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Finding It

FantasyPhantom Jan 30th, 2017 (edited) 755 Never
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  1. >Be sitting quietly on a rustic old wooden stool, staring blankly at a cup of murky yet still water.
  2. >Your favorite paintbrush swims and waits patiently to be picked up to create life and limb.
  3. >Lines and strokes of warm orange and aged grey mar the surface of a once blank canvas in a subtle dance attempting to illustrate… a pathway in Autumn? A sunset? Could be either…
  4. >You lost inspiration an hour ago or so and your flank is getting sore from doing absolutely nothing for so long.
  5. > Sighing out loud, you get up, stretch your unused wings, and trot over to your comfiest cushion in the living room overlooking Canterlot proper and flop onto it.
  6. >Looking out your loft window into the main thoroughfare, nobles meander about in a seemingly meaningless directions. Only once in a while does a small patrol of guards walk past, that same irritatingly blue plume adorning each one of their heads.
  7. >Remembering this, you brush a tuft of the same hue hair from your face. Who needs to deal with bedhead on a day off anyway, even if company was expected. It’s just one of those days.
  8. >Following the worn cobble streets with your eyes, you find yourself gazing at an actual sunset, one in which is broken ever so slightly by the grasping silhouetted tendrils of bare trees in the distance.
  9. “Why can’t I imitate that?”
  10. >You huff while gesturing with a hoof. Sighing once more, your slump down, resting your chin on the floor, eyes still to the horizon.
  11. >If only you could regain that… spark, fire, gear turning inspiration.
  12. >You’ve been painting since you were a filly and have been able to find something to drive you to create.
  13. >But this level of monotony is crushing.
  14. >If only something would happen! To bring some kind of spark, flame, flash, explosion?
  15. >No, was that a real explosion in the distance?
  16. >You get up quickly and look out the glass to the distance. Out in the trees you were just looking… something happened.
  17. >Your guard mare instincts kick in and you begin looking around for your sword to attach to your…
  18. >Lack of armor.
  19. >This isn’t your fight right now. You breathe and calm yourself. Maybe Aegis or Brave will be able to fill you in later. They are on shift today.
  20. >Taking another breath, you move towards the glass and slide it open. Stepping out onto the balcony, you see no indication of anything actually happening in the valley below. Everypony else seems unperturbed or showing any indication of seeing what you just saw.
  21. >Bringing yourself down, you take a moment to take in the cool fall air. It’s comforting. Maybe this is why you started painting something seasonal. The windows were open earlier but have since been closed due to small bugs.
  22. >Lost in thought, a voice calls to you from below.
  23. >”Emerald! Please don’t tell me you just NOW rolled outa’ bed.” A brown coated mare with saddlebags over her back looks up at you with a small smirk on her face.
  24. >”And please don’t tell me you forgot about your mandatory dietary assistance get-together.” The smirk turns to a full on smile, now repressing a laugh seeing the red blush spreading violently across your alabaster cheeks.
  25. “For the last time, stop calling it that! You make me sound like I have a problem!”
  26. >Your glare does nothing to deter her but does garner the look of more than a few confused passerby’s.
  27. >”You do though! I truly think you created the starving artist stereotype.” She fails to hold back anymore begins to laugh aloud.
  28. “Look, just get up here!”
  29. >You glance around and give every wayward pony a soul piercing look that sets their course back to normal, if a bit hurried.
  30. >She continues in through the main base level doorway shaking her head. You turn back inside and close the glass door.
  31. >Pausing a moment, you feel briefly along your physique and push tentatively in your cutie mark, a simple paintbrush with a green tip, stopped mid-curve in a stroke.
  32. >She’s crazy, there’s nothing wrong with how you eat. Not twig thin and not “sad pancake”, just enough full and smooth pudgeage. How could she complain? You can’t and others certainly haven’t.
  33. “She’s out of her mind.”
  34. >You say, then turn to notice the gathering pile of takeout trash with half-eaten hay fries lying next to an empty bottle of dandelion wine peeking out of a toppled bag. You nod to yourself.
  35. “Starving artist my hind quarters.”
  36. >A quick, almost rhythmic knock is heard from the front door.
  37. “Coming!”
  38. >Be a guard mare for the castle itself, living in a modest apartment in the center of Canterlot with nothing more than a desire to protect this beautiful city and its denizens then capture moments of peace and war eternally with the strokes of a paintbrush. Through it all, happy as you may be, you want something more. A change of pace or something to break up the repetitive dreamscape of this idyllic town in an exciting and fascinating way.
  39. >You quickly rush to answer the door, nearly tripping over your painting setup in your haste.
  40. >Peering through the peek hole, you see the distorted and warped though familiar friendly figure of Staff Sergeant Scarlet Bloom.
  41. >Promptly opening the door, she forcibly steps forward with a flick of her maroon hair revealing a sun dappled face accented by piercing hazel eyes gazing downward on you with a sternness not seen from the streets before.
  42. >You step back giving her room as she addresses you.
  43. >”Corporal Gleam! You are late on waking up and now opening the door? Explain yourself!”
  44. >You snap to attention out of force of habit as being formally addressed. Your posture said you were prepared and at attention but your words found a way to escape you.
  45. “I…! Uh…am, sorry ma’am?”
  46. >The half-hearted response failed to ease the unexpected tension. Scarlet merely looks at you uninterested before reaching out a hoof.
  47. >And ruffles your already catastrophic hairdo.
  48. >”At ease you lagoon creature.” She says with a smile before walking past you to drop her things off.
  49. “Gah! You can’t do that to me B! You know I take my job at least somewhat seriously.”
  50. >”What part would that be,” She chided in a playfully jeering tone. “The whole ‘gotta dye my hair different colors because the others said so’ part or the timely 8 pm wakeup?”
  51. >She looked around before huffing and clearing a spot on the cluttered table, not being successful in finding an open spot to place her saddlebags. Without giving a moment to retort, she continued.
  52. >”If only you took care of this poor domicile as well as you do the citizens or as well as you paint, maybe then guests would feel a bit more welcome.”
  53. >Grunting, she pushed the mountain in one motion giving just enough room to drop the bags.
  54. >Closing the door and fruitlessly attempting to fix your hair, you join her in the room without a word in edgewise.
