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In A Better Light 5&6

By E4-NG
Created: 8th April 2021 09:38:53 AM
Modified: 11th April 2021 07:01:52 AM

  1. >Fancy Pants is home tonight.
  2. >That doesn’t mean you must be too.
  3. >Those nights you don’t have to be your brothers’ minder are nights you can go to seedier places, where proper stallions shouldn’t find themselves.
  4. >For example, the place you are approaching now.
  5. >A little hole in the wall tavern outside Canterlot Palace.
  6. >Stocked with all the finest and not-so-fine spirits and booze from all around the world
  7. >All diplomats and their staff in the capital congregate there to unwind
  8. >Naturally, stallions should stay as far away from that wretched hive as possible.
  9. >Except the ones indulged in the trade themselves, you suppose. Already too far gone, along with the eye-candy employees.
  10. >If the average citizens of Canterlot knew all the people with secrets to keep who met here, a place anyone could just walk in, you’d be out of a “job”
  11. >Fortunately for you, many things in this world are hidden in plain sight.
  12. >As you enter the door, you scan the night’s clientele for potential-
  13. >Stars beyond.
  14. >Maybe you won’t be trawling for information tonight.
  15. >You spy Raven sitting at a table near the back, staring at half a drink like she doesn’t know what to do with it.
  16. >Friends come first.
  17. >She only looks up at you as you take a seat across from her.
  18. >”Hello, Fleur.”
  19. “Bonsoir, Raven!”
  20. >You wave  hoof towards her glass.
  21. “How many have you had?”
  22. >”One.” She looks back down, and tilts her head. “And a half.”
  23. “Finish it.”
  24. >”Pardon?”
  25. >You wave your hoof at her glass again, harsher this time.
  26. “We’re not going to talk until you’ve finished it.”
  27. >She looks back down at her glass, sighs, then lifts it with her magic and tips its contents down her throat.
  28. “Good! That’s a good start.”
  29. >You flag a waiter down, who approaches promptly.
  30. “Put her drinks on my tab, then get me a couple of the usual.”
  31. >You pause a moment, then look back to Raven.
  32. “Have you had anything else yet?”
  33. >She shakes her head, bemused.
  34. >You turn back to the waiter.
  35. “A pitcher of water, too.”
  36. >He nods, then heads off quickly
  37. >Raven watches him leave. “Waitstaff here does not act that quickly for other patrons.”
  38. “Ever-observant. I could use you here on my usual nights, you know. Then they’ll act like that for you too; the perks of being a regular.”
  39. >She shakes her head and looks back at her now-empty glass. “You know I cannot do what you do well.”
  40. “C’est n’importe quoi! We both do the same thing, I just do it in a much less formal capacity. Our job, in either case, is to know things. I know, for example, you don’t conduct business here. So what brings you in, this fine night?”
  41. >Raven looks back down at her now-empty glass, considering your question. “A colleague told me to relax.”
  42. “Did they? And you listened? That is an interesting fact all of its own!”
  43. >The waiter returned as quick as he had answered your initial call, putting an empty glass before each of you, then a pitcher of water in the middle of the table, followed by two full glasses on your side.
  44. “Merci bien!”
  45. >He pauses, then gives you a short nod and hurries off.
  46. >”Do you think he understood?”
  47. “If one of the most ancient unicorn establishments in this ancient unicorn city cannot find waiters who know the ancient unicorn tongue, I worry for the future of our great nation. We need at least one place we can refrain from the common creole.”
  48. >”We speak in that ‘common creole’ even now.”
  49. “We don’t have to! Surely any unicorn in this finest of establishments could carry a conversation with us.”
  50. >”You and I demonstrate far greater fluency than the average unicorn today.”
  51. “C’est pas vrai!”
  52. >“I suspect even the tavernkeep cannot understand it.”
  53. “We talk in it all the time. You may be right about the waiters though. Stallions.”
  54. >You give one of the full glasses to Raven, and follow it with a knowing look.
  55. “Drink, then tell me; was it a stallion who sent you here?”
  56. >Raven looks between the glass she’d last emptied, then the new full one, and sighs.
  57. >She takes a sip and looks back at you. “Of a sort.”
  58. “Of a sort? What’s that mean?”
  59. >”The Adjutant would not, strictly speaking, meet the definition of ‘stallion’.”
  60. “Ahhh, the human told you to take a night. And you listened, ça alors!”
  61. >”I have not had a night to myself in some time.”
