• Published 13th Dec 2011
  • 6,912 Views, 539 Comments

Far From the Tree - Rust



A mysterious pony turned to stone 1000 years ago is revived by the denizens of Ponyville.

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The Crucible

Author: Violence makes the world go round. Well... It's either that, or the natural centrifugal force created by the planet's gradual condensation into a single solid mass... But I like the first one better. Have some destruction, on the house!

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


THE CRUCIBLE

The Second Part of Uncle Buckshot's Third Bedtime Story

Buck could feel the dry, hot breath of the dragon washing over him as it screeched in defiance of the obviously insane unicorn standing on two legs before it. Hesitating briefly, he joined the other six contenders as they rushed straight on towards the gaping maw, letting the nauseating feeling of fear settle in his stomach.

This is bloody suicidal!

Nonetheless, his armored hooves continued forward, thudding into the packed dirt with increasing frequency as he built up his momentum. Buck could see the bushy tail of Ragdoll, whose coat had fluffed out to twice its original size, leading the pack. The mare was sprinting towards the dragon at an unbelievable speed, cutting through the air like a knife. The two Canterlot Guards, Boulder and Scrappy Doo, had torn off to the left, circling around the dragon's right side in a flanking manuver. Scrappy Doo, the only Pegasus on the field, was taking full use of the advantage his wings gave him, overtaking his comrade to circle around behind the dragon's lashing tail. The Laughing Mare had picked up on the military ponies' tactics, circling around in the opposite direction, effectively surrounding the scaly terror. The bright pink pony skillfully whirled a spiked flail held from her mouth, giggling madly as she did so.

Rust, in the meantime, had been pressing straight forward, slashing out at the dragon's snout, violently smashing his spinning shields into the thick scales. He danced on his hind legs, easily balancing and shifting his position as if he had been walking on them in this manner his entire life. His forelegs, surrounded by two green discs that served as weapons and shields, swung and jabbed at the dragon in a manner similar to a professional boxer. The discs cut through the scarlet plating like a buzz-saw, each time they scored a line on a scale they let out a terrible, ear-splitting shriek not unlike nails on a chalkboard. The dragon was flinching backwards with every strike, despite the fact that the attacks did little damage - Rust's magic shields were simply too small to do anything other than cut and scratch, regardless of the ferocity with which he used them.

Buck really didn't have a plan in mind, the raging fire he felt coursing through his blood that signaled the beginning of a battle-rage dulled his thoughts. He charged onward, quickly closing the gap. Ragdoll shot past Rust, going straight under a savage bite from the dragon, vanishing somewhere under its belly. The dragon continued to lunge at the odd unicorn, but each time the scaly muzzle got close it would be furiously beaten back in shower of quick, jabbing punches.

Buck finally arrived at Rust's side. The armored stallion felt like a gnat in front of the great beast, but held his ground nonetheless. The rusty red pony nodded as he glanced down at him, as he was taller than buck in his current position.

"'Bout time you got your fat ass over here!" He ducked swiftly under a swing of the dragon's head. "I've been having all this fun, and no one to share it with!"

"Fine then, I'll take the ugly parts," Buck growled from under his greathelm. He hopped backward as a mighty clawed hand slapped the ground where he had been standing not a moment before. He promptly whipped around and slammed his armored hooves downward onto the offending appendage, allowing himself a small grin as the sound of a breaking dragon-fingers echoed over the arena, sending the crowd into a wave of cheering. The dragon let out a keening shriek, snapping out its wings with a powerful gust of air, bowling over the ponies that had been surrounding it's sides.

"But he's all ugly!" cried Rust, as he ripped another jagged line in the dragon's muzzle.

"Exactly." Buck took a direct hit from a claw, ripping a large gash in his chest-plating and tearing away the scrap of cloth around his neck. He hissed in pain, but didn't bother checking to inspect the damage. Now it was personal.

