• Published 19th Feb 2024
  • 363 Views, 20 Comments

By the Will of the Council - Captain Neckbeard



Sent to Equestria by their tribe, Celestia and Luna have to uncover their kin's most sacred artifact. During the mission however, Luna starts to realize there might be more important things to find than a mere artifact.

  • ...
5
 20
 363

Prologue: Through Fire and Frost, with Fury

The tall mare took another glance at the creature from under her azure bangs. Her hooded black cloak concealed most of her features, only her hooves and face were visible. The creature, a gargoyle, magic staff in one hand, and wildly gesturing with the other, was still blabbering about some tangentially related nonsense, and the mare let out a very subtle sigh. Then, finally, he seemed to get to the point of the conversation.

"So, you're a hunter of sorts?"

"That's not what I'd call myself, but it's pretty close to the truth, yes."

The mare looked deeply into the gargoyle's eyes. He hitched only for a moment, regarding the icy and confident look, then continued:

"And you hunt centaurs, I take it?"

"Not just any centaur" the mare replied, and projected a holographic image from her horn "I'm hunting THE centaur. Lord Taltos."

The gargoyle looked at the image-created-by-spell with some awe, and grabbed his staff with both hands.

"Ah, you've chosen a mighty target. But may I ask, why someone like you, a unicorn from the far north, seeks such a dangerous individual?"

"The reasons for that are mine, and entirely my own."

The gargoyle put a hand on his chin in thought. After some moments, he began:

"Hmm. Taltos is not someone to be taken lightly. You see, he used to be the court mage of King Vorak. Some say he is the best spellcaster centaur that ever lived. He was highly praised by everyone, until he rebelled, and tried to overthrow Vorak's rule. He failed, and so had to flee. But word on the street is that he is gaining more and more followers, even while in exile."

The mare sighed again. She squinted her eyes a bit, and took an effort to remain calm.

"I do not care about the political intricacies surrounding his persona. All I care about is where I can find him."

"To the point, I see. Fine, fine, well... Historically, Black Skull Island was the place where centaurs fled if they wanted some respite. Or if they wanted to avoid execution. He-he." the creature laughed a bit, then continued "I could bet he went there. There you would most likely find him."

"Most likely?" the mare raised an eyebrow "I thought all this talk wasn't just to play guessing games."

"Oh, he is there, calm down!" the gargoyle gestured "A friend told me with contacts in the centaurs' capital. If you go to Black Skull, you will find Taltos."

"I guess that's as close as I'll get to the facts." the mare said with a frown, and took out a small flask from under her cloak "Here's your payment."

She levitated the flask into the gargoyle's free hand, who took a gander, with an expression indicating growing disappointment.

"This won't do it. This wasn't our agreement. You promised me a handsome reward!"

"This is a very potent potion, temporarily increasing one's magical aptitude. You're sort of a mage, someone like you could find this useful."

The creature squeezed on the flask, and anger filled his voice:

"But this wasn't our agreement! I want coin! Fifty gold pieces at least!"

"I'm sorry, but I don't have any money on me. The potion will have to do. Now if you excuse me, I have a centaur to find."

The mare took her leave, but as soon as she passed the creature, he shouted:

"Stop! No one plays a mage of the gargoyles like this! And if you won't give me what you owe me, I'll TAKE what you owe me."

With that, the gargoyle whacked the base of his staff at the ground, activating it. The mare was just glancing back initially, but now, she turned back properly. Without any fear, she reacted.

"Do you really want this fight?"

"Oh, it's up to you. But you either cough up my fifty gold coins right now, or... Well, let's just say in some realms you get a really good price for unicorn horns."

"Unicorn?" the mare scoffed, and removed her cloak, by extending her wings.

The gargoyle gasped, and in his shock, dropped the potion to the ground. He stepped back, then stepped back again, with his tail between his legs.

"Y-y-you're an...a-alicorn... P-please have mercy! I didn't realize you were of the divine race!"

The blue alicorn cocked her head a bit, and regarded the now stammering mage with some amusement.

"Mercy? Negotiable. Will you accept the potion as payment?"

"O-oh yes, it'll be plenty adequate!" the mage said, and picked up the flask with still shaking hands "And I thank you for your generosity!"

And to add emphasis, he deeply bowed.

