Oskar Osäker: Your Worst Enemy

by Legionary


Chapter 3: One for All

'I hope Emerald is doing alright,' Twilight thought in some worry as she studied the nanobot section of her science book. 'She certainly didn't seem alright, even several days after.'

Twilight had definitely been in agreement with Emerald when she had stated she needed time away from everyone. The viral unicorn had few triggers that would instantly enrage her, thankfully, but all the pitying looks she had gotten from people who had known or had come to know what had happened in the Empire... well, it was making her temper increasingly shorter by the hour every time she was subjected to it.

'I guess I could simply message her with Spike to ask how she is doing,' Twilight thought as she wrote down some notes. 'But she only just left. I think she'll need more time than that to unwind... all of us should go on a vacation of sorts somewhere. Emerald spends every hour of the day and night working whenever she isn't with me or our friends. That kind of pace can't be healthy at all for somepony's mental state. Of course that just brings it all back to the fact Emerald isn't mentally well. She needs help.'

Twilight sighed audibly and closed her book, her train of thought now firmly on matters apart from science, or rather onto an entirely different field of science. While in theory, the idea of Emerald getting professional help with her mental issues was a good idea, putting it into practice however...

'The psychiatrist who can be trusted to try to help Emerald heal would end up needing help themselves after the first session I would think,' Twilight thought seriously. 'I'm kind of glad I've learned Emerald's past piece by piece. If I had to learn all the pain and horror she had to go through in one sitting, I don't think I'd be able to handle it. In order to ensure that Emerald gets the help she needs, we would need a psychiatrist who can both be trusted and be mentally sturdy enough to withstand what they will be told.'

'Hmm...' Twilight hummed in thought for a few moments before her eyes widened in realization. 'Oh! I know who could help. Maybe P-'

Suddenly a loud but insistent knocking interrupted her thoughts, and before she could call for Spike the little dragon was already on the move, his claws clicking on the floor as he shouted, “Coming!”. Soon the sound of the door opening met Twilight's ears followed by a short barely heard exclamation.

“Twilight, there is somepony at the door for you!” Spike called.

“Who is it?” Twilight called back as she got up from her seat.

“It's Shining Armor!” Instantly Twilight felt a smile form on her face and she quickly trotted out of the library and into the main hall of her home. At the end of the hall she saw Shining entering now. He wasn't wearing his Royal Guard regalia so this appeared to be a casual visit.

“Shining!” Twilight said happily and approached her brother. “It's nice to see you again, especially now that nothing’s at stake.”

“We have only been getting together when things are rather dire, haven't we?” Armor stated with a half hearted smile. “I've decided to visit you and have a nice long talk with you.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Twilight said and turned to Spike. “Spike, could you get some tea ready for us please?”

“Sure thing, Twilight.”

“Let's go to the living room, Shining Armor,” Twilight said to her brother before leading the way.

Soon the two unicorn siblings were seated in the living room.

“This is a nice home you have, Twilight,” Armor commented. “How does it compare to the one from before?”

“Well...” Twilight began. “I've got to admit that I miss a lot of things about the tree house. Everything was shaped into and out of still living wood and having a leaf canopy for shade just outside was convenient. But this place has a homely feeling to it all on it's own. The window in the library  is rather nice, but overall it just feels nice for my family.”

“Family, huh?” Shining said with a smile. “Getting pretty serious between you and Emerald now.”

“Y-yeah...” Twilight replied with a blush. Honestly the word had just slipped out, but the violet unicorn couldn't say the mental image of her and Emerald being married didn't bring up a lot of happy emotions. But she also felt that such a step was definitely too soon for her and likely for Emerald as well. It was certainly a happy thought, but not one that was going to be made reality any time soon.

“That brings me to the main reason why I came here to talk to you,” Shining Armor said with a serious look. “Twilight, what do you see in her? Someone who brought so much pain to others and is so dangerous?”

“Shining...” Twilight began with a sigh. “I... it's hard to explain...”

“I'm willing to sit here as long as it takes,” Shining Armor stated firmly. “Twilight, she's dangerous. I'm not leaving here until I understand what it is that makes you stay with her despite all her clear faults.”

“...” Twilight couldn't help but give a bit of a stare at her brother for the wording, but in the end she could understand that he was concerned for her. She also had to admit that once you knew that Emerald was a former murderer you couldn't help but feel concerned with everyone around her. She knew that feeling distinctly as she had driven Emerald up the wall with it initially before coming to trust her. “Emerald never asked to be dangerous to others. When it comes down to it, she was once just a child who was looking forward to becoming a baker like her mother. But evil took away all she held dear and destroyed her life,and  after a year of being alone and suffering she was offered a chance to join that same evil that brought ruin to her life. To you or me, the idea of doing so would have been unthinkable... but for Emerald it was a chance to no longer be on the verge of starvation and death by exposure.”

“The decision she made that day, to join the evil that destroyed her life, haunts her and gives her horrific nightmares every time she sleeps,” Twilight continued softly. “I won't mince words or try to avoid it. When Emerald first arrived in Equestria she was without a single doubt in my mind a monster who would kill any for an advantage. She initially became my friend simply as a means to seek a way to dismantle the one true threat to her at the time, the Elements of Harmony.”

“If you know all this...” Shining Armor said with clear confusion. “Then why continue to be her friend? Why fall in love with someone who sought to hurt you?”

“Falling in love wasn't something that happened over night, Shining,” Twilight replied with a soft smile. “Emerald, for all her strengths, for all her ungodly power and durability, is so very frail emotionally. Someone in the right position making the right hit would shatter her in a single blow. She knows it too, but she still wants to be near to me and our friends. She still continues to make friendships with anyone who would give her a chance despite the recent hardships it has inflicted on her.”

“I am not ignoring or forgetting her crimes in the slightest,” Twilight continued solemnly. “I am so very aware of them, probably more so than anyone else. I feel guilt for them just as she does.”

“You shouldn't,” Shining immediately stated with a reprimanding tone. “You aren't the one who did them.”

“Neither have I done anything about them, have I?” Twilight replied with a melancholy smile before shaking her head. “I'm likely just as guilty for her crimes via association and inaction. If she were to serve time, I'd insist on doing so as well, if not in the same cell then at least in the neighboring one… though that would only be in the highly unlikely event she actually would cede to being imprisoned in the first place.”

Shining Armor sighed at that. The biggest issue of bringing Emerald to justice was the fact nothing they had could barely slow her, let alone restrain her; she was just so powerful now. The Elements of Harmony couldn't even be relied on anymore. Emerald proved she was powerful enough that even they wouldn't hold her for long. For all everyone knew, after being sealed by the Elements once, Emerald figured out how to get out faster for next time. Imprisoning Emerald could only be done at her consent, which rather took the point out of it as she would likely get frustrated enough with the situation to leave after the first day.

“...She is still dangerous, Twilight,” Armor said after a moment.

“Not to me, Armor,” Twilight said confidently. “Never to me.”

“You really believe that?” Armor asked.

“With all my heart,” Twilight answered with a smile.

Armor sighed again and scratched the back of his head. After a long moment, he finally looked up and met his sister's smile with one of his own.

“Well, Twilight...” Armor began. “I can't say my views about Emerald have changed, but I'm glad to know you know exactly what you are getting into and the potential consequences. I still want to have that talk with Emerald, though. We still have have a lot to... discuss.”

“Of course, Shiny,” Twilight replied.

“Now enough about this,” Shining Armor said with a shake of his head. “How have you been, Twiley?”

“Oh I've been very well,” Twilight smiled as she and her brother began to play a bit of catch up.

ALPHA

Swift Gale awoke from her bed with a loud yawn. She had yet to master becoming instantly alert the moment she had awoken, so she would be half asleep for a time yet. Looking off to her side, she saw that the neighboring bed was empty and made.

'Odd. Master Gyatso usually kicks me out of bed when he wakes up,' Swift thought with another yawn. 'Oh well. I got to sleep in and he's off somewhere else. I'm going to take the opportunity to take a long shower.'

The previous day had been spent seeking out a hotel to spend the night, after which Emerald and Gyatso spent the rest of the day talking about the heron's country. Mostly to familiarize Emerald with the culture and customs of the land. A bit odd to the heron and the pegasus was that Emerald seemed to anticipate and guess a lot of the culture, even the more obscure facts that only the most well traveled would have known. Emerald also happened to have known quite a bit of languages that were in the Republic, but spoke them with a strange accent that was distinctly not Equestrian, which was intriguing to Gyatso but confusing to Swift. The three had spent the entire day talking about life in the Heron Republic, with Emerald making a lot of oddly accurate guesses before nightfall finally arrived. Then they went to bed... well, Swift, Navi and Gyatso did. They knew Emerald didn't need sleep so they didn't really know what she did in her own room.

'It's hard to remember this person is the one who was capable of bringing Discord down by pure force alone,' Swift thought as the hot water poured over her in the shower. 'The combined might of the ancient Channelers couldn't manage it. The most they could do was annoy him enough that he left to find some place else to mess with. But she managed it, and from the sound of it she made a mess of him. B-beautiful, strong, incredibly smart and brave. Dear Luna she sounds like one of those characters from a badly written book, only she's real. But she can't be completely perfect, can she? What are her flaws? Actually, I know exactly what one of them are...'

As Swift Gale's thoughts drifted to the now infamous Canterlot Wedding, the hot water began to run out, causing the silver maned pegasus to give a shriek as the water turned ice cold.

“CRAPPY HOTEL!” Swift screamed as she threw her shivering form out of the shower. “WHY DO WE KEEP COMING HERE!?”

“Be quiet in there!” came a shout followed by several like minded ones and banging on the walls as several people were awoken from their sleep.

Having been denied her long, hot shower, Swift was mere moments from starting a shouting match with the hotel guests through the walls. She calmed down after a few moments of calm breathing exercises, though. After drying herself off and cleaning up the mess of water she had made after throwing herself out of the shower, Swift gathered her few traveling possessions together and left the room.

Soon, Swift found herself outside and on the search for Master Gyatso and Emerald Gleaner. The buildings of the port city were rather rich looking thanks to said port, gleaming, sloped crimson roofs and shining walls covered in a  porcelain like material. The streets were wide and seemingly paved with one long massive, seamless chunk of white marble and lined  with planters full of a variety of flowers.

Swift began moving through the crowds and down the street to where she knew were some parks. The pegasus walked past a diverse selection of peoples and races. Bushy coated braided maned ponies from the northern plains, stout gorillas hauling large carts full of grown produce from the heartland, large families of monkeys smaller than ponies each hauling a pack full of goods from the southern jungles, to herons like Gyatso and ponies like Swift.

At one point, Swift walked a past a bit of commotion. A band of gorillas had been hauling a large metal plated statue for installation or transport somewhere when the cart had tipped, spilling the statue where it smashed into the street leaving a massive ugly crack but leaving the statue unmarked. A little monkey wearing a green haori and cone hat bearing white kanji for the word “Earth” arrived soon after. The little Channeler had spent a minute screaming her lungs out at the recoiling gorillas before going into a stance, and with one pushing motion the statue went back onto its cart and with a stomp the crack in the marble road sealed itself. The gorillas were quickly back on their way, almost fleeing the still seething Channeler.

Soon, Swift found herself arriving in the park. At this point it was fairly crowded but Emerald and Gyatso were quickly and easily found, thanks to the fact a crowd of observers had formed and were giving the two a respectful distance. It was a good thing that they did from the looks of things.

