Equestria’s Changeling Queen and the Abyssal Empress

by vren55

Chapter 23: A Day in Venecia

The sun was fairly high in the sky as the Elements of Harmony trotted out of the Doggess’s palace. So much so that the imposing towers of the palace didn’t do much to block the sun’s rays.

Rainbow, hovering just a little off the ground glanced at Twilight. “So, you’ve probably read about this place a hundred times, egghead. Where should we go?”

“Well, there is the main square in Venecia, also known as the Piazza of Marcos the Winged Lion. It’s one of the go-to sites in Venecia and a major commercial hub. That actually used to be Venecia’s old seaport until they expanded the city and—”

Applejack chuckled. “That’s very nice and all Twilight, but do you know how to get there?”

Twilight, a bit indignant at being interrupted, opened her mouth to reply, only for her brow to furrow. A slight blush on her cheeks, Twilight turned to one of the ten guards the Elements of Harmony had been assigned. Two of them were changelings in the silver armor of the Mirror Guard, whilst the rest were dressed in the red and blue livery of the Venetian Marines.

“Um, Captain Pius, can you lead us to the Piazza?” asked Twilight.

The Venetian marine nodded and stepped forward to lead the group. “Stick close to us and don’t wander off.”

“Um, but aren’t we at peace with the kelpies?” asked Fluttershy.

“We are, but the Princesses and the Doggess aren’t taking any chances,” said Corporal Scarab, glancing back to check the warhammer holstered at the side of his silver armor.

“Oh, alright,” said Fluttershy timidly following the guards.

Pinkie Pie, on the other hoof, couldn’t stay still as she bounced around the changeling Lieutenant Ethelflaed, whose red eyes were beginning to narrow in frustration.

“Well I can’t wait to go the Piazza! Maud said that there’s lot of food, drink, and that there’s always a party going on 24/7. Seriously! A party 24/7! That’s got to be the greatest thing in the—”


The group had halted at the Piazza, which was in Twilight’s eyes, one of the grandest things she had ever seen. It was a massive marble tiled courtyard fenced in on one side by a canal, and on three sides by two stories of columned arches that held the roof up for a number of stalls and restaurants. Atop of this two story structure was a red-clay tiled roof that glowed in the hot noon sun. However…

“Where’s the party?” Pinkie asked.

The square was deserted, and as the group trotted over the canal bridge into the plaza itself, they could see that most of the stores were boarded up, or had their security gates shut.

“Captain, is it normal for the shops and boutiques to be shut so early?” Rarity asked.

Pius’s shoulders sagged. “No, but to be honest, I’m not too surprised. With food being rationed and no ships coming in, there’s nothing to sell. Also, all of our craftsponies and artisans have been directed to the factories to make weapons and defensive works in preparation for the worst case scenario.”

“Come to think of it, I didn’t see anypony out and about even as we were walking here,” said Spike.

Twilight nodded in agreement as she thought back to their walk. As they had trotted to the Piazza, they hadn’t seen anypony. She had initially chalked it up to the fact that about two-thirds of Venecia’s remaining population had been evacuated, but now that she thought about it, they should have at least passed somepony.

Pius frowned. “That is a bit strange. I haven’t heard anything about it from my family because they were evacuated pretty quickly.” Pius turned to a brass colored pegasus at the side of the group. “Sergeant Bronzewing, your family’s still here, right? Any news about the neighbourhood that might explain this?”

Bronzewing pursed his lips. “Well, morale in my neighbourhood’s been pretty low. The children seem to fare a bit better because they have a lot more room to play, but the adults have been finding it very difficult to occupy themselves. Food’s been rationed, and many ponies are out of employment for the moment. But I didn’t think it was this bad.”

"Bronzewing, why don’t we visit your family and talk to them about this?” asked Twilight.

Bronzewing turned to Pius who nodded. “It’s not regulation, but this is strange enough to warrant some investigating. Bronzewing, you take point.”

The long streets of three story rowhouses seemed to stretch on for miles as the group trotted toward Bronzewing’s neighbourhood. Once or twice, Twilight caught a pony peeking out from behind a curtain or a window shutter, but they disappeared so quickly, the only remnant that they had ever peeked was the slight swaying of the curtain or the clack of the shutter on the frame.

It didn’t help that when they finally reached Bronzewing’s row house, it looked just the same as all the other ones, lower floor shutters closed and curtains drawn.

Bronzewing knocked on the door thrice, the guards behind him waiting anxiously. To everypony’s relief the door opened to a little earth pony colt.

“Dad?” gasped the colt just before Bronzewing seized him in a tight hug and swung him up into the air.

“Leo! Daddy’s back!”

“Ahhahah put me down dad!” laughed Leo as Bronzewing swung him up again.

The laughter seemed to have drawn a sea-green colored earth pony mare with a blue mane from the inside of the house to the door. Her eyes widened instantly as she took in the sight. “Bronzewing? Is that you?”

“Of course it’s me Elena,” laughed Bronzewing as he put down Leo and trotted toward the mare.

Only to scramble back as the cutlass that the mare drew from the scabbard at her side.

“Stay right there mister. Leo, get behind me.”

As the Elements of Harmony eyes widened, Pius stepped forward. “Miss, I am Captain Pius of Her Doggess’s Marines. Put that weapon down.”

"Um, yeah mom, why are you pointing your cutlass at dad?” asked Leo.

“Because kelpies can pretend to be anypony, Leo, now get behind me!” snapped the mare.

The colt’s eyes widened and he quickly zipped over behind his mother.

“Elena sweetie, it is me!” protested Bronzewing.

“You always write before you visit. Why would you drop in without notice?” demanded Elena.

“Pardon me, Miss Elena, but Bronzewing wanted to show us the neighbourhood and he volunteered to take us to his house first,” said Twilight, trying not to let her voice waver.

“Show you the neighbourhood?” asked Elena, eyes narrowing.

Twilight tried to look as officious as possible. “My friends and I are the Elements of Harmony, and since we had a bit of time on our hooves, we wanted to get to know Venecia a bit.”

Elena glanced at Bronzewing who nodded rapidly in confirmation.

“Alright, where did we first meet on Venecia?” asked Elena.

Bronzewing blinked at that and chuckled in amusement. “Honey, that’s obviously a trick question. We first met in Manehattan prison. You were picking me up from the penitentiary.”

Pius glanced at Bronzewing, eyebrow raised. “You were a reformed criminal?”

Bronzewing shook his head. “No, I was a Equestrian Foreign Legion private helping transfer prisoners to Venecia. Unfortunately, Captain Brinewing thought it would be a good idea to free some of the prisoners and conscript them in her crew. There was a big fight between our ships.”

“Yes, but what did we do after all of that?” asked Elena.

“You slapped me for trying to save you and I yelled at you for taking on a dangerous pirate captain yourself. You told me I was interfering with your professional life and I accused you of egging me on, whereupon we didn’t speak for an entire month.”

“Wait, you didn’t just kiss after all that?” asked Rarity.

