• Published 17th Dec 2019
  • 115 Views, 30 Comments

Hearth's Warming Helper - Team Corona - Talon and Thorn

In order to try and get her court to bond Queen Celestia, also known as Corona, decides to organise a Hearth's Warming Helper. Set in Raindbowdoubledash's Lunaverse.

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Kindle - The Voice of the Sun by thatguyvex

Kindle plunged a hoof into the bag and felt around trying to find the symbol which represented his queen, it was only right that her most loyal subject would be the one honoured to get her a present. He triumphantly pulled out a token and examined it, he heart sunk as he recognised the shape of a dragon. He stared up at the bulk of Solrathicharnon towering over him in horror.

Kindle was not one to balk from difficult tasks, especially in the name of his Queen. There was little the zealous pegasus would not do to please his eternal liege, and Celestia had been quite insistent on the particulars of this holiday tradition. Yet Kindle also inwardly was entering a high-strung panic mode as he went to his chambers to think, because out of all the potential candidates he could’ve ended up with for giving a gift to for Hearth’s Warming, it had to be the worst possibility out of the lot!

Oh, he could try to switch with another of his fellow Celestia’s loyalists and followers, but time was already short enough and for that matter there was a certain level of pride on the line here. If he couldn’t get a suitable gift for the individual he’d ended up with, then it was like admitting that he lacked the proper diligence, intellect, and foresight to accomplish the task his Queen had set before him! No! Kindle would not allow failure to stain him. Well, again, at any rate. Not everything had been going entirely according to plan with every venture taken in Celestia’s name, and it was starting to grate upon his confidence.

That’s why he wouldn’t switch! He needed to prove to himself he could do anything Celestia asked of him! Even getting a proper holiday gift on such short notice for... well, a dragon. Not just any dragon, but Sorathicaron, who was among the oldest the most powerful dragons in the known world, and just happened to be an individual Kindle did not get along with particularly well.

The dragon was just... just rude was what he was! Rude to Kindle, who was the Voice of the Sun, and far worse, rude to Queen Celestia. At least in Kindle’s estimation. Sure, Solrath did give just enough proper deference to Celestia to remain in the Queen’s good graces and otherwise avoid painful destruction at the alicorn’s hooves, but Kindle still didn’t like how subtly smug and generally self important Solrath was around his Queen. He might have been a dragon, but even dragons needed to learn their place in the order of things.

Putting his dislike aside would be difficult, but Kindle would persevere! For his Queen! For the glory of the Sun! For-

“Kindle, do you have a minute?”

“GAH!” Kindle had been so wrapped up in his mental tirade he hadn’t even noticed the door to his chamber opening. He hadn’t even noticed that his hooves had taken him back to this room while he was thinking. He Qquickly he recovered from his fright and turned to find Smoke standing in the doorway. Kindle was often impressed by Smoke’s capacity to blend into any given background, although he was fairly certain the unicorn wasn’t actually trained in stealth. An excellent illusionist, however, and given Celestia’s tutelage Kindle didn’t doubt Smoke would continue to be an asset to the Queen.

Composing himself, he politely cleared his throat and said, “Is there something you need?”

She brushed some of her mane away from her eyes, seeming to grapple with her words.

“I was wondering if you were planning to go to Hope’s Hollow to look for a gift, and maybe we could go, um... together?”

Hope’s Hollow was the nearby settlement. And by ‘nearby’, a full half-day flight from Celestia’s glorious, but secret volcanic fortress. Kindle hadn’t even begun to think of what he could possibly get Solrathichanon, and he somehow sincerely doubted he’d find anything a dragon would consider valuable in such a small and out of the way village.

“While I appreciate the offer, Smoke, I ended up drawing the proverbial short lot this time,” he said, flashing the token that he’d drawn, “I’m presently debating exactly what I can get that rude, arrogant, disrespectful wyrm that he doesn’t already have, or wouldn’t care to own.”

