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  1. The Night Courts of Canterlot were an unusual place indeed. These proceedings were more subdued, calm, and held a certain peacefulness that made Stormstride feel more at ease. Though given her escort, the minor noble was likely one of the few ponies feeling at ease. Nobility often had their own private honor guard, which was nothing new. What did appear to be new was the fact that Stormstride's Honor Guard were wearing armor made of a black, non-reflective metal, and adorned with antlers, horns, and what looked likes claws and fangs of dangerous and wild beasts. There were even a few dragon claws attached to the helm of what was her captain. They were quiet, but their faces were hidden behind full helmets, their full bodies covered in chainmail, furs, pelts, leathers, and plated armor that made them look like walking amalgamations of monstrous magically crafted metal golems and wild animals combined. Clashing with that was the mare herself, in a simple white satin toga and golden crown made in the shape of lightning. Maretonian nobility by style and design, and the way she carried herself as well denoted that same are that Maretonian Unicorns carried. The self importance and pompousness many of them had was there, but to a much less degree. The only thing about her that stood out as strange were the shoes on her hooves. One could see the gleaming silver metal, and the mounting screws driven into her hooves, permanently mounting those shoes to her. On her neck hung a simple silver charm, cast with the family crest of her house. The mare's emerald green eyes stood apart from her mottled gray and dark gray mane. The silvery streaks blending in her mane twisted with the dark rolling grays, creating the look that her mane, tail and coat were made of rolling storm clouds, and beset with two gems for eyes. The deep and long scars on her chest, left cheek, and left front leg were visible. This mare was no stranger to combat. However it seemed she came not to pick a fight. Instead when it was her turn to speak she came forward, produced a scroll with her credential and then spoke in a tone of both respect and dignity. "Your highness, Princess Luna. I have come before you to request your advice and assistance on a matter dear to my family and our home. As many here are aware, I, Stormstride Cloud am not within good standing within Equestria. That being said, I hope that that will not taint the request I wish to place before you. My daughter has..." She paused, to glance around as if checking to see who was watching before continuing. "My daughter has stopped dreaming. In fact she has not had a dream in many years. I have tried my own magic to help, and sought the help of others in my own lands. However, this is something that we can not understand, nor can we treat. This lack of dreams has brought my daughter a lot of anguish as of late. She is of the age she wants to attend a more focused school. Centering around her talent in cooking. She has several selected here in Equestria and a few in Maretonia. But she has become depressed because she is very different." Stormstride took a step closer, and spoke in a whisper, "Please. I know Your sister loaths ponies like myself, but do not hold it against a filly barely out of her foalhood years. She's already deaf. She shouldn't have to suffer this too." Despite the looks and jeers of a few of the Canterlot nobility that knew of Stormstride's reputation and her previous deeds or misdeeds as they would refer to them, the mare before Luna was sincere in her request. She did not make a show, but she was almost begging for help. This was in honesty a mother seeking help for their child. And so it seemed Stormstride had no other choice but to come to Equestria to seek help.
  2. Princess Mane Test

    From the album OC Art

    I seem to be getting a lot of inspiration from random snippets of Discord conversation, nowadays... The topic of princess manes came up in a channel (you know, flowing, magical mystical type manes that Celestia and Luna have) and I got curious about trying to design one myself. Not on a princess, just on a regular pony. Wanted to differentiate it from Celestia and Luna's style, but it was surprisingly difficult to come up with a unique design. Because, well...how many ways can you do ethereal, perpetually flowing hair that doesn't end up flowing in gentle waves? Something fiery that sticks straight upwards I suppose, but I wanted princess-y. Ended up with this design that I really like - the idea is the the top portion of her hair is sort of wrapped around towards the outside while the inside, flowing parts come forward. Not super important, but that was the idea behind it. I like how it turned out - another on the list for that theoretical adoption thing that I always mention but never get around to making, because lazy.
  3. From the album OC Art

    I'd always wanted to draw a MLP-style european unicorn, because I've always liked the look of them (deer-like, lion's tail, etc). Plus, a discussion in one of the Discord's chatrooms got me wondering if I could manage to color "oil spill" hair, which is basically a color palette meant to mimic an oil spill. Those two ideas eventually led me to sketch and then color out this design. Killing two birds with one creative stone! Overall I like how she came out, especially considering I was kind of experimenting with both the bodily design and the color design. She might end up on that theoretical list of OCs for adoption that I've always meant to put up, since I have no immediate ideas or plans for her. On the other hand, I do like how she turned out, so I might end up apping herself. For...something or other, I'm sure.
  4. Bevel... Again.

    From the album The Character Corner (Color!)

    Did another bevel avatar, might use this one soon.
  5. Aegis Ura (Ready)

    Roleplay Type: World of Equestria Name: Aegis Ura Sex: Female Age: Mare Species: Unicorn Eye colour: Golden yellow Coat: White Mane/Tail: Dark grey Physique: Fit body built up from traveling, but more willowy and tall as well. Yet perhaps not as strong as many, given her focus more on scholarly pursuits or the social aspect of her employ. Residence: Neighpon Occupation: Gaikoku Bugyō (Ambassador) Cutie Mark: A golden wheel with two black half circles on either side and two additional wavy lines, a symbol related to the gold crafting taught to her but connected to her talent of finding beauty where it is not expected.* Unique Traits: Wears a decorative gold piece of jewelry which fits fully over her horn, giving the initial impression by some that her horn is gold. Her legs are stripped, if faded and not as distinct, revealing zebra ancestry. Speaks her native language fluently, yet with a certain exotic quality that some may pick up on. Gifted singer with a beautiful voice, as well skilled in jewelry making and gold craft. History: Born to father native of Neighpon, yet her mother a native of Equestria. Notably, that of Los Pegasus, with the two meeting by chance as her father was traveling there on invitation during his stay in Equestria for diplomatic discussions. Princess Celestia being unavailable for a couple of days, so the offer for him to enjoy himself. He met an mare there whose zebra father ran a jewelry and gold making shop, passed down many generations. They came to get to know each other in his time at Los Pegasus and he offered for the mare to go with him to visit Neighpon. For the mare to see his homeland as he had over the years gotten to know hers, and with her father's permission she agreed before falling in love with Neighpon. Choosing to move there permanently, they were eventually married. The mare took the time needed to learn of Neighpon's culture, while also setting of a shop much like her fathers while adapting the designs of the jewelry and gold crafts mixed with the styles of her new home. These crafts and jewelry becoming quite well known, though she had to find one take over many of the responsibilities of her profession on becoming heavy with foal. Once born, and seeing that she was a filly, they agreed on the name Aegis Ura though the name wasn't that of Neighpon but of the mother's homeland of Equestria. The filly will grow, often getting into trouble but eventually coming to learn the proper behavior expected of a mare. She took to reading, and history, both of where she was born as well that of her mothers. She even learned of her grandfather and of his more Egyptian heritage. From her father, she came to learn more of his own work as the Gaikoku Bugyō of the Shogun. She would gain her cutiemark, in fixing and shining up a broken old heirloom the owner didn't see beauty in. Yet, more then that, in explaining its significance and history, in offering that which they didn't know about their ancestor connected to it. Later, Aegis also discovered she had a natural gift for singing and melody with a voice that surprised many in her youth. Aegis would learn many languages, even singing for guests of her father in their native tongue. Yet the path she wished to follow was that of her father's hoofsteps, seeking to become the Gaikoku Bugyō, and would pursue the education that best helped prepare her for such as well working in the Office of the Ambassador. She placed herself in social situations, first observing and then learning by the example of her father. Yet Aegis also found that her calm and friendliness, even a disarming playfulness, actually worked better than simply mimicking her father's way of doing things. The mare will get a job at the Office of the Ambassador, which gave her the experience required. Once the time was right, and she had served for four years in the Office, it was with her father's recommendation that she was chosen by the senior members within the Office that she'd take his place once he was no longer able to fulfill the duties of his position. Thus Aegis came to work hard to prove herself, going to events and spectacle that called upon her attendance or meeting with those that came to Neighpon. Yet placing such on hold to mourn the passing of her father once his age overcame him. She, along with so many others, paid the stallion the respect and honor he deserved for his services with even the previous Shogun and her son there personally to pay his respects. The mare making sure to be by her mother's side and once the day had passed continued on the path she had chosen, perhaps a bit more sober and serious as time went on. Yet it seems she would not be the only one to suffer the passing of a beloved parent, with the passing Shogun and the disappearance of Ryuichi in his grief, his return from the Forest of the Forsaken bringing much relief to his council counting Aegis herself. That, given her own youth, being one the first to accept the new Shogun despite his age with a smile and bow of respect. Character Personality: Able to be serious, yet cheerful as well as she kept firm control of the situations she finds herself in or at least of herself. Dedicated to her duties, especially in figuring out diplomatic solutions to a problem so as to avoid conflict. She has a love of learning and of history, of music and of song, not only of her beloved Neighpon but that of other nations as well. Understands that to best handle a situation one needs to know or figure out those involved within it. Yet with this Aegis may be unable to react quickly or properly to sudden changes in such. With a likable manner that many will find charming, a cunning yet unassuming way with words which disarms, as well a calming presence that allows for even the hottest of tempers or stubborn of figures to be reasoned with or brought to consider what is said. This allowing her to better fulfill her responsibilities as the Ambassador to the Shogun, keeping things running smoothly with her homeland and other nations no matter the challenges though that doesn't mean it will always be easy. Character Summary: Aegis Ura is the Gaikoku Bugyō of Neighpon, having served in the Office of Ambassador for many years, her father marrying a mare from Equestria before both settled in the Land of the Rising Sun. A skill diplomat, with much personal charm and amiability which hides how cunning she can be in fulfilling her duties. Generally quite polite and well mannered, she can offer witty replies when the need arises. She is loyal to her Shogun, and not one shirk on her duties though she does spend a lot of time with her muzzle in a book. *For the cutiemark, I completely forgot what it was supposed to be, just remembering it was related to her family's skill in gold crafting and jewelry making. I did my best in describing what the cutiemark is supposed to be, and I ask that you forgive me for not offering more. I will try to contact the one I adopted the OC from to remind me on that detail.
  6. Grace Délicatesse [Ready]

