... " Celestia stopped explaining there, as she heard the story of the night before from her sister, but left the question of how much she knew in the air. Upon arrival Bluebelle expressed that she knew the place. "You do?" Celestia asked with some surprise. As she followed up and tried to cover up how it sounded, Celestia figured out the real reason, and naturally decided to bring it forth. "So apparently you had a mareish side before you became Bluebelle." Celestia said with a devilish smirk "Had I known I would have invited you the previous occasion I patroned this establishment." ~ Hm, well, if Twilight didn't disclose all the details, than neither would Bluebelle. Not unless asked, of course; Auntie wouldn't appreciate prevarication. Nor would avoiding the question be any good anyway, from the way in which she had of getting at the heart of the matter. Blue sighed, partly at the relief of getting free of the tacky robe, and partly in frustration at her auntie's sense of humor. "I never particularly saw why a certain degree of care in one's looks should be exclusive to one sex. After all, if one's overall purpose is best served by looking good, one ought to make every effort. Noblesse oblige, and all that. I just wanted to be able to do the necessary maintenance in-house, so to speak, rather than having to go out every other week. I came here to learn how to do that." She gave a little wave to one of the staff, wondering if she would remember him. Her. Bleah, this was confusing. ~ Celestia smiled "You know you had ponies around who could have shown you such things... I can tell you it isn't easy taking care of my mane" She said with a smile, and really having an etheral mane was not easy to maintain. "There was no need to try and maintain your image among family" Celestia looked at her wave at a pony. "That said, there is nothing wrong with mares or stallions coming to places like these. Though, usually, when I come I do have the place to myself, like we do now, so it is not like I'm aware of the full clientelle of this spa." The time for small talk was almost coming to a close, but they could really engage in catching up when they actually started their spa day. "So since this is my treat to you, what would you like to start off with... just keep in mind I requested minimal staff considering you being Bluebelle." Celestia might be a prankster but she was at least conscientious... ~ "Hm... well, you will recall there was a time before we were really... close in any kind of way." It was true. Before his parents had died, Blueblood had regarded Celestia as a more distant figure, only vaguely associating them together based on rank. It was only after his parents died that he called her Auntie. She was, in fact, at that point the only thing left that he could call family. Even then, it took a while before they could talk candidly on any subject. At least, as equals. He'd gotten a couple of lectures on not being a pompous snob on certain memorable occasions. "In any case, there are some things a stallion prefers to do himself." Not that that applied anymore. Frankly, after the stress of the past week or so, it would take very little inducement for her to surrender herself into the care of the staff entirely. "I think... a massage, to start with. I've been running on nervous energy for too long now." ~ Celestia nodded at her words. It was true, they never really were close. The prince was more or less brought up by the castle staff. Celestia was always too busy, especially since Luna was not around to raise the moon and take care of the night, so often Celestia pulled double duty and nary had time to rest. Celestia wasn't exactly sure how to respond to Bluebelle's response to doing things on her own. Celestia knew the feeling all too well, especially since for so long she didn't really ask for any help after StarSwirl the Bearded had passed on, and her most trusted adviser was no longer by her side. She did nod at the request for a massage though. "A massage does sound nice. I'm sure becoming a mare has been rough for you. You know, if you'd like I could place a few more guards at your estate to deal with the paparazzi until Twilight's magic wears off..." ~ The staff, bless them, had probably been able to predict her preferences just by the look of her. They must have seen enough stressed mares in their time to be able to determine Bluebelle's own state, and the proper remedy. Thus, it took very little time for the tables to be prepped, and the warm room to admit the pair into the caring hooves of the two masseuses. "Ah... Pumice, was it? Yes, I remember you from before. Do you still do that wonderful thing with the hit rocks? Perfect." She sighed, finally starting to relax under the care of the Salon. "Hmmm... more guards... yes, that would be nice, as long as they were willing to take orders from my own Honor Guard captain. You know her, Star Crusader? Duchess of Fet Loch's daughter?" There was a pause, and then a sigh. "You saw her fish me out of the High King's antlers." ~ Perhaps it was the massage, or perhaps it was the stress, but for Blueblood, or in this case, Bluebelle to bring up a memory of her own shortcoming, it was rather rare. "That would be only natural. Much like how my personal guards know my needs..." Celestia paused and said under her breath "and disregard my request for time alone at times"... Clearing her throat and continuing as normal "your honor guard is the same. And it wouldn't be like I'd be sending ranking officers whom would take issue with that." Celestia said with a smile. "Speaking of the High King, he did offer you a rematch if you so desired... are you planning on taking him up on that? Though I'm not sure that would be conducive to IMAGINE." Celestia continued talking as the masseuse used heated rocks to relax the princess of the sun. A treatment she often requested as it does wonders for loosening tense muscles. As the princess melted into what seemed a puddle of relaxation as the massage progressed she looked over at Bluebelle having her massage "Have you ever had them use the heated rocks? It is rather lovely." ~ Bluebelle nodded. She didn't think it would be any trouble, but then, one had to be sure. It was important that she have peace in her house, given all the chaos that seemed to be trying to invade it at every opportunity. "I'll say she is!" The Princess was apparently going to wax effusive on the subject of Star Crusader. "I don't know whether it was you, or the Duchess that assigned her to me, but that was inspired, let me tell you. Sure, she may not smile much, but she's steady as a mooring post, and that means a lot when you're battered by the waves of life. I mean, after this transformation, she didn't even bat an eye, but showed me how to walk without tripping over my back hooves." It must have been the massage; no other explanation could be for Bluebelle opening up. Unless there was something in the fact that a niece and aunt could talk more freely than a nephew and aunt. "As for a rematch... no, thank you. I've had enough of such stuff. Oooohhhh...." Pumice had apparently started the hot rocks on her own back. "Mmmm... once before, yes. She wasn't quite so good at it last time, though. Left a red mark I noticed afterwards."
