• Published 11th Jul 2013
  • 4,438 Views, 225 Comments

Wolf In Pony's Clothing - Ardashir



Ardi the wolf is hiding out in Ponyville from an angry dragon and enraged ponies. Oh, and he's disguised as Rarity. AND a fear of Changelings and other monsters pretending to be ponies stalks the land. What could possibly go wrong?

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Day Seven: Will the Real Rarity Please Stand Up?

Day Seven: Will the Real Rarity Please Stand Up?

“B-but Applejack and Rainbow Dash were after him,” Fluttershy quavered as she shivered on the cool stone floor of the Gala Hall, face buried in her fetlocks. “And the dragon… And Lotus from the Spa started with the jousting harness and how her family hunted down wolves around Stalliongrad…” Her voice tapered off into a whisper.

Princess Celestia stretched her shining white wing over the butter-yellow pegasus, gave her a wing-hug. “Continue, Fluttershy.”

“Ardi’s a nice wolf… But he’s scared of us…” She lifted her face to the Alicorn Major who lay beside her. “He’s especially scared of YOU, Princess…”

Fluttershy dropped her head again, staring at her fetlocks. Celestia nuzzled her like a foal. “He… he calls you ‘The Burning Queen’… And… and he still calls Princess Luna ‘Nightmare Moon’…”

Luna snorted, almost dropping the espresso she held in the aura of her horn. Fluttershy eeped, buried her head in her long pink mane. In the quarter-hour since the search parties had set off after Rarity, the two Princesses had been slowly getting the story out of her in squimpers and whispers. A hooffull of Palace staff and Royal Guards milled around; both unicorn mages had settled in for the wait – Professor Yorsets with a pulp magazine pulled from somewhere in his sweater and Archmage Nexus with a huge snifter of orange juice.

“Fluttershy…”

“HIGHNESS!” The Spellguard on watch by the doorway neighed. “We have trouble. Coming this way.” Through the hall’s half-open doors came the sound of approaching hooves, panicked whinnies. And beyond them, the neighs and screams of a fight.

Princess Celestia rose to her hooves, her sunburst cutie mark shining gold, a similar glow surrounding her horn.

“Fluttershy. Get behind me.”

With a squeak, Fluttershy scooted behind the Princess, a foal hiding behind her dam. Dropping her espresso, Luna took to wing with half a dozen Pegasus Guards, ready to flank whatever-was-coming from above. Professor Yorsets set down his copy of Amazing Stories: A Changeling Anthology and Archmage Nexus his snifter; both moved to back up the Spellguards flanking the door.

The panicked hoofbeats grew louder; shireks and whinnies and yelps filled the hall beyond. Alicorn and unicorn horns began to glow with magical energy.

“Sister,” Celestia called to Luna hovering above. “First one’s mine.”

Then something white, gold, and screaming burst through the doors, into the light of the Changeling-detection lamps.

“AUNTY! CHANGELINGS! CHANGELINGS IN THE PALACE!”

Magical auras slammed into Prince Blueblood, lifting him off the floor, holding him in containment wards. He kept galloping on air.

“CHANGELINGS! THAT QUEEN! SHE’S HERE! SHE’S AFTER ME!”

Fluttershy squealed; Luna facehoofed in mid-air; Celestia released her idiot nephew. The instant his golden-shod hooves hit the floor, he dived behind “Aunty” and alongside Fluttershy.

“Ch-ch-Changelings in the Palace!” he kept neighing. “That Queen I told you about! She’s here and after me! I…”

Another white equine galloped through the door towards the Sun Princess, a unicorn with two long amethyst ribbons for mane and tail – and without the Element of Generosity.

“Rarity?” Fluttershy squeaked – just as the unicorn passed into range of the lantern and flashed into a black-and-yellow Changeling Queen.

Blueblood and Fluttershy both cringed as a Royal Canterlot Voice shook the hall from above. “SHE’S MINE!

Celestia saw the Changeling Queen – now back in Rarity’s shape – drop to her belly and fetlocks before her, a pony’s bow of submission. A second Royal Canterlot Voice thundered from below. “SISTER! HOLD FIRE! It’s NOT Chrysalis!

