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Ever the Sun Rises: (CYOA feed) Indefinite hiatus

By SizeOfMT
Created: 2022-02-07 23:21:26
Updated: 2022-12-14 02:41:28
Expiry: Never

  1. 28/05/22
  2. If any thread regulars are reading this, sorry about the last thread dying. Frankly, doing most of the bumping and between irregular sleep (which was where I'd often have to bump the thread) and work, it was going to happen eventually I guess. I will try to keep an eye out in case someone else makes a /huge humans/ thread, but otherwise I'm going to give the thread a break for a little while, maybe work on some thread content in the background, including maybe finishing the current 'girls night out' arc of this CYOA; sorry about the lack of choices in this regard, but I'd rather bring it to a satisfying conclusion based on it seeming like the vote (thanks for entertaining me, btw) wanted to bring it to a close, and start fresh on another day than leave it hanging in the middle of something.
  3. Hopefully I'll have the urge to kick another thread into being sooner than later, but I don't see the point unless I have something substantial to give besides the usual image bumps.
  4. 09/06/22
  5. Updated with the finale of the girls night out on line 3648. Enjoy!
  7. >so here you are
  8. >Canterlot
  9. >the gates of the two sisters look before you, artistic depictions of the two princesses, replete with their sun and moon motifs, loom overhead a you step through
  10. >this is it, Lumen Haze, in a cosmopolitan, populated, busy city
  11. >this is going to be a disaster; someone’s going to cast a strong spell, flare up your magic sensitivity, and odds are one of the palace parapets will be gone in a day or two as you can’t your magic skyward, and you just hope you don’t hurt someone
  12. >you guess at least it’s not Manehattan
  13. >but your anxiety is already flickering, as is your horn as small bursts of magic trigger here and there
  14. >a market where even small uses of telekinesis to move single bits makes you tense
  15. >sure, you can safely use that spell too
  16. >but some people just ham-horn it and use so much power
  17. >it’s a wreckless use of magic if you’re honest
  18. >”There’s a familiar face!” a female voice chimes behind you
  19. >Ah! Who, what!?
  20. >there goes your horn… ow
  21. >you hate to admit it, but your slowly healing horn’s doing a damn good job preventing your usual, more drastic flare ups
  22. >the looming figure of Twilight Sparkle approaches as you turn
  23. >she stops before her impressive bust obscures her face, which at around eight feet tall, doesn’t take much proximity
  24. >she shakes your hand. ”Welcome to Canterlot! I’m glad you made it. I’ve already sent a couple of my friends to meet your new team and guide them to the palace. For the first few days you’ll have us to help you settle into palace life. I believe you had a letter from Palace Captain Copper Shield?”
  25. >that you did
  26. >official summons, although you had already agreed to come here
  27. >also mention of two other people; Mistral Shear and Osmiana Zenith
  28. >you had prepared to come here with Pearly, but her vast talents were needed before you were prepared
  29. >well, you were packed, but you needed more time internally…
  30. >so many people…
  31. >”Uh, are you okay?” Twilight says and begins leading you through the city
  32. >”I’m just nervous,” you answer. “I had a bad enough time back in Sunride controlling my powers, and that was with thirty three people spread over a two mile stretch of roads. There’s thousands here!”
  33. >Twilight offers a reassuring smile. ”Oh, there’s some of our companions now! And you’ll get used to it here. They’re good people. I swear, you’re not in any danger.”
  34. >you protest, ”probably not, because I am the danger!”
  35. >a bubbly, well over six feet tall tall, full figured and frizzy pink haired girl ahead says ”… no no no, that’s not how the joke goes. *I’m* the one who knocks. You say who’s there.”
  36. >she’s talking to a slender, short airblood girl, who responds, “my way’s funnier. Okay, how about this one; knock knock.”
  37. >the pink girl replies, “who’s there?”
  38. >”Cel.”
  39. >”Cel who?”
  40. >”hey, we only just met,” the shorter girl huffs, “it’s Cel to my friends, but it’s Celes-t’ya.”
  42. >Twilight groans, the pink one laughs loudly and the younger girl grins, but her mood drops once she notices you and she turns serious
  43. >she’s cute, and amongst all the tall girls around, she’s barely five feet tall to your less than impressive 5’4. Thin and lithe, dressed in light, roomy if plain clothes, but her exposed arms have an athletic tone. Her silvery grey hair is cut into a short bob with lavender stripes, and she stares through you with big, dark blue eyes
  44. >Twilight fist bumps the pink girl, then moves beside the short girl, who turns so her back isn’t exposed and seems to tense up. “This is one of your peers, Mistral Shear. And this,” she then gestures to the curvy pink woman, “is one of my best friends, Pinkie Pie. Girls? This is Lumen Haze.”
  45. >”Hey,” Mistral offers a polite wave, but the longer she looks at you, the more relaxed she seems. “Yeah, I’m not a city person either. If it helps, just focus on the palace spires, pretend they’re treetops and the talking is the wind through the trees.”
  46. >what? “I- I’m sorry?”
  47. >she shrugs. ”You’re all twitchy and nervous like a rabbit. Also you’re wearing sturdier boots better suited to rambling than paved streets, and your shirt has tree sap stains. You’re an outdoor type, like me.”
  48. >you look at your shirt… those sap spots are *tiny*
  49. >”A couple of outdoorsy types, huh?” A deeper but still female voice says. “Yer a pair after my own heart.”
  50. >you and Misty both do a double take as two huge, brawny women join the group. The shorter of the two seems nervous, with wide silver eyes and long, smooth blue hair. She’s dressed in well fitted, rugged and well worn padded clothes. It’s actually armour, in fact you recognise it from some historical texts.
  51. >the bigger one’s dressed in simple farmers clothes, complete with a Stetson. She’s a blonde with bright green eyes, and she holds out her hand to shake, which you gingerly take and she almost pulls you off your feet with her strength.
  52. >she says “the names Applejack!” She then points to the less friendly woman being her. “This here’s Ozzy… uh,” Applejack glances up and bobs her finger to the syllables as she says, “Osmiana Zenith. Phew! Got it in one!”
  53. >”Salutations.” Ozzy says and gives a formal bows, clasping a fist into her other hand before her. “It is my understanding that we are to be companions.”
  54. >Misty gives Ozzy the same stare as she gave you, then giggles. “Aww, you’re like a kitten. A really big kitten. Just as destructive and starry eyed.”
  55. >”I am no kitten!” Ozzy protests and puts her hands on her wide hips
  56. >”So we have a kitten and a bunny,” Twilight says with a grin, “but what does that make you, Misty?”
  57. >”Oh, oh, I know!” Pinkie squeaks, “she’s a ferret! She’s all slinky and bendy!”
  58. >Misty smirks and folds her arms
  59. >around her head in a way that makes your shoulders ache just watching
  61. >”I would not have come if I knew I would be subject to such mockery.” Ozzy pouts. “And I was expecting defenders and warriors for the task of protecting the princess, not a derisive contortionist and…” she looks at you, then taps her chin with her finger. “Forgive me, I should not judge you without undue cause. Your nervous, on-edge stance besides, you look to be solidly built compared to Mistral and her reedlike flimsiness.”
  62. >Misty sticks her tongue out
  63. >Ozzy’s… somehow less social than you. ”Uh… thanks? Just regular exercise and a good diet. It helps me control my magic a bit better.”
  64. >Applejack clears her throat. ”Well, now that y’all’re acquainted, lets hustle; the palace awaits!”
  65. >your group moves through the streets, and you whisper to Twilight, “they’re… not what I was expecting.”
  66. >”You have more in common than you think. My friends were drawn to you three around the same time, with different experiences and backgrounds. But all of you show tremendous promise. I trust my friends, and they all said that the three of you are good people in need of a fresh start. Just try talking to them, I’m sure you’ll get along just fine!”
  67. >you see both Misty and Ozzy give each other funny looks as they stand farthest away from one another
  68. >and despite your nerves, it sounds like you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these two… it wouldn’t hurt to start trying to build a rapport with them
  70. >you’re curious about Misty’s insight, for one thing, and being a rural sort yourself, there’s probably some common ground
  71. >so you move over, nearer to the airblood, and say, “so, you’re a country girl too? Not… Applejack levels of country, I- I mean more conventionally rural.”
  72. >Misty laughs softly as you both look at the big, brawny earthblood for a moment, but she nods. “Sure am. Fetlock was a small village anyway, so visitors were always a source of excitement and stories about far off, exotic places. Unfortunately, ever since the Crystal Empire was restored, we became such a backwater that there’s nothing to do there besides scowl at each other, so I found myself going spelunking in the local caves and crevices or just flying when the winds allowed it.”
  73. >cave diving, huh? You chuckle. “Suddenly your double-jointedness makes a lot of sense. Must be all sorts of crags and such near somewhere as geographically hostile as Fetlock.” Wait, Fetlock… where have you… oh! “Uh, F- Fetlock as in, if I’m not mistaken and I’ll admit I don’t have my reference books, one of the former vassal villages under the rule of King Sombra? I think it was once the seat of his power before moving into the empire proper. ”
  74. >Misty’s mirth sours somewhat. “Yeah, the place has a reputation that’s mostly been forgotten. I tried not to think about it too much, even when my dad was always researching that monster. Research that bore some pretty lousy fruit.”
  75. >she sighs and pulls out a short, blackened stick, which extends to a full, six foot staff, then back again
  76. >she chuckles, but it sounds forced. ”I always used to say Fetlock’s called that ‘cause it’s not even got the good grace to quite be the footnote of Equestria, but still close enough that everyone who lives there gets covered in crap, and we definitely did that.”
  77. >”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“
  78. >”Ah, save it… Lumen, was it? I wasn’t strong enough to make a difference, both in flight or actually stopping some bad stuff from happening. Sometimes might makes right, and all the smarts in the world doesn’t amount to much more than good intentions and a pile of regrets. But I’m here to move past that and start fresh.” She gives you a smile. “Sounds like we all are. Care to share?”
  79. >you hate to admit it, and aren’t usually that comfortable talking about your past, but if nothing else, you’ve barely registered the crowds you’re walking through. A worthy distraction.
  81. >>38184873
  82. >”I’m a magical anomaly caused by what can only be charitably described as a cursed artefact which causes me to produce more energy than can be safely controlled. I’ve lived in a quiet hamlet all my life, first by happenstance but it became the only way to function when my control grew worse.”
  83. >“Sure, make my reasons seem petty, why don’t ya?” Misty snorts and laughs. “I’m kidding; that must suck.”
  84. >she extends her pale pink wings. “I’m not a great flier, but if I couldn’t take wing without causing myself or others harm, I’d hate myself.”
  85. >… her insight is painfully accurate
  86. >you sigh as you think of your fond years with Pearly, or Peat Thatch and his wife and their constant support, but Misty pats your shoulder as your heart begins aching
  87. >”Sorry, I can tell it’s a sore subject. But perk up, Lumen, it’ll be okay. We can mope together! Misery loves company, right?”
  88. >she gives you some space
  89. >despite everything, you feel a quick rapport building with Misty (+1)
  90. >you’re only about halfway to the palace, so you skirt over to Osmiana
  91. >she’s eyeing everyone warily, as if expecting something, or someone, to confront her
  92. >you clear your throat and ask, ”a bit for your thoughts?”
  93. >she blinks at you, the takes out a bit and offers it to you, then squints. “Wait, are you offering a bit or do I owe you one? I was unaware of the exchange of currency to speak one’s mind.”
  94. >… okay?
  95. >you hold up your hands in supplication. ”No, no, it’s a figure of speech, I just wanted to talk and you seemed distracted.”
  96. >she pockets the coin. ”I trust this is not some put-upon japery at my expense by that Mistral girl?”
  97. >”No, of course not,” you say and glance across to the smallest member of the group. She’s lost in thought again, herself
  98. >”She has the same glint in her eye as a pair of charlatans that I found myself with, and they made quite a fool out of me. I understand there are many such people and I am trying my best to not fall victim again.”
  100. >anyone can be fooled, least of all you and Mirrionette… or Ondrarion, you suppose is it’s real name
  101. >but she seems to be taking it especially hard. You feel like she’s got a lot of pride, or is carrying a great burden of purpose
  102. >you say, ”we all make mistakes, and some people will take advantage of that. We just have to grow from these experiences.”
  103. >Ozzy bites her lip. “Perhaps to the average person, such mistakes are as water in the stream; ever flowing and forgotten as part of life’s flow. I possess strength and power that can cause considerable harm if misused. I must strive to be better or give recompense however I can go make amends for my failures.”
  104. >she glances at Applejack and looks close to tears beneath a depth of shame, withheld by her dauntless pride
  105. >that’s sadly relatable. “I don’t know if you’ve observed the moon lately,” you say, “but there’s a little piece of it missing.”
  106. >”I had observed. An unusual phenomena, but far too distant to be of much cause for concern to the likes of us.”
  107. >you chuckle, nervously. “I was made a fool by a powerful entity, and that was the final result after years of being a threat to others, even people of which in close.”
  108. >her eyes go wide. ”You imply to possess such power that you have defaced the moon itself!?”
  109. >”not by choice, but… yes.”
  110. >Twilight chimes in, “he’s telling the truth. I was there when it happened.”
  111. >Ozzy’s jaw goes slack. “That is astounding! You must do better as well! We all must! We should swear a pact to cover one another’s weaknesses, so that our cadre serves the betterment of the land!”
  112. >she offers her hand to shake, and her earnestness sends you to agree before you even have time to think
  113. >you’re pact sworn to improve everyone’s life, you guess? By not screwing up yourselves
  114. >your affinity with Ozzy has been improved (+1)
  115. >it’s clear her heart is infallibly in the right place, and you feel like if Misty and Ozzy can come to terms, they could cover each other’s flaws perfectly
  116. >you say, ”I bet if you and Misty-“
  117. >your horn sparks and your vision blurs
  118. >damnit, not now!
  119. >Twilight stops and looks around. ”What’s going on?”
  120. >something just used a great deal of magic and it’s irritating your own
  121. >”Are you well, Lumen?” Ozzy puts a hand on your back and supports you. “You seem Ill at ease.”
  122. >Misty hides in the group and pulls out her staff
  123. >when the pulse of magic clears, the area is… completely clear of citizens
  124. >it’s devoid of colour too, except a circle immediately around your group
  126. >”What in tarnation’s goin’ on?” Applejack says and suddenly grows bigger and even more muscular
  127. >Pinkie bites her lip but puts up her dukes. “If this is a welcome party, they need a lot more streamers, balloons and, y’know, party stuff?”
  128. >Twilight’s horn and hands glow, making yours flare up again as she prepares for the worst
  129. >then the circle contracts
  130. >Twilight throws up a barrier, but the circle passes straight through it, and as it passes your group, they vanish
  131. >except you, Ozzy and Misty, standing in the deafening quiet of a colour-free Canterlot
  132. >”Foul trickery!” Ozzy bellows and adopts a firm, low combat stance. Her eyes and horn glow with power, yet it doesn’t seem to interfere with yours, like she’s internalising the magic. “Stand forth and challenge me, cretinous filth!! Wherever you are!”
  133. >”Okay, real talk?” Misty says and brandishes her staff, all the while her wings extend and twitch, like she’s moments from taking flight and fleeing. “I’m kinda freaking out here! What in the wide, wide world of Equestria’s going on!?”
  134. >you’ve heard of all sorts of similar phenomena; a village that became so disillusioned, it lost almost all its colour
  135. >and all sorts of forced teleportations, like banishment
  136. >but this?
  137. >a voice from… somewhere, a whisper that you can only hear because of the absolute stillness
  138. >”This was not expected… how interesting.”
  139. >Ozzy shifts from spot to spot, seeking the sound, while Misty mostly remains behind the her, then says, “hey, look, the palace still has some colour!”
  140. >true enough, looking over the grey buildings, the famous stained glass windows stick out like a sore thumb
  141. >”We shall not flee!” Ozzy says, “let us pursue this foe and be done with it.”
  142. >Misty pouts. “We’re here to protect the princess, right? If there’s a chance she’s stuck here in this… whatever it is with us, shouldn’t we see if we can find her? Strength in numbers?”
  143. >shadowy figures move down one alley, and Ozzy’s moments from charging after them
  144. >Ozzy pleads, ”together, we can repel this attack before they have a chance to enact their foul scheme! We could be the only chance the city has.”
  145. >Misty grabs Ozzy’s belt, though it’s obvious she won’t stand a chance stopping the huge brawler, and says, ”we need a tie-breaker, Lumen!”
  147. >when push comes to shove, in the long list of things you’ve been unhappy about your lot in life, one of your best traits is you’re not afraid to do the right thing, and help those in need, even take great personal risks
  148. >even despite your introverted ways, Sunride gathered around you because of it; dear friends and confidents
  149. >but you can’t justify chasing an attacker when the very reason you’re in Canterlot is to protect Princess Celestia
  150. >you say, ”Osmiana, I’m sorry, but if there’s a chance we can stop any harm befalling Princess Celestia, we need to prioritise her first. Not to mention she may have a better idea of what’s going on!”
  151. >Osmiana bares her teeth, but her stance relaxes, and Misty sighs with relief
  152. >”Come then, let us hasten your the palace,” Ozzy says
  153. >”Smartest thing you’ve said all day, big girl,” Misty says as you head along the main street
  154. >shadowy figures continue to dance around the corners of your vision, flitting from alleyway to side road
  155. >it becomes clear you’re being funnelled
  156. >each time you spot one, it fades, as if just smoke or bad memories you can’t quite recall
  157. >but any time you dare to focus on one encroaching mass, you feel the hairs in your neck rise and turn, only to see another path almost spilling over with dark, smothering smoke, and that one begins fading too
  158. >Ozzy remains on guard, showing remarkable instinct for the approaching threat; whenever a cloud draws near, she’s staring it down like you are
  159. >whatever misgivings she may have with people, she seems to understand a supernatural threat
  160. >Misty is… well, you doubt a cave diver has spent a lot of time studying magic
  161. >not to mention the implication that, despite Fetlock’s history with King Sombra, she found her father’s research abhorrent
  162. >so she’s cunning, but not exactly booksmart, and in a world of supernatural powers, that’s not a great combination
  163. >because she’s just as often recoiling and trying to hide instead of facing and dissipating it
  164. >all the same, you’re finally at the palace gates, with the long steps leading up to them
  165. >completely enshrouded in a veil of black smoke
  166. >you honestly wonder if this is Sombra’s influence…
  167. >but he’s gone; the Crystal Empire is healthy and flourishing
  168. >right?
  169. >theorising can wait, you need to get into the palace
  170. >the gates are closed, and as with everywhere else, there’s no signs of life beside the colour up on the stained glass rooms
  171. >which, you’re glad to see, is moving
  173. >”But how do we get inside?” Ozzy says and palms her chin. “Could you not fly up there, Mistral? Considering your apparent flighty demeanour, I am surprised you have not taken wing already.”
  174. >”Trust me, I *want* to,” Misty says, “but I won’t. I can’t. Besides, d’ya really think I’m going alone in this mess?”
  175. >”True,” Ozzy muses. “Nor do I fancy my chances attacking the shadows without assistance. I know not if they are tangible. The only frame of reference I have of such foulness is the bitter corruption of Lady Luna.”
  176. >Ozzy’s at least sensible enough to not want to charge out alone
  177. >along with Misty’s comment, at least you’re on this together, huddled up and unsure of yourselves as you are
  178. >but they sounds increasingly panicked at the prospect of going solo for even a brief time
  179. >frankly, so do you
  180. >fear is keeping all of you from acting
  181. >maybe that’s the point?
  182. >and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to worry about
  183. >there are no other choices
  184. >you grit your teeth and say, “I’m going to try and blast a way in!”
  185. >you call on your wildly unpredictable magic as Misty and Ozzy step aside; a raw blast should do it
  186. >it still hurts to draw on this much power, but you take a deep breath as your horn glows and bird bright white
  187. >you raid your hand, and unleash a blast against the gate
  188. >it gets knocked off of its hinges, and the shadowy smoke is knocked aside for the moment
  189. >so you get through, and you’re in the main courtyard!
  190. >just the inner doors to go… except the ever-present darkness is sweeping in like a pair of tidal waves, either side!
  191. >”We must be swift! Hold on!”
  192. >Ozzy straight up lifts the two of you up under her arms as her horn and eyes glow brightly, and she sprints at, and through, the doors
  193. >once she drops you, she closes the doors and braces herself against them as a low, guttural, monstrous roar sounds from outside
  194. >the door is struck, knocking even Ozzy forward for a moment, but she charges back and secures the door again
  195. >Misty extends her staff and jams it into the door handles, securing it
  196. >the door rattles and shakes again, but the obviously magical staff holds firm
  197. >and you all take a moment to breathe
  198. >once… whatever it is dies down, you notice you’re in a fancy foyer, complete with benches, flowery displays and grand windows
  199. >all colourless, but farther down, part of the next hall has some colour
  201. >you and Ozzy move to head deeper, but Misty hesitates
  202. >”No offence, but I’m gonna need that staff back,” Misty says. “It’s important and I’m not supposed to let it fall into the wrong hands.”
  203. >Ozzy sighs and proceeds to throw several nearby chairs and tables against the door, plus even rolls up the carpet and uses that to pack the blockade in even further
  204. >with her staff retrieved, you enter the next hall
  205. >grand stairs head up, which split and sweep around overhead, and there’s several doorways around that lead to an assortment of hallways
  206. >there’s also some ornate but functional looking spears, which Ozzy snaps off of its mounting and hands to you, and takes the other
  207. >knowing the stained glass hallway is on the upper floors, you head to the next floor
  208. >only the upper hallway has several shadowy figures looming around
  209. >they don’t seem to have noticed you yet
  210. >Misty whispers, “guess there’s no avoiding a fight this time…”
  211. >you weigh your options
  212. >while you’re no fighter, you can hit pretty hard; plenty of exercise helping Peat with his chores has given you a solid build.
  213. >or you could throw caution to the wind and blast them with your magic
  215. >you whisper, ”I- I’m still not particularly fond of using my magic too often.”
  216. >”Then we rush as one,” Ozzy advises, “I shall charge past the first couple, and you can dispatch them whilst you cover my flank.”
  217. >”I’ll… just bring up the rear,” Misty says, knuckles white from gripping her staff
  218. >Ozzy’s eyes glow white and her horn appears, and she charges!
  219. >true to her word, she runs past the first two shadowy figures, rams the spear through a third, spins and throws it through another two before it clatters to the floor, and she sets upon a fourth with her fists and feet, punching clumps of darkness off of it
  220. >you can barely reach the first shade as it turns
  221. >your attempt to stab it only ends with it sidestepping and wrapping its tendril around the shaft, tearing it from your grip and throwing it through a nearby window
  222. >it screams at you in pure nightmare noise; sharp, black teeth, flecks of oily spittle, and Sweet Celestia, IT HAS A GLOWING RED EYE IN ITS MOUTH!!
  223. >you panic
  224. >then panic some more
  225. >then recoil and panic a third time and revert to just using magic
  226. >you blast the top half of it clean off and break a chunk off the ceiling to boot
  227. >Misty swats the other beast with her staff, to minimal success
  228. >it would mildly hurt you if she struck you that way, let alone these things
  229. >before you have a chance to get your magic charged back up, it wraps several tendrils around Misty’s arms and the smaller girl scream
  230. >only for Ozzy to flying kick the monster so hard in the back, her leg punches clear through it, and it dissipates in a cloud of vapour
  231. >she’s smothered in an oily substance, but having wiped out the threat, she smugly stands and sighs, contented
  232. >”… thanks,” Misty mutters
  233. >”you two are in considerable need of martial training,” Ozzy declares. “That you are here to protect Princess Celestia is a fallacy. Once we have vanquished this threat, I shall train you.”
  235. >”Training will have to wait, fools!”
  236. >a dramatic and flamboyant female voice from behind
  237. >a small noble blood with a horn that splits, coils and reforms into a single point stands, full of pomp and grandeur
  238. >her black hair is spiked up and back and she regards you with black sclerae, white iris coloured eyes and a pointy toothed smirk
  239. >”I am your worst nightmare! Orchestrator of this assault and herald of your deepest, darkest terrors!! I am Ephobia!! Mistress of fear!!”
  240. >Ozzy blinks, smirks and cracks her knuckles, then charges at her, unbidden
  241. >you share a look with Misty, sigh and realise this is going to be either over now or about to go very wrong
  242. >you get your answer immediately as Ephobia titters and snaps her fingers
  243. >the oily substance on Ozzy spreads, and she barely has a chance to cry out as she’s smothered, contained
  244. >and, now as an especially large version of a shadow beast, turns towards you, and growls, low and angry
  245. >Ephobia sidles up beside her new 'minion', remaining behind her and pats the Ozzy-beast's side. ”Your reliance on this brute is clear… I wonder how afraid you’ll be as your ally rips you to pieces!!”
  246. >the pair approach, Ephobia close behind Ozzy and using your ally as cover
  247. >”Oh, to hay with this,” Misty says and taps you on your shoulder, “I’m done.”
  248. >she approaches the open window and spreads her wings
  249. >you call out, “where the heck are you going!? Don’t leave me!”
  250. >she gives you a wink. “Oh, relax, I’ll *totally* be back. Just buy time, I’m sure something good’ll happen.”
  251. >Ephobia cackles. “Yes, flee before my terrifying powers!”
  253. >while you’re ‘somewhat’ sure Misty has a plan, the thought of going it alone doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence
  254. >you glance at the menacing Ozzy-beast, and the idea of a seemingly mindless, probably just as strong as the host creature isn’t a pleasant one when one of the normal ones already handed you your ass in a physical fight
  255. >nor does unleashing your magic with Ozzy acting as a shield, in case you harm her
  256. >which logically gives you the most obvious weak link; the mouthy, openly dramatic Ephobia
  257. >you’ve read some fiction in your studies
  258. >Daring Do is always a good way to shut your brain off and enjoy an adventure romp
  259. >but you’ve read comics too, at least in your youth
  260. >and this girl has apparently just walked off the pages from one
  261. >yes, she’s powerful, because she’s either teleported everyone away, or you’re in some sort of alternative world, and has control of these shadow beasts, but she seems to mostly enjoy the attention
  262. >well, it takes a comic mind to defeat a comic villain, you guess
  263. >you pull Misty back in and whisper, as you back yourselves down the corridor, “I need you to distract her. She’s like a comic book villain, maybe she’ll respond in kind?”
  264. >Ephobia giggles and interrupts, “yes, stammer to one another in fright! It amuses me!”
  265. >Misty winces, “yeah, Fetlock didn’t exactly get comics.”
  266. >”Daring Do?”
  267. >Misty answers, ”two books, out of sequence. Rainbow Dash, uh, one of Twilight’s other friends, lent me the others but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet. The geekiest thing I used to play was Ogres & Oubliettes with these twins before they moved away from the village.”
  268. >”Perfect! She’s like a self-aware bad guy from that. You can probably try something meta.”
  269. >Misty stops backing up, but still flinches as the Ozzy-beast growls at her, while you start building power
  270. >nice and slow… keep control
  271. >”C- cut us some slack here!” Misty says, “this is our first day! We’ve been plucked from our homes by the actual heroes, brought together about half an hour ago, and we haven’t even seen our quest giver yet!”
  272. >Ephobia stops, as does the Ozzy-beast. She peers around your corrupted companion and says, “wait, seriously?”
  274. >”Yes, seriously! We have no idea what’s going on! You’re throwing all this obvious power around and you’ve caught the wrong people. You could have isolated the real heroes, *or* the princesses, but no. All this effort for us small-fry? Who uses level seven spells on the level one newbies? No fair!”
  275. >Ephobia strides side to side, but doesn’t expose herself too much. ”Well, when you put it like that, this does seem foolish… damn it! I had this great speech in mind and everything. I didn’t even want to do anything catastrophic, just hurt some egos, maybe set up a tremendous, long-lasting rivalry? I just sensed a fair amount of power from your group and assumed you might be important. I even tried to split you three up, but something kept you together. Are you *sure* you’re not important?”
  276. >”The most you’ll get from us is some vendor trash that weighs more than its price in bits! It’d be degrading for someone as strong as you. You’ve already defeated the strongest of us,” Misty says and gestures to Ozzy, “and she’s dumb as a box of rocks. Heck, that’s an insult to rocks!”
  277. >Ephobia steps around the Ozzy-beast and fiddles with her villainously spiky hair
  278. >her eyes blink and fade to a more natural white with grey irises and looks at her Misty with a defeated expression. “Well, this was a waste of time.”
  279. >there… your opening. You slink behind around them and begin to build a blast
  280. >Misty shrugs. “I appreciate the effort though. Attacking the capitol and the silent, grey world thing? Pretty harrowing. Although you’ve got more of a corrupter-aesthetic than a fear one.”
  281. >Ephobia says to the Ozzy-beast, “gimme some space here? Take five.”
  282. >Ozzy-beast shrugs and falls on its backside against the wall and growls a low, bored sigh
  283. >Ephobia then awkwardly scratches the back of her head. “Yeah. I recently took the position from my big sister, Jennifear? She knew how to sense peoples deepest, darkest fears, but that power hasn’t manifested in me yet. I’ve got her darkness and control powers, but- wait, what’s that sound.”
  284. >it’s you
  285. >and that sound was you gasping because you’ve lost control of your powers…
  287. >Ephobia doesn’t seem ‘evil’ exactly, just… playing a role?
  288. >certainly not to the tune of needing vaporising
  289. >the only problem is you’ve spent so long building a blast of magic, your horns luminance is obscuring your view and can’t be dispelled; it’s either where you remember Ephobia standing, or risk hitting Ozzy-beast or Misty
  290. >back in Sunride, you’d default to just shooting skyward, and old habits die hard
  291. >you aim up with your hands, and release the magic in a deafening whoosh of power, and you can see again
  292. >Misty’s ducked for cover
  293. >Ephobia gasps and raises her hands to defend herself, as if that would help against a blast as strong as this
  294. >you obliterate the corridor ceiling and part of the wall, and watch as the beam pierces the clouds outside before diffusing
  295. >stone and wood crack and tumble from around the breach, and a few smaller chucks (mostly) bounce harmlessly off the three of you
  296. >Ephobia slowly lowers her arms, blinks at you, then the hole, and utters, “whoa, nice! Okay! So you *do* have some power! C’mon, let’s have a do-over! This is gonna be sweet!”
  297. >she claps her hands and does an adorable, excitable little dance as her eyes once more turn inverse black and white and she summons vapour-like black masses into her hands and the Ozzy-beast slowly stands
  298. >you’re not sure if you have the recovery time to start building your own power as Ephobia raises her hand and concentrates her power into her fingertip, pointed at you
  299. >Misty flaps her wings to launch herself to a stand and runs up behind your fledgling nemesis
  300. >”Hey, Ephobia,”
  301. >”Huh?”
  302. >the villainess turns
  303. >just as Misty props her staff against the floor, pointed at Ephobia’s head
  304. >”Lemme stick it to ya!”
  305. >and uses her staff’s peculiar ability to extend to jab Ephobia square in the forehead with a resounding wooden *thonk* that sends her head over heels
  306. >you dodge Ephobia’s launched body as she tumbles and lands in a heap
  307. >there’s a silence, and even the Ozzy-beast seems to just observe and wait
  308. >only for Ephobia to float to her feet, raise her hands in a flourish, and loudly proclaim, “you have defeated me this time, but next time, I’ll… I’ll…”
  309. >she wobbles on her feet and her eyes cross, her arms go slack
  310. >”have the… beet and cucumber salad, garçon… ”
  311. >and she collapses again, and fades into black smoke
  312. >the world recovers its colour
  313. >Misty giggles. “She was fun!”
  314. >the Ozzy-beast’s form also fades, leaving a deeply confused looking, oily substance covered host, who spits out more black fluid, loudly burps up a bunch of black fog, blinks and squints at you two, and quietly says, “… that was the single most unpleasant experience of my life.”
  316. >Twilight teleports in with Pinkie and Applejack
  317. >”Anyone want to explain what just happened?” she says, “you vanished, then seconds later, there was an explosion here!”
  318. >you sigh and relax, and say, “it’s a weird story, but maybe we should get Osmiana seen to first? She doesn’t look so well.”
  319. >Ozzy folds her arms, indignant, and says, “I am fine!” She looks at her filthy outfit and adds, “though, perhaps in need of a bath.”
  320. >you explain what happened as Twilight leads you through the palace
  321. >Ozzy, along with Applejack and Pinkie, split from your group as you pass the palace’s medical wing, and you briefly see Pearly through the door
  322. >your gazes lock, and she smiles at you, but you’re whisked away before you can talk to her
  323. >instead, you’re brought up to a large door in the upper floors
  324. >Twilight turns to you. ”This is your new home, Horizon Hall. It’s the hub of the Princess’s personal chambers, and the bedrooms of their personal guard. It has its own kitchen, bathrooms and facilities; everything you could need. As a general rule, no matter your relationships with each other or with the princess’s, you’re expected to follow protocol and procedure anywhere else, inside here though? You can relax, and treat each other as equals.”
  325. >Twilight opens the door
  326. >inside, you see her
  327. >Princess Celestia, dressed in simple clothes and wearing an apron that says ‘I’m always sunny side up’ with embroidered fried eggs in… suggestive places
  328. >and she’s placing huge stacks of pancakes at the numerous placements on a large, round table
  329. >a tired looking Princess Luna fights off sleep as she munches on a bowl of granola… with a fork
  330. >Celestia beams a huge smile and cheerily says, ”good morning, everyone!”
  331. >Luna flinches and grumbles, “morning,” at your group as you enter
  332. >while seated, Luna seems to be the biggest woman here
  333. >closely followed by Celestia as she pours everyone coffee
  334. >with Twilight the shortest as she takes a seat at the table
  335. >you and Misty share a glance, and quietly sit down as well
  337. >the massive stacks of pancakes, about as big as your head and covered with a silly smily face made of bananas, sliced berries and syrup, *does* look tempting
  338. >with everyone catered for, Celestia sits down and digs into her own stack
  339. >considering the attack, and the exploded portion of the palace, the mood whiplash is… considerable, but not wishing to be rude, you dig in
  340. >Twilight regales what you told her to Celestia and the half-awake Luna
  341. >”Ephobia, hmm? Interesting,” Celestia says and sips her coffee. “Now, Jennifear I’m familiar with.”
  342. >Luna says, “yes, a troublesome spirit from before any of you were born. One not dissimilar to my Lustre.”
  343. >you’re pretty familiar with the old spirits, but never one called-
  344. >”Wait, let me guess,” Twilight chimes in, “the daughters of Asterror?”
  345. >okay, that one you’re familiar with
  346. >ancient king of the nightmare realms before Luna conquered them and took domain over them, even before the whole Nightmare Moon thing
  347. >Misty quietly says, “she didn’t exactly seem like a bad person… more like she was having fun with a job.”
  348. >the three princesses give Misty a look
  349. >”I’m sorry, princess! I shouldn’t have said-“
  350. >Celestia smirks and nods. “You’re here to protect me and assist me, Mistral, this much is true. But in these halls, please, you may always speak your mind. Treat me as anyone else.”
  351. >you add, “it’s true. It was difficult to see her as a major threat, despite her grandstanding and brashness.”
  352. >Luna yawns and says, “Jennifear was very effective at her purpose of spreading nightmares. Ruthlessly efficient, much like her father. If this Ephobia already has access to ‘the drift’, she isn’t likely far from her full strength.”
  353. >”The drift?’” you ask
  354. >Twilight answers, “that grey-scale world. As in ‘drifting off to sleep’? It’s a border before sleep. Luna has too much power in dreams, so Jennifear largely conducted her attacks through that realm. Now, as dangerous as she may be, she *is* a spirit. From my experience, they’re never truly malicious, just… self-driven. Not to mention functionally immortal.”
  355. >Celestia nods. “Indeed. Discord, despite his misgivings, can be quite pleasant now that he’s found his place in this world.”
  356. >Luna smirks, despite her sunken eyes. “And Lustre, despite my *sister’s* misgivings, is very kind hearted and loving. The spirits simply have a drive and desire to inflict their purpose on others. Ephobia will be much the same.”
  357. >Twilight says, “which means to say that now you’ve got her attention, keep an open mind! If you feel she’s too harsh, then I’ll trust you to act accordingly, but if you could convince her to ease off and make peace, or even a friendship, you’ll have an ally of immense power!”
  359. >Misty smiles, but says nothing as she packs away far more pancake than a girl of her slight frame should, resulting in an obvious food-baby as she leans back and sighs
  360. >you’re more troubled; your old nemesis Ondrarion, yet another spirit fits the definition of too harsh just fine
  361. >breakfast rounds up, and Luna drags herself off to bed
  362. >Ozzy finally appears, and after being brought up to speed, seems distraught she’s missed Luna, on top of her obvious shame at being bested by Ephobia
  363. >but she seems deeply grateful as Celestia whips her up a stack of her own pancakes, and digs into them with abandon, which isn’t surprising for a woman of her size and build
  364. >Twilight stands and sighs, contented
  365. >”I’ll be in my old home until later, since I want to do some more research on Ephobia and I know I have some books on her family, and I’m planning to stay for a couple of days to help the three of you acclimatise.”