    Art by ButteredRoses Roleplay Type: WoE Name: Grace Délicatesse Sex: Female Age: Mare Species: Unicorn Eye colour: Blue Coat: Gray Mane/Tail: Blonde Physique: Lean athletic build. Residence: Canterlot Occupation: Controls a nearly powerless subsidiary within her family's trading company. Cutie Mark: Scale with coins. Discovered during her studies into business management. Unique Traits: Skilled actress, well traveled, multilingual, good with money, can accurately assess the value of something brought before her, enjoys fencing and enters saber sparring competitions for sport, History: Grace was born into the upper echelons of Canterlot society as the only daughter of a rather distant and unfeeling pair of ponies focused on power and status above all else. Before her birth her parents successfully seized control of most major assets being contributed to a supposedly temporary syndicate of several different companies focused primarily on a sudden rush of imported spices and exotic goods from outside of Equestria. The means by which the takeover had come to pass is buried somewhere beneath mountains of paperwork written in particularly difficult legalese with hidden clauses and loopholes plentiful enough to satisfy a circus acrobat team. The soon to follow folding of the victim companies, acquisition of their remaining assets and fates of some involved did little to deflect questions and accusations regarding the overall ethicality of it all and to this day continues to be an occasional topic of discussion for old rich ponies with nothing else to do. These events left Grace’s family with a near monopoly over most of Equestria’s exotic imports, the crown needing to step in some years later to limit their influence and cut back on their dominance over the market. Regardless, her family was still left as one of the wealthiest in the country and it wasn’t uncommon to see one of her relatives in courts across the land making friends and, more importantly, deals. “Money can’t buy happiness” is one of the first things Grace learned in her early life, it also being one of the few things she remembered clearly hearing from her mother in the short time she knew her. She doesn’t remember her terribly well due to her dying when she was still young from an illness she contracted suddenly during a trip abroad and succumbed to shortly after returning home, but the other memories she has, while brief and sparse, were not ones she considered fond. Days spent being ignored in favor of things deemed more important like meetings and letters scribbled out and addressed to the buyers of the most recent craze involving Griffon artwork or discovered artefacts that collectors from all four corners were willing to sell their families for. The only times she did earn her mother’s attention was when her overworked live-in nannies quit or were fired forcing her to be brought along to wherever her parents were going next, usually dooming her to a boring stretch of time spent in their rented rooms with a personal guard simply waiting to go home. She doesn’t think about her mother today, but she did however still cry when she passed. She can’t remember if it happened more than once, but she can remember that her father did the same. It remains the only time she’s ever seen him shed tears. Affluent Enterprise, Grace’s father, wasn’t known for his softer side. Evidence that it even existed was scarce and considered similar to sightings of mythological beasts. Normally the only emotions anyone ever saw in him was a subtle simmering anger when displeased or a hungry and almost unsettling joy when things went according to plan. It was in the eyes mostly, those windows Affluent could never fully close allowing a peek behind the mask of professionalism he always wore. Grace was rather annoyed to realize she’d inherited these same eyes when she suffered comments over it during one of her careers earliest accomplishments. Way she saw it, they may as well have compared her to a shark that smelled blood in the water. No, Affluent wasn’t known for his compassion or empathy, this holding true even when he was forced to be the only remaining guardian of Grace. To call him a parent would be beyond generous as it was clear early on that he desired not a daughter but instead an heir to what he’d built. Grace grew up with no cherished memories of her father playing with her upon returning home from work, no trips to the fields outside of the city purely for the fun of it and no warm parties where the sole purpose of which was their familial bond. That wasn’t her purpose. Not to him at least. She was meant only to be a continuation of him, a piece that would live on even after his own death. It would be his blood that he would vicariously rule over his fortune and power through when he grew old and it would be his lineage that would be regarded with reverence, his genes the code for success as it carried into the future. To this end, Grace only became useful to him when she grew old enough to begin her studies in full. Her personal tutors were instructed to work over-time in introducing Grace to every facet of finance and trading as well as making sure that proper etiquette and manners become second nature. She took to this quickly and easily as she displayed a remarkable aptitude for business related subjects, the irritated apple having not fallen far from the tree it seemed as her special talent would eventually be revealed to fall in line with that of most of her relatives. The more colorful subjects she was made to master were a bit more tasking however. Acting, wordplay, different languages, personal grooming and fashion, manipulation, lying, cheating, coercing, intimidating, harming, the gamete grew darker the further along she progressed with her training to use weapons in her mid to late teen years. It didn’t surprise her that things had shifted in such a way. The older she got the less naïve she became as to why her family always seemed to have an upper hand in every situation they were dealing in, and it failed to surprise her when she neared adulthood and was being told how to pinpoint the softest part of someone’s back. What did surprise her was just how good she became. Working in business came easy to her, but getting what she wanted out of a deal was almost child’s play after a few years of practice. The way she saw it, people are basically a series of emotional responses that can be easily predicted if you can get an early enough read on someone’s personality. The subtle cues, the tells for when they lie, the sweat that builds when their nervous, the momentary hesitation when presented with an altered deal, the crack in their voice when they respond to an ultimatum. It was almost fun finding these. Sort of like a photographer waiting for just the right moment to snap a picture and capture a moment, Grace waited for just the right moment to strike and end a career. Her skill was indeed impressive, and the moment of victory was pleasant, but it brought no long-term joy for the mare even after proving herself over years of service within Fae Exotiques, the company her father so cherished. Despite a lifetime of being taught differently, Grace still couldn’t help but feel that twinge of guilt, that brief stabbing pain of regret when she allowed herself a moment to assess the damage she’d caused. There are people out there of many races she’d ruined by this point, and what exactly had she gained to show for it? Whatever spoils weren’t strictly monetary were simply absorbed by her Fae Exotiques, so what had she really gotten out of it? Money? Grace didn’t care about money. She’d lived with money her entire life, grown up in a large luxurious home, eaten the highest quality of imported delicacies, been treated to the fanciest of parties where she or someone she knew were a VIP and yet she’d always felt so… empty. All Grace could ever truly show for her work was the approval of her surviving parent and the accolades her extended family would shower her with at every get-together. Approval and accolades for taking when she already had so much. Grace began to find excuses for distancing herself from her family. Primarily she chose to take her self-defense training in using rapiers and cavalry sabers to a more professional level. She turned fencing and dueling into a hobby at which she excelled after many a session practicing against the best. Attending tournaments became a common part of Grace’s life with victories coming more and more frequently as the years rolled on. Travelling went hand in hand with this as she spent a couple of years hopping from place to place keeping up with the various circuits she would drop in and out of depending on what she was doing. She still worked of course, cutting all ties would only work against her desires of isolation and incur the wrath of her relatives, but it became less common for her to be seen in person and more common for her to be known as a name at the bottom of a page. It was only during the most important of occasions that Grace would come back home and deal with things herself and even then, it was only to keep up an appearance of being a part of the company. When Grace finally did return home for the long term it was with little fanfare. Indeed, most hadn’t even known she’d come back until an employee of their Canterlot headquarters caught sight of her enjoying a meal at one of her favorite cafés. She was then immediately contacted by her family and invited to a party they wanted to organize to welcome her back, this also being a perfect opportunity of course to consult her on Fae Exotiques most recent actions, but much to their surprise she refused. Grace expressed little interest in such an event and invited them to simply cut the crap and send her copies of the documents that would have been the real guests of honor for she was far too busy to dance around the issue. And what was she busy with? The funding and organizing of a local festival celebrating culture from both within and outside of the country complete with rare examples of genuine artefacts and antiques of which most would be donated to Canterlot’s museum upon the closing of the event. Her father was furious, though Grace was never able to decipher if it had been because of how he felt it was a waste of both her time and the company’s money as well as an amateurish misstep to not only fail to first consult with him about it but also use the company’s name without his knowledge, or if it was because the antiques donated were part of his own personal collection. Either way, Grace had never before needed to rely on her acting ability as she had when she kept herself from laughing in his face after his eruption of anger. She defended her actions as a PR stunt intended to warm relations and spark interest with potential buyers as well as bring the company name down from the upper rungs of society so that the common pony could hear it for once and see what good it could do, again improving their image. Really, though, she just wanted to screw with him and the rest of her family. What better way to mess with the greedy than to throw their money at the people they deemed beneath them? She was put on a tighter leash after the third time she’d done something like this, or at least as tight a leash as they could manage. She was restricted from using most of the company’s assets without first going through Affluent and her actions when operating within or in the interest of the company were watched more closely now. However, there was only so much they could do. When all was said and done Grace was proven to be a big earner, her words carried weight and her father’s ego ensured she remained the heir to the company regardless. Despite technically still working for Fae Exotiques, Grace manages her own slice of the wealth now by carrying out her own interests and brokering more specialized deals and trades to avoid trouble with her father and others while continuing to reinforce her personal influence and ties with her own clients. All in all, she felt it had been worth it to throw a few jabs at the one at the top to release some steam that had been whistling for a couple decades now. It was only intended to be a joke after all as it hadn’t truly harmed anyone but herself. Those things lost would be replaced, the money spent had been a mere drop siphoned from the sea, and the slap she was given fell on a numb wrist. She had expected as much. What Grace hadn’t expected to get out of these three occasions though was the simple enjoyment of having spent her time and money on something that didn’t purely benefit her family nor force anyone innocent into a truly victimized role. For the first time ever she’d done something that had helped others, a huge change of pace for the mare even if the intentions behind it had been antagonistic towards Affluent at first. Since then she’d looked for more excuses to indulge in what felt almost like a guilty pleasure and wondered what the possibilities could be for someone in her position. It made her uncomfortable to think it, but Grace liked what she’d been doing and wanted to do it more. She is not a good person, however. Once the daydreams fade away and reality returns she knows who she is, what she does, how she does it, and how good she is at it. She knows that no number of bleeding heart pursuits and generous detours will magically change this, that she won’t awake tomorrow a virtuous mare of the people heading a company of honest spice and exotics traders. Maybe someday, but not now, not while Fae Exotiques continues the way that it is and her family keeps in lock step with their mantra of greed being good, a mantra she still felt a disciplined adherence to herself. It would take time to break old habits and find solutions, but Grace isn’t going anywhere even with the growing disapproval of Affluent and his people. She’d find a way. Someday. Character Personality: Cold. Grace was raised to look out for herself and as a result is not a very nice person. She is very skilled in putting up a mask of welcoming warmth when around those she is trying to either win over or convince to do something for her, but the average pony in the street with whom she has no business would rarely ever even earn anything more than a passing glance that would often times be tinged with disgust. Grace can be very selfish and manipulative but, as she started to realize over the past few years, she does not enjoy these aspects of her own personality and is actively trying to improve her own outlook and behavior. As such it's no longer impossible for her to tolerate being engaged by another and, if the stars aligned, may even be willing to form a friendship. Under her harsh exterior is a mare, after all, and when more relaxed Grace can make for a wonderful conversation partner on many different topics. Grace also has issues in controlling her anger in the sense that she was taught and is willing to not only fight back against those that have wronged her but also pursue them until she is sufficiently satisfied with the damage inflicted. Character Summary: Grace is the only daughter of a very wealthy and powerful pony named Affluent Enterprise. Affluent is the primary owner of a business focused primarily on importing and trading spices and exotic goods. Grace was raised to be an heiress to this business and was educated and trained to have a strong understanding of both legit and illegitimate business practices including illegal means by which to secure an advantage when dealing with others. Despite her upbringing and personal enjoyment when she succeeds with these tactics, Grace wishes she could help others using her money and resources and has on occasion done so to satisfy her whimsies. She currently day dreams about turning the business around and making it something that can do some good in the world, this being something that often puts her at odds with her family. To sum her up in one sentence: Grace is a bad person that is trying to be better.
  7. Since most of my threads are winding down, I figure I have place on my plate for one new one. I look at this one more toward the underbelly of what most of us think of in the world of MLP. The secret backroom deals of political rivals to keep things going in their own favor; while keeping the common pony as in the dark as possible. I am also a romanticizing player that loves a good old fashioned Mafia Novel. Gangster ponies with fast carts and quicker tongue outrunning the law with stolen goods; fully suited and dressed up true gangsters that front their activities in proper tax paying businesses and fly low under the radar of the detectives pursuing them. To that end, I want to make a thread that includes politicians, nobility, crime ponies, common ponies duped into running errands without a clue about their true nature; and a long assortment of other crime genre related Dick Tracy style things. Are there any players interested in this sort of thing? I would like to make it a long running series of RPs that are fast paced, and active with a post a day sort of mentality.
  8. Roleplay Type: WoE Name: Sombra Sex: Male Age: Stallion Species: Umbrum Unicorn Eye colour: Pony: Green pupil, white sclera Hybrid: Red pupil, green sclera Coat: Charcoal Grey Mane/Tail: Ink Black Physique: Muscular/Draft Pony Build Pony: When in his proper form the Umbrum king is larger than the average unicorn. His limbs are thicker and his face chiseled giving him a rugged, handsome visage: chin solid and head always held high. His mane is slicked back and held in place by his metal circlet which also acts like a guard for his horn and a helmet for his skull. Over his back he wears a red cape of velvet inlaid with white fur. He also wears a set of solid sabatons that cover up to his knees. Hybrid: When manifesting his Umbrum powers his mane and tail become a swirl of shadows and his eyes are swallowed by the emerald hue of his pony pupils whilst said pupils take on a scarlet color. The excess pressure of his magic bleeds from the corners of his eyes creating an ominous aura that flutters when he breathes. In this form his horn is coated by red Crystal and the sides of the crown manifest spines formed by his shadow magic and his sabatons become plated. Residence: Crystal Empire Occupation: Wandering King Cutie Mark: None Unique Traits: Dark Magic: This magicform comes in many categories and typically manifests in a hazy, purple aura. For Sombra he uses the magic to twist his environment and forcibly change and pervert objects from their original form. This generally manifests in objects as malformation or twisting of structures and occasionally in ponies as sombre emotions which makes it easier to turn them into dark crystals. Crystallokinesis: Also known as Crystal bending this ability allows him to alter, create and shape natural crystals into any shape of his choosing. When using his positive emotions the crystals are a bluish-white hue and when using negative emotions they take on a claret coloration with purple shading. Illusion Magic: While a simpler spell in his repertoire of skills, this is one of his few abilities that isn't assisted by negative emotions. His magic allows him to cover his surface form to assume the shape of another pony, but also allows him to generate an altered environment in which to confuse his enemies. Pathokinesis: Also known as emotional manipulation: the shadow King has the ability to destroy a pony’s positive emotions, relative to the strength of his own negative emotions. The more negative emotions he has, the stronger his ability to alter another's emotions is. Umbrum Powers: His Umbrum powers only manifest when he pushes his negative emotions to the front and he takes a hybridized form that is intimidating and has the ability to darken positive emotions as well as completely destroy them. Hexing: Manifesting his negative emotions into energy he can hex, or curse, ponies and his environmental. The strength of the hex is equal to the measure of his negative emotions. Enhanced Regeneration: Being an Umbrum the stallion has the ability to regenerate from damage faster than the average pony but less when compared to an alicorn or higher being. Unicorn Magic Suppression: Quite simply put he can suppress the magic of unicorn. The magic has to go somewhere when suppressed so the Crystal king absorbs it. The amount of magic he can absorb is relative to his negative emotions present. Incorporeal: He has the ability to become a shadow. When incorporeal he is immune to any and all physical and damage. In return he cannot generate any physical response himself though he can still move as he is a spectral ball of shadow magic. He can only manifest this form using his negative emotions. History: Sombra’s history is best known from when his name was written into the annals of history over a thousand and more years, an event which had caused the great Crystal Empire to vanish from the written maps of the time. It was not until the Empire woke from its slumber did the true measure of his influence became known. With no memories of the times before his rule there were none who could remember the beauty of the empire he had destroyed nor could they recall the stories of his youth. Deep in the Crystal Palace's labyrinths Sombra held captive the Crystal Bard whose only duty was to read the old tyrant stories that pulled him back to a time when he was happy and ignorant of the lies that ponies told every day. It made him bitter and frequently reminded him, after the sessions: just who it was that was the fiend... It was the only solace the old king of monsters had from his pain. Long before Equestria was a grand kingdom, long before the Crystal Empire knew it's tyrannical king it was ruled by a unicorn princess by the name of Amore. An all engrossing darkness invaded the kingdom. The scourge were called the Umbrum and they invaded the Crystal Empire with the intent to consume all of his light and goodness. As a result the princess created the Crystal Heart to destroy the hoard’s advantage in advancement. Sealed away these incorporeal shadows created Sombra, giving him a physical pony form in hopes he would one day free them. He was found as a colt in the frozen wastes of the North outside of the Empire. The only word he could speak was Sombra, and thus the name was given to him. He grew up amongst the Crystal Ponies, different, but resilient. He grew up in an orphanage with his close marefriend. In this he learned all any pony would from schooling to his magic. Sombra went with his friend saved up gems, over time, to participate in the Crystal Faire, an event where Crystal citizens powered up the Crystal Heart with their wishes. They had gone to the Palace, days before the Faire began something may see the Crystal Heart which is told to hold the future of a pony on it's surface. Gazing upon the Crystal and seeing his horrific future: Sombra was struck with fear. Having sensed his pained emotions Princess Amore told to him that his future could change. Upon the arrival of the Faire Sombra was stricken with illness and,more concerned with her friend: the mare stayed beside Sombra. But it did not stop there. Each passing year before the Faire his pain would become worse until the colt began to crystallize and fall apart. Using her magic the mare healed Sombra from the brink. In his friend's act she gained her mark and it solidified the fear that there was no changing their fate as she was a step closer to her vision and do was he. Fleeing from the realization he made way into the snow deserts of the North. While roaming the barren wastes he happened upon a shattered, red Crystal calling itself his mother and told him the truth of his origins. The purpose.of his life was to destroy the Crystal Heart lest it destroy him first… He would sneak into the Palace to steal the Heart from.its pedestal. Princess Amore caught the young Umbrum in the act and sought to console hs anger, having been aware of his nature and wanting nothing more than for him to do right. In hurt and anger of her dishonesty the Umbrum, who had suffered through years of pain because of the accursed Crystal Heart. Using his powers he crystallizes the princess into black stone. His friend, who had come upon the scene, plead for her foalhood friend to stop. But there was no healing an injured heart and he shatters the princess to pieces. He could.not destroy her. Deep down Sombra understood her intent, but it has not erased the hurt, thus he scatter her pieces across Equus. Fearing what he may do, his friend warned Luna and Celestia, of whom she had been training with to advance her skills. Sombra faces the sisters in combat and knowing he would not win cursed the country and sealed it away. When he awoke -- he once again attempted to regain power over his kingdom, but was defeated by Princess Twilight Sparkle: his horn all of which what remained after the fight. After much journey his friend, woken with the return of the Empire, searched for his remaining piece, never failing to believe there was good in him and revived him from his state of nothingness. Sombra sought to take back his kingdom, save his fellow Umbrum and take vengeance and defeat those who has become obstacles, but this time sought aid from others wronged by the Mane Six, even the insect queen herself. Though upon finding out that the King was out to unseal the Umbrum population from its prison, she pulled out of the alliance. The Umbrum only knew how to eradicate, leaving nor a speck of positivity and that meant starvation for her hive. The other allies were defeated one by one until the only left standing was Sombra, who had succeeded in releasing the shadow army. With Discord's aide the Mane escaped their imprisonment and the Solar and Lunar sisters came to face him down once again… but his best friend was injured in the process. This pushed Sombra even further. With his Umbrum army he held the Crystal Heart and kingdom hostage, planning to match through the rest of Equestria’s Heartland. His best friend sought to appeal to the heart she knew still slept in her friend. The Umbrum could not touch the Heart, it repelled them. It was up to Sombra to destroy it. Ah bade him to choose his destiny. That, in the end, it was nopony else’s but his. In the end he found his heart again through the belief of his friend, whom he had failed to protect. In his rage and hurt for his arrogant failures he spent the last of his magic to permanently seal the Umbrum, but in doing so he unravelled his own essence. His friend, the royal sisters, Twilight and Cadence combined their magic to turn him into a new unicorn. His change of heart, or at the least finding it again: allowed him to earn a second chance through self-sacrifice. Feeling he has yet to fully attain his forgiveness he now seeks to piece together Princess Amore’s shards to put the ancient, unicorn princess back together. Character Personality: In his youth he was kind, caring and shy, but becoming the king of monsters had fostered an arrogant attitude fed by the self consciousness of his being Umbrum. Easily hurt Sombra has found in his new state he is much happier, but deeply scarred by his wrongdoings. He retains much of his powers as an Umbrum, thus creating an almost cowering gentleness in fear he may do serious harm to others where he only means to aide. He feels he owes the Crystal Empire a great deal so provides his services when needed, between his journeys to piece together the former Princess. Character Summary: Formerly the King of Monsters, this king was deeply hurt and often held feelings of betrayal and pathos that he conquered the Crystal Empire out of spite and cursed it to a thousand year slumber. He became able to manifest the negative emotions into magic, creating a unique Umbrum Unicorn which allowed him to fight against those that stood against him, but after several defeats and nearly losing the only pony that believed in his ability to change: he sacrificed himself to save the very Empire he felt had betrayed him. He was saved by his best friend and the collective of alicorn princesses, given a second chance which he uses to repent and restore the Empire’s lost queen.
