1w, 7hWould You Kindly... 2 comments · 45 views
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Celestia was furious. Not only had she been embarrassed in front of the Earth domain delegation, but both she and her sister had been made into foals in front of both Lord Ouroboros and Lady Zephyr. She was sure she would never hear the end of this for centuries to come by the rest of the pantheon. Not that she cared if it was simple teasing, but her authority in the pantheon had been seriously undermined by this little stunt.
“Still…” she mused to herself, “this little band could prove to be quite useful.”
Ponies as resourceful as they had been were a valuable commodity. They had played their parts as ambassadors well, and at the banquet they had proven useful once again into getting the arch duke to reveal his hand. Laughing to herself, Celestia knew exactly what she would do with them.
“Luna,” Celestia called out.
“Yes mine sister,” Luna replied.
“Has the arch duke made a decision?” she asked.
Luna furrowed her brow in worry. “These upstarts have seriously vexed the arch duke,” she said. “He surely shall demand recompense, for the slight against him and his lord.”
“I think the child may not take offense,” Celestia said.
Luna stared at her sister in disbelief. “Mine sister, hast thou lost sight of thy reason?” she asked. “The trespass was great. Even if the child cared not, surely he would be a fool should he fail to press for a boon.”
“Then let us grant him one,” Celestia said.
“Mine sister, what intrigue hast thy mind hatched?” Luna asked.
“We shall send a delegation to the Diamond Vale as an act of contrition,” Celestia said.
“Mine sister,” Luna replied with a knowing smile, “thy cleverness knows no bounds. Surely, thou art as cunning as Jormungandr himself.”
Celestia’s face darkened. “No,” she said, “not nearly as clever as him.”
Clover sat in the dungeon cell while he worried about his situation. Looking down as Shanks’ slept peacefully against him, he envied the pup’s peace of mind. Here he was back in prison, his second time in under a week. Jormungandr had told him it was vital that they all be present for the meeting. Even now he had no idea why. The only thing he heard was a bunch of squabbling between the delegations. He wondered if Shaw had been right after all about Jormungandr.
“Lad, I sense you wear the veil of doubt,” Sir Stouthorn said, placing his hand around his unicorn friend’s shoulder.
Clover looked up appreciatively at the minotaur. He hadn’t noticed it previously, but saw his friend had quite a bit of grey mixed in with his dull blue coat and hair. “Did we make the right choice agreeing to follow Jormungandr’s request?” he asked.
Sir Stouthorn stroked his mustache thoughtfully, and then looked down at the blue unicorn. “Clover, he said, “I have participated in many quests. Some I succeeded in, others I failed. But even when it looked like all hope was lost, the only thing that gave me the strength to press on was knowing that the quest was right and true.”
“So what should I do Sir Stouthorn?” he asked.
“Lad, the only thing you can do,” Sir Stouthorn replied. “Trust in the quest, it will provide a way.”
“And if I fail?” Clover asked.
“At least you failed trying,” the minotaur said. “And when you’re old and grey, and at the end of life’s sojourn you can look back and smile, for you shall have no regrets.”
Clover thought of the hat that his master had given him. Using his magic, he lifted it up off his head and looked at its weathered felt.
“That hat’s part of your master’s legacy,” Sir Stouthorn said. “That’s why he passed it on to you.”
Clover though about his kindly master and smiled. He knew that pressing forward would be what his master would’ve wanted him to do.
Their conversation was cut short by a palace guard that pounded on the bars of their cell. “You lot wake up!” he shouted.
Shanks opened up his eyes and widely yawned. “Mister Clover,” he said, “where we going now?”
“I’m not sure, but I…” Clover said, before being interrupted by the guard.
“Prisoner’s aren’t allowed to speak!” the guard growled.
The guard led the group into the palace throne room. On either side of them, dozens of nobles looked at them with anger in their haughty eyes. When Shaw walked past the pony nobles, he saw an angry looking Prince Blueblood giving them the evil eye. In response, Shaw glared right back. In fear for his life the tiny prince crouched down behind a noblemare wearing a rather large hat.
“That’s what I thought…” Shaw growled.
The palace guard used his flank to knock Shaw hard to the side. “I said no talking prisoner!” the guard barked.
Sitting on their thrones, both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna looked regal wearing their royal paraphernalia and crowns. Each of their flowing manes was being billowed by an invisible wind. They both wore indecipherable poker faces on their muzzles.
Looking to his left, Clover saw Sir Stouthorn standing at ease with Seafoam floating by his side. The elderly knight looked calm and collected; his green eyes looked at ease as he awaited judgment. Seafoam wore a worried face, as he looked nervously back and forth between the two princesses. Looking to his right, he saw Shaw glaring defiantly at the assembled nobles, while Showboat wore the same enigmatic smile she always wore. Slick was absentmindedly chewing on a gemstone as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“The accused will step forward,” Luna said, her commanding voice echoing throughout the throne room.
Clover felt somepony gently nudging his left foreleg. Looking down, he saw Shanks looking up at him hopefully. Trying his best to be brave, he timidly moved forward. Looking down at his hooves, he tried masking his fear of the terrible punishment that was awaiting them for their crimes.
Looking down at Clover, Luna began reading off a list of charges from a scroll. “Thou standeth accused of high treason against the realm, of interfering in inter-domain negotiations, and spying. How dost thou plead?” she asked.
