• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Reflection Sixteen: Nightingale

Reflection Sixteen: Nightingale

There's somepony for everypony out there.”

I see that look in your eyes, some of you folks. I see that look that says, “Ah. That's who She is. That's the mare that started everything.” Nightingale, an Itailian mare with eyes full of everything, an aspiring astronomer fresh out of Princess Celestia's School...

A mare with a smile as ambiguous as mine.

Nightingale was the mare that started it all. There was something special about her, something I couldn't quite put my hoof on. But she could bear the cold, and for me, that made her somepony I wanted to get to know.

I had a lot to hide back then. Only former members, my parents, and Hummingbird ever knew about the Mumei. I didn't stop to consider that I wasn't the only one with something to hide.

* * *

Usually, it was Pinkie Pie who came around getting us ready to head to Blaring Beats.

Sometimes, I'm good at defying expectations. That night was such a time.

“Woooooow, look at you, Frosty!” Pinkie Pie giggled after answering the door. “You're already ready-Eddy-Teddy-Freddy-some-other-griffin-name-that-rhymes-with-ready to go! Gimme one sec!” She darted away and came back in exactly one second, this time decorated in glowrings and with a scarf around her shoulder.

“Pinkie... it still mystifies me exactly how you're able to do that,” I said as we started off toward
Sweet Sweets, Bonbon's home and store. Funny mare, her. She had a habit of saying things in pairs. Maybe something that had to do with her name.

“Oh, it's actually pretty easy,” the outrageously pink mare snorted and giggled. “I just make an accurate approximation of how far I have to go, how much energy it'll take, and then move!”

I looked at her dubiously and quickly moved to the side. “I don't think it worked.”

“Of course not, silly-willy-not-a-filly!” Pinkie giggled. “Only earth ponies can do it! Plus, you probably didn't do it accurately enough!”

“Sure, sure,” I huffed. She was only pulling my leg, after all. Right? We reached Sweet Sweets, where Lyra excitedly popped out before we even had a chance to knock.

“Hi, Frost!” the minty-green mare greeted excitedly. “Oh. Hey to you too, Pinkie. So, are we clubbing or what?”

“You bet,” I said with a grin. I craned my neck to peek around Lyra. “Hey Bonbon, are you going to join us? Or are you busy?”

“Yeah, I'm gonna be busy busy,” the ivory mare answered, poking around Lyra's shoulder. “Going to be checking on the branch in Canterlot on Monday, too. Sorry about that.” She then gave Lyra a quick peck on the cheek. “Have fun with the handybuck, dear dear.”

“I will!” she giggled, pecking her back and snatching up her glowrings and scarf in her magic.

“Ohhhh, not sure how much time we'll get to spend with Frost this time, Lyra!” Pinkie said with a chuckle. “Frost might have a new laaadyfrieeeeeeeend!”

“Wha?” Lyra blinked, then glared at me accusingly. “You do?”

“Oh come on, Pinkie,” I sighed mistily, “we've just met. Just being friendly with her, no more.”

“I dunnoooooo, you were looking over her pretty cloooselyyyyyyy!” she giggled. “And I don't mean just watching her moves either!”

I felt a subtle heat wash over my cheeks. “You were spying on us?!”

“Well hey, can you blame me if a new pony I've totally never met before in my life suddenly comes to Ponyville without me knowing and I want to know more about her?”

“... yes.”

“Okay, yeah, you can blame me,” Pinkie pouted.

“Does she like hands?” Lyra asked, eying me.

“Of course, that's the first thing that I ask a mare,” I answered with an upward glance.

“I'll bet she doesn't like your hands like I do!” Lyra declared. “I bet she doesn't even like... heh... hehahahah!” Her expression mellowed. “I'm just foaling with you, Frost. Sure she's okay with how cold you are?”

“Hey, I didn't say that I was interes-”

“You were checking her out,” Lyra said calmly, glancing to Pinkie.

“Dammit,” I grumbled.

Pinkie snort-giggled, “Yeah, she's definitely okay with the cold part. Trust me on that one!”

“Pinkie, if only you were with the MPD, I swear,” I sighed. “The things you notice...”

“Probably a good thing I don't because I'd probably climb my way to the top somehow and then abuse my power and turn into a crazy hag, fishing out ponies on the slightest suspicion that... wait a minute...” Pinkie paused and we proceeded to stare at her. “Oh, probably just a silly tangent! And lookie, we're here!”

My eyes went forward to the glowing doors of Blaring Beats, and my heart fluttered- why was I making assumptions again?- as I spotted Nightingale waiting just off to the side of the entrance. She was already looking at me as we approached with those eyes full of everything and a patient smile.

“Haaaave fun, Frost!” Pinkie giggled, bouncing away into the nightclub.

“Yeah, have fun!” Lyra added, trotting after. “We can always hang out later!”

I nodded and smiled softly to the two of them before turning to Nightingale. “Good evening,” I greeted.

“Good evening, Frost,” she greeted in turn, standing up to walk with me into Blaring Beats. “How does the night find you?”

I blinked. “Beg your pardon?”

“Sorry. Itailian wording- saying, I mean. How are you tonight?”

“I'm doing just fine,” I answered, smiling. “How about you? Any progress in Canterlot today?”

Un po, un po,” she answers. “I'd rather not bore you with the details.”

“No, no, do tell!” I encouraged her with a smile. Talk to others through their interests- a valuable lesson from Carnegie. “I took a course in astronomy, actually. It was something I delved into when trying to decide on a major.”

