• Published 27th Dec 2012
  • 6,182 Views, 202 Comments

Kinetics - Habanc



On behalf of her sister, Princess Luna tries to elevate the studies of her new student, Twilight Sparkle. However, when their plans backfire, they find themselves in a new world where magic is lost, and then have to survive the turmoil in its place.

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Book 1: Chapter 3

Glints of Iron and Gold

“Such machines of battle were only reaffirming her fears that this new world was far from a stable one.”


Princess Luna skidded along the ground, holding her wings out to break her momentum, panting lightly. The fire crackled quietly, lighting up the darkness for her to see it all. Twilight and Donevyn were both sitting on the ground, with two of the bandits behind them. A knife was pressed against Twilight's neck while Donevyn was bound by his hooves with rope.

“Don't move!” One of the rogues called out. It was hard to tell which was which in the diminishing glow of the fire. The voice sounded male, however. “Any funny business and one of these here gets it!”

Luna swallowed. She looked to Twilight, who, for all her previous turmoil and instability, was remarkably quiet. The lavender mare still wore a look of absolute terror in her eyes, but aside from that she gave up nothing. While the starry alicorn hadn't dealt with situations like this in two thousand years, already the lessons she'd learned began to come back to her.

Shifting her gaze to the newfound pegasus, Donevyn, she remembered, she found a different reaction. He was trying his best to remain stoic, chest out and eyes locked ahead. Only the quick flaring of his nostrils gave away his panic, attesting to his rapid breathing and presumably pounding heart rate.

Turning her gaze back to the two robbers, she noticed one of them was holding the dagger around Twilight's neck, while another stood slightly behind, probably being the one who was doing the talking. If she had to take a guess, they were the two henchponies from before.

“Alright,” Luna finally answered, fighting to keep her voice level. What I wouldn't give for my magic right about now. “What do you want with them?”

“Well, the boss wanted just to take his necklace here,” the bandit said. “But since he's nursin' his jaw at the moment, and I'm in charge, I figure it'd be more profitable to take both of 'em with us.” He grinned. “Queen Ulwyn always needs more ponies in her mines and I bet these two'd fetch a pretty price.” Twilight whimpered silently, ears folding close to her head as her expression beseechingly asked for help.

Luna bit her lip, threatening to break skin. It'd been many, many years since she'd faced such intense loathing like this. Old, dark feelings welled up inside her, and she wanted to do nothing more than pick them apart with precision magic. But, reigning herself in, she admitted to herself that without her magic, she couldn't risk going on the offensive.

“How about...” Luna's mind was racing, struggling to find an alternative. With few available, she decided to go with the only plausible option left on the table, diplomacy. They don't seem particularly bright at all... It just might work. “How about I offer a trade?”

“Hah! Two ponies don't equal one! Even I know that!” The brigand exclaimed, as if to solidify Luna's thoughts.

“You didn't hear the terms of my offer,” Luna bit back. With a sigh, she took off her crown. “This,” she said, holding it up in her hooves for all to see, “This crown is a hundred percent onyx, cut and fashioned by the best gem cutters I could find.” Twilight opened her eyes with surprise. “If you let the purple one go, it's all yours. I'm confident it'll be worth much more than a scrawny, thin pony like her.”

The bandits remained silent for a few seconds. They looked to one another, before one of them shrugged and nodded. “Fine, I guess it'd be a risk traveling with her,” he said, the other taking the dagger away from Twilight's neck and pushed her forward roughly, sending her snout-first into the ground. The unicorn recovered, however, and scrambled over towards Luna.

“Here.” Luna tossed the crown over, and the now-idle highwaypony picked it up in her teeth. Looking to her left, she saw Twilight standing beside her. “Are you okay?” she whispered.

“I'm fine,” Twilight exhaled, “What about Donevyn though?” She cast a few glances at him, the pegasus still managing to keep his composure.

“I don't know.” Luna sighed.

“Hey!” one of the bandits yelled, “No doin' that! I wont have you two whispering over there,” the ruffian glared at Twilight, “I still remember yer tricks.”

“Dammit,” Twilight muttered under her breath. Nevertheless, she pulsed her horn with magic as her frustration slipped through.

“Hey hey hey!” the other rogue shouted angrily. “What did I tell you! None of that!” She pulled out her blade once more, pressing it hard against Donevyn's neck.

“Yeah!” the male piped up. Glaring at the two ponies in front of him, he clearly despised them and wanted nothing more than to cut them down. With a snort, he suddenly declared, “You know what, fuck this!” He took a menacing step forward, snarling. “I just came up with a great idea. How about you give us the rest of what you got on, and maybe we just won't slice him right here!” This time the brown pegasus did falter, his face betraying him as it tightened with fear.