  366. >”And my duties are relatively light today,” Celestia says and, with a glow of her horn, her casual clothing reforms into a more regal dress, “I wouldn’t mind company if anyone wishes to get used to my routine, but if you do wish to help me, wait here for the palace’s chief guard Copper Shield; he can give you a full tour and teach you the proper etiquette and protocol.”
  367. >Celestia heads out, offering the three of you a kind smile and a little, respectful bow
  368. >Twilight finishes with, “as you can likely imagine, the princesses all have routines of their own. Celestia is always morning-til-night, Luna is available from evening until dawn, and Lustre will no doubt make herself known when she rises in the afternoon and stays up until the early hours of the morning with Luna. I’m sure you’ll want to get to know them as Celestia’s new entourage. If I don’t see you in my old home, I’ll see you all tonight, okay?”
  369. >then it’s just the three of you
  370. >Misty sighs. “I can’t believe how casual they all are. We just got attacked and blew up half a corridor.”
  371. >Ozzy grumbles, “they do seem lacking in concern.”
  372. >you inform them, “they’ve dealt with threats like these dozens of times. I guess you’re both from fairly isolated places, but even in Sunride, we’d hear about the adventures of the Elements of Harmony, and the princesses and their various attackers.”
  373. >Misty shrugs. “I guess. Well, I’m gonna go read while I wait for Princess Lustre, then check out the palace with Copper Shield.”
  374. >”Indeed, I shall go and practice until this Copper Shield arrives so that I can properly fulfil my role as protector.”
  376. >you leave your team and retrace your steps to the medical wing of the palace
  377. >almost immediately, you feel your magic sensitivity flare up; you know there are powerful people all over, but this particular aura is unmistakable
  378. >you enter and see Pearly using her specialty magic, which is an extremely powerful healing spell (technically speaking it restores the body to its best ‘common’ state) on a man with a bandaged head
  379. >it won’t cure long term illness, only slow it’s progress, or save someone with an open wound, but with anything that can be assisted by medicine or first aid/surgery, her spell will rapidly speed their recovery
  380. >she glances at you and, ever the professional, she finishes treating the man before washing her hands and heads to you with a warm smile
  381. >”It’s not even afternoon and you’re already saving people and getting in trouble. There’s no helping you, is there, Lumy?” She’s trying her best to sound stern, but her proud expression says otherwise
  382. >”It seems to follow me wherever I go, sadly.” You sigh with a light chuckle and look around the ward
  383. >she was always particular about how she set up her practice, and you immediately recognise her touch
  384. >several people are sitting in wait, but none look as in need as the bandaged man, and there are other medical assistants helping them
  385. >”I see you’ve got this place how you like it already. You were born for this.”
  386. >Pearly sighs and says, “everything’s still a little off since Princess Lustre saw fit to gift me her boon. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never felt healthier, let alone stronger, but all the tools feel smaller, so I’m having to be more precise and careful.”
  387. >it’s funny, because she’s still so fundamentally your Pearly; same brilliant blue eyes, the same thick, long, slightly messy chestnut and orange two-tone hair, same motherly demeanour
  388. >but where she’s always been slight and frail, she’s got a visible swell to her biceps, broader hips and there’s far a less subtle motion to her chest as she folds her arms and checks a nearby clock
  389. >not to mention she’s now far taller than your less than impressive 5’4 self; she’s gained an easy extra foot from her classic 5’1
  390. >you say, “I just wish I could be a bigger part of it. We’ve always been close, and we made a good team. Any malady, magic or otherwise, I could research, and read up curative plants and you’d have a full suite of treatments at the ready!”
  392. >Pearly looks at you and has the same loving glint in her eye, but she sighs and her pale green horn appears and glows as she focuses her powers
  393. >immediately, your horn responds and crackles painfully, so she stops
  394. >she’s always been powerful, only held back by her weak constitution (now clearly a non-issue), and your foolish attempts to keep up, to not get in the way and pull your weight, led to your deal with Ondrarion
  395. >”I want to be with you again, Lumy. But… I know we’ve been over this, but I won’t choose between my duties and you. I’ve been given a gift with my magic, and I can’t just *not* use it. My choices are to hurt you and limit my work, or keep a distance where I can save lives. What do you think I’ll choose?”
  396. >you nod and feel the old heartache. “I know.”
  397. >”But this is why you’re here, isn’t it? In Canterlot?” She strokes your cheek and brings your chin up so she can look you in the eye. “Princess Celestia has helped truly powerful unicorns harness and control their magic before, and I’m sure she can help you if you let her. Work with her and I’m sure she can teach you.”
  398. >”I’m hoping to find a spell that could assist my magic sensitivity in Princess Twilight’s old home.”
  399. >Pearly pouts. “I thought you went down this route before.”
  400. >she’s not wrong, but you say, “there’s got to be something new here. Twilight’s not just the princess of friendship, but magic too.”
  401. >Pearly runs her fingers through her hair, the surest sign she’s getting frustrated. She then grumbles and washes her hands again. “I fear there’s no quick fix like just learning a spell. Lumy, you’re not just here to help Princess Celestia. You have access to literally thousands of years of experience in teaching magic. I’m sure Twilight will say the same, but you can’t just study your way through everything. Your bonds offer you more. I still have feelings for you, but please…”
  402. >you share a look, and Pearly looks downtrodden, ashamed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be controlling or demanding, but the only way to conquer Mirrionette’s control may well be to simply outgrow it. Learn a manner of mastery that supersedes the control you offered. No spell I’m aware of can do that, but I know that won’t stop you checking anyway.”
  404. >defeated, you part with a gentle hug and as much of Pearly’s healing magic to your horn as you can stand, then move on to Twilight’s old home, near the palace
  405. >it’s a fine place; spacious, well decorated. It has a telescope, some remarkable ornaments and plenty of bookshelves, all visible from the outside through the big windows
  406. >you knock on the door and a frumpily dressed, bespectacled woman answers the door
  407. >she has her hair tied up crudely, red, with a purple and pink stripe, with dark purple eyes; she reminds you of a smaller Twilight to the point they could be sisters
  408. >”Uh… Hi. You’re Lumen Haze, right? Twilight said you might be coming by.”
  409. >”That’s right. I’m guessing you’re Moon Dancer?”
  410. >she nods and lets you in
  411. >”This is my place now, but I agreed to let you have access. Twilight’s already pouring over her old books on that Ephobia spirit and her family. Just… don’t make a mess, okay?”
  412. >you enter the main room, which has piles of books, unwashed plates, dust and clothes strewn about
  413. >you glance at Dancer and she rolls her eyes. ”… more of a mess, I mean. Look, I thought I still had a couple of days before I’d get any visitors.”
  414. >”Hi, Lumen!” Twilight says as she levitates several books into neat stacks. “That pile there has most of Asterror and Jennifear’s reigns catalogued. Otherwise, feel free to study to your hearts content, although I suspect Copper Shield will want you once he’s finished with his afternoon rounds.”
  415. >you settle in and start with the crucial stuff; the spirits of fear
  416. >theorised as fairly sympathetic in their origin, justified fear has long since been about protecting people from the threat of the unknown
  417. >the problem was that as people have learned and mastered the world, people have feared less
  418. >not to mention as Celestia’s reign in her early years ushered in peace and tranquility
  419. >this was where Asterror took it upon himself to show Equestria there was more to fear by using The Drift, the gateway between imagined terrors and real threats
  420. >he would plague people with horrific images in their dreams, all in the name of ‘preventing false safety’ amongst the populace
  421. >lives were lost, and action had to be taken to stop him
  422. >Luna bested Asterror and took command of the dreaming world, but the Drift remains too immaterial to be conquered
  423. >so Jennifear began striking out to keep people afraid, and quite recently too
  425. >daydreamers, those with wild imagination, people burning the midnight oil
  426. >these people suffered under Jennifear the most
  427. >desperate and eager for relevancy, and driven to reclaim the dreaming world, she was far more aggressive
  428. >traumatic and even life threatening fear, stopping people even sleeping until exhaustion
  429. >but Jennifear soon overstepped her bounds and made herself manifest in the waking world by, as you’d feared, possessing someone studying The Drift and unleashing a campaign of revenge on Luna
  430. >she almost ushered in a reign of horror by empowering dreamers’ nightmares to assault Luna from within the dreaming world
  431. >and almost dragged Luna into an inescapable nightmare of her own
  432. >until the Elements of Harmony followed clues hiding in observed dreams to find the host of Jennifear and defeated her, pursued her into The Drift, and banished her on her own terms
  433. >Ephobia certainly has access to The Drift, which raises the question how powerful she could become if she can drag people into it
  434. >neither Asterror or Jennifear could do that
  435. >you feel like you have a unique opportunity to communicate with Ephobia and maybe help patch up the lasting animosity
  436. >now you check through some spellbooks
  437. >there *is* a magic muting spell that could help
  438. >admittedly it’s only as effective as your ability to cast magic at the time; if you’re already unstable, trying to cast it carries the same risks
  439. >that said, if you know you’re about to enter an area with strong magic, it would stop your sensitivity, but your ability to cast would be compromised
  441. >other spells of note are teleportation and a magic barrier
  442. >while an advanced spell, you *did* use to be able to cast teleportation
  443. >you stopped when losing control after saving Mrs. Thatch during that lightning storm; you saved her from a fire, only to almost seriously hurt her from your lack of control
  444. >since you’re already familiar with the spell, it would be easy to relearn in a day or so, but being an advanced spell, your odds of a little surge are increased, even when calm
  445. >it has masteries in group teleportation and ‘zone’ teleportation, where you teleport a whole area
  446. >the barrier spell is a safer option; a standardised wall of physically resistant magic that can block anything from beam blasts to falling rocks and even people
  447. >optional advanced formats include a full bubble shield and projected bubbles, complete with telekinesis, around others
  448. >masteries include being able to turn the barrier into a shockwave and projecting city-sized shields, but you’ll need to save that for another day when you’re not likely to have your horn explode
  449. >the basic version will also take about a day to learn
  451. >you copy down the barrier spell notes for more intensive study later
  452. >Twilight tidies up after herself, re-organising the books as you’re done with them, in between doing some research of her own
  453. >Moon Dancer quietly keeps to herself which, you have to admit, seems odd for someone clearly in a positive relationship with the princess of friendship
  454. >even *you* didn’t become fully standoffish until you lost control of your magic, and even then you kept in touch
  455. >you’re no Manehattan-esque socialite, but you have friends, and close ones at that
  456. >you scoot a little closer to your host and say, “must be nice, all this knowledge, lore and such at your fingertips.”
  457. >Moon blinks at you, checks behind her to make sure you’re not talking to Twilight or someone else, then adjusts her glasses. “Uh… sure. It keeps me busy. And paid, in a sense.”
  458. >”She’s being modest,” Twilight says with a grin, “Moon Dancer has a role as an arcane consultant for the palace. It’s a very prestigious position.”
  459. >Moon grumbles, “don’t remind me. Meeting new people who’re used to Princess Celestia’s extraversion and them being all chipper and energetic while I try to explain the broad field of mysticism and arcane esoterica is draining.”
  460. >you chuckle, “I know the feeling. When I used to work with Pearly in her medical practice, meeting new people travelling through Sunride and in need of help was always a challenge. Most people met personable folk like Peat and Pearly first and wonder why I wasn’t much good at carrying a conversation. So many awkward silences.”
  461. >”Right?” Moon says and gently slaps her palm on the table. “I don’t want to know the specifics of today’s precipitation, or what they had for lunch! Ask me how telekinesis warps the world’s gravitational pull, or even ways to stifle nausea from said temporary gravimetric alteration, sure. Otherwise, I’m not interested.”
  462. >Twilight folds her arms and says, in a slightly judgy tone, “Moon Dancer…”
  463. >Moon sighs and adjusts her glasses again. “I’m still making friends, Twilight, relax. I made one last week…” she pauses and scratches her head. “Or was it a month ago? Whatever, I befriended the new book store assistant. He’s nice.”
  464. >Moon’s a good person, that much is clear
  465. >and you suspect she’ll be invaluable for bouncing arcane ideas and theories off of as well
  466. >considering you’ll likely be using her place as a research centre again, that’s just as well
  467. >it’s also nice seeing her open up; you feel like she doesn’t do that often
  469. >there’s another knock on the door, and Moon Dancer grumbles as she puts down a book and answers
  470. >only for an armour-clad figure to step in
  471. >Twilight waves and says, “good afternoon, Commander Shield.”
  472. >he removes his helmet, revealing an old airblood man with golden eyes, with grey hair and beard
  473. >”Princess,” he says and goes, though is slow to stand upright, “I fear I must borrow our young friend here for a couple of hours.”
  474. >”Not a problem. Alright, Lumen, time to be formally sworn into your position. You can always come back another time if you need to do more research.”
  475. >you stand and follow him out after saying farewell to Moon and Twilight
  476. >despite his advanced age, Copper Shield has a presence that honestly terrifies you
  477. >his battered armour, the scars on his face and neck, the ferocity in his eyes speak of a man who’s seen some grim times
  478. >and these things all play against his gaunt cheeks and pale complexion; he doesn’t look well
  479. >any fear evaporates as he gives you a reassuring smile and says, “good job earlier today, kid, you keep that up and I know Celestia will be in safe hands. But come on, let’s get you some authority. Can’t have one of her highness’s hopefuls being second-guessed by the rank and file, eh?”
  480. >he slaps you on the back… ow
  481. >old as he may be, he’s *strong*
  482. >you loosen up and decide to ask, ”I’ve always wondered about this position. You don’t really hear much about Princess Celestia’s personal guards, or entourage or whatever.”
  483. >”your titles will differ, based on how you handle yourselves, though you’ll begin as equerries of Her Highness. Ms. Zenith is obviously in a strong position to become a Canterlot Knight. Ms. Shear has the smarts to likely end up as an agent, maybe spymaster. You’re a curious one; if you can wrangle your magic in, you could easily be deemed court mage. Otherwise, I’m sure you could just shuffle into place as an aide-de-camp.”
  485. >this is a lot to consider, considering you’ve not even been here a day. ”You’re placing a lot of trust in three nobodies, however talented we may be.”
  486. >”it’s not just your talents, because we live in peaceful times and want to show that we’re willing to talk and come to understandings, no matter who we’re dealing with. You represent simple folk, especially Misty and yourself, which helps add a common touch. We also wanted folk who will be able to present a threat strong enough to ward off anyone thinking they could try. We don’t want another repeat of the Storm King here. Anyone who wants to strike at Equestria should do so afraid and restrained, rather than flippantly. Sabre-rattling is still a valid tactic, and never forget that; you go around telling people you blew off a chunk of the moon and demonstrate your power first hand, you can prevent a lot of trouble, if at the expense of making true peace more difficult.”
  487. >”I really don’t like going around being threatening…”
  488. >Copper cackles. “Of course not. You represent Princess Celestia, and therefore you must project her air of kindness and nobility. But we’re living in troubled times and threats come in all shapes and forms. Finding a balance of force and geniality will be crucial. A friend shouldn’t just enjoy your company, but they should feel safe too, that you can protect them. Enemies should know that they stand to gain more by laying down their arms and shaking hands, but also expect to have their arm broken should they try to stab you in the gut.”
  489. >this is pretty intense. ”Sounds… messy.”
  490. >”Like you wouldn’t believe! Just keep smiling and seem in control out here, but once you return to Horizon Hall of a night time? Relax, air your stresses and worries. You’ll see the princesses as regular people when Celestia’s winding down and Luna’s fresh from her rest. They’re wonderful people. Folk will say that anyway, but when they’re not putting on airs, you’ll see them as I do. Lustre… to an extent too, but I never did get a good read on her.”
  492. >you head back into the palace and straight to the throne room
  493. >the lavender sconce lined walls and tall windows soon give way to wide double doors, which Copper shield opens
  494. >Misty and Ozzy are in the middle of the throne room, and look at you as you enter, and a number of very wealthy and affluent people like the sides of the hall, chatting amongst themselves, along with the usual retinue of guards standing to attention
  495. >and, of course, sitting on her throne, surrounded with a small moat like water feature, rests Princess Celestia
  496. >she gives you a small smile, but largely looks regal and ambivalent to the situation as Copper guides you up beside your teammates, and then he heads up beside the long slope up to the throne
  497. >some of the guards brandish horns and blast out a few notes, bringing
  498. >Copper Shield clears his throat, but pauses as he coughs loudly into his sleeve
  499. >Celestia even goes to stand, her professional facade fading into worry and concern
  500. >”Ladies and gentlemen!” Copper forces out, and controls his breathing. “We stand here today to inaugurate these three young hopefuls into the Canterlot Royal Guard, as protectors of crown and country, as defenders of soil and sovereign, as friends of the people and princess!”
  501. >a guard hands an ornate case to Copper Shield, who stands to one side of the ramp as Celestia stands and saunters down
  502. >she says, ”though of different upbringings, of distant lands and skills, I welcome you, as one spirit and one heart, and bow to you.”
  503. >Celestia curtsies to you
  504. >”My life is in your hands, so I give these symbols of office, to act as you see fit in the names of friendship and love.”
  505. >Copper opens the case and brings it up beside Celestia, and she takes out pins, bearing the sun on one end, the moon on the other and a shield between them
  507. >she moves before Ozzy, who stands bolt upright and wide eyed
  508. >it’s unlikely Ozzy’s met many people taller than her until today, with Twilight and her friends featuring a few, but Celestia has almost two feet of height over the powerful, brawny unicorn
  509. >”Osmiana Zenith, I welcome you and your might. May your body be as a shield, as I shall protect yours in with mine.”
  510. >she hands Ozzy her pin, and the brawler’s shivering and sweating, as if at any moment she’s going to explode from her emotions, though can’t help but sniffle
  511. >”Mistral Shear,” Celestia says and stands before the little airblood. The height difference is severe, with your teammate only standing as high as the top of the princess’s hips. “Your bravery and cunning are a blessing, and I welcome your keen eye and guidance in the coming days. May you always act as a beacon of guile for others to others, as I shall use you to ward off the darkness of ignorance and cowardice.”
  512. >she bends down to hand Misty her pin, and the airblood seems unsure how to act, but offers a short bow all the same
  513. >”Lumen Haze,” the princess says and towers before you. “May your noble spirit embolden us all, for your way with magic is all but unparalleled, but will be second to your will to do right. May we help each other grow, as well as keep one another in check, so that we never lose ourselves to the allure of unbound power.”
  514. >she leans down, but rather than just hand you the pin, she gently tugs your shirt and attaches it to your collar
  515. >and winks at you with her fathomless purple eyes
  516. >she turns and climbs back up to her throne, and Copper Shield once more takes front stage
  517. >”I thank you all for coming here today, and hope as representatives of Canterlot and her people, you will offer your support to our new equerries.”
  518. >the ceremony ends and you get paraded around the high society gathering
  519. >frankly, you surprise yourself by not freaking out a little as you meet all sorts of faces and figures
  520. >a lot of that is because of Copper Shield; he knows these people well and always guides the conversation to easy-to-manage banter
  522. >as long last, everyone leaves but you, Celestia and Copper
  523. >”At ease, everyone,” Celestia says as she scribbles down some notes with her magic, vanishes the scroll with her teleportation and even magics her fancy, regal attire down to a more casual outfit
  524. >you wince at the display as it rattles your horn; she’s both immensely powerful, but unlike many unicorns, she’s got extremely fine control
  525. >a display like that with the average user would have likely put you in danger
  526. >”Finally!” Misty exclaims and both throws out her arms and stretches her pale pink wings. “Look, don’t get me wrong, the people around here are miles better than the jerks back in Fetlock, but if one more person uses the word ‘rather’, I’m slapping them! ‘Rather, old bean!’ this and, ‘Oh, she’s rather twee!’ that!! Agh!”
  527. >Ozzy rolls her muscular shoulders, “I concur with the small one; having spent my years in quiet meditation and most utterances being that of exertion, all this flippant talk is beyond my capacity to understand, nor do I wish to understand.”
  528. >Celestia giggles. “I felt you handled yourselves *rather* well.”
  529. >she glances at Misty, who turns pale and balks, then puts her hands behind her back, trying to look inconspicuous
  530. >you say, “I’ve had worse. The few times the village got together under one roof always got rowdy once Peat had a couple of hard ciders. He’d yell at everyone to dance and he’s not a man to take no for an answer.”
  531. >Celestia taps her chin. ”I’ll have to remember that the next time we have an official function. Copper?”
  532. >the old guard stands to attention, but relaxes once he realises everyone’s still at ease. “Yes, Celi?”
  533. >”Add Mr. Thatch and his wife to the guest list for the Grand Galloping Gala. And ensure a good supply of hard cider.”
  534. >Copper grins and nods
  535. >oh no, that’s going to be a *disaster*
  536. >Celestia stretches her long, shapely limbs and yawns. “That concludes all the main duties for the day. You’re free to spend the evening as you wish once Copper Shield gives you the tour of the palace. Even if you’ve been here before, as my equerries, you will be privy to information about the palace that even most of the guards will not know.”
  537. >she turns towards you. “If you’d like, Lumen, I would like to get to know you better. Likewise, my sister Luna has been eager to learn about you, Osmiana.”
  538. >Copper coughs and adds, “and Rainbow Dash did let slip that Lustre would like to see Misty, but yes! The tour. Relax, this won’t take long.”
  540. >Copper Shield leads you through the palace
  541. >it’s a grand place, actually being here
  542. >you’ve read about it plenty of times before, but for a place that’s been around ever since Celestia vacated the Castle of the Two Sisters in the Everfree Forest nearly a thousand years ago, it’s in great shape
  543. >but the most interesting part comes when he shows you a variety of secret underground tunnels, corridor-avoiding back passages and, to Misty’s delight, a network of escape hatches in the high walls, often concealed behind tapestries and more, that lead to other high halls and even access to the roof
  544. >specifically tuned to only open to those bearing your equerry pins, or the ever present royal jewellery the sisters wear
  545. >with the tour over just as night begins to roll in, and thoroughly famished, you return to Horizon Hall and, once again, Celestia’s cooking
  546. >a far more lucid Luna gives you a polite smile and wave
  547. >and beside her, the extravagantly curvy and beautiful Lustre winks to you
  548. >Celestia notices, who imparts a small scowl at the newest princess, but otherwise dishes you up a Maredeteranian style grilled vegetable dinner and fresh bread
  549. >Misty, clearly eager to push the limits of the ‘equals’ part of being in the Hall after being cowed by her slap remark, snarks, “thanks, mom,” as Celestia delivers her a bowl
  550. >”Oh, you’re welcome,” Celestia titters, “but you might want to save the mommy business for the bedroom. I didn’t have you pegged for that, but I’ll be happy to oblige. It’s been a while since I had a good suckler.”
  551. >she emphasises the point by adjusting her bra through her simple blouse, causing her impressive bust to jiggle hypnotically
  552. >Misty turns bright red as she’s defeated once more; cunning and snippy as she is, the girl’s barely out of her teens and dealing with a woman who’s dealt with her kind for centuries
  553. >she’s plain out of her depth, and Lustre giggles at the display
  555. >Ozzy bows to Celestia as her dinner is placed in front of her, but her attention is clearly elsewhere as she keeps staring at her gnarled, combat calloused hands
  556. >she’s deeply conflicted, even afraid, then climbs out of her chair and bows, on hands and knees with her forehead pressed to the floor, to a shocked Luna
  557. >everyone stops and stares
  558. >”Lady Luna, on behalf of the Order of the Cloven Hoof, I beg forgiveness for our failure.”
  559. >Luna takes a few moments to get her bearings, and finally responds, “I don’t understand. To what failure do you refer?”
  560. >Ozzy remains prostrated, and says, “we failed to protect you, to prevent your fall! We each swore an oath, and one we continue to bear!”
  561. >Luna stands in a panic and pulls Ozzy to her feet. “Stop! No, it wasn’t your failure, Osmiana! None of the Order failed me. Even if there was blame to be imparted, that falls squarely on me. My safety was never in doubt when the order assisted me in my duties. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
  562. >Ozzy refuses to make eye contact, but Luna also struggles to know what to do next
  563. >she looks to Celestia, who gives her a gentle smile and nods towards Ozzy
  564. >Luna awkwardly pulls Ozzy into a hug, and says, “perhaps tonight, we can talk this out in private? Also, I confess, I have not sparred with anyone for some time. I hope you could refresh my memory of the Cloven Hoof style?”
  565. >Ozzy responds, “but you originated the style. My technique would be sorely lacking-“
  566. >”Far from it, Osmiana.” Luna smiles and looks Ozzy over, clearly proud. “I imagine all sorts of new techniques have been added by the many generations that have served.”
  567. >things settle, and you eat before your food gets too cold
  569. >after the meal, Lustre sighs and looks at Luna. “I suppose you’ll be busy with Ozzy for tonight?”
  570. >Luna nods. ”Forgive me, my sweet, but this is important to me.”
  571. >”Poor, me, all alone. I could use a little company,” Lustre says and winks at you
  572. >Misty frowns and says, “I wanted to talk to you about your boons. I’m sick of being weak, and no amount of hard work ever pays off!”
  573. >Lustre looks Misty up and down, and shrugs. “You’re not ready. But I suppose we could talk.”
  574. >”What do you mean I’m not ready?”
  575. >”You’ll understand when you’re ready, but that’s not now.”
  576. >you ask, “and I am? You seemed… uh, eager, when we met in Sunride.”
  577. >Lustre smirks and nods. “Same with Pearly. But by telling you my criteria, I would stop you being able to achieve what I’m looking for.”
  578. >Misty grumbles and folds her arms
  579. >Celestia interjects, “and you’ll no be giving Lumen any boons against my say so, Lustre. And that’s final.”
  580. >you almost quip a ‘yes mom’ of your own
  581. >instead you settle for, “I thought we were equals here.”
  582. >Celestia sighs. “Forgive me, I’m letting my feelings get in the way of the purpose of this arrangement. But I do want to speak with you in private. Once you indulge me there, I will give you my blessing, should you wish it.”
  584. >you ask, "tell me more about us equerries? I can't say I've heard of the rank before.
  585. >Copper Shield replies, "Princess Celestia's had assistants of some form or another pretty much throughout her reign."
  586. >Celestia clears the table and adds, "it usually depends on the state of the country. During more peaceful times, I prefer to stick to a larger group of casual acquantances."
  587. >Copper nods. "During more troubled times, we seek folk of both exceptional ability, but also grant them additional status and power, thus the equerry rank. I'm something of a relic from one political struggle some fifty years ago."
  588. >"Usually I rely on just one," Celestia says and sits down, giving Copper a wink, "notably dependant on the the type of threat. I expected a military struggle and therefore, as my most talented knight, Copper Shield was the best candidate."
  589. >Luna sighs. "I regret that I could not have been there to help you, sister..."
  590. >Celestia smiles at Luna, then says, "one day, Luna, I swear you'll run out of things to beat yourself up over. I hope that day is sooner than later. But yes, I have foreseen a threat that defies my understanding, so we sought three equerries of varied ability. Whatever comes, I will support you however I can, but I hope I too can have your assistance."
  591. >"Foreseen?" you ask
  592. >Celestia nods. "I have felt it for some time. And with the advent of your brush with an ancient spirit, Lumen, as well as this Ephobia, Lustre and, before them, Discord... I wonder if the fabric of our world is beginning to tear."
  593. >Lustre brushes her hair and looks in deep thought. "It *is* unusual to have so many spirits at once. Not that I'm complaining; it's how I've come back to the surface, after all. Some people seemed to think the old Fluttershy was boring... no wonder, I was literally missing a part of myself."
  594. >"T'is best to describe spirits thus," Luna says, and stands, "just as pegasi control the weather, unicorns conquer magic and earth folk master the land, these spirits control more obscure aspects of existence. Such as my beloved's domain over lust. You must have seen that before her restoration, matters of love were very private and intimate. Since her return, it is more open and carnal. It may well be that Discord's release has weakened the veil altogether, and caused these other entities to manifest in our world."
  595. >Celestia strokes her chin. "Ondrarion: the Mirror of Internal Reflection, or the spirit of insight. Lustre, the spirit of lust and passion. Ephobia, the new spirit of fear, and Discord, the spirit of chaos..."
  596. >Copper huffs. "It's one hay of a guest list. I'm glad two are at least on our side."
  597. >he slaps you on the back... still hurts
  598. >"well, no pressure getting Ephobia on our side, lad!"
  600. >once dinner and casual conversation concludes, Luna and Ozzy head off, for the former’s duties and the details of Ozzy’s perceived debt to the princess over some supposed failure her order were party to
  601. >you suspect the Order sees themselves as somehow responsible for not stopping Luna’s corruption and subsequent banishment to the moon
  602. >Lustre keep stringing Misty along about how she isn’t ready, and instead shows her full disinterest in pursuing the conversation by shrinking and reverting to her Fluttershy form
  603. >desperate for any attempt at getting what she wants, Misty insists on accompanying her on a walk around the palace gardens
  604. >Copper Shield bows out, clearly fighting off sleep, leaving you and Celestia alone
  605. >”It’s nice to have company again,” she says. “Make no mistake, I love my sister, and Copper Shield is most dear to me, but even after a millennia, I crave more casual meetings with new, interesting individuals.”
  606. >you say, ”w- well, we’re here to serve. I’m happy to talk if that’s what you want.”
  607. >Celestia gives you a glance. “That’s exactly what I m talking about. I want you at ease if we are to help one another. To witness and enjoy the real me. To that end, come. Follow.”
  608. >Celestia stands and heads down one of the main corridors, towards her room
  609. >the sway of her matronly hips and the subtle jiggle of her bountiful ass, which are both eye level to you, are just ever so slightly distracting
  610. >her bedroom is a large and tidy place. A huge, round bed, dresser, a few cabinets with assorted outfits
  611. >most interesting is her bookshelf, filled with what look to be journals, as they bear names rather than titles
  612. >Celestia looks wistfully at them, and runs her fingers across the spines with a heavy sigh
  613. >you notice and recognise a few of the names as historical figures of note, usually tied to important events based in or around Canterlot
  614. >but the last two catch your eye the most; Twilight Sparkle and Copper Shield
  615. >”Heavy is the heart that carries the loss of a loved one,” Celestia says. “Time heals all wounds, but the collective scars are the heaviest of all.”
  616. >”I can’t even imagine what that’s like.”
  617. >”Necessary. Nothing more.”
  618. >you flinch at the terseness of her tone as she sits on her bed
  619. >”Forgive me,” she says and runs her fingers through her ethereal hair. “I do my best to treat every person I attempt to get closer to as new and unique, but it’s difficult not to feel a degree of monotony. So many faces blur together, the drive to study, or their struggles and trials…”
  620. >you again look at the bookshelf and wonder what to say
  621. >and you can’t help but wonder how many stood in silence, or offered condolences, or became outraged at being compared to another person
  623. >”Yet there is something unique in you,” Celestia says with a grin, “this mess with the spirits, and your deal with Ondrarion… I’ve never met someone with that particular aspect. It intrigues…”
  624. >she leans forward, and there’s a *very* telling look in her eyes
  625. >”… and excites.”
  626. >you gulp, and suddenly feel like you’re being graded
  627. >”It’s not an enjoyable experience,” you say. “I’ve had my magic used against me. Mirrionette could force me to cast spells against my will. Or how I have to hold myself back all the time.”
  628. >Celestia returns to a more kindly smile. “I know how you feel. My magic has grown slowly, but surely, over the years. I… too have another that sometimes troubles my thoughts and demands I unleash my true powers.”
  629. >you’ve never heard of this. “Not another spirit, surely?”
  630. >”Not exactly. And don’t call me Shirley.”
  631. >she giggles and you fail to stop yourself smiling with her
  632. >”but that’s for another time,” she continues. “Before we begin to help one another, I’m going to offer you a simple choice. Much has been said about treating each other as equals, but my last pupil, Twilight, proved that words aren’t often enough. When she was still studying and learning friendship, it was fine that she still held me as a higher figure, but when she ascended to her position as Princess of Friendship, all I wanted was for her to treat me as a close friend.”
  633. >she folds her arms and pouts as she sits on her bed, but she pats beside her
  634. >you sit next to her and she continues, “but instead, she always trod carefully, minded her words, even *lied* to me to spare my feelings, as if I’m somehow above her.”
  635. >”You’re worried I’ll do the same?”
  636. >”Maybe, maybe not. The thing that changed our relationship to what it is now? Where she’s finally, truly relaxed around me?”
  637. >she leans close to you
  638. >”We fucked.”
  639. >you flinched before at her terseness
  640. >this time you openly leap to your feet and stammer, turn red as, with a flicker of Celestia’s horn, her dress vanishes and reveals tight, lacy white underwear
  641. >”Feel no pressure, Lumen, as I know you have a relationship with Pearlescent, so you could leave right now and I’ll not be upset. In fact, I’ll respect your wishes and never bring this up again.”
  642. >she stands and leans down to you
  643. >the deep, vast chasm of her enormous tits forming a deep, inviting cleavage
  644. >”Whether you simply wish to spend the night with me, innocent and just sharing a bed, or to indulge in your every wildest fantasy is up to you. In fact,” she titters and licks her lips, “if you want to *truly* let loose, we could even jump start your magical development.”
  646. >you freeze for a moment, but finally force out, ”I’m f- flattered! But, uh… this is a bit sudden and… j- jump start?”
  647. >Celestia laughs, musically. “And ruin the surprise? Where’s your sense of adventure? Let’s just say that there are ways of intimacy that can truly toy with one’s…” her grin widens as she pauses, and finishes, “perspective. It’s very enlightening, and a true way to let loose without fear of harming another. In fact, it’s recommended to go all out. Knowing your true limits can allow a greater sense of what you can control safely, and what is beyond your capacity to rein in. But you do sound intrigued… if that’s the case, shall we begin?”
  648. >she lounges on her bed, back towards you and looking over her shoulder as she strokes the hilly rise of her hip
  649. >then slaps her ass with a resounding clap
  651. >you consider Pearly and even look at the door
  652. >Celestia reads you like a book, giving you a come-hither gesture with her finger. “Just you and me tonight, Lumen. This will be safe only because nobody else will be present to harm, and trust me when I say that whatever you’re capable of, I can protect myself. When you learn some control, we can see about making this more interesting. Besides, I want your undivided attention for this ‘lesson’ to work.”
  654. >”I guess we could try,” you say. “It’s… been a while.” You hesitate, but finally undress
  655. >”I’m aware.” Celestia rolls over and beckons you onto the bed. “I spoke with Pearly quite a bit when she joined us a few days ago. It’s a true shame about your condition caused this rift between you two. But that’s why I’m being forward with you about this.”
  656. >”I just worry that I’m being unfaithful…”
  657. >Celestia cuddles you against her. “You *are* aware she was blessed by Lustre, right? And exactly how do you think she instils her permanent boons in people? She makes fiery, passionate love to them, of course.”
  658. >oh. You hadn’t given that much thought, as Celestia pulls you against her
  659. >she strokes your hair. It’s so comfortable, resting your head against her huge breasts, the heavy thump of her heartbeat, the warmth from her body…
  660. >she continues, ”so when I talked with her about you, I made certain she was prepared that I may well do the same. I cannot grant boons as Lustre can, but I have experience with all manner of noble blooded prodigies, and have used this method of intimate teaching dozens of times for the wilder, less controlled ones. Now, relax and remember, don’t hold back. There won’t be any *consequences* either.”
  661. >she gives you room to face her, and she begins by kissing you with surprising tenderness
  662. >then, her white horn appears, glowing bright yellow, and with a wave of her hand, she casts a powerful spell
  663. >Celestia’s magic spreads through the room, coating it in a glittering light; a barrier, but keeping something in, rather than out as the details of the room fade behind the shimmering wall
  664. >your horn responds to the show of power in the sadly predictable way; pain, crackling excess power
  665. >she smiles at you, caresses your horn and says, “see, that’s what we need to discover… how much of your pain is causing you to instinctively hold back, and how much can you truly control when you’re not feeling restricted and unsure.”
  666. >”But I’ve caused so much trouble…”
  667. >”It’s no trouble here. Not tonight. Trust in me, Lumen, it will be fine.”
