Equestria’s Changeling Queen and the Abyssal Empress

by vren55

Chapter 19: Rock of Peace

One day later, morning…
The tremors didn’t throw Alternia out of her bed, but they certainly woke her up and sent her scrambling out of it as the crystal ceiling lamp tinkled with the vibrations. Blinking sleep from her eyes, Alternia found herself enwrapped with a blue glow of magic as Lieutenant Hydrangea, her temporary night guard in Diamondshell’s stead, threw her underneath a table and erected a bubble shield over them as the bedroom continued to shake for several excruciatingly long seconds.

The ponyquin with Alternia’s heavy regalia was the first to go and it toppled, spilling the silver hoofshoes, chestplate and crown across the floor. Meanwhile, the chamber’s tall wardrobe swayed back and forth dangerously.

“What is going on, Lieutenant?” demanded Alternia.

The light-blue unicorn frowned. “I’m not sure, your highness. I haven’t received any reports,” she said in a curt tone. She pressed Alternia’s head back down, much to the changeling’s protesting grunt as the wardrobe finally toppled forward and slammed into the floor in front of them.

Then as abruptly as they had started, the tremors stopped.

“Your highness, I think it’s safe, but there may be aftershocks, so be careful.” Hydrangea frowned as Alternia didn’t respond and glanced at the queen. Her eyes were closed and brow knitted together. Hydrangea deduced that her princess was likely in communion with her hive.

Alternia’s eyes snapped open, her shoulders relaxing. “Initial reports suggest nobody in the palace was severely injured, and the island doesn’t appear to be in danger of being destroyed, but there has been some damage to Venecia’s structures. Whole lines of buildings have sunk into the ground for some reason.”

“A kelpie retaliation, your highness?” asked Hydrangea.

Nodding, Alternia grabbed her crown and regalia from the floor and slipped into her hoofshoes. “Perhaps, but why retaliate with an earthquake? Why not a tsunami?” Her chestplate was next, and Hydrangea helped do the buckles at the back with her magic— “We know they are hydromancers, not earth magicians.” The silver crown was last to place itself on Alternia’s head and she trotted to the bathroom, only for Cyndra to enter with a bottle of mouthwash. Thanking Cyndra, Alternia quickly rinsed her mouth and cantered out of her chambers where the occupants of the Doggess’s palace were quickly trying to assess the extent of the damage.

This was also where Alternia ran into Celestia and Sunset.

“I just raised the sun when the earthquake happened. Do you have any ideas how in Tartarus the Empress was able to cause an earthquake?” asked Celestia.

“No, but we should prepare the navy and guard to receive an attack. A minor earthquake is a bit too tame for a kelpie retaliation. There has to be another reason for this earthquake, however they caused it,” said Alternia. At the same time, she messaged telepathic orders to her changelings to assemble what remained of the active members of the Mirror Guard.

That was when Sebastiana, galloped up the two Equestrian princesses.

“Your highnesses, did you see Retariusil?” she asked.

Alternia was tempted to blink but fought back her initial instinct to stare. The brown pony’s long, curly strawberry-blonde hair was loose, and rather mussed. There was nothing taboo about this, but Alternia could not remember a moment when she had seen Sebastiana in such an informal setting and without the golden robes of her office.

“Sorry, we haven’t. Why do you ask?” asked Chrysalis.

The Doggess couldn’t help but blush a bit. “We were in bed together when the earthquake started. After it, she checked on her hive link to see if her changelings were alright and suddenly bolted out of our room.” Sebastiana bit her lip and swallowed. “I’ve never seen her so panicked.”

That is indeed worrying, thought Alternia. She turned to her sister. “Chrysalis, do you have any idea how to find her?”

Chrysalis nodded. “Find one of her changelings. They’d at least allow us to get in contact with—”


Everypony and changeling’s ears flattened to their heads as they heard the same word being screamed throughout the palace. Alternia could tell through her muffled hearing that they came from several different voices, but why the hay were they all screaming like that?

“Come on!” yelled Celestia, leading the group toward the nearest voice.

In the mess hall, they found a changeling, one of Retariusil’s judging from the amber colored eyes, sobbing on the ground, tears pouring from his eyes.

“What’s wrong? Where is Retariusil?” demanded Chrysalis.

The changeling told them, leading Alternia to curse, grab Sebastiana with her levitation and teleport.

Alternia zapped into existence next to Sebastiana, whom she was teleporting with near the ponyhole entrance they had entered yesterday—except they materialized midair.

Sebastiana opened her mouth to scream, but Alternia’s magic caught her first and set her down gently on the cracked road.

There was an inordinate amount of steam that initially obscured her vision, but as Alternia descended, she realized the alleyway where they had entered was sunken in, along with a straight section that stretched on toward the distant sea. By some miracle, the buildings bracketing the alleyway hadn’t toppled over, but it meant Alternia had a clear view of Retariusil bawling her eyes out.

Crouched in the impromptu ditch, the queen, surrounded by her changelings was sobbing over what used to be the entrance to her home. Her changelings weren’t doing much better as they howled at the destruction of their hive, sharing in their queen’s grief.

Alternia swallowed and quietly trotted up to the queen. “I’m sorry for your loss, Retariusil—”

Retariusil whirled on Alternia her hoof swinging at her cheek, but Hydrangea, whom Celestia had just teleported there with Chrysalis, grabbed the queen’s hoof with her magic, halting it in mid-air. She wasn’t quick enough, though, to stop Retariusil from spitting in Alternia’s face.

“Is your cursed conscience happy now? My home is gone! My hive’s greatest achievement buried beneath the rubble except for one single book! Do you think you should have not killed those monstrous kelpie fry now? DO YOU!”

Alternia wiped the spit from her face, but remained silent. She didn’t feel as if she had the right to answer.

Chrysalis though had no reservations, and Alternia could sense her sister’s very barely suppressed rage.

“If Alternia had killed those fry, the entire island might be flooded. We’re lucky as it is we still have our lives!”

“I know!” Chrysalis stared as Retariusil slumped back to the broken ground, whimpering brokenly as she pawed at what used to be the floor of the tunnel. “But I want to kill them all. I know it isn’t right for me, but I want to do it anyway. I know my mother would disapprove, but they’ve taken everything from me and my hive. I want to take something of theirs away. Anything. Is that so wrong of me?”

Taking a deep breath Alternia shook her head. “No it isn’t, but they haven’t taken everything from you and your hive, Retariusil.” Stepping aside, Alternia let Sebastiana run forward and bury her hooves around the sobbing queen.

“Sorry, I love—”

“I know you do, Retariusil,” whispered Sebastiana. She managed a small, teary smile. “If Venecia is still standing after this, and if I am still Doggess, you know you’ll have a home with me.”

“I know… I know…” croaked Retariusil as the others sadly looked on.


“Ebb Flow, perhaps you can give me some insight into this,” said Typhon as he looked grimly toward Venecia.

The pair were underwater, near Venecia, scouting the area where they were going to be negotiating, and so Typhon very clearly heard the tremors that shook the water and the crumbling of earth that shook the island city.

“Well, the collapse of the hive was the result of our seapony engineer corps first pushing water into the narrow tunnels of Queen Murmillar’s hive and flooding it. We then froze all the water, causing it to expand and destroy the supports of the hive, before thawing it all out, letting the hive collapse,” explained the kelpie captain in a nonchalant manner.

“But why?” asked Typhon exasperatedly.

Ebb glanced at Typhon, perplexed. “Because the Empress ordered it, your highness.”

The prince was very tempted to roll his eyes, but he was too frustrated to do so. “I know it was the Empress’s orders, but why in the Abyss would she order this before we started our negotiations?” asked the prince.

