• 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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Lessons New And Old

Chapter Five: Lessons New And Old

Luna curled quietly up with Scrivener Blooms on the bedding in the den, Sammy snoozing nearby on a pillow, the blue flames in his sockets low. In front of them was the book that Scrivener had borrowed from Twilight, all about the art of strategy and problem solving: he had spent a good few hours quietly reading to Luna, and she was calmer now than she had been most of the day, smiling a little as she rested against him, her black pearl glinting softly as she kissed gently against the side of the male’s neck.

Scrivener gazed at her with soft affection for a moment, and then he quietly closed the book before Luna opened her eyes, gazing at him warmly and saying quietly: “What, art thou tired of me or tired of the book, Scrivener Blooms? Steady thy mind and read more, I enjoy this.”

“I will, Luna, in a little while. Let me rest my poor throat.” Scrivy replied with a bit of a smile, and then he shook his head slowly. “We only stopped long enough to raise the moon outside, and that was a few hours ago. Besides, I thought you were all worried and stuff.”

“Worries come and go, ‘tis the natural order. My spirits are much better now, and I feel no need to dampen my cheeks with tears over problems that are sadly beyond my means of control.” Luna grumbled a little, then she stretched slowly, arching her back and cracking it loudly as she added moodily: “Nightmare Moon begs for an audience, or to be set free. Yet I am concerned she will whisk off to destroy Sol Seraph before we know what is going on. ‘Twould be a dangerous course of action if she is connected to Bucephalus… perhaps ‘twas a stroke of genius on his part to hire such a monster. If I destroy her, he may try to claim I have renewed my attacks upon Celestia’s sunny kingdom.”

“You’re thinking too much, Luna.” Scrivener leaned down and kissed her forehead gently, and Luna smiled at this before he asked curiously: “Do you want to go and see Nightmare Moon?”

Luna hesitated, then she grumpily rolled onto her back and kicked at the air, starry mane sizzling a little around her as it floated upwards and she mumbled: “I suppose, but I dislike the way she often becomes when we go to speak with her these days. And sometimes I fear thou loves her more than thou loves me, sick creature.”

“Oh, how could I love her more when you’re so adorable, Luna?” Scrivy reached out and tickled along the female’s stomach playfully, and Luna laughed and flailed a bit at him before she grinned up at him as he looked amusedly down at her. “Besides, Nightmare Moon spends too much time looking at me like she very-literally wants to eat me. The fact she once bit me doesn’t help much with this notion. Then again, you’ve bitten me too.”

“And ‘twas delicious.” Luna said empathetically, and then she reached up and seized his shoulders, pulling him firmly down into a kiss, their mouths working together for a few moments before they drew apart, noses touching as her gaze softened. “But never fear, Scrivener Blooms. Thou shalt always be safe, from her… from me. I would give anything to thee, to see thee happy… and I know thou art dedicated to me, in ways deep and profound, and it is an honor I do not deserve.”

She stopped, then shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “If thou art up for the task, though, let us take this break to see Nightmare Moon, discuss with her these events. She may offer a perspective on things that I have not yet considered… and I know that… that she is me in many ways, and I do owe her much. In some ways, I owe her for bringing me together with thee…”

She reached up, stroking slowly over his face, softening, and then she smiled a little and sat quickly up, nuzzling him quietly as Scrivener smiled, then allowed himself to be pushed gently down onto his back, Luna’s horn glowing a soft blue as she leaned over him and pressed their foreheads together, muzzles side-by-side as she whispered: “Now, close thy eyes, poet. Come down into the darkness with me.”

Scrivener Blooms did so, his eyes slipping closed… and a moment later, he and Luna were outside of reality, standing quietly in darkness and gazing silently towards a wide, circular platform of marble lit only by the full moon above, surrounded by pillars inscribed with ancient runes and images of even-more-ancient entities. And, sitting silently back between two statues of leathery-winged, fanged Pegasi, was Nightmare Moon herself.

She was immense, her mane and tail flowing like the night sky, somehow even more intense than Luna’s own starlit locks… and her coat was dead black, her eyes a brighter eldritch green and with reptilian slits for pupils. A tall, proud black horn stood from her skull, but the armory helm and peytral that had once covered her magnificent, enormous frame had been discarded: instead now, like Luna, she wore a beautiful black pearl on an ivy band… but unlike Luna, she had further decorated the ivy necklace with the blossoms of black roses.

She smiled coyly as they approached, stepping up onto the moonlit platform as they both gazed up at her, and she looked lovingly back down at them… and automatically, Luna walked forwards, trading a quiet hug with her alter-self before Nightmare Moon kissed her forehead as if in dark blessing… and as Luna stepped away, Scrivener strode ahead, leaning up and trading a single, chaste kiss with the darkness-touched equine before he sat back as well. They both sat in front of her, respectful, quiet, as she studied them, then said in a scintillating, soft voice: “Finally, you come to me. I was getting worried you had both forgotten about little old me… Luna, you’re not letting me out quite as often these days.”

“Thou wert beginning to get a little greedy, Nightmare Moon, wanting to be out at all times… ‘tis my body, is it not?” Luna kept her tone soft, displaying a little more tact than usual, and Nightmare Moon laughed before nodding, looking at her with almost-maternal warmth.

“Perhaps so. But all the same, dearest child… you know you require my aid. Yes, you have grown strong, stronger even than you were in the past… but it is only with my dark gifts that you can truly overcome the obstacles that lay ahead.” Nightmare Moon paused meditatively, looking up and murmuring softly, as she gazed at the moon high above: “Every day, we grow stronger, fair Luna, and I think you and our beloved treasure both know I do not mean this as a threat. But as darkness influences the land, as corruption spreads… it fuels us. It makes us stronger. It makes us better. We are ever-growing… these shards of shadow that were left inside of us by the creature Ignominious sent our way after we rejected him… they greedily pull in every ounce of shadow around us. The more you bathe in it… the more you are exposed to it… the better we will become.

“And as the Elements of Harmony flushed the poisons from our system, we are in control as well. It is nice to be lucid… it is even nicer that everything we have always wanted… is becoming ours. We can be patient for this, oh yes…” She stopped, then looked slowly down, her expression becoming colder. “But Sol Seraph threatens our Ponyville. Our kingdom. Our precious treasures… the impudent creature considers herself better than us. She knows nothing of our true past, believes not in Nightmare Moon… but we should teach her otherwise, Luna. We should destroy her… no, no. Better. We should break her, and make her bow before us, and then suffer deliciously for daring to treat our precious treasures the way she has…”

Nightmare Moon smiled in a way that was both terrible and radiant, whispering softly: “Yes. Justice, my darlings… show her that she is not the superior predator she believes herself to be. Teach her why a mother should value her daughter.” The creature paused, then threw its head back and laughed. “If only Fluttershy was made of sterner stuff! Then we could present her mother, broken and battered to her, as a delightful gift to show her all our appreciation for her! Would that not be the greatest of presents? Would it not prove our love, our loyalty, for these ponies we so adore as our precious treasures?”