  9. The train came to a stop slowly at Canterlot Station. Caramel was still rubbing her eyes from being asleep a fair bit of the trip, and thus took time to realize they were in fact actually back in Canterlot. As the girls boarded one coach that was sent for Princess Twilight, Stormstride and her party slid quietly into a more common coach that was less noticeable. CaramelCream followed her mother into their carriage, leaning against her softly. Feather Touch gently covered her with a wing like a blanket, keeping her warm as they rode up the hill. It was still early, and most of the residents of Canterlot were just now waking to prepare for the day. Caramel fall back asleep between her parents, breathing softly as she let them hug and hold her to them dearly. Too much had happened in recent times for the filly to actually process and become accustomed too, and sleeping was her way of accommodating all the information she had been bombarded with. Twilight and the girls had begun discussing softly the plans for the party, setting Rarity to task making a little princess party for the filly while tasking Pinkie and Applejack with the foods. Pinkie had taken time to talk to and get to know the filly on the trip, and picked out a cake to make. Applejack was making party foods from fresh fruit, providing the ponies present with a bit of variety though with a more healthy selection in mind than just the usual party sweets. Fluttershy tended to setting up some games for them to play, with the help of Rainbow Dash. They set up the races, hopscotch, bag toss, a piñata, and pin the tail. Though, they tried to keep as much of it all in the ballroom as they could possibly. The gardens were restored, and no sign of combat remained, it was still best to not allow the place to be filled with young ponies who might find a piece of metal still left out or missed in the cleanup; as a cut in the hoof could ruin a party fast. Caramel slept on, even as her mother levitated her along between herself and Feather Touch. Stepping from the carriage they looked around at the pleasant morning with clear skies and clean air. They often wondered how it was always like this after every tragedy that happened here, though likely there was magic involved in the cleanup. The pair bowed to Celestia and Luna respectfully as the sister princesses came forward to greet them, though admittedly there was tension in the air. No pony wanted to speak of it, especially with the filly there; albeit she was asleep and deaf. “Lady Stormstride, Lord Feather Touch. Welcome to Canterlot Palace,” Celestia said softly, then she returned the bows and smiled at them. Luna looked at the young filly, her eyes soft and gentle as she watched her dreaming, but left her to the dreams she had in peace. Turning her gaze to the mare and stallion, she could read them just as easily. Stormstride was still full of regret, still mourning her brother in her heart and dreaming of those events again and again every night. Her husband however seemed more concerned for her wellbeing; she could see the movements he made to always keep her in the field of his view, and how he tried to ensure he could step between her and a possible threat. A warrior as she was, she was vulnerable. The guards with them were in plain clothing and carried only ceremonial weaponry. It was meant to display, not to fight and Luna wondered if the short spears they carried even truly had an edge. Though when she noticed Caramel was being levitated by Stormstride, her own magic extended and gently lifted the filly, helping to hold her up for Stormstride. She turned to the side and gave a gentle bow, gesturing with a wing. “Perhaps you would like to take time to rest in a room before the party this afternoon?” Luna offered, to which Stormstride nodded softly. Feather Touch gently kissed her cheek and whispered to her he was going to help with the party while she took CaramelCream for a nap. She kissed back and went with Luna to a guest room provided for them to sleep in. As Luna opened the door for the mare she spoke in a soft voice. “I… understand how you have felt about the upper class ponies of Canterlot. Things are not exactly equal with many of them. You were an honest pony, and a good soldier. I hope that one day, we can make up for what was done to you Stormstride. It was not right, and more than myself feels that way.” Stormy looked to Luna as she lay Caramel on the bed gently. The lunar princess was oft more elegant with words than her sister, even if she did not know it. “It is not that I have wanted things made up to me. I simply could not tolerate the thought that these things were accepted as common place and would continue. Putting an end to them so that there was never another pony like myself was my end goal. I just… didn’t realize that trying to force those changes was what created things like… him, in the first place. I still have the journal. I still make documented notation though now purely for research and benefit of pony kind, both in Maretionia and Equestria. And my goal is the same, that there never be another pony like myself ever again,” she said as she stroked Caramel’s mane softly. “It never goes away does it?” She asked suddenly, looking up to Luna whom already knew what the question meant. She also knew what the answer would mean for Stormstride when it was spoken aloud but she felt it was better to be honest at least “No. It never goes away. You will always remember, and so will other ponies. But it is up to you now to decide how best to use that power. Yes, it can be a corrupting force but seeing how pure your love for your family is and always will be, I feel confident enough you can control the knowledge you have of the dark arts. You must decide if it is a course of study worth looking deeper into, or if you are unwilling to search for answers there any further. Either way, you know you have my support, and I will always be here to answer any questions you have. I too tasted that power and leapt upon it in anger, seizing it as a weapon to further my own goals, rather than realizing it made me a slave to desire,” Luna turned slowly and walked to the door. She paused only long enough to look back and watch the mare slide up on the bed and gently pull her daughter close. Leaving them to sleep peacefully she watched Flashfire take his position outside the room, beside a normal REA soldier. The stallion’s blind, glazed eyes were looking forward, spear in hoof as he stood there silently like a sentinel. Luna had thought to speak to him, however she left it be and ventured down to the kitchens to see how Pinkie and Applejack were faring. Pinkie was baking a lovely cake with extra thick icing, making certain it varied in color and flavor since she knew Caramel had no particular favorite. A soft smile crossed Luna’s lips as she watched the pink mare working. Applejack had a few trays of snacks ready, rather delightfully made in color and shape; all of them radiating the scent of fresh fruits from her orchard blended with treats such as currants, jams, and peanut butter. Celestia was in the ballroom helping to decorate and place the games. Although no pony was certain what sort of dancing Caramel preferred, they prepared several kinds from the noble waltz to the more fun and loud music most Equestrian foals seemed to favor. After all they knew she had lived as nobility for a few years now, and that she was getting to the age where she would be looking to other ponies, and it was possible she might ask for a proper dance. Feather Touch was uncertain himself, as the only music in their castle had been Buck’s playing, and no pony had lifted any sound like it since. Celestia frowned at hearing that, knowing how much wider the hole that his death had left. Blueblood had said that there were no sounds made in the castle the whole time he was there, aside from the light conversations and usual cleaning sounds. Celestia then began to wonder where Blueblood was, she had seen neither he nor Psmith all day. Surely he was not sulking in his room, nor would he be out from the castle today of all days; so where would he be that he was not here to greet his friend and her daughter? The soft clop of hooves drew her attention and answered her question. Blueblood had been to the tailor it seemed, as his suit was freshly refitted. Psmith was not far behind in a new suit as well, and carrying a small wrapped box. Then Celestia noticed they were leading a group of ponies up to the palace. The guests were arriving now, which made her smile. Stepping away, she moved to let the girls take over and show the young ponies the games to play as she ventured to find her sister, locating her easily as she had returned to the window that she was often standing at. Contemplation on her countenance, the lunar mare was silent as her sister approached. Celestia looked out the window as well, looking over that patch of garden with the hedge maze and fountain. It was always a peaceful place, unmarred by anything yet devoid of color and special correlation. A patch where, in the past no pony had tended anything there, just a bare patch in the gardens that could be used for something and no pony knew what. “The guests are arriving sister. Would you like to greet them with me?” Celestia asked softly. She figured her sister would say no; that she was waiting for Stormstride and Caramel to awaken before taking them to the party. However Luna surprised her with a soft smile and a nod. The pair walked down to the ballroom together, joining the girls as they set up the last of everything quietly and told the colts and fillies to go ahead and begin playing, and to leave any gifts on a small side table. There were only a few gifts brought, as Caramel’s list was most short indeed; cookie cutters, beads and bobbles, and bits of shiny jewelry. It seemed she already had anything she could really want, and had just made a list for those that felt obligated to bring her a gift. As they were moving down the hall, they came to the door where Stromstride and Caramel were sleeping. Luna paused before turning to Flashfire, and asking him to give them just a few moments more before waking them and letting them know the guests were arriving. He nodded, and gave a gentle salute before returning to his pose. Celestia thought it odd that he was her honor guard so far from home, and that HeavyHoof, her captain and stand in steward was the other. Perhaps Stormstride had her reasons, or perhaps these two were just on vacation with the family; either way she was pleased to see Flashfire seemed healthy and active still. The sisters carried on back to the ballroom, coming in and instantly the foals crowded around them all bowing or clamoring about how they looked. Celestia had to giggle, seeing Luna look rather startled before she settled into the attention and smiled at them. Luna explained that Caramel had traveled from a land far away and was taking a nap so that she would have the energy to play with her friends. She had not forgotten them and was going to be very happy that so many of them showed up with their parents and teachers. Celestia did a fast count, finding twelve foals, roughly fifteen parents and two teachers; that was actually more than she imagined would show given that the list of guests only had thirty on it to begin with. This was mostly every pony except one teacher that had since moved away from Canterlot to teach elsewhere. Twilight was smiling to the side with the girls, watching and helping where they could. The parents were mostly sitting in a section of chairs set out for them, conversing about old days and how things had changed a bit. The foals were a few years older now, most had their cutie marks and others were still blank, but all of them got along. The district was once more at quiet peace and a few asked about if any of them had actually seem Stormstride the last time she was around. It was then one of the teachers spoke up, stating they had and that she had made a rather hefty donation to the school to afford new things and repair the building. Another parent spoke up, noting how Stormstride had seen and commented to them that the school no longer had a guard posting and the street section was being neglected. Princess Celestia filed those away in her mind for later when she would speak to the commander of that barracks about it. Perhaps there was just nothing wrong and she was trying to please every pony. Celestia felt the nudge of her sister’s wing as she came back to reality. Caramel was coming into the room with her father leading her. She wore her bright ear bows and smiled as she hopped forward to greet her friends again. Celestia and Luna smiled as they watched, feeling the joy in the filly to see her friends again, and tell them how her life was now. Though strangely, Stormstride was missing and so was Cadence and Shining Armor. Luna went to go find them, but her sister gently blocked her path. “My sister, you should stay and enjoy the festivities. I think it is you that our little guest of honor wanted most to meet. You are, after all the princess that would know her best; I will find our cousin and her husband. I have a feeling they are with the Lady Stormstride.” Celestia slowly stepped away, letting Luna join the foals in their party as Caramel invited Luna to a game of hopscotch with her. Celestia did not have to go far, as she found the three outside the ballroom. Stormstride sat upon a bench, catching her breath quietly. Shining Armor was speaking to Flashfire as Heavyhoof was holding a glass of water for Storm. Cadence fanned the mare gently with a wing, helping her cool off a bit better. “Is everything alright?” Celestia asked, coming over with concern for the mare. Stormstride nodded and let out a slow heavy sigh. “She is just tired. Having a foal is a great burden on the mother, so I can only imagine having three at once,” Cadence said which got a chuckle from Heavyhoof and Flashfire both. As Celestia took a moment to kneel beside Stormstride she could tell the mare was alright, just tired and easily fatigued from everything. Celestia understood all too well, and let her rest as she spoke. “Stormstride, even though we see not eye to eye, I want to thank you for allowing us to do this for your daughter. Blueblood expressed to us how much it meant to her, seeing he and Psmith as her uncles. And in light of… what has happened we wanted to at least offer something for your family. I know you likely meant no true ill toward Equestria and only wanted me to feel your pain. However, revenge never begets anything but more vengeance in the end. It creates only a circle of suffering. If you still distrust and loath me I shall fully accept that and make no further efforts to speak to you once your family leave the party today.” Stormstride shook her head softly and sighed as she looked up to Celestia. The mare was looking for the right words to say, something to express her own sorrow and her apologies as well. Celestia let her just take her time, knowing there were things the mare probably wanted to say, and in certain cases spit at her. “It is not you… I had an issue with Celestia. It was what you had come to symbolize. In the lower districts, you’ve become a goddess. Untouchable, unapproachable, unreachable except by extreme means; ponies outside this district, outside that large wall the nobles built to keep out the riffraff that ponies feel unable to even look upon you except the rare glimpses of you at sunrise and sunset when you step out on your balcony. Have you ever see a dirty train worker come to bring concerns of work place safety to your attention? What about a doctor lacking proper access to equipment in the clinic? Under paid, under staffed teachers at the low end school my daughter used to attend? Or maybe the few foals that were living in a hovel up the hill from the school stealing supplies and food to get by. “None of them felt they should bother you with their petty issues because you have a whole nation of problems to run, Gala’s to plan, a school for the wealthy unicorns, etc. Thing is… I never hated you. I just thought I did. I hated what you symbolized to the less fortunate, and I certainly hated anything of the posh ponies that lived inside this district. When I realized I had the blood of nobility in my veins the first thing that ran through me was utter disgust and want to rid myself of it. But then I had a thought; what if I could use that to rip away everything these ponies cared about and give it all to the ponies they looked down their noses at?” Stormstride let it go, figuring the princess could guess the rest from there. Celestia had a fair idea why Stormstride felt the way she had, and probably the tipping point had been the rather nasty divorce that left her bitter toward ponies that bought things, rather than have worked and made them. Miscommunications of the needs of her barracks between misfiled reports, understated urgency of supplies and filing errors because Flashfire was going blind and too proud to admit it compounded issues. Further miscommunications between the leaders of the REA, misinterpretations of the situations in her review and inspection of the barracks, even misrepresentation of herself by how ponies viewed her just further pushed some ponies away. That was something she could not always help, however it seemed Stormstride was looking past that, not justifying her reasons but explaining them and what they led up to. Celestia felt it was better to let a pony work through their own issues, and to express themselves to find the answers they sought. Only then could a pony really call anything they had truly their own. “I was in the wrong, and likely will always be in the wrong. I have the mentality of a soldier, in the body of a scholar. Maybe I have become worse than what I thought of you, maybe not. My actions were unforgivable, even if I didn’t…” Stormstride stopped midsentence as Celestia held up a hoof. “My dear Stromstride, I have long come to understand the desperation of the few that fall through the cracks. You are not as alone as you think you are. You have your family, your friends, and you citizens that stand behind your rule. From what I understand, you have quite the little haven for Pegasus and Earth ponies inside your town. And seeing Lieutenant Flashfire here as a functional member of your honor guard has proven enough that you have undone whatever dark spells you had them under. You have much more to be joyful for than you have to fear. You are not expected to be perfect, and neither is an allicorn princess. We are all ponies, and we all make mistakes, the only difference being that sometimes those mistakes affect more than just the ponies around us. I know you do not want to speak of it now, but before you leave, would you please sit to discuss the matter with myself and my fellow princesses? There is a matter I believe you will find most important.” Celestia did not tell Stormstride anything more, but merely accepted the nod of the mare. “Thank you. Now then, we better get you up and prepared. Your husband is about to have a dance with your daughter and it would be most improper to rob you of your chance to watch your young daughter display her best hoof forward to her friends.” Celestia stood and slowly offered her hoof to Stormstride, which surprised the pregnant mare. The party was lively, and as promised there was a variety of activities and food, the cake was delicious, gifts were given to the filly and she loved each one though; she was partial to the simpler gifts of things like marbles and the little mane bow her Uncles Blueblood and Psmith got for her. As the afternoon wore on into evening, the parents rounded up their kids and thanked every pony for hosting the small but wonderful party for such a unique filly. Luna and Celestia only left long enough to lower the sun, and raise the moon, as Blueblood and Psmith spent time talking to the girls over some juice and a slice of cake. The girls were most impressed with his ability to dance not only the proper waltz with the guest of honor, but her pregnant mother as well. It was after Feather took their daughter to be tucked into bed that Stormstride met with Celestia and the other princesses in the dining hall for a late tea and to talk. The noble mare understood she would likely be made to answer for her crimes as it stood, and her misuse of her abilities against ponies that were still Equestrian ponies at the time. She could never absolve herself of that list of crimes. Adding further salt to the wound, she would like also be forced to speak about what the spell is that killed her beloved brother. Arriving in the hall she found no guards, no servants and surprisingly the girls were absent from Twilight’s side, having opted to leave this to them as Princess Business. As Stormstride came up, Cadence levitated a chair out for her, and helped her sit. Luna opened up the conversation by offering tea and left over party treats. Stormstride sampled them sparingly, her appetite lost as her mind dwelt on the things she worried about. “May I ask… are we here to discuss the crimes I committed, or to discuss my sentence for them?” she asked suddenly, which greatly startled all the princesses. “As well as I am aware, there are no crimes or charges listed against you Lady Stormstride. In fact the only thing I could think to bring against you might be the discussion of how little you eat. Certainly a pregnant mare must need more food?” Luna said. Cadence and Twilight agreed and asked if she would prefer different food. Waving off the question, Stormstride turned that gaze upon Celestia, though this time there was that inquiring look. She was digging for information and Celestia brightened up a bit, smirking as she spoke slowly. “I will answer your question, with another one. Are you still able to cast all of those dark spells now that your horn is mended and your soul cleansed of that evil possession?” The solar mare asked, which almost got Twilight to spit her tea. “Really now Celestia! Such an improper question to ask. And in such an improper manner too. One must certainly have more tact than this! This is not a proper conversation for tea!” The disembodied voice of Discord came from the empty chair beside Twilight before he merely popped into existence there. Summoning his own tea cup he allowed Twilight to pour him some tea and he selected a particularly gooey peanut butter and carrot cracker. Stormstride arched an eyebrow, though his arrival had little more effect on her than that. Twilight seemed very interested in why Stormstride was so calm. Though when the mare spoke, she hinted at something that made Celestia giggle. “You must be the stallion my brother hinted at from one of his trips. Par chance, you have not visited his grave have you? We sent out a notice for you in the manner he suggested to reach out to you if you were needed for something. However we did not believe you had shown.” Stormstride sipped her tea slowly, watching his measured and rather regal reaction. “I have been there. Rather odd, such a large stone box for broken bits of mask wouldn’t you agree? What would he think when he looks upon a grave baring his own name? One should think it most improper for nobility to bury their kin when they are still kicking and screaming.” Discord turned his misshapen eyes on her and met her firm but inquiring gaze. They had never crossed paths before, until this moment and yet they spoke on a level which no other pony seemed to understand and believed they had known each other before. “Discord, are you acquainted with the Lady Cloud?” Luna asked softly. “Not personally no. Though I know her musical brother very well,” Discord purred out as his lion paw twirled in a nonchalant manner. “Given the times we caught him talking to himself and muttering your name, I’m assuming you knew him in ways no other pony did.” Stormstride hid her grin behind her tea cup, but the conversation did catch the attention of Twilight who did not understand the reference. Celestia, Luna and Cadence understood fully, though they noticed Stormstride did not seem to be getting that they were discussing her brother in the present tense, not the past. “I think you might be interested to know, I still know him that well, maybe