• Published 8th Sep 2012
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Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven

Darkness has come to Equestria, and the world is threatened with destruction. Can Luna stop it?

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Adventure Time With Luna And Scrivy

Chapter Eleven: Adventure Time With Luna And Scrivy

Luna and Scrivener rested quietly together on the old bedding in the front room of the library, the male laying on his stomach with his eyes closed and the winged unicorn resting beside him, stroking a hoof quietly along his back as she gazed towards one of the dark windows. It was late morning now, only hours away from the time they were finally supposed to leave for Canterlot.

It had been several days since Cowlick had started in on touching up and assembling some higher-tech equipment, building and designing better armor, weapons and gear for them. It had taken her less than an hour to figure out what materials from the list she could use, and what she should leave behind in Ponyville.

They had also further organized the Starlit Knights, Luna running them through several large-scale training exercises to better assess the team and both the winged unicorn and Twilight Sparkle working together to plan out how they could most efficiently move such a large group of ponies to Canterlot, and then beyond, in the safest possible manner. There were some forty knights in total, counting the additional staff like Cowlick and their ‘guests’ like Ross and Scarlet Sage… noncombatants who would need to be transported to Canterlot safely, and, even though Luna hadn’t yet hinted this to anyone, might well end up coming with them on the long journey to North Neigh, since she didn’t want to leave anypony stranded in the capitol, especially those who couldn’t defend themselves against overzealous sun-worshippers.

Luna had made sure to spend as much time as she could find with the young filly in particular, very interested in studying how the child was adapting and growing, and answering the questions she had about Blood Seers of the past, and what this strange, extremely-rare power meant for the young Pegasus… but there wasn’t yet much Luna could say, telling her tenderly that at the end of the day, the powers she developed depended heavily on her own personality, and how she planned to put them to use.

Scarlet Sage took her ability seriously… almost too seriously, considering the way that Luna would sometimes use her most-grim powers for mischief and entertainment more than anything else. But even though Luna did want Scarlet Sage to understand herself, to be comfortable with herself and her powers, she also cautioned that it was an ability even she couldn’t take lightly, considering the implications of being able to predict a pony’s future… or twist their destinies and lives with magic even darker than Luna’s most-wicked arts.

They had only worked once with Scarlet Sage’s abilities since their discovery, when Luna had taken blood from herself and Scrivener Blooms, mixed it in a bowl, and then quietly told Scarlet Sage to simply dip a hoof in it, and her natural instincts would do the rest. It had been a strange, tense ritual… but the moment the filly had touched the blood, her eyes had begun to glow red… and she had whispered another cryptic prediction, that a horse born of Helheim was waiting for them in the darkness, eager for revenge, driven by misery and torment.

It was obvious to the two who she was speaking of: Ignominious, who had been sent back to Helheim by Twilight Sparkle, but had apparently clawed his way once more out of Hell. Luna had been moody after this prediction, despite her own suspicions that he had something to do with the Black Baroque and the cult that housed within its dark halls… but now she was less anxious about whatever machinations the twisted demon was up to and more eager to pound him into the ground, almost looking forwards by this point to meet Ignominious on the battlefield and hopefully put an early halt to whatever plans he was trying to push forwards.

Scrivy smiled a bit despite himself as he felt Luna’s instincts, heard her thoughts in his mind… and he stretched slowly on the bedding, yawning a bit before murmuring softly over his shoulder up to her: “I’m very glad that we worked out, Luna, considering what happened to Ignominious. Or rather, what you want to do to him. Then again, I kind of want to beat the crud out of him myself, but… most of your reasons seem to be focused on what he did in the past over the other things he’s done to us, apart from how he was responsible for Trixie’s death.”

“Aye, perhaps. But fear not, Scrivener Blooms, selfish or not as many of my reasons are for wishing to kill the sick and twisted wretch, thou knows as well as I do he is a manipulator, and whilst I doubt he holds high presence in Ekleíp, I also doubt not they use him as a consultant of sorts. He was powerful when alive, Scrivy… and more powerful when dead, yet… all the same, still weak, spineless, and he shall be easily broken.” Luna muttered, shaking her head slowly before she quietly stroked a hoof along his spine, looking down at him softly. “Thou hast thine own worries upon thy mind, though… share them with me, and not just in mind. To give voice to thy fears often steals away their power.”

“True enough, Luna, but they’re more anxieties than they are fears.” Scrivener murmured, looking ahead and grimacing a little bit, before he smiled over his shoulder at her, saying quietly: “Why don’t we go for a little stroll around Ponyville? Everypony here is still asleep and… we could maybe both use some air.”

The winged unicorn looked down at him thoughtfully for a few moments, then she smiled and nodded, murmuring: “Yes, ‘tis true. Let us enjoy a brisk walk, then, and find a comfortable place where we may lower the moon together, my daydreamer. It will be nice to… enjoy the sights of Ponyville at peace, one last time before we must prepare and leave.”

She quieted, then shook her head and strode towards the door as Scrivy hauled himself up to his hooves, shaking his mane briskly out before he smiled a bit and adjusted his glasses on his muzzle. Luna glanced over her shoulder at him as the door swung open, giving him a soft smile before the two strode out in front of the library… and both paused for a moment, looking down at the dust and stone, surveying the square where so short a time ago they had first met Sol Seraph.

But now she would never threaten Ponyville again, her soldiers had been driven off, the minotaurs now guarded their village and her security devices were being disassembled or modified to better protect the citizenry… and Luna smiled a little, glancing over at Scrivy and nodding slowly, saying softly: “Aye, there are blessings even with the evil she wrought. But after everything she did to us, to her daughter… everything poor Fluttershy was forced to endure… ‘tis part of why I have placed her in the caravan instead of the vanguard.”

Scrivener nodded back at this: when Luna and Twilight Sparkle had organized the groups, they had divided them up into a smaller unit that would serve as the head of the Starlit Knights, made up of Luna, Scrivener Blooms, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Cowlick. They would stay a wide distance afield, scouting, ensuring there was no danger, and intercepting or drawing out any possible ambush forces. The rest of the Starlit Knights would be moving in one enormous group that would move slower and lug the bulk of their supplies, but would have the advantage of both numbers and equipment, and both groups would be armed with emergency flares in the event of a major attack.

Luna’s main concern was Nibelung raiders: whether they were battle-hardened veterans who fought eagerly alongside the surviving Velites in uneasy alliances, lackeys for the Ekleíp sent out from the Black Baroque, or idiot dwarves who had wandered up from the dark tunnels beneath Equestria more interested in making mischief and stealing shiny objects from ponies than in actual war, the Nibelung could move in the day or night, employ a wide array of weaponry, and work together to one point or another, making them threats on multiple levels.

