• Published 21st Jul 2014
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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?

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Chapter III – Thus Starts the Adventure

The radiant discus of the Sun had stepped down from its reign, making room for the growing dark of the night. All of Canterlot and its belongings were slowly heading to bed after a busy day. All but one place. In the far distance, beyond the city limits, a stern bastion supported in the granite slope, its shape and hue so very different from the white walls of the city, was slowly waking up. Its sharp arches were disturbing the line of horizon like bestial claws and its dark, granite fortifications were indubitably as inspiring as they were threatening. This stoic citadel, as unshakable as the mountain itself, after centuries of abandonment, was now teeming with nocturnal life, being once more the headquarters of the famed and feared Nightguard.

From the distant balcony of the Royal Castle, Twilight was staring firmly at this awe-inspiring and somewhat unsettling bastion.

She was feeling... edgy. It was like a mixture of raw excitement and paralyzing stress. It wasn’t anything sudden for her, she knew well how she was usually reacting when undertaking tasks of great importance. And this one was, naturally, one of those cases. Knowing how she would feel, however, did not necessarily make her capable of avoiding this surge of emotions. She had nearly forgotten that she wasn’t alone on the overlook, but Princess Luna’s voice brought her back to the material realm.

“You are nervous, Twilight Sparkle,” the Royal Alicorn stated calmly, stepping right near Twilight. She had left behind the two pegasi guardsponies, cladded in golden armor, tending to the chariot that was meant to withstand the perilous journey to Noctraliya. “Verily, you look like you are terrified, even.” Luna lowered her head, trying to deduce the emotions blossoming on Twilight's muzzle.

“No, no! Nothing of sorts! I-I am but excited, it’s nothing to be concerned about,” Twilight responded quickly and not entirely honestly.

Princess Luna gifted her a calm smile, surely seeing through the little deception. “You don’t have to deny the fact that you are anxious. You need only to face it,” she emphasized and it was easy to tell that she was trying her best not to sound too patronizing.

Twilight let out a long sigh, giving herself time to think. “Yes, I know... And I am kind of shaky. I guess it is written in one’s role as a Princess, to worry and brood on... everything,” she said and, almost unaware of it, checked whether the diadem on her head was still there.

“You speak the truth, Twilight Sparkle," the Royal Sister finally responded, after a moment of pondering on those words. “The weight of leadership always fills you with angst. But it is fear of the virtuous kind.” She looked up to the sky, were the first stars began to appear, awaiting the Moon to join them. “The one that comes with the feeling of responsibility.”

Twilight agreed to that with a faint nod. She waited for a moment, musing, before speaking up again.

“Do you ever get rid of this feeling?”

She spotted that Princess Luna looked, maybe without even realizing it, at the distant citadel.

“No. No, you do not,” the Alicorn of the Night replied, her voice distant and thoughtful and her gaze fixed at the stronghold.

Twilight allowed herself to carefully observe the Royal Sister. For her, it was clear – the Princess desired her mission to succeed for more reasons than Twilight was aware of already. But those reasons were, at the same time, quite obvious to the mare. Despite not showing it publicly, Princess Luna was deeply and motherly caring for the batponies. From what she had managed to learn, it was the Royal Sister herself who had given the species their modern name. “Noctrali”. Or “night-dwellers” in Equestrian. She also was to refer to them as her children. And for the batponies she was their great and benevolent Goddess, the Immaculate Moon.

After a long moment of silence Princess Luna continued their conversation.

“Tell me, have you managed to converse with my Sister, as you desired?” She looked at Twilight with genuine curiosity.

“No... She had left for Maretonia before I had a chance to speak with her,” Twilight hung her head and disappointment filled her voice. “Official business, it seems.”

The Royal Sister squinted her eyes for a moment before replying. It was almost like she was overly perplexed for a short while. “I had no idea it was to happen so soon,” her voice was a bit distant, as if she was thinking about something else entirely.

“I've began wondering, did something bad occur lately?” Twilight asked, rubbing her chin. “I remember the last summit being organized on a very short notice.”

Princess Luna stared at the younger alicorn with her regal, cyan eyes. They were filled with caution. Her voice changed into a faint whisper, as she obviously wanted for the conversation to be confidential.

“You are correct, Twilight." She nodded in a graceful and yet conspiratorial fashion. "There was a situation to be addressed.”

