• Published 1st Jan 2014
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Stormsinger - Airstream

After four hundred and fifty years of uneasy peace, the balance of power in Equestria has shifted.

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In Which Our Heroines Prepare Themselves

Libra had the strangest feeling of déjà vu.

“Explain to me,” she said, her voice calm, “Exactly what happened here.”

The Commandant of the prison, a greying Pegasus stallion with a stiff mustache, shuffled his hooves nervously. “Well, Magus Libra,” he said carefully, “It would appear that sometime last night, there was an…incursion.”

“Incursion.” Libra said flatly, raising an eyebrow. The stallion began to sweat profusely.

“Yes Magus. The intruder managed to make her way past and in some cases through the guards, and from what we can tell, immediately made her way up to this cell block, to the cell you see before you.”

Libra eyed the cell. The magical energy that had once powered the cell was nowhere to be found, though the runes themselves could be seen, burned black into the stone where they had shorted out. It was a small miracle the entire cell hadn’t exploded outright.

“The other prisoners on the block heard the intruder speak with the occupant of the cell,” the Commandant continued.

“Cobblestone,” Libra said, peering at one of the runes more closely. “Her name is Cobblestone.”

The stallion bowed his head. “As you say, Magus. Reportedly, the intruder made her way up to this cell, and was overheard requesting that the prisoner accompany her out of the prison. Presumably Cobblestone refused, because it was at that point that the intruder became violent.”

“And was it at that point that the cell block was destroyed?” Libra asked, referring to the somewhat dilapidated state of the block around her. “Destroyed” might have been an overstatement, but not much of one. Magical feedback hung heavy in the air, playing havoc with the horns of the unicorns laboring to replace the destroyed catwalk and mortar in the cracks in the thick stone walls. In one or two places, actual holes had been blown into the walls themselves, through which could be seen the no-longer secure interiors of the cells. The floor especially was in need of repair. Giant gouges had been dug into the floor, which was stained with something dark that smelled very unpleasant. If Libra didn’t know better, she would have said that a massive cat had been hunting in the corridor.

The stallion nodded jerkily. “Yes, Magus. When the remaining guards on shift managed to get to the cellblock, they found that the intruder had gone. Half of the prisoners were unconscious, and the other half were…well, ma’am, they were crying tears of joy. Moaning something about colors. They calmed down, of course, but it was disconcerting, not to mention difficult to get a story out of any of them.”

“And what did they tell you when they calmed down?” Libra asked. She withdrew a small knife and a glass vial from the bag at her side. Gently, she scraped a fragment of the stone into the container, sealing it shut tightly before replacing it in her bag. “Understanding they might not be reliable witnesses.”

“They said that the intruder was a witch of some kind, Magus. A dark magic user.”

“What kind? A necromancer? A sorcerer? Thrall-maker?”

“I wouldn’t know, Magus. Neither did they. They said that she was accompanied by a…thing, but their descriptions of it all vary. They all agree that it had very large teeth, though. Apparently the witch walked down the aisle, found Cobblestone’s cell, asked her to leave, and then tried to force her. There was the sound of combat, and if they are to be believed, Cobblestone actually taunted the witch. Called her a few uncomplimentary things.”

“Such as?”

The Commandant coughed roughly, his wings fluttering in agitation. “It’s not particularly proper language, but she called her a bitch and invited her to come and get her.”

“Which is where Cobblestone fell unconscious?” Libra asked.

The stallion shook his head quickly. “No, Magus. They said that there was the sound of an explosion, a few thuds, and then the witch came back down the line with young Miss Cobblestone in tow. It’s at that point that things get a bit confusing in the reports, as most of them started to cry again. What we got was something about her reaching out to them, using their strength, and something about beautiful lights. Apparently whatever the filly did managed to frighten the witch off, because we found Cobblestone unconscious, but alive, right over there.”