even better than you know.” Discord said. He watched her eyes narrow sharply, before they widened some and she stared at him hard. She set her cup down and leaned her hooves on the table, as she pushed up slowly and looked him right in the eye. “How?” was all she said. The open ended question was enough to finally coax Celestia into speaking. “We were asking you the same question. Of all our research combined, the spell on the weapon the spirit that possessed you should have separated his life force from his soul and his magic. And yet, all it seems to have done is remove his body. At first we believed it was Discord playing pranks upon us all. Moving mane brushes, leaving apples or other fruits in our pillows or strange books appearing on our dinner tables. Then things began to escalate and grew menacing. At one point we were questioning Discord when a window simply exploded inward with no pushing force behind it. Discord acted to protect Twilight from the falling glass, and then he noticed the existence of a being that seemed to phase in and out of our reality at points,” Celestia sipped her tea as Cadence began to speak. “In the Crystal Empire we had to evacuate a music hall because all the instruments began blaring all at once. Just random noise but at a fair distance it almost sounded like words were being spoken. However it was too garbled to understand, as if it were being spoken through a thick piece of wood.” The Crystal princess set her cup down and then looked to Twilight. “In Ponyville, your brother used to feast on the orchard when he was there. He paid for the apples he ate though, so no worry there. But here recently we keep finding the apples he seemed so attracted too in his bat pony state in my bed. At first it was one or two. But more recently the bed was covered in them. And no pony saw them move. I turned down my covers, moved to my desk to pick up my book, turned back and a mountain of apples was neatly arranged on my bed, covers still turned down. My assistant was right there with me, and he didn’t see a thing. They merely appeared there as if teleported. The orchard is no less than three miles from my castle. That is a long teleport, especially since my friend Applejack knows her apples and was able to match each one to the tree it came from with perfect understanding. They were teleported to their place in the stack, from their spots on the trees.” Twilight picked up a small piece of cake, nibbling as she watched Stormstride’s face. “I have noticed a dark shape flying with me in the night skies. It presents no danger, and causes no harm. But when I notice it and attempt to follow it leads me toward the gardens. The last time, I found a place to land and no sooner did I land than Lightning struck the ground where our battle took place, burning a mark in the grass. That mark was gone with the sunrise, however it was not the last time I saw that mark. Since then I keep finding that mark burned into various places. Always by lightning, and always it is gone with the sunrise. Do you recognize this mark?” Luna lay a parchment on the table, it depicted the radius blade of a lightning bolt in burn pattern. Inside the image of a backward musical note with a bolt of lightning running through it. They had wet a piece of parchment and rubbed it on the wall, copying the burn patter and transferring it to the parchment to show her. “I have had many strange things happen to me as well. When the battle ended, your weapon and the weapon of your brother were never returned to you. They are still held safe if you desire to collect them Lady Cloud, we have already examined them in totality and found that the only enchantments they hold are for self-cleaning purposes. A notable enchantment used by many weapons nobility carry as display. And yet… I frequently find your brother’s sword laid over your scythe on the floor of my bedchamber, as if protecting your weapon from something or someone. No matter where I store them, they always find their way back.” Stormstride was by now fairly certain they were hinting at her brother still being alive yet out of this realm. She set the parchment down and tapped her hooves together. She did not seem as joyous as they thought she would. Her heart was bursting with joy for the fact her brother was not dead. However the question of the matter did not escape her notice. “You were wondering if I could explain how the black magic works, so you can help reverse the spell. That is what you mean isn’t it?” She said, not looking at them, but the parchment. Celestia set her cup of tea down and sighed softly. Well aware how Stormstride felt about using her new found knowledge anymore. She was stuck with it, and had to live with it for the rest of her life. However she loathed using it. Now she was being asked to teach other ponies how it was done. “As much as I want him to be alive, I cannot. What you are asking requires more than just knowledge. It requires death. And if I were not pregnant I would gladly offer my own life in exchange. However, you are asking for something more abomination than knowledge. The ritual alone took me a month to learn. The words are easy, it is the fact you must sacrifice a live pony for the act and they must be a willing sacrifice.” She said as she sat back in her chair. That silenced the princesses, though Discord sipped his tea noisily. Then he nibbled on a cracker with a crunch and made a soft burp, to which he pardoned himself and lightly wiped his mouth with a napkin. Cadence was well aware of how such knowledge would make Stormstride feel, her own coat was crawling at the thought, and a glance at her sister-in-law told her she was feeling the same. However Luna and Celestia were not so shocked it seemed. Perhaps they had come across something similar. “I am familiar with necromancy in many forms. Though I must say, this is the first time I heard of it being a volunteer process. That may be the key there. The spells of this world, even the black ones require a guiding will and force, and the freedom to be cast. Taking the life of another pony intentionally through a specific form of magic like this may just be exactly why this spell requires a living and willing sacrifice to be made. To make up for the fact that the intended target likely does not have the intent to surrender willingly to it and will fight it. However Why did it not work as intended?” Celestia said. “Because Thunderbuck is not an allicorn. Bat pony in part does not make him allicorn. It takes more than a horn and flight to make one an allicorn my sister. The spell was tailor made to kill you, though any allicorn would have done. We could ask him ourselves, however I feel his answers might be less than forthcoming in honestly,” Luna said softly. Stormstride looked up, anger flaring in her eyes as she almost hissed at them. “Why is he still alive?” The minor nobility slammed a metal clad hoof on the table and grit her teeth. “Because we have yet to find a proper means to send his soul to the other side. He would prove too dangerous to leave in Tartarus, and too tempting a target for treasure hunters to seal away in a cave. For now, he remains in the sealed tomb in a secret place here in the palace. Once we can undo the damage he has done, then we can undo the spell keeping him bound to this world. Until then, we have to tolerate his presence.” Celestia spoke in a calm, even tone to sooth Stormstride’s flared temper. She knew the mare likely would attempt to kill the thing and only set it free if she knew where it was. Celestia was wise enough to know when and how to pick the battles she could control. For now, the battle was with Stormstride’s honor and sense of duty. Convincing the pony to help recover her brother was best, though they had to be careful about it. Stormstride was a mare that was pregnant and her magic could become unstable if a foal kicked at the wrong time. However, the first hurtle to jump was her pride, and she was setting the bar quite high.
  10. Firestorm was a gentlecolt of many tastes. One of those tastes was collecting and studying magical artifacts. Not for the purpose of preservation or understanding, though he did turn over his notes to the local magical schools when he made significant finds. No, his interests were more for the expense of a prank at one of his many parties. Firestorm loved hosting parties and gatherings. He loved social gatherings of any kind. He hand a hoof in many things as it were, and loved to bring the nobility and social elite back into touch with the common ponies. He oft hosted parties for any pony he felt deserved them. And the purpose of his studies was to use the magical items as a sort of party joke or game. To which end, his parties were often riots. It was today that he was once more working his personal lab, though the door to the balcony was always left open. He was a lively old stallion. He loved visitors. And always made certain that any pony or other being that thought to stop by was more than welcome. His minimal staff were more like friends to him. His lush garden full of vibrant colors and signs telling ponies to help themselves to any flowers they wanted. He oft cast a look outside to see if somepony was coming. He was tinkering with an amulet today. He did not know what magical properties it had. Aside from the fact it practically radiated magic. His first bit of research was being conducted to determine exactly where and when it came from. When was it created, where was it created, and most importantly, why was it created? Those first three questions were always answered before he began other research. So far he had the when, and where. Though it was vague at best. The amulet was roughly 300 years old, and had come from a ruin located in the mountains outside Canterlot. He had bought it from a traveler, when he detected its magical properties. The traveler was an Earth Pony, and had no sense to tell what it was. Determining that the traveler was a ruin diver, he got him to tell where it came from and mark it on a map. Though at best guess Firestorm figured the pony had been a little less than completely truthful. After all, no pony wanted to give up their treasures that easily. Firestorm took a moment to sit back in his desk chair, spinning idly as he chuckled to himself, thinking up what possibilities it could be. The amulet was a mystery he wanted to solve, but in time. His research so far determined that it was for a noted pony that once lived in that area. But he could not find something as to why.
  11. Heavyhoof watched as Thunderbuck’s party was arriving back home. He could tell they looked exhausted just from the way they dismounted the coach. As the Captain came to meet them, he noticed Buck was without his mask. That surprised the stallion greatly, though being here in the courtyard he was in familiar settings and likely more comfortable. “Sire, welcome home. Was your trip productive?” Heavyhoof asked, and noted the usual hesitance in Thunderbuck’s reply. “Not… so much as I would have liked. They have several unusual instruments, however none that were broken or discarded. They seemed to find restoring them as easy as making new ones to replace them. I was hard pressed to find one that was damaged. Perhaps when I return there next year I will purchase a few to learn how to play them,” Buck said. Heavyhood nodded and looked to the guards, whom seemed just as exhausted. Perhaps they had spent their days partying, as young stallions were apt to do in their unoccupied time and free from their commanding officers. However they saluted their Captain properly enough. Heavyhoof dismissed them to the barracks for a shower and meal before bed. Calling for a servant to take the luggage, the Captain watched as Thunderbuck made for the castle. “Is there something you need sire?” He called out to Buck. Buck paused, turning slowly and a bit of a smile crossed the stallion’s lips but he uttered no words as he continued on into the castle. Heavyhoof knew that kind of coy smile. He had seen it on Stormstride more than once. Thunderbuck was going to indulge in a full massage with the girls in the Lady Cloud’s private bath chamber. Stifling his own snicker of amusement he returned to his post. Inside, Thunderbuck sought out Feather Touch, who was giving lessons to the mares in the bath chamber for the guests. He was teaching them massage techniques to help release tensions, and loosen tight attitudes with scents at the same time. As Thunderbuck knocked, the three looked up. Feather was happy to see the stallion, and even more pleased when he requested a massage. Feather asked if he would let the mares practice on him, and he agreed fairly readily; which surprised Feather Touch a good deal. Buck was normally a very private and shy stallion to say the least, and yet to see him sliding from his vest and shirt as if ready for a massage was most unusual. Something had changed the stallion, however Feather Touch left it alone for now; deciding to ask him about it later. Feather Touch began by instructing the mares where to find the tense spots first and then letting them begin to work. As Buck began to relax and closed his eyes, Feather moved to the side and sat in a chair to observe. It was not long before Buck fell asleep; which began to bother Feather Touch greatly. He had known buck for some time now. Long enough to know this was most unlike the stallion, and he began to have a suspicion. Feather stood and moved to the girls, gently motioning them back and moving to Buck’s tail. He gave a light tap, and got very little response. That settled it, this wasn’t Thunderbuck. Feather quickly sent the girls to go fetch the guards, whom arrived in short order. Heavyhoof lead the group as they leveled weapons at Thunderbuck. As the sleepy stallion opened an eye, he realized he was surrounded with weapons but merely stood and held his hooves up. “Is there a problem?” he asked softly, the voice was the same, but that was not the reaction Thunderbuck should have. They all knew it, and that only angered them further. Heavyhoof gave a jab to the stallion’s leg, which made him recoil and cover a now cut spot with a hoof. Protesting with a few swears involved, which got Feather to raise his hoof. “Who are you, what are you, and what have you done with my brother in law? I know him well enough to know he never gets a massage from any pony but me, he only takes them in his cottage, and he certainly never let me massage near his tail where he couldn’t see. That and he never fell asleep during one before,” Feather Touch was irritated and worried. If something had happened to Buck in Equestria, it could happen to Stormstride. She still had not come home yet. “I am Buck. It is me Feather. Check with my escort. They will assure you I am Thunderbuck Cloud,” the stallion said, standing full and looking at the cut Heavyhoof gave him. He seemed more annoyed than angry or fearful. Feather nodded and sent for those guards, waiting as they were brought. Once they arrived, they were each asked in turn the events that transpired, and the same story came from both. Though when the dates of their day in Ponyville arrived, they both grew quiet. At Buck telling them to speak, they both began at the same time only to catch themselves and Heavyhoof had to bark at them for silence before ordering first on, then the other to talk. The same story left their mouths. ~~~ Twilight was looking over her books, rubbing the sides of her head with a headache. There had to be more than Thunderbuck was telling them, there literally had to be more to it than he just wanted to help his sister. No pony, not even the purest and kindest of hearts like Fluttershy could or would travel alone to the end of the known map with little more than lightly armed escort and minimal supplies to beg help from a princess they didn’t know anything about in a land that likely was not friendly with their own personal beliefs. So what was it that Thunderbuck was not telling her? She had no answer to give, even after pouring over the entire library’s list of work about Maretonian culture, getting as much from Rarity about how nobility of other realms acted; which was not much concerning Kastrot given that it was unicorn controlled and that Buck’s family was minor nobility with their own secrets to hide. Spike had passed out hours ago, and even most of the girls were snoozing at the table in the library. The only one still fully awake at this hour was that guard in Thunderbuck’s room. She had tried to teleport past him, and that ended poorly when she found herself upside down in the tree outside the Inn. Their protective barrier was intense, and would take more focus and specific knowledge of the barrier to bypass; things she did not possess at that time. Add to this dilemma there was a creature stalking the apple farm now, causing minimal damage to the crop but it was intelligent. It avoided traps, even stealing the bait from them as if like magic. Twilight grunted in frustration and moved to the window. Looking at the inn down the way. That was when she saw the guard open the window and let something out. Something big as a pony and it shot right off into the sky. Twilight ran to the door, rushing outside just in time to spot the direction the thing flew; it was headed for the orchard. Without thinking, she flew off after it, though her own skill in the air was pathetic compared to this thing. It was a bat the way it weaved through trees and clouds in the dark of night. Twilight followed it as best she could until she saw it dive into the orchard. Lowering to the ground herself, she began to walk slowly, casting soft glow spell to light her way as she trotted. She could hear it up ahead, devouring fruit like some wild beast. As she drew close, it suddenly went silent which bothered her more. She pondered if it had detected her and began to shake softly. It was ten she came around a tree as a half-eaten apple hit the ground. She gulped, knowing she was about to regret her next action, and slowly looked up. There hanging in the tree over her head was a bat pony with a wild mane and tail, and the same breastplate that Buck wore. He started down at her with green slitted pupils as he gave a curious hiss. Twilight’s ears sank into her mane as her eyes widened in horror. The pony in her town was some kind of monster, and he was stealing AJ’s family fruit. Anger was overridden by fear as she turned and bolted, amid the hisses and screech of the pursuing bat pony. Twilight teleported away, hiding herself in a hollow tree until she was certain she could no longer hear it. Taking a deep breath, she teleported back to the library and yelled for all of them to wake up. Her panicked and mumbled explanation only confused them further as Dash asked for coffee and what time it was. Twilight grabbed Dash by the face and stared deep into her eyes. Almost shouting at her that Thunderbuck was a bat pony and was stealing AJ’s fruit. That got AJ wide awake, and irate. “What?!? What in tarnation was that? You mean to tell me he’s some kind of bat pony and comes out at night to eat up my family’s fruit like some kind of ghost story monster?” Applejack asked as she tipped her hat back and scratched her head. Twilight was frazzled but at least some pony was listening now. “Yes!!! That’s why we couldn’t catch it. It’s not some little animal that can be trapped; it’s a pony that can think, fly and cast spells! Though it seemed kind of confused when I stumbled on it in the orchard. Like it didn’t recognize me or know what I was,” Twilight said, as she rubbed her face. Fluttershy was a mix of terrified and worried. Twilight was not exactly given to exaggeration, as she dealt in purely logic and fact, however given that Twilight had spent several days now without proper rest, eating sporadically, and now seeing bat ponies in the orchard she felt her friend might just be beginning to crack. “Um. Girls… There isn’t anything we can do about it right now. So Um…. Why don’t we… uh get some sleep and try to think in the morning with clear heads?” she said with as much a smile as she could muster, hoping to coax every pony to let it go for now and get proper rest and care. Much to her surprise, Rainbow Dash stood up and agreed with her. Twilight could barely believe it, they were going to let this go over something as unimportant as sleep. But it was the heavy, firm hoof of Applejack that tapped her shoulder and got her attention. The farm mare smiled and nodded, motioning toward the Castle of Friendship with a ‘go on’ look on her face. Twilight softened her expression, levitating spike onto her back gently and moving to walk home. As she passed the inn, she could see both guards awake through the dimly lit window, though with the curtain drawn all she could see was shadows. IT was just the two of them, so Buck must be out feeding still. This might explain his hesitance to offer any explanation about anything. It would put a spotlight on him as well; meaning his secret night life was exposed to the public for ridicule. He didn’t actually seem to pose a threat, and given that he was eating a good bit of fruit a hefty fine could be levied to cover the cost to AJ and her family. However it also seemed he was making efforts to promote trade in town. Is guards had spent a good deal of coin here, and several ponies in town seemed to be warming up to the sight of the armored pair and their charge. They had made no really aggressive moves, aside from warning ponies to stand back from Buck when he didn’t want to be near any pony. They stayed silent and mostly kept out of any affairs. Buck stuck to research in the library when he was not eating or sleeping. The guards only went out one at a time unless they went with Buck somewhere. Turning to continue on her way, she sighed and knew that revealing him publically was not an option. She would have to get more answers from him in private, but the question was how. As she arrived and entered her castle, she smiled and teleported to the bedroom. Levitating Spike off her back and to his bed gently, she covered him up and moved to her own bed. Laying down, she reached for the nightstand, and her hoof touched something odd. It rolled off the nightstand and under her bed. Sighing she got down and reached under the bed with magic, grabbing and pulling it out. IT was an apple, a red, shiny apple of large size and rather exceptional scent. This was certainly from AJ’s farm, but how had it gotten in her room? The breeze that blew through the open balcony door caressed her tail and mane, blowing gently over her flank and back to her ears which suddenly stood on end. She turned sharply, looking at the door that was open, blowing the curtains softly in the breeze. He had been in her room! No… not him, it. That was a thing, not a pony. It may hide in him during the day, using him like a shell or a mask… Twilight stopped, and looked at the apple in her hoof. Was he trying to tell her something he could not openly admit too? She sat to ponder and began by biting into the apple, chewing slowly as she took the time to think. Thunderbuck was a pony unlike most, he was timid, smaller than average and had to have protection with him in the day time. However it seemed at night his guards left him alone to the wilds of nature. Was there more to that bat form than just the ability to fly and a craving of fruit? Could it be that that form gave up intelligent speech, in exchange for physical prowess and flight? That sounded like a curse to Twilight. A curse she would need to understand before going any further. But if it was a curse, she figured he couldn’t talk about it with any pony, and his guards were certainly not going to be giving her any information. It was almost like they resented her presence when she was around them. She had heard from Celestia, and knew that these two were former REA. What could have turned them against Equestria and the princesses so much so that there was no love of their ways left in these ponies? Even more strange was that Thunderbuck spoke with a perfect Equestrian accent as if he were born and raised in Cloudsdale. But he was a unicorn, not a Pegasus, meaning he would have lived on the ground here or possibly in a large flying house held up by similar means to her hot air balloon. Even then, just going into town would have been problematic. None of this situation made sense, as the princesses stood for good and just rulings, freedom from oppression, and equality for all ponies. So why had this one family been able to turn so many against them? And from the indicated missive from Luna recently, Stormstride had managed to prevent even Luna from entering her dreams by active mental defenses. Luna got a nasty headache from the attempt, and had been left rather drained after, though with no serious harm done. There were secrets here that needed uncovering. Luna dared not come to Ponyville to attempt the same on Thunderbuck, unless it certainly draw attention from Stormstride whom was still in Canterlot with her eight fully armored and armed guards. So far, no laws had been broken just bruised egos and a few lightly flung insults that were laughed off by all except the targets. Cadence had been disrespected and shown no love by these three, Celestia and Luna dishonored as being bias toward ponies they associated with regularly by Stormstride and they had to watch as those around them agreed with it as a logical thing, though only in the pretense that it was their judgement of a wine tasting competition, and Twilight was being ignored by a pony seeking knowledge and answers she could probably give if he would be more open and honest with her about the situation. Finishing the apple she set the core on her nightstand and made a small note to ask AJ about the cost of the missing fruit. That way she could send a bill with Thunderbuck back to where he came from for payment, or at least have Celestia extract payment from the obviously wealthy Stormstride while she was still in Canterlot. Blowing out her candle, Twilight lay down to sleep and let dreams take her to a place more peaceful and with fewer headaches. It was almost noon when she awoke to the sounds of AJ knocking on the front door. Spike hurried down to let the farm mare