• Published 6th Jul 2018
  • 1,189 Views, 323 Comments

Harmonic Fellowship - Sun Sage



Rarity's made it home, thanks to all the friends she made on Earth. But they weren't the only ones to find Equestria...

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4. Son of Man

Rarity couldn’t get distance. Energy shields weren’t effective for long. Her opponent knew every direction she would move. A glowing baston smashed a shield, the other Joyeuse only narrowly parried. A foot missed her head by less than an inch as she rolled to the side. She riposted, knowing which way he’d react. She threw a straight punch at that very spot, connecting with his midsection and earning a grunt as he backstepped. But her follow up was blocked. ...Blocked and caught, followed by a spin that sent her careening into the air. She snorted derisively and tried to open a portal. The attempt was stymied as the field condensed around her effort.

So, he can block me from using his ability… should have expected that…

She caught the ground with her magic and pulled herself to a controlled landing, skidding on her hooves as Joyeuse blocked his follow up. The first one at least, the second strike swept her forehooves. A weak blast of magic sent her away from the fall, preventing him from finishing her with a swing that instead lightly impacted the grass. She felt the air current change and dodged to the left as he stepped through, connecting with her side as she failed to completely avoid the kick. She gasped for air as it fled her lungs, and as she did so she felt the tip of one weapon pressed to the base of her horn.

Damn. “Best... out of seven?” she panted lightly, grinning wryly.

Aiden was smiling. “That was really good. I didn’t expect you to pick this up this quickly.”

“Well, I do have a bit of self defense training… not to mention everything that happened on Earth. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve melded memories a bit, even if it’s mostly faded. With that and all I’d seen there...”

“Fair point… I’m reasonably sure I couldn’t sew before I met you.”

“Oh? We’ll have to put that to the test too then, at some point.”

“Heh… don’t expect too much; I get the feeling you learn quicker than I do.”

“You’re too modest, darling.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but that was extremely impressive, both of you. Either of you looking for work as combat instructors, I’d find a place for you here,” Gale Force said with a smile, trotting up to them.

They both laughed, greeting him with waves. Rarity noticed they had a bit of an audience. At least two of the guardsponies looked… a bit smitten, if she was reading things properly. She grinned to herself, wondering idly whether it was her or Aiden that had caught their eyes. Or both...

It was early morning. Rarity had slept wonderfully (on the larger bed, though only after losing a coin toss) but had awoken after less than five hours to the sight of Aiden meditating. She’d asked him about some light morning exercise and he’d agreed, assuming she meant a run or the like, only to be both impressed and concerned at her suggestion of sparring. She didn’t blame him. While she’d already had plenty of situations in her life where such skills would have been valuable, they’d never felt like a priority before. But she had not joined the Esper Corps frivolously, and did not consider the oath she’d taken to be merely ceremonial. She would take this new challenge seriously. Beauty, the fashion world, design, art… they would always be her first love, her calling in life. But there was a beauty in this as well, and it was certainly an art. She knew she could keep improving. And so could he… once she was good enough to push him further. She could think of a few ponies who could probably do that already, but that didn’t feel right somehow. Jealous? Moi? Perish the thought, darling…

“I think we have other commitments at this time,” Aiden was saying as she pondered the matter. The translators, which they’d left nearby with their water bottles and towels, transmitted both Gale’s and Aiden’s voices a bit awkwardly, but intelligibly. Noticing such, he floating them over to put them in the pocket of the loose pants he wore.

“So I understand, yes. Speaking of, Princess Cadance sent me to ask the two of you to join her family for an early breakfast, before catching the train.” He cocked an eyebrow, sniffing the air lightly. “You both may want to clean up, first.”

Rarity blushed. “That might be for the best, yes.”

Aiden chuckled.

