“Look away, Sombra. Don’t look.”
Try as he might, Sombra could not heed Grogar’s words and shrugged the ram’s hoof off of his shoulder. Trudging forward in the snow, Sombra could only stare with jaw-dropping horror as the smoke continued to billow out of the Crystal Empire, the screams of its shimmering-coated inhabitants still echoing in his ears. Rivulets of salt water flowed down Sombra’s cheeks but no audible sobs came out of his mouth. It had been known as the “Jeweled City,” a scintillating utopia and one of the premier centers of trade and learning in Equestria. Now it was a smoking ruin of fire and death, one that he was expected to lead someday.
Sombra gripped the crown in his hooves tightly and turned to meet the worried gaze of his companion. “Don’t call me that.” He stared down at the crown, picturing the bearded face of its late owner and clenched his jaw, wishing that now more than ever, his father was still alive. “Father...mother...I’m so sorry. I’ve failed you both.”
“That’s not true, my prince.” Grogar said as he put a hoof on Sombra’s shoulder only for Sombra to pull away sharply.
“I’m not a prince nor a king. I’m not worthy of the title and besides, my kingdom is burning as we speak,” Sombra spat bitterly. The light reflected off of the gold band and illuminated the gems that adorned it, creating a multi-hued corona of reds, blues, greens, and violets. With a snarl, Sombra spun around and tossed it as far as he could, watching it disappear into the snow. He pulled his cloak around himself and started to march away when Grogar grasped ahold of his foreleg.
“That crown was passed down through forty generations of your family. Please do not toss away such a valuable piece of your family’s heritage.” His tone was more pleading than angry, though his gruff voice and imposing size made it sound more threatening. Sombra wretched his foreleg away. “Your father would’ve wanted…-”
“My father’s dead! My family is dead!” Sombra glared at the ram and then sighed, “It doesn’t matter what they would’ve wanted. It’s just me now.”
“Let’s just go. The Royal Sisters’ spies will be searching for us.” Pulling up his hood, Sombra stomped forward, not looking back to see if Grogar was following him but picked up on the crunching of snow behind him. For the next couple of hours, neither one of them said a word, their minds occupied by not only the fate of their home but also the terrible what-ifs that the future had in store for them. They had survived the attack on the city and eluded Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon’s forces. Now they had to survive the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the Frozen North.
The sun blazed overhead as the seemingly-endless line of slaves slogged forward through the streets, their chains rattling in a grim melody amongst the chatter of the reprobates that eyeballed them disdainfully. Klugetown...what a wretched hive of scum and villainy. A centaur with an awesome set of mutton chops swatted at a fly that had been persistently buzzing in his ear and was rewarded for this action via a firm whip crack to his already tender back.
“Quit Goofing off, Tirek! Your break ended two minutes ago.” The rotten-toothed pony responsible for the centaur’s new red mark growled as he readied the whip again.
“I’m going, I’m going.” Tirek mumbled as he left to go back to the cotton fields. It was unusually hot that day and Tirek figured that Daybreaker was having a bad fight with her sister (which was almost constantly, the way he heard it) or maybe she slept funny. He didn’t know and he was just too hot and tired to muster up any sense of care.
I really miss the good old days before the sisters. Tirek thought as he pulled the seeds out of a stalk of cotton to be replanted later. Nothing but nice relaxing days without out the fear of dying of heat stroke or freezing to death at night because a couple of ponies are in a bad mood.
“Man, if I wanted to die of boredom, I would’ve stayed in Griffonstone,” a bored voice droned on behind Tirek. “At least there, you can off yourself without anyone’s permission.” The griffon picked some cotton seeds and scrunched his face up. Oddly enough, with his large eyes, or rather, eye and more rounded head, Gunter more closely resembled an owl than an eagle, which was what griffons were supposed to be half of.
“Quiet fool or you will get us all punished!” A diamond dog growled as he came by to collect the cotton once the seeds were separated. “Last time you opened up your beak every creature got fifty lashings.”
