Fluttershy breathed deeply and started checking out what she could still do.
She still had access to all her power, which meant that the effects of the Artifact should be quite restricted by necessity, otherwise why wouldn't they seal her power as well?
Fluttershy then did a simple wind manipulation, to confirm that the weather magic was still unrestrained. It was, which meant that she had a good way to fight. It was definitely not her specialty, but she still knew enough about it.
All that was done in only a few instants, which was good, because the enemy wasn't interested in waiting, she flew at Fluttershy, her tower artifact releasing lasers from all sides, lasers that curved to aim at the Knight.
Fluttershy drew the water from the air and increased the amount with a spell, shaping it into a sphere around herself, by forcing the lasers away. Then she took on the offensive, flying at her opponent and shaping blasts of wind to hit her. The enemy blocked them by creating an energy shield via the tower.
And then the fight had moved into close range, and Fluttershy's attacks took on a much more melee approach, physically using the air and water she was controlling as a blunt instrument, while the enemy created several floating energy spikes and combined them with her tower to create a weapon of her own to contend with Fluttershy's.
Both of them were attacking fiercely, looking to cash in on any weakness of the opponent, but not the enemy was the first to change things up, releasing more lasers out of the tower in the middle of her attacks, to which Fluttershy responded by using another spell to increase the density of her water defense and block even those shots.
And she had surprises of her own. Just after defending, Fluttershy released a pulse of weather magic that flash-froze the bits of water she had cleverly made stick to the enemy, just before doing an all-out attack that the enemy failed to completely dodge, and ended up with a leg broken.
But just after that, the enemy revealed yet another attack, having combined multiple lasers into an extremely powerful move that shot at Fluttershy at high speed. The Knight crossed her forelegs and released another pulse of magic, this time flash freezing her own water shield, turning it into a thick ice defense.
The laser broke through the ice, but it had been weakened, and Fluttershy's aura protected her from heavy injuries. And also, her enemy wasn't the only one who could set things up in advance.
She was completely focused on the Knight, and had missed the charging lightning that had been created as a secondary effect of Fluttershy's most recent attack. And it shot directly at the unsuspecting enemy, with overwhelming power.
But just before she would be hit, the tower moved on its own and created a thick energy shield that managed to absorb most of the energy, with the enemy pegasus only receiving a medium shock.
'So, it's an automatic defense as well.' Fluttershy though 'Guess I'm going to have to act a little reckless...'
Pinkie Pie didn't need to think much to decide on how to fight. She had gone through a lot in order to develop her new ability, and this was the perfect time to use it. Besides, her Emotion Charge was very connected with her chaos magic, so it also couldn't be used.
"Shadow Duet..." She announced.
Her shadow popped out of the ground, turning solid and becoming a copy of her, made of shadow but just as physical. Then, the two ran toward the pegasus, their movements in a perfect cadence.
He really did seem to want a close range battle, because he made no move to get away or to fly into the sky, and his confidence was explained when he made a sweep with the spear, releasing a powerful shockwave that rammed into his two targets mercilessly.
They flinched, but proceeded to stomp on the ground, forcing earth pony magic into it to shape earth spikes that tried to gore the pegasus, who swept the spear once more to create a new shockwave to destroy the spikes, then both Pinkie and her shadow suddenly flash stepped forward, appearing right in front of the enemy and kicking at him in perfect harmony.
Spinning the spear, the pegasus released a short range shockwave to block the kicks, but the Pinkies seamlessly transitioned into a combination of physical attacks that aimed at radically different spots, this time channeling large amounts of magic on their hooves to get through the defenses.
The pegasus was forced to fly backwards to avoid their blows, but the Pinkies flash stepped right in front of him and continued their attacks, putting on pressure.
Knowing this wouldn't work as it was, the pegasus retreated upwards, quickly charging power with his spear for a much more powerful shockwave.
The Pinkies stomped the ground again and shaped the earth into a series of domes to shield themselves from the attack. And when the shockwave came, it was extremely destructive, tearing through the multiple layers of defense with overwhelming destruction.
But it did work, and the Pinkies only flinched a little before recovering and taking advantage of the cloud of dust to attack unexpectedly, jumping with excessive power to launch themselves at the flying pegasus.
Their kicks were fast and furious, and even a hasty defensive shockwave failed to completely block them, allowing the two to hit the pegasus with such strength that he spit out blood.
But he was still in the fight, and he spun the spear again to charge up a tremendous shockwave while they couldn't escape.
Except he hadn't counted on Pinkie and her shadow using each other as launch platforms to jump hundreds of meters away horizontally, completely dodging his massive attack.
