• Published 8th Aug 2012
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The Crystal War Book I: A Spark to Light the Dark - NatureSpark



A unicorn burnout, two pegasus brothers and Princess Luna's protégé, along with many other friends they meet along the way, embark on an epic journey to prevent war from consuming Equestria.

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Ch.35 With Love, Inferno

~Chapter 35: With Love, Inferno~

Dear Mother, Star, Mom,

I am so sorry that I have not written you back before now. I am sure that you must be worried sick about us, so I’m sending this quick letter to let you know we are safe in the hippogriff tribe at the moment. There are many things that I need to tell you, but the sun is setting and I do not have much light left at the moment. I will send you a letter detailing the full story of Spark’s near death scare as well as the events leading up to our current dealings with the hippogriff tribe. Please do not worry about us. Try not to worry about us too much. I miss you mom and my next letter will be sent off at first light. I love you.

Your daughter,

Inferno

Star read the short letter for the fourth time that morning, tears of joy spilling from her eyes to land on the worn page with a splash of longing. The small script of Inferno’s writing stared back at her teary eyed face as she sat in bed next to a sleeping Axel, whose body was just as restless while sleeping as it was while awake. Star had slept well enough, despite the red mare’s tossing and turning, thanks in part to the letter she had received. The weight of her worry was not yet gone, but it had certainly receded after Inferno’s assurance that her friends were doing well.

The letter had said that Inferno would be sending off another one soon, so Star was waiting patiently to hear more of the young dragon’s story. The last time Star had heard from her scaled daughter was when she got the letter detailing Spark’s leap from the flying chariot and his subsequent fall into the clouds. Apparently the only thing that kept him from falling to a gruesome death on the surface was the cloud walking spell he had cast on himself and Inferno mere minutes before jumping. The clouds had been enough to catch Spark, but he had been in critical condition when they found him.

The trip to Manehatten that Star had planned was going to have to wait until she got Inferno’s next letter, so the early start she was hoping for was going to be pushed back. It didn’t bother the unicorn any, because they would still make great time in Axel’s new chariot, but Star was very eager to complete her business and get back to Canterlot in case her daughter planned on returning soon. She would know from the next letter if that was the case or not. A slight stirring from Axel’s side of the bed alerted Star to her friend’s awakening as she folded up the letter and placed it on the nightstand beside her bed.

“Mmm, good morning,” Axel mumbled as she opened her eyes to see Star already awake and just crawling out of the comforting warmth of the blankets.

“Good morning Axel. Did you sleep well?” Star asked as she stretched her body out with a yawn. Sitting up in bed had left her back sore, but a good stretch was enough to fix the minor discomfort.

“Yes I did,” Axel replied with a bright eyed smile. “How about you?” The earth pony looked wide awake within seconds of opening her hazel eyes and Star had no idea how she managed to be energetic every second of the day.

“I slept pretty well, but you move around in your sleep,” Star told her with a playful shove. “I don’t know how many times I had to fight you for the blankets.”

“Yeah, I’ve been told that I’m a restless sleeper, but at least I don’t snore,” Axel giggled. After popping her neck, which made Star cringe, Axel hopped out of bed and took a deep breath, smiling all the while. “Are we still going to Manehatten?” Her golden blonde mane was sticking out madly in every direction.

“Mhmm, I’m just waiting on Inferno’s next letter, which should be here anytime, and then I’ll be ready to leave,” Star replied.

“Alrighty, well, I’m going to take a quick bath, if I have enough time,” Axel said, with a questioning glance to Star, who nodded her head.

“Do you want me to bring some breakfast up to the room for you?” Star asked the earth pony as she vanished into the bathroom.

“Yeah, that would be great,” Axel called out as she turned on the faucet. “Thanks a bunch.” Star just nodded her head and let out another yawn before walking over to the nightstand. She grabbed the small letter and dropped it in her saddlebags, which were on the floor beside her bed, before turning to leave.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” Star called to her friend, but Axel didn’t seem to hear her over the sound of running water, so Star opened the bedroom door and left Axel to get ready for their trip.

The castle halls were already bustling with activity, even though it was fairly early in the morning, the sound of hoofsteps echoed off of the marble walls down every turn. Besides the usual breakfast preparations being tended to, there were also dignitaries from every major city in Equestria staying in Canterlot to meet with the princesses, many of them residing in the castle for the duration of their visit. Star did her best not to impose on the servants as she descended the spiraling stairs into the main hall and made her way to the dining area, where the smell of freshly baked bread and other mouth watering foods was drifting through the air.