Still wearing a mask of boredom, Gunter pointed to his left empty eye socket. “And I got this little ‘treat.’ We’re slaves. This is what happens.” As the griffon and Diamond Dog went back and forth, Tirek just kept picking, waiting for the pony in charge to come and break them up and once he was there, he would strike.
“I don’t get it, Cujo! You’re a diamond dog, the alpha of the subterranean world! Why are you rolling over and acting like a bitch for the masters of Klugetown?”
“Because the Underground’s not safe! Pony Princesses cause earthquakes to colonies that get too big.” Cujo growled in Gunter’s face, only for the pony in charge to whip him, causing him to whine and recoil from the pony. Before he could swing again, Tirek grabbed the pony by the throat and drained him of his magic, watching with fascination as he kicked and squirmed in his grasp.
“Been a while since I did that but it was necessary.” Tirek tossed the pony down to the ground and rolled his shoulders, sighing in relief as they popped and cracked. The weakened pony slowly rose to his hooves but then froze as Cujo and Gunter advanced on him, furious retribution in their eyes. The pony tried to flee but was grabbed by the pair and crushed into the dirt as the other slaves rushed over to join in on the action. As the pony was torn to shreds, Tirek walked off to find some allies to change the world now that he had some magic in him.
In the far east, there stood a small mining town, a desolate little patch of land that more closely resembled a penitentiary rather than a community. A lone unicorn mare with a purple mane and tail with a pink coat and briefcase made her way into the mayor’s office with a meeting that she had booked months in advance. She strode up to the assistant, who looked as though she was having a rough day and gestured for the mare to take a seat and wait for her turn.
She didn’t have to wait long, maybe ten minutes at most. “Starlight Glimmer.” The assistant called. “The Mayor will see you now.” Nodding, Starlight went into the office with the briefcase in hoof.
“Hello, Mayor Scrolls.” Starlight greeted as she took her seat. The Mayor was a middle-aged earth pony stallion that had a brown and white coat with a black mane and tail, both of which were peppered with silver strands. Given his young appearance, it was probably due to stress.
“Hello, Starlight.” The mayor’s voice was full of worry. He checked to see if the door and windows were closed and leaned forward. “I assume you have it with you?”
“It is in here.” Starlight confirmed, holding up the briefcase and opened it up to reveal its contents. Said contents were a stack of photographs of the Mayor and his assistant engaged in illegal breeding, which was a big no-no in Equestria. “Do you have your end of the deal?”
“It’s in the safe.” He said sadly, pushing forward a slip of paper containing the safe’s combination. “I do hope you know what you are doing Miss Glimmer because if you succeed, one or possibly more of the Generals will come for you.”
“I know the risk but I am also aware of true love when I see it. Go be with her and let me handle everything.” Starlight hoofed over the briefcase and magically began turning the dial on the safe, briefly peeking over her shoulder to see mayor swing the door open and hurry out with his assistant and briefcase in tow. “I hope they have a happy life.” Starlight then opened up the safe to reveal a map with all of the surrounding areas and military routes. Underneath that was the town deed and a signed document declaring Starlight Glimmer as the new official mayor of Our Town. “Our Town...the first free town in Equestria.” Starlight smiled as she immediately began to make plans for everything that she would need to fully liberate the town.
“One-two, buckle my shoe! Three-four, close the door! Five-six, pick up sticks! Seven-eight…” The draconequus frowned. Wait...how does the rest go? Discord sighed and stared once more up at the stone ceiling, his mismatched eyes studying the various cracks that decorated it. Incidentally, there were four hundred and twenty-five cracks and he named each and every one of them. There was Carl, Harriette, Eddie, Laura, Jason, Maggie, Mike, Carol, Ben, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart…-
“Hey, Freakshow!” A regrettably familiar voice chortled. “Chow time!”
The metal slot of the cell door slid open and a tray covered in some kind of thick paste was unceremoniously shoved through, landing on the floor six feet in front of Discord. The slot slammed closed and the guard’s hoofsteps thumped away, leaving Discord alone once more. He eyed the pile of sludge and decided to save it for later. I miss chocolate milk. I could drink a whole lake of the stuff! He fondly recalled a time he made it rain chocolate milk in Manehattan for a whole week! Oh, how the little colts and fillies loved that!