“Not guilty,” Clover nervously said.
“Not guilty Your Majesty,” Sir Stouthorn added.
“Not guilty,” Seafoam said.
Not guilty in the least,” Showboat said.
“What she said,” Slick said, pointing towards Showboat.
“Not guilty,” Shaw said, his hard eyes glaring at the princesses.
Shanks looked up at both Celestia and Luna, smiling. “Me not do any bad thing, night pony,” he said.
Celestia looked down at Shanks, “Whether you intended harm or not,” she said, “the fact remains irreparable damage has been done to our standing among our peers. Additionally your actions were an insult against the domain of the Earth. Therefore, we have no choice but to find each of you guilty for the crimes levied against you.
Clover’s heart sunk when he heard the princess proclaim his guilt. “Master…” he moaned to himself.
“Because the slight was against the Domain of Earth,” Celestia said, “we shall send you to the Diamond Vale in an act of contrition to resume the negotiations with the domain of the Earth as our ambassadors.”
When Celestia announced that the ponies that had just been proclaimed guilty were getting sent on a diplomatic mission, the throne room went wild as ponies began protesting.
“What do you mean by sending these commoners as your ambassadors?” several pony nobles loudly complained.
“You can’t be serious!” a unicorn earl said in disbelief.
“Thou shalt all be silent!” Luna commanded. “None of thee shalt question our judgment any further!”
When the assembled nobles heard Luna’s outburst they immediately became quiet. Celestia, satisfied that there wouldn’t be any further interruptions addressed Clover and his friends. “I remind you,” she said looking sternly at each of them, “that while on this assignment you are representing us, and we expect you to behave as such.”
“Verily,” Luna said, “we expect that thou shan’t give us any further cause for discomfiture while representing us before the Slave King.”
Clover looked up worriedly at princesses. “What exactly should we do as ambassadors?” he asked.
Celestia offered the unicorn a warm smile. “Clover,” she said, “the Slave King desires a normalization of relations between our domains. He probably won’t ask for too much in the way of concessions, we authorize you to do whatever you deem necessary to placate his desires.”
Luna looked sternly at each member of the assembled party in turn. “Remember mine little ponies,” she said, “don’t be too eager to acquiesce to his desires. Should his demands be too egregious, don’t hesitate to decline.”
“So do you agree to once again serve as our ambassadors?” Celestia asked.
Sir Stouthorn looked up at Celestia and Luna with adoration in his aged eyes. “I pledge by my honor as a knight of the Lawgiver,” he said, kneeling before their thrones, “and on my own life, that we shall negotiate a peace between you and the Slave King, or my name isn’t Sir le Boeuf Stouthorn, the chivalrous, of the ‘Most Illustrious Order of Triton the Lawgiver’.”
“Where my liege goes, so do I,” Seafoam said, while kneeling down besides Sir Stouthorn.
Luna looked at the knight and page and felt the warmth of their kinship. “Sir Knight,” she said. “We gladly accept thy oath. We hope that thou shan’t have to offer thy honor or life to fulfill it.”
“Your Majesties,” Showboat said with a wink, “I shall be more than happy to serve you once again as an ambassador, provided we have access to an expense account to pay for our sundry needs.”
“I guess serving as your ambassador beats rotting in a prison cell any day,” Slick said. “So count me in.”
Celestia looked down at the unicorn mare, her cheerful pink coat and mane concealing her more devious nature. “Showboat,” she said, “you shall of course have access to the treasury for any monetary needs you might have. But within reason of course,” she quickly added, when she saw Showboat’s eyes grow wide at the thought of an unlimited number of bits to pilfer.
Celestia turned her attention towards the blue dragon. “Slick,” she said, “with your unique ability to send us mail, we shall expect regular reports on your mission.”
Slick nodded in agreement while finishing his gemstone.
Shaw looked over at Showboat and then looked towards Luna, “Alright, I’ll be your ambassador once more,” he said. “If only to watch my friend’s flanks.”
Luna looked down at the griffin with his rainbow hued wings, “We commend thee for the devotion thou hast towards thine friends,” she said. “Griffin Shaw let it be known we approve of the love thou hast for thy mare. We look forward to seeing thy offspring.”
Shaw’s face slowly went red when he heard Princess Luna approve of his relationship with Showboat. “Uh, I thank you kindly Your Majesty,” he replied, flustered at all the attention he was receiving.
Clover looked up toward Celestia. “Thank you Your Majesties,” he said, kneeling down on his forelegs, “for allowing me to fulfill my master’s request. I’ll not fail you.”
Shanks looked up at Celestia, with his dark brown eyes and wagging tale. “Pony princess,” he said smiling, “me scared. But me goes wherever mister Clover goes. He my bestest friend.”
Celestia warmly smiled, touched at the devotion that Clover held for his master, and that the pup held for his friend. “Shanks,” she said, “I thank you for willingly going to the place that you fear the most. As our ambassador you will be under our protection, so fear not.”
Luna turned to her guard, “Escort Arch Duke Fifi le Yipyap inside please,” she said.
The arch duke entered the throne room wearing a haughty look of superiority. “Princess Celestia,” he curtly said, “I hope you have an answer for my lord.”
