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  1. Roleplay Type: World Of Equestria Name: Lollipop Candy Sex: Stallion Age: 23 Species: Earth Eye Color: Yellow/Orange Coat: White Mane/Tail: Shades/Tints of red Physique: Lollipop is fairly tall with a slim form, which is odd considering his diet; His metabolism must be crazy! He doesn't possess excessive amounts of muscle, but has a few defined outlines, specifically in his hooves. Residence: No permanent residence. Occupation: Traveling salespony. Cutie Mark: Two lollipop's in an X stance. Unique Traits: History: Lollipop is the second-born in his family, the middle child. Despite growing up under the same roof, none of them ever behaved exactly the same. He was a lot more excitable and upbeat than his other siblings, always finding the bright side to even the worst of situations. He was constantly moving, unable to keep still for more then a few minutes at a time. He loved to explore, roaming around towns to see what they held and what wonders could be found. Time passed and as it did, several dreams and ambitions began to surface. While in school, on top of being the class clown, Lollipop learned that he had a knack for cooking. Discovering this made him curious as to how far this talent of his went. He experimented left and right with different things; Common foods, pastries and eventually candy. There were times of trial and error, a few fires here and there as well. However, everything he did taught him more about what he could do and his creative mind filled him with ideas of what could be improved on and how. His cooking skills were good, but they paled in comparison to his pastries and candy. Deciding to cut off his weakest link, he dedicated his skills entirely to those two things. Upon declaring that candy was his life, and that it would one day rule the world- obviously just to get a few laughs from his classmates- he found himself overcome with joy and presented with his cutiemark. Staying true to his word, Lollipop focused all of his time and energy into sweets and baked goods. He was given grants to go to special cooking schools and excelled in the very subject he dedicated his life to, even graduating at the top of his class. He would never claim to be the best per se, but knew that what he had to offer was close to it. He was also pretty sure that most of his good grades came purely because he befriended his teachers and made them laugh. In all reality though, his teachers loved how creative he was, as well as how willing he was to take risks that most wouldn't dare. His work ethic was effective, his treats were exquisite, and time was never a problem since he managed to move so fast and not once make a mistake in their kitchen. After all of that, he started a business. He got a loan, bought a building, and in time 'Lollipop's Delight's' was open and ready to take on the world! It started off slow, as most new businesses do. But, in time, word got out and ponies became curious. Ponies would arrive, talk to him, try out what he was offering, and then fall inlove with both him and his shop. After only a few weeks his candy shop became the hot-spot of his town. He catered mostly to the younger crowds, but even parents and grandparents found it hard to resist his sweets. There was one pony in particular that he remembered, it was his first customer. He was an older stallion, roughly in his late sixties if he had to guess. The stallion came in and chatted for about an hour, but neither gave their name to the other; Lollipop figured his own was obvious, given the name of the store. A bit of time passed and the stallion tried a simple cupcake. That one cupcake quickly turned into several and even a few other things he had out. Once the pony was satisfied, he paid his bill and left. Before walking out of the door though, he looked back and said goodbye, referring to Lollipop as 'Candycolt" just as he left. It caught him off-guard, but he didn't complain. In fact, he kinda liked that nickname. From that point on, business started to grow and everypony in town knew him as 'The Candycolt'. A couple of years passed and everything was running as smooth as ever. Lollipop achieved his dream and made a lot of friends along the way. But, he found himself sad. He didn't feel sad often, but this small wave of depression was haunting him for months and he couldn't figure out why. He thought back to his family. His parents were alive and well, still living in his childhood home with his younger brother. His older brother moved out shortly after Lollipop left for his schooling. He would receive letters from him every now and again, getting to read about all of the places he was visiting and the adventures he would have. Lollipop envied him for being able to go out and see the world, to explore to his heats content. Then it hit him, that child-like urge to go out and explore surfaced and it did so with a vengeance. He didn't want to settle down in his shop, not yet. He wanted to go out and experience the world. But, he didn't want to give up his dream either. That's when it hit him again...Specifically, what hit him was a blueberry pancake he had flipped before becoming lost in thought, but an idea did as well! It was with a heavy heart that Lollipop closed down his shop. For the longest time, it meant everything and more to him, but he just wasn't ready to slow down. He bought a rather luxurious cart, filling it up with everything he would need to continue making his treats and pastries while on the road. Since then he's traveled nonstop, making friends wherever he goes and never staying in one place for too long; All while whipping up some of his crazy sweets and selling them along the way. That sadness that had plagued him for so long seemed to vanish overnight, letting him know that he had made the right choice. Character Personality: Lollipop is an interesting pony, to say the least. He's kind of random, a little all over the place, and goofy all around. He is a very open-minded individual, preferring to think outside of the box in any situation. He's adventurous, funny, and probably one of the nicest ponies you can meet, if also a bit obnoxious. He's the very definition of your typical class clown; A generous soul, he'll help anpony if he can. Especially if what they need is a good laugh. Character Summary: Lollipop is a fun-loving pony with a seemingly endless amount of energy. He prefers to introduce himself as 'The Candycolt', saying that it's what his friends call him. He owned his own candy and pastry shop in his home-town, but closed it down when he realized that he wanted to travel. Now he moves across Equestria on hoof, selling his goods and spreading laughter wherever he goes while still living his dream of being the candycolt.
  2. Iseiaisha

