Shiva shouldn’t have cared. She should have just brushed the event off.
She had already been in such a good mood; getting to watch unicorn after unicorn come to her throne and beg her for their magic back. Though, most of them got their magic back through pity alone, Shiva had a blast when Jet Set – a unicorn she remembered all too well from Blueblood’s posse – squeaked like a mouse when she refused him. Along with a merchant unicorn that had initially dismissed Shiva with a scoff before Cadence reminded him that she was the key to getting his magic back. Needless to say, the show of groveling and sniveling he put up after such a cold first impression got Kodo and even Celine to start snickering. Shiva couldn’t bring herself to hush them; she herself had nearly risked dying of suppressed laughter.
But, as the last unicorn just barely managed to convince her to get his magic back, he was exchanged for Twilight Sparkle. And when the purple mare made her request… Shiva did not expect her good mood to get so suddenly evaporated by the flood of repressed emotions that hit her.
“We need the mirror to the Human world,” Twilight requested. “The humans are in trouble, and they need my help.”
Shiva’s claws tensed on her throne. Celine and Scorpia both glanced at her, though she quickly shook her head at them before Cadence could notice.
“But…,” Cadence had said, before noticing Shiva’s expression. “The mirror isn’t supposed to reopen for another thirty moons.”
No, it’s not, Shiva thought morosely. Remembering how she found out. A time, way after midnight, when Shiva was certain everyone was asleep, she had dug her way back up to the mirror. But when she tried to push through – tried to see that world again – her claws had tapped against nothing but solid glass.
“We… have a way around that,” Twilight admitted, watching Shiva warily. For even she sensed the turmoil from the diamond dog’s expression.
Shiva forced herself to breath and stay calm. “What’s the trouble?” she asked. “Is there a risk to our country?”
“None,” Twilight said quickly.
“None like Tirek?” Shiva growled.
Twilight winced. “Okay,” she admitted. “There may be Sirens in the Human world. Beasts that can entrance…”
“I know what they are,” Shiva assured her. “And you’re going to take care of them? Preferably not joining their side?”
Twilight chuckled humorlessly. “My magic will protect me from their spells. But I need to get the mirror working and fast. Otherwise, they might spill out into Equestria another way… or just corrupt the human world.”
Shiva’s ears flicked back and forth. She glanced at Cadence and Scorpia before leaning forward.
“If this situation risks becoming a threat to all of Equestria, we all need to contribute in any way we can,” Shiva said.
“Agreed,” Scorpia said. “These humans may be in another dimension, but who knows the potential they carry as allies and friends.”
“So… you’re all in agreement,” Cadence asked, sharing a look of relief with Shining.
Scorpia nodded, before turning to Shiva. However, her grin faltered as the white diamond dog rose and made her way down to Twilight.
“Scorpia speaks the truth,” she said. “Which is why I have an… additional request.”
“A-A request?” Twilight asked. “But Shiva… I’m probably going to be very busy with the…”
“It’s not going to be difficult,” Shiva insisted. “While you’re in the human world, I merely want you to do some research.” She grinned as Twilight’s eyes lit up.
“R-Research?” she squeaked in glee.
“I want to know what exactly the human world offers,” Shiva said. “How it’s humans interact. What their leadership might be.” She clasped her paws together, and added in a softer voice, “And what other locations might be out there…”
Briefly, Shiva considered adding the truth; find out if I really came from this human world or not. But Shiva noticed Twilight's look of concern, and snapped out of her hesitation.
“Do this for me,” she said. “And I’ll answer twenty questions about myself and my species. Anything you want to know, I’ll try to provide.”
This time, Twilight couldn’t stop the grin from forming on her face. She saluted the diamond dog. “Consider it done,” she said.
Shiva nodded, before turning to her fellow princesses.
“I’ll bring a section of diamond dogs and defend the mirror while Twilight goes through,” Shiva said.
Scorpia nodded. “I’ll have Skippy accompany you,” she said.
“Flash Sentry too,” Shining said, glancing at his wife. “We can’t leave the diamond dogs and changelings to do everything, right?
Shiva grinned before turning back to Twilight. “If the Sirens pull the same thing with Tirek and Discord, I want to provide extra security in case they make a move into Equestria.”
Twilight’s grin faded. “Shiva, I’m not going to…”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Shiva said. “It’s that I’m not willing to run the risk of my home being threatened again.”
Celine winced. “So… would it be bad to ask if we could come?”
Shiva winced as her daughter crept forward from the side of the throne.
“Absolutely not,” Luke said. “You both were threatened already, and you still need to hone your powers.”
