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24th of March.
The sound of thunder was rolling in over the neat rows of tents in the Grand Army camp. Black Star turned her head towards the mountains. It was scheduled to be a calm evening. But this close to the Northern border, rogue weather often reared its ugly head. She returned to her work with the summoning area. The immaculate runes between the two circles began to glow with an eerie blue light as she placed the last of the twenty hoof sized magic crystals around the edge. A smile appeared across her pearl white face. She had often received compliments comparing her coat to that of Princess Celestia, at least in fruitless attempts by stallions to bed her. Even though her coat color was similar, her mane and tail was not. Hers was black with a blood red streak running through it, and it also lay flat against her head covering half of her face. Black Star's cutie mark was three black stars, which made a few ponies apprehensive thinking she was connected to the heavens. Privately she laughed about it, knowing it only signified her talent for black magic.
It had taken her almost a week to complete all the preparations and rune work for this spell. Not to mention her extensive study of the intricate work left behind by Starswirl the Bearded and Clover the Clever. Tonight all her hard work would come to bear fruit. She was interrupted by a sound behind her. Black Star turned around as a beige Pegasus stallion with a yellow main came to a standstill before her on the hill. He gave a smart salute. She noted his plain black armour with only the required full moon insignia painted on the chest.
“Yes eques,what is it?” Black Star asked the unknown soldier.
“Vexillarius Black Star! Message from Chief Decurion Avarice! He regrets to inform you he will not be able to make it for the ritual. But you are to proceed anyway and report your findings to him.” As the eques finished, he looked at Black Star and grimaced a little when meeting her eyes. Since he was a messenger, he didn't know that she could see. Black Star was used to this and didn't bother to inform him that his assumption was incorrect about her milky white eyes. She often gained valuable information this way, and had survived on more than one occasion because ponies had underestimated her when they thought she was blind.
“Understood… Inform him about my sorrow of not having Chief Decurion Avarice here for the ritual. I understand he's very busy.” She answered the messenger and waved him away. The messenger saluted again out of habit and took off. Black Star inspected the summoning area again. She wouldn't admit it but she was a little bit annoyed. What could possibly keep the Unicorn from witnessing what was about to happen this night. The summoning of a spirit had never been done before. If she succeeded this would be a monumental achievement for pony kind. With a snort of annoyance she turned around and started walking back to the encampment.
She walked through the camp towards the command tent, once again she noted how all stallions and even some mare's let their eyes slide over her flank as she went by. All things said, Black Star was quite a looker and she knew it. She had been the talk of the camp ever since she arrived two weeks ago. But since everyone knew Black Star was here at the order of some high and mighty ponies. Only Decurion Lightning Strike had got to know her here in person. As she arrived at the command tent she halted outside the flap.
“Decurion Lightning Strike, it´s Vexillarius Black Star. May I enter?” She called out.
“Enter.” Lightning Strikes voice immediately rang out. She floated the flap out of the way and walked in. Lightning Strike looked up from her maps and reports. The slightest hint of a smile flashed across the Pegasus´ face for a second. Her coat was golden yellow, the mane was a two tone blue that was swept back, and the tail cropped short to lessen wind drag. Black Star saluted. Lightning Strike waved a hoof dismissively looking a bit annoyed. She had liked this mare from the get go, especially when she understood just how intelligent she was. Lightning Strike actually had a hard time believing Black Star was only a Vexillarius. In her opinion, she knew a couple of Decurion that should probably swap rank with her.
“At ease… I get enough of that formal crap from the rest of those useless bastards here in this camp. How is your work progressing?” She asked. Now it was Black Star who flashed a smile across her face.
“All is ready. We can proceed once the Praetorian smith arrives with the required mythril.” She informed Lightning.