    From the album Requests, Gifts, Commissions

    The Shogunate of Neighpon has finally been filled with characters! The last addition is DerpRavener's character Iseiaisha, who serves as the Karasu of the Shogunate. Didn't have any details whatsoever for the character aside from colors, so I basically just designed what I thought a ninja-esque character might look like, complete with a ninja-esque outfit, lol. Iseiaisha (c) DerpRavener
  3. Barely a day had passed since Thunderbuck and his protection had arrived in Ponyville, and he already felt like he needed to leave. Usually when he came through performing his music ponies would enjoy his presence. Now he felt eyes on him at all hours, and not those of his guards. He took this as a sign that the ponies in charge were not pleased with his presence and wanted him gone. He would gladly oblige them, had he been able to step outside his room without spotting some pony staring at him. This was a feeling he was most displeased with, as he normally hated being observed without his mask, now it seemed to serve only as a magnet for the eyes of ponies following his every movement through town. He was having a particularly rough time with it, especially now that he was inside the library. With the presence of only himself and one guard, he thought he might find peace and a chance to research. Instead it seemed that he was being observed more intensely. He took a moment to speak very softly where only his guard could here. “Step out the door slowly and walk away as if I am walking with you. Just keep walking toward the Inn. Once you are inside I want you to stay there for five minutes and then come back like you are walking with me,” his voice was stern as it could be, however it still sounded timid and more like asking than telling. The guard nodded and then moved to stand aside as Buck’s horn began to glow faintly. As the stallion’s own image stood from his place and the glow attached itself to the guard, it seemed as though the guard were now escorting Buck back to the inn. No sooner had the guard and illusion left the library than Buck immediately felt the eyes off him, and now it was his turn. He knew a scrying spell was being used, because he had intensely felt them on him before. There was very little his limited training could do to determine where it was coming from, however he had illusions strong enough to make the pony doing the scrying go mad trying to actually find him again. His eyes closed as he conjured his own magic up. A blue flicker of electric energy, tinted green in swirled spots covered his horn, and then his head, slowly enveloping his whole form. He was covered and then, soon enough the bubble of magic faded thin before vanishing completely. He panted softly as he began to wait, and pray his act of illusion worked. No sooner had he let out his panted breath, however did the door open and his guard stepped back inside. Thunderbuck was confused, and made a hoof motion to his wrist as if asking the time. The guard stallion came over and removed his helm, setting it down softly upon the wooden table and speaking gently. “Sir. I have been gone a full fifteen minutes. Five minutes to and from the inn, and waiting the five minutes more you instructed of me took the time up. Sir you are sweating heavily, are you feeling ill? Are you panting as well? Should I… fetch a doctor?” The guard grew concerned now as his charge showed signs of serious strain and fatigue. “No I am alright. I was merely deeply concentrated on the spell I cast. I hope it will be enough to disrupt the actions of any pony spying on us with magical means. I cast a spell over myself, that when somepony attempts to scry my location and activities, will hurl the spell to another random pony in a random place and time. I have no idea how random, however it will, at least for a time prevent them from spying on me indirectly. They, whomever they are, have been scrying our activities today,” Buck said as his breathing came under control. He stood and moved himself to the bookshelf to begin his research. “I see my lord. May I be of assistance then?” The guard asked “Yes. I will need you to help me locate horn mending spells and information. As well it might serve best to fetch us some extra parchment, quills, and ink to allow us to continue working. I have a sinking feeling this will be a few days work ahead of us; at the least four to five days,” Thunderbuck said softly. The guard nodded a retrieved his helm from the table, quickly placing it back on his head and trotting out the door now. He would fetch the coin purse Buck kept for such expenses and purchase the needed items, then take a moment to order food for himself and his lord. Thunderbuck himself was slowly stacking books on the table with his magic, making them into neat piles of organized titles in the hopes of keeping them straight to return them to the shelves properly. He pondered to himself if he could actually perform such magic spells, as healing was notoriously difficult and on a unicorn’s horn it would be doubly so with her own magic leaking out and possibly fighting back. Then there was the other matter to contend with, being purification of her from the darkness she had within herself. Thunderbuck knew of little that could be done for that. Usually such matters were left to mystics and priests of one kind or another. The stallion was so absorbed in his thought he failed to hear the gentle tap of yellow hooves behind him until they were almost on him. His muscles tensed, his mind racing to cast a teleport spell and yet he had used too much magic already. He had nothing left to cast, and turned sharply. The loud ‘eek!’ that escaped both Fluttershy and Thunderbuck scared them both witless as she shot up into the rafters and he dove under a table for cover. This left both panting and afraid to look to the other for some retaliation or the other. Yet the seconds ticked by and all that could be heard was the rapid panting of each other. Slowly, Thunderbuck peeked out from under the table as Fluttershy looked down from the rafters quietly. They stared at each other for a few moments before Fluttershy slower lowered herself down in a gentle gliding decent, and Thunderbuck slowly pulled himself out from under the table with a slow movement to keep from bumping his horn. Now on even ground they merely looked at each other in silence, both pondering what to say before Thunderbuck found a few words. “Can I help you miss?” He asked though almost in a whisper. Fluttershy was caught off guard, having not expected him to speak, let alone in such a melodic voice that he almost sounded to be singing when he spoke. “Um, well I was… wondering if I could help you. I mean… n… not that you look like you need help… I was just thinking that… you are new and oh…I should go.” She turned to leave quietly and walked for the door slowly. Much to her great surprise, he said nothing and merely let her leave of her own accord. Normally when she tried to leave, ponies would stop her to try to make her explain what she meant, however this stallion had not moved or spoken anything to stop her. She turned to look toward him, and was surprised to find him slowly removing that mask of his. As he pushed it up over his horn and off the back of his head, she found he had a very young face, likely younger than herself. She surmised that he might even be young enough to actually be just out of school, if that was possible. Her mind was managing the possibilities when the door opened next to her slowly. Her eyes flew to the door, and realized that the guard was back. Fear gripped her as he stepped in, levitating a large bag of supplies beside himself, and she shrank away from his rather imposing armor and scowl. “Leave her be, she was just looking for a certain book,” Buck said. The guard instantly disregarded her presence and moved to join his lord at the table. As he was unpacking the bag, Fluttershy made her escape and flew away into the clouds to hide for a bit. There she panted as she thought about what had just happened. The pony under that mask was younger and likely just as frightened as she was, possibly more so if he wore that mask just to go out in public. He had a soft voice, and a gentle tone. That she could be comfortable with, however his protection guards were hard ponies to not be frightened of. Rainbow Dash was even slightly intimidated by them, though she would never openly admit to it. Those unicorns were quick on their hooves, and near silent when they walked. Fluttershy could barely imaging how to picture a Pegasus in such armor, and ow strong they would have to be to maintain flight while wearing all that heavy metal and weapons. As she let her heart come back down, she spotted Applejack down below. Flying down slowly, she landed a few feet ahead and started walking beside the farm mare. They said nothing at first, but Fluttershy could tell that AJ was indeed very irritated about something. Once they were mostly alone, Applejack sighed and opened up about her anger. “Fluttershy, I appreciate everything you done for me and the family. But I gots to get rid of them vampire fruit bats. They started in on the cider apples, the good ones and no less than three trees last night. I’ve never known them bats to eat like that, but they didn’t even leave us the cores for fertilizer this time.” The farm mare was calmer now, having vented her frustrations and taken a deep breath. Fluttershy put aside her other matters for her friend, noting several things that stood out as uncommon, or nearly impossible. “Applejack, um, vampire fruit bats can’t eat a whole apple like that. They just drink the juice. If the apples are totally missing, is it possible you already harvested them and forgot?” She suggested gently, hoping not to anger the hefty mare again. Applejack opened her mouth to retort but then closed it and began to think. Fluttershy was the most knowledgeable pony when it came to animals and certainly the local authority on animal behavior and ability. If she said that the bats couldn’t eat a whole apple, then they couldn’t do it. That itself presented a new problem as this mean a new critter was getting into the farm crop and making a mess of things it had best be leaving alone. “Well I would rightly remember bucking them trees, I promised Applebloom she could help me buck them this year now that she has some better aim with her hooves. I never would have betrayed a promise to my little sister like that. Which means some critter got in them. Big Mac can’t buck them trees, they’re too old and he’d break ‘em in half just as soon as he touched one.” The farm mare said pulling her hat down a bit and grunting in frustration before letting out a displeased snort of pure agitation. Fluttershy nodded, understanding that sometimes animals new to an area could cause disruptive behavior, and that made ponies upset when it caused them issues. She then had an idea, suggesting that Applejack show her the trees and maybe she could find out what type of animal did it, and how to help her fix the problem without harming the animal or causing AJ any undue stress. The farm mare agreed and said she would meet Fluttershy after dinner that night by the road to the farm, to which the yellow mare agreed and trotted off to get some things ready in the event they found something hungry and in need of a new home. Thunderbuck had begun his research with his protector, though thankfully with the added benefit of the anti-scrying spell making his distracting follow unable to see him. As the stallion was making notations about fading old scars from injuries that were healed but still achy, his guard was looking into proper horn mending technique and the various supplies needed for such a process. It seemed to the guard stallion that mending a horn was not at all like setting a bone. Small cracks could be tended with low level spells even a novice could cast upon themselves with the aid of a mirror to see how to direct the magic. However the gaping crack in Lady Stromstride’s horn would require more than that. Since it was impossible to recover the lost fragments as they were who knows where, the next best remedy was to create a mixture that would fill the crack and become part of the horn as the magic turned the mix into actual bone that would grow with the unicorn. That took significantly more power than even experienced healers had to offer, so usually being performed by multiple unicorns to share the magical load of converting the mix to bone, binding it to the existing bone and marrow of the horn, and healing the damage to provide it a chance to grow properly. The only problem with this was, the guard did not know of any unicorns that could do this, even when they worked together. He could only hope that Thunderbuck knew some, or at least had an idea where some might live and provide the help even if it came at a cost. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The wine tasting was over, and Stormstride had taken First Place in only one competition. The rest of the competition, she took multiple second, third and in a few she did not even place at all. The judges consisted of Celestia, Luna, a few ponies Stormstride had never seen before, and what she knew was Flashfire’s father. Most would call this a striking defeat, however the mare seemed unfazed as she polished her awarded ribbons and smiled while setting them down gently in a velvet lined box. Blueblood was a bit confused, seeing as how others stuck their noses high and trotted off with tail tucked like a dog that was spanked with a paper, barking about the indignation of it all when given such placements. Stormstride was pleasantly enjoying herself and her few small awards. She admired the silky blue ribbon of her single first place win, as her guards packed away the remains of her wines for return to the cart outside the in the courtyard. “You seem most jovial for only finishing first in the Reserve competition my friend. Is there some method to your calmness or did you just not care to contend?” Blueblood asked her rather bluntly, which got a coy smile from her lips. “It is easier to participate when you know you will lose to those with the home field advantage and long standing bias within the circle of judges,” she said loud enough to catch both Princesses attention. Blueblood knew she had said that intentionally. She noticed immediately that the nearest ponies looked to her with a bit of shock and some of the others with confusion, perhaps anger at such a claim. Blueblood felt a bit embarrassed she would act like that, knowing full well that the contest was judged as fairly as possible in his opinion. He laughed and gently pat her back. “A quick jest can lighten the blow to an ego indeed. Come, I would like to discuss possibly having a crate added to the palace larders, your wines have a note to them rarely found in Equestrian wines that I have become attached too,” he tried to guide the conversation in a direction that would make his aunts think Stormstride had not said that seriously. Unfortunately it was too late, both were walking their way with serious faces, though Celestia’s questioning look was lighter than Luna’s scowl of disapproval. Blueblood tried to get Stormstride to follow him, but when he looked at her face he saw that maniacal grin and her eyes twinkled in a way he had only seen in a mad pony. He stepped back and turned away, biting his lip as he prepared himself to watch Stormstride be torn asunder. “I could not help but over hear your words my dear guest. Do you truly feel there is some unjust in our judgement?” Celestia asked before Luna could speak. She knew her sister was still a touch prideful and could speak her mind most bluntly, often frightening ponies unintentionally; adding to this the fact that Celestia was well aware of who and what Stormstride was both in their past meeting and the here and now. Damaging relations between Equestria and Maretonia was out of the question until proof of wrongdoing had in fact been found, and as of yet there was none to be had save rumor and speculation. However it was Luna and Celestia that were quite surprised when Stormstride turned to them with a brilliant smile and a gleaming light in her eyes. Luna’s sense of danger flared violently, as she took one single step away to give her sister the room to maneuver since Celestia was closest. Celestia was so startled by the look and suddenness of the turn by the smaller mare she almost jumped into the air, her wings twitched and her horn gave the tiniest spark. The light in Stormstride’s eyes danced in delight and Celestia knew that she had gotten the reaction she wanted. The princesses could be spooked, though only subtly enough that the one spooking them would notice. However the words that followed derailed the train of thought in Celestia’s mind. “Oh, not in the sense that you believe. No I am referring that all ponies, even Allicorns are more partial to the familiar and well known. Things that are different are oft exciting, however judged with more critical an eye and air than those one is certainly more familiar with. If one were to examine every bottle as if it were from an entirely different batch, one would fine even subtle differences in the same blend from the same vine. It is just that when we taste something we have become accustomed to tasting, our mind glosses over all the imperfections we have come to expect in such a product, however we instantly recognize the imperfections in things we are not familiar with. You would know my wine by taste alone even if you did not see me pour it, however if I took three of their wines and poured where you could not see, your mind would trick you, leaving you unable to really tell the difference in the oh so familiar flavors. You would confuse them for each other,” the noble mare said in that still jovial and near maddening tone. Luna was utterly confused, her sense of danger was still telling her that this mare was likely to attack them at any second, however she spoke as if she were very happy to discuss the matter with them, even drawing a few nods of agreement from others close. It was an accepted fact that the senses of a pony, even a princess could be fooled if given the right circumstances, and the information provided seemed to suggest that Stormstride believed the judgement was made as fairly as possible, but that they had biased themselves by enjoying something familiar to them less critically than her offerings and thus skewed the end result by pure habit. Celestia took the words at face value, but she was no fool. The madness in those eyes was completely genuine, and all it would take would be one false step to bring it out fully. This mare was indeed mad inside, and Celestia could feel the darkness creeping up inside her inch by inch. This mare was a skilled combatant, and likely had means of casting spells without giving away she was casting them. Suppressing the glow around one’s horn was hard to do, and even Celestia herself could not produce such a feat, but it was possible according to ancient notes left my unicorns of the past. Or perhaps the alcohol and wide gleaming grin the mare was giving was just fooling Celestia, which the princess had to admit to herself was a possibility in this situation. Stormstride had made not a single move of aggression, in fact she had sat and begun polishing the highly reflective metal shoes on her hooves. Celestia got a good look at them now. Those were combat shoes, thicker and better insulated against hard ground; and it seemed that mounting screws bored into the mare’s hooves permanently mounted them. That had to be painful as the initial insertion would force the screw into bone. Luna saw them as well, though kept herself silent and remained standing just to the side and behind her sister. Both princesses were well aware the room was full of ponies, and anything they did would certainly injure innocent bystanders. The mare before them however was doing nothing, albeit a chatty nothing. An just as suddenly as it began, it was over with Celestia opting to bow out and smile gently. “I see. Well as long as you are indeed happy with the outcome of this contest I will relinquish the point to you. I trust we will see you at further competitions in the future?” She left it as an open ended question as she turned to Luna and made a simple eye motion that told her sister to follow. Once clear of Stormstride, the solar princess spoke in a very low tone to her sibling. “We must tread lightly around this one my sister. She is indeed mad, and her power runs far deeper than I had previously imagined. Perhaps I should have sensed this earlier, unfortunately I was distracted by the words of the matter and not the feeling as you seem so easy to find. I will seek your council tonight after the lowering of the sun and raising of the moon. Together we can discuss a means to combat this threat peacefully,” came the carefully chosen words. Luna smiled to their guests, nodding as she spoke aloud. “That sounds like a marvelous idea my sister. I have not seen Twilight in some time. I do wish to speak to her again. Celestia took the hint and smiled as well, moving off to mingle with some of the contest winners. Blueblood was not entirely certain what had just happened. Had that act frightened his aunts or had they seen it as something else that was far less threatening than he thought it had been. As he approached Stormstride again, he saw her bringing out a bottle with a ribbon on it. She levitated it out to him with a smile, making a gift of it. He accepted gratefully and felt relieved that the tension was cleared from the air. Whatever her game, Lady Stormstride played it well; likely because she had written the rules far in advance of her arrival. Blueblood walked with her to mingle with the guests, guiding her away from the princesses and their little group. Her words had stung the pride of a few of the winners, some of them now feeling their victory slighted by being accused of cheating. Others were now eyeing the winners, pondering if it were true and that no judge of any competition was ever truly non-biased. Celestia could see it on their faces as well, and knew that Stormstride had picked her battleground well. Celestia had received word of what Stormstride was doing, coaxing certain Equestrian ponies toward her lands with a promised free vacation, and then the ponies decided unexpectedly to stay and live there in her town. This had happened before and Celestia felt it warranted a bit of her attention. If nothing more, this proved that Stormstride did in fact have an ill intent toward Equestria in some manner; more specifically toward the upper class and princesses of Equestria. Luna excused herself from the party, and went to find her way to the balcony for some air. She needed a level head to think properly, and certainly consuming more wine was not the answer. As she came outside, she sat in the air to ponder to herself silently, looking out over the sunlit kingdom of peaceful ponies. She had felt a familiar darkness coming from Stormstride at that moment. Like her own, but twisted and different from Nightmare Moon. The mare possessed a darkness inside her that would consume her one day, if it had not already. Luna felt a shiver run down her spine, and she flicked her tail to rid herself of that shiver, to little avail. Perhaps tonight she would visit that mare in her dreams and see what darkness truly lay inside, and hopefully put an end to it before it became a true threat. After what felt like an hour, she heard the hooves of her sister approaching. “The guests noticed your absence my sister. They pondered if you were upset by the light chatter or perhaps that particular mare had angered you,” Celestia said with a gentle voice. “It was neither, sister of mine. I was merely in need of fresh air and the peace of a quiet view after sampling too much wine. I am well enough,” came the soft reply. Celestia knew better, and moved closer to sit beside her sister. “I understand Luna. I felt it as well. She startled me, and I reacted the way she wanted me too. I jumped, not expecting her behavior to be what it was. It made me uneasy, which proves now she has the upper hoof in this matter.” Celestia turned her face toward her younger sister, pondering how Luna would respond to her words. “I jumped as well. I was prepared for attack and ready to strike. Had I, we would have struck and unarmed and innocent pony for making a simple statement. Could that have been her plan all along, my sister? To deface us and bring dishonor upon us?” Luna asked softly, meeting her sister’s gaze. Celestia had no answer to give, not yet anyway. Looking to the sun, her horn lit up in a pale golden yellow glow as her magic reached forth and took hold. Slowly as a bird drifting on an air current, the sun began to set. Luna’s horn lit up a beautiful violet blue, harnessing