Equestria’s Changeling Queen and the Abyssal Empress

by vren55

Chapter 3: Wave of Change

Author's Note: A note on geography. When I imagine Griffonia, Equestria and the Eastern sea, I imagine Equestria, the Eastern Sea, and then Griffonia with Griffonstone. I'm sortof going by the new official canon map with some liberties.

Afternoon, Donut Joe’s…
         Alternia took a moment to lick the last remnants of her chocolate sprinkled donuts from her lips before continuing to read the sheet of paper in front of her. So engrossed she was in reading that she didn’t hear Twilight’s question, until she voiced it a second time.

        “What are you reading, Princess?” Twilight asked.

        “Oh! Sorry Twilight, I was… preoccupied with something,” Alternia said, putting the page down to join its fellows on one of the shiny tables of Donut Joe’s Donut Emporium.

        Twilight scooted closer to her mentor. “With what?”
Alternia hesitated. She had intended to join Twilight, and her friends to chew donuts and chat, not to bring work into the conversation. One glance though, told Alternia that she now had the attention of all her friends, so she decided she might as well tell.

“Just after my coronation, my sisters gave me forty changelings, with the intention of helping me start my own hive.”

“Wow, that’s nice of them,” Rainbow Dash whistled.

Alternia nodded. “It is. It does mean however that I have to choose a captain of the guard from among them.”

Twilight frowned. “Wait, a new changeling guard captain? Aren’t Shining Armor and the Royal Guard already here to protect you? Why would you need a new guard?”

“Shining and the Royal Guard will still be in charge of securing Canterlot Castle, but since I’m assigning him to advise, and to protect Celestia, I will need a personal protection detail.” Alternia sighed. “It will have to be made primarily out of the changelings that my sisters have given me, as most of the guards that originally formed that detail have requested to protect Celestia.”

“Hence, you need a changeling captain,” reasoned Twilight.

Alternia nodded. “Precisely. My sisters wrote me these profiles of their recommendations. I plan to interview them this evening to ascertain their suitability.”

“Then it seems to me, Princess, that you’re thinking too much about it. I mean, you gotta meet them anyway, so why not just have another donut?” said Applejack. She proceeded to slide the plate of donuts to Alternia, who pursed her lips, looked at the delicious, frosted, and iced donut for a good long second, and promptly gave in.

“Well said, Applejack.” Alternia put her papers down and levitated a jelly donut. “Donuts first, sleep next, think about who to choose for a guard captain last.”

She bit in, but with such gusto that some of the jelly squeezed out of the donut, and exploded in Alternia’s face. Amidst the raucous laughter of Rainbow Dash and the quiet giggles of Fluttershy, Altenia wiped her face.

“Yeah, now I remember why I don’t eat jelly donuts,” said Alternia grumpily.

Perhaps I should have chosen a slightly less informal setting, I thought to myself as I considered the male chevalier lounging on the sofa across from mine, grinning confidently. Some would call his posture smug, but in spite of the mixed messages his first impression was giving me, Buzz had the makings of a good guard captain, according to the rather detailed profile provided by Simulacris.

Each of my three sisters had recommended one of their chevalier volunteers as a candidate to be my new Captain of the Guard. Since that meant I was only given three options, and since I wanted to be absolutely sure of my choice, I had picked one of Canterlot Castle’s more intimate sitting rooms as the place to interview the three of them, in an effort to encourage an atmosphere of trust and friendship, and hopefully avoid intimidating them. But seeing the first candidate’s reaction to the setting, I was starting to regret that decision.
Buzz had been born to two chevaliers, and based on early physical and magical indications that he would grow to be a chevalier himself, he had undergone the necessary training, and was formally granted the rank upon his sixteenth year, along with a command of soldiers. He distinguished himself in several particularly problematic retrieval missions, salvaging compromised infiltration missions among creatures such as griffons and chimeras. He had also, in fact, participated in the battle where my Royal Guard and Simulacris fought against two hundred Equestria First, and he had personally been responsible for the capture of several of their leaders.
As I glanced at him over the top of my sister’s notes, my face expressionless, I couldn’t help but notice that he looked every bit the part of a guard captain. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a smooth carapace, pointy ears and large turquoise eyes, he was handsome for a changeling. And though he wasn’t a pony, he wouldn’t be sore on the eyes for most of Equestria’s population of mares, either.
But there was one problem that my sister had observed, though I really wished she had done more to prepare me beforehand.
“Has any changeling told you that you are absolutely gorgeous, my queen?” Buzz asked. If he had eyebrows he would’ve wiggle them, but as an ordinary changeling he didn’t have any, so instead he flicked his eyelids up and down a couple of times.
         I stuck to my long-practiced smile. “Even with the gaping hole in my chest?”
Not even batting an eye, Buzz actually grinned. “That is but a beautiful battle wound, a symbol of your undying devotion for your family, and therefore a sight to behold!”
Buzz probably didn’t know it from the small smile I wore, but I almost burst out laughing.
The chevalier was very much a playboy, and not very good at hiding his desire to go somewhere private with me, which in fact I had no intention of doing anytime soon. He was clearly one of the chevaliers who had volunteered to serve me as queen for a chance at becoming my consort.
Still though, there must have been some particular reason why Simulacris recommended him out of all her changelings, but there was nothing I had gleaned from his answers to my cursory interview questions aside from details of his service to Simulacris, all of which I was already informed of. He was certainly an outstanding chevalier, and his experience and ability were more than enough to qualify him for the position, but I would need to prod deeper in order to figure out what made him exceptional.
And I had just the question for the task.
“Suppose you were my guard captain, and I gave you an order that might cost me my life, say, to save another changeling over myself. What would you do?”
“I’d save you first, your highness,” Buzz said instantly.
My eyebrows rose in interest. He had answered without hesitation, and I could feel the waves of conviction he gave off.
“Even if your disobedience cost you your position, and even if that changeling was your former queen, my sister, Simulacris?” I asked.
Buzz hesitated at that, but it was only natural considering the position I was forcefully placing him in. But he met my eyes and declared, “Yes, your highness.”
“Why?” I pressed on. I needed to know. My decision could change depending on his answer.
Biting his lip, Buzz said, “Because while I live to serve you, your highness, my first job is to protect you.”
I nodded, jotting his answer down on some notepaper, while my smile widened. “Well answered.”
Relieved, Buzz slumped in his seat, his grin returning to his face as he flickered his eyelids again.
“Well I am a changeling of many talents, my fair queen.”