“But Mom’s the only one who has that power,” Celine insisted. “Maybe we can learn while we’re waiting for Twilight.” She turned to her mother. “Mom, you keep showing us memories of what the ponies did, but… what about Twilight and her friends? They weren’t there. They could be different.” She glanced between the other dogs. “The others may be willing to see them all as bad, but I want to know what they’re really like.”
Luke shook his head at Shiva, but Shiva pursed her lips in thought.
“Ponyville’s quite safe,” Twilight assured Shiva. “As long as you don’t expect me to bring your children into the Human world…”
“Beyond out of the question,” Shiva replied.
“Then… yeah, they have nothing to worry about,” Twilight said. “They’d be able to explore my home and see that the ponies of Equestria are really not that bad.”
Shiva sighed. “We still need one of them to know about the politics,” Shiva said. She turned away, her emotions battling like armies on an ancient battlefield.
If this place really is where I came from, Shiva thought. Then I need to know sooner rather than later.
But can I really trust Twilight’s town with the safety of my children? Celine really seems to want to know them… despite what I’ve told both her and her brother.
“Let’s try this:” she finally offered. “Celine will come with me, and I’ll try to teach her about her powers while we guard. Luke, I want you to keep Kodo here, and help him with the cases that get delivered to the princesses.”
Luke grimaced, but Kodo brightened up and hefted himself onto her throne.
“I’ll do an awesome job, Mom,” he assured her. “You can count on Prince Kodo!”
The ladies shared a laugh at his ambition, before Twilight bowed to Shiva again.
“Thank you, Alpha Shiva,” she said. “I’ll be outside when you’re ready.” And with another respectful bow, she raced outside.
Shiva turned to follow her, before she felt Luke’s hand on her shoulder.
“Shiva, I thought you said you didn’t care about that world,” Luke insisted.
“I don’t,” Shiva said, but she still gave Twilight a curious look. “But if it’s the place I came from…”
“This shouldn’t be for your own temptations,” Scorpia noted. “You could lose sight of what you already have. Focus on keeping Equestria, and by extension our homes, safe.”
Shiva nodded. Yet, as she walked after Twilight, she didn’t catch the others watching her with worry.
Nor did she catch Kodo and Luke sharing a small pack link.
“You don’t think there’s something else going on with Mom and Celine, do you?” Kodo asked Luke.
“Whatever it is,”Luke muttered, keeping his eye on the princesses as they glanced at each other with concern. “We make sure we get something out of it. After this meeting, let’s round up the Iron Wolves. If Shiva’s going to be with her pony overlords for a bit, we need to come up with a way to help her if she gets stuck down there.”
Kodo nodded. “On it,” he growled.
Ponyville wasn’t what Shiva expected. After the fancy nature of Canterlot and the gem-studded nature of the Crystal Empire, Shiva was half-convinced that the ponies of Ponyville would be set up in more lavish households meant to show off their wealth and power. But Ponyville had none of that. If anything, it resembled more of a classic farming villa, with quaint little cottage houses made of straw and wood and… in the case of one odd looking house – what looked like gingerbread.
But, all too soon, Shiva found something much closer to what she had envisioned; a towering castle of purple quartz crystals, glittering among the simpler homes like a needle in a haystack.
Twilight noticed Shiva staring, and chuckled. “I, uh…” she mumbled. “I guess the Tree of Harmony didn’t like the idea of a Princess just hanging out in a library.”
Shiva blinked at her in surprise. “Your castle… was a library once?” she asked. “As in… just the library. None of this crystal and gems and jewels?”
Twilight sighed wistfully. “Yeah,” she said. “A nice little oak tree, hollowed out to hold all sorts of books. Then, I used that last key…” She glanced at Celine with a smile. “Thanks, by the way,” she added. “And the Elements just… gave me a new castle.” She gave the castle a once over. “It’s a bit of an eyesore, but it’s my home now, so…”
Shiva hummed at that, lugging the mirror through the castle’s crystalline gates. A modest princess wasn’t something she expected to see; least of all from Twilight. Maybe there was more to the mare than she first thought.
Celine certainly seemed to think so. As she hopped along, pack linking to aid her strength to Shiva and the two diamond dog guards, she couldn’t stop staring around the quaint little town with eager awe in her eyes. Unlike her fellow Crystal Empire representatives, the little pup didn’t seem interested in the gems of Twilight’s castle, more the ponies.
They certainly seemed to share in that; every pony Shiva and her crew passed stopped what they were doing and stared at them in shock. A few waved at the disguised Skippy – Shiva assumed he made regular visits here – but Shiva mostly tried to ignore them.
But then, there was someone that couldn’t be ignored.
“YOU FINALLY CAME!” Pinkie screamed with absolute joy, nearly causing Shiva to drop the mirror. As Shiva spun around, she found the Elements of Harmony – and most importantly, Spike – waiting for her at the Castle. Shiva let a soft grin grace her snout at the sight of Spike and Applejack, who quickly raced Pinkie out of the castle to see her.
