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Started watching midway through the first season. Started writing not long before the beginning of the last.

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(T>B) The Crystal Empire, legitimacy and annexation · 12:50am August 6th

Original thread: https://www.fimfiction.net/group/50/the-writers-group/thread/490719/the-crystal-empire-legitimacy-and-annexation

(Warning - kind of long and rambling. TLDR at the bottom.)

I think I've said before that I find the opening two-parter of Season 3 one of the show's more flawed ones, and the location and race it introduced among the show's most underutilised. Still, some of those flaws are more interesting, or less plumbed, than others - I could say a lot on the whole "test" business, for instance, but that's been argued to, well, the Empire and back. So instead I'm gonna talk about some other stuff, inspired maybe a bit by recent European events but perhaps more by recently reading Estee's fic "Post Negative Comments Only". (As to how it's relevant to this discussion... read and find out!)

So... a thousand years ago or thereabouts, there was a Crystal Empire. Or at least, a crystal city - perhaps they controlled more lands (or at least, once had), perhaps they just had delusions of grandeur. Either way, it seems unlikely that they were part of Equestria at the time - at most, they were a vassal state. It is at least strongly implied they had their own royal family, and outright confirmed that they had many old traditions. And by all reports, it was a pretty pleasant place - and in all it's neighbours' interests to keep it that way, as the city and it's Heart served as a massive broadcast antenna for the local mood.

A thousand years ago, a powerful dark mage called Sombra "took over" the empire. He styled himself "King", but there is no canon indicating if he was part of the ruling family, a foreign royal, or just an independent rogue like Amulet!Trixie. (Indeed, even his species is not certain, although Celestia refers to him as a unicorn - we see no crystal unicorns in the show, but we have seen one pegasus. If there were others, we can only guess as to what happened to them...) His goals are also not wholly clear, but his method was one of tyrannical oppression - some believe that he sought to broadcast fear and despair across the lands, for whatever purpose, and thus deliberately cultivated it in his "subjects".

The lack of show information on Sombra is notable, because it leaves open a broad variety of possible origins - and each of these, as far as it is known, would surely have an effect on the opinions of the crystal ponies, whose psyches he scarred deeply. If he was the legitimate heir, for instance, you might expect his reign to discredit the monarchy - less so if he was a lesser prince who assassinated his way to the throne, and not at all if he was an outright usurper. If he was a foreigner (and especially if he was of Equestrian birth) then you might expect the citizens of the Empire to be hostile to outsiders seeking to rule them - on the other hand, if he was just a "wandering monster" who the Empire was helpless to stop, there might be a craving for mightier protectors.

These are just a few of the possibilities, and the show gives us little clue to pick one by except what did come to happen. Equestria's ruling Princesses turned their attention to the dark ruler, likely in a mix of righteous intervention and pre-emptive self-defense, and struck him down - but his last curse banished the Empire, not to be return for roughly a millenium. And at least one of those Princesses awaited that return (and the chance to correct her failure) all that time, and once it took place, dispatched a mission to secure the city against Sombra (and presumably also aid the time-displaced locals as best as possible).

The specifics of the mission I won't go into right now, but it was ultimately successful - and while one of the key figures in that success, the young dragon Spike, would be honoured greatly in the Empire for it it, another player - arguably the expedition leader - would receive more than accolades. Yes, I'm talking here of Princess Cadance - in personality virtually Sombra's opposite, but sharing a few key points. Both specialise in magic that manipulates the heart, but can also conjure crystals as well. Both ruled the Crystal Empire in turn. And both have no origin of any sort given in the show - while Sombra's only one comes from some retrospectively dubious comics, Cadance's was chapter-book material. About the most we can truly infer from the episodes is that she was not born an alicorn (or her daughter coming out as one would be little surprise) but how she became one, or where, when, or to who she was born, is a mystery. (She does appear visibly younger about a decade ago, so her having lived continuously since the Empire was around seems less likely than not.)

One of the greater clues in that mystery points towards the Crystal Empire. Cadance's cutie mark (obtained under unknown circumstances prior to her first appearance) closely resembles the Crystal Heart, and a crystal pony who sees her flying by (unclear if they got a good look at her mark) declares "Behold! The Crystal Princess!". Now, does this mean they think she's descended from the original royal family? Or actually one of them, preserved across the ages? Or were said ancient monarchs selected by the Heart rather than a bloodline? And whatever the basis for the claim is, is it actually correct? (Oh, and could there be some relation between the Empire's return and Cadance coming fully into her own as Alicorn of Love?)

Whatever the case, it seems that from that point onwards, Cadance took over Sombra's role as the Empire's chief executive - while still remaining a Princess of Equestria and answering to Celestia to some degree. As a result, the Empire seems to have been swiftly drawn into the Equestrian sphere, attracting both tourists and immigrants from it's southern neighbour - especially after hosting the Equestria Games. Granted, I'm not sure if it's ever declared to be part of Equestria - but if it isn't yet, it's only a matter of time.

So in other words... a monarchy of some sort came to be ruled by a (probably at least somewhat illegitimate) monarch, who tyrannized them in ways his predecessors likely had not. One temporal hiccup later, and said monarch has been deposed by agents of the rulers of a large and powerful neighbouring country, whose relationship before the incident was unknown but not likely very close. The chief among said agents, who may have links to the previous monarchy, is then installed as a... well, "puppet ruler" sounds harsh, and we don't know if Cadance is as deferential to Celestia as Twilight is, but we can at least say she's less than fully independent, Said ruler proceeds to draw the nation closer into it's neighbours sphere, likely helped by the necessity of modernisation after the aforementioned hiccup. And the citizenry seem quite happy with this... although after their last ruler, almost anything would be an improvement.

It's a slightly dubious situation if looked at one way, especially with certain events in the news. From the show's intended angle, though, it's a fine situation approved of by everyone not a villain. And the things we don't know about Sombra and Cadance can tilt the balance a lot depending on how you fill them in - likewise whatever goes in in the Empire off-screen between episodes.

So does anyone have any thoughts on any part of the matter? Headcanon, perhaps?

(TLDR: given how little we know of either's background in show canon, on what ground did Sombra claim his rule of the Empire, and on what grounds was Cadance chosen to succeed him? And is it a plus, minus, or just a misconception that this is basically a setup for them to be absorbed as a province of Equestria?)

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