ONE OF THESE DAYS
Chapter 3: Make a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul
~13 Aevum Illuminationis~
A faint sheen of sweat coated the entire mare as she concentrated intently on the work before her. Her tongue stuck out of the side if her mouth, her teeth gently biting down on it with every tap of the mythril hammer against the orichalcum chisel. A bead of sweat meandered a trail down her face in an oddly prosaic counterpoint to the rune she carved with the tools held in her telekinetic grip. Finally satisfied with her work, she stepped back and wiped her brow with the back of a hoof.
The click of hooves in a quick cadence on stone drew her attention down the stone pillar on which the mare stood to the floor some fifty hooves below. A midnight alicorn filly, just blossoming into marehood, trotted into the tall chamber, calling out, “Twilight? Where art thou, sister?”
A glow surrounded Twilight's horn, and the pillar supporting her so far from the ground slowly receded into the floor. A dozen hooves from the ground, she lightly jumped down and spread her wings to slow her decent. She walked up to the filly and asked, “Finished with thy task so soon, Lulu? Pray, bring forth thy earnest labors, that I may be struck dumb by thy brilliance.”
Luna opened the scroll in her magical grasp and held it up for her sister to examine. “What dost thou thinkest? Is it meet?”
Twilight examined the diagram with a practiced eye, taking in the simplicity of the design, making the most of the minimal number of lines and points allowed her. Rolling up the scroll again, she said, “Meet it is.”
“Come, come. Thou answer with an idle tongue,” Luna huffed in annoyance, rolling her eyes for emphasis.
“Go, go. Thou question with an insincere tongue,” Twilight shot back with a smirk. She walked around the filly regally, waving the scroll about as she pontificated. “Of the Norns, it is oft remarked that thou art the true artisan. I know word of this praise hath reached thine shell-like ears on occasion in the past, yet, thou presenteth thy latest masterpiece for mine approval, as if anything crafted by thy hooves would lack merit.” She stopped her circling in front of her sister and smiled down at her. “Thy question strikes me as disingenuous, little sister,” she said, lightly smacking her on the tip of her nose with the scroll, causing her to sneeze.
Rubbing her nose with a hoof, Luna looked up at Twilight accusingly. “Thy incredulity wounds me to the quick.” Finally unable to hold it in any longer, they both burst into gales of laughter and nuzzled each other. “Prithee, canst we set it free this eve?”
“Aye, Lulu, we shall.” Twilight could not contain her mirth as Luna pranced in a circle around her. “Come, tiny dancer. Let us hie for the firmament. Ere we depart hither, let us make our goodbyes to our host.”
Luna's eyes shone with mischief “Such is a duty I am fain to mete.”
Twilight quirked an eyebrow at her as they walked up the stairs to find Nyx walking towards the children's section with a storybook tucked under her wing. With a flourish, Twilight playfully bowed to her, spreading her wings wide as she dipped. “Fair Nyx, it saddens me to depart from thy warm company. Alas, mine sister is fair champing at the bit to set free her newest creation. Perchance we will meet anon when the stars align again.”
Nyx hid a blush by bowing just as low as Twilight. “My heart yearns for such an alignment already, Milady.” By the time they straightened again, her color had returned to it's normal olive complexion. “So, how did the carving go? Making good headway?”
“Indeed,” the alicorn replied with a nod. “T'will be but a scant few moons ere the room is ready to receive the first enchantments.”
Nyx ran in place with glee. “Ooo! I can't wait! We're gonna show those old codgers a thing or two about arcaneficarae. Hee hee! She's gonna be splendiforous!”
Twilight nodded with a smirk. “Verily. Starswirl in particular hath miss'd his due serving of humility for far too long. Call me a callow, unsift'd youth, will he?”
“Down, girl,” Nyx said, placing a calming paw on the alicorn's shoulder. “We'll show him that females can cast magic just as well as males.”
