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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    207th day, 1st bell


    I sit on the floor of my chamber, power ring on my left ring finger and the Basophil Amulet on my right palm. It's a curious thing; when I first acquired it while wandering in the Sands of Fire it was violet, but when I first used it to charge the ring it shifted to orange. Does that mean that it used to be a Zamaron artefact? I do.. hope not, because having an enraged love goddess coming after me is the absolute last thing I want. But… If it was Zamaron in origin, there isn't any mention of that in any of the books which the Sorceress was kind enough to lend me on its history.

    And wasn't finding out that I'm on flipping Eternia a shock. Not that I have much in the way of out of context knowledge; what little I remember from my childhood television habits doesn't seem to match what's actually happening. Ram Man-. Krass -who knew he had an actual name?- is about three times the size of the diminutive figure I remember, and his legs are organic muscle rather than cybernetic springs. Captain Teela's substantially younger than I was expecting her to be and He-Man doesn't look exactly like Prince Adam after a barbarian makeover.

    Okay, let's see if I can get it first time this time. Picture in my head the orange light seeping through the fabric of the universe and pooling in every sent-

    There's a knock at my door.

    -ient being…

    "Coming!"

    I rise to my feet, slip the Amulet back into my pocket and stride over to the door. Opening it, I'm greeted by-. I look down as Orko backpeddals slightly. He's a.. little more disturbing to meet in person than he was in the animated series: the inky blackness concealing his face never wavers and ring scans return nonsense results when I try to scan him. He's like a flying black mage.

    "And what can I do for you this fine morning?"

    He backs off a little more. "I was just.. passing by, and… I was wondering how much progress you'd made using the Amulet."

    "I can reliably turn it on. That's about it. I think archmagedom is some way off, and frankly I'd rather stick with the ring."

    "Oh. That's a-." His eyes dart left and right. "A real shame. But… I thought you said that the Masters need a magician?"

    "Yes, they do, so… Ah…" How's my schedule for today..? "If you've got time… This afternoon? I thought I could have a crack at putting together a wand for you." He blinks. "That's what you need, isn't it? Sort of a stabilisation device so that you can control your magic?"

    His eyes widen. "You know how to make those?"

    "No, but I can make any physical object from a good enough description, so between you, the Sorceress's books on the Trolla and the remains of your old wand, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make some progress." I smile and lay my right hand on his left shoulder, which has a bizarre… Almost oobleck-like feel. "After all, it's completely ridiculous that the most powerful magic user in Eternia is reduced to being a court jester."

    "Oh. Well. Thank you. Ah… Do you think we-?"

    "Orange Lantern."

    I turn as Captain Technically-Not-My-Boss walks-. No, stalks down the corridor towards us. Oh, delightful. What have I done-

    Orko backs up at speed. "I'll see you this afternoon!"

    -now?

    "Captain. Delightful to see you. What brings you to my corner of the castle?"

    "What happened between you and Krass?"

    I blink-.

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    205th day, 7th bell


    "Don't do yourself down like that, Krass." I pat him on the shoulder. "Ekra would be privileged to be courted by a man like you." He shuffles slightly, shaking his head. "No, seriously. You're polite, honourable, loyal to a fault, you've got a good position which you earned and you regularly fight some of the nastiest and most powerful people on the planet to keep Eternos safe. You're a good guy."

    "Ah…" He blushes faintly, then raises his right hand to scratch the back of his head. "If you think she's so great, why don't you go talk to her?"

    "Because -with the greatest respect to the noble profession of goatherd- I'm looking for a woman with whom I could share every part of my life. Someone who could keep up with us in a fight."

    "But…" He grins. "The only woman we know like that's Teela."

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    207th day, 1st bell


    Oh dear. "I've.. known Sergeant Krass for several months. A variety of things have happened between us. Could you narrow-?"

    "The night before last, at the tavern."

    Of course that's what you're asking about.

    "May I.. ask why you're asking?" I smile, but I'm obviously not fooling her. She knows full well that I know what she's talking about.

    "Krass was miserable all of yesterday. Look, if one of you got drunk and said something stupid-"

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    205th day, 6th bell


    Krass nods at the goblet in front of me. "Wine any good?"

    "No idea." I raise the goblet up slightly. "The innkeeper was kind enough to keep a small keg of unfermented grape juice in for me. It allows me to give the appearance of joining in the celebration without compromising my facilities." I look at his tankard. Water? Unexpected, but I suppose it was unfair of me to stereotype him. "Would you care to join me?"

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    207th day, 1st bell


    "It turns out that neither of us drink."

    Apparently, his reasons relate to a misspent youth and how he earned that skullcap of his. He didn't want to talk about the specifics, so I didn't press him.

    "-then that's fine, but the two of you need to talk out your differences. We have to fight side by side, and that requires that we trust each other."

    I'm getting the same lecture from a sixteen year old girl from the He-Man universe that I got from the He-Man animated series when I was six. There's something amusingly poetic about that.

    "No, neither of us said anything-. Ah… He… Made an observation, which -with the benefit of hindsight- I realise was supposed to be a light-hearted jibe."

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    205th day, 8th bell


    "Ah, no." I bow my head slightly as Krass frowns in confusion. "While the Captain is a splendid young woman with many admirable qualities… In my culture, it is considered… Extremely inappropriate for people with an age difference as great as we have to become involved with one another. It wouldn't quite be criminal, but it's close enough that I find the idea quite distasteful."

    "Oh." He shrinks back slightly. "Right. I hadn't-. Ah, sorry. I'll just…"

    19th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Sun
    207th day, 1st bell


    "But, at the time, I.. wasn't sure, and so responded as if it were a… Serious observation. And so I responded in a serious manner, without.. giving any sign that I wasn't sure how it had been intended. Certain.. parts of Eternian custom.. still elude my comprehension, and it may be in turn that Krass believes that he has greatly offended me, when I in fact thought that he.. merely had a misapprehension which I should politely correct."

    "Then why didn't you say that at the time?"

    "He walked off, and I just thought that things might be a little awkward for a day or so then we'd both forget it. Should I..? Assume that he's taken it a little more to heart than I assumed?"

    She rolls her eyes, hands on her hips. "Krass takes everything to heart. He thinks he's massively insulted you, and he's going to keep thinking that until you straighten things out."

    I nod. "Then I will do so immediately and I apologise most profusely for not taking care of this before it came to your attention. If you'll.. excuse me?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th year of the reign of King Randor I
    Season of Winds
    73rd day, 3rd bell


    "You really think this is worth doing?"

    Krass can't really turn his head too well in his armour, but he twists his shoulders and looks down at me as we head towards the maximum security wing. Or -given what happened to the last maximum security wing- perhaps I should follow Krass' suggestions and call it the hyper-ultra security wing. Sir Duncan really went all out this time.

    I shake my head as we approach the second checkpoint and raise our hands, four Royal Guards keeping us covered with plasma blasters while four others come forward with personal scanners. "It doesn't matter what I think. Only what happens."

    "Ah, don't try that mystical stuff with me. These guys are the worst of the worst. Most of them joined up after Sk-." I roll my eyes and then glare at him. "After Keldor's revolt. They knew what they were getting into."

    "Krass, there are two logical ways to deal with criminality. The first is rehabilitation." I raise my arms as one guard runs his scanner over my torso and another holds a glowing crystal to my forehead. "To turn law-breakers into decent citizens. At the most basic level, that can be achieved through the threat of punishment or punishment itself. Fines, the stocks-"

    He winces. There are good reasons beyond mere professionalism why he doesn't drink liquor these days.

    "-public whippings, conscription, imprisonment, forced labour… All sorts of things. Then there are more indirect things; finding them useful work or getting them sober." He grunts. "But, ultimately, the convicted has to see it as better to follow the rules than break them."

    "Yeah, okay. What's the other one?"

    "Laws aren't secret. If you're not going to rehabilitate them and they can't be trusted to behave, simply kill them."

    The guards nod to each other, and the corporal lowers his gun. "Identities confirmed, Ram Man and Orange Lantern. Sirs, please wait here while we contact Sir Duncan for authorisation."

    I nod and adopt a more relaxed posture.

    "Why not just leave them in a hole like this and forget about them?"

    I gesture to the guard post. "Does this look like we've forgotten about them? We could have built a town for the resources this place cost. Or built a flipping curtain wall around Castle Grayskull. And then there are the ongoing costs in maintenance, guards… And the risk of another breakout; I mean, we're concentrating the few people who are threats to you and me in one place. If they get out, all of this was a waste of time, because they're going to go right back to Keldor."

    The corporal nods and gestures to the armoured lift doors ahead of us. I nod back, and Krass and I stride through as they wheeze open. We turn around as they close, and then I feel the slight sensation of weightlessness as the lift accelerates downwards.

    "So what you're saying is: we have to finish them off or make them good?"

    "Do you really think his majesty would sign off on us killing them?"

    "I don't know. King Hiss shook everyone up pretty bad." I eyeball him. "Okay, no, I don't. But how in Eternia do you think you're going to rehabilitate them?"

    I hold up my left hand, letting the ring glow for a moment. "Simply a matter of knowing what they want, my friend."

    "Bah, magic."

    "I'm still not convinced-."

    "Yeah, yeah. I heard that lecture. 'Advanced enough technology'." The doors blast open and we walk out into the panopticon. "Looks the same to me."

    I stand in front of the viewing window and press the 'ready' button. That makes a signal go off in the first guard station, which in turn makes them remotely check the cell module I've been authorised to view and then pull the levers required to bring it up to this level.

    "You headbutt mountains."

    He frowns in confusion. "Yeah?"

    "So me doing ridiculous things with a ring is magic while you doing them with your forehead isn't?"

    "Just.. got a.. thick skull, I guess."

    I nod. These people really don't see anything odd about what they can do. I'm still half-convinced that this place is like Ashan, and all magic is some sort of post-singularity precursor technology the locals don't even begin to understand. It would fit with the history of Hordak's invasion after all, and it would explain Kronis' nanotechnology and why magic users can't do a thing without their focuses…

    The viewing window opens and the person I'm here to see glares at me from the chair she's manacled to. Obviously she isn't bound full time, but the only way the system can bring her up is if she's sitting in that chair and the clamps are engaged. The metal of the chair is Eternium, strong enough that even He-Man couldn't… Well, he'd take a minute or two. And Evelyn isn't anything like as strong as he is.

    Her eyes narrow slightly as she regards us. "Oh. I was hoping that I warranted He-Man's attention, not two of his lackeys."

    Krass snarls as he stomps forward. "You should be glad anyone's coming down here!"

    And she's smiling. I sigh quietly, then hold up my right hand. "Ram Man, if you wouldn't mind?"

    He glowers at her, then turns his back on her and stomps to the rear of the panopticon.

    "Ah, the brains of the operation."

    I bow politely. "One does one's humble best."

    "And what does the humble one want?"

    "The humble one wants to know what you want."

    She considers for a moment. "My staff, my freedom and.. shall we say..? Three bags of gold coins? I'd ask for four but I wouldn't want to be over encumbered."

    "Hah!" I shake my head. "Easily done, but then what? Back to Keldor and your delightfully appointed quarters in Snake Mountain? Please, aim higher. What do you really want? Long term. If everything goes your way, where do you see yourself in ten years?"

    She spots my ring shimmering, but when nothing appears to happen she considers the question for a moment. "Castle Grayskull would be quite nice. Yes, I see myself bearing the full might of Grayskull."

    I nod. "Acceptable."

    For a moment she looks like she's swallowed something bitter. "What?"

    "I.. recently conducted a review of Eternos' defences, and a key weakness I identified was the Sorceress herself. In her fight with King Hiss she was seriously injured, and that.. effectively deprived us of our magic capacity until she recovered. No organisation should have any role where they can't replace the occupant. But…" I make a shrugging motion with my hands. "We have something of a dearth of candidates, Orko isn't compatible with Grayskull's magics… But you are down here."

    "And you want to replace the Sorceress with me? I certainly won't refuse, though-."

    "No, no… No. We're not that stupid. But… If you're interested, she's willing to consider… You're too old and skilled for an apprenticeship… Shall we say, a pupillage? You would study under her in a controlled environment, with a view to joining the Masters… Once we think we can trust you, and to taking over as Sorceress of Grayskull upon her death. Assuming that you aren't the cause of said death. We will check."

    "Y-?" Her eyes dart to the corners of the room before returning to my face. "I'm still somewhat.. surprised, to be offered this." Her eyes narrow. "What's the catch?"

    "You'll be geased up to the eyeballs. You will accept the geases and you will not knowingly resist them or try to bypass them. And a lot of the work she'll have you do early on will be apprentice work, just to make sure that you have the right attitude for the job. You also won't be getting your staff back anytime soon, and the Sorceress will want to place limits upon it to ensure that you do not misuse it. Furthermore, the job of Sorceress itself does not give you political control of any land aside from Castle Grayskull itself and the territory immediately abutting it."

    "Bearable. I'll want to see the written forms of the geases before I accept anything."

    I nod. "Perfectly fine."

    "Then… I accept. Provisionally."

    "I'll ask the Sorceress to write the bindings up for you to examine. That will most likely take a few days. I will return once they are done."

    She looks around her cell. "I will be happy to receive you then."

    I nod, smile, and turn aw-.

    "Still, I can't help but be curious. I'm sure the other Masters would have been happy to leave me here indefinitely. What do you personally get out of this?"

    "Oh, my motives are entirely transparent." Krass is already in the lift and I head towards him. "Good day, Evelyn."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st April 2012
    23:01 GMT -6


    "Let me-." I hold up my forehooves. The eight of us are sitting in the station's café, the staff having taken one look at us and then abandoned any attempt to enforce the closing times. "Let me make sure that I'm understanding what you're telling me. Just before he was turned to stone by Celestia and Luna, Discord developed some kind of magic-nullifying vine thing-"

    Twilight Sparkle nods. "Plunderseed Vines."

    "-and threw the seeds around, intending for them to sprout… At some point in the future. A little while ago they did sprout, kidnapped Celestia and Luna from Canterlot and dragged them back to the EverfreeSomehow. Without anyone noticing. Again… Somehow."

    Rarity frowns, her right forehoof tapping her snout as she tries to work out how that could have happened.

    "So you went into the Everfree, fought through the vines, put the Elements back on the Tree of Harmony because… It turns out that they're actually some kind of fruit? And that sent out a blast of harmonious magic which destroyed the vines, except… Maybe it didn't, so you've got to leave them there in case it missed any. And you got a box. Which… Random items you picked up over the next few months turned into keys for. And when you opened it, there was a rainbow inside, which made you all rainbow coloured, drained Tirek and built Twilight a new house. And then vanished."

    Applejack nods. "That's about the size of it."

    I study Rainbow Dash while my mind spins. Apparently, I somehow missed two harmony-based magical mega-weapons.

    "So did…" I point at her with my right forehoof. "She keep a bit, or is she naturally..?"

    Rainbow Dash metaphorically preens. "I'm aaaaall natural."

    "So… What happens next time… Picking an example at random here… Another evil magic user like… Queen Chrysalis or… Grogar? Puts in an appearance?"

    Twilight thinks for a moment, then shrugs with her wings oh that's cheating!

    "I.. guess we'd.. just have to fight them without the Elements. Or we'd find a new magic artefact and beat them with that."

    Pinkie Pie nods enthusiastically. "Or we could use the Crystal Heart!"

    Crystal Heart. Not sure it's really what I was.. looking for, but… I'll take what I can get. Even if it only sets the Anti-Life fragment back a little it'll have been worth it.

    "And where's that?"

    There's a slight.. intake of breath from several of the ponies.

    "Ah…" Twilight looks around to see if anyone has an idea on how best to lie to me. "It's… A… Long way away?"

    Over to my left, Sunset Shimmer rolls her eyes and shakes her head at her successor's dishonesty failure.

    "But why do you want us to use something like that on you, anyway? If you're.. evil, you wouldn't want us to, and if you're not evil…" She frowns. "I actually don't know what they do to ponies who aren't evil."

    "What about someone who is afflicted by some sort of evil magic but isn't evil themselves?"

    "Um. Well, the Elements of Harmony removed the Nightmare from Princess Luna, so I guess they can tell the difference?"

    Applejack doesn't look convinced. "Beggin' yer pardon, Twi, but didn't the rainbow make Tirek how he was before he started stealin' everypony's magic? How exactly is he s'poss ta be good?"

    "Ahhh… It… Put him in Tartarus and it put Nightmare Moon on the moon the first time. Maybe it-."

    "Okay, you and Sunset try working that out together. I'm going to go to a library, find out where this Crystal Heart thing is, then-."

    "No!" Twilight's eyes widen. "You-."

    "Oh just tell him why not." Sunset takes a couple of steps forward. "Applejack, you're 'honesty', right?"

    "That ain't exactly how it works, sugarcube." She looks around the Bearerherd. "But if Graven here's really got some kinda evil magic makin' him look like that, I fer one think we oughta tell him."

    Twilight sighs. "Okay, but-. You look a lot like a pony called King Sombra. He used to rule a place called the Crystal Empire, which is where the Crystal Heart is. If you go there, everypony would be terrified."

    "Ah, Twilight?" Rarity frowns thoughtfully. "If the ponies of the Crystal Empire are confronted with somepony who looks like something out of their worst nightmares… Wouldn't that prevent the Crystal Heart from working?"

    "Yes! You're right!" She smiles as a reason for preventing me from going there hits her. "Which means that there's no point in you going there!"

    Sunset frowns. "Why? What does it need to work?"

    "The love of all of the crystal ponies. If they see you, it won't get any power. And the spells keeping the Crystal Empire warm would stop working as well and they'll freeze to death!"

    She's probably right, Lantern. You could try to sneak in and use it covertly, but if the Zamarons couldn't purify you with love I doubt that these primitives would manage any better.

    Yes. Still: no harm in throwing them a bone…

    "Love? Don’t Changelings feed on that?" I smile. "Can I assume that the Crystal Heart is well protected? Walls, defensive spells, that sort of thing?"

    Twilight sort of freezes. "Y-es?"

    "Good show. I'd hate to think that a changeling could just walk up to it and eat their fill. So how about taking me to this 'Tree of Harmony' thing and blasting me with the Elements there? You don't even need to take them off it."

    Fluttershy peers out from behind Pinkie Pie and her own mane.

    "Why do you think you need us to use the Elements on you? If you don't mind telling us."

    "I've got a… Let's call it a curse. It tries to change the way I think. At the moment there's… Another spell keeping it contained, but the containment is gradually weakening. When Sunset described the way magic worked here, I began to hope that a sufficiently powerful harmony-related effect could permanently destroy it. And.. now that I've learned that you could easily regain the ability to generate such blasts, I'm… Really not sure what the problem is?"

    Twilight tilts her head to the right. "It's just a curse?"

    "It's a… Little worse than 'just a curse', but… Yes?"

    She sits up a little straighter, smiling in what I expect she intends to be a reassuring way. "Why don't-" Her horn lights up." "-you let me take a loo-"

    I generate a yellow barrier and a suit of yellow barding.

    "-kkkkk…? Or… Not?"

    "It's a memetic hazard, Twilight. It wants to be spread. If you touch it then it will claim you as well and then you won't be able to use the Elements. That's why you shooting me with them is such a great solution: it's one way. No chance for feedback."

    "Okay… What does it do?"

    "It uses examples from your own life to prove to you that having any aim results in failure and misery."

    Rainbow Dash looks decidedly unimpressed. "That's it? So it doesn't… Turn you into a warthog, or make you get old super fast or turn your legs into sand or… Anything?"

    "I spent days raving in anguish before it got shut down."

    She exhales dismissively.

    "Mister Graven…" Twilight looks like she's about to break some bad news. "I'm happy to try looking at this curse for you, but… We only use the Elements on bad ponies. You're trying to remove a curse and that's… Fine, but it doesn't make you bad."

    I nod. "So what you're saying is, that if I become more evil then you'll use the Elements on me?"

    "Yes, exactly." She then twitches as she actually hears what I just said. "No! Nonono!"

    I stand, grinning maniacally, purple and green bubbles bubbling from my horn.

    "THEN PREPARE FOR EVIL AS YOU HAVE NEVER BEFORE EXPERIENCED IT! BAWHAHAHAW!"

    I turn and prance away. Now I just need to find a lawyer.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Mid-summer, 2279
    Morning


    I've never really been a sunny weather person.

    No. No, that's not true. From what I remember of my early childhood, I enjoyed trips to the beach or to Eastbourne's parks during the long summer holiday. But the older I got, the more I came to dislike the high heats of summer and appreciated the more clement weather of autumn.

    And now here I am, in the middle of summer, in a desert, under a near-cloudless sky, with only loose robes and a two hundred year old fedora shielding me from the baking heat. And I'm.. actually happy. I mean, I've sort of believed that the human brain wasn't really designed to cope with the society we'd built for ourselves for a while, but I'm still surprised by exactly how much happier I've become since… Not exactly 'downshifting', but… Embracing a more 'simple' way of life.

    There's no internet in post-apocalyptic Nevada. No television. Only two or three radio stations, and most of the time you're lucky if you can get good reception on one. Consumer culture? When I arrived, the people here were happy that they could just about produce enough food for everyone. As Moist von Lipwig said in Making Money, you can't eat gold.

    And now, things are going to get a little more complicated.

    I glance back at the perimeter wall protecting our 'capital'. Most of it predates the war which burned the world, something I find jolly impressive. The material we've used to patch the places where it's crumbled away is a good deal less resilient, but to a casual observer it makes it look continuous. Not that I think we'll need it, but…

    The robe standing next to me flaps slightly. "They're coming."

    I don't respond out loud, but nod and begin walking through the open gate to greet our visitors. The robe appears to believe that is the correct course of action as well, and jerkily follows me. As I pass through I glance back at the fortified gatehouse and make momentary eye contact with Keanan. He isn't happy about me going out like this, and he's even less happy about leaving the gate open with a potentially hostile force in the area. We compromised on laying a mix of plasma and fragmentation mines just inside the entrance, but… If this goes badly I very much doubt that they'll be useful.

    Looking out across the shimmering salt flats, I can just about make out the plumes of dust being thrown up by the wheels of the oncoming vehicles. An obvious drawback of living in such a well-known pre-war site is that anyone with a map knows where it is. Around here, pre-war military bases are often treasure-troves of valuable weapons and other equipment, and with our nearest civilised neighbours being hard-pressed by one of their less pleasant neighbours it only makes sense for them to come and have a look.

    Hm. Let's see. Our wall-guns are in perfect working order. They probably won't expect that, but they will almost certainly assume that at least some of them will be working. We could hit them with lasers from here, and that's… Something they know. Which means that the two-. No, three trucks that I can see, are the advanced scouts. The officer in charge -and if we're lucky, the civilian government representative- will be back behind the ridgeline, out of sight and out of range.

    I pick up the pace a little, my left hand reaching for the small ring which hangs from a thong around my neck. An orange power ring. Fully functional when I arrived, I've long since expended all of its power. The tribe accepted me as one of them when I used it to open up the high security areas of the base which had remained inviolate for two hundred years, and… I'm grateful that its power allowed me to survive the fallout from that. But again, I don’t miss it. It was useful while it lasted, but I simply didn't have it for long enough to get really attached.

    The trucks are closer now, and from the way the dust plumes are getting smaller I'm going to guess that they're slowing down. I release my ring and hold out my hands to either side so that they can see that I'm if not unarmed then at least I'm not carrying a weapon in my hands right now. Then there's another plume as two of the trucks turn off, one moving to the north and the other to the south. The remaining truck accelerates once again, moving towards us at speed.

    Ah, yes. On the canvas sides of the two trucks which turned away I can just about make out the two-headed bear symbol of the New California Republic. The fact that the New California Republic is sending an emissary here isn't surprising. If anything, it's odd that they've taken this long to get around to it. We're only about a hundred miles from their capital Shady Sands here, but without satellites or aircraft I suppose it's not all that easy for them to scout us out. And of course they've had their own, more urgent problems.

    Once we reach a decent distance from the gates I stop and patiently wait for them to reach us. And I make a point of not paying undue attention to the grey-coated figure who jumps out of the back of the northern truck and sets up what I'm sure is a sniping gun of some sort. My tribe doesn't make much use of projectile weapons. Making gunpowder is awkward, let alone forging bullets for them. And since the pre-war garrison here was mostly armed with laser weapons anyway…

    The truck pulls to a stop about five metres away, whereupon it stops and the squad of lightly equipped soldiers in the back pile out. They don't point their weapons at us-. Well, most of them don't and the one who does gets glared at by his NCO until he stops.