  15. Sigrun happily drank down a flagon of the meade poured for her at the tavern. The scene was ripe with merriment and excited cheering. Cows and bulls were hoofwrestling and singing and dancing all around. to an equestrian thi sprobably would have been considered alienating since there had been such violence a little while earlier today. ~ Halvard, however, was not an Equestrian. As eccentric as Clan Breen were to the rest of Whitescar, all were caribou through and through. After a fight, if you lived, you drank. And with necromancers working in the arena, you could drink even if you didn't! The blue-coated bull preferred ale to mead, as he could drink more of it in a night. Taking his own flagon, he raised it to his former opponent of that day. "Wassail!" He raised in toast, before draining the the flagon and planting it down for a refill. ~ The cow grinned, "I recognize that voice!" The cow sauntered over to the familiar face and grinned, "Well if it isn't my opponent from earlier, glad to see those healers knit you back together~" ~ It generally took a drink for the wry Halvard to loosen his tongue. But given that he just had one, Sigrun's timing couldn't be better. "Same here. Would be a shame for Whitescar to lose a pretty face." ~ "I'm surprised with all the battle I've seen, that my face is as 'pretty' as it is." the cow smirked playfully, "Especially after the number you did upon me." The cow slammed down her flagon and looked to the bull with her silver eyes looking him over, "and good to know we haven't lost a handsome face in this land either!" ~ Having celebrated the land's preservation of good looks in a mutual toast, Halvard took up the subject of battle, curious about his cross-continental counterpart. "A jarl must face many battles, it is true. More than a simple Vakstyra. That's why I came to the arena. Didn't want to get rusty. But tell me... how many battles are there in the East these days?" ~ "A great deal... it almost seems unending. There's still a lot of skirmishes on the edge of my territory but since I started expanding and taking over some of the rival keeps it has died down somewhat." The jarl took another swig and thought a moment, "It doesn't help to the north of us the monsters from the serpents spine can sometimes wander into our territory. ~ Halvard nodded. Situation seemed normal enough; clans were always trying to defend or take territory, and monsters were monsters. "I haven't dealt much with clan battles since I started guarding the roads. Vakstyra keep the trade roads open, so most caribou leave us alone. West of Barn, anyway. We still get the monster raids, though." ~ "Clan Askr will be happy to lend our assistance if you ever take any roads close to monster territory... you'll find our warriors are quite skilled. I'm not sure if there are as many a good fighter as you on your trade caravans." ~ Halvard nodded thanks to Sigrun. "If you'd allow us to set up Vakstyra forts and posts along the routes in your territory, we could help you keep the peace as well. War is bad for the roads." ~ Sigrun put her hoof to her chin and nodded, "that sounds very doable... I trust you will bring up I said this to your clan's chieftain?" ~ "Yes. Don't expect a quick answer, as Clan Breen Territory is literally on the other side of the continent." Harvard smiled over his tankard as he remarked. "I must say, you're rather sanguine at the prospect of another clan constructing defensive works on your own territory. Most jarls would be a little less quick to accept." ~ "If you betray us you'd find the areas you've built in are surrounded on all sides..." She chuckled softly, "After all if we destroy those defenses we could use the rocky remains of your posts as materials for our own... besides your clan has a better reputation than most" ~ He laughed in response "You wouldn't be the first jarl to try. The secret is, the forts aren't isolated. Each can support the other, holding a force to relieve a siege on it's neighbors. We never build a new one without securing the road behind, to bring up reinforcements from clans who wish to keep the roads open, and not taxed by the territories in between. Of course, they're helping the Vakstyra, not clan Breen, though it is true that most of us are from the same clan." ~ "Oooh well then since you'll be building in our territories we'll make sure to make the terrain... perfect for you. " she smirked knowingly before looking to the bull, "Enough business talk now though... we're here to relax aren't we?" ~ Oh, this would be fun! Not that Halvard expected that their clans would ever come to blows. It would be like the immovable object vs. the unstoppable force. A good show, but neither would gain much. "True... Bartender, another!" Having his flagon refilled, he asked, "Now, besides drinking and fighting, anything you like?" ~ "Well, I collect weapons, and I enjoy the company of other capable warriors... I also enjoy reading up on strategies and battles from other places in the world." she turned to him, "and yourself?" ~ "Hm... well, I like to build to build things. It's not for nothing that I wield the weapon that I do; you can use it as a hammer and a shovel, and I do. All our clan does. It is said that the tradition started when our lands were raided while our warriors were in the fields, with only their tools in hand. We carried the day, wielding shovels and plowblades against swords. From that day, we are ready to turn our hooves to either task at a moment's notice." ~ "Ooh, what kind of things do you build personally?" ~ "Forts and trenches, usually." He laughed deprecatingly. "Sometimes we put up an actual trading post, with things to buy and sell. It's not exactly glamorous... well, except when we're near a gem vein." ~ "Glamorous is hardly a priority in this land I feel... We can't fight with an overly extravagant weapon made of gold could we?... it's break all to easily... my point is just because glamorous doesn't mean it's immensely valuable." ~ "That is true... at the same time, I never saw warriors fight so hard to defend a post, as the one we made to look the most glamorous..." Halvard looked thoughtful as he recalled that battle. "I have heard that those in the lands to the south think more of glamour than we... do you suppose that had to do with how they fought in the Empire of Crystal?" ~ "Possibly,.. the glamour did little against the red jarls forces though. We still had to go by and assist in the rebuilding" Sigrun sighed softly, "The architecture back at Askr hold has a bit of flair to it but... it still has some practicality to it ~ Halvard hadn't been to the lands South of Whitescar, so he took Sigrun's word for it. "True... but if Glamour is to care for the look of the thing, as opposed to the practical... maybe we have of it than we think." He gestured to the rowdy room. "I wonder, sometimes, how many are simply here for the look of the thing, and not because they actually care for drink and camaraderie." ~ "I'm certainly here for the camaraderie... sometimes a bit more." she took another swig of her drink and looked to halvard, "SO what did you think of the other fighters in the arena?" ~ A bit more, eh? Halvard took note of that, before replying. "Quite varied. I fought a griffon, a unicorn, and a caribou all in succession. I certainly learned a lot, which is what I came for." ~ "Oh? I'm interested in hearing about the first two..." the jarl thumped her hoof once on the counter and soon enough some flaggons were sent their way ~ "Hm, the griffon was interesting. I could tell he favored claw-and-fly tactics, but those don't work against heavily-armored foes. I was able to draw him in for one good hit, and that finished it. The unicorn... well, if my opponent had kept his head, it would have turned out differently. All he had to do was stay at a distance and shoot lightning from his horn. What I managed to do, however, was catch the bolt in the head of my hammer, and slam it into the earth-" He paused to punctuate this point by slamming down his hoof, which ended up sending the contents of the flagons splashing over the both of them. "Whoa, sorry. But yes, that gives you a pretty good idea of what happened." ~ The cow blinked as she was splashed and chuckled, "Hm... now i'm gong to smell like meade... not necessarily a bad thing." she chuckled softly before looking back to halvard. "One unicorn I fought int he arena got on my bad side... believe it or not it wasn't the one who gave my backside a paddling." she laughed heartily ~ The jarl had a sense of humor, it seemed. Good. "Well, if anybou comes out of here smelling like anything else, it'll be a first." He laughed, before tilting his head curiously. "Oh? And what did he do to get under your hide?" ~ "He was a narrowminded foal with his eyes clouded by his hatred, he considered our people primitive wardriven savages, the lot of us..." she snorted in annoyance at the thought of him. "In response... I taught him a lesson and bit off his