• Published 1st Jan 2014
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Stormsinger - Airstream

After four hundred and fifty years of uneasy peace, the balance of power in Equestria has shifted.

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In Which An Inevitable Climax Is Approached

Serale bent over the washbasin, feeling her stomach churn uneasily as her cheeks colored from their usual pale silver to a light green. She gasped, a sharp pang of discomfort traveling the length of her body, and sighed as the feeling of nausea and stress disappeared. She turned on the faucet, pouring herself a glass of water, and drained the cup dry in three quick gulps. Refilling her glass, she did it again, this time taking it more slowly, savoring the feeling of water sliding down her throat, coating her stomach with cooling liquid and lessening the fire in her belly. Gradually, she felt the burning in her insides fade away to nothing. She frowned. That was unusual.

Running the water again, she splashed a bit on her face, waking herself up some. She needed to get ready soon, needed to look her best. The armor her mother had given her would be appropriate wear for today, but she would need time to get it on, time she might not have if she didn’t hurry. She smiled. Who was she to worry about schedules? The tournament would start on her orders, and nopony else’s. She looked at herself in the mirror, brushing an errant lock of her mane out of her eyes. She really did need to get it cut; it was getting far too long.

A white flash in the mirror, a blur of purple and white, and she spun around, gasping. There was nopony else in her bathroom. And yet…

Quickly she strode to her bedroom door, throwing it open. A maid was waiting outside, head bowed demurely.

“Good morning, Lady Serale,” she said, “Are you ready to begin getting ready?”

“Needlepoint, would you mind terribly fetching one of the guards from outside?” Serale said, her voice level, “I think there may be somepony in my bathroom.”

Needlepoint’s eyes widened. She nodded once before bolting down the hallway, the clatter of her hoofbeats fading into the distance. She would be back in thirty seconds or less with two guards in tow, that much Serale knew. Serale stole a nervous glance over her shoulder, her breath shallow and rapid. It was foalish to think so, but she could have sworn there was somepony in the bathroom. Even though there was no place for them to have hid, she felt a very real danger.

Two guards, pistols drawn, tore around the corner with Needlepoint in hot pursuit. Serale stepped to one side to allow them to pass, shrinking back a bit as they approached the washroom, checking behind the pillars and in the washbasin and newly installed shower. Their search was meticulous, one even going so far as to stick his head out of the window far too small for anypony to have entered or exited from, checking to see if an assassin was clinging to the outside. Upon completing their sweep of the bathroom, one of the guards holstered his pistol, trotting over to her.

“Nothing in there, Milady,” he said, inclining his head respectfully. “Would you mind describing what you saw, exactly?”

“I thought I saw movement in my mirror while I was washing up,” Serale said, a bit embarrassed now that her fears were proven to be unfounded. “No distinguishing features, just a sort of whitish-purple blur. I suppose…I suppose it could be the stress of the past weeks. My sincerest apologies, sergeant. I’ve wasted your time.”

“Nonsense, Lady Serale,” the sergeant replied gruffly, eyes straight forward. “Protecting you is our charge. I’d rather be overcautious than have you not decide a potential threat is dangerous. Would you like us to remain posted by your door while you are…properly attired?”

Serale glanced down, realizing to her chagrin that she was clad only in her nightgown. Normally if she had gone bare, the sergeant wouldn’t have batted an eye, but approaching somepony in a nightgown could be construed as an invitation for something more personal than was appropriate.

“Ah,” she said, flushing, “Yes. Please. Would you mind terribly sending in Needlepoint and Pluma to help me put on the armor? And close the door behind you.”

“Quite right, Milady,” the sergeant said stiffly. “Corporal!”

The second guard snapped to attention from pointedly contemplating one of the bedposts. “Sir!”

“Post to the left of the door,” the sergeant said, “I’m fetching Lady Serale’s maidservant.”

Serale let them go, studying her hooves, which were shaking quite badly. For some stupid reason, she couldn’t get the thought of the sergeant out of her mind. He wasn’t bad looking, she mused. She wouldn’t have minded if he had pressed the invitation she hadn’t meant to give. It might have been quite…

She quashed that train of thought before it could go any further. It was conduct unbecoming of a Lady, and she would have put his job at risk by propositioning him in any way. Even if she did choose to have some sort of illicit liaison with him, and here she felt herself flushing hotly again, it would never end in anything but heartbreak.

