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It took him a couple of seconds, but after a deep breath to steady his emotions and focus on the future prospects to meet that goal, Iron nodded a couple of times. "I will give it my all," he soon answered with renewed but tempered hope.
"Good" she says, petting the back of his neck.
"You'll do well. I'm sure of it."
Iron in turn held her closer with his forelegs, breathing contently yet utterly beyond his depth. It was a good journey as any, he supposed.
She places a foreleg over his back, and makes slow, long pets
Thus, Iron made himself as snug as possible under Cauldron's serene ministrations with a happy little grin.
Black Cauldron shifted herself, a little back, and a little to the side, to try to make herself more comfortable. She closes her eyes and places her forelegs next to her, relaxing in his embrace. Iron has more difficulty, surely, trying to keep himself supported just high enough that he does not crush her. They remain like this for some time, with the sound of the rails passing under them, and the air passing the cars. Time is hard to measure in such a position. More likely than not, Iron starts to nod off. Black Cauldron certainly does, or seems to, anyways.
Iron is awoken by the sound of curtains moving. White Sands, sitting in the seat, has moved a part of the curtains to the window, giving her a view outside into the passing scenery.
Feeling refreshed, Iron carefully gets off Cauldron, making sure she gets the rest she needs for the mission ahead, before slowly walking over to Sands to see how she's doing.
White Sands sits in the seat, with her hindquarters down, and forelegs together. Her long red tail wraps around her in the seat, before falling off the edge. Her muzzle looks long and thin, and indeed so does much of her body. Her legs and chest are visibly fluffy, even from Iron's perspective.
Her eyelashes are long, and her forest green eyes look almost squinted as she looks outside at so many passing trees. Her eyes move to Iron, along with her muzzle, as he tries to get up. She is almost perfectly expressionless as she looks at him. But she turns her head back, and looks out the window.
The native promptly walks over to her, seating himself next to her to watch the window himself. It would seem Sands has something weighing down on her mind and it was most likely about what happened not too long ago with Cauldron.
White Sands again moves her head to Iron, but again turns it to the trees.
The rail line is raised on gravel at least by a meter above the ground, though at points, the train seems to ride a cliffside, 10 or even more meters above the ground level of the forest. The land is cleared at least 30 meters from the rail line, although small trees have begun to regrow almost everywhere. The trees that pass are huge, broad leafed dark green trees of semi-tropical clime, occupying a middle ground between jungle and temperate forest.
Turning to see Sands proper, Iron gently puts a hoof on her shoulder, feeling something's up and is willing to discuss it if there is.
She turns to him, and asks,
"Does this area get any forest fires? Do you know?"
"I do not know," Iron replied with a shake of his head, keeping his reassuring hoof on her shoulder.
"I thought you might, being from the region and all. Then again, maybe this isn't the same region. It's a big land."
She turns her head back to the passing trees.
"Look at them, so tall and straight. So bright and green. It makes me think of the forests back home. It is colder and dryer there. Yet still the trees grow tall and thick with leaves. They seemed taller than this. Quite a bit taller, towering over you. They probably weren't though. These are probably taller. But the trees back home seemed taller. And their leaves were fat and thick, with a hard coating. Almost like a cross between a pine needle and a cactus. They grew so close together that beneath them it was black as night. You couldn't see part of the sun. Anyways, the reason I mentioned forest fires is because forest fires would happen in those woods, so I am told. Not that I saw any. And the trees, you see, the forest fires wouldn't kill the trees. Not like it would normal trees. The trees had thick, almost plastic bark. So thick an axe would almost bounce off. And their stumps were thick too. You see, the fires wouldn't kill them. But it would mangle them. Char them to the barest stump, explode their branches. All that was left was a little charred remnant. And the trees would grow back, but they wouldn't grow back normal. They'd grow back twisted, or out of a side. They'd have big black jagged charcoal trunks with another trunk growing out sidewise, and long thin branches that looked out of place.
That must not be how it is here. If there are fires here, it must kill the trees, and leave behind only ash and sunlight. I like the trees here better."
Iron nodded softly, understanding what she meant. "Forest fires can happen in jungles," he told Sands with a nod. "In fact, it's somewhat common, depending on the tribe being nomadic or not."
“Huh.” She looks back to Iron. Her eyes are as green as the trees outside.
“Well that answers that. I wonder if if kills the trees. I bet it does.”
She turns, and looks back to the trees.
“I wonder how old these are.”
"It does," Iron agreed with a nod "but it is usually done to keep the lands fertile for new generations of plants to take over after the tribe has done its deeds."
“It is done? Who sets the forest on fire?” She sounds surprised, again turning to him.
"The tribe in question," Iron replied in a matter of factly manner. "That is what their elders taught them would help nature."
She looks at him, eyes fairly wide, for a few seconds
“Huh. I should have expected you…. Equestrians would try to bend nature to your advantage. Even the fire burns when you want. Must be a tamer nature. It’s always warm here, and the rains come….”
