A summer afternoon
Pauldron Sheen (NPC), Virga
Freedom. Being confined to a hospital room quickly irritated Virga, and did so enough that he made games of his own. Memoire had seen it, Luna approved of it so long as innocents weren't harmed. And they weren't. For his freedom, he agreed to not 'work' though noted he would if ordered. If and only if. The dark pegasus fled the palace for now, his wings tightly bound as he fell through the air without concern for the jagged mountainside that, for many, would have come too close for comfort. At the last moment he opened his wings and sailed over the harbor, leaving a rooster's tail of water in his wake.
Another is close by, intent on intercepting the storm pegasus judging by their course and speed. Though the pony - a stallion, by the looks of it - approaches with a leisurely attitude, his speed is anything but: he seems to travel huge distances with only a few wingbeats. "Ho there, young squire!" he shouts in greeting, trying to grab Virga's attention.
Virga heard the call, but the last thing he needed was some pony pestering him for whatever reason. Especially leisure. Virga peered over his shoulder once and swayed left to right. That pegasus wasn't a typical flyer, no mere ordinary sort with an unordinary greeting. "If Nightshade or the Doctor assigned you to my watch, you're going to have a bad time."
"I come here for my own purposes," says the stallion, a grizzled middle-aged fellow with golden-brown fur and a mane of dark grey, with strands of lighter grey scattered throughout. "Mostly, I wanted to see for myself the infamous Virga de Soleil, son of windigos, sleeper for milleniums untold." He comes to match Virga's velocity, looking over the other stallion with a clever grin.
"Is that so?" Virga asked, eyeing the other stallion with a dangerously wild fire reminiscent of a particular lightning tosser. "Congratulations. You've excelled in this endeavor, though I can't say why you'd trouble yourself. Just a servant of the Crown." He had an idea of where this may go, but Virga wanted to see this older-looking one's response to his own self-denial of importance. "And what do you mean by infamous anyhow?"
"What a coincidence, I am also a servant of the Crown!" the stallion declares. "Though my service is of a different sort than yours or Ms. De Trevalles'. As for what I know of you, let's just say that scuttlebutt travels fast among those in the know. Ah, and I almost forgot!" He extends his hoof mid-flight. "Pauldron Sheen, knight of the Realm, at your service."
Virga reached out to touch his hoof to Pauldron's own; for him it was clearly an unusual gesture as he was hesitant about doing so. Typically, he hit others with his hooves. "Can't say I've heard of you, although you've heard of me. I don't get out much."
"That suits my present intentions just fine," Pauldron says, sounding much like a cheeky uncle. "They say that you live to fight, and do little else. I was curious about how this lifestyle and ethos translated into skillon a battlefield, or in contention with another."
"They say many things," Virga answered, be-stilling his wings for an extended glide. "I live for the Crown, but outside that I don't much live for anything anymore. Many amazing things thrive in Equestria and the Empire, but to me the world in general has gone silent until I answer a regal order or citizen's call."
"A fascinating philosophy," Pauldron comments, also dropping into a glide as well. In fact, he seems to brake ever so often to avoid overtaking Virga. "I myself held similar views in my youth, but as time went on I realized that there was so much more to life than simply fighting. Nevertheless, to defend Equestria is the calling which has been granted to me."
Virga mentally took note of Pauldron's current behavior. Either it was etiquette or tactical; his mind ran with several theories on why the other pegasus didn't fly ahead of him, the first being out of politeness. "I was simply offered it due to several circumstances, no more or less," Virga said. "There was nothing else for me."
"A warrior of circumstance, how poignant," Pauldron states reflectively. "I have known many such as you in my lifetime of greater or lesser fortune and of greater or lesser ability. Yet the common thread connecting each of them is their great affinity for the prosecution of conflict, greater than many of their peers... Of course, it may be disingenuous to refer to yourself, specifically, as having peers of any kind."
"The image I present is one that lives for battle," Virga answered without much conviction. "Only part of me. It is necessary for Princess Luna. I'm actually nothing more than an daredevil entertainer turned into aerial combatant with utterly no military background or discipline. In terms of flight and squadrons, and flyers in general, all my peers past and present fly no more. If you've been to a natural history museum, you've likely seen some of them." The pegasus' tone deadpanned there. "Perhaps even a spectator."
"I'm not that old!" Pauldron retorts, chuckling. "You have a very pointed sense of humour, Mr. De Soleil, a trait which I appreciate greatly. An entertainer, you say? Ah, yes, those vaunted Crystalbolts I've heard about. Well, in any case, you certainly exude the attitude of a warrior more than most of our actual warriors, such as they are."
"How?" Virga asked, that complement being enough to briefly distract him from flight. "Your warriors lack the ability to treat loss with humor?"
"What I mean is that you seem to become more alive with the very notion of the next fight," Pauldron says, "and that is a rare thing to see. Even I can only love it so much, and I dare say that I am very fond of my leisure, far away from the travails of war."
"Fights are generally one portion of my life when I do feel alive," Virga answered. "But only if the fight had purpose."
