• Published 3rd May 2013
  • 12,624 Views, 945 Comments

The Dusk Guard Saga: Rise - Viking ZX

Steel Song is a lot of things. Earth pony. Uncle. Professional bodyguard. Retired. So when he receives a mysterious package from Princess Luna, he's understandably apprehensive. Things are never as they seem in Equestria...

  • ...

Training - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Excuse me ma’am,” Hunter said as he tapped the frame of the open doorway. “Are you Goldenrod?” Behind the office's large desk a light green earth pony mare with a golden yellow mane looked up from her paperwork in surprise.

“Yes, that would be me,” she said, eyeing Hunter suspiciously with sharp blue eyes. “May I help you?”

Hunter smiled as he invited himself into the room. “I hope so. I’m First Lieutenant Hunter of the Dusk Guard,” he said, pulling a small piece of parchment out of one of his saddlebags and holding it up where she could see it. The mare gave it a careful look over before Hunter saw her suspicion fade. “If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you a few questions.” He carefully slid the parchment back into his saddlebag.

“Well certainly, have a seat, Lieutenant Hunter,” Goldenrod said, motioning towards one of the large plush chairs that ringed the desk. “If you’ll pardon my asking, I can’t say I’ve heard of the Dusk Guard before.” He could hear a slight Southern-Equestrian twang to her voice that gave it a distinct sound, as if she had grown up in Dodge City and then spent the last few years in Canterlot slowly grinding off the corners of her accent.

“We’re new,” Hunter said, taking the offered seat. The cushion was soft and luxurious, but not quite soft enough that someone sitting on it would be tempted to fall asleep. “Just established.” He gave a mental sigh as he lifted his weight from his sore rear legs. After three days of training practices and running, he was starting to reach the point where every day left him feeling sore.

“I see,” Goldenrod said, although Hunter could tell she was just being polite. “So what can I do for you lieutenant?”

Straight to the point. Hunter thought as he opened his mouth. “I was wondering what you could tell me about the recent attack on one of your conductors.” Instantly the mare's face soured, ears turning downward along with the edges of her mouth. “I know that you already spoke with members of the Royal Guard about this,” he said, raising a hoof. “I’ve read their reports. I was wondering if you could answer a few other questions for me.”

“What’s to tell?” Goldenrod scoffed. “In the twenty-three years that the ERS has been around, we’ve never once had a problem like this. Train robberies yes, every once in awhile a gang of bandits might try to rob a shipment of bits, or we’ll have the odd theft of something valuable, but we’ve never once had a string of thefts, much less had one of our own conductors injured.” She shook her head in disappointment. “It's disgraceful,” she said, letting out a deep breath. “Nonetheless, I will answer your questions. If you know more, perhaps the Guard will have a higher chance of finally catching this thief. Ask away.”

Hunter nodded. “The Guard already covered most things, so I’m just digging for a few details here. Does anything about the thefts seem odd to you?”

“You mean aside from the perpetrators' seeming disregard for the life of one of my conductors?” Goldenrod asked, anger flashing across her face. “No.” She paused. “Well, maybe ...” she said, the words trailing off as a look of thought came across her face. “One of the reasons that our own attempts at preventing the thefts has been so—so unsuccessful—”

“Is that your thief hasn’t left a single trace,” Hunter said, finishing her sentence. “Not a hair, not a hoofprint, nothing. The Guard mentioned that in their report.”

“Well, yes. There is that,” Goldenrod said, giving him a disapproving glare for interrupting her. “But no, what’s been truly difficult about this whole affair is the random nature of the thefts.”

Hunter’s ears perked up and he leaned forward. This little tidbit hadn’t been in the report. “Did you tell the other Guard this? What do you mean random?”