Yesterday Star had missed out on eating the breakfast that was served in the dining hall, not a surprise considering how exhausted she had been, but today she had been awake just before Celestia had begun to raise the sun and had plenty of time to eat. She eyed the steaming plates of food as she levitated a tray from the table and began floating a variety of dishes onto it. Star had no idea what kinds of food Axel liked, but she figured grabbing a little portion of everything would work well enough, so she quickly filled her tray and stepped out of the way of a mare who was carrying a large pitcher of fresh orange juice.

“Oh, allow me to help you with that,” Star offered as she lifted the pitcher from its precarious balancing point on the mares head and set it on the table, all while keeping her tray of food aloft.

“Thank you so much,” the servant replied in a cheery voice. “There’s been so much to do these past few days, what with all the mayors and royalty that have been gathering to discuss the conflicts with the Crystal Empire.”

“I know what you mean,” Star replied. “I’ll just try to keep out of the way.” Star shot the earth pony a friendly smile before leaving, which the servant quickly returned before hurrying off to finish serving breakfast.

On a normal day Star would have eaten at the large table, along with everypony else in the castle. Princess Luna usually wanted Star right by her side during gathering, but this time was different. The normal atmosphere would be gone, replaced by debating and tension as every pony who held even a small amount of political sway tried to force their opinions on the others. Star wanted no part of that coming fiasco, so the sooner she could get back to her room, the happier she would be.

The stairs were in sight, only one small obstacle between Star and her bedroom, but the sound of a birds cry made her turn around. Philomena, Princess Celestia’s pet phoenix, flew into the main hall, flame colored plumage bright and flashy against the muted colors of the marble castle. Following just a few steps behind the immortal bird was its equally immortal master. Star bowed low, keeping her focus on the slowly cooling food suspended above her head.

“Good morning Discipula Star,” Princess Celestia called to her.

“Good morning Princess Celestia,” Star replied as she stood up from her bow and started to walk up the stairs once again.

“Star, before you leave,” Celestia said before the hungry unicorn could top the steps, “I believe my sister wished to speak with you about a letter. I assume that it is from Inferno and Nature Spark, although I can’t be certain.”

“Oh, thank you for telling me, princess,” Star replied as a smile crept across her face. Inferno had written back already and Star couldn’t wait to find out what the letter contained. Her heart beat sped up as giddiness began to overtake her.

“Of course, now if you will excuse me,” the princess spoke in a voice that was losing its carefree tone, “I have a long day of listening to ponies argue ahead of me.”

“Of course,” Star replied with another bow as Celestia walked through the doors of the dining hall, followed shortly after by her phoenix. Star did not envy the princess her job ruling over the country. Politics had never been her favorite subject and, as well adjusted to formal living as she was, Star still would much rather not have to act like a stuck up priss day after day. At that moment Star’s eye caught the first politician walking down the hall, with many more soon to come, so she hurried up the last few steps and disappeared down the hallway carrying her tray of food in front of her.

Breakfast was going to have to be rushed, Star decided as she nudged the bedroom door open with her owl-marked flank, because she needed to read Inferno’s next letter as soon as equinely possible. Axel was just walking out of the bathroom, golden blonde mane wrapped up in a towel, when Star walked into the room and levitated the plate over to the small coffee table lying a few feet in front of the couch. Axel smiled widely as she took a seat, taking in the sight of delicious breakfast foods.

“Oh my, this all looks so amazing. I love good food, but since I live alone I never bother to cook anything, well, except when I have visitors, but that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like,” Axel rambled as she started throwing various vegetables in between two slices of freshly baked bread. “I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good cook and I could make myself dinner every night, but then some of it always goes to waste and besides, I get so lost in my tinkering that I usually forget to eat anyway.” Star just nodded along as she prepared her own plate of food.

“I can understand that,” Star replied as she leaned back into the plush, purple couch. “I always, well, almost always have Inferno with me, so I never have to eat alone. I can see why it would be such a chore to cook for one pony though.”

Axel nodded her head vigorously as she mumbled, “Mhmm,” through a mouthful of her breakfast sandwich. With her mouth full of food, Axel wasn’t able to chatter on like she usually did and the two mares ate their food in relative silence. Star was trying to finish her meal quickly so that she could find Princess Luna and Axel was too engrossed with her enjoyment of the fancy cuisine to do much more than hum her contentment. Halfway through the meal, Axel pulled off the towel, freeing her long mane and tossing it behind her with a quick flick of her head. Star couldn’t help but notice how much prettier Axel looked when she let her mane out of the ponytail.

“You should wear you mane like that more often,” Star mumbled over a bite of an apple. “I think it looks much better down.” Axel rolled her eyes with a giggle, which nearly turned into a choking fit as she tried to swallow her food simultaneously.

“I would, but it’s always getting in the way when I work,” she explained.

“Oh, so why don’t you cut it short then?” Star asked, perplexed by her friends choice. “Wouldn’t that make everything easier?”