Luna grimaced a little, looking silently away… but Scrivener only gazed at her softly, feeling Luna’s disgust… not at Nightmare Moon, but at herself, at the way she took enjoyment, pleasure in the idea. But then Nightmare Moon softened, leaning down and whispering quietly: “Why do you fear so much, my wonderful child? We are darkness. We are what they call evil. We are outside of their rules, and norms, and we only wish to take care of them… to embrace them in the sanctuary of our beautiful night…”

Nightmare Moon stopped, then she strode slowly forwards, leaning down and kissing Luna’s cheek before she gently wrapped her forelegs around her and pulled her close, Luna swallowing a bit even as she rested her head against the creature’s broad chest, whispering: “But we must not push too hard, Nightmare Moon. We must not… become what we once were. And I do not wish to… to become… to hurt…”

“Oh, child…” Nightmare Moon only smiled lovingly down at her, stroking tenderly through Luna’s mane before she said softly: “Then put what I have spoken of out of your mind. Instead, as you have come here for my advice… I shall speak of the subject at hoof. Scrivener Blooms, come, join us.”

Nightmare Moon beckoned to him… and the male blushed a bit as he nodded, walking forwards, pressing side-to-side with Luna as the creature embraced them both with a sigh of contentment, covering them with her body as her mane flowed down around them almost like a blanket, tingling, warm, and strange… like electricity, and yet it massaged and relaxed as it tingled against their backs and bodies, the female looking meditative as she murmured: “I am surprised that neither of you noticed this, but Sol Seraph does have a flaw. She is impatient… a hurried acquisition of property, blanketing the town in soldiers instead of the use of subtlety, and most importantly, the direct attack upon us, after so short a time in town.

“We shall use this to our advantage, darlings.” Nightmare Moon rested a hoof on the shoulder of both Luna and Scrivener Blooms, gazing down at them lovingly, affectionately, even as her eyes glittered with terrible, savage malice. “We shall wait for her move, and show patience. We shall mock her with our calm indifference… and then, when she makes the mistake of attacking us, giving us the opening we desire… we shall rip her intestines from her stomach and feed them to her for daring to call our treasured scribe a slave-hoof.”

Nightmare Moon laughed quietly, and the honesty and love in her voice made the statement all the more fearsome as Scrivener rested against her with a shudder despite himself, and Luna closed her eyes tightly… but smiled grimly all the same, murmuring: “Yes. Yes, thou art correct. She has moved fast, all too fast… and soon, she will be left with no moves in her hoof but to try and attack us directly and arrogantly, and ‘twill be her undoing. Her army seeks to control and oppress, not outright destroy… and for all her boasting as a predator, she will undoubtedly wish to press the challenge herself. We shall destroy her then.”

“Good, my darlings. Good.” Nightmare Moon kissed Luna’s forehead, then Scrivener’s, keeping them both held close in her strangely-comforting, affectionate embrace, the dark, tall creature smiling softly before she whispered softly: “I have but one request now, for you both… do not forget about me, Luna, and do not forget that I have earned my freedom now and then. Acknowledge me, and love me, and let me free… and I will repay the favor tenfold times to you both, with pleasure, with power, and with love. I shall protect those you hold dear, and prove again and again, that Celestia is the failed heroine, whose light poisoned Equestria and made the shadows grow all the deeper… only Nightmare Moon can be the true savior in such dark and dire times as these.”

Scrivener Blooms shuddered a bit, and Luna clenched her eyes shut… but they both only pressed closer to the powerful, darkness-touched creature, and it smiled down at them, possessive, protective, comforting as the moon began to fade slowly out above their heads, before she murmured softly: “Go back now, children. I’ll be watching over you both.”

And in a blink, everything went dark before both Luna and Scrivener opened their eyes, both sitting up now, heads still pressed together as they gazed into each other’s eyes, breathing hard, electricity almost seeming to pass between them… and then Luna reached up and shoved Scrivener down onto the bedding, kissing him firmly…

They lay together later, curled quietly close as Luna blushed a little, Scrivy smiling awkwardly despite himself before she kissed his forehead and murmured softly: “I apologize, my beloved. But I am glad that all the same, our consult with the creature went well… even if, as always tends to happen when our emotions rise so high and we mix so much together…”

“Well, it’s not a bad note to end on, right?” Scrivener smiled a little, and Luna shrugged agreeably before she leaned in and kissed down his neck, making him laugh and fidget a bit, and then he glanced towards the book still laying in front of the bedding, asking quietly: “Want me to read to you some more?”

Luna nodded, looking at him affectionately, and as the male half-rolled towards it, she crawled up onto his back, making him snort in amusement as she flopped over him and kissed the back of his neck gingerly, saying quietly: “I appreciate it greatly, Scrivener Blooms. ‘Tis… awkward to admit that I still have such troubles with reading. I can pull the words and meanings from thy mind but… ‘tis uncomfortable, like staring too long at a bright flame.”

“It’s alright, Luna. Besides, you do the same for me when delving through the ancient texts.” He smiled a little, glancing over his shoulder at her. “Admittedly, I enjoy being useful to you, too. You can do pretty much everything else in the universe, after all… it’s nice that there’s this one thing I can do for you that you can’t.”

“Oh, quiet, Scrivener Blooms, thou art useful in many ways. Thou… carries baggage, and prepares food, and sometimes does small, trivial tasks.” Luna replied seriously, and Scrivy rolled his eyes in amusement as he flipped the book open to find the page, before he smiled a little as she began to slowly massage his shoulders, saying quietly: “Thou art a wretch, truly. Thy name should have been Misery, for ‘tis what thou seems to enjoy heaping upon thyself.”

“And yet here we are, all the same, and for how much I like to complain and whine I still know all the same how lucky I am, bound at the very soul to someone I love and admire more than any poet’s words could say.” Scrivener replied softly as he paged through the book, and then he smiled when she leaned forwards and kissed his cheek quietly. “I love you, Luna.”

“And I love thee, Scrivener Blooms. More than I can say.” Luna said softly, nestling herself quietly closer against the earth pony as she smiled a bit, blanketing his frame with her own taller body as she breathed slowly in and out, and their heats beat almost as one as they rested together in comfort as the male began to read.