Twilight's ears perked up as she gathered her full attention, witnessing this sudden change in the Royal Sister’s behavior. “What happened?” she inquired, concern almost beaming from her.

“An internal power struggle,” Luna admitted finally. “The Maretonian Merchant Conglomerate was caught gathering sensitive, classified information. The Duke suspected they desired to stage a coup and dissolve the Duchy.”

“They wanted... civil war?" Twilight couldn't hide her bewilderment as her eyes lit up with both genuine shock and prying interest. "For what reason?”

“We do not know yet. But the Duke desired for this situation to remain in absolute secrecy,” Princess Luna responded, glancing behind her shoulder. Her whisper was barely audible now. “The only reason my sister and I invited Princess Cadance to the meeting was the fact that the Conglomerate have opened many trade routes with the Crystal Empire. We had to discuss the prospect of cutting the flow of their luxury goods, as a way of shaking their influence.”

“Ah, so this is why I was not a part of this...” Twilight whispered back in understanding. “And Princess Celestia ventured to Maretonia for this reason?”

“Precisely. The Duke wished for my sister to overlook his actions against the Conglomerate, so that nopony would accuse him of acting outside of his prerogatives, or for personal gain,” Princess Luna concluded, letting out a sigh. “Forgive me for not telling you this prior," she hung her head with remorse, but Twilight only smiled mildly at her.

“I understand, of course. The political game is a tricky one,” she said, like to herself. "And I am a completely new player.” She let out a nervous giggle to which the other alicorn responded with a dry laugh of her own.

“You have your chance of studying it right in front of you.” She gestured widely towards the hold of the Nightguard, with its jagged shape scarring the horizon.

Twilight nodded in accord. “That is true. I just hoped I will be granted some more insight from Princess Celestia.”

“You are wise to seek counsel,” Princess Luna commended her, “but don’t be dependent on it. You are a Princess yourself now. So carve your own path.”

This sentence made Twilight ponder. It was true, she was a leader now. She had the role she chose to have – the Princess of Friendship. And, for the first time, she felt like she also had a task of her own. Not one that she had to undertake because the situation demanded it, or because Equestria was in peril, but a mission she had found for herself. If this mixture of excitement and fear was to tell her anything, she was right now beginning to forge her own legacy, a new chapter in the history of Equestria.

Those thoughts sounded very weird in her head...

After yet another moment of long silence on the overlook, one of the Royal Guards came closer to the alicorns, saluted and bowed his head deeply.

“Your Highnesses, the chariot is ready for travel,” he reported sternly and the Royal Sister gave him an approving nod. Then she put her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. With it came a feeling of great weight and responsibility.

“Remember, Twilight Sparkle. You are my envoy in the lands of Noctraliya,” she said the name with a perfect accent. “I know you won’t fail me. And I hope my children won’t fail you.”

There was a note of worry in her tone. Twilight breathed in, the feeling of obligation she just experienced multiplying tenfold.

“I will do my best, Princess Luna,” she solemnly promised, staring right into the eyes of the Royal Sister.

Even after the chariot had become nothing more than a small, inadequate point in the evening sky, Princess Luna was standing motionless on the terrace. She was alone with an old friend of hers – guilt.

She constantly kept telling herself that lying for the sake of her children was necessary. First to the Maretonians. Then to Twilight. Maybe soon to her own sister. But, as much as she would like to, Luna could no longer deny that all of this deceit was filling her to the brim with disgust.

***

The scorching disk of the Sun had been barely pushed away by the luminous night, but the Nightguard’s barracks were already teeming with activity. Fruittenders appointed to care about food supplies were already transporting meals to the mess hall and some of the warriors were doing personal exercise routines on the main grounds, practicing strikes or precise aerial movement. Forges were lit up brightly and the rhythmic, thunderous pounding of hammers was echoing through the garrison. It would surely wake up the sleeping stragglers, not that there were any. And it most surely was audible outside, even on the other side of the city walls, where the citizens of Canterlot were slowly returning to their warm homes and cozy beds.

