• Published 24th Nov 2019
  • 1,368 Views, 51 Comments

Freeport Venture: Metamorphosis - Chengar Qordath

After Kukri Doo returns from Northmarch, she struggles to cope with the memories of everything that happened to here there.

  • ...

Chapter 1

This one didn’t want to come back to Freeport.

Well, it wasn’t that it didn’t want to go back. This one knew Mom and Dad were worried about it after everything that had happened in the North, not to mention that even if Equestria was a lot warmer than the North had been, it was still snowing. This one would be perfectly happy to never have to see snow again. This one had never seen snow in Freeport, and the only time it had been to Northmarch before had been in the summer. It thought that when it finally got to see snow that it would be fun and magical, but instead it was just cold.

Still, this one would’ve dealt with all the cold in the North if it meant staying by the Shimmer-mare. This one was her apprentice, and it was supposed to be by her side. Especially after everything she’d gone through. She’d lost one of her legs, and now she doubted whether she’d ever get to become an alicorn. She needed this one to be there for her, but instead it had to go all the way back to Freeport. Other than the White Pony, the only one who’d be there for her would be the Heartstrings-mare. This one might have moved past some of the bad things she’d done to it and the Shimmer-mare, but it still didn’t think she was the best choice to offer emotional support.

However, this one’s parents had pretty much demanded it return home as soon as possible, and it had barely managed to persuade everyone to let it stay until the Shimmer-mare left hospital. This one wasn’t a grub anymore, it was almost thirteen years old! Its parents shouldn’t get to tell it what to do and have everyone just go along with that without even considering what this one wanted!

The entire trip back to Freeport was just uncomfortable. This one didn’t want to be there, and Puzzle was the only one it knew on the entire ship. Normally he was pleasant enough to talk to, but he was really distracted worrying about all his business interests back in Freeport. Besides, while this one liked him it didn’t really know what it could say to him. Talking about how it wanted to be back in Equestria helping the Shimmer-mare would’ve just lead to another one of those really annoying lectures about how this one needed to think of Mom and Dad, and the Shimmer-mare would be fine without it. As if this one was just a stupid little grub that never could’ve thought of those things itself.

The ship got into port in the middle of a big Freeport rainstorm. Normally this one wasn’t a big fan of the rain, but at least this time the water falling from the sky was in liquid form. Besides, this felt like a day that should be rainy. This one sat out on the deck with its rain cloak halfway up, letting the rain fall on its face as it looked out over the harbor. Freeport looked very grey through the veil of rain covering it. The city was usually bright and colorful, but whenever the rains came they dulled everything, and everyone stayed inside.

Well, perhaps not everyone. Mom and Dad were waiting for it on the docks. They looked happy to see this one. It tried to wave over at them, but this one’s heart wasn’t in it. It was hard to pretend that this one was happy to see them. Well, it wasn’t unhappy to see them, just ... a lot of things had happened.

This one slowly trudged down the gangplank, its travel bag thumping along the ground behind it. It was a good thing Dad insisted on getting this one a waterproof bag. It would’ve been smarter to carry it properly instead of dragging the bag, but ... meh.

The instant this one had a hoof on ... well not exactly dry land with all the rain, but close enough, Mom came rushing over and hugged it. It was one of those big tight Mom hugs that always happen when she’s really missed this one. It knew it probably should hug her back, but it was just too tired to do any of that.

Dad cleared his throat, placing a hoof on this one’s shoulder to get its attention. “Kukri, are you okay?”

This one shrugged as best it could manage while Mom had it captured in a death grip. “This one’s fine.”

Mom squeezed this one again, as if she was afraid this one would slip out of her grasp. Though at this rate, she was more likely to end up squeezing this one to death. “Yes you are, you’re okay. You’re okay, baby, Mommy’s here.” She started rubbing this one’s back, as if it was a scared little grub that would start crying at any moment.

Kunai stepped up and ran a hoof through this one’s borrowed mane. It always felt weird when this one had hair instead of the headcrest that came with this one’s natural form. Still, it was the thought that counted. “Yeah grub, you’re oka—” She frowned and shook her head. “Actually, nah, this one can't really call you 'grub' anymore, can it?”

“Not a grub,” this one grumbled, though it was hard to put much enthusiasm into it. Normally it would have argued with Kunai over that for hours, but right now it was just ... hard to care about silly little things like that.