------------------------------------------

For once, Aiden was happy to be shorter than average. At roughly five foot three, the passenger cabin seating (obviously designed for ponies) was comfortable. Had he been taller, or bulkier, he imagined there might be an issue. Then again, given that they had a cabin to themselves, he could stretch out across an entire bench had he needed. Instead though, he naturally sat with Rarity next to him, as they opened Cadance’s gift.

It had been a nice breakfast. Aiden had particularly enjoyed meeting Sunburst, as even more than Shining Armor, the orange stallion was a complete dork. That was the sort of thing Aiden could appreciate. He was a very well read dork, apparently, since he knew all about humans (at least as much as Equus could know, fifteen hundred years ago), and the two of them swapped a number of short stories in a relatively brief timeframe.

Flurry Heart had been… interesting. The fluctuations in her aura, which were apparently partially suppressed magic surges, went from almost nothing to stronger than anyone else at the table. These, Cadance explained, weren’t fully indicative of a pony’s eventual magical strength, but they were a guideline. Clearly Flurry’s parents would have some challenges ahead of them. Aiden felt confident they’d handle it, especially with Sunburst’s help since the alicorn foal seemed to adore him.

Meanwhile… they had one last piece of business to take care of during the relatively long trip (several hours anyway) to Canterlot. Per Cadance’s request (and because they’d lingered too long at breakfast and the train had been waiting), they were opening her gift to them now. It was a small box, complete with a note:

To Rarity and Aiden:

Rarity, it was wonderful to have you back, and just as wonderful to find that you’d made such a close friend on another world. While I can’t be completely surprised, it’s comforting to know that, whatever else may be out there amongst the stars, there are friends waiting for us, too. I hope Aiden can make many more friends here, as the start of an alliance between our two worlds. I hope my gift can help with that.

Aiden, I can’t express my gratitude at meeting you. To know that Rarity, who means so much to us all, had you to help her and look after her during what could have been such a terrifying time. There’s simply no way we could ever repay such a debt. And yet I know, meeting you even as briefly as I did, that you would never call it a debt. Even so, I hope my gift can help you in a small way as you walk forward in Equestria.

Your Dear Friend,

Cadance

P.S. Cherish whatever may grow between the two of you, as there are many forms of love. Know that the support you have for one another will be a more valuable gift than any other you receive in this life.

C

P.P.S.

Captain Gale Force has revised training regimens and combat techniques based on watching you two spar. I’m sorry I missed it. The next time you’re both visiting, I’d love to get an exhibition, and maybe go a round or two myself.

Shining Armor

They both shared smiles as Rarity read the letter aloud, and then Aiden opened the box. Within, lay a necklace, teeming with magic that felt warm. Aiden got a feeling of understanding just looking at it. Even with the box open, he felt like he could almost read the letter that still floated in Rarity’s magic.

The necklace was simple: a silken cord, reinforced with aether, melded into a cunning little clasp at the back and a gem setting at the front. It was choker length, with the gem hanging just below his collarbone as he put it on. The gem itself was smooth, and had an uncut look. A tapering cylinder down to a dull point like a pyramid, it was a bit smaller than Aiden’s thumb. It was dark blue… a rather familiar dark blue, he thought in amusement. The exact color of Rarity’s eyes, huh? Subtle, oh Princess of Love, very subtle… Once he’d clicked the clasp shut, he looked at the letter. Unsurprisingly, the words made sense now.

He chuckled. “Well, I’m not saying it’s a competition, but I think magic narrowly wins the translation battle.” His voice didn’t sound any different to him.

“I feel like the melding of ‘magic’ and ‘technology’ is going to be what truly brings our two peoples together moving forward. We both have experience with both, but each has a leg up in their particular field,” Rarity noted. Her voice and words sounded no different as well. Aiden assumed it was because they already understood one another. “So I take it I assumed correctly; the gemstone is enchanted with a translation spell?”

“Seems so. I can read the letter now. You don’t sound any different, but I’m betting other ponies will. How long’s something like this last?”

“Given the quality of the gem… and Cadance and I will be having words about that… several years. Not that that will be necessary, of course.”

