Chapter 54

12 hours.

That is how long it takes them to realize that they have been fighting a very ridiculously long time. They do not notice that they are not tiring, or that they are wounded or even that they are healing a bit rapidly. They continue on because I told them to. Outside the time-lock, it has only been about one or two hours. Alexander made this spell much more linear than when it was just he and I inside. It is finally, after nearly a whole half day, that Orange Peel stops, and, huffing, turns his head towards me.

"No disrespect, sir, but how long have we been fighting? I'm not too sure myself, but it sure feels like a hell of a lot longer than should even be possible." His irritation, or anger, shine through, giving him the country-colt sound. It also stops him from refraining from swearing. I laugh as the others slowly come to a halt.

"You've been at it for twelve hours, ten minutes, and about forty or so seconds." I smile, perhaps a bit cruelly. "Is that a problem?"

"You're damn right that's a problem! If we've really been in here for twelve gods- damned hours, I shoulda been passed out after the first two! I know my limits,and this is far past them, if you're even telling the truth!" He stamps, his orange face snarling. "I don't kindly appreciate the tamperin' with my biological functions!"

"So you'd rather I let you pass out instead of truly testing your abilities?" I land, and snarl right back. "I need to test all of your skills, as well as your loyalty and obedience. If twelve hours is all you can handle following orders and giving your all, you aren't going to stay as my Lunar Guard for very long, because I will not let such arrogant stupidity-stuffed colts, protect anypony, let alone the Princess. I'll not stand your presence; if you won't do what's asked of you, leave." I lean in to look him squarely in the eyes. If he gives in, and realizes the logic behind my actions, I will know he is fit. If he's truly too arrogant to see the point, I will know he is not. A moment spent looking into his eyes relentlessly. Neither of us blinking. And then finally.

"I.. I understand." He looks away, grudgingly. Another moment of silence. "I suppose. Sir."

"Thank you." I look around the group. "Anypony else care to complain? Really, I am all ears." I see that Red Storm appears to want to say something, but a nudge from his experienced brothers warns him not to voice his thoughts, no matter the question. "Well, I suppose I should explain myself. I wanted to see how capable you were in reacting, again and again and again. I wanted to see how quickly you can learn from each other and use that knowledge in a way that greatly benefits you. The opponents set against us aren't stupid. They've more than once entered the castle grounds and attacked Luna. I need to know you can handle yourselves, and in turn protect Luna."

"It wasn't a bad plan, sir. I admit, I'm in the wrong here. Am I.. should I expect some form of punishment?" Orange Peel asks.

"Alexander would likely make you bench press a half ton for a half hour, but It's your first day. I think I'll let it go this time." Orange Peel begins to breathe a sigh of relief. "However, if such disrespect ever occurs again, there will be reprimanding. That goes for everypony here. Now, If everypony will line up, I'd like to talk skills." For a moment everypony but the Red brothers stand still, but after a prodding from one of them, a line begins to form. "Alexander, if you'll help me review them?" Alexander, having been sitting on the sides this whole time, gladly walks to the middle with me. The first pony in our line is Red Storm, the youngest of the Red Brothers. He is sweaty, bruised and cut, but I can see an ecstatic glint in his eye.

"You were quick to react, and used your natural assets well. Your dual dust-storms were impressive, but I can see flaws in them. The fact that you also had no weapon made you otherwise defenseless, but I am still at odds as to what you should wield. For now you will focus on improving your strength, particularly in your wings, and increase your speed. I want you also to use your natural agility more. I noticed you were fast in the attack, but slow in your defense and dodging. Fix that." I nod at him, a sign of general approval. His face is stuck in a grim blank expression, but I can still see he's happy with his review. Before I move on, I pause, but Alexander says nothing. I continue. The next pony is Caster.

"I saw lots of illusions and light spells, which served you well, but I also saw displays of physical power, albeit less than your magical power, and that is good. I think you should continue with magic as your weapon, although carrying something small might not be harmful either. You need to work on using magic and moving at the same time. I understand that is not easy, but there were several times you were almost crushed or otherwise seriously injured because you paused to use magic, and failed to complete a spell because you had to shift your attention to moving. That is my biggest concern so far, but I also want to see you increase the number of spells you can perform. I saw many repeats of spells and in a long-lasting fight, you always need a few hidden tricks. Still, the ferocity of your attacks is to be admired." Caster nods, and I sense he is disappointed in himself, despite the positive feedback. This time, Alexander also chimes in.

"I noticed you were also very aware of your surroundings, and an attack didn't usually take you by surprise. I think expanding on that ability would be quite useful." With that, Caster appears a little less disappointed, and a little more determined. The next pony is Midnight Flare. He appears eager for judgment.

"Your attacks were strong, your defense was well kept. Even your teamwork with Maclura was solid and well-done. There was only one flaw in your strategy, really, and that was your lack of use of your wings. As a pegasus, I would expect flying to be already built into your mental strategies or plans, something you instinctively rely on and use, but watching you, it appeared as if you were doing everything not to use them. With your already powerful attacks, flying would make you a nightmare in a real battle. Even if you were not flying, you could use your wings as a defense, a distraction, even attack. That is what you will focus on." Midnight Flare grits his teeth an nods, still seeming eager. Lunar cycles, is there nothing that will upset him? He seems to just keep going. I almost can't wait to push his limits. Alexander says nothing this time, either. We press on, to Orange Peel.

"I liked your offensive strategy. I don't know much about whips, but you seemed to know what you were doing, and you were doing it well. As a method of attack, it allows you some room, but I'm worried about when your opponents are too close or too far away. I want you to carry another weapon as well, something small and close range. You'll have to learn how to properly use it, and I want to see results within the next week. I also want you to learn some defensive maneuvers. You're strong, physically, so I can see why you relied on offense, but always expect there'll be somepony stronger than you. That way you'll never get caught surprised. It'll also help if you're outnumbered. So: defense, some other weapon. Those are your primaries." Orange Peel nods, sheepishly, but determined at the same time.

