• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,760 Views, 145 Comments

Darkened Shores - Silver Flare

An adventure that takes the Mane 6 around the world to face the what destroyed the alicorn homeland.

  • ...

13: Stargazing

"Twilight Sparkle." Celestia embraced her student in the darkness, radiating relief. Twilight hesitated before nuzzling her back. She nearly laughed out loud in sheer relief. Everything was going to be okay again. Everything was finally back under control.

Spike stirred. "Nggh. . . Twilight, what's. . . Holy guacamole!" Spike rubbed and blinked his wide, green eyes in the gentle light from Twilight's horn.

"Hello Spike." Celestia reached out a golden-shod hoof to touch the young dragon's shoulder. "Thank you, both of you. I'm comforted knowing that my faithful student and her number one assistant have been watching over me."

Spike blushed. "Well, it was less 'watching over' and more 'snoozing next to,' but I get what you're saying."

"Princess, I'm so glad you're awake! We have kind of a strange problem." Twilight tried to backtrack through everything that had happened since she had last spoken to her mentor. "You've missed quite a lot, actually."

Celestia slowly and gracefully rolled to her hooves, finding her footing on the small bit of floor beyond the two cots. As Twilight's words sunk in, her expression turned grave. Celestia's eyes darted around the room, as though memories fluttered like moths about her head. "I believe I have. I remember an overwhelming darkness. . . I remember falling. . . Twilight, what happened? How did I survive? Did you. . ." The Princess eyed Twilight askance.

Twilight shook her head quickly. "Oh, no. It wasn't me, your Highness. I never even saw whatever it was you were fighting. I was too busy trying not to drown King Rirton."

Celestia's head snapped upright, her eyes widening. "I have missed quite a lot, haven't I?"

"You have no idea, your Highness. From the sounds of it, your sister found you just in time, and she scared. . ." Princess Celestia's eyes hardened and she stalked out into the hallway. "Celestia, wait!" Twilight hurried to join her, Spike by her side.

Celestia glanced to each side before choosing a direction and walking, determination in her strides. "What is my sister doing here?"

Twilight hurried to keep up, with Celestia's pace as well as her shift in mood. "Well, that's just it, your Highness. We think it's your sister. I mean, we're pretty certain. . ." Twilight ran out of steam as she floundered for words.

Spike took up the thread as Twilight dropped it. "But, now that you're awake, it'll be safe for us to find out if she's a dirty changeling or something, right? Or safer, at least."

Celestia was silent, her ethereal mane flowing in it's own silent breeze rather than swaying with her steps. Those steps brought them unerringly to the stairs to the upper deck. Twilight asked aloud, "Princess, how do you know where she is?"

"If I know my sister, she'll be somewhere she doesn't have to socialize. Probably someplace she can watch for danger at the same time."

Twilight nodded, respecting the analysis. Celestia's horn wreathed itself in a warm glow, and the hatch above them swung inward. Twilight instinctively braced herself for another wrestling match with high winds, but as they ascended the stairs out into the star-speckled night, she found something more like a stiff breeze. The airship continued its journey into the east, but at a gentler pace.

Princess Luna stood at the prow of the ship, but she had turned, and her stance radiated concern and relief without losing one ounce of the grace Luna may very well have been born with. Luna's dark form was framed by an illimitable panorama of glittering stars keeping silent watch in the night sky above her. Perhaps it was Twilight's imagination, or the height the Vigil flew at, but the full moon hanging in the sky above appeared larger than Twilight had ever remembered it before. As the three of them approached, Luna's eyes stayed locked upon her sister. In the soft light from the moon above, Twilight thought that maybe she'd caught a glimpse of a tear. Then again, maybe not.

Celestia's voice cut harshly through the night. "Luna. What are you doing here?"

Spike, having just clambered up to his usual perch atop Twilight's back, froze in place upon hearing Celestia's tone. If Luna was offended by her sister's anger, it didn't show. "We are here to help." She said. "We are here to fight."

"And what of our subjects, dear sister? We agreed that. . ."

Luna cut her off. "Perchance thou agreed. Canterlot remains warded. We have recalled Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor from their tryst in Jamareca. Equestria shall stand in our absence."

"They are no substitute for the power you wield, sister." Celestia sighed. "However, they are formidable together." She faced Luna unrelentingly, her breaths even and measured in the steady breeze. Eventually she spoke, "Still, you should not be here."

