Friendship comes to us in many different shapes and forms, far too many for me to actually list out here and be able to remain on point. Friendship is something that most definitely is a fragile thing, one could easily compare it to a beautiful and quite delicate rose. It can bloom and prosper at the strangest of moments, but conversely it can wilt almost as suddenly. They say that a pony needs to have friends in their life to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life. The very concept of friendship seemed so simple to me when I was younger, even little foals can understand friendship.
You share everything in life with your friends: your happiness, your joy, your sorrow. They support you no matter what, lift you up from the seemingly all-consuming darkness when you are down. And you do the same when they need a helping hoof. At least, that is the simplified version of friendship. It seems so simple and straight forwards in theory.
The harsh reality however is that friendship is much more complex. It is unfortunate but in reality, it is much easier to reach for a blade, or cast a spell, than it is to love and tolerate the flaws and mistakes of other ponies or those of the other races for that matter. If I am to be honest, I have never known true friendship at least not how it is supposed to be, other ponies had always used the illusion of friendship to get what they needed from me, to get ahead of the curve. It’s what led me to shun any attempts at making friends. I ended up withdrawing into my studies, because the simple fact of reality is that books don’t betray. Books don’t use you for their own gain.
Friendship and its virtues are so easily twisted and corrupted by the selfish nature that hides within us all. The line between virtue and vice is one easily crossed without even realising it. There is only a select few ponies who are truly selfless and virtuous. In the end, this world we live in eats those ponies alive, and leaves them miserable husks of what they once were. I have seen truly good ponies twisted, seen their good intentions pave the road of their own damnation. Watched them suffer at the hooves of other ponies.
I refused to let it happen to me. I am not going to be wasting my life and everything I have accomplished. I rejected the world and all its cruelties. My familiar Twist and my beloved were all I needed to be happy, even if the Empress and my beloved Solaria called it very unhealthy. They tried to lure me into making friends with at least the ponies around the castle. I never really allowed it to get further than being acquaintances. That is until one particular day, a day that changed my life forever. When I found true friendship in possibly the most unconventional manner.
There were not many things that would make me angry. I pride myself on being a sensible, calm, and scholarly mare who is in control of her own emotions. But even I wasn’t above making a mistake or two, even the Empress isn’t as flawless as the clergy would have us believe.
For example, accepting the invitation of one of the guard captains to go out for drinks at a tavern in the upper city. I could blame my lack of social graces or my naivete when it came to courting rituals between the male and female sexes. I certainly missed all the signs leading up to this event. Accepting in the first place had been a mistake, it went directly against my policy of not making friends, but alternatively it also gave me the chance to clear my mind and get some sorely needed fresh air. Even though the scent of decaying paper that was ever present in the library was a comforting one.
It had been fun I suppose, the entertainment was provided in the form of surprisingly high-quality lute music and song, performed by a chestnut-coated pegasus stallion with a raven mane, it was odd not having Solaria with me normally it would have been her playing the music and us both singing. The music was nice, and quite cheerful which complimented the tavern’s atmosphere quite well. The mood was admittedly infectious, though I blame the magical power behind song for that, but even then, I couldn’t help but smile. The tavern had a nice and homely feel to it that made it feel very welcoming and inviting.
The building itself was old, ancient actually, the wood of the tables were worn down from years of service but they were still very sturdy, and the counter behind which the attending bat pony mare stood was a genuine antique, or so she liked to boast. The mare herself though was young, barely older than me. She had a dusky coat and a long flowing purple mane. I had to admit that she was quite beautiful. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, most of them keeping to their own devices… which mostly included drunken cajoling.
The Captain and I were simply conversing about how dull our days were, or complaining about this pony or another. Living in the palace meant that I had to put up with various ponies and their rules, it was worth it though, to be with her. There was the occasional bout of flirting from him here and there, making me feel a tad bit guilty. Here he was, trying to show boring old me a good time, and I was going to end up disappointing him… hurting him. That thought was probably the worst thing, breaking this young stallion’s heart.