"Oh, I see how it is. As much as I like this witty back-and-forth banter, this is not the time to grab all the glory, you greedy bastard." Rust rolled under another lunge from the fanged mouth, popping back up under its neck, scoring a massive double blow with both his blades. The dragon lurched back and attempted a headbutt, but the agile unicorn had already evaded it's range and returned to Buck's side. It rumbled in frustration, opening its jaws slightly as crimson flames began to leak out.

"Fat ass! Behind me!" Rust screamed. The armored stallion leaped to the side, a few steps behind him.

Just in time, too.

The dragon suddenly decided it had had enough of the annoying pests, opening his great serrated serrated mouth to let a raging torrent of dragonfire forth... Only to be met with both of Rust's upraised shields. The spinning discs sent the crimson inferno spiraling in every direction, the contact with the whirling magical surfaces turning the fire a blue. The sheer force of the jet sent Rust skidding backward, straight into Buck, who braced himself against the flow like he holding himself up against a wave in the ocean. The two ponies stood fast amid the tide of flames.

"Damn son, you need a tic-tac or something - 'cause your breath STINKS!" Rust jeered over the rush of energy.

Buck felt his armored hooves slide back a few inches. "This isn't working, mate!" The armored giant called to his friend, closing his eyes to avoid the intense light show just inches from his face.

"No, really!?" Rust shot back sarcastically. "Just wait for Rags!"

"What's she gonna do?!"

Rust laughed maniacally as he held firm. "I have no fucking idea!"

Then, the dragon's flame suddenly halted, and the crowd sent up a throaty roar. Buck peered out from behind Rust's shields to see the dragon doubled up in pain, bellowing with enough force to shake the stone pillars dotting the arena. A fluffy red bolt whipped out from under its legs, skidding to a halt in front of the two. Buck's eyes widened. "Rags? 'Sat you, girl?"

The red mare nodded, her ice-blue eyes looking absurd with her new coloration.

"Err... Are you covered with dragon blood?"

"Da, comrade. I give flying lizard gift that can never be returned." She grinned wickedly, revealing sharp teeth that were also stained crimson.

Buck turned back toward the dragon, who was screeching in pain as blood poured from between it's hind legs. Rust began laughing hysterically at this, rolling around in the dirt in an uncontrollable fit of hilarity.

Meanwhile, in the Royal Box Seating...

Princess Celestia abruptly spewed the tea she had been drinking everywhere, staring in horror at the sight below her. "Sister... Did Elder Ragdoll just do what I think she did?"

Princess Luna nodded as she smiled grimly from where she was standing, her front hooves resting on the balcony railing.

Celestia turned green, averting her eyes from the unfortunate dragon. "Well, it certainly worked. A bit unnecessary, but nonetheless effective," she sighed. "In the future, however, make sure to state that the removal of genitalia is considered an illegal move."

Back in the Proving Ground...

Buck gaped wide eyed at the pile of scaled meat lying on the ground.

"You... You cut his goods off."

The bloodstained mare licked her lips thoughtfully. "He had it coming."

Buck shuddered involuntarily. "...Right... But we still need to kill the thing."

The dragon was going on a complete rampage, storming around the arena in a frenzy of pain-induced rage. The other three competitors were playing a risky game of cat and mouse with it, darting around the stone pillars and leading it on a merry chase.

The Ponyville group observed the spectacle from where they were standing. Once the dragon came within reach of its target, one of the other two would swoop in, deliver a quick series of blows, and dash away as fast as they could as the mighty giant turned to give pursuit.

The ponies appeared to be at an impasse. Despite thoroughly pounding on the thick hide with all manner of weaponry, the dragon had sustained no serious injury with the exception of its gelding. The chase continued for some time, and eventually the ponies' strength began to flag. The dragon caught up with its current target, the Pegasus guard known as Scrappy Doo, and slammed one armored claw into him, swatting the stallion out of the sky with impunity. The guard skipped across the ground before coming to rest at the hooves of Buck.