  55. >”Lighten up would ya? I’m here to help!”
  56. >You reclaim your cushion overlooking the streets and sit on it.
  57. “No no, I’m glad you’re here. It’s just, today I thought I’d be able to get some painting done, but I really am having one heck of a block. Nothings flowing today.”
  58. >The stillness of the room made it ever present that after Scarlet put her bags down, she was intently listening. No motion was made for what seemed like forever. In an effort to break the hated silence, you turn to your best friend.
  59. “Do you know what I mean?”
  60. >She had a thoughtful expression for a moment before beginning to walk over to you.
  61. >“Yeah, I do. Well, maybe not from an artistic standpoint, but I do.” She rests a hoof on your shoulder as you turn back to the mildly dusk bathed streets.
  62. >”Though I can usually get out of a mood like that by cleaning up around the house, walking the paths of Canterlot and taking in the air while having small discussions with people I happen to pass, and even coming to help you. Really, for me, it comes down to getting something done.”
  63. >A pause hangs in the air, as if she is piecing together thoughts.
  64. >”Though for you it must be different. But, I mean, look Emerald!” She piped, gesturing at the array of hand drawn portraits and meticulously crafted paintings adorning the walls of most of the living and dining area.
  65. >You look up to glance at a few: A modest and simple painting of an elderly couple sitting on a bench in a park, The Battle of Stalliongrad depicted a triumph unicorn holding aloft a red bannerette over sundered ruins of a once wondrous city, an abstract of an empty carriage in the middle of a vast field of wheat, and an ambitious rendition of an aged Princess Flurry Heart in armor squaring off with a minotaur, all delicately and maliciously designed and brought to life by your very own muzzle. And they go on.
  66. >“You’ve created so many beautiful works of art! The Emerald I knew could pull inspiration from anything!”
  67. >And it’s true you had. Equestria had it all: Grace and majesty, feast and famine, war and peace, Life and love. Endless moments just waiting to be captured by gentle flourishes of a simple oak stick. But lately? You’re not sure. Though it’s reassuring to have a friend that believes in such a silly hobby.
  68. >“You done day dreaming? Come on you bum, get that rear in gear!” Her definitive and light hearted tone breaks you for the second time today from your mental moseying.
  69. >As does two firm hooves lifting from between your forelegs, though she doesn’t stop there. She drags you like a sack of potatoes back into the dining room where she left her bags, all the while your wings attempt to right the awkward position, futilely flailing against her stomach.
  70. >”Stop squirming, I’m ticklish!” She laughs. “Besides, this is your stop!”
  71. >She drops you as the foot of a chair in the dining room, eyes wild from the unexpected elevation changes and physical mare handling. Earthponies…
  72. >Now eye level with the floor, you spot dust and debris disturbed by the disruption of your tabletop sculptor of refuse.
  73. >”Come on Em, I’ve got a number of custom cook books written up for you as well as ingredients to make the first item on the list, and I even brought…” She halts her excitement, seemingly with the re-realization of how messy the room and, by extension, the kitchen are.
  74. >”First things first,” She proclaimed, obviously ready to begin, “We’ll need to tidy up a bit. This meets no standard of proper food prepping or living so we’ll need to pick up the garbage and clear off the tables, then I think there’s some paint that spilled, and hopefully we won’t excavate to clean your room, then…”
  75. >You begin to tone out her droning on. Tss, she’s your best friend, former instructor, personal trainer, and now your mom. It’ll be a chore to listen let alone follow instructions. And you thought this would be a day off.
  76. >”…And if I so much as see a single malt shake turned petri dish festering next to an ecosystem of stale clothes, you might as well as kiss that deposit goodbye girl.”
  77. “But it’s military housing you…”
  78. >This’ll be a long day, and the day is half over already. No sleep for your patrol tomorrow, that’s for sure. You pull yourself from the floor and prepare for an unintentional drill regimen.
  79. >The hour was just after the sun had been put to rest.
  80. >Now if only you could be put to rest after this torment.
  81. >Torn between throwing out VITAL supplies that in your mind could become something in the future to meticulously picking and packing trash to be thrown outside, all the while being “motivated” by a drill sergeant, you find yourself in an even more desperate situation of needing a bath.
  82. “Is this satisfactory ma’am?”
  83. >You choked out, hoof to your head in a salute shortly after making your fourth run to the street to drop off trash. Scarlet trotted around the simple home, looking at everything in search of a flaw. Even the paint.
  84. >”No.” She said flatly. Your shoulders visibly slumped while letting out a sigh. Will it ever- “But it will do.”
  85. >She turned back to you, loosening the stoned face into a brighter one, then gave a pleased smile. Falling onto the now spotless floor, you’re blessed with the greatest feeling of relief. It’s finally over. You can die in peace.
  86. >”Now we can start on the real work!” She went to retrieve her bag of books and tin covered containers.
  87. >”Call it intuition, but I felt this would happen and it would be too late to do any real work. I’ve come prepared with a few meals for you. Made them myself, ya now?” She went on to set the table then to the kitchen to warm up the impromptu meal.
  88. >You murmured in acknowledgement and crawled to the table.
  89. >Some time passed of you taking a power nap face down on the dining room table before being startled awake by bowls and plates being moved and tapped, food being distilled into them via ladle. Soup. Excitement wasn’t your first emotion, but soon senses were overwhelmed by how good it smelled.
  90. >”I’ve dubbed it Hobo Stew!”
  91. >Intuitive Bloom.
  92. “Why…?”
  93. >”Well,” She started, “it contains all sorts of things! A stew cobbled together from all the good stuff from steamed vegetables, slices of particular fruits, pastas, seasonings and spices and sauces and, well, everything I can think that’s good for a growing girl!”
  94. >She sounds more and more like your mom and with every item she rattles off while dinner becomes less and less enticing. Still, the aroma was unmistakable for something hearty. Plus she personally made it for you. Might as well try it.
  95. >Your first spoonful seemed to slow your surroundings for a brief moment, even Scarlet stopped her explanation to hear the results. The room was deftly still as if it itself was joining in on the anticipation.
  96. “It’s not bad.”
  97. >The burgundy mare stood still for a moment. “Not bad?”
  98. “No B! It’s wonderful! Praise be to that intuitive noggin’ of yours!”