"Dost thou truly believe thou art a match for the Darkness? Alone?" Luna stepped closer.

"We both know that I am not. Nor am I alone here." Celestia replied, "You must understand I had no desire to risk you, little sister."

Luna's voice softened further as she came to a stop face-to-face with Celestia. "We are all at risk, sister mine. We have accepted this, but it seems thou hasn't. Every small and beautiful thing in this world lies in danger."

Celestia's voice thickened with sorrow, and her gaze softened. "That does not justify me throwing others into harm's way. . ."

Luna reached out a hoof. "Sister, we have forgiven you this."

Celestia nodded her head forward, bringing their horns together beneath the moon. "I know."

Twilight turned away, suddenly feeling like an intruder upon some deep connection. She shared a glance with her scaly companion, who smiled at her and nuzzled himself sleepily into her mane. Twilight turned to study the cloudless expanse of stars above them. Forgive her for what, I wonder? Banishing her sister to the moon? No. . . that's not it. She threw somepony into harms way.

Celestia's voice swept like a melody through the wind. Her concern was palpable. "When I say 'risk,' I do not speak only of physical harm."

"Nor do we." Luna asserted. "Yet we have traveled the pathways of ill and spite and have returned to your side. There is much we have learned." She stepped back from her sibling. "And yet thou appear unhappy to see us? For shame, sister."

"I apologize, dearest Luna. I am grateful to see you."

"And grateful we were timely enough to hoist thy flank out of the snake pit?"

Celestia smiled at that. "Of course."

Luna's gaze tracked the deck and came to rest upon Twilight. "Perchance now thou wouldst consent to widening thy pupil's field of instruction. . ."

Celestia's smile fled. "No." Her rebuttal was delivered like a blow. "You know the dangers. . ."

"And thou art aware of the potential!"

Celestia turned a look full of concern towards Twilight. Concern and maybe a little fear. "I will not have it."

"There exists a balance, dear sister."

"Precarious at best!"

"Thou wouldst die bathed in the holiness of light rather than. . ."

"Rather than what?" Celestia stood tall and proud beneath the scrutiny of the moonlight. "Compromise my soul? My spirit?" The two faced one another, Luna's shadowed visage unreadable. Celestia's radiance as still as marble. "I will not have it." She repeated very softly.

Luna's words sounded cold and distant. "Thou wouldst gird thyself for battle without sharpening thy weapons. A fatal sentiment, we fear."

"Twilight. Spike." Celestia's soft voice thinly veiled the steel in her words. "I would like to speak with my sister alone please."

Twilight didn't want to leave. A thought had captured her. Princess Luna wants me as a student? She found herself approaching the pair of alicorns, captivated by the same curiosity that drove her back to her studies again and again and again; an endless fascination with the secrets of the world. She was surprised to find her mouth opening, forming words. "'Widening my field of instruction', Princess?"

Twilight glimpsed what might have been despair in Celestia's ancient eyes before the tension was shattered by the deck hatch bursting inward, releasing Pin Feather hopping and flapping like a startled blue jay. He was followed closely by a gruff and red-eyed Thistle Down.

Pin Feather was all afluster. "She's walking around?" He squawked. He actually squawked. "You can't just walk around!" He shouted at one half of the ruling diarchy of Equestria.

"I said cool it, Pins!" Thistle grabbed his friend by the tail with both foreclaws. "Our apologies, your Highness."

"She's got fractured ribs!" Pin Feather pulled uselessly against the larger gryphon's mass. Scowling at the futility of scrabbling for purchase on the pressure-treated wood of the deck, the gryphon held up an onyx claw towards Celestia. "Don't move, I'll be right there." He swiveled his head to point backwards over one wing. "She might've re-punctured a lung, you tech-obsessed magpie!"

"She's an immortal Goddess Pins," Thistle growled. "A little respect would be nice."

"Let me go, Sir! Or by Krearrk's huge, wrinkled b--"


Pin Feather deflated instantly, his voice dropping to a chagrined trill. "I was going to say 'bellows.'"

The corners of Celestia's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "Captain. Pin Feather. It is nice to see you both again."

"Your Highnesses." Thistle bowed his head in greeting.

"Grr. . . fine!" Pin Feather made a complicated, yet inarticulate gesture with one foreclaw. "Your Sweet Celestialship, would you be so kind as to not do anything else stupi-GWAARRK!" Thistle gave his tail a twist.