And then the Pinkie's were attracted to each other like magnets, coming back at high speed to try and hit the enemy again.
The pegasus dived at the last moment, and Pinkie spun her shadow like a dance partner and threw her at him.
The fight was only getting fiercer.
Rarity sighed and returned three of her four Ruler Swords to her dimensional pocket, only keeping the Wind Ruler Sword out. It seemed like she wouldn't get to try the new tactics she had thought of just yet.
Still, she liked using swords, and even if she couldn't activate her Artifact, it still served as a pretty good sword, which was fitting to fight against an opponent who had a shield Artifact.
And the enemy mare also didn't seem interested in making the first move, so Rarity cast a spell to coat the sword in wind and flash stepped before slashing with her sword.
The attack was incredibly sudden and fierce, but the enemy was ready, and her shield released a pulse of power, creating a multitude of translucent energy shields that surrounded the Pink Mare from all sides.
Rarity's attack broke through several of the shields, but while they weren't very strong, they had been placed in clever positions and angles, bleeding off the energy of the sword much more efficiently than a straight defense would be capable of. And then some of them surrounded Rarity, and tried to fuse together to completely engulf her.
But Rarity wouldn't just let that sort of thing happen easily. She used a spell on the ground, creating earth spikes that destroyed most of the surrounding shields, and then a fire spell that she slashed through with her sword, releasing a powerful wave of fire at the enemy.
Again, the shield-wielding mare managed to block the attack with her multiple shields, and then revealed another facet of them, by shooting a light spell on one of them that was bounced between a large number of the shields as if they were mirrors and strengthened in the process, before coming straight at Rarity at supersonic speeds.
The attack pierced right through the unicorn... because it was only an illusion, Rarity having used the fire to block the opponent's view while she changed positions. And during the time that light attack was being used, Rarity was using multiple earth spells to create dozens of extremely dense spears.
Elemental magic (she had learned to create the artifacts), illusions (her teacher was Trixie), physical combat (she enjoyed it), teleportation (it was always useful). Rarity was definitely showing that she was far from helpless even without being able to use her Artifacts.
And there was still one more thing she was good at and hadn't used yet, though she was about to.
At the moment where the opponent realized that she had been fooled, Rarity was spreading her telekinesis outward into each of the dozens of spears. She grabbed them all and sent them to attack.
Most unicorns, even if they could lift that much, would only be able to throw the objects at the enemy, but Rarity had enough fine control to send the spears dodging in between the moving shields of the enemy.
Some of them were actually caught in the middle, but a dozen actually managed to get all the way through the defensive field.
For a moment, it seemed like that would be the end of it, but then the enemy roared and conjured an overpowered bubble shield around herself. Though even that wasn't quite enough to completely defend against Rarity's specially crafted projectiles. They managed to pierce into her flesh before being destroyed by a burst of magic, but the wounds were shallow.
Then, the enemy screamed in anger, and all the shields around her started spinning at high speed, and she started walking at Rarity, carrying the shields with her.
The Knight decided that this was probably dangerous.
Rainbow Dash sighed in annoyance as she looked at her wheel wielding opponent. Blocking off weather magic was a serious cramp in her style, specially now that she had trained in it for so long. She wondered what her teacher would suggest in this situation.
'Just break through them with overwhelming power!' Mental Sunset's voice spoke in her mind.
Well, she could do that, she guessed. And then Rainbow Dash focused, because the enemy was doing something.
His wheel spun in the air, creating a powerful hurricane that he then threw at Rainbow Dash.
The pegasus thought about Sunset, and all that she had talked about energy manipulation, and specifically the part about how it was very easy to accidentally blow yourself up due to not handling the unstable energies carefully enough.
'So, let's not be careful.' Rainbow Dash thought, and clapped her forehooves together while forcing high amounts of magical energy into each other.
The explosion was considerable, and managed to clear up the hurricane, but Rainbow Dash had to use every scrap of defensive power she could muster in order to not get more than scratches from it. (Sadly, she couldn't use EX-mode, because that involved weather magic to draw energy from the air) All in all, it was a good defense, but she needed to refine it if she wanted to use it to win the fight.
And while the enemy was startled by that attack, it had been too far away to actually harm him, so Rainbow Dash did something she wasn't really used to doing at all.
She started running.
She ran at the opponent, who quickly recovered from his surprise and made the wheel spin again, this time creating a huge sphere of water that he threw at Rainbow Dash before freezing it to become a dangerous projectile.
Rainbow Dash clapped again. This time doing the incredibly difficult task of manipulating the unstable energies mid-explosion to direct them forward instead of simply being a spherical expansion. The resulting explosion completely annihilated the ice sphere, and got near enough to the enemy that he had to create a barrier of wind to protect himself.
