• Published 21st Jul 2014
  • 10,226 Views, 2,840 Comments

Journey with a Batpony - Gulheru



Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, wishes to bring the greatest magic of all to the lands of batponies. Will she succeed in her mission in this distant and dangerous land?

  • ...
28
 2,840
 10,226

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter II – Plans and Preparations

Midnight was standing, unshakable and stoic, in position of attention in front of Ardent Fang’s office.

His head was up and prideful, his wings were extended diagonally. He was supporting his right foreleg on the tip of a steel set of claws, the weapon of choice for the Nightguard. His purple-hued armor was polished to the extreme, sending candlelight reflections down the corridor and his blades were sharpened well enough to be able to pass through flesh like it was water.

He had made sure that, if he was going to be told off because of that rumble in the mess hall, he could at least avoid the Commander’s commentaries on the state of his gear. However, the one thing that Midnight was unable to change, despite his best efforts, was the fact that he was utterly and completely exhausted.

The last three nights he would describe as nothing short of slave labor. His rations got cut by half, he was forced to stay up during the day and clean the mess hall over and over again. And, during his shifts, he was forced into a rigorous set of pointless, physically draining exercises. Why? To quote Ardent Fang: “You need to be taught discipline, worm.”

Batshit, he did not require discipline, he required Deep Mist to keep his sunscorched mouth shut. As much as Midnight had to admit to himself that selling Deep Mist that punch was an unprofessional thing to do, he felt rather good about it. The jerk shouldn’t have talked like that about Twi—

His thought process got interrupted by the door of the office violently opening and Ardent Fang appearing in them with a fierce look in his amber eyes. His cuirass, ornamented with silver-plated insignias, was a masterpiece of Nightguard forgemasters and his rich, ashen cloak swept the stone floor as the Commander barked out an order.

Inside, at once!

Yes, Commander, sir!” Midnight shouted the reply and brought his right set of claws up to the level of his muzzle, pointing them straight up, thus giving his officer the proper salute.

He then entered the chamber in a marching trot, being glad that his fatigue hadn't caused him to slash himself on the face a second before. He stopped in the middle of the spacious, decorated accordingly to the officer’s position, room. Staring forward, keeping his body still and at the ready, Midnight had to use his entire willpower. He was well prepared to be given the lecture about his behavior, but what occurred instead of it took him completely by surprise.

First, he heard the Commander closing the door, ruthlessly. The next moment, he felt a harsh and biting strike towards one of his hind legs. He quickly clenched his teeth to keep silent and remained in position, even as the leathery sound of a disciplinary whip filled the vast chamber. After a short pause, saturated with sharp pain, another strike connected with his other leg. Then came hits to the back, sides, neck.

Ardent Fang wasn't joking around at all. All of those strikes were enough to leave a bruise and the Commander was making sure that every hit was memorable and severe. After two minutes, carefully timed with a set of swings, the officer trotted in front of Midnight, with his black, short mane, usually combed together, in disarray from the swinging and revealing a surprising amount of grey hair.

So tough all of a sudden? No movement at all?” the commander spoke, his voice insincerely calm. “You can stand a Goddess-forsaken whip yet you can’t deal with a few words, is that right? Maybe it’s because those are said in your face?!” he screamed with authority and, without even blinking, swung the whip right across Midnight’s muzzle.

He took the sudden hit as best as he could, even though his endurance was barely enough to keep his head straight as the strike connected with his face with a sickening whack. His vision blurred from the sheer impact. He nearly hissed over the searing sensation, as both the strength of the hit and the amount of disrespect he experienced filled him with soreness. One of his nostrils began filling up. He soon could tell that blood started going down his muzzle, as he felt a drop pass his lips and hang on one of his fangs.

When the officer spotted that the only reaction he had received back from Midnight was a trickle of blood dripping on the stone floor, he tossed the whip aside fiercely.

Do I have to remind you, wretch, what is your line of duty?” Ardent Fang inquired with tension in his voice.

Only disciplined silence answered him. Midnight was keeping a perfect position of attention, even though he had trouble breathing through his bloodied nose and his whole body was pleading him to let go.

He was not going to.

The officer continued, pacing around Midnight like a predator. “Do I have to remind you that you are serving amongst the best our domain has to offer? Answer me!

No, Commander, sir!” came the stern and loud response, backed by eyes locked immovably forward.

No? I think I do!" Ardent Fang disagreed, shouting even louder. "What testimony are you giving about the discipline in our ranks if you strike your own brother-in-arms?!” he accentuated fiercely and brought his face within inches of Midnight's.

It appeared for a moment like he was going to stop with the biting words and switch to literal biting.

You dare to call yourself a Nightguardian?! You dare to call yourself the best?! You are filth, nothing more, you hear me? Filth!” The sentences were becoming more and more aggressive, as Ardent Fang's voice was raising in volume.

Midnight was clenching his teeth so hard that his jaw was starting to hurt. His officer's tries at unbalancing him had been for naught so far, but this tirade was far from over.