Smoke winced slightly, “Solrath? Um... yikes, I can see how he’d be difficult to shop for.”

“Hmph, impossible would be the word I’d choose, but I am the Voice of the Sun. For the honor of my Queen, I will simply have to find a way to turn the word ‘impossible’ into merely ‘done’. Still, I don’t think there will be anything in a humble settlement like Hope’s Hollow that would impress a dragon.”

“True, but, uh, maybe looking around there will at least spark some ideas?” suggested Smoke, “We do have nearly two days, so it can’t hurt to at least try, and see what happens.”

“Hmm,” Kindle used his right wing to rub his chin in thought, “I suppose I can’t fault your logic, as usual, Smoke. Ah, so be it. We can go to the village together if it suits you, but I’ll go my own way once we’re there. I’ll need the space to think, and I’d hate to distract you from your own gift shopping.”

“Oh, well, that will be fine,” she said, looking oddly disappointed for a moment before brightening back up, “Then let’s go, if you’re ready?”

“Yes, just give me a moment to throw on a scarf. You have one too, don’t you?” he asked, and she blinked. He rolled his eyes, “I’ll let you borrow one of mine. Really, Smoke, just because we have fur doesn’t mean we can’t catch colds during winter. Do try to take care of yourself. You cannot serve our Queen with the sniffles.”

He didn’t even notice her faint blush as he tossed her a simple white scarf that went well with her gray coat, and he threw on his own bright, sun yellow scarf. He also didn’t notice the way she walked rather close to him as they left his chambers and proceeded towards the room where Queen Celestia had set up the teleportation circle that would take them to Hope’s Hollow.

The scarves certainly proved a good idea, as it was quite chilly and the air was still filled with a light dusting of snow, with plenty leftover still on the ground. Hope’s Hollow was a modest village nestled within a valley at the foot of the mountains. Kindle was familiar with the place as he’d scouted it for settling the population of Sun worshippers (he refused to think of them as ‘cultists’ like the unenlightened who still followed “Princess” Luna did) that had slowly been gathering since Celestia’s return. It still galled him that the faithful had to hide themselves at all! They should be able to loudly and proudly declare their loyalty and faith in their Queen, under the undying light of the Sun!

It was maddening to have to hide and pretend all of the time, although he did thrive on situations where duplicity was key. He could readily slip into necessary personas to further the goals of his Queen, as he would need to do today as he wandered the village and pretended to be a good Equestrian citizen. Granted he knew practically every Sun worshiper in town as well, so he’d know who he could relax around, but even then it’d be important to keep one’s guard up, just in case one heathen or another might be listening in.

“Remember,” he told Smoke before they entered the village’s outskirts, “Even if many here are among the faithful, we must still maintain secrecy. Be careful of your words.”

“I know, Kindle,” Smoke replied, “I’ll be careful. You sure you don’t want to shop with me?”

He ignored her hopeful tone and simply said, “I think this will work better if I do this on my own, although if you do happen to stumble across something that seems perfect for a dragon, do let me know?”

“Of course. Good luck,” she said, and once they entered the village she went her way, warmly greeted by ponies who were wandering about outside while going about their business, or were busily setting up decorations of their own. Indeed, Hope’s Hollow was getting dressed up thoroughly for the festivities, with wreaths of greenrgy wrapped with red ribbons adoring roof linings and street lamps, and enchanted lights strung up around fences and doorways.

Kindle returned any greetings he received, but his mind was distracted as he began to once more mull over the distinct issue of trying to figure out what he could possibly get a dragon. And not just any dragon, but an ancient, powerful, and outright violent example of his race that was only “serving” Celestia out of mutual benefit rather than anything resembling true loyalty.

Kindle was inclined, briefly, to find a gift that would prove more insult than anything else, if only to snub Solrath... but he dismissed the notion almost immediately. That was not in the spirit of his Queen’s decree, and to fail at giving Solrath a gift worthy of the dragon would be like directly insulting Celestia herself. He had to find something that the dragon would at least find acceptable! But what!?

