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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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    Somewhere
    over the rainbow


    The three of us stare down from the stony ridgeline into the wide valley below. Actually, I'm not sure at what point a land formation stops being a valley and starts being a plain that just happens to have hills on either side. This was clearly carved out by the actions of the river: land worn away by the constant flow of water, then levelled by successive patterns of annual flooding. It would probably make for good farmland, but I can't see any of the patterns that I'd associate with ordered fields. On the other hand I can see plumes of smoke.

    Lightning Dust flaps into the air, then half-closes her eyes.

    "Wild weather. Not like the Everfree, but nopony's doing weather management."

    I look up at her. "You know that's just pony obsessive compulsive disorder, right?"

    She looks down. "Huh?"

    "Most species don't bother regulating the weather. Outside of stopping tornados or the most powerful storms there isn't really much benefit to what Equestria does. Ponies just do it because they freak out if everything isn't just so."

    Lightning Dust pulls a face at the insult, but after a moment she looks a little more contemplative.

    "Huh. So what you're saying is, the ponies here would pay me whatever I want to fix their weather for them."

    I smile. "You're pretty quick on the uptake. Of course, we don't know that there are any ponies-"

    Sunset's horn glows for a moment, then a… Band of cyan races across the landscape.

    "-here. Hm. Sunset, do we know if there are any ponies here?"

    She nods. "Definitely ponies. And… I'm not sure… But I think this is Dream Valley."

    "Was that a satnav spell?"

    She rolls her eyes. "I tried studying ancient history to see if I could find anything about earth pony magic.. I never found any maps, but there was a poem that was supposed to predate the Exodus and it had a.. poetic description of Dream Castle."

    "And your spell found it?"

    "I think we're standing on it." I look down and fail to see a castle. "What's left of it, anyway. The Exodus was at least twelve hundred years ago."

    I frown. Now I look again there is a surprising degree of regularity in some of the stones around us. "A castle made of stone shouldn't completely collapse that quickly."

    "It would if it went through an ice age. Or if it was frozen by windigos."

    "Or if the locals pulled it down."

    Sunset frowns. "Why would they do that?"

    "Well, I'm only working off the oral history version here, but weren't earth ponies kind of the underclass? Exploited by the more martial pegasus ponies and unicorn ponies?"

    "I always thought that was a dramatic oversimplification of…" She looks around. "Where'd Lightning Dust go?"

    I look up and follow the turquoise and orange streak across the sky.

    "That way."

    "Buh-! Gkh?! Does she even speak Ancient Equish?"

    "Probably not. Hang o-"

    Sunset Shimmer glows cyan for a moment, then vanishes.

    "-n." I spend a moment alone on the plateau. "Ring, scan for them."

    "Subjects located."

    And… Luna said that she and Celestia ascended post migration. That snapshot of her foalhood I saw strongly implied that they were born post-Exodus. And there weren't any older alicorns around, so.. it's possible that the local ponies haven't ever seen an alicorn before. They may well not know that they exist.

    "Show me."

    A construct image forms of… A tent settlement. It looks like they're either setting up or breaking camp. They have some large wagons pulled by.. other ponies, and some are laden with large logs. For trading, perhaps? Lightning Dust is flitting around, but none of them seem all that bothered by her. Then Sunset appears and that causes a few to back off rather sharply.

    I should probably put in an appearance. Boom tube might be a bit loud, but I can't see…

    Some of those ponies are armed.

    Mother Box.

    Ping.

    Boom!

    I trot through the portal as a couple of rough-looking types with crampon-horseshoes size her up. They're half a head taller than her, which means that if I stood over them then their ears might tickle my stomach. They lose interest in her as soon as the tube opens, and they adopt a noticeably more defensive posture when they see me.

    "Mornin', lads."

    "Hu 're yuh, jimmeh?"

    Oh, by the Source, they're Scottish. Or.. rather, my rings have decided that their dialect is the equivalent of Glaswegian English. I could override it, but this way at least I can tell the difference between ponies who are speaking Modern Equish and the ponies speaking this dialect.

    "Name's Grayven. My companions and I are new to these lands and we're having a bit of an explore. Might I ask your names?"

    They both regard me cautiously for a moment, before the one with a dull green pelt decides that since I'm unlikely to be a fairy there's no harm in telling me his name.

    "Hoof Stompah." He lifts up his right forehoof as if to demonstrate, then considers me and thinks better of it. He nods at Sunset. "What kinda gabbeh comin' oota har mouth?"

    "That's not Ancient Equish." Sunset sounds a little disgruntled. "I don't know what language that is."

    "She's speaking a form of Equish which I suspect is derived from the old unicorn dialect." Because the printing press was a unicorn invention and there's nothing like a printing press for enforcing linguistic consistency. Over a thousand years, a form of the language that was from a different dialect anyway could end up sounding very different. "Could you possibly tell us where are we?"

    "Ware yeh tank?" Hoof Stomper looks around, and I notice that we're drawing a degree of curiosity. "Ponyland."

    "Hey, Grayven." Lightning Dust lands next to me. "Ask them where the pegasi live. I wanna see if they've got cloud castles."

    "Actually." Sunset looks around. "I don't see any unicorns, eith-. No, wait, there's one."

    Hoof Stomper's friend steps aside as a senior-looking unicorn mare walks through the circle of rubberneckers. The two 'bruisers' adopt a deferential posture as she approaches, looking up at me.

    "Yeh cam a wey, A'm thankin'."

    About two fifths of the way around the planet, but only about a minute.

    "Some way."

    "A'll get a bru an. Yi'kin tell mah awol aboot at."

    She turns and trots away, and Sunsets gives me an interrogative look.

    "I think we're meant to follow her."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Probably
    mid-afternoon by now


    Scrivener passes plain clay cups filled with what smells like blackcurrant tea to Sunset and I, while Lightning Dust is walking around the large yurt and looking at things.

    "Ask her why aren't there more unicorns?" Lightning Dust looks around with a raised right eyebrow at Sunset's question. "And.. pegasi. I just asked because she's a unicorn."

    "You could just ask me yerself, gurul."

    Still got an accent, but it's less strong. I'm going to assume that she's switched languages.

    "Oh."

    Scrivener smiles at her. "I'm the tribe's scribe, dearie. Learning other folks' languages is part o' the job. Now, where are-" She levitates a map out of a chest and floats it over to us before unrolling it. "-yuh all from?"

    After a second or two I spot the valley we're in, but the scale isn't anything like large enough to encompass Equestria's territory. Sunset studies the map, then lights up her horn to cause a glowing point to appear.

    "If we're here now, we came from-"

    Another glowing dot appears, this one on the other side of the tent just in front of Lightning Dust.

    "-over there. The other side of the northern pole. Our history says that our ancestors came from-"

    Scrivener's eyes widen. "The Exodus!"

    "-here-. Yes, exactly!" Sunset smiles. "Understandably, we don't have particularly good written records of that period of our history. I'm sure that our historians would be very interested in reading yours."

    "Ah. Reading?"

    "Yes, your history books." Her face falls slightly. "You do.. have books, don't you?"

    "Ah… Yes, a few. But most of our history is kept in the spoken word. We move around too much to carry with us things we don't need to live."

    "Oh yeah." Lightning Dust nods. "I totally get that."

    Sunset appears to be having some difficulty with the idea. "… Okay. So… Our history says that the three tribes were fighting amongst-."

    "Three tribes?"

    "Unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies."

    "Well I don't know about that. Our history says that the ole unicorn and pegasi were more internally unified than that. No tribes, just a breed, all together."

    "Yes, that's-. You mean, earth ponies were divided into tribal groups?"

    "I can't say fer certain, y' understand. I only know the groups who didn't go with the chieftain. Honestly, we mostly thought that the whole lot o' them died. How is et that they survived?"

    "Ah, short version? Given the choice between working together and dying in a frozen wasteland, they made the smart choice."

    "Golly. I think that maybe our history's a bit hard on 'em. Now, you wanted to know why there aren't all that many unicorns around?" Sunset nods. "Simple, really. When Princess Platinum decreed that the unicorns were leaving, they all left. Not alla them wanted to, but they knew that there weren't going to be enough left to lord it over us." She leans forward slightly. "And we're not above stickin' the hoof in, if you know what ah mean."

    Sunset nods uncertainly.

    "The pegasi were an army. They got an order, they went. But the tribes…"

    "Some tribes just disobeyed Chancellor Puddinghead?"

    "Chancellor? What's a chancellor?"

    Time to contribute. "From Cancellarius, meaning a court usher or guard."

    "Puddunhead was no' a guard. That is, she probably started as a guard, but by the time she led the Exodus she was Chief of the Tribes. But a lot of the tribes -particularly the ones who weren't settled in any one place- didn'a want to leave. No' permanently, anyroad."

    "They disobeyed their chief?"

    "The Chief is Chief at the sufferance o' the tribes. Most thought it was just a hard winter, or the pegasi being decks."

    "'Decks'?"

    Scrivener widens her eyes. "Decks. Making a whole pestle o' snow and droppin' it on us. So some tribes left and some tribes stayed, an' when the weather got bettar, we though we did the right thang."

    Sunset takes that in, then nods. "So there aren't many unicorns or pegasi because almost everypony who stayed was an earth pony, and there would only be enough non-earth pony genes for a few foals a generation."

    Scrivener nods. "Unicorns usually work as scribes and history-keepers. Pegasi work as scoots."

    "That sounds boring." Lightning Dust tosses her head dismissively. "If you're still here after thousands of years then you've clearly 'scooted' it all before."

    "And…" Scrivener looks up at me. "What breed are you, big fellah?"

    "That's… A complicated one. Short answer: if you shove enough magic from all three breeds into one pony, they get really powerful and take on the traits of all three breeds."

    "Are there a lot like you in this.. 'Equestria'?"

    "Currently, five, but we're working on increasing that."

    Sunset coughs and then clears her throat.

    "She's working on increasing that. But the main reason why we're here…"

    Sunset nods. "My special talent is magic, and-."

    "And mine's flying fast and kicking tail."

    I stare levelly at her. "And perhaps in future you'll remember to focus that aspect on enemies of the state, not its greatest heroines?"

    "-AND I've always been interested in earth pony magic. But in Equestria, earth ponies don't really.. do anything? There's a small effect when they grow plants, but it's far less than a plant-growing unicorn would be able to do with their magic. I was hoping that some knowledge of how earth pony magic worked survived-" She looks over to the chests. There aren't a lot of them. "-here."

    "Oh, it surely has. Earth pony magics are just the thang for lacertomancy, floramancy, geomancy and hex breaking. We've a journeyman lacertomancer with us now, if'n you want to meet him."

    Sunset blinks, then smiles excitedly. "Lacertomancer?"

    "Aye. Making themselves right strong and tough, yeh ken?"

    "And.. they're a 'journeyman'?"

    "It's like you seid; your special talent is magic. Mine is remembering things. All earth ponies know the basics o' the craft, but I dinnae think you'll be wanting that. You'll be wantin' an expert. We dinnae have one o' those with us now, but we've got a journeyman. He's been makin' himself useful all summer, then it's off tae Rijekograd for the wrestlin' season."

    Sunset perks up. "Great! So what can he do?"

    Scrivener stands and walks around to the entrance of her yurt. Then she sticks her head outside.

    "He's strong. Let me jus'-. Ah, there's the fellah."

    Sunset looks sceptical, but gamely gets up and follows Scrivener's gaze. "Strong? I'm not.. sure…"

    I get up and go to see what the fuss is about.

    Outside, a single thickset stallion with a dull green pelt and grey mane and tail is pulling a cart. The cart is far taller than him, and has multiple thick wheels-. No, rollers, in order to keep the colossal weight of the thick trunks it's carrying from causing it to sink into the ground. That weight… I could pull it, but any normal pony wouldn't be able to move it an inch. And he's pulling it without much difficulty at all.

    Interesting. I wasn't sure how 'realistic' Cheerilee pulling a house was, but if this is something that earth ponies can do…

    Sunset eyes him hungrily. "That's exactly what I'm looking for. What's his name?"

    "We mostly call him 'Buckface'. Hey, Buckface!"

    'Buckface' looks our way-.

    Ah, 'Buckface'. Yes.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Ponyland
    Afternoon


    Buckface regards us with a look of profound disinterest. It's obvious where his name comes from. His muzzle is… Offset, twisted slightly to the left. Deformity, or the result of an injury? Not sure. Sunset's eyes switch rapidly between him and the load he was pulling, trying to estimate the weight that he was just pulling and perhaps comparing it to what his muscles should allow. Now that I get a closer look at him I can see the slightly uneven pattern of his fur in some places, where old scars and burns have prevented it from growing.

    "Weyt yeh wint?"

    Lightning Dust is looking at Buckface too, but I think she's just checking him out.

    Scrivener frowns at him. "Come on, now. You kin speak their language jes' as weyl and I kin."

    "What af it?"

    "Hi." Sunset smiles. "I'm Sunset Shimmer. I'm from Equestria, the country on the far side of the pole." No obvious reaction. "To the north. Past the yaks."

    "Oh, aye?"

    "Yes! And we don't have anyone who knows earth pony magic. And you -apparently- do."

    His cutie mark is a log-. No. A caber.

    "Oh. Aye."

    "So I was hoping you'd come back with us, and teach other-"

    "No."

    "-pon-." She frowns. "What? Why not?"

    "Masters teach. I in't a master yet."

    "Oh… Kay..? And how do you become a master?"

    He looks at her. Then he looks pointedly at his load. Then he looks back at her.

    "O-. Is that all?" She looks at me. "Grayven, we can get some weights, right?"

    "Yes, I think we can manage some training weights. But Equestrian earth ponies drag trains for training. It saves on coal."

    "Trains?"

    I wouldn't say that Buckface-.

    "Is Buckface your actual name, or is it more of a nickname? I can't believe that your parents actually-."

    "This snoot not gi' yeh a clue, jimmeh?"

    Lightning Dust sniffs. "If you're so tough, how come your muzzle got broken."

    "Dragon."

    "How big a d-?"

    "An' a moontain."

    Lightning Dust looks thoughtful for a moment, then smiles. "This I gotta hear."

    "Fought a dragon. He wus losin', 'til he got a hold a' me and slammed me int' a granite cliff. I thank it wus three ower four times. Then he flew owf."

    "So are we talking a baby dragon, or..?"

    "A mite bigger than that. An' yu." He looks at me. "Ma an' Pa named me Hearthguard. But 'til I get that dragon back but gud, it's 'Buckface'. Now wa's this aboot 'trains'?"

    "They're giant metal carts that run all over the country. Also worth pointing out that there aren't any masters of earth pony magic in Equestria."

    "Eh?"

    "None. It's a forgotten art. There might be one or two who intuit parts from first principles if they're got the right cutie mark, but that's it. No teachers. No masters."

    "How do they gat anythin' dun?"

    Sunsets eyes narrow. "And what do you mean by that?"

    "How d' they fight chaos beasties or move stuff? Nah wee pegapodes or unicorns kin dew at."

    "Oh, can't we?"

    "Ah han'na see it."

    She smiles. "Unhitch yourself for a moment."

    "Tchhaa! Twig a' a thang like yerself?" He jerks himself free of the hitch and steps aside. "Ha' a go iffin yah like, filly."

    "And if I move it, you'll come back to Equestria with us?"

    "Werl, I hafta finish moving it furst. But wance the deal's done with, aye." He nods.

    "Grayven, open a boom tube to…" She frowns. "Where are you going with this?"

    "West aways, teh the river."

    Ring

    Location confirmed.

    Boom!

    A tube aperture large enough for the giant cart appears next to a rather stunned shipwright.

    "Hm." Sunset nods and then returns her full attention to the cart. Her horn glows and the cart glows in sympathy. "You know, a year ago I'd have tried lifting this with pure force. Now?"

    There's a small flash, and the cart… Floats a little way off the ground, no longer affected by gravity. Sunset walks around to the back of it, makes eye contact with Buckface, and then rears up on her hind legs and gives it a gentle shove. It drifts forwards, wobbling left and right as the rollers catch on the ground.

    "See, while we don't know anything about earth pony magic, unicorn magic? We're kinda good at that."

    "Aye. So ah see." He watches as the cart drifts through and Sunset cancels her spell. "Werl, I'll nah go back on mah wurd. Let's tek a luuk at these 'train' thangs, then."

    I smile. "Scrivener, I imagine that an actual ambassador from Equestria will be along presently. In the mean time, a little something to remember us by."

    I take a Wilsonian world map out of subspace and hand it over to her. Her horn glows as she opens it and looks it over, then cuts out as she gapes in shock.

    The boom tube booms shut, then a new one opens back to Canterlot. A palace balcony with a good view of the whole of the city. Lightning Dust flaps through a moment later and does a quick loop over the city. Buckface steps through next, the aperture wobbling slightly as he passes through. He frowns as he looks around at the city, far larger than anything that my drones found in Ponyland. Sunset brings up the rear, and I close the tube behind her.

    Buckface frowns as he walks to the edge of the balcony and looks out across the city. Canterlot is only mildly industrialised. The country's main industrial centre is Detrot, located near their largest coal deposits, and while Canterlot does have industry it also has harsh clean air laws passed by the landed gentry who have no interest in breathing smog. Magic pollution filters are available, but they do make it inefficient to do anything too heavy.

    "Well?" Sunset smiles as she walks over to him. "What do you think?"

    He looks at her in bewilderment.

    "What nincomninny built a city hangin' off a mountain? One gud stomp an' it'll awl tumble down!"

    Sunset blinks.

    "Then.. please don't stomp?"

    He snorts and goes back to taking in the sights.

    Okay, got the one for each breed.

    "Sunset, I think it's time to do your demonstration. Let's go and round up the survivors of Miss Dust's lesson."
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Afternoon
    Canterlot


    "Bawhahahaha!"

    The guards have by and large given up on looking offended as I steady myself by leaning against the wall.

    "Hahahahaha!"

    My eyes are staring and Sunset is trying to indicate by her stance that no matter what they may have heard, she’s got nothing to do with me. Her eyes flick to me as the laughter stops, only to be rolled and turned away once more as she sees that I’m just trying to recover my breath.

    Plucky Slugger’s eyes narrow. "What’s so funny?"

    "Huh-huh." I take a deep breath as I try to get myself under control. "Huuurrrh. Ugh. Okay." I stand back on my own four hooves and face him, bending down slightly so that our muzzles are level. "What..." I cough. "What you just said."

    He turns his head slightly to the right. "I just said that the Royal Guards are Equestria’s premier fighting for-."

    I hold up my right forehoof. "Stop, stop! You’re going to set me off again."

    He snorts. He actually snorts! "And what exactly do you mean by that?"

    I invert my right forehoof -and isn’t that weird- and press it to the underside of his muzzle. "Oh, you precious foal. You actually believe it, don’t you? That’s so sweet."

    His eyes widen for a moment, then he knocks my limb aside. "I don’t know what you think you’re talking about-."

    "I’ve met soldiers. I’ve fought against soldiers. You’re not soldiers. You’re.. tour guides at best. Living statues at worst. I mean-" I sit and spread my forehooves in the general direction of our escort. "-come on, be honest. When was the last time you ponies contributed meaningfully to the defence of Equestria? Count off the major incidents from the past few years. One, Nightmare Moon. Celestia's escort got knocked aside like they’re not even there and the whole thing gets wrapped up in a few hours by Celestia’s disciple. Who had no guard support while doing it." I can see their cheeks start to colour through their fur. I’m going to assume that this isn’t the first time they’ve heard something like this. "Discord? ... Nope."

    "Discord is a master of chaos magic! What could we do against him?"

    "You did have over a thousand years to prepare. I’d have thought that you could have worked something out. Prepared something. Anything. At least arranged for the statue to have some flipping railings around it."

    "We didn’t know that’s what the statue was!?"

    "And the other statues?" His face freezes. "You have asked about those, right?"

    Silence.

    "You haven’t. Okay." I tense the muscles in my jaw. "Then we had the Changeling Invasion of Canterlot. Not a malevolent deity this time. Changeling drones are generally worse fliers than pegasus ponies, their magic is limited to shapeshifting and basic thaumokinesis and they’re not especially strong. Exactly the sort of thing a professional standing army might be expected to fight. And how did you do? You got your haunches handed to you."

    "Next up was Sombra. Once more, Princess Celestia sent her disciple. Did she send her a retinue of guards? No. She sent the best young flier, a pony likely to join the Wonderbolts during their next recruitment session. Not sure why she didn’t send the actual Wonderbolts, but maybe she couldn’t get hold of them at short notice."

    "Rainbow Dash is one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony."

    "Did they have the Elements with them?"

    "Ahh... No?"

    "Then how is that relevant?" I give him a moment to come up with something. Nope. "And in addition to that doughty duo, she sent... A seamstress, a farmer, a baker... And a veterinarian. Instead of? Any. Guards. At. All." I shrug, just about getting some motion out of my wings. "And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Did the Grand Galloping Gala really get... Overrun by animals from the palace gardens?" Plucky Slugger’s ears fall. "You ponies couldn’t even take fluffy little bunnies in a fight!" I walk past him, carrying on in the direction of the training area. "I mean, at least that explains the veterinarian! Celestia must think that Fluttershy is the most deadly pony she has in her service!"

    Then the friction disappears from under my hooves and my right ear glows pale turquoise. "Excuse me, gentlecolts." Pony or not, Sunset’s grin is quite unsettling. "Grayven and I need a quick... Chat."

    She drags me along behind her as she leads the way down the corridor a short distance and around a bend before shoving me against a wall. "What the heck are you doing?"

    I’m not sure that it’s healthy for her to grind her teeth like that, either. "Talking them down. What did it sound like?"

    "I don’t want to alienate everypony in the palace! I thought we were going to try and sell them the weapons I developed?"

    "I’m not. You are. My words have caused them to ruminate upon their deficiencies and failures. Now is the time to talk up how much you can improve upon their capabilities. I will take a back seat and remain silent. This is your show." Her spell deactivates as she blinks at me in surprise. I turn around and try to put my membranous right wing over her back in a hug. Unfortunately, she's far too short. "Knock 'em metaphorically dead."

    "Oh. I just thought you were being a jerk again."

    "The Canterlot Royal Guard are low hanging targets. I have standards."

    The cyan glow encompasses my side and gently shoves me away. "Right." She looks me in the eyes, her own eyes narrowing. "I can't work out whether you made that up as an excuse or if that was really why you did it."

    "Why can't it be both?"

    She sighs. "Just butt out and let me work, alright?" I make an expression of total innocence, eliciting another sigh before she walks back around the corridor to rejoin the party.

    She needs to learn to lighten up.

