Twilight stumbled forward a bit from the teleportation shock; this transition hadn’t been quite as smooth as Luna’s normal work. When she recovered, she found herself with Luna in the middle of a rather idyllic prairie. Tall green grasses covered its small hills and extended out for miles on end, with mountains she couldn’t recognize barely visible in the far distance. Slow-moving rivers gently flowed and criss-crossed the whole thing, with random small clusters of dense trees providing extra greenery in spots. Even the weather was a perfect late spring warm with a nice brisk breeze and partly cloudy skies. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve thought Luna had hired several pegasus weather teams to arrange it.
“Where are we, exactly?” she asked.
Luna smiled. “Far, far away, Twilight Sparkle. We are literally tens of thousands of kilometers away from the farthest vestiges of civilization. How far exactly is impossible to determine thanks to Discord’s damage to the world, but to put things in perspective, we are far enough that if Celestia were to perform Sol Invictus here, none of our ponies would feel it.”
“Whoa. No wonder I’m dizzy.”
“I apologize if you felt any discomfort. ‘Twas not my intent. Rather, I brought you here because it is ideal for our first combat lesson. For today, we will be focusing on the basics, which means we should keep matters simple. No complicated use of cover or fighting in close quarters. That the weather is pleasant is just a bonus.”
Twilight stood and walked a few steps up to the top of the nearby hill. “Well, at least it’s a nice bonus. I have to say, this place is something else. What other places do you and Celestia have tucked away in your teleportation spells?”
Luna laughed and covered her mouth with her silver-clad hoof. “Oh Twilight, that’s not how our teleportation works at all. This is simply an easy to find locale along the leylines. It’s just after a major locus, or intersection of several different paths.”
“Leylines? Why do those matter?” she asked, correcting her head tilt just before Luna looked at her.
“First, why don’t you tell me what you know of them?”
Twilight sat down, thinking back to her books while the wind blew through her mane. “They’re currents of magic that run just underneath the ground and form a kind of lattice around the world. I once tried to find a way to tap into them to jumpstart a… project. Eh, heh, heh.” she sighed. “I found out the hard way that my professor was right when he said they’re too powerful and unruly to be controlled.”
The purple mare took a step back upon seeing Luna’s grin.
“That’s not exactly true, Twilight. Alicorns can use them. It’s what Tia and I use to travel around the world with teleportation.”
Wind blew through the scattered trees and grasses underneath her hooves, catching her slightly overgrown mane and wafting it in front of her eyes as her mind ran through a revolution of spell formulas.
Luna broke into a another fit of giggles. “Don’t worry, we’ll show you how we do it after you ascend. Without a complete or near-complete ascension, one cannot hope to control oneself in the flow. That being said, someone else you know uses them regularly.”
“Somepo— wait, you said someone.”
“Indeed I did! Whenever Spike posts a message, it travels through the leylines to us. If Spike is too far from a leyline, I’d imagine the spell would not work.” Luna stepped up to Twilight, and put a wing around her. “You should be able to see them now. Calm your heart, and pull your focus back. Try to see with your magic. Focus with your eyes, but think about your horn.”
She closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath and holding it. There was a bright flash of light as her vision shifted, allowing her sight of that magical plane of reality that overlays the waking world.
“Over there, about a kilometer away. It’s like a… river. A river of magic.” Although she could feel the source as being underneath the ground, the light coming from the surface was bright enough that it really did appear as some kind of a rushing river. Yet, it was unlike anything she had ever seen before. Green light pulsed and tore along the line with phenomenal speed, and sparks and shockwaves rushed out from it at random points.
She turned back to Luna, and opened her mouth just a little. When she had looked at Celestia with her magic sight, she had appeared as a massive star that was so bright it washed away any other details on her body. Luna’s star shone as if it was under a dark lens meant to look at the sun with detail. Though it was still bright, she could look at her plainly, with its blue surface boiling under pressure. Even the air around her seemed to compress and shake from her power, causing Twilight to blink to get her vision to return to normal.
Luna continued. “It is like a river, although one with ‘water’ moving faster than even our rainbow-maned friend could ever comprehend. We move at that speed in the teleportation. It’s so fast that our spells have to speed up our minds, and even then without some kind of anchor, such as a concentration of magic, it can be tricky to go into an unfamiliar area precisely. So, we use close-range teleportation immediately after exiting the stream to get a precise landing. But, this has a limitation.”
Twilight gulped. “It means you can’t come help me if I’m too far from a leyline.”
“This is correct. I would advise you to always check if you are near a leyline before commencing a mission. If you are not, extra caution would be very much recommended. But, to business.”
Luna raised her horn and sent multiple arcs of lightning crackling from it into the ground. Quickly, mounds of dirt and grass raised themselves from the earth and took on the shape of ponies.
Twilight instantly recognized what they were. “Golems!”
“Indeed, but mine are quite a bit more advanced than what you would normally see. These five here are semi-autonomous and have similar traits to earth ponies. I can also make unicorns, gryphons, and even pegasi.”
