• Published 27th Dec 2012
  • 6,187 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 4

Obscure Motives

“Many of the blockheads here crumble like sand before a stubborn, high-nosed prince, coming back to me empty-hoofed. You though, you're not afraid to stand up for yourself and give the other pony a piece of your mind.”


Looking through the light blue strands of her mane, Princess Luna stood before the sole window in her room. The dawning, twilight sky held the night's last few stars, with a gibbous moon sinking along the horizon. A corona of amber and gold licked at the far edges of the sky, revealing the countless buildings of Konik and the city's surrounding dashes and crosses of farmland. Far off in the distance, the dark green of the Domelle Forest waited. With a view like this, it is not too hard to pretend I'm back in Canterlot.

Sighing, she turned away, focusing on the matter at hoof. Her blanket was lying on the floor, and it needed to be put away. Concentrating, she poured her energy towards lifting it. She could feel wisps of new magic being drawn to her horn, gathering slowly but steadily, growing in strength. She commanded it to do her bidding.

A pale, indigo aura wrapped around her target. For a moment it stood firm, and raised the edges of the blanket from the floor. But as soon as it appeared, the magical energy flickered and died out.

Luna exhaled as her magic dissipated, shaking her head as a frown overtook her lips. I still need more time to heal. But, I can't depend on Twilight for much longer, she doesn't know any medical or battle spells. Gripping it in her teeth, she returned the blanket back to its trunk.

Looking over, the alicorn saw the lavender lump that lay on the bed, partially covered by white linen. Her mane was mussed and frayed along her back and neck, concealing her face as she lay on her stomach. Her body rose and fell rhythmically.

Stepping closer, Luna stood awkwardly before the bed, mentally debating how to rouse her. Such personal interactions were strenuous for her, the sole moments where her insecurity rose to the surface. She could excel in any formal conversation, applying logic and wit on a dime, honed and polished over millennia of experience. But when the steel beams of formality rusted and broke down, when informality reigned supreme, she reverted back into her insecure, anxious, awkward, and introverted self.

“Umm, Twilight,” she began, her voice stiff, “It's about time to wake up.” The unicorn in question grumbled, rolling away and wrapping the blankets around her. “Twilight, please get up,” she called again, still locked in place beside the bed. She was rewarded with only another grumble and a wave of a hoof.

The princess huffed, sorely wishing she had even the slightest use of her magic. Now, things would only get more uncomfortable. Raising a hoof, she poked Twilight in the side, then quickly retracting it as if it were on fire. No response. Sighing, Luna tried once more, adding in, “Twilight, wake up.” She prodded her below the ribs a couple of times, hoping to evoke a response.

To her surprise, the mare shuddered and giggled, turning around, strands of her mane splayed across her face. “Stop it, that tickles! Spike, what are you-” Twilight's eyes widened as she noted the alicorn standing before her, who was shifting on her hooves. “Oh, Princess Luna!” Her cheeks tinged red. “I- umm, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize- err, umm, remember that I'm- y'know, not home, and instead...” She abruptly closed her mouth. “I'm sorry,” the whisper floated out.

Luna raised a hoof, shaking her head. “Don't worry about it.” She cleared her throat, eyes darting between Twilight and anyplace else. “I think we should get ready for the day. Besides, I haven't forgotten about teaching you battle magic, and I think it'd be best to do so before most ponies are up and about.” She shrugged, feeling more confident as the mood was turning more and more serious. “For now, they only believe we can pick up objects with our magic. It'd be in our interest to not give up that facade so soon.”

Twilight sat up on the bed, clearing her mane from her face with a hoof. “Why?”

“You heard them, magic does not exist in their eyes, or at least the knowledge of it. Ponies are afraid of what they do not know. If we start displaying our magical abilities, I fear they will become hostile and irrational.” Luna frowned. “Remember, we are looking for a way home, and getting thrown into a dungeon is not going to help us.”

“Right,” Twilight rubbed her foreleg with a hoof, “home.” She took a quick breath in and out, shaking her head free of memories. Looking up to Luna, she asked, “So, what spells were you thinking of?”

-~-

“Do you know of the magical pathways through a unicorn's body?” Luna stood on a manicured lawn, looking bare and naked to Twilight without her regalia on, even in the dawning light. Her form seemed more lithe and slim, and with her bare hooves showing between blades of grass, she looked natural. Especially with her short azure mane and tail. With no esteemed and imposing stature, no overbearing exudence of royalty, she wasn't Luna, Diarch of Equestria and Goddess of the Moon. Instead, she was Luna, Emissary of the faraway Equestria, and her...friend? Maybe? Hopefully? The unicorn pondered the question, wondering whether she was her friend, or perhaps just feeling responsible for her.

“Twilight,” Luna broke through her thoughts, “is everything alright? Or are you just going to stare at me for the entire morning?” She tilted her head slightly, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, sorry!” Twilight flustered. “Yes, I'm okay. I was just thinking, that's all.” She shot back a weak smile.

Luna sighed. “We don't have much time, so let's get down to business. As I asked before, do you know about the magical pathways through a unicorn's body?”

“Of course!” Twilight answered, this subject being a favorite of hers. “I know them all, and not just unicorn's either, but the passive ones running through pegasi and earth ponies as well.”

A small, amused grin danced along Luna's mouth. “Yes, well, for battle magic, we're only focusing on a unicorn's. Since I cannot show you with my own spells, I'm going to have to explain it step by step. You seem smart enough to apply it yourself.”

Twilight bristled with excitement. Learning new magic was an exhilarating rush, a mental adrenaline that put her neurons into overdrive. Yes, it was magic meant to harm and kill, but as long as it could be used for the right reasons, she saw no reason why not to enjoy learning it. Plus, this world isn't the safest, she reasoned. Battle spells were also magically-efficient, as opposed to the beams of pure magic she had cast before Shining Armor's wedding.

