• Published 23rd Jul 2014
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Three Stones Lake - Renaissance Muffins



Just before the 50th anniversary of the Empire's return, Princess Kyanite slips away from the castle late at night unbeknownst to her parents, bringing a small trove of books with her.

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Chapter 01: The News

Not hope. The princess vaguely understood what Deckle was saying by that. Some ponies didn't need hope. She's seen it before, in her father and grandfather, King Nephrite and Shining Armor. They've been through a lot: small skirmishes with bandits, invaders wanting to expand their empire, and assassination attempts thwarted by the expertise of Shining's Mystic Outriders. He always kept at least two of them by his side. They all knew hope was a fickle thing, too fragile to touch. Knowing, was confidence and knowing gave little way for failures.

Kyanite, in contrast, knew little in those regards. Reading hundreds upon hundreds of books and all she knew were the words and the mathematics. Teachings and study she could never put into practice simply because she didn't know how. The only things she could apply now was her magic to the Bits that customers gave her and the cups she filled so carefully. Con Panna watched her from a distant, chatting with a few of the regular customers and going into the back office when he needed to.

Just beside the wiry stainless steel rotating rack of cards, sat Deckle in a soft orange chair. A compliment to his dull indigo coat and tanned mane like aged paper with eyes the same. A rather uninteresting looking earth pony at first glance. Writing on scraps or whole pieces of paper, sipping his coffee and staring wistfully out the window to his left where the snow blinded the sight of the inner city. Leaving only traces of the brightest lights and the single war, pink glow from the Crystal Heart that was now imprisoned higher up in the central tower of the castle. Even with the research that Kyanite had done, it did not prepare her for his personality. A mind like his, to her, felt dangerous. What could one simple pony like him prove to be?

Kyanite's lost train of thought was crushed by the feeling of scalding hot coffee spilling over and onto her hoof. She made to swear and curse, but held her tongue. The first day of work isn't one to be filled with profuse swearing. A mannerism she remembered from her maids, reinforced by Deckle. Con Panna helped clean up the mess. The friendly stallion joked about she needed it with all the cold weather they've been having. Then recalled the first time he met Deckle. “Coming in like it was one of those Apple Loosa films where the lone hero comes swaying in through the front doors of a saloon. Asked if I had any alcohol. That gave me a right good laugh.” She glanced over to Deckle who let out a hushed breath and a slight smile.

Interesting crew the Three Stones Coffee House had. A dishwasher whose last name no one could pronounce correctly, MishMash Slamagundi. Everyone always called him Mishy or Salmon to poke fun at him. Brightly colored fellow with purple coat, orange spots, blue hair and yellow eyes. Pure hues that made him easy to spot with a toothpick perched between his teeth. An old habit thathe couldn't remember starting. His flirting tongue never rested whenever Kyanite or another mare met his wistful gaze. Thankfully, his air-headed enabled him to handle rejection rather well. There was one mare, however, that he hid from. Kyanite took notice of that after her first few days of work.

The manager is a kind one. Cracking jokes harmlessly but not nearly as talkative as Mishmash. Always held a cheery, cheeky smile that never quite goes away. Creamy brown coat, dull orange hair and mustard yellow eyes. He's glad that Deckle brought her in. It lessens the load that he and his daughter have had to work with. MishMash only came to the front when he didn't have prep-work or cleaning up to do. While Con Panna is a nice fellow, he was always firm with his daughter's behavior, teaching her and sometimes he had to give Mishy a quick tap on the head so he'd mind his manners.

Their interactions gave some entertainment other than the music that played through the old crackling speakers in the tiled ceiling. The televisions were mostly on mute or low volume, but always had their captions on so what was being said could be read. A system that Kyanite never quite saw in action as she always used a compact personal computer to access the news. A precious belonging she had abandoned when she left the castle. The local news popped up, cutting off a commercial halfway through the punchline. The lovely, almost robotic, news anchor moved her lips and the captions, white text on black walls, “Today, the king and queen of the Crystal Empire have launched a search for their missing daughter, Princess Kyanite. They're unsure of where she went to but admit that she has had outbursts and was prone to disappearing from the castle for hours on end.” Some murmuring shot up between a few of the patrons. The TV displayed a portrait of her when she was younger before the anchor continued. “They wish for her safe return home. Meanwhile, the authorities are not disclosing any information on what they know but are beginning their search from the outermost points of the Empire.”