Buck looked down at Scrappy Doo, who was dazedly looking up at him with a confused expression. His eyes were now crossed, undoubtedly from the powerful blow he had just received. Buck calmly blinked down at him "You all right, mate?"

Scappy staggered unsteadily to his hooves, giving himself a few smacks in the head with his hoof. His eyes bounced around comically as he did so. "I... think so? I can't see straight." He attempted to rise into the air, but crashed to the ground several feet away. "I can't fly, either." he commented dryly.

Rust strode up to him and patted his hoof on an armored shoulder. "Pop a squat out of the way, dude. You're in no condition to continue. We'll take care of the rest, don't worry."

Scrappy nodded and stumbled off toward one of the waiting medical teams.


The dragon let out another painful screech, pawing at one of its eyes, where a spiked flail had burrowed deep into the iris. It lashed out at the attacker, the Laughing Mare, and succeeded in launching her halfway across the area before she nimbly flipped around mid-air to rebound off one of the stone pillars. She barely had a moment to recover, however, as the dragon closed the gap between to two with blinding speed, slipping between the tall towers like a snake. With a yelp, she was brutally slammed into the ground by a tail-swipe, leaving a pony-shaped crater in the ground.

"Wait a tic, where's Boulder?" asked Buck.

The dragon turned to the group and coughed out a golden helmet. It clattered onto the ground in front of the three. Buck stared at it in horror before he kicked the helmet back, where it clanged into the dragon's armored snout.

Rust jumped up in excitement. "That's it!"

Ragdoll looked at him questioningly, flicking her ears with interest.

"We need to kill it from the inside!"

Buck gaped at him. "Are you completely off your rocker?!" He pointed an armored hoof at the beast, which was menacingly stalking toward them, savoring the last moments of it's hunt. "There's only one way into that thing, and in case ya didn't notice, it didn't work too well for Boulder."

Rust simply grinned and revved his shields "I have a plan."

"Der'mo. That's a first."

"...Shut up, Rags."

Back in the Royal Box Seats...

Princess Luna rocked anxiously back and forth on her haunches, watching the scene below. She chewed thoughtfully from a cluster of grapes levitated by her magic. The Ponyville group had huddled together momentarily, before Buck and Ragdoll abruptly split away, rushing off around the side of the dragon's left flank. The dragon itself seemed nonplussed by this, instead stalking toward the odd rusty-red unicorn that calmly stood in front of it.

"An odd tactic," she mused. "They are clearly using the strange Elder as bait." Her eyes roved over the arena, watching as Buck and Ragdoll took up positions behind a pillar. "But where is the trap?" She watched as the unicorn the dragon was focusing on made several rude thrusting gestures, obviously intended to provoke the beast into attack.

They certainly worked. The dragon, enraged, rushed to close the distance. Mere feet before its gaping maw met its prey, the unicorn abruptly reared up and fired a green flare from his horn, before turning to the crowd and giving an exaggerated bow.

And then then the mighty jaws closed around him. The crowd screamed and shrieked in panic as the dragon tensed it's jaw and swallowed. Immediately, it began to cough and gag violently, small bursts of flame shooting from it's nose.

Suddenly, she felt a tingling on her horn, and the blue aura surrounding the cluster of grapes sputtered out, the fruit tumbling to the seating floor.

On the Proving Ground...

"Syeichas! Do it, comrade!"

Buck whipped his armored bulk about face and began pummeling the stone tower they had chosen with all his strength. His plated boots slammed into the stone pillar again and again, eating through the stone like a jackhammer. Buck's vision tunneled; there was only this simple task: knock it down. The impact from each collision shook the pillar to it's base, dust and pebbles flying off and hitting him, but that only served to spur him to strike even harder.

WHAM!

WHAM!

WHAM!

"Faster, it's almost there!"

Buck closed his eyes and shifted into high gear.