Goldenrod nodded. “I did, and if you’ve seen the list of stolen items you should understand what I mean. One week it’s a mare's jewelry, the next a child's toy, and the week after that a portion of a shipment of parts bound for Los Pegasus.” She gave her mane a small shake. “They don’t even happen at regular intervals. It was several weeks before we even realized it was theft, at first we thought it was just some air-headed pony misplacing things,” she said, looking up at him. “We’re still a young company, relatively speaking. We don’t have the resources to put every shipment of cargo under guard at all times, and we can’t predict what will be stolen next.”

“I see,” Hunter said, sitting back. “That’s a dinkum of a problem all right.” He paused for a moment, running over the small list of questions he’d mentally accrued from the Guard report. “Do you feel that whoever is stealing these items could be planning the thefts in advance?”

Goldenrod shook her head, her long yellow mane cascading around her head and shoulders like water. “We thought of that too, but they can’t be. While some of the stolen items we know we’re shipping weeks in advance or even regular shipments, some of them—including some of the most expensive thefts I might add—we aren’t even aware of until the day of.”

“Drat.” Hunter sat back, but perked almost immediately as an idea occurred to him. “What about inside information? Could one of the workers be involved?”

Goldenrod shook her head. “As much as it shames me to admit it, we checked to see if one our own employees was involved. We found nothing. The thefts are random, lieutenant, on different trains with different ponies. If our own employees were involved, it would have to amount to several dozen ponies all collaborating, and such an event would be highly noticeable.”

“Alright,” Hunter said, sitting back as his theory deflated. “One more question. When I talked with Clockwork’s doctor earlier this afternoon, he said that when Clockwork woke up, his first words were ‘The lights have gone out.’ The doctor thought it was rambling brought on by the trauma, but admitted it could have been one of the last things he remembered before the memory loss. Does that phrase mean anything to you? Could he have been talking about the lights on one of the train cars?”

Goldenrod stared at him for a moment, her lips pursed and brow furrowed. Then she slowly shook her head. “No, it doesn’t mean anything to me. And I don’t think he was referring to the train lights, at least not on his train.”

“What about when you found him?” Hunter asked.

She shook her head again. “The lights worked fine, otherwise there would have been a maintenance report. I’m sorry,” she said with an apologetic shake of her head. “But I can’t help you there.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” Hunter said, climbing to his hooves and giving a slight wince as his tortured rear legs protested the movement. “I appreciate your help with my questions.”

“Not at all.” Goldenrod said as she stood. “I’m just sorry I can’t be of more help. I love the railroad, Lieutenant Hunter,” she said, pointing to the cutie mark on her flank, a golden railroad spike sitting across a rail tie. “And I would hate to see this company suffer at the hooves of some criminal.”

“Suffer?” Hunter asked, confused by the mares choice of words.

She nodded. “Yes, suffer. Since news of the attack hit papers a few days ago and the newsponies connected it to the thefts, we’ve seen ticket sales drop, which in turn has made our stock price plummet as well. I’m very glad that the Royal Guard are involved now, because as long as these robberies continue we stand to lose customers.”

“Well, if the Dusk Guard gets any goss on it you can be sure the ERS will find out about it,” Hunter said, taking a quick look at the clock on her wall. It was ten minutes to five. He’d be a little late. “In any case, thank you for the help all the same,” he said, tipping his hat.

“Anything to get this horrible situation taken care of,” Goldenrod said, accompanying him to the door. “Good luck Lieutenant Hunter. Celestia be with you.”

Hunter smiled. “Her and her sister both,” he said as he walked out.

* * *

“Hunter! Hey Hunter! Over here!” Hunter smiled as he looked out over the crowded veranda, its tables packed with dozens of ponies, and spotted the grey hoof waving frantically back and forth. The hoof was attached to a similarly colored pegasus mare with a light blond mane who was practically hovering over the crowd as she tried to get his attention, much to the annoyance of the nearby patrons. Hunter’s smile grew wider as the pegasus spotted his lazy wave back and quickly pointed down at whatever table she’d managed to find, completely ignoring the snobbish looks of the nearby Canterlot elite.