A blinding flash of chain lightning blasted from the Moon Princess’s horn; the Sun Princess’s horn flared in reaction, raising a shield between her sister and the cringing Changeling Queen, dispelling the lightning blast with an eardrum-breaking roar of thunder. The Changeling stayed on her belly, held by Yorsets’ and Nexus’ magic – and a moment later, by Celestia’s.

“Hive Queen of Ponies!” she blurted out, with none of Rarity’s gushing formality. “I beg your mercy for me and my Hive! We have lived below your city since the time of the Night Mare! We were never a threat to You or to Equestria…”

“PRINCESS! MORE INCOMING!” The Spellguard interrupted as more hoofbeats and screams came through the door. An instant later, a tangle of white and amethyst exploded into the Gala Hall. A maelstrom of two more Rarities, one with a white wolf’s tail and wearing the Element of Generosity necklace, the other a sweat-matted mess.

“I’LL MAKE A SADDLE OUT OF YOU! WITH MATCHING SKIRT!”

“SOMEWOLF! ANYWOLF! GET HER OFF ME! GET HER OFF ME!”

The two rolled across the floor, kicking and hoofing and snapping and whinnying and – howling? Chunks of purple mane and white coat flew, then Pegasus Guards piled on the two from above and blue and grey-green magic auras pulled them apart. The Rarity without the Element – the one with the purple tail, stable stench, and bloodshot eyes – thrashed in the barded guardsponies’ grips, neighing like a wild mustang and trying to get to the second Rarity. The Rarity with the Element – the one with the white wolf’s tail and torn coat that didn’t bleed – kept cringing away from the first. This Rarity wasn’t sweating like the other; instead, she panted like a dog, long tongue dripping between very un-ponylike fangs.

“’Tis no pony!” Luna grounded behind the fanged Rarity, lowered her horn; the Element necklace lifted away, then the unicorn’s hide ripped apart and flew off, revealing a cringing white wolf.

Fluttershy poked her head around Celestia’s flank. “Ardi?”

The wolf whimpered.

* * *

“Ardi!” Fluttershy half-galloped, half-flew to the white wolf; the two guardsponies released him to the Princess’s magical aura and stepped back as the butter-yellow pegasus set herself between him and them. She looked ready to Stare the guards.

“MORE INCOMING!”

Celestia looked up from where she held two fake Rarities in her magic. A fourth Rarity?

A blue-and-rainbow streak shot through the doors at three lengths altitude, only to get body-blocked by two Pegasus Guards in mid-air – “HEY! LEGGO!”

No, just a Rainbow Dash.

More hooves rang on the floor as Celestia’s personal student and two Element-bearing companions ran into the hall. Spike leaped off Twilight’s back and ran over to where two guardsponies held the ragged Rarity upright, while Twilight braked to look down at the shredded ponysuit on the floor.

“Rarity!” the little purple dragon yelled as he latched on to the frazzled unicorn’s matted fetlock. “What happened to you? Are you okay?”

Pony sweat dripped on him, steaming away as a ragged head with tangled mane lowered, bloodshot blue eyes trying to focus on him. “Spikey? My little Spikey-Wikey?” And her head pressed down on his in an equine hug, velvet lips brushing his spines.

Twilight kept staring at the remains of the ponysuit. “My Archmage’s Thesis…”

Applejack, hat askew and coat matted with sweat, dashed towards Ardi; Fluttershy set herself back against the wolf, shielding him from the furious palomino. “Don’t hurt Ardi! He didn’t hurt anypony, he was just scared and hiding…”

“Fluttershy!” Applejack snorted, eyes flaming green and muzzle dripping foam. “Ya mean ya knew where that wolf was the whole time! After he scared the whole town! And ya didn’t say anythin’?”

“You wanted to make a rug out of me!” Ardi snapped at her. He pointed at Dash, now landing beside Applejack. “And she wanted to hang my tail from her mane! Fluttershy wanted to hide me at Rarity’s shop until she could sneak me out, but you came looking there, and so I had to hide inside that pony suit of hers, and then everything just kept getting worse!”

