The Luna Cypher

by iisaw

Chapter 1: 1 Going Forth to War

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The Luna Cypher
by iisaw

Sequel to The Celestia Code

Chapter One
Going Forth to War

"'Twas the changeling ambassador who told thee of this invasion, then?"

If Luna's energetic pacing across the width of the throne room in Ponyville hadn't been enough of a clue, her lapse into archaic Equuish would have been a dead giveaway as to how worked up she was. Well, that and the broken crystal she had unknowingly crushed beneath her hooves with a few angry stamps.

Periwinkle, my secretary, had taken cover behind my throne. I didn't blame her; the Princess of the Night in a temper was a rare and terrible sight. Luna's mane flowed and sparked wildly, the specks of light within flaring and dying away like tiny supernovae. Shimmering highlights danced across her midnight blue coat, powerful muscles rippled beneath her skin, and her eyes blazed with a fierce, magical energy.

"Canst thou be sure of the ambassador? Mayhaps she seeks to deceive thee for some purpose yet unknown." Luna crossed the room twice more before turning to face me. "Twilight Sparkle?"

"Hmn? Oh, no, a flight of weather pegasi from Dodge Junction also spotted them while scrounging for moisture over the Badlands. The things are there, all right, and they're headed for Equestria."

"Then we must act with haste!" Luna stomped a hoof for emphasis and another crack appeared in the crystal floor. I surreptitiously healed the break with a pulse of magic. "'Tis no doubt these creatures are born of the vile influence of the dark crystal beneath the desert city. To escape the warding magics of my sister, and less than a score of moons since they were sealed, they must be powerful indeed!" Her neck arched and her nostrils flared in righteous anger, but I knew her well enough to realize that her wrath was tempered with a good deal of excitement. As the more emotional of the two sisters, and the one most predisposed to solving problems with direct action, she was undoubtedly pleased to be presented with a problem that did not seem to require delicate diplomacy.

I had been very calm when I sent the letter asking Celestia for advice. My mood hadn't been ruffled much when Luna arrived with a clear mandate from her sister to be my counsel in the matter. But after several minutes of listening to her rather forceful opinion, my heart was hammering in my chest. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

"Evenstar is being readied and provisioned as we speak," I told her. "It's true she wasn't designed to be a warship, but she's fast and can hold a complement of twenty ponies. With pegasi outfliers in rotation, she can support another half-dozen. We can be over the Badlands within a day."

Luna paused and gave me an arched eyebrow and a sly smile. "Is it needful to muster such a force? Can there be aught so fierce upon this globe to stand 'gainst thee and me together?"

I couldn't help grinning back at her. "Let's be on the safe side with this. Besides," I said, calling up what knowledge I had of ancient Equestrian customs, "we have to have some ponies to bear witness to our great feats of arms, right?"

Luna's smile widened. "Is there a place for my personal guard? Sergeant Obsidian has a fair talent for poetry. Perhaps he will craft a ballad of our deeds."

I really didn't know if she was kidding or not, but I ordered room made for her two bat-winged attendants, anyway.

= = =

"There's no way you're gonna leave me behind, Twi!" Rainbow Dash snorted.

"Rainbow, I've already explained—"

"Yeah, and I wasn't listening because you were wrong!"

The unicorn crewpony waiting at the bottom of Evenstar's boarding ramp muttered something under his breath and glared at Rainbow Dash. I held up a hoof to forestall any hasty action. "It's just that—"

"Nope." Rainbow crossed her hooves over her chest and shook her head. "Still not listening. Besides, you can't stop me from coming. I'll just fly ahead of you. Might even have those monsters mopped up by the time your slow old blimp gets there."

The thought of Rainbow Dash trying to tackle the dark monstrosities by herself made me feel just a bit panicky, with an added touch of indignation that she'd called my beautiful Evenstar a "slow old blimp."

"Fine," I said.

"And anyway, you need...." She trailed off. "Huh? You mean I can come?"

"Yes, you can come. There's just one condition."

"Name it!"

"This is a military operation. Captain Speedwell is commanding the pegasi, and that means you have to take orders from him, agreed?"

Rainbow Dash looked like she wanted to protest that for a moment, but my expression must have conveyed how serious I was about the matter. She shrugged. "Fine."

Right then, I was just thankful that none of the rest of my close friends were at the castle that day. It wasn't a friendship problem, but I'm sure that wouldn't have mattered to any of them. I could just see myself trying to convince Applejack that she wouldn't be of any help on a strike force that would rely mainly on magic and flying skills. I could also see myself losing that argument. It had been hard enough to convince Spike to remain behind.