“As I was alluding to, magical pathways within a unicorn are directly manipulated by the brain,” Luna continued. “Therefore, it is possible to alter your magical charges by warping them with emotion. For instance, feelings of empathy and concern formed the first primitive healing spells. For battle spells, its origin is anger and malice.” Her expression darkened. “I'll point out, however, that battle spells formed from anger are much different than those of malice.”

“Sanguinary magic?” Twilight asked, a shudder running along her spine.

“Yes.” Luna's eyes stared off into the distance for a moment, a silent vacuum between them. She looked back to Twilight. “Moving on, I'd like to explain how battle magic works. First, the unicorn has to become acclimated to the feel of battle magic, if you will, before he or she can control and augment it. I will warn you, casting it might be a shock to you, having dealt exclusively in peaceful magic.”

“I understand.” Twilight nodded, gulping as she tried to rid herself of her rising anxiety. “So, what do I have to do? Just get angry and then release my magic?”

“Yes, but it's not that easy. Getting mad enough is the hard part.” Luna took a step forward. “Twilight, do you know when I sacked Frostfall in the Third Age, I razed its Grand Librarium to the ground?”

Twilight recoiled, the news hitting her like a train. Her eyes widened, ears collapsing against her head. “Wh-what? You mean, y-you were the one who did it? You destroyed one of the world's greatest feats of architecture? The holder of the Third Age's grandest depository of literature? All...because of you?”

“The very one.” Luna nodded, sitting back on her haunches. She yawned, placing a hoof to her mouth. “Half the city burned along with it.”

She acts like she doesn't even care! “H-how could you?” Twilight rose back up, eyes narrowing. She felt raw emotions gurgling and frothing about in her chest. Shock and confusion primarily, but the haze of anger was beginning to thicken. “All those ponies, all that knowledge, all that we could have learned! Why!?”

“Why?” Luna rolled her eyes. “Their king, Olfwyn, was a fool. He tried to court me one too many times. I responded by having the then-eunuch watch as I burnt his crown jewel the ground. Besides myself, books and scrolls were his favorite. I made sure he could have neither.”

What?!” She marched up to the alicorn, jabbing her in the chest. Her face was scrunched up, nostrils flared, teeth bared. “You did that all, just because some stallion was drooling over you?! Do you know what you've done?! You're a monster!”

The “monster” held Twilight's flaming leer, her disinterested expression drooping into something dark and blue. All that could be heard was the ragged, whistling breaths in and out of the unicorn's nose as she asked, “Well?”

Luna grimaced, and then lowered her voice, “Yes, I know what I have done. And yes, I certainly was a monster.” Pain and regret clouded in her eyes. “It's just one of the atrocities that has tormented me with guilt since my return to Equestria.” Watching as the fire in Twilight's expression began to dampen, she asked, “Do you feel it? The fog that smothers your mind, the heat rising in your chest?”

All Twilight could manage was a nod.

“Good, you've passed the first part to learning battle spells. Let the anger out. Call upon your magic, and aim at the palace wall, right over there,” Luna instructed. They were hemmed in between a blank face of the palace, and a rounded curve of its stone walls. “Go on, let your emotions fuse with your magic.”

Twilight turned to wall, letting her magic crackle and fizz along the base of her horn. She gasped, as the usual hum and glow was gone. She could feel its power welling up, threatening to break loose. Taking aim, she let it go.

What resulted was a mean, sizzling beam of pinkish energy, shearing through the air. As Luna had told her, she wasn't prepared for how feral and untamed it felt. It was hungry, it wanted to strike out and hurt. It was unstable as she was, lacking direction. As a result, it missed its mark, flying over the palace walls.

“That was a good try,” Luna remarked, stepping beside the unicorn. “Everypony misses on their first attempt.”

Panting, Twilight turned to Luna. Much of her anger had gone out with her magic, but the shock and confusion still lingered. “Why?”

“Hmm?” Luna tilted her head, looking over. Her eyes widened. “Oh, yes, that. I am sorry for bringing up such a painful story, but I had to make you truly enraged. It's something we have always done with battlemages, to imprint a spark within them. Therefore, they can recall the specific action, object, memory, whatever it may be, to conjure battle magic in a more restrained fashion. Refined battle magic only needs to be ignited by anger, not fueled by it, and with less emotion, it is easier to control-”

“No, I meant Frostfall, its grand library,” Twilight cut in. “Why?”

Luna frowned, looking at the ground. “Right.” She turned back to Twilight, locking eyes with her. “If I angered you with the story, I guess you have the right to hear it in full.” She took a moment to collect herself, then sighed. “I- I was brash and immature, Twilight. Ponies don't always 'grow up' as they get older, and for a time I was an example of that. I knew King Olfwyn was trouble, and Celestia warned me to distance myself, but I didn't.”

She zoned out as she continued, a smile creeping at the ends of her lips, “I'm like any other mare, I like being told I'm beautiful and pretty. Many stallions said so, but he didn't stop at that. Gifts, feasts in my honor, kisses on my hoof, and many, many other displays of affection. I wasn't truly interested in him, but I played along simply for the attention I yearned for.” Her smile receded. “While Olfwyn was a suave, egotistical, vain fool, he did have a knack for reading ponies, even me. He played off my insecurity and self-consciousness. He used my feelings against myself to try to seduce me. Admittedly, he... he nearly got there.

“At the door of my chambers I told him it had gone far enough. I can still remember the rage and disappointment burning in his eyes. He figured that if seduction wouldn't work, he'd resort to force. All of my illusions were shattered, and the pain of being used and manipulated scorched me. H-his attempt didn't last long. I made him twist in agony in any way I could. And then, I gathered my forces and made for Frostfall, ignoring my sister the entire way. I brought Olfwyn to watch.

