• 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 V – Of Evenings, Spies and Allies

Twilight couldn't sleep. She kept tossing and turning on the bed, trying to make herself somewhat comfortable, attempting to hit this ultimate position that would allow her to doze off. All of her efforts had been for naught so far. It was not to say that she didn't manage to at all rest this night, of course.

“This day,” she reminded herself in her mind.

But, yes, her wishes for a longer, peaceful slumber were not going to be fulfilled. It was like her brain had decided to start a volatile mutiny. And it seemed that the rebel was not going to go down without a proper confrontation, so, naturally, she had to wake up and deal with the uprising, as every ruler should.

“Come on, turn off...” the mare groaned, trying to hide her head under the pillow to maybe somehow suffocate her rabble-rousing thoughts, but it seemed that she would end up with a case of auto-asphyxiation before subduing the vile insurgency!

She knew exactly why she had those troubles. Her mind was constantly processing the events of last evening...

“Morning.”

Yes, morning!

Anyway... Her talk with Midnight filled her with a blend of emotions. It was a peculiar feeling. A mixture of worry and disappointment and anxiety and surprise and worry and disappointment and anx—

Urgh, she was going in circles now.

Though she couldn't understand why! True, it was never pleasant, arguing with a friend, but Twilight couldn't recall reacting quite as emotional ever before. She had her fair share of turmoils throughout her life involving ponies she cared about, of course. She lost countless hours of sleep as well. Yet never before had she experienced such a brainstorm of emotion when thinking about somepony.

One thing was poisoning her the most - what was Midnight trying to tell her?

When he suddenly decided to stop himself from leaving, when he turned around with this wary look, with his lips twitching. It was like he was trying to force himself to reveal something, to express himself, and yet an unseen force forbid him from doing so. She could not discern what his words would have been.

Only that they would have been very important. One does not hesitate on trivial matters after all.

Twilight tried in vain to go to sleep for a few more minutes before finally surrendering. She wasn't sure what time it was, as Sunfall Ordain’s chamber was lacking a proper clock for some reason. Nevertheless, the mare felt that, whatever the hour might have been, she needed a bit of fresh air. She slowly got up from the bed, shaking her head and trying to imagine how bad her mane must have been, especially considering the amount of tossing and turning it had suffered. Thankfully, she had a good brush and a little mirror with her, so whatever horror she was to witness on her head she would defeat with a couple of strong strokes and a good deal of patience.

“Now... which way was the exit?”

It was a rather proper question to ask after leaving the chamber, as the stone corridors of the Nightguard outpost looked pretty identical. Twilight couldn't spot any visible markings pointing out directions and she began thinking that it might have been a defensive feature. Batponies stationed here had to know the plan of the outpost by heart, so that a potential assaulter could not use any symbols to move about the place.

It was but a theory, but a sound one, the mare had to conclude.

Thankfully for Twilight, she always possessed a remarkable memory and once more did it prove itself invaluable. After but a few minutes she reached the central staircase and the way upwards. As she began ascending the stone steps, she wondered if she actually had gotten up before sunset. After all, bizarrely, she hadn't met anypony on the way here. Or would it be the dark shroud of night greeting her with thousands of bright, silver sequins weaved into its fabric.

She finally reached the top of the tower and lifted a little hatch, making her way outside.

First thing she experienced was a faint breeze, bringing with itself the smell of the forest. It was an incredible mixture of elm, beech, maple and oak, causing Twilight's mind to wander. Would Noctraliya’s woodlands smell the same? Or would they have a hint of something she had never before experienced? And how would they look when bathed in the crimson wave of the setting Sun, just like the Eastern Woods before her? She wondered, did batponies even have such forests there?

Second thing she took notice of was her golden chariot, sending resplendent and self-confident glints all over the place. On top of the wooden tower, surrounded by a sea of greenery, it appeared like the bright light in a lighthouse, guiding travelers to a safe haven. Twilight had to agree with Deep Mist on one thing - her transport was most certainly eye-catching. Not really in a good way.

The mare turned towards the west, closing her eyes and feeling the warmth of the fading sunlight caressing her face. She smiled broadly. There was something incredible in this feeling. She felt like losing herself in it for a moment. And so she sat at the edge of the tower, not thinking about anything in particular, wishing for the light to wash away her worries, at least for the moment.

She sat still, breathing deeply like in a meditation, her mind’s rebellion finally put to its knees.

“Twilight...?” she heard a faint voice behind her. She turned around in an instant, not expecting anypony around at this time of day.

She witnessed Midnight, who must have just made his way up the staircase. He was already in full equipment, although he must have left his helmet behind. His cobalt mane was down, untied, waving gently in the wind.

