I'm just a witch studying my magic when my teacher comes around and asks me why I haven't been keeping to the curriculum. Boredom I say. Magic isn't practical most of the time...
Lyssa is an apprentice witch training to become a fully-fledged witch. She's smart, she's capable but she doesn't really like how magic is taught. When does it become practical? Why can't we use it anywhere? After disrupting the class one too many times, the headmistress and the school decide what they want to do with her. She needs to go on a Journey, they think. To a land with magic in their everyday lives...
I'm so bored. I should be working on my other stories but I have zero care and so much style.
Tags will be changed or added to when relevant. Now retroactively edited by the wonderful and amazing Word Worthy!
“Focus! Witchcraft is all about mental fortitude. If you are unable to channel the energy, you will fail the class!”
I tried, I really tried. The paper shifted and swirled. I got distracted, again. Instead of folding itself into an origami tree, my paper folding resulted in a fearsome tyrannosaurus rex that stomped around the tabletop and ate my friend’s origami tree. Sindra laughed at the wonton destruction of her own creation but abruptly stopped when the teacher glided over towards us.
I say glided because that’s what she did, literally. The teacher floated above my comfortable neck craning height and proceeded to glare at me with unfathomable menace. “Junior witch apprentice number six-sixty-six!” When Babba the Metamorphical Witch got mad, she would start using my student number and not my name. Also, there weren’t actually over six hundred witches, the administration just had a penchant for choosing the number six.
Babba made a strangled noise and I fancifully imagined her choking on her own spit, but I didn’t imagine it too strongly. Ill-wishing has a way of coming true.
“I don’t know what to do with you, young lady!” she spluttered. “You have an exceptional gift, but you are squandering it with your lack of concentration!”
I shrugged helplessly. “I can’t help it, your class is too boring.” I heard a general snigger run through the transmutations class. My friend choked back a giggle. The wizened old hag nearly blew her top… again. I say this because she has been known to do so on several occasions.
“Okay,” I said quickly, before she would start an hour-long rant. “That came out wrong. It’s not your class, per se, it’s the content I find boring. There’s nothing practical in magic.”
“Transmutations is very useful! You can craft, shift and morph objects to your heart’s desires, shouldn’t that be enough?” she said this through gritted teeth. “If you were paying attention, maybe you would know that.” Babba visibly calmed down, taking deep breaths. She floated down as she did so, touching the floor with a toe and then settling on the ground with a muted thump.
My brows knitted together in contest to her opinion. “How is learning how to fold paper into an origami tree going to be useful? Shouldn’t we learn something more practical? Like maybe this?” My tyrannosaurus rex turned around, waved its stubby arms and fell to the table. After ‘dying,’ the paper smoothed itself out and turned into a small paper aeroplane, where it wafted over to Marcelline in the front. She opened the page to discover ‘you’re a poop’ written in bold, bezeled text. Marcelline glared at me and crumpled the paper in her fist.
Babba did not look amused at the demonstration.
“Magic is an ancient art steeped in tradition, we’ve learned to do things this way and that’s how I intend to keep it!”
I sighed. I knew I was doomed to lose this battle, but I may as well see it to the end. “What’s the point of tradition? Sometimes we can use magic, sometimes we can’t? Why can’t we use magic in front of mortals?”
“Because it is the rules, magic is meant for the gifted. You give it to the untrained newts and show that it’s possible, and they’ll go mad.”
I lifted an eyebrow. I was starting to get good at facial expressions. “That’s exactly my point. Practicing magic just increases the risk. If we can’t use it, then what’s the point?”
The teacher shot up a few feet. I should have taken that as a warning, but I continued on.
“We should be learning better subjects. Applications in science or magical science is the future. How about we try that instead?” A gasp shot up through the room.
“Out!” the old hag screeched. “Out of my classroom! Go to the headmistress and don’t come back until you’ve learned not to spread such blasphemy!”