  668. >she kisses your horn… then brings hers into close proximity and begins using more magic
  669. >the gentle glow continues to build the discomfort in yours
  670. >then Celestia’s hands run down your body
  671. >so much strength in her… she could do what she wants with you
  672. >but she’s so gentle
  673. >you spend a good long while just relaxing, listening to her heartbeat as she simply holds you and gently strokes you
  674. >never anywhere especially lewd, just comfort
  675. >all the while, your magic tingles and flickers as she keeps pushing with her magic
  676. >and you start to get it… it’s like she’s making her magic synchronised with hers
  677. >you’re just teetering on a balance of succumbing to either feeling at ease, or fighting the build of power
  679. >”You’re like a coiled spring, Lumen, locked in perpetuity” Celestia says as she pauses her strokes for a moment. “When you damaged the moon, you still didn’t truly expend your true strength. Perhaps it was because you damaged your horn, but to truly understand your limits, you must understand being powerless by your own hand. The feeling of emptiness by your own merit.”
  680. >”I… don’t understand.”
  681. >”you will,” she says and winks
  682. >she kisses your neck, your chest, up again, all the while, her magic continues to agitate yours
  683. >it feels so weird… you wonder if this is what people into ‘pain as pleasure’ experience
  684. >”This isn’t supposed to be masochistic. Once you truly relax, you’ll see.”
  685. >”H- how did you know what I was thinking?”
  686. >she laughs softly. “Remember what I said about having done this before? Some are more stubborn than others, but all of them eventually learn, but I know that confused look.”
  687. >”I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” you say, still a bit uncomfortable, “or what you’re trying to achieve.”
  688. >”Then let me explain further: imagine a room of your cottage in Sunride. The bookshelves, tables, cupboards… important things, but you must empty it to truly understand how much space you have to reset your inner self. You understand these objects are filling space, and you live within them, they are your walls within the walls. Your self-imposed restrictions.”
  689. >she rolls onto her back, and pulls you on top of her
  690. >”You’re afraid to bump into any of these things, and eventually you accept these barriers as sacred, but these are ultimately restrictions you have put in place yourself. You’re so restrained, you’ve forgotten just how much space you truly have. We’re refreshing your sense of inner space. Now, enough therapy talk…”
  691. >she pauses and, with a final flash of magic, is now naked
  692. >you gasp; her tits are perfect
  693. >there’s no other way to describe them
  694. >massive, the way they come to rest, parted on her chest with their obvious weight, each far, far bigger than your own head
  695. >yet perky, riding high and firm
  696. >of course they don’t obey the laws of physics; she’s a living goddess, ageless and forever young
  697. >her whole body is the perfect combination of flawless youthful skin on a more mature, motherly shape
  698. >she’s even perfectly toned, though not outright muscular, yet replete with soft curves and gentle plushness in an impossible balance of femininity
  699. >”Let’s have some fun!”
  700. >you can’t hold back
  701. >so you indulge
  702. >you push your hands into her tits, and it’s again perfect
  703. >just supportively firm, yet pliable
  704. >and her subtlety toned abdomen provides a comfortable platform as you slide down and between her thighs, each thicker than you are whole, to her eager, waiting folds
  705. >you’re worried you won’t be able to please a woman as big as-
  706. >”you’re thinking too much, Lumen. Give in to the moment.”
  707. >… point taken
  709. >you take no further prodding
  710. >you kiss her lower abdomen, wrap your arms around her waist, using the broadness of her hips as an anchor
  711. >and plunge in
  712. >it’s unreal; not just the fact you’re making love with a goddess, but she’s both gigantic and spacious, yet perfectly tight as well
  713. >she gives a gentle, breathy giggle, a moan
  714. >it’s been so long since you’ve been with someone, but you’re lost in your bliss
  715. >energy thrums through your body, like you’re made of pure power
  716. >it drives you on as you fuck Celestia harder and harder, grunting and moaning and losing yourself in the moment
  717. >her pleasured cries join with yours
  718. >but it’s an uphill battle as she continues to coax your magic, presenting barriers to your ability to enjoy this
  719. >still just the feeling of how huge she is awakens a keen sense of how small you feel
  720. >yet also how relaxed you’re becoming
  721. >Celestia’s so powerful, she’s right… you’ve been afraid for so long that you’d hurt someone
  722. >the revelation comes with you as the pressure builds within you, and you bellow out and orgasm
  723. >to say you’re backed up is an understatement as you just unload pump after pump in this literal goddess of a woman
  724. >and you feel weightless
  725. >adrift as you rest against her
  726. >it takes you a moment to realise you’d completely forgotten about your horn and your magic as a mass of light erupts from your horn, not as a blast, but a harmless corona of soft light, spreading into firefly-like glowing spheres after the wave strikes the barrier
  727. >it feels so normal, natural and free of pain
  728. >you relax and sigh, contented
  729. >everything feels so *clear* despite the afterglow haze
  730. >heh, kind of like your name; haze, like your old numbness, obscuring your ability to use magic
  731. >you used to struggle so hard to cast anything but basic telekinesis
  732. >and right now, you feel spent, and magic is the farthest thing from your mind
  733. >a zen state… you’d forgotten how it felt
  734. >it’s not control of your sensitivity, but it’s a fine start
  735. >you continue to bask in the floaty feeling
  736. >and realise you’re actually being levitated
  738. >”Not bad for a first try,” Celestia says, her breathing quick but shes still plainly aroused. “But we’re far from done. Now that you’ve felt at ease and restructured just what emptiness feels like compared to your concerns about your power, let’s give you that lesson in perspective.”
  739. >she giggles and her horn glows bright, and the barrier begins to contract from the walls and ceiling
  740. >and shrinks down, centred on you
  741. >”W- wait what are you doing?”
  742. >”You’re at zero. Now let’s try the opposite.”
  743. >the barrier reaches you and you fall on the bed, and yet the magic field continues to reduce in size
  744. >bringing you with it
  745. >the world enlarges around you as you dwindle, the soft fabric of the bed spread moving against you
  746. >as you reach four feet tall, Celestia picks you up by the waist with one hand
  747. >now you feel her soft skin slide against your still shrinking form as she smiles and brings you up to her face
  748. >at two feet tall, she uses her other hand to sit you down in her palm
  749. >one foot
  750. >it finally stops as you reach what must be three inches
  751. >Celestia playfully boops you with her index finger, pinning you flat on her hand
  752. >”now we’ll see how much power you can truly wield. That barrier not only still protects you from outside forces, so you will come to no harm, but it is directly tied to my arousal; you’ll feel every bit of pleasure I do. Also, the barrier will grow related to your magic; the more you muster, the bigger it becomes.”
  753. >”Uh… so I have to magic my way to normal size?”
  754. >”Almost, but you’re skipping a step. The only way to return to normal?”
  755. >she taps her still glowing horn
  756. >”Is to disrupt my focus.”
  757. >”A- and how do I do that!?”
  758. >”I’m glad you asked… allow me to help you start.”
  759. >she titters and lies back
  760. >and you’re carried over the vast expanse of her seemingly endless body
  761. >her exaggerated curves are your world, the walls of the room a distant horizon
  762. >you’re soon brought to her waiting womanhood
  763. >and shoved inside
  764. >compared to the zen state you just had, you’re freshly agitated
  765. >also, despite still coming down from your climax, you feel Celestia’s horniness reawakening your arousal
  766. >it’s dark and wet and… deceptively comfortable in here
  767. >you can even breathe normally, just the deeply tingly feeling and her body’s warmth and your every motion giving her a tiny tickle
  768. >you cast your telekinesis and the barrier throbs against her inner walls
  769. >you don’t so much hear the distant, reverberating rumble of Celestia’s giggle than *feel* it through her body
  770. >but again, you feel safe; the barrier means you can finally just let loose with all your magic, and Celestia’s thrown down a challenge
  772. >the only problem with your caution using magic is it makes you a boring spell caster
  773. >you like stable ground, plenty of light, an obvious target to make you feel more secure about safely casting
  774. >this is none of those
  775. >the glow of the barrier and your own magic reveals Celestia’s inner folds
  776. >you hear the deep, cavernous echo of her heartbeat, each with a low shudder
  777. >but you’re not here to study sex education, you’re here to push yourself and please your new mentor
  778. >you fail and stutter a few times
  779. >every time you use your magic, the skin-tight barrier expands away from you
  780. >and each time you do, Celestia subtly clenches and wriggles, but you’re hardly rocking her world
  781. >it even translates to you feeling a gentle warmth in your loins; gentle foreplay at best, frustrating teasing at worst
  782. >okay, Lumen, you blew up a chunk of the moon!
  783. >you’re inside a barrier that protects you from harm
  784. >and Celestia’s the equivalent of, what, a hundred and eighty feet tall to you?
  785. >to hay with this, it’s time to show her what you’re made of
  786. >you strain, and force the magic inside you to the fore
  787. >your power builds, and with a tremendous yell, you learn horn fires off a great blast
  788. >the barrier pushes away several times your size, and once more you hear Celestia’s distant yet overwhelming moans
  789. >then you go rock hard as you feel her arousal, and your magic bond threatens your concentration
  790. >you ignore your own list and push, and the barrier shudders and vibrates
  791. >Celestia clenches so hard, the barrier gets pushed back, and a flush of her juices wash over the barrier, along with her muscles pushing and squeezing you, and begins to dislodge you
  792. >even more, you climax as well, your concentration shatters
  793. >the same can’t be said about the barrier; it wavers but holds
  794. >a low chuckle reverberates through Celestia’s body, and she says, “so close… passable, I suppose. You’re welcome to quit if you want.”
  795. >it’s mocking, but it’s the same prodding you used to get from Peat when you wanted help getting in shape to make sure you could physically endure your worst magical mishaps; she’s trying to push you to your best
  796. >modest as you are, it’s not every day you have a unicorn shut-in with a set of abs, which you’re proud of
  797. >you guess your ego took a small blow when you saw Ozzy, another unicorn, who’s absolutely jacked, but you’re getting off track
  798. >the magic bond has apparently, for better or for worse, given you the female refractory period
  799. >because as you settle back down from your fuzziness, lucidity returns quickly
  800. >and an erection with it as you still feel energised
  801. >but you’re getting distracted
  802. >your horn sputters and crackles; it’s been a long time since you’ve tried to perform sustained magic, let alone at full strength
  803. >several failed attempts to get things going, and you’re getting angry at yourself
  805. >”You did well,” Celestia sighs, “we’ll pick this exercise up another time.”
  806. >she subtly moans as you see her fingers push inside to pull you out, but she distracts herself with a little self teasing
  807. >you guess it’s over…
  808. >wait
  809. >wait!!
  810. >no, not like this!
  811. >you’ve got to get better, for yourself
  812. >but especially for Pearly!
  813. >you have the tools, Lumen…
  814. >you close your eyes and make use of your new zero state
  815. >you’re not in danger, just… be empty
  816. >zen
  817. >you open your eyes in time to feel Celestia’s fingertips wrap around you
  818. >fine, if that’s the way she wants to play it?
  819. >it’s go time
  820. >you centre yourself
  821. >and completely relax
  822. >then throw out your hands as your horn lights up
  823. >a perfect, sustained glow
  824. >all your power flows, smoothly and surely
  825. >and the barrier pushes Celestia’s fingers away as it takes up every inch of her inner walls
  826. >she gasps and cries out as you fill her, when she’s stretched to capacity the first time in… however long
  827. >you unleash a surge, and another
  828. >You give in the flow, and the barrier begins to violently quake
  829. >Celestia babbles and whimpers and writhes in bliss
  830. >then you get hit by her shared arousal
  831. >it’s so intense you can’t even think
  832. >you just climax and everything goes slack
  833. >the pressure around the barrier intensifies as you feel Celestia climax at the same time
  834. >you’re jettisoned from her
  835. >and as you’re launched free, the flood of her femcum water slides you out and onto the bedsheets
  836. >Celestia writhes and rides out several aftershocks as you just lie still in the wet, warm mess your actions have wrought
  837. >and you’ve never had multiple orgasms before, but you know you’re not supposed to
  838. >because lose all sense of mind as you collapse from the overstimulation as your body also quivers and clenches
  839. >the barrier fades and you return to full size, slumped on her legs
  840. >and you’re not going to lie… after feeling your powers at flat zero, you haven’t intentionally let loose like that… well, ever
  841. >you came close when you threatened Ondrarion, but it took Pearly’s help to expend that power, and because of your damaged horn, it seems like you still didn’t *really* just unleash your power
  842. >after several staggered breaths, Celestia gasps and sighs, contented
  844. >she levitates you to her, and wraps you in a hug
  845. >”It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun,” Celestia purrs in your ear. “I can see why Peary likes you so much; anyone who puts that much effort into pleasing a woman is a keeper… maybe I’ll have her banished so I can keep you all to myself.”
  846. >”Now, wait just a moment! I-“
  847. >”I’m kidding!” Celestia giggles. “Nothing would please me more than to see you back together. It’s why I was so pushy about this; the happier you are, the closer you get once more, the more confident and stronger you will be. I wanted to hasten your lessons after the Ephobia incident earlier; I was hoping to ease you into this, but your control is an important tool and one you’re certain to need.”
  848. >you chuckle, “it’s certainly been… educational.”
  849. >”Your sensitivity is still going to be a concern. I fear that may take a while longer to fix, but by giving you these tools, I’m hoping it will allow you to feel more confident.” She then leans over and gives you a cheeky smile. “And if you ever want a personal lesson again, I’ll gladly oblige. Or if you’re feeling ‘pent up’ and need to discharge.”
  850. >is that a euphemism or does she mean your magi-
  851. >”And yes, either way. Seriously, if things don’t work out with Pearly, which I know are long odd since you’re perfect together and I *know* she’s crazy about you, I could use a Prince consort. At the very least, once you’re comfortable and confident with your powers, you, pearly and myself *must* do something together.”
  852. >you just reply, “sure,” but can’t muster the energy for anything else; you’ve never been so spent as the edges of vision fog over
  853. >so you just embrace Celestia’s big spoon nurturing and drift off into a stable, peaceful sleep
  855. >you awaken to Celestia standing before her window, and she raises her arms in a dramatic fashion
  856. >and the sun smoothly rises into the sky
  857. >you grunt as your horn reacts to her use of powerful magic; yep, you’ve improved, but that annoying sensitivity is with you yet
  858. >”Oh.” She turns to you and smiles. “Good morning, Lumen. Thank you for indulging me last night. I don’t believe there’s anything especially important on the agenda today, but I always have duties if you’d like to attend. Otherwise I won’t keep you all to myself; I believe you have companions you could bond with, training to undertake, spells to learn, whatever you feel will help you. We never know when Ephobia or some other potential threat may strike, so your skills and bonds are all important. Though first things first; I’m going to take a bath, and cook breakfast for everyone. See you in Horizon Hall.”
  859. >Celestia teleports away, and you’re left to your own devices
  861. >you get clean and head to Horizon Hall’s central room, kitchen and dining hall
  862. >Celestia’s busy preparing breakfast, and gives you a less than subtle wink as she notices you
  863. >Lustre’s once more a late riser considering she spends a lot of her night usually keeping Luna company
  864. >coincidentally the moon princess is, once again, sleepy, disheveled and decimating a huge sub sandwich and just doesn’t care that half the filling is falling out
  865. >oh, wait, she just levitated the scraps , compressed them into a food sphere and swallows it whole
  866. >Ozzy seems far more relaxed today, and you’re glad; she’s emotional for a rough-and-tumble girl who can probably bench press a building, and obviously benefited with having a talk (and, apparently, spar) with Luna
  867. >Misty is… glancing between you and Celestia with a catlike grin
  868. >she says, “looks like *someone* had a good night.”
  869. >Celestia places a sharing frittata on the table and uses her magic to hand out portions
  870. >Luna even magically intercepts one bound for Misty and crams that down too… so Celestia sighs and replaces it
  871. >Celestia says, “you almost sound jealous, Mistral. You’re welcome to join me tonight for a rambunctious session of girl-on-girl bonding the likes of which will forever ruin your ability to settle for your contemporaries.”
  872. >Misty’s caught off guard. ”I- really?”
  873. >Celestia invokes her royal voice, which echoes from the walls. “But be warned! To bed me shall forever ruin sex with others for you! No other bosom shall offer you comfort, no other hips shall grant succour, and an ass the likes of which shall make all others seem as flat and bereft of the pleasure of possessing the sublime attribute of ‘cushion for the pushin!’’”
  874. >you’re all shocked to silence, most of all Misty, who’s once more soundly defeated in her attempts to snark at your boss
  875. >except Luna, who manages a single derisory, if hearty and good natured, “hah!”, despite her fatigue
  876. >a door suddenly opens and a groggy, skin-tight pj-clad Lustre peers in. “Wait, who’s discussing tits and asses without me!? We had an agreement!”
  877. >”Just mine, Lustre, and no, you still can’t have them,” Celestia says and sits down to eat
  878. >Lustre grumbles and quietly leaves
  879. >after your own bonding session with her last night, you can tell that Celestia’s actually challenging Misty, trying to get her to put up a fight, but despite the little pegasus’ pluck, it’s becoming clear she’s still a bit too reserved for someone as worldly wise as Celestia
  880. >Ozzy asks, “I am surprised you have not indulged Princess Lustre for her gifts, Princess Celestia. More power for someone as experienced and good-hearted as you would be a tremendous benefit.”
  881. >Celestia gives Luna a sideways glance. “I see the Order of the Cloven Hoof wasn’t the only thing discussed last night.”
  883. >Luna rolls her tired eyes. “We’re sisters, and we live together. Our business naturally coincides one one another’s. Besides, like yourself and your entourage,” Luna says and gives you a look, “I also intend to make things as casual between us as I can.”
  884. >Ozzy bites her lip. “My apologies. I did not mean to make this conversation awkward.”
  885. >Celestia shakes her head. “Not at all, Osmiana. I simply have concerns about becoming a thrall of Lustre’s powers. I don’t doubt her motives, but with this rise of spirits and the blurring of our reality, I’m concerned that something could happen which either abuses or controls her link to those who receive her boons.”
  886. >Misty finishes her breakfast and says, “despite how Lustre’s made Luna bigger than you? No jealousy at all?”
  887. >Celestia folds her arms as Luna smirks, and adjusts her blouse, causing a mighty jiggling from the once smaller sisters now vaster curves
  888. >when no reply is forthcoming, Misty continues, “whatever. Say what you want, I still need her power to make me less weak.”
  889. >”I am curious why she hasn’t offered it to you,” Celestia replies, “she has only done that for a handful of people to my memory.”
  890. >”I fear her motives remain a mystery to me as well,” Luna says, “but if you so desire it, Mistral, I could ask on your behalf.”
  891. >Misty scrunches her face in thought, but grumbles and folds her arms. ”That feels like I’d be admitting defeat. Nah, I’m good. Though thanks anyway, Luna.”
  892. >breakfast rounds up, Luna heads to bed and Celestia to her duties
  893. >you say to Misty, “Celestia’s advice for me was very enlightening. Maybe you should hang around with her today? Build a rapport?”
  894. >”Can’t say I’ve heard of sex as being advice.” Misty giggles, then pouts and sighs. “I guess you’re right, though. Woo,” she cheers, unenthused, “time for a day spent in politics.”
  895. >Ozzy huffs. “Your duties are important and worthy of your focus, Mistral! Tackle all aspects with the whole of your body, mind and soul.”
  896. >”Fine! I will! So what’re you gonna do, kitty?”
  897. >Ozzy ignores the jab and say, “I shall train outside in the grounds for now, and I intend to familiarise myself with the routines of the guards later. What about yourself, Lumen?”
  898. >you *do* have a shield spell to learn… and it needs testing
  899. >what better test than using it to defend yourself from someone as strong as Ozzy?
  900. >”I’m going to expand my repertoire of spells. Mind if I join you? It’s great studying weather.”
  901. >Ozzy smiles. “I would appreciate the company, especially as we yet need to perfect ourselves. We can motivate each other!”
  902. >you split up from Misty, who begrudgingly heads to the throne room
  903. >you’re soon outside in a quiet section of the palace grounds; a well tended garden, a tremendous view of Equestria
  905. >you can see Ponyville, and you can even see the hilly valley beyond there where Sunride rests, right on the horizon, a field of verdant green and the thick forests
  906. >you turn your attention back to the garden and gasp
  907. >Ozzy has removed her outer clothes
  908. >and while you’ve been calm today thanks to last night’s ‘de-stressing’, and with how Ozzy is more than a little intimidating, with her down to a snug pair of shorts and a thin, tight vest, you get an eyeful of of her body and she’s difficult to ignore
  909. >you knew she was ripped, but not only is she a vision of perfect strength, with plenty of heavy, flowing muscle expertly blended with a healthy, plush layer
  910. >meaning she’s got surprisingly ample curves too
  911. >all tied up into a seven feet and change height which, prior to you sleeping with a nine foot tall goddess last night, would have you dizzy with the magnitude of her
  912. >then she begins stretching, which is just a whole other level of distracting, because she apparently has no shame as her thick, muscular ass sticks into the air from her going down on all fours, her massive thighs flexing
  913. >realising you’ve been staring for way too long, you pull out your notes and pick up your study on the shield spell
  914. >barrier spells are a logical progression of telekinesis
  915. >telekinesis is the concentration of magic around an object, picking it up by supporting it via a bubble of force
  916. >a barrier is just a flat layer of this force, which you then use to ‘hold’ incoming objects (and doing so with considerable force instead of carefully and gently), creating the shield
  917. >and, once a caster gets used to making a wall of this, they can surround themselves in a mobile sphere
  918. >it doesn’t take long before you can create a wall of white energy, but a barrier is only as strong as it’s user
  919. >you finish the theory side and feel you’ll need to use it in a practical way
  920. >you look at Ozzy and, by sweet Celestia, she’s balancing upside down on one arm and doing one-handed handstand pushups!
  921. >her whole body is tense, and that healthy layer of fat does nothing to hide her abs and thick corded muscles all working to keep her balanced and sweat drips down her smooth skin
  922. >her legs and loose arm are splayed wide for balance as Ozzy lowers herself, with only a little tremble from the effort, as smoothly pushes herself up again
  923. >down, then with a glow of her horn and eyes, she uses her strength boosting magic to ‘jump’ about six feet in the air with her supporting arm and lands on her feet
  924. >she sighs and flexes, her arms look swollen; she’s definitely getting a pump on
  926. >”Ozzy, I could use your help testing my spell. I need you to strike at the barriers I conjure.”
  927. >”Of course. We performed such tests in the Order.”
  928. >you create a wall of magic and focus as Ozzy limbers up, drops into a fighting stance, and throws out a punch
  929. >your barrier bends and ripples from the blow, but deviates so far from where you’re focusing, it vanishes
  930. >”Damn it. Again.”
  931. >it takes a good number of tries before you manage to maintain the barrier
  932. >then Ozzy simply engaged her magic and kicks through it so hard you instinctively cover your eyes from the shattered shards of magic
  933. >”let’s take a break.”
  934. >you both take a seat near the wall overlooking the country
  935. >you say, “that strength magic is quite something. The rest of us noblebloods spend so long manipulating the world with our magic, I guess nobody really considers using it internally.”
  936. >Ozzy drinks some water and towels off the sweat from her brow. ”It is no simple spell. We noble bloods learn to not use magic inside because it is not a compatible force. Instead, the Cloven Hoof style initiates must learn to perfectly understand their physical capabilities, then layer this magic within to act as a second set of muscles and reinforcement for our bones and skin. Performed incorrectly, it can rupture or shatter any or all of these.”
  937. >”That’s horrifying,” you reply. “It makes me wonder how someone created such a spell, and how many people were injured in its creation.”
  938. >”Lady Luna, naturally. The dream world may be her domain, thus granting her tremendous power there, but it seems she developed this spell in the times before Asterror’s reign, when both the dreaming world and The Drift were beyond her ken. She had a meditative way to internalise her power and it gave form to this spell.”
  939. >this is fascinating stuff. “Could anyone learn it?”
  940. >”One must have the utmost confident in their own physical form, but yes. Although I would need to defer to Lady Luna for permission.”
  941. >”I wasn’t asking specifically for now, just thinking aloud,” you reply and stand. “Enough about the order, though. What about you? I’m interested in you as a person, not just as a member of the Cloven Hoof.”
  942. >she seems taken aback as you return to practice together. “I am nobody of any real consequence, but I suppose I can regale you what I can.”
  943. >you practice your shield spell against Ozzy’s might as she tells you about her past
  944. >born in Ponyville, her early years being fascinated with both dance and her mothers martial art, which is far more local and conventional than what she knows now
  945. >that’s how she earned her mark, but fell ill soon after, and her parents left town with her to find a cure
  947. >”… once free of Sir Flim and Sir Flam’s confuddling ways, and since I owed Applejack a considerable debt for my actions and Rarity felt our old friendship warranted such an offer, I dedicated myself to Princess Celestia, and consequently Lady Luna. Besides that, I have not much else worth merit.”
  948. >you stop practicing for now and rest some more now that it’s early afternoon
  949. >you’ve learned all you can with the shield spell for now
  950. >improving it will take further practice, but it will take time
  951. >Ozzy confused you, but you suppose she *has* lived an isolated life amongst only other Cloven Hoof members until they all passed away and left her alone
  952. >she still speaks of herself as a tool, and her repeated concerns about debts and failures from both her own actions and that of her order constantly lurk in her mind, which is actually quite sad
  953. >you say, “you need to explore yourself a little, I think. Learn what you like to do and just enjoy life. You say you used to like dancing? Why not start there?”
  954. >Ozzy thinks for a moment. “Our display practices *are* still dance-like in their execution. I suppose I could replace some of my exercise with this activity, and I know there are instructors in n Canterlot. Which also reminds me. I had been meaning to ask you if you had any suggestions about training myself in other fields.”
  955. >”What do you mean?”
  956. >”I accept I am naive, as kindly Applejack told me, but I am also inexperienced in the mystic arts outside of simple telekinesis and my empowerment magic, but at least I understand the fundamentals already. I believe my old friend Rarity remains in the city for a time and she is known for her societal grace and wit. Likewise, perhaps you could introduce me to Princess Twilight if you feel I am in need of training in the arcane arts. I would appreciate your input. Perhaps we can go together and learn as a team?”
  958. >maybe it’s because of your newfound bond with Celestia, but you decide to say, “I think we should offer Princess Celestia our services. First, as uninteresting as it generally is, politics is a good way to break free from your self-described naïveté; I’ve read all sorts of intriguing novels that cover the subtle clashing of words. That we can engage in it as a team, and under Celestia’s guidance, should help us bond. Plus, it would be good to see Misty in her element; I’d be deferring to you if we needed physical training, and I think we could learn a lot from her wits when it comes to people.”
  959. >Ozzy smirks. “Even though Princess Celestia seems to be quite the domineering force in this regard.”
  960. >”Celestia *has* been princess for over a thousand years. Misty just needs to stand her ground, I get the impression she’s used to being a quiet observer amongst bigger personalities and leans on her weakness as an excuse to keep it to herself. And there are a lot of personalities here, and she does seem to be trying.”
  961. >in agreement, you head for the throne room
  962. >in the main corridor, Copper Shield appears to be giving some orders to the other guards
  963. >he waves to you. “Equerries! How goes it?”
  964. >”We intend to assist the Princess in her duties,” Ozzy replies
  965. >Copper looks you both over. “Dressed like that? You’re sweaty,” he nods to Ozzy, then you, “and while there’s nothing wrong with being slight and mousy, neither of you truly project the sort of authority that’s suitable for what can be quite hostile negotiations. Unless you tower over other dignitaries like a princess or look like you can fight a thousand soldiers alone, you need to look the part and keep people guessing.”
  966. >”Any suggestions?”
  967. >he strokes his grey beard. “We’ll have to improvise for now, but we did have Rarity stay in Canterlot to get you properly outfitted. Tomorrow, we’ll put you in her care so you can not only get measured and suited, but she can help you with certain etiquette cues. Follow me, we’ll get you looking suitably impressive.”
  968. >Copper takes you to a barracks, where Ozzy quickly takes a wash, then a room filled with uniforms and suits of armour
  969. >thankfully they’ve had people in both of your sizes, and you find decently fitted outfits that do look a bit more professional
  970. >at last, you’re brought back to the throne room
  971. >”Remember,” Copper says, “this isn’t Horizon Hall. Best behaviour, be professional as you can, and follow Princess Celestia’s lead, or Luna’s, should she be presiding but she’s usually only called in for major events or urgent evening business. You’ll be asked to offer your guidance and opinions. That said, if you have something that you’re certain would be of use or merit, you *can* speak up, but you’d best know what you’re talking about, because if you look a fool, Celestia will look a fool too.”
  973. >you raise your hands in supplication. ”I’ll be careful.”
  974. >”I shall just remain silent…” Ozzy mutters
  975. >Cooper Shield opens the doors, steps through and, as the gentle murmur within eases, announces, “presenting her majesty’s equerries, Lumen Haze and Osmiana Zenith!”
  976. >Celestia stands
  977. >she regards you with no warmth, winking or smiles, just this palpable aura of authority
  978. >Misty is beside her, also dressed in a suit-like uniform, though she lets a small smile dance across her features before she tries to keep professional
  979. >several unfamiliar faces like the sides amongst the usual guards
  980. >”Head straight up beside her, same side as Misty, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and bow to Princess Celestia’s platform,” Copper whispers as he leaves and closes the door
  981. >you do as directed, although all eyes on you make even the super act of walking feel complicated
  982. >you reach the raised stage of Celestia’s throne, bow, and move beside Misty, opposite Luna’s empty throne
  983. >”Now, if we can continue?” a grouchy looking pegasi growls
  984. >Celestia smiles gently and says, “of course, Mayor Pinion, do go on.”
  985. >the mayor bemoans about his town being used as a distribution centre for mail leaving and arriving in Equestria, and that it’s making his town a mess
  986. >Misty gives him an incredulous look, but remains quiet
  987. >you’re here to learn, so you whisper, “something wrong?”
  988. >She glances at Celestia as she asks what she can do to help, but says to you, “he’s whining about a mess, but look at his clothing.”
  989. >he’s certainly well dressed, nothing too unexpected for a mayor attending a royal audience
  990. >”I see nothing amiss besides the usual finery,” Ozzy says. “Rarity sells such clothing at a fair price, albeit its still not the sort of attire everyone would wear. But a civic leader would wear such when visiting royalty, yes?”
  991. >Misty rolls her eyes. “Sure, meeting the princess, you’ve gotta put on your finest duds. But those shoes are well worn, the coat is old and stained with what looks like chocolate, yet the pants are new, so is the jewellery.”
  992. >you guess she’s right but, you ask, ”what’s your point?”
  993. >”He probably parades around in that rich guy stuff, that’s my point. He isn’t putting on airs and dressing up just for the princess, he lives the rich life and even bought new stuff for today. I bet he’s a bit-pinching miser who just doesn’t want to spend the money hiring people to maintain his town, which has to be making a mint if it’s such an important mail hub, and he has the balls to come here and whine about not having the funds for-“
  995. >Mayor Pinion bellows, pointing at your trio, “and shut your hen-clucking! You forget your place! If you’ve got something to share, I want to hear it!”
  996. >Celestia looks at you. “I agree. Do you have anything to add to proceedings?”
  997. >Misty bites her tongue and looks at you and Ozzy
  998. >Ozzy shrugs
  1000. >you smile and nod to Misty, and she plucks up and steps forward
  1001. >she says, ”you might have Princess Celestia fooled, but not me, Pinion.”
  1002. >”*Mayor* Pinion to you! Or Mayor Frayed Pinion. And I haven’t the faintest idea what manner of drivel you’re talking about. I suggest you shut up before you embarrass yourself further.”
  1003. >Celestia leans back on her throne, at first seeming ambivalent, but you see her smirk for a split second
  1004. >Misty continues, growing bolder, “you waltz in here and demand bits when you’re clearly wasting it on yourself? Get your head out of your ass!”
  1005. >”I’ll not be slandered like this, Princess! Pull your yapping dog back or I’ll-”
  1006. >Celestia huffs and shrugs. “You’re welcome to refute her claims as much as she’s allowed to make them, Mayor. Why should I trust you more or less than any of my personal equerries?”
  1007. >Pinion’s lip curls up and he storms up towards Misty, only to be blocked by the guards
  1008. >it’s a needless gesture of protection as Misty gets in the mayor’s face instead
  1009. >not that you think you’ll do a better job than the guards in breaking up any scuffle, but you move down to back her up in case things take a turn
  1010. >thankfully Ozzy does the same moments later
  1011. >Say your hogwash how, you scrawny little trollop! I doubt you have the gall!”
  1012. >Misty doesn’t skip a beat. ”Gladly, you pompous, stuck up snob. You wear those fancy clothes day in, day out, don’t you? You eat in’em- hay, you probably sleep in’em! Then buy more when they get too badly worn with money that should be spent on your people.”
  1013. >”Ludicrous! Prove it!”
  1014. >Misty licks her teeth and paces around Pinion, who scowls at her
  1015. >she stops behind him, the lifts the back of his coat over his head and a short scuffle ensues
  1016. >Pinion shrugs her off before the guards get involved
  1017. >Misty examines something in her hand, then smugly walks back around him and says, “it’s even worst than I thought. Hey, you, sir?” Misty gestures to one of the guards.
  1018. >said guard looks to Celestia, who nods to him, and then, back to Misty, responds, “ma’am?”
  1019. >”What’s this?”
  1020. >he looks at it
  1021. >its… a metal square or some kind?
  1022. >with a sizeable stone on one side, blue in colour
  1023. >”It’s nothing,” Pinion snaps, “just some heirloom.”
  1024. >”The palace is well decorated,” Misty says and slowly walks in a circle around the man, “I suppose maybe to most, a lot of the finery just blurs into the background, but the guest rooms have coloured stones to help organise the type. Rubies for foreign dignitaries, emeralds for friends of palace officials, and sapphires for local visitors.”
  1026. >Celestia stands. “Copper Shield,” she says firmly in the royal voice, causing everyone to flinch at the volume
  1027. >the doors open and the old guards sticks his head inside
  1028. >”Yes, your majesty?”
  1029. >”Have someone inspect the gem stone decorations in the local leaders doors.”
  1030. >”At once.”
  1031. >Pinion’s gone pale, while Misty folds her arms and looks so smug, and her smile so broad, you’re worried her head’s going to crack in two
  1032. >minutes later, he re-enters
  1033. >”We’re missing several sapphires from a number of the doors,” Copper says and narrows his eyes at the obvious suspect, “with exception of Mayor Pinion’s.”
  1034. >Celestia sits back down and clasps her fingers together
  1035. >”Mayor Pinion?”
  1036. >he clears his throat and struggles to make eye contact with the princess. “Y- yes, my liege?”
  1037. >”I suggest we rearrange the budget of your town. If you’re struggling to make ends meet to the point you’re having to steal to support it, that would look poorly on all of us, yes?”
  1038. >”Uh… yes, princess?”
  1039. >”I would like to schedule a royal visit to your township so that I may make some suggestions. Unless of course, these problems happen to be corrected by the time I arrive in, say, two days time?”
  1040. >”S- suggestions?”
  1041. >”Oh yes!” Celestia stares daggers into the man yet smiles sweetly. “I feel that maybe someone in your constituency is perhaps misappropriating your funds. After all, the town makes a percentage for every item of mail that enters or leaves the post office there. Clearly somebody is to blame. They shall be discovered and brought to justice.”
  1042. >”So it would seem,” Pinion says, sweating profusely “I’m… going to go home, your majesty. To look into the matter.”
  1043. >Celestia grin is now radiant, like the sun itself. ”I’m sure this situation will rectify itself by the time I arrive! I’ll see you then.”
  1044. >Pinion turns and walks out
  1045. >his speed increases as he nears the door, although Copper Shield ‘accidentally’ gets in his way and they bump into one another
  1046. >”Careful there, friend,” Copper says, and puts his hand on Pinion’s shoulder, “you’d best mind yourself. A man can get into serious trouble if he doesn’t watch his actions.”
  1047. >you see his fingers dig into the material, and Pinion gasps in pain
  1048. >”I’ll see you soon, Mayor Pinion,” Celestia calls out as Copper ‘helps’ the man through the door at some speed
  1049. >”Now,” Celestia says and relaxes back onto her throne, “what’s next on the agenda?”
  1051. >you quietly filter back beside Celestia as her presiding judgements carry on; less dramatic issues like reports of how villages and towns are getting on, local issues with creatures and such
  1052. >between her own brand of devious ruling and Misty’s increasing comfort in speaking up, you learn a great deal about courtly manners, Celestia’s subtle but doubtlessly intense way of dealing with serious issues
  1053. >but Misty quickly becomes Celestia’s second opinion on most issues, asking for her opinion on even simple matters
  1054. >even Ozzy starts catching on
  1055. >day gives way to night, and Celestia’s duties finally conclude
  1056. >once more there’s a distinct ‘transformation’ as everyone leaves besides your group and Copper Shield as Celestia sighs and she puts on a big smile
  1057. >”Your tact and language could use some refining, Misty, but you’ve impressed me today.”
  1058. >Misty manages a blush as she ruffles her short silver hair. “People’s people. Everyone acts in weird ways and do things that they don’t realise. He was obvious. You’ve just gotta look and think.”