Pauldron's face morphs from jovial aloofness to silent inquisitiveness in a matter of moments. "I see, I see...so, there is more to you than meets the eye, it seems!" The edge of the land is drawing closer now as they continue on their flightpath, and very soon they will pass over the walls of the city. "I must admit that I operate in like manner, though the exact meaning of this is the subject of much introspection."
"I don't think about it anymore," Virga said as he eyed the land horizon. "These days, I rarely see combat and mostly fly on courier, special assignments. When the Princess calls, I expect action. With her, there always is."
Pauldron shared with Virga a gaze chasm-deep, bored down to the abyss by years of toil. "I know exactly what it is like," he says, flapping his wings a little harder as the wind shifts into the tumultuous currents over land.
"Do you?" replied the black pegasus in a near sing-song voice. Virga barreled right into the currents and snapped his wings shut for a descent towards the oncoming shores of the lake. Just before he'd hit the surface, his wings thundered once, blasting a short-lived chasm of water, sending him high above the land. Somepony was playful today.
Pauldron does something most daring: he dives in right through the column of water, banking hard to the right until he slices - almost spins - across the surface with great flourish. Immedietely he tilts upward and soars right in Virga's direction, aiming to clip him just so by the very edge of his wing feathers.
Virga pulled into an aileron roll and shut his wings once again just as Pauldron reached his ascent. He peered up at the other stallion with a most coy face as he reached his peak. "Nice one!" he called as the free fall began...right into a one-winged spinning stall that make most pegasi disoriented and lost. He was graceful, like a pine tree seedling helicoptering to its doom.
Pauldron's next move keeps the pressure up: he cuts out all his lift by tucking his wings in, and during the half a second of freefall he reorients himself and dives hard, careening right towards Virga, his wings outstretched. His face is a mask of patience.
Virga spun until he was satisfied and out-snapped his closed wing for a hard bank over the trees and against the mountainside. His air-wake plumed dust and foliage; another sharp bank, he turned on a feather, blazing dangerously close to the crag and---did he briefly shut his wings and clop his hooves as if skipping along the vertical mountain rock? Yes he did.
Pauldron finds himself hurtling down into the forest beyond the city, but he has anticipated this outcome. With great force he unfurls his wings to their maximum extent, and with even greater force he shoots himself outward, the compression so powerful that he generates thunder as he soars up, up towards where Virga flutters about. He doesn't maintain the same path, however, but zigs and zags rapidly from one spot to another in quick bursts of lightning and energy.
Virga launched from the mountainside and swooped from the heights to a river that ran through the forested below. The power from his wingbeats carried him over rapids, around, over and under tree branches at a blinding speed. The pegasus swerved around the bends, leaving the trees to quiver and the wood echoing the thunder. A few ponies walking the trails gasped in fright; it wasn't everyday a pegasus flew like that!
Pauldron lets his wings flicker as the momentum carries him onward, building up potential, gathering the latent motion of the air into purposeful directions. It begins slowly, a kind of hum or whistle heard across the span of his feathers, but over time it builds, and grows, and what was once a low throbbing at the edge of hearing becomes a full-on whine of pent-up energy. The edges of Pauldron's wings glow as he summons forth lightning to aid in his attack, and with a great sweep of his wings he sends forth several blasts in Virga's direction!
Virga's ears snapped back when he heard the growing whine, a sound he had heard before yet not something in most pegasi he encountered. At most, only two or three flyers he met had 'that' sort of sound.So, Pauldron wanted to play hard. The pegasus flared his wings and spun a 180, his hooves gliding along the river's surface as a fine mist seethed from between each pinion. Virga's hooves clopped upon a boulder in the ring, bringing him to a dead stop. "Fyuir!" he whispered; ice en-shelled the pegasus at the split second Pauldron's lightning struck, bathing the forest in shards and fog.
Pauldron is not deterred by Virga's strategems but rather devise one of his own, zig-zagging again to build up potential, gathering the charged aether into a cloud of force that he drags along with his foreleg. Indefatigably he dives towards Virga's ice bubble and, at the critical moment, raises his hoof and tries to smash through all his defences.
Virga's ice bubble cracked and shattered, precisely as it was meant to. Yet, this pegasus had a surprise for Pauldron. His wings glistened with a crackle as he swept his wings to the sky, and a raging stream of pink lightning seared the air in Pauldron's path!
Pauldron almost doesn't catch on. Almost. Shaped by long experience and intense focus, his body moves almost automatically as he banks aside, transfers charge to his other forearm and uses that to try to grab hold of Virga's attack, send his double-hoofed lighting - blue and pink - right towards his opponent, including his own impossibly swift form.
Virga made a fatal flaw; once he saw the blue and pink, those combinations of colors, he showed a brief hesitation that cost him the spar. The lightning struck the black pegasus, smashing him against the boulder with a surprised gasp. Lightning was not yet his element; ice and sun flares were.
Pauldron doesn't let up, but follows his attack through to the very end. He rushes forward, taking advantage of Virga's vulnerability by thrusting his hooves forward to pin the pegasus against the rock, the sinews of his legs still glowing with energy. He looks upon the darker stallion with the steely face of a hardened veteran. "Do you yield?" he challenges.
