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A guard's reward


Davroth
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It had been a few days since Seeker and Radiant Steel had parted ways that night in the outer districts of Canterlot. Finding shelter close to the university had been harder then expected. He had been close to give up, but he quickly found out that the locals didn't take lightly to putting up a camp in a park. One of the local guards did take pity on him and was nice enough to point him into the direction of an affordable inn close by. He had also been so kind as to take a message for Radiant Steel with his location and a time and date for their meeting, which he said he would deliver personally.

Things went a lot better after that, though. Seeker had still some bits left from working on his way through the heartland, and had found that the local market had an amazing selection of vegetables, both local and foreign. Luck had it that he even found a vendor selling the spices and herbs of his homeland, and after some pleasant talk, the vendor made him a good price for it. Desert folk had to stick together after all.

However, it had taken him some time to find a local animal specialist. There were pet specialists in Canterlot, of course, but the first one he had met seemed far too keen to send Blacky into a "spa", whatever that was. After asking a bit around at the market, he did find an animal healer that took care of most of the local farm animals, which sounded perfect to him.

Seeker had left Blacky with her overnight, and when he picked him back up, he was as good as new. He now had some herbal medicine and instructions for the next few days. Seeker was very happy about that, it meant he could now concentrate on preparing the food.

The inn keeper had been very supportive of Seekers wish, and allowed him to use the inn's kitchen to prepare the food. It was the biggest kitchen Seeker had ever been in, and he was used to cook over an open fire, but he was a quick learner.

Telekinesis was Seekers specialty, there was no doubt about it. However, he rarely used it in full effect. Working on clockworks for so long, he had mastered the art of moving insane amounts of objects at the same time, but he had reached a point where he could operate this kitchen all by himself. The weight wasn't the hard part, but it took years to master the coordination and concentration required. Pans and kettles floated around him and landed on their proper places, behind him knifes were dicing mushrooms and roots into little pieces. The inn keeper, who had just wanted to see if everything was alright with his kitchen stood at the door, marveling at the ballet of food and metal. He was halfway done with his preparations. He had even thought of buying a desert, which he only ever had on his birthdays back in his youth. He didn't know what to pick, so he had a local pastry maker recommend something. Now, a package with two glossy, snow white pieces of cake rested on a counter near him.

Blacky lay in the far end of the kitchen, napping. They had played a for quite a while before coming here, and Seeker was behind on his schedule. 'Miss Radiant Steel could be here at any moment.' he thought, while covering one of the pots. 'I need to hurry.'

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Radiant's mind was racing wildly as she approached the inn where the pony Seeker had told her to meet him. She still wasn't sure what to make of this meeting. It was just kind of odd for her to meet others socially, especially at request. It was even worse that it was that jerk Bolt Driver who Seeker had found to be his courier. Radiant really did not care for his teasing, or how thanks to him her entire platoon started asking her about her "date." It was kind of annoying and more than anything just left Radiant confused about the whole situation.

To top it all off, Radiant was a little tired. Her night watch duties had her schedule completely off from what was typical of a pony. She usually slept well past the time Seeker had told her to meet him. And it was weird for her to be out in public at all without her armor. All of it together just had Radiant more than a touch uneasy as she approached the inn. Swallowing her nerves, she nevertheless opened the door and slowly went inside.

Approaching the inn keeper, Radiant awkwardly smiled. "Yeah... Hi? I'm... er... looking for a pony..." she gulped. "His name is... uh... Seeker..."

"So you're the lucky one?" the inn keeper replied. "Truly, you have no idea the treat you have in store for you..."

"Oh...?" Radiant said, her voice cracking a little, nervous like never before. "I... er... see..."

"Right this way, ma'am..." the inn keeper said before leading the mare to the kitchen.

Radiant's jaw dropped, completely unprepared for what she saw there.

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Seeker didn't notice Radiant Steel right away. At the moment he gave the same dedication to the food preparation that was usually reserved for his work, and he flourished in it. He was almost done with the soup and the main course, now the salad needed his attention.

The used knifes and spoons were already flying to the sink he had been thoughtful enough to fill with water beforehand. In front of him, the lettuce unfolded, and cut into pieces by the invisible tendrils of his telekinesis, while oil and vinegar were flying by, along with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. It was a new concept to him. When Seeker felt the need for some greens, he usually just grazed, which comes in handy in the wild, because it was a food source almost always available, and the taste had grown on him.