    I let her and the guards get ahead a little way before attaching myself to the rear of the party. Plucky Slugger looks around at the sound of my hooves, but he doesn't say anything. His head flops in what I suspect to be a sign of pony-depression and his hooves barely lift off the ground as he walks.

    Perfect.

    I follow them out into the training field. On one side, unicorn guards charge their horns and fire blasts of coloured magic at a target downfield, Tempest Shadow watching carefully. Where they strike, the targets blacken and smoulder. Pegasus pony guards fly around in formation, spears their weapons of choice, Lightning Dust flying literally circles around them. In another part of the field earth pony guards line up to charge into tackle bags held in place by Buckface, bouncing off as they fail to move him.

    Two grey unicorns -who based on their insignia appear to be senior officers- have walked over to where Sunset stands in front of her escort. Wait, those are the prats who couldn't organise a simple search party when those plunderseed vine things grabbed Celestia and Luna. Oh, sure, a firm pair of hooves there, I don't-.

    Where's that music coming from?

    "Let me teach you of fighting and fury.
    Permit me to tell you how to wage war."

    Sunset prances up to a tired-looking Unicorn who managed three small burns in the centre of his target and shoves a mana siphon gun into his forehooves and points to the activation knob.

    "A creature's might,
    should exceed its plight,
    Or what's a soldier for?"

    He takes aim and fires, the rainbow-coloured beam punching a hole clean through the centre of the target, then the wall behind that and the wall behind that and the wall behind that before breaking out of Canterlot entirely and sailing into the air.

    The soldier grins.

    "I'll show you the way to take thought for tomorrow,"

    Her horn glows and arcane armour appears around an earth pony, who runs through the bag and the wooden structure behind it. The structure collapses onto him and he isn't even fazed.

    "To rea-lise your dreams and to hunger for more."

    Another glow and a target finder helmet appears on a pegasus pony, along with a saddle mounted laser.

    "A creature's wrath,
    should protect its path,"

    The pegasus pony swoops into a dive and fires, striking the centre of each of the unicorn targets in sequence. Sunset looks them over briefly, then turns to gaze up at Celestia's tower.

    "Or what's a Princess for?"

    I step forwards in a daze. I'm in a musical number. As part of the chorus.



    Mine was first.

    Sunset appears to be getting into her stride. The three ponies she just upgunned and their moronic commanders gather around her, and for some reason I find myself joining them. Her horn glows brilliantly, and then...

    We're in a lecture theatre? I'm standing in the wings while the other five are in the front row.

    "Taste of the fruit of the tree that is knowledge,"

    Sunset's horn glows as seven different pieces of chalk dance around her before drawing arcane and mathematical proofs on the blackboard behind her.

    "Of science and magic and all two worlds’ lore."

    The regular lecturer whom she just displaced looks at her with irritation. Then looks at what she's writing and sits down, his mouth falling open.

    "A creature's thought,
    must exceed what it's taught,
    Or what's a scholar for?"

    She takes a selection of books on Atlantean thaumaturgical notation from her subspace pocket and hands it to the lecturer, who immediately opens the first and starts reading. Good job she translated them first.

    "So come let me help you become as the gods are."

    She moves over to the second blackboard and starts drawing out the shape she showed Luna and I earlier, the one which is supposed to enable her ascension. I recognise the symbols for the three pony tribes and.. some of the other symbols, but the precise mechanics of how it's supposed to work are lost on me.

    "For I've got a wonderful secret to tell!"

    The doors at the rear of the lecture theatre open and Celestia herself trots in. No one looks around as Sunset pauses in her song, then hardens her expression and pushes onwards.

    "A creature's reach must exceed its grasp!"

    Sunset rears up as the audience stomp their forehooves in approval.

    "Or what's an alicorn for?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Afternoon
    Equestria


    Celestia takes a step forward, and whatever music-based magic was keeping everyone cooperating appears to fade away.

    "Fillies and gentlecolts, could you please give my student and I the room?"

    And unlike on Earth, not a single one of them takes the central gangway, with the attendant risk of accidentally pushing against their goddess-queen. They only dare try it if her downward path has already taken her past their row. Otherwise they file towards the sides of the room and then head towards the back. Aside from a couple who teleport, and the lecturer who grabs the books Sunset handed him and heads for the staff entrance. Only those guardsponies Sunset brought with us stick around, and they spread out towards the exits. None try to stay in their places.

    Celestia casts a slightly wary eye over me, but otherwise keeps her attention on Sunset. Sunset in turn stares at Celestia like she's trying to bore a hole in her.

    "I'm not your student."

    "I can banish you from Canterlot if you like-."

    I grin. "You can try." Cock of the Walk Stance

    A slight exhalation and a small glance my way, before she returns her attention to Sunset.

    "But I don't see how that would help either of us."

    The leftmost guard captain looks at her and she nods. He taps his right hoof on the ground twice, and the spread out guard begin leaving the room to take up position on the far side of the doors. She ignored the Stance! How dare she!

    Sunset walks to the front of the stage as Celestia reaches the front of the room. Sunset's head is a little higher than Celestia's in this position, but it's like… Yeah, a child sitting on the top of the stairs and claiming to be taller than their parent. Now… Do I want to involve myself or not?

    I want Sunset to.. win something here. Putting Celestia off her stride helps with that, because however Sunset feels about Celestia personally 'obey the goddess-queen' has been imprinted onto the entire pony population of Equestria for a thousand years. She can break the conditioning, but that sort of thing generally makes people… Angry. Shouty. Stupid. They build up internal tension before breaking the taboo and then the fact that they've broken it becomes their sole focus.

    Ah! Perfect! I turn and trot down the steps at the side of the stage, then stand on Celestia's left. She may be the tallest pony on the planet but she's still shorter than me. And far skinnier. I… Read a piece of fan fiction back on Earth Prime where one of the characters is viscerally disgusted by Celestia, thinking of her as some sort of alien monstrosity that real ponies unaccountably allow to lord it over them. And… Yes, I see where he was coming from. Twilight and Luna both have body proportions more like those of the regular ponies than Celestia does.

    Anyway, since My Big Pony over there has Equestrian forward-mounted eyes rather than the real horse side-mounted eyes, me lurking in the periphery of her visual field should be just off-putting enough to give Sunset an edge.

    Sunset looks down at Celestia from the edge of the stage, then turns her head my way.

    "Grayven, you can open a portal to anywhere on this planet from Challenger Mountain, right?"

    I nod. "Yes, though without Starswirl's mirror we wouldn't transform."

    Sunset turns back to Celestia. "Then it actually doesn't matter if you banish me again. My ritual-" She tosses her head in the direction of the blackboard, though there's next to no chance that Celestia understands what she's written. "-will work just fine anywhere. I don't even have to be in Equestria."

    Celestia nods slowly. "I take it that you believe that you've found a way to become an alicorn." I get another small glance. "I'm surprised that you were able to find someone who could help you."

    "Yeah, it was amazing how far I could get with a mentor who wasn't lying to me, hiding things from me or ordering everypony not to help me. You know, actually mentoring me, rather than wasting my time."

    Celestia gives me a slightly longer glance, with ever so slightly narrowed eyes. I smile back.

    "But no. That's just how Starswirl's mirror made him look because he's so big and powerful on the other side that the only thing it could make him that made sense was an alicorn. I worked out how the alicorn transformation worked by myself."

    "I.. see. And does that make you happy?"

    Sunset goes to answer, then stops herself. Celestia notices and blinks.

    "If you don't want to t-."

    "I came back because I want to talk to you about it. But I remember a dozen times where you turned what I said against me to distract me from the fact that you'd taken me on as a student with no intention of teaching me anything."

    "That's-."

    "I spoke to Twilight. I know perfectly well that the only reason you took either of us on as students was to use the Elements of Harmony on Princess Luna."

    "That's not-."

    "Then why did you insist on giving me sociology lectures? I was the greatest magic user in the Gifted School including the teachers."

    "I hoped that you could learn to have friends. I didn't want you to shut yourself-."

    "I did. When I finally met people who shared my interest in magic, guess what? I made friends. Because we had something in common, because I liked spending time with them, because they weren't total wastes of my time. I agreed to become your student because I thought I'd learn more about magic from you than I could anywhere else and whaw was I wrong. I learned more in a year surrounded by.. talking monkeys teaching myself than I did in all my time in Canterlot."

    She takes a deep breath.

    "And you know what else I found out talking to Twilight? I was curious what sort of pony you'd pick after me. How she'd be different to me." She snorts with laughter. "And I'm not sure if I should find it funny or horrifying. You picked a classicist cultist."

    Celestia looks at her sternly. "Twilight Sparkle is not a cultist."

    "She once drove a town mad because she was worried about missing a weekly 'friendship' report. She's completely fixated on making you happy. You can't have missed that… Can you? Was that what you were trying to do to me?" Sunset snorts derisorily. "Lucky escape there. At least her complete lack of interest in original research makes her easier for you to handle."

    "Twilight Sparkle is an accomplished scholar. She became an alicorn by completing an original spell, which-."

    "She became an alicorn by completing Starswirl's poem that didn't require her to understand the underlying mechanism at all. Your replacement for a pony who challenged you was a total sycophant!" Sunset paces a little. "I know how it worked. I even know how Mi Amore Cadenza's ascension worked, something you deliberately hid from me. Literally everything you did since taking me on as your student drove me further away, and now I've got everything I wanted in spite of you."

    "I'm sorry that you feel that way, but I was trying to help you-."

    "You were trying to help Luna. You know, if you'd just done the sensible thing and told me that in the first place I'd have been happy to help. And don't.. try to give me any horse apples about it not working if I tried to make friends deliberately. I made my first friend when all I wanted was a research partner."

    Celestia smiles.

    "You're making friends now?"

    "Yes, I'm making f-. No!" Her face twitches. "I'm not-! Grghkaaagh!"

    Her horn glows and I get ready to lunge to knock Celestia out of the way, but-. With a pop Sunset vanishes.

    Celestia bows her head with a sigh.

    "Hey, look on the bright side: I thought she was going to take a shot at you."

    "Graven." She turns her head towards me. "I want to know what you've been teaching my student."
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Canterlot
    Afternoon


    "I'm pretty sure at this point that she's… Waaaay done with being your student."

    Celestia breathes in… And then out again. "Yes, I did notice that."

    "But you said it anyway. I don't really care, but Sunset's very angry with you and slips like that are just going to make things worse."

    She considers for a moment, then nods. "I only meant to send her away from the palace for a short time, to allow her to experience more of life and hopefully gain some perspective on her obsession. My intent was to resume her tuition when she was in a more receptive frame of mind."

    "Um. Okay? And… When she scoured the country for arcane lore and kept trying to become an alicorn anyway as the ultimate expression of her special talent and the destiny the mirror showed her, hating you all the while for having all the answers and refusing to share them… What then? Because… That's what would have happened."

    "I have more faith in m-. In Sunset than to believe that."

    "Faith..? Oh, sure, she wouldn't have tried causing eternal night or anything, but that pony lives for arcane study. You should see her work on Equestria's harmony field."

    Celestia starts to smile, then frowns in confusion. "What do you mean by 'harmony field'?"

    "That's a conversation you should probably have with her. It's fairly fundamental to your disagreement."

    She lowers her head slightly. "I would appreciate it if you would tell me anyway."

    "Magic is not something you passively use. It both acts on and is acted upon. Create a harmonious realm and that harmony can be a source of arcane power to those who embody it. But there's nothing special about harmony in that regard. My own.. father… Rules a world filled with something called the Anti-Life. And the world on the far side of Starswirl's mirror has a chaotically complex system with no overriding guiding ideology."

    I shake my head.

    "The point being: while there are good reasons for accepting the virtues of harmony for their own sake, and they do grant increased magic strength while in Equestria, the link is extrinsic rather than intrinsic."

    "That is what you taught her?"

    "I didn't teach her thaumaturgy. I just bought her books and a laboratory. She worked it out herself." I nod at the blackboard. "If you want a more detailed explanation, it's on the board. No, my lessons with Sunset were more about application. I would present her with a practical problem, and she would attempt to solve it."

    Celestia nods. "What happened to Sunset when she passed through the mirror?"

    "She came out in a small park in a major city. There isn't any sort of marker on the other side now… If there ever was."

    She shakes her head. "I have not had cause to use the Mirror for many years. I have no knowledge of what lies on the other side."

    "I'm more surprised that no one's come through from my side by accident. The portal wasn't on a major thoroughfare or anything, but it's not out of the way."

    Or… Have people come through before, only to have their memories obliviated away? I checked Philadelphia's records once Sunset told me that the portal's end point was fixed, but I didn't find anything that fit what I think I know about Equestria. Didn't bother looking for amnesia

    "Have you taken measures to ensure that nopony will do so?"

    I frown. "It was the middle of a major city. We do have equines, but they're more like your… Pre-sophoncy ancestors. They're kept as pets or beasts of burden." She seems to take that news with equanimity. Heh. "There aren't any in central Philadelphia. If you're talking about inadvertent human visitors, you don't need to worry. Sunset worked out how to move the end point and it's now in her laboratory, which is in a fortified area. That's not to say that a sufficiently clever physicist or wizard couldn't work out how to replicate the link, but…" I nearly-shrug. "There's no risk of a chance encounter."

    "I'm glad. I imagine that it would be quite distressing for someone from an alien world to fall through and be stranded here."

    "… Yes, because you.. couldn't just board it up from your side?"

    Celestia gives her head a small shake. "I hoped that Sunset Shimmer would return one day. As the years passed I realised that that was increasingly unlikely, but still: I did not want to block her one avenue for returning here."

    "If you think a couple of boards would have stopped her, you're really underestimating her."

    "She was.. certainly always determined." She pauses for a moment. "She said that only a year passed for you?"

    "Almost to the minute. Makes me wonder if the spell controlling the aperture opening was set to something on our side rather than yours. Though Sunset's fixed it now; one spell to keep it open and some mana siphons to ensure that it retains power. She really is quite clever."

    "Sunset's problem was never her intelligence."

    "Did you really kick her out for reading a history book? I realise that I've only heard one side of that disagreement, but I doubt that she told me a direct lie."

    "No, I did not kick her out for reading a history book. The history book was simply the last instance of her disregarding my instructions before I banished her from the palace for repeatedly ignoring my lessons. I hoped that after she was forced to interact with other ponies for a time she would come to realise the error of her ways and learn the lessons in humility and compassion that I had failed to teach her."

    "And you had no ulterior motive in the direction of your teachings?"

    "I'm not sure what you're implying-."

    "I'm not good at estimating the age of ponies. But I know a human teenager when I see one. Your newly alicornised acolyte isn't all that old. Probably too young to remember that you had another student just before her. If Sunset had stayed she'd be in her prime right now. Did you mean for her to confront Nightmare Moon?"

    "Yes, I hoped that Sunset would develop the virtues necessary to wield the Elements of Harmony. I hope that for all my little ponies. Those virtues underpin our society, and encourage my little ponies' happiness."

    "And it was pure chance that you took on two magic-talent unicorns as students in the run-up to your sister's return? Sunset's never mentioned her predecessor. If I were to examine your records how far back would I have to look to find one?"

    "Quite.. some way." Her face hardens. "But I did not simply discard Sunset when she went against my wishes. She left through the mirror of her own volition."

    "After you banished her. And after she came to you to learn magic and you spent years focusing on ethics instead. And you didn't explain why at any point."

    "Should I take it then that the curriculum which you have been teaching her does not involve ethics?"

    "A year with an alien magic system, and she's the most capable magic user her age on the planet. She'll be an archmage before she's twenty. You want me to waste that potential trying to turn her into a moral philosopher?"

    "I want to know that you're not just using her as a.. device for research. Sunset is a pony, and whatever she thinks, she needs other ponies in her life."

    "No ponies, but she has friends now. Two of them are other magic users who have the capacity to keep up with her on her favourite topic, and meaningfully contribute to her work. Like you used to. And a third… And I've really got no idea how they started relating to each other, but they voluntarily spend time in one another's company so I'm calling that three-nil. Grayven-" I hold my right forehoof up to my right ear-. No, wait, it's a little further backthere we go. "-I hear you cry, how did you achieve such a thing where I, with all my experience of and devotion to friendship could not?' And I will gladly-."

    "You brought her into contact with people she considered to be her equals, and their friends. She spoke to them of their shared interests, and the friendship grew from there."

    "And I didn't try and make her something she isn't. Her special talent is magic research. How could you possibly think that you could stop her doing the most important thing in her life and expect her to remain interested in anything you had to say?"

    "I thought that 'magic research' might extend to the magic of friendship-."

    "Hah, you're such a pony!"

    Her expression hardens a little. "Why are you here?"

    "I'm here to provide moral support for Sunset when she ascends. And Luna helped me deal with a problem with my father's magic I was having, and in return I offered to help improve Equestria's military."

    Should I mention that I want to date her? No, no, probably not.

    "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and give Sunset someone to vent at."
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Equestria
    Afternoon


    I trot down the palace corridor, fun sized ponies stepping out of my way. But it's more in wary deference than outright fear, and that's good. Both because it suggests that they're not stupid and because I… Don't really want tiny equinoids to be afraid of me.

    "…resonance effect from having thousands of thaumically active individuals believing the same thing!"

    Sounds like Sunset's made a… Person whom she tolerates?

    "But that doesn't explain why they believe that in the first place!"

    Twilight's awake, then. Not sure why she came here

    I knock on the door.

    "Yes!" / "Yes!"

    I push the door open and then trot inside. Celestia's current and previous students are standing in front of a blackboard covered in… Um, even more Atlantean thaumaturgical notation several levels more advanced than I can understand and what appears to be the far more primitive pony equivalents.

    Though the meaning of 'F ≠ M' is clear enough, especially with Sunset's chalk floating next to it.

    "Sunset, I need your help."

    She glares at the blackboard, then at Twilight, then turns to me. "Well I'm not making any progress here."

    "Am I attractive?"

    "Ah." She blinks. "What?"

    I shake my head. "I don't know anything about pony standards of beauty, do I?"

    "I-." A mildly disturbed look on her face, Sunset gives my front arc the once-over. "Why.. do you even want to know?"

    "I had that whole dream thing with Luna, but I don't know if she's just humouring me or if there's actually any potential there."

    Sunset fixes me with a level gaze. "Grayven, I'm.. glad that you're enjoying yourself, but-." I do my best to look innocent. She doesn't buy it. "Grayven, this is my home. I lived here for most of my life, and I do not want you treating this as a booty call."

    "I'm not. I like her."

    "And… What about Kara?"

    "Is constantly on guard to thwart my villainy. That's not a good basis for a healthy relationship. I don't want to have to constantly blackmail someone into spending time with me."

    "Can we.. please.. focus?"

    "Alright. How's it going?"

    "Ah…" Twilight looks uncertain. "I'm still not sure this is going to work."

    "Jgh!" Sunset gestures to the board. "I literally just finished explaining it to you. You know it makes sense. You're not that indoctrinated. You'd have to be some sort of total Starswirl fanfilly-."

    "Wh-? What?" Twilight grins unconvincingly. "Pf! Nooo. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation why your math seems to make more sense than Starswirl's Grand Thaumatic Theory."

    Sunset rolls her eyes. "Looks like Celestia got to you early."

    "Do you suddenly not want to study the magics that turned me into an alicorn?"

    "Mmmm…" Sunset hesitates. "No..?"

    "Nooooo..?"

    "No, I would like to study the magical links between you and your friends please."

    "Okay. So. I think-."

    "Are you allowed to help me?"

    Twilight looks at her and frowns. "Why wouldn't I be?"

    "Because I'm pretty sure Celestia banned Cadenza from talking to me about her ascension, and I never got given Starswirl's spell book."

    "Caden-? Cadance?" Twilight smiles, this time less disturbingly. "You know Cadance?"

    "Yeah, I was Celestia's student when she started living here." Sunset closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and exhales to expunge her irritation. I can hardly believe that Celestia didn't realise how Sunset would feel about there being another alicorn around, particularly after what Starswirl's mirror showed her. "Where is she, anyway?"

    "She's coming here! She and Shining Armor are taking the sleeper down from the Crystal Empire-."

    "The Crystal what?"

    "Ah…" Twilight looks around, her eyes alighting on a scroll. "The Crystal Empire." The scroll glows in the colour of her magic as it rises off a bookshelf and unrolls itself. "It reappeared when the spells-" Sunset trots closer and peers at it. "-Princess Celestia and Princess Luna used to keep King Sombra bound wore off."

    Sunset narrows her eyes as she looks at the map's scale. "Looks more like a city. Why would you call a city an empire?"

    "Tradition, mostly. It used to have a lot more territory, but when Sombra went to war with Equestria they got pushed back further and further, until they only held the capital city. When that vanished, the rest of their territory was annexed by Equestria."

    I frown. "I've been thinking. Wouldn't using the Elements of Harmony have made more sense than rooting around for the Crystal Heart? I mean… That's basically what you use them for, isn't it? 'See unfriendly villain, rainbow cannon to the face'?"

    "No, we didn't bring them with us."

    I blink, then shake my head in bewilderment. "Why not? I would have thought that they would be the perfect counter."

    Sunset rolls her eyes. "Because Celestia didn't tell her to."

    "That's not why. The Crystal Heart powers the spells keeping the city warm. Without it, all the crystal ponies would have frozen. And if I hadn't had to find it then I'd have never confronted and overcome my worst fears."

    I raise my eyebrows. "What was that, anyway?"

    "Having Celestia rejec.. t… Me." She glances awkwardly at Sunset, who rolls her eyes. "Um."

    There's a knock at the door, and Twilight sighs in relief before giving us another extremely fake grin.

    "Let me just get that."

    Twilight trots over to the door and opens i-.

    "Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake!"

    "Ah. Cadance? I didn't think you were getting here until-?"

    "Clap your hooves-" Twilight grimaces back at us as she sits on her haunches and plays a brief game of pat-a-cake with her former foalsitter. "-and do a little shake."

    Sunset has gone very still.

    "I didn't think you were getting here until later."

    "I heard a ru-mour about you and Aunt Celestia." There's a momentary pause. "Twilight, are you hiding something?"

    "Ah. No?"

    "Is there somepony in there you don't want me to see?"

    There's a definite eagerness in her voice. If she hadn't popped into existence with no build-up for the purpose of the series two finale, I'd be curious as to how exactly her charge ended up as socially isolated as she did. And how Twilight remained a bachelorette even after discovering the magic of friendship. But as it is-

    "No, of course-."

    -I just see a feed line.

    I grin. "Yes!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Equestria
    Afternoon


    Twilight turns her head-. Whaw pony necks are flexible. Turns her head back to glare at me.

