Knights of the Realm

by Kinni


"Well... This is... Unoptimal." Sunset said.

"Knowing that actually helps a little." Trixie put in "Instead of a strange shadowy group, we have changelings, who have more well understood methods and goal. But still, this is indeed a sticky situation."

"I think we should talk about what we managed to learn from that fight, just so we're all working with the most complete information." Twilight said.

Everyone nodded in agreement, except for the fillies, who were mostly just excited to be able to see the Knights and Squires doing their thing.

The chaotic unicorn decided that, since she had made the suggestion, then it was her who should go first.

"Venus was powerful, but I could see this was mostly because she was using emotion to fuel her magic." Twilight turned to her pink apprentice "Pinkie, you should have realized that too."

The earth pony nodded "Yeppers!" Then she tilted her head "Does that mean she has learned emotion magic like me?"

Twilight shook her head "No. It didn't feel like she was using the directed magic that characterizes the true nature of the Emotion Charge." She put her hoof in her chin "Considering a feel hints, like her cutie mark and the fact that a lot of her attack names contain the word 'Love', I would make a guess that she simply has an affinity for the emotion of love, and can use it as a power source more easily than most ponies can use their emotions." She nodded "Like I said, using emotions to power magic is common, and true emotion magic is simply a directed, stable and general way of doing so."

Fluttershy raised a hoof to the air "That seems to be right, I could feel that pegasus radiating love like she was a fountain." She opened her eyes wide "It was slightly awe-inspiring."

Sunset waited to see if anyone else had anything to say about that before putting in her own two bits "Venus hasn't had any kind of martial arts training." Sunset raised her front hooves and imitated some of her movements as reference "She's naturally graceful and that translates well, but her movements are still unpolished, like she was just getting by on natural talent. There were gaps others could exploit, and I'm sure the changelings she fought would have done so if it wasn't for the fact she had enough power to be able to compensate for those flaws."

Rainbow Dash decided this was the best time to make her own contribution to the conversation.

"I recognized some of the weather magic tricks she used, so she probably has experience in weather control." She spun one of her hooves "But there were a lot of things that could be improved, so she either didn't really go into serious weather control work or she is deliberately holding back. I'd guess it's the first one, but that is only just a feeling. However, she definitely trained to be able to integrate her weather magic in combat, because she was fast, and doing those things in the middle of fighting is harder than it looks." She put her front hooves behind her head, lying down in the air "And to appear and disappear like that, she must be flying up and down from the clouds, hiding in them."

Trixie waited to see if Rainbow Dash had anything more to contribute, and seeing that the answer was negative, she added her own observations:

"We can be sure that this is Venus' first appearance. Otherwise I don't know how we wouldn't have heard about her. Even if she did her heroism in the most remote corners of Equestria rumors would have made their way to us." Trixie tapped a hoof on the floor "The data analysis team sure wouldn't have missed it. And this would explain her apparent inexperience, in that it didn't seem like Venus knew what to do with the enemies after having defeated them."

Applejack was the next one to talk "Ah may be mistaken, but from what mah eyes saw she seemed ta be on the up and up. Like, it didn't seem she was faking being concerned about us and wanting ta protect 'citizens'."

Rarity put in her own observations "I've been thinking about who Venus might be, and why she appeared for the first time here. It's possible she heard about the ponies being attacked and decided this was the best place to make a debut as a heroine. Maybe she was even inspired by our very own Knights and trained herself to become good enough to do it, the timeline makes sense at this point... But her actions of appearing from nowhere to help people and then disappearing again make me think that maybe she already knows about the changeling infiltration and doesn't want the guards of the city to get too much information that could be used against her." Rarity had a thoughtful expression "But I don't know how she would have realized it."

Fluttershy had an idea "Well... Changelings eat love, don't they? Maybe her connection to love allowed her to feel something?"

"That seems to be a plausible theory, but let's just keep this in mind." Trixie looked at the guards "Anything you want to mention?"

Bunker Breaker answered "Just that I could recognize the strategy of the cloaked figures as following the same doctrine as the battle tactics of the royal guard. But considering that they are changelings, there are no question that they would be able to steal and implement those tactics to such a perfect level." Night Time nodded, showing her agreement.

"Anything else anyone wants to put in?" Trixie asked the room in general.

"Actually..." Everyone turned to look at the speaker, who turned out to be Scootaloo "What's going to happen to us, now?" She indicated herself and her partners in crusading, before looking at Rainbow Dash "You told my parents that I would be taken to safety as soon as the danger got too great, and I'm sure my friends' sisters feel the same way. So what are you going to do now that you know what the threat is?"

