Sands of Gold and Red: Almost There
Scary, scary, scary.
"Okay, that's enough. Ya two are telling me what's going on immediately!" Darky walks into our coupé, carrying a tray with cups. The confined space gets filled with various scents instantly.
"Hmm?" I stop daydreaming and realize there's a thin streak of saliva running down my cheek.
"Mrmmmm?" Blaze groans, yawns, and blinks at Darky.
She sets the tray on the table and fastens it into a groove fitting the pattern on the bottom of the tray to stop it from shaking due to train movement.
"Both of ya are acting way too weird. Blaze is sleeping all the damn time and he almost passed out during one practice while ya keep staring into space and grinning."
"Oh, that, well, ehm..." is the best I can do before shutting up and scratching my head while avoiding her gaze. To finish it off I bury my face into my cup.
"Blaze?" she turns to the unicorn trying over and over to wake up.
"NOPE!" she sits next to him on the bench serving as a bed and bites his ear hard, "Ya're talking!"
"-OW, that hurt!"
"I'll pour cold water on ya!"
"Okay, okay! I just wanted to surprise you when I stopped screwing it up," Blaze grabs Darky's head, wraps his hind legs around her waist, and makes her look him in the eyes.
"What is 'it'?" Darky blushes profusely but aside from propping her front legs against his chest she doesn't object.
"Well, does anything look different?" Blaze furrows his brows in concentration and twitches slightly.
Darky leans her head in, backs off, then sticks her muzzle close enough to feel his breath.
"Your eyes are glowing? Not glowing glowing but it's as if light was reflecting off them from time to time... flickering, that's the word."
"Yeah. I've been working on this since Heart's Warming. It's not a spell as such but just throwing magic out and seeing what bounces back. It kept me from walking into walls at home over and over. The downside is that with my magic being limited by my resistance it's tiring as heck. I've been trying to polish it up so I could use it for longer without falling flat on my face but it's still too difficult."
"Wow! So ya can see again? Sorta makes me sad, I liked parading ya around on a leash."
"You'll still have enough fun with that. I can't really 'see'. I just get some outlines and shapes so I can't recognize anypony until they talk to me. Plus, everypony looks scary as, well, something really scary. Hard to explain. It also has extremely short range. I can barely see the wall on the other side," Blaze slumps back on the bench and groans, "The headaches aren't helping either."
"It's like echolocation, I guess," Darky opens her mouth and I shake my head to get rid of sudden very annoying feeling, "I can do that too!"
"Eh, yeah. I just don't think everypony you meet looks like something from a really bad dream."
"See, Darky," I explain, seeing a time for me to step in, "He tried it the evening after Heart's Warming for the first time and I still can't get rid of the face and the scream. I believe he told me I looked like an uncooked breakfast."
"Eyes like dribbling egg whites and fur resembling straw, if I remember correctly. Sorry about that again. If it helps, ponies look even worse," Blaze laughs nervously.
"No problem, buddy."
"So, what about my pretty face?" Darky overexaggerates her gasp.
"Well, white outline, black coat, white holes where eyes should be, and strands of white which I suppose are mane and tail."
"That's not that great then."
"It's a start. Now I can do this without poking your eye out despite you looking as if somepony's already done that," Blaze grins, pushes Darky down on her back, and kisses her muzzle, "Plus, we save on bandages for my face."
"Sweet, ya think ya're in charge," Darky smiles devilishly, grabs his head, and pushes it against her chest, refusing to let Blaze move no matter how much he struggles. When he stops and just rests against her she turns to me, "Jealous?"
I just raise an eyebrow.
"Darky, you're having a nibble. I've already had the whole thing, both vanilla and chocolate."
"Good analogy. Have ya been working on your oraltory skills?" she laughs when I groan at her bat puns, "What's your problem then? Ya've been out of it as well last two days."
"Hm? It's nothing, just thinking about my past relationships. About what I did right and wrong."
"That's unusually deep for ya."
"I'm not an idiot, Darky, in the same way you aren't just a giggly airhead. I want to do things right this time. At least that's what I always start with, then I remember the Heart's Warming night and drool."
"Good for ya, I can't say I was so smitten from his performance when we were together. Sorry, Blaze," she lets go of his head but he just keeps lying there, breathing slowly, "Nevermind, he's out again."
I nod, hoping Blaze really is asleep.
"Heh, it's not that he's good. I've had way better partners before, both male and female, pony and griffon, but this time there was one difference that made it worth it. He tried too hard to please me without-"
"Without thinking about his needs, am I right?" Darky interrupts and I nod again, "It's been the same with us. I remember him asking me if I had a specific toy I liked because he was better with his hooves than his own 'toy'. Our first night together, that was."
"Wow, that's awful. You know what I mean then."
"Yeah, but that's not healthy. Everypony needs to be a little selfish from time to time."
"Well, good thing we have enough time to fix him then."
"We... right," Darky drifts off.
"What's your problem now?"