“Midnight! What are you doing here? The Sun is still up!” the mare quickly got up and approached him, seeing as he was trying to shield his eyes from the illumination, both by squinting them and using his foreleg to block the sunlight and glints from the golden chariot.

“I came looking for you, Twilight. I didn't find you in your chamber,” he began, his voice strained a bit. “I didn't want you to prepare for tonight’s journey in a hurry, so I thought I’d wake you up slightly earlier.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” the mare admitted. “But let’s go inside, I don’t want you to hurt yourself!” she insisted, trying to grab his leg and lead him down the tower.

He remained where he was standing. “No, Twilight. I made you sad yesternight, it is only fitting that I am chastised by the Judging Sun,” he exclaimed with conviction, but also letting out a small, nervous chuckle.

The mare stepped back, as the batpony continued, trying to stare at her despite constantly being subjected to the sunlight aggravating his eyes.

“I am very sorry for what happened,” his tone was official. “I shouldn't have behaved like I did. I simply... I have a lot on my mind lately, Twilight. And I need to... figure things out.”

Twilight stood still for a moment. The fact that he apologized with such firmness in his voice made her feel deeply moved and it was a welcome, kind gesture from him. Yet what caught her attention even more, was his hesitation at the very end.

What could it mean? Twilight did not know. But it was akin to the reluctance she saw in him yesterday. If he was saying he needed time for now, she was more than willing to grant it to him.

Besides, she had to do a little mental reorganizing as well.

“I... I’m sorry too, Midnight. I wasn't trying to... imply anything by asking about... you know. And...”

The mare suddenly felt that she could not form precise sentences. Clearly the fault of her disturbed night!

“I guess we both need to figure things out, no?” she simply stated.

“Yeah...” Midnight agreed after a moment of silence, which he spent staring right into Twilight’s eyes, trying desperately to avoid glancing at the Sun. “Now,” he exhaled, “I leave you to your prayer.”

He attempted to take his leave, but Twilight stopped him with a perplexed look.

“Prayer?”

“You were sitting still, facing the Judging Sun. I thought you were maybe in the middle of supplications...” Midnight explained, trying to keep an eye contact for a moment longer, but he ultimately failed in his tries. Turning his head away he wheezed loudly and began inhaling frantically. His entire body began shivering.

Twilight immediately trotted in front of him, scared by his reaction. What she saw frightened her even more.

The batpony’s eyes were flooded with tears, as the pupils became nothing more than little, miniscule slits, nearly disappearing in the saffron of his irises. His sclera turned from white to vermilion and he appeared to be going through immense, agonizing pain.

“Midnight! Your eyes!” she gasped loudly as he stared at her with this involuntary, psychotic stare. She quickly moved beside him, extending one of her wings and screening his head from the light.

“I-it’s alright, Twilight. That’s... That’s just what happens when we foolishly glance in the direction of Sewira Solee... She despises our gazes,” the batpony replied, shutting his eyelids tightly. Tears soaked his eyelashes.

“I didn't expect... Such severity...” the mare covered her mouth in an expression of horror.

“Now you know,” Midnight replied, moving slowly towards the eastern side of the tower, his eyes still shut, “why our fruittenders are so valued amongst us, as I mentioned once before. They have to deal with sunlight nearly every day.”

Twilight was keeping close to him, making sure he was not going to approach the edge of the outlook, or bump right into the golden chariot. Fortunately, after a few more safe steps he sat down, a trickle of tears going down his muzzle. The mare settled down alongside him eagerly.

“Are you going to be fine?” she asked, with her voice full of worry.

“Yes, Twilight. I just need a moment of... darkness,” he said, his eyes squeezed tightly. He began breathing in a slow, steady pace and his eyelids relaxed after a few more seconds.

Twilight realized that, for some reason, her body was shaking. The notion of Midnight being hurt – it caused her to literally shiver. Especially now, when she was sitting right next to him, hoping he was not playing courageous, only so that she wouldn't worry about his pain.

“You know,” the batpony said after a few more deep breaths, turning his head towards the mare and staring at her with his grey eyelids, “I saw something incredible today. Before I called out to you.”

Twilight’s ears perked up.

“Oh? What was it?”

“When I made my way to the top of the tower and stared around, searching for you,” he began, his voice somewhat enigmatic, “I saw you, framed in the light of the Judging Sun, in the searing luminescence. I still see it, now that I've closed my eyes...” he admitted, small smirk ornamenting his face.

Twilight’s heart skipped a beat out of a sudden. Judging Sun... Princess Celestia... was considered an unforgiving deity of retribution and final judgment. And yet Midnight claimed to have seen something “incredible”. What did he mean exactly?

“I confess,” the batpony continued, “it was one of the most terrifying and... amazing sights I have seen in my life.”