Celestia may have been trying not to laugh. "Of course, First Medic. I wouldn't dream of placing myself between you and your duties." Pin Feather turned a sharp glare upon the Captain, who released his friend with a sigh. "However," She continued. "I assure you I have felt no pain since I have awoken."

The freed gryphon rushed over, studying Celestia's sides without touching them. "What about grinding?" Celestia shook her head. "Popping? Any peculiar sounds at all?" She shook her head again. "Um. . . shortness of breath?"

"I can report nothing of consequence." Celestia assured him.

"Hmmm. . ." He sat back on his haunches and and ran his spread talons gently across her soft, white coat. "That's the strangest thing." He pushed a little harder in several places. "The bones have fused. All of them. Two days and you're. . . You're practically healed up." He dropped back into a stunned sit, the steady breeze tousling his crest as his unfocused gaze drifted away. "Well. . . Isn't that something?"

"I told you Pins," Thistle popped Pin Feather a friendly punch on the shoulder. "I told you she'd be fine."

Twilight's eyes sparkled in wonder. "Did you speed your own healing? Princess, that's unbelievable!"

Celestia exchanged an inscrutable glance with her sister before turning suspicious eyes upon her student. "Yes, I suppose I did." Twilight's smile melted under the heat of that glare.

Pin Feather frowned. "Well, how was I supposed to. . . Gah! You alicorns with your Princess-y Powers and your weird, flowy manes and your. . . your. . . jewelery!" Celestia raised one eyebrow. "Well, you still need to rest!" He finished defensively.

Thistle Down sighed heavily and pinched his brow with a pair of blunted talons. "I swear to the stars I'm going to throw you overboard one of these days." From his tone, it was a threat he'd delivered before.

"Thank you for your help, and for your concern." Celestia said. "But I'm actually quite hungry."

"Oh!" Pin Feather brightened instantly. "I'll go fix you up something from the kitchen!"

Thistle stopped him with his good wing. "Remember the noodle incident? No kitchen, Pins. I'll fix the Princess something."

Pin Feather's crest fell. "Oh yeah, Right."

Twilight heard a loud gurgle from somewhere behind her, and she turned to give Spike a quizzical glance. The whelpling blushed sheepishly. "If you're hungry Spike, why don't you head in with the Princess?"

"But what about you, Twilight? You must be hungry too." He asked with wide-eyed concern.

She glanced towards Princess Luna before answering. "I'll be in soon Spike. Why don't you make me a plate of whatever you're having?"

Spike brightened a little. "Sure thing, Twilight!" He hopped nimbly off of her back and joined Celestia and Thistle Down.

"Noodle incident?" Celestia asked as she fell into step next to the Captain.

"More of an 'explosion' than an incident, your Highness." Thistle gestured to the open hatch, allowing Celestia to precede him. "Took us months to get the smell out. . ."

"Captain, is this related to the unexplained 40,000 bit charge for 'misc. fire-retardant bake ware' on the fiscal statement last Hearth-Warming Eve?"

"Oh, I can explain that. . ." He said as he shut the door behind them.

Princess Luna studied the moon. She took in the complex patterns the stars formed in the night sky above. Then she peered thoughtfully at Twilight, who was trying hard not to look like she was holding her breath. And then she glanced at Pin Feather, who still looked a bit dejected. He looked like he was about to say something, then thought better of it.

Luna turned to leave. "Wait," Twilight said. She still had so many questions. "Princess, what. . . what did you mean by 'widening my field of instruction?'"

The alicorn stopped, giving Twilight an appraising look. "Twilight Sparkle, your instructor and liege has expressly forbade us from answering that question." She turned to direct the full weight of her attention on the small purple pony. "Why do you counter her wishes?"

Twilight tried not to answer too quickly. She was acutely conscious of the fact that they weren't alone, and she had no idea how Princess Luna might react to anything she said. But she felt as though this was a chance she might not get again. A chance to explore the darkness of her ignorance in search of a spark. "Because. . . because she. . . I know she hasn't told me everything." The words were difficult at first, but they came more swiftly as she continued. "I mean, I'm her student, and she trusts me enough to tell me and my friends about her past, and about this horrible, formless thing we should all be scared of, but nopony even knows it exists!"