More lightning spread out from her horn and struck the ground behind her, forming more earth pony golems. They were remarkably detailed for being made out of dirt and grass, with individual features being easily distinguishable. Their similarity to some of the statues in the garden was unnerving to say the least, but they were all uniform in how they appeared, each a mirror of the other.
“I’m going to have them attack you, and you shall fight them. They’ll be slow at first, but will get smarter and faster as you improve.”
“That’s it. But remember, they have many of the same abilities as earth ponies. Do you know what that means?”
Twilight nodded. “They’re stronger than me and can take more damage than me, and telekinesis probably won’t work, and their hits might crack any shields I put up,” she replied. But they should have all the same vulnerabilities as golems made of dirt.
“Good! Now, fight!”
The small army of golems began a slow march toward her. Twilight started backing away, charging a spell. It took several seconds to fully complete, which was longer than she would have liked. The golems, meanwhile, jumped into a full run, roaring and spitting gravel, moving ever closer together.
Perfect. She grinned as her horn fired a mass of purple and blue magic dead in the center of the golems, triggering the spell. An eruption of water jets splashed up from the ground, slicing many of the golems into pieces and dissolving even more.
“Sender’s Shower, hmm?” Luna chuckled. “Not bad. How about this?” Lightning struck where her spell had felled her foes, and more golems rose from the ground. These, however, were made of solid granite.
“Hey!” Twilight yelled at Luna.
Luna took to the air, laughing. “Our enemies will not give you quarter, Twilight Sparkle, so do not expect such from me!”
Crap! She broke into a gallop to get some distance.
“I’d advise not turning your back!” Luna’s voice rang out.
Pain lanced through Twilight’s side as airborne stone hooves crashed into her and knocked her over. Adrenaline wouldn’t let her stay down for long as she forced herself back up and saw three more pegasus golems flying overhead.
Lightning cracked from the golem’s wing, blasting the ground next to her and leaving a black scorch mark on the grass.
Of course they shoot lightning. All military pegasi can shoot lightning. Why wouldn’t she know how to do that. Dammit, quit talking to yourself, filly, and run! Twilight pushed herself even harder, running down into the valley. Pegasi are resistant to blunt impacts, but I bet these golems can’t hold themselves together that easily! If I can—
Her thoughts were cut short by a shadow growing beneath her. She rolled to the side as a golem slammed into the ground, shattering on impact and showering her in a plume of rock and dirt. She picked herself back up and kept running, racing towards some tall grass and trees in the distance for cover.
Another shadow appeared, and she dodged again, running clear from the plume. By the time she’d noticed that a shadow was still over her, it was too late. Rock and dust crashed into her armor like a missile, and another blow came from hitting the ground at a full gallop. The scenery rolled by like a chariot’s wheel before landing yet again, sliding to a halt by the edge of the woods.
Coughing, Twilight looked up to see two more pegasi closing fast. She dropped down and covered her head, ready for the worst. It never came. Instead, a familiar yell resounded in the glade, followed by the sound of metal smashing against stone. When she opened her eyes and looked up, she saw Spike wearing a set of armor. He was also holding a halberd and standing amongst a pile of stones.
“Jeez, Twi! Couldn’t you have held out for just a little bit longer? I just lost a bet with Rainbow!” Spike reached down and held out a hand.
“Who else?” The dragon turned around and helped her back up on her hooves. She stumbled, putting for more weight on him than she intended, but he held her up without so much as a grunt. “Luna teleported me here earlier and said she’d lead you to me. Didn’t think I’d have to save your flank, too.”
Twilight pushed herself up, wincing from the pain in her hind leg. “You… You crushed the golem!?”
Spike twirled the halberd a little. “Like I said, I’m always going to be your number one assistant.”
Luna flew in for a landing next to them. “And now, he is the newest member of your Guard.”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “I asked Applejack, but she declined, which is understandable. Given that, I feel it a natural choice.”
“No! No no no! Luna, what are you thinking! He’s too young!”
“He’s older than most military recruits,” Luna deadpanned.
Twilight moved in between Spike and Luna, spreading her forelegs. “No. I won’t allow it. His age and ours aren’t the same thing. He’s a dragon.”
“Saying someone is vulnerable because they are a dragon is a poor argument, Twilight Sparkle.”
“He’s my responsibi—” A claw poked at her shoulder, and she froze, smelling sulfur. She slowly turned her head around, coming face to face with the saddest dragon she’d ever seen. The sulfur wasn’t just coming from his eyes, but also as wisps of smoke from his nostrils.
“So that’s it?” he choked. “You’re sending me away?”
No… Her heart jumped into her throat. “Spike, that’s not what I meant. You’re way too important to me to risk losing you like this. What I’m going to be doing is dangerous! Not to mention I’m the one that’s supposed to protect you!”
“So, what, I’m just supposed to stay in the castle? Is that it?” He wiped away the tears with his arm, but more quickly took their place.