“Love doesn’t work that way, Miss Rarity I presume… How did we make it up to one another?” asked Elena.

“I got you that new cutlass, and you treated me to dinner on your boat so can you please stop pointing it at me!” said Bronzewing a bit grumpily.

Elena slowly lowered her cutlass, eyes wide. “It’s actually you.” Sheathing her blade she threw her hooves around Bronzewing who was only too happy to return the hug. “I’m so sorry! I knew about the kelpies’ shapeshifting abilities and thought they would try to replace you!”

Scarab scratched the back of his head. “That’s really more of our thing, or so I’ve heard.”

“Oh Celestia, please come in, I’m so sorry about this,” said Elena, ushering the group through the red-carpeted hallway adorned with many family pictures and into the living room with green velvet couches.

Weirdly enough, the table was turned on its side.

“Everypony, you can come out now! It was just Bronzewing and some of his friends paying an unscheduled visit!” called Elena.

The guards tensed, but only briefly, as two mares, two stallions and two fillies ducked their heads out from behind the couches and the table. The adults were all armed to the teeth and Twilight actually noticed one of the stallions carrying half of a hooked boarding pike, which he promptly dropped as Bronzewing trotted in.

“Geez Bronzewing! You gave us a bloody fright!” snapped the stallion, wiping the sweat off his bearded nose as he got up.

“You’re going to give me a bloody fright exerting yourself like this grandpa Ahab!” sighed Bronzewing as he took the pike from the older stallion. Brow slightly furrowed, in spite of his wide smile, Bronzewing looked around the room. “And what are you all doing here?”

Elena sighed as she poured some water for them all. “Well with so many ponies being evacuated, all of my family left on Venecia decided to move in. And yes, I tried to talk some sense in father, but you know how he’s like.”

“Darn tootin. I don’t trust those bloody kelpies.” He gestured to Scarab and Ethelflaed. “I’ll admit, you buggering changelings proved themselves alright. One of your queens loaned some of her changelings to help us rebuild, but I’d sooner stick my harpoon in a kelpie the moment I see one,” snapped Grandpa Ahab.

Twilight’s right eyebrow arched up. “But we’ve concluded a truce with the Aquestrians and we need their help lest the Old One destroys us.”

“Perhaps, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re monsters, Miss Sparkle,” said Elena harshly.

“And the princesses are fools to accede to them,” snapped one of the stallions.

“Hey! The princesses are doing all that they can to make sure we’re safe!” retorted Rainbow flying up to pony, her pink eyes meeting the stallion’s purple ones.

This only seemed to aggravate the maroon colored stallion even further. “The kelpies and seaponies were the ones who caused the tsunami in the first place. Plus, where were our vaunted Princesses when our ships were lost? Where were they when Empress Tethys destroyed the Griffon fleet, and ravaged our merchant fleet? What were they doing when half the Equestrian fleet went down? Could they do anything to protect Queen Retariusil’s hive?”

Elena sighed. “Nemo… That was—”

“That was not your fault, Elena! You and Admiral Turner were trying to get home to help us! That Celestia and the Equestrians wanted to abandon Venecia, to let us starve! As a captain of a Venecian merchant ship, what could you have done Elena? Turn around and leave Bronzewing and little Leo?” Nemo asked.

Rarity frowned. “What incident are you referring to, Mister Nemo? From what I have heard, Equestria has been keeping Venecia supplied with food ever since the tsunami.”

The intensity of the glare Nemo turned on Rarity made her take a step back.

“Wow, you’re more ignorant than I thought. I’m talking about when Celestia ordered our Venecian Merchant Fleet to turn around! The time when she and her fleet didn’t save our ships from being sunk by Tethys—”

“Because your captains were too stupid to listen to us in the first place!” snapped Scarab.

Elena flinched as Nemo growled at the changeling. “You—”

The changeling’s hiss snapped Nemo’s mouth shut. “No, you shut your poisonous mouth right now! I was amongst Princess Alternia’s task force. I witnessed what happened to Celestia’s fleet. I talked… no, I mourned the loss of our comrades with my fellow guards and our sailors. All of them were there because your merchant fleet dragged us into a zone of contested waters and forced us to make for Venecia! How dare you insult our Princesses for doing their best to make up for your mistake!”

“Nemo, I also agree with Scarab. You’re spouting a lot of hooey,” said Pius in a deadpan voice. “When our ships went missing, and we didn’t know the cause, the Princesses sent in their navy and even drove off the pirates that seemed to be part of the cause. When our merchant fleet was attacked, her highness was trying to save them from killing themselves and she saved many of our sailors personally. I don’t even know how you can even bring in the Griffon fleet as it isn’t the Princesses’ business to protect them.”

Nemo opened his mouth and shut it as he failed to answer. “I…” He swallowed and didn’t speak as Elena trotted in with a tea tray.

“Scarab and Pius summed it up quite well, but I’ll elaborate,” she said setting down the tea tray before taking a seat on the couch. It was then she looked up at the Elements of Harmony and Spike with wide, haunted eyes.

“As my brother Nemo implied, I was a captain in Venecia’s navy and was helping move supplies to Venecia before we were finally blockaded. I’m not sure why, but not too long before the Battle of Aquamaris, Celestia had gathered most of Equestria’s Eastern fleet to form an escort for our convoy. Soon after, we ran into a drifting, kelpie ravaged Griffon destroyer and then a few days later, we encountered the lone Griffon cruiser from their annihilated Western Fleet.”

“Almost immediately, Celestia ordered us to turn around and head back for Equestria, but we had other ideas. As Nemo said, we didn’t want to be separated from our families and we thought we would get to Venecia, or die trying.”

Taking a seat beside her, Bronzewing extended a wing over his wife, whose lips twitched, but failed to form a smile.

“Communicating using a separate radio channel, Admiral Turner came up with a plan to shake the Equestrian fleet, which we executed promptly. We didn’t think the Equestrians would risk their fleet to come after us, but a day later, the Equestrian fleet did catch up and upon firing a warning shot, we were forced to heave to. At that moment, I still thought the Equestrians were selfish fools that would betray us to save their own skins. Which was when my ship’s propellers were jammed by the Aquestrians.”

Bronzewing sighed. “Elena—”

“I made a terrible mistake, and those deaths are on my hooves. We went for the lifeboats of course, but the seaponies tipped many of the boats into the water and dragged my crew to their deaths. If it hadn’t been for Celestia I would be dead. Only by her grace can I tell ponies of the monstrous power of the Empress, and explain why she could beat Celestia in single combat.”

Elena shut her eyes. “And what’s worse is that because Equestria had to pursue our fleet closer to Venecia, their ships were also damaged and they had to make for Venecia, leading to the Battle of Aquamaris. Their fleet’s destruction is also on our hooves.”

“What do you mean? I mean, Tethys is colossal and fairly strong! We saw her a few nights ago, but I heard that Celestia drove Tethys off!” exclaimed Rainbow.