Midnight stared down at all his comrades from the fortress’ overlook. He always felt inspired when experiencing this everynight, calm routine, a sign of duty and professionalism. Although, all of this inspiration could not help him from yawning extensively. He had woken up two hours before, when the sky was still bright and blinding, having to prepare himself for the journey back to his homeland. He did a thorough check of his gear, making sure it would present itself accordingly when gazed upon by his brethren back home. The Nightguard was a symbol of Noctraliya. A sign of power and devotion to the Immaculate Moon... He was proud to be a warrior of the Goddess Herself.

The yawn that ripped out of his muzzle was utterly inappropriate when it came to his thoughts. Accursed weakness of flesh.

Oh, batshit, they were serious.”

Midnight heard a familiar voice behind him. He turned away from the ramparts and witnessed Deep Mist, in full uniform, landing on the overlook, with a cloud of dust accompanying him. His comrade’s face was a mixture of annoyance and disbelief.

It was perfectly matching Midnight’s own. “Deep Mist. You are my wingpony for this one after all? Like there's really nopony else?

The other Nightguardian shrugged, removing his helmet. His grey forelock went straight for one of his eyes – the one still showing signs of a quite profound shiner.

Yes, I was hoping somepony changed their mind, but you are here after all. Not the finest of assignments,” he jabbed back with teasing disappointment.

Midnight nodded reluctantly in agreement. “Somepony upstairs has an ugly sense of humor and persistence, I’ll give them that,” He let out a long sigh.

Deep Mist came closer, staring towards the east, like waiting for the sacred circle of the Moon to finally reveal itself from behind the horizon.

I think I know whose ‘sense of humor’ that is," he said, shrugging. "Well, at least I shall have a chance of meeting your paramour.

Midnight’s upper lip quivered involuntarily as he looked at his approaching comrade askance. “Do you want your bruise to have a paramour, maybe?” he said, making a slow scratch on the stone floor with his metal claw.

Deep Mist neared Midnight significantly. His dark amber eyes were laughing, even if his muzzle had a completely neutral expression.

I would love to see the Commander giving you another punishment, if this is what you mean by your words,” he remarked with sly satisfaction and Midnight felt a sudden urge to just fly away from the overlook, leaving his comrade in a cloud of dust. “Not to mention other pleasantries.

I would still gladly sell you another punch.” Midnight checked his tied mane with one hoof, mimicking partially the gesture that occurred just before he assaulted Deep Mist those few days before.

The other stallion hissed loudly, irate. “Just try me,” he responded, then attempted to turn around and trot away.

Midnight stopped him, grasping his shoulder. “What's this really about, Deep Mist? Are you sore I have been granted leadership and not you? Is that it?

Deep Mist shunned away the hoof. He sighed and took care of his forelock before speaking up in an accusatory tone.

You know me so well and you still think I am that petty, huh?

No, I think you are that stupid,” Midnight declared, giving him a look of scorn. “We have work to do and we shall do it properly. Regardless.

The other warrior sighed once more, bringing up a fake expression of innocence. “Caring for nothing more,” the irony in his voice was palpable. “Alright, I’ll bite – what is she like anyway?

Not willing to engage in this ridiculous game, Midnight huffed and trotted away a few meters. He stood near the rampant, staring to the east. After a moment, Deep Mist joined his comrade slowly, also looking into the distance.

By the Goddess, how long has it been since we saw the homeland?” His voice was full of longing.

Midnight glanced at his wingpony and partner. His suddenly thoughtful mood surprised him. However, he could not blame Deep Mist for being nostalgic.

Two years. It feels like much longer though, doesn't it?” he asked somewhat rhetorically.

Yes. We've seen quite a few places during this time, but none as beautiful as our peaks.” Deep Mist waved his hoof, like hoping to draw the mountain ranges above the distant horizon.

Midnight nodded gently. “Indeed. But I am willing to trade the sight of homeland for the chance of serving the Goddess,” he declared zealously.

It is the greatest of honors. Although the presence of the Judging Sun makes me uneasy.” Deep Mist stared intensely towards the distant Royal Castle, towering above the marble city, and literally shivered at his own words.

The better our Goddess is here, saving us from the burning light,” Midnight exclaimed. He sat down, lifting his hooves to the sky. “Immaculate Moon... you lighten my nights. May I serve you eternally.

Ha...” Deep Mist concurred, locked in his own thoughts.