“I wasn't just angry, Twilight. I was vengeful and spiteful, and I sacrificed so many to make another pony hurt as I had. I was acting purely on the emotions that had embroiled my heart.” Luna's shoulders sagged, memories flashing by her eyes. “In a way, I think that Nightmare Moon was a beneficial period in my life. It gave me time to reflect and think, to mature. When that parasite overtook me, I was already a monster. When you freed me, I like to think I came out as somepony better.”

A hard knot plummeted to the bottom of Twilight's stomach, leaving a crater to be filled in with guilt and regret.

Luna looked back to Twilight, who was visibly shaken. “Oh... I'm sorry for rambling, Twilight,” she apologized. “I didn't mean to say so much, but I lost track of what I was saying and it all flowed right out. I should have restrained myself.” An awkward silence hung between them, Twilight still looking up to her, a cacophony of emotions in her expression. Luna sat up straight, shuffling her hooves. “Well then, we should probably get back to train-oof!”

Forelegs pinned against her side, Luna was ensnared in a very one-sided hug. She peered down at the lavender mare. “Oh...” she trailed off. “Thank you?”

Twilight stepped back. “I still don't like that you did it, I still think it was horrible and cruel of you, but I understand. Given the circumstances, you acted like most ponies would, just... on a larger scale.” Her voice was level and serious, tinted with pity. “I can tell that the pony back then is definitely not the same pony as you are now, Luna. I'm sorry for what I said a few minutes ago, you're not a monster, not anymore. You're just hurt. And you can't keep your emotions locked away and hidden, it's not healthy.”

On the inside, Luna cringed. She'd had this “you can't keep your feelings bottled up” conversation with Celestia before, on multiple occasions, both before her exile and after. More than one fight had broken out in their wake. On the other hoof, a side of her exhaled in relief at Twilight's words. “Yes, well, I have been working on it,” she said, looking away.

Twilight smiled. “If there's anything I can do to help, I'd be glad to.”

Luna felt her mood rise. Most ponies didn't help her simply because they wanted to. There was always some power to be gained, some money to be earned. Here, there was nothing but simple, legitimate care. “Thank you, Twilight.”

“Of course,” Twilight replied. “That's what friends do. Now, should we continue the lesson?”

-~-

Luna entered the dining hall, Twilight in tow. Apparently, King Leszek was true to his word about hospitality, and had a servant inform the two that their meals were waiting for them. Her stomach hurt, now realizing it had been a day since she'd last eaten.

The few ponies in the hall quieted momentarily as their gazes fell upon the newcomers. “Come on, keep moving,” Luna whispered to Twilight, who had stopped. Forcing themselves to put one hoof ahead of the other, they sat down side by side at one end of the long, rectangular table. Finally settled, the other ponies slowly began speaking once again.

“So, how do you feel?” the alicorn asked. “A little sore?” It had been a rough hour and a half for the other mare, who had cast dozens of charges in an attempt to master the most basic of battle spells. In truth, she was performing well in terms of accuracy and power. Luna was confident she could lash out a powerful bolt accurately enough to hit a pony fifty yards away. However, she had trouble igniting each charge, a constant twenty second lull between each spell.

“Yeah, I hope my camouflaging enchantment keeps those burn marks hidden.” Twilight massaged her temples. “Really, it would've been ten times easier if you could've just shown me, instead of trying to explain. Comprehending how to ignite charges was as tiring as actually doing it forty times in a row.”

Luna glared at Twilight and snorted. “Right, as if I can cast any sort of magic right now. Trust me, if I could, I would have. Trying to explain the process was not easy for me either, especially with you being such a stubborn filly.”

“Somepony's grumpy,” Twilight whispered to herself.

Luna flicked her ears in annoyance. “Just because I'm thousands of years old, doesn't mean I'm going deaf any time soon,” she whispered back, heat tainting her voice.

Twilight put over her mouth, suppressing a giggle. Let her poke fun at me, see if I care, Luna thought. However, their discord was rendered inexistent as a pony stepped out from the kitchens, placing two bowls before them. Steam arose from the brown broth, as bits of mushroom, potato, and onion bobbed on the surface. To Luna, it smelled like heaven. Twilight's stomach growled.

A problem presented itself to the alicorn. There were no spoons. Being a pony of magic and royalty, slurping soup from a bowl was nearly foreign to her. She hadn't done it in thousands of years, and such menial memories were very fuzzy. Twilight looked over. “Well, what are you waiting for? Eat up!” She dipped her head towards the stew, sipping from it with ease.

Self-consciousness gripped her like a vise. Luna took a deep breath, letting the air exhale through her nose, trying to dispel her trepidation along with it. She'd surely look like a fool, but she was also terribly hungry, pangs nipping at her insides. Fine, let's get this over with.

All in all, the soup was wonderful. Hearty, thick and warm, it quelled her clamoring stomach and pleased her tastebuds. Not even the smallest puddle of broth was left, the once-princess even allowing herself a guilty lick on the bottom of the bowl.

“Ah, that was excellent,” Luna remarked as she sat up straight. “Don't you agree, Twilight?”

“Oh – heehee – umm, yes.” The unicorn feigned to stifle her snickering. “It was very good.”

“It's nice to have something back in my stomach- is something wrong?” Luna raised an eyebrow at her, noticing she hadn't stopped shaking.

“Well, uhh, you might have something right here.” Twilight waved her hoof around her muzzle.

“What in Tartarus-” Luna felt her chin, and found it slick to the touch. Drawing her hoof back before her eyes, she spied a brown broth smeared on it. Anxiously looking around her, she found nothing in any semblance to a napkin. “Oh, Orion whip me with his belt!” Luna cursed through her teeth. She hastily wiped off all the broth she could find with her foreleg, then transferred it to the underside of the table.