    I nod politely as the NCO walks closer, his gun at rest across his chest. "You drew the short straw, huh?"

    I smile. "I volunteered, yes."

    His brow twitches as he hears my accent. I suppose that he might never have heard one quite like it. It's not that strange, but most tribes in this region have a similar general sound, even if their specific modes of expression vary from tribe to tribe.

    "My name is Sergeant Mitchell, and I'm part of the Second Infantry Company of the New California Republic. You know what the NCR is?"

    Which isn't nearly as insulting a question as it sounds. News travels slowly around here, and we trade mostly with tribes to the south, rather than the NCR proper to the west or the Rangers to the north-west. There isn't a lot of traffic -none at all, actually- and our only real contact with the NCR comes via the occasional visit to New Vegas.

    "Yes, I know the NCR. My name is Krono." Well. It isn't. But even now I can't say my actual name so why worry about it? Though maybe next time I won't ask a five year old to select my nom de guerre.

    "Mm. And who's yer friend?"

    "This-" I glance at him. "-is Goris. He's a bit shy around new people."

    "He armed?"

    "He's not carrying any weapons." I smile. "How can I help the NCR?"

    "We've heard that there's a raider tribe livin' in this area, a nasty bunch callin' themselves the Sky Reavers. You know anythin' about them?"

    Ah, that's how they're going to play this. It's a little sad that even after the Bitter Springs Massacre the NCR seems to have trouble telling tribals apart.

    "I suppose you could say that I'm the tribe's leader. Now, anyway."

    He nods in satisfaction. "Well that saves us a whole lot of time. You know what the NCR does to raiders?"

    "The tribe's raiding behaviour was a result of an unfortunate mental illness that afflicted the tribe's then-leaders. Since I took over, we've been making amends with those among our neighbours who we've attacked. Feel free to confirm that with your contacts in Ashton."

    He nods noncommittally. "Yeah, we'll do that. What kinda mental illness did they have?"

    What should I call it? The NCR doesn't use mystics, and if you haven't seen that sort of thing in action there's an understandable tendency for people to be sceptical.

    "They claimed they could hear whispers from the sky, ordering them to conquer and destroy the wasteland's other inhabitants. The whole tribe ended up praying to the 'Sky Lords' at their behest."

    Which is true, though a massive oversimplification. A more complete explanation would mention that the more sensitive settlers had been badly affected by the zetan neurotropic initiator that the pre-war researchers were playing with in the basement, developing minor psychic powers while becoming completely obsessed with getting into the high security areas. When I turned up with a power ring they glommed onto me at once, believing that I was the solution they'd been praying to their alien gods for. I didn't realise exactly how crazy they were until later. The fragmented alien computers might have been able to resist American researchers before the war, but they couldn't stop an orange power ring wielded by a desperate man.

    "But they don’t do that no more?"

    "I.. was forced to kill most of them. The survivors decided to see things my way. They still believe in the Sky Lords, but they now think that they're evil."

    "Heh." He nods. "Alright, Ambassador Granger's gunna be negotiating a settlement on behalf of the NCR. You alright to meet him?"

    "Certainly."

    "Okay." He turns back to the truck. "Lenny! Signal forward base! Tell 'em we got someone to negotiate for the Sky Reavers!"

    "Yes Sergeant!"

    "Oh, ah, Sergeant? The tribe isn't called that any more."

    He turns back to me. "Oh yeah? What's it called now, then?"

    "The Sky Walkers."
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Mid-summer, 2279
    A little later


    One of the soldiers lowers the rear flap and I step out of the back of the truck into a temporary campsite. A couple of squads are working on digging a trench and using the soil to create a short sandbag wall just behind it, and they're sweating buckets as a result. I'll have someone come over with fresh water later; all of the good sources around here are already controlled by the tribe and they're probably trying to avoid contact where possible.

    Goris hops down after me, his tail somehow staying concealed by his robe. I got a brief flash of his feet, but that was because I knew exactly what to look for. Any of the NCR people who happened to notice would probably write it off as unusual footwear. As for his size? The most obvious explanation is that he's a Super Mutant, and that he's either trained very well or he retained his intelligence during the change. Like magic, 'intelligent deathclaws' are something the people of the NCR regard as a myth.

    Sergeant Mitchell is already striding off towards a man in a suit whom I presume to be Ambassador Granger. The Ambassador's tough-looking bodyguards are already sizing me and Goris up as potential threats, so I make a point of showing my empty hands once again. After all, it's just a professional thing for them, rather than an indication of active hostility. The Ambassador himself turns as the sergeant approaches, glances at me and Goris for exactly a second, and then gives the sergeant his full attention. A few moments later he nods and then makes his way towards a canvas-covered area and takes a seat at a desk there before motioning for me to be brought forward.

    A fairly basic intimidation technique from a man sitting in the middle of my tribe's territory. I've made a point of telling my tribe's emissaries not to do things like this.

    The sergeant beckons us forward, so Goris and I amble unhurriedly in the Ambassador's direction, looking around as we do so. Goris is a keen student of human behaviour and he's given me some useful lessons on the subject. The men and women doing the digging are younger than most of the other soldiers, at least based on what I can see. And their uniform appears to be less armoured, though I suppose that could just be because they're not being deployed in a combat role at the moment. The people who appear to be their NCOs are… Watching them more than joining in. Are they a penal unit? That doesn't seem.. likely

    The rows of tents are neat, the structure I assume to be the latrine is set up and… Oh, a genuine armoured APC. Those are far rarer to find in good working condition than the more common trucks they're using to transport their soldiers. Does the Ambassador rate one, or are they using it for a mobile arms locker? The NCR's rifles are.. a bit basic, but the very fact that they can produce their own firearms in their own foundries is actually quite impressive. That's one of the things I genuinely respect about Shady Sands; it's not a small part of a pre-war settlement trying to bring itself back from the brink of death. It's genuinely new, a farming town founded after the war which made good.

    Sergeant Mitchell nods to me at us as we approach the desk. "Mister Ambassador, this is Krono and his associate Goris."

    Mr Granger nods. "Gentlemen, good morning. My name is Phillip Granger, and I represent the New California Republic. I'm here to discuss your people's accession to the NCR. The NCR plans for expansion in this region include us taking possession of the old US military base at Groom Lake. Obviously, any of your people living there will have-"

    "Hm-hm."

    "-to leave. We can help you with your resettlement, and there are a number of public work-."

    "Mister Granger, I realise that in a negotiation that it's a common tactic to open with a strong demand and let yourself be negotiated down, but… Please."

    "Mister Krono, you're within driving distance of the largest army in America. The NCR will take this area. We'd rather do it with your cooperation but it is going to happen."

    "Ambassador Granger, the largest army in America is currently sitting on the east bank of the Colorado River and is facing the second largest army on the west. And I don't believe for a moment that General Oliver will allow you to move more than a token force just to pick a fight with some tribals. But." I raise my hands a little. "We would be delighted to have more contact with the New California Republic. The whole philosophy I've been espousing-."

    "And what philosophy is that?"

    "Transhumanism."

    His face hardens, his eyes flicking to Goris for a moment. "If you're using FEV, General Oliver probably will give me the men I'd need to overrun this place."

    "No, we're not using FEV. FEV wasn't developed at Area Fifty One. I've never so much as seen a sample." Though I would like to study it. If only to try to help Goris out. "But when I arrived, I was able to help the rest of the tribe gain access to the highest security areas which the survivors of the Great War put into full lockdown before they pulled out. I think they may have ended up joining the Enclave…" I shrug.

    "Oh yeah? And what's in there? Plasma guns? Power armour?"

    "In addition to the more conventional military research programs that were carried out there by the pre-war government, Area Fifty One was also the US's centre for zetan research." He looks a little lost. "Aliens."

    "Hah! Aliens!" He shakes his head. "Look, I know that some of the stuff the old government had in there was pretty advanced to a tribal-. And if your people know their way around the place, maybe it's worth keeping you on in some capacity. But there's no way that any of that stuff came from another planet."

    When I first… Vanished from Earth Prime and appeared here, I desperately looked for a way to recharge the ring. Finding nothing in the blasted world below me I started looking for something else that would give me the power I needed to survive, and maybe make something of the situation. Which is why I came here: the largest cache of nonhuman technology combined with a local population who might be prepared to negotiate with me. The way things actually played out… It could have gone better, but it could have gone a lot worse.

    "The pre-war reports stored on the base's terminals suggest otherwise, but if you like I can give you a demonstration."

    "A demonstration of aliens?" He sits back, his eyebrows raised. "Excuse me if I'm a little sceptical."

    "No, we don't have any-" Living. "-aliens. I mean the abilities their technology gives us."

    "By all means."

    I focus my telekinetic grip and lift him into the air, his hands grabbing for the desk and his eyes widening!

    "Holy cheeses!"

    I carefully set him back down while remaining motionless, trying not to further antagonise the NCR soldiers who are pointing their guns at my head. "After I defeated the Cult of Whispers, I cracked the command codes of an alien device which the pre-war researchers called the neurotropic initiator. It was damaged -which is probably what drove the Whisperers mad in the first place- and I repaired it before testing the device upon myself." Ambassador Granger struggles to get himself back under control. "Not everyone in the tribe has chosen to use it since then, but a good few have."

    "Okay, that's, ah." He makes a downwards motion with his right hand and the soldiers reluctantly lower their guns. "Certainly.. interesting. But that doesn't prove that it's alien. Pre-war science made all kinds of crazy discoveries."

    "As I said, I took control of the alien computer systems. All of the records that were stored at Area Fifty One are at our disposal, and the aliens' technology seems to respond well to-" **-mental contact.**

    That gets a blink, but I suppose that simple telepathy is less immediately concerning than the ability to throw people around.

    "Including their repair and fabrication guides."

    "You're telling me that you know how to make this 'alien' technology?"

    "Some things. Most of what the pre-war military acquired came from small alien craft which they shot down. There are still large holes in our knowledge. One of the things we are very eager to trade for is further examples of zetan technology."

    "And what's the worth to you?"

    "We are happy to take NCR citizens as students, grant them similar abilities and teach them how to use them. These can be soldiers, or your own researchers."

    "If we get researchers clued up, why wouldn't we just keep anything we find elsewhere to ourselves?"

    I shrug. "We will have more experts for the foreseeable future. You won't have many, and it wouldn't be efficient for them to be split between multiple sites. And if you're serious about us becoming a county in the NCR, the best way to make that happen is to cooperate. Deliberately withholding anything important will strongly alienate my tribe."

    He nods. "No pun intended."

    "Quite."

    "And the situation with Caesar's Legion?"

    "They're a blight on the wasteland. We can't offer you a great deal in the short term, but I think you'll be interested in what we have."

    "Which is?"

    The fully repaired zetan fighter floating above us drops its stealth field.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd April 2012
    06:27 GMT -6
    Except it's not


    Four minutes is an hour.

    That means that while it feels like I've been here for around seven hours, it's actually been about half an hour. It's not half past six in the morning, it's eleven the previous day… Or thereabouts.

    I sniff the air and.. take a left. I think that my sense of smell is more acute as a pony.

    Which means that this is still the first of April. So what I'm about to do is completely in character.

    I take a moment to review the footage I'm getting from my spy drone. Twilight's herd was here to set up a surprise 'Congratulations on Coping with Canterlot' party. Apparently, Celestia's spending a few days in Manehattan and left Luna in charge, which explains why we haven't seen her.

    And that suggests that her ability to sense the arcane is somewhat limited. And that she didn't have any sort of detection spell set up on the Mirror.

    I sniff again and here we are! A pony Indian restaurant! I have no idea how that's even a thing! But I don't care! I guess India has ponies too, though… I don't know how that maps onto Equestria. Maybe they're from outside Equestria? Pass. And the door is just about big enough to let me in, so…

    "Ahoy the restaurant? Sorry I don't have a res…" Huh. Empty. Great! I walk all of the way inside and make eye contact with the portly waiter. "Reservation, but I eat like a-" Um. "-hippopotamus."

    The thick-set stallion waiter doesn't seem troubled by my entrance. "We can seat you, sir. Is there anyone else in your party?"

    Hm. "Let me just check."

    I turn around and stick my head out of the door.

    "If you three have been told to keep an eye on me, you might as well do the job on a full stomach." My shadows don't move from their places of concealment: one on a rooftop, one behind a barrel and the third behind a weak chameleon spell. "My goggles are enchanted to bypass concealment attempts and these ear rings are empathic weapons."

    A giant yellow arrow marks each of their locations, and the one with the chameleon spell glances upwards before slumping and giving up.

    "I'm buying?"

    The batpony peeks over the roofline, then drops down onto the street. The unicorn dismisses their spell and the earth pony undulates out of the barrel in a way which.. doesn't look natural for the equine body. I smile and back up into the restaurant.

    "Table for four."

    "Just here, sirs and madam."

    Madam..? Oh, yes, the batpony is a mare. Lunar armour on her and the unicorn. The three of them take their seats while… Yeah, that's not going to work. I'll just sit on the floor. I'm still taller than them, but at least it's not quite as ridiculous as it would be if I joined them on the bench.

    As the waiter heads off to pick up some menus I lean closer. "Why are you following me?"

    Their eyes each flick to the other two, and none answer.

    "Okay, you're wearing night-themed armour and the sun is down. You're night guards. Luna has supreme autocratic authority so if she wanted me arrested I'd be arrested. Your officer take initiative?"

    Seems unlikely, but it would be nice to know that those two total nitwits from the day shift aren't the sum total of the guard's officer corps.

    "Come on. If you were ordered not to directly contact me then you've already-." A menu is deposited in front of each of us. "Thank you. Already failed that part. What's the harm in telling me who ordered me monitored?"

    "We've got standing orders to monitor anyone who uses dark magic." Batmare blows her fringe out of her face. "We're still waiting for orders on exactly what to do about you."

    Earth pony looks around. "Do you know this restaurant?"

    "Took a walk down the…" I wave my left forehoof in the general direction of outside. "Main.. restaurant row, and they appeared to be serving… Cardboard? I don't think I'm a cardboard-eating pony. But here-" I open the menu and take a look. "-they serve actual food." I turn to the waiter. "It all looks great. I'll just have one of everything."

    "I think sir may be ordering too much."

    "Look at the size of me, I'm built like a rhino." I take a small crate out of subspace and push it over to him. "And I have unlimited storage, so I can just doggy bag everything I don’t get through. And-" The bit is a commodity currency, so stamping a load of my own gold was an easy way to secure fungible resources. "-if I'm paying-" I flip open the lid and his eyes light up. "-cash, who cares?"

    "Sir makes a good point."

    The crate vanishes as he heads to the kitchen and starts shouting orders.

    "Anyway, if you're following me… Is there anything you want to ask me?"

    The unicorn frowns. "Are you working for the Princesses? I mean… You're an alicorn. Have you..? Fulfilled some sort of prophecy, or… Studied the magic of friendship-." I raise my eyebrows incredulously and he looks away. "Yeah I didn't think so."

    "No, no, I mean…" I shake my head. "Prophecy? Friendship magic? Are.. they still telling people that? That's not how alicorns are made."

    "It isn't?" The earth pony tilts his head slightly to the left. "Then how are alicorns made?"

    I take a quick look around and then lean in, prompting the three of them to do the same.

    "Alicornism is sexually transmitted."

    Their eyes boggle and their bodies freeze.

    "So magic of special friendship, maybe. I wish Celestia and Twilight felt they could be open about their relationship, but…" I wrinkle my nose. "I guess after so long without an official consort Celestia's got a hang-up about it."

    They keep staring.

    "Duh." Batmare flaps her right wing twice, then points it at me. "Y-you..?"

    "Well, after going without for a thousand years I imagine you'd be a bit pent up too, but looking at Luna you'd never think she'd be quite that… Vigorous. Heck, I'm lucky I was an earth pony; the other seven guys are still in hospital." They're still staring. "Oh, they'll be fine. Alicorns have the magic of the three tribes, so now they've got earth pony endurance too. Guess we'll just… Each take a day of the week or something."

    "Eight?"

    "Covering holidays and illnesses, you know. And team events. And maybe she'll calm down once she's got it out of her system. Or, you know, in her system, heh. You want anything to drink?"

    The unicorn unsteadily levitates his menu up in front of his face. "I wonder if they have an alcohol licence? I hope they have an alcohol licence."

    "Wait wait-" The earth pony shakes his head. "-wait. Captain Shining Armor isn't an alicorn. How-?"

    "Ah… I don't really know the fellow, but I'm guessing that with all the work the Crystal 'Empire' needs, they don't think it's a sensible time to have a foal and they're using barrier contraception. Barriers are his special talent, after all. No intimate fluid contact-."

    "Okay!" He holds up his forehooves. "Okay, that's…"

    The unicorn fidgets. "Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight Sparkle… They're really hiding their relationship?"

    The other parts of evil plan phase one are nearly in place… So I nod.

    "Huh. I hadn't really thought about.. that sort of thing before. She's just.. so… Above us all. I hadn't thought of her as being.. normal. Wanting… I guess.. it must be kinda lonely. I mean…. I know…" He looks at the other two. "We'd all be totally supportive..?" Two stunned nods.

    I nod. "Maybe you should say something."

    "Oh, I couldn't."

    "Or drop her an anonymous note, or… Maybe have one of Shining Armour's friends send him a letter about his sister's relationship?"

    A couple of reluctant nods. Well, if that doesn't convince them that I need to be shot with the Elements of Harmony…

    "Are you ready to order drinks, sirs and madam?"

    I turn my neck and smile at the waiter. "Oh, yes. Sarsaparilla for me, please. Oh." I turn back to my dinner companions. "Canterlot police and palace guards are separate organisations, right?"

    Batmare nods. "Separate commands, yeah. Why?"

    "Oh." My smile grows. "No reason."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st April 2012
    Evening


    Oh this place is amazing!

    I don't know if it's the cook or this pony tongue but the food here is top-notch. I was a bit reluctant to try the hay-based things but.. actually, with all the spices to give them flavour, it kind of works. I've got to bring the family here. Once I check that the younger children's medicine still works when they're in pony form.

    I wonder if harmony magic could fix them, too? I'd been assuming not because it's just part of how their body works rather than any kind of curse, but I suppose that it wouldn't hurt to get a second opinion.

    I slide my very clear formerly-covered-in-chestnut-curry plate forward, then float it up to join the others.

    "Okay, I think I'm done. How about you?"

    Street Stalker -the earth pony- nods. He'd been sampling a little of everything, and as a result he was still eating about two thirds of the way through my meal.

    "This place is really good. Most restaurants in Canterlot are totally overpriced."

    Swooping Strike -the bat pony- snorts in agreement. "And the food's terrible."

    I frown. "How do they do that? Wouldn't the cooks' special talents mean they.. just knew when they were doing that?"

    Hidden Presence -the unicorn- shakes his head. "Only if they were making a mess of things by accident. If they were actually trying to make cardboard, then… Cardboard's what they'd get. And since the restaurant manager probably has a coin pouch on their rump…"

    "Canterlot ponies like cardboard? I'd have thought that there'd be more variety than that."

    Street and Swooping look at Hidden.

    "What? Hey, include me out. Why do you think I always eat in the mess? Just.. herd psychology, I guess. Everypony knows that's what restaurants are supposed to serve, so that's what everypony expects. Though I guess 'following the herd' isn't really an alicorn thing."

    "No, it-"

    Lantern Grayven, it's happening.

    "-isn't."

    I smile.

    Who went first?

    The police.

    "Ah, Graven?" Swooping looks at me inquisitively. "I know you said you weren't evil, but that's kinda an evil smile you're doing?"

    "I never said I wasn't evil. In fact, I'd say that I'm being pretty evil right now."

    The guards look at each other, but Swooping has the initiative.

    "You… Are?"

    "Sure. You were following me when I went to the library, right?" She nods. "And the law firm?" She nods again. "Wanna see the results?"

    There's a small flare as a hologram projector appears in the middle of the table, then an image of the Bearers' party appears. Everyone's smiling and.. playing some sort of game-. They're playing Twister, Luna's longer legs giving her a distinct advantage.

    "You're spying on them?"

    "Keep watching." I pull the camera out just as a night guard and a couple of other ponies walk in. The first has a truncheon and handc-. Hoofcuffs cutie mark while the second has a scroll and scales.

    Street regards them carefully as they approach the game area.

    "That's Steady Beat and Weigh Evidence. Why are they there?"

    "Is there ever a situation where you think that the law shouldn't be enforced?"

    He thinks for a moment. "You mean like if a starving pony steals food?"

    "No, if a starving pony steals food then they clearly shouldn't be left in charge of themselves. I mean like if a person is vital to the running of the country they should be allowed to ignore any laws they want."

    "No?"

    I nod. "Let's see if they feel like that."

    Luna frowns and says something to the spinner-wielding Pinkie Pie. The Twister-playing ponies immediately begin disentangling themselves and she walks towards the awkward-looking officers.

    "And sound."

    "…intruding, your highness, but we need to speak with Miss Rarity. It's.. urgent."

    Rarity steps around Applejack and trots over.

    "Why? Whatever is the matter?"

    "Ah… Well…" Steady Beat levitates the thick bundle of papers myself and my lawyer wrote and opens it near the beginning. "We've received a dossier which alleges that you've committed several acts of theft-."

    "Uoh." Rarity rolls her eyes. "Is this the best that Graven fellow could do? Unsubstantiated allegations?"

    "I can't comment on where it came from, ma'am, but if this-" He flicks through it briefly. "-is true, then it's very far from unsubstantiated."

    Rarity lets out a mildly indignant splutter-cough.

    "Really."

    "Yes ma'am. It is alleged that you have -on a number of occasions- travelled outside Ponyville town limits and engaged in mineral prospecting; to whit, locating and excavating various precious stones."

    "Yes? The land is part of Ponyville, and Ponyville doesn't require that I have a licence."

    "In point of fact ma'am -and we're checking this now just in case- the area this dossier alleges that you prospect in isn't part of Ponyville."

    "Now hold on a gosh darn minute, here." Applejack steps forward. "That whole area was part o' the original land grant Princess Celestia gave t' my great grandfolks."

    "Well, that may be true, but it would only matter if the Princess had the right to give it away. You see -and this is the part we're checking- when ponies first came to this part of the world, there were plenty of species already living here. Which mean that as Equestria was settled there were.. areas that weren't part of pony society."

    Luna nods. "Yes, We remember it well. We left them to their own affairs as Our nation expanded."

    Steady Beat nods. "The most recent law we found on the subject is…"

    "The Aboriginal Relations Act of three thirty two." Weigh Evidence pulls a scroll out of her saddlebags with her teeth and offers it to her sovereign. A blue aura surrounds it and it floats out of her grasp. "Equestria never forced aboriginal groups to become part of Equestria. This resulted in there being a number of semi-autonomous micro-nations wholly within Equestrian territory. The Act defines -among other things- who is responsible if a crime is committed by a citizen on one side of the border against the other."

    Steady Beat nods again. "The Diamond Dog pack who live near Ponyville might -and I stress might- be covered by the Act. If they are, that means that their territory was never part of Equestria. And if it was never part of Equestria…"

    "Then Our Sister could not grant it to the Apple family. We are surprised that there are still territories within Equestria which have not integrated of their own volition, but the law is as she states."

    Rarity's eyes widen slightly.

    Twilight trots to the fore. "And what would that mean for Rarity?"

    "That would mean that she'd be charged with one count of theft for each prospecting trip."

    "But I... The dogs and I came to an arrangement."

    "Oh?" Steady Beat smiles. "If they freely agreed to allow you to prospect in their territory then we can throw this whole thing out. Could you describe the circumstances, so we can write it into our report?"

    "Yes, of course-. Ah, 'freely'?"

    "Yeah, you know: without being threatened by anypony. Ah, anyone, I should say. Because, heh, obviously if they'd been threatened that would invalidate the whole thing."

    Rarity sits down.

    "Excuse me? I'm looking for Princess Twilight Sparkle?"

    A short pegasus pony mare in a plain green suit walks in through the door. Twilight looks from her to the officers to Rarity and back again.

    "Is this urgent?"

    "Yes. I'm from Canterlot Child Services and I've-" She pulls out a document with her left wing. "-received a report that you're the primary caregiver of an infant dragon, and that he has never been registered either with a school or as being home schooled. A child's education is a rather serious matter and I'm hopeful that you can shed some light on this."

    I stand and open a boom tube to the room, grinning evilly as I do so. I stride through, the assembled ponies looking at me in shock.

    "All I wanted was to be cleansed of evil. You refused me. This took me but a few hours. Each of you has points of vulnerability. Mistakes you concealed. Use the Elements on me, or I will find them and make you suffer the consequences. And so that you have advanced warning: Pinkie Pie, you're next."

