Chapter 11~ Burning the Rose Bush
Flash gently opened the door to the compartment, the conductor had offered the bed space for Twilight because he knew the trip would run through the night. They had left Manehatten not long after the ball, Twilight wanted to make good time on they're way to Baltimare. Right now Twilight was sleeping soundly in the small but comfy bed, a small smile on her lips, Flash snuck over and pulled the blanket higher on her with the sleeping Princess snuggling up in the most adorable way.
Flash smiled and turned around, meaning to make a few more rounds on the train before getting some sleep before they arrived. At least that was the plan but that quickly faded away at Flash's ears perked up at a faint sound, barely audible over the gentle click-clack of the train but still there. Soft hoof-beats on a metal surface, at first Flash though it might be one of the other passengers, or the conductor but then he realized the sound was not in front or behind him, it was above him.
Frowning Flash quietly exited Twilight's compartment into the next car, there the sound continued. Gentle hoof-beats moving up the train, they weren't constant, wether that was because they were so quiet in nature or the owner of them was moving only every couple seconds wasn't clear. But as Flash listened closely the sounds became faster and louder, they went right over were Flash was standing and continued to echo through Twilight's compartment.
Flash's eyes widened and burst through the compartment door, there hovering over a sleeping Twilight with an outstretched hoof was a cloaked and hooded figure. Flash could see leather armour under the cloak as well as an assortment of daggers and a short sword at the stallion's side. Flash called out a warning that woke Twilight up, she took one look at the cloaked figure next to her and screamed, her magic sparked and launched the stallion against the wall.
The Thief shook his head clear and quickly jumped out the open window that he must have come through originally, Flash grabbed his helmet that was sitting on the floor and threw it on, he ran past a still-stunned Twilight to the window.
"Stay here!" He told her.
"Wait a second!" Twilight said. "Don't just-"
Her words were cut off by the roar of the wind as Flash jumped out the window and was caught up in the current, he flared his wings and flew up high riding the wind for all its worth. He spotted the Thief running along the train towards the back, possibly trying to use the momentum of the train to his advantage, well two could play that game.
Folding his wings Flash plummeted downwards, he angled himself towards the fleeing Thief. Closing the distance Flash tackled the Thief from behind, sending them both tumbling across the smooth roof of the train car with Flash loosing his grip of the Thief.
They both recovered quickly and faced off, only a short distance from one another. Flash tried to gage the Thief's identity but his hood covered his face too well, Flash grit his teeth and drew his sword.
"Surrender now and you will be treated mercifully by the Three Princesses!" Flash barked.
The Thief responded by drawing his own short blade, he charged towards Flash who took a defensive stance, it was in vain as the Thief simply flipped over him and continued to run away.
"Oh no you don't!" Flash yelled, taking off after the Thief. He was just as fast and quickly caught up with the Thief, when he noticed Flash close behind him the Thief stopped abruptly and gave a spinning swing with his blade towards Flash who met it with his own sword. They struggled against each other's strength for a moment before it was clear Flash had the advantage in this regard, the Thief grinned under his hood and suddenly disengaged his blade, suddenly Flash was pushing against nothing and lost his balance.
The Thief sidestepped and took a swipe at Flash's neck who managed to just pull out of harms way, the Thief's blade caught on Flash's helmet strap and cut right through it. As Flash stepped away the helmet came off and rolled right off the train.
"Damn," Flash cursed then faced the Thief again who was simply staring at him, as Luna's moon lit up their battlefield the Thief suddenly stiffened and stood still for a solid five minutes.
"Finally come to your senses? Surrender and you won't get hurt," Flash said.
The Thief responded by sheathing his sword and just as Flash was about to demand he empty his pocket the Thief threw something towards him. Flash's eyes widened as his vision left him, all he could see was white and his ears were full of high-pitch ringing. When his senses returned the Thief was gone and all that was left was the stars and the moon.
"Buck," Flash cursed.
Flash stepped back into Twilight's compartment and was immediately met with a blunt pain against his cheek, it caught him so off guard that he didn't make any move to avoid the blow or retaliate. He especially didn't do the latter once Flash saw Twilight standing in front of him, her slightly wet eyes full of anger and worry.