Kunai let out a weak little laugh, then turned this one’s hug with Mom into a group hug. “Nah, I guess you're not anymore. All the crazy horseapples you went through up north is the kind of stuff that makes you grow up pretty quick.”

Mom sighed and frowned at her. “Language.”

Kunai chuckled and shrugged. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Thank you.” Mom shot her one last look to make sure she’d gotten her point across, then turned her attention back to this one. She frowned at it, tipping its head up so she could look this one in the eye. “Are you okay, honey? You look like you might be coming down with something.”

This one shrugged again. “This one’s fine.”

Dad cleared his throat and pointedly adjusted his cloak. “Speaking of catching a cold, maybe we should finish the rest of the reunion at home? It’s raining cats and dogs out here.” He smiled down at this one. “I bet Kukri is probably tired from the trip too. Not to mention ready for a good home-cooked meal after a couple weeks of eating ship food.”

Mom smiled. “I picked up some fresh shrimp and haybacon from the market when we heard your ship would be getting in today. I thought you’d appreciate getting a bit of a treat after everything you’ve been through.”

Normally this one would’ve been very happy to hear there would be bacon-wrapped shrimp for dinner, but it was hard to care about little things like that. How would all the dead and homeless ponies and caribou from Coldharbor feel about this one sitting safe at home, eating fancy food? This one sighed and shook its head. “This one’s not hungry.”

Mom and Dad traded a look that they probably thought this one didn’t notice. Probably thinking there was something wrong with this one if it didn’t want to eat its favorite food. Parents are so dumb sometimes. There wasn’t anything wrong, this one just wasn’t hungry. It didn’t matter how good the food was if this one didn’t want to eat.

This one’s parents didn’t get that. After a couple seconds Dad cleared his throat and gently squeezed this one’s shoulder. “Anything you would like to talk about?”

This one shrugged. “Nah.”

Mom and Dad looked at each other again. “That's okay,” Mom answered this time. “Let's go home. We can talk about it later.”

“Nothing to talk about,” this one mumbled under its breath.

This one started walking towards home, and its parents and Kunai quickly started following it. The four of us walked along in merciful silence, until Kunai cleared her throat. “Um ... so, how was your trip?”

“It was fine.” As this one walked along its cloak shifted about on top of it. When it shrugged, this one’s hood wound up falling off, exposing its face to the rain. This one didn’t mind the rain. It was cold and wet, but compared to everything else it really didn’t seem worth making a fuss over. At least this one had a nice warm waterproof cloak. There were a lot of refugees in Northmarch who weren’t that lucky.

Dad trotted up to this one’s side and tugged its hood back up with a quick bit of magic. “You don't want to catch a cold, Kukri.”

“Oh. Right.” It was hard not to laugh at him. Did he really think this one could catch a cold in Freeport? Freeport’s winter rain felt warm and pleasant compared to the snow and ice storms of Northmarch, and even Equestrian winters were a lot worse. What did anyone in Freeport know about the bone-deep chill of a Northmarch winter—the cold stabbing into this one’s heart like a dagger of solid ice. This one had to cover its eyes so they wouldn’t freeze into its skull. If this one hadn’t caught a cold after going through that, there was nothing Freeport could do to it. Still, he would keep bothering this one if it didn’t fix its cloak, so it humored him.

The four of us slowly trudged down Freeport’s wet streets, taking in the lovely sights and smells of the city in the middle of a rainstorm. The rains always did a good job of wiping away the dead fish stink of the harbor, but this one knew from past experience that the smell would return three times stronger once the rain stopped. Especially since this one could see all the little bits of garbage that normally littered Freeport’s streets flowing into the gutters, and all of Freeport’s sewers ultimately emptied out into the ocean.

Dad cleared his throat. “So ... business has been good. The Zebrican market is a bit shaky right now, but Equestria and Westmarch are making up for it.”

“Dad!” Kunai hissed under her breath. “Is now really the time?”

Dad shrugged. “I thought she might want to know what we’ve all been up to while she was away. It's been months since we've all been together. We all have a lot of catching up to do.”

This one shrugged. “That's nice.” Honestly, business talk was a lot better than most of the things we could have discussed. At least it meant they weren’t going to keep asking this one if it felt alright and how it was doing. “Though it might be a while before there's much business from Northmarch. Then again, once they start rebuilding, this one imagines there will be plenty of demand for books along with everything else. And they’ll probably want to write books about what the Shimmer-mare did.”