Luna fumed, anger coming up to the surface like a pot set to boil. Now she really wanted to make them pay. Deep down, a darker, martial side wanted to watch them experience terror, to make them hurt, to make them ble- No. she pulled herself back once again. Such feelings might have been useful long, long ago, when Equestria itself was fractured and unstable, when sometimes a sin would be redeemed by helping dozens of others. But that time was no longer. I'm... I'm better than that.

Taking off her gorget and greaves, she tossed them halfway the distance to the bandits. “They're a combination of maxixe gemstone and silver. Surely they're worth more than the pegasus?” she asked once more, hoping their value would change their minds.

One of the brigands walked over to the regalia, pulling it back towards his partner with his hooves. “Damn sure they are. But, I'm afraid you simply can't have him back.” He shot them another glare. “See, we need a bargaining chip to get us out all nice an' safe, and his safety is just the thing we're lookin' for.” He started to put on the ornate, ceremonial wear, in lieu of having to carry it all somehow with his mouth.

Twilight flared her horn again. “You... You monsters!” she cried.

“Ah ah ah, one more flare and he gets it!” the robberpony shouted back. His companion pressed the knife even closer against Donevyn's neck. Small flecks of blood could be seen running along the knife's blade in the glow of the flames, before dripping to the ground.

Luna put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder, shaking her head with a frown. The fire in the unicorn's eyes smoldered, and she extinguished her magic in defeat.

“There we go, we'll make this nice and easy.” The brigand grinned, and then barked to his partner, “Alright, Shadow Eyes, let's pull this one away and leave these two before they try anything stupid.” The other nodded, and taking Donevyn's binding ropes in her mouth, began to slowly drag him away.

Luna felt like she was fracturing as a whole, her mind fighting her heart. The valiant, courageous side of her told her, even without her magic, she should at least do something to save him. She had been a ruler of many ponies for many years, and it was hard to fight her insistent urge to save what could've been an Equestrian citizen. But her mind told her it was hopeless. No matter what they could try, Donevyn would be killed, because the one brigand still kept her dagger nearby. And all she could do was sit here and watch.

“We have to do something!” Twilight exclaimed, panicking. “We can't leave him!”

“Yes you can!” The brigand interrupted. “Because if you do anything, this mare over here will slice his neck. So you two sit tight and don't-”

“Hraaaah!”

A blur tore through the dim glow of the fire, shearing across Luna's field of vision with terrifying speed. The robber pulling Donevyn suddenly jerked to the side, rolling across the ground with a grunt. Coming to a stop feet later, she crumpled and did not rise. Her partner looked over, jaw slackened, still trying to decipher what had happened. Even Donevyn abandoned his stoicism and gazed over at the pony lying by the fire. Before anypony could move, two more blurs flew into the scene, taking the other brigand along with them. He let out a grunt before the sound of wood snapping echoed somewhere nearby, out of sight in the darkening night.

Luna blinked as the dust began to settle. Seconds passed, and nothing moved save for the flames of the dying fire and a pool forming beneath the dispatched rogue.

But then something caught Luna's eye. Looking to her left, she saw a ponylike-being begin to transcend into the light. Squinting, she soon discovered it was just a pegasus wearing a scary amount of scaled armor, the illumination of the fire turning his garb a golden hue. Heavy, iron-clad boots covered his hooves and legs, two, sharpened plates of metal fitted on the forward edge of his wings, with a crested helmet worn over his head. In the dim light of the small campfire, he seemed grim and imposing, his face as expressionless as any royal guard.

“You there, don't move,” he said in a gruff voice to Luna and Twilight, before turning to look at Donevyn. Walking over to him as metal clanked against metal, the armored stallion cut through the ropes with an outward flick of his wings.

Luna's coat prickled with unease. Such machines of battle were only reaffirming her fears that this new world was far from a stable one. Looking out of the corner of her eye, she could tell Twilight was feeling as distressed, if not more. Her eyes were wide open as she shifted her gaze between Luna and the armored pegasus, confused.

“Thank the wind you showed up!” Donevyn cried. “I thought the patrols didn't fly at night?”

“We don't.” The soldier answered. “We heard a scream right before we were about to leave the area, and rushed inside to find out what was wrong.” Two more armored pegasi flew into the light, and besides from what little of their coats and manes she could see, they looked nearly the same.

“Wait, Donevyn, is that you?” one of the arriving pegasi asked. He walked closer to him for a better look.

“Yeah, hey Nightshade...” He sounded slightly embarrassed. Nevertheless, he got up and stretched his legs, groaning as he did.

“Dammit, what were you doing out here?” he asked, sounding legitimately worried. “Kazius assumed you were just around the city somewhere, but told us to look out for you anyways. You're lucky we came by this way.”

“I know-”

“What were you doing out here?” the other arriving stallion asked, almost spitting out each word. “As far as I know, you're not allowed to leave Konik.”