Looking over, she noticed the shocked expression on Twilight's face, mouth agape and eyes wide open. “What? There was no napkin or handkerchief nearby.”

“No, ah- umm, what was that?” Twilight raised her hooves, making imaginary quotation marks, “'Orion whip me with his belt'?”

“A profanity,” Luna stated, deadpan. “What, has Equestria evolved to such a level where ponies don't lose their temper and swear?”

“No, of course not,” Twilight replied. “But, usually they're a bit more- well, tame. Horseapples, featherbrain, ponyfeathers, something like that. What you said was a little explicit, don't you think?”

“Perhaps, but you must understand, I am not fully acclimated to modern society and culture. Some parts of my speech and mannerisms are still eleven hundred years old.”

“Oh, right. The whole ‘Royal We’ and Noble Equestrian speech.” Twilight nodded. “I'll admit, I'm glad you've weaned yourself off that. Much less imposing.”

As she was about to respond, the sound of another pony shuffling and the creaking of wood forced Luna to look over to her left. She found a sans armor, linen-donned Sir Kazius seated next to her. His white tunic seemed to blend straight in with his coat, the only colors keeping him from looking like a ghost were his golden mane, tail, and eyes.

“Good morning, Sir...Kazius, correct?” Luna tried best to keep her voice as emotionless as possible. She didn't know quite how to feel about him, whether to respect or dislike the pegasus. Although he was stern and pragmatic the night before, something about him, much like his king, gave off the impression that he revealed little about his true self.

“Good morning, Miss Luna.” He nodded in acknowledgment. His voice was rough and callous, scraping over her eardrums like pumice. He sipped his stew for a second.

Luna looked to Twilight, whispering, “Let me handle this.” Turning back to the grizzled stallion, she asked, “What brings you to sit next to two lowly mares like us?”

The pegasus looked up to her, eyes locked. His glare looked cold enough to freeze blood, and Luna swore she could feel a chill running down her back. All the same, her pride forced her to match it. They held each other's stare for a minute, before Kazius' expression died and he barked out a laugh. “Ha! You are no lowly mare, and you know it. Most ponies don't have the courage to stand tall against one of the King's companions.”

“My apologies, sire, I did not know you-” Luna muttered. Her guise was falling to pieces right around her.

“Right, of course.” Kazius waved a hoof in dismissal. “To be honest, I don't give a damn who you are or where you're from, as long as you don't do anything foolish.” He took another taste of his meal, while Luna remained quiet, lips clamped shut. “Tell me, what exactly are you planning to do?”

“Nothing, at the moment,” Luna conceded. “Your king wishes us to stay here for the next week.”

“Yes, I know that. What I meant, is what are you going to do once next week comes? You don't strike me as somepony that doesn't think ahead.”

“Well, that is a question I've been asking myself often this morning. Right now, I don't have an answer for you. However, I do believe that soon Twilight and I will come up with something.”

“Is that so?” Kazius smiled. “How do you intend to 'come up with something' when you have no supplies, no gold, and not even a way of protecting yourself? Bandits have been crawling across the entire continent, with the famine making so many desperate.”

“Alright, fine, what are you getting at?” Luna threw away her faux-submissive attitude. It seemed that the stallion did not care for it.

“Ha! You got fire, miss, just what I need.” He pushed away his soup, only half-empty.

“Need for what?” Her expression turned stone-hard, unyielding.

“I can't say at the moment.” He looked around the room. “Too open here. However, I can say that you will be rewarded nicely if you do, more than what you need to 'come up with something.'”

Luna kept her gaze with him. He...has a point. We have no money, nothing to sustain ourselves while we look for a way home. Perhaps-

“I think you should at least hear him out,” Twilight broke in, destroying her line of thought.

“She speaks the truth,” Kazius grunted, waiting patiently.

“Fine.” Luna cast a sidelong glance to Twilight. “I'll listen to your proposal.”

“Good.” Kazius nodded. “Now, if you'll come with me, I'll find a place more suited for private conversation. Your friend can wait here, it won't take long.” He snorted, “I've also heard that the damned Archsage is looking for her, so she might want to wait here and see what he has to say.”

Luna frowned. Turning to the unicorn, she asked, “Is that okay with you?”

Twilight shrugged. “Sure. Might as well be efficient about it and kill two birds with... err, two stones.”

Luna looked back to the white-coated warrior. “Very well then, Sir Kazius, tell me about your proposition.”

-~-

Sir Kazius' study was the epitome of spartan. A single, oaken desk waited in the middle of the room over a bare stone floor. A woolen mat served for a seat. Light poured in from just a single window behind the desk, where it shone on a single stub of a candle in a brass holder. A stack of scrolls sat in the corner. The only thing visible on the walls was white stone. As he stepped inside, he seemed to blend in like a chameleon.

“You don't know much about the continent, do you?” he asked as they entered.

“No, I guess I do not,” Luna stated as she stood before the desk, looking it up and down.

Grabbing a scroll from the corner in his teeth, he set it down on the desk and splayed it out with his hooves. It revealed a detailed drawing of a circular object, its edges rough and jutted. Calligraphy dotted various parts of the map, sometimes larger than others. The East Shore. Lobos. Domelle Forest. Lake Solidari. Hurras. Crimson Plains. Tegher Wilderness. Tegrana.

“The entire continent is called Anarkhos,” Kazius explained, looking down at the map. “No one pony rules over it all. While there are dozens of smaller states,” he pointed to some small outlines of circles and blobs, “there are five main kingdoms.

“You are here, in Hurras.” He planted his hoof on the square-ish nation in the middle of the continent. “King Leszek's kingdom is landlocked, but we provide much of the continent's food.” He gestured at a point in the far right side of the outlined section. “Here is Konik, on the divide between the kingdom's vast plains, which covers most our lands, and the Domelle Forest.”