“Well I mean… unless you’re kicking me out I suspect I’ll be around that long. Maybe not here the whole time, once we get the Falcon’s batteries recharged, but-”

“No no, darling, I want you around for a good long time, thank you. I mean you’ll learn the language by then. I may not know much about translation spells, but one big advantage to them is that they greatly increase natural absorption of a foreign language, provided the one using the spell is sufficiently attuned to it. You didn’t cast it, but you’re attuned to me, a native speaker, and I strongly suspect that will work even better. ...Particularly since Cadance will have custom crafted the enchantment.”

“Of course she did…” Aiden muttered. He suddenly had a mental image of the ruler of the Crystal Empire pressing a human and pony doll together to kiss… while laughing maniacally. Wait, why’s my doll wearing my dress uniform? She’s never even seen it… Although speaking of which, he figured he’d want to put it on before they arrived in Canterlot. He could at least attempt a more dignified impression this time. “So, what were you saying about the gemstone?”

“Hmm? Oh… well, unless I’m mistaken it’s a rare form of infused corundum called Uchawijiwe. It’s named for the region it’s mined in, which is only within a few miles of Mount Uchawi in Zebrica. An uchawijiwe gem this size is worth more than this train. You could sell it and buy a nice house in Canterlot. ...Frankly, that might have been her plan. Once you’ve absorbed Equish well enough to no longer need it...”

“Pfft. I couldn’t sell a gift like this.”

Rarity smiled and nuzzled his cheek. “Oh fine. I guess I’ll have to put you up until you get on your feet then.”

“Sorry for freeloading; please take good care of me,” he replied with a grin, hugging her with one arm.

“Hah, freeloading nothing. You can be my personal trainer. ...Also house boy.”

Aiden snorted, and started laughing, drawing Rarity into it as well as her ‘I’m serious’ face quickly crumbled away.

------------------------------------------

Well god damn… that is NOT just a model.

They were approaching the bend that would start them up and around Mount Canterhorn, but before that point… they had a stunning view. The castle, and surrounding city, had been built onto cliffs on the side of the mountain. It was as if pony architects had all decided ‘gravity is dumb anyway so just ignore it, this is gonna be awesome’.

And they were right. The castle in particular was spectacularly visible off the side of the mountain, complete with waterfalls to draw further attention to the splendor and beauty of Equestria’s capital city. Whereas the Crystal Capital had been teeming with the fanciful wonder one could only get when building almost an entire city out of crystal, Canterlot bespoke an austere elegance as it sat proudly above the surrounding countryside, beaming its benevolence and inspiration to any who looked upon it. Aiden was very glad he’d opted for a better view.

“But darling,” Rarity said, not quite shouted over the wind, “we really are still just on the train!”

He didn’t respond. Instead he stood silently, on the roof of their passenger car with an aetheric shield splitting the wind in front of them, with his arms crossed and his eyes to the amazing city ahead of them.

“No, really, there’s an observation car just three cars back from us. Comfortable seating, and they serve drinks!”

His lips twitched into a grin. “Rarity… darling…” He could practically feel her blink in surprise as he borrowed her word. “You aren’t the only one who occasionally likes to make an entrance.”

Rarity snorted in amusement. “Oh I see… would you like a cape then? It might add to the effect, especially if you weakened the shield so it could whip dramatically behind you.”

“No capes!”

She giggled. “At least now I know why you put your uniform on so soon. I will admit… it is a unique spot to see the city from. Canterlot is truly a sight to behold.”

“No argument there.”

Dramatic entrance aside, the view going up the mountain was also well worth having a good seat for. He saw what he was sure was Ponyville along the way, and looked forward to going there tomorrow, even if Canterlot was clearly the more impressive sight. He’d never really considered himself a city type. He enjoyed visiting them, but he’d never much lived in one, as he didn’t count the Seattle suburbs as ‘big city’. No, this would be a nice visit, and then it would be on to Ponyville, which would serve as ‘home’ for the time being while Rarity got settled back into her life and they arranged to build ways to recharge and repair the Falcon. Of course, in there somewhere Aiden was going to need to work through a bit more diplomacy, but luckily he could manage that from Twilight Sparkle’s castle in Ponyville. Indeed, the Princess of Friendship seemed an ideal candidate for the princess to liaison with in terms of establishing the groundwork of diplomatic relations.