Rolling my eyes, I grabbed my things and shoved them into my personal dimensional pocket. Standing up, I waved Sindra a goodbye and I trudged out, bumping past junior students as they made their way to their classes. Our lessons were double the length of junior classes so I came out in the changeover rush. As I passed a couple of the juniors, they sniggered.
“Hey look it’s the science-witch,” I heard one of them say as they brushed past me. “What a stupid idea.” I flicked a hand in their direction and I was satisfied to hear squealing and flailing in that general direction. Slugs in your sleeves, I thought smugly. That’ll be hard to wash out. That bright spark was soon doused as I made my way to the entrance of the headmistress’ office.
Headmistress Nighters was a frightening figure. She was an old-school Coven witch with ties to the Ancient Circle. In fact, I was sure she used to be part of the Ancient Circle at one point. The headmistress didn’t like students to refer to her by name. She would rather we address her by title. I had gotten so used to calling the headmistress, headmistress that it became a subconscious thing to just think of her as ‘headmistress’ and nothing else.
With regards to her office, I’d been there quite often, usually for infractions like these. The headmistress usually shook her head and directed me to the disciplinary office. The headmistress was a busy women with little to no patience for ‘dilly-dallying’ as Potions Master Grey would say. Most of the faculty were in awe of her, but through all the time I’ve been here, I’ve not seen her do more than just put quill to paper and write out reports, messages and other boring administrative work.
After visiting the headmistress, the disciplinary master would see me briefly and shake her head. Usually she’d tell me to re-sort the library or something and that would usually be the end of it. Mostly, it was light punishments, I mean all I was doing was disrupting class. They went on without me and I still maintained stellar grades. Hey, I was a committed student to science and magic, so I thought ‘any learning was learning’ and magic was at least a way to reduce boredom, especially in a traditional witchcraft school like this. No Internet. Ugh.
I found myself pacing outside the headmistress’ office again. Even though I knew the ‘punishment’ would be inconsequential, standing outside still gave me the heebie-jeebies. The headmistress was a really scary lady. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t knock this time and I accidentally walked into a meeting.
“Sorry,” I ground out automatically, retreating back through the door.
“Wait, Lyssa, this is an opportune occurrence. This matter concerns you.” The headmistress pinned me to the spot with her piercing azure eyes. She pointed a spindly finger to the only other chair in the room. “Sit.”
I felt a sudden frisson of fear jolt down my spine. What did she mean, the matter concerned me? Was I in deeper trouble than I thought? I sat down quickly, my leg twitching in anticipation. I finally took stock of the other occupant in the room.
To the left stood a rather serious looking fellow. He was clothed in a black coat, a black shirt, black trousers and black shiny leather shoes. In his hand he held a staff loosely in his grip. Despite this, he was fairly young, as imposing as he was.
“This is Mort.” The headmistress gestured to the black-garbed stranger. “He’s a wizard in training.”
Curiosity got the better of me. “Why is he here at the school?” From what I knew, there had barely been a male at the school since oh, the last decade or so. For a school so steeped in traditionalism, his presence was all the more disturbing.
“Mort is a special case.” She glanced at the trainee wizard, then flickered back to me. “He has had problems adjusting to curriculum, surprisingly even more than you had.”
Mort spoke up in a deep, sarcastic voice. “I did what any aspiring wizard would do with my level of abilities.” The headmistress didn’t look impressed.
“And if your abilities were so impressive, getting caught so quickly was in your plan?”
I had to hand it to my headmistress, she sure knew how to dish out a searing burn.
Mort didn’t respond to that, his face just twisted in disgust as he tugged something at his neck. I realised what it was immediately.
“That’s an inhibition collar. What did this kid do?”
The headmistress must have caught the irony of me calling someone else a kid, but she let it pass with a raised eyebrow and a mild tone.
“Mort’s a special case, but we’re not here to talk about him. We’re here to talk about you.”
“Oh,” I muttered, going red. “Yep.”
