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The music that flowed in the air was about as high society as could be. The sound of violins, cellos, and harps ringing through the castle as guessed mingled and bumped elbows. Serving staff were still in a hurry, coming in and out carrying heavy dishes, likely at the behest of a stressed and irritable head chef running the kitchen. Fragrant smells were flooding the areas, some of the more scent loving ponies in the area seemingly lifted off their hooves by a fabulous aroma… seems the growing rumors of the audities of the Grand Galloping Gala actually were a bit overstated.


Lounges, places of respite and relaxation. A place those who grew tired of putting on fancy persona for the sake of the up-tight members of the elite could just relax, take a load off and to a certain extent be themselves. There was a nice small bar that was headed by somepony personable and good at their job. The stools, cushions, chairs, and couches were all the type of thing that screamed expensive and immensely comforting to those who sat in them.


Would there be many who grew tired of the surprising exhaustion the Gala might bring? Only time would tell in the end, but a certain creature had already been a bit drained from the evening.




A statuesque Caribou was currently laying in one of the larger couches in the lounge, one adjacent to the bar. She looked… a bit fiercer than what many ponies might envision of those fierce viking caribou to the north and that was saying something. She stood at about the height of the sun princess, her coat was heavy and her mane looked very wild and voluminous. She was incredibly muscular with a build that told of a lifetime of training and fighting from the harsh lands she called home. Curiously enough though, she had conical teeth… or at least two that were poking out of the sides of her maw.

The night had been tiresome already. Since she had come to the Gala she had presented a gift from the high king, Dragonsong… and one from her own clan as well. She had heard a group of nobles from the east were coming, but her work was more or less done and depending on what area of the east that they were coming from… it may be best to avoid them.


What mostly annoyed the cow were all the whispers going on that she could hear, a lot of rumors about her suddenly being cursed by a WRAITH invention and whether she should really even be allowed in here. It was mostly from the upper echelons of the Equestrian nobility but it was still mentally exhausting. Her current status in this instance was alright… mostly just irritated by passing remarks but in the solace of the lounge she could have a little peace while she waited for her date to finish up whatever business he had in this land and hopefully join her.

Earlier she had managed to leave her adoptive son on his own in order to pursue a certain someone. She left him with the knowledge that she won’t wish him luck as he wouldn’t need it. As beastly as she may appear now to a few of the gala-goers… she was still the same personable if boisterous cow.

With another soft sigh she looked around the Lounge’s entrances, hoping to see if someone had managed to dredge up the courage to join her. With a slight sniffle for the usual reasons in this land she put on a slight smile, taking care not to show off the fangs too much.

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From the high skies of Acroneighos, few things that concerned the creatures of the ground could warrant even the barest mention of concern in the halls of the Strategos. As long as they kept to their business and did their duty to honor the trade agreements made, the world below mattered little. Unless, of course, your job was to hunt down potential threats, which meant that a significant portion of the younger population spent their time away from the city.


Most of these armies and fleets would only move about for a certain length of time, or for a very specific cause. They weren’t wanderers pointlessly finding a fight, despite what some believed or told themselves to justify the fury brought down upon them. They couldn’t be. Logistics were a chain around their neck. They had to bend every resource towards those missions because they had so little to spare. They had to secure agreements through force, or through the application of their might on others behalf.

It was not a situation that was favorable to them, and they had existed for eons a breath away from disaster. No one wanted to anger Acroneighos but Acroneighos didn’t want to anger the earth ponies who grew the food or the unicorns who raised the sun. This was used against them at times, though they always endured and kept very long memories. In order to justify their actions against Maretonians, they had to have a long list of justifiable complaints so if any of their trading partners raised issues, they could rely on honor.

So from that angle, getting a new partner in Equestria was very wise. With much greater logistical support, Acroneighos could leverage her might better and more effectively than before. No longer would they be hamstrung by small coalitions that could cut off their supplies if angered. They would rule Maretonia with an iron wing and those that accepted their rule would leave in peace.

If you believed some of the Strategos. Others saw a more ponitarian need, as they sought to bring Maretonia as a nation closer together regardless of species. Stronger ties with Equestria could only help in this regard. And from there it was decided that no matter who they would send to strengthen these ties, it best be somepegasus who could handle it either way. Into this role stepped Sky Crack, elite Scout Accompli of the Tenth Pegasi and winner of a fierce Arena battle.

She was not only a gifted combatant and strategist as well as a peerless physical specimen of her kind, but she was also a talented singer, poet, engineer, philosopher, and dancer. Being the only daughter of the lead Strategos of the city had its advantages. But that meant more was expected of her and when she was given the task of heading to a Gala, she was sent with the requirement that she needed to secure favorable trade and supply concerns from every major nation she encountered.


Once there, she did her job well. In a short amount of time she had spoken with almost every major representative from every major state, burning as a major star with her energy and forcefulness of purpose. But this was not her scene. She slept in the wind-swept sky among the cloud-fires of the Tenth Pegtasi and warred the next morning, not talk to a bunch of diplomats and high society creatures about giving aid.

Alas, it had to be done, even if it drained her. She found the lounge in good time and in still relatively good spirits, her light blue custom breastplate and purple cloak dangling across her still looking fresh, though her transverse griffonhair crested helmet was a bit ruffled by one of the more excitable ponies she had met. Nonetheless, she looked forward to the lounge- and there, by great luck, was the last representative of the last species she was supposed to meet.

“I will take one water, heavily salted,” she said to the bartender before sitting down next to Sigrun. It would be nice to sit and speak with her- more importantly, she wondered who else may wander in, and how much more she could learn about this land.

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gI0gbs.png Professor Clyde Krashkop


"LOOK OUT BELOW!" shouted an airborne elderly green Pegasus stallion as he flew down the hallway.  Bouncing off the walls of the hallway, the glasses wearing stallion tumbled into the Lounge area, sliding to a hard landing across the floor and against a nearby wall.


"Vone of dese days, I must take flying lessons," Professor Clyde Krashkop muttered as he struggled to his feet.  Spotting the two females seated on a couch across the room, the elderly green Pegasus mare walked over to them. tipped his top hat which had somehow managed to stay on his head during his ill-fated flight, and cleared his throat to speak.