For a moment Hunter considered simply extending his wings and flying over the crowd rather than walking through it, but with a look at the already annoyed Canterlot enlite decided against it and began to slowly make his way through the crowd of ponies. It was a beautiful Saturday evening. A clear blue sky overhead was painted by only a few wisps of clouds, and a soft gentle breeze flowing in from the west was carrying with it the gentle scent of the wheat fields in the valley below, and the ponies of Canterlot were out in force to enjoy it. Everywhere Hunter had gone that day had been swarming with ponies, and now that the dinner rush had began, it seemed every single restaurant was packed to capacity.

He rounded the last table between him and his destination, coming out of the crowd around a smaller table with two smiling pegasus ponies sitting at it, one of whom he didn’t know. The other he was far more familiar with, and she jumped out of her seat, ignoring the looks of nearby patrons as she wrapped both forelegs around his shoulders in a crushing hug.

“Hunter! Good to see you again!” she said, her voice as bubbly and upbeat as always.

“Hey Derpy, good to see you too,” Hunter said, a slight wince darting across his face as she squeezed him again in her forehooves.

“Eh?” Derpy dropped her hooves and backed up as she saw his reaction. “Are you okay?”

Hunter let out a small chuckle. “Yeah, no need to worry. Just a nice bruise I got during training today.” He said, tapping one of his shoulders. “One of our new guards is a little overzealous when she gets swinging.”

“Oh, ok, sorry about that!” Derpy said, sliding back into her seat. “It’s just good to see you.”

“Likewise,” Hunter said as he looked over at the unfamiliar pegasus. “And I don’t believe I’ve met your friend here.”

“Oh! Right!” Derpy said, leaping out of her seat again. “Hunter, this is Thistle Down,” she said, gesturing with both hooves at the smiling pegasus. “Thistle Down, this is Hunter. The Ranger I was telling you about.”

“Nice to meet you,” Hunter said, tipping his stetson at the smiling pegasus mare. “Although I must clarify, I’m not a Ranger anymore. I just got a job in the Guard.” He gave her a bright smile. She was about Derpy’s size, he estimated, with a periwinkle coat and long sea green mane that hung down to her shoulders.

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, returning his nod. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Derpy here.” Her voice was strong and firm, a contrast to her soft exterior.

“Really?” Hunter said as he sat down. “How did you two meet?”

“I crashed into her when she first moved to Canterlot.” Derpy said, giving a lighthearted shrug. “Came in for a landing right at the same time she did.”

Thistle laughed as she rolled her pale pink eyes. “My first day in Canterlot, I’m flying around, looking over the city and pow! We ran into each other. Good thing she did though,” she said, looking at Derpy. “I didn’t have much in the way of bits, and Derpy here helped me get a freelance position with the postal service.”

“Yup!” Derpy said, smiling. “And we’ve been friends ever since.” She hopped over to the periwinkle mare’s side and gave her a quick hug with one hoof.

“So how’d you two meet?” Thistle asked Hunter before he could say anything. “Did she crash into you as well?” she playfully asked, winking at Derpy.

Derpy rolled her eyes and gave Thistle a mock slug on the shoulder as Hunter answered. “Well, close. She actually crashed into my porch.”

“What?” Derpy said, her eyes going wide in mock surprise. “I did not!” She looked at Thistle. “I didn’t. I crashed into the side of his house, and then landed on the porch,” she clarified, making a complicated motion with her hoof. “Pinkie promise on it.”

Hunter laughed at her actions, looking back towards Thistle. “Anyway,” he said with a grin. “She still delivered my mail, and she started talking, and we’ve known each other ever since. Speaking of which,” he said, turning back towards Derpy. “How’s Dinky?”

Derpy’s smile immediately brightened. “She’s doing wonderfully. Still experiencing spurts of magic from time to time, but she’s getting better at controlling it. She still tries every day to help around the house with it.” Her mismatched eyes took on a slight faraway look. “My little muffin, getting bigger everyday.” She gave a sudden gasp. “Oh my gosh, what time is it?”