His hoof moved further over to the right, where a long, snaking outline ran most of the way down the eastern shore. “This is Erhanos. The Erhani are expert craftsponies and often work trade between kingdoms, taking a cut for themselves. Without a doubt they hold most of Anarkhos' gold. With their capital, Lobos, being just across the Domelle forest from Konik, we trade often with them. Apples and grain are at a premium on the shores, and they need wool from Hurrassian shepherds for cloth.”

“I see.” Luna was surprised by how much the stallion knew. Of the royal companions she had met in Equestria's growing days, most had grown lazy and disinterested, only excited for the sounds of battle. Economics flew over their heads.

“Above Hurras and Erhanos is Gerhille. Boxed in between us and the tundra, they live in the mountains. Their mines run deep underground, and provide most of the continent's iron, copper, and tin. They're a tough type of ponies, strong as steel in the harsh winds that whip through the passes.”

Drawing his hoof to the western side of the continent, he set it on chipped and jagged outline. “This is Tegrana. It's a depressing, rainy, Winds-forsaken place. With the Tegher Wilderness occupying most of its territory, many of its ponies have become loggers, making its meager wealth on exporting wood. Be careful, though, they're an odd sort, not particularly friendly to outsiders.”

Moving his hoof to the south, a single kingdom occupied much of the territory, except for a stringed-cluster of small states that separated it from Hurras and Erhanos. “And here, is Psuchros. It's something like Gerhille, being covered in mountains. However, it seems to be always snowing there, and its hills are famous for holding gold and silver. It comes at a cost, though. The air is colder than hell, and so are its ponies. They keep to themselves, sitting behind their protectorates,” he moved his hoof to the smaller countries, “and talk to nopony. Even their gold goes through here first.”

“Do these kingdoms fight often?” Luna asked, looking up from the scroll.

Kazius' expression darkened like a thundercloud rapidly forming in the sky. “Just a decade ago the entire continent was in constant conflict. Everypony fought everypony, a damn free-for-all. Even the smaller states banded together in leagues and picked sides. Month after month it seemed a new force had gathered on our borders, and we had to do what we could to beat them back. Came close as hell to falling apart and facing rebellion after a while, with the endless conscription going on.”

“Then what?”

“Then, it eventually died out. Peace treaties were signed to end old wars, and no new ones started. Ponies were tired and weak, the land was in tatters. All of our coffers were low, not enough gold to keep fighting and nopony was willing to give Erhanos the satisfaction of having to borrow from them.”

He took his hoof off the scroll, its edges curling in towards the center, and stood behind his desk. “Since then, it seems every nation on the continent, from the smallest principality to the largest kingdom, has been getting ready for another go.” He rubbed his chin. “It's odd. Since everypony is armed to the teeth, nopony wants to make a first move. For the past five years it's been like this, tense and taut with nothing but bluffing and empty threats.”

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace,” Luna muttered.

“Yes, it sure seems that way.” Kazius nodded, stroking his golden beard thoughtfully. “Now that you've gotten a rough sense of how things are on this bloodied slab of rock, I can move on to what I want done.”

“I suppose you're not a pony for small talk, are you?”

“If you want to get business done, you don't waste time dithering around with pretty words,” Kazius snorted. “Get straight to the point. I've been doing this for years now, and that's why the King has me handling much of the out-of-state negotiations. I like to think he shares my view.”

“Based on my discussion with him last night, I would agree.” Pictures of the short, strong sovereign flashed in her head.

Kazius nodded again, continuing on, “What I want you to do is simple: travel to Lobos, give the Grand Elector of Erhanos a letter, and make sure he follows it down to the last word. Be careful, though he may have signed a slip promising help in times of trouble, he's still a damn worm and will try to slip out of anything that doesn't put him a leg up on everypony else.”

“Why me, though? What do I have that your diplomats don't?”

“A backbone,” Kazius replied with a snort. “Many of the blockheads here crumble like sand before a stubborn, high-nosed prince, coming back to me empty-hoofed. You though, you're not afraid to stand up for yourself and give the other pony a piece of your mind. And that's exactly what you'll have to do in Lobos if this is going to get worked out. When I saw the way you held your ground with the King last night, that's when I recognized you were somepony special.”

Luna flicked her ears, unsettled by his abrupt praise. “What is this letter about?” she wondered aloud, trying to move the conversation along.

Kazius opened a drawer and grabbed a piece of parchment, tossing it on the desk. “Read it for yourself.”

King Leszek and the Kingdom of Hurras request that the Republic of Erhanos cease releasing criminals, vagabonds, thieves, marauders, and bandits into the Domelle Forest.

Sentries in the woods have tracked not just single, but grouped bands of societal outcasts coming into the Hurassian Dominion from Erhani lands, with bindings and clasps found beside their trails. Since their arrival, they have been harassing travelers, caravans, and orchards.

If this action continues, the incoming supply of grain and other crops will be severely limited until the problem is dealt with.”

“It's not much more than a thorn in our side,” Kazius admitted. “But if the people of Hurras are known for anything, it's that we are proud and don't take insults lightly.”

“I see. So, you want me to go in there and make sure he stops his slighting activities, and stand firm if he tries to get out of it?”

“That's correct,” Kazius grunted. “Like I hinted at earlier, you'll be rewarded with eight hundred pieces if you're successful. That's enough to buy you provisions and lodging for a year or two. On top of that, before you depart, you'd be given something decent to protect yourself with. It makes sense, seeing as you'll have to take a road infested with Erhani criminals.”

“And Twilight?” Luna asked, looking over at him.

“She will be compensated as well, and given the appropriate equipment, if she chooses to go with you.”

“Will we be traveling alone?”

“No. You will be given an emissary's escort, and I will also be sending Donevyn along with you. Not just my squire, he's also my apprentice, and that means he must learn about how to negotiate and barter with other ponies. The experience will be good for him, and I think he could pick up a thing or two from you.”