"Gut noggin' frauliens!  I am Professor Clyde Krashkop, retired Canterlot University faculty.  It is a pleasure to greet such lovely ladies as yourselves.  May I join you?"

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Being invited to the Gala was quite the honor to Texty. He had heard vivid descriptions of the Gala from one of his mothers, who passed down a tale of how grand a specticle it all was. High society mingling, Wonderbolts putting on a show, expensive drinks and fancy dresses.


Texty felt he probably would be enjoying the night once he could sit down. As it was, he was slowly making his way across the room. His usual disguise of a brown unicorn was garnished with a more expensive pair of sunglasses as well as what he was told was a suave tuxedo. He had managed to get into a dark room with a mirror to take a look, and he felt he looked fairly nice.

What he didn't realize was that Oaky had played a small joke on him, as the tie was switched out with one that had a large white arrow pointed up towards his face with the phrase "I'm with the dunce" imprinted upon it.


As he slowly walked across the lounge, his horn pulsed with green energy as his arcane echolocation worked his magic. He apologized every time a pony bumped into him, and every time he bumped into them, and his magical readout of the area suggested that he was approaching a bar, given the raised surface and the stools, along with a cabinet of various bottles, at least the ones that weren't behind glass. Could be anything behind that.


"Hello, good bartender pony!" He hoped that the bartender was a pony. "I shall start off with your finest glass of water, please! Uh, unless you have some sort of really expensive imported water, then second finest. I don't want to blow my bits all at once."

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Randgrid of Heil-Barn had long been gone. For near to a year, the daughter of the Dragonsong king had been lost to the world, her whereabouts entirely unknown. It was anything but unusual for the brash warrior to forge her own unweildy, winding path through life, so this was not the sort of thing so unprecedented as to take much notice, even by those who knew her well. 


In truth, the hardy warrior princess' reclusion had been intentional. No matter how she tried to play if off with a smile and her usual aplom she could not shake the ghost of that dark day in the crystal empire. Her mind had been defiled by dark magic. She had been used for wicked designs by the worst of the worst.Though in the initial aftermath she had pledged to fight the evil where it stood, she was met for the first time with a sense that she was not enough, that against what evil there was, her strength, great as it might be, was not enough to make a true difference where needed.


In realizing this Randgrid had decided to what only she could when faced with such a realization, make herself stronger still. So began her tour of the world's darkest and most wicked places, from the Southern Wilds and the Everfree Forest to the Soggalong Swamp and the Brackenwald. Living amongst horrors untold, she had honed her strength and her nerve and reemerged as a stronger cow than ever she was before. 


And yet, prepared as she now was to take on the evils plaguing the world, in rejoining the world, she found herself even more prepared to indulge herself in that what she had missed most, the food and drink and merry-making that was her truest joy in life. She was sure she'd find no greater source of which than the Grand Galloping Gala in Canterlot. She knew little of it personally, but among ponies the event was legendary. She was sure there she would find everything she so desired.


And so the emboldened caribou warrior found herself ambling through Canterlot castle, unkempt and dressed in rusted armor, drawing curious stares to which the meaning of she was wholly oblivious. She went first for the smell of food and ate heartily. Then she proceeded to the lounge bar to quench her thirst. It was there that she happened to spy another caribou.


Or, well she assumed it was a caribou. There was something strange about her. Something especially wild and unsavory. Then, as she took another glance at the face of this caribou, a recognition hit her. It was none other than Sigrun, a most trusted friend and comrade. Randgrid was positively alarmed.


"By my father's beard! Sig, is that you?" she asked in a louder than needed voice as she approached the other cow. "What in the world happened to you?"

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The cow at the bar smiled a bit as someone managed to come up. She looked to the mare who'd approached, interesting... "Hmm... I believe I saw you at the Arena... Sky crack was it?" A hoof raised up a moment, gesturing the bartender to bring her some ale... with a bar this diverse it was sure hear and in a flash it was right before her. "I suppose it's nicer to meet you out of the battlefield than i--" Sigrun was cut off by the shout of someone coming down the hall. Well, saying he was 'coming' down the hall may have been a bit understated. It was more like he was ricocheting off the wall as if he'd been fired out of a cannon. 

If there was anything Sigrun may have witnessed in this land, it was ponies were much tougher than they looked... some of them worringly so. It seemed that their formerly airborne guest was one of the more sturdy creatures as soon he was back up on his hooves and introducing himself. "Good evening, Sir. I am Chieftain Sigrun of Whitescar. Feel free to join us, professor." The Caribou gestred to the line of stools,seats, and cushions at the bar.


A voice spoke up loudly from across the lounge room, oh she knew that tone. That rather bombastic voice that if the princes had been letting out a war-cry might have shaken the castle. The bluntness... was to be expected, A great fighter Randgrid was but subtlety was something Sigrun was sure she'd be able to master one day... hopefully, maybe...


The Cow turned around and stood up from her seat to offer her hoof in greeting to her friend, "Well... it's a long story. If you must know the short version of it... " The Cow took in a breath to steady herself, "That group that brainwashed you... they decided to be a bit more bold and try something new. Several clans in whitescar have been dealing with the infection of the Caribou beast plague... the vaccinations and treatments are still being hoofed out. I... turned into a monster wound up having to be fought by teh very ponies I had asked to assist me in my clan's time of need but it turns out for me and several others the damage was done." the smiled slightly awkwardly, the now conical teeth she bore being shown off rather prominently but only long enough for the princess to get a look. 

"I've managed to regain most of my usual look... but some of the more beastly traits are bound to me. It's not all that terrible though... now I don't get as many curious looks when I ask for fish somewhere." With a hearty laugh she looked back to the others at the bar. "Everyone, We're in the company of Royalty. May I introduce... Princess Randgrid, Daughter of the High-King of Whitescar."

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The highlight of the year, the end-all party to end all - the most exclusive shindig hosted in Canterlot only every so often, and here he was.


At the Grand Galloping Bucking Gala.