“But then Day-Wrecker and Moonie just had to spoil the fun! Hmph! ‘A public menace!’ ‘A frivolous display of immature nonsense!’ I was just brightening up the ponies’ day!” He crossed his arms and furrowed his brow. Ever since the Royal Sisters came into power, Equestria had been reduced to a bleak, totalitarian nightmare that George Orwell would’ve orgasmed over.
“Oh right, nopony would get that,” Discord murmured, blaming it on the flawed education system. Or his own unique perspective on metafictional singularities and cross-dimensional awareness. Either one. Still, the worst part of being stuck in a dungeon wasn’t the chains, the darkness or even the repugnant slop they called “food.” No, it was the sheer and utter lack of excitement. If he still had his magic, Discord would’ve poofed up a whipped cream cannon or a marshmallow bouncy castle. “Soooooo boreeeeeeeed.”
His ears, which had become rather keen during his imprisonment, caught the sound of voices emanating from outside his cell door and he sat as quietly as possible in order to hear them. The asshat guard from before was conversing with a mare-if the feminine voice and light scent of perfume was anything to go by-and it sounded like an argument. Oh, what fun! Discord grinned and tuned into the disagreement. It was about time for some entertainment.
“Look here, Captain, I didn’t receive any kind of notification before hoof…-”
“Are you questioning an order from a superior officer? And a Solar Mage?”
“Because as a Solar Mage, I speak for Her Royal Highness Daybreaker herself and questioning me is tantamount to questioning her as well. Shall I alert Her Royal Highness to your blatant disrespect to her good name or will you stand aside and allow me to perform my duty?”
“R-right, forgive my impudence, Captain.”
Discord heard the tell-tale clinking of the key sliding into the keyhole before the door squealed open, revealing the now-sweaty form of the pegasus guard. “Hey Freakshow, you’ve got a visitor. So be on your best behav...be…” He tumbled forward and collapsed, his obnoxiously loud snoring a clear indication that yes, he was unfortunately still breathing. A unicorn stepped into the light, her horn still sparkling with recent magic usage. She wore a chest plate, sleeved cloak, and pauldrons, all of which were emblazoned with Daybreaker’s fiery emblem.
The unicorn was yellow with a flame-like, two-toned mane of gold and orange hair and ironically possessed a pair of cold blue eyes. Discord scanned the newcomer. All in all, she’s actually quite the looker. I mean, if I were hypothetically into ponies, that is. However, this certainly isn’t the case, nope...okay, okay! Maaaaybe a little. Just don’t tell anypony!
“Well, erm, this is certainly a surprise,” Discord said awkwardly, though in all fairness, he hadn’t had an actual conversation with another individual in the past few months. The unicorn shook her head and lifted the keyring from the dozing guard, quickly unlocking Discord’s restraints while keeping an eye on the door. The shackles fell to the floor and Discord was able to rise to his full height, his back popping in quite a few places as he did so. ”Sweet Aunt Jemima, that feels soooo good! Now then, I believe introductions are in order. I am Discord Q. Draconequus…-”
“Lord of fun and happy times” She interrupted with a smirk. “I know, I’m here to release you for good behavior. My name is Sunset Shimmer. Now let's get going”
Discord shrugged, “Whatever you say, Sunny. Lead the way!” He reflexively snapped his fingers and then let out an agitated huff when nothing happened. “Oh yeah, now I remember. Brilliant!”
“Hurry up Snappy, we don’t have all day.” Sunset huffed as she finished snapping the shackles closed around the sleeping guard and racing past Discord, who mumbled something about not being a turtle before he swiftly caught up with her.
“You know, not that I’m not grateful for your help busting out of the hoosegow, but do you have an actual plan or is this all predicated on ‘winging it’?”
Sunset turned and frowned at him. “I’ll have you know that I have an excellent plan that involves...oh buck.” They both skidded to a stop and came face-to-face with a small cadre of fully armed and armor-clad but semi-confused guards. The pair looked at each other, then at the bewildered guards, who slowly brought up their spears and swords and aimed them at the two.
