"Haha! It looks like the Knights are very hot-blooded." Marching Water commented "But that is how Knights should be! Don't you all think so?!" He asked the crowd.
They answered with a cheer. The deer head of state maintained the expression of a sports commentator, but on the inside he was gloating.
'Hahaha... This was an unexpected gain. After this kind of fight, those three will find it really hard to overcome our challenges. It would be better if the others had also been involved, but this is already enough. I can't wait to see the look on Celestia's face when she has to give up the territory rights!'
Outward, he kept his commentary "The rules of this Challenge are simple, the goal is to drop your opponent into the ground. But the most important part are the restrictions. In order to keep the spirit of jousting, no magic that doesn't directly affect either the rides or the lances is allowed. Let's see a great battle!"
The crowd cheered again, louder this time, and Marching allowed himself a big smile, he had a good feeling about this challenge.
Sunset was about to teleport to the back of the pony construct when Applejack called her attention with "Hey, Sunset." The unicorn looked back, and Applejack used the eye language to give the Knight the information she had got from her Eyes of Truth.
(Applejack: Ride Trap. Arena Traps.)
Sunset Shimmer simply nodded and then teleported to her position, before infusing both the construct and the lance with her magic in preparation.
Marching Water went back to narrating "And it is time for our very own challenger to take the field! An expert in wood magic with experience in hunting dangerous creatures, she has trained a great deal during the past weeks in order to master the art of jousting... Say hello to... Flower Field!"
A doe with light brown colors and dark green eyes walked into the arena to the sound of cheers. At the same time, another construct started coming out of the ground and she hopped onto it. As expected, it was a deer, and also had its own spear. Different from the rider, this one had antlers, which were wickedly sharp. She also started infusing magic on her construct.
But different from Sunset's use of magic, Flower Field's actions started actually changing the riding construct.
Its sides started growing more and more, and the enchanted wood itself seemed to shift little by little. Soon, it became apparent what the doe was trying to do, as a head with antlers was formed and started pushing out of the initial construct. Soon, there were two more deer constructs by the sides of the first one, each with their own lances. And that wasn't the end, as those new constructs suffered similar morphings to create more constructs, and this kept going until Sunset was face to face with an astounding twenty four deer constructs.
"And it appears that Flower Field has decided to use her specialty of wood magic to gain a bit of a numerical advantage! While Knight Sunset Shimmer seems to prefer to use a more traditional approach. But I think there has been enough preparation time, don't you agree? Let's start! Three, two, one... Go!" He announced, and both sides of the combat started running at each other.
Sunset was grinning, it had been worth coming to do this mission just for the chance to participate in an actual joust. And as soon as she got close enough, Sunset decided to start things off with a probing attack, charging a force spell into the lance and slashing at the doe.
Flower had her mount rear back to avoid the slash, and then six different deer constructs were attacking the pony at the same time, forcing Sunset to charge the legs of her construct with magic and jump above all of them, preparing to land right behind the main opponent, with the doe on top of him.
However, she wouldn't let such a thing happen so easily. Four of the deer constructs formed a ladder by jumping on each others backs, with the fourth then jumping forward to intercept Sunset. They clashed in the air, and the unicorn had to activate an acceleration spell to allow her ride to right itself before falling to the ground. But soon, she realized the real problem, Flower Field had manipulated the deer construct that hit her, making it sprout branches that started trapping Sunset's own ride.
And three other constructs moved towards her, one starting to sprout branches as well, while the other two sent their lances at Sunset. Wanting none of that, the unicorn channeled a rejection spell through her construct, destroying all nearby branches with a huge amount of transmitted kinetic energy. At the same time, she also channeled a heat spell through her own lance and used it to fend off the enemy attacks, while making her ride move away from the danger zone.
And suddenly she was surrounded by ten deer constructs, which joined in a ring and started generating branches at an alarming speed, while also blocking above her with their lances, ready to stab. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Sunset decided that the air was less well-defended than the ground. So she charged as many shield spells as she could into her pony construct and jumped out, forcing her way through the wall of lances.
'Perfect.' Marching Water thought, activating the trap in the construct 'Let's see how she'll deal with that.'
Simulating a critical hit from a spear, one of the rear legs of Sunset's construct got blown off.
That wasn't actually a surprise. Applejack had told her about a trap, and Sunset's magic had detected the trap and determined its purpose, even though it was somewhat concealed. She had even already set a spell in order to deal with that automatically, so this wasn't a problem either. The spell simply reconstructed the leg without reforming the magical trap from before.
This kind of thing was normal. The kinds of deer heads of state that caused trouble generally had a few things in common, and the most important was that, while they were pretty good at politics and diplomacy, they really sucked at those kinds of small plans and schemes, which was the reason why the original Knights had been more annoyed than worried at the prospect of facing off against one of them.
Sunset Shimmer returned her focus to the fight when one of the enemy constructs drove a spear into the ground, activating a hidden trap that sent a directed explosion at her. She charged a shield spell into the spear and used it to cut the explosion in half, protecting herself.
"Looks like Sunset is having fun."