However there was, thankfully, a recent...reformation, of the high-streamed event, and in fact was the sole reason a stallion like himself was even invited in the first place. The Triple G used to be exactly how it sounded; grand, opulent, and filled with ponies looking so far down their noses they were in constant danger of tripping over themselves at a moment's notice. A couple years back, he could have tattooed the glorious backsides of the two Princesses themselves and still be barred from entrance, because his mane wasn't slicked back, or - Equestria forbid - his bucking tattoos were unsightly. A formal dance filled with equally formal ponies who ate rot and acted like they liked it because it was "in" - that was the reputation of Canterlot's most notorious event, and one he'd shed zero tears over not attending. 


Recently though, the Gala had gained an altogether different sort of reputation, one more lax and casual and less stiff - and it was all thanks to an animal stampede, apparently. Or some rot like that, he never cared about the details. Whatever the change, it had been significant enough for Inkbrand to wake up one morning to find a gleaming golden invitation sitting rather innocently in his post box. How it had found its way to the best bucking tattoo artist this side of Manehatten, Inkbrand honestly hadn't a clue. Because yeah, he was hot stuff now, with clients from all around the globe...but this was the Grand Galloping Gala.


Even now, as he casually strolled up the steps leading into the main entrance hall, the tattoo-clad Earth Pony couldn't help but wonder, briefly, if some mysterious benefactor had had a hoof in securing him an invitation. Zelda, maybe? She'd mentioned connections with the royal Princesses on a couple of occasions...or buck, Applejack? What with her constantly saving Equestria and all, it wasn't a far cry to think the orange mare had pull in the royal palace. And even besides the two of them, Inkbrand's tattooing business had taken off in the past couple of years, luring in clients from - unintentionally - all over the bucking world. It wasn't a far cry to think that at least one of them had remembered his magic hooves and decided to pull an invitation just for him.


But whatever the case, however he'd happened upon a golden invite, Inkbrand was determined to make the most of it. Slow dancing with a bunch of stately and stuffily dressed ponies wasn't his idea of a rip-roaring good time, but hay. If the rumors were true, the Gala wouldn't be nearly as formal as it had been in the past...and even if it was, no bucking way was he missing the chance of chatting up one of the most stubborn clientele bases he'd ever had the displeasure of working with. Who knew - this evening could end up paving the way to a second tattoo parlor in Canterlot.


...And plus, well. When was the last time he'd ever turned down the chance to flirt with a bunch of drop dead gorgeous mares all looking to impress?


Never, that was when, and Inkbrand confidently strolled through the next set of doors, intent on finding the least uptight looking group of ponies he could find.




'Epic fail,' the grey stallion thought, giving himself an exasperated and mental pat on the back as the stately sounds of some orchestral music immediately greeted him at the door. It looked like he had stumbled into a lounge of some sort, filled with several seats and cushions and sofas pushed together for ponies to relax and converse with one another. Already there was a small group forming around one of the couches - complete with two massive Caribou, cripes - and nothing too much else going on. Though the bar looked well stocked, and Inkbrand's eyes zeroed in on the brown stallion already situated on a stool, apparently all too eager to get the real party started. 


Hay yes, now that was a plan he could get behind.


With a smirk alighting the edges of his lips, Inkbrand sauntered over towards the bar, slipping onto the stool directly next to the stallion without giving the other any choice in the matter. "Hitting the sauce pretty early tonight, eh bud?" Inkbrand drawled, one hoof raising lazily in the air to signal down the bartender. "You must have a pretty wicked threshold, if you're not worried about paying for it later." The roughish grin on his face tilt upwards a fraction more as Inkbrand imagined a rot-faced stallion completely loosing it in the middle of the dance floor, in the middle of a bunch of posh and offended ponies.


Bucking Taturatus, he'd pay to see that. 



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Professor Clyde Krashkop smiled at the invitation coming from the very polite caribou.


"Danka shain, Chieftain Sigrun!" the green colored stallion neighed as he took a seat next to her.  "You are from dee north country.  Sadly, in all mein years in academia, I have never visited your beautiful land.  Of course, now dat I am retired, I vill have plenty of time to do dat!  Vhat is your magnificent nation like?  Vhat sites und places vould you recommend to a old, pony traveler like me?"  

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Texty looked down at the drink placed in front of him. He brought his horn over the drink for a moment, and his horn pulsed green. "Yes, indeed full..."

He took the drink in his hoof and gently brought it to his mouth before tilting it slowly. A trickle of water passed between parched lips. A very refined taste, quite pure. Rather crisp. He tilted the drink back. "Definitely water."

With that, he tool a much larger sip before carefully setting it down.


He nearly jumped out of his disguised chitin when the stallion sitting next to him spoke. "Ah, it is, yes, no. This is water, my good friend. While I may indulge in some brandy at a later point in the night, for now I have only one thirst to quench." He spoke in a noticable Stalliongrad accent.

Texty smiled and turned towards where the voice came from. A quick pulse let him know that the gentlecolt was, indeed a stallion, most likely an Earth Pony. "Greetings. I am Dusty Tomes, historian. Are you from around here, Mr...?"

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As usual for the Grand Galloping Gala, Morianna Razorclaw made her rounds through Canterlot Castle as she touched base with the usual assortment of equine high society and other individuals of note. Maintaining this routine through every social function was a necessity; not only was it a responsibility of the House of Razorclaw’s matriarch to represent the most politically powerful family in Aquellia, but face-to-face meetings have always been one of the best ways to get a read on the nature of those with power and influence. In Prof. Morianna’s... peculiar position, few things were as important as making accurate assessments of those who could make a biggest impact on the world.


The aged griffoness wore no special Gala outfit. As a rule, Morianna dressed in her finest clothing everyday in order to serve as a shining example to the rest of Aquellia. Nothing less would be acceptable for a griffon as mighty as a Razorclaw.


Right now, the Professor’s predatory gaze was locked onto the two caribou sitting in the Lounge. She had already heard troubling reports that a ghastly outbreak of Berserker Plague had caused physical alterations to stricken caribou, like Jarl Sigrun, but actually seeing it make those antlered warriors even more fearsome was another story entirely. Morianna also recognized Princess Randgrid; an interesting sight given that for some time now, she had virtually vanished off the face of the earth. From everything that Morianna heard, both of them were some of the best fighters in all of Whitescar... and fighters of such a high calibre could prove very useful indeed.


