• Published 10th Jun 2014
  • 22,365 Views, 1,481 Comments

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold - Dropbear

After being banished by Celestia for his misdeeds, the alien Emperor of the Crystal Empire is back... and out for revenge.

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Friends Make Everything Better

The sun blazed down on a small village in the Zebra Lands, the majority of the huts covered in a layer of dirt. The villagers were all hiding in their homes, save for two foals trapped between a well and a monster.

The brother and sister had been frozen in terror for what seemed like years while the dirty biped yelled at the sky, vowing to get revenge on a ‘Filthy, Backstabbing, Conniving Horse.’ The creature clutched a bloodstained sword and wore a scaly red hide around its pale skin. He reeked of a smell that matched his appearance, a mix of sulphur and a drunken night’s fry-up.

A true nightmare.

“Make it go away,” Zassy sobbed into her older brother’s stripped coat. Zebu hugged her tighter, shivering as he stared at the monster that had clawed its way out of the ground to yell with rage. He had never felt so scared in his short life.

It was impossible for this to get any worse.

“Never doing that again. Elijah, fuck you and your teleporter.”

“It’s not my fault, Orthodox,” a male voice, just as muffled as the first, replied. “Whichever imbecile programmed this was a degree out. A degree! Do you have any comprehension of how big a mistake that is to make with inter-universal teleportation to an unknown location? We could have been killed! Torn asunder! Had our very physical forms turned into nothing but individual particles and erased from-“

“Can you both just shut up?” Both arguing beings were roughly pulled out from the sandbank by the legs, a third voice grumbling while they shock the sand off their armour. “We knew the risks, and I swear you’ve both gotten even more irritating since I left the Internal Security Agency.”

“At least you haven’t lost your talent for whining,” Orthodox pointed out as he shook the sand out of the segmented black armour covering his tail. “That’s all you ever did. If it wasn’t classy enough for James then we were sure to hear every detail.” Orthodox’s head snapped to the side as a hand covered in identical black armour slapped him on the helmet.

“Moron,” James insulted.

“Prick,” Orthodox returned, standing up off the ground and dusting himself off. The dragon-shaped alien tried to puff out his chest to intimidate the psionic warfare operative, however the effect was ruined as he only came up to James’ waist. Seeing that his attempt had failed, Orthodox pointed his plasma rifle at James instead.

“Go ahead, pull the trigger,” James taunted as his hands tapped the pistol holstered at his waist. “You’ve got one shot before I paralyse you and put a gauss round in your face.” He tapped an armoured finger between Orthodox’s blue eye optics. “We all know why you use rapid-fire weaponry that you can spray everywhere.”

“Come now you two,” Elijah interrupted while pushing Orthodox’s rifle barrel towards the ground. “We didn’t cross universes to shoot each other in a desert.” A panel on Elijah’s white armour opened, the scientist withdrawing a square data-pad. “We still have to find Chalmers after all.”

“Bastard missed my Birthday,” Orthodox muttered, gazing out across the harsh desert.

“A rare thing indeed,” Elijah agreed while he tapped on the pad’s glowing screen. “Gone for more than a month and no communication. I thought that the ISA would have noticed it sooner.”

“We have better things to do than worry about agents on leave,” Orthodox defended. “So let’s just find him, smack some sense into him and then go back to my place for my party. Then we can all go our separate ways again until James’ is due.”

“I look forward to having drunken fools in my house every year,” James remarked dryly. He joined Orthodox as they stared out at the desert, searching for a sign of their missing comrade. The tall and lanky James was a direct contrast to the squat Orthodox, the human and alien’s sensors unable to find any trace.

“There we go,” Elijah spoke up as he waved the pad, facing the direction behind them. “He’s alive and only a few kilometres from here.” Orthodox immediately rushed past the scientist, his rifle hitting against Elijah’s armoured leg in his haste.

“Last one there has to buy a round of drinks when we get back!” he called out.

“The one thing I didn’t miss,” James muttered before following, his armour glowing a slight blue as he increased speed. Elijah watched his two friends race off into the desert, chuckling as he ordered his armour to boot up his inbuilt teleporter. Being a high-ranking scientist with Research and Development had its advantages.

Setting the co-ordinates to just a few feet away from Chalmers; Elijah grinned inside his visored helmet as his teleporter activated.
He wasn’t going to be the one buying any drinks, unlike the fools that had run off without him.

“Disease-riddled Harlot!”

Nigel’s insulting of Celestia was interrupted by a sound that snapped him out of his blind fury. A sound that he knew all too well.

The sound of a UIP teleporter.

He whirled around, trying to spot the source. His eyes ran over huts, sandy ground and a vast expanse of desert outside of the village he was in. He couldn’t see anything, but he knew that the sound was close.

“Well, that was off by… I would say a degree.” Nigel’s eyes fell on a well, a muffled male voice rising up from it. He briefly noticed two zebra children alternating from gazing at him with fear and nervously eyeing the now-speaking well.

“Move it,” Nigel ordered, pointing towards a group of huts to the left. The two foals did exactly as told, hurriedly getting to their hooves and galloping off as if a demon was after them. He spent little time wondering about them, Nigel walking over to the well to peer down into its murky depths.

“Elijah?” Nigel inquired, able to recognise the voice of the bookish scientist. “What are you doing in a well?” A light turned on, the glow allowing Nigel to see the white helmet of his friend.

“Oh, we came to rescue you,” came the reply. “Orthodox and James decided to race each other across the desert, so I did the smart thing and teleported instead.”

“I can see that,” Nigel responded, his anger simmering down as he went over the information. “So, did you want me to leave you there so you can get out yourself or…?”

“Assistance would be appreciated, yes,” Elijah finished for him. Nigel turned away from the well and walked over to a hut, leaning his head inside a window.

“Got a rope I can borrow?” he asked, the four zebras hiding in the building cursing the fact that their window was just a hole in the wall. One of them, a stallion, shakily fetched a coil of rope and tossed it at the human. “Thanks,” Nigel acknowledged, returning to the well to rescue Elijah. The rope was tossed down after being tied down, Nigel waiting until the scientist climbed up and out.

“Well, thank you for that.”

“No problem,” Chalmers replied. Both stared at each other, Nigel examining Elijah’s armour while the scientist started at the red cloak that Nigel wore. “I see you’ve got armour.”

“Oh, this?” Elijah replied while glancing down at it. “It’s just a project I was working on a few years ago. It’s actually the prototype for a new line that the military are looking at. I’ve added some extras that would certainly not be stock, and I thought that this little excursion would be the perfect testing ground.” Elijah pointed at Nigel. “I see you have a… nice cloak and sword.”

“The sword was made by my subjects,” Nigel informed while showing off the dirty blade. “You’ll love them, they use magically charged gems for all sorts of things.”

“Subjects?” Elijah inquired; the excited curiosity evident in his voice.

“I rule a local Empire,” Nigel stated proudly before his eyes narrowed. “I mean, I did rule an Empire. I was betrayed by the ruler of another country and she banished me to their Hell.” Nigel ran a hand down the rough skin. “I picked this up while I was down there, idiot tried to jump me. Great thing I still had my sword, and I needed something to wear.”

“So, a good trip then,” Elijah remarked cheerily before retrieving his pad from his armour. “This Hell, what kind of creatures inhabited it? Was it similar to the commonly accepted Judaeo-Christian underworld or did it differ immensely?”

“I didn’t like it,” Chalmers answered. “They didn’t like me. I don’t want to go into it now; I have to take care of a few things.” Elijah smiled under his visor, the pad staying in his hand. From the brief explanation and the mannerisms, Nigel was not pleased at all with what had happened and that often lead to a wealth of scientific knowledge.

Well, either that or hilarious acts of violence, both of which were appealing to the scientist.

“I can only assume that you wish to return to your Empire, take back control and punish the one responsible for your incarceration?” Nigel nodded, popping his neck and rolling his shoulders.

“Oh yes, I have a list of people who I am very, very displeased with. I assume that the ISA wants me back right away though.” Elijah chuckled nervously at this, rubbing the back of his helmet with a free hand.

“Well, they hadn’t… really noticed that you were gone. You were on leave and you apparently have a habit of disappearing when not needed. It was Orthodox’s birthday-“

“Shit,” Nigel cursed. He was not going to hear the end of it.

“Indeed,” Elijah confirmed. “We noticed that you hadn’t shown up and Orthodox was a present down. You know how he acts sometimes when he doesn’t get his way. To save ourselves the associated problems that come with such a happening, we decided to find you.”

Elijah shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. “We used an array to find your sub-dermal signature, saw that you were in an unknown location and so we… ‘liberated’ an ISA sub-space teleporter.”

Nigel rubbed a hand on his face.

“You stole a teleporter,” he muttered in disbelief. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re going to be in when we get back?” Elijah nodded.

“Oh, I do, but I have a plan!” The scientist pointed a finger to the sky. “We don’t use it to get back, but I made sure to subtly inform the ISA that you were missing. They come, find us, we claim that the teleporter malfunctioned while I was examining it as a possible cause for your disappearance, and then I use my contacts in R and D to make the entire issue go away. You get found, the UIP gets to explore a new planet and everyone wins.”

“I take it that they don’t find us straight away,” Nigel stated, wise to Elijah’s methods.

“Well, I needed to make sure that we had ample time to find you,” Elijah tried unconvincingly. “Oh, and of course it gives me more time to examine everything before the other scientists get here to stick their fingers or other frontal appendages into it.” He gave Nigel a pat on the shoulder. “Also, it means that we can help you get back your throne. Even if starting a separate Empire is considered treason.”

“It was more a case of ‘I took it’ than started it. Besides, I would have no issue with leaving but there are… personal matters involved.” Elijah knowingly nodded his head.

“Ah, just like I remember when I was in the ISA. You found a nice local girl didn’t you?” Chalmers nodded before glancing at his sword again.

“Well, yes, but there are other issues as well.” Nigel was just about to explain that he actually liked the crystal ponies and changelings, but was interrupted by a cry of victory.

“Ha! Suck it Orthodox!” James taunted as he dashed around a hut to stand in front of Nigel. Orthodox followed soon after, his gun still in hand.

“It’s not fair!” he protested. “You used your evil witch-mind powers to trip me all the time!”

“I did not,” James defended with a hand on his chest. “You must have been imagining things. If anything I’d say that your short legs were the main issue.” Orthodox glared up at James, blue optics meeting blank, black metal.

“What the Fuck did you just say about my legs?” Orthodox hissed dangerously, Nigel interrupting the argument before it could go any further.

“Settle down,” he advised, putting his sword between the two. The two turned their attention to him, Orthodox transferring his glare to Nigel.

“You!” the alien accused as he pointed his finger. “You missed my birthday!”

“I was stranded on an alien planet,” Nigel stated bluntly.

“I don’t care,” Orthodox complained, walking up to Nigel and poking him in the gut with the tip of his tail. “One less friend means one less gift. And not going to lie, James and Elijah are just not meant for parties.”

“I do well at parties,” James butted in.

“Not fun parties,” Orthodox continued before pointing at Elijah. “And before you say it, Nerd, playing ancient role-playing games with dice is not considered fun either.”

