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It was a nice warm sunny day in Ponyville, just like most of their days, the sun beating down in a gentle golden beam across the wide streets of the quaint town, ponies wandering back and forth, attending to their businesses or their general needs, the food places filling their outside seating on a day like today, while many establishments had their doors open to let the cool air through their buildings. 

One such building was a rather large one, a combination of a quaint home, with a bookstore bolted onto the front, what made this special however was the stock; filled with first and only editions of some of the rarest and oldest tomes in Equestria and from beyond its borders, one could easily get lost between the shelves of the impressive range, no labels on the shelving units, but it was all organised in a way that only the store owner seemed to know about.

On the topic of the owner, he was stood behind the tall oak counter in the store, wearing a rather nice pinstripe suit jacket on his grey body, his mane short and cut in a formal way that may have been trendy a few years back, on his front left hoof was a rather fancy and most likely expensive watch, and what was even stranger about him was his age, looking like a moderately young stallion, not the sort to run such a large store on something that would look at home in a grandparent's attic, and yet here he was, hard at work as always, the ever peculiar Coltson, so happy to be living with so little risk in his life.

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"So this is Ponyville ..." Tongue Twister mused to herself as she stretched out her legs one at a time after departing the train from Manehattan, "Hopefully the bookstore here will have what I need.  I've run through my other sources."

 

She felt the sun warming her storm cloud grey coat as she stretched her wings straight up, then wiggled the feathers to get the blood circulating properly as she walked along the road before whistling a few notes.

 

From her saddlebag, one trained rat ran up her back and took his favorite perch atop her head; his lazier brother merely peeked out.

 

"Okay you two, I know it's been a long trip.  I'll make it up to you - later." she stated to them, "But for now, I have some business to conduct.  So I need both of you to be on your best behavior - so no leaving my pack !   If you can do it, we'll play in the park."

 

Ace (the white and chocolate brown rat on her head) squeaked in reply, then scampered back into her saddlebag; the cocoa-colored Deuces merely went back to napping.

 

After a few moments, she reached the address she was looking for, and walked in.

 

There were books !  Everywhere !  Five copies (of what looked like first printings) of 'The History of Equestria' - in five different languages on the shelf over there !  Some treatises on mathematics over there !  Philosophical texts from Long Guo over there !

 

"JACKPOT !" she cheered to herself as she looked for the proprietor.

 

Upon noticing the tall grey stallion in a pinstripe jacket behind the counter, she asked "Would you happen to have a first edition of  'Hitchhiker's Guide to Equestria' written in Prench ?"

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Coltson was currently just thinking on the latest books he had read, reliving those moments in his mind with a calm smile, enjoying the mild nature of the day today; nothing could go wrong on a day like today.

He then heard hoofsteps going from the stone path outside, onto the wooden floor of his shop, he slides the comic book on his counter under it quickly, putting on his professional face, nearly losing it when he hears a mare cheering, always glad that others appreciated the look of his store, however it also meant that he would probably have to part with a book today. Not many ponies realised it, but book sellers live off the promise that so few ponies actually buy books compared to getting them from libraries, that you could just describe most book sellers as glorified collectors, selling a repeat or two to make ends meet occasionally.

"First edition? Let me check." his horn lights up as all the writing on the spines of the books start to light up with the same colour, some fading until only five were left, before three of them fade as well "Aha, yes we do seem to have one." he levitates one with the still lit spine off the shelf, laying it on the counter, the book making a dull thud as it landed, he looks it over "Yes this is all still seems to be in order. That will be seventy bits, please."

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"Oh thank the sun, moon and stars !" Tongue Twister exclaimed as she retrieved the seventy bits from her saddlebag, "I thought I'd have to go all the way to Prance to start a search there !  No telling how long that would take."

 

She looked around a bit more before asking Coltson "Has this shop been in the family for generations, or are you just really good at finding obscure books ?  I've seen university libraries that don't have such extensive collections as what is here.

 

Although their filing systems aren't quite as cryptic as the one you're using.  But, then again, if you're skillful enough with locator magic, one system is as good as any other."

 

She thought for a moment as she carefully placed her purchase in her bag, before continuing "Speaking of finding obscure texts - what do you have concerning the languages of the Tenochtitlan Basin ?  I've read nearly all the recent reports, but most of them go back only fifty or so years.  There must be something further back, but those are hard to find.

 

I doubt I could afford to purchase any of them, but would I be allowed to read any you had ?  Some booksellers are VERY sensitive about their stock."

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He takes the bits and puts them in the chest on the counter. "Still worth going to every so often; Prance is a lovely place." he comments casually.