Twilight’s mouth opened agape and it was fortunate for her that Midnight was still keeping his eyes closed, as she was looking quite unroyal.

“Why would it be... amazing?” she inquired. The stallion tried to contain a chuckle, finally managing to stare at her, his eyes looking a lot better than but a few moments before, although still being bloodshot and strained.

“Because I have realized I know a soleerane blessed by the Judging Sun," he disclosed, attempting to sound serious, "and she is one of the most amazing ponies I know.”

The batpony couldn't help himself and at long last pulled a ludicrous, grinning face. Twilight began laughing at this ridiculous way of complimenting her, even giving him a little shove when he snickered at her mischievously.

“Silly!” she judged him, to which he let out a “ha” exhale, a habit Twilight observed and noted among the batponies. “How are your eyes?”

“Fine, really, Twilight. They are easily aggravated, but they also return to normal quite quickly, if kept shut or in darkness. Only a longer exposure is dangerous...” he assured, staring at the mare, putting his hoof on one side of his head, cautiously screening his face from more light.

“Might I ask,” Twilight queried, overcome with interest, “what color is the sky for you now? I wonder how you are perceiving it...”

Midnight glanced upwards, answering after a moment of thought.

“Twilight, I’ll have you know that, as every stallion ever, I only recognize eight colors. But I shall try to be descriptive,” he joked, causing the mare to snicker. “Right now, the sky is bright for me. Not like during the day, when it is nearly white. It’s more orange. The sign of the Judging Sun behind us is... harshly red. Searing. She is like that when she passes her judgments,” he added with a dose of pious anxiety.

The mare was carefully listening to him. It seemed that batponies’ eyesight was unable to cope with too much luminance, like the one Sun was offering. If candles were perceived as torches, then she could only imagine how painful an exposure to pure sunlight was. She witnessed Midnight’s eyes irritated grossly, but the discomfort by itself? It must have been utterly severe and burning.

“And how does the night’s sky look to you?” Twilight inquired and the batpony’s irises glistened out of a sudden.

“Imagine... ink. Rich, deep blue ink. The whole sky painted with it. And the mark of the Immaculate Moon... shining brightly, with Her pale, silver, guiding Light, accompanied by thousands and thousands of our ancestors, in Her glorious realm,” the stallion described, his voice distant as he began searching for the stars on the firmament.

“That was quite poetic, Midnight...” Twilight admitted, but the batpony simply chuckled.

“No, not really, as I am no truwr...”

“’Truwr’? A storyteller, or a bard I presume?” the mare inquired, also looking up.

“Yes, that would be a correct word. You should witness one of them performing. They know how to properly paint with words and music.”

“If anypony would be kind enough to actually perform for me. I doubt I shall know what exactly I am listening to.” Twilight shrugged with a sheepish expression and her companion nodded in agreement.

Before the mare asked another question, however, her eyes escaped towards the east and spotted something on the far, darkening horizon. Something she had drastically overlooked this evening so far.

The distant, great peaks of the Tramplevanian Alps.

Twilight could swear, she had never before seen a sight quite so unique. The sharp edges of the mountains cut themselves into the darkening, evening sky, like bestial fangs. Bigger and smaller summits, waves, ebbs and flows of rocks, creating a picture an adventure book would not be ashamed to house amongst its pages. In the setting Sun, the mare spotted red splatters of snow marking the most prominent of the peaks, like beacons for the distant travelers. She recalled the book by Marco Pony, the one she brought to Midnight’s attention when they met the first time, but now, witnessing the Alps, she could chastise the traveler. He had never done those mountains justice. He had never mentioned how... wild and untamed they looked.

How exciting.

Midnight spotted the sudden change in Twilight’s stare. He glanced at the horizon quickly and his muzzle formed into a smile of pure happiness. He assumed the prayer position out of nowhere, spreading his wings and raising his head towards the sky.

Ia grat Tue, Neskaza Lunee... kwod ia vide iau dom znuw,” his zealous whisper was full of gratitude.

Twilight was still gazing, like enchanted, at the distant mountains.

“So this is your home, Midnight...” she asked as he finished his invocations.

“Yes...” the batpony replied and the mare could swear that a tear shined in his eye. “The peaks of Noctraliya... Why didn't I look for them yesternight! It is a blessing, witnessing them again. Can you see how glorious they are? Truly, the Goddess has gifted us the greatest of all the lands!”

Twilight grinned. If she was to ever witness excitement and pure joy from seeing home again, this was her chance, right now. Midnight looked like a little colt, as he began laughing loudly, echo carrying his voice among the trees.

“Can you name some of the mountains for me?” the mare decided to ask, not realizing that she was about to open a floodgate with her question.

