The standard issue Equestrian Royal Guard armor took its roots to the very foundation of Equestria itself. Armor was first crafted when Lord Terraria found himself fascinated by the idea of using the metals of his own earth as a form of formal wear, but while seen as bold and powerful they were hardly fashionable or convenient due to their weight, especially on the light and nimble pegasi. Of course the armor found its use during the war, what with being able to deflect all sorts of sharp objects and blows to the body. After the war, the armor was left in the hooves of the Princesses. Neither Celestia nor Luna had any sort of idea what to do with the armor.
Luna was eventually had the idea to turn the armor into standard excavation gear for the exploration of some of the more difficult areas in old Equestria, but it was Celestia who had the idea of using it to allow ponies to safely traverse the Everfree Forest and the dangerous creatures within. As time went on the full-body casing was eventually cut down to the handsome head, neck, and back cover it is today.
In the days of re-exploration any pony could commission the armor for travel, though the travelers and explorers themselves soon began to shun the hot, heavy armor and bring along armored ponies to guard them. The guards were quickly seen as walking beacons of safety and protection, commissioned even by the Princesses themselves. When most of Equestria was retaken by the ponies, the guards soon seemed to be out of a job. Despite their dwindling need, the Princesses decided the sense of relief and duty the armored guards instilled in everypony was just as important as their former guard jobs were and created the Equestrian Royal Guard to serve as security, first and foremost, but also a reminder of what honor and lawfulness truly was.
Getting back to the armor itself, it did its job well of protecting the vitals. Though the issue of leg-coverings was brought up several times, they were rejected for the freedom it offered in return. Being a mixture of gold-coloring and several other metals it looked fantastic and stayed quite hardy, and thanks to its many renovations proved to be quite freeing and handsome on anypony that wore it.
That said, it was still heavy.
“Extend those hooves Blueblood! Use those pearly whites if you have to!” Cupcakes roared across the training course. Blueblood’s hooves thundered up the wooden ramp after dropping from a climbing wall. Sweaty and exhausted, the stallion continued to pace his steps and suck in deep breaths. He reached the edge of the ramp with his front hooves and kicked off the platform, his forelegs extending to grab onto the hanging cargo-net in front of him. It was only with the slight sinking feeling brought on by free-fall did he realize he wasn‘t going to make it. He flailed his hooves in the air in a panic but never came close to grabbing the net as he sailed right under it. He fell into the mud below with an audible ‘plop!’
“That armor cleaning is coming out of your pockets Blueblood!” Cupcakes announced. Blueblood was very happy the mare could not see him over the wooden walls forming the pit because he was spitting enough curses to make Celestia blush. “Zecora, lower those haunches when you crawl, you’re not looking for a pick-me-up here!”
Blueblood took a moment to catch his breath, turning his head to face the steps that would get him out of the pit. It had started so simple: they armored up, they admired themselves in a mirror for a while, and then they took their spare time to admire themselves some more. Blueblood thought of himself looking particularly dashing in the armor, well enough to get that Spitfire mare to stare for a few seconds. When he first put it on, he had felt the armor’s weight but not its burden. It felt sort of good having a bit of stress on him, like a good long stretch, but it became the slightest bit more painful when Cupcakes entered the room and ordered them out.
Cupcakes had hustled his team out to the base of Canterlot’s mountain - a good endurance run since they took the road down - where an impromptu camp was being rapidly set up to house all the ponies that were migrating from around Equestria. Cupcakes, as promised, worked them with push-ups, sit-ups, merciless jogging, all kinds of little body exercises, one after another in nice big numbers that left them gagging for breath with the taste of bile in the back of their throats. After finishing one last sprinting session Cupcakes gave them a break to get water and have some medics check them over, then plowed them through the obstacle course.
Blueblood was a royal. That wasn’t something you worked for! It was something you were born with! All his life he was told he was special. He was given everything he wanted, everything he needed, and he let the other ponies do the hard work for him. While he had still exerted himself and his impressive natural magical talent in Celestia’s Academy he was still given a lot of leeway and experts for private tutors. In all of his life this obstacle course was honestly the very first time Blueblood had taken all four hooves off of the ground at the same time.
He supposed his healthy eating and the large, strong body he was born with helped stave off some of the pain, but the only thing driving Blueblood through the course now was adrenaline and his own stubborn will and even those were getting fed up with Cupcakes. With his teeth grit Blueblood began to lope towards the stairs.
“EEK!” Blueblood paused and looked up in time to watch one of the ponies he was being drilled with land on him, sending him to his stomach into the awful mud below. Again. For a brief moment near murderous rage went through his legs as he lifted himself up slowly, the pony on his back struggling to slide off. After an almost compromising display, the pony in question hit the mud with a splat. He turned to fix his glare on the pony who had landed on him, who tarnished his coat with more mud, who dared to touch his royal hide. Blueblood fixed his eyes on the mare with a stern glare.
Derpy Hooves groaned softly, rubbing her stomach and chest with one hoof while her taped wings weakly flitted in their bindings. This was the mare he bumped into earlier today. He recognized her colors, but couldn‘t recall her name. Other than her looks he didn’t really recall much about her. Oh, no, she’d fought one of those great pony-eater things.
‘Yet she couldn’t make the jump.’ He thought with an ironic smirk. ‘Neither could you, big man,’ chimed another part of his mind. He quelled his thinking sourly when she opened her eyes to look up at him. “Well this has been a swell day for us hasn’t it?” He grumbled. They were teammates, so he supposed he should consort with her somehow. That starts with meeting her eyes. Eye… Wait… “Sweet Celestia,” he reared back, “What did you do to your eye?” He asked while his face wrinkled in disgust, the one good eye focused on him as the other stared off elsewhere.
Derpy shook her head, attempting to remove the offensive mud from one of her ears. “Huh?” She took a moment to get to her hooves and look around for a moment, and then it hit her. She smiled a bit sheepishly to the colt, almost apologetically, “Nothing did! I was just born with it like this!” She tapped the right side of her head with her hoof and Blueblood could only watch with a feeling of unease as she rolled her eyes around. Her eye was stuck looking the wrong way.
“That’s-” Blueblood took a closer look at the eye and Derpy held still for him. “How do you go about with this? Your vision must be awful with an eye like that, can’t you get it corrected?” He asked as he tried to puzzle out why this pony would walk around with her eye out of place. It was just plain odd, not to mention incredibly disturbing to watch.
“Oh, it’s not that bad, I can still see and stuff.” She closed her bad eye and smiled at him with her one correct eye still open, “I’ve never had two good eyes so I’ve never really had a problem seeing wrong. Besides, everypony in Ponyville thinks it looks nice.” She opened her eyelid again, her cocked eye looking off into the distance.
Blueblood once again cringed at the way it moved, but forced himself to stare. “Well, still, you’d look much lovelier with two correct eyes, I’m sure everypony would agree that some sort of operation would be preferable.” He winced as he watched her turn up an admittedly adorable pout.
“Well, I could and stuff but I actually don’t have a whole lot of money. I looked into it once but it’s really expensive, and when I talked to the doctor about it he said the consequences could be worse!” Her eyes widened with a panic, “He said I could end up losing the eye, or that down the line it could start going blind from the correction, or worse! I could go,” she looked around slowly, “double-blind! In both eyes!”
Prince Blueblood’s serious look slowly turned to one of amusement at the mare’s adorable energy. Derpy smiled a little more as he focused less on her eyes. Nothing in that story had been a lie, other than looking into it only once. “Those are some pretty dangerous consequences. I can see why you wouldn’t go for it…” He paused, and realized he still didn’t know her name. “Sorry for asking but I didn’t catch it earlier, what’s your name my dear mare?”
She tensed her legs and stood up straight, then proudly pressed the edge of her hoof against her helmet in a salute as she introduced herself. “Derpy Hooves, Royal Guard of Equestria!”
Blueblood found himself fascinated. She was clearly a run-of-the-mill Equestrian mare, no noble blood, no special talents that warranted notice. Her beauty was par, if not a bit sub-par due to the eye, but he found himself even more curious because of it. It was this strange feeling of dedicated energy she exuded and the overwhelming self-pleasure she had. She also took her own disability in stride, clearly one to look for the silver-linings. This wall-eyed mare was genuinely happy and proud despite being so plain and disabled. It was the sort of personality he’d never really seen in a pony before.
It was something he would have never noticed before. He would have continued on his course, dismissing the mare as ugly and beneath his notice without a second thought as to what she was really like. It reminded him of his conversation with Celestia while they watched their wrinkled, old gardener do his business.
‘Prince Blueblood, it’s not enough to be chasing after looks alone. Ponies are much deeper than the hair of their coats.’
‘I guess, but why would I want what’s on the inside of an ugly package, Princess?’
‘My little pony, the gift is always greater than the package itself. A good gift doesn’t need fancy ribbons or shiny packaging, a good gift is all about what’s on the inside. I have spent years trying to help ponies learn this through personal example.’
‘That’s easy for you to say, you’re gorgeous and nice.’
‘And I got this way despite being a pampered Princess. Tell me, Blueblood, if you had to choose, would you prefer I kept my looks or my personality if I had to give one up?’
'… … …'
'… Your personality, I suppose.'
'Why? Wouldn’t I be ugly, wretched, nothing to behold? Wouldn‘t I just be an ugly package?'
'Yes, but… You’d stay nice to me.'
'Compared to who?'
'… … … Every other pony in Canterlot I’ve ever met.'
“Well, Derpy Hooves, Royal Guard of Equestria, my name is Prince Blueblood, Royal Guard of Equestria.” He added his new title on second thought as he extended a hoof, thinking he’d get a short, terse hoof-shake and a brief acknowledgement they were in the same boat.
He had not expected Derpy’s jaw to fall nearly to her hooves and to immediately bury her nose in the mud while raising her hind-quarters high, “Prince Blueblood! I am most possibly sorry for the atrocity of dirtiness mine being hath committed against yours! Accept my heathen apologies, your majesty!”
Blueblood just stared at her for the longest time with a look of rising horror. “What? No! Stop that! Get out of the mud!” He wiggled his front hoof rapidly, staring around in embarrassment. What was that? Was that even Equestrian? Was she trying to humiliate herself in front of him or to humiliate him personally? That energy was making him all jittery.
Derpy sat up immediately. “My most sincerest apologies for the wrongs mine self have-”
“Stop talking like that!” He blurted out quickly.
“Sorry!” She clasped her hooves over her mouth.
“Stop apologizing!” Blueblood was quickly growing exasperated.
“Okay!” She bobbed her head.
“Yes your majesty!”
Blueblood pressed the tip of his hoof to his temples, “Urrrrggghhhaauugh… Don’t,” he glanced up to her. She was dripping with mud all over from bowing, and was watching his every motion, “Don’t call me that! I was a prince, was a prince, right now I am a royal guard.” He then thought for a moment. “And nobody calls me ‘your majesty’ anyways!”
Derpy gasped, “Then I should go tell everypony! Don’t worry your majesty, everypony will know better soon enough!” Derpy hopped and spun and started for the stairs. She gasped in shock as she was tackled by a very aggravated Blueblood. He pushed his hoof into her mouth to keep her from speaking.
“Everypony already knows!” He held her tightly, even as she squirmed underneath him aimlessly, his weight keeping her still. “And none of them call me ‘your majesty’! Just… Just please!” He sighed deeply. “Please don’t call me that. Or talk weird.” She said something muffled, so he took his hoof out.
“Okay.” She answered, craning her neck to try and look back at him. “But can you do me a favor?”
Blueblood nodded nervously, “Sure…”
“Can you get off me and not stick your hoof in me please? It’s kind of uncomfortable with us in the mud.” Blueblood was on the other side of the mud pit in an instant while Derpy picked herself up, shaking herself dry. Blueblood just stared after her in horror. “Thanks! I really need to work on my strength back there, I’m not used to having such big stallions on top of m-”
Her words were mercifully cut short when a third figure landed in the mud pit. Derpy gasped, racing to help the fallen pony. Blueblood just continued to watch the blonde-maned mare. The things this odd-eyed mare said… Blueblood was not unused to the subtle cues and desires of women, nor the language of lust and desire they sometimes insisted on speaking in, and this mare possessed none of their tact, gentleness, or even desire for that matter. He dearly hoped that none of that was on purpose. He somehow doubted they were, something that made him blush a little.
The figured picked itself up slowly with a defeated groan, obscured by the mud caking its body. “Oh no, you took a harder fall than I did!” Derpy whispered and gently reached a hoof out to the disoriented mare’s face to wipe it clean.
It was deflected by a quick slap of the muddy mare’s hoof. “Do not touch the Great and Powerful Trixie!” The unicorn snapped. Blueblood couldn’t hide his own content snort, drawing the eyes of the magician immediately. “I suppose you think this is humorous, wretch?”
“Humorous?” Blueblood’s lips turned up. “Why I’d dare say Clums Fumbleton would be right proud to call you his heir.” Trixie’s eyes narrowed dangerously while Derpy just stared on in confusion. “I’d say you’d even go far as to fit right in with his latest-”
“Do not compare the Great and Powerful Trixie to that one-trick pony sell-out! Though,” Trixie’s eyes softened a tad, “I’d guess you’d be oh so intimately familiar with his work?”
Blueblood paused, watching her expression with one of annoyance. “Are you implying,” Blueblood’s face tightened, rigid with disgust, “that I would follow that trash’s work?”
“I’m not so much implying as I’d say you’re leaning to kiss the trash’s hooves…” Trixie sneered as Blueblood seethed, right before Derpy reached a hoof forward again. “Hey!” Trixie yelped while Derpy looked on in concern. “Trixie said do not touch!”
“But miss Great and Magnificent, you’re so dirty.” Derpy gave the tiniest of pouts as Blueblood snorted. It was for the best Derpy interrupted them.