“Let me explain-”

“No, the entire city knows of your silver tongue. Spit it out, boy.”

“Boy?!” Donevyn bit back, “I'm not a colt any more, I've earned my sigil and-”

“And what?! You might be as big as any stallion, and you may have gotten your sigil, but until you act like one, you're nothing but a colt!”

“Oh yeah?” He took a step forward.

“Yeah!”

“Gentlecolts, please, stop it,” Luna spoke up. “Enough blood has been spilled on this grass beneath our hooves.” She took a second to glance at the bandit nearby, a crimson river running from her along the ground. “Fighting will do nothing at this point.”

“Who are you?” the berating pegasi asked, whipping around to face her. His eyes leered daggers at her for interrupting a heated argument so abruptly.

“Ah, see, this is part of what I wanted to explain.” Donevyn trotted forward, as the soldiers turned to look at Luna also. “If it wasn't for these two ponies, I would have been dead hours ago.” He turned to the stallion next to him, “Vaegir, this is... umm... uhh...”

“Luna,” she filled in for him.

He looked uneasily at her for a second, as if it didn't match up with what he remembered, but nodded and continued, “Luna.” Pointing a hoof to the mare next to her, he said, “And this is Twilight.” The lavender unicorn smiled weakly in acknowledgment. “These robbers here, plus another that Luna dealt with earlier, had tried to steal my pendant hours ago. So, I took off, trying to get away from them and lose them in the forest. But, they soon caught up to me and ran me into the Maras Stream at full flight. Apparently while I was unconscious, these two fought them off.”

“Right, two mares fought off three armed criminals.” Vaegir snorted. “ Did you get hit in the head and knock something loose?”

“Hey! They-”

“Enough!” Barked the grim soldier who hadn't spoke since telling Twilight and Luna to be still. Now that the latter could see him a bit better as he moved in towards the fire, he seemed to be older than his comrades. No doubt he was the leader. “I don't care if they fought off a roving band of eastern sea raiders. All I want is for us to get out of here, this isn't the best place to linger. You two,” he turned to the mares, “are you ready to move?”

“In a second,” Luna replied. “One of the bandits had something of mine, and I'd like to see if I could retrieve it.” The leader nodded, before walking over to question Donevyn.

Making her way into the darkness, Luna let her nocturnal aptitudes set in as her eyes adjusted to the lack of light. Mentally tracking where the male criminal had gone, she trotted to the edge of the clearing, looking along the treeline. He has to be around here somewh-

Much to her distaste, she found him pinned to the trunk of an ash tree, a snapped lance keeping him there by way of his chest. He was crushed, bloodied and bent in more than one unnatural way. His eyes were still, staring out vacantly towards the sky, as lifeless as the instrument that pierced his heart. It was a gruesome reminder of what Luna might have done to him, if she had her magic when she wanted it. Shivers raced down her spine as she looked back on what could've been.

Looking around, trying to rip her eyes away from the morbid scene, she found the other half of the snapped lance lying on the ground. Nearby, was her regalia. Or at least, what used to be. Mangled and broken, remnants of her gorget and greaves lay shattered like glass. The crescent moon on her gorget shined in three different pieces, scattered along the grass. Not far away, her onyx crown was crushed, dispersed shards coating the forest floor like hundreds of burnt grains of sand.

Taking a deep breath, Luna sighed sadly, closing her eyes. It's probably all for the best that I can't wear it anymore, yet still a part of me feels as broken as these hundreds of shards. I know it's all superficial and cosmetic, but I've had them since the beginning and... Oh, I don't know. She stomped her hooves. Dammit, Luna, stop weeping over your broken toys already. Other ponies are waiting for you. Turning around, she left the scene behind her, not bothering to look back.

-~-

Twilight sat near the fire, awkwardly shuffling her hooves as she waited for Luna to return. Her mind felt frayed and torched, emotionally burnt to the point where she felt numb. Being crept up on and surprised with a dagger to her neck was enough shock as is, but then going through the stress of being held captive, then watching Donevyn about to be abducted, and then the death of two ponies in front of her own eyes was mentally debilitating and marring. She felt like a shell of her former self.

Don't look at the dead pony, don't look at the dead pony, she warned herself. Look at something else. Trees, grass, more trees, campfire, some of the soldiers scolding Donevyn, Donevyn looking ashamed... Alright, something else. Trees, grass, bushes, trees- Wait, what was that?!

The lavender mare turned her head to the left, glancing over as something materialized from the darkness. Oh, it's just Luna. Phew. Not a reincarnated dead pony or a hexapedal abomination or something- Stop thinking about that! Oh shoot, I think I'm staring awkwardly at her. She's smiling, smile back!