    There's silence.

    "Whaw, Princess Luna has terrible taste in stallions."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st April 2012
    Night


    I look out across-.

    "Grayven."

    I smile. "Hey, you said it right."

    I t-. Huh. Turning around as a pony isn't easy. Your legs get in the way. Careful… Careful…

    And turned. Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer and a nervous-looking Pinkie Pie have approached me, Twilight in the lead.

    "I'm.. not.. seeing any Elements of Harmony."

    "We've been talking to Sunset about you."

    I lean forwards. "Luna? That you?"

    "'We' as in 'the Bearers'. And according to her, this… Unnecessarily confrontational way of behaving is how you handle everything."

    "Sunset, have you been telling people the truth? That's a bad habit."

    She glares at me. "I thought you were going to wait on this until after my ascension."

    "If Celestia was actually here, yes. If they rainbow beam me tonight we can have it sorted before she gets back. Then it can all be about you because I'll be able to support you fully without having to worry about alienating her."

    "But the point is-" Twilight looks at me sternly. "-you were right. When we went to rescue Rarity from the Diamond Dogs, all we thought about was getting her out. We didn't think about whether or not the Diamond Dogs had a legitimate complaint. And when we found out that they were going to let her leave we didn't question it. But I've learned that while sometimes being a good friend means supporting your friends completely, sometimes it means telling them when they're doing something wrong and helping them find a better way."

    Did I just..? Teach her a friendship lesson?

    "So..?"

    "So we're going to visit the Diamond Dogs with the Attorney General of Equestria and we're going to negotiate a settlement properly."

    "And are you going to stop off at the Tree of Harmony on the way back?"

    "No. Because I don't think we're the only ones who should be learning a lesson here."

    "No, you should be sending Spike to school, and should have been for years. I had wondered if perhaps Equestrian schools were just for ponies, but the legislation-."

    "Yes, Spike will be.. starting school once I've talked things over with Cheerilee. I actually have been teaching-"

    "Are you qualified to teach?"

    "-him… No, I'm not, and that's why he's going to start school. But that wasn't what I meant. You could just have told us about any of these things. Instead-."

    "You interrupted a PARTY!"

    I regard Pinkie Pie's outstretched hoof for a moment. I actually did see her move, though it was very fast, and from Sunset's expression I think she missed it.

    "You decided you were so important that you could just ruin everypony's day!"

    "No, I decided the infectious curse I'm carrying was so important I could browbeat ponies into prioritising properly. This is objectively the most important thing happening right now."

    "I disagree." She sits back with her forelegs crossed across her chest. "So do your worst, Mister, because there's nothing worse than having a party ruined."

    "Twilight Sparkle. On the day-."

    "Hey!" Pinkie renews her glare. "You said it was my turn!"

    "This is just a bonus. Twilight, you remember when you wrote to Celestia about Nightmare Moon's forthcoming return, and she told you to get out and make some friends."

    "She told me that because if I hadn't been in Ponyville I wouldn't have been able to get to the Elements."

    "But what if you'd stuck with your Canterlot friends? What if you hadn't written to her about Nightmare Moon and gone to Moondancer's party instead?"

    "Ah. Then-."

    "Celestia prioritised saving the world over your existing friends, and she was right to do so. Now Pinkie, you-?"

    "Wait…" Twilight stares at the ground as she tries to fault my reasoning. "But I needed to make friends in order for the Elements to work. But Princess Celestia didn't ask about my Canterlot friends before she sent me to Ponyville. But if I hadn't written to her, and she hadn't sent me…"

    I lean forwards. "Is she going to be like that for a while?"

    Pinkie nods. "Probably."

    Well, if she's broken anyway

    "You remember when you used the Mirror Pool to create duplicates of yourself?"

    "I already said sorry to everypony about that! I did a scroll and everything!"

    "Everyone?"

    Pinkie regards me curiously. "And I'm supposed to say 'did I miss somepony', and get ready to say sorry to them as well, and then the actual thing you're going to use against me is something completely different and I'm not going to know what to do because I'm just thinking about saying sorry?"

    "No." … "Yes." I give her a respectful frown. "You're surprisingly insightful."

    "I know!" She nods confidently. "I surprise myself sometimes."

    "Okay, put me off my game a little there… But given what Twilight just said about telling friends when they're in the wrong, don't you think you should have done something about all of the clones of you which Twilight brutally murdered right in front of you?"

    "What?" Twilight looks up from her introspection death spiral. "Wait, you mean the Mirror Pool copies? They weren't really ponies."

    "Huh. Hardcore. I hadn't realised that ponies went in for 'unpeopling'. Or that you had the authority to do it at-will. Though I suppose it does make murder far simpler, legally speaking."

    Pinkie Pie starts to look uncomfortable. "Ah, Twilight? I thought they just went back into the Pool."

    "No, I mean they really weren't ponies. They were just magic constructs, with no real internal life."

    Twilight seems confident, but Pinkie Pie has started shaking. She knows where this is going.

    "One moment."

    Mother Box.

    … Ping.

    Because I may not be an expert in 'Friendship Studies', but I was paying attention during Sunset and Zatanna's talk on magic ethics. The sooner I do this, the less harm will be done.

    Ping.

    Boom!

    The boom tube opens and a pony wearing a dull purple raincoat and fedora jumps through.

    "Oooh, this is fun!" She takes a quick look around and then prances up to me. "Party Popper at your service, for all your celebratory needs." She pulls off her hat-

    "Pinkie? Is that you?"

    -then she catches sight of Twilight Sparkle.

    The surviving Pinkie clone shakes in terror, eyes widening, poofy mane and tail collapsing and teeth chattering. "No, no, I don't wanna die I don't wanna die get her away from me!"

    "Pin… Kie..?"

    "Nononononononono…"

    She collapses, tears streaming down her face and forelegs held protectively over her head.

    "'No real internal life', huh?" Twilight starts hyperventilating and Pinkie's mouth drops open in horror. "Looks like she's got an internal life to me, Miss Twilight 'Serial Killer' Sparkle."

    Sunset glares at me. "Grayven, what the hell?"

    "Hey, someone needed to stop that madpony before she decided that anyone else wasn't a real person." I lift Pinkie 2 up-. I clean up the urine and then lift Pinkie 2 up onto my back, where she clings on for dear life. "Elements. Tomorrow. Or I pick someone else."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March
    14:36 GMT -5
    Earth 8096


    Anthony scowls at me as I chivvy my team mates out. "You know, this is technically my house. And by 'technically' I mean 'I literally own it'."

    "And I'll let you all back in just as soon as you're wearing-" I pat Anthony's power armour with my left hand and give Thor a slightly harder glare than he really deserves. "-normal clothes, and I've made sure that he's well enough to do anything."

    Janet shrinks and flies up so that she can look at the now-defrosted Steven Rogers over my shoulder. "He looks fine to me."

    "He's been frozen in a block of ice for over sixty years, Janet. I'll be impressed if he's not a vegetable. Please?"

    "Hmh." She folds her arms across her chest as Anthony and Thor give up and head down the corridor towards their rooms. I raise my left hand and generate a fly swatter construct. Her eyes widen. "You wouldn't."

    "I'd feel bad about it, but if I thought your presence was a risk to my patient's wellbeing, I would."

    "Okay, fine!" She turns away, reverting to normal size as she stalks down the corridor with fists clenched. "Jerk!"

    And we're good. I step back into the mansion's sick bay and close the door. Then I lock it before turning around to look down at Captain America.

    Ring, status?

    Orange light plays over his body and then cuts out.

    Subject is in good physical condition. Mild bruising. Acceptable fat reserves. No muscle wastage. No detectable damage to internal organs. Upon the basis of available evidence-.

    It wasn't hibernation, because if he was hibernating he's be… Thin as a rake. At best.

    Based on normal hibernation energy consumption, he would be dead.

    While in reality, he's already breathing unaided. His body was the temperature of the ice surrounding it when we dug him out, but ever since we did he's been steadily warming up. He's nearly up to the body temperature of a-

    "Mrrhki."

    -healthy human-.

    I shove my left hand into the pocket of my lab coat as Captain America's eyes flutter open.

    "Captain?"

    He jerks upright. "Bucky!" He tries to push himself off his bed, his legs getting momentarily tangled in the sheets before he regains enough motor control to just rip them apart. As he comes to his feet his eyes scour the room, noting and then apparently dismissing me as he searches for-.

    Ah. His shield. Which is in the armoury two floors away. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    I use my thumb to slip the power ring off my left ring finger and then hold both arms out towards him, empty hands clearly on display. "Mister Rogers. Can you understand what I'm saying?"

    Two feet firmly planted on the ground, right shoulder slightly forward, enough power in a jab to give me a skull fracture. Right.

    "Who are you? Where am I? Where's Bucky?"

    "Mister Rogers, I'm not going to tell you anything until I'm certain that you're well. If you're not going to lie down would you at least sit down?"

    His eyes narrow slightly. "You're a doctor?"

    "A nurse, actually." Sort of. I rushed the theoretical parts of the job by ring download and don't have anything like enough practical experience a fully qualified nurse would have. But I'm pretty sure that I could have qualified in the forties. "And it's my job to make sure that tomorrow we can announce to the nation that Captain America is alive and well and not that he had a heart attack and died because we fouled up his care." I smile, then gesture at the bed with both hands. "Please?"

    He regards me cautiously for a moment before scanning the room again. Without ripping out large amounts of equipment I couldn't really make it look like it was from the forties, but I at least got rid of the worst offenders. Nothing.. appears to set him off. He takes a deep breath and then relaxes his muscles a little.

    "Is this.. England?"

    "No. New York, actually. Please-" I take a small torch out of my right pocket. "-sit down and save your questions until after I've given you a once-over?"

    He hesitates, then reluctantly nods, lowering himself back onto the mess of sheets. "You know I can't get sick, right?"

    "Given what you went through, we don't want to take any chances." I walk closer. "Head back a little?" He complies, and I shine the torch directly into his right eye. Pupil reaction normal, and I already know that his optic nerve is fine. I switch to the left. Normal there too. I take a step back and turn off the torch before returning it to my pocket. "Please tell me your full name."

    He frowns slightly, but obliges me anyway. "Steven Rogers."

    "Your parents' names?"

    "Joseph Harvey Rogers and Sarah Alicia Rogers."

    I raise my right fist, sticking out my forefinger. "Please follow this?" I move it right, up, down and left, then in a figure of eight. His eyes track it with no difficulty. I return it to my right pocket, pull out a lollypop and toss it to him. His right arm blurs as he grabs it out of the air, and for a moment I think he's about to launch himself at me.

    Then he opens his hand and realises what it is. "A lollipop?"

    I shrug. "You're being a good boy. With reflexes like that, have you ever considered a career in cricket?"

    "A-heh." He makes a sort of cough-laugh sound, though his eyes never leave my face. "I think Uncle Sam's going to have first call on my time. Are you going to answer my questions now?"

    "Ah… Yes, and as far as I can tell you're in good health. I was…" I glance at the door. "Rather hoping that one of the members of your squad would be here for this bit, but… I'll do my best. Please understand that you may have questions I'm.. not supposed to answer at this time."

    "Alright. Where am I?"

    "New York. Eight hundred and ninety, fifth avenue, to be precise."

    "What the heck-" He starts to stand. "-am I-" I make a motion with my hands like I'm about to try pushing him back down, and he relents. "-doing back home? There is a war on."

    "Mister Rogers, what's the last thing you remember?"

    His face hardens. "My missions are classified."

    Ah… Yes, that's something a HYDRA operative might ask. I don't want this to turn out like the Ultimates. "Mister Rogers, part of my job is to assess your mental state. I've read the files. I know that your previous mission involved an attack on a HYDRA base commanded by Johann Schmidt, where he was attempting to create a portal to Asgard. I'm asking you to tell me because I want to check your short term memory."

    He nods, still a little suspicious. "We took the castle. Schmidt tried to run in some kind of rocket plane. Bucky and I-." He stops, and for a moment I think he's about to ask again. "We climbed on board. Schmidt hit the eject and rigged the plane to explode. There wasn't a second parachute, so I told Bucky to jump but-. The entry ladder got twisted around his leg. I tried to free him but he-. I lost my grip. I fell into the water, and… Then I woke up here."

    I nod. "That's.. all correct, as far as I know. I'll have to assume that you are compos mentis. Mister Rogers-."

    "It's Captain Rogers."

    "Ah… Actually, it isn't. While you were… Ah, missing in action… You were promoted."

    "Major Rogers, then. I'm not usually a stickler for protocol, but-."

    "General Rogers, actually. But since you insist, General, as far as we can tell, after you entered the water your body… Entered a form of suspended animation."

    He frowns. "Like hibernation?"

    "No, it's more than that. I'm.. sure that Doctor Erskine would have understood it better than I do. You were… Frozen. And.. now you're.. not. And everything I can see tells me that you're exactly as you were when you went into the ocean. Which is pretty darn amazing."

    "Bucky, did he make it too?"

    "We.. don't know. I.. don't want you to get your hopes up, but… We didn't think we'd get you back either. We've got some people looking." I shrug. "As soon as we know anything…"

    He nods. "If you're not rushing me back to the front… Is the war.. over?"

    "Yes. Ah. It's actually been over for.. some time. This is.. a bit that I think it's going to be hard for you to accept, and I.. really wanted someone you knew to be here so they could tell you. Ah-."

    "Who'd you call in?"

    "James Howlett."

    "Logan?" General Rogers frowns, but there's a small smile at the point of familiarity. "What's he doing in New York? I thought he'd go right back to the Yukon."

    "I believe that he did immediately after the war, but he works as a school teacher in Westchester County these days."

    "So it's… Nineteen forty five?" He sees my face. "Forty six? I was out that long?"

    "Ah." I take a step back. "I really think it would be best for you to hear this from Mister Howlett. But if you're not willing to wait..?" He gives his head a small shake. "You've been through a rough time and you're in an unfamiliar environment. I'll tell you, but I need you to promise me first that you're not going to dive through the window."

    "Why would I dive through the window?"

    "Because it's going to be a shock and your initial impulse is going to be to disbelieve me, which is why I wanted to wait until someone you trust would be here."

    He turns his head to look at the window.

    And he stares at it for a little too long.

    "Alright. I swear that I won't dive out the window when you tell me."

    "You experienced no physical change for the whole time you were frozen. I'm not sure you couldn't have been in there indefinitely. So I.. suppose that we're lucky it was only sixty five years."

    "Sixty f-?" He blinks, staring at me in a mix of fear and disbelief. "Sixty five years?"

    "It's the fifth of March, twenty ten. Welcome to the future." My eyes dip to the floor for a moment. "I'm very sorry."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th June
    08:36 GMT -5
    Earth 8096


    I take a moment to look at myself in the hall's full length mirror. I bought this suit specifically for things like this. I've been to court more than once since I started working with-. Since I became an Avenger. Those escapees weren't going to testify against themselves, were they? But I haven't been-. Okay, family court isn't anything like that adversarial. This isn't even a trial. But still

    I shift my weight awkwardly from my left foot to my right. No, it's no good. Anthony was right about the quality. I can't feel uncomfortable about this suit if I try. The cobbler was even able to realise my desire for trainers that look like dress shoes. The nerves are all me, all internal.

    And I feel bad for a moment. Because I know at least one person feels worse about-.

    "Big day today, huh?" I turn around at Anthony invites himself in, leaning against the dining room's door frame. "I had my people look up Judge McAlister's records. He's an okay guy. There shouldn't be any surprises."

    "Yeah."

    "Hey." He shrugs, frowning. "You know these things are basically formalities, right?"

    I turn away from the mirror and face him. "Honestly, Anthony, I'll be pleased just to walk free from court."

    "In that case… Don't punch the judge. I guess? Unless you really want to." He sees my reaction. "Ah. I.. really don't get why you're so worried about this."

    "Because I'm a single adult man trying to adopt a teenage girl he's not related to." I shake my head and head for the door.

    He steps back into the corridor as I approach and spreads his hands out. "Yeah, but there's extenuating circumstances. I should know; I proof-read the forms."

    "Pardon me?"

    I turn around as Cap-. Steven-. As Steve walks down the corridor toward us.

    I smile. "Good morning, Steve."

    "Are you worried about today?" I nod. "I thought Tony said it was just a formality."

    Anthony nods. "Tony did say it was just a formality because it is just a formality. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that they reject your application and that's pretty unlikely. If the judge decides it looks suspicious he'll probably just ask for more evidence, and if her folks aren't… Aren't trying to get her back, that doesn't really change anything."

    Steve frowns. "Is there a reason why this is so difficult? In my day, if someone wanted to adopt a child and their parents weren't able to take care of them, it was just a matter of signing a form."

    Anthony rolls his eyes. "Orphan Trains kinda went out of fashion."

    Steve pauses for a moment, which I've learned is a sign that Anthony's made an age-quip that has annoyed him but that he plans to rise above. "Orphan Trains went out of fashion in nineteen twenty nine. That's why I grew up in New York rather than Kansas."

    And that expression means that Anthony knows that he said something that he shouldn't, doesn't plan on apologising for it and might well double down unless someone else says something. So I'd best say something.

    "Steve, the problem is… Humans are instinctively bad at judging risk. Proportionally to the number of people who use them, planes are far safer than cars. But there'll be a major investigation after every plane crash while car crashes are… Pretty much regarded as the price of driving cars. Newspapers, radios and television news programs keeping everyone informed of the worst things that are happening don't really help. The result is that people.. passing laws are hypersensitive to things going wrong. For example, children sent to the aforementioned Kansas being used as cheap labour rather than being taken into a loving family as a new son or daughter."

    Steve frowns. "Sure, it wouldn't be ideal, but I'm.. not sure that growing up as a farm laborer would be worse than growing up homeless on the streets in New York."

    "But them growing up homeless on the streets of New York wouldn't have been specifically authorised and enabled by law."

    "I see what you're saying, but I think that's a little cynical."

    "Yes, yes it is, and as a man who earnestly desires to raise a young woman with.. no one else willing to care for her as his own daughter I'm experiencing that in a way I hadn't ever expected to. But that's.. what I meant about judging risk. People find out that a particular adoption went badly wrong, they demand that laws be passed to prevent it happening again, and… Mostly what that does is make life harder for good people. But it also stops a small number of… People who would abuse their charges. There's always balance to be struck between complexity and risk."

    Anthony tilts his head to the right. "If you want really cynical, it's actually in some people's interests to cause those sorts of moral panics. Not that hard to get elected on a promise to fix a problem everyone's worried about, even if you have to make up the problem yourself."

    Steve exhales involuntarily and looks away for a moment.

    Anthony smirks subtly, then runs his eyes over me once more. "Not wearing your 'power ring'?"

    "It's on a cord around my neck. I don't want to get accused of using an unnatural mental influence."

    "Ah, don't worry." Anthony pats me on the back. "Only Mutants get accused of that."

    Steve shakes his head. "Logan told me about anti-Mutant prejudice, but I still don't understand why it's so common. The fact that there aren't shops with 'no blacks or Irish' signs up front is my favorite thing about the future. It just seems so.. strange to me that Mutants are still victimized."

    Anthony shrugs. "Hey, I'm not prejudiced myself. Y'know, I guess people are just.. put off by people who can do.. weird things."

    "In the Second World War I fought alongside the King of Atlantis, a robotic man who spent most of the time on fire, a vampire, and a man who could run at the speed of sound. None of them aroused this sort of fear."

    Anthony twitches slightly. "Okay, maybe it's because there's so many of them. I don't know."

    "Hey guys!" Janet's wings buzz as she flies does the stairs and beaming as she does so. "All ready for the big day!?"

    I seem to remember that in the main Marvel universe, her powers are the result of some sort of science experiment gone wrong while in the Ultimate Universe she says that they are while actually being an x-gene Mutant. One ring scan is all it took for me to find out that the latter is true here. That.. might be why she's been so willing to help me with Anna Marie. Or it might just be that she's that nice.

    I shake my head. "No, but here we are anyway. Is Anna-?"

    Anna steps self-consciously around the corner of the landing and starts down the stairs. It's really.. too hot for the layers that she's wearing, but between Henry's expertise in material science and Janet's skill as a fashion designer we've come up with something that looks… Nice? I think? While also preventing that accidental skin contact that would set off her life-drain power.

    "Anna? All ready?"

    She meets my eyes for a moment, then returns her gaze to the stairs. "Yeah."

    Janet pointedly raises her eyebrows in my direction, but I'm already walking up the stairs and sticking my left hand inside my shirt to touch the ring. Just a touch to get an environmental shield, then I reach out with my right hand and gently hug Anna. We.. haven't been together long enough for me hugging her to be a normal thing, but she does understand that I'm not trying to… Take advantage of the situation of being the only person on the planet outside of her immediate family she can touch without putting them in a coma. She cautiously returns the gesture, her arms going around my chest and her right cheek touching mine for a moment. Still some work to go on convincing her not to completely avoid human touch, but… Better than when we first met.

    I pull back, smiling at her in an attempt to reassure her. "You ready?"

    She looks away to the left, shrugging helplessly.

    "Anna, if you don't want to do this-."

    "No, I-." She looks up at me. She isn't crying, but she looks very far from happy. "I just.. wish it.. didn't-."

    "I know. I know."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I feel the mechanics of civilisation
    clank and whir about me


    Canterlot is a city perched upon the peak of a mountain. It has no farming and no mining. I can feel the twisting effect its location and nature are having on the supply networks of the country. Only dimly; it would be far more accurate if I had roots here rather than simply being an interloper -and if I was sovereign I would already be ordering the place torn down- but the discomfort caused by the inefficiency is palpable. Too much fuel being consumed, too many train lines in the wrong places. And the stupefying effect it's having on governance is worse, if anything. Something to bear in mind when I become ruler: make sure that there are other sources of authority. Not in the sense of division of powers necessarily, but make it so that there are government officers that can make policy decisions on their own.

    I wonder if that's what Cadance is? Why she's in charge of a single city, even though her special talent doesn't lend itself to that sort of work? Is Celestia planning on assigning alicorns to every major city, recreating the elector system of the Holy Roman Empire? I'd need to know more about how special talents work to be certain, but I don't think that's a good idea. Celestia can get by on experience, but having civil servants defer unquestioningly to someone who doesn't know what they're doing is a recipe for disaster. Putting them in charge of areas of national government relating to their specialities makes far more sense, once they've got enough government experience to actually do something useful there. In the interim, using Cadance as an ambassador and Twilight as a champion makes the most sense.

    Where would be the best place for a capital? Ponies don't eat fish, and waterways are already decreasing in importance for the transport of goods. That means that the usual go-to of the largest coastal city isn't appropriate. If Canterlot were abandoned then mining the useful minerals from the Foal Mountains becomes far easier, and the existing railway nexus in Ponyville makes it ideal as far as that's concerned. Ponyville has lumber and agriculture, but no mining or heavy manufacturing. The land between Ponyville and Canterlot could be zoned for heavy industry, but it would have to be built up before it became the new capital.

    I wonder if I can claim-.


    The world shudders as somepony intrudes in my psyche. I should have seen this coming, really. Given what I've been up to it's only natural that she'd want to take a peek. And that knowledge is why I don't fly into a rage at the idea of someone getting inside my head, but I still need to stop her before she does something infuriating. The lower depths of my psyche will remain inviolate unless she tries brute forcing it in a way that would almost certainly wake a normal person up, so I don't think she'll risk it.

    I look around at the industrialised reimagining of Equestria I've instinctively created.

    And I imagine that this will be at least a little curious to her: the way I think about her country and how it should be. Good job I wasn't dreaming of Apokolips again. All too often those end up as a mishmash of Apokolips and some other place, and… I don't want to see Equestokolips.

    So where is the little lunar sneak?

    I look up at the moon. Hm. No, nothing there. No structures, no air, no infrastructure. Some resources, but nothing that wouldn't be far easier to mine on the surface. Nowhere on Equestria has special significance to me personally, her presence is too diffuse to track by simply looking

    No. She's a ruler. Her being here after a thousand years of autocracy under her sister throws so many things into disarray. I should be able to track her with that. Mother Box, boom tube to the throne room.

    Ping.

    Boom!

    I float through, curious to discover that my dream-body is still a pony. An equine anyway; I'm sure that I'm big enough to count as a horse. I'm not sure if horses are a thing here…

    Ah.

    The throne room is decorated in Apokoliptian style. Not the neo-brutalist style of the throne's current occupant, but in the techno-medieval style of Queen Heggra. Though.. not an exact replica. It's not in her colours, and some of the stylistic flourishes are different.