    "And you weren't going to introduce us?"

    "Well-."

    Princess Cadance flaps her wings and passes neatly over Twilight before landing just inside the room. "Hello, I'm-."

    "Mi. Amore."

    Cadance spots Sunset, her eyes widening and her body tensing.

    "Cadenza."

    Twilight pivots on the spot at the sound of discord, and goes into friending mode. "Sunset was just telling me that you two knew each other?"

    Sunset grits her teeth for a moment. "Yes. Yes we did."

    Cadance cringes. "I… Didn't know you were back?"

    "Clearly."

    Cadance backs up slightly and misjudges the angle, her haunches hitting the wall rather than going back through the door. As Sunset gets closer Cadance falls onto her haunches with a nervous grimace of a smile on her face, Sunset gritting her teeth and grinding them in what would be a bad idea for a human. But I guess it's fine for equine teeth? Or maybe becoming an alicorn fixes dental issues?

    "M'm rryeh."

    Cadance blinks. "Ah..? Pardon?"

    "I'm-. Sorry."

    Sunset breathes heavily, the glare of her eyes not quite matching her words. Though it does match their tone.

    "You're… Sorry?"

    The teeth grit again. "Yes. I'm.. sorry for how I treated you when we were living together."

    "Oh, that's alri-."

    Sunset raises her right forehoof. "No. No. No it's not."

    "Okay?"

    Sunset lowers her hoof. "I was-." She takes a look at Cadance's face and sags slightly. "And I'm scaring you again. And this time I'm not even trying to." She shakes her head and backs up a little in the hope that Cadance will feel secure enough to stand. When that doesn't work she shakes her head sadly and trudges back to the blackboard.

    "Cadance?" Twilight looks curiously at her former foalsitter. "You.. knew Sunset Shimmer? You never mentioned her?"

    "I… No. Um. Yes. She was living at the palace when Princess Celestia first brought me here. I didn't-."

    "It's fine." Sunset turns around dejectedly. "Magic is my special talent, the same as yours. I doubt Cadenza wanted you to turn out like I did."

    "Why? What happened between you two?"

    "I wanted to learn magic. Celestia wanted me to learn civics. We argued, and Celestia -in her wisdom- decided that the best way to convince me she was right was to show me my future in Starswirl's mirror. I saw myself as a powerful alicorn."

    "So you were jealous? You thought Cadance was trying to take your place?"

    Sunset shakes her head. "Cadenza wasn't living in the palace at that point. But after that I spent all my time studying alicorns, trying to work out how the transformation worked... I spent months on that and didn't find anything. I bugged Celestia to tell me how it worked and got nowhere. In the end I started to think that I'd-" She glances at the blackboard again with a rueful smile. "-need to work it out from scratch all by myself. Which was.. fine. I like doing magical experiments."

    "And then Cadenza happened."

    Twilight frowns. "What do you mean 'happened'?"

    With Sunset a safe distance away, Cadance gets back to her hooves. "I ascended. I didn't plan-."

    "Oh, I know you didn't. I finally worked out how you did it, and if you never want to sleep again I'll show you my calculations for what would have happened if you'd been standing an inch to the left when the amulet exploded."

    Twilight looks from Cadance to Sunset. "So you were.. envious?"

    "A little. But when I met her she was so clearly clueless-" Twilight frowns a little. "-that it didn't really last. I just wanted her to give me as much information about what happened as she could so I could add a first hoof account to my data. And she wouldn't."

    "Oh." Twilight looks at Cadance. "Why.. not..?"

    "Because-."

    "Because Celestia told her not to." Sunset shakes her head. "I can't believe I didn't work it out sooner."

    "Aunt Celestia was worried about you! You were becoming obsessed! Everything was about becoming an alicorn!"

    "And it didn't stop just because you were withholding information from me!" Sunset gives a humourless chuckle. "The funny thing is, telling what happened probably wouldn't have helped me all that much. All it would have done is made me stop hating you for obstructing me." She sags. "Because I couldn't bring myself to hate the mare actually responsible." She tosses her mane and straightens up a little. "So, yeah, I'm sorry for all the things I did to try and make you tell me. And now I'm putting the blame firmly where it belongs."

    Twilights right ear twitches in a way which probably conveys all sorts of meaning to other ponies. "So… You've realised that your obsessive behaviour was self-destructive and you've come to apologise to everypony you offended and repair your old friendships?"

    "No. I've come to prove that I was right all along."

    Twilight frowns. "Ah-?"

    "And that Celestia was wrong."

    Twilight gasps in absolute horror!

    I nod. "Yeah, I just got back from talking to Celestia. You… Kind of lost your temper, there."

    "I know, I know." She sighs. "She just did it again!"

    "I think she was trying to be nice."

    "How is she this bad at it?!"

    "A thousand years of ponies not wanting to get sent to the moon?" Cadance stares at me, her eyes wide. "Too soon?"

    "Nopony's afraid of Aunt Celestia! I'm sure-" She turns her head towards Sunset. "-that she didn't mean whatever it was that made you so angry."

    "Is it better that she's massively condescending by accident?"

    Cadance starts to answer, hesitates to consider the question, then nods confidently. "Yes, it is. Because it means that she didn't do it deliberately to drive you away, and the fact that she's still reaching out to you shows that she really does want to improve your relationship." She takes a hesitant step towards Sunset. "The question is, do you?"

    "I…" Sunset slumps. "Yes? I just-. I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I left, and I-. I know I could have handled it better. But so could she! I need her to.. acknowledge that, or something. And not just a generic 'I'm sorry you feel that way' thing, I need her to actually get what she did wrong." She huffs. "Maybe I'll go talk to her again before I ascend. But right now I just want-. Twilight, could you get on the-?"

    "Celestia was wrong?!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Or thereabouts
    Probably


    I wince as the ork kroozer's magazines finally detonate, visibly blasting the lower part of the hull away from the more heavily armoured prow and… Um. Top? Then I wince again as the construct orks I had onboard return to the ring and I'm forced to feel their thoughts and feelings… I suppose if there were any species able to cope well with constructhood it would be the orks. They want nothing more than combat and expect to be reincarnated as orks after their deaths. In a way, I've just arranged things so that neither Mork nor Gork need to trouble themselves with arranging matters.

    At this distance the size of the thing looks almost reasonable. For goodness sake, I boarded that bloody thing and I know that it's colossal. The little models Battlefleet Gothic use really make you underestimate it. Though far from the biggest ship in the Grim Dark Present, it's still four and a half kilometres long and home to hundreds of thousands of orkoids. I mean, I've seen bigger, and I'm very glad that I didn't get a closer look at any of those monsters I saw when I appeared back in the Sol system, but there's something about hundreds of bellowing lunatics firing at you with automatic scatterguns that makes you appreciate the scale of these things.

    Or when their primary armament tries to aim at the little orange blip and you realise as one flies past that the shells they're firing at you are taller than you are.

    Yeah. But-

    Up and to my right the last Ork escort explodes and the squadron of Manta bombers that finished it off begin their return flight to their command ship.

    -now that's dealt with, I can calm down to something approaching sane levels and make first contact with the least mental major faction in the setting. I gave the matter some considerable thought after I legged it away from 'Terra' with my non-warp based FTL ring, and appealing as the idea of finding an isolated, human-inhabited world somewhere safe is… It's the forty first fucking millennium! Where am I going to find somewhere safe?! I mean reliably safe, in a universe where daemons can enter some poor bastard's mind from the warp because he didn't realise he was a psyker, or there might be a sleeping Necron tomb under the ground ready to eradicate all life above, or a Hive Fleet might be about to turn inwards towards the Milky Way Galaxy from any part of intergalactic space.

    So. Yeah. I try not to look threatening as I accelerate towards what looks like an airlock in the middle of the front half of the dull green Tau ship. And I try not to worry about the ion cannons which are almost certainly tracking me and are likely to be a little more accurate than the orks' gunnery. The Mantas ahead of me return to their launch bays located on either side of the third quarter of the ship. Though less massive, narrower and flatter than the ork Kroozer it's actually a fair bit longer. Which strikes me as odd; I seem to remember Tau ships having the same sort of wing shape as their tanks. Maybe… No, they're definitely using Tau transponders, but… Maybe they're auxiliaries? Armed merchantmen? Tau-aligned aliens? Not sure. I can also see the damage its hull has taken; though their damage control is better than that of the orks I can see dozens of hull breaches as well at the remains of ork boarding torpedoes where they struck the rear quarter of the ship from below.

    I see a couple of smaller Tau ships turn and… Huh, they're not small-small, but in a setting where attack craft are jumbo jet size they're practically tiny. A single main gun plus wing-mounted turret weapons… Less well armed than the Manta, so I'm going to guess that those are interceptors.

    I should probably contact the ship.



    Ring, do it.

    Ave, Lanterna.

    No, see, that would be fine if I was joining the Imperium, but for the Tau-.

    "This is the T'olku Lar'shi Vhel-." The speaker pauses. "Vhel'ua. Identify yourself."

    I'd say the voice was female, but I don't know whether 'high pitch = woman' holds true for Tau. How.. best to begin?

    "You're welcome."

    Another pause. "For.. what?"

    "I just destroyed the cruiser that was battering you. Naturally, your first response was to thank me. I have decided to be magnanimous. You're welcome."

    "Ah-?"

    "Who are you?"

    "I am Kor'Ui Vey'ue. And.. I.. apologise for my lack of courtesy. Our diplomats are… Not available at present."

    "I quite understand. It's hard to switch from battle command to negotiation. Look, I'd like to come on board. Could those fighters you're sending my way escort me to somewhere suitable?"

    "For what reason?"

    "I wish to request political asylum, with a view to studying Tau philosophy and eventually becoming a citizen of the Tau Empire. As you can see… I can make myself quite useful. Also… I've been awake for thirteen days straight." I think. "I need sleep."

    "I will not allow you to board this ship until you tell me who and what you are."

    "Fair enough. I'm a human, and I'm currently flying through space using an alien device known as a power ring."

    "You're hu-? Stand by."

    "Look, I know my whole species went insane some time in the last thirty nine thousand years. I was born in M Two, I wash my hands with the whole lot of them. I still remember when we looked forward to meeting other intelligent species."

    "You.. do..?" A new voice, slightly deeper.

    "Yeah. Want to guess what the first alien species we met was?"

    "I do not know."

    "Orks. And then daemons, because those come with the warp drives. Suffice to say that between the two of them they rather put us off." Those.. fighters are getting a bit close… "Look: if you're not going to let me on board just say so. I'll go somewhere else where the people are less ungrateful."

    "No." Kor'Ui Vey'ue again. "I will authorise this." On the side of the ship I see a circle of light flicker around the airlock while the lights further away go out. "Please proceed to the airlock. I will send a party to meet you."

    "Thank you. I look forward to meeting you in person." Ring, transition.

    The universe… Is far enough away that it doesn't actually appear to move, other than the fact that a chunk of it is now obscured by a wall of ship hull. But the airlock is sized for a single person and-. Ah! A button! And even better, it isn't made of fucking skulls!

    Ring, open it up.

    Compliance.

    The ring picks up a series of warning radio pings, then there's a slight vibration as the outer door unlocks and swings inwards and upwards. I transition inwards again and send the signal to close the outer door. Still no skulls! Curved edges, which is a little strange, but otherwise it looks pretty much like a science fiction airlock should, damn it!

    I feel the vibration as the airlock seals behind me, and hear a very quiet noise as air begins to enter the compartment. Good show. Ring, show me what's on the far side of the inner door.

    Compliance.

    A small team of soldiers in dull green armour move into position around the airlock. Fire-caste marines with.. what are probably pulse weapons of some kind. Fully sealed armour, I note. Well done them. Their squad leaders motions with her hand and the guns are lowered slightly. Another tau, this one more slightly built and not wearing armour, hurries down the corridor. A diplomat?

    Any threats I can't see?

    Yes.

    Oh dear.

    The inner airlock opens inwards and I walk inwards towards my hosts, a strained smile upon my face.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Inasmuch as it matters
    I wonder how the tau dating system works?


    The diplomat has skin a little more towards the blue end of the blue-grey spectrum. Tau… I was sort of expecting standard rubber forehead aliens, but the slightly larger eyes, lack of nose and the Y shaped facial cleft stretching from a point parallel with the bottom of her eye orbits up to a third of the way up her forehead… Her face is too… Off. Not creepy, exactly, but clearly something different.

    But she's not a tau Brood Brother, and I'll take what I can get.

    She's wearing a green skullcap with a glossy black thread decorating the rim, and what I assume to be a civilian spacesuit coloured a slightly brighter green loosely covers the rest of her body. Actually, I think it's designed to look a bit like a robe without impeding her motion too much. Two braids hang down from the back of her head. And she's… Is she baring her teeth? Is that something tau do? The fingers of the soldiers on either side of us are tightening around their grips slightly… What am I doing wrong?

    "Hello." Still baring her teeth, the diplomat performs a shallow bow. "I am Por'La Lar'shi Tsua'm Raard."

    I dismiss my construct armour. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Tsua'm. I'm… Hm. Gue'vesa'Saal Earth-" And this would be a good deal easier if I could say my own name. Just glad I was in a breathable atmosphere when I found out that I couldn't. "-Orange Lantern." I hesitantly extend my right arm. "I'm not sure how familiar you are with human body language…"

    She starts to mirror my gesture, mildly hesitant as she carefully watches my hand. When our palms come together she doesn't make any attempt to grip it. I remember from reading Fire Warrior that tau reflexes are significantly slower than those of humans. I hadn't really thought about what that I2 would mean in terms of how they actually interacted with their environment. Should I..?

    "N-nearly. Like this." I gently curl my fingers around her hand and shake it slightly. "It was originally a martial greeting which showed each party that the other wasn't carrying a weapon in their favoured hand."

    "Oh." She looks up at me, still baring her teeth.

    "Of course, since the ring is an empathic weapon and doesn't require any physical action at all it's a little misleading." I withdraw my hand. "Is there some-" I point at my mouth with my right hand. "-reason you're.. doing that?"

    She closes her mouth slightly. "Smiling? Is that not a friendly human expression?"

    "You weren't getting it quite right. I'll.. show you later." I gesture towards the marines with my right thumb. Ring showsTwo infected. "Am I doing something that's putting them on edge?"

    She bows her head slightly. "We are… Not used to powerful human psykers being so polite. Your… Aura is a little… Strange."

    "Hm?" I look down at my right hand. Right, the clearly visible orange glow. "Oh, no. I'm not a psyker. Honestly, I'm… Probably about as much of a psyker as you are. Since I predate human warp travel…" Though the shamen who created the Emperor did as well. Were their abilities purely sorcerous..? Don't know. "This shield is a product of this-" I hold up my left hand. "-ring. I don't think that it draws power from the warp. Because if it did I'd be-" I jazz hands. "-'hearing the voices' right now."

    "I see. What does the force field do?"

    I float slightly off the deck. "It's mostly for environmental protection. It protects me from external attack, lets me fly and deals with.. breathing and waste production."

    "That is a remarkable device. Will you permit us to study it?"

    I nod. "Anything non-destructive, but… It does a lot more than that, and I'll be happy to give your senior staff a-" Her nasal slit trembles slightly. "-full briefing, but… Your ship is full of holes and.. I've been awake for rather a long time. Perhaps now isn't the best-."

    "Ah. Yes. Of course. I'm am sorry, but it will be some time before the.. senior staff can spare the time…"

    "I quite understand. The needs of the ship come ahead of personal curiosity or pride."

    "Just so. I can-" She presses a button on her spacesuit, and a small hologram appears in the air between us. "-assign quarters to you, if you wish to rest. I am afraid that we do not have anything designed with human aesthetics in mind, but please accept it until we can return to port."

    "What, no skulls? What was your interior decorator t-." Huh. "Do tau have sarcasm?" She looks blank. I'll explain later. "As long as there's a mattress, it will be fine. But first, would it be possible for me to speak with your senior medical officer? I realise that most diseases can't cross the species barrier, but I'd hate to make my hosts ill because I was carrying something you weren't adapted to."

    "As.. I said, the senior-" She dismisses the hologram. "-staff are likely to be occupied. We have many wounded, and the senior medical officer will be busy overseeing their repair."

    I raise my left hand, generating a cut away of a tau body. "This ring has some quite remarkable medical functions as well. As long as the injuries are relatively simple, I should be able to aid their work quite considerably." I dismiss the construct and raise my-. No, there's no point doing that. She clearly doesn't understand human body language well enough.

    "That.. would be his decision. But I see the value in making the request." She looks over to the fire caste warrior in charge of the detail. "Shas'Ui, would you please escort us to the primary medical station?"

    I don't hear a response, but four members of the squad break away and march back down the corridor away from the airlock. Miss Tsua'm turns away from me to follow them, and I in turn follow her. And try to politely ignore the fact that the majority of the squad is now behind me, including one suborned by the tyranids. On the other hand, slightly fewer of them can shoot me at any one time now, and there isn't much advantage in shooting me further inside the ship.

    And there isn't much advantage in me walking the length of one of these huge Warhammer Forty Thousand ships. Ring, interior map.

    Map available.

    Hr. Interior's… Okay. With a full interior scan the damaged areas are obvious. Multiple bulkhead doors are down around damaged sections and… The areas between where the boarding torpedoes hit and everywhere important. Doesn't appear to have completely saved the primary drive, but I'm not seeing any living orks. What else looks off? Hm, that's a lot of power and communication relays that don't go anyw-.

    "They destroyed your bridge."

    The orks totally destroyed their bridge. From the outside, it was so gone that I didn't notice that there was anything missing. I suppose that's what critical hits look like when it's real people. It also explains why I haven't spoken to any senior officers: they're a bit busy being dead. The senior air caste member at least, and probably the senior spirit caste member. And a dead Aun results in impeded inter-caste cooperation and a collapse of morale... And with medical too busy dealing with the wounded, any amount of opportunity for the Cult to spread. Can Brood Brothers spread the taint sexually, or do they need a purestrain?

    Her facial cleft twitches again. "That.. is.. true. But once the engines are repaired, we can return to a friendly port."

    "Then -and I do apologise- we need to move faster."

    I envelop us both in orange light and transition us through the ship, the corridors now open to allow personnel and equipment to move efficiently reach damaged sections. We reappear by the room I tagged as 'primary medical', surrounded by a triage area of heavily injured tau. The more fortunate amongst the heavily injured are on antigravity beds, floating so as not to stress their injuries. The less fortunate are on the floor with whatever bandages they were brought in with keeping them from bleeding to death. The lightly injured are either keeping out of the way or assisting the medical technicians and their drones.

    And while air and earth caste tau make up most of the injured, a small number are members of a reptilian species I don't immediately recognise. Well, the Tau Empire being a multispecies polity is why I'm here, I'll take that as a good sign. The one closest to me opens its right eye as I walk past and I give it a friendly wave before it passes out.

    Ring, acquire biological data.

    Compliance.

    "What did-? Did you teleport?"

    "Technically, no. Which one of these is in charge?"

    A squad of fire caste soldiers have noticed us, but since Miss Tsua'm is clearly with me they're at least not opening fire right away. Right. My ship, my crew, my ticket to relative safety.

    "Ah-? There." She points to a chunky earth caste tau in the middle of a small cluster of other medics. "Fio'Vre-"

    Orange light blasts outward, veins and arteries reknitting, muscle regrowing and organs repairing, shrapnel evaporating and infections being scourged from existence. Yes YES!

    Guh! Stop! Stop. Stop.

    "-Lar… Shi…"

    Miss Tsua'm trails off as all eyes turn to me, aside from those checking their bodies for the now vanished wounds.

    "You're all welcome. Fio'Vre, I really need a moment of your time."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    And a bit
    Seriously, did the Emperor abolish minutes or something?


    "Hmm." Fio'Vre Lar'shi Manuur Shiirr stares at the orange aura protecting my left arm for a moment, then carefully applies a smart syringe to my cephalic vein. Nothing happens. "This may be easier if you turn off your force field."

    "Sorry, hang on."

    I turn the fingers of my left hand so that they're pointing right, then reach across with my right hand and pull the ring off. And.. this is the first time I've felt even remotely safe enough to do this. Nearly two weeks of dodging everything while desperately trying to grab enough data not to fly into the Maelstrom. To just.. find out where the blasted Tau Empire even was. 'Galactic East' narrowed it down to a mere 2 trillion cubic light years, then between the ring's bullshit hacking and translation I was just about able to find it without getting stopped.

    Fucking warp travel and astrotelepathy. No one flies between solar systems through normal space, so I couldn't find isolated vessels to examine. No one sends exotic transmissions by bending physics merely a little, so there was nothing to intercept. No, I had to dodge system monitoring stations and get right up close to some truly terrifying thingamies. I haven't seen any Chaos-tainted ships yet, but I did see a world the tyranids were in the process of stripping, a small necron flotilla and.. a few stranger ships whose designs I didn't recognise.

    Huh. I suppose I can find out for sure whether it's pronounced tee-ranid or tie-ranid. Just need to find a human who's heard of them and doesn't feel obliged to shoot me.

    "Oo'rshi prrakah quanh voor?"

    Mr Manuur has.. already removed the syringe. That was painless. No need for a bandage either, apparently. I shake my head. "I can't understand you." I slide the ring back on. "The ring has a translation function. Without it I'm stuck speaking a language that… No one but me and the Emperor remember."

    High Gothic doesn't actually sound anything like Latin, any more than any of the hundreds of forms of Low Gothic I've heard sound like English.

    "I asked: how urgent is this? Do you have a reason to believe that you are ill? Our facilities are not designed to perform complex diagnostic procedures upon humans, and despite your efforts we have many more casualties still to tend to."

    "Oh, it's not urgent at all." I look around the small diagnostic laboratory we're in. The door's closed, monitoring is.. on automatic… "I just wanted to get you alone for a moment."

    His facial cleft tightens momentarily. "That is.. not an efficient use of my time. We have many more wounded-."

    "I wanted to speak to you so that I could alert you to an… Epidemic I detected amongst the crew when I came on board. Fio'Vre, I appreciate that you are a medical doctor and not a xenobiological researcher and.. that the Tau may be completely unfamiliar with the phenomenon… But do you know what a Genestealer Cultist is?"

    "Gene-stealer. That is what humans call the y'he elite assault creatures."

    I hold out my right hand and generate an image of one, drawing particular attention to its reproductive organ. "They don't really use these in battle, but when they're performing long range infiltration missions they use these to implant some sort of.. viral DNA in their victims."

    "Plausible. Do they use a disease weapon to weaken the target population before an invasion?"