“Milady Serale?” Needlepoint asked from the doorway. “Are you ready to begin?”

Serale nodded, gulping as she did. What in Equestria was wrong with her today? She didn’t feel like this normally. It had to be the stress of the choosing, it had to be.

“Duck your head, miss,” the other maid, a plump unicorn by the name of Pluma, admonished her. “Else we can’t get the jerkin on.”

Needlepoint lifted the breastplate off of the rack, and Serale felt her eyes drawn to the dragon twining around the star. Though it was impossible, she could have sworn she saw its eyes flash. Immediately, a memory came to her unbidden, a great purple serpent waiting inside of a tree lined with books of ancient knowledge, of being consumed by flame in a thousand different colors, and a voice echoing in her ear.

“Use it well, dear.”

Serale yelped and jumped back at the sight of the breastplate, absolutely convinced for a split second that the entire room had been consumed in fire. Pluma and Needlepoint looked at her worriedly, and Serale realized that she had lowered her head, pointing her horn at the dragon on the plate as if she were going to gore it.

Serale forced herself to straighten up and take a deep breath. “I’ve decided not to wear the armor today,” she said. “I think a simple dress will do just fine. Perhaps the blue one with the silver braiding?”

“Lady Serale,” Pluma said slowly, “Would you like me to call for a physician?”

“No, Pluma,” Serale snapped, her voice brittle. “What I would like is for you and Needlepoint to put the armor away, help me into my blue dress, and fulfill the terms of your employment.”

Pluma jerked back as if stung, a hurt look on her face. Serale had known the maid for years, and considered her something of a friend. She had never treated her servants as, well, servants. Immediately she felt a deep wave of remorse.

She exhaled slowly. “My apologies, Pluma,” she said, “And you too, Needlepoint. I’ve been on edge for a few days, and probably not sleeping as much as I would like. Perhaps I will see a physician after the tournament today, but right now I have a duty to perform. If you two aren’t too offended, would you mind terribly helping me find something to wear for today?”

Pluma’s expression softened. “Of course, Milady,” she said warmly. “You’ve been worked powerful hard for the last while. It’s to be expected that you’d be under some stress. Needlepoint,” she called, “Fetch Lady Serale’s blue dress and the gold shoes.”

She took Serale by the hoof, walking her over to the mirror. “I’ll just brush and oil your mane,” she said, “We’ll let it hang loose today, if that’s alright with you”

Serale nodded, trembling as she sat in front of the mirror. She took a deep breath as Pluma massaged a bit of oil into her mane, working it in with the brush and comb. The young Lady could already feel herself relaxing under her ministrations, and she closed her eyes contentedly. She really did need to take a break after all was said and done.

She looked into her reflection, and for the briefest moment, she could have sworn her normally purple eyes had turned candle-flame blue, and her mane fiery red, before flickering back to normal. Pluma hadn’t noticed. She felt the heat in her stomach rising again, and choked back another scream. Maybe a physician wasn’t such a bad idea either.

Vino rounded the corner of the building at a sprint, armor clattering as a warning to anypony who might have gotten in his way. His breath remained strong and even, as he took a running leap over a low wall separating him from his eventual goal of the arena, which he could see looming in the distance. Gone were the uncertainties of what he would say to Lady Serale when he saw her, or the numerous tasks that he would need to complete today, or even the numerous niceties and protocols he had to observe as an officer in the Regia. Now he was but a pony in armor, late and pushing himself to the best of his ability.

Vino loved moments like this, moments where he was able to shut his mind off and just react, like he had in training. Running like this felt right, like he had been born to pursuit and exertion and battle. He wasn’t meant to be a Court pony. Vino was meant to fight.

The young knight was so focused on his destination, the stone walls of the Field of Trials, that he almost failed to notice the stately mare and her guards passing by until he was a few short meters from colliding with her. Grunting, he thrust his front hooves down into the ground, sending a spray of grit in front of him as he slid to an abrupt and somewhat undignified halt.

The mare arched an expertly plucked eyebrow at him. “Vino,” she remarked, “Good morning.”