He passed by a few shop windows. Hope’s Hollow wasn’t exactly a bastion of commerce, although Kindle suspected his task would be difficult even if he was in the beating heart of Manehattan itself. Toys, clothing, tools, baked goods, none of these were things a dragon would value. Jewelry, gems, something shiny, perhaps? But Hope’s Hollow didn’t exactly have anything in that regard that would be more impressive than the hoard Solrathichanon already possessed. Perhaps if Kindle had time to go on an actual quest for a rare treasure or jewel then something along those lines might be suitable, but he’d never find anything like that here.

To top it off, the egotistical lizard is blind, so it’s not as if I can get him something of artistic value like a book or painting...

He became ever more ingrossed with tangling with his inner thoughts and ceased paying much attention to where he was wandering, save to simply avoid bumping into anypony or anything. Kindle was no closer to a solution to his conundrum when he found his thoughts were interrupted by a rather intense racket stemming from he could only surmise was the village tavern. The quaint building was two stories, with an absurdly sloped roof that overhung the front of the tavern, where several outdoor tables were set up, relatively safe from the snow.

The sign over the open doorway had no name, merely the picture of a drunken elk stumbling about with a foaming mug in one hoof. An elk? Odd. Kindle’s familiarity with the town had not extended to it’s tavern, which he’d never entered or cared about, given he didn’t drink. He’d never noticed the sign. And what was that noise? It sounded like somepony’s attempt at music, only the sound was... well to Kindle’s ears it was all wrong. Intensely loud and almost metallic screeching, only identifiable as music due to it’s hypnotically rhythmic beat.

From the looks a few ponies passing by where giving the tavern most of the shared Kindle’s assessment of the noise, although a few of the younger ponies in the passing crowd seemed interested.

Out of curiosity and frustration at the lack of progress in his task more than anything else, Kindle shifted course to wandering into the tavern. The noise was even louder within, almost like smacking face first into a wall of sound.

The tavern interior was well lit by candles and lanterns, the walls white plaster with dark wooden supports, with several of the same dark wood pillars holding up parts of the roof. The pillars were carved with strange patterns that Kindle recognized as cervid styling, and it didn’t much surprise him that when he looked behind the bar, it was a tall, brown furred male elk tending to his mugs rather than a pony. The rest of the tavern’s clientele were of ponykind, but all of them seemed to know the elk, so Kindle assumed the elk was a local and probably one of the few cervids living in Equestria.

Kindle didn’t spend long looking around the tavern, his attention drawn to the far corner of the tavern, on one side of a smokey brick fireplace that kept the place toasty warm despite the winter chill outside. There, a small wood stage gave just enough room for two individuals, a young unicorn mare, and an only slightly older looking elk buck, who’s similar appearance to the elder tending the bar suggested the familial relation.

The unicorn mare was slate gray in color, somewhat reminiscent of Smoke, but that was where the similarities ended. This mare’s mane was wild and spiky, done up in a two-toned mixe of neon pink and deep forest green, with an equally spiked tail to match that bore a black leather cord. She wore a similarly black leather vest with several metal studs covering the shoulders, on the back of which was a symbol of a hammer smashing an iron chain... which incidentally was mirrored on her flank as her cutie mark.

The young elk buck resembled his father greatly, with the same tall, well muscled build and long, regal antlers, if albeit shorter than his sire’s. He was similarly attired to the unicorn mare, although his was a full leather jacket rather than a vest, and had spikes rather than studs, and painted on the back was some manner of rune that bore a resemblance to an open flame.

Appearances aside, the most interesting aspect of the two were the instruments. The elk was using a drum set which wasn’t entirely out of the norm save for the fact that it was somehow amplifying its sound with what Kindle could only guess was some kind of hidden cervid runecraft. The unicorn mare was floating a guitar in her golden magic aura that didn’t resemble any guitar Kindle was familiar with. It bore no obvious acoustic chamber, but instead some kind of flat, metal square where the acoustic chamber would normally be, the wire strings glinting with magic as she played. The metallic notes were coming from the guitar, supported impressively by the fast, thunderous drums from the elk.

