• Published 3rd May 2013
  • 4,671 Views, 79 Comments

Dusk-Lit Waltz - Nicknack

Gilda deals with her unexpected betrothal to King Sombra

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Chapter 2

Wind whipped through my wings as I flapped higher and higher. From up here, Griffalia and the lands around it all looked tiny. A vast expanse of water surrounded our volcano on three sides; on the fourth, a thick stretch of jungle spread north all the way to the mainland.

Only there in the sky, where I was several miles above all the backstabbing and betrayal down below, did I felt a little better. A little.

It didn’t help. Three weeks after he’d made the announcement, I finally accepted that my dad wasn’t pulling some cruel joke. Still, I couldn’t believe he’d just sell me like that. I mean, he was always distant and never really talked to me, but I was his daughter. We had a word for the type of girl he was selling me as, and that was not me.

Plus, after all that shit in Ponyville, I never wanted to see any lame-ass ponies again, let alone live near one. I certainly didn’t want to marry one, or live in the capital of a whole frigging empire full of them!

Of course, I didn’t have a say in the matter. That would’ve made too much sense.

Midair, I banked hard to the left, trying to fly fast enough that the roar of rushing air would drown out my thoughts. It didn’t, so I had to let them fester.

The phrase that kept repeating in my mind was “damn politics.” When they got involved, things always got messy. They made griffins do stupid things, like abandon loyalties, conquer nations, or sell their own daughters.

I was a pawn in some international game of checkers or however that stupid game worked. That was the worst part; at the end of the day, all I was to my dad was a pawn.

I screamed to vent my frustration. At my speed, it felt like yelling into a pillow, but it didn’t help anything. I needed to go faster, I told myself, even though my wings were burning. I’d been up in the air for a good five hours already, ever since I woke up.

Damn politics! That was the other worst part of it. Politics meant that I had to go along with everything, or else I’d probably start some sort of war between my country and the Crystal Empire—wherever it was located. So I could fly, I just couldn’t go anywhere.

On that note, I banked left again to complete the giant square I had flown in several times that morning.

Most of what I knew about my situation, I’d put together from a lesson from one of my dad’s handmaidens. She was supposed to be teaching me the art of being “refined” and other worthless junk, which I already knew—I just didn’t care. If some asshole king wanted to marry me, he’d get me, not some dweeby, watered-down Gilda-lite.

Speed, I urged myself. I needed speed. That one was easy—go with gravity, not at an angle against it. I bent my head down and the rest of me followed into a dive. I flapped my wings as I fell, and for a split second, I knew peace as the rushing wind tore through my feathers and drowned out all thoughts.

While I fell, I could feel the pocket of air around me that I displaced. It wasn’t be very big; griffins were too aerodynamic for that. Still, as I tore through the air towards on my way to the ground, the rushing wind felt liquid, and the thought crossed my mind to just keep going.

As soon as that was out there in the open, I flared my wings and flew vertically. I wasn’t going out like that. I banked hard, this time to the right, and the force of my turn knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t care. Here, in the air, I was home. I was still alive.

I pulled up and slowed down, which let me get some needed oxygen. It was easy to breathe in when I was moving, especially up where bugs weren’t plentiful. I took a nice, deep breath. That was calm; that was soothing.

I still wanted to break something.

A warning screech from below proclaimed that I wasn’t alone in the sky anymore. I looked down in time to catch sight of my younger brother, flying on an intercept course with me. I hated being on the “prey” end of a chase. Those days, there were a lot of choices that were being made for me; “being caught” wasn’t going to be one of them.

Snarling, I rolled onto a new course. We were both decent fliers, but I was better. The general rule of outflying him was, obviously, keep my lead on him; that meant no sharp turns or other tricks. He could see me, which made the whole thing a lot easier for him. Losing him wasn’t going to be easy, but it was doable. I’d done it before.

I gave up altitude to gain speed, which sent me soaring towards a seaside cliff to the south of Griffalia. There was a system of caves near it; if I got into those caves with him, it’d be game over. Cenric spent all his time learning about history and politics from books, but I knew the local flying spots like the back of my hand. It was my home, after all. I’d lose him in there.