“Uh...hi?” Discord said as he waved.
Beneath the scorching heat of a mid-afternoon sun, a platoon of fully armored earth pony guards stood in the castle’s courtyard, all of them frozen in formation until reanimated by the barking commands of their unicorn superior officer. High above the shuffling guards, a single unicorn mare watched with secret disgust at the display. A slight breeze swept through her orange-yellow mane, giving it the appearance of crackling fire or the sun setting after some rare cool day. With a final glance she went back inside to meet with her superior Twilight Sparkle, General of Magic, to go over new training methods for the Solar guards.
As a Solar Mage, Sunset Shimmer was one of Daybreaker’s elite conjurers, a squad of hoof-picked unicorns that answered only to the Queen of Day herself. There was a time when she was proud of such an honor but then she grew up, discovering for herself the horrors that came with the job. Similar to their counterparts the Lunar Mages, Solar Mages protected the princess and served as inquisitors towards suspected lawbreakers as well as assassins for her political rivals or anypony else that angered the short-tempered alicorns. Sometimes, the princesses often forced the two mage groups to fight to the death just to see whose decision was right. Sunset had to kill many friends on those days.
The walk to Twilight’s office had always given Sunset uneasy vibes, like she was being watched. “I really hope Blueblood won’t be there this time.” Sunset prayed, not because Blueblood was a prick or anything, but because he just didn’t know how to read a room and that often led to him getting attacked by the sisters, leaving him very scarred and unsightly to look at. It just made her feel sorry for the stallion, who did nothing more than try to placate his tempestuous aunts.
Nearing a pair of double doors bearing the twin crests of the princesses, Sunset was halted from advancing by a hulking mass of scales that glared down at the mare. “Sunset...” The mass bellowed. “You’re late.”
“My apologies to the general, Spike. It won’t happen again.”
The dragon growled but said nothing, his powerful footsteps thudding as he stepped aside, allowing Sunset access. Inside the office was a rather large desk and the pictures of the sisters on each wall having a eternal staring contest. Behind the desk, there sat a stoic-faced unicorn sorting through a stack of paperwork, her violet eyes flickering between each sentence. A large scar ran over her right eye and part of her neck and her horn was covered in scratches and cracks, a testament to her career as a trained warrior and mage. As the leader of the Six Generals, Twilight Sparkle was as tough and brutal as they came and the princesses needed such a follower to keep their subordinates in line.
Sunset remained silent; she knew that she was only to address the general when spoken to. She must of stood waiting for at least five minute before General Twilight looked up and smiled, gesturing a hoof towards a nearby chair. “Take a seat Sunset, we have much to discuss.”
Sunset saluted before getting off her tired hooves. “What’s the good news?” She asked, having known Twilight long enough to know when she was happy.
Leaning back in her seat, Twilight tapped her hooves together. “Well, for starters, Star Swirl was able to ‘convince’ the Alchemists’ Legion to bring him more rare ingredients to make the necessary heat-resistant potions for the Sun Squads and then the head of the rebellion group in Trottingham was decapitated by General Pinkie Pie and lastly, Spike made this cute picture for me.” Twilight levitated said picture, which was a very crude drawing of Twilight and Spike hugging inside a blocky heart. ”I just love it.”
“Very nice, Ma’am,” Sunset replied automatically, inwardly flinching at the odd juxtaposition of the childish doodling and talk of death and bloodshed. “I take it that you’re adding it to the Wall?” She inquired, referencing a nearby wall covered in hundreds of crayon-drawn sketches. Despite her harsh reputation, Twilight was somewhat of a softy when it came to her family.
Twilight grinned, though it was more predatory than friendly. “Yes I am. Now then, onto business. Tell me, Captain, what do you think of training the new recruits in the sun without those potions because that looks like it may happen until we can get a new batch in.”
When you played the political game in Canterlot, every answer could either result in death or another day of continued existence. “Ma’am, I believe that we need to push our guards to their breaking points to prepare them for victory or death in service of the princesses. We cannot afford the time nor the effort to coddle them.”