The closing sound of hoofsteps made both the stallions turn around. They spotted Ardent Fang approaching, accompanied by another pony, a unicorn, to their surprise. The Equestrian was wearing a rich, blue-grey cape, a vest over a bright shirt and overall appeared like some sort of a local bureaucrat, or official. Yet, not caring about him right now, the warriors snapped into attention and saluted their officer.

Sir, Commander, sir!” they shouted in unison.

I see you are at the ready, younglings. You shall be leaving as soon as the envoy arrives,” the Commander’s voice resounded firmly in the evening air.

Yes, Commander, sir!

Ardent Fang smirked faintly. “No objections about you two cooperating, I presume?

No, Commander, sir!

That’s what I wanted to hear.” The officer nodded at them and then spoke up in Equestrian, although with a discernible accent. “Advisor, may I introduce guardians Midnight Wind and Deep Mist, who shall be escorting the Princess,” he paused briefly. “Warriors, this is the Goddess’ servant, Advisor Moonwarden.”

The unicorn nodded his head just a little bit, while the two batponies were still standing in perfect attention.

Midnight spotted the Advisor giving them both an intrigued and keen look through his monocle, like he was silently judging and assessing them.

“A fine set of guardians for Princess Twilight Sparkle, I see,” he expressed his opinions with an unusual accent of his own.

Midnight and Deep Mist were standing like petrified, not even a muscle in their bodies twitching. The caped stallion nodded approvingly a few times at the display of discipline and fine training.

The unicorn’s expression lightened finally. “Yes, yes... I am certain they shall perform admirably, Commander.”

“We pride ourselves on serving the Goddess,” Ardent Fang replied with conviction.

The Advisor smirked vaguely. “And She smiles upon your service, I assure you.”

For Midnight it was an unmatched honor, knowing that the Goddess Herself was satisfied with their duty. Wasn't this what every noctral was dreaming about? To learn that the Immaculate Moon, their Mother and Protector, is overjoyed by their work and life?

It was weird to hear those words from an Equestrian though. Then again, even as Midnight was keeping his eyes locked in place, staring forward, he had the unicorn firmly in his sight. And he could swear that in front of him stood a pony that he had heard about before, his sobriquet mentioned in rumors circling around the bastion.

Ardent Fang abruptly looked to the sky and squinted.

“The Princess shall be arriving soon," he declared, addressing the Advisor. "I have an entourage prepared, I shall lead them out to greet her.”

The unicorn grinned with a perfectly aligned smile. “Oh, of course, Commander, do not allow me to stop you. Might I converse with your soldiers while we wait?”

“By all means, Advisor. At ease!

After giving the order Ardent Fang spread his wings and took to the sky, causing the Equestrian to grab his cape with magic, as it swung rapidly with the force of the take-off. Midnight and Deep Mist let go of their trained stances and exchanged quick looks in understanding. When the unicorn turned towards them after a while of realigning his mantle with his silvery aura, he witnessed two very curious individuals right in front of him.

“Forgive me, but my knowledge of Noctraliyar is sparse, so I shall use my language," he began, his tone not really asking forgiveness. "The Goddess desires for the journey to be comfortable and calm for the Princess. I hope you two know safe and calm routes through your lands, for the sake of Her Highness' safety.” Moonwarden was switching his gaze from one pony to the other.

Deep Mist was first to answer him, riposting the stallion’s look with his own, focused glare.

“We shall be taking the calmest wiari, weather-wise. And we shall react to the cloud patterns. Knaze shall be taken good care off, Dorat,” he answered, slipping into Noctraliyar occasionally.

The unicorn nodded, clearly being able to understand or deduce those few words and then gazed towards the Royal Castle.

“Very well. The Goddess shall be pleased to hear that," he declared coldly. "I shall convey to Her that our Princess is in...” he moved his head and gave them an intense stare, “apt hooves.”

This piercing, silvery gaze from the caped stallion made Midnight feel rather uneasy. There was something hidden behind the Advisor's mercurial eyes and it was more than clear that this unicorn meant a lot more than just to compliment. Rather to forewarn.

Nevertheless, Midnight stepped forward, wishing to satisfy his curiosity, in spite of the pony’s gaze.

“So, you are truly,” he paused briefly, “The Moonwarden.”

The unicorn blinked a few times, caught by surprise. He raised his brow, perplexed a bit.

“I think just Moonwarden would be adequate. Whatever do you mean by ‘the’?”