  62. “It shows. You hardly know what to do with yourself! I suppose this is the first time you’ve kissed a spirit this year.”
  63. >”Easily.” She takes another sip, while you slug down half your glass. “Multiple years, I think.”
  64. “And to think you’re indulging now, while he does the work you should be doing. Raven, where is your sense of duty?”
  65. >She pins her ears. “We work for different rulers; he does his job, not mine.”
  66. “Ah, relax, a jest. If that rankles you, you need to drink more.”
  67. >She relaxes, albeit slowly, and takes another few sips as requested.
  68. “Better. What a sorry state you’re in, when you don’t even know what to do with yourself on a night off.”
  69. >She stared into her glass, without answer.
  70. >You, meanwhile, polish off your drink.
  71. “Good thing you have me around. When was the last time you attempted to enjoy yourself?”
  72. >More silence.
  73. “That long? Figures.”
  74. >”I could complete other tasks with this time.”
  75. “Raven, dear, what about living?”
  76. >”I live to serve.”
  77. “You take that oath far too literally.”
  78. >She’s quiet for another few moments, then says much more quietly, ”I have nothing else.”
  79. “Maybe we should change that.”
  80. >She looks up at you, something between confusion and hopelessness crossing her face.
  81. “How about this; tell me about Anonymous. I want to know more about the one who even THE Raven Inkwell obeys.”
  82. >”I know you trade in secrets. I shouldn’t be giving out… details.”
  83. “I’m not interested in taking from a friend, and for all our jobs may occasionally put us at odds, we’ve been friends since fillies. So how about, instead, you give me your opinions of him.”
  84. >Raven takes another sip – much longer, this time – and shakes her head. “If you dislike my approach to work, you will hardly find him any better.”
  85. “That just makes it all the more important I know who he is, if he has such influence over you.”
  86. >”You sound as if he and I date.”
  87. >A grin flits across your face for only an instant.
  88. “Those words came from your mouth, not mine.”
  89. >”Only for how you act. He does not hold my interest in that manner.”
  90. “Then what about him does interest you? Obviously something does.”
  91. >”He works hard. He considers loyalty important, even if muddled. Something haunts him, I know not what, but he escapes it with selfless service.”
  92. “You respect him because he’s a reflection of yourself?”
  93. >”Nothing haunts me. You of all ponies should know, considering you know all ponies.”
  94. >You let your earlier grin return, in a muted form.
  95. “That just means I may know something about you that you don’t.”
  96. >”The less aware of whatever haunts me I remain, the easier I sleep, then.”
  97. “Enfin, nothing comes to mind.”
  98. >”In a way, yes, the same qualities I strive for he also attempts to meet.”
  99. “Is he as loathe to enjoy himself?”
  100. >She pauses again to take another drink. “I do not know. Perhaps. I think rather he wants to enjoy himself, but fears to.”
  101. “An interesting take. Do you think you could introduce us? I would like to meet the one you find so compelling.”
  102. >”I do not find… Yes. I could do that.”
  103. “Merveilleux! Now finish that drink, and we’ll have another.”
  104. >You pour two glasses of water from the pitcher.
  105. “We’re going to make sure you enjoy yourself this evening, by the stars above or below.”
  106.  
  107. * * *
  108.  
  109. “She cannot see you.”
  110. >The dragon – fortunately not too large – snarled. “I was promised an audience, and I was promised it tonight.”
  111. “The Princess is occupied with a matter of extreme import.”
  112. >The dragon looks to the closed doors to the great hall at your back, then once again to you. “Are these not her usual hours of court?”
  113. “They are.”
  114. >”Then she denies even her own people with this… matter.”
  115. “No. She attends to them in ways she cannot afford to be distracted.”
  116. >The dragon smirks, but it doesn’t look any prettier than his snarl. “Oh? Howso?”
  117. “That is a state secret.”
  118. >A snort. “Is it? As if I’d care about any nocturnal dalliances.”
  119. >Your right hand drops to your sword, idlyfondling the preposterously large gem in the pommel.
  120. “If you leave peacefully now, I will consider forgetting certain remarks.”
  121. >The six night guards also in front of the Great Hall doors – Tene not one of them, as she’s on break when you’re exercising your responsibilities as part of the Night Court – shift their stances with you, three on either side.
  122. >The dragon sweeps his gaze across all of you, one side to the other and back again, before drawing his head up and huffing. “I will take you up on that; never let it be said I am not a creature of courtesy, willing to shrug off even the most egregious insults. Another time, then, Adjutant Anonymous.”