  99. >You began to consume more and more of the heavenly amalgam with newfound vigor. Before Scarlet could get another word out, you’re up at the pot getting seconds. B nods her head in approval, satisfied with the results of the evening.
  100. >(time later)
  101. >Fat, happy, and tired, you lay down on your cushion and bask in the relaxation of a full stomach. Bloom sits across from you near the balcony door, sipping some tea she had brought.
  102. >”-and there’s also the recipe for that stew in the books I brought for you.”
  103. “I thought it was and can be a random assortment of whatever is laying around.”
  104. >”Doesn’t mean I don’t have a few recommendations.” Stated the connoisseur.
  105. “Right”
  106. >”Anyway, while I have you, can we also do something about that hair?”
  107. >A tinge of red found its way to your checks as you looked at her with embarrassment.
  108. “W-what? Now? Why? It’s fine how it is.”
  109. >”For the time being. What happens to it when your roots start showing?”
  110. “I, uh, can’t get rid of it yet. It’s a rite of passage you know?”
  111. >”That I do.” She placed her drink down on a nearby table. “It’s only for that day though.”
  112. “Well… Maybe I want to honor former Caption Armor a little longer, eh? Think of that?”
  113. >”Hmm…” A devilish smirk curled across the staff sergeants face.” Me’thinks someone in one of your circles likes it. Am I wrong?”
  114. >No, of course not. She being ridiculous.
  115. “N-not at all! It’s fine! He likes it natural! Just being honorable!”
  116. >”He?”
  117. >Damn crafty witch
  118. >”Also if you want to be honorable, don’t lie to me Corporal.”
  119. “Uh. Alright fine,” You say defeated. “Next leave I get, I’ll get it dyed.”
  120. >“Sooo I’m right then?”
  121. “Far from it, you’re just right about the roots thing.”
  122. >Saved. Not that defeated.
  123. “Anyway, thanks a ton for all you’ve done today, I guess I needed it and didn’t know it.
  124. >She eyed you, measuring each word you say before returning to her normal pattern of conversation.
  125. >”It’s really no problem, honey. I’ve got your back, even if that means being a sort of mother to you.”
  126. >Looks like you’re not the only one who thinks it.
  127. >”I just want what’s best for you, you know? My work is just cut out for me is all.” Resuming sipping her tea, you can’t help but hear the genuine feeling behind each word. It’s comforting.
  128. “Thanks, it’s mutual.”
  129. >Bloom beamed at this, polishing off her cup. She got up to place it within the sinks basin.
  130. “Oh yeah!”
  131. >You say, lifting your head up quickly. Scarlet’s ears perk up and she turns to face you, not expecting the sudden exclamation.
  132. “Did you hear or see that explosion earlier?”
  133. >The brown coated mare seemed confused at the question. “Explosion? In the city?” You nod your head.
  134. “Yeah, well no. Not in the city but within the city’s reaches. I meant down in the valley.”
  135. >Scarlet stopped for a moment, pondering the inquisition. “Umm well I think I recall something about… teleportation was it? Experimental of course. Something to do with the academy. I only really know what I do from small talk so take it with a grain of salt.”
  136. >Teleportation, huh? Well, it’s good to know it’s not any sort of great threat to Equestria or anything? Right? You’ll have to pry later about it with someone. Your interrupted mid thought by the sound of a loud-
  137. >”Fffffuuuuuuu-“ You hold your breath in anticipation of what she might be about to say.
  138. >”-uuudge like my fur! Look at the time!” Dang, so close. For once you’d like to hear her swear. You’d think for a diamond devil dog she’d swear like one, but instead she has a tighter filter than that of coffee. With haste, she begins racing around putting containers and utensils away in her saddle bags.
  139. “Need to be home for something?” You ask, getting up from your comfy perch and beginning to assist her.
  140. >”I’ve had a guest on my doorstep for probably an hour!”
  141. “Guest?”
  142. >A smirk similar to one she wore not five minutes ago now begins to cross your face. She glares back at you. “Cut it Em, or I’ll kill you three different ways before you hit the floor.”
  143. >The smirk stays, but inside you’re dying of laughter.
  144. >Even though she probably could.
  145. >Sometime of rummaging, packing, and agreeing to bring her dirty dishes back to her clean later, you share your brisk goodbyes and see her out the door. Closing behind her, you’re left in the now clean and derelict abode that you call home. The only sound being the echoing hoofsteps down the stairs and into the near vacant streets below of your departing friend.
  146. >Out of curiosity, you walk back to the kitchen to inspect the damage she left in her cooking. Not a spot, just as clean as you left it.
  147. >You know, post punishment. That woman is efficient.
  148. >With the loft now empty, you find yourself in dire need of that bath. You slowly make your way to the bathroom to draw a pool of liquid heaven, the exhaustion of the day catching up with you. Minutes pass before the tub is filled to the appropriate level. Turning the tap off, you nimbly amble into the water. The moment your hoof hits the warm water, you want to melt into it.
  149. >Now nestled, you can finally enjoy what was supposed to be a day off, for tomorrow its back to the barracks. But you’ll have none of that now. For now, you’re just enjoying this complicated relationship between the moist and relaxing hydration of simple water and your aching muscles and hooves and pseudo-blue mane.
  150. >You slide further in, almost submerging in its embrace. How lovely…
  151. >Hope this doesn’t end violently with you falling asleep and your newfound lover drowning you.
  152. >(the next day)
  153. “What do you mean “get to stand in a field”?!
  154. >You shout to the Private before you, who was simply following his orders unbeknownst to your lack of sleep.
  155. >You now find yourself in the day room after awaiting arrival of said private with a sealed letter in his mouth. Waking groggily and lumbering to the barracks just as the sun is cresting the horizon, you found the walk even more cumbersome. Your eyes felt as heavy as the armor you donned on arrival. The coffee was as bitter as the weather outside. And now this?
  156. >The cyan Private, after shaking the surprised look from his face, seemed otherwise unperturbed by this mare’s outburst.
  157. >”Listen, I know it sucks but orders are orders. Believe me, I don’t want to join you either but I guess we need to deal with it.”
  158. “So what, we stand there till either they blow themselves up or we freeze in our armor where we stand?”