“I assume his punishment was just a threat?” Luna raised an eyebrow, not even believing the words coming from her mouth.

Kazius shook his head. “Oh no, that'll be waiting for him when he gets back.”

Luna nodded slowly. She stopped and asked, “When would we be leaving?”

“In a few days.”

Luna sat up straighter, heightening her gaze with the stallion's own. I figure this our best option for the moment, seeing as how he was right earlier. We have no means to sustain ourself outside the palace. This really shouldn't be too hard, I've dealt with droves of stubborn sovereigns before. Considering the price Kazius is offering, it seems fair enough.

“Very well,” Luna spoke confidently, “I'll do as you ask. I doubt this 'Grand Elector' will be much of a problem.”

Kazius grinned. “So you say.”

-~-

Twilight rested her chin lazily on a hoof, blowing a tuft of hair out from her eyes with a puff of air. Luna has been gone forever. She let her eyes trace along a tapestry on the far wall of the dining hall. It pictured a single pegasus standing above everypony else, with three other ponies kneeling before him. The stallion standing up was dressed in common clothes, while those before him were adorned in gold and linen. In the background, dozens of ponies were cheering, hugging, and stomping their hooves. The tapestry's colors were a spectrum of warm, bright, and vibrant hues.

“The Unification of the Plains,” a high, thin voice broke in next to Twilight. Squeaking in surprise, she turned her head over to the side. Sitting there, hooded and adorned in a trimmed white robe, was the Archsage. He was staring at the tapestry as well. “Svetovid the White rallied the Western Tribes together and fought the Vediti that ruled around the Domelle Forest. It was over five hundred years ago, and yet he is still a hero in our culture. He was brave, cunning, and an excellent fighter. His only fault was that he was too caught up in honor and dignity.”

The Archsage gave a bark, “Ha! After his successful siege of what's now Konik, he smelted down the Vediti's wealth and had silver chains smithed for the family of each pony slain in the assault. Worse yet, for those who lived, they received a chain with a solid pendant on the end. That would've been enough to finance the fledging kingdom for years!” He motioned his hoof dismissively as he rambled on, “But that is the past. Today, he's still remembered in our kingdom's colors; red for the Crimson Plains we come from, and white for the pony who united us. We even get the sages' white robes from him.”

“How do you know so much?” Twilight asked, partially in awe.

“Huh?” the Archsage looked over, as if he just now realized she was there. “Oh, good morning to you, Twilight Sparkle.” He tried to smile, but it only send a shiver down Twilight's spine. “Well, you see, part of a sage's job is not only to talk to The Winds and conduct ceremonies, but also to study and record our history. Some of our archives go back so far as when the Cadacus ruled over the entire continent.”

With a disappointed look, he zoned out again. “Not to say there's much, though. Hardly any records of them survive to this day, there's just this big hole for a thousand years where hardly any writing exists. We've found many aged and rotting manuscripts, practically unreadable, from before their time. All we know about them is primarily from the Alpha Librae and their recordings of the Dilmun Process.”

“Huh? What's that?” Twilight asked, unable to contain her innate curiosity. Wonder licked at her gut worse than hunger.

“The Alpha Librae is a code of laws written by the Cadacus,” the Archsage replied, not diverting his gaze from the far wall. “Most sovereigns today rule by it in some form or other, based on its simplicity and effectiveness. The only way we knew the old empire ruled over the entire continent was because the original code had given off hints they stretched from one side to the next.”

“Do any of their buildings or monuments survive?”

“Just a few temples to the sun, located to the south. But they're plain and give away hardly anything. All we learned is that, as you can guess, they worship the sun.” The Archsage shrugged.

“Do ponies still do that?” Twilight asked. It seemed odd, having ponies pray to the sun, when back at home its goddess lived among them.

“No. Now there are just the regional deities. Hurras and other central kingdoms listen to The Winds. Along the East Shore, ponies pray to their water gods. In the north, they give gifts to the Earth and Stone Twins. In the west, especially in the Tegher Wilderness, ponies believe in utter nonsense. Tree spirits, my flank! And in the south, well, I don't know quite what to call it. I guess the best anypony could come up with is brooding in the cold and reading signs in the shadows.”

“Wait, what?” Twilight squinted and rubbed her temples, having trouble trying to fit all the new knowledge in her brain. “So, this ancient kingdom, who ruled over the entire continent for a millennia, worshiped the sun. But now, ponies believe in totally different things? Why? What changed?”

“Well, you see, ponies have always believed in their regional deities,” the Archsage corrected her. “The worship of the sun was just Cadacus' official religion. When the empire fell, so too did its beliefs.”

“Oh, I guess that does makes sense.” The pieces clicked together in her mind. “Where we come from, ponies haven't practiced a true religion in thousands of years. So I'm curious, how does it work here?”

The Archsage's expression brightened. “It's quite simple, really. Known officially as the Tempestry, ponies have been listening to The Winds for thousands of years. Earlier, it was done with chimes, but now it's also done with Dilmun growths.” Twilight opened her mouth to ask a question, but he ignored her and kept talking. “The wind is the purest form of movement, coming from the air, and by tapping into their movements, through chimes and such, we can uncover the truth they hold. They sweep over the entire land as they have since the beginning of time, they see all and know all. We, as sages, decipher their messages, and deliver them to the rest of the populace. Also, on certain days of the year, we give offerings across the plains, asking questions and pray that The Winds answer.”

His nose crinkled. “Most of the nobility and royalty have abandoned their beliefs. They forget that Svetovid himself was guided by The Winds, telling him how to unify his people and where to strike. If it weren't for him, Hurras wouldn't even exist on the map!”

“Right.” Twilight nodded hesitantly, unsure. “Anyways, I have another question.” She tapped her hooves together. “You mentioned the Dilmun Process earlier, what is that?”