Nightingale smiled back at me. “Well... if you're so inclined, I noticed that current telescope designs are horribly outdated. I was a part of an undergraduate research project tasked with coming up with a better design, and we came up with a multi-gem reflecting telescope. By using high-grade quartz and glass, we were able to produce a telescope that would outperform the resolving power of current reflecting telescopes by a whole order of magnitude... theoretically.”

“Theoretically,” I parroted.

“Well, you see,” she coughed, “it would need to... be in space. As is, with the randomness of atmospheric conditions, the design could get maybe... four times the resolving power of a typical observatory telescope. It's not a good trade off considering the cost of production.”

“And so your business trip to Canterlot was...”
“-to pitch the idea of a space program to a rich noblepony,” we both said at the same time.

“Yes, yes, precisely.” Nightingale nodded. “Some things never change, unfortunately. Money runs the world.”

“Well, have you thought about turning to the griffins?” I asked.

“Griffins?” the midnight-black mare asked. “However do you mean?”

“Griffins have NASE,” I answered. “Ah, their National Aeronautics and Spaceflight Enterprise. It's still a relatively new industry of theirs, but if anyone's going to get into space first with technology, it's going to be Aldorna.”

“Griffins.” She seemed to mull over this. “Hm. Griffins. How did you know about this? I thought you were in equinpology and history.”

“I went there to research how industrialization and commercialization affected the sociocultural aspect of griffinkind,” I responded. “A lot has changed since the turn of the Age of Industry.”

“Yes... quite a lot,” she murmured. Then she flashed that... smile... at me. “But just look at us. We've been talking for several minutes now! Let's go inside.”

“Oh, right, sure!” I smiled and opened the door for her. She gave me a tinny nod and headed in, pausing only to scrawl out her music pick for the night and slip it into a bin. Her aura was... an icy-blue. Just like mine...

But that smile... what was it about her?

No sooner than the thought crossed my mind did it leave as I entered the world of thumping bass and flashing lights. I could feel my heart race as the beat thumped in my bones, ears throbbing from the familiar punishment. Nothing else mattered but moving to the music and watching the swing of Nightingale's flank as she swayed to the tune (Pig. Show some respect.).

She'd gotten better at dancing since last night. Well, maybe not that much better, but now that she was cutting loose and holding no reservations, she had the same energy everypony else in the room was infected with. It might have been the music, but the more and more I looked at her, the more and more it felt... right to be there. Not just at Blaring Beats but... with her.

After a good several numbers, I started to wind down and we headed for the bar. “Tired already?” Nightingale teased as we sat down. “Wasn't it you last night who all uppity about whether or not I was the one fatigued?”

“Heh, sorry, not as young as I used to be,” I huffed softly, then nodded to the barpony mare. “Strawberry daiquiri, please.”

“Oh, a Crystal Cove martini for me, if you will,” the silver-maned mare spoke up.

Hm. Good taste, good taste. After we paid for our drinks and sipped away, I turned to Nightingale and asked, “So I take it you've been interested in astronomy for a long time, hm?” I nodded to her cutie-mark briefly. Gotta stay civil at least (If barely.).

“Oh you have no idea,” she chuckled. “Ever since I was a filly. It all started when my mother took us stargazing. Not a very common pastime nowadays, mind you, but, well... my family has roots that go deep.”

I nodded. “I know what you mean.”

“Mm... yes, you're a Northerner, aren't you?” Nightingale inquired. “I'm so sorry. I know it's been decades since, but the Exodus still echoes to today.” She looked off into the distance for a moment. “Frost, do you... mind if we go out for some fresh air? I hate to say it, but a nightclub isn't very good for conversation like this.”

“Oh!” I pursed my lips and motioned to the door. “Sure! Absolutely.” I quickly polished off the rest of my drink and made a quick motion to Pinkie Pie. She just nodnodnodded in her bobblehead fashion, and we headed outside into the cool, wintry night with its silence and gentle snowfall. I hadn't expected to be removed from the pumping, thumping atmosphere of Blaring Beats so soon, and it was as if somepony had dunked me into a cold... well, a very cold tub of water. It was jarring, like I was crashing from the biggest sugar high I've ever been on. It left me stunned.

“Frost?”

I suddenly became aware of a very concerned looking Nightingale waving a hoof in front of my eyes. I started out of my stupor and smiled sheepishly, dumbly. “Sorry, wh- did you say something?”

“No, just... you spaced out for a bit,” she said. “Are you quite alright?”

“Yes, yes, I'm fine, I'm fine.” I smiled to encourage her. “Shall we walk?”

The midnight-black mare nodded and smiled, starting off with me falling in step with her. “A shame,” she said quietly, looking upward into the delicate trickle of white and catching my attention. “There are clouds tonight. The stars are wonderful here in Ponyville.” I found my gaze turned upward. The night sky was glistening with a soft scatter of stars, most of them obscured by wispy cloud banks.

I wasn't watching where I was going and nearly walked into a pole. I just happened to be lucky enough to stagger out of the way, flustering a little. Nightingale merely looked at me and giggled. Oh, what a wonderful giggle...

When she eventually calmed down, we walked aimlessly in silence. I didn't want to press her for conversation, but I found it odd that we were having so little seeing as that was our reason for being out here again. I let my eyes meander about- from the crunching snow beneath our hooves to the subdued colors of Ponyville's buildings that seemed themselves to be sleeping- and finally to her, Nightingale. Our eyes met briefly and we quickly broke eye contact out of instinct.

It did break the silence however.

“Frost, please be honest with me,” she started. Oh boy. That's an interesting opening there. She was probably going to ask about why I decided to ask her out for another night at Blaring Beats.

Instead, she asked, “Are you in danger?”

