A New Life

by Lunafan1k

A Test of Skill

We were lead through the increasingly familiar halls, Celestia leading the way as she still carried the strange mare Faina, who often tried to look at new or shiny things before remembering she’s held powerless. Eventually she gave up and went limp as she lazily looked around in mild interest. The pair of guards opened the large doors for us as we approached, I was unsure if they were the same pair or not though.

We entered the room and formed a circle. Celestia and Luna were near the fire, so no roasted marshmallows, then from the left of Celestia was Twilight, Rainbow, Faina, me, Rose, and back to Luna. Celestia released the mare, setting her onto a fluffy pillow across from her.

“Now, Faina, as I said I am Princess Celestia and this is my sister and co-ruler, Princess Luna. You seem like you have traveled far to come here and speak with us, so why don’t you start from the beginning?” She said, giving the floor to Faina.

She cleared her throat as she pulled out a scroll from the harness under her cloak. “One sec, I need to make sure to add a few things that came to my attention recently.” She pulled out a metallic cylinder and wrote a few things near the top of the scroll before putting it away.

“Alright, so as you know I am an ambassador to my home, the Crystal Mountain Mines. These mines span about half of the entire mountain range north of the barren wastes where the Crystal Empire used to be, according to our old maps. I realize that a species of pony similar to mine has lived elsewhere and as you hinted at, serves the night guard. Frankly this is news to me but I want to settle something at the moment: My clansmen and I are not ‘bat ponies,’ we are Thestrals. It’s actually considered a great insult to call us bat ponies. We eat meat and are adapted to a very hot environment. Unfortunately I’ve not seen a bat pony yet so that’s about all I can say on that matter.

“Since I understand you sisters are long lived, you may recognize some of the history from long ago. According to our records, over 1500 years ago there existed the various pony tribes. The earth, unicorn, and pegasi, who often fought amongst themselves in their petty squabbles. Our tribe, not trusted and feared by the other tribes, split off to make out own colony. My ancestors discovered a series of caves in the mountains, which they used as protection from the constant storms.

“Being familiar with mining and metalworking, they took to their craft to literally carve out a home for themselves. Three hundred years pass as our colony starts to thrive, they built the massive forges we still use today, and continued perfecting our metalworking, inventing new alloys that were stronger and stronger each generation. The Crystal Empire had entered the scene, seeming to grow from the ground itself. The elders deemed them worth a look and a new friendship was formed. We traded gems and ore of all types for food and clothing and other things. We were taught to farm the frozen land for what we could, it was mostly inedible but great for strong mead that gave us sustenance.

“This changed though, when the Dark King took the throne. At the time, we weren’t warriors or fighters. We were diggers, artists; we aimed for the beauty of the earth. In order to save the clan, the elders ordered a retreat from the empire, saving as many as they could in the process. Our doors sealed shut to the outside, hiding from the mad king. We had to dig deeper into the mountain, we needed more room.

“That was when we first encountered the monsters within the lower tunnels. Frost trolls over twelve feet tall, crystal spiders large enough to easily devour a pony in a single bite. With the help of the refugees, some of which were guards, we learned to fight. We started making weapons and armor, perfecting them through the years into their own type of art, as well as combat styles.

“The years passed, the survivors from the Crystal Empire breathed their last breath, leaving their legacy to their thestral children. These children expressed exceptional talent among their peers, their works standing out far above the others. This led to the first artificially constructed automaton, a life size mechanical dragon. It was able to differentiate between ponies and monsters, and it was the first guardian of the lower mines.

“At this time, the Elders decided to investigate what happened with our southern friends, the Elders who were but children when the Dark King took over, wanting to see their old friends again, to see the city in all its glory once more. But it was gone, not a trace of it remained, so the doors shut once more.

“Years passed for a second time, the art of artificial intelligence and power cores of magma further refined and perfected, that the Elders looked out again. Both the sun and the moon circled each other in the sky, pink clouds rained down a brown acid, and ponies of snow fought against the wildlife. The world had gone mad, and we closed the doors.

“’Once more,’ the Elders demanded, ‘Once more we will check on the world, and if the madness continues, we never open the doors again.’ So we opened the doors and watched, waiting. Night should have given way to day, but day never came. With a heavy heart, we assigned two of our best mechs to guard the door, as it was sealed shut forever more.