WHAMWHAMWHAMWHAMWHAMWHAMWHAMWHAM!

"It's coming down! Now for the final push!"

Buck whipped back around and sprang up, ramming into the middle of the pillar like a linebacker. The stone shifted ever so slightly... and then began to tilt and fall, almost painfully slow. The colossus arced gracefully downwards...

...and smashed right onto the choking dragon's head, burying it's skull beneath a thousand tons of granite, knocking it out cold. It slumped to the ground in a limp, unconscious heap.

The dragon's throat, now completely relaxed, began to distend horribly, bulging toward the middle for a brief moment, before a green light tore out from in-between the scales, slowly spreading in a hairline collar around it's neck. The glowing line suddenly widened as the neck was suddenly severed in twine... from the inside. A bloody red figure rolled out of the gash and stood up on two hind legs, the dual green shields whirling alongside its upraised forehooves.

"Told you I'd cut your fucking head off." Rust kicked the dragon's severed cranium. "Dumb bitch! That's what you get when you kill my cloud puppy!"

The gargantuan corpse abruptly exploded into a cloud of blue smoke and sparkles, sending a colorful barrage of fireworks high into the sky. The crowd went completely hysterical with applause and cheers.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

"Hold still, Sir Apple, this will clean any infections from the wound."

Buck winced as a sharp burning sensation rose from his chest, where the dragon's claw had torn right through his armor plating and a few inches of flesh. He had been extremely lucky, as usual. A deeper hit would have ripped a hole right through his ribcage. He found himself feeling a little melancholy, however. The ratty, smoke-stained bandana Leafdapple had given him all those years ago had been slashed away from his neck in the space of a second. The absence of its familiar presence around his neck left him feeling oddly exposed.

The newly christened knight lay on his back on a cushy bed in the tournament medical tent, as an attentive surgeon finished dabbing a hot wad of moss that had been soaking in boiling salt water on his wound. He had been knighted on the Proving Ground itself, dirty, bleeding, and extremely proud, immediately after the magical dragon-clone had evaporated, alongside an extremely addled addled Scrappy Doo, the single remaining competitor from Canterlot.

Heh. Or as everypony calls him now, "Loopy" Doo.

The damage to the pegasus guard's head had resulted in a permamanent wonky eye that could not be corrected, despite the medical team's best efforts. The injury also seemed to have addled his personality a bit, as the other new knight suddenly found he had a craving for pastries that could not be sated, and he had never liked them before. The Laughing Mare, who had already been given her title after the previous round, had suffered several broken ribs and a whopping concussion, but had somehow managed to recover enough to sit up in her bed and tell jokes to several of the medical staff, who were gathered around her bed and having a grand old time.

The surgeon moved off, giving Buck some space. The large stallion allowed himself a contented half-smile before stretching back into his pillow, savoring the ache of his abused muscles. He turned his head to the side to look down to the other end of the tent, near the entrance, where Rust and Ragdoll, recently cleaned of the magical gore staining their coats, were staying in their own beds on opposite sides of the asile that ran through the tent. They seemed to be in their own happy little world, despite the disqualification they'd been issued. Celestia had cited some minor rule in the rulebook, one that stated only Equestrian citezens could compete. Nopony had known of the pair's origins, so this had come out as quite a shock to the crowd, who had taken quite a liking to the two Dragonslayers, the title that the spectators were beginning to call the three ponies from Ponyville.

It was probbably a good thing that the two had been disqualified by that obscure ruling; had the three remained undefeated, they would have had to keep competing until only one contender was left on their hooves. Buck didn't think he had it in him to walk, let alone participate in another diabolical challenge. Regardless, the disqualification meant that Buckshot Apple was the only valid remaining competitor from his home, and as such, had immediatly been granted the title of Knight, given legal juristiction over Ponyville, and given a large sum of bits, which he had immedialtly asked to be sent to his family account.

