Trixie entered in the library with her characteristic level of subtlety.
"Trixie has arrived!" She shouted, while creating a series of mini-fireworks to explode around her.
But before she could get to the second part of her entrance, Trixie was stopped by the sight that greeted her inside the library.
It was Sunset. She was chained to the wall a few meters above the ground, with heavy manacles on her legs and thick chains around most of her body. There was also a full complement of heavy-duty medical instruments somehow glued to the wall, some of them visibly connected to Sunset, like an IV. While others didn't have any visible connections, like something that seemed kind of like a heart-lung machine, but was obviously not one. And to top it all off, she also had a magic seal in the shape of a paper scroll wrapped on her horn.
"Good evening, Trixie." She said in a much more casual voice than would be expected given the situation "I ended up setting Twilight off."
The aforementioned unicorn choose that moment to appear from another room.
"Welcome, Trixie!" She greeted her, before pulling out two cushions for her and Trixie to sit with Sunset nearby.
The showmare decided that there was nothing she should be concerned about. While most ponies would probably be thrown off by an unexpected situation, Trixie and her partners had an extremely high level of willful acceptance of everything around themselves, which had been cultivated through their years of training (Twilight's often weird powers causing trouble had been a pretty big part of that). This was part of the reason why they were so skilled in both magic and their knight work.
"Trixie has managed to obtain not one, but two apprentices today." She said, smiling at them.
"Oh..." Twilight said "I also got a second apprentice today. She's a really cute pegasus called Fluttershy who can talk to animals and walks casually throught the Everfree Forest." The unicorn smiled.
"And I have managed to get an apprentice for myself. She is a pegasus called Rainbow Dash who wants to become a Wonderbolt." Sunset added, not wanting to be left out of the conversation and still managing to sound terribly casual (a very remarkable feat, considering her situation).
"This certainly seems to have been a fruitful day for all of us." Trixie said, trying and failing to match Sunset's casualness "Trixie'll tell her story first." Trixie never gave up on a chance to make a show, which was only compunded by the fact that, even though she had accepted the situation with aplomb, that didn't mean she didn't want to know exactly how things had proceeded to that point.
"Trixie walked through the town while wearing weird clothes hidden with illusions, trying to find somepony with the requisite attention to detail to be apprenticed to a master of illusions..." She stopped for effect and saw the other two lean forward slightly "But it turns out that what she found was something much rarer and more difficult to see... An actual pony who has undeveloped, but still powerful Eyes of Truth."
Her two partners were surprised, that kind of special ability was something truly extraordinary, and considered as such even in the stories.
"The holder of such an ability is an earth pony farmer called Applejack. Trixie managed to talk with her alone, and even though she was stubborn, Trixie eventually managed to convince her to become an apprentice and develop her ability." Trixie then paused again, to let that part of the story impact, before adding "But it turns out Trixie's initial wishes would end up being fulfilled in a most unexpected manner." She built up anticipation for the next part of the story, and saw that she had the full attention of her audience.
"In a way that Trixie herself could only call destiny, she would end up crossing paths with her second apprentice after accidentally tripping and falling into a mudpool." She did a small movement to attract their eyes to her conspicuously unmuddied body "Causing Trixie to necessitate going to the spa to clean herself up.
"And there, Trixie met a unicorn seamstress called Rarity." This time there was a longer pause "We shared a special treatment at the spa and she showed interest in the stories of the Knights." Trixie smiled mischievously, to get her partners to wonder about what kind of stories she had told about them "And Rarity offered to help Trixie with her clothes in the boutique she owned.
"It was there that Rarity's talent was discovered... As she managed to unweave every single detail of Trixie's Pattern of Reality." Upon that revelation, Twilight and Sunset pretty much gaped at their partner, knowing exactly what that signified "And Rarity was perfectly willing to become Trixie's apprentice when the whole situation was explained to her." Trixie finished with a flourish.
Sunset, deciding to be the next, started telling her story "I didn't even had a plan. Not that I didn't want one, but I was still thinking about it." She then tilted her head in confusion "And it turns out my previous attempt was the right thing to do after all. Rainbow Dash came to me, having heard about the challenge I had made, and simply kept going again and again to try and beat it.
"Of course, I wanted her to be my apprentice, but she had reservations. I managed to get her to see that she could learn cool stuff with me. But I had to do somethingicrediblystupid" She said quickly, upon seeing Twilight glaring "And allow her a free shot that I overloaded my magic in order to keep from moving at all." She blinked "That mare was pretty strong, her attack was much more dangerous than I expected it to be."