He indicated a spot about thirty yards down the block. “Damndest thing too. She had a cat with her, a black tom. He disappeared somewhere in here when the medical staff arrived to get her to the infirmary. Before that, he simply watched the guards restore order before slinking off in the other direction. Not sure how a stray got in here. We think he might have been here during the fight too, though I’m disinclined to believe the testimony from the prisoners about him.”

Libra looked at him strangely, the first time her gaze had strayed from the blackened runes. “What did they say about him?”

The stallion coughed, tugging at the collar of his jacket uncomfortably. “They say he fought the thing the witch had with her, Magus. Moreover, he is supposed to have won and eaten the damn thing. He was also about ten meters tall and had bigger teeth than the thing he was fighting. I don’t know if it’s true or not, all we saw was a black cat.”

“Fascinating,” Libra said.


Libra’s lips pursed. “Commandant, you are being relieved of this prisoner. She is to accompany me out of this prison whenever she recovers. You are not at fault in this matter, but it is clear to both Lady Everstar and myself that this prison is ill-suited to the containment of Miss Cobblestone and the addressing of her needs.”

She withdrew a set of papers from her bag, handing them over to the Commandant. “These are the papers ordering the transfer of her sentence and remanding her to the care of the Crown. All of the legal necessaries should be in there, I checked myself.”

The Commandant didn’t bother to read the papers. If Magus Libra said they were in order, then they were most definitely in order. Even if they weren’t, he didn’t much care to argue the point with her. Her reputation was formidable, to say the very least, and he would be glad to get both her and Cobblestone out of his prison as soon as possible.

“As a matter of fact, Magus,” he said respectfully, tucking the papers under his wing, “Our healers have determined that Miss Cobblestone has sustained only blunt trauma injuries, and even those were light, surprisingly so considering she faced off against a magic user of considerable power. She has been healed up, though we decided it was best to keep her in stasis until we could figure out what to do with her.”

“She’s unconscious?” Libra asked.

“Magically induced sleep,” the Commandant clarified. “We felt it would be kinder to her, seeing as we didn’t really know how to handle the situation. Nothing like this has happened before.”

“Take me to her,” Libra said, “Immediately.”

The Commandant bowed, relieved to have a demand to meet instead of her stony lack of emotion. “Right this way, Magus,” he said, leading her from the block.

As they walked, Libra took in the walls surrounding her, shivering a bit. She’d examined this place time and again for any hint of wrongdoing, but by all accounts and her own observations, it remained only a place of healing and guidance, nothing more. And yet, there was still something subtly wrong with this place. Maybe it was the uniformity of the cells, the perfect symmetry of their interiors. Maybe it was the feeling of being watched, or the idea of a prison designed especially for the youth. It sat wrong with her, somehow.

They turned into the corridor, the normally quiescent pastel colors of the walls stained with something dark. As they walked, Libra withdrew another vial from her bag. She didn’t even break stride as her scalpel and glass collected another sample before vanishing into the bag. They descended the stairs, avoiding the larger stain at the base. Libra didn’t bother sampling this one. She knew all too well what would have left the rusty stain behind.

They crossed through a cafeteria empty of ponies. The smell of corn mash filled the air. Good food for prisoners. Bland, but nourishing. The symmetry here continued as well. Four tables to a row. Eight seats to a table. Six rows in total, for a maximum of one hundred and ninety-two inmates. Libra could see an open door leading to a courtyard at the far end of the cafeteria. On the other side of the cafeteria, directly across from her, was a hallway, this one with a regular guard stationed at its entrance.

“How many guards were on duty last night?” Libra asked as they started down the length of the well-appointed and better guarded corridor.

The Commandant flinched, startled by the abruptness of her comment. “Thirty eight, Magus.”

“And of them, how many were slain?”

“Eighteen, and another driven insane. We’re counting some missing as slain, Magus, seeing as whatever that witch did to them probably didn’t leave much behind. Except for…”

“The bits you found wedged in the gate?”

The stallion shuddered. “Yes, Magus.”

