It's safe to say he returned with her. How can I blame him? It's tough to be part of something like that, to be presented such an option, and turn away that kind of power. And what of her? No doubt feeling trapped in a cage, yearning to stretch her legs and breathe fresh air once again. How could you look at one like that and say no?
Still, this changes nothing. If anything, maybe he'll understand what I'm doing. What I'm trying to accomplish….
I'll ask Harley what to do.
Previously, on MAQ: You introduced Leifjka, aka "Leafy" to Sweetie Belle, in the hopes that if she saw you and Leafy around she wouldn't assume the worst. Things went pretty smoothly, as far as you can tell. They seem like they'll get along at least.
Afterward, you and Leafy trekked to the Everfree on the suspicion that it was in fact the forest Leafy once called home.
Sure enough, as she spoke with one of the trees, it was revealed to her that it had once been her home. Muttering something about the forest having corrupted itself, she began to weep. But sadness soon gave way to rage. Swearing she would cleanse her once home, she turned a tree to a sapling in an instant, rendering the old husk of the tree into flecks of grey ash. You held her in a comforting embrace as she began once more to grieve. When she was finally able to pull herself together, the two of you went to your home.
Leifjka going straight to bed, no doubt worn down by her sudden surge of power, you waited until Sweetie arrived with dinner. The two of you enjoyed the sweets of Sugarcube Corner before sharing a tender moment while Leafy slept upstairs in your bed. Before she left, Sweetie made you a pretty sweet blanket fort to sleep in. She may be kind and forgiving, but she wasn't about to let you sleep in the same bed as another mare. But she couldn't just let you sleep in your office chair, either.
Reminding yourself of what you already have and how good it is, you saw Sweetie out before collapsing into the blanket fort and being swept away into fiery dreams.
More than a little of your dreams were strange and ever shifting, the perspective sometimes showing yourself.
Despite the strange dreams, you sleep soundly.
That is, until, you awake to the smell of something burning.
>>595960 You jolt upright with a gasp, nearly bashing your head against the chair holding up this end of the blanket fort. Dim light shines through the thin blanket above you and illuminates a thin smog within the fort. Untangling yourself as quick as you can without hitting the chairs, you slowly crawl out of the blanket fort as a pair of voices giggle. "Well, I think he's awake then."
You poke your head out from the fort, blinking tired eyes in an attempt to focus them faster.
Leafy and Sweetie stand at the stove, Sweetie looking down at you with a broad grin as Leafy, wielding a spatula in her mouth, flips something in the pan over.
"Good morning!" Sweetie says cheerily, turning enough to reveal an apron covered in little hearts, "We're making breakfast!" Leafy puts the spatula down on the counter beside her, turning with a smile that only shows hints of embarrassment.
"Well, I'm doing most the cooking after Sweetie burned the first batch of pancakes."
Sweetie giggles, cheeks blushing slightly as she waves toward the table behind you.
"I set out all the plates and silverware though! And made coffee that isn't burnt!"
"Something tells me it's quite the accomplishment for you," Leafy says in a sweet tone.
"Hey! I've gotten better since I was a filly. I can make a few things without burning them completely."
"Remind me to give you some pointers."
"You didn't even know how to turn the stove on!"
It's Leafy's turn to blush as she struggles to come up with a response. >Try to keep the two civil >Just take your seat at the table and hope breakfast isn't a pile of burnt mush. >Player Choice
"Hey, I'm sure the two of you did a fine job. Together. Right?" you say as you move to stand beside Sweetie, putting her between you and Leafy, "And how's my Sweetie this morning?" you murmur before leaning in and giving Sweetie a kiss. One that she returns firmly with a pleased hum.
If Leafy is bothered she doesn't show it as she picks up the spatula with her mouth again and flips a pancake over.
"I'm doing great!" Sweetie says happily once the two of you break your lip lock, "Though it was a little weird to see Leafy here grabbing flowers around town as I was walking over."
You turn a confused face to Leafy, who shrugs before dropping the spatula again.
"I'm baffled as to why you all put flowers around town to admire when so many of them are so tasty."