the power over the moon and raising it gently to take the sun’s place. As the pair finished their duty, they turned to go have a light dinner together before tending other duties. It was then a heavy green swirl of flame appeared before them, depositing a scroll of fair length upon the floor at Celestia’s hooves. Levitating it up, Celestia opened it as her sister leaned in to see as well. The letter was from Twilight, presenting her feelings on the matter after meeting with Thunderbuck. Celestia pressed her lips a bit, and nodded. Rolling the scroll back up and tucking it away in her mane, the solar princess looked to her lunar sister with both concern, and sternness. “It was in error to ask Blueblood to invite Stormstride here. We had believed this a political matter, and now she is in the heart of Equestria. Her younger brother has been to both the Crystal Empire and the Castle of Friendship. Luna, I must ask something of you.” Celestia said softly. “Sister, I was already planning to look into this mare’s dreams. Perhaps a clue to her intent is possible to find. Though we have no access to the Elements of Harmony as it stands, I believe Twilight and her close friends would come to our aid if we called for it.” Luna responded as they stood in the hall. Celestia was uncertain of what course of action to take. Thunderbuck seemed to believe saving his sister was possible, that perhaps one of the princesses knew some spell to use. He was desperate to protect his family, and it seemed to be driving him into confronting his fears of being in social situations. That was good for him, but not the driving force behind it. Stormstride had already demonstrated tactical prowess in her days in the REA. Upon receiving the reports dating over six months back that guards were abandoning the REA to live in Maretonia, under Stormstride’s own banner no less, Celestia had taken time to call for the mare’s file. And now she took Luna to see those files in the private library of the sisters. Locking the door to be certain they were not interrupted, Celestia began to explain it to Luna as she showed her all the paperwork. Stormstride had joined the REA while still in school and began training at a very young age. Skipping graduation ceremonies, the pony began heavy training to work their once lithe and subtle frame into a machine of war. They seemed to have succeeded as the service records indicated that on initial arrival to training, Stormstride had been about the same size as Blueblood, give or take a few measurements, however at arrival to the soldier’s initial post they were significantly bulkier, heavier, and with noted attitude issues. Minor reports of training incidents of being harassed were dismissed until the pony began to retaliate against them. Luna pointed out that the records indicated Stormstride was male. Celestia explained that ponies often had identity issues when imposed under the views and stresses of others, and had only in recent years expressed herself as a mare, rather than a stallion. Continuing, Celestia explained the records further and showed where Stormstride worked her way up to sergeant, lost first spouse as a run away with a Canterlot noble. That was the mare from the court room, Celestia noted for her sister whom had read the court records. The next noted incident was when she was demoted to corporal following insubordination, where Stormstride defied an order to rally at the palace during the initial changeling attack at the wedding. Stormstride had stayed behind to protect a school full of foals and teachers that had no protection. A bold move that seemed prophetic, as the school was hit not long after. The changelings were looking for easy targets, and Stormstride held them off until the end of the assault. A rather gruesome scene was found on the discovery of the site as well, with multiple dead changelings around a gravely wounded but still standing guard pony. Celestia noticed a notation to the side, and glanced it over. This particular school was where Stormstride’s own daughter was attending at the time. Luna commented vaguely on the love of a parent being a powerful factor in decisions made. Celestia agreed with her younger sister, motioning her to look at the next section. An imposed transfer by her commander sent her to Fillydalphia, where she was to serve as the body guard of the mayor. During a Grand Galloping Gala event, Blueblood had made an off hoof comment about the talent of the Musician, and it dissuaded him from performing further; the young performer in mask and rented tux decided it was best to pack his things and leave without payment for his services rather than stand there and be insulted and laughed at as the initial comment drew others. Luna remembered the incident, as she herself had intervened in the actions that followed. Stormstride had taken great offense to the matter and publically challenged Blueblood to personal combat over the honor of her brother. Blueblood had blown her off, thinking it was some joke until the pony discharged a spell that caused his wine glass to spell all over his white suit. When Blueblood stood he was slapped across the face with his own glove and challenged again. This time he had to take it, as this particular guard had no intention of letting it go. Luna had followed and watched a rather impressive display of the pair. Most of the entire duel was for show, casing wind and water about so that it was intentionally blinding for each other. Stormstride blanketed their battle ground in the gardens with snow as Blueblood made ice crystals rise up from the ground under Stormstride’s bare hooves. Luna only stepped in when the heavy fog that Stormstride summoned blinded Blueblood to the point it distorted even sound and the prince had no ability to see nor hear his opponent. Clearing the fog herself, Luna stepped in and ordered the guard to surrender, effectively forcing her to forfeit. After that Luna saw the price of her intervention. Stormstride was demoted again, and suffered an even further cut in pay that resulted in her daughter being taken away and placed in the custody of Thunderbuck. Luna wondered how that was possible when she saw the notation that Thunderbuck was part of a group of traveling performers, who made more than enough to support the foal. Buck was also able to prove he could provide a varied and proper education to CaramelCream. Unfortunately, as foals all do, she got sick and lost her hearing when a serious flu ruptured her eardrums with built up pressure and fluid. Stormstride went rouge there, and was put on indefinite suspension for an incident involving a fight in the railway station in Manehattan. Luna flipped the page and kept reading, noting that personal logs from Blueblood’s one journal were present telling the tale of what happened with the sea ghost. It was from that point that the more recent events began to show. Arrested for causing a disturbance in Canterlot, Stormstride was brought before Celestia immediately, which was unusual except that one mare had defeated over a dozen trained REA. Even if she had the same training as these guards, and given she knew how they would react there was still no possible way one mare could have done so. Especially given that the doctor’s reports indicated she was weakened from being malnourished. Luna began to speculate this may have more to do with a general group of ponies, than certain ponies in particular. Pausing from her reading, Luna set the papers down neatly and turned to look at her sister with a curious look. Celestia had been forming her own opinion for some days now, working out the details in her own mind. “Sister, is it possible this began long ago? Perhaps….half her life time ago or further?” The lunar sibling asked her solar half. “My thoughts exactly. As I could find no home town listed, just an address that does not appear on any map. It is likely both Stormstride and Thunderbuck were born into an abusive home. Thunderbuck is the more timid of the two siblings, less likely to have spoken out against any undue punishment. Stormstride strikes me as a pony with a strong sense of justice, though more from a personal view of what is right and wrong. If they feel they have been wronged, they will make it right; possibly even in using force if they feel it is called for. I feel that misunderstanding between actions of others, and the interpretation of the intent toward Stormstride was the largest part of this matter. When I placed her back on duty with her full rank restored I did not know she had just resigned that commission after being demoted to the lowest possible rank in the REA. “Furthermore, I believe she took it as a personal insult when I dismissed her to speak to the commander. He tried to take responsibility for things I did not understand happened at the time. Had I but paid a bit more attention, I might have understand better at that time,” Celestia said as she began to pace. Luna returned to the papers at hoof, continuing to read. Stormstride’s new post was in Fet Loch, as she was acquainted with the Duchess and Captain of the REA there. However that post only served as part time position and still did not earn her enough to get her daughter back in her custody. The post did, however give her access to lore and research of the northern areas; allowing her to discover the proof she needed of the origin of her family. She spent just a year in Fet Loch, saving every coin until she was properly stocked and then took all her belongings to Maretonia. The mare just vanished there, leaving no traces in the records until the last couple years where she was actively seeking out old friends to bring into her circle of wealth and influence; as well she was also seeking out old grudges to close and doing so at a remarkable pace. Three commanders, two drill sergeants and no less than fifteen actual REA guards went to vacation at her estate and within days of arriving sent letters of resignation stating they no longer deserved to wear the uniform and a list of actions that should have at least earned them some small disciplinary actions. After that they were still in regular contact with their families it seems, having now been placed as common low grade work ponies such as kitchen and post scrubbers or street cleaners. Luna felt that was demeaning and meant to be so against these ponies that once held a position of power over Stormstride at one point or another. Other ponies she brought in and made them superior to what they were considered here, the princess noted seeing the file’s indications of a common REA soldier named Heavyhoof. Earth pony, nothing notable save that his special talent and cutie mark singled him out as a decent soldier whom was calm under most pressure and had level decision making skills based on what he was presented at the time. He was stuck at the rank of corporal because his inability to pass certain tests required for higher ranks. Luna could see how Stormstride’s offer was tempting indeed, as the stallion was now her guard captain and trusted advisor. Her husband was also a former upper-middle class citizen, though it appears he was in Maretonia on unrelated matters when they became betrothed. No real mention of how Stormstride came into such a great deal of wealth, aside from being an exceptional duelist. Impressive, but common enough in the old days that Luna dismissed it easily. Celestia had been watching where her sister was reading, and tapped the page with a hoof. “Read that again my sister, and consider in what age we now live,” the solar mare said softly. Luna looked back, and reread it when it dawned on her that duels were much a thing of the past. So much so that they were often only used in training for guards and protection officers that would be expected to take on an opponent hoof to hoof. She pondered quietly and then came to the same realization that Celestia did. “She dueled other nobility, and took their fortunes as her prize?” Luna asked, quite surprised Celestia would think of such. Celestia nodded and returned to pacing again, as Luna turned her eyes back to the paperwork. Notes on Stormstride’s visits to Equestria and business dealings while here, the most recent being her attempts to market her wines to the lower income district stores and inns. Luna herself pondered just why Stormstride would even bother coming to Equestria at all given she had all the things she may have ever wanted for felt she deserved. Luna rested her chin on a hoof as she stared at the paperwork. There was something she was not seeing. Laying out all the paperwork, she began to look it over without focusing on the information so much as just letting things stand out. There was a knock at the door that disrupted her concentration, and a servant calling that he had brought them a meal, since they had missed dinner. Celestia opened the door and let the stallion bring the cart inside. Taking a moment to set out silverware and cups, the stallion bowed and left them to continue their matters privately. Celestia locked the door and returned to her sister to continue their work. Nothing came out from the research Celestia had done, and none of the current material provided any insight into the mare’s plans. After a moment, Celestia sighed and moved to sit to their provided meal. The lid came off gently, as she levitated it and smiled at the ample sized salad; which would provide more than enough food for both allicorns as they worked into the night. Luna came over and took her seat as well, pouring water from a chilled pitcher into two glasses for them, as Celestia gave the salad a quick toss and then scooped some into two smaller bowls. As they began to dine, their focus shifted away from the subject at hoof to let their minds rest and enjoy the meal. Most of the discussion was geared toward a few cute guards that the pair had been fond of being around. Though nothing would come of it, the princesses were still mares at heart and enjoyed a little eye candy. Unfortunately their minds were brought back to the topic at hoof, Stormtride and how best to handle her. She posed no solid threat, but given enough time she might. She had brought eight guards with her to a wine tasting and the group were intimidating enough that their very presence caused distress to the Canterlot nobility. The upper class were not used to this, watching ponies in full battle equipment marching about was something for the lower class to see. That exact moment was when it clicked in Celestia’s mind, and right behind her was Luna whom had said it aloud. They stared at each other a moment before some sense of calm came over them. Stormstride was making a display, a show of might and power here and now. She was showcasing a sample of her ability to run successful business and to amass what would be considered professional soldiers into a well-trained force. Certainly these eight would be a good match for the palace guards, if not by superior gear than by training no doubt. Luna set her bowl down gently and moved to the window, closing her eyes as her horn glowed and searched out the pony herself. Stormstride was in the Inn of her friend Boulder, which was surprising given she was offered a place in the palace to stay. Boulder was counting his coin for the day, leaving Stormstride and her group to eat in peace. Luna could feel how tired Stormstride was and knew it would not be long until the mare went to sleep. And then she could look into those dreams in hopes of peacefully resolving this matter. She would try to present herself as a figment of the mind to Stormstride, and give her the upper hoof as she pleased. That tactic had oft proved well enough in other ponies, and perhaps it would as well here. Returning to her food she sat to eat and speak. “She lounges with her soldiers at an Inn not far down the hill. They spend the evening taking a simple meal and discussing simple matters of family and business. It will not be long before she ventures to slumber, and then shall I try to enter her dreams. No doubt she will keep guards posted, so I must be cautious.” Luna whispered softly. Celestia nodded, knowing her sister was cautious and well skilled in guiding other’s dreams in peaceful and happy manners away from the tormenting nightmares that were troubling to them. She felt confident enough that she herself would sleep wake in time to raise the sun the next morning.
  4. Stormstride arrived in Equestria a week ahead of schedule, much to Blueblood and Psmith’s surprise. The word of her arrival made them both fidget, thinking she was coming early to see them for some reason. Blueblood felt it was honestly her coming to see the competition of the event and size them up before things began, while Psmith felt it might be her playing at some gambit he did not yet grasp. Both gave her the benefit of being shrewd in her planning, allowing herself to arrive in Canterlot the day before the competition as her original date of arrival stated, however she was taking the long route to Canterlot. She left herself plenty of time to work through the train stations, pausing to disembark and speak to inns and shop keepers about selling her product. That was normal business practice well enough. Blueblood understood that as a growing business, Stormstride’s wine was the majority of her economy. Her vineyards employed a good many ponies whom lived in her town, as did the winery. Those ponies spent their coins in town, which funded the taxes Stormstride collected from businesses. The cycle of pay and tax was something the prince was familiar with. Psmith however could not help but feel this was some tactic on the part of the Lady. As if she were purposefully drawing close at intervals to create some sense of panic in some pony. It was now the day before the competition, and her arrival in Canterlot was a bit of a stir. Her first order of business was to donate to charity it seemed, by moving straight to the school of her old home district while the porters unloaded her goods from the train. At the school, she seemed to be having a conversation with one of the teachers, and provided them with a coin purse, which seemed to be rather heavy judging from how the teacher seemed to almost drop it once he had it. Psmith watched through his binoculars, studying her movements and mannerisms. He could no guards with her, just her hired porters and the cart they loaded the supplies on. Blueblood was busying himself with preparing to meet her. Psmith wondered if the reports of her heaving guards were make believe or exaggerations based on the number of porters she had had to hire at the start of her journey. Apparently four wagons of wine, one of which was for the competition and the rest for sales and samples. Stormstride herself was in her old home district, speaking to an inn keeper about carrying her brand. So far she was hit and miss with sales. Roughly half the ponies she approached agreed to carry a small selection of her bestselling wines, and one spay had purchased a full case of her Reserve after a sample tasting. Though this was not as successful as the mare desired, she was still pleased that she had established some small contracts. She would need to make certain that all orders got to her the same day they were made so that she could ship them out and have them arrive on time. As she was pondering how to do this, she spotted the old store front she and Caramel used to call home. The windows were burst out, and some pony had scrawled a large red X on the door to mark it as condemned and ready for destruction. While it saddened her to see the building go, it was better to let it fall away into the past. It could only serve as an unhappy reminder of innocence lost in the by gone days of youth at this point. As Stormstride walked away, she moved toward the last inn left before entering the upper class district. There she would have no business other than to win the contest, take her ribbon and be back off to home where she belonged unless Blueblood wanted her to tend another social event. As much as she enjoyed the company of, and loved her friends, this higher class area was not her place to be and she did not like it here in the least. She had always detested Canterlot nobility. Snobbish prudes which clung to wealth and life far past their usefulness, all for vanity’s sake. A pony so old and unable to even speak, let alone share any wisdom they might have was only causing burden to others and themselves at such a point. Stormstride knew that she would let death take her long before she reached that point. Either in honorable combat or simply fading away in her sleep peacefully, she would die before she reached that old of an age. Shaking that thought from her mind she cleared her head for the business at hoof. As the mare moved up the street, she noticed the inn keeper standing outside their door sweeping the doorstep. She strolled up slowly, smiling as she came closer. The inn keeper looked up at her, almost amazed but also shaking his head in a bit of amusement. This particular inn keeper was an earth pony of good stock and nearly as big as the door was tall. His muscles rippled as she moved, showing the great strength he had earned in his life time of work. Setting his broom aside he brushed his hooves off on his apron and then made to hug her. She returned the hug softly. Psmith continued to observe her as he scrawled notes in his little book, seeing just how she acted now that the ball was out of her court, and into theirs. And it fact it seemed she was a perfect lady. Could it be that their idea that she might have a darker tinge in her was unfounded? “How are you Boulder? I haven’t seen you in some time,” Stormstride said happily as he picked her up in one of his trademark bear hugs. She felt him squeeze just enough to stretch her, but not hurt her. As he set her down she kissed his cheek and smiled up at him. “I am well Stormy. Glad to see you again. My, what a shapely mare you have become. And is that a tail bangle? Married I see. Who’s the lucky pony?” He chuckled in a deep bass voice. “You know Feather Touch that used to own the spa a couple blocks down? Well he and I both were in Maretonia. I went to reclaim my family home. He had gone to repay a family debt. We married. We are Maretonian nobility now. All those dreams of being rich, ours now. CaramelCream is getting a first rate education, as are so many other ponies in our village. We have a castle, my younger brother has his own home in the courtyard that is full of musical things he loves and he travels the world in search of more. Feather Touch trains other ponies in how to be a therapy or spa pony now. All those things we wanted to change, we did.” Stormstride was proud in her reply, as one could see it all over her face. Boulder whistled softly, impressed with her version of the events. He figured there were things she was not comfortable talking about in public, so he did not question her. However he did look toward the cart that was being pulled along by four porters. He wanted to make a joke about her luggage, but it didn’t seem proper at the time. “How long are you staying in Canterlot?” he finally asked. He wondered just how much she would tell him if she had the proper time and privacy. He could tell she was not traveling alone. No visiting pony of interest would come to this quarter at all without reason, let alone without escort; though to her credit, her body guards were well hidden, likely having a parameter around her at all times. “I should be here for at least two days longer. The wine judging competition at the palace is tomorrow, and I should still need to finalize some distribution matters here in Equestria. I have several shops and inns that are going to carry my particular brand in limited stock now,” she replied. He smiled with a soft nod, and then stepped aside for her to enter his shop. She took the invitation and walked inside, motioning the porters to park the cart and join her inside. They readily did so, knowing she was going to be buying them food and drink, possibly a place to rest for the duration of their stay in Canterlot as well. While they believed she had a quick pace, they all agreed between themselves that she was rather generous in her tending their needs. As Stormstride and Boulder sat at the bar, he motioned for a barmaid to tend to the porter’s orders and get them something. Then his eyes turned to papers that Stormstride laid out, reading over the paperwork slowly as she explained what her proposal was. She offered a variety of wines, from simple table wine with no label up to a very expensive bottle of Reserve that had limited production of 30 bottles per year. She wanted to know if anything on the list interested him, so they could discuss it at length before putting quill to paper. Boulder for his part was a simple stallion and kept a tidy but clean and well stocked shop. Most of his patrons were males of the upper