I was caught off-guard by the question, and as I blinked in confusion and let my mind process what she just asked me, I felt that odd sensation again- that I was being watched, and very closely.

“Well... no,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”

“I couldn't help but notice that you seem to arm yourself constantly,” Nightingale said, glancing downward. I followed her gaze to the pouches on my forelegs. “Pray tell,” I looked back into those eyes full of... danger, “why do you have such weapons so plainly visible?”

I fought the urge to gulp and merely chuckled, “Oh, so you recognize them? Would you like to see?” Watched. Very closely. “... perhaps not. How do you know about them?”

“Your balisongs, you mean.” Nightingale paused- and I with her. “I was curious as to what they were and did some research. So again- why do you have such weapons on your person and so clearly visible to those around you?”

“I... don't see the harm in it,” I replied frankly even as those eyes bore into mine. Even as my words came out, they were measured. I was inexplicably very afraid that she was looking for any sign of misinformation- and that if I tried too hard I might seem suspicious. “And honestly, it's because I'm used to it. They're quite fun, actually. Really, they're nothing more than a fun pastime for me.” I paused. “Would you like to see?”

The midnight-black mare tilted her head up as if hesitant to nod- but eventually did. After taking a step back, of course. I fired up my horn and sprouted and ice arm, slowly- slooooowly- pulling Chrome Cleaver from her pouch. I squeezed the handles to pop the spring latch and performed a basic Horizontal to open her. Nightingale continued to watch, gauging me. I breathed out a sigh and just let the movements come together. I mindlessly let my blade dance, merely deciding what technique to perform next based off of how Chrome Cleaver ended up. Open? Closed? Forward? Reverse? Bite handle up? Down? I sprouted my second arm to pass her over, brandishing Silver Skean. I merely mirrored the sister blades, but I still like to think I put on quite the show for her. I finished off with a double pass, exchanging the sisters between my hands and catching them closed. I thumbed the spring latches back into place and twirled them once before pouching them. I bowed afterward, sparing a glance up at Nightingale.

Her stern expression finally broke and she stamped softly in the crunchy snow. “Well done, well done. So... let me get this straight. You spin and throw around sharp objects.”

“Yes,” I said simply.

“For fun.”

“Yes.”

“That's rather dangerous,” she said, arcing a brow.

“Well. Yes.”

Nightingale looked me over up and down. “You must be quite skilled then.” She smiled easy- and so did I. That feeling of being watched seemed to ebb away. “A Northerner cryomancer. A student of equinpology and history. Who plays with balisongs for fun.”

“For fun,” I said more to reaffirm than to confirm.

The silver-maned mare inhaled and remarked, “You're quite the uncommon find, you realize that?”

“Oh yes,” I chuckled softly.

“Tell me, though, do you have any... safer hobbies, perhaps?” she asked, a grin tugging at her lips.

“Well, there's piano.” I offered.

That grin faded and she stared at me. For a moment, I inexplicably thought I'd said something wrong.

“Show me.”

* * *

“It's not much,” I said as I opened the door of my apartment home for Nightingale, “but... I hope you find it cozy.”

They say history has a funny way of repeating itself. I'd furnished my place in Ponyville as closely as I could to the apartment I used to live in back when I was still just Hothead Hokkaido. There was more space, my keyboard, and a second floor, but I did my best to scale things appropriately. What can I say? When you have memory like I do, having something that reminds you of times of old brings a sense of comfort. It's why I have all these mementos.

I watched as her eyes scanned my abode, settling on the keyboard. “Oh! When you said you... well... I was expecting...”

“I was starting to run on a budget at the time,” I said, closing the door and approaching the bench, scratching the back of my head. “And to be honest, I like to idea of being able to carry my instrument with me.”

“Mm, yes, you said you were a Manehattaner,” Nightingale murmured with a nod. “Well, ah...” She motioned to the keyboard. “Have at it then.”

“Sure.” I smiled lightly at her, still having that odd sensation of being watched, even if subdued. “Do you have any preference?”

“Something...” She inhaled and glanced up in thought. “You know what? Surprise me.”

I paused to mentally browse my repertoire and then smiled to her. “I think I know a good piece for a time like this.”

The storyteller seated himself at the piano bench and sprouted a pair of ice arms to lift the lid.

And so I played, letting the music move me.

He opened gently, delicately, plucking his fingers on the notes. It set the scene for a moonlit walk, perhaps along the pier of a lake with the stars reflected in the water beneath. It was serene, crisp, wholesome. Nothing was rushed- all relaxed, all at ease, all quiet. He picked up slightly in loudness for a hint of grandeur and then quickly hushed up again.

And then came a rush of mounting melodies, building higher and higher and then hushed up, slowed down, pluck... pluck. The moonlit stroll transitioned into a moonlit spree through a fantastic meadow with so much energy, whimsical energy and full of so many wonders. Perhaps a wind rolled through the field just like how his fingers rolled across the piano. It didn't seem to have an end in sight, a new sound around the crest of every hill. It finally reached a climax and then barreled down to a gently rolling tremble, going higher, lighter...

And then came that moonlit walk again, even more delicate, but perhaps with a hint of that spree still left in it- as if winding down after a gallop through the fields. It was drawing to a close now. Everything about the melody seemed to insist upon it. But there was still a bit of energy left- just a bit- and then came the rolling hills, the rolling notes just a few more times... and then a final, delicate, broken cord.

The storyteller pivoted around on the bench to continue his tale.

After I finished, I looked up at her and smiled.

She stood there, eyes... lost. “What was that?” she whispered.

Clair de Lune by Cloud Debussy,” I answered.