“We thrived in our isolation. We gave up on the outside world, for there was nothing out there for us. A thousand years. We achieved perfection in our alloy, a metal so strong it was like stone against mud. Our combat against the monsters so fierce, we no longer feared for our lives, as they are now a mere nuisance. Our only true enemies now are the diamond dogs, who are responsible for multiple cave-ins over the years…” She trailed off with a faraway look. I glanced to the others, they were intrigued by her story.

She shook her head, “Which brings us to a few weeks ago. Our god, Akthul, the Lord Under the Mountain, a being of molten lava, came to us with a warning. He spoke of a great darkness coming to all the lands, and nothing would be safe, including our home. He advised we seek out the two royal sisters of Equestria, for we would need each other’s aid in the coming days.

“The Elders spoke amongst themselves and came to an agreement, that an ambassador will need to be sent, but not knowing of the dangers outside they would need someone able to fight when the time comes. I was chosen by my grandfather, Kraden, to be the one to venture out on my own. As an elder in training, I know much of the needs of the clan and have been authorized to speak on their behalf, and my combat prowess, while I am not a brawler, is amongst the most deadly and efficient.

“So now I am here before you all, extending the hoof of friendship in the promise of assisting to protect each other’s lands from whatever dangers they may face, and possibly set up a trade route because the food is awesome here.” She ended with a smile and outstretched hoof.

Celestia thought it over for a few more moments before turning to Luna, “What do you think, sister?”

Luna jumped a bit, obviously not expecting to be spoken to for some reason, “Wha-me?” Celestia nodded, “Oh, uh, well, my bat pony guard is turning out to be quite good in combat but aren’t yet as good as your own guard, and we would need proof of her clan’s combat expertise and their works. I’m finding mechanical dragons a bit too much to entertain at the moment as well.”

“So you are saying that she should prove her word?” Celestia filled in, to which Luna nodded. “I was thinking along those same lines. Grand Faina, before we agree to anything, we feel that a demonstration is in order.”

Faina nodded, “Certainly, my current gear and abilities will be able to prove our craftsmanship and I will be able to compare the skills of my clan against your guards after a few rounds of sparring. Unfortunately I cannot prove the mechanical guardians or their prowess, however, my friend Gaige is working on an experimental prototype to act as a personal messenger for me that should be completed within a week. She’s keeping the specifics top secret but I guarantee that it will be the next jump in our technology.”

“I see. It is getting late, so perhaps this is the perfect time then? You would be able to spar against the new lunar guard of bat ponies as well as my solar guard. How does that sound?” Celestia asked as she stood.

“Sounds great! I hope the like surprises too!” Faina said as she stood as well.

“I wanna summon something again!” I said, standing as well.

“Then it’s settled, please follow me to the guard’s practice field.” She opened the door and addressed the guard on the left, “Would you be interested in sparring before the end of your shift? I recall your skills with a polearm are unmatched among the guard.”

The guard grinned, “Of course, your highness.”

“Then please, join us on the way to the fields.” The guard saluted and fell in line next to Rainbow Dash, right behind me.

I turned to ask, “Are you that mare with the scar over her eye?”

The guard chuckled and undid a strap, causing the illusion to break and reveal the grey mare. “Indeed I am.” She said with pride.

“Oh, okay.” I turned back around. I heard the mare scoff at something and Rainbow chuckled as well, though I’m not sure why.

We made our way out of the castle and over to the other side of where the gardens were. There was a large balloon tied down among a few chariots.

“Oh, that reminds us. Twilight, why did you decide to bring a balloon pulled by Rainbow? Would a train not have been faster?” Luna asked.

Twilight chuckled in embarrassment, “Well, I missed what turned out to be the only train running as the other had broken down, and I tied up rainbow while she was sleeping but wound up in Dodge City where we met Faina, then we made our way here.”

“Sounds like quite that journey, and a lucky one at that to find a lost dignitary.” Luna commented, causing Faina to chuckle.

“Oh! Faina, you said you got tired after ten minutes of flight, how did you get this far south so quickly then?” Twilight asked Faina.

“I rode one of the mechs. I think the bearing was a bit off though and I didn’t want to freak out the ponies, so we landed near the city and I sent it back to the mountain.” She said.