“Ooooo!” a blur of pink with a poofy mane bounced over. “Two Rarities and a wolfie! You know what this calls for?”

“NO Party!” chorused the other three Element-bearers.

* * *

The aura holding the wolf changed from golden to blue as the unicorns took over restraining him; Celestia turned to the greater threat – the other Rarity held in both alicorns’ aura. After Chrysalis, neither of the Royal Sisters was taking chances.

“Now then,” the Sun Princess began, flaring her wings; the light in the room seemed to double, then dimmed back as the Moon Princess did the same, stepping closer to the other Rarity. “Who are you and what, exactly, do I do with you?”

“Your Highness,” she said in that not-a-pony voice, and golden flames surrounded her. They vanished to reveal a Changeling Queen, her ebon carapace trimmed in gold instead of teal, her yellow eyes agleam. She looked fearlessly at Celestia as she said, “I am Queen Vespid, of Hive Vespid, I rule a Changeling Hive of my offspring that coexists with Canterlot and has coexisted here since the founding of the city. We have never taken ponies, we have never transformed ponies, we have never harmed ponies. We only tap and feed from their emotions in secret, as is the Changeling way. Or was, until Chrysalis came.” She spat the name in a chittering squeal, the sound of metal-on-metal.

“Over half my Hive died in the fighting when Chrysalis attacked. Half of those killed by her drones, half by pony magic. I have but one question. Do you truly seek to kill all the rest of Us with this ritual?” She pointed a perforated foreclaw at the chalked outlines on the floor.

Ardi’s eyes went wide as Celestia recoiled in shock, her ears going back. His ears twitched as horrified gasps burst from Twilight and Fluttershy.

“That, that’s not true!” Twilight said. She stepped close to the Changeling Queen. “We, we’d never,” she shook her head and almost yelled, “Why does everypony think Celestia is like that?!?”

Celestia waved her student back with one wing.

“First of all, Queen Vespid, the purpose of this ritual working was never to kill, only to detect and expose.” One of those Changeling-detecting lanterns floated up off the ground and over to her. “The working was to extend the effect of these lanterns over all Equestria for a short time, forcing shapeshifters into the open. Even in defeat, Chrysalis started a panic among my little ponies. Conspiracy theories, stampedes, local riots, pony attacking pony thinking they were Changelings, fear of my land being overrun with shapeshifters. Chaos and Disharmony growing in the land; should I let Disharmony grow until Discord once more breaks loose from stone?”

Vespid shuddered at the mention of Discord. Ardi shuddered at the mention of stone. Fluttershy pressed up against him as Celestia continued.

“The casting would only force shapeshifters back into their base form, proving once and for all to everypony that their neighbors were not Changelings in disguise and Equestria was not overrun by hordes of shapeshifters. And that is all.”

“That is all?” The Changeling Queen looked at Celestia – then around and behind to Luna – as her jagged horn glowed. Professor Yorsets’ dropped pulp magazine slid across the floor, floated up before the Sun Princess. A monstrous-looking Changeling glared and slavered on the lurid cover. “That is not what your ponies believe.”

“Chrysalis’ attack started a fad in fiction. As did the Return of Nightmare Moon and the Day of Discord.”

“Is the Canterlot Sun fiction? The Manehatten Times? I have read your newspapers. I have heard from the mouths of their sources.”

Behind Celestia, Prince Blueblood began to shy away towards one of the side doors.

“The headlines read ‘Princesses and Element Bearers to rid Equestria of Changelings Forever.’ The articles beneath give details, and speculate where there are none. The editorials say the same as the fiction: Changelings are monsters; all must be killed before they kill ponies.”

“Details and speculations? From the mouths of their sources?” Luna’s voice came from behind Ardi and Vespid. “What would you know of that, Nephew?” Blueblood streaked out the side door in a flash of white and gold, the Moon Princess’s eyes following him as he disappeared.