Oh well, I suppose no candidate could be perfect.

        As it turned out, in spite of his competence, Buzz was too clearly interested in me to be an ideal choice for captain. And far too much of a social butterfly in general, for that matter. Or should I say lovebug? No matter, because the second candidate, a recommendation from Chrysalis, had the opposite issue.
From the moment I read Chrysalis’s notes, I realized that my meeting with her candidate would be awkward, but I think I underestimated just how much this chevalier disliked me.
I completely understood why, though. I didn’t know Diamondshell was her name at them time, but she had been one of the captured changelings Luna and I interrogated after Chrysalis’s attack on Canterlot.
        Chrysalis had explained to me personally, as well as in her notes, that soon after she and her changelings had found out they had a leak, which was after our initial meeting that led to the start of negotiations, Diamondshell, and the other changelings that myself and Luna had interrogated, were disgraced, albeit on different levels. Because Diamondshell had been a chevalier, born and raised in Chrysalis’s hive, she faced the greater shame as it had been expected she would say reveal nothing.
       Diamondshell had therefore applied to serve me, in order to get away from the hive that once was her home.
       Needless to say she was suppressing her anger as she sat in front of me once more. I could sense it regardless, and I think she knew that too, but for the sake of pride, refused to show it outwardly.
       “So, Diamondshell, how have you been settling in to Canterlot?” I asked.
       Diamondshell didn’t flinch, but her eyes, looking straight at me, narrowed ever so slightly. It was clear she wanted to question why I asked her such a casual question, but  restrained her curiosity.
      That was good. The times ahead were not going to be easy. She seemed to have improved her skill at hiding her outward emotions since our last conversation. This definitely increased her potential, as my new captain would have to keep a calm, straight face in many tense situations. It remained to be seen if she could keep a cool head as well.
       “I’m not quite sure how to answer your question, your highness,” Diamondshell said slowly.
       I crossed my forehooves in front of myself. “That’s alright. I was just wondering whether your accommodations were to your liking. I know how jarring it’s been for you to live among ponies so openly.”
        Diamondshell blinked. “Well,”— she looked down at her hooves —“a bit. I mean, they have been wary, but it’s still better than how I was treated in the hive.” Diamondshell’s eyes widened and she waved her hooves frantically. “N-Not that I blame any of it on you, your highness.”
        I nodded, even as I inwardly sighed. She clearly did blame me, but she admirably tried to maintain her facade of professionalism. Despite this, she really couldn’t hide anything from me, not with my thousand years’ worth of experience reading emotions. Not to mention, I had had a lot of practice on changelings of late.
        I briefly considered calling out her obvious enmity towards me, to try to address it immediately, but decided that it was safer and wiser to drop that topic for now. So instead I went on with the usual interview questions, and was pleasantly surprised.

        Diamondshell, while perhaps still not very good at either hiding or expressing her feelings, displayed a high intellect and an admirable grasp of strategy and tactics that confirmed what Chrysalis had noted in her report.

        The problem was that this was not complemented with a moderate personality. When I asked her what her first official act would be if I made her guard captain, her reply was a little more immediate and extreme than I was entirely comfortable with.

        “I’d fire all of your personal guards and replace them with new volunteers.”

        My eyes widened. I couldn’t help it, but I kept my mouth from moving and the rest of my face composed. “Can you elaborate?”

        Diamondshell narrowed her eyes. “Your highness, with all due respect to you and to Captain Armor, the ponies in your detail are uninspired, slow to react, and too dead set in doing things by protocol, except when they can’t be bothered to follow it. I am aware that Captain Armor is a brave stallion and a fairly good captain, but his guards are inferior and should be relieved of their duty or transferred back into the Royal Guard, with new, willing recruits drawn up in their place. Also, considering that changelings will now form the majority of your new security force anyway, forming an entirely new guard regiment, trained with its own practices and traditions, would be far more effective than adapting the old one.”

        I didn’t nod, but I also didn’t frown, as from a certain point of view Diamondshell had concisely described the problems with my current guard detail. They weren’t the smartest ponies in Equestria, and were inflexible, as well as complacent due to long years of general peace. However, that didn’t mean I could just fire them all and start over from scratch. Right now I needed all the approval I could get.

        So I simply said, “Your recommendation has been noted,” and continued the interview with mixed feelings. As professional and progressive as Diamondshell was, I needed a captain who could also work with ponies diplomatically and use the resources she had. While Diamondshell had correctly identified the problems with my guard, I couldn’t have her stepping on tails in an attempt to get her way.

        That being said, Diamondshell was one of my changelings now. A changeling whom my sister had entrusted into my hooves.No matter how she felt about me, I would do my utmost to ensure her wellbeing.

        It was why when i finished the interview, I didn’t immediately open the door for her. Instead, I smiled and lowered my head to her eye level.

“If you have any concerns, Diamondshell, my door is always open,” I said warmly.

Taken aback, Diamondshell swallowed and nodded. “Of course, Queen Alternia.”


        With strong arguments against both Diamondshell and Buzz as my choice, I was really hoping  Belladonna’s candidate, who was currently entering the room, would be at least suitable for the position. His name was Harlequin, and apparently he had been born an infiltrator, being promoted to the rank of chevalier after exceptional service in Equestria. Belladonna’s report was suspiciously vague about where exactly he had been infiltrating, but I knew I’d probably manage to get the details from her later if I had to.
         The thing that really caught my attention about him, though, was that I recognized him. He was the infiltrator who had bowed rather gallantly to me just after my sisters had presented their volunteers to enter my service.

        “Your highness, Harlequin at your service,” stammered the chevalier, snapping a nervous salute. His eyes were glued to me, and his mouth hung slightly open.

        I nodded, smiling warmly and suppressing a giggle. “Good morning, Harlequin. Please sit down.”

        As he did so, I examined Harlequin closely. He was the smallest of the candidates, which was unsurprising considering he was naturally of an entirely different class than the others.

        “So, tell me a bit about yourself, Harlequin.”

        I knew most of what was there to know about him already, thanks to Belladonna’s notes. In addition to his exceptional infiltration skills, not only was he proficient and especially talented with all manner of bladed weapons, but Belladonna had also noted that Harlequin had specialized training and with improvised weapons, which if I remembered correctly, meant he was deadly with anything in hoof from small stones to glass shards.
Needless to say, the point of getting Harlequin to talk about himself was not for me to learn about his abilities or his experience, but to hear what exactly he would say.