  1059. >you ask, “where did you learn to do that, anyway? I’ve studied my magic, despite my misgivings about control, and Ozzy studied her craft for what? The better part of twenty years?”
  1060. >Ozzy nods. “Combining my mother’s style and the Cloven Hoof, yes. Where does one study this ‘look and think’ aspect?”
  1061. >Misty shrugs. “I’unno! I just learned to look and think.”
  1062. >Celestia giggles. “It’s true learning to be devious isn’t a conventional school. It’s like friendship.”
  1063. >you cock an eyebrow. “What about the school of friendship?”
  1064. >Celestia rolls her eyes. “Yes, what *about* the school of friendship? There’s a reason it’s reverted to a cultural learning institution for all. But that’s beside the point, as for Misty’s talents, I think her background in archeology may hold some clues.”
  1065. >you glance at Misty. “You’re into archeology?”
  1066. >”Kinda? My dad and uncle are into it, I just sort of tagged along sometimes and helped examine a few things.”
  1067. >Celestia nods. ”Very few things are as detail orientated as archeology and art, considering how they go hand-in-hand. Especially how art can reveal aspects buried within the creator. These small aspects bind and grow within their work, both emotional and environmental, to expose the soul of the individual and let us read a sign of the times they made their mark. Such things cannot be overstated.”
  1068. >”It’s nothing *that* important, and I’m not that important,” Misty insists, but she’s clearly less certain about downplaying herself
  1070. >Celestia offers a bow. “Mistral Shear, I am honoured to have you by my side.”
  1071. >there’s a faint flash on the back of Misty’s hand as her mark briefly pulses, an hourglass-shaped twisted cloud surrounded by snowflakes, but by the time she studied it, it fades
  1072. >”The hay was that?”
  1073. >with no answers forthcoming, you return to Horizon Hall and Celestia prepares dinner
  1074. >Lustre’s petting some birds beside a window as you enter
  1075. >”I hear our little Misty has been impressing people today,” the lust princess giggles, “good. Maybe you might be ready for a blessing after all.”
  1076. >”Really?” Misty exclaims. “Sure! Let’s do it!”
  1077. >Lustre let’s the birds go on their way, then stands and approaches your group
  1078. >she thumbs her chin and pouts as she studies Misty
  1079. >the smaller girl suddenly looks far less sure after a few moments of scrutiny
  1080. >”Hmm… maybe not. A shame. Maybe you *should* spend some time with Celestia first. How about you, Lumy? Do you feel ready for a blessing?”
  1082. >you ponder for a moment, then reply, ”you know what? Thanks for the offer, but I’m good for now.”
  1083. >you barely catch it out of the corner of your eye, but Celestia pauses and flicks you a wink before resuming her dinner preparation
  1084. Your affinity with Celestia has increased to (+6)
  1085. >you continue, “though I am curious what presumably makes me ready, and not Misty.”
  1086. >Lustre smirks, closes her eyes, and she regresses in size and curves down to a slightly more reasonable eight feet and voluptuous, rather than ‘beyond mortal’ in figure
  1087. >her hair shifts from predominantly red to pink and her eyes are now mostly blue upon opening. She says, in a far softer voice as Fluttershy, “I spent my earliest days as Lustre handing out blessings on a whim, only considering simple things like age as a criteria. These days, I’m trying to be a little more choosy.”
  1088. >Ozzy says, “that did not answer the question, Princess Lustre.”
  1089. >Fluttershy gives a gentle smile. “I could simply give Misty a boon, but it wouldn’t be right. Not when she doesn’t understand herself yet. Lumen does, especially after everything involving Ondrarion, although I suppose I’ll never know if he would have taken my offer before meeting with Celestia?”
  1090. >you want to tell Shy that you sought power only at failing over and over to be useful to Pearly in her pairing of magic and medicine
  1091. >but immaturity like that was a splash of cold water, and a harsh lesson, considering how much of a rift it’s caused between you and Pearly
  1092. >Ondrarion’s deeply insidious in his offer to take away weakness, only to grant power beyond any one persons ability to control it
  1093. >Misty snaps in, “fine, I’ll just keep searching for some nebulous state of ‘being ready’ then. See if I care.”
  1094. >”You’re not helping your case,” Lustre says and shrugs, then looks at Ozzy. “How about you?”
  1095. >Ozzy folds her arms defiantly and says, “mastering the Cloven Hoof style requires perfect understanding of the body. Any sudden shifts in form and function could have dire consequences.”
  1096. >Lustre pouts. “You *so* need to get laid, big girl.”
  1097. >Misty smirks. “Good luck finding a guy able to withstand kitten here; I bet when she goes off, the earth moves with that super strength of hers.”
  1098. >Ozzy scows, but can’t fight off the blush. “Fraternisation within the order was forbidden. Not o mention I have not had the chance to engage in courtship.” She turns even redder. “A- and I’m perfectly able to control my powers under any circumstances.”
  1099. >”Suuure you are, kitten,” Misty chuckles
  1101. >”Misty, be honest,” you say, feeling the need to throw a jab, “have you even been in a relationship, let alone slept with someone?”
  1102. >and yep, she shuts up and suddenly looks away; the bookworm of the trio is the most experienced
  1103. >you’re a group of oddballs, alright
  1104. >”Dinner’s up!” Celestia says and magics several plates of seafood pasta on the table. “And an extra large portion for the house stud!”
  1105. >your plate is three times the size of everyone else’s
  1106. >you’re not sure if todays lessons in cunning are working, but you feel compelled to engage in more banter.
  1107. >“At this rate, I’ll have to start keeping a little black book. Man, it sucks being popular.”
  1108. >Celestia giggles, “a little black book? Just *a* book? How quaint! Please, why do you think the secret wing in the palace library was built?”
  1109. >Misty grins. “Most people wouldn’t consider having more sexual partners than said partners have had hot dinners a good thing. Hey, Celestia, for breakfast tomorrow, I’ll have my eggs over *easy*, good and *loose*. Like you.”
  1110. >oh heck, you wonder if that was too far
  1111. >Celestia actually looks shocked, then she laughs
  1112. >then, with a flick of her wrist, and your horn crackling painfully with the burst of magic, Misty vanishes
  1113. >Lustre’s just as shocked as the rest of you. “The moon?”
  1114. >Celestia scoffs. ”Oh, please. For a little jab like that? No.”
  1115. >moments later, a soaked Misty enters
  1116. >Celestia continues, “she just had a dip in the throne room water feature.”
  1117. >Misty storms up to Celestia, flaps up to her height and hovers, getting in her face and snarls for a moment at the princess, who’s struggling not to laugh
  1118. >”So,” Celestia says, her voice cracking a little, “want some fun tonight? I’m sure bedding the ruler of Equestria as you first time will be a badge of honour… unless I’m too ‘loose’ for you?”
  1119. >Misty glowers at her, blushes and mutters, “please.”
  1120. >”You’ll crush the poor thing,” Lustre says, “she’s all skin and bones.”
  1121. >”She wouldn’t be if you gave her your blessing,” Celestia replies, snidely
  1123. >Lustre pouts, rolls her eyes and says, “fine. A *temporary* blessing. Just because, dear soon-to-be sister in law, I still think you need to stop being fully in charge in the bedroom. Taking turns ‘topping’ is a kindness, and a lot more fun.”
  1124. >Misty drops to the floor and loses her anger as she says, to Lustre, “really?”
  1125. >Lustre says, “yes, really. It will fade in the morning. I suppose it will help give you something to work towards.”
  1126. >Lustre kneels down, pulls Misty to her, and plants a deep kiss on her lips
  1127. >your horn crackles again as Lustre’s powers flare up, and you focus on controlling it as, after a few moments, the ambient magic fades
  1128. >Misty, bright red in the face, looks down at herself and says, “when does it happen?”
  1129. >her answer appears as she yelps, and you go wide eyed as her petite chest suddenly surges out to a couple of handfuls
  1130. >then her shirt splits in two as they swell as big as her head
  1131. >before she can react, her ass and hips bulge and shred her pants
  1132. >Misty shivers as her taut, ropey physique quakes, then swells, solid biceps forming, abs sculpting on her flat belly, her thighs thickening
  1133. >then she staggers as her legs surge longer
  1134. >and longer
  1135. >her clothes fail to keep up as the smallest person in the room surges past you
  1136. >and almost reaches Ozzy’s awestruck height as she ends just a hair shy of seven feet tall
  1137. >a brand new, big, powerfully built amazonian Misty, who first screams with glee as she looks at her new, if temporary, form
  1138. >then, as her curves jiggle, turns red again and covers herself up
  1139. >Celestia sighs. “Go to my chambers, Misty. And take your dinner with you. I won’t let a night of fun be ruined by a rumbling stomach.”
  1140. >she emphasises the point by levitating some of your extra portion to Misty’s plate, puts it in her hands, then teleports her away once more
  1141. >”Well, I suppose I’ll keep her company,” Celestia says as she also takes her dinner and heads for her bedroom. “Have a good night, everyone.”
  1142. >Ozzy slowly picks her jaw off the floor, sits and eats
  1143. >as do you, Lustre and you’re soon joined by Luna
  1144. >Lustre quietly informs her partner of what’s happened, and while amused, Luna doesn’t seem too surprised
  1146. >Luna asks, “so, did either of you have any plans for tonight? After my sparring session last night with Osmiana, I feel a compulsion to continue practicing the Cloven Hoof style. Feel no pressure, though! I understand some people believe that learning martial arts can instil an unwelcome compulsion to utilise violence, but that’s entirely untrue. It is exercise of the mind and spirit.”
  1147. >Ozzy stands and bows. ”It would be an honour, Lady Luna!”
  1148. >”Failing that,” Lustre adds, looking at you, “I wouldn’t mind some company… while watching Luna and Ozzy strip into their underwear and get sweaty together. We can just talk, if you wish.”
  1150. >”I mean no disrespect, to either of you, but one of my driving goals in being here as an equerry is to get control of my powers. I think I’ll see if I can get some studying done before turning in for the night.”
  1151. >Lustre pouts, while Luna nods. “A noble effort, and understandable. Still, I’ll be conducting practice every night before the hour draws too late, should you have a care, and a core principle of the Cloven Hoof style is mastery of mind *and* body. I feel there could be some benefit towards your ailment, but I’ll not press the issue.”
  1152. >Ozzy looks a little disappointed. “Then good night to you, Lumen.”
  1153. >having eaten, you head out for Moon Dancer’s place and knock
  1154. >”Come iiin!” Twilight’s voice calls in a singsong style
  1155. >you cock an eyebrow and on the door, only to be met with Twilight and Dancer in their pyjamas
  1156. >and is that a pillow and book fort?
  1157. >”Oh… you’re not who I was expecting, but you’re welcome to join!” Twilight claps her hands, giddily. “We’re having an impromptu study-slumber party!”
  1158. >Dancer offers a simple wave, “I thought this was meant to be a girls night,” then says to you. “At least you’re an academic as well.”
  1159. >”Sure, sounds like fun,” you say
  1160. >”Perfect!”
  1161. >you add ”I was also wondering if either of you had any ideas about helping me control my magic. I’m open to any ideas.”
  1162. >there’s another knock on the door
  1163. >Twilight calls, ”it’s open!”
  1164. >in walks, dressed in a formerly loose pyjamas that now just cling to her body, is Pearly, who’s trying to straighten her bedclothes out
  1165. >”Sorry about this. I’m not usually this… suggestive with what I wear.”
  1166. >she grimaces and tugs the buttoned top, only for a button to pop free
  1167. >the once modestly endowed Pearly is anything but as a plunging cleavage exposes itself before you
  1168. >although in the presence of Twilight, not to mention the sheer size of Celestia’s, you suppose she *is* modest by these princesses
  1169. >Pearly makes her familiar, cute pout, finally looks up, and catches your gaze
  1170. >”Lumy?”
  1171. >you awkwardly say, ”hey Pearly.”
  1172. >the tension and connection automatically triggers as your heart aches and your mind wanders
  1173. >that her pyjamas are letting you see every curve of her Lustre-enhanced body is doing nothing but make it worse
  1174. >you’re saved by Twilight as she calls out, ”I call to order tonight’s Slumber-Study party! And I can think no better topic than discussing and suggesting ways to help with Lumen’s magical sensitivity!”
  1176. >oh good, you’re about to be the subject of three girls’ analytical gazes
  1177. >Twilight and Pearly give Dancer the brief overview of how you developed it, complete with Ondrarion’s interfering
  1178. >Moon Dancer taps her chin, and says, “that’s curious. Why would a spirit of introspection be so cruel?”
  1179. >Pearly replies, “I wonder if it was once trapped, alone and turned desperate to escape. Then again, the primal spirits are strange; they operate on a morality system all their own.”
  1180. >you add, “it was, by all accounts, just trapped as a mirror once upon a time. Something shattered it, and now Ondrarion can manifest as a puppet-like form, or a marionette. It’s how it started using the moniker ‘Mirrionette’. It certainly fooled me; if it used it’s true name, I would have discovered it’s lesser known history of gaining power through reflecting negative traits.”
  1181. >”A traditional ‘be careful what you wish for’ if I’ve ever heard one,” Dancer says
  1182. >Pearly shakes her head. “Not just that, it can copy other peoples features and voices to help prevent anyone getting a good read on its intentions.”
  1183. >”I’ll say,” Twilight says, “seeing my own face acting like that brings back some bad memories from when the changelings were against us.”
  1184. >”This is all elementary, I guess,” Dancer says and lounges on her pile of pillows. “Now, how do you work out magic sensitivity?”
  1185. >”Celestia had some ideas,” Twilight says
  1186. >”Oh, uh,” you wince and look at Pearly, who gives you an inquisitive look. “So Celestia’s already… been training me.”
  1187. >Twilight blushes and smirks. “Right! Yes, her… hands on approach works wonders, doesn’t it?”
  1188. >Pearly suddenly comes to a revelation. “Oh, this is what she was warning me about, isn’t it? The intimate lessons?”
  1189. >Twilight stammers in, “i-it’s fairly normal for her! Please don’t blame Lumen, and she *is* very good at teaching her point.”
  1190. >Pearly sighs, and looks at you. “I take it you *did* learn something?”
  1191. >”Yes, of course! She taught me to blank my mind to help calm myself if I’m agitated, and how to tap into my wild surges without undue risk while I’m at peace. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, I swear!” you plead
  1192. >Pearly raises her arms, and also pleads, “I wasn’t judging! Sorry if that’s how it came out. I can’t deny I feel some regret though; not because Princess Celestia took you, but… well, I kind of put that onus on you when I said about you getting better.”
  1193. >if nothing else, you at least feel a surge of confidence
  1194. >one you spend by embracing your ex lover. “I’m trying. I want you back more than anything.”
  1195. >she pulls you in tightly, and the spark you already restored prior shines brighter
  1196. >”You’re doing great, Lumy. I’m proud of you.”
  1198. >”Okay, are we going to do this study session not?” Dancer groans. “I didn’t agree to this just to watch a couple have tender moments. In want *real* excitement! Like forbidden knowledge and magical mysteries stuff! That can tie into helping Lumen, too, but enough touchy, feely garbage!”
  1199. >”Oh, quit being a sourpuss, Dancer,” Twilight says with a pout. “But fine, come on, you two, let’s get this study session going!”
  1200. >Twilight performs running duty on teleporting books in from the Canterlot library, occasionally leaving the group for brief moments, but the study-slumber party is officially on
  1201. >you’re mostly just in your undershirt and pants rather than pyjamas, but you settle in and get comfortable with the snacks and drinks
  1202. >you read, occasionally share and debate topics found within, and the high concentration of magic related tomes certainly gives you ideas about advancing your abilities in the field of mysticism, but much of it is just reinforcing what you already know
  1203. >”Oh, this is interesting,” Pearly says, peeking over a unicorn specific medical journal. “There’s a condition called ‘algadystic keratinitis hyperarcana’ which is a disease that presents an inflammation of the underlying skin and nerves at the root of a horn which causes erratic magical outbursts. Obviously this isn’t what you have, Lumy, I’d already dismissed it, but some of the therapy treatments suggested hold merit.”
  1204. >that’s your Pearly!
  1205. >”Lay it on us,” Twilight says, leaning forward and looking excited
  1206. >”The fundamental recovery aspect is to maintain an elevated level of magic around the patient. If Moon Dancer, Twilight and I all create a passive field of magic, and slowly elevate the strength until it becomes too much, then we give it a day, and try again as a daily praxtice. It’s a gradual, prolonged exposure that forces the afflicted horn to acclimatise to magic and should reduce pain in the patient, as well as allow them to grow use to the feeling of magic in the horn after an extended period of improper use. If we combine that with your newfound ability to calm your mind? It could become a routine practice method.”
  1208. >it sounds slightly torturous, but then again, merely living in places with strong magic users is already painful
  1209. >”Let’s try it,” you say. “Anything to be able to function normally again.”
  1210. >your three companions not to one another, and their horns appear on their foreheads, and begin to glow gently
  1211. >you immediately feel a tingle, way below the usual painful threshold
  1212. >”Now, make use of Celestia’s meditation, Lumen,” Twilight says as she gets comfortable. “Try to hold on until it becomes too much, then just say when we should stop.”
  1214. >you lean on your experience with Celestia to maintain a zen state
  1215. >having Pearly here is either going to add pressure, or help you relax, it’s hard to tell
  1216. >you centre yourself, focus on the empty room within
  1217. >a room with many comforting memories
  1218. >your bedroom back in Sunride
  1219. >it was where you first made love to Pearly
  1220. >the hours you spent just talking to her
  1221. >you used to be her way to unwind after a hard day of helping the townspeople
  1222. >of course you helped her medical practice; you was her assistant, researcher and more
  1223. >but your Pearly had saved many lives, and lost others through no fault of her own
  1224. >and you were always there to treat her as the hero you knew her to be
  1225. >to offer a shoulder when things became too tough, or when despite her best efforts, tragedy struck
  1226. >to celebrate her successes, children brought into the world, the wellbeing of what seemed to be life changing injuries restored
  1227. >but her former frailty often meant she was always stretched thin
  1228. >she was known to pass out on especially bad stretches
  1229. >especially as time went on, and she seemed to continue to dwindle
  1230. >but now? Thanks to Lustre?
  1231. >she’s everything she should have been; fit and strong on top of her already magnificent power
  1232. >but now you have to elevate yourself once more, with no shortcuts, to overcome your foolish decision to make yourself powerful enough to be worthy of standing beside her
  1233. >even if she insisted what you was doing was enough
  1234. >pain snaps you out of your zen state
  1235. >your eyes are blurry, but the strong glows from your group’s horns shows you’ve endured well
  1236. >but in an act of stubbornness, you don’t cry out until the pain becomes bordering on crippling
  1237. >you yelp and clutch your head, and everyone stops
  1238. >your horn crackles and sparks, making your whole body twitch
  1239. >and your head is pounding
  1240. >one voice asks, ”are you alright?” It’s hard to tell who, it’s all overwhelming right now
  1241. >”Easy, now. Breathe slowly.”
  1242. >you feel gentle hands over yours
  1243. >and a brief pulse of magic
  1244. >it’s less severe than what you just experienced
  1245. >but you feel the soothing power that can only be from Pearly run through you, taking the edge off
  1246. >”I thought something went wrong,” you identify Dancer’s voice say. “You were calm for a long time, then suddenly just freaked out.”
  1247. >”It was impressive, but are you okay?”
  1248. >the migraine subsides, but Pearly continues giving short pulses of her curative magic
  1249. >”I think so,” you mumble. “It’s been a while since I felt magic that strong. Not since Ondrarion took Pearly.”
  1250. >Pearly laughs. “Sure, all the worst pains in you life just happen to involve me.”
  1251. >”Ah, I didn’t mean insinuate-“
  1252. >she hugs you. “I’m kidding! That was not only impressive, if maybe a bit much for the first attempt, but convincing; if you keep that up, I think you’ll develop a tolerance for moderate magic use in no time!”
  1254. >Twilight adds, “she’s right. You were eerily calm for such a long time, we thought you’d passed out or something, but when Pearly checked you and saw signs of normal breathing, we were then also worried we’d break your meditation. Very well done!”
  1255. >”you reached a pretty respectable threshold, Lumen,” Dancer says with a smile. “I’d love to chart your progress with this, so you can count on me to help you with your recovery whenever you want to do this exercise again. Oh, it would also make a great research paper! Let me get a pen.”
  1256. >the night continues on in a far calmer fashion as you’re allowed to recover from the ordeal
  1257. >Dancer does ask you a suite of questions about your condition, but Pearly answers many of them on your behalf so you can relax
  1258. >but as things begin to settle in for the night, and while there’s ample space for everyone to sleep in the spacious locale, Pearly opts to bring her mattress next to yours
  1259. >and for the first time in a few years, you sleep soundly to the sound of her breathing, and even in spite of the distance, the subtle sensation of her warmth
  1260. >…
  1261. >”Lumy! Wake up!”
  1262. >”Guh?!”
  1263. >you snap awake
  1264. >the world is monochrome and silent of even any ambient sound beside your breathing
  1265. >light is a moderate murk; not bright, but dim
  1266. >Pearly looks around in a panic as Twilight and Moon Dancer are nowhere to be found
  1267. >you’re back in The Drift
  1269. >”Not again!” Pearly says as she looks around at the colourless world
  1270. >”Again?” You stick close to her and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I thought it was just me, Ozzy and Misty who had the displeasure.”
  1271. >you suddenly remember the colour in the corridor with the stained glass windows
  1272. >you continue ”I don’t suppose you were in the ‘Passage of the Past’ corridor last time this happened, were you?”
  1273. >Pearly nods. “That’s right. I thought I’d blacked out again; I know I don’t suffer fainting spells any more, but the otherworldly nature of it made me wonder. I was talking with Princess Celestia at the time, then suddenly she vanished and everything went like… well, this!” She gestures to the room. “This is that fear world, right?”
  1274. >”We’re in The Drift, yes, realm of Ephobia, the spirit of fear,” you say. “That and her sister and father. We should be wary of her, although she doesn’t seem especially menacing. Also, with luck, Ozzy and Misty might be here with us. We should find them and then stick together. We sought you out last time, though only saw a patch of colour at the time so we were sure what it was, but stumbled on Ephobia before we could reach you.”
  1275. >”Okay. You know more than I do, so you take the lead.”
  1276. >you know where your companions *should* be; Celestia and Luna’s chambers through Horizon Hall
  1277. >once again, you have to reach the palace, go through the lower floors to the stairs, then head to the highest point of the palace… no pressure
  1278. >”Wait,” you say, “you could just teleport us there.”
  1279. >”Oh, right! Sorry, of course. I swear, so many unicorns forget their magic in a panic, same with pegasi forgetting they can fly out of perilous situations.”
  1280. >”Yes, Daring Do Dramatic Misadventure Syndrome.” You chuckle. “I remember that pegasi who developed a fear of water so drastic, he couldn’t fly over rivers, let alone flying in the rain!”
  1281. >Pearly giggles, says, “okay, brace yourself,” then her pale green horn appears, glows a brighter shade of the same colour, and you both disappear in a flash!
  1282. >only to appear several feet off the ground and in the direction of the hall, but still inside Dancer’s home
  1283. >you catch yourself from falling
  1284. >Pearly stumbles, her still recent top-heaviness making her fall forward and land on all fours, only for her pyjama pants to rip open on the ass with a loud *snap*, exposing her better fitted underwear as she squeaks in light panic, stands, then tries to pinch the seam together
  1286. >”Oh, butts and bandages,” she soft-cusses and gives up on modesty
  1287. >it takes you a few moments to tear your eyes off her immaculately rounded ass. ”Beside the… malfunction, are you okay?”
  1288. >”Still struggling a little in getting used to, you know, all this,” she says and gestures to her amazing body. “A lifetime of being petite can’t be undone by a couple of weeks of bigness… I’m still a little off balance. Forget about me, though, let’s get going. I’ll not let this get in my way. In fact, you know what?”
  1289. >your eyes go wide as she tears the pyjama pants clear off, leaving her in her cleavage exposed top and panties
  1290. >sweet Celestia, those legs!
  1291. >she’s always had toned legs, she does a *lot* of walking in her job, but also always kept them hidden, even before her transformation via Lustre through sturdy robes and simple dresses
  1292. >she’s a sensible sort (though perfectly passionate behind closed doors), and professional, after all
  1293. >but this isn’t even fair on your attention-span
  1294. >the smooth, subtle grooves of her thick thighs, and the way they thicken out up until the ass, it-
  1295. >”Right. I’m ready, Lumy.”
  1296. >”Y- yes!” You race ahead so she doesn’t see you blush
  1297. >even the low hum of Canterlot night life is missing, which makes the approach to the palace even more intimidating
  1298. >rather than brave the front again, you go to make use of a secret tunnel
  1299. >only it’s held fast, despite the presence of you equerry pin
  1300. >you say, ”looks like it’s not just your teleportation that’s been disabled.”
  1301. >Pearly sighs. “It’s not our world, so I guess the normal rules don’t apply. I suppose we have no choice but hit the front gate.”
  1302. >”Actually,” you say and knock on the wall, “your teleportation still moved us a short distance. Maybe we could press against the door and just blink through?”
  1303. >”Oh. Good idea!”
  1304. >you press against the wall and Pearly engages her magic
  1305. >and with a light green flash, you’re now inside the palace grounds
  1306. >but despite Pearly’s weakened teleportation magic, it still makes your horn crackle, but you use your zen calmness to deal with that once you see you’re safe
  1308. >in the gardens now, you’re not under any threat, but as you look at the front of the palace, you see several of those shadow beasts; roaming, dripping, oily humanoid figures that occasionally open their chest-mouths and look around with their one glowing red eye
  1309. >”More of these things,” you sigh. “They’re not insurmountable, but don’t get close if you can avoid it; Ozzy could crush them with her bare hands, but whatever they’re made of let her get transformed into one by Ephobia’s magic.”
  1310. >”Good to know… okay, what’s the plan?”
  1311. >the front door is clear, open and obvious, if a guaranteed fight though easy to manoeuvre
  1312. >you’re aware of another entrance to the palace proper through the kitchen, which is a series of confined, cluttered rooms
  1313. >there *is* a secret entrance, but odds are they won’t work either, and you already know there’s a risk in travelling this way through Pearly’s short range teleportation; if you’re attacked, won’t have time to calm yourself, but at the same time, it’s the shortest route to the upper floors
  1315. >you head for a small alcove, well hidden in the gardens alongside a whole wall of decorative cubbies, with identical features
  1316. >and as you get near, the signs of magic on the door fail to appear, as expected
  1317. >”Same for this one, Pearly.”
  1318. >you both press against the concealed door. ”Right. You know, I swear I once said I wouldn’t enable your ‘have-a-go heroics.’”
  1319. >”Is this really the time to re-analyse my failings? We’ve been through this; my desire to intervene stems from feeling of inadequacy due to my former magical numbness. I get it.”
  1320. >”Tsk, sorry… I’m just nervous, and-”
  1321. >”I know, you get chatty when you’re nervous.”
  1322. >Pearly’s horn glows and you blink through
  1323. >the ache stuns you for a moment, and you glimpse around your surroundings
  1324. >you’re in a concealed section of a small, guest meeting room, hidden behind some drapes
  1325. >thankfully, there don’t seem to be any shadow beasts, so you zen to a calm state, and press on
  1326. >the secret passages interlink; leaving one puts you close to another to expedite getting to important locations if the place is under attack
  1327. >Copper Shield was *very* specific about showing you every single one, even skipping small details about the main palace layout since, you internally quote, ‘you can just ask someone where to go and use being wet behind the ears as an excuse’
  1328. >the next step is to reach the second floor, which involves a spiral staircase and leads out into an inconspicuously unused guest room
  1329. >so you make a short journey to the other side of the room, press against the wall, and teleport through
  1330. >you won’t deny these short blinks are beginning to build a lingering agitation
  1331. >either that or it’s just a rising tension
  1332. >either way, the top of this single-file spiral stair ends with a wall that’s just as narrow
  1333. >”Uh… big spoon or little spoon?” you ask
  1334. >”I guess we’ll have to get used to that dynamic, huh?”
  1335. >you press against the wall, and Pearly pushes herself against your back
  1336. >”Does this mean we’re officially back together?”
  1337. >”Can we talk about this later? When we’re not in danger, I’m not half-naked and when my boobs are f pressed against you back?”
  1338. >”Right. Sorry.”
  1340. >you blink through the door and grunt in pain as the magic flares your horn up
  1341. >you’re now in the unused bedroom, which once again allows you to re-centre yourself
  1342. >sadly, the only way forward is into the corridor
  1343. >outside, there’s a problem
  1344. >there’s no avoiding the shadow beasts out there as they lurk in the hallway
  1345. >and you have two directions; the way to the next secret passage, straight to Horizon Hall, has a large congestion of the things
  1346. >the long way seems less populated, but will force you up through the central stairway
  1348. >it’s time to put your newfound powers to the test
  1349. >you dip back inside the room and say, “I’m going to lure them all in here, then when they’re concentrated in the doorway, we blast them. If we get trapped, you can warp us back through the secret door.”
  1350. >”Okay… I’m not usually fond of violence,” Pearly says and gulps, “but they’re dangerous, mindless creatures, right? We can do this…you blast first, just in case my conjuring flares up your sensitivity.”
  1351. >you let her get in place, open the door and run out
  1352. >”Hey, I haven’t seen this much of a waste of inky blackness since Daring Do and the Quest for the Broccoli Casserole! Come and get me!”
  1353. >you don’t know if you hurt their feelings or they’re just violent, but they chase you alright
  1354. >you get into place, raise your hand, and let your magic boil over
  1355. >it fills you, makes you feel tingly and you can’t help but grin as Celestia’s lesson allows you to concentrate it into a hall, ready to fire
  1356. >and in the shadow beasts pour through
  1358. >all your frustrations concerning your condition are made manifest
  1359. >you’re here, far from your cosy cottage, possibly still split from your former lover (though that distinction dwindles by the minute), facing down a supernatural threat in a world not even your own as these monsters merge into an oily mess in the doorway
  1360. >all because of your stupid decision
  1361. >and you’re through being subject to this fate
  1362. >smoothly, confidently, you build enough power to best even a well trained unicorn and leave them in the dust
  1363. >and without batting an eye, you unleash it in cone of white light
  1364. >the shadow beasts melt and burn away to your now tamed but blistering light
  1365. >although you do feel a little guilty as the door is obliterated and you blast the wall opposite into chunks
  1366. >you can’t help but feel pride
  1367. >and a glance to your life-long companion gives you the impression you’re not the only one as Peary stares, jaw slack, hands ready to cast but askew as she blinks at your proportional carnage
  1368. >”If you’d told me, a few weeks ago,” she says, shakily, “you’d be blasting darkness monsters and retaining your control so absolutely, I would have assigned a psychiatric evaluation.”
  1369. >you smirk, and say, ”but?”
  1370. >”But two things. First, I knew Princess Celestia was a good teacher, but I think that does her too little credit. But most of all, you’re *really* going at this recovery aspect with vigour, aren’t you?”
  1371. >”I’m certainly not going to stop until we can be together again, that’s for sure.”
  1372. >a fierce snarl, a figure wreathed in black, a pounce
  1373. >and a beam of green light that blasts a lurking shadow beast smoothly and cleanly
  1374. >and your horn crackles in pain enough that you hiss
  1376. >”I’m not saying we can go straight back to how we were,” Pearly says as she lowers her hand and her horn vanishes. “That would still be too risky considering how much magic I have to use. But… if you wanted to spend our downtime together…”
  1377. Your relationship with Pearly has been galvanised to (+7)
  1378. Only an act of true betrayal would reduce it
  1379. >she continues, ”I’d love that. And if you keep improving like this, I doubt it will be too long before… you know…” she trails off with a blush and a smile
  1380. >”I feel obligated to say that Celestia wanted to have a… uh, shared session together?”
  1381. >her blush intensifies. “I don’t normally swing that way, as I’ll admit, I still don’t know what came over me with Lustre besides it obviously being her particular style of powers, but if it’s as educational as you’re demonstrating… maybe after a few drinks?”
  1382. >”Sounds good. Now, let’s get to Horizon Hall.”
  1383. >you have free reign of the corridor, and even the stairway seems clear, at least going up to your destination
  1384. >as you reach the stairs though, there’s a noticeable black streak coming from Horizon Hall that appears to be heading down, judging from how it becomes thinner on the way down
  1385. >if your theory holds true, it could be Ozzy, Misty, both or possibly even Ephobia, or maybe even something new
  1387. >”I don’t know who it is,” you say and nod to to trail, “but I’m inclined to think Ozzy’s on the prowl again. Maybe Misty’s with her, but I’m curious what’s going on here.”
  1388. >Pearly frowns. ”Let’s just hope, if it *is* Ozzy, she hasn’t ended up coated in that inky stuff again… while she didn’t seem to suffer any long term problems, she was *filthy*. It took my team hours to clean it all off of her. I dread to think how unsanitary those beasts are.”
  1389. >you follow the trail down, which thins out more and more, eventually clearing down to nothing
  1390. >but not before the trail leads to another of the secret passages
  1391. >this one makes you worry
  1392. >”Where does this one lead?” Pearly asks
  1393. >”Celestia’s vault.”
  1394. >”Like jewels, gems and such?”
  1395. >”Probably, but while we didn’t exactly get to go inside, I bet it’s not just valuables locked within.”
  1396. >”At least that must mean it was Ozzy or Misty, right? Whoever it is was using the secret passages.”
  1397. >”Sure, but how did they get through? We’ve been teleporting.”
  1398. >you blink through, zen yourself and follow the low-ceilinged walkway that runs below the stained glass hallway, known as the Passage of the Past
  1399. >the exit door is broken and covered in shadow beast goo
  1400. >”Oh, that can’t be good.”
  1401. >outside, you see Ozzy, smothered in the stuff, sitting against the wall and unconscious
  1402. >Pearly immediately approaches and assesses her, professional as always
  1403. >you’re distracted by the vault door
  1404. >which has been pried open, and with more streaks, which lead between the door and Ozzy’s catatonic form
  1405. >Pearly says, “brace yourself, I’m going to bring her around.” She then casts her healing magic
  1406. >the brawler coughs and throws up more goop as she comes around. “Not again…”
  1407. >”Does anything hurt?” Pearly says and moves a glowing finger in front of Ozzy’s vision. “Are you lucid?”
  1408. >”I believe I am alright, though filled with shame.” She gags and spits another mouthful of hoop. “And this foul substance. I swear, I shall break Ephobia’s arms for this!”
  1409. >you ask, ”what happened?”
  1411. >Ozzy slowly gets to her feet, with Pearly’s support, and says, “I was sparring with Lady Luna one moment, then taken by this world again in the next. Before I could even leave Luna’s practice hall, I was set upon by those beasts. After the mistake I made last time, I tried to fight from afar, using a practice sword, but I was overwhelmed… I came too, aware and in control. I then felt compelled to go the reach the vault, and tried to evade notice by forcing the secret passage to it open, but after that, I cannot recall. What happened”
  1412. >Pearly sighs. “I’m not one to promote any violent means, but we need to teach you some combat magic, Ozzy. Getting your hands dirty with these things is clearly a problem in many ways.”
  1413. >”Have you seen Misty?” you ask
  1414. >Ozzy shakes her head. “I do not know. I have not seen her since you last did, teleported away by Princess Celestia for their dalliance.”
  1415. >you look at the vault, and peak inside
  1416. >within, an assortment of plinths, pedestals, easel and wall mounted paintings and objects of a wide range of value, some seeming crude and poorly made, though no doubt a great deal of significance
  1417. >the room is otherwise empty
  1418. >”Nothing seems to be missing…”
  1419. >”Cause Celestia’s stuff ain’t what she’s after.”
  1420. >a voice from above! You panic and bring your magic to mind, as well as Pearly and Ozzy bracing themselves
  1421. >only for a bed-sheet clad, and still enlarged, Misty to drop down from an open window by the ceiling, which looks far too small for her to fit through, landing softly with a flap of her wings
  1422. >”Glad you’re alright,” you say. “So what is Ephobia after?”
  1423. >”This.”
  1424. >Misty tosses a fist-sized stone to Ozzy, who catches, looks at and balks at it, then glowers at Misty
  1425. >”How long have you had this!?”
  1426. >Misty grins and says, ”like… since yesterday night when you went to practice with Luna? I was curious!”
  1428. >Pearly asks, “what *is* it exactly?”
  1429. >Ozzy answers, ”The Cloven Crescent. An object said to have emerged with Lady Luna when she was blighted to turn into Nightmare Moon, and left behind when she was banished. The order of the Cloven Hoof used it and its corruptive qualities as part of a medicine we used to strengthen order members. We can delve into our inner darkness in and come away unscathed, but stronger.”