    I smile as I realise that I unconsciously redesigned it for Sunset.

    Well, she is my investment in this world, isn't she? And all this 'alicorn=princess' business… No, focus. I can feel the pressure on the bureaucracy that comes from having a new and unpredictable master to serve. I can feel it come from the halls of government, but where does it go?

    That way. Hm, naturally. Mother Box.

    Ping.

    Boom!

    I walk through the tube and out into the cave containing the Tree of Harmony. The tree itself… Smaller than I thought it would be, but I suppose that it's just a representation. The shadows ripple slightly as the tube closes…

    "My soul. My place of power. The place where my godhood shines most brightly."

    The walls around me flare with light, denying Luna any shadows to hide in. She's ejected, tumbling forth to sprawl at my hooves!

    "Did you think you could hide from me here? I'm genuinely curious."

    She comes to her hooves, glaring at me.

    "We felt-." She cuts herself off, looking concerned.

    "You're cut off from magic until I choose to allow it. I've gotten very good at controlling intruders. What do you want?"

    "We were hoping to learn more of your character. Who you are when you are not presenting a front. We see that We will not be able to, so We will simply ask."

    I nod sarcastically. "It can save time."

    "What have you done with the-? With 'Party Popper'?"

    "Assuming I haven't moved in my sleep, she's lying next to me. I've got experience in comforting children, and apparently having someone big and nurturing next to her triggered her foal instincts." I narrow my eyes. "Naturally I will kill anyone who tries to hurt her."

    "None will. Once Twilight Sparkle concluded her screaming and Pinkie Pie informed Us of the cause, We began making arrangements for Party Popper to become a citizen of Equestria in her own right."

    "And the ones Twilight killed?"

    "Despite what you thought that you knew, they truly were returned to the mirror pool."

    Oh. Huh.

    She studies my face, perhaps trying to see whether or not my deceit was deliberate or the result of ignorance. Guess I misremembered that episode. "Thou truly didst not know?"

    "I knew that Twilight shot them and they went 'poof'. That was it." Hm. "What happens to them now?"

    "They will be granted physical forms once more once we have prepared to receive them."

    Okay, yes, good, but the important part…

    "And am I getting shot with the Elements anytime soon?"

    She looks around the still-blinding white chamber. "We were hoping to see some sign of your curse. If you are truly in need, We will see what can be done."

    Hmmm…

    "Alright. It should be safe enough to let you look at the thing. Don’t touch it, don't touch the cage it's in. Am I clear?"

    Her eyes narrow. "We are a Princess of Equestria. We do not need-."

    "You BROKE INTO MY BRAIN. You are a SNEAK THIEF. You will follow my instructions because I know what I'm talking about."

    She lifts her head up. "Very well. Show Us this curse."

    I maintain eye contact for a moment, then allow the lights to dim.

    Mother Box. Boom tube to Starswirl's Mirror.

    Ping.

    Boom!

    I lead the way through, trotting into the palace corridor, through the mirror -our forms don’t change, perhaps because we're not literally going through it- and into Sunset's laboratory. Luna glances around curiously as we head out into the corridor, and then into a lift that doesn't exist in reality.

    "Going all the way down."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Down down down down
    Down down down down
    Down


    The lift doors open… Heh. The room beyond looks like the place SHADE were keeping Lynne. In place of the machinery they were using is a series of coloured rings. Inner, mid and outer, one layer of each colour of the emotional spectrum, red at the top and violet at the bottom. And inside them a ball of… Grey. And I know it should be white. Several of the inner rings are afflicted too, dulled and.. slightly melted. I step out of the lift and cautiously start walking a circle of the room.

    I find myself glancing at the place I killed Esak, and for a moment his body flickers into view.

    Hm.

    "What is it?"

    Luna has taken a few steps closer, though thankfully she's got more sense than to actually touch the thing.

    "The bands are formed from my emotions. Red, for hate and anger. Orange, for avarice. Yellow, for fear. Green, for will. Blue, for hope. Indigo, for compassion. Violet for love. A pearl of universal life force contains a fragment of the Anti-Life Equation."

    "And what is that?"

    "Nobody's completely certain, praise the Source. There are certain… Forms of suffering, which can… Take on a pseudo-life of their own. I suppose it's a little like how the abstract concept of 'loyalty' can, in the hooves of a profoundly loyal pony, become part of a harmonious Rainbow of Fixing. This is… A fragment, one my father chose to bestow upon me as… What I'm forced to assume was a gesture of respect and affirmation."

    "What is it?"

    "Have you ever wanted something, striven for something with all your might, and failed, failed completely and known a misery of a depth that you could not have known if you had never made that effort?"

    She shivers, then nods.

    "Imagine feeling that misery for everything. Imagine.. being convinced that even the successes were failures. Imagine being made incapable of thinking that things were otherwise, that they had ever been otherwise, that they could ever be otherwise. That is what this fragment does."

    "And… The whole?"

    "Father believes that it will cause the entire universe to become an extension of his being; that it will make him not a New God but simply God. Having known this.. piece, I shudder to imagine what he'd have to become to make that happen."

    "And you believe that the Elements of Harmony could remove it."

    "I hope that the Elements of Harmony will destroy it. But I'd take removing it. See how the cage is failing?"

    "We see it." She takes a small step closer. "How long will it take?"

    "Don't know. I actually used the blasted thing a little while ago and I think that's where the decay of the inner ring came from. But it's increasing and I don't know how to stop it. Because it's not just a matter of recreating the rings. It's literally eating the emotion I put into them. Making them part of it. Adapting, so that I'll come to see those emotional bonds as harmful to myself."

    I stomp towards her.

    "And this is just a fragment. Do you understand!? Your country may have a way to unmake the entire Anti-Life! Your entire species could devote their existences into doing nothing but fulfilling that goal and their lives would have been more worthy than they would had they devoted themselves to any other goal. And they don't need to. Six members of your species have to give me five bucking minutes. And then I'm out of their hair."

    "That… Is a sound argument. And Sister's former apprentice?"

    "Sunset wants to turn herself into an alicorn using a technique she discovered for herself while Celestia watches. She believes that doing so will conclusively prove Celestia wrong, and then Celestia will either admit it or prove herself unworthy of Sunset's devotion."

    "She did not seem devout."

    "On my world, Sunset has access to any arcane text she wants. Any arcane device she wants. She has a mentor who is delighted by her scholarship, students of her own, and tasks from me to keep her on her toes. She has everything she ever wanted from Celestia, and she bothered coming back. Why?"

    "Because she is not as angry as she appears."

    "No, her anger is genuine. But as much as she hates Celestia, she loves her too. In her mind, Celestia's rejection is an aber…" I look past Luna to… There's a small… Ball, like a hole to a starry sky, floating just behind her. "Aberration. What's.. that?"

    The ball floats towards the cage, a pale blue aura-. She's bypassing my locks? Okay, yes, she's rather good at dream magic, that's expected. But I'm looking at it and I still can't feel it.

    "No! Stop!" Luna's staring at it in fear. "We did not make you to torment others!"

    "Luna, is that yours?"

    It's getting closer to the emotional bindings, floating up past hope and will, slowing at fear and stopping at avarice.

    The pearl within the bindings undulates.

    "Luna."

    "It is called the Tantabus. We made it that We might never forget Our misdeeds and failings."

    "What does it do?"

    "It makes Us relive them each night. We do not-."

    [​IMG]

    I turn my head towards her. "Why would you make something like that?"

    "It is what We deserve. We desired Our ponies' reverence so much that We were driven mad by its lack."

    Oh shit.

    "Your desire for something was strong, and you were hurt for it."

    "We were driven mad for it. We became a monster-."

    The Tantabus darts in, the outer orange ring shattering and failing! The greying pearl stretches out to meet it, the inner ring evaporating at its approach.

    "Luna, run." Here I-.

    I blink. Here I-.

    My God Speech. I can't do it. Without that-.

    "What horror is occurring?"

    "You've felt it, the form of suffering this fragment relates to. And you invested that feeling in this Tantabus thing. The barrier's about to fail and there's nothing we can do to stop it. I'm no longer blocking your magic. Can you escape?"

    She tilts her head slightly. "Neigh, We cannot."

    The orange hoop fails first, the Tantabus floating through the gap and touching the misshapen grey mass inside. It.. flows over the shape's outer surface, giving it new definition and substance.

    The other rings shatter in a blast that knocks us both into the wall behind us!

    And a vaguely horse-shaped thing steps forth.

    "Life = Pain."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    We NEED
    To LEAVE


    "What-?"

    I'm on my feet and dreaming a corridor.

    "Run you stupid pony!"

    "But-?"

    I pound past her because while the Element Bearers have beaten Nightmare Moon before they've never faced anything like me. Luna comes to her senses a moment later, flapping her wings to catch up with me in the air. Shouldn't be a problem… I dream a wider corridor to give her a little more space.

    "Grayven, this place does not literally exist! We cannot simply flee from that abomination!"

    "I know! I didn't have any way of stopping it before you gave it purpose and I certainly don't now, but when I used it I could barely work up the motivation to do anything. I'm hoping I can slow it down."

    "And then what?"

    "If we're very lucky, Twilight's team will rainbow blast me in my sleep."

    "Dost thou feel lucky?"

    The end of the corridor comes into sight, and I gallop onto a small platform overlooking the maze I built into my mind as an anti-telepath measure.

    "Yes. A little."

    The way through essentially requires you to be me to find it, but that's a distraction in itself. I got the idea for this thing from a combination of Chester's pontificating and the plan the Green Lantern Marine Corps used to stop the Red Son version of Superman. Well, tried to, anyway. I hired a couple of mathematicians who Jean assured me could actually hold accurate models of extra-dimensional objects in their minds and created the trap at the centre of this maze by transferring it into mine. In theory, it should be able to hold any memetic being running on my brain. Unfortunately, Luna's put her hoof in it, so… Who knows.

    But it's here, that's the main thing. And it wouldn't be if that abomination had full control of my psyche already.

    "Get on my back."

    Luna lands next to me and looks at the multidimensional maze. "What is this?"

    "A trap. I can get through, but you're not me. Get on my back. I'll carry you through."

    She flaps once, then I feel her weight on my back.

    "Hast thou planned for this?"

    "No. Not really." I step forwards onto what should be thin air, our surroundings twisting as the maze manifests its extra planar properties. "I always assumed that if it ever broke out I'd be unable to resist. This was for something else."

    Saffron, elderberries, three four.

    I step backwards and I'm in the field behind my parents' house on Earth Prime. It's part of the maze but also not. This memory shouldn't make any sense to anyone who has only been hearing the lies I've told about myself while allowing me to find connections out just fine.

    Okay.

    "Any ideas on what to do next?"

    "Neigh, we do not. The Tantabus was never intended to exist within the mind of another. We-." An Earth Prime horse and two Earth Prime ponies walk across her field of vision. "-had.. not… What.. manner of strange creature-?"

    "Not important. How do you destroy a Tantabus?"

    Luna stares at the equines for a moment, then shakes her head. "We did not create a method by which it might be destroyed. Had We needed to, Our spellcraft would have been sufficient."

    "Think you could take it now?"

    "Neigh. We do not." She thinks for a moment. "Couldst thou reforge the containment cage with your emotions?"

    "I didn't forge the first one. My brother did, and he's the New God of Freedom."

    "The God of Freedom built a cage?"

    "The God of Freedom helped me escape it. The Anti-Life is a mechanical expression of utter misery, not a geist. It has no consciousness."

    "The Tantabus should not have one either. We created it to-."

    "To remind you why turning into Nightmare Moon was bad, yes. In my experience, constantly being confronted by the same stimulus numbs you to it."

    "We made it complex enough-" I'm nodding. "-to adapt-. Ah."

    "Yeah. Ah." I take another look around. "But if emotional resonances are the best option we've got, we may as well get started." What's a good one-. Ah! And we won't even have to move.

    I remember the scene… More or less, and the low moaning sound reaches us a moment later. This field doesn't actually have any trees in it, but for dramatic effect I suppose that sticking one in when neither Luna nor I were looking works well enough. I trot towards the tree, the texture of the ground changing under my hooves as my surroundings switch from Westham farmland to the fields outside New Camelot. Derek Kelly is lying against the tree, staring up in horror, his right hand trying to reach the knife still embedded in the back of his head.

    Of course, this never actually happened. He was unconscious after our fight when the knife was in him, and the staring-in-mindless-horror is something he picked up in the secure hospital after I brought him back. Still, even Sinestro commented on how impressed he was at what I had achieved.

    "Who is that?"

    "A former enemy. He gave me a damn good fight, actually. Blindsided me, stole my equipment, was.. almost entirely invulnerable. He used a fear elemental to supercharge my yellow power ring. And…"

    I look up as my memory of the Terror Thing appears in the sky and I remember what nearly being eaten by the thing was like.

    Then I flick my right ear and realise that there's no ring on it. I try and picture just the mouth and tentacles, imagine them forming a circle…

    Nothing,

    "It's not working. Could try another emotion, can't think why it would work better. Any other ideas?"

    "Perhaps the Elements of Harmony-?"

    I turn and angrily press my face into hers.

    "You think?"

    She holds my gaze for a moment, then backs up slightly. "The Elements are not merely jewellery. They are the principles underpinning Equestrian civilisation. We know full well that they do not need a corporeal manifestation in order to bring their force to bear."

    "Okay. You try."

    "Canst thou fly?"

    I flap my wings, and awkwardly rise from the ground.

    "As long as I don't think about it."

    Luna ascends into the sky, her wings beating as she flies towards the newly appeared forest.

    "Follow Us."

    Don't think don't think don't think…

    My wings flap, and I wallow through the skies after her.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I'm basically living in a
    prog rock album cover


    The Castle of the Two Sisters looks to be in far better repair in my dream than it does in reality. It-.

    "Luna, is this the pre-banishment castle?"

    She pauses for a moment as she leads the way through the halls and takes a moment to look around. "It is."

    "I don't know what that looks like. How are you inserting your thoughts into my head space?"

    She tosses her mane, and starts walking again. "'Tis not an attack. 'Tis the nature of dreams to respond to the thoughts and memories of those who experience them. E'en now, thou couldst most likely change things if thou truly desir'd it."

    "Okay. I know that you and Celestia used to use the Elements…"

    "That is not why we are here." She shoves open the door to the throne room. "When We speak of the Elements, the first that comes to our mind is Kindness. 'Tis here that Sister showed Us the greatest Kindness after We were restored from the Nightmare."

    "Wasn't that in the ruined castle?"

    "Yes. But this is still how We remember Our home."

    "Isn't it supposed to be a kindness that you displayed?"

    "That… We hope not."

    She turns, spreads her legs a little to improve her stability, then closes her eyes. The castle around us… Rots away, a thousand years of neglect appearing as I watch. Another wavering in our environment and Luna appears as she was immediately after the Nightmare was banished; small, weak and scared. Translucent images of the Bearers shimmer into being on the peripheries of the diorama but the focus is the statuesque form of Princess Celestia, towering over the cringing Luna.

    Then the Celestia image lays down next to her, and nuzzles her.

    "After all that We did, she was still willing to accept Us back." Luna shakes her head, her eyes remaining locked on the image. "If this does not work, then this approach is fatally flawed."

    "Maybe you need something you did to demonstrate a virtue?"

    "We-."

    I can't read pony expressions well, but she looks decidedly unhappy. I walk over to her, standing alongside her and pressing my side-. Too tall. I crouch slightly and press my side into hers.

    "You wielded the Elements. Come on. You confronted me to protect your nation. Wasn't that a display of loyalty?"

    "Neigh. Pride, and frustration that We missed Sister's fight with Chrysalis. We sought confrontation to prove Our might. We were selfish. And frustrating though you are, We should not have attacked you without further investigation."

    "Don’t apologise. I enjoyed it. Now, come on: there must be something that sticks-."

    "Wriggling!" Her eyes widen and she sidesteps away from me. "You were-! … Standing proud!"

    "You're an attractive mare. Now focus. Virtues."

    "I-. No, I know that I did, but-."

    Oh no. "It's working on you, trying to make you forget, to cheapen your achievements. Come on, pick a memory at random if you must."

    She nods, and the eight dream ponies disappear to be replaced by an image of a royal guard. He looks around fearfully, spear held under his right wing. Luna walks towards him. "This is Stalwart Spear. He assailed Us when We appeared in the Ponyville town hall as Nightmare Moon. We struck him down, and he had nightmares for days." She lays her right forehoof on his left shoulder. "His was the first dream we visited after Our return, and We were able to bring him comfort."

    "See? Kind."

    She backs off, and the image of Stalwart Spear fades. "We caused his terrors. A pony whose very cutie mark identifies their strongest desire to fight in Equestria's defence was confronted by one who effortlessly overpowered him. And Our Sister's student did not even call upon him to aid her in her journey to our castle."

    "Yeah, but you made a point of trying to help him." I pause. "Did you know who the dreamer was before you went in?"

    "No, We did not. Though We should not have been surprised."

    "Yeah, you felt bad, but you knuckled down and did the job when you could have ducked out or hid away. You wanted him to feel better, and I want you to feel better about doing it." I bend my neck down and nudge her with my face, careful to make sure that I don’t accidentally spike her with my horn. "Okay?"

    She.. smiles faintly. "We accept what you say." Then she sighs. "But it appears that the Elements do not, elsewise-.

    Pink light flares in the air, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Good, good, this approach can-

    A pink gemstone appears as the light fades, and floats over to attach itself to my armour.

    -not work as intended. And now I have Kindness, apparently.

    "Thou hast shown me kindness, and been recognised for it. Mayhap thou can demonstrate each of the virtues for thyself, and achieve victory in that manner. Though we are still at a loss as to what We are supposed to do to aid in this endeavour."

    Well, if I'm getting the Elements…

    "What are you afraid of?"

    "Huhuhahahahahahahaha!"

    Nightmare Moon appears at the end of the room, throwing her head back as she gives her villain laugh an outing. A beaten Celestia lies at her hooves, struggling to move.

    "We fear becoming that once more. A callous, cruel and petty creature who cares only for her own aggrandisement."

    Nightmare Moon smiles.

    "A strong, confident creature who revels in her own majesty, not the bumbling, hesitant mess that you are. I was always better at being me than you were."

    "And We know that in Our heart of hearts that We believe that too."

    Yellow light flares around her feet, and a moment later Luna's barding gains a new decoration.

    "This is… Fear? You wore something similar on your ear piercing."

    "Yes, that represents the yellow light of fear. So now we know what-"

    I hear a stamp. An armoured boot striking a stone surface. And another. Something is slowly approaching.

    "-we're doing."

    She nods as Nightmare Moon fades into memory. Hm, to be relived in Luna's own nightmares. "What are the other emotions your spectrum contains?"

    "Hate and anger, avarice, will, hope, compassion, and love. And I've got loyalty, honesty, generosity, laughter and friendship to go. Okay, this is manageable."

    "Assuming that this works."

    The boots are getting closer. Luna's ears prick up.

    "We assume that We didst not imagine that?"

    "No, not intentionally. But I mostly just focused on shutting mental intruders down, not doing anything entertaining. I was expecting that we'd be facing the Tantaquation by now."

    Another trudging step and the creature comes into view.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    What
    now?


    It's an armoured pony. A pony.. stallion, I think. His face is visible through his open helm, and though I can't tell whether it has the capacity for motion or not it currently makes him look utterly exhausted. He wears full plate armour in the same style as the suits lining the walls in some parts of the castle, though his has clearly seen considerable use. There are dents, nicks and a few rents over all the parts I can see. None appear to be concealing a mortal wound, but I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of an attack like he was. Strapped to his left shoulder is a large shield which he plants on the ground like a palisade when he stops, and on his back is a halberd which he awkwardly lifts into a guard position. Both are just as damaged as his armour.

    "Someone you know?"

    "Neigh, We know not this stallion. Soldier, identify thyself."

    He slumps, leaning against his shield, his eyes fixed on Luna. "Forsaken Vanguard. Betrayal."

    "Luna?"

    "Neigh, We still do not-. Do.. not…"

    She slumps, her eyes widening slightly.

    "It… Our mind is.. consumed with thoughts of Our retainers. Those who were loyal to Us anterior to.. Our fall. We-We have not thought to ask what happened to them."

    "They'd be dead by now either way."

    "We had so few who stood with Us, when Sister had so many." She's crying, and I see illusory ponies flicker into being in a semicircle around her. "When We left them-."

    "Luna, you had a demon-assisted psychotic episode as a result of years of neglect and social isolation. Nightmare Moon's fight with Celestia was obvious to everyone, as was the method she used to banish Nightmare Moon to the moon. There's no way any rational pony, confronted with that evidence, would have done anything foolish."

    "But what if they did? We can see so easily how-"

    I turn away from her, shoulder my way through the phantasms and walk up to Forsaken Vanguard.

    "Moderately clever."

    "-they may have misunderstood. Sister had to struggle to establish-"

    "You make her think that loyalty is a vice. Of course you do. That's all you understand, isn't it? No real concept of value, only its negation."

    "-control, and only a fraction of the nation knew what had truly transpired."

    I lift my right forehoof and slam it down on Forsaken's shield, which-. Is entirely undamaged. Given how bedraggled it looks I thought that would do more.

    "Ugh, a tiresome conflict of memories and morals."

    I turn away, then throw my weight forward and buck my back legs into his shield. And stagger forwards when that does nothing of use either.

    I stride back through the phantasms, who have closed in around Luna as she lies on the floor, head resting against the stone.

    "Who were these ponies?"

    She turns her eyes upwards. "They were Our-."

    "No, who were they?"

    She lifts her head slightly.

    "Moonchaser, Mist Moth, Hie Away-."

    I pick one at random and point to them. An earth pony with a grey-blue pelt and a grey mane.

    "Tell me about this one."

    "That is Soup Sponge. Our chef. Since we kept different hours to.. so many other ponies, it.. was not worth keeping the Great Kitchen open. He volunteered to prepare food for those who were awake overnight. He was married, with three foals. Sometimes when the castle was-. When it felt empty We would walk down to the kitchen and speak with him as he worked. After We-."

    "He was probably sad for a bit, but kept the job for the other night shift ponies, and eventually got over it. And eventually died."

    "We abandoned so-."

    "Luna!" I extend my neck down so that my nose is only a short distance from hers. "It's the Anti-Life making you feel like this. It's what it does. Rationalising misery, making you inflict it upon yourself. Ignore it. Or if you can't do that, use the experience to strengthen your resolve to remain sane for the benefit of your new friends. To let them know when you feel lonely or ignored. Do you think that Soup Sponge would have any desire to see you destroyed by a magic monster?"

    "We-."

    "Do you?"

    "N-. Nn-. No. He.. would not."

    "Then stand and say goodbye."

    She takes a moment, then awkwardly rises to her hooves.

    "We…" I step out of the way, and she looks around the circle of expressionless phantasms. "We miss you. At Our weaker moments We still find ourselves looking around for each of you. The kitchen, the chancery, my.. escort. You made those days bearable and We know that We would have given in to the Nightmare far sooner had it not been for you. W-. I am sorry, that I was.. not strong enough to resist completely. You will always be in my thoughts and in my heart."

    She bows her head slightly, and the phantasms fade away.

    "Hah! How-?"

    Forsaken's gone. Don't know why he didn't try that on me, but I'm not going to-.

    "Hehhahhahhahhah!"

    "We should l-"

    "Leave, yes."

    "-eave. You want to go first, or-?"

    "We believe that We will need a moment before experiencing more emotional torment."

    "Right then. So laughter, loyalty, generosity and honesty-"

    "Haaaaaah heeheehee!"

    "-and then the concept of friendship itself and we're leaving now."

    I walk in front of her, so that my bulk briefly obscures her entire vision. Then I close my eyes, turn and open them… And we're outside an aircraft hangar, watching the end of the fight between Uncle Drax's Magic Robot and Intergang's goons. Or should that be peons; they clearly didn't have the skill that 'goons' implies.

    "Is that your true form? That… Automaton?"

    "That-? No, that's a weapon my uncle made for these children." And it's gone. "Those children, in point of fact."

    She taps her forehooves against the tarmac, looking around a little more carefully.

    "Why have you brought us here?"

    "Laughter. I'm not big on laughter, really, but it seemed to me that this was probably my best demonstration of the virtue."

    "How so? What-? Is that you?"

    "The big grey guy with the orange ring? Yes, that's me in biped mode. See the small boy there?" She nods. "He just planted explosives all over those crates while I was busy with the fight. And in three, two, o-"

    The hangar erupts, a little louder than I remember it.

    "-ne."

    "We do not see how that is funny."