“Excellent answer, Captain, exactly what I wanted to hear! It’s not everyday you share the same sentiment with somepony. Too many of our allies are soft. Softness won’t do a damn thing to keep this land under our princesses’ control.” She rotated in her chair to open a drawer when she turned back to face Sunset. “Oh, and before I forget, inform Spear Head that he’s fired. He failed at one of the most basic tenets of serving Our Majesties: staying awake while on duty.”
Sunset gulped. She hated firing ponies, mostly because it involved actual fire.
“Consider it done, General,” she stated, managing to keep the revulsion out of her voice.
“Very good.” Twilight levitated a scroll over to Sunset. “Deliver this to my brother. The princesses have decreed that the age of mandatory enlistment has been lowered once again, this time from fifteen to fourteen. As my drill sergeant would’ve said, ‘Fresh meat for the grinder.’”
Sunset was seething with rage but kept on her mask of indifference. “It will be done, General. Hail Daybreaker, hail Nightmare Moon.” She patted the left side of her chest four times and raised her foreleg upward as if trying to touch the sky.
Twilight repeated the gesture, only with more vigor and reverence. “Hail Daybreaker, hail Nightmare Moon! You’re dismissed.”
Sunset took her leave and she decided to get the firing process out of the way first as it would take longer and Shining Armor was having lunch right about now anyway. It didn’t take long to find Private Spear Head as he was once again sleeping. Sunset got it over with quickly and with a flash of her horn, what was once a pony was now a pile of ash-covered armor. It was a shame, considering that he was a single father of four. At least the kids might have a better life in a orphanage as they were often (thankfully) overlooked when recruiting, something about them being impure or something or other.
Two bat-ponies, both of whom were decked out in the armor of the Lunar Guard, passed by Sunset, chattering to one another and purposefully ignoring the unicorn. She chalked it up to the internal rivalry between followers of either princess and was ready to ignore them as usual when something interesting caught her attention:
“So what’s the deal with the draconequus? Is he really as freakish as they say?”
“Sure is, Shroud. Rumor has it he was once powerful enough to challenge the sisters but lost because he tried to protect some kirin. Well, depending on the story, it was also a foal or a mother-to-be. Anyway, they took his powers and locked them up at opposite ends of the castle.”
“You know, if I had chaos magic, I wouldn’t waste it on snot-nosed brats....” And that was all Sunset heard before they walked out of ear shot. It didn’t matter as she got all of the information that she needed. Powerful enough to challenge the princesses? Somepony like that might prove to be useful in the right hooves. She stroked her chin thoughtfully. I think it’s time that I met this draconequus….After I deliver this to Shining Armor regrettably.
Sunset’s hoofsteps echoed as she began her descent down the winding staircase leading towards the dungeons. She’d never had much cause to visit such an abysmal place but drastic times called for drastic measures and all that noise. Trotting past cells filled with miserable-looking ponies in rags and chains, she made her way to the very last cell, where she came across a dark brown unicorn stallion with chipmunk-like cheeks and a cruel-looking mouth. Taking a deep breath, Sunset threw her shoulders back and marched forward.
“Halt, who goes there?!”
Sunset regarded the stallion with professional disdain. “Captain Sunset Shimmer of the Solar Mages. I’m under orders from Her Majesty Daybreaker to question the draconequus.”
The stallion frowned. “Look here, Captain, I didn’t receive any kind of notification before hoof…-”
“Are you questioning an order from a superior officer? And a Solar Mage?”
“C-captain..-” The stallion sputtered before Sunset cut him off.
“Because as a Solar Mage, I speak for Her Royal Highness Daybreaker herself and questioning me is tantamount to questioning her as well. Shall I alert Her Royal Highness to your blatant disrespect of her good name or will you stand aside and allow me to perform my duty?”
“R-right, forgive my impudence, Captain.”
Sunset couldn’t help but grin as the stallion turned his back on her to unlock the cell door. Readying a sleeping spell, she prepared to strike. As the guard unlocked the door, he mockingly called, “Hey Freakshow, you’ve got a visitor. So be on your best behav...be…” He never finished his sentence.