It was Deep Mist’s time to try and quench his interest, apparently. He peeked briefly at his comrade and the tone of his voice became, at best, clandestine.

“We have heard rumors. About an agent of the Goddess, Her shade in Ekwestriya. Soleeran that has converted and now serves Neskaza Lunee...”

The two batponies lowered their heads in response to the Goddess’ holy name. And, to their shared surprise, the unicorn followed with an akin gesture of his own.

Midnight spoke up after a moment of stillness, when the unicorn's stare once more clashed with his own, his voice a mixture of astonishment and satisfaction

“It is true then. You are a faithful of the Goddess, as we are.”

The caped pony did not reply at first. He trotted away a bit, his eyes locked on the distant Royal Castle and it appeared like he was about to abruptly leave. And yet he suddenly turned, his horn lighting up for a few heartbeats as an indiscernible smile ornamented his muzzle.

“I serve the Lady of the Night,” Moonwarden's voice was calm and tranquil. “Just like you, noctrali. But I am nopony special to use 'the' on," he declared with sheer modesty, lowering his head.

The three would have continued this exchange, if it wasn’t for the sudden sound of wings, quickly approaching the overlook, causing them all to gaze up.

Midnight first spotted a golden chariot, ornate and royal, pulled by two Equestrian warriors and escorted by a cadre of Nightguardians, with Ardent Fang at the lead. And when he finally saw who the passenger was, he found himself grinning in delight.

***

Twilight calmly and gracefully stepped out of the chariot, helped by one of the Royal Guards, and thanked him with a regal nod.

“Safe travels, Your Highness!” the stallion exclaimed, saluting her and then taking to the skies alongside his comrade, leaving the mare with the retinue of batponies.

Truth be told, Twilight was not expecting such a reception at the bastion, but it was clear to her that the Commander of the Nightguard wished to emphasize the official aspect of her visit as well as, bluntly, be welcoming. He was right now standing in front of her, with a determined, but not tensed up, look on his muzzle.

"Greetings, Princess,” he began, his exotic accent clear as day. “Ardent Fang, the Commander of the Goddess’ Nightguard,” he bowed his head with just enough respect. “We are glad to be of assistance to both Equestria and Noctraliya during your journey.”

Twilight had never before had the opportunity of seeing the officer leading the batpony detachment, but Shining Armor mentioned him a few times to her. He said Ardent Fang was a pony of great discipline and unmovable loyalty, expecting the same and more from his subordinates.

What Twilight could confirm so far, is that he imposed a level of respect with his sheer presence. His demeanor she could describe as stern and professional. And his looks were quite corresponding. He appeared middle-aged, but if his physique was any indication, he might have as well been in his prime youth. If not for the fact that her size had increased due to her alicorn transformation, she would be towered over by this batpony.

His piercing glare was fixated right on her and his gilded with silver, ornate armor and long ashen cloak were more than able to cause lesser hearts to quake in anxiety. However, Twilight was not a scared school filly, but a Princess of Equestria. She was ready to act like one.

“It is a pleasure, Commander,” she began with a confident, nearly imperious voice. “The Nightguard’s service brings honor to your country and is a symbol of far-reaching cooperation between our two, great nations.”

Ardent Fang only bowed his head in response, but Twilight could tell she made a convincing first impression. As she was hoping to, considering that she was flanked by six more batponies forming the welcoming committee, all of them armed, all of them looking as fierce as she would expect from members of the noctrali race.

“I have appointed two of my best warriors to provide the transport and safety to you, Princess. I can assure you that your journey shall be comfortable.” Ardent Fang stepped to the side and beckoned for Twilight to move past him. “They are to aid you to the best of their abilities.”

“I am certain they shall perform admirably,” she responded, courtly.

Before spotting her retinue, however, Twilight first witnessed a familiar, grey figure, only this time his tailcoat became replaced by a rich cloak.

“Ah, Your Highness,” Advisor Moonwarden exclaimed with a perfect, quite dishonest, Twilight would say, smile. “In accordance to the words of Ardent Fang, I can deem those two soldiers as capable of performing their task.”

“Thank you,” she replied in a rather dry manner, passing regally by the unicorn.

“I allow myself to hope that your journey shall bear the foreseen fruit,” the Advisor bowed his head and stepped to the side, allowing Twilight to finally see who was to accompany her in her trip.