"What we're you thinking?!" Twilight shouted, probably waking up half the train in the process. "You can't just fly off like that! Think first!"
"This is the third time you've been attacked!" Flash yelled back, miffed at being slapped. "I wasn't just going to let him get away!"
"That isn't worth just tossing yourself out like that!" Twilight countered. "What if you had gotten hurt? What if you had..."
"That's my job Twilight," Flash said. "I'm here to protect you, even if it means I can't protect myself."
"But you can't!" Twilight cried. "You can't because I... I..."
Flash blinked "You what?"
Twilight stared forward for a moment, her cheeks flushed red before she sighed in frustration and rolled her eyes.
"Oh buck it all," Twilight said, before kissing Flash full on the lips.
It took Flash a moment to get past the shock, after that all he could feel was the pressure of Twilight's lips on his, her warmth as she pressed in closer. He wrapped his hooves around her and she followed turn, they stayed locked like that for several minutes before they both reluctantly broke the kiss because of their desperate need for oxygen.
"I do too," Flash said a little breathlessly, a goofy smile plastered on his face. He nuzzled Twilight affectionately and she returned in kind, then a thought popped into Flash's head and his smile turned teasing.
"Hey, that means you made the first move, not me," he said into Twilight's ear.
"Oh shut up," she said, still smiling.
They stood like that for another two minutes or so, simply enjoying the feel of the other. They nuzzled and cuddled and shared a few more pecks before the trains whistle jerked them out of their stupor. They must have been approaching Baltimare, Twilight smile up at Flash who smiled back, he felt like he was filling with an exited warm air.
"You should get some more rest before we get to Baltimare," Flash said. "It'll be a long day."
"Yeah, but it glad you'll be there with me," Twilight said, pecking him on the cheek and reluctantly releasing Flash.
"Go on, back to bed, we talk about... Well... Everything, later," Flash said, Twilight nodded and climbed back into bed, Flash smiled at her and closed the door.
Flash's heart was racing, he felt an odd mixture of excitement and worry. Twilight Sparkle, Princess Twilight Sparkle had feelings for him, feeling that he shared! This was so right and so wrong on so many levels it felt like Flash was going to explode. First of all it was irregular that Twilight as a Princess would pursue relationship, the position wasn't hereditary so there was no need, Princess Cadence was the exception because she was the Alicorn of love. But with Twilight the nobility might claim she was trying to grab power, then again Flash wasn't very high rank, which brought in whole new problems, no doubt nobles like Forest Green would call the whole this scandalous to deface Twilight's good name, say she's sleeping around with some no-name guard.
Not to mention, Twilight's brother was Flash's boss, which terrified him to no end.
Okay, okay, calm down Flash, focus on the task at hoof. Get through this tour and then we can deal with the problems of loving a Princess. Flash took a calming breath and marched off, as vigilant as ever for anyone who would dare harm Twilight.
Dawn came strong as ever and illuminated Baltimare, the canal glittered in the morning sun as ships a plenty moved joyously through the water, their white sails bright and their flags sporting many different colours. Twilight had awoken an hour before and had already freshened up, she joined Flash who was looking out the window at the city, Twilight sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder which brought a smile to his face but that smile quickly vanished.
"Uh, Twilight?" He asked.
"Hmm?" Twilight answered.
"Could we... Well... Tone it down while in public? Not that I'm ashamed or anything! I just don't want rumours to spread about you, at least not before we get back to Canterlot and... Make it official," Flash said carefully.
"Hmmm, okay, that makes sense," Twilight said then cuddled in closer and gave Flash a nuzzle. "But we're not in public yet."
"No, I guess not," Flash said with a smile.
"So, ever been to Baltimare?" Twilight said, her breath tickling Flash's fur.
"No, but... Uh..."
"Well, the guards there are sort of a joke to the rest of us," Flash said. "Traditionally the worst guards that come out of training go here because it was always a calm city, not to mention the name they take 'Petal Guards' they're called after Lady Rose Petal whom from what I've heard isn't the most inspiring leader in the world."
"Well that's no reason to make fun of them," Twilight said. "I've always heard that Baltimare was a beautiful city and a tourist destination for the world over not to mention the flow of wealth through the canal, this will be a quick and easy visit and after we can... Talk."