"You're welcome!" the alicorn smirked, "And if it's coin you're after, that single flask is worth ten times the amount you demanded from me."

With that, the alicorn put her cloak back on, and trotted away, leaving a still shaking gargoyle mage behind.

☼✶☽

A white alicorn made her way up the steep serpentines of White Fang Peak. Her four-hued mane was blowing in the raging blizzard, and she barely saw anything from the snowflakes that filled her vision. She would have preferred just flying to the summit, but her primaries have frozen over in the unnatural cold, and instead of defrosting them with spell, she decided to save her energy for the fight ahead.

Cold. It didn't even begin to describe what she felt. Compared to this, the icy caps of the planet were a tropical paradise. No wonder the pegasi moved out from this area months ago.

She was firmly in windigo territory now. With any luck, they would engage the interloper as soon as she reached the summit, and then she could deal with them. And then, ponykind would be delivered, and peace could return to all three tribes.

The alicorn didn't stop even for a moment, fearing she would immediately freeze over. Slow, but steady, she got closer and closer to the summit. With some luck, all of this would be over soon. With her victory, or with her death.

But either way, she knew she was not supposed to be there at all.

☼✶☽

The blue alicorn reached the shores of Black Skull Island. Fittingly enough, the western slope of the volcano in the center formed a rough skull, as if warning any visitors of the island's nature. But right now, the active volcano maybe wasn't the most dangerous thing that lied ahead. At least she hoped, so her journey wouldn't be for naught.

She landed on the beach, and some distance away, she spotted a boat, with very oversized features. She flew closer, and could confirm: this would be fit for an adult centaur such as Taltos. With a smile on her face, and hope in her heart, she began towards the center of the island. With some luck, this would be over soon. She will accomplish her mission, and her Magikhan will be most pleased.

☼✶☽

The white alicorn reached the summit. Here, as if the storm was a bit less intense. Although her weather spells failed multiple times before, she wanted to grab the attention of her targets somehow, so she shot a beam up into the sky. It was the most intense spell she could manage right then, and only for a moment, the Sun peeked through a hole in the thick sheet of clouds, and the blizzard subsided around her. And for a slim moment, she could muster a smile.

And sure enough, the icy spirits appeared, as if materializing themselves from the snow, and circled the summit, getting closer and closer to the single living being there.

She steeled her heart. She was ready for the fight. If her tribe wouldn't stage an intervention, she would do it herself.

☼✶☽

The blue alicorn flew over the slopes of the volcano. It was easy, she basically just had to glide and steer, thanks to the hot air emanating from the lava flows. The heat was almost unbearable though, and she wished Taltos didn't move here after a recent eruption.

She had hopes she would find her target soon. She landed on a small plateau, near the base of the eastern slopes, and looked around. And sure enough, on a rocky clearing not too far away, she noticed Taltos. And he had what she sought. The staff.

Without further ado, she took off, prepared to fight.

☼✶☽

The windigos closed in, almost forming a dome around the alicorn. Their shrieks were most disconcerting, probably battle cries, and for a moment, the alicorn's determination hitched. She felt fear. An emotion she wasn't supposed to feel, under any circumstances. An emotion her tribe didn't know. An emotion so inherently mortal that it was only supposed to be a codex entry to her.

But at least, she realized the gravity of the situation. Anything could happen. And that included being this her last battle. But if she didn't even try fighting, ponykind could go extinct soon.

One of the icy spirits left the group, and swirled down to her. Its pupilless eyes stared right at her. It reminded her of someone she didn't want to be reminded right then. It talked, or more like hissed at the alicorn:

"Who...are...you?"

"I am a member of the alicorn tribe. And I demand you to stop harassing ponykind! Or else I'll be forced to remove you from their lands!"

"I asked who you are, not what you are. I know your nature. And even your powers will fail here."

At every word, as if an icy spear poked at her. And although it was just a whisper, each word cut through the blizzard, almost causing pain.

"My name is Celestia. And do not underestimate my powers. I WILL destroy you if you do not obey!"

"Where is the rest of your tribe, Celestia? I thought the divine ones only battled as a group. How can you be so bold to come alone?"

"That's only my business!" Celestia shouted, letting herself get angry. Right now, even that served as a means against the cold "And I won't warn you again. Leave. NOW!"