middle class variety, and traveling merchants looking for some quick sales on a gullible fool or to trade large carts full of fabrics and spices in the upper class district markets. Stormstride however brought her business down here, where it would provide more jobs and generate revenue. Boulder looked toward the lower end of the list, at wines that he could sell by the bottle and make a short profit to the merchants. A few other selections he noted were a little more expensive, but offered a name and a date to them. Making his selections, he asked if Stormstride had brought samples of the wines. She nodded and moved to fetch them, coming back after no longer than two minutes. Setting the bottles on the counter she let him taste each in turn and decide which he liked the most in this situation. Thinking to himself, the stallion decided a small, but sweet variety would serve best. Stormstride made notations, and filled the contract out. It was then she paused to ask how often he felt he might need restocking, though what he said shocked her just enough she had to ask him to repeat his response for her. “I said once per month dear. We need to keep enough on hand that we don’t run out unless you discontinue the sale of it. This small variety here will become the signature table wine of the evening meals here in the inn. This can help provide our patrons a relaxing atmosphere, and keep our costs low. Your prices are lower than the regular here, even with the import taxes and transportation fees.” Stormstride giggled softly, nodding and putting him down for a recurring delivery of one case per month, including a variety of his liking and packaged with additional blank labels he could apply later if desired. After that, she sent two porters outside to bring two cases inside to start him off. Boulder showed them where to put the cases, then moved to the kitchen to begin fixing their meals. Stormstride however, stood and moved to the hostess stand, informing the mare at the podium that the four porters would need room and board for at least two days, with any possible extras included. The mare totaled up the estimated cost for her, which Stormstride paid in advance, stating that when she returned, she would cover anything that the estimate did not cover for them. Making her way outside then, she whistled softly to summon her guards. All eight of them stepped from behind the cart, in full armor. Taking up positions around the cart and their Lady, they began toward the palace at a slow walk. This was to be a display of show to the nobility of Canterlot, that the nobility of Maretonia and Kastrot in particular were nothing to turn their noses up at. These eight guards represented something of a mixed display of her power; Two pegasi in the air over the cart winged along slowly, hovering just out of reach of an Equestrian spear. In the front, leading the parade was Stormstride herself with two unicorn mages. Their armor highly polished to reflect any source of light and blind their foes to the fact they had glowing horns at the ready. Hitched to the front of the cart, three earth pony guards in full heavy gear pulled the cart as if it were empty; which for them it thankfully had only enough left to take part in this wine competition. The fourth earth pony walked behind the cart bringing up the rear. Their heavy armor made them look more like moving statues, with full shields on one side, a sword and spear latched to their other, and a hooked metal horn attached to their helmets on front. Their armor was the most frightening, adorned with horns and teeth to menace and frighten the on lookers. And it seemed to work, as when they made their way past, even a few patrolling REA stepped off the street and into alleyways to watch from the shadows. Foals and adults alike stepped back into their homes, watching from windows or through cracked doors as this rather evil looking sight made its way up to the palace gates. They only stopped when the pair of guards at the gate crossed their spears and commanded them to halt. Stormstride waited to be addressed by the gate keeper, already bringing her invitations out. But before she could present them a voice called out to her from the walls. “My Lady! What possession of the mind has gripped you that you bring an army to a wine tasting and competition?! Have you come to literally muscle out any competitor? Bad form I dare say Lady Stormstride! Bad Form!” The voice of Psmith hailed her from the ramparts of the outer wall, causing her to giggle. “Psmith! I have valuable cargo here! Do you realize that if CaramelCream’s gift to you was lost or damaged I would never get another word from her as long as I live? She sent things for you and Blueblood as treasures. And I do not intent to let them be stolen!” That seemed to get a reaction. “Treasures you say! I shall be right down! Tally HO!!!” Stormstride could hear the gallop of his hooves as he ran to get to the gate. While he was racing, Stormstride presented her invitations to the wine competition and brought her entourage inside the walls. She spotted Blueblood making his way toward them slowly as he spoke to some pony she did not recognize. Though at the sight of her protection party, both Blueblood and his guest stumbled a bit. It seemed this was one of the judges of the competition tomorrow, given the vest and badge of judge set upon it. One of the guards brought to Stormstride a small mahogany chest. Taking it she smiled and let him return to his post at the cart. Using her magic to levitate the chest, she opened it by hoof and brought out a scroll. Psmith had, by now reached her and was happy to see such a bright smile on her face as she held the scroll to him. Opening it, he smiled at the artwork of the little filly before his eyes. It was an image drawn without the use of magic, given care and love through the notes of charcoal and ink rather than crayon. The skill was not that of a master, but the level of love was present. It was an image of Psmith standing very regal, his monocle gleaming in the brilliant light of the sun as he stood triumphantly defying some great odds. His heroic pose told of his power with word alone that could slay what great evil stood before him; at least in his own mind he had that impression. His eyes were only drawn away when Stormy presented Blueblood with what looked like a rather nice lapel pin. It was made of the same black metal as the armor of the guards. However it had the crest of his family house made from what looked like actual Platinum. He knew this was beyond her skills to make, and her knowledge for if memory served correctly the filly was a baker of sweets, not a caster of precious metals. She must have commissioned it though, and given the unusual design of the pin it looked as though it was made from a drawing she had done. Gently placing it on his vest in the proper alignment with his current lapel, he smiled at how it balanced. “She also sent a travel set for you both to use when you go about. She saved her allowance and purchased a tea set she thought you both might find appealing,” Stormstride said as she turned the chest for them to see. Both Psmith and Blueblood smiled and nodded, and both knew this set would likely never get used, given the number of tea sets that the prince already had access too. This set would like sit as a center piece for view and discussion among peers. Letting Psmith take the chest, she sat and gave a polite bow. With the formalities out of the way, Stormstride hugged Blueblood softly and carefully so as not to press her metal shoed hoof against him and accidentally do any damage. She knew she was likely still the stronger in physical manners, thus opting for a gentle, but sincere hug and a kiss upon his cheek; then the same for Psmith. “It has been too long. Come, we have an evening before the competition. I would like to take tea with you both and catch up,” she said. Her jovial attitude and lightened air made both relax as the contest judge bowed and retreated from Blueblood to allow the friends some peace for an afternoon tea. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thunderbuck watched the window quietly. The only light that could be seen for miles now was the glow of their private carriage window on the ice and snow; as it had been for two days and would be still for at least another day yet. The stops the train had made were few and had departed after just long enough to refuel the coal cars and boiler with water. The guards with Buck had played out their card games, and moved on to a game of chess. Buck himself had finished his sheet music, and lay it aside. Now that they were forced to slow down because of a blizzard, it was taking longer to reach the Crystal Empire; and that provided the noble stallion time to address a matter with his protection. “My sister is less herself of late. Have you both noticed?” he asked of them as he stood and approached their table. This was a delicate matter, and he needed to know they were going to help him, or at the least stay neutral in his efforts to stop his sister from becoming some monster in the dark. Both paused to look up at him, before the first spoke. “Aye. We noticed. She’s taken to brooding more. And she recently ordered new maneuvers and training. Very specific things too sir. It got some of us thinking, she might be gearing up for war. Heavyhoof has us listening for any interest in others joining when we take down time in town. If we hear someone mention it, we send them to see him. Recruitment drives like that usually precede expected losses or an insurance to tip the side of a battle in some pony’s favor,” he said slowly. “I agree. Her manners have become far more aggressive of late. A lot of our training in recent months has been specific to REA counter measures, and how to disarm REA guards without hurting them. It feel like she is training us to start taking over Equestria one inch at a time without causing any pony serious harm. Add to that the new weapons and armor upgrades over the last few months, new training and formations, and her rapid drive to increase productivity in all her business aspects; it seems to me she is planning to finance an invasion force. We were a few over 100 just a couple months ago. Now with the new recruits we just broke 300. That’s far more than one town needs. Even with the parameter around the vineyard. We are placed in the fire break. Well within sight of each other. There is no escaping detection unless you are a ghost moving a mile underground at the speed of a snail.” The second one said, which made Buck feel even more uneasy. “Then I must tell you why I chose to come here. I came to seek the advice and help of Princess Cadence, in restoring the love and compassion to my sister,” Buck paused to take a deep breath, and continue. “And I hope you will help me. I do not want to see her march off to war and take others with her. Her tenacity is too much once she starts. We have to stop her before then, to prevent needless death and destruction.” The guards looked at each other, realizing now that this was bordering on treason, and yet understanding the sense in it all as they took a few moments to process this request. Buck was trying to save lives, and that included their own. A normal soldier with their loyalty would have pinned and arrested him then and there. However, their loyalty was also strong enough to make them realize that this current method and course of action could get their lady killed by any enemies she made. In fact it could get the entire family killed, which would mean they failed to protect them properly. Logically speaking, this forced them or agree that they had to take steps to ensure that Lady Stormstride and all of House Cloud were protected, even from themselves. “What do you need us to do sir?” the second one asked suddenly. This gave Thunderbuck the few moments he needed to let out that breath he had been holding in anticipation of their reaction. Buck sat to the table with them, asking them to provide as honest an answer to any questions Cadence might ask them as possible. He understood that there were some secrets they could not share; secrets such as tactics, maneuvers and troop counts. However they could tell what they saw of her emotional states and how she reacted toward certain names, namely Celestia and specific REA generals. This provided Thunderbuck the encouragement he needed to go through with this plan, and seek help before it was too late. Their plan came together slowly and quietly, discussing how they were to present themselves. As much as they wanted to leave the armor in their private car, they could not. They needed to wear it simply because there was no real idea how the crystal ponies would react to the notion of a pony sliding toward the darkness like this, and given the history of the place when it concerned dark magic, it was safer to err on the side of caution than to forgo it and pay the price in blood. Thunderbuck understood this facet of negotiation tactics, and agreed with sadness in his eyes. With the train drawing closer each moment, he moved to set out his clothing and the breast plate in preparation for their arrival. He knew that he had to leave the mask off for this. He had to be seen and heard by the Princess on this matter, no matter how much it might terrify him, the thought of losing his sister scared him even more. It was as the train pulled into the station that he realized just how different these ponies were from himself and his family. Everything about this city looked like it was made of a crystalline glass, even the armor of the guards looked like it would shatter at the slightest touch. Then Thunder saw three of them coming over, though one looked more like an REA captain by his uniform and armor. “Looks like Shining Armor himself is coming to meet us,” One of Buck’s guards was looking out the window as well, then moved to the other side of the car, “And here we got four more coming up. They know something is up with us. No way can we get a normal audience with the Princess like this. I recommend we stow weapons and try to resolve this issue peacefully first sir.” Thunderbuck nodded softly as he moved to the door. His guards stood to either side of him as they waited for the knock. Buck took a deep breath, and when he heard the hoof beat on the door, he used his magic to swing it open slowly. Shining Armor slowly removed his helmet, staring at the actual face of the pony instead of the mask. That threw him off some, as he had been expecting that mask, and for both guards to have their helmets on; yet here he stood looking at their actual faces. Composing himself, the stallion cleared his throat a bit before speaking. “May I come in and speak to you sir?” He asked, though after he had a moment of silence as Thunderbuck seemed to be thinking and that gave the guard pony time to think himself. Shining Armor had heard that a Kastrotian minor noble was traveling their way with an armed escort, rumors hinted toward a musician or a silent masked pony that did not speak. Other reports indicated two guards in strange and frightening armor, unique symbols on the breastplates indicating a specific house, and strange weapons that seemed intimidating as well as magical in nature. It did not take him more than an hour to piece together a handful of scattered reports that it was Thunderbuck. He and Cadence had caught one of his performances in Canterlot one day, and knew that he was the only masked musician that was from Kastrot and part of a noble family of some kind. However everything he had come across pointed toward Buck never being in public without his mask, which caused Shining Armor to ask himself why now of all times would he be without it. Buck stepped back and motioned Shining in. The crystal guards lowered their posture as Shining entered, and then followed him inside. This left the odds even now, as two guards to two guards left Shining himself to handle Buck, should something happen. It was not that Shining felt or wanted something to happen, it was that Maretonian nobility, even minor nobility were known to have particular views on races unlike themselves. The unicorns of that land were known for being cruel in most ways. Pegasus lords of other parts would withhold weather, and in the farthest reaches of Maretonia where neither would tread the Earth ponies were supreme. This rift caused racism to run deep, and Shining wondered how these three felt about Crystal ponies. Though that thought sank away as a new one took its place and Shining looked at Buck most curiously. He had expected a musician of his renown and caliber to be much older, and have a permanent scowl glued to his face from frowning at ponies he didn’t like. But this was a young pony before him, likely even younger than himself and smaller in stature. He was dressed moderately for one of his House’s reputed wealth, save for the breastplate of armor on display, he could pass for any well to do common pony. The wildly frazzled mane that was brushed back into a somewhat acceptable shape and smoothness matched the hastily curled and smoothed tail. The mottled coloring of grays and silvers looked gentle on his timid face. Thunderbuck could easily pass himself off as a student at a university almost anywhere, and with his talent have easily gotten into the Musical Universities across Equestria. “We had… received a few sparse reports you were arriving. Several REA commanders are familiar with your family name and inquired at the train office of your passage. We managed to piece it together that you were coming here and that it was in fact you, Thunderbuck Cloud.” Shining said the words carefully and politely, with as much respect as if he were speaking to any council member in Canterlot chamber of commerce. Thunderbuck nodded, but said nothing as of yet. “May we know the reason for your visit?” Shining asked, hoping to coax something out of this young stallion, at least get an idea of his reasons for coming here. “Our presence is to petition an audience with Princess Cadence, and to seek her advice on matters of importance to House Cloud,” one of Buck’s guards said. Shining looked to him, rather annoyed he answered for Buck. However he was unfamiliar with Maretonian customs, and wondered if the nobility had someone speak for them until they deemed it the proper time to speak. His question was answered when Buck himself gently put a hoof on his guard and then spoke. “Please. Forgive him. He is charged with my protection, and that does include against interrogations I feel uncomfortable answering. But he is correct, the nature of our visit is to derive help from Princess Cadence in a matter deeply important to myself, and my family. It could be the very end of my family if things go as feared.” Thunderbuck spoke softly and very articulately, as if he had rehearsed this speech a few dozen times. Shining nodded, and looked to his guards a moment, before ordering one of them, “Go tell Cadence we have company, and that it is important. This is a private matter for her attention only and that they would not have traveled all this way for something foolish. Once you inform her, order extra guards to post and then return here to guard this train car and keep it secure for their departure. I will take these Gentlestallions with me through the back entrance to avoid unwarranted attention.” The guard nodded and moved off to carry out the orders. After a moment, Shining Armor put his helmet back on and motioned to Buck’s own guards to do the same. They did as bade and set their posture to be exact. Thunderbuck put his mask on quietly, well aware that this was likely to make many of the crystal ponies nervous, remembering King Sombra’s visage that towered over them from the Crystal Tower. To help counter this, Buck pulled his cloak over his head, keeping the mask hidden and whispered for his guards to wear their cloaks as well. This would, at the very least, keep their armor and face coverings out of view for the time being. Shining appreciated that Buck was making an attempt to not frighten the residents of the empire, and once the three were ready he led them out and round the back of the train station. Taking the stairs up the outer wall to the ramparts, they went at a trot toward the nearest crosswalk. Four large crosswalks connected the outer wall to the main tower, allowing guards and regular ponies full access to walk around the city as they pleased. It was late in the afternoon, almost into evening enough that most ponies would be at home having dinner which left the sun dipping low and the smells of cooking rising high. The group crossed across the overhead walkway toward the central tower, quickly drawing inside before any pony could see them. Safely inside the tower, the three slowly lifted their hoods and opened their cloaks while Shining walked to the end of the short entry way and watched the halls. The relatively warm interior of the tower felt nice, like a warm hearth that welcomed a tired pony home from a long day at work. Thunderbuck was no Sombra, however he was close enough in appearance like that to cause panic in the common ponies if they were to spot him without some context. Several common ponies would have no doubt been drawn to the guards looking over the private train car, but with no ponies in it to look at, they would lose interest and go about their business. The sound of soft, fast gasps got Shining’s attention though. He turned to look back at the three and saw one of Thunderbuck’s guards had him by the hoof, trying to calm him down. Buck took a moment to breathe a few times, which drew a concerned look from Shining. He watched as Thunderbuck slowly slid his mask up and then took it off, hooking it on his breastplate quietly. The guards both turned to him, attempting to ascertain if he was well enough to continue; to which he assured them he was but that he needed a moment to compose himself to meet Princess Cadence without his mask upon his face. He did not want to offend her by hiding his face. Shining turned back to the hall, watching a few ponies head off on their way and one guard trailing after them silently. Most of the ponies of the empire were headed home for the day, leaving the Crystal Tower quiet again. The stallion pondered if this was really a good idea to meet in secret like this, but before he could offer an objection, Buck pat his shoulder. “We should go, before I lose my nerve,” came the low but firm whisper. Shining nodded and turned the corner now, leading the three to the meeting room where Cadence should be waiting by now. Arriving, they found her pacing the floor silently; the worry evident enough on her face that when she turned and saw Shining leading the armored ponies she almost panicked. Her horn glowed, and the guards ducked between her and Thunderbuck quickly, their own horn’s flaring in response. “Wait! Cadence, my love. This is Thunderbuck. He came to get an audience with you. He and his guards have left their weapons on the train. They came here in good faith. We should show them the same and at least hear them out properly,” Shining said, getting between them all. Cadence looked from her husband to the three and back a few times before nodding and lowering her spell. The guards on Buck relaxed. Buck gulped softly and breathed a soft sigh of relief that had not escalated. “My Apologies sirs. Being told that you wish to have private conversations is worrisome, and seeing your armored appearance startled me,” Cadence said as she moved to a table with several chairs for them to sit in. As they entered the room, Shining Armor shut and locked the door so to prevent them being disturbed. Cadence took a seat and offered the remaining chairs to the others with her magic. As they sat, she looked each over. The guards removed their helmets slowly and set them on the table with soft thuds. These three were here for a purpose that was more desperate than their desire to leave. Adding to that fact, Cadence could see the anxiety on Thunderbuck’s face without his mask on; meaning his need for it was more than just part of his musical performances. He likely had a social issue and could not properly function in full society with every pony able to see him. A small crutch like the mask helped him live out his life in public and perform. “What is it that you need my audience to speak of? I assume it must be a dire request for my council specifically when you passed through both Canterlot and Ponyville on your way here with no indication of stopping to speak to any of the other princesses. So please, speak,” Cadence said as gently and politely as she could. Buck took a deep breath and began slowly. He related how his sister came into her position as a minor noble, and how slowly she began to display cruel and unusually targeted tendencies. Her twisting of words and curt replies seemed normal for a bitter pony, and did wane with