in, as Twilight tried to wake up fully. Applejack walked in and sat to wait in the main hall, looking rather confused as she tried to adjust her hat. When Twilight came to her, she felt the unease in the farm mare. “Now Twilight, I dun rightly know how to put this but it seems to me some pony has been snooping round my orchard this morning. Went out to feed the chickens and get the cows milked, and darn near broke my back tripping over a sack o’ bits so big that I had to call Big Mac to lift it up and move it so I can get to work. No note on it, and I dun wanna take a heap o’ money with no reason. I need help knowing what to do with it all,” she explained. Twilight sat, rubbing her face softly before she tried to fully understand when her friend said. Then it dawned on her and she began to think. Motioning AJ to follow her as she walked, she made her way to the main table and sat in her chair. “Applejack, how much was in the bag?” she asked firmly. The princess had a thought in her head forming slowly, and wanted to be certain before blurting out anything foolishly. “I didn’t rightly count it. But Granny smith said she did and said it came to exactly four hundred and thirty-three bits. She said that exactly covers the cost of all the missing fruit, plus applicable taxes for if we had actually sold it.” Applejack said, still scratching her head. That confirmed what Twilight had been thinking, and she gave a nod softly. Tapping her hooves under her chin, the princess spoke very slowly and asked Applejack to go gather up the girls for an important matter. This was going to take some serious getting planning and likely, something very unsettling that they needed to discuss in depth before action was taken. While she waited, she had breakfast with Spike and took into consideration the following facts: Thunderbuck was under a curse of some kind, Stormstride was undermining Celestia and Luna openly but in a way that made the accusations seem like a harmless and logical means of thinking, Both had come to Equestria roughly at the same time, Thunderbuck had ensured that Cadence was now emotionally compromised and unable to fully help without leaving her place in the Empire and drawing attention, and Twilight herself was being bogged down in proceedings in her own town. These, to her, presented several similarities to history lessons from recent times. Invasion or attack of some kind was imminent and she knew that it was going to be a disaster for the ponies of Equestria if things were not prepared. However, if they made efforts to prepare and nothing happened, it would make the princesses look like nosy worry bodies that were mongering for war when there was none to be had. This was thin ice indeed, and Twilight needed to know more before she could report anything further of her efforts. When the girls assembled in the meeting room, the map did not light up and show anything as they sat in their seats. This troubled Twilight further, as she did not understand why nothing was happening. Friendship was a powerful force and always needed tending to keep it safe. So either something was blocking the Castle of Friendship’s ability to see it, or it was something else entirely. Taking a deep breath, the princess spoke. “Girls, we have a decision to make regarding our guest. As I said last night, he can change form into a bat pony. Similar to what happened to Fluttershy when I foolishly attempted to use magic to alter the fruit bats in AJ’s orchard. However, there was something different about it. Unlike how Fluttershy was during her change, Thunderbuck seems to possess some intelligence. Last night I found my balcony door open and a fresh apple on my night stand. Nothing was disturbed as far as I could see, just the apple. As well, some pony paid Applejack for the apples that were taken down to the last bit. “This makes me believe that Thunderbuck is at least semi aware of his actions in his altered state. And that he may be here for a different purpose than he has stated. His sister is in Canterlot, and if the information I gave you last time we spoke on this matter is any indication, then she has begun her plans. I believe Thunderbuck may be here to help her, but not in the way he claims. I feel as if he is helping her plans, rather than trying to heal her darkness.” The girls looked at each other a moment before any of them uttered a word. This was a serious issue indeed, and that was something that caught Applejack’s interest. “Twilight, I dun know much about politics and government. But I do know when a pony is lying to me. I don’t get the feeling he is lying. I think he’s telling the truth,” the farm mare said softly. Twilight nodded and continued. “That may be true. However it is no coincidence he is here now, while his sister is causing trouble in Canterlot itself. Nothing serious, just words and statements for the moment. But I personally feel that he is not being totally honest with us. There has to be more, because this whole situation makes no sense and nothing is being done to stop it. So we have an issue at hoof. We need more information to prove if he is innocent in her bid for whatever she is doing, or if he is helping her intentionally. As well, it would be a great relief to find that she is just being prideful and foolish,” she said softly. “My darling, what are you suggesting?” Rarity asked. Fluttershy had a sickening feeling in her stomach she already knew. Applejack had the same sensation rising up as Dash leaned in, putting both front hooves on the table. “I am suggesting something harmless to him, something that will cause him no ill effects. A basic level hypnotism spell, one that will coax him into telling us anything he held back the first time I spoke to him. It would be gentle and passive, and wear off after only an hour. He would never know it happened, and would continue on his way as such.” Twilight finished her point and then sat back to hear them out. She expected all of them to burst out with opinions all at once. She was wrong, because what met her words was stunned silence. For almost ten minutes they all stared at her like she had lost her mind, while she sat silently and closed her eyes wait for them to speak. Her thoughts on the matter were settled, but she felt it would be prudent for a princess, especially a young one, to listen to her advisors. It was Pinkie that spoke up first. “I… uh I don’t know about this Twilight. It sounds kind of… wrong. I mean, he hasn’t done anything bad, and even if he did I don’t think we could do that to him. Suppose he is planning something evil, and this told us what he was planning to do. Is there really anything we can do?” the pink mare asked. “I have to agree darlings. This seems utterly wrong in every sense of the word. Even IF he is part of some nefarious plot against Equestria, he has been nothing but a gentlecolt, albeit a strangely quiet and odd one. And as you have said, he was the one that did steal from Applejack’s orchards, did those apples not get paid for? And you of all ponies Twilight, I am appalled that you would suggest something like this. It’s monstrous is what it is.” Rarity’s voice had steadily risen and taken a condescending tone as she spoke. Applejack and Rainbow Dash seemed to agree, though only nodded to the words said and kept silent. Twilight turned to Fluttershy and asked if she had anything she would like to say. Fluttershy just shook her head, fluttered up on her wings and slowly left. Twilight stood from her seat and sighed. “Thank you for your opinions on this matter. I will take them into deep consideration before I make a final consideration on this matter,” Twilight said with poise, but not with pride. As the girls left, they noticed that Twilight did not follow them out as she normally would have. She seemed distant and cold suddenly, as if resentful of them. “Do ya think we were a bit harsh back there?” Applejack asked softly. “Nonsense darling. She needed to hear it as honestly and plainly as possible. I see no reason why it would hurt to be such,” Rarity responded. “Yea but she did look kind of hurt afterward,” Pinkie said. The girls were wandering back to their homes when Pinkie turned around. She started back toward the Castle of Friendship with slow, measured steps; very unlike her usual bouncy walk. “Uh, Pinkie. Sugar Cube Corner is that way,” Dash said as she pointed back toward the town square. “I’m not leaving just yet. I have something I want to say to Twilight first,” Pinkie replied, using a tone they knew she only used when it was a serious matter to the pink mare. The rest continued on their way home, leaving Pinkie Pie to her business. Pinkie entered the castle, finding the quiet disturbing. As she walked back to the table, she found it silent and cold, as if it were ignoring her presence. Taking to the stairs, she climbed slowly before coming to Twilight’s room, and drew up a hoof to knock. But she stopped, upon hearing a familiar twinkling sound, a sound specific to only one pony; the sound of Twilight’s magic being cast and she could not let her do this! Pinkie burst into the room screaming at Twilight to stop. Twilight jerked and in her surprise her spell was cast too soon, unfocused and unprepared with only a target in mind. Pinkie watched in horror with Twilight as that spell shot up, arched a path around Dash and a few other pegasi, and shot down right into the open window in Thunderbuck’s room at the Inn. Thunderbuck had been dozing, trying to settle down after a longer stretch without sleep than he had planned. His transformed state has taken time to place a single apple in Twilight’s room, a gift of good faith as it were that she would keep his secret. The bat pony was not a monster, for it thought and felt emotion, though on a lesser degree than most ponies. It could reason and knew of its own existence. But it could not reason with words, only the hissing chirps of a guttural animal. It was as he dozed that a bolt of magic punched a hole through the very barrier his guards had put up over the partly open window that his eyes snapped open. However his reaction came too late to spare him the blow of the spell striking him right in the face, knocking him from his bed and to the floor with a resounding thud. Instantly both his guards were at his side, checking to see if he were harmed in any way. As he slowly stood, they noticed the fire in his eyes, the grit of his teeth as a pony that was angry and ready to fight. This was most unusual and they stepped back, asking what was wrong, while levitating their spears to their sides, lest he take his sudden and uncharacteristic rage out on them. To their dismay and to the fright of many ponies outside that had heard the commotion he burst out the window, horn ablaze in crackling blue and swirling greens. “WHO CAST THAT SPELL!” he shouted as he projected his voice using magic into a thundering boom that was heard as far as the Everfree Forest and high as any Pegasus pony was flying. IT even cracked several nearby windows. Twilight teleported into view and sternly gazed at him. But as she opened her mouth to speak, his horn arched and flung a spell right at her. She was so stunned that she did not even realize what was happening until Rainbow Dash ad swooped in and plucked her from the aim. The spell struck the earth where she had stood, turning the soil a soft pastel orange in a very messy splotch like pattern. Buck took no heed to his spell missing and turned on hoof to head back into the room. Fetching out his coin purse he spoke to his guards in a stern, commanding tone. “One of you go secure a private car from the train station and book us passage to Manehattan. We are leaving now. Pack all of your things, I will tend to the matter of paying the innkeeper for the damages. Once we are gone from here I will be making a letter to be sent to Canterlot in full complaint about this matter. Be alert and prepare for the Equestrian guards to attempt to stop us. If they do, you are to disarm them only. Do not hurt them if you can help it. If it must be done, render them unconscious by spell,” he barked out. Both of his guards saluted and snapped to attention at his orders. Military training drove their movements as one rushed to secure transportation while the other hastily packed. Thunderbuck rolled all the parchment up that contained their compiled notes, and slid it into his travel bag. Tucking the ink bottles in a pouch to keep them from spilling in the bag, and then the quills. Finally his clothing was rolled and tucked in rather hastily, leaving him prepared as he levitated both the guard’s travel packs onto his own back. The swirl of his cloak over his should made for a rather intimidating display, as his horn ignited in the mixed glow of energies and deposited his mask upon his face. He walked forth, preceded by his other escort guard to the clerk’s table and paused only long enough to explain what his version of events was before depositing a large sum of coins upon the counter to cover the damages to the window, and pay for the cost of their stay. Without another word, the pair struck toward the station. As they went, ponies fled from their path, even Applejack backing away from what looked to be an extremely pissed off pony with a spell ready to fire. Twilight flew down to block his path and he turned that horn on her, causing her to veer away and allow him and his escort to continue. The pair made it to the station, which was strangely devoid of all security and ponies. There was a single pony on the platform, his other guard. Thunderbuck moved to the train, which was a luggage train with a private coach attached at the rear. It seemed they were to be the only passengers, which suited the noble stallion just fine. As they boarded, Twilight landed on the platform and her own barrier went up. Thunderbuck let his guards take position as he set their baggage inside. Once that was done he jumped back onto the platform and strode up to her. From behind that mask, his gaze was like steel and fired hot with anger. She knew now what her misfired spell had done. Rather than hypnotize him gently, her spell had altered his personality; she had accidentally made him his opposite. “I will be sending a letter on this matter to Canterlot, though for all the good it will do. You are after all Celestia’s darling pet pony. However, should you ever set hoof or hair on Maretonian soil for any reason, even under the white flag of surrender; I will have your tail and mane torn from you before your hooves fully touch the ground. Thrice I have been accused of spying when I sought help. Now I see something truly astounding. You do not want things to be done with polite words, but under the iron shoe of a candy coated hell. Your own ponies are too stupid to realize just how far in danger they are. So when another disaster comes, I dare say to you, never send for help across the seas little princess. Because it will be I that returns that call, and I will be most unkind.” His tone was bordering on a threat. Twilight’s ears sank back s she lowered onto her flank in a submissive and passive gesture. She was actually scared now. It was most fortunate for her, that Thunderbuck possessed very little offensive magic ability. As he boarded the train, his horn flared ever brighter until the coach and a full three other cars vanished from sight. Twilight watched as it happened, barely able to see the distortion. Her barrier was still up, masking and altering the noise of the whistle as it blew and signaled the train was leaving. She could not really hear the shouts of her friends as they yelled at her to let the barrier down. The princess only watched as the train pulled away from Ponyville. Only when it was miles away did her barrier come down, yet she still stared after it. Applejack shook her gently. “Sugar cube, come on back now. Ya need to blink and take a deep breath darlin’. Just relax, he’s gone,” AJ said softly, slowly turning Twilight’s face way from the direction she was looking. Rarity went to have a damp towel fetched, and sent Pinkie to go get a pillow from the boutique. Fluttershy stood to the side, uncertain of what she could or should do in this matter. Dash shoved AJ aside and shook Twilight harder. “Hey! Twilight! Wake up! Hey!” she screamed. Twilight slowly turned her eyes to them and blinked a few times before bursting into tears. She had been so frightened of that angry stallion she had no idea what to do. She had no idea the effect it had caused on him, and still had barely any knowledge of how it could turn out like that. Spike came running up, waving a scroll, but he stopped when he saw her sobbing into her hooves. Anger filled the little dragon as he thought that Thunderbuck had hurt her; however Fluttershy soothed that burning rage with a gentle hoof and a hug. Getting Twilight back to the castle was easy enough, as she did not resist, and most of the town moved to allow them passage. Once inside and in her bed the princess was soothed by her friends, though they had many questions. Twilight was trying to answer them when the adrenaline in her system wore off, and she fell over on the bed in a heap. Fluttershy shrieked in terror, though it was short lived as Dash covered her mouth while Applejack and Rarity assessed the situation. Finding that Twilight had just passed out from sudden exhaustion, the decided to leave her be. Coming out into the hall, they found Spike sitting, holding the scroll from Celestia. He opened it and began to read to them as if he would read to Twilight. “Princess Twilight Sparkle and company. This is addressed to you by royal missive of Princess Luna. The mare known as Stormstride seems to be having herself a wonderful time in the middle class district, spending coin like she were pouring water from a bucket. She has the entire middle class and lower class district not working as they are enjoying what appears to be a Maretonian Holiday. Celestia and I have taken no action to stop this, as it is well within every pony’s right to indulge in festivities. The position we have taken is currently unpopular with the nobility, however they have no other choice but to accept it. Twilight, it is imperative that you do not interfere with anything that Thunderbuck does, as his sister believes he is still within the Crystal Empire sampling music and instruments to take home for his personal collection. If word were to reach her that he is not, it could cause her to leave before we can discern what darkness has indeed permeated her being. She indulges with the common pony most easily, and seems to have drawn Blueblood and Psmith into her revelry of joy. “Her guard ponies are, however, a clear and present threat. Twice now they have butted heads with local REA commanders, though usually because the REA attempted to restrain Stormstride’s rather ample behavior. Seeing this, we have no choice but to let her continue to throw her party until she runs out of coin to spend. As well we noted that she has business dealings in Equestria now, and has begun paying importation taxes on goods that are to be shipped in soon. A copy of this report will be sent to the Crystal Empire as well. Alert us to any action Thunderbuck takes that is out of the ordinary immediately. Regards, Princess Luna.” Taking a deep breath, Spike looked to the girls for some sign of what to do. “Spike, Imma thinking you need to send a letter and let the princesses know what just happened. At least what we know happened. Include everything, talk to each of us in turn so it’s not too much on you at once ok little fella?” She spoke in her soft country accent. Spike nodded and went to fetch quill and ink to make a return letter. The girls followed, coming to Twilight’s desk. He had them each take a turn telling everything from their point of view, and finished up with the actions of getting Twilight to bed. Thunderbuck watched from the bowl of water on the table before him, one of his guards having provided a scrying spell so that they could observe. He smirked and muttered under his breath about the baby dragon being a clever fellow before he stood and moved to lounge on a sofa and pour himself a drink in a levitated glass. “Shall we intercept the message sire?” one of them asked, which made Buck pause mid drink. He sat up and slowly tapped a hoof on the floor of the car. Looking out the back window, the stallion took in a deep breath, and let out a slow even sigh. “No. Let them report to Celestia. Let them sweat on their own. We have our task ahead of us. I saved all our notes. We should take some time to compile and separate them better so that we can continue our research when we return home. As well, when we arrive in the city, I want to take a day to find several bookstores and procure more research materials for the journey home. We will take a ship that is headed right for Kastrot. The sooner we arrive, the better.” ~~~ Heavyhoof tapped his chin as he went over the information in his head again. THunderbuck was practicing his timid face in the mirror of the bathroom, pondering how to pass it off to his sister when she returned. Feather Touch was finding this pill hard to swallow, and even stranger was the fact that Thunderbuck expected them to take it on his word and the word of just two guard ponies alone. It seemed most incredible a tale. That he would find courage from a misguided spell. “I don’t believe it,” Feather finally blurted out, “I simply cannot believe that you found this kind of courage from such a spell. If it can be done with magic, it can be undone. So undo it.” Thunderbuck turned to Feather and looked at him with arched eyebrows; he did not understand why Feather Touch would want him to return to the coward he had been before. Nor did he have a reason or desire to do so for that matter. He was very happy to be more in control of his emotions and his life now. All he needed was a way to pass it off on his sister slowly so that she would not think it too rapid a change. “I have no intent to undermine this change. I feel it is a better life for me to not be frightened of my own shadow. Furthermore, you are starting to sound like Stormstride, deciding what is best for other ponies based on your own perception of who they should be. Who is to day it was not fate that led me to this change?” Thunderbuck said in a calm tone, as though they were discussing a matter of what type of place setting would look best at a dinner table. Feather Touch came forward and pointed at Buck’s flank, where his cutie mark was starting to look lackluster and faded. Buck looked, and then he began to notice it for himself. His mark was looking like it was scrubbed away, and in his heart he knew then that his change was indeed wrong. Moving to the mirror to look more clearly, he stared harder before speaking further. “You…have a point. But I need this change. For now, until we can save Stormstride from herself or whatever darkness has taken her. And maybe this will be temporary,” he said at last. Feather nodded and looked to Heavyhoof. “Alright, suppose we believe you and that Stormy is being taken over by darkness. If it’s her choice, why should we stop it?” He was irritated thinking that any pony would talk about Stormstride like this, as though she were out of her gourd. “If she were doing this on her own, I wouldn’t say we should. In fact I would promote it. But I knew Stormy back then. So did you. Think about it. Stormy is not the type to go for revenge like this. Looking down in the kitchens should give you a great look. You weren’t there to see it. I was there, and so was Feather Touch. She used magic to demean him. More than words, but her magic had a dark glow about it, almost black,” Buck said, turning on the guard stallion. Heavyhoof stepped back, looking at them sideways. He had a doubt in his mind now, and buck latched onto that doubt and kept pressing. More, asking what kinds of things Heavyhoof could notice that were out of character. The training to take on REA troops, the frightening armor, and her work in private on gathering powerful artifacts of the family was easily glossed over; but her work with some of them was downright strange. Heavyhood had to admit, her attitude toward being shown things she had in her collection was strange. Relocating long dead ponies for burial in proper tombs was nothing out of the ordinary for any pony really, the cost was just inhibited except to nobility. However, she had begun working on their artifacts, examining their remains and strangest of all, keeping bits of certain ponies before she buried them. This was something that Heavyhoof glossed over before as some ancestral worship, but now he began to wonder if she was dabbling in something darker. “Alright. Alright, you made your bucking point. Just, what are we supposed to do about it? I swore my allegiance to her. That is nothing to sneeze at, it’s my entire life and honor and I don’t take lightly to being told it was a mistake,” he said as he sat down again. “It was never a mistake to swear fealty to a friend, and a pony you love as a sibling. You swore loyalty to our Stormstride, not to this thing she is being turned into. And we must bring her back from that brink before she falls in. You just observe, and understand that we are trying to save her. Make note of any suspicious activity, but don’t interfere with her actions unless she tries to harm some pony physically. Just pay attention to what she does. Don’t show undue interest but start to question her about the symbols and what they mean. The family crest is a good place to start. Ask about it because you are curious.” Heavyhoof nodded as he put his hoof to his face. Waving them off, as Buck trotted back toward the guest bathroom. Feather watched him shut the door, and then he heard the mares inside giggle, which made Feather Touch moan in frustration. Keeping this version of Thunderbuck in check was going to be a huge challenge. Turning on his hoof, the Pegasus moved off to the stairs to go up to his daughter’s room and spend time with her. There had still been no word from Stormstride in over a week, so Feather hoped she was safe. He didn’t know she was having a huge party in Canterlot and generally bringing the economy to a halt.
  12. Kastrotian Wedding