Twilight finally gave voice to the doubts that had plagued her ever since the mighty Queen Chrysalis cast Celestia down in her own throne room. The moment when she learned that Celestia could be beaten. "And the changelings wanted to stop us, but then they let us walk right out of their hive. And even though I think she knows why she wont tell me. Celestia claims she doesn't know what the changelings wanted with the Elements, but Applejack and I think she does. And I sucked all the life and magic out of an entire forest because I'd never even learned the simple fact that external magic can be manipulated. . ." Her eyes shone as she pleaded with the Princess of the Night. "It. . . I guess it just. . . I just want to be trusted with the truth." Twilight gulped as she ran out of words, fearing that she'd already said too much out loud.

Pin Feather just sat, shocked to a polite silence by Twilight's outburst. Luna didn't spare him a glance. She simply offered Twilight a smile full of understanding and sympathy. "Thou art astute, Twilight Sparkle, and thy reflections display clarity and presence of spirit. We mean this as high praise. We are aware of our sister's reasons for silence. We assure you they are good reasons, despite our belief that she is wrong." As her words sunk in Twilight bowed her head, and the breeze scattered her mane across her face. Luna reached out a gentle hoof and brushed Twilight's mane back, revealing a lost expression. "We agree with our sister on one subject, however. Starswirl's prophesy was quite accurate. Thou art a wonder, and thy softness belies thy strength. Trust thyself."

Twilight gasped. "Starswirl mentioned me? B-But that's impossible! I've read through all of his published works as well as his manuscripts in the Lunar Archives. He never mentioned me!"

"Surely thou recallest a passage concerning us? 'On the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aid in her escape,' ect."

"Of course, that passage was referenced in a copy of Predictions and Prophecies kept in the Canterlot Library. It meant that the stars would, um, free you from your banishment to the moon so you could return to Equestria. . . I mean, didn't they?"

Luna shook her head. "Dost thou mean the sky-jewels above us? No, the spell our sister cast using the Elements of Harmony simply wore off. She had only intended to seal us away from our source of power long enough for our vast puissance to wane. The Nightmare thou faced was but a wisp, a hollow wraith next to the strength we wielded during our. . . original disagreement."

Twilight blanched. Nightmare Moon's power at the time had seemed overwhelming. Then again, Twilight herself had grown stronger in the last two years. There's still no way I could have beaten her, even knowing what I do now. Wait, if the prophecy didn't refer to actual stars. . .

"But that means," Twilight glanced back at her cutie mark as though seeing it for the first time; a six-point star surrounded by five smaller stars.

"Yes, Twilight Sparkle. Thou art the beacon of harmony which liberated us from our despite and poisonous jealousy. We owe you much, my sister and I. Perchance we will yet sway our sister to believing she owes you the whole of the truth." Luna hesitated, uncertain. "Twilight, weren't thee aware thou'rt being forged as metal is forged into a weapon, keen and dangerous?"

Twilight thought hard, remembering the lessons, the training. The challenges which seemed enough to daunt a goddess sometimes, yet challenges which always seemed to fall solidly into her path. "I guess some part of me always knew, or at least suspected." Celestia had been her personal mentor for years now, but Twilight had always felt as though she'd been more than that. She was a guardian, and if Twilight let herself think the words possibly something of a mother. Yet all this time it seems Celestia had been more of a blacksmith, sharpening a dagger. Suddenly Twilight's jeweled crown felt impossibly heavy.

"Good. We are all made to exult in life, to resist the pull of oblivion. The darkened shores we approach shall doubtless challenge us to find answer, yet the Elements buoy us. We believe together we shalt discover an anodyne to corruption. We say again, Twilight Sparkle. Trust thyself."

When Luna turned to leave, nodding to a solemn Pin Feather as she passed, Twilight let her go. Instead, she let her companions leave as she trotted over to the nearest guardrail and flung her hooves over the side, staring up into the untrammeled whorls of the night sky. I don't want to be trained to fight. I don't want to live as a weapon. What kind of life is that? She thought to herself. She plucked the Element of Magic off of her head, studying it in her hooves. Moonlight glinted off of the purple gem set into the crown, just as it glinted off of the cold water far below. She imagined herself flinging it over the rail, having the weight of all that responsibility fall with it.