The books would get it all wrong though. This one had read adventure stories, where friendship and love triumphed over evil and darkness. None of those stories had entire cities burning down and countless innocents burning alive. The monsters in those stories got killed off by the heroes with a single sword stroke and a witty remark—not like the real world, where this one had to watch the hero get beaten half to death, barely manage to survive, and then throw herself back into the fray despite being crippled. Storybook heroes got rewarded and finally achieved their dreams, real ones lost everything.

Storybooks were stupid, just like all the stories about Torch Charger. For a long time this one had believed he was a great and noble hero who sacrificed himself to free the slaves and overthrow the Necrocrats. That sounded a lot better than saying that Torch got killed and the Freeport he’d fought for was a corrupt mess. Sure, the Council was better than the Necrocrats, but being better than the Necrocrats at their most horrible and corrupt was a really low bar to set.

Mom wrapped one of her wings around this one and pulled it closer to her. “Come on baby, let’s go home. Things got a bit messy up north, but that's not important right now. You’re home, and you’re okay.” She took a moment to squeeze this one, then cleared her throat. “So ... well, we saw Puzzle get off the ship in one piece, but what about the others?”

“The Shimmer-mare and the Heartstrings-mare are fine.” There really wasn’t anything worth saying about the Heartstrings-mare, and this one didn’t want to talk about what had happened to the Shimmer-mare. It really wasn’t any of their business what the Shimmer-mare was going through anyway. Besides, she was fine. Crippled for life and missing out on her destiny, but it was fine. She was fine.

Kunai glanced at this one out of the corner of her eye. “So ... um, you ... wanna talk about anything you might wanna ... just—y'know, to talk?”

“Oh.” This one shrugged. What was there to talk about? “This one's fine.”

Mom tightened her wing-grip on this one. It didn’t know why she was doing that. It was getting her wing soaked in all the rain. “Okay. That's okay, we can talk about things later.” She nuzzled this one, which just got her even wetter. Hadn’t they been complaining about this one getting wet? Parents made no sense sometimes. “You know you can always talk to me, right?”

This one shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Me too,” Dad added in.

“And this one,” Kunai chimed in.

This one shrugged again. It didn’t know why they were bothering to tell it that. Of course it could talk to them; they were right there. The second shrug knocked this one’s hood off again, though all of Mom’s hugging and nuzzling probably hadn’t helped it stay in place. It knew it should probably put the hood back up before Dad complained, but it really wasn’t worth the effort. “This one will talk if it needs to.”

Mom pulled this one’s hood back up. “Okay. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here. We’ll always be here for you, sweetie.”

“I'm sure you’ll feel a lot better after a good night’s sleep in your own bed,” Dad said, though this one wasn’t sure why he felt the need to say it, especially since he seemed to be looking at Kunai and Mom a lot more than this one.

Still, sleeping didn’t sound bad. While this one was used to sleeping in shipboard conditions after serving on the Venture, no ship bunk could match the comforts of a proper bed. And to be honest, this one was starting to feel kinda tired. “That sounds good.”

We got home a little bit later. Once everyone had their rain cloaks put up, Mom turned to this one. “Kukri? Do ... you want to talk about what happened up there?”

“Nah.” This one started trudging up the staircase to its bedroom. It hadn’t felt tired on the walk over, but now this one wanted nothing more than to go to bed. If nothing else, it would give this one a moment’s peace from all the nagging questions. Why did everyone keep asking this one if it wanted to talk and if everything was okay? It told them it was fine. That should be the end of the conversation.

Dad cleared his throat. “Alright. Sleep well, honey. We’ll see you in the morning. If you need anything, just let us know.”

“Sure.” This one headed into its room, closing and locking the door behind it. It flopped down onto its bed, staring out the window at the cold night sky as the rain poured down. At least this one finally had a little peace and quiet.

Alone. By itself.

Just like it wanted.

It was well into the morning when this one woke up. Normally after waking up this one would’ve gotten out of bed and gotten started with the day, but what day was there for this one to start? The Shimmer-mare wouldn’t be back for who knows how long, assuming the White Pony didn’t talk her into staying in Equestria indefinitely. The Shimmer-mare had been pretty sure about coming back to Freeport when this one left, but what if the White Pony changed her mind?