    "It wasn't. The materials in there would have been very valuable. But… I mean, look at the size difference." It's even more obvious from the third person. Richard is tiny compared to me. "Look at him. He's like a little chinchilla! And he's giving me a lecture like he can stop me."

    I feel my own amusement as my former self cracks up, and a blue crystal attaches itself to my armour.

    "Ah, good memories. Generosity next."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    A race of virtue
    against monstrosity


    I dismissed the dream-image of my bipedal form so that my newly-palliated succupire children can cuddle up to my pony form instead. Oh, this was a good day.

    "We do not understand. You put these.. young creatures in cages, and they embrace you."

    "They're hybrids of two predatory species. The first subsists purely on human blood. The second feeds.. in a variety of ways, but mostly on the souls of their victims. These children were trapped on an island with nothing to feed on but each other." Luna looks increasingly perturbed. "Whenever one started puberty their starving younger siblings would devour them. I recovered the survivors and put them in cages so that they wouldn't be driven to either eat each other or anyone else. I left them in there until I learned enough about how they worked to create a potion to suppress their instincts, and then I enabled-"

    There's a flash of purple as I gain a purple jewel from whatever mad process regulates Equestrian harmony magic.

    "-them to live as normal children."

    I press my muzzle into dream-Bethany's hair and snort, eliciting a dream-laugh. Then I stand, their images fading away.

    "Why?"

    "What do you mean, 'why'? Because I could. Because I had the resources. Because things like that shouldn't happen to anyone and I could fix it. As much as it could be fixed. Okay, loyalty next."

    What's the best example of loyalty..? Actually, when.. have I acted against my own interests due to a freely accepted obligation? I generally try to arrange things so that I don't encounter that sort of conflict. Giving Talia to Batman? No, that was more because I didn't want to start a fight with him…

    Ah.

    I march down the corridor with Luna on my tail -metaphorically- and step out through the door into the gazebo of the Alan Scott Memorial Garden. As it will be once all of the plants have reached full size.

    Luna spots the main statue even as I allow my memories of the visitors to cause the phantasms of playing children and sombre mourners to flicker in and out of being.

    "Who was he?"

    "One of my instructors. Good man, but… We didn't have much in common, and he was very old when we first met. I tried to secure the materials he needed to extend his life further, but regrettably I was a little late in returning. And to do that-"

    A red jewel appears on my barding.

    "-I had to confront the one who gave me the Anti-Life fragment."

    "And defeat him?"

    "And ask nicely."

    I look back and the statue has changed to one of Darkseid.

    "Darkseid. The Apokoliptian New God of Tyranny. He terrifies me." I concentrate and Alan's statue returns. "Kindness, laughter, generosity and loyalty."

    "Honesty is next."



    Yes, it… Is, isn't it?

    "How about you take a turn?"

    "You have but two to go. You can-."

    "And you've got six to go and I don't need your help to be honest!"

    "It's true! He doesn't! He said so-"

    A mauve mare with cauliflower ears prances through the ghost-crowd, a snake-tongue flicking between her lips.

    "-himself, so it must be true!"

    I brace for an attack, while Luna merely blinks and then nods.

    "We suppose that it is not in his interests to lie."

    I reach up with my right forehoof and shove her in the left shoulder.

    "Luna, I was obviously lying. I don't know what these things are, but they're affecting the way you think."

    She shudders for a moment, focusing her mind and incidentally picking up her green sigil at the same time.

    "We demand that you tell Us who you are!"

    "Yelling Fool!"

    Hah!

    Luna scowls. "You will regret insulting Us, oh baleful fragment of malediction!"

    "I will?! Okay!"

    "No, Luna, I think that's her name. And she's a distraction."

    "I thought I was a pony! Can I be both?!"

    "Luna, pick-."

    The ground -and Yelling Fool- drops away and the gazebo morphs into a chariot. Day turns to night as we descend through the sky and land in Ponyville.

    "Nightmare Night." Fragments of the events of that evening flash before our eyes. "The first day 'pon which We dared to believe that We might one day walk amongst Our subjects without engendering fear or contempt. Except intentionally."

    There's a brief blue flash on her peytral as the blue sigil appears, and we watch her phantasmal self getting seen off by the Ponyville crowd.

    "This leaves love, compassion, avarice and hatred, doth it not?"

    "Hate and anger." I frown. "Do these Anti-Life inspired pony phantasms mean anything to you, or are they just trying to get you to reject the Elements?"

    "We are uncertain. But We doubt that it changes Our approach." She flicks her mane and flaps her wings, rising into the air and flying towards… Whitetail Woods. The non-monster-infested woodland abutting Ponyville. "We will attempt love next."

    I flap after her. "I've got plans tomorrow evening, but after-."

    "Thy tiresome lechery amuses Us not."

    "Not even a little? I got my laughter badge."

    "For laughing at a child when he resisted your threats."

    "No, that wasn't it. I put a fair bit of effort into acquiring those weapons, took some risks… And I didn't get them because of something I didn't even take into consideration. The joke was on me."

    She glances back over her shoulder for a moment before coming in to land. A small clearing and a small… Fort? Fortified house? I see a grey unicorn with a blue cloak and pointed wizard-hat. Both are decorated with stars and bells. Starswirl the Bearded, then.

    "And why would you lie?"

    "To encourage you to see things a particular way. To see me in a particular way. But in this case it's actually true. Heck, you can ask Richard about it once-"

    The Starswirl phantasm glances back at the door as two fillies… Oh, that's what they looked like when they were younger. Young Celestia and Luna trot out and nuzzle him before dashing off into the woods. There's a small violet flare as Luna gets the violet sigil.

    "-we're.. done here. Starswirl?"

    "We were being taught how to use the strongest magics in ponydom, that we might fight and overcome Discord, and secure this land for all harmony-loving creatures. It was needful, but he was not blind to the fact that we were boisterous fillies. We felt much love in this house."

    She shakes her head.

    "Now, compassion."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Making progress with
    no significant resistance


    We look around a half-starved huddle of ponies, who shrink back as we look at them.

    "Who..?"

    "Discord's victims. They come from all parts of the world, speak all manner of languages, practise all manner of customs… He frequently broke up families or changed parts of the ponies' memories and bodies for his own amusement."

    I watch one pony fire a chameleon tongue at a fly, wincing as she tastes it and trying not to gag. Another has teeth like a shark and doesn't appear to have eaten in some time. A third is making clucking noises, and I have no idea whether they're a chicken physically transformed into a pony or if Discord just rewired their vocal system. Or a pony given a chicken's mentality.

    "And after he had his entertainment, he paid no care to whether or not they could survive as he remade them, or in the land to which they had been brought."

    I nod. "No concept of supply chains. You were all just there for his entertainment." I frown. "I'm a little surprised that you're not getting the red sigil from this."

    She shakes her head sadly. "Have We not done the same? Eternal night would have frozen the world, or frozen one half and scorched the other. We cannot hold another to a higher standard than We hold Ourself. But when We acted against him We were guided by compassion for Our citizens."

    An indigo flare, and another sigil.

    "Oh, these poor dears."

    A mare wearing a crown of roses nuzzles a cyclops pony, who looks slightly happier.

    "That Discord deserves what's coming to him."

    I look at Luna in concern, but she shakes her head.

    "You do not need to convince Us. We were one of those who administered judgement 'pon him."

    "Were you really?" The mare comes a little closer, and I see that the rose stems are covered in thorns which are biting into her skin. "Do you think he suffered a lot while he was a statue? Do you think it was more or less than you did on the moon?"

    "More, probably. And for longer."

    The mare smiles. "And when you shot him with the Elements of Harmony? Did that hurt him more?"

    "Why do you wish to know?"

    "Oh, I just love helping ponies who are hurt. But I can only do that if there are hurt ponies around."

    Luna considers that for a moment.

    "What is your name?"

    "Twisted Caretaker."

    "And are you truly alive?"

    "Of course! I'm getting a one sixth share of your body when we win. I wanna be there for Celestia, you know? It must be horrible for her to spend all that time trying to get you back only to lose you again right away."

    "Avarice and rage, Luna. There's nothing to be-."

    "You were the one who revealed to Us that the copies of Pinkie Pie were intelligent beings. We did not intend for the Tantabus to have such mental flexibility but clearly it does. Why would you have Us treat this creature differently?"

    "Time constraints. If the Elements of Harmony hadn't been available, would you rather Celestia let Nightmare Moon win, or kill her?"

    Luna's eyes dip. "She should have killed Us."

    "Right. So either we're going about this the right way and they'll be.. purified or whatever, or they'll die and the monster we made won't get freed. So pick-."

    She flaps her wings, the air buckles, and we fly through the air and land on a balcony of the Canterlot palace. Luna stalks off.

    "We will show you what we want most of all."

    I trot along behind her, letting her get a little ahead.

    "Yes, yes, good."

    I'm a little lost for a moment, but then I recognise where we are. I came through the mirror not far from-.

    A phantasm of me steps out of an adjoining corridor-.

    "HAVE AT THEE!"

    Luna tears an ornamental spear from the wall and lunges at 'me', stabbing and slashing as the phantasm is forced to back up, clumsily trying to turn aside the point with his forehooves.

    "WE FINALLY FACED AN ENEMY WE COULD ENGAGE WITH OUR OWN POWER AND WE WERE CRUELLY DENIED OUR RELEASE! BUT HERE IN OUR DREAM WE SHALL NOT BE-"

    She rams the spear forward, piercing the phantasm through the chest and out through the haunches. She steps back as he weakly grasps at the spear shaft before collapsing on the ground.

    "-DENIED!"

    She takes a couple of panting breaths and then turns to give me an interrogative stare.



    "Might be standing proud-"

    "Ugh."

    "-again."

    She glares. "Even if We felt inclined to such behaviour, yours would be the last 'proud standing' that We would touch."

    I smile saucily. "But you would get there eventually?"

    She huffs. "Why do you insist on this behaviour?"

    "Because you've still got anger to go." I look at her peytral. "And.. apparently I'm not making you angry enough."

    "You are-." She exhales sharply. "A most vexing-"

    "Hey, maybe you actually like it?"

    "-individual."

    Still no? Huh.

    "Okay, so what makes you really angry?"

    She hesitates for a moment, then regains her poise.

    "What makes you afraid to be honest, Grayven? Thou hast not hesitated to speak of thine manifold acts of violence before. Is there some great shame that thou fears that thou must confess to gain Honesty's blessing? Art thou not proud but rather shrivelled in the manner of a raisin or prune?"

    Damn, pony!

    "Okay, not even joking now, but are you single? Because I like mares with courage and aggression, and you-."

    The floor drops out beneath us and we plummet into the void!
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Because
    why not


    Fortunately we both have wings, so while the initial surprise results in us dropping quite a way we both unfurl our natural parachutes and by the time we land on solid ground we're both fully under control.

    "Any idea what that was supposed to achieve?"

    "Neigh, we do not." Luna and I look around. "And this room doth not exist in Our Palace."

    Well, I should hope not. It looks like a Dungeon Keeper's treasure vault in here. Piles of coins of various denominations… They look Wilsonian, so I'm going to assume that they're taken from Luna's memories. There are gem stones as well, and decorative ornaments which use them to contrast the colour of the precious metals that make up most of their mass. One or two paintings with regal-looking ponies and griffins and… One of a dragon.

    "This place is a monetarist's nightmare. Why would-?"

    "It is another distraction. We must-."

    "It's home. For now."

    A stallion with a purple pelt and golden mane and tail walks between the piles, smiling as he sees us. His cutie mark is an upended amphora, coins cascading from the opening.

    "Though you're quite right, Prince Grayven. My banker has a fit whenever he sees it."

    "Prince?"

    "That statue earlier? He's the ruler of the planet Apokolips. I'm his son."

    "And he cursed you with-?"

    "It's a gift, including me in his grand project to eliminate selfhood. A rare favour."

    "And you're so ungrateful to him." The stallion shakes his head. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is. And you, Luna-."

    "You would name him 'prince' and yet deny Us Our rightful title?"

    "A pity-prize granted you by Princess Celestia. Equestria doesn't really need you, as you know well."

    "Yes. We do. Though that shall not prevent Us from placing Ourself in its service. We shall earn Our place once more."

    I nod approvingly. "Good attitude. I'll help."

    "I can as well."

    "We doubt that."

    "Oh, but I can. You see, each of the five of us want different things, and… Not all of those desires are best fulfilled by working together."

    "Who are you, and what do you want?"

    "Now we're getting somewhere. I'm Spoiled Prince, the most generous of us all. You.. want to get out of here with your minds and souls in one piece and I'm happy to help."

    "We are somewhat sceptical. What are you?"

    "Generosity. More or less. I would happily give away all that I have, and ask nothing in return but to be thought well of. And what I have for you is information."

    "The first of you We encountered. The knight."

    "Forsaken Vanguard. Our Illustrious Overlord told him to go, so he went. That's what he is."

    "He is loyalty, then."

    I snort. "He's mindlessly obedient. That's it, isn't it? You're the Elements with parts missing. Forsaken Vanguard can't… What, can't disobey, can't use his own judgement?"

    "Our Illustrious Overlord doesn't care about us, obviously. It sends us out without much caring if we can do what it wants."

    "Oh, I see. No one who treats those loyal to them that way deserves that loyalty. Having faith in the faithless is inherently self-destructive, which in turn undermines the appeal and value of loyalty."

    "Yes, you see, it's rather sophisticated-."

    "It's irrelevant. Luna, what do you hate?"

    "We have always endeavoured to rise above-."

    "Hehhahhahhahhah!"

    "Oh.. dear."

    Luna turns her head towards the sound. "Who is that?

    "Broken Jester. He can keep laughing through any problem… But I'm not sure that laughter is what you need at the moment."

    I snort. "Fine. You want to survive. What is your offer?"

    "Our Illustrious Overlord won't let Luna leave. It can't; it literally exists to make her miserable. But I can. If you let me I can trot out of here into the dreams of another. I can alert whomsoever you wish. And then it would be a simple matter to alert Princess Celestia or have Prince Grayven conveyed to the Tree of Harmony to have any left within him purged."

    "But thou wouldst be safe."

    "Ain't that a gag?!"

    The Broken Jester stumbles into sight. And I do mean 'stumbles'. His legs are badly burned and trembling and he appears to be having trouble moving them properly. Which is the least of his problems. His eyes have been gouged out, and the remains of his eyes are smeared around their orbits. He's also carrying some sort of wound in his abdomen…

    Eyes. And abdomen. And burns.

    "Luna, you're better at dream navigation than me." I scoop up the closest coin and hold it out to her. "What is this connected to?"

    "It is simply-." She blinks. "A.. coin I saw upon one of the stands on the night of my return. It is literally-."

    I scoop up another as Spoiled Prince scowls.

    "And this one?"

    "It was on the top of the coins in the chest given to us by Chief Æthelgriff by means of reparations. And-" She looks aside. "-this was next to it, and this…"

    "Broken Jester is showing some of my more serious injuries. They're taking bits from us to make themselves."

    "If they can do that… Granting him access to other dreams would-."

    "How perceptive! Yes, yes, we'd strip them of every memory until we were strong enough to enter the real world. But oh well. We already have enough from you to-."

    A coin pile to our left explodes as Twisted Caretaker leaps out, dozens of-. Ow, suddenly sharpened metal discs bite into my face and armour.

    "Surprise! We're going to empty everyone out slowly, and I'll hold them and stroke their manes as their minds collapse!"

    Behind us, a pile of coins is shoved aside, the Forsaken Vanguard wading into position with shield and halberd at the ready.

    "I do as I am-"

    The Elements of Harmony.

    "-bid."

    "You're actually compatible with the Elements of Harmony, aren't you? You could make a run at the Tree."

    Another pile slides aside to reveal Yelling Fool.

    "That's what I was told!"

    Spoiled Prince smiles at his fellows.

    "I could hardly deny them their ambition. And don't all ponies want to become more virtuous?"

    "Luna-."

    "In fact…"

    Their eyes light up and rainbow lights dance around them.

    "Didn't you want to be exposed to the Elements?"
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2020
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I feel insufficiently levelled
    for this boss encounter


    "Deluded villain, that will not work! You have not the spark! None of you represent the perversion of friendship itself!"

    Except… That the belief that any interaction with others results in pain for all involved isn't a terrible description of-.

    The beams of light I once hoped would have purged me leap from the five Bearers and meet in the air above us. The beams are weak and wavering, but I-.

    I can feel it.

    "They're going to break it out of the maze, and it's going to be their sixth."

    "Can we stop it?"

    I look at her, as the sphere of darkness the Bearers are generating grows larger.

    "Luna, all joking aside… I am the Apokoliptian New God of Conquest. Nothing offends me more than inefficient government. If you are concerned about your ability to function in modern Equestria, then I'm happy to help you find a place… To learn whatever skills you need, to help you get whatever knowledge you need."

    "Dost thou believe then that aiding Us will convince Us to permit you to mount Us?"

    "Luna, I'm twice as tall as you. I wouldn't mount you so much as stand over you. But no; it's a special talent thing. I want to help you become a more effective ruler far more than I want to copulate with you."

    "Then… We suppose that having seen the nature of this 'Anti-Life Equation', We can see why thou wert so insistent."

    "Colleagues-with-an-option-on-friendship-later?"

    She smiles very faintly. "As you-"

    The ball of light flows into a near-equine shape. Four legs and a central torso, but the head is a blank cone with a yellow-orangeHole. Around the hole are.. dots of a darker orange, and on its rump is a inky blur of a tail.

    "-say." Her face falls. "It.. is…"

    I nod. "That's just a fragment. Combined with your Tantabus."

    Four of the Bearers slump to the ground, while Forsaken Vanguard slowly forces himself to trudge towards his abominable master.

    "If they could bring it here with five elements, mayhap we could banish it with five?"

    No. No, that won't work. I can't for the life of me work out what she's hiding her anger for, but…

    I'm going to have to-.

    "Life = Pain."

    I'm.. going to have to tell her, to say it, to give myself away.

    I'm… Afraid of doing it. I might have just.. built it up in my mind, and… Realistically there's no way that Darkseid doesn't know already…

    I glance at Luna just as she's glancing at me, and I get a momentary flash of intuition that she's thinking along similar lines.

    "I'm not-." / "We feel-."

    A sound… A moan? A scream? Like.. the end of the universe, like desolation and reality itself falling away. The treasure chamber fails and fades into the black, small spheres of colour shielding the Bearers and floating them into position around the Fragment.

    And then it look at us, sees everything that's ever hurt us, thinks of us as receptacles for our pain, then fires the Elements at us.

    The black-tinged rainbow strikes us both, and I feel it as I start to decay, the black burrowing into my skin and psyche.
    There's a weak glow from the gems attached to my armour, but I only have four and that's not enough! I need-!

    "I'm not actually Grayven! Something stopped me being able to use my actual name and I.. didn't worry about it until the Forever People mistook me for someone called Grayven and I played along to try and get access to their technology! I actually-."

    I look down at my body and I'm not.. completely surprised to see that I've regained the form I had when I first arrived on Earth 16. Pyjamas and all.

    "Yes, I looked like this, and everything's rather gotten away from me since. I think I'm coping and I'm sure that Darkseid would have turned his attention to Earth before too long anyway, but I've got no idea whether I'm actually ahead on the deal or not and I'm constantly scared that my worst case scenario is happening all around me and I'm just not seeing it!"

    There's a flash of orange and the oncoming blackness is pushed back a little, but it's still only five to-.

    "Celestia!"

    I look around desperately.

    "Where?!"

    "Before Our banishment-" The strands of black wrap around Luna's neck. "-We desperately resented her greater popularity and her easy way with Our ponies. And when We came back, everything was so strange and she was so.. different, and she fit in and We.. sometimes felt that same anger We did before. And We felt terrible about it but then she returned to her duties and We only saw the only pony We know for a few hours each day and there is no place for Us here! We love her but she makes Us so angry and We feel so guilty because she has done so much to aid Us!"

    There's a red flash as the two-lines-and-a-circle form of the Red Lantern sigil appears on her barding.

    "It's been a thousand years-"

    Whole sections of reality-. No, that's just the black threads covering my eyes. I can't.. see.

    "-and she doesn't understand. If you can't talk to her about it then let me help!"

    Oh.

    A hurricane of light surrounds both of us. My gems of red, pink, purple, orange, blue and green spin around us, the black lines covering our bodies being evaporated and the baleful rainbow from the Anti-Life creature being held at bay. Luna's sigils lift off her peytral and drift forwards, lighting up in turn and then firing, their coloured beams merging just ahead of her and the resulting white beam lancing forward!

    The Anti-Life creature doesn't move as the beam reaches it.

    "Life = Pain."

    It's corny, but… Ah, who am I kidding?

    "Friendship = Magic." / "Friendship = Magic!"

    The beam hits and the Anti-Life creature melts and burns while its five helpers become translucent, spreading out as the stolen thoughts and memories that make them up return to their owners. And with them gone, Luna and I are left alone in the void.

    "Huh."

    "It has been some time since We hath used such a device."

    "I've never used such a device. Did it feel like.. bits of your brain were being hotwired?"

    "We have no idea what that phrase means… But We suspect so."

    "Right." I fly over to her, dropping down so that I can look her directly in the face. Then I wrap my arms around her neck and press the left side of my face against the right side of hers. "Don't you ever make something like that Tantabus again, do you hear me?"

    "We will not. Might We prevail upon you to conduct yourself with greater patience and forbearance in future?"

    "I'll-."

    I was going to say 'I'll see what I can do', but…

    "Yes. I will."

    I pull back, and for the first time in over a year smile with my own face.

    "I'll see you in the morning."
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th March 2018
    14:12 GMT -6


    The dull rumble of the camper van's engine, the soft breathing of my new comrades in arms and rustling of their clothing all blur together in a wondrous symphony of existence. On those few occasions I bother to reflect upon it, I mourn the time which my former self spent without the benefit of my current ability set. I can't even really work up any sort of irritation about the situation which I find myself-

    "Okay, I'm just gunna say it." I hear the slight creak of the table between us as Mr Harkness leans closer. "No way are you really an angel."

    The slight pfsss of his seat exhaling air as he leans his weight against the backrest.

    And I open my eyes, and smile at him. "That’s quite alright. May I say that for the longest time I have regarded you as the bravest man in supervillainy?"

    Over to my right Mr Turner is staring at me in a way which.. not too long ago would have made me uncomfortable. I get that reaction from a wide range of monotheists; usually those who haven't bothered keeping up with superheroic news.

    "You what?"

    "The Flash can move and think at the speed of light. You fight him armed with boomerangs. That is an extremely unequal struggle, and I imagine that it takes a man of considerable courage to take up such a challenge."

    "Well… I don't like to brag or anything…"

    Ms Frost slumps forwards a little, staring intently out of one of the side windows. "Yeeeeeah."

    Mr Harkness' eyes dart her way for a moment, then return to me. "Just because you clearly appreciate my virtues, that doesn't mean I'm about to start singing kumbaya."

    "I've heard you singing, Boomer." Mr Lawton keeps his eyes fixed on the road. "If he's convinced you to spare me hearing it again he might actually have been sent by God."

    "No, I mean, he's probably one of those Thanagarians or something. And I heard a story in the news a while back about a crazy doctor in Nevada who stuck albatross wings on some woman's back. Something like that." He watches my face for a moment, waiting for me to respond. I merely smile beatifically. "I mean, why would an actual angel end up with us?"

    "Doctor Waller has something which I want. I may have been able to take it by force, but I preferred to negotiate. Her terms were not too onerous, so I accepted."

    "You volunteered?"

    He looks around in an attempt to gauge the feelings of the room. Mr Park flicks out his tongue, but otherwise gives no sign of having been listening. Ms Frost tilts her head slightly, the back of her head leant against the window as she lazily looks our way. Dr Quinzel grins, though I'm not really sure what -if anything- she's grinning at. Mr Turner just glares at him, but he's been doing that for nearly the entire trip.

    "I don't believe for a moment that anyone would work with Waller if they had an actual choice in the matter."

    "May I say how impressed I am by your remarkable facility for throw-."

    "Is that some kind of angel-thing?"

    "I'm sorry, but I thought that you didn't believe-."

    "Acting." His eyes move away for a moment. "That's what it is."

    Mr Lawton sighs. "At the risk of sounding like I'm agreeing with Boomer, we do actually need to know exactly what you can do. Do those wings come with any special powers, or do they just make you a better target?"

    "A most reasonable question. I have strength and endurance above baseline human norms, I am entirely immune to poisons, toxins and diseases, I am capable of flight and… Basic theurgy. Though I would caution you not to rely upon it too heavily."