"Ah, what?!" Rainbow Dash was startled from the sudden appearance of the voice.
Turning back, she realized that Twilight had been the one to speak, and both her and Trixie had sneaked up behind Rainbow and the other Knights at some point.
"How are you already up after that?!" Rainbow Dash asked, pointing at the crater they had left.
"Pft." Twilight seemed to think that was funny "Princess Celestia used to train us by having an all-out spar against her after having an all-out spar among ourselves. This is easy in comparison."
"Trixie really hopes she is indeed enjoying this, considering she stole out chance of fighting an actual joust." The showmare grumbled "Ah, but is seems like she has decided to end things already."
After cutting apart several more explosions, and having to deal with barriers made of deer constructs that could regenerate from damage, Sunset decided that it was time to end things already. But perhaps Trixie had rubbed off on her too much, because the Knight decided to do so by using what was perhaps the flashiest tactic possible.
"Burning Ride!" She announced with a feral grin.
Then she did something extremely ill-advised, and channeled a fireball spell through her own wood construct. As expected, this resulted in it catching on fire. Sunset controlled the flames enough that her aura defenses could handle the heat, and made the pony construct advance upon the enemies.
With this, the tables had changed. The fire kept any small branches from being able to entangle Sunset's ride, and she was able to bull through every single one of the deer constructs with unstoppable momentum.
Her own construct wouldn't be able to last long, not with the flames consuming it as they were, but this was a competition of throwing the opponent to the ground, not one of keeping your ride in one piece. Sunset got closer and closer to the main enemy construct, going after Flower Field who was on top of it.
Obviously the doe realized what she was trying to do and started gaining distance, but it was too late, Sunset had already gotten close enough. She channeled a rejection spell into her lance and held onto it, releasing the spell and launching herself with the propulsion, as her pony construct finally collapsed.
Flower Field tried to stab at Sunset using her lance, but the unicorn held onto her own lance and used it to block the stab while still moving forward. And then she used her final spell of the match, charging the lance with attraction magic and doing a swipe that glued the doe to the side of her weapon.
Still riding the momentum of her launch, Sunset dragged Flower Field through the air and pointed the lance downwards, together with the opponent.
With a flat sound, the weapon pierced the ground, the doe fell upon it due to Sunset cancelling her previous spell and the unicorn kept herself above the ground by holding onto the other end of the lance.
There was a moment of silence as everydeer processed that scene, before there a roar and a multitude of applause from the crowd.
To Marching Water's credit, he recovered quickly "Amazing! Knight Sunset has used an incredibly skilled maneuver in order to reverse her disadvantageous position! That's the kind of amazing stuff we've come to see! With this, the first round of the Challenge of the Knights ends in a victory for them!"
Meanwhile, Sunset had dropped down to the ground and offered a hoof to help Flower Field back onto her hooves. She accepted gracefully.
"Aah... That startled me. Suddenly abandoning your mount and flying at me..." The doe complained good-naturedly.
"Your control of wood magic is good, but you were not decisive enough. You tried to slowly corner me when an overwhelming offense would be a lot more difficult to deal with." Sunset advised.
After a few more words, the two separated and went back to their respective places.
The next arena for the challenge was reasonably similar to the first one. It was also an empty space from which trees had been removed, but it was smaller than the first one, and a circle slightly bigger than a house had been drawn in the center of it, and would serve as the actual arena.
Marching Water was still in his flying platform to announce things "The first challenge was traditional for Knights, but the second is something that goes beyond simple tradition. It's one of the most ancient struggles in history, the contest of pure strength... I am talking about Ring Out!"
He waited for the cheers to die down before continuing "The rules are fairly simple, the winner is the one who manages to throw their opponent completely out of the circle, and no magic is allowed except for body enhancement and manipulation! Who will the Knights choose for this challenge?!"
The aforementioned Knights looked at each other for a moment while the cheers kept going strong. But that was really no discussion...
"Rainbow Dash." Seven voices chorused, and the pegasus took off towards the circle... Before being brought down by Sunset's telekinesis.
"The rules don't permit flying." She said.
The pegasus sadly made her way to the circle with a walk.
From the other side, came a buck with a yellow coat and red eyes.
"It seems that Knight Rainbow Dash has been chosen to defend their honor, while the challenger is Strong Earth, an expert in earth magic. He is famous for his use of a golem exoskeleton to protect his village against the attacks of yak raiders. And the judges have decided to allow him to treat his exoskeleton as his body for the purposes of this challenge, which means we are going to see some intense fighting!"
While the crowds cheered, Rainbow Dash looked at Marching Water and wondered how he was able to say that with a straight face, specially considering that "the judges" basically meant him.
Still, there was nothing to do except go and win anyway to make his cheating useless, and Rainbow entered the circle with that decision.
Just like before, Marching Water allowed both contestants a few seconds to prepare before the beginning of the match. Strong Earth immediately created his exoskeleton, which was just a tiny bit bigger than the wood constructs of the previous match, and was in fact so big that one of its hooves was touching outside the circle.
Of course, he wouldn't lose as long as even a small part of him remained inside the circle, different from most versions of this game, where just touching the outside was enough to lose.