Ebb Flow turned to Typhon, and addressed him in a calm very matter-of-fact tone. “The destruction of Murmillar’s hive is hardly going to change the state of the negotiations, Typhon. The surface worlders still hate us for driving them from the seas that they see as theirs to crawl upon and pollute. This is in spite of how the oceans have always been our home. In particular, Murmillar’s daughter probably detests us for killing her mother, and besides, Princess Alternia, who would likely be leading the negotiations, will keep her in check.”

Typhon snarled. “But what if that doesn’t happen! What if Princess Alternia doesn't want to keep Murmillar’s daughter in check! Why bother to negotiate when you do something that would likely make them fail beforehoof?”

Ebb shrugged. “Because as you so eloquently put to the Empress, we have nothing to lose, Prince Typhon. If the Equestrians can give us a good deal and in the unlikely chance that they stick to it, then all the better, but if they don’t, then we can continue as is.” The captain winced. “Admittedly, it is not the most sustainable of strategies, but we do what we must to survive.”

The prince bit his anger down and sighed. He knew the captain was right, and so he turned to the seaponies at the ready.

“Tell the Empress we’ve decided upon a location and that we’re on our way back to write the message.”

A few days later…

Alternia was visiting Diamondshell, and regaling her wounded chevalier with an old tale from her reign when there was a knock.

“Your highness, we might have a problem,” said Harlequin, his purple eyes glancing over his shoulder even as he shut the door to hospital room behind him.

Alternia looked up Diamondshell and steeled herself. “What is it, Captain?”

Harlequin trotted over to Alternia quickly and whispered, “Is the room soundproofed?”

Looking up, but inwardly wondering why her captain was being so secretive, Alternia scanned her room and cast a soundproofing and anti-scrying spell. She then turned back to her captain and nodded.

Harlequin didn’t relax though and his tone remained low, barely above a whisper.

“Retariusil’s changelings… I don’t know about the queen, but several of my Mirror Guard have overheard whispers, blaming you, Chrysalis, and Celestia for the collapse of the Sea Serpent’s hive.”

Alternia’s eyes widened. Her mouth formed into the shape to utter an incredulous “why.” Diamondshell gritted her teeth and was about to spit out some kind of expletive, but Harlequin cut them both off.

“Because everybody knows that the expedition into the hive led to the Aquestrians collapsing of it, Retariusil’s changelings are furious. They’re looking for someone to blame and because we, the Equestrians and her allied hives, placed the most emphasis in the significance of the mission, they’re blaming you.”

Alternia shook her head, eyes wide with disbelief. “But that’s preposterous! Retariusil was the one who proposed it in the first place. There’s noone to blame for this except for the Aquestrians.”

Harlequin grimaced and sighed. “They’ve lost their home, your highness. It’s not exactly done well for their emotional states or their rational thinking. Plus, with Retariusil spending an inordinate amount of time with Sebastiana, there’s nobody to correct them.” The captain licked his dry lips to moisten them and sighed. “There’s also the matter of some of your earlier statements on the need to adopt a cautious approach and your known favoring of a peaceful solution. It’s had them questioning whether you are truly supportive of their cause or if you just wish to protect Equestrian lives. They wonder whether your claim of being the ‘bridge between ponies and changelings’ is just all talk.”

Indignant fury coursed through Alternia’s muscles and legs, and she had to force herself to stay sat down on her chair.

Diamondshell had less control though and Alternia could feel the vehemence in her tone as she raged in her bed. “What a bunch of ungrateful thin-shelled ingrates! Have they forgotten what you’ve done for changeling-pony relations? Have they forgotten you’ve led your ponies into their miserable death trap of a hive. By Tartarus, have they so quickly forgotten that just yesterday, you offered some of Equestria’s own territory for them to settle on!”

Harlequin nodded slightly, and Alternia could feel his furious agreement with Diamondshell beneath his mask of professionalism. He clearly realized his slip though, as Harlequin swallowed and took a deep breath before speaking again.

“What remains true though is that we have a lot of angry changelings and the need for a morale boost. I suggest you speak to Retariusil on this immediately and arrange something.that reminds them that we are all in the same boat… well on the same island anyway,” amended Harlequin.

“Good idea captain. Let’s go see Retariusil now,” said Alternia. Turning to Diamondshell, Alternia was about to speak, but the chevalier waved her remaining forehoof. “Go your highness, I need to pen a letter to Lady Lamia on the situation anyway.”

“Alright. See you later, Diamondshell,” said Alternia.

Harlequin and Alternia found Retariusil in Sebastiana’s chambers, her office specifically. The Doggess was working through the paperwork incurred by the earthquake and Retariusil was helping her.

Alternia swallowed, quashing the uncertainty she felt in her stomach and tensing herself as she entered the chambers.


The younger queen glanced up at Alternia briefly, eyebrows furrowed. Grief was the dominating emotion in Retariusil’s heart, but Alternia could sense confusion, and more worryingly enough, frustration in the queen.

“I have a bit of a delicate situation that I need your help with…” And so Alternia explained the rumors going on about her and the frustration Retariusil’s changelings had with the situation. All the while, Retariusil sat there, her eyes narrowed, gazing at Alternia.

The changeling princess’s nervousness was not helped by Retariusil’s emotions. She was calm, but Alternia could feel some degree of annoyance that could be directed at her, or hopefully, to their situation in general.

“Alternia, I don’t quite agree with what my changelings are saying, and I do think they’re being quite ungrateful, but you have to admit, the peace you’re searching for doesn’t apply to all changelings.”

Alternia took a moment to collect herself. It wasn’t too difficult to see why Retariiusil had made this point, and she needed to answer why very carefully.

“Retariusil, the Queen’s Council is too disparate a body for me to adequately negotiate for. Chrysalis has been reporting our findings to the Council and advising them on countermeasures, but most of these hives aren’t in Equestria. Even if I could take military action to protect them, which is unlikely because they’re not within Equestria's borders, it’s unlikely they’ll want me to have such influence on their hive’s policies and destinies. As such, extending my protection over them would be… well, a violation of their independence.”

The changeling princess paused, allowing for Retariusil some time to digest her statement, and for the younger queen’s expression to lapse into a reluctant grimace.

“All I can do is to do is protect the changelings I can, those who don’t mind working with me directly. Which includes your hive,” said Alternia, hoping Retariusil could sense the sincerity in her statement.

Retariusil, still grimacing, gave a slight nod. “You have a point. I’ll see what I can do.”

“In the meantime, I may have an idea to boost our force’s morale.” said Sebastiana, looking up from her paperwork.

A week later…

Alternia, Chrysalis, Celestia, Retariusil, and Sebastiana were inspecting the troops on the palace grounds. Companies of blue and red clad Venecian marines, gold-clad Royal Guard and black-armored changelings quietly stood in columns as the royals’ gaze passed over them.

Of course, military inspections like these served little practical purpose, but it was a good way to boost the confidence of the involved troops and take ponies’ and changelings’ minds off of the danger that lay in the water surrounding their island.

All of a sudden, Harlequin, who was standing at attention, bolted, yelling, “INCOMING!”

Alternia turned and cursed under her breath. A boulder was flying through the air toward the palace grounds.

“I thought you said collapsing the hive was their retaliation!” snapped Chrysalis as she jumped into the air toward the incoming rock.

“In my defence, it was a guess!” Alternia exclaimed as she buzzed her wings and followed her sister.

“Less talk more levitation!” snapped Celestia. The two changelings and alicorn’s magic seized the boulder and together, they guided it down to the road in front of the palace, setting it down with a bit of a bump onto the ground.

“Alright, let’s see if they have more to throw at us,” said Alternia. Her eyes shot to the horizon, scanning it for any more incoming projectiles.

But there were no other boulders.

The two changelings and the alicorn hovered awkwardly in the air for several long minutes as no further rocks were sent their way. Meanwhile, the soldiers and guards that had taken cover waited with bated breath.

“Everybody stand down,” ordered Celestia. The guards breathed a sigh of relief and emerged from their hiding places behind shrubbery and building.

