Serpent of the South- Return from the North

by J-90

Chapter 6 Final days of an "Empire" (going trough a re-write)

Chapter 6 Final days of an "Empire"

Crystal Empire, Crystal palace.

"Are all of the routes completely open yet?" Cadence asked from a guard who had just returned from clearing-duty.

"Not yet your majesty, but we are making a dent to that giant snowbank around the empire. That giant storm left a lot of snow to clear out. Luckily the train tracks are cleared for travel."

"Well keep up the good work. I want to know what has been making those odd noises north-east from here. There's supposed to be nothing there, except that crystal wall standing in a pass. Which reminds me, has there been any progress at the library's archives?"

"Unfortunately no. It seems that King Sombra destroyed a good portion of our older records. We think that maybe he was trying to change empires historical records for his own benefit, which seem to include any mention of that crystal wall."

This made Cadance sigh in a rather frustrated way. They where going completely dark on the issue of odd and loud noises being heard from northeast, while dealing with the aftermath of an huge, wild snowstorm and some very odd spikes of magic being felt in the same direction recently. All this added with the strange surges happening in the Crystal Heart, aftermath of the foiled coup attempt from the caribou and later from Queen Chrysalis, the Crystal Empire was a little bit on edge. Only recent greatly positive event was the Crystalling, and even that almost went awry, due to little Flurry Hearts out of control magic, but luckily nothing overly bad did not happen. And then there of course was the grand mess at the southern border of Equestria.
Princess of Love was only lightly happy that the empire still had some trade going on, despite Celestias decision messing up many things for the ponies of Equestria. The only reason why Crystal Empire still had outside trade, was because they 'technically' did not fall under the full political power of Equestria, and even that reason was on a rather thin ice with majority of their remaining trade-partners. One them where the Changelings, now led by Thorax. Her amazement about it happening had yet to completely fade.

"Well keep up the good work, and report immediately if there is any changes in the situations."

"Yes your majesty."

After the guard left, Cadance kept thinking over the situation, while looking out from one of the throne room windows. The Crystal Empire was shiny as ever. Though a little voice in the back of her mind did remind her that it was still technically just one city. Like lady Naja once commented...
Princess of Love was still beating herself over not doing more during that sham of a trial. To her, when things in the courtroom ended up being ruined by Celestia deciding to use an ancient Royal bloodline power, Regalis Imperātum, to change the Tribunals ruling, it had happened a little too fast for her to get an effective word in.
And it did not help that they had no idea where the marilith maiden even was right now. Celestia had admitted of locking her in some cave in an iceberg at the cold northern shore of the continent. Cadance still had not idea how on Equus Luna got that creative in their interrogation methods... And only with just an ordinary cotton swab... It still caused her some chills for some reason.
Unfortunately for two of them, after some scouting, the iceberg seemed to have broken loose and drifted off to who-knows-where. This they did not tell to Celestia, or she just might try and pressure Twilight to go look for it with her friends. That was something pink princess did not wish to see for many reasons. One being the serious lack of accurate maps of the area, some of which still just showed some mountains dotting the northernmost coastline.

"Cadance! We have a situation!" Shining Armors voice interrupted her thoughts. Her husband sounded worried.

"What? What is it? Did some monster from the tundra get through the shield?"

"Luckily no. But there is an angry looking reindeer demanding an audience with you. I told the guards to wait and not to do anything stupid. That cervine seems dangerous, considering there was an layer of ice, maybe an inch thick, beneath her and warned that she would retaliate to any attack with 'impressive force'. Not sure though what a reindeer can do with ice-"

Before Shining could finish, both of them heard a loud crackling sound outside. Nigh simultaneous head turn from the couple towards the window showed a tall spire of ice at a square near the edge of the Empires barrier.

"You just had to go and tempt faith Shiny..."

It did not take long for the two royals to reach the now frosty square. And the ice spire in the middle of it was certainly looking bigger up-close. They could also see the reindeer standing at its top.