Vino bowed his head respectfully, to her as well as the guards flanking her, who regarded him impassively. “Good morning, Aura,” he intoned respectfully. “How are you?”

“I’m doing well,” she replied, “But you look to be a bit shaken up. Did nopony tell you?”

Vino felt a sinking feeling in his chest. “Tell me what?” he asked.

“Lady Serale is running a bit late. The tournament is not set to begin for another hour. I was just about to take a stroll through the gardens here to pass the time,” Lady Hedera explained. “Would you care to accompany me?” The question was given as a polite inquiry, but Vino had known that voice for seven years. It was not a request, it was an expectation.

He bowed his head in deference once more. “I’d be happy to,” he said.

“Wonderful!” Lady Hedera beamed. She turned to the two guards, each wearing the colors of her house. “You two are dismissed,” she said airily. They said not a word, merely paying proper obeisance and retreating along the path. She looked up to Vino, her ice-blue eyes meeting his own chestnut. “Walk with me?” she inquired.

“Of course,” Vino answered. They began a stately circuit of the arena, towards the small garden on the far side that was meant as a place of peace and quiet reflection for those who needed a break from the rigors of the Field. They passed a few ponies along the way, each paying their proper respects, ranging from the barest inclination of their heads to stepping off of the path completely to allow them to pass by. Vino felt uncomfortable when they passed that pony, a servant wearing the tabard of a very minor house.

“So,” Lady Hedera said, breaking the previously amiable silence between them. “I’m pleased to see that you’ve decided to accept the role in Lady Serale’s new guard, as well as a bit surprised. I’d quite thought you were going to respectfully turn her down.”

Vino glanced down, only just now really aware of what it was he was wearing. “Oh,” he said gruffly. “I’d honestly forgotten that I put the armor on. I was a bit distracted getting ready this morning.”

Aura shook her head. “Honestly,” she said, her tone weary, “I could never understand how you or your father could forget you were wearing something as cumbersome as armor. You take after him in more ways than one, I suppose.”

“Sorry,” Vino said sheepishly. He felt his cheeks flush as he realized how silly he must have looked sprinting through the castle in full armor. “I really must have been somewhere else. I woke up late and didn’t realize until I glanced at the clock, and I suppose I just did what came naturally.”

“You’re more observant than that,” Lady Hedera said. “What in the world could have kept you so preoccupied that you neglect the time?”

“Well,” he replied slowly, “I met a mare on the way back to my room last night.”

“Oh?” Aura said as they entered the garden. She bent over to smell one of the winter roses that were just now coming into bloom. “And what was her name? Do you know which house she was from? All the mares adore a colt in armor.”

“I didn’t catch her house or family name,” Vino said, a not-quite-lie. “Her name was Cobblestone.”

Aura, normally poised and unflappable at the worst of times, jerked like she had been stung. Her eyes flashed with icy interest, and Vino could have sworn he felt the temperature in the garden drop several degrees. “I see,” she said, “And how did you come across this young lady?”

“She was waiting for an appointment in one of the antechambers, I wasn’t sure who it was with,” Vino said. “She looked nervous, so I tried to reassure her. She went in for her appointment and that’s the last I saw of her.”

“Interesting,” Lady Hedera said, her composure returning. “And she made an impression on you? Was she pretty?”

Vino realized what Aura must be thinking. “O-oh!” he stammered, his face burning, “That’s not it at all! I just felt like I knew her from somewhere before, like we had met previously. I stayed up too late trying to figure it out.”

Lady Hedera’s expression changed to one of relief. “Oh, thank goodness,” she sighed. “I thought you might have become infatuated with her.”

Vino frowned. “Would that be so bad?” he asked. “I was under the impression that you couldn’t have cared less whom I was courting, noble or common.”

“Well, naturally I would prefer you married into another noble family,” Lady Hedera replied smoothly, “But succession of the House passes to you regardless, so you could theoretically marry whomever you wished.”

“Then why would it be an issue if I was caught with Cobblestone?” Vino asked. “I mean, I just met her last night, what’s so bad about her?”

“Was the mare you encountered white, with a brown mane and blue eyes?” Aura inquired curiously. “A unicorn? Perhaps a bit on the thin side?”

Vino stared at her. She had described Cobblestone to a tee. “Well, yes,” he replied. “How did you know?”