“Ain't that something? Like a fairy tale.” Mishmash huffed.

“Can't say I haven't heard the rumors. They're around like wildfire.” Con added. “I wonder how long it took for them to notice?”

Kyanite pulled her eyes away from the screen, and continued her work at the register. She was expecting them not to notice for much longer. A week at least, not three days. She was sure she had set up a diversion, however, she wasn't sure it would work, she only hoped. The thoughts were nerve wracking. So much so that Con had to let her go for the remainder of the night, forcing Deckle to leave earlier than usual.

Deckle was fine with it. Before heading home, however, Deckle took Kyanite to connected deck which reached out painfully toward the three stones in the middle of the lake. Deckle sat down, not minding the cold, half-frozen planks against his hindquarters. He told Kyanite the legend of the lake, how magic and the moon's tidal effects were unable to move its surface. How fog would roll off it every morning, despite contrary weather conditions. He leaned over the fence that kept patrons from falling into the lake. “I vacationed here a long time ago, always wanted to come back. Those three stones, their conical formations, makes me think of a stabilizer or a focus deal.” He huffed and closed his eyes, “It'd be funny if it were right. ”

“You could be, but if you are, it'd bring a lot of tourism to this area and I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate the noise.” She joked lightly.

“That I wouldn't. It's... nice every once in awhile but not all day, ya know?”

She smiled and started off back to his house, barely remembering the path now. Deckle followed behind with the lamps that dimly lit the way. Nothing more than a gravel road here, specked with dirt. It ended at Deckle's house at one end, the edge of the walls at the other. A solid gate, poorly guarded and left open. All of it covered in snow. Deckle trotted along, mindlessly bearing the cold wind that made Kyanite freeze. It was thanks to an old coat of his that kept her from being an icicle.

“Say, Deckle...” he turned to her, some distance between them now, “...if I want to go back, would you let me?”

“I ain't gonna stop ya. You can keep the necklace if you like, but my mirror is the only thing that can adjust the output. You'd have to sneak out everyday and I know that can be stressful. Sometimes, it's not worth it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Old stories.” Deckle squinted at something behind her, away and past the coffee house they had left behind. “Who's...” he cautiously walked past Kyanite, gazing at a shadowy figure in the distance. “The stride, the hat... A-ha! Kyanite, stay here a moment.” Kyanite thought it astounding he'd be able to recognize another stallion by their stride and a simple piece of attire. He proceeded to help the older stallion, who was in a visible limp. “Hum Bug, meet Berberis; Berberis, Hum Bug He runs a floral shop nearby.”

“Oh?” Hum coughed. “I can see why why that's her name.” The old stallion grinned as Deckle took his bags. “When'd you have a kid?”

Deckle laughed, “She's not mine... Let's get you home first. Old stallion like you doesn't need to be out in this cold.”

A short trip down a branching road toward Deckle's home lead them to a small house connected to a large greenhouse all closed up from the cold. Not even a shield to protect it. When they entered Hum Bug shed his thick black jacket and brown bucket hat. Adjusted his thick glasses to see more clearly and shuffled over to the dining table, taking a seat. “Deckle, could you start the fire for me?” he heaved out the words as if they were his last.

“Sure thing, Bug. Berberis, take a seat.” Kyanite reacted slowly to his command, still growing used to the new name he had given her. It felt wrong, changing her name, and it angered her. Yet, she couldn't quite understand why. She quietly took a seat as Deckle went back outside, bearing the cold without any form of protection.

The old stallion flicked a switch on his table lamp. Strikingly odd thing to do considering the chandelier above, until he said that the power was out. Still odd, since electricity was a free resource to the citizens of the Crystal Empire. Along with other, undeniable resources such as food, education, and water. When the laws were enacted 20 years ago, it set a precedence for the other parts of the Celestial Lunar Alliance. How power had not been restored to this area was beyond her comprehension. She had no idea how the city services worked. It was a subject she always skipped over, finding it boring and arduous reading that was nothing more than statistics and random numbers.

“Wondering why it's not back on yet?” Kyanite blinked a moment as the old words pried in. She nodded when the words finally made sense in her head. “It's cause I simply leave it off for the winter. My bones may be old, but they still got some heft to 'em.” He laughed lowly, half wheezing.