"I am Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, answering to the requested audience! Will you please come down so we may converse?!" Cadence shouted upwards, due to the distance. The answer came in form of the reindeer just jumping down, while creating a platform from some more ice to stand on. It also meant that Royal couple had to look upwards a little bit more because of it. The blue eyed, snow white reindeer was already much taller than them. It even had some kind of ornaments all over its impressive antlers, giving off a little rattle when moving.

"I am høvding Ishorn of the Northern deer-folk. I would say that this is a pleasure, but that would be a lie." was reindeers neutral answer.

"Ok?... So, lady Ishorn-" Cadance began, only to get suddenly interrupted by now serious sounding Ishorn.

"Høvding Ishorn! At least use the correct title Princess, please?"

"Very well, um... Høvding Ishorn. What is your business here? Or are you here in the name of Dainn Stonehoof?"

Cadance regretted saying that almost immediately. Mostly due to Ishorns initially calm expression twisted into a complete disgust, causing several spikes of ice to sprout out around her.

"You seriously DARE to even think I would serve that pile of unavngitt skitt??!! This visit does not even have anything to do with that."

"But he-" Shining tried to intervene, only to get silenced by a cold glare from Ishorn, that actually caused him to have some visible shivers.

"That pile of unavngitt skitt was not my kinds leader, and never had a chance of becoming one... Ever..."

"All right... So, your reason of coming here?"

Ishorn took a moment to calm herself a little bit with a couple of deep breaths, while dispelling some of the ice-spikes around her, before continuing.

"Just recently my kind were freed from our unjust imprisonment beyond the Crystal Wall, with some help from a friend. So now we can finally resume our ancient duty as the Wardens of the North."

"Oh, well that great. In that case I'm sure we can work together in the future."

"Perhaps... But that is not exactly the reason for me being here. I am here to ask you ponies, both crystal and equestrian alike, to leave the North. As soon as possible if you could, please?"

Almost complete silence followed this request. Nearly everypony present was confused by it, some even having a very visible jaw-drop reaction. Ishorn was not visibly reacting to ponies confusion, merely waiting for their answer.
Finally a lilac colored hoof rose up, as if asking a permission to ask something. And it also caused everyone present to look at its direction, several crystal ponies getting out of the way, finally revealing lilac unicorn mare with a purple mane, with a teal stripe on it, standing next to a orange unicorn wearing a wizardly looking cape, who also stepped a little further away from the mare. It was as if everypony were trying to get away from the proverbial 'line of fire'.
But Ishorn did give her a nod, waiting for the potential questions from the now lightly nervous looking mare.

"Ummm... Hi, I am Starlight Glimmer, just visiting my friend... Soo, is there some kind of a big reason for that request? I mean that would mean that a lot of ponies would have to leave their homes and the weather would most likely bury empty empire in ice and snow without the crystal ponies powering the Crystal Heart, which keeps the cold away around here, among some other things."

"The displacement of crystal ponies would be considered being a payback of sorts for our kin, because it was them who put up the Crystal Wall to stop us from driving them away from the north and retaking one of our sacred Rune stone sites, which they promised not to touch... Only to use it as a starting frame to that giant krystallaksel of a castle in the middle of this place, while saying they 'forgot' their promise to our kin... And this overly shiny place is also responsible for greatly disturbing the weather of the north, while we where stuck behind the Crystal Wall for generations, unable to do our duties to soothe it properly."

"How does that happen? Even a large group of pegasi, and not even the Princesses themselves can't affect the weather up here all that much."

"Not everything has to, or can be controlled by you ponies. And we have our own traditional way of soothing the weather when needed. Keywords being 'soothing' and 'when needed', not 'controlling it' and 'all the time through the seasons' as you ponies apparently do. But I guess as the time passed, you just got in you heads that you, and only you, should be the sole stewards of all nature. While not really thinking what such thing might cause in the long run to others outside of your species."