“Ah, that,” Celestia said. She took the pulp magazine gently from Vespid’s grasp. Ardi saw annoyance pass over her face and vanish as she said, “I’ve ignored many of the things they said about me before this – we have freedom of the press in Equestria – but when my words and deeds are deliberately misrepresented to provoke either anger or fear, then I think I need to have a talk with the newspaper editors.” She looked off to the side, at the door where Blueblood had vanished. “Nor do I appreciate it when somepony goes behind my back and spreads stories about official secrets. Even if they are of the line of Princess Platinum. One cannot choose one’s relatives, even those by ancestral adoption.”

“I have Hive offspring who are the same.”

Celestia looked back at Vespid. “As Princess of the Sun and co-ruler of Equestria, as one reigning royal to another, I swear to you that I have never and will never mean any harm to beings that can live within the laws of Equestria, be they pony or dragon or,” and Ardi thought she smelled like a warm Spring day as amusement filled her voice, “even Changelings or wolves.”

She looked at Ardi and smiled. He flinched, Fluttershy eeped and squeezed him with one wing. “Even ones who pretend to be one of my little ponies.”

The golden aura around Vespid faded, leaving only midnight blue. “Release her, sister.”

The midnight-blue aura faded, and Vespid rose on perforated legs. She was almost as tall as Luna. Celestia stepped forward, golden sabatons clacking on the floor, and craned her neck around the Changeling’s in an equine hug.

“Welcome to the surface of Equestria, Queen of Hive Vespid.”

* * *

Finished with Vespid, Celestia turned to the other ponies – and one wolf – in the hall. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were with the only Rarity remaining, one on each side holding her upright. She looked asleep on her feet, head drooping, twitches and shivers running through her entire body. Spike still clung to her foreleg.

“Is she all right?”

“Somethin’ about not sleepin’ for two days and runnin’ all the way across Canterlot,” Applejack replied. “Then she got into a fight with thet wolf. Don’t think she’s been buckin’ any apples, though.”

“Take her to her guest suite in the Garden Tower. Clean her up and get her into bed.” The Princess turned to two of the waiting Palace staff. “She needs to sleep. Dusty, Phalanx, guide them.”

The now four ponies guided the worse-for-wear Rarity to one of the side doors. “No…” she whispered as they led her away, “Can’t sleep… Can’t ever sleep again…”

Fluttershy lay next to the wolf; both looked up at Celestia in undisguised fear. But then Fluttershy always looked scared when facing a Princess – except for that one time at the Gala when she went berserk. Pinkie bounced over to the Changeling Queen.

“Hi I’m Pinkie Pie and you’re the only pony here who’s all all alone but you’re a Changeling not a pony so you’re really the only Changeling who’s here who’s all all alone….”

Vespid gave the pink pony a strange look.

“So much for the working,” commented Spell Nexus. “And after all that setup.” He turned to Professor Yorsets and some bits changed hooves, floating from capelet pocket to sweater pocket.

“And now one last piece of unfinished business,” Celestia said as she stepped over to the white wolf and yellow-and-pink pegasus. “Twilight, if you would accompany me?”

* * *

Oh Scat…

Ardi looked up as The Burning Queen stepped over to him and Fluttershy, twice his size, shining from within, mane streaming in a nonexistent breeze. The wolf-sized spear-head Twilight followed her like a pup.

Fluttershy’s wing squeezed Ardi; he felt her shiver. Are they going to kill her, too? For aiding me?

The terror of all the Old Stories and den-wall paintings, She Who Commands the Sun, Killer of Wolves, looked down at him.

“You are ‘Ardi’ of Stalliongrad? Fluttershy has told me about you.”

* * *

Ardi gulped and shivered at that question. He pressed against Fluttershy, tried to glance around for an escape, but the Burning Queen simply kept his eyes locked on hers. The alicorn spoke again, drawing his attention back to her.

“Well?” Wait, was she smiling? Maybe she’s just pleased to have a wolf to roast?

“I,” he gulped and whimpered. “I, I’m, that is…” He cringed back. “Please don’t kill me, I didn’t hurt anypony, don’t do to me what you and your sister and the Twisting One did to Father Fenris!”