    If only. "No. It does.. several things. Firstly, it ties the victim to their brood telepathy. Once the infection really gets going they're as much a part of the brood as the genestealers themselves; they'll do anything to further its interests, regardless of what they believed beforehand. Secondly, it alters their reproductive system so that their offspring are… We call them genestealer hybrids-."

    "That sounds somewhat implausible. The modifications that would be required in order to undertake such a change in physiology would be extensive, and altering the brain of a human to make it in any way compatible with those of the y'he would kill the host more than often than not." He turns away, reaching for a computer console. "Still, there is much that is not understood regarding y'he biotechnology. It may well be that you are simply-."

    "Ah, what are you doing?"

    He glances back. "This is not the Imperium, human. We do not closet information away from those who need it. A simple enquiry-."

    "Who gets notified that you're making such an enquiry?"

    His hands stop moving. "Certain enquiries trigger automatic messages to the commanding officer, senior security officer and highest ranking Aun. Kor'Vre Vhel'ua was killed by the strike on the bridge, along with-." He shudders. "Aun'Vre Vuraul. And our security complement have other things to worry about."

    "But there would be a record."

    "Yes. You want me to simply take your word for it that they have these abilities, and.. presumably have subordinated a part of the crew. Would it be the Tarellians, by any chance?"

    "Ah, no. All appeared to be tau, most likely Brood Brothers and Sisters. On an Imperial ship I'd be worried about purestrains as well, but from the looks of things tau ships are actually… Sensibly organised, rather than being gothic space churches."

    "And what do you believe will happen if they do discover that I am making queries about them?"

    "I don't know." Hm. "Usually when a cult is discovered they either hide or attack. We're on a space ship and there aren't that many of them. I'm not sure." Except… These are tau brood members, not ignorant and superstitious humans. "Though… If they've taken samples of the virus which the purestrains use, they.. could go on an injection rampage or… Maybe aerosolise it?"

    "I am doing nothing until I can confirm that they even have these abilities. I am grateful for the lives of those you have healed, but this is-."

    The door opens and a gangly tau in green and brown robes strides in, Miss Tsua'm just behind… Him? His head is taller and narrower, and his facial cleft is a little smaller than those of the other tau I've seen. An Ethereal, though given that Doctor Manuur just told me that the leading Ethereal died I've got no idea how senior he is. Ring, is he-? No, good.

    He stops, taking a moment to study me. "Gue'vesa, I am Aun'Saal Lar'shi Bo'ohk."

    "Ah, someone my rank. That will cut down on the saluting."

    He blinks, his head turning slightly towards Miss Tsua'm. She leans forward slightly. "A human military greeting exchanged between superior and subordinate, my lord."

    "Ah. Indeed, no. I had believed that I would need to minister to the dying, but it seems that your intervention has spared me that duty. You have the thanks of the tau, and since you have expressed an interest in learning of the Greater Good I am willing to make time to instruct you in it."

    I nod. "Thank you." Ring, shut the door. "But we have a more immediate problem to deal with first."

    Doctor Manuur steps away from the console, eyes slightly down. "My lord, the human believes that a portion of the crew have been… 'Infested' by the y'he. I cannot confirm that they have the capacity he described without accessing computer records and he is concerned that they may be monitoring the archive. It is-."

    Mr Bo'ohk's cleft wrinkles. "Yes, I know of this. The gene stealers. There are infected tau on board this ship?"

    I hold up my left hand. "This ring's AI isn't clever enough to lie."

    He walks past me and Doctor Manuur to the computer console. "I have codes for accessing our data files without leaving a record." He activates it, presses a few buttons and then steps back. "I regret, Fio'Vre, that our knowledge is far from comprehensive, but it is now available to you."

    A holographic projection appears, and Doctor Manuur's eyes dart over it before he walks up to the console and starts pressing buttons to call up additional data. "Mm. We have no record of inter-tau transmission. There must be a purestrain somewhere, most likely many. I can begin a round of blood tests on all members of the crew, and isolate those who show the signature physical anomalies."

    I shake my head. "You'll need to drug them. With brood telepathy, if the others detect their fellows being picked up-."

    "Yes. Wise. Even so, it may not be entirely reliable. We may need to simply identify them and release them temporarily. Dealing with intelligent diseases is beyond my field of expertise."

    "Fio'Vre, Aun'Saal, if you believe me when I tell you that they exist, why not simply let me mark them out for you? You could pick them up in one go, perform your tests to make sure that I'm not lying and then… Either try to cure them or euthanize them."

    Doctor Manuur looks at Mr Bo'ohk for guidance, but Mr Bo'ohk merely makes a.. palm outward gesture with both hands. "Disease outbreak containment is part of your sphere of responsibility. I will support your decision."

    Doctor Manuur looks down for a moment, then makes a close fisted gesture with his right hand. "We will need to create additional holding areas. And this will have to wait until the casualties from the ork attack have been stabilised. But I will begin making plans now."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Afternoon
    Equestria


    Lightning Dust looks askance at Tempest Shadow's horn stump.

    "You can cast spells with that?"

    Tempest doesn't seem much moved by what must be a pretty big insult. I guess she's either used to it, or thinks that someone she's going to be fighting beside deserves to know.

    "No. I just fire energy blasts."

    "Like, at one third power..? 'Cause you've got a third of a horn?"

    Tempest's eyes narrow slightly and her horn crackles a little more.

    "You tell me."

    Lightning blasts from Tempest's horn, striking Dust and making her convulse-. For a fraction of a second. Then she spreads her wings and water vapour precipitates out of the air, forming a small and very black cloud sheath around them which crackles with electricity. Dust looks at them nervously for a moment, then grins confidently.

    Tempest looks at her curiously, then nods. "Impressive reactions."

    "Impressive lightning blast. How'd you build up so fast?"

    "I'm always built up."

    "Oh yeah?" Dust saunters closer. "How's about-?" A small discharge from her doom clouds hits her in the left ear. "Ow."

    Tempest raises her eyebrows.

    "Let me just deal with this real quick."

    She flies over to a window, kicks it open and with a flap throws the clouds outside before flying back down.

    "Owowowowow!"

    "How's about-?" She blinks, but Tempest and Buckface have already caught up with me at the other end of the corridor. "Hey!"

    Buckface turns his head back towards her.

    "Get a bloady move ohn."

    Dust grimaces, then with one powerful flap shoots over to join us. Looks like Super Lesbian Horse RPG is back on. Best of luck to her. I return my attention to the door and knock lightly.

    "Enter."

    I push the door open and trot inside, the other three following me. Luna has several sheets of paper floating in her thaumokinetic grip and a book on guard procedures in front of her. Celestia is laying on a chaise longue, sipping tea from a cup. She looks at my hirelings curiously while Luna sets her paperwork down to greet us with a smile.

    "Grayven. We understand that you have retained the service of these trainers to improve Our guard. How goes it?"

    "Not great. Tempest?"

    Tempest steps forward. "The Royal Guard are in reasonable physical condition, but their training and equipment are badly outdated. Ponies have a bad reputation for focusing on their special talents to the exclusion of other skills and whoever came up with the Guard's procedure manual did exactly that."

    "Thou wouldst rather that they focus on what they are worst at?"

    "When training an army, you need everyone to have standard skills. You need everyone to know what the soldiers next to them can do, even if they don't know them personally. If you don't have standard spells for unicorns, the commander can't know what the magic users under their command can do. If pegasi aren't taught standard weather manipulation techniques you can end up making a plan requiring dense fog only to discover that no one knows how to make it or use it. And as for earth ponies-."

    "Theys a right buncha pantywastars a'right."

    Tempest keeps her face carefully blank, but she does glance at Buckface in a way which indicates that she's decidedly unimpressed.

    "They cannae even break wee little stones wi' their hooves. And I tried wrasslin' one o' them an' his leg snapped like a tweg."

    Celestia sits up, looking slightly concerned.

    "You broke his leg?"

    Tempest takes a half-step forward. "Princess, injuries during training happen. If anything, the fact that.. 'Buckface' could injure them so easily is part of the problem."

    Luna looks at me. "'Buckface'?"

    I close my eyes, shake my head and raise my right forehoof.

    "I see. And what remedy do you suggest?"

    "My training techniques are a bit more realistic than running into sandbags, princess. I'll bring them up to scratch."

    Luna nods. "We will assign you a platoon to train, that you may show Us the fruits of your labour. Grayven tells Us that you desire Our aid in restoring your horn." Tempest stiffens. "How didst thou receive so grievous an injury?"

    "I ran into a cave after a ball. The cave had an ursa in it."

    Luna blinks. "Thou wert attacked by an ursa?"

    "Yes, princess."

    "At what age?"

    "I was six, princess." She hesitates for a moment. "Princess, can you fix it?"

    "Such chirurgies exist, but they are slow and difficult to bring to fruition. We will consult with Our physicians on the best way to proceed."

    "Thank you, princess."

    "We will also need the location of that ursa. If it dwells so close to a pony settlement that foals are endangered We will need to encourage it to seek new accommodation."

    Tempest grins cruelly. "If you wait until my platoon is ready, we can handle that."

    "We think it best to handle it at once, and not wait until Our soldiers are trained adequately. Fear not, Tempest Shadow, if the time since Our return has taught Us anything it is that thou shall have enemies aplenty. For now, consult with Our Captains as to who will be assigned to thine training platoon."

    Tempest bows. "Princess."

    She turns to leave, Dust and Buckface following and closing the door behind them.

    Luna looks at me. "Buckface?"

    "A nickname he acquired after a fight with an adult dragon, where he received the injury you saw. He comes from your species' original homeland on the other side of the planet."

    "You've been travelling? Did you bring me a gift?"

    "Naturally." I take the wrapped box out of subspace, Celestia frowning slightly as I pass it to Luna.

    She smiles in pleasure and she takes it in her thaumokinetic grip, undoes the ribbon and paper, opens the box lid and lifts out Queen Chrysalis's severed head.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    The Badlands
    An Hour Ago


    "…blood oath you have sworn,
    Pick a fight with an alicorn."

    I raise my daiklave as I advance towards where the trembling Changeling Queen lies nursing her shattered right foreleg. I give it a little swing to test my grip, then raise it up high.

    "Dumb ways to di-ie,
    So many dumb ways to die."

    Canterlot
    Now


    Luna regards me levelly for a few moments, the head floating in her thaumokinetic grip. Celestia puts her teacup down and stands, regarding me with shock.

    A drop of green goo drips from the neck stump.

    "You slew her... For me?"

    "She was an enemy of the state still at large, and I am acting in your stead at the moment."

    Luna.. blushes very slightly, not meeting my eyes. Celestia spots how she's responding and glares at her. Luna meets her eyes and lifts her head again, clearing her throat.

    "We trust that she did not suffer overmuch?"

    I shake my head. "No. No. I treated the occasion with the solemnity it deserved. There are now a few thousand leaderless Changelings hanging out in a hive in the Badlands. Be careful, though, there's some sort of anti-magic field." I shrug. "Didn't do anything to disrupt my technology, but it would probably make things difficult for you."

    Luna nods, drawing herself up slightly.

    "We thank you for this token-."

    Celestia frowns. "Lu-na!"

    Luna looks at her sister. "Do you know how long it has been since a knight brought Us such a token? A vile monster slain in Our name, its head to be-. Pikes, We must find a pike, that Our ponies may know-."

    "We're not displaying a severed head!"

    Luna blinks in confusion. "Then how will our citizens know that they are safe under Our aegis?"

    "It's fine, you don't need to display it for my sake." I step closer to Luna. "It's enough for me to know that you like it."

    Her horn glows, and the head shimmers for a moment.

    "There. We shall mount it upon our mantel as a memento."

    I lean towards her and she tilts her head up towards me. I've never kissed a horse before, but-.

    A golden harness forms around my chest and drags me away, Celestia glaring at me in a pointed manner.

    I Will Not Be Restrained!

    The harness flickers and then dissolves, Celestia jerking her head back as it vanishes.

    Luna doesn't look impressed. "We do not recall ever acting against your swains in such a manner."

    "My 'swains' had not just presented me with a head."

    "Did not knights and sorcerers swear to perform mighty deeds that they might earn your favour?"

    "Yes, but they didn't gift wrap the proof."

    "Perhaps they lacked the-."

    There's a knock at the door. Both princesses look around.

    "Come!" / "Enter!"

    A guard I don't recognise enters the room slightly nervously.

    "Your majesties, Princess Twilight Sparkle asked me to inform you that Sunset Shimmer is ready for her d-."

    He spots the head and visibly double-takes.

    "Ah, her demonstration."

    Celestia nods. "Where is it taking place?"

    "The West Drawing Room, Princess."

    "Please inform Twilight that we will be there presently."

    The guard nods and heads out of the room at a canter. Time to put my hoof down.

    "Celestia, do you have an objection to me being romantically involved with Luna?"

    Luna raises her eyebrows, her eyes fixed on her sister.

    "I have concerns, but Luna is an adult mare and can make her own decisions."

    "Thank you for remembering that, Sister."

    "Do you have a problem with me killing Chrysalis?"

    "Not in principle, but the cavalier way in which you presented Luna with her head concerns me."

    "I refuse to feel bad about killing people like her, but that's not my usual way of handling conflicts. Chrysalis was not ensorced, deceived, possessed or insane. She was just unnecessarily malevolent and nearly enslaved your species and destroyed the world. And I didn't get her head for you."

    "Of all the projects you could have chosen, why is it the military that you decided to help us with?"

    "Because getting involved in your economics would require me to have massive amounts of information that I don't have, while the flaws of your military were obvious and dangerous to your civilisation. Protecting its citizens is the most basic job of a national government and… While I'm prepared to assume that despite appearances you aren't intentionally undermining it-."

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "You didn't tell the guard about Nightmare Moon, Discord or Sombra. You trusted Discord to capture Tirek ahead of any part of the military, and early on Tirek could easily have been killed by crossbows. You didn't pursue Chrysalis or develop changeling detection spells. Magical megaweapons are very nice to have, but given how temperamental they can be relying on them is not wise. Perhaps more to the point, Luna has led armies and she's at least as good a fighter as anyone in the employ of the Equestrian government. You might have welcomed her back as your equal but you haven't helped her become your equal in fact as well as theory. I will."

    "Because you wish to court her."

    "No, because improving political institutions is what I do. See my cutie mark?"

    She glances at my haunches.

    "Strength through unity."

    "Unity means the parts who know what's going on telling the parts who need to do something about it. And at the moment, your soldiers are…"

    Music again, but this time I'm the one who's going to be singing.

    "Everyone is
    Weak and wary
    All is scary
    Tell me, where is
    Sanctu'ry?"

    An image of the guards who panicked at the sight of me, another of the guards being gooped by changelings, blasted aside by Nightmare Moon, drained by Tirek

    "Tire the strong
    Shield the frail
    A strategy
    Doomed to fail"

    Celestia getting blasted by Chrysalis, Cadance collapsing in exhaustion from the strain of shielding the Crystal City by herself.

    "I love to change the world"

    I head out of the room, light leaping from my yellow ring, transmuting the guards' armour into something a little more sensible.

    "And I know just what to do"

    I glance back at the princesses as they follow me.

    "And I wonder: do you too?"

    West Drawing Room is this way.

    "All your people
    Keep on needing
    Never heeding
    Leaders bleeding
    Truculence"

    An image of Celestia, Luna and Cadance lying on the floor of the throne room with Tirek standing over them.

    "Life is easy
    Skies are breezy
    Learn to struggle?
    Who needs trouble?"

    I glare at some civil servant ponies who throw themselves out of our way.

    "Indolence."

    I stop and turn around to face them.

    "I love to change the world
    And I know just what to do
    And I wonder: do you too?"

    I walk up to Luna and this time Celestia doesn’t restrain me.

    "Luna"

    "Diminution
    Is no solution
    Revolution
    Restitution
    What's wrong and right?
    What's strength for?"

    I look at the two of them.

    "Princesses
    Win your war"

    I turn away and continue towards the West Drawing Room, where Sunset will usher in a new era, whether Equestria's ready or not. Especially whether the princesses are ready or not.

    "She loves to change the world
    Sunset knows just what to do
    Why don't you join us too?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Canterlot
    Afternoon


    I throw the doors open wide when we reach the Drawing Room and get a clear view of the ponies gathered inside. Twilight is pacing nervously just outside of Sunset's arcane inscriptions while Sunset calmly does a last minute check. The rest of the Bearerherd and Cadance stand off to the side, presumably having decided to stick around after Sunset's tests. An-.

    Huh.

    An alicorn I don't recognise stands a little closer, watching Sunset with…

    "Circe?"

    She turns my way. "Grayven. You didn't tell me that this was happening today."

    "Fifteen to one time ratio." Green pelt, pink-purple mane and tail and staff whose head is glowing with arcane power as a cutie mark. No, hang on: there's a broken and rusted sword underneath it. "And the timing is Sunset's decision. How did you-?"

    "Jean anticipated your order."

    "Ah." I nod. Hadn't realised that she was awake. I suppose that one of the g-gnomes probably notified her.

    Sunset glances towards the door as Celestia and Luna come inside, Celestia hanging back slightly while Luna trots up alongside me.

    "Grayven, will you introduce us?"

    "Princess Luna, this is Circe." I frown slightly. "Do you bother with titles?"

    Circe sighs. "With an introduction like that I can hardly do so now." She smiles at Luna. "A pleasure to meet you, Luna."

    "And what is thine involvement in this affair?"

    "Sunset and I are 'study buddies'." Circe twists her head towards Sunset. "Isn't that right, Sun-"

    Finishing her last check, Sunset makes momentary eye contact with Celestia and then prances over to nuzzle Circe.

    "-set." Circe hesitates for a moment, then cranes her neck down and attempts to reciprocate the gesture. "Are you prepared?"

    Sunset pulls back slightly. "As much as I can be. I've confirmed my hypothesis as much as I can without experimental data. The only thing I can do now is cast the spell."

    "I meant: are you ready?"

    "I…" She sounds uncertain, her head dropping slightly and her eyes roaming around the room. Then she sees Celestia and her expression hardens. "I'm as ready as I'm going to get. Anything else is just cowardice."

    "Good." Circe kisses the top of her head and then steps back. "But just in case anything goes wrong, I'll be here and so will Grayven."

    I nod. "Pretty much anything short of you being plastered all over the walls, I'll be able to fix."

    "Thanks, Grayven, that's exactly the mental image I needed."

    "Yes, me sticking you back together. So don’t worry."

    She shakes her head and walks back to her diagram.

    "Just get out of the way."

    I consider prodding her to say something to Celestia, but… No. Instead, I walk around the side of the diagram and and pull up next to Pinkie Pie.

    "How's the family?"

    "Bigger! The other mes weren't the only ponies in the Mirror Pool."

    "Oh? Who else?"

    "Granny Pie! Which I shoulda realised because she couldn't have known how it worked without using it at least once!" Makes sense, I suppose. Pinkie grins. "Granny Pie died five years ago! Mom was so happy to see her that she screamed and fainted!"

    I regard her fondly for a moment. "Ah, Pinkie. Never change."

    "Hey, how'd you know I wasn't one of the other mes?"

    "I guessed that the others are being held somewhere pending being rehoused, so the only other you you could be is Party Popper. And I know you're not her."

    "Oh. How?"

    "I've.. sort of.. marked her. It will take a while to wear off."

    Pinkie looks a little uncomfortable. "And you didn't let her have a shower afterwards? That's kind of… Icky, don't you think? I mean, I guess what two consenting adults do in private is their own business, but you've both been walking all over Canterlot and I'm not-."

    "Not… That… Not 'marked' like I-. Ew!"

    "So how did you 'mark' her, exactly?" She shakes her head. "Because all the ideas I'm coming up with-."

    "If I could have everypony's attention!"

    Sunset's standing in the middle of the arcane diagram, which is glowing in the same colour as her horn's aura. Celestia stops lurking in the doorway, but is still standing back from the rest of the audience.

    "My name is Sunset Shimmer and today is the day I finally become an alicorn. As I'm sure you know, an alicorn is a type of pony who possesses the magic of all three tribes, which combine to make them even more powerful than any normal pony."

    Twilight shakes her head. "I didn't get that much of a power boost."

    Sunset gives her a mild glare. "Maybe if you used your non-unicorn magics a little, you'd have noticed it a little more."

    Twilight opens her mouth, but Applejack looks at her with raised eyebrows and Rainbow Dash just nods. Twilight slumps slightly.

    "So as I was saying, becoming an alicorn requires the magic of all three tribes. So far, that's happened using a powerful magic discharge from ponies of all three tribes perfectly aligning with the recipient's special talent or a spell which called upon the magic of all tribes through ponies with whom the recipient had a strong emotional bond. I will be using a third technique, a more controlled version of the method Cadenza lucked into. This network will draw on the platonic ideal forms of the magics of all three tribes via the magic networks covering Equestria… Harmony, if you like. I will use this to alter my own metaphysique into that of an alicorn. From the outside, all you should see is a quick flash of light. From inside… I don't know. I think Twilight's visit to an 'astral plane' was a byproduct of the inefficiency of the spell she used, but…"

    She shakes her head.

    "The whole thing should only take a few seconds, so here goes!"

    Sunset's horn glows brilliantly, the strength of the glow mirrored by her diagram. I glance around the circle and both Circe and Celestia have their horns low level glowing. Not sure what Celestia's planning; there's no way she understands the process.

    "First stage is fine, now I unbind my magics to enable the change. That should happen fairly auto-."

    The centre of the diagram flashes, though not brightly enough to interfere with my vision. Sunset isn't there.. any longer. Or rather, her outline is gone. I'm.. slightly concerned-.

    Then the light vanishes, the glow of the diagram drops off and oh goodness me.

    Sunset takes a breath, then looks around the room. Then she flares her new wings and looks down at herself, then left and right at herself.

    Then she looks at Celestia and grins.

    "Yes! Tallest alicorn!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Canterlot
    Afternoon


    I clear my throat as Circe and Sunset continue casting spells on the newly ascended alicorn to make sure everything worked as intended.

    "'Tallest'?"

    "What?" She glances in my direction. "Tallest actual alicorn, not an… Apokoliptian who got turned into one by Starswirl's mirror."

    "So 'second tallest alicorn', then?"

    "You don't count."

    "Sure thing, shorty." She gives me a mild glare, but there's no bite to it. "So what does this mean for your human form?"

    "Ah, actually? I was thinking of just boom tubing back. I mean, hands are great and all, but I've been a pony for a lot longer than I was a human. Picking things up with my magic still feels more natural than using my hands."

    "Okay." I nod. "You can do that. As long as you don't mind getting mobbed whenever you go anywhere due to being an adorable little pony."