horn." ~ No doubt, it had been irritating to her at the time. Hearing about it afterward, Halvard could not but see the irony in the way Sigrun put it. "I'm not sure that would change his mind. Seeing a Vakstyra station in action might, though..." He took a thoughtful drink out of the half-pint of ale remaining in the flagon. "I wonder... would it be worth setting up such a post in one of the Southern cities?" ~ "I'm not the one you should ask about that... and trust me, he's a stubborn one and he won't admit his wrongness so easily. anyway, how far south were you speaking?" ~ "I... don't know. I've never left Whitescar, so I don't know where a good trade route from Barn would be. I was hoping you would have some idea." ~ "Well you'd require the use of boats... if you wish I could let you use some of my calns." ~ Harvard raised his flagon in gratitude. "That's another thing to thank you for! I had been looking for something to do with my winnings. Helping to secure a trade route seems to be a good option. You need a post on both ends to do that." A thought occurred to him, and he frowned. "Will they be welcoming of that? I don't know how many understand that not all of us are like the Red Jarl. If the unicorn you fought is any indication..." ~ "I have met with the princess of the crystal empire and she was quite welcoming... obviously the ponies are wary of us but huddling up in the north and doing nothing but keeping to ourselves won't change that now will it?" she asked with soft chuckle ~ "That is true... well, I suppose I shall have to actually go and see for myself. Nothing beats field work for getting the lay of the land." ~ "I'm glad I could help, I suppose I could come with you but me and the souther climate don't seem to get along very well." ~ "Hm, I see. Well, thank you for the offer, but I won't subject you to it." Halvard drained his flagon and, seeing that he'd spilled half of it rather than drinking, felt safe in calling for another. "Shame, though; I wouldn't have minded spending the time in your company." ~ "No reason you can't stick around is there?" she asked with a soft smirk as she hoisted her drink in the air and took another drink. "And don't worry a few sneezes and sniffles aside I can survive in the south.... " ~ "Oh, no reason at all. It's just that when I do have to leave, it will be a while before I can see you again." Halvard couldn't smirk quite so naturally as Sigrun, so he did not try to match. "But when you are next in Barn or Heil, leave a message. The busiest road is between the two, and many of us are there at one time or another." ~ "I shall look forward to our next meeting then..." she gave the bull a slight wink ~ "So shall I." Halvard returned the wink. There was a slight pause before he went on, as it required mustering a little courage. "Of course, the night's not over yet." ~ The cow smirked softly and narrowed her eyes slightly at the bull, "Is that so? Have anything in mind in particular?... cause I can think of a few things...." ~ "I came East for adventure as much as anything else; the routine of road patrol is dulling. So..." And here he did make a rather good attempt to mirror the smirk. "Why don't you surprise me?" ~ The cow grinned softly and placed some coin on the counter. "Well the first thing I have in mind would require us to make a trek to my personal longboat... " The cow walked over to the door gesturing Halvard to follow her this promised to be an entertaining night...
  16. ((riverhippo playing WoE Princess Luna)) ((SteelEagle playing WoE Princess Twilight Sparkle)) Princess Luna sat in her chair in her dream study room. The room was simple, composed of a few comfort-bringing items to help one to relax. But all other useful materials and instruments were left for the decoration in other rooms. One decoration, Luna might have brought on this evening, was a heavy book. It’s one of many that told the same story; Celestia's old council members' accounts for the events of the past. Very few accurate accounts were supplied in any of Canterlot's libraries that described Luna's haunting past, fewer still that could describe it in full. In this one, she could see the non-fiction work suggesting Princess Luna's torment was a creation of the turbulence in the dreamscape itself, and how dangerous dreams could be. Luna maturely read it quietly while scoffing at it underneath her flat expression. The nightmare wasn’t the product of the dreamscape alone, but it’s the emotion and deprivation of personality in the waking world that helps corrupt and diminish the quality of sweet dreams. The night princess could even lecture about the risk of falling asleep while overdosed on sugar. But that would not make an interesting timeless non-fiction classic that would survive hundreds of years of catalog, she supposed. She closed the book and sighed. Having dealt with the regrets of the past, she could never forget the way she felt while the dreamscape served as the arena for Luna's enemy. As she sipped her sleep-aide drink, she meditated on how fortunate she is to have a sister that forgives her, and a nation of ponies that welcomes the night as equals with the day. Maybe tonight, she can share that peace and serenity with a pony who is caught in a dream storm. Twilight was prepared for anything. Years and years of tutelage under Celestia had transitioned into a growth with her friends that sublimely reinforced almost every message she had ever been sent by her teacher about the importance of friendship and harmony. She became a Princess because of this. The Princess of Friendship. It had seemed a somewhat lesser title at first but it only grew as the complexities of the topic revealed themselves. Only then did she start to realize that she was being groomed for something bigger than she had ever imagined. She was not a mechanic that aided the system, she was the system- the system that ran Equestria in a truer way than any title. She was the embodiment of Harmony and, in a sense, Equestria. So it made sense why she was given control when Celestia and Luna abruptly left to search the stars some twenty years ago. Just shy of her own two-hundredth, and here she was. Large and in charge. Things were going well at first. She was beloved and had everything under control. But...over time, this slowly grew to be untrue. She had always collected and studied dark magical artifacts and in her arrogance had forgotten to properly seal one. It contained the aetheral abomination Ascheral, the Consumer. It didn't come out immediately, but it boded its time. It was her first mistake. A mistake borne not out of arrogance or incompetence, but ignorance. The second mistake was not taking the small ripples in the aether seriously. In fact, she was excited. That often meant a powerful unicorn had been born and the family would soon be notified. Oddly enough, she didn't find a powerful foal. But still, the aether was her domain and she knew it well. Well enough to not consider a small ripple a problem. Of course, by then the Consumer had escaped into the Aetheral plane and was slowly growing stronger. A mistake borne not out of arrogance or incompetence, but ignorance. She didn't have to make a third before it appeared. A few nights later, Ascheral materialized in the castle. It took the form of a seeming black hole in the aether, sucking everything within reach inside of itself. She should know- she was looking at it. She could feel it silence the aether around her. Twilight tried to speak as her bedchambers were being torn and pulled asunder. She tried to speak but heard nothing. She fired a blast at it- nothing, absorbed. She felt the pull, felt the tug, and fought her way out only at the most extreme of her efforts. That brought her to now. She was hovering over the remains of that wing of the castle, which was little. The Consumer below, content at that moment to digest all which it had devoured. Only then did she realize what had happened- what she had allowed not through stupidity or ignorance, arrogance or incompetence, but thoughtlessness. But no- she would not be defeated. Not now. “Evacuate all of