Twilight felt the ends of her lips start to obey as Luna came up to her and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Are you okay? How do you feel?”

“Uhh...” Her voice was tremorous, coming out in aural shambles. “I'm getting there,” she admitted. She felt her forelegs wobble slightly, finally being forced to face her feelings on a conscious level. She didn't like it, but she was a protégé to both of her diarchs, dammit! Pulling herself together, she did her best to quash her feelings. Like it or not, she realized that this world would require her to grow some tougher skin.

A clanking hoofstep behind her made the bookish unicorn jump, yelping in surprise.

“Ladies,” the gruff voice of the patrol leader sounded as Twilight turned around, finding herself much closer to Luna than she had remembered. “We'd like you to accompany us back to the palace, on account for saving young Donevyn. We ask you to speak before the king to verify his stories and stand witness. Will you come with us?”

Twilight looked to Luna. “Should we?”

“Yes, we accept,” Luna declared. “My business has been attended to, and Miss Sparkle here is ready to go. Lead the way.”

“One problem, your friend doesn't have wings,” one of the other soldiers remarked.

The leader nodded. “That's right. For the sake of time, it seems one of us will have to carry her.”

Twilight paled. She didn't fancy the idea of riding on their backs, part in because they were complete strangers, and partially because their scale armor looked like it'd pinch at her skin. But mainly because they were completely unknown, intimidating, big ponies that just killed two others in front of her. And that might have emotionally scarred her a bit. It might've been that.

“That's no matter,” Luna butted in, “She's my student, and because of that I feel responsible for her. I'll take her.” Twilight sighed in relief, silently thanking the alicorn.

“Are you sure?” The head soldier asked. “Konik is not very far away, but I'm skeptical if you could carry her weight for the three mile journey.”

Twilight frowned. Why must everypony criticize my weight?

“I assure you, I'm more than a capable flier. Besides, Twilight is as light as a feather,” Luna replied. Twilight's frown disappeared.

“If you say so.” The leader looked around to everypony else. “Alright, let's form up and get out of here. Straight back to the palace, including you, Donevyn.” The other two soldiers nodded while a look of guilt flashed over Donevyn's face.

Luna turned to Twilight. “Ready?” she asked.

Honestly, the bookish mare felt rather anxious about riding on Luna's back, as such an action would hardly ever fly in Equestria, but she decided to not let it show. Compared to relying on one of the soldiers, Luna's offer was far more preferable. “Ready.”

The Princess knelt down on the ground. “Okay, well climb on and hold tight.”

With a fair amount of trepidation, Twilight Sparkle, formerly a librarian in the quiet town of Ponyville, clambered onto the back of Princess Luna, the Lunar Diarch of the faraway land of Equestria, and a goddess in her own right. She felt incredibly awkward and out of place, yet wrapped her hooves around Luna's neck all the same.

The Princess stood up, and nodding to the other pegasi, galloped a short distance in the clearing before taking off, fanning out her wings and flapping them powerfully as she and Twilight set out into the night sky.

Twilight felt sick. The gravitational forces were playing cruel jokes with her stomach, flopping it over repeatedly. Please, please, please don't let me throw up on Luna... She wrapped her forelegs tighter around the pony beneath her, shutting her eyes as she felt herself continuing to rise.

After what seemed like hours, a voice called out to her quietly, “Twilight...”

Peeping her eye open, Twilight could see nothing around except a glimmer off in the distance, and the crescent moon with its stars. Then she made the horrible mistake of looking down, treetops the size of pebbles, and slammed her eyelids shut once more.

“Twilight...”

With sudden realization, she remembered the midnight mare carrying her. “Oh yes, Luna, what is it?” she asked with her eyes still closed. “A-Are we coming down soon?”

“N-no.”

“Oh, well, what is it then?”

“Could you ease your grip? You're ch-choking me.” Luna gave out a small cough.

“Oh!” The lavender pony quickly let her forelegs slacken. “Sorry about that...” She felt her cheeks grow warm.

“It's fine.” Luna's voice seemed much more clear and strong now. “I understand this might be a little nerve-wracking for you.”

“That doesn't begin to explain half of it.” Twilight chuckled nervously.

As if some breath had been held collectively between them for the past half hour, it dissipated when Luna laughed quietly in response. “Well, there's little you can do now. By my estimate, we'll be there in fifteen minutes or so. So please, just try to relax.

“Okay...” Twilight focused on controlling the rising and falling of her chest, trying her best to match the pony underneath her. Luna was remarkably at ease, because even though the flapping of her wings were strong and powerful, it seemed as if she was hardly working at all.