“Why did they just throw us one boulder?” asked Alternia as she alighted back onto the ground.

“Perhaps it isn’t your ordinary boulder,” said Chrysalis eyes narrowed at the rock.

The alicorn and changelings circled the boulder. It was about as tall as Celestia, of dark granite stained with barnacles and seaweed, but hardly a unique boulder. At least until Celestia noticed the writing upon it.

“To the Equestrian Triumvirate, and the Changelings on Venecia,” Celestia’s eyes narrowed in on the chiseled script. “The Aquestrian Empire grants you one chance to negotiate with us for the use of our seas and for the outcome of this war.”

Shock and hope filled Alternia’s breast as she took a step closer to the boulder, her eyes reading the script on the boulder even as Celestia continued to read.

“Meet our delegation on the evening of the third day from after you received this letter, when the sun goes down, at the western tip of Venecia with your best offer. We will cease all combat operations from this point on until the sunrise after the meeting, and we expect you to do to the same unless you wish for the meeting to be off. Signed, Abyssal Empress Tethys, Regent of the Throne of Aquestria.”

“Celestia, I think I’m dreaming, because you just told us the Aquestrians are giving us a chance to treat with them,” said Alternia jaw slightly agape.

“No. You are not dreaming Alternia, they are giving us a chance to talk,” said Chrysalis, eyes wide.

“It has to be a trap. I mean, that boulder was going to squash somepony,” said Retariusil, trotting up from behind them, Sebastiana at her side.

“True… though that’s perhaps because they can’t really speak above water without magical aid and considering recent events, they probably chose for the option that would pose the least risk to themselves,” said Chrysalis.

“Which would be Tethys hurling a boulder at us, with a message written on it. The offer is very atypical of the Empress, even if her delivery method seems rather typical of her,” remarked Alternia as she examined the carved script.

“Moreover, you’ve read your mother’s book Retariusil, if we are right to assume this message is from the kelpies, then they won’t break their oath,” said Celestia, a hoof rubbing her chin.

“They could be preparing for an attack though,” said Sebastiana. The earth pony blinked and shook her head. “Wait, sorry, they wouldn’t need a pretend ceasefire to ready an attack, but still, whoever is sent to negotiate is going to be at risk.”

Alternia nodded. “Which is why we’ll take every precaution. We can’t bring an army to a negotiation, but we’ll post my Mirror Guard and some of Venecia’s Marines a distance from the negotiating area, ready to extract us if necessary.”

“We can handle that. Your highnesses should figure out what kind of offer we are going to make,” spoke up Harlequin.

Nodding to Harlequin, Alternia turned back to the message. “Thank you captain. Meanwhile, does anybody have any ideas about the offer we have to make?”

All of a sudden, Alternia’s view of the message was blocked when Retariusil stepped in front of her, her eyes blazing.

“You are going to negotiate with these monsters? What are you going to give them? We know they won’t be satisfied unless with live flesh!”

Alternia grimaced. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, Retariusil, but for now, we need to try to ensure that the tens of thousands of ponies, griffons, donkeys, minotaurs and changelings on Venecia get off this island safely.” Alternia tapped the carved message with a hoof. “What’s encouraging is that the Empress has clearly decided to take more notice of Venecia from how she has addressed her message. Depending on her mood and if we play it right, we might be able to get your hive reparations.”

Retariusil seemed momentarily intrigued by the idea of reparations, but a scowl returned to her features. “They’ve killed Raven, Buzz, your guards, destroyed my hive, eaten my mother, murdered your ponies, and you still want to negotiate?” The queen glared at Alternia. “Did they not kill your friends?”

For an instance, Alternia’s anger towards the kelpies flared, as Retariusil’s words struck a primal, aching chord within her. But she bit it back down and instead, raised her head higher, her eyes glaring right down into Retariusil’s.

“Do not question the burden I have for my ponies and changeling’s deaths. That burden cries for me to do what I feel is right, Retariusil, and unless you want to doom us all to long and slow starvation, we need to find a way to evacuate off this island without committing ourselves to a battle we cannot hope to win, and without turning into monsters ourselves.”

Her response was quiet, barely at speaking volume, but there was an air of steely resolve, a resolve that froze Retariusil.

“We can easily turn into monsters by appeasing monsters though,” said Sebastiana, stepping up beside Retariusil.

Alternia nodded. “And that is why we have to handle this negotiation with the utmost caution. If nothing else, at least we can buy some time.” She turned back to Retariusil. “Don’t worry Retariusil, I will personally lead the negotiations and I will make sure to protect both changelings and ponies.”

A few days later...
The western tip of Venecia was a rather recognizable geographical landmark, which was probably why the kelpies had chosen it. Here, the island’s bedrock tapered down to a small rocky peninsula a few pony-widths across, which gradually sloped into the water. Apparently it was the remnants of some kind of old lava flow from the volcano Venecia had been built upon.

This was where Alternia and Sebastiana waited, seated on two chairs, they sat inside a small pavilion to provide them some shelter from the wind, at least on the sides. The back and front were opened. A small table was in front of them with a map of Venecia, Equestria, and notepaper.

“Nervous, Sebastiana?” asked Alternia.

“Oh just why did you agree to Celestia’s proposal to just have the pair of us negotiate first? I mean, we needed to limit the risk, but why us two?” whimpered the Doggess.

Alternia gestured to the one hundred ponies, and changelings behind them, literally armed to the teeth, dug in behind makeshift dirt walls, some distance away from the shoreline.

“We’re going to be fine, Sebastiana. I know a few tricks and we have ponies and changelings watching our backs.” Alternia sensed that didn’t reassure Sebastiana and so she smiled. “However, I also agreed because while I can represent Equestria and the changelings, I need your input in regards to topics on Venecia,” said Alternia.

Sebastiana grumbled. “I suppose also making sure Retariusil doesn’t ruin the first meeting carelessly was part of your plan?”

Alternia’s lips twitched in a ghost of a smile. “I’m sure you agree with me, Sebastiana, that Retariusil has the potential to become a great queen someday, but for now, emotions rule her heart too closely.”

Sebastiana chuckled. “I know…”

The pair sat in silence, waiting for when Celestia would lower the sun.

“Princess Alternia, may I ask a personal question?”


“Retariusil and I… we… uh…” Sebastiana spluttered, failing to find the words, and she sighed. “She’s a long-living changeling queen. I am a short-lived pony. Is our relationship ever going to work out?”

Alternia had been expecting this question for a while now. There were few who had found themselves in Retariusil and Sebastiana’s situation, and so the Doggess asking this ruler to ruler, was something Alternia had predicted as inevitable.

All the same, Alternia couldn’t help but feel somewhat nostalgic as she saw the worry in Sebastiana’s eyes, and felt the love in her heart.

“I can’t say, Sebastiana. My track record of relationships with others has been rather mixed. Mostly successful, and loving, but my disguise prevented me from ever taking an official consort.” Alternia sighed at that, but only briefly, as her smile quickly returned to her features. “I think though, that you and Retariusil seem to love each other not simply because of your similar situation, but because you genuinely feel that you love one another for whom she is.”

“But do you think that Retariusil will…” Sebastiana winced. “Forget me? I’m going to die. She is too, but if we survive this, she’ll live for centuries, if you and Chrysalis are any indication.” Groaning, Sebastiana’s shoulders sank. “I’m just going to be a blip in her life.”

Alternia used her hoof to tip Sebastiana’s face upwards, and her magic to levitate a hoofkerchief to the Doggess. Sebastiana mumbled some thanks and used the hoofkerchief to wipe her teary eyes.

“Speaking from personal experience, I don’t think it will be so easy for Retariusil to forget you. Neither do I think she will love you any less as you grow older.” Alternia took a moment to glance at the sea before turning back to Sebastiana. “My memory still has certain issues due to the memory spell, but I never forgot any of my lovers. The times I spent with them, both good and bad, stayed with me for all my life.”