Luna enjoyed books like these: nonfiction works that detailed using strategy and logic, that described outside-the-box thinking in modern times. Things she could adapt to both everyday life as well as apply to enhance her already-impressive knowledge of combat tactics and the art of war. She had a great thirst for knowledge, especially in fields that in the past hadn’t been nearly as widely-explored as they were in the present… pony psychology, for example, was another thing Luna loved to flop down and listen to, or would struggle her way through reading a little bit of now and then while Scrivener was working.

Luna was a mix of physical and mental: or perhaps it was more physical and emotional, since she believed learning more about these subjects helped enhance her understanding, and greater understanding made for stronger instincts. She didn’t often think too deep on things, but liked to feel her way through situations as they occurred, making her impulsive, rash, and all too willing to indulge her senses and desires in places where other ponies would hold back…but Scrivener loved that quality in her. The way she took structured fact and philosophy, swirled them around until she got what she could use out of the jargon and then applied it, built a bigger picture of the universe out of it.

It was hard to describe, but then again, that was Luna: difficult to describe. And what surprised Scrivener was that she found him just as hard to describe… whenever they got into the conversation, Luna would eventually get frustrated, and they would just glare at each other, memories and images and thoughts shooting back and forth, until they broke down laughing and pressing together… and Scrivener smiled a little as two hours later, he came to a halt at the end of a chapter, Luna still lazing overtop him as he closed the book and looked over his shoulder at her, saying softly: “You want me to get back to work writing out those notes on Sleipnir?”

“No, move not, Scrivener Blooms, thou art comfy and I am comfier.” Luna said meditatively, nuzzling against the back of his neck as her mane swirled quietly backwards, and then she tilted her head to gaze into his eyes with a smile as he smiled softly back. “I feel our hearts beat in stride together, and ‘tis wonderful. I feel our bodies press together, and we feel not like two separate entities… only as one. Truly, I feel blessed at moments like these… to think, once I may have almost ended up with Ignominious.”

She quieted, but as Scrivener only continued to gaze at her, she began to absently trace patterns on her back with a hoof, murmuring softly: “I do not know anymore if I loved him or not. Perhaps I was naïve, and silly. ‘Twas more than a thousand years ago, more than twelve hundred now, in fact… for as thou and few others know, I have memories of fifteen hundred years ago… but my first memories even then are as an adult, of adventuring… of Celestia and Sleipnir as my older siblings, and Celestia was the same then as when I first returned from my purgatory in the moon.

“Thou remembers the story, does thee not? And yet thou wishes for me to continue with my selfish prattling all the same, of an ex-lover who came back with the tides of darkness, of someone who tried to destroy us both utterly.” Luna stopped, then she leaned forwards and batted his head quietly with a hoof, making the male wince a little. “Thou art a fool, Scrivener Blooms. A selfish, selfish, foolish fool, for what thou did. Never shall I permit thee to live it down, and forevermore shall I both coddle and pummel thee, wicked little creature.”

Scrivy only smiled embarrassedly in return, and then Luna nodded a little, looking down and saying softly: “Ignominious was a paladin, masterful at horn foiling, powerful in the ways of magic. And yet he was very, very naïve, and very, very weak all the same. A single blow, and his morale would crack; a single mistake, and he would lose all focus for a week. ‘Twas like a wounded kitten oftentimes… not like thee, Scrivener Blooms, who art both so self-loathing and so insufferably stubborn in the same breath. Like a beetle.

“All the same, I took him on as apprentice, and one night… as more.” Luna smiled wryly, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “A sad mistake. And perhaps worse, I feel responsible for what he has become… ‘twas I that told him he needed to be stronger. ‘Twas I that abandoned him after the coward fled from a battle with a Tyrant Wyrm, and my brother Sleipnir was wounded. ‘Twas then that he began to seek the dark powers, and made his awful deal: to shed the blood of the innocent, to trade the souls of ponies, to taint and blacken his own, and all for power. All for what ended up being his death…

“The creatures of Helheim do not play fair: they are not all evil, but they all have their particular desires, play particular roles, and they often twist deals and poison rewards to punish those foolish enough to seek their allegiance.” Luna paused for a moment, then she looked ahead into the blue flames of the fireplace, pushing quietly down against Scrivener as she said softly: “The fool. They told him they would make him strong, like they were. They meant it in a fashion more literal than he could have imagined, and after he slaughtered entire families as sacrifice to the dark powers, when I tried to confront him for what he had done… the demons rose up from all around him, seized him, and dragged him down to Helheim.”

She stopped, shaking her head slowly. “They made him into a monster. They gave him power and life by corrupting the souls he offered, and fusing those souls into him. Why? Because to them it was a great joke, of course: he tortured, maimed, and slaughtered these souls… and now, they are bound inside his unliving, undying shell, restlessly screaming for freedom, clawing and ripping and gouging at the very-same soul they are forced to live with in ever-warring possession. The Ignominious I knew truly is gone… now he is just a living mass of corrupted ponies, fused into one awful, self-hating consciousness, blaming everyone apart from himself for what he has become, convinced he is powerful… when he is little more than smoke and mirrors. I am too cruel to hate him, Scrivener Blooms. I am too callous to despise him. Instead, I pity him, and I will continue to pity the poor fool until the day he is finally destroyed.”

Scrivy was quiet as he followed Luna’s gaze into the flames… and then the female smiled faintly, leaning down against him and hugging him impulsively around the neck as she whispered: “’Tis why I am always so afraid I have corrupted thee, my beloved. ‘Tis why I train thee so hard… and yet am afraid even as I do so. I do not wish to turn thee, my beloved daydreamer, into another warped being. I wish only to prepare thee for what lies ahead… even if, selfishly, I find myself wanting, wanting, wanting to make thou more and more like myself.”

“Luna…” Scrivy began, but then the female reached up and firmly covered his mouth with a hoof, making him wince a bit as she glared at him.

“Oh shush thy prattling. I know well how thou feels and what thou says, but… it still worries me, makes me wonder if I have only corrupted thee all the worse already.” Luna muttered, shaking her head slowly… and then she clambered up to her hooves and rolled him over onto his back, leaning down to touch nose-to-nose with him and saying quietly: “Remember, Scrivener Blooms. I love thee for thee. Not because thou art a reflection of myself… because thou art who thou art. Thou does not need to change thyself for me.”

Scrivy smiled a little up at her, and then he winced when she smacked him in the chest with a hoof and nodded firmly. “Excellent then. Come, though, up on thy hooves. Let us take a short canter through the Everfree Forest, then lower the moon from the sky.”

