Tempest Shadow’s face tightened as her chubby, gray-furred, and white mohawked subordinate opened a large oaken door for her, shot a large toothy grin in her direction, and motioned for her to step inside. Grubber was pretty much only good for two things: annoying Tempest, and opening doors for her. The former was something she could certainly do without, and the latter was something the unicorn wished she could do without, but her broken horn made such things impossible. That was, of course, unless she decided to turn every door she came across into a scorched, smoldering wreck.
“The Sssthorm King awaits!” Grubber announced dramatically, or at least as dramatically he could given his speech impediment.
“Yes, thank you, Grubber,” Tempest said, not even bothering to hide her eye roll. As she trotted inside, she was immediately treated to walls covered with slogans such as ‘Q_ality: We can’t spell it without ‘u’.’ or ‘There is no ‘I’ and team, but there is an ‘I’ in Storm King,’ complete with the Storm King’s own grinning face. Speaking of which, the King himself was perched behind a big, wooden desk in his high-seated, oddly ornate office chair. He gave Tempest the same smile she often saw in his posters.
“Your excellency?” Tempest said. “You called for me?”
“Tempest Shadow! Haha!” The Storm King greeted throwing his hands out in front of him. “There’s my top earner!” He motioned to one of the more modest office chairs in front of his desk. “Come! Come! Take a seat. I have something to show you.”
Tempest trotted up to one of the chairs and scowled angrily at it. Putting her weight back on her haunches, she made a leap for the chair, landed in the seat, and screamed out “Pony feathers!” as the whole thing went crashing to the ground.
The Storm King let out a sigh as he stared down at Tempest, now lying in a heap on the floor. The -now quite irritated and slightly embarrassed- unicorn got to her hooves and began fumbling with the chair, attempting to get it upright.
The Storm King cleared his throat. “You know, I could—”
“I got it!” Tempest snapped as she struggled to maneuver her armor-covered hooves under the offending piece of office furniture.
“Okay, just…” The Storm King opened his palms and spread his fingers wide. “I have hands, so—”
“I GOT THIS!” Tempest snarled as she finally got the chair upright. Eyeing the seat carefully, she placed her front hooves on it, grunting in displeasure as she momentarily struggled to lift a back leg up to the cushion. With a small jump, her leg finally found purchase and she pulled herself up into the chair. Blushing slightly, Tempest forced a serious expression on her face…
… only to realize she was now facing one of the Storm King’s posters and not the desk.
The chair began to slowly turn to face the desk. Tempest looked up to see the Storm King leaning over his desk and turning the chair by its high back. Eventually, Tempest found herself directly under the Storm King, his proximity so close she could smell his- almost overwhelmingly- minty fresh breath.
Both Tempest and the Storm King awkwardly avoided eye contact, desperate to not call any more attention to the situation.
Finally having turned his subordinate in the correct direction, the Storm King resumed standing behind his desk. “Right… Where were we?”
Tempest tapped at her chin with her forehoof armor. “Uh… You had something to show me? Perhaps our next raiding destination?” Tempest suggested.
“Oh, right, right!” Tempest said with a nod. “It’s even better than that!” The Storm King said as his smile grew. “I have an opportunity that will knock your socks off…” The Storm King glanced into open space for a moment and rolled his hand out in front of him. “You know… if socks had tested well on you with the target demographic we were going for.”
Tempest shuddered. “Yes, sire…” So many sweaty creatures crammed into one room… so many pairs of eyes leering at her. So many eyebrows, and other things, singed by lightning. “So, some new battle strategy, then?”
The Storm King faced Tempest again, his smile returning. “More like a business strategy.”
Tempest couldn’t help but frown. “Sire? You know I’m not one for business…”
“That’s okay!” The Storm King said. He held a couple of his fingers a short distance from each other. “It’s not you who has to do anything, but an army of teeny-tiny little ‘you’s that are going to fly into everyone’s hearts… for a modest price of course!” The Storm King rubbed his fingers together, the act clearly causing his smile to grow.
Tempest tilted her head and pursed her lips. “I, uh, I don’t understand… Also, I can’t fly.”
“I have that covered too!”
