56w, 5dAussie Bronies
Also, I saw the newest episode (leaked). My head is literally pounding from all the facehooving.
Buck was rudely awakened by the overpowering glare from morning sunbeams shining on his face. He flinched awake, but instinctively kept his eyes closed, unwilling to sear his retinas. Now conscious, he resolved to surrender to the comfort of his rest, wriggling happily under his sheets to a position. He smiled to himself as he lay on his back, his legs half in the air, savoring that peculiar feeling of being half-awake after a long, hard rest. He took a deep, satisfied breath, inhaling the sweet scents of freshly made linens and hearing the soft clatter of movement from outside his room.
Relishing the sensation of being tangled in a great multitude of linens, he rolled over onto his side, feeling his mane muss up as he adjusted his head. Something, probably a lock of his hair, somehow managed to land on his face, tickling his nose mercilessly. The stallion scrunched up his face and gently shook his head. Sweet relief returned and he felt himself sinking down into the embrace of sleep.
The tickling sensation returned. Buck absentmindedly swiped a hoof over his face, mumbling in his contentment.
Then, the abrupt sensation of weightlessness. Buck's legs now dangled below him, and his head was held low. The blankets that had been wrapped around him hung limply, though he felt them moving in some unknown breeze. He groggily opened his eyes to find himself hovering several feet above his bed, surrounded by a dark blue aura. A familiar alicorn was standing next to his resting place, her horn aglow in a similar light. Buck smiled down at her stupidly.
"Oh, hey, it's Luna. What's she doing in... WHERE THE HAY AM I."
He began struggling violently, only managing in turning himself upside down, where he dangled comically in the magical grip. Despite his new perspective, he made out the sumptuous living quarters of the bedroom he was inside. On the tangled bedsheets several feet below, the emblem of Celestia was proudly displayed, a sun radiating beams of light.
His confused expression must have amused his captor, who began to giggle. Buck frowned, although upside down it looked more like a demented smile. "Err... G'day, Luna. Where... exactly are we?"
She released her hold on him, and he tumbled back down to the bed, which he promptly bounced off to land on the floor, face first. Luna mercilessly smiled at him. "Canterlot Castle. Surely thou remembers the events of yesterday?"
Buck's eyes flew wide open now, all hope of a morning snooze forgotten. He jumped to his feet and staggered to the window, fighting back against the blankets still wrapped around his frame. Sure enough, spread out below him was one of the gardens that the castle was famous for. Several high-class nobles, mostly unicorns, could be seen strutting around the many paths that wound their way through the attractive landscape, still in the ascetically pleasing grip of winter. His breath fogged up the glass almost immediately, so he turned back to the room, deep in thought. He took a step forward and shrugged the sheets off of himself.
"Ah. That's why. The Nightmare."
Once again, he found himself openly gawking at the silver crescent on his chest. Despite the glare form the morning sun, it was producing enough of a glow to starkly contrast with his coat. He frowned, concentrating, and the glow gradually diminished. In a great splotch surrounding the mark, his coat had turned very dark, almost black. The dark spot surrounding the moon had spread since the last time he'd looked at it. Memories began to trickle back as his body overcame last vestiges of his slumber.
After arriving at the castle with Captain Cloudhammer, he'd waited in the foyer alongside the Royal Entourage for the Princess to show up. And she'd definitely shown up, all right. A sudden crack and flash of light announced her teleportation not three paces in front of them, and both stallions had been greatly suprised. Almost instantaneously, Buck and the Captain then found themselves in Celestia's private chambers, surrounded by two grim goddesses and a neutral looking Ragdoll.
The following conversation more or less consisted of both stallions simply staring open-mouthed at the three as they explained the situation. Cloudhammer was somewhat skeptical, until Buck had grudgingly removed his bandanna, and the evidence of his condition was revealed in full.
Buck shook his head, still not completely believing it himself. But, the facts were literally emblazoned into his skin, and fused into his being. On top of that, he had raised the moon, that night on the Royal Palace balcony, all those years ago. That was utterly explainable without knowledge of the full extent of his blessing. Or was it a curse?
Luna levitated the blankets off the ground and neatly tossed them onto the rumpled bed. She gave a soft chuckle as she observed emblem on his chest. "Strange, isn't it? It bears much resemblance to our own." The Princess turned to the side and playfully wiggled her rear, prominently displaying her cutie mark. Truth be told, they looked almost exactly alike.