He had been led to believe that the city folk preferred their greens like this. He was following orders from a cookbook for this, measuring all the ingredients meticulously. He just hoped it would be alright, and it was too late for a change in the menu now.

Blacky was barking happily, and Seeker turned to look to the door. "Ah, Miss Radiant Steel." he began friendly, knifes, bowls and greens still moving in unchanged speed. "My apologies you have to see this, I was hoping to be finished before you arrived"

Blacky had made his way to the door the mare was still standing at, and sat on the ground expectingly, panting and waggling his tail. "Please, I prepared a table outside" for a moment, three knifes and a lost piece of lettuce pointed to a door at the far end of the kitchen, where a second door led outside to the inn's courtyard. There, on a patch of grass, Seeker had set up a table and two sitting mats, and had even put a small vase with a single white flower. It had been a suggestion of the inn's patron, who had taken quite an interest in the whole venture.

Seeker continued preparing the salad. 'Almost finished' he thought.

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Radiant couldn't believe her eyes. What was all this? She had never seen so much food at once. All this was for her? She hardly knew how to process that.

Radiant just stood there dumbly when the other pony spoke to her. It was almost an entire minute before her brain started working right and she realized she should say something. "Ah... er... right..." she said, blushing profusely.

"This is..." she started as she continued to stare ahead. "I... I don't even know what to say..."

Radiant noticed then that Blacky had come up to her. She smiled. He seemed to actually like her. That was a rarity for animals... but she supposed she had helped save this dog's life.

"Hi there, Blacky," she said, petting the dog gently. "it's nice to see you again, and with your health restored."

After spending some time with the dog, Radiant decided to do as Seeker had suggested and find her way to the table.

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The dog ran around her legs, stopping to be petted from time to time. By the time Radiant Steel had arrived, Blacky had been aching to run around some more, and he enjoyed every minute of it.

Seeker had barely taken notice of the guards mare, and had quickly returned to the food preparation. Now that she was actually here, he didn't want to make her wait. He looked over to the array of pots and the pan resting on the stoves behind him. The soup was hot and ready, the roots were would need a few more moments, the mushrooms were covered to keep them moist and warm until it was time to serve the main course, and the sauces and salad were now in bowls covered with waxed paper.

'Alright', he thought, lifting two bowls filled with hot soup with his magic. 'Let's begin.'

Seeker exited through the door, taking a look at the courtyard. Blacky was running around happily, and Radiant Steel had made her way to the table, looking after the dog. He trotted over to her, letting the two bowls fly to the table, landing gently.

"Now, I hope you are ready for your reward, Miss Radiant Steel" he said happily "This is a variant on a beets soup my mother taught me. I hope it is to your liking."

Sitting down on the other side of the table, raising a spoon by invisible hoof, Seeker waited for the white pegasus mare to follow.

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"Er... wow..." Radiant stammered, shocked by what was presented to her. "This is... You made all this yourself?"

Radiant trembled a little, now nervous. Nopony ever had done so much for her. It was just too much. It made her feel even more awkward. Blacky eased the situation a little at least. The dog made her smile never falter as he stayed with her, seemingly content. This gave Radiant at least a measure of confidence enough to try the food presented to her.

She took a sip of the beet soup Seeker presented to her. It was just delicious. Radiant's smile lit up considerably as she ate it.

"This is... delicious..." she said, with wide eyes as she began to hastily devour the rest of what she had been served.

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"Oh, don't mention it." he said, starting to eat his soup "I cook a lot while travelling."

'I couldn't afford food like this otherwise, anyway.' He thought to himself. He couldn't quite place it, but Radiant Steel seemed uneasy. He wasn't sure if he had to say something, but he decided against it for now.

Seeker was relieved to see her lighting up when she tried the soup. She ate with great appetite, and he took that as a compliment.

Blacky had lied down next to Radiant Steel, curling up on the ground, like he usually did with ponies he liked.

The roots would still need a bit, but both of them had finished their soup by now. He caught the mares eyes, and smiled brightly, happy that she finally seemed to enjoy her reward.

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"Ah..." Radiant started, looking away. She didn't know how to react to him looking her in the eyes. She forced an awkward laugh. She needed to say something it was weird if she didn't say something, right? She looked at all the food again. Just seeing it was still so impressive.

"Er... you said you cook a lot?" she finally managed to say. "I think that's really great..."

"I mean... I can't cook at all... not even a little..." Radiant said, blushing and smiling. "When I was a foal I kind of wanted to be a baker... but nothing ever turned out like it was supposed to... and... after that time the house caught fire, I decided to give it up for good..."