“I said don’t-” Derpy reached for Trixie’s face again. “Do not- stop this instant- are you deaf you little-” her words turned into soft, shallow grumblings as Derpy finally managed to get a hoof through undeflected and carefully began to wipe away the mud coating the mare’s face. Derpy began to smile as Trixie grudgingly allowed herself to be groomed. Her face was mostly uncovered after a few moments of wiping. Her body and armor, on the other hoof…
“Oh, you’re gonna need a shower miss Great and Magnificent.” Derpy stopped to consider herself, and Blueblood. “We all will. Oooh, maybe the other ponies will join us down here!” The wall-eyed mare seemed unusually excited by this whereas the two unicorns merely rolled their eyes. The argument forgotten, Trixie lead the way up the ramp.
Derpy and Blueblood followed behind while Trixie pressed her flank against the back of the climbing wall to get a good look at the cargo net. It was a very good jump, and after all this training, after this first failure, even on this first day, Trixie was feeling slow. Blueblood rumbled out, “You’re wasting time.”
“At least I’m trying to effectively make the jump!” The stubborn unicorn growled, resetting her positioning. She had to make this just righ-
Without warning, Zecora landed in front of the unicorn and charged up the ramp. With a mighty leap the zebra jumped onto the net and climbed her way to the top. Trixie’s focus was shattered. “No, please, just get in Trixie’s way! She’s not thinking or anything!” The unicorn shouted unnoticed.
This prissy little entertainer was starting to grind on Blueblood’s nerves. What sort of creature was she to go about with this huffy little ego? As if she was even worthy of serving on the same squad as he was! Intense magical power or no, he himself, with his strength and stamina, was clearly going to be the only necessary unicorn on this team.
He closed his eyes tightly and began to count to ten. He could not let his own ego or his anger to get the better of him, no matter how stressed he was. It seemed so strange. Before Celestia took him aside, he’d never cared this much about holding back. Not that the little blue rat deserved it, but Derpy seemed to like her enough, and he didn’t want to disappoint Derpy for whatever reason.
“You can’t give up Trixie.” Blueblood paused and opened his eyes at the voice. Derpy was calmly resting her foreleg on Trixie’s back and smiling both comfortingly and encouragingly.
“Trixie is not giving up, she is merely sizing up her competition.” The unicorn lowered her head and stared at her hooves for a brief moment. Blueblood suddenly realized he wasn’t the only one feeling the strain of the course. “Trixie just needs a moment to get her strength back.”
“But,” Derpy gently nudged her side, “you’re great and magnificent!” Soarin landed in front of them, quickly followed by Big Macintosh one after the other, and Soarin did a magnificent leap onto the net and pulled himself up cleanly, Big Mac just behind him.
“Trixie is that but, Trixie is also very tired.” The blue unicorn murmured, looking back up to the net with her head still lowered. Blueblood snorted. The Great and Magnificent was now the Muddy and Soaked. He had to pause again and calm himself.
“I saw all those cool tricks you did when you visited Ponyville! C’mon Trixie, compared to all that this jump should be nothing!” Derpy grinned encouragingly, a soft thump telling them they had been joined. Spitfire smiled, looking very… bright in her golden armor over her yellow coat. Spitfire quietly glanced to Blueblood with a question in her eyes, and Blueblood merely grunted and nodded in Trixie’s direction.
“This is nothing like magic. This is busy, physical, sweat-work! Grunt-work. Work the Great and Powerful Trixie has other ponies to do. This isn’t what Trixie was meant to do!” The little mare mumbled. Blueblood felt a tiny pang in his chest, he knew that feeling well.
'This isn’t something I’m meant to do! Paperwork, all this reading, studying the law and the rights! This is drivel for judges and lawyers. I’m royalty, I live to be pampered and pleased!'
'You are royalty, you live to set an example for your people to follow. This drivel is the protection offered by Equestria for its citizens, the basic rights they deserve from birth to death and will be served while they are good and noble ponies. These are standards that you must live up to, and as royalty you must be a shining paragon of Equestria’s law and ideals.'
Blueblood took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Set an example, eh? A fine job he was doing so far. He wasn’t even being remotely example-setting. Slowly he glanced to the net. Spitfire spoke up. “C’mon Trix, you just have to put your mind to it. If you can overcome your fear of the obstacle, you can overcome it flawlessly. You just have to have the right-” the three mares backed up as Blueblood thundered up the ramp once more with his sights set on cargo net, and kicked off the very end of the ramp with a burst of energy he didn’t know he’d had in him. He pushed his forelegs out as far as he could and got them square between the ropes of the climbing net.
He could feel their eyes on him as he swayed in the air. One at a time he picked up his hooves and pulled himself higher. He felt one of his back hooves miss a square, but a quick shifting of his body let him catch himself again. He pulled himself up to the top of the tower the net hung with a grunt of relief and turned himself to look down at the mares below. He focused on Trixie with an exceptionally smug grin. “Well look at that Fumbles, clearly I have what it takes to get through here. Oh well, looks like this squad will only have one unicorn attending its missions.”
He so deeply enjoyed the subtle way her eyes went from awe to disbelieving rage. He smiled to himself. There, she had her proper motivation. She could stomp around all she wanted but-
Trixie leapt from the end of the ramp while never looking away from Blueblood in rage. As she tugged herself up, Derpy and Spitfire landed just underneath her. Blueblood raised both eyebrows as Trixie climbed with a rage-fueled snarl that promised particularly nasty things should she catch up. With a gulp, he turned and fled to put as much distance between himself and death.
Trixie tugged herself to the top, watching the white prince speed off wordlessly to the next obstacle. She slumped to pant heavily, briefly resting her flank on the wooden platform. “That-…” she panted, “That good for nothing… That good for nothing…! That good for nothing good for nothing!” She shouted. She tensed up as a hoof wrapped around the back of her neck.
“I knew you could do it Trixie! C’mon, we can all finish the course together!” Derpy was beaming with pride and joy. Trixie very briefly wanted to feel angry, but the warmth of her voice…
“C’mon team.” Spitfire gently nudged Trixie from the other side, smiling and nodding at her in respect.
“C’mon Trix. Let’s get moving! Cupcakes can’t give us crap if all of us are last!” Trixie lifted her head up and frowned at Spitfire. What was with all this team garba-
“Yes I can and don’t you forget it!” Cupcakes shouted from the nearby tower.
“Oh.” Spitfire cast a fearful glance towards the tower, Derpy looking equally terrified. “Alright girls, you two go ahead, I’ll lag behind a little.”
Derpy didn’t move right away as she watched Spitfire with some concern. Trixie stared at the Pegasus. “Why?” The unicorn said in a demanding, stern voice. “Why take that for us?” It seemed senseless. It was a pony-eat-pony world and this mare, this supposedly amazing mare with so much to live for was just offering herself up on a stake. What did it matter to her who crossed last as long as she wasn’t that pony?
“Hey, we’re a team. I don’t mind a little heat anyways, you two go ahead.” Trixie considered saying something, but Derpy quickly nudged her side and began to run towards the goal. Trixie glanced to Derpy, then to Spitfire a confused glance, and was met with a reassuring smile. Trixie finally turned and sped after the gray Pegasus. She should not feel guilty nor impressed by this act…
It occurred to her that she may never know the comfort of her own bed again.
Her mattress were comfortable, especially since they were stuffed with such gentle feather down. Also were the pillows she rested her head on. The soft blanket was so smooth and laid flat against body no matter her position. It was a definite improvement compared to sleeping bags on the sandy ground, a much bigger improvement, but all in all nothing could compare to a cloud.
Sweet Celestia… Her own home, a place she had put together with her own sweat and elbow-grease over the course of years, stricken meaningless now that she could no longer even reach it without assistance. The comfort of landing on a cloud cushion, snuggling into it like warm, freshly fallen snow, feeling relaxed and unpressured no matter how she tossed and turned… all of that gone.
Dash resisted allowing the sudden moisture in her eyes to pour over. Day after day she kept combating more and more feelings of loss as she was reminded what she should have. She kept getting reminded of everything she once did as a Pegasus that, even if Golding was driven out, she could never have again. She had lost her skies, all thanks to a pair of stupid magical scissors, and what did she have to show for it? Magic? Impressive magic to be sure but she was no expert. She was good with a few basic spells and even managed to wing a language out of it, but she wasn’t creative with this sort of stuff! Mirrors, reflections, prisms, a bunch of stupid crap. She wasn’t the best at anything anymore. She was a grounded, glorified mirror unicorn. Where was the thrill in that? Where was the energy, the feeling of being alive?
How many times had she laid here and thought about this in the past week? How many times did she depress herself to sleep? All these dark feelings made it impossible to sleep at times… she would go from feeling numb and tired, to hot and angry, to cold and sad, and back to numb and tired to restart the cycle. She wanted to scream and shout her out her emotions at times, just let it all out, or just blubber against somepony’s chest again. Oh Celestia she was turning pathetic. She’d humiliate herself in the arms of another pony just to feel good again…
Dash’s thoughts froze and her depression was alleviated for a moment as she noticed a little light out of the corner of her eye. Glancing over she saw the figure in the other bed adjusting the lantern by hoof, dimming the light that caught her attention. She watched Twilight carefully sneak a book out under the covers, her movements gentle so she wouldn’t make any noise. With a tiny, confident smile she opened it up. It was a hard-cover textbook with a Coltriellan title. Dash hid a laugh. Figures the egghead would be studying, even at a time like this. It kind of made her smile though, the way she went about it so secretively in her bed.
It made Dash wonder if Twilight used to sneak in reading time when she should have been sleeping before, probably when she was a little filly living with her parents. She wondered what she read: fiction, or physics? Dash was betting on physics. “… So like you, egghead.” She murmured out loud.
“Ah!” Twilight quickly shut the book and glanced over to Dash with surprise, finding her rainbow-maned friend was observing her with a look of dull amusement. “D-Dash! Oh, oh dear, I woke you up, didn’t I?” Twilight reached over to the lantern, “Sorry, let me-”
“Don’t give yourself too much credit Twi, I just have too many things going on in my head right now to go to sleep.” Dash slowly shifted until she was in a more comfortable position to watch the purple unicorn. They watched each other for a while, Twilight’s stare unyieldingly concerned that she screwed up. At the very least Twilight soothed the anger away. The others did too come to think about it; Pinkie always somehow managed to make her feel strong and athletic again despite her loss when they sparred.
“Well, you still need your sleep.” Twilight pointed out. Dash rolled her eyes and sat up, rousing herself some, running her hooves through her mane to flatten it down. She slipped out of the covers and onto her hooves to walk over to the side of Twilight’s bed and stare at the book.
“Mm. Golding.” Dash somehow managed to yawn out the name while Twilight shrugged her little shoulders. “I thought we learned everything we needed to know about those guys. They were cool once, Falgo got sick, leylines are messed up, they aren’t cool anymore.” Dash hummed, letting her worries go as she thought of a way to lighten things up. They’d been dealing with the mission constantly and talking about little else, being all serious with emotions and guardianship and such as well. As much as she wanted to move forward and protect Equestria she also wanted to pretend things were normal so she could enjoy her friend’s company without something utterly ground-shattering happening around them. She just wanted to take the time to relax and say ‘Hi Twilight, good morning. How are you?’ Though her mouth did not move to match it.
“Ahem,” Twilight held up a hoof, eyes closing to correct Dash matter-of-factly, “It’s Firago, who this book has quite a bit of information on. According to the book, he is also known as ‘The Heart’s One Desire’ due to his compatibility and unrequited love of every pony he meets.”
“Okay.” Dash nodded slowly. ‘I’m thinking about breakfast some, can I get you some toast?’ She changed that to: “So he’s old, sick, and bi, not a whole lot to go on.” She considered her thoughts for a moment. “Would you like some toast?”
“Not really.” Twilight waved the question off and flipped a few pages with her hoof tip. “But you’re not looking at the big picture. He was emotionally and physically attracted to everypony and everypony found him attractive as well. Even his magic was based around the health of a pony’s mind and body. He was a healer, a psychologist, and a lover, and was apparently a very noble and just lord. Small wonder all of Golding went up in arms when Sivo’Coltriella denied his health.”
“Alright, cool.” She watched Twilight, watched the mare’s eyes go to the book, away from her, and bit her lower lip. ‘Tell her you’re worried about something. Tell her you’re sad. Tell her you spend every night dreaming of being in your own bed again. Tell her you want to cry because you can’t be. She’ll put that book down and hug you.’ She blushed at the thought. She only wanted to be warm. She wanted to stop having these depressing thoughts whenever she laid down to think for herself. “And what about this Lord Galio guy? What’s his story?”
“Well…” Twilight turned to the very beginning of the book, “I haven’t gotten to him yet. Firago had twenty-eight pages dedicated to him and him alone, Galio has sixty-seven and… Hello.” Twilight turned her head from the book to stare as Dash rested her head on Twilight’s arm while closing her eyes. Dash didn’t respond, or give any indication she was going to anytime soon. “Comfy?”
‘Actually, yeah, you make a pretty good pillow, Sparkle.’ “Sorta. You need more plush.” Dash smirked, then got a sneaky little idea. She lifted her head up, climbed onto the bed, and with a flip of her hoof had the blanket off Twilight’s tummy and gently rested her cheek on it. She sighed contently, ‘Ooh, I could so get used to this.’ “This is much better. So soft! Got the right amount of cush here.”
“… You’d better not be calling me fat again.” Twilight joked, rubbing a hoof down Dash’s hair as she smiled. She felt her body warm up, and her chest felt a tad heavy. This felt so… so… well… she blushed as her mind reached the right word: “intimate”.
‘You’re not fat at all, I like your body.’ “You could stand to work out a little.” Dash rolled over, laying the back of her head on Twilight’s stomach. “Just a little though. I like you skinny. Makes you easier to push around when I need to.” Twilight snorted and Dash chuckled.