The captain was a perfect gentle stallion, and I admit that if I’d had any interest in stallions I would likely have been waiting in his chambers that night. The thought of lying to ponies and leading them on, only to disappoint them later is simply horrible to me. Regardless though, it had been nice getting out of the castle, even after my acquaintance was called away on official business, but I suppose that is part of what a pony sacrifices in service to the crown. I could have been called away in a similar manner, I wasn’t just allowed to stay there for nothing I had, and wanted, to earn my keep by providing a service to the royal family. Even though I was just a glorified librarian it felt good, it was right.
The thought of having to crush his hopes of perhaps bedding me that night put me in an admittedly foul mood. I was annoyed with myself. Where had I gone wrong to give him the impression I was interested like that? Then again I couldn’t very well flaunt my preferences in the castle, Solaria had told me as much, not only were my tastes seen as being unnatural, I would hurt someone’s feelings by being a freak that likes mares. I made a mental note to talk to him when I got back to the castle
He wasn’t even ten seconds out of the door, not that I counted, mind you. He had been good company, and I prayed to any gods that was listening that he would at least not end up hating me. I laughed at the notion, who would want to be around a freak like me?
It was in that moment that another stallion claimed the seat beside me. He positively reeked of alcohol, the scent was so extremely pungent that it was absolutely sickening, if I were to be entirely honest, were I a mare of a weaker will, I’d have most likely have lost my dinner then and there. I simply ignored it and pushed any thoughts of him away from the forefront of my mind and made to stand up when he addressed me. At least I assume he meant me. “Hey there cutie,” he slurred in a voice I’m sure he believed was sexy and guaranteed to cause mares to leap in bed with him… it only served to make my skin crawl. I should note I normally have no problem with stallions, but his type disgusted and unsettled me. He leaned in far closer than I was comfortable with, even from the ponies I called acquaintances. I made it a point to keep a safe, respectable distance between myself and any pony except for Solaria.
“What say about you and I go find somewhere private eh?” I rolled my eyes inwardly at his pathetic attempt and let out an exasperated sigh. This stallion was precisely reason I didn’t usually leave the safety and comfort of my study, or the library, in the mage tower.
It was stallions like this that had soured my experiences with friendship. I sighed softly as unwanted memories slipped back to the surface of my mind and I shuddered as I saw the first colt that I had considered a friend in Canterlot. His name had been Blitz and I remembered him quite well, in the end he had only been interested in getting close with Sunny, or rather Princess Solaria as I knew. He’d even tried… courting me, to get what he wanted. Which was bedding her. He hadn’t been the worst of them, actually his offences were mild compared to the stallions, and mares, that came after him. But he was the first, and I would never forget.
‘Oh Emerald, can you help me with my paper?’ which was usually followed by a ‘Why would I help you?’ a few days later when I was the one in need of help. Or probably the worst offender, a mare named Ruby Star. Just the thought of her made my blood boil, it made me angry to a point that even I would consider unacceptable. Remembering how she had flirted with me, even getting me in bed with her… leaning in for a kiss only to whisper that one word ‘freak’ I was chased out of her room, haunted by her cackling laughter; and the laughter of her sick friends that had been watching in hiding.
Reality snapped back into place the moment the drunken stallion slapped my flank firmly with his hoof. That was the moment that I lost it; All the anger that had been boiling up just burst forth, and perhaps foolishly so, it came in the form of my telekinesis connecting with his face. It was restrained of course, I was much more refined a mage after a full year at the academy, still the thought of having overdone it crossed my mind as I saw the blood dripping from his nose. Then again, he should probably have kept his hooves to himself if he wanted to remain unharmed.
The response from him puzzled me quite a bit, I was perhaps not the most socially savvy pony out there, but rather than taking his leave like a normal sensible stallion would, he raised his voice and shouted something over his withers. “Oi! Lads, we gots us a fightin’ one in here.” Arching a sceptical eyebrow, I expected two or maybe three ponies to rise up. Oh, how wrong I was.
