Chapter 3: With Which Witch Which Witches Witched Witches With It?
A witch doesn’t see many things cooped up in their small Covenant. I was in one of the more famous Covenants, the Magus of the Mind. It was a fancy name for an age-old title. The Covenant had shifted from the primary focus of meditative magic (thank Gaia for that) to mentalism, meta-magics and transformative imbuement. Applications ranged from simple golemancy, illusions to spatio-temporal magics.
The rest of the magic community see us as ‘passive’ spell casters with the majority of our time devoted to researching the meta-magical arts. While it was true that meta-magics was mainly optimising spell casting and flow control, it didn’t mean our Covenant was solely based on that. Sometimes it was frustrating to turn up to Witching Hours and have other Covenants and spell casters judge you before you’ve even shown them what you’re capable of.
The Battlemages always get the attention. They’re not even needed in the modern era of magic, but they’re still treated as if they were some sort of Coven-blessed apprentices. I mean I could have become a Battlemage, but their schedule was mind numbing and their training was bunch of offensive and defensive spells and using the myriad of tools that other spell casters had developed for them.
Without meta-magics, the average Battlemage couldn’t even scorch your robes. Without alchemists and artificers the Battlemages wouldn’t even have a staff or wand of their own. You don’t need to make your own tools to understand how they work, but I can guarantee that if I hadn’t made my wand, I wouldn’t have known how to take care of it. Recognition was most often given to the flashiest demonstration, rather than the most practical and the Battlemages always swaggered around as if they owned the place. Magic was a popularity contest, and that was what I hated about it the most. They wonder why magic was starting to stagnate and why mortals could suddenly do much of the same stuff that we do. Why couldn’t they see it?
“Um, Miss? Are you alright?” the pegasus repeated. I vaguely registered the feminine tone of her speech. A woman? Uh, what’s the equine equivalent? Would the translation charm work for that? My thoughts scattered as nausea set in again.
I shook my head.
“Yes. No. Ooooh,” I blurted, holding a hand to my mouth. The queasiness reluctantly subsided.
The pegasus hesitated, looked back at her colleagues, then trotted up to me and gave me a once over. Her hooves poked me hard in some places.
“Ouch! Hey!” I yelled, glaring at her.
“Hmm, you seem fine,” she replied wryly. “For somepony that fell a few thousand feet without wings.” The other pegasi chuckled at that. I hung my head. Yeah, can’t really say anything about that, I must have messed up the transfer spell. But if I messed up the transfer spell…
“Mort,” I gasped. “Where the heck are we?”
“Funny. Speak up.”
“Meeeeeoow.” Mort looked at his paws and then batted them on the hem of my cloak. Could he really not speak?
“Why are you talking to that cat?” the other pegasi seemed to be content with letting this bossy one do all the questioning.
I glanced at Mort and thought of his predicament. I resisted the urge to giggle.
“No nothing,” I chuckled, failing to suppress my mirth. “Must be my imagination.” Mort glared at me while I put a hand to my mouth.
“Okay then.” The pegasus shifted her wings on her back. “I’ve got to get back and report this to my commanding officer. You were supposed to be around the area but I thought you would appear on the ground. Too bad you were a little off target.” I blushed at that. Well at least I think I got the right place. The headmistress did say something about local inhabitants being ponies… I glanced over to the pegasi. Close enough.
“I’m Lieutenant Strider by the way,” the pegasus continued. She gestured over to the other two armoured pegasi. “These two are Sergeant Nighters and Private Hops.”
“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant, Sergeant and uhh Private.” I stumbled over the military rankings. Gosh they look so serious. “I’m Lyssa and this is Mort.” I flicked a hand in Mort’s direction while he sat there fuming.
“Meow,” he said and I almost giggled. Did that sound ironic? I did make the right decision on settling for a cat!
“Uhm… were you expecting us?” I asked.
I saw Strider’s mouth twitch but she didn’t add anything and instead gestured to the distance. I peered in the direction she was pointing but all I could see was a lumpy shadow. To the right I saw what looked to be a city or village, I couldn’t be sure.
“You’re expected, but I’ll have to carry the message myself informing of your arrival,” she continued quite pleasantly. “I’ll leave you in Nighters’ capable hooves.”
Nighters was more slender than Strider but she trotted forward with more confidence… or was it pride? The squarish mass of Hops made the two approaching me look a little comical with how contrasting their appearance were.
“Hello, Lyssa. I’m Sergeant Nighters, this is Private Hops. Call me by rank. Don’t argue with me. We’re acquainted, let’s go.” Nighters set off at a brisk trot. She angled towards the larger city-smudge in the distance.
The shortness of Nighters’ speech threw me off and it took me a moment before I jolted forward to keep up with them. Hops seemed to shrug ruefully, as much as a quadrupedal could, and then darted forward to march in step with his superior.
Mort clambered up my leg and padded onto my shoulder. He draped himself there as if to tell me that if he was going to be a cat, he might as well be as obnoxious as one. I jostled him a few times but he wouldn’t budge. Finally, I rolled my eyes and followed the two pegasi.
Looks like this’ll be a long trip.
I must admit the scenery around here was vastly different to the environment we have around the school. The school was always moody and dark with a lot of dim shadows and crevices for little ghosties and ghoulies to perturb the first-years. When I first arrived at the school I was scared. Sindra was one of the first few friends I had made on the campus and I was glad that we shared the same worries and misgivings that the large and frighteningly complex school was in abundance of.
