• Published 4th Jan 2014
  • 4,546 Views, 43 Comments

The Definition of Strength - Viking ZX

Sabra has been searching for his answer for three long years, and at long last he may have found it. It just might not be the answer he expects.

  • ...


“Hey, you ready?”

Ndiyo,” Sabra said, giving Sky Bolt a nod as he lifted the helmet in his hooves. The polished, light grey crystal glinted in the sun, rivulets of light sparkling across the seams. “Are you?”

“I think so,” Sky Bolt said, adjusting her wings as she looked up at the stands behind her. Various members of the other Guard divisions had already begun to arrive, mostly high-ranking officials who had clearance or had been invited by Captain Song. Sabra could already make out the space where Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were meant to sit, mostly because palace staff had already arrived and set up some light coverings for the wooden benches.

Kupumzika,” Sabra said as Sky Bolt unfolded and folded her wings again, the motion making the crystal of her own armor glimmer under the light. “Relax.”

“I know,” she said, shaking her head as she looked back at him, but her wings stayed folded against her sides. “I’m fine. Just nervous energy. Are you sure you’re good to go?”

Kamwe bora,” he said, smiling again as he lifted the helmet over his head. Never better. And he meant too. Waking up to his newly decorated room this morning had felt right, like he’d scratched an itch he’d never known he had. Sky Bolt had done an impressive job helping him find things from his homelands to buy, so much so that he’d actually had to turn some things away. It felt nice to be waking up alongside a traditional wallpaper, as well as the tapestry they’d found in one of the markets. He’d gotten a discount for that one, although he hadn’t intended to. The zebra mare at the stall they’d found had been from his home province and recognized his name. She’d then refused to let him pay full price upon realizing that she was speaking to a Master Sage. Fortuitously, he’d been speaking his native tongue and hadn’t had to explain to Sky Bolt exactly why he’d been given the discount.

“Alright,” Sky Bolt said, taking one of the straps in hoof as his helmet slid into place and pulling it tight. “If you deplete the charge by accident, just let me know, and I’ll switch the demonstration over.”

“I will,” Sabra said, smiling at her under the helmet although he knew she couldn’t see it. Behind her, in the stands, he could see Captain Song speaking with the Captain of the Royal Guard. The Princesses would be arriving any moment now, and then the demonstration would begin.

Sky Bolt had chosen to hold the demonstration in the same location where they he had tested the armor the day before: the Guard’s Capture-the-Flag field. Unlike the obstacle course built in the training building, the field had seating rather than a single observation platform accessible to only a few ponies. Additionally, the training building was full of navigable, small scale obstacles. Sky Bolt hadn’t considered seeing an armored pony scale a wall most other ponies in the Guard had already conquered an effective demonstration of the new armor’s capabilities, especially when it would be done by such a large degree of ease with the new armor. She’d wanted some actual space to show off the armor’s capacity rather than the cramped hallways and small arenas of the obstacle course. It was a decision he’d agreed with, seeing as how he and Nova had made such short work of the obstacle course weeks earlier without any of the benefits the armor now provided. The field however, was massive, with plenty of space to demonstrate the armor’s capacities.

The last strap tightened, Sabra gave his head an experimental shake, checking for any looseness or discomfort. Then he nodded at Sky Bolt, watching as her smile widened.

“Well,” she said, taking a quick look back at the mostly empty stands, “I’ve definitely presented before larger audiences before.” She let out a laugh and then looked back at him, her eyes shining. “Guess that’s to be expected when what you’re presenting is top secret. I’ve never officially presented to a Princess either, much less both of them.”

“You’ll be fine,” Sabra said, stepping alongside her and and looking at her.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, grinning at him as she spread her wings. “I’m going to get up there, the Princesses should arrive any minute.”

Bahati nzuri.”

Sky Bolt’s wings pushed down as she shot into the air, arcing towards the stands. Sabra tracked her with his head as she flew, noticing the extra little flourishes she put into her flight as she drew close to the stands. He watched just long enough to see her perform a final corkscrew before landing alongside the rest of the Dusk Guard, then he turned his attention back down to the field. There was little to do now but wait.