“Orthodox,” Nigel sighed. “Calm down. There is more important things to worry about than your party. I promise that once we take back my Empire, we’ll have a massive party with booze and females. Hell, I’ll even get you a magical weapon as a present.” Orthodox eyed Nigel’s sword, in particular the gems on the hilt.

“Fine,” he relented. “But it better be a giant ‘fuck-off’ stick that I can use to smack people and make them explode.” Nigel silently wondered if that was even possible, and if it was then why would he waste it on Orthodox. Still, he attempted to smile and nod.

“I’m sure something can be arranged,” he bluffed, Orthodox staring at him for a second before relaxing. “We still need to actually get to my Empire, take it back and then defend it.” Nigel looked around the village, the others copying his action. “And considering that my city is covered in snow, I doubt we’re close by.” Elijah stepped up and raised a hand.

“Allow me,” he began. “Judging from the huts, the inhabitants are going to be fairly primitive. Primitives are often scared of strange aliens so you have to act nice, be courteous and pretend that you are their friend if you want to get what you want.”

The others watched, Nigel shaking his head as Elijah directed his attention to the largest group of huts. The scientist cleared his throat, scared eyes peering out of darkened windows at him.

“Hello, my name is Elijah,” he began. “Me and my friends look scary, but we mean you no harm. All we want is to find out how we can get to…” Elijah glanced at Nigel.

“The Crystal Empire, near Equestria.”

“Yes,” Elijah continued with a brief smile at the names. “The Crystal Empire which is near Equestria. If you give us directions, we’ll be gone and you can continue on with your lives. I would be most grateful and I might even compensate anyone willing to help.”

All four waited patiently, Elijah losing his smile as more and more time went by. None of the villagers moved from their hiding places, still too scared of the intruders to help. Orthodox had been tapping his foot impatiently, but soon he lost his temper.

“You have no clue how to interact with primitives,” Orthodox informed while pushing past Elijah. “You have to be firm with them, they respect strength.” After he said this, Orthodox pointed his gun up into the sky and pulled the trigger.

Rapid shots of blue plasma soared up to the heavens, Orthodox letting go of the trigger and pointing the gun at the huts.

“Alright you Motherfuckers, listen up!” Orthodox thumped his armoured tail on the ground to punctuate the point. “You are going to come out and help us find this Empire, or I swear to God I will come in there, slaughter every living thing and then skull-fuck your corpses! Apparently, the one who actually has the balls to even talk to us gets paid! So what the Hell are you waiting for!?” A door immediately opened, an elderly zebra stallion dressed like an African Chief pushed out by many hooves.

“See?” Orthodox commented as the Chief hesitantly approached them. “You have to be firm.”

“Normally I would be pissed off at you,” Nigel told Orthodox. “But given my plans, I think you’ll have a great time. This is probably one of the only times that I’ll let you go to town on the enemy.”

“I can’t wait,” Orthodox stated as he stroked his rifle’s grey body.

“You need directions?” the zebra stammered, Elijah crouching down in front of the creature and petting the black mane with his armoured hand.

“Fascinating, it’s like a Terran zebra but with many differences in appearance that support its sapience. It also speaks English, an unexpected occurrence considering that no UIP operations are present in this area. One must wonder if we’ve stumbled upon another alternate Terra where the inhabitants are equine in nature.” Nigel cleared his throat as Elijah continued to pat the nervous zebra.

“You can research all the natives you want when we take back my empire,” he lectured. “Right now we need-“

“Yes, I know, directions,” Elijah muttered sadly while withdrawing his hand. “So then, sapient zebra, would you be able to direct us to this Empire that my comrade desires back?” The zebra gulped and nodded nervously, his eyes darting amongst all of the aliens.

“I can’t,” he answered carefully. “I’m the chief of this village and I have many maps stored in my house. I don’t know about the ‘Crystal Empire’ but traders from Equestria come here occasionally. I have maps showing the way to Equestria, but you’ll have to get a boat to cross the sea.” Nigel stepped forwards, Elijah standing up and jotting down notes on his pad.

“That’s fine, we can work our way from Equestria and getting a boat will not be an issue,” Nigel replied. “I assume that there is a port town in your country?” The chief nodded, starting to move towards the largest hut in the village.

“There are many ports; we have much to trade with the other nations.” The zebra was talking more and more openly, evidently their plans to leave as soon as possible were something that he wanted to help achieve. “If you just give me a moment I can find one for you to take.” Elijah followed him, waving his pad in the air.

“There is no need for us to take one, I can copy it in seconds,” the scientist reassured. “The entire thing will cost you nothing.” Both he and the Chief entered the large hut, Orthodox making exaggerated sniffing noises as he glanced at Nigel.

“You smell like shit,” he observed, Nigel rolling his eyes. “Just what did you do? I caught something about an Empire.”

“Long story,” Nigel answered. “I’ll tell you about it on the way there.” He glanced down once again at his sword, still having neglected to clean it. “I promise you though; it’s going to be fun taking revenge.”

“Someone pissed you off again?”

“Oh,” Nigel replied as his fists clenched. “You have no bloody idea.”

“So you step down from the throne, leave the Empire with all Equestrians and never return.”

Cadence sighed as the group of crystal ponies finished their list of demands, it had only been a few weeks and this seemed like the tenth-thousand time. At least they had stopped rioting a week ago; she didn’t know the exact number of guards sent back to Equestria but she knew that the newspapers had dubbed the Crystal Empire the ‘most dangerous place in the world’. It was over-exaggeration, but it still didn’t help the Equestrian civilian’s opinion of the ongoing peacekeeping.

“That’s not going to happen,” Cadence replied as the ten guards by the throne kept a steady eye on the crowd of civilians. “Princess Celestia tasked me with ruling this Empire and I intend to do that. Please, I only want to have a happy empire. I know you all want the Emperor back-“

“We do!” a mare shouted. “We want him back, we want our Crystal Heart back and we don’t want any Equestrians in our Empire!” Cadence sighed again. The words would have hurt more, but after constantly listening to them she had gotten used to being hated.

“He’s not coming back,” Cadence stated, a little harsher than she intended. “Celestia banished him forever. She placed me in charge, and like it or not it’s the only choice you have. We have to work together to restart the Crystal Heart and stop the winter winds.”

“Everything we try doesn’t work!” a changeling spoke up, pushing his way through the crowd to glare at Cadence. “We’re running out of crystals and with all of the crystal unicorns gone we can’t make more! Not all of us can love ponies and both the Emperor and your Princess promised that we could stay here!” Cadence’s face remained blank, her hatred of changelings increasing ever since Reflection had attacked her again.

“It’s not up to me, if you want the Heart to work then ask the crystal ponies. As long as they remain unhappy, then the Heart will never start.”

“We’ll be happy when you’re dead!” A stallion yelled, the crowd bursting into insults and jeers. Cadence lowered her head and waved a hoof, her guards moving to push the crowd out of the throne room. As the ponies and changelings were ejected from the castle, Cadence left her throne with a huff.

“I’m retiring to my chambers,” she informed a remaining guard, the unicorn nodding his head as he observed his subordinates kick out the protesters.

“Do you wish for me to inform Captain Armour?” Cadence snorted while she moved towards the stairs.

“You can tell Shining that he has to learn to face his subjects someday.” With that Cadence climbed the stairs, the unicorn rolling his eyes after she left.

Shining Armour passed the two unicorns guarding the prison door, the guards lowering their heads and staring at the ground.

“Guards,” Shining coldly greeted before walking down the lines of empty cells.

“Sir,” the unicorns both acknowledged.

“I told you it was a bad idea,” one of the guards whispered to the other.

“Not now,” the other hissed, the two watching as their Captain reached the end of the cells.

Shining frowned as he looked into the last cell, a silver necklace with a dull gem lying on the floor. Just what was Cadence thinking when she ordered the guards to force-feed Reflection the gem? He was worried about Cadence; she was acting so different to what she used to. Her time spent amongst ponies who hated her was only damaging her self-esteem and bubbly personality.

“Reflection?” Shining asked as he peered into the cell. “I wanted to talk to you about what happened today.” He got no response, Shining sighing and sitting down. “I already punished the guards who did it, and Cadence is still not speaking to me after I yelled at her. I know it meant a lot to you, but at least you’re not starving anymore.” Two green eyes opened to stare at him silently.

“I know my excuses probably don’t mean much,” Shining continued. “I just… it’s not Cadence’s fault. She’s having a terrible time, and it’s only because of the mistake Celestia made that she’s acting so weirdly. Do you remember when we were at the bar? It was a great time, and you two were getting on well.” Shining winced as soon as he said this, remembering who else was at the bar.

“He was a good guy,” Shining stated after a pause. “I know he had problems but he wasn’t as bad as Sombra apparently was. If I could bring him back I would, but I can’t. The crystal ponies are continuing to refuse to work, Sparkling Scroll refuses to even speak to us and the changelings are worried that they’ll run out of food. Even with him gone, the Empire still needs you.”

He still didn’t get a response, so Shining stood up and did what he had come to do.

“Cadence is not going to like this,” he grimaced. “But I owe Chalmers this much.” With that, Shining levitated a key out of his armour, unlocking the cell door and opening it up. He stepped in, walking over to the changeling that was curled up in a ball at the back of the cell. “Come on, I managed to find a spare house. It’s small, but at least you’ll have it to yourself and it’s far better than a damp cell. We’re working on somehow getting more love, but I still haven’t heard back from Equestria.”

Reflection didn’t budge, Shining wrinkling his nose at the smell of the cell. She had been imprisoned for over a month, Shining still thinking that the punishment Cadence had ordered was unfair. Not even the ex-Captain of the Crystal Guard had gotten that long after starting a movement to overthrow Cadence. The only positive thing was that the citizens didn’t seem to hate him as much as Cadence and Celestia, although he still got dirty looks and glares whenever he was in public.

Seeing that he was getting nowhere, Shining took a deep breath and exited the cell. He left the door open, taking a final look back at the unmoving changeling.

“You can leave anytime you want, I’ve already told the guards that you’re a free mare. If you ever want to talk about Chalmers, I’ll be willing to listen.” Still no response. Shining didn’t bother saying anymore, instead he walked away and left the cell behind.

He passed the two guards, the unicorns wisely not saying anything as he left the dungeon. Shining made his way to the staircase, trudging up the crystal stairs towards the living quarters. He headed towards his bedroom, one door down from the banished Emperor’s room. It was still too soon to move in, and Shining didn’t think he could ever sleep in it. Chalmers was a friend after all, and the thought of sleeping in his bed just felt strange.

Shining opened the bedroom door, the stallion walking into the darkened room. He entered and closed the door, sighing as he saw that Cadence was already asleep in the four poster bed. He still climbed in, making sure to stay on the edge away from her. Cadence had developed a tendency to lash out if he slept too close to her, a result of the failed assassination attempt a few weeks ago. The failed assassin had managed to escape capture, and Cadence had lived in fear of the pony returning one night to finish the job.