“Wow, how fast is it?” Rainbow asked.

“I don’t know, but the ground was a blur of color so I guess pretty fast. I think it only took about five hours to get that far south.” She said.

“So. Awesome!” Rainbow said as she squeezed her face.

We reached a small field with various things set up. There were straw ponies with armor, big targets for a range, more straw ponies, a track to run on, and a sparring ring. The guards at the various stations stopped what they were doing to bow to the princesses.

“Good evening everypony, you may rise. Where is Captain Armor?” She asked.

“I am here, Princess.” Another guard with a larger plumb on his head stepped forward. Twilight smiled and waved at him from behind Celestia, the guard smiled widely and waved as well before returning to attention.

Celestia chuckled, “At ease, Captain. How are the new recruits doing?”

The Captain smiled, “Slower than I would like, but they are mastering things at a steady pace. They won’t make it here for a while though; I got them cleaning the barracks tonight.” He reported.

“I see. Captain, this is Grand Faina, from a clan far to the north. She wishes to demonstrate her capabilities for us.” She said, beckoning Faina to stand next to her.

The Captain looked her over with a keen eye, “I can’t tell much because of the cloak, but you look like a ba-”

I must have blinked, because Faina suddenly had her hoof pressed to his mouth, silencing him. “Thestral.” She said.

He gave her a weird look, “What?”

“I’m a thestral, not a bat pony.” She said as she backed up.

Celestia cleared her throat, “To her clan, referring to them as a bat pony is considered an insult.”

The Captain nodded in understanding, “Oh, I see, forgive me. So, shall we get started?”

Faina nodded and stepped out in front of them, pulling the cloak to one side for us to see what she was hiding. It looked like a bunch of brown straps held together with a series of buckles with more than a few pouches scattered around, and small knives lining one of the straps. Under all that was a shirt that seemed to glow on its own.

She pointed at the shirt, “This is just a light chain shirt, made of our alloy, adamantine. I’ll still feel the blows but the shirt cannot be punctured or damaged by anything less than a weapon of the same material. The leather straps hold all my gear in easy to access pockets, including several poisons and antidotes. I’ve got some throwing daggers, also adamantine, and then my primary weapons are my gauntlets.”

“So you punch things?” Twilight asked.

Faina laughed, “That would be dumb, I tear them to shreds.” Suddenly from each gauntlet a trio of serrated silver blades shot out of the gauntlets and clicked into place, giving her deadly claws.

“Whoa!” I gasped in amazement. They were shiny!

“These are my babies, modeled after my father’s own bladed gauntlets, but with mechanical retractions, offering the ability to strike the target and sheath themselves as I desire.” She boasted. “Also adamantine.”

The Captain whistled, “Impressive, but a warrior is nothing without skill. Let’s see you attack the dummy over there.” He pointed to one of the straw ponies in armor.

“Well you see, this is where we have a problem.” She said slyly.

“How so?” He asked.

“If I was a warrior you would definitely see me, but I’m not a warrior.” She said.

“Then what are you?” he asked.

“I’m a sneaky-sneak!” She grinned playfully, then crouched low to the ground and vanished before my eyes!

“What the- where did she go?” I asked as I looked around frantically.

“Interesting.” Celestia said. “Watch the target everypony.”

I looked to the target, but I didn’t see anything. Suddenly there was a screeching clang as the entire side of the dummy was raked along its right side. Unexpectedly I could see Faina following up her attack with her other hoof and stabbing it from underneath with a low uppercut.

She trotted back over to us as the armor fell from its frame, both straw and steel alike ripped apart. “So, what’s next? I’m in the mood to stab something.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment until the Captain spoke up, “That, was really… impressive. How in the hell did you go invisible like that?”

Celestia answered for him, “She didn’t go invisible captain, she used a feint to get us to look where she wasn’t, then hid right before our eyes and snuck around behind us to the target. Was that about right?”

“Spot on actually; only the really experienced fighters can keep up with me, it says a lot about your experience Princess. But yes, my combat is focused around sneaking up behind you and dealing devastating damage. If I can’t do that, then I focus on feinting to create an opening to skewer my opponent. Don’t worry about sparring, there’s a non-lethal mode with my blades so they only hit the armor.” Faina said.