Clair de Lune... Prench...” Nightingale glanced downward and narrowed her lips. “Debussy... he's long gone, isn't he?”

“He passed away around eighty years ago,” I answered.

She inhaled deeply before looking up at me and smiling softly. “That was beautiful, Frost.” Again she glanced away and paused, then looked back up at me. “Thank you.”

“I could play more for you if you like,” I said, smiling a little to lighten the mood.

The midnight-black mare drew in a deep breath, maintaining her smile. “One more.”

I nodded. “One more.”

The storyteller spun back around on the bench and grinned.

This might sound familiar, folks.

* * *

Nightingale and I headed outside afterward, walking about aimlessly just as before with hardly a sound but the crunch of snow beneath our hooves and the muffled laughter and chattering of ponies heading home from Blaring Beats. Her eyes were wavering about now as if thinking of something.

Finally, she asked, “You said you were from Manehattan. Why did you move here to Ponyville?”

“Hm?” I turned to face her. “Oh. Well, I just needed a change of pace. A breath of fresh air, you know?”

“From what?” Nightingale inquired.

“Just... big city life in general,” I replied. It was true, at least. “Just too many people moving too fast with too little time to stop and smell the flowers. Don't get me wrong- Manehattan's an amazing city with amazing people. Just, well, this is coming from an equinpologist here, okay? Manehattan's losing cultural diversity save for those who regularly participate in keeping their own people's culture alive, such as with the Northerners. Outside of that, everyone else is being naturalized with Equestrian values. Just felt... wrong to me. That, and, well, I couldn't really enjoy many of the things I could anymore after growing up. Like the juvie-joints.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nightclubs aimed for the kids,” I explained with a soft, husky chuckle. “No fun in song and dance if someone's left out.”

“I see...” The silver-maned unicorn nodded lightly. “So, you just left because you were disillusioned?”

“Somewhat, I guess,” I answered with a shrug.

Nightingale turned away and nodded slowly to herself. Then she asked, “Frost, who was that mare in the photos?”

I froze. She... I left those out? Shoot, I left those out in plain sight, didn't I? Right on the counter, and I brought her in with those-

“Frost?” I looked up to see Nightingale facing me with a concerned look in her eyes, so full of everything. “It's... bad, isn't it?”

I grimaced and broke eye contact for a few seconds. “Well. You know how cold I am.”

Nightingale nodded slowly. “So... how long...?”

I breathed out a misty sigh. “Six years now.”

“And... nopony else since then?”

“No one.”

She broke eye contact this time, nodding slowly. Eyes back on me. “Frost. Be truthful now. How do you view me?”

I slanted my lip and looked away, sighing through my nostrils. “I...”

“Be truthful now,” she repeated.

Another sigh. “I was... hopeful. I mean-” I sighed again and looked up at her, “you're the first pony, the first person who didn't react to how cold I am. Here you are, standing out here in the middle of the night without a coat, without a scarf, without anything to keep you warm.” Yet another sigh, broken eye contact. “I know it's wrong to think of you that way- anyone that way. I'm sorry.”

Nightingale didn't say anything right away. I was afraid to make eye contact or break the silence.

She did for me. “So no one else,” she said quietly.

“No one else.”

“And... not even Northerners?”

“No.”

Nightingale breathed out a soft sigh. I felt something press against my cheek- her hoof- and made me turn to face her. Our eyes met briefly before we instinctively looked away from one another. “Frost, I...” She hesitated and closed her mouth. Open again. “I... am... willing... to give it a try.”

I looked at her for several seconds. And then I smiled softly. She smiled back. Nothing mysterious behind it. No second agenda like that other kind of... smile... entailed.

But still I couldn't shake that feeling of being watched.

* * *

“Hey, Frost!”

“Hooo... hey.”

“You alright, buck? You sound kinda... you know. You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, just... hoo...”

“'Hoo' what?”

“I think I might be dating somepony.”

“...”

“...”

“You mean-”

“Uh-huh.”

“... then that means...”

“Yeah.”

“Hahaaaa! Go get 'er, Frost!”

“Oh shut up, Zoleks, it's not like I can 'go get 'er' or anything like that!”

“Hey, it worked for me! Oh come on, you know I'm joking. You know what I mean. Good luck, okay?”

“Heh, thanks, thanks...”

* * *

That afternoon, I stopped by Ponyville's cutely-named Sleep Inn. It was a welcoming place offering a more subdued color scheme compared to the rest of town with shades of dark blue and brown replacing the bright yellows and pinks. Everything about the place (quietly) screamed “cozy”. There was even a brick fireplace off to the side with a set of rocking chairs and blankets. Sleep Inn... a very apt name for the place. I was starting to feel drowsy myself just standing in line for the front desk.

“Hi, what can I do for you?” the receptionist, a beige mare with a curly purple mane asked.

“Ah, I'm looking for a Miss Nightingale,” I answered with a cheerful smile.

“Is she expecting you?” she inquired, already starting to look through the guest registrar nonetheless. Ponyville was very lax and trusting it seemed.

“Yes,” I replied just to speed things along. Well, she was, in a sense. Old habits die hard, folks.

The receptionist pony furrowed a brow. “I'm sorry, it was 'Nightingale,' right?”

“Yes, Nightingale,” I answered.

“Um... I'm afraid there-”

I knew she was there before I heard her- that feeling of being watched seemed to follow her everywhere. “Oh, hello, Frost!” the midnight-black unicorn greeted with a smile, startling the both of us- even me despite that odd feeling- as she seemingly appeared from nowhere. “Fancy meeting you here! Now, I was on the way to pick up groceries, but perhaps we may walk and talk as you say?”