Deckle came in, carrying a load of firewood on his back. Then proceeded to toss a few pieces of kindling into the fireplace. Setting the bigger logs on the mantle, off to the side. A safe precaution against some wayward spark that might set it alight. He grabbed a bit of paper, scraped some old contraption of steel and stone together to create a spark. The paper caught and cast a small, steady flame that was promptly placed under the kindling. A few more sheets of paper and a small ball of wool and more fire spewed upward into the brick and mortar chimney. Soon after, the kindling caught and a small smile ran across Deckle's face. He tossed in a log and sat on the couch, admiring, with a squint, at his small success.

Never had Kyanite seen a fire lit by some primitive means. Was it really primitive, though, if it could still be used to achieve the same goal that her butlers and maids accomplished with a switch and dial? Her books and teacher told her that sometimes, given the circumstances, that we must resort to older methods. The methods that have helped us survive and prosper. Methods that brings a philosophical question that asks: “does it need to be improved?” Her mind broke down the process that Deckle used. She compared it to the more complex methods she was taught. “Why..” she thought aloud, confounded and forgetting that Hum Bug was even there.

“'Why' what?” Hum Bug quipped, his dull red-orange coat lit by the firelight. His Faded yellow eyes washed away so that only his pupils remained. Aged and wiry, short red hair streaked with a muddied gray. A short beard lined his jawline and made a thin bridge above his upper lip. “Hrm?”

“N...Nothing. Just thinking out loud, is all.”

“Say, Berberis, where'd you come from, anyways? You look much to stiff in the chair to be a normal pony.”

“Am I?” She questioned.

“She's a little shaken up still.” Deckle chimed in, unmoving. “She was just doing some traveling, bandits targeted her wagon, and she wound up here. Almost froze to death on my doorstep. Hasn't told me how she escaped or anything about her family.”

“Ah, that's unfortunate. Must've been some rough bunch, bearing this winter.” Hum huffed. “Rather old way of doing things, ain't it? I reckon you got some magic in ya ta fight 'em off, then- or run.”

“Yea.” Kyanite mumbled.

“Hmph. Well, just be sure ta talk ta someone about it then.” Hum suggested, almost jokingly. “Like me and Deckle. Speaking of which... Deckle thank you starting the fire and before you leave, I've got something for you-”

“But first, some warm tea?”

The old stallion laughed and pointed, “You know me that well, huh?”

“Every time, Hum Bug.”

Deckle joined them at the table. Hum Bug left the table, grabbed the kettle that sat atop the stove. Gingerly carried himself and the kettle to the fire place and set it on the mantle. Checked the kettle for water and closed it back up. Wandering back into the kitchen, he perused his cabinets and found teabags and daintily set three of them inside the mugs. Kyanite stared at the bag, curiously, recalling a small chapter she'd read about tea. Imported from Chinei to Euroof, then Equestria over the course of a hundred years. In that time it spread to other parts of the world. Coffee had a similar story, but the locations reversed.

While the history lesson drifted away, she listened to Hum Bug and Deckle talk about ideas for flower arrangements for the festival in two days: The Crystal Return Celebration. Deckle drew in his head, thoughts rummaged for matches and ideas. Hum Bug supplied the reference material from a book with sealed samples of the flowers tacked to the pages. As soon as they agreed on what should be in the first wreath, the kettle whistled like a tiny locomotive ready to depart. Deckle took care of it, bringing the steaming kettle over and pouring roughly the same amount in each mug. A swirl of fog lifted from tea's surface as Kyanite stared in childlike wonder. Deckle and Hum let their mugs sit and discussed another wreath.

Kyanite lifted the mug and sipped her tea. The steam warmed her numbed faced but the unready mix of mint and water scalded her tongue and throat. She yelped and forced the mug to the table. Deckle didn't flinch and Hum Bug let out a roaring laugh, followed by light wheezing. “Ya grow up with a real lovely butler?” She moved her tongue awkwardly, unable to speak, she nodded instead. Her embarrassment already flaring her face up. “You have to let it sit for a moment.” He cooed. She nodded again.