You hadn't noticed before, but the pancakes have a mix of oats and flower petals in them.
Sighing at the thought of Leafy grabbing random neighbors flowers from pots, you meander over to the table and take a seat.
The pancakes are finished and stacked in a steaming pile on a plate that Leafy brings to the table. Sweetie grabs milk and juice from your refrigerator and places them in the center of the table, beside the pancakes. You don't remember having those. Sweetie must have brought some stuff with her.
The three of you quickly dig into the great smelling pancakes, happily eating the warm food with an eagerness only the early morning can bring. The meal passes quickly and silently with all of you focusing on eating instead of conversing.
Finally, the food is gone, and you rub your full belly as Sweetie pours you a mug of coffee. Leafy leans over and smells the drink as Sweetie prepares it with milk and sugar.
"What is this bitter smelling drink again?" she asks, "Coffee?"
"Yes," Sweetie says slowly, looking rather confused, "Have you never had it before?"
Leafy shakes her head.
"I drank tea fairly often by the fire, but I've never seen this before. Is it from a plant?"
"It's from hot water run over coffee grounds or beans," Sweetie explains, "It can be served hot or cold, but is often drank with a small amount of cream and sugar to offset the natural bitterness of the coffee grounds."
"So…yes?" Leafy asks with a small smile, "I wouldn't mind trying this. May I have some?"
"Of course!" Sweetie says with a grin, quickly handing you your mug and turning to Leafy, "How much cream and sugar do you want?"
The two fall into conversation over coffee and its preparation while you sip your drink and watch the two of them. They seem to be getting along, despite this morning's little jab fest at cooking abilities.
Leafy takes a sip of her coffee and makes a face saying she's strongly considering spitting it out. You and Sweetie laugh as Sweetie tells her it takes some getting used to.
You try not to think about having to deal with a caffeinated Leifjka later this morning.
"So, Puff," Sweetie says when she's finished laughing, "How about Leafy and I stay here to clean up the place and you can go check in with Cherry? I heard she was looking for you yesterday."
Really? From who?
"Pinkie, of course. I did stop at Sugarcube Corner, remember?"
>>595966 >>595967 You grab your saddlebag and hat from behind your desk as Leafy takes some of the plates and, at Sweetie's direction, places them in the small sink built into the kitchen counter. Putting your hat on and making sure the saddlebag is strapped onto you comfortably, you walk over to Sweetie.
"Will you be here when I get back?" you ask softly, "Or do you have to go to the school soon?"
"The students won't be there for a couple of hours yet," Sweetie replies with a grin, "So if you get back fast enough I could stay a while longer."
"Make it quick it is, then," you say with a sly grin of your own before kissing Sweetie again. You catch her off guard and she lets out a little squeak when you kiss, making her lift onto the tips of her hooves in surprise.
Breaking off the kiss, you turn and nod to Leafy.
"Thanks for helping make breakfast."
"I wouldn't mind a kiss, too."
Her voice echoes in your head a bit, before she merely says, "It's the least I can do for letting me stay with you."
Sweetie smiles, unaware of Leafy's comment sent to you through your unnatural link.
Keeping it to yourself, you head out the door and to the RGIA as you look for the only pony who could be considered your boss.
>>595969 The RGIA is a din of typewriters and murmured conversations, as always. Barely an eye bats in your direction as you enter, save for the pair belonging to the pony running the reception desk this morning. The big brown stallion looks you over, head to hoof. He smiles, revealing a mouth full of crooked teeth.
"Well if it ain't Puff," Walnut says in his rumbling tone, "Just the pony Cherry was looking for."
"So I hear," you reply, "She in her office?"
"Yep," he replies, jabbing a hoof toward the office to his left, "She's got her door open. Just head on in when you're ready." >Shoot the breeze with Walnut >Head in to see Cherry >Oh crap I forgot to do something [Head somewhere else]
Your nose is assailed by the smell of strong, black coffee once again as you enter. Cherry sits behind her desk, typewriter clacking slowly as she looks from a paper on her desk to the one she's typing. You cough gently to get her attention, and she peers over the top of the large machine, blonde-gold mane a frizzled mess and some heavy looking bags under her eyes.