And while the weaker Nibelung would be easily scared off, the bloodthirsty warriors and the vicious hunters that worked alongside the Velites would ruthlessly, fearlessly attack them, no matter what the cost. Even if they had already destroyed one war band that had attempted to attack Ponyville under manipulations from Sol Seraph, the dwarves spread fast and more and more were constantly crawling up out of the tunnels and being summoned through the Black Baroque, likely to do the bidding of both the Ekleíp and any other nefarious forces with a smidgen of knowledge of the things that laid forgotten beneath the once-peaceful land of Equestria.

Luna shook her head with a sigh, and then she looked up and said meditatively: “All the same, though, I expect much of both our groups… and perhaps sister will not renege on her promise and will be providing us with support of some kind, which I admittedly will be all too glad to have. These are dangerous times… and although we move with a strong group of ponies I would trust with my life, and whilst I would truly love if it were only thou, myself, and Twilight striding boldly forwards along this mission… we will require ponies in number for that which lay ahead.”

Scrivy nodded back, smiling a little and saying quietly: “We can’t protect an entire village all by ourselves, or lug supplies as well as battle terrible evils all at once, huh? Well, maybe you can, Luna, but I sure can’t. I can’t even fly.”

“I can make thee fly, though, and in many different ways.” Luna replied with a wink, and Scrivy rolled his eyes as they paced side-by-side down the road beneath the ivory moonlight, smiling and gazing back and forth over the silent, dark homes, runes that they had etched and painted long ago visible here and there upon the wooden structures, ancient symbols of protection to keep the ponies inside safe from the grips of evil spirits. “Look at this place, Scrivener Blooms… even now, ‘tis… utopian. Even now, the sense of peace… the sense of quiet majesty that even Canterlot lacks, aye… the sense of… belonging, welcoming, being home. It softens the pain of having to abandon our home as we did, my love… and it strengthens my resolve to end this tide of darkness before it can overwhelm Equestria in full force.”

Luna fell quiet for a moment as they strode past Sugar Cube Corners, both gazing at the single dim light in what was Pinkie Pie’s window, studying it for a few moments before Luna looked upwards and murmured quietly: “And… no. Thou knows that I lie, does thou not?”

She fell quiet again, only looking upwards, gazing at the constellations and stars as the moon shimmered silently in the air and black clouds rolled slowly by… and Scrivener quietly leaned against her, wrapping a foreleg around her as she shook her head and smiled faintly to herself. “Yes. I do not want it to end… too soon, too abruptly. And I do not want the darkness to recede in total… for I feel kinship with it, even as I fight against it, even as I know this surge of evil… is wrong, and bodes ill. Yet we can make the embrace of darkness… soothing, better, can we not? We can use it for a purpose, strengthen Equestria and ourselves and… selfishly, I wish… I wish for the old days. I wish to have purpose again, as an adventurer, an outlander, Luna Lightblade the warrior instead of Luna, Princess of the Night. Even being Nightmare Moon the exile was better than that nonsense… but… then again, I spent that time with thee, and that has made so much difference.”

She fell quiet, looking down for a few moments at the ground before she glanced towards Scrivy, the male meeting her eyes as she asked quietly: “And what anxieties, perchance, prey upon thine own mind? For ‘tis an uneasy night… likely for all of us concerned. Today holds great possibilities, of both benign and malign chance… and the first chance the Starlit Knights will be given to prove themselves as well.”

“The night is over, the morning has begun… that’s why it’s so uneasy, Luna. In a little while, we’ll be lowering the moon… this is the tenseness that comes before any big adventure, as I’ve learned by now.” Scrivy smiled a little over at her, saying quietly: “Maybe the reason you feel so anxious isn’t just because we’re going to a place I loathe to rescue ponies who hate me. Maybe it’s because you’re in charge of protecting the lives of all these ponies… of being a leader.”

“Analyze me not, Scrivener Blooms, ‘tis unfair; thou art connected to me, after all, ‘tis like looking in a mirror and commenting on how handsome thou art.” Luna replied grouchily, glancing awkwardly away before she hurried suddenly onwards, and Scrivy smiled despite himself, shaking his head slowly as Luna mumbled: “But true, perhaps, ‘tis. I am not fond of… leading such a large group. Oh aye, ‘twas a pleasant surprise to discover how much I enjoy bossing thou around and teaching Twilight Sparkle, ‘twas never difficult to run all variety of training and exercise… but this, this is different. This is leadership. And as thou knows, beyond my fickle attitude there is little suited for a leader in me, ‘tis why Nightmare Moon always preferred to work alone.”

“Luna, you make a fine leader. You know the name of every pony working for you, as well as their rank, even a little bit about them… you have us organized to play to our strengths and protect our weaknesses, and they trust you and admire you.” Scrivener Blooms replied quietly, looking across at her softly as Luna mumbled a little under her breath. “Besides, we’ll still be out there on our own for the most part, won’t we? But we need supplies, we need to fight numbers with numbers, and we need to have enough of a presence to fortify North Neigh.”

Luna sighed loudly as she strode towards the gates, muttering under her breath and nodding a few times before they both glanced up towards a pair of minotaurs chatting calmly beside the closed gates, lit by the pallid glow of a lantern at their feet. They both glanced up as the two approached, and then smiled and nodded, one striding forwards to unlock the massive gates and then yank it open with a grunt as the other said calmly: “Yaga Baba. Is good to see you and husband four-hoof. Dwarf-pigs spy upon Ponyville, but we throw rock at them, scare them off, solve problem. They not warriors, only children that play at being warriors, looking for easily-taken toys.”

“My thanks then, for letting us know of their presence. Scrivener Blooms and I shall ensure they have not meddled at Sweet Apple Acres then, but thou may leave the gates open, for it shall be morning shortly.” Luna replied quietly, and the minotaurs both saluted sharply by smashing one fist against their brawny chests, making the winged unicorn smile slightly. “If only all ponies could prove half as loyal and skilled as thine kind are. But come, my husband, perhaps we shall work away our stresses for the night by battering some silly dwarves.”

Scrivy shook his head with a smile, then nodded to the minotaurs before he followed Luna out onto the dirt road beyond, the two striding quietly towards the path leading to Sweet Apple Acres before the winged unicorn gave a short, knowing look to the male… and he sighed, rolling his eyes and saying finally: “Okay, okay, enough. I’m nervous, I am, yes, but I don’t think you really need me to go over why. We might have always joked about visiting North Neigh but the idea of actually doing it terrifies me. Furthermore, I wonder if I’m really trying to prove I’m the better pony here or just so ingrained and so desperate for their approval I’m just-”

Luna reached out and punched him firmly in the shoulder with a hoof, making him wince and stagger to the side, and then she said mildly: “Be not an idiot, Scrivener Blooms. Thou art doing that thing where thou worries so much thou blows everything out of proportion and it spawns forth more worries. And furthermore, I would like to add that if this is what having parents is like, I am all too glad I do not remember ever being a foal, much less being under the hoof of parental figures. Perhaps ‘tis why Celestia is so damaged, she remembers those times lived… but then again, Celestia is Celestia, and some things, such as natural disasters, simply begin life with their only purpose to be as destructive and annoying as possible.”

