A vortex of swirling energy opened up in the very same room. Nyx stepped lightly out, Sombra with a slight bump. The Marazon Witch looked around. “Where’s - “
Blade came out an instant later as if he were spit out and landed heavily at her hooves. “ - Blade,” she nodded.
He looked up at them both. “How in Tartarus do you manage to land on your hooves after travelling like that?!?” he groaned, getting up.
“You become accustomed to it,” Sombra replied dryly as Nyx looked around, expanding her temporal senses, scanning for the foul, otherworldly invaders. “Can you sense them?” he asked her.
“No. But they are here. I only sent us back a month ago. Nothing screws up their calculations worse than going into the past and changing it, but going back further could be potentially more damaging to us than them. Even the tiniest bit done now can wreak havoc they’ll take days to compensate for.”
“I prefer our revenge on these creatures be much more personal - and painful,” Sombra growled.
“Hear, hear,” his Grand Commander agreed. He looked to Nyx, “Can they really be running the Empire instead of Sombra, though, Nyx? ‘tis a grand boast of them to be making - and a dangerous one!”
“They once pulled a comet out of orbit and smashed it into a continent just to wipe out the dominant life forms on this planet,” she snorted in disgust. “They no longer required them for the next stage of their pursuit of this accursed question. They’ve had a little shy of ten million years to learn the fine art of manipulation on a much more subtle level to get what they want. Running an Empire is child’s play for them at this point.”
“How long ago was this comet? Surely we would have stories of it,” Sombra frowned.
“It was when they came back to check up on their ‘progress’,” she wrinkled her nose at the thought of their ‘project’. “Probably about ten thousand years ago.”
“Then how do you know about it?!” Blade exclaimed in surprise.
“I sabotaged their ship,” she smiled. “They managed to get it off the ground, but it probably still smells of dinosaur dung, if they didn’t scrap the garbage scow, that is. Stupid of them to bring a vessel into our dimension instead of sticking their little weasley snouts in like they usually do. They thought it was safe because sentient life had not evolved here yet. They learned their lesson.” She caught Sombra’s look of admiration and grinned wickedly.
“So much for ‘safe’,” he rumbled. “There is never a place safe from you! You never cease to amaze and amuse me, Nyx,” he shook his head.
“Such a compliment!” She tensed in the next moment, however, scanning the room, her cutie mark and horn glowing from a quantum calculator signature nearby. “They know we’re here!”
Sombra pulled them both into his dark aura and the three vanished seconds before Number One and Two poked their rodent heads into the room from a crack along the floorboards.
An hour later the three time travelers popped back into the room. “We have to effect an alteration to the timeline quickly, before they sense us again,” Nyx said urgently.
“I am for that plan. We can’t keep running,” Blade paced.
“Agreed,” Sombra replied. “It allows us no advantage nor time to plan a counterattack.”
Nyx nodded. “A change of significant magnitude at this moment would keep them busy enough recalibrating - “
“What?” Blade asked, thrown by the strange word.
“Regrouping,” she explained in simpler terms. “Then they would not be so quick to search the castle for us.”
“How do we effect this change, and what is large enough yet safe to alter at this juncture in time, my dear,” Sombra asked her.
Nyx’s eyes flared with dark magic, causing her to rise above the floor, the timestreams becoming visible around her as ribbons of light etched with ancient runic symbols. She scanned alternate timelines, bringing them closer to view, pushing them away when they presented nothing useable to their cause. Sombra and Iron Blade watched as always in fascination at how easily temporal magic came to her and how beautiful and utterly ethereal she looked surrounded by the soft blue glow of the timestreams, the hot greens of her scleras, radiant amethyst mist at their edges.
At last her evil smile told the two stallions she had come up with something. Ending the spell, she floated back down to the floor.
“A solution?” Sombra asked as she crossed over to Iron Blade and put her hoof on his withers.
“Something I think Iron Blade will - enjoy…” she grinned, whispering into the war pony’s ear.
“It’s behind this wall,” Number Two said, scanning the interior of the war council room.
“It’s probably just Nyx bouncing around time, screwing up our calculations again,” his boss said in annoyance.
“Then she’s taking a helluva chance considering she is already here in the castle in this time stream,” Two mumbled. He stopped short. “Wait, it’s not just her.”
“What do you mean?” One asked.
“There are three time anomalies, not just one.” Two shook the scanner, trying to make sense of the readings. ”I think, from the look of it, she’s brought company!”
They peeked through the floor skirting and saw Nyx was accompanied by King Sombra and Grand Commander Iron Blade.