He twisted his head back, eyes settling on the long, angular rectangle that the mod had eventually become. It was somewhat triangular now along the top—although knowing Sky Bolt it could be almost anything the next time he used it—and just short enough that he could still arch his back backwards without the mod getting in his way. Technically, it wasn’t a rectangle from the side. The front of the mod sloped sharply up as it moved back from his neck, leveled into a small, flat space, and then angled downward towards the back. Somehow she’d found the time to completely redesign the mod in what little time she’d had after the markets the night before and after the morning’s workouts, as well as prepare a little something extra that she hadn’t told Captain Song about.

Although knowing the Captain, he’s already noticed it, Sabra thought as he turned his attention back towards the field, running his eyes over the large, split-level, three-story structure that Sky Bolt had chosen to center the demonstration around. And if Captain Song hasn’t, then Nova certainly has.

Up in the stands, the soft rumble of conversation faded as Princess Luna strode around the corner of the stands, her ethereal mane swirling gently in some summer breeze, real or unseen. Behind her came her sister, Princess Celestia, her bright white coat shining in the sun. The two sisters made their way across the stands, pausing to greet various ponies as they headed for their places.

The team, Sabra thought, a feeling of power swelling through him as he tested the mod one last time. He released it almost as quickly as it had come. They’d discovered yesterday that it wasn’t much of a drain on the enchantment to hold it active, but every little bit counted, and he didn’t want to run out partway through the demonstration. He’d spent enough time testing the device to have a rough idea of how much magic he could expend, although that had been before Sky Bolt had rebuilt it, and despite assurances that the new design was no different on the inside, he didn’t want to risk it.

“Alright!” Sabra snapped his attention back upwards as Sky Bolt’s voice carried across the field. She was standing in front of the stands now, her armor shining in the sun as she addressed the scattered crowd. The rest of the Dusk Guard were arrayed nearby, their own crystal armor gleaming in the sunlight.

“I’d like to welcome you all here—” Sky Bolt’s voice cut off as Dawn stepped up alongside her, whispering something in her ear. A moment later, the pink mare’s horn glowed, the air around Sky Bolt’s face lighting up in response.

“Thank you,” Sky Bolt said, her voice sounding much clearer and distinct, almost as if she was speaking right next to him rather than yelling. “I guess I should have thought to bring a megaphone, but I’ve been a little nervous. After all, I’ve never presented to a Princess before, let alone two.” There were a few scattered chuckles through the crowd, and Sabra imagined he could see a bit more confidence sneaking into her shoulders.

“In any case,” the pegasus continued, her voice growing more firm, “I’d like to welcome both of the Princesses who are with us today, without whose support this project would not be happening.” She paused for a moment and then continued. “Thank you for coming.”

“Now!” she said, spinning on her rear hooves as she turned to face the field. Sabra could see her grin now, the wide smile of exuberant success stretched across her features. “What you’re going to see today promises to completely revolutionize the Guard’s abilities. That might sound like hyperbole now,” she said, glancing back at the small assemblage, “but I guarantee you, after this demonstration, none of you are going to be able to disagree.”

“Most of you have seen the armor that the Dusk Guard wear by this point,” Sky Bolt continued, her voice flowing smoothly now. “Some of you have even had the luck to see it in action.”

She’s completely in her element, Sabra thought as he glanced at the audience. They are hanging on every word, and she enjoys it as much as a teacher watching their students learn.

“Well, today,” Sky Bolt said, her voice taking on a fever pitch. “You get to see what it’s like when it’s completed!” She raised one hoof and the audience applauded softly, their hooves shaking the stands.

That was his cue. Sabra began to trot forward towards the three-story structure as Sky Bolt drew the crowds attention to him.

“Our armor is made from carefully chosen sections of magically reactive crystal,” Sky Bolt said. “Not only does it provide a wide range of physical protection, it also acts as a reflective agent in the case of magic, allowing it to dampen, negate, or even outright reflect magical energies.” The audience was nodding now, and Sabra allowed himself to pick up speed.