They reached a door near the end of the hallway which opened wide to reveal the infirmary. It wasn’t a large room, perhaps twenty beds, but in the wake of last night’s events, the beds were all full. Most of the ponies were resting peacefully, others were getting there, and the few left awake were silently crying, tears of joy on their faces. A unicorn mare with a gray coat and gray-black hair stood over one of the few remaining ponies, her face screwed up in concentration.

“I’m not sure, doctor,” she said to the white-clad pony beside her. “Whatever happened to them, it’s nothing mental. Nothing I can detect, at least. I suspect the best thing to do here would be for them to ride it out. I’ll go over it in counseling with them when they have their next appointments. Schedule them to me instead of their usual counselors, I’d like to handle this personally.”

Libra waited patiently. It didn’t take long for the mare to sense her presence, her ears pricking up. She turned, the gold of her eyes meeting the blue of Libra’s. Her face remained carefully neutral.

“Magus Libra,” she said, “I wasn’t expecting a visit from you.”

“Brandywine,” Libra said. “I can truthfully say I wasn’t expecting to see you either.”

There was an uncomfortable pause between the two of them.

“I don’t suppose I could ask why you’re here?” Brandywine asked. “Or are you going to try and feed me that old line about ‘Crown business’?”

Libra smiled, a thin smile that showed no teeth. “You know me, Brandywine,” she said. “I like to keep my secrets close. Something you never did understand.”

“Mage bitch,” Brandywine spat, “Take down your walls and face me, and we’ll see who understands.”

Libra allowed the smile to curdle, turn into a sneer. “So emotional, you Clerical types. No wonder you spend most of your time in the bedsheets of better ponies.”

Brandywine’s gray coat began to flush red. “You…” she spluttered, “You…”

“Whore?” Libra asked, arching an eyebrow. “What’s the expression, Brandywine? ‘It takes one to know one’? Not that I don’t find this conversation fascinating, but I have Crown business to attend to. Move along.”

Brandywine swallowed, the red in her cheeks fading, and without another word to anypony in the room, she simply lifted her nose and strode from the room as fast as she could without seeming undignified. Libra’s smile faded as she turned to the Commandant, who seemed troubled at her treatment of his head therapist.

“Has she been in session with Cobblestone?” she asked.

The Commandant turned to a doctor, who coughed nervously before addressing her. “Only once, as a preliminary meeting, Magus Libra.”

Libra let out a slow breath, a hiss of air through her lips. “Let me see her,” she said.

Cobblestone wasn’t hard to find. She was the only pony with a partition up around her bed, isolating her from the other patients. A stasis crystal pulsed warmly above her bed, the pattern soothing, soporific for any ponies who looked at it for too long.

“As you can see,” the doctor said, “She’s more or less unharmed. A few scratches and some bruising, but considering the extent of her injuries when she was brought in, it’s a very well-marked improvement.”

“I see,” Libra said, running an appraising eye over the young unicorn. The healers here had done good work, she observed. There was nothing improperly knitted together, the lack of serious bruising meant that Cobblestone had been handled gently, and her breaths were deep and even without a hint of rasping or wheezing.

She turned to the doctor. “Wake her up, if you please.”

“Magus Libra!” the doctor said. “Miss Cobblestone cannot go anywhere for at least three days! She needs bed rest, further testing to make sure nothing went wrong!”

The Commandant rested a hoof on the doctor’s shoulder. “The Magus doesn’t have three days,” he said roughly. “Wake her.”

“You have my word, doctor,” Libra said. “No harm will come to her.”

The doctor wasn’t happy. It showed in his eyes. But there was nothing he could do. He raised a hoof, and the stasis crystal above Cobblestone’s bed flickered off.

Libra leaned in. “Cobblestone,” she said, her voice low. “Cobblestone, can you hear me?”

Cobblestone shifted, her head spinning. She wanted to wake up, but something was holding her back, dragging her back into an eternal fall. Pale hooves, a weeping neck wound, a familiar face.