 

"Actually this shop is very recently opened. Just moved back here to be closer to friends and family. Few books from my pa, some found around Ponyville, and others painstakingly collected from my private collection." he laughs at her statement "I can promise you that no university library has this collection; anywhere else and the books would be stolen."

 

He waves off the comment about his filing system "It works for what it needs to do. Means ponies have to interact with me, making those usually so burrowed in books have to look up at the world."

 

At the next request he grits his teeth, thinking for a moment before saying "Come with me." as he opens a door to the rest of the private rooms of the store, most likely living spaces, through the door there was a room with one wall lined with evidently ancient books, and a floor safe off center near the middle of the room, he levitates down a few smaller books.

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Tongue Twister nodded when he mentioned Prance - she'd been there a few times over the years for conferences and seminars.  The Prench language held a special place in her heart, for it was the language she used to earn her Cutie Mark.

 

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"It works for what it needs to do. Means ponies have to interact with me, making those usually so burrowed in books have to look up at the world."

 

She had to agree with that idea, having fallen into the "study so long you forget what day it is" a few times herself.

 

She followed him deeper into the store, to a room with one wall lined with ancient books,

 

"You - actually HAVE something unique on the Tenochtitlan languages ?!" she managed to squeak out in surprise, "I know most rare books start out in private collections, but the odds that any given pony would have any given book are, well, I don't know !  But  they must be very long indeed !"

 

And if her mother Shady Dealer was with her, she'd know how long the odds were.  To about three decimal places.

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"I think I probably have the largest collection of rare and exclusive texts in Equestria. I always aim to complete a collection; so if I have a book written in a dead language, then I collect all the reference guides and dictionaries for that language that I can, never caught out that way. And you'll find the key to all of this is to be the first one to find the text, or find the text in the hooves of one who does not recognise the worth of what they own." He leans against the wall as he looks over all his books with a smile.

"So what is it that you do, ma'am? It's not very normal to meet a pony who has need of ancient dialects, or travel books written in a foreign language." he comments, quite curious about this mare.

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"So what is it that you do, ma'am? It's not very normal to meet a pony who has need of ancient dialects, or travel books written in a foreign language." he comments, quite curious about this mare.

 

"I'm a linguist." Tongue Twister replied, "I study languages.  How they are related to each other.  How they change over time.  How one language splits into many.  How two languages can fuse into a new one.

 

I'm currently studying the Qetzalcoatlan languages.  There are at least six major dialects in use in the Tenochtitlan Basin.  The nomadic tribes are small and isolated, which tends to allow languages to diverge.  But they move around and encounter each other quite often, which tends to allow different languages to fuse into a new one.  So I'm trying to piece together what the original language was, before it gets too mixed.

 

There is a saying amongst linguists : 'when a language dies, a world ends.  When a language is deciphered, a new world opens up.'  Look at how much more we learned about the ancient cultures of Pharaoh's Veil once Champonyon deciphered their hieroglyphics !

 

As for the Prench travel guide, I need it to get my dad out of a tight spot. 

 

He's kind of what you'd call a curio merchant.  'Strange and unusual things from strange and unusual places - for reasonable prices !'" she stated with a melodramatic florish, "In one of his ads, he said 'he had (or could get) anything you could ever want.'  Most ponies would realize that was just marketing hype, and not take it seriously; unfortunately, a litigious busybody decided to sue him for false advertising !  She wants to take his shop unless dad can get her a first edition 'Hitchhiker's Guide to Equestria' written in Prench ! 

 

She says it her original culture, but she's about as Prench as Prince Rutherford of Yakyakistan !"

 

She paused for a bit to catch her breath, before realizing something.  "Oh, sorry sir !  I've been prattling on, and we don't even know each other's names !

 

I'm Tongue Twister.  I work for the Manehatten Museum of Natural History, mostly."

 

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So this one was quite obviously a very keen linguist, something that could perhaps come in handy to him. But he would have to be careful about this; she was a civilian after all. "I see, so you are following the paper trail to see what text goes the furthest back on the subject you are interested in, then see if that has any truth when compared to the languages the tribes actually speak now? Interesting." he comments calmly as he listens to her talk about her passion, then slowly move into the topic of her father.

It seemed to Coltson that this pony's father had certainly found himself in quite the spot of bother due to poor choice of words in an advert, he tilts his head as he listens, knowing full well that this other pony could more be wanting the shop for the items hidden within it, and any anomalous items, perhaps a rival collector of sorts like himself, only the opposite, it was at this point that this slight interaction became the most important moment of his day. He quickly vanished into a back room, coming out with a grey bodysuit underneath his suit jacket as he put on his sunglasses "The name is Coltson, anyway, shall we head off and see if we can't help your father out then?" he says as he locks the door he came out of. "I have quite an interest in strange items myself, so I can get two things done in this trip, three if I am lucky." he straightens himself up. "So miss Twister, care to lead on?"

