A Shadow of Resolve

by Wing

A Game of Targets - Installment 36 - Interlude for a Cowcolt

A smirk settled upon Trigger’s visage as he escorted Midnight Star through bustling streets during a typical Manehattan afternoon. “Ya just have to get used to feeling them all out. It’ll click – just like it did when ya figured out how to build your dreamshell on your own. Think of it as an extension of the stuff that allowed you to find me.”

The filly scrunched her muzzle and aggressively flicked an ear downward. “It is nothing like either of those things,” she squeaked. “My friends helped boost my own magic. They gave me the purpose to find you, and they gave me the strength to make the shell. There’s no way I can just do what you can do. You’re much stronger than me–”

Another high-pitched peep shot above the ambient noise the instant Trigger dropped his hat upon Midnight’s head. She settled into the fabric’s protective touch and waited while hints of wondering tugged at the corners of her lips and upon the tips of her ears.

Trigger opted to maintain a momentary silence, giving them time to cross a gated threshold into one of the city’s community parks. The offered serenity made a far better backdrop for what he had to say, and admittedly, he had let a sigh of relief escape once one of his hooves left the realm of cement for that of dirt.

“Never sell yourself short, Squirt. Friends matter, and you’ll always need ‘em in the end. But when push comes to shove, there are times when you’re going to have to rely on yourself to break out of a tough spot. Just keep tryin’. When it comes, you’ll thank me. And it’ll come because you’re way ahead of where I was at your age.”

Her silvery tail lazily swished back and forth, and flushed cheeks dared to peek from beneath Midnight’s aptly matched coat. “Mm, is that another one of those flattery tricks the colts use?”

Laughter sputtered from the stallion as his head pivoted towards the sky. “I guess ya could say that, but it’s a mares’ world after all, and most see through that garbage. Though, I’ll give ya props for learning certain life lessons early.” For a moment, pride blossomed through Trigger’s paternal smile before a jolt rocketed along his spine. He grunted as his horn decloaked to another’s will, and bright blue sparks arced along its length until a note hovered within his reach.

Col. Trigger, a situation has arisen in Las Pegasus that requires immediate attention. We humbly ask that you provide an unobtrusive security solution for Ms. Ambrosia until instructed otherwise. I apologize for being short on details; however, key developments are still unfolding. Suffice it to say that changelings are involved and that some are foes while others are not. It is highly likely that you will encounter a friendly. Use discretion. – Twilight Sparkle

Ragged breaths pounded through flared nostrils while Trigger recovered from the grating intrusion. “Sorry about that, she says,” the unicorn groaned through clenched teeth after his amber gaze noticed a little addendum to the official memo. “Damn right, you’re sorry! But you were also correct. It is important enough… sadly.”

“Dad, was that – um – a spell of Aunt Laizzy’s?” She froze to the sudden perking of his ears and the subtle stiffening that had gripped his frame. Her breath hitched, her lips trembled, and she swiveled her muzzle away from the stallion. Her own ears drooped, and she fiddled with the hat atop her head in a pitiful effort to hide whatever concealed thought her body was betraying.

She sniffled as the push of Trigger’s draping foreleg drew her closer to his barrel. A gulp followed, one that struggled to force down a swelling sob that yearned for freedom. It could not be hidden from him, and Midnight wriggled slightly as her guardian’s squeeze grew more firm. He had already pulled her into his warmth, and it was in that warmth that she could let it out. “I-I don’t have to call you that if it bothers you.”

“I teach all the unicorns in my family how to cast that spell, M’étoile. The key word there would be family. It’d be the reason why it was the first spell I taught ya.” He felt the filly burrow into his vest and coat. “I love it when you call me dad, ya know?” he added with a far softer timbre. “It’s the best example of a dream becoming reality.”

“I think Autumn Tea would have something to say about that.” With her fears allayed, Midnight’s response blossomed with a teasing banter that moved to sweep away the loitering hints of her sorrow. Meanwhile, the stallion took a turn to wrinkle his snout. His brow furrowed as the waiting ear of the snuggling youngster picked up the elevated beat of his heart. “You get excited when you think of her…”

“Yeah, well, she’s quite the mare, but I’m afraid that’s a story and a lesson – probably several – for another time. Your uncle has managed to fly himself headfirst into trouble again. I’m–” He hesitated, tightening his hold on the filly. “–going to have to locate Ambrosia and take off for a while. I know it’s a crappy downer, especially with your progress.”

“Every pony knows that you’re going to help Uncle Wing if he’s in trouble.” She puffed her cheeks and gave a quick stir of her tail. “I know that too.”

“Of course ya do. I wasn’t claiming any different.” The stallion closed his eyes, relaxed his posture, and allowed his voice to drop into a subdued, raspy tenor. “You’re a smart girl. It’s just that ya spent a year or so clamoring for me to start your training. I’m sure ya get me here. Creatures of reverie don’t do well with disappointment.”

Midnight prodded his side, transforming her puffed cheeks into an all-out pout. “My dad is never disappointing. My dad is a hero, and no pony will dare think otherwise in my presence.” She added an exaggerated harrumph before continuing. “Do what you have to do.”

Trigger snorted while his limbs quivered with that paternal excitement once more. “Filly, one day you are going to be a dangerously effective mare. Since you were so insistent, why don’t we go find that future aunt of yours?”

The youngster scooted back and honed her sights upon her elder’s horn. She braced herself as the seconds passed, and swift breaths fought against her burning pulse to determine which feature would best encapsulate her elation. Her coat stood on end for the tendrils of his invisible, reveric magic that expanded farther and farther outward until they conquered the horizon.