“Are you jesting? I can name all of them! And I’ll try translating,” the batpony declared, excited as never, then pointed at one of the northernmost peaks. “That one is called ‘Beacon’, its bright shine in the Goddess’ illumination is used to navigate in the northern part of our lands. The one next to it is named ‘Crow’s Perch’, it houses hundreds of birds during summers. Just near it, the ‘Wingsnap’, winds around it are fierce, you have to be careful flying near it on your way to the ‘Frozenfog Range’, where my home is, Iug u Maednoc, Mountain of Midnight. You can’t see it from here, though."

“And those peaks right to the east? I see a couple of high ones there.” Twilight pointed towards the mountains she had in mind. Midnight slid closer to her, focusing on the horizon.

“Oh, those there?” He reached out his leg towards the Alps. “The left one is Iug u Kiel, Mountain of Fang, where the Fang Family resides. In the middle is Nadyir. And on the right, the dwelling of the Shades, Iug u Umber.”

“Nadyir? As in ‘nadir’?” Twilight pondered.

“Yes, it sounds familiar, doesn't it?” Midnight urgently accentuated, then he immediately pointed out another mountain. “Can you see that long, flat range there?”

“Which one?” Twilight squinted her eyes, not able to clearly see the mentioned ridge.

“This one, right there,” Midnight clarified, taking off one of his bladed hoofshoes and grasping her hoof with delicate care. He then directed it accordingly. “That’s our destination for tonight. Ambyit. The Border.”

Twilight found it really hard to care about such a revelation out of a sudden. What her mind focused at was Midnight’s unforeseen gesture. She felt her cheeks burning even brighter than the setting Sun right behind her.

Midnight blinked a few times, still staring at the mountains, waiting for an upcoming question from the mare. However, after a few moments of awkward silence, he switched his attention to Twilight, witnessing her gazing right at him with a flustered look on her face. He frowned, confused, before realizing that he was still holding her hoof gently.

“Oh... uhm... sorry...” he murmured before releasing his grasp, although it appeared a quite reluctant gesture. “So, yes, the Border...” he tried to return to the main topic as he began strapping his weapon back on. “We go there tonight, yes...”

“Right...” Twilight looked away for a moment to regain her composure. What was happening to her? That dreadful night messed her up badly! “Is this an outpost of some sorts?” she inquired, trying to sound calm and collective, yet the results were utterly dissatisfying.

Ambyit is our first line of defense, actually,” the batpony emphasized, tightening the leather straps of his hoofshoe. He attentively inspected the blades, then, to Twilight’s surprise, switched their positioning with a metallic clang.

“Oh! Those actually move?” she asked with interest, finding this chance of gaining knowledge a perfect way to calm down.

“Naturally. We can either have them... uhm, what’s the word..."

Instead of trying to solve this sudden linguistic block, Midnight locked the blades at an angle and rested his hoof on the ground, the two sharp edges touching the stone.

“Do you mean ‘parallel’ to the ground?” Twilight tried to help him out.

“Yes, parall... paralli... Like this!” he finally gave up, pointing at his weapon as the mare giggled. He then raised his leg and adjusted the blades to become an extension of his hoof. “And this is the ‘readiness’ position. You rest your right foreleg on the tips if you are standing in attention. And, of course, you use them for slashing and stabbing.”

Midnight quickly punched forward, piercing the air with the fierce motion, before withdrawing his blades back. Twilight could swear that a longer blink would have been enough to miss this strike. Considering the higher physique of the batponies she shouldn't have been so surprised, but her companion executed his move with superb agility, only proving to her that the Nightguard must have been an extremely effective unit in close combat.

A part of her mind reminded her that her opinion might have been biased, but she was not going to deal with her brain’s shenanigans right now. Especially after the latest insurrection was ultimately thwarted.

“I was wondering if your blades were adjustable, actually. I see it’s a simple locking mechanism. Practical!” Twilight judged. “But you were talking about this ‘Border’, you say it’s a fortress of sorts?”

“It’s a great bastion, guarding the safest of routes into our lands from this side of the mountains, yes,” Midnight clarified.

“Who does it belong to?”

“Well, other strongholds in the region belong to either Fangs or Shades, but the Border, as the most westward and important to the security of our entire domain, houses wampiri of all the Seven Mountains.”

“I see. A unified defense against a possible attack from...” Twilight began, reaching the obvious conclusion. One that caused her to pause, as her eyes widened in realization. “Attack from Equestria...” she finally managed to speak up.

Midnight let out a silent hiss.

“Well, yes...” he admitted with great reluctance as Twilight gave him a perturbed stare.

“Midnight... just how hostile does the Covenant think we could be...?” she inquired with a worried tone, trying to stop her voice from breaking.

The batpony hissed once again, shaking his head. Then he gazed at her with understanding and reassurance in his eyes.