Also the mare was doing what could be generously called “singing”, if one translated singing as “scream like an incomprehensible banshee” into a microphone she was floating by her mouth.

Oddly, most the tavern goers seemed to be enjoying it, especially the younger crowd.

Driven by morbid curiosity, Kindle waited until the pair were done with their set and then slide up towards the bar where the elder elk was still doing what tavern keepers did best; polish every mug in sight to an impossible sheen, whether they needed it or not.

“Good evening,” Kindle said, and the elk glanced at him with cool, blue eyes.

“Aye, evening to you too, traveler. Care for a pint?” asked the elk in quite fluent Equestrian, although there was a bare hint of an Elkheim accent to it.

“I don’t imbibe spirits anymore,” he said, recalling a Hearth’s Warming party a number of years ago where he rather overindulged. Ever since his Queen’s return, he’d refused to touch the stuff, knowing he needed his full faculties at all times to serve Celestia. “If you have orange juice, that would be lovely,” Kindle told the tavernkeep, and the elk nodded, obliging. He did run an Equestrian tavern, after all, and Equestrians loved their juices about as much as some of them liked their alcohol, so his bar was exceedingly well stocked.

Looking on as the young unicorn mare spoke to the elk as the pair took a break, Kindle sipped his orange juice and said, “That was an... interesting form of music those two were playing.”

The older elk chuckled under his breath, “Aye, that. Me son Jodir got taken with the young lass there, Metal Heart. She came here about four months ago, and they’ve been impossible tae separate. Heh, ain’t that I mind him being with a wee pony lass, mind you, but they’ve been putting on their shows every other week and I’m wondering if I’ll be going deaf ‘afore me fiftieth year at this rate.”

“It certainly is a unique music style,” Kindle said as politely as he could, “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Doubting many have. Metal Heart said she got the inspiration from somepony in Canterlot, and became a traveling musician herself. Made that guitar on her own, seems like. Then she arrived here, hit it off with Jodir, and then my boy started mixing up her style with some of his own,” the barkeep said, “Elkheim drums aren’t usually played that fast, but the style’s the same. Makes for a lot of noise, but some folks seem to like it, and makes my son and his lass happy to play, so I can’t complain.”

“One must find one’s happiness where they can,” Kindle agreed, “I’m sorry sir, I haven’t introduced myself. Skyfarer.”

It was one of several alias he used when he wanted to avoid his real name, which by this point was starting to get around to various authorities and it was best to be careful, even here in a place with fellow faithful. He even recognized several of the Queen’s own in the tavern, although they were careful not to acknowledge him overly much any more than he was doing to them.

“Astar,” the elk said, introducing himself in turn and shaking Kindle’s hoof, “Pleasure to meet you. What brings you to Hope’s Hollow, if it be polite of me to ask?”

“Traveling with a friend for the holidays, and doing some last minute gift shopping,” Kindle replied, and half jokingly added, “Don’t suppose you have any notion of what would make a good gift for a dragon?”

It was a joke, but he was surprised to see the elk react with a deep frown, although it didn’t last long as Astar said, “I keep forgetting ponyfolk don’t have a history with them wyrms like we do in Elkheim. Our shores have been invaded more times than our history can make count of.”

“My apologies, I was merely jesting,” Kindle said, but Astar waved it off.

“Weren’t that offended, at any rate. Besides, no point in buying a dragon any gift. Wouldn’t be worth it to them. They don’t hoard gold for the buying of things. It’s just to have more than some other wyrm. Only thing a wyrm would ever want as a ‘gift’ would be something no other wyrm would have. Something unique, or at least rare enough that they could show it off.”

“That does stand to reason,” Kindle said morosely, having come to the same conclusion himself. Something rare enough that Solrath could show it off as something no other dragon had? It seemed impossible to find something like that in just under two days.