    "Hah." Ms Frost's laugh sounds decidedly unamused. "Last thing anyone here's gunna do is rely on anyone else."

    Dr Quinzel nods. "It probably would be the last thing."

    I raise my eyebrows slightly. "That was a bit obvious."

    She shrugs. "Eh. You work with the material you got."

    Mr Harkness squints and shakes his head. "And 'theurgy' is..? What, exactly?"

    "The evocation of God to bring about a change in the world." Mr Turner directs a smouldering glare at Mr Harkness. "The magic of angels and saints."

    I nod. "Given Task Force X death rates, I imagine that my healing abilities will be most in demand. That, and the fact that I should be able to.. hear the card once we are close enough. Since none of us have seen it, it will simplify things if we can tell the genuine article from a fake."

    "Stubbed my toe earlier." Mr Harkness lifts his left leg up and drops his boot-encased foot onto the table. "Think you could take a look at-."

    I open my mouth slightly, and a throbbing rumbling low note emerges from somewhere not even remotely connected to my vocal cords as I access that part of the underlying fabric of reality which corresponds to Mr Harkness' foot. There is a small amount of bruising, a minor deformity of the bones where they appear to have been broken at some point. A slight change of pitch and the harm is undone as if it never was.

    I close my mouth. "Better?"

    The rest of the squad is staring at me, Mr Lawton even glancing around from the windscreen. Mr Harkness' eyes are wide, and he puts his foot back on the floor at once.

    "Huh." Dr Quinzel looks mildly curious. "I figured you was a fake too. Guess I was wrowng."

    "No, Doctor Quinzel, I am a fake. But just as a fake of an Old Master can still be an excellent painting in its own right, I still have.. abilities of my own."

    "This I gotta hear." Ms Frost actually looks mildly interested. "How do you 'fake' being an angel?"

    "Not so long ago I found myself in a strange land inhabited by-" I look at Mr Park. "-all manner of strange and dangerous people possessing bizarre and powerful abilities. And so I decided that I'd quite like some of that for myself. There is a weak but exceedingly skilled magician in London by the name of John Constantine. I offered him a large sum of money if he could.. point me in the right direction." And I got him drunk after confirming that his confrontation with Gabriel happened here. "He had these-" I flap them slightly. "-in storage. Attaching them was a simple enough matter." And the reason why the power ring which I arrived with is completely dead. But that was going to happen eventually anyway. The wings are a good investment. "Learning to use them was-" A pain in the arse. "-a bit of a trial, but well worth the investment."

    "You're a.. fraud."

    I smile. "I don't tell people that I'm an angel, Mister Turner. And I don't claim to be acting on God's behalf."

    "The card." There's a sharpness in Mr Lawton's tone that wasn't there before. "Are you saying it actually works?"

    I nod. "I don't know whether or not the card we've been sent after is genuine, but there is such a card, certainly. It works exactly as described."

    "You have it on you when die, you go to heaven."

    "Hah! No, don't be absurd. The one who made it has no authority in Heaven. Why would God build moral law into the fabric of the universe and then instruct his creations to allow it to be bypassed by a card?"

    "You said-."

    "That it works exactly as described, yes. It gets you out of hell. You die and.. if you're damned, you can present it.. and.. you get to come back. Alternatively, another can use it on your behalf to bring you back."

    Ms Frost look thoughtful. "Who made it?"

    "A few years ago there was a series of coordinated attacks by supervillains. I believe that the newspaper headline was 'Underworld Unleashed'. Some of the participants were given… Enhancements. Ocean Master received a trident which-."

    "I remember that!" Doctor Quinzel beams. "Jokah sold his soul for a box of cigaws!"

    "Yes. And given that he was the only one who kept his gift after the Justice League won, that may have been a better trade than it sounds."

    "Joker's soul, box of cigars…" Mr Harkness weighs it up for a moment, then shrugs. "So whoever made that trade made the card?" I nod. "Trades in souls, can let people out of hell. Demon, then."

    I nod. "His name is Neron."

    Ms Frost waves her right forefinger in a short circle. "Why does a demon want to let people out of Hell?"

    "For the havoc they'll create fighting over the card. And because it's a one shot deal. If they don't buck their ideas up they'll go right back there when they die a second time." I shrug. "Why should he care about having to wait for a few more decades to get his prize?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Local morning
    Probably still the 1st of April back home


    I take a moment to look at my forehooves. They still look much the same, particularly given that I didn't take my armour off last night. I'm.. pretty sure that what I dreamt actually happened -for a given value of 'actually happened' but… I don't exactly know how to tell.

    "Mhr?"

    I glance down to where the self-renamed Party Popper is lying pressed up against my barrel. I don't think that she's fully awake-

    She yawns, her eyes opening and then closing again.

    -but she appears to be heading in that direction. What to say? I used her to illustrate a point, and-. Huh. I was expecting to feel a little guilt, but this is quite a bit more than I was expecting. Maybe it's because she's small and furry and adorable.

    I mean… It might be because I don't have an Anti-Life fragment any longer, but I'm not going to gamble on that until Sunset and Scott have checked.

    "Uhh."

    Party Popper blearily looks around, notices my barrel and then pokes it with her left forehoof to check that it's really there.

    "Huh. Mom always told me something like this would happen if I left the rock farm."

    "She did?"

    She turns her head towards mine. "Weeeeeeeell… Not this exact thing. But I think this is the sort of thing she meant."

    "Party Popper, I'm sorry for dragging you into this. I-."

    "Are you?" She blinks up at me. "Are you really?"

    I nod.

    "No one's more surprised than me. Normally the most I feel in situations like this is a mild obligation to the injured party. This is actually…" I sigh. "Bringing you here illustrated the point a little better, but honestly? From what Luna said, just teleporting Twilight and your primogenitor to the Mirror Pool would have worked just as well. I just wanted to break their resistance as fast as I could and didn't really care if I hurt you to do it. And I should have done. So: not just an apology. I do actually want you to organise Sunset Shimmer's party, if you're still willing. And obviously I'm in your debt in addition to that."

    "Huh." She looks thoughtful for a moment, then brightens up. "Hey, you passed!"

    "Good? Passed what?"

    "Princess Luna told me that if you didn't apologise I had to buck you in the flank." She cranes her neck to bring her face a little closer to mine. "And unlike someponies, I actually know where the flank is."

    "It's another word for 'haunches', isn't it?"

    She shakes her head definitively, smiling broadly. "Nope!"

    I snort with amusement. "Hey, you want to know what's funny?"

    "Aaaaaaalways."

    "Luna's my best friend in all of Equestria."

    She leans back, squinting at me. "Really? Whaw."

    "I know, right. So she visited your dream too?"

    "Yep. So I know all the other mes didn't really die and they're all going to be let out soon and I can be Party Popper for real or even Pinkie Pie except that could get confusing when we're all together and I can even go back to Ponyville if I want to."

    "Do you want to?"

    "I…" She sags a little, looking away. "Dunno. I do kinda wanna see everypony again, but Twilight did try and sorta-kill me. Any everypond else went along with it. And I've made a whole bunch of new friends in Manehattan. Wait a sec-ond." She turns her face back towards me, peering at me suspiciously. "Didn't your horn used to be orange?"

    I briefly go cross-eyed trying to see it.

    "Ah-."

    Party Popper sticks her right hoof into her mane and pulls out a hoof mirror. She holds it up towards me.

    "See?"

    I look at my own reflection. I look… Pretty much the same. Which is good; if I'd turned into a white pony I'd be worried that Harmony was racist. But… I'm looking a little less sinister all round, and my horn is now a grey spiral face spear rather than a smooth orange face claw.

    "Ah, could you please cover your ears for a moment?"

    Party Popper stuffs her mirror back into her mane, then grabs a pillow and holds it over her head.

    "Life… Equals… Pain."



    It's gone.

    It's… Gone.

    I step off the bed, prompting Party Popper to slump into the depression I made in the bed. She drops the pillow and looks at me expectantly.

    "I.. admit I've been a churl
    Since I woke up over a world."

    I take another look at my reflection in the mirror over the dresser.

    "The day before was sour
    And it left me feeling dour
    I lost everything
    Except a glowing orange ring
    And though I fought in the good fight
    I never did quite get it right."

    I turn back to Party Popper, who's standing on the floor and looking strangely excited.

    "And my allies, they were fine
    Though not exactly of like mind
    Played them false? Yes, I admit it
    And I never seemed to quit it.
    Tossed a coin, picked a side,
    Because I'd rather fight the tide
    And my rage meant that my friends
    Were mostly just means to my ends."

    Life… Doesn't equal pain. Life can be good, full of opportunities.

    "And… Now… I'm… Free!"

    I shove open the door and march down the corridor.

    "I'm filled with glee!
    There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!
    And now I'm free!
    I'm filled with glee!
    There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!"

    I open my wings and fly down the main staircase, Party Popper hot on my heels. I toss a bag of bits at the front desk attendant and head out of the front doors.

    "Took a stand, won a prize
    Cut my foes right down to size
    One to rebuild from the rubble
    The rest weren't worth the trouble
    Got a visit from my Dad
    He took note of all I had
    And he gave me as a prize
    Something I truly do despise."

    I march in the direction of the palace while Party Popper leaps onto my back and starts dancing.

    "But now I'm free!
    I'm filled with glee!
    There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!
    But now I'm free!
    I'm filled with glee!
    There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!"

    I should probably question how I'm suddenly able to move this quickly on hooves, but… Ah. Who cares?

    "Got helped out by my bro
    He said I should take things slow
    So I went on a few tours
    And killed many evildoers
    Did some building, got a plan
    'cause I'm not a one note man
    Then I went back home to see
    What I would do with me."

    Prance through the palace gates, Luna should be… That way?

    "So now I'm free!
    I'm filled with glee!
    There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    I'm…"

    Twilight Sparkle and I stare at each other. She looks… Rough. Worn out and generally miserable.

    "A slightly contrite pony."

    I stop, and Party Popper jumps down off my back.

    "Twilight Sparkle."

    She scowls. "What now?"

    "I'm sorry. I let my fervour to destroy my Anti-Life fragment blind me to other approaches that I could take, and in doing so I caused you and your friends considerable emotional distress. I didn't take into account the.. now obvious fact that the elements of harmony aren't the jewellery that you and your friends wear, but fundamental parts of Equestria's magic that are available to anyone. I forgot that Nightmare Moon destroyed the previous manifestation of the Elements and that you reformed them from your own virtues, an option that was just as available to me as it was to you. I shouldn't have come after you in the way that I did that and I'm sorry."

    "Oh. Well. Good." She sighs, then steps around me and looks at Party Popper. "And I'm sorry. I made assumptions about how the Mirror Pool worked based on other magic artefacts I'd studied, and I was.. so wrong and I didn't check that what I thought was true really was. I spent all night getting the other Pinkie Pies out and I said sorry to all of them. I've never wanted anypony to be as afraid of me as you were."

    Party Popper thinks for a moment.

    "I'd… Be lying if I said I was okay with any of what happened… But I know that you're telling the truth and… I guess you've really done all you can do to make up for it." She gives Twilight a quick nuzzle, then jumps back on my back. "Now go get some sleep. You look awful."

    Twilight nods, takes one last look at me, then trots away. I watch her go for a moment, then continue down the corridor towards the gardens.

    "So now I'm free.
    Fairly happy.
    There is no Anti-Life in me.
    And everyone around can see
    I'm a.. somewhat contrite pony."

    I step out onto the manicured lawns and nod a greeting to Luna before heading her way.

    "Followed Sunset to her home
    Where the little ponies roam
    Tried to Harmonise my strife
    And destroy the Anti-Life
    Though they were sadly unwilling
    Speaking of their Pinkie-killing
    Earned me a royal visit
    Whose results were-"

    I lower my head as if to sniff Luna's haunches, and am rewarded with a tail whip to the snout.

    "-quite exquisite."

    I walk around to face her as she rolls her eyes.

    "Grayven. You seem somewhat less umbral this morn."

    "I feel less umbral. Did a song and everything."

    "We heard."

    "How did it feel to use the Elements again?"

    She thinks for a moment. "Satisfying. We feel… Cleansed by their presence in a way which being struck by their full fury does not match. Now, exactly how far does your contrition extend?"

    "I'll repay every debt incurred and a little more besides. But I seem to remember making a promise to you. How-?"

    She yawns. It lasts several seconds.

    "We apologise. Our body entered your dream physically, and We have had little time for rest since."

    I nod. "I'll-."

    "Because of the great upsets you caused with the Bearers."

    I nod, pausing for a moment. "I'll… Work something out, there. And I'll not keep you, but… I can remove your tiredness, if you'd rather not leave me unsupervised in your capital."

    "Having seen what you planned for it, that may be wise. How-?"

    Strengthen True Friend.

    She shudders, coming to full alertness in an instant, her wings opening to their full span.

    "Goodness."

    "So why don't we head inside, and you can tell me what I can do for you, and for Equestria?"

    She nods, smiling. "I would like that."

    "'cause now we're free! / "'cause now you're free!
    We're filled with glee!" / We're filled with glee!"

    We march back towards the palace proper alongside each other, Party Popper still on my back.

    "There is no Anti-Life in me!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!"

    "'cause now we're free! / "'cause now you're free!
    We're filled with glee!" / We're filled with glee!"

    Luna beams.

    "There is no Anti-Life in thee!
    And everyone around can see
    That I'm a jubilant pony!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2020
  22. Threadmarks: Equestrian Guise
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Equestrian Guise

    Morning
    Equestria


    "Do.. you..?"

    Luna looks away for a moment. We're sitting in her drawing room, the blues and purples not really being displayed to their best in the brilliant sunlight streaming through the windows. Party Popper came with us, then dashed off with a gasp when she realised that she still had to prepare Sunset's Ascension Party.

    "Yes?"

    She shuffles slightly on her… Fainting couch thing? Chaise longue? I've been a pony for less than a day and I already know that lying down or standing are both more comfortable than sitting. Our body structures aren't really designed for it, which has a knock-on effect to how ponies pose in social situations. Luna found a solid-looking couch for me to lie on, and so far it's bearing the burden of my considerable weight well.

    "You mentioned that you found Us-."

    Not a fluke, then.

    "I'm a 'you' now?"

    "We gained some comprehension of your society when We were studying your dream. You are the son of your people's ruler. 'tis improper to refer to you as Our social inferior."

    I look down. "No. Well. At this point I think that I'm informally adopted or something, but as I said: I'm not actually… The original Grayven; the man most people think I am."

    "And hast Darkseid granted you no lands or titles?"

    "Okay… Yes, he granted me a fairly grand-sounding title, and he publically calls me 'son', it's just… You’re the only person I've told this to. I haven't even told my children."

    She nods.

    "Verily, a disguise which exists in only one direction would in truth be of little value. We cannot offer you pardon for your deception, and We can understand why you maintain it. What plans have you made for its undoing?"

    "Once Darkseid isn't a problem anymore I'll just confess to the whole thing. I doubt that my children will care much, and everyone else…" I try to wing-shrug but I mostly just get a twitch. "Sorry, I interrupted you; you were saying?"

    "Do you truly find Us… Appealing?"

    "I wanted to cuddle you the moment I saw you."

    Her wings twitch again.

    "Our world-."

    "I call it 'Wilson'."

    She frowns. "For what reason?"

    "Sunset told me that this planet didn't have a name, just the individual nations. I picked 'Wilson' pretty much at random, which seems to me to be as fair a way to do it as any."

    "Very well; our world of Wilson hath many intelligent species 'pon it, but… Intimate relations between them are usually limited to those which hath similar morphologies. You are naturally a balding bipedal. We are.. curious.. as to… What it is..?"

    "Why I find a fur-covered quadruped appealing?" She nods. "It's not.. exactly.. erotic appeal. I… My original species was 'human', and while we're savannah-adapted apes, our distant ancestors were a lot hairier than us. And ponies have proportionally larger eyes than we do, in a way which.. in our species, is something our babies have. So some instinctual part of me is designed to find that combination of features appealing. But.. on a level with a rose bush in full bloom, or a willow tree gracefully arcing into a pond. While I find you physically appealing, it's not necessarily sexual."

    "Were you lying about your…" She raises her eyebrows. "Pride?"

    "No, that was a response to your behaviour. When I became a New God, some of my attitudes to certain things… Changed. I'm a lot more cerebral in my arousal these days. You're… My type. But I don't want to.. press my suit in a way which would make you uncomfortable. I do like you as an individual as well."

    "We see." She nods again. "How do you intend to follow through on your offer to aid Us?"

    "Okay, you're a thousand years out of date. What sort of lessons did Celestia arrange for you when you returned?"

    "Lessons?"

    "Yes." I nod. "You know, to start learning about all of the cultural and legal changes that have happened over the last thousand years so that you can carry out your duties as diarch from a position of knowledge?"

    "Before your arrival last night I spent my time rearranging the curtains."



    "Is that some sort of pony metaphor?"

    "Neigh, it is not." She thinks for a moment. "It… May be one as well -Our use of the modern vernacular is imperfect- but We are not using it as one. Management of the royal household is one of the few areas where We are capable of acting."



    "What?" I blink. "What? Why are-?" I shake my head. "No, no, a Princess Regnant should not be tending to draperies."

    She looks down. "We are not able to-."

    Okay, no. I put my right forehoof on the floor, and…

    Um.

    Wiggle my haunches across to the edge of the couch, lower my right leg into the floor, wiggle a little m-.

    There's a burst of surprised laughter from Luna as I land on my back, legs waggling helplessly in the air. That'll do for now.

    I pick myself up and put myself down on my four hooves, then walk around the table and lie down so that my face is close to Luna's.

    Then I gently headbutt her in the face.

    She blinks in surprise. "What dost-?"

    "No moping, no feeling sorry for yourself and no feeling guilty. We're going to work to get you into position to actually function as half of the executive branch. And to start with: you should operate on the strategic level, the instructions given to the pony in charge of decorations, who in turn instructs the maids and stewards who physically change them."

    "Such ponies do not operate at night. We are not even certain who those ponies are."

    "Doesn't matter, because it's probably not worth your time anyway. What else do you do?"

    "We.. visit the dreams of our little ponies, to keep them safe from their nightmares."

    "Are these nightmares generally real, capable of causing death or physical injury, or manifesting into the waking world?"

    "No, but-."

    "Then it's not worth your time, either. At most, you should be gathering a group of psychologist unicorns and teaching them how to do it… Or perhaps your guard's information retrieval specialists. Unless somepony else is doing this already?"

    "Not to the best of Our knowledge."

    "Right then. One pony can't possibly reach everyone, but one pony can teach ponies who can teach ponies who can reach all of the most needy. Next… Legal and economic changes. How is your education coming along?"

    "Slowly. We-."

    "I have in my employ a species who can copy knowledge from one mind to another. If you can grab a few legal experts we can sort that out in a few hours."

    "We see."

    "Assuming that you want to?"

    She stares at me for a moment, then smiles.

    "Yes, Grayven. We want to very much."
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2020
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Morning
    Equestria


    "Of course, all the knowledge will take a while to bed in, and my employees aren't used to working on pony minds. Then you've still got the problem of natural authority; ponies are used to obeying Celestia. It's inevitable that they'll still look to her for direction first."

    "Yes, We had noticed that." Luna sits up slightly. "We assume that you have some suggestion on how to remedy that."

    "The obvious one is switch to the day shift."

    She frowns. "That wouldst… How long can you sustain this working of arcane wakefulness? And should We be concerned as to the eventual costs?"

    "It's not a spell, exactly. I'm sharing part of my own nature with you. I can stay awake for at least three weeks without suffering any diminution of my mental faculties. And I could have managed longer, but I was worried about setting a bad example for my children. Particularly given that the younger ones could probably have matched it if they glutted themselves. Since the whole point of this effect is to help a friend I imagine that if there are any negative effects I'll be the one bearing them."

    "Couldst you sustain it for years? Centuries?"

    "No idea. I feel fine right now, but.. I suppose living in Equestria wouldn't really be practical." I move my head a little closer. "Unless you want me to."

    "We begin to see that keeping Our eyes upon you at all times may perhaps be safest for all."

    "Any part of me you want to keep your eyes on in particular?"

    She opens her mouth to deliver a verbal slap down, then appears to reconsider. "In truth… We are curious as to what cutie mark Starswirl's mirror has crafted for you. We realise that it is not the same as a natural pony's cutie mark, but it wouldst serve to… Perhaps make you seem less alien. Less intimidating."

    "Ordinarily I'd say that I'm all about intimidating…"

    But… Actually, after something like that even most Apokoliptians would be prepared to remove their armour. So…

    I take a step back and dismiss my armour. Uh, my body fur is.. all lying crossways… Ring, groom me.

    By your command.

    I take a moment to look myself over. Just… More of the same grey fur. The texture my skin has back on Earth 16 doesn't appear to have translated… Can't really see my cutie mark from this angle. My neck is flexible enough but I'm just too bulky. Guess that means that it's not a big design in the way Luna's is.

    I turn sideways and wiggle my haunches at her.

    "Well?"

    "Hm. A bound bundle of sticks with an axe blade emerging betwixt them."

    Hah!

    I nod. "Blunt implements with a blade on standby if needed. That does sound like me." Luna looks puzzled. "I mean, I'm blunt, and I'm certainly not shy about violence-."

    "It is a fasces, dolt, as well you know. A symbol used in ancient Pegasopolis as the staff of office of the presiding magistrate of the boule. The rods represent-."

    "The strength of the unified community, and the axe blade represents the magistrate's right to issue death sentences." She nods, satisfied. "No laurel wreath?"

    "Neigh. Mayhap that even your arrogance doth not extend so far."

    "I'll work on it. But… If you join Celestia on the day shift it will give you the opportunity to actually take part in running the country. Alternately, you could focus on one project which would benefit Equestria and guide it to fruition, after first ensuring that at least in that area you knew enough to do a good job. Those reforms would be strongly associated with you, and there wouldn't be any conflict between Celestia's government oversight role and your reform role."

    "Didst you have something in mind?"

    "Sunset has developed a number of theories, concerning ways in which ponies could utilise their innate magics to greater effect. I have extensive knowledge of training techniques which could profitably be applied to improving Equestria's military. It.. hasn't exactly escaped my notice that your current services have been… Underperforming."

    "And you would make these improvements in Our name, and thus gain Us credit."

    "And make it clear that I was submitting to your authority. Besides, you wouldn't want me wandering about the place unsupervised, would you? All sorts of things could happen."

    "I-."

    I smile. "And since I've completed the business part of my trip, I wouldn't mind spending more time in your company."

    She shifts awkwardly, giving her wings a small flap.

    "Regarding Our sister's former student. What preparations doth she need for her grand working?"

    "Not a lot, really. Just about any clear area more than six metres…" She looks puzzled. "About four times my length in diameter. She'd probably like an audience, which obviously has to include Celestia."

    "That is all?"

    "She's been working on a few things… I think she'd like an opportunity to deliver a lecture on what she's learned to Celestia's school. And-."

    "No, we meant… Her ascension. It doth not require more sophisticated artifice?"

    "Ah, not according to her. Apparently, that sort of stuff is only necessary if you don't really understand what you're doing and have to substitute power for efficiency." I regard her for a moment. "What was it like when you did it?"

    "We-." She bows her head slightly. "We had been thinking of taking umbrage at your enquiry, but you hardly require our aid in the matter yourself and Sunset Shimmer believes that she already knows-."

    "Um." I don't.. really.. care, but-. "Sunset made it clear that Celestia didn't want her pursuing her project and not only refused to tell her but forbade Cadance from helping her. I… Would feel bad about it if you deciding to help her harmed your relationship with your sister."

    "Unless Sister forbade Sunset from studying ascension, knowing that doing so would inspire her to even greater heights."



    "Duuaaaaaahhh… I… Don't-."

    "Did Sister not inform Twilight to put the return of Nightmare Moon from her mind?"

    "Yes, but she didn't banish her. I was just asking because I'm trying to work out why there aren't more alicorns around. Given the obvious advantages."

    "Twilight Sparkle was able to trigger her own ascension by merging her innermost magics with those of her closest friends. Sister and I drew upon the magics of our mentors."

    "A group evenly split between the three tribes? With whom-. No, obviously you had a close relationship with them, you showed me."

    "Indeed. Two each of earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi. Ascension doth require all participants to possess vast arcane power in addition to their close fellowship, which We assume is the largest limiting factor on how many ponies have managed to ascend. If Sunset doth not intend to do the same, how doth her technique function?"

    "Basically, the magics of the three tribes have made such an impression on Equestria's background magics that it's perfectly possible to use that rather than specific ponies. And sufficiently complex mana siphons can substitute for close emotional ties."