Tempest’s eyebrows began to slowly knit together. “You’re going to make copies of me, shrink them, then give them flying devices?”
“We already did!” The Storm King exclaimed. “I mean, sort of… the copies were small when we made them.”
“… I’m really not following this conversation, I’m afraid.”
The Storm King let out a mirthful snort. He motioned towards Tempest. "Okay, you've got this whole dark, scorned unicorn thing going, and that's cool. The kids love it!”
Tempest tilted her head. "... Kids?"
"You know... They're like... adults,” the Storm King held one palm above the other at a distance about the height of his head, “but smaller, and designed to separate bits from their parent's purses."
"I know what kids are. I'm just not sure why we're having this conversation..."
The Storm King turned to a large map, many cities and even countries in it highlighted in dark blue ink. "Empires don't just magically make money during the pillaging off-season, you know. And people are FAR less likely to grumble about the price of collectable merch than they are taxes.” The Storm King turned. “At least they GET something when they buy merch!"
"Merchandise! Try to keep up!” The Storm King rubbed his chin. “I need to get you some business 101 classes or something..."
"Uh... That's quite alright. What does my ’dark, scorned unicorn thing’ have to do with kids?”
The Storm King bent down and reached behind his desk. The sound of wood scraping against wood was heard briefly before the the monolithic monarch reached down into a drawer and pulled up what appeared to be a very small figure of Tempest and some sort of boat… cart…with wings and a pair of semi-translucent light-blue plastic baubles that jutted out from the back of the vehicle.
"... That's a tiny me... and some sort of flying... cart?"
"That shoots lightning missiles!" The Storm King said excitedly. He demonstrated by pressing a button on the back of the 'cart' and that fired off two plastic projectiles in Tempest's direction. The small items bounced off of the general’s armor harmlessly.
“Soo… It’s like… some sort of scale replica?”
The Storm King gave Tempest a quizzical look. “You’ve never seen an action figure before?”
“Er… I mostly just played ball with other ponies,” Tempest’s face hardened. “Until the incident, of course.”
“Right, right,” the Strom King replied with a brief glance towards the ceiling before his pupils arced down back to their original place. “Your tragic backstory that simultaneously explains your actions and makes you more relatable.”
Tempest frowned. “You rolled your eyes when you said that.”
The Storm King sighed. “It’s just that ‘tragic backstories’ are a tad played out.”
Wrinkles formed around Tempest’s eyes as her face tightened. “I lost all my friends when I was a filly! Is that played out?”
“Yes. In fact it’s the leading cause of creatures of all races turning ‘bad’,” the Storm King answered, placing air quotes around the word ‘bad’.
Tempest threw a forehoof in the air. “Well, I lost my horn when my face got clawed by a giant bear that was made out of space! I can’t help it!”
The Storm King shrugged with his eyes as well as his arms. “Okay, so your tragic backstory is far less lame than most tragic backstories.” He pointed back down at the figure. “What’s important is we capitalize on your aesthetic.”
Tempest looked back down at her smaller self and the vehicle ‘she’ was paired up with. Her forehead and nose wrinkled. “Wait… Do we have small sky-boat-carts that I can lay down on my stomach in and fire lightning from?! Because, if so… Why wasn’t I informed?!”
“It’s just a toy! An accessory!”
The barest hints of a pout appeared on Tempest’s lips. “So… there’s no flying, lightning shooting thing? Not even a one-of-a-kind-prototype?”
“Sorry, my hand… hoof… woman… mare.” The Storm King rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. “Is it my hand or your hoof? Anyway… admittedly we tried to create a small sky skiff, but ran into problems with the lightning guns and the fuel in such proximity where the former would set off the latter and then it’d explode in the sky.”
“You’d think that would have killed the pilot, but no. He screamed all the way down.”
A trepidatious look appeared on Tempest’s face. “I’ll maybe just wait until the second generation models are on their way… Still…” She tilted her head and stared intently at the tiny sky skiff. “Why pair mini-mes up with something that doesn’t exist?”
“Trust me! Your figure will sell way better if there’s a vehicle! I mean… We tried Tempest Shadow with lightning. Real lightning! This also involved a fair amount of explosions and screaming cut short only upon impact with the harsh, unforgiving ground.”