That said… as they pulled into the station to a rather large -and stunned, thank you grand entrance- crowd, he also knew just how much he was looking forward to today. He was about to meet two beings who defied anything resembling even the rewritten logic that accepted magic, which had defined most of his life. He wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it, so… one thing at a time. The two of them hopped down from their car into the roped off area that was being controlled by several guards, to keep the crowd back. Their apparent escorts to the castle had stepped back to give them more room, save for one who came forward with a tempered smile.

“Rarity! And… Mister… Ai-den? Am I pronouncing that correctly? Welcome to Canterlot!” This from a white unicorn with a dark brown mane and thick rimmed, black glasses. Her mane and tail were both tied up in conservative buns, but they really increased how cute she looked to Aiden. Ponies are such cheaters... He returned the smile, noting in passing that the necklace was working as well as he’d expected it to.

“You are, Miss. And thank you for this warm welcome. I’m Aiden Windborne, Knight Lieutenant of the Esper Corps of Earth. And I do believe you already know my companion here?” he said, gesturing to Rarity.

Rarity, who trotted forward and caught the other unicorn in a warm but proper hug. “Raven, darling! So good to see you!”

The formality of Raven’s smile melted into something more genuine as she returned the hug. “You too, Rarity. Celestia has been at her wit’s end since you vanished, and it’s been worse for poor Twilight. They never stopped trying to find ways to look for you and bring you back.”

“Oh I’ve no doubt of that. All the more reason to keep going towards home… we didn’t exactly plan to crash so far north. Shall we go to the castle?”

“Ah… a brief detour might be good… if you want to stop by Canterlot Carousel to check in with your associate.”

Rarity raised an eyebrow as the two separated. “Detour?” She chuckled. “Don’t tell me Princess Celestia needs to put on her face or the like.”

One of the guards snorted, unable to quite manage hearing that while keeping discipline. His neighbor elbowed him.

“Between you and me, she’d probably prefer that. There were a few meetings that, on such short notice, simply couldn’t be canceled. Your arrival is truly wonderful news… but you know how it is. If the world isn’t ending, politics marches on.”

“I suppose so… now if only they marched forward rather than in circles.”

Raven chuckled. “Better deadlock than tyranny.”

“No argument there. Now, perhaps you’d care to introduce yourself, and our escort, to Aiden here?”

“Oh yes of course,” Raven said, blushing lightly as she nodded to Aiden. My apologies, sir.”

“Nah, it’s fine. ...So, Raven, I take it?”

“I am, yes. Raven Inkwell, personal aide to Princess Celestia. She sends her regrets at not being able to be here in person. With me are Captain Sunshower of the Day Guard, Captain Evening Calm of the Night Guard, and their lieutenants: Blade Dance and Falling Leaf.

Rarity gave each a nod. As did Aiden, while noting that Blade Dance had been the one to snort in amusement, and Falling Leaf had been the one to elbow him. It may have been a coincidence that the Day Guards were stallions and the Night Guards were mares, but he had no way of knowing.

As they set off through the streets, their honor guard swept out around them, keeping the crowds at bay. They couldn’t stop the stares, which seemed a bit more prevalent, and less friendly, than in the Crystal Empire. Rarity had warned him about that though. Canterlot was a bit more conservative and old-fashioned, an unintended side-effect of being under the protective wing of Princess Celestia for so long. They’d had their share of hardships, most notably the still rather recent Changeling invasion, but compared to most cities they had things pretty good. Only Cloudsdale could really claim greater isolation, at least among large cities.

