The five apprentices were called to see Princess Celestia with high expectations. The Knights had been called earlier in the day and seemed very excited when they came out, so the five had their own ideas about what the alicorn wanted to talk with them.
After the usual greetings, Celestia didn't waste time:
"I had a mission to give to the Knights, but they told me some good news." She smiled "They said you were ready to go on an actual mission."
"Yes!" They responded at once, seeing the implied question.
"If you accept to go on this mission, you shall officially receive the title of Squires. Are you willing?" Celestia was serious.
"Yes!" They repeated.
"You shall have one day to make arrangements to be able to leave for what may be weeks of time. Are you sure?" The princess asked carefully.
"Yes!" They said for the third time.
"In that case, let me call back my apprentices so that I can brief you on this mission all at once." She nodded and thought of the conversation she had earlier in the day.
"Are you sure your apprentices are ready for a mission?" The alicorn of the sun asked "They've only been training for a few months."
The three unicorns glanced at each other and decided to let Twilight field that question.
"Yes." She said "And there's lots of reasons why this is possible." She made a number 1 appear and started counting "First, they weren't exactly average to begin with. Applejack already had the Eyes of Truth, Pinkie could use her chaos magic instinctively, Fluttershy had managed to push her talent to be able to communicate with the unusual animals at the Everfree forest, Rainbow Dash had trained herself to great levels and Rarity was extremely skilled in telekinesis. They're not just talented, like we were when you brought us in, they're adults who have refined their talents over years."
The number changed to two "Second, while we had a very broad magical and moral education in addition to everything else and only started the serious Knight training four years ago, besides the all-rounder Knight training, their learning has been very focused to give them tools to fight as soon as possible. This would be ill-advised if we hadn't already seen how trustworthy they are in the battle against Discord."
Three "Third, they haven't really reached such a high level. Rarity's abilities are strong but they still consume too much magic, Pinkie still hasn't gotten more than a small fraction of the potential power of Emotion Charge, and all that. They still have fairly big limitations, to the point that I would not send them to missions alone, but together, and with all that we've managed to teach them... Even without us being there, I would still trust them to succeed."
Four "Fourth, they actually have some true battle experience in a critical situation. Me and the others felt that it became easier to grow stronger after returning from our first mission, because the experience made our souls develop slightly in a way that helped turn our magic into battle power. They also had this kind of development, which was a lot more significant for them, since they still had such a big part of their potentials still untapped."
Five "And fifth, possibly the most important factor is that they have the most important quality for a Knight. A heart that never gives up. It's the same for heroes, since Knights are pretty much heroes that are trained to be able to deal with anything, but having seen their reactions to the battle against Discord, we are certain that even in a terrible situation, they will still press on and find a way." Twilight finished her lecture and looked to her teacher.
Celestia nodded slowly "If that is your judgement, I shall believe in you."
"I need you to investigate and deal with the problems on the the city of Belemoor and its cavern." Celestia summed things up.
"You mean the place where the Amulet of Threshold is sealed?" Sunset recognized "That really is bad news. What exactly is happening?"
"It started just with suspicious movements around the cave, but then some of the posted guards started being attacked, civilians were kidnapped by disguised figures that the guards needed to fight in order to rescue them and some other odd incidents also occurred." The Princess closed her eyes "I sent guard captain Armor to investigate the situation, while Luna sent Spike to help the guards and gain experience."
"He did send a message that he was off on a training mission..." Twilight remembered "So he was with BBBFF..."
Trixie had more pressing concerns "Since you told us to 'investigate', Trixie assumes we're not just going in horns blazing and seeing what falls down from the tree."
"You are correct, my student." Celestia praised "In fact, part of the plan our data analysis division worked out involved all eight of you going to the city under disguises and starting from different places." Then she turned to two of her listeners "Applejack, Rarity, considering the two of you have younger sisters, having them together with you would sell the cover more effectively, but that is your choice."
"But isn't this dangerous, Princess?" Rarity asked carefully.