Twilight said that last word in such a tone that for some reason Flash's face flushed red. He was about to say something when the train blew it's whistle and screeched to a halt, Twilight gave Flash a peck on the cheek and pulled away from him to stand by the door and wait until they could step off. In that moment Flash saw his Twilight disappear as she returned to being Princess Twilight.
The train came to a halt and the doors opened, Flash and Twilight stepped off onto the platform, the city of Baltimare wasn't grant of stunning like the other cities they had been to but the canal was beautiful and the initial atmosphere was friendly enough. The other passengers flowed off and went on their business as Flash and Twilight lingered, unsure where to go as apparently no one was there to guide them.
That was remedied as a rather rushed guard sprinted over to them, stopping just short of slamming into Twilight and heaving in big gulps of air. He was a young stallion, barely older that a colt, with armour that was clearly too big for him especially his helmet with sat lopsided on his head, over his plated armour was a cream coloured tunic with the likeness of a red flower on his chest. Flash had to hold back a laugh and managed to turn it into a still-rather-rude snort which got a look from Twilight that shut him up quick.
"Hello," Twilight said kindly. "I suppose your here to take us to your lady's manor?"
"Yes *gasp* your majesty, sorry for my *wheeze* lateness," The Petal Guard said tiredly, wiping the sweat from his brow and readjusting his overly large helmet only for it to slide back into a lopsided position again.
"Please follow me your majesty," The Petal Guard said, turning around and immediately tripping on Celestia-knows-what, he caught himself and continued on with Flash barely concealing his snicker.
As they entered Baltimare proper Twilight noticed something: there was no pony on the streets, not one, the streets were bare. Occasionally Twilight would notice movement through windows, eyes peaking through curtains only to quickly vanish again, then there were the posters and graffiti. Burn The Petal's! some read, Why follow a flower? other ones said, there were others as well all seemingly defacing the local Lady.
"How are things in Baltimare lately?" Twilight asked the Petal Guard as casually as she could but the question still clearly made the stallion uncomfortable.
"W-well uh..." He stuttered. "Ponies haven't been happy with Lady Rose Petal lately, been sayin' she's weak and doesn't deserve to run Baltimare, there's even been talk of rebellion, I always thought this was a quiet city least that's what they told me when I was assigned."
"And what's your take on the whole thing?" Twilight probed.
"Well... I like Lady Rose, she is kind to us guards and tries to be kind to the civvies as well but... She does seem to get overwhelmed sometimes and she relies a tad too much on Captain Arctic Wind for help and I suppose local folk want somepony else to run this city."
"Hmm, I see," Twilight mused, deep in her own thoughts. Flash looked at her, wonder what could possibly be going through her head.
Lady Rose Petal's manor was a humble building, made of bricks and stone with a simple shingle roof. Banners depicting the sigil of House Petal were hung almost half-heartedly along the outer walls, two sleepy Petal Guards flanked the front door and didn't even bother to open the door for them instead leaving the task to the poor young stallion that was guiding Twilight and Flash.
They entered the brightly lit manor and climbed a small set of stairs to where Lady Rose Petal was sitting. She was a petite cream-coloured unicorn with light-pink hair and a cutie mark depicting the her family sigil and Flash had to admit she was soft on the eyes but wasn't going to say that out loud, Lady Rose didn't give off an air of confidence or majesty like a Lady should rather she looked incredibly uncomfortable sitting on her throne. This was in stark contrast to the Pegasus who stood by her side who must have been Captain Arctic Wind, he was large and muscular and radiated confidence, somehow making the flower on his chest seem intimidating. Twilight and Flash approached her and bowed respectively, Twilight putting on a friendly smile to try and put Lady Petal at ease.
"Hello Lady Rose Petal, my name is Twilight Sparkle and this is my personal guard Flash Sentry," Twilight said. "I trust you've already been told why I'm here, but it seems the situation here in Baltimare isn't exactly the best for a Princess to be parading around in your streets."
"Um, yes, that is correct," Lady Rose said in a soft voice, Twilight had to strain her ears to hear what she was saying. "They are restless because... Well... Umm.." Rose Petal looked at Arctic Wind who stepped forward.