“Od's bodkins, Nyx, much better,” Twilight replied with a feral smile. “Show that stallion a mare his equal in the Art, and she'll garner scant praise. We needs serve his humble pie by way of trebuchet, if we wish to make certs the swelling recedes. Contrariwise, we shall soon have to remodel the castle with wider portals.”
All three chuckled as they separated, Nyx to the gathered group of children, Twilight and Luna to the exit and out into the tiny city itself. They nodded to the passing creatures which inhabited the city- hamlet really, though its fantastical architecture suggested differently- that had sprouted up around her library. It always amazed them to find so many disparate creatures, some of whom preyed upon others, living peacefully together. A griffon haggled with an earth pony over the price of an exquisite rug paw-woven in Purrsia. Just a few dozen generations ago, that same griffon would have been chasing down that pony to invite him to a dinner he would rather avoid becoming. Across the way, a minotaur stood on a pedestal, reciting a treatise expounding the virtues of treating others as you would have them treat you (something she called a “Golden Rule”). Not long ago, a minotaur like her would have been chasing down anyone not of her race as she attempted to conquer these lands. Even the five-tailed kitsune from far-away Neighpon, with whom Twilight shared a nod, would never have dared to set paw in these lands without first enthralling all here out of fear for her own safety.
The two alicorns spread their wings and took to the air, Twilight giving the city one last look as they left. She noted one section conspicuously absent of life, the section with the largest dwellings, those built to accommodate dragons. Ever since they had withdrawn into their own borders, no creature had dared to linger near the abandoned buildings for fear of their legendary prowess at lair wards. Nobody wanted to be mistaken for common thieves, not to a dragon.
With a few flaps of their wings, the two alicorns crossed the border into the firmament and settled down into the gray mists. Luna looked around at the stars watching them and nodded to herself. “Methinks he wouldst be happiest hither.” She pulled the scroll out of Twilight's starry mane with her magic and unrolled it.
Looking around, Twilight nodded in agreement. “Sooth.” Glancing down at the midnight filly, she asked, “Hast thou chosen a name for it- er, him?”
Luna nodded, and her horn began glowing. The ten dots marking the main structure of the soon-to-be constellation began glowing; some yellow, some blue, but only one glowed red. The ten motes of light lifted from the parchment, leaving behind a few scattered and now unconnected lines. They flew up and took their place among the other stars, find their new home. “I bid thou welcome to thy new home, Aquila.”
The ghostly blue form of an eagle formed around the constellation and alighted down on the smaller alicorn's back to perch. No bigger than a finch to an adult pony, the tiny eagle nuzzled the midnight alicorn.
Twilight smiled down at the giggling filly. “Happy Birthday, Lulu.”
( . .)
~2015 Aevum Illuminationis~
With a final tap of the trowel, Kitten Kaboodle hovered back and admired her hoofwork after flipping up her goggles. It was most assuredly, the strangest chimney design even she had seen, but her calculations left no room for doubt. At least, that was true for her. The local mason was of another mind.
“I tell you filly, that chimney won't work. It's far too narrow! And all those baffles you had us build into it will just become gathering spots for soot!” The graying stallion shook his head in amazement. “I don't know why I let you talk me into this.” He ran the tip of a cracked and worn hoof through the still setting mortar, noting how it crumbled. With a sound of disgust, he flicked the hoof, ridding it of the pasty substance with practiced ease.
Kitten landed next to the earth pony and draped her forelegs around his neck in a tight hug. “You did it because you couldn't pay me for the portable workshop I built for you, and said you'd do me a favor someday. That, and you're a lot nicer than you let on, Master Stone Facade” she chirped at him happily as she gestured to the wooden cart that had been unfolded to reveal all his tools of the trade hanging neatly from their assigned places. A cream-colored tabby cat lazed on top of it, and regarded all this hard work going on as more pony foolishness.