She put a hoof on his shoulder, careful to choose the arm not covered in acid. “It would be much, much safer for you. But you can still stay in Ponyville! The library is going to need a full-time librarian after all, and you know the job.”
He practically punched her foreleg off of him, and Twilight jumped back a little from the force. That hurt!
“You just don’t get it, do you!?” Each strained huff of his lungs caused his nose to release more and more smoke. “All these years and you don’t get it! All my life, Twilight! You’ve been there with me all my life! But ever since I found out how long dragons live I’ve known that I’m going to outlive you by thousand of years! Thousands of years, Twilight! Maybe tens of thousands! I thought I’d have to miss you that long! And now you’re saying I have to start missing you now…”
He was yelling enough his breath began to smoke with brimstone. She backed up not just from the smell but from being genuinely ashamed and even fearful of him. Twilight couldn’t go far, though. She backed right into Luna, and looked up at her just for a second before Spike grabbed her head and pulled her back down to face him.
“I finally, finally find out that I’m not going to lose you like the rest, and now you’re sending me away!?”
She was pushing herself back hard enough that if Luna hadn’t been behind her, she’d be falling over backwards. She tried to speak, but her tongue wouldn’t move. Her lungs seemed to be giving her just enough air to stay alive; staying conscious would be decided in a few minutes.
She didn’t dare look away from Spike and up at Luna until he did first, and to her great relief, that’s exactly what he did. She looked up a lot faster, though, desperate for advice or somepony to help her.
“Twilight Sparkle, may I interject?”
From her angle and closeness, looking up at the Princess was like looking up at the night sky, as if the alicorn’s face was just a fixture of it.
“I understand your feelings, Twilight. Truly, I do.”
Twilight still couldn’t quite speak. She was lucky she stayed sitting up when the Princess pushed her back onto her haunches.
“However,” the diarch continued, “you must understand that alicorn instincts and dragon instincts are not the same. Alicorns form looser bonds with a multitude of ponies and are driven to protect them. A core few we attach to strongly.”
Luna turned to the dragon, and softened her voice. “Spike, whatever your species, Twilight here views you as ‘her’ pony, and that means she has a powerful protective instinct towards you, even beyond what she would feel as a unicorn. That’s very important for you to understand.”
The Princess’s voice got lower and stronger as she once more addressed the now blushing Twilight, gazing into her with a maternal look that rivaled Celestia. “What you must understand as well, Twilight, is that dragons tend to form such bonds far more rarely, and their protective instincts could be said to be stronger still. As you have near-maternal responsibility for him, we have reached this impasse. As such, I propose a temporary compromise.”
Twilight wanted to object. Her instincts screamed for it. There was no way she wanted to ever risk her little Spike getting hurt. At the same time, her heart wouldn’t let her. She could see Spike crying; he was already being hurt. So, she merely listened.
“Here is my idea. Twilight, allow Spike to stay here and train as your Guard. While I cannot promise that he will be left… unscathed by it, he will survive and be stronger for it. If, at the end of the training, you feel he has not progressed enough to be at your side, he will agree to stand down. If, however, his skills become sharp enough to serve as a Guard, you will allow him to accompany you.”
She stood up in a jolt, but found a silver hoof covering her mouth.
“This does not mean we have to put him in a traditional Guard role. He can be more a kind of seneschal, or assistant if you will, but would be prepared to fight if things go sour. Is this acceptable?”
She looked back and forth between them, torn. On the one hoof, Luna’s proposal was considerably more reasonable than the alternative. On the other, he’d still be in danger. While she was looking at Spike, a large muzzle dropped down by her ear.
“A word of warning, Twilight,” the Princess whispered. “Dragons can carry grudges for an extremely long time. Gryphonic aeries are forgiving compared to them.”
Years flashed before her as she imagined countless lifetimes of a friend lost and hurt. The tears, the sadness. The unrivaled weight of regret. Yet it was nothing compared to the pain of the pleading eye before her.
“Alright,” she whispered, throat as dry and rough as sun-baked sand. “We’ll give it a try.”
Spike leaped up to her and wrapped her in a hug, and she couldn’t help but return it. It seemed fate would have them sticking together for quite some time. She sighed and gave him a nuzzle, just before a burning sensation from a dragon tear seared itself into her foreleg.
“Gah! Ow, ow ow ow ow ow!” She leaped out of the hug and started running, which did absolutely nothing to make the pain go away. She eventually saw the burn on her leg and tried wiping the liquid on it away with her hoof to no avail.
“Hold still, Twilight Sparkle!”
She didn’t really have to hold still. By the time she looked up to find the sounds of the yell, it was too late. She had only the tiniest amount of time to see Luna’s horn alight before the spell hit the ground under her. A ball of water the size of a large boulder erupted from the ground like it had been there all along, waiting and intangible to the dirt. Even though it had phased through the dirt, it knocked her back like it was far more solid than water had any right to be. To add injury to insult, the water didn’t stay airborne long; it just got caught by gravity and did what any normal object under gravity’s influence did: turn around and fall right back to the earth. Where she just happened to be sitting.