Problematically though, two other ponies were with the caribou. One of them was a mare Prof. Razorclaw readily recognized; Sky Crack, Scout Accompli of Acroneighos’ Tenth Pegasi and daughter of the city-state’s most senior Strategos. A talented warrior in her own right, Sky Crack was a Maretonian that was actually worth Morianna’s precious time. The other pegagus present though... the griffoness didn’t recognize the bespectacled stallion, and that was all she needed to know to make the judgement that he was an utter waste of time. Even from a distance, that hapless old fool looked completely out of his depth trying to converse with ungulates who actually make a difference in the world.

As long as that desperate geezer of a pegasus remained to listen in on any conversation, there was no way Morianna would carelessly engage in the sort of... important discussion she was most fond of. Since she was standing close to the bar anyway, the elderly griffoness instructed the bartender to order a glass of bourbon. After all, only a most perfect drink was fit for consumption by a master of perfection.


The dour, joyless-looking Professor stayed where she stood, looking out for anyone else of importance as she waited for her drink.....

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Honestly... This was a mistake so far. It was loud, and apparently very crowded, but she was already here. Might as well make the most of it. 


Yiska was in a very... Simple dress, one that was really just picked because it fit the best and didn't restrict her. Not like she cared about the colors anyways, she was blind after all. It was mostly just to blend in better after she snuck in. 


The bat mare seemed to be in a room with orchestra music, but it was quieter than that big room. She sighed as she dropped down from above, using the sounds around her to land on a barstool next to a couple stallions. 


"Hey! Can I get some alcohol over here?" She said to get the bartender's attention before her head fell to rest on the bar with an annoyed sigh. 


Buck... She just got here and she was already tired of it. Why was she here again? Right, free food and drink. Turning her head towards the two stallions she spoke again. 


"Name's Yiska Noctis. Either of you need a date?" She said, her face unmoving for now. Yeah... A date would probably help with blending in...

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Unsurprising to anyone who knew her, it hadn't taken long for Naj to get anxious from being at the Grand Galloping Gala.  She was still a soldier at heart, generally much more comfortable with difficulties one was supposed to solve with punching, while here the obstacles here were all social.  She kept asking herself what she was doing here, and while she knew the answer it was not much comfort.  Being perhaps the first ever legally admitted changeling to Equestria, she was subject to more attention than she was ready for in a setting like the Gala.


Slinking into the room, Naj gave the lounge a cursory glance.  She noticed one or two faces she thought she recognized, though she was only certain of the grey earth pony, but in truth she wasn't so much looking at the people but the place.  This seemed quiet enough to at least take a breather, with the caribou in the room there was something to distract from Naj herself, and even if she got a few stares all the more inquisitive or invasive ponies were bound to be in more active rooms.


Naj was in her natural, changeling form this evening.  Or at least she was after a fashion, she was hardly willing to call anything about this natural.  For the first time in her life she was wearing a dress, a simple but elegant, navy blue thing which hugged tight to her waist and draped down just above the ground behind her.  Naj had been told she looked good in it, and while she believed it that didn't make it any more comfortable to wear.  Not that the material was uncomfortable, but she was finding that wearing something which wasn't needed for any particular protection felt restricting and awkward.


Naj lingered in the doorway for a moment, noting that she seemed to have lost track of her fiance.  Last she checked Red was right behind her, but they seemed to have separated a bit for the moment.  Hopefully the stallion would come walking through the door behind her shortly.  In the meantime she walked up to the bar, somewhat clumsily sat down at the other side of Inkbrand and asked if the had any cider.  Then having placed her order she shot the tattooed stallion a sidelong glance and a wry grin.  He might not have actually seen her like this before, but the changeling was sure Inkbrand would recognize her voice.  “Funny, I wouldn't have thought this was your kind of party.”  Naj wanted to relax and catch up a bit first, before she started to notice and worry about whoever else was in the room.

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Really, water? He almost seriously considered buying the stallion a shot just to rectify that sad little fact. 


But hey, each to his own. And apparently, the stallion wasn't averse to alcohol at all, but was just staving out a quick thirst in favor of hitting the real stuff later. So much for rot-faced ponies losing it out on the dance floor. Still, he seemed a genial sort, causing Inkbrand's smirk to tilt upwards as the bartender returned with his requested beer, not too heavy for the start of the evening. 


Plenty of time for the salt cubes, later.


"Buck no," Inkbrand scoffed at the brown Unicorn's question, though his tone remained amiable, "you kidding me? I'd shave myself bald before settling down around here." A bit of exaggeration, sure - but not by much. Canterlot condescension was fine and dandy in small doses, but full-time? Forget that


"I'm from Manehatten - name's Inkbrand," the tattoo-clad stallion greeted, not bothering with a hoofshake seeing how the two of them were nursing their respective glasses, "best bucking Tattoo Artist in Equestria." Inkbrand paused to take a long draught from his drink, mind mulling over the other stallion's words as he did so. "Historian, eh? All that, history, 'n stuff." Academics had never been his strong suite - history even less so, too much bucking memorizing dates and names and rot - so he honestly couldn't comment too much on Tomes' chosen profession with anything more than vague platitudes. "Never was one for history," the grey stallion mentioned aloud, taking another drink from his glass, "too much bucking memorization." 


Before he could lament about the dates and names and rot, however, an Aerion suddenly flittered her way down towards the bar, making a rather spectacular landing on a nearby stool - only to drop her head straight down onto the bar top, as if she were drunk. The spectacle was enough to give Inkbrand pause, glass resting halfway to his lips. Was the mare already rot-faced and requesting more alcohol on top of it, or was she...hmm, nope, that was the only reason he could think of for her slumped over position. 