The receptionist started to say something, but I quickly answered, “Sure, sure.” As we headed outside for the market square, I asked, “So, how are you doing?”

“Oh, quite alright, thank you,” Nightingale replied with a smile- a sheepish one perhaps? “I wasn't expecting to see you again before tonight. And... nice fedora, by the way.” I smiled and sprouted an ice arm to tip my hat to her appropriately. “Yourself?”

“Great, great! Ah, about tonight, actually...” I cleared my throat. Here goes. “Would you like to have dinner at the Toadstool Tabletop together?”

“Dinner?” She paused. “To...Together?”

“Well yes.” I offered a sincere smile. “Just giving you an offer you could always refuse.”

“Oh hardly,” she huffed, grinning at me as she approached Roseluck's stall and ordered a batch of flowers to go. “What time?”

“Whatever time would be convenient for you,” I answered.

“Oh, I'm not sure if eight-o'clock would be very convenient for you,” she chuckled softly. “Itailians tend to have dinners a little later than most Heartland ponies are used to.”

“Mm, well I could always hold off until then, no problem,” I said, still holding my smile.

“I suppose it's settled, then,” Nightingale said with a stout nod. “See you at eight-o'clock, Frost.”

“Yeah, see you then.” I smiled. “So...”

“I, ah, do have some errands to run, yes,” Nightingale coughed politely. “More chance to talk at dinner.”

“Of course, of course!” I nodded encouragingly. “Take care.”

“Yes, you too,” she said with a smile.

As I trotted away and the... watched feeling subsided, I couldn't help but chuckle softly to myself. It was clear that we were both quite flustered by the whole ordeal. Heh...

The storyteller breathed out a sigh.

“Really?” Nightingale widened her eyes. “You can only perform cryomancy? Nothing else?”

“It's the truth,” I answered with a soft, possibly wan smile as we dined.

We were seated outside at one of the tables of the Toadstool Tabletop's namesake. By the time we actually arrived, most of the dinner rush had come and gone. The few other ponies that were around were indoors around the fireplace. Nightingale and I were the only ones outside.

He smiled softly.

It was more romantic that way, I guess. With a clear night and a blanket of stars overhead and the soft candlelight complete with a simple yet wholesome dinner... well, it almost seemed straight out of a movie.

“My... that must have been quite the...” She grimaced, trying to think of a word.

“Disability?” I suggested.

“I was, ah, going to go with 'ailment',” Nightingale said with a smile turned grimace.

“Well being a weaker earth pony with a pointy thing sticking out of his forehead for almost nineteen years was quite a disability,” I huffed.

She stared. “Nineteen?”

“Nineteen,” I repeated. “And I didn't get my cutie-mark until then. Heh, you should've seen me. Finally finding my magic and earning my cutie-mark at last within weeks of one another? I was bouncing around like a foal again.” I let out a husky chuckle.

“I could imagine!” the midnight-black mare exclaimed, exasperated. “My word...”

I just shrugged and smiled from the memory. “Now, Nightingale, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself? I've talked far too much of myself already.”

“Myself?” She blinked. “Well, what did you wish to know precisely?”

“Well, let's start with your cutie-mark,” I answered. “It would also explain your career in astronomy.”

“Mm... it would, wouldn't it?” Nightingale smiled softly down at the constellation on her flank before turning back to me. “Seems almost fitting, now that I think about it. My older sister Skylark found a fascination with the sun that would make Princess Celestia proud. Myself... I was more of a- what is your name for it? 'Night owl'?” When I nodded, she smiled and continued. “That's the word. I just... always found myself staying and waking up late just to enjoy the night. Neighples is so different from your big cities, you know. Hardly any streetlight. The stars are always so beautiful, just like here.” She paused to look upward into the glittering expanse above us.

“Yeah... beautiful tonight, the stars,” I whispered.

She smiled appreciatively. “Mother was supportive of my interests and purchased a telescope for me for my seventh birthday. It was just a simple one that you could get from a 'hobby shop,' I think you call it. Just a trinket, a plaything for the novice astronomer.” The silver-maned unicorn smiled and exhaled in reminiscence. “It became my favorite toy. I took to stargazing like never before now that I could look just a little further, just a little deeper.

“I was seven years old. Science was previously something boring we learned at school.” She chuckled softly. “And after the telescope? It was something I pursued with a passion. A day ago, I couldn't have been bothered to pick up a book on anything related to school. The typical unruly foal, hm? Afterward, I was the one pining after a constellation chart and a sextant.” She paused to take another sip of her wine. “We still have those around. Such an old instrument, and yet sailors still fall back on it sometimes.

“That night, I took to the hilltop near our house, armed with my new knowledge and charts, and peered through the telescope in search of my first constellation.” Nightingale smiled and giggled. “I hadn't stopped to consider that it would be easier for me to just look with my naked eye. I just kept on looking through my little toy telescope until, well...” She looked down at her flank, “I found Corvus, The Crow. I rushed inside to show Corvus to my sister, silly filly that I was. She, well... noticed my new cutie-mark and I was ecstatic. My birthday and my cute-ceañera within two days of one another...

“I'm sure you can picture how everything else fell into place.” Nightingale continued. “My interest turned into a hobby, into a passion, into my calling, into my... well, my job.” She smiled and chuckled. “I know it's not exactly the best money-making career-”

“Well neither are mine,” I interjected with a husky chuckle of my own.

“Ah... well yes, if you put it that way,” Nightingale laughed. “But I enjoy it. It's what I feel passionate about. And by the way, maybe you're onto something with griffins and their NASE program. Equestria's commercial relations with Aldorna could always be strengthened.” She quickly coughed, “Well, so long as cultural integrity is preserved, of course.”