Emerald was a blur of motion while Master Gyatso stood calmly. Emerald was apparently trying to land a blow on Gyatso who was using his own speed and senses to dodge her at the final moment. They had been going at it for a while if the steady but audible breathing of Gyatso was anything to go by. Every time Emerald moved, grass and earth was kicked up and churned into an almost mud like mess. By now, a circle of torn up grass and earth had been formed in the area of the park Emerald and Gyatso were moving within.

Swift Gale came to a stop nearby to watch the two in their spar. However, Emerald soon came to a messy stop, kicking up a ton of muck and grass while looking towards her.

“Ah, Swift!” Gyatso said with a smile. “So good to see you have wrestled yourself away from your bed.”

“And I bet you are going to make me regret sleeping in, Master,” Swift replied wryly. “Again.”

“One day this will all be instinctive for you and I won't have to hammer it in.” Gyatso replied cheerfully. “But it's not today, that is for certain.”

Swift Gale sighed and turned towards Emerald, who had stepped forward and came to a stop next to Gyatso. She was in that other form of hers, one that was called “human”. Swift hadn't seen a human before so it looked rather strange to her eyes. It had no coat of fur or feathers like most races and needed clothes to be warm. In fact, the only patch of fur it had was atop its head. Though in Swift’s opinion, Emerald needed better clothes.

“So what exactly were you and Master Gyatso doing?” Swift asked the shapeshifter.

“Speed training,” Emerald answered as Navi darted into view and landed on the front of her hat. “I was working on enhancing my control at high velocities and Gyatso decided to help out. So far I've actually managed to tag him twice.”

“That fast?” Swift blinked. “Wow.”

“Well I've actually been putting in quite a bit of effort into getting better before this,” Emerald replied. “So it isn't that much of a leap, honestly, and it took me several hours of effort to do that.”

“I assure you, my dear, that fatigue did not play a part at all in those successful hits,” Gyatso assured the virus. “You are legitimately getting faster. I'd advise you on working on the amount of force you place into your blows, however. I am certain I am going to be getting some rather severe bruises.”

“Sorry, it's hard to judge how hard I'm going to hit someone when I'm moving really fast on top of my own physical power,” Emerald said.

“Hmm... I've noticed that on the few times you used a teleport they weren't as blinding as they usually are,” Gyatso commented.

“I've been working on that recently as well,” Emerald answered and took a few steps back. “I've been working on the light generated from the use of magic.”

As Emerald said this, she gestured to a lump of earth churned up from their spar and began to levitate it. Almost like when she had initially started to use magic, the earth rose very shakily into the air, however it also lacked an aura of magic around it and Emerald's hand also lacked an aura of magic. After a moment, she let the lump of earth drop back down.

“I can make the aura completely invisible, but I'm currently hampered by the intense concentration needed,” Emerald stated. “I've been working on wingless flying as well, like how Discord does it, but right now all I can do is float.”

“Oh yeah, all you can do is float. Without wings,” Swift commented sarcastically.

“What can I say,” Emerald said with a shrug. “I have high standards for my skills.”

“Not at all a negative trait,” Gyatso said. “Now, since Swift Gale has awoken and joined us, shall we get on our way to the monorail? If we hurry, we can make the morning stops.”

“Alright, let's head out,” Emerald said. Personally, she was rather interested to see the headquarters of the Channelers. No doubts there would be quite a few sights along with seeing the magic of the Channelers in action.

The group went on their way then. Emerald couldn't help but notice with amusement that Gyatso was quick to usher everyone away from the park when some Channelers arrived to repair the turf of the park and soon they were arriving at the monorail station. It was rather close to the ports and the area where their hotel had been, but that made sense when you thought about it. The station was also situated thirty stories into the air with its many tracks stretching out into the distance.

After ascending the stairs, Gyatso left to get a few tickets for their trip. Emerald could have simply teleported the three of them again, but she was interested in seeing the countryside. The virus walked over to the tracks, leaving Navi behind to play with Swift, though once again giving her the advice to eat anything that tried to eat her back which made Swift chuckle again.

There were several platforms for different lines of trains and large catwalks that allowed crowds to cross over tracks easily. Emerald had thought that Republic trains would be a lot like Equestrian ones, but the tracks were rather odd looking, being made completely of stone and had this large ridge sticking out along the middle of the track. Emerald guessed that the train used this to remain on the track and was proven correct when when the train soon arrived.

With the sound of stone grinding against each other softly, the train arrived. A pony and a heron wearing earth channeling robes stood in the front most car. Emerald guessed that they were the ones to make the train move forward and stop since there was no obvious means of locomotion otherwise.

“I have our train tickets,” Gyatso stated as he stepped next to Emerald. “We'll be heading directly to the central monastery of my order. The trip will take roughly two hours.”

“The train will take us past the capital, too,” Swift chimed in, Navi perched atop an ear. “So you'll get to see what it looks like from afar.”

“Sounds good,” Emerald said as she lifted up her hat, letting Navi dart under to snuggle into her hair. “Let's get going.”

The train was made of stone, but the interior was well furnished with soft seats and tables. From the looks of things, the passengers would be offered light lunches later into the trip. Twenty minutes after arrival, the train began moving with a near unnoticeable jolt. The train maintained a steady speed of forty miles an hour inside the city but the moment it passed the city limits it immediately sped up to double that.

Emerald had expected the elevated tracks to lowers back down onto ground level soon after leaving the city. Twenty minutes into the trip, however, it was clear that the track was going to stay suspended three stories over the ground for the rest of the trip. No doubt such a construction would normally take a ton of effort and manpower to do conventionally, but the presence of earth channelers likely made such things rather simple and straightforward. No doubt the Republic had managed to build this in a fraction of time it likely would have taken other nations.

Soon the forests that had surrounded the port city gave way to miles and miles of farm land. With her incredible sight, Emerald was able to spot the farmers tending to their crops as much more than just dots in fields of green. Most of them were gorillas, but that was expected. From what Gyatso had explained of the Republic, the gorillas sounded a lot like an earth pony counterpart. Gorillas tended to be mostly pacifists and preferred to relax and enjoy the outdoors and company of others, so it was distinctly uncommon to see one living outside of the close knit farming communities; even more uncommon to see one living in the bustling cities. Gorillas were in the clear majority here when it came to farming, but it was clear that others took to the career as well. From the other races, the second most common were earth ponies for obvious reasons.

Soon the heron hostess came walking down the main aisle of the train and Emerald found herself pleasantly surprised to see quite a few dishes had meat in them. They were all small stews and soups, and the large majority were still vegetarian, but the meaty cuisine was on clear display. After several years on a mostly vegetarian diet, Emerald was quick to pick out the meatiest soup they had there; a stew filled with pieces of fish from a local river boiled with some shrimp oil with mushrooms mixed in and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.

Despite the fact her soup had been a rather small serving, it lasted Emerald the better part of half an hour as she savored it. When she looked up again, she found that the farmlands had given away to bamboo forests. The virus just enjoyed the trip from there, her vision letting her pick up the distant towns and villages they passed by along with people on their own paths in life. To top it all off, beautiful snow capped mountains lined the far horizon.

'Times like this, I can honestly say I enjoy living,' Emerald thought with a small smile as she leaned back against her seat. 'The only thing that could have made this better was if Twilight was here with me... As much as I want to use this time to think and plan out my projects more, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy myself.'

The next hour passed quietly with Emerald sitting back and watching the world go by. Eventually though, a towering shape appeared on the horizon and soon closed.

“We'll be passing the capital soon,” Gyatso said from the next seat over. “Shangri La is the most developed city in the Republic. There is construction and renovation always going on somewhere in the city.”

“It's really annoying,” Swift said. “The hotspots are always moving all over the place all the time and you have to keep up on local news if you want to know about new places to hang out.”

Emerald considered what Swift and Gyatso said, and it made sense when you thought about it. In a society that had people capable of moving raw materials with the ease the Channelers did, construction work really must be cheap and quick. Only the largest and grandest of buildings would likely take more than a month.

As the train grew closer to the capital, Emerald was immediately reminded of Manehattan due to all the tall buildings. Manehattan's skyscrapers were a lot like New York's, but here in Shangri La, the skyscrapers were all massive buildings seemingly made out of a single block of stone, lined with the iconic asian curved roofs and topped off with points that were capped in gleaming gold. The roofs were all different colors, tailored to their owner's specification most likely. A clear feature of this city however was the fact that every tower had many, many balconies that stretched out from the building. In the air, going to and fro on their business, were thousands upon thousands of herons. It was clear that the civic planners took into account a vast amount of their population were capable of flight.

Emerald gazed off towards the capital for several minutes, taking in the view and everything her powerful eyes could. It was quite the sight to be sure, but...

'I don't know,' Emerald thought with a  frown. 'Despite how interesting and different this place looks, I kind of really prefer Canterlot to here. Maybe that city just grew on me after all the time I've spent there now? Damn it, I left to get away from everything and have a break and I'm already homesick? Bah...'

Finding her mood souring a little, Emerald sighed and focused on what would be their destination. The tracks their train was on were leading into the mountains and Emerald could see the peak of a roof showing from just behind the mountains. The train began to ascend a gentle slope as it neared the mountains and towards the tunnel through it. For a long few minutes there was darkness, save for the lanterns lighting the tunnel interior, then the train exited the other end of the the tunnel.

The skyscrapers of Manehattan and Shangri La were big, but the construction the train was rapidly approaching dwarfed those. It was as if someone took the concept and designs of the grand palace monasteries of Tibet and decided to carve half a mountain into one, it was just so massive. Upon closer inspection, Emerald concluded it was probably very likely that this massive monastery really was carved out of the mountain it was built against.

'Yeah they definitely know how to build big around here,' Emerald thought as she stared up at the massive building before narrowing her eyes. 'Wait... why does that part look like it was built normally?'

The grand monastery looked like it was made out of a single massive slab of rock but one portion of the building didn't share this look. It was a massive cylindrical mausoleum like structure made out of large, well made bricks but the fact it wasn't built in the same style as the rest of the monastery... it was very curious to say the least.

“So how do you like it?” Swift asked as she took a seat right next to Emerald. “Big, huh?”

“Definitely,” Emerald nodded in agreement. “I bet you could fit hundreds of thousands of people in there.”

“A lot of future planning went into its construction many centuries ago,” Gyatso stated serenely from his seat. “The Order was but a fraction of the numbers we are now, but even so we have only recently begun to make use of half of the rooms. Granted, we are not all centered in this one location. There are quite a few Channeler Monasteries darting the Republic, each training their own apprentices and housing their masters.”

“What's the story behind that part of the monastery?” Emerald asked, pointing at the mausoleum.

“You'll learn before long,” Gyatso replied. “That place is our ultimate destination.”

“Hmm,” Emerald hummed in response as the train started to slow as it neared the monastery.

The monastery had its own train station and it was much larger than what had been at the port city; much more complicated as well, with multiple levels. Strangely, there was still only two sets of tracks in and out and Emerald briefly wondered how such a place handled heavy traffic, which it obviously had because there were multiple trains in the station. Emerald's unvoiced question was answered when her train came to a stop on a section of track just before the station. A moment after the train came to a stop, the track section it was on began to move to the left, stopping and rising up one level, then the train rolled into the empty platform.

'Ah, that's how they do it,' Emerald thought as she rose from her seat as the train came to one final stop.

Soon Emerald was leaving the train and came to a stop on the platform to take in her surroundings. The station was bustling and if anyone needed proof that Channeler magic wasn't race specific, they only had to take a look around her. Ponies of all three tribes, northern steppe ponies, herons, monkeys, apes, griffins, zebras and even a few wolverines here and there. Of course, herons were still the majority here, but it was definitely clear that becoming a Channeler wasn't something that was reserved for just one race.

'This is really interesting...' Emerald thought as she began to follow Swift and Gyatso, Emerald attracting a bit of attention because she was still in her human form which was a species that hadn’t been seen before.