And whilst Midnight was somewhat used to such a way of handling things within the Nightguard, as he had suffered enough training regime in his youth to cultivate a resistance, it was never enjoyable to receive "the talk" from one of your superiors.

Ardent Fang was not losing his momentum. “You are a disgrace! To your Family, to your homeland and to the Goddess! You dare to salute with the same hoof that attacked your comrade?! You are nothing!

Those words would be gravely insulting to any batpony and they were especially affronting for a warrior, but Midnight was trying to ignore them to the best of his ability. Not that he wasn't paying attention, as it was every warrior's duty to follow carefully the words and remarks of officers. But, at the same time, remaining untouched on the personal level was desirable. Midnight was managing quite well.

That is, until Ardent Fang decided to strike true.

And you know who was well aware that you are nothing?!" the officer asked, pausing grimly for a moment to provide the answer himself. "Your wife!

Midnight’s heart stopped in its beating for a brief moment. It was as if the howling winds of winter blizzards froze it still.

Knowing she wouldn't have to deal with you anymore," the officer concluded his remark with merciless satisfaction, "she must have gladly died in that avalanche!

A nervous silence filled the chamber. And even though there was no movement from any of the stallions, anypony entering the room right then would be able to easily discern that a storm was brewing.

Ardent Fang was staring right into Midnight’s eyes, waiting. Waiting for but the smallest of reactions to continue the punishment. He was breathing deeply through his nose, his fangs bared to their full, savage extent, and his muscles properly tensed up. He looked more like a raging berserker rather than the commanding officer of the most elite batpony unit.

In the meantime, what was left of Midnight’s endurance was trying to desperately hold the position of attention. His heart spotted its loss of rhythm and was now galloping furiously, like trying to regain its cadence. And the his mind was filled to the brim with screams. Every bit of his brain was shouting and wailing, willing to lash out at the middle-aged stallion right before him. To forget the training, the chain of command, respect and authority, to forget everything! To just grab Ardent Fang’s throat with all the power and relentlessly choke the last breath from it.

And yet, in this ferocious hurricane of despair and vengeful anger, Midnight heard a familiar voice. He did not know why, but it sounded like a gentle gust of wind, a caring breeze amongst the tempest of emotions.

“I am glad that I can just be here for you.”

Those few words resounded in him like an echo between the mountains. And they calmed down the violent blizzard inside of him. Midnight's mind ventured back to recent, pleasant memories. And, as clear as when he saw it then, he remembered that beautiful, understanding, lavender smile. It was an expression unique and yet so strangely... familiar and close. A gesture he would never expect to experience from a pony he had met just twice. And an Equestrian... It was nearly unimaginable.

But there it was. A memory calming Midnight’s mind like a soothing unguent applied to a deep, rankling wound.

After a minute of the tense quiet, Ardent Fang stepped back from the motionless warrior. He nodded slowly, smirking with satisfaction. He approached a rich, wooden cabinet in the corner, then opened one of its drawers. He grabbed a small, simple towel and tossed it firmly towards Midnight.

At ease. Clean yourself up,” he ordered with calm that contrasted strongly with the tone he was using so far.

Midnight caught the cloth just before it hit his face.

Yes, Commander, sir. Thank you, Commander, sir,” he replied silently and pressed the material to his muzzle, trying to stop the bleeding from his nostril. However, he soon regretted following the command, as his fatigued legs decided to let go utterly. He felt that he was collapsing on the floor and there was nothing he could do about it.

Ardent Fang sprang towards Midnight with speed contradicting his age and caught the fainting warrior just in time. He aided the guardian in regaining his balance, leading him to one of the chairs at his desk. The young stallion clamped on it, nearly limp. The officer patted his back in a fatherly fashion.

Are you alright, youngling?” he asked with a determining gaze, to which Midnight exhaled and nodded.

Yes, Commander, sir... Sorry, Commander, sir...” he finally responded, feeling both immensely grateful that he got spared a harsh acquainting with the floor, and ashamed that he had to be aided by the officer.

Ardent Fang was still staring at him with focus. “Hungry?” he asked and Midnight looked up at him with even more thankfulness and abashment alike.

Like Goldhell, Commander, sir...” he confessed, to which Ardent Fang sneered.

The officer took his place at the ornate desk, having assured himself that Midnight was not going to slide down from his seat. He reached towards a shallow, spruce bowl nearby and picked an orange from the assortment of fruit.

Enjoy,” he said, offering the food.

Midnight didn’t have to be invited twice. He grasped the orange as hastily as his exhausted body allowed him to, then ravenously bit into the soft and moist fruit. He felt the sweet juice pouring down his throat with its invigorating, heavenly taste. He drank with louder slurps than customary, caring not for how he was perceived by his superior. He felt the his body regaining a portion of its strength in the blink of an eye. He didn’t let even a drip of the luscious fluid fall on the floor. When he was done, he raised his head up, baring his teeth contentedly and letting out a deep, long exhale. He was satisfied with his fruity prey's demise as he held the drained husk of an orange in his hoof.