“When I said a favor, I meant something you could use, something with lasting value,” Stone Facade groused. “I doubt this thing will even last through one casting without either falling apart or exploding. And I told you to stop calling me Master. I'm not your teacher anymore, just like you aren't Cartwright's, or Brick Oven's, or any of the dozen or so other craftsponies you've been apprenticed to.”
Kitten smiled and bupped him on the nose, though she had to reach up to do so, barely coming up to his shoulder like she did. “Silly Master. I always learn something from you when we meet. Besides, Lemongrab seems to like it,” she added, gesturing towards the cat that regarded them with as much respect as one would a vending machine.
Stone Facade rolled his eyes, but let the gesture go. “Your cat's opinion on the finer points of masonry aside, there's something I have to tell you. Your master insisted on paying me, but I took a lot less than I would have for a project like this, so your favor is still good- but!” he happily interrupted her when it looked like she was about to object. “You can only call in this favor when you're ready for me to build you something only for you. A house, a shop, whatever it is, it's yours for the asking. Got that, Kit? Only. For. You.” He punctuated each sentence with a poke at the small mare's nose.
With a roll of her own eyes, Kitten playfully batted aside his strong foreleg. “Fine, when I finally decide what my shop is going to be, I'll let you and Mistress Cartwright know so that you can build it for me. I swear, you two are alike in the weirdest ways.”
“Well, she may just be a carpenter, but at least she knows when to put her hoof down with you,” Stone Facade said.
“I heard that, you old codger,” a gruff, but definitely feminine voice said.
An older, sea foam green pegasus mare dropped down into the clearing, pulling her own wagon of lumber and supplies. Kitten joyfully hopped over to her, giving her a hug as well, this time leaving behind a smear of mortar on her coat. “Mistress Cartwright! Are you hear to build the coal shed?”
Cartwright smiled and pushed the enthusiastic mare away to give herself a little breathing room. “Alright, Kit. Where do you need this shed? Not too close to the forge, I presume?”
“Right this way, Mistress,” Kitten said and zipped off to the other side of the clearing.
Alone with the cantankerous mason while she disentangled herself from her wagon, Cartwright said, “Not taking advantage of her are you?”
“Taking advantage of me more like. That filly can wrap anypony around her little hoof,” Stone Facade replied.
Free of the harness, the mare walked up to the taller stallion and looked him in the eye. “I worry about her whenever she's around a brute like you.”
Returning her stony glare, he said nothing. After a moment of silence, they wrapped their forelegs around each other, kissing passionately. It was several moments before they came up for air, and he said, “I've missed you.”
Smiling at him slyly, she replied, “I know.” Giving him a little nip on the nose, she turned and walked towards the end of the clearing where Kitten waited patiently, making sure to put a little extra wriggle in her rump just for the audience she knew was watching her.
Lemongrab yawned hugely, and went back to sleep on the cart.
( . .)
Kitten smiled as she approached the temple of Luna, knowing what was about to happen, and eagerly waiting for it. Slipping out of the cart's harness, she couldn't contain the grin as she walked just hooves away from the low stone wall that separated the churchyard from the street, leaving Lemongrab to watch the cart. Hearing the low whispers and giggles, she braced herself for the impact and wasn't disappointed in the least.
Like a small wave of rainbow, she was brought to the ground in a pile of fillies and colts, all giggling like mad. Using the only weapon at her disposal for such an attack, she went on the offensive, tickling whatever foal happened to be on hoof, moving quickly from one to another. The pile soon came to a heaving and laughing stop, fetching up against the stone wall, Kitten gasped, trying to catch her breath amid the pile of smiling foals. “What did you bring us, this time, Miss Kit?” one of the fillies asked.
Kitten pretended to struggle and fail to extricate herself from the pile before giving up. “Seems I can't move. I guess you'll all have to go without a surprise this week.”
At this proclamation, all the fillies and colts were up and suddenly helping her regain her hooves, some even brushing the dirt from her coat. A few flaps of her wings brought her back to the cart, and she pulled out a small box, less than a hoof on each side. The apprentice tinker set the box down in front of the crowd of children with a smile.