time. At first it could be brushed off as a grudge or the like, and began to fade at first. Then she began again, this time luring the distant ponies her grudges were focused on to her lands; however the longer it ran the more creative she became in exacting her justice. Other ponies she lured in were once her friends, and likely still were as both guards with Buck were once former guard mates in the same training class. Neither had tormented her about anything, and had tried to get the others to stop harassment of the smaller candidates. Then Buck began to speak about the spells she used, and how her magic had gone from a pale bluish gray, to producing tinges of violet that leaked from the crack in her horn and sparked from the large gemstone in the center of her own breastplate of her armor. He described the armor in detail to her at her request, and then further the injuries to her body, her ego, and her heart as best as he could. Cadence was beginning to feel something was terribly amiss and she feared she already knew what it was. Cadence passed other questions to the guards with Buck, interrogating the pair as deeply as she could get them both to answer without making them feel trapped in the room with her. Finally she took a deep sigh as she listed to Buck begging her for advice on how to fix this, for some spell or other such thing she could impart to him to save his sister. She held up a hoof and then spoke softly. “My sweet little pony, I can teach you a thousand spells to heal her horn, and remove the physical scars on her body. But I cannot show you how to heal the pain her heart now. She has tapped into dark magic, the same type of magic that nearly destroyed this empire before. I cannot leave to openly confront her about this, and you cannot bring her here. I am sorry but…” she said sadly. Thunderbuck stared down at his hooves on the table. He nodded softly and stood slowly. Cadence stopped speaking mid-sentence now, wondering why he was leaving so suddenly. She was not dismissing him, just stating that this matter was beyond her hooves alone and would require help. “Nay. This is not fair. He came all this way to see you! He could have gone to any other princess and had his sister arrested. Line of succession puts him as the next in line for the seat. He’d take her place, run things any way he likes! But he came here because he thought you might help him save his sister!” One of the guards burst out. The other reached a hoof over and pushed him back into the chair, but he still called out, “Nay! This was why we left Equestria for Stormstride’s lands in the first place. She at least offered us a chance to be equals. You and I were both living in squalor in them barracks. And did them high and mighty princesses care? Nay. This is what we get for trying to reach for help. Come Sir. Let’s go home. We have better things to do. I bet we can find a better answer in the dusty tomes of the library at home. Some spell we can use to… to…” Thunderbuck raised a hoof The guard instantly fell silent, much to the relief of Cadence and Shining Armor. They were worried he might have gotten physical, however the pair were deeply loyal and well trained enough a simple motion of a hoof could set them into the motion desired by their commander. Buck stood fully and pulled his mask over his face. He gave a short, curt nod to Cadence, then to Shining. Both Guards stood quickly and placed their helmets on. Their weapons summoned to their sides near instantly as they stood to either side of him. Buck spoke in a low, but respectful tone of voice. “It seems we have wasted both your time, and our own. We will take our leave now and return home to our own lands. From there we will take care of our own. I am certain my guard is correct, and that there is some avenue open to us that may yet be revealed with some research into the matter more deeply. Now I bid you good day, and good life.” Turning on hoof, he made for the door. Shining rose to object but Cadence put a hoof on his chest. “Let them leave my love. They came in peace, and they are leaving in peace, albeit angry,” Thunderbuck heard her but ignored it. However his guards did not and one muttered just loud enough for his companion and Thunderbuck to hear. “Piece of work eh? Maybe Stormy has the right idea about how to deal with these ponies. Selfish as they are, I’d say a quick spell would set them back on track. Give them something to think about long and proper before they put on the fancy crowns again.” The second guard snickered at that, and glanced back at Cadence and Shining Armor, casting a fairly dirty look at them both before turning to follow Thunderbuck more closely. The pair stuck close to him, knowing that at any moment the Crystal Guards could attempt to stop them. At which point, the pair would spring into action and lay any opposition low on the ground. “Young Thunderbuck. Please, I bid you to wait. It is true I judged in haste, but I had not finished speaking. Please hear me out and let me finish, you will know what I mean to suggest. I see in you a deep love of your family, and you are trying to cling to that love to save them. But you must understand, I cannot subject the ponies of the Crystal Empire to a battle in their city to satisfy you, nor can I abandon them here to help your cause. This is a matter for more than just one pony with sound advice.” Buck stopped his walk and stood there, but his back was too her. He said nothing, and remained still as he waited for her to continue, however the silence hung in the air. As he went to take another step she called out again, asking him to say something. Slowly he turned toward her and lifted is mask. His eyes were damp now, as he held the tears in the best he could. “I did not ask you to fight for me, I asked you to help me learn a way. To teach me something so that I can help my sister myself. I already know she would never take help from you. That’s why I asked you to tell the secret to me and let me do it in your place,” he said. His guards both had hooves on his chest, turning him away but not before Thunderbuck said something that made even his own guards twitch in nervousness, “You dismissed my concerns, and dishonor my name. May your halls never know proper music again.” That was as strong a curse as Buck could ever muster, and denying some pony music was a serious matter to him. Both of his guards could now tell just how angry he was inside even if his voice was soft. Cadence was a gasp, as she was very unused to any pony disrespecting her. She understood him the first time, however she had no such spell or secret to offer. She thought he would have understood that fact when she spoke. She was trying to tell him that he would need help from other ponies and their knowledge to help his sister fend off the darkness now attempting to take her over. Apparently she was wrong, as he seemed to think she was dismissing him totally off hoof without any consideration. A pony succumbing to dark magic was a dangerous thing to be around in the first place, but for that pony to have a full target list of other ponies to direct that anger toward made things much more complex. She sat down slowly and watched him walking away, now more slowly as he rubbed his eyes and drew the attention of the crystal guards. Shining moved to follow, keeping himself a short distance away from the three, and having his own guards form a circle around them to keep them away from any of the ponies of the Empire. Outside they headed straight for the train, and boarded without a single word except to tell the conductor it was time to leave. He informed them the locomotive would be ready for departure in one hour. They didn’t even acknowledge him, just shut themselves inside the private care and lit the lamps so that they could see in the evening light. Shining Armor and his guards stayed to watch and make certain things would not devolve further than they had. Thunderbuck was a quiet stallion, but quiet stallions could do mighty things when they felt cornered. Shining did not want that mighty thing to be something destructive. As the train blew its horn to signal a departure, Shining Armor watched them rolling by slowly. He could still see inside the window. And what he saw made him pause and think. Thunderbuck was bent over a table sobbing into his hooves as the guards tried to console him. When one of them noticed him staring at them, his horn flickered and all the blinds were drawn shut at the same instant. Shining looked down and took a deep breath, pausing to think about if there was anything he knew, that might help. The source of the darkness was obviously internal to Stormstride, and had cracked her horn from the inside out after it was damaged to vent the suppressed darkness building up. Now given a means to vent, it could spread like a cancer and engulf her mind and body easily. One time to dabble into dark magic was all it would have taken to trigger this. One small spell for little more than academic purposes, just to study the effects and make notes for science and learning of future generations had likely damned this pony’s soul to torment, and her family’s along with it. Turning to the Crystal Tower, Shining Armor walked slowly back home. Upon returning to his wife’s side, he found her leaning over the crib of their own daughter, gently singing to her. But the voice was cracked a little, indicating to him she was crying softly. It made him angry, and worried. Nothing got under Cadence skin like that, and yet with those words the stallion in the mask had stuck her in the heart with a pick. The tender foal was slumbering away, lulled by the sweet song of its mother. As Shining put a hoof on her shoulder she turned to him, a few tears running down her face and knowing that she was hurting now. It was not the disrespect nor the curse that had hurt her. It was that a pony had called her out as a coward for lacking the ability to stand up to what may be a threat, and not helping to prevent it from growing before it became a greater danger. Though born of ignorance and fear of their own, such comments carried a greater weight than any compliment, and left lasting marks on those that they were aimed at. “We should inform Twilight, Celestia, and Luna about this. They need to know Cadence,” Shining whispered. Cadence nodded as she pressed her face against his neck softly and sighed. She would draft a letter in the morning and send it via Spike. After that he could pass along the same message to Celestia and Luna. Unknown to her however, Thunderbuck was laying his plans into place. Discussing with his guards the best way to prevent his sister from using her tainted spells any further. The obvious solution, was to remove her horn. Cutting it off would prevent her from casting magic, at the least until she found a way to have it reattached if it could be done at all. The second option was to heal her horn, and help her keep tighter control of her magic. They believed that if she could be infected by practicing dark magic, they she could be cured by healing and light magic just the same. Then came the third option, which they did not like and one which Thunderbuck refused to accept was ever needed. They would kill her if all else failed. Thunderbuck insisted there would be no need for that idea to ever be brought up, but all the same both guards said that it might have to be done. Buck ordered them not to discuss it in front of him at the least, and to plan it only if all else failed totally. Agreeing, the pair prepared for a chance to bed down for the night, allowing Buck to go to bed as well, though none of the three of them slept particularly well. Even as dawn approached, all three were already up and waiting impatiently for the junction at Fet Loch where they would be attached to a full train again. However that was still several days away. They watched the ice and snow outside the windows blowing past, wondering how they were supposed to perform their duty to Lady Stormstride now, when Thunderbuck himself suddenly and softly spoke. “All the fruit is gone. I ate the last of it last night. We will need to keep me secured so I do not attempt to leave the train in search of more.” His words were hollow, almost resentful of the situation. Both guards were familiar with his nightly transformations. His curse to become a Bat-pony after the sun had set. It was a curse that no pony had yet lifted, and so Thunderbuck had learned to cope. He could usually control the urges to fly and travel away from his resting place, provided there was fruit available to keep him fed. However with no fruit available for several days, the guards with him would need to devise an idea to handle his transformations. One suggested an immobilize spell, while another suggested a sleeping spell to keep him out until they were in Fet Loch and could get more fruit. Buck himself did not like either idea, however as tired as he was could find no better alternatives himself. He had barely kept himself in check the previous night upon consuming the last of the fruit available. There was, in fact plenty of food remaining though none of it contained fruit. “Can you safely perform the sleeping spell and the appropriate counter spell?” he asked with a gentle sigh as he began to get himself more comfortable. Sliding his breastplate off and then his usual clothing, he opted to sleep bare as he always had since he was young. The guard nodded and stood, walking to him as his horn lit up. Thunderbuck lay back and pulled the covers up around himself softly, taking a deep breath before he closed his eyes fully. “We’ll wake you the moment we get the food on hoof, I swear it sir,” he said. The musician nodded and lay still as he felt the magic gripping him softly, gently pulling him deeper into a warmer and more peaceful place. Once he was fully asleep, the guard that had cast the spell slowly pulled the covers up around him more. Fluffing an extra pillow and laying it under his head gently. “Rest well sir.” Thunderbuck well deep into his slumber, unaware of the care his guards took to protect and make him comfortable, even in his dream state. Here the spell acted to help his mind find a happy place to prevent nightmares that he could not be easily woken from. In his mind, he found himself in the simple courtyard gardens, sitting by the fountain playing his flute as a few other instruments levitated beside him and played. The dream state was wonderfully detailed, and he soon found he saw his sister lounging in her usual place by the ivy walls. He could see from his place that her lips were curled into a beautiful smile, her eyes closed as she let butterflies dance around her. The soft giggle of a foal turned his head toward CaramelCream as she chased a dragon fly to and fro across the thick grass. Feather Touch was strolling the roses casually, smelling some, pausing to nibble the flower of another. Everything was peaceful, serene, and as loving as Buck could ever wish it to me. He left his instruments to continue playing to wander quietly through the scene. The gate to the town was shut, which did not surprise Buck at all. He knew that he spent so little time in town, he had no real knowledge of how it really looked. He knew the inside of the castle was pleasant however, and would have the staff inside. He turned toward it and moved to head inside for a bit of time in the castle halls. Passing by his sister he paused to lean down and nuzzle her cheek affectionately. Seeing her so peacefully asleep in this warm soft weather made him happy. Her horn showing no signs of the damage now that it was fully healed, the scars on her cheek and neck gone as well. Even the permanent shoes removed and the scar of the screw that held them on was healed. She was even several years younger, matching her husband evenly in age now. Continuing on his way, the stallion came inside and was met with one of the staff. They took his coat and led him to the dining hall where there were books on musical research waiting for him. He smiled as he entered, hearing another servant come from the side with a cart full of sweet fruit treats to devour as he wanted. Knowing it was a dream did little to make it any less real for Thunderbuck. Until he felt the creeping feeling in his mind that something about his sister was very off. Walking back out to see her, he leaned over her slumbering form as he puzzled why he knew something was off. At first he did not understand, but then his mind began to dawn on it. How would he know what she looked like without those scars and the damage to her horn? How would he know her look from years ago? They had no images of her from that time. Stormstride intentionally made certain they were not available for anyone to find. Adding to the list of unknowns was why she had not woken right up the moment he touched her. She was a cautious creature, and the lightest touch could wake her if not anticipated. She was careful to plan who and when she was to awaken, so as to not accidentally attack her husband or a servant in the dark early morning hours. That left very few actual things that made sense. Buck knew the spell pulled on his own knowledge of the world, and found the happiest setting for him possible. There would always be things that differed from the real world, but never had it strayed this far in any noted uses of the spell that he could remember. Taking the time to sit by the fountain he brought one of his instruments over and looked at it. His violin, though much newer in appearance it was indeed his violin. Appearing as if he had freshly varnished the wood and placed a decorative lacquer on the neck of it, the violin displayed beautifully crafted new pegs, brand new string, and the bow was restrung with a fresh bee’s wax resin on the bowstring. This was not his work, but the original way the violin would have looked the day after it was crafted. He had seen new ones in the shops windows before, so that made since. His life’s work was to restore these beautiful instruments to that moment of first glory, and often enough had he dreamed of achieving that goal that this being part of his happy place was more than reasonable. It did not however explain why Feather Touch was lounging out here instead of being with Caramel. The Pegasus never left his step-daughter’s side unless he was bathing or taking time to work on his own craft. At which point she would be with either Stormstride or Thunderbuck himself. They were separated, but happy and continuing to frolic. That meant something to Buck but he couldn’t understand what. He had to figure it out or he would never get any restful slumber. On and on he worked at the puzzle of his mind before something dawned on him; perhaps separating all of them would open up a new window into making them happy. He had to get them alone to talk to them. Unlike at dinner, if he caught them doing what they enjoyed most then he could understand what was going on, and they were more likely to reveal feelings that they kept secret from other ponies. For Feather Touch it was the scent of flowers he sought for use in his oils, and he often was more relaxed about his inner feelings when working. Caramel loved to run and play like any foal, and when she was playing she shared her secrets with her playmates. Buck knew that known was half the work of understanding, and if he could understand, he might yet save his sister from whatever dark fate may harm her. He moved back to his sister, still uncertain of why she was different, and how he knew it was wrong. He knew she wished she was younger for her husband and daughter, prettier without the scars and damage from previous battles, and that her horn wasn’t cracked wide open like a busted coconut. All the things she wanted were now hers in this dreamscape, and yet they were most unsettling and unbecoming. Buck knew he had no idea if this is what she would look like, he could not even imagine her like this, or even imagine is this was a correct version of her without those events that plagued her. So why was she like this in his mind? He had to understand the why first. Buck stopped short, and his mouth hung open slightly. Those events had turned her into what she was, and the stain on her memory left a bitter taste in her mouth and a deep blot of anger in her heart. That was the why, because in this dreamscape she had no memory of those events; they simply never happened to this version of her. If this was her that had never suffered like his sister in the waking world, then perhaps there was an answer here after all. Thunderbuck pondered the use of memory spells, for removing painful memories and allowing a pony to continue along without the burden of something traumatic; after all if he could remove her memory of the events, and he could technically give her a second chance. Healing magic and a few beauty enchantments could make her look and feel younger, if no spell could actually do that for her physically by reducing her age a little bit. He knew her knowledge of magic outclassed his own, so she may very well have such spells available and just be unable to cast them with the dark magic inside her. He was pondering so much he failed to hear the distant call of his name, and the dull aching feeling of his hooves coming back to the waking world. The vision faded and Buck sat up slowly, rubbing his face to clear the sleep as he muttered about the strange dreams. But the heavy scent of fruit got his full attention as his guards gently guided him toward the table. They had waited until it would be night to wake up and let the transformation happen. Once the beast part of himself gorged on this much fruit it would be controllable, and docile from a full tummy. He filed his fading memories of the dream away for another day as he felt the first tinges of the change coming over him. Before he knew it, he was fully transformed and devouring the stack of fruit. Now full, the batpony moved back to its bed and nested down for slumber to digest the food. Buck would not awake until almost dawn the next morning. His guards already up and preparing for the day. They were shaved, one was cutting the other’s mane some, and both had their armor on. “Good morning sir. Pleasure to see you up and about again. We have a bit of a day ahead of us. This private coach ends in Ponyville. From there we have to travel by normal rail back to Manehattan, and secure passage on a ship back to Kastrot,” the one getting his mane clipped said. Thunderbuck nodded, taking a deep breath. “If you gentlecolts would permit, I would like to take a day in Ponyville. They have a library here, and it may have a book I would like to research a bit.” Both nodded, having no objection to a day or two delay. After all, it would give the pair a proper chance to get fully groomed and shine their armor back up. They had not taken proper care of the armor the last few days for lack of supplies, and stopping in a town with several stores would give them the chance to do so. Thunderbuck seemed familiar with the small town after all, and likely could direct them where to get the things they needed. As they finished preparing for arrival, Thunderbuck continued to think to himself about such a strange dreamscape. He was in the midst of getting his breastplate on when one of the guards stated that they were approaching the Ponyville station. Buck moved to the window, looking out and nodding softly before speaking. “We should try to be polite, however I doubt that the ponies here will care for conversing with us much. Have you any need to buy things? If you do, I have the coin for you to trade with,” he pulled his coin purse from his travel case and held if out to them. “Thank you sir, but we have enough for what we need. However if you could tell us where to get metal polish and possibly some light tools for the cleaning of our armor, we would be grateful,” said one as he tugged the straps of his armor to tight it back into proper place. Nodding, Buck tucked his coins away and motioned with a hoof. “Off the platform to the right. Head about two blocks and you should spot a jewelry store. It isn’t much, however they should have the tools you can buy and certainly they have polish for cleaning rare metals,” he said softly as the whistle of the train signaled their arrival. Finishing getting ready, the three decided to slip out the back of the car this time, hoping to avoid most of the crowd. Thunderbuck slid his mask on, and opened the back door. Unfortunately they stepped right off into a group of guards already waiting on them. Thunderbuck was thankful for his mask at this point. Uncertain of what to do, he motioned his own guards to stand down. The odds were at least three to one given the that there were ten REA around them now, with Princess Twilight herself standing not far away watching. Thunderbuck’s eyes met hers for a moment, before he turned back to the guards around him and his