Aside from lessons with the Shimmer-mare, what did this one even have to do? Go back to the same old normal school lessons? This one was probably going to fail all its classes on account of losing its homework. It had a note from the Shimmer-mare explaining everything, but it didn’t know if that would be good enough. ‘A dragon burned this one’s homework’ was the kind of excuse its teachers might not believe unless the Shimmer-mare personally testified to it, and even if they believed her this one would still be months behind its classmates.

Besides, if the Shimmer-mare opened her school, it wouldn’t really matter what this one did at its old school. Really, the only reason it was still taking those classes was to pick up things like algebra and writing skills that the Shimmer-mare didn’t have time to teach this one. It was a waste of her time to teach this one things it could learn from an ordinary teacher, and this one would much rather learn magic from her than how to find out what ‘X’ equaled. Still, she had tutored this one a few times to help it out, so it had wasted her time after all.

So what was the point of even getting out of bed? It would just mean sitting around bored in the house, and probably having Mom and Dad ask it more questions. Why did they keep acting like something was wrong? This one was fine.

This one didn’t really bother keeping track of time, but eventually Mom knocked on this one’s bedroom door. “Kukri? Are you up?”

“Yes,” this one answered on pure instinct. A second later it realized it should’ve kept its mouth shut. Mom and Dad would probably leave this one alone if they thought it was still asleep.

“Okay,” she answered. “I’m going to get started on breakfast then. We still have shrimp and haybacon leftover from last night, so I was going to make all that into an omelet. Does that sound good to you?”


Mom waited for a couple more seconds, probably expecting this one to come rushing out for food. However, it still really wasn’t all that hungry. When it didn’t open the door after a while, she spoke through it one more time. “Okay. Come down whenever you’re ready, or … I can let you know when it’s done.” This one let out a relieved sigh when she started to walk away, but then she came back. “Are you feeling okay, sweetie?”

This one rolled it’s eyes. “This one’s fine, Mom.”

“Alright then.” Mom walked away again, and thankfully this time she didn’t come back. This one really didn’t want to deal with her right now. It was too busy thinking about things.

Eventually this one got out of bed and walked over to the window. When it opened the blinds it saw another grey cloudy Freeport day. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but from the looks of the clouds it could start again at any moment. In other words, a pretty typical Freeport day. Just like this one had predicted, the humid stink of Freeport was already coming back twice as strong now that it wasn’t raining. Hopefully more rain would come to get rid of it, at least temporarily.

This one had never realized how ugly Freeport could be. Most of the houses in this part of the city had dark grey slate roof tiles that looked especially hideous against the dark grey clouds hanging over the city. While this was one of the better parts of town and most of the houses had nice paint jobs to brighten them up, how fresh that paint was varied considerably. All the rain in Freeport ended up washing out a lot of the colors, or encouraging the local plant life to take over.

While this one would’ve been perfectly happy to stay in its room all day, it hadn’t accounted for Mom’s sneaky plans. As she started cooking breakfast, several wonderful smells wafted up from the kitchen, and soon this one’s stomach felt the need to remind it that it had skipped dinner and now it was quite a bit later in the day than it normally had breakfast. With a sigh, this one pulled itself away from the window and reluctantly walked to its door. It was hungry after all, and what was the point of staying away from food? This one still needed to eat.

This one quietly opened and closed its door, and began to make its way downstairs. As it approached, it heard Mom and Dad’s voices from the kitchen, and instinctively went still. That proved to be the right decision, because a moment later this one realized that Mom and Dad were talking about it.

“... really worried about her, Codex,” Mom said over the sizzling of haybacon. I could tell from the tension in her voice and the rapid-fire smacking of a kitchen knife against the cutting board that she was in one of her Mom Moods, where she makes a big deal out of things that really don’t matter. As if that hadn’t been obvious before now. “I’ve never seen her like this before. If half the rumors coming out of Northmarch are true, she’s seen things no child her age should go through. Do you think we should talk to someone?”

“And what would we say?” Dad answered, sounding a lot calmer. “That our teenage daughter is acting sullen and moody, and refuses to talk to us? This one is sure you know exactly how anyone would respond to those concerns.”

Mom’s knife smacked the cutting board a lot harder than usual. “We’ve already raised one teenager, Codex. I know the difference between a bad mood and when there’s something seriously bothering her.”