  1430. >”This sounds like Mithridatism,” Pearly says with a sigh. “As in to gain an immunity by taking increasing doses of poison. It may work against some toxins, but judging by you twice becoming overwhelmed by this darkness, Ozzy, I don’t think it will help us here.”
  1431. >you ponder for a ponder for a moment. “I’m not sure. Ozzy seems to bounce back well enough. We haven’t seen someone else come to harm from this stuff yet, so we don’t know what may happen if any of the rest of us get smothered.”
  1432. >”So if it’s something tied to Luna,” you say, “have you shown it to her?”
  1433. >Ozzy awkwardly rubs her arm. “I had the intent to, but I have been worried about broaching the subject. I cannot leave it be or discard it, for it is a dangerous object in the wrong hands, but I worry it may represent bad memories for Lady Luna.”
  1434. >”We can worry about hurt feelings later,” Misty says. “While Ephobia was searching, something seemed to grab her attention. I’m not sure who or what. All I know is she started talking to someone else, like they were invisible and inaudible.”
  1435. >Ozzy folds her arms. ”Did they say anything of note?”
  1436. >”Ephobia said,” she switches to a fair impression of the spirit of fear, “fine! I’ll go to the throne room, already! It’s not gonna be there! But it’s not gonna be in Luna’s panty drawer, either!”
  1437. >”So, we have Ephobia likely in the throne room,” you muse, “and* someone likely in Horizon Hall. We need a plan.”
  1439. >better the threat you know and can see, and splitting up just seems like a bad idea if shadow-beast gunk smothering is on the cards
  1440. >you stick together and head down to the throne room
  1441. >most of the way is clear, and thanks to Ozzy’s brawn, you soon find you can traverse the secret doors through force
  1442. >you end up at one that leads to the throne room corridor, just to play it safe since Ozzy’s method of opening isn’t the quietest, and see that the grand hall’s door is open
  1443. >the throne room has a few beasts aimlessly poking about the sides of the hall, no doubt searching for the Cloven Crescent
  1444. >and there’s Ephobia, lounging on Celestia’s throne
  1445. >or… trying to
  1446. >she’s only slight, not dissimilar to Misty’s natural shape, so the grand chair dwarfs her
  1447. >”Ugh, this thing’s *so* uncomfortable. No wonder Celestia’s magically grown herself such a gigantic ass! Where’s the cushions!?”
  1448. >one of the shadow beasts slowly turns and shrugs
  1449. >”Give me a mattress and I could use this thing as a bed.”
  1450. >the same shadow beast glances at her
  1451. >she snarks, ”no, that doesn’t mean I want to sleep on Celestia’s ass. I’d get lost in the crevice.”
  1452. >Pearly snickers and whispers, “this girl’s going to end up sleeping on the moon if she keeps this up.”
  1453. >you whisper, “Misty, she wasn’t talking to a shadow beast when you saw her, was she?”
  1454. >Misty shakes her head, but also grins. “I’m pretty sure she’s just talking to herself here. What she did in the Passage of the Past was directly answering to someone. So, how are we gonna do this? Try to sneak in? Launch an assault?”
  1456. >”You seem to have a knack for this ‘talking them over’ thing,” you whisper to Misty. “Go and chat with her. Twilight wanted us to try and befriend her, after all.”
  1457. >”You’re kidding, right? I’ve got *one* day’s worth of court experience!”
  1458. >”And a pile of street smarts! Go on, we’ve got your back!”
  1459. >Misty pouts, sighs and steps out into the throne room like she owns the place
  1460. >she calls out, ”maybe we could get you a booster seat? It’s not a bad look though. You *almost* look impressive.”
  1461. >the shadow beasts gather round as Ephobia leaps off the throne and raises her hands, dark magic swirling around them, then squints at Misty
  1462. >”Wait… are you…? You’re the girl that cheap shotted me!”
  1463. >”Kicked your ass, more like!”
  1464. >”Oh, wait, no, that one was tiny. *Really* small. A mere gnat compared to my awe inspiring presence! You’ve got a far fatter ass.”
  1465. >Misty doesn’t flinch. ”I’m only in awe of what a glass forehead you’ve got. Do spirits of fear sleep? I guess you do regardless, because if your head hits *anything*, I bet you’re out like a light.”
  1466. >”I’d like to see you try that sort of trick again! I’ll crush you!”
  1467. >”Why waste the effort? I’ll tell you what, I’ll go stand outside and wait for a stray drop of rain or a loose leaf to drill you into the ground. I guess it’s true what they say; there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, ‘cause you’re probably afraid of your own shadow.”
  1468. >Pearly thumbs her chin. “Misty’s… rather catty, isn’t she?”
  1469. >”Hold on,” Ozzy asks, “was that not my nickname?”
  1470. >”I thought that was kitten,” Pearly responds
  1471. >you clarify, “it is, and Misty’s a ferret. I’m apparently a rabbit.”
  1472. >”oh, okay,” Ozzy says and nods. “I am simply getting confused with these nicknames.”
  1473. >and you’re just in awe of how this cat fight seems to be working
  1474. >the shadow beasts just seem to glance at each other, as confused as you are as the pair just… clash, verbally
  1475. >but you notice Misty swing her vitriol towards more local details
  1476. >she snaps, ”well, what kind of moron searches for hidden valuables in the throne room of all places!?”
  1477. >”That’s what I told her! Sis is *so* out of touch! She still thinks your trains are pulled by horses! But, *no*, thanks to you, I have to play second string to that bossy, stuck up daddy’s girl! The title’s supposed to be mine, damn it!”
  1478. >that must mean she’s working with Jennifear… and if Twilight and her friends defeated her, it must not have stuck
  1479. >Misty calms down considerably, and asks, “dad issues, huh?”
  1480. >Ephobia pouts and folds her arms. “None of your business!”
  1481. >”Aw, quit being a stubborn bitch. I’m just saying, I can relate.”
  1483. >”The only relation here,” a new female voice says, right in your ear, “is my sister, and my disappointment in her talking to the enemy.”
  1484. >you flinch
  1485. >nothing appears which could have said that
  1486. >except you feel a chill up your spine
  1487. >looking behind you, strands of the inky sludge sprout like strands of web up the corridor, covering the way out of the corridor
  1488. >and they get closer and closer, so quickly you have no choice but to move into the throne room
  1489. >the large double doors slam shut behind you, and begin seeping the ink, which begins popping on the floor
  1490. >”Oh, crud,” Ephobia grumbles. “Screw you, sis! I can talk to whoever I damn well want! I’m in charge! *I’m* the spirit of fear! You had your chance!”
  1491. >the puddle begins to take humanoid shape
  1492. >Pearly blasts it without a word, vaporising the mass
  1493. >Jennifear giggles
  1494. >”How foolish. You can’t destroy that which you harbour within yourself, my dear!”
  1495. >”Where are you!?” Ozzy gets into a fighting stance as you move back to back with one another. “Show yourself, cowardly wretch!”
  1496. >one of the shadow beasts writhes and reforms into a tall, unmistakably beautiful woman with black, smoke-like hair, and the same black and white eyes as her sister
  1497. >and the same razor sharp teeth as she smiles
  1498. >a smile that grows wider and wider until it begins to freak you out
  1499. >all finished by a tilt of the head that stretches just a little too far for comfort
  1500. >she possesses an air like that of a waiting predator, merely tolerating your presence until the perfect moment to strike
  1501. >”So, *you’re* the ones with Luna’s fear? Then I have a simple exchange.”
  1502. >she holds out her hand, sharp claw-like nails on fingers that wriggle and extend
  1503. >”Hand me the stone, and we’ll leave you to your ignorant, safe little lives!”
  1505. >you first think to stall for time
  1506. >but all the time in world isn’t going to help here
  1507. >you’re trapped in with these two spirits *with* the object they’re after
  1508. >you need to act, but you also need to inform your team of the… destructive consequences
  1509. >it’s time to be crafty
  1510. >”So, Jennifear, right?”
  1511. >the older spirit of fear’s unnaturally wide smile flinches somehow wider
  1512. >”Correct. And the fact you’re stalling rather than giving me what I want makes it clear to me that people need to learn a healthy dose of fear once more. How regretful that my legacy has been forgotten so soon. Now…”
  1513. >she nods to her extended, freakishly spindly hand
  1514. >”the stone. Before I get *violent*!”
  1515. >the word is punctuated by her eyes splitting and multiplying multiple times and glowing red
  1516. >not to mention weeping blood, and black Ichor dribbling from her mouth as several, spider like limbs sprouting from her back
  1517. >okay!
  1518. >that wasn’t disturbing!
  1519. >keep it together and start acting
  1520. >in mutltiple senses of the word
  1521. >”No doubt this is part of some grander scheme…”
  1522. >you look at Pearly and catch her gaze
  1523. >”as you just blink into being, retrieve that which is precious to you, and get out of harms way…”
  1524. >Pearly follows your gaze as you then look at Misty
  1525. >”…all the while everyone panics, like the sky’s falling.”
  1526. >Misty flicks her eyes upward, looks slightly panicked, and gulps as you slowly back into Ozzy
  1527. >”What drivel is this?” Jennifear turns back to her *mostly* less freaky form. “And where do you think you’re going? There is no escape.”
  1528. >you smirk. ”Just giving you space.”
  1529. >”For what?”
  1530. >”This.”
  1531. >the blast at the chandelier linkage just fine, that’s not a problem
  1532. >but as Pearly performs several short range teleports in to retrieve Misty, and to the other side of the hall as the great crystal and glass structure falls, your horn crackles from the rapid burst of magic
  1533. >you push Ozzy back close enough to the wall that you should be able to keep both of yourselves protected
  1534. >*if* you’re able to keep your focus
  1536. >you try to watch through your barrier as time seems to slow to a crawl
  1537. >the sheer enormity of the chandelier already makes you panic, even though you *know* you’re out of its immediate vicinity
  1538. >but the whole event makes you screw your eyes closed just as Pearly reaches Misty, unable to watch a second longer and hope they both get clear
  1539. >the cacophony of shattering glass and crystal fills your ears
  1540. >you feel arms wrap around you
  1541. >strong ones; Ozzy presses herself against your back
  1542. >the ceaseless sound of tinkling, fragile shards deafens you
  1543. >you retreat inside yourself; the panic, the fear, the doubts
  1544. >the noise just regresses back to Ondrarion and all he’s done to you
  1545. >all of these distractions cause your barrier to fail as your mind wanders
  1546. >then comes the sharp sting as two shards dig into your leg; one in the thigh, one in the shin, and you stumble, but are held upright
  1547. >you open your eyes and see Ozzy’s arms, still wrapped over your body, now with several scratches, but they only look superficial
  1548. >she’s saved your life, or at least some grievous wounds
  1549. >you can’t hear anything, you’re still hearing the rest of the shards finish land and settle, not to mention the sensory overload from the impact overall, but you look across the room
  1550. >Misty is carrying Pearly skyward in one arm, in a secure, across-the-chest grip
  1551. >also, curiously, Ephobia in the other
  1552. >albeit by the scruff of her fancy, villainous outfit
  1553. >they look unharmed, though Ephobia’s struggling to get free
  1554. >then you gasp
  1555. >Jennifear stands, covered in deep cuts, bleeding black ichor
  1556. >and one of her arms is missing
  1557. >she just looks at you and laughs
  1558. >her body fades back to black slime, which flops and spreads across the carnage in the throne room
  1559. >one of the other beasts, unfazed by the glass, gushes up like a geyser
  1560. >it sticks to the ceiling, and launches at you
  1561. >your horn crackles, your thoughts are a mess and you struggle to manifest even your most basic magic
  1562. >then you panic as the mass shifts shape
  1563. >and reforms into Jennifear
  1564. >she smiles a manic, wicked smile
  1565. >and her arm forms into a long, vicious spike as she dives straight for you
  1567. >she’s struck!
  1568. >blasted in the back by green magic
  1569. >she reels and spins, knocked off course and slams into the wall
  1570. >Ozzy swiftly, though gently, sits you down as Jennifear gets to her feet and snarls at Pearly
  1571. >Ozzy then pounces on Jennifear before the spirit has a chance to try anything, first lifting and hurling the fear spirit into the wall again
  1572. >then, while her prey is still dazed, Ozzy proceeds to grapple her
  1573. >a tangle of locked limbs, Ozzy’s furious, glowing eyes
  1574. >as she twists the elder fear spirit up like a gruesome pretzel
  1575. >you recover your hearing at the worst possible time as you hear several meaty, bony pops and crunches
  1576. >Jennifear screams in pain, but is cut short as she’s powerbombed into the glass-covered floor by Ozzy, who roars in wild rage
  1577. >the impact is so severe the marble floor cracks
  1578. >Jennifear fades into black smoke
  1579. >Ephobia panics, pulls free and also vanishes before hitting the ground
  1580. >and as before, the world recovers colour as she closes The Drift behind her, ejecting you back into the waking world
  1581. >Pearly and Misty descend, and the doctor gasps, the says, ”sweet merciful Celestia, is everyone alright!?”
  1582. >”Yes, sweet merciful me,” Celestia says, teleporting in, arms folded, naked and what could only be charitably described as perturbed. “Would someone please explain what just happened to my throne room?”
  1583. >the debriefing takes place in the infirmary as wounds are dressed, clothes are summoned and the situation is explained
  1584. >Celestia nods as she considers what transpired, now clad in a simple robe
  1585. >you wince as Pearly finishes cleaning the two deep cuts in your leg
  1586. >she then stitches and dresses them, then applies her healing magic as long as you can bear it; you’ll be walking with a light limp for a day or two
  1587. >as Pearly cleans and dresses Ozzy’s grazes, Celestia taps her chin
  1588. >”We need a true countermeasure against ‘The Drift’. We also need to find a way to safeguard the cloven crescent. Oh, and Lumen? You’re on cleaning duty for Philomena’s enclosure for a week. I really liked that chandelier…”
  1589. >”Hey, it’s all I could think of to stop her from getting the crescent! We were trapped!”
  1590. >she raises an eyebrow at you and smirks. “And I *really* liked that chandelier.”
  1591. >”Just take the loss, Lumen,” Misty says with a chuckle
  1593. >Ozzy pounds her fist into her palm (to Pearly’s annoyance as she’s still treating her grazes) and says, “at least we know these spirits are tangible when caught unawares! I am gladdened to finally be of use against these threats.”
  1594. >”Speaking of which,” you say to Misty, “I noticed you saved Ephobia.”
  1595. >the still enlarged airblood rubs her neck and looks away. “Yeah, I dunno either. I just… didn’t want to hurt her, y’know? Badly, I mean. I’ll gladly slap her about if that’s what’s needed, but-“
  1596. >she trembles, then suddenly shrinks back to her normal, slim self
  1597. >”I dare say you shall not be doing any slapping in your state,” Ozzy says with a grin. “Though if you have some rapport with the fear spirit, and wish me to spare her pain, then state your intent now, Mistral.”
  1598. >”I’m just saying that she doesn’t seem *that* bad, that’s all.”
  1599. >Celestia sighs. “I believe this situation is just going to go around in circles of the spirits of fear invading and those brought into The Drift defending us until we find a permanent solution. And that solution may well be this peculiar, budding bond between Misty and Ephobia.”
  1600. >you ask, “what about simply destroying the stone?”
  1601. >Celestia shakes her head. “It appears to be a source of the same evil that gave form to my sisters corruption as Nightmare Moon. It does indeed amplify those who can tap into the power within it, no doubt what Jennifear wants it for, and members of the Cloven Hoof learned to harness this power without giving in to the darkness within. I worry that destroying it will unleash this darkness, which will do either of two things; corrupt the nearest person the evil can find, or considering how they have been aware is here, it’s possible the spirits of fear will be able to draw it into their realm. We need to keep it contained, and protected.”
  1602. >Ozzy ponders for a moment. “Or used. I could prepare the traditional medicine from it. It can grant a temporary boost to the well-being of the consumer. Any edge could prove invaluable.”
  1604. >Lustre walks in
  1605. >”I’ve got news from Luna; she’s begun to sense ruptures in the nightmares of Equestria’s citizens that seem to lead to The Drift.”
  1606. >you have a long think. “That seems foolish of them. Isn’t that risky for the spirits of fear? Luna has control over dreams, and it’s a power she took from them. They’re essentially opening themselves to Luna’s powers.”
  1607. >Celestia gasps. ”I think I know what’s happening. Twilight and her friends defeated Jennifear and were able to break her horn, which prevented her from opening The Drift, as well as likely stopping a great many of her powers within it, so she’s reliant on using those shadow beasts to give her their morphic abilities and physical form. Ephobia seems to have taken up the mantle as the true spirit of fear, but she’s young and inexperienced. I believe Jennifear is using her sister to siege the palace to retrieve the stone to restore her powers, or at least strengthen herself. But due to Ephobia’s lack of experience, she’s being sloppy when opening The Drift and making the veil between that and the dreaming world thin. I can’t figure out is why it only draws you four in, but this could allow you to invade The Drift, rather than simply wait for another attack.”
  1608. >Pearly sighs. “Well, I can’t say I’m thrilled at being in such a position, but I suppose we should plan accordingly. Sounds to me as if we either prepare and train until we’re drawn in again or we spend a night entering The Drift. Either way, I’ve had enough excitement for one night and need sleep.”
  1610. >you test out walking on your injured leg, and it’s not too bad, but you’d best not do much running for a while
  1611. >”So, if I’m part of this Drift group,” Pearly asks, “what does that mean about my chief physician title? I’m supposed to do no harm.”
  1612. >”True,” you add, “does that make her an equerry?”
  1613. >Celestia shakes her head. “Chief physician already holds equal power to any equerry. It may not confer control of the rank and file soldiers, but she may command any of us confined to quarters or the infirmary, and the order would pass muster with the palace staff. If she believes me, or Luna or anyone is medically unfit for any reason, we would need to obey her orders. As for her part of the team heading into The Drift, that’s sadly just the facts; you’re stronger as a team of four than three, and until we know how you’re drawn into their world, I’d sooner you work together, at least until Ephobia is dealt with.”
  1614. >Celestia gives Misty a look over. ”Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, I believe you were about to tease me and rock my world?”
  1615. >Misty smirks nervously, then looks at Lustre. “Little help? Another blessing?”
  1616. >Celestia raises a hand to Lustre. ”As fun as it was, I don’t feel like I was getting the *real* Misty.”
  1617. >”Oh, come on!” Misty says, exasperated. “You’re like ten times my size! I’m nowhere near strong enough as I am now!”
  1618. >Lustre taps her cheek. “You know what? I agree with Celestia on this one. Good luck, Misty.”
  1619. >”Son of a bit-“
  1620. >Misty is teleported away, then Celestia a second after
  1621. >Lustre shrugs. “Every time I think Misty’s ready for a full blessing, she goes and says something foolish like that.”
  1622. >the lust princess looks at you, then Pearly, then smiles
  1623. >”Well, I see you two have patched things up. Any tension you had between you is all but disappeared! I’m so glad to see it.”
  1624. >Pearly crosses her arms. “Not entirely sure what you’re getting at, but thanks?”
  1625. >”Don’t by coy,” Lustre says, “when we first met back in Sunride, Pearly was so closed up and restrained. And *you* Lumen… you were far more nervous and restrained.”
  1627. >you clear your throat. “Princess Lustre, when we first met, you pinned me to the wall and put your hand down my pants. Of course I was nervous!”
  1628. >Pearly gives Lustre a catty glare
  1629. >Lustre’s hair turns mostly pink and, for the first time since you’ve known her, looks sheepish
  1630. >she says, in a hushed, whispery tone, ”that *was* too far. I’m sorry. I was trying to take a break from my usual antics. Sometimes I crave acting like my old self, the old Fluttershy, but we’re inseparable. I don’t regret unleashing this aspect, but everyone’s opinions of me have changed, and I can’t help but feel some conflict inside.”
  1631. >Pearly folds her arms. “Look, I appreciate what you did to me. Thanks to your blessing, I can consistently work to my fullest for several days before I even start feeling any fatigue. Before, I used to be at risk of passing out after one full day because of my frailty. You’re just a bit much sometimes, that’s all.”
  1632. >”And besides,” you add, “you seem to be a good partner for Luna. There were all sorts of rumours about her loneliness and generally being standoffish. You seem to bring her out of that. I get you’re following your aspect as the spirit of lust, but it’s obvious to me that you’re more than that.”
  1633. >Lustre’s hair glows back to red and she smiles. “That’s sweet of you.”
  1634. >”While we’re on the topic of Luna, is there any chance we could ask her about this break through in the dream world?”
  1635. >”Of course! Follow me.”
  1636. >Pearly stands and stretches. ”I know I said I was going to get some sleep, but I think I’ll tag along.”
  1637. >”Worried about my leg?” you ask
  1638. >she pauses for a split second before shrugging. “Sure. Right.”
  1640. >you follow Lustre through Luna’s section of Horizon Hall
  1641. >lavender lines the wall-sconces, low lighting from gently flickering candles on decorative brackets give just enough light to see, incense burns and fills your nostrils with a smoky, lightly sweet and spicy fragrance
  1642. >you feel like you’re entering a dream already
  1643. >you enter Luna’s room, and the princess is sitting, cross-legged but floating, her eyes closed, but occasionally flicking open for split seconds, aglow much like Ozzy’s do
  1644. >Lustre smirks, walks behind Luna and gently squeezes her shoulder
  1645. >in a flash of motion, though with her eyes still closed, Luna pulls Lustre over and into her lap, and says, “hahaa! Your ambush has been foiled! Prepare for punishment!”
  1646. >Lustre giggles as her gown is pulled up, exposing the biggest, most exquisite ass you’ve ever seen, and Luna playfully slaps it with a resounding echo
  1647. >Lustre squeals and yelps, ”company!”
  1648. >”Oh? You won’t get away that-“
  1649. >she finally opens her eyes, then turns bright red, standing and straightening both her own and Lustre’s upturned clothes
  1650. >”M- my apologies! I was becoming accustomed to receiving no visitors besides my beloved Lustre and the young Osmiana… with my sister doting on you, and being an academically inclined pair, I’d assumed an old fashioned lady of war like myself wasn’t the most attractive prospect for your company…”
  1651. >Pearly looks a little ashamed. “It’s nothing like that, Princess Luna. I’m sorry if that’s how it seems. My duties force me to be an early riser.”
  1652. >you add, ”and I’ve been driven to learn to control my untamed magic. It wasn’t intentional avoidance, but the sooner I get to grips with it, the safer everyone will be.”
  1653. >”Luna, dear, Lumen was curious about the openings in dreams leading to The Drift.”
  1654. >”Ah, of course! T’is a tactical advantage like none other! Come, sit.”
  1655. >she telekinetically moves two cushions over near her central sitting space
  1656. >Pearly helps you down, before sitting herself
  1657. >Luna gets back into her meditative state, but says, ”I have noticed, during my usual duties, that the fringes of Equestria’s dreamers mindspaces have grown frayed. It causes them no harm, as the spirits of fear hold no dominion over the dreamers own powers, but theoretically one aware of their presence could force their way in. The only concern is that one would do so at their own risk, as only the dreamer could enter it.”
  1659. >”Does that mean we could only enter alone?”
  1660. >”Ordinarily, yes, but I have once used a spell to draw Twilight and her friends into a shared dream with the whole of Ponyville. T’is taxing, but should you choose to infiltrate The Drift, I can bring the four of you into their realm. It would prevent Ephobia or Jennifear from having the advantage of, in essence, ambushing you at an inopportune time.”
  1661. >”It would be nice to actually dressed properly next time. Having my boobs out and my panties wedged up my butt was hardly going to put the fear into fear itself,” Pearly huffs
  1662. >you smirk and say, ”I can think of worse visions than seeing you heroically fighting Equestria’s threats in skimpy pyjamas. It was a good look for you.”
  1663. >Pearly playfully slaps your arm with a light giggle, and Lustre smiles at your display of obvious affectionate teasing
  1664. >Luna isn’t fazed and just continues, “I would ordinarily strike whilst the iron is hot, and propose an attack now, while the spirits of fear are on the back foot, but your fatigue would carry over, as well as your wounds. You may not feel them in the dreaming world, but The Drift is subject to the waking world’s foibles. We know not when they will attack again, and you should confer with your fellow equerries about how best to prepare, so simply let me know at dinner on the day you wish to attempt an invasion, and I shall make the necessary steps that night.”
  1665. >the room shakes, startling you all, and you swear you saw the sun peak over the horizon for a moment before it sinks again
  1666. >Luna sighs and rolls her eyes, and Lustre just grins as she says, “and that’s Celestia having her fun. I don’t know if you were aware or… trapped, elsewhere, Lumen, but when you had your private session with Celestia you drove the sun up for a good few seconds.”
  1667. >Pearly pouts. “I’m beginning to think I’m in a competition with goddesses for *my* boyfriend here… this hardly seems fair.”
  1668. >”I won’t interfere! I swear it,” Lustre says, raising her arms in defeat, before pausing and grinning. “But I will say… I’m inspired by your recovered relationship and Pearly’s threatened state amongst the princesses. Say, Lumen, what if I were to impart on you a special type of blessing? One of knowledge. A spell… it’s only something you can use on others, and is usually unique to my domain of powers, but as a wild magic user, I think you could make use of it. If you promise not to ask any questions, I’ll give it to you for free?”
  1670. >Lustre does seem to have your best interests at heart
  1671. >and your research into Lustre tells you her powers are almost exclusively beneficial to the recipients
  1672. >it’s quite a fascinating subject; of all the spirits and princesses (a fair comparison now, since she now is forced to dwell in a mortal form, so she’s practically an alicorn), Lustre is one of the weakest entities of her type
  1673. >but tell that to anyone seeking to depose her if she’s had a chance to settle in and bless her subjects
  1674. >super strong giants who thrive off their impulses and Lustre’s ability to control them
  1675. >in any case, being able to empower untold numbers of allies can be better than one’s own natural strength
  1676. >and a free spell, presumably one that seems tied to Pearly’s concerns of being outclassed in terms of physique? Sure
  1677. >which, you note, is preposterous; Pearly has always been perfect the way she is… mostly
  1678. >feelings and logic muddy the waters in terms of physically perfect, since she freely admits her old frailty her biggest flaw, and now she’s both fitter and stronger than average
  1679. >but petite Pearly was adorable, current Pearly is a ravishing beauty, so it’s a side-grade
  1680. >sure, she’s not ten feet tall with tits that can block out the sun, but that’s just your present company; in the normal populace, your Pearly deserves to be easily one of the curviest women around
  1681. >”I welcome your gift, Princess Lustre, thank you.”
  1682. >Lustre smiles, and telekinetically pulls you to her
  1683. >as you approach, you watch her horn glow (agitating yours) and… she shrinks
  1684. >her hair gains more pink patches, her curves shrink, and soon, Luna is by far the biggest Princess of the palace
  1685. >Lustre’s lips glow red as her casting ceases, and she takes you in her arms and kisses you on the forehead, where your horn manifests, the moment it fades
  1686. >an intense dose of magic flows into you
  1687. >it floods your mind in a weird way, imparting knowledge of several things, but not what it exactly does
  1689. >Lustre lets you go, carefully allowing you to stand first
  1690. >”Now, you two go have fun,” she says
  1691. >”Are you okay, Princess Lustre?” Pearly asks
  1692. >she smiles in return. “It’s not a normal blessing, so it took a lot out of me. I’ll be fine after a good sleep.”
  1693. >you begin to make your way out. ”Thanks, both of you.”
  1694. >”Sleep well,” Luna says and nods. “Although judging by Lustre’s gleeful expression, I imagine sleep is far from the first thought on your minds.”
  1695. >Pearly joins you, remaining close in case you stumble but she’s letting you get used to your injury
  1696. >”I never know where I truly stand with Lustre… Celestia has told me her concerns of being a thrall, but while she’s mischievous, she seems harmless.”
  1697. >”No doubt in part being the Element of Kindness as the host form.”
  1698. >you reach your room, and both freeze up
  1699. >”So,” Pearly says and brushes her thick, two-toned orange and chestnut hair back, “I believe we’re both thinking it…”
  1700. >”Y- yes, I believe we are.”
  1701. >”plus I still feel bad for making you feel compelled to seek Celestia’s guidance…”
  1702. >”Which I understand why you did it.”
  1703. >”And this absolutely, positively not some attempt at me ‘reclaiming’ you, or something so puerile.”
  1704. >you scoff. ”Of course not! I’ve been otherwise steadfast in my attempts to bring us back together.”
  1705. >”You have! Beyond all else. Inspiringly so! I never expected you to take to it with such single-minded determination!”
  1706. >you both say, at the same time, ”did you want to spend the night-“
  1707. >”Together…” you finish with a whisper, and open your door
  1708. >you don’t get a verbal response
  1709. >Pearly gently pulls you inside as she kisses you, intensely, and you return it with gusto as you kick the door shut
  1710. >you pull your pull her onto the bed as you discard your clothes
  1711. >and climb in together
  1712. >it’s both so different yet so similar; her new form may be bigger, but you know all her sensitive spots
  1713. >and she’s *ravenous*
  1714. >it only cuts short when her thigh runs over one of your cuts, and you hiss
  1715. >”Sorry! Damn it… maybe we should just take it slow…”
  1716. >”I can endure! Don’t mind me.”
  1717. >”The wounds are clean and dressed, it’s just a shame the amount of healing magic I would need to use would almost guarantee you losing control.”
  1718. >”Well, Lustre’s spell seems to be fuelled by my wild magic surges…”
  1719. >she raises an eyebrow, the develops a cheeky grin. “So are you saying you want to experiment? I heal you until you lose control and you test your new power?”
  1721. >You nod. ”No sense waiting until we’re in the thick of things when we don’t know what it does, right?”
  1722. >”At this point, you’ve had your powers unleashed by one spirit, my own reinforced by another, and now we’re about to have an experimental magic make out session… and here I was, once a naive little girl who was happy with a quiet, calm conventional life.”
  1723. >”You know what they say! The couple that casts on each other together, stays together. I think?”
  1724. >Pearly giggles and straddles your body, but facing away. “Maybe! Alright, brace yourself.”
  1725. >she uses her healing spell, notably keeping her hands on your wounded leg to focus the energy
  1726. >which, amusingly, means your only genuine point of access to touch her when you apply the mystery spell will be the glorious swell of her perfectly balanced, panties-clad ass
  1727. >just the right amount of fat to muscle ratio; juicily thick but not enormous
  1728. >you could stare at it all da- ow!
  1729. >”Lumy! Focus! I’ve only just started!”
  1730. >”Sorry!”
  1731. >between being somewhat frazzled already and fatigued, that’s going to hamper your normal pain thresholds
  1732. >but manage to settle in to a tolerance as you horn crackles from the prolonged, much more intense magic compared to the earlier ‘passive’ field therapy earlier
  1733. >as such, you realise this is less about meditation than raw pain tolerance; you aren’t used to just enduring your horn gathering unnatural levels of raw power
  1734. >it’s slightly more bearable due to the ambient pain soothing of Pearly’s spell, but not by much
  1735. >it takes your all to my keep hissing in pain, but you can feel the cuts seal up quite nicely
  1736. >it’s when you feel your hands begin to tingle and small arcs of power arc between your fingers you realise you’re moments from unleashing your magic
  1737. >you’re a little disappointed, as you’ve contained more in the past, but you take the plunge; you fill your hands with Pearly’s exquisite ass, tap into the unknown spell, and can’t help but feel both relieved from expelling the painful energy into her
  1738. >but also snicker as Pearly squeals and bounces on your abdomen from the contact shock
  1740. >”Could have warned me!” Pearly says. “Sheesh… my ass is tingly.”
  1741. >she stops her magic and turns around, still straddling your body as she looks herself over
  1742. >she continues, ”do you see any changes? Any idea how long it’s supposed to take?”
  1743. >”Not really?”
  1744. >”Wait.. the tingling’s spreading…”
  1745. >she gasps as her overtaxed pyjama top loses two more buttons, giving you inot only a gloriously exposed cleavage, but also the top of her subtle abs
  1746. >then her shoulders burst through the seams
  1747. >she moans and looks dazed as she leans over you
  1748. >you glance down in time for her panties to sunder
  1749. >”Feel… weird…”
  1750. >she’s supporting herself, but you feel her getting heavier
  1751. >Pearly’s top gives up with a loud snap as her large, firm and pert tits bounce free
  1752. >she seems to come to as her head continues to move farther and higher from you, and she stares, wide eyed at you between the canyon of her bust
  1753. >she stammers, ”I- it’s getting stronger! I should probably move…”
  1754. >and none too soon as she grunts and you can *hear* her growth, like a distant rumble, seem to intensify
  1755. >and the foreplay of your spell ends, and she sprouts taller, inches upon inches more of her stretching taller and bigger
  1756. >as she stands beside your bed, she hits eight feet in moments
  1757. >Pearly’s hands roam her body
  1758. >”It feels so *fucking* good!”
  1759. >okay, it must be something else if it’s got Pearly swearing
  1760. >finally, one hand plunges between her legs and another grabs and squeezes a hand-filling breast
  1761. >in seconds, she cries out in orgasm and falls back on her ass, and you *feel* the impact from her rapidly increasing weight
  1762. >because as she hits ten feet tall, she’s still growing
  1763. >and it gets even faster
  1764. >”Sweet Celestia,” you gasp as you watch your girlfriends feet grow closer and closer to your bed, despite her back being against the far wall
  1765. >it’s soon just her legs alone that are taller than you are as this twelve foot tall goddess climaxes again
  1767. >she trembles, riding the afterglow, and with one final, room-shaking spurt, and a long, throaty moan, she barely has her mind about her enough to pull her legs in before they kick through the stone wall
  1768. >your furnishings are pushed against the wall, some crumple completely as they’re squashed under your girlfriend
  1769. >she breaks from her self-pleasure as she braces her arms against the ceiling and walls
  1770. >then even curled up as she is, your room is almost completely filled with Pearly’s body
  1771. >yet she tries to pleasure herself, but can’t
  1772. >she’s so cramped in, she’s struggling to reach between her legs
  1773. >she looks at you with her large, pleading blue eyes
  1774. >”L- Lumy… I need you… please!”
  1775. >she doesn’t need to ask twice
  1776. >you move as quickly as you dare up to her, between her thighs to her eager, drenched folds
  1777. >and plunge an arm inside her
  1778. >she squeals and wriggles, and you do your best to ignore the cracks forming in the walls
  1779. >but she just moans, “more!”
  1780. >so you push even harder, and stick your other arm inside her
  1781. >and, relentless and determined to please her, you lick her button
  1782. >she cries out so loudly it hurts your ears, but still isn’t satisfied
  1783. >so after a few moments, you decide to bite softly instead
  1784. >for the second time, you’re bathed in a giantesses love juices
  1785. >and Pearly’s impassioned cry even sounds a bit like your name, but you can’t be fully sure
  1786. >but she’s a marvel to behold as, riding the aftershock, she finally stops making the palace shake
  1787. >she sighs as she comes down from her bliss, and, now you get a chance to study her, you realise your girlfriend is a twenty five foot tall giantess
  1788. >you’d only be as tall as her knee if she was standing!
  1789. >”Damn,” you whisper as Pearly tries to get comfortable, managing to get into a less confined position now she’s not desperately trying to date her urges
  1791. >”Oh my… you’re so cute! And *tiny*!“
  1792. >Pearly reaches down and picks you up in her hands as she giggles
  1793. >and then kisses you on the lips
  1794. >well, your whole face
  1795. >then, still in her double climax stupor, she cuddles you against her cheek
  1796. >you hug her cheek and say, ”So, I take it you approve?”
  1797. >”If you’d asked me a day ago, the thought of enjoying being this big would have been slightly weird to me, but… I could get used to this. In fact, I think my Lumy deserves a reward!”
  1799. >she pulls you up higher, and wraps her soft lips against your crotch
  1800. >and begins to lick and suckle your manhood
  1801. >it’s a wholly new sensation
  1802. >and already excited by just being with Pearly, let alone her subsequent growth, leave you rapidly into your own orgasm
  1803. >you can feel the bass of her purring moan as she sucks you clean
  1804. >Pearly then squirms until she’s flat on her back, legs still raised as her feet, each over four feet long, press against the wall
  1805. >you nestle into her chest, head resting on her pillowy breasts and her smooth, toned belly as a bed, as you listen to the deep, slow hammer of her giant heart
  1806. >and her arms and hands make a warm, gentle but unfathomably strong blanket
  1807. >”I love you,” you whisper
  1808. >”I love you too,” she breathes back
  1809. >you awaken on a less comfortable bed
  1810. >namely because Pearly has apparently shrunk back to normal height at some point, and she just pulled a spare blanket from your broken cabinet
  1811. >your movements disturb Pearly, who blearily looks around, then she smiles at you
  1812. >”Morning, Lumy… I had the weirdest dream. I turned into a giant, I think?”