Thank you, Commander, sir,” he expressed his gratitude, placing the unfortunate victim of his thirst in a little bowl that Ardent Fang passed to him. The he looked up at his officer, witnessing his emotionless, still stare.

I trust you won’t give me a reason to punish you in that manner again, guardian?” the Commander asked coldly and Midnight decided to use his partially regained vigor to grant him a proper answer.

He lifted himself from the chair, even with his muscles protesting somewhat fiercely, and he saluted as perfectly as it was required of warriors.

"No, Commander, sir!" his voice was loud and clear.

Sit down, idiot, lest your wings will fall off,” the officer ordered soundly, but with a warmer, complacent tone, witnessing the passionate gesture.

Midnight sat down with haste, feeling that that might have been the last effort at proper military etiquette for him that night. At least, that is what his legs were telling him. Meanwhile, Ardent Fang pulled out a folder from the desk’s drawer. It was a simple, leather dossier labeled with the warrior’s name in the native alphabet. The officer opened it at the last page and pulled out a piece of rough parchment, which he held in front of him, for Midnight to see the contents.

I have testimonies here from your colleagues, guardians Rockdusk and Darkpine, that Deep Mist’s words were provoking enough to spawn your action,” Ardent Fang stated as the other stallion was skipping through the text.

Yes, Commander, sir," Midnight replied, straightening himself on the chair. "His impl—“ he tried to explain, but Ardent Fang put his hoof down on the desk with a loud thud.

I still do not give a broken fang about what he said, understood!?" there was an echo of displeasure in his words, so Midnight shut up in mid-sentence. "You shall not repeat your deed.

Midnight nodded respectfully as it was not a suggestion, but a blatant order. “Yes, Commander, sir,” he assured, keeping his head down.

The officer continued examining the contents of the folder, slowly checking page after page, starting with Midnight's caste assignment pledge, through reports from barrack service, training and so forth. He suddenly raised his eyebrow and looked at the warrior in front of him with interest.

You indeed have quite a record here, guardian. Silver Star of Extraordinary Service during the first year?” he inquired.

I had cadre officers of high expectations, Commander, sir. And I was merely doing my duty, Commander, sir,” Midnight replied, keeping the pride that filled him and the satisfaction in his voice to an absolute, appropriate minimum.

Ardent Fang nodded his head slowly, still staring into the documents. When he spoke after a moment his voice sounded distant and Midnight wasn't sure whether the officer was talking to him, or just murmuring something to himself without noticing.

No amount of shouting and exacting discipline can make you do your duty well, but your faith and your passion. Those make you a true warrior.

The Commander looked up and his eyes met with Midnight’s. Those were the eyes of a stallion who had seen nearly everything in his life, the gaze of a mentor who had forged throngs of young recruits into true warriors. Ardent Fang was a father often harsh, but never unjust. His leadership had been praised amongst the entire Noctraliya long before he was tasked with reforming the Nightguard and, being granted this unmatched military honor, he truly began to thrive. The entire domain agreed that there was the Goddess' hoof in this nomination, as Ardent Fang was both a brilliant tactician and a charismatic figure – a pony destined to lead the Noctraliya's elite.

The officer skipped through a couple of further pages, not really focusing on the contents, or perhaps not wanting to, as his eyes quickly skimmed through the text.

Your last assignment..." he remarked, tapping his hoof on the papers, pursing his lips. "I was notified of this, yes...” He closed the dossier slowly and rested his hoof on it. “I will have a report added here, treating about your latest mishap. It will not impede the progress towards the planned squad leadership and sentinel promotion, as long as I am not required to deal with your sunscorched muzzle again," he accentuated firmly, but there was something of a paternal understanding in his eyes. "Am I making myself clear, guardian?

Midnight acknowledged his words with some relief, although they could not change how he felt about this matter deep inside. Which was to say, indifferent. He still nodded slowly, with due respect.

As the Goddess’ light, Commander, sir. Thank you, Commander, sir,” he said, staring at the officer steadily, which spawned a similar gaze back from Ardent Fang.

They kept this weird eye contact for a while, until the older batpony finally decided to open one of the drawers of his desk. He took out a parchment and placed it so that the single candle bringing light to the room could illuminate it. The flame revealed the full splendor of rich, sapphire ink and a style of writing properly ornate to match the quality of it. Even the material that the words were put down on was astounding. Midnight, however, was immediately captivated by another detail – a dark, royal seal at the bottom of the paper.

This... this is the mark of...” he stuttered, realizing the meaning of this sign and sigil that it was brandishing.

... the Immaculate Moon...” the officer finished the sentence for Midnight and they both lowered their heads in an instant. After a brief while, Ardent Fang spoke up again. “I received this yesternight. The Goddess requires our service.

Midnight forgot about his overwhelming fatigue in a heartbeat and stood up quickly enough to cause his chair to topple. His salute was rapid and dutiful and his voice filled the chamber.