“This one didn’t say otherwise,” Dad responded. “Merely that it would be the first thing any professional would say if you brought your concerns to them. This one agrees that something’s bothering Kukri. However, perhaps it would be best if we gave her a few days to adjust to being home and open up to us before we do anything extreme.”

“And how long just sit back and wait?” Mom shot back testily. “Our daughter needs help. You can’t seriously expect me to just sit back and do nothing!”

“This one suggested no such thing.” Dad was starting to sound a bit annoyed. He usually kept his emotions under a bit more control than Mom, but when he got mad he was a lot scarier. “It merely thinks the right course of action for the moment is to let Kukri have a few days to adjust to being home, and create an environment that makes her feel safe and comfortable until she’s ready to talk to us. Putting too much pressure on her right away will probably just make her clamp up on us completely.”

“Or it could make things worse.” Mom resumed chopping vegetables, using enough force that she’d probably need to sharpen the kitchen knives again once she was done. “The longer we let whatever’s bothering her fester, the more it could set in. We need to do something about this.”

“And this one thinks we shouldn’t be in such a rush to take action that we do the wrong thing,” Dad answered. He was definitely sounding a bit testy by now. “Let’s at least give her a few days to let things get back to normal before we take extreme action. For all we know she could just be exhausted after everything she’s gone through, and all she needs is a few days of relaxing with her family to bounce back.”

“That’s a very optimistic assumption,” Mom grumbled. She sighed and stopped chopping for a bit. “We never should’ve let her go on that trip to begin with. I knew it was a mistake to let her go all the way to Northmarch. You know I haven’t been happy about this whole apprenticeship with Magus Shimmer. We had a plan, Codex. She was going to get a nice, safe, respectable job like being a merchant or a sailor. Now she’s running around in warzones and—”

“Kukri loves being the Shimmer-mare’s apprentice.” This one heard Dad moving around in the kitchen, but it couldn’t see what he was doing without getting closer and giving itself away. “Not to mention that if half the stories coming out of Northmarch are true, having her be the Shimmer-mare’s apprentice could be huge for us and her. I know Pater Vigil has been very happy with how being connected with the Shimmer-mare has helped the clan politically.”

“I don’t give a damn about clan politics!” Mom snapped. “We’re talking about our daughter’s safety and happiness. If even a quarter of the stories from Northmarch are true, she was anything but safe for the last couple months! Sunset promised us this would just be a once-in-a-lifetime field trip to meet an ancient dragon, and instead she gets caught in Coldharbor while it’s burning down to the ground and being attacked by mutated monsters.”

This one wanted to go out and tell Mom that she was wrong about Shimmer-mare and what happened in the North, but would she even believe this one? Mom would probably just say that it was in denial or something. Perhaps it could—

A foreleg wrapped around this one’s barrel, and a second later the attacker whispered into this one’s ear. “Busted.”

All the training this one had gone through with the Shimmer-mare and Mom kicked in. This one quickly fired off a directional thunderflash spell aimed behind itself. This one still caught a bit of the blast, but nowhere close to what its attacker suffered. It then rammed an elbow into its attacker’s gut, knocking the wind out of them and sending them staggering backwards as it whirled around.

Then this one realized that the attacker was actually its sister. Kunai sat on her rump, blinking owlishly as she tried to shake off the effects of getting hit with a point blank thunderflash. After a couple seconds, she groaned and rubbed her eyes. “Okay. Ow. This one supposes it should be proud of you for having moves like that. Also, did it mention ow? Because that was not fun.”

Before this one could apologize, Mom and Dad came running up the stairs. Mom had one of the kitchen knives at the ready, and Dad while was a bit calmer, it wasn’t by much. “What in Tartarus was that?!”

“Oh. Um...” This one shuffled in place, not quite sure what to say. In hindsight, Kunai had clearly just been playing one of her usual little pranks on this one, and now it had caused a big messy scene. “Um ... Kunai snuck up behind this one and ... um ... well she startled this one, and the Shimmer-mare taught it to defend itself in those situations.”

Kunai held up one hoof, rubbing at her eyes with the other. “Sorry Dad, this one’s bad. It was sneaking up on Kukri and forgot she stopped being a little grub who’d yeep like a parrot when it did that.”