“Most of you could probably have worked that out on your own,” Sky Bolt continued as Sabra began to trot. “But the armor also contains an inner layer designed to amplify, contain, and streamline a pony's own internal magic, giving them a significant boost to their physical and magical capacity.” A low wall was coming at him now, and he switched to a full run. He leapt, a simple, unassisted exertion that saw his body cutting through the air above the wall. He landed, still running towards the building as Sky Bolt continued speaking.

“But today, we’re going to demonstrate the true purpose of this armor. A supplementary enchantment system of my own design.” He could see the crowd in the corner of his eyes, leaning forward expectantly as he approached the base of the building. Forty feet to go.

“Something we call a ‘mod,’ designed to store and release magic spells at precise moments.”

Thirty feet. He could see Princess Luna leaning forward now, her focus intent on him. Twenty feet. He was coming at the building from the backside, its surface one solid wall that extended all the way to the flat rooftop. For any normal pony, the only options would have been to scale the building a floor at a time on the other side, use the stairs on the inside, or if they were a pegasus, fly.

Fifteen feet. The side of the building was stretching overhead now, a sheer wall of blank, unadorned plywood.

“I think you’ll agree,” Sky Bolt said as Sabra gathered his legs beneath him, “that the results are incredible.”

Sabra focused his mind and the familiar surge of power swept through his body as he pushed down, hard. The ground shot away beneath him as his magically enhanced body launched itself into the air. He twisted his body and stretched his legs as he shot past the lip of the building's roof, putting himself into a simple backflip. He could see faint, reddish-purple lines shining against the black of his suit’s lining as it funneled the magic through his body, lines that traced geometric patterns across his sides and under his armor until he let go of the enchantment. The lines vanished, and he landed on the roof, his hooves ringing out against the dry wood as he faced the audience.

For a moment, there was silence as the audience stared at him in complete shock. Then the stands erupted in applause as the Guard began stamping their hooves. Even the Princesses seemed impressed, applauding along with the crowd as they smiled at Sky Bolt, although Princess Luna seemed somewhat more enthused than her sister, and Sabra could have sworn he heard a sharp crack from her section of the stands.

“What you’ve just seen is what is commonly known as a strength enhancement spell,” Sky Bolt said as soon as the applause died down. She spoke firmly, her wings spread wide, unveiling the small boxy shape nestled between her own shoulder blades. He could hear the pride in her voice. “What I’ve done allows for it to be accessed not all at once, but as needed. So for instance, not only can he leap up onto the building…”

He took his cue as she turned towards him and jumped again, this time without the enhancement, but over the side of the building. The ground rushed up at him with frightening speed, and he focused his mind once more.

The ground shook beneath him as he hit, his hooves kicking up dirt as he sank to a crouch, but he barely felt it. His enhanced limbs flexed, but he felt that he could have safely jumped from another twenty feet up before risking injury. Maybe further. He let the magic go as he turned to face the crowd once more. Again the stunned Guard applauded, and Sabra smiled.

“But thanks to the enchantment, he can take falls that would normally injure a pony with ease,” Sky Bolt finished. “With this device, one pony is worth six.”

“Of course,” she said, tilting her head to one side, “this comes at a cost. While Sabra may have the strength of six or seven ponies down there, I assure you that what he’s wearing costs a lot more than that.” There were assorted chuckles from the crowd at her joke, and Sabra nodded. The joke was as much for their benefit as for his, to give the crystal time to build up its charge.

“But, costs aside,” Sky Bolt said, “the application is clear. Because with this system, strength isn’t the only spell we can cast.” She snapped her wings out and gave them a backwards thrust, pushing herself into the air. “The applications are limitless,” she said, gliding down onto the field. Her hooves touched the ground, and then her own suit lit up as his had, striking lines of reddish-yellow magic glowing all across her like molten gold.

Sky Bolt shot forward as if fired from a cannon, her hooves moving far faster than they had any right to as she covered the distance between her and Sabra in a fraction of the time it had taken him. She skidded to a halt next to him, her hooves digging into the hard-packed dirt and kicking up a cloud of dust as the glowing lines on her suit faded away.