“Glad you remembered,” I huffed softly. “You know, I'm sort of surprised that between two goddess-princesses we don't know more about the cosmos. How do you feel about that?”

Nightingale grimaced and shrugged. “Well, space is vast, Frost Windchill. All the magic and technology in the world couldn't shed much light into the abyss. I doubt even Princess Luna could. After all, no matter how many questions we answer, they will only create more when it comes to something as infinite as outer space.”

I had the strangest feeling that I insulted her and moved to reassure her, resting my forehoof on hers. “Well, hopefully your telescope design will help open our eyes to a little more of what lies beyond.”

She smiled softly and then asked, “Now, I figure it's around nine, nine-thirty. Are you up for some fun at Blaring Beats?”

I grinned, removing my fedora. “You even have to ask?”

* * *

The storyteller smiled.

That was a good, no a great night. Thumping bass, flashing lights, swaying bodies... Nightingale's too. Couldn't help but, ah, glance at her sweat-speckled form. Just for a moment (Liar.). And I was in the midst of it all, rocking it hard Manehattan style. Then came that time of the night again. The lights went bright-orange and Vinyl shouted out, “Alright, everypony, we're gonna turn up the heat and crank up the beat! IIIIIIt's Beat Heat! First pick of the night is...” She paused to float out a slip of paper from the bin. “Huh... and it's Nightingale with Black and Green by Twistex!” She muttered as she plugged in her portable terminal, “Hm, East Equestria stuff... huh, newcomer thing maybe...”

I turned to face the midnight-black mare beside me as Vinyl spoke, catching her just in time to catch her horn winking out. “Well lucky me...” he said, that sly smirk and arced eyebrow sending my heart fluttering.

“'Black and Green'?” I grinned right back, glancing at my fittingly similar color scheme. “Are you implying something, babe?” (Again. Don't call her that.)

“Take it however you wish,” Nightingale chuckled. “Are we going to dance or what?”

“You bucking bet!” I sneered as the beat trickled in, letting the music move me.

The storyteller sighed softly, happily.

Love that song. Maybe not my favorite, but... ah, hell, it's still close.

* * *

It was around three-o'clock by the time Nightingale and I finally headed back outside. I was winding down from the high, still feeling a pleasant little buzz from the drinks earlier that evening. We just headed back to the Sleep Inn and loitered around the entryway for a bit.

“Hoooo... thanks for the great time, Nightingale,” I chuckled huskily. “Haven't had this much fun in a long while...”

“Thank you, um... me too,” she said quietly, glancing away with a soft smile.

After a shared chuckle, there was a moment of silence. Our smiles slowly turned to frowns. I asked, “So, uh... how much longer do you think you might be around?”

“Same estimate as last time,” Nightingale answered quietly. “Though, ah, I could... always make doubly sure on my prospective sponsor.”

I nodded slowly and gave her a brief smile, quickly glancing away.

Nightingale tilted her head to maintain eye contact. “You're worried, aren't you?”

I inhaled and replied, “Yeah. I just can't help but... feel like I'm making a mistake here. I mean... you're going back to Neighples, and I'm here pinning all my hopes on you. I'm not trying to be pitiful or anything, but it feels like I'm being a-”

“-don't.” She cut me off by tilting forward and giving me a nuzzle. It wasn't a kiss, but it made me pause nonetheless. I looked at her in surprise. She merely blushed softly and glanced away briefly before our eyes met once more.

“You know what you're doing?” I meant to ask, but it came out almost as if a statement.

She nodded. “Things will work out. I have a feeling. And... again, I'm willing. Coming from me, that... says something.”

“How so?”

Nightingale... smiled. I felt a chill running down my spine- more than I was used to. “Good evening, Frost. Same time tomorrow?”

I was left so stunned that I nodded dumbly. She maintained that smile as she slipped into the Sleep Inn. I turned away, brow furrowed in thought. What was that?

And what was that feeling, that feeling of being watched- gone just now?

* * *

“Heyyyy, buck! How's things in Ponyville?”

“Interesting, to say the least.”

“Oh? Guessing this has to do with Nightingale?”

“How is it you're so good at guessing and predicting things, Zoleks?”

“Just am?”

“There's gotta be a secret to you doing all of that. Come on.”

“Well, let me try to break this combo. Uhhhhhhhhhhh, oh! Oh! I know! You'll get fat!”

“...”

“... eh? Ehhhh?”

“Okay, yeah, that's not happening, then.”

“Great, means I just got lucky those times. But anyway, what's up?”

“Well... had another fun night with Nightingale.”

“And the interesting part?”

Sigh. “I don't know. That's the thing. There's just this... something off about her. I don't know what it is. I can't quite put my hoof on it.”

“Off how?”

“It's... just the way she can smile sometimes, partly. It's like mine.”

“Yours? How do you- ohhh, you mean the dangerous kind of smile.”

“Yeah, like that. That, and I just get this weird feeling of being watched while I'm with her. Not from her specifically. Just somewhere. I don't know where or who.”

“So odd feeling about this mare, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Buut... she's the only mare who's been able to accept you being cold as heck.”

“I know. But...”

“Mixed feelings?”

“Yeah. I want to confront her about it, but I don't want to... you know. Ruin chances.”

“As slim as they are for a mare living how far away?”

“Thanks, Zoleks.”

“Uh, sorry, bud. Look, I don't know what to tell you. You're way better at this stuff than I am.”

“Mm... sorry about the call then. Just... I don't know.”

“Hey, it's no problem, buck. Just, you know, hope you don't have to call me in the middle of the early morning or anything!”

