Old Flames and New Sparks

by GentlemanJ

Chapter 1

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This is a short story in The Journey of Graves.

The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.

IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.

And so, the saga continues...

Old Flames and New Sparks

By: GentlemanJ

Special thanks to long time reader Silentpegasus for inspiring key parts of this story.

Chapter 1

Spell gun slung over one shoulder and broad, flat-brimmed hat pulled low over glittering silver eyes, Graves strode his easy way back into the sunny streets he knew so well.

The marshal had been abroad for a week on official Equestrian business, pacifying a tussle between werewolves and villagers that had taken longer than he’d hoped, but less than expected. As always, it really just boiled down to a border dispute between expanding boundaries and traditional lands that took a good bit of negotiating – and by negotiating, Graves meant the copious use of hard stares and harder fists. Eventually, both sides were appropriately placated and peace was brokered between the villagers and their new, lycan neighbors.

It was thus, with a job well done, that the silver-eyed soldier bade farewell to those mist-chilled woods and returned to good old Ponyville.

Honestly, he’d missed it. He’d missed the happy people, the good weather, and of course, Rarity and the girls. Rarity mostly. That’s why in an act as uncommon as a poor boy singing the fandango, Graves felt a small, but genuine smile crease the corners of his lips as he fingered the neatly wrapped parcel tucked away in his pocket.

In an increasingly common practice of late, Graves had brought back yet another trinket from the lands of his travels. Today’s gift was a broach of intricately knotted silver, crafted metal that the villagers said would ward off bad luck and ill fortune so long as it was worn. Not really sure what bad luck or ill fortune Rarity would need to ward off, but that wasn’t the point. Graves did it because when Rarity smiled that beautiful smile of hers, her sapphire eyes always lit up that in ways that outshone any jewel he could have brought.

In fact, just thinking about those sparkling eyes quickened his pace as Graves ascended the stairs to his porch and made for the door. It’d just be a quick stop. He’d drop off his spell gun, take a quick shower to freshen, and head over to the boutique before dinner. He could give her the broach over a nice pizza at the Sweetwater Café and then they could–

Hand over the handle of the door, grey eyes hardened as the marshal froze.

Peaceful though Ponyville may have been, Graves was a soldier, and no amount of cheery smiles or friendly hellos could scour the stripes from that tiger. Even in the safety of Equestria’s heartland, the marshal still held fast to the tips and tricks that had saved his life countless times before. Check your shoes for corpsemaker spiders. Slice your fruit to reveal mini explosives. And of course, always mark safe house entrances for signs of intrusions.

Magic wards were a given, but those could be unwoven. That’s why whenever Graves left, he always inserted a single hair into the space between the door and frame, just beside the door knob where an extended hand would most likely hide it from view. The hair was still in place, which would normally indicate that nobody had entered while he’d been away. Normally, though, people don’t add a third check by jimmying door handles to only fully return to place with a deliberate pull upwards.

Someone like Rarity, who often let herself in with a spare key, would leave all signals tripped as expected. A devious thief might hit the spells and miss the rest. But when someone was careful enough to reset both spells and the literal hair trigger and only missed the most subtle clue of a knob's faint rattle in the barest of loosened states?

That spelled trouble.

Slowly, almost casually, Graves opened the door to his house and walked in as if nothing were the matter. His mind, however, was racing at two miles a minute while gunmetal grey eyes scanned the surroundings for possible threats. A few practiced scans revealed no trap glyphs or trip wires, and a fully opened door eliminated the most obvious blind spot. This allowed his first few glances to clear the two-story living room and accompanying kitchen. Nothing amiss.

That just left upstairs.

Slinging his spell gun onto a peg on the wall – it wouldn’t do him much good in the tight quarters above – Graves took measured steps up towards the balcony of the second floor for a closer look. The spare rooms, the one which would have housed the four other marshals, were completely undisturbed. Only the door to his room had been altered and in the same way as the front door. The hair was placed as it was and the spells untriggered, but the door knob was ever so slightly loose.

Whoever had broken in had gone into his private quarters. Whether they’d come out was a whole other question.

Muscles primed and nerves twitching like electrified eels, Graves pushed open the door and–

–leaped back as something yanked it hard from the other side whilst a glinting flash of silver marked a blade’s slashing path for where his throat had been an instant before.

Even before the swing finished, the knife altered trajectory mid flight to thrust out in pursuit of Graves. He pivoted on his heel to let the blade pass before his face, but it twisted about in agile fingers for a reverse grip thrust headed straight for his eyes. However, these few moments were all the marshal needed.

As he blocked the assailant’s arm with a quick strike and twisted to seize the wrist, his other hand came up with his own sturdy field knife in a vicious, disemboweling thrust.

His target blocked the upwards strike with a counter blow of its own and spun opposite leg around to kick Graves in the short ribs. Graves, in turn, dropped his knife to catch the leg, pivoted once more, and used the momentum to bodily toss the assailant off the balcony and onto the floor below. And yet, instead of breaking its neck, the marshal’s attacker contorted in midair to hit the ground in a flawless roll and came up smoothly into a nimble, ready crouch.

Reaching down to pick up his knife, gunmetal greys locked onto their target as Graves warily descended the stairs.

Whoever or whatever the attacker was, it was well trained. Even after taking that fall, it hardly seemed worse for wear as it waited, weight evenly balanced on the balls of its feet in the perfect balance of tension and ease. So a professional then, even more apparent given the nature of its equipment. The straight foot of double-edged steel was as quality a piece of steel as Graves ever seen, and the sturdy black leather suit could probably deflect all but the most intent of slashes and thrusts. In fact, the suit was practically a full suit of armor as it left only a thin slit between matching mask and hood to reveal a pair of blazing green eyes.