"The people are dissatisfied with My Lady's rule, a completely null complaint as she is the rightful Lady of Baltimare," Arctic Wind said stoically. "I have done all I can to placate them but unfortunately my guards are having a hard time dealing with them, but I am confident we can deal with the situation."
"Hm, I see," Twilight said thoughtfully and then looked at Rose Petal. "And what do you think my lady?"
"Well I um... I think..." Lady Petal said uncertainly before the Captain stepped in.
"My Lady has been doing her best to..."
"I believe I was asking Lady Rose," Twilight said rather harshly then softened her tone. "My Lady?"
"Well..." Rose Petal said. "Um... I know I'm not the... Most impressive Pony but I still try my hardest, it's just... I don't always know how to handle things, that's why I'm so grateful to Arctic Wind here, I don't know what I'd do without him."
"I'm glad to hear that you have someone to count on," Twilight said. "But I think we should-"
Whatever Twilight was about to say was interrupted as a Petal Guard sprinted in, falling into a clumsy bow before them as he gasped for breath.
"What is the meaning of this interruption?" Captain Arctic Wind asked angrily.
"Apologies sir," the Guard wheezed. "But a large group of angry civilians have gathered outside the manor, they are demanding to see Lady Rose Petal."
"Then you must address them My Lady," Arctic Wind said.
"Well, I suppose I could..." Rose Petal said softly.
"My Lady, perhaps I could speak to them?" Twilight asked politely. "I am here to barter better relations after all, maybe I can calm them all down."
"You cannot!" Captain Arctic Wind barked. "If My Lady does not address them then she shall appear weak and their claims will be justified, allow My Lady to do her duty as the Ruler of Baltimare and keep out of our affairs, My Lady? We should address the people now."
"Y-yes of course," Lady Rose said nervously. "If you'll excuse us."
Rose Petal slipped of her throne and followed Arctic Wind past Twilight and Flash and towards the door, Twilight lagged behind with Flash so they could speak.
"You could just order her to let you take control of the situation," Flash suggested softly.
"No Flash, we're here to bolster relations, if I bypass Lady Rose's authority than I'm no more than a political snake," Twilight stated.
"Well I hate to be so harsh but I'm afraid Lady Rose isn't very competent in her role," Flash said.
"She does rely too much on her captain I'll give you that," Twilight said. "But I refuse to accept that she's incapable of doing this."
"What makes you so certain?" Flash asked.
"Well... This will sound silly but she reminds me of a close friend," Twilight said. "Fluttershy is her name, she's shy and quiet like Lady Rose but she's also the kindest, sweetest pony I know, not to mention that when push comes to shove she's one of the bravest ponies I've ever met."
"You think Lady Rose Petal is similar?" Flash questioned.
"With the right motivation I think she can become the ruler this city needs," Twilight said.
"If you say so," Flash ceded. "But what about this Captain? Arctic Wind? You don't think he's-"
"-related to Lady Fresh Wind of Cloudsdale?" Twilight finished. "Maybe, 'Wind' isn't a common last name after all, but what does that mean about him?"
"Well call me crazy but I think our Lady of the Sky sent him here to destroy the Lady of Flowers's credibility?" Flash suggested. "I mean the nobility are often feuding, maybe this is just a calculated maneuver to have Lady Rose Petal rely on her Captain who himself reports to Lady Fresh Wind."
"Maybe," Twilight said, looking at the pair in front of her. "But I doubt it, there's some other reason at hoof."
"What makes you think that?" Flash asked.
"Call it instinct," Twilight said with a wink.
Captain Arctic lead them outside where indeed a rather large crowd had gathered, the group of rough-looking ponies seemed very upset and sone were holding signs that demonstrated the many negative slogans that Twilight had seen at her arrival. Lady Rose Petal stepped forward and looked down at the crowd with an absolutely terrified expression on her face, the crowd in turn saw this and sneered and jeered at her like a hungry pack of hyenas, Flash couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor mare. As Lady Rose was too paralyzed to speak let alone address the crowd, Captain Arctic Wind stepped forward to her defence.