    OK so I have a wedding for two of my characters coming up. They live in Kastrot now, under the guidance of Heart Stopper. (Heart Stopper is of course invited) and wanted to know if any other ponies would be attending. There are a few slots open and I hope several of you want to come. Stormstride is now a minor noble and looking to flaunt her new position and wealth a bit. She's sent out invitations to ponies she has had dealings with. So any pony want to come and see?
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. It had taken nearly six months to get her little palace the way she wanted it again. The Cloud family crest on all the tapestries, the lovely carpet rugs laid out, nice and tidy. The vineyard was at least in decent shape. Having been tended by some pony at least. Taking over the books had been a chore in and of itself. However, Stormstride found it now to be simplistic and rather amusing. She had selected her own servants, bought a few that were "owned" and then set them to work in the household. Though she made certain that the servants had large spacious quarters. Well tended servants oft did far better work. As her mane dresser was brushing the last knots from her mane and tail, Stormstride looked upon herself in the mirror. She had become rather shapely and graceful since she had taken the title of minor noble. She had also indulged a bit in the local culture. Making well and certain to be seen and heard when she had the chance and it was her turn to speak. She had become a regular at Heart Stopper's court. Watching and snickering with the other unicorns. Her eyes cast to the lavish dress. the wedding dress she was going to wear today. It was a beautiful thing. A pure Kastrotian design. The soft, silken fabric that covered her from neck to hoof in a long soft draping. Golden tail bangles, engraved with both the Heart family crest, and the smaller Cloud family crest. Stormstride had her ears pierced now, displaying a rather elegant set of ruby and sapphire earrings. Having come from her personal bath to her private chambers for dressing she smiled in the mirror. Watching her mane dresser work her own magic. Stormstride was fair. Most of these ponies didn't make a wage. But in exchange, they had free room and board in a secure castle. Storm had selected several ponies as her own personal guards. Trained them in her style of combat and tactic. And added to that she saw too it that every foal on her lands was given a decent education. Beyond the basics, and into more socialite matters. Art, history, politics. She wanted every pony under her crest to understand how the laws worked and were made. Though many had no say so in such a matter, it was at least better to instruct them to a level they could easily understand and know the laws. This made matters much easier to deal with when it came time for Storm to handle her own court matters. IN six months the castle had gone from an over sized storehouse, to a rather lovely little castle. Housing surrounded the outer wall, made for servants and field workers alike. Each was set up for a small family. There was a large public bathhouse for them as well. But inside, things were more lavish. Stormstride kept a few of the prettier ponies on the top floor with herself. Ponies like her mane dresser and her interior designer. Housing them in comparably luxurious quarters. Feather Touch however, shared her room with her. Except for today. Today he was in a rather large guest room, being prepared by the castle tailor. Feather had it better here than he had ever had it in Canterlot. All the supplies he would ever need to make his candles, oils, and lotions were brought right to his own personal work space at no cost to him. He was tended nightly by a full bath treatment with Stormy. The food was amazingly good. Stormstride had hired a chef that knew both Equestrian and Kastrot styles of cooking. The castle had fireplaces in every room. And he and Storm often sampled the wine together. This was a rather amazing thing. And yet in the back of his mind, he felt this creeping feeling. That something was not right. That Stormstride was in danger of becoming something....evil. His ear perked to the sound of music floating up the stairwells. Thunderbuck was warming up his instruments. He had arrived a couple months ago with CaramelCream. The sweet young pony ran her hooves off. Up and down the stairs, learning and exploring everything she could find. Storm was content to let her do so as long as she tended to her lessons. And CaramelCream was always first one to class. Feather Touch had taken to the foal. He often awoke to find her snuggled between he and Stormy, cuddling under his wings. She had once called him daddy. It had startled Feather a fair bit. Being suddenly called her daddy like that. She had not said it since then. But he secretly wished she would. Today, she was serving an important role. She was the flower foal, and in charge of leading the guests to their places in the courtyard. Thunderbuck was set up on a proper stage. His home was in the courtyard, a small cottage with supplies for him to repair and maintain his instruments. Stormy gave him an allowance to purchase instruments, though he often bought the broken ones. He had begun to look into opening himself up to instrument repair for hire. This would allow him to generate greater income. The courtyard was very delightfully decorated, adorned with the Heart family crest on each seat and on the main podium. Under it was the Cloud family crest. Both were polished and gleaming in the bright warm sunlight. Stormstride had made certain the weather would be clear today. She had hired a cake maker on Heart Stopper's suggestion. Though her own chef would be providing the refreshments and foods aside form the cake. The table was set up with plenty of chairs in case other guests arrived late or were to happen upon the wedding. Back in her room, Stormstride looked at herself in the mirror. The gold and silk dress upon her body. It was simple, but lavish at the same time. It was had several gem studded necklaces and anklets at her hooves. Stormstride had allowed her mane dresser to do her make up today, making her look more the part of both a noble lady, and a ravishing bride. Stormstride thanked her mane dresser and let her go for the day. She was going to have the rest of the day off, to relax after several hours of hard work. Storm moved to her balcony. Looking out over the courtyard. She saw her brother below. He was already dressed in a new tux and wearing his mask. She had had it polished for him and repainted the way he liked. It made him comfortable and she thought it made him look like a mysterious stallion like that. He had also put on a bit of weight. Not fat, but enough that he no longer looked as though he was hungry all the time. She saw the guests beginning to arrive and smiled, moving down to the main hall to greet them and offer wine until the ceremony started. As she came to the entry way, she looked up. The chandelier was still off to the left a touch. Her horn glowed faintly as she used her magic to move it into the proper place. She would have to have a construction pony in here soon to fix that. She did not want that rather expensive piece to crash to the ground. She saw CaramelCream looking in one of the large mirrors. Smoothing out her dress and making certain her orcid mane piece was in the proper place. Coming over she gently nuzzled the foal on the ear. "Hello my sweet foal. how are you feeling?" Caramel smiled at Storm, whom mouthed her words again. CaramelCream, being deaf, had to rad lips, and had grown very skilled at it. Once she understood what Stormy said, she smiled and spoke. "Im happy Momma. You and daddy are getting married today!" Storm smiled happily to the foal. "Indeed little one. Now you go prepare your flower basket. The guests are arriving and soon you will help them to find their seats." Caramel smiled and trotted off happily. Stormstride walked to the doors of her castle, magically opening them and smiling brightly as she greeted her first guests. "Welcome to Castle Cloud!" she said cheerfully.
  16. Thunderbuck stood at the docks with his personal guards, waiting for their turn to board the ship. It was rare that lesser schooners like the SeaBreeze caught a charter for passage like this. The ship offered mostly middle class passage and a few private cabins for some of the wealthier middle class, however to have a minor noble boarding with a personal entourage was unusual to say the least. Thunderbuck’s passage was booked by Stormstride herself, and included the aft private cabin with four beds. This was meant as a family suite, however since no family had requested it, it was available. Buck and his guards wore light armor, which for Buck consisted of the decorated black metal breastplate, and an undercoat of chainmail over his frilled shirt, yet under his velvet vest and fur lined overcoat. It was a form fitting protective sleeve he slid into; and the black metal of the breastplate, though decorated had a low shine to it which drew less attention. The guards wore their light armor, which was the same breast plate, the undercoat of chainmail, and an over coat of fur pelts and leather that were stitched and woven together in a neutral pattern. This lighter armor was more suited for scouting, and more open to allow faster movement. It also provided them the ability to put it on and take it off with much less effort than the standard armor they wore. When their turn to board came up, the three boarded and were shown to their room quietly by a steward. Stowing their luggage relatively quickly, the three were peacefully getting more comfortable by getting out of their armor when there was a knock at the door. The closest guard readied a spell on his horn as the other used magic to open it just enough to see the pony knocking. Seeing it was the captain, they allowed him passage into the room; however they quickly shut the door behind him, almost catching his braided tail in the heavy wooden barrier. “I wanted to come see that things were too your liking before we left port, sir,” he addressed his comments toward Thunderbuck, however kept his eyes on the guards that were eyeing him up and down. Buck turned slowly, the mask on his face a common place thing for him. “Yes. Thank you, captain. These quarters are more than adequate for the voyage. We will be quiet, and stay out of the way of yourself and your crew Captain.” Buck was polite and direct in his responce, but soft spoken enough to still seem timid in some ways. The captain however did not want to offend his guest, especially with armed and armored guards present to protect that guest. “I thank you sir. If there is anything you will be needing, I will have a steward outside your quarters at all times.” The conversation over, the captain left in a rather hasty retreat. The room was now quiet and peaceful again. Thunderbuck took the bed close to the starboard window, and tucked his case away quietly. As he sat upon the bed to look out the window, the guards changed from their armor to more suitable clothing for a week long voyage. This was not the first time these two had been to sea, however it was their first time accompanying Thunderbuck alone. They knew he was a quiet stallion, and sat themselves at the table to play cards while the ship finished its preparations to get underway. As they play cards, their conversation was light and discussed the ship and its passengers and cargo. The schooner was a swift ship, meant for carrying passengers and mail more than loads of heavy cargo like ore or lumber. It was heavy on rigging and shallow on the bottom, being a triple mast with full sails catching the strong wind which provided them a steady fifteen knots at full sail with the wind as she skipped across the waves. The guards speculated if she was made to outrun the rumored privateers that were supposed to be hunting the waters between Maretonia and Equestria. Thunderbuck seemed content to sit by the window and read over sheet music, which put them a bit more at ease when they glanced to him. The soft feeling of the ship moving away from port, as well as the bit of fanfare that accompanied such things sounded outside as a signal they were underway. The softly ticking clock on the wall chimed the time as being exactly six in the evening. The three stallions were quiet, spending their time in leisure rather than worry to help relax themselves. This was after all, their vacation; and the guards planned to enjoy at least some of it in relaxing. Both had brought books and a set of cards, though each had different tastes in literature. They discussed their likes and dislikes over their game, civil and calm like two roommates would discuss chores. Time passed, and the three seemed to relax with the motion of the ship on the waves. Buck was well accustomed to sea travel now, using it on all his trips to get his cart back and forth from home to Equestrian shores and back again. As the sun set on the ocean and the last visions of land vanished into the horizon beyond even the twinkle of a lighthouse’s farthest reach, Thunderbuck stood silently and set his music aside. He moved to his traveling case, opening it and retrieving his violin silently before moving for the door. The two guards with him stood to follow wordlessly, pondering where he might be going at this hour. The mask slid quietly into place as the noble stallion walked to the dining room. There were still a few crew present, taking their evening meals while the staff cleaned up and left a sampling table open for the guests that were up late to snack on . Thunderbuck moved to the corner of the room, pulling a stool over and then taking his seat. The crew were confused by his meaning of such, unaccustomed to seeing someone of his finery, let alone one that was masked and decked in fabrics they could not afford on a year’s wage. However their eyes quickly returned to their meals when the guards took up positions on either side of him. Then the stallion began to play his violin, coaxing out a soothing melody for a few moments before taking a deep breath; testing the resonance of the dining hall before playing. Then his voice began to lift aloft the tune as his violin carried forth in a song unlike most of them had heard before. So sweet and bold those notes, forceful in his tenor voice and strong when he dipped into the baritone; the stallion carried his song forth for them to enjoy as they dined. This set the crew and present passengers at a greater ease, feeling the melody wash over them as divinely as this noble stallion’s vocals; he whom sang for their entertainment. Many were unused to this manner from nobility, that they scarcely realized they were tapping hooves to the tune until they felt the itch to dance. The thud of hooves on the lower deck and sound of singing and music drew the captain from his own cabin, worried that something was happening upon his ship. His stubble bearded face curling into a grin upon discovering that there was merriment to be had upon his vessel. No harping noble had come aboard, but rather a talented musician that brought his craft with him to share freely it seemed. Taking the time to sit with his crew, the captain enjoyed the provided music as any wary worker would welcome a small pleasant distraction. Even as the song came to the end of its course, Thunderbuck stayed seated and selected another piece from his mental records. As he began, this song proved to be greatly different with more energy and a darker tone that made every pony present want to thump their hooves more quickly at the pace and listen more closely to his deep tone of voice as he sang the words for them. The captain was familiar with this tune, an old song from his youth that was often sang out of ear shot of one’s parents because it was considered “uncouth” with the nobles of Maretonia. The tune drew several snickers and funny looks, even from the captain as he enjoyed a drink; as it mocked the frilly shirts and stuffy attitudes of the well to do nobility. Though short as it was, the tune provided a little more entertainment for those present. When it was over, Buck lowered his violin and asked one of his guards to fetch him a glass of water. Once the protector had retrieved the drink for his charge, he resumed his post alongside him. Buck took his glass of water slowly, and drank in sips as he turned the violin some more. He was almost done with the glass before setting it on a nearby table and returning to his playing for them, with violin now in perfect pitch for the ship’s walls. Playing a more lively song this time, he twisted the tune to fit his own style and give them a surprise. His voice singing along, keeping them entertained as the crew finished their meals and relaxed with full bellies and lightened hearts. It was a full three hours later that Thunderbuck finally lowered his violin and tucked it to his side gently. Now that it was early in the morning in the predawn hours, the crew had changed shifts and Thunderbuck’s bow arm was slightly sore from so much playing. However he hadn’t had an audience like this in some time. Venturing slowly to their shared cabin the stallion listened to the guards behind him speaking softly, and casually for once. Complimenting his playing, and how freely he offered it without asking for compensation like any noble would have. He smiled to himself, a little proud of his work now that others noticed him and he was not too shy to be noticed in public with his mask on. Returning to his bunk, he placed his violin back in his traveling case, and then withdrew his grooming kit. Moving to the room’s wash bowl and mirror he began to take the time to clean himself up some. Trimming his chin, brushing his almost wild mane back into something that was publically acceptable, and finally washing his face with a cloth. Now that he felt freshened, he turned to his guards. “Would you care to join me in a late night snack sirs?” he asked in his soft voice. Both of them did feel like eating a small something, and they could not rightfully leave him to wander unprotected as it was. Both nodded and he stood aside from the wash stand to let them clean up as they may. Both took just a moment to wash their faces and comb their manes before joining him at the door. As they moved to the dining room again, they found it now quite empty and silent. As the three took small plates of food from the sample platter set out for guests, they conversed of Buck’s musical talents. The conversation was soft, and short as the three began to yawn softly. Returning to their room, the three set about preparing for bed. Thunderbuck slid into his bed and quickly fell asleep, however the guards first tended to ensuring that nothing could break into the room while they slept. One cast a locking enchantment upon the door, as the other laid out their swords for instant access in case of an attempted assassination. It was not that they did not trust the crew, it was that they did not trust any pony. Other nobles often sent spies or assassins against the family of their rivals to force a matter to hoof with them. These matters were usually marrying one of their line into the family to control it, or to ensure that the line of succession was left open so that when the noble died, their land would be up for a bid by another. Stormstride was no fool and knew that while normally her brother could easily remain out of sight, a trip of this duration was something they could not chance. The longer he was gone, the more likely he was to be found alone, and the easiest place to get to him was the long train ride between Manehattan and the Crystal Empire. There would be several stops along the way, and many of them in what the guards considered questionable places. Especially so if one of those stops happened to be Canterlot for any reason. The guards were both familiar with the area, and remembered well how they were treated by a few. While it had been done in jest, it was still a matter they approached with apprehension. Those jests had stung more than pride or ego, they had stung the pair in their self-respect. Their sense of pride in their work, their lives, and their efforts had been wounded by cruel jests. As they lay to sleep, both passed a look that said for the other to prepare for anything when they arrived. The remainder of the trip was spend much the same as this, waking later in the day to enjoy the warm sunshine and cool sea winds over the upper deck, then taking meals and being quiet and out of the way until late evening when Thunderbuck performed for the crew again. It was their arrival in Manehattan that set the three on a slight edge. They could see many at the docks, several of which were REA guarding the ramp for passengers. As the three dressed to disembark, Thunderbuck commented on his disapproval of unusual number of guards. As both unicorns looked to each other, they seemed to have a similar thought. They had never known passenger craft to attract this much protection unless someone was aboard that was of importance, or was not meant to be on the craft and had been discovered and arrested while out at sea. Their trip was not announced as far as the three knew, so why was there security here? The guards donned their armor in full, and kept a spell prepared in case of issues. Thunderbuck himself was wary now, seeing them become agitated like this. He slid his mask into place, and then pulled a cloak on himself to hide his armored body. He left the hood off for the moment, however he had his own spell prepared. He had learned new spells recently, for self-defense at his sister’s insistence. He nodded to his guards, whom opened the door and began out first. Clearing the hall for his passage, they led him to the deck, where his arrival brought curious looks from the onlookers on the docks. The REA guards present were a bit put off as well. They had not expected any pony to emerge with a pair of armed guards that wore intimidating armor. In fact it seemed to put them off so much they backed away from the pair and their charge. As the guards approached the plank first, their attention was drawn to a call for Thunderbuck’s attention. The pair instantly reached for their swords, as Buck’s horn lit up. But then there was a second call, a different voice from the same area. Buck seemed to recognize them, and stepped forward with a motion for the guards to relax. As the three descended the plank, the REA slowly worked the onlookers back until only a pair of zebra remained. Thunderbuck seemed to know them, as he slid his mask up while approaching them. His personal guards keeping close, and watching the pair closely for sudden movements. Thunderbuck came right up to them, looking over the pair as if hesitant to believe he could actually see them, and that they were real. It was sudden and surprising to all that then he embraced them, holding them as one would a lost friend after many years had passed. The stallion almost seemed to weep as he held them both tightly to him. Speaking below the noise of the crowd, the stallion made their conversation private and brief. The pair nodded and ventured off elsewhere, as the guards joined their charge on his way to the train station. Once clear of most of the crowd they relaxed enough to speak to him opening and question his behavior. “Sir. Who were they?” He questioned softly. It was not that he wished to pry, but he felt it his duty to know whom got that close to Buck. This was especially true when it was a pony neither guard have ever seen before, from lands far away from the rolling hills of Maretonia. “They are old friends. Friends that I have not seen in many years. They had heard that my family moved to Kastrot, and desired to join us there if there was call for such. They had also heard that I would be arriving here, today on this ship. I told them to meet me back here in two weeks, when I return here. I will personally take them home with me,” he responded softly as he pushed the mask back down. Both guards were confused but remained silent as they walked either side of Buck, keeping ears tilting to and fro to detect approaches from the back and sides. Someone had foretold their arrival, which set them on edge with an anxious tension. As the group arrived at the train station, Thunderbuck purchased tickets for them in a private coach that would have service. There were many stops along the way, including Canterlot. However the train was going to go all the way to the Crystal Empire as its final destination. Boarding their private car, Thunderbuck found it rather homely. Four beds with luggage space, a small common area where meals would be brought to them, as well as a table for them to engage in cards or other games if they desired. Thunderbuck took a high bunk, and placed his things away. Moving to a seat near a window, he sat and looked out over the crowd gathered outside his car. He recognized some of the faces from the dock, knowing now that apparently his trip was advertised in a very inappropriate way. It was not possible that his sister had let it slip, therefore he must look to the guards that were posted at the doc. It had to have been the REA, or else how could his friends or any pony else have known to be there and meet him? As well there were others, faces that looked toward his car with curiosity or concern. Perhaps Blueblood had been informed by magical message and asked to offer extra protection. That thought crossed the stallion’s mind before being dismissed. Blueblood could request, but it was ultimately up to ponies with more influence than he what was deemed worth the REA’s attention. Though, given that a good many former and even defected soldiers went right to his sister’s invitation, it might present cause to keep him away from certain ponies. He had been coming here for months on end now. Short trips that lasted a week, and then he was headed home again on a different ship. Of all that time, he could not remember meeting these ponies face to face, however his sister had always come to see him off before. Was she sending letters on the same ship addressed to the ponies she was looking to lure to her land? Thunderbuck began to think quietly as he let the conversation of his protectors pass over his ears. They were discussing the events at the dock. Concern for his safety on their minds above all else, they tried to discern how his arrival was announced. There was no way so many ponies showed up just to greet a hoof full of ponies traveling by schooner unless ships from Maretonia had become much scarcer at this port. What was more, Thunderbuck knew some ponies that arrived, and that was proof enough that they knew he would arrive that day, on that ship. Something did not add up, and it worried them. They began to ponder impossibilities, such as Lady Stormstride herself personally leaking the information in some attempt to see if Buck could be bumped off. But then why assign trained guards that would not hesitate to kill any attacker? That was too much to just keep up appearances. She had inspected them herself before allowing them to accompany her brother, not the act of a pony looking to get their sibling killed. Further to that, she had them provided with weapons that could be used to counter up close assassination attempts and provided them scrolls from her study with spells to provide an instant shield if the need arose. The pair were only certain now that it had to be an Equestrian source of information leak. One of the crew on the ship sending messages via magic to a family member, and from there the rumors of a Maretonian noble on board spread seemed to be the most likely cause. However they would need more time to think and without evidence, they were left only with theory. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Stromstride sat in her study, reading over the letter that Blueblood had sent to her, yet again. He was requesting her presence at a wine competition on a specific date at a specific time, in the palace grounds of Canterlot itself. He felt she would make a winning participant with her variety and her knowledge. She should have sent her reply with the letter to the prince when she sent a request for security at the dock to meet his ship. Sighing she read it over fully for the fifth time. It was not usual for Blueblood to request her presence in some form at these things. Normally he asked for a sampling of her wines to present and let ponies see her work, or just have something else to taste while he was stuck at a social event he was not happy to be at. However he had never asked her to come to the palace for one before. Those were reserved for invitation only, of which hers were enclosed and pinned to the letter. She clicked her shoed hooves together under her chin softly, thinking more deeply. Blueblood would not send a messenger to her if her were in danger, such a message would have arrived magically. Blueblood was not about to attempt to trap her in some court proceeding, as he saw first hoof how she handled those. Likely he was trying to get her to come to Canterlot for something else. However she could not think of such a matter that would require a minor noble of Kastrot to be present unless it involved them directly in some legal affair with the country. Which to her knowledge it should not involve her at all. Her sales to Equestrian shops were rare, but legal and taxed accordingly, aside from the occasional gift bottle to Blueblood and Psmith to enjoy. She always used known trade routes, and common transports to ship her goods, as any other merchant across the sea would. Immigration matters may be it, neatly disguised as a friendly invitation to join a wine judging contest merely to tempt her into being present. She had convinced no less than forty Equestrian citizens to renounce their ways, some of which outright left the REA with no reason other than having been presented a better opportunity. That had likely left a bitter taste in the mouths of some officers, especially when the ones she often sought out were considered sub-par to be guards. Suddenly being given a better opportunity, and a rather wealthy sign on bonus to join her guards must have made some manes turn green with jealousy, and scorned more than a few commanders that they were passed over for such low ranking incompetent grunts. However there was a different matter this could involve. Some of her collected ponies she punished in her own cruel way for tormenting her back then; slights both real and imagined worked for her well enough to judge and punish them on arrival. However their punishment was never physical. It was psychological, a twisting of the mind to destroy any sense of self-worth and bring the pony in question down to a level she could reshape into something more useful. The former commander was one such pony, now her kitchen floor scrubber. Compared to where she found him, he was in the lap of luxury. His needs tended and medically he was seen to by her best physician. However, he had no drive and no luster for his former life’s works. The sharp witted commander was gone and replaced with a simple but polite servant. His small bedchambers were decorated sparsely, as he was indeed blind now and had no desire for things to be looked at like paintings or books. However she had provided him instruction in how to walk without needing spells constantly in effect, and how to read braille. Now that he had mobility given back to him, as well as his love of reading somewhat returned, she seemed a saint to him given how she informed him of her emotional states in perceiving his words in the past and now. She explained in rather deep and intimate detail the matters of her emotions and life under his command, including her struggles against being treated unfairly for his poor judgement. The costs to her body and soul because of his relentless pursuit of what he considered the perfect soldiers and how it damaged her and others under his command so greatly she nearly lost herself in the pain that followed. Though he had not intended it, he had caused her intense distress and emotional trauma. At least that was how she portrayed it to him, and with great effect as he literally lost all self-worth. He did not, however know that while she spoke she had been using her darker spells to twist and corrupt his mind as much as she was berating his worth. Though when it was over, she spoke with kind and gentle words; offering him a place in her own palace where he could perform simple work honestly and for fair pay with room and board provided. To him, this was possibly the only chance he had to redeem himself. Her guard captain Heavyhoof was a different matter. He had been like her, struggling to make ends meet and gaining no help nor support from the officers of their barracks. Constantly put down for failing promotional tests and academic exams on dress codes and such silly nonsense that had no relevance to the effectiveness of a proper soldier that fought with mind and heart, rather than dirty words and brute force. He was her captain, her most trusted warrior. He was one of the only two guards permitted to enter her personal study with her. And he stood there now, quietly waiting to the side for her words as she mused to herself over the letter. Her eyes glanced at him, and admired that Equestrian style of mane and look on his face still there. That was an issue for some, as Kastrot nobility disdained outsiders. However, they had to give her some credit for how she amassed her fortune, and power very quickly. Ruthless was the word used behind her back, while cunning was used to her face. She knew there was no difference between the two when it came to nobility. Which was something she seemed almost proud of. Her mind was indeed cunning, and her methods always ruthless. If she felt an opportunity was within reach, she would not hesitate to take it by whatever means she had available including violence at the end of her own weapons. And that was where things got very touchy with Equestria. She had never actually threatened or violated the physical rights of any pony she lured to her palace. However, she was open about the coercion of many of them. Enticing some with a promised vacation and the chance to start life anew in a place where their efforts were noticed and mattered. Those were the ones she wanted to keep as friends, and grow her little empire well. This was all done, however, with the permission of Heart Stopper. Stormstride was no fool, and knew the cost of crossing her patron noble. Others were tricked with a message asking for a meeting to bury old differences and let the future begin as allies. “I believe I am being baited, though I do not believe Blueblood knows he is actually baiting me,” she said suddenly. Her hooves still clicking together under her chin. The metallic shoes making the soft ring of metal sound very softly echo in the study. “Possibly. Though what purpose would it be? You are not detaining any pony unlawfully, nor have you physically harmed them as far as I am aware. No crime was committed under Equestrian or Maretonian law. Is that Blueblood’s writing?” he asked. He wanted to be certain of that fact before saying anything accusing of the prince. He had met him a time or two and found him to be of likable quality. “It is his. I have passed letters with him for long enough I know which is his, which script is Psmith writing for him, and what is neither of their writing. I do not believe he knows he is being used as a lure. If he does, he is very poorly hiding it. That can only mean he does not want to, provided he actually knows,” she mused aloud. Her mind rolled the thoughts over as she spoke, sorting them out based on how likely they were. “Either way, I cannot let this go unanswered. I have to reply. If I say now, they will know I found them out and just pull back for a while. If I say yes, they will have time to make ready for me.” Heavyhoof nodded softly, “Unless you say yes, give a date and then show up much earlier than planned. Arriving on business matters would give you a proper excuse. And taking valuable cargo with you would also mean you could have your own personal guard rather than the REA. I would suggest sending a message to a distributor in Canterlot informing them that you plan to pay a visit and showcase your product for them. Maybe some pony that owns a store or inn of some kind would be interested in carrying a few varieties meant for the common pony to afford and enjoy.” Stormstride had to admit, that idea had great merit. She could set the date of her arrival for the day before the competition, then arrive by ship much sooner and charter a private wagon convoy to carry her supplies and samples. This would also means he could make her presence known with her armored ponies available to herself without appearing to be overly obstinate in her ways. This tactic would also avail her new profitable relations and a reason to send messages to Equestria more regularly. “Captain, go to pick out eight of our guards to accompany me. I will be leaving you behind to protect my family and lands while I am gone. My husband is not a tactician, so in military and judicial matters, you have authority to act without his consent. If serious issues arise, contact me immediately via magical message. Now, for the political matters, my husband has a decent head on his shoulders and can handle most things. You assist him as you would me,” Stormstride ordered as she stood, taking up her travel bag and beginning to pack things she would need. A few premade deal contracts that had blanks in them to fill out amounts, dates, and other various specifics were always needed. Adding to that a list of envelopes, scrolls, quills, spill proof bottles of ink, maps, books and other assorted bits a traveling merchant would find very useful. Now that her business bag was packed she moved to the door and let Heavyhoof out. Once he was gone, she exited the room, sealing it with the locking spell and moving to handle the matter of her clothing to be packed. Entering the bedchamber she moved to the large closet and dresser. Levitating out her trunk from the closet, she began selecting her dresses and levitating them over slowly. She sorted out which were passive, and less inclined to cause another pony to stare at her with strange looks. Settling on a varied but simply selection, she packed them away neatly and moved to her makeup stand. Packing a small travel case of personal makeup and hygiene pieces, she tucked the small case into her trunk. Now that personal needs were tended, she moved to her daughter’s door and knocked softly. The door swung open slowly, gently pulled by a lengthy wing and she smiled to see Feather Touch having a tea party with Caramel. Coming inside she sat by the table with a gentle smile. “Momma, we’re having tea. Would you like to join us?” Caramel asked politely. Such a proper lady, even when having a small tea party with her step-father. Stormstride nodded and smiled as Caramel levitated her a cup and saucer, pouring her some tea. The table was set very neatly, and Stormstride was impressed with her daughter’s skill at preparing a proper luncheon tea. She could tell the pudgy little foal had ventured down to the kitchens to get more lessons on cooking pastries and tea cakes over the time they lived here. That fact was proven by the small but wonderful variety of choices on the plate. The tea was also a new and unusual blend, denoting hints of fruit mixed with a milder tea leaf than Stormstride usually had. She must remind herself to have luncheon tea with her family more often. This was delightful indeed to try new things. “I see someone has been cooking more. How are your lessons Caramel?” Storm asked when her daughter looked to her. Most of the staff knew by now the little mare was deaf, but she had taught herself how to read lips, and responded verbally as best as she could. The young filly giggled and nodded that they were good. She dabbed a napkin on her lips to clean away the bit of jam before speaking. “Cordy is teaching me how to make these better. He said a little buttermilk would be helpful to make them richer, while using a fruit like raspberry to make the jam inside would help balance that with a light tartness. He said that since I am doing well with these, next week he may start teaching me how to make mousse for desert after dinner.” Caramel seemed proud when she spoke those words. Stormstride smiled and clapped her hooves gently, very impressed that Caramel had progressed this far in just a few years. Feather Touch smiled as well, very pleased himself that the little one he called his daughter was growing up so well, learning so much of her desired craft. She had finally gotten her cutie mark, in the design of a beautiful cupcake platter to symbolize her talent for making sweet treats. After such a lovely luncheon snack, Stormstride informed both her husband and daughter that she was going to take a business trip to Canterlot for a while. She was going to look into getting their brand carried in some of the local stores and inns, and that there was a competition as well she was going to attend. CaramelCream bounced lightly, begging for something to be brought back from the trip. Stormstride laughed and promised to bring her daughter a gift from Equestria. Feather Touch asked if she would have time to make a stop at certain floral shops to place and pick up orders for him. She agreed readily, kissing him upon the lips gently as she smiled. Leaving them to continue their tea party, Stormstride moved to step outside and head to the messenger office. She would need to send several letters and arrange for a charter ship to carry her party and cargo quietly and discretely. Taking time to select the proper wine was no rushed process, and the amount of time she was to be gone meant she would need a large supply ready to ship from the docks to any vendors that decided to place an order. She would have time to visit a few cities along the way to Canterlot where the competition was to be held, yet still be early enough to send any planning for her arrival into a disarray. Her personal guards would wear the full armor, in the hopes of a display of power and intimidation working in her favor. As well, she in her dress would look much gentler, and sound much more kind when she stepped away from them to conduct business. This was as much a tactic to scare any would be attempts to dissuade her invitations to ponies there, as it was a flexing of her proverbial muscle. She wanted to make a clear demonstration that she was in control of the situation; and that if she was not at that moment, she would be in short order with her own personal guard. Add to this fact, she still had her own personal armor she could summon to protect herself if she was forced to take part in the combat with her own hooves. Armor enchanted and enhanced beyond anything the REA could produce in masse. She had been working over the armor for a while, enhancing the enchantments to provide better ability to catch incoming spells, while also cushioning the blows of physical attacks. It was purely for defense, as her weapons were for offense alone. Believing she had the cards stacked in her favor now, she sent out a reply to Blueblood to be delivered via normal postage speed and detail in a plain but sealed envelope. Then she sent out a missive to several shops and inns she knew in Canterlot, presenting herself as the owner of a vineyard and winery and stating she would be traveling there in the coming weeks with a new product to sell. She wanted to inform them to be ready for her arrival and that she wanted to work out a contract to offer it in their establishments. She detailed the three classes of wines she normally produced as well as the price ranges. That done, she sent the missives out at express mail, to be delivered as fast as possible. Now there was but a single matter to tend to before she could plan her departure. Travel to Heart Stopper’s docks was only a day’s ride by coach, and would bring her there by late evening if she set out first thing in the morning. Moving to the coach stand, she spoke to her driver and requested him to be prepared to depart at sunrise for the docks. She would need to tend to matters in town and the first was to secure passage aboard a ship. She also knew that it was time to make delivery to Heart Stopper of the taxes and the tribute. Stormstride had personally tasted each batch, singling out the best of them and bottling them by hoof in the old way. She personally oversaw the sealing of every bottle of wine that was sent as tribute to her patron lady. With those supplies already packed and ready to be taken to the capitol, Stormstride returned to her castle to take the evening meal with her family and prepare for the upcoming days. She would be very busy indeed. However it was now that she began to ponder how her brother was doing. He was certainly in Equestria and on his way by train now. She pondered if he was doing well with just two guards, though any more would make him very uncomfortable. She sighed softly, and smiled as she remembered the first time she actually met him. He was a frazzled young stallion, wild mane and tail looking like he had never brushed either in his life. That odd mask of his had chipped paint and the scars of years of wear on it. His ears plugged when he played to not hear the crowd around him. She remembered the fear in his eyes when he finally met his older sibling. Buck had been wondering how Stormstride would react to him being awarded custody of her daughter. Yet, Storm only smiled at her younger brother, and hugged him gently and whispered to him that she was happy to meet him. And now look at the fine, upstanding musician he became. He had such a strong voice, skillful hooves with his instruments, a variety of surprises up his sleeves, and when not wearing the mask he had taken to actually wearing his glasses most of the time. Though that was only in the privacy of being with family that he would reveal those. Taking her mind from her brother, she refocused on the current events before her. He would be safe, and she needed to tend to things here before making her own adventures. However, she was in a fancy mood now, and desired to treat her staff and her family to a rather nice meal. Hurrying down to the kitchens, she caught the chef before he began preparing the evening meal. Then she went through the house, catching every member of her house and informing them that she was taking them to dinner at a large and pleasant restaurant in town that evening. Sending one servant to the restaurant, she had them reserve it for her party for the night. With that done, she returned to her bed chambers to find something to wear.
  17. 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.
  18. Chipper Demise