And Rainbow Dash was still getting closer.
So the enemy stallion did something unexpected. He got on a wind current and flew away.
"Hey! Get back here!" Dash shouted, increasing her speed to try and reach him.
It seemed like the enemy was determined to make this a long range battle.
Trixie quickly started casting spells.
She knew that one of the problems with the fame of the Knights was the fact that the enemies would know about their most frequent tactics and most used abilities, and would prepare for them. And so, it was common for the Knights to face situations in which their best abilities were sealed off. So, of course, being a Knight who had trained ever since childhood, Trixie had prepared for that sort of situation.
She checked exactly which were the mechanisms and limits of the illusion sealing, as well as which of her abilities were unaffected. This immediately presented her with a lot of options, and she took one of the relatively conservative ones to start with.
She was going to actually use her close combat style on a mission for the first time.
So Trixie cast a few shielding spells, a few spells to increase her physical capabilities, and most importantly, she cast a few analysis spells that were the true core of her strategy.
She was fast and decisive, so she had already finished with the most important stuff by the time the enemy pegasus attacked.
She charged and shot a powerful lightning bolt from the horn, but Trixie had already been moving as soon as he started. Before the enemy attack was even halfway there, Trixie had already cast a spell that disrupted the path the lightning was going to take, resulting in it going off course.
And then Trixie moved, running towards the mare for a moment before immediately switching up and teleporting right next to her with a punch going at her face.
The pegasus panicked and flapped her wings to move away, evading the punch but losing her balance. And Trixie capitalized on that by shooting a light spell that blinded her before moving in for another attack.
Realizing the danger, the enemy charged a lightning bolt with the horn Artifact and shot it into herself, before releasing from her body a quickly expanding sphere of magical lightning.
Such a thing was effective as a defense, but she didn't manage to harm Trixie, who had forced part of the ground up to create a shield and block the enemy attack. And she followed it by picking up one of the bits of rock that had been displaced by the explosion and shooting it at the pegasus at high speed.
Said enemy blocked the attack with a blast of wind, before flying straight at Trixie in an attempt at close combat.
But Trixie had been observing her closely, and she saw the change in the flow of the battle coming. Trixie moved slightly to the left and swung a hoof at the head of the approaching enemy, at the perfect angle to avoid the attack of the other.
The pegasus aborted her attack run and flew up, charging magic for a wind spell with the hoof, which Trixie was already moving to counter.
And even as the fight continued at fast pace, Trixie was already setting up her next strategies.
Sunset decided that this was the perfect moment for some banter:
"Oh, so you sealed away my Trance Mode?" She spoke mockingly "You didn't need to, I already sealed it away myself!"
And with that, Sunset used magic to boost her body and ran straight at the white unicorn.
It was true. Sunset had decided that the search for pure power wasn't really the path she should be walking. And to show her determination, and force herself to improve in other directions, the Knight had deliberately prevented herself from ever activating Trance Mode again.
The enemy didn't react to her charge, seemingly content with keeping her floating mirror interposed between the two of them, so Sunset was the first to attack. Big spells were problematic, right? So she used small spells.
A lot of them.
Sunset fired a veritable barrage of low-level attack spells, in such variety that one would be able to fill a textbook on those kinds of spells just by looking at what she was doing. Her rate of fire was insane, since each spell formula was very simple.
But while the opponent was surprised by that powerful attack, she reacted calmly, raising her shield Artifact and activating it to create a translucent barrier in front of herself. The spells hit that barrier and stopped, before the mirror emitted a pulse of magic, and made those spells fly back at Sunset.
But the Knight didn't even flinch.
"So that's your gimmick, huh? Guess I'll have to step things up a notch!" She said.
And then she increased her rate of fire even further, blocking her reflected spells with more magic, and even still attacking the opponent. And that wasn't even the main point.
When the enemy was about to reflect this new round of attacks, three of the spells Sunset had fired suddenly fell down and hit the ground.
The shockwaves made the ground shake, and it distracted the enemy, making her only able to deflect Sunset's spells instead of reflecting them, but the worst part was yet to come. The magic channeled itself through the earth and created spikes right under the opponent.
But the fight wasn't destined to end so quickly, and just before the enemy was pierced, her mirror Artifact glowed along with her body, and the spikes were destroyed.
Sunset followed up by releasing yet another wave of small attacks, before immediately teleporting to the opposite side of the opponent and doing the same thing to attack from two different directions.
Really, not being able to use big spells barely slowed her down at all.
Applejack focused on her earth magic. She didn't have the artifact armor made by Rarity that made it easier to use it, but she had long since grown out of needing it to do impressive things. It would be nice to have it, but Applejack was still a fairly impressive geomancer just with her natural capacities.