  1813. >you smirk and produce a controlled surge, and touch her shoulders
  1814. >she shivers, utters, “uh oh…” and rapidly grows ten feet tall; the combat suitable version of the spell, but she still gives you the bedroom eyes, though tries to feign annoyance
  1815. >”Oh, it’s going to be like *that*, is it?”
  1816. >she picks you up under one arm, drops you on the bed
  1817. >and pins you down with unrelenting kisses all over your chest, neck and face
  1818. >she only stops when, a minute or two later, she shrinks rapidly back down
  1819. >”As much as I’d love to just spend the day with you, Lumy, I have an infirmary to run. See you tonight?”
  1820. >you sit up and hold her hand. ”I’ll let you know. I think I’m still absorbing what happened yesterday.”
  1821. >”No problem. We both have important duties. But we should do this again… like maybe not *every* night, but I can see the appeal of… uh…” she trails off and blushes
  1822. >”Being the biggest, most beautiful woman in Equestria?”
  1823. >Pearly fluffs her hair and winks at you. ”A girl could get used to it… I think we need a bigger place, though. Gotta run!”
  1824. >she kisses you goodbye, and you split up
  1825. >after washing and dressing, you reach the dining hall
  1826. >Misty looks as satisfied as you feel
  1827. >Ozzy minds her own business as she eats breakfast
  1828. >and Celestia serves Luna a bowl of fruit salad, before magicking over a plate of pancakes
  1829. >Celestia even gently ruffles Misty’s hair as she walks back to the kitchen section of the room
  1830. >”So,” Misty says and smugly looks at Ozzy. “When are you going to have a private session with Celestia?”
  1832. >”I do not wish for acts of carnality, thank you very much,” Ozzy says and glances at Misty, then you. “All this transformative bedroom play is antithetical to the Cloven Hoof way.”
  1833. >Luna cocks an eyebrow at Ozzy. “I never made such a rule for it to apply all the time. Only whilst training. You’re a fully fledged member, and I can attest that you could use a way to unwind and relax. My relationship with Lustre has allowed me to focus on my work more intensely, knowing that when I finish my duties, she will be there to help me unwind.”
  1834. >”She’s right,” you feel obligated to add, “back in Sunride, it didn’t matter how bad the day was, me and Pearly would always comfort one another. Knowing that was waiting for both of us let us endure some rough moments.”
  1835. >”How comfortable was Pearly last night?” Misty says with a huge grin. “I could *feel* her screams through Celestia’s bed, let alone hear her. She sounded *big*.”
  1836. >you blush, but calmly reply, “she’s all the woman I could ever need. That’s all you need to know.”
  1837. >Celestia smirks at you as she sits down for breakfast “Sounds like you’ve broken through a few barriers together.”
  1838. >you nod to her. ”Thanks to you, Celestia.”
  1839. >”And almost a few literal ones,” the princess says as she nods to the wall nearest your bedroom; several cracks have formed. “At this rate, you may have to sleep outside.”
  1840. >”Ah… sorry about that. I was testing a new power. Speaking of which, Celestia, I was thinking of some way of communicating with my team when in hostile situations. Do you know of a spell or something we could use to help?”
  1841. >”Hmm…” She chews her food and looks out the window. “I might know something. Leave it with me, and I’ll send something to Rarity when you attend your uniform fitting. Remember, it’s at midday, and Copper Shield will be joining you.”
  1842. >”And forget not, Lumen,” Luna says, “inform me at your earliest convenience should you choose to attack The Drift.”
  1843. >Ozzy finishes her breakfast. “I shall be studying combat magic. I need to give myself utility against the shadow beasts.”
  1844. >Misty grumbles. “As much as I hate to admit it, but I thought on what you told me last night, Cel.”
  1845. >Celestia smirks at the slim girl. “And?”
  1846. >”… I’m gonna start working out and practicing combat. I still don’t think I’m gonna be much good at it.”
  1847. >”You’re keen minded and quick. You might surprise yourself. Copper Shield is a fine warrior and a fantastic teacher.”
  1849. >while you still haven’t fully recovered, it’s combat experience more than physical ability that you feel is your biggest weakness
  1850. >”Mind if I join you?”
  1851. >Misty seems surprised, and smirks. “And after Ozzy’s announcement that she was *studying*, I thought you’d be best buds.”
  1852. >”As someone who has far more interest in the relationships of others, than preparing herself adequately for Lustre’s blessing,” you jab back, “you *should* know my studying was to recover control over my powers to repair my relationship with my girlfriend. I still have a way to go, but our bond has never been stronger. Now I can afford to improve myself in other ways.”
  1853. >Misty looks a bit sheepish as she rubs her shoulder. “I wasn’t complaining. I’m just not used to people giving me much attention.”
  1854. >Luna stands and yawns. “T’is often those who observe others the most stringently who struggle to bear the burden of attention. It’s something of which I can relate; my glimpses into the dreams of others make me privy to the deepest fears and desires of others, but I have never enjoyed being the centre of attention.”
  1855. >Celestia nods. “I shall say it again, Mistral Shear, it is a privilege to have you by my side. But until you learn to stand up for yourself in all ways, you’ll always be as a disadvantage. And Ozzy?”
  1856. >”Yes, Princess Celestia?”
  1857. >”I extend to you an invitation to share some private with me. I wish to demonstrate that intimacy will break down the barriers you use to protect yourself and allow you to reevaluate your own merits. I’m sure Lumen and Mistral would speak of their experiences.”
  1858. >you fold your arms and say, “not that I’m a fan of talking about specifics, but relearning how to truly empty my mind, but also how to harness my untamed magic in a controlled way has been enlightening. These are opposing principles, yet here I am, able to conjure magic stronger than most.”
  1859. >Misty seems conflicted, but considering how standoffish she generally is, that’s not too surprising
  1860. >to be honest, that’s somewhat why you want to join her
  1861. >you feel like the sooner she trusts and opens up, the sooner she may be ready to get her blessing
  1862. >*if* she still feels she needs it
  1863. >Celestia taught you how a quick fix of power isn’t the way, not when there’s plenty within you alteady to be tapped
  1865. >you head with Misty to the training grounds behind the palace, well shaded by the mountainside which houses Canterlot
  1866. >and as soon as he sees you, you’re both welcomed by the grizzled captain of the royal guard, Copper Shield as he smiles warmly
  1867. >”Well, Celestia bless me! I never expected you two to join me for drills!”
  1868. >Misty puts her hands on her hips. “I need to learn to fight, and Luna’s style’s not exactly suitable for a pegasi.”
  1869. >Copper chuckles. “There’s nothing more terrifying than a well trained pegasi in a fight. Agility and speed will make you untouchable to both earthen brawn and unicorn power, and a keen mind’ll serve you well, young lady!”
  1870. >”And I could just use some pointers,” you admit. “I’ve never been in a ‘fight’ fight, just situations where I blast stuff with my magic.”
  1871. >”I’m humbled, sir, that you’d deign to come to me when you have access the personal tutorage of Princess Luna.” Copper offers a bow, then coughs, harsh and wet. “Ah, excuse me. I may not be able to knock heads together like in my youth, but I can certainly get you on the right track! And having a pair of green recruits is ideal. Follow me.”
  1872. >he leads you to a secluded section of the grounds, but suddenly snaps his fingers and yells, “Gallus!”
  1873. >a hawkish looking man, one of the more recent, exotic winged folk, looks his way and salutes. “Yes, captain!”
  1874. >”Keep an eye on things! Anyone slacks off or screws around, you send them to me! Otherwise, you’re in charge!” He coughs again. “Right, this way.”
  1875. >once you’re away from the trained guards, you feel a bit more relaxed, and Copper heads up to a weapon rack filled with padded wooden poles of various lengths and thicknesses
  1876. >”You both say you’ve never been in a fight?”
  1877. >”Not since I was a kid,” Misty says
  1878. >you shrug. “I always lived in quiet places and got on with everyone.”
  1879. >”Fair enough. Since I hear you’re nursing a leg injury, we’ll keep this simple. And I’m going to go out on a limb that Ms. Shear here wants to learn to fight with a staff, what with that artefact of hers.”
  1880. >Misty pulls out the blackened, slightly crooked short stick, which grows from three to six feet long in her hands. “I’m stuck with this thing, might as well learn to use it properly.”
  1881. >”And a young, genteel lad like you…” he takes out a four foot pile and hands it to you. “I think you’d do well with an arming sword. Light, practical and unobtrusive.”
  1882. >”Is that really necessary? What about fisticuffs.”
  1883. >Copper gives you a smirk. ”You’re going to spar with a combatant wielding a staff. You’ll break an arm without a weapon. And besides, first, I’ve hear you’re fighting shadowy beasts that can corrupt those that touch them. You need an extension of yourself. Secondly, you learn to use a blade in the hopes to never use it. It projects an air of authority that keeps others acting violently.”
  1885. >”I guess,” you say as you take the practice sword and give it a few swings
  1886. >”Besides,” Copper continues, “many skills I’ll demonstrate today carry over to any style of fighting. Spacing, reading an opponent, confidence in one’s own abilities. The list goes on. Now, let’s get cracking!”
  1887. >Copper Shield is a *very* thorough instructor
  1888. >he lets you get used to your own limp-wristed style of combat, explains why it’s not effective, then begins laying on his know-how with every sparring session
  1889. >pointers here and there, stances, issues with overextending
  1890. >soon, you’re fighting with a degree of competency!
  1891. >Misty is a nightmare to keep up with
  1892. >you far out strength her, but between her pole’s reach, her speed and cunning, she’s rapidly learning to abuse her advantages
  1893. >”Alright! Take a break for now. Go get some water. We’ve got a couple more hours before you’re due to get outfitted, so once you come back I’ll start showing how to fight like a unicorn and a pegasi.”
  1894. >you’re both bathed in sweat, but you’re used to the physical activity
  1895. >Misty’s breathing harder, but she’s grinning as you reach the waterpump and she mans the handle
  1896. >you guzzle down some water, and splash some over yourself to cool off, then switch places
  1897. >Misty skips a step and just sits under the pump, getting doused with her mouth under the spigot
  1898. >as she stands again, it’s easy to appreciate her form, with her clothes clinging to her
  1899. >with your world filled with big, powerful women, it’s humbling seeing a normal, lithe girl again
  1900. >she’s clearly athletic, complete with a nicely toned, flat abdomen, with limbs and a subtle thickness to the hips and thighs despite her complaints of lacking strength
  1901. >and undeniably pretty, with an air of danger about her
  1902. >if you weren’t freshly reinvolved with your Pearly, maybe she would hold more of an allure, but internally you note her attractive aspects as just an observation
  1903. >”If I didn’t know better,” you say, “I’d say you’re enjoying this.”
  1904. >”Something like that. I guess I never saw myself as being able to fight.” She chuckles.” Besides, it’s fun just doing stuff together when we’re not under imminent threat of death.”
  1905. >”So Celestia put you up to this? What did she say?”
  1906. >”Not much to start with. She just… uh…”
  1907. >she turns bright red
  1908. >you chuckle. “Just be general. If you really want to tell the specifics of what you two got up to, I can tell you about my night with her too if it’ll make you feel better.”
  1909. >”Ugh, fine,” Misty sighs, “when I was ‘blessed’, we just cuddled a bunch. Some kissing and touching. She didn’t seem to want to talk much, besides guiding me on… y’know, pleasing a woman. Then The Drift kicked in.”
  1910. >”And afterwards?”
  1912. >”Then Celestia made me finish what I started.” Misty turns even deeper red. “After that, she got chatty. She said she admired my form and my mind and stuff. How I had hidden strength to unleash if I stopped leaning on my strengths alone. To explore my weaknesses. Then she… uh, returned the favour. She was really gentle. I can’t say I ever expected to have my first be the ruler of Equestria, but… it was nice.”
  1913. >you chuckle. ”Just nice?”
  1914. >her blush turns to flash-anger. ”It’s not like I’ve got a wide span of experience with sex, asshole! Fine, it was great! Happy?”
  1915. >you raise your arms in submission. “Hey, sorry! But yeah, I guess Celestia *really* knows how to measure a person, huh? I might have already mentioned, but she trained me to stop being scared of my powers, how to go with the flow and use it.”
  1916. >Misty nods, then snickers. “Whaddya think Cel’s gonna drag out of our resident juggernaut?”
  1917. >”I’m not going to pretend to know either of them that well.”
  1918. >”Aw, c’mon. She’s showed me to analyse and explore my weaknesses instead of just acknowledge them. She showed you to confidently use your ridiculously destructive powers rather than walk on eggshells about them. I guess Ozzy’s gonna have to learn to not act like she’s got a stick up her ass all the time.”
  1919. >you sigh. “She does need to learn relax. I can’t blame her, though; it’s all she’s known. She did say she used to like dancing.”
  1920. >Misty laughs. “Ozzy? Dancing? Can you *imagine* her beefy bod doing ballet or some shit?”
  1921. >”See, it’s closed mind thinking like that that’s the reason I think Lustre isn’t giving you her blessing.”
  1922. >she tilts her head. “Whaddya mean?”
  1923. >you fold your arms. ”Celestia’s lesson. You’re clever. Very clever. But you take the measure of things, and make no mistake, you’re pretty damn accurate, but that’s all you see and all you consider. You’re holding everyone in a state of stasis and not considering how people grow and change. Least of all you.”
  1924. >Misty goes to argue, but stops, thinks, then pouts. “Shit…”
  1925. >”You’ve got to stop caging yourself, and others, in. Be loose, open. Don’t just see something for what it is, but what it could be.”
  1926. >she sighs and nods. “I’ll try.”
  1927. >”Alright!” Copper Shield calls “Let’s get back to it!”
  1928. >back in sparring, Copper shield begins going over species specific techniques
  1929. >naturally, he shows Misty how to incorporate her wings into the fight; quick dodges by flapping back from her opponent, being able to take normally overextending steps by using her wings thrust backward to counterbalance, then flapping to pull herself back out, all sorts of trickery, all culminating in a little ‘aerial jousting,’ where she flies by and strikes a training dummy
  1931. >while he can’t demonstrate, and says it would need Luna to really show you how to use it, Copper goes over unicorn combat theory; spells and swords in tandem
  1932. >quick flourishes of magic to obscure and confuse, parrying a blow and binding a blade, then gut-shotting an opponent with a blast, teleporting and fighting in tandem… he’s no unicorn, so you assume Copper’s speaking from experience of being on the receiving end of these techniques
  1933. >Copper looks at the near-midday sun. “Alright. We’re done for today. I’ll find you a nice sword to wear from the armoury, get it nice and sharp and have it delivered to your to you room, Lumen.
  1934. >”Thanks for training us, sir.”
  1935. >”Ah, don’t ‘sir’ me, kid.” Copper chuckles, then coughs loudly. “And Misty; keep it up! You’ve got a killer instinct, that’ll serve you well. Keep training. I’ll expect you here on the regular.”
  1936. >Misty smirks. ”Sure thing, old timer!”
  1937. >”Good work today. Get washed and dry, I’ll meet you at the front gates to take you to Rarity’s Canterlot boutique. I need be there to requisition any special materials from the palace vaults. Including something about ‘talking stones.’”
  1938. >you follow as instructed, and find Ozzy waiting for you at the gates with Copper, and he leads you into the city proper
  1939. >the Canterlot Boutique is closed today, but Copper leads you around the back and knocks on the side entrance
  1940. >Rarity answers the door and smiles warmly
  1942. >”Good afternoon, and welcome to Rarity’s boutique! Please, come in! I’ve already been spinning some ideas for people of such prestigious positions!” She lets you in, but looks especially pleased at Ozzy’s presence. “So good to see you so well, darling!”
  1943. >”And you, old friend. Thank you for hosting us.”
  1944. >”Oh, pish-posh, Ozzy! It’s been so long since I last had the opportunity to make some truly custom designs. Now, walk this way! I’ll have you measured, and I’ll need to ask you some questions to ensure that your equerry uniforms are anything *but* uniform.”
  1945. >you’re aware Rarity is one of Lustre’s handmaidens. Her beauty is apparent and clear, and being over a foot taller than you, cuts an impressive figure
  1946. >she offers you tea and cake, takes your measurements and draws some designs
  1947. >”Now, one of the most fascinating aspects of these uniforms is Princess Celestia has offered me some truly unique materials! I simply *had* to take this project. We have specialist fabrics that glisten like the ocean at sunrise, one that shimmers and changes colour under differing intensities of light, and a simply gorgeous patterned cloth that slowly changes lines depending on the angle of view! Oh, and I suppose each has ‘interesting’ side-effects.” She air quotes
  1948. >”Interesting how?” You ask
  1949. >”Oh, one can turn away blades, one makes you harder to see when still, and one can protect against errant magic. Do you have any preferences?
  1950. >Misty asks, ”can’t we have them made of all those materials?”
  1951. >Rarity balks and looks deeply offended!
  1952. >”That simply isn’t an option! I refuse to make something so gaudy and eclectic. All of our reputations are on the line!"
  1954. >you say, ”surely it couldn’t be *that* difficult to underlay some of these fabrics together?”
  1955. >Misty smirks, and adds, “and I’m sure someone of your impeccable skill would take it as a challenge to get it to work.”
  1956. >Rarity puts on her glasses and raises an expertly plucked eyebrow at you. “I see! I never realised you both had such an eye for material cohesion, proper fitting, comfort and breathability in such incredibly rare fabrics. Do tell me, would you prefer a shawl, jabot, flat, puritan or wing?”
  1957. >”Uh…”
  1958. >”Oh, and serpentine, ladder, knotted coral or twisted border?”
  1959. >you say, ”the… second one?”
  1960. >Rarity sighs. “Darlings, I appreciate the decision is difficult, and people these days want to have it all, but these materials are extremely rare, woven together by an incredibly complicated machine that requires needles fashioned from *naturally* shedded basilisk fangs, with dyes mixed from the dew that gathers once per year on one type of flower that only exists on *one* hillock known in Equestria! I’ll need to ensure I can keep a ready stock in case these outfits are damaged, should problems arise, and having all of them damaged in a single misadventure, especially since I’m making three outfit for all three of you, it simply isn’t practical. Not to mention the *bulkiness* such layering would cause! Ugh!”
  1961. >she takes a deep breath
  1962. >”Now, please stop fussing and choose.”
  1964. >you say, ”well… how good is the cloaking effect?”
  1965. >Rarity grins and pulls up a sheet of the fabric and as it settles, the little patterned lines seem to cascade and ‘line up’ then the whole thing seems to take on colours and textures of the wall behind her
  1966. >it’s like the cloth *knows* what should be behind it, which defies any logic you can explain
  1967. >Rarity then takes a step to the side and the sheet of fabric takes a moment to realign, making her more noticeable for a moment
  1968. >this close, she *is* still visible, but to someone not actively searching, or familiar with the environment, it’s incredibly effective
  1969. >”And rest assured, the armoured material can withstand anything but a direct blow from a well made blade, whilst I dare say it would take a unicorn of your considerable power to puncture the magic resistant one.”
  1971. >”Magic resistant?”
  1972. >”See, *now* you’re acting like a discerning client! Yes, it primarily resists direct magical assault, but is less effective on more esoteric spells. I suspect somebody trying to grab you would with telekinesis would need to concentrate on you harder, and teleportation moves everything in an area you occupy elsewhere, so it wouldn’t help stop that. I hear the shadow beasts tend to smother their victims, so it’s unlikely to prevent that either. And considering our horns only manifest when used, or in your case, in response to another’s use, I would think that outside of completely shrouding your head, it may not work especially well. Though, in a pinch, if someone was intentionally trying to set off your sensitivity, you could use it as such, though any threat using that approach would likely take advantage of your inability to see and peep-holes would likely still allow most of the magic inside, not to mention look utterly ridiculous.”
  1974. >Rarity takes her glasses off and taps the arm of them on her lips. ”I suppose I’ll have some offcuts of material going spare, so long as somebody desires their uniform made from the magic resistant fabric.”
  1975. >”I shall take one of those, Rarity,” Ozzy says. “My magic reinforces my body, but a sustained magical attack is stronger than most any physical blow.”
  1976. >Rarity nods and notes down your requests. “And you, Ms. Shear?”
  1977. >”Like you’ve gotta ask? Can’t hit what you can’t see, and I’m hard to catch already!”
  1978. >”Fabulous! I shall have them made and ready for you by tomorrow. Princess Celestia was quite insistent that you would need these as soon as possible. Ordinarily I’m loath to close during the full throes of the fall season rush, but the privalage to handle such materials, and as a personal favour to the princess? Well, I couldn’t say no!”
  1979. >Copper shield clears his throat. “Thanks for your time, ma’am. Right, come on. I believe a certain someone has a date with a phoenix!”
  1980. >as you head back towards the palace, you grumble. “Thanks for reminding me. I can’t believe I’m cleaning a bird enclosure.”
  1981. >Ozzy pats you on the back. “Disparage not the trials and woes of the mighty! One bears these burdens to enact change and defend the weak, and these trials are put in place to ensure one remains the best individual for the task.”
  1982. >”Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Misty snickers. “Enacting the great and reforming change of cleaning a fiery bird’s poop. Weathering the onslaught of destiny while being squawked at relentlessly! Defending the weak as you fend off shed feathers and being used as a perch!”
  1983. >”Spout your mockery as you must, Mistral, but I always found cleaning therapeutic,” Ozzy insists
  1984. >Copper adds, “Philomena’s not so bad. Though remember, there’s sand buckets in each corner and a fountain in the middle, just in case you catch fire.”
  1985. >you gulp
  1986. >”Almost never happens.” Copper scratches his beard in thought. “Unless she’s in one of her moods. Or if she’s feeling especially mischievous that particular day. She’s definitely her ladyship’s pet, alright!”
  1987. >not exactly inspiring confidence, but fine, you guess
  1988. >let’s get this over with
  1989. >Philomena’s enclosure is in a wing of the gardens
  1990. >notably it features plenty of space, fireproof perches and lots of heat resistant plants
  1991. >it doesn’t look too messy, as you scour the grounds with a… curiously singed push cart with all your cleaning supplies
  1992. >but what’s there is… stubborn, since it’s burnt into wherever it falls
  1993. >during one deposit, right before you’re due to finish, you hear the flutter of wings and the clack of talon on stone
  1994. >you’ve never seen a phoenix before, and she’s right there, regarding you with bright yellow eyes with seemingly no pupils
  1996. >”Hi, Philomena, I’m Lumen. Hope you don’t mind me intruding for the coming week; Celestia’s orders.”
  1997. >… birds can’t smile, right?
  1998. >you swear she just smirked at you
  1999. >she chirps and flaps her wings, and takes aloft with all the glory and splendour of a blazing dawn!
  2000. >and promptly leaves a burning mess on the rock
  2001. >today you learned phoenix droppings burn for half an hour and apparently can’t be extinguished
  2002. >and that Philomena is a bit of an asshole
  2003. >you doubt you have much to worry about in terms of bacteria for cleaning up bird mess, what with all the flames, but apparently today’s a three shower day after your sparring practice and the fact you smell… sulphury
  2004. >and yet still reach Horizon Hall in time for dinner
  2005. >Misty’s lounging, and looks exhausted
  2006. >Ozzy’s intensely focused on practicing her telekinesis by floating a pebble in front of her, releasing it, catching it with her hand, tossing it up, catching it with her telekinesis again
  2007. >to your surprise, you have to actively focus on the fact her magic is at play to sense it; a dull tingle at worst
  2008. >Celestia doesn’t look as chipper as she usually does, but is nonetheless preparing dinner
  2009. >lastly, Luna smiles as you sit at the table
  2010. >”Good evening, Lumen. Copper Shield wished for me to hold onto this for you.”
  2011. >she levitates a medium length, one handed sword on the table in front of you
  2012. >it’s got some age to it, but appears well looked after, with a crosspiece of two stylised horses ‘boxing’ at each other with their foreleg, giving it a front-pointing hand guard that would be great at catching a blade
  2013. >you can even smell metal, wood and leather polish as you give it the once over
  2015. >”He also informed me of your fair aptitude with fencing. I believe he said you ‘have the capacity to be a fair spellsword.’”
  2016. >you guess that’s a fine bit of praise from someone of Copper’s experience
  2017. >you never fancied yourself a classical hero, contrary to your unavoidable involvement in events that speak to the contrary
  2018. >Luna continues, “I can instruct you in the proper care of such a blade if you’ve a care. I find the act quite soothing, perhaps even meditative.”
  2019. >after her comment about cleaning earlier, you steal a glance at Ozzy and, yep, she’s smirking
  2020. >obviously Luna’s teachings from a thousand years ago have passed down just fine
  2021. >”I never really pegged you as a swordswoman,” you say
  2022. >Misty adds, “then again I didn’t even know you knew martial arts before this week.”
  2023. >Luna cheers, “then behold!”
  2024. >”Oh, here we go,” Celestia sighs as Luna stands tall and begins to conjure something. “Luna! No grand summonings at the dinner table!”
  2025. >you’re glad she said it, because your horn just flared up big time
  2026. >Luna blushes as she realises she stopped mid flourish. ”Oh, so only *you* get to galavant around with your powers, sister?”
  2027. >Celestia pinches her brow. “No, I didn’t mean it like that… just show the silly thing, but keep it subdued. Remember Lumen’s sensitivity.”
  2028. >”Ah, how foolish of me. Forgive me, Lumen. Now,”
  2029. >with a far more subtle motion, Luna’s casual clothes transform into plated armour, and at her side, a large curved blade as brilliant as moonlight appears
  2030. >she brandishes it with care, and you can’t help but marvel at the sword; it glows and sparkles brilliantly
  2031. >with a gesture, her armour and weapon vanish, leaving her casually clad once more
  2032. >Luna sits back down. ”But yes, in the tumultuous times before my shameful fall, it was always that I was the sword of righteous might and martial prowess, and Celi the open hand of mercy and mystical wrath.”
  2034. >Ozzy catches her stone again and asks, “so who is the strongest between you two?”
  2035. >oh heck
  2036. >you swear temperature just dropped a few degrees
  2037. >Luna hesitates, looks at Celestia as she remains *painfully* focused on dinner, then says, “in a purely physical battle, I am the stronger.”
  2038. >”Before or after Lustre’s boon? I am merely curious.”
  2039. >Misty facepalms and you just hear her sigh, “really?”
  2040. >Celestia gives Ozzy a sideways glare, “why? Want to spar? Is that how you want to spend some private time together.”
  2041. >you interject, “don’t answer that, Ozzy.”
  2042. >”It is a simple metric,” Ozzy says with a huff. “In dire times, knowledge of the skills and limits of our allies and friends can lead to better informed decisions. Many a commander has fallen due to negligence in understanding the limits, strengths and weaknesses of those in their command.”
  2043. >”Then I suggest a simple contest, Ozzy,” Celestia says with a… very creepy smile. “We spar tonight after dinner, and if I win, I’ll have my way with you in my bed tonight. And I will not be gentle. I think you’d benefit from having *your* limits tested.”
  2044. >she then teleports behind Ozzy, puts a hand on the brawler’s shoulder, and whispers into her ear, “… and broken. In all the ways that a woman can be broken.”
  2045. >Luna slams her hands on the table. “Sister, I must protest!”
  2046. >Celestia remains in place for an uncomfortable few seconds, then becomes all smiles as she giggles and teleports back to preparing dinner. “I’m just messing with you. Or am I?” Then creepy again…
  2047. >Ozzy remains routed to the spot, then just says, “I retract my question.”
  2048. >everyone’s silent for a time, before Celestia breaks the stalemate as she plates up dinner. “Give it some thought though, hmm? Oh, don’t forget I’m on an official visit to Mayor Pinion’s town tomorrow. Considering the lurking threats of the spirits of fear, I won’t insist on anyone tagging along, but I would appreciate the company.”
  2050. >”Sure,” you say, “I’ll tag along tomorrow.”
  2051. >”It would be irresponsible of me to let you go unguarded, Princess,” Ozzy adds, regaining her composure
  2052. >”You think I’m gonna miss you tightening the screws on Pinion?” Misty chuckles. “I’m *so* in.”
  2053. >Celestia smiles warmly. “Thank you. Now, remember, this will be an official visit. I expect you to act professional, affable even when under duress and, most of all, keep an open mind. We will never know if Mayor Pinion will change his ways now that he’s been exposed, however unlikely it may seem after your first meeting.”
  2054. >Misty snorts. ”He’s not gonna change. The guy’s a scumbag.”
  2055. >”Mistral Shear,” Luna says, firmly, “would you have rebuked and refused my apology when Twilight and her companions defeated me as Nightmare Moon?”
  2056. >Misty predictably shrinks under the scrutiny. She replies, “well, no, but we know you were good.”
  2057. >Celestia says, “Mayor Frayed Pinion is a known patron of the arts. He’s penned a few plays in his time, before being voted in by his town as its leader. He is a clever man with a vision that often outreaches his means, but he used to mean well. People aren’t as one dimensional as they first appear, something you yourself seem aware of considering how you spared Ephobia potential harm during the… last incident. I suppose at least nobody was seriously hurt. Physically.” Celestia sighs as the recollection
  2058. >well, now you feel even worse for breaking her chandelier… you keep wondering if you’re due a ribbing
  2059. >she continues, “few people are as they first appear. Like how Lumen is, despite his gentle appearance and unassuming demeanour, a devil in the bedsheets.”
  2060. >and there’s the punch line, if a favourable one
  2061. >you fight through the urge to crumple in embarrassment, and say, ”Not too late to dedicate a wing to me in the royal library, Celi.”
  2062. >”Hey, Ozzy!” Misty snickers. “Maybe you should get in on some Lumen before Doc Lux puts him under lock and key.”
  2063. >the brawler looks at you and folds her arms. ”I respect you, Lumen, but I am still disinterested in fraternisation.” She then smiles and glances at Misty. “Although with her recent experience, perhaps Mistral could be properly tamed by you instead.”
  2064. >Misty scoffs. “In your dreams.”
  2065. >”That could be arranged,” Luna says with a smirk. “Mind sex is a thing, although please alert the palace cleaners to deal with… fluid messes should the happenstance occur.”
  2066. >Lustre opens a door and peers in. “Are we talking about mind sex? Never mind, yes! Whoever’s interested in it, do it! It’s phenomenal!” She then returns to whatever she was doing in Luna’s room
  2068. >Celestia can’t help but laugh. You’re not sure what her earlier issues were, but she seems to relax more after that
  2069. >you can’t help but grin as you ask, ”hey, Luna, is this the part where you confess to indulging in a whole list of sordid dreamworld flings with half the populace?”
  2070. >”Perish the thought! I am simply party to most of Equestria’s innermost thoughts. I’ve been in all of your dreams, in fact, though due to your new surroundings and recent events, it’s no surprise that I have been unable to glean much of your psyches, nor fears, just yet.”
  2071. >”Oh, c’mon,” Misty says, “surely you’ve had *some* insights into us. Go on, spill it!”
  2072. >Luna looks at Celestia, who nods and says, “no secrets between us, although feel free to be vague on anything too personal.”
  2073. >”I suppose there would be no harm,” Luna says and rubs her neck. “Osmiana is oft adrift in her memories of her parents, and when the topic grows too dire, she envisions her techniques to calm herself. Misty thinks of her uncle and father frequently, as well as darker corners of her mind with the latter, but seldom lingers for long. Lumen flicks between his adoration of Pearescent and… a mirror.”
  2074. >”A mirror? Well, somebody’s vain,” Misty chuckles
  2075. >”It’s not like that,” you say. “Let’s just say in terms of spirits, Ephobia and Jennifear aren’t the only ones on my mind.”
  2076. >there’s a stillness to proceedings as everyone looks introspective
  2078. >”Have you been in Pearly’s dreams?” you ask
  2079. >Misty snickers and says, “replace ‘you’ with ‘I’ and I think we can skip a step.”
  2080. >Luna ignores her and replies, “yes. She has been here long enough to settle and dream deeply. She was oft in a disquieted state, remembering those she feels she has failed in her duties as physician. Impossible self-criticism and chastisement for those too ill or injured to help.”
  2081. >you noticed it, but Ozzy says, before you, “was?”
  2082. >Luna nods. “I recall my beloved Lustre mentioning that this reflects her state as she was in Sunride. Drawn out and strung thin as she tended to others, yet lacking the capacity to heal herself. But I noticed a spark of light within her with your arrival, Lumen. An inner expanse bridged. You are a source of strength for her, which is only made more evident when I saw her dream the other night. She is at peace with both your presence, but most of all, your development and growth.”
  2083. >Misty says, ”surely you mean *her* grow-“
  2084. >Ozzy snaps, “your blithe disregard for the introspection of not only our respective turmoils, but that of a pair of soulmates who have endured a tense and tragic schism is becoming tiresome, Mistral.”
  2085. >”I’m just trying to add a little humour to things, kitten,” Misty says and folds her arms
  2086. >”It’s a defence mechanism for her own fears,” Celestia says. “I suspect she would understand it’s an inappropriate time for jabs when discussing a matter so close to the heart if she was on the receiving end.”
  2087. >Misty huffs. “Fine. Sorry.”
  2088. >Celestia nods, but then says, ”and Ozzy? Please lighten up. In fact, I’m going to take you on a girls night out in Canterlot in a few days time; you, me, Misty, Lustre, Rarity and Applejack. And I will demand you drink until you stop being so uptight, or you fall over. Preferably the latter.”
  2089. >Ozzy mumbles, “spirits were forbidden in the order… I have no experience with them.”
  2090. >you ask, ”no Luna?”
  2091. >Luna smiles. “I am not a party person, and certainly not one to partake in alcohol unless being polite as a guest during a royal visit. Plus, one of us needs to remain sober in case she becomes unable to perform her royal duties the following day.”
  2093. >Pearly enters, and looks around the dining hall. “Oh, I hope I’m not interrupting.”
  2094. >”Not at all,” Celestia says and beckons Pearly inside. “I suppose since you’re here, I should ask if you wanted to join our girls night out.”
  2095. >”I… should probably decline. I never know when I’ll be called on some emergency.”
  2096. >”Pearlescent,” Ozzy grumbles, despite her grin, “if I am to be forced into this frivolity as Celestia’s protector and driven to inebriation, then I am sure we could afford to spare you when you have others who can take up your duties for a single day.”
  2097. >”Hay yes!” Misty says and leans forward. “Do it! I need more girls along who’re at least *slightly* normal size so I don’t look like a total midget!”
  2098. >Pearly gives you a pleading look, as if eager for your opinion
  2100. >”Want me to tag along?”
  2101. >Celestia’s grin sends a chill down your spine. “On a *girls* night out? There’s only one way I’ll allow that… the question is, are you *sure* you wish to get involved.”
  2103. >you return Pearly’s question. ”Well? I leave this up to you.”
  2104. >Pearly’s aghast. “You’re asking *me* if you want to spend a night as a woman? Am I getting that right? I don’t even know how to begin parsing this situation! The medical aspects alone are boggling, let alone what mental attributes that may be involved!”
  2105. >Celestia shrugs. “I can assure you that nobody will come to harm. Short term effects, though? Who’s to say?”
  2106. >”Hah! As a girl, Lumen might be even shorter than I am!”
  2107. >Pearly folds her arms. “I’ll not be held responsible for this absurd topic. If you’re leaving it with me, then call me boring but no, I’d sooner just spend a quiet evening here and not have someone transformed.”
  2108. >Celestia, Misty and even Ozzy voice their disappointment with an almost melodic, “Aww.”
  2109. >Luna shrugs. “There is no shame in a quietly evening. In fact, perhaps we could arrange a more sensible and subtle evening with Twilight and Moondancer.”
  2110. >Misty does add, “c’mon, man-up and woman-up, damn it.”
  2112. >”Oh, fine,” you say and throw up your arms. “Nothing’s normal around here anyway, why fight it? But you’re coming along and getting drunk, Pearly, no ifs or buts.”
  2113. >she shakes her head and laughs. “Fine, if we’re getting in this mess, we do it together.”
  2114. >Ozzy smirks
  2115. >Misty claps her hands and pumps a fist
  2116. >Celestia laughs. “Excellent! We’ll need to invite Applejack and Rarity, of course, so shall we say the day after the royal visit? And I think it only fair if I magically alter myself into something more innocuous as well. I become frustrated with how much my subjects walk on eggshells when I’m around, and I refuse to be the the one who dampens the mood. And besides, we’ll need to get all of you, *especially* Lumen, an appropriately suggestive outfit from Rarity.”
  2117. >Pearly pinches her brow and sighs. ”Okay, now that all this craziness is settled, I’m going to bed.”