Virga grunted as he was pinned against the rock, his deeply black eyes staring up at Pauldron almost as if he didn't recognize the stallion. He breathed hard and...didn't first give the veteran an answer in words, but an answer in a thick, viscous fluid he spat against the rock. "I never yield," he whispered.
Something like fire and thunder sparks in Pauldron's eyes, the energy around him surging and charging, but suddenly he breaks out into a genial smile. At once the air settles flat as he grounds himself, letting his hooves drop from Virga's body. "Ahah! I thought it might end this way!" he declares jovially. "You fight well, Virga de Soleil."
Virga had fully expected Pauldron to continue the spar after saying he didn't yield, and he would have welcomed it. "Most of those I've fought since my arrival have not been trained and experienced so well," he said. "Your lightning is new for me...I am still not entirely...recovered."
"Just as well," says Pauldron, rubbing his forearm and rotating his shoulders as a cooldown, as if he'd just finished a tough exercise session. "I am afraid that age is beginning to, shall we say, contribute to my inefficiency. Your attacks are just as I'd imagined: swift, ruthless, and focused."
Virga reclined upon his back, his eyes on Pauldron once again. The rock was rather comfortable, almost as comfortable as a cliff high on Everfree. "You imagined?" he asked. "I didn't think any pony did that about me."
"It behooves a knight to study everything he can about his opponent," Pauldron states instructively, rotating his joints to get all the tension out. "Your reputation speaks for itself, especially among the command staff, so it was no challenge to discover what I could about you." He reaches forward with his hoof, this time out of friendship, to help Virga to his feet.
Virga took the proffered hoof and pulled himself up onto his hooves, though his posture upright unevenly swayed. "I was unaware I was spoken of in any circles."
"Ah, but they are not very public circles, admittedly," Pauldron says, patting Virga in the back. "Come, I believe I owe you... a coffee."
"So you are telling me," Virga said, his wings briefly stiffening at the back-patting. It was not common another did. "An entire circle of ponies I don't know in seclusion have been either fawning or criticizing over me?"
"Amongst other attitudes," Pauldron states. "Now, if you are up for a journey, my preferred rendezvous is somewhere in Canterlot."
Virga blinked. Other attitudes? This he had to see. Or, at least hear about. "Of course. We'll head to your preferred vagueness, that is surely better than anywhere in Canterlot."
Pauldron grins. "Then let us be off!" he declares, soaring upwards, but at a deliberate pace to let Virga catch up. "I am most eager to have a cup of the brown stuff after our little spar."
Virga crouched down and lifted from the ground after Pauldron. It wasn't every day he met an elder flier who still had strength to overcome him. He'd been without that kind of presence for a long while, with exception to the Princesses. Then again, they were the exception to everything. Just about every other pony he knew was his age or lesser, though what exactly was Virga's age? He resembled a creature who just became an adult at times, and at others slightly older. "This coffee drink you refer to. We didn't have it."
"A most unfortunate circumstance," says Pauldron, leaving space for Virga to fly beside him. "I shall have to introduce you, and what luck, our destination provides some of the best coffee in Equestria." Canterlot is not so far away from where they ended their duel, and in a few moments they are crossing the outer limits of the city, the great mountain upon which that bright metropolis rests taking up most of the sky now.
Virga kept to Pauldron's side and slightly behind. It simply wouldn't do to fly equal, nose to nose, when the older pegasus had won their little spar. "I've consumed it once or twice, but I am largely ignorant to coffee's particulars." For all the time he spent in the Palace, flying around the city of Canterlot from this direction was a new experience, almost as if the city was one he never had seen before. It was always to the Palace, or elsewhere, rarely the city, and never a place of coffee.
Pauldron takes Virga towards one of the outer rings of the city, in a neighbourhood known for its exotic architecture and denizens of mostly Saddle Arabian extract. A great bazaar teems below, the scent of spices and exotic vegetables wafting upwards to their level. Presently, they arrive at a squat brick-red building at the far end of the main street, and from just outside the door comes the strong, distinctive smell of roasting coffee beans. Moving to and fro among the streets are many ponies wearing strange clothes and speaking an even stranger language, the letters and consonants flowing at the edge of every breath.
Virga kept close to Pauldron although it was Canterlot. Yet, this was a section of the city he never before visited, the multiple scents invading his nose quite new and foreign, unfamiliar to the taiga and tundra specialities with which he was most acquainted. He folded his wings and paused once the overly powerful smell of coffee hit his nose. No, they surely didn't have that in Ponyville, or the Empire one thousand years ago. For the Crystalbolts, it had mostly been cordial, ale, or shine-shine. The strange clothes and language...not so strange as it was stranger than the elder tongues he spoke to the weather itself. This place, somehow, felt more like home than anywhere else in Equestria.
Pauldron leads the way, stepping towards the doorway and parting the curtain that separated the shop from the outside. Inside the scene is quite animated: over half of the available spaces seem to be full even at this hour. There are no seats like you would find in a regular cafe but rather several cushions gathered about, well, coffee tables. Lush carpets from impronounceable lands line the floors, and on the walls are several bright paintings, some of which are simply large calligraphic endeavours. A date tree takes up an entire corner at the back. At the very centre is the counter, behind it a large machine that whirrs and whistles, pouring coffee into carefully arranged pitchers along its side, and also a sandy-coloured stallion wearing a turban. "Aha, my good friend is here again!" he greets, spotting Pauldron almost immedietely. "And you have a new companion, too!" -- "A pleasure as well, Figleaf," Pauldron replies, smiling and bowing. "May I present the Squire Virga, a noted servant of Her Majesty."