“Ah, the most interesting of topics!” the Archmage exclaimed, newfound excitement seeping from his voice. “The Dilmun Process is a series of rituals and elixirs a pony must go through before they can become a sage. The Cadacus created it, though we aren't quite sure why, but we do know their sun sages used it extensively. Since then, sages have always followed in their stead.” He grimaced. “It's extremely painful, but it doesn't come without its benefits.”

“Such as?”

“Such as increased awareness and perception. I'll admit we don't know quite how it works, but we know it does...” He stopped for a moment, head tilted, “...rearrange things. It makes our job much easier with Dilmun growths.”

Twilight's brow furrowed, trying to get at what he meant. “Dilmun growths?”

“Oh right, I forgot you've probably never met sages before either.” The Archsage chuckled, sounding like a rusty door hinge. “An effect of the process are hard deposits on your shoulders that accumulate over time.”

Lifting up the nearest side of his robe, he shrugged off a portion over his foreleg to show the mare. A wave of discomfort toppled her over as she saw a rough, gray, cone-like protrusion coming straight out of the Archsage's shoulder. It looked like petrified tar, with rounded, lumpy edges.

“Sages wear robes as part of the position, of course, but many of us are grateful that they also keep the growths covered up. Nopony is rather proud of their appearance. I'm just grateful mine grow very slowly.”

Twilight shuddered to think what other sages look like. “So...how- how do they help you do your job?” she asked. The Archsage put his robe back on.

The robed stallion shook his head, his face shaded partially by his hood. “That's a secret only few ponies outside the sages know. The only thing I can tell you is that it allows us to do things that nopony else can.”

“Uh- umm,” Twilight tried to come up with a reply. “O-okay.”

“Nevermind that, though. I've come to ask you something.” The Archsage turned his chair to face Twilight, settling himself on it.

“Oh, what is it?” Twilight gulped.

“The Winds have been telling me about you two,” his voice lowered to the point where Twilight had to concentrate to hear him. “And not just the prophecy. They say you will...find things.”

Twilight's ears perked up. Finding is learning! “What exactly? Did they say?”

“No. The Winds are never anything more than extremely vague. I only heard last night from a Vicesage in the west that his chimes started to activate. The chimes read, 'Moon and Star light will shine upon the tales of ash and soil, from where the embers still lie.' He has no clue what it means, and the air fell calm as soon as the message was received.”

“The tales of ash and soil?” Twilight let her mind chew the phrase over and over.

“Yes.” The Archsage fell silent for a moment. “Now, this is just my intuition speaking, but if you find anything concerning the past about sages, I would like to know. Just like public records during the times of the Cadacus, the historical archives of sages in the same era is gone. Being historians, it’s incredibly frustrating to not know an entire period of our own history.”

I can't fault him for that, Twilight thought. In a way, her opinion of the Archsage was beginning to shift. He might be a touch creepy and more than mysterious, but she could empathize with his own desire for knowledge. “Of course. If we find anything, I'll let you know.”

“Really?” The Archsage looked up, his stark blue eyes shining from under his hood. Just now, Twilight realized his coat was a light gray, yet his mane wasn't visible. “I had half expected you to say no.”

“Well, where I come from, I look after knowledge and stories of the past too. I can understand why you want to know, Archsage...?”

“Gale, Miss Twilight.” He nodded, holding out a hoof. She shook it in turn. “I cannot thank you enough for this.”

“Thank you for what?” A voice asked behind them. Whipping around, Twilight saw Luna standing there, gazing down at them with hints of distrust in her expression.

“Oh, Archsage Gale has asked us to tell him if we find out anything about past sages,” Twilight replied. “Right?”

“That is correct,” the Archsage confirmed. Standing up from his chair, he nodded to them both. “Now, I must be off, there is other business I have to attend to within the Tempestry.”

“Of course.” Twilight managed a light smile as he departed. She felt Luna's presence move up alongside her.

“You don't actually trust him, do you?” Luna asked. “Everypony knows prophecy and religion is a bunch of hallucinations and hysteria, leading ponies astray from the truth.”

“I don't know.” Twilight shook her head. “I think there's a bit of truth in anything, you just have to know where to look for it. Besides, it can't hurt to keep an eye out for what he wants to know.”

“For a moment there, I felt like I was back talking to Maristotle.” Luna rolled her eyes in an uncharacteristic display of sarcasm. “Fine, we'll keep an eye out for fairytales.”

“Humph, she's definitely grumpy today,” Twilight muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Luna looked over to her.

“Nothing.”

“If you say so.” Luna sighed. “If there's nothing else for us here, Sir Kazius told me that the King has asked for us to see him. He isn't holding court at the moment, and I heard he should be up in his study, on the third floor.”

“Did Sir Kazius tell you why he wanted to see us?” Twilight asked.

“No, he did not. However, I don't think it’s wise to keep him waiting. Kings and rulers can be impatient and touchy at times.”

“Oh, you don't need to remind me,” Twilight's voice lowered, laced with mirth, “Princess Luna.”

Luna recoiled, opening her mouth to give the young mare a verbal lashing. But as the unicorn began to quiver with laughter, she couldn't help but join in too. “Touché, Sparkle! Not many ponies have the substance to tease me as such, but in this case, I applaud you for it. Just be wary, for you have declared war! I have bested even my own sister in ages past, so be prepared for a fight.” A grin formed on her face.

Twilight was astonished to see a light-hearted response break from the often stoical pony. Immediately after implying Luna was impatient and touchy, even in her humor, she regretted it. It just came out on its own, impulsively and abruptly, like a burst of water from a geyser. She was certain she had hurt the alicorn, damaging her sole link to anypony she knew in this new world. But when the lunar mare laughed in response, after an initial jolt of surprise, a cool shower of relief fell over her.