Initially the crowds were rather thick as they moved through the train station and attached hallways but as they moved deeper into the monastery, the crowds quickly started to thin. Before long, the group entered a large lobby. The lobby was incredibly big and had a ceiling that was five stories up. It was very spacious and in fact would have felt small despite the groups of people here and there if it wasn't for the four large statues in the middle of the lobby. Emerald couldn’t help but stare with widened eyes at the statues as Navi finally darted out from under her hat. Two of these large statues were very familiar looking.

“What are those?” Emerald asked.

“The four known categories of spirits,” Swift answered automatically in a somewhat bored tone. “The windigo, the ifrit, the jotun and the hippocampi.”

Emerald studied each statue Swift Gale pointed out. The windigo was pony shaped; or rather, its upper half was pony like. It was the third largest and its lower half was like a swirling tornado. The ifrit was shaped somewhat like a minotaur, only with a more wiry frame, larger horns and flames leaping from its body, mouth and eyes. It was the smallest of the four. The jotun was the largest of four, easily nearly brushing the ceiling. It was in the shape of a large bear, its legs ending in massive stumps and a collection of dirt, tree roots and boulders made up it's main body. The hippocampi was somewhat pony shaped but much of its body had a crustacean like exterior with a few pincer like limbs here and there. The artist had taken great pains to depict the “flesh” of the being as being made of rushing water. It was the second largest.

“These statues are actually artistic recreations of the originals,” Swift continued in a monotone. This was clearly something she had to go over a lot. “The originals are held in the hall of the Old Masters.”

“Hall of the Old Masters?” Emerald asked, tearing her gaze away from the statues.

“Our destination,” Gyatso answered. “And where our grand masters will meet with you.”

Emerald frowned thoughtfully as Navi orbited above and continued to follow Gyatso and Swift as they led the way. The group soon had the lobby behind them, but that wasn't the end of the interesting sights. The halls they traveled often passed rooms that were currently were being put to use as classrooms, where scores of newly joined channelers were being taught the very basics of their chosen style, though not all of the new initiates were small children. More than a few were fully grown adults and were being trained separate from the children.

'Fire, water, air and earth,' Emerald thought, then added as she spied a master channeler walking past with interesting kanji on his robes. 'AND with the potential to branch out and add secondary elements in later years. Yeah, this is very interesting. I'd love to get the chance and start to learn some of this, but I doubt they'd let me. After what I've done in Canterlot and shown what I was capable of doing to a powerful being like Discord, the last thing any group wants is to make me even stronger.'

Emerald heard a bit of giggling and laughing, and turned towards the noise. Resting on a mat in one of the passing rooms was what could only be a master and their apprentice. The master was a shaggy coated, thick maned steppe pony mare and their apprentice was a very young gorilla. The little gorilla was wearing a white and red haori with the kanji for fire emblazoned on its back, similar to its master’s. The gorilla was also happily grooming the pony's mane and carefully setting it into braids, an action said pony found ticklish and couldn't help but laugh every few moments.

'I bet the apprenticeships end up becoming an almost family like parent and child link,' Emerald thought and gave a wondering look towards Gyatso and Swift Gale. 'That reminds me. Swift Gale was originally from Equestria, wasn't she? I wonder how she ended up becoming apprenticed to Gyatso? Well... it's clearly a story for another time. From the looks of things, were almost there.'

A massive set of double doors lay at the end of the hall the group was now traveling down. It was clearly their destination.

“Well, here we are,” Gyatso said as they came to a stop before the doors. “It's been a long time coming, and I honestly thought it was going to be longer yet before you stood here with us, but the Grandmasters are within. They are waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Master Gyatso,” Emerald nodded at the heron. “Meeting you was an interesting experience and I'm very thankful for the help you've given me in my own personal training. It was nice meeting you too, Swift Gale. The next time we meet, I wouldn't mind having another spar to see how far you've come.”

“Next time you see me, I'll have my best move down pat!” Swift Gale said confidently. “I'll see ya later, Emerald. And see you too, Navi!”

Navi trilled in response where she was now perched on the top of Emerald's hat, a little sad her playmate was going away now. Emerald waved one final time as Gyatso and Swift went on their way back into the depths of the monastery before turning towards the doors.

'Well, no point in keeping them waiting now, is there?' Emerald thought and walked forward to open the doors herself.

At the virus' approach, however, the large doors released a loud groan and began to open outwards until there was just enough space for Emerald to walk through. Giving the doors a glance, Emerald did so after a moment.

The first thing Emerald noticed about the Hall of the Old Masters was that it was taller than the lobby had been. Next had been the lines upon lines of statues lining the cylindrical walls of the halls. Each statue was also different and clearly had been made in the likeness of actual people. An interesting fact about the statues was that some of them were also very clearly dragons. The next thing Emerald saw was the statues Swift Gale mentioned. They were far smaller than the ones that were based on them and were very clearly ancient. All of them were very basic constructions and reminded Emerald of monuments created by ancient humans or primitive tribes. Each statue had a hole in the very center of their chests. The jotun was still very large and had a bulky frame and was lined with straight lines. The hippocampi was a simple construction with no limbs and was almost pillar like and lined with smooth curving lines. The ifrit still had a wiry frame and actually had some basic horns atop the small boulder like head and was lined with sharp zig zags. Finally, the windigo was simply an amorphous form covered in swirls.

“Most spirits haven't been seen in countless generations,” a voice stated and interrupted Emerald's studying of her surroundings. “So most of us don't realize that a spirit's form isn't restricted to looking a certain way. Not all windigos look like ponies, and not all jotuns look like great bears.”

Emerald looked forward and saw seven people standing in the very center of the hall. Their robes looked no different from any of the other channelers, so one couldn't actually tell at a glance if they were Grand Masters of their order or not. Four of them were herons with various kanji depicting their specialty. One of them was a small monkey wearing a white and red haori and cone hat with the kanji for fire on them. Another was an earth pony wearing a white and green haori with matching cone hat with the kanji for earth; rather fitting. Finally was a large gorilla with a white and blue haori with the kanji for water.

“But you are one of the few this century to have met a spirit. It was a jotun from what I understand?” the voice continued and Emerald identified the speaker as the gorilla, female as well from the sounds of it.

“Hmm, yeah he was,” Emerald answered with only a brief moment to considering Sovereign. “He didn't exactly look like a bear, either.”

“A spirit's form is what they desire it to be,” one of the Herons stated. “Though one thing that can be counted on is for the form to made of the spirit's element.”

“Well I met a hippocampi as well a while ago,” Emerald added after a moment. “She did look a lot like the statue back in that lobby.”

“Another sighting?” the pony grand master said in some surprise. “We've always had our suspicions about Everfree being a sanctuary of sorts for spirits. With the confirmed presences of two spirits, I suppose that suspicion is now correct.”

“I was told by Sovereign, the uhh... jotun of the Everfree told me there were quite a few of them living there,” Emerald replied. “Though the hippocampi was the only other one I've actually met.”

“His name is Sovereign, you say?” the pony said in interest. “Is-”

“ENOUGH!” the monkey shouted with a short burst of flame from his mouth. “Let's stop this waffling and get on to the point!”

“Hmph, very well,” the pony said. “Emerald Gleaner, you may wonder how it was we came to know of you? You see, it was during the event in Canterlot that lead to the creation of the 'Thracians'.”

“My fight with Discord,” Emerald said.

“Exactly,” one of the herons said. “So much energy had been released. No matter what we were doing at the time or where we were, we easily sensed it. Initially we had feared that Discord had been released from his prison, for he had troubled the Republic greatly ages ago. But on retelling what we had experienced to several reliable sources, we had realized the released energy was too powerful to be his.”

“You can imagine our worry and wariness when we had found that out,” the gorilla added. “Our ancestors were only able to annoy Discord to the point he left out of frustration, and suddenly this new presence makes itself known and is more powerful?”

“Everyone in the know who wasn't us was too busy soiling themselves to do something productive,” the little monkey muttered with some mirth.

“There is some truth there,” a heron said with a nod of his head. “There was quite a bit of fear when it was made known there was something more powerful than Discord out in the world. Even more so that same thing had beaten him in a fight. However, we decided it was best to see if there was any actual malice in this new power, passive or otherwise. So we deliberated on our actions and whether or not you actually remained in Equestria or had moved on. Eventually we determined you were still in the country and sent someone reliable to seek you out and bring you here to meet with us.”

“Why?” Emerald asked with a curious tilt of your head.

“I for one won't sugarcoat anything. We brought you here to be judged,” the monkey said, his eyes glittering like faintly burning coals in the shadows of his hat. “There is a darkness about you. An easy willingness to violence and calm viciousness...”

“Judged, huh?” Emerald said with narrowed eyes. She couldn't tell if she should be tense and ready to spring into combat or not. Despite the monkey's words, he wasn't exactly looking to leap into action and neither were the others.

“Onoki's harsh words aside, yes,” the pony answered with a sigh. “You were brought here to be gauged and for judgment to be made.”

“Hmm...” Emerald said and brushed off the top of her hat, making Navi take flight into the air. “So what's the verdict.”

“That's what I would like to know as well!” Onoki shouted towards the ceiling.

Emerald blinked at this in some confusion when suddenly eyes of every statue in the room lit up and shined with blinding intensity.

“WE HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT OF HER SOUL. SHE HAS BEEN JUDGED, Many voices filled the air, speaking in perfect sync with each other. “ACTION SHALL BE TAKEN.”

The hair on the back of Emerald's neck rose up as she heard the voices and a sense of alarm filled her as small lights left each of the statues and filled the air. Feeling the sheer magic saturating the air, the virus knew she wouldn't be able to immediately teleport out without a bit of build up. When all the lights suddenly rushed towards her, she instantly called up a magical barrier around her, the strongest she could possibly make it. A spike of fear was driven into the core of her being when the lights ignored the barrier completely, thinking of the time she was hit with the Elements of Harmony.

Emerald Gleaner released a cry as all the lights sunk into her form, a cry that quickly cut off into a choked gasp. The virus spasmed briefly before her eyes rolled up into the back of her head and she back onto the floor where she lied unmoving.

BETA

Missy carefully examined the device before her as she kept glancing to her clipboard for reference.

Currently Missy was in one of the many workshops dotting the Hub, the sole single city of the Enclave. Emerald's plans to make power cables and power stations linking the Hub to the ley line under the old Everfree forest had been completed a day ago. All the stations were running at full capacity and now kept the storm sapphire constantly charged. Not only that, but several charging stations were about to be installed throughout the city. The charging stations would allow the Warhounds with ever increasingly magical gear to keep them charged, plus it was becoming ever more needed with the advent of a certain piece of equipment. A dog wearing said piece of equipment was walking in now.

Missy turned her attention away from the newly installed charge station towards the door of the workshop. A Warhound was walking in, assisted every step of the way by another Warhound while an engineer was making sure his armor was allowing the proper amount of movement.

The Warhound was wearing what Emerald was calling “faux” Power Armor. Missy didn't know what she had meant by that, but Emerald had said that power armor is supposed to boost the wearer's strength along with protecting him, which this version of it didn't. Hence why the Warhound had to be assisted in bringing his currently uncharged armor to a station so the runes would make the armor less heavy. The runes of the power armor also had many effects. They absorbed a certain level of kinetic and thermal energy and turned it into extra power, they made the currently several hundred pound armor a much more manageable fifty pounds and they were also capable of some self repair. The runes that made this all possible could not be seen, however, as they were formed between the outer and inner layers of the armor along with the power crystals that held the energy charge. The armor was very different from the previous generation of armor which was plain black and made of artificial dragon scales; for one, it was more colorful. The armor was mostly white but lined with a deep rich green, while the more flexible spots around the points that needed to bend were a very dark blue. The other thing was that the armor was completely sealed from the outside. One could go deep sea diving or walk in a vacuum without any harm.