Through scorching days and glorious nights, for Her we live, for Her we die!” he declared, his eyes lifted up, shining with devotion and dedication.

The officer smirked as the young warrior exclaimed a portion of the Nightguard’s creed with great fervor. “I expect nothing less from you but fulfillment of those words, guardian," he said, before proceeding to give strict instructions. "You shall be undertaking an escort mission. An envoy from Equestria shall be visiting our homeland and meeting with the esteemed Covenant.

At those words, Midnight’s heart began beating a bit faster. Could they have meant...? They must have meant...!

Yes, Commander, sir!” he almost forgot to reply, as his thoughts started running rampant.

I am aware that you know the chosen ambassador personally," the officer continued calmly. "The Covenant wishes implicitly for her to feel comfortable during the journey. So I am assigning you to provide protection for her during this endeavor.

The beating in Midnight’s chest turned into sound pounding, it being the second time his heart decided to change pace rapidly that night.

You are to escort Princess Twilight Sparkle until her safe return to Equestria," Ardent Fang concluded with a firm voice. “Dismissed!"

If not for the fact that discipline forced Midnight to salute, he would have flown up in joy.

***

Twilight was growing increasingly desperate. No matter how badly she tried, it was all in vain. The situation was catastrophic. Her continuous efforts only made her more irate and hopeless. Nopony expected such a horrific event to happen amongst the walls of Ponyville’s crystalline castle. Those were indeed desperate times.

The books did not want to fit into the bag.

Twilight couldn’t manage to zip the luggage close, even though those thirty two tomes were an absolute minimum. She had already got rid of the other twenty six positions! And no amount of angry gasps or bouncing on top of the lid seemed to help. The books were constantly attempting to desert the company and flee like cowards.

Spike, trying continuously to catch all the escapees, finally let out a sigh.

“Twilight, give it a rest, you can’t take all of these!” he remarked, witnessing the mare's pointless struggle.

Twilight rolled her eyes. Spike, as much as he was helpful, had never gained enough respect towards priceless tomes. Especially priceless tomes in great numbers and even greater sizes.

“Oh, Spike, those books are absolutely necessary," she reminded her little assistant. "This mission is extremely important and I need to be prepared, accordingly, to the extreme! If only—” Twilight bounced up, flapping her wings to enhance the height of her jump "—these would fit!"

Using her full body mass, she stomped on the lid of the bag. But instead of causing the books to somehow compress, she managed to send a shrapnel of wisdom all over her new library. One of the tomes, adequately named “Heavy Diplomatic Cases”, a truly magnificent almanac on perturbing situations in foreign dealings, went straight towards Spike, pinning him to the ground with its mass like a boulder fired from a catapult. Twilight groaned at the mess, overlooking the fact that she nearly managed to knock out her help cold.

“It’s no use!” she wailed, taking her seat atop of the bag and lowering her head.

In the meantime, Spike managed to finally escape the clutches of the enormous book, which was trying to make him its permanent captive.

“Twilight, maybe you should use your magic to shrink them?” he inquired suddenly, which caused a blink in the mare’s eyes.

She looked up, stared straight into the undetermined distance and then covered her face with her hoof in a gesture of utter embarrassment.

“You are so right...” she admitted without reluctance.

Twilight’s horn lit up and, in an instant, all the tomes changed into pocket versions of themselves in a puff of raspberry-colored smoke. After they all had been tightly packed and the bag itself had been zipped close properly, Spike approached her, as she was staring blankly at the bookshelves filled with arcane tomes, metamagical treaties, historical chronicles and more. He put his paw on her shoulder.

“Twilight, what’s wrong?” there was a note of deep worry in his voice.

“I... I have a lot on my mind Spike,” she responded sadly. “Searching through all those tomes that Princess Celestia gifted me from her personal collection... it made me think of Golden Oak Library...”

Spike let out a faint sigh while Twilight continued.

“I have a beautiful palace now and a library that could rival even the archives of Canterlot! But... it does not feel the same," she confessed in a soft tone. "It does not feel like...”

“...home,” Spike finished.

Twilight heard the dragon snivel. She looked down, witnessing her person reflected in his teary eyes. She wanted to reassure him with a warm hug but, before she moved, Spike spoke up again.

“But, we are still together... and we have our friends. So, we still have a home, right?" he asked, his voice trembling a little bit. "Nopony can take this away,” he suddenly came to a conclusion and expressed it with a remarkable amount of conviction.

Twilight couldn’t hide her amazement. Spike’s words were extremely... mature, considering his age. A sudden realization struck her. Was he growing up without her noticing it? The little dragon had been with her for so long, but she was always treating him like a little foal almost. Maybe he was not longer as small and young as she was perceiving him? She smiled fondly at him and gave him a warm hug, pressing his petite stature tightly to her coat.

“No, Spike, nopony can take that away,” Twilight reassured him and he replied with a happy smile of his own. But that expression didn’t last.

“Twilight," he began with uncertainty, "will you be safe out there?”

“I shall be perfectly safe, Spike, don’t worry,” Twilight immediately gave the only answer she could. It was, however, not entirely true.