What looked to be half the tavern stood up, all of them leering at me with predatory gazes. I couldn’t help but flinch. I wasn’t known for being the bravest of ponies. I instantly regretted giving him what is the magical equivalent of sucker punching him. Lighting up my horn I wove a relatively simple spell – at least for a first-year novice at the academy – as such it wasn’t true teleportation, not that these brutes would have known or understood the difference, it was more like bending reality itself and stepping through its fabric to appear at a desired location. The power, and calculations required for true teleportation, and the knowledge about ley lines and the alternate plane one travels through, were definitely beyond most, even me. Displacement is its proper name; Not that these uneducated barbarians would care. For a moment, I held hope that showing such a feat of magic would scare them off. After all, a powerful mage could take on double their numbers, on an off day.
That glimmer of hope died as one of his goons spoke up with an eager and startlingly excited tone, “We shankin’ ‘er then boss?” I felt as though I got stabbed in the heart, the perversion of our beautiful language like this was more than i could bear. I think I physically cringed. Pushing their crime against language aside, I tried to focus on an exit strategy, two of them were blocking the door, standing too close to displace towards it safely, they had already been moving to surround me. Taking a look around the tavern, I counted a good twenty of them. Most of the other patrons simply shuffled past them and out of the door or at least out of harm’s way … cowards.
The plan took form in my head slowly: Blast the big guy in charge in his groin, throw a wave of force at the centre of the group, and make a break for the door. I’d have to pay for that. The plan was simple, and only required a bit of luck when making my escape. It was then that my attention was caught by a loud cry from one of the stallions that had been advancing on my flank, as the saying goes the best laid plans never survive first contact with the enemy.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am not a warrior, and as such lacked the reflexes to do more than turn and watch in horror as the stallion barrelled at me with a wicked looking blade in his hoof, and a crazed look in his eyes. I snapped my eyes closed in fright as he drew closer and closer and I prepared to be stabbed square in the chest.
The blow never came, instead there was the thudding impact of a stallion running into a solid object, and the sickening crunch of bones breaking. “If ya’ll pardon me, ah think ah’ll be joinin’ this here rodeo.” I heart a deep smooth baritone voice announce. When I dared open my eyes, they widened in disbelief.
The stallion that had been rushing me was now writhing in pain on the floor, clutching at the massive mess of bruised and broken flesh and bone on the right side of his chest. The source of the voice was a rather massive, handsome stallion with an orange coat and a platinum mane. He was tall, really tall like a giant among ponies. I couldn’t see his body under the polished scale mail armour, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had nice rippling muscles under it. He was resting a large war-hammer over his withers with a large smile playing on his muzzle.
“Aww yeah! BAR FIGHT!!! Bet you I can knock out more goons, Platinum!” came a brash, grating, and excited voice. Before I knew it, a bright, sapphire blur shot past me and into the next stallion that had looked like he was considering to charge, or flee, at the sight of the giant besides me. In all honesty, I was amazed; these two ponies didn’t even know me and they joined me without even being asked to! The blur materialised mid-air into a rather short, hyperactive, pegasus mare. Her scarlet mane billowing behind her, she was grinning from ear to ear as her boot connected with one of the stallions, throwing him off balance and letting her use his chest as a launchpad, throwing herself into the next one with a loud, excited whoop.
All hell broke loose after that, the group of stallions charged wildly, they did not seem to appreciate being on the losing side it seemed, or just maybe they shared the peppy pegasus’ excitement. The earth pony stallion – who I assumed was named ‘Platinum’ – charged into the middle of the fray with an awe-inspiring war cry, using the spaulder on his left shoulder to crash into three of the stallions slamming one flat on his ass, swinging the giant hammer, with his mouth, into the next stallion’s gut. To any pony less observant, it would have probably looked like he was flailing in a fit of savage rage, though there was a certain calm controlled coolness to his fury. Never too absorbed in his furious assault to fail parrying one of the blows with his hoof guards.