Canterlot! I will send word when I have put this down,” Twilight ordered her guards, who reacted hesitantly. Why? Why hesitantly? “Are you sure you can handle it, Your Highness?” “Yes! I can do this! Please, get safe!” They knew their histories, didn't they? She had done so much! Of course she could beat this. Their hearts swelled proudly. “Yes, Your Highness. We will await your word,” they said before flying off. Twilight turned towards her foe, her mind running down the endless list of possible methods of defeating this creature. Because of course she could. She had the most knowledge and was the most capable pony of all time. The only thing that could defeat her, was her... The rifts of the dreamscape opened the moment Luna arrived. What typically appears as dream hallway was more active and hyperactive that what is normal. As if the dreamscape itself were trying to bring Luna to the attention of a wake of nightmares, a door rushed to her, and opened. Upon walking through this door Luna could feel the warm embrace of Twilight's Castle in Ponyville. But it had aged a little. The magical aura was stronger as well, the walls of harmony continuing to sing its song. That is of course, until the wall was knocked down. Luna peered through the mess of castle damage, a force that seemed to come from within, imploding the concourses of the friendship chapel. The debris from loosened rocks and gems, still glistening, floated around as it succumbed to the random natures and physics of this custom developed dream. Pegasus pony guards were fleeing the castle, taking emergency routes, and not taking any attack stances. Luna looked around, almost entertained by the creative value of such a wild environment. Speculation began to run through her mind, wondering who might be making such a mess of a landmark. Ponyville was often a peaceful town, and the only nightmares Luna usually encountered involved the peer pressure and stress of not getting one's cutie mark. But so far, she could find no evidence of the dreamer. Her library. The answer was always in the library. After all, why wouldn't it? It represented the collected wisdom of her years. Everything she had learned and mastered was there. Twilight teleported into the main foyer of the castle, where a wall had recently been knocked down as the creatures started to move. Guards were running- chaos everywhere. Her fault. Her blame. An imperfect Princess making terrible decisions whose imperfect response was not helping matters. She had wanted to teleport into the library itself, but the aether was absolutely wild. She could not control it. She could not manipulate it. She- “Princess!” A guard. “You need to get out!” Another. A fierce rebuttal. “Evacuate the town! Stop panicking- I've got this!” Twilight bellowed as the beast grow. The black hole of a mass extended, her throne being torn apart. Paintings vanished. Ponies started to get pulled in. Twilight grabbed them telekinecally and tried to pull them out, but they stayed there. More effort. The consumer expanded. Expansion, more effort, not moving, Twilight hovers, the Consumer expands, Twilight has to fly to avoid being sucked in herself. But no- she couldn't fly away from it, even with her power. Too close. Twilight must teleport all of them, herself included, to the wing. She summoned it all up but at the last moment, something out of the corner of her eye- Luna?- and she was thrown off. Twilight popped back into existence at the library, sans those she had been trying to save... The castle of friendship began to look like the remains of the palace of the two sisters. Walls crumbled. Ceiling caved in. Torn tapestries. And to top it all off, a throne split in two. It was all too familiar. But why in a dream? Who could possibly be dreaming of such failure at this castle? Unless... Luna jumped through the falling rubble, trying to catch the identity of the characters in the dream. It was hard to see, but could this possible be Princess Twilight's manifestation? The dream did seem powerful enough to be composed by a pony of that much magical capability. But it would seem as though it was not of her intention. Luna knew Twilight enough to know randomly falling rocks within the castle was not necessarily in tandem with the friendship model's knack for keeping things in line. Luna felt the presence of a void, a leech of magic within the dream. It felt real, but it couldn't possibly be real, could it? When Luna jumped around the corner, she could see Princess Twilight and nameless pony guards dealing a troublesome black hole of magic. It tried to capture any pony within its pull. And as she watched Twilight attempt to pull all the ponies out, she could see Twilight see her back. In that instance, Twilight teleported away. Was she afraid of something? The guards fell into the void, not even their painful screams could be heard. But they could be seen. This was a nightmare. And Twilight was dealing with much of an intimidation from this force. But what was this force? Princess Luna was tempted to call for Twilight and gain some answers, but even though she knew Twilight well, she knew that to best discover what it was that was causing Twilight to lose her dreamscape's peace she would have to remain unseen and observe her emotion in the dream unaltered. She just hoped Twilight didn't wake up to soon. The library. Safe from the monster. Her failure. Refuge of knowledge, of power, of rectifications aplenty for the sins of failure. Alone but not without hope- Twilight Sparkle looked for the answer to her question. Book after book discarded with nary a second thought, a mind so familiar with the contents therein that she didn't need to spend more than a forethought on the the actuality of possibility within each book. Searching searching searching- one after another. The castle around her- shaking to the foundations, but not just physically. The aether was buckling and straining, charging a reaction. But it wouldn't do something. This was a disease upon the aether that welcomed the immune system's response. It would suck it in and become stronger. And it was already becoming stronger with every morsel it devoured, material and immaterial alike. The library started to shake. The statues of her friends which kept her company here started to tilt, her magic keeping them upright a few moments longer. She found the answer- yes, the answer! The answer was there, though the swirling mass of chaotic energy that swirled around her started to tear the pages. A sealing spell. Lost but found by Twilight. Translated by Twilight. Stored and kept safe by Twilight. Now to be used by Twilight. There was nopony else to thank or blame other than Twilight, and that was the worst threat of all. In a flash, a burst, an angry scream of existence, the walls of the library broke open. The aether around her friends' statues stopped responding and they fell, shattering on the floor before being sucked into the mass-like void. The Consumer. Twilight jetted up into the sky as the consumer overtook the library in one swift motion, feeling the contents being devoured. It was expanding ever quicker. If she didn't stop it now, it would consume Ponyville within an hour and then Equestria within minutes. As the bonds of reality started to tear asunder, the aether responding with a snap that soon rebounded on itself and caused bright tears that threatened to dear dimensions, Twilight started her spell. She cast it in a momentous purple burst- -the void. The aether. It all ended at once. The Consumer was sealed but she felt something- the aether. It had snapped and rebounded and turned, and now it was gone. She felt her horn give a mighty sigh and her wings a groan and she fell, slamming into the ground. Across her field of vision, the guards that had been devoured by the void came spitting out, but their horns and wings had the same dull glow. The same was true of the earth ponies. Twilight tried to speak- she tried to speak- no words, just a neigh. And then slowly, her thoughts. The last thing she could put together is that she had mistranslated the spell, and ended magic itself- including