"Well, leaving that aside." Twilight said, still miffed "My story is actually the most dramatic. Pinkie Pie suddenly got a sense that Fluttershy was in trouble, and an aproximate location." Twilight stopped for a moment, seeing that the two had gone rigid upon hearing about it "Yeah, her ability really is something else. Anyway, we teleported to the edge of the Everfree Forest and Pinkie guided me to the place.
"It turned out that trees were attacking Fluttershy, and they had even created an actual cage of branches to trap her." Twilight made a motion with her hood in emphasis "Pinkie Pie warps inside the cage and... Well, the rest isn't actually that dramatic. I distracted most of the branches, grew a tree to open a path and the two escaped." The unicorn nodded "I got interested in her ability to talk to animals, and managed to get her attention with the possibility that she could extend that to talking with plants. And like I already said, she walks through the Everfree Forest casually on a regular basis, apparently."
"Looks like I'm the only one who has just one apprentice. Well, it's more time for myself, anyay." Sunset said.
"But I'm having a problem with Pinkie." Twilight waited for the two to pay attention before continuing "She said she didn't understand the calculus book I lent her, and I don't know how I can teach it in a way she would understand."
Trixie looked at her partner "Twilight... Did you think of asking Princess Celestia for help?"
Twilight looked at her for a moment and facehoofed "Argh. Of course, I could simply ask her to get me in contact with some specialized teachers... I think I just got too caught up in thinking 'she's my apprentice and I have to help'."
"Well, you know how it is, sometimes you just miss some things." Sunset said "That's why we have partners."
That resolved, the three went back to talking about their new apprentices.
Over the next few days, the ponies that became the apprentices of the Knights of the Realm had their first lessons:
"What is this necklace about?" Rainbow Dash asked, seeing the necklace of paper tags that Sunset had on her neck.
"This is something Twilight put on me to detect if I'm using too much magic." Sunset said with a rigid smile "I shouldn't do that while I'm still recovering."
"Ahh... That's not going to cause trouble with my training. Right?"
"Not at all. It's you who is going to do the really exhausting things." Sunset paused "But first, in order to help ground this training session, I have a question for you."
"Okay. What do you want to ask?" Rainbow Dash didn't get what she was trying to do.
"What is the main similarity between pegasi and earth ponies?" Sunset questioned with a smile.
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to answer... And closed it again. She really thought about it. The pegasus knew that this question had something to do with what she would be learning, and considering that...
"Both can enhance their bodies with magic, isn't it?" She hit upon the answer.
"Close." Sunset said "It's more like both tribes do this naturally, while unicorns can also learn it but it is not natural." Sunset waved the distinction off "But you've gotten the spirit of it right. The main difference between them is that while earth ponies have a general physical enhancement, pegasi actually have a whole suite of specialized enhancements that are activated independently."
Rainbow Dash thought that felt like it was right "And that means...?"
"That means you can maximize the effect of your enhancements by understanding and controlling each of them separatedly. They're all basically natural magical formations inside your body that you instinctively pour magical power into to do your feats. Getting full control of them would make it a lot easier and more efficient." Sunset then smiled maliciously "So the first exercise of today is trying to get in touch with the formation that deals with weakening the effects of physical shocks. And that means you will be flying straight into the ground at full speed."
Seeing Rainbow's suddenly worried face, Sunset thought it was just desserts for getting her in trouble.
"And I'll be getting some help with teaching you math in the next few days. For now, we're dealing with something very pressing, doing the chaotic movements consistently." Twilight finished her explanation.
Pinkie Pie tilted her head to the right "What is chaotic movement?"
"That's when you use shortcuts most ponies can't see." Twilight explained simply.
Pinkie gasped "But you can't just do that whenever you want! Things aren't always lined up right..."
Twilight smiled "That's the kind of thing training helps with. Like, it may seem that things stopped lining up, but if you change the angle from which you view them... You can use them normally."
Pinkie nodded slowly, trying to understand what she could mean by that, then she remembered something "Ah... You said we had to figure out ways to gain power... And I though, how about emotions?"
Twilight stopped for a moment and then looked up "Using emotions as power is... complicated. Technically, everypony can do it, and does it without even knowing, because emotions are a part of the self. But it is mostly an instinctive thing that can't really be used for more than a single spell before the extra power disappears." Upon seeing Pinkie's expression fall, she continued "However, there are ponies who mastered the way of emotions to such a level that they don't have those problems. It is a hard and dangerous road, and the more power you wish to access, the worse it gets... Still, it can be used relatively safely at low levels, which may be all you really need. Let's pencil it down for further discussion."
Pinkie was smiling again, thinking that her new teacher really knew a lot.
"Applejack, the first thing you must know about what you're going to learn in this apprenticeship is that to see truth, you must understand truth, and to understand truth, you must understand the world itself, from the most basic framework of reality to the highest of the concepts. So, a lot of the things Trixie will tell you won't help anything unless you really think and meditate about them, and try to understand them from your own point of view. You must seek the truth with your soul for it to develop the best means for piercing the false." Trixie talked in a serious and straightforward manner, knowing that her apprentice would respond better to that kind of treatment.