“What the hell is she doing dragging them with her?!?” moaned One.
“What are they doing?” his assistant asked, the hole only large enough for one to see through at a time.
“Talking - no, Blade’s leaving. That’s risky. I wonder where he’s going,” One mused.
“Now what are they doing?”
“Kissing,” One replied.
*Mmm...I approve of this method of keeping them from hearing us,* Nyx whispered in Sombra’s ear in Umbrum.
*I thought you might,* the King rumbled, pleased, making sure his back was to the rodents. He flared his tail into wide, deep shadows, spreading it out to create a thick, impenetrable barrier of darkness between them and their enemy, making it impossible for the invaders to observe them.
Nyx snuggled happily into the comforting embrace of her consort, sighing. *Nice, but I have a much better idea for driving them out of the room, my shadowy lover,* she whispered, leaning up, nipping his ear playfully…
“What are they saying now,” Two asked.
His boss watched for another moment, then yelped, “We’re leaving!”
“What? Why? Isn’t it important - “
“NO!” One interrupted, turning away from the view of the room. “No amount of fascination with improbability in this damn job is worth trying to unsee this!“ He scurried backwards.
The sound of laughter and growling filtered through the wall. “Geez, what could be so - “ Two began to ask, looking himself. He gazed upon the scene in the room only long enough to see King Sombra had removed the impenetrable field, ebony mane now flowing in deadly shadows, curling around his consort’s shoulders and mid-section. His eyes blazed with lust and restless dark magic, hiking Nyx’s front hooves up onto the edge of the table, grabbing her flowing mane in his fanged teeth from behind, holding her in place as he reared up on his mighty, armored back legs...
One grabbed his associate as he seemed frozen in shock at the sight before him. Pulling him back, he dragged him until he got his senses back and they both ran for the sake of their lives and sanity back out along the wall until they turned the corner and vanished.
Half an hour later, Grand Commander Iron Blade came back to the room, humming to himself, a lighter, happier canter to his trot.
Tight Planner accosted him just outside the doors. “Oh Commander!”
Blade rolled his eyes and sighed to himself. Nyx had told him to avoid as many of the castle staff as possible on his way to the concubines quarters in order to not accidentally change any history. He had managed it up until now and of course it had to be Tight Planner he’d run into. “Yes, Planner?” he sighed again, this time aloud.
The fussy unicorn frowned. “I just saw you not a minute ago in the gardens. How on earth did you manage to beat me here?”
“Teleportation spell,” he lied. “I’m in a hurry. What is it you want?”
“Have you seen his highness?” Planner asked.
Blade caught a peculiar sound from just the other side of the door to the war room. Peculiar, but he knew exactly what it mean Nyx and King Sombra were up to. “Yes,” he grinned evilly. “He’s right in there, but I don’t think you should - “
Planner snorted. “Now now, Commander. I have the King’s permission to interrupt him no matter what he is engaged in in the event of urgent business matters.”
’I sincerely doubt that, simpleton,’ “Even if he’s - busy?” Blade’s grin widened. Oh, this was going to be good!
“Even if he’s tied up with Nyx!” the scheduling unicorn insisted.
The Commander pursed his lips. “Tied up by her's more like it,” he said thoughtfully.
Blade shook the image of their King and Sovereign Umbrum Lord in bondage and Nyx with a riding crop over him firmly out of his head. “Nothing, Planner. It’s your funeral,” he quipped, shrugging.
“I really do need to speak to him about Au Gratin and the problems of cleanliness in the kitchens,” Planner flicked a speck of dust from his withers, amazing Iron Blade that the uptight stallion could actually see something so tiny on his formal attire and be annoyed by it in the first place. “There is talk of a rodent problem in the palace and this simply won’t do.”
“Yes, yes. We know about it,” the Commander replied distractedly, frowning as a tiny sparkle of light on the floating dustspec caught his eye as it traveled down from the scheduling pony on its way towards the ground.
It was one of those times when the Grand Commander’s restless nature would rather be killing enemies on the battlefield than listen to a bureaucrat. His brain filtered out the boring creature’s mild tirade until all he heard was: “Blah, blah, blah - would be a disaster if word got out amongst the guests for tonight’s dinner. Despite their horrid manners, blah, blah - quite important delegates blah, blah - Yak Yakistan…” the annoyance that was Tight Planner droned on.