"This has been taken under consideration. The guards in the town have been reinforced to protect the civilians, and I've already plan to send two guards together with you in order to reduce the chance of leaking information, and the guards could protect them." She smiled "There's also the possibility of giving them emergency escape spell scrolls, just in case."
Applejack thought about this "Ah think that seems fair, but our sisters are always together with another filly and wouldn't want ta be separated from her."
The sun alicorn considered this "I think we could include her in the entourage pretending to be another younger sister, but that would require parental permission."
Rainbow Dash raised her hoof "I know her, so I could take that place. And I should also talk with her parents."
Seeing that there didn't seem to be any more questions, Celestia informed them of the specifics of the plan and gave the eight two days to make their own arrangements to be able to leave their homes for a while. Rarity had to finish all her outstanding orders, Applejack and Fluttershy had to find people to take care of their daily jobs (they were helped by the castle) and all that.
Eventually, all of the Knights and Squires went back to Ponyville to prepare for the mission. So Celestia called a specific guard from the castle (chosen after a careful screening process) in order to give the news that he would be accompanying the Knights in their mission.
His name was Bunker Breaker, and his reaction to the news was... unexpected.
"YEEES!" He actually cheered, forgetting for a moment that the princess was present "Ah, sorry Princess." He said awkwardly.
Celestia suddenly had a terrifying thought, and hoped she was wrong "You haven't offended me, my little pony. But what brought this on?"
"Well..." He hesitated, before taking the plunge "It's just that all members of the guard are fans of the Knights, but I am lucky enough to be chosen out of all of them." He smiled.
The princess' heart went cold, she barely could get herself to ask the next question "When you say that all members of the guard are fans of the Knights, what exactly do you mean?"
"Oh, you know that most ponies who become guards love the stories of Knights that protect the realm." Bunker was already relaxed, seeing that Celestia was taking things well "And then there were all the stories captain Armor kept telling about his sister and her friends.."
Why, Shining Armor... I believed in you... A part of Celestia managed to think.
"But then there was the fact that they managed to save Princess Luna and a company of guards and that really increased their popularity." The guard continued, oblivious "And then the battle against the legendary Discord..."
Celestia managed to inwardly admit that it made sense in retrospect, even if most of her was going through a silent panic attack.
"Ah, you don't need to worry, Princess." Bunker reassured her "I can be professional. It's more the night guard who are the real die-hard fans anyway, since it was their princess who was saved."
The Princess remembered that the second guard sent was planned to be a member of the night guard, but only in a distant way, while her immediate focus was on the words "die-hard fans".
"You are dismissed. Go prepare yourself for the mission." She managed to say.
Bunker saluted and left. Celestia then decided to see just how much she had missed, and used a remote viewing spell to look at the living areas of the night guard.
She choked. There was so much merchandise. There were posters, plushies, cutie mark stickers and coat dyes for cosplay, story booklets, dioramas...
How had all those things been produced without her knowledge? She looked at the brands, and discovered that a constant was the Piffle Toy Company, so she decided to go straight to the top.
Seeting up a meeting with the director of the company would be difficult for most ponies, but she was the Princess, so he was only too happy to accommodate her, and it only took a couple of minutes before she could ask him when and how these things had been approved and produced.
He explained that a member of the company approached the Knights on Ponyville after their first mission, representing a group of companies that planned to release all kinds of merchandising, and her three apprentices had been all too happy to accept, insisting they didn't need money and that a good portion of the profits should be given to charitable causes, with Trixie even offering to write up the stories of the missions and remove all sensitive information, so they could make the story booklets.
Why are my apprentices so efficient about those kinds of things...? Celestia moaned internally, before thanking the director for his time and teleporting back to the castle, as there was still something she needed to check.
Even with the Knights giving their okay, the castle should still have received a report of the negotiation, so they could decide if they wanted to veto it. Celestia went to the archive room, looking through the documents with a strange sense that she already knew what she would find.
And that sense proved to be true, as she found the relevant document and looked at the signature on it, before casting a spell to prevent any sound from leaving the room and raising her front hooves to the air before shouting.