Heart Of Black Ice

Sands of Gold and Red: Cromach Wins

I could have done without all the rumpkissing from the hotel staff but as special guests we were 'entitled' to hear about the history of the best place in Golden Sands, all the tourist attractions, the activities we could do, and all the probably usual stuff. I've never been to a place like this so I can only guess what was just good manners and what was blatant 'we will drain all your money' behaviour.

To start things off, Golden Sands is a beautiful town, a strange mix between complex buildings of Manehattan and griffon village architecture thrown together in a way that does not hurt the eye. At least that's what I heard from Cromach. Even when I could still see I didn't care much about the beauty of buildings and architecture in general.

The location spell is getting more refined which is a fancy term for me not using my power continuously but in longer intervals which isn't as exhausting as it was before. Speaking of longer intervals, the Nightmare tried to get through last night again. I guess the failed attack on Luna wasn't enough to teach it a lesson. The power is slowly becoming mine though and it shouldn't take long and the pathway for the god should be closed again. With Luna's mind now made of steel and me gradually assimilating the Nightmare's power the two main pathways for the god to reach this world will soon be gone.

Nevermind that. As things stand, Cro is making all the masseuses cream themselves and Chokey's new 'librarian skank' look works on the other half of the resort staff. I think they are just used to older nobles spending their money here rather than ponies like my friends.

By the way, the sunny beach in the Empire is absolutely amazing compared to Equestrian winter. Too bad I keep slipping on the shifting sands even while leashed. The coconut milk cocktails make it worth it though.

We enter a hotel lobby where mahagony is apparently the name of the game. The large hall with pillars strewn around possibly more as a decoration than a building element smells faintly of vanilla and the distant humming explains the much colder air than it was outside. Two figures that are chatting at the receptionist's desk mean our arrival is expected.

"Welcome to Emperor's Embrace!" a chubby griffon in a suit stops talking to a receptionist and throws his arms in the air when he sees us, "The best hotel in Golden Sands. We were told to expect your arrival and we've prepared everything we have to offer. My name is Wilson and I'm the hotel's manager and co-owner which means that if you ever need anything all you have to do is ask for me."

I look at Blaze, who is still carrying most of our bags, and cough nervously.

"Perhaps a shower or something. Our friend here has some trouble walking on unstable surfaces."

Wilson, seemingly filled with enough energy to power a lamp store, walks to Blaze and looks him up and down. He immediately notices that lower parts of Blaze's body as well as his face are covered in sand.

"I fell few times," Blaze admits, taking a step back from the examining griffon, "It's the height difference between two points of sand, too difficult to make it out effectively. You see-"

"You are blind and you are using magic to see, right?" Wilson asks, nodding his head.

"Eeeh, yes?"

"Don't worry, sir. You are not the first and I'm positive you're not the last unicorn with the same circumstances. I take it from your collar and leash that this has been going on for some time."

"About a week, give or take."

"Sorry to hear that. Well, we are well prepared for such situation and a member of our staff can take care of you whenever you aren't accompanied by your friends. Would you prefer a griffon, pony, male or female?"

"Probably a female, species doesn't matter. It'll be less embarrassing than being led around by a complete stallion," Blaze hangs his head.

"HEY, we can take care of him just fine!" Darky bursts out.

"I am sure you can," Wilson raises an eyebrow and looks meaningfully at Blaze covered in sand, "but Golden Sands offers a variety of enjoyable sights and activities so it is quite possible you will not be by your friend's side at all times."

Darky grumbles something but doesn't continue.

"We also offer a wide selection of blood for thestrals-"

Her glare makes Wilson step backwards and fiddle with the collar of his suit.

"Fruit eater," Darky hisses coldly, "Perhaps you'd like to talk about your wide selection of kinds of mango now."

"I apologize deeply," Wilson bows, "I assumed from the longer fangs your preference was different and I was wrong."

"No harm done," Darky smiles brightly, all conflict forgotten.

"Thank you. Now then, feel free to leave all your luggage here in the lobby and I'll show you to your suites. Would you like me to arrange a guide for you?"

"No, thanks," I unload the few bags we have from Blaze, "We like to explore on our own."

"As you wish. If you ever get lost just ask about Emperor's Embrace. Everyone in the town can guide you back here. There are maps with some more interesting tourist spots waiting for you in your suites. Now to address one final concern. There are three single VIP suites prepared for you but if you'd like we could prepare one double in case you want to stay close to your blind friend."

"How about a triple?" I grin.

"Even that could be arranged," Wilson says calmly.

"It's fine," Blaze decides, "Just give us ones next to each other so my bumping into walls doesn't bother your other guests."

Wilson looks at me and Darky for confirmation.

"What are you waiting for?" I let him stew a little for unknowingly insulting Blaze.

"Um, nothing. I'll keep things as they are then. Follow me, please, and be careful on the stairs."

Our suites are simple in design but everything inside is of the highest quality. Every one consists of a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. In comparison, the same apartment in Canterlot would cost far more than both me and Blaze make monthly even without the amazing furniture and everything else inside. The beds are soft, the blankets thin, warm, but allowing you to breathe easily, and there's more than enough space to comfortably put all our things into.