“Celestia was driven off by Tethys, put at Death’s door, and when she returned to the battle, she only managed to blind Tethys temporarily. And her size is no joke. I was on the Llamrei when Tethys scraped by it. The entire ship shook so violently, brass fittings fell off and some glass shattered. And when she turned on our fleet, I saw the Empress rip apart our fleet, her tentacles crushing steel and snapping wood like they were mere matchsticks. I could only imagine how Ocean Surf might have screamed….”

The Elements of Harmony and Spike swallowed, thinking back to the dark night when they had arrived in Venecia, the massive tentacles that had seized their airship and the bleak, dry chill in the air as everything had frozen around them.

“Ocean Surf was Nemo’s wife wasn’t she?” asked Applejack quietly, her eyes moist.

Nemo nodded gruffly.

“She was the captain of one of the other merchant ships. She went down with her ship whilst trying to convince her crew to leave,” spoke the silver colored mare sadly. She glanced at Applejack. “You lost somepony a long time ago, didn’t you?”

Applejack nodded.

The two fillies, one gray colored like her mother, the other a light green, both hugged their mother’s legs as she stroked their hair. “I, Elmo and Birdie lost Capstan when the tsunami hit. He—” The mare’s breath caught in her throat and she shut her eyes. “I never got to make him his favorite casserole…”

As the mare broke into tears, Applejack could only rub the mare’s shoulder, whilst Rarity produced a kerchief from her saddlebag, which the mare accepted with a quiet thanks.

“Well, out with it, why would the Elements of Harmony and their guard group want to visit our Bronzewing’s house?” asked the second mare, her coat was a dark navy blue and her mane was a ivory white.

Rarity pursed her lips. “Well, we were wondering why the streets in Venecia have been so deserted of late. I could see ponies in houses, but the commercial centres like the Piazza are empty. Perhaps you can elaborate on that, miss?”

The mare sighed exasperatedly. “It’s Sea Storm. I’m Bronzewing’s sister. Well essentially there’s nothing to sell or do or eat at the Piazza anymore. We get our food in handouts now for one. Moreover, the Piazza was always a centre for the city when it was filled with tourists, ponies who wanted or had the means to have fun. Now, money basically means nothing when food is being rationed and there’s nothing to sell when no ships are coming in.”

“It’s why we’re planning on evacuating as soon as the next ship comes,” said Elena.

"But wait, the kelpies are planning on making peace and they’re feeding us. You don’t need to leave Venecia,” said Rainbow.

“We do. The Aquestrians terrify us. We used to view the sea with comfort, and as a source of life, but now… thanks in part to our own actions, we’re too scared to live so near Aquestria.”

Elena glanced at Twilight. “I’m also not sure if I can forgive the Aquestrians and be friends with them, at least, not for a while. I… I know why we should. It’s the Princesses’ goal to make a friend out of the Aquestrians and therefore defuse any possible future conflict.” She groaned. “I agree with that goal, mostly. I was there when the Equestrian fleet was being destroyed, I remember the guards fighting, and dying. The Aquestrians have too many advantages over water to fight them for the ocean. I just… have so much resentment for what the Aquestrians did to my family. Perhaps it’s because part of it was my fault and I want to find someone else to blame. I mean, I know that the oceans are actually the Aquestrians’ home and that this situation arose due to our ignorance of that. But I also know that I won’t be able to look at an Aquestrian and not be afraid and angry of them. At least not right now.”

“Well that was depressing,” said Spike as they walked away from Bronzewing’s house.

Bronzewing nodded, ears flat against his head. “Captain, if you don’t mind, may I take a brief week of leave after this assignment?”

“I’ll recommend it to the major,” promised Pius.

Storming past Pius, Twilight trotted down the street. “This can’t be all that the Venecian ponies are feeling. We need to talk to some other families.”

“But where, Twilight? Where would ponies gather outside for us to talk to?” asked Pinkie Pie.

Twilight turned and smiled at her friend. “Pinkie, what business booms in times of sadness?”

Pinkie tilted her head to the right, and back to the left, and back to the right. Twilight swore her head did a complete three-sixty but that had to be her imagination because Pinkie’s neck was still straight.

Or maybe it wasn’t, because the guards were staring at Pinkie Pie as if she had turned into a kelpie.

“I dunno Twilight, what business would that be?” asked Pinkie.

Rarity suddenly straightened up. “Why of course. The theatres!”

Twilight nodded, a bit too wide smile on her face. “Yes indeed, Rarity. The theatres.”

Twilight was right. The theatre was packed, but What she didn’t expect was the lineup to be so long. In fact, the lineup so large it basically circled the city block. What was even more surprising was that the theatre wasn’t even showing a widely popular show. It was just some cheesy comedy-drama called An Ideal Husband.

“I mean, it’s a great play, but not so much that there would be so many ponies lining up for it for a matinee performance,” said Rarity.

“How would you know… nevermind,” said Rainbow, disappointing Rarity who looked only too happy to explain.

Twilight in the meantime was already trotting up to the line to a pale yellow pony with a black mane. Spike followed her with a notebook and pen in claw.

“Hi, I’m Twilight, I’m conducting an independent investigation on Venecians’ opinion in regards to current events. Is it alright if I ask you a few questions?”

The mare pursed her lips for a moment before she nodded. “Yes… but please leave my name out of it.”

Twilight smiled. “Certainly! Now, I’m just going to give you a few yes or no questions. Do you think the terms of the peace treaty between Equestria and Aquestria are fair?”

“No,” responded the mare almost instantly.

Twilight’s smile wavered slightly, but she noted the answer and continued. “Do you think Equestria is right to pursue a peace treaty with Aquestria?”

“N—” The mare closed her mouth again a hoof scratching her chin as she thought. “Is there an I’m not sure option?”

“Sure, do you mind explaining why?” Twilight asked.

“Well… I didn’t lose any family in the tsunami or to the Aquestrians, but one of my friends will never walk again thanks to the tsunami. So my family and hers has followed the negotiations closely. Right now, I don’t think current treaty isn’t fair for us Venecians.” The mare took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, but Twilight could tell from her stiffening shoulders and grimace that she was failing.

“I mean... the Aquestrians had a claim to the oceans before us, and I know they live in the oceans, but it’s not right for the kelpies to just take everything back now so quickly! That the Princesses and the Doggess are agreeing to their terms is so… infuriating! I don’t think I know the whole situation, but why can’t the Princesses defend what we want, our homes and livelihood? Why are they just bending over and letting the Empress walk over them?”

Twilight swallowed nervously, more than a little glad the mare hadn’t recognized her. “Well from what I’ve heard, the Aquestrians have an overwhelming advantage on the sea. If you remember the Battle of Aquamaris, they managed to destroy half of the Equestrian Eastern fleet with few losses.”

The mare’s frowned. “So they basically bullied us into submission?”

Spike looked up from his notepad, cringing. “Well yeah, but you do know Aquestria agreed to pay Venecia reparations for the tsunami damage, right?”