Shining slipped under the red covers, turning his back on his wife. He made sure to face the door, the sword sitting on his bedside table a necessary measure. As he drifted off, Shining wondered what was so important in Equestria that they couldn’t send any more help.

“The Griffons refused the trade agreement, Princess. They say that Equestria can no longer to be trusted and that they, quote, ‘don’t want to be banished if they displease you’, Your Highness.”

Celestia sighed and rubbed her temples with her wings. Banishing the Emperor of the Crystal Empire had proved to be a big mistake. Not only did every other nation distrust Equestria, but she still felt the weight of guilt even after a month.

“I take it Luna was also unsuccessful in negotiating with the Zebras?” Celestia asked her advisor, Civil State. The stallion slicked back his grey mane before answering.

“Actually, she managed to negotiate the use of the East Sea.” Celestia perked up at the news.

“So she’s already back?” Civil State shifted on his hooves, not sure how to inform Celestia of the news.

“Uh, she has retired to her quarters and does not wish to be disturbed.” Civil State coughed into his hoof. “There are words that she is still… upset regarding the Crystal Empire incident.” Celestia closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to calm herself down. Luna had been distant ever since the banishment of the Emperor, Celestia knowing that helping banish another being had done something to her sister. Luna never talked to her anymore, all communication between them was done with servants.

“It’s understandable,” Celestia acknowledged as she leaned back in her throne. “It’s no secret that I regret what I did, but there’s no reversing the spell. Once the demons of Tartarus have a prisoner, there is no escape.” She looked down at the stone floor. “If only he had listened to me… or if I had only been a little more reasonable.”

“You did what was right at the time,” Civil State attempted to reassure before looking at his tan hooves. “From what I heard, the battle was horrifying. Thanks to your intervention, no more lives were lost.” Celestia let out a humourless chuckle.

“There was one more life lost,” Celestia mumbled. “Not to mention the ones he left behind.” Her mind still couldn’t shake the image of the sobbing changeling; it had been so long since she had caused that much sorrow. “How is the situation in the Crystal Empire?”

“Captain Armour had once again requested more guards, a further twelve have been sent on medical leave since the last riots.” Civil State levitated a scroll out of his blue jacket pocket. “There are concerns amongst the changeling population that they will be chased out as soon as the supplies of love crystals run out. The new influx of changelings from our dungeons has increased the population to three-hundred and seven, placing further strain on the dwindling supplies.”

“Is that all?” Celestia asked, wincing when Civil State shook his head.

“No Princess,” he answered. “The winter blizzards are still strong, and we’ve had to start shipping in food to keep the crystal ponies fed. Some of the Nobility are asking why we’re feeding another country with our food. We also had word that Twilight Sparkle has been unable to find any solution in our archives regarding the failure of the Crystal Heart. The only information is that it relies on the happiness and joy of the crystal ponies.”

“That much we already knew,” Celestia mumbled before perking up. A scroll and inked quill levitated over to her, the Princess writing a note to Twilight. With a small smile she sent it off, the scroll disappearing in a puff of magic.

“Princess?” Civil inquired.

“Maybe Twilight will have some luck if she tries the Crystal Empire’s own library.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, especially with the riots?” Celestia’s smile faltered at the reminder of the ongoing violence.

“I’ve asked her to take her friends, and I’ll send another detachment of guards with her.” She brought over a page of fresh parchment, Celestia scribbling another note down. “Captain Shining will no doubt be thankful for the new guards, and hopefully the Elements can cheer him and Cadence up.” With another flash, the scroll was gone. “I made a huge mistake, Civil,” Celestia admitted. “But it’s too late to reverse it, not even I am that powerful. The best I can do is try to fix it. Hopefully, one day the crystal ponies and changelings will forgive me for my actions.”

“I’m sure they will, my Princess,” Civil State supported, Celestia wincing at the unconvincing statement.

“That will be all for today,” she ordered as she left her throne. “We’ll continue on tomorrow morning. Can you please inform Princess Luna’s guards that I am about to lower the sun?” Civil State bowed before her.

“As you wish, Princess,” he finished before leaving the room with a brisk trot. Celestia sighed, hoping that maybe tomorrow would bring better news.

“A week, an entire bloody week stuck with you three.”

Nigel’s previous excitement at the appearance of his three friends had been short-lived. It was a reminder of why they had been separated into different divisions, the constant bickering could drive anyone into a violent rage.

“Calm your tits,” Orthodox replied as James and Elijah continued to argue over who was the most successful after leaving the ISA. “That merchant you threatened said that the Crystal Empire was close. Then you can walk in, splatter the rulers and then take it back. You sweep your squeeze off her feet-“

“Hooves,” Nigel corrected.

“Whatever,” Orthodox continued. “You rescue the girl and then I get my booze and party.”

“Also remember that we have to defend the empire, the Equestrians aren’t going to be too pleased about us taking it back.”

“Let them come, it just means more entertainment while we wait for the cavalry.” Orthodox grinned under his helmet, Nigel having told him about the Equestrians and his own subjects.

“I want you to behave around the changelings and crystal ponies, no killing.” Nigel knew it had to be said, he didn’t trust Orthodox to not do it unless asked. Orthodox grumbled and patted his rifle, the two pulling ahead of James and Elijah. Chalmers sighed, hoping that the Crystal Empire had enough alcohol to keep Orthodox occupied.

They trudged along in the snow, the cold not bothering either of them. After crossing the sea and finding their way to the northern wastes, tensions between the four had grown. Elijah had prattled on about his work in Research and Development, Orthodox had gone through all the ways one could kill a pony, James had constantly told both of them to shut up, and Nigel had gone over his plans for attacking the Crystal Empire.

Sure, he could just march in and kill whatever patsy that Celestia had placed in charge, but a month in Tartarus had given him time to think. He didn’t want to kill Celestia and her cronies.

He wanted to humiliate them, just like they had done to him.

“Yo, Nigel,” Orthodox stated, breaking Chalmers out of his thoughts of revenge. “Is that your Empire?” Nigel looked to where Orthodox was pointing, a snow-covered city sitting under the moon-lit sky.

“That’s it,” Nigel confirmed with furrowed eyebrows. “It’s… different. For one, there was this protective shield over it that created an artificial environment-“

“The Crystal Stone or something,” Orthodox interrupted.

“The Crystal Heart,” Chalmers corrected. “Have you not listened to anything I’ve said?” Orthodox waved a hand, glancing back to see if Elijah and James had caught up yet.

“I got the important stuff. There are good ponies that I can’t kill, there are bad ponies that I can, there’s bug ponies that I also can’t kill, there’s a magical crystal powered by positive feelings, and I get a party if I help you retake your Empire.”

“It’s the best I’m going to get,” Nigel replied while rolling his eyes. “It’ll have to do. Just… don’t kill things unless I say you can, just to be sure.”

“Who’s killing who?” James asked while Elijah stepped up next to him, both having reached their comrades.

“If you could leave a few specimens intact for my research,” Elijah requested. “I find live and cooperative research subjects to be far easier to work with.” Chalmers ran a hand down his face, wondering why he even bothered.

“For the last time, we’re not here to kill everything,” Nigel groaned. “In fact, don’t kill anything yet unless you need to, hostages might come in handy until we can organise a proper defence.” He received two affirmatives from Elijah and James, and a grumble from Orthodox. “I’m really ticked off with Celestia, but for now we can’t go around coating the city with Equestrian blood. I do, however, have a plan…”

Reflection woke up, her chitin cold against the stone floor. She blinked the remains of tears out of her eyes and shook her head, something not feeling right. She sat up in the cell and glanced towards the open door, the sounds of someone approaching echoing off the dungeon walls. She didn’t call out or ask who was there; instead she settled back down on the floor and stared at the wall. It was probably just another Equestrian guard checking up on her.

The changeling didn’t move as the sounds paused, before they moved into her cell. Reflection didn’t turn to greet her visitor, instead she remained where she was an hoped that they would go away. A soft sigh issued out from the intruder before they resumed their advance. Reflection shivered a little as she felt a hand rub her shoulder, it only reminded her of Nigel.

Wait, a hand?

Reflection moved her head slowly, wondering if she had finally driven herself insane. She saw a dirty hand running over her chitin, a hand connected to an arm covered in a strange red material. Her eyes traced the arm up towards a familiar face, Reflection blinking her eyes to make sure.

“Nigel?” she asked hopefully, getting a smile in return.

“You missed me?” Nigel joked, but Reflection could hear that the humour was stressed. She didn’t dwell on it for too long, instead she sat up and flung herself around him in a hug.

“I thought you were gone forever,” she sobbed into his shoulder, the crouching human stroking her dirty green mane and back. All the sadness that she had been soaking in was let out again, Reflection unable to do much else than cry at the moment.

“Nope, I conquered Hell and returned so I could see you again. I haven’t even killed whoever’s taken over yet.” Reflection managed to stop the flow of tears, a few sniffles remaining as she looked up at him. Her hooves traced his hide-covered body, afraid that it was all a dream.

“Really?” Nigel’s smile faltered, Reflection afraid that her fears were true.

“Uh, well less ‘conquered Hell’ and more ‘thrown out for being disorderly’. Other than that, I’m back.” Reflection ignored the information about his escape, the cold leaving her body as she felt a stream of warm emotion between them. She couldn’t believe it, he was real.

“It was terrible,” she started, sniffling as she continued to hug him. “After I found out you were banished, I was locked up by Celestia.” She saw Nigel frown at this, the head rub increasing.

“Why?” he inquired. “I thought that Celestia was okay with changelings?” Reflection smiled, sheepishly showing off her large front fangs.

“I… may have spat at her, and then bit her wing.” The frown remained on Nigel’s face, before he broke into a grin.

“You bit her?” he asked, this time the humour in his voice genuine. “What is it with you and Princesses?”

“She banished you!” Reflection answered, still sore about the event. “I would have killed her if I could but-“ she was cut off, her head being pressed into a chest as arms wrapped around her.

“Hey, I was only joking,” Nigel reassured. “I know it must have hurt you, and to be honest I still want to kill her.” Reflection sniffed as she waited for him to go on. “I have plans though, and I promise that I’ll hurt her as badly as she hurt you. Now, can you tell me who she put in charge?” Reflection kept her head pressed against his chest, her words coming out muffled.

“It’s Cadence and Shining Armour,” she informed. “I don’t know much about what’s been happening because I’ve been in her for the entire time, but Strategy was arrested a week after you were…”

“What for?” Nigel asked quickly, concerned for his former Captain.

“He started a group to try and forcibly remove Cadence from the throne,” Reflection replied. “He was only in for a week though, because every day he was imprisoned was a day that the citizens attacked guards on the street. I could hear the fighting from here. He was so angry about what Celestia had done to you, a few of the Equestrians beat him when he kept on insulting her. Shining Armour sent them back to Equestria and let Strategy out, but the new guards were just as bad.”

Reflection lifted her head to glance at her necklace, Nigel following her eye line to spot it on the floor. He removed his hand from her head and reached over to pick up the jewellery. He examined the dull gem attached to it, Reflection squeezing him tighter.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t eating and Cadence had told the guards to make me use a gem. A few of them thought that I’d like to use the one you gave me, and I couldn’t fight them off. They used the whole gem in one go, and I’d thought that I had lost the last part of you.” She watched as Nigel moved his hand to the gem, the crystal glowing as it recharged.

