Celestia looked at her three new apprentices. Sunset Shimmer, with her amazing magical potential. Trixie Lulamoon, with her perfect illusions. And Twilight Sparkle, with her extremely unusual magical affinity.
All three of them had shown remarkable potential in the magical tests conducted all over the world. And it was likely they would become amazing mages under her tutelage.
She only had one question: Was she willing to risk putting them on the path of a Knight of the Realm, even with all the danger that was implicit in that path?
She thought of her sister, and decided that the answer was yes.
"Hello, little fillies." She said in her most welcoming voice "Do you have any idea what I'm going to teach you?" She wanted to encourage them to be independet as much as she could. There was a limit to how much she would manipulate someone, and she wanted them to be able to tell her no.
"You're gonna teach us magic?" Said Sunset. As she was a year older than the other two, she seemed to be taking the lead at this point.
"That's right. But I am going to teach you something even more important." She answered with a smile.
"More important than magic?" Twilight asked, somewhat incredulous.
"Indeed. In the past, there were ponies, and even some non-ponies, who swore to defend the land of Equestria from any possible threats. They've trained to become the best versions of themselves they could, so that they could be the best defenders possible." She said, letting her admiration for those long-dead heroes pass through her voice.
"The best versions..." It was clear little Trixie was interested in it.
"That's it. They were the strongest, smartest, most noble and most courageous individuals in all of Equestria. Do you want to learn to be like them?"
"Yes!" Sunset jumped at the chance.
"I also want to." Trixie said after thinking for a few moments.
"If I can..." Twilight gave her opinion after a much longer pause.
"That's good, because I can't just turn you into Knighs. To become a Knight, you need to apply yourself and work hard. You need to endure difficulties and learn hard lessons." Celestia noted how each of the fillies reacted to which part. She was going to give it her all to make them as great as possible.
Six Years Later
Celestia looked at her three apprentices, now teenage mares who already had their own jobs, lives and friends. She decided this was the best time to see if they were really going to be the Knights she was hoping to make them into.
"So. You three have found jobs and lives of your own. Do you still want to follow the path of a Knight? I can guarantee it's only going to get harder from here on out." She told them in a serious voice.
The three glanced at each other, seeming to have an entire conversation with just their eyes. They had really become close to each other in those last few years. Apparently, the lessons on camaraderie and team work and all the other stuff were sinking in.
"Well." Trixie said "From what we could gather about the work of Knights, we're not going to be on missions all the time. And Trixie can do special new shows after every mission, telling the tales of courage and valor, and showing any new tricks she picks up." She did a flourish with her hat before finishing "There's no reason for Trixie to give up."
Twilight came next "While my work as a magic teacher doesn't have the same flexibility of schedule as Trixie's, I can still go on missions if I organize myself properly." She smiled "No problem. And besides," She looked to her cutie mark "I can't really exercise my real talent by teaching foals, anyway."
Sunset just shrugged "You know, helping you raise and lower the sun is a nice gig and all, but... It's just too calm for me, I want to be able to do more exciting things." She nodded "And I guess that means we are all going to get some extra training soon. Who wants to try to work out some more Special Combinations?" She asked the other two with a cheerful voice.
"I do!" Twilight answered "Oh, this is going to be awesome, I know there will be a lot of new study materials and I'll have to plan a lot of new speeches based around what I learned and..." She kept going on about all sorts of speech variations for different situations, and about the best ways to give a speech depending on who or what you were fighting, and some other things Celestia didn't catch.
"Don't forget that we will need to make even more new strategies, and have cool names for all of them. We need to be able to dazzle our opponents with our strategical acumen and our amazing use of amazing spells." Trixie put in her own two cents.
And then Celestia couldn't get in a word edgewise. The three of them started bouncing ideas of each other, and getting more and more excited, and she got some alarming snippets of conversation like "can make it colder than absolute zero" and "and then the illusion becomes a real magic circle" and "I figure it could blow up a mountain".
The princess started getting a headache. She thought it may have been a mistake to let her apprentices read so many old epic tales about Knights of the Realm. Things could end up being even more hard to handle than they already were. Her apprentices were dedicated, but perhaps their dedication was bleeding off in weird directions.
Still, she figured this was just a phase, the three were going through. They would mature soon, so there was no need to try to douse their enthusiasm unnecessarily.
Yes. This was definitely the right decision.
Four Years Later
Celestia's eye twitched. She wondered if there was anything she could have done to affect this outcome. Perhaps she had been a little too hard on her apprentices, who sunk down to new levels of... eccentricity in order to handle the pressure. Perhaps she had been far too subtle with her indications that perhaps they should not try to emulate literary epic heroes quite so closely. Perhaps she could have gotten their parents a lot more time with their fillies, because they frequently only had each other and it was clear their behavior fed upon their shared bond to grow like a parasprite infestation.
But no, perhaps nothing would have worked, and destiny really wanted this. Perhaps this was the price she would pay for the salvation of her sister, seeing the start of a very silly new era of heroes. But still, they were her dear apprentices, and deserved to be treated as such.