“And once again, the conversation becomes all about Luna.” Scrivy remarked, then he ducked when she swung her horn at him with a grumble. “Still, though… I’d rather be talking about you than talking about me and my problems. Anyway, are we going to drop the moon?”

“Oh, thou worries too much.” Luna muttered, but she nodded all the same as they paused in the center of the road together, glancing at each other before she smiled a little and slipped sideways so their flanks pressed together as they sat down, her starlit mane flickering quietly around her body as she tilted her head back and smiled slightly. “One day, we really shall drop the moon. Preferably on Canterlot or thine bitter hometown.”

“You’re so sweet, Luna, it’s like being stabbed with candy canes.” Scrivy muttered, his own head tilted back, his eyes closed as Luna laughed and then shut her own, her horn beginning to thrum quietly with energy as they both smiled… and slowly, the glow over Luna’s horn intensified as they arched their backs in time, the moon shuddering quietly where it rested above the horizon… and then slowly, it lowered, even as it flickered strangely, even as both the equines frowned slightly as they both felt the odd pressure that seemed to push back against them.

But moments later, the moon had descended… and slowly, to their backs, the sun began to quietly rise, even as they sat like statues, barely breathing, sharing thoughts and emotions and feelings as Luna’s horn continued to glow and her starry mane swept to the side, tickling quietly along the male’s body before their eyes both opened… and they gazed to one another with a slow nod, as the winged unicorn murmured: “It is not impossible that other ponies can move sun and moon… but it requires more than simply magic and will. It requires finesse, focus… and something deeper that I never cared to learn. ‘Twas simply… a talent I possessed, that was always all. And Celestia, Sleipnir and I… we do not remember a time we did not possess our emblems. From birth, perhaps, they were upon us, but as I have already said…”

She fell quiet for a moment, then shook her head and smiled a bit, straightening and walking forwards, and Scrivy looked at her dumbly for a moment before he hurried to catch up, falling into pace again as she said softly: “Strange, the way ponies have decided that their emblems, their so-called ‘cutie marks’ – and what a term that is! – are what decide their destinies. Aye, ‘tis a metaphor for a pony’s special talent… but all talents must be nurtured to be of worth, and it is not like other skills are thus automatically thrown out of reach. In the past, we thought of them as omens from the gods, thought of them as divine blessing and a guide… and recognized that all skills could be applied in a different direction as well.”

She smiled a little, then glanced towards the entrance to the road leading into Sweet Apple Acres, the gates standing open. “It appears that at least our friends are awake, and likely unhindered. Nibelung brigands would be far too stupid to bother with opening a gate, and I am sure that the sight of the minotaurs on the property would curb many of their desires to attempt an attack.”

“Either that, or Rainbow Dash forgot to close the gates again last night.” Scrivy said placidly, and Luna grumbled a bit as they strode down the path, then glanced up curiously at the sound of frustrated arguing. “Speaking of which…”

They veered off towards the sound, striding through a field of harvested apple trees and towards the source of the argument, and found Rainbow Dash himself gesturing violently as Aleksandr only stood calmly, chewing slowly on an apple as he regarded the Pegasus with a meditative gaze. “-seriously! You guys can’t just… decide to do whatever you want, hasn’t AJ already talked to you about this, or even Big Mac?”

“Tree was rotting, so I cut down. Simple. Pretty young four-hoof approved.” Aleksandr replied mildly, and Rainbow’s jaw fell open before the minotaur glanced to the side and rose a hand to Luna and Scrivy as they approached. “Dobraye utro, Yaga Baba, and to you as well, face-marked four-hoof. Is good to have better company.”

He paused, then took a slow bite of his apple as his eyes turned pointedly back towards Rainbow, who was mouthing wordlessly… then finally gritted his teeth and pointed at him with a hoof, snapping: “Pretty young four-hoof! For one thing, stop calling us four-hooves, and for another you… stop… looking at stuff!”

“And jealousy doth rear its head.” Luna said informatively, leaning over towards Scrivener and nodding seriously, and Scrivy cleared his throat as he fought to keep a straight face when Rainbow shot them a curdling glare. “Oh, my apologies, Rainbow Dash, we meant not to intrude upon a private conversation. Yet all the same, permit me to offer a moment of advice. ‘Tis the morning of moving out, and ‘twould be far better for all concerned if thou wert not beaten and bludgeoned for the journey ahead. Thou art part of the vanguard after all… ‘twould make things much more difficult if thou had to be moved to the caravan to nurse thy wounds and instead we required another Pegasus to keep an eye out from above.”

“Hey, I would totally not lose in a fight to this… dumb… guy!” Rainbow said flatly, pointing grouchily at the minotaur, and Aleksandr only smiled indulgently before the male glared at him. “What, what are you laughing at? You got your butt handed to you by us little four-hooves!”

“Yes, but Aleksandr and his brother defeated themselves, flying four-hoof. We underestimated strength of four-hoofs, and strength of four-hoof’s kicks.” Aleksandr absently tapped his own temple, looking at Scrivener Blooms pointedly, and the male glanced awkwardly away. “But I am curious of this, Yaga Baba. I have heard of great campaign to take place, and wish to offer services of myself and other misfit brothers. Brother Ivan will stay here with other minotaur kindred to tend to farm, but my debt is better served on battlefield than on bumper crop.”

“You… you work for us! You can’t just… decide things, and besides, we’re pretty damn good already, thank you very much.” Rainbow grumbled, glowering moodily up at the minotaur as Aleksandr looked back down at him for a moment, and then both of them looked over at Luna, the Pegasus adding flatly: “Seriously, you can’t be considering this.”

Luna, however, looked thoughtfully back at the minotaur, asking curiously: “How many minotaurs wish to come with us upon this venture? And furthermore, what reasons can thou supply as to why I should permit it?”

“I and five others would help Yaga Baba. And I shall give you two.” The minotaur paused, half-tossing his mostly-eaten apple towards Rainbow Dash with barely a glance in his direction, and the Pegasus jumped backwards with a glare as Aleksandr rose a hand and wiggled his fingers. “I have these, four-hoofs do not. I also have very large hammer, which four-hoofs also do not have.”

The winged unicorn grinned slightly at this, nodding a few times and saying kindly: “Aleksandr, it seems that thou understands well the best way to reason with me. Very well then, I shall gladly accept thy offer of help.”

“Oh come on!” Rainbow threw his head back with a groan, then he glared at the minotaur and snapped: “I swear to the Horses of Heaven I will trample you if you put one hoof out of line, Aleksandr, and unless AJ is okay with this-”

“Prettier and much-nicer four-hoof has already agreed, we discuss this last night while lazy flying four-hoof napped in hiding spot in orchard three.” Aleksandr replied mildly, and Rainbow’s jaw dropped before the minotaur half-bowed to him politely. “Do not worry. Minotaurs will do brunt of hard work.”