“There,” he said, putting the now-charged gem around her neck. “It’s back to full. To be honest though, I’m a little glad that they did make you eat. This would have been a fairly depressing reunion if I had found you dead in a cell.” Reflection looked down guiltily, knowing that she hadn’t been far away when the guards had fed her.

“I know,” she muttered. “I’m sorry, it was selfish.” She got a chuckle in reply, the embrace returning with full force.

“It was understandable, and I’m ashamed to say that I’m a little flattered. You know what I promised before I went out to fight that night?” Reflection beamed up at him, shifting in his arms.

“You said that we’d continue on once you got back,” she recalled hopefully.

“I did,” he agreed. “However I’m afraid that I lied.” Reflection’s face fell, but a scratch behind an ear convinced her that it wasn’t a break-up. “We both smell terrible, I think a long bath or shower first is in order. Wouldn’t you agree?” Now that it was pointed out, Reflection could indeed smell their aromas. It was a mix of dirt, dust, grime, and sulphur. Needless to say, it was far from pleasant.

“I guess that would be a good idea,” she agreed with a nod. “I need to wash my mane and tail as well. I thought that you said that you came here first, did you defeat all of the guards already?” Nigel rubbed the back of his head, Reflection noticing the bloody sword tied to his waist.

“Well, I’d love to say that I fought my way in, slaughtered all of the guards, kicked in the castle doors and headed straight to rescue you, but…”

“What?” Reflection asked.

“There were no guards in the city for me to interrogate,” Nigel replied. “The castle doors were locked, but I got in one of the windows with some help. There were still no guards, it’s like everyone just got up and left.” A light came on in Reflection’s mind, she remembered overhearing something about that.

“Oh, I know,” she began to explain. “After an assassin tried to kill Cadence in her sleep, and with all of the riots, the guards in the castle defend the second floor while the Princess is sleeping. The other guards apparently stay in the barracks at night; it’s not safe for them to patrol the streets after dark.” Nigel whistled at the news, his subjects certainly had taken his dethroning hard.

“I feel incredibly loved,” he murmured, Reflection sighing as she continued to feed off him.

“Everyone missed you,” she responded, before she looked at him curiously. “Hang on, you said that you got in through a window with help. Did you…” Reflection shivered at the possibility. “Did you bring back some Tartarus demons with you after escaping?” Nigel laughed, putting a hand down so he could get to his feet. Reflection held on with her forelegs around his neck, an arm going under her rump to support her as Nigel stood up.

“Oh, they’re no demons,” he told her while she nuzzled his neck. “I can tell you right now, they are far worse than the saps that your underworld calls demons. In fact, we better get going to the throne room.” Reflection broke the nuzzling to ask another question.

“Why the throne room?” she asked with a slight blush, her wings buzzing slightly as his hand moved to the area between her wings.

“Remember the help I mentioned?” Nigel asked, Reflection holding back a squeak and nodding while her flight muscles were
massaged. “Let’s just say that I asked them to arrange a meeting with the pony who took over my Empire.” Reflection understood the implication behind the word ‘arranged’.

“So Cadence and Shining-“

“Are in for an early morning surprise,” Nigel finished, grinning as he carried her out of the dungeon with the throne room their destination.

Cadence tossed and turned in her sleep, her dreams plagued with images of a burning Crystal Empire. She awoke with a start, jolting her head back from the first rays of the rising sun that filtered in through her window.

“It was all a dream,” she muttered thankfully, before remembering that the real situation was probably not far off. She sighed, rubbing her face with her wings. There was no sound of Shining snoring, so that must mean that he was already up. She raised one ear, a faint humming sound coming from behind her. A limb moved under the covers, Cadence blushing as it kneaded her cutie-mark.

Cadence rolled over to face the middle of the bed with a rare smile, wondering what had Shining suddenly act so playful towards her.
Her eyes bugged out and her mouth opened in shook, Cadence coming face to face with a strange black creature with blue eyes lying sideways on her bed facing her. The limb that had been rubbing her flank was revealed to be an armoured tail, the black object snaking up towards her throat.

“Morning babe,” the creature greeted while blowing a kiss. Cadence froze in shock, unable to figure out what was going on. “That’s right. It’s one of those mornings.”

“Shini- mphhm!”

“Nope,” the intruder stated as Cadence felt the tail twist around her throat and cut off her air. “Even with your pathetic excuse for guards knocked out, your husband still is occupied at the moment.” Cadence felt the grip on her throat slacken, allowing her to breath in a lungful of air. The creature on the bed moved over her, Cadence squeezing her eyes shut as his body passed over hers to press up behind her.

“Relax,” he continued as he patted her side. “I’m wearing armour so you don’t have to worry about anything lewd.” Cadence shivered as she felt his metal head move next to her ear. “Unless you want to of course, Nigel wasn’t the only one with eccentric tastes in the squad.”

“Really Orthodox?” an articulate male voice huffed. “Even after all these years you can still surprise me with how low you can go.”

“Shut up James,” Orthodox replied. “I may incredibly turned on right now, but at least the armour stops my-“

“Enough,” a third voice spoke up. “We have work to do. Miss Cadence, will you please open your eyes? We have a surprise for you.”
Cadence held back sobs as she slowly opened her eyes, her heart sinking as she set eyes on the ‘surprise’.

Shining was staring pleadingly at her, another black, metal creature holding him around the neck with an arm. This creature looked like the departed Emperor, with the exception that not a single bit of skin or clothing was showing. It was only metal, Cadence guessing that it was the same sort of armour that her captor was wearing.

The second creature had a strange object pressed up against Shining’s temple, a dangerous looking black object that it held with one hand. Cadence could only assume that it was a weapon, an assumption confirmed by a third creature wearing white metal that walked into her vision from the foot of the bed.

“As you can observe,” he stated, Cadence still staring at Shining. “We have your lover as a hostage with a gun against his head. Just to make things clear, a gun is a weapon which can end his life in a split second. My colleague, Agent James, is quite adept with the usage of such a weapon. From this we can deduce that your cooperation would be ideal, least you want to have a lover missing half of his skull.”

“That means do what we say,” her captor clarified, much to his fellows’ annoyance.

“Thank you Orthodox.”

“No problem Elijah,” the tail tightened as the owner taunted the sarcastic biped.

“Eyes on the prize guys,” the black creature holding Shining reminded. “Nigel wants them alive and down there before the morning crowd. Bickering is only slowing us down.”

“I’ve got my eyes on a prize alright,” Orthodox murmured, Cadence shivering as she felt the hand travel down her side and head to her flank.

“Orthodox,” Elijah sighed. “You know the rules.” Cadence breathed in relief as the hand left her, although the tail still remained wrapped tightly around her neck.

“I was only teasing,” her tormenter defended. “You insult me by implying that I would sink that low. I would rather shoot myself than have to resort to rape to get my rocks off.”

“Alright, enough with all of this,” the being holding Shining ordered as he stood up. Shining’s hind hooves just touched the ground, Cadence able to see the fear in his eyes as the weapon was retrained on his head. “We need to get these two downstairs. Have you got her Orthodox?”

In answer to his question, Cadence found herself pulled off the bed. She hit the ground with a thump, the tail holding her prisoner pulling her up to her hooves.

“I’ve got her,” Orthodox confirmed, Cadence shakily standing beside the bed as he hopped off it and stood in front of her. “Now Princess, you’ve gone and pissed one of my friends off. Here’s how it’s going to work between us. You move and you live, you resist and we kill your boyfriend, then you. You understand?” Cadence cried and nodded, the tail easing up slightly on her sore neck. “Good girl.”

“Ready to leave?” the white creature asked.

“Good to go,” the beast holding Shining answered.

“I’ve got the Princess and there’s no plumber in sight,” Orthodox acknowledged.

“Leave the references to Chalmers,” Elijah requested, before Cadence felt the tail pull her forward. She walked with it, her mind locking up as she finally comprehended what was happening and the name that the invaders had mentioned.

‘Chalmers?’ Cadence thought as she was pulled out of the bedroom, passing two guards that were knocked out and tied up. ‘No, he can’t be back!’

Nigel was sitting down on his throne, Reflection on his lap and tapping her hooves against the armrests. If Cadence had kept the same schedule, then the first ponies into court would be here in forty minutes. He hoped to get this over and done with before that happened, as he could see that explaining his return as well as the three new beings to the citizens would take a while.

He got his wish, the sound of armoured boots and hooves approaching from the doorway behind him. He grabbed Reflection’s hooves and gave her a wink, the changeling grinning as she sprawled herself across him. They had worked out a plan on how to announce his return to Cadence and Shining, a plan that was put into action as soon as the captive ponies were dragged in front of the throne.
Nigel and Reflection waited until Shining and Cadence looked up, both of the Equestrians’ eyes widening at the impossible sight.

“Surprise!” Nigel exclaimed while Reflection grinned triumphantly at Cadence.

“How?” Shining stammered, receiving a laugh in reply.

“Oh, the demons got sick of me and kicked me out,” Nigel glanced down and patted his cloak. “Taking out my anger on some of them and skinning them probably didn’t help.” He glanced down at the floor, searching for the one thing that was missing from the throne room. “Speaking of skinning, where is my Sombra-rug and crown?” Shining was still recovering from the shock, but he was far more coherent than Cadence was at the moment.

“I had them buried,” he lied. In fact, it was Cadence that had ordered them laid to rest, but Shining hoped that Nigel would dole out whatever punishment to him instead of her.

“Did you now, Shining?” Nigel inquired as he leaned back in his throne. “That’s a shame isn’t it? I so adored my crown and rug.” Shining gulped, the creature beside him still holding its weapon to his head. Nigel must have noticed his discomfort, the Emperor smirking and waving his hand towards the wardens. “Give them some space; if they misbehave then shoot their legs.” The weapon and tail were withdrawn from Cadence and Shining, both remaining still.

“I’m sorry,” Shining apologised. “After you were banished, we were told that you were never coming back.” A silence fell over the room, Shining wondering if he had just signed their death warrants.

“You want to know something Shining?” Chalmers continued after the pause. “When Celestia first banished me, I was completely livid. I kept myself entertained in the depths of the underworld by thinking of all the horrible things I could do to every Equestrian. I yelled, I screamed, I vowed to hunt down every stallion, mare and foal until I had wiped every last one off of the planet.

I was incredibly angry with everything, including you and Cadence. With that one spell, I had my Empire, my friends and my lover ripped away forever.” Reflection wrapped her hooves around an arm and squeezed to comfort him, Nigel rubbing her mane in return. “I wanted you all to perish, and I so desperately wanted your nation to die a long, slow, death.” Shining and Cadence trembled, the emotionless delivery only made the retelling more haunting.

“Over time I realised something, about the same time I got thrown out and was standing in a Zebra village screaming at the sky.” Nigel pointed at Shining and beckoned with his hand, Shining feeling a metal object poke him in the back of the head. Carefully he got up, moving over towards the throne. He was stopped in front and sat down, Nigel staring down at him. Shining’s eyes gazed over the well-used sword at Nigel’s side, and he lowered his head for the inevitable.