“Such a wonderful thought.” Twilight actually didn’t mind, it was kind of funny. This was nice, just laying here like this, but a question was nagging at her. One that had been all day now, one that had bothered her through the story, but then increased tenfold at the end of it. “Dash, I was kind of thinking, about when we were talking about what to do with Golding…”
‘I don’t want to talk about that with you right now. It’s us time, not war time. Whoa, that sounded a little romantic, didn’t it? Screw it…’ Rainbow Dash cleared her throat, and snuggled into the warm belly beneath her cheek. “Hey, you remember earlier? In the restaurant?”
Twilight did not answer right away, frowning softly as their eyes met. For a moment Dash wondered if she’d been a little too rude, but then Twilight began to nod. “Vaguely. I remember us talking about finding out about Golding, and then things sorta went blurry.” She remembered something about dancing…
“Do you remember what you said while you were drunk?” Dash asked, curling her legs in front of her chest as that rather embarrassing conversation resurfaced and the knee-jerk reaction her wings gave to the accusations…
Twilight thought back to the somewhat happy blur, “Well, I mean, I remember getting short with you about something but no, not really. Why?”
‘Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid-’ “No reason.” Dash lied, her heartbeat slowing in disappointment. “So, what about Golding?”
Twilight nodded idly, happy to not get side-tracked, although Dash was looking ever more adorable as she twisted the blanket she’d pulled off Twilight to cover her body. “We’ve heard their history, we’ve seen what they’ve done and what they are doing. I know you were against helping them and…” Twilight grit her teeth, slowly looking away in shame. “And I kind of agree, but… Maybe we should talk about it?”
“Twi,” Dash grunted loudly in annoyance, “what more needs to be said? They’re constantly getting into fights! They kidnapped us, cut my wings, accuse you of all this dumb stuff, they’re fighting their way across our homes… why should they get helped out after all this?” She took a deep breath to calm herself. ‘Because you’re a nice, thoughtful pony, aren’t you?’
“Well, I was thinking about what Rarity had said,” Twilight shifted as Dash’s hoof slid underneath her back to hug her while she glanced up to the ceiling in thought, “about how Golding would have to have more than soldiers and lords. They have citizens too; farmers and lawyers, clothing designers and shop-keepers, librarians and weather-ponies.” Twilight sighed deeply as she glanced down at Dash again. The Pegasus had snuggled against Twilight’s body and had her eyes closed. “They’ve done nothing wrong. They’re not fighters. They’d just be victims, innocent casualties. If we kept them cut off then Golding would start to die. Not just Rukafelth and Shallom, not just Galio and Firago, not just the dragon-riders and the torturers, but the old, the young, the laborers and the artists.” Dash stayed silent, visibly tensed. Twilight was shivering in her legs. “We’re being attacked by maybe not even a fourth of the enemy population. We’re handling ponies that may not even want to fight us. We’re making a decision that could wind up killing hundreds of loving, innocent families.”
“…” Dash stayed quiet. ‘Stop making me feel guilty...’
“But…” Twilight took another deep breath, “The things they’re willing to stoop to have been nothing short of monstrous. The things they’ve been doing to Equestria, the things they did to me…” The silence that followed bore down on Rainbow Dash and squeezed her lungs. Something… there was something strong about it, she could not explain what it was that made it so difficult to breath or think. It made her thoughts stop, it made her legs cold, it made her aware… She opened her eyes to stare into Twilight’s. That’s what made her body so stiff and cold. Twilight’s gaze was fixed right on her, but it was so distant and pained… “The things they did to you…” Twilight choked out and Dash finally took a breath as Twilight leaned down to take Dash’s head in her forelegs. “I want to show Galio the things he did to us.” She sniffed. Dash felt so strange in Twilight’s grip. “I want him to see how much we’ve cried and fought for our own lives because of him, because he’s being so… So damn foali-” Twilight was pushed back into her pillow. Caught off-guard, she blinked through the water that had been settling on her eyes to find Dash squeezing her tightly with their cheeks touching.
‘Don’t be sad.’ “Don’t, Twilight.” ‘I don’t want to do anything that makes you this sad.’ “Just don’t….” She squeezed the unicorn tightly. Their chests were touching, flat against the other so that Dash could feel their heartbeats. Twilight’s was hammering, her own barely calmer. It was too early for this emotional stuff. Dash didn’t want to talk about this when they should be sleeping or sneaking books, even if, for what felt like the first time in a week, they were finally alone together.
Slowly a pair of legs wrapped around her mid-section, coming to a rest just above her snipped wings. Dash crushed Twilight to her chest, waiting patiently for the unicorn’s heartbeat to slow down. Twilight was soft, and warm, and so weak and fragile in her grip. Yet no matter how hard she squeezed Twilight did not complain or break. She rested on her friend for what felt like ages before their heartbeats normalized, and she knew she should break the grip, knew Twilight would be okay without her…
… But those dark thoughts of her home, her wings, her future did not seem so dark in Twilight’s embrace. Rest came so much more easily. The bed felt so much more comfortable and natural, so much more inviting than a puffy white cloud. She loosened up a little to shift her head up and look Twilight in the face and found the unicorn’s eyes sparkling gently with warmth. They were happy so many thousands of miles away from Equestria, in a foreign land that had recently threatened to jail them under the rule of an overly protective and somewhat obstructive king.
Dash liked that happiness. It couldn’t be too much to ask for right now in the dead of night while they were all alone, right? No, of course not.
Dash rested her cheek against Twilight’s again. She didn’t know the unicorn’s thoughts or if she was even comfortable, but Twilight did not once complain.
Sleep came easy.
Sabine did not like the first ring of Coltriella very much. The first ring was quite different from the rest of the rings of the city in that it was full of ponies who did absolutely nothing at all yet stared at you like a bit of filth on the end of their snouts if you sported the modest garb of a lower class waif.
Sabine begrudgingly weathered the stares of these ponies as she traveled along the golden road. The other first-class citizens watched her from their porches or from the windows of their carriage, a look on their faces that wanted to know why and how such a ratty little thing like herself managed to even put a single hoof on the roads of the first ring. Well if they knew just how well she got along with the city guard, they may reconsider their opinions of little Sabine!
Bah, she wasn’t in the mood to contemplate revenge. Sabine glanced up to the sun that was rising just over the second wall of Coltriella before walking up to the Gardet House. Surely the girls must be awake by now. Lazy richness didn’t infect you that quickly.
There was a thump from behind the door. Sabine’s ear twitched as she heard a pony stumble.
“Pinkie, are you alright?” A soft, concerned voice asked.
“Fine!” A much perkier mare answered before scrambling to the door.
‘Pinkie Pie and…’ Sabine tensed her lips, ‘Fll-lluttershy. Yeah, the dancing one.’ She nodded to herself. The door opened, allowing Sabine to give a bright and shiny smile to the equally peppy Pinkie Pie.
“Well hello there stranger!” Pinkie stuck a hoof out to the amused Sabine. “What brings you to our little abode? Heh, just kidding, hi Sabine!” The door widened to let Sabine in. She chuckled, wiping her hooves on the doormat.
“Morning gorgeous.” Sabine bowed her head lightly to Fluttershy. The Pegasus nearly dropped the carrot she’d been chewing on in embarrassment while Sabine turned to nod at Pinkie. “And good morning to you too. I’m here for a visit before I get to work with Coltriella Youth United today, thought I’d stop by and check in. You guys seemed really out of it when I left last night after the story, thought I’d see if things calmed down any.”
“Oh, well…” The sides of Pinkie’s mouth drew back tightly as she shut the door to buy herself some thinking time. “I can’t talk for every other pony - I mean I would if I could but I’m no ventriloquist, or I’m not yet at least - but I’m feeling pretty okay.”
Fluttershy swallowed the last of her morning carrot and gave a very slow nod. “I feel alright as well. It was a lot to take in but we’re okay. Or, well, Pinkie and I are okay… I don’t know about the others…” Fluttershy glanced in down the hallways. “They haven’t woken up yet…”
“I’m awake…” There was a loud yawn, and Applejack emerged with tired eyes. Sabine noted how different she looked without her hat, a little girly even. She was actually kinda pretty. Not as pretty as the shy little one in the middle of the room, but pretty for somepony who looked strong enough to buck a carriage over. “Think I‘m awake.” Applejack walked into the kitchen.
“Applejack, is Rarity awake?” Fluttershy asked. There was a loud splash from the kitchen as Applejack woke herself up.
“Yeah.” A muffled voice echoed from the kitchen. “She’s tidyin’ up in the bathroom. Don’ know why she bothers, she wakes up pretty as ever.” Applejack came out of the kitchen with a half-dazed look. A towel draped over her. Prissy darned unicorn, makin’ a hubbub ‘bout bein’ all perfect. Needs to stop readin’ them darned magazines and look in a mirror more. Maybe then she’d see-” Applejack stopped, looking into the expectant eyes of the three ponies. “Darned chatty ponies, makin’ a mare ramble…” She grouchily went back into the kitchen to start breakfast.
“She seems a bit out of it.” Sabine whispered to Pinkie Pie. The party pony sat next to Fluttershy. Sabine took a seat on the other side of the table. “So, what about Blue and her girlfriend? They’re alright too?”
“Oh yeah! Dash and Twilight should be okay. I mean I think so, Dash is usually pretty quick to get over something.” Pinkie took a moment to think. “Hard to say with Twilight though, she thinks about stuff a lot, so she might be ‘gone’ for a while.”
“They aren’t girlfriends.” Fluttershy’s cheeks warmed as the other two ponies stared at her. “I-I’m just pointing out, they aren’t girlfriends. Dash would get mad if you called them that…”
“Well, either way, Dash doesn’t do a very good job of not acting like it when little Twilight got all drunk. Speaking of which…” Sabine gently rubbed her own chin as she smiled, “She seems to like the drink. I should take her out and let her try some more stuff, I bet she’d appreciate the booze. Not to mention it’d be cool to have a drinking buddy at night.”
“I don’t know.” Fluttershy spoke up with concern, “It was fun,” she blushed, “very fun, but hard to control.”
“Alcohol’s like that at first. You have to learn to exercise restraint, to learn to control yourself while good and wasted. If you don’t learn your limits and don’t moderate yourself of course it’s going to hammer your head in, but I plan to help her slowly slip into it. I want her to appreciate it with me.” Sabine smiled broadly while Pinkie and Fluttershy glanced to each other.
“That sounds like art.” Pinkie pointed out with a curious tilt of her head.
Sabine rose up quickly and slammed her hooves on the table. “Drinking! Is! Art!” She announced proudly, beating her hoof against her puffed out chest, “The flavor! The strength! The burn! The buzz, the high, the fun! Coltriella has a proud tradition of booze and I, for one, love to see it so alive! To find another mare who appreciates the sauce with me would be a majestic blessing, so glorious I would fall to my knees in an instant and humble myself before whatever divine being gave me such a wonderful gift!” Sabine slumped down onto her haunches as the other two ponies observed her fearfully, wondering if they somehow tapped into the Coltriellan’s inner-crazy by accident. “Besides, having somepony to talk shop with would be fun. I’m tired of being seen as a little girl who doesn’t know anything in bars and I want somepony as interested as I am to test some stuff with.”
Slowly Pinkie lifted herself off the floor as she thought about it, “I think I get what you mean…” She started slowly, and once she was confident Sabine wasn’t about to have another outburst, kept going, “I help with a bakery back home. I love talking to the ponies who run it about the food, but when I go out I don’t really meet many ponies with the same interest.”
“It’s such a drag, isn’t it?” Sabine sighed, resting her cheek on one hoof while glowering at the table, “You meet the ponies that go out to drink just to get drunk, the social drinkers that don’t care what they’re drinking, the players looking to score with some drunks, the gamblers, the scam artists, the ponies too busy to care about the type of brew in front of them…” Pinkie understood this alright. She never really had a chance to discuss with anypony about the consistency of a delight she’d just created, or the strength or weakness in the taste. Her only problem with alcohol was that her sweets gave you a sugar high. They didn’t make the biggest scaredy mare she knew dance in public. “It’s rare to meet somepony who actually wants to test and perfect. Or, I should say, it’s rare to meet one that isn’t a rich, high-and-mighty jerk with nothing better to do.” Sabine gently scratched at the table with the tip of her hoof as she got lost in her own thoughts.
Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie let her retreat into her own head so they could just silently enjoy what little of a quiet morning they had left. At least that was Fluttershy’s case, Pinkie was barely able to contain herself; they were training today! They finally got to learn real swordplay with formal training by the general mare herself! It was so…. something? It certainly wasn’t going to be boring. It’d be more exciting than sitting around waiting all day. Pinkie was so anxious to get moving she considered going and waking up Dash to borrow her sword for a moment and get in some early practice.
Luckily for her, she didn’t have to.
“Oh my.” Fluttershy bat her eyelids rapidly as Rainbow Dash stepped out of the left hallway. In all their life together Fluttershy had never seen Rainbow Dash look bad. The mare woke up with this sort of unkempt beauty that a few pats and a wiggle put into place before she went to work. She’d shower for a few minutes, soap up, fly to dry off, few more pat-downs and she’d look perfect, same as ever. She had never seen Dash look anything less! Dash did not have to work on herself much to look good, even if a little work could make her look absolutely gorgeous.
It was why it was so jarring to see her now. Her coat was matted and tangled from the insides of her front legs and her chest down to her stomach, sticky and crinkled from sweat and pressure. Looking closer at her face Fluttershy, Pinkie, and Sabine could see the fur on her cheek was just as bad as the chest! That wasn’t even the most surprising thing. In the past week, with everything that had happened, Dash had been in almost constant serious mode. She rarely woke with a smile or went to bed with one. Right now, she had a very tiny smile. Gentle was a good word for it.