        Harlequin swallowed and straightened up to meet my eyes, locking them with his stare once again. “Well, I served your sister, Queen Belladonna, as an infiltrator. Uh... I infiltrated Equestria as a Royal Guard for ten years. That earned me my chevalier promotion. I always liked yo— Equestria and her ponies, though, so when Queen Belladonna informed me of your highness’s need for experienced chevaliers, I volunteered.”

        I nodded. Well, I was glad Harlequin was able to be so frank with me, as that answered my question of what he had been doing in Equestria. It also indicated that he knew the Royal Guard and its protocols extensively, which was a considerable point in his favor.

The problem was that Harlequin was absolutely enamoured with me, and it wasn’t like Buzz’s simple desire to seduce me. Oh no, Harlequin gave an admirable effort in keeping his face straight, but I didn’t even need his emotions to tell me that he had been shot by Cupid. His stammering voice and his wide eyes that looked at me as if I was the greatest thing in the world were enough.

I had to resist the urge to shake my head. Brilliant, another suitor, just what I didn’t need.

        “Ah I see. So you are familiar with Royal Guard protocol?” I asked, hoping to buy some time to think about how to deal with this.

        “Yes, your highness,” exclaimed Harlequin eagerly.

I nodded, jotting down that fact in my notes.

“So how would you incorporate ponies and changelings together in my protection detail?” I asked with an expectant look on my face.

I wasn’t happy with the plans suggested by the previous two applicants. Diamondshell’s method was out of the question. She had good intentions and an impressive drive to solve to problem at its heart, but I couldn’t condone or afford such extreme changes right now, for obvious reasons. When I asked Buzz the same question, he said he would teach the ponies how to do things the changeling way. Not exactly a bad answer, but I doubted it would be so easy for the guards to become accustomed to changeling tactics.

Harlequin’s proposed solution caught me off guard, and was rather impressive.

“I would combine the existing Royal Guardsponies in your detail with the changeling soldiers into squads, with each member having a specific role in the unit. They’d be led by ponies or changelings under my direct command, that I would drill and mentor myself.”

In hindsight, Harlequin’s service in the guard meant he would have been aware of the Royal Guard military ethos, and therefore I should have expected such a practical, effective answer. Still, his willingness to work with ponies surprised me, as neither Diamondshell or Buzz showed any special urge to do so.

Curious, I decided to explore that line of inquiry further, as I wrote down his answer and underlined it.

“For a changeling, you seem unusually willing to work with ponies, Harlequin.”

Harlequin’s smile widened. “No more willing than you are, your highness.”

I chuckled at Harlequin’s compliment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so affected by it, but I really needed to hear some affirmation that I was doing the right thing.

“That may be true, but I would still like to know why.”

Harlequin paused for a second before his eyes gained what I could only describe as the far-off look one gets when reliving old memories and basking in the nostalgia. “I love examining how other species live. It was one of the best things about my job as an infiltrator. In particular, I think that there is much that changeling  and pony kind can learn from each other, and even more together. Ponies have technological prowess that we changelings can only dream of and an understanding of friendship, and individuality that the hives do not have. On the other hoof, ponykind can do with some lessons on setting aside differences, and subtlety,  if you don’t mind me saying so.”

I very much agreed with what Harlequin said, and despite myself, my smile widened as I wrote his answer down.

The rest of the interview proceeded very smoothly. Harlequin at this point seemed to have gotten over his initial wrong-hoofedness, and while he was clearly still besotted with me, he answered in a calm and intelligent manner.

However, as the interview drew to a close, I quashed my hopes and decided to ask a much harder question. If there was one thing I had learned in my long life, it was that if everything seemed a bit too good to be true, it probably was.

        The hole in my chest-piece was the proof of concept for this.

        Looking the chevalier in the eye, I leaned forward slightly. “Harlequin, was there a time you had to make a difficult choice? If so, describe it, and explain to me what you decided.”

        I didn’t want to upset Harlequin, but it was necessary if I was to assess his viability for the position. Still, I couldn’t help but wince inside as my words paralyzed him and rendered him speechless for a second. He recovered, but his eyes had dropped to the table.

        “I was the changeling meeting with Queen Belladonna in her zebra disguise when your student and her friends walked in on us. I… I must admit I froze up and was unable to do anything other than follow my queen’s orders. I didn’t know what to do, whether to attack Twilight, usher my queen away, or to talk to them”

        I frowned. I thought that it had been rather odd that the changeling Twilight had seen bowing to Belladonna had done nothing when they appeared. Now I knew why.

        “So what would you have done differently then?” I asked.

        “I don’t know.”

        I couldn’t stop myself from staring and blinking at Harlequin, whose head drooped further to the table. I did manage to stop myself from asking the stupid question of “How could you not know?”

        Instead I forced myself to relax, purse my lips and ask, “Can you elaborate?”

        Harlequin pressed his lips into a thin line. “There were too many options, and it was so sudden. On one hoof, I could have rushed my queen away, but what if the ponies pursued? I could have attacked them, but that might have set off hostilities against Equestria. I could have said something, but I didn't know what my queen wanted me to say.” Harlequin swallowed. “So I decided to wait and see what would happen, and that decision appeared to work.”

Harlequin tried to smile at the end of his response but wasn't able to make it stretch.

Meanwhile, behind my mask of neutrality, I was worried. I understood Harlequin's reasoning, but I didn't agree with it. I thought that he should have done something besides simply waiting, as by doing nothing he might have placed my sister in serious danger, if the trespassers were not Twilight and her friends, but hostile forces. I needed my captain to be decisive, not get overwhelmed by being faced with too many options.

“Thank you for being honest, Harlequin,” I said in a sincere tone that I didn’t even need to force. After all, I did appreciate that Harlequin had been upfront with the truth instead of requiring me to  draw it from him. I even added a small smile, bringing his own back to his face.

I still had to make a judgement on who would be my guard captain, but I could make that decision later. For now, I was just happy to get to know the changelings under my care.

Middle of the night ...

        I wasn’t sure what I was dreaming or whether I was dreaming, but when I was shaken out of my sleep by the frantic push and pull of a pair of hooves I was sure that it was most definitely NOT morning.

        Through my muffled hearing, I could just hear Cyndra crying, “Auntie Alternia! Wake up! You have to wake up now!”

        So I forced my heavy eyelids open, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear my bleary vision.

        “Cyndra, what is it? And what time is it?” I groaned.