"I sense great strife within you. Perhaps that extends to your tribe? Who knows, perhaps when the pony lands will become an icy wasteland, littered with their corpses, we'll be powerful enough to visit Aeternum Island as well. What do you think, Celestia?"

"Silence!" Celestia responded madly, and fired a beam spell at the windigo. It got cut in half, and to her surprise, both halves dissipated. Celestia didn't think her spells would be this effective against a spirit, but it seemed her minor godhood combined with raw power made for a good weapon against them.

Now the whole group got roused. They slithered away from their orderly movement, and flew around in all directions, occasionally diving at Celestia, exhaling icy attacks at her.

Celestia was still unable to fly, but skillfully dodged the beams of pure frost. They missed her pretty closely though, and she could feel the unnatural cold they emanated. Surely, one such attack could freeze her solid. But as the battle now began for good, she fired more beams, and with each of them, one more windigo got struck out of existence. She was making good progress, dodging attacks, then counterattacking with her beam of solid magic.

Some windigos dived at her, and she didn't even want to imagine what could've happened if they tackled her. But at that point, her wings defrosted enough from the heat of battle that she could use them in a limited capacity. Not for flying, but her maneuvering on the ground was assisted by them, and sure enough, she didn't get hit by any of those frost breaths. But each of her own spells struck true, further reducing the number of the evil spirits.

Celestia started to feel she might win this battle. She didn't think it was possible by a single alicorn, but there she was, up against only a dozen or so windigos now.

She started to feel confident.

☼✶☽

The alicorn assassin landed a small distance behind her target. She had the element of surprise. Or so she thought, as Lord Taltos spoke, without even looking back:

"I really hoped the Magikhan herself would come. But fully expected one of the councilors, at least. But you?"

Taltos finally turned, and gestured towards the cloaked figure. He continued:

"Who are you even? Are you even an alicorn? I thought I impressed Magikhan Arcana more than to send some runt."

"My name is Luna." the alicorn answered, and took off her cloak "And this name is the last one you'll ever hear if you don't give back what belongs to us."

"You mean this gem?" Taltos pointed out the one at the tip of his staff "Thanks to your legends, I know what I truly found! No way I'm parting with it. And when I fully uncover its secrets, I will use the true power of my staff finally. And overthrow that old idiot Vorak for good."

Luna sighed, although she didn't expect any of this to go differently. She put a hoof forward, and looked up at the huge centaur.

"Then you leave me no choice. But don't worry. I'll try to be quick about it."

"BWA-HA-HA-HA!" Taltos laughed, throwing back his head "You really want to fight me, don't you?"

Then Taltos grabbed his staff in both hands, and his tone got serious:

"So be it. I'll make sure to send your ashes back to Arcana."

Luna knew what was coming, and flared her wings. Taltos didn't stall, and let loose his first attack, a huge bolt from his staff. Luna took off, dodging the spell, then another, then a magical bola flew towards her. She dropped to the ground, and constated to herself Taltos was a bit more creative and skilled than her usual adversaries.

Now that Luna saw what Taltos was capable of, it was her turn, and fired a few combat spells of her own. The centaur had the counter ready, and blocked it with a shield cast from the staff. Luna tried to change positions quickly, zigzagging through the battlefield through phasing, but Taltos quickly adapted to her tactic, and anticipated where she would arrive. He sent blobs of magic there, and they exploded with an area of effect, forcing Luna to teleport away. She preferred phasing over it, but this way she could pop up randomly anywhere.

Like behind Taltos, but he was on the nose, and teleported away himself in turn. Luna didn't fire off the bolt she prepared, so the reappearing Taltos could get it, but it was blocked all the same. She was starting to get a bit frustrated, but didn't have time to lament, as Taltos cast waves of magic at her, so powerful that they scarred the ground as they passed. Luna dodged sideways with wing assisted hops, and fired a few bolts meanwhile, just to keep the pressure on.

She started to feel at a bit of a disadvantage.

☼✶☽

Celestia's final beam hit its mark, and the last windigo was no more. She looked around, but saw no movement, apart from the wild blizzard.

"Finally." she panted "Now, to do something about this weather..."