She knew she wouldn't do it. Then I'd be responsible for something else. Something worse. I'd be undermining our chances, and turning my back upon Harmony. She sighed to herself. And a part of me does want to fight. Ever since I discovered something worth fighting for. The images from her dream of changelings burnt to ash and cinders, the smell of charred flesh and oil-black smoke washed over her, and her heart fluttered in her chest. But. . . I can't believe Harmony will ever be preserved by violence. That's just. . . Maybe I just have to find another way to fight.

She was startled out of her musings by a figure approaching the rail next to her. She hadn't sensed Pin Feather walking up behind her until he appeared out of the gloom. He didn't say anything, he just stared up at the sky, sharing the silence. Twilight settled her Element back atop her head and glanced at the gryphon beside her. The cool, steady breeze played with his thick ruff of feathers and his flattened eartufts. Gone was the spastic, improper jester from before. This Pin Feather seemed pensive as his eyes slowly swept the sky.

"So." He finally said. "Celestia's keeping secrets from her subjects. I have to admit, I did not see that one coming."

Twilight cringed. She should have known better than to open her big mouth without having a private audience with Luna. She could have even used a spell to ensure they weren't overheard. But she'd jumped at the opportunity to look for answers like an eager foal. "I'm hoping you'll be tactful about this, and not say the wrong thing at the wrong time."

"Oh, mum's the word with me, Sparkler. Although I have no idea where the phrase 'mum's the word' even came from. It's kind of a strange saying."

"'Mum' was a word in old Moonwhiny, meaning 'silent'. It's thought to be derived from the sound one makes trying to speak with your muzzle shut, popularized by it's usage in one of Shakespony's plays. I think it was Haynry VI."

Pin Feather's beak opened in an avian smile. "Heh, if only I sat next to you instead of Thistle during mid-year exams. . ." His eyes grew distant as a comfortable silence stretched between them. Eventually he sighed. "You know, we weren't really surprised when Thistle and I were both accepted into Saguenare University, even though he went for engineering and I studied medicine. Our test scores were stellar. My. . . My mother wouldn't accept anything less than that. She made dire threats about what she would do to me if I didn't receive a full scholarship. She knew I was smarter and more capable than my siblings, but she was often harsh about pushing me where she wanted me to be."

Twilight's smile was sympathetic. His attempt to relate to her situation was equal parts obvious and endearing. "I've never been threatened by my parents. But I've always felt the push to achieve high test scores. In different ways, I'm sure our parents just wanted us to be our best." Twilight tilted her head. "How many siblings do you have?"

"Oh, too many." Pin Feather made a show of rolling his eyes. "I just wanted to make her proud of me, you know? To show her that I've worked hard to accomplish what she expects of me."

Twilight chuckled weakly. "Imagine if instead of being your mother, it was the ruler of an entire country. Now that's pressure."

"Oh, I can imagine." Pin Feather's words were heavy.

"Well," Twilight gestured to the airship around them. "You were hoof-picked by Celestia herself to help run a secret airship. Does your family know just how important you seem to be?"

"Oh yes, I think they do." He said. "Although I wasn't exactly hoof-picked. Thistle was, and he sort of talked Celestia into hiring me on as well. He was an obvious choice, a born leader and a genius among the gifted. He designed the side-mounted aerial crossbow when he was nine! Nine, the bastard. Used by the entire gryphon military nowadays. He just wouldn't sign on without me. My. . . mother sort of pushed me to become friends with him. Hoped I'd get somewhere in life by proxy. It seems she was right." He stared off into the sky, but he seemed not to see it, instead laying out his memories before him.

Twilight copied him, taking in not just the bright pinpricks of light but the immeasurable miles between them. She spoke, placing each word gently into the dark. "You know, I always used to love nighttime, more than any other time of day. Even as a filly I'd stay up as late as I could, usually reading. Or sometimes stargazing, searching for comets or planets or. . . anything interesting, really. Days were hectic and unpredictable, with everypony in Canterlot moving through their lives, bumping into one another, altering each others courses like an endless uncontrolled chemical reaction. A reaction I never fully understood. But the night, that was peaceful. Serene. Imagine my delight when I earned my cutie mark. It all seemed so perfect."