"Morning, Puff," she says almost huskily, the roughness sending shivers through you.
"Morning," you reply, taking a seat in the chair across the desk from her as she lifts the typewriter and sets it under her desk with a loud thud, "What was that?"
"Oh, just copying some reports for my boss," she replies, offering a weak grin as she reaches for her mug of coffee, "I'm more than glad to take a break from it. So boring." She takes long drafts from her coffee before setting the mug down with a chagrin. "Ech. Lukewarm again."
"So I was told you were looking for me," you ask, trying to ignore the raggedness of Cherry's voice when she replies.
"Yes. A pony came into the RGIA yesterday looking for you. Kinda tall lanky stallion. Thick glasses. Blue. Said he had a lead on a case you were working. When I asked him what he meant, he refused to answer. Said it was something only you'd understand or something along those lines." >Ask more about the visitor >Ask Cherry how she's doing. She doesn't sound so hot. >Thank Cherry for the info and head out. >Other
>>595974 >>595975 "Was the guy looking for me tired, worn-out, or anything like that?"
Cherry ponders, hoof on chin, before responding, "Nope. Can't say he did. If anything he was a bit nervous. Pretty normal for ponies who try to stay out of trouble and end up walking into the RGIA offices though. Especially with Walnut working the front desk." She looks at you sternly, "You know the guy?"
>>595976 >>595977 >>595978 "Maybe. Hard to say based on your description," you say with a grin, "Just messing with you. Did he say where to meet him or anything?"
"Funnily enough, he wanted your home address. Of course we didn't give him that. Not that it's hard to find you, but we weren't certain of his motive so I refused. He said to 'Meet him in the field,' said he'd be there at noon every day for the rest of the week. Cryptic. Not unlike you, sometimes."
"Tired, Puff. Been burning the midnight oil for the last few nights. Trying to catch up on paperwork and so on. Boss asking for intel on stuff out of our AOR, refuses to talk to the other divisions. Most my field agents are busy so I've been doing a lot of running around myself." She smiles, slowly lowering her hooves until they're back on her desk, "Just one of those weeks where I ask myself why I signed up for this in the first place, y'know?"
She sighs again before pushing a strand of her mane back over her ear.
"But, someone has to do it. And I want my guys here to enjoy their nights with their families. So I'm biting the bit on this one."
She sees the look on your face and laughs a bit.
"Don't gimme that look. I'll be fine. I plan to sleep long and well tonight. I'll be back to my old self tomorrow. Oh, and don't tell the guys out there about my whining. You do and let's say the consequences will be unpleasant."
"Good," Cherry says with a grin, "Glad I can trust you. If you come across anything through this lead of yours, you let me know what's up and I'll get someone to help you out or do it myself. Alright? Same thing goes if I get any information relevant to whatever you're working on right now. Or if I get a low level case. Wouldn't want to overburden you."
You thank Cherry for her hard work and thoughtfulness, though she just waves you off before straining to lift the typewriter back onto her desk. The thud it makes when she plops it in front of her is just as loud as when she dropped it on the floor.
Gandering at a clock behind her, you note it's only about 9am.
"Hey, so Sweetie and I were talking. And after getting to spend some time with her I wanted to say something."
You nearly jump as Leifjka starts speaking to you through the mental link you share, sounding as though she's right beside you, voice echoing faintly. She sounds…nervous?
"I think you're really lucky. Sweetie is…well, I'll be honest: I'm jealous. She's kinder than I thought. Far kinder than I am. Here I thought she was putting on a bit of an act, showing how great she is because I suddenly showed up. But she's not like that, is she?
You continue to walk toward home as she goes silent for a moment.
"Sorry for being so aggressive. I just…look, I know we had this conversation before. I just wanted the two weeks I spent here with you to be…I don't know. Maybe I let this all get to my head." she laughs, softly,"I guess what I'm saying is you don't have to worry about me being so forward anymore. After realizing how genuine your mate is and just thinking about how I've behaved, I decided I'll be good. I'll focus on how to fix the forest and leave all the sappy stuff to you and Sweetie."