Mom frowned at this one. “Startled or not, you shouldn’t use spells on your sister, Kukri. Was that a thunderflash?” This one nodded, and Mom’s frown turned into a full-on scowl. “Do you have any idea how bad a thunderflash at point- blank range in an enclosed space can be? You could have blown her eardrums out!”

Kunai cut in before this one could try to explain. “Seriously, the whole thing is this one's fault. It should’ve known better than to scare an apprentice magus. This one is lucky she didn’t set it on fire or something.”

Kunai smiled like that was a joke, but there was nothing funny about it. This one had seen what fire could do when Coldharbor burned to the ground. It had seen the wounded being treated in the hospital while it waited to learn what had happened to the Shimmer-mare. Not to mention after it had learned that she’d lost...

None of that mattered. It was in the past, and it was fine. In any case, Mom was right that the Shimmer-mare wouldn’t want this one using spells on family. It sighed and hung its head. “Sorry. Shimmer-mare taught this one to use that spell if it ever got attacked and ... um ... you know about stuff like training until it’s an instinct.”

“Yeah, it’s something any soldier does,” Kunai agreed. She gave this one a pat on the back. “Hey, it's fine. That was actually really impressive. This one didn’t know you were good enough to do that kinda drop-of-the-hat spellcasting.”

“To be honest, this one didn’t either.” That was closest this one had ever come to trying to cast a spell in combat. It had wanted to help out in the North, but everyone insisted this one stay far away from the actual fighting. This one ... well it hated not being there to help out, but it also knew it was nowhere near as good of a fighter as the others. And even though the Shimmer-mare was probably far better than this one could ever hope to be, she’d still...

Dad sighed and shook his head. “Alright, fine. Kukri try to be more mindful about how you handle those reactions in the future. Kunai, no more pranking your sister. Now, how about we sit down and eat breakfast?”

This one sighed and nodded. “Yeah, okay.” It trudged over to the breakfast table and flopped down into its usual seat. Kunai sat across from this one, while Mom and Dad headed back into the kitchen to finish up the food.

As the excitement from Kunai’s ambush wore off, this one slowly slumped down into its seat. When it didn’t say anything more, Kunai tried to fill the silence. “So, what other cool spells has the Shimmer-mare taught you?”

This one shrugged. “Lotta things.” Most of it had just been basic concepts and principles. From what she’d told this one, it needed to build up a solid foundation before it could grasp all the really advanced spellcasting the Shimmer-mare used.

Kunai smirked at this one.. “Ah yes, the famous ‘lotta things’ spell. Isn’t that the one Ushabti used to help push the Zebrican Empire out of Freeport? This one’s suitably impressed.” She snickered and rubbed this one’s head crest. “But seriously, show it something cool. It wants to be able to brag about how strong its little sister’s gotten.” She leaned across the table and whispered. “And you know it can’t share the story about how you thunderflashed this one and knocked it on its rump. It has professional pride, and all the other assassins would make fun of this one if it got out that it lost a fight with a grub.”

Normally this one would have objected to being called a grub, but what was the point? After all, Kunai only ever did it to get a rise out of this one. So instead it just shrugged. “Maybe later.” Hopefully she would forget about seeing any spells after breakfast.

Dad called out from the kitchen. “Since Kukri was a bit too tired for a welcome home dinner, we thought we’d make a big breakfast instead.”

Mom called out after him. “The omelets are almost ready. Did you want the shrimp and haybacon on the side, inside the omelet, or a little bit of both? Any other last requests?”

Kunai snickered. “Maybe just prep a fire extinguisher. You know this one likes its food extra-spicy, and the last time Kukri tried some of mine...”

This one heard Mom and Dad chuckling from the kitchen. “This one remembers Kukri chugging an entire glass of water in about two seconds, then stealing this one’s glass and doing the same to it.” Dad poked his head from the kitchen. “Speaking of, did you need anything to drink, Kukri?”

This one shrugged. “No.”

Dad headed back into the kitchen and whispered something to Mom, then came out and took a seat at the table. Judging by the way he was looking at this one, he and Mom were still worried about it. “So, feeling better after getting some sleep?”

This one sighed and rubbed the last bits of sleep out of its eyes. “Sure.”

Dad waited for a second, and when it was clear this one had no more to say, he tried to keep the conversation going. “Anything you’d like to do now that you’re back in Freeport?”

This one thought about it for a second. “Nah, not really.”