Though a second reason suddenly made itself clear in the mare's abrupt inquiry, causing a sly grin to steal over the grey Earth Pony's face. Stood up at the Grand Galloping Gala, huh? Ouch"Ask me again in a little bit, doll face," Inkbrand quipped, though after a moment he leaned over to nudge Tomes' leg with one hind hoof, "or, you could take this guy out for a couple rounds on the dance floor." Assuming he was into mares...but even if he wasn't, buck, it was a party, not a marriage ceremony. The tattoo-clad stallion chuckled lightly, turning back around in his seat to take another drink his glass as his eyes caught onto peripheral movement from his left -


- and promptly spat out his mouthful of beer.


He narrowly avoided the bartender, though that fact didn't soften the glare aimed at him as said stallion reluctantly started wiping away the reside over the bar top. Inkbrand never minded that however, wiping his mouth with a napkin as he stared a bit wide-eyed at the Changeling sitting beside him. 


As in, Changeling, full on, no disguise, Changeling, who was bucking talking to him in a voice that -


"Holy rot," Inkbrand blurted, "Naj?" It had to be, because honestly, what other Changeling did he know casually enough to just saunter up to him and start up a conversation like old friends?...assuming none of his old friends actually were Changelings, and that was a thought that really didn't bear any thinking about. But no, even aside from the logical conclusion, he recognized the voice well enough, and there she was - in all her bucking Changeling glory. 


Full on, wearing a dress over hole-filled exoskeleton, wispy torn mane, no cutie mark, Changeling.


Had it been him, his words? His advice? Or had it been someone else?


...Nah, probably him, because he was a bucking champ.


"Rot," the grey stallion repeated, in lieu of anything significant to say, "bucking Taurtarus, what the bucking rot. You actually went through with it." A feeling of glee, one he'd never thought he'd feel anywhere near the vicinity of a Changeling, spread through Inkbrand, because she had bucking listened to him. "Buck, you actually did. Ha! Wasn't so hard, was it?" Inkbrand crowed, one hoof coming upwards to instinctively slap the Changeling on the back in shared congratulations - though the sight of dark chitin froze his leg mid-air, ending up as some kind of awkward hoof pump.


Yeah...yeah. Too soon.


The grey stallion quickly transitioned his hoof towards his mane, running it through with a short exclamation of breath. "Buck, you're telling me," he agreed, gratefully jumping onto another topic, "but what the hay. I've been working overtime. Free food and drinks, and smoking hotties to check out? I could use a vacation, right?" Inkbrand chuckled, leaning over to nudge Tomes again, with an elbow this time. 


...But really. Maybe he should have saved the alcohol until later, because the night was already promising to be bucking crazy as.



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Texty took another long sip. "Manehattan, fascinating city. Been there once when I was a young one, been meaning to return. While I do reside in Canterlot, though, I prefer smaller towns." He stated.

He took a moment to mull over his words. "A tattoo artist. The profession of branding others with symbols and artistry meant to evoke response in others and express ones self. An intruiging culture. I cannot say I have yet to see a tattoo, however. Perhaps I shall do some research into it once I get the chance."


When the bat pony landed beside him, he jumped a bit. When she asked about a dance, he tilted his head and hummed. "I can say I would not mind spending some time with you, mylady, though I must sadly decline the offer to dance. I never learned how, and I daresay trying to learn in a bright room full of ponies would have... Errrr... Disasterous results."

His horn pulsed once more. "Bat pony, hm?" He whispered under his breath.


When the other female engaged the stallion sitting next to him, he pulsed his horn to get a look. He tilted his head.

"...Odd, her shape is slightly off..." He muttered under his breath. He then cleared his throat and put on a smile. "Hello, ma'am, a curious night this is. A grand gathering the Canterlot elite, a chance to meet the Princesses, a time to eat, drink, and be merry."

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Never in his life had Red Cedar ever imagined he would have been attending a Grand Galloping Gala, even as the plus-one of an invitee. When the invitation had arrived, it had been a bit of a toss-up as to who was the more surprised, himself, or Naj, to whom the invitation was addressed in the first place. Now, however, that he was here in the reception wing of the Royal Palace in Canterlot, he found there was plenty to be distracted by, in awe of the stained glass, the artwork, the ceilings that rose almost impossibly high. It was enough to be almost overwhelming.


Though, not so overwhelming that he completely forgot he was to be escorting Naj.


Speaking of distracting, Naj was very much that - to many of the attendees, it seemed, as she had arrived in her natural form, though in that beautiful navy blue dress that brought out her lighter blue features. To him, however, she was just gorgeous, even if she was obviously unused to the idea of wearing anything. By comparison, he'd dressed fairly conservatively, in a black formal jacket over a crisp white shirt, a dark green bow tie that matched his streaked mane offering a little splash of colour. Entering the lounge just after her, he took a moment to appreciate the sight of her once more before becoming distracted once again by the surroundings, the soft music, the other attendees, the griffon, the caribou...


Red's breath caught in his throat a little. Nope, there were definitely a trio of caribou here. Red took a breath and told himself they wouldn't be here without Princess Celestia's authority behind it, but still, on this night of all nights, he didn't need the reminder of the worst day of his life. Well, if nothing else, their presence might at least take some of the pressure of novelty off of Naj while they were here.


Red continued over to the bar where Naj had already sat down with a rather unhappy looking aerion, a unicorn, and a familiar collection of inked markings that made their earth pony bearer memorable, even as he suddenly sprayed his mouthful of beer across the bar at the sight of Naj. Guess he wasn't expecting to see her like that, either.


Settling into the seat next to Naj, and ordering a glass of cider after the bartender had attended to the sudden spray over the top of the bar, he looked over to Inkbrand. "Well, that's one way to look at it," he said. "Good to see you again."  he added, hoping the surroundings meant they would have made for a better chance at a civil meeting than they had had at Winter Wrap-Up.

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Sky Crack nodded. Yes, Sigrun would know of her from her victorious entry into the Arena. Maybe she would be a bit put off by why she had entered and what had happened after, but she doubted they had taken the utter annihilation of a clan to her victory in the Arena. It was likely or the best. While there was no love lost between the sides of the civil war, she wasn't sure how they viewed outside forces singling out clans for destruction. Especially after the event that had recently transpired and showed clearly through Sigrun's fangs, Sky Crack knew to tread lightly. For an Acroneighos pony anyway. She took a gulp of her salted water and allowed it to settle before responding.