Opening the door to your home and office, you poke your head in cautiously, not really sure what kind of scene to expect after Leafy's sappy apology.
Your living area is back in order. The blanket fort having been picked up and put away, the dishes cleaned and back in the cupboards, everything sorted and neat. Leafy and Sweetie are sitting at the table, steaming mugs in front of them. Sweetie turns around to wave at you, Leafy doing the same but a tad slower and with a slightly embarrassed look on her face.
"Hey," you say, waving back after shutting the door behind you, "You two getting along?"
"Of course!" Sweetie replies happily, "And Leafy made some really tasty tea. You should try it!"
Leifjka smiles sheepishly before taking a sip of the tea in front of her.
You look at the clock: 9:30. Still some time before Brynn will be at the field. >What do?
>>595992 >>595994 You take a seat across from Sweetie, with Leafy on your right. She pours you a mug of tea while Sweetie asks how your meeting went.
Leafy slides the hot mug of tea to you as you explain that some other pony was looking for you, and Cherry was more or less just passing the word along. Nothing to be concerned about right now.
"Well, that's good news I guess," Sweetie says, "Hopefully you'll have a quiet week."
"Somehow I doubt that," you think to yourself.
>>595993 Thinking hard and pushing on the thought, you converse with Leafy mentally.
"You know the two week limit can be altered, right? And there hasn't been a reason to end the contract yet."
"Other than my using a power without your permission," she replies, "And being a jealous mare acting like she's in her first heat. I already said what I have to say on that. I just hope you'll forgive me like Sweetie has."
>>595995 You mull over what there is to do on your list right now:
You have no active case, at least not one handed to you by Cherry or a local yet. Just stuff relating to Leafy and the ritual you interrupted the other night. A lead on that in the form of Brynn has arrived, if you're up to pursuing it.
Somehow you don't think just ignoring it will make it go away. But is it something worth looking into?
Sighing, you take a sip of your tea. The warm, minty flavor resonates inside you, clearing your head and making you feel suddenly alert.
"It's good, isn't it?" Sweetie asks when she sees the look on your face, "I already told Leafy she's going to have to share her secret with me sometime."
"It's not much of a secret," Leafy says with a grin, "But I'll show you the right flowers and plants to pick, if you like."
"Of course!" >Spend time with Sweetie and Leafy >Take Leafy to go see Cobalt >Ask Leafy if you can spend some one on one time with Sweetie >Player choice
>>595997 >>595998 >>596000 >>595999 You briefly chat with Sweetie, trying to coordinate a time the three of you can get together. Sweetie and Leafy getting along and Leafy no longer being as…forward, you wouldn't mind spending time with the two mares.
"Not until later in the week," Sweetie says sadly, "There's a field trip coming up and I have to chaperon. I'll be gone for about two days after tomorrow if none of the parents show up to chaperon instead."
It's unfortunate, but there's not much you can do about that.
You give Sweetie a parting kiss before she heads out toward the school. After she leaves, you turn to Leafy and tell her the plan to meet up with Cobalt.
"Cobalt?" she says blankly, "Do I know him?"
"He was there the night of the ritual, but probably not. Unless you could see out into where we were standing."
She shakes her head, tossing her mane about.
"Well then you'll get to meet someone new."
"How exciting," Leafy says with a grin, "I assume he's a friend?"
"….Not exactly," you reply, causing Leafy's grin to falter, "But he might have answers we need."
The two of you finish cleaning up the kitchen table and put away what's left of the tea before heading out toward Cobalt's place.
The hotel where you had that super creepy vision is still over there. Right? It has to be. Maybe if you go there, it'll jog your memory enough to remember where his house is. Unless this is where it is and it just doesn't exist anymore. In that case, it wouldn't matter. Or you could wait and talk to Brynn at noon. Maybe he could explain some of this stuff?
Leafy, meanwhile, whispers things to the grass, making them grow into varying patterns. >What do?