        This time, I heard Raven’s voice, clipped and short, and oddly enough, was she frightened? “0500 Canterlot time, your highness. It’s a Code Cross on Venecia.”

        I wiped my eyes with my hooves, as I tried to figure out what Raven meant. Venecia. A colony that I originally founded as a place where dangerous, or chronic offenders and criminals could be rehabilitated far away from Equestria through carving out an honest life on an island, while being overseen by Equestrian guards and staff. It had grown to become a massive trading port, expanding through artificially created sections of piled wood and dredged sand that made up the majority of the island city’s area. The island still had a top of the line correctional facility that housed Equestria’s most dangerous, including many of the Equestria First. Venecia also occupied the slightly odd status of being a self-governing city-state ruled by an elected Doge or Dogess that technically recognized Equestria’s monarchs as their head of state.

Wait, the Code Cross on Venecia? I instated this code system so that I could get a grasp of the urgency of a situation when anypony woke me up… Okay that’s not relevant right now. What Code Cross meant was…

        Major disaster, massive casualties.

        I threw herself out of my four poster bed, eyes wide, heart pounding.

        “Cyndra, regalia,” I ordered. Cyndra zipped to the ponyquin with my regalia, as I turned back to Raven. “What happened to Venecia? Has an emergency council been convened? What is the status of the EQF prisoners on Venecia?”

        Raven nodded. “A tsunami, your highness. And yes, a council has been convened in the War Room. It’s the only place that has a model of all the surrounding nations and of Venecia.”

        Cyndra answered next as she brought over my hoofshoes. “All EQF members are accounted for, but Golden Star hasn’t been seen since before the tsunami. We believe he’s dead as his cell was completely swept away.”

        I winced, but thanked my mother for small mercies as I raised my left hoof to allow Cyndra to help me into my hoofshoe, while I levitated the chestpiece onto myself. “Good, go and get some coffee for me and have it sent there. Get some for yourself and Cyndra as well.” Philomena swooped in just then, a bottle of winter-green mouthwash in her claws. Cawing, my pet dropped it into my magical grasp. “Thank you Philomena. Ah yes!” I turned to my niece who had just finished putting on the right hoofshoe. “Cyndra, when you’re finished, alert your mother and the other changeling embassies in Canterlot of what just happened. I don’t know if they have changelings in Venecia or not, but they should be informed.”

        Cyndra nodded. “Understood. Is there anything else you’d like me to ask of them?”

        “Yes. Inquire whether they will be interested in lending, or hiring out their changelings to help us in reconstructive work.” I swigged a mouthful of wash and gargled, before spitting it out into my bedside washbasin. Taking a deep breath, I put my tiara on my head and looked in the mirror. “Do I look presentable?”

        Raven levitated a hoofkerchief to wipe some mouthwash that had gotten on my cheek. “Blacker than usual, but regal as ever, your highness.”

        I had to resist the temptation to snort. It was a bit inappropriate to do so anyway. “Excellent, let’s get going then.”

Council Room…

        I arrived in the dimly lit room where I had last spoken to my generals, around the same time everypony else arrived. Ironically, the room which I had used to plan for possible countermeasures against Chrysalis’s invasion of Canterlot was now being used to save a nation.

        Celestia was already there, her eyes wide with curiosity as she examined the various features of the 3D relief map. It clearly had not been invented in her time and she was fascinated by it. Luna was reviewing her papers and reports as usual.

        As I finished off the last of my coffee, I noticed there were far fewer ponies in the room than last time, but there were still a number of familiar faces. Caesar Salad, red-eyed and sipping from his mug of coffee was there. I also noticed my nephew Blueblood, his necktie somehow perfectly straight. A number of junior ministers and secretaries had also taken seats around the table.

        Admiral Marenitz, was the last to arrive, which was understandable considering circumstances, and judging from her full saddlebags, she had the most to carry.

“Just a moment,” said Marenitz as she dropped her saddlebags and pulled several huge stacks of paper from them. When she had finally arranged them all, she sat down on her chair and coughed.

“Alright, at 0800 hours, two oceanographers, Matte Hoop and Flint in their boat reported to Venecian authorities that after witnessing the end to a “completely impossible” hurricane likely of magical nature, they saw a large wave, the start of a possible tsunami, moving away from the centre of the Eastern Ocean. Their message reached Venecian authorities, who acted quickly and evacuated as many as possible to the available bedrock and higher ground. At 0928 hours, the tsunami, reported to be at least forty meters high, hit.”

“What is the extent of the damage, and did the tsunami affect any other coasts bordering the Eastern Ocean?” Luna asked.

Marenitz grimaced. “Luckily, by the time the tsunami reached Manehattan, Fillydelphia and Baltimare, it had lost most of its power and was little more than a really large surf wave. Griffonia, while sharing a large western coastline with the Eastern Ocean, only has a few villages that were on high ground. They prefer to live in their aeries in the mountains. However, the tsunami hit Beakinstovok, Griffonia’s chief military port in the Eastern Ocean, and has, according to my intelligence, put their Western fleet out of action. No details at this moment, but the Griffon radio chatter has gone crazy, so I’ll have more on that to report on the next few days.”

Marenitz’s expression then turned grim. “The rest of the news is bad. As we know, most of Venecia’s area is constructed on dredged seafloor and wood piles. All of the buildings constructed on this foundation are now either underwater, gone, or best, best case scenario in an absolute wreck. Entire portions of the island, particularly these artificial portions, have been swept away. Out of the two hundred thousand ponies, griffons, minotaurs, donkeys, and zebras on island, we have roughly hundred and thirty thousand casualties and of those casualties, twenty thousand are believed to be dead. The toll is likely to rise according to my reports.”

I swallowed as the rest of the ponies gasped or sucked in breath. That loss of life… a few disasters I had seen, and prevailed over, had rivaled it, but nothing in recent memory had been so catastrophic. Even the grizzled Marenitz looked as if she wanted to stop, but she flipped a page in her stack and continued to read.

“To make matters worse, according to radio transmissions passed through friendly vessels to my department, much of Venecia’s food, medical supplies and medical equipment were spoilt. They cannot treat all the wounded, and neither can they feed them for long. Not to mention, the city's defensive fleet of frigates, destroyers, and heavy cruisers was mostly in port and while it appears some ships can be refloated, most of their fleet is now rendered inoperable. They are now vulnerable to any pirates, or other third party forces.”