“Hey, I could kick your butt any day of the week!” Rainbow threatened, but Aleksandr only smiled indulgently, which just made the Pegasus glower and stomp the grass before grumbling and turning around to storm moodily off with a loud mutter, Luna shaking her head with an amused smile as Scrivener Blooms sighed a little and then gave her a flat look.

She only shrugged, however, saying mildly: “’Tis merely tenseness for what is yet to come. Worry not, Aleksandr, he shall come around yet. Rainbow only wishes for the best for his friends and family… he will settle more once he realizes thou art honest in thy wish to protect and aid us.”

Aleksandr nodded, then he saluted and bowed his head, saying calmly: “And Aleksandr understands this better than flying four-hoof knows, after tyranny of volk. But if Yaga Baba will excuse me, I shall gather my brothers for the journey and wait in front of the giant tree in Ponyville. Good luck to you both.”

And with that, the minotaur turned and strode calmly through the orchard, the two ponies smiling after him before they glanced at each other, and Luna shrugged a bit before she said quietly: “Well, as we are in the vicinity now, let us find Big Mac or Applejack and attend to the matter of the caravan. Most of it should be here already, if not all… and that which is not here should be with Cowlick and Rarity.”

Scrivener fell into step with the winged unicorn as she rolled her shoulders, becoming a little more serious now as she looked up in thought, frowning a little to herself as the male caught the odd memory whispering through their linked minds or an estimate or two… but despite how much Luna was trying to focus, he could also sense that most of her anxieties were based around Canterlot, most of her questions centered around the late afternoon, when they would arrive and Celestia would finally reveal whatever it was she had in mind.

They found Big Mac and Applejack in front of the barn, loading up the carriages they had already hauled out of the confines of the structure. The two greeted them warmly, and Applejack had listed out the few items they were missing, but said they were expecting Cowlick and Rarity to arrive with the last of the supplies shortly. Then they would join the others at the assembly point for the Starlit Knights: the square in front of the library, the place where they could say their last goodbyes to Ponyville and its citizens.

Luna only stayed to chat for a few minutes, ensuring that Applejack was alright with Aleksandr coming with them and reassured by the positive response of the earth pony. She felt confident enough leaving Ivan in charge of taking care of the farm, with how well the two minotaurs had been doing so far… and it wasn’t like there was much to do now, anyway. They had finished most of the harvesting, and winter would be setting in shortly in earnest, and a large, burly minotaur was more than capable of handling the simple preparation for the coming cold.

Scrivener Blooms looked curiously at the winged unicorn as they strode back to Ponyville, how she fell deeper into thought as they walked down the road, barely seeming to heed even Cowlick and Rarity when they passed the two lugging a loaded cart. She managed a smile and a bit of a grunt, but that was all… and, as they drew through the gates, Luna murmured quietly: “I wish again, it was only us on this mission, Scrivy. I can take care of us… I don’t know if I can protect them all. I fear… I will fail them.”

“Luna… it’s their choice. You’ve prepared them as much as you could… but every one of them isn’t doing this because Celestia gave them some fancy rank, or even just because they want to adventure beside you… they are doing this to protect Equestria, to protect Ponyville, to protect their home and their friends.” Scrivener paused, then he smiled a little, nudging her quietly as they strode side-by-side through the dusty streets, ponies watching the two pass with respectful, and even adoring eyes. “Stop being so damn selfish.”

Luna halted at this, Scrivy continuing onwards for a few paces before he glanced over his shoulder at her curiously… and then she smiled warmly back at him, nodding firmly and saying quietly: “Thou art right. I have been selfish. I am being selfish. Once more, I think of how this affects me, and want my adventure… forgetting that this is the burden of all, forgetting that everypony else has a right to this as much as I do, as much as I ever have. Yes, Scrivener Blooms, I must instead be thankful that we have the allies we do, and think of myself not as their leader… but remember once more I am but another pony amongst them, a guide, aye, but no ruler like Celestia.”

She paused, then threw her head back and laughed, striding easily forwards and falling into pace again beside Scrivy as he gave her an affectionate look. “I am fortunate I have thee always there to remind me of the things that sometimes slip my mind. Even if it means that sometimes thou forgets thy own proper place, too.”

She bumped firmly against him, and Scrivy laughed and shook his head as they made their way to the library… and neither were surprised to find Twilight already outside in the square, Starlit Knights already beginning to gather and ponies standing around the open area, watching the soldiers clad in glimmering studded vests layered with gemstones and others in heavier silvery armor assembling, many of them with crossbows and quivers of bolts over their backs.

Twilight glanced up as they approached, smiling warmly as she almost embarrassedly adjusted the black cloak covering her body, Luna looking curiously over the preparations that had already taken place: more than half the knights were gathered, and excitement and anxiety both lingered in the tense air. It made her wonder how many of them had even set hoof out of Ponyville, apart from day trips to Canterlot and other nearby places… and then she met Twilight’s gaze as the pony said quietly: “Everything seems to be going according to plan so far… I sent Rarity and Cowlick out earlier to finish loading up the freight wagons, and everypony I’ve spoken to up to this point knows what they’re supposed to be doing… speaking of which…”

The unicorn smiled slightly after a moment, then gestured to the side, and both Scrivener and Luna looked with surprise to see Zecora approaching, the zebra giving the two a thoughtful look as she said in her calm, confident tones: “It seems you two are well-prepared, to make a journey few would have dared. It gives me hope for the times ahead, assuming you don’t all end up dead.”

“Oh, wonderful, my friend, could thou not have simply wished us good luck? Already I worry for the cost of this endeavor.” Luna said flatly, but she was smiling all the same as Zecora chuckled in response to this, the winged unicorn’s eyes roving thoughtfully over the shaman. “I must admit surprise, however… I did not expect thou to come to see us off.”

Zecora smiled at this, however, her knowing, blue-emerald eyes glinting as she tilted her head, her charcoal and ivory Mohawk standing tall, the golden rings surrounding one foreleg glinting quietly as her large, bottom-heavy gold hoop earrings clinked quietly against the matching hoops around her neck. “We have worked together for a long time, and since self-imposed exile our friendship did shine. It would be rude for me to not have been here… and ruder still had I not made this clear; whether my home is close or near, we are in this fight together as peer. When shadows rise in one place on our earth, it is the duty of every person to lend forth their worth. For under the skies, all our planet is connected… the fall of one means the others are that much less protected.”

“Do you think these things up ahead of time or are you just that good?” Scrivener asked mildly, and Zecora laughed and shook her head as the male leaned to the side, adding meditatively as his eyes roved over the swirling mark on Zecora’s flank: “You sure that doesn’t mean you’re a poet?”