Virga had to pause after stepping through the curtain. A place with actual cushions, not chairs. In some regards, it was almost like the Palace. He took a moment to look around as he instinctively followed Pauldron. A new companion? How many ponies did Pauldron bring to this lovely place? It didn't matter...just an odd thing for him to hear. "Good day, Figleaf," he said, appropriately bowing as Pauldron had.
Perhaps it was also an artifact of translation, since Figleaf's accent betrays foreign heritage. The bearded unicorn regards Virga with a critical eye. "Ah, yes, this one I might have heard about. Her Majesty...what a treat that he should be here!" He speaks directly to Virga now. "And what shall you be having? Double shot? With cream?" -- "Actually, Figleaf," Pauldron interjects, "I'd like for us to have the back room first." -- Figleaf's face suddenly tightens just a little. "...Ah, I see, I see. Well, then, if you please." He motions to another pony at the far end of the counter to take his place while he leads Virga and Pauldron towards the back, to a door right next to the date tree, in fact. It's a solid wooden one, too, and behind seems to be a private room, with comfortable pillows and carpets and perhaps the best painting in the establishment: a landscape of a faraway land, a city ensconsced within the promenances of a cliffside hanging over the sea. "Do make yourself comfortable," Pauldron says, taking up his place on the inner side, away from the window.
Back room. The old Crystalbolt in Virga found that suggestive. Not a single word, or show that he thought of such things. This was Pauldron. Not one of his own flyers. The pegasus quietly followed, taking note of everything he passed from the tree to the room interior. Yes, the carpets and pillows here were of a higher grade, and that painting on the wall...he wasn't familiar with it. Not a single thing he'd red mentioned place quite like that one. Virga took a place near the window, but not directly in front of the window. For whatever reason, he didn't want to be seen through it. "A story behind this room for you?"
"I make use of it often when I desire more privacy," Pauldron answers, giving a polite nod to Figleaf as he lets them be. "That city in the painting is High Oasis, by the way...the city of my birth."
"I'm not familiar with High Oasis," Virga said as Figleaf let them be. "Looks like a place I could live, assuming it still stands." That brief pause in Pauldron's voice gave him reason to believe something might have happened to it. Or he misread him entirely.
"As tall as it ever did," Pauldron says, "though it pains me to say that perhaps it does not gleam as much as it did during my youth. Really, enough about myself. I have heard of some rather interesting stories about yourself, Mr. De Soleil." He regards the other pegasus with a mischievous but insightful gaze.
It was almost too convenient that Pauldron appeared in his life at this specific time, though Virga was willing to write that off as a coincidence. There had been several stories told about him, and a few in particular more recent that hadn't. "Stories such as?" he asked, staring back at Pauldron with a gaze that expected some kind of witty response concerning stories of his virility as it were. After all, how was he supposed to know those talking of him weren't mares?
"Oh, the usual things," Pauldron says. "Your personality, your abilities, your origins. Something about...about you being thousands of years old. That sort of thing."
The mention of being thousands of years old betrayed Virga in that his ears arose at the very mention. Origins were one thing, but that particular note was something only Cadence knew. "Where did you hear that last one?"
"Oh, I can't reveal all my secrets!" Pauldron declares, laughing a little. "Either way, you are a very interesting pegasus, one of the most interesting I have had the privilege of meeting, and that is saying much considering my experiences. "Of course, I am open to the possibility of being grossly mistaken on this regard, if you care to correct me?"
That he was 'old' despite hardly looking it was something he didn't intend to get out...at least, beyond the thousand years since Sombra. Being a 'very interesting pegasus' brought a faint tinge of pink in his ears that few ever coerced. "To the public, I am Imperial," Virga answered. "But factually, I am Crystalarian..." How far did Pauldron's sources go? Crystalaria was not related to the Empire, but often described by Orbello as the Empire's dark predecessor and twin in shadows. It had been built in the Deep Arctic by the Terratrine (what most call Earth Ponies) slaves under the Sturmazil (Storm Pegasi). Today, there was nothing left of it. Theoretically. That is what he'd always been told, so far gone it wasn't on record except in Orbello's texts.
"Crystalaria? Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time," says Pauldron. "I must say that would explain a number of your more outstanding traits, and of certain others, as well." At that moment, a jingling sound can be heard as Figleaf returns with a cart upon which is a smaller version of the coffee maker outside. A number of coffee cups are set to the side as well, along with saucers, spoons, and pitchers of cream and sugar. "How would you prefer yours, Virga?"
So, his sources did have information on Crystalaria! He knew Orbello couldn't have been the only one with records for a regency that size. Virga was about to speak when Figleaf returned. "I'd prefer black, no sugar, light cream, please," he said, peering back at Pauldron. Where ever did he hear about Crystalaria before now? Nightshade. It had to be. That :| face.