“Ah, thank you, Princess.”

“You’re welcome.” Alternia took a deep breath. “The sun’s setting.”

And so it was. The ball of flame now made its descent through the sky, sweeping under the horizon, and plunging everypony and changeling into the starlit dark of night.

That was when the kelpie delegation surfaced. Through the pavilion's open front flap, Alternia could see the outlines of green magic around the two kelpies in the group, which would enable them to speak.

One of them was Typhon, instantly recognizable by his golden crown. Now that Alternia could see him a little more clearly as he was closer to her and she didn’t have a concussion, the changeling queen noticed that the prince’s carapace—in fact, the kelpies’ carapaces in general—were not actually black, but a very dark charcoal blue, and instead of being smooth like a changelings, it was composed of a variety of angular plates. His rear end, like all the other kelpies’, ended in a fish tail instead of a long pony-like tail hair, and now that Alternia was close enough, she realized that the kelpie’s jaw and mouth was sculpted less like a pony’s. It was wider, longer, similar to that of a horse’s. Such an evolutionary adaptation Alternia realized, would have allowed for a very large and deadly bite. The regalia he wore were made of pure gold, from the rings he had on his tentacles to the chain around his neck, the bands around his legs, and his crown. All of his regalia were engraved with beautiful rune-like seapony script and detailed images of seaponies, possibly from their history.

Peeling her eyes away, Alternia glanced at the other kelpie, whose lips were curled in a rather disdainful sneer, and started, her eyes widening.

The kelpie was dressed in the same dark armor as the kelpie that had killed Raven. It was even possible the kelpie coming towards her was the one who had killed Raven and seven others.

Alternia forced her rising anger down her throat, refusing to let that burning sensation control her and confronting herself with cold, hard, logic.

The kelpie approaching them was smaller than the one that had killed Raven and so it could not be the one. That one had been about a head higher than the average pony, larger than most kelpies she had seen, in fact. This one was the same size as Typhon. It also didn’t just have tentacles, but instead, several of her tentacles were capped by razor sharp crab claws. There was no doubt in Alternia’s mind that judging by those tentacles, the armor and the easy, yet tensed manner in which she trotted toward them, this kelpie was a trained fighter.

So breathing deeply in and out, Alternia relaxed herself and focused on observing the kelpie’s armor to distract herself. She couldn’t identify the metal, but she could respect the design. It was plate armor of a high quality. Articulated plates guarded the neck of the kelpie, the flanks, even the start of her tail end, while leaving its tentacles free to lash out. The helmet was more open-faced than those of Equestrian make, only shielding the ears, and upper head, as it left the cheek and jowl area open, but that was likely to allow for the wearer to make better use of its bite.

As Alternia turned to the final arrival though, she frowned. She was a blue pegasus with bright, mischievous eyes and a smile… that was partially ruined by a golden front tooth. She walked in heavy faux- leather boots with a somewhat odd gait that favored her right side. A very flamboyant black floppy hat with black lace embroidery on its fringes perched atop her head and a red feather from some tropical bird had been stuck into it.

Alternia said nothing though merely wearing a small smile as the kelpies, who were dripping water, as well as the pegasus, sat down on the chairs provided to them in the pavilion. That was when the pegasus took off her foreleg boots and showed that the left one ended in a pirate’s hook.

Alternia didn’t blink, but filed that away in her mind as she recognized who the pegasus was.

“Greetings, Prince Typhon, thank you for joining us,” said Alternia politely.

“Thanks for accepting our invitation, Princess Alternia.” Typhon glanced at Sebastiana. “And you are…”

“That’s Doggess Sebastiana of Venecia, your highness,” said the pegasus.

Typhon nodded and bowed, a bit awkwardly to Sebastiana. “Ah, pardon me. Let’s begin. This is Captain Ebb Flow. She is the captain of Empress Tethys’s Abyssal Guard and this is—”

“Captain Brinewing the Brazen, so pleased to know that you’re still alive,” said Alternia a wide smile on her face.

Alternia couldn’t help but delight in how Brinewing, whom she had earlier sensed was a bit in awe of her already, gawked comically. Typhon stared at Alternia, his surprise very badly hidden by his blank expression, while Ebb Flow’s eyes simply narrowed, wariness emanating from her.

“To think I’d meet a famous pirate captain that everypony thinks was killed in that unfortunate tsunami. The REINS assumed your body was washed out from Port Royale, but I suppose you simply found new employment. What an… interesting choice,” said Alternia, pausing, very deliberately.

“Well, um… yes. It’s been very interesting,” said Brinewing.

Alternia inwardly grimaced as she picked up on Brinewing’s embarrassment, but not fear. So Brinewing had been working with them, possibly unwillingly at first, but mostly willingly now.

Typhon cut in, before Brinewing could embarrass herself further. “Well, now that we’ve all been introduced, why don’t we get started.” He fixed Alternia with a calm gaze. “What do you want?” Typhon was aware he had come to the meeting to see what the Equestrians had to offer, but before that, he had to know what they wanted.

Alternia nodded and turned to Sebastiana. They had agreed that should Typhon ask or prompt them for what they wanted, they’d lead with their less demanding offer. The one that would also be partially in the kelpies’ best interest.

“We’d like to ask for safe passage from Venecia to the Equestrian mainland in order to evacuate our civilians and military personnel via boat,” said Sebastiana.


“Ask them to allow us to leave Venecia and possibly even give up the entire island? You’re asking the Venecians, asking us, to give up our home!” snapped Retariusil.

Alternia opened her mouth to reply, but Sebastiana cut in.

“Actually, I agree with Alternia.”

Retariusil stared at her marefriend in shock for almost a second, before she found her voice again.
“But Sebastiana, you’re going to lose your home! Or if not lose your home, you’re going to lose your subjects!” she exclaimed.

The Doggess grimaced. “Alternia and Celestia discussed this with me earlier. Although the best case scenario is that the kelpies allow us to keep the island, I find this option, while hard to swallow, wise, and should be something we offer to the kelpies. Most of my subjects are afraid, too afraid to stay even if we miraculously conclude a peace with the Aquestrians. The fact that they are starving because we can’t get supplies to them quickly enough is also encouraging many to decide to leave on the airships.”

Alternia nodded. “Not to mention, there is little point to staying on Venecia. It’s blockaded, and worst case scenario, if the kelpies do not want peace, then reaching an agreement with the kelpies to evacuate Venecia becomes all the more critical. It’d free us from having to protect a position we cannot supply or defend, and ensure the safety of the Venecians.”

“But even if the kelpies agree, what’s stopping them from simply making a deal and then attacking our ships…” Retariusil suddenly pursed her lips. “Right, their honor. They’re still keeping the old trade routes open and haven’t just hit us with a tsunami.”

“Apart from the one they accidentally hit us with, but yes,” said Sebastiana, in a bitter tone. The Doggess sighed. “Some more good news is that Alternia and Celestia have promised to give me and my subjects a grant of land on the Eastern or Western coast of Equestria, where my Venecians, including those that have already left, can reestablish our lives under the protection of the Equestrian military.” Sebastiana met Retariusil’s eyes meaningfully. “Where we can reestablish our lives, Retariusil.”

Retariusil turned to Celestia and Alternia eyes wide. “That’s, very generous of you, your highnesses.”

“It was only fair,” said Celestia kindly.

“I know but thanks anyway.” The changeling queen sighed, but pulled herself up and gave a firm nod. “Alright, you have my consent. My hive has already been destroyed after all. There’s nothing tying us down here anymore,” Retariusil turned to Sebastiana, “but the friendships we’ve formed with the Venecians.”

Sebastiana nodded back, trying to smile, but she only managed a slight grimace. “I sincerely hope it does not come to that though.”

The kelpie delegation glanced at each other for a moment. “I am afraid that cannot be arranged as our Empress would find it unacceptable. Your ships are some of the major polluters of our oceans after all. She could not tolerate such a large movement of ships heading across our oceans,” said Ebb.