Starlight could not really come up with any comeback to that. Maybe because when she really thought about Ishorn's words, they did have a noticeable grain of truth. And it even made her hang her head a little bit, while few other ponies also looked a bit ashamed. Unfortunately they were visibly in the minority.
Finally Cadance continued the talks.

"Well, this is indeed interesting information, but I'm afraid that we can't just up and leave. It would take a lot of time. And where would we even go?"

"There is plenty of empty space in Equestrian lands isn't there? Try building something new and more accurately named, that is not solely dependent on constant happiness. And maybe this time not on someone else's sacred site. Or maybe just find or buy a dwelling in Equestria, that does not need to be made out of crystal... Oh and as for the leaving, my kin has agreed to give you till noon i morgen to leave."

"And how long unit of time does that stand for? I don't exactly talk your native tongue, no offence meant."

"None taken. And as for the word, it stands for 'tomorrow'."

"Wait, WHAT??! You can't be serious."

"I can, and I am. And me and my kin WILL reclaim our sacred site to do our duty, whether you leave willingly or not." Ishorn said with finality to the visibly shocked looking Cadance. And of course a rather angry looking Shining Armor and some equally upset looking guards present.

"Then I am afraid we would need to apprehend you and negotiate with your kin properly." he said in his 'on-duty'-tone while giving a hoof signal to the guards, who promptly tried approaching the white reindeer.
Ishorn did not take this well, but managed to stay calm, before loudly stomping her leg on the surface of the ice platform she was still standing on. This caused several tall, curved ice blades to sprout out from any connected frosty surface, mostly forming a protective barrier around her, while spooking plenty of ponies.

"Not a step closer, or next there will be ice spires colored red with equine blood around me, with some potential brave fools being skewered on them. And we don't trust your kinds way of negotiating, nor promises at this time." she warned in a tone so cold, that it caused shivers to some of the ponies present, before leaping surprisingly high and landing on another ice spire she created on a nearby rooftop.

"Tomorrow noon I'll come back, with my kin and friends who promised to aid us in this. Take some pictures, because tomorrow before the sun sets, this crystalline mess of a place will be no more..."

With that, Ishorn leaped away the same ice and frost covered route she had arrived, eventually leaving the area of effect of the Empires barrier.

"...She was more than serious about that... And that was clear without any emotion-scan to sense that..." was all Cadence could say, but had no time to just stand there, as some panic began to start among the citizens. Luckily nopony got hurt and most panic had calmed down by the evening. There still was plenty of unease around though.
If Ishorn indeed had means of wiping out the Crystal Empire, this was indeed a dire situation. Cadance and Shining did consider asking Twilight for help, but Starlight said that it would take too long for her to get to the empire in time to be of any effective aid, or that maybe she was in the middle of a task from the Map and away from Spike to receive the message. And all three of them knew that Celestia was out of the question, due to the still persisting trust issues, and Sun princesses habit of just sending Twilight to fix things. And they still weren't sure how long Luna was going take with her talks with the thestrals, and their negotiations with the diamond dogs.

So in the end it seemed that Crystal Empire was standing alone in this...

Next day....

"Anything yet?"

"Nothing yet, Shining Armor, sir. And the noon is approaching fast."

"Keep watch, and- Wait... There they are! Sound the alarm."

Soldier followed order immediately, while Shining hurried back to the palace, just in case Cadance needed help. As the alarm sounded, more and more ponies started eye the area outside of the barrier worriedly, many soon noticing the gathering deer-folk on the hill at the visible distance. And there was a lot of them, along with two bigger creatures...

Cadance could see them as well, thanks to the telescope set up on the palace balcony. She could instantly recognize blue war-paint donning Ishorn and, after rubbing her eyes a little bit, Tirek, seemingly strong once again. The other bigger creature she could not quite recognize, due to the ample hooded fur-cape and a mask it was wearing. She was still thinking who or what it could be, when Shining entered the room.

"There's Ishorn, and she somehow has Tirek out there too, along with someone else. What is the Empires situation Shining?"