Fluttershy was the first to get up and go meet the other pegasus as the athlete stumbled into kitchen. Fluttershy pressed their sides together to keep Dash walking straight. “Dash?” Fluttershy whispered, making her friend pause.
“Dash,” Fluttershy gently nudged her friend’s side with her wing. “Dash are you alright? Your coat…”
“Mm.” Dash’s grunted, her mouth not even twitching from that tiny grin. “Mm-hmm…”
“You’re okay?” Fluttershy nodded her head, and Dash nodded only once as she swayed in place, eyes closing in gentle pleasure. It went quiet as everypony watched Dash spread her tiny little wings and flutter them in joy.
Sabine gently cleared her throat. “How’s Twilight?” She asked with an amused stare. Slowly, a big, wonderful smile crept across Dash’s face. Fluttershy tilted her head in slight awe as the blue Pegasus let out the most girlish giggle she’d ever heard. Pinkie’s jaw dropped for half a second before snapping shut to glance to Sabine. The Coltriellan was beaming at the expression. “So you and your girlfriend are getting along?” The mare asked with a toothy smile.
Dash’s wings shot up straight and stiff. She turned quickly enough to toss Fluttershy from her side as she stared angrily into Sabine’s eyes. “She’s not my girlfriend!” Dash shouted, Fluttershy picking herself up right next to her.
“Eh?” Applejack poked her head out, looking so much more awake. “We talkin’ ‘bout Twi?”
Dash turned to stick her snout into Applejack’s face. “Not my girlfriend!”
“Didn’ say she was!” Applejack snapped back.
“You were thinking it!” Dash accused.
“I think a lot o’ things! At least I dun’ look like I got played last night!” Applejack pushed Dash to face a mirror, making the mare see her own reflection.
Dash gagged in terror and began to quickly lay her coat and mane down, Sabine laughing like a maniac as the other three watched Dash slap at her own coat to make the sweat-stiff hairs lay flat. Applejack shook her head and huffed loudly as she grabbed Dash by the tail and started to drag her down the hallway. “C’mere you.” She mouthed around Dash’s tail as the Pegasus tried to pull away.
“No no no no no wait I can’t leave!” Dash squeaked. Applejack gave her a questioning look, and Dash started to turn tomato red beneath her blue coat.
“Why, Dash?” Fluttershy frowned. She truly did look awful right now. Not… Not bad awful but, well, she was… Kind of looking… Bad?
“I-” Dash shut her trap as she tried to make an excuse in her head. Applejack dropped the tail between her teeth and Sabine sat up, still grinning.
“Why?” Pinkie repeated, looking curious as ever. “I bet Rarity would fix you right up and make you look pretty as ever!” Dash shook her head. “Gasp! Are you…” Pinkie got in real close to stare the Pegasus in the eyes. “Are you scared of Rarity!?” Dash shook her head even more. “Scared of make-overs?” More head shaking, “Scared of being pretty?” Again, no, “Are you scared of making Twilight wait for her breakfast in bed?”
Applejack took a good look at Dash’s stricken face. It was as if the very wrath of Celestia herself was baring down on her. The farmer-pony tsked. “You poor filly. Though that does sound mighty fine, I should go take Rarity her portion.” Applejack’s smile brightened at the thought as she went back to the kitchen.
“Well shoot Dash, I can help you with that! C’mon!” Pinkie dragged the blue Pegasus into the kitchen, leaving Fluttershy with Sabine. Sabine glanced to Fluttershy, noting the sort of forlorn look she gave the leaving ponies. She hummed thoughtfully, glancing down the hallway Dash had come from.
“Shoot indeed.” Sabine turned away as the noises in the kitchen intensified. “Shoot indeed.”
Twilight glanced to the door quickly as she heard hoof steps coming near. She snapped her book shut and slid it beneath the covers, then tightly wrapped it and herself up in the blanket as the door opened. She was facing away from the door to better give her cover and she hid a smile from her own sneakiness. It reminded her of her days as Celestia’s pupil, when she did the same thing whenever her loving mentor came in to make sure she wasn’t staying up too late. Of course she’d been caught her fair share, but this pony wouldn’t have the eagle eyes-
“Okay you can cut the grin Twilight, I know you’re awake.”
‘CRAP.’ Twilight fluttered her eyes as modestly as she could while pretending to be “roused” by Rainbow Dash. She wouldn’t lose her façade just yet! “Oh, hey Dash, I was having this great dream-”
“Put the book away.” Dash was staring her down in amused disappointment. Twilight’s jaw twitched as she glanced down and noticed a very peculiar lump in the blankets she’d hastily tightened around her body to hide it. The sort of lump a pony couldn’t make by herself. “I thought you were going to try and rest up!”
Twilight squirmed, trying to pull the book underneath her body while giving Rainbow Dash a nervous smile. “I was just curious!” Dash rolled her eyes, presenting the tray of breakfast she’d been toting to Twilight. The unicorn sheepishly took the tray between her teeth and set it by her side. “Smells good. Who cooked?”
“Applejack.” Dash answered while she sat to watch Twilight eat. She was relieved the she had distracted herself so quickly, she was not up for any teasing. She was still glad she went through with it though, Twilight looked so happy with the spread.
Twilight glanced up from her breakfast to stare over Dash’s body for a moment and grinned. “Did they ask why your coat was all messed up?” She chuckled, taking note of how quickly Dash went from observant to flustered.
“No!” The clipped Pegasus answered hastily, using all her strength to keep her winglets pulled into a folded position to not give anything away.
“They did, didn’t they?” Twilight snickered and Dash gave the pillow beneath the mare’s head a little shove.
“Shut up.” Dash mumbled as her tail flitted around nervously, “It’s not funny. Who knows what they think I did?”
“Just tell them the truth. They won’t care.” Twilight pointed out. Watching Dash get so nervous though made her start to feel a little nervous too. “I mean, they shouldn’t. They’re our friends, and all it was was…” Twilight gulped, her face heating up. “Snuggling, and that’s all it was, right?”
“Right!” Dash bobbed her head in agreement, picking her hooves up to pace the length of the bed. “You were working yourself up so I flew in to make you feel better like the awesome friend I am!”
“Very awesome friend.”
“Very awesome friend I am!” Dash confirmed with a bob of her head. “It’s not like anything weird happened! Not that we’d want things to go further!” Dash spun around to face Twilight for confirmation.
She was met with silence. The unicorn’s eyes were glued to the wall away from Dash while she nervously tapped her front hooves together. “M-mm-mhmm…”
Dash kept staring at Twilight. She gulped a little, unable to resist watching the mare’s purple ears twitch. “U-unless…” Dash started, working her jaw very nervously as Twilight’s eyes shot to her. They were good and wide. Dash’s jaw began to shake a little, “Y-yo-you-you-y-yo-y-y-…”
The door flew open once again, prompting a relieved groan from Rainbow Dash as Sabine take a few bounding leaps inside. “Twii~iiiliigghhht!” Sabine sang, leaping up onto the unicorn’s bed.
‘Praise Celestia and the slippers she wears…’ Dash sighed while she backed away unnoticed as Sabine all but ripped the bed sheets off of Twilight. The resting mare squealed as she was grabbed by Sabine and tugged towards the edge of the bed.
“Sabine!” Twilight shrieked, getting pulled onto her hooves.
“Up! Up!” Sabine urged with nudges and pokes until Twilight was standing firm. “Up on your hooves! We have to talk my lovely filly!” Sabine was beaming, bright and loving as she wrapped a foreleg around Twilight’s neck and nudged her chin. Twilight raised both eyebrows at the mare.
‘… Her lovely filly?’ Dash didn’t say anything out loud but she still had a bad taste in her mouth.
Twilight hesitated in answering, though Sabine kept her wonderful little smile. “About what?” She finally asked slowly. Sabine cuddled her cheek against Twilight’s enthusiastically, prompting a very annoyed twitch from Rainbow Dash.
“You,” Sabine tapped Twilight’s chest, “like alcohol?” Hope, optimism, almost sexual pleasure dripped from her words as she tried to not bounce in place.
“Well, yeah.” Some of Twilight’s stress alleviated. Dash felt her irritation building as Sabine let out a joyful whoop. “Why?”
Sabine jumped off Twilight and onto the bed, grinning hugely while pointing to the ceiling. “I am taking you somewhere deep in the city, soon, tonight even, to take,” Sabine leaned forward to poke Twilight in the chest again, “you,” poke, “drinking,” poke poke, “the best there is!” Poke.
Poke. Poke. Poke poke poke poke-
“Yes yes yes okay I get it!” Twilight shouted in annoyance, rolling her shoulders to get Sabine’s foreleg off her back. “Drinking-” Twilight nearly shouted again, but quieted herself. She drew a deep breath. “Going out and trying some stuff out sounds fun. You have a place in mind?”
Sabine bobbed her head and hopped in place giddily. “A few actually! I was thinking we could go bar-hopping!” Sabine cooed in joy at the very thought.
“Bar…” Twilight and Dash both paused for a moment, “…hopping?” They looked to each other for help.
“Yup! Gonna go hit up some of the best bars in Coltriella! I’m thinking we start with the inner-ring bars since they’ll be the best, but most expensive and get the good stuff. I hear Marinious’ Dining Hall in the third ring has an amazing selection of martinis and ices, then we’ll move down to the forth ring for Hollenbarry’s wine house! It’ll be cheaper but we’ll be too buzzed by then to really care for the lack of quality, and when we’re good and smashed there, Tanteri’s Slammer in the sixth ring has some of the nastiest Grog in Coltriella. We’ll be good and dulled out by then so we won’t feel the burn, and by the time we get back here we should be ready to kiss the ass-end of a plow-mule!” Sabine clapped her front-hooves together and giggled in excitement as Twilight wrote down the names of the places thoughtfully.
Rainbow Dash found the whole idea horrifying. She didn’t mind the buzz from yesterday that dulled the pains in her face, but Fluttershy and her cactus juice had sent her from Coltriella to Boogie Land in a matter of minutes. Seeing Twilight, almighty magic-student of the Princess herself, that drunk? Dash shuddered.
“Let’s not take it that far.” Twilight rolled her eyes as she thought about where this could take her. She’d already had difficulties remembering the day before on only a few drinks. Maybe things would be different with different drinks. Maybe they’d be worse. Maybe she’d have a whole night of regret and pain, or maybe she’d have more fun than ever before. Alcohol was weird. It would require… tests. “We’ll see if we take it that far.”
“Oh Twilight,” Sabine smiled. “I’m sure things will be fine! Though it depends what kind of drunk you are.” The mare rubbed her chin in thought. “Happy drunk, you’ll be okay. Angry drunk, I’ll bring rope… sad drunk? Meh, you’ll just blubber about not being with your girlfriend all night.”
Twilight turned to Dash with a “who?” expression on her face. Dash just blushed and looked away.
“But if you’re one of those flirty, horny drunks? We may have a problem. Gonna have to keep you focused!” Sabine bobbed her head. “Gonna have to keep your mind focused on blue and blue alone! But,” Sabine whirled about and poked Twilight in the chest, “If you start coming onto me, I may not be able to say no!”
“What!?” Dash bit her tongue to keep herself from shouting. Twilight blushed profusely. “Alright, listen here princess, the drinking thing is kinda fun but don’t you start trying to take advantage of Twilight.” Dash stepped in front of her friend to bar her from view.
“Oh fine, I’ll be good. I’ll make sure she doesn’t dig herself too deep out there. Means I’ll have to hold back a little.” Sabine shrugged. “Ah well, I’m mostly in it to see if she’ll like it, so it doesn’t bother me. Anyhow, I’m going to see if I can’t bum some breakfast out of Applejack! Later!” Sabine strutted out with a flick of her tail and a smile.
Dash slowly let out a breath and grumbled in annoyance. She was glad she’d made her dad that promise to think before she acted, she’d been tempted to defenestrate Sabine several times. “… She’s annoying.” Dash huffed.
“She’s alright.” Twilight smiled wide as she hid a laugh.
“Good day class!” Maize was all big smiles and bright eyes today as he unloaded a massive pile of papers to the desk at the front of the room as the ponies in front of him fidgeted uncomfortably.
Oh this brought back so many fond memories. Desks, chairs, papers and quills set out like it was test day. Solid white walls with a few posters prominently displayed with relevant information attached to them. All around her, her fellow students struggled to keep up with the stallion at the head of the classroom. He talked quickly, fast enough that his words just seemed to all melt on each other while simultaneously saying nothing of interest half the time.
Trixie recalled just how much school irritated her. Sweet Celestia it was so boring. Oh she paid attention of course, the information was required, important, and even interesting, but she couldn’t get her mind off of how… bleak this room was.
“- the soldiers I command are non-combatants: scouts, the bean-counters, field intelligence, medics and the like.” Maize pointed to the map he’d hung at the front of the room, a diagram of Canterlot with its rooms colored depending on which sort of pony worked where. “What I will be teaching you is not only the size and sections of the army, but how to gather information on the field in a glance and who to report to for different jobs.”
“First and foremost,” Maize pulled out another poster and hung it in front of the diagram. It was of Cupcakes. “Cupcakes is our combat instructor and the pony that will be in the field dealing with basic infantry…”
He continued on. Trixie sat at her desk and half-listened, gathering every bit of genuinely relevant information while marking down notes accurately and concisely. She glanced around the room slowly, her eyes taking in each of the different ponies around her. Trixie had chosen to sit somewhere close to the middle out of habit whereas most of the rest of her squad sat up front. Blueblood, sitting in the back of the room, was immediately dismissed with a roll of her eyes. His legs were still shaking from the obstacle course, though as much as Trixie would hate to admit, she was in no better shape herself.