“It’s not your fault.” Shining did a double take at the words, feeling a hand on his head instead of a sword blade through his throat. He looked up, met with a thoughtful gaze from Chalmers. “You’re just a proxy, and I know you had no idea that Celestia would do what she did. By killing you I would only distract myself from the real enemy.” Nigel’s mouth regained a small grin, the human tilting his head downwards towards Reflection. “Besides, someone told me that you weren’t that bad a friend.” Shining looked at Reflection with surprise on his face, the changeling smiling back at him.

“You tried to help me,” Reflection spoke up. “I know it didn’t seem like it at the time, but I did appreciate that you made the effort.” Shining breathed out a sigh, visibly relaxing as he realised that he was in the clear.

“Thank you,” he uttered while shaking his head.

“You earned your forgiveness,” Nigel informed before his gaze hardened and he looked towards Cadence. “You on the other hand-“

“It wasn’t her fault either!” Shining protested, not liking the hate in the Emperor’s eyes.

“I know she is also a proxy,” Nigel replied. “However, what I cannot excuse is the treatment of Reflection and the rest of my subjects. It’s been…”

“A month and a half,” Shining provided when Nigel was unable to figure it out.

“A month and a half,” Chalmers continued icily. “The Crystal Heart is not working, the city is covered in snow and the military defence is sorely lacking.” Nigel pointed a finger at the throne room doors. “I mean, I was banished for being some ultimate evil, and I was able to just climb in a window. Where are the guards? The response teams? The law-enforcement officers?”

“Yeah,” Orthodox spoke up from his spot at the side of the room. “We’ve only taken out thirty guards. Thirty! All of them in the castle guarding your bedroom, and every one of them so easy to sneak up upon and knock out. What sort of operation are you running here?”

“Thank you Orthodox,” Nigel acknowledged while Shining and Cadence refaced him. “He raises an interesting point. What if the Elk came back? Would Celestia be able to banish them all as well?” Shining winced, the news he was about to give slightly embarrassing.

“We started out with three hundred guards,” he began, all eyes focusing on him. “With all the riots and protests, there were a lot of injuries. We kept on having to request new guards while we sent the injured ones back, but Equestria soon stopped sending them. The last ones we got were with a detachment sent to guard my sist-“ Shining stopped, hoping that Nigel didn’t catch his slipup. He was out of luck, Nigel smirking at him.

“Your sister you say? I would just love to meet her. Would she happen to still be here?” Shining didn’t say anything, prompting Chalmers to glance at Cadence. He caught her giving a worried glance up to the roof, Nigel’s smirk growing larger as he figured it out.
“Oh James,” he asked, Shining’s face dropping. “Would you please do me a favour and check upstairs for anymore… guests?”

“Sure,” James answered, giving Shining a parting ‘I’m watching you’ gesture.

“Non-lethal,” Nigel reminded, James nodding as he exited the room. “Where were we?” Nigel asked before raising a finger in the air. “Ah, that’s right, your guard issues. Now Shining, I really want for us to get back on friendly terms and you answering my questions will go a long way to achieving that. Is that something you want?” Shining swallowed a lump in his throat. It wasn’t just his life on the line, but Cadence’s and Twilight’s as well.

“I’ll answer them,” he relented, grimacing as he sold out his country.

“Good,” Nigel replied. “First off, how many guards are currently in the city?”

“Eighty,” Shining muttered.

“I didn’t hear that,” Nigel told him, Shining sighing before replying louder.

“I said eighty. Including the thirty in the castle, we have eighty guards in the entire Empire.” Nigel didn’t reply for a while, until he burst out into laughter.

“You’re kidding. Eighty? Only eighty guards to protect the entire city?” Nigel was joined by Orthodox, Elijah too busy writing down notes on his pad while Reflection was occupied with staring at Cadence.

“Yes,” Shining winced, ashamed. “With all of the injuries and desertion we have had barely enough to keep the peace,” Shining looked up at Nigel. “When your allies broke into our room, I thought that we were going to be lynched by a mob of subjects.” Nigel laughed again at this.

“Oh, rioting, assassination attempts and plots to bring down the government.” He wiped a tear from his eye while facing Elijah and Orthodox. “What did I tell you guys? My subjects adore me.”

“It appears so,” Elijah agreed. “It’s one of the rare cases where you’re liked and not seen as a plague upon existence.”

“How flattering,” Nigel deadpanned, noticing that Orthodox was too busy examining the room to pay attention. “At least you gave me a response.” Elijah nodded and Orthodox continued to ignore everything around him, Nigel breathing in through clenched teeth. “That’s how it is then. Moving on, what happened to the Crystal Guards and their equipment?”

“The guards were removed from duty and their equipment is stored in the armoury complex.” Shining grimaced. “Your giant arrow-throwing machines were all destroyed in a fire before we could examine them. Some say that your Captain was to blame.” Nigel smiled at the news.

“I knew I made the right choice to keep him,” he muttered happily. “How is Strategy?” Shining winced at the memory of a particular riot.

“He was arrested for plotting to overthrow Cadence,” Shining answered while glancing back at Cadence. The Princess was sitting on the floor like a statue, unresponsive. “After he was released, he just stayed at his house. He was allocated one with Sparkling Scroll, your advisor.” Chalmers leaned back as Reflection sat up, the changeling intrigued by the conversation.

“I’ll have to deal with them later,” Nigel murmured to her, Reflection nodding her head. Nigel turned his attention back to Shining. “One last question for now, a very important one,” Chalmers leaned forward. “Communications with Equestria, how often is news sent back to Equestria?”

“Only when she sends a letter or if we need help,” Shining admitted. “The last message I got from her was regarding a new detachment of guards that she sent.” He left out the fact that the guards were there to guard the Element Bearers, Shining still hoping that his sister and friends had managed to avoid detection.

“That’s all I need from you,” Nigel finished with a grin. He waved Shining away, the unicorn moving to embrace his wife. Reflection began to purr as a hand scratched her behind the ears, the changeling reminding Nigel of something else he had to do.
“I almost forgot, Elijah and Orthodox, come over and meet Reflection.” The scientist hurried over with childlike joy, Orthodox deciding to stay next to Shining and Cadence. Reflection sat up on Nigel’s lap, interested to meet the creature that had helped him see her again.

“Remarkable,” Elijah commented as he examined her up close. He removed his helmet, Reflection smiling as she saw that he was a human just like Nigel. He looked… more bookish than Nigel, with messy black hair, pale skin and a fat nose. His brown eyes were filled with interest, his armoured hand reaching out for a greeting. “Hello Miss Reflection, I’m Elijah Von Barker. Lead Researcher for the Occult Experimentation and Military Application Division, or just OEMAD for short.”

“Careful,” Nigel warned lightly while Reflection giggled. She reached out a hoof, Nigel having told her about handshakes before he was banished. Cool metal grasped around her limb, the scientist giving it three shakes before letting it go.

“I must say, when Nigel told me that he had a girlfriend I didn’t believe him. I believe that your race is called ‘changelings’ and that you feed on love?” Reflection nodded. “My, he was always a fan of the exotic ones.” Reflection blushed at being referred to as ‘exotic’; so far Nigel’s friends seemed nice.

“That’s right, Nigel let us live in the Empire with the Crystal ponies.” Reflection’s face hardened while she shot Cadence another glare. “Of course, that all changed when a certain group of ponies decided that defending ourselves was wrong.” Elijah nodded, watching as Nigel stroked the changeling’s back to calm her.

“I must say Nigel,” he commented as he turned to his friend. “I had expected you to be a bit more, well, angry at the situation.” Nigel laughed, Cadence and Shining staring at him worriedly.

“Oh, I am immensely angry,” he confirmed. “However, I’m saving it all up for a certain Princess who’s directly responsible for everything. As soon as I get my hands on her…” He trailed off, a wide grin on his face as he leaned back and closed his eyes. “Oh, I’m going to destroy all of her hopes and dreams.”

“You can do whatever you want as long as I get to study the leftovers.” Nigel opened his eyes to look at Elijah again, nodding his head in agreement.

“Sure, just don’t dissect any of ours and you can do what you like.” Nigel remembered something, following Reflection’s gaze back to Cadence. “Oh, and don’t think you’ve gotten away unpunished Cadence. Shining may have earned a reprieve, but I’m still disappointed in you.” He leaned forward. “Very disappointed.” Cadence gulped, Nigel drumming his fingers on the armrest of his throne. “Now, what should we do with you?”

“Cut off her wings,” Reflection provided, prompting Orthodox to chuckle from his spot near the two captives.

“Oh, I must admit I’m liking you more and more, bug-horse.” Reflection deflated at this, Nigel shooting Orthodox a warning glare before whispering in Reflection’s ear.

“Don’t mind Orthodox, he tends to say the wrong things.” With that done, Chalmers gave Cadence a thoughtful look. “I don’t know Reflection, I feel like we need to go less for the mutilation and more for the humiliation.” Reflection’s eyes lit up with an idea, and she leaned up to whisper it to Nigel. He grinned as she sat back down, glancing towards Elijah and Orthodox. “Say, did you two happen to bring a standard hygiene kit?”

Elijah rolled his eyes and pressed a button on his arm, a compartment on his suit opening to reveal a small black case. “I did, everyone should carry them.” All eyes went to Orthodox, the alien shrugging his shoulders.

“If I need to wash then I’ll just steal some stuff, carrying around useless junk only means that I have less room for important things like guns and ammo.” Elijah shook his head before tilting it at Nigel.

“Well, I have one and I assume James has one. Why do you need on all of a sudden?” Chalmers grinned at Cadence, Reflection joining him.

“Oh, well Reflection thought that as punishment, we’d s-“

“Princess Cadence and Shining Armour, we’re under attack from monsters!” Everyone whirled around to spot Rainbow Dash hovering in the air to the left of Nigel’s throne. Her eyes widened as she took in the scene, flying back a little as they spotted Nigel and Reflection. “You!” she yelled, pointing a hoof at him. “You’re supposed to be in Tuataras!”

“I got better,” Nigel explained, holding the pegasus’ attention while Orthodox snuck around behind her. “And just what are you doing in my throne room?” Nigel recognised her from the Gala, remembering that she was the pony that had initially confronted Reflection. Rainbow did a double take, looking down at Cadence and Shining Armour.

“Your throne room? I thought Princess Cadence was in charge?” Nigel felt a small twinge of amusement; this was going to be fun.

“Oh, she still is in charge,” he answered while Reflection held back a snigger. Elijah was to busy writing down notes about the flying pony to laugh. “I’m just sitting in the throne with my soldiers running around the castle while she’s sitting on the stone floor frozen in terror, but yes she is still in charge.” It took Rainbow a few seconds to catch the sarcasm, but when she did she glared at him.

“I knew you were trouble!” she accused. Nigel smirked at her, Orthodox preparing to pounce.