We were headed south along the coast of Griffalia’s peninsula; I just had to follow the beach until we got to the caves. I risked a glance over my shoulder; Cenric was gaining on me a lot faster than he used to be able to. That came as a surprise, and panic forced me to push my already-tired wings even harder.

I was close to my limit, though, and deep down, I already knew I wasn’t going to make it to the caves. The logical part of my brain told me to give up. My wings were almost spent.

That fear turned to anger, and in a flash, I banked upwards at a ninety degree angle. Cenric was behind me; he’d have to follow. In a chase, flying vertically like we were would always end badly for the griffin in front; there was only so much force you could put behind your wings to keep your speed when you were fighting against gravity. Then, you’d stall, and you’d fall into whoever or whatever was behind you.

Sure enough, at the peak of my flight, my wings burned as I felt that all-too-familiar, impassible weight that would either pull me down or force me to flip my wings around so I could hover. I grinned; that was exactly where I wanted to be.

When I started to fall, I balled my hand into a fist and brought it down in a full-body punch.

The blow caught Cenric square in the jaw, which dazed him for a moment—more than long enough for me to continue diving down past him. Or so I thought, before I felt his foot connect with my inner thigh. Pain spread, and a hand gripped the scruff of my neck, cat-style, as the two of us fell.

He tightened his grip on me, trying to lock his elbows into the insides of my arm shoulders. In that awkward grapple, I couldn’t really do anything except throw elbows. None of them connected, and really, I only succeeded in making it easier for him. Once he had me in a strong grip, Cenric flapped his wings and, with a lurch, we headed over to a nearby cloud.

I had about a second’s warning before he slammed my entire body, face-down, into it. Either for his security or my dignity, Cenric kicked my butt down into the cloud, too. He completed the motion by planting his feet on mine and gripping my upper arms in his hands.

When it was over, he stood on top of me, victorious. There wasn’t anything I could do about it except be thankful we weren’t that kind of siblings.

After catching his breath, Cenric leaned down into my ear; for a gross moment, I could feel him breathing on me. He spoke calmly, despite being in a dominating position: “I’m going to let you up. If you make me catch you like that again, I will clip your wings. Do you understand?”

That wasn’t an idle threat, nor was it a laughing matter. I’d had it done once to me once, growing up, and it was possible to fly, just not with the speeds or maneuverability that made it worth anything. It’d take several months for the feathers to molt, too, so it was a long-lasting embarrassment.

Prone as I was, I still seethed for a moment before sighing an exasperated, “Fine.”

Instantly, my brother’s grip on my arms let up and the weight from his feet vanished. I looked over at him, half expecting to have a hand out to help me up; instead, Prince Cenric, my brother the neat freak, spat a wad of blood out and over the edge of our cloud. I was about to mock-congratulate him on that, but he spoke first: “Where’d you learn to throw a punch like that?”

Memories flashed before my eyes, but I closed my eyes to throw them away. “That stupid flight camp. But the dive part, that just seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Cenric nodded, then held out a hand for me. “Effective, if short-sighted. But you never were much for learning the efficient ways to do things.”

I took it, and after I got up, we both sat down on opposite sides of our little cloud platform. I was grateful for his gesture, but I still had to cross my arms and shake my head to disagree with what he said. “The only good a book’s gonna do in a fight is if you throw it.”

“Knowledge is power, Gilda.” He smirked at me. “Both of us got off one blow, but who won that... can we even call it a fight?”

Stupid guys and their macho crap. “Yeah, but you’re a dude. Totally unfair.”

He didn’t have a response for that, either. He just got up, turned, and sat back down closer to me on my left—not next to me, but at a mutually safe distance that counted for “close” among griffins. Without saying a word, Cenric grabbed ahold of the cloud, unfurled his left wing, and gently flapped it a few times. Our cloud slowly turned until we were facing Griffalia, at which point I mocked bewilderment. “Ooh... What’s next, a sonic rainboom?”

“Is everything a joke to you?” he cut out, quick and loud.

It broke through my residual annoyance of being chased, caught, and threatened; it was replaced with a familiar weight of dread in my stomach.

Cenric shook his head to regain some composure before he started up again. “Or are you incapable of seeing a grave situation for what it is?”