"Group of guards are forming a defensive line, and the rest are helping Starlight and Sunburst in evacuation efforts. In the meantime, I think we should cast an extra shield around the city, if only to buy more time."

With a nod, Cadence agreed and gently locked horns with her husband. Soon sparks of magic came forth from their horns in a form of a thin spire of light, forming a more visible barrier around the crystalline city. Shining even put more power into it, leaving a bit weak in the knees.

"Let's hope that will last long enough."

"I only hope there will not be any loss of life her-... Do you feel that Shiny?" Cadance asked worriedly when she felt powerful magic spike among the deer-folk. Peek through the telescope revealed it to be coming from Ishorn, who seemed to be wearing simple necklace with a bright glowing red gem, causing snow to billow around her.
Finally the billowing snow started to form a small, but growing, whirlwind before the white reindeer. Soon the snowy wind seemed to take a form of something powerful within itself, which was finally revealed to be a bipedal ice-blue female being, wearing an antler crown made of ice and a rather nice looking outfit, which for a short moment gave Cadance some ideas, but now was not the time for that. All she currently knew was that this summoned being was very, VERY powerful.

The blue being started to float towards the city, waving its hand in a relaxed manner, creating about a dozen pony sized icicles, and sent them flying towards the barrier. The icicles impacted the barrier so hard, it could heard all the way to the palace. While they did not pierce it, they did cause it to vibrate a little bit from the multiple impacts.
Next the icy being gave a little smirk, almost like it could see the royal couple, both of which made Cadance worried, before it flew rather fast closer to the barrier, gave it a short look and a gentle tap with a index finger. Then it proceeded to fly by the side of the barrier, causing a huge amounts of ice to erupt from the snow outside of the barrier.
As the the summoned entity flew, the ice followed and grew in its wake, starting to cover the barrier at the alarming rate, with some pieces of ice even poking through it, until it had covered the entirety of the barrier in its frozen glory. It even had several grand snowflake patterns here and there.

"Wow... Even in this situation I have to say, that this is an impressive sight..." Shining commented, clearly a bit awestruck of the display magic this entity clearly wielded. After the amazement was fading, they both noticed the entity standing at the very top of the newly created ice dome, clearly looking right at them, even giving a light wave to them.
After that, it proceeded to stomp its foot upon the ice dome, causing an echoing sound, followed by rapidly expanding cracks all over the dome, completely shattering it in its entirety, along with the barrier, sending shards of enchanted ice all over the city, crushing several luckily empty buildings here and there, all the while cold winds of north rushed in due to the absence of the barrier.

At that moment Ishorn also gave a signal to all the deer-folk present in an impressive overtone note, and all of them started their running approach towards the city, reaching its edges very soon. Any resistance from the guards was mainly dealt with intimidating show of force, and only attacking guards in self-defence. Who knew crystal buildings walls where oddly fragile when facing a reindeer bucks or caribou bulls rune enchanted antlers. Any slower civilians where calmly herded towards the train station, but some ran towards the castle. Which seemingly was the main target of Ishorn, Tirek and the fur cloaked figure. The latter seemed to leave a singular long trail behind it, almost as if it was dragging something heavy but unseen thing behind it.
While they were rushing towards the castle in the middle of the city, the cloaked figure lightly swung two right arms beneath the cloak, causing an odd orange glowing, speeding clockfaces to appear on the three of them, followed by glassy looking barrier to appearing. After both odd visuals disappeared, all of them seemed to move visibly faster, dodging some stray shots from a few braver guards, while few that seemed to hit got absorbed by the glassy barrier. All the while this was happening, the blue ice entity started to glide lower, clearly taking its time to land.

Finally the trio, along with plenty of other deer-folk, arrived to castle where there was another barrier, created by Shining Armor, with a group of crystal ponies behind it. Cadance was also there, carrying a little alicorn with a rather large wings on her back. She obviously looked worried, and even more so when Ishorn stepped closer to speak.