Tempest’s eyes went distant. “Our R&D department must suffer a lot of casualties.”
The Storm King let out a guffaw. “Oh, those are nothing to the great poster fiasco about a year back. Good thing we don’t have an HR department!”
“... A what?”
“Ah…” Tempest trailed off as her turquoise eyes refused to stop staring at the figure and vehicle being discussed.
The Storm King smiled darkly. "Trust me! This baby is going to bleed everyone dry!"
"... Uh..." Lowering her front legs so she was laying on her stomach on her chair, Tempest leaned her head so far down it almost touched the ground. For a moment the chair began to shake and wobble like it would teeter forward. Clenching her teeth fearfully, Tempest spread her limbs out and the chair settled. Safe from crashing headfirst into the floor below, Tempest stared at one of the fallen projectiles that had bounced of her armor minutes before, nudging it with her snout. "I don't see..."
"Not literally! Figuratively! They're going to bleed money!" The Storm King's dark smile became all the more sinister. "Bleeding them of their precious blood is YOUR job!"
Tempest sat back up. “… You want to sell creatures these uh…” Her eyelids dropped and she motioned to… herself.
“Tempest Shadow figure with Sky Skiff Vehicle! Only 30 bits!” The Storm King raised a hand up to his mouth as if he was blocking some unseen person from hearing the conversation. “The markup is killer.”
“Right… You want to sell… those things… then you want me to bleed the creatures you sell them to… Wouldn’t it be much more efficient if we just skip to the part where I kill creatures and take their money?”
“Uh. Love that ‘can do’ attitude, killer!” The Storm King said, swinging his fist in front of his chest. “But the creatures you kill and the ones we sell to are two completely different groups!”
“…So we uh… Figure that out with who buys these… figures with sky boat vehicle and then I kill whoever is left?”
“Uh, wow! Again, love the moxie you show, and that’s quite the brutal marketing strategy, but no!” The Storm King said, his eyebrows dropping slightly on the word ‘no’ as he half growled it out. “See, we sell your figures alongside mine and my troops’ figures, separately of course, that way parents really need to dig deep into those bags to complete the sets and repair the emotional damage to their children caused by us maybe burning down their homes—”
“Oh! So I destroy their homes first!”
The Storm King let out a sigh, he eyes going cross-eyed for a moment. “I mean… if it happens, it happens… Though, maybe you can avoid that. Our market research shows that consumers are much more likely to spend money on our merch if they don’t need to use it on boring stuff like a new house or food…”
Tempest nodded. “Okay!”
“So… You get it then?”
“Yes! Bleed uh… some creatures! But not ones that we think will buy tiny dolls of me with a flying boat that doesn’t actually exist, but makes you richer somehow!”
The Storm King let out a grumble and smacked a hand against his face.
Tempest’s ears fell as the rest of her visibly wilted in her chair. “Er… But try not to destroy their homes or eat all their food.” Tempest’s own eyes went crossed-eyed for a moment. “Wait… But if they’re dead, how are they going to spend any money?”
The Storm King removed his hand and let out a frustrated growl before turning towards his office door. “Grubber! Get in here!”
The door slowly opened and grubber waddled in, he nervously looked up at the Storm King. “Yes, your… uh… Angryfullnessth?”
“Explain action figures to Tempest!” He said as he motioned to the dark marron unicorn.
Tempest attempted to shift her weight to get her chair to turn, but only succeeded in getting it to wiggle a bit. She reached out with a forehoof towards the desk, but only succeeded and barely tapping her metal hoof protector against the edge. “Er… I can’t… I’m trying to…”
With an exasperated groan, The Storm King leaned over his desk and turned Tempest to face Grubber.
“Oh! Action figures!” Grubber began as he walked in. “Yeah! Totally. They’re like…” Grubber walked up to a chair next to Tempest and placed a hand on it.
The Storm King growled, “Sitting is for closers!”
Grinning nervously, Grubber retracted his hands and placed both in front of him defensively. “Right, right… SO uh…” He turned towards Tempest and held two fingers a little distance away from each other. “Action figures are like… little figuresth that you, uh… do actiony stuff with!”
The Storm King’s mouth pulled up into a grimace as he leveled an angry glare directly at Grubber.