“You always look so calm when you cast,” she uttered in a barely audible whisper. An abrupt internal breeze stoked the filly’s fiery pride. The driven tempo of staccato gasps that marked her childish delight deferred to the fermata of a single, tranquilizing draw. A wandering hoof ventured to lower the brim of the Coltston, and Midnight’s lilac irides glimmered to a newfound reverence and an admirable goal.

“It appears that Ms. Ambrosia is on her way here.” A sly grin parted Trigger’s muzzle as he opened his eyes and turned to gaze upon his daughter. “It looks like–” He spotted her stance – the way her forelegs were slightly spread as though she were about to take on the world; he traced the edge of his hat – how its tattered contours just revealed the cores of her blazing eyes. And he absorbed the determination that bled from her frame – determination just like his own. “I’m not going anywhere just yet.”

* * *

Trigger trotted slowly behind Ambrosia as the lilac mare navigated her way towards one of Manehattan’s many dining establishments. He stared intently at the earth pony – his eyebrow pushing downward to cut out some of the useless noise. It was easy for the stallion to keep his eyes on the task. His mouth, however, was another story entirely. It met her probing sidelong glance with a smug smirk saturated in the memories of Midnight’s giggle and Ambrosia’s shocked demeanor from when she saw them waiting for her upon the train platform.

He still hadn’t told her exactly why he was there, but when it became clear to him that she had plans, he delayed delivering the news and shamelessly invited himself to the party. “What are ya givin’ me that look for, Ms. Ambrosia? Dropping Middy off didn’t take that long, and Laizzy only asked you a single set of a dozen questions about whether she’ll get to do the arranging for her brother’s wedding.”

“Because I know my stallion,” she retorted, never altering the pace of her trot. “You never appear under random circumstances, Trigger, and since you’re avoiding whatever the issue is, it means my pegasus has gone and done something reckless again.”

The stallion, on-the-other-hoof, found his progress utterly halted by the mare’s blunt declaration. “Geeze, she’s buckin’ good,” he exhaled before resuming his walk. The pause, however brief, gave Ambrosia all the ammunition she needed.

“I took care of him when he was hurt and recovering. I’m not unaware of his struggles, and I’m certainly not unaware of his ethic. If something catches that colt’s attention, then he’ll gallop into it ten times out of ten.” She once again swung her head to shoot her aquamarine gaze at the midnight stallion of reverie. “So don’t lead me along. Is he in real trouble again? Is he hurt? Does he need me to come home?”

Trigger shook his head and closed the gap between himself and the earth pony. “My orders came from Princess Twilight. There wasn’t any mention of Wing’s condition, but if he was in that kind of trouble, the princess wouldn’t have kept that shit from me. All I know—” He pushed his muzzle closer to Amby’s ear. “—is that changelings are involved. I was asked to keep an eye on ya, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Ambrosia’s blue-violet tail swished about dramatically as she turned the corner. “How do I know that you’re not one of them then?” she asked as a grin stretched the contours of her muzzle. Her eyes sparkled with a playful glow as the shadows thrown by Manehattan’s towering skyscrapers failed to diminish her inner light.

A snort ripped through Trigger’s muzzle while he deftly moved to fiddle with the brim of his Coltston. “Because I know the dreams Amber Rose has for her pegasus.” He snickered at the reddish hue that infected Amby’s snout and ear tips. “Or perhaps ya’d like me to blurt the tales of what happens to said catty pegasus when he dares test earth pony tradition?”

The snorts and snickerings evolved into chuckles once Ambrosia’s coat bristled at the mention of a particularly pouncy pony. She shivered and released a contented sigh that pricked Trigger’s waiting ears. “Well, there is certainly no questioning that delivery.” Her tail flicked weakly in her wake, and after a few more steps, she came to a halt in front of the gilded entryway of their destination. “Though, I highly doubt you’ll be blurting any of those stories. Hard to know what you’ve never experienced, mm Trigs?”

“Is the cute lilac mare challenging her protector in public?” The stallion planted a hoof to his chest and feigned a deep, inner sorrow. “I’m crushed, Ms. Ambrosia, that you would have such doubts about my talents. I might not have been there, but fillies and colts tend to dream long after the dirty deeds are done. Ya shouldn’t be surprised that a little flash of fishnet or a snippet of spiked collar made it—”

Trigger suddenly snapped his head to the side. The playful demeanor that had shaped his countenance eroded at the behest of feelings far more serious, and the abrupt change had put Ambrosia on the defensive as well. He peered directly into the bright blue eyes of a teal-colored earth mare who stood on the other side of the street. The stranger jerked backwards but quickly resettled into a relaxed posture. She returned the stare while the colt took in the whitecap shades that composed her braided mane, tail, and fetlocks. He had scouted a follower amidst the swarm of the Manehattan buzz. “Dreams are powerful tools. They allow me to feel things that most keep buried. And in this case, it’s fantastic… because many overlook that even changelings have dreams.”

The stallion shifted his position to stand between Ambrosia and the now smirking mare. She crossed the road with a delicate-looking trot that seemed best suited for Canterlot’s elite society. The movements were fluid, and Trigger placed his focus upon catching any deviation that could signal a coming attack.

“Chill cowcolt,” her voice emerged like a melodic call over the ocean’s waves. “I’m here for the same reason you are.” The mare’s sights gradually drifted towards Ambrosia. “There’s hope to protect, after all, and this one’s love is absolutely magnetic. It’s pretty clear to me why it must be guarded.” She flicked her tongue out of her muzzle and twitched slightly. “Apologies if I have caused you any anxiety. My name is Fleetwing, and my services are yours on behalf of Her Highness.”