Buck nodded dumbly, unable to take his eyes off it. "Eeyup."
"You're staring at our flank."
"Wha-? Oh. Oh!" Buck stumbled around a bit, blushing heavily. He focused on a particularly interesting patch of ceiling in an attempt to regain higher brain function. "Er... righto, sorry."
She casually waved a hoof in dismissal, yet had an admirable blush of her own. "'Tis nothing to apologize for."
There was an awkward silence, both ponies staring at anything but the other.
Mercifully, the pause was broken by the sound of the bedroom door opening. A refined, gray face of a unicorn poked it's head in, soon followed by the form of one of the palace butlers. He stood at attention by the door, his attire of a stiff, white collar and black bow-tie were utterly immaculate. He spoke then, with a hint of a Trottingham accent.
"Ah, splendid, you're awake now! Shall we begin the morning preparations, sir?"
Buck looked at Luna for a clue as to what he should see, but she only shrugged. He eyed the butler skeptically. "Aye?"
The butler was sharp as a tack. "As you wish, sir. You've got a busy schedule ahead, if I might say." He crisply trotted over to the wardrobe, removing several posh-looking garments and began inspecting them. "In twenty minutes, a meeting with Celestia herself, quite an honor. Then, Princess Luna is to escort you to your registration, followed by a session with Captain Cloudhammer. Hold still, sir." He said as he tried to levitate a heavily bedecked apparel over the knight's head.
"Oy! Cut that out!" Buck protested, swatting the clothing out of the air. "I've already got me outfit!" He pointed to the bedside table, where Applejack's old Stetson and his bandanna were laying.
The butler eyed the garments as though they were covered in dung. "Surely you jest, sir. Such common ornamentation for a stallion of your rank and affiliation with the Princesses is unacceptable, and goes against castle policy. Fine attire is to be worn at court, no exceptions."
Princess Luna nodded, although somewhat regretfully. "Sometimes, Buck, the rabble must have their traditions. It would be considered an insult to some of the nobles to appear in your standard outfitting." She pointed to the elegant black peytral plate she wore, as well as her crown and silver-shod hooves. "These are not merely for ornamentation, either. In the court, the better one appears, the more respect one receives."
Buck looked forlornly at his bandanna and hat. They seemed to be calling out to him, begging him not to leave. He shook his head again, clearing his thoughts. "Ugh. Fine. Just... make it simple. I don't want ta look like a walkin' jewelry store."
"Excellent choice, sir! I have just the thing; an Atlantian toga. " agreed the butler, and he rifled through the wardrobe again, procuring a long, golden sheet, which he expertly folded into a rough square. He guided it over to Buck, who was watching it warily. The sheet gently wrapped around the knight's chest and lower neck, draping over him like a sash. An excess of cloth hung at the back of the neck, presumably to be pulled over the wearer's head like a hood.
Buck took a look in the mirror. The wrapping was indeed simple, and yet it seemed to make him look... noble.
"Something seems to be missing... I have an idea," said Luna. her horn lit up again, and a black crescent moon, outlined in a pale silver, winked into existence on the front of the toga, directly over where actual mark was. Buck looked down and nodded. He looked good.
"Let's get on with it, then." The knight, who now looked every inch the part, strode purposefully toward the door.
"Wait!" Cried the butler.
Buck turned and rubbed his hooves on his forehead. "Now what?" he said exasperatedly.
The butler pointed to his hind legs, indicating the magical weights.
"Nope." Buck stated, his eyes narrowed. "They stay."
"'Tis fine, Chives, I shall make him presentable." Broke in Luna. Her horn again lit up, and the leg weights expanded up and down his legs a few inches, and silver runic glyphs wrote themselves on the surface. They now appeared for all the world to be ornamental bracers, and the dark, gleaming metal went well with his toga.
Chives, the butler, smiled. "If I may say so, sir, you look fit to be a prince."
Luna snorted with amusement. "Pray that he never becomes one. The power would swell his already-fat head to monstrous proportions."
The knight shot her a dark look at this, but gave a hearty laugh nevertheless, playfully checking her as he walked out of the room.