“I know you see this as... disturbing, but I can tell you Twilight, it is but a case of us being cautious. We, noctrali, value our autonomy, and protecting our home is a duty to each and every one of us, night-dwellers,” he attempted to calm the mare down. “Our lands were granted to us by the Goddess and we shall guard them until death. Hence why you might witness some... distrust from us.”

Twilight listened to him, but kept staring at this distant “Border” ridge. She knew that there was nothing wrong with a bit of foresight, but a sudden feeling in her gut made her restless. Midnight had warned her about the Covenant before, mentioning them being... “skeptical” in their relations with Equestria. But what about the rest of the population? What percentage of it felt the same? Only yesterday did she learn about their aversion to unicorn magic. Could she expect more revelations of this kind?

Kirwe, I knew you shall have hard time understanding that...” Midnight muttered to himself after the silence lasted a longer while.

“I do find it troubling, yes!” Twilight pointed out, even louder than she wanted to. She then let out a meaningful sigh. “But I think I am getting used to noctrali way of being causing me disquiet.”

She shrugged and it must have appeared quite morose for Midnight ground his teeth.

“We are different from you, Equestrians. Simple,” those were the only words to leave his mouth as he leaned back, staring upwards with a melancholic expression. Yet, after a moment of internal deliberations, he spoke again. “You know, Twilight, if anypony has a chance of setting things as they should be... it would be the pony I am sitting right next to...”

Twilight glanced at her companion. He was staring straight at her with fervor, his saffron eyes full of encouragement.

“Thank you. That means a lot, Midnight” she replied with gratitude and he grinned, fully exposing his fangs and exhaling in a characteristic, batpony way.

And so Twilight simply had to ask about it.

“What does this ‘ha’ mean, could you tell?”

Midnight chuckled wholeheartedly at her ever-present curiosity.

“I've been anticipating being asked this question. This is how noctrali can show satisfaction.”

To prove his point, he grinned, inhaled deeply, then shouted out a proper, enthusiastic “HA!”, causing the echo to send it far into the woods, even making some of the birds fly up from the distant branches, scared and surprised. Twilight cringed at Midnight’s volume.

“Such a shout,” the batpony explained, “indicates happiness and contentment. It is also a way of cheering for somepony, just like you experienced yesternight in the mess hall. You can also do it in a more threatening manner, if you are preparing for a fight.”

To prove this point Midnight screamed once more, but this time his voice was filled with pride and a generous amount of anger. It surely had a demoralizing effect, as Twilight felt a shiver going down her spine.

“That is what our enemies hear as we descent upon them to strike,” the batpony concluded his little demonstration with a broad smile, especially after he spotted a shudder from Twilight.

“But you do not always holler like that, sometimes I hear you just like... exhaling,” she pointed out and Midnight nodded.

“Well spotted. If you do express yourself like that it is an equivalent of ‘yes’, or a general approval."

“Ah, I get it now...” Twilight grasped the concept immediately. “And what about hissing?”

“Oh, that signifies displeasure, or agitation with something or somepony, although it is not considered an insult, merely a warning,” Midnight clarified, afterwards providing an example through bared teeth. It caused the mare to snicker rather loudly.

“What’s so funny?” the batpony asked.

The only response he received was Twilight’s attempt at the expression. Her exposed teeth and look of mischief and humor caused Midnight to cackle back at her attempts of proper hissing.

She pouted comically. “Was it that bad?”

The stallion shrugged. “Hardly intimidating coming from somepony without fangs, Princess...” he riposted with impish critique.

“Well, I’m sorry for being born in Equestria!”

“Apology accepted,” Midnight concluded with a smug look plastered on his face. He then stood up, a bit faster than necessary, as his eyes escaped to the side. “We need to leave soon. Do you have your bag prepared, Twilight?” he inquired without looking at the mare.

Twilight all of a sudden realized that the light of the Sun, until now warming her back and wings, faded. She turned around, witnessing that the evening was nearly through and night was prepared to take over the sky utterly.

“Yes, I do,” she answered her companion’s question. “Let’s go get it.”

Once more glancing towards the peaks of the Alps, with their untamed splendor, Twilight spotted something. A bat, reasonably bigger than the members of Equestrian species, made its way from between the trees, right outside of the palisade surrounding the outpost, and began flying rapidly towards the east. A little bag was strapped to him.

“Is that one of your bats, Midnight? A message-carrier?” Twilight addressed the stallion who squinted his eyes to see better.

“It certainly is!” he judged. “Quite early to send a letter, though. I guess centure wishes to inform Ambyit that we are soon to leave,” he judged, then chuckled quietly. “I promise you, your accommodation there shall be more... royal.”

“I really don’t mind discomfort when travelling, I told you,” she reminded him.