Marenitz set down her papers, looking older than ever, and looked us all in the eye.

“Stallions and mares, we have the greatest catastrophe we’ve ever seen in our lives on our hooves. We need options, fast.”

It was a tall order, but I had, even on my way to the meeting room, had considered several options that would very likely alleviate the crisis and put Venecia on the long road to recovery. I was completely at a loss as to what caused the hurricane before the tsunami but saving ponies lives took priority right now.

        But before I could suggest a course of action, Celestia spoke first.

        “It is clear then, Admiral Marenitz. We must load all available ships with all necessary foodstuff, as many guards as possible to help with the rescue effort, and send them to Venecia, post-haste. To escort them, and to protect Venecia, we must also send our largest warships, our battleships, to deter any pirate attack,” declared Celestia.

        I refrained from blinking or staring at Celestia, despite my desire to do so. Luna didn’t bat an eyelid, but I could see her shoulders slump just a bit. Some of my more experienced advisors only showed their shock through the slight raising of their eyebrows (in the case of Caesar), a wide-eyed glance (Blueblood), and at the most, a suppressed sigh (Marenitz). My other less experienced ministers however, had no such reservations, as they stared at Celestia like she was a Heffalump in the room.

        From the frown forming on Celestia’s face, she did not take this very well. She knew enough about modern day pony social norms to tell she had said something wrong apparently.
        “Is there anything thou would like to add, good stallions, and mares?” Celestia said in a low tone.

I kept my mouth shut. It would not do well for me to show up Celestia by explaining how pointless her order was in front of so many.

Besides, Blueblood had already coughed, and leaned forward to look Celestia in the eye.

“Your highness, we all agree with your will to act as quickly as possible, but there are more efficient ways to help the population of Venecia.”

Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “Explain.”

To my credit, my nephew didn’t waver, but his tone held no impudence. “While we can quickly load soldiers stationed on our eastern coasts, like the 88th Manehattan rangers and send them via transport ship, it would be better to load elements of the 12th Royal Engineers Corps stationed in Vanhoofer.” Blueblood pointed to the flag of the troops on the western coasts. “Granted, they are across the other side of Equestria, but we need to prepare sea transportation anyway and the engineers can be moved by train in good time and they are better equipped and experienced in dealing with disasters than normal soldiers.”

Marenitz raised her hoof then and after Blueblood nodded, started to speak. “Moreover, your highness, the port facilities in Venecia were badly damaged. We are not sure how many ships can dock there at this moment, which means there is no point to sending all our available ships. By sending the Royal Engineers first, they can assess and perhaps establish temporary port facilities so we can unload some basic supplies.” Marenitz then used her cane to point to Beakinstovok. “Not to mention, if we send our battleships, the Griffons who have temporarily lost their Western Fleet may panic if they get reports of battleships in Venecia.”

I glanced at Celestia. Her lips were pressed tightly, and to my relief, she appeared to have taken the advice of my ministers to heart.

That impression was quickly crushed by her next question.

“Why should we bother about how scared the Griffons are?” Celestia said.

It took all my practice and skill as a changeling not to sigh at that, and what Celestia said next.

“They should be scared of us, and remain that way. Why should we not deter them to prevent them from interfering with our relief efforts?”

Suppressed groans of exasperation filled the room as secretaries and ministers shook their heads. Luna nudged Celestia warningly, while Marenitz flinched, and Blueblood winced, just a bit.

Caesar, remained unflappable, and raised his vinestick. I nodded to him to urge him to speak. I was confident the old general would explain things clearly to Celestia, without belittling her.

“Your highness, our relations with Griffonia have never been better for the past ten years thanks to the diplomatic efforts of the regent you appointed.” I sent Caesar a brief smile, but like the professional he was, he didn’t acknowledge it, but for a quick glance. “We have no need to spoil the current cordiality shared between both our nations by sending our larger warships to Venecia. Also,—” Caesar pointed his vine stick at the Griffonia port of Angelspire, which was on the Eastern coast of Griffonia — “The Griffonians still have a large fleet they can redeploy to the Eastern Sea that matches our Eastern fleet. In addition, their standing army is substantial and if necessary, they can cross our countries where they intersect in the north."

Caesar looked meaningfully at Celestia. “Granted, it would take a lot of provocation for them to resort to that, but those are the reasons we should keep the Griffonians happy, and not try to scare them without reason.”

Her mouth momentarily opening and closing, Celestia’s head drooped as she recognized how badly thought her line of thinking was. I couldn’t blame her. She had suggested what her heart and  her experience of dealing with Griffons a thousand years ago, was telling her to do. However she had now inadvertently shown her inexperience with these matters of policy.

I supposed it fell to me to salvage a bit of the new Triumvirate’s dignity, so I spoke up.

“Celestia does raise a good point though. We do need to get as many ships and supplies to Venecia as fast as possible. I propose we use some our faster armored cruisers and destroyers to form a “fast convoy” at Baltimare, so that they can get essential relief supplies to Venecia.”

I expected that some ponies would be surprised at me speaking for the first time in this meeting, but I did not count on how junior the secretaries and ministers present were. While my trusted and close advisors like Marenitz, Caesar and Blueblood slowly nodded their heads, the other ponies whispered to each other in hushed tones.

        “Your highness, may I point something out?” asked a stallion  with glasses at the end of the table.

I inclined my head and smiled. “Of course, Pencil Pusher is it?”

The stallion jumped. “Yes! Um, how do you know that, your highness?”

“It’s on your nametag,” I said with a bit of a giggle in my voice, hoping to lighten the mood.

In a way my attempt did. While the ponies I knew closely chuckled, as well as some of the junior ministers, most of those present only smirked instinctively, before returning to stony-faced poker faces.

Pencil Pusher meanwhile, coughed into his hoof. “Oh, I see. Well, I just want to point out that there is a problem with your suggestion. You see, our faster transport ships are too light to carry any substantial amount of supplies and our normal cargo ships are too slow. How can we form any kind of fast convoy if we don’t have transports that can carry supplies quickly?”

It was a fair question, so I decided to reveal more of my plan.

“I believe that the Equestrian Royal Mail Steamship company has seventeen ocean liners that can make speeds of up to 23 knots, matching those of our fastest cruisers, and can carry on average one and a half thousand ponies, notwithstanding their food and bedding. Combined, they can evacuate the one hundred and eighty thousand survivors if necessary. Hence, I suggest that we requisition these ocean liners to form the basis of this convoy, as they can not only carry the requisite supplies, but carry them quickly.”