  159. >Turns out, Scarlet wasn’t too far off. Orders are to be vigilant and on stand by while the professor’s work on their teleportation sigil. Experimental testing for larger instantaneous teleportation. Something about wanting to transfer an object the size of a carriage. No civilians are to approach or tamper with their dealing or the now installed barriers. Initially, it seems, the academy performed tests without authorization, even though they were told to? It’s confusing… and you really can’t be brought to care much more than that. We are basically their lackeys, mindless abominations assisting the mad scientist with what he needs.
  160. >”The powers that be decided this, not me. Look, I don’t dole out the orders or who they’re given to or why. If you have a problem, you can go directly to Big Guns upstairs.” He gestured with a hoof, pointing upwards to clarify his statement.
  161. “Big Guns? If you mean Celestia, I’ll pass.”
  162. >He paused, blinked a few times dumbfounded, and then continued. “No, I mean Lieutenant Big Guns. He’s the one who gives the orders. He works right under the Princess.”
  163. “Oh.”
  164. >He shook his head before grabbing his helmet from the table, slinging it over his back and trotting away. “Anyway, see you at briefing Emerald.” And with that he was gone, leaving you in the emptiness of the hall.
  165. >Sighing, you follow in his hoof steps, throwing your helmet over your plated back and begin making your way to pick up your supply satchel and spear from your bunk. At least this mission will give you some thinking time. Away from the hustle and bustle of city guard life, though having more excitement than castle duty, this couldn’t be that bad. You’ll be able to reflect on that unfinished painting in the living room and what it could be. Hell, it’s fall, it could be a self-referential piece depicting you as a scarecrow as crows in lab coats peck at each other.
  166. >Ha, that’d be nice. A smile graces your lips.
  168. >In hindsight, the days actually weren’t too bad.
  169. >Not good by any means, but not bad.
  170. >The first three days went as you expected. Orders were grumbled by some old dude while the young hopefuls moved about in erratic patterns. Your small battalion consisted of you, the private you encountered at the meeting room; Split Shot his name was, and five others. They didn’t do or say much. In fact, they were the primary ones sent to run errands or send scrolls. All you and Split had to do was observe.
  171. >And observe you did. He actually wasn’t as much of downer as you thought. The time that wasn’t spent looking into the distance for “trouble” was taken up by a conversation or two. He’d like to aspire to Grand Library guard status. Good for him. Truth be told though, the only trouble you two received was from the occasional curious eye of a passerby from the nearby town of Ponyville. Even then, the populous seemed to keep to themselves and were a friendly bunch. Weather wasn’t too bad either.
  172. >It was peaceful.
  173. >You remember this fondly as you continue to pick splintered wood and dust from the chinks in your armor in the nearby tent. The barriers, as it turns out, did their job of concealment. The impromptu walls made from scavenged planks and hand-me-down tapestries did a fine job of containing the explosion from the sigil within the area you just so happened to be taking your ten minute break in.
  174. >After the incident, the young, wide eyed, windswept maned scholars scrambled to grab the tossed papers and tombs. The professor merely looked on in discontent while taking a drink from his canteen. Nodding, he began to remake the sigil markings as if this was expected.
  175. >You sigh and re-don the heavy, chilled metal and moved back to your post. Turning the corner of the repaired wall, you spot Split. The light blue colt was currently in conversation with what looked to be a royal messenger. You approach, spear in wing, ready to see what this one wants.
  176. >”I can go get her. Please wait here.” You hear the young colt say as he begins to turn around. Seeing you, he stops and doubles back. “Speak of the devil, here she comes.”
  177. >An entirely white stallion, wearing the same golden armor as the two of you, moves past Shot and up to you. Halting at his approach, you become keenly aware of a letter marked with the royal stamp is hooked on his side. You also take notice of a rather bothersome jabbing of a missed shard of wood in your shoulder. Keeping a straight face the best you can, you bring your hoof up in a salute.
  178. >”Message from the princess for Professor Eastwood.” He states in a stern voice.
  179. >Nodding, you hold out your other wing to take the letter proffered in his mouth.
  180. >With the exchange, he immediately turns and makes back for the city. Hell of a walk. Someone should pull the splinter out of ass too. At ease, Split looks on as the stallion makes his way back.
  181. >”Well, you’d think he could have sent it by magic through one of our communicators.
  182. >You can’t help but slump your shoulder in relief.
  183. “No Shot, these have to be new orders; they’re probably by the princess herself. That’s also why he couldn’t hand them to you to give to the old man.”
  184. >”Oh right…” He seemed down trodden at first before perking up. “So, new orders mean we can leave!”
  185. “You bet your plume! Let’s get this to the professor.”
  186. >And with that, you both turn and head back in to the shambling shell of a makeshift shelter.
  187. >Miraculously, in the time it took to speak with that guard, the students had gotten control of the chaos once more and the old man was nearly halfway done with reworking the sigil. You both approach and interrupt his work.
  188. “Professor Eastwood, Sir! Orders from the castle.”
  189. >You extend the wing with the sealed scroll. He finishes the section he’s working on which takes an uncomfortably long amount of time. His horn dims as he scans the glyph one more time. Finally, he turns and grabs the parchment in his telekinetic grip. He eyes over it for a minute as you and Split wait with anticipation and baited breath.
  190. >A moment passes
  191. >and then another
  192. >and… then he folds it and places it in a pouch hanging from his neck with a “Hrmph”.
  193. >”Alright then,” He began, “gather up the others and ready yourselves. You’re about to meet dignitaries.”
  194. >what
  195. “what?...Err, sir?”
  196. >dignitaries? As in knock off royalty? Really? Here of all places? Before you can question him further, he moves back to the gathering of chattering pupils.
  197. >”Good news everyone! We’ve been given the OK by Celestia to go ahead with the teleportation.
  198. >Small ‘Woos’ and ‘yays’ can be heard from the timid students as they move around with a new sense of purpose and urgency.
  199. >Nerds.
  200. >You return to the professor to inquire more.
  201. “Sir, what exactly will be taking place here?”
  202. >You breaking his train of thought seemed to make him lose that glimmer of happiness in his eye. Returning to his grumbling mannerism, he responds. “Alright listen here, dignitaries from Griffonstone are arriving here shortly to meet with Princess Celestia.”