We finished loading Evenstar just before noon and we were on our way shortly thereafter. I was a little troubled that the airship's first long voyage was going to be into battle. Until that day, I had only taken her out on day trips to entertain friends or foreign dignitaries. Celestia, Luna, and Cadance had had her built by the finest shipwright in Canterlot as a present for me, celebrating the blossoming of harmony in my new realm.[1] Her beautiful swirly paint job in my own colors marked her as a pleasure craft, not a military vessel, and the huge heraldic version of my cutie mark[2] on her vertical tail fin marked her as mine. She held a very special place in my heart. My personal cabin had been paneled in wood salvaged from the Golden Oak Library, which meant more to me than I was willing to let on to anypony except my closest friends. There were some nights I slept aboard just to have a cozy little place of my own. The castle was magnificent, but it still felt a little too formal and cold sometimes.
[1] Okay, it really was just the same old Ponyville and environs, but I was responsible for it now.

[2] Heralds have some odd notions that royal insignia ought to follow certain rules of clarity and balance. That is why all my banners and regalia had a sixth small white star, and the central big magenta one is outlined (fimbriated) in white. There are lots of urban legends about why Celestia's banners have a red background, but it's actually because heraldic art demands contrast.

Once I had made a brief tour of inspection to assure that everything and everypony were in their proper places, I went forward to the bridge and found Luna there. She was wearing a complete suit of armor. Not the usual helmet and body rig typically seen on royal guards, but full plate barding.

I stood in silent shock for a minute or two. Her armor was both exquisite and perfectly fitted to her body. The individual plates of her criniere cascaded down her neck like a frozen waterfall and joined to the peytral that covered her broad chest and shoulders with an intricate set of hinges at the forward edge of her saddle. The flanchards were fitted together with cunning sliding rivets that would allow the plates to protect her lean flanks through a large range of motion, and the croupiere fit her like it had been painted on. It even had copies of her cutie marks etched into the shimmering white metal exactly above where the real marks were. The greaves that protected her legs weren't directly attached to the main body of the suit, but were suspended by strategic straps that would allow for a full range of motion while giving room for the play of muscles beneath. Her shoes and the couteaus that protected the forward edges of her wings had wickedly sharp ridges on them: They were weapons as well as protection. Every piece was etched with scroll work and acanthus leaves on the edges, and the larger parts had engraved scenes of ancient battles and triumphal processions. Diamonds, fire opals, and other gems were set in clusters as wholly extravagant accents. Celestia rarely went in for showy displays; it was obvious that her sister had different opinions on the matter.

Luna finally noticed my presence and turned to greet me. Her turquoise eyes sparkled with excitement from beneath her chamfron. "Ah, Twilight Sparkle! Does it not stir your blood to be going forth to battle the foes of Equestria?" She gave a joyous toss of her head which set the intricately etched lames of her criniere jangling against one another.

I wasn't personally inclined to displays of wealth or power, nor usually much moved by them, but Luna in armor was a vision from another, more adventurous age. "Yes it does," I said, grinning, a bit surprised to realize that I was excited. "That's really superb armor, by the way. But don't you think it's a bit early to be wearing it? We won't reach the Badlands until tomorrow morning."

"I have not donned my war harness in... a very long time. 'Tis good to feel its weight again," she told me in a more subdued voice. "Do you think me over-eager?"

"No," I said. "I think it's wonderful. You are quite the sight. Inspiring, actually."

Luna just nodded in acknowledgment and turned back to watch the Everfree slipping by beneath us. Her metal-shod hooves shifted on the deck, as if my words had made her nervous or uneasy for some reason.

Or maybe I was projecting my own unease on her. I was about to speak when Rainbow Dash sauntered onto the bridge—in full pegasus armor. "Whoa!" she said when she caught sight of Luna. "And I thought my rig was swanky!" Her armor was a full battle suit in gold with purple accents but no rank insignia. It bore the Tree of Harmony medallion on the peytral that marked it as coming from my castle's armory.

Luna gave her a quick examination. "Thou art well-armored, Rainbow Dash! Methinks thy heart yearns for the morrow, as does mine own."

Rainbow frowned in puzzlement. "I'm totally ready to kick some monster butt, if that's what you mean."

I glanced at the half-armor suits worn by Evenstar's Captain and the helmspony, and suddenly felt a bit under-dressed.

= = =

I convinced Luna to remove her armor and get some sleep before she needed to raise the moon. It took some doing, but she eventually saw the wisdom of not going into battle after being awake for more than a day and a half. Since there was only one bunk aboard Evenstar large enough for her, she retired to my cabin.

Rainbow Dash continued to fly loops around Evenstar, getting used to her new armor and annoying the outfliers. If I hadn't been well aware of her physical capabilities, I would have nagged her not to wear herself out before we made contact with the enemy.