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"I see, so you are following the paper trail to see what text goes the furthest back on the subject you are interested in, then see if that has any truth when compared to the languages the tribes actually speak now? Interesting."

 

"Well, I'm trying to figure out which dialects are most closely related - how the original language split." she replied, "I have plenty of data about how they sound now; in order to resolve which dialect split off first, I need information about how they sounded decades or centuries ago.  The older texts are closer to the event.  So, yes."
 

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He quickly vanished into a back room, coming out with a grey bodysuit underneath his suit jacket as he put on his sunglasses "The name is Coltson, anyway, shall we head off and see if we can't help your father out then?" he says as he locks the door he came out of. "I have quite an interest in strange items myself, so I can get two things done in this trip, three if I am lucky." he straightens himself up. "So miss Twister, care to lead on?"

 

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhkay ...." she replied, not quite sure what to make of this turn of events, but if he wants to help, she wasn't going to turn the offer down !  As they'd say in ancient Equinitic : "narghDI' 'eb Dun net reH tlhap" - 'always take a wonderful opportunity when it appears !'.

 

She didn't know what the second or third thing Coltson planned on getting done could be, but she figured she'd find out in time. 

 

"Well, the earliest train back to Manehattan should be leaving Ponyville in about fifteen minutes." she stated, "Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium is just a short walk from the train station."

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"Well, I'm trying to figure out which dialects are most closely related - how the original language split." she replied, "I have plenty of data about how they sound now; in order to resolve which dialect split off first, I need information about how they sounded decades or centuries ago.  The older texts are closer to the event.  So, yes."


She really knew her stuff about these tribal dialects; it was very impressive, taking such a leap out of nothing but intrigue and a hunch, but that was just the kind of behaviour that he liked, and needed at a time like this.

 

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"Well, the earliest train back to Manehattan should be leaving Ponyville in about fifteen minutes." she stated, "Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium is just a short walk from the train station."


Even better, she had her schedules known and planned, and she was at least moderately on board with this, he looks up at his clock with a frown "Station is probably about that long, we best get going now then, come on." he jogs out his shop, reasonably spry for a book seller, yet another surprising feature of this thoroughly unusual case. "Don't forget to shut the door behind yourself; the sign is already the right way around so don't bother with that one!"

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Tongue Twister watched Coltson jog out of his store.  She didn't know what was going on, but he almost seemed more determined to get to Manehattan than she was.

 

She made sure the door was closed and locked before heading out to the station.

 

"You know Coltson, I wasn't all that worried about my dad before." she stated as she caught up to him, "But you're acting like there is something major going - OW !"

 

There was a brown and mostly white rat on her head, yanking at her mane !

 

"Ace !  PLEASE stop that !" she growled at the critter, "I know  you're upset that we didn't go to the park, but I might need to get back home ASAP !  The park there is better anyway - all the cats know to stay away from us !

 

So please - get back in the pack with Deuces.  I'll make it up to both of you later."

 

Her pet rodent looked at her for a few moments, before returning to the depths of her saddlebag.

 

"Pets are such a joy.  Usually." he stated to Coltson with a sheepish grin as they approached the train station.

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"Oh no, don't worry, nothing is going on at all. I'm just interested to see a few more good antiques before the day goes by. Also I don't like wasting time, so I really want to catch this train." he lies casually, lying being one thing he was particularly skilled at.

He watches her argue with her rats, being somewhat confused about the behaviour, but also knowing better than to second guess the inhabitants of Equestria. After all, he had seen items that were designed as hairbrushes being created quite so awfully that they absorbed hair from ponies. In fact that was currently under lock up in B-sector.


 

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"Pets are such a joy.  Usually."


"I am sure." He comments as they get to the platform, the train being sat on the rails ready to depart just like he had planned, stepping quickly onto the train he beckons her on as well, finding a seat and sitting down.

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"Oh no, don't worry, nothing is going on at all. I'm just interested to see a few more good antiques before the day goes by. Also I don't like wasting time, so I really want to catch this train." he lies casually, lying being one thing he was particularly skilled at.

 

Twister just figures he's as intense about antiques and schedules as she is about languages - that WOULD explain the apparent rush.

 

After boarding the train and sitting down, she takes out the book she purchased from Coltson and looks at it.