That's odd, Twilight thought analytically to herself, slipping into a familiar mindset to keep her thoughts off the thousand-foot drop beneath them. Flying at twelve miles per hour consumes, on average, one thousand and eight calories an hour, and based upon cellular respiration and the fact she inhales every three seconds, that's nearly...carry the seven, then divide that by twenty...point zero two moles of oxygen gas per breath. Her intake is incredible! That's more than tenfold of the average pony! She smiled to herself, figuring out new things always had a knack for making her feel better.

Hmm... Perhaps her diaphragm is particularly strong. As far as I can tell, she seems to be in excellent physical condition, hardly any body fat at all. Twilight remained still for a moment, feeling Luna's taut back and wing muscles move rhythmically just under her coat.

Just when she was about to continue on and amuse herself with even more theories and calculations, her conscience snapped her back to reality and mentally rapped her on the forehead with a rolled up newspaper, as if she were a misbehaving puppy. This is the Princess! She's not just some test subject to poke and prod! Show some respect. Twilight felt her skin itch with embarrassment.

Looking around, she noticed that the previous glow in the distance was now much closer. The lights of Konik were now visible, leading from the base of the large hill it was situated upon, all the way up to the top where it shimmered the brightest. It was hard to make out much in the night, but Twilight could tell it was a fairly large city, with cramped, tight buildings built all up and down the hillside. Additionally, huge walls surrounded the town, at least twelve feet thick. Lastly, the silhouette of the palace stood out amongst the light, two towers rising up from the complex.

“Identify!” A voice called out over the wind. The convoy of ponies dipped down towards the battlements.

“Hazel Ridge, Domelle Forest Patrol.” The leader reported, flying close to a pony along the wall. Twilight noticed that he was an earth pony, and thanks to the torch nearby on the wall, she saw that he wore nothing but a red and white tunic and a crude nasal helmet. Much less intimidating than their rescuers, thankfully. “We've found Donevyn, and we're headed straight for the palace.”

The wall sentry nodded, “Alright then. I wish the lad luck.” He smiled weakly, before turning around and returning to his post. Without a word, the patrol picked back up in altitude, although this time it wasn't as bad for Twilight. The incline wasn't as sharp, and it almost, for a small second, felt nice.

-~-

A rudimentary cobblestone path led along a manicured courtyard and up to a pair of polished, oaken doors. They stood at least ten feet in height, bronze rings attached to open them. Certain things were carved into them, but Luna couldn't quite tell what as they approached, the flickering of nearby torches playing with her usually-accurate nighttime vision.

The palace itself was not terribly huge, and while not as tall or complex as Canterlot's, it was simplistic and functional. It consisted of one large, rectangular structure, which rose four stories in height, and only a few, short buildings branched off from it. Two large towers denoted the back corners. The entire complex was made almost entirely of white limestone, however, an ample indicator of some level of prosperity.

One of the soldiers, Nightshade, trotted ahead to the door, opening it up for the arriving ponies. Stepping inside, it took Luna a few moments to let her eyes adjust to the rapid influx of light. Just like the outside, the inside of the hall was also created with white limestone. Thankfully red carpets, drapes, and tapestries decorated the floors and walls to break the monotony. Torches lined open spots along the walls, and a crude, candle-lit chandelier hung from the ceiling.

It wasn't very late, and soon Luna noticed quite a few ponies standing nearby. Many were not dressed, but some sported exquisite cloaks or robes, and on the other side of the spectrum, some wore hauberks and brigandines. Some were old, some were young, but regardless of their differences they all gave the new party varying levels of stares.

“State your business,” A voice called out, not very loud nor angry, but confident and firm. Luna looked up, past the shallow stairs that stretched before them, and gazed upon a pegasus stallion that showed a few signs of age, seated upon a bronze and gold throne. His coat was as tan as wheat, and a white, well-kept beard and mane gave him a clean appearance. He definitely wasn't young, but hardly was he old and decrepit either. A red cloak was draped over his silken white tunic, and a simple, gold circlet rested on his head, a ruby at its center.

Two groups of ponies flanked him at his throne. Three armor-clad ponies stood to his left, still as statues. To his right, two more ponies sat nearby. One wore a rich robe of crimson silk, a gold chain around his neck. The other wore a white cloak with silver trimmings, the hood over his head. All stared blankly down at them.

“Your highness,” Hazel Ridge bowed, as did the rest of the patrol. Hastily, Twilight followed suit. Luna, unused to such an action, remained upright. It wasn't until a pony next to the king coughed, staring her down, did Luna regretfully lower her head and torso. It felt entirely foreign to her, being a co-ruler for thousands of years, even with her exile. It wasn't that she meant to be disrespectful, but it had been instilled in her that she was a leader of the Equestrian populace, and signs of weakness or submission were simply out of the question. Equestria had been powerful ever since the turn of the second age, and so dynamic their rise had been, that it signified the beginning of the third age. Back then, during such tumultuous years, the diarchs had to remain strong or risk becoming a target.