"As effendi desires!" Figleaf declares, pouring the necessary mixture. Pauldron, for his part, serves himself, adding a spoonful of sugar to pure black coffee. It smells - and tastes - astonishingly earthy and bold, quite unlike the watered-down stuff at the cheaper local cafes. "Ah, yes, that /is/ the stuff. I have my own brew at home, but it's not quite how Figleaf here makes it. What /is/ in that contraption of yours anyway?" -- "It's a family secret, like I always say!" Figleaf answers, before bowing and taking his leave of them.
Earthy. Bold. Concrete. Virga's ears curled and his wings flexed tasting that....that coffee. In a single instant, he learned something. What those local cafes brewed? It was gak, total gak compared to this. They all...drank gak. Their coffee was made out of gakkles. Virga blinked, staring at Figleaf as he departed. Love. Jealousy. Taste. Forever. Intense. Passion. Obsession. Figleaf Refined.
Pauldron doesn't have to guess Virga's disposition too boldly from the look on his face. "Enjoying your coffee, Mr. De Soleil?" he says.
"I don't have words to describe this," replied the dark pegasus. The best part of waking up was Firefly in his cup. Utterly shocking.
"More time to enjoy the experience," Pauldron replies. "Mind you, the Horstrians have devised a very intriguing variant of the traditional recipe, and it pains me to say that I have yet to taste it for myself." He has a sip of his own, traditional cup and sighs contently.
Virga sipped and tried not to drink this wonderful concoction too fast. It was splendid. Utterly splendid. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the Horstrians."
"It is a mountainous region inhabited mostly by Germane-speaking ponies," Pauldron explains. "Horstria is a dynastic component of the Hamsburg Crown which swears fealty to the Diarchy. Their main city, Whienna, is a collection of architectural masterpieces."
Virga..just blinked. None of these names were to him familiar in anyway, which showed what type of function he performed. It wasn't his task to know them, only to defend, protect, punish, and perhaps enslave if need be according to the Princess's whim. He wasn't just an uneducated brute, but his familiarity with the modern world was very limited beyond Equestria. Few, if any, countries he knew still existed.
Pauldron has another sip of coffee, looking at Virga knowingly. "You are not the travelling type, I presume?"
"I would be, normally, though my tasks have kept me in Equestria or the Empire," Virga replied, holding his coffee close as if it was the most precious thing in the world. Rather, it was almost foalish. "The only time I traveled a lot was in Sombra's day, as a fugitive, in the wilds where little law existed."
"Sounds rather like me, in fact," said Pauldron. "When I was a foal my family was forced into exile after certain political changes. That's how I ended up in Equestria. Since then I've taken to discovering the world as a gentlecolt might, when I have the time, that is."
Virga leaned back a little and set down his coffee. Family. That's one thing he never really had. There were the Crystalbolts, who were family, and Orbello, who was family, but his actual blood family had been a mystery until the recent. "I came to Equestria via chaos magic. Was on a Slate, my wings sledgehammered, when my first wife used her talent. It locked me into watching 1,000 years pass as much as send me. I woke above the Palace in a freefall just after Nightmare Moon's defeat."
"Ah, yes, chaos magic," Pauldron muses, having another sip. "To think that ponies once mastered it, too. Fascinating. And, from what I hear there's something a little magical about yourself, too, apart from the windigo blood that is."
"We thought it was Windigo blood," Virga replied. "But in my wanderings with Princess Cadence, I learned that while unborn I was tainted with Windigo's essence. My sire was a lowly Crystalarian soldier, a city guard, and my mother a scholar of dangerous creatures. He succumbed to Windigo, and she was haunted by them, shunned from the city during a blizzard. I was born then, in the snowy wasteland."
"Ah, that's a new detail, certainly!" Pauldron says, looking rather intrigued and satisfied. "So you're really just a Storm Pegasus after all. Funny how that works out."
"Yes," Virga said with a little smile. He had thought himself a sort of...monster...for a long while. "However, I was tainted until the modern day. Princess Celestia and Luna repaired the damage, but I still retain the abnormally low body temperature. My birth, I was sickly. Mother dying. That's when 'he' appeared, the alicorn stallion." He sipped on the coffee. It was a heavy subject, yet with Pauldron he felt that he could freely speak. "Orbello and eased my mother's despair by swearing to take me in."
"Orbello," Pauldron repeats, letting that strange name settle in his tongue. "He is the one who raised you, I presume?"
"Yes," Virga said, tightening his wings. "His full name was Orbellothain, though he rarely used it."
"I see, I see," Pauldron says, looking contemplative. "It is a strange thing to hear that name from somepony who's met him after only seeing it on the side of a clay pot. They found one, you know, bearing his name, not too long ago."
Virga tilted his head. He supposed that was in fact strange. It wasn't every day a pony met another pony who met a pony whose name was etched on a clay pot kept in another's pony's museum and/or archive. "He looked nothing like Celestia, Luna, or Cadence. Almost spectral, skeletal...once a unicorn of adaptive skill, student to an alicorn named Kosma."
"Not natural born, I see," says Pauldron. "Even Celestia and Luna were natural-born alicorns. To think that so few of them remained even in Orbello's time." He sips more coffee, suddenly pensive.