  203. >You pause and wait for more as he does the same, as if he’s waiting for you to understand.
  204. >”And, for what purpose, would they be coming here. Are you referring to the King?” The private pretty much nails what you were thinking of asking. Exhaling loudly through the corner of his mouth, Eastwood continues with this explanation.
  205. >”No not the king, colt. Ambassador Coppertail and Bishop Moltus are coming here to discuss terms of the redistribution of power from the ill, near late, king to Archduchess Gilda.”
  206. “Huh.”
  207. >Is all that comes to you.
  208. >”So be on your best behavior and watch for danger as closely as you watch what you say, yada yada. When they arrive, greet them and take them directly to the castle. Watch for assassination attempts and civilians with sinewy builds who look froggy and want to leap, yada yada. You have the right to use the pointy end of your butter churner, ramble ramble. Failure to bring them safely to their destination will result in probably your heads and maybe a war, words words.” The murky gray coated stallion droned, all the while being punctuated with yawns.
  209. >You’re fairly certain, affirmed by his yawning and bored disposition, he seems more inclined in to using his magic and blowing things up than dealing with governments or plated chaperones.
  210. >”I guess thanks for keeping us updated?” Split questioningly thanked. All you did was nod and shift uncomfortably in your armor, the splinter every making it presence known.
  211. >”Right.” He concluded before trotting over to another table with large books and melted candles. The two of you just look at each and shrug at the same time.
  212. >”Oh, and one more thing.” The professor piped up once more. Alright man, we can’t go home yet, I desperately need to bathe, I might have a mild concussion, and an adventurous wood fragment has dislodged from my side and is now snaking its way down back across my withers from all the readjusting. What now.
  213. >”It also said in that message that you need to cater to their every whim within loose reason, otherwise it’ll look bad on the kingdom as a whole if we aren’t accepting and inviting enough to their liking. Pretty much anything they need or want, tend to it.” You swallow with a dry mouth and droop your ears slightly.
  214. “Anything?”
  215. >”Anything.”
  216. >Become a royal guard they said, get loads of respect from the civilians they said, become a slave pony to anypony with a royal pedigree or stamped parchment they didn’t say. You hear a quiet clink as the splinter nestles between a plate joint and your left thigh, digging in with malicious intent. You glance over the barrier, past the aged teacher, and to ever spanning hill and mountain that supports Canterlot.
  217. “Shit.”
  218. >They wasted no time in preparing as you took Split to gather the other guards to inform them of the new orders. They were pensive, but ready.  You felt about the same. You hadn’t exactly thought for one that they’d actually get the sigil working so quickly, nor two that what was essentially the voice of another nation would be within your vicinity. Celestia and Luna you didn’t have too many issues being around, as their presence was comforting in a way.
  219. >But this was different. This was going to be you watching over posh, collected, and powerful beings that already have a tentative relationship with the matriarchy here. What if they didn’t like how you treat them? What if something happens? It all falls on your shoulders. What if…
  220. >No, not now. Just relax. You’re just making this seem like a bigger deal than it is. Just think of them as peasants; simple and polite peasants.
  221. >Two of the other guards take to the skies to be on the lookout. Another pair go to scout the path ahead. You take Shot and the last one to gather around the glyph.
  222. >Yeah, no problem really. It’s a straight shot, clear-ish day, and your small band of soldiers following commands. Even the splinter has fallen quiet, but not out. All in all, everything will be fine.
  223. >The professor goes about preparing the circle by tossing what looks like sand and stone on the archaic white writing. Some of it could be made out as a language, though probably a dialect that has since waned in use. After the rune is “complete”, he begins telling and helping the students in taking down the wooden barricades and stacking them in a neat pile. A half hour passes before it seems everything is ready for the teleportation.
  224. >”Alright then, good work everyone!” Another collective cacophony of half-hearted cheers could be heard from the timid crowd. You weren’t sure if they were always this reserved or if it was how tired everypony looked. They appeared nearly as disheveled as you. Almost.
  225. >Seeing them reminded how you must look and smell from the days of standing out here and how good it will feel come mid tomorrow when your next leave is due. Yeah, that’ll be nice. Laying down and drying off next to a nice warm hearth. Feeling the fire dance across your coat, coaxing the dampness away to allow pure fluffiness to flourish. Ah. You can almost feel it now.
  226. >”Come on now, this isn’t a campfire! Put your horns into it! Hey you, light that side!” The gravelly voice of the umbra furred teacher yells, cutting through your zoning out.
  227. >Zoning back, you realize you’ve been starring at the nimbus mountains tumbling in the distance, sunlight cutting the opaque grey sea of a sky. You can truly feel the fire, as you notice they have lit the stack of wood they piled up into a pyre of knowledge.
  228. “W-wha..!” You make out, before glancing around that everything is still normal and this isn’t a crazy dreamscape.
  229. >The pegasi above are also looking at the blaze in bewilderment. Before you can say anything, three of the universities party, Eastwood included, are now channeling the fire from the inferno in a serpent like pattern. The fire coalesces into a more snake like form as it makes its way slowly from the foot of the pyre to the sigil circle. It catches the script and quickly traces along the perimeter then the letters within. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was some twisted ritual to bring forth a being from Tartarus. Good thing you know better, right? At least there’s no chanting. THEN you’d know better for sure.
  230. >Split and you look on as the pile of tinder is reduced to a mere mound of mud while the glyph burns bright. The three unicorn take positon across one another around the circle. Please no chanting. Their horns glow brilliant hues of different colors as it looks like they themselves are about to teleport. Though they stay in their positions.
  231. >”Careful now, focus on the location then the destination! Location to destination!” Eastwood calls as the strain of the intense magic creeps onto the pained expressions of the students. Next time, you’ll go to the movies if you want to watch people summon Cerberus for some occult reason.
  232. >The wishing and whirring of wind is complemented nicely by the now few and far between cracks and pops of lightning around the sigil. Dust is kicked into the air as the arcane display reaches an apex. You cover your face with your fore hoof to avoid the whipping whirlwinds and the inevitable explosion.
  233. >Soon after, a familiar blast is felt in your core and heard in your still ringing ears. You suppose you’re lucky this time you’re not showered in wood and tapestry. When you deem it ok to lower your hoof, you blink a few times to clear the shell shock. Once you can see again, you’re astonished at the sight.