“We have found Donevyn.” Hazel Ridge stepped aside, revealing the brown pegasus behind him.

“Where?” The king asked.

“Domelle Forest, about a mile in, my lord.”

“Has he told you why he disobeyed direct orders not to leave the city?” The monarch seemed not to move an inch, and despite his slackened posture against his throne, everything else seemed... Intense? No, that didn't quite fit. Resolute, the word popped in Luna's mind.

“He has. Apparently, he was headed for a healer's hut across the forest, believing she could make him a better flier through nature magic.”

The king blinked, although Luna swore she saw him roll his eyes. “Very well. Sir Kazius, do you have anything to say to your apprentice?” He turned to his left, looking to a pegasus that was covered in layer after layer of iron plates and mail, and similarly to the king, a red cloak was worn over his back. But he wore no helmet, revealing a white coat under a graying, gold mane.

Getting up with surprising ease, Kazius walked a few paces forward, right before the staircase began to descend. “What have I told you?” he glowered in a rough tone, “There is no such thing as magic.”

Luna glanced over to Twilight, whose jaw was slackened as she stared up at the stallion yards away. Her heart went out to the mare, after seeing the one thing that made her special just get trampled on.

“But-”

“But nothing. You'll be cleaning out barracks until the moon disappears in the sky.”

Luna now felt bad for the pegasus, even if she understood why he had to be punished. Order and discipline was mandatory, of course. But, if this world worked like Equestria did, then he had three weeks of demeaning labor ahead of him. All of this for trying to be better, to become stronger and faster. His mentor's logic was sound, but it still annoyed her. Perhaps I am getting soft?

Donevyn nodded his head, dripping with melancholy.

“Sir,” Hazel Ridge started, looking from Kazius to King Leszek, “Your Highness, I also have to report that Donevyn was found bound and tied in the forest, about to be taken by rogues and sold down south.”

Kazius' face tightened, while the monarch leaned forward from his seat. “Continue,” Leszek commanded.

“We found him held captive in a clearing, only because a campfire gave us a clue as where to look. These two mares,” He glanced to Luna and Twilight, and soon everypony's gaze burned upon them, along with a handful of gasps for good measure, “were attempting to bargain for his freedom before we arrived on the scene, taking the two rogues by surprise and dispatching them both.”

“I've been told that these mares helped-” Hazel Ridge continued, but King Leszek cut him off.

“These mares,” he echoed, looking down at them, “can speak, correct?”

“...Yes, Your Majesty.” The patrol leader looked slightly embarrassed, bowing in an attempt to hide it.

“Well then, let's hear it from those who were present.” The King's eyes scrutinized them both from his throne. “Tell us who you are and your side of the story, from the beginning.”

Getting a small nod from Twilight, Luna looked up at the royal stallion, matching his stare. She didn't know quite how to feel about him, but she never was one for bending to authority either. “I am Pr- Luna, Your Majesty.” The words came out of her mouth as if sent through a stone mill first. “And this is Twilight Sparkle. We are...” Her mind churned, cogs spinning as she tried to come up with an appropriate response for who they were. There's no point in claiming to be a princess, since that'd easily be refuted... Think of something a bit simpler and more obscure. “...Emissaries of a distant kingdom, thrown out by usurpation of our previous lord.”

“Which kingdom is this? I've never seen ponies like you two before.”

“It is the kingdom of...” No plausible lie came to her head, try as she might to forge one, “Equestria, Your Highness.”

The entire hall broke into a sea of chatter and murmurs. “Equestria? Bullshit! Where the hell is that?” somepony muttered nearby.

“More importantly, what's on their heads?” another pony whispered loudly.

“I bet you fifty pieces it's some form of tribal helmet.”

“I'll take that. I think it's just some eclectic hat.” And the clamor continued, all the ponies present trying to make heads or tails of the developing story.

“Silence!” Leszek roared, his voice drumming throughout the room. The crowd went quiet. He turned his gaze once again to Luna. “Where is this 'Equestria'? I know of no such state to exist on the continent. And beyond the Great Seas, it's rumored that nothing exists.”

“Are you so sure?” Luna asked deftly, trying to catch him off guard. Several ponies held their breath, awaiting the verbal and possibly physical thrashing she'd receive for her imprudence.

“Hmm,” King Leszek waited for a second, as the hall remained silent. “Tell me, what sort of ponies are you?” he asked, avoiding her question.

He's smart. Luna looked over her shoulder, motioning for Twilight to come up beside her. “Miss Sparkle here is a unicorn, and I am little more than just one with wings,” she replied, her eyes drifting back up to the king. “The horn on her forehead channels energy to move her surroundings.” Leszek looked at her incredulously. “Twilight, please pick me up.” She kept her gaze locked on the pony sitting on the throne.

