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"Never stop until you pierce the stars!" (closed)


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It never took long to acclimate oneself to the food here, at the palace.  Hadn't taken Feng longer than a day, really, though Yanhua had a lot to do with that.  He just wished he'd known at the time that she was his old foalhood friend from in the forest at the time, but that had come as a nice surprise when he did find out!

 

He chuckled disarmingly, brushing off any air of concern.  "Yup, you gotta learn to use all the tricks available to you in a real fight.  Martial exercises are all well and good, but I don't think a lot of the recruits are pushed as far as they could be by their sergeants.  Though, to be fair, most of the sergeants haven't faced anything tougher than disorganized packs of bandits; it's been pretty peaceful for the past... hundred years, really."  The talk of being eaten elicited a... slightly less disarmed chuckle.  The *last* thing he needed was another mare adding a vertex into the triangle that was the drama of his life.  *Knowing my luck, that's exactly what I'm gonna get.*

 

Nosing around for some dumplings to suppress the funny feeling he was getting in his stomach, he looked back to see... Yanhua sniffing his new recruit, in such a way that rather intruded upon most interpretations of personal space.  He didn't mind it so much when it was him that she was nosing, but that also had to do with him knowing her true, vulpine nature.  "Uhm, alright.  Don't make my new recruit too nervous now, Yanhua!"  He jested as he followed her into the back.

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“Mint distraction is far too gentle sounding for what happened. More like mint, made me almost vomit, distraction. He’s lucky I kept my least dinner down.” She says shaking her head, glad she did not have to explain away some things such an event may raise. “As for not niping off more of him I can take no such vows, but I shall try to not take off all his hoofs when we train.” she says back with a grin… that soon dropped in confusion as the qilin cook got real up close and sniffy. She did not know how to react to this odd behavior and shot Feng a worried look. What was up with this mare? “Uh…” She had to resist the urge to bite at the muzzle invading her space, the last thing she needed was to make this even more odd for everypony. 

 

Thankfully the sniffing ended and coffee was on offer. “Thanks, coffee does wonders to clear up my nose as well. Amongst other things.” She says hoping the grunt level joke will clear up odd tension in the air. “And my sergeant did well in pushing me. She had a fire in her one only gained from the chains of slavery. She helped push me this far and I welcome to see how much farther you will push me Feng.” She added following them both in to the room, having to duck underneath the door frame just to walk in. When the door shut her ears flicked hearing the lock. That was odd, why did it lock?

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Well, well, well. Now it made sense. It had been years since she run into a yokai like Rongyu. They tended to have a bad reputation in some circles but growing up she'd found such slithery individuals could be quite wise. This specimen however seemed more martial minded if their earlier sparring match with Feng was any indication. Knowing that she'd made him bleed ignited a spark of concern in the chef, but she wasn't going to betray that just yet. It was a tad perplexing to her she hadn't recognized it was another yokai right off the bat. Was her nose on the blink? Maybe her excuse about the garden held more truth than she thought. Dwelling on such things would have to wait as Feng voiced his concerns over that sniffing incident earlier. 

A blush crept on her face before she even realized it. She cleared her throat before hefting the coffee beans to a grinder in the corner. She pulled in a breath through her nose and exhaled a minty green cloud from her lips. Thankfully for Rongyu it only had a minty coloration and not a matching scent. The cloud the chef made would open up the beans and unleash the scent, one that Yanhua took a moment to enjoy before looking over to Rongyu. "Well," She began as she gestured to the bean grinder, "Since your nose is so ready to indulge in the scent of coffee beans, care to take a chance at grinding them? You'll probably make shorter work of them than I could, Miss Rongyu."


If Rongyu accepted that offer she'd move over to nonchalantly speak to Feng. 

 

 

 

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The army as a whole was a bit too large for Feng to know all the NCO's in it, and Rongyu had transferred in from the provinces, so it wasn't a surprise that he didn't know the sergeant.  Still annoying though, as it sounded like there was a good story behind there.  "Well, need a bit more of her kind in the capital, then.  A bit too many things are for show around here.  Granted, that makes it easy for an enemy to underestimate one as purely for ornamental purposes, but... well, there's more than a few here I could name who could be replaced with bronze-cast statues to no loss of function."  Captain though he was, it was a promotion from the ranks, and he snorted in laughter at her barracks-room humor.  

Sensing that Yanhua wanted to pull him away for a word while Rongyu was grinding the beans, he tilted an ear towards her, waiting for whatever she had to say.  She must have smelled something on his recruit, but what?

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“From what I have seen of the city guards and heard well out in the provinces… Well, I don’t want to speak ill of them but out in the provinces we joke if the empress wants something done she sends us to deal with it. For the papers she sends the city’s guards.” Rongyu says with a small but sharp grin before sniffing the air. Looking at the open can of coffee beans she nodded and walked over. “Happy to do it, I love the smell of fresh ground beans.” She says, grabbing the can of beans she pours some in to the grider and shut the led. Taking the crank in her cloven hoof she starts to spin it. Oh wonderful coffee. Not every pony in the army drinks it, plenty stick to tea. But the cult of coffee was firmly in place and no amount of tea fanfare can dislodge them. Much as Rongyu loved tea she did not crave it, need it, like coffee. Coffee was necessary, tea was welcomed. And soon she'll have her fix again and be ready for whatever the rest of this day was going to toss at her. 