  123. >The dragon turns smartly for something as hefty as he, and paces off with little more than a flick of his tail.
  124. >The Night Guards around you relax, and you let out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding.
  125. >”Could have been messy, Adjutant,” one of them finally says, as you finally take your hand off your sword.
  126. “Quite.”
  127. >”Would’ve been hard to get you out of here if you were the one who picked a fight, Adjutant.”
  128. >You look over to the speaking Night Guard. Like so many of her kind in dim lighting, she’s not looking at you, but has an ear quirked in your direction.
  129. “I wouldn’t have let you ‘get me out of here’.”
  130. >”That would’ve made it even harder Adjutant.”
  131. >You say nothing, returning your gaze to the far end of the long hall that approached the throne room.
  132. >The dragon wasn’t the first petitioner you had to direct away from the throne room, after Luna abruptly canceled Court for an urgent nightmare situation, but he was certainly the most important, and also the most rude.
  133. >The occurrence wasn’t common but it also wasn’t unique.
  134. >For reasons likely related to politeness and etiquette, non-ponies can’t know Luna’s true abilities, even though her sister’s unique magic is widely recognized.
  135. >One of the most important parts of your duties, as far as you were concerned, is insuring everything runs smoothly when she’s attending to that higher calling.
  136. >One of these days, you’ll find a polite yet firm way to dissuade petitioners without having to suffer sass over it.
  137. >You turn back to the guard who spoke.
  138. “How late is the hour?”
  139. >”Dunno. Sometime around midnight.”
  140. “Very precise, thank you.”
  141. >”Don’t mention it, Adjutant.”
  142. “For you, I won’t.”
  143. >Maybe the discipline needs some work, around here.
  144. >Down the hall, without warning, the flames dim, flicker, then wink out.
  145. >Lights sputter and die in sequence, all the way down to the hall to where you stand, finally engulfing you in darkness.
  146. >Your eyes adjust quickly enough, and the guards beside you quicker still you know, but other ponies would have a much tougher time.
  147. >Something was wrong.
  148. >The guards – your guards – however, don’t respond.
  149. “What’s going on?”
  150. >You look back to the guard who spoke.
  151. >Her ears swivel a bit, then resume their usual positions of one ahead and one on you. “Routine, boss, nothing to worry about.”
  152. >Definitely needs some discipline work.
  153. “Routine WHAT?”
  154. >The guard effects a shrug. “Just what they’re saying down there. Other guards.”
  155. ”I don’t hear anything.”
  156. >“Higher than that.”
  157. >You stomp forward, down the darkened hall, and away from the door.
  158. “Maybe they’ll be more forthcoming with answers, then.”
  159. >”B-but Adjutant, what about your post?” You hear another guard stammer out behind you.
  160. “My post is the palace,” you call back, though don’t stop or turn. “And I’m going to find out what’s going on in it.”
  161. >It’s dark in either direction at the junction at the far end, so you turn the direction leading to the entrance.
  162. >Halfway down the next large hall, you hear a snort, followed by a low, rumbling laugh. “What happened to forgetting?”
  163. >You stop, turn, and face a hulking shadow of a presence.
  164. >To your credit, you don’t even flinch.
  165. “I said I’d consider. Maybe I decided I wouldn’t. Is this dark your doing? I will not tolerate further threats to Her Majesty’s security.”
  166. >The dragon leaned forward, his head just poking out of the gloom of his side corridor, his face alone illuminated in moonlight. “No, but I wouldn’t mind taking advantage of it. With friends you may have been a challenge, but I know how these ponies pamper their males.”
  167. >You grab your sword, and say a quick prayer as you draw and fall into a guard.
  168. “Come, then. Grant me the privilege of honoring Saint George.”
  169. >The dragon bared his many large teeth, but just as he started slinking forward you could see a flash dart across his eyes.
  170. >He paused, then looked towards the palace entrance, upon which the light returned to his eyes and stayed.
  171. >You held your defensive stance as he plucked a gem from one of his bracelets and tossed it behind him.
  172. >Instead of falling to the floor once it completed its arc through the air, it instead looped back down and around, forming a rough circle which burst to light with a sickly glow.
  173. >He looks back to you, then your sword, and starts muttering; ”Many fear me but few know me. I’m covert yet capital, fatal but finicky. I arrive unexpected the first time you see. I’m constantly searched for where I’m believed to be. In truth I’m a gravest enemy.”