“Additionally, your fleet would violate the sovereignty of our waters stated in the treaty between Celestia and Samudra,” said Typhon.

Alternia’s brow furrowed. Ebb and Typhon had said that extremely confidently, which meant… “Pardon me for being a bit blunt, but just to clarify things, Aquestria is not blockading Venecia because you want a potential food source?” she asked.

“No, we were enforcing our sovereignty over those waters stated in the original treaty, and protecting them from the pollution your ships cause,” said Ebb.

Again, Alternia sensed no other emotions or any fluctuation in her emotional state other than blunt determination and confidence. She was telling the truth. Plus… according to the book, lying wasn’t exactly looked upon positively in kelpie culture.

It looked like she had misread the situation quite a bit. Everypony and changeling had thought that the blockade, while partially motivated by the Aquestrian’s claim on their waters and concerns about pollution, was primarily focused on securing the kelpies a food source. From Ebb and Typhon’s responses though, it looks like it was the opposite.

With that in mind, Alternia realized they might be able to work out a solution.

“Ah, thank you for the clarification and for voicing your concerns. In response, I’d like to point out that allowing us to leave Venecia would be actually beneficial to reducing pollution and the need to violate your sovereignty in the long run.”

“What do you mean?” asked Typhon.

Sebastiana swallowed and addressed the prince. “I understand that our large population is obviously a major generator of pollution, along with the industries we have on our island. Now, some of us Venecians would very much like to stay on the island, but in light of recent circumstances, many, I estimate nearly fifty-thousand of them, would like to leave. More can be encouraged and so we can reduce the pollution we generate at the centre of the Eastern Sea significantly, which if I understand correctly, is quite near Aquamaris, your capital.”

Typhon and Ebb nodded slowly. This was very appealing to them after all. Due to the currents leading into Aquamaris, Venecia’s pollution had a rather detrimental effect on the seaponies’ kelp and clamfish production. A reduction of that would be highly welcome and allow them to resettle seafloor that had been rendered inhospitable. Seafloor that was literally right on their capital’s doorstep.

“As a visitor of Venecia, I find it a bit hard to believe all of your subjects will agree with you on this, Doggess,” said Brinewing, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Not all of them do, but many are fearful and wish to leave. If needs be, we can evacuate the island all at once with the 33 military and civilian vessels stuck in our ports,” said Sebastiana calmly.

Inside though, the Doggess was hoping, praying that the kelpies would not demand for her entire island. She had forced herself to accept the possibility, but she didn’t know if she could bear it.

Typhon’s tail twitched. “That is agreeable,” he said, much to Sebastiana’s hidden relief. “Can you explain further what you mean by limiting the violation of our sovereignty?”

Alternia nodded. “Certainly, allowing for the evacuation of some or all of the population of Venecia would mean that Equestria would not need to send ships to supply the island or make attempts to break out.”

“Reducing any engagements between Aquestrian and Equestrian forces, whilst allowing you to supply the island purely by airship,” said Brinewing her hook tapping on the table. “I’m surprised you’d evacuate your military ships though, I’d thought you want them to protect the island.”

“A job that our shore batteries and our garrison can perform equally well I assure you, captain,” said Sebastiana smiling confidently. Unsaid by Alternia and the Doggess was how they were fairly certain that the kelpies would not accept large military ships so near their capital, and how many of their ships required heavy repairs possible only on the Equestrian mainland.

Typhon nodded. This was a fairly good start. Even if peace wasn’t going to be agreed upon, such a temporary arrangement would be highly beneficial to both sides. “We find this quite amendable, Doggess, your highnesses. I believe that the Empress will agree to this arrangement.”

“I must ask however, why do you trust us enough to guarantee your safe passage?” asked Ebb Flow. The deal the Equestrians had offered them was not too good, but too... tactful. Sure, there were many benefits to the Equestrians, but equally as much to the kelpies.

Alternia allowed herself a small smile. “We know your society operates by a highly stringent honor system. Thus, you could not even make a deal in order to entrap our ships unless you wished to go down in history as the kelpies who went back on their words. Moreover, so far, you have honored the agreement between Celestia and Samudra and allowed the original trade routes to remain open.” The changeling took a deep breath as Ebb gazed back at her with an implacably stoic expression.

Alternia matched it with a unyieldingly composed smile, swallowing back her burning anger at what the kelpies had done to her, to her friends… Raven… Buzz. They needed to give the kelpies a positive impression of the Equestrians and changelings, not a negative one.

“Thank you for taking our honor, seriously, your highness. Now what else do you want?” asked Typhon, appearing far more relaxed than he initially was. Alternia could tell from the way his shoulders were less tense and his eyes, which were wide with the genuine curiosity that she could sense in him.

Alternia nodded and spoke smoothly, in a calm, practiced, but sincere tone she had used throughout numerous diplomatic meetings. This was going to be the most difficult proposal she would ever make. So she let none of her nervousness show, or any of her hesitation. This was her field, this was the battle she was so good at, and she was determined not to fail.

“Equestria would also like to offer the establishment of a trade agreement between Aquestria and ourselves.”

Typhon’s and Ebb Flow’s eyes narrowed. “That would require a peace treaty, wouldn’t it?” asked Typhon.

“Yes, it would,” said Alternia in a calm, but level tone, making sure not to assert superiority, but not appear meek.

“Between Equestria and Aquestria?” asked Ebb Flow.

“Between Equestria, the hives of my three sisters, Queen Retariusil of Venecia’s hive and Aquestria,” clarified Alternia.

“Princess, you ask for peace and trade between our Empires and between four other changeling hives. I’m assuming they’re the hives working most closely with Equestria and Venecia. That’s not... bad, but I need more than this,” said Typhon. The kelpie prince crossed his hooves and leaned on the table. “After all, I’m not sure how useful your products would be. From what I’ve seen and from what Brinewing has described, your vegetarian food would not be to our kind’s taste, most of your luxury items are available to us due to the number of wrecks on the seafloor, and most of your manufacturing products are either too light and fragile for underwater usage, or pollute our waters if used.”

Alternia knew this was mostly true. The kelpies’ diet meant war was inherently more productive than peace. It made war actually necessary. However, Alternia had come prepared.

“Ah, but we do have certain products that I know will interest you.” Slowly reaching for the bag beside her table, Alternia levitated a plastic bottle half-full of water. “Take this for example. It’s made from a material called plastic derived from rubber trees.”

Typhon frowned and with one tentacle took the proffered bottle and tentatively shook it and squeezed it as Alternia continued.

“Our plastic products are impervious to water, do not decompose easily, and can be made to a high durability, to whatever specifications you may need. They are more easily affected by heat than metals, but have the advantage of not decomposing easily and leaving waste behind.”

“But if they do not decompose, these can be fairly dangerous. In fact, we’ve seen these materials before. They’re dumped into our oceans at a rather alarming rate, choking our fish and filling the sea floor,” said Typhon eyes narrowed.

Alternia nodded, still smiling. “True, but with moderated use, I’m sure the Aquestrian Empire would find products such as these rather useful in a variety of fields.”

Typhon gave the bottle a last squeeze. “Perhaps… How long did you say this peace should last?” the prince asked.

“Ten years.” Alternia saw this as the usual standard for a peace treaty between two hostile powers. A permanent one would be too much to ask for anyway.

“Okay… What else would you offer in exchange for this peace?” asked Ebb Flow.

“First, we will all agree to stiffen our existing laws on sea pollution, coastal and open water, which will of course be reviewed by your government.”

Again, Alternia and the others had agreed upon this quite quickly. It was fairly reasonable and pollution of their world was not something they wanted in the first place.

The kelpie delegation nodded and Typhon said, “That’s reasonable. What else?”