“It is not an emblem like yours, Scrivener Blooms, and you might be better at working with rhyme if all your poems weren’t about gloomy dooms.” the zebra replied with a wink, and Scrivy cleared his throat and mumbled something under his breath as Luna shook her head with a grin. Then the zebra half-turned and patted a small wooden box, saying kindly: “On a more important subject though, I have brought a gift should the journey’s tide turn low. Several vials of elixir from the land I call home, sent to you from afar along with a tome. Normally our secrets are kept within our own hidden realm, but for you we make glad exception as you stand bravely at the helm.

“There is no need for surprise, Luna of the Night… did I not just say that we must all stand together against this blight?” Zecora gazed over at them kindly, her eyes filled with wisdom and age much greater than her dark-striped, attractive features would suggest. “I am always ready to give you aid should it ever be required, as there is much about you that can be admired. I am glad the ponies have such a strong and willful defender, for I can think of no other who would battle this foe without surrender.”

“I only do what must be done, Zecora, that is all… and I cannot express my gratitude to thee for this generous gift, and this trust of knowledge.” Luna said quietly, bowing her head for a moment, and then she looked up as the zebra bowed back respectfully. “But pray tell… if these elixirs are made from thine homeland, will the ingredients be possible to find in Equestria? We travel to the cold north… and as Scrivener Blooms has told me, ‘twill already be cold and barren there, and possibly rife with snow.”

Zecora looked down thoughtfully for a moment, and then she gazed back up with a smile, replying gently: “Luna, you are resourceful and powerful too… so if you can’t find the ingredients, why not make them come to you?”

The winged unicorn looked thoughtfully at the zebra for a few moments, then she smiled slightly in return, saying quietly: “Perhaps I shall pursue this method of action, then… and again, Zecora… thou hast my thanks. I know not how I can repay thee… but I can at least promise that I shall let nothing stop me from forcing back this tide of shadows that threatens Equestria… that threatens Ponyville.”

“And I believe that you intend to, for the sake of family and friends… but remember that sometimes salvation can come only when the world ends.” the zebra said quietly and pointedly, and Luna’s eyes sharpened immediately, the two locking gazes before Zecora closed her irises and bowed deeply. “Please excuse me now, and later for this abrupt departure I shall make amends.”

With that, the zebra turned and strode calmly away, and Luna watched her leave, a chill running down her spine at the zebra’s wording as Twilight frowned a bit… but Scrivener only shook his head slowly, quickly asking: “So did you know Zecora was stopping by?”

“What? Oh, no, no.” Twilight seemed to understand that it would be better not to discuss what had just happened as Luna slowly began to relax, the unicorn instead approaching the wooden box and pushing the top open with an awkward smile: it swung easily up on a hinge, and a moment later, a bottle filled with clear liquid floated upwards, glowing a faint purple as Twilight’s horn shimmered. “Oh, I know what this is… Zecora only had one vial of it the last time I checked, however, and she said it was very rare, very difficult to make. Uh… what did she call it…”

Scrivener, however, tilted his head with surprise… and Luna glanced at him before she said mildly: “And again, Scrivy, thy strange knowledge of the occult once more comes into play and proves me surprised at the fact thou art so good at separating fairy tale from faerie reality. ‘Tis a vial of Heaven’s Blessing, Twilight Sparkle, it could be many things, but the way its glow overpowers the aura of thine horn, the way it bubbles even whilst trapped in a crystalline vial, and the clarity, clearer than water or diamonds or perhaps even the sky above, aye. Made beneath the moonlight, with rare, kept-secret ingredients… ‘twill save even the weakest, frailest foal from the clutches of certain death, and reinvigorate the most exhausted, broken spirit.”

Twilight looked surprised at this, glancing at the vial as she drew it in closer, and Luna smiled slightly, saying quietly: “Celestia, Sleipnir and I… travelled in more than just Equestria, in the old days. We roamed near and far, and even if Equestria was… our home, where our hooves always led us back to, the place we wished to save and free… as Zecora spoke, all is connected upon this planet. We sometimes roamed far afield from home to gather what we needed, to gain knowledge and wisdom, to hunt down artifacts that would help us embattle the forces of darkness that sought to create such horrors in this broad and beautiful land of ours.”

She stopped, then strode forwards as Twilight carefully slipped the vial back, Luna reaching down into the crate and smiling as she pulled out a worn tome bound in hide, a spiraling design of runic symbols over the front of the tome. “Heaven’s Blessing was the name Sleipnir gave to this potion we discovered across the ocean. The shamans of the kingdom called it Yemaya’s Tears… they parted with but one vial for each of us after we visited the temple city in which they lived, giving no reason, giving but one bow, and then we went upon our way.”

Luna paused thoughtfully, glancing over at Scrivener Blooms, but he only shrugged a bit, saying quietly: “I knew what it was because there’s all kinds of accounts of it… a lot of unicorn mages wrote about how a potion like this couldn’t really exist, a lot of critics claimed it was used as a deus ex machina to keep the old stories going. Surprised you don’t know about it, Twilight.”

“Well, thanks, Scrivy, but as you probably recall whenever I caught you in the library actually reading something back in Canterlot, I’d always make fun of you for ‘wasting’ all your time on what I thought were just… silly, make-believe stories.” Twilight stopped, looking awkwardly down and blushing a bit. “I was much more interested in textbooks back then and… well… I wish I’d taken a little more time to do some… supplemental reading.”

“Nerd.” Scrivener said half-teasingly, half-kindly, and Twilight sighed and rolled her eyes before blinking when Luna thrusted the book towards her, staggering back a bit before apprehensively grasping it with telekinesis as her horn glowed. “Hopefully you can put those skills you invested so much time in to good use now, though.”

“Wait, really, Zecora gave this to you… should I be reading it?” Twilight asked nervously, frowning a bit as she leaned forwards even as the book floated beside her almost tantalizingly. “I mean, I don’t want to betray her trust or-”

“Oh come now, as if Zecora is foolish enough to give a book of knowledge to a creature such as myself without suspecting me to share it with those closest.” Luna rolled her eyes, shaking her head with a slight smile. “Nay, ‘tis fine and well, and thou art worrying more than thou should. Come, though, thy friends approach… and it looks as if already we are well-prepared, ahead of the expected schedule.”

Twilight nodded quickly, hurriedly slipping the book back down into the small wooden box before shoving it closed as she glanced up… then she smiled a little, her eyes softening as she looked over the group of ponies that took up their places in front of her. Newer faces, like Cowlick and Scarlet Sage, the mare dressed in thick chain mesh and composite fabric that clung to her body, a holstered carbine rifle on her back and a black bandana tied around her head, letting her messy mane spill freely around it. The filly, meanwhile, had only a lightweight vest over her body and a scarf around her neck… but the other ponies would do anything to keep the filly safe, and she would be travelling in the comfort and safety of the supply wagons.