"Why have you gathered here?" He demanded. "Disperse! Or martial action will be taken!" Evidentially what little Petal guards that had bothered to show up seemed more terrified than Lady Rose at the idea of fighting the mob.
"We don't answer to you!" A voice in the crowd yelled.
"Yeah!" Another confirmed. "Let the Lady speak if she can! Or is she too frail to address the trials of her people!"
"You dare insult Our Lady?!" Arctic yelled back angrily. "Why you indolent peasants.."
"Excuse me!" Twilight interrupted, stepping forward and getting everyone's attention at once. "I'm sorry to interrupt but I cannot allow this to go any further, I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Alicorn of Friendship, maybe I can address your grievances?"
There was muttering in the crowd as they absorbed the information, meanwhile Twilight gave a comforting smile to Lady Rose Petal who managed a smile in return. Twilight turned back to the crowd and addressed them in a soft but firm tone.
"What issues do you have with Lady Rose Petal's rule of Baltimare?" She asked, there was a pause of a few seconds before anyone responded.
"She is weak!" One stallion proclaimed. "She cannot solve the simplest of issues! Instead she gives the rule of the city over to that tyrant of a captain! He's punishments are harsh and they come down on the pettiest of crooks because that's all those idiot guards can catch! Year after year the worst of the guards are dumbed on us and we suffer for it! Not only can they not catch a criminal worth shit but the whole lot of them are drunken fiends themselves! Just last week a poor barmaid had herself soiled and her throat cut by a group of 'em! And what does our 'Lady of Flowers' do? Nothing!"
"Hm, I see," Twilight said and looked at Lady Rose. "These are legitimate concerned my lady."
"W-well I..." Rose Petal stuttered.
"Even still," Twilight continued, addressing the crowd once again. "Has Lady Rose Petal ever done you wrong personally?"
"Well... No," the stallion ceded.
"Exactly but still the problems remain," Twilight said. "I ask you as your Princess to give your Lady until this afternoon to address these problems, gather here again at one-o-clock and she shall tell you her solution."
There was some muffled confirmation from the crowd and they quickly dispersed, Twilight lead their little group inside with Lady Rose Petal seeming grateful.
"Thank you for your help your majesty," she said softly. "But I still have no idea what to do when they come back."
"Oh I'm sure it'll come to you," Twilight said with a smile. "But first I think I need to go for a nice walk, hmm, Flash? Why don't you keep Lady Rose company? Captain Arctic Wind can come with me."
Flash gave Twilight a look and she responded with a wink, Flash relented and stepped over to Lady Rose as Captain Arctic followed Twilight down a random hallway.
"So," Twilight said casually as they were out of earshot. "How did you come to meet Lady Rose Petal?"
"I was travelling on behest of my sister, Lady Fresh Wind of Cloudsdale," the Captain said, confirming Twilight's suspicions. "We became friends and once I left I decided to come back and serve by her side."
"And that's the only reason you came back?" Twilight asked.
"Yes?" Arctic Wind said, albeit unsurely.
"Okay, because it just seemed to me that there might be something else to it," Twilight said casually, looking carefully at the Captain. "Is there?"
"I..." Arctic stuttered. "I suppose there is."
"Right, so you know why you came back," Twilight stated. "But does she know?"
"...no, she doesn't."
"Right, of course," Twilight said. "And that's fine if that's what you want, but just as I told Flash I think Lady Rose needs the right push, the right motivation, don't you agree?"
"I think your right," Arctic Wind said. "But... Are you sure I should?"
"I am, trust me," Twilight said. "I know friendship, this isn't it, this is something more and I think you need to let Rose Petal know that."
"Your right," Arctic Wind ceded.
Twilight and the Captain walked back into the main hall, Lady Rose Petal was sitting back on her throne and Flash was off to the side being awkward. Twilight went over and stood by Flash who gave her a questioning look, Twilight just shook her head and pointed over to Arctic Wind as he stood before Lady Rose and knelt.
"My Lady," he said.
"Captain Arctic Wind?" Lady Petal said in confusion.