“It’s five fifte—”

“Oh my gosh!” Derpy said again, cutting Thistle off. “I need to get flying back to Ponyville so I can pick up Dinky from Applejack’s! I’m sorry you two!” she said as she swept her saddlebags from her seat and tossed them over her back. “You two stay here and get to know each other. Sorry I had to fly, I’ll see you both next time I’m in Canterlot!” With a rush of air that had nearby patrons again glaring in her direction, Derpy took off into the air, her wings flapping as she gained altitude.

“So ...” Hunter said as he turned from the receding pegasus to the one sitting across the table. “Did any of that seem suspicious to you?”

“Yeah,” Thistle said with a nod. “I think … I think we just got set up on a dinner date.”

The two pegasi stared at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Yeah, wow, I didn’t ever expect Derpy to do something like this,” Hunter said as soon as he could breath again. Thistle, who was still laughing a little simply shook her head. “Still,” Hunter said, looking over at her. “Why not?” After all, he thought, she is kind of cute.

Thistle gave a faint yelp of surprise and then sat up, her hoof covering her mouth in embarrassment. “Sorry, really?”

Hunter spread his front hooves wide. “Why not? She went through all this trouble to get us a table on a busy night, and from what I understand this is a pretty nice resturant.” Not to mention you do look pretty cute, he thought as his eyes ran across her wings. I’m not about to crack onto somepony, but it couldn’t hurt to humor Derpy and have a fun evening. “I’ll even pay for it. My treat.”

Thistle laughed. “Oh no, no, no,” she said, causing Hunter’s heart to drop a little bit. “Dinner yes, but I’ll pay for myself. Fair deal?”

Hunter looked at her, a goofy grin stretching across his face. Why not? “Deal.”

* * *

Why did I want a new office again? Steel asked himself for the hundredth time as he looked out over his new and larger desk. Newer, larger, and of course, covered in about twice as much paperwork. For that matter, Steel thought as he finished reading over yet another report. Why did I agree to do this in the first place?

The spread of paperwork in front of him was some of the most daunting he’d ever seen. Stacks of reports and budgets were mixed with assorted scraps of parchment from various ponies, some asking for his input, the others just informing him of random bits of trivia. He wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to do with a lot of it. The notes had just started coming the moment his office had been finished!

He picked up another piece of parchment from the table and took a quick glance at it. The parchment had a date at the top, followed by a four column list that seemed to be identifying an item description, a date, a serial number that meant nothing to him, a name, and a bit value. He ran his eyes down the list. One set of emerald earrings, date a few weeks previous, the number, owned by one Fleur de Lis of Canterlot valued at four-hundred and fifty bits. Four uncut rubies, another date and number, owned by Sparkle Hoof of Vanhoover, valued at forty seven bits. The list went on, row after row of descriptions, numbers, and names. For a moment Steel looked at the list in confusion, but then its origin dawned on him. It was the list of goods stolen in the train robberies. Which meant, he realized with a smile, that this was Hunter’s paperwork.

He cleared a corner of the desk, mentally classifying it as “Hunter’s corner” and put the list there. Then, with a smug grin, he ran his hooves across his desk, shuffling paper after paper into what quickly became a small stack. Dawn’s latest observations on Sky Bolt? Hunter’s pile. A reminder from Princess Celestia that they needed to submit an emblem for the Dusk Guard to use in their reports? His. And I need to do that sometime. Just not now.

There was a knock at the door. “Come on in!” Steel called without looking up from his paper sorting. The door clicked open.

“G’day boss,” Hunter said, sauntering into the room. “Or should I say good evening?” A wide grin peered out from underneath the pegasus's hat, and there almost seemed to be a spring in his step as he made his way across the room. With a quick flip of his wings, Hunter launched himself into the air, landing himself in one of the office's few chairs.

“You’re in a good mood,” Steel said, looking up at the grinning stallion and immediately deciding to slide a few more bits of paperwork into Hunter's stack.