protectors. “Please escort our guests to the Inn. The likely are very tired, and could use some sleep,” Twilight said. There was no malice in her voice, but a bit of anger was hinted there. However, as the REA troops stepped close, they suddenly noticed that the Train locomotive was lifted over them. One of the guards had a glowing horn and the other spoke softly. “Touch our sire with so much as a breath, and that train will get hurled through town like a battering ram. We are here peacefully, but will not tolerate unlawful detention of ourselves and certainly not Sir Thunderbuck,” the one speaking said as he brandished his short spear. The REA took several steps back leveling their own spears at the group. However Twilight ordered them to stop. “Sergeant, you will have you troops resume their patrol. This is a matter I should likely best handle myself. Thank you for your efforts and time, but this matter is beyond the REA’s abilities to handle. We underestimated the abilities of just two bodyguards. How well would we fair if the stallion himself began to cast his own magic? Or a force was sent to liberate him. No I think I will speak to him on this misunderstanding.” Twilight’s voice was calm, even, almost amused by this. But her eyes were firm, and the sergeant took his troops away. As the Locomotive settled gently back on the tracks, Twilight walked right up to Thunderbuck. She stood before him, his guards stepping back at his hoof motion. Buck himself was terrified now, visibly shaking and wide eyed behind that mask. But Twilight whispered to him, and he seemed to relax. “Please follow me Gentlecolts,” she said softly as she began to move toward the inn. Tunderbuck moved slowly, his guards moving to match his pace. It was a short walk to the inn, but given the pace they were walking at it took some time. Twilight smiled and nodded or waved to ponies that called and smiled to her. Arriving at the inn finally, she spoke to the clerk at the desk about how many rooms were available to host the three stallions. “We will only need one room, two beds. One of us will be on watch at all times, thank you,” one of the guards spoke in a polite, but firm tone. Twilight nodded and turned to the clerk, asking him to check for rooms with two beds. There was an availability, and so Twilight asked for it to be given to them if it was not reserved. The clerk put down that the room was now taken and produced the keys. Returning to the group, Twilight levitated the key over to the guard that spoke. He took it gently enough, but was wary. As she led them to the room, she noticed that the girls were already at the end of the hall. Thunderbuck saw that and stopped short. His guards tensed up before he said a word and Twilight had taken a full six paces away before she realized they were not walking behind her anymore. Turning slowly she looked at them curiously. Thunderbuck had always actively avoided speaking to any pony when he had passed through Ponyville before. Intentionally staying where he could part his cart with little notice from the citizens of town. Now the princess and her close friends were staring at him. “We are not here to harm you Sir. Just to talk. That is all.” Twilight assured him. She went to step closer and found the end of a spear pointed at her face. Rainbow Dash went to protest but was silenced by Applejack. The other guard had his spear leveled right at Dash’s chest from their distance. The blade of it glinted, almost like it were about to hurl. Rainbow Dash took that into consideration and let AJ pull her back down. Thunderbuck glanced at the group, then at Twilight before speaking, “You, only you.” That was all he said and Twilight understood everything he meant to say with that. Nodding she turned to the door and stood there. The guard with the key unlocked it and let the door swing open. Twilight entered, followed by Thunderbuck. But his guards remained outside at a hoof motion from him. They took up positions on either side of the door, one locking it, the other putting a barrier spell up over both sides of it to prevent any pony going through the door. Twilight sat at the table in the room with Thunderbuck, quietly removing her crown and setting it on the table before folding her wings and setting her hooves on the edge gently. Thunderbuck removed his mask slowly, setting it on the table across from her crown, and his horn flickered as he took a deep breath. Twilight nodded softly and spoke first. “That was quite the illusion spell you cast back at the train station. I must say, targeting it to only be seen by specific ponies was a good idea; unfortunately that also ruined it when I noticed that passengers were still boarding the train as if nothing had happened. As well, there was no echo of your guard’s voice as he spoke, meaning that he was not actually talking. They were just holding a barrier up, weren’t they? You were casting multiple illusions at once, while targeting only specific individuals in an effort to make us run away.” Her voice was calm, more intellectual than others Thunderbuck had spoken too in the past. It made him less wary of her to talk of magic spells than of matters that were actually important. He nodded to her and she smiled. “There was never any actual danger to the ponies of Ponyville, merely clever illusions meant to frighten away anyone that seemed to threaten you. I understand you have important matters you want to attend to, but I need to ask you some questions before you do. First, why is it that you left before Cadence could finish explaining that she alone had no answer to give, but that it would take the efforts of other ponies as well to help save your sister?” Her question was a bit lengthy, but she needed to get it out in its full breadth to make certain he got all of it in his head before he decided to leave again. “Because she dismissed the idea that it was as serious an issue as I tried to convince her it was,” He replied, though slower and in an almost whisper tone. Twilight nodded tapping a hoof to her chin. It was important to not countermand his assumptions. Negotiations were not her strong suit, but she understood that he felt this issue was serious enough to go to the literal end of the map for help. Therefore she had to not tell him he was wrong, but try to look at it as if he were correct and that this was the most important issue in the world. “Would you care to explain it to me? In the event her correspondence left something out?” She asked him. He nodded softly and began from the beginning, giving as much detail as he could. The stallion made every effort to include the words his protectors had given to Cadence as well, and gave his impressions of their opinions on the matter. Twilight took this all in, though with a grain of salt. She felt he was honest, and believed in his words. He was deeply loyal to his sister, and wanted to protect her; which was why he avoided going to Canterlot and did not seek her help here in Ponyville the first time they passed through. “And now you were leaving the train? Is there a reason for that?” She asked him. Buck fell silent and looked away. Here she realized something rather odd about him. He could have called for his guards at any time and yet he had not, or cast and illusion to confuse her, but yet again he had not. He was discussing the matter with her in a civil manner, though his quiet manner made her think perhaps Fluttershy was better suited to this task than herself. One of her eyebrows slowly arched up as that thought rolled in her head a bit, however he spoke before she could take it any further. “I had an idea I wanted to try. I was going to stop at the library to make notes and perform a little research before continuing on home. Since I could get no help from Princess Cadence, I thought it best to find a solution on my own. My protectors were going to take some time to relax and get food and proper rest while I studied. We have been moving since we left Castle Cloud in Maretonia,” he said softly. Twilight pressed her lips and nodded, standing slowly. She knew being tired, he likely would not take any advice or help she would offer into consideration, and she had a letter of her own to send. “I believe then I should leave you and your guards to rest then. I must tend to my own council and seek their advice on other matters. Please, enjoy your stay for a while. My treat to you as Princess of Friendship.” She moved to the door and slowly knocked on it. The door unlocked as the barriers dropped to allow her to exit the room. The guards ducked inside and closed the door. The moment they did, Twilight saw the barrier go right back into place. She pressed her lips and thought to herself about how to handle this situation. Coming to the girls, she motioned them to follow her as she spoke, “I believe this matter is more than just a need for respect between ruling groups. I seriously think he believes his claim and that there may be a threat to Equestria in some shape if it isn’t handled. Applejack, take Rainbow Dash and go inform the guards to stay out of their way. Let them go about their business as long as they remain peaceful. It is likely we can get them to understand our view, and provide better help to them if they feel we are not hindering their efforts. Rarity, you know more about high culture than I do. If you know anything about Maretonia I would like to get better understanding of his situation. Anything that might be offensive to him is something I would like to avoid if possible. Any special attire I should wear, any titles he might hold that I should address him by. I need all of that. Pinkie Pie, see if you can get something for them to eat. Nothing too sweet alright? They look tired and hungry. Keep it simple. And Fluttershy,” the princess turned to her yellow Pegasus friend. “Try to observe Thunderbuck. I have a feeling you might be able to speak to him better than any pony. He seems rather shy and timid.” Fluttershy nodded meekly, but knew she needed to try and help. And if he was as timid as Twilight said, maybe she could speak to him more plainly than most could. As the girls dispersed to their tasks, Twilight went right to the castle and found Spike. He was organizing some books when she walked in. Calling him over, Twilight began to detail a letter she needed drawn up. Asking him to get a particular kind of parchment she rarely used except for serious, official princess matters between herself and the other princesses. Spike went to fetch the items as Twilight stood at the window and looked out. Looking at the inn she thought to herself calmly, about his nature and what she had seen of him before. He had passed through before, but without the guards and he had traveled by cart those times before. She knew he was a traveling musician, and had performed for the ponies of her town a few times before. He had traded for food and supplies along his way, meaning he had travel money and made long trips across Equestria. Thinking back further, she felt his name sounded very familiar to her. The feeling in the back of her mind was that he was possibly the most quiet traveling show pony she had ever known. Though in honest retrospect, comparing him to Trixie was like comparing a professional orchestra player to a banjo player in the woods. Then there were other factors to consider. That he would take guards and a train made her believe him more; adding to that she knew from what reports she had gathered on him that he had not stopped to play for ponies along the way as he normally would have, but traveled straight to the Empire. Unfortunately, only time would tell if he was right, or if he was delusional; and until then it was all guess work and research. As Spike returned with the materials she sat and began to dictate a letter to him. "To all Princesses of Equestria: I have met with the traveling stallion and his protection. My first impression is that they are peaceful in nature and that Thunderbuck believes himself to be speaking the truth in regards to his sister's plight. He states that she has made no physical harm happen to any pony, but that she has taken actions to enact her own version of justice against ponies she feels owe her a debt. Once she has what she wants, she offers them a place in her own estate. Given the description of the play by Thunderbuck himself, it is a minor fortress surrounded by a small town and sprawling farmlands. She has a small compliment of professional soldiers numbering roughly 200. This would mean she has the ability to wage a small war against any incursion. Added to this fact, She herself is the head of the house, i can not stress enough that this does pose some threat to the ponies of Equestria should she feel the need to deploy her forces. We are ill equipped to handle the combat in the streets of the port cities, and smaller towns such as Ponyville do not possess the guards to protect the citizens from such an attack, let alone drive the force back. I hereby request that we look into this matter with discretion and secrecy in an effort to guide this matter to a peaceful and hopefully friendly solution. With Regards, Twilight Sparkle Princess of Friendship." Setting Spike to make multiple copies of that to be sent to all princesses, Twilight thought it might be best to take time now to have a meal and think over what she knew for a fact at that moment. Stepping out into the sunshine, she made for a local restaurant to get food. She could see the ponies of her town, smiling and carrying on with their daily lives. They had no idea anything dark might actually be looming over them.
  5. Lady Stromstride, of the House Cloud in the rolling hills of Kastrot, under the guidance of the patron noble of the land Lady Heart Stopper, sat to her desk with a heavy burden upon her heart. Her great title had come with a great price, so deeply burdening that she felt it unworthy all the riches her family lay surrounded by in this luxurious palace. The tear stains upon her cheeks still so fresh they glistened in the light of the torches dotting the thick stone walls of her study chambers. The mare swallowed hard against the lump in her throat and closed her eyes. Her magic barely controlled as she fought with the extreme emotions coursing through her body. She opened a drawer, withdrawing from it the quills, parchment and bottles of ink needed for her task at hoof. Her efforts were to be done as an act of love, remembrance, and kindness; but not in the name of her house. This task was too great for such a small thing, as it had saved so many lives, and brought back her ladyship from a brink of pain and suffering that was too terrible to speak of outside these silent walls lined with books, scrolls, charts and maps. The objects settled into place, as her husband came to the study to see her. The soft clop of his bare hooves on the rich wood floor drew her attention, turning her head to his sad but relieved gaze to find her here. She could see the sorrow in his eyes as well. There in the light was Feather Touch, her husband. Their kin had suffered greatly this day, and the final blow was dealt as she oversaw the burial of her younger brother. The end of the era of music was upon them all, with no light strokes of quill to lay new notes upon the paper. “I was worried for you,” his tender whisper came as a soft caress of her ears, as his wing extended out and gently caressed her form. No regal robe rested on her back today, for she felt unworthy such things as it stood. No gems nor gold sat on her ears and neck as they normally would have, leaving her a bare pony for her husband to see her. He moved behind her, with gentle hooves placing upon her shoulders and a soft kiss to her neck he let his face rest in the thick wave of her mane. “I know my love. I know you were worried. But I cannot rest yet. I owe him my life, and yours as well. I must record in the records what happened in his death. The pure truth, so that future generations will know not to make my mistake,” she whispered to her Pegasus. He nodded as he came around her front, nosing her neck before placing a soft kiss upon her lips. His soft gazed met her eyes as fresh tears welled within them. He slowly broke the kiss, before placing a tender hoof under her chin. “Not tonight my love. Come to bed. Tomorrow you can begin with breakfast. I will take Caramel to town with me. I have a delivery to a customer to make and she could use the time to cheer her up.” His soft voice lulled her tired and depleted senses. She relented to his request, giving a soft and slow nod of her head as her ears dipped back into her mane. With a quick blow, she extinguished the light of her desk candle and pulled the cover down to save her space of work for later use. Walking with him to their bedchambers, they passed a guard that stood beside their door. His helmet was removed and set upon the floor beside himself, revealing his face to them. It was Heavyhoof. Nodding to them, he opened the door. “Sires, she is already in the bed. The chamber maid tucked her in not but a moment ago.” He spoke softly, as if not wishing to wake a sleeping foal. They nodded their thanks to him, before Stromstride dismissed him from the night watch, ordering him to let all the other staff know to sleep tonight as no night watch would be needed. “With all due respect ma’am. You need us now, more than ever before. And I will be damned before I let my Lady try to sleep without her guard watching over her. You should rest, I will ensure the rest of the staff are asleep as needed.” She nodded to her captain, knowing his advice to be sound when hers was not. As the couple entered to the room with the closing of the door behind them, they saw the chamber maid setting out the last of the pillows for them. She bowed quietly before excusing herself to retire for the night. Stromstride saw her daughter was already asleep, though fitfully so. CaramelCream was such a tender foal, and could not fully grasp the situation at hoof that had encompassed her world. Feather Touch slid back the covers for his mare, watching her climb into the bed before he pulled the covers up for her. Taking his place opposite her, he pulled Caramel against his chest softly and allowed Stormstride to snuggle in with them. His long, delicate wings stretched forth, surrounding them in the warm fullness of the long thick plumage he had. She blinked twice, and the third time she fell asleep. No sooner had her breathing steadied than Caramel became calm with them. Gently pressing her face into her step-father’s chest, her small stubby horn gently gliding over the chest of the male with a rounded blunt tip. Feather Touch took a moment to enjoy the view of his family before closing his eyes and falling to sleep as well. His dreams were simple this night, of quiet moments past and present. Not of the events that transpired. However Stromstride was forced to relive those events again. And in the eye of her mind, she could see all too clearly the events that had led up to the death of her brother. ~~~~~~~~~~ Stormstride Cloud was in the courtyard, marshalling her troops. As usual, their performance was wonderfully perfect in pose, but they lacked the fluid grace to move quickly on the ground when in this formation. The troops were too close together, forcing them to stiffen their movements and make sharp jerks of their spears and hooves to avoid hitting each other. Stromstride called for a break, sitting to ponder over this matter with her captain, Heavyhoof. “You noticed how sharp the movements are? How they jerk to avoid hitting each other? I think we have them placed too close together. In certain formations it works well, but in this formation they cannot move fluidly. The unicorns have to watch to the left to make certain their spells do not collide. The earth ponies cannot effectively wield their spears or swords with their sides tucked so tightly. And I can see the pegasi touching wing tips in air, forcing them to watch for the wing beats of the others around them. This cannot work well for them. It makes them uncomfortable,” Stormstride muttered as she watched her guards stretch out stiff muscles. Heavyhoof nodded, “However if we move them too far apart, it will create openings for ponies to slide between and flank them. I dare not make them take more than one step apart now. They have the movements down for practice, however I am concerned how they would perform in actual combat.” He looked to his Lady, taking in the look on her face as she pondered his words. He could see her thinking, planning, and creating images in her mind of how she would face such a thing. “One half step. If we open their formation one half step each, that would provide them the room to move openly and cleanly. This also gives them room to maneuver their shields in place to their sides to prevent flanking on the left. With that done, the flanking would be from the right, where the spears and swords are,” Stormstride said to her captain, turning her gaze on him to judge his reaction to her words as she continued. “This would put that much more pressure there, however we can change the spears to bladed pikes, and shorten the length some. This would allow for a ride side sweeping motion with the long weapon and disrupt a flanking attempt yes?” Heavyhoof let the idea roll in his own mind, picturing it for himself as he pondered the effects of changing one weapon would do. The short pike provided the spear point they needed, and a blade that could be used to sweep aside and force flanking attackers to step back quickly. This gave a few precious seconds for the unicorns in the ranks to find and focus upon their intended targets, before unleashing a spell at them. As well, it provided the pegasi an open target to drop on with bladed weapons and cause damage from above with impact force. He did not, however like the thought that the left side depended upon the shields. A full charge would break the left flank easily, and he knew that would scatter the formation. “Perhaps in addition we could turn the outer two columns toward their flanks a bit. Giving them a wider field of range to the side and enabling them to turn and counter the leading edge of a flanking maneuver.” Stormstride had to agree, that would provide better protection and make greater sense. “Very well Captain. I leave it to you to work it out. I have other matters to attend to this week. Continue the practices at your discretion, and in depth training for those struggling to catch on. No pony of mine will be left behind.” Heavyhoof saluted and slid his helmet back in place, before turning to trot off to the practice ring again. Stormstride moved into her castle, walking the halls with a purpose. However, her lips wore a gentle smile as she greeted her servants and staff. In her mind, kind words were oft a better incentive than the sting of a lashing tongue. She felt that since she herself had once been very low in the world, she should not show these ponies any different treatment than she would show a friend. Her metallic shoes clicking on the stones of the floor through the carpet, drawing ever closer to the room she sought. Up a spiral stairwell, to the third floor of her castle, the mare walked slowly, but with purpose. Exiting the stairwell, she turned down the open hall with only a few doors available. The first was CaramelCream’s private bedroom, decorated with all the things a young philly her age would love and cherish; artworks she drew herself, streamers, a selection of dresses and jewelry, her own makeup stand, and dolls of all shapes. The second door was the bedchamber of herself and her husband, Feather Touch; a proud Pegasus with extraordinary wings, though he could never fly with them as the bones inside were too brittle. He was a most delightful masseur as well as aroma therapist. Across from that was the bath chambers for the three of them, with complete selection of scents and a large tub to soak in. That was her destination, and with it in sight she strode forward with a bit ore haste. Her private bath chambers awaited her with two mare servants, both of which were kindly and flirtatious. Though no advances had been made by either party, it was still a very pleasant experience to be spoken to as if desired by so many. She entered and found Feather Touch already inside the large tub, soaking as the mares massaged his wings gently. Smiling to herself, she came over and motioned them to be silent as she leaned to his ear and nibbled on it playfully. Opening his eyes he looked up, thinking one of them had been playing with him in such a manner. However, upon seeing his wife he smiled and relaxed into the water more. “Care to join me for a bath love?” he asked softly. “Yes indeed. I could use one after standing in the sun for hours with the guards for training. I think Heavyhoof has the proper idea on how to handle these matters, he merely needs a bit of encouragement to bring out