She trails off, and looks outside.
"It is more of a give and take," Iron reasoned with a small smile. "We help nature, nature helps us."
However, something piqued his interest, soon tilting his head. "I am Equestrian?" he asks with some curiosity.
She blinks, and then curls her lips
And again, she looks out the window.
“I am not from here.”
"I do not know what the term 'Equestrian' is," the native admitted with a sheepish smile.
“You know. Ponies. From Equestria. Not from other places.” She lowers her head and her shoulders.
“Equestria is gone anyways. I don’t care if you don’t claim the name. I don’t claim it. I’m not Equestrian. I doubt your mare friend over there is either.” She turns over and looks to Black Cauldron. Then she again turns, more slowly, to look out the window.
“I’m just saying. The whole ‘stewards of nature’ thing is something I associate your people with.”
"Oh," Iron uttered before nodding with a happy smile "I certainly think that sort of way."
Following his cheerful smile, he soon wrapped his foreleg around her shoulders, pulling her close enough for their coats to touch. "Something tells me you are having some dark thoughts in your head," he bluntly guessed, open to give out comfort if need be.
“Why… do you say that?” She asks, looking up to him, with no hint of a smile.
"Personal experience," Iron nonchalantly answered as his smile faded slightly.
Her head faces the forest. The trees extend forever, some higher, and some lower, as hills pass by, with a few jagged rock formations of mountain foothills sometimes showing past the trees.
“Do you think I can’t see that I’m outclassed?”
Her voice almost breaks, and she swallows after closing her mouth.
“What am I doing here, so far away from home?”
This statement, unlike the last, seems to be aimed towards herself, rather than Iron.
"I am not too far off," Iron mused, reminding Sands of his presence by squeezing her a bit with the foreleg currently perched on her shoulders. "I walked away from my idyllic village all the way to this confusing concrete jungle where my value as a fighter is less worthy than a math lover's."
The stallion exhaled softly, soon looking at the scenery proper. "I sometimes think that I am not cut out for this life either," he softly admitted. "Frankly, I have no idea what Cauldron saw in me to actually accept my love proposal. I am just a fighter without a leader."
Without a word, she turns her muzzle and both eyes to Iron. She stares at him, with sad green eyes in silence for an extended period of time.
Iron soon used his other hoof to cup Sands' cheek, staring at her with a fond smile on his lips. "Perhaps it was fate that tied us together," he presumed. "Both lost souls trying to adapt to both our home's wants and the world we are unequipped to deal with."
She blinks, as her face is turned to his. Her lips pull up, and it seems she begins to smile.
"It would seem we are meant to be together," Iron further assumed as the foreleg wrapped around his shoulders soon pivoted towards her mane, giving it long strokes. "Help eachother out and overcome the circumstances we have been thrusted into, voluntarily or otherwise."
She smiles now a bit more warmly. Her mane is long, and has a few tangles. She moves her neck back so Iron can more easily stroke it.
“For what it’s worth, I think my mother would find you acceptable.”
Iron couldn't help but chuckle softly at the remark, soon nuzzling her neck with a happy smile. "I will take that as a compliment," he answered in kind, happy to please.
She lets him nuzzle her neck, stretching it out slightly. Her fur is fine, long, and a snow white, soft to the touch. Her eyes close on her smiling face.
Iron breathed out contently, simply basking in the smooth texture he has sunk his muzzle into, "Rest assured," he prefaced amidst the coat around his mouth "I will not rest until you can make your mother proud to have me around."
want to have me around?" She asks
"Despite the bumpy trail we have treaded," Iron admitted with a sheepish smile "I do admit I would miss you if you happen to flee. Both body and
He accentuated his last sentence by pulling out of her neck in order to plant a small peck on the tip of her snout.
She closes her eyes, and moves her muzzle back in a flinch at the peck.
She smiles, and raises her left hoof up, then lowers it back down.
Iron smiled back with a small tilt of his head, feeling what Sands did had some sort of meaning he didn't get.
She leans forward, and with her muzzle, nuzzles Iron's cheek, and then his neck.
Being unaccostumed to being the nuzzled rather than the nuzzler, Iron couldn't help but flinch in surprise yet kept himself steady with an uneasy, embarrassed smile on his face.
She moves her head back, and looks at Iron with a someone toothy smile.
Iron couldn't help but chuckle to shake off his flustered self. "S-sorry," he stammered out "I am not used to that."
She turns her head down and away, but focuses her eyes on Iron in a playful manner.
Iron, thinking he was taking the bait, gives Sands a small peck on the exposed cheek she allowed.
Iron couldn't help but giggle softly, a blush creeping up his cheeks. "Eye for an eye, huh?" he jokes with mild amusement and a healthy dose of embarrassment.
"I'm extra fluffy" she says, blinking to bat her eyes towards him