    "We… See. It seems strange to Us that ascension couldst be achieved in such a way, but We assume that Sunset is confident in her arithmetic."

    "Everyone familiar with the notation who checked it said it looked sound."

    "We should like to talk to her Ourself. If only to discern what it was about her which so enraged Sister that she pronounced a sentence of banishment 'pon her. We refuse to believe that it was quite so simple as reading a history book."

    She stands, dismounting her resting bench with considerable more elegance than I managed.

    "And would it be helpful to you if we arranged to enable you to review our soldiery?" I nod. "That will take a time to organise, but I will give the order to Our captain."

    "Thank you." I follow her as she trots towards the door. "Oh, and… One thing?"

    "Yes?"

    "Last night, when I was still trying to convince the Bearers that I was evil, I… Pranked some guards into thinking that alicornism was sexually transmitted."

    She stops just ahead of me.

    "Look-."

    "'tis hardly the strangest rumour regarding Our status that We have heard. May We assume that you contracted it from Us, and Twilight from Our Sister?"

    "Yep."

    "We think that We will allow this rumour to continue its gallop." She smirks. "We think that We will derive no small pleasure from observing their reaction. Now, onwards."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Morning
    Equestria

    Sunset's acquired an unused room in the palace for checking her working. Well, checking her expectations concerning Equestria's magical constants. She looks focused but not flustered, which I assume means that everything is going more or less according to plan. Not sure where she found all this equipment-.

    "Sunset, how did you get hold of all of this?"

    "Celestia put all my old stuff into storage. Twilight got a lot of it, but she said she was fine with me using it. Have you seen her?"

    "Yes, and I apologised for my attitude. I believe that she's going to get some much needed sleep."

    Sunset nods, then looks over to where Luna is staring at her blackboard.

    "Do you actually understand any of that?"

    "Only a little. 'Tis truly a marvel. We had not realised that the thaumatic sciences had advanced so far. Prithee, what doth this segment mean?"

    "They haven't. This is all Atlantean notation I learned on the other side of the mirror." She turns away from the machine she was studying. It looks a little like an oscilloscope, only the knobs are sparkling gemstones. "That segment describes the change in the subject's mana flows as they move from the start position to the… 'Unbinding' portion."

    Luna glance back as Sunset approaches her. "You told Us that you were gone but a year."

    Sunset face-shrugs. "Magic is my special talent. Usually I prefer a more hooves-on approach, but Atlantean notation just made everything make so much sense. This is the mathematical basis for everything I feel when I cast a spell."

    She stands next to Luna as the alicorn stares at the equations.

    "This is not the notation used in Equestria?"

    "It will be now. I've written an introductory guide and I'm going to hand it over to the School for Gifted Unicorns."

    "Couldst We prevail upon thee to furnish Us with a copy?"

    "Sure, no problem. The other side of the mirror has really cheap printing technology. The only reason I didn't run off a bunch was because I know how slowly things like that get accepted."

    "We have not yet fully brought Ourself up to date with modern thaumaturgy." She smiles at Sunset. "Perhaps in this instance We will be able to steal a march 'pon this nation's greatest experts."

    "The ones who aren't me, anyway."

    "You are confident, then, that your technique will function as intended?"

    "Mostly. There's just one magic form that I can't fully account for." She sighs. "And I can't carry on with my ascension until I can isolate where all that chaos magic is coming from. I don't want to end up as a phelddagrif."

    "Chaos magic?"

    Uh oh. After I stopped The Changing Man turning an entire town into copies of his ex-girlfriend by killing him, I let Sunset study his remains. Which means that she was pretty confident of her ability to prevent chaos magic from interfering in the process. But with Discord still around and probably not all that happy about the sudden proliferation of alicorns…

    "Could it be Discord that you are detecting?"

    "Discord? That ugly statue-"

    I brace for incoming draconequus.

    "-out in the gardens?"

    I hear a click, as if invisible fingers were clicking. I know he's supposed to be reformed now, but I can’t quite suppress my desire to grab the Sword of the Fallen as there’s a flash of white light which serves as the prelude to his appearance.

    "Did I just hear my name? Hm?" He looks at me, blinks, and then there are two of him blinking at me as they float upside down in the air. Then they rotate their necks so they can look at one another.

    "An alicorn stallion?"

    "I didn’t think they made those."

    They blink at each other, then rotate so that their faces are level with mine. Their bodies are left floating up behind them in a way which –if they actually had hearts and blood- would swiftly leave them light-headed.

    "How novel." / "How novel."

    I smile faintly. "Discord, I presume. Planet Wilson’s Lord of Chaos."

    Another click and flash of white light and the two are one once more. "Well, I don’t like to brag." His right forepaw covers the side of his mouth. "Actually, I do. I mean, ‘Lord’? Really? Was that the best title you could come up with?"

    "I met one of your colleagues. Klarion, the Witch Boy?"

    Discord pulls back, amusement in his mismatched eyes. "Oh, that little scamp."

    "And Mordru, the Dark Prince."

    Discord strokes his chin. "Haven't heard from him in a while. Hmm. Come to think of it, Klarion’s been uncharacteristically quiet as well."

    "And Oggar, the Mightiest Immortal."

    "Pff, mightiest."

    He rolls his eyes. He rolls them down his arms and then holds them out to me. I don't react.

    "And The Changing Man."

    "Oh, he was always good for a laugh! Have to get back in touch." He clicks his right forepaw and a journal of some kind appears, floating in the air next to him. "Let’s see... Huh." He pokes the journal a couple of times, then frowns. "Can’t seem to locate them."

    "No. Because, do you know what they have in common?"

    He pokes the journal again, not looking up. "Oh, do tell."

    "They all met me."

    "Oh, don’t be absurd, it’s probably just on the fritz." He frowns, and clicks his fingers. The journal disappears and is replaced by a nineteen twenties era telephone. "Hello, operator? I need the current listing for The Changing Man."

    The part of the handset near his ear moves like lips, a nonsensical warbling sound emerging from it.

    "Oh. Okay, do you have Oggar?" Another warble. "Ah. I see."

    I turn my neck, reach for my shoulder sheath and pull out the Sword of the Fallen.

    "How about Klarion? … Or Mordru? … Huh. … How ‘bout that."

    As Discord looks up, I smile, making sure that he can get the best angle from which to appreciate the Sword. He looks at it, frowns slightly, then his eyes widen and his entire body turns into yellow custard. "I’vegottowashandhairmygo! Tata!"

    [​IMG]

    Block Retreat.

    He clicks his fingers and doesn’t disappear. His eyes widen far beyond the borders of his face and he starts frantically clicking his fingers. On the fifth, I feel his magic overpowering my resistance and I let him go.

    I smile at Sunset.

    "That fix it?"

    She glances back at her equipment.

    "Actually… Yes."

    Luna watches cautiously as I stow the Sword. "What manner of blade is that?"

    "What I'd have stabbed him with rather than taking a chance on Fluttershy. What me and mine have used to kill every Chaos Lord we've met to date. I believe in permanent solutions."

    She considers for a moment, then nods.

    "We are not sad to see him go. Now, We believe that Our guards have had time to array themselves. Alas, We have other work which must occupy our time ere Sister returns, but We are certain that the Royal Guard will be able to assist you in full measure."

    Sunset smiles. "Thank you, Princess. By the time we're done, the Guard will be unrecognisable."

    Luna looks a little concerned at that, but nods anyway.

    "We are pleased that despite your estrangement from Our sister thou art still devoted to the wellbeing of thine fellow ponies."

    Sunset looks a little uncertain at that.

    "Wellbeing. Yeah."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Morning
    Equestria


    I tap the armour covering the ponikin as the guardsponies file in behind me. Okay, the gold is only plating and the hardened steel beneath is of a reasonable quality. Considering the ponies' general technological ability. Oh, there's probably a metallurgy-specialist unicorn or something who can get modern quality steel, but this is… Reasonable. It wouldn't stop a crossbow bolt at close range, but it would turn aside a blade or arrow reliably.

    On the areas it covers.

    The helmet covers the top of the head and the back of the neck. It leaves the front of the neck completely exposed, along with the muzzle and most of the face. The barding covers the chest and back, but the underside is bare -even on the pegasus pony models- and the legs are completely exposed. I'm honestly not sure what they designed this to defend against. It can't be large predators; that would have required them to cover the windpipe and face. It can't be dragons because there are no wards against fire.

    No wards at all, actually. A third of the species are capable of complex magic from childhood and they're wearing unenchanted metal armour.

    Smaller dragons would use their claws on the exposed belly. And larger dragons would be easily strong enough to tear through it. Even other ponies… They'd either rear up and stamp -in which case the face and neck would again be points of vulnerability- or turn and buck. And that would be blunt force trauma which this armour wouldn't…

    "Hey." I glance at the guard closest to me. "You wear some sort of gambeson saddle blanket thing under this, right?"

    He freezes for a moment, checking that it's him I'm talking to. "Ah. Yes?"

    "Does it go under the peytral?"

    "No, just the back."

    No blunt trauma protection at the front. I saw old-style pony armour when Luna took me through the dreamscape. That was far better in terms of protection. They deliberately moved away from that. That only really happened on Earth when guns that could pierce armour became common and ponies don't have those.

    Why why why why why..?

    "Grayven, if you are ready?"

    Predatory animals, perhaps? A wild cat jumping onto their back would find themselves with no convenient avenue of attack, though again the lack of neck protection…

    I shake my head and turn away from the ponikin and face the cluster of guardsponies and officers Luna called together. A mix of day guard and night guard, though the only real difference is that the plating on the night guard armour is a sort of blue-purple and a couple of them are bat ponies.

    "Certainly."

    I trot back to the front of the room to stand next to her. I'm still not wearing my armour. These ponies aren't my friends, but I can't take them seriously as threats.

    "Loyal members of the Equestrian military! This is Grayven. He is a foreign dignitary who has come to Our nation as an escort to one of Princess Celestia's former students. He has a great deal of experience in military matters, and has requested the opportunity to review our training, equipment and doctrine."

    A room full of tiny ponies stare up at me. And it really brings home again exactly how small they all are. I think of Luna as being equivalent to a normal sized woman, which makes sense as most people are shorter than me and she's still a reasonable size. These… Regular ponies are bite-size.

    I nod politely.

    "Extend to him every courtesy, for it is you who will benefit most from his expertise."

    Luna steps aside, and I take her place.

    "Ladies and gentlemen. Is Stalwart Spear in the audience?"

    A pegasus pony in the second rank raises his right wing.

    "Good show. This scenario may have particular significance to you, then. You and three comrades are waiting for Princess Celestia to put in her appearance to start the Summer Sun celebration. A little way behind you is a civilian crowd eagerly awaiting her appearance. The appointed hour arrives and nothing, nothing…"

    I lift my right foreleg and then stamp it down hard.

    "Then the curtain is pulled back and a cackling alicorn you don't recognise is standing in Celestia's place. You."

    I lift my left foreleg and point to an audience member at random.

    "What do you do?"

    "I.. wait to see if she's an enemy or not."

    I nod my head to the side.

    "Okay. She cackles and boasts of defeating Celestia, and that she intends to keep the entire world in perpetual darkness. What now?"

    "I attack her."

    I nod. "The Stalwart Spear option." I nod again. "Brave. Stupid, extremely stupid, but certainly brave. What exactly are you expecting to achieve against an alicorn who just bested Celestia?"

    "Ah…"

    I make a dismissive motion with my left foreleg. "Stalwart Spear. You actually made that choice. I assume that you've had time to reflect upon it. Why did you do it?"

    "To try and stop her causing eternal night." I bow my head slightly. "I knew there wasn't much chance of it working, but I had to try something."

    "What are you doing about the civilians who are standing just behind you? Are you not doing anything to ensure their safety?"

    "Nightmare Moon was the only thing threatening them."

    "You don't know that. You don't know that she didn't have minions-. In fact, she later demonstrated the ability to create minions with her magic. You had a scared, panicky crowd, and you ignored them. You also didn't attempt to leave in order to notify your commanding officer or the country's other Princess."

    I let that sink in for a moment.

    "You attacked with a spear. Did you consider grabbing a cloud and blasting her with lightning?"

    "That's.. not something I'm good at."

    "Because you're not trained, or because it's not your talent?"

    "It.. hasn't been a skill I've worked at."

    I nod and look around the crowd.

    "Would any of you have knelt to her as your new sovereign?"

    There's a chorus of nos and shaken heads.

    "So do you know for a fact that alicorns are immune to being stabbed in their sleep? Or having their food poisoned? Because if you gained her trust then both of those options would have been available. I appreciate that not everyone can take an alicorn in a fight, but… Did no one here think of taking the guile option?" Looks like no one did. "Or consider the fact that with Celestia out of the picture and Cadance -as far as I know- not knowing how to move the sun, that mare you just attacked is the only one who can reverse what she's done?"

    Ignoring hearthwarming stories about teams of unicorns having done it in the past. Must find out whether that's true or not, because if so then there needs to be a team trained at once in order to prevent repeats of 'eternal night'.

    "It is quite unreasonable to expect a pony in a new and unpredicted situation to respond to it perfectly. Where I'm from we would say that it is easy to be wise after the fact. In actuality, it isn't. It is in fact quite hard to be wise after the fact. In military matters, it takes a group of officers taking some considerable time to go back over everything that happened, examining everything, questioning everything, considering the outcome of every action that could have been taken and developing new policy in an attempt to ensure that if something like whatever happened happens again the soldiers confronted with it have been trained to deal with it. Those of you who are senior officers: that is your job. Those of you who are junior officers: you are likely to be the first decision-makers confronted with these situations. Those of you who are non-commissioned officers or privates: you're the ones who would be putting those orders into practice so you have a vested interest in making sure that they're well-informed ones."

    "I am Grayven. I am the drill sergeant who took so many steroids that he became an alicorn. I will not be gentle and I will not be polite and when I am done you will all be better soldiers. Now: if pegasus pony soldiers don't know how to use weather as a weapon, who does?"

    A little later
    Equestria


    Lightning Dust stares at me through the bars of her cell.

    "Who the buck are you, and what the buck do you want?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Klugetown
    Lunch time


    And now, somepony who knows how unicorn ponies fight.

    There are dive bars, where the customers go to drink as cheaply as possible. Nothing much for me there. A few ponies make Klugetown their home, but in a town where most people have hands ponies occupy fairly specialist occupations. They could probably handle themselves in a moderately threatening urban environment, but unless Luna wants soldiers who know how to do counterinsurgency work in occupied cities their skills aren't much use to me.

    There are union bars, where people in distinct jobs go to drink with people who aren't part of a rival gang or company. Nothing much for me there. Probably pretty useful if I wanted to learn about stevedoring or construction or tanning, but that's not what I'm looking for. Maybe I can mention it to Luna if Equestria wants to get seriously involved in the export business. Newly industrialised powers can do that rather nicely in a mostly pre-industrial world.

    Mercenaries were a little further uptown. There isn't… Exactly a wall between the slums and the middle class-ish districts, but there are security patrols. A group of armoured porcines in my case. All they required from me was a small payment, in exchange for which they gave me a small traveller's medallion. A report will probably go up their chain of command at the end of their shift, but a single large traveller isn't that remarkable.

    Took a while to find a pony who could do what I want. Due to the nature of Equestrian society and the focused nature of special talents, ponies don't often reach the upper echelons of the mercenary business. Ponies who in more warlike societies might become battlemages or chargers instead become pyrotechnics experts or… Well, guardsponies. But one or two…

    I sit down in front of the bar, next to my recruitment target. She looks me over for a moment, then makes a show of ignoring me.

    "Might I buy you a drink, Commander Tempest Shadow?"

    "No. You're not my type."

    "That… Wasn't how I meant it. I have an offer of employment, and I understand that you're between patrons."

    "I was." Rats. "But I'm considering an offer from the Storm King."

    "Are you allowed to discuss the details? I'm perfectly happy to bid against him."

    She rolls her eyes. "I doubt you can match the offer."

    "You'd be surprised."

    "It's payment up front. I don't sign up to treasure hunts for a share."

    "Oh, no. I wish to retain your services to upskill a garrison. The soldiers are well-motivated, but… Green. The risks in the short term are minimal."

    "Duration?"

    "I'll guarantee two years. Whether it gets extended depends on how things go."

    "Hnnn… Pay?"

    "Equivalent to a Captain in the Equestrian Royal Guard. Bonus if you actually have to lead troops into combat, because as I said this is intended as a training role."

    "Training's… Not really my style."

    "You might enjoy this. A young thaumaturgist in my employ has recently developed a new generation of arcane weapons. But there's no doctrine for using them yet. You wouldn't just be training them to be non-incompetent, you'd be redefining the way warfare works."

    "Could I bring along a training cadre on the same conditions?"

    "Not the same conditions; I'm not paying the grunts what I pay the commander. But otherwise, sure. Two years, training, bonuses if sent into combat."

    She turns slightly towards me, eyes slightly narrowed as she stares into my voluminous hood.

    "What about medical?"

    "Yes, I will see to it that the sick and injured are treated at no cost to themselves. The two years is guaranteed even if you're crippled; it's your brain I want after all. I'll even offer to pay the balance to your next of kin if you're killed if you-."

    Her stare hardens. "That won't be necessary."

    "As you wish."

    She watches me for a moment, then relaxes slightly.

    "There is one other issue. The Storm King has… Offered to help me with a particular.. personal problem."

    "Could you narrow it down a little? I'm not trying to deceive you, but I can't tell you if I can match his bid if I don’t know what I'm supposed to be bidding."

    "My horn."

    I take a moment to look at her horn, or what's left of it. It's snapped off about a third of the way up its length, cracks still visible to the naked eye on the jagged stump that's left. Pale blue sparks crackle sporadically from the broken end.

    Scan.

    By your command.

    So I know the physical structure of unicorn horns. I should be able to fix those cracks without much difficulty, because I can deduce the structure of the material from the surrounding damaged parts. But the rest of the horn… I could guess. An educated guess based on the structure of other unicorn horns I've scanned… And given that those scans included Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer and Luna, Tempest Shadow might end up getting a power boost… Or she might end up with a head that's exploding because horns have to be just so and trying to use it caused critical feedback damage.

    "I'm not an expert on equine medicine, but I can get hold of people who are. Failing that, I can have people look into ways to bypass the problem."

    "Bypass a broken horn?"

    "Some sort of functional prosthetic? Thaumoconductive crystal? I don't know; I hire people with that sort of specialist knowledge. I just read the summaries."

    "The Storm King says he can fix it."

    "Is he an expert on equine medicine?"

    "I doubt it. But he's powerful."

    "Power is nothing without application. If he can't do it himself, then the best he can do is call upon the same experts that I can. And I can do that. But if you want a down payment..?"

    She thinks for a moment, then nods cautiously.

    Alright, crack-mending it is. "You might experience a moment of disorientation and pain. Try to keep your horn activity to a minimum."

    She goes completely still and my eyes light up under my hood. Ah yes, she wants this rather badly, doesn't she? Beams of orange light shoot from my eyes and pass over each of the cracks, reconnecting damaged segments. She twitches very slightly when I replace a chip, but is otherwise completely stoic.

    Hm. And done. I blink as the beams cut out, and she turns to look into the mirror behind the bar. It takes her a moment to spot the difference and she hides her excitement quickly… But I spotted it. She tries channelling a little power through it, and while it's still sparkly she does manage a normal -if weak- aura for a moment.

    "So? You onboard?"

    She cuts off her glow and nods. "Yes sir. Where are we bound?"

    "Equestria, naturally."

    She frowns. "Eques-? Who are you?"

    Well, I've found my mare and I'll be leaving shortly. I don't need to hide any longer. I take a step back from the bar and subspace my cloak, making sure to open my wings slightly as I do so. The barroom behind me goes silent and Tempest's eyes widen very slightly.

    Then she snaps out of it. "Yes sir. My men and I will be ready to move within the hour."

    "Good show. I'll arrange transportation. Assemble outside as soon as you're ready."
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2020
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    32nd Nachgeheim 2512
    Mid morning


    "Master? Why is everyone so quiet?"

    Meister Glook spares the blind youth carrying his standard a kindly smile. "They're overjoyed that we've reached our destination, boy. The stonework here has to be seen to be believed; it's struck them quite dumb."

    On the howdah behind me Aranei Soulflenser rolls her eyes, futilely fanning her face with her fan. "It's… Large."

    I always thought that Dark Elf names were trying too hard, but apparently they sound better in druhir.

    "Nothing compared to the slave-wrought wonders of Naggaroth, I'm sure."

    "Slave-dwarf-wrought, slave-human-cleaned. This sand gets... Everywhere!"

    "Hah!" Meister Glook holds his right arm high for his men to see, then drops it forward as he spurs his mount. His Desert Dogs take up his challenge, geeing their mounts to accelerate into the necropolis ahead.

    Aranei sighs as they race away, then turns to make doe eyes at me. "My lord, might I prevail upon you to free me from this most distasteful sand? I would be…" She licks her lips. "Ever so grateful."

    I take a look at the open gate ahead of us and command my mount forward. The Construct Lantern mammoth is nothing like as fast as the Desert Dogs' horses, but Meister Glook advised that if I wanted to be seen as important a stately procession was more appropriate than pure haste.

    "There is little point until we are inside, but once we are I will make sure that you are presentable before our audience."

    Aranei's attitude is hardly surprising. Since I rewrote the.. less than social desire-sets of my Dark Elf prisoners, they've been.. extremely eager to please me. Or maybe this is just a part of their culture? I've felt somewhat self-conscious about asking the few High Elves I've met so far about that sort of thing, particularly given what else I've asked of them.

    "How jealous I am that the favour of a dead woman can compel you to cross continents."

    "You know perfectly well why we're here."

    "My own people have no love for the chaos gods. If you treated with them as you treated with Lord Barblash's reavers, your greatness would only be magnified by your possession of a people truly worthy of you." She looks up at the walls surrounding us, sighting the ranks of armoured skeletons staring blankly across the desert. "Unlike these... Mindless... Things."

    "It will be some time before I am ready to treat with the Witch King." About the same time Thurgun finishes my gromril armour with that nifty anti-magic master rune we found in Karak Azgal. Or maybe later. "And I do truly appreciate your people's service to me. Yours especially." Her face lights up with delight. It's true that in combat I mostly use her as a scroll-caddie, but magic is one of the few things around here I can't just blast through and that makes her essential to my ongoing wellbeing.

    Hm. The city of Lybaras is.. dead. Its people are -for the most part- animated skeletons with little to no will of their own. Not that any of this was supposed to happen; the Tomb Kings and Queens were self-interested but there's very little point ruling anything if there's no one around capable of revering you for it. Now, I watch a naked skeleton mime the actions of putting damp cloth on a washing line when in reality both cloth and line have long since gone to dust. Another sits at an empty market stall in an empty market, selling nothing to nobody. My limited understanding of the magics employed tell me that a Liche Priest or Tomb Prince could.. order them to 'wake up' from acting out scenes from their lives, to actually think about what they're doing. But in these troubled times they spend their time either with other intelligent undead or with their military forces.

    Aranei carefully stands and walks across the howdah to sit at my side, following my gaze to look down at the later peasantry of Nehekhara. I wonder what she makes-?

    "But how do they whip them if they can't feel the pain? The whole situation is completely futile."

    Ah.

    I can see the Grand Temple of Asaph up ahead, and.. since the gates were open I'm going to assume that someone intelligent is keeping tabs on our progress up the city's main thoroughfare. Hm. Looking up, I see a small flight of those undead vultures the Nehekharans like so much. A Liche Priest looking through their eyes, perhaps? Regardless, if I'm to establish myself as a powerful figure a full procession is probably in order and the half dozen construct mammoths forming my baggage train are hardly sufficient.

    And this is one of the few places in the world I can do it without having anyone try to burn me as a necromancer.

    Aranei's eyes glow in wonder as I raise my left hand and release my Construct Lanterns to form ranks before and behind me. Beastmen gathered during my purge of the Drakwald Forest appear first, followed by goblins and skaven from my campaign in the World's Edge Mountains. I compel them to march in perfect lockstep, entirely contrary to their nature. Closest to the mammoth I call a handful of daemons who didn't have the sense to flee from the material realm once their bodies started turning orange. Tidied up plaguebearers for the most part, with a small unit of steed-mounted daemonettes… Yes, that should be sufficient.

    Aranei takes me lowering my left hand as a sign that she can press up against my right side. "It's a such a shame that you don't let them out more often, my lord."

    "I do want people to see me as powerful. I don't want them terrified. Terrified people make stupid decisions."

    She looks mildly exasperated. "Not even a little terror?"