"Greetings once again Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. I see you decided to do a last stand of sort with your shields and barriers. But please, lower this one and leave peacefully or we are forced to shatter it, with overwhelming force if needed." she said, while Shiva landed and kneeled behind her, bringing frosty air with it, before slowly fading away for now.

"Well we don't really seem to have much of a choice... Can you promise none of us will get hurt by your kin and friends on our exodus?" Cadance requested.

"I promise i jordens og himmelens navn(in the name of the earth and skies) that my kin will not harm you or your citizens, provided you can affirm that Equestria will not do attempt any retaliatory actions upon us."

"I'm sure I can push it through. Celestias authority is not as absolute as it once was... Shiny, please lower the shield, please. We clearly have no chance of winning here."

Reluctantly Shining lowered his shield, eyeing Tirek worriedly, even though the centaur had mostly just stood there.

"So how are you going to proceed here? City has a ton of buildings, so it would take a ton of time to remove them."

"That's where I come in, Princess Bubblegum."

The feminine voice of the masked, fur-cloaked figure sounded familiar to Cadance, not to mention the nickname she had used. The cloaked one then proceeded to lower her hood, revealing a smaller hood attached to the mask. Finally it too was removed, revealing a familiar face of the wrongfully banished and imprisoned marilith, kindly smiling at her. During this, serpentine lady also tapped the rune-carved buckle of the fur cloak, which in turn seemed to de-spell some kind of invisibility from her purple tail.
"Hello Cadance. So how long I was gone? Two maybe three turns of seasons, or whatever many years? And I see you successfully procreated too."

"Naja??? How-?"

"Ishorn's folk found me with some help from Tirek, they asked my help, I agreed and meditated on it, destroyed a giant 'fluff-u' wall and now I'm here to help them remove some crystal buildings..." she explained, as she stretched all of her six arms.
"And I would appreciate If you would not interfere when I'm casting a little spell to do it."

"Umm, how bad it would go if interfered?" came out another familiar voice, who turned out to be Starlight, who had just arrived and most likely heard what marilith had said. She even had managed some courage to stand closer to the huge serpentine being.

"Well hello. And you are?"

"Starlight Glimmer... A s-student of the Princess Twilight sparkle, just visiting my childhood friend here. And she also told me about you few times..." Starlight introduced herself to Naja, getting a little nervous as the marilith came in for a closer look, which was maybe a bit intimidating to a certain degree.

"Hmmm... You kinda look like a 'Twiggles 2.0, Collectors Edition'. Maybe with some added improvements... Don't ask, I just felt like saying that." Naja commented casually, causing some embarrassed blush on Starlight.
"And as for the spells power if interrupted... Well most likely everyone present would cease existing in torrents of near cosmic levels of magic running wild."

"...Stronger than the ice elemental that took down the barrier?"

"I'm somewhat sure you can't fairly compare the two. But for now, please don't interrupt casting. Though I might have to deal with one little obstacle first." marilith said while slithering closer to the much slower spinning Crystal Heart. Few crystal ponies looked horrified when the snake lady conjured a sword to one of her many hands and gave the Heart a few experimental taps, while hovering another hand over it, as if trying to measure or sense something.
Then suddenly Naja took a two handed grip on the sword, raising it above her head and proceeded to stab it at the Heart. The initial of ponies soon faded to confusion, as the blade seemed sunk deeper into the Heart without coming out from the other side. Heart even looked like it was fighting against the blade, even having a almost wicked-like aura on it in the eyes of few ponies present.
Finally Naja managed to push her blade so deep, its hilt was almost touching the Crystal Heart. At that point it started seriously to crack with an ample glow on it, like it was on its final legs on defence. With one last push and twist, the Heart shattered into pieces, that turned to dust before they even could hit the ground. Marilith's blade also came back form whatever space it was stabbed in.
"Now to finish this little crystal removal operation, without the possible risk of aggressively growing stabby crystals. And the warning about interrupting me while casting, it was no joke..." Naja said almost nonchalantly, while de-summoning her blade and getting into proper position. Meanwhile the dark storm clouds, heavy with snow, began to gather around the crystal city, due to absence of the protection from the Heart.