Eventually, the Warhound thudded over to the charge station and grabbed one of the dangling cords from the front of the device. With a good bit of fumbling, he managed to plug it into a special socket in the lower back of his armor. After a few seconds of his armor being charged, the Warhound released a relieved sigh and stood with a more relaxed stance, the eyes of his armor lighting up in a soft green glow.

“Even with the bigger muscles this thing is damn heavy when it isn't charged,” the Warhound stated, employing a curse he had heard Emerald mutter a few times.

“How long is the power going to last when it's fully charged?” the other Warhound asked.

“About two weeks,” the armored Warhound answered. “...Roughly, anyway. It depends on how much the runes are in use. The heat resistance runes are supposed to be strong enough to for me to wade into lava but it would end up using a ton of power.”

There was a low rumble and a rev of an engine before a pair of large doors at one end of the workshop opened up. A buggy rolled in and came to a short stop beside a couple of engineers, who then quickly starting to hoist the engine block out to replace it. Several of the others began to take armor plating and started to rivet and bolt them into place. After the new engine block was in and the rest of the armor plates were being bolted into place, the engineers began to install weapons. A heavy machine gun firing a caliber higher than the standard issue rifles was placed in front of the passenger seat while a lighter machine gun was placed in the top of the buggy where it would have three hundred and sixty degree movement.

“What do you think about the new Orion serum the Boss is going to release in a few days?” the armored Warhound asked his companion as they watched the engineers work.

“I'm looking forward to it,” the other answered. “It's supposed to make us even stronger and tougher. One of the improvements is supposed to make our skin tough enough to withstand lower caliber bullets.”

“I wonder if we are going to have to eat even more food after that one,” the armored Warhound wondered aloud.

“I think she was going to fix that so we don't have to eat too much more,” the other replied.

The talk began to wander to other subjects after that, but deeper within the tunnels of the Enclave, Stripe and a small group of raptors were awaiting the birth of the third generation of their kin.

'It's nice that mother trusted us to take care of the newborns without her watching over,' Stripe thought as he patiently lied on the ground. 'I wish I had remembered to bring the books I had borrowed from the library in Canterlot, though. It's pretty boring to just sit here and wait for them to be finished.'

Turning to his side, Stripe saw the others with him were happily playing with a few chew toys and balls they had with them, or just plain play fighting with each other. Stripe didn't exactly know the exact point playing with those toys had started to get boring. He just started to play less and less with them. Likewise, he found that playing with his brothers and sisters to lose much of its charm. He still did play with them, but it was mostly to humor them and out of a desire to make them happy.

'I like practicing our fighting and battle plans better,' Stripe thought. 'It's more exciting and thrilling, especially with or against the Warhounds.'

Ever since the Invasion of Canterlot, Emerald had kicked up the level of war gaming the Warhounds got up to. The ones that weren't still on personal vacations to rest and recover, anyway. Stripe just loved trying to outmaneuver the Warhound Alphas. Each typically had their own styles of command and tactics, but the raptor's favorite opponents were typically Tavish, Fenrir and Belvedere. Tavish had a penchant for odd strategies and attacking from unconventional angles, ambushing and pushing in a brutal surge of aggression to crush the enemy quickly. Fenrir was more open and direct. He often had squads moving within shouting distance of each other, ready to unleash deadly crossfires or to distract an enemy and quickly move a squad to flank the enemy. He typically had a lot of big brawler type dogs in his forces as well, so when it got down to melee it got interesting. Even with the limited use of fire and tail spines, some dogs like the massive rottweiler Padfoot and the slightly shorter Fenrir could often go toe to toe with a raptor. Finally, Belvedere was the most interesting to combat. He took Emerald's words to heart about the art of the hit and run and guerrilla warfare. It was exceedingly difficult to pin down Belvedere's forces while he constantly bled your own forces dry with dozens of small strikes at all times. The challenge of it all... it got Stripe's blood rushing and even now just thinking about it brought up feelings of excitement.

Suddenly there was a fleshy tearing sound and Stripe turned his attention back to the incubation pods that held the third generation of raptors. There were several hundred pods, and there would be enough new raptors to bring the total population to one thousand raptors; enough for there to be almost one raptor for ever two Warhounds. Soon, the newborns were finished tearing holes in their pods and were now stumbling out and releasing their first excited cries.

Stripe stepped over to a group that was having some trouble to get on their somewhat wobbly legs. The new raptors weren't as tall as Stripe. Emerald had decided it was best if new raptors finished their growing outside of their pods. They would also be partially raised and taught several things they hadn't learned while in the pod.

'Spirited little thing,' Stripe thought with some amusement as a little gray raptor with a long blue stripe along her side forced herself onto her feet, snapping and growling irritably at the others that were a little too close. When Stripe himself neared and lowered his head to nuzzle her affectionately she even snapped at him as well, despite the fact she was only little over half his size. 'Heh heh heh, oh yes very spirited indeed. I wonder what those over there will be like when they are finished growing as well?'

Off in the distance and separated from the raptor pods were yet more ones, only these ones were twenty feet high and rather bulky. Emerald had started growing new types of creatures but hadn't told anyone what they would be just like she had with the raptors. Judging by the size of their pods, they would be rather big straight out and might be bigger still if they weren't mature at birth. Stripe was very interested in finding out just what the new creatures were going to be.

GAMMA

Emerald let out a groan as she curled up onto her side, clutching her head. A million faces flashed through her mind, both known and strange. Memories of lifetimes surged and ebbed like a tide of agony in her mind. She didn't know how long she had been lying on the floor like this; the agony made it too hard to think. She could have been here for just a few seconds or several days for all she knew.

After a long moment of lying on the ground, pain crippling her as easily as a broken back for a normal person, eventually the pounding agony began to slowly fade. Emerald began to rise with painstaking slowness as every movement of her head caused a fresh tide of pain. After minutes of rising from the floor, Emerald finally took to her two feet again, her stance wobbly and her hands clutching the sides of her head.

“Are you done crying yet?” a deep voice boomed a question.

Emerald turned around with an angry retort and paused at the sight she saw. The seven grand masters all now had brightly glowing eyes and the faint outlines of a ghost behind them. She barely noticed the forms of the six other ghosts however, as all her attention had been on the towering ethereal shape of a dragon behind Onoki who now had blazing red eyes shining like spotlines. A brief moment later, the ghosts faded but the glowing eyes of the Grand Masters remained.

“I believe I asked you a question, Onoki said with a voice that was far deeper than what he had.

“Oh shush, Icarus, one of the Herons said with a now feminine voice. “You weren't exactly any better when you were gifted with but a fraction of our collective wisdom.”

Icarus gave a disgusted huff at that and looked away sullenly as Emerald stared on with wide eyes. She knew these people... didn't she? It was hard to say now that she thought about it. Memories that felt like her own flowed to the forefront of her mind and she would have accepted them as just that... if it weren't for the fact she knew she hadn't ever been in the Republic before yesterday, let alone lived here.

'Wh-what is my name?' Emerald asked herself and winced when several different names leapt to the forefront of her mind. This was rather bad and was the very reason Emerald avoided absorbing too many or just certain memories into her being. It made keeping track of who she was in the sea of lifetimes extremely difficult. If it wasn't for the fact all the memories were so different from what she had previously, she would be in deep trouble in trying to keep a firm grip on who she was. 'I... I am Emerald Gleaner, formerly Oskar Osäker, son of Adela Osäker. That is who I am and no one else.'

“W-who are you people?” Emerald asked as Navi flew down with a concerned trill.

“Once upon a time we were Grand Masters of the Channelers, dear, one of the seemingly possessed masters answered. “But as all things do, we passed on. But instead of fading away, our spirits lingered and we took the opportunity to advise and watch over the Order.”

“And occasionally mess with them, another added with a laugh that the group shared. “This beats having Alzheimer's, despite the lack of a body, by a long shot.”

“Says you, Icarus growled as he examined his current form in some disgust. “Every dragon that has come after me has never chosen to be a master of fire, or at the very least a hybrid master with fire as one of the elements.”

“You can already breath fire, Icarus,” the female Old Master from before chuckled. “Goodness me, I've always wondered why you decided to be purely fire when it was stupidly redundant.”

“That's rich coming from you, Song!” Icarus retorted. “You live in water and chose to be a master of it!”

“Well it would hardly be useful to master fire when most of the time it would just bubble uselessly now would it?”

“Long standing conflicts aside...” one Old Master said with an aside look to the now bickering pair. “The current Grand Masters lied a little when they said they found out about you when you fought Discord. No, instead we found out about you the moment you set foot in this world.”

“How?” Emerald asked with a frown.

“Little over two centuries ago we discovered the ability to divine the fates of others, an Old Master said with a deeply serious tone despite the ongoing argument right next to him. “This was met with great applause... until it was found that nothing could be done about our fates.”

“If it was fated that one was to die of a disease, then it would happen despite efforts to prevent such, another added sadly. “If a villain was fated to be successful until a certain point, no amount of effort before then would stop them. If a nation was meant to rise while all others floundered and struggled, then no amount of honest, hard effort  by the people would change the world. Our discovery of fate itself was recorded and no matter how far we pushed our ability, we could see that none of our efforts would bear fruit.”

“Until YOU arrived, Song said, finally ending her argument with a sullen looking Icarus. “When you arrived, we saw a new path added to the grand tapestry of fate. This happens all the time with newborns, so initially no one truly noticed or paid you any attention... until you killed someone.”

“Uhhh...” Emerald said after a moment. “Just so you all know, that one was an accident.”

“WE ARE AWARE, a great many voices stated in sync.

“It happened as simply and quietly as a long thread being cut short, another Master added as everyone grew serious. “But to us it couldn't have been more of a momentous occasion. A fate that was to continue onward into the foreseeable future interacting with others and living, centuries of path left yet to tread and it was cut short in one instant!”

“You could not understand our wonderment, Song said quietly. “Our awe as we stood before the seemingly unchanging tapestry of  fate itself and watched as one action sent ripples down hundreds of others. Hundreds of paths yet to be walked were left behind and those meant to walk them blazed their own path, made their own destinies for the first time.”

“For them our sight failed us, Icarus said. “Before, we would be able to divine their future, but now we were fumbling blindly into chaos, a myriad of potential fates and destinies, decisions that might be taken, people that may be talked to... it was beautiful.”

“And that was with just one action you took, an Old Master stated. “We literally couldn't tear our gaze away from the tapestry of fate for the first three months of your time here. Even the littlest action you took caused disruptions in the tapestry. Sometimes they left only to return to their path, but most of the time they blazed a path into a new, formless future.”

“By the end of your first year here, hundreds of thousands of fates had drifted off their fixed destinies,” Song said softly. “Never to return to them. It was then we decided that we must meet with you. That we must meet with the one who could alter fate as if it was a sand mandala.”

“...” Emerald stared for a moment with a frown before shaking her head as another surge of memories flowed through her mind. “What did you do to me? You... you mentioned something about imbuing wisdom earlier?”

“We have imbued you with our combined wisdom and skills, Song answered. “Normally we only gift a month or so at a time but your mind is rather unique, so we took the opportunity to do something new.”

“You have my fire, Icarus stated. “Song's water, Gao's earth and Kang's Air. Along with the wisdom of our lifetimes, both pre and post mortem. What you decide to do with this knowledge and skills is up to you to decide.”