“Yeah, but then it wouldn’t be long,” Axel replied. Star just stared at the red mare in confusion until she took the hint and elaborated. “I like to be able to wear it down when the occasion calls for it, like if I go on a date or something. Granted, that doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I like to look my best and as you said, it looks better down,” Axel explained with a look that made Star feel like she was the one who wasn’t making sense.

“I guess that is a good point,” Star mumbled as Axel got back to eating her breakfast. “Uh, I’m done eating, so I am going to speak with Princess Luna about our plans and then I’ll be right back. Are you fine with staying here?” Axel tried to open her mouth and then realized it was stuffed, so she settled for a simple nod of approval instead. “Okay, I’ll be back in a few then,” Star told her as she slipped back out the door.

The meeting was taking so long that Star had just about given up on waiting for Princess Luna to leave the throne room. She would have gone in herself, but it wouldn’t have done much good. She still would have had to wait for everypony to adjourn before she could speak with the princess and interrupting the meeting by opening the doors didn’t sound like a very good idea anyway. Star sighed as she slumped down in the ugly wood chair she was sitting in, contemplating whether or not she should return to her room and check on Axel. The bubbly, red mare was probably going crazy left to her own devices in the castle, but Star didn’t want to miss her chance to speak with the princess, so she decided to stay put for awhile longer.

Knowing that Inferno had already sent her next letter had Star practically shaking with anticipation, not only because she now knew that her friends were safe, but also because there was a good chance that an agreement had been made between Spark and the hippogriffs. Strata had seemed confident that her tribe would side with Equestria, they had every reason to, but until she knew for sure, Star was going to worry. It was just in her nature to dwell on things of that sort.

The sound of the large, double doors of the throne room opening stirred Star from her thoughts and she glanced in their direction just as the first pony walked out. He was an earth pony, mayor of one of the smaller towns judging by his appearance, and soon enough the other politicians were following him out. Star jumped out of her seat and made her way around the group of ponies, nodding politely anytime she made eye contact. The throne room was mostly empty by the time she found her way in.

Princess Luna was sitting at her throne in full regal beauty, conversing quietly with her elder sister about the meeting that they had just sat through. Neither of the alicorns looked particularly pleased as they spoke to each other, but Luna seemed especially irritated and Star began to rethink interrupting her mentor. She had waited long enough for Inferno’s letter though, so she took a deep breath and cleared her throat in an attempt to politely inform the sisters of her presence.

“Yes, I can see you there Star. Just give us a moment and I’ll get you the letter,” Luna replied in a slightly abrasive tone.

“Sorry your majesty,” Star apologized as she sat in one of the many empty chairs gathered in a semicircle around the raised platform that the thrones resided on. It was a very rare occasion that Luna ever said a harsh word to Star, but something seemed to be riling the princess up and Star couldn’t deny that her curiosity was peaked. Politics weren’t her passion by any means, but occasionally Luna would talk with her about various policies and decisions while Star was practicing her magic. It seemed like Luna’s only way to blow off steam without disrupting the expected civility of Canterlot.

“You forget sister, that we both rule Equestria together and I will have this decision put to a vote,” Luna said in a voice only slightly below a yell. It startled Star enough with its sudden volume that she nearly fell out of her chair and onto the polished marble floor.

“Luna, please be reasonable,” Celestia begged.

“I am being reasonable Celestia. Why should there be a curfew? Why should ponies be afraid of the night that I bring them? It is no more dangerous than your days and I will have the decision put to a vote. We will let the citizens of Equestria decide for themselves,” Luna lectured her older sister, just barely containing the anger that boiled behind her words. “That seems more than reasonable to me.”

Celestia closed her eyes, as if trying to get through to her younger sister was physically draining, replying, “I know how you must feel dear sister, but I am only doing this for the safety of our ponies. It will only be in effect until the time comes when we have resolved our problems with the Crystal Empire and these griffon mercenaries.” Luna didn’t appear to be listening to her elder sibling’s attempts at reasoning and she stood up from her throne without another word to Celestia and started walking away at a brisk pace. Star stared at the scene as it unfolded, knowing that it was rude and most likely not in her best interest, but unable to look away.

“Follow me, Discipula Star,” Luna bid her as she passed. Star got up, still stunned by what had happened, and followed her mentor back out of the throne room, wincing as the thick wooden doors slammed shut and sent an echo reverberating through the open halls. A few servants were cleaning the castle, but they quickly scurried away as the princess passed them, as if sensing that she was in a bad mood.