The mare growled. “Okay that’s true, but they’ve forced our princesses and our Doggess to agree to let go of our fleet, to re-orientate our city’s entire economy! How will they compensate that? Besides I haven’t heard of them offering reparations for the loss of our merchant fleet, or whether they will return the prisoners that they took.”

Twilight, at the limit of maintaining her awkward smile, nodded slowly and extended a hoof. “Thank you for your time, miss.”

“You’re welcome, whoever you are,” said the mare.

The elderly couple that Rarity approached were wearing a fairly fancy outfit for a night out at the movies. Most ponies walked around naked after all or in simple jacket, cloaks, maybe dresses just to ward off the cold sea air. Instead of a simple jacket though, the stallion wore a light blue tuxedo and shirt with a black tie, while his wife wore a fluffy, pale pink dress that really went well with her blue eyes and matched her pink coat.

Then again that was precisely why Rarity was approaching them.

“Greetings, I couldn’t help but admire your lovely dress,” said Rarity, spreading a wide, sincere smile across her features.

The mare and stallion both smiled, though the mare was the first to speak. “Why thank you dearie. I don’t believe we’ve met, miss—?”

“Rarity,” said Rarity, shaking the mare’s proffered hoof before shaking the stallion’s.

A thoughtful look came over the gentlepony’s kind features. “If I recall correctly, weren’t your dresses featured in Hoity Toity’s magazine at some point?”

“You’re very astute, sir,” said Rarity.

“Please, call me Iron Hammer, this is my wife, Cerise,” said the stallion.

“A pleasure, miss Rarity, though I am surprised to see you on Venecia. I didn’t think the princesses would allow a member of the Elements of Harmony to come here,” said Cerise.

Rarity couldn’t help but chuckle weakly. “We’re here on standby and thought we would explore the city a bit. Except well… it’s a bit empty.”

Cerise sighed. “Indeed, and it will likely become a lot more empty as time goes on.”

“What do you mean?” Rarity asked, eyes widening.

Iron Hammer pursed his lips. “Venecia, well, at least the island city of Venecia is doomed, Miss Rarity. With the terms Tethys has offered us, there is no way Venecia can continue to be a major trade hub. Yes, airships will have to stop over at Venecia before going to Griffonia, but our fishing trade with Griffonia, once our chief economic source, is now lost. Additionally, the new environmental regulations will also inevitably stifle Venecia’s productive capacity.”

Cerise nodded. “What is worse though is the fear, Miss Rarity. Ponies are afraid of the kelpies and Aquestrians. The tsunami that killed so many, the death of so many Equestrians in recent battles helped, but what really killed Venecia is the blockade.”

“The blockade? But Equestria kept Venecia supplied,” said Rarity, completely perplexed.

“Yes, but food doesn’t kill fear, Miss Rarity. Being deprived of the ability to do anything about your situation does,” said Iron Hammer in a grave tone.

Cerise sighed. “We saw the sea as our home, or if not our home, our good friend, and the source of our livelihood. Then, in an instant, it was now the thing that was suffocating us, that shielded our enemies from harm.” Cerise glanced at her husband, who nodded. “With nothing to do, we Venecians stewed in our homes, awaiting our turn to evacuate.”

“So… I take it you’re rather frustrated with the Aquestrians and the peace treaty then, and how Equestria is trying to pursue a policy of friendship with the Aquestrians?” asked Rarity haltingly.

Iron Hammer groaned. “Yes. Though there is nothing we can do about it. I’m a pony of industry, Miss Rarity. I know when I’ve been outplayed, and when to recognize that an investment has gone bottoms up… literally.”

“Literally… wait,” Rarity’s eyes widened. “Iron Hammer… you’re in charge of Garland and Wolf shipyards!”

“Correct. The Aquestrians have put most of my employees out of a job, not to mention wrecked most of my slipways in their Three Port Strike.” Iron Hammer couldn’t help the scowl spreading across his features. “I’m old, my sons and daughters are in Equestria and are safe, but my employees are not. They’re out of a job, unable to put their talents to use. The Princesses are right to sign the damn treaty. We can’t fight the Aquestrians, but in exchange for the safety of their home, the Aquestrians have taken away our way of life.” Iron Hammer sighed. “As for the policy of friendship, I see its necessity and I will encourage the Princess to continue it, but there will be much difficulty in store. Especially for those affected by the kelpies. I doubt we truly can be friends.”

Rarity swallowed. “But continued peace between our species relies on that.”

Cerise exhaled slowly, a wry smile on her wrinkled features. “True, but we are ponies, not kelpies. It is difficult to follow the rational path especially when so much has happened between our species. I’m not sure how the Aquestrians managed to put aside their differences, especially so soon after a civil war. I think there will have to be a lot more cooperation between our species, before we’ll be able to stand each other’s presence.”

Approaching ponies was something Rainbow Dash wasn’t afraid of, but she was aware she wasn’t exactly great at it.

Saying hi to colts and fillies, however, should be easy. At least, this was how Rainbow Dash thought. There was a group of three kids lining up at the theatre, two fillies and a colt, and they were looking bored. All she had to do was impress them like she did with Scootaloo after all.

Actually, now that she thought about it, she missed that squirt. Rainbow made a mental note to take her number one fan to an ice cream or something.

“Hey kids, you doing alright?”

The glare the oldest filly, her coat the color of golden wheat, shot at Rainbow, nearly knocked the speedster out of the air.

“Of course not, we’re hungry, bored and the princesses are big meanies!”

“Wait, what? The princesses are cool!” Rainbow exclaimed.

“Then why aren’t they beating up those bullying kelpies? Why won’t they let my mother come back from the Doggess’s Palace?” asked the colt mournfully.

Rainbow alighted on the ground and sat down, her eyes meeting the colt’s green ones.

“It isn’t that easy, kids. Right now, there is an even scarier monster coming. One that even the kelpies are scared of. We need to work together with them to beat this scarier monster. Then your mom can come back.”

“But what about my parents?” asked the third filly, who had a pale white coat and dark blue hair.

“Well where are they—” Rainbow stopped as the filly’s eyes welled up, which allowed her to put two and two together. Wincing, Rainbow quickly engulfed the filly in a hug, just as she burst into tears.

“They—said—hic they were going to bring food back—hic— when they got on the ship! They… they never came back! Instead, a—hic—two weeks later—a marine came and told us they weren’t coming back!” sobbed the filly.

Rainbow swallowed. She had a guess as to what happened to the filly’s parents. They must have been on the merchant fleet that disobeyed the princess’s orders. Perhaps when the filly was older, she might understand the circumstances of how the fleet’s commanders disobeyed orders from the princess, but she daren’t tell her right now.

“I just don’t get it. Why did the kelpies attack us?” growled the first filly as the crying filly’s sobs quieted down.

Rainbow pursed her lips for a moment. “Well, they were fighting to defend their home, the sea. We were putting a lot of bad and stinky stuff into it.”

“Just stinky stuff?” asked the colt.