“What?” Emerald said in clear confusion. “Why would you do that? You definitely know about me, about what I've done. Why in the world would you give me more means to be destructive?”

“Other than the fact you would have figured out another means of gaining these powers for your own?” Song replied with a sly, knowing smile and Emerald found herself averting her eyes despite herself. “You are our means to freedom. Before we discovered fate, we were ignorant of the deepers ways of this world. We thought we were all free to chose our own fates and decide our destinies. All that discovering the tapestry of fate did was make us aware of our puppet strings, which we were helpless to remove. But you are our means of removing the strings upon us, of giving us true freedom since time immemorial. And finally, while I would hesitate to call you a being of the light, I would also hesitate to call you one of the dark as well.”

“OF THIS WE ALL AGREE, boomed many voices at once.

“Simply put, you aren't good, but you aren't evil, either, Song said with a smile. “Some may say this makes you a rarity in this world, but the truly wise knows that many we would call dark are often times merely gray.”

“And while you are right what we have gifted you only made you more dangerous...” another Old Master began. “You may also find that you'll soon see the world... differently beyond the mere memories you were gifted with.”

“What do you mean?”

“That... you must discover on your own, Song said as the lights in the eyes of the statues around the room began to fade. “Some things are best experienced rather then told, my dear.”

With that, the Grand Masters' eyes stopped glowing but for some reason they still appeared rather vacant. Upon second look, Onoki seemed to be still possessed if his glowing eyes were any indication.

“In other words, get lost, Icarus said gruffly as Onoki's eyes began to slowly stop glowing. “Go out there, be yourself, shake up the foundations of the whole world, be yourself, spit in the faces of nations and, most importantly, be yourself. That's done a lot of amusing things so far. Life after death go so boring once that cursed tapestry was discovered...”

Finally, the light of possession left Onoki's eyes and after a moment emotion replaced the glassy looks everyone had, though the emotions were one of shock. There was a long moment of silence as everyone absorbed just what had happened in the last few minutes, then noise filled the air as the Grand Masters began shouting and exclaiming.

Emerald stayed standing on her spot for a moment, watching as the Grand Masters seemed to get rather offended at the idea that Emerald was gifted with knowledge. Shaking her head, she decided to ignore them and turn away. She walked towards the large pair of double doors. Normally she would have used telekinesis to open the door, but her current condition changed that, causing her to instinctively draw upon earth channeling to make the stone doors open. Though the massive stone doors let out a loud groan at being opened, the Grand Masters seemed too concerned with arguing among themselves to notice her leaving. As the virus closed the door behind her, she didn't notice Onoki staring after her with an intrigued look, taking out a pair of incense sticks to light on the floor before him.

Emerald continued on, walking down the hallways of the monastery and occasionally stopping to shudder as four incredibly long life times surged in her mind. On one of her stops, Emerald found herself facing a wide open room with one side completely open to the outdoors. The room was filled with initiates being taught the basics of channeling.

'Hmph.' Emerald released a 'tch' of disgust and instinctively placed her hands within the sleeves of her hoodie. 'Look at that fool. She must be brand new. Nothing else explains the mistakes she is teaching those whelps. In my day, we-'

“RAAAAAGH!”

The little children released screams of fear and surprise as an angry roar filled the air followed by the loud cracking of stone. Turning towards the doorway of room they were met with the fading light of a sudden flash and a large chunk missing from a nearby wall. Unbeknownst to them, another flash of light had appeared an instant later on a far mountain.

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!” Emerald raged as she stomped a foot into the ground, causing many avalanches to be set into motion just below her.

'THIS IS WHY!' Emerald thought furiously as she let herself fall into a sitting position on the mountain peak. 'THIS IS WHY I DON'T ABSORB EVERY MEMORY AT ONCE!'

As much as she wanted to waste time wrecking the mountain and just throwing a temper tantrum in general in some way to make herself feel better, Emerald knew she needed to immediately get started on separating her memories from the ones she just received. In all likeness, the desire to throw an ungodly landmark shattering temper tantrum was a part of someone else’s personality, and not purely her own reaction at potentially having who she was as a person being forgotten.

And so Emerald set to work, instinctively folding her legs up and taking up a meditation position. As the virus began the long and tedious work of sorting through her own memories, a curious thing began to happen. There were emotions in the air and Emerald began to passively feel these out and take them in as an aspect of her changeling powers. The air felt carefree and brash, changing and moving as it wished. The rock and earth beneath her tasted of stubborn pride, a stout confidence in what it was. The snow around her felt calm and at peace but below where avalanches raged the opposite feeling irradiated; chaotic fury that could not be reasoned with. Deep within her own own form where her dragon fire would be formed was the dormant emotions of intense passions, directable but never controlled.

Hours upon hours passed and the world moved on around Emerald, but the virus never noticed. Drawing in the feelings of the world around her and instinctive falling into a form of meditation allowed her to work with incredible concentration. By the time Emerald had finished separating her original memories from the new and restoring her personality, it was morning of the next day.

Emerald rose from her crossed legged position with a small smile before suddenly frowning and patting the top of her head. She looked around in some alarm before her eyes landed on her target.

Navi was passing the time by playing in the snow. The little bug had apparently finally discovered that the cold didn't bother her anymore. Dozens upon dozens of tiny snow ponies filled the area as Navi started to roll up another ball of snow for yet another snow pony.

“Having fun there, sweetheart?” Emerald asked her pet with a smile and got an affirmative trill as Navi began putting together her new snow pony.

Emerald turned away and looked at her hands in contemplation. She then took up a stance before motioning with her arms. Flames leapt from her hand and melted the snow before her, then the melted snow quickly gathered together and formed into the crude likeness of a pony before it quickly refroze. Emerald hummed in thought and stepped back to examine what she made before going back into stance and motioning again. Winds whipped around the statue intensely and flecks of ice filled the air as wind blades chiseled away at the statue. With a stomp, a small platform rose out of the ground and then with another stomp small shapes popped out of the front of the platform.

Before the virus was an ice statue of Twilight Sparkle with incredible likeness and detail. 'Twilight' was sitting and giving a friendly smile to the world before her. On the platform it was sitting on were the words 'Twilight Sparkle, student of Princess Celestia. By Emerald Gleaner.'

'Well...' Emerald thought with a small smile. 'Aside from that unpleasantness with having my personality almost rewritten, I think I'm going to enjoy this. A lot. This gives me so many interesting ideas.'

Taking a few minutes to enjoy her work a bit more, Emerald then gathered up Navi. Placing Navi within her mouth, the virus then quickly teleported back up into orbit.

Now back in orbit, Emerald began to consider heading back home immediately, but decided she would like to do something else for a bit first since she hadn't expected to be leaving so soon. Floating in the vacuum of space, Emerald tapped her chin in thought as she considered what to do when she recalled something she learned a while ago. It was during her trip to the nesting grounds of the dragon flight, she remembered being told about a being called 'Eldest' who was supposed to be the 'First True Dragon.' Emerald was quite interested in finding this person now that she had the time to spare for it.

'Hmm.' Emerald hummed in thought as she considered whether or not she should go. 'Well at the most it'll just be another day and everyone was expecting me to be gone a while. Let's go see a dragon.'

With that, Emerald teleported back down onto the planet and instantly found herself back in the nesting grounds of the dragon flight.

Letting Navi out of her mouth, Emerald took in her surroundings. The nesting grounds hadn't changed in the slightest since the last time she was here, save for the fact that it was now empty since the Dragon Flight had long since left.

'Now...' Emerald thought as she looked around. 'I doubt Eldest is close enough to the surface for my sonar to locate him. It's too bad no one really told me just where to start when it came to going to go see him. All they said was that he was somewhere far beneath the nesting grounds.'

Emerald started to walk and wander, content to simply seek out lava ponds to see if there were any sort of clues for the moment. The virus had only begun her walk when she noticed the soft sounds of someone snoring, the subtle movements of scales scraping against rocks. Raising a brow at the thought of a dragon still being here when the flight had long since left, Emerald walked towards the noise.

Soon, Emerald came atop a ridge over a crater to see a massive old dragon slumbering near one of the lava ponds. Wondering why one of the elders of the Dragon Flight decided to remain behind, Emerald walked over to him. Coming to a stop before his snout, Emerald scratched her head. She was still wondering why the elder had remained behind, but since he was here she figured he wouldn't mind being awoken from a nap too much to answer a single question. Reaching forward the virus grabbed hold of the dragon's snout and began to shake him.

“...Hurk!” The Elder snorted and shook his head and released a yawn as he woke up. “Urrrghh...”

“...” Emerald took a moment to just stand and let the Elder wake up from his sleep before getting his attention. “Hello!”

“Hmmm?” The old dragon looked down at Emerald. He lowered his head and peered at Emerald closely with one of his large eyes, then after a moment it widened in recognition. “Ah! It's you. The dragon who wasn't a dragon. I've been waiting for you to return.”

“You knew I'd be back?” Emerald asked with a tilt of her head.

“Sometimes I dream of what will come to pass,” the elder answered. “In our last days in this place I dreamed of you wandering these ponds once more and knew that your intent was to see the Eldest for yourself.”

'Tapestry of fate, visions of the future, ghosts of the past,' Emerald thought with an inward huff. 'I'm really starting to have to deal with some weird shit.'

“Yeah, I came here to see if I could meet Eldest for myself,” Emerald said. “No one exactly told me where would be the best place to head down to him, however. So I was just to wander and look for a clue of where to start.”

“Well good thing I remained behind then, hmm?” the elder said before motioning to the lava pond right next to him. “Many of the ponds here could reach Eldest if you made sure to always keep going deeper. BUT, this pond here is the best for reaching him as for the most part you just have to go straight down.”

“Alright, thanks.” Emerald nodded and walked over to the pond. Emerald crouched down by the pond and dipped her hand in the magma and brought up a handful. The virus watched as the handful of superheated rock quickly cooled and darkened. On her shoulder, Navi gave a questioning trill and Emerald looked at her with a frown. She wanted to bring her along but obviously things would get a bit too hot for the bug even if she was carried inside her.

'Well there is an easy way to fix that,' Emerald thought and took Navi in her free hand while using her heat sink spell to rapidly cool off her other hand.

“Here you go, Navi,” Emerald said as she formed a tiny tablet for Navi to eat in her hand. “This will make it so you don't get burned.”

Navi gave a happy trill and took the pill in her mouth and started slowly chewing it before finally swallowing. Tiny black tendrils surged beneath Navi's skin and when it was over, the little bug gave an excited trill before flying off and diving for the lava. However, instead of diving into it like it was water, Navi smacked into the surface of the molten rock and lied there for a moment before giving off a somewhat pained trill.

“There is a trick to swimming in magma, little one,” the elder dragon said with an amused chuckle.

Emerald agreed with that as Nidhogg's memories certainly attested to that fact. The virus stepped onto the surface of the magma and simply allowed some of her true weight to return. Emerald sunk into the molten rock and waded over to where Navi was getting frustrated with the lava and angrily hopping on the surface to try to sink.

“It's okay Navi.” Emerald smiled at her pet and lifted up her hat. “We'll swim down together.”

With a happy trill, Navi dove into Emerald's hair and the virus lowered her hat. She then turned in place to face the Elder.

“I know how to teleport so I won't be coming back up this way when I am done,” Emerald said. “Thanks for the help.”

“Of course, it is no problem,” the elder said as he rose up from his position and stretched out his limbs. “Now... to catch up with the Flight.”

With that, the old dragon rose up rapidly into the air with a few beats of his wings and began to rapidly shrink into the distance. Emerald turned away and swam for the center of the pond before letting yet more of her true weight return and began to rapidly sink.