“Yeah, had dinner with a friend of mine. Turned out it was a setup to get me to have dinner with one of her friends,” Hunter said, grinning. He took his hat from his head and began to lazily spin it around one hoof. “So we both figured, ‘why not?’ And we went ahead with it.” He gave the hat a final flip with his hoof, landing it back on his head. “She was a little shy, but it was still fun.”

Steel shook his head, a wry smile on his muzzle. “Well, at least you had fun tonight,” he said, taking a glance at the large clock set over the door. “Hope that good mood of yours lasts, because I’ve got some paperwork for you.”

Hunter's face fell. “Way to pull a cloud out from under a guy,” he said, his shoulders slumping.

“Oh buck up,” Steel said, rolling his eyes as he pushed his chair back and climbed to his hooves. “You got to spend your evening having dinner with some cute pegasus filly. I was stuck here dealing with this stuff—” he tapped one of the budget reports, “—and half of the time I have to figure out why I have it before I know what to do with it.”

“I know, I know,” Hunter said, rising and leaning over the desk. “What do you need me to do?” He watched, his wings falling as Steel silently pushed the now quite large stack of papers out in front of him. “Alright, now I do what exactly with these?”

“Whatever that stuff requires,” Steel said in a matter-of-fact voice. “There’s a list of the stolen items in there for you by the way.”

“Okay, that I get, but what about this thing on the construction budget?”

He shrugged. “Ask Sky Bolt. I’m sure she’d know.”

“Bureaucracy,” Hunter muttered as he flipped through the pile. “The ultimate enemy of the hard-working pony.”

“You’re telling me,” Steel said as he headed for the door. “Bear in mind that’s just today’s pile of paperwork.”

“You’re kidding,” Hunter said, looking down at the stack with a look of surprise on his face. “All of this?”

Steel nodded. “Yeah. One. Day. If it doesn’t die down after a week or two, I’m budgeting someone onto the team just to handle paperwork.”

“Maybe you should ask one of the other Guard divisions how they handle this stuff,” Hunter said, flipping a page upside down to see if it made more sense.

Steel nodded. “Good idea. Anyway, see what you can make of all that stuff. If you need a desk—”

“Go commandeer one from a duty sergeant?” Hunter suggested. “I kinda feel sorry for those ponies when I do that.”

“Rank hath its privileges,” Steel said, giving him a shrug. “Your quarters should be done next week, you’ll have someplace for paperwork then.”

“Like a garbage can?” Hunter suggested hopefully as he scrutinized another piece of parchment.

Steel laughed. “I’ll tell Arch to make an extra large one just for you. Night Hunter.”

“Night Steel.” Hunter didn’t even look up as Steel walked out of the office, door closing behind him. “Going to be a long night sortin’ through this pile,” he muttered. Then his face brightened. “Sun above did she have a pretty set of wings.”

* * *

The door shuddered under a succession of quick impacts as what sounded suspiciously like two young unicorns slammed into it. ‘I got it! I got it!” Jammer yelled from behind the door, echoed by his younger sister. Steel watched in amusement as the doorknob lit up with a vibrant yellow glow that sputtered a few times before holding steady.

“Hey there, kids!” he said as the door opened. Steel leaned back on his haunches and held his hooves open just in time as Jammer and Sparkle shot out of the door and into his chest, Sparkle wrapping her hooves around one of his forelegs with a giggle, Jammer impacting Steel’s chest with as much force as he could muster.

“Gah! Jammer! Sparkle!” came Click’s voice from inside. “How many times do I have to tell you not to run into the door like that? Your mother is going to kill me if she finds any new dents in the door when she gets back!” The door opened a little further and the light brown coated earth pony trotted out. “Oh, hey there Steel. Dropping by to give me a hoof with the duo?”

Steel smiled and mussed Jammer’s mane with a free hoof. “Of course. I know how this works, don’t I kids?” he said, switching his gaze from their father to the two grinning unicorn kids. “I’ve either got to give your dad a hoof or give you one.”