Instead, I went over my plan of attack for the tenth time.

I had read all I could get my hooves on about battles similar to the one we were headed into, but as Equestria hadn't been to war since before the development of modern airships, the tactics I had set out were untried. Back at the castle, Luna had briefly looked over my plan and pronounced it "sound enough."

From the descriptions provided by Ambassador Ketethek and the Dodge Junction weather chief, the things working their way toward us were the same sort of abominations created by the release of dark magic from the broken crystal engine beneath the Crook-Tail Canyon ruins over a year before. If that was correct, I wasn't too concerned about being able to deal with them. They would be fast and vicious, but not particularly smart. The thing that worried me was that they had somehow managed to escape from a containment spell cast by the most magically powerful alicorn in existence. That was troubling. I wasn't going to make any assumptions, or take the situation lightly.

I sat for a while, thinking and looking out of the port, watching the desert miles that Jigsaw and I had struggled across nearly a year ago slipped effortlessly by below. I sighed and checked my plan for the eleventh time.

= = =

At sunset, Luna emerged from my cabin and went aft to raise the moon. When she returned to the bridge, I was still there, making some last-minute adjustments to the final briefing I was going to give the crew in the morning. The watch was changing, so we retreated down the short passage through the chart room to my cabin, in order to give the crewponies room to move about.

"It's funny," I said as we settled in, I in front of the little desk and Luna on the bunk. "I'm nowhere near as nervous about all of this as I thought I'd be."

Luna chuckled. "You have fought such creatures before, and far worse!"

"Yes, but usually on the spur of the moment. I've never had so much time to think about it before the fact."

Luna thought for a moment and then said, "I think that's for the better. You are accustomed to adapting to changes as they occur. Many untested ponies expect a battle to go exactly as planned and are at a loss when it does not happen the way they assumed it would."

That gave me more to think about. "How often does a battle plan work out as expected?"

Luna made a show of thinking about it. "Would you like a number? A percentage?"

"Yes, please. That would be very helpful."

"'Twould only be a rough estimate. I am not the mathematician that thou art."

Her dip back into the archaic familiar made me a little wary. I wondered what sort of memories she was bringing to mind. "Just a general idea would be fine," I said.

"Roughly... none," she said, suddenly grinning broadly. "Never once. Not a single plan went as expected, though crafted by the most experienced of generals."

My face must have given away my dismay because Luna actually laughed out loud.

"Okay, now I'm nervous!" I grumbled.

"Forgive my jest, Twilight Sparkle! Your plan is a fine one, and will no doubt be a great help on the morrow. Your talent for improvisation will ensure our victory."

"Ah... well, thank you for the vote of confidence."

"There is one thing, though."

"Yes?" I eyed her warily, half expecting another joke.

"Will you not wear some armor suited to the task?"

"Oh, that's not necessary," I explained, "I'll be using a modified shield spell that will also serve as a weapon."

"Ah, yes! You spoke of that. I will be interested to see that." Luna turned and levitated her chamfron, holding it between us and turning it to catch the light. "Still, armor is a protection that will remain even if you exhaust your magic. And it is more than protection, just as a crown is more than ornamentation. You lead these ponies into battle as their commander and monarch, but that is only half of your duty. The other half is to inspire them."

"Ah... well," I said, thinking back to what a magnificent sight she had been in her armor. "I think a speech might be best for that. I'm not all that impressive in a physical way."

The chamfron wobbled in Luna's aura, and for a moment I thought she might drop it. She peered at me, frowning.

"What?" I asked.

"Nay, I perceive thou intend no jest. Here..." She lifted the criniere and attached it to the chamfron, then settled them over my head and neck, muttering, "Yes, 'twill serve."


"Attend to my words, Twilight Sparkle!" Luna interrupted, taking my face between her hooves and leaning close. "There comes a dread foe to threaten Equestria, to kill your subjects and lay waste to your home! Wilt thou allow such evil to overrun us?"

"Of course not! I—"

She shook my head and leaned even closer. "Wilt thou make light of the threat? Wilt thou play at war as if moving pieces upon a game board?"


She was practically shouting by then, and my own emotions rose with her voice. "Or wilt thou bring ruin and destruction to the foes of ponykind? Wilt thou save those thou lovest from this evil? Swear to me that you will!"

"I will!" I shouted, carried away by the strength of her emotion. "I swear it!"

As I spoke Luna released me and lifted a small mirror from my desk. She held it between us, and I saw my own face, flushed with emotion, framed by the superb platinum armor of the Moon Princess.

I have to admit it: I looked pretty darned impressive at that moment. The armor, my determined expression, even the flush of emotion across my cheeks—it all made quite an impact.