    "Ah, 'regal, big pony'."

    "Haven't you measured yourself yet? You're bigger than all ponies who aren't me-"

    "So all the pony-ponies."

    "-but in absolute terms you're not all that big. You're not even horse-size yet." She frowns and looks to Circe for confirmation. "Not only are you the wrong shape for the environment, you're an ultra-cute version of something people think of as a riding animal. Little girls will be coming up to you to feed you sugar cubes." Her eyes unfocus slightly as she sees the disadvantage. "And I can identify as 'pony' if I want. Respect my species-identity."

    "Your species-identity is 'ass'."

    "Whow, go easy on the specieism, there. You're an alicorn now; you have to set an example."

    She huffs and turns to her mentor. "Circe, how did I do?"

    "Yes, Sunset, you're quite tall."

    "I meant the spell."

    "As far as I can tell, everything is as you intended." She leans up slightly to nuzzle her. "Well done."

    "Thank you." Sunset bows her head slightly. "For all the help you've given me, and… For everything."

    "That's quite alright, Sunset."

    "And…" She looks at me. "Thank you, Grayven. Without you, this… I wouldn't-."

    "Have got here, I know."

    "Have got here for a few more years. But… Yeah. And you could be right about being a pony while on Earth. I'm still going to try it, but I guess all the attention could be a bit aggravating."

    Circe raises her eyebrows. "And what about all of the attention your human form gets you?"

    "Ah. It's not that much? Misa helps me out-."

    "I believe what Circe is referring to is how your human form will change to reflect your new pony form. The animated mane, larger size… Assuming that your growth is proportionate you won't be all that much shorter than me."

    "Ooooh."

    "And while I'm no judge of equine beauty, I'm going to hazard a guess that-."

    Sunset's gaze grows a little vacant. "I'm going to be some sort of amazonian supermodel."

    I smile. "The Amazons do like strapping young women. I don't think that they really have models-."

    "No, it's okay. I can just stay in the mountain-." She frowns, looking at me. "I can make myself one of those illusion charms you use." Rats. "But… Maybe I'll… Try it, first. As a pony, and… As a human."

    Circe smiles. "And what will you do with your time now?"

    "Do? I've got two completely new forms of pony magic to master, plus whatever I get by combining them, plus relearning everything I can do as a human to take this change into account. I'm not exactly going to be underemployed."

    "But you won't miss having an overarching goal?"

    "No, this was always just one step on the journey. Yes, it's an important one that proves that my approach is correct and gives me all the time in the universe to work on the rest, but it was never my end goal. I wasn't going to turn myself into an alicorn and just retire." She takes a deep breath. "But seeing as my magic is working just fine…"

    She extends her wings and lightly flaps, rising off the floor with barely a whisper of wind. Then she spreads her wings and just.. floats there.

    "Huh. That was easy."

    I frown. "How are you-?"

    Rainbow Dash darts in, staring at her. Then she flits around to examine Sunset's wings, then from another angle. Then she drifts back slightly and puts her right hoof to her chin.

    "Huh. You're making air currents to stay up." She twists her head around. "Hey, Twilight, how come you can't do that?"

    Twilight's eyes widen slightly at being put on the spot like that. "I… Er… Probably can."

    Sunset nods. "You should be able to. Your special talent is magic, after all. The same as mine."

    Twilight sort of goldfishes for a moment before Sunset shakes her head.

    "I'm just messing with you. I studied pegasus magic for years when I was living here. And I'm guessing you didn't."

    "I.. studied the applications, and the history of-."

    "Of course you did." Sunset pauses for a moment then lands, sighing. "No, sorry. I shouldn't use the fact that I know something you don't to make you feel bad." Twilight looks slightly mollified. "But you should learn this."

    Rainbow Dash nods. "Maybe if somepony wasn't slacking off on her flying lessons, she wouldn't get shown up like this."

    "And trust me-" Sunset flexes her right wing, creating a small spark of electricity which she tosses to her left and then tosses to.. just in front of her, where it forms a small, crackling ball. She smiles. "-if you like magic this is every bit as interesting as unicorn magic."

    Twilight smiles. "I suppose it can't hurt." She looks Sunset over. "But I don’t understand how you're so big. I know I've gotten taller since my ascension, but… We tested your magic and you were only about as strong as me."

    "Oh, that's simple. You're going to keep growing until you get to roughly my size. But the spell you used was designed to be as safe as possible because Starswirl didn't understand exactly how the process worked and he didn't want to risk killing Celestia or Luna. So you only grow slowly. Since I knew exactly what I was doing I decided to skip the wait and empower myself fully from the start." She thinks for a moment. "Actually, Luna? I can't make you any bigger, but now that you're back on Equestria you're probably going to start growing again."

    For a fraction of a second Luna looks incredibly pleased with herself, then schools her expression.

    "That will be an interesting experience."

    "But right now-."

    Celestia steps forwards. "Sunset-."

    "Y.. eah…" Sunset nods. "We probably need to.. talk."

    "I spoke with Grayven, concerning... You. I will try to avoid offending you if you will agree to have patience if I fail."

    Sunset nods again and trots forward. "Yeah. Okay. And then we can…"





    Pinkie twitches, then resolutely shakes her head.





    The door bursts open as Party Popper storms in, guards hanging from her barrel!

    "HAVE A PARTY!"

    She collapses to the ground panting. I regard her impassively.

    "What? I was at the other end of the palace. Even if you cue me in I can only gallop so fast."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Day 297
    Mid morning


    In my late teens, I spent about six months' worth of Saturdays working on a local farm. I wasn't much good at it and I didn't like it at all. Now, looking around the farm lands which will keep the people of Thundera from starving this winter, I'm…

    Okay. Pride is in the mix, but I can't honestly say I did a whole lot of physical farm work myself. Fortunately neither the rats nor the low-caste cats who make up most of the local population have any aversion to manual labour. Between the lizard clans and Mumm-Ra's followers all of the food reserves which the fallen nation had put aside were taken or destroyed. But I organised this, kept disparate and mutually antagonistic people focused and working. And now most of them will survive.

    Those whom I didn't have to kill in order to make this happen, at least.

    Even as I think it, my eyes drift towards the gibbet in the centre of town, and its desiccated inhabitant with the 'I STOLE FOOD' sign around his neck. Most people don't even look at it now, which is the way I prefer it. A few do glance my way… Hm. They don’t back away or.. attempt to shield their children. I look for a moment at the ring on my right middle finger as I contemplate the matter. They know what I've done for them, the farmlands I've organised, the order I've brought… The very basics of civilisation. But they don't love me, nor shall they.

    Nor should they.

    'I TRADED SLAVES'

    "Ah, my lord?"

    Most of them don’t love me. I suppose if you save a mother's children from starvation and make her your de facto number two, you shouldn't be surprised if she becomes somewhat attached to you.

    I smile at her as she approaches, note pad in hand. "Khoah, what news?"

    'I WAS A MURDERER'


    "The fourth tilling machine is back in operation."

    I nod again. Third Earth has all manner of technology, but for whatever reason the various species often aren't anything like as sophisticated as it is. Presumably, that's because it was never in Mumm-Ra's interest to tell his slaves how any of it worked. As a result, when they finally broke free there.. just weren't enough people who knew enough for them to sustain the level of civilisation they were used to. Just.. digging around their ruins enabled me to get enough data to construct simple tractors. An offer of sanctuary to one of the few races who know anything useful about engineering got me power generation. Of course, I still had to teach a bunch of superstitious peasants how to use any of it…

    "That's good to hear. I was concerned that we might not be able to manufacture the parts we need. What does that do for our production in the next growing season?"

    "Assuming a reasonable growing year, we should have a moderate surplus. And it will allow us to extend the roads to the last of the farms." I nod again. It still strikes me as strange, how little infrastructure even a relatively advanced place like Thundera had. The city itself was solid stone, mined from local quarries. But the surrounding area… "We might be able to make it as far as the City, depending on when the rains come."

    "Not Mount Plun-darr?"

    "Not without a lot more resources, and…" Her eyes drift unavoidably to the sword at my side, and stone in its guard. With them, a hour's meditation on fear causes the ring to recover about two percent of its maximum charge. In practice, that means that I can't risk a long range scavenger hunt more than once a month or so. "The cats don't want to go back there."

    Because that's where most of the slaves taken by the lizards were sold, and where many of their fellows were worked to death. Foolish superstition again. "Oh, I think seeing the rats and lizards benefit from central heating next winter will change their minds quickly enough." But it's going to be a problem. Thundrillium isn't anything like as high a priority as stone or wood or iron, to say nothing of food, but we're going to need it before Mumm-Ra sends any serious force in our direction. There just isn't enough wood around here-.

    I hear the dull hum of one of the anti-gravity vehicles we took from Mumm-Ra's forces. Ring? Ah, it seems that my third in command is heading back from patrol, with a few guests. Given that the guests have manacles around their wrists and ankles and bags over their heads, I'm going to assume that the encounter was hostile.

    Khoah's ears twitch. "She's back early."

    What happens next depends on exactly what they did. If they're just desperate refugees who turned to banditry to avoid starvation, they get a tattoo and a period of punishment duty. If they're career bandits or slavers, I will publically execute them. Pumyra will be taking them to the plaza in front of my manor. Pumyra understands the utility of fear rather well, and is quite supportive of my judicial theatre.

    "Yes." I offer her my right hand. "Shall we?"

    "Um." While she's not afraid of violence, Khoah has never gotten used to the sort of extreme I'm prepared to go to when doling out punishment. In a survival situation like this, the purpose of the punishment for the first offence isn't just to prevent a second offence in the one being punished, but in all of those watching as well. "Of.. course, my lord."

    I nod, and extend the ring's flight aura around us to lift us both into the sky. "How are your children getting on with their new teacher?"

    She shakes off whatever disquiet she's feeling, smiling at the thought of them.

    "They're very fond of him. Every day when they come home they can't stop talking about all of the fascinating things they've learned."

    Her older two.. left home shortly after the death of their father. Some of the refugees from the city mentioned seeing kittens matching their description, but… Realistically, those could have been anyone. The remaining two were left fairly withdrawn, but one of the few advantages of the current crisis is that they're regularly in contact with other children their age. And they're young enough that they'll grow up surrounded by technology and consider it normal.

    A small crowd has gathered as we come in to land on the small stage on the manor side of the plaza. My official residence, and the seat of my 'government'. I'll probably end up abandoning it in a few years so that I can set up a capital somewhere more central, more defensible. But for now the wood and stone building is perfectly serviceable. We land, and I sit in a heavy wooden chair in the centre while Khoah stands next to me just as the grav-floater swings into the plaza. Pumyra and two other soldiers with four prisoners; one adult male, one adult female and two children. A family, perhaps? Probably best to leave the children's bags on if she intends for me to-.

    "Ho, Lord Protector! I think today's my lucky day!"

    "Pumyra!" The grav-floater drifts to a halt in front of the stage, the rat at the controls clearly enjoying her role. "What do you have for me today?"

    She's grinning as she steps back from the crew station towards the adult male, shoving him forward. Odd. Pumyra isn't really the grinning sort. Ever since I dug her out from under the rubble during the flight from the capital, she's been a veritable font of bile and barely controlled rage. "The person I hate most on all of Third Earth." She rips off the bag, and… Ah.

    Lion-O blinks in the light for a moment, before focusing his attention fully on me. He's.. younger than the version I grew up watching… Physically, anyway. His hair… Should that be 'mane'? Is a good deal shorter and is at least paying lip service to the laws of physics.

    "Lion-O."

    "King Lion-O."

    "King?" I look around the crowd. The lizards look decidedly unsettled, but it's the cats I'm most concerned about. The last thing I need is any doubt about who is in charge. "You abandoned your people in favour of chasing after Mumm-Ra. You left them as slaves, or starving in the wilderness. You are the last person with any right to claim authority here." He grits his teeth and tests the chains as I visually dismiss him. "Pumyra, who are the others?"

    She nods, and her dog soldier pulls the bag off the adult woman. I assume that's the continuity's Cheetara. She's some sort of warrior-priestess here, though I don't know the details. And quite possibly the last living member of her sect. If there's any way to get her to stay on as a teacher it would be worth pursuing… But I doubt it would work. Unlike Lion-O she isn’t looking at my face, but she is trying hard not to stare at the energy stone in my sword.

    Khoah gasps is shock as the bags are pulled from the heads of the children, and she's dashing forwards even as the surprised whisper of 'Mama?' reaches my ears. WilyKit and WilyKat. Normally I'd be delighted, but right now the issue requires seriousness.

    "Pumyra, release the kittens into the care of their mother, and bring the other two inside." I stand and turn away, letting my yellow-sigiled cape swirl about me. "We can decide what to do with them at our leisure."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Day 297
    Mid morning


    Patience.

    "…my people. I'm their king…"

    Patience, and fixing him with a steady stare while the rest of my face remains completely still. And not responding with word or gesture.

    "…like you run the place while I'm fighting…"

    I can feel Khoah's love and hope as tiny disruptions in the aura of fear that usually surrounds me. People see my closest confidant so obviously happy… No, no, it isn't a problem.

    "…forcing people to work…"

    Or rather, it's not an existential problem for the community. We're.. not at the level of desperation which we were after the sacking of the City of Thundera. I can afford to be something other than a stern-faced judge and executioner. After all, it is best to be loved and feared rather than either alone.

    "…stole my sword…"

    The boy is unnerved, and that as much as anything else is making him irrational. And he knows it. He knows that he's failing some sort of unspoken test, but he just can't control himself. I'd assign blame to his youth, but the people of this land can't afford to wait for him to get his head on straight.

    "…say something!"

    I wait a moment as Lion-O glares and gets his breath back, but he doesn't appear to feel the need to continue his rant. Cheetara's remained quiet, but her eyes occasionally drift to the Sword of Omens now at Pumyra's hip. I'm not sure if whatever supernatural abilities this version has would allow her to break out of the wrought iron bonds holding her wrists behind her back. But even if she can, I'm confident that I can deal with it.

    I lean forward slightly.

    "If you've quite finished?"

    "Let us-" He takes a half-pace forward and beside me Pumyra's right hand tightens on her newly acquired sword. Cheetara spots that, her fear for Lion-O flaring momentarily as she realises that she might not be able to save him if he persists in his stupidity. "-go, you-."

    I raise my right hand, glowing construct chains attaching themselves to his arms, legs and neck and pulling him to the ground to grovel before me. I add a solid faceplate to cover his mouth and then force him into a kneeling position.

    And then I walk over to him and bend down, so that my mouth is closer to his right ear.

    "If you've quite finished?"

    "Mrrrrrrugh!"

    I straighten up and go back to staring down at him. Since my… Harrowing meditation under the ring's influence I've found that certain things -such as staring unflinchingly- are far easier than they once were. He doesn't have that advantage, and he's trying to maintain eye contact anyway. Again, it just makes him appear weak.

    "Then in no particular order. You are the king of no-one. Thundera fell. Its rulers dead or… Fled."

    "Mry ruruh urgh!"

    "I took charge because I had the power to protect those who submitted to my authority and the power to enforce my rule. People stayed because I was able to organise them into a society that is capable of feeding itself. Their numbers further bolstered by those cats I freed from lizard and rat slavers… And the lizards I freed from Slithe."

    Cheetara frowns. "Why would Slithe take other lizards prisoner?"

    "Because they don't serve Mumm-Ra." I keep staring at Lion-O as I answer her. "For the most part, the lizards who attacked Thundera did so to reclaim the lands the cats took from them and to prevent any possibility of another reversal. Slithe was their war chief, not their king. With their objective complete, they want to go home. Slithe won't allow that, and he's been quite brutal in making examples of those who challenge his orders."

    "Moving swiftly on." Lion-O's eyes are watering and he's forced to look away. "You don't rule here because, as I said, you left. You ran after Mumm-Ra rather than protect your people. And while I'm willing to blame that on your youth and inexperience rather than any underlying defect of character, that abandonment means that there's little residual affection for you here. Pumyra in particular was quite put out that you didn't stop to dig her out of the rubble as you ran right past her on your way out."

    "People here work so that there is food. The lizards' army fed itself by taking food from local farms and granaries. The farmers then fled. Before I started doing this no one was planting. And if the fields are not planted then there will be no food. Everyone will starve." I bring my face closer to his. "Do you understand why that is bad?"

    He briefly meets my eyes again, and gives me a small nod. I pull back, my eyes still locked on his, and dismiss the construct chains holding him.

    "I don't know why you're here. I'm mildly concerned that your presence will prove disruptive, but that potential damage is minimised by you leaving promptly. As for your sword? It will be returned when you leave."

    I feel the change in Pumyra's posture. No, I didn't expect that would make her happy. And there is a.. value in having another weapon like my own sword around. But the Sword of Omens would just make us too big of a target, and without a personal lantern I can't fight the sort of force Mumm-Ra could throw at me. Oh, I'd be fine, but everything I've been building would be utterly destroyed. And while I'm sure that she'll demand an explanation, I've taught her to do things like that in private. And even if I hadn't, she wouldn't undermine me in front of the man she hates.

    "Is there anything else?"

    He cautiously rises to his feet. "We're still-. We need to fight Mumm-Ra-."

    "I think you over-estimate what I 'need' to do. But, yes, I am willing to participate. Once there's an actual plan. That has a hope in hell of working. Though if by some miracle you find a lantern with this-" I hold my right hand up so he can get a clear look at the sigil. "-sigil on it, you can pretty much name your price."

    Because if I get that, oh, things become a lot easier. I only had a quick look at the flying pyramid that Mumm-Ra calls a ship, but I rather imagine that bringing it up to full functionality would dramatically improve my situation.

    And then… Sinestro did want his Corps to be a force for universal order, didn't he?

    "I'll keep that in mind. We.. need some supplies."

    "We have just a little more than the bare minimum of food we need for everyone to live. And you want supplies?"

    "No, not food. For our tank. We need help with the repairs-."

    "Fine. Talk to the berbils. Anything else?"

    "No, that's-."

    "Good. Off you go." He hesitates, and I make a flapping motion with both hands as I use the ring to unlock their metal chains. "Shoo. Pumyra will escort you."

    "Ah. … Thanks."

    He steps away, rubbing his wrists as he does so.

    "Cheetara, stay a moment, would you? I have a few questions for you."

    Lion-O looks back in alarm, but Cheetara shakes her head. He hesitates a moment, then Pumyra walks up and shoves him forward. Cheetara and I both wait until the door closes behind them, then look at one another. Her, I don't stare down. And-. Ah, smile.

    "What did you want to ask?" Her expression is guarded, but there's no sign that she's preparing for an attack. Hopeful.

    "I'm not a cat. Obviously." I turn away and walk over to my cabinet. "May I offer you a drink? I'm afraid all we have is water."

    "Thank you."

    I pour water from the clay jug into two plain clay cups, then turn and pass one to her. Then I take a drink, which she watches carefully before sipping from her own cup.

    "There are things I don't understand about cat society, and I can't afford to look ignorant before my people. But since you're leaving soon anyway, there's no harm in me asking you. And as a cleric, I imagine that you're well placed to answer."

    "What did you want to know?"

    "After the death of a spouse-" She blinks. "-what is the appropriate period of mourning before entertaining a new suitor?"

    "Why are you asking?"

    "I am extremely fond of Khoah, and… She's fond of me. Her husband died a while ago, and he was by all accounts a fine man. I have no desire to insult his memory, but I would like to pursue her romantically. So I would like to know how long I should leave it."

    "Ah."

    Oh, of course. Mustn't forget. "We also have a graveyard. I've tried my best, but all too often people died before I arrived or were too badly injured for me to heal. If you have the time to consecrate it while you're here, I'm sure that it would be a comfort to-."

    "I'm.. not that kind of cleric. I'm a warrior and a keeper of secret knowledge, not a.. priestess."

    I frown. "Oh. Are you at all familiar with the relevant rites?"

    "I know the death-rites. If you think it will help people-" I nod. "-then I can say a few words. And there isn't a 'standard' period of mourning. If she.. likes you then it's probably okay."

    I smile pleasantly. "Thank you. I will bear that in mind."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Day 297
    Mid evening


    "Are you our Pa now?"

    I.. freeze in the act of tucking Wilykin into bed, and the slight rustling of the sheets suggests that his sister has squirmed her way out from under the covers and is watching me as well. I can't see her expression in this light, though I'm sure they can both see mine perfectly well. Their low light vision is far better than mine, when I'm not enhancing it with the ring anyway.

    "Why do you ask?"

    "'kit and 'kat wanted to know." Something else occurs to him. "Is it really them?"

    "Don’t you recognise them?"

    He squirms uncomfortable. "I dunno. They went away…"

    I nod. "I suppose that must seem like a long time for you. And they're a bit bigger now." He looks at me for a moment, then nods. "I can assure you that they are in fact your missing brother and sister. Your mother remembers what they look like extremely well."

    "Did you-" Wilytab wriggles a little further out of bed. "-use your ring?"

    "Yes, I used my ring. It's definitely them."

    Of course, I only did a DNA check. I haven't seen anything on this planet that could fake that, but given the vast range of levels of technical sophistication that exists here it wouldn't come as a total surprise if something like that happened. Or magic, perhaps. But I think I'll keep my fears to myself.

    "So are you?"

    While I fully intend to have a slightly more nuanced version of this conversation with Khoah in a little while, I think the kittens can have the simplified version.

    "I could never replace your father. But in his absence, perhaps I can substitute for him."

    "What does 'substute' mean?"

    I nod and smile. "You know how when I go away sometimes and people have questions for me, and your mother answers them?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "When that happens, your mother is my substitute. She's not becoming me, but she's doing my job for a little while."

    "So you're doing Pa's job?"

    I lean forward, kiss his forehead and ruffle his hair with my right hand. "Yes, I am."

    "Okay." He wriggles around so that he's lying on his side. "'night, Substitute Pa."

    "Goodnight Wilykin." I stand up. "Goodnight Wilytab."

    "'night."

    I smile at her, then turn around and walk out of the room, carefully closing the door behind-.

    "'Substitute Pa'."

    Wilykit and Wilykat are looking at me in a way which suggests that they're extremely dubious about me. These two kittens have been through the wringer since leaving home, and Khoah has been delighted to have them back. I make eye contact with each of them, then move my right forefinger to my lips in a 'shush' gesture. Wilykit glances at the door behind me and grimaces slightly while Wilykat glares at me with his arms folded across his chest.

    I lead the way down the corridor into a currently unused meeting room. This room has a battery powered electric light in the centre of the table, so I reach over and turn it on low as the older kittens file in behind me.

    "Will the two of you be staying once-?"