    From the album Requests, Gifts, Commissions

    I've been in a kind of strange art mood lately, where I want to draw but don't really know what to draw...until I stumbled across an old RP and this adorable character, where I then proceeded to realize that said character has absolutely no art of him. Which is, just...awful. So I set out to rectify that very sad fact! Chipper Demise is a Necromancer who's based off of Henry from Fire Emblem:Awakening. Needless to say, he's very...chipper, despite his profession...or maybe because of it. The outfit was also inspired by the character Chipper's based off of, though I think he usually doesn't wear robes this fine. Maybe this is one of his dress robes?... Chipper Demise (c) PrinceBlueblood
  19. From the album Pony Refs

    This lovely piece was created by our own Discord player RexDraco. (is best discord ever) A bit of background on this piece. Stormstride is a bit of a bitter pony toward most others. Indifferent toward their suffering or emotional state until it directly impacts the well being of one of her own family or direct friends. She's seen several battles, and finally had enough of the inadequate armor that the normal REA soldier is issued. She commissioned a private suit of armor. Not made of the golden alloys as the normal armor, but this was to be made of Silver, Moonstone, and Malacite. A gleaming silvery metal alloy with a slight green hint in the reflection pattern. Each large circle is a gemstone she had placed into the armor. Each stone is enchanted to draw in any magical energy around it, and channel it up for her use as a weapon of shield. She can store excess energy in the gems, or use them to absorb a fair portion of an incoming unfriendly spell. While she will still take an impact from that spell, its power will be greatly lessened. Looking to her hooves there is a set of horseshoes permanently mounted to her with hard steel screws going through both sides of her hooves. Painful at first yes, but once healed it did not bother her. These shoes provide her a single enchantment. She can channel her magic through them to immediately summon her armor and various weapons to herself. This provides her with a slight, but distinct advantage in the event a peaceful situation becomes aggressive. "Never let your armor get dirty. Never let it collect dust. Never leave your weapons soiled. Because when you fail to take care of your armor and weapons, they will return that favor in kind," Stromstride Cloud, speaking to her honor guard during training.