“Over the past few months, you have been making exceptional progress in magic. You’ve learned witchcraft at a far accelerated rate than your peers and you have excellent test scores.” She became severe, the eyes glinting like ice. “But you’ve avoided following the curriculum, you laze about in the classes and you’ve been disruptive to the point of being rebellious.” She threw up her hands. “I know you’re intelligent enough to understand this, which is why I’ve been lenient with you thus far.” She paused. “But now, I’m not so willing to be so blind to this fault, and it needs to be rectified at this moment.”
I gulped, my eyes going wide. I felt my breath quicken, my heart starting to race. What was the headmistress going to do? My gaze flickered to the inhibition collar around Mort’s neck. I swallowed, I felt sick. I might not see the practicality of using magic in my everyday life, but I sure as heck didn’t want to lose it, I studied hard for it and I was proud of my achievements thus far. They couldn’t take it away, surely not?
The headmistress changed gears, giving me a disturbingly bright smile.
“Not to worry, my young witch. Collaring you is a little too extreme, that wasn’t a popular vote in the faculty.”
Wait what? They had a vote on me?
The headmistress gave me a frosty smile. “It would be a waste of talent.” She flicked a hand dismissively.
“Well, what about me?” Mort interjected, but the headmistress just ignored him.
“What we’re proposing is a win-win situation for all of us. I think you can appreciate that this school can no longer tolerate you in the classroom.”
I choked. What? Did she mean expulsion? If collaring was a grade A disaster, expulsion would be next.
“That is why we are offering you this opportunity. I would take it if I were you.”
I sighed in relief. So it wasn’t expulsion.
“What is it?” I asked, caution leaking from my voice.
When the headmistress merely studied me without saying anything, I was suddenly aware of her other title, the raptor.
“You said you wanted the see the practical side of magic? Well I think it’s time for your Journey.”
One thing you should know about the school is that it basically sits on top of a star. Yep, that’s right, we’re basically inside the corona of a star. This is mainly a convenience thing. Stars and celestial bodies give witches enormous alignment reinforcement. It makes spell casting easier, especially for weaker witches in training. For more highly trained witches, they can simply abstract the alignment without having to resort to contact with a physical object. Obviously, I’m not able to abstract the alignment yet, but I’m trying!
Another useful thing about stars is that they are natural dimensional corridors. Bending space and time is relatively easy with such a huge power source nearby. All you have to do is align yourself and boom, you’re off!
For mainly these reasons were exactly why Mort and I were standing on the surface of a star. I consulted the book and mumbled a few things, focusing on the grid. I made sure my alignment was right and the flows worked. If this went wrong, we could end up scattered in space and time. As itty bitty little chunks. Even surviving that, it was not very pleasant, seeing as most of the universe was deadly and most of the time wasn’t very shall we say… favourable to witches.
Mort gave me a look that spoke volumes about his trust in me. The headmistress had debriefed me on Mort’s role in all of this.
“As punishment for… his clandestine activities, Mort will be required to accompany you as a familiar. Mort do you have a personal preference to a particular type of animal? No? I’ll let Lyssa choose for you then. The place I’m sending you is a small country on a relatively peaceful planet. The country is called Equestria and it’s mainly inhabited by race called—” she consulted a parchment on the table “—ponies. Make sure you read this—” she handed me some documents in a manilla folder “—before you get there and double check your traversal charms.” I nodded, taking the files and stuffing them in my personal dimensional pocket. It nestled there with a few knick knacks. Curious? A lady doesn’t tell.
“Anything else I need to know?” I asked, resigning myself to the Journey.
The headmistress laughed at that, catching me by surprise. “That would defeat the purpose of a learning experience if I hand-held you the whole way now wouldn’t it?”
I shrugged self-consciously. I could manage, somehow, but the prospect still unnerved me.
Journeys were usually taken by final-year students. Course work was usually inflexible, which meant the faculty had simultaneously voted for me to take the Journey early. A journey was meant to be a peaceful sojourn to some world in the universe at some point in time, to acclimatise a witch to her magic. After completing their Journey, witches were declared fully licensed users and were permitted to use magic unsupervised. Well, magic that wasn’t illegal of course.