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With the grinding of coffee beans hopefully drowning out their conversation, Hanabi added another layer of privacy by lowering her voice to a whisper. "Feng." she began in a more serious tone, "Your recruit is not what she seems. I don't know her motives, or her character, but she isn't dissimilar to myself.Though, much less furry." She glanced back to the giant of a mare grinding coffee beans and sniffling, "If anything escalates I'm happy to lend my aid... You are the expert when it comes to security so however you'd like to approach this I will trust your judgement." 

She didn't want to keep the conversation going too long, lest they look suspicious. 

With a bounce in her step she moved back over to Rongyu as she ground away, the scent of coffee beans soon surrounding the air around the new recruit. She peaked over at the grinder with a quizzical tilt of her head, "How goes the grinding?"

 

 

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Rongyu paid no mind to the friends talking to each other, and was rude to do otherwise. But she wondered about her mates back out… Well, it was home. She’d have to send them letters saying she got in and it was oddly easier than she planned it to be. Looked like some of them won that bet. Hearing the change in sound from the grinder she opened the lid to inspect it. All the beans were gone. With that she pulled out the cup underneath it and inspected the grinds, as she did the cook bounced back over. “Looks good, smells fantastic.” She hums happily, sniffing at the grinds. “Oh goodness. You know when I first took a sip of coffee I hated it… Told them there’s no way I’d love it. Well nowadays I’d roll in a heap of this and be happy.” She looked over at the cook and smiled. “Ok, let’s get hot water on this before I start getting all twitchy.” She added with a soft chuckle. “And I'd like a mug. Coffee cups are too dang small for me. May as well be a shot glass for all the good it does.” She looked over at Feng, be rude to not see if he wanted something. "Wan't me to put some tea on for you? Don't take you as the coffee tipe." 

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Had Feng lived any other life than the one he had, the news that his first and latest recruit was an entirely different species than she presented, infiltrating the palace for unknown purposes would have instantly triggered all kinds of paranoia.  Even with knowing Hanabi/Yanhua as long as he had, and thus pretty much smoothing over any prejudice he'd had towards Yokai though, the fact that Rongyu would be so near the Empress did worry him.  He had to make a quick decision, but ultimately decided to trust his ability to sense malice or lack thereof.  "Thanks, I don't think we'll run into any problems with her, though.  Between my interview and spar with her, I've got a pretty good read, I should think."  Never mind that her disguise had fooled him entirely, though...

 

They returned to the nook where the scent of the beans was already wafting through the air.  "I actually do have a taste for coffee, it's just that when I drink to ward off exhaustion, I make everyone else tired."   He said with a chuckle, and given even what Rongyu had seen of him, she would probably believe it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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Yanhua was a bit surprised by Feng's decision. She half expected him to at least advice her to keep an eye on her, or take a moment to confront her. This stallion could be so full of surprises. Yanhua gave the stallion a friendly nod as she resumed her chat with the statuesque mare, "I think I have a stein somewhere that might work better for you then a mug, Rongyu. I've been on the receiving end of that breath and by the ancestors does it cling to the muzzle." She wrinkled her nose at the memory: A game of hide and seek in the woods that Feng got a bit too into.

 

Brushing that memory aside, Yanhua moved over to one of the cupboards and began rummaging. After some searching, the chef pulled a large stein that was sure to hold enough coffee for a mare Rongyu's size. She slid it down the counter towards the visiting warrior, "A souvenir from our visit to Equestria."

 

 

 

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Feng’s remark about him and coffee got a good chuckle out of the large mare. “That so? Noted, you take coffee like a young colt does. Someday going too do it just too see you bouncing off the walls Sir.” She says with a grin and shake of the head. Looking over at Yanhua… She still can’t place it, but something about this mare was just off yet… She can’t make heads or tails of why. It was annoying she can’t seem to place why she was feeling this way. All she can do is keep pushing it too the back of her worries, now was not the time at all too dig in to others. 

 

“Oh, good timing. Was about too ask for something bigger than the small tea cups. Was going too ask for a mug, but a full size stein sounds even better!” She says with a happy nod of her head and prancing of hooves. When the stein was offered up she liked what she saw, that was a big one! “Oh, yes, this will do. Will only need two refills with this!” She says jokingly. Mostly. Some days it was far from a joke. “Thank you so much for being so… welcoming. I did not think my first day would be like this.” She says puting the stein to the side as put the ground coffee in to filter and nabs some hot water for tea making. Using it she drains the hot water over the ground beans resting in the filter and let's it drip down in to the stein slowly and steady.