“Arch duke, we do,” she said. “Because our domain has offended yours, let us send a delegation to the Diamond Vale as an act of contrition to the Slave King.”
“Which of your ponies will you send?” the arch duke pointedly asked, while looking at Shanks thoughtfully. “I can’t guarantee their safety from the Slave King’s boundless wrath.”
“I believe you’re familiar with the ambassadors we sent previously,” Celestia said.
“You’re sending all the same ambassadors?” the arch duke said, almost too eagerly.
“Verily,” Luna said. “Please remind the Slave King that though he was slighted, none of thy master’s dogs were abused while they wert under our ministrations. We ask that the same consideration be bestowed to our ambassadors.”
“The Earth is indeed generous…” Yipyap murmured to himself. “I shall relay your message Your Majesty. However, the Slave King is his own dog, none may command him.”
Celestia looked the arch duke directly in the eyes, “I’m sure the Slave King will be a good host. Also,” she said, “please extend an invitation to the Slave King to our next Grand Galloping Gala. We’ve missed having the Earth as our guest.”
“Very well,” the arch duke agreed, “these terms are acceptable. I shall arrange for transportation to take us to the Diamond Vale tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Celestia said.
“By your leave Your Highness,” Yipyap replied, bowing slightly.
Princess returned her attention towards Clover, “I look forward to reading about your fruitful negotiations,” she said.
“Mine sister,” Luna said, “Tis time for us to perform our duty.”
Celestia nodded in agreement. “Bailiff,” she said, “please escort the ambassadors to their quarters.”
Clover turned around to follow after the guard when Celestia called out to him, “Clover,” she said. “Please walk with me for a while.”
Clover trotted after Celestia as she and her sister walked towards a balcony overlooking the city. He stared in awe as Celestia fully extended her wings, filled her horn with power, and lowered the sun beneath the horizon. Once the sun had set, Luna unfurled her wings and raised the moon into the sky. The moon was a crescent tonight, and it bathed the princesses and Clover in its silvery light.
“Clover,” Celestia said gently, “the next time you see Jormungandr please send him our greetings.”
“Verily,” Luna agreed. “The winding one hast beguiled us most masterfully. Advise him, when next you meet. That we expect that he shalt proffer us a gift for having played us so. Also if thou shouldst meet Strix again, advise that he must entreat with me for having played his part in Jormungandr’s scheme.”
Clover was taken aback by the princesses. “I apologize if I caused you any trouble…” he stammered, “but Jormungandr can be very persuasive.”
“Indubitably,” Luna agreed. “He knew of our reticence of engaging the Slave King directly, so he hast forced our hooves in the matter.”
“Clover,” Celestia said, “I wish to warn you of the Slave King. He’s like a wounded animal, so he’s dangerous and unpredictable. “I once performed a kindness for him, if he threatens you remind him of it. He may show you mercy.”
“The Slave King desires his freedom,” Luna said, “If all else fails, tell him he shalt receive a similar kindness from me.”
Clover nodded, “What is the Slave King like?” he asked in curiosity. “I’ve only met his servants and they chilled me to the bone.”
“We don’t know much of his origins beyond him once being a slave of the diamond dogs and being a stranger to Equestria,” Celestia explained.
“Indeed,” Luna said, “the Slave king is a most puzzling conundrum. He possesses all the ferocity of Lord Darkpaw, the boundless passions of Lady Zephyr, the endless rage of Lord Ouroboros, the unbroken honor of Lord Triton, and all the twisted cunning of Jormungandr himself.”
“How could I possibly negotiate with such a creature?” Clover asked in worry.
“The Slave King is but a child as deities go,” Celestia said. “His wants should be relatively simple.”
Clover thought about what Celestia and Luna had said. “What if he decides to just kill us all for the insult?” he asked.
“My little pony,” Celestia said, muzzling the fearful unicorn. “I don’t think you need to worry about that, the Slave King though vengeful seems to think kindly towards ponies and griffins.”
“Princesses, I will do my best to represent you as best I can,” Clover said.
“Clover thou shalt preserver,” Luna said. “Mine moon hast divined it.”
“Clover, now go and rest,” Celestia said.
Clover nodded his head weary with sleep. Yawning, he headed back towards his room to sleep. Once he’d left, Celestia looked at her sister. “I hope Jormungandr knows what he’s doing,” she said.
“Surely he shalt answer for this mischief, if any of them are harmed,” Luna said, stamping her hoof hard on the stone tile of the balcony.
Arch Duke Fifi le Yipyap was being escorted by Captain Stonewall towards the main gates of the city. “So Your Grace…” the captain tried saying before being cut off the arch duke.
“Captain,” the arch duke growled, “unless you wish to perish, hold your tongue and questions.”
The captain gulped, “I just wanted to know how long I should keep away the city patrols for,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be long,” the arch duke replied. “Captain, once I’ve contacted my master, should you utter a sound your life will be forfeit. Do you understand?”
Captain Stonewall nodded and silently kept walking alongside the arch duke. Once they reached the gate, a grey earth pony guard was standing watch. When they approached the guardspony, he looked at them suspiciously. “Now where do you lot think you’re going?” he asked.
“Out of the city obviously,” the arch duke said.
“I don’t think so,” the guardspony replied, “not without authorization from the watch captain!”