As a purplish hue tinted her vision, Luna felt herself lift weightlessly from the carpeted floor. More gasps sounded from the crowd around them, whispered words lying on the threshold of hearing. “You may put me down now, thank you,” Luna muttered to Twilight, smiling. The once-librarian seemed exhausted, the glow of her horn flickering ever so slightly. Slowly, Luna's hooves met the ground. “Your Highness, that's all we are. Ponies who can pick up things with out horns.” It wasn't quite a lie, but revealing to the king all that unicorns could do was probably worse.

After moments of silence, obviously still trying to decipher what happened, King Leszek answered in a quieter tone, “Thank you. Now, I believe it's best we move on to the matter at hand.” Shuffling on his seat, he got comfortable and, raising a hoof, he continued, “Now, please tell your side of the story on what happened to Donevyn.”

-~-

Formerly-Princess-now-”exiled-emissary” Luna recounted through the entire series of events from the moment they saw Donevyn crash into the stream, to fighting the trio of bandits and looking after downed pegasus, and then all the way up until the arrival of the patrolponies. A couple of details were left out, including Luna's own grief by the stream, and why she did not use magic. Instead, she said she broke the lead rogue's jaw with her hooves simply because “sometimes nothing surpasses brute force.” It was a huge exaggeration, but it garnered smiles from some of the armor-clad ponies in the hall.

“...And so, Your Majesty, that is our perspective on what this young pegasus had to endure.”

King Leszek remained quiet for a few seconds, mulling over his thoughts. “Very well,” he said. Clearing his throat, he sat up straight on his throne, “From what I've been told by all of those who bore witness, Donevyn, ward of the court, you are exempt from any punishment based on grounds of the dangers you had to endure, and also by my opinion and decree. However, being an apprentice of Sir Kazius, you are subject to any external punishment he sees fit to apply.”

Luna looked over to Donevyn, who nodded in acknowledgment, try his best to suppress his sigh.

“Now, does anypony else in the attendant council have anything to say?” The king asked, looking to the groups of ponies both to his left and right.

“If I may, my liege, I would like to ask these two mares to come up the stairs,” said a pony to his right, who was donning a white and silver cloak. His voice was high and thin, sounding almost like a snake would, if it could talk.

“If you must, Archsage Gale.” King Leszek nodded, beckoning for the two in question to come closer. Luna and Twilight slowly walked forward, both under varying levels of confusion.

Arriving at the top of the stairs, Luna noticed that this king was hardly as big as Twilight, dwarfed by the ponies around him, especially those armored to his left. Like boulders to a pebble, they towered over their lord. And yet, this pint-sized sovereign emanated a cool confidence to match her sister. He looked back at Luna, his eyes locked with hers.

Their staring match did not last for long. The white-robed pony walked up in front of him, looking the two up and down. “This Archsage creeps me out,” Twilight whispered to Luna. The midnight mare smirked.

Without warning, the Archsage leaned to the right, looking at what only Luna could guess was her flank. Gritting her teeth, it took all her self-control to stop herself from breaking a second jaw. He then leaned to the left, most likely looking at Twilight. His looks were indubitably nothing more than curious, but it still made Luna feel terribly slighted.

Looking away after moments of awkward silence, he turned to his king. His voice only loud enough for nearby ponies to hear when he announced, “They're the ones we've been waiting for, Your Majesty.”

“What ones?” Leszek asked, his voice tainted with an annoyance of his own. Apparently he didn't like this “Archsage” either.

“The ones mentioned in prophesy, my lord. The winds have been restless lately, speaking to many sages about the coming of the sigilbearers.”

“What sigilbearers?” The king snorted. “I've not been informed of this.”

“I had one of my acolytes deliver a message only a week ago on the matter. Perhaps you have not read it?”

“I guess not.”

“No matter, Your Highness.” The Archsage nodded. “The winds have chimed about the coming of the sigilbearers, Starpainter and the Moonguider. They are said to be forerunners of harmony, of a time where the entire continent will be at peace. Most of all, the winds say that we are destined to bring about this new age. Look at their sigils! One of the moon, and one of the stars. It's clear now, nopony could ever have sigils of such objects, and yet here they are!” The hooded stallion looked over to the two mares as he finished, pointing a hoof.

He's mad, Luna thought at once. The wind does not talk. Prophesy is little more than smoke and mirrors to ensare followers, and more than likely he simply has an ulterior motive. Looking over to Twilight, however, it seemed that the lavender unicorn wasn't dismissing such a notion. She looked paler than normal, frantic eyes dashing from side to side, no doubt her brain working at a thousand miles a minute.

“Right.” King Leszek sighed. “Well, I shall give your proposal some thought, but in the meantime we should keep this unknown outside the sages and the council, hmm?”