Cobblestone… it whispered. Cobblestone…

Ivy leaned in close, pale and white save for a bright red smile dripping dark blood across her front. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.



The unicorn shot up in bed with a cry, hooves flailing wildly as she grabbed for purchase. Her hoof found a railing, her back the mattress. Her breath came fast and heavy, her eyes clenched shut against the bright morning sunlight. She opened them, blinked. White walls and white sheets greeted her, along with several concerned-looking ponies in white smocks, and a familiar pony with a coat of light gold and a mane of black that was further along towards gray, standing next to an important-looking Pegasus stallion in the regular guard’s uniform.

Cobblestone’s brows furrowed. “L-Libra? What are you doing here?”

“I’ll get to that in a moment,” Libra said. “Are you alright?”

Cobblestone blinked, running hooves down her body, checking herself over for injuries. “I think so. What happened?”

“How much do you remember?” one of the ponies in white asked.

Cobblestone’s brow furrowed. “There was a pony. A unicorn with a shattered horn. She tried to take me out of my cell, get me out of the prison. I fought her as best I could, but…she was so strong. I almost got kidnapped.”

“And then?” Libra asked, her voice low and curious. She leaned in. “What happened then?”

“There was a light,” Cobblestone said. “And colors.” She racked her brain, trying to remember what had come next. All that remained after she was lifted into the air was covered in a strange fog, glowing with countless colors and spangled with stars unlike any she had ever seen. And then blackness, and her dreams, fading with the sunlight.

“I can’t remember what happened next,” she said. “All I remember is thinking I had to do something fast, and then everything went blurry, and then I woke up here.”

Libra nodded understandingly. “That’s to be expected,” she said. “You suffered some severe trauma after the fight.”

She frowned. “Are you feeling alright, Cobblestone? If you’re having memory gaps, perhaps you should have your head examined.”

Cobblestone shook her head. “I don’t think it was from the injury,” she said. “It feels magical, somehow. You know what I mean, right?” she asked, looking at the doctors and Libra hopefully.

“I think I do,” Libra said. “If I recall, the term is ‘magically inflicted memory loss’, correct?”

“It is, Magus Libra,” the doctor confirmed. “Cobblestone has undergone extraordinary magical stress, which has taken a toll upon her ability to recall certain information. This is why I want her to remain here, for further observation.”

“Absolutely not,” Libra said. “Milady Everstar was very specific. She comes with me.”

“I thought that I was sentenced to remain here,” Cobblestone said. “Six years, right?”

“Your sentence still stands,” Libra said. “However, you’re to be remanded to the care of the Crown under an indentured contract. I’ve been sent to collect you. Assuming you can walk out of here with me.”

“And that’s where I’m worried,” the doctor said. “Miss Cobblestone, your injuries have healed in a fashion that could be described as ‘miraculous’. You appear to be fine save for a few cuts and bruises, but the fact is that we just don’t know if that’s the case. All of our diagnostic spells came back clean, but…”

“There’s no way to be sure, right?” Cobblestone asked. “I’ve heard it before.” Before anypony there could stop her, Cobblestone threw the sheets to one side and rolled out of bed, hitting the ground on all fours, teetering slightly.

The doctor rushed forward to aid her, but Cobblestone held up a hoof, forestalling his assistance. She straightened, lifted her front hoof, and bent her back. She rolled her neck from side to side and gave her tail a flick, nearly catching it on the bedside table.

“Alright,” she said. “I’m alright. Let’s go.” She took a step forward, and her face turned a curious shade of green. She swallowed and shook her head. Cobblestone took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Now I’m alright.”

Libra smiled. She opened the bag at her side, and withdrew a length of green fabric. “I brought this for you,” she said. “It’s cold out there.”

Cobblestone reached for her cloak, clasping it around her neck. The fabric hung on her like an old friend.