The male grumbled a bit, but nodded all the same as Luna stepped away before he carefully stood, then smiled when Sammy hopped up onto his back with a disgruntled chirp, the two watching as Luna strode towards the front door and the male equine saying mildly: “I know exactly what you mean, Sammy. But I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t help what you love.”

By mid-afternoon, Luna and Scrivener found themselves striding calmly towards Sweet Apple Acres with Twilight Sparkle, the violet unicorn looking moodily back and forth. The night had been restless, spent comforting a shivering Fluttershy at every little sound… and admittedly, worrying on and off herself, to the point she had eventually warded the library door with a lock spell to ensure there wouldn’t be any unwelcome visitors in the night.

But there was much to do, and much to organize, and Twilight was tireless despite the lack of rest: even though Pinkie Pie was kept busy at Mrs. Cake’s shop helping to deal with the interest of the minotaurs, Fluttershy would be staying with Rarity at her boutique for the day and several of the other trusted ponies who made up the Starlit Knights. Spike was with them as well, more than glad to help out with every little thing as he on-and-off ogled Rarity with a silly grin on his face, still more than a little infatuated despite the years that had passed.

Twilight had organized the Knights and informed them of as much as possible, and today they would be running training exercises with part of the group, so that Luna could see just who had been chosen and witness them in action. Then the trio paused, the large red farmhouse in the distance, as their eyes roved to one of the larger orchards, where Rainbow Dash was moodily, warily watching the minotaur Aleksandr as he sat on a stump, a heavy wooden tub of apples beside him, chewing slowly on one of the red fruits.

Twilight sighed, rolling her eyes and saying flatly as Luna grinned: “Apparently Rainbow hasn’t exactly gotten over what happened yet. Applejack says they’re hard workers, though, and both he and his brother Ivan seem to prefer sleeping outside, even if Rainbow seems to think his time is better spent harassing them than helping them.”

The three walked into the field, approaching Rainbow Dash as he and the minotaur continued to glower at each other, and then Aleksandr glanced in their direction and nodded with a grunt. “Four-hoofs. Is good to see you.”

“Oh, sure, you talk to them all nice and stuff. Hey, this is totally my farm, you know.” Rainbow said loudly, and then he winced a bit when Twilight gave him a flat look. “Okay, okay, it’s Applejack’s farm but. Still. It’s… sort of mine. The point is, you should be nicer to me.”

Aleksandr favored Rainbow Dash with a grouchy look, slowly taking a bite out of his apple and chewing thoughtfully, and then he asked moodily: “Is every day to be being like this? Because life in chains not so bad compared to life with obnoxious flying four-hoof with whiny voice.”

“Whiny voice? Hey! I do not have a whiny voice!” Rainbow half-shouted, half-sulked, and Luna snorted laughter, earning a sour look from the Pegasus as Scrivener cleared his throat and Twilight smiled despite herself. “Oh, you three can stick it. Anyway, Mr. Minotaur, I’m just here to make sure you’re properly doing your job and all that. You know, working, not just slouching around.”

“Like four-hoof slouches on clouds, yes. You are good judge of slouching, Aleksandr has seen this.” the minotaur replied flatly, and Rainbow’s jaw dropped before he glared, struggling for a retort as Luna laughed louder. “Please be going away now. Work goes faster without children making noise.”

“I… hey, don’t make me kick your butt!” Rainbow threatened, and now Aleksandr snorted in amusement even as Rainbow jumped up on his hind hooves, throwing several punches at the air as he glared across at him. “I ain’t scared of you! I’m a damn knight, you know!”

“Is good for children to have dreams. But remember that high jumps lead to long fall.” the minotaur said mildly, and then he took one last bite of his apple before tossing the core away, standing tall and striking his chest with a fist. “Dasvidaniya.”

With that, Aleksandr turned and picked up the wooden tub of apples, turning away and heading towards one of the storage sheds as Rainbow Dash gritted his teeth and dropped back to all fours, glowering moodily before Twilight sighed and said mildly: “Come on, Rainbow. You and Applejack and Big Mac are all part of today’s training group, anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah, you… he better run.” Rainbow mumbled, pouting a little before he sighed as the other ponies turned to head back to the road, falling into step beside Scrivener Blooms as he said grouchily: “You know I’m awesome, right? You all do, right?”

“Thou art unparalleled, Rainbow Dash.” Luna said kindly, and Rainbow huffed and nodded with a grunt, then shot her a moody look as she added gently: “But perhaps thou should think more with thy head instead of thy… everything else.”

“And just what does that mean?” he asked flatly, and when the other ponies only gave him an amused look, he grumbled a bit under his breath, then slouched his shoulders. “Okay, okay, maybe you have a point. Maybe. But. Only maybe.”

He sighed, looking moodily up before easily shoving himself off the ground, strong wings catching the air and carrying him listlessly forwards as he said meditatively: “I thought all this hero stuff was supposed to be a lot cooler than this, though, you know? I thought… bad guys were bad guys, good guys were good guys… then again, I guess… that was pretty dumb to think all things considered, huh?”

Rainbow fell quiet, looking almost embarrassedly at Luna, but she only smiled a little as she gazed forwards down the path, shrugging a bit and saying quietly: “Nay, Rainbow… ‘tis an understandable error. And ‘tis what we all begin life thinking… that good is good, bad is bad, failing to know until too late that… all have reasons for what they are. I am only glad that you have learned this lesson, my friend… many, sadly, will never try to understand it.”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash both nodded, and then the unicorn hung her head, murmuring softly: “I… it bothers me a lot, how things went with Discord, you know? And even though I’ve… moved forwards with Celestia these days, sometimes I still can’t help but look back, at the blinders she put on all of us… at the way she deceived us. I understand why she did what she did, I know she meant well for everyone in Equestria, that… but…”

Luna only nodded slowly, however, saying quietly: “’Twas not so different, Twilight, when I journeyed with my siblings. Celestia was… righteous… even back then, and it is understandable why she thinks the way she does, why she girds herself in clockworks of right and wrong, why she chose for so long to see only in black and white. It does not make it correct, nor as holy as she used to perceive herself to be. But ‘tis understandable: it is far easier to smite an enemy thou can call evil than it is to recognize that in another time, another place… thou might have been friends.”

“Ugh, complicated stuff sucks.” Rainbow muttered, flipping over in midair and putting his hooves behind his messy mane as he grimaced a little, continuing to trail lazily through the air beside them. “I thought things would be a lot less complicated after… well, you know. And it isn’t like they’re not… going to bed and waking up in the morning in the right body, just, god, does that ever help me a lot. But I guess at some point I was forced to realize that it wasn’t me that was broken… I was in the wrong skin, but… I wasn’t broken. It’s this whole world sometimes that seems like… it’s broken.”