The pair made their way through the castle, drawing many a curious eye as they went. It wasn't often that Luna was sighted in the castle during the day; she was usually holding an understandably less-attended court during the night while Celestia slept. More often then not, the two sisters would only see each other at breakfast and dinner for stretches of time. Or, breakfast for Celestia and dinner for Luna. Regardless, if the Princess of the Night was up and about, and with a mysterious stallion no less, the castle dwellers could tell something was up.
"Perhaps they are intimidated by your presence," Luna suggested, noticing the attention. "Thou towers over even the greatest of the guards."
Buck didn't think so. While true, he was actually the largest stallion in Equestria outside of Big Macintosh, both giants excluded an air of calm and gentility. During his youth, Buck had often been gawked at for his surprising size, but usually such stares went away after ponies became familiar with his presence. Even in the first few weeks at Ponyville, he had attracted gazes of wonder and occasionally fear. He frowned, slowly plodding alongside Luna as they went through the castle hallways. It seemed as though he would have to fit in all over again.
"Strange. It's like history repeats itself, regardless of who's playin' the game."
Then again, he'd never heard of an earth pony imbued with the essences a goddess and a being of pure shadow. He'd never heard of such a terrible danger to Equestria, either. From what the Princesses had told him, the rising tide of darkness brought about by the new presence of the Nightmare posed an even greater threat than Discord himself. Although, apparently the Elements of Harmony (of which he was very proud that Applejack is a part of) had mopped the floor with the mischievous draconequus as well as Nightmare Moon.
"Why can't they just zap with the Elements and be done with this bloody mess?" he'd asked Celestia and Luna the previous day.
"The pieces of Luna and the Nightmare are too far fused to your own being to attempt such a thing." The older sisterhad stated.
Luna had elaborated further. "Such cleansing power would tear you apart as your soul is ripped in twine by the Nightmare as it leaves. We are not willing to sacrifice thou in such a way unless it becomes apparent that all other hope is lost."
Quite frankly, this whole situation was beginning to grate him a little. He'd had a nice thing going in Ponyville. More bits than he knew what to do with, a place to call his own, and he had a loving relatives at Sweet Apple Acres.
"But somethin's missin', ain't it, Bucky?"
A part of him wanted to deny it, but that gaping void in his heart created by the absence of his wife reminded him every time he woke up. Despite all that he had gained in the recent months, deep down, he felt alone. The only pony that could ever relate to him now was-
"Princess Luna!" a voice called from behind him, interrupting his thoughts.
The knight glanced behind him, smiling warmly in recognition as the familiar armored figure of Captain Cloudhammer joined pace with them, falling in slightly behind and to the side. The captain managed to strike a firm salute, an impressive feat considering he had to keep up with the blistering pace set by the two much larger ponies. "M'lady. Sire. I was hoping to meet with you later, but it seems that I've been called to attend your meeting with Celestia," he reported. "But I believe the subjects that we wish to address are related enough to be able to be presented together. By the way, Sir Apple, I like the outfit." He added, nodding appreciatively at Buck's golden wrappings.
Buck merely snorted and shook his head. The sooner he was back in his hat and bandanna, the better.
"What place has Celestia arranged for our gathering, captain? We were told to ask one of the guards at her personal chambers for directions. 'Tis unlike her to be so indirect." Luna mused as she walked, absently scuffing one of her hooves on the floor.
Cloudhammer's stony face curled into a look of worry. "The war room."
Canterlot Castle had one area where the servants never bothered to clean. It was never entered, rarely mentioned, and all but forgotten by the palace staff. It hadn't been entered in anypony's living memory, and more often than not ponies got lost trying to find it, such was the disuse. It was the war room, and it had been forsaken for at least seven hundred years, since the last time Equestria had been at war. Seven hundred years of peace, prosperity, and harmony. Until now.
Buckshot, Luna, and the Captain entered through a broad double doorway come into a large chamber. The wood paneling on the walls was cracked and somewhat warped, while the rug beneath their hooves had become threadbare with age. A massive table stood at the center of the chamber, painted in a map of Equestria and several neighboring lands, topographical features sculpted artfully into the table itself. Small colored pieces, representing everything from air currents to zebra migration routes, dotted the map in a confusing layout. Standing tall over the table, rapidly rearranging the pieces with an ivory horn aglow and sporting a small frown of concentration, was Princess Celestia.