I sneered, brought my left fist near my head, and raised my middle finger at him. “Don’t talk to me like you’re the one marrying some foreign asshole—”

“No, you’re right. Talk is cheap, I should spend a few weeks making a scene above the city and screaming like an animal. That will earn our father’s respect.”

Like he gives a shit!” I shrugged forward, at Cenric, with all four shoulders.

Instead of answering, he just turned away and looked back at the city. “Perhaps not. But some do. Not everyone in Griffalia agrees with his decision...”

I blew the disbelief out my nose. “Yeah, like who?”

He snapped his head back to me. “Like me.” Whether it was some leftover voice growth or something else, his voice cracked a little. For a brief moment, his eyes told the whole, hurt story, right to my chest. “But, you’d rather fly off or hide or brood than come talk about the situation with me.”

His guilt trip stoked my anger, so the first thing out of my mouth was, “Why, so you can make it all better with your books and logic?”

“You’re not the only one of us losing a sibling here!”

I glanced down at his fist; he’d grabbed a tuft of cloud and had squeezed it into a soggy, gray mush. I looked back up to his face. He was staring off at our capital city, fighting to keep a neutral, regal expression—even if it was just the two of us.

It seemed unfair for him to have to do that. For the first time, when I looked at Cenric, I saw the effects of the heavy reputation he had to live up to. He usually carried it well, but compared to our dad, right then, my brother looked... young. Scared, even.

I shook my head and sighed. The whole situation was screwed up on so many levels, I didn’t even know where to begin being pissed at it. But Cenric was my brother, and he tried to make an effort to reach out to me, so I could at least try to give him a little bit of comfort from it all. “So, uh, you tell me what’s bothering you, and I’ll tell you what’s bothering me?”

A smile touched the side of his mouth, and he blinked some mist out of the eye I could see. It was as close to a “thank you” as he’d ever give for something like that, and that was all I ever needed. “I fear this alliance—the one that your engagement is central to—is a mistake. My concerns fall on deaf, ‘experienced’ ears. But we’ve been on relatively friendly, if neutral, grounds with Equestria for so long; there’s nothing we gain by throwing that away.”

“What, does Equestria have beef with the Crystal Empire?”

Cenric turned and, despite his gratitude, he blinked at me. Instead of giving me crap about not knowing anything, he explained, “War. Prisoner torture. Slavery. The history between those two pony empires is surprisingly dark, given how...” He chuckled. “Bright and colorful they are.”

I turned my head and looked over to our huge flag that bore Griffalia’s emblem. “And there’s no good that comes from an alliance with either of them?”

“I didn’t quite say that. More that... Equestria focuses more of its resources on fueling a military supremacy. If we ally ourselves with their enemy, all of a sudden, those swords and spears point to us alongside them.”

I chuckled. “So that’s why you were boring holes into the back of his head during his speech?”

A soft sigh came from my left. “Indeed. It came as a shock to me, and it’s unsettling how our father is content to keep us both in the dark while he forges international plans that affect both of our futures.”

“Yeah...” I agreed. “I mean, heck, if he’d even just asked first...”

Cenric scoffed. I glared over at him as he frowned back. “Don’t act like you’d be any less pissed about the whole thing.”

“I might be.”

He shook his head like usual. “You’re my sister, and I love you, but you don’t know the first thing about international politics. If you’re mad that our father didn’t ask you, then ask yourself if you could even have made an informed decision to begin with that wasn’t just ‘No.’”

I scowled at him for a few moments before deflecting his point: “What, so I don’t get to choose who I’d marry? What if I wanted to stay here and find someone?”

“Remember the whole ‘suitors fiasco’ last September?”

“The nicest guy kept staring at my butt the whole time.”

“Then how many romantic interests have you ever taken the initiative on?”

“What, so that makes it right?”

“No. But don’t lie to yourself. There’s enough treachery awing as it is.”

I crossed my arms over my chest as I shook my head again. He had a good point there, I had to admit. Still, it was a good point about a crappy situation. “Fine. So I didn’t get a choice in the matter. Now it just sucks because it happened, and since I’m being sold off to some other country, my life’s over.”

Cenric gave me a sad little smile as he raised an eyebrow. “I hope not.”