He stopped, then smiled a little as he flipped over, looking curiously down at Luna and asking finally: “Might seem weird, but… you ever turn yourself into a guy? Just curious, that’s all, Luna… you got these weird powers and I gotta wonder how much you actually put them to use and all.”

Luna laughed at this, grinning a little up at Rainbow Dash. “Well, Rainbow Dash, while I am most certainly a female, and thou art most certainly a male… I have taken shapes fair and foul of the sort thou couldst not imagine to achieve my goals when it was necessary. My ability to polymorph always vastly-frustrated ordered, ever-boring Celestia, but ‘twas a grand source of entertainment for myself and mine brother in the old days… ‘twas the closest thing we had to ‘fun,’ as thou speaks of it now.”

Rainbow laughed at this, and Twilight rolled her eyes despite her smile as Scrivener continued onwards with an amused look at Luna, sensing more than anything else some of the memories that rose to the surface of their linked minds with her reminiscing… and then the violet unicorn said mildly: “But, as both you and Celestia have told me, Luna, magic is-”

“Oh, be not boring, Twilight Sparkle, all adults tell foals not to play with matches. ‘Tis only an exercise in safety while they retain their innocence, and so that the magic of great and glorious bonfires is not lost upon them when they become adults.” Luna scoffed, and Twilight glared at her pointedly as Rainbow only grinned wider. “Oh, as if thou hast never abused magic thyself for thine own merriment.

“But yes, yes, it is not as if I am willy-nilly throwing fireballs into every tree I cross, simply because I can.” Luna tilted her head up imperiously, flapping her wings once. “’Tis nothing wrong with a little fun every so oft, that is all. Magic is a gift… ‘twould be rude to the gods themselves to not make use of their gift in play and jest as well as during moments of seriousness, that is all.”

“That’s exactly how I feel.” Rainbow nodded fervently, and then he landed with a smile as they reached the ranch house, glancing up at this and calling easily: “Hey, Apple-butt, the others are here!”

A window opened, and a red, freckled equine with messy hay-colored locks stuck his head out, making the others stare for a moment before Rainbow said flatly: “You are not the Apple-butt I was talking about. Where’s AJ hiding? She’s not supposed to be working today, we’ve got that training session, Big Macintosh.”

“Yup.” Big Mac replied mildly, green eyes surveying them thoughtfully, and then he nodded politely to Luna before leaning back in and closing the window. Rainbow Dash rolled his eyes, pacing his hooves impatiently against the ground before the door opened, and the enormous equine slowly made his way out, a heavy oak brace around his neck with a thick, dragon-leather collar beneath this to prevent chafing. It was something Big Mac almost never took off, a heirloom from their lost parents. “You know my little sister. She’s probably out inspecting the fields.”

“Great.” Rainbow muttered, and then he shook his head quickly before glancing awkwardly at the others as Big Mac sauntered unhurriedly towards them, his short tail flicking as he smiled kindly at the others. “Well… we might as well head out and try and find her, then. Hey, by the way, you guys, when are you going to start ranking us and all that? I mean, being a knight is cool enough, but I think it would just plain rock if I could be… I dunno… Knight-Commander? Knight-Captain? Which one of those is better?”

“First thou must prove thy mettle, Rainbow Dash, then we shall discuss rank.” Luna said amusedly, glancing over at him with a slight smile. “But I do appreciate thy eagerness.”

Rainbow grunted with a nod after a moment, looking musing as the group turned and began to stride towards the field. “Well, okay, but still, guys. I think I’d make the best boss-knight ever. Seriously, you already gave me that armor and everything.”

“Which I have not seen upon thee once, Rainbow Dash, which I have taken as a personal insult. Does thou not enjoy the armor I have made for thee?” Luna gave him a half-playful, half-hurt look, and Rainbow grinned awkwardly, shrugging lamely after a moment. “’Tis what thou requested, is it not?”

“But it’s like. It’s like. Too cool! You styled it after my Wonderbolts uniform and everything, I can’t like. Get that all covered in muck and battle-damage, then it wouldn’t be so shiny.” Rainbow said reasonably, and he tossed himself into the air, absently beginning to flit along above their heads as he added meditatively: “Besides, it’s already not fair to everyone that I’m like. The best athlete in Ponyville, fighting beside you all. I’d hate to really rub in their faces how awesome I am by wearing that kickass armor to just these training sessions and stuff.”

“To the former, armor is meant to be worn, not left to rot. To the latter, however, thou may have a point. As it is, thy insufferable attitude gets thee beaten up every few days in training anyway… to wear armor may protect from some blows, but will encourage others to hit thee harder.” Luna said thoughtfully, and Rainbow Dash blew a loud raspberry at her before he squawked as his tongue glowed blue, yanking comically out of his muzzle as Luna’s horn gave a faint spark as she grinned widely. “Careful, Rainbow Dash. Thou aren’t quite so far out of my reach as thou appears to think thou art.”

Then she released him, and the male huffed and wheezed as he yanked his head back, rubbing at his own muzzle moodily as Big Mac chuckled and Twilight smiled amusedly, saying finally: “You know, at least I… oh, hey, there they are! Applejack!”

Rainbow waved as he sailed easily ahead through the air towards where Applejack was standing with a group of five other ponies, wearing a golden vest with the symbol of the sun over the breast and her hat tight over her blonde locks. She smiled towards the others as they approached, and the other ponies behind her immediately awkwardly leapt to their hooves to fall into a line. “Well, there y’all are! And Dashie, I swear to Horses of Heaven, if I catch you mouthin’ off to them minotaur boys one more time I’m gonna smack you right upside your handsome head. They’re good workers.”

Dash, however, seemed to miss the greater point of this speech as he glided easily just a few inches above the ground, grinning at the others as he said in a pleased voice: “See? I’m handsome.”

With that, Applejack sighed, then she looked down and lightly slapped an apple core off the ground to fly in a short arc and bounce off Rainbow’s face, making him wince back and drop heavily from the air on his rear with a thump. “Oh, shut up, you. I swear, Rainbow, the only reason you float ‘round so easy is because you’re so full of hot air. Luna, Twilight, Scrivy, real nice to see you three out here, though… it’s quite an honor to have y’all train us when I know there’s lots else that you could be doin’ with your time. Don’t worry, I’ll keep Rainbow in line.”