Aura smiled sympathetically. “You met the mare who was accused of stealing from the Crown,” she said. “She’s a cutpurse and thief from Crescent City. From what I understand, she had a very rough life before her run-in with Lady Serale.”

She pursed her mouth thoughtfully. “You said she was in the Regia last night?” she asked. “That’s odd. She was sentenced to a term in a juvenile prison, last I heard.”

A criminal! Vino’s mind reeled. The intriguingly familiar and admittedly attractive mare was a thief and a cutpurse, and a convicted one at that. What was she doing out of prison, and how had she managed to come by what was surely an expensive dress, not to mention an audience with officials at the Regia! Maybe…

“Should we be warning somepony?” Vino asked. “What if she was planning on something? Maybe she wanted to rob the castle!”

“Calm down, boy,” Lady Hedera said gently. “If she were trying to rob Lady Everstar after doing the same to her daughter, I pity her. I think it’s far more likely she had her sentence discretely purchased by the Crown.”

“Why would they do that?”

“It’s possible they wanted her services for something,” Lady Hedera said, shrugging. “I don’t really know. But if I were you, I’d keep my distance. I don’t know how ‘reformed’ you could be after less than a week in jail.” She sighed. “But that’s not important. Just don’t let thoughts of her distract you during the tournament today.”

Vino chuckled uneasily. “About that,” he said. “I’d actually hurried out to try and speak with Lady Serale and explain why I was turning her down. I don’t think I’d be a good fit for her guard.”

“I see,” Lady Hedera said. “What makes you think that? Is it because of that incident with the sneaking out?”

Vino considered. “That’s part of it,” he admitted, “But I think it’s also because I don’t know much about the guard. It feels like I’m being taken advantage of again.”

“Well, of course you are!” Aura said. “That’s part of the oath you took, remember? To protect and defend and obey the Crown. Serale’s part of the Crown, so it’s only natural she’d take advantage of you.”

“I suppose,” Vino muttered, unsure.

Aura’s tone turned warm, her expression sympathetic. “Vino, darling,” she said, “I know you and I don’t always see eye to eye on everything. Well,” she amended, “On a good many things. But can I offer you some help?”

Vino glanced at her untrustingly. Aura had never shown interest in his good will before, so why would she start now? But he could detect no malice in those blue eyes of hers, and so he said nothing, allowing her to continue.

“Do you dislike Lady Serale?” she asked. “I only ever saw you and her playing together a few times, but your father assured me you were once rather close.”

“As close as any pony could get to her,” Vino grumbled. “She didn’t mix with other colts and fillies much.”

“And can you blame her?” Lady Hedera replied. “Growing up isolated in a castle with only her mother for company, no siblings or even cousins to confide in. I know how close you and Tannin were before…well, before the accident. Serale never had that privilege. I don’t think she could even confide in her mother, seeing how busy Lady Everstar is with running the kingdom. What if she simply never learned how to make friends?”

Vino had never thought of it like that. Whenever he had seen Serale growing up, she had always hidden behind a book or the skirts of one of her attendants. She’d only replied in sentences of a few words, and even then never about anything interesting. The closer he had tried to get, the further back she had seemed to shrink, until he was forced to leave her alone for fear of making her cry or worse.

But what if it had just been shyness? He’d always thought she was trying to be standoffish on purpose, not wanting to make friends. What if she had simply never learned how? What if…what if that was why she had visited the thief? Had she found a friend in her? She’d apparently spoken in her defense at her trial, though he hadn’t heard it except through hearsay. And if so, that meant she had picked him to accompany her. Maybe it really was only because he was new and wouldn’t know that she wasn’t to leave the castle, but it was also possible she picked him because she might have some trust in him.

“She could be reaching out to you, Vino,” Lady Hedera continued. “Serale Everstar doesn’t have many friends, and she asked for you personally. She wants your sword by her side, Vino.”

Vino wavered, his thoughts a jumble. “I’m not sure,” he said. “But why would she want me? Companionship would be fine. All she would need to do is ask. But as for a soldier…I’m hardly more than a novice when it comes to fighting. By the Crown, I’ve only had my knighthood for a month!”