“I am aware, but the Border is not a little garrison. It is a mighty stronghold,” Midnight stressed out, staring towards the mountains. “Besides, Adamant Fang will try to outshine his brother in everything, we can count on that...” he muttered to himself.

Twilight took note of the mentioned name. “Adamant Fang...? Wait, Ardent Fang’s brother, by any chance?”

“Yes. Younger brother, to be exact. He is the acting tribun at the Border. ‘General’, that is.”

“Is that so? Are all Fangs good at military leadership then? Since those two seem to hold rather high ranks...” she pointed out, for one last time glancing towards the disappearing Sun.

The two approached the staircase, Midnight following the mare closely.

“Not all Fangs,” the batpony emphasized. “However, their officers are crafty and professional. And Ardent Fang and Adamant Fang are good examples of that.”

“Is that not worrisome to other Families though? Fangs holding high military ranks when, you know... you tend to fight...?” Twilight could not stop herself from asking, although the notion that noctrali were experiencing sporadic, violent infighting as a part of their political culture was making it hard to express.

“Ardent Fang is a representative of the entire Noctraliya, not only his Family,” Midnight brought up. “And Adamant Fang commands a fortress outside of Family lands. Which means he serves the Covenant, not only his own Lord, so them both being high ranking does not count against other Families. But, yes, those two elections had a little... scheme to them.”

Twilight’s ears perked as she slowed down her descent into the outpost.

“Scheme? What scheme?”

“I suppose I could share a bit of insight,” Midnight admitted, staring down the stairwell, like to check for any of his comrades. “You see, both Ardent Fang and Adamant Fang are cunning and respected officers, praised for their abilities and invoking loyalty in their troops. They have a mutual understanding between one another. Based on rivalry, to some extent,” he added. “Their cooperation would grant Rodine Kiel an edge in case of war. Now they are both serving the interests of Noctraliya, not specifically their Family. As such, should a struggle happen, they shall not take part, as this is forbidden by tradition.”

Twilight took in every word her companion said. She raised her eyebrow, as a question crystallized in her head.

“To nominate somepony for an honor such as the position of the Commander of the Nightguard, or General at a bastion not belonging to one Family,” she began, “the entire Covenant has to come to an agreement, right?”

“Yes,” Midnight assured her that she was on the right track. “Because it is a matter of the entire Noctraliya.”

“Then why would the Lord of Fang Family agree to relinquish two of his most powerful assets like that?”

The batpony raised his eyebrows, stunned by the question, as Twilight stared back at him with curiosity painted all over her muzzle.

Neskaza Lunee... You amaze me with your quick deduction, Twilight,” Midnight responded finally, with honest awe.

“Thanks, but that is not the answer to my question,” the mare pointed out and he acknowledged her point.

“I rush to answer, of course. You see, the previous haspadr of Fang Family, Fangstone, died before his son came of age. The Lord’s wife, Fang Shine, had to temporarily take his place,” the batpony thoroughly explained. “And I do not think she fully realized that what could have been seen as promoting two, skilled officers would also backfire against Fangs in the long run.”

Twilight was not entirely surprised. From what she knew already about the Families, their relations were based on a power struggle – one bound by ancient laws and traditions of the domain, but still quite severe. It seemed to her like the other Lords wished to use Fangstone’s death to their advantage.

Such an action would pass as unthinkable in Equestria! Twilight wondered whose idea it was, to benefit on this "Family tragedy"? She had a theory, of course. One coming down to an exclamation mark right next to a specific name in Twilight’s scroll.

The mare nearly missed Midnight’s further words.

“...but now Blessed Fang took his father’s place and circlet. His words carry great weight in the Covenant, or so I have heard.”

“So ‘Blessed Fang’ it is...” Twilight muttered to herself, making a mental note to put down this name amongst her entries.

Just as the pair reached the bottom of the staircase, they heard a third pony approaching from one of the corridors. Her maroon mane, looking akin to brambles, betrayed her – it was Cranberry, one of the local Nightguardians.

Benu noc!” she greeted the two, saluting, to which Midnight replied with an akin gesture and Twilight nodded gracefully. “Up quite early, Knaze. Or late, by your standards,” the guardian pointed out, smirking.

Twilight but smiled back at her, while her companion decided to bring a question up.

Zurawine, tue mittee kiropt hacnoc?

Whatever Midnight inquired about, the other batpony shook her head vehemently.

Nye, iae ire mitt edn tere.

Cranberry then walked past the two, heading into another part of the complex. After she disappeared in the near-darkness of one of the corridors, Twilight stared at Midnight, who had a rather worried look ornamenting his muzzle.

“Midnight, what did you ask her about?”

The batpony gave back to her a gaze of great concern.