Celestia herself had presided over the ceremony, looking no less magnificent despite her bloodspattered surroundings and subjects. The towering alicorn had him take the sacred oath of his office, one that bound him for life to the service of Equestria and to the Royal Sisters. After solemly repeating her words, she had touched each of his shoulders, and then the peak of his forehead with her glowing horn, sealing the oath with a spell as he knelt before her.

"Sir Buck Apple the Dragonslayer, Champion of Ponyville." He rolled the title around in his mouth. A little ostentatious, and he did not approve of the "Dragonslayer" bit, but that was how the crowds spoke of him now, and word spreads fast. Buck snorted. The respect that had been visible in nearly everypony's eyes at the mention of the name was almost creepy, and the abundance of mares oogling him had skyrocketed to disturbing heights. Despite the fact that he had often told them he was married, the female spectators often chose to conveniently ignore his words and oftentimes bury him in an avalanche of adoration. Buck found his celebrity status suddenly stressful. It was one thing to fight in the pit, one thing to govern a town, but having to deal with a pack of rabid females? Now that was truly a feat worth a lordship, never mind knighthood.

"Greetings, Sir Apple," a familiar silky voice sounded from behind him. Buck smiled as he turned his head back around to see Princess Luna standing by his bed side, a small smirk on her face. The fact that she had somehow appeared by his side with no warning did not bother him in the slightest. He had known her for at least ten years now, after all, and had grown to know her almost as well as Leafdapple, who often jokingly referred to the Princess as "our other wife". Strangely fitting, considering how well the Apple family and Princess Luna got along together. Whenever life at the Royal Palace had gotten too stressful for her, Luna was known to spend a day or two in the company of her true freinds at Sweet Apple Acres.

"G'day, Your Majesty." He spoke with a voice slightly tinged with pain; the wound on his chest was not serious, but it hurt like the dickens.

The Goddess of the Night bashfully brushed at the small, black peytral plate hanging from her neck. "Please, call us Luna, you of all ponies should know that." She look tired to him, as if she had not slept well for many days. Her icy blue mane appeared slightly bedraggled.

"Don't call me Sir then. That's a title of respect in my book, not position," Buck

She gave a grumpy harrumph. " 'Tis improper for us to address a stallion of your rank in any other way. Besides," she painfully slugged him on the shoulder. "Thou hast proven worthy, considering the mighty deed done by your hooves today." That much was ture; already word of the Dragonslayers' feat had spread throughout the Royal Palace, and much of the surrounding city.

"I wasn't the only one who did it, you know." He lifted a hoof to Rust and Ragdoll at the end of the tent. "Those two wankers did just as much, if not more,to bring the bloody thing down."

Luna rolled her eyes. "Yet it is your name whispered on the lips of everypony."

Buck dismissively waved a hoof. "Whatever. Now, what brings ya here?" The Princess obviously had a reason to see him now, otherwise she would have approached him at the knighting ceremony.

"We wish to speak with thee," she lowered her voice to a whisper. "Privately." Buck inwardly winced. That was never a good sign. Luna snickered at his pained expression. "Fret not, Sir Apple, We only wish to have a conversation away from the ears of those whom our words are not meant for."

Buck sighed and pointed to his bandaged chest. "I'm not exactly in any condition ta go anywhere."

Luna's face lit up with a look of incredulity. She bopped him on the head with her horn.

"Oh. Right. Magic. Lead on, then!"

The Princess' horn shimmered with a blue glow, and suddenly they were surrounded by a bright light, which vanished after a few seconds to reveal that they were now in Luna's private quarters in the Royal Castle. Buck staggered around a bit, fighting off the sudden surge of nausea that was common with non-unicorns being teleported. He looked around, gathering his bearings. They were in a small atrium that led to the section of rooms and hallways that the Princess and her servants inhabited. The walls were of a darker, bluish coloration, rather than the pure white stone of the rest of the palace. Warm firelight cheerfully lit up the room, as a small chandelier floating above their heads provided a constant source of illumination at any time of the day.