    "What are you doing with Mama?"

    I look up to see that Wilykit has joined in with her brother's mock scowling. Oh. No, that isn't supposed to be mock scowling. That's.. adorable.

    "Keeping the cats alive. Your mother's farm was far enough away from Thundera that the lizards didn't loot it. There was good farmland, but not enough people to work it. Plus, your mother had an excellent knowledge of farming. Starting the new settlement here just made sense."

    "No. What are you doing with her?" Her eyes momentarily widen. "Are you controlling her with your magic ring?"

    "No." I shake my head. "Yellow rings can't control people. And even if I could, I don't have enough power to waste on something like that." They're both watching me intently. "Khoah has been invaluable in making this place work. I'd be quite lost without her. Is… Something worrying you?"

    Wilykat starts. "You have people tied to posts! With signs around their necks telling everyone what you killed them for!"

    I nod. "And you don't think that Khoah would accept that."

    "You killed a guy for stealing food! We-."

    He stops talking, and his sister's eyes widen in horror. Ah.

    "Children, there's a big difference between stealing food because you're starving in a place that has plenty of food, and stealing food when you've been given as much to eat as everyone else in a place that has barely enough for everyone to survive. Khoah wasn't comfortable with it." For stealing food, anyway. No problem with the death penalty for slavery and murder. "However, she's lived on the frontier long enough to know that sometimes there isn't a lot of room for finesse in maintaining order. And generally, that's my responsibility."

    Wilykat frowns thoughtfully while Wilykit looks away. Wilykat then looks up at me as his brow smoothes.

    "Do you intend to stay? Or carry on travelling with Lion-O? I know that Khoah would like you to stay, and…" Huh. "I would as well. You're far too young to be out by yourselves."

    Wilykit scowsl petulantly. "We're not by ourselves."

    Wilykat nods, arms folded across his chest as he juts his chin out defiantly. "Yeah. Lion-O never would have got to the Book of Omens without us."

    Whatever that is.

    I nod. "Alright. Please know that you have a home here whenever you want to return." They look at me suspiciously, then give me a small nod. "And you can explain why you're leaving to your mother."

    A pair of winces.

    "Now, I think you two should probably be getting to bed as well."

    "Hey." Wilykat tries to glare again. "We're adventurers now-."

    "I'll send your mother up to tell you a bed time story. How about that?"

    They look at each other for a moment, then turn around and file out.

    That appears to be going… Alright. They don't despise me, at least. I can't see the confrontation with Mumm-Ra lasting more than a few years, so I'll have plenty of time to build bridges with them later. I turn off the lamp and then head out of the room, turn left and down the stairs into the living area.

    Khoah looks up from the.. books she brought from her old home. She was going through them with the kittens a little earlier and I didn't want to disturb them.

    "How did the meeting go?"

    "Lion-O may be salvageable." I cross the room and sit down on the sofa next to her. "Cheetara was a bit useless, though. Apparently clerics here are very different to where I'm from."

    "Why did you want a cleric?"

    Oh, there's no point dancing around the subject any longer.

    "Because I love you and want-" She blinks several times in quick succession. "-to ask you to marry me, but I was concerned that you might still be in the formal mourning period for your late husband." I shrug. "Are you? I'll quite understand if you are, or if you're just not interested in me in that way-."

    "Um. No. Wilytom's… Death left a.. hole in my life I.. didn't know if I would ever fill. But youEverything you've done…"

    I lean forwards carefully and embrace her. She hugs me back, the right side of her face rubbing against my cheek.

    "I'm delighted to hear you say that."
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Canterlot
    Late Afternoon


    "…grow larger?"

    Luna appears to be taking her status as third shortest alicorn in her stride. Cadance appears to not be all that curious about Sunset's achievement, which… Strikes me as a little odd. While, yes, I'm going to credit her with the intelligence to have talked to Shining Armour about the life expectancy difference I'd have thought that she'd be all over this.

    Circe nods. "It's inevitable. As you-." She hesitates. "Has Sunset shown you her equations?"

    "Yes, though We do not yet fully grasp their meaning."

    "Essentially, becoming an alicorn changes the proportion of 'you' that is made of arcane energy rather than flesh. An alicorn as old as Celestia has almost certainly reached her full size, barring any further transformations." Circe frowns. "Do you know exactly how old she is? Sunset said that Celestia is over a thousand, but she wasn't able to find a precise figure."

    "I would think so. Celestia is Our sister. She is one thousand and forty nine."

    "One thousand-." I frown. "Really? I assumed-. But then you're only-."

    "Forty six, if one discounts the time during which Nightmare Moon was in possession of Our body." She rolls her eyes. "Did you assume that We were some ancient demi-goddess? There are ponies in Our guard who are Our senior."

    "So more of a middle-aged demi-goddess?" She gives me a mildly reproachful glare. "What? I'm not exactly in the first flush of youth myself, and-" I lower my head and voice slightly "-you're the one sort of Christmas Cake I'd-."

    She looks away, smiling, her ears twitching and her tail flicking my haunches.

    "Hie away, you incorrigible scoundrel."

    "Oh you love it."

    Cadance smiles at our exchange, then looks thoughtfully at Circe. "Does that mean that I'm going to grow as well?"

    "Almost certainly. I'm afraid that accelerating the process with an existing alicorn is rather more difficult than-."

    "Oh, no no no. I'm not jealous. I'm glad that Sunset was able to get what she wants."

    I smirk. "Because now you don't have to worry about her turning up in your room at night with a dissection kit."

    She looks away. "Well… Ah, how do you think her talk with Princess Celestia is going?"

    "Nothing's exploded yet and-" I glance out of a nearby window. "-the sun's still on course, so I suppose that it's going about as well as it could."

    "I know you don't like Celestia very much, but when Sunset was her student they really cared about each other-." My expression appears to give me away. "And maybe Celestia didn't communicate very well, and maybe Sunset was a lot angrier than was healthy, but that love doesn't just go away." She looks thoughtful. "Maybe I could remind them of that feeling-."

    I scowl. "Use-."

    [​IMG]

    'Use unnatural mental influence spells on any member of my retinue and I will treat it as an act of war.'

    I glance at Luna, who looks curious as to where I was going with that.

    No. No.

    Cadance stops to see what I wanted to say, and… I do want to make clear clear my opposition, but less vehemently.

    "I feel that it's important to let them work out their differences themselves, and I would very much appreciate it if you didn't ever interfere with their thoughts with magic."

    Cadance gapes for a moment.

    "… O-oh."

    Oh… Great. Managed to be rude anyway. Ugh. I look away. I suppose that I should check on them. It's not as if Sunset doesn't know how to nullify sound or kill someone quietly.

    "Excuse me."

    I turn and trot away. To be absolutely fair, I don't know precisely how severe her mental compulsions are, but… That's not really a question a person should have to consider. After what Chrysalis did to Shining Armour she should know better than that.

    Ugh.

    Speaking of the stallion, he's over there talking to Shadow Tempest. I'm not sure exactly how much the state of the Royal Guard is his fault, how much is Celestia and how much is the combined failure of the institution over the course of a thousand years, but-.

    "Hey." Rainbow Dash appears in the air directly in front of me. "What were you planning on using on me?"

    I stop walking, raising my eyebrows. "I beg your pardon?"

    "The thing. Like the clones and Spike and Rarity and the Diamond Dogs. What were you planning on springing on me?"

    "Didn’t really have anything, to be honest. Maybe something about the ennui involved in wanting to join the Wonderbolts when you're already a better flier and fighter than they are, but at this point you're more aware of your faults than I am."

    She flaps twice, then frowns.

    "Why would I need an emu to join the Wonderbolts? Emus can't fly."



    I.. don't trust myself to keep a straight face, so I walk past her in the direction of-. No, they're gone. Ah, Twilight Sparkle. I should ask her about mental influence spells and see how warranted my concerns are. I mean, I'm confident that Sunset can defend herself-.

    "Hey, Gravy!" / "Hey, Gravy!"

    I stop again, turning to see… Pinkie Pie and Party Popper.

    Wait, 'gravy'? Blood sauce? I mean, I know that she's a baker, but… I wouldn't have thought that ponies… No, she might mean that white sauce stuff that Americans think is gravy.

    "Pinkie Pie. Party Popper. What can I do for you?"

    "Okay, but which is which?" / "Okay, but which is which?"

    Creepy party twins alert.

    I point to Party Popper. "Popper." And then to Pinkie Pie. "Pie."

    No… Wait. I look closer.

    "No. You're not."

    The Pinkie clone grins even wider. "You actually can tell!"

    "Yes..? May I ask what you're doing in Canterlot?"

    "I'm gunna be the Canterlot Pinkie! Because it would be super-confusing if we all went to the same place, and I got sent here. Party Popper got Manehattan because of course she did-"

    "Uh-huh."

    "-and Original Pinkie got Ponyville and everypinkie else got somewhere else!"

    "It will be a party extravaganza, I'm-."

    "Sunset, that isn't what I meant."

    Hurried hoofsteps cause me and.. most of the room to turn in the direction of the door to Celestia's garden. Sunset comes through first, water leaking from her eyes. An alarmed-looking Celestia follows swiftly at her heels. Sunset stops for a moment, her eyes alighting on me for a moment before turning back to Celestia.

    "What else could you mean? What more could I learn when I've already achieved what your 'lessons' were supposed to teach me to do?"

    "I'm sorry you feel that way, but-."

    Sunset's face falls. "Yes. You are, aren't you?" She shakes her head. "I don't know what I-." She turns away from Celestia and trots over to me. "Grayven, can we.. go? Just… Call a boom tube?"

    I look from her to Celestia, who gives her head a small pleading shake. And then back to Sunset.

    "Certainly. Luna, I'll be back tomorrow. Mother Box."

    Boom!
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st April
    23:31 GMT -6


    The boom tube closes behind us and I open a new one to her laboratory almost immediately.

    "I realise that you're a little fraught, but you should probably switch the time ratio-."

    "Yeah." She trots forward. "Yeah."

    I follow her through, and… Looks like she didn't clear away the conjured ropes she used to bind Twilight. Sunset's horn glows as she points it at the inscriptions trapping the Earth 16 end of the portal in place, a ripple of power washing over it.

    "There. One to one. Circe will only be out by about a minute."

    I pick up the remains of the bondage gear in a construct.

    "What happened with this? And Twilight's tour?"

    "Fifteen to one, remember?" She levitates it out of my construct and places in it a thaumically isolating crate. "I'd barely gotten her untied before we felt Luna's magic through the mirror. I guess I'll… Give Twilight a tour some other time."

    "So.. you're… Alright with Twilight?"

    "Yeaah..? It's not like I thought I was Celestia's only student ever or anything. And… If we're right about her planning on using me to help Luna and… She didn't tell Twilight more than she told me… None of this… Was Twilight's fault." She gives her head a small shake. "And I got what I wanted anyway…"

    "Anger isn't really rational like that."

    "No. No, it's-. She's fine." She snorts quietly. "And maybe I can help open her mind to… Things that Celestia won't teach her."

    I nod. "Like bondage."

    She makes a small horse-splutter noise. "Not according to a rumour I heard-. That was you."

    I grin and nod. "Not the bondage part specifically, but I told a few guards that alicornism was sexually transmitted."

    Sunset looks at me for a moment, head tilted slightly to the right. "That's… A horribly you thing to say."

    "Thank you. And I hope you're not going to have a story about you creeping into Celestia's room with a-."

    "No! No, Grayven, that's-. Gross. And… And disgusting and it wouldn't even have worked." She shudders. "Uugh. I feel like I need a shower."

    "Slight problem with that."

    She frowns, then looks down at herself. "I'll just.. use the g-troll shower. They.. have one, right?"

    "Yes, but… Remember we're not actually that tall, just… Bigger than the other ponies."

    "Speak for yourself. I think I'm as tall like this as I am as a human."

    We stand in her laboratory for a few moments.

    "So… Celestia?"

    She waves her head from left to right.

    "I don’t.. know..? I don't know what I wanted, I don't know what I was expectingI don't know."

    I nod, and lay down on the floor.

    "Okay, so, what did the two of you talk about?"

    "I, um. We.. started with… Just.. the first time I was in the garden. I didn't really remember it. Wasn't really paying any attention to anything that wasn't her."

    "How long ago..?"

    "I don't know. A few weeks after I went to live in Canterlot? I grew up on the other side of the country and I was getting a bit overwhelmed with everything. We just.. chatted. Which was weird, because-. We don't exactly deify Celestia, but if you don't live close enough to Canterlot to actually see her, she's kind of…"

    "A sort of living myth."

    Sunset nods. "And not like Superman, or.. you. We don't have TV or radio. We haven't even had colour photography for all that long. And suddenly she's there and talking to me."

    "You left your friends behind." She looks at me with an interrogative frown. "When you moved."

    "Oh. Yeah. No one I was super close to, but… Yeah."

    I nod. No local friends, not much in common…

    "Did the other foals at the school mostly come from Canterlot?"

    "Mostly from Canterlot. Canterlot's a mostly-unicorn city, the centre of government and.. the.. second?" She thinks for a moment, then nods. "Second most populous city. It's not that surprising."

    But she was an outsider, and amongst the scions of powerful families she was selected for particular privilege. And she outperformed them all. Would that have discouraged ponies from befriending her, in the early days, before she got out of the habit? Don't know. And it's probably not relevant.

    "And then?"

    "She… Said that she hadn't banished me, and that she just wanted me to get some more experience outside of the palace before I started studying again. And that she was looking for a student because of Luna but that wasn't why she picked me, or why we had the relationship that we did."

    "Do you believe her?"

    "… Yeah. I mean, even if she didn't mean to when she started teaching me, I don’t think-. She wouldn't have put up with me as long as she did if-. Once it was pretty clear that I wasn't going to be using the Elements."

    "And did hearing that make you feel any better?"

    "I don’t know-. No. No, it didn't. Because it means that I didn't need to run through the mirror. There are plenty of other libraries in Equestria, especially in Canterlot. And I could-. Making friends wouldn't be that bad?"

    "Would you have made friends?"

    "No." She doesn't hesitate. "I was convinced that Celestia was holding out on me, because she was. I'd have kept looking. And I told her that, and wanted to know why she lied to me. And she-. She said that it was because I wasn't ready. I was sitting there.. as an alicorn, and she was telling me I wasn't ready."

    "Huh?"

    "Oh, she thinks I cheated. That I found some sort of.. nearly dark magic way around the 'natural'… Healthy way to become an alicorn. I think she wanted me to… I don't know, turn myself back, go back to Equestria and try learning what she was trying to teach me in the first place. And I wanted to know why she thought I'd want to, and she just-. She had no idea why I wouldn't. Like she literally couldn't understand what I was saying. And then I tried asking about all the stuff she obviously got wrong when she was teaching me, all the stuff she-. Should have done differently if she'd wanted me to end up like she said she wanted me to. I mean, if she wanted me to make friends so badly why didn't she say that instead of showing me the Mirror!"

    And she's crying, snot running down her muzzle.

    "Why-? And then she just-"

    I raise my right wing.

    "-couldn't understand why I thought she was part of the problem!"

    She dives into my side, pressing herself up against me and sobbing into my barrel as I wrap my wing around her.

    "Why doesn't she get it?!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2020
  21. Threadmarks: Repetition
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Repetition

    2nd April 2012
    07:52 GMT -6


    "Daddy, why are you a pony?"

    I look around as Bethany stares at me in fascination.

    "Variety is the spice of life, honey. Want a ride?"

    Lynne puts her hands on her hips.

    "Daddy, why are you a pony?"

    "Sunset's portal opened up, and I wanted to give her moral support while she did her ascension thing." Lynne nods while Bethany just looks confused. "Sunset? The young woman with the red hair with yellow streaks? She's been here for a year, I'm sure you've seen her at some point."

    "Yes-" Momentary reassurance-seeking glance at Eldest Adopted Sister. "-Daddy, I know who Sunset is."

    "Right, well she's a magical pony from a world on the other side of a mirror, and the portal just opened again so she's getting back in touch with her-" Friends? No. Family? She didn't really mention them directly. They could be dead, or it could be like Shining Armor where he popped into existence at the end of series two. I'll nudge her about that in a couple of days. "-people."

    "Sunset's a pony?"

    "At the moment, yes. When you go through the portal it turns you into one."

    Bethany's eyes light up. "Can I come?! Can I come please?!"

    I trot closer and give her a nuzzle. "I'm sorry, but it isn't safe unless we know what being turned into a pony does to your medicine." Her head bows as she lets out a disappointed moan, but she reaches up to stroke my nose anyway. Oddly satisfying. "Tell you what. Sunset's locked the portal open now, so I'll check out what it does to your blood this week and you can pay them a visit this weekend. Does that sound alright?"

    She nuzzles me back. "Thank you Daddy!"

    "That's quite alright. Looking forward to your lesson with Ms Gloria this afternoon?"

    Bethany frowns. "I don't think she's very nice."

    "Then you're a good judge of character. But what makes you think that?"

    "She eats birds."

    "Honey, a chicken is a type of bird, and if you're telling me that you've gone off chicken then I'm going to have to sort out something else for dinner."

    "No, not like chicken-bird, you know, like you buy in a shop. Like there was a little bird outside the classroom and she just kept staring at it the whole time? And Stephan asked her why and she said that she sometimes gets urges?"

    "A lot of people get inappropriate urges. That doesn't make them bad people."

    "But she isn't taking her medicine!" Oh… Right. "You said we couldn't stop ourselves killing-. Things… When we turn into monsters, but we are responsible for taking our medicine, because if we don't take it we turn back into monsters and then it's our fault. So if she still wants to eat wild animals then she's bad."

    "I'm afraid that there isn't any medicine for Ms Gloria."

    Bethany looks horrified. "What?"

    "Ms Gloria isn't quite the same as you and your natural siblings. Her body just sort of ignores medicine. But she's an adult, and as long as it's just wild animals I decided that I should leave her to it."

    "But she doesn't want to!"

    "Tell you what: if you see her staring at a bird, walk over and give her a big hug. That should take her mind off it."

    If only because I know that her husband -a pleasant if somewhat vacuous Chelsea player- has been carefully raising the idea of having children for a while. And while I suspect that at this point Ms Gloria isn't totally against the idea, there are some things a demonic body struggles with. On the other hand, if she gets the idea to have a demonology-focused magician take a look at my younger children, who knows what might happen?

    "Okay Daddy." She takes a step back. "Have fun with the other ponies!"

    I nod, smiling. "I'm sure I will."

    She heads off into the Mountain to go and get her school accoutrements while Lynne looks at me thoughtfully. "What really happened?"

    "Sunset kidnapped her successor, but we talked things out. Her banishment appears to have been rescinded, if only because Celestia realises that it won't serve its intended purpose. Ponies are really tiny and really cute."

    "You don't look tiny."

    I raise my eyebrows. "Ah, but I do look cute."

    She rolls her eyes. "Do you want me to feed you a carrot?"

    She's trying for teenage-sullen, but the smile ruins it.

    "I don't know. I'm fine with it, but I'm worried it might be pony-racist or something." She looks away for a moment. "So you coming this weekend, or-?"

    "Yes Daddy, of course I'm coming."

    "You going to come as you are, or come as a pony?"

    "Um." Her eyes move away from my face as she considers it. "What's it.. like?"

    "Weird. You fall over a whole lot to start with. But in theory you get access to pony magic."

    "Like making stuff float with your horn?"

    "I didn't think I should try that in case I broke something. But I could clumsily fly, and I didn't get any physically weaker. Besides, it's only for a few hours. If you don't like it you can just-" I prance in place for a moment. "-trot back through the portal and you'll be a New God again."

    "A human-shaped New God, right?"



    "Tell you what: why don't you head down to Sunset's laboratory and I'll test that."

    She looks concerned. "Daddy, are you going to get stuck like that?"

    "No, no." I walk closer and give her a nuzzle. "Worst case scenario is that I'll need Sunset to fiddle with the Mirror to make it work properly. And the best part is-."

    Her eyes widen. "No Anti-Life. I can't feel it in you."

    She was feeling-? No, of course she was, but that's fine, it's gone.

    "Yes. Gone completely. There's.. also another potential stepmother I need you and the others to audition, because-."

    "Daddy, are you a player?"

    I snort with amusement. "Gosh, no. If I was a player then I wouldn't be getting my children to do interviews. You'd never meet them."

    "What about Kara?"

    "I thought that she was treating me like an unexploded bomb. If you're telling me-."

    The air around us.. glows.. red..? I generate construct armour around Lynne and myself and grasp my weapons as I activate all available drones to repel invaders.

    Then the ceiling above us just sort of opens and a giant blue hand reaches down towards me!

    "Acquisition successful. Locating local variant 'Grayven'."

    Giant blue hand, meet godkiller sword! I stab upwards as-

    Ping.

    -Mother Box goes to work on the portal itself. The Sword of the Fallen pierces the tip of the grasping forefinger, yellow.. blood? Crackling out. I don't know exactly how good a hit the Sword needs to depower-.

    "Agh!"

    The hand is withdrawn, the tip of the finger landing on my dining table as the portal collapses and the red light fades.



    The heck was that about?
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd April 2012
    09:12 GMT -5


    Ghia'ta limply raises her left hand, and wafts of orange mist drift from my borrowed ring.

    "It's.. a start. How does it feel?"

    She drops her hand and the mist vanishes at once.

    "I feel as if Queen Aga'po may appear at any moment to lecture me for this misdeed."

    "I mean, in yourself."

    "It isn't… I don't think that it really… Fits me."

    "Ghia'ta." I lean closer. "It's just you and me. Your ring isn't reporting on your actions because you're not wearing it. It's okay to want things for yourself."

    "I am aware of that; it is the exclusion of other feelings that feels unnatural to me." She takes it off and holds it out to me. "I doubt that you could change to using a violet ring any easier-"

    I'm already pulling my rings off my fingers.

    "-than I can-."

    "Pass it over, then."

    She blinks. And while that could be because since neither of us are wearing rings she's hearing me in English for the first time, I suspect that it's due to surprise. I haven't bothered ritualistically removing my ring for a while and she might well have assumed that I simply didn't take it off.

    "Pass it-? You intend to use it?"

    "Don’t know. I haven't ever tried using another colour ring before." I shrug. "But I wasn't born as an enlightened avarice mystic. I know the theory, and perhaps I'll be able to help you better if I know what you're used to working with." I shrug, shaking my head. "You don't have to of course, but we know that humans as a species can use violet rings without deleterious mental effects…"

    "You haven't tried a green ring?"

    "No. I asked Guy once and he looked at me as if I'd asked to borrow his testicles. Offered him my ring in return and he jerked his hand back." I shrug. "I could ask Alan, but I didn't want to risk his health."