“That bat you saw? That was not an official report. I talked with Zurawine... ‘Cranberry’ during yesternight feast. She is responsible for communications and post here, in Proznyi Umberi.” He pointed after the other Nightguardian. “If she did not send that one we saw...”

Twilight’s brain did not require any more words. Possibilities began appearing in her mind at a ridiculous speed and one, specific idea, made the her jaw drop and her eyes widen.

“We are being spied on?!” she let out a panicked whisper, looking around for a possible eavesdropper.

Midnight did not reply straight away, an ominous shade falling upon his muzzle. He surveyed the remaining corridors and, assuring himself that nopony else was approaching, addressed the mare.

“Behave like you suspect nothing, Twilight. I will convey with Deep Mist, learn if he spotted anything suspicious at the feast. Perhaps a Nocferratan here has a little... side task. And, I assure you, I shall have my ears forward and my teeth back,” he declared.

“Pardon?” Twilight asked, a confused look blatant upon her face.

“Sorry, it’s a figure of speech. It means that I will remain cautious and closemouthed, for now. And I shall act as necessary. If one of the Lords is conspiring...” He looked around once more, before letting out a long, meaningful sigh. “I would be so ashamed...”

Twilight approached him closer, the agitation on her muzzle turning into worry and understanding.

“Midnight... Why should you feel bad about this?”

“Because the Covenant is supposed to represent us all. They were to show their gratitude to you, for saving our Goddess,” he nearly shouted, only just stopping himself, as the echo would have carried his words all over the complex. “And instead they spy on you?” He trotted away a bit, but Twilight quickly followed.

“We don’t know yet. It might be a misunderstanding.” It felt weird for Twilight, trying to calm him down when she seemed to be the one threatened by intrigue. However, it also felt appropriate. “Besides, Midnight, they might represent the noctrali... but you are not an average batpony...” she pointed out, trying to cheer him up somehow, only afterwards realizing how those words did resound.

The stallion looked behind him with a perplexed, but warm expression. It looked like her statement surprised him a great deal and in a positive way. Twilight couldn't help but feel the blood rushing to her cheeks at his satisfied gaze. He finally shook his head and moved slightly closer, smiling broadly and “fangly”.

“Your trust means a lot to me, Twilight,” he said with a heartfelt, deep tone. “I will do my best to protect you, I promise you that.”

He then put one of his hooves on the mare’s shoulder, being careful not to scratch her with his steel claws. The mare appreciated the gesture with a nod and a grateful smile.

“And that means a lot to me, Midnight.”

The batpony beamed with unmatched pride.

Twilight ultimately parted ways with her companion, wishing to quickly make her way back into her temporary chambers and prepare her belongings for their departure, as Midnight went to grab Deep Mist from the dormitories. The mare’s mind was abuzz with questions, worries and doubts, ones that even her companion’s affectionate gesture could not have dispersed. Political intrigues were not something she felt particularly proficient in and it seemed that she was going to experience those in abundance. Were they but signs of interest or were they indicating mistrust and hostility? She couldn't answer that inquiry.

And it drove her up the wall!

A sudden knock on the door awakened her from her extended deliberations. Expecting it to be Midnight, she opened firmly, only to witness Sunfall Ordain standing at the threshold with a warm expression of an excited host.

“Good to see you up already, Knaze! I trust your accommodation was satisfactory?” she inquired, saluting with respect, then making her way into the chamber unceremoniously. Twilight responded with an automatic nod, the revelations of the evening still festering in her head.

“Oh, yes, yes, it was,” she replied a bit distantly. “But I have to say, I was expecting the office of a Nightguard centure to be more grandiose,” she pointed out, trying to compose herself by engaging in a friendly conversation.

Sunfall Ordain giggled in reply. “I don’t do luxury, Knaze. I leave that to Rodine Kwadr. We, Soleecedi, prefer simple homes,” she declared before pounding her armored chest with her hoofshoe. “Yet our hearts and souls are ornate, in our service to the Goddess!”

Twilight recalled Midnight mentioning that the Sunfalls’ devotion and focus on what’s extramundane was known amongst the land. And Sunfall Ordain was confirming his words so far.

“But!” the batpony suddenly shouted. “As it is uncommon for a humble dwelling like this to have such a wonderful guest,” she pointed out, her smile became even wider, although Twilight could not believe this to be actually possible, “I have a little souvenir for you!”

Without waiting for Twilight’s response the officer approached her cupboard and retrieved a simple, metallic hip-flask from the, surprisingly well organized, contents. The canteen wasn't anything especially ornate or sumptuous, having a rough, irregular surface, but it was perfectly cleaned and reflecting the light of the chamber’s candles in every direction. When the batpony shook it, a delicate sound of liquid came from the inside.

“It is full of gozalke, Knaze!” Sunfall Ordain declared with boundless enthusiasm. “I thought that I shall grant you an opportunity to train, so that you might be better prepared for celebrations back in Noctraliya!