She coughed and heaved and spewed, forcefully pushing the water out of her lungs. The dirt under her had already become mud from soaking in the deluge.
“Are you alright, Twilight!?”
She used a hoof to wipe water from her eyes while still coughing. Spike was running down the hill with Luna gliding above.
“Ugh.” Twilight coughed a few more times, then shook to get the water off of her. “Jeez! When did your tears get this concentrated? Thanks for the wash, Luna, but did you really have to go that far?”
It was always a little strange to see the Princess of the Night giggle, but that she did. “It’s quite alright, Twilight. Though they are oddly strong for his age, this is expected. Dragons with green bellies eventually gain powerful acid in their tears, saliva, and even flame.” She smirked a little. “Perhaps we should simply read him a sad story and then have him embrace our enemies.”
“Grah! It still burns!” She kept wiping but it wasn’t helping. The acid had already done its damage.
Luna tapped the gem in the center of her torc. “Push some magic into your bonded armor. It grants regenerative properties.”
Twilight did so, sparking her horn to life and sending her power right into the gem. The armor flared to life, eagerly pulling the power into itself and spreading over her body. Compared to its past deployments, the cold of the process was soothing and cooling rather than shocking and debilitating. When it was over, and she was wrapped in her plating, she could feel it go to work. The burning quickly ebbed, leaving nothing but a tingling sensation.
“Oh, whew. That feels so much better. Thank Celestia!” Twilight’s eyes went wide. Open mouth, insert hoof. “Sorry, force of habit. I mean, thank you, Luna!”
Spike and Luna both shared a laugh.
“‘Tis quite alright, Twilight. I am used to such things after being absent for so long. It is natural ponies would use my sister’s name in such ways.”
She nodded in response. “It’s all I’ve ever been really used to all these years. I—” A little connection went live in the back of her mind. “Princess?”
The night alicorn’s wing twitched a little. “We’ve been over this, Twilight. Call me Luna.”
“Okay then.” She swallowed. “Luna, am I going to have ponies exclaiming ‘Thank Twilight’ around me?”
Spike grabbed his head in realization. “Whoa. Yeah, I forgot about that. Freaky.”
Luna gave her a gentle smile. “It is very possible, Twilight. My sister and I strongly discourage the ponies from worshipping us, and although we’ve been successful at that the vast majority of the time, there are a few habits we’ve never figured out how to break them of. That’s one of them. I suggest you let it slide. In a few centuries, it’ll seem natural.”
Twilight shuddered. “No. No, I’m sorry, that’s never going to seem natural. Nor is the idea of waiting a few centuries.”
A cold shock went through her body, starting from her chin. Slowly, her head lifted up against her will, and she found herself staring deep into a pair of teal eyes with the Princess’s hoof under her head.
Oh Tartarus, did I really just say that in front of somepony that spent a millenium on the moon!?
“We ageless perceive things differently, Twilight Sparkle. You have not truly grasped this yet, but you will, with time. Let it happen.” She almost seemed to dissolve into mist, flowing around her and reforming with a wing lightly over her. “I shall be there to guide both you and Spike in this. Tia shall help, too. Come, it’s time to meet the rest of your training team.”
“Training team?” Twilight asked.
In a blink, Luna disappeared. Before she really had any time to think about it, she reappeared with three new ponies. Two were obscured behind Luna’s wings, while the other was instantly recognizable.
“Whew! Was wondering when we’d get started.” A pegasus with a multi-hued mane lept into the sky and did a few somersaults. “Hey, Twi! Why is your mane soaked? I mean, this time. Which totally isn’t my fault for once.”
“Long story, Rainbow.” She wringed out her bangs with her magic. “So you’re going to be training with me?”
“Hay yeah! Why wouldn’t I? I mean, we’re only going to be fighting side by side. Makes sense to train together.”
“Heh. Good point. And honestly, it’s a relief. You have no idea how good it is to see you.” Twilight held out a hoof and Rainbow gave it a bump. “So who are the others?”
Luna lowered her wings one by one. “Twilight, may I introduce you to two of my Night Guard who will be assisting with your training. To my left is Arcane Edge. He is an Acolyte in my Night Guard, which is the lowest rank. He is skilled with both the creation and use of magical weapons.”
A unicorn stepped forward, clad in the standard armor of the Night. His demeanor instantly struck Twilight as odd, however. Rather than the standard, almost belligerent stoicism of typical Guard, he had his head lowered. He almost looked nervous.
“It… It’s an honor to meet you, Grand Mage Sparkle. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive my inadequacies.”
Okay, that’s just weird. “Um, I’m sure I will?” Twilight said. Please tell me the those newspapers aren’t going to make everypony act like this toward me.
Luna chuckled a little. “Do not be so shy, my Acolyte. I can assure you, Twilight is an excellent friend. To continue our introductions, here to my right is Crusader Starward.”
