Daring Do: the Legend of the Algae Photis
by Wanderer D
Chapter 9: Diplomatic Relations
"Mt. Aris ahoy!"
To say that Twilight Sparkle wasn't excited would be a lie. Not only was she closer to her objective, but more amazingly, this was the very first time an Equestrian Princess would set hoof in Mt. Aris in recorded history. Or, at least the recorded history that was available to everyone who cared to study it.
For all she admired of Celestia as a pony and as a ruler, she couldn't understand just how… insular… her home country could be for all its philosophy of friendship and tolerance. Most of her youth, the only non-pony she had met had been Spike and some griffon visitors to court. She had spied a minotaur once, before Iron Will, but that was the tip of the iceberg!
Abyssinians, fish people, yaks, whatever the hay Ahuitzotl was… so many creatures and cultures lay beyond the borders of Equestria that it was uncanny how there wasn't much more of a cultural mix. Even worse, she knew for the longest time they all existed, but Equestria had never been too encouraging in embracing other nations, and she had been obliviously content to roll with it until now.
That insularity and apparent overconfidence was the reason Nightmare Moon had defeated Celestia upon her return. It was why Discord had almost broken them all apart. It was the reason Changelings had come as a surprise, no doubt—it was unlikely other cultures hadn't encountered them before, after all, and had Equestria not been so—
Twilight sighed, and shook her head. There was nothing to be gained by thinking that way. Devolving into a mental rant over things she had already discussed over and over was not going to fix anything. Things had to change, and she would help them change.
She pushed the thoughts away as the clouds parted and their hours-long flight brought them to the mysterious Mount Aris. At first it looked like any other jagged peak, its sharp edges cutting into the sky like a decayed, black tooth. But, as the Arpia circled around for approaching the now-visible docks near the middle level, Twilight had to hold her breath at just how beautiful the golden lights of the city within looked from within the mountain, shining even brighter, thanks to the darkness around it. From the front, it was clear the sides of the mountain had been carved to resemble wings wrapped protectively around the city, which spread almost from all the way down to the beach to the top, with a winding road making its way through the center.
From her vantage point, she could see what could only be the higher-class or ruling area of Mount Aris, which had impressive stone statues that somehow resembled griffons. The whole city was impressive, and remained standing strong through the war so far.
Her thoughts went to what she had learned from Galahad—human Galahad, that is—and how defensible it could be. But the thought of her former teacher made her frown, as it brought back unwanted memories of the betrayal that had cost the lives of so many of her friends. And now a pony was betraying her homeland for some reason… and Twilight could not let that pass.
Her mood soured, she glanced at the golden lights once more. Their warmth was gone, now that the moment of beauty had passed and the reality of what she needed to do and what was at stake returned.
She turned to look at the others. "For now, I think I want to keep the team small. Daring, since you know our contact, you're with me."
"I'm going too," Alejandra said, stepping up to them. She held Twilight's eyes. "I might not be a native, but I am here to protect you. If things go wrong you need someone who will not hesitate."
Twilight sighed, but nodded. "Alright, just don't go overboard. It's not 100% peaceful in Equestria, or here, but they're not used to the kind of carnage we've seen."
Her words made more than one of Celaeno's crew exchange worried glances, but it didn't stop Rainbow Dash from flying to them. "Wait! How come I'm not going?"
"It's just until we make contact with the local authorities, Rainbow Dash, you don't have to worry too much about it. You'll all be able to get off ship soon enough."
Rainbow Dash grimaced. "It feels like the old trick of telling somepony you don't want hurt to stay back and guard the innocents."
"If you think that's safe, you should see what happens during Terror Missions," Alejandra said, shaking her head. "Trust me, it's not as simple as that."
"What about us?" Capper asked, motioning with his paw at the crew of the Arpia.
"I think you should let us make the first impression," Twilight said, glancing at him doubtfully. Tala had vouched for the cat, after all, but they had all seen he had been ready to bolt as quickly as possible and he was a thief, after all. Even now, he didn't seem so sure of being here, but somehow the Skirmisher-turned-breezy had gotten through to him.
She sighed. If the Skirmishers had been such a good influence on Sunset, maybe Tala could be a good influence on him. "Once we have established contact and we're sure of where we start with the locals, I think it will be time to stack up on supplies and some shore time, right, Captain?
Celaeno smirked. "You're paying for it."
Twilight chuckled, already turning away to lead her two companions down the ramp. The city was impressive already, and despite her earlier misgivings, she could feel the buildup of curiosity within her. The people living here… they weren't griffons as she had initially thought, they resembled them, but rather than half-bird, half-lion, it seemed they were half-bird, half-pony!
"I take it it really is the first time you've seen a hippogriff." Daring snickered next to her. "Oh Twilight, don't hold back. You can ask."
"There's so much to ask, though!" Twilight said, her voice hushed. "This is a whole kingdom which nopony knows about in Equestria! How is that even possible?"
Daring Do shrugged, her smile dimming a little. "General ignorance, schools focusing only on the information about Equestria, rather than the world at large, ponies simply assuming that nothing beyond the border matters because it doesn't affect them directly… unfortunately, unless you're an adventurer like me, which usually ends in your stories being considered one hundred percent fiction, or an adventurous trader, the average pony has little reason to know that there's anything worth knowing about other cultures, besides them being different. You told me about your Zebra friend, Zecora, remember?"
"But that's just Ponyville—"
"Is it?" Alejandra asked. "Granted, I don't know how different things here are, but before the elders, people in several countries of Earth were blissfully ignorant of anything regarding other countries, their people, culture, or plights. And we had the internet." She glanced at the city. "Big, powerful countries, usually are able to provide most of the stuff they need in their own lands, so the average person would just remain in their town and ignore the bigger picture, because it didn't affect them directly, and therefore it didn't matter what happened to others." She shrugged. "I used to think it's just human nature."