Magma was melted rock, not water, so relying on physical sight to find her way down was going to be a problem. Good thing she had other means of visualizing her surroundings. Emerald charged up a powerful sonic spell and let it loose, the ensuing sound waves allowing Emerald to mentally map her surroundings, easily differentiating the solid rock from the molten. The virus then turned herself upside  down and started swimming downward, getting a decent speed of descent going thanks to Diamond Dog digging magic, as well as using earth channeling to move the magma out of her way, causing her to be half swimming down and half falling.

This went on for several more minutes. Every few moments Emerald would release another sonic pulse and map more of the surrounding landscape. The elder was definitely telling the truth about this tunnel as many others had connected to it, but those were stretching out and upwards towards the surface.

Eventually, Emerald started “seeing” a massive blank spot when she sent out her sonic pulses. Figuring she found the cavern that the Eldest was staying in, the virus decided to go looking for an entrance before she started making holes in an ancient dragon's home. She found said entrance after a minute of swimming to the very bottom of the cavernous structure.

Emerald pulled herself up and out of the magma onto the crystalline 'beach' of the cavern. The virus briefly attempted to brush off the globs of magma that clung to her form before simply consuming them into her mass. Standing up, she lifted her hat to let Navi out before taking in her surroundings.

The cavern was MASSIVE and was faintly lit up due to the presence of fire ruby formations. Said formations were made up of fire rubies easily the size of a phone booth. Giving some calculations, Emerald figured that at its highest point, the cavern could just house all of Mount Canterlot.

The virus started walking forward with Navi buzzing about in the air above her. This place was just utterly filled with gems of all types, shapes and sizes. Hell, the small mountain range like formation in the distance looked like it was in all one piece, which would make it an amethyst of truly ludicrous size.

'Right. Enough sight seeing. Let's find that dragon,' Emerald thought as she began walking forward. 'He should be big like the Elders, so it shouldn't take too long to find him.'

Emerald started walking and releasing viral pulses to make finding Eldest that much faster. The pulses kept coming from the direction of the huge Amethyst formation so it was likely Eldest had carved out a  home in it. The virus could have flown there, but she was rather interested in her surroundings. There was so many beautiful gem formations filling this cavern, some part of her felt rather sad that the dragon living here was eating them.

As Emerald walked by large breathtaking gem formations and the occasional tiny pool of lava, there was a sudden quake that shook the cavern a little. Emerald began to look around when the sight of movement made her freeze. Slowly turning her head, Emerald focused her eyes on the “small mountain range.”

'That's... that's not a huge amethyst...' Emerald thought with wide eyes as said 'amethyst' rose up from the floor.

Eyes of incredible size opened up and shone like beacons in the near darkness of the cavern. Emerald found herself falling onto her back as her face openly expressed her shock at the gargantuan dragon before her.

A low, sleepy rumble filled the cavern, almost shaking the cavern like another minor quake. The dragon that could only be Eldest. The First True Dragon rose up completely from where it had been sleeping. Eldest then turned his massive head directly towards where Emerald was on the ground. With a few steps that had the cavern shaking alarmingly, Eldest crossed the distance between him and Emerald and stopped to stare down at her.

Though Eldest was clearly a dragon, he looked rather different from the dragons Emerald had seen before, apart from his size that is. Eldest was stout looking and bulky, his scales seeming to bulge to their limits from the muscles that flexed and moved beneath. His head wasn't long and narrow like others, he had a short snout and his eyes were somewhat sunk into his face, allowing his brows to hang over them. He was largely a dark, almost amethyst purple with his spinal ridges and belly dark green with matching eyes. The biggest thing about him was the fact he lacked a pair of wings. There wasn't even any scar tissue showing that he lost them in a fight or accident, rather it seemed like he was simply born without them. Overall, Eldest reminded Emerald of some prehistoric beast, an apex predator from the time of dinosaurs rather than a dragon straight out of western fantasy.

“It's been quite a while since I've been awoken by a visitor, Eldest boomed in a deafening voice as he relaxed onto his stomach. “Especially one that wasn't a dragon.”

Emerald really figured she should have replied when Eldest spoke to her but she was distracted by just how massive he was. Nidhogg was huge, enough so he could swallow her with a single bite without any worry of her getting caught in his throat, the same could be said about Eldest if he had decided to do the same to Nidhogg. Also, there was something about his voice... Emerald heard him speak in some dialect that could easily be decided as some ancient and long dead language, but she could still easily understand his words.

“Hmhmhm...” Eldest chuckled as he noticed the expression on Emerald's face. “Even other dragons get that same expression when they come to see me. Don't be shy, little creature. Introduce yourself to me. I relish the chance to entertain a guest.”

“I... I'm Emerald Gleaner...” Emerald said a little haltingly as she rose back onto her two feet. “I've come to meet you and... just talk with you, I suppose.”

“Just talk, hmm?” Eldest stated with a clawed hand scratching his chin. “I'd enjoy that, I think. What shall we talk about?”

“Well...” Emerald began, somewhat feeling like she was being put on the spot. “... I've heard you described as being the 'First True Dragon.' Would you mind telling me the story behind that?”

“I'd be delighted to, Eldest said. “Long ago, in a time before recorded history, before the first tribes, before the discovery of creating fire through flint and friction...”

And so Eldest's tale began at a time that could be considered the equivalent of Equus' Jurassic period. Back then, only the ancestors of modern races and species roamed the world, barely a glimmer of intelligence in their eyes beyond simple beastly instinct. And so it was the same for the dominant race at the time, prehistoric dragons. Dragons were dominant simply for the fact that they were the largest and most powerful creatures in existence, and could eat rock for sustenance if it came down to it. None of them were any more intelligent than the average predator. In fact, by all right, Eldest himself should have died the day he was born, as he was born “disfigured” lacking wings and thus had a massive competitive disadvantage when it came to other dragons. But Eldest's mother was an oddball dragon and had the spark of intelligence in her eyes. She had taken pity on the weakest of her brood and ignored her instincts telling her to cast him aside as a waste of energy and resources.

Eldest spent his early years often picked on by his winged siblings, if it wasn't for the fact his mother made sure to specifically give him food instead of dropping in the nest and letting them all play fight for it, then his growth would have been greatly stunted from lack of nutrition. But his mother took care of him in spite of her instincts, even going as far as keeping him in her nest long past the point she had instinctively driven off her other hatchlings once they reached a certain age. Eventually all things come to an end, however, and Eldest couldn't deny his own desire to leave the nest despite his own clear weakness. And so he had left.

Eldest may have lacked the ability to fly, but that didn't mean he was physically weak. He also had quite the incredible advantage over other dragons in one way. Eldest had inherited his mother's spark of intelligence whereas his siblings clearly took after their father. In fact, he was quicker and more clever than even his mother had been despite lacking her years of experience. Still, initially this meant he only needed to learn about something once rather than having it consecutively hammered in for him to get it. He understood that without wings his chances of holding territory and even attracting a mate were rather slim and so he didn't even try. He stuck to forests and remained on the move, always wary of the open sky.

This didn't always save him. Often times he had to run away and hope that the dragon attacking him would give up chase once he was suitably far enough. Other times he had no choice but to stand his ground and fight. Such a life was often harsh and short for most dragons, but Eldest learned every hard lesson sent his way. Most dragons spent their lives in the air, but not Eldest. His life was spent on the ground and so he grew physically strong and powerful over time. Rare was the dragon that noticed Eldest's powerful muscles over his lack of wings. Rare was the dragon strong enough to leave the following fight without several scars to remind them of their mistake.

Eventually, Eldest laid claim to territory and found himself expectedly swamped with challengers both young and old. But Eldest was clever and cagey. Even century old dragons that decided to test their 'crippled' neighbor found themselves often on the wrong end of a sudden ambush. For while Eldest couldn't fly, he most certainly could jump. The lessons of his youth spent hiding under trees paid off in spades.

Eventually, Eldest had even attracted a mate despite his clear disfigurement. He had several broods with her, somewhat of an oddity since most dragons rarely paired with each other more then once, it was more common to impregnate a  female and separate afterwards with both parties seeking different mates later on in their life. But Eldest wanted to take care of his hatchlings like his mother had taken care of him. He liked to think that his mate enjoyed having him around, though it was more likely she took the opportunity to leave the nest in his guard to fly and hunt. Happily and somewhat at the same time, sadly, the hatchlings took after their mother physically and took after Eldest mentally, he had been looking forward to teaching a ground bound child his tricks. Still, the fact that his children were all so very clever and bright made Eldest satisfied with life and for the first time in a long time, he was content and happy.

From there on it had been a downhill descent for any dragon that wasn't of his bloodline. Over the following centuries and millennia, Eldest's children spread and prospered, their intelligence allowing them to overcome rivals and even in some cases their elders. Eldest never had anymore children beyond the first few broods with his mate. None of them or even their descendants had been wingless like he was. While he had been sad he had no one to teach the tricks he learned to overcome a flying opponent, he was also glad none of his children had needed to learn them. He had been happy with his life and his home. His mate hadn't left either, having grown used to having him around. All things come to end, however...

“One day, I had left to see if my mother still lived in the same place, Eldest said. “When I had arrived to her old territory, I arrived to find it being divided up and shared by my descendants. In respect of my power, they let me roam it without harassment. I found my mother's body nearby, and I knew what had happened. Despite her intelligence, my mother hadn't been as smart as me. She still lived on an instinctual day by day basis. The idea that dragons would band together to take the large territory she held and divide it amongst themselves went against instinct. In hindsight, I should have seen what came next coming.”

“Well over a dozen of dragons that were descended from me gather together to take the massive territory I held and divide it amongst themselves, Eldest continued. “After the initial attack, I decided it was best to live than to fight to the end. My mate, however, was still only a normal dragon. She fought fiercely and powerfully, but she was only one, and she fell. I went into a rage and leaped into battle, roaring. I myself was still only just one dragon, but my children had settled nearby. They heard my roars and came to my aid.”

“After that, I decided it was best if I just decided to go back to roaming freely, Eldest said with a sigh. “I wandered the world and watched it slowly change over the ages and eons. Eventually, I decided to retreat from the world fully and dug down to find a place where I could sleep unbothered for the most part.”

“And here we are, Eldest finished. “I spend my time mostly dreaming and occasionally entertaining the odd guest.”

“Thanks for sharing your story, Eldest.” Emerald said as she brushed herself off and rose off the ground. She looked up at Eldest with a considering look. Ever since the dragon had mentioned all of his children taking after their mother physically, Emerald couldn't help but feel he looked rather familiar. Shaking the thought from her head, Emerald motioned Navi over.

“Thank you for your time,” Emerald said as she tucked Navi away under her hat. “I really should be getting home now. See you some other time, Eldest.”

“Farewell, Eldest said with a wave of a massive hand.

'Hmmm...' Eldest thought as Emerald disappeared in a flash of light. 'Such an interesting soul...'

Eldest lied down on the ground and settled in to go back to his slumber. Before he did though, his eyes scanned the roof of his cavern, seemingly seeing things far beyond them.

'The world is growing more and more restless with each passing day,' Eldest thought. 'It's beginning to feel more and more like the world before history... I'm not sure if that's a good thing. I wonder if the Great Primeval Ones will bother to act? Hard to say...'

With that last thought, Eldest closed his eyes and soon his soft snores began to echo throughout the cavern.

DELTA

Emerald arrived in Ponyville in a flash of light. The moment she arrived, she immediately blinked and took in her surroundings.

The streets were a bit of a mess, there was bits and pieces of food, party favors and the like lying everywhere. Ponies were walking all over, cleaning up the town and looking rather angry while they were doing so.

'Something happened again...' Emerald thought with a sigh. 'Something always happens in this town.'