A rather large, solidly built earth pony stepped forward this time, and he didn’t seem nervous at all. Rather, he simply bowed quickly, his armor clinking a little. “Grand Mage, it is an honor to aid you. Our Sovereign has spoken highly of you.”
Twilight forced out a small, polite smile. One of the things that always struck Twilight as a little intimidating was how Luna’s Night Guard always referred to the Princess as “Sovereign.” While the Day Guard was known to be loyal, professional, and devoted, the Night Guard was widely and correctly seen as fanatical. Like the Day Guard, they were also completely separate from all other military units, answering solely to Luna. On top of that, and unlike the Day Guard, they had a reputation for being ruthless and conducting unauthorized missions, despite the fact that they were legally only supposed to protect their Princess or perform simple tasks for her. Nopony had ever produced proof, but it was still whispered amongst the populace.
“The honor is mine.” She bowed back. “I look forward to working together.”
“And work you shall!” Luna boomed, waving a hoof in the air. “Though they will not be with you on your journeys, they shall help train you. I brought them here because you must know how to fight with not only pegasi and a certain young dragon, but earth ponies and unicorns as well. From ponies and zebras, to diamond dogs, gryphons, and even minotaurs, each race has their strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to use and cover for them is very important in battle. Now then. Fall in!”
Rainbow, Starward, and Arcane Edge jumped and snapped into a line next to Twilight. Spike got the idea a second later and joined in on the end before Luna resumed speaking.
“For the next three months, I am going to teach you lot all I can. I am not soft like my sister and her plump, cake-engorged rear end.”
That earned a few snickers from the Night Guards, but Twilight just faked a smile and flattened her ears.
“This will be a harrowing experience for all of you, but I do not apologize for it. It will teach you more than you could ever expect, and even then it will not be enough to make being a Grand Mage easy. I fear that even with three months, you shall only learn what I consider to be the most basic of skills.
“We shall start here, in this field. Later, we will change locations. We shall fight and train in fields, mountains, shores, clouds, even urban environments. You will have to learn a multitude of skills. These include, but are not limited to, martial arts, weapons training, covert observations, and spells for those of you who are able to cast them. Although you will spar against each other, for the most part you will be fighting my golems. However!”
Lightning arced and cracked from her horn, striking the ground and forging it into a golem. Once it was complete, blue flames engulfed it for a second before fading to reveal a something that looked exactly like somepony Twilight hadn’t seen in ages: Trixie Lulamoon.
“Whoa! That’s incredible!” Spike broke ranks and ran up to the golem. “Check it out, Twi! It looks just like her!”
“Bleck!” Rainbow stuck out her tongue. “Last I heard about that bitch was a few years ago when she got panned in the Canterlot Times for calling Twi ‘Celestia’s harlot’ and then vanished. Guess nopony wanted to see her crappy shows anymore. Why her?”
Twilight leaned forward a bit to study the golem. The illusion was as flawless as that of a changeling.
“You do not approve?” Luna huffed. “Then how about this?”
The blue flame changed the image in a flash, and before them stood a second Rainbow Dash.
The real Dash leapt back. “Oh. Oh horseapples.”
“What?” Spike shrugged. “It’s a great trick!”
Rainbow held her head, obviously already getting a headache. “Duh! She’s going to make more that look like us to screw with us in battle!”
Spike covered his mouth. “Oh horseapples.”
Luna nodded. “Of course! Do not presume that the enemies will always be obvious. Some golems may act as friendlies. Others may seem friendly but actually be hostile. And always remember, I control them, which means they’ll know things none of you do. The only rule here is to not attack me. If you try, you will regret it.
“I will be devious. I will ambush. I will deceive. I will surprise. Never, ever assume you are safe. I can assure you, thou art not!” Luna stomped her hoof, and a bolt of lightning arced across the sky, shattering the peace of the meadow.
She continued. “The one and only exception to this is just before each training session. I will give you all a short breather and the opportunity to ask questions. I will accept any relevant questions, and I encourage you to ask them, even if you are embarrassed for their simplicity. There is no shame in not knowing; there is only shame in remaining willfully ignorant. In addition, although I have higher standards for my Night Guard…” She shot a look at the two stallions. “You may ask questions as well.”
Spike raised his hand.
The Princess strode to him. “Yes, Spike?”
“Can I ask a question now?”
Luna smiled, becoming a bit more friendly looking. “Of course! What do you wish to know?”
“Well,” he said, rocking back and forth on his feet. “Twilight’s always had really good telekinesis, but I heard from a guard it’s not good to use that in battle. Why?”
One of the Night Guards laughed a bit, his bass voice reverberating into the ground.
Luna patted him on the head. “A very basic question, but I will be glad to oblige as this is all new to you. Although, perhaps we should have our Grand Mage answer instead?”
