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In A Better Light 1&2

By E4-NG
Created: 7th April 2021 09:43:48 PM
Modified: 11th April 2021 07:00:49 AM

  1. >A terrible shudder almost throws you from your feet as the groan that haunts your dreams meets you again.
  2. >Men – your men – shout and run to the rail, some looking over the side
  3. >You’re tossed forward; your ship is no longer moving.
  4. >Run aground.
  5. >The night battle ran along a lee shore, while Admiral Rodney’s orders were to take the lee side of the Spanish ships to force them out to sea instead of seeking port.
  6. >A reasonable command, and an impartial force of nature, combined together with the foreign waters of Spain none aboard had knowledge of made a terrible combination.
  7. >A combination that just doomed your ship.
  8. >When you find your feet again, the deck lists twenty degrees to port.
  9. >Your starboard guns can’t train on the ship you were chasing, they can’t depress to fire.
  10. >You have no forecastle guns to keep her away from your stricken vessel, a refit you’re due but haven’t been home to carry out.
  11. >Your target’s turning back around.
  12. >To put you out of your newfound misery.
  13. >You walk across the main deck, as crew calls out to you. A sailor beside you quickly unwinds a line.
  14. >You don’t acknowledge the cries; too busy trying to remember what that line’s for. Your head’s too fuzzy to cooperate.
  15. >Your ship.
  16. >Your crew.
  17. >Your responsibility.
  18. >This was, ultimately, your fault.
  19. >As you continue walking, a flash lights up the gloomy night, followed closely by a boom.
  20. >The Spanish vessel you’d be stalking has come upon you.
  21. >The prey now the predator.
  22. >That blast is followed by two more, but none find their mark.
  23. >”Thy ship hath come upon misfortune, Adjutant.”
  24. >You whirl to the voice to see a small blue horse, her coat dark enough she’s almost lost in the background but for her shining eyes. Her head’s tilted up slightly to look at you, but her lesser stature is compensated for by her force of presence.
  25. “Princess, it’s unsafe. Take flight before we are hit!”
  26. >She tilts her head, a faint smile on her lips. “Oh? What wouldst hit us?”
  27. >Without breaking from her gaze, you half turn and raise an arm to the approaching ship.
  28. “The Spanish, Your Majesty, come to finish us.”
  29. >The equine spares only a glance to the approaching enemy, then her smile broadens. “Considerest thou what our presence here meaneth, Adjutant. Whatever exotic vessel a “Spanish” may be, it can harmeth us not.
  30. >You stop yourself before you can reply, then slowly lower your hand to your side.
  31. >This isn’t the royal you served while standing on this deck. Wrong gender, wrong species.
  32. >This was your new master, your interim lord (or lady) while you sought to prove your worth to, God willing, return to His Majesty’s Royal Navy once again.
  33. >Your new master while you sought to make up for this failing, now revealed to her.
  34. >Her, the Princess of Dreams.
  35. >You close your eyes and take a deep breath to compose yourself.
  36. >Two more Spanish guns sound in the night before you speak again.
  37. “Apologies, Your Majesty. I requested you not disturb my slumbering mind.”
  38. >The fuzzy surroundings – their meaninglessness explained – seem to fade even further into the background as she slowly circles you. “Nightmares  endangereth minds, devoted servant. We could not in good conscience see you remainest in their grasp without intervention.”
  39. >You raise your arm again, this time to indicate the activity on the deck with a loose wave.
  40. “I am quite familiar with this one.”
  41. >You regret the action as soon as Luna directs her attention to your surroundings. “Be this that story thou told us so little of? How thou came to us?”
  42. >You hang your head.
  43. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
  44. >”No need for increased formality, Adjutant, even if we are here in an official capacity.”
  45. “Yes, Princess.”
  46. >”Thou tellest us only that thou atonest for a mistake, in thy service to us as penance. Thou servest as this vessel’s navigator? Pilot, perhaps?”
  47. “Her captain, Princess.”
  48. >She dips her head, still wearing that damnable grin. “A rhetorical question, Adjutant. We hear what they calleth thee.”
  49. >You blink a few times before you find the ability to respond.
  50. “You can hear them? I can never make out what they say.”
  51. >”We rule this medium, Adjutant. Nothing within escapeth our notice.” She fixes you with a more serious look. “We also hear they addresseth thee by a name not ‘Anonymous’.”