Captain Stonewall trotted over towards the guardspony. “Listen up,” he said, “I’m Captain Stonewall of the city watch, and I order you to open the gate.”
“A likely story!” the guardspony said with a laugh. “Besides, it doesn’t matter even if you were Princess Celestia herself. If you don’t have authorization from the Captain of the gate watch, you’re not getting past me.”
Captain Stonewall puffed out his chest. “Don’t you know who I am?” he demanded. “Open this gate up immediately or you’ll be written up for insubordination.”
Arch Duke Fifi le Yipyap was about to lose his temper when he remember he was rich. “I’m so glad such a stalwart guardspony like you is watching over the city gates,” he said, while shaking his rather full money purse. “Perhaps you could find it within your generous nature to allow us out of the city for a nightly stroll through the woods.”
When the guardspony heard the bits in the arch duke’s wallet clink together, his mouth watered in anticipation. “Of course my lord,” the guardspony said with a bow. “I’m so sorry for having to be so vigilant, but you never know if somepony could be up to no good on a dark night like tonight.”
“Of course, we understand perfectly,” the arch duke said, placing the heavy purse in the guardsponies waiting hoof. “Your discretion in this matter is greatly appreciated.”
“Of course my lord,” the guardspony replied while unlocking the gate, “once your business is finished, just knock and I’ll let you back inside.”
Once they had exited the city, Captain Stonewall turned towards the arch duke. “I apologize for the trouble in leaving the city,” he said.
“Make sure it doesn’t happen again!” the arch duke growled. “Or I shall be forced to find another pony to bestow my largess upon.”
The captain sullenly nodded, and followed the arch duke into a nearby strand of trees. “Yipyap, I don’t like being kept waiting…” a voice said, as terrible as death itself.
All the hairs of Captain Stonewall’s coat stood on end. In terror, his ears twitched as he tried determining where exactly the voice had come from. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the great beast jump out from behind a nearby tree.
The black beast slowly circled around the yellow pegasus. Terrified for his life the captain tried using his wings to escape, but found that the burning eyes of the beast had paralyzed him. It slowly sniffed him as it licked its maw. “Although for bringing me a meal,” it said, “I may forgive your tardiness.”
“Scourge,” the arch duke said in annoyance, “stop fooling around. That pony is not for you, I need to speak with the Slave King.”
“Mongrel, you dare to bring an outsider to see the Slave King,” Scourge growled.
“I’ve already warned him about the consequences of speaking in the master’s presence unbidden,” the arch duke said. “If he speaks out of turn you may eat him.”
The captain gulped when he heard the arch duke promise to make him lunch if messed up.
Scourge let out a low chuckle. “Arch duke,” he said, “you walk a thin line, but your impudence amuses me so I shall not punish you this time.”
“Scourge enough of your posturing,” the arch duke barked, “I have important news for the Slave King.”
“Very well,” Scourge replied, “but if he’s displeased, I shall make you suffer the rest of the night.”
“I understand,” the arch duke said.
Scourge nodded and then used his large paws to draw two circles in the earth, and many intricate sigils around them. He carefully looked at what he had drawn into the earth, satisfied it was correct he began howling a tune that caused the circles and symbols to fill with an unearthly blue light.
The captain looked in fascination as the earth in the circle began coalescing into a figure sitting on a great throne. It was a creature unlike any he ever seen before. The closest thing he could describe it as was like a hairless diamond dog, with the short snout of a serpent. On its head, it wore a heavy iron crown that obscured most of its face beyond its eyes. Oh the terrible eyes, they were unlike anything he had ever seen before. Both Celestia’s and Luna’s eyes were warm and loving. However, this creature had neither of those qualities. Instead all he felt was the icy clutches of death as he dared gaze upon its frightening visage. He knew should it take notice of him, a quick death was all he could hope for. Seeing that both Scourge and the arch duke were kneeling, he did the same while silently praying to Celestia that his presence didn’t offend it.
“Report Scourge,” the Slave King commanded.
"The arch duke has news of great importance to share with you my king,” Scourge said, with his head held low in respect for his sovereign.
“Well arch duke, what gossip have you come to share with me now,” the Slave King mockingly said, bored with having to speak with his servant once again.
“My lord, your plan worked flawlessly,” the arch duke said.
“Already?” the Slave King asked incredulously. “I was sure that it would have taken at least a solid two weeks of obnoxious behavior on your part, corrupting ponies and bribing their officials.”
“We had a stroke of luck my king,” the arch duke replied.
“Explain,” the Slave King said, leaning forward in stone throne.
“I was at the preliminary negotiations,” the arch duke said, “then at nearly the same time, both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna received summons from Lord Ouroboros and Lady Zephyr to attend a moot. When they left, I was being berated by her advisers about some pointless minutia when I noticed something odd about some of my dogs. It turns out they were ambassadors I advised you of previously. Once both the princesses had returned I ousted them as spies and demanded an explanation. Later that evening Celestia told me she was sending them to the Diamond Vale as an act of contrition.”
“I see,” the Slave king said, stroking his unkempt beard in contemplation. “This ‘good luck’ as you put it, though fortunate for us may be a scheme of some unknown party. We shall play along for now.”
“We leave for the Diamond Vale tomorrow,” the arch duke said, “I anticipate the trip taking about nine days.”
“That’s not fast enough,” The Slave King replied.