that which gave life sapience. “GAHH!” Twilight woke, her head snapping up. The book in front of her flipped its pages inside the old, decadent library. Outside, the storm continued without stopping, her castle within the aether forever alone. The pages stopped flipping, followed by the book slamming shut. The title: “Failures of the Damned Princess” written by none other than herself, with a full three hundred pages off apologies. She slotted it into another slot in the book case, covered on all flanks by more volumes of failure. Not that she needed them. All she had to do was look outside or try to use the staircases- they led nowhere anymore. Because there was nothing else other than this small part of her castle, floating aimlessly and timelessly throughout aether. She had made the smallest mistake when combating Aegon, the Destroyer. In trying to transport Equestria away from him, she had instead scattered it on an atomical level across the multiverse and condemned herself to the center of all aether. Forever. No hunger, never tired, just huddled with the reminders of all the mistakes she had made in her three thousand years of rule alongside those she had once been proud to stand beside. But if they could see her now? Simply ashamed. She had failed everything that was or could be. It was a mistake not born of maliciousness or avarice. Only after did she realize what had happened- what she had allowed not through stupidity or ignorance, arrogance or incompetence, but thoughtlessness. And so she looked out the window, letting time take its course... A moon, much like the moon of Equestria, sank into view of Twilight's window. Its crescent only shared a part of its reflection, but it was enough to illuminate the small details of the castle remains. Beyond the castle there was only space. No stars showed to help one gain sense of their surroundings. Luna had gotten here a short time after Twilight, after it had seemed that the aether she was battling found a way to ruin the life the dreamer after its destruction. Princess Luna walked towards Twilight, her hoofsteps making no sound or echo in the arranged ruins of the castle of harmony. She stood next to Twilight, looking out the window with her. "I bet it's lonely up there, on the moon." Luna spoke ironically, but with no smile, as usual. "The thoughts a pony would have for a thousand years in such a lonely environment would drive them mad. Remembrance is part of every life. But numerous regrets would become the art of passing time." Luna rested a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. She was not sure if Twilight was in a state of mind that would allow her to immediately recognize that this is a dream, or if she would continue her own torment, conversing with Luna as if she was a projection of her continued failure. Either way, Luna wanted to help end her suffering as she could see the emotion Twilight was projecting to be self-inflicting. The aether was an endless void. Nothing flickered. Nothing spoke. And now, thanks to her, nothing called upon it. It was as useless as bale of hay was to a seapony. There was simply nothing, and then more of it. The blank space was maddening. But upon this endless void came the most unusual element of all: Something. Anything. The crescent of a moon. Twilight could scarcely remember what that had looked like. She stared at it, fixated by something being where nothing had been. So fixated in fact that she didn't hear the hoofsteps until a voice pierced her consciousness. She was still for a second before recoiling. “Gahh! Luna! It's been...one thousand, seven hundred, and two hundred and nine days plus fifteen hours, twenty minutes, and fifty four seconds since I last saw you. Is- is this real? Are you real? Am I dreaming or am I mad? I must be mad. Only madness could drive this image before me, just as it drove me to this!” she said, beckoning out towards the void. "You are certainly not mad." Luna responded with a small smile. But her pensive frown returned to the displeasure of seeing Twilight this uncomfortable. Luna knew Twilight was good at record-keeping, but even Luna could not record the theoretical passing of time in a nightmare. "And it's hasn't been that long. It's been only a couple weeks." Luna recalled the princess summit that had recently occurred. "How long have you been in this world? What has happened?" Luna was afraid of information she may have missed upon entering the dreamscape. Twilight could have been nightmaring for several hours before Luna even entered through its door. Twilight took a few hurried breaths. A few weeks? No. No. It had been seventeen hundred years since anything but her and this small section of a ruined castle existed. Unless- was this a nightmare? Not the normal kind. She had plenty of nightmares. She had woken from one just then. But maybe all of this was a nightmare- hopefully. Maybe. “Is...this a dream?” Luna: Luna didn't particularly enjoy riddles, even if it was more fun to give them. But she felt it was sometimes necessary to ask questions and help bring the dreamer's owns senses to help themselves. If Luna told her everything up front, she might not know how to cope with it. "I'll give you a hint. There is only one thing in this dream that is real, and it's not the castle ruins." Luna checked Twilight's grimace, checking for signs of her acknowledgement, like a doctor checks a patient for injury. "You had a frightening experience. Are you hurt? Are you alright?" Twilight had to take it in for a moment. So nothing here was real? Technically that meant little. She had, after all, destroyed reality. But her nonchalance- okay. She was real. Which meant nothing else was, including Twilight. Which meant this was a dream. A nightmare. “...OH THANK YOU!” Twilight hugged the Princess of the Night. She felt the weight of the worlds lift off of her shoulders, literally. The landscape around the castle started to crack and she hovered away from Luna. “I feel like this has lasted forever...but I guess maybe only a few hours? I can't tell. But this isn't new. Well, maybe this one is, but the nightmares are all the same.” Luna pried off Twilight away from her. It could have suggested she was not in the mood for hugs, but it was really Luna's sense that something was still wrong here. "You've had multiple? I've seen nightmares happen, they come in all shapes and sizes, but your was truly troubling. And it's reoccurring? I don't understand. Why are you dreaming of something like this? What kind of stress do you suppose is triggering it?" Luna's wings opened as the floor beneath them vanished. "I'm worried about this." Twilight sighed, her hooves at her eyes as she tried to not think of her worries for the first time in a century it seemed, even if it had only been a night. What would Luna think of her? Of all ponies... “Yes. Reoccuring,” she said, hovering along with Luna as the floor fell into nothing. Soon, it was just them in the void, floating for what seemed like an eternity in a second. “Never the same, but I haven't had a good night's sleep in months. I've always done a good job of keeping it bottled up, but I suppose my defenses have been pushed down finally. It was bound to happen. It all is. My failures. The more important my role, the bigger the responsibility, the more dire the consequences of failing. But the thing is Luna, I know I can do anything. So my failures are never because I am lazy or because I'm stupid, incompetent or malicious. It isn't a flaw I can correct, it is a mistake. A simple mistake every team. A mistake I feel doomed to make.” "You... always feel like this?" Luna proposed a tone of surprise. But the fact of the matter was, she had been here before, and far more recently than she would openly admit to ponies not on the princess round table. "When did this start?" “Always? No. It has been more recently. If I had to pinpoint it...well, I can't say it was just one thing. But I've realized how close I've came to failing all of Equestria, and that was with me at my absolute best. If I give anything less than that, I'll fail and my failures mean so much more