Radiant was unsure why she was revealing such lame things about herself. She supposed she was just that desperate to come up with conversation.

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"Oh I cook a lot for Blacky and me." he explained. "Unlike me, he can't feed on greens alone."

Seeker blinked. This was the first time, as far as he could, that Radiant Steel had talked about something other then her work. He didn't quite know what how to react. He decided to reach back to his foalhood, too.

"When I was a colt, I used to wander off from the caravans into the mountain outskirts." He began thoughtfully "My parents used to be very worried that I would amount to nothing when I grow up." He laughed uneasily "I think part of me just wanted mom to fly me back to the camp." he blushed slightly. 'Why did I just say that?' he thought.

Thankfully, the noise of a timer clock broke the silence. "Ah, I think the roots are ready." he began, "Excuse me for a moment, Miss Radiant Steel."

He stood up, hurrying to the kitchen. He was a bit confused, but the pegasis seemed to enjoy herself, so he didn't mind. This was her reward after all, and he was determined not to spoil it.

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"Roots, eh? Alright..." Radiant said as the other went to fetch what he had been cooking. She had a low tolerance for bitter things, so she honestly hoped she wouldn't have to be rude about anything served to her.

While he was gone, Radiant began to think about his story and how it related to her own. She focused in on thoughts of her own parents.

"I guess parents are just like that..." she said through a long sigh, not even really sure the other pony was there to listen. "Father really always has had to make things difficult for me... even though I've gone out of my way to make him proud..."

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Seeker hurried into the kitchen, trying not to think to hard about why he was so open about his family all of the sudden. He hadn't really though about them the last few week.

There were more pressing need, though. The young turnips and sweet potatos would be ready any moment now, and he would have to hit the sweet spot, otherwise they would be too soft and unappealing. Moments passed, and Seeker concentrated to keep track of time.

Outside, Blacky had taken up the task of entertaining Radiant Steel while she had to wait. He sat up, and started waggling his tail, while panting expectingly.

It would be mere moments until the roots were perfect, and Seeker stood to perfect attention. He was determined to make it perfectly, and put all the dedication and concentration normally reserved for his research into it.

'It's getting close' he thought, 'focus!'

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Radiant looked around, and noticed Seeker hadn't returned yet.

She smiled at the dog and petted him quietly. It was kind of nice, though really she wasn't very sure how to act around Blacky. In a lot of ways that was harder for her than Seeker. As much as she loved animals, she hadn't spent much time around them. Her family had had a few pets over the years, but never did they warm to Radiant. It was always her brothers and her mother who they were close to. Radiant had become a little jealous and a little insecure.

At the same time, Blacky liked her, and he was a cute dog. She liked being there with him. She just wasn't entirely sure how she should be acting or if she should even be doing anything. Radiant supposed it didn't really matter. She smiled quietly as she sat there, the dog close by.

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"There, perfect!" said Seeker, as he took the pots with the different roots from the stove. Finally, everything fell into place, and he would be done with food preparation soon. Seeker carefully arranged the pieces of roots and mushrooms on two plates, and added some sauce and seasonings. He really hoped Radiant Steel would like it.

Seeker trotted back outside, different food items floating behind him. "So, Miss Radiant Steel, are you ready for the main course?"

Four plates with food landed on the table, two big ones with mushrooms and roots to each side, and two smaller ones with fresh salad. A small tray with assorted items landed on the far end of the table.

"Now, those are assorted, local mushrooms, young turnips, and pieces of sweet potato. As a side, there's a green salad." He points to the tray "There's more sauce and seasonings, if you like, Miss Radiant Steel."

Seeker sat down, waiting for the white Pegasus to begin to eat, to then dig in himself. It had been a while since he had eaten, and this was very welcome.

Blacky lay calmly next to the mare, yawning with a look of content on his face.

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"Oh yes," Radiant said nodding anxiously. "This looks excellent."

Radiant was a simple eater. She usually didn't have anything even remotely like this. Usually just some milder grasses or grains and sweet desert whenever she could get one and nopony was around to see her get indulgent. Seeing all this presented to her at once was a little daunting, especially since she wasn't sure she was going to like everything.

Radiant got together a plate, sampling everything. Actually pretty hungry, she started to try the different foods. She wasn't too crazy about the turnips and some of the mushrooms were a little strong for her tastes, but she really loved the sweet potatoes, and the salad was pretty good too.