“Because you are your father’s son,” Lady Hedera said. “Through and through. Your father’s line have been warriors of great skill since the founding of the Kingdom, and I can tell that you are no different. It’s there in the way you hold yourself, the way you never hesitate to do what’s right. You’ve studied under the great Ironhide, and were one of his youngest graduates. Right behind…”

“My father,” Vino finished. His hoof brushed against his bladeband. He was silent for a moment, contemplating the earth. What would his father have done? It was a question he had asked himself more than once, and yet the answers hadn’t yet led him wrong.

His father was loving, dependable, and perhaps a bit stern to his children. He’d had a noble’s title and an officer’s rank, and had worn them both with pride. He had been unwavering in his loyalty to the Crown even as he turned a once-obscure House into the premiere trading power in Equestria, calling every favor he had rightfully earned through his considerable career to do it. What would he, a devoted father and husband and soldier done? He would have protected the innocent, and been glad to serve his country in any way he could.

“I’ll do it,” Vino said. Immediately he felt a wave of warmth wash over his back, and he smiled. He was doing what was right, he knew. “I’ll try out and give it my best.”

“Then you had best get into the arena,” Aura said with a smile. “I know I don’t say this often, but…I’m proud of you, Vino. Do your best, and win or lose, keep that in mind.”

Vino said nothing, only giving her a tight smile before jamming his helmet back on his head and charging off headlong towards the towering walls of Starfall’s largest stadium. Aura watched him go, a fond smile on her face. She waited until she was quite alone to let it fall.

Vino had been predictable as ever. The boy was so desperate to emulate his father that it only took the slightest implication he wouldn't live up to his father’s legacy in order to make him dance like another puppet on the string. Lady Hedera checked the sun overhead. She had best go sit in her assigned seat soon, or else she risked it being taken, and she couldn’t have that.

After all, she wanted to look her best for her assassination.

Cobblestone flew pell-mell down the corridors of the Regia, not pausing for an instant as she wove through servants, past trolleys, and around guards as they regarded the young mare in billowing black with a mix of consternation and confusion, which only deepened as the large black tomcat which was perhaps a half-dozen paces behind her did his best to catch up. If the servants and guards didn’t know better, they would have sworn that the cat looked exasperated as well.

You know, I’m all for spontaneity, Hob said, But you still haven’t explained to me why you’re attempting to chase down the Magus. Or for that matter, why you look like a schoolfilly cornered by timberwolves.

“Dis,” Cobblestone panted out of breath. “Latent power. Need a potion. Gotta find Libra.”

Eloquent as ever, Hob replied drily. Truly words for the bards.

"You go ahead and laugh,” Cobblestone panted as they found the stairway that supposedly led to Libra’s chambers, “But this is serious.”

Undoubtedly. From what I can gather, you had a dream about Dis?

“Not a dream. He was there. I felt it. I believe what he was saying,” Cobblestone said, taking the stairs two and three at a time. Her breath was coming even heavier now, and she was grateful for the fabric along her back wicking away the sweat and heat. “Where in the tower is her study, anyway?”

Top floor. Not too far now, Hob said. But I don’t know if she’ll be in it.

“It’s worth a shot,” Cobblestone replied. “Otherwise there’s no way I’ll be able to handle being around a crowd of that size.”

The duo wound their way up the tower, spiraling higher and higher above the palace grounds. Cobblestone noted dimly that she could see the arena where the tournament was to be held through the windows which punctuated the walls at regular intervals, a small crowd of spectators pouring into the stands to watch the tryouts which were to take place soon. Cobblestone fervently hoped that Libra hadn’t left yet. She was her only hope.

Watch out! Hob exclaimed, and Cobblestone reacted instinctively, throwing herself to one side as a door in the tower opened, narrowly avoiding an elderly Mage who blinked at her owlishly as she tore by with nothing more than a hasty apology to mitigate her transgression.

“You’d think she didn’t want company,” Cobblestone panted, huffing and wheezing. She was in better shape than she had been in a while, but the climb was still arduous. “I swear, if she wasn’t the only one who could help me right now…”

Not much further, Hob said encouragingly. A few more floors, Mistress.

Cobblestone found the energy to snicker at that. “Did you just call me ‘Mistress’?” she teased through heavy breaths. “There’s a new one.”

Hob growled low in his throat. I’m glad I could amuse you.