“My lord,” the arch duke protested, “Even if we marched nonstop we couldn’t possibly reach it any faster than six days. How do you propose we speed up the journey?”
“Ungrateful whelp!” Scourge growled. “Speak like that to your master again and I’ll rend you to pieces.”
“Scourge…” the Slave King said, his voice nearly a gentle whisper, “the arch duke was right in asking. All under my domain has the right to question an impossible request.”
“My apologies, oh great Slave King,” Scourge said in reverence, “great is your wisdom.”
“To answer your question arch duke…” the Slave King said, “my newest servant shall meet you tomorrow. He shall hasten your journey home.”
“What shall I do with the rest of our entourage?” the arch duke asked. “Send them home or continue with their secondary mission?”
“Leave a dog behind that you can trust to run things in Londwhinium,” the Slave King said. “The trip was expensive enough as it is, we might as well take full advantage of this opportunity.”
“As you wish great king,” the arch duke said bowing. “How shall I know the servant that you send to us?”
The Slave King laughed when he heard the arch duke’s question. His dark laughter filled Captain Stonewall’s heart with dread. It was the laughter of a madpony
“Believe me,” the Slave King said, “you will know Nidhogg when you see him.”
“My king, what would you have me do?” Scourge asked.
“Scourge my huntsdog,” the Slave King said, “take you and your hounds and return to the Diamond Vale. Take the shadows. That will be the fastest way back.”
“As my lord commands, so shall it be,” Scourge replied.
“Rejoice,” the Slave king said, “victory is nearly upon us. A victory we owe to Celestia herself.”
Captain Stonewall ears perked up when he heard this, Celestia needed to be warned. He prepared to launch himself into the air as soon as he had an opportunity.
“Oh arch duke,” the Slave king said, “one more thing…”
“Yes my lord?” the arch duke asked.
“You disappoint me,” the Slave King said, “how much did it cost to buy off that pony?”
“Oh his cooperation was easily purchased for a small purse of gemstones,” the arch duke said.
“Well in that case his loss will be of no consequence,” the Slave King replied.
When Captain Stonewall heard this, he unfurled his wings in an effort to escape this monster and his servants. But he found that his hooves were stuck fast to the earth.
“You think to escape me?” the Slave King said, pointing to the earth beneath the captain’s hooves. “Everything over and under the earth is my domain. My apologies, little pony, but you’ve heard too much. Scourge, make sure it’s over quick.”
“Yes my master,” Scourge replied as he approached the frightened pegasus.
The last thing Captain Stonewall heard before the jaws of Scourge enveloped his head was the Slave King saying, “In the future arch duke, I expect you to refrain from bringing valuable assets to these meetings.”
“But my lord,” the arch duke replied, looking at the dead pegasus, “he was incompetent.”
“Oh in that case,” the Slave King said, “I expect you to spend my money more wisely next time.”
“Of course my lord,” the arch duke said, “I shall see you tomorrow then.”
“Nidhogg has been alerted and will meet you outside the city gates at 08:00 a.m.” the Slave King said.
Scourge finished licking the blood from his maw and returned to the Slave King. “Do you have any other commands, oh great one?” he asked.
“Hide the remains and head back to the Diamond Vale,” the Slave King’s image said before crumbling back into the earth.
Scourge looked at the arch duke. “Yipyap, I thank you for the meal,” he said with a wicked laugh.
“Scourge, away with you,” the arch duke growled. “I must return to the city.”
Scourge grunted, and released a fearsome howl before rushing off into the thicket. Shortly afterwards the arch duke heard five other howls each as terrible as their master’s echo throughout the night air. Walking back to gate alone, he knocked on it several times. A few moments later, the cuff port of the side gate opened revealing the muzzle of the grey earth pony guard from before.
“My lord,” the guardspony said respectfully, while unlocking the gate. “I trust your business went swimmingly?”
“Ah, thank you,” the arch duke said as he entered through the small gate.
“My lord,” the grey guardspony said, “I think you're short somepony…”
“Oh yes,” the arch duke replied, handing a large purse full of bits to the guardspony, “my companion had additional business to attend to. He won’t be returning this way.”
“Of course my lord,” the guardspony said. “What shall I say if ponies come asking around for the dear captain?”
“Nothing would be preferable,” the arch duke replied, placing an even bigger purse of bits into the waiting guardsponies outstretched hoof.
“Certainly my lord,” the guardspony said with a conspiratorial wink. “I’ll leave you to your midnight stroll then.”
The arch duke nodded approvingly, as he walked back towards the keep of the Earth.
The guardspony smiled when he felt the three heavy purses of bits. “Never did like that pompous windbag anyways…” he muttered to himself.
Clover felt the weight of his bulging saddlebags. Showboat had definitely made sure that the princesses were paying them well for this mission. Each of them had saddlebags bulging with provisions of all kinds, bits, and even several spell containing spells that he would surely find useful. He pulled his master’s hat tightly around his ears while he nervously waited outside the city gates.
“See Clover, what did I tell you,” Sir Stouthorn said, while slapping his back “the quest always provides, the portents were true.”
“I suppose so,” Clover said. “I wonder what the Diamond Vale will be like.”
“Sir Stouthorn,” Seafoam said, “what a beautiful morning to quest. Not a cloud in the sky.”