"Well met, Sigrun of Askr. A pleasure to meet with you, even though recent events have proven unkind to you. Be assured that the Pegtasi do not look less favorably upon you than before," she said, raising her glass. It was true though it wasn't like they were friends. The clans on the side of the High King were nominally friendly with Acroneighos, though the pegasi looked at it as a temporary reprieve from historical patterns of unceasing violence. That was enough for Acroneighos to want to strike deals with Askr and other friendly forces, if not immediately want to jump in to their defense. The histories of the Askr were just as violent as most other clans. They just happened to be more loyal and thus led effectively by their High King into peace.

She was not the only caribou to arrive, the Princess herself making her way here. She had been off the grid for a while and Acroneighos intelligence was hard pressed to care to follow her, as it became clear she was undergoing some sort of emotional journey after the embarrassment of the Crystal Faire. Now she was back and hopefully ready to assume the position of authority they needed her to in order to stabilize their nation. That would allow Acroneighos to make a final decision on the Whitescar clans once and for all, and not be caught unawares if they returned to their more violent past through proper integration into their court and with...well, diplomacy, she guessed. "Hello there, Randgrid of Heil-Barn! It is pleasing to see you return to the eyes of the world. How was your journey? Has your spirit been emboldened and your sinews stiffened through rainy marching and the hard night?" She asked, hopefully allowing her to know her success was not going unnoticed.


While she was dealing with these two caribou the most, she was aware of the others. The bar quickly filled with an eclectic collection of locals. One had an amusing amount of tattoos covering his body. Where she was from that was a sign of a holy man, but she was sure the only counsel he was willing to provide involved a healthy injection of drinking. She could drink to that. Then there was the stallion who had landed among them. She tipped her glass to him. He was more enamored with Sigrun and she wasn't about to interrupt him. He was Stalliongrad stallion, and there was another pony from that region at the bar with the tattoo'd stallion. A batpony was there to- desperate for a drink. Well, ponies coped in whatever ways they could.


The real event was when the changeling entered. They allowed changelings to wander about freely in Equestria? Such foolishness. There were cases of changelings being well-heeled, but Acroneighos kept close tabs on all of the changelings in their territory. Hopefully that was the case here. The general ease with which she moved told Sky Crack she was no stranger to at least some of these ponies- that was enough to put Sky at ease, even if she still thought it foolish. It didn't take long for a handsome red stallion to appear at her side. The inked one spat up- brought some jovialness to that area. Good. They looked dour thanks to a few unhappy faces there.


The final entrant who stole her attention was the griffon. Morianna of the Razorclaw, an important figure in international politics if you knew the truth behind actions. She had her claws in a lot of things, some of which Equestria would be very unhappy with. Acroneighos was mostly uninterested in her activities but it would be wise to let her know that she was recognized. "You look well, Morianna of the Razorclaws. How does this evening treat you? Makes you wish for the warmth of the sky, does it not?"

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Doll face? M'lady? Yiska gave a snort at those names, giving a wave of thanks to the bartender as he set a drink down in front of her. She picked it up in her hoof and was about to drink it when Dollface sprayed his drink all over the bar, earning another snort from her. At least she got the name of one of the newcomers. 


"Naj, huh? Mind telling me names? These two don't want to share." She said, gesturing at the stallions and taking a swig of her cider. 

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Sky crack's response managed to bring a momentary grin to the Caribou's face, the fangs exposed fully in a way that may make the more jumpy... well, jump. Thankfully she was merely being her usual jovial self, "It's good to hear that... I have had my worries but to hear it from someone so openly is very comforting."


This question that the professor asked gave Sigrun pause. Whitescar wasn't the most popular of tourist spots... well at least not the majority of it, especially not the serpent's spine. Just the image of a pleasant group strolling through the most horrifying, dangerous territory in the region was rather comedic, especially when she imaged a pleasant sounding tour guide leading along the tourists with a chipper, "... And we're walking~" past the seventeen mouthed, million eyed monster of the week. She raised a hoof to her mouth and coughed, "Well... Our land is Harsh, dangerous, cold, has more than it's fair share of monsters... at least out in the wilds away from out major cities. However there are some very pleasant places there too, You should keep your wits about you though... while our port city of Barn is by far the most welcoming, our land is a harsh one even for even the greatest warriors and the most magically inclined..." 

With a sip of quick hoisting of her mead she placed it down on the table... if there was at least one thing she'd learned tonight about this gathering is that some form of decorum was expected. The usual way a viking such as herself would bring down a flagon would likely make the table rock, and with this newfound strength she had in her courtesy of the curse she'd been infected with she may well have broken the lounge's bar-table if she didn't watch it. "The city of Heil is home to many of our best artists and smiths... including one who used to come from the far east from what I have heard before she decided to make some personal forge in my territory. What may not make it as appealing would be the fact it's hold is built into a volcano whose power we have harnessed. Going there would probably be could for an academic mind... but the inhabitants there can be hot tempered." She gave a light nudge to the princess along with a knowing look, "Wouldn't you agree, My friend?"


Throughout her conversations he couldn't help but feel like there was someone watching her... given how she looked right now though, that was hardly unusual, but this gaze felt more focused and sharp than the more vague uncertain looks she'd felt on her since she'd arrived. 


The voice of Sky Crack sounded off, apparently the gaze belonged to that of a rather... interesting looking griffin. She couldn't well say she looked intimidating or that she seemed dangerous, if anything she got a feeling from the individual that could best be described as "Anamalous". With the former fellow arena fighter having named the owner of that stare, Sigrun lowered her head momentarily and offered her hoof to the newcomer, "I don't think we have been properly introduced. I am Sigrun, Chieftain of the Askr clan of Whitescar's central western and eastern territories." 

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Professor Krashkop appreciated Sigrun's brutally honest answer.  It was true, the lands to the north were a very rugged, weather beaten territory, an area that might be too challenging for an aging Pegasus like himself to endure.  However, Professor Krashkop would not be deterred so easily.  True, it could be a perilous journey just to get there, but in the mind of this retired University Professor, it was a risk he was very much willing to take.  One could best learn a new culture by deeply immersing themselves in it.   Now, the green Pegasus stallion was more determined than ever to go there!  He was intrigued by the Chieftain as well as the Princess the caribou had just nudged.  Taking out a pad of paper and pencil, the Professor began to take notes.