>>596025 Well, why are we at his house when he asked to meet in the field? He's probably waiting there, right now, ready to either be killed by the RNG and wiped from existence, or spill everything. Or kill us, one of the three.
"Well you remembered where this was," Leafy says, marveling at the buildings and bustling road, "Look how many ponies there are here!"
Some of the ponies wandering through stare at Leafy as she slowly spins in circles, trying to take in the sights and sounds of the touristy side of town. She bumps into ponies once in a while, but a few apologies and a wink get her out of any potential trouble.
You practically have to drag her away from a sweets vendor to get her back on track.
"We'll have time for sightseeing later," you remind her as the two of you enter the hotel compound, "This is more important right now."
"I know, I know," she says, "Can we at least get something sweet to eat after we're done talking to this Cobalt guy?"
"That's if he's even here," you mutter.
You and Leafy round the corner of the building that Cobalt's room was in last time.
Sure enough, Cobalt himself is standing outside his door. He stands on his hind legs, back resting against the door, forehooves crossed oddly as he chews something. >What do?
>>596045 >>596046 Does he know we have Leafy? I'm just saying to leave her behind till we started talking to him and explain we got her instead of just opening with hey Cobalt it's me and now I have a cool ghost buddy just like you.
>>596047 >>596048 I say we get him to let us talk in private before we start covering that stuff. >Does he know we have Leafy Does he even know us yet? We don't know if he has future knowledge like us and Brynn yet, so we should probably approach him in manner that won't spook him if he doesn't know us.
Walking up silently doesn't seem like a good idea, so when you reach the foot of the stairs you call up to him.
He looks down at you, halting his chewing for a moment as he narrows his eyes. He doesn't say anything for a long while, eyes glaring at you, then at Leafy, who shrinks back slightly under the withering stare.
"…I remember you," he says finally, nodding at you, "But not the mare. What do you want?"
Not so polite this time. >Explain who Leafy is >Explain the reason for your visit
"Oh good, you remember my name," he says with faux happiness, "Just tell me what you want already."
"I'm here to see Cobalt. I need to speak with him in private."
"'Fraid that's not possible at the moment," he replies, resuming chewing of whatever it is in his mouth, "He's a tad….indisposed right now."
"Having one of his visions again. Loses all touch with reality as we know it, so I wouldn't recommend being in there." He closes his eyes for a moment, eyebrows narrowing as though glaring at something under his eyelids, "That's…..not good."
His eyes snap back open, and he looks around as though lost, his expression softening.
He begins to step away from the door, but suddenly stops, shaking his head and growling. The gum in his mouth drops to the stairs as he suddenly adjusts his jaw with a loud cracking sound. When his eyes open again, they seem focused. And angry.
Muttering something under his breath he leans back against the door, in the same odd position as before.
He sighs, if the grumble that flows from him can be called that.
"I guess if you're gonna stand here and wait you might as well do something useful. Sure. I wouldn't mind something to chew on."
You look about and find a vending machine under the stairs, near the corner of the building. Luckily you have a few bits on hand and purchase a pack of gum. Leafy watches as you operate the simple machine, jumping slightly when the pack of gum hits the slot. You return to the stairs, going up and handing the pack of gum to Vernant.
"Thanks," he says simply, tearing open the pack with his teeth and pulling a piece out for himself. After a moment of thought, he holds it out to you. "I just need the one. Kid should be coming out of his vision before noon." >What do?
>>596066 >>596067 >>596068 You take back the pack of gum, stowing it in your saddlebag for the time being as Vernant gets to chomping on his new piece.
"So, you gonna wait there until he's out of it, or you gonna come back in the afternoon?" he asks. Maybe it's the gum or your imagination but he sounds slightly less grumpy than before. >Wait here, chat with Vernant >I'll come back later
"So," you start off, "What's the deal with Brynn and Cobalt?"
Vernant rolls his eyes.