  174. >Your sword’s grip suddenly becomes red hot, and though you stifle a cry, you can’t help but drop it.
  175. >Stunned as you are, you can only hear it clatter to the floor, as the dragon takes advantage of your now-disarmed state to turn and flee through the portal.
  176. >It winks out once he’s gone, leaving just the gemstone on the floor.
  177. >After a moment of silence, you finally relax, then test the grip of your sword.
  178. >Cool, as if it was never an issue in the first place.
  179. >After sheathing it – carefully- you reach down, hesitate, then decide to pick up the gemstone.
  180. >It seems perfectly inert.
  181. >You pocket it, shake yourself of the encounter, then continue down the hall.
  182. >Hoofsteps ring out before you reach the next intersection, so you modify your step to be silent, something ponies can’t do.
  183. >Before you reach it, a pony comes into view.
  184. >Two, actually; one is carrying another on its back.
  185. >Her back, from the looks of it; and she has a physique more like the Princesses than other unicorns.
  186. >Both of them having white coats makes them fairly easy to tell even with the lights out.
  187. >Wait a minute, is that-
  188. “You! Stop right there!”
  189. >The slender unicorn stops, then quickly adjusts her stance when a quietly snoring Raven Inkwell threatens to slide off her back. The band of gems around her neck tinkle as she slowly turns her head to face you.
  190. “What are you doing with that mare?”
  191. >”Ah, I’m… returning her.”
  192. >The answer’s so ridiculous that it takes you a moment to formulate a response.
  193. “What, as if you borrowed her?”
  194. >As far as you can tell in the gloom, her expression brightens.
  195. >”You could say that, yes!”
  196. “Put her down at once.”
  197. >The unicorn complies, using her magical grasp to arrange Raven in a somewhat dignified pose as she slides the slumbering mare off her back and to the floor. “You know, Anonymous, this is not like how I imagined our first meeting. At least it’s sooner than I’d hoped!”
  198. “You sound too excited for me to take any comfort in that. Where were you taking her?”
  199. >”I told you, I was returning her! To her quarters, of course. As you can see, she’s had a bit of a time.”
  200. >You crouch down to inspect Raven, but can find nothing wrong with her outwardly.
  201. >Deep down, you feel a relief corresponding to a worry you hadn’t been aware of.
  202. “She’s typically very punctual, and very, uh, alert.”
  203. >”I take full responsibility for her present state. And I was carrying out that responsibility, until you stopped me.”
  204. >You eye the tall unicorn again.
  205. “Yes, of course.”
  206. >Then turn back down the hall.
  207. “GUARDS!”
  208. >The first responders came from the direction of the throne room; the two who had spoken to you earlier. They skid to a stop before you. “Yes, sir?”
  209. “I want you to – carefully – get Miss Inkwell to her usual quarters. Before you go, though, is this mare familiar to you?”
  210. >One of them barely spares the unicorn a glance while the other starts tugging at Raven. “That’s Dame de Lis, sir. We know her.”
  211. “Do you, now?”
  212. >You turn back to Dame de Lis yourself.
  213. >“Yes, sir. She’s, uh, she’s why the lights are out. Uh, sir.”
  214. “So other guards are in on this flagrant breach of security?”
  215. >“Er. Yes. Sir.”
  216. “Excellent. I want a report on my desk by the end of the night about these… lighting protocols you have for certain intruders. A detailed one.”
  217. >”Yes, sir.”
  218. “If I don’t have it, and it doesn’t satisfy me, I’ll personally see you reassigned to the most thankless job I can contemplate.”
  219. >”Of course, sir.”
  220. “Get Miss Inkwell out of here.”
  221. >You wave off the guards, and then extend the gesture to the Dame.
  222. “You too. Out of here. If their report does not paint you in the most flattering light, expect to get a visit from me tomorrow, wherever you live.”
  223. >You expected a cowed expression, or even just a wince.
  224. >Instead you get a beaming smile. “Absolutely! I look forward to it, Adjutant!”
  225. >She turns and departs, with a gait you could almost describe as bouncy.
  226. >You shake your head, then turn back to the throne room. They’ll need you even more, now that they’re two guards down.
  227. >You feel the gemstone in your pocket.
  228. >Ah,yes. You’ll have to offload that onto somepony too.
  229. >You never signed up for this.
  230. >But you’ll do whatever duty was required of you.
IABL Raven Fleur Batponies Guards Dragons Anon RGRE

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