    "I don't have a spare ring." She picks her ring up from the side table and awkwardly holds it out to me. "Please, be careful with it."

    No, not picking it up. Let's see. I wonder what Jade's doing right now?

    The ring rises unsteadily from Ghia'ta's hand and floats onto my right ring finger. Heh, well, eventually, but I wouldn't want Jade to get the wrong idea.

    Now…

    I flex my right hand, trying to see how the violet version of the environmental shield responds. It doesn't feel as natural as the orange light, but that's.. probably just me.

    Jade would hate me giving up a weapon like this.

    Glowing crystalline construct-armour covers my body as I rise into the air.

    "See? It's not so bad."

    Ghia'ta stares. Then she gets up and walks around me, still staring.

    Ghia'ta stares. Then she gets up and walks around me, still staring.

    Ghia'ta stares. Then she gets up and walks around me, still staring.

    Ghia'ta-.

    I frown. Wait, what?

    Glowing crystalline construct-armour covers my body as I rise into the air.

    "I don't have a spare ring." She picks her ring up from the side table-.

    No, no, what?

    I walk into the briefing room for my meeting with Ghia'ta, and I see that I'm already there.

    "No. I asked Guy once and he looked at me as if I'd asked to borrow his testicles."

    Time-? No, I didn't see this. Which could mean that this is an 'I hate temporal mechanics' situation, but I'm pretty sure-.

    "Orange Lantern, we need-"

    There's a figure in a purple robe standing a short distance from me. I don't seem to be able to move.

    Jade hates people controlling her, too.

    "-to leave at once-."

    SomethingShatters, and I regain control of myself.

    "What-?"

    A violet repto-insectoid claw grips the figure around the chest and slams it into the wall-.

    A violet repto-insectoid claw grips-.

    A violet repto-insectoid claw tries to grip, but I misjudged the distance and it misses.

    No, wait, I didn't. That just-.

    "What you are experiencing is temporal dislocation. I'm using it to hide us. Anyone looking into this timeline from outside will see the future you, rather than the you whose timeline you are now living."

    "I… Recognise you. We haven't met-."

    "No. We have, but the event was erased from your personal timeline. You're remembering it because I'm partially removing you from the normal flow of time. Please don't attack me again, I don't have a great deal of leeway and our need is great."

    "'Our' need?"

    "The fallen Guardian Krona is abducting versions of you from alternate parallel universes and discontinued timelines in order to pry apart the universe at a fundamental level. I was only just able to escape." He pauses. "Do you know who I am?"

    "The Time Trapper. I'm not exactly sure what that entails."

    "It means that I tried to manipulate time in an unwise way, and was rendered outside it for my hubris. I have my own reasons for stopping Krona, quite aside from what he did to me in order to put his insane scheme into action. Come."

    He turns and walks away.

    "We will need to travel. I need you for your power and connection to your parallel alternate selves."

    "Can I pick up my rings first?"

    The Time Trapper pauses, then the hood glances back at me.

    "You don't have your ring?"

    "No, I have Ghia'ta's ring which I used for the first time a few seconds ago. My rings are back in there."

    He stares at me, then lets out a peal of pained laughter.

    "Of course they are. And no, you can't. He's almost certainly watching for us. I can't risk breaking cover." He turns away again and continues down the corridor. "I hope that you're a quick learner, for all our sakes."
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd April 2012
    09:12 GMT -5, again


    I've read John's file on Krona, and it… Wasn't particularly helpful. Ancient Maltusian, tried looking at the start of the universe and got stripped of his physicality as punishment. Nekron managed to give him a new one so that he could attack Oa, but he was defeated and they assumed that was the end of the matter. My comic knowledge isn't much-. No any better. I know that he was the main villain of the JLA/Avengers crossover and… He was doing something during the Trinity event where Morgaine le Fey, Enigma and Despero tried to restructure the universe around them. And the Parallax-Guardian in the film might have been him.

    Nothing I can use to help me decide anything.

    "You escaped. Why did he abduct parallel universe versions of me and you?"

    "Because I'm a living temporal anomaly. Are you aware that the Challengers of the Unknown freed themselves from the Book of Fate?" I nod. "Something like that. I have no past or future, no history or destiny. Now come. I can give you a fuller explanation once we're…" He pauses. "I was going to say 'safe', but that would be a lie. Safer."

    "At the moment I only have your word that anything is even happening. And you're just some guy in a robe. I.. seem to remember that you sent me back to the present when Dox was planning to keep me in a cell. I'd be grateful, but I don't appreciate having my memories removed and I'm somewhat suspicious of what you're planning on asking me to do."

    "This isn't-." He exhales. "Fine, I can show you proof but we need to go somewhere safer first. And if you think I'm trying to manipulate you then you should consider that I've already demonstrated the ability to leave you in temporal stasis. As attacks go that's fairly conclusive."

    I suppose he's got a point, there. At least I can be confident that he wants something from me.

    "Alright then. Where to?"

    He starts walking again and I fly after him. "In a manner of speaking, a dream. A lucid dream held together by a species-wide telepathic gestalt. Don't worry, it won't hurt any of the locals."

    He walks through a doorway to what I know leads to an emergency exit staircase, then reaches into his right sleeve and pulls out a small piece of red crystal. He holds it out, and…

    The air around us turns red as a scarlet circle appears in the air before him, spinning and widening into what looks like a Dolmen Gate aperture. The edge is two dimensional, comprised of wisps of the original circle which continue moving through the air-. And the walls and floors, apparently unobstructed. Through the portal I can see… A landscape made of the same red crystal Time Trapper used to open it, the red skies decorated by… Floating balls of… Is that wax? Liquid flames? They're paler than their surroundings so they aren't the light source…

    "Come." Time Trapper walks towards it as the aperture passes floor level. "All of the explanation you w-."

    The wall to our right explodes, fragments of rock and concrete flying past us and into my construct armour! Time Trapper is forced to dive for safety as Overgirl strides forward, eyes glowing a baleful red!

    "You!" She glares at him and fires, but he raises his right hand and the lance of heat energy stops in the air. "It was you!"

    "We don’t have time for this! Lantern!"

    I hold up my hands in a calming motion as Angelika stalks forward, eye beams still on full.

    "Angelika, talk to me. What are you doing? How do you know Time Trapper?"

    "This portal! This is what opened over Aachen when I tried to stop the train! This man snatched me away from everyone I love!"

    "That was Krona! What possible use are you to me?"

    "Angelika, stop. If he can open portals then he can send you home. We can deal with whatever Krona is doing-."

    The Time Trapper pulls himself up slightly as Angelika's advance slows to a crawl. "How are you even moving? From your point of view, time should-."

    "Do you have any idea how I fixated on becoming Karl's equal?!"

    "I don't even know who 'Carl' is! Lantern, please!"

    For all that she frustrates me, Angelika is a friend, an individual who is gradually awakening to the idea that the things she believes are very wrong and doing her best to cope with that. And right now she's doing something harmful to her interests.

    "Angelika, stop."

    Golden kryptonite radiation plays over her.. to no apparent effect as she brute forces her way closer to her target.

    "It took me years, but I learned how to power myself from things other than sunlight! Including the force you use to alter time!"

    "Damn it! The one kryptonian who-!" The Time Trapper stands and steps backwards through the swirling portal. "Lantern, make a decision!"

    It's for her own good.

    Violet crystal forms on Angelika's back and rapidly grows to cover her torso. She's so fixated on Time Trapper that she doesn't notice until it reaches her shoulders. Then she twists her head around to glare at my betrayal.

    "Why-!?"

    Her head is covered, and.. the crystal is either holding against her heat vision or -as I hope- putting her into stasis.

    "Thank you. Come, I'll show you-"

    I pick up my crystallised colleague and carefully step through the portal.

    "-what-. Why are you bringing a lunatic kryptonian?"

    "She's not a lunatic. She's a friend of mine and since she's resistant to your abilities I think that keeping her with me is the sensible thing to do. Now, if you're really desperate-."

    He waves his crystal and the portal closes.

    "Fine. This way."

    He leads me along a narrow path, spires of crystal rising up all around us.

    "Some time ago I found that as a result of time travel my past no longer existed. As I'm sure that you can understand, this left me quite distraught. But it occurred to me that if I could survive without history, why not someone else? Why not dozens, millions, the untold billions of my uncreated temporal reality?"

    "Because that's not how the universe works."

    "Just so. But what if it did? What if it could? So I began experimenting."

    Some distance in front of us there's a tall spire of crystal, tall enough to utterly dwarf the lesser spires around us. He appears to be leading me towards it.

    "Did history 'snap back' from small changes? Were there consequences to the hubristic act of deliberately changing things? Was time inherently hostile and vengeful? Or mechanistic? While I was primarily interested in resurrecting my own timeline my preference was to alter the nature of the universe so that it could sustain multiple timelines. I love my own temporality. I don't hate those belonging to other people."

    "Who would certainly try to resist if they found out that you were planning on erasing them."

    "I would gladly fight and kill anyone if that was what it took. But… It wasn't going to. I found a way, a way to change the fundamental structure of reality. Some people would have been.. inconvenienced, in the short term, but given what we would all have gained I was confident that enough would volunteer to make the approach viable. And then Krona messed it all up."
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd April 2012
    Indeterminate


    "Because he was more interested in studying the universe than in changing it."

    "I'd say 'typical Guardian', except that he isn't. A typical Guardian would just have shut me down. Krona.. is… Expanding things. Even I don't know what sort of damage he'll end up doing to time. For all I know he's deliberately trying to collapse the universe in order to gain experimental data."

    "Is that a worst-case scenario, or a realistic assessment?"

    "I don't know. He's expanded my work significantly beyond what I needed for my purposes. From a distance I have only an approximate idea of what he's doing. While I was his captive he spent most of his time simply insulting me rather than explaining himself."

    "You escaped?"

    "Krona was punished with incorporeality by the Guardians. He can work around it, but he still retains certain… Limits. Not all of his abductees came gently, and in the confusion I was able to free myself and one other. But that won't do much to hold him back. Not at this stage."

    "Who else?"

    He raises his right arm and points over to the base of the spire, where I see a woman in all-concealing red armour and robes. I don’t recognise the ensemble, but from the scarlet arcs of energy swirling from her to the central pillar I'm going to assume that she has some sort of power relating to this place.

    "Red Queen. Are we ready?"

    Red Queen doesn't look around as we approach.

    "I can open a portal to a different alternity. That's it. Krona has already taken enough crystal from here to prevent any second tries."

    Oh. I suppose that it shouldn't be a complete surprise.

    "Jade? Is that you under there? Or… A you?"

    "The only me left. Krona acquired every one of my safety-alternaties before he came after this me."

    "No, I... I'm not sure what you mean."

    Time Trapper holds out the small crystal he used to open the portal to and from Mount Justice to her and she takes it and attaches it to her vambrace.

    "I can create replica universes. Everything the same as the one I duplicate, except for anything I do there. But now Krona's using my.. abilities for something else. He captured too many of me for me to work around."

    "Have we.. met before?"

    "No. If there was ever a version of you in my original alternity, I never met him. I take it you've met one version of me before."

    "Two, actually, though I'm on good terms with my native one."

    "I'm not her. Try to remember that."

    "Okay, I.. will. So what's the plan?"

    Time Trapper turns towards me.

    "Locate the alternate versions of you that he's targeting and bring them here before he can acquire them. Red Queen and I can shield them far more easily here than we can anywhere else."

    "And then?"

    "I rebuild my device and use it to negate his. Then we attack him directly and either kill him or at least damage him sufficiently that he can't come after me again."

    "And what about your project?"

    "I'll ask for volunteers while everyone is assembled in one place, but stopping Krona is far more important."

    "I still haven't actually seen Krona yet."

    Time Trapper's robes move in such a way as to suggest a shrug.

    "You'll see him before the end. Unless you're unlucky, in which case you'll see him earlier. Are you ready?"

    "Not quite. Can you get Angelika back to her home parallel?"

    "Not.. now, but once Krona is defeated, yes, easily. And I'd far rather do that than let her take another swing at me."

    I raise my right hand, then lower it, the crystal around her head decaying.

    Angelika looks decidedly unimpressed with me, but her eyes aren't glowing. Yet.

    "Angelika, these people have offered to send you home. They even want our help against the person who attacked your parallel. Can you control yourself for long enough to actually focus on the one responsible for what happened to your people?"

    "Has he shown you evidence that anyone else is responsible?"

    "Not yet, merely given a promise that such evidence will be forthcoming. But we can always kill him later if he fails to produce it. And if Krona really is responsible, would you really want to have killed an innocent man first?"

    "I do not believe that anyone with such power could possibly be innocent."

    "Innocent of the particular crime you're accusing him of. Innocent in general, probably not, but…" I smile. "Who here is?"

    She grimaces, but dips her head.

    "Let me out."

    Ring, grant freedom.

    The crystal melts and vanishes, nothing flowing back to the ring. Different, but-. Ring, power level.

    Eighty eight percent to go.

    Huh. I was half-expecting Jade's voice, but it's actually my Nan's. Anyway, it should be enough for me to play gopher. I'll need to grab an orange ring if I'm actually forced to fight someone in my weight class…

    I turn to Time Trapper.

    "Where are you sending us first?"

    Angelika steps forward forcefully. "Send us to my world. Overman will ensure that we have the resources we need to succeed."

    "No. Krona has already been to your world and taken what he needs. Temporal positioning isn't a concern here, but.. exposure… Krona will certainly notice if a large number of people from one parallel begin working across a multitude in concert."

    Angelika doesn't look happy, but she appears to accept it.

    "We're sending you to parallel thirty two. Locate your alter ego and impress upon them the urgency of our situation. It would also help if you can locate their version of Jade Nguyen, though she's less essential."

    "Alright, what can you tell me about him?"

    "Little. I had no reason to study his parallel. He has a red power ring, and appears to have acquired a soul." I nod. "Are you ready to depart?"

    "Yes. Let's go."
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd January 2005
    21:34 GMT -5


    "…won't you stop them?!"

    I lean back slightly in my chair as a slightly singed Mr Logan gesticulates at me.

    I shrug. "Why..? Would I?"

    Somewhere in the distance there's an explosion as the Red Guard open fire on… Something or other. From the state of Mr Logan I'm going to assume that it's the rest of the Teen Titans.

    Komand'r nods, raising her eyebrows as she chews on a slice of pizza. The rest of the restaurant-goers are looking rather nervously in the direction of a plume of smoke…

    "Because they're trying to kill a guy!"

    "A.. guy who took part in mengelese biological experiments and thoroughly deserves it, yes. And.. anyway, I don't have the authority to give Senior Lantern Abysmus orders even if I wanted to."

    "They're wrecking the city!"

    "Then get out of their way. It's not going to take them more than a few minutes to kill him if your team don't interfere. Much less collateral damage." That doesn't seem to satisfy him. "Alright, tell you what." I take my-.

    "ERRRRRwrrrrrrrrrrrrrahhHHH."

    I sigh as my ring incinerates my personal computer. That's-.

    "Here." Komand'r reaches into her purse and passes me her phone. "Try not to set it on fire as well."

    I smile at her. "Thank you, oh light of my heavens." Okay, access file and-.

    Komand'r looks around in a mild panic. "Not in public!"

    "Oh, you love it, snookums." And the file is there. "Now, 'Beast Boy', I have the files on-"

    A pillar of fire leaps into the sky a street away, and a couple of patrons throw money at their table as they sprint for the exit.



    Looks like we're getting excellent service this evening.

    "-the whole process. If you can watch the videos all the way through without throwing up, I'll talk to Senior Lantern Abysmus about pursuing their vengeance in a way that causes less collateral damage. Does that sound reason-"

    He grabs the phone and taps the screen to play the first video. Ah, I know it well. A splendid aid to building up enough rage to incinerate someone who was 'just following orders'.

    "-able?"

    "No it doesn't, but if all I gotta do is watch some stupid-."

    I hear a very quiet sawing sound from the phone's speaker.

    "-video, then I-"

    He catches sight of the screen and is instantly entranced.

    "-can-."

    I lean forwards and grab the phone from his hands just before the wave of gastric juices erupts from his mouth and splashes all over the restaurant floor. I wait for him to finish, then look over towards the counter, make eye contact with one of the servers and smile at him.

    "Would you be so good as to clean that up? I'll be sure to tip appropriately."

    The server I'm looking at checks his immediate surroundings in case I could possibly have been looking at anyone else, then nods. Excellent! I pass the phone back to Komand'r, who snatches it out of my hand and checks it for vomit before checking Mr Logan's progress.

    "How far did he get?"

    "Vivisecting the guy with the sticking out spine. They just stuck the third hook in."

    I frowns and lean forward as Mr Logan starts to pick himself up.

    "Are you sure you're in the right line of work?"

    "Why do you even have that on your phone?"

    "To remind me why what I do is... If not 'justice' then at least 'just-ish'."

    Mr Logan looks blank while Komand'r rolls eyes and picks up another slice of pizza.

    "'Just-ish'-? No, never-"

    There's a bang from just outside, and a spray of gravel and dust billows past the window.

    "-mind."

    Komand'r leaps into the air, fists balled and glowing purple-.

    "Not inside the pizzeria, honey-bun."

    Her fist-flames gutter and she glances at me with a cringe I nearly miss before she regains her focus. "Stop. Saying things like that!"

    "Oh stop pretending, love-kitten. I know what public displays of affection do to you." I lean forward slightly and point to my back with my right forefinger. "I've still got the burns on-."

    She flies out of the pizzeria. But through the door rather than through the window. And her thighs are pressed together. Hopefully, the Red Guard outside last long enough that she works out her aggression but not so long that her arousal winds down. Keeping up with a tamaranean requires intense stamina-training, but it's well worth the effort.

    I get to my feet and offer Mr Logan a hand up, which he accepts.

    "It looks like the Red Guard are about to make it justifiable self-defence. And getting between me and my hot-to-trot fiancée is something I cannot abide."

    My ring drips red light as I stalk after Komand'r. I suspect that this is going to hurt. My armour's back at home, and red rings are rubbish at defensive constructs. The Red Guard know that I'm nominally on their side, but their training erred very much on the 'no pulling punches' side of things. On the other hand I'm wearing a personal force field and… Heck, Grayson's no tougher than me and he's still alive. I'll see if I can talk some sense into those algebators and then…

    That's… Not a Red Guard.

    It's even less of a Red Guard after a rictus-grinning Komand'r slams it into the ground and then shoves her burning right hand into its eyes while her left wraps around its throat, but my puzzlement causes my aura to flicker.

    "Mister Logan, what is that?"

    Hands on his stomach, he walks out of the restaurant behind me, taking in the scene and then looking towards the last known location of his comrades.

    "I dunno dude, but I gotta go." He morphs into a bird form, flapping for all he's worth towards the most recent explosion.

    Komand'r's right hand finally burns through the facial armour, so she hooks her fingers around and-

    "HaaaAAAARRRH!"

    -rips it free before flying over to me, frowning at it.

    "Do the Red Guard use robots?"

    "They have scout automata. They don't use them in combat, though. Who was that?"

    "She said she was looking for you, so I thought-."

    The woman Komand'r just defaced activates some sort of thrusters in her… Armour? And staggers upright, crippled face staring at me.

    "Red Lantern located. No man escapes the Manhunters."
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Angelika and I float in the air off the Atlantic coast, the portal swirling shut behind us.

    "Ring, when and-?"

    I exhale sharply through my nose, bowing my head. No, can't do it like that any more.

    "Angelika, I never thought to ask. Do you have a significant other waiting for you back home?"

    She doesn't look at me, instead peering at the coastline.

    "I told you. I am infertile."

    Ring, when and where?

    3rd January 2005
    21:36 GMT -5


    "And I do not appreciate you bringing it up."

    "I'm… Okay, I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to rub it in, but there are probably plenty of people who wouldn't care, and then there's adoption or biotechnolo-."

    "Are you going to tell Jade Nguyen?"

    "Ah? Tell her what?"

    Ring, find me.

    I think I can manage that.

    A violet waypoint appears in my visual field and I fly towards it. After a momentary delay Angelika follows.

    "About your feelings."

    "I-." She's clearly referring to something that I've missed. "So that we don't spend the next ten minutes talking past each other, could you please assume that I've got no idea what you're talking about and just tell me directly?"

    "Violet rings are catalysed by love. You were able to use it to… 'Help' me, then you asked if I was dating someone. I had wondered why you were so much more eager to spend time with me than your friends."

    "Ahh-?"

    Oh. Okay. She…

    "You know that these don’t depend solely on-."

    "-on romantic love, yes. Is that what you are claiming? That what you feel is not romantic love? Even after asking me if I am single?"

    Of all the conversations I didn't think I'd be having today…

    "Angelika, I like you, but I'm perfectly happy with the relationship that I'm in."

    "That does not stop some people."

    "I'm not carrying on behind Jade's back and -attractive as you are- I don't plan on starting. While I'm sympathetic to your situation, your intense racism is simply too unpleasant, and with my empathic vision I see it all the time."

    A coastal city up ahead. Neither it not the area around it precisely map onto anywhere in America 16, but-.

    There's a.. tower shaped like a 'T' on a small island oh gods I'm in Teen Titans. A Red Lantern me ended up here?

    "Ah." Angelika seems to cringe slightly in the air. "I… Ah. I apologise-."

    "Don't worry about it. Harmless mistake." I flash her a reassuring smile but she's.. shut down. Gone into full business mode. We'll talk about it later. Possibly with Harleen? "Can you see anything?"

    "A group of metahumans are fighting either soldiers in power armour or combat robots. They are shielded against my vision so I cannot see inside."

    I see clouds of brick and concrete dust drifting through the air in several places, while a.. few small fires are burning in a couple of places. The local fire brigade appears to be following the same sort of rules of engagement as their America 16 alter egos: hanging way back to douse the area of the fires more to keep them from spreading than to put them out. They can't risk bringing enough people into the area of a metahuman fight to put it out properly.

    No freeze rays, though. Are there people in the buildings, or do they just not have them?

    "Follow me."

    I fly off the coast and down one of the main roads. I can see my objective up ahead, his anger and hate focused into a scalpel-point. But just under that, his intense love for… Komand'r, apparently. I thought that the Teen Titan version of her was kind of a psycho, but I suppose that their version of Jade wasn't any better.

    And… Quite a bit younger, if I remember correct-

    "No man escapes the Manhunters!"

    -ly.

    A surprisingly female-looking robot shoots off the ground below, the pulse plasma guns built into its forearms opening fire!