"I also suggest you get some heavier armor. Because your weapon is better when used standing still, you need some extra protection when you can't dodge or when somepony takes advantage of your stillness." Alexander says. "I suggest heavy iron plates of some sort."

"Good point." I say to Alexander. The next two are Red Shield and Red Sword. "May I pass over you two? As fully-trained guards, you were excellent and I would like to focus on the newer recruits."

"As you wish sir." Shield says.

"Thank you." The pony after them is Tempered Wire. "I liked your ingenuity and quick thinking. It was… odd, but effective, your weapon. Like the others, I think a small or medium weapon you can carry in addition to your death trap wire would be the best idea. I also want you to train with Orange Peel in learning physical moves. You will focus on offense, he will focus on defense. You make a good pair, I think, so I expect you to work together." Lastly is Maclura. He stands, trembling slightly, at the end of the line.

"You were excellent. For such a newly initiated guard, you are quick thinking and smart. You know how to fight, how to use your body to the fullest extent possible. It's almost purely instinctive, but better. While falling prey to someponies' attacks, as everypony does sometimes, you still gave everything you had at all times, but you also did it wisely. I want you to continue as you were previously, because whatever it was, it was doing you good. I also expect you and the Red twins to assist anypony here who needs it when training. You have a good eye for skills, so you'll know how to help. Good job." I smile, intentionally saying only the good things I saw. I want to build up some respect for Maclura, him being my second. I want the other ponies to look at him and see what I want of them, somepony hard working, intelligent, and despite his obvious setbacks, the best fighter here, aside from maybe the Red twins. Maclura, against all odds, really has turned out to be the best possible choice for this position, even if he doesn't know it.

"What now sir?" He asks, his trembles gone.

"Now I want you all to clean up and then report back. I will show you some basic warm-ups, cool-downs, and other general work-out things that will make you stronger as well as make you better fighters. This, too, will last several hours. We are maximizing our time, so most of our training will be in this time lock. Dismissed." I look away from them, intending to say not a word more. I hear them shuffle out, and turn to Alexander. "How have I been doing?"

"I think you're an impressive commanding officer. You're intense, I'll admit, but you almost exude logic. If I didn't know better, I'd think you invented all this about fighting in the first place. I'm almost jealous that you caught on so quickly. It took me weeks to really fall into the position, although Princ-, I mean, Celestia has told me I came to it quickly."

"Why stop yourself?"

"You told me to get more comfortable with her. We've been talking, after hours, and she did actually request that I call her by name, not by 'princess'." Alexander says, pulling away and kicking at the ground a little. "We certainly are more comfortable now. I didn't think it was possible, Knights, that we could reach this level. I think… that she's even beginning to understand how I really feel."

"Which is how?" I raise an eyebrow at him.

"Oh be quiet. I've told you before. It's exactly what you have with Luna, and you know it."

"What… what do you mean?" I ask, and wince, a headache deciding it wants to roost in my brain.

"Stop playing coy. Just make it official will you? You two are truly perfect for each other." I try to focus on his words, but my sudden headache makes it nearly impossible. "Are you alright?"

"I just got a sudden headache."

"Well then, I will leave the personal matters for later."

"Right. I'm sorry, it just came on all of a sudden." I feel bad, for making him wait. I don't want to be selfish.

"Well it's hardly your own fault you've got a nasty headache. We have plenty of time, Knights. We'll talk more when Luna is done showing Celestia whatever it is. In the meantime, why don't we have a spar? We can try to knock the pain right out of your head."

"You know what? You're on." Throwing away my sword, I stretch quickly, and with a mischievous look at Alexander, who is doing the same, I jump at him. For the most part, our fight consists of punches, kicks, and bites. Laughing and smiling we just beat away at each other. I imagine this is what having a brother is like. A half hour later, we roll away from each other, finally exhausted.

Even on the hard ground, I feel comforted to lie here with Alexander. To think of him as my brother. My friend.

"Alexander."

"Yes?"

"Is there any way to undo the spell? So… you don't have to die?"

"No, Knights. It's unbreakable. I designed it that way. I didn't think the effects would be so… rushed. I thought I had at the very least two more years, although I expected more, really. Looking at my calculations, i… I didn't have that much time at all. I expected more of it than what I designed it to give me."

"Is there any way to slow it down?"

"I've done all I can. This time-lock was a quick fix, but my magic will come back, restore itself, and I'll be stuck again."

"Damn. Once you stop being the asshole character, what with the 'I'm in charge' business, you're a great pony, Alexander. I… I'm not ashamed to say I don't want you to die."

"Don't mourn me, Knights, not yet. I've got several months left, now. And you know, when you stop being such a whiny prick, you're a pretty decent pony too." Alexander shoves me.

"When did I whine? I do not whine, good sir. I moan and complain and sometimes I even swear." I stick my tongue out at him. "Although, I'll admit to being a prick. We all have that stage where we are just so much better than everypony else. I'm not different."

"Bah, I never went through that stage. I've always legitimately been so much better than everypony else."

"Maybe you just never left it." Laughing, we fall back into silence. "How much longer till they get back and I have to be in charge again?"

"A few minutes, I'd wager."

"Then let's just stay here until then."

"Fine by me… brother." With shocked eyes I look at Alexander. His are closed, and he faces the distant ceiling. I close my eyes and do the same. I never suspected he returned the feeling, but I am glad to know he does. I have a brother. I have a brother…