Eh I wish Sindra was here… I glanced at Mort. I don’t think I’ll be seeing much of the magic community apart from this recalcitrant wizard anyway. What did he do? The headmistress did say he got caught in the middle of his plan. What kind of plan? I stared at his neck. Sure enough, the inhibition collar stayed on his neck, now shrunk to a simple band that looked innocuous enough on its own. He was so dark and grumpy.
“I have the urge to call you Salem,” I mumbled. Mort hissed and pricked my ear.
“Ow!” I didn’t say anything after that. Mort was right, there were some things that you shouldn’t joke about.
I snapped my focus to Nighters who had mumbled the comment.
“What?” I called out. “Something wrong?”
Nighters was silent for a few moments. Her expression slipped from exasperation to mild anger to resignation.
“There’s a flock of griffons heading towards us right now.”
I heard the slight edge in her voice.
“That’s a bad thing?” I queried. Nighters didn’t deign to reply so Hops filled me in.
“Maybe.” His deep baritone voice startled me. Boy did he have lungs in that barrel chest of his.
I peered into the sky but I couldn’t see anything. Did these pegasi have better eyesight? Mort patted my shoulder with a paw. I think he saw them earlier as well. What kind of cat vision does he have? Did the transformative spell give him better sight?
I scanned the horizon again. There was a faint smudge that was growing bigger.
“Wow, you have good eyesight,” I complimented. Hops nodded appreciatively but Nighters might as well have been made from stone.
“It’s never easy dealing with border disputes,” the gruff guard simply stated. Then she continued her passive silence. I peered at the smudge which had upgraded itself into a dotted smear. It took me a while to realise that the griffons were in a loose formation. They sparkled a bit. I guess they were wearing armour too.
I mentally revisited my spell list. I didn’t have much training in defensive-type spells but I could probably whack in a quick illusion or something.
Hops seemed to notice my uneasiness.
“Hold. You’re safe,” he reassured, his stance widening as if to brace himself. His wings shifted a little. I felt a little better to be honest, but the way Nighters looked, taut like a bowstring, didn’t really inspire confidence in me.
The griffons rapidly descended, fluttering their wings. They were impressive, a bit bigger than the ponies, but the tallest they had was still just half a head shorter than me.
The tallest one stepped forward. “My name is Sergeant Talon. I’m here representing the Griffon Border Patrol. Just for the record can I have you state your name and rank, please?”
The way he talked reminded me a lot of Hilda, one of the most disinterested teachers on campus. She always spoke in a monotone and sounded very much like a dead frog. Also the way he said ‘please’ sounded more like it was tacked on as an afterthought. The effect making his statement sound more obnoxious than I think he intended it to be. A quick glance and I could see Nighters tighten her lips fractionally in response.
“Border patrol? You’re on Equestrian soil right now. In fact you had to fly over several miles through Equestrian airspace to get here. As such your demands will be treated as requests. However for ease of conversation, I’ll not have you call me ‘pegasus’ or ‘guard’, you can refer to me as Sergeant Nighters.” I could see that Talon disliked speaking with Nighters. Well I don’t blame him, I don’t think Nighters made for a pleasant companion for conversation in general.
“We saw a flash of light and we came to investigate,” the leader replied testily. After a moment he seemed to have regained his lofty composure. Talon shifted his armour as if disinterested in the whole affair. “You are close to griffon borders and there are some of your militia as well. You can see how this would concern us.”
“Nothing out of order,” Nighters replied stiffly. “We simply have a guest. You may leave. Equestria is not comfortable with your level of military present here. You don’t want this to scale up to a diplomatic conflict, do you?”
Talon’s eyes twitched up to me as if he suddenly realised I existed. I pursed my lips but didn’t say anything. Geopolitics was not a witch’s forte. I was here to learn about magic. Hopefully I can gain my Confluence here, but I sincerely doubted it. I suddenly wondered what I was supposed to learn here for my Journey. I flicked it to the back of my mind. It wasn’t important now.
“Hmm.” Talon examined me and my cat. He obviously didn’t see me as anything interesting because he waved his claw dismissively. His compatriots all looked serious and stoic. I resisted the urge to make funny faces at them.
“Well there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary here,” Talon continued. He dragged out the last syllable which grated on my nerves a little. Though he addressed Nighters he seemed to be aiming the question at me. I didn’t respond.
With a grunt the griffon straightened his posture and turned his back deliberately on our party. “Goodbye,” he said imperiously and then took off, without even looking back.
Nighters let out her breath—that I didn’t know she was holding—noisily.
“I hate that griffon,” she muttered. She straightened fractionally. “Okay, we’ve wasted enough time dealing with those nosy bird-brains. Let’s go.”
I followed along as Nighters broke into a brisk trot. I leaned in conspiratorially to Hops.
“What’s her history with Talon?” I asked conversationally.
Hops glanced at Nighters, then spoke quietly.
“They used to be friends.” There was a brief moment of silence. “I don’t think this is over.”
I glanced back at the retreating forms of the griffons. I suddenly recalled how sharp their claws were. I didn’t want to get on their bad side. The way Nighters stood, unyielding and frosty really spoke to her strengths. I would have run away like crazy.
I’m glad I’m on the right side…