“Well, we don’t have any fighters like that. Is everyone where you come from an evasive fighter?” The Captain asked.

“Yes and no, I’m a bit special in that department, but there are a few similar to my fighting style and a number of warriors. Even a few miners have developed a way to fight with a pickaxe, and it scares even me, they focus on destroying your weapons and armor in like a single blow.”

“Wow. Alright, I’ll take your word for that for now. How about we try ranged? Throw your daggers at the target there, aim for the center.” The Captain ordered.

“Let’s see… this is what, thirty feet?” She asked.

“Around there, we usually train from fifteen to twenty, they have the range marked out-”

“Naw, thirty is fine, pretty much the range I train at. I’m working on sixty feet at the moment, I’m hitting the target but I wouldn’t call it accurate.” She said as she pulled out a few balanced daggers from her belt. She aimed for a moment before throwing three of them one after another, two hit the center but the third was off a hair. “Eh, close enough.”

“Also impressive, taking the range into account I would say you just broke a record.” He said with a nod.

“Yea yea Cap. She’s good at hitting practice targets I’ll give her that, but she’s probably nothing in combat.” The guard mare with the scar said as she pushed past Faina and went to the sparring ring, a polearm at the ready.

“Easy there Velvet, we don’t want to hurt her.” He warned.

“Oh come on Cap,” Faina mocked, “Let the old mare have some fun for once!”

“What did you just call me?!” Velvet asked in rage.

“Oh nothing. Here, let me fix the mode on these babies.” Faina said and started fiddling with her gauntlets. After a moment she tested them, causing them to only spring out about two inches now. “There, now you’ll walk away with non-life-threatening injuries instead of being carried to the morgue.”

“You’re not taking me seriously, that’s a mistake.” She threatened.

“… I invite you to try to take out a frost troll on your own.” Faina said casually.

“Shut up! That’s impossible and you know it!” She retorted.

“Fine then, I’ll prove my skill, and you will have to hear second hoof what happened.” Faina said as she stood at the other side of the ring. “Are you ready?”

“You already told us how your trick works; you won’t catch me off-guard!”

“And I already told you, I’ll show you my skill.”

Faina threw a dagger at Velvet’s head, but she brought her spear up to block it. The dagger imbedded itself into the metal pole. “Ha! Think you can…” She trailed off, Faina having apparently vanished as she was distracted. She forced herself to calm down and look around carefully, even randomly spinning around hoping to hit Faina, but she remained hidden.

“Where did you go you little brat?!” She was answered with a blow to her rump, Faina punched her in the flank a few more times, causing blood to start flowing from the wound. Blood and something green…

“Gah! You bitch!” Velvet yelled out and went to stab her, but Faina bent in a strange way that didn’t seem natural and flipped over Velvet to her other side and punched her a few more times, the armor proving to stop only her hoof as the blades pierced through it into the flesh beneath, leaving more green stuff behind as she bled into her armor.

“You missed.” Faina goaded, causing Velvet to strike at her again, only this time Faina didn’t bother dodging as the attack went wide. “And I won.”

“What?! Shut up and stand still!” Velvet started swinging a flurry of combos, her rage building as she kept ‘missing.’ Faina sat back and watched as Velvet continued to furiously attack the air in front of her.

“What’s she doing? Faina isn’t even close to where she’s attacking.” I asked.

Celestia shook her head, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure myself. I was able to track Faina’s location but… no, when did she?”

“What’s the matter, sister?” Luna asked.

“Faina mentioned she uses various poisons in combat, could that be what’s happening?” She asked as Faina trotted over, leaving Velvet to her rage.

“I told her, she didn’t take me serious. She was so focused on taking me down and proving to be the stronger mare that I couldn’t help but add a little something.”

“She will be fine though, right?” Celestia asked, Velvet now red in the face as she screamed bloody murder.

“Yep. It’s a favorite mixture of mine, hallucination and a rage poison. They think they are attacking an opponent as the rage poison does what it does, causing them to use up all their energy and working the body until it loses consciousness from pure exhaustion.” She explained. Almost on cue, Velvet fell flat on her face and stopped moving.

“Her wounds aren’t too deep and she will recover in a day or so with the worst hangover imaginable.” She said as a medical team was summoned to take Velvet away.