"Oh and Cadance? If you sense a drastic change in my emotions, please don't panic." Naja said to Cadance, before focusing on her pre-casting meditation. And soon enough the pink alicorn princess found out what marilith meant by that.
Cadance could feel a drastic shivers running through her body, as she felt absolutely ALL emotion fade away from now chant whispering Naja, and just barely managed to keep herself calm enough to not have a complete mental breakdown. Never before had she sensed something like this; someone being completely devoid of all emotions, leaving only an absolute void in themselves. Even some of the most heartless criminals had had some emotions in them. But this... This state of complete and absolute lack of emotions genuinely scared Cadance...

And then it happened. A bubble rippling with powerful magic formed between Naja's many hands, and began to slowly expand. Many of the ponies present gasped loudly when they saw what was happening when the bubble touched the Crystal castle's surface. It looked like it was simply being erased, with no special flashing or anything. Just disappearing into nothing. It did not seem to do anything to Naja, or anyone else around her.
As the erasing bubble grew larger, it revealed something withing the crystalline structures, until it turned out to be a large set of stones, four sticking out from the now revealed ground and a fifth floating in the middle of them, all covered in carvings of runes that nopony could read on the fly. At this point the peak parts of the castle had started falling down, only to erased by the bubble, which oddly left several item intact, which were mostly royal couples stuff and that of Flurry's, who saved her Whammy plushie from falling.
Then Naja spread her arms in a wide arc, causing the crystal erasing bubble to expand more rapidly , wiping away almost everything in the city, leaving only some items and furniture scattered here and there. Seeing as the bubble did not harm them, some of the crystal ponies went to collect any items left behind, even getting some help from the deer-folk, also unaffected by the erasing bubble. It was clearly specifically aimed at the crystal buildings and streets.

Finally, as the erasing bubble oddly silently popped, all of the crystalline city was completely gone, only leaving the train station, which was Equestrian made, and the train itself was juuust outside the effective range. And of course everyone where now standing on a ordinary soil with some still persisting small tundra plants.
Naja for her part quickly casted another spell to heal herself a little bit from the weight and drain the spell had put on her physical body. Rest of her magic would need to recover on its own.
'No nosebleed for me this time, only a spike of pain in the back my head.' she thought to herself.

"Umm... Do you need some help? Your mental state is starting to worry me..." Cadance managed to carefully ask, most likely pushing past the amazement of the spells effect.

"Don't worry, I already have a solution for that. Tirek, dear? Could you ease Princess Bubblegum's worries?" Naja said in a deadpan tone.

"With pleasure, miss Naja." was Tirek's answer as he stepped closer to the marilith, and proceeded to put his hands on her shoulders, giving them a slight massage. He even rubbed his knuckles between her shoulder blades and back, which really got a satisfied sigh from Naja. It also restored serpent maidens emotions to normal state, much for the relief of Cadance.
"So Ishorn? You and you kin about to do your duty soon? I don't think many ponies here would do that good in a wild snowstorm." Naja asked, while moving a bit further from the stones and pointing at the still gathering wild storm clouds, which where getting a bit too close and starting to snow a bit harder than normal.

"Yes, I think we should. Brothers and sisters! It is high time we raise our voices high and reclaim our kinds duty as the true Wardens of the North!" Ishorn called out loudly for everyone to hear, receiving some cheers from her kin. Some ponies, mainly Cadance, Sunburst and Starlight, where a bit curious about what was about to happen.