I shrugged. “What if I wanted to travel?”

He started listing off places on his fingers. “You hate Equestria, Zebronia, and the other griffin cities. You’d be killed on sight in Draconia. Where, exactly, would you go?”

“I dunno! But it’d be my choice. And what about flying?”

“They... they have the sky, in the Crystal Empire, Gilda. That’s not really something you can lose.”

“Not if I’ve got a bunch of kids or whatever that I’ve got to look after all the time!” As soon as I shouted it, Cenric looked off into the distance, and I saw him blush under his brown feathers. I knew what he was thinking before he said it: “And no, I don’t know how that works with a pony! I don’t... want to.”

Tears stung my eyes, but if Cenric had heard me, he didn’t show any sign of it. That was typical for him; as soon as the conversation got to be about anything feminine, he clamped up.

I was about to damn the consequences and fly off when he whispered, “He can’t make you do that.”

In the world of forced, political marriages, I found myself severely doubting that. “Yeah? Says who?”

“Says me.” Cenric twitched his head to me with fire in his eyes. “I won’t let him. I would shatter his whole damn empire first, and to Hell with politics!

I sat there, stunned by my younger brother’s outburst. My gut reaction was to say something cute like, “Aww... you’d go to war, for me?” but for once, I realized that something a bad thing to say before I said it. We weren’t really in a situation to make jokes. I decided on a better reaction: I put a hand on his shoulder and quietly said, “Thanks, dude.”

He patted my hand twice, but then he plucked it off him, so I took it back. That was more that no griffin liked being touched randomly like that; the only reason I did it was because it was one of the weird habits I’d picked up in Equestria at some point.

Cenric’s hand kept moving, down to his waist, where I noticed he was wearing a belt with a satchel hanging from it. He undid the string on the satchel and chuckled. “With all this betrothal headache, I bet you forgot what day it was today.”

I hadn’t looked at the calendar in a while, so I nodded back.

He absently passed his satchel from hand to hand as he explained, “I wanted to find you today of all days because... well, it’s your birthday.”

“Huh.” I noted. It had been a rough few weeks since the announcement; I didn’t really care about what numbers went with what days, but I usually paid a bit more attention when it was... “Aw, crap, that explains the whole... big breakfast thing.” I vaguely remembered, earlier that morning, when I had toned out some of my mom’s words as I ignored her and stormed through our dining hall.

With a grunt, he agreed. “If it helps matters, I ordered it be given to the servants, so they enjoyed your meal.”

It did, a little, but I still didn’t feel too strongly about the whole situation.

He kept the satchel in his right hand as he turned to sit facing me. “Given our conversation, I still want to give you this...” He held up his hand. “But I’ve got one condition, now.”

“Conditional gifts? What, you’re a buffalo now?”

Cenric glared at me. “That’s... not how you use that phrase, and don’t... talk like that. You’re royalty; wars have been fought over less.”

I smiled at him, and kept it up until he had to shake his head to try and cover the hint of a smile on the side of his mouth.

Anyway...” He held out his satchel. “I want you to have this.”

I took it from him and opened the mouth. Reaching inside, I pulled out a dagger—I could tell, because its sheath was made of a clear, amber crystal, which let me see the blade. I set the satchel down on the cloud, which caused Cenric to grunt in protest for some reason. With two hands free, I could pull the weapon apart to look at the business end of it. Just like the sheath, the blade of the dagger was made of crystal; however, instead of amber, the blade was uncolored and as clear as glass.

It was pretty and deadly. I loved it.

Cenric explained, “Diamond doesn’t usually form blades like that, but I had a jewel alchemist who owed me for pardoning his son last year. Do you like it?”

“Yeah, dude, it’s awesome.”

He grinned. “Good. Then I want you to promise me one thing. This King Sombra pony? If he ever hurts you? Cut his heart out.”

The request was brutal—heck, for Cenric, it was barbaric—but I didn’t want to disagree with him, either. I nodded back, which sealed the deal.

After returning my nod, my brother silently dove off our cloud, leaving me alone and holding my new gift. Now that I was alone with my thoughts again, I had to admit I felt better about everything—Cenric’s gift to me had been an option in the whole ordeal.

It really shouldn’t have been that much to ask for.