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In A Better Light 4

By E4-NG
Created: 7th April 2021 09:48:17 PM
Modified: 11th April 2021 07:01:28 AM

  1. >Despite your time in your position, the sun is still a welcome presence, even if you only get to see it a few hours a day.
  2. >Serving the Night – and working through it – may be poetic justice, but you still crave the light.
  3. >With evening court concluded, you find yourself with a block of time, as usual.
  4. >Today, you decided to take a look at your command.
  5. >The Night Watch hasn’t yet taken over; the switchover happens at sunset and sunrise.
  6. >Instead, most of them drill in a courtyard behind the palace, an area near the vast mountain cavern network they call home.
  7. >You’re no stranger to the routine. When you have a light workload, you like to watch.
  8. >Some of the drills involve weapons, as might be expected of a fighting force.
  9. >Many, however, are less martial in nature, a flowing series of motions and gestures directed by the sergeant leading the exercise.
  10. >The patterns remind you of routines reported from places like the Orient, focusing on precision, flexibility, and control.
  11. >Most striking, however, is that every participant is blindfolded, even the captain of this particular company standing serenely beside you, her closer ear on you, while the bulk of her attention is directed towards her mares.
  12. >The sergeant calls out much quieter than you’d expect, raising her voice only when the wind picks up and threatens to carry it away.
  13. >To every call, the group moves almost as one; leaning forward, sweeping a leg out, extending their wings down and up, stretching out one way or the other, with short pauses in between.
  14. >In the back, two fillies you don’t recognize follow along.
  15. >One moves much better than the other, though neither performs the routine well.
  16. “Captain.”
  17. >The mare beside you stirs. “Yes, sir?”
  18. “Would the two newcomers not fare better if able to see the patterns?”
  19. >”That would defeat the point of the exercise, sir.”
  20. “Pray tell me the point of the exercise?”
  21. >”Sensory training, sir. We have better eyesight than other tribes, but it’s easy to rely too heavily on it. We may be able to see when light is scarce, but when it is absent, we must rely on other senses, sir.”
  22. “I see. If I follow your meaning, then, they’re expected to learn the patterns by hearing and feeling through the air the motions of those around them?”
  23. >”And our tribal magic, sir.”
  24. >You look down at the captain. She wears her own blindfold, but still appears to watch the gathering before her.
  25. “It has been explained to me that you can intuit the positions of objects, but I fail to see how that helps in this regard.”
  26. >The captain is silent for a moment, before finally looking up at you. “The best I can explain it, sir, is that we can hear shapes.”
  27. >You look down at the captain, whose left ear is still focused on you.
  28. “So you have been, for lack of a better term, watching me while I’ve been standing here.”
  29. >”Yes, sir, in so many words.”
  30. “Fascinating.”
  31. >You continue watching the two fillies at length, armed with this new knowledge.
  32. >Almost immediately, you find the need to revise your earlier opinions of them.
  33. >The one who seems to fare better is responding readily at every quiet command, but is failing to reach each position with any degree of accuracy. When the sergeant calls out a new position that would be a change in what might be called a pattern, the filly is caught flathooved every time. While able to reach a facsimile of the new position before the next is called, her stumble throws her timing off for several further positions.
  34. >It reminds you of those times you watched marines practice countermarch. Three groups, each in their own phases of reloading or preparing to fire, often confused new recruits, who took some time to learn to ignore the other ranks while they focused on their own task.
  35. >She should be able to adjust with time, leaning less on imitating those around her, and more on her own mastery of the commands being called.
  36. >The other, however, is a stranger case.
  37. >When the sergeant calls, she often doesn’t move at all, at first. After a delay, she’s able to assume the called position every time, without error, and as good as the older mares around her. Whenever a move would bring one of those mares closer to her, however, she froze, and often skipped that position entirely.
  38. “Captain, tell me about the filly in the middle.”
  39. >The captain’s left ear stopped monitoring you, and joined her right directed at the group. After two further positions had been called: “I believe that would be Sextia, sir. Her father deemed her ready to join us two weeks ago. She remains under the instruction of her mother and birth squad, but is to join them on all non-essential tasks.”
  40. “Is she easily frightened?”
  41. >”From what I hear, sir, she is the image of courage.”
  42. >You watch the sergeant call out three more positions.
  43. >Young Sextia flinches through two of them.
  44. “Bring her here.”
  45. >The captain steps forward to relay your instructions to the sergeant, but her head whips around to ‘look’ behind you when a voice behind you calls out.
  46. >”I’m here Anon sir!”
  47. >You turn to find Tene there, wearing sun-goggles to shield her eyes.
  48. >The Captain, were she not blindfolded, would be fixing her with a glare you’re sure could melt Tene’s armor off.
  49. “I expect you have a report from a friend?”
  50. >”Yeah, he came through.”