“What’s next?” Cobblestone asked. “Should I get you a collar and bell? Maybe a leash?”

It was perhaps not the best decision she could have made, for Hob chose to avoid telling her of the imminent danger up ahead. So preoccupied was Cobblestone with the cat by her side that she forgot to check where she was going, running headfirst into the imposing oak door in front of her.

“Ow,” she groaned, looking up at the great slab of wood that had so rudely interrupted her climb. The knocker, a brass dragon with a ring clamped between its jaws, glowered down at her disapprovingly, as if judging her haste poorly. Clambering back to her hooves, Cobblestone smoothed out the front of her robes and raised a hoof to knock. She needn’t have bothered. The door swung inward soundlessly and there in the doorway stood Libra, blinking at her in surprise.

“Cobblestone?” she asked. “What are you doing here? Were you not supposed to meet me at the arena?” She examined the door. “And why did you head-butt my door?”

“Libra,” Cobblestone said hurriedly, “I need to ask you a favor, and I don’t have much time.” She winced, feeling her head for damage.

Libra swung the door open wider. “Come in,” she said, “Come in. Let me get you something for the headache.”

Cobblestone followed her, Hob in tow, as the door swung shut of its own accord behind her. The dimness of the room was broken only by a few shafts of light from the windows, falling like spotlights on various implements of magical craft displayed proudly on tables. Delicate instruments of copper and glass hummed and whirred and spun in their own rhythms, and alongside them were pieces of parchment being used by animated quills, apparently taking notes of their own without direction from the Magus.

Libra turned the lights up, and Cobblestone’s eyes widened in awe. Displayed on the wall before her were racks upon racks of glass vials containing liquids in a dozen different colors, overlooking a low workbench covered in glasswork and pewter cauldrons. As Cobblestone watched, a pinkish mist began to rise from the bottom of a glass retort, condensing near the beginning of the pipette into a strange blue liquid that appeared to have the consistency of paint.

“What is that?” she asked, indicating the liquid, which was dribbling into a small ceramic bowl.

“That?” Libra asked, confused. She followed Cobblestone’s hoof to the retort. “Oh,” she said. “Distilled essence of beauty. One drop per three hours can enhance the physical attractiveness of the ingestee.”

“Whoa,” Cobblestone said, leaning in closer to see the potion brewing, “Does it work?”

Libra smiled. “Of course,” she said, turning back to her shelf of potions and rummaging through the racks, “If you don’t mind the side effects. All of my volunteers have had a smile frozen on their faces the entire time the potion was in effect. Still working on that.”

She withdrew a small vial of clear liquid. Grabbing a pewter mug from an adjacent table, she poured the contents in, mixing it with a small quantity of a whitish powder. “Here,” she said, holding out with her magic for Cobblestone. “Drink the entire thing.”

Cobblestone did as she was told, tipping the entire cup back in one go. She almost gagged on the taste of old metal and tree sap, but managed to swallow the foul-tasting mixture with a bit of effort. Almost immediately she felt the pain from running into the door begin to fade, replaced with a sensation not unlike cool mint enveloping her head, lending her clarity of thought as well as relief.

“Better?” Libra asked.

“Better,” Cobblestone affirmed. “Thank you.”

Libra smiled. “Of course,” she said calmly, taking the cup back. “Now, what was so important that you needed to try and break down my door?”

Cobblestone swallowed, suddenly nervous. “I…well, it’s hard to explain,” she said shakily. The reality of the situation was just now beginning to dawn on her. “I had a visit from Dis this morning.”

Libra’s visage, open and welcoming, was suddenly stone. “I see,” she said. “And what did he say?”

“He said that the power I have wasn’t properly contained,” Cobblestone said. “That I couldn’t keep it under control on my own. I don’t know what you know about what Lady Everstar and I did last night, but she woke something up. That’s why he was there,” she said, almost choking on the words as they began to spill out, faster and faster until she could hardly control the torrent of information spilling from her lips.

“He told me that the more I was around ponies, the worse it would get, and that if I lost control of it, he would show back up and do something to me. He said that until I could learn how to get it under control I needed something to help me control it.”

“So you came to me,” Libra said. “What do you need? If I don’t have it, I can mix it for you.”