And older faces… Rainbow Dash, grinning in gleaming armor that was blue-silver and edged in gold, his strong frame protected by lightweight plates of slightly-curved steel that would still allow him to move freely. His lower body and upper limbs were shielded by sapphire-colored chain mesh and banded, thick strips of metal, and his wings flapped eagerly, almost with enough strength to lift him into the air. “Finally, we’re getting some action!”

“Hold on now, sugar-cube, don’t go getting us in trouble before we even leave.” Applejack cautioned, but the earth pony was smiling despite herself, braided hair neatly pulled back beneath her well-worn cowboy hat and a thick vest over her body that glinted with metallic-painted gemstones. Rarity had made the vests, but Cowlick had mixed and applied a composite coating over them, hardening the lightweight armor further, taking away some of the brittleness of the minerals. “I gotta say though… I got this weird excitement in me. I’m scared and anxious, but all the same… I’m excited for this journey.”

“Yup.” Big Mac agreed quietly: while the other ponies were dressed similarly to Applejack, Big Mac was in heavier armor than even Rainbow Dash, his strong, enormous frame easily supporting the solid weight of the full plate mail protecting him from head-to-hoof. Interlocked plates gleamed over his body, a small, circular shield buckled to one forearm as he bowed his head respectfully to Luna, and she smiled and nodded courteously back.

“Thou reminds me of my long-passed brother in body… perhaps a little in wisdom, too, but thou lacks the sense of mischief. But before Scrivener Blooms suspects me of flirting too much with thee…” Luna grinned slightly, flicking her eyes towards her husband, but he only shook his head with an amused look to her before the winged unicorn became more serious, saying quietly: “Art thou all ready for what is to come?”

“Yes.” Surprisingly, it was Fluttershy who spoke up first from where she sat beside Scarlet Sage: her wounds were still healing, but she stood prouder, with more confidence than before, carrying saddlebags marked with medical symbols and dressed in a vest that had been cut so her still-bandaged, still-pained wings could move freely. “I… feel ready. I know why I’m here… I know we can’t turn back now. And I won’t. For my father, and for my friends: you all helped me, saved me… now it’s time for me to do my part, too.”

She quietly rested a hoof on Scarlet Sage’s shoulder, and the young filly blushed a bit, looking up with a radiant smile… and on her other side, Pinkie Pie laughed a little before glancing almost embarrassedly up at Luna. “Pinkamena… is eager. For the fight, mostly, but I know it’s more than that, too. It’s… fighting, with a reason, beside people we care about.”

Pinkie quieted, rubbing at her vest-covered chest and nodding slowly before she glanced embarrassedly up. “I’m ready too. I just focus on… getting through this, and helping you guys for the way you’ve all helped me… and then we can have a party, a big celebration, and everything will be okay again. This will be hard, and I know bad things will happen, but… we can still make the best of this. We still have hope, for the future. They can’t steal that from us, no matter what happens.”

Rarity nodded, the unicorn adding softly: “I never thought I’d end up here… I always thought I would be watching my fashions on the walk, not… watching them go into service on the battlefield. The cares and woes of the fashion world suddenly seem so far away now… now, if something rips, it can lead to death, not just being scolded or fired or worst of all, having everypony think you meant to do that on purpose so now it’s suddenly the hot new trend. Now I’m designing to stop ponies from being hurt, to save lives… it makes me a world more anxious, and at the same time… makes me so much prouder.”

She halted, blushing a bit as she rubbed a hoof at the studded vest covering her chest, the silver-painted gemstones glinting dully. “Imagine the shock on the faces of the fashion critics of Canterlot if they saw me now. I am all too sure their reactions would vary from utterly absurd to taking it as a personal insult that such atrocious-looking armor should exist. And yet, if it does its job, lives will be saved… and that makes me smile.”

Rarity glanced up and nodded a bit firmer, and Luna looked slowly again over the assembled ponies before she looked over her shoulder curiously as Twilight nudged her… and the winged unicorn stepped carefully aside at a look from the violet pony, sitting beside Scrivener Blooms as the unicorn called: “Spike!”

A moment later, the library door opened and Spike hurried out, wearing his own modified, lightweight steel vest and carrying a large wooden box in his arms. He set this down with a wheeze, then stood quickly back as Twilight stepped forwards and glanced down at the oaken trunk, seeming to hesitate before she finally murmured: “I had a big speech planned… but this… doesn’t really need a big speech. But we need all the help we can get.”

Twilight Sparkle flicked her horn as she stepped backwards, and the trunk clacked several times before it opened with a rumble… and the unicorn’s eyes closed as her horn glowed, lifting the contents of the trunk without looking, making Luna’s breath catch in her throat as she and the others stared at what was revealed.

Six golden necklaces floated silently upwards, each with a symbol in a different-colored gemstone that matched the emblem upon the flanks of six of the ponies present, resting on solid metal backing. An orange apple, a scarlet lightning bolt, a blue balloon, a mauve diamond, a pink butterfly, and a violet starburst… the six Elements of Harmony, once corrupted and shattered, but now visibly restored, as they floated silently forwards and locked onto the necks of Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy.

Last, Twilight examined hers in silence for a moment… then leaned back a bit so the necklace could twist around and lock into place around her throat before she glanced up awkwardly as Luna asked with surprise: “But how did thou manage to restore those objects? They were destroyed, were they not?”

“True, but with what remained and some new materials, I was able to slowly but surely piece them back together. They’re… they’re not the answer to everything.” Twilight halted, glancing now towards her awestruck friends, getting their attention as they all looked up at this with surprise. “They’re conductors… they react in the presence of each other, powered by certain… emotions, triggers. Since I started researching them, I’ve wondered more and more if we really embody… what they need to power them, or if it’s because we six together, are linked, are friends… are able to generate those feelings, that… necessary power between ourselves. But… all the same, we can use them. All the same, they’ll help shield us from the darkness ahead, and I believe we can learn to use them. We haven’t used them for… for a long time now, but I believe… they can help us.”

She quieted, then blushed a little, glancing embarrassedly towards Luna and adding: “And… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, or ask you for help, but… I was worried about bringing the subject up. I know you lost a lot just trying to get the Elements of Harmony in the first place, and I know that… after what happened with Celestia, they weren’t attached to… to any kind of good thoughts. I wasn’t even entirely sure I could put them back together, it took months of work and… I… I could never quite work up the nerve to bring it up.”

She blushed a bit, glancing awkwardly down… but Luna only shook her head slowly and smiled a little, saying quietly: “’Tis all well and fine, Twilight Sparkle… I understand. It is only as I said before… thou has secrets, and I shall only think of this as uncovering another one of them… and if anything, I admit that I am glad we have these once more in our hooves, and that thy friends may benefit from their protection. But unless I am mistaken… thou has modified the Element of Magic, has thou not? ‘Twas once a tiara…”

“It was, but… I like it more like this.” Twilight said quietly, glancing down and reaching a hoof up to quietly touch the purple star, blushing a little… but Luna only nodded firmly, then gestured towards the unicorn, and she laughed a little before stepping forwards, gazing with renewed confidence over her friends. “Now that we’ve taken care of that… Cowlick, I need you to do a last-minute equipment check on everyone. Fluttershy, Rarity, can you help her?”