For whatever reason, it seemed that somebody really wanted Graves six feet under and had gone to very great length to ensure it damn well happened.

In the brief, vulnerable moment between steps, the assailant dashed forward once more and slashed at the marshal’s descending leg. Fortunately, Graves anticipated the attack and had leaped over the railing to get at his attacker’s blindside. However, the attacker seemed to have anticipated that in turn and launched a thrusting back kick that might probably have taken his head clean off.

Kick led to slash, slash to riposte, riposte to strike, and so on. Back and forth, the two went, a whirlwind of slashing blades and lashing blows, each movement a deathblow in itself, yet also the part of a greater battle. Every attack sought to gain ground, a stronger footing, a better angle, anything that could help secure victory. Never more than a hair’s breadth from a viciously bloody end, gambles were made on life and limb as the two fought desperately to tip the precarious balance from the razor’s edge.

And then he struck. In the briefest of moments when their blades met, Graves channeled and released the magic he’d carefully scraped together throughout their deadly waltz. It wasn’t much – he could hardly spare the concentration to gather more than a trickle of mana – but it was enough to shock his opponent and numb the weapon hand for just a moment. That moment was all it took.

In that blink-long space of surprise and pain, a sharp blow freed the knife, a swift kick unbalanced the body, and Graves sent the assailant crashing down to the unforgiving floorboards below. It was only then, when the marshal had his knee pressed into his assailant’s gut and held his silver blade pressed to the throat, that he finally spoke.

“Alright,” Graves growled, his heart pounding as steely eyes flashed with deadly intent. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t gut you like a trout here and now.”

Though the marshal’s attacker was the one facing the prospect of an impromptu tracheostomy, emerald eyes held not the faintest fleck of fear at all. On the contrary, they sparkled with something that almost seemed… amused.

“You need reason?” the assailant asked, its voice ringing with laughter. “Fine, I give you reason. You will not take my life because I am me, Syerivolt.”

Breath hitched. Grey eyes widened. Silver blade clattered to the floor as Graves reached out to tear off the mask and reveal a smiling face.

“No,” Graves whispered. “It can’t be…”


Rarity was thoroughly pleased.

Graves was back. Late of course – she’d long since learned that a “few days” the marshal’s books might very well end up considerably longer – but back nonetheless and this was most pleasing indeed.

But really, why did he have to travel so often? Oh sure, there were the usual explanations. Duty. A calling. The need to prevent death and destruction the likes of which mere mortals could scarcely dare to comprehend. Rarity knew them all was proud like a mother hen of Graves for doing what he did, but that didn’t make his absence any less pleasant.

Though she rarely voiced it aloud – it wouldn’t do to inflate a man’s ego too much, now would it? – Rarity absolutely adored having Graves around. That’s why the violet-haired beauty was thoroughly convinced that instead of being out on the road so much, the raven-haired soldier would do much better by staying home more often and engaging in all wonderful activities young couples were so oft to do. Just think about it. Instead of guns and guts, wouldn’t a day strolling through Canterlot be so much better? They could go shopping, visit some of those delightful art museums, and maybe even catch one of the capitol’s truly stunning operas. Wouldn’t that be so much fun?

… Okay, maybe Graves wouldn’t be quite so keen on that sort of day, but that’s when Rarity reminded him of all the benefits just being together brought. For that, she always dressed the part, like with today’s turquoise sundress and little bowler hat, both hand embroidered with tiny lavender flowers to bring out the violet of her tresses. Yes, Graves may not have been much of a society man, but he was an absolute sucker for her.

Anywho, none of that was really important as trips to Canterlot weren’t anywhere in the near future. Right now, Rarity was much more concerned with simply seeing the marshal once more, and that merry little prospect put an extra pep in her step as she sashayed her way up the front porch steps.

As she came to the door and took the handle, however, a strange sound came through the sturdy oak panels to meet her ears. By the familiar rumbles of his gravelly baritones, Rarity could tell the source was Graves. What confused her so was that the voice, so familiar that she could pick it out from a sea of thousands, was accompanied by one she’d never heard before.

“Graves?” Rarity began as she slowly opened the door. “Darling, is that–”

“–and then I say, ‘Of course I shot him. Who wouldn’t?’”

And Graves laughed. It wasn’t loud, nor was it grand, but it was that sort of deep, pit of the stomach chuckling that shakes the entire body as whatever the marshal heard sounded out as pure, comedic gold. Graves was amused, and to a degree Rarity had only seen enough times to number on her fingers. With room to spare.

As the laughter finally died down, Graves turned glittering silver eyes, still sparkling with amusement, towards the sound of the open door.

“Oh, hey Rarity,” he smiled, looking about as bright and happy as an unlit jack-o-lantern, which would be the equivalent of ear-to-ear grins on anyone else. “Sorry I didn’t come over yet. Planned to, but just found out that I got a visitor.”

Sapphire eyes quickly flicked over to the lone stranger at the table. Clad completely in black leather, her luxurious mane of bright gold hair and blazing green eyes lit up a face that was still stunningly beautiful despite the long, faint scar crossing one cheek.

“Very pleased to meet you,” the pretty dressmaker smiled despite her confusion as she approached for a handshake. “I’m Rarity, proprietress of Carousel Boutique on the north side of town. And you are?”

The woman looked Rarity over, a quick glance, but precise and exacting as the most razor sharp of scalpels. Then, with a pleasant smile and a surprisingly firm grip, one that might even have surpassed Applejack's, the woman replied in an exotic, smoldering voice,

“Araneida Roamanov, Director of Security for the Stalliongrad Governing Body, and” she finished with a smiled to Graves, “this one’s former lover.”


Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes
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