“So,” she said, throwing him a wink as she turned, “while I’m sure that most of you can see the immediate applications of what I’ve created, we’re going to do our best to show off their capacity in a wide variety of situations. After all, like I said, these thing aren’t cheap. But by the time we’re done here today…” she let the words hang in the air as Sabra leapt again, landing on the roof once more. “We think you’ll agree that they’re worth the cost.” Her own suit lit up and she bolted back towards the audience, the speed spell on her mod letting her move with almost unbelievable speed, even if only for a few seconds.

Sky Bolt landed in front of the crowd once more, struck a quick bow as they applauded, and then turned towards him, her face smiling wide as she nodded at him.

Sabra returned the nod, crouched, summoned the enchantment's magic forth once more, and leapt.

As his body arced into the sunlight, twisting and turning in the air, Sabra smiled. He didn’t have his answer.

But for now, he didn’t need it.

Author's Note:


I'm not even going to second guess this: The Definition of Strength was one of the most difficult things to write that I've written in the last year. Perhaps ever It wasn't because there were several plates in the air here that I was juggling; between his debate on the answers the Princesses gave him, his slow relationship with Sky Bolt, his debate on whether or not to leave the team and seek his answer elsewhere, the armor test, or any of the other things that went on. That wasn't it, no. I've juggled that level of intricacy before with ease. But here I was doing it from a character who is, of the entire group, the most difficult for me to write for given his unique, deep-thought POV that is so polar to my own thought process.

But you know what? I think I pulled it off. Now that I look back on it, while writing this took a lot of mental flexing, I'm really proud of the end result. And I enjoyed it, every step of every hair-pulling step. I really feel accomplished. And I really feel like I got to know Sabra a lot better myself.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look inside the mind of one of the series most silent but interesting (to me) characters. He wasn't much of a focal point in "Rise" past a romantic subplot with Sky Bolt, but here, I think he's finally getting his due. Hopefully, after the side stories are over, we'll have a much harder time finding a single "favorite character" among the cast (right now Steel and Nova dominate with a steady lead, but Sky Bolt is right behind them).

Thanks for reading, and there will be more to come soon. In fact, I think I spy an adventure of the wibbly-wobbly sort on the horizon...

Comments ( 21 )


Thanks for spotting that, glad I could fix it. :twilightblush:

And I'm glad you enjoyed the story. There's a lot coming with the Dusk Guard, so keep an eye out! There are still four side stories to come before the next chapter in the series rolls out in earnest!

I know that OC stories get less readers than others, and I know this is the second side story after a trilogy, further weeding out possible viewers. But this truly deserves a much higher rating than it has. You pulled off the deep introspection wonderfully, and I very much like that you didn't take the easy out of having him find his answer. I especially enjoyed your rendition of the princesses, and your choice of their answers. I like this one as much as Rises, and maybe even a little more.

I also REALLY like that you have the Elements of Harmony as aspects of Magic. Having them be emotions might be stretching the definition slightly, but I always did feel like if the Elements were so powerful, they shouldn't just be limited to the ponies that embody them. Kudos for working that into your lore.

4079032 :twilightblush: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, and I'm really glad all the time and effort I put into Sabra and the Princesses paid off. I've had such a journey writing the Dusk Guard from the humble start to where it is now, and I'm glad that all that work is paying off with a story that others are enjoying so much. I look forward to keeping this journey rolling (between pumping out my published stuff) and one day, we'll see the end. Where it's all heading, I won't say, but I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the ride. :pinkiesmile:

Master Sage eh? I bet Zecora's one too, except Mythical status as opposed to Legendary.

Tron lines sound cool, but might want to find a way to make it appear only on a HUD if you want to indicate usage. Otherwise it might be detrimental for stealth.

Wibbly-Wobbly... Doctor!

I actually like OC storys, long as they're written well. Allows more creative freedom with the characters without people saying "That's not how X or Y behaves". Those kind of stories also can be well written, but established characters usually have guidelines on how to write them.

Naw, she's a shaman, like the one that Sky and Sabra met at the diplomatic dinner. Or the one that was in on Sabra's council. Different societal area.