Twilight stared at the batpony for a longer while before finally exhaling in a joyous laughter. There was something about this particular pony that was filling her with optimism she could not hide at all.

“Well, I can’t reject such a gift!” Twilight finally replied after she was done cackling. She took the flask in her hoof, hoping secretly that she would not be forced to start practicing right now by sharing with her host. Her throat began burning at the very memory of yesterday.

“I would insist if you tried!” Sunfall Ordain declared, shaking her hoof at Twilight admonishingly and humorously alike. “To house you was an honor, Knaze. I hope your mission shall rekindle the bond between our lands,” the mare declared, saluting and clearly preparing to allow the Princess outside, but she was stopped by a stern gesture.

“I have a gift for you too, Sunfall Ordain,” Twilight declared and, met with he batpony’s surprise and joy, approached her bag.

She opened her belongings, reaching for a specially packed set of souvenirs. It was a collection she prepared in response to the possible gifts from the Covenant and with this intention alone she scavenged both Canterlot and Ponyville. Yet she wasn’t going to leave this positive mare emptyhoofed. Her small gesture was touching, and the last thing Twilight wanted was going against the customs and saddening this amiable batpony.

And she knew exactly what small gift she could offer to Sunfall Ordain.

From a woven sack Twilight took out a simple, but meticulously crafted, necklace. It was not extraordinary, or magical, or unique, but it was to be a good way of showing gratitude and adhering to the customs of the noctrali. The silver pendant hanging from a thin chain was resembling a little, twinkling star. It weighted almost nothing and appeared weaved from minute, argent strings. A small token of gratefulness.

“I know you say that you don’t care about material belongings, Sunfall Ordain, but I hope you shall like it nonetheless,” Twilight exclaimed, finally turning around and showing her gift to the batpony.

And she could immediately tell that she impressed her host. The centure’s eyes widened immensely and her jaw dropped as she gazed upon the necklace.

Neskaza Lunee... It’s beautiful!” she nearly shouted. “I haven’t seen such fine metalwork since my visit to Iug u Umber! Is this truly done by Equestrian hooves?” she inquired, coming closer to examine the pendant with a captivated stare.

“Yes. Canterlot jewelers’ hooves to be precise,” Twilight replied, smiling at the other mare’s amazed reaction. “I see you like it, I’m glad.”

“Like it?” Sunfall Ordain seemed to have forgotten her position and authority that came with it, as she nearly bounced up in sheer mirth. “I love it! It’s so pretty!”

Twilight extended her hooves and the batpony claimed the gift delicately, putting it on with excitement, the pendant hitting her cuirass with a silent ding.

“And it’s such an honor! I didn't know you value my command so much!”

“Value your command? I don’t think I understand...” Twilight revealed her curiosity. Something in the batpony’s tone sounded different. Sunfall Ordain spotted her guest being perplexed and chuckled quite loudly.

“Why, Knaze, Silver Stars are high military honors in Noctraliya!” she pointed out, falling into further laughter.

“Really? I had no idea.” Twilight felt astonished that her choice was so... adequate, in a way.

“Yes, really! You see, Knaze, we believe silver is a metal blessed by the Goddess, for it reflects Her light almost perfectly. And stars are symbols of our ancestors...” the captain began explaining while she fiddled with the necklace’s chain that caught a part of her rusty mane.

“Yes, I recall learning that. Your ancestors become the stars on the night’s sky,” Twilight responded and Sunfall Ordain nodded with great joy.

“Precisely! So Silver Stars are granted for the service to the Goddess and ancestors! Only wampiri of great personal qualities, often those that undertake the most difficult missions in the name of our domain, receive those,” the captain explained quickly, before making her point. “But we normally get ours from the caste officers! I got one from an Ekwestriyaa Knaze!” She nearly flew up in joy, her leathery wings flapping in agitation.

“Fine, let it be a Silver Star then, even if not an official one,” Twilight declared semi-solemnly, smiling back at the other mare. “'Silver Star of Friendship between Equestria and Noctraliya',” she came up with a name for it and clapped her hooves in delight.

Ab Bogine, let it be so! Ha!” Sunfall Ordain shouted, then came closer and embraced the alicorn with genuine affection, this time trying her best at not squishing Twilight with her gesture.

And Twilight was more than overjoyed to return the hug.

“I leave you to your packing then, Knaze!” Sunfall Ordain said when she finally let the other mare go. “When you shall be returning from homeland, do stop by. I shall be waiting!” she assured, saluting and taking her leave.

After the centure had disappeared behind doors, Twilight let out a long sigh. After all that she had learned this evening, it was good to remind oneself that there were batponies around just like Sunfall Ordain.

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