“It’s a bit long,” Libra observed. “We’ll get it taken in when we get to the Regia.”

“I’ll do it,” Cobblestone replied. “I’ve always tailored my own clothes.”

The pony in the uniform, the one she just now recognized as the Warden, spoke. “Miss Cobblestone,” he said. “I feel that before you leave, you should examine the other ponies in this room.”

Cobblestone looked at him strangely. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Your actions last night had…consequences,” the Warden said. “It’s easier to show you, rather than telling.”

He drew back the curtain that had until now separated Cobblestone from the rest of the ward, revealing the other patients. Cobblestone stifled a gasp. These were ponies she knew, ponies she saw on a daily basis. All of them were comatose or approaching that state. With a jolt, she recognized the pony she had gotten into a fight with in the exercise yard, his brutal features smoothed with sleep and his cheeks streaked with dried tears.

“What happened?” she asked. “Who did this? Was it the pony who attacked me?”

“According to them,” the uniformed stallion said, “It was you.”

“Commandant, that is quite enough,” Libra said.

The Commandant ignored her. “I’m not a unicorn,” he said gruffly, “But it seems to me that this is something she needs to know. For the moment, she is still a resident of this prison, Magus. So hold your tongue.”

Libra flushed, but was silent. The Commandant continued.

“You did something last night, Cobblestone. What it was, we don’t know. And you can’t remember. Or you say you can’t. To me, there is a very easy way to resolve this issue. Brandywine is an expert at restoring memory and healing mental trauma.”

Libra stomped one hoof against the ground roughly. “Absolutely not, Commandant.”

The Commandant turned to address her. “You will either allow her to undergo a basic evaluation of her mental state, Magus, or I’ll pass these papers on to the prison board to review and we can get back to this in six months or so.”

“My orders are to have her to the Regia as soon as possible, Commandant! We can have her examined there!”

“Until I know what she did to her fellow inmates, I will not have her released!”

“That’s not up to you!”

“I beg to differ!”

“Stop!” Cobblestone shouted. An eerie silence filled the room. Even the nurses stopped in their tracks to see what would happen next. Cobblestone took a deep breath. “I’ll take the test. How long will it take?”

“No more than a minute,” a new voice said from the door. Cobblestone spun to see Brandywine entering the room. “Apologies, Magus,” she said. “I felt the tension in here reaching dangerous levels, especially with so many emotionally compromised patients nearby. I felt I was duty-bound to return.”

Libra said nothing.

“Do it,” Cobblestone said. “The sooner this is done, the sooner we can leave.”

Brandywine nodded. “Of course, Cobblestone. If you want, you can sit down. It might make it a bit easier.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Libra warned her. “You’re under no obligation.”

Cobblestone shrugged. “Might as well. It’s the easiest way.”

“Let her be, Magus,” Brandywine said. “It’s a quick and painless procedure. Not my specialty, but easy enough to do.”

Libra’s face screwed up unhappily. “Very well,” she said, subdued for the moment, “Be quick about it. We have much to do today.”

“Cobblestone,” Brandywine said, “I need you to look at me. Relax, and take down the mental barriers you have up.”

Cobblestone did as she was asked. It was odd, she realized. She was so used at this point to having her barriers up around Hob that when they were down, she felt almost naked. She shifted uncomfortably.

“Good,” Brandywine said. “Now just close your eyes.”

Cobblestone did as she was asked. Her world went black. A sensation flowed across the inside of her head, like cool water that fizzed and popped. Cobblestone was made aware of another presence in her head, something that wasn’t her.

“Relax, Cobblestone,” she heard Brandywine say. “It’s just me. I need you to think about what happened last night, help me find the way. I can’t do anything here without your help.”