...provided they survived their Journey.
I checked my traversal charms once more, nodding to myself.
“It’s fine,” Mort growled testily. “Just go already!”
“Well excuse me for double checking the charms to make sure we don’t fry, or burn, or get crushed into a speck.”
“We get crushed into a singularity anyway.”
“I meant permanently, without traversing space.”
Grr, that trainee-wizard was incorrigible.
“Thank you,” he replied with a taunting smirk. I started. Dang, I must of said that out loud.
“It wasn’t a compliment.”
Infuriatingly egotistical too.
I consulted the book to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and chucked the book into my dimensional pocket. Dusting my hands, I prepared to give the circle power.
“Hey,” Mort interrupted me and I groaned. I took a steadying breath.
“Shouldn’t you read the documents the old crow gave you?”
I blinked at him. He was right but I had already constructed the gate.
“Eh, I’ll pick it up as I go along,” I said, shrugging. Mort smirked.
“Heh, that’s what I like to hear. Okay, let’s go.” He waved a hand imperiously at me. I suddenly had an idea.
“I know what you should be,” I muttered and I inscribed another circle. He raised an eyebrow at it.
“A cat? Really?” He looked a little annoyed. “Couldn’t you transmute me into something more impressive, like a dragon?”
“You’re about as selfish as one,” I retorted.
He smirked. “I take your point with pride.”
After that I fell silent, concentrating on the spell. Mort also kept silent, even he knew that breaking my concentration would probably result in very dire consequences to the both of us if we didn’t get this right. Within me and without, I felt the steady flows all around me. The varying wisps of energy brushed at my skin causing me to shiver slightly, and I dove into the mindscape, feeling the pulse of magic flow through the universe. Sounds poetic, I know, but experiencing this and retelling it just isn’t the same. I kind of understood why Coven witches tended to get all rhymey and eloquent in their spells. It felt.... beautiful.
“Oh just hurry up, you witches are so touchy-feely,” I heard Mort mutter. I ignored him for both our sakes and delved deeper into the flow.
Dimensional magic wasn’t like conventional magic. As one witch had recorded whilst discovering dimensional travel: ‘Conventional magic was like holding the wheel of a car. Dimensional magic was like steering an avalanche with a paper cup. At least, that’s what it feels like with the power involved.’
I touched the streams, gently manipulating the currents to tap into the circle. At first, I was worried when the flow suddenly cut off. I strained at the void, trying to see what exactly went wrong. After a few moments, I was relieved when the magic surged back. I thought it was weird, but I discounted it. Probably something the book forgot to mention.
The rest of the experience is a little hard for me to describe. Hmm. Try imagining your body is elastic. Super, super elastic. It stretches for a few miles and then it compresses itself to the size of a marble and then it crushes itself out of existence faster than you can even process. Then, imagine you wake up from a pleasant dreamless sleep, only to realise you’re hurtling towards the ground at an accelerated rate.
Those dreams of flying? It’s more terrifying when you’re not dreaming, and you can’t fly. I thought that would be obvious.
The wind rushed through my hair making stream behind me like a flag. I flailed my arms around and spotted Mort dropping like a stone too. I laughed hysterically then, because I thought Mort would be okay since he was a cat now and he’d just land on his legs. I looked down and saw clouds. At this height though, we’d probably be pancake no matter what orientation we ended up in.
My mind blanked and I just screamed.
“Hold on!” I heard someone shout. I was twisting uncontrollably in the air but I managed to spot three of the strangest looking creatures darting towards me.
With a lurch, and a painful wrench, I was taken by an arm and a leg and I rapidly slowed down. Mort mewled something because, heh, he was a cat and we drifted down towards the ground at a less frantic pace.
Dizzy, disoriented and a little loopy I staggered around on the soft grass and collapsed upon it. I think at one point I kissed it, but if anyone asked me, I didn’t do it. I glanced over at Mort who was looking adorable, staggering around on his kitty paws. An added bonus was that he was unused to his form so it wasn’t as if he could have stood properly even if he hadn’t fallen a few thousand feet with me.