Spacing out over whatever it was the uptight unicorn was wittering on about, Blade caught another flicker of light as the tiny hands of an aforementioned rodent peeked out from the floor skirting just behind Planner’s back right hoof. Blade bared his teeth in a snarl at the sight of another one of those tiny, hyper-advanced quantum calculators in its grip.
The dustspec continued it lazy descent towards the ground, in no particular hurry to get there.
“Damn rats!” Blade snapped his teeth at the sight of the foul little creature that had tried to snatch him earlier and pitch him into the deadly void of Tartarus.
“Yes exactly!” Planner was babbling excitedly, pleased that someone important was actually listening to him for once.
“ - and you know - blah, blah - to add - garnishes of - rodentia to their meals.” He droned on. The war stallion’s ears twitched, annoyed at some high-pitched whine that was coming from the machine their tiny, hated enemy seemed to be pointing at Tight Planner.
“Yes, yes, whatever, Planner. I will speak to His Majesty about it,” Iron Blade waved a hoof distractedly in his direction, not taking his eyes off the floor.
“ - blah, blah - excited someone of importance is finally listening to me for once!” the unicorn went tortuously on.
Blade watched as the smooth, white quantum device was waved about in the air, as if searching for some other target. He moved a fraction to the left, avoiding the strange, blue pulse of light it emitted, sighing in relief.
Then he heard it. A tiny, tiny sound. It was nearly drowned out by Planner’s droning, but Iron Blade’s sensitive ears caught it.
“We are here! we are here!”
Blade’s eyes widened as it seemed to be coming from the dustspec!
“ - blah, blah - delegates from the Griffon Empire saw - blah - behavior - “ Tartarus! Would Tight Planner ever shut -
The quantum device was turned in the direction of the dustspec...
“ - BOIL THAT DUSTSPEC! BOIL THAT DUSTSPEC!” the tiny chant continued, sounding like a miniature mob of rioters so small as to be invisible, their screaming the only evidence of their existence. Blade shook his head to clear it, wondering if he were finally letting the mice drive him mad...
“ - exhibited at the dinner table, - blah, blah - would start fighting over who would get to eat the dreadful creatures first!” Planner went on in his peripheral hearing.
A small sliver of red light pulsed from the floor, hitting the dustspec with deadly accuracy, frying it.
“Tartarus!” the war stallion yelped, jumping backwards. It was as if a million tiny voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Silenced as if...
“ his Majesty put me off all morning,” Planner refused to wait, ignoring the fact Iron Blade had just jumped a foot back away from him. “It won’t take a moment...”
...as if...they were real!
“Are you listening to me, Commander?” the unicorn asked.
The charred, blackened remains of the dustspec and its tiny world of voices fell heavily the rest of the way to the floor. For some reason, as Tight Planner’s hoof moved slightly, crushing it, a shiver ran through the Commander’s sturdy frame. He who had slaughtered armies in the name of the Great Dark Pony King Sombra, enslaver of thousands for his Umbrum Lord, burner, rapist and pillager of entire nations, was now witness to the callous, wanton elimination of an entire world in a second by the single act of a horrible, foul white rat!
It shook him to his very core!
“So you see why I really must speak to the King about getting rid of these vile creatures!” Planner finally finished.
“Tartarus yes!” Shaking his head, yet not quite getting rid of the image of the mass extinction he had just witnessed, Blade waved a hoof and shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he replied distractedly and moved aside for him.
The unicorn opened the door. Blade caught sight of Sombra’s shadowy essence obscuring part of the room and Nyx as Planner went inside. Oh yeah, he recalled. Forgot they were up to that… Smiling evilly, he shut the door behind their annoying servant.
“One, two, three,” Blade counted off casually, opening the door. The fussy stallion came back out, face pale, a look of shock and profound embarrassment on his features. “Told you,” the Commander grinned at him. Slapping him hard on his withers, the war pony shook his head. “Maybe next time you’ll listen.”
Planner only nodded, watching in further consternation as the war pony strode confidently back into the room despite what was going on within.
They had to wait a full five minutes for Nyx to recover from her fit of hysterical laughter at the thought that Tight Planner had just walked in on her and King Sombra when he did. Blade did have to admit it was a tale he would one day look forward to telling his two colts after they had the talk about the Griffons and the Bees, but for now there were more important matters to attend to.
“An entire world, Blade?” Sombra muttered, listening to his Grand Commander’s account of his encounter outside the door while speaking to Tight Planner.
“Aye, Sombra. Was the most brutal thing I have ever witnessed,” he confirmed grimly.
“And that’s saying something coming from you,” Nyx agreed. “So, Tight Planner already knew of the mice,” she asked him, intrigued.
