"It will only be a few weeks, dear. Daddy will be back before you know it," he said in a warm voice, leaning in to peck a kiss on top of his filly's head, in-between the two tufted ears.

His mare squinted her slitted yellow eyes at him and snorted defiantly. She had not been in favor of the trip he was about to undertake, and took every opportunity to remind him that he was making it against her wishes.

"You know why I have to make this trip, Ice Shard," he sighed, turning towards her and giving her a soft nuzzle on her left cheek.

"To prove you're worthy of becoming the next captain of the Nightguard?" she bit at him. "Let me tell you something; you've already done plenty to prove your worth! Even IF Howling Wind were to run against you..."

Flying shook his head. "He isn't run..."

"Even if he was, I doubt he'd get the position. You know the council wants you!" his mare interrupted him. Then added "There's no need for this." in a softer tone.

Flying Thunder sighed and shook his head. "I need to prove to myself that I can handle the responsibility, Ice."

"Why?" she asked him for the millionth time since he first proposed it.

"Because it's something I think I can do," he responded. "And I won't ever know for sure unless I do it. If I make captain, what do you think will happen, dear?"

He reached a forehoof up to tousle his filly's mane as she was trying to understand the conversation her parents were having. "I won't have the time of night to take a trip like this. I'd need to make sure the Nightguards are prepared for Luna's return."

Ice Shard looked away, but he saw her give in a little. "Just make it home in one piece. I don't care about the egg."

Flying smiled and gave his mare a warm kiss on her lips, lingering a little while ignoring their filly's outcry of revulsion at her parents' open sign of affection.

"Eewwww... I will never get adults!"

Flying chuckled and moved a wing around Nightbreeze, pulling her against his side while breaking the kiss with his mare. He turned his head to look at her blushing face and nipped a kiss on her nose. "Now, will you pay attention in school while I'm gone, Nightbreeze?"

She nodded her head up and down, but he saw her starting to break before she closed her eyes and pushed up against his side, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Now, now.. I'll be back before you know it. Just be a good filly for your dam, ok?" Flying offered gently, giving a little squeeze with his wing and smiling as he saw Nightbreeze do her best to calm herself down. "That's my girl," he spoke proudly, slowly pulling his wing back and moving sideways away from her. Nightbreeze immediately trotted up to Ice Shard's side, seeking comfort with her dam.

Flying gave one last glance to them, whispered "I love you" to them both, and then turned for the door.

The egg, and his backpack, were resting on the table beside it, and he carefully fastened the latter to his back, the leather loops around his forelegs, before gently picking up the egg between his forehooves. He would not be able to carry it in his mouth, and he opted against wearing it in a saddlebag, leaving this as the only solution.

With a few flaps of his wings he was airborne and, once he was free from the confines of the house, he shot up into the night's sky with a slow turn for the South-West.

Equestria was waiting for him behind the mountain range that seperated Luna's Chosen from those living in Celestia's light, their dark peaks clearly visible in the light of the moon above. He would have to climb up into the air for several minutes, even if the plateau the city was on was halfway up the mountains already.

Carefully clutching the egg to his chest, his strong wing flaps made distance between him and his home. Between him and his mare and filly.

He never looked back. The fear that seeing his mare and filly standing outside their house would cause him to forego the plans he had been making, if he saw their pleading eyes calling him back home, prevented him.

This trip had been over two years in the making. Two years of plotting routes and sending letters far-away to make sleeping arrangements. Two years of begging and pleading with the council, Celestia's court, and his wife, to let him go through with this.

As he finally passed over the first peaks, he let out a breath he did not know he had been keeping in. A feeling of loss came over him and he struggled to keep going forward. Just looking at the dark lands below made him wonder if he really had made the right decision.

Mountain after mountain stretched for miles below him, their jagged peaks and awkward airflows enough of a hazard as it was, even without him holding an egg in his forehooves as well. But beyond the mountains would be the lowlands. The first signs of civilized ponies beside the society he came from the few farmers with their fields set against the hilly lands which would slowly turn to forests and the occasional city.

He sighed and used an updraft to fly a little higher still, the icy air at this altitude developing frosting on his muzzle.

"Just a few weeks. It's only for a few weeks. Two months and some change. Not that long. You'll see them again, Flying. Stop worrying," he chided himself, trying to reason away the growing pit in his stomach.