"I thought he told you this stuff already. Well, alright, lemme give you my take on it," he smiles the biggest shit-eating grin you've seen, "I'm not so good at putting things delicately but here goes. So, Brynn and Cobalt work together and summon Harley when they're kids, yeah? Everything is good, at first. She can trick folk, make inanimate objects move, so on. But she's tethered to this mask. Brynn has to put it on to summon her, so they can never be in the same place at once. Weird stuff but that's how it went."
He chews his gum for a bit before continuing, holding his hooves out as though leveling something in front of you.
"Well, Brynn and Harley fancy each other. That kind of thing tends to happen when you see into each others brains and one of you is a bit of a shut-in and the other is tied to the other. Cobalt wants both of them to be around, but there's a lot of funky magic stuff going on and he doesn't know how it'll mess with things. So he doesn't summon anyone. Doesn't want to make anything get worse, as he sees it possibly being."
"Here's where things get sticky: Brynn falls head over hooves for Harley by the time the two are teenagers. Something like three years ago, he goes about performing some crazy ritual that separates her from the mask. Imagine being Cobalt, waking up one day to see both in the same place when before it wasn't possible. He was happy! Had both his friends right there!"
"But something went wrong, you see. Brynn started having horrible nightmares: Monsters chasing him, fighting with Cobalt, terrible terrible things that he only half talked about. But in the nightmares there's a clue, or so he thinks. Summon more spirits. They'll make you stronger, and you'll be freeing them from the Harbinger, the guy who gathered all these folk up like toys."
"So he starts looking through his book for ways to summon us without keeping us tethered to things or ponies. Noble, yeah?"
"Well Cobalt suddenly starts having nightmares. Apparently he was touched by the magic involved in all this before as well, so he starts having the visions. In one particularly bad one, he sees himself and Brynn dying. Torn to shreds by an unseen force. He swears up and down it was the Harbinger, or something. He knew it was related to the summonings. So when Brynn tries to summon me, Cobalt tries to stop him. Says it'll end up getting the two of them killed. And who even knows what'd happen to Harley. Cobalt tries to stop the ritual, blah blah blah, me and him end up kind of sharing a body. And a stubby pony one, at that."
"There might be more to it than that but that's the gist of what I got from him last time he tried to explain it. I might've dozed off a few times."
"I know, right? Both of them working to save something based on nightmares. Weird, innit?"
You shake your head as you regain your bearings as another question pops into your head.
"So what's with the visions he's having now?"
"Same as before I guess. He has visions. Sometimes he draws what he remembers afterward, sometimes not. He doesn't always talk about everything he sees, I imagine. I mean, heck, sometimes he just sits there for a whole day not sayin' a word. Just lost inside his own head."
Vernant shudders before lowering his voice.
"I tried to peek into his head once, with that link of ours, while he was going through one. Let me tell you, that was NOT a good idea."
He resumes chewing his gum, voice muffled by the action.
"Sometimes he has to be tied down to the bed. Physically acts out against the nightmares. Clubbed me good, once. And only once."
"Beats me, pony. I was a guest of the Harbinger for a long, long time. Couldn't tell you what happens if we're all freed, or if you stop the rituals, or what. I just know I'm on the outside for the first time in ages. If only I wasn't stuck in this body, I'd be happier than I am. You know what it's like being able to fly only to have that stripped away? To be a fierce fighter and you end up with these clumsy hooves? Aggravating, to say the least."
He huffs for a moment, no doubt stewing in his worked up state, before calming down enough to say:
"I think Cobalt knows more than he lets on. I don't know about Brynn. Never talked to him. Tussled with him a couple times, him and his mare," he smiles, "She's tougher than she looks, I give her that much."
They share a quick greeting, Vernant turning to you and cocking an eyebrow.
"I assume this is the one you gained from the ritual?"
"Well, she's not bad looking. For a pony."
"Thank you," Leafy replies, "What do you mean 'For a pony', though?"
"I'm saying, ponies aren't my preferred kind," he replies, annoyance on the edge of his tone.
"If not ponies, then what? As a pony yourself, I mean."