As much as I had wanted to observe the warrior, I suddenly became aware of my own problem in the form of five of them making their way towards me, I swear their previously hungry expressions now more feral beast like than they had been before. Charging up my horn, I leapt away from the first strike successfully, by pure blind luck, I unleashed the wrath of four magical bolts in retaliation. I was pleased that I managed to strike the closest stallion in the chest with two of them knocking him away from me. Being but an apprentice and not a full mage, let alone a battle mage, I failed to dodge the blow from the stallion on my right.
The cut wasn’t deep, but it burned with a fiery blaze of pain. Flaring my horn, I sent a less powerful bolt at him and wildly guiding the others to his companions missing all of them but driving them away from me as I back pedalled away from the ever-approaching ponies. The stallion that’d cut me was on me again in mere seconds, slicing a painful cut along my forehead, barely missing my left eye. I screamed in pain, my focus shattered along with the spell I had been weaving. I kept retreating even as the blood stung my left eye and half of my world slowly turned red.
It was terrifying, I can’t remember ever being that scared in my entire life. The bastard grinned as he hefted his blade the metal gleaming in the dim light before bringing it down, only for it to glance off a shield made of a dazzling aquamarine magical aura. I didn’t waste the opportunity to scamper back more as a blond maned unicorn mare with a coat as white as snow stepped out in front of me. She wasn’t tall, but she was clad in full-plate armour, sans helmet, and wearing a surcoat with the stylised emblem of the sun and moon. Her I had definitely not seen inside before, I would have noticed a beautiful Knight Hospitaler sitting inside of the tavern. A glance over my shoulder revealed a door I hadn’t seen before it led into what looked like a private room. She held up a defencive position between me and the stallions, a blade levitating before her.
Her sword work was impressive to watch, the way she stepped quite daintily for a mare wearing heavy plate armour, it might have been the noise of the fight but I couldn’t hear the typical stopm that was so associated with heavy armour greaves. Her poise was incredible, flawlessly parrying attacks that looked amateurish compared to her elegant sword work, and countering with the pommel of her blade. If I didn’t know better I would almost assume that she was dancing. Striking the stallions unconscious with expert blows. There was a noticeable difference with the large male warrior, she was careful not to actually harm them more than she needed to.
A hoof gently touched my shoulder. Casting back a glance I came face to face with a softly smiling earth pony stallion, unlike the orange warrior, he was smaller, with a lither almost willowy physique. He was soft spoken and gentle as he muttered a prayer. I didn’t need to question what he was doing as the warmth of his divine magic filled me; it felt like standing in the blessed rays of the sun. I let out a sigh as I felt my wounds being mended. It was a brand of magic I would never understand, these powers could not be learnt from a tome they were bestowed upon the god’s chosen followers.
Finally taking a good look, the stallion was short, I would dare to call him a bit feminine even, he was only wearing a surcoat over his cream coloured robes, its emblem was that of a stylised sun on a field of sky blue, I instantly recognised him for what he was: a cleric of the Church of Solaris. As such, he bore no armour or weapons. “Art, thou unharmed, M’lady?” He asked, his voice was smooth and sweet as honey, I smiled and for a long moment I found I could only nod at him. With a voice like that he would make a wonderful orator, stoft spoken but captivating nonetheless. Commanding attention without force or volume.
“Yes, thank you. I am in your debt.” I whispered softly.
He was dark green of coat and had a long flowing white mane. He nodded and actually helped me up like a true gentlecolt. After what had just been happening it felt weird. But If I had any interest in stallions he’d probably have been my type, considering his more feminine appearance. I didn’t have too long to admire him as a cry of pain caught my attention and I watched the sapphire coated pegasus be sent our way having literally been kicked out of the air by another, much larger female pegasus.
