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Roleplay Type: World of Equestria Name: Jiang Fēngbào Sex: Male Age: Adult Species: Longma Eye Color: Deep cherry Coat: Sangria reddish blue Mane & Tail: Berry blue Physique: Keeps himself in shape, tall and fit, with a presence and manner that show very well his royal upbringing. Residence: The Imperial Palace in Huangjing. Occupation: Prince of Long Guo, though one not as honored as others of the royal family. Cutie Mark: Storm clouds with a sword or jian overlaid on top. Unique Traits: Observant and with a sometime piercing sense of humor that can both bring as smile to the face as well get one to consider. Often sparking with an idea and with a swiftness in finding a solution to a problem. Can tell when a storm is ready to move in, whether it is thunder or just rain. History: Jiang doesn't discuss his mother or her side of the family with others, given the shame she brought and what she tried to do. He was just lucky that the Emperor didn't blame him for it she did, being so young, and allowed the colt to stay a part of the royal family. Despite this kindness, which he was eternally thankful for, it wasn't until later that Jiang will consider this being part of the reason why he was passed in becoming heir to the throne. Though he wouldn't learn the details of such until later, it was through pressure from her family that the young widower sought out the attention of the Emperor. This because of their desire to gain control of the throne. Yet they failed in removing him before, their plans of assassination coming to light before meeting fruition, and their punishment quite severe for their treason again the Emperor. Jiang was never able to see his mother again nor was he ever told exactly what happened to her. Jiang had no idea where he'd be, if it wasn't for having the Emperor as his father even if their familial connection with due to marriage. Though given all that had happen, colt when young found himself to be quite sensitivity to criticism, especially in connection to or mention of his mother. This was a flaw that couldn't be ignored, as such defensiveness and even upset came at the disapproval of the Emperor for such behavior even if he could see where his son was coming from. Yet time goes on and, understandably, the Emperor remarried and the royal blood continued. with Jiang admittedly finding himself at times jealous and frustrated with the lack of attention, though the colt understood that he couldn't take it out on his new sister in law nor her twin brother. Because of this, he at first tried to avoid Yù Yuè but then found himself drawn to her once she started getting a bit older. He try to keep serious and quiet but couldn't help but smile at times while watching her. Eventually, he even found himself playing with her and spending more time with Yuè as well at times even Lián. Taking up the role of an older brother to them and gaining a fondness for the young filly in particular, despite the them not being related by blood. Even though deep inside Jiang felt bothered by his situation, he didn't blame his younger siblings for such. He even took a more protective interest in Yuè, knowing how many desired the throne much more then he did and might do anything to gain such. As they grow older, Jiang take a more playful or teasing manner with Yuè and even joked around with Lián though usually when there wasn't many others around. More, he made it clear in little ways that he'd be there if she needs somepony to talk to or simply have some company, that the he'd provide a listening ear and friendly advise. That while he may good naturedly annoy her at times, he does it not out of ill intent but because he does cares. That it was his wish for her to be happy and to stay safe. That he'd come to show her kindness, becoming her friend and ally, as well offering protection from those who may try and do her harm. In how Jiang gained his cutiemark came at the surprise of both himself and others, during the night of a sudden and unexpected storm which came fiercely. Causing much damage and with many harmed. With the young stallion helping where he could in forming barriers and rescuing those in need, showing bravery and concern for those in danger despite how he had so often not involved himself or socialized as much as he could. Once the storm had past, with a few scraps for his trouble, and things had come down is when it was seen that his cutiemark had been gained. Though he was never admittedly as close with Lián as his sister, given the time he spent with their mother, the two did get along and Jiang would from time to time invite him to have a drink with him or hang out. Now that Yuè was the Empress, he keeps an eye on those seeking the throne, those who may be fair more willing to do anything to gain the throne. That when Yuè was chosen, the stallion was one of the first to bow his knee. One of the first to show his encourage and approval despite the surprise of many that the old Emperor made such a decision. Yuè was the Empress and he'd offer his quiet support, no matter where life may take them. Apart from the twins Yuè and Lián, the stallion really didn't have any friends or those that he felt close to except for the late Emperor. Jiang so often simply kept more to himself, being more approachable given his demeanor and of how the actions of his mother and her family effected him even into adulthood, yet if one approached him and offered their friendship the longma wouldn't turn them away. Instead he had focused on his education, reading and enjoying music, or keeping a watchful eye on his siblings. Personality: Generally calm and quiet, though he does have certain things that can set him off and show his temper. This largely being when discussion of his mother or her side of the family comes up, or if any speak ill of the late Emperor or his sister the current Empress. Still, he also tends to try and keep a smile on his face, with a light hearted demeanor. Not as serious as many of the royal family, given how the stallion feels he has little reason to try and stand out, the stallion is one more likely to get into trouble or mischief. More, he can reveal himself to be one who enjoys teasing and showing a more playful side around friends or family, but less open with strangers. Those who get to know him will learn that he is one very loyal to those he is close to and cares about, with a lot of passion often kept hidden. He takes enjoyment of music, literature, and walking the gardens or exploring the quiet or beautiful places of Long Guo when given the chance. His greatest motivation is making sure Yù Yuè stays safe and unharmed, to be a support to the mare.
Thunderbuck posted a topic in Writing DiscussionLady 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.