He glared daggers at Luna. "You know I hate it when you do that."

Luna grinned halfheartedly. "Such is the reason we do it." She turned and pushed through the doors leading further into the quarters. Buck gathered himself and followed, albeit more slowly, wincing slightly with everystep.

She seems off today.

Luna was usually quite cheerful, often playing some practical joke or another on Celestia, or busy in the Royal Palace laboratories concocting some bizarre experiment or another. The midnight blue alicorn was prone to be moody on occasion, but the knight sensed something else lurking beneath the surface today. Biting back a grunt of pain, he caught up to her. She was heading towards her personal chambers, judging by the direction they were heading. They walked together for a while, before he broke the silence. "All right, Luna, somethin's got ya in a knot. Ya mind tellin' me what it is before we continue?"

Luna did not slow her pace, biting her lip to think. She hesitated for a moment, clearly choosing her next words carefully. Buck's ears pricked with interest when she finally spoke in a soft, sibilant voice. "We feel... alone."

Alone? Now that was unexpected. The Princess was surrounded by ponies day and night, servants and minstrels and squires and guards and nobles... The list went on and on. Buck was stumped by this. How could she feel lonely in the most densely populated city in Equestria? Buck mulled this over as they continued through the dark blue hallways, passing through an open doorway that marked the threshold to the Princess's personal chambers, located in one of the Royal Palaces many spiraling towers. Two Royal Centurions clad in black versions of the standard issue guard armor smartly saluted as they went past. They now began the ascent up a long, spiraling staircase to the top of the tower.

"Err... Like, alone as in without anypony around to talk to, or the other kind of alone?" Buck couldn't help but pry at this - Luna had never once told him of any kind of romance she'd been a part of.

Again, she hesitated, before shaking her head in frustration. Luna gave him a queer sort of look and then it was gone, buried under some mental wall. "Possibly both... But that is not of thy concern at present. We refer to how it would seem that although this Palace is called home to the Royal Sisters, only one of the pair receives the attention befitting of that position."

The sound of their hooves on the carpeted stone staircase echoed throughout the tower. "What, so everypony just ignores you?" Buck offered.

The Princess chuckled darkly. "Nay, friend. We could never be ignored. I speakst of the recognition graced upon mine sister for her godly duties, while our own efforts go unheeded." Her silver-shod hooves clanked as she absentmindedly kicked the wall as they climbed. "While our subjects play and live and revel in Celestia's day... They spurn and fear our night, too wary of the darkness and what it might hide. 'Tis a reason we enjoy thy company so much," Luna said. "Thou does not tremble when the moon rises."

Buck was about to argue the point with her, but he realized she was right on all accounts. That innate instinct wired into the equine mind to seek shelter when the sun fell was too deeply rooted for him to ignore. The vast majority of ponies he knew were afraid of the dark, even far after reaching adulthood. But did he fear it? ...No. He had faced a different form of night, wreathed under the cloud of ash on that fateful day, ten years ago. The darkness that came as the moon rose was like a comforting blanket to him, knowing that he had nothing worse to fear from it. He often spent many a sleepless night outside on his porch, or walking through the moonlit fields, savoring the peace and serenity the starry sky brought with it. Buck said nothing, silently imploring her to continue.

"They scorn us, we sometimes think. They shun our time as if it were a vile plague, to be avoided and quarantined while they huddle away in seclusion like frightened foals." She snorted and tossed her mane. "'Twould be interesting to see what they would do should their precious sun fail to rise for once."

Buck tensed with a sudden discomfort, wincing again as his chest muscles contracted. "That sounds almost treasonous..." He muttered.

" 'Tis treasonous to make a royal pariah of their Princess! And 'tis a mockery to have to be the low end of Celestia's precious balance." Luna spat the word out like it was venomous. "Aye, there is much of that between us, we know." Her sarcasm dripped into the air as the two ponies fell silent again.