“I... cannot guarantee that, my lord. As I've said, many sages have been hearing this, and I cannot say whether some have preached their readings or not.” The Archsage took a step backwards.

The king shook his head, drawing a hoof up to his face. “Very well, thank you, Archsage Gale. You are free to leave.

“But, my lord-”

“You are free to leave.”

“Yes, my lord.” The Archsage turned around and crept off to the side of the throne, leaving the hall through a door. As it closed, it felt as if the entire room relaxed.

“Come closer, you two,” King Leszek said to Luna and Twilight. The mares obeyed, walking up within feet of the small sovereign. “I would not take his words seriously,” He said quietly. “I do not believe in the tenants of the Tempestry, nor the babble that its leader spouts to me nearly every week. He is a rather odd and disturbing pony, so pay him no attention if you can. The misfortunes we have endured over the past century have only taught me that there is no god watching out for us, that we can only rely on ourselves.

“However, many of the lower classes still cling to their old ways, and since I'm certain a sage or two has spouted this prophetical nonsense, much of the populace will soon become infected with false hope.” He smiled slightly. “It happens every few years or so. Nevertheless, I would like to extend a proposition of hospitality, partly because I'd prefer my ponies not to see you two and jump to conclusions, and partly because of what you did for Donevyn... Sir Kazius is an old companion of mine, and if he lost his apprentice, he would undoubtedly be in shambles, even if he'd never admit it.

“I think there is a room vacant, and you both look exhausted. And, if I heard your story correct, you two don't really have any destination, so I believe this works out well for both of us. You get a place to stay and rest for a while, and I don't have droves of peasants hailing the coming of a god-driven gold age. So, what say you? Do you accept?”

Impressive. Calculating, thoughtful and calm, he is one of the more effective rulers I've met. And while he could be worse, there's something about him that rides just beneath the surface, something... troubling. Luna shrugged. Now, about this hospitality offer-

“We accept,” Twilight piped up. Looking over, Luna noticed she looked positively ghastly, weary and exhausted.

“Twilight-”

“Sorry, Pri- Luna, but if there's a bed in our room, there's no way I can say no. I feel as if I'm about to collapse on my hooves.” Twilight tried her best to shoot her a weak smile. Luna opened her mouth to reply, but then shut it and merely nodded.

King Leszek grinned. “Arrangements will be made, then. Meals will be prepared at your leisure, as well.” Turning his head to his right, he looked to the sole pony left, who wore a crimson, silk robe and a golden chain over his sky blue coat and brown mane. “Convalescence, my seneschal, will take you to your room. Good night.”

-~-

The thick wooden door closed with a thud. The room in front of them wasn't too large, but big enough to contain a single, wide bed, a wash basin, a desk and chair, and a small trunk on the far side of the room, with a sole window giving a view of the courtyard and the city beyond. The moon had now reached its zenith. A lit candle flickered on the desktop.

“A bed!” exclaimed Twilight, who had been incredibly quiet on their entire walk up. She galloped over, leaving Luna at the door, and launched herself on top of the covers. Luna chuckled as she watched the other mare nuzzle a pillow. “Even though this mattress is just feathers and straw, nothing could feel better.”

“I'm happy you like it, you seemed like you were dead on your hooves,” Luna replied, walking by the trunk. Opening it up and looking inside, she found just what she was looking for.

“Yeah...” Twilight mumbled, scratching the back of her head as Luna pulled out a blanket with her teeth. “Hey, what are you getting that for? There's enough blankets here already.”

“I know.” Luna dropped the blanket on the floor. “But I need one also. Believe it or not, but alicorns are just like anypony else. I enjoy a night's rest and the warmth of a blanket too.” Humor tinged her voice.

“Oh, well I still think there's enough for both of us on the bed.”

“But you're sleeping on the bed.”

Twilight shuffled to one side of the bed, patting the other with a hoof. “This bed is big enough for both of us. It's been a long... long day, Luna. You're tired too, right? I think sleeping on a comfortable mattress would be more refreshing than the hard floor.”

Luna's brow furrowed. Twilight's offer was so tantalizingly tempting at the moment, her muscles screaming at her to accept. The thought of lying down on a bed and cocooning herself in blankets, as she normally did in Canterlot, was heavenly. But, she didn't feel comfortable about it with Twilight in the equation. The Princess was an introvert, and such instances like these hardly ever happened. Heck, she couldn't remember a single one.

“Thank you, truly, I am grateful, but I must decline. The floor is good enough for me.”

Twilight frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Thank you once again, but I think you need the rest much more than I do, and I'd hate to be a bother.” She laid down on one side of the blanket, wrapping it around her. “Good night, Twilight.”

“O-oh, okay. Good night.” With a flick of magic, the candle flame was extinguished, and the room plunged into darkness. Seconds after she set her head down, so too did the once-ruler of the night.