“Ooh! Ooh! Help us!” Sparkle said, giving him a wide grin.

‘Hey, you lost another tooth!” Steel said as he looked at her grin. “When did that happen?”

“It was today!” Jammer said. “She fell off of the jungle gym at the playground!”

“Yeah!” Sparkle said in a voice that suggested she was entirely all right with the event. “I fell off!”

“She had a little help,” Click said. “Somepony suggested ...” He raised an eyebrow at Jammer, a stern look on his face. “... that she might be able to fly if she used her magic just right ...” Click’s voice trailed off as he looked at his son. “Hmm?”

Jammer looked slightly sheepish. “Yeah, but—”

“But what?”

“You did the same thing to me when I was her age.” Jammer said. His father deflated with a groan.

“You did?” Steel said, looking at Click. “How come I never heard about this?”

“That was over a pond, Jammer,” Click said, shaking his head. “Just be glad your mother wasn’t here and the worst that happened was Sparkle losing her loose tooth.” He turned his attention back to Steel. “Come on in Steel. Don’t let the duo scare you off.”

Sparkle laughed as she climbed onto Steel’s back, her rear hooves kicking against his side. “We’re not scary! Right Uncle Steel?” She propped her front hooves on the back of his head as he stood up. “Right? Not unless it’s Nightmare Night! Rar!”

Steel laughed as he followed Click into the house. “No, I don’t think I’d let them scare me off,” he said, shutting the door behind him and noticing a bunch of small hoofmarks at the base of the door. “However, I’ll bet I can scare them off!” he said, letting out a dramatically evil laugh and looking at Jammer.

“Oh yeah?” Jammer said, putting on his best “tough guy” face and puffing out his chest. “And what are you gonna do to scare me?”

“Why nothing at all, Jammer,” Steel said, pointedly examining one hoof with exaggerated care. He waited a moment as Jammer leaned in and then lashed out, wrapping his hoof around Jammer and pulling him close. “Nothing but give you a hoofie noogie!” he said, rubbing his other hoof vigorously across the top of Jammer’s head.

“Ack! No! No-no-no-no-nooooo!” Jammer squirmed under his grip, laughing and twisting his body back and forth before popping out from underneath Steel’s hoof like a spit watermelon seed between teeth.

“And now! For you!” Steel said, turning his head and stretching his hooves toward his back. Sparkle let out a shriek of laughter as she dropped from his back and shot down the hallway, giggling. Jammer took off after her, his hooves sliding on the smooth wooden floor as he tried to catch up with his sister.

“Boy, they’re pretty energetic tonight,” Steel said as he looked at his brother-in-law. “What’d you do, give them a couple cotton candies each?”

“Ice cream actually,” Click said, smiling as he turned and followed the rambunctious pair down the hall. “I told them if they were well-behaved at the play, they could have some ice cream afterwards.”

“Oh really? What play did you take them to see?”

“The Music Stallion,” Click said as he turned into the kitchen. “The one about “Professor” Haycolt Hill?”

“The traveling scam artist right?” Steel asked. Click nodded. Did they enjoy it?”

Click laughed. “Oh immensely. Now that Sparkle’s old enough to get a little bit of what’s going on I think we’ll be able to go see more of them too. She kept singing the songs the whole walk home.” He grinned and shook his head while he opened a cupboard. “She takes after her mom all right; her voice is already great. She’ll have her cutie mark in music for sure.” He pulled a box of pasta out of the cupboard and trotted over to the stove. “You want to stick around for dinner?”

“Of course,” Steel said, grabbing a pot and filling it at the sink. “Have you heard anything from Sapphire?” he asked as the pot filled.

“Only that she was going to be back in another few days. It was kind of a short letter, but business isn’t super busy at the moment, so everything's been pretty good at the shop.” Click paused as Steel set the pot on the stove, then he lit the burner. “ How’s the dream job?”

Steel let out an exasperated breath. “More paperwork than I expected, but I’m hoping that changes. The team seems pretty good so far and-” he noticed that Click had grown silent, his eyes focused on something behind Steel’s back.