They finally reached the top of the tower, Luna almost tearing another set of double doors off their hinges with her magic. The knight stepped out from the stairwell into a sumptuous sort of common room, darkly varnished wood shining on the furniture from a small fire that burned in the hearth. The ceiling was coated faint black, painted with a spectacular scene of the night sky, constellations sparkling amid the great band of soft light known as The Great Plains, named after the mythical place that all ponies' souls went to when they die. Through the glass of a balcony doorway, Buck could see the fading light of the sun, its golden hues tinged a lovely coppery orange as it descended.

He turned to Princess, who was still bristling from her outburst, staring at the ground intently. "Luna, there are ponies who appreciate your work. Admittedly less so than those who prefer the day, but there are some."

She looked him in the eye and sighed, "We struggle to believe such."

He grinned and shook his head, approaching her as he did. "As long as I'm around, I'll prove that ya are." He wrapped her in a tender hug. "Celestia can go and boil her head, far as I'm concerned."

She giggled softly even as she buried her face in his shoulder. "...Thank you. We know not what we'd do without truer hearts than thine own to guide our temper." She awkwardly pulled away, blushing faintly. "Now, for the reason thou art here. Come," she beckoned him to follow. They trotted across the room to the balcony door, Luna nodding her head as the doors opened, surrounded by a faint blue glow.

As he stepped onto the balcony, he could not help but be awestruck by the view. Despite the fact that he had oftentimes visited Luna in her quarters, usually with his family in tow, the sheer immensity of the land spread out before him never failed to be truly breathtaking. Luna's personal chambers were located on the second highest tower at the Royal Palace, dwarfed in height only by the Royal Observatory, which rose higher still. The world was spread out before him, the dark green of the forest stretching off in all directions like an emerald sea, softly shifting in a breeze. Tinged golden in the setting sun, the sky was a faint pink that blended into a deep hue of purple towards the opposite end of the world.

Luna approached his side as he stood mesmerized by the sheer scale of things. " 'Tis never something to tire of, is it?" She asked rhetorically. Buck merely nodded. Words could never do this justice.

"Buck?" said Luna.

He turned to her, as she looked out on the world. She continued, saying: "Thou hast performed mighty deeds in the Tournament, and for thy effort, hast been rewarded with land, a title, and coin." Luna looked at him, her head slightly cocked to one side, her eyes glimmering in the sunset. "Thou belongs to Equestria now, till the end of thy days. She will treat you well, we have no withholding of that... But we wish to reward thou further, for thy services provided not in the name of duty, or glory, or even family." She shook her head slowly. " 'Tis for the gift of your friendship, extended to us for all these years, and asking nothing in return, despite our ability to grant many a request. Thou art truly worthy beyond mere titles and rank." Luna trained her gaze to the far side of the sky, where the purple faded into a rich royal blue. "We wish to give thou our blessing, that thou may know how much thou art appreciated for filling our days with happiness."

Buck was stunned. "Your... blessing?"

She nodded and turned back to him. "Should thy choose to accept it."

He mulled this over for a few heartbeats. "Aye. I'd be glad to."

"Then kneel, sir knight, and receive our gift."

He did, wincing slightly as he lowered himself. The light from the sun was fading, a few stars began to appear. Luna took a few steps closer to him, looking down fondly at her closest friend. "Sir Buck Apple, Dragon-slayer, Champion and Protecter of Ponyville, dost thou promise to uphold the sacred values of knighthood, even to the pain of death itself?"

This seemed oddly familiar to his knighting ceremony. He closed his eyes and spoke without hesitation. "Aye."

"And dost thou promise to serve and protect thy kingdom and her peoples, great and weak?"

"Aye."

"And dost thou promise to hold thy loved ones close to thy heart, and watch over them as the sun and moon dance above?"