"But as I grew older, my foalish wonder seemed to drain away, and I began to see the stars more scientifically. I began to grasp just how long it takes for light from a star to reach us, and I began to grasp just how far away each of them are, from us and from each other. . . Each of these lights in the sky is nothing but an old, lonely photograph. Isolated much like I was for most of my life. If one of these stars exploded, do you know just how many years it would take for us to even find out about it? Half of the universe could be dying, and we wouldn't even know." Twilight absently adjusted her mane, wiping at the corner of her eye as she did so. "I didn't even know how lonely my life was until a couple of years ago. Now the stars in the sky just make me feel sad, like I'm back in my bedroom in Canterlot with nopony to talk to."

A minute passed in silence. Twilight was close to excusing herself and heading back inside when his friendly voice began again. "Are you familiar with the gryphon origin myth?" Twilight shook her head no. He continued. "It predates the Scrolls of the Ancients and the fracturing of the seven tribes. I think it went something like this."

"Drifting amongst the formless void of the cosmos, Krearrk, alone of his siblings, took joy in manipulating the realm of the physical. He would create objects out of the dust of creation, and his mother, The Matriarch of the Void, taught him how to use the flow of time to watch his creations dance amongst each other. His sister, Tarsi, was preoccupied with the ebb and flow of energy through the cosmos. She delighted in swirls of light and heat, and The Matriarch taught her to use the flow of time to create patterns out of the energy. Yet these two had a third sibling, Kitami, who delighted in nothing. It's said she grew bored and restless with meaningless creation, and she planted into Krearrk's ears an idea. She described how much more interesting his creations would be were they imbued with energy and will. Excited, he brought this idea to Tarsi. He explained how he wanted to endow his creations with a spark of magic. She remained unimpressed until he described how such a joining might be used to create life. At this, Tarsi agreed."

"So Krearrk set about forging tiny statues and figures, designs of such delicacy and beauty that they smote his heart. And Tarsi breathed the spark of magic into each one, setting them aglow. These ethereal and eternal beings came alive, aware of themselves and aware of one another. For a time, the deities were content. Particularly Kitami, who delighted in the interactions between the creations of light. Yet the harmony Krearrk and Tarsi had anticipated soon revealed itself to be flawed. As much joy as there was in being alive, there was an equal amount of sorrow. Pleasure was matched by suffering. Tenderness by intolerance."

"Kitami understood this, understood it was a fundamental balance necessary for existence. And she reveled in both the good and the evil brought forth. Tarsi and Krearrk were not pleased; they could only see the suffering they had engendered where before there was emptiness. They turned to Their Matriarch in a plea for help or wisdom. The Matriarch observed what her children had wrought, and she was displeased. So she scattered her children's creations across the expanse of eternity, and forbade her young from playing with their toys."

"And as the powers we name 'light' and 'life' radiated out from the scattered bits of creation we now call stars, the light reached the dull bits of rock sweeping through the cosmos and began life as we know it. And so long as their gentile light can reach us, ever will the mystery of life persist."

He continued. "You see, by describing the stars as projectors. . . as origins of life, it strikes me as painting a much warmer picture of eternity than your cold scientific analysis." Pin Feather shrugged a feathered shoulder. "I don't think the universe is so lonely a place. It's just difficult to find the connections between us if you only focus on what you see."

Twilight smiled. "That's a beautiful story. I suppose it's all in how we choose to look at things, isn't it?"

"Now you're getting it, Sparkler."

He struck her as being so friendly, so genuine, so honestly concerned about her feelings that Twilight couldn't help but feel a warm glow deep in her chest. "I don't think I've properly thanked you for saving my life."

"Ah, don't mention it. Just doing my job, is all."

"Well, I don't think it's part of your job description to offer comfort during an existential crisis, so maybe I can thank you for that."

"Oh, you'd be surprised. One of the medical textbooks in my quarters is called Angsty Unicorns: Avoiding Startling Bouts of Ponykinesis."

"Heeheehehehee-heheheh." Twilight Sparkle doubled over as she laughed. "Hehe, oh geez -- I said I was sorry for that!"

Pin Feather had laughed too. "Yeah, that doesn't mean I'll let you live it down, though. Maybe when it's not funny anymore." He smiled at her hopefully, his eartufts perking in the breeze. "Hey, want to go find out what kind of grub the others are rustling up? I'm feeling a bit peckish."

Twilight nodded, turning away from the rail. "Sure. I could go for some more of that tea Sun Shade likes."

They walked together across the deck of the Vigil. "Yeah, she's got excellent taste."

Twilight was silent for a beat. "I get it. Peckish. Because you have a beak. That's funny."

"Thank you. I liked it."

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