And it was fine. While a few of the stares were almost hostile, Aiden had been ready for that. Would a city of humans look any differently at an alien walking down their streets? ...Well, maybe if it was Rarity… but we don’t all get to look like that. Nonetheless, he took pains to keep a tranquil smile on his face, and not look like some foreign soldier threatening their soil. It was pretty easy, since the city itself was a sightseer's dream and most of the looks he was getting were curious rather than suspicious. More than one pony also clearly recognized Rarity and was quick to wave and call out happily.

Evening Calm trotted a bit closer to him as they approached what was clearly Canterlot Carousel, Rarity’s local branch. She was a dark grey pegasus, with a light blue mane that was mostly covered by a silvery helmet. Golden eyes looked up at him and her lips curved in a gentle smile. Her name seemed quite fitting. “Princess Luna also sends her apologies for not meeting you at the station. You didn’t hear it from me, but one soldier to another, I do believe my princess is indeed ‘putting on her face’, so to speak. To be fair, she’s only been asleep a few hours.”

Aiden chuckled. “It’s fine. I suppose I’m technically a foreign dignitary at this point, though stars know I’m not qualified for it. But with that in mind, meeting in their palace seems appropriate.”

Evening Calm nodded agreement and thanks. “I didn’t know of your race before her highness briefed us last night. If I may be so bold… you make a good first impression.”

He grinned. “Tell that to Princess Cadance the next time you see her, she can give you the other version. Though I guess-”

He was interrupted by squealing as a tall, lanky unicorn emerged from the shop before Rarity could reach the door. She swept up Rarity in a spinning, laughing hug that quickly had Rarity going as well. The two clung tightly as the taller unicorn danced them in happy circles. Aiden chuckled. “They say judge someone by how they treat their subordinates. If her associate is any indication… then everything I already knew about Rarity is true.”

Evening Calm laughed softly. “I’d imagine so. The Element Bearers are truly special ponies. I’ve seldom had the privilege to speak with any of them, but I’ve witnessed much from my fortunate position as Princess Luna’s guard captain. Equestria would be much poorer without them.”

“Well, glad I could -oof!” He grunted as the tall unicorn slammed into him, sweeping him into a hug as well.

“And you! Hero among heroes! Brave, crusading rescuer! Heavens and hemlines, how I’ve hoped for this day to come! Oh, aren’t you just a darling?!”

“Uh… sure?” Aiden remarked vaguely as the unicorn spun him in the air as well. Isn’t she a bit too strong? What’s happening right now?

She set him back down, took a step back, and settled herself, as though realizing she was drawing surprised stares. “Beads and boutonnieres… got a bit carried away, didn’t I? I’m Sassy Saddles-”

“Ain’t you just?” Aiden muttered.

She blinked, clearly hearing him, but settled into a smile at hearing the playful tone. “And I welcome you to Canterlot Carousel… I’d offer anything we have, on the house, as a thank you for bringing Rarity back, but I don’t think we have your size in stock…”

“S’okay, Rarity already made me a nice suit. It’s in our supply trunk.”

Sassy tilted her head slightly. “I… don’t see any supply trunk.”

“Hammerspace packing, all the rage where I come from.”

“I… can see where it would be.”

Rarity was giggling. “Sassy, how’s the store doing?”

“Oh quite well, you know. I hate to say it… but after you’d been gone a couple months we had a considerable run on… well everything. Because… well… that is to say…” She rubbed one foreleg over another, looking away.

“Because everypony thought I was dead, Sassy,” Rarity said, rolling her eyes. “It’s alright to say it; it’s not an unreasonable assumption to draw.”

“But clearly it was! And I went along with it, letting them buy up every little thing that had ever touched your hooves without correcting any of them. Oh, I let you down by not believing in you!” She threw a foreleg over her eyes and sniffed as though about to cry.