his own ideas.” Feather Touch nodded as he watched her slide from her dress slowly, admitting to himself that he enjoyed the view of his mare and her form. As Stormstride came to the steps leading up and into the tub, she let out a long, low sigh of relief. The cool, clean water was filled with suds and carried a warm, inviting scent upon the air. Her steps into the water were slow, measured to help her adjust with the change in temperature without making her gasp in shock from the suddenness of it. Her eyes closed slowly with a deep, long and appreciative sigh as the coolness that enveloped her. Moving slowly to her husband to avoid sloshing the water about, she settled down beside him and closed her eyes while laying her head upon his shoulder. One of the mares came to her, using magic to levitate the bottle of mane cleaner over and begin working that thick gray and silver mane. The other moved to massage Feather Touch’s shoulders deeply and slowly over his neck. She could tell that in the last few months he had put on more muscle, though exercise and training with Stormstride. The Pegasus may be unable to fly like his brethren, however he had the muscles and strength now that could out wrest a unicorn in physical combat at the least. The mares continued to massage and wash their masters until Stormstride was ready to leave the bath. Stormstride had felt very strange the first several times she had another pony wash and dry her off like this, making her blush at her rather different anatomy. However, these mares didn’t seem to care and were very gentle indeed. The tender caress of a thick luscious towel handled by a slow, tender hoof was all the reason Stormstride needed to trust them now. They were trained by Feather Touch in spa and massage arts as his first pair of apprentices. They were treated well, and given rooms of their own in the castle in addition to their pay as reward for their efforts and attention to detail. Now that she was clean, Lady Stormstride moved to her husband and gave him a deep and loving kiss upon his lips. He accepted, pleasantly surprised by it and could not resist a soft snort of air when she broke the kiss to move away. Entering their bedchambers, the mare moved to her clothing racks and found herself picking out a black dress before she knew it. Donning it with a little levitation magic and the wiggle of her ample hips, she bid her husband good day until dinner in the evening. Her hooves then began walking toward the end of the hall, to a door lit only by one torch and locked by spell. As she approached, her horn glowed faintly and the door glowed the same, soon giving off the clanks and clicks as multiple locks built within the door opened and let the heavy ashen wood swing wide for her. No pony dared to enter that door without her personal leave to do so, and for good reason. The Lady Stormstride was an able bodied mage, and crafty enough to know how to branch out her list of spells as she needed. Her personal library was now quite large, though tiny compared to the public library in the town around her castle. This was, however, far more dedicated to magical arts; of both the profound, and the profane. She had collected spells, tomes, scrolls, tablets and more detailing her family history. Spending time compiling it into notes, organizing it to form a proper time line, and learning all the secrets of her ancestors. Their burial tombs were her targets, and with good reason. Many of her ancestors had never been brought home for burial, and as such their personal journals and artifacts lay with them where they died. This displeased the mare greatly, as she longed to plunge deeper into the knowledge they may have held. However the room held a darker secret, one that frightened even Stormstride herself. In her collection of books and scrolls she had acquired the personal journal of one of her unknown ancestors. A stallion who had no name in the history books, and whose deeds were scratched away lest they tempt someone to unleash him again. Stormstride did not believe in the dead rising like that, however she did know that they could influence the darker corners of a pony’s mind if left open to suggestion, and this stallion was indeed very dark. His works were similar to all her other lost kin, but that he used dark magic to fulfill his means. His own lightning was not blue or white as the other ponies of the Cloud lineage, but a dark black or violet color. His eyes were tainted a blood red, from the power inside him; and with the shape of a dragon’s eyes due to his evil nature. These things did not appeal to Stormstride, what she sought was his source of power and his breadth of knowledge. His journal hinted that he had found and secured a source of power that rivaled an Allicorn. A power he had learned to control, and harness through sheer will power, and turn it against those that stood against him. However, he simply vanished one day and left the House Cloud to fall into disrepair and squalor until Stormstride came forward to take it back. So great a power inside him, he could even force an allicorn to back down in battle, and that drew her in. She had to have that power, if her plan was to work. As she closed the door to her chamber behind herself, the journal lay open already on the desk. She levitated a tray over, following it with her usual red wine and fruit. She felt snacking lightly while she worked these long hours would help her keep focus, and it oft did. As she sat her flank upon the thick cushion and leaned into the back rest of her chair, the journal levitated to her in the grip of her magic. Her eyes picked up where they had left off as she levitated a quill to the side. Dipping it in ink, she began to make notes of things most important. So far, her research had led her to discover that her dark ancestor had, in fact kept very detailed notes on places he had been, and things he had done. She had drawn from modern maps the locations of places he had been, things he had seen, and things he had done. Sites that by now were eroded and worn mostly away could still show marks where battles happened. She smiled to herself as she thought that possibly one day soon she would know what power he had gained, and how he learned to use it. Her eyes danced over the pages slowly, taking time to sip her wine or nibble a bite of cheese between paragraphs, and recording information in short hoof all the while. Then her eyes dipped to the bottom of the page. There was a break, as if he had paused to think and continued with a different thought. This was significant to say the least. The fluid writing in his journal was flawless, and to find such a glaring flaw could only mean it was intentional. Setting aside her wine glass she straightened up and began to reread the page, searching for a clue to what he meant. Her eyes hovered over the page, back and forth from top to bottom in an effort to understand the method. Her search was rewarded at last, with the discovery of what looked like writing but without the ink, as if some pony had continued to write after their quill was dry. This gave her a moment of pause, a she set the journal down. She could only be certain if she tampered with the journal, however that might destroy any evidence she had. She needed to make a print of it, something she could put under the microscope without taking the page out. However, she dared not allow another pony to look on the pages to copy, lest they discover something of value and pursue it for themselves. She was thinking in silence when she heard the soft approach of hooves outside the door. Pushing herself away from the desk she stood and moved to open the door in greeting to whom it was, most likely it was Feather or Caramel coming to summon her for dinner. However the heavy knock told her it was some pony much larger than her husband or child. Arching an eyebrow she slowly opened the door, looking outside to see one of her guards standing there at full attention. “Madam, there is a messenger here for you,” he said softly. “Oh, yes. Tell them I will be down in a moment. Probably just the latest dispatches from Lady Heart Stopper. See to it the messenger is paid and offered water and food,” she stated calmly. He saluted her and turned on hoof. His quick march back the way he came told her it was urgent enough to warrant her attention. She quickly moved to the desk and closed the journal, her spell marking her place for her as she turned and downed the rest of the wine in her glass. Walking quickly back to the hall she shut and locked the door, before heading down the hall to the stairwell. Her metal shoed hooves clacked on the stone until she came to the rug, the duller clicks filling the halls as she walked with purpose and speed. Coming to the entry hall she looked the messenger over, no common Kastrot delivery pony before her eyes but an actual Equestrian messenger in full uniform. As she came to the pony, she heard them speaking to the guard, detecting the feminine tones and soft words of curiosity. “Good afternoon. I hope I have not kept you waiting too long,” Stormstride said as she drew near enough to be heard properly without raising her voice. The messenger before her now, she saw it to be a Pegasus mare of light build and lean tone. Her voice light, almost bubbly like a fine Champaign, and with a soft perfume about her that told of some ladylike qualities. This would certainly be a lovely addition to her growing community, thought Stormstride as the messenger made her introduction. Then she produced the letter, not rolled like a scroll as proper Maretonian summons, but made from one friend to another. Smiling as she read the name over, she saw it was from Blueblood and Psmith. They were often in touch about events where they would like to procure a sampling of her wines for the ponies present to taste and examine. Though this was a rather thick envelope for such a simple request, she figured it would be in the letter anyway. Looking to the messenger mare again, she smiled and took the letter, setting it in the folds of her dress. “Have you traveled for long? You seem rather tired,” Stormstride said softly, smiling at the mare with a simple soft look. The simple pleasures of freely offered friendship and a few fineries would often win the hearts of the simple ponies from Equestria. After all, they were barely able to imagine the wealth some pony in her position could hold, let alone her patron’s wealth. “Um. Yes my lady. I flew here straight off the boat, one solid day and one night of flight. The prince said it was a rather urgent matter that was contained in the letter. His aid offered triple pay to get it here on time.” Stormstride smiled with a soft laugh, knowing that was like Psmith to a T. She nodded and sent a servant to prepare a guest room for the mare to rest in. “Come now, you should stay and rest. A solid day of flight must certainly tire out your wings and back. I can have the guest bath prepared for you, and a bed chamber as well. Once you have time to recover, I can have food sent to you, and let you take time to recover while I write a reply for you to take back to Prince Blueblood.” Stormstride was trying her hoof at temptation now, and had gotten more than one or two on her hook. In fact a large portion of her house staff and guards were once Equestrians, and this mare would make a fine addition to the lady’s own little collection of ponies. Stormstride saw the look in the mare’s eye shift a little, knowing her resistance was too thin to say no to an offered bit of rest and food. All she had to do was get the mare to take this bait and it was all over, easily able to get them to migrate to her side, become her staff with ease. However the Pegasus shocked her with a polite, but firm rejection. “I am afraid I must decline My Ladyship. I have other messages that must be delivered without any delay. His majesty would never have it if I failed to perform my duty properly,” came the calm, but almost regretful reply. Stormstride had to admire the spirit in this one, able to withstand an offer that had easily turned others before her into the mare’s staff or servants. “I understand you fully my dear. Then at least allow me to offer you something to eat for your journey. I cannot in good conscience allow you to be out in our lands with no supplies after all. And an inn can be so expensive in other areas.” Stormstride cooed softly. Sending the guard to have a packed luncheon made for this mare, the Lady took the time to open her own little coin purse and place a few bits in the hoof of the messenger, “I’m certain the broker at the docs will change those to Equestrian for you. If he doesn’t, send word my way and I will compensate you fully.” The mare nodded, tucking the bits in her bag, allowing Stromstride a brief moment to see that not only was the bag actually fully of scrolls and letters for delivery, but most all of them had House Platinum seal on them. Perhaps Blueblood was getting married and wanting to show off a bit to the others he had met at her wedding a year ago. That would actually be rather enjoyable, taking a break for a short week of rest and travel. That was, provided that Celestia kept her distance from the Lady and her family. It was such a pity Blueblood had to be related to that mare. When the guard returned with a sack that had an assortment of fruits, cheese and a couple bottles of wine aside a water skin, Stormstride levitated it for the mare to help her get it on and settled. Now with the weight balanced she smiled, gave a polite bow and left quietly. The guard returned to his post at the door, allowing Stormstride the peace to step outside a moment and enjoy the warmth of sunshine in her gardens. The soft melodies from behind the fountain drew her ear, listening to the talented music of the only pony on her lands that could perform three instruments at once. Her younger brother sat quietly, making music via his magic, while using his hooves to conduct gently. Stormstride found a warm place to seat herself, on a moss covered stone bench, and reclined to listen to his sonnet. A beautiful combination of violin, French horn, and cello soothed her ears and lulled her into a peaceful place in her mind. She soon found herself humming along with the tune, which made your younger brother smile behind his mask. The others in the garden lounged as well, taking time to enjoy the sweet scent and soft tones around them in the late afternoon. The wisteria was in full bloom, its grape like flower bunches handing low and full to drape their scent like a cloak around those under them. Such was the warmth of the moment that Stormstride did not realize she had fallen asleep until Thunderbuck himself woke her with a gentle hoof. “Sister, it’s time for dinner,” his soft voice said from behind that mask. The ornate representation on the carved and polished wood looked almost lifelike in its plainness. Stormstride stretched with a great yawn and a pop of her neck as she stood. “Oh my. It seems I was lulled to sleep in the sun again. Your music is most relaxing Buck,” She smiled to him a she said that. Her soft voice a tender reminder of the fondness of siblings. She gently lifted his mask, looking at his blushing face. Her smile was more than he could have bargained for. And she was quite polite about it as well. She let the mask lower back slowly as they walked inside, knowing he was still shy around other ponies. The mask helped him, and oft made for quite the impression at his performances. Even Heart Stopper herself felt the mysterious nature of it was very alluring when combined with his unique styles of music. Tribal music blended seamlessly with orchestral concerts created a form of music all its own. As the siblings went to the dining hall, they were joined by the Captain Heavyhoof, the Winery Manager, and the Accountant of the House. Caramel and Feather Touch were already seated at their seats, politely talking as they waited. Though the conversation was little more than a father doting over his daughter and showing her the love in his heart for her. As the ponies came to their seats, Thunderbuck slowly slid his mask up and lay it on the table beside him. He had come to trust these ponies present. They never pressured him for an answer to a question, and left him to his own devices and space most of the time. As the first course was brought forward, the conversation shifted to expenses on the winery and vineyards. Discussion of methods of harvesting grapes faster than by hoof, and yet gently so not to bruise them and ruin the wine. Stormstride could suggest no other method, though Thunderbuck put in that perhaps placing a minstrel in the field with the workers would help them along with a lively tune provided to entertain them. The accountant looked to Feather Touch asking his opinion with the arrival of the second course. On the conversation went, shifting topics to schools and teachers, profits, harvests and stockpiles for the coming winter, possible weather changes and how to avoid anything seriously damaging to the crops. At last it fell to personal interests, birthdays coming up, plans for vacations and the like. It seemed here every pony present had something to add to the conversation, suggestions to answer questions and ideas for their own plans. It was with the arrival of desert that at last Buck asked for permission to travel again. Though his sister always kept a traveling budget prepared for him, she knew he wanted to ask permission like a gentlecolt before spending the money. She nodded and inquired his destination, which surprised her when he answered. “The Crystal Empire. I have never been there, and would like to travel there to see what sorts of musical instruments or such they have available. I know it is too far to go by cart, so I was thinking of taking a train,” and that was where Stormstride had to speak her own thoughts. “You know I have no objections to that Buck, but this time I must insist you take two guards with you. I know, their armor is off putting to most, however I think we can forgo the heavy armored earth ponies in favor of a pair of unicorn guards in light armor. Heavyhoof, is that possible?” “Certainly my lady. I have several unicorns that are due some down time. Perhaps they would like the opportunity to travel to the Crystal Empire with Sir Thunderbuck and see it for themselves. I can propose this to them tomorrow morning before duty roster is posted. That would give them time to pack and prepare for the trip if Sir Thunderbuck would delay a day for them,” came the captain’s reply. Buck nodded his agreement, knowing his sister would not relent this time. He knew that between the Empire and Equestria there was a vast distance and it would take many days by train to arrive, and over that time, any number of dangerous things could happen. This being said, he planned to travel lightly, carrying only minimal coin to trade with and wearing the breastplate his sister had commissioned for him. He was never really used to the weight of it, however it did provide protection and matched his usual outfits. After the meal ended, Buck withdrew to his small cottage on the courtyard grounds. He loved his home, it being tailored specifically to him in its construction. The walls had plenty of space for all his various musical instruments, a workshop installed in the side for him to work and repair any instrument he found in his travels, and a small but luxurious bedroom for himself. Though to his credit Buck’s personal definition of luxury consisted of little more than a thick warm bed with covers, a fire place for cold nights, plenty of windows he could open for fresh air and light, and a personal tub he could bathe in. Moving to his bedroom, he sat his mask upon the place holder on his desk and sat to his musical sheets. He had been composing a number he wished to complete for his sister. Something he hoped would touch her heart, and inspire the peace he knew once existed there, and hoped still did in some small manner. He had seen the look in her eyes, heard the tone of her voice before. He knew what happened to ponies that crossed her, and he did not like it. His sister had once been kind, forgiving to a fault, and loving. But now she had grown cold toward those not of her mindset, and callous in her methods of dealing with them. One such pony served in their house, as a floor scrubber in the kitchens. She knew that he was not being mistreated, as a matter of fact he was likely living much better than he had before when he was a commander of the REA barracks in Canterlot’s middle class district. However, he was now a mere floor scrubber with no status or standing even in Maretonian society; he was little more than a paid slave. What was more, he was blind. Thunderbuck knew better than to question his sister on these matters, as they affected her in personal and deeply harmful ways in the past. This was her retribution, her justice against those that wronged her. The stallion was free to leave any time he wanted, however where would he go? Home to his father was one option, however that relegated him to a life of social parties he had no love for. A second option was back to the dessert where he was found, however he had not the power left in him to survive alone in the wilds like that. The third option was to wander Maretonia as a pony for hire, but with his blindness he would be begging before the week was out, and forced to return to Stormstride; and she would be even less generous than before. Taking a deep breath, Buck put quill to paper. His drafting of notes humming along from his lips as he listened to the various instruments in his mind. The soft, loving melody was low, and sweet to him; kindly caressing his emotions and tugging them toward gentle thoughts. His eyes closed as his magic continued to move the quill of its own accord. His humming staying soft, he continued this way for near and hour when he felt his head begin to tip forward slightly. He stopped his work, slowly lowering the quill to rest upon the desk and looking how far he had come. He found he had nearly finished two-thirds of his work on the violin section in the last two hours. He set the parchment down, and stood slowly. Stretching as he moved to the tub, and turned on the hot water. Indoor plumbing was a wonderful thing to have, he mused to himself in his mind. Watching the water rise, he slid from his vest and overcoat. Folding them neatly and laying them on the chair nearby, he moved to the tub and sank himself in deeply. Once the water reached his neck, he turned it off and just relaxed into the warmth that surrounded him. His magic gripped a bottle of scented, liquid soap. Adding a touch to the water, he brought over a sponge and a back scrubber. Leaning up just enough to let them begin working he looked to the walls of his home. So many instruments lined his walls, more than he could ever play in all his life. And yet he knew each one by heart and loved their individual sounds. Then his eyes cast to the workbench where a broken trumpet sat. He smiled, knowing that he had all the brass piping to fix it being delivered in the next few days. He had taken it apart, salvaging what pieces he could by having a blacksmith repair them. Those that could not be saved he had melted into metal balls for use later in smaller repairs. Thunderbuck sighed deeply, as his body relaxed in the warm bath. His body coming clean of the sweat of the day, he chirred and let out a pleased snort that blew some bubbles off the top of the water. Deeming himself sufficiently clean, the stallion stood and unplugged his tub, letting the water drain as he turned on the overhead shower. Using it to rinse himself off a bit before levitating a towel over. As the water drained away, he stepped out on his plush bathmat, using magic to move and wipe the towel over himself. Once sufficiently dry, he moved to his bed while levitating the towel to the drying rack by the fireplace. He had learned to cast magic fire, and had enchanted heater rocks to hold the flame at a constant but low heat. The towel would dry by this flame, without any chance of it burning. He sat upon his bed and pushed the thick warm fur covers back, smiling at the deep mattress that greeted his eyes. Moving into his bed, he pulled a candle over and let his magic tilt it over the open fireplace to light it. Setting it upon his nightstand, he snuggled deep under the covers and pulled them up to his chest; relaxing as his magic gripped the book on the other pillow. Opening to his saved place, he began reading once again a great work of Maretonian fiction; fully knowing that in the morning he would rise early to pack a case with two small instruments and some clothing for the trip. He smiled to himself, ready for a new adventure in a land his hooves had never touched before, a land of plenty, hidden in the veil of ice and snow.
  6. From the album Mojo's Cool Corral