After a short moment, with Ishorn starting, the deer-folk began to sing, but not in a same manner that ponies would. This was somewhat more primal and guttural sounding overtones. there was even melodic clatter from various ornaments in their antlers. Many even stomped their cloven hoofs in a rhythm of sorts. It was rather shamanisticly meditative tone to some.
As the song continued, the runes upon the stones began to glow, accompanied with a slight hum, and the middle floating one staring to spin at a steady pace. This caused some kind of glowing snow to appear around the stones, floating upwards towards the sky and the dark clouds, making a thin lightly glowing strand of a pillar of light. When the glowing snow reached the clouds, there was some rumbling as it began to... Caress them, like someone trying to calmly soothe an irate animal, with its thin tendrils of light. Eventually it began to almost look like aurora borealis, but different from what the Crystal Heart created. These looked like they belonged up there in the northern skies.

Eventually the dark tone in the clouds began to fade into more neutral whitish-grey color, and the snowing also turned into a much more calmer kind. At this point the deer-folks song also began to reach its end, their tones slowly fading away. This also made the rune stones glow and spinning of the fifth to fade and slow down.
At this point Ishorn sighed in obvious content, which drew Cadances attention.

"Sooo... Is everything here okay now?" she asked carefully, making Ishorn to turn at her direction, looking a little less cold.

"...Yes. I would say so. I feel like I just regained something long lost piece of my being. And we shall carry on our duty once again. Lucky for us, this site is the only one in the wide open area, while the rest are in a bit more secluded and hidden places." was her answer to the pink pony princess.

"Oh? How do you know that? I thought you were stuck behind the Wall for a long time."

"Let's just say that we have our ways, and leave it at that. You don't need to know absolutely everything, and we would like to keep our personal magics as our own, just in case... And we might remove some of that railroad for good measure if needed and maybe leave a group of guardians here. We would not like a new group of ponies to come and try to desecrate this site in the name of research or something."

"Okay, you do that while I get the rest of the crystal ponies evacuated and start planning about what to do about resettling. Can I perhaps have a word with Naja?"

"If you hurry, yes. She seems to be about to leave. Seeya later Naja! Pink Princess wants to to ya!" Ishorn called out before taking her leave to coordinate some of the cleaning efforts of the crystal ponies stuff and other items. Cadance, who left Flurry with Shining for now to nap, had to hurry a little bit to catch up with the marilith and the centaur, who both stopped when they noticed her approaching.

"Sorry, I just needed ask what are your plans at the moment?" pink alicorn asked politely.

"Well... I guess maybe do some renovation at the temple if he needs some horn-room, maybe get a different kind of bed-"

"No not those plans, we can talk about those at a later date. I meant your plans for... Celestia...?"

"Oh that? Basically to just punch her in the face ten times... With each of my hands... At a minimum... Maybe, just maybe add my tail to the set too. And I don't mean just slap her with it, I mean full on slam, with a good swing momentum behind it. So that's my plan for her at the moment, but I'm also keeping that schedule open for additional things if needed."

"Well that is good to hear. She is in need of a little beating. But also, Luna apparently want's to meet you. Said she had some information for you."

"Okay. So where she is at the moment then?" Naja inquired.

"Last I heard, still visiting thestrals and the diamond dogs, in the thestral city Nahkhiir, helping them with something going on down there. Personally I think she has something else going on there too, aside from the potential trouble that the talks are about... I just know! Its more passive magic thing. I don't actively spy on others love lives anymore! I'm long past that phase..." Cadance said, before getting a little embarrassed when she noticed the type of mariliths gaze, like she was suspicious about pink alicorns 'shipping info-gathering-methods', maybe revealing a bit too much info.

"So where I should be heading then? Word is that things are crazy down south, with Sunbutt messing up the nations diplomacy and some frigging cult trying worship me and are causing trouble."

"Oh yes them too. Luckily they haven't reached the northern parts yet, but they indeed are causing trouble. Latest news of them was one their members blowing up a statue dedicated to harmony, since they are running out of the ones made for Celestia. But the direction you should be heading is somewhere in the southwest from here, due to thestrals being rather secretive about the exact location of their city, due to some bad history with Celestias father."