“Aye lad,” Sir Stouthorn heartily agreed, “one couldn’t ask for better questing weather.”
“Ugh, I hate waking up so early,” Shaw groggily said. “I hope we get to ride on the arch duke’s palanquin.”
“Shaw, you wouldn’t be so tired if you hadn’t been so busy riding my ride all night,” Slick said, patting Showboat’s back.
Showboat rolled her eyes. “Slick,” she warned, “if you keep being a grump you’ll end up walking all the way to the Diamond Vale.”
“Okay, fine whatever…” Slick grumbled.
“So, Arch Duke Yipyap,” Clover asked, “When shall we be moving?”
“At precisely 08:00 a.m.” the arch duke replied. “The Slave King is sending us special transportation to make the journey to the Diamond Vale much faster.”
“I wonder what sort of transportation it will be,” Seafoam said.
“Something with wings obviously,” Shaw replied, showing off his rainbow feathers. “If you’ve got to move fast it requires wings.”
“That’s impossible,” Clover said. “The prime elements are warring with each other, and only Lord Ouroboros and Lady Zephyr have any air power.”
“Maybe the Slave king hired some of Lady Suzaku’s phoenixes,” Sir Stouthorn said. “Or even Cerynitis’s flying reindeer.”
“The Slave King has no need for hirelings,” the arch duke said. “He’s sending us his servant Nidhogg.”
“Well, whoever this Nidhogg feather is…” Shaw said, “they're late.”
Before the arch duke could respond they felt the ground beneath their hooves rumbling. Out from the ground burst forth the jaws of a mighty wyrm. Its skin was jet black like onyx, and its purple eyes looked down on the ponies below. “Nidhogg I presume?” the arch duke asked.
“That I am,” the wyrm said, “because I’m him, and he’s me.”
Nidhogg looked down at the creatures beneath him. “Okay my passengers,” he said. “Let me explain to you how riding the ole Nidhogg express works. Do you see my spines?”
Everyone saw the massive spines jutting out from the creature’s body at regular intervals and nodded. “Good,” Nidhogg said, “as long as you hold onto those spines you’ll be able to slide through the earth along with me. But whatever you do don’t let go. If you do, you’ll become a permanent part of the earth if you take my drift.”
The arch duke’s face went ashen when he heard what Nidhogg said. “Do you have any saddles we can use while riding you?” he asked.
“Hmm saddles…” Nidhogg mused, while thinking for a moment, “Those certainly would be convenient, wouldn’t they. But nope, hopefully I won’t lose too many of you on the trip there.”
“Perhaps I could resolve this problem,” Clover said.
“Oh, any assistance you could offer would be invaluable,” Nidhogg said.
Using his magic Clover began shaping wood from nearby trees into baskets they could attach to Nidhogg’s spines. After about twenty minutes, they had enough baskets for everyone to sit in comfortably. “Ah those should work,” he said, once the baskets had been secured to his spines. He twisted his body to test how they felt while swaying back and forth.
Nidhogg patiently lay on the ground, waiting for his tiny passengers to sit down in the wooden baskets. “Alright everyscale, a word of advice,” he said, preparing to launch himself into the ground “unless you like eating dirt, I suggest keeping your mouth’s closed until we’re well on our way.”
Nidhogg raised himself high into the air and thrust his sharp maw into the earth, as everyone on his back saw the earth rushing towards them they began screaming. “Minutes later they were well on their way towards the Diamond Vale. He chuckled to himself when he heard his passengers spitting the earth out of their mouths. “I totally warned them,” he said to himself.
The trip to the Diamond Vale took less than six hours. Nidhogg had burrowed deeply and broke out of the earth inside the outskirts of the ruins of the Diamond Vale. Nidhogg lowered himself to the ground, allowing his passengers to get off his back. “I hope you enjoyed your ride,” he said, as they removed the baskets attached to his spines.
As soon as Shanks was off the wyrm’s back he sniffed the air a few times let out a baleful howl. Clover noticing the pup’s distress, nudged him with his muzzle. “Shanks are you all right?” he asked.
“The world all gone,” Shanks said, tears forming in his eyes. “It ended by the not-Darkpaw.”
Clover looked up and saw the ruined city all around him. Tons of stone from the broken lava dome had rained down on the city when it had collapsed. As far as Clover could see, not a single building had escaped the destruction; gingerly he smelled the air and realized what had been bothering his nostrils. The stale stench of death permeated everything, from the stale air of the dead city to the blood soaked earth beneath his hooves. Clover wondered just how many diamond dogs and others had perished when the Slave King destroyed the city.
Clover thoughts were interrupted by the arch duke, “Come follow me,” he said, his face visible pained by the destruction all around him. “Let’s not tarry here any longer then we need to. We are expected in the throne room.”
While they were walking through the ruined buildings, Showboat saw the glimmer of gold and gems scattered among the ruins of what must have once been a magnificent mansion. Before she could find the treasure a new home in her saddlebags the arch duke looked directly at her. “I will only say this once,” he warned. “Everything under the earth belongs to the Slave King. That goes especially for what lies inside the Diamond Vale.”
As they passed by the rotting and bloated corpse of a dragon, the arch duke pointed towards it. “This servant of Lord Ouroboros tried to take what wasn’t his,” he said. “Let that be a lesson to you, lest you share in his fate.”