“Guilty as charged. However, you’re the one that’s under arrest.” Before Rainbow noticed that something was amiss, Orthodox tackled her out of the air. The two landed on the stone floor, Orthodox quickly straddling Dash’s back while she struggled and yelled.

“Get off me!” she fought, however Orthodox had the advantage thanks to his armour and training.

“Sorry pony,” he chuckled as he held her down. “But you’re not going anywhere.”

“Girls!” Dash yelled, hoping to rouse her friends. She grinned at Nigel as someone approached, the Emperor returning it with a knowing smile. “You’re in for it now.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Chalmers replied, Dash’s hopes fading as James reappeared through the doorway.

“Horsefeathers,” Dash cursed, James walking over to her and giving her a light kick in the side.

“Annoying little gnat,” he insulted while glaring down at her.

“James,” Nigel sighed as he placed a hand on his head. “You’re an ex-ISA agent now working for the psionic unit. I would have expected you to be able to control a few ponies.” James turned around to defend himself.

“Oh, all the other five are still sleeping, now they’ve just cuffs. This one wasn’t in her room, she was snooping around and spotted me leaving one of the rooms. Before I could blink she was racing down here calling for the guards.” James gave Rainbow another kick, Dash gritting her teeth as a tail prodded her in the back of the head. “Looks like her master plan failed.”

Nigel was just about to continue the ribbing, but a loud bang on the main throne room doors accompanied by angry shouts interrupted it.

“It appears as if my loyal subjects have appeared for morning court,” Nigel observed. “Orthodox, bring the pegasus over here. James and Elijah, you do the same with Cadence and Shining. Weapons to all of their heads if you please, I have a plan for dealing with the guards.” The two humans and alien did as asked, Orthodox roughly dragging Rainbow to the left of the throne while Shining and Cadence were placed to the right. All three soon had rifles or pistols trained on them, Nigel leaning back in the throne and petting Reflection on the head.

The heavy wooden doors opened, ten Equestrian Royal Guard backing into the room as a mob of crystal ponies and changelings tried to push through.

“Sorry Princess!” one of the guards called out as he started to look behind him. “They’re particularly violent this morning…” the guard trailed off when he saw that his ruler was not on her throne, but instead was sobbing on the floor with a menacing creature aiming a weapon at her head. The unicorn guard gulped as he saw that the Emperor was back and sitting on the throne, the changeling in the human’s lap grinning at the situation.

“Oh, that shan’t be an issue at all,” Nigel replied, the crowd stopping their yelling as they realised what was happening. “I like my crowds violent, it really livens up the place.” All of the guards trembled, stuck between an angry crowd and the creature that Celestia had banished to the Underworld.

Nigel grinned wider at their discomfort, gesturing with a hand towards Cadence and Shining Armour. “Now Gentlecolts, as you can see your former rulers are in a spot of bother. One step out of line and they die.” The guards didn’t know what kind of weapons that the creatures were wielding, but they knew that the Emperor wasn’t joking around. Slowly, one by one, they dropped their spears and swords, Chalmers’ grin increasing.

“We’ll be taking over security matters from here, please move to the left of the room and face the wall.” The guards hesitantly did what they were told, leaving the stunned crowd unhindered. Nigel smiled at his subjects, beckoning them with a hand.

“What are you waiting for? Morning court is in session.”

Elijah raised his data-pad to his face.

“Equines appear to be shocked at the revelation that Commander Chalmers is present.” In response to his noting of the situation, Nigel and Orthodox gave him annoyed looks. “Fellow UIP personnel appear to be annoyed with the taking of verbal notes. In keeping with ISA tradition for old times’ sake, I will continue to verbally record notes from now on.”

“Moron,” Nigel muttered under his breath. The crowd of civilians all alternated their gazes from the Emperor, Reflection and the three new creatures. The three captive Equestrians were ignored, the crowds’ anger having turned into shock. A lone stallion broke out of the crowd, his coat coloured copper. He advanced upon the Emperor, a grin forming on his face.

“Nigel!” the stallion exclaimed, causing Reflection and Chalmers sitting up.

“Captain Strategy,” Chalmers greeted, Strategy holding out his hoof for a shake. Nigel met it with his hand, Strategy backing off and saluting after it was done.

“We’ve missed you sir, the city is in a dire situation.” Strategy gave Cadence and Shining a stony look, Elijah once again bringing his pad up to record notes.

“New equine with a copper coat and dark blue mane seems to be a military officer. Rank is referred to as ‘Captain’, and name is confirmed by Commander Chalmers as ‘Strategy’. This equine appears to have a pre-established relationship with Commander Chalmers, and refers to him as a superior-“

“Elijah!” Nigel shouted, breaking the scientist out of his recordings. Elijah noticed that everyone was staring at him. Orthodox was standing near the rainbow pony shaking his head, while James was too busy staring at the crowd of ponies. “For once, can you just focus on something other than research!?”

“Oh!” Reflection spoke up suddenly. “I remember now!” she pointed her hoof at James, Orthodox and Elijah. “You three are Nigel’s friends that he used to be in that squad with; your names are on his tattoo!” Nigel sighed, Elijah raising the pad once more.

“The changeling named ‘Reflection’ has figured out that attending UIP personal have previous personal history with Commander Chalmers. Reflection recalls seeing names on the Commander’s tattoo. This is further proof that Commander Chalmers has managed to build an intimate relationship-“

“How is that relevant!?” Nigel yelled. Elijah stopped talking, deciding to wait until Nigel calmed down before taking more notes. Elijah slowly put the pad down; instead of speaking he’d just have to write down information again. Elijah recorded that the changeling enjoyed being scratched behind the ears, Reflection leaning back in bliss as Chalmers’ hand massaged her head.

“Excuse me, Emperor,” Strategy spoke up, nodding at Elijah and James. “I take it these are re-enforcements your people sent?” A laugh drew attention to Orthodox, the alien chuckling while he held his rifle barrel on Rainbow.

“He actually thinks we’re supposed to be here,” Orthodox mocked, receiving a glare from Strategy.

“Leave him alone Orthodox,” Nigel said as he told him off. “It was a decent assumption.” Chalmers turned to Strategy. “Excuse Orthodox, he’s just a little cranky.”

“Cranky I had to come and rescue your arse,” Orthodox grumbled, Nigel grinding his teeth before forcing a smile.

“Indeed,” he replied. “Anyway, I’ll get everyone to introduce themselves and explain what happened later. I’ll do it publicly, that way I don’t have to repeat it a thousand times. On that matter, would you be willing to re-organise the guard for me and arrest any more Equestrians?” Nigel shot a glance towards the ten guards facing the right wall, the unicorns quickly looking back at the stone as he glared at them.

“I’d be my pleasure. We’ve been preparing for an uprising anyway, so everyone is ready,” Strategy answered with a grin. Nigel raised a finger, the Captain pausing.

“Strategy, I’d prefer them alive and relatively unharmed. They still could prove to be useful as bargaining chips.” Strategy nodded, the stallion passing the stunned crowd on his way to assemble the Crystal Empire military forces. With the matter of the guards sorted, Nigel’s attention moved to the crowd of civilians. “Come on you lot, is that the welcome back I get?”

Reflection eeped and jumped off him, her wings fluttering to carry her clear as the Emperor was swarmed with excited ponies and changelings. Everyone else watched on with amusement and confusion as Nigel was smothered with hugs and questions, Reflection hopelessly glaring at any mare that came near him.

Elijah saw his chance, raising his data-pad again while activating the video recorder.

“As is documented, Commander Chalmers has formed a strong bond with the local population. One will surely question the circumstances surrounding the adoration of an ISA agent, and possible scientific exploitation is very interesting-“

“Elijah,” James spoke up while keeping an eye on Shining, Cadence and the Royal Guard. “Shut up. I mean it’s getting incredibly annoying.” Elijah allowed himself a small smirk, activating the recorder again.

“Psionic Warfare Officer James is annoyed by my notations, and is forgetting that scientific discovery is of the utmost importance.” James shook his head and looked away, Elijah smirking in victory before angling the recorder towards the ponies and changelings to pick up their joyful praises.

Nigel gave an emerald mare a final hug before raising his hands, the forty-strong crowd backing away from him and waiting for what he had to say.

“I’m actually touched, I glad that my return is welcomed by all of you.” He was drowned out as citizens started to recite everything that had gone wrong and why his rule was missed at a breakneck pace. Reflection made her way back to his throne, opting to sit in front of it instead of on him.

“I know that plenty has gone wrong and you all want answers, rest assured that I will fix the problems and give you answers.” Nigel looked behind the crowd as a line of Equestrian guards were marched in, most of the ponies not even in armour. The civilians decided to leave, all of them conversing about informing every one of his return.

“These were all of the guards in the barracks,” Strategy informed, leading a column of Crystal Empire soldiers who were in various states of readiness. Strategy himself was armour-less, the Captain only wielding a sword. “Do you want us to lock them in the dungeon, or do you have… other plans?” The Equestrians stared at Nigel in fear, many only having heard exaggerated tales of his cruelty. Nigel nodded, and Shining and Cadence gulped when they saw that all of the guards had been captured.

“Secure them in the dungeons and assign a detail to guard them. While your troops are at it, there is a bunch on the second floor that are in need of a nice cell. They should be already tied up.”

“You heard the Emperor!” Strategy barked, all of the guards including the original ten being herded at halberd-point towards the dungeons. Strategy waited until all had left the room, yet more Crystal guards filing into the throne room from the outside. They all saluted happily when they recovered from the shock of seeing the Emperor back, Nigel returning them while the three UIP operatives examined their friend’s native army.

“I still don’t understand why they like you,” Orthodox muttered.

“Yeah, you’re all evil so I don’t get it either,” Rainbow added. Orthodox placed a boot on her back and pushed down, Rainbow’s bravado faltering as his rifle barrel prodded the back of her skull.

“But Colourful Horse,” Orthodox replied with joy in his voice. “If I was evil, I’d just shoot you right here and send your body back to your family.” He leaned down, Rainbow gulping as he removed his helmet. An orange face was revealed, along with a fang-filled mouth set in a grin. “You know what? I think you may be right about my moral alignment.”

“Orthodox,” Nigel butted in. “Don’t go shooting the prisoner.” Orthodox huffed and replaced his helmet, Dash breathing a sigh of relief as the pressure on her back was lifted.

Nigel rolled his eyes as Orthodox looked at him, however Strategy drew the alien’s ire instead.

“What’s your problem?” Orthodox asked, having noticed the glare that the Captain was fixing him with.

“You’re disrespectful,” Strategy pointed out with a head tilt towards Nigel. “Emperor Chalmers is loved because he saved us from Sombra, improved our country and fought alongside us to protect it. I would have expected one of his friends to be a little more polite.” Nigel placed his head in his hands. While he appreciated the Captain’s compliments, the pony had no idea what he had just started.
Pointing out Orthodox’s flaws usually ended up with things getting weird.

“Disrespectful?” Orthodox replied with mirth in his voice. “I’ll tell you what pony, you’d certainly change your tune if you knew what your ‘Precious Emperor’ was really like. We go back decades; you’ve known him for, what? Two months? I mean, I’ve seen him naked. I bet you haven’t.”