“Oh, Your Highness, please don’t hurt Ardi!” Fluttershy squealed from beside him, moving forward to shield him. “He didn’t hurt anypony, he was just scared and hiding! Don’t hurt him!”

Ardi wanted to move and set himself between her and the Burning Queen. It wouldn’t do any good, but she deserved better. Maybe if he charged her, Fluttershy could get away…

“Why not?” Ardi growled. When Celestia looked at him, he wanted to bite his tongue, but decided to go through with it. He was dead anyway. A wolf only loses one fight, the fight in which he dies…

“You and your sister and Discord, the Twisting One, betrayed Father Fenris at the dawn of the world! Then you both betrayed Discord, and after that you turned on your sister! You killed wolves, burned them to ashes in their dens so your herds could cover the world! WE NEVER HUNTED PONIES! WE RAN FROM YOU! WOLVES RAN!”

“That’s not true!” the spear-head yelled out from beside The Burning Queen. “Why does everypony think the Princess is like that?!?”

The wolf’s voice gave out, shrank into one devoid of all hope. “And now you’ll do – the same, to me, because of what I am and what I’ve done. Just please,” somehow he forced himself to look in the Burning Queen’s wide eyes, “Please make it quick, and don’t hurt any of the ponies who tried to help me.” He closed his eyes and wondered what the final blast of sunfire would feel like. Or would she take him outside and do it there? It’d be less of a mess on the carpeting…

* * *

“PRINCESS!” Spike’s voice rang out from across the hall; heads jerked around. “SOMETHING’S HAPPENING TO RARITY!”

Between the four ponies by the side door, Rarity slowly collapsed to the ground, gasping. Spike cradled her head as she started to moan and twitch, eyes jerking under shadowed eyelids, her legs curling up like she was being tied up or strapped down. “No… No…” she whimpered, then she started to sing in her sleep. Quiet, but still carrying through the hall. Ardi’s ears pricked to listen, and he shivered.

“Hush now… Quiet now… Time to lay your sleepy head…”

Rarity looked away – anywhere – as the Royal Guard executioner tightened the straps that bound her. Through the window of the death chamber she could see her surviving friends except for Fluttershy looking in with shock-frozen faces. And Sweetie Belle? Why were they letting Sweetie watch?

A black sleep mask floated up in the executioner’s dark aura, cutting off the last sight she would ever see – the shock-frozen faces of her friends and little sister. The elastic tightened behind her head, then a faint golden glow came through the blindfold as the Princess began to turn her to stone forever.

“H-hush now, Q-Quiet now, I-It’s time to lay your sleepy head… H-Hush now, Q-Quiet now, I-It’s time to g-go to bed…”

“WHAT’S HAPPENING TO HER? RARITY!” Spike called as he cradled the unicorn’s shuddering head, listening to the creepiest rendition of “Hush Now Quiet Now” anypony – or anydragon – had ever heard.

Twilight ran over, only to stop at a command from Luna. The Night Princess stepped up. “She dreams. A bad one. Hold her still.”

Then the dark Princess, the Nightmare herself, closed her eyes and lowered her head, touching her long horn to Rarity’s horn with a blue spark. Luna’s dark-blue magic flowed down the linked horns for a long moment, then Spike and the ponies next to them – and Ardi – heard the Moon Princess whisper over the surreal whimpering lullaby.

“Thou are not her,” the Night Princess whispered like a mother to her pups, in a voice as soft as Fluttershy’s. “Thou didst not do the things she did. Nay, thou must not needs die for what she did. Nor the way she did. Not like that.”

At her words, Rarity relaxed and lay still, Spike still cradling her head. The Nightmare broke contact, opened her eyes, then leaned forward to kiss the unicorn on her horn. “Sleep, my little pony. Thou shalt never have such a dream again.”

The Nightmare – no, “Princess Luna” – stepped back and nodded. A Spellguard levitated the sleeping form, cocooning her in grey-green magic, and eased her from the hall. Spike followed them. Ardi stared after her, wondering if the mare would be well.