Princess Luna walked quickly, trying to burn up the excess adrenaline that arguing with Celestia had caused. Star did her best to keep up, but her legs were only half the size of her teachers and she was forced to take two quick steps for each one of Luna’s long strides. It was the first time that Star had heard a cross word pass between the two rulers, although she imagined that in their immortal life they had fought before, it was simple nature for siblings not to get along some of the time. Still, seeing the two alicorns having such a disagreement was unsettling for the young mare and she wondered how bad Equestria’s position truly was for them to be at odds with one another.

“Princess Luna, is everything alright?” Star asked, hoping that her mentor had calmed down enough not to bark at her. “What happened back there?” Luna continued walking in silence for a little longer before suddenly stopping in her tracks, causing Star to nearly rear end her from the effort of trying to keep up.

“My sister thinks it wise to impose a curfew on all of Equestria, so that no children leave their homes after sunset and nopony leaves town after dark,” Luna told her. Her blue eyes were watering with tears of frustration as she vented to her pupil.

“I’m sure that she is only doing what she believes best,” Star replied. Luna didn’t appear to be very pleased with Star’s statement and her dark blue muzzle contorted with anger. Star thought she was about to get a verbal lashing, but instead Luna closed her eyes and took a long, slow breath. When she opened her eyes again the momentary rage that Star had picked up on was gone, replaced by a calm, but slightly distant expression.

“What my sister seems to forget, my little pony, is that we both have a say in the fate of Equestria and I am perfectly capable of watching over my ponies during the night,” Luna explained as she resumed walking down the wide halls. “It is not the night that is unsafe my dear pupil, only those who would try to hide their misdeeds with it.”

Star wasn’t sure how to reply to Luna’s statement. Both of the Princesses seemed to have equally good reasons for their opinions. It seemed like a wise choice for them to place the decision in the hoofs of the politicians from each city, but the thought of anypony besides the immortal alicorn princesses making the choice seemed wrong. Celestia and Luna had ruled over Equestria for thousands of years and even in the face of Discord they had remained united, so Star couldn’t figure out why they would be bickering over something as small as a curfew at such an important time. There must have been more to it than that, but Star wasn’t sure if she would be overstepping her boundaries to imply such a thing.

“I hope that you two are able to reach a compromise that everypony is comfortable with,” Star said, for lack of a better response.

“As do I, my faithful student, as do I,” Luna agreed, “but for now you have something else that requires your attention. It is for my sister and I to work out our differences, not you. I sincerely hope that you do not dwell on this trivial matter when you have other worries on your mind.”

“Of course, princess,” Star replied as she followed her teacher around the last corner to her royal bedchamber. She would certainly try not to worry, but it was simply in her nature to do so.

Princess Luna led Star into her room and levitated the letter from its place on her large desk into Star’s waiting grasp. Star immediately began reading the letter in the middle of Luna’s dimly lit room, ignoring the fact that very little light made its way through the thick black curtains that covered the princess’s bedroom windows.

“I am very sorry Star, but I have to prepare to resume the meeting, so I will ask you to take the letter to your own room to read it,” Luna told her. Star nodded her head, understanding that it was imperative for her teacher to be clear headed and calm for the proceedings and she bowed once before leaving Luna’s bedchambers and trotting down the hall to her own room, nose buried in Inferno’s letter the entire walk.

Dear Mom,

I trust that my first letter made it to you without any troubles. Now that I have more time, I think that I should tell the story of our travels since Spark’s fall from the sky. There are some less important details that I will skim over, but it is still a long tale as you can most likely tell. Every second that my life was in dange I think about you often.

Spark was in critical condition by the time that we found him lying still, on top of a cloud, and Strata and I had feared the worst. He had saved our lives by doing what he had done, but he nearly paid the price in his own blood, of which there was plenty spilled upon the plush landing. We immediately got him into the chariot and found him still breathing, although most of our belongings were lost during the frantic descent to recover him. I did the best job of tending his wounds that I could manage given what few supplies remained.

He had ingested some sort of drug powder that he had brought with him mere moments before his blind leap off of the side of our chariot and I believe that is the only reason his heart was still beating when we found him, but what damage it did on his body I cannot say for certain. What I do know is that he had a series of broken bones and deep lacerations over parts of his body, which I wrapped in cloth and bandages. It was enough to keep him from bleeding out. One of his lungs had also collapsed, but I managed to inflate it again with a bit of ingenuity. We arrived at the hippogriff’s settlement just a couple days later.

Star had to pause for a moment after reading the paragraph to dry her eyes. Once again one of Inferno’s letters had caused tears of joy. Star was proud of her little dragon, who it seemed had been able to singlehandedly keep Spark alive. A smile brightened Star’s teary face as she continued reading.

At the settlement Strata got him proper medical attention and the doctor, for lack of a better word, was able to heal most of his more serious injuries and stave off the growing infection that had developed. Spark remained unconscious for a few days and we dreaded that it might have been too late, but we could do nothing more for him and there were still other matters to attend to. I was unwilling to leave Spark’s side for the first day and a half, but eventually Strata was able to convince me that negotiating an alliance between Equestria and the hippogriffs was a more pressing concern.