  234. >A larger than normal carriage is standing where the rune once was. It resembles a Manehatten taxi, only less yellow and more grandiose. Fine metal and wood wheels hold aloft a glorious brass and steel platform and enclosure. A large swooping canopy top leads to two lanterns held at each corner. The front has a pair of ornate hooked hoops with four harnesses in the center, two of which are already being worn by, and you never thought you’d say or even see it, heavily clad griffons.
  235. >Six other griffon guards flank the sides of the carriage, armored identically to the pullers. The metal obscured their facial details but instead showed off the polished spears, sheathed swords, and talon blades. It was daunting. All the confidence leading up to this moment nearly dissipated. It would have diminished completely, were it without the sight of the two being carried in the moving fortress.
  236. >An all-white robed griffin with a brown tint to his near all gray feather scheme sat on the left, looking as if the task of breathing would make his withered lounges pop. You also couldn’t tell if he was slumped in his masterfully tailored throne of a seat or if in his age he might have more than a few disintegrated bones. The other griffon, wearing red and gold leather armor, accented by the Griffonstone crest emblazoned across the front. A kettle helm was being held behind him by a long grey tail with… copperish feathers at the end?
  237. >No, that’s maroon you idiot.
  238. >The artist in you takes you out of the moment briefly by the OCD and annoyance of hearing his name of “Coppertail” and it being obviously being MAROON. Jeez.
  239. >Tracing the figure for more discrepancies, you’re met by piercing yellow eyes staring back at you, though not cut in anger; in intrigue. A gentle smile is on his weathered ivory feathered face. You feel frozen, but not in fear. What stops you is more the feeling of perpetual uncertainty. Something about him is similar but different. What is it? Moreover, that smile and expression…
  240. >It’s disarming and kind but determined. This is what unnerves you the most.
  242. >A moment passes, the still air permeating the seemingly awkward situation. The six armored griffons survey the area around them as the pullers look on. You yourself avert your gaze from that of the ambassador before you. After what seems an eternity, the stillness is broken by hearty laughter.
  243. >”Coppertail! It’s good to see you friend, even if your means of travel is unbearably gaudy!” Eastwood chuckles aloud and approaches though is met with weapons drawn in his direction. The white and brown passenger speaks up, his reply full and warm, a near fatherly tone.
  244. >”East! Such a warm welcome for me in the west! You’re looking as dull as ever!” The pair laugh, the professor even more so with weapons aimed at him. It’s at this point that things have completely been flipped on you. You’d think, maybe once throughout this whole assignment, that someone would have let you in on the grapevine but apparently not. Next time, you’re going right up to Lt. Guns and making him give you everything information wise on every detail. In the time it takes you to think this, Coppertail has gotten out of the carriage and ordered his men to stand down.
  245. >”How long has it been now?” The ambassador chuckled.
  246. >”Too damn long, that’s for sure. It is good to see you still kicking though.”
  247. >”That I could drink to. A trip to the Badlands not three months ago nearly left me a very singed turkey in some crater.”
  248. >”How’d that work out?”
  249. >”Oh you know, if they’re sentient…”
  250. >They shared one more echoing laugh that drowned out the already mute environment. After they finished, the tone turned slightly more serious.
  251. >”So then, I see you’ve come prepared.” Said the gray teacher.
  252. >”Well, it’s more for Moltus. I can handle myself.” The professor looked past his cohort and onto the brass platform were the aged griffon still sat, looking on to the castle before him.
  253. >”Lord Moltus!” Eastwood called, “How are you doing this day?”
  254. >A quiet moment passed before Moltus’ head gradually moved in their direction. With your superb hearing, you’re certain that you could hear what sounded like a creaking of a door. When his eyes met theirs, he took a deep breath.
  255. >“What!” He squawked.
  256. >“I said how are you today!” Eastwood returned. Moltus paused, taking another deep breath.
  257. >“Fine! Better if we can hurry this along.” His withered voice was gravely and brittle. Poor man, you thought to yourself.
  258. >“It’s true, it would be better if we could get him out of this weather and to somewhere where he could get more comfortable.” Coppertail agreed.
  259. >”Alright alright, let’s start heading that way.” Eastwood then turned and began to lead the brigade but stopped as he realized you and the others were still there, as if he’d completely forgotten your existence momentarily. “Oh right. Copper, this is… Uh… Gleam. She’s to lead you safely to the castle.”
  260. >Instinctually, you stand straight and put your hoof to your head in a salute. The leather clad griffon smiles and approaches you.
  261. >”Ah, hello Miss Gleam. Tell me, what’s your rank and file solider.” Without missing a beat, you answer.
  262. “Corporal Gleam, 1034th of the 70th regiment in Equestria’s Royal Guard, Sir!”
  263. >”And are you head of this small band of soldiers ma’am?”
  264. “Yes Sir!”
  265. >He gazes about at the placement of pony guard and nods. “Seems Celestia is following our requests and has done well on her end. I believe it’s time we depart Corporal Gleam.”
  266. “Yes Sir!”
  267. >With that, you turn to Split and the other and direct them to take positions around the cart and for the aerial units to begin to get in position as well. The scouts wait patiently about a hundred paces ahead on the path.
  268. >”Very good.” He begins to turn around but then stops, remembering something. He turned back, leaning in his feathered face and golden beak. He spoke softly enough that the others would most likely not hear.
  269. >”And are you my escort for the rest of the evening?” Again, you answer promptly.
  270. “Yes Sir!”
  271. >Satisfied, he leans back and continues to the carriage. Giving Eastwood a nod.
  272. >”Well unfortunately, we must be off now. Of course, we can chat on the way but we must have a drink before I leave for home.”
  273. >”For sure, how about the Rusty Bucket. Hopefully you can still stomach it. It would be fitting though.” The ebony stallion retorted.
  274. >”Oh please, I have had worse than their stale cockatrice eggs. The Bucket will be nothing this time around!”
  275. >They shared another hearty chuckle before he got situated in the cart. Eastwood went about gathering the students and any loose papers that were left strewn about the open field. When everyone was ready, you turned sharply and began a march. Much to your relief, that pesky splinter has fallen out to the now practiced mechanical motion of your caboose locomotion.