"My Lady I have served you for three years now and I will not deny that they have been some of the best years of my life," Arctic Wind said, keeping his head down. "Despite the condition of this city and the frankly the incompetent guards I must command I still found pleasure in being here, and that was because I was was at your side. My Lady I should have supported you rather than taking your burden for you, but if you still have me I shall do that now, I understand if you do not accept me but please do not cast me from your side as it would deny me the only thing that has made me happy for a very long time."
Lady Rose Petal sat in shock, staring down at Arctic Wind. There was a frustrating silence for a solid two minutes before Lady Rose climbed down from her throne and took Arctic Wind's head in her hooves before kissing him right there and then, when they parted Rose Petal had tears in her eyes.
"I love you too," she said softly. Twilight smiled and glanced at Flash who's jaw had dropped and a completely dumbfounded look on his face, Twilight giggled at him and Flash closed his jaw quick and looked slightly embarrassed.
Lady Rose Petal released Arctic from her grasp and looked up with a determined gleam in her eye, her soft tone was still present but now with the distinctive touch of confidence.
"Summon everyone who finds issue with my rule now, I wish to address my people."
A crowd larger than the mob before had gathered outside Lady Rose Petal's manor, Lady Rose stood before them with her head held tall and with Arctic Wind standing nearby.
"My friends," Lady Rose began. "I have heard your pleas and have come to a solution, immediately I shall send a request to Canterlot for more experienced guards to be sent and for a new training fort be set up within my county to retrain our own Petal Guards, I shall make it my priority to turn the city back into the peaceful haven that it once was!"
The crowd gave a round of applause and gleeful cheers, Lady Rose gave a smile to the crowd and a loving look to Arctic Wind. Twilight and Flash stood in the sidelines, content to not interrupt the moment.
"How'd you know Arctic had feelings for Lady Rose Petal?" Flash asked.
"I'm surprised you didn't notice yourself," Twilight said. "Didn't you notice how defensive he was of Lady Rose? He reminded me a bit of you actually."
"What? No way!" Flash exclaimed.
"It's true!" Twilight giggled. "But that's not all, there was something else... When those two were near each other I felt something, something I've felt before when I I'm with my friends or... When I'm with you, it's was like a spell or something but somehow I just knew what Arctic's feelings were."
"You sensed his love?" Flash asked incredulously. "But... Aren't you the Princess of Friendship? Isn't love Princess Cadence's thing?"
"Well friendship is just love in a different form," Twilight said as Lady Rose and Arctic Wind approached them.
"Thank you your majesty," Arctic Wind said. "For your... Advise earlier, you've done us and this city good."
"I'm glad I could help," Twilight said with a smile.
"I'll have a guard show to your room," Lady Rose Petal said. "I believe the people trust you enough now after all you have done don't you?"
"Yes, I think we can move on tomorrow," Twilight said. "Thank you for your hospitality."
Flash and Twilight were lead by their clumsy guard to a room inside the manor, the young Petal Guard bid them farewell. Twilight dragged Flash inside the room and closed the door, she then proceeded to magically remove Flash's Cape and armour she then pulled herself and Flash under the covers of the bed where Twilight snuggled up close to Flash.
"So," Flash said.
"So," Twilight said back.
"This is weird, but nice," Flash stated.
"Yeah," Twilight agreed.
"So how're we going to go about this?" Flash asked.
"Well, I've been thinking about that," Twilight said. "I agree with you that we should keep this between us at least until we get back to Canterlot, then I think we can make it known that we're... Together."
"Sounds like a plan," Flash answered, there was a pause. "So Twi? About today..."
"Hm?" Twilight answered sleepily.
"Well other than handling that whole situation brilliantly I was wondering something," Flash began. "You said you... Sensed the love between Arctic Wind and Lady Rose Petal, I was wondering if you felt that between us as well?"
"Hm, yes, I think so," Twilight said. "The thing I felt between those two was the same feeling I feel in myself when I'm around you, only it was like it was radiating off of them instead of inside me."
"Well that confirms it then," Flash said.
"Confirms what?" Twilight asked.
"if your weird Princessy powers say we're in love than it must be true," Flash said happily, giving Twilight a squeeze. "I love you, Twi."
Twilight's breath caught in her throat and her chest tightened, just those words themselves made her feel happy and sad at the same time and she squeezed Flash back.
"I love you too Flash," she said, drifting off to sleep in his arms.