She started to cast her weather spells, and shot small patches of blue into the field of snowclouds above. After a while, a bit of sunshine poked through again, and this time, it stayed. Celestia started to get hopeful this would lead to success. That this secret mission would get completed. Her parents would be so proud!

But it was not to be. Soon, the clouds patched their dark veil of the sky, and their evil masters reappeared too. The Sun disappeared from view again. Celestia's ears drooped, but she wouldn't give up just yet. She readied her spells again, and looked forward to battle.

Then, something unexpected happened. The windigos flew at each other, converging into fewer, but larger forms. Then those united as well, until Celestia was facing a single, gigantic spirit. She was so paralyzed by this event that she even forgot to cast, but then remembered the stakes, and fired off a golden beam of superheated, deadly energy. It went through the forehead of the windigo, but it did nothing, and the next moment it breathed a jolt of icy tempest, sending Celestia flying back, tumbling through the snow, and down the slopes of the summit. She tried to open her wings fully, but hit a rock formation on her way down, then fell a good hundred meters, then hit rocks again, until finally, she hit a plateau, and became embedded in the knee-deep snow there.

And she remained there, motionless.

☼✶☽

Luna maneuvered in the air, dodging more and more rocky spikes, shooting at her from the ground. As Taltos was summoning these, he was cackling madly, amused by his adversary's predicament. And to make matters worse (and more amusing for himself), he shot a few beams of magic at Luna from his own horns. Luna flew in loops, trying to be unpredictable, and sure enough, she didn't get hit.

Taltos then let up with the rocky spikes, and summoned forth huge rocks from the earth. About half a dozen of them floated in front of him, then they shot forward. Luna decided this was the moment she should counterattack, and flew straight at Taltos, shooting the rocks out of the sky on her way. She cast a shield around herself, and decided to hit the huge centaur, aiming at his horns, potentially breaking them off.

Seeing the intention, Taltos stopped hurling rocks, and charged up his staff, and swung at Luna when she came into range, but Luna expected that. At the last moment, she teleported, right on top of Taltos' head. She positioned herself between the horns, and tried prying them apart, but Taltos grabbed her, and threw her at the ground. Luna rolled multiple times before coming to a stop, but she couldn't get up, as a magic bolt struck her. She was sent back from the power of the hit, then Taltos sent another bolt of magic at her, then another. She finally skidded to a stop, but not on her own. Taltos simply stopped casting.

She got hurt, badly. Her resistance to magic, inherent to alicorns saved her, but her left wing got all messed up, as that was underneath her as she was sent sliding along the rough surface of the battlefield.

She remained there, motionless.

☼✶☽

"This one is getting cold, although there is still life left in her..."

Celestia felt something icy and grating on her cheek, licking her. Lying on her right, she opened her left eye, and saw an ice wraith right above herself, waiting for an imminent meal. The small ice spirits feasted on the last hopeless emotions of the dying, but Celestia wanted to emphasize that wasn't the case.

She sprung open her left wing suddenly, and the tiny spirit slithered away. She got up properly, and looked up at the summit.

They got her.

She felt inadequate.

This was too much for her.

"No. NO! I won't let ponykind perish! This is not to be!!!"

Now the blizzard was even more intense than ever, and her defeat made Celestia's blood boil. Her emotions flared up, and she was filled with hatred. As she gritted her teeth, she felt more and more magic seeping unto her from Caelum, and her mane began flowing, just like those of her fellow tribe-members. And as visions of burning windigos filled her mind, her mane and tail actually burst into flames, and she melted the snow around herself with a fiery aura. Her eyes glowed white with pure magic. Her wings were frozen no longer, and she took off, with such speed as if she was shot out of a catapult.

In seconds, she made it back to the summit. The giant windigo waited for her. It prepared for a strike, but Celestia acted faster, and with a spell fueled by her hatred, she set the spirit ablaze. It wallowed in the arcane flames, shrieking and crying, until it exploded with a satisfying puff.

Celestia grinned at her adversary's demise, and at her victory. She did it! All she had to do was letting herself loose, and let her emotions fully guide her magic. And now, she could finally dispel the inclement weather, and she could go home, knowing ponykind was safe.

But as soon as she prepared to do that, the giant windigo, seemingly out of nowhere, re-formed itself. In less than a minute, it floated before Celestia again in all its horrific glory. It fixed its gaze on Celestia, and in turn, she spoke with fury.