The hippogriffs were frightening at first received me well enough and I know that I have Strata to thank for that. They seemed deeply troubled by Spark’s condition and I believe it has something to do with his father, although you will have to ask Spark himself for the full story on that matter. We spoke about forming an alliance a couple of times, but with only my words to go on, they were apprehensive. It wasn’t until I received my first letter back from the princess, bearing the royal seal of Equestria, that they took my words to heart.

Star had to reread that last sentence, because she thought it said Luna had sent off a letter, but she had never been informed of that fact. Inferno was her daughter and the princess had seen fit to keep Star uninformed of her correspondence. Star had been worried sick about the little dragon and Luna could have eased her mind days ago. She gritted her teeth and tried her best to remain calm while she finished the letter. Princess Luna obviously must have had a good reason, Star thought, although she had no idea what it might be.

We were already nearing an agreement when Nature Spark awoke and his added influence was enough to expedite the entire process. That is why I was able to send a letter to the princess, detailing the full terms that the hippogriffs laid fourth for their alliance. It seems to be a beneficial plan for both parties, but I am not well versed in politics and the like, so I can’t say for certain. What I do know is that Strata seemed to be happy with the outcome.

As for Spark, he was very wounded a bit tender when he regained consciousness, but nothing seems to have been irreparably damaged, although his blindness was still a burden on him. You’ll be happy to know that he is coping quite well and seems to have accepted what happened. I worried about his mental state for awhile, but he has found a way to navigate well enough and has even been practicing his ability to cast spells without sight. He told me that he had found a way to use his magic to sense the world around him, but it didn’t make much sense to me. I suppose I will just have to leave the magic to you, mother. Perhaps you can explain it in a way that makes sense.

A chuckle escaped Star’s lips as she remembered how difficult explaining magical spells to Inferno was. The young dragon was content just knowing what a spell did, not why or how. Not that anypony besides unicorns could ever really grasp the full nature of unicorn magic anyway, but Star had tried to teach Inferno as much as she could.

Inferno’s brief description of Spark’s abilities surprised and intrigued the black mare though. If he had learned a way to sense the world with magic it could be quite a discovery and it would offer her a rare opportunity to study something completely unheard of in the books she had read. Star made a mental note to find out exactly what Spark was capable of and filed it in her head behind getting to Manehatten, but before poking her nose into Luna’s business.

There are still details that must be decided upon and preparations to be made, but with any luck we should be on our way to the Crystal Empire to meet with Downpour and Backdraft within a few days. We were all heartbroken when we read your letter about the fire in Ponyville. I wanted to write back, but it was not a good time. I hope you forgive me for making you wait so long to hear back from us. It wasn’t my intention to delay so long, but events unfolded at a quick pace for us and I can only hope that you understand.

“Oh, Inferno, of course I understand,” Spark mumbled under her breath as she read the letter. “That doesn’t mean that I have to like it though.”

Have you gotten any word from the pegasus brothers and what more has come out of Ponyville? I know you said that you were there helping the survivors and I read what you said about Chestnut. I wanted to tell Spark about his death, truly I did, but I do not believe that I have it in me to do so or that he is stable enough to handle the news at this moment. I hate to ask, but is there any way that you could deliver the news to him when we get back to Canterlot? I don’t wan I cannot do it.

I love you Star mom and I miss you more than anything. I know that it has been less than two weeks since we last saw each other, but it seems to me like a lifetime and another world. I know you worry about things, me especially, but I am doing fine and with Spark and Strata I feel safe. I hope that you are doing just as well. Please write me back as soon as you can, your letters are the only thing keeping me from breaking down.

Love always,

Inferno

P.S. Spark wanted me to remind you that what happened to his vision was not your fault and he in no way blames you for his tiflo tyflos typhlosis. I am almost positive that means blindness.

Star sniffed back her tears as she set the letter on the nightstand and rolled over on her cushioned bed, drying her eyes as she met Axel’s gaze. The normally hyperactive mare had sensed her emotional state while reading the letter and had chosen to keep herself quite until Star finished, but now she sprang up on the mattress with a flurry of questions already spurting from her chattering lips. Star had expected the interrogation, but it was hard to answer any questions when she couldn’t tell where one ended and another began, so she had so shush Axel, who’s hazel eyes widened in surprise.

“Now, one question at a time please,” Star said, attempting to veil her mild annoyance with the earth pony. “What did you want to know?” Axel paused in thought, mouth still hanging open as she considered Star’s question. Star watched as Axel’s teeth slowly bit down on her lip as she continued to think.