The almost insane looking pegasus burst after the sapphire that had jumped to my defence without even knowing me, it was my turn to return the favour. With a small, and I admittedly slightly cocky, smirk I started weaving the most complex spell that I knew, spreading my four hooves wide, moving my horn with the rhythm of the flow of magic. I let the magic gather at the tip of my horn weaving it and moulding it around the pegasus mare, or rather the air surrounding her. The effort sent a sharp pang of pain through my horn, but as I released the spell it had the desired effect, gravity around the mare doubled and then tripled slamming her muzzle first into the ground and pinning her for a good ten seconds. It wasn’t long before she passed out, triple the gravity has a tendency to do that to ponies.
Panting heavily, I set my eyes on the next pony that came charging in, the large stallion that had tried touching my flank. It was fine by me, my deal with him was quite personal after all. So, I allowed myself a small smile as lunged at me with the claw like weapon strapped to his fist. Reflexively I put up a simple shield spell in between myself and the stallion. The anger that flared up on his visage was perhaps the most satisfying thing to happen that day.
As the angry stallion pounded futilely at my shield, well it was having an effect there was only so much magical strain I could take and the raw impact of a massive stallion like him beating at it so furiously that I could swear he was frothing at the mouth as though he had rabies. I allowed a small chuckle to pass my lips “What’s the matter, not stallion enough to get through a weak mare’s shield spell?” I almost instantly regretted taunting him, hubris is, and always will be, the downfall of magi.
That I learnt very well as the stallion reared up shouting a single word. Probably the most colourful word in his entirely barbaric vocabulary “CUUUUUUUNT!” both his hooves cracked down on my magical barrier. The impact was so vicious that it shattered my shield, and the magical feedback sending a burning lance of binding white-hot pain through my horn. If it hadn’t been for that pain sending my stumbling backwards he would have probably sunk both hoof blades in my throat with that attack.
Without even realising I put another pony in between me and the stallion, everything was fuzzy but as things started to come back into focus I was shocked to see that the pony was the entertainer that had been providing the music of all ponies, the pegasus with was chestnut of coat and had a raven mane. “Now that’s not a thing to call a lady most fair.” he chuckled lightly, giving me a good-natured smile. It was clear from his voice that he had a silver tongue, though he was trying just a bit too hard right now.
Credit where it is due though, the pegasus was fantastic — no, fabulous with a rapier. He held a casual smile on his muzzle and his ice blue eyes shimmered with a playful glee as he danced around the stallion. That was the only way I could describe his fighting. It was a dance, he poked at the stallion, the fluidly dodged and poked once more. He was having fun! I couldn’t help but laugh in the new moment of respite, I could still feel the dull ache in my horn anymore and I would risk permanently damaging my horn.
As I stood there watching the group of ponies that had, jumped to my defence I couldn’t help but feel amazed. The stallion whose name i still assumed was Platinum looked like no one had even managed to strike a blow against him, he was almost gracefully floating in between the group of stallions and the peppy pegasus mare was covering his back. They worked ins a surprising harmony, worked together flawlessly like they were an extension of each other, Platinum struck with a feint, while the mare ducked below earth pony’s assault, striking the staggered opponents in the throats to send them sprawling to the floor gasping for breath.
The Hospitaller — I blinked for a moment, where before were five armed stallions were now squirming and groaning messes. I watched her stride over to lend aid to the roguish bard. The pommel of her blade hammered down on the back of the stallion’s head, sending him forwards into a mighty kick from the chestnut pegasus.
Seeing their leader tossed halfway across the bar gave the remaining goons pause, causing them to turn and run for the door. Barrelling straight into the armoured forms of the city guard, who had been punctual as usual. Sighing mentally, I thanked the gods that they at least showed at all. With a sharp laugh, I let myself fall against the hard wood of the bar, at least that was the intent. Instead I fell into the arms of the cleric who simply smiled that gentle smile of his. It filled me with… something. A warmth that I couldn’t describe. A warmth that I had never felt in my entire life.