"According to Orbello, Kosma was a natural born," Virge replied, staring down at his coffee. At his reflection. "...I, however...am another story entirely. You never hear about the failures, let alone share coffee with them. For they typically die." The gem in the pegasus's brow faintly shimmered. "Princess Twilight's ascendency was very mild compared to Orbello's."
"Harmony is the key," Pauldron states, an air of formality in his voice. "That's what Princess Celestia has discovered over all these centuries. Perhaps Twilight's ascension is only the beginning of the rebirth of a dead race." A pause, and suddenly the serious, solemn expression on the knight's face breaks down into mirth. "Oh, what am I saying? I sound like one of those scholarly types who fret about such things! Do excuse me, Mr. De Soleil."
"You sound like some of the older Captains of the Crystalbolts," Virga said, trying to hide his amusement. "The oldest of them when I first joined. They didn't fancy the risk-taking, meade-drinking, and tavern brawling. If the Wonderbolts, or your own squadron, saw them you'd think they're a bunch of unorganized, undisciplined mongrels who just have the luck of not killing themselves in flight...that is, if you saw us before conscription. We still misbehaved...it was partly expected."
"I will have to take your word for it, Mr. De Soleil," Pauldron says, sipping the last of his cup and then, just as quickly, pouring himself a new cup. "My own unit has its own peculiar traditions, enough to stand out from others, I would say, but perhaps they're not as carefree as yours had been."
"Perhaps not." Virga too made to pour himself a secondary cup. "The Crystalbolts only took young ponies as trainees, usually orphans or runaways. An adult trainee was rare, and an adolescent trainee, rarer. I wasn't yet an adolescent when taken in, but by that time I had also been working as a courier. I see today's age for being a courier is much higher than it used to be--anyhow--we had no means of easing any pony into the program. Either the young one made it or they didn't, and by 'didn't' they were not meant to be principle flyers, serving as only support. This however, wasn't a shun or lesser position. The initiation exam was brutal compared to today."
"Ah, the initiation is easy for us, relatively," Pauldron reflects. "The true test comes in the heat of battle, and I've...well, let's say that I've been tested a lot." He sips his coffee slowly.
"We just tied cables around the wings and kicked them off a cloud," Virga said. "If they freed themselves on the way down, they passed. Only one chance. And not informed prior what would be required."
"That is certainly one way of doing it!" Pauldron declares, but as he has his next sip his eye seems to gleam darkly. "Centuries of custom and law have banished such methods into the annals of history, however. In the meantime, we have our apprenticeship."
"I suppose that law and custom also applies to their first flight being in the most violent of storms?" Virga asked, staring back across to Pauldron.
"Most foals today cannot bear a small gale," Pauldron says. "You know how it is."
"They tossed me down a tornado," Virga said. "You know how that is." What an innocent smile upon his face after saying that.
Pauldron manages a grin. "My my, Virga, a sharp wit you have. I'd say that it would be troublesome if not for your unique position. Certainly even I lack such freedom with words."
"Do you?" replied the pegasus, tilting his head slightly to the left. "I actually censor myself...kind of a pity."
"For reasons of propriety, no doubt," says Pauldron. "I myself am burdened, as it were, by the prominence of my rank and reputation, as you may no doubt learn very soon."
"The only thing I know of you is what you've said, and who've your presented yourself to be," Virga said. "Aside from being trained."
"Ah yes, I did forget," says Pauldron, looking rather apologetic. "I am indeed a knight, as I have said, but not merely. I am honoured to be Knight-Commander of the 23rd Hussars, also named 'The Cavaliers'."
"Where as I," Virga said without much ceremony, only a mildly formal tone, "have long dispensed with numbers, regiments, and simply am referred to as the Lunar Champion, Dragon, or Captain...or Crystalwing. Depending on which Princess you inquire."
"I hope you're not going to ask me to salute you!" Pauldron quips. "Well then, Champion or Captain or whatever you prefer, I do pray that your endeavours will all meet success."
"Not at all..." Virga replied, subtly flexing his wings. "That would be awkward; I simply prefer my name." Yes. Say his name. Say it! "Unfortuantely, I know not all of them will."
"Don't let your spirits slip so easy, Mr. De Soleil!" Pauldron states, almost as if to command him. "Even failure provides a great lesson and adventure. I should know, having suffered a number of failures myself."
"Rather, that not every encounter is passable," Virga said before sipping the coffee once again. "Such as my duel with Sombra. I entered it knowing I would not defeat him, phsyically or magically."
"Then why duel him, then?" Pauldron asks, leaning to hear. "Propelled by fate, I suppose?"
Virga eyed Pauldron with an almost, queerly, sultry face. How odd. How odd that he'd gaze like that. "It instilled within him fear."
Pauldron's response is also strange. No clever jibes, or knowing looks, just a momentary gaze of total insight. "...Ah, yes, a worthwhile goal, I suppose," he says after that too-long silence. "I find, however, that some can be of such motivation that fear itself cannot dislodge them from their path. Those are the most admirable...and the most dangerous."
Virga responded to that strange response with silence as he held his cup of coffee between the pinions of a wing like the freak he was. "After that duel, I became a true fugitive. Halite as there that day..." He closed his eyes and resumed drinking.