Cobblestone took a deep breath, unsure if Libra would believe her. “He said it was Dragon’s Kiss,” she told Libra truthfully. “And I know what it sounds like.”

“It sounds like you want me to make you more of the drug that nearly ruined your life once in a dangerously irresponsible attempt to do so again,” Libra said. She stared directly into Cobblestone’s eyes, searching there. Cobblestone let her look. She didn’t have anything to hide.

“Very well,” Libra said. “Until we can get somepony to take a closer look at you, I’ll humor you. But if I find out this was an attempt to acquire narcotics…”

“I’ll head back to Bluewater myself,” Cobblestone said desperately. “I swear, Libra. I wouldn’t be asking you if I was that desperate to get Kiss, I’m only doing this because…well, because you’re the only one I can trust.”

Libra said nothing, only nodded shortly before rising, turning her back on Cobblestone, and grabbing vials off of her shelves seemingly at random. “You’re in luck,” she said. “Many of the components in Dragon’s Kiss are similar ones to a certain tea I help to brew for the Lady Serale in order to promote magical growth.”

“Has it worked so far?” Cobblestone asked.

Libra shot her a pointed look. Cobblestone blushed sheepishly. “Right,” she said, “Sorry.”

“The components are nearly exact, save for the ratios in which they are mixed,” Libra said, grabbing another cup and measuring out a small amount of a silvery powder that reminded Cobblestone of lead shavings. She dumped the powder into the cup before adding two drops of a blue liquid and a healthy measure of what looked like water but smelled like apple cider vinegar. Her horn flashed purplish-red and a puff of smoke rose from the cup, curling in the air. She cast about her for a moment, looking for something.

“Where did I put the ichor?” she mumbled to herself distractedly. “Almost done, Cobblestone.”

As she said this, a low chime echoed through the chamber. Libra froze, leaving the potion unfinished. The tone echoed again, and then a third time. Libra bowed her head and sighed. Her horn flashed once more, and her robes appeared on her body, along with her hat and sword.

“Lady Everstar wishes to see me,” she said, “Now. Cobblestone, I will meet you at the Field of Trials with the potion, don’t worry. They were delayed, but they are going to start soon, and you need to attend on Lady Serale’s orders. You need to go. I will send you down there myself.”

“But what if I can’t handle being around that many ponies?” Cobblestone asked fearfully, her heart beating fast.

“You need to be strong,” Libra replied. “And trust me. I will be along in a few minutes with the potion. Focus on keeping yourself contained, and I promise you that everything will turn out alright.”

She took a step back, and Cobblestone could do little more than grab Hob and hold on tightly before Libra’s horn burst into eldritch flame and the world around Cobblestone began to blur and run together. She felt an unusual pressure that seemed to manifest under her skin, and she had the distinct impression of being pulled apart and reassembled as everything faded to black.

New colors and sensations manifested themselves around her, and with a rush and a bang, Cobblestone suddenly found herself sitting in stone seats, overlooking a wide open field. The smell of freshly tilled earth filled her nostrils, and the murmur of a thousand voices reached her ears. Hob squirmed and managed to extricate himself from her grip, landing in an undignified heap on the ground.

That was uncalled for, he said.

“Cobblestone?” a familiar voice called.

The spell-shocked unicorn turned to address the voice, and found the bright and happy face of Serale directly to her right. She jumped, startled. The young Lady flinched back herself.

“Sorry,” she said, “Teleportation can be a bit disorienting. Where’s Libra?”

Cobblestone struggled to find words for just what had happened. “Lady Everstar called,” she managed to get out, “She sent me on ahead.”

Serale said something, but Cobblestone only registered a distant buzz. She could feel the presence of every spectator in the stands, and each one was like a small weight pressing on her mind. She could keep them out for now, but if things took too long, she would be in trouble.

“Cobblestone?” Serale asked, “Are you alright?”

Cobblestone shook her head. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine. Just disoriented.”

“It’s to be expected, dear,” another voice chimed in, this one melodious and welcoming. “I’ve never had a head for that sort of transportation myself."

Cobblestone looked to her left. She gasped quietly upon seeing the elegant mare to her left. Lady Hedera smiled at her pleasantly. “Good morning, Cobblestone,” she said, “It’s good to see you’re doing well.”

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