"Aye." The sun fell further, sending it's rays high into the few clouds, dying them a spectacular pinkish-red.

"Then will thee rise, not as our subject, but as an equal, bound by the ties of friendship, to stand by our side to the end of days?"

Buck rose back to his hooves, rising to her eye level. "Aye."

Her horn glowed a brilliant blue, and her eyes shone white like the moon. She bent her head and pressed her horn across his right shoulder. "Then we bless thee with the strength to uphold these words." As she spoke, Buck felt himself tingle with energy, a surge of power rushing through him through her horn.

Luna raised her head, and lowered her shining horn to his left shoulder. "We bless thee with the determination and courage with which to use it." He felt a tide of comforting shadow blanket his heart, washing away his doubts and fears, clearing his soul and sharpening his resolve.

The alicorn lifted her head again, this time placing her horn on the peak of his forehead, their noses almost touching. "We bless thee with the knowledge and wisdom to guide your actions to the path of right." His mind became electrified, crackling and full to bursting with energy and consciousness.

She raised her head a final time, before lowering it down low, so that she was almost bowing to him, and placed the very tip of her glowing horn on the center of his bandaged chest. "And finally, we bless this with the love thou hast shown us, that thou might be empowered by in thy gravest time of need." She suddenly jerked forward a little, the horn puncturing his bandage and piercing the very edge of his skin as she arched her back and sent a wave of power into his very heart.

The feeling was incredible. He was filled with warmth and cold at the same time, rising from his very core to collect in his veins, the magic flowing through him like his blood. His view suddenly expanded, and he could see himself and Luna on the balcony, and then the view panned out so he was looking at the entire tower as if he were flying alongside it... It expanded even more, so he was gazing down at the world from far above, and suddenly the moon filled his view. It hung there, a perfect crescent, greeting him warmly like an old friend, beckoning him to come forward. He did, pulling himself forward through space with a thought, or at least that was how it seemed at first. He abruptly realized that the moon itself came forward at his thought, that it was the one moving, not him, and he was the one moving it. With a surge of joy, he pulled the great body toward him, flinging it high into the sky and embracing it like a long lost treasure...

...And then he was back on the ledge, inside himself again, with Luna standing before him, looking at him with a smile of pure happiness. The darkness of night was now all around them, the moon hanging high above the world. Buck was completely speechless for a few moments. "Luna... Did I just... Did I just raise the moon?"

She laughed, a musical, lilting melody that reminded him of a waterfall. "That, and more. Take off thy bandages, friend, and see."

Buck suddenly realized that the itching pain from the dragon-inflicted wound had all but dissipated. He reached down with his mouth, taking a firm hold of the bloodstained bandages between his teeth and ripped them away in a jerk...

...There, emblazoned upon his chest was the moon, a perfect, white crescent, glowing softly.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Apple Bloom finally dozed off, muttering her thanks under her breath as she fell asleep into her pillow. Buck looked down on her warmly, and bent over to give her a small kiss on her forehead.

"G'night, Bloomie. Sleep well."

He stood up from the bed and crept softly to the door, taking care not to tread on any of the squeaky floorboards. The door opened smoothly to his touch, for once not jamming on the floor or creaking on its hinges. Buck looked back one last time before he left the room, taking in the sweet image of Apple Bloom, tucked deep into her covers, sleeping soundly as she was illuminated by a patch of moonlight.

He turned to go, but was stopped by a familiar voice coming from behind.

"Good night, daddy."

Buck whipped back around, but nothing had changed, Apple Bloom was still sound asleep... And yet somehow, the pink bandanna on her bed stand was now wrapped around her forehead.

He smiled and exited the room, whispering softly: "G'night ta you too, Blossie."

Author: By Merlin's beard, this chapter was a struggle. Sorry it took so long, but in case you haven't noticed, it was pretty big, and pretty important, too, so I paid special attention to it.

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There's gonna be fan art in the next chapter! Squee!