“Right,” Tempest answered. “But how do they help me figure out who I kill… And what houses I can and can’t destroy?”
“Uh… They don’t?” Grubber answered as he looked up at the Storm King and nervously tapped his fingertips against each other, his eyes occasionally darting over to the empty chair.
Tempest looked straight up and behind her at the Storm King. She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders slightly.
The Storm King’s head began to quake with rage, he opened his mouth wide and stabbed an index finger into the air.
“Oh, wow!” Grubber exclaimed as he pointed at the Storm King’s open palm. “Does that thing shoot little lightning mithiles! Can I see it?!”
The Storm King paused, closed his mouth, then looked down at the Tempest figure and Sky Skiff still in his hand. “Sure. Fine. We have a warehouse full of ‘em…” He walked around his desk and handed the figure and skiff to Grubber who proceeded to excitedly grab them then dive on the floor as he retrieved the two ‘lightning bolts’ and reload them.
“Wow! This is so cool!” Grubber declared as he began to make flying noises as he raised the tiny Tempest, now riding the skiff, up and down. He pressed button on the back and fired the bolts where they promptly flew under the Storm King’s desk. “Wait! I can get those!” Grubber announced as he ran over to the desk and stuck his hand under it.
Tempest watched Grubber with a look of confusion, her left ear flicking slightly as she tried to process what she was seeing.
“There! THAT!” The Storm King said as he motioned to Grubber who had shoved his face against his desk and extended his hand under it as far as it would go. “That’s what we expect everyone to do with your action figures!”
“Uh… Play with them like a moron and lose parts of them under desks?”
The Storm King’s face lit up. “Right! Exactly! If they lose pieces, they’re more likely to buy replacements!”
Tempest wordlessly blinked a few times in response. “But… Why would anyone pay money for er… a tiny version of me?”
“Pfft, are you kidding?!” Grubber said as she turned his head and pressed his cheek against the wooden side. “You’re like… crazy cool-looking!”
Tempest could feel her cheeks warm up slightly. “I’m… cool?”
The Storm King nodded. “And very toyetic!”
“ToyETic! It means you’re very marketable if shrunk down to a smaller size and reproduced on a large scale.”
“Like THIS baby!” Grubber announced as he came back up triumphantly with a skiff reloaded with little plastic lightning bolts. He immediately fired them off again, this time they landed squarely on top of the empty chair.
“Oh…” Tempest did her best to hide her smile, but it cracked out slightly from under her serious demeanor. “And you think everyone will pay for, uh… little me’s?”
“Hah! Are you kidding!” The Storm King said as he walked back behind his desk. “There’s two figures of you!”
The corners of Tempest’s lips rose slightly higher.
“What about me, thire!” Grubber asked excitedly as he reached for the plastic bolts. “Do I get a figure?”
“DO NOT TOUCH THE CHAIR!” The Storm King bellowed.
Grubber puffed out his considerably large lower lip and lifted his hand above the seat to point at the plastic projectiles resting on it.
His brow tightening, the Storm King let out a groan. He looked at Tempest and pointed towards the other chair. “Tempest, could you…?”
Tempest’s brows fell around her eyes, framing it in an angry glare as she craned her head upwards to look at the Storm King. She held up her armor-covered forehooves.
The Storm King sighed. “Right.” He leaned over his desk again and grabbed hold of the empty chair’s back. He tipped the chair towards him, causing the little plastic pieces to fall to the floor and roll under the Storm King’s desk once more.
“Ah, man!” Grubber exclaimed as he went back to the desk and immediately jammed his hand under it.
Rolling his eyes, the Storm King continued, “The ‘Grubber’ figure didn’t test well.”
“Aaaah…” Grubber said in a disappointed tone.
“So we packaged figures of you with one of the Shadow Tempest figures, and another with my figure.”
Grubber’s face lit up and he turned, bending his arm at a somewhat unnatural angle. “…I alstho get two figuresth?! Alstho, ow!”
The Storm King’s smile suddenly grew malevolent. “Yes… That way we can force everyone to pay for the same thing twice.”