 

"You know, you might be able to get this book back really cheap." she stated to him, "I think the only reason Double Deal asked for it was because she thought it was impossible to find.  Pretty good trick - ask dad for something impossible, and when he fails to find it, take legal action !

 

A called bluff is of no further use, so she might be willing to sell it for a few bits."

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"You know, you might be able to get this book back really cheap."

He chuckles, shaking his head "I have no need to. I have two other copies in Prench, and at least three in other languages as well. I wouldn't have sold it if it was the only one after all." he says as he leans his head back against the seat, idly playing with his sunglasses, the lenses looking rather strange, it would be hard to figure out what exactly, but something seemed off about them.

The train starts to slowly chug along to its destination, moving with the usual pace "So this Double Deal, did she turn up at the same time as your father got any interesting new trinkets?" he asks carefully, not wanting to come off as too curious about her family.

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If Naj had to guess, she never would have thought she'd be in Ponyville on business.  While there was a lot that happened there which might be worth keeping an eye on, the nature of the place meant that such things tended to be short lived.  Anything starting here would have a tough, uphill battle ahead of it.  And when the most strategically significant thing about the town were the very mares who made it so dangerous for threats, it leaves most of the problems that arise, 'self-solving' one could say.

 

Though Naj admittedly also realized that meant it would be a good place to keep any eye on, or to have somepony nearby in case of emergencies.  Which was the reason she was here right at the moment.  She hadn't been given the full details of course, too much information would risk it getting to the wrong hooves, but the gist of it was that SMILE was setting up some sort of facility in town.  Technically that wasn't the changeling's organization, but since they were all on the same side and technically in the same line of work, she volunteered to go.

Naj arrived at the entrance to the bookstore just as a pair of ponies were leaving.  She didn't see the significance of that until she looked at the door itself, particularly the 'closed' sign hung at it.  The place was supposed to be open now, which meant that... the pony she was here to see was most likely one of the two who just left.

 

After the moment needed to put this information together, Naj turned and galloped after them.

 

---

 

Naj was just in time.  She'd seen the two ponies get on the train, from a distance, and made it just as the train was leaving the station.  It was a good thing much of her life had consisted of vigorous physical activity.

 

Searching the train itself took a few moments, as she only knew who she was looking for by description, but she spotted the grey unicorn and his pegasus companion soon enough.  She trotted over as the train began to leave the station.

 

“Coltson, I presume?”  Naj offered a perforated hoof to shake.  “I was hoping to talk business with you but,” she looked over at the pegasus for a moment, “it looks like you're in the middle of something.  Would either of you mind if I tagged along?”  In addition to passing fascination, seeing how he conducted himself might give some hints to the general state of things, and a truer understanding than any report could give.

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The train starts to slowly chug along to its destination, moving with the usual pace "So this Double Deal, did she turn up at the same time as your father got any interesting new trinkets?" he asks carefully, not wanting to come off as too curious about her family.

 

"Not really.  She's always had a bit of a grudge against my parents." Twister replied, "She feels that anypony from Las Pegasus is either a criminal, a 'loud, obnoxious affront to all peace-loving ponies everywhere', or both.

 

Mom used to be a card dealer in Las Pegasus before she married dad and moved to Manehattan.  But Double Deal has never pulled anything like this before, and she's known my family for years.  And Dad gets new stuff fairly often.  I don't know what put a tick in her ear about him this time."

 

She heard a mare's voice ask for Coltson's attention, but this was no ordinary mare.

 

"Is she one of those changelings I've heard of ?" she thought to herself, blinking in surprise a few times.

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Coltson nods carefully "I see, well if it is just location based prejudice it should probably be quite easy to remedy. Hopefully we'll have your problem done with enough time for me to browse your father's wares." he smiles, excited at the chance to see if there was an item here.

 

Naj then spoke up, getting his attention. Immediately he recognized her from the files he had acquired on his fellow organizations "Well of course you may follow along. I get the feeling this is going to be epic, don't you?" he asks her with a smile.

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"I do hope you're right about my problem being easy to solve ..." Twister replied, "The last thing anyone needs is pointless aggravation."

 

She also wondered just what sort of wares her dad got hold of THIS time - being in the 'import/export' business meant he occasionally acquired some rather 'interesting' items.  She'd hardly call any of those misadventures 'epic', so she wondered why Coltson hoped this one would be.

 

She suspected there was something going on that she didn't know about, but figured it would be best to play along and let the situation resolve itself in its own time.