"Very tasty," she commented, not wanting to voice any complaints. Radiant smiled and looked down at Blacky. "Does Blacky get to eat anything?" she asked, curiously.

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While eating his meal, Seeker cautiously watched the white pegasus as she began to dig into hers.

It was not quite the same as he remembered from the last time he had cooked this, and he was worried that it wasn't good enough. Sure enough, Radiant Steel was picking around some of the mushrooms and the turnips. He didn't want to say anything outright, but there was something that had to be done about it.

Thankfully, the white mare asked about Blacky's diet, and Seeker was all to happy to talk about that. "Oh, don't worry about him, I fed him earlier." he began. "See, dogs can't really control their hunger, and if I'd feed him all the time, he wouldn't stop eating." He gave her a look. "He shouldn't eat this food anyway." he said sternly, looking at the black dog, peacefully lying next to Radiant Steel, "he couldn't stomach the seasoning."

He couldn't stop thinking about the food, though. Thinking about the pots that were still in the kitchen, he ventured "Hm, I have some of the sweet potato left." He smiled at her with untainted friendliness "Only if you like of course."

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"Ah, I see. I guess that makes sense," said Radiant, tilting her head as she looked at Blacky. "I honestly don't know much about dogs. We used to have a dog... but he was more my brother's... and he didn't really like me very much... so I guess I never really learned too much..."

Radiant sighed, and then smiled a little. "You and Blacky really seem close."

When Seeker mentioned having more sweet potato, Radiant nodded. "Oh? I think I would like some more of that," she said.

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Seeker stood up and made his way to the door, and stopped once he could see the door. Concentrating on the pot with the sweet potato, he lifted it off the stove with his magic and let it float over to the table, giving Radiant Steel an opportunity to take seconds.

"Blacky and me go way back." Seeker began thoughtfully "I practically grew up next to him." Blacky took this moment to lift his head and yawn silently. "As I told you, I used to run off into the mountains, and Blacky was one of the dogs that would help to search for me." Reminiscing the past for a moment, Seeker continued "And ever since I left the caravans, he has always been with me, protecting me, keeping me company..." His voice trailed off at that point. He was thinking about how long it had been since he'd seen his family.

After making sure that Radiant Steel has had an opportunity to fill her plate with more sweet potato, Seeker placed the pot on the ground close by. He sat back down, and continued his meal. He was still only half way through his first portion.

"We fought a lot side by side when we travelled the along the Everfree Forest. Some of the creatures are pretty aggressive." he said "I could always count on him to cover my back, though."

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Radiant, filling her plate with more sweet potatoes. listened intently. Her ears piqued at the last lines Seeker said. Fighting aggressive creatures in Everfree. She repressed a sigh. For all the extensive REA combat training she had went through, she had never once been an actual fight with a beast. The closest things to practical combat she had experienced were a few hoof fights with some rude ponies who had a good beating coming to them. That said, some of the worse arguments Radiant had with her father sure felt like real battle.

Still... Knowing that she had less combat experience than the pony before her made her feel a little inadequate. He could cook, was good with animals, and had even been through more action than her. What else was there? She supposed it didn't really matter. And it wasn't something she held against the unicorn as much as she held it against herself.

"I see. I think that's very special, the bond you two share," she said, trying not to let on her somewhat jumbled mentality. "Bonds between comrades are truly precious, I think."

Then, quietly, Radiant began to eat some more food.

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"Comrade? It's not all that glorious." Seeker said, "My work brings me to places far off the known roads, and it's pretty dangerous as it is."

He thought about it for a moment. "But what you say is true, I wouldn't want to miss him for the world."

Seeker felt that he'd get teary eyed if he thought more about this, and shifted his attention back to his plate for the moment.

Blacky stood up, and sat down next to Radiant Steel, putting his head on one of her hind legs, and winced happily. He looked up to her, with a look of expectation on his features.

"Oh, don't worry about him. He knows he's not allowed that kind of food, but he will still try begging with a new pony." He gave Blacky a look of amusement. "Just scratch him a little behind his ear, he really likes that, and he wont care about the food anymore."

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"It sounds exciting," Radiant said in a low voice. "I'm proud of my job. Guarding the city I've lived in my entire life, guarding the home of the Princess I have sworn that life to... I really have no need for anything more..."

"But still I would like a chance to see the world outside of Canterlot someday... And in all honesty, I haven't gotten much further away from it than those woods where we met," the pegasus looked down.