“Oh, I know!” Axel burst out, breaking the silence so suddenly that Star actually had to keep herself from screaming with surprise. “How is the prototype chariot holding up?” Axel asked with a look of gleeful anticipation. Unfortunately for the rust red mare, Inferno’s letter hadn’t mentioned the state of their vehicle in detail, so Star was at a loss.

“Um, honestly, I have no idea,” Star sheepishly replied, “but I can say that everypony is alive and well and they will be coming home in no time at all.” Star may have been stretching the truth a bit, but it seemed like the best response to her friend’s unconventional question. “I also know that the cart is in one piece.” It wasn’t much, but she hoped it would suffice for an answer.

“That is great,” Axel replied. “I’m so glad that it’s actually working out for them. I had a few worries, but apparently they were unwarranted.” Star didn’t get the chance to ask her to elaborate before Axel hopped off of the couch, beckoning Star to follow her. “We should probably get a move on. Don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right,” Star told her, enjoying the softness of her bed for one last time before reluctantly forcing her body up.

“Of course I’m right,” Axel said with a grin, “Manehatten waits for no mare.” Star quietly groaned as she stood up and floated her saddlebags from their spot on the cold floor to her back. She had been packed since she arrived in Canterlot, but she still took one last, longing gaze at her luxurious room before following the bouncing mare out into the hallway.

Axel inspected the sky chariot, checking over every possible point of weakness, before deeming it ready for extended air travel while Star spoke with Princess Luna, who had come to see them off. The princess was clearly still distressed about the current decisions being made in the government, bit it wasn’t Star’s place to question her teacher, as much as she wanted to. Luna acted cordially, although less personal in her farewell than Star was accustomed to, but it seemed insignificant given the circumstances.

“If Inferno writes me again,” Star said as she tossed her bags into the chariot.

“I will forward it to Manehatten, unless of course you are planning on leaving before it would arrive,” Luna replied with a smile. “Do not worry so much Discipula Star. Your friends are doing well and I have commanded two guards to pull your chariot, so you and Alexia will be protected.” Star nodded her head, understanding that she tended to obsess over details once in a while, but only the most important ones.

“Before we leave, I just have to know one thing,” Star said in a voice just above a whisper, so that Axel wouldn’t overhear. “Inferno said that you had been sending letters back and forth, so why is it that you never told me?” Star had been expecting Luna to have a simple explanation ready, but the princess seemed just as surprised as Star had been, until realization hit her and she smiled down at her student.

“Did Inferno tell you that she had been exchanging letters with me?” Luna asked her, “or did she mean she had been exchanging them with my sister?” Star facehoofed at her stupidity. She didn’t usually jump to conclusions as she just had, but when it came to her daughter, Star’s reason was clouded by emotion. She glanced up at her mentor and gave an apologetic look.

“I’m sorry, princess, I should have known that you would never keep something like that secret from me,” Star mumbled in shame.

“Listen, my faithful student, you have nothing to apologize for. I know that you were only worried about Inferno and hurt at the thought of me keeping secrets from you,” Luna replied. “I will have a talk with my sister, because I would like to know why she forgot to inform me of the letters as well.” Luna’s brow furrowed as she spoke and Star noticed her teacher’s face clouding over with distaste. “She had been most irritating as of late and I believe that it is time we spoke privately about the current situation.”

Star did not envy anypony who would be staying in the castle during that conversation. The royal Canterlot voice was bad enough under normal circumstances, but if there were two heated princesses arguing than the noise would be terrible. Axel wandered over to Star, seemingly satisfied with the condition of her creation, just as Star and Luna were saying their last farewells.

“I will return as soon as my business permits,” Star told the princess as she crawled into the small chariot. Her normal means of transportation was much more accommodating, but in exchange for speedy arrival, the sky chariot seemed well worth the minor discomfort that Star would go through. “Just be sure to view the coming discussions in a logical light while I am away,” she added as Axel took a seat beside her.

“I will do my best, Discipula Star,” Luna replied. “I must say that though, that I wonder these days which of us is the student and which is the teacher.” Luna’s smile broke Star’s earlier concern and they exchanged waves of departure one last time before the guards began to pull the chariot into the cloudy skies.

Luna walked away as they rose, returning to her unwanted position in the ongoing meeting, while Star stared after her, whispering a quiet farewell to her mentor. Beside her, Axel was practically bouncing on the bench with excess energy as the cart rose above the thick cloud cover and into the waning light of Celestia’s sun. The golden blonde mare seemed to be in an even better mood as they soared over the verdant valleys that lay below the capitol and Star noticed Brass Heart taking a look back at them when he heard Axel’s enthusiastic giggling.