“Attaaaaaack!”Sparkle landed on his back as Jammer darted between his legs. Steel stepped back in surprise, only to fall as his back legs were pulled out from under him.

“‘e g’t ‘im!” Jammer yelled, his voice muffled by the jump rope held in his teeth. The electric blue colt ran around Steel, wrapping the rope around his side. “N’ mor’ ‘oofie ‘oogies!”

“Hoofie noogies!” Sparkle joined in, wrapping her forelegs around Steel’s head and doing her best to rub his mane into his head. Click collapsed laughing, rummaging in a cupboard with one free hoof and knocking all sorts of ingredients out onto the counter in his laughter.

“Alright you guys,” Steel said, laughing. “You want try and take down Uncle Steel, huh?” He pushed himself up on his front legs, straightened his back legs—and promptly pulled his front legs out from under himself, crashing to the ground on his forelegs. “Okay,” he said as Sparkle continued to rub his mane. “What did you two hooligans dream up this time?” He tried to stretch his legs out alongside himself so he could see what had happened, but it was difficult with Sparkle rubbing his mane down over his eyes. He could feel Jammer doing some sort of drum solo on his left flank, and Click, darn him, was still laughing, although now he seemed to have found whatever he was looking for in the cupboard because he was raising something to his face and—

There was a bright flash. Of course. A camera. He was never going to live this down now. With a quick breath he managed to get enough of his mane out of his eyes that he could see what had so effectively immobilized him. Jammer’s jump rope had been threaded around his rear legs in careful loops. When Jammer had looped the rope around his front legs and pulled, he’d tightened the rear knots, and when Steel had tried to get up, he’d tightened the front knots himself. He started laughing louder. His own nephew had managed to come up with a pretty darn good way to catch him.

“Ok, enough, enough!” he said through broken laughter as Jammer joined his sister in rubbing his head. “I surrender! I surrender! The mighty Steel yields!”

“Yay! We won!” Sparkle yelled, giggling and jumping around on his side. Jammer slowed his hoofie noogies, but didn’t stop.

“Yes, you win!” Steel said, his head starting to heat up now. Jammer was a lot better at noogies than his sister. “I surrender!” Click was still taking pictures, laughing hysterically.

The rubbing on his head stopped. “You mean it?” Jammer said in his ear, his voice excited. “We win?”

“Yes, you win!” Steel said, throwing as much dramatic disappointment into his voice as possible. “You have defeated me, and now you will take the title of captain from me.”

“Captain huh?” Jammer said, hopping off of Steel’s back and standing in front of him on the kitchen floor. Even though Steel was lying partially on his side, Jammer still didn’t quite come up to eye level. “Captain of what?”

“Of—” Click said, his voice still broken by laughter. “Of the kitchen of course!” He was back on his hooves now, camera hanging around his neck. “You defeated the evil warlord captain of the kitchen,” he said, getting more into his role. “That means you’re the leader of the kitchen while we make dinner! Just,” he said with plaintive look, “No spices please?”

“Oy! I’m the kitchen captain now!” Jammer said. “And I think we should have spices in our—uh, what are we cooking Dad?” he asked.


“Spices in our Pasta!” Jammer declared, chest out and one hoof raised on Steel’s leg like a dragon slayer from a book. “What do you say Sparks?”

“Spices!” Sparkle yelled before resuming bouncing in a circle. “Spices, spices, spices!” Click gave a small groan and Steel heard him say something about his taste buds still being unrecovered from the week previous.

“And you!” Jammer pointed at Steel with his free hoof. “We have defeated you. If we free you, will you obey our commands?”

“Of course,” Steel said, shifting his legs. “You’re the kitchen captain. Now, would you please untie me? I can’t feel my rear hooves anymore.”

* * *

“Alright you two, are you ready for bed?” Click asked.

Jammer gave a final spit into the bathroom sink. “Yup!”

