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In A Better Light 3

By E4-NG
Created: 7th April 2021 09:46:47 PM
Modified: 11th April 2021 07:01:04 AM

  1. “So once I’m aboard and he’s handing over his sword, the French captain looks me up and down and says, in perfect English, ‘I was expecting someone older.’”
  2. >The Gryphon ambassador throws his head back with a squawk of laughter, as Tene giggles to herself at the side of the table, the two sounds drowning out the din of your favorite pub near the palace.
  3. >The story wasn’t really that funny, but the batmare would laugh at just about anything; almost like the whole world was a joke, and you were one of its many punchlines.
  4. >The ambassador was a different story.
  5. >He’s on his fifth or sixth brandy; it’s not enough to tank him with his iron liver, but he’s probably about where you want him.
  6. >You raise your glass to his laugh before knocking the rest of its contents back.
  7. >He mirrors your gesture, placing the now-empty snifter on the table.
  8. >Get that last bit in him, just to be sure.
  9. “I really wanted to make a comment about his height, but there’s decorum to follow… anyway, Gefen, mind helping me out with something?”
  10. >He eyes you, still smiling that strange smile gryphons manage with a beak. “Depends on what it is, friend.”
  11. “You could call it a bet.”
  12. >”If there’s money changing hands, you know honor compels me to demand a cut.”
  13. “Nah, no money. More… prestige, in an odd way. You know thestrals and pegasi have a rivalry of sorts, right?”
  14. >Tene pins her ears for the briefest of moments, while Gefen nods.
  15. “Well, Air Patrol’s found something that I find rather strange. Since you could say I’m partially in charge of the Night Watch, it goes on the big pile of things each side would consider a bad call by the other. It’s about a certain military unit. We call it 5th Special… something. Raiders?”
  16. >Gefen’s expression turns thoughtful. “What’s their pattern?”
  17. “Checkered black and red, gold accents.”
  18. >Gefen laughs again. “Anon, they don’t exist.”
  19. >You point a finger at him, your hand still wrapped around your empty glass.
  20. “I figured you wouldn’t want to talk about it, but I can handle a straightforward answer from you.”
  21. >”No, you don’t understand. They don’t exist. They haven’t existed for a century and a half; the noble controlling that unit and its siblings disappeared from core gryphon territory. Nobody’s heard from them since. If they’re still around, they wouldn’t be anywhere you’d be able to see them.”
  22. “You sure they might not just be operating covertly, or paying locals to look the other way?”
  23. >Gefen’s expression becomes more stern, one talon tacking against the tabletop. He eventually realizes this tick and gives his claw an amused look. “I’ll do you a favor. My brother happens to be an expert on these sorts of matters. I’ll ask him what he thinks of the possibility.”
  24. “But you expect a favor in return.”
  25. >Gefen’s face was stony serious, now. “Of course.”
  26. “Of what magnitude?”
  27. >He eyes you, but a faint smile cracks through in the end. “Not big; the hardest part will be getting Gundhram to stop talking, once I ask him about history. With that I have plenty of experience. I can get you an answer tomorrow.”
  28. >You glance to Tene, who gives you the slightest shake of her head.
  29. “Tonight would be better; I have important affairs to attend to much of tomorrow night.”
  30. >”Not everyone is nocturnal like you and your thestrals, friend.”
  31. “Could you deliver your findings to Raven Inkwell?”
  32. >Gefen’s smile once more vanishes. “I bargain with you.”
  33. “Of course, my apologies. Get your answer to Ms. Bray, then.”
  34. >You gesture to your ever-present batmare guard.
  35. >Gefen looks between you and her a couple times. “I can accept this.”
  36. “And in return?”
  37. >”It is rare that you owe me, rather than the other way around. I may sit on this for a time, to savor the feeling.”
  38. “Hah! Fair enough. Let me know when, and I’ll make it my utmost priority. I expect no exaggeration of debt when the time comes.”
  39. >Gefen has some trouble looking affronted “You insult me, sir.”
  40. “You know I mean none of it.”
  41. >Finally his easy smile returns again. “Of course I do. I agree to these terms.”
  42. “As do I. Selah.”
  43. >”Selah!”
  44. “Now lets part ways, before drink forces us to spend the night together under this table. I can cover your bill, if the information you gave requires it.”
  45. >”Hardly. We will split it as always, friend.”
  46. “Very good. Get back safe, Gefen; I don’t want to receive a report from the Watch about a gryphon passed out in the diplomatic wing’s halls.”
  47. >Tene’s at your side as soon as you stand from the table, ducking under your arm as you wave at the bartender.
  48. >Your night’s excesses will go on your palace tab. This was, after all, a work meeting for you, even if Gefen didn’t know that.
  49. >”Just how often do you two trade favors?” Tene asks, as you head back towards the palace.
  50. “Hardly ever. He insists on repaying every kindness. Every time I’d smooth out some innocent infraction you guys found a member of his pride tangled up in, he’d demand to know how he could return my good deed. It’s how I learned a lot of the… seedier things about Equestrian society, the stuff you don’t get to see from the top down.”
  51. >The two Night Watch at the palace doors salute you as you enter, the subtle change in the air of the palace washing over you as you step inside.
  52. >”Sounds like it was, uh, productive then.”
  53. “It definitely was a huge help for this position.”
  54. >As the two of you walk back to the admin wing where your office is, you find yourself rubbing the fingers of your right hand, particularly the two rings on it.