  51. “Very good. Please give me a moment. In fact, feel free to join the exercise. I’m sure you know the positions.”
  52. >She nods as you unhook your scabbard from your belt, and point its tip at a patch of grass next to the sergeant, a respectful distance away.
  53. “Stand there, then.”
  54. >”Uh, alright.”
  55. >Tene stops on the spot you specified as the young filly you singled out arrives.
  56. >She looks up at you with blindfolded eyes, standing straight and tall, then executes the same wings-out-and-down salute all members of the Night Watch greets you with.
  57. >You can’t help but give her a sight smile.
  58. >Damn it all, she’s cute.
  59. >You bring your sheathed sword up again to point at another location, deliberately swinging it up near her.
  60. >The filly neatly sidesteps away, though you would have cleared her by a fair margin.
  61. “Stand there.”
  62. >”Yes sir!”
  63. >Hnnng.
  64. >By the time her wings have snapped closed, your scabbard’s tip is firmly planted in the ground beside your feet.
  65. >Even still, she stands on the exact spot specified
  66. >Tene was off by a couple inches.
  67. >You only now realize the sergeant’s calls have stopped, and you look at her with a slight tilt of your head in apology.
  68. “Please continue.”
  69. >She immediately calls a new position, and the group – now including Tene – assumes it.
  70. >Sextia follows suit without issue, even the positions she initially had trouble with, though her delay remains.
  71. >After the fourth, you step up in front of her.
  72. >She pauses longer than usual for the next, but still keeps up with the group.
  73. >Slowly, then, you raise the tip of your scabbard to hold it next to her head.
  74. >The closer it gets, the slower she is to respond, before stopping entirely.
  75. “Describe my sword.”
  76. >Sextia’s little wings shoot out into their saluting position, but she struggles to speak. “B-bright, or l-loud, sir,” she finally manages.
  77. “I see.”
  78. >Just as you pull the scabbard back, she stammers, “A-and it needs sharpening, s-sir.”
  79. >You freeze, then look at Tene, who only answers with a shrug of her wings.
  80. >You hook it back to your belt, then draw the sword from it, looking over the tip, dragging the meat of your thumb across the edge.
  81. >It is far blunter than you’d like.
  82. >You give Tene a slight nod as you sheathe it, and she looks down at Sextia with wide eyes.
  83. “Return to your earlier position, Sextia. Do your best to ignore the… volume of your comrades.”
  84. >As she hurries back to her prior place at the rear of the group, you nod to the captain.
  85. “I’ll leave you to your mares, then. Good evening.”
  86. >The captain salutes as you turn and walk towards the palace, Tene hurrying to catch up. “She was right?”
  87. “I take it she couldn’t have known that.”
  88. >”Well, the Captain might have been able to tell, if you did the same to her. My oldest sister can inventory a closed drawer. More experienced thestrals can do similar tricks, but that filly can’t be older than fourteen.”
  89. “I’d like you to monitor her progress for me then.”
  90. >Tene is silent.
  91. >Once you’ve entered the palace, you look down at her.
  92. “Is something wrong?”
  93. >”I’ll do it for you without hesitation, Anon, but just to let you know, all this resource management stuff is stallion business.”
  94. “I see. I appreciate your willingness, then.”
  95. >”And, uh… Most outsiders are shocked when we mention how young we become part of the Watch. I know you haven’t been paying close attention to this stuff until the last couple days, so…”
  96. “Tene, I was twelve when I first came aboard a ship as what we’d call a ‘young gentleman.’ A sailor’s life isn’t the easiest on the body, even as an officer. I’m younger than I look.”
  97. >“Oh.”
  98. “So what did Gefen say?”
  99. >She brightened when reminded of her assignment. “Lessee… Gefen says all the ones who wore similar patterns were under one noble. That family disappeared a hundred sixty… three?  Yeah. Hundred sixty-three years ago. The last time a gryphon was seen in similar patterns was a hundred twenty-seven years, and it was on the other side of the kingdom.”
  100. “So, in short, our information is very likely to be wrong.”
  101. >”Yup.”
  102. “It was very specific, for incorrect information.”
  103. >”I guess so.”
  104. >You turn down the corridor that leads to the chamber you and Raven have been using to coordinate on this ongoing incident.
  105. >Sure enough, her pegasus guard stands in his usual spot.
  106. >Raven’s always there before you, no matter how early you plan on showing up.
  107. “I don’t like bad reports, Tene.”
  108. >”I wouldn’t either. Gotta trust the mares out there, even if they’re featherbrains.”
  109. “Trust. Exactly.”
  110. >You stop in front of the door, and Tene takes her usual position opposite the white stallion, but not before hooking her wing-claw around a loop binding a scroll tucked under her armor.
  111. >You take it, give  the stallion a nod, and step inside.
  112. >Raven’s horn glows as she provides enough power to start the spell that controls the map.
  113. >Guess she hadn’t beaten you by too long.