“Hey da,” said a jovial voice as Jodir came up to the bar, “Me and Metal Heart were going to go for a walk and cool off. Want us to nab you anything from the general store while we’re out?”

“No, we’re well stocked for the rest of the week, son. You n’ your lass go enjoy yourselves,” Astar replied, and Jodir nodded, but glanced Kindle’s way with a youthful and friendly smile.

“New in town?” Jodir asked.

“In a sense,” Kindle replied, extending a hoof, “I’m Skyfarer. Your father was just telling me about you and Miss Metal Heart.”

“Ah, da does like his gossip. Figure it’s part of being a tavernkeep,” Jodir said, “So what’d you think of the music? That song’s one me and Metal have been working on for months now.”

Kindle adopted a polite smile and a tone to match, “It’s certainly a... unique brand of music. I’m afraid I couldn’t quite catch the lyrics of the song, but Miss Metal Heart certainly sung them with... gusto and conviction.”

“Aye, she’s a plumb, and got a soul made of fire and passion,” Jodir said, looking back where the mare in question was packing away her guitar. Kindle could all but see the sappy, floating hearts floating off the smitten elk buck’s head.

“That did seem to come across with the enthusiastic manner of singing she’s chosen,” Kindle said, “What was the song about, exactly?”

“Oh, Metal’s way better at explaining it than I am. Hey! Metal! We got somepony curious about our music!”

Not that curious, Kindle thought to himself morosely, but politeness dictated he maintain a friendly air and he did manage that with great aplomb as Metal Heart finished putting away her guitar and glanced over at Jodir’s holler. She trotted over in a manner that all but burst with challenge and sharp-eyed attitude. If anything her accent was thicker than either elk’s, and caught Kindle a bit off guard.

“Oi then what’s all yer hallerin’ ‘bout fer ya bonny git? I’m right donae room ya don’t need tae shout.”

Despite her rough speech, she slid right up next to Jodir and gave him a very familiar and tender nuzzle on his neck, to which the elk blazed crimson as he said, “Just this fella here was asking about the meaning to our music. You always tell it better than me, luv.”

Metal Heart turned her keen, gold eyes towards Kindle, and he had to admit, she did exude a certain fire that he approved of. Sun colored eyes, plus a fiery soul immediately struck him as qualities that his Queen would approve of.

“Wha, ye weren’t listin’? Meanin’ is clear as the sun n’ ain’t no mistakin’ it. Me songs ‘r ‘bout shreddin’ the chains o’ all o’ them authority talkin’ nonsense shite fer brain’s what’re controllin’ the soul o’ the peoples! From the high n’ mighty blue bloods tha’ treat the small folks looik dirt n’ hoard wealth n’ power that t’wernt theirs! It’s ‘bout the folk takin’ back what be theirs an’ risin’ up, that’s what!”

“I... see,” Kindle said, parcing out her words, “An anti-authoritarian message concerning the disparances of wealth and power between the nobility and the common folk. Tell me, what do you think of the Night Court, then, and Princess Luna’s recent attempts at removing its corruptive elements.”

He had to force himself to keep his voice cool and collected, as he hated referring to the Usurper as a ‘Princess’, and even acknowledging any attempt made by her to purge her worthless Night Court of its inherent corruption seemed laughable in his eyes. After all, how do you remove corruption from a fundamentally broken system following the wrong ruler? Only his Queen’s cleansing presence on the throne would put Equestria to rights.

Metal Heart made a rather disgusted sound in the back of her throat and spat, “Nobles r’ nobles, n’ them Night Courts blighters r’ worse n’ most o’ the lot. Aye I heard somesuch ‘bout them tryin’ tae clean up their act, but I’d soon as believe pigs catapaultin’ themselves tae the moon then that bunch o’ night crawlin’ snakes makin’ a’ change o’ heart. All folk gotta free themselves o’ their chains, that’s the message in me music.”