  52. “Please allow me to retain that affectation, Princess. My family is an old one, and I shamed their name as much as I shamed my king with my performance this night.”
  53. >She remains silent for a long moment, looking you over. Then, a sigh. “We shall allow thee it, Adjutant. What happeneth now? How doth this end?”
  54. “In fire, Princess.”
  55. >You shake your head, then turn to the advancing Spanish ship.
  56. “Eventually, her guns find my ship. No matter where I stand on this deck, shot eventually finds me. I’m… removed from said deck, with great force. I wake, then, returned to your world, just as I had found myself there the first time.”
  57. >She walks windward, looking out over the starboard side at your foe. “Thou knoweth our task resolving nightmares. From thy replies, we surmise thou often hast this one. We understand thy service to us is thy resolution?”
  58. “Please, do not pity me, Princess. I work to better myself through that service. I request no special dispensation or aid. I will make my own way.”
  59. >”Indeed. Thy determination and capability findeth our respect.” She turns to face you, then, expression steely. “Even so, Adjutant, we will intervene further, should we feel such necessary for thy wellbeing.”
  60. >A hundred images flash through your mind, mares talking down to you for your sex, in this strange reversed world.
  61. “I shall manage on my own, Princess.”
  62. >Her harsh stare lingers awhile longer, before she finally smiles again. “Thou always findest the way through, Adjutant.”
  63. “Not here, not this time.”
  64. >”We believe the pain of this singular failing of thine, however egregious, in time will fade.” She looks down to your waist, then. “We find the sight of your old blade at your side for once pleasing.”
  65. >You look down at your hip in surprise.
  66. >Your British sword sits there, a feeling so unfamiliar since you’d given it up on your arrival.
  67. >When you look back up at Luna, she’s gone.
  68. >Thunder sounds, much closer than expected.
  69. >You don’t have time to jump before you’re blown away.
  70. >Instead, you jolt upright in bed.
  71. >After adjusting to the afternoon sunlight, your eyes first find the sword Luna gave you to replace the one entrusted in her care, in honor of the position she’d eventually granted you.
  72. >One of your two symbols of office, created specially for you.
  73. >Your left hand finds the other symbol, and idly twists it around the finger it never leaves.
  74. >Ah well.
  75. >Time to get to work.
  76.  
  77. * * *
  78.  
  79. >”I still don’t like it, Ms. Inkwell.”
  80. “Adjutant Anonymous, please. You usually think so rationally.”
  81. >The human looks up at you. “I’m serious. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not strategic territory.”
  82. >The two of you look back down at the magical map, the diplomatically contested territory between the Gryphons’ deep red and the returned Hippogryph’s pastel yellow stains an ugly criss-crossing of orange stripes.
  83. >Uncomfortably close to Equestria’s own sky blue.
  84. >Hovering over one edge of the orange-streaked space is a label; GK – 5SR
  85. >the Royal Air Patrol’s newest intel, and the piece the two of you were presently contemplating, deciding what to put in your reports to your respective Princesses about it.
  86. >A new – and very unwelcome – wrinkle in the latest diplomatic headache both of you are tasked with helping to resolve.
  87. >What elements one might still call a coherent Gryphon kingdom still claimed ancient territory the Hippogryphs abandoned when they completed their remarkable transformation a thousand years ago.
  88. >Territory the latter obviously needed back, now that they had a landbound population to maintain once again.
  89. >Anonymous, as he always does, tries to take the most direct approach.
  90. >The endless complications were harder on him than you, and that wasn’t a joke about stallion ability.
  91. >He just wasn’t used to the rigors of his current position.
  92. >He tried his hardest, though
  93. >That got admiration that you wouldn’t admit to.
  94. >He was your competition after all, in a certain way.
  95. >A competition to be the best aide to the Princesses one could be.
  96. >A job you took more seriously than anything else in your life.
  97. “Do you think the information incorrect?”
  98. >He was silent for a time, then finally shook his head. “I don’t have any proof for that. It just doesn’t feel right. Last we knew, neither side was inclined to get aggressive over the disputed claims. Actual attacks, by what some would call officially sanctioned forces, on random passersby is an escalation I think is quite literally incredible.”
  99. >You sighed.
  100. >Stallions shouldn’t get fighting in their heads. It awakens all sorts of old instincts that have no place in the modern world. There’s a reason the Royal Guard was considered a vestigial force.