And what a welcome sight that was.

“Midnight Wind!” For a second the mare not only forgot that she was at the Nightguard’s bastion, but also that she was an officially visiting Princess. “So good to see you again.”

It was very good, indeed. The batpony that she had interviewed and befriended was standing right in front of her, with his long cobalt mane tied under the helmet and his pair of saffron eyes full of happiness. However, this was the first time that Twilight saw him in his full armor. The jagged, purple hued cuirass of the Nightguard was precisely covering his chest, providing enough protection while not impeding maneuverability. And the ornate helmet, with the razor-sharp headdress would give every noctral a fierce look.

That effect was somewhat ruined by Midnight himself, as he was smiling widely and happily and even his gleaming, white fangs were more of a joyous than intimidating sight for Twilight.

After a second of grinning, the stallion saluted her with what appeared to be the Nightguard salute. He brought his metal, sharp set of claws towards his, now grim, muzzle and pointed them towards the sky.

“Good to see you too, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Midnight replied, with his “r-rolling” accent. He gave the impression of rather cold, although Twilight could tell that it was his discipline and the presence of his Commander that were forbidding him from being sincerely cordial.

Twilight approached the batpony, trying to keep the proper, royal demeanor, even though she was right now feeling a lot happier and excited about this mission.

“I am glad to learn you shall be with me on this journey. And who is your companion?” she turned to the other warrior.

“Deep Mist, Knaze. At your service for the travel,” the stallion replied, with a more discernible, foreign intonation.

This batpony had a deeply ashen coating and a pair of dark amber irises. Twilight could spot a forelock of dim grey hair escaping from underneath his helmet. That, and a visible bruise underneath one of his eyes, like after a punch.

Ardent Fang spoke from behind Twilight. “They both have exceptional records and for the sake of your safe trip, shall follow your instructions, Princess.”

“Thank you, Commander. I am grateful for your aid.”

“Unfortunately, my duties are calling me away. It is an honor to fulfill the will of the Goddess,” he said sternly and lowered his head respectfully. Then, he turned to the two warriors. “W ignityi diasi, w hwalyi noci...” he began in the batpony language.

All of the present guardians saluted perfectly and exclaimed as loudly as they could, nearly deafening Twilight, who nodded gracefully to the officer.

Dla Ipe witi, dla Ipe morti!

Saluting back to Midnight and Deep Mist, Ardent Fang beckoned his entourage and the whole cadre took to the air, leaving the overlook with a considerable wingforce.

The Advisor, after being forced to hold his mantle firmly again, coughed theatrically. His horn lit up as he realigned his monocle with care.

“Well, it seems it is time for me as well,” he said with a polite, still fraudulent for Twilight, smile. “We hope to hear about your successes soon, Your Highness. Clear skies to you.”

He nodded his head a little and slowly trotted away, his eyes passing from one warrior to the other, until he disappeared down the stairs, leaving Twilight with the two batponies. She sighed in relief after everypony went away, while Midnight smiled a fanged, cheerful smile.

“It is very good to see you,” he said, trotting closer. “It has been too long, yet again. And yet again too ‘busy’.”

Twilight laughed elatedly. “You could say that. How have you been? How’s your promotion?” she asked with genuine interest.

“Postponed until I finish this assignment," he declared, shrugging at first, then granting her a wink. "And I absolutely don’t mind.”

Twilight giggled, but suddenly caught a tensed up grimace on the muzzle of the other batpony. She turned her attention to him. “Nice to meet you too, Deep Mist," she greeted the noctral in friendly manner. "Are you Midnight’s friend, perhaps?”

“More or less.” Deep Mist gave his comrade a long look of his slit pupils and a cynical smile, to which Midnight chuckled and waved his hoof in the air.

“We tend to work together quite often, as it happens,” he said, explaining this weird interaction. “We are also at the ready. Just say the word and we shall fly,” he declared confidently and the other warrior concurred with a nod.

“Alright!” Twilight let out some of the excitement, glad that her great adventure was soon to begin. “What’s our route for tonight then?” she inquired, staring towards the distant horizon.

Deep Mist took the initiative, taking out a parchment from a little bag on his back. It appeared like a map, although Twilight could not spot the details well.