"I see, I see," Pauldron says, and he sips his coffee in silence, too. After some time he speaks again. "Do you think there will come a day when you might lay down your burdens to rest?"
"I was under the impression they were," Virga answered, lowering his eyes to the coffee in his cup. "Only two Crystalbolts now live, and one of them is sorely obsessed with Sombra's legacy."
"That's not quite what I mean," Pauldron answers. "Let me put it another way: you ever look forward to retiring?"
"No," Virga answered, peering up at Pauldron. "I also won't age like you have. When you're as old as Granny Smith, I will be as I sit before you. My life expectancy is unknown, though I suspect a few hundred years until I start going grey." What he didn't say...the link between himself and Celestia would keep him, practically, forever young. How far into this matter Pauldron was informed he didn't know. Likewise, he wasn't sure how much Nightshade knew about that either.
Pauldron takes up another moment to observe Virga in utter silence. "Apart from the matter of age, I might be able to say much the same of myself. I am a warrior at heart, and loathe to lay down the oath that binds my spirit. Even when I can no longer lift a lance I will still fight on to make sure that my legacy is upheld."
Virga sipped his coffee as Pauldron observed him. The youthful undertone of a pegasus with immense promise lie beneath the fact he wasn't a novice and over the experienced and educated creature he was. It was almost teenager, minus the problems teenagers had. "If I was not in service, I'd likely have become a flyer in the Games, been disqualified for dangerous flying, only to found an extreme version of the Games to show modern ponies what our Games were like."
Pauldron somehow considers this to be rather funny, chuckling aloud. "Hah! You sound like some of the Geronts I've met, complaining how soft the ponies of today are. Well, Virga, perhaps something of your taste for danger may be useful when the Cavaliers hold their next Martial Exhibition, to which I am now inviting you in earnest."
Virga's ears lifted a bit and he set down that coffee cup. "Go on," he said. "You have my curiosity now with that bit of news."
"In the regular parlance they would be called 'War Games'," Pauldron explains, "but the phrase is, shall we say, taboo in many circles, hence the name. We are engaging the 18th Dragoons in a recreation of historical battles, amongst other endeavours. They may be a melee or two."
Virga tilted his head. "So, let me understand...you are recreating historical battles while not watering down those recreations with mere acting?" The look on his face was one of Are-You-#$%@ing-Serious-That-Sounds-20%-Cooler-Than-Every-Other-Reenactment-Ever.
"Not quite faithful recreations, I must say!" Pauldron says, interjecting before Virga obtains any strange ideas. "They are more interpretations using modern techniques and tactics, and of course no true injuries, at least not intentionally. There will be, however, a realistic depiction of modern warfare, given that this is a training exercise."
Virga continued staring at Pauldron. He didn't get any strange ideas at all. "So...let me understand..." he said a second time, his hooves light upon the table's edge. "Recreations that don't rely on Canterlot hoity-toities actually exist."
"In a manner of speaking," Pauldron says. "Usually we must be discreet about such events, given the political circumstances. Nevertheless, they continue."
"So I'm to see modern tactics carried out by trained enlistees," Virga replied, his wings tightening against his back. "And I take it you want me to compare them to how things were done in my times?"
"You speak as if I am making a request of you!" Pauldron says. "I am simply inviting you to partae of the occassion, no assessments necessary. Though, if you would like..." He sips his coffee again, finishing his second cup. "The hour is growing late," he states. "I hope you don't take offence if I offer to fly with you back to the palace?"
It was at this moment that Virga made one of the most uncharacteristic gestures ever to grace his features. The pegasus squeezed inward his shoulders, set his front hooves upon the floor, and suggestively swayed himself side to side like a lovesick mare. Wings half open. "Oh my, carry me off into the sunset you shining example of a studmuffin, you." More swaying...then a straight face. "Actually, i wouldn't mind that at all."
Pauldron responds to Virga's coquettry by tapping his chin silently and thoughtfully. "...Then let us be off," he says, rising from his seat and making his way out the door. Along the way he passes by Figleaf's counter and leaves behind a substantial amount of coinage which the exotic merchant is more than happy to snatch up. "Please be coming again, friends!" he calls out as the two pegasi depart. "You have all sorts of strange mannerisms, Virga," Pauldron tells him, taking to the air once more. "There is difficulty in discerning if they are a consequence of your upbringing or are peculiar to your own personality."
Virga had his own version of payment to leave Figleaf for the exquisite coffee: a single, pristine, smokey crystal with a soft, golden luster, and a note attached: Celestine gem. Mined in the Crystal Empire, Pre-Sombra, 1,000 years ago. A rarity, that gem. It was worth a considerable amount by the modern standard. Once the two were airborne, Paulrdon's words couldn't come at a more appropriate time. Virga coasted at his side, freakishly upsidown. How Discordian. "Couldn't answer it myself, though I did briefly render you silent."
"You are a pony who inspires reflection, after all," Pauldron says. "Though perhaps not the sort you might prefer. You seem to be the sort who inspires great speculation."
Virga continued flying upside down as if it was a normal, everyday thing. In truth, it was very difficult and he only made it look easy. "I am what I am," he said.