So far all three shamens have been female and all sage masters have been male is this purposeful?
A separation similar nuns and priests or just a coincidence

Ooh, good question! Actually, all shamans must be female, but a master sage can be male or female. Sages are students of the monastery, while a shaman is a specific "job" that traditionally has been held only by mares. It's a position that is a bit like a matriarch. There's usually one for a village or collection of villages, more in a city, and trained by apprenticeship.

Which doesn't mean that a stallion can't have the same training. A stallion can train under a shaman as an apprentice, and will be trained in the art of potions-making, but can't ever be known as a "shaman." Instead, they're a doctor, or an herbalist, or whatever career they choose to take their skills to. But the title "shaman" is specifically held for mares who take the respected office among the zebra.


Wait, so you're telling me you aren't usually this deep and introspective? That's almost as hard to believe as your saying you don't actually fight magical killer robots for a living!

I'm glad Sabra got his chance to shine a little brighter. He's a real great character, and its great to see that in evidence here. The little touches like his homesickness and his struggle with the finer points of Equestrian/English/Basic helped show that he's more than just a "butt-whoopin' Zebra warrior."

Though he is that. :raritywink:

I liked the more philosophical tone of this story. I've realized fairly recently that an emotional conflict can be just as interesting and fun to read as a physical conflict. This story had weight and, even if it's been partially resolved, that weight's going to continue to be a big part of Sabra. It's gonna be awesome. :pinkiehappy:

Also, I've given in and finally decided to root for Sabra and Sky Bolt's relationship. They're too cute. I've held off on actually investing my emotions into them because I know that something terrible is going to happen. This slow build up is most certainly building up to something. :unsuresweetie:

You have no idea how much of a relief that was to hear. Writing Sabra was probably the toughest challenge I've had writing the Dusk Guard so far, and probably will stay that way.

I loved every minute of it, thought. And I'm glad you did to. He's quickly become a favorite of mine for a lot of reasons past "I'm awesome and cool about it."


It's amazing seeing what the world looks like behind Sabra's eyes. It's a good reminder, too, that even someone who looks whole and collected from the outside can still be confused and trying to make sense of the world from within.

Still waters run deep.

Luna's speech on the meaning of life was beautiful. And how you wove it into the rest of the chapter was great, particularly when you had Sky Bolt echo part of it.
Another achievement of yours: Whenever these characters smile, I'm smiling along with them.

I believe that good writing shouldn't just be good, it should inspire as well (yeah, there's totally a blog post coming on that).
And if I'm leaving smiles behind, so much the better! :pinkiehappy:


I'm glad Sabra got his chance to shine a little brighter. He's a real great character, and its great to see that in evidence here. The little touches like his homesickness and his struggle with the finer points of Equestrian/English/Basic helped show that he's more than just a "butt-whoopin' Zebra warrior."

I threw a lot of work into this piece partially because I'd given him such a short stick in "Rise." I knew how complex his character was, but readers didn't. That and I hadn't scratched the surface of his personality yet. It was actually one of the reasons I set out to write the side stories: I wanted to give them each their moments, so that everyone could reach the level of attention that Steel and Nova got (that, and I didn't want to go cold while I wrote a few more books before the sequel). Honestly, I love the entire team, but Sabra's always going to be a little unique thanks to his position, and his challenges (like that question).

Also, I've given in and finally decided to root for Sabra and Sky Bolt's relationship. They're too cute. I've held off on actually investing my emotions into them because I know that something terrible is going to happen. This slow build up is most certainly building up to something.

Hey, I root for them too! As far as what the future holds, you'll just have to keep reading. :raritywink:


I threw a lot of work into this piece partially because I'd given him such a short stick in "Rise." I knew how complex his character was, but readers didn't. That and I hadn't scratched the surface of his personality yet.