"I guess it goes beyond that," Twilight muttered.
"Well, make sure to ask questions while we're here," Daring said, motioning with a nod to a group of armed hippogriffs approaching them. "Here's the welcoming committee."
Twilight turned to face the group, studying them up close for the first time. Hippogriffs seemed to be naturally taller than griffons, or at least thinner, which made them look so. The leader of the group, a proud-looking hippogriff with a light red coat/plumage and golden eyes. He, and the other hippogriffs were wearing armor that was very similar to the usual Royal Guard setup.
She frowned when the group, rather than stopping in front of her to greet them, spread around in a half-circle, clearly intending to surround them.
"Under the authority of Queen Novo, you are under arrest for conspiring against the crown," the hippogriff in front declared. He glanced at the others. "Detain them and everyone on board their ship."
"I don't think that's going to happen," Twilight growled, spreading her wings, and letting her magic lift her weapons. Besides her, Alejandra had assumed a fighting stance, and behind, she could hear Celaeno telling the crew to prepare for boarding.
The hippogriffs crouched, ready for battle as well.
Daring Do, however, stepped in front of Twilight, her wing open to prevent further action from anyone. "Everycreature, calm down." She glared at the Hippogriff at the front. "It seems that there is some sort of misunderstanding." She pointed her hoof to her chest. "I'm Daring Do, and I requested an audience with Queen Novo, which was granted." She proceeded to dig a parchment out of her saddlebags, which was sealed with a golden emblem. "Not only that," she added to the now-nervous-looking hippogriff, "but as you can see by the horn and wings, you have in front of you an Equestrian Princess, and her bodyguard."
"T-the security of—"
"Is of great importance, I understand," Daring interrupted. "But there are a few things you are not privy to, Captain, and creating an international incident is definitively not something you want."
"My orders come from the Royal Family."
"My invitation comes from the Queen herself."
Twilight frowned. The tension grew as the Guard Captain was clearly conflicted with his orders. Whoever had given them to him had put an enormous amount of pressure on them. He clearly owed loyalty to the Queen, but also had been blindsided by a noble who could potentially be a patron or, depending on how their society worked, have a hold of some sort on his family or position.
She sighed. "Stand down."
Alejandra hesitated for a second, but didn't argue this time, relaxing her position, just as Twilight herself re-sheathed the sword she had borrowed from the Equestrian Royal Guard. "Captain, my people will remain in the ship for now, and you can set a guard to keep an eye on them without fear of retaliation. I will leave our weapons behind and go with you peacefully, but you will take us to our audience with Queen Novo."
"Our orders were to arrest you, Princess," the Captain said, although he did nod to his troops to put their weapons away.
"Under what charges?" Alejandra asked.
The Captain shot her a glare, clearly not expecting a mere body guard to speak up, but, keeping his eyes back on Twilight, he cleared his throat and said, "Kitnapping."
Daring Do shook her head. "Captain, we have just arrived from a direct flight straight from Abyssinia, how would we have—"
"Doesn't matter," Twilight interrupted. She took a deep breath, calming herself and trying to think not only logically, but also as a soldier, and even more so, as a princess. "The captain has his orders and investigation would progress after that." She looked back at him. "Under normal circumstances, Captain, I believe your actions to be appropriate given your orders, however, it seems you were not aware of the nature of your targets. As a foreign diplomat, I believe that the treatment varies slightly, and since we have a personal friend of the Queen with us—with a legitimate invitation no less—I also believe it would also behoove you to send a courier to inform the Queen of our presence and the circumstances. We can let her and her court decide the next steps of action, don't you think?"
"I—" he gulped and glanced at his troops, before nodding. "Yes, that would be acceptable."
Twilight smiled. "Good. The less bloodshed the better. I'll inform Captain Celaeno and the others of the situation, please select the troops that will remain behind while I do so."
"Y-yes, ma'am!" the Captain said, saluting before realizing he had done so for a foreign dignitary.
"She has that effect on creatures, I've found," Daring said conversationally to the captain, but Twilight didn't stay close enough to hear a reply.
She walked up to the ship and gave her sword to Capper, who gingerly took it in his paw. "This is very suspicious," she said, "there seems to have been some sort of foalnapping for which we're being blamed for. I will find out what's going on from the proper channels, but I want Tala, Rainbow Dash, and Galahad to investigate as soon as I send word… this is no coincidence, and we can't afford to be held back for long."
"Oh no, you're not leaving me behind this time!"
"Dash," Twilight put a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "Trust me. I want you here because you will be able to help me more than if you go with me. We're probably going to be under house arrest, so we won't be able to move much. But you will. And you're fast enough that you can do a lot without any of them non-the-wiser. Just listen to Galahad and Tala's advice. I'm counting on you three to find out what's going on."
"Ahem," Celaeno crossed her arms. "You don't want us to do anything?"
"Other than 'be prepared'?" Twilight shook her head. "No… if worse comes to worse, you were hired by me to transport us, and Capper is a civilian hired for the same reasons. I don't want you guys to get in trouble with the hippogriffs on my behalf."
Capper blinked, but Celaeno didn't look happy. "Fine. Then I'll do things at my discretion."
Twilight smiled, bumping her hoof on the Captain's claw. "I'll see you soon." She turned around and joined Daring Do and Alejandra. Apparently, while she had talked to the crew, the courier had been dispatched, and the guards that would remain behind selected. The Captain was looking a bit more at ease, which was good. He would probably be more willing to share information this way.
It wasn't going exactly as planned, but for now, all that was left to do was to meet the Queen.
End Chapter 9