  276. (time later)
  277. >It was more of a relief than you can imagine to finally be moving again. Truly traveling from that modestly open and chilled plateau up the cobbled stone road beneath you. It felt good to move muscles that seemed to be stiff and frozen. Whether that be from the lack of movement or the past few dew ridden mornings, you couldn’t tell. Still, it meant all this was coming to a close, and you would soon be back home, resting on your favorite cushion contemplating that painting. The whole scarecrow idea seemed to catch your fancy. Maybe it would be the one to bust back open that creative mind of yours.
  278. >While you enjoyed the moment, you could tell by the look on Split’s face that he wasn’t enjoying any of this in the slightest. Though he appeared more inclined to listen to the old buddies recount their tales of a particular lack of merriment and sparse gallantry. It was literally too old men talking about ‘back in their day’ and so on. Only in this case they weren’t nearly as old as Moltus. You hope the elevation doesn’t affect him on any physical level. You’re not sure if you can find a horseshoe box that big to bury him.
  279. >Arrival in the city of Canterlot brought on expected results. Ponies from all regal walks of life began to peer out windows and stop on the sidewalk to observe the procession. For the most part, everypony respected the authority of you and your small band of guard. Either that or they were intimidated by the bastions of pain that encircled the cart. Regardless, it made traversing the streets of the grand city much more doable.
  280. >A well-known fork in the road was coming up, one that split into a pathway for the castle gates and one for the university. Noticing this as well, you hear a commanding voice boom out behind you, most certainly Coppertail’s.
  281. >”Hold!” He calls. In unison, the ‘shink’ of armor coming to rest is heard as the griffon knights stop their movement. You come to a stop as well, looking behind you as well as at the passing citizens, smiling and waving to the foreign visitors.
  282. >”Well East, this sadly is where we must part ways. See you in a few days.”
  283. >”Alright Copper, take care. Come on kiddies, time to go home.” Eastwood nods to the Coppertail and ushers his students down the right path. After watching his friend depart, the ambassador spoke again.
  284. >”Forward!” As his order sounded, you all picked up were you left off and take the left path. The sun was being slowly brought down to bring evening to the royal city. Shadows were cast and enveloped your entourage.
  285. >A small distance later, you arrive at the castle and pass through the various posts, the castle guards already knowing who would be arriving. Gee, it would be nice if someone would inform you for once. Never mind that. With the carriage stopped and parked near the entrance, you begin to escort the dignitaries through the arched halls of the castle. Rather slowly, mind you, due to Moltus lagging behind. Inevitably however, you arrive at the large double wide doors to the throne room; you, Shot, and other in the front, foreign party in the middle, and four other guards bringing up the rear.
  286. >Celestia sat high on her throne on the far end of the room while Luna was close by on ground level. A small number of guards were on either side of them. You continue your march to a few meters from the throne itself. The princess of the sun then spoke up.
  287. >”It’s good to see your arrival was save, Sir Coppertail and Lord Moltus.” Copper smiled then replied.
  288. >”Well, was only due to your fine guard here. I’d be lost without them. This place is labyrinthine.” He laughed.
  289. >“Yes it can be from time to time. Shall we proceed to the dining hall for an evening’s meal? You must be famished from the trip.” Celestia proffered, returning the smile.
  290. >”Ah that would be wonderful! Please lead on.” Coppertail said elated.
  291. >Celestia gracefully descended the steps of the throne and led the promenade through a side door of the expansive room. Leaving the throne room, you passed into a long hallway leading to the dining room. Pushing through the ornate doors, being sure to stay a close distance to your charge, you enter a prepared arrangement of wide tables with a surprising lack of chairs. There were only chairs for your guests and the princess’. You took up a position standing next to the dignitaries. Or at least as close as their groupies would let you.
  292. >What followed was a finely choreographed display of various stages of meals and preparation being presented. You’d seen the sequence a thousand times it seems and the dexterity of these waiters still astounds you. Magnificent chandeliers lit the elegant hall. Coupled with the majestic paintings on the wall and deep colored floral design of the floor and table spreads truly put your dining room table to shame. You’ve been on the receiving end of this treatment once, when you were first inducted to the guard. A modest affair by their standards, it was a far cry from anything you’ve had before or since.
  293. >After the meals were finished and the plates cleared, it seemed everyone was now brought back to the reason why they had met in the castle in the first place.
  294.  After Celestia thanked the last exiting waiter, her face turned stoic bringing the subject matter up. “I’m sorry to hear your arrival to be pressed by timing. It was unfortunate news when I received it.”
  295. >”Indeed” Luna agreed.
  296. >The feeling was mutual as Coppertail nodded. “Yes, no one would’ve expected his condition to take such a drastic turn.” They both stayed silent for a moment before Moltus broke in.
  297. >”That is how it is to be. It is willed. Though the Archduchess will be a fine ruler in his stead.” He exclaimed remarkably well considering his condition. You guess the food and elevation might have something to do with it.
  298. >It was odd, really this whole situation. Not only this passing of power thing, but how rushed they seemed. Sure some pleasantries are in order and you suppose this isn’t a vacation but still. You’re not entirely sure. Is this how swiftly people in power actually do and say things? Then why the hell hasn’t your landlord fixed your door knocker. Ridiculous.
  299. >”This is true, we’ve seen what she is capable of and has proven her valor many times to Equestria and her people.” Luna added.
  300. >”And with the stability of your nation secured, the king may rest peacefully.” Celestia chimed. The wizened ambassador acknowledged with a solemn expression. Moltus asserted himself once more.
  301. >”Speaking of resting peacefully, I think it’s time I had a lie down. Small talk only shows what we all already know. We can speak on the particulars later tomorrow.”
  302. >Celestia’s features brightened once more, inclined to move on from the current topic. “Yes, we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. For now, rest well. It’s been a tiring trip I’m sure. Everything is prepared for you and your things will have been moved to your rooms by now. Hopefully everything is to your liking. If you need anything, ask your assigned guard. Gleam, Split, would you please lead Lord Moltus and Sir Coppertail to their rooms? Chambers 4 and 5 I believe. A second watch should be there to accompany you on your lookout.”