“Well, tarnation,” Applejack declared, immediately helping them with the mirror. “I was hoping you’d come visit one day, Shiva, but I didn’t think…"
“How has it been at the Crystal Empire?” Spike asked before noticing Celine. “Is that one of your pups? She’s really grown fast.”
“I know it’s probably rich coming from me,” Twilight said. “But can you not bombard her with questions while she’s got the mirror?”
“You’re hysterical, Sparkle,” Shiva deadpanned. Though, she couldn’t help but smile as Applejack and Rainbow Dash helped her, Skippy and Flash with the mirror. With their aid, they soon had the mirror set in a small library-like room in Twilight’s castle.
“So,” Rainbow Dash said, as the mirror was set down. “How’s this going to work?”
“Well, it’s really quite simple,” Twilight said. “And at the same time, rather complicated.”
As she launched into a scientific explanation for what she was about to do, Applejack glanced at the others. Especially Skippy and Flash Sentry, who were watching Twilight babble with the same look a deer might give head lights.
“Why don’t you fellers head down to Sweet Apple Acres,” she invited Flash and Skippy. “Granny Smith should have some cider ‘n pies to spare fer ya.”
“Cider? Pies?!” The only reason the duo didn’t rush out the door was due to Shiva snatching them with her pack link.
“Remember what you’re here for,” she reminded them, before singling Skippy out. “Go on and get them those pies and cider,” she said with a smile.
“Can I go with him?” Celine asked hopefully.
Shiva grimaced, before Flash stepped forward.
“I can hold down the fort, or look after her,” he offered. “Whatever you think is best.”
Shiva pondered it, before glancing at a still babbling Twilight. “Hold the fort down here,” she said. “We’ll be right back.”
Flash saluted her, and she saluted him back, walking out with Applejack in tow.
“Can I assume my dogs have been helping you on the farm?” she asked as they left the castle.
“E-yep,” Applejack replied. “Them doggies ‘r fine workers. Once we got em to stop hogging the shiny stuff.”
Indeed, Ponyville did seem like a much friendlier place than Canterlot, even if it wasn’t as shiny as the Crystal Empire. Though the ponies did jolt when they saw Shiva, they never stuck their noses into the air or demanded she be banished to the sun. They just gave nervous waves before going about their business.
And, of course, Celine was beside herself with optimistic curiosity.
“Oh, what’s that?” she asked.
“That there’s Sugarcube Corner,” Applejack said. “We’ll stop by there later; get ya some sugary treats.”
“Eh-he, easy on the sugar,” Shiva chastised. “It’s not good for her.”
“Oh, what’s that?” Celine asked.
“That there’s Quills and Sofas,” Applejack replied. “I bet you can guess what they sell.”
“Oh, what’s that?!”
“That,” Applejack practically glowed with pride. “Would be Sweet Apple Acres.”
Shiva’s ears perked. A literal forest of apple trees awaited them, all carefully planted and organized so that they stood like an army. And their leaves were bursting with bright red and yellow apples.
“These acres ‘ve been in my family for ages,” Applejack said proudly. “We harvest the finest apples ya ever tasted.”
“So, this is where all the apples we buy come from,” Shiva noted, impressed.
“It don’t come without a lot of hard work,” Applejack said. “But I’d say the reward’s worth it.”
Sure enough, Skippy appeared from the forest, weighed down with bags of pies and jugs of cider. Chuckling, Shiva extended out her pack link, catching the pies and pulling them from his already put-upon body.
“I got those for you, Beta,” she said warmly.
“Appreciate it, Alpha,” Skippy replied, though his grin didn’t fade. “Shiva?” he asked as they turned back for the Castle of Friendship. “Are you sure it was a good idea to leave Kodo and Luke?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Shiva asked. “They’ve got Scorpia and Cadence with them.”
“Yes, but… something’s been bothering me,” Skippy admitted. “They keep converging with a bunch of other diamond dogs. Diamond dogs who have a record of trouble with the ponies.”
Shiva paused, glancing towards him. “This… hasn’t been coming up in my pack link,” she noted worriedly. “You don’t think we have some kind of… coup in the making, do you?”
“I don’t think anything right now,” Skippy said. “But you should probably talk to Luke soon. Otherwise…”
Before he could continue, Pinkie appeared with a burst of confetti.
“You’ll figure it out somehow,” she replied happily. “But right now, there’s something that I’ve been waiting to do for a long-long-long time.”
“Oh, no…” Shiva whimpered.
Applejack rolled her eyes as Pinkie darted away. “Brace yer self,” she said.