"I'm just jealous. Jealous that you succeeded so easily in what I wasn't able to do for years. Jealous of his every smile aimed at you, every look you exchange while grinning like total morons, everything!" she raises her voice and lowers it immediately when Blaze moves a little.
I facehoo- facepal- facetalon, maybe?
"I've had the same problem, exactly the same, right until you said that. I was worried I could never match up to what you've been through together. Even now I can't really look at him sleeping like that without grinding my beak. You have no idea - well, maybe you do - how scared I am that he'll finally end up with you."
"So, how do we solve this?"
"We can't, he has to," I nod to the sleeping unicorn.
"That's gonna hurt, a lot. Eventually."
"Maybe... maybe not," I thoughtfully drum my talons on the table.
"What do ya mean?"
"That I might believe in him a little more than you do. Nevermind that though, it's not as if we have to do something right here and now. Wanna go grab a bite while he's sleeping?"
"Nah, I think I'll enjoy this while it lasts," she smiles at me.
"I'll leave you alone then. I think a walk through the train might do me good."
When I come back there are two sleeping ponies in our little room. Blaze's hind legs are slowly moving as if he was walking, a habit he's had for as long as I've known him, and his mechanical griffon arm prosthesis in place of his left front leg is clicking its talons from time to time. Darky is a similarly strange sight - black batpony with red mane flowing gently with every movement of the train and two unnatural wings looking exactly the same as both of Blaze's forms, phoenix fire and black ice, but while Blaze's appear only when he wants them to Darky's pair is firmly fixed to her as a result of Void's divine power.
My weak reflection in the window is very... normal compared to them. I'm not sure whether to be thankful or jealous.
...she will win...
Huh? The voice that tortured Blaze again?
...he will betray you. It's in his soul...
...you will be alone in the end...
Taking a deep breath, I grab my solar seal which allows me to get anything I want on the account of the Canterlot royal treasury and storm out again. Perhaps the VIP section of the train might have something to calm me down.
Once again, a Saddle Arabian dancer and some hot chocolate do the trick. In some aspects I am very easy to please.
The train ride ends surprisingly quickly and, leading Blaze carrying most of our bags on a leash like a dignified packmule, we end up in a slightly larger room on a cross-ocean ferry where we're going to spend the night. Since it is a ship travelling between the Empire and Equestria there are some unique griffon treats upon which I am gorging infinitely.
"Ya're gonna get fat and then Blaze won't sleep with ya ever again!" Darky makes various puking noises while watching me eat a bucket of spicy grilled chicken wings, "Plus, the entire room smells like a funeral pyre."
Telling that to me, whose parents got shot and burned to death in their own house, seems very insensitive but I'm way too hungry to argue.
"Twelve herbs and spices funeral pyre, Darky. Cut me some slack, will you? The griffon merchants in Canterlot can't sell any of this stuff and it's impossible to make it at home."
"How come? Ya buy the raw materials, pop them on a pan and ya're done."
"Noone aside from IFC employees knows the secret herbs and spices and you can't even begin to compare a pan and a deep fryer."
She groans as I keep stuffing my face, floating on cloud nine. Well, if I keep eating the way I'm now then I'm gonna be dropping from said cloud rather quickly.
"Blaze, say something to him!" she cheats, turning to higher authority.
"Seen worse, smelled worse," Blaze just waves his hoof and keeps staring at Darky.
"Come on! We can't sleep like this."
"I'll open the window later," I offer a diplomatic solution.
"It's freezing outside!"
"No, it's not. The closer we get to the Empire the warmer it's going to be."
"Ehhh, it's winter, Cromach. Ya know, snow and sleet?"
"And you think princess Luna would send us to a seaside resort to build snow griffons? Think for a second, you've been to the Empire before."
"Yeah, I wondered why it was so sunny there."
"The pegasi in Equestria create artificial winter to allow the land to recover. The Empire works around it by focusing the water flowing from underground streams into various areas and filling the soil with tons of fertilizer. Since the sun is raised slightly higher than usual during winter the Empire won't be as hot as it is during the rest of the year but it's not going to ruin our vacation."
Blaze slides closer to Darky and starts touching her wings, making her shiver with each preened feather. Strange, being this forward. It's possible Blaze doesn't know but preening one's feathers is akin to a rather serious foreplay for griffons and pegasi, not sure about batponies though.
"Should I leave you two alone for a while?" I ask.
"Eh, what? Why?" Blaze turns in my direction. If I understand it correctly he can't see me in this larger room.
"Basically, if ya were doing this to Cromach he'd be diamond hard right now," Darky explains, smiling smugly.
"Oh, sorry. I should have asked then. It's just that the wings that Void made seem wrong. I can 'see' it now and they are... incomplete."
"Ya DO realize ya're talking about the alicorn of Death, the oldest living alicorn, and the probably most powerful one on top of that. Are ya saying he did a crappy job?"