“Equestria, the hives I speak for, and Venecia offers to recognize your claim to the Eastern Sea as outlined in the original treaty signed by Empress Samudra of Aquestria, Princess Celestia of Equestria and Emperor Boreas of the Griffon Empire.”

This hadn’t been too difficult for Alternia and her friends and family to agree upon. Apart from the sobering fact that there was really no way the Equestrians could enforce their rule over the sea, it was hard to argue against the fact that seaponies and kelpies home was the Eastern Sea and it had been for millennia. The ponies also didn’t need the sea for any reason in particular other than travel and trade, which wasn’t a major sector of their economy. Moreover, Alternia was pretty sure she could arrange access with the kelpies similar to the existing trade routes that ran across the Eastern Sea.

“And why would that be of any use to us?” asked Ebb Flow.

“It would mean that it would be highly difficult to forget that you own the Eastern Seas. The recognition that your Empire is the master of the Eastern Sea would be permanent and indisputable, and by recognizing it, we deprive ourselves of any right to challenge it. Additionally, we can also help convince the Gryphons to recognize your claim, and sign a similar treaty with you,” said Alternia.

Actually, since the Griffonian fleet had been savaged, Alternia was fairly certain that the Griffons would sign the treaty given the first opportunity, but as she wasn’t one hundred percent certain, she hedged her bet.

Typhon’s eyes widened. This was a big deal. If the Equestrians recognized their ownership of the ocean, then they had no cause or justification to purposefully seek the kelpies out to fight them. Sure, it didn’t solve the kelpies problem of needing live meat, but permanent, and eternal recognition that the ocean was theirs was a tempting prospect. It was something they had been fighting to fulfil in accordance with Samudra and Celestia’s treaty and thus, not an offer to take lightly.

Ebb Flow nodded. “You raise a fair point, your highness, but…” The captain’s tentacles pointed to the map of the Eastern sea on the centre of the table. “While this recognition is promising, what guarantee do we have that you still won’t try to kill us? What guarantee do we have that you won’t sail straight to Aquamaris after ten years are up and try to destroy us?”

Brinewing frowned and glanced at Ebb Flow. “Don’t you think you are being a tad bit paranoid, captain? You rule the seas now and you can’t be challenged. Even if they sail to Aquamaris, we’ll just have a repeat of that battle.”

The captain shook her head, jaw clenched, and sharp teeth flashing in the dim light. All of this quite easily revealed to Alternia, the anger, but mostly, suspicion in Ebb’s heart.

“Oh we rule the seas now, but ten years is a lot of time to develop technology and weapons directed specifically at underwater destruction. You have the book, you know our weakness to pollution. And what’s more… I’ve seen it before.” Ebb’s black eyes hardened, her teeth grinding together in rage. “Samudra did it. Every time the fighting died down. Every time one of our queens, or our Empress concluded a ceasefire with her, she used that time to rebuild her forces, train and indoctrinate them, as well as develop strategies to kill us. Then the moment the ceasefire ended, she would attack viciously.”

Leaning back on her chair, Ebb glared at Alternia. “So I ask you, Princess Alternia, how can you make it certain to me that you aren’t going to use the time we give you to just destroy us?”

Alternia’s features were unflinching like a rock. Her face wasn’t cold, simply still, not unforbidding, but to the kelpie delegation and Sebastiana’s eyes, it was as if they were looking into a perfectly sculpted mask of neutrality.

At least, until Alternia leaned forward, looked Ebb Flow in her hard black eyes and said, “Treaties are always uncertain, Captain Ebb Flow, so I understand your concern. While we do not have your honour system, Equestria has an international reputation for keeping its agreements to uphold, and the virtue of honesty is a cornerstone in our society. So in order to show you our commitment to this peace treaty, as part of its terms, Equestria, Venecia, and her allied hives will limit the number of military ships in the Eastern sea and will not develop any offensive weaponry capable of underwater destruction. Should you acquire any evidence of this, Aquestria can declare war without warning.”


“It’s a calculated concession,” said Alternia

“It’s too risky,” said Celestia, not glaring at Alternia, but not flinching back from the changeling’s gaze.

Celestia, Sebastiana, Alternia, Chrysalis, Belladonna, Simulacris, and Luna were also present at this point because it was a far more important discussion. This involved Aquestria, Venecia, Equestria, and Belladonna, Chrysalis, and Simulacris’s hives after all. It had been rather difficult to get Luna, Simulacris, and Belladonna to coordinate their scrying spells through their crystal balls, but they had succeeded.

“What good will our ships do anyway against them?” Alternia asked patiently.

Celestia opened her mouth and shut it as she recalled their last naval battle.

“In ten years, we might have something we can develop that can damage them underwater,” said Sebastiana.

Simulacris’s slightly distorted features frowned. “Most likely, but do we want to get wrapped up in another war with the kelpies unless we want to?”

Chrysalis nodded in agreement, but she had a look of concern to her features. “Probably not… but without a way to solve their hunger problem, war will inevitably engulf the Eastern Seas in time. We can halt our own technological development to make peace with them, but it’s risky. I know the Queens Council won’t support that.”

“That is true, and a very good point,” grumbled Belladonna’s image in the crystal.

“I’m not saying we stop developing anti-kelpie technology. I’m saying we focus it on defensive preparations,” explained Alternia.

Luna rubbed her chin pensively. “That could work. We could focusing our resources on better fortifications, and adapt our existing navy for a coastal defense role to protect our coasts. In terms of inland defense, we can build more airships and re-train our armies and policing units to combat and root out kelpies. Finally, so that we will be prepared to counter any kind of war the kelpies decide upon, we can work on increasing our economic and productive capacity, bolster the will of our citizens and their loyalty to the crown. That way, in the event of a war, we can halt them and make it untenable for them to continue and force them to seek peace with us earlier.”

“But focusing on offensive technologies might allow us to find a way to make a weapon that might destroy the kelpies… ” Retariusil suddenly winced as if she had bit into some rotten fruit and groaned. “Except we’d have to destroy all the Aquestrians, kelpie, seapony and deep pony alike. Every last one of them to the point that they cannot reproduce effectively.”

“Perhaps it may be necessary though…” said Celestia softly. Everypony’s eyes widened. As they stared at Celestia.

“Let me finish, for the prospect is a terrible one and I do not even consider it lightly, but the kelpies… we know now that they have limitations and are restricted biologically from invading our lands and actually harming our species as a whole. Yet, at the same time, that biology means they will continue to fight us. They have no choice to. It’s their curse, and their greatest weakness, as it will force them into a cycle of war just to survive.” Celestia grimaced. “At the same time, that curse also hurts our ponies, our subjects. Would it not be better just to end their suffering, Alternia?”

Alternia rubbed her chin with a hoof, a sinking feeling in her stomach, so much so she couldn’t respond immediately.

“But is it our right to judge whether we can extinguish their entire species? Even those not directly affected by this curse?” asked Belladonna in disbelief.

Celestia bit her lip. “I don’t know. We are victims of their curse after all, if we don’t have the right to destroy them to defend ourselves, then who else?”

Retariusil swallowed. “It would not be just genocide, but xenocide… destroying an entire species… on a scale unheard of. My mother has estimated there are at least two million seaponies and kelpies living in the Eastern Sea.” She placed her head in her forehoofs. “I want revenge for my mother’s death, for my hive’s destruction, but this… this would be worse than what the Queens Council does to cull the broods of queens who dare to violate the changeling’s secrets.”

“If we do decide to destroy the Aquestrians… if we managed to do that, it would be such a crime that no pony, no changeling would ever forget our names and what we would have done,” whispered Chrysalis.

“Yes, which is why this discussion of ifs and mayhaps is pointless,” said Alternia.

Everybody turned to see Equestria’s changeling princess, eyes hard and brow furrowed as her firm tone arrested them in their seats.

“I refuse to believe that the xenocide of an entire species and its races would be the only option. Magical development has been ongoing for years and we may be able to share something with the kelpies. Plus, the kelpies must be conducting their own research into their condition.”