“Really stinky stuff. Stuff so stinky it stunk many seaponies and kelpies to death and drove them out of their oceans,” said Rainbow.

“Oh, that’s not good is it?” asked the first filly.

Rainbow shook her head.

“But why can’t they just talk to us?” asked the colt.

“Because…” Rainbow grimaced. “They don’t really know how to. They can’t speak above water and they are… well they’ve been bullied for a long time. Bullied so long, they only know how to express their feelings by hitting.”

“That… sounds really sad,” whimpered the pale white filly, in Rainbow’s hooves.

“Yeah, it does. Which is why the princesses are trying to be friends with them. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but if we give them friendship, then maybe they’ll stop being such meanies,” said Rainbow cheerfully.

A very mature, skeptical expression formed on the colt’s chubby features. “You really think that would work, miss? I mean, bullies just slap you if you put your hoof out.”

“Yeah. But it’s better than being hit every day right?” asked Rainbow.

“But—hic—some bullies just stay bullies,” said the white filly.

Rainbow’s shoulders sagged as she let the filly go. “That’s true too.” Taking a deep breath, Rainbow pulled a smile onto her face. “But I think it’s worth a try. Especially if we Equestrians and the Aquestrians beat up a bigger bully together.”

The fillies and colt looked contemplative, but Rainbow’s heart sank as none of them gave an affirmative answer.

“But I feel so angry at them,” said the pale white filly.

“So give it time, don’t force yourself. When you are ready though, you can try. Feeling angry is never a good feeling. It may not go away for a long time, but when it does, it will totally feel better,” exclaimed Rainbow as enthusiastically as possible, swinging her leg up to emphasize it.

The cold chuckled at that. “You’re funny, miss.”

“Yeah, you’re really funny,” said the first filly.

“No, I’m Rainbow Dash, fastest flyer in Equestria!” A lightbulb going off her head, Rainbow put her head close to the fillies and colts. “Hey, wanna have a look at this?”

Rainbow shot straight up into the sky. Unfortunately there were very few clouds, but that’s all she needed. Soaring high, she tore through the clouds, bringing the moisture with her before she dived back down to the ground. At the last second, to the wide-eyed astonishment of the fillies and colts as well as the spectators nearby, she landed, the raindrops splattering against her to form a rainbow over her head.

“Wow, that’s so cool!” exclaimed the colt.

“That was amazing!” cried the first filly.

The third filly, sniffled, but as she wiped her tears off her still moist eyes, she managed a tiny smile. “Thanks for making me feel better, Miss Dash.”

Rainbow grinned as wide as she can. Hopefully, it would cover up as much her doubts as possible.

“No problem. No problem at all.”


Nightwatch slowly raised his head to see a yellow female pegasus, almost completely hidden behind her flowing pink mane, and frowned.

“Yes?” he asked

The mare swallowed and said something so softly, he couldn’t hear a thing. His ears flicking up, Nightwatch leaned in as the pegasus repeated herself.

“Um, I was wondering… if you want to talk.”

Nightwatch’s eyes narrowed. “Um, why would I?”

“You look um, like you need somepony to talk to,” said the pegasus.

A sigh escaped Nightwatch’s lips. He must be more miserable looking than he thought. “Do I really look that bad? I mean, I know I let myself go a bit.”

“Oh no! You look fine, just, sad,” squeaked the mare.

She stopped speaking, her eyes glancing away as Nightwatch looked at her. He couldn’t figure out if she was so shy she’d rather hide herself behind her hair and wings, or if she was so nice she didn’t want to prod. Maybe it was a bit of both. Of course, that did bring up the question of why she asked him in the first place.

Regardless, the mare’s words… they were nice. And for some odd reason, maybe due to her demure spirit, he couldn’t help but think that she wouldn’t judge him.

“I lost my fiance.” The mare met Nightwatch’s eyes as he continued, her ears alert, and listening. “He was a sailor in the Venecian navy and lost his life when the kelpies sank his ship.”

“Oh I’m so sorry—”

“It wasn’t your fault,” said Nightwatch hastily. He’d rather not cut her off, but the buttercup colored mare looked as if she was going to burst out in tears herself. He grimaced. “It was kinda our fault.”

The mare blinked, her bright blue eyes wide with confusion. “What do you mean?”

Nightwatch sighed. “Well, we Venecians are fairly aware that one reason the Aquestrians are asserting their claims over the oceans is because of the pollution we caused. Thing is, this pollution could have been stopped. Quite a few Venecians had been lobbying the Doggess to limit the waste ships and factories produce. My fiance, one of the lieutenants of Venecia’s merchant ships, was one of them.”

“Well, that’s very responsible of him,” said the mare.

“Yes. He saw that Venecia had a responsibility to the ocean and banded together with several other activists to lobby for these new laws. I did understand why he wanted to fight for them, but now that I think about it… if I had only given him more support, maybe, just maybe—”

Nightwatch tried to force the ball of hurt, of nausea, caught in his throat from welling up, but he couldn’t. He tried, but he found his vision start to blur.

“He would be still—hic—here today. He—hic—always said he wanted to watch this show with me. I never—hic—thought Byzas would be gone… just like that! I… we… failed—”

A pair of legs wrapped around his neck, and despite the weirdness of a strange mare embracing him, Nightwatch just couldn’t help but cry into her warm shoulder.

“There, there, it isn’t your fault.”

Nightwatch cringed. “I know it isn’t my fault! At least, it isn’t just my fault. The thing is… we Venecians could have done so much better! We should have been responsible for our own environment from the beginning! We shouldn’t have drawn the Equestrians into the Battle of Aquamaris! How many Equestrians died because of our actions? And now, Princess Luna has to be taken hostage by the Aquestrians for our sakes!”

The mare’s shoulder shifted slightly under Nightwatch’s chin. “I think it’s more complicated than that…”

“Maybe, but there were things we could have done… things that I plan to do so that no more are sacrificed in vain.” Nightwatch lifted his head and stepped back from the mare. Using his horn to pull a hoofkerchief from his saddlebag, he wiped the mare’s shoulder and then his own eyes.

“Sorry, I… don’t know what came over me,” Nightwatch said, trying hard not to blush.

The mare smiled, and somehow, even though Nightwatch didn’t know her name, he felt she understood him perfectly.

“It’s alright. You needed a shoulder to cry on. It makes me happy to help.”

Nodding, Nightwatch dabbed his cheek again and somehow found the strength to mirror this kind mare’s smile. “Thank you. I don’t think I ever caught your name, miss?”

The mare blushed. “It isn’t important. I was just happy to help.”

When Twilight asked us to go interview ponies. I thought about all the fun things I could do to get their opinion.

Thing was, none of all those fun things would be quite appropriate. I mean, I’m silly, not daft. This is a sad time. Ponies need cheering up, but following up with a serious question? That prooooobably wouldn’t work. I needed something a little more inventive, creative… something like…

A game!

The lineup was pretty long after all, and I had brought cards, as well as some treats and candy. So I gathered a bunch of ponies and we all sat down for a nice game of poker!

