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~Princess Luna

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Post in forum #1905 - An ongoing MLP Roleplay Thread, Rated PG-13.

The night was cold as autumn deepened toward winter but the fire at Tradewind’s side kept the worst of it at bay. Tradewind sat by the lake, occasionally tossing a few scraps of bread into the water. Something out there slurped them down. He assumed it was a fish but if so, it was a big one. And shy. He’d yet to actually glimpse it. Moon Pie had given him a funny look when he asked her about what the fishing was like here. She had changed the subject. She had a fishing pole with her but he had yet to see her use it.

Tradewind sighed. This was his third night here. Luna had stayed with them for the first night. As Tradewind’s head cleared with the rising sun, she had summoned some camping gear from somewhere, asked him politely but firmly to stay put, and vanished. It was rarely more than a few hours between her popping back in but she never stayed long. Just dropped off wood for the fire, a basket of food, things like that. She gave the impression of being very busy, and that tracked. Moon Pie had excused herself on the first day. She flew back to the family of earth ponies she lived with now and told them…he had no idea what she had told them, but it probably included the phrases ‘gone for a while’ and ‘don’t worry.’ She had come back around sunset of the first day and hadn’t left since. Luna hadn’t asked her to stay but hadn’t seemed surprised by it.

The pegasus stared out over the gently rippling water of the big lake, holding a piece of former firewood in his fore-hooves. Moon Pie had been surprised and a little worried when he’d produced the wing razors from his personal belongings. Lighter by far than before. The cloud-whiskey was gone, but not because he drank it. Luna had mentioned in passing that it had been delivered to the one intended to receive it, named Cherie Onnatopp. The gleaming oiled blades moved over the wood, slowly and carefully carving it. They weren’t enchanted military ones, which could even damage dragons. No, these were little ‘utility’ ones, wafer-thin and hard-tempered. They held a wonderful edge but were too fragile to withstand hard use. He’d picked them up before leaving Aura for the final time, careful not to think too hard about what he was doing. In fact, he’d managed it so well he was briefly surprised to find them when rummaging through his saddlebags in a fit of boredom. Self-defense was how he’d rationalized it, but that hadn’t been all of it.

Tradewind wasn’t a good wood carver and he knew it. What he carved was crude at best. A fairly flat face of the wood chunk had a horseshoe carved on it, inside a paw with two wings crossed behind. Staring out at the lake while he carved by feel probably didn’t help. Tradewind sighed and stared down at the carving, his wings going still. That happened every time. If he looked at the image…he just stared instead of carving.

“May I see what you are making?” Moon Pie said.

Tradewind jumped. She was very good at being quiet even with her weird glamor gone forever. He looked sidelong across the fire at her now-familiar pale-green face, turned some nameless shade by the firelight. More dragon than pony aside from the oversized ears. Her orange eyes focused curiously at the wood he held. He shrugged, and tilted it for her to see. Moon Pie pulled out a monocle and fitted it to one eye. He hadn’t yet gotten used to that. She didn’t do it to look posh but because her close-up vision was as bad as he distance vision was amazing. She smiled a little and sat back, turning sideways to lean against a boulder that had a groove to fit her crest of spines. One claw-ended foreleg made a gesture of request. Tradewind tossed it over the fire. She didn’t move until it almost hit her and then her claw went from motionless to a blur to motionless again, gripping the carving. Another thing that still made him twitch. Unless she concentrated, all her movements were slow and languid or fast and abrupt.

As Moon Pie studied the carving, Tradewind carefully removed the little knives from his wings. The case came with a kit. He wiped them clean, wiped them on an oily rag, fitted them in their little blade-cap sheaths and tucked them away. Moon Pie watched him with little glances. Finally she said what she had clearly been Not Asking until now. Even now she came at it from an angle. “I didn’t think you were the type to carry weapons.”

“I’m not.” Tradewind said. “They’re a hobbyist thing. No good for rough work but useful if you need precision.”

“You weren’t carrying them when we…um. First met.” Her big ears were like semaphore flags announcing her every mood. He wondered if she was aware how much they gave away. Right now they drooped with apprehension. “If you had I would have taken them away. When did you by them?”

“Just before leaving Aura the last time.”

“Ahhh. Carrying the urn. I understand.”

Tradewind let the misunderstanding stand. He hadn’t had the urn with him when he left Aura. Nor had he talked about those times with Moon Pie except a few vague sentences.

Berta realized he wasn’t going to say anything. She went back to looking at the carving. “Interesting symbol.”

Tradewind softly smiled. “It’s just a stupid thing that me and my friends made up, back when we were young…” He forced a weak chuckle. “There were three of us, an earth Pony, a pegasus, and-”

“-Jindalee.” she said. He gave her a narrow-eyed look. Her ears proclaiming wounded innocence, she showed him the carving. “Horseshoe, wings, paw. Earth pony, pegasus, sugar glider. I’ve gathered that you and Jindalee were old friends.”

Tradewind nodded, feeling a little guilty about his reflexive suspicion. “We were part of this little…I don’t know, gang? Ganglet? We used to have little turf wars with other street kids, hang out, steal stuff, generally get under-hoof and into the rigging…” He chuckled with more ease this time. “Jindalee was the one who thought we should have a logo; that was the best we could come up with. The fights we had about it… You know, if it wasn’t for that, I’ll bet that I wouldn’t be here talking to you.” He would probably be dead.