The three nodded firmly, excusing themselves from the line before Twilight’s eyes roved to Rainbow Dash, ordering quietly: “Do a flight around the walls of Ponyville. Slow, not fast… take your time, make sure there’s no one waiting for us to leave. Big Mac, Applejack, get everypony to fall into line, we don’t want to look bad in front of Luna, do we?”

“No ma’am.” Applejack smiled slightly, then she tipped her hat towards Luna before turning with her brother, the two heading towards the gathered ponies as the female shouted: “Alright, come on, find your places, break time’s over!”

“Don’t start without me, okay?” Rainbow Dash winked to Twilight, then he leapt into the air, his wings flapping powerfully and propelling him easily higher, moving with comfort and grace despite the armor clinging to his frame… but then again, Luna had designed the medium armor to be as lightweight as possible, and further enchanted it so that it would be far from heavy on the strong frame of the male.

That left Pinkie Pie and Scarlet Sage, but she only smiled and reached out to pat the filly on the head lightly, saying kindly: “I better go find my place in line too. You be good though, okay?”

Scarlet Sage blushed and smiled back, nodding a little, and Pinkie lingered only a moment longer before turning and heading to find her place amidst the ranks of ponies that were quickly shuffling themselves into proper line and position. For a moment or two, Scarlet Sage watched her go… and then she laughed a bit and glanced down, turning around and asking quietly: “What about me? What do I do?”

“Thou shall stay with us for the moment.” Luna replied softly, gazing down at her affectionately before she leaned down and murmured: “Thou has a great role to play in the times ahead, young one… and I am only sorry that I could not shield thee from this better. Thou hast already suffered much for a filly so young, and now thou has a life ahead that will undoubtedly be difficult and challenging, and at times, painful… but I believe wholeheartedly that thou art also destined for greatness, and know that I and Scrivener Blooms and all thy other family here… we shall be beside thee, until the very end. And that is a promise I shall not break.”

Scarlet Sage nodded slowly, gazing up at her trustingly, adoringly, and then she smiled a little and murmured: “It’s funny, you know? Apple Bloom was saying how… jealous she was. I get to go on a big adventure, and so do her brother and sister… but she has to stay with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle’s worried but Scoot is pretty excited and wants to hear about everything when I get back… and I am scared. I am really scared… but I guess I’m kind of eager, too, all the same. It’s not that I want to sound like I don’t understand how big and serious this is, because I think I do… but… I want to learn more about these powers. I want to meet Princess Celestia, even if you make fun of her all the time. I think there’s a lot to look forwards to, at least at first.”

Luna smiled softly, reaching forwards and stroking a hoof through the filly’s mane as she said quietly: “And there is not a thing in the world wrong with that. It is good thou can be positive, and look towards adventure with bright eyes… and aye, for this first part of our trip, I fear only what will come at Canterlot… and mostly what I fear is Celestia’s meddling. Scrivener Blooms and I must don our armor and make the last of preparations now, however… will thou be alright waiting outside?”

“Can I go and say goodbye to Apple Bloom and the others? I’ll come right back.” Scarlet Sage looked up quietly, and Luna traded an entertained look with Scrivy, even as Twilight bit her lip at the thought of something not going according to plan. “I’ll be real quick!”

“Go ahead, Scarlet Sage, and take your time.” Scrivener said kindly, and the filly smiled warmly at them, nodding firmly before she turned around and dashed off, and the earth pony laughed quietly and shook his head, giving the unicorn an amused look as he headed towards the library door. “Can’t plan everything, Twilight. Besides, would you really say no to that little filly just to keep things on schedule?”

Twilight fidgeted and mumbled to herself, and Luna snorted in amusement as she followed the male inside before looking over her shoulder curiously as the unicorn hurried in after them, half-arguing plaintively: “Well, I just am trying to keep things in order, and… I mean, it’s not like she hasn’t already had plenty of time, or they weren’t going to be around for the sendoff or-”

“Twilight, thou hast greater control issues than mine own.” Luna said mildly, and she looked curiously to the side to see Spike hurriedly stacking books into a saddlebag, the winged unicorn walking slowly over to peer down at the dragon and making him wince and lean back a bit before she stuck her head into the saddlebag even as Twilight blushed. “I see thou art bringing books for every occasion. I shall not allow this, student, thou relies too heavily upon the biased research and opinion of others.”

“Luna…” Twilight began, and the winged unicorn pulled her head out of the bag and glared at her, making her flinch a little and hold up her hooves. “We have room, don’t we? And it’s just… a little light reading…”

“Aye, but who knows what may happen along the path? I order thee to go without a book for the trip to Canterlot.” She paused, then jerked her head towards Scrivener Blooms as the male began to slip his armor over his body, Luna adding mildly: “Furthermore, forget not that Scrivy was a published author as well. Thou needs to learn to sip more carefully from the wellspring of wisdom, for ‘tis not all a bounty of knowledge that comes from books. Writers are liars. Horrible, awful, foul liars.”

“I’m right here.” Scrivener remarked dryly, waving a hoof at her, and Luna only gave him a saccharine smile before she looked moodily back at Twilight, who mumbled a little but nodded and then sighed, waving a hoof at Spike.

The dragon wheezed with relief at this, hopping to his feet and rubbing a hand over the lightweight armor covering his body. “Good, because she was going to make me carry all that stuff. I… oh, right, look at this!”

Spike reached down and then grinned as he drew a short, sharp sword from the sheath at his side, the simple gladius glinting as he swung the short blade back and forth, steel blade polished and worn iron hilt comfortable in his hand as Luna winced and tilted her head to the side to avoid being accidentally smacked by the blade. “Rarity found it for me from the old armory, and Cowlick touched it up… they got a shield for me, too, but Cowlick said she was going to give it to me later. It’s funny, I guess all that work with quills and stuff has let me get really good with my claws.”

He absently swung the sword again… then winced when Luna stepped forwards and parried the blade with her horn, almost knocking it out of the dragon’s hand before she shot him a flat look and said dryly: “Although perhaps not as good as thou thinks thou art, at least not yet. But thou may head outside and join rank then, Spike.”

“Thanks, I… will do that.” Spike said embarrassedly, quickly stepping backwards and half-saluting… and then, the moment Luna turned her back, he spun the sword once at his side before sheathing it with a flourish, and hurried quickly towards the door as Twilight shook her head with a smile and Scrivener gave the winged unicorn an amused look, but she only huffed in return before clicking her tongue loudly.

A moment later, there was a rustling above… and then Sammy skittered his way up along the railing of the second floor and into sight, looking down at them curiously as Luna called: “’Tis time to go, little friend! And Scrivener Blooms, stop fiddling with thy accursed armor.”