  101. >That Anon was apparently from a long line of warriors, or whatever they were, always struck you as wrong.
  102. “Alright. I will hold this report, but only for a day. If neither of us can find a reason to withhold it past that time, I will send it on.”
  103. >You stare at the map for a few more moments, long enough for Anon to start to reach for you, then thinking better of it.
  104. >He was less hoofsy than stallions, and that much was a welcome departure.
  105. >”You make me feel I should apologize, Ms. Inkwell.”
  106. “You prevent me from fulfilling my obligations to Her Majesty.”
  107. >”Only for the day. I’ll see what I can find out.”
  108. >You eye him sidelong.
  109. “Using what means?”
  110. >He looks taken aback at first. “I’m seeing the Gryphon ambassador in... an informal capacity, before you and I would reconvene on this issue.”
  111. >You quickly suppress the images that come to mind.
  112. >Anon is DEFINITELY not that kind of stallion.
  113. >And you try not to notice the suddenly thoughtful look he’s wearing.
  114. >You’re better than this, Raven, please.
  115. “I look forward to hearing from you, then, Adjutant Anonymous.”
  116. >He looks as if he’s about to say something, but you’re already walking by him, out the door.
  117. >You still have much to attend to, before the night is through.
  118. >In the hallway outside the meeting room’s door, two armored guards leer at each other.
  119. >On the left, Anon’s attache Tene Bray, a batmare of dubious comportment. You always felt her too irreverent for her assignment, but her herd’s – er, her squad’s – duty was ‘asset protection’, a responsibility they’ve had for generations.
  120. >Back before anyone even knew thestrals were still around, before anyone was aware they protected any assets at all.
  121. >A massive failing that, fortunately, rested on the back of your predecessor and the ones before her; digging up information on them was one of your first big self-assigned tasks when you got the job and hard the rumors.
  122. >The start of a very long and productive career for Princess Celestia, not to mention a close friendship.
  123. >The other guard was your concern; a white-coated pegasus who was your own assistant.
  124. ”Come, Alpenglow. Surely this bitter tribal rivalry can wait until you two find each other off duty.”
  125. >The stallion shakes himself, then looks ashamed. “Sorry, Adjutant. We’re never off duty at the same time.”
  126. “Precisely.
  127. >He falls in alongside you as you navigate the literal corridors of power. “You’re not in a good mood.”
  128. “You rarely state things so directly.”
  129. >”Your mood is rarely so obvious.”
  130. >You slow and look at him, surprised.
  131. “My… mood? Obvious?”
  132. >”Oh, probably not to anypony else, but I’ve been by your side long enough.”
  133. >You shake yourself, then resume your brisk pace, once more looking ahead.
  134. “Adjutant Anonymous continues to confound me, on occasion. I understand part of his position lies with his unique perspective, but occasionally it proves too unique for my tastes. My inability to understand his psyche represents an obstacle to my continued efficient service to Her Majesty, in certain ways.”
  135. >”Do you think he needs Tene?”
  136. >The non-sequitor almost forces you to pause again, but you maintain your stride.
  137. “Pardon?”
  138. >”I mean, he’s got that sword. From what I hear, he’s no slouch with its use. Why does he need a guard?”
  139. “Do you feel his ability to protect himself somehow unbecoming?”
  140. >”Well a sword certainly isn’t a fashion accessory, I’ll tell you that much.”
  141. “But ‘no slouch?’ Where do you hear these rumors?”
  142. >He adjusts his wings in a noncommittal gesture, and that remains his only answer.
  143. >You let him have his silence, until you reach your personal office.
  144. >Why would you interrupt something so woefully rare?
  145. >Once you arrive, you turn back to him.
  146. “Please find room in my schedule to meet with an officer of the Royal Air Patrol, early tomorrow. I have something I wish to confirm with them.”
  147. >He looks around warily. “Adjutant, ah, I’m not sure you have any room in your schedule.”
  148. “You say that a lot.”
  149. >“It’s always true.”
  150. “Yet you always find room.”
  151. >He gives you a weary smile. “Experience, Adjutant, and being good at my job.”
  152. >You smile back at him.
  153. “I thank the skies you continue to display such skill, then. Until tomorrow, Alpenglow.”
  154. >”Until tomorrow, Adjutant.”
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