“Alternia, are you sure you’re not being too optimistic? You’re weighing the lives of our citizens, three million Equestrians, against that of the Aquestrians,” said Celestia.

The changeling princess shook her head. “I’m not being optimistic, I’m doing what is right.” Alternia met Celestia’s pleading eyes. “I love Equestria, and it’s for that reason I refuse to allow specie and math to dictate my decision. To deliberately kill an entire species is unacceptable and as such, we cannot seek a manner to do so. Destroying all the Aquestrians would deal such a blow to the morale and conscience of our citizens that its legacy, the mere memory of the event, would shock and horrify all of their descendants.”

Alternia turned to Sebastiana and Retariusil. “You two above all should know the consequences of xenocide, with what happened to the Winged Lions.”

“Winged Lions? You mean those statues everywhere in Venecia and in its coat of arms, but what do they have to do with this?” asked Celestia, even as Retariusil and Sebastiana’s eyes widened.

Sebastiana pulled out a silver signet ring with Venecia’s seal on it and placed it at the centre of the table. The seal was of a winged lion, striding proudly on top of an island. “The Winged Lions were the native population of what became Venecia. They were lions but winged and so were able to fish the seas. Our first explorers made friends with them, traded with them. They shared our land with us, but little did they know they were doomed.”

“What happened?” asked Chrysalis.

Retariusil took over. “The first Equestrians, and the convicts that came after to be reformed, brought diseases with them from the mainland, to the isolated population. The Winged Lions, completely isolated, never exposed to our diseases, began dying in the hundreds. The ponies tried all that they could, but within a hundred years, their population had collapsed from three thousand Winged Lions, to a mere fifty, past the point recovery.”

“How is that relevant? That was by accident, there is nothing to blame for,” said Chrysalis.

Sebastiana shook her head. “It’s relevant because we can never forget what our ancestors inadvertently did, your highness. We can be proud of our achievements, and we can take pride in what we accomplished, but despite how some of the previous Doges and Dogesses have tried to erase the memory of what we’ve done, by altering textbooks, and taking down iconography of the lions… we can never truly forget. It never felt right to us, and it likely never will.”

Her lips pursed, Luna, her jaw clenched, swore. “And it’ll be the same if we destroy the Aquestrians down to the last child. Our descendants will never forget and will not remember us kindly for doing so.”

“Plus, whatever weapons we use… it would likely devastate the sea causing catastrophic ecological damage.” Retariusil took out her mother’s book, flipped a few pages and then grimaced. “Not to mention, recall that the seaponies play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the ocean currents that are crucial to the functioning of our world’s uncontrolled weather patterns. Killing them would be like shooting a crossbow into our hooves. It’s not practical. We’ll harm ourselves as those currents go wild leading to an unpredictable number of storms, and natural disasters.”

Luna cursed something in old Equestrian that made Celestia and Alternia wince, but was rather lost on the other changelings. “That definitely is something we should consider. The Unknown West has remained unsettled for years because the storms that the Western Sea throws up always wipes out or renders any attempt at settlement and exploration too costly to continue. If the Eastern Sea turns into anything remotely resembling the Western Sea, ponies will be endangered.”

Celestia sighed heavily, biting her lip. “I was afraid and yet hopeful that we would reach that conclusion, but I agree. Defending ourselves is right but to extinguish another species when we know they cannot destroy us? What sort of message would that send to our subjects? We would be doing so to protect them, but I do not wish to be known as such a pony. We can’t do this.”

“Especially since the possibility of the kelpies finding a cure is still open,” pointed out Simulacris.

“Moreover, we don’t know if we can actually succeed. Samudra failed in her attempt to kill all the kelpies even after more than one thousand years of warfare. We’d be trying to kill all the Aquestrians, likely eliciting a highly violent assault. There would be no point to developing offensive weapons if we would simply be wrapped up in an escalating order of violence,” said Belladonna.

“Then, are we in favor?” asked Alternia.

Everypony and changeling nodded.

The kelpie delegation had rather mixed reactions to Alternia’s declaration. Typhon’s jaw had dropped open, and while he hurriedly closed it, his eyes remained wide. Brinewing was still gawking, ear standing up as if she was trying to catch the echo of Alternia’s promise. Ebb Flow meanwhile was just staring at Alternia with slightly widened eyes, though Alternia could sense that the kelpie was surprised to some extent.

“How many ships?” asked Ebb Flow.

“One fleet, for coastal defensive purposes only, for search and rescue, and for the escort of our trade ships, composed of one battleship, four cruisers, four destroyers. That would be a quarter of a size of the fleet we took into battle over Aquamaris.”

One of Ebb’s tentacles rubbed her chin. “That… is a reasonable reduction, but how do we know you won’t develop offensive weapons technology?”

Alternia smiled. “Well, you’d have to trust our word for that. However, if we break our word, you will know that we’d only have nine military ships to mount them on, which I hardly imagine will prove an issue for you.”

“If I remember correctly, your fleet escaped with two battleships though, and you have a reserve fleet back on the Eastern coast composed of two more battleships and other support vessels,” said Brinewing.

“We might, for example, beach the remaining warships, fortify them and turn them into coastal batteries,” said Alternia. “Do you have any further questions?”

Typhon glanced at Ebb Flow and Brinewing who both shook their heads before turning back to Alternia.

“Not for now, your highness. We will take your offers and requests back to the Empress and meet with you one week from now, the same time of day, to inform you of her decision and if she is interested, we will continue negotiations,” said Typhon, standing up.

The kelpie then proffered his hoof to Alternia, who stood up and slowly shook it, an unyielding smile still on her features. Typhon also offered his hoof to Sebastiana. She was far more tentative and wasn’t quite able to stop her eyes from narrowing. Ebb and Brinewing didn’t shake hooves, but the pirate did tip her hat to Alternia and Sebastiana.

As the kelpie delegation left the pavilion, Ebb Flow turned and smirked. Alternia couldn’t quite tell if it was admiring, but she did sense a degree of respect emanating from the kelpie.

“You drive a very interesting bargain, your highness. One that our Empress will thoroughly consider.”

“I only do what is necessary the interest of Equestria,” said Alternia returning that same small smile she had worn throughout the negotiations.

Ebb Flow dipped her head briefly before following her fellows back into the ocean where the disappeared from sight.

Once they had, Sebastiana let out a huge sigh and sat back down in her chair. She was followed by Alternia who sat more lightly, but still seemed to collapse into her seat.

“Oh Celestia that was….”

“Tense? Yes Which is why we worked out our major offers beforehoof,” Alternia said. She was still smiling, but now that Sebastiana thought about it, the changeling’s smile seemed almost unnatural.

“Your highness? Are you alright?”

“No… I’m trying very hard not to think of what ponies and changelings those two might have eaten. How many lives have already been lost.” Finally, Alternia’s smile faded as she shut her eyes and leant heavily on the table, despite trying her utmost, and yet failing, to stop a scowl from forming on her lips. “The good news is that at the very least we have hope for your Venecians, Doggess. Safe passage for your citizens appears to be the proposal they are most amenable to and at least in the short term will put us in a far better position to defend against the kelpies.”

Sebastiana nodded, relief and hope filling her heart. “I’m still a bit worried about trusting them, but it was strange. They are a danger to us, but they seem so… pony-like at times.”

“It is precisely that fact which makes them dangerous, Sebastiana. Ponies, and changelings, all creatures really, have an incessant desire to protect those they love. That desire makes for an incredibly formidable enemy.” Alternia stood up and turned to the ponies and changelings trotting toward them. “I only hope our interests are not irreconcilable.”

As Typhon, Ebb Flow, and Brinewing finished explaining the events of the brief meeting, Typhon could not figure out what his regent was thinking. She was not alone in the throne room. Many seapony and kelpie ministers and officials were all listening intently as the trio explained what the Equestrians were offering and requesting. However, Tethys’s orca-sized form dominated his attention. The fact that her spot on Vol Oros’s bone-white throne, which was wide enough to accommodate her massive size, only served to remind Typhon of the priority of convincing his regent.