"So it would seem," says Pauldron, the smallest hint of authority in his voice. They are coming quickly to the castle, the balconies of the main level clearly in view. The aerial patrols begin to appear, and as they pass by they snap their hooves in salute towards the knight, who is more than happy to return the gesture.
Virga, meanwhile, didn't cease his upside down flight, and though a Guard might eye him from under their helm for it he...didn't seem to have much concern over flying into the Castle. When your life surrounded Celestia, who could be the most informal creature at a formal function, odd habits were passed with ease. Though of note, the patrols saluted Pauldron, not Virga. At all.
"Above the regulations of propriety, are you, now?" says Pauldron, taking one last salute from the innermost patrols. "Certainly an envious position for many of us who have lapped at the trough of chivalric formality." They presently come to a balcony in the area of the main court rooms, where the land-bound guardsponies pay their complements to Pauldron by standing at attention, spears high.
Virga pinion-rolled right-side-up and readied for landing. "We had a form of chivalric formality," Virga answered. Even when he flew upright, he wasn't saluted...except one female pegasus at the end of the procession. She was pale in color, almost white yet a tint of blue in her fur and wings. White mane, and tail with a Mark of a snowflake. The instant Virga's hooves touched the ground she raced up to him with a scroll. "From the Royal Clerks Office, Ser Virga," she said. The pegasus gently took the scroll and slipped it into his subtle, underwing satchel. "Thank you Hydrame," he whispered.
Pauldron gives Hydrame more than a passing gaze in a manner suggestive of unfamiliarity. "Be that as it may, you do appear to be much engrossed in the business of Their Majesties. Pray, tell, what tidings have you?"
Virga watched as Hydrame trotted off, though before she disappeared into the palace she regarded Virga with the look of one unsure as to his well being beneath a face, eyes, suggestive of Virga being her master, and not just in a knightly manner. "This scroll is a will," Virga said. "Rather, it is two wills bound in one scroll."
"I am more of a mind for such dualities," says Pauldron, who subtly redirects their walk towards more private halls. "It has not been too long since I myself have been called, though in the meantime I am given to what leisure I may allow myself during the uncertainty."
"Hydrame is an applicant," said the stallion. "Or, was. She passed, becoming my retainer. Not one for words or crowds. Typically only talks to me, though I try to get her to speak with others."
Steadily the particulars of Virga's life fall more carefully into place within Pauldron's mind. "I see, I see. Well, if she does have the right stuff to be under your command then certainly I have little to fear for her." The halls are narrower, more intimate now. Grand murals and carpet give way to vases and velvet chairs, and at the far end is another balcony. "You seem to strike me as a pony who needs such ministrations in the absence of frenetic action."
Virga blinked and eyed Pauldron. "I'm that easy?" he asked. "It hasn't been the same. Firefly was always there, ever since I arrived here, watching me. First it was Princess Luna's directive, then it was of her own decision, and eventually for we were a pair. She's gone, as if half of me." Pauldron might have heard of Virga's time in the Empire afterwards. Princess Cadence had spent considerable time performing therapy on the pegasus with her magic. It had worked, but nothing was a cure-all.
Pauldron may or may not have heard things here and there, but whatever he does know he's doesn't appear to be forthcoming about such matters. "I am sorry to hear that her passing still grieves you so. I pray that you may find your joy again." For a moment he gazes down, as if in solemn reflection, or maybe even prayer. "Loss is the constant companion of a knight such as myself, I am afraid, but that is all past. We walk the lonely road of service, you and I."
"Not so much grieve," Virga answered, tightening his wings. "As severed, as if I've been given a ether lobotomy." He kept walking, even as Pauldron gazed at...whatever he gazed at. "I am ever closer to simply being a weapon, nothing else."
Pauldron gives Virga a deep reflective gaze, as if trying to scry his soul. "Such matters of essence are not within my purview," he says. "What I do anticipate, however, is your loyalty and your devotion to Their Majesties. I pray that you will always be true." They are at the balcony now, and as the afternoon bears on a cool breeze wafts through the opening to ventilate the halls. "I don't wish to keep you from your affairs, Mr. De Soleil, so I shall be off."
"If not for Their Majesties, my reason to exist or live would be forfeited," Virga replied. How else was he to live? They gave him a reason to exist now. "We will meet again soon?"
"Of course," Pauldron says, smiling. "We warriors have a habit of meeting one another. Good day, Sir Virga!" He steps off the edge and glides down to the city, leaving behind a contrail of gold and cobalt blue.
Virga watched him set off until he couldn't see the pegasus among the city. Of course they would meet again; when was the question. Just when he thought he was alone, a Palace servant approached from his left, timid and biting her own lip. "Ser Virga...I need you to come with me...there's been an incident." The dark pegasus turned away from the balcony, partly wondering of the incident and why this servant was so...skiddish. Soon after, he learned Hydrame was dead. The one pegasus he took as an apprentice flyer and, similarly, wielder of ice, dead.
Pauldron would learn of Hydrame's death in tomorrow's bulletin. In the meanwhile, as he flew back to his home at Pinion Row, he was content to speculate on Virga's future and the strange twists of fate that probably awaited a pony like him.
Monday, July 21, 2014