Noctraliya was located in the mostly uncharted by Equestria parts of Tramplevanian Alps, a soaring and unforgiving mountain range, marking the Equestrian border to the east and slightly north-east. Without proper preparations, any journeys amongst those peaks could be, at best, described as unsafe, if not ultimately hazardous, especially considering what Twilight knew already about the unstable weather patterns, harsh blizzards and powerful gales of mountain wind. But the unforgiving climate wasn't the only thing concerning her.

Noctraliya was an Equestrian protectorate and batponies were a part of the society through centuries. In theory. In Equestria they had become essentially boogeyponies, their status fueled by their voluntary isolationism in conjunction with superstitious tales that had surfaced over the centuries. And even if Twilight’s interviews with Midnight helped her separate the truth from legends and folklore, she was sure that a lot was hidden away from her yet. Batponies’ culture, customs, faith, all of those were quite complex. Not to mention showing traces that the noctrali society perceived itself as superior to Equestrians in many aspects.

In addition, Twilight’s mission was the first of its kind, for Noctraliya had never had a diplomat enter its borders. The mare found remarks in old foreign affairs chronicles that each and every attempt at forming more stable relations before the Eclipse was met with a conciliatory, but adamant veto from the batponies' Covenant. Midnight stated firmly that Twilight would be well respected for vanquishing Nightmare Moon, the “Corrupting Darkness”, and the mare didn’t have a reason to doubt him. However, during the interview, she heard some things that made her extremely vigilant about this mission. Especially when it came to dealing with the said Covenant.

Locked in thoughts concerning her journey, Twilight nearly missed Spike’s question.

“Do you think you will receive a letter soon?”

“I am pretty sure, yes," she replied, nodding. "Princess Luna mentioned that preparations could take a couple of days. And that was three days ago.”

The dragon reluctantly let go of Twilight and wiped his eyes dry. He tried to sound stern and calm.

“Then let us finish packing,” he declared, quickly turning around so that the mare could not see more of his tears.

Twilight looked at her bags. She was nearly done with the preparations. She had readied a set of warmer clothes, in case of really harsh weather, some quills and parchments, even a couple of Equestrian trinkets and examples of local craft. “You take, you give” – she still recalled the batponies’ saying. And if the Lords, or anypony else, would want to grant her a gift, she had to have something to repay this kindness, lest she would risk insulting the hosts. And that was the last thing she desired to do when in such an unfamiliar place.

There was, however, one piece of equipment that she was missing, but there was no time to replace it. In the incineration of the Golden Oak Library, Twilight had lost her recorder and the tapes containing her interviews with Midnight. It was a big loss for her... especially considering the scientific value of those recordings, of course. She had memorized most of the contents, yes, but she had never managed to sit down and write transcripts. Maybe she would be able to meet with Midnight one night and redo those recordings? Although she was pretty certain that the last tape, the one she labeled “classified”, was unique enough never to be restored again.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Spike, could you see who it might be?” Twilight asked, but before her assistant could move, the chamber entrance opened widely and a certain pink pony bounced into the room, skillfully avoiding all the tomes placed around on the floor, the ones Twilight had decided not to take. She was followed closely by the rest of the alicorn’s friends.

“Hey, Twilight! Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet?!” Pinkie Pie asked with a broad smile, hopping from place to place with the power of her limitless energy and enthusiasm.

“Almost, Pinkie," Twilight replied, smiling broadly as she greeted everypony. "Good to see you all.”

Rainbow Dash was flying around the room, looking around, captivated. “Wow, I didn't think Princess Celestia would give you so many books! Did you read them all already?” she asked, scouting the bookshelves, likely for a Daring Do series book that she had not read before.

Twilight grinned widely at the thought of Princess Celestia being a fan of AK Yearling and shook her head in denial.

“Of course not, Rainbow. I might be a quick reader," she admitted, "but even I could not have managed that yet. I did, however, go through some books I will need in this journey.”

Applejack, who had also began skipping through the titles on the bookshelves, reached for one of the tomes with bewilderment.

“’Sustainable Agriculture in Forty Five Easy and Simple Steps’," she read out loud with a mixture confusion and amazement. "Gosh, sugarcube, this here chamber has to have more books than your entire old darn library!”

Rarity, joining her friend in admiring the contents of the shelves, nodded gracefully.

“It most certainly does," she concurred. "There are two more spacious halls here and I am almost confident they are also overflowing like this one. Have you finished packing, dear?” she turned her attention to Twilight, or, to be more precise, to Twilight's bag.

“Almost, yes. I just need a couple more things,” Twilight responded, looking towards a small writing podium in the chamber’s corner, as Rarity smiled cordially and pointed at the luggage lying in the middle of the chamber, more clearly accentuating what she had in mind.

“I hope, darling, that you have taken some chic ensembles," she said with a tone of a specialist in the matter. Which she most certainly was. "You are a Princess, you need to be perceived properly, I hope you are already aware of that.”