Hmm... a little focused against authority itself altogether, but this one shows promise, Kindle thought, If her energy could be channeled to recognize that at least one ruler is worthy of loyalty, then her message against other nobility and the Night Court would prove valuable to spread.

“I do agree with that message, by and large,” he said, bowing his head, “I hope to hear more of your music at some point, Miss Metal Heart, along with you continuing to support her, Mister Jodir.”

“Well if you’re in town fer a bit longer, we’re playing tomorrow, too,” said Jodir, and Metal Heart gave a firm nod.

“Aye, iffin’ ya loik what yer hearin’, drop on by. ‘Fore long me n’ Jodir ‘r plannin’ tae go travelin’ ourselves n’ tour the country! I’ll play me music right in the streets o’ Canterlot itself!”

“I look forward to that,” Kindle said with an enigmatic smile.

His smile was long gone by the time he returned with Smoke to Queen Celestia’s fortress. Kindle considered himself to be a pony of dignified graces, but once he was alone in his chambers he felt no particular qualms with throwing himself onto his bed and throwing a small fit into the pillow and covers.

“It’s impossible to get a gift for a dragon on such short notice! Solrath could eat that entire hamlet and not even care! What am I supposed to do!? Buy him a sweater!? Appease him with eggnog!? Arrrrrgggh!”

He almost didn’t hear the soft, subtle knock on his door, but upon noticing it Kindle rolled off his bed and did his best to compose himself before opening the door. “Yes?”

“Oh, um, hi,” Smoke said, standing awkwardly outside his chamber, “I heard, uh, noises, and thought you might want some help? Since you know, you still haven’t found Solrath a gift?”

He stared at her for a moment, then sighed and hung his head, standing aside and gesturing with a wing for her to enter. “I suppose it’d be pointless to pretend like I have matters well in hoof, so if you have ideas, I’m all ears.”

Smoke entered, finding a spot to sit before speaking.

“Not specific ideas, but I’ll help you brainstorm. There has to be something we can come up with if we put our heads together.”

He proceeded to sit at the prodigious writing desk he had tucked against the wall adjacent to his bed and plopped a chin in his hoof with all the frustrated dignity he could muster. “I appreciate the sentiment, Smoke, but I’m not certain any amount of brainstorming will help. I don’t even know if that fire breathing reptile has any particular tastes, outside of plunder and spite.”

“Everybody likes good food,” suggested Smoke, “Maybe you could bake him something?”

Kindle raised an eyebrow, “My cooking skills are not precisely up to par, not to mention dragons have a penchant for consuming gems more than anything we ponies would consider food.”

“Hmm, okay, what about something, er... abstract? I mean, if you can’t get him anything physical that’d impress, maybe something intangible but still value? Like, hmm... a poem? Or maybe a song?”

“I’m no poet, at least not in the traditional sense. Give me time and a crowd to sway and I can craft words to move souls towards the glory of our Queen, but for serenading a dragon’s ego... I doubt I could come up something that Solrath would care for,” Kindle said, then paused as the other thing Smoke mentioned caught in his mind. “But... a song, you said?”

“Well, he is blind,” Smoke pointed out, “Maybe he enjoys music, since he can’t really partake of a lot of normal stuff that requires sight.”

Kindle mulled over that thought, considering what he already knew about dragons, and remembering what Astar had said. Dragons found value in the rare and unique, and it was true that Solrath’s blindness meant that he likely couldn’t garner as much enjoyment from conventional shiny treasures, even rare ones.

He glanced towards a doorway that led into a secondary chamber next to his room, where he kept not only his own modest library, but the equipment for recording records. He used it to create audio sermons he distributed among cells of the faithful. He’d never considered it might come in useful for other situations.

“Smoke,” he said, giving her a thankful smile, and was rather oblivious to her nervous blush, “I think you just gave me an idea. Would you mind helping me move my sound recording gear?”

“Oh, not at all! Um, but are you planning to write a song for Solrath?”