“Excellent! The Praetorian arrived an hour ago... Don't give me that look. It was better you finished up your work before going and bugging him about what he is supposed to do. He should be set up in the foundry by now.” Lightning said and stood up. The black armour she wore was immaculately polished. The moon inlay on her chest was pure silver, and the crest on her helmet made it clear she was a Decurion. They walked out together, and proceeded towards the edge of the camp to where the foundry could be found. It was on the exact opposite side of camp in regards to where the summoning spell would be performed. As they arrived they could hear the ring of a hammer hitting metal. But it did not belong to the praetorian who was sitting quite still observing the camp smith. He was a large muscular earth pony stallion. His coat was Brown, and his main was fiery red, just like his eyes. Two hammers were crossed on his flank. He was huffing angrily while the hammer rang against the armour he was currently making. As he dumped it into the trot of water, it made a hiss and sent up a large puff of steam.
“Evening Bender! You seem to be in a particularly good mood today!” Lightning calls to the smith. Bender looked up with murder in his eyes. But it disappeared when he saw who was standing before him. He smiled and gave something that could probably be passed for a salute. Smith's often worked for the Army, but was seldom an official part of it. The rule of thumb was that if you were a good smith you would most likely be employed by the Army. This was the case with Bender.
“Evening Lightning Sir!” His voice boomed. Lightning smiled at his attempt at being courteous. Then her eyes fell on the Praetorian, and were surprised to find it was a mare earth pony. She was in good trim even for a soldier, but not so muscular as she thought smith´s would automatically become. She had a very dark purple coat, the mane and tail were dark blue just like her keen eyes. On her flank Lightning could see a shield with a sword and a hammer crossed on top of it. And most remarkable, she seemed to be quite young. Her mythril armour shone brightly and was in excellent condition.
“Praetorian.” Lightning said and made a small tip of her head as a greeting. The Praetorian answered with a slight nod as well.
“So it's true then! This whiff of a girl walks in here brash as you like, and start rearranging my tools, then tells me I'm no longer in charge of my forge!” Bender´s voice boomed in annoyance as he stared at the girl. The Praetorian looked back at Bender with steel in her eyes. This would have made most ponies quiver with fright. But old Bender was not your average pony. He snorted back at her.
“You're lucky I didn't buck you half way across the Empire girl!” He roared in her face before stumping off. The Praetorian looked after him quite curiously. It wasn't everyday you found someone brave or stupid enough to stand up to one of them.
“You touched his tools? You are lucky to be alive, he must like you.” Lightning said with a laugh. The Praetorian once again looked towards the stallion who was stomping off to Gods know where.
“I pity the poor sod that gets in his way tonight.” Lightning said as she stood in front of the Praetorian.
“Now I assume you have been informed about what's going to happen here?” she asked. The Praetorian stood up and nodded. Lightning raised an eyebrow at her.
“Are you mute or something?” She asked.
“No… But I seldom talk unless I have to. I seem to have a peculiar effect on ponies.” The Praetorian answered. Both Lightning and Black Star gawk at her. Her voice was wonderful. It sent shivers down their spines and they could swear little glass bells were playing in the background. It was precisely the opposite of what you would expect a Praetorian to sound like.
“By the moon! Are you sure you're not supposed to be a singer or some such thing?” Black Star asked without thinking. The Praetorian snapped her eyes at Black Star who immediately took a step back. The Praetorian narrowed her gaze suspiciously at this.
“You're not blind. That's a cunning deception.” The Praetorian stated.
“Let me introduce Vexillarius Black Star. She is the second in command here at the moment.” Lightning said in ways of introduction. Once again short nods were exchanged.
“Black Star is also in charge of the summoning and will instruct you in what she needs you to do with the mythril.” Lightning said while taking a step to the side and let Black Star stand beside her. The significance of this little move was not lost on the Praetorian. Black Star was clearly no ordinary Vexillarius, being allowed to stand beside the Decurion at what could almost be seen as equal footing.
“I have orders to do all I can to help you. All you have to do is tell me what you need.” The Praetorian answered with a wave of her hoof to the side, there her hammer leaned against bars of mythril and the hammer seemed to be made of the same ore. The hammer in particular caught Black Starts interest, it practically shone with a powerful incantation to help with the smiting of mythril. Black Starts eyes widened at the sight of it. The value of the mythril in front of her was frightening to think about. Together with the twenty crystals at the summoning site, she was using up more money than a normal pony could earn in a lifetime.