"Don't call me a pony!" he snaps, nearly spitting out his gum, "Just because I'm stuck in this…chubby form doesn't change what I was, what I will be, and what I am at heart. Vernant, Wrath of the Sky. Griffon."
>>596087 >>596088 "Yeah. I'm bitter about it. You're a Pegasus, you know what it's like to fly. So what happens if someone ripped your wings right off your back? You could never fly again. To know the joys of going above the clouds, where the sun shines unabated. To stand above the world supported by your own strength. And to fall onto your enemies like lightning from the fiercest storm. All of that, taken away in a flash. After years of confinement, no less!"
Better stray from the topic, lest he get too worked up.
"Well….sorry," Leifjka says, "I didn't mean to offend you."
Vernant huffs a bit before going back to chewing on his gum.
Eventually, he relaxes.
"It's fine. Not your fault. Just try not to mention it again, yeah?"
>>596090 >>596091 "What'd you see when you peeked into Cobalt's visions?" you ask tentatively. You hope the recent outburst hasn't changed his talkativeness.
Vernant shakes his head again, sighing.
"I got stuck. Both of us sitting there like ducks, lost in thoughts. I saw his visions, at first. And then I started seeing my past." He shuts his mouth for half a minute, his eyes closed as he takes some deep breaths, "What I saw in his head, though. It wasn't pretty. I've been in battles, seen foes bleed and die. But the battle I saw in his mind…." he shudders, "It was the end times. Clearly. And yet there stood but a dozen or so against some giant in the dark. Couldn't even make out his shape."
>>596093 >>596094 "Colored dots compared to the size of this thing. Some were ponies, maybe a Griffon or two. One looked like a Minotaur. I had no doubt that they were losing, though. No telling how many had fallen before that."
He falls quiet, for a time, rubbing his hooves oddly.
"I think I'd rather not talk about it. Gives me the chills. That…weird sense of foreboding."
A loud thud sounds from behind Vernant.
"Ah," he says, "Kid must be coming to."
Pensive minutes pass. The occasional sound comes from the room behind Vernant; More thuds and loud mumbling. Something shatters against a wall and a door bangs shut.
"Must've gone into the bathroom. I'm gonna check on him, make sure he's alright. If you come in, don't touch anything. Just wait for me to come back out."
He turns and opens the door, the midday light slicing a hole in the pitch blackness of the room as he heads in. A door opens toward the back, dim light from the bathroom revealing part of the room briefly before the door slams shut again. >What do?
>>596099 You peer into the room, trying to locate a clock. But the room is pitch black. No light comes in through the window at all, meaning it's probably covered by a blanket or something. The thin block of light cast through the doorway doesn't reveal much more than the edge of a bed and a distant shelf that lies empty.
>>596104 >>596105 I don't know if we should assume that: it'd be good to touch base with him and we just gained a ton of questions to ask him. Plus maybe we could find out what he was thralling about just now.
But at the same time it'd be good to get Brynn's side of the story, and I feel we're probably getting low on time to do that today and who knows what could happen to stop us from meeting him tommorrow, so I'm neutral, I guess.
If we do have time though, we should pass through the markets again en-route and get something sweet to eat for lunch on like we promised Leafy.
>>596114 >>596115 >>596116 >>596117 >>596118 With your message conveyed, you and Leafy leave Cobalt to the care of Vernant. The two of you head back through Inn Row, stopping to purchase some sweets to help take your minds off everything Vernant told you. It won't work for long, but for the remainder of the trip out to the field where the ritual took place (or will take place, right?) you and Leifjka manage to enjoy one another's company and some sickeningly sweet treats. Which Leafy can't seem to get enough of.
"Never have I had something like this!" she exclaims as she sucks on a caramel candy, making incredibly loud, appreciative humming sounds as she smiles as wide as her occupied mouth will allow her to, "It's amazing!"
Her noisy appreciation of candy draws a few eyes, but most laugh or look away as she pops another into her mouth, continuing her lavish praise.
The small bag of sweets is gone before you reach the field, Leifjka pouting as she shakes the empty bag as though hoping more will magically appear.