Twilight stepped forward, starting to pace. “I can do that. Well, for one thing, anti-telekinesis spells are pretty easy to enchant into things. It’s been in military armor forever, and police uniforms usually have them, too. Also, a lot of ponies put security spells on their personal weapons that’ll shock unauthorized ponies if they try to pick them up, whether it’s by magic, hoof, or mouth. I’d imagine our enemies will have all these things as well.”
Luna clapped her hooves together. “Truth! But, there are more reasons. Keep going!”
Twilight continued. “Earth pony magic is very good at breaking telekinetic fields, too. Levitating Pinkie Pie when she’s on her way to a party or something is basically impossible. Pegasi can be hard to catch in a field when they’re moving. Oh, and it’s easy for a unicorn to keep a TK field off of their body, and can sometimes disrupt another unicorn’s TK field around unenchanted objects.”
Luna waved a hoof at Arcane Edge. “For instance, observe.” Her horn lit with magic, and a field first surrounded the two Night Guard’s armor, and then the ponies themselves, lifting them up. “I can disable their armor’s security, but that’s because I know the spell’s code, which is sort of spell that acts as a key. Now, if you two would be so kind as to demonstrate.”
Starward twisted and bucked around, quickly shattering the field and dropping back down to the ground. Arcane took even less time, dissolving the field with his own in an instant.
“See?” Luna asked. “The amount of magic necessary to levitate those two whilst they resist would be severely disproportionate compared to the effort they would need to escape. I could hold them, but only by using levels of power well beyond that of Arcane here. There is a possibility that Twilight could manage to hold one of them, but only by focusing all of her effort and magic to the task, leaving her vulnerable.”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Spike threw his arms up in defeat. “It’s not enough to just have good telekinesis.”
Luna flapped her wings a little in place. “Indeed! There is, however, one basic telekinetic tool that will be very important. Tell me, Twilight, have you ever used a telekinetic blade?”
Twilight nodded. “Yes, I have. I tried making one as part of an experiment a few years ago. The experiment didn’t work out so I dropped it. I haven’t tried to summon a blade since.”
Luna stared at her.
“I suppose you want me to try pulling one out now anyway,” Twilight half-squeaked.
“Please!” Luna signaled with her hoof to have the other ponies move away a little, giving her room.
“Alright, here goes nothing.” Twilight summoned her magic and funneled it into the blade shape, casting the spells to hold it together. It wasn’t an especially difficult process, but like anything, one could become rusty without practice. Still, it seemed to work. A thin purple beam of light formed in front of her, slowly seething power while white-hot sparks dripped down from it.
“Whoa.” Rainbow trotted up and looked closely at it, the hairs on her nose almost close enough to get trimmed. “No wonder they put inhibitor rings on unicorns under arrest.”
“As long as they can access their magic, any pony with a horn can be dangerous, even if they’re otherwise tied up.” Twilight stood up, and started another back-and-forth lecture pacing. “Telekinetic blades are basically telekinetic energy suspended in a beam that can cut things if it’s thin enough, or bludgeon if it’s not. I’ve heard that the military teaches unicorns to use them only as a last resort since they can’t usually stand up to enchanted weapons. Some of them can do more than cut, though. Rarity’s, for instance, can freeze things as well as cut.”
“Very good, Twilight, but I want you to practice at this more. You have to be able to draw it out much, much faster. Any more than half a second and you’ll put yourself in grave—”
Luna stopped talking as Twilight’s blade crackled and popped loudly, like a firework with too much powder, calling the entire group’s undivided attention with crackling electricity. White, sparking arcs of power jumped across the purple blade in an excited dance.
“Everypony, get down!”
She didn’t have time to. Nopony did. The blade detonated right in front of them, sending Twilight flying back. She could tell she was still moving, but couldn’t hear from her ears ringing. The blows kept coming as she tumbled end over end, falling clear down the hill and finally coming to a rest at the bottom, the wind completely knocked out of her.
“Report! Is everypony okay?!” That was one of the stallions. Twilight wasn’t sure which. The world was spinning far too much to pay attention to such matters, so she closed her eyes.
“Rainbow One, optimal! Er, sorry, force of habit. I’m fine!” That was clearly Rainbow Dash.
“Spi—” The dragon coughed a bit. “Spike here. Lungs full o’ dust, otherwise fine.”
“Arcane. Ready to serve.”
Okay, that pony is starting to get a bit creepy.
“Starward. Ready to serve.”
… I guess it’s just a Night Guard thing.
“Twilight? Are you okay?”
Twilight let her eyes open up, but quickly closed them when all she saw was a spinning, worried-looking Luna. “I’m sorry, but the world is rotating much too fast to talk right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”
A sliver of blue magic pulsed over her eyelids, followed by a slight buzzing in her left ear, causing it to twitch.
“How about now?”
Twilight tentatively opened her eyes again, and found the world had decided to stop dancing. “Was that healing magic?” she asked.
“Indeed.” Luna admitted. “My sister is far better at it than I, but it’s not something we talk about. As a general rule, we never heal our subjects. It makes them dependent, and we could never heal all of them. That being said, I am afraid we do not have the luxury of time here, so I shall make an exception for our training. Are you feeling better?”