The regal alicorn looked up from the board, dipping her head in acknowledgement. "Greetings, my little ponies. We five have much to discuss today."
Cloudhammer eyed her quizzically. "Five, your highness? There are only-"
A silky, low voice caused the three to look over to a dark corner of the room, out of which prowled the shaggy brown and white figure of Ragdoll, with her usual odd feline grace.
The captain, who was once again furious with himself for having been crept up on yet again, only managed to choke out a strangled greeting. "Elder. Charmed."
The curious unicorn mare smirked and joined Celestia at the table, taking over the job of moving the peices while the Princess focused on the assembled three. "As you were informed yesterday, Sir Apple's reawakening has allowed the Nightmare's influence to spread once again across Equestria," she said solemnly. "While the source of the corruption resides in the knight himself, we must still address the issues raised by those affected by it's influence from afar. For example, creatures unseen for centuries have been reported again, discontent is brewing in several nations where once there was peace. You are all gathered here to learn what it is that you can do to help stem and turn the tide of such darkness that will soon break.
"Firstly, the foul beings of spite and malice awaken anon with the Nightmare's call. We have not seen such creatures since the early days of our rule, soon after we wrested control of Equestria from Discord. After harmony was brought to the land, and the populace became happy and carefree, the beasts found themselves to be greatly weakened, and so they slunk, tails tucked, to the wild places of the land to slumber. Some of them remain extremely powerful, and are not to be taken lightly."
"What kinda buggers are we talkin' about, exactly?" Buck asked, brow furrowed in thought.
Celestia paused, as if weighing whether or not the impact of her words would be too extreme. "One such creature, a salamandi, was the source of the eruption that destroyed your home in Stable. That disaster was no accident, I'm afraid. It was pre-meditated, and it's sole purpose was to cause pain and suffering, as all wicked beings of darkness seek to spread."
Buck felt his heart grow hard at the mention of the cataclysm that wiped out family. To think of the event as a simple accident of nature had been enough for him to not pay the actual eruption a second thought. BUt now that he remembered, the volcanic upheaval had been extremely violent... guided, even. He rolled his shoulders and let out a long, shaky breath through his nostrils. His parents had been killed by one of these creatures, these "salamandi", simply because it had wanted to cause pain and suffering. And if there were more of them... more creatures who wished only to harm innocent ponies, he now knew he had to put a stop to them. There was no way he'd let any more of the monsters who killed his family, who destroyed his home, to get away unscathed. Now, it was personal.
He felt an extremely uncharacteristic surge of anger rise from his gut, before he mentally crushed it.
"No. You remember what Pa said. Don't get mad, get even."
Celestia looked concerned at his expression. "Do not hate the misguided, Buck. Pity them if you must, but never hate. Such emotions lead down a path that ponies are not meant to trod." Luna nodded sagely at this, raising a wing to wrap it comfortingly over the fuming knight's shoulder, who visibly relaxed at her touch.
"Secondly, recent reports from neighboring lands have grown increasingly... worrisome," Celestia continued. "A letter from the ambassador to Gryphonica indicates that a recent uprising among one of the religious groups has ignited the first flames of what appear to be a civil war."
Cloudhammer gave a mighty scowl as the Princess went on. "Intelligence indicates that the support for this group, known as the Talons of Ra, has been mysteriously increasing. It is possible that they will soon attempt a revolution. If they succeed, they will spread into other lands, namely Atlantis to the west, and the draconic lands farther north."
"This could mean Equestria will need to go to war for the first time in centuries." The captain muttered grimly.
"On the contrary, I'm afraid we will have to. The Talons of Ra have made it very clear that they wish to wipe our country off the map on several occasions. We have sent agents to Gryphonica to support the crown in any way they can. Elder Rust himself should be there as we speak, and will assist their efforts before he returns to Canterlot with the beings he has deemed needed for his little project.
"Should their efforts fail, Equestria will not only be forced to go to war to protect itself, it will have to put out The Call." finished Celestia, her voice sinking the volume of a whisper.
Everypony in the room gasped in abject horror, even Ragdoll was shaken from her usual icy cool. The captain looked around blankly, before shrugging. "What is The Call, your highness?"