  303. >You snap a salute, remaining firm and strong. Ah responsibility, what a beautiful thing. It feels empowering. Makes you feel like you are trusted. More or less you’re happy these other feathered guards can leave you alone to your thoughts without staring from you assume to be daggers at you. They had to have been. Not only are you watching over their prided nobles, but just looking at their equipment and weapons could cut you. Speaking of…
  304. >”Crest, Flame, please lead their guards to the temporary barracks.” The two forward scouts salute and begin to motion for the knights to follow.
  305. >”The rest of you are dismissed. Moltus, Coppertail, take care.” Celestia finishes, lowering her head and standing from the table.
  306. >”Rest well.” Adds Luna, following suite and lowering her head joining her sister through the same door they entered.
  307. >”Thank you, sisters.” The leather bound dignitary thanks, bowing. Raising up, he looks towards you with that same gaze. “Shall we depart then?”
  308. >You nod and begin to lead him out of the dinning hall and down the corridor, opposite the direction that the other two are leading the griffon guard. Walking along, you turn back to split and see he’s moving slowly alongside Moltus. He offers to sturdy the wobbly cleric but is slapped away. He looks to you and burgundy shrugs. You shrug back and continue guiding Coppertail.
  309. >The winding halls and endless doors are in fact labyrinthine. They were designed as such on purpose to make it difficult for anyone breaking in to find their way around. In just under a year though, you seem to have the general layout mapped out. As the last bits of sunlight cascaded through the stained windows above you, Coppertail found it a great time to talk.
  310. >”So Miss Gleam, how long have you been in the guard?” He retained that gentle tone. Reaffirming yourself, you answered.
  311. “I’ve been in the Guard for nearly a year now, Sir.”
  312. >”Is that so? You seem like you have good resolve.”
  313. “Thank you, Sir.”
  314. >Silence pervades, as does the clacking of your hooves and his talons on the marble floor. A minute or so passes before he speaks again.
  315. >”Were you born here in Canterlot?”
  316. “Yes, Sir.”
  317. >”Many family members live here in the city?”
  318. “No, Sir.”
  319. >His questioning stops for a moment as you round a corner and ascend a flight of stairs. Unfolding a wing as you walk, he picks some dirt from his feathers, ruffles them, then lays them flat once more. He remains quiet from a while, then continues.
  320. >How about… What fighting style do you prefer?”
  321. “I’m trained in both aerial maneuvers and hoof to hoof combat. Martial weapons are second nature. You’re in good hooves, Sir.”
  322. >And you pass through the archway leading to the guest chambers. You guess Shot will have a hell of a time with Moltus. Even more so if he’s as talkative as this one.
  323. >”You can drop the ‘Sir’. You can just call me Copper.”
  324. “Sorry, Sir. I can’t do that.” You’re not entirely sure if he forgot that fact or he’s just trying to be nice. You appreciate it though.
  325. >”Well then Corporal Gleam,” He put on a mock stern disposition, “What do you enjoy doing in your free time, Soldier?”
  326. >Do you answer honestly? Well, of course you would. You’re just not really used to this kind behavior, and from a dignitary no less. The usual escorts consist of well-known designers, merchants or performers and they hardly gave you the time of day. It’s just different. This one in general is just different.
  327. “I paint, Sir.”
  328. >”Oh, painting! Fascinating. I used to paint myself. If you wield a brush as well as you perform your duties to your kingdom, I’m sure you’re wonderful at it.” He ended his statement with what felt like genuine interest. You don’t know, he seems nice.
  329. >Before you know it you arrive at his room. Cracking the door open, you peer in to find what you can only assume to be his bags already brought in and sitting at the foot of the bed. The room is decorated in a very Celestia inspired layout, grand, bright and white. If only it were daylight that is. You enter the chamber and find a torch sconce. Reaching into your supply pouch under a plate, you pull out a flint and light it. You then look around for something like a lantern. Finding one hung loosely on the wall by the door, you grab and light that one as well, shedding moderate flame light in the room.
  330. >Coppertail begins to go about taking his sword off and placing his helmet down. “A beautiful room, wouldn’t you agree?”
  331. “Yes, Sir.” You agree and glance around for any more lights. Failing to find any, you stand at attention.
  332. >”Corporal, would you assist me in doffing my armor?” The mildly weathered griffon asks.
  333. “Yes, Sir.”
  334. >You step forward and begin to assist the ambassador using your nimble mouth and unused wings in doffing his elegant leather bindings, setting each piece aside as it slides off his form. With each component falling away, you could smell the foreign material and the new scent of griffon being exposed to fresh air. A few minutes pass before you place the last section down next to the accumulated pile. You step back and salute.
  335. “If you need anything, I’ll be right outside this door, Sir. Rest well.”
  336. >You turn and begin to head towards the closed door before you feel footsteps walking behind you.
  337. >”But Miss Gleam, aren’t you staying?” Coppertail asks, walking to your side.
  338. >What
  339. “Excuse me, Sir?”
  340. >Coppertails maroon tail trailed on the ground as moved in front of you to where the torch light could properly illuminate his features. The projection of light from the mild fire danced on his alabaster face, reflecting his golden beak and equally golden eyes. His feathers on his chest were slightly ruffled and he wore that same expression of expectancy you gathered early.
  341. >”Didn’t you say you were the one to be my escort for the evening?” All right, bad vibes initiated. You take a step back, giving some distance between the two of you.
  342. “I… did, Sir.” For the first time all day, your façade faltered. You didn’t fully understand what he meant by it.
  343. >”You were assigned to me by the princess, no?” He took a few calm steps forward, his gentle smile didn’t falter however.
  344. “I was.”
  345. >You take a step back followed by another. Before you know it, you bump into the pile of armor now set next to his unpacked bags. He continues his advance up to you, standing but a foot or two away.
  346. >”And it has been quite a long trip. To be honest, I was looking forward to this since my arrival.” His soothing tone and gaze began to grip you again with petrification, much like it did when you first saw him. Is this what you think it is? Could he really be saying all this? There’s no way he wants to… Your eyes begin to widen at the realization and implication of his actions.
  347. >He reached out a talon and placed it on your frozen cheek.
  348. >”You must be tired from all the hard work you’ve done. Now allow me to assist you in doffing your armor so we may begin.”
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