Cobblestone thought back to the night before. She remembered the black shadow of the witch’s cloak, the gleam of her beast’s fangs, and she felt a thrill of fear run through her. She heard Brandywine gasp, and remembered that whatever she was feeling, Brandywine was likely feeling as well. So she felt a pang of regret as she remembered the feelings of helplessness, desperation, rage, and panic rolling over her like wave after wave, breaking against the link she shared with the Cleric. She remembered the bands fastening around her neck, and heard Brandywine sob gently. And then, all that remained was blackness.

Except the blackness was no longer impenetrable. The cool water in her head washed against it, and the blankness in her memory blurred, smeared, and was washed away like so much ash. Cobblestone remembered the fire she saw blazing in the night, the bright colors she had no words for, and the feeling of being intimately connected with every pony she had drawn from. The light in her head grew brighter and brighter still, a great conflagration of thought and magic, and then suddenly everything went dark again.

Cobblestone opened her eyes. Brandywine was swaying on her hooves, her own eyes closed tightly. A single tear ran down her cheek.

“I did it,” she murmured. “Cobblestone, you should be free to go. Commandant, she is free of mental damage, and her memories should be restored. I see no further reason to keep her here. If you need to speak with me today, I will be in my office as usual.”

The commandant’s eyebrows rose. “What did you see?” he asked. “Are you alright?”

Brandywine smiled and nodded. “We have nothing to fear from Cobblestone’s magic,” she said. “Nor should we fear for the other patients. They’re safe. Cobblestone,” she said, turning to her, “I wish you luck, and strength.”

With that, she left, leaving only Libra, the Commandant, the doctor, and a very confused young mare behind, wondering what exactly it was she had done, and what more she was capable of.

Serale looked herself over in the mirror, and realized that she was not happy with her appearance. The red of the gown she wore resembled freshly-spilled blood, broken only by two slashes of white down the hem of it. Miniscule vines were embroidered on her sleeves, falling delicately to the bases of her hooves, and stopping just short of the shoes of bronze she wore. A black chain wrapped around her neck, somber and without ornamentation. Her hair was done up in a bun, save only for a few lose strands which framed her face. She looked beautiful, formidable, and every inch her mother’s daughter.

And yet, it didn’t feel right.

Today was the beginning of the trials for the mages accompanying her Guard, set to begin at noon. Serale had wanted to present herself as a leader, one fit to command troops in combat, and yet, the only thing she had to clad herself in were silks and satin.

“I know that feeling,” a voice said from behind her. Serale jumped. Her mother was standing behind her, taking her daughter in the mirror. “The dress clothes are nice enough in court, but they don’t really translate well to use in command. I’ve come to remedy that.”
Serale bowed her head. “Mother, you startled me. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“You know me,” Twilight said. “No real need for doors. I’ve come to give you something.”

“How do you mean?”

Twilight sighed. “I was going to do this sooner, but…well, you know. Things have been busy. Do you know what happened to me at the age of sixteen?”

Serale shook her head.

“When I was sixteen,” Twilight said, “Really sixteen, all those hundreds of years ago, I was sent from my home in Canterlot to a place that was hardly even a dot on the map. I spent the next ten years there, surrounded by the best friends I had ever had.” For a moment, her eyes were misty with memory, as Twilight remembered a time long past, perhaps a better time.

“It all ended in tears, of course,” she said, “But that’s beside the point. The point is, I left home for the first time at the age of sixteen, and never went back. Looking back, I wish somepony had done more to prepare me for the road ahead. It’s behind me now, but I would have been saved a lot of heartbreak with a bit of guidance. That’s something I’ve tried to give you for all of these years. And now you’ve gone and turned sixteen, and proven that I can’t protect you forever. So I’m glad I decided to give you what I did for your birthday.”

Twilight’s horn flashed, and what resembled a cube of solid stone appeared on the floor of Serale’s room. Another flash, and a line appeared around the top third, widening into a crack as Twilight lifted the lid of the box off, setting it gently to the side.

“It’s a joint gift,” she said. “Aniothrax, our Draconic ambassador, provided the materials for it. I did the work myself.” She lifted a piece of metal from the box, a helm that gleamed black in the light of the early morning. It was smooth and without adornment, almost unnaturally smooth.