“Well, thanks.” Rainbow Dash muttered, but he picked himself up and slouched over to join the line as Applejack walked forwards with a smile, standing beside him and giving him a small kiss on the cheek, which perked the male up visibly. Then she nodded to Big Mac as he stood on her other side, and the line of eight ponies straightened, even Rainbow managing not to fidget as they stood before the three.

Luna smiled slightly, stepping forwards as Twilight and Scrivener Blooms lingered back, the winged unicorn surveying the assembled: three Pegasi, two unicorns, the rest earth ponies… and she nodded after a moment, saying quietly: “The honor is mine, for ‘tis a privilege to train those dedicated to our united cause. Not that I shall be any kinder for it, but know that at least I shall strive to avoid serious injury to thee and thine.”

This only got a few awkward chuckles, considering that Luna had a bad habit of pushing ponies to their breaking point during the group training sessions. She expected to get the very best out of everypony she came across, because she gave nothing less herself: sometimes she just needed a reminder that these were ponies who had grown up in times of peace and harmony, and that they were volunteers, not soldiers.

Scrivener knew that even he probably wouldn’t be able to reason Luna out of pummeling the Starlit Knights into better shape if the urge so took her, however: she had already developed an attachment to them even without knowing or recognizing all their faces, and among them were friends, and those whom she considered ‘family;’ to her, giving them any less than the hardest training she could dredge up would be insulting. To Luna, to love something often meant to put it through misery, even if she had the best intentions at heart.

Then again, considering the security forces in town, the minotaurs, and Sol Seraph, Scrivener was beginning to understand how deeply Luna cared despite how willing – and gleeful – she could be in tormenting those she trained. Luna was always there to catch them when they fell if she wasn’t throwing them to the ground herself, always offering advice and encouragement when she wasn’t insulting them, and no matter what the situation, always had a purpose behind everything she did. She taught them discipline, and force-fed them strength so that in the future, when the real battles came, they would stand a better chance of avoiding death.

Not that she hadn’t modified her approach a little over the months… and Luna smiled a little, looking slowly back and forth over those assembled before she said quietly: “’Twill not be a fun day for thee. We begin, as always, with the ritual run. Rainbow Dash, take to the air even once and I swear I shall steal away thy wings for a week.”

Rainbow winced at this, clenching his wings tight against his sides in impulse, since by now he was very well aware Luna could do this or worse to him, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so. He cleared his throat, carefully dropping his body forwards a little, and then Luna smiled slightly before she flicked her eyes over the group and said easily: “We take the long running route around Sweet Apple Acres. I shall set the maximum, Twilight and Scrivener shall bring up the rear. Fall behind, and thou shalt be singled out as a testing dummy for the day. Now, follow!”

With that, Luna turned down the path at the edge of the field, and the eight ponies winced and followed her immediately as Twilight and Scrivener both leaned forwards and fell into a brisk pace, keeping a distance of ten or so meters between themselves and Luna, in which the eight ponies charged along in a double-line formation, no one exactly eager to be the ‘volunteer’ for Luna’s demonstrations of hoof-to-hoof combat or target practice.

In the past, Twilight – and probably Scrivener too – would have both flopped over by the ten minute mark. But Twilight Sparkle now had years of training under Luna under her saddle, and Scrivener Blooms both Luna’s shared vitality as well as the rigorous, countless hours she had spent teaching him her ways. Now, they were able to keep the fast pace with ease, smiling at each other, bodies flexing and moving with grace before Twilight looked ahead and said quietly: “This is strange, Scrivy. I say… thirty minutes, we’ll be running for. And I know by the end of it, I’ll be a little tired, I’ll be a little sore… but I never could have done this before. I look back at who I used to be, a filly from Canterlot, talented in magic, thinking that just because my cutie mark said that was my special skill, I didn’t need to ever train in anything else, I didn’t have any other destiny…”

“And now here we are, the poet and the apprentice, side-by-side, following in the hoof-prints of the exiled Princess of the Night… my wife. Our wife.” Scrivy winked teasingly towards Twilight, and she laughed and checked him playfully, making him stumble a little before he firmly bumped back against her. “Well, that’s what Luna always says.”

“Luna is possessive. I’m almost afraid of what she’d do if I ever told her I had feelings for someone.” She smiled slightly at this, glancing up towards the sky and adding meditatively: “It’s really weird, but… I don’t think I’d change it. Luna’s a wonderful teacher. A wonderful pony. You’re lucky, Scrivy… I’m jealous. I’m jealous of you both.”

She glanced awkwardly towards him, but Scrivener only blushed a little as he glanced ahead, clearing his throat and flicking his head to the side to get his messy mane out of his eyes and hide the tinge in his cheeks, and they ran on, silent except for the sounds of their hooves beating the ground and the occasion harder rasp of breath from the ponies ahead.

It took twenty-seven minutes to finish the fast run around Sweet Apple Acres, during which Luna cheerfully detoured through muck, over fallen logs, and a field where the vegetation had become warped and filled with brambles and other nasty things under-hoof. When they finished, Scrivener and Twilight were glad to sit, while several of the other ponies flopped down on the ground, wheezing painfully as Luna strode back and forth amidst their ranks, smiling to herself before she announced: “Partner up! Scrivener, Twilight, thou shall also participate in this, both of thee are still sloppy fools.”

Scrivy snorted in amusement at this as he rolled his shoulders easily, and Twilight gave him a slight smile as they automatically spread out through the field, everyone here familiar by now with what Luna wanted. Applejack grinned across at a unicorn as Rainbow Dash gritted his teeth and tested his hooves against the ground, facing towards Big Mac with a growl as the large red equine only looked calmly back, unfettered. This was Luna’s favorite part, where she would have them practice takedowns on one another between rough, short bouts of three-round sparring. Luna swore up and down it was good training, but by now Scrivy was all too well aware she also simply enjoyed watching them beat on each other.

As always, Luna started with the basics: where to attack, how to use momentum, how to keep balance even while swinging both hooves. They were lessons she was slowly grinding into everyone’s instincts, and Scrivener could appreciate why she was doing it by now, as he sat side-by-side with Twilight Sparkle, their flanks almost touching before she leaned over and murmured into his ear: “Does she mean to show off or is she just rambling again?”

Scrivener looked thoughtfully at Luna as she continued to talk, now veering a little off tangent as she leaned back, swinging a hoof at the air… and then the winged unicorn twitched before glaring over at Scrivy, but he only gave her an innocent look, and Luna huffed a bit. “Very well, if thou thinks I am so boring, let us move to the quick. My ponies, we begin with direct attack exercises. Twilight, please demonstrate on Scrivener Blooms a sweep and drop.”