Celestia smiled warmly at him for a moment, then it was gone. "The fighting forces of Equestria have always been small, elite armies of the very best we have to offer. Similar to the Royal Guard, captain, merely quadruple your number. The last army Equestria fielded contained a force only ten-thousand strong. However, in times of the greatest peril, the common citizen must be called up to defend their homeland. The Call is, as the name implies, a 'call to arms' of everypony able and willing to fight. You would not know of such a thing, Cloudhammer, as it was stripped from records half a millennium ago... The last it was used was long ago, even for us."
Luna spoke up, adjusting her wing around Buck, who hadn't moved at all. "'Tis a terrible notion indeed, to have our innocent citizens, who have done or received no harm, forced into conflict. It was erased from the history books for a good reason, captian. Would thou be able to deal with the prospect of sending thine loved ones off to war?"
"I... if its for a good... no. No, I would not, your majesties."
"Now you see the true depth of the problem we have on our hooves." Celestia said mournfully. "But come, gather round the table, I shall show you one of the countermeasures we have already set in motion." She pointed to a cluster of peices directly outside of the Everfree Forest.
Buck snapped out of his stupor. "That's Ponyville. What could ya have there that'd help out in something like this?"
Celestia opened her mouth to answer... And was interrupted by a sudden flash of light, as a neatly wrapped scroll winked into existence in a small blaze of green fire, plopping down onto the table with a soft thud. The Princess of the Day unwrapped and scanned its contents, a small smile growing on her face as she did, before she turned to the knight to respond to his question his question.
"The Elements of Harmony."
The knight bit his lip thoughtfully as he walked, the details of the rest of the meeting swirling around his head, but not entirely comprehending them. Equestria was in great peril, of that he had no doubt. But what could he do? If anything, his presence was making things worse. Simply by existing, by providing the Nightmare with a physical anchor to the world, he was doing grave harm. An army was in the process of being created, the Elements were being assembled, and Elder Rust apparently had his own contingency plan well underway. What was possibly left for him to do?
"It just doesn't add up."
Then again, he'd never been very good with numbers.
The trio had returned back to Buck's guest chamber, where the knight had shed his ceremonial sash and donned his usual getup, with the exception of his transformed leg-weights, which he thought were quite nice. The change to a lower quality attire was necessary, though, as Captain Cloudhammer explained as they walked to their next destination.
"...It's a simple series of tests, but it's more than enough to gauge a recruit's readiness to become a full member of the guard." The stern officer explained. "There are other sections of the test that you are exempt for, of course, being an earth pony. It wouldn't make sense for you to attempt the aerial obstacle course and the magical aptitude test without wings or a horn, now would it?"
As a knight, Buck was required to maintain a standard level of fitness, required by all members of the Equestrian military. While the captain had already seen his unnatural strength, there was still the matter of performing the official test and gathering the necessary data. Merely a formality at this point , but still, Buck couldn't help but feel a bit nervous.
The trio arrived at a large cobblestone courtyard behind the Guard's barracks. A well worn path around the outside of the square, along with floating hoops in the air and various obstacles indicated that this was the Royal Guard's training ground, and had been for generations. The captain halted at a painted line in the stones, and his demeanor suddenly changed from a passive observant to that of his true self.
Captain Cloudhammer had served on the roster for almost three generations now, and showed no sign of slowing down. The veteran may be sporting a few gray hairs in his mane, but was consistently feared by almost the entire force simply because they had all passed through his unique form of training.
A regime of blood, sweat, and tears was the chosen regime for this king, and now he had been given his crown and scepter. Here, the captain was law. Forget Celestia, it was his golden visage the recruits prayed for mercy from.
"Atten-HUT!" he barked, in a voice that was deceptively quiet, yet carried the force of a thousand unusual punishments if ignored. Gone was the neutral exterior. Now, the knight was nothing more than a morsel of food, being graded for consumption.
Buck felt himself snap to attention without even noticing.
"The Gauntlet is one of the oldest traditions the Royal Guard has. For generations, scores of equally incompetent ponies have been molded into the finest fighting force in all the land. Here is where they prove it." Cloudhammer pushed his face right up against Buck's and gave him the full power of his legendary glare, the one he usually reserved for the new recruits.
Fully grown stallions were known to wet themselves under the captain's eyes.