After two hours of warm-ups, the six ponies were half dead, thanks to the shouting from the amalgam of all evil in the world herself. Those two hours were some of the hardest in her life. She barely got to enjoy the twenty minutes they were given to rest and eat from the nausea. Trixie hadn’t felt too hungry but managed to get a few crackers and some cheese down alongside a glass of water. Then there would be two hours of intelligence with Maize to understand their own army better, then another twenty minutes of rest, another two hours with Cupcakes for who knew what, twenty minute break, two hours with Night Brigade learning “tactics”, another twenty minute break, and finally, two more hours with the queen bitch herself! This was supposed to be a daily thing! Ten hours of learning, working-out, training, exercising, and pain! What sort of crap was this? They were two hours and a half into it and Trixie was already done…
Her eyes next went to the two wonderbolts who had joined Blueblood. Compared to the rest of the team, they seemed to be faring much better. Then again, they were used to training hard, but that hard? Who knew. Well they did but, eh, Trixie wasn’t about to ask. They were listening but barely taking a single note. They both shared the same looks of confusion as Maize went on and on and about Cupcake’s contributions to the infantry and how to properly address her and such.
Next to them was Zecora. She had her eyes closed. Every so often, when Maize seemed to say something important, her ear would twitch. Trixie starred at the equine, unsure if the mare was sleeping or paying attention. To her right, Derpy Hooves, that cheery little Pegasus was writing furiously, scratching things out, muttering to herself, glancing up every now and then, and going back to her paper. Trixie could swear she could hear the pegasus whimpering.
Just like her old classmates. Yeck, reminded her so much of how boring her youth was back when she was acing her magic classes left and right. How droll and stupid her classmates were…
Well they weren’t all bad. At least Spitfire and Derpy weren’t. Blueblood could go die in a fire. Zecora was pretty alright too, she was just annoying as all hay with her rhyming thing. She didn’t know about Soarin or Big Mac, but Soarin seemed decent with the room trick he pulled. She was actually looking forward to relaxing in their new break room since they actually had space.
Speaking of Big Macintosh…
Trixie looked to her right. The enormous stallion was stiff as a board, terrified of the instructor in front of him. He twitched every now and then, moved to pick up his quill, then glanced up only to find Maize had moved on to a new topic, and dropped it again. Awkwardly he glanced down at his desk, sweating profusely. He had hardly broken a sweat outside during training and here he was turning up the water-works. Ugh, he spoke short and wise and here he was scaring himself over something so minor.
How could notes possibly be so difficult? From day one Trixie was a perfect, albeit cynical student. Did her notes, her homework, growlingly complied to the projects and got them turned in early, very easy stuff. Yet she always found herself watching the one country bumpkin sweat himself dry over it, like it was some sort of big thing. Running that course had been a big thing, this was small potatoes. Tsk. This Big Macintosh fellow could lift his weight, but he was about as dumb as a-
Don’t finish that thought Trixie, he’s your teammate.
She nearly dropped her quill at the feelings of sudden guilt of calling her teammate a mean name, of calling him a mean name in her own head. She winced, reaffirming her telekinetic grip on the quill to keep writing. Why did she suddenly feel bad about that? He was stupid, wasn’t he? That was a fact of life! She was intelligent, he was stupid, she was weak, he was strong…
No, no, no! She was strong! She was strong! Her magic was through the roof! Who cared if she couldn’t run a dumb obstacle course, she could just teleport around it if Cupcakes had let her! She’d out-race this dumb hick…
The showmare felt her stomach tightened in guilt. She hadn’t felt bad about being mad at Blueblood and calling him names, why did it matter what she thought of Big Macintosh? Or that Spitfire could go shove her team-ideals right up her-
She winced in pain. Why did it hurt so much to be mean to these ponies!?
“Y’alright?” Trixie’s head shot up. Big Macintosh returned her stare, his carrying a look of concern. Physically? She was exhausted, stressed, strained, and dirty, but other than that? Golden. No, she was not okay.
“Fine.” Trixie muttered, looking back to her paper to keep writing.
“Alright.” Big Macintosh went back to his paper as well with the same lost expression he’d had before. Trixie watched him, confused. He needed to pay more attention to Maize, not her, so why did he care how she felt? Her little aches and pains weren’t his problem. Just like his stress-filled little note problem wasn’t hers.
They had no reason to even care about the other struggling. No reason whatsoever. Ever. Trixie’s eyes slowly drifted from her paper. His notes were almost blank, it had a few hastily scrawled words but nothing more. Nothing pertinent. She glanced to his face and their eyes met. She could see the nervousness in them as she scanned his ‘work,’ afraid she was judging him. Of course she was judging him! He barely had anything written! It was simple stuff!
She glanced back to her own paper. It was filled up on both sides with words from her notes. Easily made. Maize wasn’t even talking about the lesson now. He was taking a small break to let everypony catch up. Trixie narrowed her eyes at her paper. She felt weird. She blamed Spitfire and her team-minded ideals. They weren’t even a team yet and they were already acting like they were together.
Still… they sort of were together. They all had the same goal. Equestria needed as much hoof-power as possible, and if her teammates were even reasonably intelligent then it would be more than little helpful.
Trixie rubbed her forehead. She detested these thoughts, how they contradicted her desire to be alone. Fine, she could help her teammates, even just a little. They seemed like they needed it after all.
She turned her eyes briefly to glance to him. He wasn’t paying her any attention, so she gently picked up her paper with her magic and slid it to his desk.
He tensed a little as he heard a small noise and glanced downwards. A piece of completely filled-out paper was pushed in front of him on his desk, neatly written and organized. His eyes nervously glanced to his left to Trixie and her empty desktop. Big Macintosh quickly looked back to the papers on his desk and slowly began to copy the notes.
Five minutes later, he pushed the paper back over to Trixie, who took it wordlessly.
‘There. At least he won’t be a total waste of space.’ Trixie nodded to herself, looking over her notes again. Her eyes stopped when she found something she hadn’t written quickly scribbled at the bottom of her notes.
Her eyelids fluttered. She glanced to Big Macintosh, who was staring at his newly filled paper closely, studying with powerful intent. She looked back to the little written note again.
She stared up at the ceiling. An uncomfortable shiver ran down her spine. She was not used to feeling this okay.
So as it turned out the house wasn’t entirely pulled together yet. Pinkie Pie got the ball rolling by demanding Sabine help her go find music. That caught everyponys’ attention. Applejack wanted to go out for… something or another, she wasn’t specific. Fluttershy wanted to take a peek at the city. Dash was feeling cramped, annoyed, and boxed this morning. She’d had it rough so far and wanted to go walk it off.
Twilight, however, was enjoying her morning. It was quiet. In a house that held six ponies, it was quiet. She had the chance to sit back and study, to enjoy the morning, to be productive for once alongside her fellow unicorn.
“Twilight, dearie, could you pass me some extra parchment?” Rarity asked from across the living room table. Twilight looked up from her notes, pushing the large stack across the table.
The unicorn glanced at the fashionista’s papers. Rarity was designing. It didn’t surprise Twilight. She often started drawing on a whim, designing dresses based on the wonders she’d seen that day, and she usually had at least two or three designs made by night time. It had been seven days since Rarity got a moments respite, an instance of quiet and relaxation that would grant her the right environment to get the creative juices going. She already had a small mountain papers in front of her. Some dresses were mere chicken-scratch, others featuring some rather extravagant designs.
Twilight found herself watching the gorgeous mare across from her every now and then, somewhat out of curiosity, somewhat out of pleasure. It was nice to see Rarity in her element again. All she needed were her tools and some fabric to be truly at peace. She also found her eyes traveling along Rarity’s curls, down her sloped, pretty neck, over the subtle ridges of her legs and the way her shoulders would sharpen as she shrugged and flexed. She never really paid attention to the way a pony looked until recently.
Last night, when she held Dash, she’d removed the blanket over her as gently as she could to merely observe. She found herself honestly curious with the way her muscles moved and stretched as the Pegasus attempted to relax herself. The longer she’d watched, the more she discovered, the greater this little tingly warmth that tickled her stomach and thighs grew. Dash was a restless, but pretty sleeper.
That was why Twilight so carefully observed Rarity right now, noticing how much more subtle, how much more gentle, how much more graceful the pony was. Dash stretched and twitched unashamedly to get herself as comfortable as possible. Rarity, on the other hoof, was a true noble mare about it. Her shifting was so subtle she sometimes didn’t notice, and grace joined even the slightest of stretches to make Rarity look like a dream come true. Twilight would even go as far as to say Rarity was, in all forms of the word and in every way it could be construed, beautiful.
“Twilight.” The purple unicorn’s eyes flicked up from Rarity’s lower chest as the leg muscles shifted, rolling the muscles, making a lovely ridge appear and disappear in an instant. She met her friend’s eyes. “You were watching me.”
“Oh dear, you were!” Rarity couldn’t stop herself from giving a small laugh, causing Twilight to just grow more embarrassed. Her leg kicked out nervously, and she tried smiling it off but the guilt stayed.
“S-sorry.” Twilight mumbled, hanging her head in shame and staring down at her own paper. “I’m sorry, I was staring. I didn’t mean to…”
“Well,” Rarity smiled kindly, “that’s alright darling, I’m used to being stared at. Not by you, though, you’re a welcome change.” The unicorn nodded perkily while Twilight finally turned away as her red cheeks began to burn through her purple coat.
“A, uh,” Twilight gulped deeply and held up a hoof to stop a little smile on her face, “a welcome change?”
“Sometimes I worried about you.” Rarity admitted a little too casually. Twilight’s blush disappeared as confusion settled in. She turned quickly to face Rarity with an expression full of curiosity. “Well, as much time as we spent together I’ve never seen you so much as even glance at a stallion or a mare in any sort of desire, not even Big Macintosh and the only time we see him is when those lovely muscles are bulging and sweating and-”
“Rarity…” Twilight mumbled in embarrassment. Okay, so she didn’t look at other ponies. Not all of them were that good looking. Well, sure, Big Macintosh was a handsome male, kind, modest, very gentle too, and the way his body would flex and twitch as he worked, his muscles straining as with that dedicated stare of his he would pull his plow while those mighty legs-
“Twilight!” Twilight squeaked at the exclamation and stared at Rarity. The other unicorn had the most amused expression she’d ever seen. “You were day-dreaming.”
“S-so!?” Twilight turned bright red. Not even turning away could hide the red underneath her coat.
“You were thinking about Big Macintosh?”
“…” Twilight shook her head, almost hearing her own brain rattle around as if all her disjointed thoughts fell away. “… So?”
“Ah…” Rarity sighed dreamily and walked around the table. Twilight tensed up as Rarity nudged her side, “I’m so pleased to hear that Twilight, you have no idea. Here I thought it would require me to take action to rouse your interest in other ponies. Not that I would mind stepping up to the task! It’s just so much more magical to find it on your own!”
Twilight turned to stare at Rarity as the fashionista seemed to lose herself in her own thoughts. “Now you’re day-dreaming!” Twilight accused, wanting to change the subject badly.
“Ah! Yes, you are correct. I was considering what I’d do for our date but I realized that won’t be necessary.” Twilight felt her heart drop through the floor. “Though I must say, I didn’t think Rainbow Dash of all ponies would be the one to catch your attention. When Applejack told me about your little midnight talks you had with her and how Rainbow Dash woke up this morning I was so proud!” Rarity slapped her forehooves down onto the table and beamed at a horrified looking Twilight.
“Honestly, I never dreamed of this happening. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, humph! But I’m still far too happy about you two catching the others’ fancy to be too disappointed in missing out on introducing you to the world of love. Though she is quite a beauty in her own right, it just takes getting past her…” Rarity’s smile grew a little plastic, “Rigid? Gruff? Difficult exterior?”
“B-be nice…” Twilight stared down at her papers to stop her own smile from growing. Yeah, Dash was quite the pretty thing…
“So!” Twilight glanced up as Rarity eyed her with a predatory gleam. The purple unicorn gulped. “What precisely did you two do to get Dash’s fur so messy?” Twilight’s eyes widened. She felt her face heating up. “If I could venture to guess, were you two reconciling the others’ feelings with a little slip of the tongue?”
Twilight stared at Rarity in shock. ‘Slip of the tongue? Wait, does she mean… Number one?’ Twilight’s face fell, “No!” Twilight squeaked while covering her mouth. Rarity giggled at the noise. She sounded so much like Fluttershy when she did that!
“Well what did you do?” Rarity persisted, pushing her papers out of the way. “To get your coat rearranged in such a hideous manner would require a lot of close contact, sweat and-…” Rarity’s jaw dropped. Twilight didn’t like where this was going. “Oh!” Rarity began to giggle uncontrollably, “Oh you naughty mares! You move so quickly!”
“…” Twilight shook her head rapidly, her purple mane flying about her head. “What!?”
“Oh I can see it! Two mares, coming together, having difficulties admitting their attraction.” Rarity sighed loudly, staring up at the ceiling with a blush along her snout. “Words fail, little signs fall short, and so tired of bottling it up the passion explodes!” Rarity slapped her hooves together hard enough to make Twilight jump at the noise. “You don’t know who started it! Was it you Twilight? Frustrated with these new feelings you can’t express with your extensive vocabulary? Or was it Rainbow Dash?” She cooed, “…tired of moving so slowly, unable to handle the stress of such a game of cat and mouse. Ah yes, it does not matter who started it, but without warning your lips connect, somepony grabbing the other and forcing the kiss!”
Twilight’s entire face went slack. Her jaw hung, suspended in the air as Rarity fantasized about her friends.