“Oh I hate you.” Scrivener said flatly, and Luna only grinned cheerfully in return before the male straightened and set himself as Twilight stood up and walked in front of him, beginning to open his mouth-

Twilight lunged suddenly sideways as she swept a foreleg out, striking Scrivener just below shin level and knocking his legs out from beneath him with a wince, flailing at the air as he automatically tucked his head slightly, knowing what was coming next: and a moment later, Twilight’s hooves descended on his skull, thankfully moving with controlled firmness and shoving him painfully but not cruelly into the ground, pinning him by the head against the field as he wheezed, then glanced up as Luna ordered: “Scrivener Blooms, lunge response!”

Letting himself move on instinct, Scrivy shoved against the ground with all four limbs, lunging forwards beneath Twilight and making her scramble for balance as her hooves slipped free: a moment later, Scrivener Blooms threw himself off the ground, hitting her with his shoulder in the middle of her chest and knocking her backwards before he seized her around the body and tackled her firmly down onto her back, pinning her with a loud wheeze as she flailed a little at the air. “Excellent, daydreamer! Obviously this will not work in every situation, but most ponies will fail to apply necessary pressure when they think they have won. There is always a way to steal the victory from thine opponent. Begin practice, and remember to use thine enemy’s weight and strength against them, I shall come around and instruct all thee individually as we move towards the combat phase.”

Scrivy could sense Luna’s grin as Scrivener released the pin… then wheezed when Twilight booted him backwards with her hind hooves, glowering at him and rubbing at her chest slowly. “You’re as bad as she is. I think you almost crushed my ribs.”

“Well, you know Luna. Vengeful creature she is and all.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he winced as Twilight’s horn began to glow lightly before she lunged forwards, swinging at him and making him wince as he skittered backwards, then slipped sideways to avoid a thrust. “Hey!”

“We’re supposed to be training, Scrivener, and I know you can take a beating. Besides, Luna’s always telling me to practice my horn foiling.” Twilight muttered, swinging her horn back and forth in a pattern that was slightly-erratic, making the male wince as he ducked the first attack, then leapt back again to avoid the second. “Oh, what, you only beat up mares when Luna tells you to?”

“You see, this is what I hate about you, Twilight Sparkle. I beat you up, you complain. I don’t beat you up, you complain.” Scrivener grumbled, and when the unicorn lunged, he quickly leapt forwards and seized her in a headlock, making her gag in surprise as the glow around her horn spluttered out for a moment… but then her hooves swept out, kicking his other foreleg out from beneath him before seizing his chest, using his weight and lack of balance to her advantage to flip him firmly down onto his back with a loud thud and a yelp from the stallion.

Twilight breathed hard in and out, grinning to herself, pinning him down by the chest… and then Scrivener half-rolled backwards and threw one of his rear hooves into her shoulder, knocking her staggering with a curse before he rolled over as she glared at him and he glowered back, saying flatly: “I could have hit you in the face. Then we’d all be laughing. Except for you. Because your face would be broken.”

The unicorn glowered at him, then she charged forwards as her horn glowed, and Scrivy winced as he scrambled to his hooves before they both leapt towards one-another, crashing into each other in midair as Twilight attempted to whack him with her horn, but he ducked before headbutting her firmly, making her wince as their faces almost mashed together to prevent her from using her horn, hooves shoving against one another before Scrivener finally managed to shove her backwards, and she skidded through the grasses as he dropped to a ready position, panting a little… then both of them glared at Luna as she giggled and sat back on her haunches, saying cheerfully: “’Tis like watching foals at play!”

The training continued for more than an hour, Luna making them practice different techniques on one another, trading partners here and there, and obviously taking some amusement now and then in the difficulties various ponies were having: for one, Rainbow Dash simply couldn’t topple Big Mac, and the giant of a pony was able to easily pin the other male with only one hoof, making him grumble in frustration and embarrassment.

By the end of it, Luna had obviously gotten both her enjoyment and her evaluations of them done, looking over them thoughtfully as Scrivener sat beside her, grumbling a little as Twilight embarrassedly healed a few cuts she had made over his frame with her slightly-overzealous sparring. Only one was bad enough that Luna had actually felt it herself, however, and if anything, the winged unicorn was pleased by the fact that Twilight was learning so much, so fast, and both she and Scrivener were taking their training seriously.

Slowly, Luna surveyed them, smiling, but her eyes sharper now: some of the ponies were in a more battered state than the others, and from the training that had seemed more like play at some points, she had been able to assess a surprising amount of information. Scrivener Blooms glanced at her curiously as she hesitated, and then her eyes looked in his direction, sharing thoughts, emotions, in a flurry with him… and he smiled a little and only nodded slowly in return, which visibly relieved the winged unicorn a little. “Very well, then.

“There is still much to be done, and we have less than a week. But when time is in short supply and the demands are highest, that is when we often find ourselves striving hardest to reach not only our potential, but to surpass our limitations.” Luna said clearly, gazing over the ponies and nodding slowly. “Know that I shall push all of thee hard forwards. Know that I shall make thee miserable. But know also that I have great expectations, and there is no greater compliment I can pay to any of thee. I would not push so hard, nor expect so much, if I did not believe all of thee to be capable of great things, and a great destiny.

“Aye, we live in a village occupied by criminals, in a country occupied now by darkness. But there is hope, for every pony in Equestria, as long as we are willing to fight, willing to stand up for ourselves.” Luna stepped forwards, nodding firmly, her eyes almost glowing as she stood tall and proud before them. “Together, we shall show all those who would harm or wrong us that we, the ponies of Equestria, do not fear them, will not bend before them, will not break beneath the heat of battle or weight of machination. All of thee, and others like thee, are the Starlit Knights!”

There were cheers in response to this as Luna smiled warmly over the gathered ponies, and Scrivy and Twilight both smiled to the winged unicorn as she said clearly: “Dismissed, for now! Lick thy wounds and heal thy pride, ‘tis only the beginning and I promise to do worse to thee in a day’s time!”

This dampened the cheers a bit, Rainbow grumbling as he dropped out of the air, then rubbed awkwardly at his chest, saying flatly: “You really know how to keep a party going, don’t you?”

“And here I thought thou enjoyed a challenge, Rainbow Dash.” Luna said amusedly, and Rainbow huffed a bit under his breath before the winged unicorn turned around, smiling from Scrivy to Twilight. “Come, friends. Let us return to the library… I wish to share further instruction with thee both.”