        Now, this was a pretty good plan, if I might say so myself, and it appeared from how they rubbed their chins and nodded that some ponies in the room recognized it.

        So I was blindsided when I heard the following.

        “But that’s tyrannical!”

        I wanted to gawk, but it would only serve as a sign of weakness, so I forced myself to turn my head slowly, and observe the speaker, with half-lidded eyes.

        One of the secretaries standing close to the table, had dramatically placed his hoof on the top, and now addressed everypony in the room. At the moment, he was drinking in the attention he was getting, both the amazed looks of his fellow ministers, and the glares that all of my trusted advisors were shooting him. Luna was giving him a cold look, and I could see her gripping the glaring Celestia’s hoof.

        Seeing that he had even my attention, the stallion continued, in the most self-centered tone I have ever heard from a pony. “We cannot force a private company to give up their assets to fund a government initiative. To do so would be a violation of all the things our constitution holds dear!” I didn’t flinch, even as the colt had the nerve to look me in the eye. “So I must say, your highness. Your plan simply doesn’t work.”

        There was a soft “clonk” as Marenitz forwent all propriety and dropped her head into her hooves. I suppose it was a bit childish of her, but I could also hear exasperated sighs from Caesar, and Blueblood. They’d had enough of the young colt.

I also had had enough with the idiot, and if I may be completely honest, I really wanted to put my face in my hooves and moan. How could he have thought that when I said “requisition” I would seize ships for my own personal use? This kind of accusation from such loudmouth attentions seekers would have never happened a few years back.
When I was Celestia.

 I had to suppress the urge to groan at that realization. Oh horseapples, ruling as myself is already starting to become really frustrating.

Back to the matter at hoof though, Luna appeared to lost the will to hold her tongue any further as she coughed loudly into her hoof, drawing everypony’s eyes to her.

“Young colt, you do realize that you have accused one of the three ruling princesses of Equestria of tyranny over a mere suggestion, and thereby insulted not only her, but myself, and my sister, who crowned her and bestowed upon her said titles and all the power and responsibility that comes with them?” Luna demanded in a perilously icy tone that wiped the smile off of the stallion’s face. It also brought a few smirks out from some of the senior ministers.

I personally thought that Luna put it very nicely, but I suppose for the sake of not looking like a tyrannical ruler, but as the bigger, wiser, and more intelligent princess I was, I should give a firm rebuttal to his accusation.

“What is your name and department, young colt?” I asked.

        “Weatherby, Taxation and Revenue,” said the stallion far less confidently than he had been.

I nodded, even as Caesar, Blueblood, and Marenitz scribbled down his name on their sheets of paper. No doubt they intended to file a formal reprimand to Weatherby’s supervisor.

Considering that their actions would deprive me of the need to personally speak to Weatherby’s supervisor, I let them keep writing as I looked Weatherby in the eye.

“Mr. Weatherby, if you would recall the First Maretonian Civil War and the ensuing refugee crisis, you will remember that the Royal Mail Steamship company under the ownership of notable philanthropists Fancy Pants and his wife Fleur De Lis, were only too happy to lend their liners to assist in our efforts to evacuate those poor ponies.”

I noticed Weatherby blink and start to sink into his chair at the first of my points. Good. He needed some rational, convincing counter-argument that he could understand to check his pride, and while I was doing my best not to take too much pleasure from this, I did know that the stallion needed to be reminded that he didn’t know everything.

His face only paled more as I pointed to the model of Venecia on the map. “In fact, I believe they will be highly motivated to assisting the recovery efforts on Venecia, as it is one of their company’s major stopping sights for cruises and voyages. And while I believe they will offer to assist our efforts without any incentive, I do think it would be fair for our treasury to reimburse their lost revenue in good faith, as we did during the Maretonian Crisis.”

I let my eyes settle back on Weatherby, watching as his head slumped to the table.

“Does that alleviate your concerns with the requisition of the ships from the Royal Mail Steamship company, mister Weatherby?” I asked.

Weatherby gulped, and nodded. “Um, yes, your highness.”

Great, now hopefully that would be the final question on my idea and we can move onto the details of what supplies would be needed…

“Um, your highness? There’s a problem with your plan still.”

I wanted to scream “OH COME ON!” but I hadn’t heard the question yet, so I kept my serene smile on my face and turned to the latest inquirer.

I didn’t recognize him, but his placard read “Coin Counter, Junior Treasury Accountant.” Clearly though, he was asking out of at least a relevant concern, and not out of some self-righteous bigotry, because the stallion trembled as I laid eyes on him.

“Your highness, according to the rules and guidelines that the Equestrian Treasury operates by, we cannot give money to private companies,” stammered Coin Counter.

Alright, Coin Counter’s objection was a fairly astute one, but it was one that should really be brought up in a smaller meetings to actually plan the assembly of the convoy and how would they reimburse the Steamship company. Not on the initial meeting where we were going to decide on a general course of action. Besides, as I’d stated, we had already done this before with Maretonia! Why were they interrogating me over it as if I was a different pony…

Oh by the great mothers, in some ways I was a completely different pony. They had never seen me lead Equestria before, or if they had, they equated the leader with Celestia’s image, not mine.

I had to stop thinking though, because Coin Counter was beginning to look as if he thought he said something wrong, which he hadn’t, he was just not trusting me.

“Mister Coin Counter, you raise a good point. However, if the treasury takes it from my personal stipend set apart for funding relief efforts and charitable causes of the my choosing, we can reimburse the ERMS for their efforts.”

Finally, my junior ministers all nodded, as they came on the same page that my senior advisors had several minutes ago. With how long it took though, I had quickly come to a somewhat depressing conclusion.

We needed an authority figure that everypony actually trusts to oversee the Venecian relief effort, and it wasn’t going to be me, or Celestia. Clearly, Celestia had a lack of experience, and it showed. I was already having difficulty getting what needs to be done across to my ponies, who kept questioning my every decision and overanalyzing them down to the lowest level. That left one option.

“I’d like to make one final suggestion,” I said calmly. As my ponies focused their attention to me, I turned to Luna. She had been watching me handle the questions as a quiet, almost removed observer, so when I looked at her, she blinked.

“That my co-ruler Princess Luna chair all further committees and meetings on the efforts to restore and assist Venecia.”

Luna briefly gawked at me, but managed to shut her mouth before anypony noticed. Celestia looked surprised, but to my relief, she nodded slowly in agreement.