“Not I. There’s no time for that, at any rate, but I think I know of something else that may well work.”

Nearly a day later, Kindle and Smoke were leaving Hope’s Hollow again, trotting out of the village with a small wagon of Kindle’s recording gear in tow. Also nestled carefully in a padded wooden case was a freshly recorded record, courtesy of a certain enthusiastic unicorn mare and her elk buck.

“They were such a nice couple,” Smoke said happily, “They seemed really eager to help.”

Kindle coughed noncommittally, “Well, I did tell them that I would spread copies during our ‘travels’ so that their music would reach more venues. I’m particularly convincing when I need to be.”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t do that anyway, even if you did just say that to get them to let us record a few of their songs,” Smoke replied, “They’re such a loving pair, I’d hate to not do something for them.”

“I... suppose so,” Kindle said, giving her a sidelong glance at what he detected to be an unusual tone in Smoke’s voice, although he didn’t see anything out of sorts with her. She was walking a bit close to him. “Are you cold, still? I’d hoped the scarf would be enough.”

“O-oh, I’m, uh, fine...” she said, then whispered, “It might be a little chilly. I hope you don’t mind me walking a little closer.”

“It’s fine. Winter is an unfortunate necessity of the seasons, until our Queen’s glorious sun can warm the land once more,” he said, extending a wing over Smoke while blatantly unaware of her gulping as he did so. “At any rate, thank you for helping me find a suitable gift for our group’s most... unreasonable member. Or what I certainly hope will be suitable. No doubt that blasted dragon will find something to complain about.”

“Even if he does, I’ll, um, set him straight,” Smoke said, blinking as she noticed the snow starting up again, falling on Kindle’s wing, “Oh, if you start getting cold too, I can move a bit closer.”

“That’s alright, it’s not that bad. Besides, I have the fire of our Queen within me. I have all the warmth I need.”

“...Oh, okay,” was her quiet reply, the longing and disappointment in it lost on Kindle, whose eyes were as ever, set only on what was in front of him.

Before long they reached the area where the linked teleportation circle was set up, which sat atop a short hill just at the edge of the thickest portion of evergreen forest that spanned the foothills leading into the towering mountains beyond. It was hidden from view of Hope’s Hollow by a curve of the forest and a slightly larger hill, but still provided a nice view of the overall valley. As Smoke prepared the teleportation circle, which didn’t require much on her part other than activating a talisman, she turned a furtive look towards Kindle.

She thought about Metal Heart and Jodir, and how the pair just so naturally and with clear passion expressed themselves. She was jealous of the couple, and the seeming ease of their relationship. Maybe if she was... louder? More up front? If she could just scream out what she was feeling, the way Metal Heart did, then maybe...

“H-hey, Kindle!” she said, and he blinked at her.


“I...um...I...” Smoke opened her mouth and tried to force words out. To just say how she felt, plainly, loudly, and clearly, so that even if he laughed at her or rejected her, at least he’d know.

But the words froze there in her throat, and after a moment or two of silent panicking under Kindles confused, questioning stare, she blurted out, “I got you a record, too! Um, I...er, thought I should tell you, so you didn’t think I was copying you or anything.”

“Huh? Oh, that’s quite alright, Smoke. Hmm, a record. I’ll be curious to see what’s on it, but don’t tell me. Hearth’s Warming should have some surprises to it,” he replied, as polite and obvious as ever, “At any rate, do hurry up with the circle. The sooner we return to the warmth of our Queen’s abode, the better. Perhaps I’ll brew us some cocoa. I’m in a rather good mood. Rather getting into the festive spirit.”

“That... sounds nice,” Smoke said, sighing to herself as she finished activating the talisman and the teleportation circle’s light surrounded them and the wagon. She might not be able to summon up the courage to tell Kindle what she was truly feeling, but perhaps that was well enough for now. Just spending time with him, on this special holiday, was enough. And maybe someday, after they’d won, and Celestia was on the throne, maybe then she’d be able to tell him.

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