When she heard the arch duke’s warning, Showboat began dropping some of her newly found treasures back on the ground. “Showboat, smart move,” Shaw said, as his eyes darted back and forth nervously at the shadows all around them.
“Yeah no kidding,” Slick said, shuddering as he thought about the dragon’s corpse they had just passed.
“Darling, hold me,” Showboat pleaded, the hairs on her coat standing on end.
Shaw complied, and placed his talons around her neck. “Love, keep those sticky hooves to yourself until we’re out of here.”
Showboat silently nodded and resumed following after the arch duke, as he led them deeper into the ruins towards the palace that loomed large against the broken skyline of the dead city.
From the shadows, hateful eyes hungry for vengeance eyed the trespassers that strayed into its realm.
Clover walked along the broken streets, occasionally pausing to help the others clear away rubble that blocked their path. Slightly afraid, he turned towards Sir Stouthorn. “I don’t like it here,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right.”
“Aye lad, this is an evil place,” Sir Stouthorn said. “The souls of so many who died so suddenly, linger here. They haven’t yet been able to find their way into the summer lands, and their final rest.”
“Clover, don’t worry,” Seafoam said, confidently readying his trident for battle. “Should any hungry dead seek their vengeance upon us, we’ll send them back to their graves.”
“You’ve fought the dead before?” Clover asked in surprise. “I thought such a thing was but an old mare’s tale.”
“Aye lad, twas a nasty business,” Sir Stouthorn said. “Several years ago, we had been sent to clear out a catacombs near the western ocean. The quester thought that it was bandits that had been killing folks. But once we’d entered inside, the gnawed bones of dead ponies that were strewn everywhere told us everything we needed to know.”
“Yeah the restless dead,” Seafoam said, “ponies who couldn’t find their way into the summerlands. They’re stuck plaguing the living until they’re freed of their earthly regrets. We spent nearly two days destroying their rotting corpses and incorporeal forms.”
“You won’t find such in this place,” the arch duke said. “The restless dead fear my lord too greatly, and his pet destroys any foolish enough to leave their graves.”
Clover shuddered uncontrollably. This place was horrible enough without having to know that ghosts and zombie ponies were actually real and probably wishing they could drag him down to join them. “Could we please talk about something else,” Clover begged.
“I wish the Slave King would at least let us clear the streets in this Tiroc cursed place,” the arch duke spat, when he tripped over some loose rubble.
“Sir, I must insist that you refrain from saying the unmentionable one’s name in our presence,” Sir Stouthorn said, pointing a finger at the arch duke.
“You needn’t worry about the unmentionable one,” the arch duke said, sighed as he turned the corner, “there are greater terrors to be found right her in the city.”
“What do you mean?” Clover asked, poking his muzzle around the corner of the building. What he saw made him almost vomit in disgust. Before him there was a large rotting dragon, several diamond dogs and many ponies all tirelessly performing the tasks that he supposed they had done in life. The dragon’s corpse endless clawed through the rubble looking for something, while the skeletal remains of the diamond dogs were whipping and beating the dead pony slaves.
“Quickly,” the arch duke hissed, “we must take an alternate path.”
Showboat gasped when she saw the faded and torn hides of the ponies who endlessly toiled at their long forgotten labors. Immediately every ghoul stopped what it was doing and looked in her direction. They softly wailed as they slowly moved towards her.
“Thrice cursed abominations,” Sir Stouthorn shouted, brandishing his weapon, “may the Lawgiver finally grant you the peace you were denied in death.”
With a warbellow, the minotaur fearlessly rushed into the hordes of animated corpses as his weapon glowed with the holy light of the Lawgiver.
“For the Lawgiver,” Seafoam said, rushing forward to join his liege in glorious combat. His trident burned with holy flame as he ruthlessly dispatched the walking corpses.
Shaw jumped up on the dragons back and defiantly screeched as he used his talons to try dislodging the bones that held it together.
Showboat used her magic to erect magical barriers to direct the throng of undead creatures that were streaming out from the buildings towards them. Meanwhile Slick used his claws and fire breath to hold them at bay.
“Sweet Celestia,” Clover cursed. Such things shouldn’t be possible, but yet here they were. Clover gathered his magic into his horn and began releasing spells to disable and destroy the abominations that were swarming towards them and threatening to overrun their position.
“Both ice and fire, to freeze and burn. With earth to crush and winds to churn,” Clover chanted, as his horn began filling with power. “Let the waters soak, and choking thorns bar the way. Let Luna’s silvery moon purify, and Celestia’s golden sun clear the way!”
When clover spoke the words, the dead city filled up with the purifying light of Celestia’s sun and Luna’s moon, while the creatures were buffeted from all sides by elemental attacks of all kinds. When the spell was finished each of the once moving corpses had fallen to the ground in haphazard piles.
“Come, we must hurry,” the arch duke shouted. “Before any more of them are alerted to our presence.”
“I thought you said they were too afraid of the Slave King,” Shaw bitterly spat, trying to remove the taste of rotting dragons flesh from his tongue.
“They hadn’t dared to make a move previously,” the arch duke said, not understanding how such a thing could possibly happen.
“Well, perhaps your boss is losing control over his element,” Shaw accused. “Maybe Celestia and Luna would find this information useful.”