"Well score another set of failures to that side of the royal family bloodline. Do we have to do something to let them know that we wish to meet Luna in their city?" Naja asked, which made Cadance to look around for a second before waved her to come closer, which she did.

"Actually yes. Luna entrusted me a secret greeting of theirs in case I locate you before her, and especially before Celestia... 'Nahkhiired laulavad kõige ilusamalt öösel' is the secret greeting. She told me that it should be said in a weeping willow woods at the shore of the Luna Bay. That all she said, and no, she did not name that bay." Cadance whispered to Naja.

"Well I guess I'll be heading that way then. Oh and can you, and Twiggles2.0, Collectors Edition, maybe keep the ponies present here quiet about my presence here? Pretty sure neither of us wants Sunbutt sending any troops or Twiggles and her posse after me, just because she got tripped out due to spoiled cake or something and got some obviously unfinished visions from it."

"I think that can be arranged for now. Good luck to your travels and budding love-life."

"Same to you as well. Except your love-life seems to be doing pretty well."

With the talk over, Naja started her trip, with Tirek, to south-west towards the Luna Bay, while the crystal ponies were packing what was left of their belongings to the train, which luckily had just enough cars for the full evacuation. Soon enough the crystal express train was heading towards Equestria, with Cadance and Shining already thinking about a potential viable stipend system of sorts to help crystal ponies to find new homes, while Starlight was listening to Sunbursts exited sounding analysis of the bubble that erased only the buildings and streets of the now-gone Empire. He would be occupied with theories and other studies for a good while. Overall the emotions were mixed in the train, but mostly hopeful for the future.

Canterlot. Royal Castle dungeon, solitary confinement-block...

"Are you certain this one is a member of that crazy cult and not another false alarm?" Celestia inquired from a guard, while walking down a hallway full of heavy-duty cell doors. Most of them have remained empty for a long time.

"Yes your majesty, we are sure. She was yelling zealous things before blowing up a statue near the school for gifted unicorns, before guards tackled her and brought her here. The prisoner is an earth pony who used some kind of fire magic, and had cult markings on her body. She is being interrogated at the moment."

"Good. Hopefully we can get something out of her that can help in taking down that cult, and free up more resources to aid in our southern border."

Her thoughts were cut short when one of the interrogators came rushing out from one of the cells in the back of the hallway, rushing past them in a hurry. Soon they could hear a nearby bathroom door slam, followed by a sound of puking. This made them hurry to the open cell. Remaining interrogator was backing away from something when they reached it.

"What happened here?" Celestia asked in an urgent tone, only to receive a shaky pointing hoof, which she followed.

She almost immediately regretted it. In the now smelling cell was the captured cultist sitting tied up in the interrogation-chair, with a ritualistic looking snake tattoo going down from her neck down to her waist. The more disturbing thing was the manic, or rather fanatical, grin on her face and the twisted neck, making the mares head flop down in a sick angle.

"S-she... She said shes not telling us anything, t-then she broke an odd glass orb hidden in her mouth and just started laughing and... Twisted her own neck... J-just turning it too far without even flinching..." was all shaking interrogator could say, while curling up in a fetal position out of sheer shock.

It took some effort from Celestia not to hurl her breakfast, while looking at the mad mares body. She managed to look at the shards of the mentioned glass orb on the floor. One larger piece of it drew her attention, leading her to pick it telekinetically. It indeed looked like it was a piece of an green colored orb when whole.
It seemed to ooze, or rather bleed, some kind of magic, which reminded her of the reports of both the southern free towns fighters and the cultists using something similar.

"Get this piece to the labs immediately with the utmost secrecy. I'll call the dungeon personnel to... Clean her out of here..." Celestia told to the guard, who took off with the shard, clearly happy to leave the solitary confinement-block. The remaining interrogator managed to crawl away on his own, leaving the Sun princess alone with the corpse of the cultist.

"Maybe... Just maybe you ended up giving us something useful..."