I open a door made of pure crystal and step out on a balcony. Blaze took the middle suite and he's standing up, front legs propped against the gilded railings, and breathing in the warm air by huge lungfuls. Darky's waving at us from her balcony. It seems all of us got captivated by the same thing - the view. Well, maybe not Blaze. The fifth floor we're on is by far the highest vantage point of the town and from up here it's possible to see the true life of this place. While the beach isn't packed there are a lot of groups, mostly ponies, strewn here and there and I realize a ton of Equestrian nobles are here to escape winter. Griffons, surprisingly, are the guest minority here.

A thought crosses my mind.

"Wilson, are you there?" I yell towards Darky's balcony. A griffon's head pops out of the crystal door.

"Yes?"

"Any chance of a massage? We were cooped up on the train and in the ferry and at least I am sore all over."

"Of course. Come here, please."

I walk out of my suite and spot Blaze walking as close to a wall as possible towards Darky's place where Wilson is waiting.

"Do you wish to go together?" Wilson asks when we group.

"No," I say.

"No," Darky agrees immediately.

Blaze just shrugs.

"I can send a masseuse to your rooms or," he looks meaningfully at me and winks, "you can go to our main parlor underground for more rare requests."

"Parlor," I grin. My eyes must be glowing.

"Parlor," Darky understands as well.

"Room service," Blaze blurts out, grey coat stained with blush.

"If you will follow me then," Wilson turns to leave.

"One more thing," I remember something from home, "Do you have somepony who could teach Blaze about massages? If there are no objections, of course."

"I'm fine with it. It could kill some time while you're at your orgy," Blaze shrugs again.

Wilson gasps, takes a breath to object, and deflates.

"That's quite... accurate, if I have to be honest. We aim to please all of our guests. Your straightforwardness just took me by surprise. My apologies, I can easily arrange a teacher for you," he gathers himself.

"Thanks," Blaze smiles.

"Well then, follow me. Emperor's Embrace is all about pleasure, physical and mental. I hope you enjoy your stay."

I haven't seen the others for past two days. The reason I'm noticing this just now is that those two days were packed. When I emerged, legs wobbling, from the 'massage' parlor I hoped they'd teach Blaze at least tiny bit of what they did to me. The experience taught me that I was far more puritanic that I've ever thought. Let's just say that some things nobles with too much free time, money, and overactive imagination want done to them were way past my acceptance level. Not that I wouldn't want to do some of those things to Blaze, I just don't want them done to me.

Well, when I got out, completely spent and satisfied out of my mind I was hungry like a mountain lion. Fortunately, food is the smallest issue here and I had a gigantic lunch delivered to my room immediately. Blaze's suite was empty and Darky was nowhere to be found so I explored the town on my own... well, when I woke up again in the evening.

The night life is where it's at, here in Golden Sands. The hard-working ponies and griffons who serve the tourists during the day need to wind down as well and, thanks to mother nature, my pure white coat is unusual even for a griffon, in a good way I mean, so I attracted attention quite easily. Fast forward two days, I've now had enough physical contact for a yea- mont- few days at least. I should feel guilty about not even bothering to check up on the others during that time but all that is drowned by my complete exhaustion.

...congratulations...

The feeling of voice in my head works better than a cold shower. Ignoring my aching body, I get up from the bed and walk on the balcony. Blaze is sitting on a chair there, calm wind playing with his blue mane, with muzzle propped on the railings. Is he asleep?

"Buddy?" I ask quietly. His hearing is pretty good so he'll hear me if he's awake and I won't wake him up if he isn't.

He turns to me and yawns.

"Oh, hi. Enjoying yourself so far?"

"Buddy, if last two days were heaven, the only thing missing was you."

"Hehe. I must admit I have few things I want to try out on you myself."

"Were you with Darky all that time?"

"Not really. She's kept to herself... until about two hours ago. I've been sitting here since, thinking."

"That doesn't sound good."

"Funny you should say that. It's good for you in every respect."

"What do you mean?"

"She... she gave up."

"I don't understand."

"She said she wasn't not going to stand between us anymore. She said you were better for me in every way. She said she'll stay my friend but get out of the way."

...aren't you happy?

Now that's nonsense, Darky's crazy about him.

...admit it...

"Why so suddenly?"

"She said that something Heavy said back in Canterlot weighed on her mind a lot, the thing about names. She... she admitted something I had no idea about and I was so close to her for so long."

"Spit it out, Blaze!"

"She's a blood drinker. She's been filing her teeth short all this time. The reason for her sleeping around every few days wasn't just her sex addiction but the easy access to blood. She admitted to cheating on me when we lived together."

Oh dear.

"Buddy," I lower my voice, "what did you do?"

"What do you think?"

...take a guess...

"You didn't..."

"I forgave her. Nothing changed from those days, I still want her to be happy and if this is what it takes then I don't mind."

I breathe out and smile. No, he didn't. He would never do something like that. He wouldn't lash out, call her names, and drive her away.