“Heh, don't worry. Don't plan on doing that...”

* * *

Just have a nice evening, Frost. Have a nice evening. Nice dinner, nice conversation... then ask her. That was the plan.

“So, you said you took astronomy briefly, yes?” Nightingale inquired.

“Yeah, with Professor Freemane,” I answered. “One of the better professors that quarter.”

“Oh, him!” She smiled. “I actually had him, too! Just... wish he wouldn't have just gone off of the company lecture slides verbatim.”

I blinked. “He what?”

“Oh, he uses company lecture slides for notes,” she replied. “It's usually why his lectures always run over time. Come now, you have eidetic memory, yes? How did he start?”

I paused, sifting through my memories. “Why we study astronomy.”

“And is that not how the textbook starts off?” Nightingale chuckled.

“... my goodness, you're right.”

“Exactly.” She grinned and pointed to me. “Also... that ability to remember everything. What did I tell you- precisely when you asked me for another dance two nights ago?”

I paused again, lips working silently as I sifted through time again. “'Tell you what,'” I answered with a... smile. “'I'll consider it. But look at the time.'” My smile changed, quick as can be. “'I said I should get going, and here I am still chatting away with you. Good night, Frost. Sleep well.'”

“Oh, mia bontà, è fantastico,” she remarked.

I grinned, only understanding that last bit. “Like I said.” Okay, good time to ask about the-

“Oh my, look at the time!” Nightingale gasped, glancing at the clock-tipped lamppost nearby. “It's almost time for Beat Heat! Come on!”

Orrrr not.

* * *

And wouldn't know it, the moment we stepped into the music, all thought of asking her that very important question slipped from my mind. All that mattered then was the music energizing me from head to hoof and Nightingale's beautiful, swaying form...

Somepony in the audience called his name.

Oh!

The storyteller coughed into his hoof with a blush.

Apologies. Got, uh, got, uh... caught in the moment.

A string of chuckles and chides ran through the audience.

Oh come on, folks. Let me just enjoy a particularly happy moment from my life, okay?

Somepony remarked how he must have been really “happy.”

Ha ha ha, funny funny funny. Anyway, we might have gotten a bit carried away that night. I stayed on the dance floor a bit longer than I normally did and ended up absolutely beat when I slumped into a bar stool.

“Ahhhhhhh... goodness, I wish I'd started doing this sooner!” she laughed as she plopped down on a stool beside me.

“Heh, think it'll become your new pastime?” I chuckled huskily back at her.

“Oh, sì sì,” the midnight-black mare sighed happily, seeming rather fatigued herself. She suddenly tilted to her side and leaned against me as support. I merely arced a brow and grinned down at her “Oh, if only Canterlot was full of more ponies that were into this clubbing thing...” She then realized with a start what she was doing and pulled away. “Oh! Oh my! My apologies, Frost! I-I honestly didn't mean to do that! It just happened by refl-”

The storyteller flattened his lips as if trying to contain a smile.

Folks, remember when I said that music turned me into a completely different animal? Well, it certainly did back then. The rational part of my brain was telling me to just nod and smile politely and just let her talk it all out. The rational part of my brain was not working at that moment.

Instead, I kept grinning and leaned in to silence her with a kiss.

I swear her eyes went as large as dinner plates. She made a slight strangled sound into my mouth and raised a hoof as if to slap me... but merely held it there. I broke away only a few seconds after, leaving her staring at me with her mouth forming a small “o” in shock. Her hoof, still hanging in the air, soon moved to cover it.

You kissed!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed and squeed, causing Nightingale to jump in surprise and me to flinch. By now, I'd gotten used to her doing that, but even then, my gradually decelerating heart rate spiked up again. “Omigosh you two totally kissed! And nothing bad happened!”

“Ah, um... yes... yes we did...” Nightingale murmured in a tinny voice almost lost to the noise if not for our closeness.

I grinned, satisfied. “Yeah. Yeah we did.”

“You know what this calls for?” Pinkie asked loudly. “A party!”

Nightingale blushed and shrunk her head back into her shoulders. I could only chuckle, “Pinkie, we're already having a party!”

“Exactly!” she squealed, kicking her legs rapidly as she jumped into the air and seemed to hover for a second. “So leeeet's partyyyyyy! Vinyl!” The white unicorn glanced over and tilted down her shades to look over. “Put on Viper Two!”

Vinyl grinned, knocked her shades back up, and twirled a new record on, and holy buck I could tell this was gonna be a good one. I looked back at Nightingale and nodded back to the dance floor with a smirk.

She looked at me for a moment and bit her lip.

“Come on, babe!” I exclaimed. “You only live once!”

Something about that made her expression melt and she gave me the brightest smile as we both slipped off back to the dance floor together. This time, I didn't have to hide my glances at her body.

* * *

We headed back out into the quiet, chilly night completely spent, leaning against one another for support. Even if I was winding down, I felt butterflies in my stomach with her close against me. The familiar, comforting warmth- not too warm to bother me, not too cool to go unnoticed-

The storyteller let out a soft, misty sigh. He didn't have to finish his phrase.

I felt Nightingale shift her head. “Frost? Are you crying?”

I blinked rapidly and finally noticed the wetness welling around my eyes and trickling down my cheek. “Y... I guess so,” I chuckled softly, smiling wide.

Nightingale chuckled quietly with me and gave me a kiss to the cheek. “See? Gave you a chance, and now look where we are just a few nights later.” She let out a subdued giggle that made even more butterflies well up inside. I could only let out a happy, misty sigh.