Dad cleared his throat. “We could go to the clanhold. Maybe you'd like to see some family?”

This one shrugged again. It didn’t bother saying anything more.

Kunai cleared her throat “Dad, maybe we could hold off on that a bit? You got the right idea, just ... maybe give it a few days?”

Dad nodded, but despite that, he didn’t seem to be taking the hint. “Do you just want to stay in today? We could always pull out a couple games and just relax. Especially since it doesn’t look like the rain is going to be letting up anytime soon.”

Kunai cut in before this one could answer. “Yeah, having a day in sounds perfect. We can do some catching up.” She turned to this one. “So, this one knows we’ve kinda all been dancing around the elephant in the room. Mom and this one both saw a lot of things on active duty so we know when someone’s come home from a rough tour. They’ve got the same thousand-yard stare and walking around like a zombie thing that you’re doing right now. So ... point is that shit happens, and you need to talk about it.”

Dad sighed. “Try to keep the soldier language out of the house, Kuani.”

Kunai rolled her eyes. “This one’ll put a ducat in the swear jar once we’re done.” She turned her attention back to this one. “But ... it happens. The world's an ugly, cruel place with ugly, cruel things that happen to people that deserve better.”

This one grunted and nodded. At least Kunai seemed to get it.

Dad frowned at Kunai, but she either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “So yeah, bad things happen, and a lot of the time, there's not a lot you can do about it. It sucks—believe this one, it sucks to be on the wrong side of that, but things happen. People get hurt and worse, and if you can't let go of it it'll eat you alive.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. “That doesn't mean you should forgive them or anything—do not ever forgive anyone for crossing you, but sometimes things happen that you can't ever fix. Sometimes things break and people die. You gotta tell yourself not to care about that kind of thing, or else it’ll drive you nuts.”

Dad cleared his throat. “Perhaps we can leave the philosophical discussions for someplace other than the breakfast table? This one doesn’t like to discuss moral philosophy before it has had its morning coffee.”

Kunai scoffed. “That's just reality, Dad. Pretending it’s not is just asking for trouble.”

This one wanted to argue the point. Shimmer-mare always tried to save everyone, even after she’d lost her leg to Blackfyre. It was why she was a hero. But ... well what would be the point of arguing about it? Dad said he didn’t want to hear about it, and this one really didn’t want to get into a fight with its sister. Far easier to just let her say whatever she wanted.

Dad looked pretty annoyed with Kunai, and this one suspected he might have tried lecturing her if not for Mom showing up a moment later with several plates balanced on her wings. “Food’s ready, get it while it’s hot.”

She set the plates down, and for a while this one didn’t have to put up with anyone trying to start a conversation with it. Hard to talk when your mouth is busy eating. The food was good too, but before long this one wasn’t hungry anymore. It wasn’t like it needed to eat that much when it hadn’t really done anything all day.

Mom cleared her throat. “How’s your omelet?”

“It’s fine.”

Dad set his fork down for a moment. “So it seems like you’ve been picking up quite a few spells from your time with the Shimmer-mare. Anything you’d like to show us after breakfast?”

This one shrugged, but didn’t say anything. Kunai filled the silence. “This one thinks she’s saving them for the next time this one spooks her.” She tried to smirk playfully at this one, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Mom frowned at her. “Let’s hope not. I also hope she’s learning more than just combat magic, there’s more to life than being a soldier.”

This one poked at its food and said nothing. Really, what was there to even say? It’s not like showing them a couple basic spells like freezing a glass of water would impress them. Not to mention this one really didn’t want to see any more ice after Northmarch.

Kunai wouldn’t be deterred. “You can show us later maybe. This one’s got a few knife tricks to show you now that you’re back. We can do it after breakfast, or whenever you're up for it

.”Dad smiled hopefully at this one. “It’d be nice for you two to get to spend some time together. You never know when another job might pull Kunai away.”

This one shrugged. It knew that was true, but if Kunai left she’d just come back later. Or maybe she wouldn’t. That was just life. Like Kunai just said, this one couldn’t let itself get too bothered over things like that.

Mom frowned and traded a look with Dad. “You okay, honey?”

It shrugged again. “This one is fine.”

Author's Note:

As always, thanks to my pre-reading and editing team for all their hard work. Also, I would like to thank all my dedicated Patreon supporters. You guys are awesome.

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