That work shows! I'm hoping we get to see inside his head some more in the future. Maybe he'll have more plot-relevant thoughts in the next book? :scootangel:

Hey, I root for them too! As far as what the future holds, you'll just have to keep reading. :raritywink:

What I'm reading at the moment is that you took the trouble to keep my bold emphasis on "terrible" in the quote. This does not bode well for the zebra or the pegasus. :trollestia:

hmm it sure has been interesting to see inside Sabra. your narration around tgis character has been always quite original, but his inner scape is an step forward
But I still want to see more avout him and his romance :)

Why are we here, what's life all about?
Is God really real, or is there some doubt?
Well tonight we're going to sort it all out
For tonight it's the meaning of life

What's the point of all this hoax?
Is it the chicken and the egg time, are we just yolks?
Or perhaps we're just one of God's little jokes
Well ca c'est the meaning of life

Is life just a game where we make up the rules
While we're searching for something to say
Or are we just simply spiralling coils
Of self-replicating DNA?

In this life, what is our fate?
Is there Heaven and Hell? Do we reincarnate?
Is mankind evolving or is it too late?
Well tonight here's the meaning of life

For millions this life is a sad vale of tears
Sitting round with real nothing to say
While scientists say, "We're just simply spiralling coils
Of self-replicating DNA"

So just why, why are we here?
And just what, what, what, what do we fear?
Well ce soir, for a change, it will all be made clear
For this is the meaning of life

C'est le sens de la vie
This is the meaning of life


What I'm reading at the moment is that you took the trouble to keep my bold emphasis on "terrible" in the quote. This does not bode well for the zebra or the pegasus.

Keep guessing! :pinkiehappy:


But I still want to see more avout him and his romance :)

We will. :pinkiesmile:

Will he ever find it? He's gotten some dang good answers already, what could he be looking for?

I'm not even going to second guess this: The Definition of Strength was one of the most difficult things to write that I've written in the last year. Perhaps ever

Well you did a masterful job with it all here. A great look into Sabra. I have to admit as well the philosophy student in me let out more than a couple loud squees at different points. I really enjoyed the answers you put together from the two princesses especially. Not only were they spectacular answers and great deliveries, but each of their answers also payed very well into their characters and past experiences.

Also just like you did in Rise I really like the way you are weaving the emotional components not only into the magic, but also into the character's experience of that magic. I also think the choice of Loyalty being the driving emotion of the strength enchantment is an inspired choice. It is an emotion that can drive so many actions, and also drive one to abilities possibly far beyond what they could achieve otherwise.

The story with Sabra's quest, the armor, and his relationship with Sky Bolt were also very neatly woven together. I also really liked the looks into Sabra's homeland and past and really look forward to more.

so sabra is the element of loyalty. well, at least an equivalent of it. :rainbowdetermined2: sabra is my fav pony/zebra so this was even more interesting than usual. i like how the tone of the saga completely changes based on which character's viewpoint we're looking at. i also like how sabra has minor problems expressing himself in equestrian sometimes. both the princesses' answers were very well thought out. i applaud u for that. sabra's realization about where his home was is very nice, too. giving us a look at sabra's background was really nice as well.
so therefore my rating is :yay: :rainbowkiss: :rainbowkiss: :rainbowkiss: :twilightsmile: :moustache: :moustache: 8.7/10 man, my ratings are high for this saga. oh well, it deserves it. :ajsmug:

Man, I can't even imagine how hard it was to write from Sabra's POV. Between the foreign culture, language barrier, adorable crush, and what would already have been a pretty turbulent mess of figuring out his place in the world even given none of those...I mean that's pretty ambitious, but damn if it didn't work.

An awesome piece of literature, to be sure. Of course, it isn't without its technical flaws (which I won't take the time to point out), but it's quite enjoyable nonetheless. The needed praises have already been sung, so I won't repeat them here. I hope that I get to the point where I can juggle so many plot threads as skillfully as you have.

You'll be sure to see me reading the rest of the side-stories, and I'm eagerly anticipating the next full entry in the Dusk Guard series.

I have a Swahili to English guidebook as well as a few bookmarked sites on Swahili language conventions and how to speak it. I use Google Translate insofar as to see if it's accurate for most people reading it back (as in dropping it into translate as Swahili) but I make sure that with my limited understanding, the order, tenses, and all that are accurate.

It's probably still not perfect, but I give it my best shot. It's certainly above just Google Translate.

Really enjoyed this one.
I wish i could say more but i've never been good at putting my thoughts into words while keeping it short.
Im eager to continue reading more of your work. :twilightsmile:

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