"Danka for all dis vonderba information!  I vould very much like to visit dee city of Barn, und see dat volcano you mentioned vith mein own eyes!  Your land sounds fascinating!  You mentioned dat Barn is a port city, so dis means I could sail dere as opposed to taking an overland route?  Ah!  Fraulien!  Allow me to introduce meinself, I am Professor Clyde Krashkop, retired Professor, formerly of Canterlot University!  I vas just learning from Chieftain Sigrun all about his homeland!  I, meinself vas born in Germaney, a land of vonder und merriment!  Vee are famous for pretzels und a fine array of beverages!  Und dee food dere?  It is some of dee finest in all Equestria!"



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Randgrid was shocked by what she heard from her friend.


"The blackhearted dogs!" she exclaimed in a booming voice. "The gall they have for defiling the pride and the very best of the proud caribou! I curse them to the ends of the earth!"


She sighed a bitter sigh then and her voice became quiet--for her at least, "I only wish I had been there to confront them. I thought I needed to make myself better, but to do so at the expense of those I wish to protect is the last I want. I never should have left..."


Randgrid, in her shame and bitterness, ordered a hard drink from the bar and began to indulge in it immediately. She was so distracted, only looking up when a pony saw fit to address her. It was pegasus mare with the air of a formidable warrior. Randgrid found her immediately intriguing.


"I'm surprised my journey is so known to the world, my unknown friend," Randgrid said. "But I suppose the wicked across the north lands sung for my absence," she scoffed.


"I was emboldened, but hearing tell of what I missed, I feel conflicted..." she said and then threw back the rest of her drink and ordered another.


She didn't look up from this one until Sigrun nudged her. The other caribou was conversing now with an oddly accented stallion. Lost in her thoughts, Randgrid had missed most of their conversation but she forced a smile to her face and gave a hearty "Indeed, friend, ineed!" regardless. When the stallion--a Professor Krashkop--spoke again this time she paid attention and deduced they were talking about Whitescar and its cities.


"'Overland route'? You'd find that a hard one to manage, friend," Randgrid said, the idea of it beckoning a laugh despite her mood. "Perhaps when the temperatures are most frigid you might by chance find some sheet of ice to connect the two, but otherwise it is a fierce sea which seperates our land from yours. When it comes to Whitescar, to sail is the only way to reach it!"

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Naj was getting a few looks still, but at least it didn't appear to be as many.  She supposed the caribou probably had something to do with that, she'd heard one of the caribou announce that they were 'in the presence of royalty', although she'd been focusing on other things at the time.  That name sounded familiar to her, but she wasn't able to place it right away.


Naj didn't worry about it too much, the evening was still young, so she'd have plenty of time to investigate and catch up later.  For the moment, she had a conversation to attend to.  Inkbrand, after recovering from his surprise, seemed to be congratulating her for finally being out in public without a disguise.  Naj glared at him in response, though there clearly wasn't any real malice in it.  “Oh yeah, super easy,” she made no attempt to hide the sarcasm as she spoke.  “That's why I ran away to the quiet room at the first opportunity.”  She sighed, and took a glup of her drink which had just arrived.  “Think about it: what's the castle going to be full of?  Guards and nobles.  Guards might give me a look but will generally leave me alone, and if a noble sees something they don't like, they'll find a guard more often than grab a pitchfork themselves.”  She paused and stared at her drink for a moment.  “That, and I guess I was invited, and I was loath to pass that up for a few reasons.”  She smiled sadly.  “I think I'm a ways from just walking about in the open yet.”  She giggled a bit at his comments about being on vacation.  There was a certain simple wisdom to it that she couldn't help but appreciate.  “Not my idea of a vacation, but that's what you like then go for it.”


The stallion in Inkbrand's other side muttered something about Naj's 'shape being off', before greeting her in a way that, truth be told she didn't fully understand.  Still, she tried anyways.  “Er, nice to meet you.  And yeah, it's quite a night, although I don't think I could face any of the princesses right now.  I'm catching enough attention just walking around like this as is.”  Naj just then noticed that the stallion wasn't looking at her at all, despite clearly addressing her.  It could just be a quirk, but she was starting to wonder how well his eyes worked, and if the answer was 'not very' this could become a very awkward conversation.


Fortunately Naj was saved from worrying about that for the immediate future, as Red finally caught up to her.  Though she didn't notice him approach until he was at the bar, the moment he sat down she threw him into a hug.  “There you are!”  This was just the thing she needed, spending some time in a quieter room with her fiance and even a few other ponies she knew, and she brightened considerably.


The bat pony's- Yiska Something?  She'd only barely caught her introduce herself- question brought her back to the present, and she released Red from the hug to turn back the other ponies in the conversation, although she left a limb draped over the red stallion.  “Have you asked them what their names are yet?”  Naj was pretty sure the other mare hadn't, and it didn't seem right to answer on their behalf.  “Besides, I only know this guy,” with her free hoof she patted Inkbrand lightly on the back, “I couldn't help you with the unicorn there.”  Then she turned toward said unicorn.  “Speaking of, if you introduced yourself earlier I missed it, would you mind telling us your name?”

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One consumed glass of bourbon later, and Morianna Razorclaw was ready to go on the prowl again when she was hailed by Sky Crack. Well, the circumstances were less than ideal, but there was no way the griffoness could refuse. All she could do now was play the role of the diplomat while somehow scaring off the old, out-of-his-league stallion. Once he was out of the picture, then Morianna could finally talk some real business.


“I prefer the chillness of the night sky myself,” the haughty Professor took her sweet time walking towards the group of four; one benefit of requiring a cane for walking was that everyone was expected to wait for you no matter how long it took. “Warmness dulls the senses; lulls the body into complacency. Cold... forces the body and mind to stay awake and aware, and a griffon of my stature must always remain aware at all times.”