Applebloom and Sweetie Belle thought about it, they didn't want their adventure to end so soon, but they had promised their sisters that they'd obey the instructions of the grown-ups, so they looked to Applejack and Rarity and nodded slightly, putting the decision on their hands.

"It's not as bad as it could be." Sunset said, feeling like she needed to give direction to what the others were thinking "If the enemy was someone like Sombra I would definitely send the foals back without hesitation, but the Changelings aren't known for killing or hurting innocents, since they need ponies alive and healthy to serve as their love batteries. Still, another layer of protection wouldn't be unwarranted, considering that we know some of the things to expect." She looked to her chaotic partner "Twilight, you said that Fluttershy had worked out long distance empathy?"

The purple unicorn nodded with an expression of understanding "Yeah... That would definitely be good. Fluttershy, you know what to do." She said to her apprentice.

The pegasus nodded and pulled out three feathers from her wings, which she gave to the three fillies "Hold onto these. This will serve as a connection between me and you and will let me feel your emotions, so I'll know if anything happens to you." She smiled slightly "I can also communicate with you via them. The reverse is harder, but if you have something you really need me to know, try to think of me and speak in your own mind as loud as you can."

The three took their respective feathers and nodded, smiling because they wouldn't have to go back home so early.

"Of course, this is all just guarantees. We won't simply let the three exposed to danger if we can help it." Sunset said "Now that this matter is decided... Twilight, when are they going to come?"

She thought about it "I sent the message to Spike with a black ribbon, meaning that he should not let anyone except himself and my brother see it. So it would take a little while before they actually read it, and then they would have to come here in secret, which would definitely be hard, but considering that I sent the message as soon as we got here... Maybe only a few more minutes."

In truth, it only took two more minutes after that, during which the ponies tried their best to relax (watching the Cutie Mark Crusaders playing pattycake was a particularly popular activity, specially after they somehow managed to make one of the beds collapse). Then there was a knock in the door and they looked at Twilight, who nodded, feeling that Spike was right outside via their connection.

They opened the door and let the two enter. Shining Armor had used some sort of disguise spell to hide his horn and change the colors of his coat and mane, while Spike... seemed to be only an indistinct dark shape in the air. Then the two cancelled their respective disguises and revealed their true forms, Shining Armor being as before, while Spike was still the same as before, except he seemed to stand a little straighter and step more firmly.

Twilight saw her big brother and her pseudo younger brother, and since it had been a long time since her last encounter with either of those two (longer in the case of her BBBFF), she decided to hug them. This presented a conundrum, since she didn't know which of the two she should hug first, but the unicorn solved the conundrum in a very Sunset manner, by grabbing both of them with her telekinesis and bringing them together so she could hug the two of them at the same time.

"Hello, sis." Shining Armor said, trying his best to return the hug, despite his awkward position.

"Hi, Twilight." Spike did the same thing.

After they separated, Sunset and Trixie greeted the Captain with a casual "hi" and then greeted Spike in a closer manner, Sunset saying "How does it go, little dragon?" and rubbing his head with a telekinetic hand while Trixie said "It seems like your training is paying off" and putting him on her back.

"Oh, you mean that spell?" Spike answered Trixie "It's just something Luna made me learn that is supposed to make me 'inconspicuous like a shadow'. You haven't seen anything of the real awesome stuff I can do now." Spike said proudly.

After that, the two newcomers were greeted by every other pony in the room, mostly in a simple polite way, but the crusaders swarmed around Spike, asking questions about dragons while Night Time asked him how Princess Luna was. Meanwhile, Bunker Breaker saluted the captain, as dictated by the usual military behavior.

After everything was done, Shining Armor and Spiked were filled in on everything the undercover agents had discussed before their arrival.

The unicorn guard captain was grim "Well, this really explains a lot of things, but it also means we are in a delicate situation."

"I'll say..." Spike agreed "Having to deal with an entire town of changelings when you have very little manpower that isn't a changeling? It's complicated alright."

"How can the changelings even infiltrate so easily, anyway?" Rainbow Dash asked "Aren't there counter-measures against them?"

"There are, but the abilities of the Changelings are just very hard to deal with." Shining Armor answered "When they capture ponies to replace, they put those ponies to serve as love batteries and the caretakers of those ponies can read their minds for any information their disguised agents need to be able to fit in, and pass that information through the swarm network. And the agents can request information from it at any time." The unicorn shook his head "The only weakness is that the swarm network has a limited range, so the captured ponies must be nearby, at most only a few kilometers from here."

"This has potential." Rarity said "We just need to find a way of finding the base or bases of the Changelings and then we could formulate a plan of attack to be able to free the captured ponies and reduce our numerical disadvantage." She put a hoof in her chin "But we'd better do it without alerting the changelings, otherwise we won't know what they'll do."