Aiden smiled and shook his head. This display was too adorable to interrupt, so while Rarity reassured her he let his mind wander while he looked around to the nearby buildings. While doing so he noticed an incoming pegasus guard. Judging by the armor, she was of the Day Guard. She landed near Raven, giving Aiden an increased appreciation for pegasus flight capabilities, and whispered briefly in her ear. Said ear flicked twice as Raven nodded along.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” she said simply. The Sergeant saluted, nodded to both captains, and turned to Aiden. Her eyes widened slightly, but she maintained discipline, saluting him before taking off again, back towards the castle. He’d had just enough time to return the salute before she was in the air.

“What was that about?”

Raven chuckled. “She was sent to inform me that I can bring you both to the castle whenever you’re ready. Apparently, Celestia… erm, Princess Celestia, has managed to finish out her last meeting of the day a good hour earlier than I’d anticipated.”

“Nice. Not that I haven’t enjoyed meeting the lovely Sassy here, but...”

“Oh cravats and caveats, good sir! I cannot compare to the splendor of the princesses. I insist you both be off. I shall return to my beloved calling with renewed vigor, knowing that my dear friend is alive and well!”

Rarity giggled lightly. “Sassy dear, do send me along a letter when you can. I can’t stay to chat today, but I want to know everything I’ve missed.”

“I certainly shall!”

As they approached the castle… he began to notice. He wasn’t alone; Rarity’s ears were straight up, tending forward as her eyes widened. A duet played ahead… a melody of ineffable complexity, encompassing joy, a bit of sorrow, exhilaration, serenity, and love. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. “Holy…”

“I… feel it too, darling.”

“Shouldn’t you be used to it?”

“My experiences on Earth have altered my senses, particularly where magic is concerned. This feeling… is quite new.”

“Are you two alright?” Raven asked, clearly concerned as they’d both slowed their pace.

“Yeah, we’re okay. It’s not overpowering, just… remarkable. Like you crossed a bridge over a bay right at the perfect moment to catch the sunset over the water… and you just have to stop and take it in a few minutes, you know?”

Raven smiled warmly. “I do indeed. And your timing couldn’t be better. In just a couple hours, I’m sure you could persuade Cel- Princess Celestia, to arrange something similar.”

Aiden blinked. “I don’t know how I feel about asking someone to craft me a pretty sunset…”

Rarity giggled, and bumped her shoulder to his hip. “I’ll ask her then… I’ve missed the sunsets here, and the moonrises.”

The castle itself was a bit closer to what Aiden would’ve expected from a castle, as opposed to the crystalline architecture of Cadance and Shining Armor’s home. The duet of aetheric resonance in the air had increased, though as Aiden had said it wasn’t overpowering. Just… very present. It felt almost like walking into a symphony hall, mid-performance, when the two captains opened the doors to the throne room.

Aiden stumbled a bit. Between the ‘music’ getting louder without the doors and the sheer grandeur of the room, he felt that was forgivable. Because it certainly was grand… The two rulers sat upon twin thrones atop a two-tiered raised section, with carpeted ramps sloping up to them. Water flowed from descending fountains into channels along each side of the room’s main walkway. Beyond those channels were pillars of marble, ostensibly holding up the place but more likely simply adding to the ambiance. And then there were the stained glass windows. Between the starry motifs and the several that clearly displayed historic moments (at least two of which included Rarity, he noted), they alone could have held his attention awhile.

Had it not been for the two goddesses on their thrones, waiting patiently for the group to approach.

He’d known them to be the source of the ‘music’ in the air, of course. That wasn’t even a question. But to actually see them…

Luna looked down at them through calm, teal eyes that seemed to hold endless depths. The dark, starry mane that framed her face floated gently, reminding Aiden of looking out at Saturn during the Falcon’s maiden voyage, and feeling the quiet, all-encompassing majesty of the heavens. The sacred night gazed back at him, and it was warm. This was the serenity he’d felt, most of all, but he could feel in her aspects of every other part of the song she shared with her sister. He swallowed a lump in his throat, and bowed deeply. He was scarcely conscious of doing so. A smile curved her lips as her regal facade broke slightly, and she returned a deep, respectful nod. He was awed.