We didn't head for the Sleep Inn this time. Nightingale nudged me to my apartment home instead. The moment we slipped past the door, she drew her hooves around me and pressed close, no need to turn the lights on. Our lips met... again... and again... and again. We kept it gentle, kept it tender. At last when we pulled away with soft, satisfied, but powerful sighs, I looked deep into those eyes full of everything and she looked right back.

“I... hope it's not too much to ask if we... share a night,” she said quietly with a soft blush.

“Not at all,” I whispered, drawing her into a tight embrace as I let out another happy sigh. This was happening. This was really happening.

… so I figured, why not push it juuuust a little?

“You know we'll have to wash up first, right?” I asked with a grin.

“Oh, è scandalo,” Nightingale nickered, slapping me on the chest playfully.

“Too much?” I chuckled huskily.

“Too much,” she chuckled back, then pointed her hoof at me. “For now.” Her horn fired up with that ice-blue glow and a wash of white particles streamed around us. I could feel my coat, mane and tail whip around gently and could see hers do the same. When it all settled, I no longer felt sweat matting down my fur and felt... somewhat rejuvenated. “Wonders of cleaning spells.”

“Lucky,” I muttered.

“Hey, now,” she said to me with a grin, heading upstairs. “Wouldn't you say you're lucky yourself tonight?”

“Heh... too right, too right,” I huffed, lowering my head and smiling as I headed up after her.

“Oof...” she grunted as she slipped into my mattress. “A little firm, isn't it?”

“Well... uh, it's what I'm used to,” I said apologetically as I slid in next to her.

“Oh... right,” she coughed awkwardly. “Sorry.”

I moved close and gave her a nuzzle, and she relaxed and smiled, shifting over to lie atop me as our hooves wrapped around one another. I let out another satisfied sigh, reveling in her subtle warmth. “You sure I'm not too cold for you?” I asked quietly.

Nightingale lifted her head up to kiss me on the lips once more. “You're just fine.”

I smiled, mind put at ease once more... briefly. “Nightingale?”

“Yes, Frost?”

Okay. Time to ask... or... is it? She still looked at me expectantly. So I went: “Do you... think that maybe we're moving a bit fast?”

“Well... to be honest, I wouldn't know,” she chuckled softly.

I blinked. “W-Wait, am I your first?”

“Well, no, but... my first was... well, quite a while ago,” she answered. “You know... young love.”

“Ah...”

“Let's just play by ear,” she whispered, nuzzling into my neck. “Shall we?”

“Yeah... yeah...”

“But, um... Frost?”

“Yeah?” I looked at her.

“No, um... you know. For now.”

“... oh, sure. Ab-Absolutely. Wasn't even thinking about that!”

“Oh!” Nightingale chuckled. “Good...”

Okay, you dolt. You're gonna have to ask sometime, you know. Better now before it's too late. I looked down only to see that she had already started dozing off, muzzle buried against my neck. Too late. I sighed softly and smiled gently at her, stroking her mane. I still felt that odd watched feeling... even inside my home, even in bed.

It could always wait until morning, I guess...

* * *

Morning couldn't wait. I found myself blinking wide awake just about an hour later. I grunted softly in mild annoyance. I just let out a breath and snuggled closer against Nightingale’s dozing form, reveling in her warmth and the lovely feeling of her...

Her...

My eyes flew wide open. Nightingale didn't have those.

I gasped quietly and stared at... at...

I gulped. Whoever it was, it wasn't a unicorn.

And whoever it was, it certainly wasn't Nightingale.

* * *

The storyteller pulled out his next memento- one of the photographs tucked behind his breastplate. He held it delicately between two thin, scraggly fingers and drew in a deep sigh.

It all comes down to this.

He let out a deep breath.

All. Down. To this. It was an accident, you know. I mean it. I never knew, never suspected even though all the signs were there.

The old unicorn waved the photo lightly, expression dead serious.

This is from much later. Much, much later- after I finished my tour of duty in fact. It's going to answer... a lot of questions you have about me.

He let out a quick, soft chuckle and another deep breath.

My heart's racing, you know. Just like forty years ago back in Stalliongrad. A lot of you aren't going to like the answer. Some of you might have rather I lied. Back then, I almost wanted to.

But it's time for me to set the record straight. No more lies, I promised Rig. This is going to answer a lot of questions, folks.

Because you all know Her.

He tweaked his fingers and revealed the photograph. On one side, it was him- much older with his short mane streaked with gray. His green fur was somewhat faded, and there were some patches where the pinkish flesh of scars showed through. His eyes seemed cracked, clouded. But he wore an almost relieved, grateful smile.

Because snuggled lovingly against him was another mare. She wasn't a midnight-black unicorn mare with a silver mane.

She was The Lunar Lady.

The Nocturnal Beauty.

Her Majesty of the Night.

Princess Luna.

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Level Up! Level 16 Reached!
Perk added: Kissed by Luna- Literally. The night calls to you. You gain +2 to both Perception and Intelligence between the hours of 6:00 P.M. And 6:00 A.M. These bonuses can temporarily raise your Perception and Intelligence above 10. This perk does not stack with the Touched by Luna trait.

Unlockables added: Soundtrack- Clair de Lune by Cloud Debussy

Soundtrack- Sonata Quasi una Fantasia (also known as “Moonlight Sonata”) by Beethoofen

Soundtrack- Frost and Nightingale

Soundtrack- Black and Green by Twistex

Soundtrack- Viper 2

Soundtrack- Love is in Bloom (Frost and Nightingale version)

Soundtrack- It All Comes to This, It All Comes Together

Author's Note:

Thank you to the usual people- and you, the reader. Now, ah, if you'll excuse me... *hunkers down and pulls up a flame shield*

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