"You are right only partially. Thanks to his age, and his marefriend mostly, he possesses the most knowledge about the workings of magic in the world but his divine power is so vast it completely breaks his ability to use normal magic. He has to use his suppressed form to be able to use at least some standard spells. I thought your wings were magical but they are divine, and wrong. Can't really explain it."
"What does it matter anyway?"
"His divine power is tied to destruction, not creation. He... he tried to imitate magic of life with divine power so the spell isn't complete. I might be able to finish it."
"Whoa there! Ya and magic don't go well together, Blaze."
"That's not exactly true, Chokey. Mirror Twilight taught me a lot about how magic works so I could break enemy spells mid-cast. Don't forget I was supposed to fight mirror Sombra, Scream's apprentice. I can't use spells but I can direct the flow of magic in a different way."
"Darky!" I get her attention and wave my talons around without making a sound. Since Blaze can't see this far I spread my wings, point to them, and nod.
She takes a deep breath and covers Blaze's ears, pretending to rub them.
"Perhaps you believe in him more than I do, eh?" she whispers and bites her lip. Releasing him, she closes her eyes and spreads her wings, "Go for it then."
Blaze's horn glows and a pair of fire wings sprouts from his back.
"I-I-I know h-how you love flying. If anything starts going wrong I'll stop-"
"JUST DO IT!"
"Fire for what?" Blaze mumbles to himself, "Hope? Fire for hope... phoenix, rebirth. Blackfrost for... the opposite? Lack of hope, end, true death... just like Void's. Despair. Must go away first then..."
Darky's black ice wing shimmers and turns into vapor from the tips of the shards. Blaze's fire wings wrap around Darky, one melds together with her remaining fire wing and the other one touches the spot where her ice wing was, setting her coat on fire.
...you will fail and hurt her, useless creature...
The fire rages and Darky groans in pain.
...your betters failed before you so what can you do?
I walk over to Blaze and rub the tips of his ears.
"You're doing fine, buddy. Keep going."
The fire stops spreading over Darky's coat and focuses. A second fire wing completes the pair on Darky's back, mirroring Blaze's.
YOU ARE POWERLESS AND YOU WILL FAIL! YOU WILL BURN BOTH OF THEM!
I doubt Darky can hear the hissing voice and I'm not sure Blaze can but he sure reacts as if it had some influence.
"Buddy, Darky trusts you completely. You would never take her flight away from her."
His phoenix wings hiss and disappear. Darky's wings suddenly go obsidian black and leathery while Blaze collapses on the bed, breathing heavily.
"Hehe," Blaze wipes sweat from his face, "he really DID muck it up. Void just wanted to give you your real wings back, Chokey."
Darky flaps her new old wings experimentally, eyes wide and smile growing.
"I-something-I mean the magic ones were really cool but... they felt unreal. These... flap and strain, hurt and stretch. I-I have to go!" she runs out of the room with tears streaking from her eyes.
"Is everything okay?" Blaze asks, fear in his every word.
"Well, if she doesn't come back tonight it's because she's flying to the Crystal Empire and back thanks to you."
"Weird, she could fly just fine before."
"I don't know how to explain but flying is in the bones of all creatures who can do it naturally. I doubt a unicorn using a flight spell can feel the same way and I guess Darky's magical wings felt unnatural. Now she's a real batpony again."
"Hehehe... perhaps I can fix at least some things I screwed up in the past."
"Buddy, the better I know you the more I'm sure you can make things better in the end... even if you make them worse over and over before you succeed."
"Explorer of blind alleys, am I?"
The ferry rocks and an explosion rings through the air.
No... that is not happening now!
I stick my head out of the cabin window just to see the lights of a smaller ship getting closer.
"NO, YOU'RE NOT FUCKING THIS EVENING UP!" I roar.
A beam of light cast by the ship ends on my face. I stare back, daring the pirates to do something.
"Emperor's titanium talons, it's him again! We're all gonna die!" someone on the smaller ship screams.
"Is the crazy earthpony with you again?" a pirate yells at me.
"NO!" I answer.
"HE'S SWIMMING TO YOUR SHIP ALREADY!"
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" the pirate ship collectively explodes with screams, turns around, and drives away into the darkness.
I close the window and get back to my food. It's gone cold already.
"What was it?" Blaze asks.
"Some old acquaintances I met during my first trip to Equestria. They just wanted to say hi."
"Good. Damn, I'm tired."
"Seeing Darky isn't around... wanna rock the boat?"
"Can we just cuddle? I can barely move."
"Pfff, you're like an old girlfriend."
"Sorry," he starts getting up.
"I'm kidding, idiot, but when we get to Golden Sands you're paying with interest."
"No need to rock a boat when we can rock a continent, Cro."
Dark influence - overcome.
Mistakes of the past - corrected.
Future - bright.
Body pillow - fluffed, cuddly, reacting to me nibbling his ears.
Nothing can possibly go wrong.
...you shouldn't have thought that...