“Yes,” their friend replied. “We never would have known if we had not come back in time - are you alright?” he asked, concerned as Nyx lost her balance for a moment, Sombra having to catch her.
“Oh, that was quite the temporal shift!” she said, fighting to get a strong dizziness out of her head. Turning to their King, she asked, “Did you feel that?”
“Quite, though not as strongly as you, my dear,” he confirmed. “but if it was as profound a shift as I believe it to be...“
“Yes,” Nyx agreed, finding her balance again, righting herself. “The mice are most likely wetting themselves over the ramifications.” The two looked at each other, then turned to Iron Blade. Sombra smacked his long-time friend on the back. “Your ‘interference’ in time has born fruit, my friend!”
“Literally,” Nyx smiled, nuzzling her King. She placed a hoof on her belly for a moment, smiling. “Congratulation will soon be in order!”
Iron Blade’s eyes widened. “You mean?” he asked excitedly.
“Yes,” Sombra rumbled warmly.
“And is it...I mean, will it be - “ his Grand Commander asked, daring to hope.
Nyx’s brilliant smile was all the confirmation he needed.
“YES!” Blade yelled, laughing and cantering back, then quickly around the room in joy.
The two rulers let him have his moment before returning to the more dire issue at hoof. Nyx wrapped a foreleg around Blade’s, guiding him back to the war table. “So, Blade, this conversation with Planner may be important. It did not occur before and may aid us now. What was discussed between you two?”
“Oh, yes,” he refocused, coming back to the present problem. “You know Planner, I was barely listening to his endless droning, especially since I was trying to avoid those dung droppings and their death machine. He was blathering on about the Yak/Griffon dinner last week, er tonight,” he corrected himself. “How those beasts might eat our filthy little invaders given half the opportunity - “ He stopped short, the light of an idea dawning in his head. He face-hoofed himself as Nyx’s eyes lit up.
“That’s IT!” she nearly screeched.
“I have seen that look too many times to not recognize trouble when it surfaces in your twisted little head, Nyx,” Sombra rumbled.
“It would be rather bad form diplomatically to feed these foul invaders to our neighbors during their visitation,” Blade said thoughtfully.
“Perhaps,” their King mused. “But there may be another way…”
“You’ve outdone yourself, Au Gratin!” Commander Iron Blade beamed, letting out a mighty belch. His two sons giggled, then imitated their father, causing Quiet Hoof to gasp.
“Apologies, your Majesty,” the Marazon blush brightly. She turned to all three of her stallions - young and older. “Manners!” she scolded. “We do not belch in front of our King!”
“I refuse to break a habit with Sombra that has been in place since our childhood, my dear,” Blade balked. He turned to the royal stallion. “He’s used to it.”
Sombra laughed. “That is quite all right, Quiet Hoof. Ever since Blade learned in Kajeiri it is considered a compliment to the chef, I have never been able to break our savage friend of the habit.”
“I am raising a stable of animals,” she pouted, shaking her head in mock disgust. “and worse, with the approval of His Majesty!”
“That’ll never change,” Nyx shrugged, finishing off her own meal.
Hoof leaned slightly back, feeling something rub against her leg. Looking down, she saw the reason. “Oh, when did you start allowing cats in the castle, your Highness? I thought you despised them.”
“We came to an equitable arrangement for peaceful coexistence, you could say,” the Umbrum rumbled pleasantly.
“We had need of their services,” Blade clarified, abandoning his glass in favor of the last of the wine in the bottle Au Gratin had brought out for the occasion. The chef silently rolled his eyes, snapping his fingers for one of the servers to bring out another bottle. Blade downed the remainder of the wine. “They’re rather sloppy at it - “
“ - but they are quite the efficient killers when they finish playing with their food. You have to admit that much, Blade,” Nyx smiled, picking up a mostly-eaten carcass with her magic, studying it.
“Oh cool!” one of Blade’s colts exclaimed, coming over to inspect it. “Can I have the skull?”
Nyx smiled, prying the tiny datapad out of its clawed hand while his mother and Au Gratin exclaimed in disgust, much to Sombra and Blade’s laughter. “I think it a fitting prize,” Blade agreed. “But let’s let the cat finish his job for the King first, eh?”
The young unicorn colt took the dead creature in his magic, throwing it back to the floor a few feet away. The cat pounced on it, continuing its meal as Sombra, Nyx and Blade toasted the furry solution to their temporal invader problem and the return of the Crystal Empire to its dark pony ruler.