The problem was that Tethys had simply given the trio all her attention, saying nothing as they had given their report. The only sign that she was thinking deeply on what they were telling her was her lack of a response and her unflinching gaze.

“All in all, Equestrian and changeling delegation were quite generous considering the losses you… I mean… uhhh Aquestria has inflicted on them,” said Brinewing.

“The Doggess though, was noticeably reluctant about what she was proposing. As for the changeling princess…” Typhon opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again and then shut it, a confused frown on his features. “I’m not sure about how to read her.”

Ebb spoke up. “She seems sincere about her want for peace, and she never made me feel uncomfortable, but it… it was almost as if I could never quite tell what she was thinking. From the little she showed, I couldn’t tell how unanimous was the decision among the Equestrians, what her motives were, apart from the fact that she wants peace for her changelings and ponies, and the safety of the Venecian civilians. So if she hated us, she didn’t show it, and is very determined not to let us know,” said the captain, her voice trailing into a somewhat pensive tone toward the end.

“So she made no mention of the hive or recent actions?” asked the Empress.

Typhon shook his head. “No. If she was angered by our destruction of the hive and the library, or the casualties we inflicted on Equestrians and the changelings, she didn’t bring it up.”

“What of their proposals?” asked Tethys.

“I said that their proposal to evacuate Venecia was promising and I voiced my opinion that you would find it amenable,” said Typhon.

“I said you would thoroughly consider their peace proposal,” said Ebb.

“Ebb, you know the necessity of the war. Without it, our current stores will only last so long before we are forced to prey upon them again. And many kelpies may turn back to our newfound allies as prey.”

“That’s why I said you will ‘thoroughly consider’ their offer and made no promise. It is an interesting offer that has never been given to our kind before,” Ebb glanced at Typhon. “Unlike this ponce who was far too positive about the Venecian proposal.”

Typhon bristled back at Ebb, his tentacles twitching. “I just said that in my opinion my regent would find it amendable, not that she will find it amenable.” He turned back to Tethys. “Besides, it is not that the proposal requires a long term reduction of our food stocks. Their proposal on this end will actually be very useful to Aquestria as it’d eliminate or heavily reduce the pollution that is ruining some of the most fertile waters and seafloor in the Eastern sea.”

Tethys’s tail twitched slightly, but her neutral expression didn’t change. “The issue remains. If we agree to this ceasefire, we’d never be able to reach the agreed upon time before having to go on the hunt again. At most we can give her would be five years. With a live tribute, maybe more.”

“But you want to agree to a ceasefire?” said Ebb, her eyebrows and ears shooting upwards.

The Empress’s tone of voice was level and matter-of-fact. “If they are amenable to a live tribute, then it’s a possibility. However, without that the most we can promise is a five year respite. As it is, I very much doubt they will hold to their side. If we give them those five years, they will spend it on trying to the best way to kill us.”

“I don’t know… Princess Alternia seemed sincere on that point, but then again… she’s a changeling, and by her own admission, Celestia has cast mind magic upon her,” said Typhon, frowning, lips twisted in contemplation.

“There’s also the matter of the Venecian evacuation proposal, what is your opinion on it, Empress?” asked Ebb.

The Empress’s tail flicked slightly as she spoke, and while she didn’t raise her voice, her words were cold and edged. It was enough to make Typhon and Brinewing flinch.

“They wish to befoul our waters once more with an entire fleet of vessels. I don’t care what the cargo is, we’ve aired our grievances with their vessels once already and yet they wish to use them to escape. We can’t flee from the pollution they spread, I see no reason to let them flee their predicament. They will have to find another way.”

“That’ll condemn them to a slow death. They don’t have the airships to get them out fast enough, Empress,” said Brinewing in a hesitant voice.

“That is their issue to resolve. I have already warned them as to why we will not permit the passage of ships through waters that they are forbidden from and they ignored it.” Tethys paused for a moment, before adding, “And if they truly take umbrage to this, I will give them our reasons personally at the next meeting.”

Typhon frowned, “Empress you are the focal figure in the Equestrian’s conflict with Aquestria. Your presence would likely enrage the Equestrians, particularly Celestia and Queen Murmillar’s daughter.”

“I agree with the prince, since I wouldn’t put it past the land dwellers, especially the changelings, to try to kill you,” said Ebb Flow.

The water rang with a note of finality as Tethys declared, “True, but this is something I must judge on my own before any agreement can be reached. And I am not so foolish as to not have some measures ready.”

REINS Headquarters, Canterlot...

Marenitz glared at the photographs in front of her.

“What in Tartarus?”

In all the photographs, were pictures of huge ice chunks falling into the water from towering glaciers. Accompanying them were rough, hoof-drawn maps of the entrances of the northwest passages, with lines indicating where the ice was normally, and where the ice was now.

In both maps, the ice had receded.

Meers nodded, using one claw to point to each map. “I know. The ones on the Eastern entrance were taken by Daring Do. She thought we might want to know. These were taken by a nature photographer from Vanhoofer on a trip. Some mare called Tree Hugger. Both maps they drew are quite rough, but we’re sending teams to confirm this.”

Marenitz said some choice swear words and paced around the table. “Regardless of inaccuracies, it's clear the ice in the Northwest Passage is disintegrating from both ends, and it looks like it’s been doing this for at least two months… perhaps as early as when the Venecian tsunami occurred.” The admiral turned to her oceanographers, “What I want to know is, how is that possible? I thought the Northwest Passage was a myth.”

Doctor Blue Coral nodded her head, one hoof stroking her chin. “It is. The area the Northwest Passage lies in has always been beyond our weather control no matter how we’ve tried to clear it. It’s just been a fact of geography, but in light of what’s going on in the Eastern Sea regarding to kelpies…”

“They could be trying to chip away at the Eastern entrance, but that doesn’t explain why the ice on the western entrance of the passage is melting,” pointed out oceanographer Deep Blue Sea.

“Perhaps it’s because the Western Sea has always been a bit of a wild card when it comes to weather? Storms occur there rather regularly and the ocean’s temperature can fluctuate quite wildly depending on the season,” said Blue Coral.

Deep Blue Sea shook his head. “But nothing this consistent. Thanks to the princess’s expedition, we know that Western Sea is less stable than the Eastern Sea because of the lack of seaponies, but that also means high temperatures aren’t going to be sustained because of the instability.”

“Regardless of how, we need to alert the princesses immediately! I wouldn’t put it past the kelpies to try to gain access to our Western seas through the Northwest Passage,” said Marenitz.

“Alert me of what?”

Marenitz and her staff turned to find Luna at the door to their conference room, her night guards flanking her.

“Your highness, I take it you haven’t dropped in to give us good news,” said Marenitz in a sarcastic tone.

“Unfortunately no, Dragonlord Torch has rather reluctantly informed our ambassador that something’s been terrorizing dragons living in the coast of the Undiscovered West,” said Luna.

Everypony in the room stared at alicorn, eyes wide.

“Did you really say something was… terrorizing dragons?” asked Marenitz flatly.

“Torch wasn’t proud to admit it, but he told us that when he sent a flight of other dragons to investigate the disappearances… many of them didn’t return.” Luna frowned. “What is more worrying is that the lone survivor… couldn’t tell what happened to them.”

“Couldn’t? You mean he couldn’t speak?” asked Marenitz.

“No… he appeared to have lost his mind. Torch said that the dragon had turned into a gibbering wreck and refuses to leave his cave. He doesn’t speak intelligibly, merely a babble of incomprehensible words,” said Luna.

“So you want me to send a team to check it out?” asked Marenitz.

Luna nodded while Marenitz glanced at the map at the center of the table. “I’ll see what I can do, your highness.”