    Surprise Christmas Gift Art from Sideswitched of FA. This is his take on the "Pony of Peace"

    © Character (c) Me, Artwork (c) Sideswitched of FA

  7. Techno Tunes Concept Sketch

    From the album MLP OCs

    TBA.
  8. Harmonic Dissonance

    From the album My ponies

    My newest jazz OC as drawn by Elderflower

    © Elderflower

  9. Moonshade

    From the album MLP Creations

    Ok, so I was bored earlier and so I allowed the MLP infection to run through my head some more. I decided to take my half-worgen character as a base and created a new stallion named Moonshade. Since he's an earth pony, I figured I needed to come up with a good reason for his mane, tail, eyes and hooves to glow so I decided that he actually lives in an area dominated by caves and likes to eat the phosphorescent mushrooms in the caves... so much that it has permanently caused him to glow on his own. No, I haven't submitted him for role play yet... so hopefully no one has taken that name. If so, I'll be embarassed and have to find something else to call him.

    © Copyright 2013, Andrew Graham. All Rights Reserved.

  10. Lounging

    From the album Briar

    I haven't drawn Briar for a while and felt she needed some love
  11. Briar By tsurime

    From the album Briar

    Gorgeous commission of Briar lost in her violin by Tsurime
  12. "And the meanie called me a stupid blank flank. What do I do Miss Asty, they are so mean," a young filly wept in a clearly distraught voice, her blue eyes red from crying as she sat at the black hooves of a stoic looking unicorn mare. The earth pony child was having a bad day in her orphanage, the other children deciding to tease her, for not discovering her special talent. After running into the local park, she spotted one of her few friends, a strange unicorn who donated goods and toys regularly to the understaffed orphanage in Fillydelphia. The black unicorn mare paused for a moment to examine the wailing of her little friend. Her naturally red eyes looked the scene over carefully and could detect that the pony was indeed crying with the most sincere tears she could probably muster. Asteria blinked her eyes as she thought the situation over, her tall cloaked form lightly shifting beneath her cloak as she thought up a rationalization to make to her younger counterpart. "Lady Sapphire, the children tease you because they are insecure about their own abilities. Some fear that you may be assigned a more diverse set of skills than them and they believe that you are currently less skilled than them. Their estimation is poorly conceived though because your innate skills are currently undefined, giving you unlimited potential until the parameters of your skills are more clearly defined," she explained in a rather objective manner, not exactly stating that the earth pony was superior or inferior to her mean peers. This explanation served only to further confuse the young filly, causing her to weep at an even greater degree. "But what do I do about it. They never stop teasing me," she snorted in a sad tone, not sure of what to do about the other children. Asteria blinked, not one manipulate the actions of others herself. "Lady Sapphire, if you rationalize that their words lack no merit, they can cause you no harm. They would simply be lying and such actions would eventually discredit themselves. If you seek additional protection from their words, you would need to ask for the assistance of other adults," the black mare explained calmly to Sapphire, her words ringing true, but in such a manner that were not the most comforting. "You don't understand! You're just like them, everyone says to go to an adult but they never do anything. You don't really care about my problems!" the young filly screamed into the ear of Asteria before running back to her orphanage, still crying as she did so. The black mare didn't as much as flinch at the scream, standing up as her young friend fled for home. Asteria's eyes traced the movements of Sapphire, seeing that she was safely returning to her home. "Perhaps I have been ignorant of the needs of young children, perhaps it is inconsiderate to believe that others can adapt to situations in a manner that worked specifically for me. I need the opinion of an objective third party to assist in my diagnosis of her treatment," she reasoned in her mind, Asteria lightly dusting off her cloak with magic as she left the park and entered the vibrant city. The unicorn felt that her response was partially responsible for the outburst caused by the child and she felt that it was necessary to find assistance for the filly within the city. Of course this lead to another question in the mare's mind, who in this town was qualified to teach self defense tactics to a filly. After roaming the city streets in the twilight of the evening, the black mare came upon a flyer for a dojo that helped orphans on the edge of town. The stoic unicorn took a long trip into a mountainous area near town and spotted his dojo. Luna's moon was not out that night, Asteria unable to make out any of the fine details of the manner as she approached the entrance. She knew that martial arts taught self discipline and tactics for defending one's self, the stoic mare carefully knocking on the door of the dojo. She hoped that whomever answered would be able to assist her in the tutoring of her young friend.
  13. Brave Shield practice

    From the album Shorthoof's Scrawls

    Here's some practice work I did on my earth pony Canterlot guard, Brave Shield. He's now answering questions: http://askbraveshield.tumblr.com/
  14. Sara

    From the album ERMERGERD Ponies!

    My friend Sara as a pony, She's a fiery red head lol
  15. Big Macintosh Name: Well, the names Big Macintosh, but reckon ya'alls can call me Big Mac. Some even use Big Red, but plain ol' 'Mac' works too! Sex: Ah'm pretty sure ah'm a Male, last ah checked! Age: Ah'd be grown 'young' Stallion, Eeeyup, an' still very much at mah best condition, too! Species: A proud earth pony - A real 'Salt of the earth' kinda pony, an' wouldn't change that for anythin'! Pelt Color: Looks to me like a nice apple red...heh, s'pose life jus' kinda has a sense of humor that way, eh? Mane/Tail/Markings Color & Style: Ah'd hazard a guess at A kinda weird brownish blonde...Ah'm no arty pony, though, so s'hard to say. Did you just ask how Ah Style mah mane? Pfft, this is an apple farm - Ah got no time for fancy manestylin's! Ah prefer to jus' go out rough'n'ready in the mornin's, an' it works for me! ... Well, okay...Mah tail *is* trimmed regularly t'keep it outta the way of mah workin' on the farm, but that's it for me! Eye Color: Heh, whaddya know...Gala apple green! Cutie Mark: Well, it's half an apple - but that don't mean I put half-flanked effort in, let me tell ya'all now! Physique: Workin; on the farm can give a stallion quite a workout...Now ah don't like t'toot my own bugle, but Ah'm quite the stocky male - certainly don't think there's many ponies who look quite like ah do, even if that's just my say so! Origin: Well, what'm I gonna say here? Born n'raised on the apple family farm - didn't know much else beyond what the ol' folks wanted from us...sure, ah went to school an' got an edumacation there, but other than that, pop wanted me t'follow in the family ways, way even before applejack was a twinkle in an eye. Ah worked mah rump off alongside pa an' ma an' helped buck apples from the trees, tended to the other crops we plant now an' then, as well as helpin' around wi' anythin' else they wanted me to do at the time - when they finally retired to other pastures new, ah offered up to take over the general maintenance of the farm in their stead alongside Applejack...an' it's been runnin' jus' fine ever since - minus a few l'il hiccups here an' there, o'course! Ponies ask me about mah cutie mark a lot for some reason - well, Ah'll say this much about it:- Ah was brought up as an apple farmers son, on an apple farm, plain an' simple. Ah've Been buckin' apples for jus' about as long as mah hooves could be on the ground an' keep me up, so it wasn't any surprise t'see that on one day when ah was asked to buck a full day on mah own, Ah did it fast an' I did it better than anypony coulda seen comin' for a youngster mah age. Ah get back to the farmhouse, an' on mah rump it turned out that the hallmark of the apple family, an apple-centric cutie mark, had appeared. Eeeyup, it's not big or fancy as a story...but that's how it happened! S'just the tale of a pony who took up the mantle his family had born him into. Heh, Sorry if that ain't excitin' or anythin' for ssome of you ponies, but that's the way life slices the apple sometimes! Roleplay Type: Mane RP, Ah reckon! Occupation: As ah said before, mah role is the general upkeep an' workin's of Apple Acres - anythin' that Applejack doesn't normally take care of, you'll usually see mah rump taking care of. Eeyup, She's a real trooper, that one - but a mite bit stubborn at times! Motivation: Mah motivation, ah guess, is to keep th'farm runnin' right up 'til ah'm old an' grey - the ponies in ponyville buy a lot of our apples, an' it's a major source of both food for them as well as bein' our vital source of bits. As for mah own motivation...well, The thought of the farm bein' left to rot is a notion ah don't like to entertain if it can be helped, so mah personal goal is t'just do everythin' possible t'prevent that from happenin'. As for anythin' else beyond that, Hmm...Ah guess I'll jus' keep mah options open for right now... The future's still a'comin regardless either way, after all! Likes: Well, for a start Ah like books - Jus' cause mah life is on a farm doesn't mean ah don't try an' get cultured. After that, I reckon ah'm a big fan of music, alongside a good healthy dose of applebuckin'...some ponies may see it as hard work, but for me there ain't nothin' more fulfillin' than knowin' ah can buck them apples down hard an' fast! { An' perhaps ah have a bad habit of makin' bad apple-related jokes sometimes - but secretly, ah kinda like doin' it! } Dislikes: Ah don't much care for lazy ponies - it can irk mah nerve when somepony shirks their work...heck, ah've even shooed off that pegasus from Ponyville a few times - ah think her names Rainbow Crash...Oh, wait - Rainbow Dash...from atops a few trees before when she's taken a snooze up there whilst on weather duty. Also, mah sister Applejack can be a l'il hotheaded - ya'all saw what happened a while back when she tried t'take on the whole apple orchard, so ya'all know what she can get like! Bad apples, too - ah'm not fond of when bad apples ruin things...an' you can take that as figuramatively as you want! Character Summary: Ah'm a fairly Stoic Stallion, for the most part - ah let actions tend to speak the loudest for me...sometimes ah guess it's pushed too far, 'cause it was mah overworkin' that led to that whole injury (That's mah story anyway, an' ah stick to that!} Tried t'keep an eye on mah personal pacing after that, but ah jus' don't like t'be inactive for too long...bein' a workin' farm stallion, there's usually somethin' for me to be doin'. 'Course, if there's somethin' for me to say, Ah'll let it be known - ain't no point bottlin' the important things up... Overall, mah life is pretty good - ah keep an eye on Granny Smith as well as l'il apple bloom...an' with lookin' after the pair of 'em alongside Applejack, as well as lookin' after the farm, ah guess mah hooves are pretty full at times. But Ah'll always remember the phrase mah pa' told me as a young colt...an' it helps me keep mah bearings! " When life hands y'apples, make apple juice - Everythin' works out for the best in time if ya work hard at it! "