Fluttershy, until this time timidly looking around the overwhelmingly commodious room, came to Twilight’s assistance.

“Oh, Rarity, I’m sure Twilight has all that she needs," she assured her fashion-concerned friend.

Rarity rolled her eyes, being gently led aside by the pegasus. “I’m sure she has planned everything perfectly, yes, but she needs to truly bedazzle them! This is a monumental task after all. And as such, it requires something extraordinaire, breathtaking and stupendous.”

Twilight only smiled warmly at her friend’s worries and put her foreleg on the bag.

“I have the royal dress here, as well as my diadem, Rarity, don’t worry," she pointed out. "I will make sure to look accordingly before meeting the Covenant.”

Rainbow Dash turned her head from the books at the mention of that strange word.

“’Covenant’? Is that how their Princess is called?” she inquired, causing Twilight to snicker on her way towards her writing podium.

The mare grabbed a parchment from it, filled with markings and notes. In preparation for this trip, she had put down all the most important information, so that she might quickly turn to it in a moment of need.

“No, Rainbow, batponies don’t have a princess ruling over them." She rolled the paper into a proper scroll. "Instead, there is the Covenant, the highest governmental body, consisting of seven ‘Lords’.”

Applejack queried, approaching. “Are those nobleponies of sorts?”

“Yes, Midnight told me they are the hereditary leaders of the seven Families that the Noctraliya’s society is divided into.”

“Is he himself a noblepony by any chance?” Rarity suddenly asked with a smile and wink. “I remember seeing him one evening in Ponyville. He looked quite exotic.”

Immediately remembering a part of the recording where Midnight was explaining the possibility of batponies having the ability to compel others, Twilight but sighed at what her friend was trying to imply.

Though, she had to agree about Midnight's pleasantly foreign appearances.

“He is a noblepony, a relative of one of the Lords, yes,” she said, disregarding the thought. “Oh, but that has reminded me of something." She opened the scroll and searched for the part she labeled “Lords”. “I need to ask whoever is going to be my guide to tell me something about those ‘haspadri'," Twilight's voice became utterly serious. "I want to know exactly what kind of ponies I might be dealing with.”

The mare had already managed to put down three names that Midnight had mentioned in the interviews. Midnight Eye, Bright Crescent and Azure Mist. As such, four members of the congregation were still enigmas for her. And, next to the last of these names she had written down, she had put a bright red exclamation mark. After what Twilight had heard so far, she was planning on being extra careful around that particular mare, as she appeared to be both ruthless and dangerously cunning.

Applejack’s voice stopped Twilight’s mental deliberations. “How long till we see you again, Twi'?”

“It depends on the negotiations. And I would like to see as much of Noctraliya as possible,” she said after a moment of deliberation, while her gaze was sliding across the bookshelves. “Our knowledge about it is sadly lacking.”

“Stay there as long as necessary, Twilight," Fluttershy encouraged her with a warm, faint smile. "We will make sure everything is fine in Equestria.”

Her sentence made Rainbow Dash roll her eyes. “By which Fluttershy means, we will have our eyes on Discord,” she declared bravely and Twilight had to grin, amused, at this remark.

However she did not smile as widely as Pinkie Pie, who had just hopped down from one of the bookshelves, although nopony knew how she had gotten there in the first place.

“You bet! We’ll tell him to wait with the usual mayhem until you come back! We don’t want you to miss all the fun!”

The whole group giggled at this declaration. Spike, who had been during all of this conversation putting the leftover books in their places, began laughing too, but it was cut short by his stomach suddenly expanding. With a small green flame, a scroll materialized on the floor in front of him, accompanied by the dragon’s short burp. The parchment had a dark seal firmly placed on it.

Twilight grabbed the letter and quickly opened it. She looked up from it after a moment of reading and exhaled slowly.

“Looks like it’s time.”

***

The spacious, granite hall was barely illuminated by a set of candles, placed in a rich, silver chandelier. A number of polished sapphires, hanging down from its arms, were sending faint, cerulean reflections around the chamber, bouncing gracefully off smooth, ornate columns and high, sharp arches of the ceiling. Below the remarkable candelabrum rested a heavy, dark marble, heptagonal table, with a thick woolen cloth the shade of deep night carefully and smoothly covering its entire surface. The seven rich thrones around all had coats of arms engraved on them, symbols of the great Families of the noctrali. A newcomer to this place would think that he had entered a sanctuary of sorts. However, the atmosphere inside the chamber was far apart from the calm ambiance of holy places.

The gathered batponies in rich, black cloaks and silver circlets adorning their heads were locked in a heated discussion. A dark grey stallion with shortly cut, raw umber mane put his hoof down on the table forcefully, causing the fabric near his seat to be disturbed.

I care not for what she has to say!" his tone was harsh and irked. "They think we’re weak! It’s an affront!

Another of the Lords, the only mare present at the table, smiled indistinctly at the fang-baring batpony and leaned forward, her azure mane sweeping the cloth and her opulent earrings jingling.