    © Stromstride is copyright to myself. All depictions of her, or any other of the Cloud family lineage are the express intellectual property of myself.

  20. Silverheart bust

  21. Presteza

  22. Roleplay Type: World of Whitescar Name: Ragnhildr Våbensmede Sex: Mare Age: Young Adult Species: Unicorn Eye colour: Moderate Violet (7F3FCB) Coat: Peach, with a fade to pale pearl on her snout and hooves (F9AD81 to FFEFDF) Mane/Tail: Straw Yellow (FFF467) Her mane is kept under a kercheif at all times ('generously' 'given' to her by the Jarl's 'humble' 'housecarls'.) and her tail is a braided mess. Physique: Both buff and underfed. She's all muscle and bone. Residence: The Iron Camp Occupation: Blacksmith slave Cutie Mark: An iron anvil. One of her scars splits it diagonally. Unique Traits: Several wicked scars (the worst of these extends up her snout, across her cheek less than an inch from her left eye, down her neck, and across her right shoulder in a continuous line, as well as the one on her right flank splitting the cutie mark) , a chunk missing out of one ear, and the fur of one leg is missing in a three inch band. She has no unique spell per se, instead focusing her attention on Telekinetic strength and efficiency. Years of training have made her an extraordinary armourer weaponsmith, and blacksmith, and the unique way she was trained has given her deep reserves of magic that, coupled with her Telekinetic efficiency, mean she effectively never runs out of power while working for hours on end. History: Foalnapped as a young filly, Ragnhildr has spent nearly her whole life chained in one way or another to the Red Jarl and his forces. As soon as she was old enough, she was assigned to the forges. At first it was carrying the buckets of scrap iron, filings, and tools, gradually expanding in weight and force through working bellows, carrying the quench tanks, and eventually swinging the forging hammers. Once she started using magic, her energy was exhausted every day on working the bellows and forges on her own before being forced to carry on manually once it ran dry. She tried to run when she was young, but the guard dealt her a blow as she looked over her shoulder, leaving an angry scar that she carries to this day. She tried to run again when she got her cutie mark, but the guard stopped her and scarred the mark to remind her of her place. She tried to run a third time, and the Jarl's men took her friends to a dark hole, with the threat of pain for them. She no longer runs. The guards have taken off her shackles now, because she can no longer run. But she can plan. She can wait. Character Personality: Quiet rebellion, quiet strength. Ragnhildr has both in spades. Outwardly she complies with every task and request put before her, no matter how cruel the device. However into each shackle she builds a weakness. A stress point she can exploit when The Day Comes. Every weapon save one has a flaw that only she knows. Every suit of armor a catch too subtle to be found easily. When The Day comes, the Red Jarl and his men will rue the day they took the Våbensmede clan. But for now, Ragnhildr waits. Character Summary: Scarred blacksmith for the Red Jarl, Ragnhildr patiently waits for her chance to escape. One day, she will fight, and one day she will kill for the honour of the lost Våbensmede clan. But that day is not today. That day will only come when she can ensure that nopony else will come to harm. Til Valhalla, bróðir.
  23. Deimos (Ready)

    Roleplay Type: World of Equestria Name: Deimos Sex: Male Age: Stallion Species: Unicorn Eye colour: Blood red ringed with yellow. Coat: Deimos’ jet black coat is thick and and well-maintained. Mane/Tail: Both are as uniformly dark as his coat. His mane he keeps at a medium length, though it is always immaculately styled...ish. Deimos is painfully aware of how one might read his appearance, and as such he always keeps his hair styled with a flaw: slicked back with pomade, with the exception of one tiny section of hair that had a tendency to fall out of place. Why? The stallion uses his charm and looks as a weapon, and knows the appeal of catching a highly-regarded pony in an intimate moment. With a loose section of hair slipping out of place, he wore the same appeal as a button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves, or just the top few buttons undone. It made him seem boyish, approachable, and a little scatterbrained. Vulnerable, if you would. His tail is fairly unremarkable, he wears it a little on the shorter side. Physique: Though he and his brothers are twins, they are not perfectly identical. Their eyes, their manes, and their heights are different. Deimos, as the younger brother (by roughly three hours), is exactly one inch taller than his dear Phobos. Like his siblings, though, he is a trained warrior and thusly blessed with a very muscular physique. He’s a regular Adonis, a perfect physical specimen. Residence: Castle Erinys, Kastrot. Occupation: Charmer-in-residence of House Erinys. Deimos’ siblings are both a little helpless, after all. Phobos carries himself as a cold and uncaring leader despite his bleeding heart. And Acantha? One simply could not trust her to speak to ponies of any influence. At all. So it is left to Deimos to handle public relations for his house, more or less. Officially, his role is “Advisor.” It allows him to remain at his brother’s side to provide council, though Phobos hardly requires such assistance. In truth, his role existed to allow him the opportunity to communicate with and ideally charm every noble who crossed paths with House Erinys. After all, he and his brother had a reputation to clear after their great-grandfather cast their house into shame. Cutie Mark: An ouroboros engulfed in flames. Deimos’ cutie mark is a testament to his obsession with perfection. While his siblings seemed to always understand their purpose and destiny, Deimos struggled with the role he had been forced into. House Erinys had fallen well before he was born, its legacy living on in tales that warned of vaulting ambition and reaching too high. Wax wings, Icarus, yadda yadda yadda. What did that have to do with him? He was born common, and he never dreamed of falling victim to the same overly-ambitious nonsense that disgraced his family in the first place. Deimos lived a good life amongst the lower-class citizens of Kastrot. He could sweet talk his way into and out of anything, charmed the other ponies his age into following him and giving him stuff like toys and candy, and even the adults would feed him or send him home with gifts when he flashed them a smile. Sure, they didn’t have everything, but that had all they needed. And down here? He already was royalty. There was no need to chase some dumb dream of ruling over their stupid island, so why train for it? Every day the colt told himself this, but every day he was lying to himself. In all truth, he wanted to restore his family name. He wanted a castle, the fancy friends, the bits. The adoring mares who’d chase him for his riches and his influence. He wanted it all! But he was awful at everything he needed to be good at to help his family. So he avoided lessons. Magical training? Yeah right. Weapons? No way. Hoof to hoof combat? That might ruin his looks! No matter how hard he tried, he failed. The only element he showed any promise at controlling (elemental magic being the specialty of House Erinys), was fire, and yet that magic was still just so out of his reach. So what would any clever young colt do in that situation? He skipped lessons. Acantha and Phobos were being groomed for perfection while he spooked off and ruled the streets. Until the night he came home one night to find his grandmother crying over how she needed all her darling grandchildren working together so she could return to her foalhood home but Deimos didn’t care about it. She said he mustn’t love her any more and blamed herself and all the pressure she put on him. The guilt crashed over him like a wave, and he never skipped another lesson again. Soon, his failures did not matter. He listened to his grandmother’s critiques, absorbed every scrap of knowledge she had to offer, asked her for tales from her foalhood in House Erinys, and soon enough, he too was a vision of perfection. He could summon and control fire, speak multiple languages, and was skilled with throwing knives, scimitars, and hoof weapons. The next time he saw his grandmother cry, she was shedding tears of pride. She told him that the harder he fell, he would simply stand taller. Every defeat set his heart ablaze and propelled him towards success. And she knew he would do great things. In that moment, his cutie mark burned into existence - proof that he would use every failure as an opportunity to recreate himself into a better version of who he was before. Death and rebirth, the ouroboros burning with confidence and passion: that was Deimos, eternally rebuilding himself into the perfect vassal of the Erinys name. Unique Traits: Like all Erinys ponies, Deimos is an elemental mage. His specialty, of course, is fire. It is as wild and hot as his heart, and fits him to a t: it’s unpredictable, fearful, warm, and life-giving. Of course, wielding fire comes with many drawbacks: without control, fire is a danger even to its wielder. Never would Deimos start a massive blaze, as he is incapable of controlling it. He also cannot summon a massive firestorm - moreso small, controlled bursts where he aims, as well as whips of flame (a style which he swiped from her darling sister Acantha). Can a smile be a unique trait? Deimos thinks so. His pearly whites and woefully perfect physique are, ultimately, his greatest weapon. Sure he can throw knives and use scimitars and javelins, but since reclaiming House Erinys...what need has he for those skills? Smiling, winking, and otherwise wooing those he meets are his real weapons. History: Written theory, runic penmanship, the study of symbols and history, and of course practical applications of magic consumed every moment of Deimos’ youth. Almost. His free moments were spent learning politics and physical combat. He spent the entirety of his youth being groomed to become a perfect noblepony, especially after he earned his cutie mark. Unlike his siblings, however, he did not waste all of his time on secret lessons. Deimos had the sense to venture out into the world and befriend the common folk of Kastrot. His siblings, after being convinced by him, soon followed suit. They did not live as noble ponies, nor should they carry themselves as such. Soon, they all became quite close with their neighbours. When the time eventually came to rise against the traitors living in Castle Erinys, it was he who played a key part in banding the common folk together under the banner of House Erinys, if only because he coached his siblings on how to seriously rally some followers. When their house was restored, it was with the help of Acantha’s foalhood friend, Daedalus, that Phobos was allowed to be a part of The Assembly of Heads as the head of House Erinys must always be. His hold on his power, however, is tenuous at best. House Erinys was disgraced in the past...how could anypony trust them not to stir the pot? That was precisely where Deimos’ role as “advisor” came into play. His was the silver tongue which would convince the nobles of Kastrot that House Erinus was reborn and would stand tall once more. Phobos steered the ship, Deimos convinced other captains to join their fleet, and Acantha...quietly shoveled coal where she couldn’t be seen. They all worked very well together, and would no doubt return the Erinys name to its full former glory. And although Deimos misses the company of his lughead of a sister, he knows their family is better off if she’s off someplace where she can’t tick off every noblepony in Kastrot, No, no, the Erinys siblings simply had to leave the talking to Deimos. He was the one who won them trading partners, allies, and friends. And of course, House Erinys saw no lack of comely feminine company with Deimos around to charm the ladies into scoping out the eligible bachelors. Phobos, after all,will require an heir! Character Personality: Deimos is suave, charming, and passionate! His love for his family is the main reason he strives to perfection, as his ultimate goal in life is to maintain the power and influence that House Erinys struggled to have returned to them. The Erinys stallion fully understands that he will never be as accomplished a magician or warrior as his siblings, and has such he has fully embraced his true talent: charm. He is capable of being a social chameleon: he matches the vibes and personality of those he talks to, getting them to open up and let their guard down a little more easily. He is also well-spoken, open, and pretty sincere despite his silver tongue. After all, it’s much easier getting somepony to open up to you when you’re the first to show a little vulnerability. That said, he’d never go so far as to show true weakness. House Erinys must remain perfectly powerful. So, as one might expect, many of his vulnerabilities are more implied than anything. The imperfect, slightly disheveled mane and a self-deprecating sense of humour are two of the most powerful tools in his arsenal. Otherwise, Deimos oozes confidence. He simply has an air about him that makes him feel reliable, dependable even! And a lot of that has to do with how easy he finds it to love and how loyal he is to those he does care for. Character Summary: Deimos is a fire that can’t be put out. He’s passionate, energetic, and unstoppable. After all, failure only pushes him to work harder! He is constantly working towards perfecting himself and trying hard to be the asset to House Erinys that his grandmother believes he can be. He also loves his family dearly...including himself! A confident charmer, a terrible flirt, and a lovely visage...Deimos is a veritable force of nature
  24. Phobos [Ready]

    Name: Phobos Gender: Male Age: Stallion Species: Unicorn Eye Color: Dark Gray Character Color: Jet black Mane/Tail: His mane and tail are the same black as his coat, aside from the bands around his tail base and a single streak of his mane, which are both a blood red. His mane is rather unruly, actually, hanging loose and unstyled. It is of a medium length, the red streak sitting near his eye. His tail is short, only reaching back down far enough to cover his backside. Physique: He boasts the kind of physique typical of a soldier, muscular from vigorous training and exercise. He is of average height for a stallion his age. Part of his right ear is missing, and his eyes are somewhat slitted from constant practice with his magic. Residence: The Kastroti castle of House Erinys Occupation: Leader of House Erinys and member of the Assembly of Heads. Cutie Mark: A blood red crescent over a white crown. For him, this represents the need for sacrifice if one is to win sometimes as well as his desire to find a way around the sacrifice. He got this mark the day he finally beat the most difficult strategic scenario they could find with only two pieces left. Both sides had started with full armies, though they were already positioned so every one of his pieces was in trouble. After many moves and many sacrifices, he made it down to two on his side and one on the other. From there, it was only a matter of time, so they called it and he smiled at them as his mark formed. Unique Traits: He has been trained extensively in the use of swords, throwing daggers, bows, and even a whip. He also has training in fighting with his bare hooves, though he never was as good at that. Phobos also wields an unusual power. While his sister found an affinity with lightning, he was drawn to the shadows. He can do many things with the shadows, from hiding his form better to limited sight through them to using them to hurt or restrain enemies. He tends to use the shadows as tendrils, wielding them like whips or just using them like spikes. His most impressive feat so far is perhaps the development of a silent teleport of sorts. While it has a much more limited range and only works in the shadows, he can move from one end of his castle to the other very quickly by utilizing shadows in his path, making no sound as he disappears from one room and emerges from another. He has a pet raven as well named Sicar that he takes with him everywhere. History: His whole life before taking control of his house was spent in preparation for it, or at least it felt like it. His great grandfather had made his house a disgrace, being thrown out of their own castle and forced to live as commoners on their own island. It was clear from as far back as he can remember that he and his siblings were to take back the throne. Being the eldest, he was the one most likely to be in charge once they had restored their house, so his training focused on honing his mind as well as his body and magic. He was often given difficult puzzles or strategy games where he was set up to be mostly garunteed defeat. These were in addition to the other lessons such as politics. This was around the time he discovered his shadow magic, the frustration and anger unlocking something inside him that allowed for the manipulation of the shadows. Over time, these became easier and easier, and one day he beat the most arduous strategy game they had created, earning him his mark. As they grew older, Phobos knew that they couldn't do this alone, despite their combined power. With that in mind, he proposed they turn the commoners to their side and use them in the battle. Thankfully, they had already been working to that end during their life and it didn't take much for Deimos to convince them. The coup was successful in the end, and Phobos took his place at the head of the house, though it took more outside help from Arcantha's friend to get him a seat on the Assembly of Heads. Their goals achieved, he set about improving conditions on the island from security to standard of living. While he understood his sister's choice to leave, he still missed her dearly and was glad whenever she returned. The magic and artifacts she brought were always good things, but they were not what he looked forward to about the visits. Personality: Phobos is, on the outside, a generally apathetic guy. In reality, he just has a really good poker face. He can get rather emotional, though he tends to bottle everything until he's alone or with someone he trusts. He cares about his people, even if it looks like he's just keeping them happy so they don't overthrow him. Even so, he would destroy them if it were necessary. For him, no sacrifice is preferable, but he will accept sacrificing the few for the many if no better choice is present. For his friends and family, Phobos is willing to wear his heart on his sleeve, letting them see behind the mask of apathy. Becoming his friend is no small feat, however, and most give up and settle for friendly ally. Once you do reach the level of friend though, he would do anything in his power to help you in your time of need, even stare down death itself. Summary: A seemingly apathetic pony that is nonetheless a kind and caring leader. His strategic and cunning mind serves him well in bringing more prosperity and glory to his house.