The Burning Queen raised her head, called to her ponies. “Twilight? Applejack? Rainbow Dash? Come to me. Open your eyes and ears. You need to hear this.”

The other ponies came over – the palomino who had hunted him, the blue pegasus who was going to take his tail as a trophy, even the pink poisoner who’d somehow acquired a tub of popcorn. The Changeling Queen stood beside the pink pony, watching instead of munching.

“Ardi?” He turned back to find Celestia’s eyes once more locked on his own and swallowed, wondering if he would be as well.

The Burning Queen lowered herself, lay on her belly before him, tucked gold-sabatoned fetlocks under her. “We heard little about wolves for centuries; except for the Timber Wolves of the Everfree, we thought them gone or driven far away into the wilderness. All we heard from Stalliongrad was occasional sightings. Or reports of attacks by feral packs. As far as we knew, wolves-who-spoke were no more.”

Her Royal Tiara-crowned head descended towards him; he yipped in shock at the touch of velvet-soft equine snout against his cheek. Her breath was warm against his face, her scent like a warm spring day.

“As I swore to Queen Vespid,” the pony Princess looked back at the Changeling Queen who stood watching from the side, “I have never and will never mean any harm to beings that can live within the laws of Equestria, be they pony or dragon or griffin or minotaur –” She paused for a moment, and amusement filled her voice. “Or even wolves who pretend to be ponies.”

“I, I won’t be punished then?” Ardi asked, wondering if maybe he just dreamed. “You’ll just –let me go? In peace?”

“Yes, Ardi of Stalliongrad.” She looked him in the eyes; he thought he saw tears forming in hers.

Then, because he had to say it; “But why? Wolves used to hunt ponies, and ponies still hunt wolves!”

The Burning Queen sighed. “Because of what happened long, long ago,” she began, “After the First Age of Discord.”

A rhythm crept into her voice; Pinkie plopped onto the floor and dug into her popcorn. Ardi sensed a ritual opening to an Old Story, and perked his ears to listen.

“Those were dark times, Ardi, everypony. Dark and Terrible. With their maker and master sealed away, Discord’s subcreations rampaged across the land. All the monsters of today’s Everfree, plus monsters even you never heard of, Twilight – the Landsharks, the Beholders, the Ibathene, the Tarrasque. All of them preying on ponies. Dragons and griffins joined in the hunt, as did wolves both timber and flesh.”

“And for centuries afterwards, my sister and I protected our little ponies. We hunted down those who hunted them, drove them away from what’s now Equestria, back into the Wastelands or the Everfree where Discord’s chaos still reigned. Hundreds of years of blood and death and monsters. Monsters, predators, even ponies who wanted to be the next Tirek or Grogar or Discord – King Sombra of the Crystals was just the best-known.”

The Nightmare’s voice came from behind Ardi, and something in that voice set him shivering. “Thou hast never had to face Sombra in his prime, Twilight Sparkle. Only what remained of him after a thousand years – the shadow of his rage, his hate, his craving to dominate.”

Silver sabatons rang on the floor as the Nightmare walked into view. “We were different then, my sister and I – dark and terrible, to match the times. It was then I first took the form and title of Nightmare Moon.” The ponies gasped and Ardi cringed as she shifted to the form she’d taken on Nightmare Night, when the Nightmare Moon statue “came to life” to scare the colts and fillies. Then the illusion dispelled and she was once more Princess Luna, her head lowered. “Twas to make me look more terrible and powerful, to intimidate the monsters and predators. Didst work too well; my ponies also ran from their Princess in terror. To them, I was just another monster who came in the night. And she took me over.”

Before him, the Burning Queen resumed. “After I – lost my sister – then came Syhlex, Lord of Dragons, and his seven sons to prey on my ponies now that I was alone.” She closed her eyes for a moment, as if remembering. “Equestria below us, fair for the taking! The Mare of the Night has fallen, and who fears the Day?” Her eyes opened. “You know what happened then.”