“Is there anything that you are looking forward to while we’re in Manehatten?” Star asked, hoping to inspire some sort of conversation that would help pass the considerable length of time during their trip. “I know that they do not really have a well respected blacksmith, but I’m sure that there are plenty of other shops that carry objects of value to a mare in your profession.”

Axel chuckled as she replied, “I guess that’s true, but you sound like an old mare.” Star’s face took on a hurt expression as her friend continued in the unimpeded response. “It isn’t like we need to plan out every aspect of our trip to Manehatten. I mean, where is the fun in knowing every second of every day is planned out?” Star tried to feign her agreement, but Axel’s words made no sense to the young unicorn. She had always viewed a well planned schedule as something to be highly valued and the thought of running purely on instinct was foreign to her.

“Umm, I guess you have a good point,” Star admitted as she considered her friend’s words. “I figured that you would just follow me to the museum and we would be done after that, but now that I think about it, doing so little during a trip to Manehatten seems like a waste of time and energy.”

“That’s exactly what I was trying to tell you,” Axel replied with a smile as she poked through her own saddlebags, looking for something to snack on. “We have the fastest ride in the world and I think we can manage to take a few days to relax before heading home.” Star’s strict moral discipline made her yearn to disagree, but Axel’s logic was flawless and even made the black mare reconsider her own, boring plans for the city. “I’m sure that two fine mares like us can find something fun to do.”

“Hmm, Okay,” Star agreed, “but what did you have in mind?” Axel’s smile seemed more mischievous than Star liked, but she simply laughed it off.

“I haven’t the slightest idea right now, but when I see something I will let you know,” Axel giggled.

“Sounds like a plan… or lack of one anyway,” Star said as she leaned back on the cushioned bench seat of the chariot, glancing ahead, where she could see Brass Heart flying around in the distance as the other guard pulled them along.

“Mhmm, but I have one more question.” Star snickered because she had expected Axel to ask more questions, she was a very curious earth pony. “Are these two going to be following us around the entire time?” she asked, gesturing in the general direction of their escorts.

“Sort of,” Star replied truthfully, “they will be around, but I doubt that you’ll even notice them, unless something happens that they have to deal with.” Princess Luna sent guards with Star on most of her travels, so their presence went mostly ignored by her, but Axel wasn’t used to having somepony keeping an eye on her and seemed a bit uncomfortable with the idea. “I promise, once we land you probably won’t even see them again until we’re ready to leave.”

“If you say so,” Axel replied, still eyeing the back of the white stallion pulling their cart with suspicion. Star just rolled her eyes and sighed. It was still going to take at least three days to get to Manehatten, but traveling with Axel was sure to make the trip more exciting. When they finally arrived Star would attend to her little bit of business and then she’d follow Axel into whatever adventure caught the red mare’s fancy. “Manehatten, here we come!” Axel yelled out the side of the chariot, startling Star, who immediately began giggling at her friend’s antics.

“Woohoo!” Star screamed, joining Axel in her shouts of glee before a cool breeze made her shiver. The late afternoon sun was enough to keep them warm as they soared above the colorful landscape that surrounded Canterlot, but Star pulled a thick blanket from her bags anyway, wrapping it around herself for when the breeze picked up again. “You want some of this blanket?”

“Yeah, it is kind of cold up here,” Axel replied as she scooted close to Star, snatched half of the blanket and quickly threw it over her body. “Ah, that’s much better.” Both mares started laughing, loud enough for the pegasus pulling them to glance back with curiosity, as they stared over the edge and watched the rolling hills pass far below.

There wasn’t much that could be done to help pass the time as Star and Axel rode in the chariot on their way to Manehatten. Talking and sleeping were pretty much the only choices the mares had being hundreds yards above the earth and they made the best of it. Axel did a wonderful job of keeping the conversation going, whether she was explaining mechanics to Star or just talking about past experiences, the blonde maned earth pony refused to let silence settle in.

“I’m not saying that it was perfect, but I think if you saw it in action you would be pretty impressed,” Axel said, referring to one of the farming inventions that she had been telling Star about. “It’s terribly impractical, but who knows what can be done with the concept in the future. Maybe I’ll refine it when I get the time.” Star just nodded her head, content to let Axel keep the flow of words going, but the red mare had a different idea. She gave Star a sly look as she asked, “Is there a special somepony that you have your eye on?” Star groaned quietly in annoyance at the abrupt turn the conversation had just taken. Every time she spent time with mares her age they always asked the same questions.

“Not at the moment, no,” Star replied. Axel stared at her for a second, as if waiting for Star to elaborate, but when she saw that it wasn’t going to happen she pushed a little more.

“Well, why not?” Axel asked. “A cute mare like you, super smart and personal student to Princess Luna no less. I imagine that you have stallions just tripping all over each other trying to get you to notice them. I know I would, if I were a stallion that is, although if I were a stallion then I guess I might not think like I do now, so who really knows.”