"This cannot be! You've been killed! I killed you! My arcane flames could incinerate anything! Anything!"

As she reached the end of her sentence, Celestia's voice got more desperate than furious. The windigo let out a soft cackle, and answered, in its whispery voice:

"Foolish alicorn! You thought you could win? While there is strife among ponykind, you can never truly defeat us. Remember that."

With that, the spirit dissipated into the individuals that made it up, and they all floated away, up into the higher reaches of the atmosphere. Celestia remained there in the air, pondering the words she heard. And while she did that, she felt her body cooling off again, and flying becoming harder and harder by the second, as her feathers started to freeze over.

And she realized, now she was truly defeated.

☼✶☽

Luna was lying on the ground, feeling a sharp pain in her right wing. Was it broken? Perhaps, but right then, that didn't concern her the most. She heard a slight tremor, as when someone approached with heavy steps.

She lifted her head, just enough to peek behind herself. Sure enough, Taltos was powerwalking towards her, with staff gripped in both hands. Instinctively, she wanted to spring up, and get away from the up and coming finishing strike, but she decided against it. She couldn't measure up how badly her wing was hurt, and therefore, she wasn't sure how fast she could get up. And fast meant a split-second in such a situation. Without both wings, she couldn't manage that.

So she put her head back down on the ground, and stayed motionless. She heard Taltos getting closer. Impatience would breed death right then. She'd just wait until he was real close.

Taltos stepped right next to Luna. She heard a satisfied cackle. Then, she weakly turned around, facing the centaur. The tip of the staff was mere inches from her face. She could see the energy swirling inside the red crystal.

"Could there be any other end, foolish little alicorn?"

Just as he cast, Luna used her telekinesis to yank away the staff, and the bolt hit the ground next to her. She sprung to her hooves, still holding the staff, trying to take it away, but Taltos had a firm grip on it. He charged up a spell of his own, but Luna shot right between his horns, disrupting it. Taltos screamed in pain, and using the momentary distraction, Luna could almost get the staff with a sudden yank, but Taltos didn't budge just yet. Instead, realizing the stakes, he fired off a repulse spell, and it sent Luna flying, but she skidded to a halt in a controlled manner, using her one good wing.

Now some distance between them, Taltos turned the staff towards Luna, and fired a quick magic bolt, but she phased away from it, right into the hand that held the weapon. The centaur did not expect that move, and dropped the staff, but before he could reach for it, Luna twirled around in the air, and seized it.

She turned the staff against Taltos, and they stared at each other for a few seconds. Then Taltos backed off, realizing what he was up against, and pleaded, with both hands held in front of himself.

"You won. You can take the staff. There's no need for any killing now, is there? You are a great warrior, Luna. I can see now why Magikhan Arcana has sent you."

Luna squinted her eyes in anger. She twitched her right wing, and hissed up in pain. In a moment, she decided her course of action.

"Surely you can... You won't interfere with my tribe's matters ever again."

With that, Luna engaged the triggering spell, and the staff fired at the centaur. Then again and again, until Taltos hit the ground. When he did, he stayed there.

Luna walked up to her adversary, and ran a quick magic scan. All kinds were leaving his body, which meant he was no more. Then she removed the gem from the tip of the staff, the very objective of this whole predicament.

Luna eyed the gem for a few moments. It didn't look like much, but if the Magikhan needed it, she would get it. Then she threw the now useless staff next to the corpse, and left the site of battle.

☼✶☽

After a long-long flight, Celestia arrived back on Aeternum Island, and landed on the porch of the family home. Her parents, Master Guardians Solus and Selena, were anticipating her. But even before they could ask anything, they got their answer, seeing their daughter hanging her head low.

"Mother... Father... I am so sorry."

Celestia recounted her battle with the windigos. As she moved forward in her tale, the faces of Solus and Selena got more and more concerned. At the end, Solus said:

"Then it is as I have feared. The windigos got fully empowered. At this point, only a banishing spell cast by the whole tribe would be powerful enough to get rid of them."

"It's most sad the Magikhan and the Council will never agree to an intervention." Selena added "They are preoccupied with different matters now. They don't think ponykind's troubles are worth their attention."

"Then what will we do? Just let ponykind die out? Freezing to death in an everlasting winter?" Celestia asked, almost crying.