“Straight onto that topic,” Nigel muttered into his hands. Strategy didn’t back down, the stallion approaching Orthodox. Despite the fact that he was holding a gun to an Equestrian, Strategy marched right up to him, the stallion a little taller than Orthodox.

“Actually, he was naked when we fought the Elk together,” Strategy informed, Nigel guessing what would come next. He was spot on, Orthodox taking advantage of the opening.

“Fighting Elk? Is that what you ponies call it?” Strategy got what the alien was implying, only a slight eyebrow twitch betraying his discomfort at the thought. Down by the throne, Reflection’s opinion of Orthodox was dropping fast.

“How childish,” Strategy shot back. “He’s a good friend, and a fine military leader. He’s a far better ruler than you’d ever be.” Orthodox laughed, glancing towards Nigel while using a thumb to point at Strategy.

“Wow Nigel, you’ve got them hooked! I’m surprised you haven’t started a cult where they lick your feet every day for just existing.” Nigel removed his face from his hands, noticing that Strategy was fuming at the continued insults.

“Let it go Strategy,” Nigel requested, Orthodox chuckling as the Captain snorted and moved to stand next to Shining and Cadence.
“That’s right, be a good little pony,” Orthodox teased. Strategy respected his Emperor’s request however, and didn’t respond. Nigel gave him an apologetic look before frowning at Orthodox.

“Captain Strategy is a competent military commander and has performed exceedingly well. despite multiple disadvantages with the Empire’s forces. Lay off him Orthodox.” Orthodox huffed and gave Dash a swift kick in a flank.

“Hey!” she protested, a glare from Orthodox shutting down any further protest.

“It’s your own fault Nigel,” he grumbled. “All of this talking and ruling is boring. I want my promised booze and party.”

“You need to be patient,” Nigel replied. “I know you don’t give a damn, but I need to sort this Empire out first. We need to get the Heart back up and running, we need to sort out the food shortages and we need to figure out how to start bringing down Celestia. Luckily, Strategy has swiftly gotten the Guard moving, so we should be able to defend against an attack.” Strategy beamed with pride, Orthodox rolling his eyes under his helmet.

“Whatever. I just want something interesting to happen.” As soon as he finished talking, a bright flash lit up the throne room. Everyone looked to the front of the throne, five differently coloured mares recovering from whatever happened.

“Quickly girls, we have to find my brother, Rainbow and Cadence before more guards-“ the mare that had been talking froze as she noticed that the throne room was not empty like she had expected. Nigel glared at James.

“I thought that I told you to secure them?” he asked, James tilting his head as he stared at the mares.

“I did…” he murmured, Nigel shrugging and glancing back at the new arrivals. The five were still staring at him, the purple one locked on the sight of Cadence and Shining Armour.

“Hi,” Nigel waved at the five, Rainbow Dash grinning as she tried to break out of the magnetic cuffs securing her hooves.

“Now you’re in trouble!” Rainbow announced gleefully. “We’re going to kick your flanks!”

“Oh, really?” Nigel asked, the five mares recovering from their shock. He swore that he had seen the purple and white ones before. “What are five mares and a restrained loudmouth going to do that Celestia didn’t?” The mares all winced at this, however Rainbow was emboldened by the presence of her friends.

“We’re the bearers of the Elements of Harmony!” Rainbow announced. “We defeated Discord and Nightmare Moon, so we can defeat you! Right girls?” Instead of the supportive agreements that she expected, the rest of the mares stared at her in shock.

“Rainbow,” Twilight stated slowly. “There’s an armoured… dragon standing next to you with a weapon pointed at you.” She quickly glanced towards Shining and Cadence, her fear increasing. “And there’s more humans pointing weapons at my brother and Cadence!”

“Did you just call me a fucking dragon?” Orthodox growled, his rifle aiming at Twilight. Nigel watched on amused as the white unicorn glared at Orthodox despite the threat.

“What horrid language in front of ladies!” Rarity lectured. “You should be ashamed of yourself, you uncultured beast!” Nigel saw that Orthodox was about to pull the trigger, something that Rainbow had said repeating itself in his mind.

“Orthodox,” Nigel warned. “Don’t even think about killing them.” All of the mares took a step back, however they found that some Crystal Guards had flanked them, a circle of halberds blocking all exits.

“Oh come on,” Orthodox pleaded. “At least let me off the white unicorn.” Nigel shook his head, much to the relief to the Equestrians.

“We need them all alive, let me explain,” Nigel answered while Reflection leaned back against his legs and stared at the ponies. “From what Rainbow pony has just said, I think it’s safe to say that these mares are part of Equestria’s most potent weapon.” Chalmers glanced down at Shining. “Is that correct?” Shining gulped, having hoped that remaining silent would have avoided attention.

“They are,” he answered hesitantly, Nigel clapping his hands together in glee.

“Great,” Nigel responded. “Guards, arrest them.” The five resisted to no avail as they were jumped on and chained up, Strategy fixing the two unicorns with a thoughtful gaze.

“The unicorns need magic inhibitors,” he informed Nigel. “I believe that the Equestrians brought some in case of the crystal unicorns tried to fight back.” Nigel nodded, having already been told about the escape of his unicorns, armour staff and most of the ministers.

“Fetch them,” he ordered, Strategy pointing to a fully armoured changeling. The soldier took flight and left through the doors, heading towards the empty barracks.

“Emperor,” Strategy continued with a glance at the mares. “I understand that depriving the enemy of a powerful weapon is good, but what do you plan to do with them?” Nigel pointed towards the door that led to the staircase, the same staircase that went down to the dungeons.

“We’ve got eighty Equestrian guards as hostages, in addition to Shining Armour and Cadence. By taking these six mares, we only need to feed and guard six, very important, mares and not trained soldiers.” The Equestrians all trembled, for different reasons.

“You’re not going to just kill the guards?” Cadence spoke up terrified, all eyes turning to her.

“What do you think I am, a barbarian?” Nigel huffed while placing a hand on his chest. “I’m going to let them go. After stripping them of their armour and any valuables of course.” Orthodox grinned and put up a hand.

“I claim one of the helmets!” he demanded, Cadence glancing up at Nigel with hope.

“Are you going to let me and Shining go as well?” she asked hopefully. She shrank back as Nigel and Reflection fixed her with glares, the changeling’s far more venomous than the Emperor’s.

“No way!” Reflection snarled. “Not after you ordered your patsies to feed me that gem! You knew how much it meant to me!” Cadence broke down into tears, Shining hugging her as she wept.

“I thought I was helping!” she sobbed, Reflection’s gaze not letting up.

“I’m not going to kill or hurt you,” Nigel reassured before winking at a surprised Reflection. “By that I mean I’m not going to hurt you physically at least.” Cadence stopped crying but stared up at him terrified.

“What do you mean by that?”

Nigel didn’t answer her at first, turning away to glance at Strategy.

“Captain, escort our new hostages, including the rainbow one, to separate cells for now. Also, I know they’ve barely been imprisoned for long but I want you to have the rest of the Equestrians ready to move out when I command. Prepare some basic winter survival rations and clothing for them.” Strategy nodded, the guards relieving Orthodox of his prisoner and taking the six mares down to the dungeons.

“You two,” Nigel ordered while pointing at two crystal guards standing at the doors, an unarmoured changeling and an armoured pony mare. “Take Shining Armour here to the southern city boarder, and wait there.” The two nodded, the pony pointing her halberd at Shining while the changeling’s horn glowed. Shining hesitantly got up, the stallion giving Nigel a pleading look.

“Nigel, what about Cadence? Please don’t hurt her, it’s not her fault and-“

“I already said that I won’t physically hurt her,” he finished while waving Shining away. As the stallion was escorted out of the room, Nigel gave Cadence a wicked grin.

“Well boys, I’ve got a great idea on how to punish the Princess here and send a message to Celestia at the same time.” Cadence started to sob again, Orthodox walking up to her and staring at Nigel.

“We’re going to rape her?” he asked. “Don’t you remember that rape earns you an instant death sentence?” Nigel smacked himself in the face with his hand while Cadence tried to scramble away.

“Orthodox, we’re not going to rape her,” Nigel stressed out, wondering why he even had to explain it. “One, it is illegal. Two, rape is one of the things you know I despise. Three, Reflection would kill me for it.”

“I could make an exception,” Reflection muttered darkly, forcing Nigel to question just how much the changeling hated Cadence. Even he thought that it was a bit far.

“We need to have a long talk,” he told her, Reflection lowering her head at the edge in his voice. Nigel turned his attention away from Reflection and focused once again on Cadence, the alicorn sobbing into her hooves on the ground. “No, nothing like that at all. I want to do something that will send a clear message to Celestia about how much I hate her, not her puppets.” With a grin, Chalmers looked at Elijah who had been busy taking notes the entire time.

“Elijah, about that hygiene kit…”

Crystal ponies and changelings chatted excitedly while they waited in the castle courtyard, news having spread of the return of the Emperor. Most didn’t believe the news at first; however the sudden return of armoured changelings and crystal ponies to the streets gave the rumour a lot of validity. The entire city was braving the icy winds and falling snow, everyone dressed in warm winter clothing as they huddled beneath the main balcony.

The crowd fell silent as the balcony doors opened, Reflection marching out by herself. The changeling put her forehooves on the edge of the balcony so she could be seen clearly, Reflection beaming out towards the waiting citizens.

“Fellow ponies and changelings,” Reflection started. “I bring you great news! The Equestrian occupation has been defeated and our oppressors are at our mercy!” The crowd erupted into cheers, most of them calling for the swift punishment of Princess Cadence. Reflection allowed them a few moments of celebration before waving a hoof, most of the crowd quieting down.

“That’s not all,” she continued, the citizens hoping that the rumours were true. “Our Emperor has returned from his unjust banishment!” Reflection flung her hoof towards the doorway behind her. The crowd roared with approval, cheers and victory cries filling the entire city. They soon died out however, citizens muttering in confusion when the Emperor didn’t appear. “Nigel,” Reflection hissed, the sound of running footsteps approaching.

Nigel burst out onto the balcony, Reflection eyeing the pink hair covering his vile cloak while the ponies and changelings below cheered their approval.

“Sorry, we just finished,” Nigel apologised, pausing to give Reflection a peck on the cheek. “Great job, I’ll take it from here.” Reflection nodded and got down from the edge, Nigel taking her place and waving out at the crowd.

“It’s true!” he yelled out so that all could hear him. “I have returned to help you once again! I must say, it’s certainly colder than when I left!”

No-one knew if it was the laughter at the joke or the general relief and joy, but it was then that a tingling feeling was felt by everyone present and a hum steadily grew in intensity. Ponies cheered while changelings wondered what was happening, before a bright flash emitted from a podium in the centre of the courtyard.

The dull crystal that had previously been sitting on it sprang back to life, the Empire being filled with positive energy as a large dome once again covered the city and shielded it from the harsh winter outside. Ponies stamped their hooves in applause, soon joined by the changelings as they realised what had happened. Joyful cries went up as the citizens celebrated, the air already getting warmer and the changelings drank their fill of positive energy.