“It’s not as sturdy as some of the other pieces I’ve done,” Twilight said, “But it’s still adamantium. The armor’s designed to deflect blows rather than cancel them outright, along with a few other… modifications. Well?” she said, looking Serale over, “What are you waiting for? Take off the dress, Serale. It’ll never fit under the armor.”

Serale scrambled to do as she was told, a grin on her face. Mother’s armor was legendary, even among the masters of the craft. The only ones who were considered to have a better grasp of the craft were Gryphons, who were on an entirely different level of metallurgy. At last, she stood disrobed, and reached for the bun on her head.

“Leave the bun,” Twilight said. “Much better than a braid. Learned that the hard way.” She raised an arming doublet up, holding it in the air with a critical eye. “I had to guess at your size,” she said, “So it might be a bit big. Trust me, it’s better than wearing something small under your armor.”

Serale let herself be dressed in the doublet, the belt, the leggings which fastened into the doublet with cunning little buckles that disappeared into the leather with a quick tuck, and all the rest. She relished the feel of the mail coif, black Taurish stuff that breathed almost like cotton but was strong enough to turn a spearpoint with ease. This too was buckled into place with a belt, a wider leather belt with a few loops left open for weapons she did not have. And then came the armor.

It was an almost-traditional design, the armor molded to match the musculature of her body, as the examples of ancient armor she had seen in her books had described. The grooves and mounds of the armor flowed like water, each piece buckling seamlessly into the next, fitting over her like a second skin and moving just as easily. Each piece buckled into the backplate, the last piece remaining only the breastplate of the armor. Before she picked it up, however, Twilight held up a hoof.

“This next piece is a bit different, Serale. You’ve seen our House guards, correct?”

Serale nodded. “Their armor has the six pointed star in red, correct?”

Twilight nodded. “I’m not permitted to allow you to wear the House sigil unless you are in my service, Serale. So I modified the crest for you.”

She turned the breastplate. There, in gold so pale as to be mistaken for white, was a star with five points, inside of which was coiled the sinuous form of a purple dragon, all fierce eyes and flashing scales, a green ridge running along its back. The detail was incredible, to the point where Serale could have believed it was a miniature of one of the majestic creatures themselves.

“The star has five points for now,” Twilight said, “But when you have taken your own House, you will wear the six pointed sigil of our own family. And there’s one more thing. The inside of this breastplate contains something special. There is a network of crystals inside that attune themselves to the wearer.”

“What do they do?” Serale asked.

“They charge themselves using latent magical energy,” Twilight explained, buckling the plate in place. “They use that power to ward off kinetic energy. Essentially, they absorb magic and use that same magic to deflect attack. There’s a bit of a problem, though. I couldn’t get the crystals to register low-energy attacks. Spells like stunner spells, sword strikes, axe swings, that sort of thing, it won’t block. Lethal spells and bullets, though, will do just fine. It’ll still absorb the magic from those lesser spells, you’ll just have to ride them out.”

She took a step back, admiring her handiwork, the process of nearly a half hour of preparation. “There,” she said, levitating Serale’s mirror in front of her, “Done! Take a look!”

Serale did so, and the mare in the mirror was once she almost didn’t recognize. The armor, taken together, seemed to be almost a hole in space in the shape of a mare, rendering most of her as a piece of moving night fashioned into the shape of a warrior. Her coat, normally a very light silver, gleamed the white of bone in contrast. Her bun was no longer elegant, it was instead severe. She looked like a warrior now. She looked ready to lead.

“We still have some time before you must leave for the arena,” Twilight said. “I’d like to go over how to use the armor with you. Is that alright?”

Serale nodded, her chest filling with warmth as her mother leaned in close, making sure she was safe.

“First,” Twilight said, “We have a few notches here for belt loops. I know you like to use a rifle, so it’s wide enough for a bandolier as well…”

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