Luna set the mirror down. She had a smug look on her face.

A moment later there was a tap on the door of my room. "Is everything all right in there, Your Highness?" asked Captain Speedwell.

I opened the door a bit and said, "Yes, captain. Everything is fine. Sorry for the shouting."

He sort of gaped at me for a second and then braced and snapped out as crisp a salute as I'd ever seen from him. "Not at all, Princess! Forgive me for interrupting."

Armor. Wow. Who knew? I mean, on Luna it looked incredible, but to think that it would do the same for plain old me?

I turned back to the smiling Moon Princess. "Thank you for the lesson, Luna. I'm sort of amazed at that. I'm sorry I don't have any armor to wear, now."

"Ah," she said, her smile widening. "As for that..." Her horn lit and I felt the interstitial exit vortex of a teleportation spell form above our heads. A moment later, another suit of armor floated in my cabin. It was getting kind of crowded in there.

"This is my second-best armor," Luna informed me. "I think it may be made suitable for thee."[3]
[3] Yes, of course she owned more than one set of mindbogglingly expensive armor. This is Luna we're talking about.

We spent the next hour or so modifying and adjusting the armor to fit me. Some transformation was needed to get it to fit my smaller frame but a lot of that could be done simply by adjusting the straps and fittings. Luna even changed the decorative medallions on the chamfron and croupiere to match my cutie mark. She gave me a running commentary on armor in general as she worked; some of it I'd heard before from my brother, but quite a lot was new to me.

"During the First Griffin War, Celestia gave medallions in the shape of her cutie mark to ponies who had showed extraordinary bravery at the battle of Knife Edge Ridge. She told me this is where the modern custom of awarding 'medals' came from." Luna stood back and gave me an appraising look. "'Twill serve well enough, though gold would suit your color better than silver."

I shifted around, trying to imagine what galloping inside the stuff would be like. "Feels a bit heavy," I said.

"Thou wilt scarce notice it, once thy blood is up," Luna assured me.

I thought for a moment. "I thank thee for thy kindness in this. Thou art a good friend."

She blinked in surprise, no doubt suspecting for a second that I was mocking her by imitating her speech. But it only took a moment for her to realize that I had used the old words deliberately, to reinforce how close I felt to her and to avoid the "you" that would still sound somewhat cold and formal to her, even now.

She really seemed flustered for a minute. "It... it is my joy to be thy friend, Twilight Sparkle," she said at last. "I am more than repaid by this chance to fight again for a noble cause."

Luna helped me remove the armor and showed me how to nest the pieces inside one another to make them pack down into the smallest space possible. That done, she donned her own barding and made to depart.

"I will guard us through the night, Twilight Sparkle. Take sustenance and rest well."

"May I ask one more thing of you, Luna?"

"Aye. Anything."

"Call me Twilight. Just Twilight, or Twi, if you like. All my close friends do."

"'Twi?'" She looked appalled. "That sounds disrespectful to me."

"It's fine, really. It's like 'you' nowadays; nothing bad is meant by it."

"Ah, well... I think I may become used to the brusque and cold ways of modern speech in time. But until then, I will be happy to call you Twilight." She paused again, and then a look of distress flitted across her face. "Would it be... do you wish to call me..." She actually grimaced at that point. "'Lu?'"

I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. "No, not at all! Your name is perfect just the way it is."

Luna exhaled in relief. "Ah, 'tis well, then. Goodnight, Twilight."

I settled into the bed that still held Luna's scent, and wondered if I'd be able to sleep at all that night. I fretted that I'd be staring at the overhead until dawn, going over all the things that could go wrong, and be completely unrested for the battle[4], but I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep within minutes. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Regent of Dreams had something to do with the fact that I slept better that night than I had in a long time.
[4] Yes, I was worrying about worrying. Becoming an alicorn and a ruling monarch hadn't magically banished all my flaws.

= = =

It was a good thing I was well-rested, because I was rudely awakened only a few minutes after dawn by Rainbow Dash practically breaking down the door of my cabin.

"Twilight, Twilight! Get up!" she blurted out at me.

"Okay, I'm up! What's happening?"

"They're out there! I've seen them!"

I caught her sense of urgency, if not her exact meaning, and began donning my armor. Rainbow Dash didn't even comment on it, she was that upset. "Deep breaths, Dash," I told her. "what, exactly, did you see?"

"Monsters, Twi! Thousands of them!"

= = =


Author's Notes:

A huge thanks to Gogito, AcademicPony, statoose, and MacIsBest859 for giving invaluable critique on this chapter. Any goof-ups or awkward bits that are left after their suggested edits are purely a result of my stubbornness.

Next Chapter: 2 The Battle in the Badlands Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 48 Minutes
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