  2118. >she brushes her hand over your shoulder and heads for your room
  2120. >”I think I’ll retire for the night as well,” you say, and follow Pearly into your room
  2121. >she’s already removed her outer robe, and she fluffs her lovely, thick mid-back length orange/chestnut hair, giving her a bedraggled look that always makes you feel tingly; she used to wear it shorter and tidier, but as you became close, she let it grow out
  2122. >it’s just *Pearly* in her most purest form, irrespective of her extra foot in height or curvier body
  2123. >you both undress, climb into bed together, and make gentle, simple but spiritually fulfilling love to her
  2124. >and everything feels right in the world
  2125. >you’re up early the next day, helping one another prepare, and part with a deep kiss as Pearly heads to the infirmary
  2126. >and Copper Shield knocks on the door, and enters with a cloth wrapped bundle
  2127. >”Equerry Lumen Haze? Your new uniform of office.”
  2128. >you unpack it
  2129. >it’s an expertly tailored suit, made of a grey fabric that appears stiff, but feels incredibly flexible
  2130. >it glistens softly, like overlooking a lake at sunset
  2131. >there trim and accents are especially nice; golden thread, interwoven with white cord, your colours
  2132. >also included is a small sack, still made with expert care, made from the magic resistant material
  2133. >it fits over your head with just enough space in the forehead to allow your horn to appear, should you be aggravated or suffering a sensitivity issue
  2134. >finally, and most surprisingly, a new equerry pin
  2135. >”Don’t we already have these?” you ask
  2136. >Copper nods and says, ”Her Ladyship has had these ones especially made from your request. On top of opening the hidden doors, if you can see your companions, you can communicate with them by thought just by touching the pin and staring at other pin holders with which you want to talk. Now, it has weaknesses, since having them always active leads to sensory overload and self-thought echoes, but you can impart short messages. It seems to depend on how well you know each other, so the closer you are, the more you can mentally implant. They recharge every few minutes, so be succinct.”
  2138. >Copper holds out his grizzled, scarred hand. ”Here, give me your old pin; gotta have these disabled so they don’t find their way into the wrong hands.”
  2139. >you do so, then ask, “any advice for the visit?”
  2140. >”It’s much the same as when in court,” Copper says, then softly coughs. “You’re there as her majesty’s assistants, so follow her lead, but offer advice and feel free to speak your thoughts if you’re certain of something. Just behave yourselves. And, just between you and me? Keep a tight leash on Misty.”
  2141. >”You’re worried she’ll go too far?”
  2142. >”Of course she’ll go too far.” Copper scratches his beard. “I don’t know if she’s told you about her past, but she’s more than a little starved for approval from respected authority figures. You must have seen how quick she is to go quiet when Her majesty strikes back at her when they verbally spar?”
  2143. >”It had crossed my mind.”
  2144. >”It’s also why Her majesty wants her to open up. Misty’s legitimately a talent for courtplay and she’ll do well as a counterspy, but until she sheds these vulnerabilities, she’s subject to being toyed with, even by the princess. I leave it up to you if you want to tell her, but Misty needs complete autonomy if she’s going to shine as a protector of Equestria. The best spymasters act against their rulers demands for the greater good of the people. It’s not a pleasant situation, but a necessary one.”
  2145. >that’s a pretty heavy sentiment for this early in the morning
  2146. >but nonetheless, you get your uniform on, which fits like nothing you’ve ever worn before, and head outside
  2147. >Misty and Ozzy are also dressed in their suits
  2148. >Ozzy’s suit shifts tone as the morning sun is obscured by a cloud, shifting from a dark blue to a lighter shade
  2149. >it’s also quite form fitting, giving little excess material for people to grab, only sparing a little more for modesty to stop her more intimate spots showing too much detail
  2150. >Misty’s is the opposite
  2151. >it’s a vibrant collection of obfuscating details and shaped elements that hide her slim frame, and you suspect she could hide all sorts of things in all the little pockets, as well as a cloak that allows her room for her wings and a hood to cover her head
  2152. >it’s the same peculiar material as Rarity showed off last night, and as she stand still, all the patterns align and she becomes difficult to see
  2153. >Celestia is in a formal, white dress
  2154. >fully modest besides the little split cut down the sides, revealing just a little flash of her impossibly long legs
  2155. >also a subtle show of the very top of her cleavage from her huge bosom, which is bound down slightly to give her a more modest figure
  2156. >it’s… not terribly effective, but an effort was made
  2158. >all tied off with her fine regalia; a crown and tasteful jewellery
  2159. >she stands in a large chariot, manned by a number of phantasmal horses
  2160. >”Good morning. Once you are prepared, we shall be off,” she says smoothly, calmly and with no excess emotion
  2161. >it still catches you off guard. knowing the real Celi behind closed doors, how different she acts and looks when ‘on form’
  2162. >Ozzy’s always uptight enough that, as she climbs on board, she’s already serious and somber
  2163. >Misty seems to chafe a little in looking serious, as if she takes umbrage with climbing into the grand chariot
  2164. >you just rely on your old bedside manner as Pearly’s assistant at her Sunride medical practice
  2165. >a pair pegasi, both elite guards, one male and one female, line up and, with a gesture from the princess, you’re off
  2166. >the horses run along the path, then begin treading the air as they sprout wings
  2167. >Ozzy begins gripping the chariot and sweating
  2168. >you’re… not exactly great with heights either, but try and play it cool
  2169. >Misty just smirks and says, “I’m surprised we don’t just teleport there, or fly by our own wings. It’d be more fun.”
  2170. >Celestia replies, “I wholeheartedly agree, but procedure and ceremony is important. It’s a barrier of sorts between myself and my subject that gives them expectations and sets a series of rules. Following them enforces a measure of respect for both sides, such as always arriving by chariot, so they can see us arrive, being punctual, so they have adequate time to prepare, and we certainly shall remain proper and affable, no matter their mood or demeanour.”
  2171. >you gulp and ask,”What happens if procedure is breached?”
  2172. >”If I were to start teleporting in whenever I desired, the populace would grow paranoid and believe me to be disrespectful or seeking to interfere. The more power you desire to hold over others, the weaker you must present yourself yet project power through those acting in my stead. But, at the same time, it’s a fair measure of the attitudes of those we visit in turn; if they’re too uptight, they’re hiding something. If they’re too loose, then they’re likely disrespectful if they’re not openly hostile.”
  2173. >Misty asks, “what are you expecting with Pinion?”
  2174. >Celestia smirks. “Toadying, nervous, sweaty handwringing and a sudden emergence of several ‘bread and circuses’ operations out of his own pocket.”>”And what do we actually want?”
  2175. >”That’s where you come in. Explore the town, talk to the populace, make some friends and feel free to dig around a little.”
  2177. >”Not that you need protection,” Misty says, “but I guess that’s another procedure thing?”
  2178. >Celestia nods. “Showing direct force diminishes the illusion of untouchable authority. Not to mention that, in centuries past, I have debased myself into using my powers to intimidate and quell an uprising…” she sighs heavily. “It cost me more than I gained.”
  2179. >you quietly take in the scenery as miles pass by, and after an hour of rapid flight, you can soon see a settlement on the horizon, on the border of Equestria proper
  2180. >it’s a small town, mostly small houses, but there’s a few larger buildings
  2181. >as you get nearer, one appears to be a theatre, one is a museum
  2182. >another, judging by the number of pegasi flying in and out, is the postal centre that was the topic of Mayor Pinion’s issues
  2183. >lastly is a grand estate, which appears to be the mayor’s place, judging by the way you’re approaching to park the chariot in front of the place
  2184. >a large congregation has formed, lining the landing strip, and you hear horns being blown as fanfare of your arrival
  2185. >and, at last, you see Mayor Frayed Pinion, standing bolt rigid as the chariot goes on its final approach
  2186. >Celestia takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “We shall disembark, shake hands with the mayor, I shall make a speech, and then we shall go our separate ways as he gives me a tour of the town. If anything comes up, seek me out for a quiet word. Otherwise I’m trusting you to act as my equerries; be personable, but suffer no disrespect. Be kind, but project strength. Most of all, try and have some fun.”
  2187. >the chariot lands smoothly, and draws to a stop
  2188. >Mayor Pinion steps forward, alongside a meek, older earth woman who appears to be his aide, and clears his throat
  2189. >he squawks a little as his breath is caught in his throat, coughs and clears his throat again, and finally says, “Princess Celestia, welcome to Stirrup Point. It is both an honour and a privilege to host you, your majesty!”
  2190. >he bows, and offers his hand to help her disembark as the crowd cheers and applauds
  2191. >Celestia uses her fingertips to make contact out of respect but, naturally being far larger than him, doesn’t put any weight on the man
  2192. >his aide then stands beside the chariot and bows as you step off, and as you move beside Celestia, the mayor offers a hand to shake
  2193. >you and Ozzy give a frank handshake
  2194. >Misty gives the man a glare, and he gives a disdainful look right back
  2196. >Celestia steps before the crowd, and offers a small bow, and a young unicorn girl approaches and gives the princess a bouquet of flowers
  2197. >Celestia takes a knee and gives the girl a gentle hug and whispers her thanks, kisses the child on the forehead, then sends her on her way before standing again
  2198. >”Good people of Stirrup Point, your presence humbles me, and I have never felt more welcome!”
  2199. >a whole suite of platitudes follow, long winded and no doubt part of a routine about friendship and togetherness
  2200. >”… and I shall greatly enjoy exploring your beautiful town. And please, offer your welcome to my equerries, my personal assistants, who shall be enjoying your town as well. Thank you, everyone!”
  2201. >the gathering begins to dissipate as Celestia returns to the mayor
  2202. >she says, with just the subtlest of snideness, “after you, mayor. I’m interested in what you’ve discovered about these sadly misappropriated funds.”
  2203. >the aide bites her lip but maintains a professional attitude as she approaches you
  2204. >”I’ve been requested to accompany you as you explore the town. I’m Verdant Prairie. Please direct any questions you may have to me.”
  2205. >Misty looks at you and asks, “so, where we heading?”
  2207. >you touch your pin and mentally think the words, “she’s probably observing us.”
  2208. >Misty flicks Verdant a gaze, then projects back, “play along for now.”
  2209. >she then says, “so, Verdy. Can I call you Verdy?”
  2210. >Verdant sighs and rolls her eyes. “If you wish.”
  2211. >”What do you recommend first? What’s gonna shout to us, ‘this is what Stirrup Point is all about?’”
  2212. >Verdant perks up a little. “Our theatre is the pride of the town, but nothing would bring you up to speed about our way of life quite like the museum. We have time for both of them if you’d like to follow me.”
  2213. >Misty mentally tries to message to you, but it’s still recharging, so she says “museum’s probably a *real safe* start. I guess it depends if you want an *adventure* out of this.”
  2215. >”Sounds good to me,” you reply, the gesture to Misty. “Mistral Shear here is something of a budding archaeologist.”
  2216. >”Sure,” she says and nods, “my uncle and my dad were into it, so I picked up on it here and there.”
  2217. >Verdant perks up a little more, finally looking quite friendly. “Oh? How lovely! In recent years, the museum has been somewhat neglected by the locals. It will be a delight to show someone around with some insight”
  2218. >”Any particular reason it’s being ignored?” Misty asks as you head for the museum
  2219. >Verdant sighs and replies, ”the mayor wished to make the Stirrup Point more business focused when the mail centre opened. It’s a shame, because he used to be a patron of the arts and a bit of a historian. He donated quite a bit to filling the museum with all sorts of fascinating bric-à-brac, but many of the exhibits are now chiefly fancier, more expensive articles with less relevance. He claimed it would attract ‘the right sort of people.’”
  2220. >you share a look with Misty, who narrows her eyes but doesn’t continue for now
  2221. >”I am actually looking forward to this,“ Ozzy says, “I have seen so little of the world beyond my old memories of Ponyville and the monastery.”
  2222. >”A recluse, eh?” Verdant chuckles. “If anything catches your eye, please, feel free to ask, and I would be glad to answer your questions.”
  2223. >you reach the museum, which certainly has seen better days; the windows are dirty, the sign is faded and there’s a lot of moss growing on the windowsills
  2224. >inside is cleaner, and true to Verdant’s word, there’s some gaudy pictures of… well, they’re either poorly made or it’s some sort of Impressionism
  2225. >over-decorated statues, where the base figure is crude and formless, but clad in fine jewels
  2226. >and an assortment of elaborate gold and silver items that, while no doubt expensive, aren’t especially pretty to look at
  2227. >a sentiment shared by Misty, who looks offended
  2228. >”Nothing here has *any* age whatsoever. It’s all bunk.”
  2230. >Verdant nods. “Yes, I quite agree. Yet Mayor Pinion insists we show this off to all visitors first and foremost.”
  2231. >”so these are recent items?” you ask
  2232. >”Sadly so. But here, follow me, I think I might have a section that will be more to your liking.”
  2233. >you pass through another wing of, as Misty calls them, “atrocities to Equestrian history,” and finally find a small section with simple seeming urns, a very nice series of landscape paintings, a statue of a woman that-
  2234. >holy shit, it’s a statue of Celestia!
  2235. >she’s just so much slimmer and modest in curves, you almost didn’t recognise use her, but the face is unmistakable
  2236. >she’s smiling gently, but the artist has managed to catch a shy side to her, judging by her posture
  2237. >and, if life size, back when she was at the meagre, civilian 5’10 tall
  2238. >she stands, conservatively robed but wearing her crown, holding book against her side in one hand and holding aloft a sundial in the other
  2239. >”Whoa,” Misty says, going starry eyed. “is this genuine? It looks like a Hew Martingale. The guy who made statues of most of the current rulers. He even made one of Sombra, but that was destroyed centuries ago.”
  2240. >”I believe so,” Verdant says. “I’ve found nothing to the contrary. Unfortunately the artist never left any identifiable marks, besides his impeccable eye for detail”
  2241. >”That would put this at a thousand and fifty years old, Misty says and continues analysing the statue. “She would have been princess for maybe months at most.”
  2242. >Ozzy muses, “she looks so humble… far from the peerless confidence and size she possesses now.”
  2243. >Verdant nods. “Those who believe she wasn’t always an alicorn say the princess was rather short before her ascension, but she was always a beautiful and magically gifted individual. As Princess Twilight exemplifies, it seems they grow quite rapidly to begin with, as I recall the princess of friendship was also modest yet sprouted to six feet tall in a year, although it’s my understanding she was further enhanced by the new resident princess, Lustre.”
  2244. >as actually fascinating as it is, seeing someone you’ve grown close to in their younger years, you’re on a mission. “You’d think something as iconic as this would be a great centrepiece for the foyer. She’d be priceless!”
  2245. >”I’ve voiced as much, myself,” Verdant says, “but the curator and the mayor are quite inseparable and single minded in their efforts to show off all the glittery baubles. They even rotate them frequently; nothing seems to stay for more than a few weeks.”
  2247. >Misty seems to snap from her analysis, purses her lips, then taps her pin
  2248. >”Sounds fishy to me,” she mentally projects, then says, “ever see the same objects return?”
  2249. >Verdant shrugs, “a few, I suppose, but the curator tries to enforce that there’s ‘always something new’ to attract new visitors.”
  2250. >”Anyone buy these flashier pieces?”
  2251. >Verdant shrugs. “If they do, I’m not party to such dealings.”
  2252. >Misty taps her chin, then looks at an urn and says, “hey, Verdy, tell Osmiana about this; I’m pretty sure this belonged to a nomadic civilisation known for their combat skills. She’s an expert martial artist too.”
  2253. >”Oh?” Ozzy takes a look as Verdant heads over and begins telling the brawler what she knows
  2254. >Misty moves closer to you and whispers, “it’s gotta be a type of fencing.”
  2255. >you raise an eyebrow. ”Swordplay? What?”
  2256. >”No, rabbit, trading stolen goods. We know the mayor steals stuff. We’re onto something here. We could probably just put pressure on him and get him to confess now, but I guess the more we dig, the more we could discover. I *could* snoop around and see what else I could find, since there’s gotta be *some* trace of any dealings, but it’s gonna be easy for Verdy to notice I’ve gone missing in a quiet place like this. Otherwise we could push to check one of the other locations and keep our noses clean.”
  2258. >“Seems like she’s chafing under his leadership,” you quietly suggest, “we should see if we can get Verdant on our side.”
  2259. >Misty nods. “In that case, we’ve gotta be organic about this, and we’ve lingered here enough. Let’s move on. The theatre’ll do; if there’s any plays or rehearsals going on, there’ll already be a bunch of people whispering, so it won’t look out of place if we have a quiet word.”
  2260. >you break up, return to Ozzy, and Misty continues, “might have to visit this place in my own time some day. For now, Verdy, how about we hit the theatre?”
  2261. >Verdant claps her hands together, seeming excited. “Absolutely. While his taste in artistic decor and furnishings are… not to my preference, I must say that the mayor is, at least, cultured in terms of plays.”
  2262. >you head back through the museum, only for a large, broad and bristly looking unicorn man to clear his throat and wave Verdant over
  2263. >”My apologies,” your guide says, “I’ll be but a moment.”
  2264. >as Verdant heads to him, you take a guess and whisper, “the curator, do you think?”
  2265. >”Probably? I don’t like the look of’em,” Misty remarks. “He’s difficult to get a read on. Too rigid.”
  2266. >”He can fight,” Ozzy suddenly remarks
  2267. >you both look at her, and Misty asks, “you think?”
  2268. >Ozzy nods. “His posture is that of a man who can explode into action at a moment’s notice. He pivots on the balls of his feet and turns on the spot in a way to keep his balance at all times. I suspect he is an old boxer or something similar. We had a few of them in the order, and even in their advanced age, they were particular in their movements.”
  2269. >”So nothing good for us, then.” You sigh as Verdant returns. You ask her, “anything amiss?”
  2270. >Verdant shakes her head. “Just some requests for the mayor when I have a spare moment. Nothing of concern.”
  2271. >you get back outside and round a corner
  2272. >only for a gigantic figure to bump into Ozzy
  2273. >she grunts and falls, yet contorts herself mid tumble into a rapid handspring flip, landing back on her feet in a flash, arms raised to defend herself
  2274. >”Aw, heck, beggin’ yer pardon, missy,” says a low, bass voice. “Be the gentlemanly thing to do to give you a hand up, but dang, if you ain’t spry as a cat bein’ chased by a mutt! That’s some fancy footwork! Y’all okay? Didn’t hurt you none?”
  2275. >you look at the man, who’s got to be almost eight feet tall and built like an absolute beast, with sandy hair and gentle brown eyes
  2276. >you swear you’re not insecure, but you’re definitely glad Pearly isn’t here, and that you’ve patched things up with her, because you *know* this guy can’t be hurting for company
  2277. >although you inwardly suspect maybe he is; it’d take a woman of serious durability and size to spend a night with him and survive
  2278. >a sentiment that’s obviously shared by Ozzy…
  2280. >she stands upright and drops her guard, but doesn’t respond
  2281. >she just… stares at him
  2282. >then blushes when she catches herself doing so, twiddles her fingers and finally stammers, “I am unfine! I- I mean just harmed! I- I…”
  2283. >you clear your throat and say to the giant earthblood man, “I believe she’s trying to say that she’s fine, thank you.”
  2284. >Misty mumbles, “seriously, I’m getting a complex about all these colossal people.” She then speaks up, “and just who’re you?”
  2285. >Verdant steps in, “this is Quince Crumble. He’s something of a local hero!”
  2286. >he blushes and scratches the back of his head, “don’t y’all go bigging me up now! Weren’t nothin’ but my civic duty, ma’am.”
  2287. >Misty jabs, “yeah, Celestia forbid you make this guy seem even bigger.”
  2288. >Verdant continues, “says the man who took out an attacking dragon with the town sign’s one ton concrete base by throwing it at the monster! Knocked it clear out of the sky! He saved the town.”
  2289. >”Just don’t feel right bein’ made famous for violence, is all,” Quince says
  2290. >Ozzy finally collects herself and says, “it is perfectly acceptable to defend oneself and the innocent when a true threat presents, good sir Crumble! You should stand proud for such a deed! And a dragon! I am in awe…”
  2291. >their gazes lock on, and you just know
  2292. >you just *know*
  2293. >nothing needs to be said
  2294. >”Gonna fuck like animals,” Misty mentally projects to you
  2295. >damn it, Misty…
  2296. >”Ma’am, I-“
  2297. >”Osmiana Zenith. Most call me Ozzy.”
  2298. >”That’s a real pretty name. Heck, normally you noble bloods’re kinda scrawny.” He looks down at you and says, “no offence, sir.”
  2299. >”none taken,” you say with a shrug
  2300. >”But you’re…” he continues, but trails off as he gets an eyeful of Ozzy’s unrepentant brawn. “I’ve got a quiet l’il place on the edge of town…”
  2301. >”Y- yes! We should… privates, uh, *talk* in private!Forgive me,” Ozzy suddenly says to you, “I… shall catch up, when possible.”
  2303. >”You go have fun,” you say and pat Ozzy’s arm
  2304. >”And try not to bring the house down,” Misty snickers
  2305. >”Thank you! I shall do my utmost,” Ozzy says and follows Quince
  2306. >Verdant smiles as the giant pair head away. “Oh, how nice! Quince is such a humble and gentle man, but… well, you can see how large he is, and he has often bemoaned feeling like a brute and has been afraid of hurting anyone. As tough as your fellow equerry appears, I do hope she’ll be alright. The man sometimes struggles to keep his strength in check.”
  2307. >”Oh, trust me,” Misty says, “she’ll give as good as she gets.”
  2308. >”Anyway, the theatre awaits!”
  2309. >you proceed through town, and reach the grand theatre
  2310. >judging by the design, it was made by the same people, and at the same time, as the museum, but this place is far more presentable and well maintained
  2311. >within, Verdant takes you through the foyer and, as you reach the doors, puts a finger to her lips to request silence
  2312. >actors, only some in costume, appear to be putting on a play about Tirek’s first attack
  2313. >you can’t help but feel some panic rise inside you from the memories, considering that event’s what exacerbated your sensitivity
  2314. >first you untapped the sheer amount of power in the deal you brokered with Ondrarion, but at least all you struggled with then was using too much magic for simple tasks
  2315. >but you still remember entering the mirror, to hide and prevent Tirek from draining your abnormal capacity for magic
  2316. >you could never tell how much of Ondrarion’s suggestion to hide within it was self-serving or fearful; it was the one time it seemed to have your well-being in mind, but you know his link to you likely meant you being drained would have harmed the mirror spirit
  2317. >still, you dread to think what would have happened if you hadn’t; that extra power in Tirek’s hands could have tipped the balance
  2318. >but since then, any nearby magic would flare yours up
  2319. >”Psst,” Misty says and nudges you. She smirks. “You still with us or are you imagining Quince and his ‘sign post?’”
  2320. >you use your enhanced cunning to clap back, “you realise it’s probably bigger than you are, right? Ozzy’l probably be walking funny tomorrow.”
  2321. >she chuckles and nods, and Verdant gives you a raised eyebrow
  2323. >she leads you to a quiet upper booth to watch some of the rehearsals
  2324. >it’s not bad, considering they’re just practicing, but you settle back in the task at hand
  2325. >”So, Verdant,” you say. “Sounds like the mayor’s changed policies. Am I right?”
  2326. >she sighs. “He’s been an effective leader for a number of years. Honestly, I can’t help but hope he’s just having a bad span, because he generated a considerable amount of good will in his first few terms. So much so, that I suspect that’s why he’s beaten any other prospective candidates, despite the slip ups.”
  2327. >Misty runs a finger along her jaw. “He a generous kinda guy? Could be he’s made promises that ring well with the townsfolk, but how is he with funds?”
  2328. >”Mayor Pinion’s rather private about his expenses. I’m aware of the of the situation but I’m uncomfortable discussing the topic. It’s just that lately, and especially since the mail centre opened, things have fallen into disrepair. With the amount of extra people it brings in and out of town, the mayor’s insistent that he simply can’t keep up with the maintenance.”
  2329. >Misty’s brow twitches. ”So, will we get a chance to see the mail centre?”
  2330. >Verdant loses a shade of her personable attitude. “It’s not a particularly interesting place, though very hectic. I’d rather not go there and get in the way.”
  2331. >”We gotta check it,” Misty mentally projects
  2332. >you consider your options and look across the other booths
  2333. >… was that movement in one of the far booths?
  2334. >you swear you just saw somebody…
  2335. >”did you see that?” you project
  2336. >Misty shrugs and shakes her head, then asks Verdant, “do you know why Celestia’s here? The reason for her visit?”
  2337. >”The mayor didn’t want to say. I did think it was quite sudden, though I’m under the impression he wanted to keep the reasonings quiet. I respect the men too much to pry.”
  2338. >you all go silent as you watch the play
  2339. >the tragic destruction of the Ponyville treebrary occurs, complete with clever smoke effects obscuring the cranes as they lift the prop up, leaving a destroyed version beneath
  2340. >the pegasus playing Twilight evokes all the emotions in rapid succession; shock, grief, sorrow, then rage as she takes wing and assaults the man, on stilts, representing Tirek
  2341. >there won’t be a dry eye in the house
  2342. >those poor books!
  2343. >eventually, Misty projects, ”talk about mayor theft?”
  2345. >the play draws to a close, with Tirek spirited away to Tartarus (a trapdoor under the stage) and you all politely applaud
  2346. >”Well, we are on official business,” you say, “if it’s alright with you, I’d like to check the mail centre.”
  2347. >Misty nods. ”Just to tie a nice little bow on the royal visit, y’know?”
  2348. >Verdant sighs, but relents with a nod
  2349. >as you leave the booth, you pass a meek looking unicorn man with green hair, striped yellow
  2350. >Verdant says, “oh, Radian Wave? I believe the left side spotlights were-“
  2351. >”Faulty, I know! I’m on it, already!”
  2352. >he opens a nearby access door, mumbling under his breath about how he thought “earning a degree in engineering and working in a theatre would be a great way to pick up a nice girl. An actress, or maybe a singer. But no! Nobody else knows the first damn thing about electrical wiring yet you’re *still* a dogsbody!”
  2353. >you leave him to his fate of obscurity and head back out into town
  2354. >it’s getting towards midday
  2355. >you spot Celestia and the mayor on their own tour, on their way to the museum themselves, by the looks of it
  2356. >you also pass by a couple of gossipers, giggling amongst themselves about the racket coming from Quince Crumble’s place, their faces bright red
  2357. >just to punctuate the point, there’s distant, long and lustful scream that is perfectly in Ozzy’s deeper feminine contralto, paired with a bellow not unlike a bear that makes *everyone* pause and react with chuckles, embarrassment or a mix of the two
  2358. >Celestia stops in the museum doorway at the sound, looks surprised, then covers her mouth as she laughs and continues inside
  2359. >as do you, as you reach the farthest edge of Stirrup Point
  2361. >the mail centre is like a bee-hive of activity; people of all types are hauling parcels in and out by air, land and lake
  2362. >even the main path is busy with folk collecting and dropping off parcels
  2363. >you head inside and there’s queues all over the place
  2364. >Verdant says, “this is the main distribution centre of mail coming and going from all lands across and around Equestria. It’s both a tremendous source of income for the town, but the carnage it induces simply cannot be overstated. The littering alone often demands a focused monthly effort to bring it back under control where standard utilities can’t keep up.”
  2365. >a terse voice behind you says, ”are you here on business?”
  2366. >you turn and see a wiry pegasus man with a scarred, squinty eye
  2367. >Misty flinches and says, “yeah. Royal visit business.”
  2368. >”That ain’t business, little girl. If you’re not sending or receiving, get out and stop wasting our time.”
  2369. >Verdant stands up straight and says, “now, Cold Front, there’s no need for that. Once they see there’s little of interest here, I’m sure they’ll-“
  2370. >Misty puffs up her chest, with minimal effect, steps up to Cold and says, “oh, I dunno, I’m thinking of giving this place a *real* thorough examination, jerk!”
  2372. >you step between them. “Just a simple visit, Mr. Front.”
  2373. >he sneers at you. “Well, this isn’t a visitors centre or a tourist attraction. It’s the lifeblood of the town, and we don’t like people disrupting our business.”
  2374. >”Can we please be civil!” Verdant calls out
  2375. >Misty pushes against you to keep up her aggression, but you remain firm and even give her a glare fierce enough to make her take a step back
  2376. >a new male voice cuts over the bubbling tension. ”Is there a problem good sirs and madams?”
  2377. >a pair of unicorn twins enter
  2378. >both with red hair, one with a moustache, green eyes, slim and dressed in dapper attire
  2379. >”No sense in letting things spiral out of control and disrupt a jolly fine day, eh, brother of mine?”
  2380. >the other brother says, ”so very true! Violence is bad for business, no matter the venue!”
  2381. >Cold Front grumbles, ”I don’t think you’re aware that these are Celestia’s lackeys, Flim.”
  2382. >wait a minute…
  2383. >”So what’s the big issue?” Flim, the clean shaven one, replies
  2384. >Flim? As in Flim and Flam?
  2385. >oh, hay, Osmiana told you about these two; a couple of unscrupulous conmen and crooks
  2386. >you’re glad you let Ozzy go; no doubt that would have sent these rats scurrying
  2387. >”These guys scammed Ozzy,” you project to Misty
  2388. >”Evidence keeps piling up,” she replies
  2389. >”So,” Front continues, “they’re the ones the mayor said about…’”
  2390. >Flim and Flam glance at each other, then smile at you, then back at Cold Front
  2391. >the moustached Flam says, “well, friend, as your newest business partners, perhaps we could arrange a more intimate and friendly tour for the royal representatives on your behalf?”
  2392. >”Absolutely!” Flim replies and smirks. “After all… we have nothing to hide. At least nothing that will cause us any trouble.”
  2393. >the twins give each other a quick glance and they chuckle
  2394. >Flam turns to the mayors aide and says, “Ms. Prairie, we can take it from here. They’ll be in *very* safe hands.”
  2395. >Verdant looks between you and the trio, unsure how to proceed
  2397. >you stand firm and say, ”you understand that we’re the equerries of Princess Celestia herself?”
  2398. >”Indeed!” says Flim
  2399. >”Most prestigious!” adds Flam
  2400. >”A very impressive position to be!” Flim says as he pats your shoulders
  2401. >”One could say you’re the big man in town,”
  2402. >they both sing, in unison, linking arms with a grand, upward sweep with their opposing arms, *and* in tune, “we say that with no hyperboleee! Ooooh-“
  2403. >Misty steps forward and flails her arms around., and tells, “okay, no singing, for Celestia’s sake!”
  2404. >the twins sag and utter, “aww.”
  2405. >you roll your eyes and say, with folded arms, “we will be inspecting the premises, going where we please. If you wish to accompany us, then you may do so, and you *will* answer our questions. But we will *not* be harangued, harassed or hampered! Am I understood?”
  2406. >”Holistically heralded, my humble hombre!” Flam says with a smile
  2407. >”Happily hosted!”
  2408. >”Hay to this horrible happenstance,” Misty grumbles
  2409. >you give her a look, and she just shrugs and says, “what!?”
  2410. >you notice, by an inability to notice him, that Cold Front has slinked away at some point
  2411. >”we should be careful,” you project and look around
  2412. >Misty glances around, and scowls. “Probably covering stuff up,” she projects back
  2413. >”So, where to first?” Flim says and gestures to three doors
  2414. >”We wouldn’t want you getting lost now, would we? You say the word, we’ll show you there.” Flam says
  2415. >the doors read sorting, offices and transport
  2416. >Misty says, “I don’t think it’ll matter, but I’m thinking we start in the sorting room and see what’s what.”
  2418. >you’re certain Cold Front isn’t trying to escape, so it’s unlikely he’s gone to transport
  2419. >you quickly look inside the offices section, but see nobody
  2420. >while likely there’s something you could find if you had time to dig, you suspect time is of the essence
  2421. >and a quick look into the sorting floor is an absolute mess of activity as an army of people transport trolleys of packages and letters all over the place
  2422. >if someone wanted to lose you, it would be there; all the noise and carnage, he’d be invisible
  2423. >and if this mail centre is truly the hotbed of where anything illegal is happening, there’s plenty of places where things and people can vanish, be repackaged and more in a place where everyone’s too focused on their work
  2424. >by process of elimination, you have no choice but to conclude with Misty; judging by her comment about it not mattering, she likely came up with the same conclusion, that you’ll not catch Cold Front easily, and he could be going through sorting on the way to somewhere else, but you think of a plan
  2425. >this might be an great opportunity to send your fledgling counterspy out to hunt if you head onto the sorting floor and let her loose; you draw attention while she does her thing
  2426. >but, naturally, this means you’ll be even more exposed; it’s likely she’ll be able to keep an eye on you while she works and update you with her pin, but spotting her at work might be difficult
  2428. >”Once inside, go hunting,” you project, then say, “I agree with my colleague. Let’s see the sorting floor.”
  2429. >Flam shrugs. “Just don’t stray too far; the hustle and bustle is a tad overwhelming for most.”
  2430. >”Unless, of course, you know how to handle a crowd,” Flim concludes
  2431. >”I’ll take my chances,” you reply
  2432. >you head through the double doors into the chaos that is the sorting room, alongside Flim and Flam
  2433. >this section has to take up most of the building, so the odds of there being some hidden sections seems high
  2434. >and, to your complete lack of surprise, once the twins aren’t looking, Misty simply walks off to the side, plucking a postal cap from a sorting bench, putting it on and she blends in with the crowd so well, you don’t even bother trying to spot her
  2435. >”As you can well see, my boy,” Flam says, “any and all mail and parcels are brought here and given a thorough examination.”
  2436. >all manner of devices, powered by green magic, funnel packages through, and divide up
  2437. >Flim continues, ”these sophisticated, wonderous (and patented) mechanisms speed up the process tenfold! Originally used to scan apples for auality, we’ve refined the process and made it detect all sorts of things for proper distribution.”
  2438. >you ask, “I don’t suppose the rate these parcels are sorted and sent has anything to do with the mayor’s misgivings with litter and maintenance?”
  2439. >Flam laughs. “That’s his problem. We provided the perfect means to speed the sorting process so he can earn his bits, plus we provide maintenance and our business savvy, all for a very reasonable percentage. It’s not our concern to deal with the aftermath.”
  2440. >if true, they’re dangerously good at avoiding blame
  2441. >which based on what Ozzy told you, seems like their modus operandi; stick (hazily) within the law, everything else is fair play
  2442. >”And where does Cold Front come into this?” you ask
  2443. >”He’s the postmaster,” Flim responds. “He’s been here for quite a while is our understanding. Ruthlessly efficient sort. Say… where’s your pegasus friend?”
  2444. >coincidentally you receive a telepathic message from Misty. ”Found isolated section, investigating.”
  2445. >again, you have no idea where she is, but you need to stall for time
  2446. >Flam says, “I hope she hasn’t gotten lost… I’ve seen girls of her ilk before. They have sticky fingers…”
  2447. >Flim nods, then says. “Perhaps we should change tempo…”
  2448. >Flam smooths his moustache back again as he seems in thought and his brow furrows for a moment. He then says, to you, ”so, as you can see, my good fellow,” Flam says as he pats your back, “for all the commotion, there’s really not much to see here. Shall we move on?”
  2449. >you have a chance to dig deeper too. You try and piece together any details you know; like these expensive but crappy art pieces
  2450. >what better place to move materials than a mail centre, when everyone in control seems involved?
  2452. >you ask, “these sorting machines; what sort of criteria do they sort by? Surely not by address, that’s the sort of thing that’s easy to spot.”
  2453. >the twins give each other a glance. “Weight, shape and size, naturally.”
  2454. >”What about contents? These sophisticated scanners… I suppose they can identify what’s inside?”
  2455. >another glance between the twins
  2456. >Flim chuckles. “If I didn’t know better, Id say you’re involved in a little… business espionage, young sir.”
  2457. >Flam continues, ”you’re not looking to start your own business there, are you, friend? Or… looking into if we’re involved in anything some might call, say, unscrupulous?”
  2458. >”Actually,” Flim says and strokes his chin, “we could strike up a deal; it couldn’t hurt our chances to rub elbows with Princess Celestia’s personal assistants…”
  2459. >Flam twirls his moustache. “Not a terrible idea at all, brother of mine. What say you, sir? Our savvy and cooperation in whatever you wish in exchange for leaving us clear of your own enterprise?”
  2461. >you tap your chin. ”Seems to me it depends on what exactly you’re after and what you’re offering.”
  2462. >Flim’s grin broadens. “In laymen’s terms? Information for amnesty. Certain activities have come to light that, frankly, if royal interest has come sniffing, we’re now uncomfortable with. We only complied under duress, I assure you.”
  2463. >Flam tightens his tie. “You get everything you need to deal with it on behalf of the law. We clean our hands of any business here, and are free to leave with what we’ve earned, fair and square, under the strict letter of the law that our percentage was earned under the pretence of a legitimate parcel and mailing system.”
  2464. >Flim continues. “Not our problem that they were dealing in high value items. This, my friend, is why I offer you this advice for free.”
  2465. >he puts an arm around your shoulder and continues, “always ask for a percentage over a flat investment. So, do we have a deal?”
  2466. >he holds out his hand to shake
  2467. >Misty mentally projects, “stealing valuables, remaking, selling.”