Buck felt himself tremble involuntarily, gulping as he met Cloudhammer's gaze.
The armored pegasus' voice dropped to a mere whisper. "If you even so much as think of making even one step away from the finish, if you find the smallest whisper of doubt in your head, that says 'I can't do it'..." He suddenly reared up and screamed in Buck's face. "I WILL PERSONALLY TEAR YOUR HEAD OF, FEED IT TO A DIAMOND DOG, WAIT UNTIL IT'S NOTHING BUT A PILE OF DUNG, AND STUFF THE ENTIRE STEAMING LOAD DOWN THE THROAT OF YOUR GRANDMOTHER! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
"Eeyup! Er... yes, sir! Sir! Yes!" Buck stammered weakly.
"Good. You may proceed when I say."
The captain walked over to stand by Princess Luna, who was attempting to hold back laughter. Buck eyed the course laid out before him, then turned back to the guardspony. "Sir, I gotta question."
Cloudhammer cocked an eyebrow. "What?"
"Can I take off my leg weights?"
A small nod.
"Good onya!" Buck leaned around and popped the bands off, pressing hidden buttons with his teeth. They sunk several inches into the cobblestone where they fell, causing the captain and even Princess Luna to gape.
Luna watched as he suddenly tensed, as if bracing himself against some hidden force. She had only seen him do this a few times, and even then, he'd not had the energies of two powerful entities inside him. The Princess grinned. Cloudhammer was in for a real treat.
The captain began a countdown. "3..."
Buck sunk lower, like a sprinter at the ready. His eyes narrowed and a cocky smile was plastered to his face.
A faint rumbling could be heard, though the source was indistinguishable.
A faint glow suddenly flickered to life from under the bandanna the knight was sporting. The air seemed to crackle with pure energy as a distant hum reached the captain's eardrums.
There as a sudden blur of motion and the knight simply... vanished. Cloudhammer gasped and whirled about to see a dark teal shape streaking down the first section of the track, the path around the square, with frightening speed. It whipped around the turns without even bothering to slow down, completing the circuit in mere seconds.
The knight bolted into the next section, a single, flat wall, two stories high, meant to teach guardsponies how to clear tall obstacles. He paused at the bottom, before sitting back onto his haunches and rocketing upwards, clearing the wall by several feet, arcing gracefully over the top to land on all fours, barely slowing his pace as he charged forwards.
A large forest of upright poles, designed to promote agility, lay before him. He wove his way through these with surprising ease, considering how large he was, becoming nothing but a flickering blur as he flipped and twisted out, before careening onward like a runaway train.
The next section was to test for coordination. A dense bale of hay attached to a rope was set down on a line, to be thrown as far as possible. The knight smoothly bent down, gripping the rope in his teeth as he did a quick spin, and sent the bale flying away without even bothering to stop. The bale of hay arced high, high, higher still, until it vanished into the sky with a faint twinkling noise.
Cloudhammer could swear he saw a grin on the knight as he whizzed into the final section - strength. A solid stone block the size of a large carriage now lay in his path, meant to be pushed a certain distance. The dark teal stallion jumped forward, spinning around mid-air to deliver an earth-shattering buck to the stone, which then promptly rocketed across the courtyard at such a speed that the stone began to erode from grinding against the cobblestones so fiercely, and finally broke into pieces where it smashed into the castle wall.
Captain Cloudhammer whirled around again in disbelief, to find the knight nonchalantly leaning against Princess Luna, the weights now back around his legs, and for some reason he now had a bubble pipe, which he blew on gently.
For a moment, the captain could have sworn he heard somepony yell "awwwwwwwwww yeeeeaaaaaah!"
"What." Was all he could say. "Where did you get that?"
Buck shrugged. "Ran into the city ta see if they had one."
"Just now?" Cloudhmamer was completely bamboozled.
"Actually, at the start. Don't worry, mate, I left some bits to pay for it."
Cloudhammer punched himself in the head to make sure he wasn't asleep. The helmet clanged comically, like a bell being struck. "That's... nice. Oh. Uh. You pass."
The knight smiled, happily blowing on the pipe while Luna, unable to control her mirth a second longer, began laughing hysterically.
Mwa hahahahahahaha! -lightning flashes dramatically-
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