“Are you alright?” a deep voice prompted me. I turned towards the golden armoured pegasus. That’s right, I said pegasus. I tried to focus on the pony in front of me. I gave a woozy bow, felt a pain in my gut and vomited in front of them, instead of giving my name as I intended.
...and that was how First Contact went for me.
3 - With Which Witch Which Witches Witched Witches With It?
Chapter 3: With Which Witch Which Witches Witched Witches With It?
A witch doesn’t see many things cooped up in their small Covenant. I was in one of the more famous Covenants, the Magus of the Mind. It was a fancy name for an age-old title. The Covenant had shifted from the primary focus of meditative magic (thank Gaia for that) to mentalism, meta-magics and transformative imbuement. Applications ranged from simple golemancy, illusions to spatio-temporal magics.
The rest of the magic community see us as ‘passive’ spell casters with the majority of our time devoted to researching the meta-magical arts. While it was true that meta-magics was mainly optimising spell casting and flow control, it didn’t mean our Covenant was solely based on that. Sometimes it was frustrating to turn up to Witching Hours and have other Covenants and spell casters judge you before you’ve even shown them what you’re capable of.
The Battlemages always get the attention. They’re not even needed in the modern era of magic, but they’re still treated as if they were some sort of Coven-blessed apprentices. I mean I could have become a Battlemage, but their schedule was mind numbing and their training was bunch of offensive and defensive spells and using the myriad of tools that other spell casters had developed for them.
Without meta-magics, the average Battlemage couldn’t even scorch your robes. Without alchemists and artificers the Battlemages wouldn’t even have a staff or wand of their own. You don’t need to make your own tools to understand how they work, but I can guarantee that if I hadn’t made my wand, I wouldn’t have known how to take care of it. Recognition was most often given to the flashiest demonstration, rather than the most practical and the Battlemages always swaggered around as if they owned the place. Magic was a popularity contest, and that was what I hated about it the most. They wonder why magic was starting to stagnate and why mortals could suddenly do much of the same stuff that we do. Why couldn’t they see it?
“Um, Miss? Are you alright?” the pegasus repeated. I vaguely registered the feminine tone of her speech. A woman? Uh, what’s the equine equivalent? Would the translation charm work for that? My thoughts scattered as nausea set in again.
I shook my head.
“Yes. No. Ooooh,” I blurted, holding a hand to my mouth. The queasiness reluctantly subsided.
The pegasus hesitated, looked back at her colleagues, then trotted up to me and gave me a once over. Her hooves poked me hard in some places.
“Ouch! Hey!” I yelled, glaring at her.
“Hmm, you seem fine,” she replied wryly. “For somepony that fell a few thousand feet without wings.” The other pegasi chuckled at that. I hung my head. Yeah, can’t really say anything about that, I must have messed up the transfer spell. But if I messed up the transfer spell…
“Mort,” I gasped. “Where the heck are we?”
“Funny. Speak up.”
“Meeeeeoow.” Mort looked at his paws and then batted them on the hem of my cloak. Could he really not speak?
“Why are you talking to that cat?” the other pegasi seemed to be content with letting this bossy one do all the questioning.
I glanced at Mort and thought of his predicament. I resisted the urge to giggle.
“No nothing,” I chuckled, failing to suppress my mirth. “Must be my imagination.” Mort glared at me while I put a hand to my mouth.
“Okay then.” The pegasus shifted her wings on her back. “I’ve got to get back and report this to my commanding officer. You were supposed to be around the area but I thought you would appear on the ground. Too bad you were a little off target.” I blushed at that. Well at least I think I got the right place. The headmistress did say something about local inhabitants being ponies… I glanced over to the pegasi. Close enough.
“I’m Lieutenant Strider by the way,” the pegasus continued. She gestured over to the other two armoured pegasi. “These two are Sergeant Nighters and Private Hops.”