“You’re a long way from Londwhinium griffin,” the arch duke growled. “And besides, there are far worse things stalking the shadows of the Diamond Vale.”
“Such as?” Shaw asked, not believing a word that the arch duke said.
“Things that are best not said,” the arch duke fearfully said. “Things that go bump in the night, biting and lurking, and in the darkness taking you to the pit itself.”
“Lad,” Sir Stouthorn warned, “best leave him alone for now. There are enough evil things in this place without alienating our only guide to the palace.”
“Bah,” Shaw replied, “it will take more than old harpy tales to make me afraid.”
“I think you may just get your wish,” Seafoam said, pointing towards a pair of burning eyes in the shadows.
“The master knows we are here now,” the arch duke said warily. “We shall be safe for the rest of the trip to the palace ruins. Come; let us move swiftly lest we invoke his displeasure.”
The remainder of the trip towards the palace was uneventful. As they moved deeper into the dead city, Clover saw that the architecture was indeed grand and beautiful. He wondered to himself what the place had looked like before its destruction.
Arch Duke Fifi le Yipyap looked at Clover as he studied the ruins, “Yes the Diamond Vale truly was a gem,” he said, “its loss is truly a shame.”
“They reaped what they sowed…” a terrible voice said, echoing on the lonely wind they blew through the ruins. “Come and show me what Celestia the Radiant and Luna the Beautiful have to offer me.”
“As you wish oh great one,” the arch duke replied, motioning his paw for the group to follow him into the palace.
When they entered it, Clover saw vibrantly painted murals depicting the history of Equestria, much like the stained glass windows of the royal palace. Their chipped and cracked paint, faded from neglect showed many stories he was familiar with, some he wasn’t, and a few that depicted altogether different events then he thought had happened.
“These murals don’t seem right,” Clover mused aloud. “Discord was imprisoned by the princesses, not Lord Darkpaw.”
“Clover, I think you’ll find inaccuracies among all the great realms,” Sir Stouthorn said. “Even the songs of the Lawgiver tell a different story then many of the official pony histories. But that’s a discussion for another time…”
Just as he had finished speaking, they entered the broken remnants of the throne room. The lighting was poor, so Clover couldn’t see the figure cloaked in shadows very well that sat on great stone throne.
“Ambassadors, approach my throne,” the seated figure commanded.
As Clover moved closer towards the throne he saw that the creature wore a cloak made from the hide of some great beast.
“Do you like my cloak?” the figure asked, while pointing above his throne. “It used to be Darkpaw’s, or rather was Darkpaw. “
Clover gazed up and saw a massive diamond dog skull missing a fang, grinning down at them like some laughing sentinel.
“Lord Darkpaw,” the figure said, “I keep him near so all may know it was I who slew him.
By now Clover was halfway towards the throne, and better able to see the figure more clearly. The creature if it stood up would be nearly as tall as the princesses. It wore on its head a heavy crown, that was more a helmet that anything else that obscured most of its face from view.
“They say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” the figure said, pointing towards its wrought iron crown.
From deep in the shadows covering its face, Clover saw its terrible eyes. They were like a burning maelstrom, devoid of mercy or compassion. Now nearly at the foot of the throne’s dais, he looked up at the figure expectantly.
“I am the Slave King,” the figure said, leaning forward into the light, fully revealing himself for all to see.
When Clover saw the heavily scarred body of the Slave King, he felt ill. The Slave King’s pallid flesh was covered with numerous scars, and festering open wounds that oozed black blood. His unkempt mane and beard was a mixture of pitch black hair streaked with white and greying hairs. Attached to his forelimbs were manacles that had numerous chains that seemed to disappear into nothingness.
“Shaw was right,” Clover thought, “surely this monster was Tiroc reborn!”
“Little pony,” the Slave King said. “Why have they sent you to my domain?”
“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have sent us in an act of contrition for the insult done to you by our ponies,” Clover said, “please forgive us for the sleight.”
“It matters not," the Slave King breathed out, “I think what does matter is what they are willing to do to rectify this situation.”
“I have been authorized to offer you anything within reason to normalize relations between our two nations,” Clover said.
“Good, Celestia always struck me as someone who was reasonable,” the Slave King replied.
“So what will it take to quell your fury, and end the famine?” Clover asked.
“I ask for one thing and one thing only,” the Slave King said. “Lord Ouroboros possesses something of great value to me. I task you with returning it to me and taking from him his left eye for the insult.”
“What?” everyone in the room shouted in disbelief.
“Yes,” the Slave King said, “return to me that which was stolen, along with the left eye of Lord Ouroboros and I shall give Celestia and Luna whatever they desire.”
Thank you for reading thus far gentlereader. Finally we have reached the third act! What ever shall our intrepid heroes do? Tasked with retrieving the Slave Kings amulet and plucking the very eye of Lord Ouroboros himself! How could the Slave King expect them to perform such an impossible feat? Additionally we see the Slave King's tenuous grip over the Earth is finally beginning to wane. With the hungry dead freely roaming the ruins of the Diamond Vale itself, how much longer till this plague breaks out in other parts of Equestria? Truly a disaster of epic proportions is brewing.
Find out next time gentlereaders in the next exciting chapter of The Great Slave King. Coming soon to a screen near you. Same pony time, same pony channel.
As always gentlereaders your comments are appreciated.