Anyway, Rainbow Dash used that time to focus on the natural magical formations inside her body, so that she would be able to get the highest possible effect out of her body strengthening. She also remembered her special combat lessons with Sunset, in order to decide what should be the best course of action to take in that battle.
"It's time. Let's... Start!" Marching Water announced.
Strong Earth attacked with a punch as soon as the voice resounded, and the speed was only slightly slower than that of a normal punch, which made it alarming for a hoof the size of a door. Not being a fool, Rainbow Dash elected to not try to test her strength directly against the enemy immediately, instead parrying the blow while doing a slight movement to the side.
The impact jarred her, but it wasn't an unreasonable amount of strength, so Rainbow Dash felt confident in running up to the body of the enemy in an attempt to punch, but she had to change her target at the last moment when the right leg of the enemy came in with a swipe at her. Focusing energy into her right foreleg while bracing with the other legs, the Pegasus blocked the swipe with a huge blow that managed to stagger the enemy for a moment, but her follow-up attack to the body barely made the earth golem slid back at all, and then she had to dodge a stomp from the other leg.
"It does not look like Dash is having fun." Rarity pointed out, while looking at the pegasus fighting.
"That's normal. She can't fly at the moment, so Rainbow should be feeling a little restrained." Fluttershy explained.
"She's a big filly, she can deal with it." Sunset showed her confidence in her disciple.
"What do you think she will do?" Fluttershy asked Sunset.
"Well..." Sunset considered "She can either do something smart, or something ridiculous. I know what is more likely between those two."
The others nodded, agreeing with her.
As noted, Rainbow Dash was not having a good time. She wasn't exactly losing the battle, but she wasn't making any headway either. Even her toughest blows were endured, and the skills of the opponent were too high for him to allow her to easily use some kind of trick.
Still, there were good news. After a few rounds, Rainbow Dash had become used to the attacks of the enemy, to such a point that she could devote a bigger part of her concentration to thinking. And she started thinking about her teacher, specifically her Trance Mode.
'She said it was done by taking magic from the air and mixing with your own magic to create a fusion energy that's more potent. Maybe I can use that to strengthen myself more.'
Without any better ideas, Rainbow decided to do it. The first part was gathering ambient energy from the air, which she instinctively did via an esoteric application of pegasus magic. Having suceeded in the first step, she went on to try and fuse this new energy with her own magic. That took a few tries, but eventually she managed to weave the energies together in harmony. Then she focused on the magical formations on her body and sent the resulting energy mix towards them.
An aura similar to Sunset's when she used Trance Mode appeared on Rainbow Dash. She felt her strength increase several levels and tested it by blocking the next punch of the golem with a stiff defence. The result was that the enemy recoiled while she remained completely unmoved.
"Oh yeah!" She cheered "That is what I'm talking about! I'm going to call this EX-Mode!" She shouted, before running towards the enemy.
Obviously realizing that this was a bad sign, Strong Earth attempted an attack with both forehooves at once, using every once of power he could draw from his magic. But it was far from enough, as Rainbow Dash responded with a punch that blew both his hooves to the air, despite having a lot less windup time.
And Dash soon got close enough to hit the body, and she stopped for a single moment, thinking of her martial arts lessons. One important thing was reducing the time your hoof remained in contact with the enemy in order to increase the impact. Otherwise, it would end up being more of a push than a punch.
But a push was exactly what she was interested in at the moment, and she drove her right forehoof into the body of the golem, using enough power to actually make his back legs leave the ground.
And she followed up with a left punch, making the enemy go even higher in the air, before bracing herself and twisting her body for a massive double-hooved strike that sent the golem flying.
Rainbow Dash deactivated her ability and waited until Marching Water had confirmed her victory before flying back to the others... Only to be greeted by both Sunset and Twilight glaring at her.
"What is the matter?" She asked.
The two looked at each other and Twilight spoke:
"Sunset, she is your apprentice, you deal with her."
Then she turned and walked away.
Sunset walked up to Rainbow Dash's side and put a leg around her shoulder, in a somewhat threatening manner.
"I saw that what you did was similar to Trance Mode. Could you tell me how exactly you managed to draw the magic from the air?"
"I.. I just... Reached out and took it?" Dash said, already realizing that this was the wrong thing to say.
"I understand." Sunset said in a voice that was calm but with angry undertones "You just instinctively did something incredibly difficult that usually requires a complex internal magical formation. And then you mixed both energies, another incredibly difficult thing that usually requires a huge amount of meditation to discover the perfect ratios and combination method. And then you just channeled the energy mix through your natural magical formations, one more incredibly difficult thing that usually requires a lot of trial an error to understand the interactions of the new energy. Is that right?"
"Yes." The pegasus said, wanting things to be over already.
Sunset removed her leg and pulled Rainbow's face to look right into her eyes.
"After this, we'll have a spar. No holds barred."
Rainbow Dash nodded and sighed as Sunset turned away.
"Oh, by the way..." The unicorn spoke, still with her back turned "That was awesome." And walked away.
Rainbow Dash had an awkward smile on her face, as she moved to join the others.