Before Celine could ask what she meant, a strange sort of wagon with various instruments and – an oven? Shiva thought – rolled out from nowhere, bursting into song the moment Pinkie reappeared.
A fine welcome to you
I say how do you do?
“Uh… well…” Celine tried to say, before Pinkie continued.
I say hip-hip-hooray!
To Ponyville today!
Celine and Skippy blinked at each other, while Shiva sighed.
“Um…” Skippy tried to add.
“Wait for it…” Pinkie said.
Before Celine knew what was happening, Fluttershy dove in front of Celine and Shiva, protecting them as… a burst of confetti blew from the top of the wagon, while the oven opened, depositing a white and red cake before them.
“Fluttershy,” Pinkie chastised. “I get being eager to welcome new creatures…”
“S-Sorry,” Fluttershy whispered, her yellow face now red as an apple. “I-I just remembered Twilight talking about how you put confetti in the oven and dough in the....”
“Oh, Fluttershy,” Pinkie said, patting her friend on the head. “That was the Mark 3 Welcome Wagon. This is the Mark 4; plays smoother, bakes faster, and it even has a hidden balloon stash.” She yanked a lever on the wagon, and sure enough, several balloons floated out.
Celine watched the whole thing with a neutral expression, though sparks were flaring around her ears, and she barely noticed Fluttershy looking over her with concern.
“Is she okay?” Fluttershy whispered to Shiva.
“You’re breaking her mind,” Shiva growled. “And Pinkie, while I appreciate the passion, I really need to…” She froze.
“Really need to what?” Pinkie asked. “Go to the bathroom? I’m sure Applejack has one. Or, if you’re a lot like a doggie…”
“Pinkie!” Applejack chastised. “That ain’t the problem.”
Then Pinkie turned… and immediately understood. Right behind her welcome wagon, Discord stood. His form had an odd pale sheen to him, and he was uniquely standing instead of floating. His arms crossed over each other, and his feet shuffled backward. Despite his passive behavior, Shiva’s eyes were locked on him like a guiding missile, and she had shoved her daughter and Skippy behind her.
Discord sighed. “Let me guess; you’re still sore about that whole thing with Tirek, aren’t you?”
Shiva flared her lightning in response…
…Just as Kodo knocked a diamond dog across the cavern with his own lightning.
“Anyone else got any bright ideas involving my mother?!” Kodo demanded.
“No-no-no-no!” the iron wolves barked and whimpered. Kodo just barely calmed down.
“Good,” he growled, withdrawing his lightning. “I don’t agree with Mother’s choices either, but she’s still my mother and our Alpha. And if anyone wants to hurt her, they’ll have me to contend with!”
“No one is going to hurt your mother,” Luke agreed. “But we need to protect ourselves from the threat that she can’t fight.”
The diamond dogs quickly agreed – not a hard thing to do when they’re biggest member had been blasted across the room – watching as Kodo paced with a snarl.
“So,” one dog finally ventured. “How are we supposed to stay with Shiva, and yet get out from the ponies?”
Luke glanced over at Kodo, who pondered it for a moment.
“Simple,” the young wolf decided. “We prove that the ponies are hiding their true selves.” He spotted several scars on the diamond dogs. “You all know where ponies really belong, right?”
“As our work horses,” they replied.
“When we gave them mercy, they gave us the cage and the whip,” one of the bigger dogs argued, which got a response from several of the scarred wolves.
“So, we find these ponies,” Kodo continued. “We find the arrogant, stuffy nobles that the Princesses are trying so hard to hide from Shiva. We get them to make trouble… and Shiva will see our side. And give them what they deserve.”
Luke’s ears flattened. “But how are we going to find these snooty ponies?” he asked. “Celestia has thrown the nobility who caged us in the dungeons. No pony dares act bad around us.”
Kodo hummed, pondering the problem. How can we find a pony willing to act like a spoiled brat?
Meanwhile in Ponyville, the stallion merchant Filthy Rich sighed as he spotted a familiar invitation perched on his desk.
“Oh, no…” he mumbled, drawing his secretary’s attention.
“What is it, Mr. Rich?” she asked.
“Some new pony’s gone into town, and it’s put Pinkie Pie into another frenzy,” he said. “She’s asking for everyone to gather together for another ‘Welcome’ party, and I don’t have the time to indulge her right now.”
“Well, we shouldn’t just ignore it,” the secretary replied. “That mare takes her parties far too seriously.”
“Eh,” Filthy Rich agreed. “Fax this to my home and address it to my daughter. All the young ‘uns love Pinkie Pie’s parties.”
“Right away, sir.”
Tossing the invitation to his secretary, Filthy Rich settled back into his seat and pored over his paper.
“Now…” he muttered. “How do I get in on the trade with this… ‘Outer Haven?’”