Looking around again, Emerald spotted Pinkie Pie sitting at the outdoor section of a local diner. Pinkie wasn't looking very happy and had her face planted into the table, releasing a loud sigh every few moments. Wanting to know what had happened this time, Emerald walked towards the party mare.

“Hey there, Pinkie,” Emerald greeted as she neared the mare.

“Oh... hi Emerald,” Pinkie said, turning her head on its side to face the virus.

“Is something wrong, Pinkie?” Emerald asked. “You don't seem like yourself.”

“I guess that makes me one of the copies, huh?” Pinkie said with a sad sigh.

Emerald frowned in some confusion at that and was about to speak again when a shout rang out.

“Emerald!”

“Hmm?” Emerald turned to see Twilight trotting down the road towards her. Immediately a happy smile appeared on Emerald's face. “Hey there, Twilight. Another crisis struck Ponyville while I was gone, huh? Mind telling what it is exactly?”

“I can do better. I can show you,” Twilight with a smile at Emerald before turning towards Pinkie with a frown. “Alright you, I need you to follow me somewhere. This will go a whole lot easier if you cooperate, please.”

“Okay, Twilight,” Pinkie said in a mopey tone before dragging herself off the table.

“Is there a reason why you are talking like that to Pinkie of all people?” Emerald asked with a troubled frown, finding herself rather troubled at the sight of Pinkie being unhappy and being picked on in general.  

“Just trust me, Emerald,” Twilight said as she fell into step just behind Pinkie, almost like she was herding her somewhere. “I'll show you what's going on.”

“...” Emerald frowned and narrowed her eyes. “Twilight, the last time you said something like that I got blasted with the Elements and locked away for two months.”

Twilight came to a sudden stop and gaped at Emerald with an expression that couldn't look anymore hurt even if Emerald had straight up slapped her. A bolt of intense guilt went through Emerald at this but she refused to attempt to take back what she said. There was surely enough time to give a cliff notes explanation and she wanted said explanation now.

“E-Emerald, th-this isn't at all like that!” Twilight protested as a little wetness appeared at the corners of her eyes.

“Prove it then,” Emerald said simply and calmly, urging Pinkie softly to continue moving forward with a comforting hand atop her head. “Surely there is enough time to give me a short version of what has happened between here and our destination?”

“O-okay,” Twilight said, wiping her eyes dry with the back of her foreleg. “Pinkie used a magical artifact called the mirror pond to create copies of herself. There are dozens of them and they've caused a lot of chaos in town by being themselves. I and others put a plan together to figure out which is the real Pinkie Pie.”

“There, wasn't so hard and we aren't even at our destination yet,” Emerald said simply.

“Emerald... I thought you forgave me for what happened...” Twilight said with a sad look.

“I have forgiven you, Twilight, have no doubt of that,” Emerald stated. “However... neither have I forgotten.”

“Oh...”

The rest of the walk passed in some awkward silence. Eventually the group arrived at the local theater and walked in.

“Alright Pinkie, just stay here in front of the stage,” Twilight said as she hopped up onto said stage. “I'll explain everything when the others arrive.”

“Sure...” Pinkie muttered and started poking at the ground with her hoof.

“So what exactly was your plan to do with all the other Pinkies?” Emerald asked as she stepped onto the stage herself.

Twilight was about to answer when a low rumble sounded followed by a great many excited voices. In through the front of the theater came a massive crowd of Pinkie clones. Emerald raised her brows at the sight of all the Pinkies now in the theater.

'So many...' Emerald hummed thoughtfully. 'I wonder what the limits and side effects are? I doubt there aren't any... they might not live for very long or they could be rather fragile.'

Soon the rest of the Mane Six entered the theater themselves and reacted when they saw Emerald standing on the stage in her human form.

“Emerald, dear!” Rarity said cheerfully and quickly trotted over and onto the stage herself to quickly embrace the virus briefly. “It's so wonderful to see you back again! Did your trip to the Republic go well?”

“It... ended up being rather informative and productive,” Emerald answered as the others also climbed up onto the stage. “I'll tell you the details later. Right now I'd like to know what your plan is concerning handling all these Pinkie clones.”

“Well...” Twilight began, giving a look over at the Pinkies, but they for the most part were were getting distracted by each other. “I've found this spell in the book that detailed the Mirror Pond. If I use the spell on the copies, then they'll be sent back to the pond. The issue, however, is that the spell doesn't differentiate from the copies and the original so-”

“Question,” Emerald interrupted with a troubled frown. “What happens to the clones when they are returned to the Mirror Pond?”

“What? They are basically dispelled and the magic that made them sent back to the pond,” Twilight answered with a tilt of her head. “Why?”

“So... basically when you get down to it...” Emerald said with gaze towards all the Pinkies happily interacting with each other. “You hit them with that spell and they die.”

The silence amongst the group on the stage was deafening at that statement despite the noise from the happy Pinkies. The others were wide eyed and Twilight kept opening her mouth to say something but nothing came out.

“But then what does it matter, huh?” Emerald said softly to avoid the slightest chance that any of the clones would overhear her. “They are just clones. Since they aren't the original their lives are clearly worth as much as the dirt under my foot. So yeah, murder them, get rid of them for the crime of not being the Pinkie Pie. Obviously no one cares.”

“Emerald!” Twilight said with a hissed whisper. “We aren't m-murdering them. We-”

“Then what is it?” Emerald said with a glare. “What else could it be this spell of yours that gets rid of the clones does? Do they just get sent back and have happy little dreams for all of eternity? For fucks sake, Twilight. You are one of the smartest people I know, but then you decide to do crap like this and I feel like I am dealing with a child.”

“And don't think I am just speaking to her about this.” Emerald turned her glare upon the rest of the Mane Six. Dash was willing to meet the virus' stare, but even she looked away after a moment. “What, do all consideration for the consequences of your actions suddenly fly out the window the moment you get a little stressed?”

“Pfft, look who's talking,” Dash muttered angrily.

“Yes, exactly.” Emerald said, making Dash blink in confusion. “I am the killer here, I'm the heartless monster. The last thing I want of any of you is to become like me, a murderer.”

There was long awkward moment of silence after that, but eventually the silence was broken.

“So... what's yer plan?” Applejack asked.

“Quite simple, really,” Emerald said as she walked towards the edge of the stage. As she did that, she sent out a viral pulse but all of the clone Pinkies flashed yellow in her sight. That was expected ,fortunately, and Emerald had a secondary plan ready. “Use her own personality against her.”

The crowd of Pinkies was now growing steadily louder and rowdier as they had fun and played little games with each other. Suddenly, a harsh, high pitched whistle rent the air and made all the Pinkies halt in place and release a startled shout. When the whistle died down a moment later, every Pinkie turned towards the stage where Emerald was sitting on the edge of and looking towards them with a kind smile.

“Hi there,” Emerald said with a wave and got a ton of cheerful greetings in response. “You might already know who I am but I'm Emerald Gleaner. You can call me Emmy. I just want to ask a few questions before I tell you about a super fun idea I just had.”

Almost immediately, most of the Pinkies crowded near the stage in clear excitement. Emerald waited a moment for the excited shouting and chattering to die down before continuing.

“Now, first question. Which one of you is the real Pinkie Pie?” Predictably, the air was instantly filled of shouts of each Pinkie in the room claiming to be the 'Real One'. “Heh, silly question. Of course you are all real people. In fact, I am so very glad you've all come into being this day - and here comes that super fun idea - so glad in fact that I want to celebrate the one who created you. The first Pinkie Pie!”

“Exciting, huh?” Emerald said over the cheering and excited talking. “What I want is all of your help in planning out the biggest and best party for her in the whole world. But first, we need to find her. Can you all point out the very first Pinkie Pie for me please?”

“You got it, Emmy!”

“No problem!”

“Okie dokie lokie!”

The various Pinkies quickly got to work, talking and discussing amongst themselves and quickly figuring when each of them had come out of the pool. After only a minute of the clones talking to each other, one of them starting excitedly hopping in place and waving to Emerald.

“Her! Her! It's her!” the hopping Pinkie shouted and pointed at one surprised looking Pinkie. Plenty of others agreed with her and pointed at said Pinkie as well.

“Good job!” Emerald said with a smile and teleported the singled out Pinkie on the stage beside her. “But I've just realised something! Today is the day you were all created. You know what that means? Today is all of your birthdays!”

Instantly, all of the clones gasped in happy surprise.

“I know, incredible news, isn't it?” Emerald said with a nod. “You know what this means? This means we quickly have to get enough things together to celebrate all of your birthdays before the day is over. Don't worry, I'll help all of you get the supplies, I'll even pay for all of them! Just wait outside for me. I'll be out in a moment.”

“Don't be long, Emmy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of things to get and cakes to cook!”

The crowd immediately surged out of the theater and easily charged down the doors that were locked behind them. Emerald gave a nod of satisfaction at a job well done before turning towards Pinkie who was staring at her with wide eyes.

“What are you planning to do with all of them?” Pinkie asked with intense curiosity.

“Well I plan to interview all of them and see just how close they are to you,” Emerald began with a shrug. “First I have to get through all these last minute birthdays, though. And it's clear that Ponyville can only handle one Pinkie at a time so I need to find places for them, homes to buy, jobs to work. Going to take quite a bit of work and a whole lot of money. Good thing I'm rich, huh? I don't think I can do this on my own, either. Going to need to work with Celestia for a lot of this in order to make things as smooth as possible... probably going to need to spend even more money. Ah well. I've only been building up more and more of the stuff. It's not like I need to buy much of anything.”

“Wow, you're willing to do this much for me?” Pinkie asked with a widely growing smile.

“Of course. You're my friend, Pinkie.” Emerald smiled softly. “All of you is my friend.”

“We're best friends, Emerald,” Pinkie corrected as she wrapped Emerald in a tight hug. “Forever.”

“Won't find me arguing with that,” Emerald said and returned the hug.

The other's reaction to what just happened was a bit mixed. Rarity, Spike and Fluttershy were all smiling happily at this recent crisis getting a happy ending. Applejack looked rather conflicted on what she should be feeling at the moment. Rainbow Dash scowled for a moment before huffing and a blank expression dominated her features. Twilight had a small happy smile on her face before it was replaced with a miserable look. She then took a shuddering breath before turning away and quickly trotting off into the darkness of the theater backstage.

EPSILON

A week later found Emerald in her human form and wearing the uniform she wore during her presentation to the League. She had figured she might as well since she was now known as a head of state and this was a rather public action she was taking part in.

Where Emerald was, was the train station of Ponyville. Currently a train at the platform was laden with a dozen or so clone Pinkies who were happily waving goodbye out of the windows as the train began to move.

What was currently happening was the result of a week of constant effort and working in tandem with Celestia; namely finding homes in various settlements and cities. On top of that was needing to find employment for each of the various Pinkies which turned out harder than initially thought. After Emerald had interviewed each of the Pinkies after their collective birthday party, she realized that not all of them were perfect copies. In fact, only a handful had most if any of the first Pinkie's memories. The rest seemed to be varying generalizations of Pinkie's personality and other traits. Emerald figured this was the result of many of them being a copy of a copy of a copy.

Emerald took a look around and frowned when she spotted the occasional fedora with little piece of paper in it. The press was here, of course. The virus had expected a few due to this being a rather public action on her part and she was a rather controversial figure nowadays. But Celestia had exuberated the presence of the press quite a bit by announcing what Emerald was doing. Celestia's reasoning had been that it was good PR for her, but honestly Emerald could care less about that. She honestly wanted to help Pinkie, and though this was taking time out of her busy schedule for quite a few projects, she didn't mind much.