“Oh, put your own armor on, then harass me.” Scrivy retorted, grumbling a little as he fumbled at a belt that had gotten stuck… then he winced a bit when his armor glowed blue before clacking loudly as it locked snugly into place, the last of the gear firmly snapping onto his body and fitting itself against him as he cleared his throat and awkwardly adjusted his glasses. “I mean, thank you.”

“Thou art welcome.” Luna said kindly, flicking her horn to the side as it glowed brighter for a moment, her own armor bursting up from the floor in a whirl to rapidly assemble itself over her body, clinging tight to her frame as she grinned slightly and arched her back after a moment with a sigh as it clung to her like a second skin, dragon-scale leather and lightweight metal plating gleaming over her frame. “’Tis most relaxing in a way. But tell me, Twilight, is that truly all thou plans to wear?”

Twilight glanced awkwardly down at her cloak, then she smiled a little and half-brushed it open, revealing a thick black leather vest that covered her upper body. “All lightweight, but… it’ll be enough. I know it’s important for me to stay light on my hooves… I’m not as strong as you or Scrivy, and I don’t know how to focus my magic to boost my natural abilities, like Celestia does. This is good for now.”

Luna finally nodded as Sammy ran down the steps and over the floor to Scrivy, leaping up onto his shoulder and settling himself onto his back, and for a moment, the three ponies regarded each other before Twilight smiled a bit, saying quietly: “Listen. I know we’ve all come a long way together. I know times ahead will be strange. But I want you both to remember that… I’m here to help you, as much as you’ve helped me. You’ve helped me explore other facets of myself, to grow stronger, to understand friendship, affection, and… so much else, better. We’ve talked about it before but… for once, let me help you two. The whole reason the Starlit Knights exist is to help you two… don’t try and carry all this weight alone.”

“Thou does not have to keep reminding us as if we are silly foals.” Luna and Scrivy glanced at each other with amusement… and then both looked towards the unicorn with surprise as she leaned in and kissed the cheek of one, then the other, stepping back after a moment with a blush and looking almost imploringly at the two… and Luna sighed but smiled, her eyes tender. “Alright, alright. Thy point is made, Twilight Sparkle, fear not. Now stop being so motherly, ‘tis creepy and we do not enjoy it.”

“I can’t tell if you’re lapsing back into Canterlot speech, talking about you and… well, you, or just talking about you and Scrivy. Who probably does enjoy it.” Twilight replied flatly, and Scrivener huffed at her before Luna began to open her mouth, and Twilight winced and held up a hoof. “No, no, forget it, forget I said anything. We need to go, anyway. They’re probably waiting for us.”

Luna became more serious at this, straightening as flicked her head to the side, her starry locks twisting around her for a moment before smoothing back as her helm rose from the floor to slide quietly into place over her head, horn gleaming as it slipped through the supporting cradle at the top… and then she nodded slowly, murmuring quietly: “Then I shall speak to the troops, even if it was always Celestia or Sleipnir who did so.”

“You always make it sound like you were the one hiding in the background, Luna… but without you, Celestia and Sleipnir would have been incomplete. And, whether you realize it or not, all those years you spent with them trained you as a leader… now come on.” Scrivener walked towards her, firmly pushing Luna towards the door as she winced and her hooves skittered a little against the floor, Twilight staring as the male firmly bulled the winged unicorn forwards and forced her to wince and tilt her horn forwards, the door flying open a moment before she was shoved forcefully through it by the grinning earth pony. “Like you always say. Sometimes it just takes a push.”

Luna glared over her shoulder at him for a moment… then she slowly faced ahead as a hush fell over the gathered ponies, swallowing as her eyes drew over the crowd before her. The Starlit Knights were arranged in four lines of ten in the square, and other ponies were gathered all around for the sendoff, with Ross and Scarlet Sage to one side. For a moment, she almost felt herself freezing up… but then she felt Twilight on one side, and Scrivener on the other, and instead she closed her eyes, taking a breath, feeling the words rising up from somewhere deep inside before her cyan irises opened and she said calmly, in a clear, ringing voice that carried easily through the square: “Citizens of Ponyville… of Equestria. Today marks a momentous occasion, and one all thou should be proud of. Today marks the first day of the first march of the Starlit Knights, brave soldiers made braver still by the fact that each and every one of you has started as something else. As normal ponies, who grew up in prosperous land… but through training, dedication, and perseverance, now thou all stand as something else. Not yet warriors, nay, but defenders. Protectors, and perhaps in this there is more honor than becoming what the bloody Nibelung become after so many battles, perhaps this is more dignity and courage in retaining thy love of peace and still marching into the fight than discarding it and becoming only war machines that forget their purpose.

“All of thee, I am proud to have by my side now. And in thy ranks, all are equals: earth pony, Pegasus, unicorn, thou all have a role to play, and I have faith thou shalt all play it well. Our first test, our first march, shall take us to Canterlot, to earn the blessing of Princess Celestia herself, to walk boldly despite being led by an exile, despite the taint-by-association all thou are given in rumor because of me… but we shall not fear. We shall not stumble, and we shall never forget our purpose. Our purpose is to save Equestria. Our purpose is to save Ponyville. And no matter what, whether we are stung by the arrows of our enemies or the curses of our kindred, we shall not give in, we shall never surrender, we shall not stop. Today is our first march, and it will not be our last, my friends, my family… but know that these first steps of thy hooves will take us all on a path towards the liberation of Equestria from the darkness that surges forth over it, towards a future of peace and prosperity, for our families, our loved ones, our foals!”

Luna straightened, confident and imperious, eyes blazing as she shouted: “We are the Starlit Knights, and we shall pierce the shadows, reveal the evils, and trample them beneath our hooves! And soon, my allies, my friends, my family, we shall bring peace and glory back to both day and night, and ensure that we do not simply drive the shadows back down to their caves… but send the demons weeping back to Helheim with such terror of what awaits them upon the surface that they will never again threaten our land! Hail, Equestria! Hail, to thee, and everypony in our nation and home!”

The Starlit Knights cheered, stomping their hooves, roaring their agreement as Luna sat back a bit, looking surprised at herself even as she grinned slightly… and then she gave Scrivy an amused look as he gazed over at her warmly. “See. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Luna replied by raising a hoof and firmly smacking his helmeted head, making him wince back a bit as Twilight Sparkle laughed, then the winged unicorn gazed forwards again towards the cheering crowd, straightening slightly and saying softly: “But it is wonderful to see them… cheer for themselves, whether they understand it or not. Now come… the march begins. There is much to do and no more time to waste… Canterlot, Celestia, and North Neigh beyond all await.”

And the three faced forwards towards the Starlit Knights, as ponies stomped their hooves and cheered even as the soldiers began to drop line-by-line into bows to the winged unicorn, awaiting her command as she looked over them with pride, confidence, and bittersweet joy burning in a whirlwind in her deep, dark eyes.