“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant, Sergeant and uhh Private.” I stumbled over the military rankings. Gosh they look so serious. “I’m Lyssa and this is Mort.” I flicked a hand in Mort’s direction while he sat there fuming.
“Meow,” he said and I almost giggled. Did that sound ironic? I did make the right decision on settling for a cat!
“Uhm… were you expecting us?” I asked.
I saw Strider’s mouth twitch but she didn’t add anything and instead gestured to the distance. I peered in the direction she was pointing but all I could see was a lumpy shadow. To the right I saw what looked to be a city or village, I couldn’t be sure.
“You’re expected, but I’ll have to carry the message myself informing of your arrival,” she continued quite pleasantly. “I’ll leave you in Nighters’ capable hooves.”
Nighters was more slender than Strider but she trotted forward with more confidence… or was it pride? The squarish mass of Hops made the two approaching me look a little comical with how contrasting their appearance were.
“Hello, Lyssa. I’m Sergeant Nighters, this is Private Hops. Call me by rank. Don’t argue with me. We’re acquainted, let’s go.” Nighters set off at a brisk trot. She angled towards the larger city-smudge in the distance.
The shortness of Nighters’ speech threw me off and it took me a moment before I jolted forward to keep up with them. Hops seemed to shrug ruefully, as much as a quadrupedal could, and then darted forward to march in step with his superior.
Mort clambered up my leg and padded onto my shoulder. He draped himself there as if to tell me that if he was going to be a cat, he might as well be as obnoxious as one. I jostled him a few times but he wouldn’t budge. Finally, I rolled my eyes and followed the two pegasi.
Looks like this’ll be a long trip.
I must admit the scenery around here was vastly different to the environment we have around the school. The school was always moody and dark with a lot of dim shadows and crevices for little ghosties and ghoulies to perturb the first-years. When I first arrived at the school I was scared. Sindra was one of the first few friends I had made on the campus and I was glad that we shared the same worries and misgivings that the large and frighteningly complex school was in abundance of.
Eh I wish Sindra was here… I glanced at Mort. I don’t think I’ll be seeing much of the magic community apart from this recalcitrant wizard anyway. What did he do? The headmistress did say he got caught in the middle of his plan. What kind of plan? I stared at his neck. Sure enough, the inhibition collar stayed on his neck, now shrunk to a simple band that looked innocuous enough on its own. He was so dark and grumpy.
“I have the urge to call you Salem,” I mumbled. Mort hissed and pricked my ear.
“Ow!” I didn’t say anything after that. Mort was right, there were some things that you shouldn’t joke about.
I snapped my focus to Nighters who had mumbled the comment.
“What?” I called out. “Something wrong?”
Nighters was silent for a few moments. Her expression slipped from exasperation to mild anger to resignation.
“There’s a flock of griffons heading towards us right now.”
I heard the slight edge in her voice.
“That’s a bad thing?” I queried. Nighters didn’t deign to reply so Hops filled me in.
“Maybe.” His deep baritone voice startled me. Boy did he have lungs in that barrel chest of his.
I peered into the sky but I couldn’t see anything. Did these pegasi have better eyesight? Mort patted my shoulder with a paw. I think he saw them earlier as well. What kind of cat vision does he have? Did the transformative spell give him better sight?
I scanned the horizon again. There was a faint smudge that was growing bigger.
“Wow, you have good eyesight,” I complimented. Hops nodded appreciatively but Nighters might as well have been made from stone.
“It’s never easy dealing with border disputes,” the gruff guard simply stated. Then she continued her passive silence. I peered at the smudge which had upgraded itself into a dotted smear. It took me a while to realise that the griffons were in a loose formation. They sparkled a bit. I guess they were wearing armour too.
I mentally revisited my spell list. I didn’t have much training in defensive-type spells but I could probably whack in a quick illusion or something.
Hops seemed to notice my uneasiness.