  114. >It flashes to life just as you step up to it, and you extend to her the scroll.
  115. “For you, Ms Inkwell.”
  116. >She levitates the scroll out of your hand, undoes its binding, and quickly scans the document.  
  117. >A second and third sheet follow the first, as she goes through the contents of each.
  118. >Finally, she looks to you as she lowers them to the table. “I owe you an apology, Adjutant Anonymous. This lines up with what I could determine on my own. I spoke to the Hippogryph ambassador, and she has not received any reports about hostile action as of late. We will have to rewrite our reports.”
  119. “No apology required, Ms. Inkwell. The question now becomes-”
  120. >You circle the glowing label hovering over the map with an index finger.
  121. “-what to make of this. Let us consider again; what did Air Patrol see?”
  122. >”The officer I met with did not have firsthand knowledge, but she claimed the patrol followed up on a tip from a weather team who reported suspicious activity. I could not determine which team may have made the report, and the officer I spoke to did not know. From what the officer told me, the patrol team found gryphons wearing the reported colors a short distance from a destroyed group of wagons, matching hippogryph make.”
  123. “Yet, for once, the two parties agree that nothing untoward happened.”
  124. >”That does appear to conclude the issue.”
  125. “But presents a new one.”
  126. >Raven’s ears flatten back. “Why we would need to investigate at all.”
  127. “Precisely. We may not have to look without, but now we have to look within.”
  128. >She looks back to the map and studies it for a time.
  129. >You drag a seat up to the table and slough onto it, rubbing your face with your hand.
  130. >You didn’t want to be right, about this.
  131. >”I do not like having no answers.”
  132. “About?”
  133. >”About how to address this issue. Bad reports come in, but merely vague, or incorrect about minor details. We more often see reports of nothing where something presented itself, rather than the inverse. I find it troubling.”
  134. >You look at her while she studies the map.
  135. >Her eyes dart across it, jumping place to place.
  136. >There’s nothing there for her; the map isn’t showing anything you haven’t already discussed at length, besides this new bit of info you’ve now discarded. Her tail flicks out to one side, then the other.
  137. >Maybe a little more than troubled.
  138. “I’ll tell you what.”
  139. >Her focus jumps to you as you suddenly stand, then lean on your hands over the map, pretending to study whatever she was definitely not looking at.
  140. “I understand you have a lot more obligations than I do. The day is always more active, and Princess Celestia takes a leading role in the management of the country. I’ll look into this myself.”
  141. >She looks you up and down, then dips her head. “Her Majesty’s needs keep me very busy, yes.”
  142. “And since this information is no longer important, we have nothing further to discuss on this matter; nothing new has transpired. We can talk diplomacy another day. Why don’t you take a rest, Ms. Inkwell?”
  143. >She opens her mouth as if to immediately reply, then shuts it again. A faint smile follows. “Thank you, Anonymous.”
  144. >For the briefest of moments, you swear you can see something in her face. Or perhaps something behind it. A flicker of some warmth or comfort you’ve never seen from the stoic mare before, some ghost of a different pony trapped inside.
  145. >As soon as it showed itself, it disappeared.
  146. >Even as she turns to leave, you realize you want to see that ghost again.
  147. >Maybe even talk to it.
  148. >You’ve worked alongside her for a couple years now, but have you ever had a natural conversation with her?
  149. >You don’t even know if she has natural conversations.
  150. >You feel like your workload just increased again, and you don’t even know what may have been added.
  151. >You look back down at the table as the image over it sputters out, Raven no longer animating its magic.
  152. >Just a dead table, betraying none of the spark of life it just betrayed.
  153. >Then you look to Raven’s form, and it too betrays none of the spark of whatever lies within.
  154. >You walk to the door as she talks with her companion, and after a pause, the two walk off down the hallway.
  155. >The opposite way you know the palace staff’s quarters reside.
  156. >You’d guessed she wouldn’t heed your suggestion anyhow.
  157. >”That was fast.”
  158. “Have you ever known her to slow down?”
  159. >”Who, Raven? Nah. She’s legendary for it, Anon. Always where somepony needs her, when she’s needed.”
  160. “And she’s always needed.”
  161. >”I guess that’d be the interpretation.”
  162. >You’re not much different, though, are you?
  163. >Your arrival here was the longest holiday you’ve been able to enjoy.
  164. >And you’ve been back on the job ceaselessly since, to prove yourself.
  165. >You haven’t tried to present any different an image than she does.
  166. >Is this how ponies see you?
  167. >Even as you start walking to your office, one last thought stands in the way of you clearing your mind to start mentally composing your new, much shorter report to Princess Luna.
  168. >If no good could come of Raven’s constant activity, the same could be said to you
  169. >Maybe you’ll have to find time to slow both of you down.
  170. >Once all this is cleared up.
IABL Anon Raven OC Batponies RGRE

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