Twilight twisted her body a bit and got back up. “Much. What in Tartarus happened there? The spell completed okay, I can confirm that much, but a telekinetic blade isn’t supposed to just explode like that. No spell is supposed to explode like that! Well, except for the ones explicitly meant to explode. Which this is not.”
Luna sat down and regarded her with a somewhat uncomfortable gaze, clearly thinking. “Twilight, could you raise your hoof up so I can see it?”
Twilight lifted her hoof up and held it towards Luna. “Um, okay.”
Then, the gaze got literally uncomfortable as Twilight felt Luna activate her magic sight.
“Um, Princess, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but could you please not use your magic sight on me? It feels really creepy.”
The sensation went away, but now she had a rather stunned-looking Princess to deal with. “Wait a minute. Twilight, are you telling me you can feel it?”
“Feel what?” Spike asked, the first of the group reconverging around her.
“Celestia said it’s an ability alicorns have. It’s like we can switch between normal vision and, well, something else. We still see everything you do, but we can also see magic. Not just the glow from our horns, either. I still don’t have it completely under control. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it just happens on its own.”
Rainbow came in and hovered a bit nearby. “Huh. Weeeird.”
Starward snorted in response to that, and Luna held up a hoof to calm him. “That’s all true, Twilight, but you didn’t answer my question. You said you can actually feel it?”
The ascendant nodded. “Yeah, I can. It feels like, well, being called to the chalkboard in a class of a million fillies, and not knowing the answer.”
Spike chuckled and took a bow. “Fillies and gentlecolts, the nightmares of Twilight Sparkle!”
Twilight gave him a light bop on the head.
Luna tilted her head a bit. “Well, that’s… unexpected. In any event, I have a theory as to why the blade self-destructed. Can you use the sight on your hoof?"
"I think so." She stared at her hoof and pulled back on her sight, trying to ’see’ its magic, but only got some eye strain. "Or maybe not. Hold on." She put her head next to the hoof and strained a bit more.
"It’s fine if you can’t control it completely yet," Luna interrupted. "What I’m looking at are your body’s leylines. Your unicorn and pegasus leylines seem fine, but your earth pony leylines are twisted and diverted. A few have even collapsed here, near your hoof."
"Collapsed?" Twilight jerked her hoof away and started looking at it fruitlessly. "Is it okay!? Am I okay!?"
"Well, you are alive."
Twilight, Rainbow, and Spike all just looked at her.
Luna shrugged. "It appears to be similar to the effect of a horn blowout, albeit more severe. But I’ve never heard of an earth pony doing such a thing to themselves. They always tire physically before magically. I think that you shall heal, in time. Until then, your earth pony magic may be unstable or unreliable. In fact…"
The Princess started examining Twilight even more, moving her gaze from right to left and back and forth over her body again and again. All the while, the subject of the examination twisted and squirmed under the magical prodding.
"Ah, yes, that would explain it."
Twilight twisted her body a bit to escape the feeling, but it didn’t help. "Explain what?"
Luna placed her hoof on Twilight and traced it down from her horn to her hoof. "I think, when you performed that spell through your hooves, you forced unicorn magic down through your earth pony leylines. This allowed the spell to work, but damaged them in the process. You now have small amounts of earth pony magic leaking into your unicorn leylines, which may destabilize certain types of spells, particularly ones which require large amounts of telekinesis. I’d avoid lifting large objects until you heal."
Twilight sighed and let herself flop down onto the ground. "Great. Today’s just been setback after setback."
Luna continued, "Your own rapid growth should force things back to normal eventually. Give it time, Twilight Sparkle. In the meantime, dispel and refresh your telekinetic blade every so often during a fight. That should stave off detonation."
Twilight cringed a bit. “And if it doesn’t?”
“Oh, that’s simple!” Rainbow came in for a landing. “Just toss the blade at the enemy!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. Twice. “That’s not a solution, Rainbow!”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I was going to suggest, Twilight,” Luna deadpanned.
Twilight just stared at her, eye twitching.
“What?” Luna shrugged. “I think it’s a fairly effective solution. Although, we should get you a better weapon as well. Arcane, do you think you could find a cored weapon for our Grand Mage?”
He bowed all the way to the ground. “Of course, Sovereign. Was there a particular style you desire?”
Luna cut in before Twilight could say anything. “Nothing too fancy, please. A sword should suffice. I want Twilight to use her wits for offense, and not rely on a weapon to do it for her.”
“Is that why I only have a bonded artifact for armor, and not a sword?” the Grand Mage asked.
“Whoa! Time out, wait a minute, hold the airship!” Rainbow leaped into the air in a summersault. “Are you telling me that Twilight’s torc is bonded armor!?”
“Wait a minute yourself. You know about them?” She pointed a purple, accusatory hoof in the the pegasus’ direction.
“Duh! They were in The Trial of Veritas! Only the second-best book ever!”