So, she decided to be the first one to attack, doing a probing strike to discern the enemy capabilities, since her ability to collect information from them had been reduced due to the blocking of her visual abilities.
She created a catapult made entirely out of earth, and used it to send a heavy rock hurtling straight towards the enemy.
Her response to that was... unusual. She activated her mandala artifact and manipulated space itself, forcing the rock to land far away from her. And then she followed up by sending a line of energy towards Applejack, who dodged it, and the line proceeded to split the battlefield into two parts, one of which (the part Applejack was standing on) being forcefully twisted upwards in defiance of gravity.
And then the true battle started. Applejack kept jumping from foothold to foothold, trying to get closer to the opponent while also throwing more and more rocks at her. The enemy, on the other hand, kept warping space more and more, creating eye twisting patterns of earth formations with strange gravity, and Applejack knew that if she were hit by one of those lines of magic she would be split apart, so she had to keep adapting to the increasingly weirder space around, to be able to move and dodge.
And the situation kept becoming ever more untenable for her, specially when the enemy started duplicating spaces, which was more or less an illusion, but allowed her to send double the amount of lines of magic, each one traveling on its own unpredictable path, forcing Applejack to focus on even more things at once.
But then something changed. And the enemy gasped and was forced to abort her latest attack and move her mandala to protect her face from a rock that had managed to move through an improbable spatial path and end up directly on top of the opponent.
Applejack smiled. What she had done hadn't been something like analyzing the patterns of how the spatial distortions worked in order to figure out the optimal path. That kind of thing was more the specialty of Rarity or Trixie. Instead, she had simply kept watching the opponent.
She observed her reaction to each of Applejack's positions and each of her launch attempts, until the point where Applejack managed to determine what was the perfect position to throw the rock based entirely on the enemy's expression.
After all, just losing the Eyes of Truth didn't mean that Applejack couldn't see the truth.
But even with her newfound advantage, Applejack kept cautious, she was sure the enemy still had some cards left.
Spike didn't hold anything back, knowing that time could be of the essence.
"Draconic Aura: Full Dragon!" He shouted, and his magic exploded.
This was the ultimate form of the first ability he had developed for himself, and there were a lot of emotions bound up on that skill. The origin of that ability were Spike's dreams for the future, knowing that he would be a powerful dragon but not willing to wait and let others fight in his place until then.
His complete form included the arms and wings of the dragon he had used before, except that this time they were much more solid and less translucent, making it almost impossible to see Spike on the inside of the form. The rest of his body was appropriately big and impressive, with scales that resembled armor and a head with a crest like a crown.
And with a step and a flap of his wings, he dashed forward at the opponent.
The unicorn clearly wasn't ready to face down a huge dragon, so he panicked, but still managed to activate his Artifact, creating several layers of barriers in Spike's path.
The Knight forcefully broke through those barriers, but was slowed down by then, and wondered if this was something designed for Twilight. The barriers were made by "hardening air", in a way that worked through the principles of order, which meant that thing could potentially counter chaos.
Still, that was only an idle thought, and Spike focused on trying to defeat the opponent, who had used the time gained with the barriers in order to create an earth construct in the shape of a giant minotaur soldier, which he set upon Spike.
Spike punched at the thing, but it was resilient enough to take the blow, and retaliated by using it's sword to try and slash Spike apart. However, the dragon was also very resilient, specially in that form, so he was barely scratched. But Spike noticed that the enemy was already animating more earth constructs, so he should finish things off fast if he didn't want to get overwhelmed.
So he decided to kill two birds with one stone (though Fluttershy would protest the metaphor), and grabbed onto the earth minotaur with both hands.
"Dragon Magic..." He intoned "Great Shockwave!"
And he spit out a powerful spell directly into the chest of the construct. It was a pure destructive shockwave, and the minotaur was barely managing to keep itself together once it ended.
And then Spike did the second part of the plan.
Using his titanic strength, he picked up the construct and raised it into the air for a moment before slamming it into the ground, breaking it into pieces.
It was like an avalanche. Immense pieces of rock jumped in all directions, and even though the enemy tried to create barriers and send his unfinished constructs to protect him, it was still not enough, and he ended up being hit and rendered unconscious.
Spike proceeded to pick up the cube he had dropped and break it, before running in the direction of the base, preparing for any possible defenses.
But even more than that, Spike was worried about the unaccounted for Artifact. There was the autonomous one, the two supporting artifacts, and eight artifacts for the enemies. That added up to only eleven.
Where was the twelfth Artifact, and what was its purpose?