“Very good… I need you to hammer out scales. On half of them I needed you to put these runes, and on the other half these ones.” Black Star said while pulling out a parchment with the two rune designs on them. The Praetorian eyed the design Black Star wanted on the scales. After a few moments of consideration she looked up.
“The scales will be quite large. You are not planning to do anything to fine with them?” She asked.
“No depending on what we summon the scales will be attached to either a leather collar or a harness to keep the spirit anchored on the physical plane.” Black Star answered hopefully.
“That won't be a problem.” The Praetorian said while she grabbed her hammer and walked off to prepare the forge. Lightning Strike and Black Star turned around and started on their way back into the camp. When they were in the command tent again Lightning turned to Black Star.
“You really don't know what you are going to summon?” She asked.
“Yes I do, a spirit! I may not know exactly which kind of spirit. But if my theory holds I should be able to anchor any spirit on the physical plane.” Black Star answered with a smile. Lightning just looked dubiously at her.
“So for all we know you could summon a squirrel spirit.” She said with a teasing voice.
“Of course not! I'm not leaving it entirely up to chance! I've been able to narrow it down to something that will be suitable as a warrior!” Black Star defended herself adamantly. Lightning was grinning at her.
“Well I really need to get back to work. Inform me when everything is prepared. I may not be a unicorn but I definitely want to see this.” Lightning said as she sat down behind her desk.
“Understood.” Black Star answered and gave a salute. As she left Decurion Lightning Strike command tent she was smiling as she always did after talking to her. Lightning might not be a unicorn, but it made her happy that at least one pony appreciated what she was trying to accomplish here.
26th of March.
The hammer was still ringing against the anvil as Black Star once again walked into the forge. She couldn't believe it had taken two days to shape the mythril into scales. The last piece was almost done, when she had placed the enchantment on it, the summoning of the spirit could finally commence. She eyed the praetorian smith through the shimmering air. The temperature in the foundry was immense. But still the mare had worked tirelessly, only taking short breaks for food and rest. Sometime during the first day Bender had once again appeared at the forge. After studying how the mare worked around the forge he had wandered off, only to reappear again with a heavy apron to shield him from the intense heat needed to forge mythril. Without missing a beat he had start helping with what he could. He was once again holding the mythril scale with tongs. Changing angles and twisting it perfectly for each of the Praetorian mare´s hammer blows. Lightning Strike had adamantly proclaimed that Bender had finally found true love. Although she was laughing at the time she said it. With a hiss Bender dunked the last scale into the water tub. When he brought the scale out, both smith's inspected it thoroughly.
“I'll give it to you… You're a half decent smith girl!” His voice boomed as loudly as ever. The Praetorian punched him quite hard in his side, although it barely made Bender flinch, he smiled wickedly at her.
“Same to you old man. Without your help, it would probably have taken me three days to complete all the scales.” She admitted somewhat reluctantly. He nodded and put the last scale back on the anvil.
“It was my pleasure! Couldn't let a chance to work with mythril just pass me by now could I? And it gave me an excuse to look at you all day as well.” Bender said and skipped to the side just in time to avoid another punch. Black Star walked up to them while she was shaking her head.
“So it's all done?” She asked even though the evidence was right in front of her.
“Yes… And I'll bring all the equipment I need to attach the scales to any piece of leather you want. The final assembly should be done at the summoning site. Part of the deal for the mythril was that I could return with a detailed report on your work.” The Praetorian reminded Black Star. She nodded while she examined the last scale. Even though she hadn't asked for anything artistic, the outside look like a miniature dragon scale. The inside was smooth with the Runes exquisitely stamped in to the surface of the mythril. Black Star was more than pleased with how the work had turned out.
“You're more than welcome Miss… You haven't told me your name?” Black Star suddenly realized.
“Praetorian is just fine.” She answered. Black Star looked to Bender who just shrugged.
“I just call her girl!” He boomed with a grin. Then he winched painfully as her hoof connected squarely with a kidneypunch.
“Right… will meet up at the summoning site in an hour. Anyone that wants to watch is welcome.” Black Star announced proudly and walked away to inform Lightning Strike that the show was about to begin.
Thanks to Laughing Luna for the Pre-read/Edit
Thanks to DJDemitri for the Pre-read/Edit