Twilight snorted. “Pfft. No where near as good as Gene—”
A rainbow blur zoomed in and Rainbow’s head was suddenly invading her personal space.
“You. Take. That. Back.”
The two jumped back and apart at Luna’s thunderous interruption.
Luna sighed and her wings drooped. “To answer your question, yes, Twilight, that is one reason we haven’t made a bonded blade for you. There is another reason, however. The gems needed are so rare and high quality that no new ones have been found in nearly twenty years. Before that, we found one every five years or so, but we’ve hit a dry spell. I took the last one for my new armor years ago.” She tapped the gem in her torc. “We honestly thought we would’ve found another by now. We’ve even reached out to some of the more reputable Diamond Dog packs in the north near Stalliongrad to look, but to no avail.”
Rainbow chimed in again. “Can’t we find one that’s already made and have her bond with that? The story said that if you find one that’s not being used, somepony else can bond with it.”
Luna’s reply was terse. “Yes, if we had one whose owner had died, and whose magic was similar to Twilight’s, and whose latent empathic sentience agreed to bond with her. We don’t have the luxury of a stockroom of bonded blades, Rainbow. There is a silver lining, at least. It should help her begin to hear her armor a bit sooner. Being pulled by two bonds can be straining. And, well, there’s a reason nopony ever tries bonding with three artifacts. It’s virtually guaranteed to drive all parties insane. Next question?”
The field fell silent.
“Really? That’s it?” Luna asked. “I’m about to attack you all with a small army of golems. You don’t have any others?”
Twilight raised a hoof. “Will you be offering advice while we fight?”
“Of course. So will my Night Guard.” Another moment of silence passed between them. “Any other questions?”
Everyone stayed silent.
“Huh. Well, alright then.” The Princess shrugged. “Everypony, get ready!”
Everypony nodded and moved into a formation around Twilight. She felt a bit relieved that she wasn’t alone, and was more comfortable standing confidently. Maybe, just maybe, she’d be able to pull this off after all.
“Let’s get started,” Luna yelled, flying up into the air and striking the ground far behind her with her magic, summoning dozens of new golems.
Twilight crouched down slightly, ready to run. She wasn’t looking to flee, though. Her aim was to go right into the middle of it, lack of a plan be damned for once.
Her legs pushed her forward, and her heart raced as she felt the hoof-falls of those at her side. The golems raced forward too, but not an ounce of nervousness was to be found in Twilight’s mind. This time was going to be different. This time, she was ready.
This time, she would fight.
And it didn’t bother her a bit that she started to feel like this might be fun.
“I don’t exactly understand why I gotta do this. I promised I won’t tell nopony about Twilight!”
Intelligentsia facehooved. “It’s not that we do not trust your intentions, Applejack. You have to understand, our enemies are sneaky.”
With a huff the farmer pony leaned back in the chair and crossed her forelegs. “I don’t give a hoot how sneaky they are! I ain’t gonna blab about this to no one!”
Intelligentsia leaned back in her chair. “Will your hat?”
“My hat?” Applejack blinked and pointed an accusatory hoof at her. “Now yer just talkin’ crazy.”
“Hardly.” She smacked Applejack’s hoof away with far more force than the farm pony would have ever expected to come from her, then started pacing around her. “You, Applejack, are honest to a fault. Even your body is honest. In the short time I’ve known you, I’ve detected and catalogued eighteen different body movements you repeat when put in particular situations. From crossing your forelegs, to tipping your hat, you are an open book. All I would need to do to get all the intel I need from you is put a few agents near you and have them say a few key phrases in earshot. Your reactions would give me all I need.”
Applejack choked a little as magic pulled her right in front of the unicorn’s face.
“If you do not get these under control, you could wind up killing Twilight just as if you’d shouted it from the mountaintops.”
Intelligentsia pushed her away, and a desperate grab for the table was the only thing stopped her from falling over.
“The other bearers I’m not worried about. Fluttershy is timid no matter what, Rarity is already known for her amateur acting, and Pinkie can’t act against her own promises. Lastly, Rainbow Dash has security clearance and is already in the Guard, and will be with Twilight for the duration of her ascension. Since you will not be with them to have somepony to keep you quiet, we need to erase your body’s tells, and more importantly, give you control over them. Should you find yourself in a suspicious situation, with an awful lot of luck, you can even use these tells to misinform them.”
“Tells? What in the hay are you talkin’ ‘bout?” Dawning realization struck her like a blacksmith’s hammer on an anvil. “Wait, wait wait… Are you tellin’ me, that I’d be able to fool these creeps by, like, a twitch of my hoof? Like some ponies do when they’re playin’ poker? If I do this ‘training,’ would I be able to beat Rainbow Dash?”
Intelligentsia rolled her eyes. “Though oversimplified, yes, the connection is valid. This could be used at a card game. Although I am dismayed at your lack of concer—”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Applejack pushed her back down into her seat with a wild grin. “Git to the part where I learn how to win back every bit that pegasus has ever taken from me.”