But the time for sweets has passed. The field comes into view, and a pair of figures stand at the edge of the clearing. Both are lying in the grass, the blue stallion reading a book while the chocolate brown mare looks up and waves to the two of you.
For a moment, it's like they're friends. Merely waiting for you to arrive to a picnic or something.
Keeping who they are in mind, you and Leafy plod down to the opposite side of the field. You're uncertain about approaching the two figures any further.
Surprisingly, Brynn and his companion get up and walk to you instead.
When they're within earshot, he calls out a greeting in a friendly tone.
"Hello!" he says, drawing closer, "I am Brynn. And this is Harley." He motions to the mare beside him, and she smiles, nodding toward you.
"I'm Puff," you reply before motioning to Leafy, "And this is Leifjka."
"Ah, so you DID accept a contract with her," Brynn says happily, eyeing Leafy up and down as though inspecting a new cart, "She's not as tall as I thought she'd be."
"I'm tall enough, thank you," Leifjka replies with a hint of annoyance. >What do?
>>596126 We'll be responsible adults and make an informed decision when we have more information. But yeah for now it seems Brynn is making it worse. And I doubt his judgement is that good after all the nightmares and falling in love with a spirit who he shared his mind with for years
"I was trying to summon another spirit, who I would eventually free from the Contract. Before you and Cobalt decided to interrupt it, that is." Brynn says crossly, "But it's fine, it's fine! You have her tethered to you for now, but we can fix that. Free her from the Contract. That way, she can be free to wander the world if she so desires."
"No, start at the top. Tell me: What are you trying to accomplish?"
Brynn sighs and adjusts his glasses, "Basically, as I understand it, the Harbinger has all these Ponies, Griffons, Minotaurs, heck even Diamond Dogs, bound to him. As Harley told me before, and as Leifjka probably told you, a green stallion appeared when they were about to…pass, or at some critical juncture in their lives, and recruited them to avoid some fate. He did this because they have powers, powers he could someday use to his advantage. Why, exactly, I'm not sure. If he had all this power to take entire beings from the flow of time to an alternate realm, what couldn't he do? Why recruit anyone?"
Brynn shakes his head, "Sorry, got carried away. Needless to say, somehow the beings he took are bolstering his power. By taking them away, we weaken the Harbinger. And in the process, free ponies and more from being trapped in the maze that is that other realm. That makes sense, right?"
"So he confesses at the first question asked. As though he's done nothing wrong."
The voice booms menacingly through your head, making you flinch and cover your ears. The others react similarly, though Brynn's eyes go wide as he mouths:
"Oh yes, Brynn. It was a matter of time before we found you. And with the help of this new, unpredictable fellow, not even your borrowed foresight could alert you."
There's a sudden boom, as though a thunderstorm just sprang upon you despite the bright and sunny weather. The ground shakes menacingly, and you fight just to stay standing. You see grass grab hold of Leifjka's hooves to steady her. Brynn falls square on his face, squirming on the ground to try and stand again while Harley turns toward the center of the field.
A tremendous noise, like trees being turned to splinters and thousands of pages being shredded, sounds as something in the field flashes. One second there's nothing, the next……
"No!" Brynn screams in the sudden quiet.
"Oh yes," the Green Stallion says with a sinister grin, "You have stolen from the Harbinger, Brynn. I have come to reclaim that which was taken. And perhaps the arrogant scholar who thought he could outsmart us, as well."
He turns his gaze to you, the grin turning more genuine.
"Thank you, Detective. You may not have known you were helping me find this troublemaker, but in the end, what does that matter? A reward will be bestowed on you, I assure you that. The Harbinger rewards those who support him."
Brynn staggers to his hooves, looking around wildly before grabbing the book from the ground and flipping through pages frantically.
Harley moves, standing in front of Brynn as the Green Stallion begins to move forward. A slow, sinister pace, with a grin to match.
Completely baseless speculative time! The Red-eyed maw isn't the Harbinger, it's something else. The Harbinger can't fight it directly, so the rent-a-spirit-buddy program is his way of recruiting a team of teenagers with attitude to deal with it.