"Ah, get it. Ya ken point the way, but Ah have to do the work mahself." Applejack nodded, if she was going to do this, she would do it seriously "So where do we start?"
Trixie smiled slightly "We start with one of Trixie's favorite subjects, magic itself." She cleared her throat "Magic is simply the ability to use the power of one's soul in order to affect the world. No matter who it is, everybeing that has a soul can do magic in a way or another." She paused for a moment, letting Applejack parse this "And the soul is the self, so everything that affects the self will affect magic as well, even things that you wouldn't expect can be incredibly important. To make an example, Trixie would say that language is incredibly important for magic. As for how important... Applejack, what do you think of the fact that I call my specialty magic Perfect Illusion?"
"Ehh... It seems like a little bit too boastful, if ya want mah honest opinion." Applejack answered.
"Boastful..." Trixie said in a careful tone "It is indeed boastful, but it is in fact an oath. The words Trixie uses to call her magic, the name she gave it... It is a restriction. Princess Celestia and Trixie discussed this a lot when she was younger, because using those kinds of words is dangerous. If Trixie doesn't continually strive for perfection in her illusion magic, she will lose control of it, and consequently, of her own self. You may call it boastful, but it is still on a controlable level. If Trixie called it Absolute Illusion, on the other hand... Let's just say that it is very easy to become exactly the sort of thing the Knights fight against." The unicorn said softly.
Applejack had to fight not to stare at the showmare. And she felt like she was beginning to understand exactly what kind of ponies the Knights had to be in order to serve as the protectors of Equestria. She engraved this moment in her heart, predicting that it would become important for her magic in the future.
"Animals are connected to nature, just as plants are. This forms a conceptual connection between the two. Connections are important to magic, and I think you would do well to keep that in mind." Twilight told Fluttershy.
"Hmm..." The pegasus frowned slightly as she thought "So, that means that if I want to talk with plants, I just need to think of the fact that they are part of nature just like animals?" She thought that seemed a little too simple.
Twilight blinked "Ah? No, actually that would be a pretty hard thing to do, since it would mean interfering with a concept directly. It's not impossible, since it would just be a small interference, but it is definitely not first step material." She tilted her head to the right "I actually mentioned it just because even knowing that this connection is possible would help you make it even if you take other paths."
Fluttershy thought about it, she was a little embarassed by her mistake, but Twilight hadn't laughed at her about it, so she decided to ask "Then what kind of paths can I take?"
The unicorn smiled broadly "There's quite a lot of them, but the best results can be achieved by choosing the path that is most suited to you. That is one of the reasons why I asked so many questions about you." She put a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder "And considering how much you care for the animals, I think the best option is the route of empathy." Twilight did a spell that created a small billboard with the word 'empathy' to appear above Fluttershy's head "Empathy is an understanding of others, and as such is already well-suited for communication. You care for your animals and try to understand them, so you need to extend that care to the plants. But to really care for them, you need to understand them, and as such your first task will be to try and think like a tree."
Fluttershy couldn't help but smile, this was exactly the sort of thing she liked doing.
But she hoped Twilight would dispel the "empathy" billboard sometime soon.
"You said you wanted to help me achieve my potential... But is there really clothes-based magic that you could teach me?" Rarity asked Trixie.
"Trixie could teach you Gemcrafting, or really, general magic crafting. That could be good, but she was actually thinking of starting with something more basic and seeing where that leads us." Trixie said.
"More basic... You mean, like my telekinesis?" Rarity remembered Trixie praising her talent in multitasking with telekinesis.
"That's half of it. Trixie means your ability to create in general. Constructing your results in your mind before constructing them in reality. This ties into your eye for detail as well." Trixie paused to see if Rarity was still following her words "Every single thing in the world is made of a combination of parts, and the concept of Building, or Crafting can be used in all sorts of interesting ways." Trixie suddenly disappeared, with Rarity being startled when she showed up again at her side "Imagine, if you will, having the ability to turn even the most common materials into the most wonderful and marvelous objects..."
Rarity understood what Trixie was doing, but she couldn't help but think about what she could do without the limitations of materials.
Perhaps she would be able to create wonders that would stand the test of time and be remembered for eras in the future...
One day, Sunset woke up, feeling like the time had finally came.
She checked herself with magic, and saw that she was right, her body had finally recovered completely.
Charging her magic with gusto, Sunset sent messages to Trixie and Twilight (she could have just called Twilight, but what would be the fun in that?). She thought that it was time for them to show their apprentices how the Knights were as a trio.