“Umm... Emerald dear?” a voice said behind the virus.

“Hmm? Oh, Rarity,” Emerald said upon spotting the unicorn. “Is there something you needed?”

“Well, yes...” Rarity began a little awkwardly and pulled a letter out. “I got this letter last week but you were so busy at the time. It was from a stallion by the name of Overlook? He told me I was now the majority holder of the shares in a company called New Paradigm. Considering that you were the holder of said shares I was hoping for an explanation.”

“Well since I am a head of state with my own nation to command, I'm not exactly allowed to own and control the industries that I had here in Equestria,” Emerald answered. “So I had to sell them or otherwise get rid of them. I didn't want to give them to just anyone, however, so I thought about it and decided that you would do a lot of good with the money it would get you. So I talked to Overlook and had ownership of my shares transferred to you.”

“Oh my goodness, Emerald!” Rarity gasped and held the letter close to her chest. “I don't know what to say... except thank you. Thank you so much.”

“It's no problem at all, Rarity,” Emerald waved off as she watched what was supposed to be the last group of clone Pinkies boarding the train that would take them to their new homes.

“I would love to keep talking to you more, but...” Rarity said and turned to look off to the side. “A certain somepony else would really like to talk to you so I better be off.”

Emerald frowned at that and looked towards where Rarity had been looking herself. What met her sight was a rather sad and dejected looking Twilight who, upon seeing Rarity leave Emerald's side, walked towards the virus.

“Emerald...” Twilight said as she came to a stop a short distance away. “You aren't still angry with me, are you?”

“I could never stay angry at you for long, Twilight,” Emerald said before sighing. “I just... I was just rather disappointed at how you were planning to handle the clones.”

“... Was it really murder in your eyes?” Twilight asked as she stared up at Emerald. “What I was going to do?”

“Look at them, Twilight.” Emerald motioned to the last train out of Ponyville. Hanging out many of its windows were clones who were happily waving goodbye to everyone. “They may not have been “born” naturally, but they are still clearly living beings. You using that spell on them would have ended their life. But look, I'm not holding it against you, Twilight.”

“You aren't?”

“No.” Emerald shook her head. “The concept of clones is a rather recent idea, isn't it? And you thought all the clones were just some sort of magical constructs, mimicking her behavior but not truly thinking for themselves. You simply didn't know how to handle what was happening... Twilight, are you alright?”

“Oh I just...” Twilight began as she wiped an eye clean. “I just thought... you seemed so angry at me and your words were so hurtful. I honestly was beginning to think we weren't going to...”

“Come here,” Emerald said and quickly closed the space between them and brought Twilight into a tight hug. “I know we have our rough patches, Twilight, but we always get through them. Look, I'm not going to let one little spat get between the two of us. We're better than that. Do you agree with me?”

“Y-yes, yes I do,” Twilight answered with a nod.

“Twilight,” Emerald said and pulled her head back to stare her girlfriend in the eye for a moment before closing to give her a deep kiss. Twilight's eyes widened at this and her cheeks flushed but she quickly relaxed and closed her eyes. Eventually, Emerald ended the kiss and looked Twilight in the eyes again. “I know what I said was hurtful, but the last thing I want for you is to be like me.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing,” Twilight muttered softly.

“Twilight...” Emerald said seriously.

“You know what I mean,” Twilight said and gave Emerald the telekinetic equivalent of a flick to the forehead via a nudge there. “I don't care how busy you are today. I want you back home tonight, okay? I miss having you next to me.”

“Sure thing, Twilight.” Emerald smiled and rose back onto her feet. “I'll see you tonight.”

“See you there.” Twilight smiled back before walking away.

Emerald stared after Twilight for a moment before her smile faded and she looked back towards the train platform. Sitting at one of the benches lining the platform was one of the clone Pinkies, looking utterly forlorn, looking back and forth down and up the tracks like she was expecting another train. A massively clear indicator of just how depressed this Pinkie was feeling was her completely straight hair.

“Hey there, you,” Emerald greeted as she leaned over the back of the bench. “You don't look very happy. What’s the matter?”

“What about me?” Clone Pinkie said with a sniffle. “Do I get a home to go to as well? Did... did you forget about me?”

“Of course not,” Emerald said with a smile. “In fact, I've got a special place in mind for you.”

“Really?” Clone Pinkie said with some cheer appearing. “Where am I going?”

“You are coming back with me to my own personal city,” Emerald replied. “The people are actually going through a bit of a rut and I was hoping you'd be able to help them out of it.”

“Oh... o-okay. I'd like to help,” the clone said, a little hesitant at the idea she'd be trying to help an entire city.

“Don't worry. You just have to take it one day at a time,” Emerald said reassuringly. “You don't have to try to help everyone at once. I just want you to do what you can.”

“Okay... can we go home now?”

“Sure!” Emerald said with a smile and reached out to place a hand atop the clone's head before the both of them disappeared in a flash.

Off to the side, a certain cowpony watched on with a thoughtful frown before slowly smiling and then walking away.

ZETA

“Now I know you probably aren't very receptive to the idea of her living her,” Emerald said, motioning to the clone who was partly hiding behind her, shyly peeking out. “Cause she is a pony and all, but I am hoping you'd at least give her a chance. I know you gave Whisper a chance but she had to help you all out in a fight and I wouldn't exactly call this little mare here a fighter.”

Currently Emerald was back in the Enclave with the clone. She had decided to set up a meeting of sorts with some of the Alphas to make her coming here as smooth as possible. Bluno was actually here and Emerald took that as a sign of him recovering well. Other than Bluno, only Belvedere, Fenrir and Tavish were there. It made sense since most other Alphas recognized them collectively as Emerald's advisers and the ones to take over whenever Emerald wasn't here. The group was also now situated in one of the meeting rooms. Emerald remembered planning quite a few heists in this room.

“Isn't she one of your friends, lass?” Tavish asked with a scratch of his head. “Why she coming to live here? She didn't get kicked out of Ponyville, did she?”

“Well she is my friend, but she isn't Pinkie,” Emerald explained. “She's a clone, a copy of a person. There was several dozens of her and I spent the last week setting them up in homes all over Equestria. I figured that since all of them have a tendency towards the first Pinkie's traits, the city here would benefit from her presence. In fact, to avoid confusion, we should call her something else... Diane, what do you think of that?”

“...” 'Diane' blinked her eyes at Emerald suddenly deciding to give her a name change. She opened her mouth to say something but stopped and looked thoughtful for a long moment. “... Okay.”

“Such a shy little pony,” Bluno commented. “The Boss said that another pony is living here, right? She can help you settle in too. I'm her friend. I can help you settle in and introduce you to all the friendly dogs.”

“Fenrir, Belvedere? I haven't heard from the either of you yet,” Emerald said. “Anything you want to comment on?”

“If you wish to bring a pony to live here, then I respect your decision, Princeps,” Fenrir predictably said.

“I have just a few concerns, but I think you already know what they are,” Belvedere stated and Emerald nodded. What the concern was, was whether Diane was going to be harassed by the more hateful dogs in the Enclave. In light of that, Bluno and Whisper's help in this would be greatly appreciated. The dogs they knew would be the ones most willing to form a friendship with the clone.

“Right. Now that that is out of the way, let's get you settled into your home,” Emerald said to Diane before looking towards Bluno. “Could I trust you to find her someplace nice to stay for the moment? I figure she wants to live on the surface like Whisper does. But making another cottage up there is going to take a good day or two to get everything nice and set up, so it would be best if you could find her an apartment down here with some nice neighbors.”

“No problems!” Bluno smiled. “Follow me, Diane. I know just the place for you!”

With that, the group left the building they were in. However, the moment they did they heard screams and shouts of excitement coming from above them. They looked up just in time to see a shape falling towards them.

“Woooo!” Flandre the spider cheered along with the Diamond Puppies held in her legs as her silk bungee stopped her a few feet from the road. “You all wanna go again?”

“Hello Flan,” Emerald greeted.

“Hi~!” Flandre greeted happily and all her eyes widened as she caught sight of Diane who quickly darted behind Emerald again at the sight of the spider. “OH! You brought a new pony here! Hi! My name's Flandre, what's yours?”

“...” Diane glanced out at the spider a little shyly. She honestly found the spider rather scary looking, but the excited, happy energy she exuded at seeing someone new hit a few chords within her. So, somewhat nervously, she stepped out from behind Emerald and smiled at the spider. “I'm Diane.”

“Do you want to bungee jump with me?” Flandre asked as she put down the pups and stepped closer to Diane. “It used to be so boring, but it's a whole lot of fun with others.”

“Umm...” Diane began with a look at Bluno.

“Nah, don't worry about it,” Bluno said with a grin. “I can always show you your new digs later. Go on and have fun with the little spider.”

“Okay!”

Emerald smiled as she stepped away while watching Flandre wrap Diane up in some silk cables to hold her since she was too heavy to hang on to with just her legs. Emerald knew that this clone was definitely one of the later ones from how different she was from Pinkie Pie. In all likelihood, she may be so different she won't be able to do too much with the stated reason she was brought here for, but that was okay. Emerald had mostly brought her to the Enclave so she could watch over her. She didn't know much about the makeup of the magical clones and wanted to study her. She was concerned they might have some serious side effects from being what they are and might have a horribly short life span. But the only way to find that out for sure was to study Diane. Hopefully her fears would be found wrong.

As Emerald walked away, she found herself drawing upon her new channeler abilities and began feeling the energy of the city and, more importantly, the Everfree. She had noticed that the natural energies running through the air in Equestria were rather dull and laggard feeling compared to the Republic. However, the energy here in the Everfree... it made the feeling back in the Republic feel also comatose and was even worse when compared to Equestria. Everything was just so alive and thrumming with energy. It had actually taken everything to not just stand and be lost in it for who knows how long when she first arrived here with Diane.

'I don't know why, but this place, it feels- NO, it speaks to me. It says HOME,' Emerald thought with a smile. 'Everfree... home of the forever free.'

Emerald pulled herself out of the feeling the energies, partly against her own will, because she was feeling like something was bothering her. Was she forgetting something? The virus paused for a moment and began searching through her memories, starting with those connected to the idea of Ponyville and the Enclave. She found out what was bothering her almost immediately.

“Damn it, I forgot about the changelings in all the excitement,” Emerald muttered to herself quietly. “Augh... stupid...”

“We are here, Queen Mother,” a voice said from behind her.

It took everything in that moment for Emerald to keep her reaction restricted to just a sudden stiffening of her posture and widening of her eyes. Otherwise she honestly would have given a startled shout and jumped. It was rare that she was so unaware of her surroundings that something could truly sneak up on her nowadays. After taking a moment to calm herself, she turned around and saw one of the viral changelings standing in an alleyway just a few feet from her.

“You... you are pretty damn sneaky, aren't you?” Emerald stated. “When did you get here? Are the others here as well?”

“We are all here, Queen Mother,” the changeling answered. “We've been watching and following you since you arrived in Ponyville, awaiting the command to attend to you.”

“Have you now?” Emerald said and briefly took a look around. She could probably find all of them if she really worked at it, but the fact they were still hidden despite a cursory look, and the fact she never noticed she was being watched in the last week, said a lot about their skills. “I was going to go work on some things, but I think you take a priority. Come with me, I want to introduce you and your own to some people.”

“Of course, Queen Mother,” the changeling said and obediently fell into step behind Emerald.

'How very skilled,' Emerald thought as she managed to spy one of the hidden changelings, though it had taken a good bit of her sense and own significant experiences as a spy to do so. 'And they don't even have the kind of formal training I'm familiar with. They would be quite the force to be reckoned with if they did, though. Let's see about doing just that, shall we?'

-TBC-