The two nodded, but Scrivener paused and looked up as Applejack approached, Luna glancing over her shoulder curiously after a moment as the earth pony said hesitantly: “Can you spare just a moment, Luna? I got a question for you, if you don’t mind…”

Luna nodded, turning around as Big Mac calmly gestured to the other ponies, beginning to lead them away as Rainbow hovered towards his wife, then settled down and awkwardly smiled, calming as he stood side-by-side with Applejack. For a moment, Luna gazed at the two, then she smiled a little as Scrivener stepped up on one side of her and Twilight on the other, saying softly: “Of course, fair Applejack. ‘Tis a pleasure to speak to thee, always… in what manner may I be of assistance?”

Applejack nodded respectfully, then she asked awkwardly: “It’s just that… I been out here in the fields lately, and Sweet Apple Acres really used to have… the best dang crops in all of Equestria, everypony knew that. But this corruption, you call it, that leeches into the trees… more of my work these days ain’t apple-bucking, it’s cutting down rotting wood in the orchard that used to be like family, always there, always dependable, always giving me food when I needed it. Is this sourness… can we stop it?”

“The world is reverting, Applejack, I shall not lie to thee.” Luna said softly, gazing from one to the other as Rainbow Dash and Applejack quietly linked hooves. “There is much joy to be found still, and thy crops are still lush and bountiful, compare them not to the crops thou saw in the heights of peaceful times, but be thankful and remember instead that thou art still growing enough to feed entire families and provide for the needs and desires of many ponies. Nay, I sadly do not believe thou shalt see endless orchards filled with harvests untouched by pestilence, plague, or disease in the near future… but our actions in these days can help set a course for a future where perhaps there is once more a harmony that will drive back the poisons that lurk in the bitter soil.

“But at the same time…” Luna paused, turning towards an old apple tree tree and striding slowly towards it, reaching her hoof up and pressing it gently to the withered bark… and her horn glowed faintly, the bark turning black, the tree’s branches curling as the leaves shivered and changed color, becoming tawny and crimson and brown as the heavy fruits turned scarlet… then withered and rotted to browns, grays and blacks as they quietly began to fall away. “Thou may not understand it now, but this is fortune, as well. Glorious bounty and growth may seem like benevolence, but it can become affliction. It can make us placid, and greedy, and arrogant, and ungrateful… and make us forget that it is from shadow and death that life can take firmest root.”

With a flick of her hoof, her horn glowed brightly, and the rotten tree creaked loudly as cracks radiated down the bark, Applejack visibly flinching at the sound and sight before the rotted-out, now-ancient tree collapsed into broken pieces of wood and ash that fell behind Luna as she turned around with a smile… and the other ponies stared as the dust settled and the wood all-but-melted into the ground, leaving a lush, rich mulch and soil in which flowers already had begun to bloom, and a strange sapling had begun to grow, the leaves scarlet, blue fruit already hanging from several of the small branches. It shuddered and twitched as it grew slowly upwards for a few moments, roots visibly curling down through the soil and the tree lurching upwards until the branches had thickened into prouder limbs and its thin but solid body leaned over them. Apple-like fruits had grown over it, in various hues of blue… and Luna smiled slightly over her shoulder, saying quietly: “Given the air to breathe, the chance to grow, the strangest of things will take root in darkness, fair Applejack. Just as Equestria is changing, evolving, to combat the threats inside her, so shall nature itself, when given the chance. Thou does not need order, nor Celestia, nor control over weather and wilds to grow rich crops, thou only needs to persevere… and remember to sometimes prune the healthy, and that not all strange plants are weeds.”

“What… what’d you do to my apple tree?” Applejack stared at it, looking apprehensively at the blue fruits, and Luna threw her head back and laughed. “Hey, what am I supposed to do with this weird-looking thing?”

“’Tis a tree, Applejack, it does not require thee to take great pains over it.” Luna smiled slightly over her shoulder, shaking her head a bit and saying kindly: “My friends, thou will be surprised if for once, thou allows nature to take her course as she will. Trust in her, and in the changes she will bring now that she is freed from Celestia’s shackles. She will ask for help if she needs it, worry not.”

And with that, Luna turned and headed down the path, leaving Applejack looking confused as Scrivener and Twilight fell into step beside her, the male smiling a little as Twilight looked at her thoughtfully, until finally Luna glanced up… and the unicorn asked quietly: “That tree. That was…”

“’Twas a gift, and a lesson.” Luna said pompously, and when Twilight only continued to look at her, the winged unicorn rolled her eyes, saying dryly: “Oh come now, does thou truly expect me to give a straightforward answer all the time? Thou can be so boring. And stuffy. Like Celestia. Like Canterlot.”

Twilight took a slow breath, looking up to the sky as if for patience, and Scrivener threw his head back and laughed before he wheezed when Luna grinned and smacked him firmly, adding playfully: “Oh, hush, press not her patience further, ‘tis my job! Besides, thou art nothing but a great cheater, Scrivener Blooms, since thou peeks constantly inside my mind and enjoys using all my knowledge to thy unfair advantage.”

“Hey, I can do like. Some things on my own.” Scrivy retorted after a moment, and Luna snorted in amusement before the male smiled a little as he glanced ahead, adding quietly: “Besides, Luna, like you once said yourself… you were surprised to find out how much we really do think alike. Admittedly, you could have been a little more subtle than… killing a tree and replacing it with one of your own, but…”

“Oh shush, poet.” Luna nudged him firmly with her muzzle, then she glanced towards Twilight as the unicorn gave her a curious look, rolling her eyes. “And thou, thou does not trust me to help, only thinks that I am showing off? ‘Tis painful, Twilight. It pains me deep.”

Twilight began to open her mouth to argue… but then she fell silent as she stopped and looked ahead instead, and Luna and Scrivener both frowned, halting and following the female’s gaze as they looked forwards… and frowned darkly at the sight of the immense black carriage sitting silently in front of the barn, Sol Seraph standing beside this and smoking a cigarette as she smiled coldly towards them and clearly waited for the three to approach, her unicorn secretary apprehensively fluttering around her with his clipboard.

For a moment, they stood silently, surveying each other… and then Twilight looked towards Luna, asking quietly: “Should I go and get Applejack or Big Mac? This is their home, after all…”

“And yet the beast is clearly here for some other purpose. Nay, let us speak to her, see what the creature wishes to talk of… there is no need to upset other ponies unless absolutely necessary with the presence of this monster.” Luna said quietly, frowning a bit as she strode slowly forwards, and Scrivener and Twilight both nodded nervously as they fell into step beside her, none of them wanting to admit to the apprehension that was worming itself through their veins as they approached the malicious, calculating Pegasus.