“Hooves move along muscles taut with stress, relaxing that burning need with but a mere stroke! One of you - probably Dash mind you - presses the other to the bed and rests on top, tongues in an active dance for dominance and submission, neither quarter given or taken as you relieve yourselves of the desire you’ve been hiding for so long! And as your passion grows, so does your adventurous hooves. Little by little they work their way across the other’s stomach until Dash’s eyes gently ask yours for permission, and with a breathless nod you allow her hoof to cup between your thighs-”
Twilight suddenly lunged over the table, tackling Rarity to the floor. The white unicorn yelped in fear as she was suddenly knocked flat. Twilight stood over with an amazingly red face and huge eyes. For a moment, Rarity feared the… best.
“Why… Twilight… I…” Rarity’s blush grew more genuine, “I am so honored you think so well of me, but perhaps you should wait for Rainbow Dash-”
“Noooo!” Twilight finally wailed, burying her face in Rarity’s chest so she could cover her ear with her hooves, “It’s nothing like that! W-we were cuddling! Cuddling! We were cuddling!” Twilight cried out while Rarity just stared at the top of the unicorn’s head.
“…Thought so.” Twilight glanced up in surprise as Rarity gently pushed her off. “Please Twilight, if you and Dash were moving that fast I may have an aneurysm!”
“You…” Twilight sat back as Rarity began to dust herself. “That story!” Twilight accused with a point of her hoof.
“Honestly, sex within the first week of your relationship is a terrible standard. As a couple you two should wait until the moment if perfect, and then consummate your true feelings when you both feel it’s right. Sex is a romantic thing. I would be heavily disappointed if you treated it as anything less!” Rarity huffed, but smiled. “But I am very happy for you and Dash.”
Twilight’s ears were twitching as she sat there, bemused by the whole trick. “Rarity!” She finally hissed. Somewhere, somehow, she summoned up the courage to keep speaking. “Just because Applejack and I talked about Dash and some,” she chewed her lower lip, “things doesn’t mean we’re dating or anything!”
“Well you don’t need to go on a date to enjoy the throes of romance. You and Dash spent the night together after all. Well hay, you’ve been spending almost this entire trip together.” Rarity pointed out with a pleased little smile. “Take your time my dear friend.”
Rarity returned to her work, every now and then giggling to herself in a way that perturbed Twilight. No longer interested in watching her friend’s body, Twilight returned to her side of the table and wrote. Slowly.
She was hardly interested in her work though. She was fully and honestly more interested in thinking about Dash at the moment. The way things had gone, she was seriously considering what Rarity thought of them. They weren’t in a relationship but everypony seemed to think they were. They kind of did act that way though, what with them sitting down to read with her, insisting on rooming with her, protecting her again, sleeping in her forelegs…
Maybe Dash was just being friendly... but Dash didn’t hide her feelings. If she cared for a pony she really and truly showed it. She barely managed to keep the contempt she felt for Sabine off her face their whole conversation, despite being the only real useful pony they’d met here. So maybe Dash wasn’t just acting like a guardian for her sake… Twilight thought back to when Dash mentioned she wouldn’t go on this mission for anypony but her friends. Even if Twilight was more reliant on brains than brawn and the two didn’t really share interests, Dash saw her as a great friend and perhaps… more?
Or… did she? She was bookish and introverted. Dash was the exact opposite. That had very little common ground and never hung out before, not by themselves. Sure they’d caught lunch together once or twice but that was Dash apologizing for smashing another window to her library. Thinking back on it, they hardly did anything friendly between each other. Twilight helped Applejack on her farm, helped Fluttershy with her animals, was always helping Rarity while she was busy designing, and bonded with Pinkie Pie over their experimentation with the Pinkie Sense. Twilight and Dash on the other hoof… were mostly just part of the group.
Dash complimented her sometimes between the thinly veiled distaste for Twilight’s reading habits and Twilight’s snips back, but Dash was a nice pony. Rarity was right, it was surprising they spent so much time together and even grew attracted to each other. Twilight found Dash attractive and found her complications beneath the surface endearing, but what did they have to offer each other beyond that? Maybe they both liked the same book, but that was hardly enough to build a relationship on…
The door to the house swung open, letting a warm wind carry through the house. “Y’all will not be-lieve our haul.” Applejack called merrily. Rarity popped up with an excited smile and trotted towards the farmer-pony as the latter turned to reveal a fresh, bulging Coltriellan-made carrying bag that looked as it were about to tear open at the seams. Pinkie Pie, Sabine, and Fluttershy followed, all with smaller bags. Judging by Pinkie’s smile, she’d found something especially amazing.
With a small heave Applejack’s bag dropped onto the table. The farmer pony removed an extravagant looking sheet of blue cloth.
“Oh Applejack it’s gorgeous. Did you pick it out?” Rarity snatched up the fabric, the silk-like fabric glistened and shimmed as it twisted in the air.
“Nope, got a bit o’ help from Sabine.” Applejack admitted. “Also found’ja this.” Rarity gasped as Applejack presented her with a sewing machine. “Dunno how long we’ll be here or if we’ll be here for very long at all, but you seemed a bit restless. ‘Sides, we got that Ao fella’s treasury backin’ us up s-”
Twilight raised an eyebrow at the two as Applejack was cut off by Rarity’s squeal of joy, then turned to face the door again. Rainbow Dash met her eyes and the two froze as they watched each other. Twilight was still troubled by her thoughts. She was bookish, Dash was athletic, she was cool and cautious, Dash was hot-headed and belligerent…
“Hey.” Dash smiled. Twilight blinked and shook her head as she was jarred from her thoughts. “So yeah, we were out shopping for stuff.”
Twilight nodded, finally cracking a little smile. “Find anything?” Dash was still pretty, and warm. She wondered if she ever had the same thoughts about their… Incompatibility.
“Yeah!” Dash’s smile turned up even higher at the edges as she moved out of the doorway to stand by Twilight. Twilight noticed that her saddlebags looked rather heavy. Her knees shook ever so slightly under the added weight. She slid the bags off and let them thump heavily on the floor.
Twilight watched curiously as both the bags were undone. One by one, Dash pulled out weights. Dash seemed excessively pleased at having found them as she made a small pile. “You found weights.” Twilight pointed out with a dry, amused smirk.
“I wasn’t gonna get ‘em at first.” Dash admitted with a shrug as she started working on the other pack. “It’s not like we’re gonna take ‘em back to Equestria, and it’s not like I don’t have a set at home.” Twilight did note that, other than the shape of the ends, Coltriellan weights were identical to Equestrian weights.
‘Well duh… It’s a pretty efficient shape…’
“But then Applejack bought that sewing machine and talked about crap about restlessness and staying entertained, so I thought it’d be cool to get these.” Dash nodded as she pulled out the rest of her weight set. Twilight kicked one gently. It wasn’t a bad idea. Hey, it was actually a pretty good one. It might even be a good idea to borrow them, work on building her own strength. “Oh, and I found you something.”
Twilight quickly turned her head to see Dash tugging a book out of her bag. Twilight internally winced, ‘Of course, a book.’ It was very simple looking, looking like a text book actually. Hard-covered, looked to be a couple-hundred pages. Dash set it in front of her for her to read. “Belezians: the First Generation of Coltriellan Unicorns.” She read, her eyes moving to read the text at the bottom of the cover. “Authored and backed by Sadi'o'farrosun'o'eropafaniquehuomla.”
“Yeah, I’m not too big on history but I saw it and just kept thinking of you.” Dash nodded as Twilight’s eyes widened in curiosity at the book. “The guy selling it said it was the only book Sadi ever wrote. I asked around a bit and apparently Sadi was Sul’s student and biggest fan. I thought it might tell you something.”
Twilight smiled as she gently opened the book to the first page. She skimmed it and a few more pages before leaning up to press her head to Dash’s neck. “Thanks Dash, this is going to be so interesting!” Twilight whispered as she happily picked up the book. “I’m gonna go read it right now!”
She turned, and the unicorn suddenly found her path way blocked by a sky-blue hoof. “Err, hey.” Dash mumbled as her tail flipped about in agitation. “What do you say we go, I dunno, grab a bite to eat?” Twilight felt her stomach quiver. She wasn’t hungry, breakfast had been more than enough, but she was feeling just as nervous as Dash looked now. “I’m thinking we avoid that grill place though. Y’know, so we don’t get any repeats.” Dash chuckled nervously.
Twilight cracked a little grin at the thought. “Yeah, hehe. I don’t think we paid for that wine so it might be them running us out next time.” She chuckled. The two mares smiled at each other.
There was a knock on their open door. The seven mares inside turned to stare at who stood at their door. He was a polished, though short colt wearing decorated armor and was proudly displaying a carrying pouch on his side. Dash glared at the newcomer. “Can we help you?”
He undid his pouch and tugged out a note with a swift turn of his neck. “Ahem!” He grunted, grinning as he laid it out to read. “By order of Ha’Jin’Vega, high general of Coltriella, the ponies of the Gardet House are to accompany me to To’Ao’s Blade Headquarters in the third Ring for martial instruction and practice!” He rolled his paper up and nodded. “That is all!”
The seven girls stared at the smiling guard who kept himself straight and smiling despite all the disbelieving eyes. “Accompany you?” Dash repeated as she took a deep, calming breath. The guarded nodded! “As in right now?”
“This lesson is to be attended immediately upon the delivery of the news! Ha’Jin’Vega demands promptness from guests, so!” He glanced around brightly. “Would you please come with me?”
Everypony suddenly turned to face Twilight. The purple mare, now in the spotlight, glanced around slowly, awkwardly. She turned to look at Dash. The Pegasus was staring down at her hooves in disappointment until Twilight gave her a gently rub along the leg, “Hey, Dash. We can go out tomorrow, my treat.” Dash raised an eyebrow and cracked a small smile. “Eh, not my treat I mean. It’s Ao’s money and… Yeah.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Dash lead the way after the guard as he turned to guide them. “C’mon, let’s get this over with.” Passing by Twilight, she gave her a friendly nudge to let her know it was fine.
The rest of the ponies quickly set their finds against the walls and began to follow, Sabine included. “Um, Sabine?” Fluttershy whispered gently, catching the Coltriellan’s attention. “We don’t want to make you late for your event. You can go if you’d like.”
“I got an hour or so.” Sabine grinned as she held herself higher. “I can walk with you guys to the Bladehold and have plenty of time to show.”
“Oh.” Fluttershy gave her a small smile. “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.” Fluttershy turned her attention back to the purple unicorn heading the group. Somehow, Sabine beamed with even more pride with Fluttershy’s thanks.
“Mmm mmm, Night can cook if he can shut up for twenty minutes.” Derpy’s eyes followed Cupcakes as the thickly muscled mare approached. The seven of them were back in the Canterlot’s makeshift camp again, ready for round two with Cupcakes.
None of them were looking forward to another minute with Cupcakes, much less another two hours. Maize Picker’s class had been boring for sure and really confusing with all the big new words and all the ranks and names they had to memorize, but as boring as that was, Derpy still wasn’t looking forward to getting in the field again. Silly Cupcakes scared the feathers off her! She had never met a mare so big, so bad-tempered, and so loud! She was also really crude with those mean “b” and “a” words she tossed around.
“Ma’am, I don’t mean to offend your tastes,” the pegasus soldier next to her grumbled as they both dug their hooves into the ground and pulled the huge pallet behind them along. On the pallet was a large number of metal things… Which as they got closer clearly became swords, spears, shields, hoof-crossbows, a lot of metal guards and some enormous cloth-wrapped object, “but those were honestly the worst potato pancakes I’d ever had.”
Derpy glanced next to her to see Trixie’s jaw drop. ‘Potato pancakes do sound good.’ Derpy thought to herself as Trixie huffed and tried to ignore Cupcakes as the Second in Command walked past them.
“Hah.” Cupcakes rolled her eyes. “Grow some damn tastes girl, those things were good!”
The mare by her side sneered loudly. “They were nearly charcoal they were so crisp! It was like eating chips and oats! Awful!”
“I think you mean the other a-word.” Cupcakes unhitched herself and helped the mare do the same. “A-maaazzziiinnng!”
On the other side of Derpy, Zecora’s eyes carefully inspected the tools tugged in front of the ponies. ‘Tools.’ She scoffed in her head. This equipment was nothing more than bit-held death dealers. Ugly tools, made to do ugly things to decent ponies. A flood of memories, three years of witnessing battle flashed through her head in an instant, and her stomach clenched with guilt-induced queasiness.
“Mimi si kiburi, baba…” Zecora whispered to herself. Derpy quickly looked to the mystic as she lowered her head.
The mare helping pull along the pallet shook her haunches and spread her wings, sighing in pleasure. “Ah, it’s gonna be a good day for flying.” The mare took a deep breath through her nose and then turned to look up and down the line of recruits. Big Macintosh met her eyes expressionlessly while he pawed the ground. Blueblood looked like he was contemplating running. Trixie was staring at the weapons with a serious amount of trepidation. Derpy just sat quietly with a dazed look in her eyes. Zecora had her eyes closed. Spitfire was sitting still as Soarin adjusted the back plate of her armor to fit better.
“Mhmm, three pegasi for me, four landies for you.” The new mare looked genuinely excited.
Immediately, all the ponies turned to stare at the new mare as she paced, eyeing Derpy, Spitfire, and Soarin closely. “Recruits, this is Gallows Humor, Equestria’s Pegasi Combat Specialist. She is our leading expert in… go ahead and guess. She will be training Derpy Hooves, Soarin, and Spitfire in airborne combat. When Lowlife gets here, he will be teaching Trixie and - snrrk - recruit Blueblood in combat magic.”
“Hold.” Trixie raised a hoof, an unamused expression all across her face, “The Great and Powerful Trixie has no doubt that this ‘combat’ magic is impressive, but the Great and Powerful Trixie did not earn her name as the Great and Powerful Trixie-”
Cupcakes was rolling her eyes as Gallows listened closely. “- through a lack of talent. She would prefer to not have to relearn the very thing she revolutionized.”