Moon Pie tilted her head, ears high and forward. “What do you mean?”

Tradewind shrugged. “I gave the little medallion with that on it to Kirra, just before…um, before.”

Moon Pie somehow managed to find an ear-waggle that conveyed enlightenment. “Smog told me some things, afterwards. He knew you and Jindalee knew each other when young, thanks to…” the ears laid back as her eyes narrowed “…Agent Ravenor’s special interrogation technique. That’s why he sent me and not some mundane abductor. He wasn’t sure if it was genuine or a construct to a false identity installed as a back-channel.”

“…what?”

“If you were an Agent Unaware you could have sent out coded reports concealed as letters to an old childhood friend. All unaware you were doing anything of the kind.”

“That’s…crazy.”

Moon Pie’s ears folded back and down in disgust. “Smog’s professionally paranoid. Give him this much, he only considered it as possibility. Worst-case stuff. But back-channel or genuine friendship, it meant he needed to be careful. Abducting a friend or agent of Jindalee was fine. Having Jindalee learn he had done it is another kettle of fish. If it wasn’t for that medallion of yours going walkabout, Smog wouldn’t have felt any motivation to treat you with care. If you were an Agent Unaware, he’d have made you vanish. If you were an innocent pony…he’d have made you vanish. Easiest way to make sure you never tattled about how he treated you. Probably not dead. Probably have your memories edited, then dumped in an asylum in some backwater nowhere, where your magic-violated mind would soon shatter for real…even if you were ever identified, the trail would be cold and not point to Smog. Ponies go mad sometimes. Doctor Stein is good at the Curse of Barking Madness, which would have left you under the delusion you’re a dog. Unable to talk or write.”

Tradewind nodded miserably. Moon Pie patted him gently on the shoulder. He took a startled second to realize that the fire was between them and another second to realize that her ancestry probably left her rather flame-resistant. Tradewind sighed. “And now…and now…I have all this to deal with. I went crazy all on my own. Sometime I think you should’ve just let me cave my skull in back in that little racing yacht.”

Moon Pie hissed, unnervingly snakelike. “Don’t speak like that, you’re on the mend! You’ve got your whole life ahead, and things are going to become much better from now on! Smog will be punished-” her voice gave a hitch as if her mind had run over some kind of speed-bump on memory lane “-and you’ll be able to be with your special somepony.” No hiccupping hitch there, just the slow warm smile of somepony who was in love herself.

Tradewind shrugged off her claw, bitter and angry. “Yeah, that’s not happening. There’s no way that’s ever going to happen. She might dream about me, but she dreams about lots of things. We all do. There’s no way I’m ever going to impress her now. Tartarus…the only way I got her interested in the first place was by taking her to the fanciest hotel in Aura. Twice.”

Moon Pie smiled, which made him angrier. It was clear she didn’t believe a word he said. “The Ivory Tower?”

Tradewind nodded with a sigh that came up from his hind hooves. The anger collapsed. Just too much effort. “First I lost all my money paying some donkey of a manager so he could pretend he managed to get her a free night, the second time…” He shuddered at the memory and rubbed the bruise on his chest. It should have healed, but whenever he touched where Fantasy had punched him, pain twisted through his chest like a knife. “The second time definitely didn’t go according to plan.” He laughed without mirth. “And then there’s her father…”

Moon Pie tilted her head, ears worried but sympathetic. “Father?”

Tradewind nodded, staring out at the rippling reflected stars in the lake. “Yeah, her father. He hates me. I think if I ever came close to her again he’d skin me alive. He seems to like Lute though. To be honest, I’m starting to think he’s a better match for Fantasy.” He was aware of Moon Pie suddenly going deadpan. “I mean…I’m always nervous and crazy, and I can tell she’s just trying to be nice for the sake of niceness. I make her nervous. With him? She lights up whenever he’s in the room!”

Moon Pie could have been a statue made by an artist in need of professional help.

Tradewind half-yawned. “So I think my leaving was the best thing possible for them. I wish them the best of luck, but they don’t need some third wheel always hanging around.”

Moon Pie sighed and reached across the fire to pat his shoulder again. The pegasus threw half a loaf of slightly stale bread out into the lake, mostly just to shatter the reflected stars. He hadn’t had much appetite the last few days. Something unseen sucked down the whole lump with a sound like a half-plugged toilet. Moon Pie made a noise herself, more like a cat hiding under the couch working on a hairball. But he didn’t ask and she didn’t explain. Her claw left his shoulder. They sat for some time, until the hiss and darkness of the fire’s sudden death made them both jump to their hooves. Princess Luna stood nearby holding an empty but dripping bucket in her magic. Tradewind bowed as she turned her eyes on him.

Princess Luna didn’t waste words. “It is fortunate you are awake. Pack your belongings with swiftness; we go to Aura with the dawn.”

“Already?” Moon Pie said. Her cracked voice, always swapping between high squeak and deep hoot, emerged as all squeak. “You said it would take a week, minimum!”

Luna looked briefly nervous and Tradewind abruptly felt terrified. “My plan for an official, announced visit to the twin cities is no longer viable. Several creatures connected to Smog have had nightmares that betray an…event. It appears that Smog’s fall is imminent. We go now or we stand by while Aura and Umbra fall.”

Tradewind dove for the tent to pack.