The exhilaration he’d felt, as well as certainly the joy, rang most loudly in the older sister. Celestia’s soft rainbow mane seemed to dance slowly on a wind only it felt. Her eyes, sparkling with that same joy he could feel in the air, held a similar depth to her sisters’. This was racing through the air, standing among the tallest redwoods atop the mountains, and seeing the sun shining down upon it all. His breath caught in his throat. Aiden hadn’t been able to understand what living for centuries could possibly be like; he couldn't grasp it beyond a hypothetical concept. Five years ago the war had ended, and that seemed like a long time. Fifteen years ago, his life changed forever and for him, it was over half a lifetime ago.
Multiplied by one hundred… it matched what these two might have felt in their youth. And looking into those kind, lightly glowing eyes… he could feel just a touch of that. Once again, he bowed after barely thinking about it. Again, a gracious nod was returned. His heart swelled.

Then the two rose. It had already been apparent that they were taller than him, but as they stepped down from their thrones and met the party halfway through the room, it became more clear. Luna had him by a few inches, and Celestia was at least six feet (both not counting the horns). Celestia spread her wings wide, making herself look even larger, though it looked more like she wanted to hug him than intimidate him. There was no intimidation in those eyes. He felt tears in his own as the stoic expression he’d planned fell apart, reforming itself into a childlike grin.

She spoke, as her younger sister looked on with that same calm smile she’d had since he’d met her gaze. “Welcome to Equestria, Son of Man. It is my great honor, and sincerest pleasure, to see one of your people again upon the lands which they helped us to protect, so long ago. Know that you are welcome among us so long as you choose to stay… and that, even were there no past between our peoples, we would bear you nothing but gratitude and warmth for bringing our dear friend home to us.” She smiled at Rarity, and Aiden might have caught a wink if he hadn’t been distracted by the speech.

He shook himself slightly, and chuckled quietly. “I don’t think I’m ever going to manage a proper first impression. Knight Lieutenant Aiden Alexander Windborne, Earth’s Esper Corps. I’m honored to be here, as well. I… clearly lack the language to state how I feel at meeting the two of you, but…” he reached into a portal, and grabbed an item he’d set aside for this occasion. “On behalf of General Albert Grumman, and all the descendants of the volunteers who were brought here to help fight for this world, I bring a gift… or more like return it, in the same spirit of Friendship in which it was once given to us.”

He held out Grumman’s tome, his hands shaking just slightly, to the wide eyed princesses. He couldn’t quite tell in that moment which one reverently took the book in her magic, but it was Luna who spoke first. “Thank you. It has… been far too long since we looked upon this, and we feared never to see it, or your kind, again.” Her lips trembled as her eyes welled up a bit. “And you’re wrong. Bringing Rarity back home, and this gift, this reminder of all our peoples have been fortunate enough to share… you’ve made the perfect impression. Welcome, young human. ...Welcome.”

------------------------------------------

“How do you even have this much blood?” Tempest muttered as her magic continued digging. She didn’t have much control with something like this, so she could only go slow and hope an uncontrolled burst didn’t kill her new ‘friend’.

Garken snorted, which was rather disturbing with his head half carved open. “My body continues to repair itself as you damage it, including my brain. That means creating more blood. To kill me requires depleting my magic, and destroying my body to a sufficient degree. You’re only halfway there. Luckily, you’re far closer to our intended target.”

“I’m close to being sick,” she said flatly, as if discussing the weather.

“Try to aim away from my skull then, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Hah, don’t worry. Your ‘noble, honorable’ people haven’t fed me in three days, so I’ll probably just dry heave.”

“Your resilience is impressive, then.”