“Hold. You’re safe,” he reassured, his stance widening as if to brace himself. His wings shifted a little. I felt a little better to be honest, but the way Nighters looked, taut like a bowstring, didn’t really inspire confidence in me.
The griffons rapidly descended, fluttering their wings. They were impressive, a bit bigger than the ponies, but the tallest they had was still just half a head shorter than me.
The tallest one stepped forward. “My name is Sergeant Talon. I’m here representing the Griffon Border Patrol. Just for the record can I have you state your name and rank, please?”
The way he talked reminded me a lot of Hilda, one of the most disinterested teachers on campus. She always spoke in a monotone and sounded very much like a dead frog. Also the way he said ‘please’ sounded more like it was tacked on as an afterthought. The effect making his statement sound more obnoxious than I think he intended it to be. A quick glance and I could see Nighters tighten her lips fractionally in response.
“Border patrol? You’re on Equestrian soil right now. In fact you had to fly over several miles through Equestrian airspace to get here. As such your demands will be treated as requests. However for ease of conversation, I’ll not have you call me ‘pegasus’ or ‘guard’, you can refer to me as Sergeant Nighters.” I could see that Talon disliked speaking with Nighters. Well I don’t blame him, I don’t think Nighters made for a pleasant companion for conversation in general.
“We saw a flash of light and we came to investigate,” the leader replied testily. After a moment he seemed to have regained his lofty composure. Talon shifted his armour as if disinterested in the whole affair. “You are close to griffon borders and there are some of your militia as well. You can see how this would concern us.”
“Nothing out of order,” Nighters replied stiffly. “We simply have a guest. You may leave. Equestria is not comfortable with your level of military present here. You don’t want this to scale up to a diplomatic conflict, do you?”
Talon’s eyes twitched up to me as if he suddenly realised I existed. I pursed my lips but didn’t say anything. Geopolitics was not a witch’s forte. I was here to learn about magic. Hopefully I can gain my Confluence here, but I sincerely doubted it. I suddenly wondered what I was supposed to learn here for my Journey. I flicked it to the back of my mind. It wasn’t important now.
“Hmm.” Talon examined me and my cat. He obviously didn’t see me as anything interesting because he waved his claw dismissively. His compatriots all looked serious and stoic. I resisted the urge to make funny faces at them.
“Well there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary here,” Talon continued. He dragged out the last syllable which grated on my nerves a little. Though he addressed Nighters he seemed to be aiming the question at me. I didn’t respond.
With a grunt the griffon straightened his posture and turned his back deliberately on our party. “Goodbye,” he said imperiously and then took off, without even looking back.
Nighters let out her breath—that I didn’t know she was holding—noisily.
“I hate that griffon,” she muttered. She straightened fractionally. “Okay, we’ve wasted enough time dealing with those nosy bird-brains. Let’s go.”
I followed along as Nighters broke into a brisk trot. I leaned in conspiratorially to Hops.
“What’s her history with Talon?” I asked conversationally.
Hops glanced at Nighters, then spoke quietly.
“They used to be friends.” There was a brief moment of silence. “I don’t think this is over.”
I glanced back at the retreating forms of the griffons. I suddenly recalled how sharp their claws were. I didn’t want to get on their bad side. The way Nighters stood, unyielding and frosty really spoke to her strengths. I would have run away like crazy.
“How much further is… uhh… wherever it is that we need to go?” It was a fair question. I didn’t pack anything to eat and my stomach was starting to complain. In retrospect I really should have packed something basic. Maybe some kitty food. Salem—I mean Mort—seemed to sense my thoughts and he glared at me with yellow cat-eyes.
Gees, isn’t this guard a bundle of fun? I took the opportunity to look around and see what was different. It was my first time anywhere other than the school or home and my eyes lapped up the frankly beautiful canvas of idyllic green and blue and golden yellow of the countryside. At least, I think it was the countryside, the grass seemed to cover the area in a neat, even coat, coming no higher than my ankles. It felt like I was walking through someone’s lawn rather than just some outdoors area.