“Okay, I still have more to say,” Nigel continued after a few minutes. The bubbly subjects all paid attention, his benevolence only strengthened further in their eyes. “I’m sure you all want Princess Cadence punished, and that you also want answers regarding the people that I brought back with me. The crowd shared murmurs, having heard of the three monsters that had been seen with their Emperor.

“These three are not going to hurt you,” Nigel announced.

‘I think.’

“They will seem a little strange to you at first,” he resumed after his private worry. “They’re old friends of mine, and so far they intend to stay in the Empire and help us strike back at Equestria!” Everyone cheered and applauded, the new-comers already accepted in their minds. “First up is James!” The cheers increased as James walked out onto the balcony, the psionic giving the crowd a brief wave.

“Uh… Hi everyone,” the agent glanced up at the shimmering dome above him. “Wow, I don’t remember that being there when we arrived.” Ponies and changelings thought that it was a joke, all of them laughing while James was left perplexed.

“Smooth,” Nigel teased before facing the crowd and gesturing towards the door again, a wince on his face. “We also have Agent Orthodox!”

Orthodox didn’t merely walk out of the door.

He swaggered.

Nigel and James groaned as Orthodox exited the doorway, his helmet off and his rifle across his back. The alien leaned over the balcony and was met with curious mutters, no-one having seen anything like him before.

“Yo, what’s up ya’ll?” He greeted, earning a curse from Nigel. “I heard that you were all sad about Nigel being sent to Hell, but I just want to let you know one thing.” Orthodox pointed his thumbs at himself. “The bastard missed my birthday, so he’s putting together a party and paying for all the booze.” Nigel closed his eyes and started to count to ten. Meanwhile, Orthodox finished up. “And guess what? All of you ponies and changelings are invited! It’s going to be sweet!”

The crowd cheered again, applauding and whistling while Orthodox basked in their approval like a lizard sunning itself on a rock.

“Arsehole,” Nigel insulted before pulling Orthodox back. He waved a hand, silencing his subjects again. “Last one is Elijah.” The scientist walked out onto the balcony into applause, his helmet still off.

“Greetings sapient equines and sapient insectoid equines, I am Lead Researcher Elijah Von Barker and I look forward to finding out all about you.” The cheers lowered slightly, the crowd a little confused at the introduction. “Nigel has told me all about your plight, but he knows remarkably little about your anatomy, culture, history and social customs. I aim to rectify this, and in doing so I need some volunteers to help me with my research. Now, I think we should start with ten of each sex and race to examine-“

“Elijah, save it for later,” Nigel requested quietly while placing a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure where the scientist was going, but one could never be sure with scientists.

Biologists in particular had a habit for not knowing what was inappropriate or not, Elijah even more so.

“Fine, but I would like to be able to do some research,” Elijah relented as he walked back into the castle. Nigel turned to the now-silent crowd.

“Give some applause for Elijah!” A mob mentality and a desire to please their Emperor prompted the subjects to resume their cheering; soon Nigel had to ask for quite again. “Now, after giving it careful thought, I have decided to keep a few hostages but I am releasing the majority of the Equestrians. We will struggle to feed a hundred mouths, but if we let some go then it’s less of a strain on our food stores while still giving us a hopeful defence against another invasion.”

“What about the Pink Menace!?” a mare yelled up. “She needs to be punished!” The crowd all voiced their agreements, Nigel waving them down again.

“Princess Cadence will be returned to Equestria, but as a warning!” Breaths were held as the Emperor turned towards the balcony doors, four guards leading a cloaked pony to the edge for all to see. The brown cloak was removed by Nigel, and the crowd erupted into laughter.

Cadence was standing with her head lowered and her cheeks flushed, the alicorn having been completely shaved of all her hair. All that the crowd could see was naked pink skin, however Nigel knew that not all of Cadence’s hair was gone. He had enough mercy to let her keep her tail for concealment of her privates, but the only other spot of hair was on the middle of her back.

James had skilfully shaved, ‘Celestia is a fat bitch, and we’re coming for you,’ in the hair, making Cadence a literal warning to Celestia.

“Alright, cover her back up and take her to the meeting point,” Nigel quietly ordered, the four guards covering Cadence with the cloak and leading her away. Nigel faced his citizens again.

“I have some business to attend to concerning the Equestrians, but I wish to make a final announcement. Orthodox has already stated his desire for a party, and I’ve come up with an idea.” Nigel raised a fist into the air, the gesture mimicked by hooves down on the ground. He shed a manly tear, the ponies and changelings looking like they were doing a Nazi salute.


“Today is now officially a public holiday, and is now known as ‘Viva La Crystal Empire Day’!”

“What does that mean?” a male changeling questioned, Nigel having to think hard. He actually didn’t know, he just remembered seeing it somewhere about a place called ‘Tropico’ back on old Terra. He would have to improvise.

“It means…” he found himself stuck.

‘Fuck it’.

“We won!” he cried, the citizens all celebrating and yelling their approval. “Everyone start the party! I’ll join in after I finish up with Emperor stuff!” Nigel remained for a few minutes as everyone began the celebrations, a few subjects already passing out food and drink. The party began to expand onto the city streets, the enjoyment not hampered by the rapidly melting snow.

Nigel had a grin on his face, holding a content Reflection’s hoof in his hand while he walked back into the castle.

“I apologise,” Orthodox stated with awe as he watched the massive party kick off. “Your subjects know how to start a street party. They’re already rolling out barrels of booze into the streets. Barrels!” Nigel gave Orthodox a mock punch with his free hand.

“We still have to see off the Equestrians,” he reminded. Instead of complaining Orthodox unslung his rifle and hurried down the corridor.

“Let’s hurry up and get it over with!” he exclaimed, everyone rolling their eyes at his sudden enthusiasm.

“You will never return, and you will tell Celestia that no Equestrian is allowed into the Crystal Empire. If she tries anything, her precious Element Bearers will be executed immediately.”

Nigel stared at the Equestrian guards, Shining, and Cadence. Nigel was flanked by four ten-strong squads of Crystal Guards as well and James and Orthodox, Elijah having elected to stay back and interrogate the six mares they had taken hostage. Reflection was at his side, the changeling still giggling at Cadence’s punishment.

The edge of the southern barrier was clear, luckily for the Equestrians no snow was falling at the moment.

“You have been given the standard winter survival coats and rations of my guards, more than enough to get you back to your own country. You head due south, and I never want to see any of you here again. If you turn back, you get shot. I’m back in charge, and you can tell your fellows that I will happily kill any Equestrian that tries to enter my country.” Nigel narrowed his eyes. “Your kind has already done enough damage. The six mares we have prisoner will be treated well, and if all goes well then they will be released unharmed.”
Shining Armour lifted his head from beside Cadence’s to stare at Nigel pleadingly.

“Please Emperor, let Twilight go at least.” Chalmers shook his head, remembering that Twilight was Shining’s younger sister.

“No Shining, I’ve already done you enough favours as it is. However, you have my word that she will not be harmed.” Shining looked about to protest, but Orthodox had gotten impatient.

“Alright, that’s enough!” he demanded while aiming his rifle at the Equestrians. “I have a party to get to! You heard Chalmers, head due south. Now run!”

When the ponies didn’t move, Orthodox let out a burst of shots. The plasma impacted in the snow just in front of the ponies, the noise and effect of the weapon driving them to bolt away. Orthodox kept firing as the ponies ran away, making sure that his shots followed them in the snow to keep them moving.

“Run ponies! Ruuunnn!” Orthodox only stopped shooting when the Equestrians disappeared over a snowy bank, the ISA agent dashing off back into the city as soon as they were gone. “Party time!” Nigel chuckled, waving at James. The psionic nodded and followed Orthodox, leaving Nigel alone with Reflection and the guards.

“Troops,” Nigel addressed to the assorted ponies and changelings, all fully armed and armoured. “I’m sorry to have to do this, but I require you all the remain on guard during the party.” The soldiers surprised him when instead of the grumbles he expected, he was instead replied to with salutes. Pleased and full of pride at their obedience, Nigel thought of a way to make it up to them. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll organise a guards-only party in a few days’ time to make it up to you, deal?”

“Yes sir!” the guards replied enthusiastically.

“Good,” Nigel sighed in relief. "Now, if you don’t mind I would like to have a private conversation with Reflection.” The guards nodded and left, a few smirking as they dwelled on what the conversation was likely about.

Reflection stared up at Nigel with puzzlement on her face.

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked him, Nigel smiling at her.

“You remember that promise I made you?” he questioned back, Reflection nodding.

“I wouldn’t forget it for the world, but didn’t you say that you had things to do?” She shivered in pleasure as fingers scratched her knotted mane, hitting the sweet spots behind her ears.

“I’ve already got all of the important stuff out of the way,” Nigel answered as he rummaged in his hide cloak. “The only thing I said we had to do was both have a bath.” Reflection’s smile grew as she realised what he was getting back, her tail swishing as she considered the idea.

“You don’t have any complaints from me if you’re thinking what I’m thinking,” she replied before she remembered something. “Hang on, at the risk of spoiling the moment, don’t yo want to go to the party?” Chalmers grinned at her, finding what he was looking for. He pulled a bottle from his robes, passing it down so Reflection could look at it.

“Four berry wine?” she read, moving her eyes from the label back to his face.

“I was thinking we could have a party of our own,” Nigel said with a wink. Reflection hummed in agreement, grasping her forehoof around his hand and pulling him along.

“I suddenly have a very strong urge to have a long, hot bath,” she breathed, the two hurrying along back to the castle like love-struck teenagers.

Rainbow Dash glared at the white-armoured human sitting in front of her cell, her friends all watching from their own cages. She beat her hooves against the bars, having already tried to throw her mattress at the door.

Needless to say, that tactic hadn’t worked.

“Just you wait until Celestia rescues us and banishes all of you like your evil friend!” Rainbow didn’t get a response, the human only staring at her as he leaned forward on his stool. She didn’t like being ignored.

“Are you listening!?” she yelled, the entire situation pissing her off immensely. “Answer me you Featherbrained, useless, annoying, ugly Cloudstain!” The human didn’t even blink his brown eyes, his hand raising a square, glowing device up to his mouth.

“Subject, dubbed ‘Crazy Flying Rainbow Horse’ by ISA Agent Orthodox, is currently showing intense signs of irritation and rage towards Lead Researcher Von Barker. Lead Researcher is going to attempt to clarify the situation.”

Rainbow jolted back as the device was pointed towards her, Rainbow not knowing if it was another of the aliens’ strange weapons.

“Crazy Flying Rainbow Horse,” the scientist asked, leaning in further towards the bars with a gleam in his eye. “Are you currently experiencing the emotion known as rage or anger?” Rainbow couldn’t answer, too shocked at the stupid question. The human took her silence for misunderstanding.

“Oh, I’m sorry, let me put it into layman’s terms.” The human showed the slightest smile.

“Are you mad?”

Author's Note:

Well, that's the start of the sequel that you've all been asking me for. I hope I didn't screw it up.

Oh, and for those who know all about Orthodox, James and Elijah...

Yes, this is happening.

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