“Ever since she returned, Princess Luna has studied the latest Equestrian technologies. In addition, in her study of Equestrian history, she has become well-versed with the history of Venecia, and its unique nature as a city-state, but also a dominion of Equestria. Finally, her participation in negotiating and writing of the Changeling-Equestrian Non-Aggression, have given her a wealth of practical foreign policy experience. For these reasons, I believe she is the perfect candidate to lead any and all future relief efforts.”

 Luna blushed at the end of my speech, but did not deny it. Besides, everything that I had just said was true. She was the perfect candidate, not only because of the unstated fact she was the only suitable ruling princess that could lead this relief effort, but also because she was ready to do so.

“We agree with Princess Alternia,” Celestia said loudly, turning to Luna with a proud smile on her face. “Our sister has been of great assistance in helping us to adjust to the Equestria of now. Without her aid, we would have been quite lost. We thus believe that she is ready for this new challenge.”

From the nods and affirmative hums of all my ministers, junior and senior, from Marenitz to even the chastened Weatherby, all ponies were satisfied by this course of action.

I thought that meeting would never end, but it finally did. This was a relief, as there were several things I needed to urgently speak on with Celestia and Luna, but first, I needed to talk to Marenitz. So, biting down my frustration at the events of the meeting, I looked for Marenitz.

It appeared the old admiral had read my mind as she now kept sitting in her chair, seemingly engrossed in her paperwork. I knew better though, and my suspicions were confirmed as I sat down next to her.

“Knew you wanted to speak to me afterwards, your highness. What can I do for you?” Marenitz asked in a quiet voice, lest she be overheard.

After glancing left and right to make sure nopony was closely watching me, I leaned down whispered into Marenitz’s ear.

“I need you to investigate the cause of the storm and tsunami. The fact that there was an unexplained storm caused by magic just before the tsunami started worries me.”

Marenitz nodded, her brow furrowing. “I’ll have to enlist a few ponies from the Institute of Oceanography, but I can do that. I suppose you would like an answer as fast as possible?”

Nodding, I grimaced. “We need to know if that tsunami was simply a natural disaster, or…”

“Whether it was caused on purpose,” said Marenitz, finishing my thought, her eyes narrowed.

“Precisely.” I really didn’t want to think that the tsunami that had killed twenty thousand Venecians had been caused by a perpetrator, yet the circumstances were too suspicious not to discount the possibility.

I stood back up and re-filled Marenitz’s mug with the coffee pitcher on the table. “Thank you, old friend.”

“Don’t mention it. And I mean it. The less ponies that know about this, the better,” Marenitz whispered.

Celestia, Luna, and I met up in Celestia’s new room a few minutes later, in varying states of distress.

The room was formerly one of the largest spare rooms I had in the castle, and it had only recently been refurbished with a large circular bed, a large writing desk, lots of pillows, and some decorative wall hangings, and two mahogany wardrobes. The room was comfy, in a messy sort of way as the cushions were simply strewn on the floor, but tidiness wasn’t the immediate thing on our minds

Celestia had sagged into a pile of cushions the moment she had entered into the room and buried her head into another cushion.

“We acted like a stupid foal,” Celestia moaned in a piteous voice unbefitting of a ruler.

        In contrast to the exhausted shame that Celestia was giving off, Luna was nervous beyond belief as she paced across the room, biting her lip.
        “Oh why oh why did I accept that position. I have never led a relief effort before! What am I supposed to do!” Luna wailed.

I raised my eyebrow and trying not to simply throw myself into that soft heap, seated myself daintily on a larger cushion. No matter how furious I was at Weatherby, or annoyed at how nopony seemed to trust me anymore, I needed to keep  my composure.

“You are still learning, Celestia. It’s expected that you will make mistakes,” I said.

Celestia peeked out from her cushion pile. “But we looked like an utter imbecile in that gathering! Those lords and ladies must be laughing behind their back as they recall my words!”

“Ministers and secretaries, Celestia. The lords and ladies are even more of a headache,” Luna said in a deadpan tone.

This only made Celestia bury her head deeper into the cushions, making me grimace. Great, Celestia had shut herself back in again. I knew Luna didn’t really mean to worry her sister more, but clearly she wasn’t thinking about that right now.

My horn lighting up, I lifted some cushions off of Celestia and stuck out a hoof to halt Luna’s constant pacing.

“Enough! We’re princesses of Equestria and ten thousand Venecian citizens are dead! We don’t have time to deal with melodrama, or this moping, we need to act like the princesses we are!”

For some really annoying reason, Celestia and Luna’s eyes had expanded to nearly plate sizes and they were staring at me like frozen fish.

“Um, Alternia,” Luna said. She looked as if she wanted to say more, but hesitated.

“What?” I snapped.

Celestia, her eyes narrowing, set her jaw and looked me in the eye. “Sit down, Alternia,”

I snarled at her. “I am sitting…” I blinked. Wait, if I was sitting, why couldn’t I feel the touch of silk cushion on my flank then?

I caught a glance of myself, reflected by the mirror on Celestia’s vanity, I really was standing, my body crouched low to the ground, my fangs bared to my co-rulers, my adopted sister, and Celestia. It was enough to wipe away all the anger and frustration I had, and replace it with a tiredness that suffused my carapace.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I sat back down and raised my hoof to touch the cool, heavy, tiara on my head. I needed to know it was there, and it was.

“It’s just… does my crown mean nothing now that everypony knows who I really am?” I asked

Sighing, Luna joined me and Celestia, crossing her forelegs over each other. “No, Alternia, but you know as well as we do that we have to give our ponies time.”

        The three of us sat in silence for a moment, buried in our own thoughts. I knew what needed to be done, but convincing Celestia in particular of the necessity of it might be a challenge.


        “Thou has something to suggest in light of our performance during the meeting, is that correct?” Celestia asked.

        I nodded. “We need to take a hooves off approach to running Equestria. You are new to Equestria’s ponies, whilst I…” I winced. “I am unknown to them due to how my  true nature was revealed. For a while. I do not mean we don’t attend any meetings or stop holding petitioner’s courts as we need to let them know we are leaders that can be depended upon. However, we need to refrain from exercising our authority too overtly, while being present.”

        Celestia did not look happy at my suggestion, but she sighed and nodded.

Relieved that Celestia was agreeing with me, I continued. “I also think it may be a good idea for us both to generate some positive publicity by attending notable social events, and ceremonies. That way we can interact with our ponies and become closer to them, so to speak.”