No matter how he tried, he could not shake off this feeling of doom as he flew through the night.

Flying landed in a field shortly before daybreak and carefully put the egg down in the long grass. He had to stretch his muscles a bit before he could approach the house farmer Barley Growing lived in. It would be his first of many homes he would be staying in during his trip.

Chancing to balance the egg between his chin and left forehoof, he gently knocked his other forehoof on the wooden door. There was no response. He tried again, a little louder this time, and was rewarded with the sound of somepony stumbling around inside.

"Yeah, yeah, hold yer stompin'. I heard ye fine th' first time!" a croaky old stallion's voice emitted from inside, and the stumbling sounds slowly made it closer to the entrance.

The sounds of some bolts sliding aside was heard, then the door opened a little to show a wrinkly face looking out in an annoyed manner. "Yeah? What do ye want, young'un?"

"I'm Flying Thunder, sir," Flying offered, nodding his head in respect to the older pony. "I come from the other side of the mountains to the East? We agreed upon me resting here this coming day?"

The stallion pushed his head out of the cottage and squinted his eyes at Flying, his breath smelling of yeast. "I don't know anyone buying sunders. I have enough sundries as it is! Don't need any more of 'em."

"Flying Thunder, sir. I'm a Lunar Pony?" Flying tried again, patiently waiting for the old stallion to remember while sitting down on his haunches, putting the egg down before him.

"A Lunar Pony?" the Earthpony farmer wondered, raising an eyebrow. "What'd ya say yer name was, young'un?"

"Flying Thunder, sir." Flying repeated again, daring a light smile. "We conversed through letters?"

The older stallion snorted at that, turning back into the room but pushing the door open further as he did. "That's allright then. Come on in. An older pony like meself can't be careful enough these days, can I?"

Flying carefully picked the egg up again and followed the stallion inside, noticing the grey sheen that had fallen over the pony's former yellow coat. His green mane and tail were even worse off than his coat, especially at the base of them where there was more grey than green.

The stallion dropped on a couch that looked as crooked and ancient as he himself, and reached for one of the open bottles laying around the house's floor. "Make yerself at home. Name's Barley Growin', but there's barely anythin' growin' in these fields anymore."

Flying nodded absentmindedly at Barley's words while looking around for a good spot to put the egg at. Noticing some pillows in a corner of the room, he quickly moved over there and put both his egg and his backpack down on it, using the latter as an extra support for the egg.

Farmer Growing burped loudly after having taken a good swig from his drink, then nodded towards a broken bed. The mattress was half supported by the beams that had not rotted away yet, and was half lying on the ground. "That'll be the bed we discussed, Scrying Flounder. Ten bits a day. Extra if ye want dinner wit' it."

Flying swallowed strongly as he looked at the decrepit bed, but dug up his coinpurse from the backpack regardless. "Deal's a deal," he muttered under his breath, picking up ten bits and dropping them on the table.

Barley's eyes grew to twice their size as he saw the coins, and he immediately roused from his seat to check to see if they were real by picking them up and biting on them in turn with his half-rotten teeth. "Well, I'll be. Yer a man of yer word! That's rare in these parts, ye know? Mostly we get bandits tryin' ta rip us off since Celestia's guards don't come here that often no more."

Flying nodded and made his way to the bed, looking it over from a closer angle. A flea jumped past him and he backed away quickly. "I'm not sure this is worth ten bits.. but we did have an agreement."

An embarrassed cough came from the farmer, and Flying turned back to him to see he split the pile of coins in piles of three and seven bits respectively.

"Take yer seven bits home with ye, young'un. I'd only said ten cause I expected ye to be an unscrupulous bastard like Flamin' Mane an' his gang. Yer welcome to stay the day. Three bits is plenty fer my drinkin' anyway."

Flying nodded to that, but still backed away from the bed. "I'll just grab a pillow and rest on the floor if it's all the same to you. The bed is.." he didn't finish his sentence as the bed behind him finally collapsed properly, the dust cloud it sent through the place wafting past his legs.

"Whoopie! Now I can finally use me mattress again!" the farmer exclaimed in excitement, and Flying just nodded to that.

"Right. I'll just be lying down here then," he muttered, trotting over and lying himself down on the floor beside the egg.