Cupcakes opened her mouth, “And really,” she promptly shut it as Blueblood opened his. “We’re supposed to learn from Lowlife? Last I’d seen him he was still bumbling over levitation spells!”
“Really?” Trixie glanced to the oh-so-loathed unicorn, “Bumbling over levitation spells? Are you sure he’s a unicorn?”
“Not entirely, I always figured he’d had a tragic carrot patch accident.” Blueblood snorted, but drew a laugh from Trixie. Cupcakes had every intention of interrupting until Trixie started to laugh. She held herself back for the moment.
“You know, that would explain so much.” Gallows murmured as she rubbed her chin. “He’s pretty orange and all, and why he’s so slow.” Gallows gasped. “He has a brain-suffocating growth in his head! That explains everything! Neat!” Gallows giggled happily, making Trixie’s laugh stop. Cupcakes’ smile grew as every other pony gave Gallows a wide-eyed stare.
“Nah.” A low, lazy voice said. “T’ain’t no growth, G.H. S’all horn.” Derpy watched the orange-coated pony with white spots carefully levitate himself down from a cloud above, “Momma got ‘em docs t’take a look, yah? S’all good.”
“Good, Lowlife, you’re here. That means we can get started.” Cupcakes leaned down and lifted a sword in her mouth before maneuvering it to stab it straight down into the wooden pallet, making the recruits wince at the crunching noise. “Take your respective ponies and get them started. I’ve had enough tail-dragging today and enough of their bitching.”
Big Macintosh and Zecora went to go stand before Cupcakes as the Second in Command observed everypony else for the moment. Neither seemed too happy having to be under Cupcakes’ hoof again, but what choice did they have? Gallows quickly flew over to meet the Wonderbolts, gushing about being huge fans and needling Derpy about her lifestyle and eye at the same time. As insanely uncomfortable as she was, her optimistic approach to EVERYTHING was somewhat inviting.
Lowlife approached Blueblood with a happily lazy look in his eyes. “‘ey Bloody, haven’t seen ya in a bit. How’s things in the court?”
Blueblood stared up at the sky. He knew Lowlife from several magic classes, eternally bumbling and lazy, an easy source of amusement for Blueblood. Nowadays, thanks to Celestia’s counseling, he was finding it difficult to be more… in his face about his failings. “Things are going well. Or at least they were before I left. So an army unicorn?”
“Ah, yeah.” Lowlife grinned massively. “Reg’lar magic t’ain’t m’thing, but dis combat magic is the right stuff f’r me. S’all smooth ‘n easy…” He closed his eyes and kept on smiling as Trixie stood nearby. The two unicorn recruits shot each other a sideways glance as Lowlife stood still and relaxed. “So, like, le’s get ‘em started, ya?” Without warning his horn flashed, and Blueblood was launched into the air while leaving behind a very feminine squeal.
“That is flying.” Gallows pointed upwards after the unicorn. “Just how I like it! Straight into teeth of the beast!” The Pegasus shot upwards, leaving Soarin, Spitfire, and Derpy alone to go catch Blueblood while Trixie stared slack-jawed at the lazily grinning Lowlife.
“That reminds me.” Cupcakes walked over to the wooden pallet holding all the weapons and grasped the end of something wrapped in a sheet. She loaded it onto her back and walked over to Derpy Hooves. Derpy sat quiet and still, easily cowed by the taller mare’s presence.
Gallows finally landed with a shaking Blueblood clinging to her back, just in time to watch Cupcakes pull open the cloth. “I don’t know what you did to earn this, but you’d better show the backbone you’ll need to swing it during our training.” Cupcakes warned lowly as the ponies leaned in for a better look.
It was a three foot blade made from some strange, non-metal material, looking more like stone than anything. It was had a sickly yellowish hue, and was carved and curved to look like a tooth when viewing it from its side. Vertically it was about an inch and a half thick until it tapered down into a point so fine it skewed the vision just to try and focus on it. The handle it was attached to was metal wrapped with bridle chew to hold.
Derpy leaned down and carefully lifted it with her teeth, her head cocking as she tried to hold its weight. To her own surprise it was actually fairly light compared to how much she thought it would weigh. She risked a smile to Cupcakes. The second-in-command smirked back and returned to Big Macintosh and Zecora.
Derpy grinned, oblivious to the odd stares she was receiving.
‘Lavish’ had slipped its way into every corner of the third ring except for the Blade Headquarters. As the rings grew closer to the castle the inhabitants did their best to make their home look as good as they could afford, and being the homes and businesses of some of the master craftsponies meant that the third ring looked positively stunning.
Except the blunt brown wall and archway the overly-peppy guard guided his little tour through. Oh it wasn’t ugly, at least not in the same sense the elderly weren’t ugly, it just seemed a little out of place, especially between two flower-arranging stores. Surrounded by a variety of businesses, daycares, and even a Yoga-esque class, it was clear that some ponies were a little loco in the coco when choosing consistent shop location-organization.
“When engaging your opponent you need to watch each and every tiny movement of their body!” A voice bellowed across the field. “Each twitch of the ear, each flaring of the nostrils, each cock of the knee is a tell! A tell telling you how this particular pony intends to kill you!” The near Big Macintosh sized stallion standing before a group of forty or so soldiers shouted.
“Quite an intense bunch.” Rarity noted as she observed the martial practice. A regiment of ponies being shouted at were still as they listened. Another regiment of soldiers on the field were currently conducting drills with a silver-armored captain the Equestrian mares had grown semi-familiar with. The passionate lesson was punctuated by the shouts of ponies boxing or bucking sand-bag targets when they weren’t slashing through them with tempered steel.
“I have engaged in battle with over two-hundred opponents and have mastered observation. In the span of forty minutes I have determined the tells of each and every one of you based on practice alone!” The drill instructor called out, just before reaching for a wooden sword slightly longer than Dash’s own blade.
“One, tut-tut, two, tut-tut, three, tut-tut, push! Again! One, tut-” The silvered-captain was actually using his front hooves to beat the stuffing out of a dummy as his soldiers did the same thing, unleashing repetitions of three-hit combos that targeted the neck and face. The girls watched in awe as the captain balanced himself on his back legs for the entirety of the nine hits without even a tremor in his stance.
Sabine nodded quietly. “To’Ao’Coltriella, and all of the city have been preparing for the worst for years. Some of these soldiers have been in since To’Ao took the throne.” One regiment currently lining up to take on the drill instructor one-on-one was obviously not any of these older ponies. The first recruit, a positively massive mare with an equally large wooden sword, squared off against the passive drill instructor. Quick as a whip the sword slashed through the air, shocking both Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash at just how quick she moved the sword with nary a twitch of her upper neck.
The Captain had taken a step back just before the swing, parried the next swipe with a simple prod of his own play sword, and knocked the giant back with a strike and a shove from his front hooves. Four seconds of combat and the drill instructor had toppled a pony two heads his size.
“Your eyebrows raise and your eyes follow the direction your sword will be cutting. Focus on your opponent, not on your attack.” The instructor ordered, sending the beaten pony back to her fellows as the next one came forward.
“Swing, drop, reverse, buck! Again! Swing, drop, reverse, buck! Again!”
“We’ll be learning how to do all of this?” Pinkie Pie glanced to the guard they’d been lead around by.
This… This wasn’t what they’d been practicing. Every improvised step and swing they’d ever used during their practice felt like a step backward while watching these ponies. The ponies using actual swords further down the line were quick and precise. Every slice wasn’t a strain, every thrust wasn’t measured, each step was so slight yet carried their weapon with incredible momentum.
These weren’t Dash’s light little short-swords either. These were honest-to-goodness heavy blades meant to cleave in a single swing. Dash’s roguish dancing tactics with her sword were so incredibly clumsy next to these ponies. Pinkie let out a strained breath through her nose as she watched real swords ponies work.
“Maybe!” The guard answered as he looked to the metal double-doors of the barracks. “I’ve been part of the Blades for fourteen years now, but the most I ever learned was during the first month I was trained here. Ha’Jin’Vega taught me and my kin personally, and hoo-boy that was a trial. I think I came closer to dying in that first month than the last thirteen years and eleven months!” He never lost excited grin.
“Wuh…” Applejack eyes widened. She wasn’t the only pony. Fluttershy starred at the guard in horror, looking as if she might pass out.
“… Dying?” Fluttershy squeaked out. The guard nodded again.
“Yup! Exhaustion, hunger, thirst, we were all put in the hospital at one point or another. After we got through that there were only me and a few others, but she really lightened up. I think she was just weeding out the weak.” He mused.
The instructor glanced backwards as the metal doors began to open and stopped all activity with a healthy stomp of his hoof. “All hooves on the ground, Ha’Jin’Vega is approaching!” Every armored Coltriellan in the yard immediately swarmed the middle of the grounds and took an attentive, chin-high stance as a figure came out of the building.
Her presence was greeted with a respectful silence Twilight normally associated with the Princesses. The trained soldiers dared not make a single noise, not a single clap, not a single greeting. As the large mare climbed onto the platform the drill instructor was using and stood before everypony with a stance of martial perfection, Twilight felt her jaw drop.
“Pinkie Pie!” Rarity whispered as their eyes went over Ha’Jin’Vega repeatedly to take in all her features at once. Rarity turned to stare at Pinkie for several seconds, “She could-” A few more glances between the two, “That mare could be your mother!”
Ha’Jin’Vega was, for all intents and purposes, built like a general, but far from colored the part. “She… she doesn’t, really?” Pinkie whispered back. Her coat was a light bubblegum pink that glowed under the sun, her mane a darker but very healthy shade of pink. Unlike Pinkie’s fluffy, cotton-candy mane, Ha’Jin’Vega’s mane was straight and hung easily off one side of her head, reminding them of what Pinkie Pie actually looked like when she was depressed. Even stranger was the general’s eye color being the exact same light blue as Pinkie Pie’s. Her facial structure was similar too, high cheek-bones and a well-pointed snout, high brows and tight jaw bones. They even held themselves in the same manner at the moment with rigid, though nervous legs.
Ha’Jin’Vega also wore some incredibly elaborate armor. A mixture of golds, silvers, and bronzes that encased her chest and back, carefully protected her stomach, her upper legs and some of her neck, all while wearing a white cloak that hooked onto her left side from the neck that laid across her easily. She was covered from her legs to her back with blades of many varieties: short swords, long swords, sheaths that curved in a variety of ways to hold exotic blades, twin spears across her back and daggers just above each hoof.
Looking between the two, Twilight felt like it was one of those age difference pictures. But across entire continents, across cultures, across ideals, she had no relevant explanation for whatever she was looking at other than sheer coincidence.
Ha’Jin’Vega carefully scanned the crowd of ponies below her. By her side, the drill instructor had taken a solid, respectful stance to show his attention, and on the other, the silvered captain politely waited by her side. The entire grounds were quiet. Everything was still. Twilight sat uneasily where she was and could almost feel the anxiety of her friends. Even Sabine was completely still.
This mare had steel in her gaze. There was a look of great focus in her eyes. The instructor had gone on and on about the tells your enemy displayed while fighting, talking about observing your foes. That’s what this mare was doing to her recruits, watching them for openings. More than once she blinked owlishly and turned her head back to look over the crowd again. Was she looking for the first pony to break formation? The first one to move? The first one to so much as breath?
How difficult would this mare’s lessons be? Could she actually see the signs of a pony unworthy of her instruction? Is that what she was keeping an eye out for? Would she even train them? Dash’s little wings fluttered nervously as she tried to calm herself down, but the more she tried to sit still the quicker she got jumpier. To the pegasus it felt like the mare was watching her and just her.
This whole observation thing must have gone on for minutes. Ha’Jin’Vega scanned the crowd once more before shutting her eyes. She did not open them right away. Calmly, she tensed up, her eyes furrowing angrily, her neck bulging with muscles, and more muscles began bulging on those muscles. Her lips parted to reveal a row of teeth that ground together. ‘Oh no.’ Twilight thought to herself. Something was wrong.
“… SHIT.” Ha’Jin’Vega shouted suddenly. Every single one of them nearly collapsed from the pony’s sudden exclamation. The general opened her eyes again and stared at nopony in particular, her gaze very lazy all of a sudden. “Como’Byuan!” She suddenly faced the silver-armored pony by her side. On the other, the instructor looked heavily annoyed as he stood up. The recruits just shifted. “I lost count.”
“Ninety-three, Ha’Jin.” The captain answered immediately, shifting the standard on his side to reach for something.
“Don’t bother with that shit Boo, got special instruction from To’Ao himself ’bout instructing some new foals wanting to play swordspony. Hah!” The general took a few steps forward and tightened her stare to look over the crowd. “Don’t see a damned special thing about these ponies. Fuck, if I’m getting the wool pulled over my eyes again I’m gonna march up to To’Ao myself and give him a piece of my hoof. Bastard thinks he can step into my business with his pranks…” She growled, turning her eyes up while she swayed across the stage with a pout.
Twilight corrected herself. This was most definitely not another Pinkie Pie. This was the most foul-mouthed mare she’d ever seen.
“Alright my friends, let’s go take our seats.” Their guide insisted as he pushed them forward. Awkwardly, the eight of them went and joined the line of uncomfortable recruits and sat in the back as Ha’Jin’Vega kept pacing.
“I’ve come to understand a number of you little ponies are new here. First, kudos for passing the physical, you aren’t the wimpiest bunch of fuckers I’ve ever seen make the pass. Swear our standards are lowering.” She muttered to herself and Byuan as the latter unhooked something from beneath his cape. “Second, this is not boot camp. This is not guard duty. This is not the reserves. This is the Coltriellan army and I do not accept just anypony to waltz in here. The new forty of you will be timed, trialed, and run through the meat grinder until I know damn well you can survive for half-a-fuckin’-minute on an actual battlefield. If any of you feel like being a smartass and trying to send a letter of complaint, anypony that damn-well gives a care about how I treat you ungrateful shits has approved of my training methods and have been approving for the past thirty years! If my methods are too harsh for your pampered asses then the exit is always open to quitters and wimps alike.” Como’Byuan held what looked like a flask out to the Ha’Jin. Vega stared at the flask, took a quick swig, and Byuan put the flask away.