They all eagerly watched as she turned a crank on one side of the box, making a clicking noise as some spring inside was wound. After just a few turns, she stepped back, the box unfolding itself. With a complex series of movements, walls were folded, exposing the inner workings of gears and springs, and rearranged themselves until what was once a box, had taken on the shape of a dog and began walking forward, stopping every few steps to let out a tinny bark. After doing this three times, the dog sat on it's haunches and surprised all the foals by performing a back flip, landing on it's paws once more. It then neatly folded itself back into a box with a crank once more. Unimpressed, Lemongrab watched it disdainfully until it returned to its original box form.
The crowd of fillies and colts applauded like mad, and cheered the little pink mare. “Alright, alright, everyone. I've got to get going.”
A chorus of disappointed “aww”s met her declaration. “But you haven't been able to play with us all week, Miss Kit,” a small colt said, trying to sway her with his big, dewy eyes.
“I'm sorry, New Wave, but it's a long way to ol' Blacklight's, and I want to be back sometime tonight; preferably before dinner. Now all of you go on and play with your new toy. We can play again later.”
The foals ran off with their new toy while Kitten strapped herself into the cart's harness. She had a spring in her step as she left town towards the old coal mine where the last dregs were still being cut from the earth to be sold by a lone cantankerous stallion. The trip was long, but pulling an empty cart, she made good time, arriving at Blacklight's Coal just an hour after the sun passed its zenith.
As she walked up to the shack situated in front of the mine shaft entrance, she was greeted by an old brown earth pony stallion wielding a halberd rather expertly. Kitten waved at him happily, seemingly unperturbed by the less than cordial welcome. “Hi, Mister Blacklight! I'm here to pick up the last of the coal!”
The stallion relaxed a little, but didn't put his weapon down, merely pointing it away from her. “Good thing you made it when you did. I was about to close up early.”
“Ooo... got hot date?” Kitten asked with a smile.
“Consarnit girl, is that all you think about? I ain't about to go settle down with a filly just so's she can steal my fortune from me,” Blacklight replied with only a hint of anger in his voice. The anger disappeared entirely to be replaced by concern as he added, “No, there's an ill wind blowing today. Can't you feel it?”
There was indeed a breeze blowing, and coming off the mountain like it was, brought a nice chill to the early spring air. There was an uneasiness, but Kitten wasn't sure if it was because she felt it on her own, or that Blacklight put the idea in her head. “There is something; nothing I can put my hoof on, though.” She turned to her cat and asked, “What do you think, Lemongrab?” The yellow tabby let out a low, but discernible growl.
Blacklight nodded and led her to the loading dock so he could start shoveling her coal into the wagon. “Ayuh. Something's wrong in the forest today. Just hope it's nothing to do with that trouble the griffons started up last week.” He threw in a shovelful of coal and looked at her, deadly serious. “You be careful out on the road today. I'd escort you home, but I got too much to do here. Tunnel thirteen needs timber to shore it up if I want to keep it open, and Bucksaw said he'd be by later with it, but hasn't shown. That's when I started getting worried.”
“Not like him to be late...” Kitten said in a worried voice as the stallion returned to his labors.
“Nah. Especially since we were gonna open up a new jug of cider.” They worked in silence, Kitten moving the coal to the front so Blacklight would have plenty of room to pile on more. When the pile reached near the edge of the small cart, the stallion leaned on the shovel and wiped his brow of sweat. “Now you mark my words, Missy. Steer clear of the woods, I don't care if it is faster, it's become too dangerous these days, especially for a lone filly like yourself.”
Kitten nodded sagely. “No worries there. I've no intention of even going near the woods. I heard about what happened to that poor little filly. I'm just glad her parents were found alive.”
“Near death they were too, when I found them. Wouldn't have made it, if I hadn't had Rose's potions with me,” Blacklight agreed.