"I'll talk to her. Heck, I don't mind her being a blood drinker. I know you wouldn't mind being her juicebox. Perhaps she just overreacted under pressure, right? You said it was bothering her for a while."

...don't act as if you're not ecstatic, liar...

"If you can raise her spirits I'll show you the best trick I've learned until now, Cro."

...of course he can do better job than you, trash...

I shiver. Ponies who overthink things are out of ideas. A griffon thinking with his body has one, the one that washed away all my worries of past days at least temporarily.

"Blaze, come to Darky's suite right now."

"Why?"

"Stop asking and just do what I say!"

I rush inside and hear a click of Blaze's door. Together we knock on Darky's.

"Coming to gloat?" she smiles but her eyes betray it's not a joke.

"Not really. Coming to celebrate having one great friend and one even better pillow," I push her inside and reach for the room service button. The intercom rings.

[What can we offer you?]

"A bottle of sweet wine, a cup of B negative, and some banana daikiri. Grab some sandwhiches as well, pony variety."

[It'll be there in few minutes, sir.]

"What are ya doing?" Darky scowls at me.

"I'm trying to get both of you to drink until we pass out. A night together would do us good."

"Blaze," she looks at the unicorn pleadingly, "I want to be alone tonight."

"Chokey, nothing good ever came out of me trying to be alone. It gets too difficult to resist the little voice telling you things look worse than they are. I... have to say something as well. Cro?"

"Yes?"

"I don't know how the two of you imagine the future but I don't plan anything. All I know is that both of you are my world. There is no 'standing between us', Chokey. Without either of you I am incomplete. This isn't a relationship between two partners but between three."

...the imprint of customs and society is too strong. Your effort will fail...

Everything clicks and makes sense to me now. There is only one course of action.

"Darky, I know Blaze would love you to suck him in more way than one. I know you want to be held down and screwed hard from time to time which is something Blaze will never do. It's the same with me. I have moods when I want to be rough, brutal, in control, but I'm afraid I'll hurt the unicorn idiot who would let me do anything to him. Sometimes I need to be bound up, controlled, and whipped which his head doesn't allow him to do while you have no problem doing so. I mean it's not just sex but it's the best simile I have."

Darky takes a breath to say something but Blaze talks first.

"Somepony told me something relevant once - It's easy to be happy, just stop resisting. Chokey, there's a pony and a griffon who want you happy, just let us make you."

Darky sniffs and wipes her eyes.

"If ya keep growing like that, Blaze, I'll poison Cromach and make ya my husband, just mine," she squeaks.

*knock knock*

"Room service!" comes from the door.

I jump up, smile at the griffon hostess with the tray, and get our orders. Darky takes a sip, scowls, and sticks her tongue out.

"Bleh, disgusting. I prefer B positive," she gets a glass from a mini bar and mixes the wine with the blood, "Much sweeter."

"So," I ask, "What have you two been doing while I was 'busy'?" I take a sip from my banana drink.

"Well, ehm, I've sort of been 'busy' myself. There's this noblemare, she's like forty-five or something, who likes to get her servants into rubber suits and pretend they are her dogs as she walks them. We started talking, I mean she was talking while I was busy lower, and she-"

"Nope!"

"Maybe..."

I look at Blaze trying to hide behind a glass of wine.

"Ooookay, maybe. Only if you don't go too far then," I accept defeat, "What about you, buddy?"

"How did I spend my time? Since I can't just walk into a group of ponies and get then to start screwing each other on the spot like you can, I asked for somepony to show me around. Wilson hired a guide for me who talked my ears off. Right, I wanted to ask you something, Cro. How many Legion soldiers are usually patrolling towns?"

I rummage through the memories half a year away.

"There was usually about five or ten groups patrolling the port where I was stationed at any given time. A small town like this, even with this many wealthy tourists around, can't have that many soldiers on duty at the same time. Most of the time we were sitting in the city fortress, watching sand."

"Hmmm," Blaze scratches his chin and shakes his head, "Nevermind that now. Since I'm boring anyway, care to tell me some details about you having fun?"

Darky's eyes go wide.

"I remembered something cool. One young mare got her coltfriend's horn as a birthday present, filed into a shape to fit her-"

Horrified and fascinated at the same time, we listen to Darky talking about how pent-up unicorns can go completely crazy with lust. As disgusting as some of those stories seem I can't help noticing Blaze's tentative arousal. Perhaps he wouldn't mind having his horn filed away bit by bit and turned into a love potion that would bind him forever to serve me, ehm, us.

...you think you've won, griffon? You have no idea how fragile they really are. All you can see is a mask that works one day but fails the next. You cannot rely on base instincts to keep you together. The thestral is out now, no matter what she pretends. Now it's your time.

Whatever you are, I will stay with my friends and keep them safe.

...what a strong protective instinct, something pegasi and griffons have in abundance. If you rely on instincts to save you from me I will show you what really is ingrained in your bones. There is one thing griffons fear more than anything else.

Heh, thanks for warning me first.

...prepare as much as you like. You cannot resist what you've been told since birth. The enemy that can be anywhere, anyone, anything.

What are you?

I am your worst Nightmare.

That was unoriginal.

One down, one to go.

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