  55. >Tene doesn’t even bother looking at them before asking, “What’s bothering you?”
  56. “I shouldn’t have to do this runaround to get good information. Maybe Raven’s right; I just don’t trust Air Patrol enough. If Gefen comes back saying his initial hunch is right, we’ll have to do something about that. I’m not sure what.”
  57. >”Could he be lying?”
  58. >You frown, then drop your hands to your side.
  59. “I suppose, but I doubt he’d be willing to make a bargain about something like that. It’d mean potentially ruining our friendship. He’d probably expect to be expelled from Equestria over it, and I’d have half a mind to advocate for it.”
  60. >”I’m surprised you’re willing to hold him to that. You’d kick him out?”
  61. “When one is at…”
  62. >You wave an arm to indicate the palace.
  63. “…at Canterlot, one does as they see done. Gefen acts much like any other Equestrian in any other manner. If this is one cultural cornerstone that he demands to remain adherent to, I will respect his wishes and oblige. He’ll be held to his own standard.”
  64. >”Unless he’s taking advantage of you through it.”
  65. “A scheme that would work but once, if at all.”
  66. >”This could be that time.”
  67. “I doubt it. The veracity of a certain force’s identity isn’t much, set against the stakes of the overall conflict. Surely there’s a better occasion to play that card.”
  68. >”And what makes you think that?”
  69. “Instinct, and a careful consideration of the strategic situation.”
  70. >”The same things that led you to question all this in the first place?”
  71. “Just so.”
  72. >”Looks like your instinct’s good enough, if all this is true.”
  73. >Your mind’s eye blinks once, revealing a listing deck in the night, darkness punctuated by the flash of cannonfire. Blinks twice, and you’re looking down at the exacting distance Tene keeps between you and her at all times.
  74. >She still hasn’t looked at you, or even anywhere but straight ahead as you’ve walked.
  75. “We shall see.”
  76. >Instinct has failed you before.
  77. >When you arrive at your office, Tene steps aside to take her usual spot outside the door.
  78. >Once you have it unlocked, you wave her inside, instead.
  79. “I’d like to talk to you about something.”
  80. >She looks at you confused for a moment, before resettling her wings similar to a shrug, and walking inside ahead of you.
  81. >When you close the door behind you, she’s already taken the comfiest seat in the room, excepting the one behind your desk.
  82. >It’ll be awkward to talk to her that far away, but it’s not the largest room in the palace.
  83. >You sit behind your desk, relaxing for just a second before leaning forward.
  84. “How many Thestrals are part of the Night Watch?”
  85. >”All of them,” she replies immediately, with a smile.
  86. >From discussing one odd culture to discussing another.
  87. >Alright, another tack.
  88. >”How many are on assignment at any moment?”
  89. >This Tene needs a moment to think about. “Uh, not sure. Maybe… thirteen of every twenty squads?”
  90. “And squads are always deployed at strength?”
  91. >”Always. My sisters are all guarding their own important people. Two are Luna’s personal guards!”
  92. “I see. These reserves are also, theoretically, mine to command, correct?”
  93. >”I think so. Why don’t you ask the Princess?”
  94. >You rest your chin on your hands. “I don’t want to get her involved just yet.”
  95. >Tene suddenly looks much more reserved. “What do you want from me?”
  96. “Your honest advice. Raven thinks my issue is one of trust. I trust you more than anyone in this palace but Princess Luna herself. Since there’s a chance this all merits none of Her Majesty’s concern, I believe that makes you the logical place to start.”
  97. >When Tene’s smile returns, it’s a weary one. “You know I’ll do whatever I can to help you, Anon.”
  98. “At first, something simple. When you get a chance, ask the squads without regular duties how they feel about extended assignments. Don’t feel a need to rush; I just want to know how much of the Night Watch is underutilized.”
  99. >”What does this have to do with trust?”
  100. “For now? Nothing. Just another administrative task that I have put off for too long. It’s time I run this ship as tight as I ran my last.”
  101. >She suddenly looks alarmed. “Tight ship? Should I be worried?”
  102. >You know for a fact she doesn’t know.
  103. >Luna’s intrusion before you awoke this night still has you a bit rattled, though.
  104. >You smile weakly. “I’ll have you know, all those under my command served with distinction until I found myself here.”
  105. >”Then they might enjoy the chance to serve Her Majesty.”
  106. “I hope to give them that opportunity. That’s all I wished to ask; I won’t be long here if you wish to begin immediately.”
  107. >”Well, talking about serving with distinction, I won’t leave your side until you’re done for the night, sir.”
  108. “Admirable. To your post then, Tene.”
  109. >She beams, hops off the seat, and exits your office for her usual spot beside the door, closing it with a precise nudge of one hind hoof.
  110. >You look down at the larger of the two rings you realize you’ve been fiddling with again.
  111. >Two mottos frame the intaglio, neither the phrase tickling the back of your mind right now.
  112. >On one hand… A matter of trust.
  113. >On the other hand, when one is at Rome, or Canterlot as you spoke earlier…
  114. >You’ve done your best to emulate the highest expectations of Equestrian ideals, even if of the wrong gender.
  115. >A little bit of advice from your homeland couldn’t hurt anything
  116. >…Right?
IABL Anon Gryphons OC RGRE

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