And before long, everypony got talking.

“You know, if the bloody Aquestrians would let up on their blockade, we’d have some actual money to bet with,” grumbled Mr. Mcfussy pants as he raised by pushing in some of his gobstoppers. And I’m not kidding, he had pants and he looked pretty fussy too with brass-rimmed glasses. He kept pushing him up with his claws too.

Oh right, did I mention Mr. Mcfussy pants is a griffon?

“We literally put crap in their home for about a thousand years, Balanced Scales. Frankly I’m glad they didn’t do worse to us,” said Madame SeaSalt as she checked and threw in a few pieces of candy corn. I say that because she has a cutie mark of a sea salt pan.

“Well I thank Celestia that the Equestrians saved my son’s flank… or is it thank Alternia now? Meh, thank all the princesses, and the changelings too! Didn’t think I would say that in a million years,” said Captain Smokey as he raised with a candybar. I mean, I’m not actually sure if he is a captain, his cap looks a tad old, but he’s got to be an old sea dog. Or in this case, an old sea griffon. I mean, he certainly smokes like one! Even I’m not sure how a beaked griffon can smoke a pipe, though… much less hold it in his beak.

“Still hasn’t changed anything about our situation, dad. We’re still stuck in here. Moreover, according to reports, those minor earthquakes that shake the island? That’s the Empress coming to negotiations with us. Think about it, if she can shake the island just by walking… think of what she can do to us if she’s angry,” replied Smokey’s son as he checked. I call him Smokey Junior. He has a cigar instead of a pipe, but frankly he’s a near-identical image of his father. Minus the captain’s cap. He also has lighter colored feathers.

Oh! My turn. I think I’ll raise! I pushed in some hay treats. “I raise.”

“I agree. I mean, thank the princesses we’re alive, but they haven’t been able to negotiate a favorable treaty. No thanks to the power the Empress has. New Venecia is pretty much the way to go now,” said Mr Mcfussy pants as he checked.

“Balanced Budget, there is plenty of opportunity here in Venecia. I for one think that the Aquestrians’ seaweed product is going to be very popular in Equestria. If only there was a way to get rid of the rubbery texture… perhaps drying it?” wondered Madame Sea Salt as she raised with some chocolate peanuts.

Captain Smokey nodded. “Besides, the treaty sounds fairly favorable to me. We live, we get reparations, we get peace, they don’t need to eat us. Heck, it’s the best we’re going to get. I also really liked that whale meat they got for us.”

Wow, it’s a good thing Fluttershy isn’t in this conversation… I mean, these griffons weren’t like Gilda. They are pretty nice, but I’d be lying if my stomach didn’t feel a little bit squeamish.

Smokey Junior looked a little annoyed, even if a smile did appear on his beak for a moment. “I’ll admit, that whale meat tasted great. But they get our oceans, our old livelihood and our fishing grounds, dad. How are you not concerned?”

“Look, son, we’re alive. The ocean spared your feathery butt, and your mom’s feathery butt for that matter. The treaty’s annoying, but we’ll adapt, as Venecians always do,” said Smokey Senior with great confidence.

“Still, the fact we have to adapt on the kelpies’ terms really frinks me off. I mean, they’ve forced Princess Luna to become their hostage and forced all these restrictions down on us. Hell, I get why, but it all really stinks,” growled Mr. Mcfussy pants, or is it Balanced Budget?

“I’m more worried about how the princesses agreed so easily. We can’t afford to look too weak in front of these Aquestrians. Lest we lose out on any trade negotiations in the future,” said Madame Sea Salt putting her cards down.

“Our weakness is a fact. We kinda have to deal with it and I’m pretty sure the Aquestrians are going to exploit the hell out of it. Not much our princesses can do about that,” grumbled Smokey Junior.

The smile on Captain Smokey seemed to fade a bit, but luckily, not completely. “Yeah, they kinda lost out on this one. In fact, I’m pretty sure they did, but who knows, without them we’d be even deeper in the water.”

“I suppose so,” said Mr. Mcfussy Pants.

“True,” said Madame Sea Salt.

Smokey Junior sighed. “Gonna have to agree on you with that Old Man… anyhow, I’m taking this pot! Miss Pie?”

Oh finally! The moment of truth. I pulled the card from the top of the deck and flipped it over for everybody to see.

“I got nothing,” groaned Mr. Mcfussy Pants as he laid out a random collection of cards.

“Two pairs, threes and fours!” declared Smokey Junior.

Smokey Senior chuckled. “You lose son, straight, five, six, seven, eight, nine!”

Madame Sea Salt shook her head and laid down her cards with her magic. “Sorry, you lose you old sea griffon. Full house!”

“Hmm, what do I win?” I asked as I put my hand down.

My fellow players gasped.

“Holy mackerel. A straight flush, nine, ten, jack, queen, king!” exclaimed Captain Smokey.

Grinning, I took the pot. I was still losing my candy overall, but I didn’t mind. After all, it was pretty funny to be listening to Venecians and playing games with them at the same time. Who knew trying to get their opinions on current events could be so easy?

Besides, they needed the candy more than me to put a smile on their faces.

In hindsight, perhaps approaching somepony and saying they were going to be asking for opinions on the treaty and Venecia’s current situation so they could inform the princesses perhaps wasn’t the greatest plan.

Then again, Applejack had been raised to be nothing but honest. Obviously, she had presented her goal to some of the ponies in the line with some tact. She told them what she was doing, but that she wouldn’t be taking names.

Thing was, she wasn’t so sure now the particular Venecians she was talking to had a good idea about what the Equestrians had accomplished.

“Look, the Aquestrians have promised that once we defeat the Old One, they’ll fix their diet and then we’ll have peace.”

“The promises of those monsters don’t mean nothing to us!” croaked the stallion.

Well the fact that they were elderly might have something to do with that. The two elders, —one stallion and one mare—that Applejack were talking to were leaning heavily on their canes, and were so wrinkled, Applejack was pretty sure they’d make Granny Smith look young in comparison.

Old Pony Wrecker for example… well…

“Celestia is going to flip those kelpies and kick their flanks! They won’t bend to the demands of their silly Empress!” declared the stallion without any doubt in his voice.

“Lemme repeat myself here. The Princesses can’t beat the Aquestrians. We need to negotiate with them and if possible, make friends with them,” said Applejack slowly, enunciating every word.

“Pish posh. The Aquestrians aren’t going to be friends with us. The Princesses can’t be that silly to try that,” scoffed Granny Gondola, pushing up her faded gondolier's hat.

“It’s not silly, it’s practical. If we can’t beat them, we have to win them over,” said Applejack, resisting the urge to clonk her hoof against her head.

Old Pony Wrecker chuckled. “Silly Applejack, Celestia believes in friendship, but she’ll protect their ponies first.”

“They are protecting us by trying to make friends with the Aquestrians. And it’s not just Celestia, it’s Alternia, Luna and Celestia,” reminded Applejack.