We all understand your frustration, Crimson Shade," she assured, her voice filled with compassion, enough for an unprepared discussion participant to be caught in it akin to a fly in sweet honey. "This situation is highly concerning and deeply saddening.

The agitated Lord turned his sandy yellow eyes towards her, not entirely soothed by those words. In the meantime, one of the remaining stallions, who had been so far busy with admiring his fanciful bracelet with pale-green topazes, raised his melodious voice without even looking in the direction of the mare.

Lies!" he declared with a tone of a dramatic actor. "Lies, I tell you. We are not all concerned, Azure Mist. I, for once, am excited about all of this." He clapped his hooves, genuinely delighted. "Talking with an Equestrian Princess, how peerless,” he exclaimed, his every sentence like a practiced line in a grand theatrical play.

The mare graced him with a gaze of silent scorn, while, on her right, a middle-aged batpony with the mane of deep cobalt conjoined his forelegs on the table after he was done massaging his temple in an expression of displeasure.

I sincerely hope," he began slowly and with calm determination, "that you are looking forward to the upcoming negotiations for better reasons than your decadent and hedonistic needs, Bright Crescent.

The accused batpony chortled faintly. “Don’t you worry your carefully kept mane, Midnight Eye, my decadence shall have its fun after we deal with the matters of state. Besides, didn’t we invite her in the first place?" he presented the question with a gesture of over the top confusion and curiosity. "And suddenly she is an unwanted guest? Why, I ask? Verily, why?

The batpony allowed his words to resound, then looked nonchalantly to his left, towards a grey-brownish stallion who was nervously and with great attention trying to straighten the wrinkles of the cloth that appeared near him after Crimson Shade’s outburst.

Did you try to say something, Dusk Harvest?” Bright Crescent asked with a tone of crude mockery.

A small bat sitting on the edgy stallion’s shoulder hissed in agitation at the speaker, while the batpony looked up from his task with some annoyance. He took a deep breath and waited a while before finally replying.

V-v-very funny, B-Bright Crescent," his tone was as shaky as the words he was trying to form. "I w-want to hear what sh-she has to say. V-very much.

Midnight Eye turned to the stammering stallion, his eyes betraying sudden wariness. “Is the situation so dire, Dusk Harvest? I have read the reports, but I want to hear this from you personally.

The brownish Lord petted his bat before answering, clearly giving himself time to formulate the answer in his mind.

Y-yes, it is," he finally began, trying to sound convincing despite his impediment. "I've t-talked with all the c-cultivators. If we d-don’t find m-more lands to t-tend, we r-risk p-permanent st-st-st—” He closed his goldenrod eyes, trying to gather enough strength to finish the sentence. "Stagnation!" he finally shouted, visibly relieved over his success.

To his outburst, a young stallion, barely out of his foalhood, sitting between Midnight Eye and Crimson Shade, raised his head.

Can nothing more be done?" he queried with a strong, but almost unnaturally serene voice. "I trust your judgment in the matter, Dusk Harvest. Wouldn’t there be a way of increasing our gather?

Again, a pause occurred in the discussion as the stammering Lord prepared himself to answer, his pet motionlessly observing all the gathered ponies.

N-no, Blessed Fang," the stallion managed to begin. "W-we are already p-pushing it. M-more interference within the s-soil risks the V-Valleys going b-barren. A-and that w-would be c-c-ca-cata—

He got himself stuck again, yet this time he received aid, as Azure Mist finished the sentence for him.

"Catastrophic, we understand," she assured with empathy, being repaid with Dusk Harvest's grateful look and a whispered echo of the word. She then focused her eyes on the youngest of the present batponies, as he appeared unaffected by this grim response. “That plays into the prophecy, no?” she inquired and Blessed Fang finally looked at her with his pair of nearly white, piercing eyes.

It does indeed,” he replied, not even a trace of emotion in his voice.

Bright Crescent exhaled loudly and rolled his eyes.

Yes, yes, the last prophecy," he rushed through the sentence, like attempting to dismiss his own words. "Have you and your priests finally discerned what it actually means, or are we still blind like in sunlight?

Crimson Shade stopped tapping his hoof on the table, a task he had undertaken a while before to calm himself down, and in which he did not succeed, and glared in the direction of the speaker.

Those things take time, Bright Crescent, and you know it," he remarked in a sharp, chastising tone. "Stop being disrespectful.

Oh, I am not disrespectful," the other batpony assured, taking out a small comb from his clothing and running it through his milky fringe. "I merely want to see you zealously correcting me in the matters of my conviction yet again.

He winked at the agitated stallion, who hissed in return. But, before Crimson Shade could respond further, Blessed Fang raised his hoof, his voice backed by tranquil authority.

This prophecy is an extraordinary one. Three seers received it simultaneously. There are multiple interpretations of its words. And, what worries us the most, the seers suffered temporary blindness after receiving the vision. Those signs are most unsettling...” he concluded and for the first time there was a note of emotion in his speech – anxiety. Which caused quite the reaction.