She smiled as her eyes found Blacky, eyeing her food. She scratched his ear as Seeker instructed. It seemed to work just as the unicorn had said.

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"It sounds like a very honourable profession" Seeker nodded "The Exalted One is certainly in capable hooves with guards like yourself."

He looked at Blacky, then up to Radiant Steel. He found that aside from being incredibly thankful for her help, Seeker actually enjoyed being around another pony for once. Seeker averted his eyes, taking another bite from his food.

"Eh.. the deserts are beautiful, but also dangerous and treacherous." he began again. "I guess I'm lucky that my work takes me all over the world." He gave it some thought. He had seen a lot of different places on his search for his dream.

"I could tell you about it" he said finally, "if you are interested, that is."

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Capable? Radiant smiled at the compliment, as small as it was. She was seldom complimented for her work. It was kind of odd to her. Doing her job well was expected of her. Her superiors, her father, they all only had words for her when she messed something up. Receiving some small praise for her job felt good for once.

"Thank you," she offered simply, her face slightly flush.

Radiant listened then as the pony began to talk of the deserts he came from and the world beyond. She was instantly rather curious.

"I'd be quite happy to listen to your stories," the pegasus said with a nod and a small smile.

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And so Seeker began to tell stories from his time with the caravans. Travelling alongside the desert had always been dangerous. Fortunately, Seeker's family had traversed the stretch along the mountain outskirts for many generations, and he had learned from a very young age of all the dangers of that route. There were dangerous illusions in the endless sand, that had led several ponies to loose their way. In the mountains, many wild beast were just waiting for somepony foolish enough to make a mistake. Not to forget the treacherous temperature changes, from burning hot during the days, to freezing cold at night.

And then of course, there were the sand storms. His mother had warned him about them. She had told him that evil spirits were driving ponies into hiding to then steal everything that wasn't pinned to the ground. Seeker had never believed that. He was certain that it was just the wind lifting small objects from the ground that hadn't been secured properly. However, as he told these stories, Seeker couldn't help but feeling a little homesick. It had been more then a year since he had last seen his parents, and even longer since he had been really in the desert. He had sent them letters, of course, and their business contact in Appleloosa had forwarded a letter from his family to him recently. He just hadn't thought about them lately, with all the excitement and all the work.

His food had undoubtedly gone cold by now, but Seeker paid no attention to it. Somewhere on the other side of the table, Blacky yawned, and shut his eyes for a bit, head still resting on Radiant Steel.

"Oh but," Seeker began, like he had forgotten something "It was not all bad." He readjusted on his pillow a bit, and thoughtfully moved his fork a few inches over his plate. "It's also a place of unimaginable beauty. The seemingly endless waves of the dunes to one site, glistening like crystals in the dawn. On the other side, the majestic mountains, towering high and imposing, but protecting just enough green from the desert to feed our sheep." He went silent go a moment. "But of course, my fondest memory are my family. My many uncles and aunts, and their children, my grandparents, and of course my parents. All working together in perfect harmony." Seeker bit his lip. He felt that a wave of emotions was just waiting to break out of him at that point, so he decided to change the subject a little.

"But of course, that's all several years in the past now, and I travelled many other places, too." He took a bite from his sweet potato, just to find that it was indeed cold as a desert night. He was wondering how long he had talked just now, and decided to look over sheepishly to the white pegasus mare for a reaction.

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"It sounds fascinating," Radiant said with a sigh. "Every day must be some kind of adventure..." She gave a small resigned laugh. "I could really go for that kind of life. Though with as much pride as I have for what I do, I doubt I could ever just leave it."

Radiant smiled as she continued to think about the stories told. She then ate some more food and gave a nod. She returned to one of his later lines, for it seemed the most fantastic to her.

"Family in perfect harmony though?" she laughed at the idea. "To me, that sounds even more impossible than those evil spirits you mentioned."

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"Oh." Seeker began, considering that. "There were times where my parents had to be stern with me. But over the years, I learned to understand why." He looked down on his plate, filled with cold food now "Really, when you travel through dangerous lands, like we did, you can't allow to fight among your family."

After a moment of silence, Seeker said: "I can only speak for my family of course, since it's the only one I know."

He looked over, noticing that the white mare had emptied her plate. He got up from the ground, lifting the used plates and cutlery from the table with his magic. "I have some dessert prepared. Do you prefer coffee or tea, Miss Radiant Steel?"

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