“Genius, thire! Where can someone pick up one or all of these finely crafted action figuresth…?” Grubber grunted as he shoved himself against the desk with a soft ‘thump’. “Uh, ashting for a friend.”
“Why, wherever Storm King merch is sold, of course,” The Storm King informed, his statement somehow dripping with venomous intent.
“Oh good!” Grubber suddenly stood upright, missiles firmly in hand. He walked over and leaned towards Tempest. “They have those everywhere we go.”
“Yes, I know, Grubber,” Tempest deadpanned.
“Because we conquer those placesth.”
“I realize that… On account of us doing the conquering…” Tempest said, her face tightening slightly.
“Then we set up shop!” Grubber added.
“I know, Grubber!” Tempest growled.
Tempest turned and sneered at Grubber, the tip of her horn beginning to crackle with dangerous energies.
The Storm King cleared his throat causing Tempest to pause. Grubber turned. Tempest frowned as she looked up, realizing she was still facing the door. “Grubber? Could you…?”
“Huh… OH! Uh...” Grubber frowned. “I’m not allowed to touch chairs.”
Tempest let out a groan. “Sire?”
“Grubber, just turn the freakin’ chair!” The Storm King barked out.
“Yes, thire!” Grubber exclaimed as he reached over and turned Tempest so she was facing the Storm King again.
“SO!” The Storm King clapped his hands. “If you’re satisfied, I trust there’s no further questions.”
Tempest’s expression grew serious. “Just one…” She glanced down at the figure of herself in Grubber’s hand as she gave it a good look over.
The Storm King stiffened slightly as he reached into a drawer, his open hand hovering over a piece of parchment that read ‘CONTRACT FOR CONSENT AND RELEASE FOR USE OF LIKENESS’.
“Do… Do you really think I look cool?” Tempest asked with a hopeful expression.
The Storm King clenched his hand and pulled it from the drawer, leaving the consent form. He walked around his desk once more up to Tempest and turned her chair to face him. “Tempest Shadow, baby!” He placed his hands on either side of Tempest’s cheeks. “You’re the coolest!”
“You’re cooler than cool!” Grubber chimed in.
“Ice cold!” The Storm King assured.
“W-w-really?” Tempest uttered between squished cheeks.
“Would I make tons of toys in your likeness if I thought otherwise?” The Storm King asked as he raised his hands up to either side of his head in a shrug.
“Uh… I guess, not!” Tempest said, completely unable to hide her smile at this point.
“Okay!” The Storm King rubbed his hands together. “So… Anything else?”
Tempest frowned, her brow tightening. “Hey, wait a second!”
The Storm King’s smile dropped. “Yes?” he growled out.
“I’m still unsure of when I’m supposed to kill someone!”
Grubber tapped a finger against his chin. “That would hamper their spending potential.”
His eyebrows dropping to the point where he could feel the tightness between his eyes, The Storm King grabbed Tempest’s chair, spun it around, and pushed it forward into Grubber until the little guy had no choice but to clamber on top of it. Tempest and Grubber now on the chair, the Storm King wheeled it to the door, opened it, then pushed both chair and occupants to the floor outside his office before he slammed the door shut.
Lying under both Tempest and the chair, Grubber struggled until he pulled out the Tempest action figure and skiff. “Hah! Free toy! Score!” he said triumphantly.
“That’s coming out of your pay!” The Storm King shouted.
“DEAL!” Grubber called out. He glanced up, past the glowering stare Tempest was giving him. “And you got a free chair!”
“ALSO coming out of YOUR pay!”
“You get to buy a chair!” Grubber said his excitement unabating.
“No. YOUR pay, Grubber!”
“And I bought you a slightly used chair! Isn’t that great?”
Tempest paused for a moment, looked up at the chair, then glanced back down at the figure Grubber was holding. “Yeah it’s… really cool.”
Grubber giggled and looked up to Tempest then past her to the chair on top of them. “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I hate the chair,” Tempest informed. “In fact, I detest it with every fiber of my being. Trade you for the tiny figure of me and the flying boat?”
Within moments, Grubber was on the chair, spinning around and exclaiming “Wheeeeee!” to his heart's content as Tempest trotted away, a miniature figure of her in a fictional flying-boat on top of her head and a smile on her face.