now. I'm not a filly with a passion for learning, I'm a Princess with a passion for learning and so much power and responsibility that...” Twilight sighs, hoof to her face in gashtly exasperation, “uuuuuggghhh! Why am I so worried about this? It seems so simple...I feel like such a fool.” Luna used her alicorn magic and teleported both Twilight and herself into a realm of memory. They were in a large collegiate classroom, standing in the top back. Below them they could see the events unfold when Twilight nearly failed her entrance exam into CSGU. "You have always been afraid to fail Twilight." Luna expresses as she observes the past and present, seemingly simultaneously. "To your credit, all ponies are afraid to fail. But you have had more occurrences of this feeling than most, and it's because of how gifted you were at such a young age. I want to make you feel better, but I also want to figure out with you as to why you are crushing your own self esteem, in your dreams no less, with these thoughts of imminent failure." Luna kept watching a little Twilight struggle to get a dragon egg open. "Perhaps Starswirl the Bearded was always doomed to fail in many of his experiments and unfinished work. Does this mean he was the label for all magical ponies who fail?" This was a wonderful display of Luna's power. The academic in Twilight wanted to study the way that the aether was being manipulated in such a delicate yet overwhelming manner, allowing for the Night to pierce the veil of memory's sensation of time and space to produce such a vivid memory, and one she herself could feel as real as ever. Her examination. Could she have failed here? She worried about it, of course. But looking back, it seemed like her passing was a foregone conclusion. Her focus was there. It was just a matter of time. “I've always worried about failure, yes. But that has changed. I used to worry that I wasn't good enough...now I know I am. And as I've realized that, my responsibility has grown tremendously. I know I'm capable of anything. If I fail, it isn't like I worried I would here,” Twilight said as she watched herself start to glow with untapped power, “where if I failed, it was because I wasn't good enough. There are so many things I must keep a hold of now. And if I don't, everypony pays the price and it would be because of...laziness, rather than incompetence. And that is far worse than just not being good enough. How do you manage to keep track of everything and not cause such a catastrophe?” Luna said plainly. "It's simple. I don't." Luna made her own glow again, teleporting the two through the recordings of space and time, just in time for little Twilight's out of control magic to reach the imaginary observers. They stopped at a location in which was not owned in memory by Twilight, but rather an all-too familiar place for Luna herself. They were in the palace of the two sisters. The walls had no shown ruin yet, and Luna was on a pedestal, transforming into a wicked mare of darkness in front of her disappointed sister Celestia. "I think you forget too easily the path that others have had to take in order to get the place they are today, and you remember far too well, the times in which you have either failed, or almost failed." No matter how terrible Twilight imagined her future failings could be, only here in the realm of nightmares could she possibly hope to eclipse Luna's failings. Hers had cast the nation into its most tumultuous period, one of the few times where pony fought pony en masse. If Twilight was ever being reasonable, she would understand that nothing she could do could possibly eclipse that personal failing. But that tick, that worry, was not reasonable. And here in the dreamscape, Twilight was as honest as the very best of friends. “You know, I've studied this a lot. From a psychological standpoint. Feelings of betrayal. Jealousy. Toiling away for what is believed to be an ungrateful populace. Hidden from the light by a shadow you cannot control, the greatness of a sister overshadowing what you do. You know, for about a century afterwards the Equestrian Psychological Association classified a unique concurrence of symptoms as Luna's Syndrome, but Celestia eventually forbade it. It stayed around for a few more decades but it fell out of common usage. I'll admit, when I first read the stories, I thought this was as simple as one sister being jealous and the other doing what she had to. Now I see it differently. I see a pony who was too proud to seek help when she needed it. Your failing wasn't jealousy or anything similar, but pride- too proud to seek help. You remind me of Applejack in that regard when I look back. Tell me, when you and Celestia wielded the Elements, what Elements did you wield?”
  17. Rackenhammer: The flyer had gone out to most towns and villages in Equestria: "IMAGINE a future where war is a thing of the past. IMAGINE a world where there are none starved or oppressed. IMAGINE yourself, making this dream come true..." The opening lines were a fair sample of the content. There was a little about the history of the organization, how it was founded after a Viking attack on the Crystal Empire, with a blurb on how the scarcity of resources in the Caribou lands bred fighting and war, and how much more reasonable it would be to make their land richer than deal with periodic attacks and death. That was about it for substance, but it did direct those interested in joining to Blueblood Manor to apply... Honeywing: Honeywing tapped his chin as he read over the flyer. This was certainly intriguing. He had missed the first few round of these, apparently, due to one of his missions. And of course he was always on the lookout for ways to improve his standing. The notice lacked substance, but it was a flyer, not a novel. And every Courier in Equestria knew exactly where to find Blueblood Manor. It was something of a hazing tradition to post newbies to the manor to attend the staff's demands. One short flight later and Honeywing was knocking on the servants entrance. Rackenhammer: Answering the door was the kitchen maid, a mare formidably stiff with propriety. Very few outside of Canterlot knew this, but the higher-ranked servantry had a hierarchy every bit as exact as the nobility itself. The Kitchen-Maid was ranked under the Cook, but not very much far under. Say, #4 or #5 overall. "Here to deliver a message? The master's-" And here she hesitated, "A little indisposed." Honeywing: "Not today, ma'am. I saw this flyer at the headquarters." he said, rolling a wing to shift a satchel forward, out of which he pulled the IMAGINE advertisement. He straightened his shoulders and tossed his mane over to the other side, drawing himself to his full height in the process. It wasn't terribly impressive, really, but he knew how to bear himself, at any rate. "Honestly, came to this door out of habit, but I'm confident you'll get me where I need to be. You seem a capable mare." Rackenhammer: The maid peered down at the flyer, suspiciously at first, but then her eyes opened wide in recognition. "Oh, you're here about that. Usually recruits come through the front door." She looked around, thinking. On the one hand, the Prince had requested no visitors. On the other hand, recruits were in a different class altogether. Maybe it wouldn't hurt. "Look, if you'll go up into the foyer, I'll pass along that you're here, alright?" Honeywing: Recognising a failed attempt when he saw one, Honeywing bowed his head gracefully and trotted off toward the main foyer. It was another room a courier was usually well acquainted with. He didn't recognise the décor, but that was Blueblood, of course. Honeywing was well aware of the prince's reputation. The art was usually the most interesting thing about the room, so Honeywing took his time examining it while he waited. Rackenhammer: The art was... odd. Not in of itself, no, everything was generally of good taste... but it looked as if someone had stopped halfway through in redecorating. There were a mixture old family portraits, and classic collectors pieces... with a set of new paintings, all from one artist of