Kitten gave him a hug then strapped herself to the harness. “Well, I for one, don't care what they say about you in town. I think you're a nice pony.”
Blacklight smiled and watched her leave until she was out of sight. “Wait, what do they say about me in town?” he asked aloud.
( . .)
Kitten hummed a happy little ditty quietly to herself to help pass the time as she returned back to Foalton. Making good time now, she remarked to herself. She looked towards the sun concealed behind a tree at the moment, noting the time. At this rate, I should be home well before din-
A distant cry followed by a slightly louder one caught her attention, causing her to slow to a stop. That was definitely no wild animal. The pegasus fretted for a moment, wondering what to do, but only for a moment. Pulling off to the side of the road, she parked the cart under the shade of a tree and moved some bushes in front of it. She then strapped her saddlebag on, and quietly crept towards the sound, hunkered close to the ground. “Stay here, Lemongrab. It might be dangerous in there,” she tossed back over her shoulder in a whisper, noting that the cat settled down on the small ledge she had crafted for him.
Kitten had only gone a few steps into the woods when she heard the sound again. Definitely not a wild animal. I distinctly heard an “ow” in there. It took an agonizingly long twenty minutes to creep up on a clearing, punctuated several time by hushed voices and the occasional muffled cry of pain. What she saw almost caused her to gasp out in shock. Two ponies- both pegasi, a stallion that she recognized as Bucksaw, and a mare judging by the binding on their midsections, were tied up and gagged on the ground. Sitting near them, were three griffons, one of whom was going through a pony-sized saddlebag.
“Well, what did she have? Anything valuable?” the smallest griffon asked.
The largest one, which was going through the bag cuffed him none too gently with a wing. “Shaddup. You'll know when I let you know, and not before.” A few more seconds of rummaging resumed before he cried out, “Ah! Here we go!” He pulled out a small, stone, rectangular cube.
“What's that? A rock?” asked the smallest griffon. He turned to the third and asked, “What good is a rock to us?”
The mare on the ground began to wriggle around like mad, hurling what would have been scathing curses at them had she not been gagged.
The largest griffon walked over the the struggling pegasus and held the stone on two talons before her tauntingly. “Oh, but it's not just a rock, now is it, my little morsel?” Rage and impotent tears filled the mare's eyes. If looks could kill, much of the countryside around the griffon would have been devastated. “No, it isn't,” he said with a smarmy tone. He held the stone up to the light and examined it. “No, my young fledgeling, this is a clan chop.”
Gasps of understanding followed by devious smiles appeared on the griffons faces. The boss will give us a big reward for that!” the smallest crowed. “He'll be able to make all kinds of forgeries!”
“You bet he will,” he said, tucking the chop into a pocket of his harness. “Now see what else she had in those bags. I think it's time to start carving up our catch to take back to camp, and I need to sharpen my knife.”
Kitten had seen enough, and crept backwards, away from the clearing. Knowing that she had no time, she pulled out a small, brass sphere with a key sticking out of it. Using her wingtips, she wound the key to its fullest and pulled it out, then concealed it in her pink feathers. She could feel the slight hum as the spring inside did its job, and hoped that this plan worked. Finding a small twig, she deliberately stepped on it, making a loud SNAP.
Instantly, the largest griffon was on her and pushing her to the ground. Cowering beneath him, she brought her wing up to shield her face in feigned fright, angling it so that it passed the pocket with the chop, quickly switching the brass orb for the small stone. With a deft maneuver, she dropped the chop into her mouth and worked it under her tongue.
“What have we here? Another tasty little morsel for dinner? How kind of you to drop in,” the griffon sneered.
“Pleashe don't hurt me,” Kitten replied, groaning internally at the lisp the chop gave her speech.
The griffon ran the blade of a rather large knife across his tongue. “Oh, you won't feel a thing... after you bleed out.”