"Well, we three Knights can stealth it up and try to obtain information by going to places without being detected. That is a possibility to consider." Sunset mentioned.

"Seriously?" Rainbow Dash was incredulous "I can see Trixie doing it, and perhaps Twilight, but you can also be stealthy?"

"It's not my specialty, and Trixie is definitely the best of us at it, but all of us received really comprehensive training, remember?" Sunset argued "Really comprehensive."

Twilight smiled fondly "I remember that training. It was in the form of a game that the Princess played with us called Hide and Sun." The non-Knights twitched, already realizing where this was going "It was kinda like hide and seek, except that every time she detected one of us the Princess would throw a mini-sun at them."

Sunset took over the explanation, also smiling in remembrance "Celestia would win when none of us could move anymore, and we won if at least one of us was still moving after seventy two hours of the game."

Trixie gave a little more information "The Princess won most of the time, but it was always really fun, and it also managed to train our resistance to hunger, because it is difficult trying to grab a bite in the middle of such an intense competition." She closed her eyes and smiled like the others "We always cheered pretty hard when we won."

The others who were hearing this account were horrified, but not exactly surprised, they had learned to expect things like that every time one of them mentioned anything related to their training. However, they were also united in a single thought:

So this wasn't anything like Hide and Seek at all!


"Why did I even conceive of actually playing Hide and Sun?!" The sun princess exclaimed, front hooves on her face "Why did I think it would be a good idea? I must have been more stressed out than I realized..."

Her sister was confused, she had just asked about ideas of new training methods for Spike, since Celestia had experience in training great apprentices, so she didn't expect that kind of reaction.


"Let's shelve the idea for now." Captain Shining Armor decided to bring the discussion back on track "We know they are the changelings, and they are probably trying to steal the Artefact hidden in the cave. So how likely are they to be able to do it?"

"Very unlikely." Sunset said "The protections on the cave are particularly heavy-duty, and practically impossible to sneak by. They would have more luck trying to get pass everything by force, but that would alert pretty much any remaining guards in the city." She looked at Shining Armor "And they know you would make things hard for them in that case. And even if they tried, there should be so many traps among the protections that a good bit of their fighting force would be rendered unable to fight before they even got close to the Artefact."

"That means we probably still have some time." Trixie said, then continued "Perhaps we should try the old 'tourists misreading maps and going to places they shouldn't' routine, and spread in teams, with one sensor each, like me, Applejack and Fluttershy and see what we can dig up."

"We should probably try to include Venus is our plans." Fluttershy said.

She took four more of her feathers and gave two each to Spike and Shining Armor.

"One of those is for each of you, and the other is to give Venus if you have a chance. Having a point of contact with her can only be helpful."

The two nodded and took the offered feathers.

"What are your resources?" The guard captain asked "The message said you would bring everything you need, but I'm not seeing anything here."

"Ah, it's all in my mane." Pinkie Pie answered simply.

"What." Both Shining Armor and Spike chorused.

"That's one of her natural uses of chaos magic that I helped develop." Twilight said, proud of her apprentice "There's a chaotic space inside her mane that is... pretty huge, but hard to accurately measure because of its nature." She pointed to her own mane "I've been trying to replicate, since it's pretty useful, but I can only hold a small box worth of items so far. While Pinkie still has space left even if she's carrying Rarity's sword, a few potions, spell papers, a container with a lot of magic and all sorts of other things."

A few moments were taken for everyone who didn't know to recover from the revelation.

After that the actual planning discussion started. Everypony (and Spike) had their own ideas and contributions to make about plans, counter-plans and safety plans, and it took a long time before they managed to hash out something they were happy with, but it was done

After all that was done, Sweetie Belle got curious and asked Sunset "Where did you even play Hide and Sun? It seems like it would be really dangerous just to be near it."

Sunset smiled at her "The Great Canterlot Quarry, of course. Same place we did anything dangerous."

Pinkie Pie remembered something "Wait, didn't that place get condemned like a year and a half ago? Maud told me about it, it was big news among the rock farmers."

"Oh, yeah." Twilight confirmed "That was one of our failed combination attacks. We were trying to create a sun that absorbed energy instead of releasing it, but it turned out we didn't particularly understand all the finer points of trying to reverse fundamental physical constants and ended up irradiating the whole place with completely new forms of radiation, making it freeze so hard it actually broke through absolute zero and came out the other side into some kind of pseudo-plasma, and causing all sorts of continuous uncontrolled magical phenomena, because we managed to mess up the dragon pulse in the area." She seemed slightly contrite.

The others didn't have anything to say to that, except that they kinda felt bad for Princess Celestia having to put up with the three.