    "That's not how I'm choosing to work with my current group of allies."

    She… I'm reasonably confident that she can disagree with me, but a combination of her ring-compelled loyalty and her upbringing makes her unwilling to flat out tell me to my face that she knows better. But these people have been long-familiar with tyrants and monsters. If I'm going to see my goals recognised, I need to be more than that.

    Far ahead, a few of the Desert Dogs look back at the source of the stamping behind them and I see the fear on their faces as they dig their spurs in. Meister Glook sits up slightly as they ride past him and then looks back himself.

    I can just about see him laughing. Public school in Marienburg must be crazy.

    I sit back a little as the Temple slowly draws nearer.

    On an upper balcony I see skeleton warriors march out from the temple's interior, carrying banners and musical instruments. Below, Meister Glook comes to a halt before the entrance and is directing his men around to the side of the temple, out of the path of my constructs' advance. An instruction which seems to relieve them greatly.

    Boom. Boom-boom boom. Boom. Boom-boom boom.

    The skeletons begin beating their drums in perfect unison as my vanguard moves into the plaza before the Temple and spreads out to the left and right. But it isn't until my mammoth steps into the plaza that the woman I am here to see steps out from the shadows.

    I have the ring magnify my vision so that I can precisely judge her physical state. That's usually a rough guide to the mental state of a Tomb King; the more decayed they are the more out of it they're likely to be. In her case… Her wrappings appear to be in good repair, and her gold and blue ornaments appear to be intact. She's wearing a fan-shaped headdress, an ornate belt with a scarab belt buckle and a.. semi armoured ruff/shoulder armour thing. Her face is.. covered in a mask, but the mask appears to have been damaged on the left side. I can see her bare skull beneath it. Hm. A little worrying that she hasn't simply had it repaired… Her outfit is completed by a blue cloak which is attached to her shoulder armour and arms and a.. sort of open-at-the-front mini-skirt of the same material. She's also carrying her asp-tipped staff of office, which she hands to an attendant as she takes her seat at the front of the balcony.

    In her wake, the lesser Tomb Princes, Princesses and Liche Priests file in. The Priest hovering on her left side must be the local Hierophant, as the other Priests stay well back. My mammoths are nearing the front of the plaza now, and I make a point of maintaining direct eye… Eye-to-enchanted eye socket contact with her. Though she no longer has the capacity for facial expression, her completely still pose gives me no way to even try and guess what she's thinking about this whole thing.

    My mammoth stops at the front of the plaza, and I wait.

    After a moment or two a Tomb Prince wearing more robes than armour steps up beside his sovereign.

    "Bow, pilgrims, bow before the Wisdom of Asaph made flesh, the Voice of the Vengeful, the Lioness of the Hills, She Whose Legions Blot Out the Sun With Their Arrows, High Queen Khalida, Guardian of Damned Lahmia, the Watchful Soul and the Serpent Queen. Kneel, so that you might bask in her radiance!"

    I stand, bringing Aranei up with me by taking hold of her left hand with my right. Next, I hold up my own left hand and command every one of my construct Lanterns -save for the mammoths- to kneel. Once they're all down, I bow from the waist and persuade Aranei to do the same with a slight tug on her hand.

    "Your majesty. Thank you for receiving me."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    32nd Nachgeheim 2512
    Early afternoon


    Prince Ahmose leads us towards the throne room, an escort of Tomb Guard marching in perfect time beside us. Meister Glook is taking the whole thing in his stride, though none of his men wanted to enter any of Lybaras' structures. For some reason Aranei can't seem to stop stroking the hilt of her dagger. I'm not sure what she thinks it would do; the locals don't have vulnerable points.

    "Ambassador."

    Before I arrived, I had wondered what the voice of someone without any obvious physical way of forming words would sound like. Would it be raspy? Whispery? Would their teeth click together as they talk? No, none of that. They don't move their mouths as they speak, and aside from a slight echo their voices are quite normal. According to Meister Glook, Prince Ahmose is speaking reasonable Reikspiel and as such is probably their official ambassador. It's all German to me, and I don't remember anything like enough of GCSE German to try conversing in it unaided myself.

    "Your highness?"

    "Explain the magic you are using upon your party."

    The orange glow is rather obvious.

    "A translation spell. Neither myself nor my colleagues speak High Nehekharan." Meister Glook does speak a couple of modern Nehekharan languages, but I doubt that the Queen would sully her lip-wrappings with them. "Will her majesty find it objectionable?"

    "No. Some of Nehekhara's rulers would, but our Queen has stated that she is quite interested in your embassy. As such, I suspect that she will be more curious than offended. I will however caution you to do no more than that without her express authorisation."

    "Of course. I thank you for your warning."

    He leads us around a corner, turning away from the surprisingly intact guest quarters and towards the throne room. At the end of the corridor there's a thunk as the Tomb Guard protecting the doors to the throne room itself move as one from a 'rest' to a 'guard' position.

    Prince Ahmose's eyes glow as he raises his right hand. "By the authority of our Queen, rest."

    Their eyes glow faintly, then they step back to their rest positions. Prince Ahmose then strides up to the bronze-covered doors and knocks three times, the dull ringing sounding through the room. Another thing about the undead: they're a lot stronger than I thought they'd be. A living creature's strength comes from its muscles after all, and they don't have any. But Nehekhara's aristocrats derive their strength from the spells binding their souls to their corpses rather than any of their physical attributes; Prince Ahmose is far stronger now than he would have been in life.

    A moment passes, and then the doors swing open.

    Queen Khalida's throne is a.. relatively modest affair, though the wall behind it is clearly designed to draw attention to that part of the room. Designs in gold and bronze show scenes from mythology -or perhaps history- relating to the goddess Asaph and her champion. A small group of Tomb Guard stand in the corners of the room front and back, available but clearly not involved in the affairs of their betters.

    Several skeletons stand near their queen as attendants. Though they're dressed they don't appear to have been granted mummification, so they were probably personal assistants, scribes and handmaidens in life. At her left hand stands the Hierophant, two lesser Liche Priests in turn standing a little back from him. In her right hand she holds her staff. Just before her throne stand her two personal guard… They aren't Tomb Guards; those are Tomb Princes. The wrappings and faintly glowing sigils on the armour and swords are a giveaway.

    Towards the sides of the room the roof is supported by pillars, and between them stand large snake statues. They're patterned after the asp rather than the more common cobra design, but I've no doubt that if the queen ever came under attack that they would animate and smash the assailant to pieces just as surely. The 'animated statue' part of the Tomb King list came well after I stopped being interested in Warhammer so I'm not precisely sure how dangerous they are. Fortunately, I have no need to find out.

    Prince Ahmose marches forward before coming to a halt a respectful distance from the throne. Then he falls to his knees before planting his face upon the floor.

    "Rise, my herald."

    Prince Ahmose lifts his torso, though he remains kneeling. "Oh High Queen Khalida, Wisdom of Asaph made flesh, the Voice of the Vengeful, the Lioness of the Hills, She Whose Legions Blot Out the Sun With Their Arrows, Guardian of Damned Lahmia, the Watchful Soul and the Serpent Queen. I bring to you the ambassador of the Reikland Empire."

    I take that as my signal to bow, and Aranei and Meister Glook follow suit without prompting. It was interesting to know that most countries who have any dealings with the Empire call it that, much to the consternation of everyone outside of Reikland. Especially since 'reikland' literally just means 'empire place'. Which means that 'reikland empire' means 'empire place empire'.

    "Paol, the Orange Lantern, cleanser of the Drakwald and scourge of the World's Edge Mountains."

    Queen Khalida tilts her staff slightly, and Prince Ahmose takes that as his signal to rise fully. He then bows to the throne and carefully backs away and to the side.

    "Ambassador. You may rise."

    I straighten.

    "High Queen Khalida. I bring you greetings from Emperor Karl Franz of the Reikland Empire-" Who is a surprisingly nice fellow. "-and from High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer of the Dwarfs-" Who is about what you'd expect. "-and King Louen Leoncoeur of Bretonnia-" Who is.. not the easiest person to have a civil conversation with, no matter how close a friend of his son you are. "-and Phoenix King Finubar the Seafarer of Ulthuan-" Or.. his ambassador to the Empire, anyway. "-and from Tzar Boris Bokha of Kislev." Ambassador again. Katarin isn't on the throne yet… Or.. perhaps I've already changed something? There is a Wood Elf ambassador in Altdorf, but after she ordered her bodyguard to shoot me I decided not to bother.

    I take my scroll of authority out of my belt and holding it out. An attendant skeleton walks over, takes it with a bow and then takes it to the Hierophant. He inspects it for a moment -we included as near as we could to a High Nehekharan translation- and then nods.

    Queen Khalida inclines her head very slightly to look at me. "I am surprised that such sovereigns would send an ambassador here, much less that they would do so together."

    "Your majesty, in that part of the world… If something remains animate after its death, it is without exception due to the work of vampires or the disciples of.. He Who Shall Not Be Named. Though I know full well that such beings are your enemies as much of ours, that knowledge is not common. I came here because I wish to demonstrate the distinction to my masters, between intelligent beings such as yourselves and the monsters we have become all too accustomed to dealing with."

    She doesn't move at all as she considers my answer.

    "I thank your masters for their greetings and return them in kind. In particular, send my regards to the ruler of the Reikland, the heir of the man who struck down He Who Shall Not Be Named."

    "It will be my pleasure to do so, your majesty."

    "In your letters, you spoke of a grand alliance. Your masters have sent you to ask me to join. For what reason? There is no good route by land or by sea from Lybaras to their lands."

    "Because of all of the rulers of Nehekhara, you are reputed to be the most… With the greatest respect to-."

    "Because being undead has maddened me less." Something shows on my face. "The manias of my fellow kings and queens are not unknown to me."

    "And while the mind of High King Settra the Imperishable is entirely whole, I felt that the chance of him treating with foreign rulers was.. minimal."

    "An accurate judgement. But that does not explain why."

    "There is something I want very much. And I believe that the best way of getting it is to encourage cooperation between all civilised people in the world. Nehekhara is the oldest human civilisation, and even now your learning in many fields outstrips that of other human nations. If we cannot aid one another with armies, we can aid one another with knowledge and agreements to respect one another's territory and property. I have -as a gift for you- books from the Imperial College of Engineers and from the Light Order. In addition, from me personally…"

    I pull a small bag from my belt and hold it out. Another attendant walks over, takes it from me and then walks back to the throne before opening it and holding the opening out to its mistress. She turns her head slightly downwards, stares, then looks up at me.

    "Vampire teeth?"

    "I understand that you have a personal grievance against their kind. Their owners… I took measures which will make their future resurrections… Difficult."

    With their souls bound to their bodies vampires can't be kept down permanently. However, throwing them into space certainly keeps them out of the way.

    "Well judged." The attendant closes the bag and returns to her place. "Tell me, what is the goal which motivates you?"

    "I want very much to kill the Gods of Chaos."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    32nd Nachgeheim 2512
    Early afternoon


    "I doubt that you are unique in that regard. They are a blight upon the world, and their conquest would result in all things being undone."

    And I can't tell whether she's humouring me or not.

    "How do you intend to realise that goal?"

    "My current plan has some.. fairly large holes in it. Initially, I intend to purge chaotic, vampiric and orcoid areas within the territory of the world's civilised peoples. Once the interior is sufficiently protected, I intend to commission a series of waystones to be built at sites of geomantic significance with the aim of controlling the winds of magic, stopping it flowing in ways useful to chaos and allowing my allies to prevent its use by such people. The elves of Ulthuan and the lizardmen of Lustria already use such techniques in their own territory, and Magister Patriarch Verspasian Kant of the Light College has expressed an interest in the creation of such a network within the Reikland Empire."

    The leading Liche Priest stirs very slightly at that announcement.

    "Obviously, the involvement of either the elves or the slann would be preferable, given the experience they have with such systems. However, the knowledge of the Mortuary Cult in the manipulation of hysh would be invaluable. I'm not sure that the Light College has quite gotten their heads around the idea of the undead being able to use it."

    Queen Khalida turns her head slightly to her left. "Speak, Djubti, lest your ire incite our guards to violence."

    "My queen, quite aside from the madness of attempting to slay the Gods of Chaos in their own realm, this is a transparent attempt to trick us into sharing secrets of the arcane with these primitives."

    "Your reverence, there is no deceit here. I am directly asking you to share your wisdom with the ignorant so that we may all benefit from it. And then only on the subject of hysh manipulation; the secrets of life extension and reanimation are yours to keep and share only with the devout. We both know that the slaves of the Chaos Gods have come to Nehekhara before, and all too often have done so from the lands to the north. It is in all of our interests to stop this."

    "Do not think that I did not see the daemons amongst your own host, charlatan."

    "Ah, those." I turn my head towards Queen Khalida. "May I demonstrate, your majesty?"

    "With caution, ambassador."

    I hold out my left hand and call forth a daemonette. Without any way to transmit their hypnotic glamour they're a lot less physically appealing. It looks more like a skinny transsexual beastman than a succubus.

    "This was once a daemon of Slaanesh. Then it faced me and tried to make me desire it. It failed, and the ring I wear converted every mote of magic in its make up into orange light. I take particular pride in destroying daemons in this way, since each daemon is a fragment of its patron and by doing this I permanently weaken them." Though in an equivalent period they're probably gaining more than that amount of power from their mortal servants. At least I'm reducing the net gain. "Test it, if you will. There is no longer anything of Chaos about it."

    He looks to his queen. She nods. He raises his right hand, skeletal fingers half-clenched as he calls the wind of magic to him. For a fraction of a second bands of blinding white light swirl around his fingers, then they unify into a brilliant beam of white light which blasts into my construct.

    And does precisely nothing. I'll give Djubti credit for not staring at his fingers.

    I'm not sure exactly what spell that was. In my day you needed High Magic for Banishment, but Alric made it clear to me that that isn't the case in reality. If-.

    Djubti raises both hands, and his acolytes do the same, all chanting words so magic-infused that the ring can't translate them for me. The general tone sounds like ancient Nehekharan, though the intonation is different to the versions I've heard before. This time I'm forced to shield my eyes with my hands as the light blasts forth… Again, to no effect.

    "Satisfied, your reverence?"

    His teeth click against one another. "Your majesty, it is free of all Chaotic influence. What it is, I cannot say."

    "Could it be that he can do as he says?"

    "It is conceivable. The sites of all cities in Nehekhara were chosen with geomantic considerations in mind; it does not surprise me to learn that the barbarians to the north were less discerning. Creating an alignment over a larger area would benefit all those who exist under its aegis. But it would not kill a Chaos God; merely reduce their influence."

    "Of course not. That's just stage one."

    The queen regards me curiously. "Then what would you do next?"

    "Rebuild the Old One's polar gates, and so restrict the flow of the winds of magic to the world."

    Djubti's eyes flare. "You do not have that knowledge!"

    I hold up my hands in a placatory gesture. "True. Quite true. But I can hope that the slann do, and if they don't… Anything that can be discovered can be rediscovered. In the north, we're.. so used to thinking of the realms of chaos to the far north and south as being infinite, and their internal dimensions are. But measured around the sides, or from above? It's not all that big. I believe that they grew out from the site of the gates above the world, and that if we push them back far enough we may learn more. This is why the leaders of nations sponsored me to come here; they are used to fighting to survive a year, a decade… I have been able to convince them that ultimate victory is possible; that the permanent extinction-" The daemonette vanishes and the ring dims. "-of our greatest enemies is possible. That though it may be far off, there exists a path we may walk towards it. Peace, prosperity, and a world without monsters."

    "Tell me, your majesty: what does ultimate victory look like for you? For the people of Nehekhara?"

    "I would see vampire kind extinguished."

    "You will find few in the north who would not see that as a good thing. The Lahmians, the von Carsteins, the Necrarchs and the Blood Dragons all assail the lands to the north, and I promise that any knowledge you share of how to fight them will be most eagerly put to use. Furthermore, all information collected by my masters would be available to you in turn. I-. The Emperor of Reikland has.. seen fit to grant parole to certain vampires living within his lands in exchange for saving his life. But they are very few in number. Certainly, Neferata's death would be met with nought but celebration."

    "I would see all of the treasures looted from our lands returned to us."

    "We can make that a part of any trading relationship. Not.. that you should have to trade for things stolen from you, but my masters don't keep track of everything brought into their lands. Locating artefacts will be a time consuming business, but well worth it to maintain an alliance."

    "We would seek to be restored to the flesh which Nagash the Great Betrayer denies to us."

    "I believe that all things are eventually possible. I can restore your-" Cross fingers. "-mask now, if you would like? And flesh…" This is tricky. "I will try and be as plain as I can. I have no idea how to transfer the magics binding your spirit to your mortal remains to anything else. However, it is well within my abilities to cover the bones of.. any of you, in flesh. Living flesh, as near as possible to what you had in life."

    Djubti's eyes flare again. "Insane kings have wrapped themselves in stolen flesh before. All it does is draw carrion and the gods' wrath."

    "Your majesty, it may be easiest for me to demonstrate? If I could have a volunteer, and if the venerable Mortuary Priest could watch closely?"

    Queen Khalida raises her left hand, and one of her -check the shoulder to waist ratio- handmaidens walks forward and stops just in front of me. "Have a care, ambassador. My patience is not limitless."

    I close my eyes, focusing on my desire to bring people together through my actions, to unify and strike back against the monstrosities using this world as their playground. My desire to heal the woman before me. I focus on the intact genetic code in her bones and how it compares to those of modern Nehekharans, the precise structure of her skull and how the muscles and fat and skin would lie on it. I float into the air, both hands held out towards her as the ring begins to create flesh from orange energy. Organs appear to precipitate out of the air, held in place by orange light. Next, connective tissues, muscle, fat, veins and arteries, blood, skin and-. Ah. clothes. A thought and a heart beats in her chest for the first time in centuries, another and her organs start oozing their enzymes. One last checkGood.

    Not perfect. Her eyes are still vacant, her brain… It's in pristine condition but there's nothing going on.

    I lower myself to the ground with a shrug. "That is the best I can do, majesty. Perhaps the priesthood or.. others, can improve upon my work, but-."

    "Djubti, you are to begin the study of this at once."

    "Yes, my queen." He raises his right hand again and the handmaiden turns and heads for a side exit, followed by him and his aides.

    I look to Queen Khalida. "I hope I have not offended?"

    "I am very far from offended. For the first time since I awoke to this new life I can believe that perhaps the promises of the Liche Priests may still be fulfilled in full. I will tell you now that I am most interested in pursuing an alliance with your masters. More than that, I wish to reward you personally as well. Is there some gift which I could bestow upon you?"

    "There is… One thing, but… I don't know enough about Nehekharan culture or your particular religious oaths to know whether I can ask without causing great offence to you, which is the farthest thing from my desires."

    "Ask. I will not be offended."

    "Your majesty… Are you free to marry?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Afternoon
    Equestria


    "Grayven!"

    I grin as Lightning Dust enthusiastically demonstrates the deployment of a tactical gale on the Canterlot guard contingent and Sunset struggles towards me with a flickering cyan bubble shield protecting her from the worst of it.

    "Yes?"

    "What…" She looks at me, then the guard, then the billowing clouds, then back at m-.

    I step back as an earth pony guard sails past and slams into a wall. Quick check… No, just some bruises.

    Sunset stares at his slumped and groaning form, then stares at me.

    "What?"

    "Okay, so Luna and I dealt with my Anti-Life problem, and-."

    "You did? The-." She frowns. "Did Twilight-?"

    "No. Luna broke into my dream, accidentally released the Anti-Life fragment, we found the harmony within ourselves-" Hah! "-as well as connections to the emotional spectrum... And we blasted the thing with giant beams of light and no more Anti-Life."

    She's looking at me as if she's not sure if I'm taking the Mickey. Or possibly about to explode.

    "I did a song and everything. Rhyming couplets verses and a rhyming quintuplet chorus."

    She rolls her eyes. "Well if you did a song then clearly there's no more problem."

    "Right, exactly. Oh, I meant to ask: can you move the sun?"

    She glances up at as much of it as can be seen through the clouds. "Not.. yet."

    "No, I mean… As part of a group effort or what have you. I heard the hearthwarming story, about how unicorns used to-" She's shaking her head. "-control the sun and moon without alicorn aid. I thought that you might know the theory."

    "I never found anything that said that story was more than a myth. In.. theory? A group of normal ponies could do it. Alicorns are more powerful than regular ponies, but only by about two orders of magnitude. If they knew how and they could all work together perfectly… But I don't know how to do it, it would take a while to work it out if Celestia is as helpful as she usually is and… Frankly, I'd rather turn this system into a nice simple heliocentric system rather than get up before dawn every day."

    I smile affectionately as a pegasus guard moonwalks past us.

    "That's my girl. Looking for permanent solutions to problems everyone else treats as intractable."

    "Agk." She closes her eyes for a moment and holds up her right forehoof and points it at me. "This. All of this, with the guards. Why is it happening?"

    "I offered Luna my help in becoming Celestia's equal in fact as well as theory. I thought that helping the guard become relevant would be a good way to achieve that."

    "And… How is them fighting a mock battle with the Canterlot Weather Service supposed to achieve that?"

    "Oh, this isn't the Canterlot Weather Service. This is one pony." I generate a construct megaphone. "Okay, Lightning Dust! Give them all a break!"

    The winds keep blowing for a moment, then the clouds start evaporating. It takes a good deal longer then ten seconds, but gradually the blustering dies down.

    Moonwalking pony collapses, panting, as Lightning Dust drops out of the sky to stand smugly next to me.

    "These guys are supposed to be the Royal Guard?"

    I nod. "I know, right?"

    "I mean, I wasn't expecting the Wonderbolts or anything-."

    "The Wonderbolts are a display team who are currently zero for two against the major fights they actually turned up for. I hope to do a little better."

    She cocks her head to the left. "Zero for two?"

    "They fought an infant dragon who had a magical growth spurt and he trapped them in a water tower, and they-"

    "Hah hah!"

    "-charged Tirek head on and got drained just like everyone else who tried that." I look at her as she snorts in amusement at her former idols' failings. "How is it that you know so much about weather? I wouldn't have thought the subject had much to do with aerobatics."

    "It doesn't, but I had to make a living somehow." She looks around to where the guardsponies are picking themselves up from wherever they ended up. "Think they're ready to go again yet?"

    "This was more of a demonstration session. We'll have to work out a lesson plan before you go again."

    She looks dubious. "I'm… Not really big on paperwork."

    "Are you big on unemployment? Because after the stunts you pulled in Wonderbolt training you're unlikely to be invited back. And a conviction for a weather-related offence makes you returning to your former employment in brushland firefighting… Improbable."

    Her eyes narrow. "Are you threatening me?"

    "Gosh, no. You've upheld your end of the agreement; go with my blessing. If someone hires you or if you start your own enterprise, great! Maybe it'll keep you out of trouble. But if you want a job here then there's going to be paperwork. The aim is to force these ponies to improve, not merely to laugh at their ineptitude."

    A degree of the fight appears to leave her. She looks away. "Yeah."

    Tempest gets the rest of the guard organised and they start clearing away some of the debris around the training field.

    Hm…

    "Sunset, how's your setting up going?"

    "All ready. I've gotten a few things I was planning on showing the guard." She looks around. "Maybe after they've recovered a little."

    "When's Celestia getting back?"

    "Late evening. I've got time to deliver a lecture before she gets here. What else are you up to?"

    "Lightning Dust's presence is proving rather instructive as to the destructive potential of the pegasus ponies. I've got Tempest over there to handle unicorns. That leaves earth ponies."

    Sunset shakes her head. "I told you: there aren't any earth ponies in Equestria who know how to use earth pony magic."

    Hm. "How true is the hearthwarming myth?"

    "Which part?"

    "The migration. Luna implied that it was at least partially true, but…"

    "Ah… Maybe? History wasn't really my subject, but as far as I remember there's a definite pattern of settlement from the north heading south. And there's no fossil record of cave ponies or anything like that, so unless we were created by some ancient wizard our ancestors probably came over the pole at some point."

    I nod.

    "So there could be other ponies on the other side of the planet?"

    Lightning Dust frowns. "Wouldn't the windigos have just frozen them all?"

    Sunset shakes her head. "There's never been a confirmed sighting of a windigo. And even if the Hearth's Warming story is true, the windigos followed our ancestors to Equestria. If there was anyone left behind and they survived the cold until the windigos were destroyed, they would probably have managed just fine." She looks at me. "You think there might be ponies over there who know earth pony magic."

    "Yep. And it certainly can't hurt to check."

    Boom!

    "Wanna come with me?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
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