“If we start now...” the stallion slowly said, carefully staring at the paper, “Yes, we should reach Proznyi Umberi tonight, as planned."

“Pardon?”

“I believe the place is called ‘Hollow Shades’ in Equestrian?” Midnight came to her aid, translating the name.

“Ah, yes, of course!"

Twilight knew of the settlement they were talking about. It was a small town in the eastern part of Equestria, famed for its lumberyards, providing majority of the country’s timber from the forests all around it. It was also a governing hub for all the petite hamlets that stretched from it to the peaks of the Tramplevanian Alps and, as such, considered by many the easternmost and last place of proper Canterlotian influence on the way towards Noctraliya.

“If we take off now, we should reach it safely before dawn, indeed,” Midnight explained. “We have a detachment there, led by centure Sunfall Ordain. She is to grant us shelter for the day.”

Twilight nodded, betting that the mare’s title meant some kind of rank, perhaps a lower officer.

“And should we reach Noctraliya by tomorrow?” she queried, to which Deep Mist rolled the parchment close and put it back to the bag.

“That’s the plan. Calume is not a problem in Ekwestriya,” he assured, although Twilight was not sure of what exactly he assured her.

“He means ‘weather’,” Midnight helped her yet again, spotting her expression. “We should get you a scroll on our language,” he joked. He then pointed at the chariot with interest. “Quite a mean of travel, I would say.”

Twilight giggled, knowing what he meant. This particular piece from the collection of royal means of transportation was not so much ridiculously ornate as, to put it simply, pompous. Golden frame, satin cushions, even the straps for the pullers were made out of rich, impregnated leather. Then again, what else would one expect?

“It’s actually the same one in which I arrived to Ponyville,” Twilight admitted. “Looks like it's destined to be with me on important journeys.”

“It certainly catches one's oc,” Deep Mist concluded and sighed dramatically.

Midnight stared back at his comrade and rolled his eyes. “You see Twilight, Deep Mist cannot stand attention.”

“Oh? Oh, of course!” Twilight realized what Midnight was referring to and smiled friendly at the grey-maned batpony. “I suppose as a member of Rodine Opar, known for the noble art of subterfuge?”

Deep Mist's expression betrayed deep shock over Twilight’s knowledge on the batponies’ society and Midnight began chuckling involuntarily over this unique look of his comrade.

“The Princess is onto you, Deep Mist,” he scathingly remarked, to which the other stallion sighed and chortled.

“I just hope Maednoc Wentr did not make you prejudiced already, Knaze.

He trotted towards the chariot firmly, like wanting to show that he did not really mind its grandiose stature, or obnoxious hue.

Twilight shook her head at his concerns. “Not at all. I find your Family-based commonality captivating,” she admitted, with accordance to the truth, although a little voice in the back of her head reminded her of what she had already learned about the Lord of Mist Family.

Deep Mist grinned in response and began checking the straps on the chariot.

Midnight smirked nonchalantly before addressing Twilight. “I trust you are prepared to be nocturnal for a while?”

“Oh, don’t you worry, I managed to shift my sleep pattern a while ago actually,” she assured him. “So... Maednoc Wentr? Am I saying it right?”

The stallion exposed his fangs fully in a wide grin. “Close enough,” his lackadaisical response was.

“Close enough?” Twilight brandished an overdone, shocked expression, wishing to show how deeply hurt she was by the stallion’s evaluation of her language skills. “I think my pronunciation was perfect!”

Maednoc Wentr might be my name in Noctraliyar, yes,” the batpony admitted, “but for you, I am still just ‘Midnight’.”

Twilight felt somewhat warm inside, witnessing the batpony’s affectionate, jovial smile.

“And I am still just ‘Twilight’ for you,” she responded, ornamenting her sentence with a beaming grimace of her own.

Midnight chuckled and gestured politely. “Shall we fly then, Twilight?”

The Moon finally rose above the horizon with its luminous, sacred glory and the golden chariot, pulled by the two Nightguardians took to the sky, heading swiftly towards the East.

Twilight once more felt excitement coursing strongly through her, but this time, she did not feel it petrifying her. Instead, she felt motivated, impatiently willing to see the land that her latest friend called his home. It was to be a great adventure.

Unbeknownst to her, on the distant balcony of the Royal Castle, the Goddess of the Night found herself praying for her safety.

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