Private Hops caught my gaze and gestured with his head in a way that looked suspiciously like a horse tossing its head. My eyes scanned up ahead until I could see a structure that would not look out of place at the Witching Hour, though themes changed as readily as the participants.
“Are we headed to that castle?” I queried Private Hops.
The guard made to say something, but he was interrupted by Nighters, who evidently decided that now was a good time to lay on a bunch of information on me.
“That’s CanterlotCastle. It is the castle of the Princesses. When we arrive there, I expect you to treat them with all due respect. Bow, or incline your head. Don’t overdo it. Maintain a distance of roughly two paces behind me and speak only when spoken to. Keep your wayward appendages to yourself and act respectful and follow my lead. Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded, though I was a bit distracted. During the course of that little speech, I realised something. Something that was nagging me since the beginning of our fateful meeting.
“Do you recognise something about the Sergeant?” I hissed to Mort.
Mort blinked at me slowly, then looked at Sergeant Nighters and back to me. He nodded his cute little feline head. It seemed like he came to same conclusion as I had. Nighters was like Nighters. As in headmistress Nighters.
“Hey? Why are you just standing there?”
I was suddenly aware that I had stopped walking. I jerked myself forward.
I guess it was true what they said about finding doubles on another world. I didn’t believe it before, the chances of something like that happening were astronomical.
It got me wondering though….
What would my double be like?
Before long the green fields died away and became a crazed patchwork of tilled soil and thatched housing. I looked at the cozy foundations and quaint, curious little gazes taking in our ragtag party. Well, mostly ragtag, seeing as I was the only anomaly in the group, but I like to think that Mort added to the mystique. Assuming they didn’t have cats here, though from how Lieutenant Strider had reacted to Mort, I think he was common enough. Dang, I really should have picked a dragon or something more exotic. Probably a manticore? They wouldn’t have stuff like that.
In any case my curiosity only grew like a ravenous bear as we made our way through the foreign land. I was glad to see that we weren’t the only ones out here, because I was starting to feel antsy with the lack of prolonged contact with a good conversationalist. Mort was snippy but at least he knew how to talk. Hops and Nighters were the epitome of the silent, but socially deadly. If this kept up without some interaction I’d go cra—
Nighty? I spotted a pink blur detach itself from another couple of ponies that were working the field and speed towards a flustered looking Nighters. I liked that look. Suited her better than that stony expression. She waved her arms, trying to stop the pink menace, but the pink pony had no breaks on the hug train and she dived forward, hugging the life force out of the Sergeant.
Private Hops pulled me aside as the pink one started babbling something at some ridiculous speed.
“So I know you’re always on guard business and we never get time to meet but I saw you from waaaaay over there and I thought, ‘Oh! It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to Nighty!’ but then I thought, ‘Nighty got some—“
“—Pony with her! So you could be busy.’ Buuuut then I thought—“
“—‘Why don’t I come over and meet you both! Nighty’s made a new friend!’ So I came over anyway and I almost tripped over a rock, but that was okay—“
“—And now I’m talking to you! What’s up?!”
‘Nighty’ put a weary hoof over her face. I shot a glance at Hops, but he seemed equally perturbed.
Sergeant Nighters finally got a word in edgeways. Pinkie was smiling happily, the dark look on Nighters’ mug not enough to deter the bombastic pony.
“Pinkie, it’s great to catch up, but can we do it later? I’ve got to bring our new guest to Canterlot.”
Pinkie grinned wider. If that was possible.
“No prooooblemo! I can come with you! We can chat on the way!”
“Uhh, that’s okay—“
Pinkie, with her fluffy, poofy hair sticking up everywhere, bounded along ahead. I say bounded because it didn’t look like she was trotting more than she was springing while walking… pronking.
Hops took an uncertain step forward and I sort of followed him. Nighters just shook her head and let out a sigh, following along too.
“She a friend of hers?” I asked, mostly because I was surprised that Sergeant Nighters even had a friend.
I could almost see the mental gears turning in his head.