“Alright then, that just leaves one last thing.”

“Story time!” Sparkle said from beside Click. She was smiling and carefully holding a small pink stuffed Alicorn doll against her chest with one hoof.

“That’s right,” Click said, flicking the bathroom light off and heading into the hall. “Now what story do you two want to hear tonight?”

“Oh oh oh!” Jammer said, jumping up and down. “Uncle Steel’s here! Can you and him tell us the story about when he fought the griffon blade ... blade ...”

“Blademaster?” Click asked with a smile.

“Yeah! Can we hear that one?” Jammer went into maximum begging mode, his eyes wide and pleading.

Click laughed as he looked down at his son. “Well … alright. If your Uncle doesn’t mind. But first, both of you go get your blankets.” He watched as his children ran off down the hall towards their rooms, cheering, and gave a contented sigh. If every day of his life ended with him feeling this complete, he’d never regret a thing. “Hey Steel?” be called, poking his head down the stairs.

“Yeah?” Steel’s voice echoed back up the stairwell, accompanied by the sharp ceramic clatter of dishes bumping into one another. “What do you need?”

“The kids want to hear about the blademaster again,” Click called back.

“Which one?” There was another clatter and a dull drum-like thump. “Primetail?”

“That’s the one,” Click said. “You up for it?” There was a faint rattle, the sound of silverware striking the rubber of the dish drainer.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be right up,” Steel called, his voice followed by the ping of another dish striking the drainer. Click turned away from the stairs just as Sparkle was coming down the hall, her Princess Cadance emblazoned blanket across her back and her Alicorn doll in her teeth. She walked up to him and nuzzled his foreleg before yawning and dropping her doll.

“You look tired sweetie,” Click said, wrapping his leg around her shoulders and nuzzling her in return. “Are you going to be awake enough for your uncle and I’s story?” She nodded, but yawned again. Click smiled and walked her past the stairs into the upstairs living room. It was one of his favorite rooms in the house. Lots of room, comfy furniture, plenty of windows and light. He’d made a lot of memories in this room, playing with Jammer and Sparkle, cuddling with his wife while they read stories to their kids or just watched the sunset light up the city. The view through the windows wasn’t nearly as good as from the back wall, but it was good enough. They’d even done stargazing a few times, turning off all the lights and looking through the skylights. Click smiled as he helped his daughter onto a plush couch. The last time they’d stargazed together Sparkle had still been speaking baby talk.

“All right!” Jammer burst into the room, shattering Click from his reverie. Jammer’s electric blue blanket matched his coat, and the young unicorn had tied it around his neck like a cape. It fluttered behind him as he ran around the room and then launched himself into the opposite end of the couch.

“Sounds like they’re ready to hear the story.” Steel said. Click jumped, he hadn’t even heard the big stallion come up the stairs.

“Steel,” he said as he stepped back from the couch. “You are one quiet stallion.”

Steel smiled. “I grew up here, remember? I knew every squeaky step in those stairs by the time I was six.”

Click laughed. “Right,” he said. “You should show me sometime. Sapphire wakes up every time I try to make a midnight snack run.”

Steel chuckled at his words and then walked onto the carpet alongside Click, facing the two young unicorns on the couch. “So!” he said, his voice taking on a strange accent reminiscent of far off Morabscow. “You want to hear a tale of the far off griffon lands, eh?” Steel winked a Click, his cue.

“A tale of intrigue and warriors, love and redemption, griffons and ponies?” Click said, doing his best to put his own words into the same accent as Steel. He wasn’t quite as adroit at it as Steel was, after all Steel had been there, but he could do a fair impression. Keeping time and inflection was after all part of his special talent, as the Conga drum cutie mark on his flank showed.

“Would you like to hear the tale?” Steel asked, tapping the wall switch and dimming the lights.

“Then prepare,” the two stallions said together. “To be amazed!”

Author's Note:

There is a reference hidden here, near the end, to a favorite game and character of mine. Any guesses as to who or what?