"Of course not." Solus answered, sad, but calm "Right now though, they don't face immediate extinction. But acting against the Council's wishes could lead to civil war. When we reach a turning point though, we WILL act. And then, perhaps enough would follow us to save ponykind."

"I fear we've already reached it... Oh Creator..." Celestia whimpered, shaking her head slightly, but she understood the weight of the situation. She didn't like it, but her father was right: an unprompted intervention could lead to the whole tribe choosing sides, if it was two Master Guardians doing it. That's why they were forced to be content with the Magikhan's decision, and sent Celestia to deal with the windigos. After all, the absence of an irrelevant member of the tribe, one of the two "born ones", could go unnoticed for a few days.

All of this made Celestia sad, but right there and then, she could do little about it. She tried everything, yet she failed. Instead, trying to distract herself, she asked about the fourth member of their family.

"What about Luna? I haven't heard anything about her, even before I set off on this mission."

"She was on a mission of her own. Prompted by the Magikhan." Selena sighed "We don't know what exactly it involved though..."

☼✶☽

A few hours earlier...

After returning, Luna went immediately to the Magikhan's private chambers. She entered, and bowed her head deeply.

"I have succeeded, Your Wisdom. Here's the gemstone you sought."

Luna raised her head, and saw as Magikhan Arcana just opened her eyes, and stood up from her meditative stance. Those glowing white eyes as if pierced through her soul, but she stood there solemn, motionless.

"I'm glad you returned so quickly, Protector Luna."

She gestured to Luna to come closer, and took over the oval-shaped gemstone. She levitated it before herself, and regarded it with some faint interest before setting it aside.

"And what is the status of Lord Taltos? Did he cause you any trouble?"

"No, Your Majesty. I killed him without any issues."

"Good. He was a nuisance. And this little gesture will silence Vorak, even."

"So now your plan can continue without a hitch."

"Yes. Although ultimately, your contribution here wasn't about the centaurs, or even this gemstone."

Luna had to do a double take, but didn't react otherwise. The Magikhan sat back down, and pulled her legs underneath herself. She picked up the gemstone in her magic, and spun it around a few times. Finally, she applied some telekinetic pressure, and the gem shattered into a thousand pieces. And as the tiny shards fell to the ground, Luna saw a part of her effort in each of them, also being regarded the same. She drooped her ears. Now, she couldn't stand not to voice her disappointment.

"B-but I thought you needed this? That this was one of the Teardrops of Creation?"

"Oh, this bauble?" Arcana chuckled "My child, it was more useless than the centaur you killed for it. No, this was all about you. I wanted to see if you could carry out a mission of such difficulty. But you did an excellent job, Guardian Luna. Unlike your sister, I see a bright future before you."

Luna's ears perked up, She shifted her gaze up from the gem slivers, and looked straight into those mystical eyes.

"You said... Guardian?!"

"Yes. You deserve to be one. And I need alicorns I can fully trust."

"Thank you kindly, Your Highness." said Luna, and bowed very deeply "I promise I won't disappoint."

"Rise, my child. Yes, I know you won't. Your training is nearly complete. And when the time comes, we will ascend together, and you can truly become our equal. I can feel we are close now. We will find the Teardrops very soon. With their help, our ultimate destiny will be fulfilled."

Luna only nodded in acknowledgement. But something stirred in the back of her mind. Something bothered her, and although she knew this was not the right time to ask it, she had to do it sometime. So far, none of her missions involved helping ponykind. Despite the things she heard. She had to ask it...

"What about ponykind?" she began, voice wavering "I heard about their predicament with the long winters... That pegasi can't control it."

"Their issues aren't pressing right now. We need not intervene. They simply need to sort out their own problems. I'm sure they'll figure it out soon. But you seem tired, Guardian Luna. Go and rest some. You really earned it."

Feeling she was dismissed, Luna nodded again, and began towards the chamber doors. Before she reached them though, Arcana's voice could be heard:

"Remember this, Guardian Luna: ascension is near, but the unworthy, the defiant will be left behind. Consider carefully who you trust."

Luna stopped and turned back. She didn't know what to say, as she was conflicted who Arcana might have thought of. So, she just defaulted to:

"Understood, Your Wisdom."

Then, she quickly left the place.