“You’re making no sense, how does trying to make friends with the Aquestrians protect us?” asked Granny Gondola.

“They won’t fight us if they’re our friends,” said Applejack, frowning.

“Applejack, friends hurt each other at times. I’m sure Celestia knows that. There’s no way they’ll place all their hope on friendship,” said Old Box Cutter.

Pony Wrecker nodded. “After all, the only reason we’re on better terms with the griffons is because Equestria beat them into submission after the Griffon Wars and defeated Nasty Bone Parter.”

"That’s…” Applejack frowned. It was true, Equestria’s peace treaties in the past and frankly even in the changeling crisis had often been with foes who they had subdued, or were at more or less equal grounds with.

“I know the treaty with the Aquestrians is going to be different, but rest assured, everybody is going to be safe,” said Applejack.

“Have you got your head screwed over backwards young’un? Of course we’re going to be safe. Celestia’s never let us down!” laughed Old Pony Wrecker.

Applejack sighed and nodded. “Alright, alright, have a good night, Wrecker, Granny Gondola.”

“Will do, Applejack!” chorused the two elderly ponies as they moved down the line.

Shaking her head in resignation, Applejack felt a hand tapping on her shoulder. Turning, she frowned and blinked as was forced to look up into the face of a smiling minotaur.

“Don’t worry about those two, they’re happy, but they kinda haven’t moved with the times yet,” said the minotaur.

Applejack nodded, her lips pursed. “They had a point though, the princesses are relying an awful lot on being able to make friends with the Aquestrians and to preserve as much as Venecia’s interests as possible.”

The minotaur grumbled. “Yeah… I can’t say I’m not annoyed that they aren’t able to do more, or angry that the Aquestrians are being so demanding. As much as the Princesses have managed to accomplish, the common folk of Venecia and Equestria are going to have to bear the brunt of this. Yet, regardless of who is responsible, I can sympathize with both sides.”

“How so?” asked Applejack.

“Well the Aquestrians want their home back too, but we’ve made their home for centuries on the sea. I’ve heard we’re getting a new home, but it isn’t going to be the same,” said the minotaur.

“But are you going to give friendship a chance?” asked Applejack.

The minotaur bit his lip, one hand scratching his chin. “Yeah, but I have my own reservations. I didn’t lose any relatives, but I don’t know much about the kelpies or the seaponies. I mean, it took me years to learn about pony norms and how not to scare them. I’m going to have to do all of that again with the Aquestrians, and with them being so aggressive, I’m not sure if it’s worth the risk.”

Applejack glanced at the minotaur. “Isn’t peace worth that risk? I mean, with every pony or minotaur that extends a hoof or hand, we’ll get closer to having normal relations with the Aquestrians.”

The minotaur shrugged. “Well I’m a big guy miss, so I might try, but there are going to be quite a lot of ponies too scared to give it a shot. After all, everybody is afraid of strangers, and there has been no stranger species than the Aquestrians.”

“That’s true,” said Applejack. “All too true.”

When they had finally reunited, the Elements of Harmony and Spike decided not to talk about what they had learned. They were hungry and it was about time for dinner, so they all reconvened in the living room of Twilight’s quarters. With the food they had being seaweed again (except for Spike who had gems) conversation quickly sprang up.

“So, what did you all learn from the Venecians?” asked Spike.

“I talked to Iron Hammer and his wife Cerise.” At her friends blank faces, Rarity sighed. “They’re naval construction magnates, and are the owners of Garland and Wolf shipyards. They said they support the treaty because of how it safeguards Venecia and Equestria, but told me that so many Venecians and Equestrians have been put out of work, it will be difficult to get the public to accept the treaty.” Rarity pursed her lips. “More worryingly enough, they said that Venecia’s existence as a trade hub is doomed.”

Twilight grimaced. “That is very concerning. What’s more is that I got a similar story from a mare in the line. She and some others I interviewed expressed severe frustration with what the Aquestrians have done to upset their livelihoods. They do view the treaty as necessary, but they don’t see it as fair the Aquestrians can just move in and take everything.”

“Well I played a game with a few griffons and a pony and while they also seemed annoyed and frustrated, one of the griffons was fairly optimistic and supportive about the treaty. There was also a pony who believed that there was opportunity for new trade and industry with the kelpies,” said Pinkie cheerfully.

Rainbow sighed. “Maybe, but even if the Princesses and the Doggess get new livelihoods and homes for everypony, can the Aquestrians really be our friends? I talked to some fillies and colts who lost their parents because of the Aquestrians. They’re furious.”

“But I talked to some ponies who lost loved ones tell me that they do agree that the Aquestrians deserved the sea and that it was actually Venecia’s fault for not addressing the problem sooner,” said Fluttershy quietly.

Applejack pursed her lips. “Huh, that kinda is comforting, but a minotaur I talked to made a rather good point. He told me that the fear of the Aquestrians is going to scare a lot of ponies from trying to befriend them, even those who think the treaty is fair.”

“Wait, so should we be worried? Should we not be worried? I’m confused,” Spike said, eyes wide.

Rarity rubbed Spike’s head spikes with a hoof, a wry smile on her features. “I think it’s natural to be confused, Spike. Ponies, well, sapient beings are a complicated lot. We all have our differences. I mean we’re all friends, but we don’t agree on everything. Fashion for one.”

“That’s true… but what do we do? If the ponies have mixed feelings about the Aquestrians, are we going to end up fighting them, or be friends?” Rainbow asked.

“I think, Rainbow, that that will have to be determined by our actions, and the actions of our leaders, in the coming years,” said Twilight slowly.

Applejack snorted. “Our actions eh? Well, we are the Elements of Harmony—I suppose we could give it a try. Does anypony have any suggestions?”

“Well, um, we could take in a seapony family. That would help ponies in Ponyville get used to the Aquestrians and get to know them too,” said Fluttershy.

“That’s a start. Come on girls, let’s put our heads together!” said Twilight.

That was when the ground literally shook beneath their feet.

“What’s going on?” gasped Rarity.

“Well the earth is shaking, but it seems… oddly regular,” said Twilight as the chandeliers swayed.

Spike steadied himself by grabbing a chair before blinking in realization. “Wait, don’t you remember the time when Tethys came onto shore to inspect the factory? The ground also shook then.”

“Wait, you’re saying the Empress is coming? But why here to the Doggess’s palace?” Applejack asked.

“Well let’s find out,” said Twilight, opening the door with her magic. After telling the guards stationed outside to follow them, the group trotted toward the entrance of the palace.

Which was when they ran into the last pony they expected to see.

Rainbow was the first to recover her voice. “Sea Skipper? What are you doing here? What happened to your hoof? And why are you with her?”

Ebb Flow, wreathed with the magic of the spell which allowed her to speak above water, glared flatly at Brinewing who couldn’t help but scratch the nape of her neck with her good hoof and shrug. The Venecian marines escorting the pair didn’t seem that amused either.