“I’ve had worse. I may not channel magic like a proper unicorn, but I’ve learned other tricks with it. Never mind my resilience; how are you even talking? I’m no surgeon but this all looks fairly important.” Another light slash of magic cut into him, and Tempest grimaced as she tried to stay focused. She was a warrior and proud of that fact, but this was a little outside her preferred sort of violence.

“My consciousness exists within my aether, when necessary. It’s the same with your kind, and any with powerful magic. It’s the reason your bodies are so quick to heal, and difficult to damage. I’m just… moreso.”

“Hmph, I’m not sure I envy you that, if it means this can be… ahh, I see it. Ech… it’s… got it.” A brief burst of telekinesis pulled the shard of blackened gemstone from within the lower part of Garken’s brain. It shot across the room, bouncing off the ceiling and far wall before skidding out between the bars of their cell.

“Ahhh… well done, little pony.”

“Did you forget my name already?”

“Bear with me… my mind is all over the place right now.”

There was a beat, then a distinct ‘thock’ sound as hoof met face. “You did not just say that.”

Garken chuckled. “You’ll forgive me feeling a bit buoyant, Tempest. With the shard of corrupted aetheryte gone, the enchantment on the glasses will be insufficient to warp my mind. I can wear them and wait for an opportunity to overcome our next visitor.”

“What makes you sure we’ll have one? They’ve gotten everything they needed from me…” her ears wilted as she looked at the floor. “Everything…”

He snorted. “I understand your shame, though I also know you cannot blame yourself. My king is a monster akin to a god. He is not invincible, or all powerful, but near enough. I’ve been under his thrall almost my whole life, as have my people. He has twisted us to be what he wished of us… and those who tried to disobey…”

“Got mind controlling crystals shoved in their brains… yeah, I get it. Still not happy about caving during an interrogation. I barely remember it but I know once I started talking I didn’t want to stop.” She looked herself over. She had a few new scars, and would have more when these new wounds healed. Still, there was no permanent harm done.

“You’ll have the chance to avenge that shame. Because yes, we will not be left alone. I told you, without the glasses,” and with this he reached for them, and placed them back upon his face. His skull had already healed, with the skin growing back and his hair already growing back out to its previous length. “We would be dead before the day was out. That is because… we both have enemies here. I don’t just mean in that we are imprisoned. I remember hearing of when you were taken.”

“Heh… yeah… walkabout. Another fantastic idea brought to you by Fizzlepop…”

He raised an eyebrow. “I thought your name was Tempest Shadow?”

“It is… also shut up.”

He chuckled. “Your kind confuse me. It any case, you crippled two of the four elites that took you, and we don’t have that many left, which is why my king had me and others out looking for allies.”

“Doubt he’ll find many.”

“Likely not, this world is not so foolish. I only fear what further desperation that will lead him to. But speaking of fools, those who wish to gloat at us will come here, and seeing me wearing these,” he tapped the glasses, “and you quiet and ashamed of your weakness-”

“Bite me.”

“-They will gloat all the more carelessly. That will be our opportunity. And just in case I’m wrong… Drag the crystal back in here… I have another idea.”

She nodded, directing the crystal back their way with bursts of telekinetic energy. It would be so much easier if she could channel steadily, but eventually she knocked it close enough to the bars that Garken could grab it. He looked at it, his lips twisting into a snarl of disgust.

“The glasses don’t affect you at all, now?”

“Oh, they still speak to me, of my worthlessness and weakness. But without their resonance with the crystal, they lack the strength to make me believe such words. He sighed. “I know full well of my weakness… it is not the same as what this paltry magic would have me believe.”

“So what weakness is that, then?”

“Failing a friend. Taking a path of pride over one of compassion. I always claimed mercy for the strong... but I was too slow to recognize and respect forms of strength other than my own. I have much to atone for.”

She smiled wanly. “Heh, makes two of us. Hope we get our chance.”

“If what I know of this world from the archives is true… I fully believe we-” his eyes widened as he heard footsteps and dark laughter approaching. He grinned, as did Tempest. “-will…”

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