Finally standing next to the table, Morianna leaned forward on her cane while she talked; “The evening suits me just fine, Sky Crack. Oh... I believe congratulations are in order for your role in taking down Jarl Fire Watch’s band of malcontents. It was an inspired plan really, infiltrating his clan by demonstrating your talents in the fighting arena. Once word reached my circles of how you lured his forces into a decisive ambush, heh heh heh heh,” the deviously grinning griffoness outstretched a claw in hopes of shaking the mare’s hoof; “I knew that one day, I’d have to thank you personally for putting an end to Fire Watch’s menace.”


Prof. Razorclaw glanced in Sigrun’s direction, shaking the Jarl’s offered hoof without a second thought, feeling no repulsion whatsoever at the caribou's "altered" body. “I am Professor Morianna Razorclaw; head of the House of Razorclaw. But you can just call me ‘Professor’, if that is more to your liking. I’ve heard much about the heroics of Clan Askr... all the sweat and toil it expends to keep the ferocious beasts of the Serpent’s Spine at bay. And you, Sigrun,” the griffoness slowly nodded and smiled; “You are a credit to your species.”


And now it was Randgrid’s turn to shine in Morianna’s spotlight. “I am delightfully pleased to see you here too, Princess Randgrid. You’re just as praiseworthy a caribou as the Jarl of Askr... and more than worthy of continuing your father’s legacy. The world will be glad to know that you’ll soon be rejoining the fight against the dark forces that seek to destroy civilization.” Like with Sky Crack, the griffoness offered an outstretched talon for shaking.

Morianna didn’t bother saying anything to the glasses-wearing pegasus. As far as the Professor was concerned, that pony was just an insignificant little bug that would be swatted away if he became too much of an annoyance.....



@Mojo: Don't mind Mori's cold shoulder too much; she's just a high-and-mighty griffon who thinks she's above dealing with the little folk.

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Texty was slightly confused as to what Naj meant by walking about "as is", but figured it wasn't that important in the long run.


He let out a small cough and drank some more of his water. The bat pony seemed fairly dismissive when he failed to reveal a name, but he brightened right back up when Naj asked for it. "Ah yes, my apologies Yiska, for not indroducing myself properly. My name is Dusty Tomes, historian. I will admit to this being my first gala, and, ahem, my first true formal gathering." He took another sip. "Honestly have been quite excited to go for quite some time. Heard very interesting things happen at these Grand Galloping Galas. Well, happening lately. The Gala used to be a much more uptight affair, and I believe was first formed as a celebration for the completion of Canterlot itself. Though a fair amount of nobles wanted the capitol in Fillydelphia, and were less than pleased with building an entirely new city over some small crystal mine. Was considered 'a massive waste of bits'. Though honestly, Canterlot sounds like it has the best view in the..."


He blinked, pulsed his horn, then took another drink of water. "Oh, I am so sorry... There I go, rambling again. Bad habit."

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Sanctity of the bar, and not a moment too soon! Dunder and his date had only just arrived at the Gala, and already the ballroom was getting packed. Not only that, things seemed to be getting heated on the floor. Speaking of heat, his ex was there with her date and the stallion would need some help before engaging in any awkward conversations. Agitated voices, ponies staring, not the sort of environment that Dunder was planning when he dragged the griffoness from her workshop to show her a night of fun. The lounge, however, was what the stallion had envisioned. A hoof full of creatures mingling with a splash of alcohol to make things interesting.


"Come on, Zelda! I found the bar." The pegasus beckoned the black griffoness with a hoof before making his way to the bar. He made sure to keep his pace calm, casual, cool.

As he made his way into the room, he saw the distinctive antlers of a caribou. Upon further inspection, he noticed it was none other than the Jarl Sigrun herself. He and other EPIC members came to the aid of her clan when it was struck with the berserker plague.

He also recognized the tattooed pony, Inkbrand. The pegasus could only wonder if he was let in with all those tattoos, or snuck into the gala.

Finally, the magenta pegasus: Sky Crack. The pegasus quickly looked away. Maybe a drink was a bad idea, save himself from saying something he wish he wouldn't have.

Among them was another caribou, a griffoness, a few ponies and...a changeling? Huh.

The pegasus took a quick glance to Zelda and sat down at the bar. He ordered a glass of wine and looked over at his friend, "Ready to have some fun tonight? See! This is way better than sitting in your workshop." He said, his tone playful as he nudged the cat bird with an elbow.

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Robikku Pegasus wasn't usually one to go to the gala, he'd been to one a while back and honestly hadn't had the WORST time...but it was more a case that he was either busy or just generally unavailable to make time to get there - well that wasn't strictly TRUE, but he liked trying to be available in case something actually did come up whilst he was out of the office. Of course, he had admitted to himself a while ago, that didn't really happen quite as often as he liked and the chances of that happening during THIS years gala was probably as likely as the ones before...which only gave him reason to go see if, instead of waiting, he could go and establish a few connections and clients during this years gala instead.


To be honest, He probably should have done that after the first time he'd attended, but he had convinced himself that he could make it work...a little bit of young foolish pride, the lawyer supposed.


At any rate, here he was...among the many in the lounge - the elegant surroundings playing home to quite fantastic decor and interesting foods as well as the rich, not so rich, and other assorted figures of varying levels in Equestrias rich landscape of equine folks. The pegasus, dressed in a decently pressed suit and tie, was in the throngs of the crowd and pressing forward to just relax in the vibrant atmosphere with the rather pleasant music and general buzz of the visiting ponies, all here to socialise and engage in social pleasantries in Canterlots palace, home of the two sisters who kept the nation of Equestria alive and well...and whilst not all citizens would always agree about how their rule plays out, at least in a shared space like this there was mutual respect regardless of personal stances.


As he stood there, eating from a small selection of foods on his plate, Robikku cast a glance around him and observed those who were here in discussion and calm relaxation mode...at least this was a much more enjoyable situation than being in court, where there were no enjoyable treats on a table or musical interludes - just the prospect of hard work on behalf of a client. As much as Robikku enjoyed the thrill of engagement in the battle of guilty and innocent, it was times like this that he was glad to at least be able to put full thoughts of work aside and just enjoy a social treat that didn't really come around all too often.


Best to enjoy the chance for some time off while it was available, afterall!

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