“Oh, um, hello girls. Fraid I kinda told a little lie to you when we first met. Just a little one. I’m kind of with the kelpies and we’re here at the Doggess’s Palace with the Empress Tethys to negotiate some details of the treaty with the Princesses.”

The kelpie shook her head. “Brinewing, you’re being incorrigible, and vague.” Turning to Twilight, Ebb jabbed a tentacle at Brinewing. “That’s Captain Brinewing, former notorious pirate captain, now the Aquestrian Empire’s advisor on ponies. She also spied in Manehattan for a bit and that’s when she bumped into you six.”

“Goshdarnit I knew something rubbed me the wrong way about her,” muttered Applejack as the rest of the Elements looked at Brinewing with in shock.

Twilight’s ear and lip twitched, even as she flinched from the continued shuddering of the palace. But she did her best to squash the surprise she felt. “That’s good to know miss?”

“Captain Ebb Flow of Empress Tethys’s Abyssal Guard. You are Twilight Sparkle, Princess Alternia’s student.” Ebb Flow’s eyes narrowed. “I heard she assigned you to study friendship of all things.”

Twilight bit the inside of her lip and nodded mutely, unsure of how to respond.

“I would have thought she would have you studying something like deception, illusions, politics or at least the arcane arts,” Ebb said, eyes fixated on Twilight, examining her.

“I did study magic with her for many years, as well as history and some political theory before moving into my studies on friendship,” said Twilight.

Ebb sneered. “You’re going to have to do better to convince me. Your mentor is one of the most deceptive, and difficult to read creatures I’ve ever encountered. I find it very hard to believe she didn’t train her prized student in her most talented subject.”

“Captain, I’m telling you the truth. My mentor didn’t train me how to deceive you. Moreover, when has she actually lied to you and your Empress?” Twilight asked.

Narrowing her eyes Ebb’s tentacles seemed to relax. “Fair enough. I still am rather curious as to how one could study friendship.”

Twilight resisted the urge to react to Ebb’s dry tone, forcing herself to think of anything other than how hostile the kelpie was.

That was when a thought occurred to her.

“Captain, if you don’t mind. I’d like to know a little about how you grew up. We’ve read a bit from Queen Murmillar’s book, but if you could share with us a little, it would really help us understand your goals so we can better accommodate you,” said Twilight.

As all eyes focused on Ebb, the kelpie blinked, her features stoic.

“I remember that most of my childhood was spent doing two things, moving, and training,” began Ebb in a calm voice, very matter-of-fact in tone. “We never stayed in one place. I know why, though I do not remember. We kelpie fry had to hunt fish that dwelt only in the ocean, and so we always had to move, lest Samudra’s guards catch us. When we weren’t moving from place to place, trying to eat our fill, every night we would train. We’d worked on exercises designed to improve our chances of surviving, and our ability; our abilities to help the survival of our species. Strength training, hunting, speed training, agility training, training to help us morph faster and better. Most of all, we trained in how to fight.”

“We also learnt about the seaponies, our enemies then. We were told about Empress Samudra’s cruelty, we learned about who we are and their weaknesses. Then, when we became old enough, we went to the front lines.”

Ebb paused. A distant look in her eyes. “Those times were… insane. I don’t remember my first battle. They all blurred together. We fought, we moved, we ate what we could, and then repeated. We had little time and a lot to do. At times, all I could think about was surviving for the next fight. This was constant, along with the eternal darkness of the abyss.”

Then, the kelpie winced.

“There were a few things I remember vividly. It was whenever Samudra took the field. The moment she was sighted and we were not with our Empress, we’d flee. It didn’t matter who we were fighting, or what our objective was, every single warrior would turn tail and swim away. If they were too slow, Samudra would use her hydromancy to boil kelpies alive, or her arcane might to rend them in half.

“If our Empress was with us and we encountered Samudra, we’d continue to engage our opponents, but all of us, seapony and kelpie alike, would still break away from them. For whenever our Empress fought Samudra, the sea around them simply became too dangerous to swim in.

A growl escaped from the kelpie. “I hated Samudra. Not only because I knew I could do nothing against her, but because of her treachery. I can’t count the number of times she called for a ceasefire, build up her forces, and unleashed them at the nearest kelpie clan once it was over. Oh she couldn’t pursue us that deep, but she didn’t have to. There were years between the times I could exit the abyssal trenches.

“What’s more, I uncovered one of her labs with several of my Abyssal Guard. I don’t know what happened to the ones that didn’t survive. Kelpies don’t leave corpses when they die after all. But some of the kelpie fry I saw would have been better off dead. The magic they tried to change them with had mutated their bodies permanently, leaving them without the ability to shapeshift or even swim. Several of the fry we found had simply gone insane.”

Ebb’s hard black eyes met Twilight’s “That’s what I remember about growing up, Twilight Sparkle. A lot of fighting and sights that would give you nightmares to last for weeks.”

Twilight couldn’t help but nod, her hooves feeling numb from what she had just heard. No wonder the kelpies, and even the seaponies, had seenaw little need to give quarter to the Equestrians.

Mustering her courage, Twilight managed to say, “Thank you, for sharing your story with us, Captain.” Taking another deep breath, Twilight forced a smile on her face. “With any luck, after we defeat the Old One, a lasting friendship will develop between our two factions.”

Then, bravely, Twilight extended her hoof to the armored, stoic-faced kelpie that examined her critically with hard, unyielding black eyes.

A kelpie that didn’t take Twilight’s hoof, but didn’t slap it away. Ebb’s eyes simply took in Twilight’s gesture for several, long, agonizing moments.

“Perhaps, Twilight Sparkle, but it won’t be because of luck. The peace might remain, but it rests on the efforts of both of our alliances.” The captain paused for a moment, her eyes slightly unfocused once again, before they turned back on Twilight, slightly narrowed, but not with anger. Just keen, knife-edged concentration. “Unfortunately, we Aquestrians… we are a very jaded folk, Twilight Sparkle. We finished a thousand year war as your kind poisoned our seas. As your ships and your garbage fell onto the sea around us, our leaders were creating maelstroms to wipe each other out.” Ebb pursed her lips. "We will try, Twilight Sparkle, but the kelpies and the seaponies have been rebuffed and betrayed many times. If you want us to extend our hooves in friendship, you will have to keep convincing us that you are trustworthy."

Inclining her head slightly, Ebb left trotted away, Brinewing quickly following her as Twilight and her friends watched them, and their escort, disappear down the corridor.

“Our responsibility… why do the Aquestrians have to make it so Equestria is always the one accommodating them?” groaned Rainbow.

“Rainbow, I don’t think Ebb meant it that way,” said Twilight slowly, a pensive look on her face. “She was merely stating a fact.” Twilight winced. “A very sad, lamentable fact.”

“I agree Twilight, as much as that makes our jobs harder,” said Applejack.

“Well, we are the Elements of Harmony. If there is anypony who has a better chance of succeeding, it’s us!” Pinkie declared.

“Right you are Pinkie,” said Rarity nodding sagely.