growing talent. Including, oddly enough, a painting that looked like a female version of Prince Blueblood, lying in a bed of roses... Honeywing: Honeywing lingered on this one. He'd heard of gender-reversing effects, usually in hushed whispers around the headquarters as something that had happened to a friend of a friend of a friend, but generally he discredited those as urban legends, not unlike those that said the zebras could bend the workings of a unicorn's spell mid-cast. Instead, he was assuming the artist was either quite imaginative or had found a near-double who happened to be a mare. Although given how masculine the prince was, it was odd to think of any mare as being considered a 'near-double'. Rackenhammer: Indeed, in terms of figure, there was a great contrast between the overall quite masculine sculpted shape of the Prince's body, and the exquisitely feminine curves the painter had captured. but the eyes... the eyes were the same, along with the cutie mark. And over all expression, of a habitual haughtiness covering an inward vulnerability... "Ahem." Behind him was a soft cough, and turning around, Honeywing would see... the mare from the painting. "You were here... as a recruit, am I right?" Honeywing: Nope. Honeywing's brain couldn't accept that. Had to be a trick of the lighting. No, her voice was off, too. Was he having a daydream? No, he wasn't that into mares, and he REALLY wasn't that into Blueblood. Another nightmare? No, he was pretty sure he was awake, and besides, he could track a clear line from the flyer to the foyer. The stallion closed his eyes, took a deep breath, let it out, then opened them ag-nope, still a mare. Well then. He had just lost sixteen bits on a bet. "Recruit? Yes. My name is Honeywing, I'm a courier with the Diplomatic Courier Corps, your grace." Rackenhammer: Bluebell had apparently been waiting for ancillary questions. Things like, "What happened to you?" Or "How long has this been a thing?" or even "Did you fall in love when you looked in a mirror?" But no, this stallion seemed to be on point still, and for that, the mare was grateful. "A messenger? And with experience in the corps! Well, we would be glad to have you. If you'll just follow me to the study, we can go over the details." Honeywing: Honeywing clicked his hooves professionally and drew himself up behind the prince...ss? ready to follow. How did that happen? How long was that a thing? She probably spent hours in front of the mirror, if she was half the pony her reputation said she was. Then again, maybe being a mare changed her? Was this a voluntary thing? Honeywing's mind raced from one question to the next, but he'd have to wait for a more polite time to find answers, or a more diplomatic one, at any rate. One did not join a diplomatic corps without learning tact. Leastwise, one did not stay in one for long. Rackenhammer: However many personal questions the courier may have had, the answers would have to wait, either until the Princess was ready to answer... or until he figured them out for himself. From the sheen of her coat and mane, Bluebelle certainly took no less care of her appearance, however long it took her to get ready in the morning. Still, one could hardly blame the royal person from using their main advantage; after all, Blue would have to rely on brains otherwise, and Faust knew the Prince had shown precious little evidence of those before. In any case, she took a seat behind a desk, looking at Honeywing across it. "I suppose you might want some more information on what you're getting into, if you came from the flier. Wordsworth Psmith has a way with fine words, but he packs so many syllables into so few meanings sometimes..." Honeywing: "I hadn't noticed, your grace." Honeywing lied, blatantly. "But I was curious, yes. Your organisation sounds very philanthropic, but the flyers are sparse on details. Or even the proposed goals or methods, if you'll pardon my bluntness." He had taken a seat and crossed his legs in a very formal pose. Not perhaps the tense eagerness usually found in a servant, especially in a glorified mailcarrier, but certainly not with any undue familiarity with the mare or the situation. Rackenhammer: "Well, there aren't many details. At least, not details set in stone." The Princess had settled down into a practiced explanation, though she managed to deliver it naturally. It didn't sound like a mechanical repetition of rote phrases, as sometimes happened when the upper class talked about their philanthropy. "The three founders, that is, Miss Snowfall of Northern Storm Industries, Countess Frostlace of Stalliongrad, and myself decided to pool our resources and influence to make the world more peaceful. Essentially, we want to look for non-violent solutions for potential or past conflicts. Usually this has to do with scarcity, which can be solved with development and trade. We are currently starting two efforts, one in Whitescar with the caribou, and in Griffonstone, with the, well, griffons." Honeywing: Honeywing listened intently, nodding every now and again. "So you're establishing trade routes, looking for stable merchant relationships, and developing the regions' own industries?" He asked, organising thoughts in his head. He did note that she didn't seem to be using rote or that really annoying voice aristocrats liked to use when talking about 'helping the peasantry'. Maybe her reputation had been inflated, or maybe being a mare had actually changed her. Or maybe she was just really good with the political game. Honeywing wasn't sure yet, but he was also willing to play his cards close to the vest, not that he wore one usually, and find out. Rackenhammer: "More or less. Essentially, if you can't get oranges, we'll make sure you can." The off-hoof, and somewhat cryptic remark was followed up by a question. "Do you know what it takes for you to get an orange in this city?" This was apparently some kind of test, gauging from the way that the Princess was looking at Honeywing, waiting for the answer.. Honeywing: "Foreign oranges or domestic, your grace? Domestic come by way of the train, with the proper produce procurement papers and licenses, I believe the Orange family owns most of the orchards? Foreign requires an additional set of tariffs and a waiting period while Customs examines them to ensure no foreign parasites or diseases are present. As such they're usually not as fresh when they reach the merchants or buyers, unless great care was taken to preserve them, either magical or through carefully controlled temperatures, and therefore most merchants and suppliers charge a premium for their strains." Honeywing says, offhoof. He then coughs and offers "My father's a restraunteur, your grace." Rackenhammer: After listening for a bit, Bluebelle nodded. "So, you have some idea of everything that needs to happen in order for a caribou have orange juice with breakfast. Well, IMAGINE is meant to facilitate all that. Setting it up and getting it running, so to speak. It's a hard task, and we can use all sorts to do it." She got up, lifting a few papers out of the drawer. "There are multiple options, depending upon whether you wish to join us part-time or full time. I can make arrangements with the corps for your transfer, if you wish the latter." Honeywing: Honeywing paused and considered the offer. He could always use the extra bits, and the prestige, of course. Oh, and...wait, why was he hesitating again..? "Hmm...I'll need to consider that, your Grace. Though I may be able to offer some assistance even within the corps if need be. My primary concern is my coltfriend, honestly, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind having me out from under-hoof for a while at any rate." He was going to accept one offer or the other, the only question was how much time he could devote to things. Rackenhammer: "Well, as far as personal considerations go..." Bluebelle looked down at herself, betraying a consciousness of her transformation for the first time this meeting. "Well, I can't say we will be any less demanding than your current position. More so, actually; you'll be applying