“While I can’t say I approve of your methods, I am impressed. Though, have you ever fought against a magic user?” he asked.

“Cut off the horn and you win.” Faina said simply. The unicorns around us flinched in phantom pain at the thought.

“Is it that painful?” I asked.

“I’ve been told it’s unimaginable. Even just cracking it can lead to permanent magical disability and a life of immensely painful sensitivity.” He said. “Faina, I would like to see how you do against magical attacks and defenses, so you will be facing off against me. I’ll allow you to use whatever methods you please, but no touching the horn, got it?”

“I got ya, I don’t plan on making enemies.” She said. “So, you first then?”

They walked to their spots on the field, a crowd of guards started to form as they watched the fight, taking bets on who would win, most betting on the captain. “You got this Shining!” Twilight called out over the rabble. I raised an eyebrow, who was Shining?

“Sure, I’ll go first if you insist.” He charged his horn and blasted at Faina. She wasn’t able to dodge away but she shrugged off the blow as she closed in evasively. The Captain was stunned at first, apparently having underestimated her capabilities. He shot off two more bolts, both were evaded as Faina closed in, a blow aimed at the right side of his face. He raised a shield in time for the attack to bounce off the shield to his left.

“What the?!” He asked in confusion.

“It’s called a feint. Nice bubble shield though. How strong is it?” She asked casually.

“I’m one of the best when it comes to defensive magic, I could probably shield all of Canterlot if I wanted.” He said proudly.

“So then you would be unable to attack if the shield took your entire concentration to keep up.” She noted. There was a click from her gauntlets as she released the safety, allowing the blades to extend fully now. “I want to test your shield, so I’ll be going all out. I will stop once it falls or I grow too exhausted to continue. If you out last me, you win. Sound good?”

The guards murmured as more bags of bits were exchanged, “It definitely sounds like a fun challenge, you’re on!” His horn grew brighter as the shield thickened.

“Taking me seriously? Good.”

Faina didn’t bother with any fancy tricks as she started pounding away at the shield, punching with her left and right, hammering away at the same spot with her claws. There was a sharp ping that rang out as each strike met its mark in rapid succession, almost making it sound musical.

I watched the Captain, his brows began to furrow in concentration. He had even sat down to better focus. The shield flashed as it was struck, but looking carefully it was actually repairing the damage between strikes, and as I watched the blades left slightly larger and larger marks that needed to be repaired.

Faina grunted as she kept up the assault, her breathing getting heavy as she kept pounding away. The Captain looked worse for wear too, he was gritting his teeth and his eyes were closed tight. Almost at the same time they started to yell, furiously putting their all into it, the guards around us cheering them on.

The Captain opened his eyes, now emitting a light on their own as he threw his head back, a feral battle cry escaping him that was matched by Faina as they put everything into a final assault. It was a valiant display, but his horn died out, a moment latter the shield shattered with a final blow as Faina fell forward onto her face.

Both of them lay on the ground, sweating and panting. “Who… Who won?” Faina asked.

“I think… You.” The Captain panted.

“Yay.” She responded tiredly, causing them both to chuckle weakly.

Celestia chuckled as well, “It would appear that a new friendship was just forged.” She walked up to Faina, “Grand Faina, we would greatly appreciate the assistance of the warriors of your clan, we can work out the specifics of everything tomorrow, but for now I think it’s time we all rest for the night and get cleaned up.”

Faina nodded as she pulled herself to her hooves. “My arms feel like lead.”

“My head is hammering, it’s been years since anyone broke a shield of mine.” The Captain said.

“Is it my turn now?” I asked the departing guards.

“Perhaps another day dear.” Rose said and patted my back. “You need a bit more practice before you can start challenging duals I think.” I grumbled in response but relented.

“However, I would have a word with you, Twilight, in private.” Celestia said sternly.

Twilight wilted before her gaze, but nodded. There was a flash as Twilight and Celestia teleported away.

Luna took charge at that moment, “Come along, I shall show you to your rooms.”

Faina, Rose, and I followed behind her. She showed Faina a room for herself to sleep in and guided us to our own room. We removed our garments and hung them so they wouldn’t get wrinkled and cuddled up under the covers. With a final kiss goodnight we closed out eyes and whisked away to the realm of sleep.