Deckle glanced over a few more samples and proposed the matching breeds to Hum Bug. Who agreed with great delight. Kyanite remained quiet and carefully drank the rest of her tea. Deckle, on the other hand, gulped it down, not minding the scalding liquid. When it cooled, he added more water. Hum Bug didn't mind the beverage getting cold. Saying that his old bones are used to it.

After the fire began to die, Deckle fetched more wood and Hum got comfortable on the couch. A thing of soft cotton and suede. Covered himself in an afghan of white and blue. Even sat an old alarm clock on the coffee table. One that rattled its bells after it was wound accordingly.

Deckle lead the way out the door, bearing the wicked wind that stung the eyes. Kyanite closed the door behind them. “Wind's picked up a bit! 'Nother storm headed this way, ya?”

“There could be.” Kyanite lisped loudly.

“Blizzard's really picked up this year. Wonder if those windigos are all uptight about somethin'.” He looked back to her from the end of the stoop. “Let's get goin'. I don't wantcha freezing up again.”

Even in the cold wind, his heart was warm. Kyanite wondered if had ever had kids of his own. He was old enough, certainly, but why would he isolate himself? Deckle tapped the stoop with a hoof, and looked her with urgent eyes, almost playfully. She snapped to and followed beside him as they wandered back to her new home.

The sun, blinded, set without notice and the blizzard picked up just as soon as they Kyanite shut the door. The urge to ask Deckle if he had ever had kids was sitting there, on the tip of her tongue like a predator about to leap unto its prey. She swallowed the question, afraid to intrude on something that could prove too personal.

He flicked a switch on his coffee table, the half-burned logs caught aflame and quickly warmed the room. Deckle got up and found his way over to his work desk next to the bay window, curtained with brown silk. He flipped on the small, portable radio the sat there beside his collection of novels and other works. Tuned into a news station after drudging through a mound of white noise.

“In other news, Princess Twilight Sparkle has officially announced that she would be passing on the Element of Friendship.” Kyanite's ears perked. She knew that name all too well. Her great aunt Twilight Sparkle, praised by Queen Celestia to be her best student and one of the brightest minds in existence. “Her reasoning is all too agreeable.”

An audible switch between the tapes made it obvious that the station was fairly old. Twilight's voice shined through, loud and clear. “Citizens of Equestria, I am announcing today, that I shall be passing my title as the Element of Friendship to someone new. This pony will have certain traits which I've disclosed with two envoys whose names will not be given at this current time. I no longer have the time to bear the Element and as a result, the two envoys will be searching the allied empires and acting accordingly. I will not be taking any questions at this time, that is all.”

The tape switched off and a 'pop' clicked, “Well, that's certainly some news. Former Element bearers Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie have already passed on their titles to their friends grandchildren, Fleet Forth and Pumice. The other four Elements have been passed on in a similar manner. Friendship is the remainder. This marks a precedence for an entirely new generation of Element bearers who will play an important role in all of our futures. The question is: who is our next representative for the Element of Friendship and how long will we have to wait?”

The radio cut to a commercial about a phone system. Deckle eased back in his chair, “Ain't that somethin'. Lot of ponies in CLA. Lots of other species as well. Lot of ground too.”

“Maybe she invented something, Celestia always praised her intelligence.”

“Maybe. She probably doesn't want to cause a headache for everyone. I'm sure Shining's Outriders have their hooves full already. Mysterious bunch, them.”

“Indeed.”

As the silence grew, the howling wind crept through the walls. Kyanite took to the couch and covered up. Deckle continued to write in his book of things. A novel with a story about a dragon who had raised an earth pony in the ruins of a civilization the dragon once called home. The dragon falls to hunters seeking out a lost prince. In the wake of death, the dragon reveals a book of spells and the cause behind his lonesomeness. A tragic beginning with an ending yet to be determined. Every now and then, Deckle stared blankly out the large windows, looking for the answers to the next part of the story. Only once did he glance over to Kyanite, who lied asleep on the couch. Perhaps he could include a love interest. While typical, it made for good drama.

A small alarm tripped as he began to plan out the different scenarios. Deckle shushed it and climbed the stairs to his room. Gazed at the mirror a moment, recalling all the times he had to use it to hide from paparazzi and sometimes, obsessive fans. Yawning and covering himself in his beds heavy covers, he drifted off to the wonder that were dreams and at other times, nightmares both odd and terrifying. This night however, his mind was at a wonderful ease and no haunting could shake him from it.