“Not really,” Star replied to the first part of her friend’s statement. She certainly hadn’t noticed it anyway, aside from that one stallion she had helped back in Ponyville, but that encounter hadn’t really been her finest moment. “I guess that I’m just too absorbed in my studies to manage a relationship right now. Not to mention I haven’t had much luck in the stallion department in the past.”

“How so?” Axel asked, intrigued by her new friend’s words.

“I just can’t ever seem to find a good one,” Star admitted with a casual wave of her hoof. It actually felt kind of good when she opened up about her personal problems with Axel. She didn’t exactly have many friends and those that she did have, like Spark and Draft, hadn’t been around long enough for her to feel like opening up, but Axel had managed to get her to speak candidly after only a day. “Take the last stallion I was seeing for instance. He seemed like a nice enough pony, until he found out that I have Inferno to take care of and then he couldn’t get out of my presence fast enough… the ass.”

“Yeah, he sounds like a total jerk,” Axel giggled in agreement. “You aren’t the only one though. I’m always so buried in my inventions that I hardly even talk to anypony, so a stallion that could keep my interest isn’t likely to cross my path.” Star nodded her head, wondering if there was a pony alive who would have been capable of holding the earth pony’s interest. It seemed unlikely.

“Oh well, it’s their loss,” Star said with a smile which Axel returned.

“Miss Star,” the soldier pulling them called back. “Are you about ready to land for the night?” Star gazed up at the sky, noticing how low the sun had sunk without her realizing. It would be dark soon and even though she wasn’t tired, landing did seem like a good idea. There was no reason for them to travel during the night because neither she nor Axel had any other engagements they needed to rush back for.

“Any time you’d like to land is fine by me,” Star replied. The pegasus gave a nod as he adjusted his powerful wings and began their descent to the ground. Star and Axel took one last look back towards Canterlot and the setting sun as they sank below the clouds. The cloudy skies were lit up in an assortment of violets, reds, and oranges as the last rays of light reflected off of them. The winter air was cold, but they had time to make a fire and they also had plenty of warm blankets, which would be piled with them in the chariot. Star wasn’t sure where the guards were planning on sleeping, most likely on the ground near the chariot, but she did notice Brass Heart carrying enough supplies for the both of them.

The cart touched down with only minor jostling as they landed, completely opposite from the crash landing Draft had made the first time they flew to Canterlot. A flash of magic and Star unlatched the harness from around the guard, whose name she still hadn’t learned, which he thanked her for before wandering off to meet Brass Heart and gather his bags up. The two stallions would take care of a fire, while Star and Axel busied themselves with preparing the cart to sleep in.

After a few minutes, and with only minimal trouble, there was a comfortable bed for the mares in the chariot and a crackling fire not far away, which Brass Heart and his partner were huddled up to. Star smiled and mouthed a silent thank you to Brass Heart when they locked eyes. He gave a polite nod in response and went back to his conversation. Axel saw the exchanged and snickered softly until Star shot her a confused glance.

“What is so funny?” Star asked as she nudged a pillow out of her way and sank down onto the makeshift bed. She pulled back a few blankets and did her best not to undo their hard work as she carefully slipped between them.

“I saw that look you gave that soldier, Brass Heart was it?” Axel asked with a devious smirk that Star found completely unwarranted. Brass Heart had been her escort many, many times and there had certainly never been anything romantic between him and Star. Axel was just jumping to conclusions, but it did cause Star to consider asking Brass Heart on a date. He had always been polite and Luna obviously trusted him quite a bit.

“He’s just an acquaintance,” Star replied as she closed her eyes and tied to ignore Axel’s gaze, which she could feel staring at her in disbelief. “I’m serious.”

“Whatever you say,” Axel said as she squirmed her way into the covers beside Star. “I think he’s interested in you, even if you aren’t interested in him.” Axel may have been right, Star had no clue, but it was a question that could go unanswered for one more night. Star was comfortable, warm and wasn’t about to crawl out of the bed to go find out. “I’m just saying that you should give him a chance.”

“Good night, Axel,” Star said, ignoring her words for the time being.

“Mhmm, good night, Star,” Axel replied with a yawn. Star wasn’t very tired, but listening to the sound of the campfire burning and Axel’s soft breathing helped her get to sleep without much trouble. The blankets and their shared body heat was enough to keep the mares warm through the night, despite the icy wind that picked up while they slept.

Author's Note:

I must say that this chapter was a fairly easy one to write, which was nice. Once in a while you get those chapters that you rewrite over and over before it sounds right, but this was not one of those times. Luna is still a bit dificult to write for, mostly because I'm trying to keep her personality as canon as possible, but that only caused minor problems.

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