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Feng chuckled, Rongyu wasn't all that wrong in her assessment.  "Yeah, and given how many walls around here are made of bamboo or paper, chances are they might break before I do!"  Certainly, serving him coffee, or anything stronger than mild tea, in a serving the size of that stein wouldn't be pleasant for anyone involved.  Well, perhaps he himself would enjoy it before the active ingredient wore off, but the regret afterward would likely balance it out.  Seeing the cup brought back memories, though.  "Ah, the Equestria Games.  I think I could have made a good cultural ambassador full time, you know, if I could have sat still long enough to pass a civil service exam.  It's kind of hard for longma, actually, which is why you see so many more qilin in the bureaucracy."  He didn't elaborate further on that, though he could, as longma/qilin balance was a key to the legitimacy of any dynasty and... he'd been noticing some troubling things lately.  Best not to spread rumors to the harm of the Empress.

 

"First days are like that, you never know what you'll get."  His dragon nature allowed Feng to drink tea at a temperature hotter than normal ponies would find comfortable.  Slurping down the beverage, he observed his new recruit's drinking habits.  "Just what were you expecting, actually?"

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  • 2 months later...

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"Well a place so filled with followers of the harmonious path should only be welcoming to the hopeful and eager." Within reason of course, "You'll find everyone here are quite kind and capable... well perhaps not the chamberlain." the chef gave a little chuckle at the thought of that stuffy qilin barging in to give his thoughts on the new recruit. Yanhua brushed off the thought as soon as she caught the scent of coffee beans. That machine always made a lovely aroma once it kicked into gear, the chef made heavy use of the device on her late nights in the kitchen. It would surely make a lovely cup for bother her beloved Feng and his new protege. 

"You certainly made a good impression during those games, Feng." She gave a nod, "At least all the events you participated in had some degree of respectability. I Only brought home the gold for cupcake eating and rock climbing."
 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Rongyu kept her eyes on the coffee and filled it to the rim. One drop more and it may have spilled. No cream, no sweeter. She gently blew over it, letting it cool. It will take a few moments before she can drink it. She just can’t drink it as hot as others seem to. But it gave her time to reply too what Feng asked. “I was expecting the training I got in camp but even worse. Running in deep mud, pushups as you stand on my back. Pulling wagons with broken wheels as you toss insults at me. That is what I was expecting. Not some basic swordplay and coffee. I still feel like something is going to jump me and scream at me to do laps as they run after me with a lash.” She says, looking over at Feng. “I have been training my body, soul and mind for months to prepare myself for hardships that made my army training seem like a foal's first schooling. So the lack of it has left me rather dumbfounded.” She added with a lean of her head. With that spoken she looked back to the coffee and leaned down to sip at the rim of the drink. She jerked back and blew on it again. Still hot and still more time to talk. 

 

“Equestria Games?” She asked, she heard of this Equestria but honestly… She didn't know much about it. “Have you been to Equestria?” She asked, looking dumbstruck by such a thing. It seemed so far away after all. Past the vast sea in lands strange and weird to her understanding. And the cook did it too? “You as well?” She asked the cook with a look of utter shock. “What is it like? Is it true they build out of the sky? I heard the Empress is old as a dragon and holds the sun in her claws? Is she a dragon?” She had a dozen more things to ask, all stories and things she’s heard from others. She did wonder how much was ture.

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Feng looked a little puzzled at Rongyu's expectations.  "Well, if you did all that, what would the point be of making you do it again?  I don't like to waste time on redundancies.  Outdoor endurance would have been the only thing outside the common course that I would have absolutely needed to test, and your record demonstrates that admirably."  He did give her a little grin that verged on wicked.  "I'm just gonna throw you into the deep end of your duties and let fail or succeed on your own merits.  After all, all you got to do is what you were doing already, just twice as good and with half the sleep!"  Honestly, that was probably a lowball of what would eventually be asked of her, but never let it be said that Feng would ever demand of her more than he demanded from himself.

 

Like learning about other countries, in case one needed to substitute as a diplomat.  Whatsoever the Empress desires!  "Well, I'd say rock climbing is respectable, but then I'm a colt from the mountains.  As for cupcake eating, well!  Maybe if it were steamed custard buns..."  He had to keep himself from drooling remembering the last time Yanhua had cooked them.  Answering his recruit's question was a good way to distract himself.  "Oh?  Oh, yes, I did see one house made out of clouds, and apparently there are whole towns just of pegasi that are in the sky too.  I suppose it's similar to Shangri-La, home of the king of the long.  He even had a cloud tea table when he hosted us!"  Feng just casually mentioning that he had been a tea guest of the most revered being in all of Long Guo was just so... him.  "I can't speak to the age of their Empress, apparently there was some kind of recent succession?  At any rate, no, she's not a dragon, and neither was her predecessor.  Still moves the sun, apparently.  Oh, and her official title is 'Princess,' for some reason.  Maybe its some kind of formal humility, like how the Neighponese call everything 'honorable.'"

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