Celestia pursed her lips and nodded again. “We believe that is a sound plan.”

On the other hoof, Luna was looking increasingly panicked.

“But, sisters, that means Equestria will be looking to me for guidance, and as the example of a perfect princess.” Luna swallowed, her eyes dropping to her hooves. “We are not sure we are ready for such a responsibility on top of overseeing the Venecian relief efforts.”

I shuffled over and placed my hoof on Luna’s, smiling at her with sincere confidence.

“You are ready, Luna. I would not have put you on the spotlight if I was not absolutely sure,” I said.

Celestia wrapped her entire wing around Luna like a really warm feathery blanket, and pulled Luna closer to herself. The dark alicorn squeaked, but before she could protest, Celestia nuzzled her.

“Alternia’s judgement has usually been quite sound, and we meant what we said back in the council chamber. We know thou shalt do spectacularly.”

        Luna blushed, though whether it was from the heat of Celestia’s embrace or her own embarrassment, I wasn’t completely sure. Regardless she nodded affirmatively.

        “Then I will do my best, sisters.”

A few days later…

        My chambers which had once been dressed to my persona of Celestia hadn’t changed much in terms of appearance. The ceiling and walls were still blue, and I still kept most of the furnishings. That being said, there were a couple of more potted plants in the dayroom, while the bed sheets, wall hangings, and some of the cushions had been changed to emerald.

It was in this new room that Buzz, Diamondshell, and Harlequin stood in front of me at attention, all three of them in full blue-lacquered changeling armor that was actually made from layering and laminating the molts of other changelings.

They also had their weapons holstered to their sides. Weapons that I thought fit rather well with their personalities. Oddly enough, they also represented the flaws in their personalities.

Buzz had strapped onto his back, what appeared to be a wickedly curved broad-bladed scimitar I believed to be called a dai dao. It had what appeared to be metal rings looped through holes in the spine of the blade. I imagined the rings would jangle whenever he swung the weapon and served as a psychological tool to frighten his opponent. However, the problem with Buzz was like the same problem with his weapon. He was too loud, and his flirtations too bombastic.

In contrast, Diamondshell touted a warhammer with a spiked head on one side. The hammer head was scarcely larger than her hoof, but I could tell from its rounded, scratched edge that it had seen much use that proved its effectiveness. Yet, Diamondshell was too blunt to be my captain, as she would tackle problems at their source, but do so in a fashion that would cause collateral damage, just like her hammer would if it struck a target.

That left Harlequin. He had a simple shortsword and a dirk in two sheaths at his side, which he could wield with extreme accuracy to take out targets at will.  Admittedly, like the short range to his weapons, the lack of penetrative power reflected Harlequin’s approach of dragging out problems due to his indecisiveness and because he preferred to wait and see what happened. However, his tact and caution was what I needed for a captain. I needed some changeling who could address and assist me in addressing the delicate problems of popularity with my ponies, and yet be skilled enough to protect me. I would have to work on helping Harlequin overcome his hesitation, but at least he had the mindset necessary to work with ponies.

I drew on my magic and levitated one of the many halberds that I kept in my personal armory and had taken out for the occasion to my side.

“You three have done well in your interviews, Buzz, Diamondshell, and Harlequin,” I said in a solemn voice. “In fact, according to a suggestion made by Diamondshell, I have decided to form a new guard regiment for my personal protection.” Diamondshell’s eyes widened, and seemed to stand taller at my announcement, and I smiled. It had taken some work, but my co-rulers had agreed, as had Caesar and my trusted generals, and so the new regiment was created.

“The name of the new regiment will be called the, Mirror Guard, for the changelings that will compose of it, and because no matter the challenge that this regiment faces, it will be expected to match and overcome all opponents. It’s commander, will be Harlequin, with his direct sub-commanders being Diamondshell and Buzz.”

The look on Harlequin’s face was quite comedic as he gawked. Buzz sighed in true dramatic fashion, while Diamondshell looked nonplussed, despite her shoulders slumping slightly.

I wasn’t finished yet though as I raised my halberd, my features stern. “Harlequin, Buzz, and Diamondshell, kneel.”

At my voice, Harlequin quickly recovered and knelt low. He was swiftly followed by Buzz and Diamondshell. Meanwhile, I lowered my halberd, tapping Harlequin on both shoulders with the flat of my blade.

“I dub thee, Harlequin, First Chevalier Captain of the Mirror Guard.”

I couldn’t see Harlequin’s eyes. He was bowing that low, but the emotions of reverence and pride that emanated from him warmed my heart, only confirming to me even more that I had made the right choice.

        I then moved on to Buzz, and tapped him on both shoulders.

        “I dub thee, Buzz, First Chevalier Lieutenant-Commander of the Mirror Guard.”

        Buzz dipped his head lower as I spoke those words, and while I could feel a hint of disappointment, I could sense his determination, his will to serve me. Clearly, he would do me proud.

        Finally, I turned to Diamondshell, and paused.

        While I could see her mouth shaped in a thin, expressionless line, the turmoil in Diamondshell’s heart was far more pronounced. There was pride and joy there as well, but so too was the sadness and disappointment. I had expected this, but now that I thought about it, would she be satisfied with simply a sub-commander’s position in my regiment? Could I ensure her happiness with the role that she would play?

        Suddenly, an idea sprang to my mind at that moment, and while I hesitated for a second, I found that my mind was made up.

        “I dub thee, Diamondshell, Second Chevalier Lieutenant-Commander of the Mirror Guard, and the First Watcher of my Sleep.”

        Diamondshell couldn’t help it, she looked up into my eyes, her eyes wide.

“Watcher of your Sleep?” she asked.

        I smiled. “As my Watcher, Diamondshell, you are responsible for watching over me as I sleep. For protecting me at my most vulnerable moment. I trust you know what that means.”

        From the slight opening of Diamondshell’s mouth, it seemed that she did and she nodded, her anger and sadness, vanished, replaced by a grudging, but growing, respect and awe.

        Raising my halberd back to guard position, I tapped it on the ground.

        “Rise, all three of you, chevaliers of my guard.”

        Buzz, Diamondshell, and Harlequin rose, and saluted me, stoic expressions painted on their features, but their eyes blazing with fire. They were ready for action, ready to serve, ready to protect me in my greatest moment of need, and ready to sacrifice themselves if need be.

        I just hoped that they would never be required to do the last thing on that list.