for hazard pay more often, for one thing." The Princess sighed, and leaned back, rubbing her eyes. "I don't want to sound like I'm dissuading you at the last minute, but frankly I didn't know what I was getting into when I started this. So... I suppose you shouldn't feel frightened if you're unsure yourself." Honeywing: Honeywing shook his head. "Oh, I'm not afraid of either hard work or hazards. My father is a restrauntuer, I mentioned, so I learned early on how to make myself useful. And my mother's family has been guards since as far back as they can trace records, up until my uncle's passing." he said. He considered for another moment before adding, "To be quite frank, your grace, I was expecting to work hard for the position. The Diplomatic Corps favours the silver tongue, but you don't get far without learning how to get things done. Even your household typically has a Courier or two running errands, I would wager." Rackenhammer: "Hm? Well, yes, I suppose so. I have ponies that take care of those sorts of details for me..." Blueblood had been born into a household where there were so many servants that there were servants who managed the servants. IMAGINE probably represented the first time he, or she, had actually been in charge of other ponies in a real position of leadership. "In any case, as you seem up for the work, I don't see why we can't sign you on today. Ah, which sort of shift were you looking for? We'll have more important things for you to do full-time, setting up appointments with high-ranking Caribou for our first big investment meeting." Honeywing: "Most likely part-time for a month or so, to get everything in order, and facilitate a transfer. There were a couple of assignments I really should finish myself if only because the recipients are particular about how their documents are handled, and I can train a replacement more easily than the corps can find somepony else to." Honeywing replied. In truth, he was probably going to spend most of the personal time studying the Caribou, but a good diplomat never let on to either party how long research took. "In the mean time, if there is work that needs doing in the capital, I'm more than willing to do it." Rackenhammer: "Excellent! We'll sign you for a month of part-time, and I'll have Psmith talk to his counterpart in the Corps to co-ordinate your out-processing." Bluebelle selected a few papers from among her stack, and presented them to Honeywing. In truth, he hadn't committed to the long haul quite yet, but the Princess had an instinct about him. Or was attempting to manipulate him in a desperate attempt to get sufficient personnel to accomplish her mission. Honeywing: Honeywing took a few moments to scan through the documents, reading over the finer points and trying to get a sense of the minutiae contained therein. He actually didn't have much of a head for legalese, so tended to overthink contracts, but even still, this one looked fairly straightforward. Salary seemed fair, hazard pay, insurance, everything looked to be in order. "Is there somepony to ask about budgeting?" He asked without much preamble, "I recall you mentioning facilitating trade and tariffs, and I was curious as to how that was going to work, and whether agents needed to work from their stipends." Rackenhammer: "Budgeting?" The question seemed to catch Bluebelle off-guard for a moment, before she heard Honey's explanation. She blinked a bit. "Well, I suppose that'd be me, at present, unless you know an accountant with higher ambitions than dying a bean-counter. At the moment, the founders are funding everything out-of-pocket, pay-as-we-go. We don't actually know how much money would be needed to do these sorts of things yet, so setting a hard budget would be rather pointless. Just... don't be extravagant in your expense sheet, and I think you'll be fine." The Princess let out a whoosh of breath, settling back. Altogether, that had gone well. She'd given the information, practically acquired a recruit, all without the elephant in the room being addressed. Honeywing: Honeywing signed the necessary portions of the application, then separated out his copy and started rolling it up to put in a document tube he had in his saddlebags. Time for the elephant in the room, he supposed. "Your grace, how public is the knowledge of your current condition?" he asked. It wasn't his personal business, though he was extremely curious, but if he was to be working as an attaché of the Princess's political work, he did need to know if he'd need to deflect questions about it, he reasoned to himself. Rackenhammer: Well, there it was. The other hoof, dropping. It wasn't exactly welcome, but it was expected. Though, when it did come, it came slantwise. Bluebell raised an eyebrow at the question itself. "You don't read the tabloids much, do you? It was all over them last weekend. It was as much as I could do, in my position, to let my friends know before the rest of the world." That was no doubt annoying, but if you were a royal, journalistic attention was just part and parcel with the work and rank. Honeywing: Honeywing actually didn't. He'd also been out of town though, so even if he normally did read tabloids he probably wouldn't have known. He cleared his throat and deflected the issue by replying, "May I rephrase it then, to 'How would you prefer any questions asked of me be answered?'? It's likely none of my business how you ended up this way, I mean, but if I'll be working for you..." Rackenhammer: "Change the subject. If they insist, refer them to my calendar. If I don't want to see them, I'll tell them. If they continue to impinge upon my time, I will leave them to what remains of the tender mercies of my butler." From the flatness of her tone, it sounded like the stories last weekend had been produced at the cost of much irritation. Honeywing: Honeywing dipped his head in acknowledgement and resumed securing his copy of the offer in the document tube. "Understood, your grace." he said as he popped the cap on and slid it back into his bag. He went through a mental checklist of things to go over with Glitzen as well, aware that he'd pushed rather past the line of propriety already and more than willing to drop a clearly touchy subject. Rackenhammer: Bluebelle had been, perhaps, a little brusque in dealing with the subject. Then again, this was not the sort of thing she was prepared to talk about with near strangers just at this very moment. Perhaps, when the two of them were better acquainted... the whole story could be told. In any case, once the subject was dropped, her expression softened. "Welcome aboard, Honeywing. I promise you, that by the end of this, we'll have made the world at least a little bit better." Honeywing: Honeywing didn't doubt that, and bowed graciously. "Thank you, your grace. I'll go see to some of my preparations. May I excuse myself, your grace? I can remember the way out." He couldn't, but he was a Pegasus, all he really needed to do was find a balcony no pony was watching and he'd be on his way. Rackenhammer: Bluebelle nodded assent and smiled at Honeywing. "Alright then, go ahead. I'll know where to reach you when we need you. Good day." If the Princess knew he was flying out, she didn't care. She did get up and reach over to shake his hoof. "Until next time." Honeywing: Honeywing was unaccustomed to royalty using the gesture, but he took the princess's hoof and shook it, then bowed again and made his way out of the room, out of the building, and off to his possibly last assignments with the Couriers.
  18. Looking for people interested in Cards Against Humanity, Wordner, Board Game Online, and anything else we can figure out (mostly cards against humanity, though) If interested, add me on skype. The username is trueliesaa and will show up as Russell the LULhog. Add if interested!
  19. Hello, everypony! I will be hosting a Skype and Chat, were we can all chat and play games on xbox! Just type in your Skype name and we can all play together (considering we have the same games). Yours truly, TheYungBrony (Regie Harvester)
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