 

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The pegasus didn't know what to make of Naj, it seemed.  It wasn't exactly a warm welcome, but she was used to such things, and it was hardly the worst reaction she'd gotten.  She didn't get an answer to whether the pegasus was okay with her joining the group or not, but she didn't hear any particular objection either.  The other pony seemed more confused than anything else.  If the pegasus didn't want anypony else following, she'd have plenty of chances to say so.

 

Coltson meanwhile, recognized Naj right away.  He went to the opposite extreme, greeting Naj almost as if she knew him before.  Which, it struck her, might have been half true if he'd been paying attention to the right things.  She was making a point not to hide her activities, except where it was important for the job.  He even might have said a code word of sorts, hinting at her current organization, although she couldn't be sure.  She replied to his statement at face value, for appearances sake.  “Well, hopefully not too much,” she said with a laugh, “there's only so much excitement we could safely have in Canterlot.”

 

Not finding any objection, Naj sat down next to them, taking a seat next to Coltson.  It seems she would be joining them for the trip after all.  The pegasus picked up where the two of them had left off, hoping their task wouldn't have too many complications.  The changeling realized she was still missing some critical information.  “So what is it you're searching for, anyways?”

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Coltson nods his head "Indeed, I must say I'm hoping my negotiation skills will not be needed as long as we can deliver this book for your antagoniser. Especially since that will then give me enough time just to look around; I love exploring cities and seeing what things I can pick up about it." he said casually, the ending of his line having a double meaning in it, one that Naj would understand hopefully, just as a sort of confirmation that there was something possible underway, and the other meaning something that Twister would hopefully get to keep her off his trail, at least for now.

He looks over to Naj quickly, giving her a split second glance for her to not talk about that type of thing in public. "Oh, not really searching for anything in particular; just heard this one's father was in a spot of bother, and I thought it would be best if I accompanied as a neutral party. And then have a nose around his antique store, you know how I am. Love collecting old and weird things for my collection. I suppose you are here wanting to have a look at the safe, yes?" he asks her, asking the specific questions while trying to just make it sound like a standard conversation. "If you accompany me back afterwards I shall show you the safe so our friend can rest a bit easier knowing that our collection is still there."

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Tongue Twister merely nodded to Coltson's reply, figuring he's just as avid about collecting books and antiques as she is about studying languages.

His conversation with the changeling pretty much confirmed that guess.

 

But this changeling mare was interesting - she looks like the ones that invaded Canterlot awhile back, but she's not hostile at all !

But the non-hostile changelings supposedly look different now, if what she's heard about them was correct.

 

Might be an outlier - there can be quite a wide range of variation for any trait in a population.  Since some pegasi are nicer than others, and some are nastier than others, why wouldn't the same apply to changelings ?

 

Does seem to be getting along very well with Coltson though ...

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Naj was caught off guard by Coltson's choice of cover, as it wasn't exactly what she'd been thinking of.  Granted, she also hadn't expected to be following him on a little adventure, so she hadn't realized a cover would be necessary.  Either way though, she stayed unfortunately quiet for a moment, before realizing this could fit with what she had in mind pretty well.  Her plan was based on truth, and it was to claim she was working with the guard, and she was checking up on Coltson who as a purveyor of rare books was occasionally called on for research or came upon dangerous items.  On reflection it made some sense that she might be checking up on the safe.  Finally recovering from the surprise, and doing her best not to show it, she nodded.  “Yeah, that'll work.  I won't even have to interrupt your business then.”

 

The pegasus with Coltson seemed to be recovering from her own shock as well, more so as time went on.  She even seemed somewhat interested in Naj, if her occasional glances were anything to go by.  It was yet another good sign, interest rather than a more unsavoury emotion, although apparently that positive attitude didn't extend far enough to for the mare to speak yet.

 

Which meant perhaps it was up to Naj.  Just as well maybe, as she had a realization.  She looked to the pegasus.  “Shoot, I just realized I never introduced myself.  Hello!  My name's Naj.”  She offered a hoof for the pegasus to shake, if she felt so inclined.

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"Glad to meet you Naj." Twister replied while shaking her hoof rather vigorously, "I'm Tongue Twister.  Twister for short.

If I'm not mistaken, you're a non-hostile changeling, but you don't look like most of the others.  You not with Thorax's

hive ?"

 

She thought the question might seem odd, but spending a few months of the year in the Tenochtitlan Basin doing field research means that she misses quite a bit of news now and again.

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Sensing that she isn't important enough to be in the same room as Naj and Coltson, Tongue Twister makes her exit.

 

"I see you two have a lot of private things to discuss, so I'm just going to go elsewhere ...
Like the luggage hold, with the rest of the irrelevant, forgotten baggage .... "

 

Edited by NiktoBarada

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