    Not confident of my ability to block shots from a Manhunter with this ring, I opt to evade and leave the smashing to my companion.

    "Robot! Smash away!"

    Shots from its forearms strobe through the air, missing me and mostly hitting nothing. A few punch through the windows and walls of the surrounding buildings. That needs to st-.

    Angelika blinks twice, red rays burning through the cowling around the Manhunter's guns and causing a flashback in the fuel cell. The forearms explode, the Manhunter wheeling to face the new thre-.

    Angelika's there and ripping, some.. thing coming out of its chest and being tossed aside, another flash of heat vision burning through its eyes, blinding it for the fraction of a second it remains whole before she shoves her hands deeper and pulls it in two.

    Then she floats down to street level and carefully puts them down, so as to not add to the property damage.

    "Where does this robot keep its memory?"

    I float down after her and give it a scan.

    "Not sure. Guardians don't share data on Manhunter layouts, and these are different enough to the models the Controllers are familiar with that I'm not sure how much is applic-. No, there it is."

    I point to an armoured compartment where the lower lungs would be in a human.

    "Long term data storage. We'll be lucky if we can actually read it, but-."

    "-last one, so if I find it first then-."

    Komand'r 32 and my own alter ego fly out of a side street and immediately spot us. I raise my right hand in greeting.

    "Good evening, me."

    He looks… Thinner, and he has the characteristic glowing irises which often accompany ring usage. But he's not spitting acid blood, which is a good sign.

    "No, just an evening."

    "Ah, Red?" Komand'r floats a little closer to him, the purple plasma around her hands fading slightly. "You got a brother you didn't tell me about?"

    "Parallel universe." / "Parallel universe."

    He raises his eyebrows slightly. "Old hat for you?"

    "You're the second 'us' I've actually met. But we've all got a problem. Krona the Fallen Guardian is picking different instances of us up to make a giant inter-planar tuning fork. I assume you're up for stopping him?"

    He tilts his head back and sighs. "I just wanted a quiet evening."

    I hold my hands out to the side. "Events, dear boy, events."

    "Right. I'll get my armour and sort out the sidekick team, then I'll be with you."

    "I also need to locate your version of Jade Nguyen. Apparently she's the second pick."

    He shakes his head, frowning slightly. "Who?"
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd January 2005
    21:41 GMT -5


    A sword made of red light slices through another Manhunter… Womanhunter? No, they call themselves Manhunters, but… I'm struggling to come up with a reason why Krona would have built gynoids. Manhunters usually have a masculine appearance for the same reason that men do: additional physical strength and resilience from a more powerful frame. Manhunters don't need to give birth or lactate, so unless losing his physical form caused him to rediscover his sex drive, it just…

    The Red Lantern me glances back at me, regarding me with a degree of scepticism.

    "What..? Do violet rings do, exactly?"

    "Ugh, sorry, I usually use an orange ring, but Ghia'ta and I were doing some cross-training and apparently Time Trapper can't send me back to pick up my equipment-"

    "No man esc-."

    Beams of purple light blaze from Komand'r's eyes and slam into the Manhunter's back, knocking it towards an inhabited build-!

    Angelika intercepts, punching the gynoid in the chest and reversing its direction of trav-.

    Grinning, Komand'r flies after it and punches it back towards Angelika, who just catches it, rips out the battery and lays it on the pavement.

    Komand'r moues in disappointment.

    "-until we're finished. There aren't any spare orange rings around here, are there?"

    "No. I haven't checked Okaara in any detail, but I haven't seen any anywhere else or heard about Larfleeze being active. I assume that you beat him?"

    I nod. "We're trying to rehabilitate him."

    He frowns. "Why?"

    "Because he's the most extreme example of orange light psychosis in existence and we're making an Orange Lantern Corps. Studying him is teaching us how to avoid everyone else-" He's nodding and looking for new targets. "-going the same way."

    "Makes sense. Can you do anything with that ring?"

    "Basic things only. That's why I'm hanging back."

    But finding the local Jade

    "Ah, I've located your Jade."

    Currently in South Rhelasia. Or… Korea, possibly. Can't get a good record of her age, but I'd guess… Fourteen? The bunches make her look younger, and their length is… Entirely impractical.

    "I haven't heard about anyone blowing up a country."

    "She's probably a little-"

    Komand'r intercepts another gynoid, this time avoiding energy blasts in favour of grappling. She performs a mid-air straight armbar while using her flight to pull the Manhunter off target and slam it face first into the side of a bridge. She then flexes, breaking the robot's elbow and tearing the arm free at the shoulder.

    "-young for that."

    "What's so important about her, anyway? Or us, for that matter?"

    "With us, I'd guess it's our point of origin. I think he'd be interested in that sort of thing. Jade… Don't know. I'm dating my version, but there's nothing about her that would be of obvious interest to Krona."

    "Or the Time Trapper."

    "I considered that, but his plan involves putting us in position to strike him very hard if this is just a ruse."

    "Of course, I've only got your word for it."

    "True. I-." He veers off as Komand'r flies up to look for more targets. "Where are you going?"

    "This is my house." He stands outside a fortified door while it scans him. "Do you.. want to come in?"

    "No, I'll go and pick up your Jade."

    He pauses for a moment, then nods, heading further inside what looks more like a fortified airlock than a porch. The outer door clanks shut before the inner door opens, so I've got no idea what-

    Some sort of.. white with blue trimmings monster truck-tank thing roars past me down the middle of the road, turret tracking a small group of humanoids in red power armour. They're surprisingly agile, dodging from building to building, taking it in turns to make themselves appealing targets and then evading once it gets a lock on them.



    -his interior decoration is like.

    "Ah, Princess Komand'r, do you know-?"

    A red, green, yellow and black motor cycle screeches around a nearby corner and-.

    I pick both it and the rider off the ground and float them over to me.

    The local Richard Grayson is… Ah, his hair is very slightly spikier. And his mask is a little narrower and there's a little more green in the costume at the expense of some black. Otherwise, I'm looking at the same person.. who also looks exactly the same.

    "Red Lantern, this isn't-!" His eyes widen and then narrow. "Who are you?"

    "Parallel universe doppelgänger. A fallen Guardian of the-" I think 'Galaxy'. "-Universe named Krona is trying to do something unwise with time and the Bleed that might see us all spontaneously have never existed. What's up with you?"

    "Alien super soldiers are trying to kill the lab tech who cleaned test tubes for the people who made them, because they already killed everyone actually responsible."

    I put him down.

    "I think mine has priority. Angelika!"

    She appears beside me.

    "Would you please give Robin-" He blinks, surprised for some reason. "-the data core?"

    "Why?"

    "I can't do data decryption with a violet ring, Red Lantern can't do it with his and Robins can generally get their hands on the best conventional technology on the planet. We need to find out if Krona actually told them-"

    Two Manhunters fly out of an alley, weapons orientating immediately on Richard and me! I raise a violet shield, soaking the first couple of shots before it becomes visibly abraded. Angelika shoots forward, grabbing the head of the closest with her right hand and its left arm with her left hand and.. pulling, the body turning one way and the head the other. The second takes an EMP grenade to the chest from Richard, which it ignores and continues firing. Richard dodges while I reinforce my shield and try to reduce my profile-.

    Two nearby cars glow.. black? For a moment and then fling themselves at the Manhunter, wrapping themselves around it and then shrinking.. downwards, until they cover an area far smaller than the gynoid would need in order to have remained humanoid. Then the anti-glow fades and Raven steps out of a nearby patch of shadows.

    "Yay. More robots."
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th January 2005
    11:44 GMT +9


    "Throw kni-"

    Two knives klink off-. Embed themselves in my construct shield.

    "-ves. Jump onto the wall to close-"

    Jade 32 jumps and then scrambles up the wall.

    "-the distance, then lunge."

    She stops moving, staring at me.

    I smile. "It's an interesting question, how much of our actions are the result of anything we might call 'free will'. You know metahumans with strange powers exist and while you think that everything you just did was of your own volition… Suddenly you're not sure."

    She climbs up the rest of the way and then stands on the edge of the roof, facing me.

    "Of course, if I can influence you, the most intelligent thing you can do is leave as quickly as possible. But since you're not going to do that, how about a commission?"

    Her mask tilts thirty degrees anticlockwise.

    "I have reason to believe that an evil god is abducting parallel universe versions of the two of us in order to pull apart the multiverse. I want to hire you to help stop him."

    She extends her right hand from her voluminous sleeve and rubs the tips of her thumb and forefinger together.

    I take a bag of gold coins precisely equal in value to what I paid my Jade for her help with Nabu out of subspace and toss it to Jade Junior. She catches it in her left sleeve… Somehow opens it and picks out a coin, scratching it enough to reveal the softness of the metal. Then she returns the coin to the pouch, draws it into her kimono for safekeeping and nods to me.

    I step forward and extend my right hand. She steps forward and-. Taps the sharp surface of her knuckle claws against my palm, making pointed eye to mask eye contact.

    "I'm sorry, but compared to an evil god, a girl with knives just isn't that scary."

    She jingles.

    "Because it was less trouble than using force."

    She nods, and actually takes my hand.

    "The version of you from my parallel is a lot more talkative." But you're enough like her that I can still transition-

    3rd January 2005
    21:46 GMT -5


    -us back-.

    I skip us backwards as a… The local version of Victor Stone appears to have.. merged with a transformed version of his APC and is recovering from being hit by a hulking green alien with a red power ring. He rebounds, wheels screeching against the tarmac as he evades the Red Lantern's punch, then deploys a mechanical shield to block its acid vomit attack.

    "Oh, I thought-"

    Jade steps into space, claws at the ready, as my alter ego emerges from his home in armour reminiscent of my… Third suit of armour? The last field non-power armour I bothered with.

    "-he'd have finished by now."

    A green-. Beastboy, turns into a roc and claws at the Red Lantern's face. Moving with surprising agility the alien grabs his left leg and slams him into a wall, stunning him.

    "How berserk are the local Red Lanterns?"

    He raises his left eyebrow for a moment, then raises his ring so that I can see it clearly.

    "Other than you."

    The local Koriand'r dives at the Red Lantern, hitting him? It? In the chest with both fists and driving it back for long enough for the cyborg-transformer to get enough time to charge some sort of energy cannon. A beam of scintillating blue-white energy leaps forth, completely missing the alien as he steps aside and punching through a nearby building.

    "Um. Should we-?"

    "No, they're nearly done. Despite appearances, Abysmus has a keen, tactical mind."

    "Azarath metrion zinthos!"

    Raven tries to hit him with a levitated chunk of wall, only for it to be met with a gout of red light before she can get any momentum behind it. Not only does the brick melt, but the spell holding it as well, a wave of distortion passing along it until-.

    "rRRRAAAAGH!"

    She bellows in rage, spasming in the air and.. gaining an extra set of red glowing eyes-.

    "Friend Raven!"

    Raven turns to focus on the local Koriand'r, black light boiling around her fists-

    "KAR EN TUK!"

    -and resolving into claws as she flings herself at her friend!

    "Oh, Infectious Rage is hard to inflict through someone else's magic."

    Koriand'r dodges the first two wild swings, but she's backed up against a wall with black claws biting into the brick at either side! She freezes for a moment, gasping in shock as Raven opens her mouth to vomit forth black fire! Koriand'r bends, grabbing the two claws and pushing downwards to slide out from between them a moment before the flames melt the brick!

    "They're.. children."

    "If Abysmus wanted to kill them then they'd be dead. But he does-"

    Abysmus grapples Super Cyborg, spitting acid at the armour covering the torso and ripping it off, exposing Mr Stone. Mr Stone uses his armour's secondary weapons to take a shot at Abysmus's face which forces him to back off for a moment, but then he's back on the offensive and Mr Stone can't do much more than block the blows on his forearms' armour.

    "-n't. He was a child soldier himself. He's sympathetic, particularly to Mr Stone."

    "Yes, he… Looks it." I take a moment to look at the devastation that has already been wrought on this city. "And you're not worried about the Justice League turning up?"

    He shakes his head. "No, they never come here."

    "They… Just leave their adolescent wards entirely to their own devices?"

    "Yeah. Not really sure why, but given all the people I kill it's really convenient. Shouldn't be-."

    "RRARH!"

    Abysmus -who was holding Mr Stone's mech over his head- stops still and tosses it aside. Then he breathes in and a red mist flows from Raven into his mouth. She drops to the floor, stunned, and Koriand'r runs over to check on her.

    Abysmus lumbers in our direction.

    "All done. We'll leave now."

    "Um, why?"

    "I was a distraction. My brothers and sisters were the kill-team. Killing the target is easier when his protection is busy."

    He turns away and shoots off into the sky, Komand'r and Angelika coming back with more Manhunter remains as he does so.

    "Let's see what Robin's got for us."
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2020
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd January 2005
    21:58 GMT -5


    From the window of the main living room slash work area of the Titans' tower I look out across the wounded city.

    "Does this.. city have the best civil engineers in the universe or.. something, because the city seems to be going back to normal surprisingly quickly?"

    Garfield nods. "Fights like this happen a lot around here. People started reinforcing their buildings, stuff like that. After the first few city-wide alerts people just got used to it." He glares at my alter ego. "What did that guy do to Raven?"

    Red-Me looks up from his phone. "Infectious rage. He made her feel a fraction of the rage he does. She should be fine in a few days."

    "That's not good enough!"

    He shrugs helplessly. "I'm a Red Lantern. I can't heal people. I could make it worse if you want-?"

    "I probably could. You haven't seen an orange power ring anywhere, have you?"

    "What?" Garfield frowns at me. "No, what's wrong with the ring you've got?"

    "I've been using it for ten minutes, and interfering with someone's brain is one of those things you shouldn't do unless you're certain you know what you're doing." On the other hand, Richard 16 was able to heal his uncle without prior training… "Unless one of you is in love with her, because when that happens violet rings become a lot more user friendly."

    "Ahhh…"

    "I will attempt it!" Koriand'r zips over to me. "I am having the great love for all of my friends, and nothing would make me happier than making friend Raven better!"



    Why is she talking like that? Tamaraneans absorb language knowledge through physical contact, she should be grammatically correct. Shouldn't she?

    The local Richard sticks his head up from the pile of technology which he and Victor are using to attempt to read the Manhunter's drive.

    "Starfire, she's gunna be okay, and like…"

    He looks at me.

    "Orange Lantern. Usually."

    "Orange Lantern says, it's not a good idea to use technology you don't understand on someone's brain."

    Koriand'r nods reluctantly, sinking to the ground.

    "Violet-Orange Lantern, why are you here?"

    "A man called Time Trapper has alleged that his efforts to reengineer time have been hijacked by a man named Krona. Krona's plan allegedly involved acquiring parallel universe versions of me and-" I gesture to Local Jade with my right hand. "-Jade, so he sent me here to collect them."

    Garfield frowns. "So what's with the robots?"

    "Krona used to be a Guardian. Manhunter androids -or.. gynoids, apparently- were their first attempt at a police force before they started using Green Lanterns. Krona was one of their designers. Given that we've confirmed that they were targeting myself and my-" I gesture to Red-Me. "-local counterpart, it seems reasonable to conclude that Krona kept a few after they were decommissioned. We're waiting on confirmation."

    "Parallel universe, huh? So we've all got, like, copies of ourselves living there?"

    "I don't think we've got a Raven, but the rest of you, yes. Our version of you goes to school in Happy Harbour, so I usually see him a couple of times a week."

    He brightens up a little. "Maybe we could team up sometime. We could have a whole team of Beast Boys-."

    "He's not a Beast Boy. I'm not sure what caused you to become… This, but he hasn't been exposed to it. Plus, he's a few years younger than you and I don't think his mother would like it."

    His eyes widen. "His m-? Ah-. And-" He smiles unconvincingly. "-what about everyone else?"

    "I've met Cyborg's father a few times, though I've never met him. Our Robin is on my team, usually serving as a squad leader. Both Komand'r and Koriand'r are Orange Lanterns, operating in Vega to maintain order after the destruction of the Citadel Empire."

    "And..." Koriand'r looks nervous. "What has happened to Tamaran?"

    "They're.. recovering. Rebuilding their educational infrastructure and fleet are the first priorities. I.. haven't spent much time there recently."

    "The Gordanians?"

    "The clans most closely aligned to the Citadel either fled or got conquered and the rest were allowed to surrender. The psions were just exterminated. It will take a while for the security fleets to finish off all of the pirate groups, but Vega isn't such a bad place to live at the moment."

    "And my parents?"

    "Alive and well last time I spoke to th-."

    "I think we've got something!"

    Something flickers on the room's main screen, an image of-.

    "Um, you might want to skip that."

    Richard doesn't look around. "This could have vital intelligence on what Krona-."

    "That's a planet in Sector Six Six Six. The Sector where the Manhunters killed every living thing-" The image shows the Manhunter squadron this unit was part of assaulting a ship, tearing apart the hull and spacing the people inside. Looks like the ship was packed to the gunnels with refugees. Who weren't wearing space suits. "-before the Guardians shut-"

    Richard skips the recording forwards.

    "-them down."

    The ship is gone, and we get a momentary shot of heavily damaged Manhunters floating in space. Then a portal like the one Time Trapper used opens and the remains are sucked through. On the far side there's a.. small base on what looks like an asteroid. Slowly the Manhunters are drawn towards it, and as they are their bodies flicker with red light. Damaged and broken parts knit back together as the damage of the intervening millennia is undone. Once they've recovered sufficiently they orientate themselves on the asteroid and begin moving using their own thrusters. And when they clear the side-.

    A tuning fork. It's a tuning fork. All over its surface are.. versions of myself and Jade, apparently aware and in a degree of distress. Some of the mes look like they've had a rather hard time of it. Manhunters -some quite a bit larger than the ones who attacked us here- are keeping station around it, while others are building equipment and a small squad-.

    The image moves away before I can see what the squad next to the pile of power rings were doing.

    Richard looks at me. "Do you know where that is?"

    "No."

    Ring, Jades need rescuing. And I didn't get to check in with mine before I left.

    We've got the tape.

    "But I know a man who does."
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd April 2012
    Or… Not, I suppose


    Time Trapper watches the recording through for the ninth time, pausing it at the pile of power rings.

    "You see here?"

    "Every one of us has been disarmed. So they don't need to be using their rings for whatever Krona's doing."

    "Yes, but I was referring to the colours. Mostly orange. No white and no black."

    Red's eyes narrow slightly. "Is that important?"

    "I gained some slight insight into Krona's mindset while he was pulling me apart to find out how I work. If he could get an even mixture of each then he would."

    "So what does that mean for us?"

    Komand'r floats down a little. "And where is that, anyway?"

    "Vanishing Point. A facility at the end of time, after the physical laws of the universe have broken down but before it collapses into the Bleed. Our.. orange friend was taken there by the Legion of Super-Heroes after he was involved in a temporal event."

    "What's so special about it?"

    "It's after.. conventional time. When you're there, you can alter time as much as you like without risk to yourself. Among other things. If you can get there quickly enough. I tolerated Dox there because he could help me with my work. Krona simply invaded the place."

    "So are we trying to get there or trying to not get there?"

    "First the latter, then the former. An army of Manhunters is a little more than we're prepared for, particularly given that he can reach into just about any parallel universe or timeline without issue."

    "So he has infinite soldiers."

    "Hmm. No, that would risk destabilising Vanishing Point itself. It would be more true to say that he has a large number of soldiers with infinite reinforcements."

    "Uugh." / "Uugh."

    Red and I make momentary eye contact and quietly chuckle. Something we both hate, apparently: infinite respawns.

    Angelika looks at me curiously for a moment, then returns her attention to Time Trapper.

    "Where are we going next?"

    "I need to know why there isn't a larger variation in the rings you received. That might be critical to understanding your origin."

    Red and I look at one another again.

    "Prime." / "Prime."

    Time Trapper inclines his cowl slightly. "Yes. And that should not be possible. It's.. curious, to think that you may have been some sort of planar event before any of this happened."

    I shake my head. "Controller Hinon made my ring. It didn't shatter from a… From an original white ring, or anything like that. And if I hadn't had it when I arrived then I would have died from vacuum exposure."

    "Unprotected humans can't survive the Bleed. But it isn't possible to access Earth Prime. Believe-" He glances at Red Queen, who is staring deeply into the crystal spire. "-me, we've tried. Red Queen, have you located a version of him with a white ring?"

    "No." She turns away from the spire and looks at him. "And only one with a black ring. Do you want to open a portal there?"

    "Or we could go somewhere where Nekron isn't about to emerge into the material universe. How about somewhere where I have a spare orange ring?"

    "We're trying to keep the number of trips down to the smallest number we have to make. If it comes to it, you saw the number of orange rings he's already collected. When we're finally ready to confront him, just summon one of those."

    "I'm not especially eager to fight a Guardian without an orange ring."

    "Hopefully it won't ever become an issue. If I can shut Krona down without needing to brawl with him then I definitely prefer that option." He nods to Red Queen. "Open the portal to the Black Lantern."

    Red half-raises his right hand. "Question. Does he need to be alive, undead, or can he be dead?"

    "Any are fine. Essentially, what matters is not his characteristics in themselves but the degree to which he's similar to the rest of you. Animate is probably slightly better but him being a vector for Nekron is far worse. Just don't disintegrate him. Red Queen, does that alternity have a Jade?"

    "No."

    "Okay." Blackfire cracks her knuckles. "Let's get-."

    Red Queen shakes her head. "No, not you."

    "Excuse me?"

    "We're trying to disguise our location. I can disguise your boyfriend-"

    Red perks up slightly. "Fiancé."

    "-using the fact that there's another version of him already there. You're a red flag."

    Angelika nods-.

    "No, I can send you. Just try to avoid Germany."

    I glance at Jade 32, but she just shrugs and tosses her coin pouch. Fair enough. Willingness is paid for but enthusiasm is expecting too much.

    Red Queen gestures, and a red crystal arch grows out of the ground, the night sky beyond flickering into view the moment it's whole. I rise-.

    Red's gone, flying out at full speed. I follow at a more sedate pace, passing through the portal-.

    Your spell eater is heating up a bit.

    Huh. Yes. Just a little, but I can't see anything that could be targeting me visually, and my wards are still working.

    "Angelika, are you wearing your ward?"

    "Naturally."

    I nod.

    Contact Red.

    Getting in touch with him now.

    His face appears just in front of me.

    "There is at least one wide-area spell at work. Are you warded?"

    "A.. bit. Are you?"

    "Yes, very well."

    "Do you have a spare?"

    "Left it in my other ring."

    "Okay, I'll just do reconnaissance." He smiles. "What do you think the chance is that this isn't a piece of fiction we're familiar with?"
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2020
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