“Syhlex was the last great threat to Equestria. Two centuries after that, Equestria was at peace and growing. Ponies were settling and colonizing along the borders, expanding the realm to the size it is today. Seven hundred ninety-four years ago, I raised the sun for that year’s Summer Sun Celebration at the new colony of Vanhoofer, at the edge of the griffin lands. At the time, Vanhoofer was only a cluster of villages, smaller than Ponyville is today.”

“The Lord Mayor of the colony and Lord Commander of the garrison received me with all the pomp they could muster – you have seen the same upon my visits to Ponyville. After the formal Raising of the Sun, they brought me an ‘offering’, a ‘sacrifice of thanks’.” Her voice became grim. “A captured griffin, bound and gagged, laid at my forehooves.”

“I removed her gag and asked her what was her crime? And it was being born a griffin, an eater of ponies.”

The alicorn’s voice began to quaver at the memory; all but the Changeling and the other Alicorn Major shuddered inside.

“She kept begging me to spare her young and to ‘make it quick’ – as you did just now, Ardi. All she asked for herself was a blindfold, so she couldn’t – see her death coming! She expected me to kill her on the spot – trample her beneath my hooves, burn her to ash with sunfire, as I had so many others in the chaos left by Discord! No griffin had preyed upon ponies for over five hundred years, yet to her I was still the griffin-killing monster. As I had been to my own little ponies, the colonists who hunted down griffins and had captured her alive as an ‘offering’ to me. We-We had become their monsters.”

Pinkie stopped crunching as Ardi and Twilight spoke as one. “W-what did you do to her?”

“I let her go, escorted her and her young to their aerie in the Griffin Mountains, and paid the Griffin Chieftans another state visit. Of peace between griffin and pony. Grizelda Sleek Tail returned with me to Equestria, as my personal student.” She looked at Twilight like a dam to her foal or bitch to her pup, extended a wing over the smaller spear-head. “You would have liked her, Twilight, even though she has been dust for seven hundred years. The only griffin student I have ever had. One of her sons even sired the first hippogriff.”

She refurled her wing, turned her face back to Ardi.

“That was almost eight hundred years ago, with the griffins of the Northwest. Perhaps it is time to do the same with the wolves of Stalliongrad.”

Her voice changed back to its previous one, except now with a trace of whimsy.

“Now to answer your first question: No, you won’t be punished. You seem to have done a good enough job of punishing yourself as it is,” Ardi flushed pink in his ears at her words. “And you can stay in Canterlot, or Ponyville…”

Fluttershy squeezed him and squeaked; Applejack snorted. Ardi saw the palomino – and the blue pegasus – fall silent at a glance from the Princess. But judging by the way the earth pony’s hoof scraped against floor, he figured it might be best to stay away from Ponyville for a time.

“Or anywhere in Equestria you wish,” The Burning Queen – no, Princess Celestia – said. “I ask only one thing. That when you return to your wolf pack, that you tell them, tell all the wolves, that they may live openly and freely in my land rather than hiding in wild woods and caves and on lonely moors like scavengers. Just so long as they follow its laws. The old days are more than a thousand years gone. Neither my sister or I will kill any of you simply for being. Please,” Ardi’s ears pricked up. Was she pleading with him?

He looked at her, and for the first time saw a mare, not the black-armored and horned Burning Queen of puppyhood nightmares. A giant mare, horned and winged, crowned in gold and shining from within, who looked so very tired and a little sad.

“Please, young wolf. The old days are long gone. Discord is sealed in stone in the Royal Gardens, his subcreations now hunt only in the Everfree. I have lived for more years than even Twilight can count and I have become so very tired of being an object of fear to so many.”

Ardi put his head forward and nuzzled the alicorn’s snout. She nuzzled back, and the other ponies joined her.

“I…” Ardi began, then said, “I will, Burning Quee –” He broke off as she cocked an eyebrow at him. “I will, Princess Celestia.” He hesitated, and added, “But they may not believe just my word.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Celestia said. She smiled at him. Ardi began to wonder if he’d somehow just gotten in more trouble as she said, “I think we can find a way to give your word more weight.”

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