Midnight Eye brandished a perturbed look, while Bright Crescent cocked an eyebrow at the young batpony, stopping himself from combing his mane any further. Dusk Harvest stared down and continued working on the wrinkles in the fabric even more furiously. Only Azure Mist appeared unperturbed and was clearly about to say something, yet another Lord at the table spoke up, his voice fatigued and raspy.

For centuries prophecies have guided us and warned us. They saw us through dangers and disasters. Same shall happen now.

The entire table turned to the seventh batpony. His tired, amber eyes were passing from one Lord to another as he was slowly stroking his long, grey beard. Bright Crescent smiled warmly at his neighbor at the Covenant’s table.

And here I thought you were napping, Sunfall Word,” he remarked with irony and the elderly stallion gave him a long look, with a spark of an upcoming retaliation.

My old age might be upon me, but I shall always find strength to give advice to unruly children. Especially fair mares, worried about the state of their wigs,” the elder replied, giving Bright Crescent a slow wink. The castigated batpony laughed in amusement, covering his mouth, while Sunfall Word continued. “We must observe, wait and act upon what shall happen after she arrives. How goes the prophecy again?” he turned to Blessed Fang. “Could you remind me, please?

Certainly, Sunfall Word,” the youngest Lord responded and nodded profoundly. He then closed his eyes and whispered a silent prayer before speaking up, staring up towards the ceiling, like straight at the luminous Moon in the night sky. His voice was monotonous and captivating.

The Moon and Sun shall duel above, look to that and prepare,

The land shall give you all its gifts, not to hurt it beware.

A debt long due, to unseen might, you will have to repay,

An envoy comes, one called by you, heed to what she will say.

Listen well, children, be aware, for wisdom new she brings,

Yet careful be of sweetened lies and deviously weaved strings.

Stay faithful, strong and, in your hearts, this truth well comprehend,

Deceit and treason lurk around. The world you know shall end.

When Blessed Fang finished, everypony’s eyes were locked on him, mesmerized. The entire chamber seemed to have been stopped in time by the sheer power of the prophecy. After a longer while of this petrified silence, Midnight Eye spoke up with blatant concern in his voice.

We witnessed the Moon and Sun moving frantically in the sky. And now our lands are giving us all that they can.” Before continuing on he looked at Dusk Harvest, who nodded skittishly, with his pet bat mimicking the gesture. “Where is this space for interpretation then? This all makes sense. As far as I understand it, she will try to sway us from our righteous path,” he concluded with adamant confidence.

Crimson Shade was the first to back this opinion. "I agree! We mustn't believe anything she says and continue with our plan unabated!” He stood up from his place, supporting himself on the table with his forelegs, which ruined the alignment of fabric once more, to Dusk Harvest's gloom.

Preparing to comment on those opinions, Azure Mist coughed subtly. It came in great contrast with the obnoxious sound of her jewelry.

The prophecy says she brings wisdom and yet warns about deceit," she pointed out gently. "From her? Or somepony else?” The expression on Blessed Fang’s muzzle was betraying that he didn’t know the answer to that question and so the mare continued, stroking her chin gracefully. “In that case, I feel inclined to agree with Sunfall Word. We must wait and be... cautious, before putting the scheme in motion,” she concluded, her golden eyes glinting dangerously.

Bright Crescent turned towards her with an expression of curiosity. “Just how ‘cautious’ you wish to be, Azure Mist?

She bestowed upon him a warm, venomous smile. “You know my definition of caution well, friend. Besides,” the mare sat back in her throne, “I have a little idea I think you would all like.” She finished with granting the gathered a cryptic stare.

Crimson Shade leaned forward, immediately captivated. “What would that be?

Azure Mist simply closed her eyes, content.

It shall be revealed soon.

Her sentence became immediately accompanied by Bright Crescent rising his hooves in a vivid fashion and turning to Crimson Shade.

Trust in Azure Mist to be cryptic," he judged with a melodramatic tone. "Bah!” he afterwards added, like to emphasize his words.

Midnight Eye sighed in irritation. “Enough of this nonsense. I believe the best course of action to be the waiting game then. First we discern what she proposes, then we make a move, whatever it shall have to be. Do we have an agreement?” he queried firmly, looking around.

None of the Covenant’s members objected visibly. Crimson Shade still had an incensed look on his muzzle and Azure Mist brandished an expression of grim, mysterious satisfaction. Bright Crescent lowered his hooves and mischievously poked the tablecloth near Dusk Harvest, who immediately attempted to fix the distortion. Sunfall Word and Blessed Fang were staring at one another, having some kind of wordless discussion between experienced senility and blossoming youth.

"Very well then," Midnight Eye declared, seeing no protests, and stood up, the rest of the gathered following him in the motion.

They all exclaimed, staring upwards, past the high arches of the chamber.

So guides us the Immaculate Moon!

The echo of their voices bounced off the stone walls and columns, making its way higher and higher, like a prayer searching its way towards the Goddess of Night.

PreviousChapters Next