Apart from the sounds of farmer Barley stumbling about and clanking bottles together, Flying had a decent day's rest. When night fell however, he was quick to fly out the door with his egg and backpack in tow. The place had left him feeling dirty, and he was sure the smell of yeast that hung about the place had pulled in his own coat.

As he flew over the fields, he kept a look out for a body of water to wash himself in. It took him a little while to spot a shallow river coming down from the mountains, weaving its way between the hills and pausing at a small pool made in the hollow between a couple of them. While the river was flowing steadily past it, the pool itself seemed largely undisturbed, and Flying quickly flew down to land on its shore.

Considering the fleas he spotted in the cottage, he could not scrub himself hard enough with the brush he took from his backpack.

Standing immersed to his neck in the pool, with his head turning this way and that as he held the brush between his teeth, he cleaned his back, sides, under his wing joints, and eventually ducked his head under fully to scrub under himself, flakes of dirt from the farmer's house drifting past him back into the flow of the river.

He did not feel better until he was assured he had thoroughly cleaned every single part of his dark grey coat, including his dark blue mane and tail. Tossing the brush back toward the shore, he blinked his eyes open to see three Earthponies up on the nearby hill looking down at him.

The one in the center had a wild red mane with lighter streaks through it, and only his right eye was open. The left had a scar running across it. Patches of his coat were missing, with similar scars running across his features. Clearly this was the "Flaming Mane" that the farmer had spoken of.

On his left side was a smaller mare, her eyes holding a fury to them that Flying had only seen in Ice Shard's eyes when he had done something terribly wrong. He did not even know this pony and already she was ready to tear him to shreds, it looked like. She didn't look too bad, though. White coat, blue mane... If in any other situation, his eyes might have lingered on her for far too long.

The stallion on their leader's other side had a green coat with some blood running down his leg from a fresh cut on his left shoulder. More than that; he looked to have been in a fight real recently. His eyes looked bloodshot, his muzzle was thick as if he had incurred several heavy blows on it, and his right ear was missing its tip.

Flying carefully made his way to his belongings, closing up his backpack and swinging it over his still wet back. "I'll be gone in a moment, guys," he offered in as non-threatening a manner as he could.

"The only place ye'll be goin' is to yer grave!" the mare spat out, dashing forward but jerking to a stop and collapsing in a heap on the ground as the fire-maned stallion took her tail in his mouth and pulled her back.

"Calm yerself, Blizzard," the leader's deep voice grumbled. "Ain't no way ta greet a night stallion. 'specially not under his lady's gaze."

Flying looked up at the other stallion's only open eye and raised an eyebrow. "As I said; I was already leaving. I don't want to interfere in anything. As far as I'm concerned, we never met."

The leader shrugged at that and turned away. "If that's ta case, I take me hooves off of this. Do wit' him what ya will, Bliz."

Flying winced at the other's dismissive attitude and quickly scooped his egg up in his forehooves as he took flight, narrowly evading a headbutt from the mare jumping up at him and rising up in the air with the scoffed laughter of Flaming Mane in his ears.

With his heart thumping from the encounter, he searched for an updraft and used it to keep his wings at rest while still soaring upwards. If the rest of Equestria was this welcoming of strangers, this trip may prove to be more difficult than he had initially thought.

How come he had not heard of bandits in the North-Eastern farmlands? What else did his penpals 'forget' to mention? Was Celestia even aware that these things were going on in her realm?

Sure, his fellow Lunar Ponies were a rowdy bunch, especially after a few drinks, but the council made sure to send the Nightguard out to stop any actual crime once they heard of it.

Right?

But if an Alicorn like Celestia did not even have a hoof on this bunch, perhaps not all crime was gone from the Lunar Republic?

Food for thought, to be sure. Especially on the long nights ahead. The next stop was in a valley a few miles north of Hollow Shades. His contact had told him it would be easily spotted as the mountains made a bit of a U-shape and had train tracks running through them.

Flying looked down at the landscape below and spotted what could be a few mountains over in the South. He quickly turned for them and started to make some speed, wanting to get as much distance between him and the bandits from the farmfields as possible.

Sure, he could hold his own if needed. But not while keeping the egg safe at the same time. And getting the egg safely to the other edge of Equestria and back was his prime concern now.