"So. You three have surpassed every single prediction I could make about your growth." In many different meanings, she thought "Your bodies are strong," As the guards have found out "your minds are sharp, your morals are inviolable, your teamwork is legendary," Perhaps too legendary "Your will is magnificent and your magical abilities have reached a standard that I've only seen a few times in history." Thank the World "On all accounts you three are ready for the last step." She paused for a moment, knowing this was an important statement "To become true Knights of the realm, you only need to complete a special Knight mission. And I am ready to give one to you." She took a deep breath "Even knowing that you may die trying to fulfill it, do you still want to take part in this mission, to perform a service to the land of Equestria and become true Knights?" She already knew the answer, but if she was going to innaugurate a new era, she was going to do it right.
Twilight was the first to step up, she then stood in her rear legs and started declaiming, in a way that wouldn't look out of place in a very melodramatic stage play "For the years I've trained, for the ancestors who brought me to life, for the heroes who inspired me and for this world so bright..." She made a slight pause, for effect "I promise that I shall never waver from the path of a Knight, no matter what horrors I face or what dangers I confront." She put her hooves back on the floor and bowed heavily, causing tens of clones of herself to appear all around the room and bow along. Multicolored and multisize clones. They disappeared before Celestia could start having flashbacks "I accept whatever mission you feel adequate to charge me with." She said, as she raised her head back.
Trixie was the second one, and stepped forward in perfect compass with Twilight stepping back, which made her remember all the time they took to train their Team Movements "The Great and Powerful Trixie is not the type who will back down when things are tough." Her horn glowed, creating a spiral staircase which she started climbing as she talked "And her honor will not allow her to decline doing any missions that might help others." And suddenly Trixie seemed to be teleporting with each step, going up and down the stairs randomly "Specially not when it might make a great story to be told for generations!" Suddenly, Trixie was by her side, having replaced herself with an illusion, seamlessly "And that is how Trixie feels." She took off her hat with an elegant bow and went back to her previous spot. The Princess was happy she didn't try to project her speech to everyone in the castle.
Finally, it became Sunset's turn "All this power I was born with..." She lowered her head "I want to believe it was meant for something. I want to believe my talent is something that will make me loved instead of feared. I want to believe that this...!" She started charging an improbable amount of magic. Celestia didn't even react, way too used to this kind of thing "Is something that will have a positive effect in the world!" She released her power in a blast upwards, annihilating a good portion of the roof of the castle.
Sunset returned to her previous spot, before using a spell to fix the damage.
Celestia's eye stopped twitching. She said:
"Then, let's go to the operations room, in order to explain your mission."
It wasn't a big journey. A teleport and then walking for a few more rooms. She heard with a single ear as the three unicorns congratulated each other on the "awesome speeches". The Princess decided to get it over with quickly. She conjured a map of Equestria with an illusion.
"Here," She pointed to a spot on the map "Is the current territory of the Mad King Sombra. He used to rule over the Crystal Empire, until Princess Cadance, in the act that earned her ascension, managed to take control of the Crystal Heart and banish him." She sighed "But she wasn't able to save my sister, whom he has been using as his top enforcer for the last thousand years, transformed by black magics into the form of Nightmare Moon." She showed an image of the Nightmare "He set up in the region of Barb, enslaving its inhabitants and creating a special field of darkness that prevents alicorns, but specially me, from coming near."
She stopped for a moment, before showing an image of Sombra "Your mission is threefold, in order of importance. You must save the ponies that are under the control of Sombra, rescue my sister from his mind control and defeat him, to prevent him from simply trying to take over somewhere else."
Trixie looked at the map "We'll need records about this place, the population, resources and everything."
Celestia floated the relevant papers over to her, having already expected this.
"So, has anyone tried to get in?" Sunset asked.
"Yes, a company of royal guards invaded to try and save the population, but none of them managed to return. The barrier also seems to cut off all communication." Celestia informed her.
"In that case, I think I should set up a connection with Spike. It should be able to sidestep the barrier and allow for communication and delivery of resources." Twilight said "Do you have the information about the magical properties of the barrier?"
Celestia floated a page to her, and she got out a scroll and started making calculations. Trixie also looked at the page.
"Trixie will need to get close to the barrier to confirm, but this also seems like an alarm system. She'll have to think of someway for us to be able to enter without tripping it." She explained.
Sunset started wondering about the possible defences, including magical traps and the possibility the guard contingent was also under mind control and would fight them. The other presented their own points and the planning proceeded.
Celestia smiled, despite everything, she had complete faith in their ability.
Three Days Later
"So, I guess we're as prepared as we're going to get." Sunset said, as she looked at the bags the three were carrying.
"And I've already made the special connection with Spike." Twilight said, somewhat sadly. The small dragon had not reacted well to not being able to go with Twilight in such a dangerous mission,
"Now we just need to teleport close to the barrier and initiate out mission." Trixie said, trying to change the subject.
"Good luck, my students." Celestia said "I hope to see you victorious soon."
The three smiled at her, then they got up on their rear hooves and started posing.
"For the glory of the Knights!" Shouted Twilight.
"For the protection of the innocent!" Shouted Trixie.
"For the good of the world!" Shouted Sunset.
"KNIGHT FORCE, MOVE OUT!" The three shouted, their poses coming into synch, then disappeared in three pillars of light.
Celestia sighed, not being surprised by that. Then she was relieved to note that she still feared for the safety of her apprentices, instead of being too numb.
"I just hope they don't traumatize my sister..."