Fluttershy could feel her jaw was locked. No, this was not the practice she’d been expecting. This was not an instructor with a blackboard and all the time in the world to help you, this was one very intense mare who took sink-or-swim methods seriously. Fluttershy was not a powerful mare, Dash and Applejack were the tough and strong ponies.
“I am tasked with training the lot of you into weapons of To’Ao, of being his blades of war, but to do that I have to take that soft lumpy body of yours and reforge it into a hardened tool for battle.” She turned to glare over the recruits as they stood quiet and still. Fluttershy envied their strength, she was acting like a scared child compared to these ponies.
“Como’Lyon, take the locals inside, I get to dine on some foreign meat today.” Vega did not sound happy as the drill instructor gave a short shout, signaling the armored Coltriellans to stand and formally move inside.
‘Oh, we’re exposed now.’ Rarity thought to herself as Ha’Jin’Vega, and my was she a beast of a mare, locked eyes with the eight ponies left behind. ‘Oh how wonderful.’ Rarity felt her jaw twitch as Vega snorted. The high general then jumped from a casual standing position to land in front of the mares without so much as a bit of strain on her face.
The first pony Vega’s eyes bore into were a nervously sweating Sabine’s. “The hell are you doing here, Sabby? This isn’t your schtick.” Vega’s narrow gaze tightened even further while Sabine tried to put on what amounted to a smile.
‘Sabby?’ Each of the other six asked themselves. Sabine chuckled nervously under Vega’s glare and hesitantly took a step back. “Ah, well, you see, I was just escorting my new friends here-”
“You mean my new meat?” Vega turned her head and stared over the other six with annoyance. Of the six, only Applejack and Rainbow Dash managed to meet her stare. Fluttershy was curling against Twilight’s side and whimpering for help while Twilight stared at the ground as hard as she could. Even an angry Celestia has a less judging glare. “Don’t tell me all these weaklings need help swinging a sword…”
Rainbow Dash felt stiff as a board when Vega paused in front of her and looked her over. She continued to meet the High General’s eyes, but she could feel the defiance draining from her being as Vega’s stare bored into her own. She had a pair of eyes that had seen the harshness of the world and never really got past it, along with a glint of danger that the slightest move would set her off. Vega let out a long, low breath through her nostrils.
Rainbow Dash blinked in surprise as her upper half was raised up by a powerful hoof. Vega’s eyes no longer looked into hers. She eyed her body instead, using that hoof to bounce Dash’s upper half a little. Dash gave her a quizzical look but it was ignored. Vega dropped her to her hooves and walked around to her side.
Dash turned and swiveled, stopping when an annoyed growl came from the High General. “Just what in the hay do you think you’re doing?” Dash demanded in annoyance, resisting the urge to kick when a hoof lifted up her back leg.
“Sizing you noodle-dicked recruits up is what ‘the hay’ I’m doing.” Vega suddenly dug the tip of her hoof into the very sensitive area between the groin and the stomach, making Dash leap up with a shout and let loose a string of vitriol that made Vega pause. “…Impressive. The fuck happened to your wings?” Dash twitched as the larger mare flicked one of the tiny appendages with her hoof.
Dash jerked away and gave Vega a good hard glare. “They got snipped up by some jerk from Golding.” Dash answered, dodging around a hoof as it tried to touch her wing.
“Ah, yeah, those assholes just love clipping you fliers, huh?” Vega kept trying to poke and prod by this Pegasus was a quick thing. She reached out for Dash’s leg. As the pony dodged away Vega raised so slightly on her back legs and floored Dash with a casual swipe of her other leg.
“Dash!” The girls shouted. Twilight resisted the temptation to launch Vega out of the way as Vega poked and prodded her. Applejack hurled herself towards the two, the rest following before Vega whirled around.
Their legs seemed to have collectively turned to ice as Vega slowly came towards Applejack. The farmer pony fell to her stomach and looked ready to roll over on command as Vega started poking at her. “I run a very tight course, girls. I demand attitude, a strict body size, and dedication.” Vega paused as she poked at Applejack’s upper forelegs, then her upper back legs. “Aggression, anger, fear, all are a part of war and a part of battle, and as such are part of my regime: The strength to run down your opponent, the agility to force them to dance like fools, and the wits to turn their own moves against them.” Vega easily tipped Applejack over onto her back and continued to poke at the wide-eyed farm mare. Seeing where this was going, Twilight and Rarity stepped back. Fluttershy quietly snuck behind the two unicorns, using the two as cover.
“The drive to move from fight to fight without hesitation, the courage to face an opponent of any size or number, and the will to power through the battles and keep your focus and sanity.” She was thorough with inspecting Applejack, touching every bit of muscle and fat. “These are the qualities of a soldier, and these qualities and the grim acceptance that you will most assuredly die on a filthy battlefield two countries away alone, forgotten. The qualities of a soldier include understanding that the faces of your family are just temporary moments of respite between the hundreds of battles you will face, rather than a reward for winning them, are what separate a soldier from civilian.”
Vega turned her head down to stare Applejack in the eye. The two focused on one another, one out of fear, the other entirely unreadable. Vega’s eyes slowly traveled over Applejack’s full body, down from her mane, to her back, to her tail, to her legs, to her face. Vega snorted and turned to look everypony in the eye, her stance much more rigid and disciplined than it had been as she marched around Dash and Applejack.
“I would have it no other way.” Vega stared up at the sky quietly. “Like my father and grandmother, I intend to spend my last few breaths with a blade in my belly. Whether it’s from an enemy soldier, an executioner, an assassin, or Lord Galio himself, I will die as a soldier, and when you come under my hooves, I expect you to take the same mindset, as there is no other mindset a soldier can or should have. War is the breeder of death with each battle being the breath of the reaper itself. If you fail to understand that, you will crack believing that you will live through each day of a war, watching ponies you grow to know die around you like meaningless flies. The point of war is not death or killing, it is victory, and victory is through survival.”
Vega’s eyes traveled over to Pinkie Pie. She did not approach the mare, not right away, but she kept speaking.
“If you strive for survival, you will no doubt succeed, but there will be times and battles where you must pick between helping your cause and saving your own skin. You must understand that the cause we fight for is worth dying for, otherwise there would be no reason to fight for it. You must be better than your opponent but willing to die for your reasons on your own terms. Survival will come through perseverance on the battlefield. You may live longer if you run, but you will accomplish nothing by doing so. When I teach you to fight, I am teaching you to survive while serving your cause at the same time. In return, you must embody everything I have mentioned: attitude, strength, and determination. If you combine my teaching’s with the warrior’s mindset you will fight every battle as if it’s your last and put every bit of your being into it without holding back. Doing this will bring you success, and success strengthens your cause.”
As Vega’s words died down, as the Equestrian mares digested the speech, the High General slowly walked over to Pinkie Pie. She stared down at the party mare, as Pinkie stared up at the General. Something unreadable passed over Vega’s expression before she turned away from the small, pink pony. “Who else?” She asked.
Twilight, Rarity and Fluttershy stood back, looking elsewhere as Vega’s eyes crossed over them. Nopony answered.
Pinkie Pie took a careful step forward to get the Ha’Jin’s attention. “You haven’t given me a looksie yet!” Pinkie insisted, her chest rising and falling rapidly from nervousness.
Vega glanced down again at Pinkie and stared hard. Slowly the General turned her head to stare at the color of her own coat on her legs before eyeing Pinkie Pie again. She was drawing the comparisons slowly. Pinkie Pie stood still, trying her best to keep her eyes up to meet Vega’s but they kept twitching to the General’s legs.
Vega carefully circled around Pinkie Pie, suddenly sticking a hoof out to push Pinkie a foot forward, making the smaller mare quickly stick out her hooves to ground herself. Vega’s eyes narrowed in discomfort. “Why does such a fat mare like you want to learn combat?”
Twilight could feel both hers and Rarity’s jaws drop as one while Pinkie Pie’s confident face faltered. “I-” She paused, her eyes going straight to the ground for an instant. Vega snorted while Pinkie Pie tried to look up again to meet the General’s eyes. She nearly looked away again at the contempt in Vega’s eyes.
“Well?” Vega pushed, walking around Pinkie again. She gave her a light shove from the side. “What the hell do you want? You think this is going to be a cakewalk? That any old tubby mare can just walk in and learn what I have to teach? Do you know what it takes to walk in my hooves? In any soldiers’ hooves?”
Pinkie Pie grounded herself and tried to look up at the mare with her teeth grit. “I want to learn to protect my friends and my country.” She stated as firmly as she could. Vega’s eyes narrowed further, piercing through Pinkie’s confident façade and deflating the mare in an instant.
“Is that right? You think I’ll teach you how to pick up a sword because of that?” Vega spat, circling around Pinkie slowly. “You have more fat than muscle, you have energy but not reason. Why should I teach you?”
“It’s the right thing to do!” Pinkie insisted. She began to shake a little as Vega paused. “I mean, I want to learn to fight for my-”
“You’re not a damned soldier at all.” Vega bellowed. “Those two? Your friends over there?” Vega glanced to Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “They have an acceptable body build for this. You’re just some fat little mare, what are you going to accomplish here?”
“I’m-” Pinkie stuttered, her heart racing. She was here for her friends… she was here for Twilight and Rainbow Dash. She was here because she needed to protect Equestria. That was the right thing to do. She needed to learn to defend everypony… she needed to learn so… so that clown thing and everything like it… “I want to learn to fight…”
“Or you could, y’know, stand back and let the real warriors fight rather than be a loose link in our line. Go home kid, I can’t teach you anything.” Vega turned away to walk towards the chosen girls.
Pinkie Pie watched the General walk away with shocked despair. No no no no no! No, she was not going to just… let this go! She wasn’t going to let this chance get away! “I want to learn to defend myself!” She shouted after Vega.
“Then go learn it from some other pony with time to waste.” Vega shrugged her shoulders, her muscles ripping slightly. Pinkie Pie took a few steps after her.
“I don’t want to learn to fight like a civilian, I want to learn to fight like a warrior to fight other warriors!”
Vega stomped her back hoof before Pinkie Pie ran into her and the General whirled around, staring Pinkie straight in the eye with a glare deadly enough to stop Pinkie from breathing. “You intend to fight other warriors? You want to fight soldiers? You want to fight in a war? You. Are. Tiny. Weak. Undisciplined. I could teach you every-fucking-thing I know and deep down I know you would never commit to a battle! You would sit on your ass and watch it, you would stand by a friend with a sword in your mouth and pretend to be the soldier of the year, but you’d be picked off in an instant. There isn’t a single damned thing you could contribute-” Vega reared back as a pair of hooves collided with her chin, shooting her head up and pushing her upper body a good foot off the ground.
Pinkie turned slowly, recognition slowly dawning on her as her brain caught up with her body. She was surrounded by completely shocked eyes and faces, Vega’s being one of them. Their eyes locked. Vega’s stare was no longer terrifying, just surprised. Pinkie’s own eyes were equally surprised.
“Oh no.” Twilight heard from their guide beside them, and she could see Sabine watching the whole scenario fearfully.
Vega’s face slowly calmed. Carefully she took a deep breath, and half a second later the tip of her sword was leveled between Pinkie’s eyes. “Surprise.” Vega growled dryly as Pinkie stood completely still. She stared at her reflection in the blade. She stared at her own bright blue eyes, at her own look of fear. Around her, everypony was set on edge. She lifted her eyes up slowly to meet Vega’s and steeled them. She looked into her eyes, refusing to drop her gaze.
Vega stabbed the sword into the earth and stepped back. Pinkie kept one eye on Vega as she leaned down and picked up the sword, gnawing at its bit to get a grip. Vega observed her grip on the blade. “You’ve held a sword before.”
Pinkie let the handle go slack in her mouth and nodded slowly. “I’ve been teaching myself the past few days.” She admitted while Vega took a look at her stance.
“Just a few days? Odd.” Vega carefully straightened Pinkie’s stance out, and Pinkie adjusted to it quickly. “Why do you want to fight like a soldier, girl? Why not go home and take it easy?”
Pinkie Pie slowly set the sword on the ground as she thought about it. She glanced up to the high general with big, sincere eyes. She knew her reasons were selfish at heart, but… “A week ago I was nearly killed while trying to take it easy.” She mumbled uneasily while taking a seat to calm herself. “I was nearly killed again just watching a battle. Both times I’d been so scared and didn’t know what to do, and I know if I just held back and sat around some more I’d probably just get targeted again. I want to learn to defend myself and my friends, because…” She thought back to those dark, empty eyes of the clown monster, the way it eagerly tried to disembowel her before Applejack showed up, “I don’t really think I, or anypony else can just be a bystander. I know I’m not really tough and strong but I really want to learn! Please teach me?”
Twilight winced as Pinkie’s puppy dog eyes came out in full force, that adorably pouting lip sticking out at far as possible as Vega glanced around uncomfortably. “Look, kid, quit with the stupid gooey-eyes and I’ll figure something out for you. Actually…” Vega glanced to the sky. “I know just where to start you. RECRUITS!” She roared, making all the ponies leap at once. “ATTEND!” She started to march towards the building, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie falling into line.
So, like, two more chapters and then I'm going to make shit happen. Like, actual stuff, not this namby-pamby "oh look at me swing a sword like a pro!" crap, I mean like, lava falling from the sky, the trees turning to dust, kittens getting covered in spiky things and milk turning into red bull.
Also, the chapter got screwed up. I'll fix it later when it's not 1:00 AM.