With an exhale, Luna forced herself to calm down. “Now, shall we go see what he wants?”

-~-

Luna calmly rapped her hoof on the door in front of her. The dull knocking echoed down the halls, with few ponies being on the top floor of the palace save for the two guards outside the king's door.

“Come in,” a voice sounded from inside.

With a deep breath, Luna pushed the door opened and entered the room, Twilight in tow. As she glanced around the room, she noted how comfortable and inviting it felt. A warm fireplace crackled off to the side, and the walls had been redone, gray stone replaced by plaster, painted over in a decadent burgundy. A soft carpet massaged her hooves. The king himself, sans crown, was sitting behind an expertly-carved desk.

“Your majesty,” Luna forced a smile, calling upon extra effort to make herself to bow.

“Ah, Luna and Twilight. Come in, sit down.” The small pony shuffled aside papers, leaning forward from his cushion. “Come, sit. The carpet was a gift from the most skilled Erhani artisan in a century, surely you'll find it to your liking.” He waved a hoof in front of him.

Nodding, Luna stepped forward and sat down, glancing over as Twilight sat to her right. Turning her attention back to the king, she commented, “You are right. It is quite nice.”

“I'm glad you agree.” The ends of his lips curved upwards for half a second, before returning to the neutral expression that seemed to be carved into his face. “Now, I had some business to discuss with you both, however it seems that somepony else got to you first. It's been brought to my attention just now that you're going to be doing some diplomatic work for Sir Kazius, correct?”

Luna nodded again, but in her peripheral she saw Twilight's face turn to her, confused. Looking over, the alicorn mouthed, “Later.”

“Or, perhaps one of you has agreed to it, and has yet to fill in the other,” King Leszek added, gaze shifting from one mare to the next. “Regardless, there are some technicalities I'd have to discuss with you first. I can't just have foreign ponies representing my kingdom, now can I?”

“No, your majesty, that would not make sense,” Luna uttered.

“Yes, well, that leaves me with two options. First, I could simply override Sir Kazius' decision and send somepony else in your stead.” The tan stallion leaned back, as if he were relaxing. “Yet, I think he might be onto something with you two. The old nag has a knack for that, knowing which ponies can get things done. Since I trust him more than anypony I know, the other is to grant you both diplomatic titles.”

“What exactly does that come with?” Luna asked, sitting up straight. Memories of feudal Equestria reminded her that titles were a prized commodity, and didn't come without a price.

“Well, you'd be recognized as diplomats of Hurras, and have a voice within international affairs.” The king produced two parchments from his desk. “There are other obligations as well, but I will waive them if need be. Really, you are only needed to deal with this one problem, since your skillset matches with its requirements perfectly, as I've been told.”

“I understand, but if you don't mind, I'd still like to hear what else a diplomatic title entails.” Luna stood firm, not about to be deceived by fine print.

“I thought you'd say that.” This time, the grin stuck on Leszek's face for a few seconds. “I suppose you can hear, since you're not accustomed to how things work here. In addition to being recognized as a diplomat, you will also have to work within Konik when not on foreign duty, are subject to royal law and decree, will be granted citizenship rights, receive a yearly salary of five hundred pieces and a room within the palace, will be required to attend all balls and feasts when not on foreign duty, and will be addressed henceforth as 'Ambassador.'”

Luna exhaled, letting her mind decrypt and analyze all he had said. It was a heavy bargain; they needed money and supplies to find a way home, but in order to get it, her and Twilight had to chain themselves to a kingdom they were in no way related to. Sure, the king said he'd waive the other 'obligations,' but Luna wasn't sure she could trust him.

“Can we be given some time to think and discuss this matter between ourselves, Your Majesty?” Luna asked politely. “You understand that this isn't a decision to be made on a whim.”

“Of course,” Leszek responded. “I know it seems rather out of the blue and has probably caught you off guard. Kazius and I agreed just after you left to go through with this, as he thinks we should hedge our bets.”

Luna's coat prickled, uneasy about being used like a chess piece, a buffer to his plans. “Hedge your bets?”

“Yes, that's right. Our past interactions with the new Grand Elector have been futile at best, so we've decided that we might as well take a chance on somepony who could achieve results, regardless of where they're from. We've sent four different emissaries on other tasks in Erhanos, and none have gotten much farther than the introductions. It's not healthy for our reputation to be stained by repeated ineffectiveness, especially with the world as tense as it is now.”

“So, you'd take a chance on me instead, even though you know little about who I am?” Luna raised an eyebrow, half in a challenge and half curiously.

“I don't have much other choice, now do I?” The king raised his eyebrows right back at her, meeting her challenge. “Doing the same thing over and over is useless. Sometimes you have to seize the fleeting opportunities before you, and place your faith in your instincts.”

“Right.” Luna looked over to Twilight, who shrugged. “Well, we shall take some time to think about your offer.”

“Good.” The king took the two parchments off his desktop and stowed them away. “Now, there is one last order of business to discuss. Holding the religious sway that you do, you both have been invited to the annual feast held in Konik by the Tempestry, tomorrow night. Even though I detest those fools, I would advise you go, to become acquainted with how the upper classes work here in Anarkhos. They have many rules that would help you should you decide to travel to Lobos and speak with the Grand Elector.”

“I see,” Luna affirmed.

“Also, If you don't have any further questions, then might I ask one?” Leszek shifted forward on his cushion.

“Of course.”

“My guards tell me they saw streaks of colored light flying over the palace walls this morning.” Leszek stroked his beard thoughtfully. “You wouldn't know why, would you?”

Luna blinked, holding his gaze. “I'm afraid I do not.”

The king smiled. “Pity, I figured you would. Well, then I think our conversation is over. You may see yourselves out, ladies.”

Author's Note:

Enjoy!

Also, a thanks to TheLastBrunnenG for proofreading and editing on short notice!