  2469. >these guys are businessmen
  2470. >scum bag businessmen, but businessmen nonetheless
  2471. >it’s time for a hostile takeover
  2472. >the only problem is you need leverage; you’re not the most intimidating sort
  2473. >Copper Shield may have said about using the fact you blew up a chunk of the moon as an ace in the hole, but these aren’t brutes you’re dealing with; these guys need a more focused attack
  2474. >their pockets and their ability to operate unmolested
  2475. >not to mention, and show of magic in this crowded space would either cause a panic or get innocent people hurt
  2476. >and Misty means well, but she’s about 90lbs wet, and you need presence
  2477. >you need your muscle
  2478. >picking Misty out of the crowd is all but impossible though, so you decide to be dynamic
  2479. >and, you admit, a little dramatic
  2480. >you hop on top of a sorting table, and shout, “can I have your attention please! Including those of you skulking about in the corners.” You pause for dramatic effect. “*Especially* those of you skulking in the corners.”
  2481. >the crowd of workers slow and grow quiet
  2482. >one shrugs and climbs up a roofing column to stand out, and it takes a moment to realise it’s Misty
  2483. >you mentally message her, “get Ozzy and friend.”
  2484. >she grimaces, then drops back into the crowd
  2485. >how she does it with everyone mostly standing still, you have no idea
  2486. >since you’ve already got your hand on your pin, you start your monologue
  2487. >”Do you know what this is? This denotes me as the personal assistant, the equerry, of Princess Celestia. Your monarch. A fair, kind woman who brokers no harm to her people.”
  2488. >”We don’t know what you’re playing at,” Flim barks back, “but if you’re expecting to turn the crowd against us, you’re sorely mistaken.”
  2489. >”Last time I checked, you’re all subjects of the crown,” you say and snap your fingers, pointing at the Flim Flam brothers, “including you two. You’re a known quantity, considering you’ve had altercations with not only the princess of friendship, one Twilight Sparkle, but a few incidents with Applejack, one of the personal handmaidens of the new resident princess in Canterlot, Princess Lustre. Also one of my peers, a fellow equerry. I could go on. So, with that in mind, ‘friends’, I have a counter-offer.”
  2490. >you hop down and get in their faces
  2491. >well, they’re taller than you by some margin, if skinny, so… probably not the most frightening show, but screw it
  2493. >”I can respect your gifts, your savvy and your hustle,” you continue, “but you’re treading on thin ice as far as I’m concerned. Your allegation that you’ve been profiting here under duress don’t mean a single damn thing when you’re almost certainly in deep with the others in this little plot, so my offer Is that you submit it yourselves to Princess Celestia’s rule, give us your information and your conspirators, and work for Equestria’s benefit, with fair recompense.”
  2494. >Flim and Flam laugh. Flim says, “fair enterprise? From the Princess?”
  2495. >Flam continues, “she may know how to run a peaceful nation, she knows ‘the trade’ about as well as she can fit her wide posterior through the average d-“
  2496. >”It can be a bit difficult sometimes,” says a familiar, but unexpected, female voice
  2497. >you all flinch, and notice the crowd has both peeled back and many are bowing as Celestia warmly smiles and steps next to you
  2498. >“I should really get more exercise, I suppose. All these visits and courtly duties often leave me with a lack of time.”
  2499. >the twins go into maximum toadying mode. “Your majesty!”
  2500. >”A privilege to host you, your ladyship!” They bow
  2501. >”An honour!” Hands clasping in supplication
  2502. >”I’ll mark this day on our calendar!” They doff their hats
  2503. >”I’m sure you will,” Celestia replies, “and I understand some may object to my rule at times, so feel free to offer a complaint if you believe I am doing a poor job.”
  2504. >”Of course not!” Flim says
  2505. >”Pish-posh!” Flam adds
  2506. >”Wouldn’t dream of it.”
  2507. >Celestia gives a musical laugh, and says, “I’m glad to hear it! Now,” she turns serious and slowly approaches the pair. She says, low and firm,”I received a report from Ms. Prairie that my assistants were being intimidated by you and another gentleman, one Cold Front?”
  2508. >the twins retreat and back into a machine, “n-now, hold on, we-“
  2509. >”I consider their confrontation and obstruction an open defiance to my rule. And the only reason for that wold be if you believe how I handle this nations affairs is not seen as effective, and that you have a better idea on how such affairs should be handled. So, I ask again.”
  2510. >she stops, looms and folds her arms
  2511. >frankly you doubt she can see them well over her bosom
  2512. >”Do you have any complaints? Speak freely.”
  2514. >Flim clears his throat, “w- well, your good assistant was offering a place of employment. We would be glad to accept and offer some ideas in good confidence?”
  2515. >Celestia turns to you. “Is the offer still on the table, Equerry Lumen?”
  2517. >”Of course, I’m a man of my word,” you say, “fair pay and amnesty for *everything* you know about this mess and your services.”
  2518. >”Then I welcome you, Flim and Flam,” Celestia says and offers her hand to shake. “I’ve heard plenty about you two.”
  2519. >”Good things, I imagine,” Flam says as he mops his brow with a handkerchief and shakes her hand with the other
  2520. >Celestia giggles, but suddenly snaps, “no. No they weren’t. But you’re getting a chance to prove you’re better than you present yourselves, gentlemen, and to disprove the things said by those I hold in high regard about your morals and ethics.”
  2521. >”Of course! Straight and true!”
  2522. >”Just you wait until you witness our mind-melting mechanical marvels!”
  2523. >”Our bolstering business brilliance!”
  2524. >”Excellent, I’m happy to hear that,” Celestia says and steps away. “I expect you in Canterlot the day after next. If you aren’t, I’ll have you branded as traitors in every village, town and city across my lands. Am I understood?”
  2525. >”Yes, your majesty,” Flim grumbles
  2526. >”As you were, Equerry Lumen,” Celestia says and stands beside you
  2527. >”Alright, gentlemen,” you say and step forward, “show me everything you’ve been involved in.”
  2528. >they lead you to a hushed wing of the sorting room, which has a disused parcel slide, but with the turn of a dial and a pull of one of several switches, it pulls open
  2529. >within is a smaller room, but it’s packed with damaged and open parcels, stacks of bits, precious metals and stones
  2530. >the twins explain that the mayor, the curator of the museum and Cold Front had been skimming materials for years, well before the Flim Flam brothers arrived, by performing ‘security checks’ on heavier parcels
  2531. >the brother’s machines simply made it far easier, and when they discovered this, they simply asked for a larger cut for their silence
  2532. >the scheme was that once valuables were located, certain items disappear or carefully extract small amounts of materials from jewellery and such
  2533. >they would then either fabricate fakes or have the curator ‘restore’ the items with lesser material, and send the items on their intended destination
  2534. >the excess material was then formed into the gaudy art pieces and sold on to other groups ‘in the know’, courtesy of the curator, presented up front for special clientele, who would buy the ‘awful art’, hence the constant rotation, and naturally the reformed items bore no resemblance to anything of artistic merit, but were covered in, or contained, their true worth
  2535. >but all of this was under the purview of Cold Front, who by all accounts is part of some larger group outside of Stirrup Point
  2537. >”What group is this, exactly?”
  2538. >the brothers, already sweating and nervous, go pale
  2539. >”W- we’d really rather not say ” Flam stammers
  2540. >”I think you should,“ you insist. “That was the agreement, correct?”
  2541. >”You don’t know how in deep we are here, sir,” Flim says
  2542. >”Why do you think we were so eager to get out?” Flam adds
  2543. >”There’s business, then there’s ‘business,’” they both say and finger-quote, and Flim finishes, “and we’re firmly in the latter here. We can talk when we’re away from this place, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll not push the issue. Not without protection.”
  2544. >speaking of which… you expected Misty and Ozzy by now…
  2545. >Celestia has her guards keep an eye on things here as you head back to town with her
  2546. >you have no way of knowing what route Misty took, but you have a fair idea where Ozzy is
  2547. >you find an almost hilariously small shack, and knock on the door
  2548. >you hear Ozzy squeal in an uncharacteristically girly way
  2549. >then several bumps and Quince says, “hold your horses, now!”
  2550. >the door opens, and the gigantic earth man peers through, kneeling and covering his shame with a blanket
  2551. >”Oh, Howdy, sir, and-“ His eyes go wide as he looks at Princess Celestia. “Sweet plums and brambles! Your majesty!?”
  2552. >he forces his way out, ripping a chunk away from the doorframe (one of many similarity torn and patched sections) hastily wraps the blanket around his waist and bows
  2553. >the blanket falls away regardless
  2554. >and he’s exposed
  2555. >… you have nothing to prove
  2556. >you’re absolutely secure in your masculinity
  2557. >you’ve personally pleasured Princess Celestia, after all, and did a fine job of it
  2558. >but some guys get all the luck
  2559. >you’re sure there’s a violation here about unlicensed weapons
  2560. >”Oh my,” Celestia says, taking an eyeful and barely batting an eye
  2561. >”Princess!? Forgive me!” Ozzy also crawls out, clutching a bedsheet but taking another chunk of the doorframe with her
  2562. >the sheet snags a brick and plucks it partially free, and the sheet rips
  2563. >the whole archway gives as the load-bearing brick tingles out, and the wall itself collapses
  2564. >and a pair of buff, in the buff titans both sheepishly try to maintain their dignity in the presence of a dignitary
  2565. >you’d be laughing but it dawns on you
  2566. >where *did* Misty get to?
  2567. >”Have you seen Mistral?” Celestia asks
  2568. >”I have not seen her, Princess,” Ozzy says, covering her ample, powerful frame as best as possible
  2569. >Celestia bemusedly says, “go and get dressed,” as she uses her magic (disturbing your horn) to lift away the rubble and even restores the building to its former state, and the naked pair both carefully squeeze back inside
  2570. >Celestia turns to you
  2571. >”Lumen, order the town to search for Misty. I’ll-
  2572. >”I’m here…”
  2573. >you sigh with relief, but then your heart sinks as you turn
  2575. >Misty’s got a black eye and a nasty cut on her brow, the blood forcing an eye shut, as well as a number of other bruises and grazes
  2576. >your horn crackles again as Celestia’s fury fires up her magic. ”Who did this to you!?”
  2577. >”Cold Front…” Misty says and can’t look either of you in the eye. “I screwed up… I saw him fleeing and chased him, but he got the jump on me. I’m sorry… I lost him.”
  2578. >Celestia drops to one knee and hugs Misty like a mother comforting their child
  2579. >to be honest, Misty doesn’t look far off from one; she looks hugely disappointed in herself as she doesn’t resist what you’d expect to be a humiliating hug
  2580. >”Don’t be silly,” Celestia says as she stands, “this situation is more insidious than we first thought. I shall be making some inquiries, demanding some answers and asking some *very* pointed questions. Let me send a missive to Canterlot.”
  2581. >Celestia waves a hand, and a scroll appears, with a quill, and begins writing some orders with her magic, thankfully nothing potent enough to cause you any discomfort
  2582. >Ozzy and Quince emerge, now dressed, and both give Misty a surprised look
  2583. >you say, “the postmaster, Cold Front, did this. He’s part of something bigger, by the sounds of it.”
  2584. >Quince rumbles, quietly but firmly, “I knew he was trouble, but layin’ a hand on a girl? I don’t like gettin’ violent, but if I catch that snake, I’m gonna make’em resemble one.” He cracks his knuckles
  2585. >”I should not have abandoned you,” Ozzy says and fiddles with her fingers. “I cannot apologise enough for this dereliction of my duties!”
  2586. >Misty sighs. “It isn’t your fault. We were happy to see you cut loose, kitten.”
  2587. >Celestia asks, “did your altercation reveal anything of note, Mistral?”
  2588. >”Guy can fight, that’s for sure. And he’s crafty. He didn’t let on he knew I was chasing him, then he ambushed me down an alleyway and kicked the crap out of me. He took flight afterwards but I was too dazed to see where he went.”
  2589. >Celestia blinks the scroll away as Verdant nervously approaches. “Is everything alright, your majesty?”
  2590. >”Ah, Ms. Prairie, good; I want you to take Osmiana and, if he’s willing, Mr. Crumble here to arrest the mayor and the curator.”
  2591. >Quince nods. “Sure am. Jus’ tell me what to do.”
  2592. >in quick order, the mayor’s arrested, and Celestia brings in a contingent of guards to properly investigate the town
  2593. >unfortunately the curator, much like Cold Front, had vanished by the time the museum was checked
  2595. >”It will take some time for the full investigation,” Celestia says, “and I’ll have every document inspected to find any trace of Cold Front and hismrk4t conspirators. For now, let’s head home.”
  2596. >Ozzy and Quince once more nervously blush and shyly look at one another
  2597. >Ozzy asks, ”will I see you again, my noble titan?”
  2598. >”You bet’ya will, my gentle, dainty treasure,” he replies and they cuddle. “I’ve got roots here, but as soon as I can, I’ll come’a knockin’.”
  2599. >despite her mood, Misty manages to snicker and say, “could probably knock with the ‘coming’… and take out the door. He probably goes off like a tidal wave.”
  2600. >Celestia giggles and gives Misty a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Now we just need to get you a fine companion.”
  2601. >Misty sighs. ”Dunno if I’m ready for one… or worthy of one.”
  2602. >”I fear you may feel small because you’re in the presence of alicorns and the blessed, Mistral,” Celestia says gently. “But there’s a giant inside you, waiting to flourish. Your power will awaken yet.”
  2603. >”You mean like Lumen did to Pearly?” Misty snarks. “Or are we being metaphorical?”
  2604. >Celestia smirks. “Both might be enlightening.”
  2605. >you also give her a pat on the back. “I was a nervous, shy bookworm and I managed to bag a girl like Pearly. You’ve got an attractive fire to you, I just think you need to temper it a little.”
  2606. >she doesn’t answer and shuts down
  2607. >you climb into Celestia’s chariot and take flight back to Canterlot
  2608. >Ozzy dreamily watches the town vanish in behind as Misty just hugs her knees and, more than you’ve ever known her, just buries herself within, and tries her hardest to keep from crying
  2609. >once you get back to Canterlot, Misty’s sent to the infirmary, Ozzy relaxes in Horizon Hall and Celestia prepares dinner
  2610. >you *would* have a spare period, except you’re still mucking out Philomena’s enclosure
  2611. >it’s just as annoying, and *she’s* just as annoying as before
  2612. >when finished, and you bathe, Horizon Hall is quiet on arrival
  2613. >Ozzy’s still clearly lovestruck, adrift in her memories as she runs her fingers through her long, blue hair
  2614. >Celestia just quietly cleans, though levitates you your dinner with a wave of her hand
  2615. >she says, “it’s becoming clear that tomorrow’s girls night out will be just as much about cheering Misty up than it used to be loosening up Ozzy.”
  2616. >Ozzy snaps to and stands. “Forgive me, I was not paying attention, did you need something?”
  2617. >Celestia just smiles at her. “Nothing, sorry to break your reverie.”
  2618. >”I should get some exercise in before bed. I suspect I shall not be fit to perform such come tomorrow night.”
  2619. >Ozzy leaves you two alone
  2621. >”Misty’s gone straight to her room,” Celestia says, “though I suspect she won’t be sleeping yet. I have tried to comfort her, but she’s still used to closing down as a mechanism for coping with her emotions. She is so courageous in some ways, but still so fragile in others.”
  2622. >”Do you think I should talk to her?” you ask
  2623. >”If you believe you can get through to her, then by all means, but I won’t tell you one way or the other. Not to diminish Misty’s woes, but I wanted to talk to you about something more mirthful. Namely. tomorrow… I think it would be boring to just wholly convert you into a female equivalent of yourself, so I figured we could have some fun with it.”
  2624. >she places a crystal bottle on the table
  2625. >”Twilight made this, using substances from Discord’s realm. Drink this, and tomorrow, when you wake, you will be transformed. But there’s two phases to the potion; the first, you have control over. Put in your minds eye the form of a female to use as a… base, I suppose. From there, chaos shall tweak your form based on your own merits and characteristics overnight. I won’t even pretend to understand what this will mean, but I’m curious to see what will happen.”
  2627. >your mind keeps drifting to one particular female form as you pick up the potion
  2628. >after all, it’s the one who’s in your thoughts often
  2629. >you’ve had to adjust the image, what with Lustre’s enhancements, but you think of Pearly, pop the cork, and drink
  2630. >a tingle runs through you, and you get an odd sense of something feeling… off
  2631. >you’re too short, for one thing, you’re missing a weight in your chest and your hips feel too narrow
  2632. >there’s other aspects, but it’s hard to put your finger on it
  2633. >you also feel sleepy
  2634. >nothing oppressive or dangerous, but you know once you get in bed and your head hits the pillow, you’ll be out like a light
  2635. >which is just as well, because you want to have a chat with Misty
  2636. >”I’ll check in on Misty,” you tell Celestia
  2637. >she smiles. “I figured you might. I think she needs more of a peer than a superior right now.”
  2638. >you head to Misty’s door and gently knock
  2639. >it’s silent for a while
  2640. >you’re torn between knocking again, opening the door yourself to see if she’s alright or believing this is a bad idea and just walking off
  2641. >but then the door creaks open, and Misty’s dark blue eye peers through the gap
  2642. >she says, ”Oh… something wrong?”
  2643. >you chuckle and say, “that’s my line. Mind if I come in?”
  2644. >she sighs, hesitates and mumbles something, but says, “fine.”
  2645. >as the door fully opens, you can see Pearly’s handiwork on Misty’s injuries
  2646. >there’s a neat set of stitches on the cut over Misty’s black eye, which now looks closer to one she’s received a week ago, instead of just hours before; it’s already progressed through the ‘black’ stage and now has mostly patches of ugly yellow, where Pearly’s magic has sped it through to the point of recovery where the body deconstructs the pooled blood under the skin into its constituent parts and reabsorbs them, step by step
  2647. >same with her other bruises and cuts; most of them are superficial and barely stand out
  2648. >but that cut one might leave a scar
  2649. >Misty lets you in, then shuts the door and sits on her bed, heavily
  2650. >she’s got an interesting taste of decor
  2651. >flags and posters of the Wonderbolts, a map of Equestria with hand-made notes about locations of known lost civilisations, settlements and dig sites
  2652. >her desk has some fragments of a stone spike, though whether it was a stalactite or stalagmite, you’re not sure
  2653. >but the interior features some sort of black crystal
  2654. >looking at it… disturbs you for some reason
  2655. >there’s also a couple of framed photos of Misty with two older pegasi men
  2656. >one, when she had to be around eight if you had a guess, is her father, judging by the resemblance
  2657. >a thin, severe lookin man, who seems to take no pleasure standing amidst an old stone ruin with his daughter, who’s forcing a polite smile
  2659. >the other, far more recent, shows a jovial, broad shouldered guy, wearing an old Wonderbolt fliers jacket, proudly standing beside a cracked and defaced statue of King Sombra, with the man putting bunny ears behind the tyrant’s head with his fingers
  2660. >Misty’s hugging the man’s other arm with a big, unsuppressed smile
  2661. >there’s… maybe some resemblance, but it’s vague at best
  2662. >but there’s an abundant warmth there that doesn’t exist with her father
  2663. >you need to be subtle here; you suspect Misty’s mood is wrapped up in a few layers, and trying to dig too deep, too quick might push her further away
  2664. >neither you or Pearly were experts, but psychological concerns were an aspect of treatment sometimes
  2665. >”Sombra, huh?” you ask. “Not everyone’s first pick of subjects.”
  2666. >Misty huffs. ”Yet my village apparently worshipping the asshole, at least once upon a time. Fetlock was a small vassal settlement that Sombra used in his early years as a base, before conquering the Crystal Empire.”
  2667. >”You don’t hear much about his early years.”
  2668. >”Probably for the best,” Misty says. “He was a vain, proud asshole who got what was coming to him. Of course, it’s not that simple; without him, Fetlock just kept worshipping him and tried to remain defiant, even while the town stagnated. They even kept that crap up until recently. My uncle was mayor, and he wanted to get help from the Empire, but my dad was a loyalist, along with the dumb-shit majority of the town. Sombra reappearing a couple of times recently only reinforced the old loyalty.”
  2669. >”Sombra never seemed like an effective ruler. Why was everyone so obsessed?”
  2670. >”We had a temple dedicated to him on top of mount Fetlock, and he left a bunch of his power in the form of a crystal that used to go on top of my fancy staff.”
  2671. >she picks it up and makes it extend and shrink a few times
  2672. >”Of course, there was also powerful magic in the temple. Power that corrupts others, makes them obsessed with Sombra. Like what happened to my dad. Apparently it used to be a regular thing with all the townspeople back in the day; come of age, visit the temple, get indoctrinated.”
  2673. >she stands and picks up the frame with, you presume, her uncle
  2674. >”But when Dash and Pinkie found me, my uncle was up there at the time, and had been for a while.” Her voice wavers, but she continues, “he’s probably gonna fall victim the same way. It’s just a of time.”
  2675. >”Surely someone found a way to help?”
  2676. >Misty’s silent for a moment, her gaze going from her uncle to her dad
  2677. >she changes pictures and stares at the stern gaze of her father
  2679. >”Maybe… but my dad isn’t in a good way, and might never recover thanks to handling the crystal. The influence is insidious, people suddenly supporting Sombra and spreading that craziness on to others seems like a good idea. That’s what my dad tried to do to Pinkie, me… everyone. My uncle spent too long in that temple, and he’s probably gonna turn into somebody else without even knowing it. It’s part of why he sent me here, to keep me safe; personally, and for… something I know that nobody else does. But I’ve come to terms with that. Story of my life.”
  2680. >she squeezes the picture frame
  2681. >the glass cracks as her hands shake
  2682. >”I just wanted my uncle know I’ll be alright, before I lost him. That I’ll succeed. And I can’t even stop one guy?”
  2683. >Misty laughs, bitterly
  2684. >”Just like her dear old dad, who wasn’t good for much, just smarter than most… so he got desperate, tried to harness powers beyond him to keep the town afloat despite all the warnings of ruin and corruption to resist help from the Crystal Empire, to make the town succeed, like he was cutting off his nose to spite his face. And here I am, constantly trying to get a *fucking* boon from Lustre, because that’s all the Shear’s are good for! Just like this fucker!”
  2685. >she hurls the picture at the wall, and you flinch at the sound of shattering glass
  2686. >you hate that it drives your mind into your own past, makes you feel the ever lingering fear
  2687. >she laughs again ”I’m the smallest person around, but I’m the biggest burden. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from-“
  2688. >she stops and sobs, fights back the tears, and collapses on her bed with her head buried in her hands
  2690. >”Pretty sure it’s fair to say Lustre had you pegged from the start,” you say
  2691. >Misty doesn’t respond, but her head tilts slightly
  2692. >”You think she’s withholding her boon flippantly? She offered it to me and Ozzy, she already gave it to Pearly. You haven’t grown into yourself yet. We can all see you’ve got potentia-”
  2693. >Misty huffs. “Save me the ‘you’re better than you think you are’ crap. I already got that from Celestia. We’re damn well dealing with actual threats! I can’t afford to be weak! What if Cold Front goes on to hurt someone else because I couldn’t stop him!?”
  2694. >you wince; figures she might not respond to a straightforward pep-talk
  2695. >but you’ve been learning from her as much as Celestia about being conniving… time to lean on that.
  2696. >you resume, but change positions, and say, “I don’t know if you knew, but did you know my Pearly wasn’t much bigger than you before that boon? I was bigger than her, and that’s saying something And she had a form of anaemia. That’s a blood condition that means she was always frail, exhausted, short of breath… do you know what that does to a person who’s also a powerful spell user?”
  2697. >Misty puts her arms down, her bloodshot from tears as she sniffles and shrugs.
  2698. >”Every time she used her magic to its fullest, and she was plenty powerful, it would almost always make her faint. She took medication that pulled that down to just feeling weak whenever she casted anything. Yet, day in, day out, she was there, at the clinic, busting her ass. She hit a wall, and grinded away at it for a good few years.”
  2699. >”and Lustre’s boon removed those weaknesses.” Misty folds her arms. “You’re not exactly making a strong case about why I shouldn’t be getting a boon here.”
  2700. >”Sure, but that’s just the thing. What’s the point of seeking out power when you haven’t properly hit your limits? I tried to help Pearly by taking a shortcut. Sure, I had a natural numbness to my magic, and it was a struggle to learn any magic, but I’ve regretted taking a step not unlike you’re trying to. It’s only thanks to Celestia and her advice that she taught me to harness my wild magic before that, I lived in absolute misery and isolation for years!”
  2702. >”Yeah, but now you’re ridiculously powerful, and-“
  2703. >you cut her off. “I’ve also caused a lot of pain, literally and metaphorically, to people I care for. Like you said, I’m having to use this power for actual threats as a bit of an emergency measure, but I don’t have a choice; I made a mistake taking a bad deal because I thought I needed power, and have to live with the consequences. You messed up, someone got away. If I mess up, I could end up taking out a large chunk of *everything* around me, myself included. And even you, yourself, recognise that by seeking this boon, you’re just following in your fathers footsteps. The best things in life take work.”
  2704. >Misty looks ashamed
  2705. >”Until you know exactly what you’re capable of through hard work and dedication, you have to trust that Celestia, Luna, Copper Shield and I can see you’re capable of something greater than you believe you are. Or don’t you trust them?”
  2706. >”I- it’s not like that…”
  2707. >”And there’s nothing wrong with being small, you’ve just got to back it up with your talents and hard work. You saw the size of Quince, and I can tell you the guy would probably split you in half if he took a shine to you instead.”
  2708. >Misty manages a grin
  2709. >you continue, “now I’m short even by unicorn standards, but Ozzy admired my build when we first met because I did the hard work to get me a set of these.”
  2710. >you pull up your top, flashing your abs, hard earned through years of regular jogging and strength exercise
  2711. >”I’d ask Ozzy about her routine if you want to put on some muscle, but I hope you realise she’s also had to put in an obscene amount of hard work. She went from near death from a wasting disease to constant self-improvement to stop her magic ripping her body apart, and she’s been at that for most of her life. I doubt most people in Equestria will ever get that strong, least of all our skinny asses, but once you know what you’re *truly* capable of, then you cover your shortcomings with your wits.”
  2712. >Misty sighs and seems far calmer
  2714. >after a moment of silence, you say, ”okay, now that we’ve covered that, I-“
  2715. >”Wait,” Misty says and stands
  2716. >you expect some rebuttal, or something snarky, but she just awkwardly glances between you and the floor for a long time
  2717. >then blushes and hugs you
  2718. >”Thanks… sorry for being a downer.”
  2719. >”She says while still being a downer,” you say, hold her back and ruffle her hair
  2720. >”Har har. She’s lucky to have you, you know? Pearly, I mean.”
  2721. >she breaks away and is still bright red in the face
  2722. >”and your abs,” she says with a smirk and pats your stomach. “I know where to go if I need to grate some cheese. Or smooth down a rock.”
  2723. >*there’s* the Misty you know
  2724. >you chuckle. ”Alright, but if you need to grind metal, I think we’ll need Ozzy’s set. Probably actually can if she’s using her magic. Now that you mention rock, what is that?” You gesture to the broken stone spike. “I don’t recognise it.”
  2725. >”Oh that? So that temple I mentioned, where Sombra hosted a bunch of his power? Well, it’s situated on the mountain of the same band and Sombra’s magic manifests with a bunch of black crystals, and the same went for the mountain it sits on, though over the years, they crusted over. Thing is, the storms and crosswinds that almost always surround the mountain pretty much make any approach a death sentence since you’ll get knocked down into these spikes.”
  2726. >”Brutal,” you say. “Must take a hell of a flier to get up there then.”
  2727. >”Right? Usually it’s a team effort, but my dad and uncle managed it alone on separate occasions. You gotta fly through a maze of these things in order to avoid being skewered trying to fly over them. At some point a chunk of the mountain, complete with a mass of these stalagmites, wore away and fell off and I figured it’d make a good practice ground for if I ever got up there. When my uncle was trapped in the temple, I was determined to go and save him, but that’s when I met Rainbow Dash; she thought she could hack it, but she totally bailed after the first couple of spires.”
  2728. >”Anything sentimental about this particular one?”
  2729. >”Other than being one that Dash broke with her ass? Nah, though I guess it does remind me where I’m from. If you’re worried about it, don’t be; Twilight already looked it over, and any dark magic is a trace at best. Especially since Sombra had his ass kicked not that long ago.”
  2731. >you feel a shudder run through you and your tiredness grows stronger
  2732. >”You okay? You look a bit peaky there.”
  2733. >you pinch your brow. “Yeah, I just took a potion that’s gonna let me in on the girls night out tomorrow. It’s made me drowsy.”
  2734. >Misty giggles. “Right, almost forgot about that. That’s gonna be a riot, plus, it’ll be nice *probably* not being the smallest girl around.”
  2735. >”Sorry to rain on your parade,” you say and yawn, “and I don’t know what’ll happen, but I got to pick a template for what I assume will be my body. I picked my Pearly.”
  2736. >Misty blows a raspberry. “Eh, I would have gone for Luna; biggest woman around, thanks to Lustre, and fit to boot. Still, I’m sure you’re all primed to say,” she imitates you, “‘oh, darling, I thought of the vision of feminine perfection and thought only of you!’ And then she’ll totally go down on you and your lady-bod despite how she’s always struck me as straight. Wait,” she says and grins, ”if you’re using her as a base, would that make it semi-masturbation? Or just incredibly narcissistic?”
  2737. >you punch her lightly in the arm and say, “you’re smart, you figure it out. Good night, Misty.”
  2738. >”‘Kay, I’ll resist the urge to sneak into your room and watch you grow tits. G’night.”
  2739. >you head to your room, where you find Pearly, who looks as tired as you feel; apparently there was some training accidents and she had to perform a couple of surgeries on top of treating Misty
  2740. >you undress, climb in bed, make out for a short while but neither of you have the energy for much else, and drift off
  2741. >***
  2742. >you’re… somewhere, nothing feels right
  2743. >you’re trapped!
  2744. >you need to struggle free!
  2746. >you’re stronger than you expect, and push something off of you
  2747. >the light hits your eyes, and you see you were covered by a fallen tree limb
  2748. >you climb to your feet, and feel woozy from the anemia
  2749. >and as you recover, a forest at late evening fills your senses; the smells and sounds of nature
  2750. >an ominous rumble in the distance… a heavy storm is on the way
  2751. >”Pearly! Are you okay?” A familiar male voice
  2752. >you turn and see a blond boy with green eyes
  2753. >you reply, “yeah… I’m okay, Lumy.”
  2754. >”C’mon, my mom’s gonna yell at me if we’re out in the storm. Why’d you come here, any way? I was worried.”
  2755. >you had your reasons
  2756. >”There’s this flower that could help my dad’s flu, and he’s really sick.” You pull a scrunched up plant from a pouch you’ve tied to your skirt. “
  2757. >”Feverfew, right?” Lumy says. “I’ve heard people say it’s good for headaches, but it’s debated.”
  2758. >”Well, else is there?” you say and pout. “Dad’s in a lot of pain.”
  2759. >”I’ve read about peppermint helping. Maybe ginger?”
  2760. >”How’d you know all this stuff?”
  2761. >”Studying a bunch. Mostly trying to learn magic, but I have trouble with it.”
  2762. >you decide not to tell him about your invitation to the School for Gifted Unicorns
  2763. >instead, you say, “wait, peppermint grows around here, I think?“
  2764. >”My mom drinks it in her tea, I just don’t know where…”
  2765. >you know this forest well
  2766. >and you swear you’ve seen peppermint…
  2768. >”On second thought, I don’t recognise where we are,” you finally admit
  2769. >”I think I saw some over here,” Lumen says
  2770. >he takes your hand and leads you beside a stream
  2771. >there’s a beautiful waterfall ahead, where this stream splits from the main river
  2772. >”Aw, hay,” Lumen mumbles. “We’re not where I thought we were. We’ve got to get up there.”
  2773. >”We could always walk arou-“ you start
  2774. >but a clap of thunder makes you yelp and cover your ears
  2775. >”We don’t have time,” Lumen says. “We could always climb those rocks.”
  2776. >it would take some work, but he’s right (gallantry, low risk), especially since there’s a few flat surfaces with which you can help each other up
  2777. >you also see a fallen tree that’s held up by some loose shale, and a good bit of leverage might slide it into a climbable position (cunning, d12, medium risk) or just fall flat and force you to pick another option at the expense of time
  2778. >finally, you *do* know how to teleport, but it’s a bit risky since you’re still not completely sure on the whole ‘not appearing upside down or six feet in the air’ post teleport thing when teleporting more than yourself (mystic, d20, unknown risk)
  2779. >but you’re determined to get that mint, one way or another
  2781. >”I can get us up there,” you say. “Dad showed me how to teleport!”
  2782. >Lumen looks shocked. “Wow, really?”
  2783. >you feel smug, screw up your eyes as you draw on all your magic into your green horn, and with a flash, you’re somewhere else; atop the short cliff
  2784. >you stumble; you were only half on the lip
  2785. >you flail your arms, and tip over the edge
  2786. >only for Lumen to grab your blouse
  2787. >”Got you!”
  2788. >he pulls you to him, and he holds you close to him as he guides you away from the precipice
  2789. >he’s… warm, you notice, distractingly
  2790. >as he releases you, you realise you’ve been holding your breath and take a long draw of the cool air
  2791. >”Thanks,” you finally manage
  2792. >Lumen smiles at you. “You’re welcome. Now, let’s see…”
  2793. >you continue along the river, and Lumen hurries ahead to a patch of peppermint
  2794. >it’s only after you’ve gathered enough to fill your pouch, you hear a sound beside the encroaching storm that makes you freeze up
  2795. >the rattle of wood, and a low growl; timberwolves
  2796. >Lumen slowly stands and gets near you as they Cole into sight in the tree line
  2797. >and you wonder how to deal with this situation
  2798. >you both flee as the pack of supernatural beasts give chase
  2799. >you need to at least get out of sight, but what then?
  2800. >then try climbing again (gallantry, d10), but you don’t know how agile these things are
  2801. >you could try hiding (cunning, d12)
  2802. >or attempt another teleport (mystic, d20) to either up a tree, or away for a head start if these things, but you’re a little shaken from your last attempt
  2804. >you once more draw upon your powers, but after last times near miss, you try and play it safer
  2805. >just farther away, right?
  2806. >couldn’t be easier
  2807. >you focus as your horn sparks, and with a green flash, you’re hundreds of feet ahead
  2808. >but everything grows pale, your legs feel like jelly, you and Lumen’s footfalls become distant and you can’t make out what he hear him shout as he pulls ahead of you
  2809. >then you stumble
  2810. >you fall in the leafy ground and are too weak and dizzy to move
  2811. >you’re vaguely aware of being pulled up and over Lumen’s back
  2812. >he shouts, “lift your legs,” and you barely have the wherewithal to respond, but he’s soon carrying you and running as fast as he can
  2813. >the forest is a blur, you’re barely aware of the baying and howling of the timberwolves
  2814. >as you slowly recover from your anaemia and lightheadedness, Lumen suddenly topples as his foot sinks into what appeared to be solid ground
  2815. >you both fall into, and through, a canopy of leaves, stringy tree roots and fallen branches
  2816. >you both tumble down into the dark, Lumen cries out in pain, and you come to a stop with bruises and grazes aplenty, but you seem okay
  2817. >Lumen, however, scrambles to his feet, clutching his arm as it falls limp beside him, with a bone protruding out of his forearm
  2818. >despite what must be a lot of pain, he helps you up, his horn appearing, however faint, and he creates as much light as he can
  2819. >which isn’t much; you heard he struggled with magic, but had never seen him try
  2820. >as you fully recover, you take up the slack and make a much brighter light
  2821. >an old, rusty woodcutters axe is on the floor, and you instinctively grab it
  2822. >only for a nearby growl to make you almost yelp, but Lumen covers your mouth and pulls you back, despite hissing in pain himself from his broken arm
  2823. >both of you douse your lights, and can barely see from the faint, waning sunlight peeking through the hole you fell through
  2824. >you quietly watch as a sole timberwolf falls and gets caught in the roots as well
  2825. >it’s stationary, and currently trying to wrestle free
  2826. >it’s in the way of the only obvious exit
  2827. >you could try going deeper, but you have no way of knowing if there’s another exit, or how deep, how dangerous it is
  2828. >or you could risk passing out from your wooziness with another teleport (mystic, hard), but you don’t know how close the other timberwolves are
  2829. >or just try to hide nearby again (cunning, easy) and hope it leaves once it struggles free, but it’s making enough noise that it may attract its pack
  2830. >lastly, you could take an axe to the thing (gallantry, easy), and silence it
  2831. >taking too long (from hiding or exploring) is also running the risk of getting caught in the storm
  2833. >you grimace, tighten your grip on the axe, and slowly approach