The other two griffon peeked over the bush just then. “Everything okay? You just leaped over and- oh!” The smallest griffon stopped when he spotted the pink pegasus under his leader.
“Keep an eye on the other two. I'm going to-” The large griffon cut himself off suddenly and cocked his head to the side. “Do either of you hear a buzzing?” The other griffons looked to each other, then back at their leader and gasped. “What? What is it?” he asked, trying to wave off an annoying bug that had come near his ear.
“P-p-p-p-p-p-parasprite!” the youngest griffon shouted.
Pulling his head back, the large griffon tried to zero in on the buzzing, and saw a yellow ball with blue eyes happily buzzing around him. The parasprite was openly drooling and gave him a huge lick that went across one of his eyes. “Eeugh! Get away, stupid thing!” With a swipe of a foreclaw, he swatted the tiny ball to the ground, smooshing it, and covering his talon with it's guts. He shook his talon, trying to dislodge the mess, but succeeding only in spreading it on himself.
“You shouldn't'a done that,” Kitten said. “The shmell of dead parashprite makesh them shwarm.” Indeed, the buzzing sound became a loud droning that filled the forest with vibrations. A cloud of pastel colors appeared over the forest, turning the late afternoon sky into an ominously overcast one.
Looking nervous, the griffon said, “S- so what? They don't eat living creatures. Everyone knows that.” He tried to bluster, but he voice paid lie to the false bravado.
Kitten looked up at him slyly. “They don't? Then you have nothing to worry about... or do you?”
Before he could reply, the cloud swooped down and covered the griffons in a dense swarm. Kitten was spared the indignity of having her body enveloped in parasprites due to her proximity to the ground. In a panic, the griffons tried swatting at the parasprites, bringing down many, but their numbers were seemingly endless. When the first feather was plucked from the youngest griffon, his yelp of pain began to give them real concern. The first feather was quickly followed by another, then another until finally they had enough and their leader shrieked out, “Run away!” and quickly followed his own advice. His subordinates gave chase, with most of the swarm following all three of them.
Kitten rolled to her hooves and carefully stepped around the parasprites that remained, all of whom were on the ground eating the grass. She picked up the wickedly curved knife the griffon had dropped in a wingtip and trotted over to the bound and captive ponies. She found them just as she had last seen them, and walked over to Bucksaw first. She cut him loose, and he grabbed her into a fierce hug. “Thank you so much. I thought we were done for,” he sobbed.
Nodding to him, she walked over to the pale, crimson-maned mare and spat out the chop in front of her before cutting her loose. “I think this is yours?”
“My clan chop!” she said in a lilting voice. “How?”
“Picked his pocket and left a little surprise of my own,” Kitten replied. “Gave him a little wind-up toy that I've been working on. Never got it quite figured out, because the buzzing it makes attracts parasprites, and you try working on something that does that in town.” She shrugged it off as unimportant. “But never mind that now, let's- whoa!”
Pale, leathery wings sprouted free of the bindings on her midsection as the mare stood. She folded them neatly at her sides as she quirked an eyebrow at the smaller pegasus. She picked up the chop with a hoof and rubbed the saliva off on her coat. “What, never seen an aganippe before?” Her melodic voice and unconscious grace lent the mare a certain kind of elegance.
Kitten smiled wide, and her eyes sparkled. She held out a hoof in greeting and said, “Nope, never! My name's Kitten Kaboodle, but my friends call me Kitten or just Kit.”
Clearly surprised by the gesture, the aganippe was slow to take her hoof. “Er, Knightengale, at your service.”
Walking up to the two mares, Bucksaw said, “We'd better get going in case they come back.”
“Indeed,” Knightengale replied. “Let me just gather my things those marauders dumped like so much trash.” Looking at the torn saddlebags, she sighed sadly. “Alas, that was twenty bits well spent.”
Kitten sidled up to her and gave her a hug that was reluctantly welcomed. “Cheer up! Something tells me your luck's turning around!”