• Published 10th Jun 2014
  • 20,207 Views, 1,474 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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Five-O Clock

“Everyone to your posts!”

Major Rust jolted awake at a loud crash followed by the shout of one of his subordinates. He rolled off of the cot and landed on his hooves, having fallen asleep in his full armour. Only pausing to grab his short sword and his helmet from the plain wooden table, he rushed out of the room that had served as his accommodation for more than a month.

Descending the bakery’s steps, he gritted his teeth as he listened to yet more crashes and thumps. He could guess as to the cause, the Crystal Empire no doubt retaliating due to the capture of their spy.

“Damn fools,” he muttered, rushing out of the bakery-turned-makeshift-barracks. Rust emerged out onto the main street, squads of armed guards hurrying to their assigned posts with the clattering of metal. Pausing, he looked up just in time to see a giant red-tipped spear fly through the night sky with an eerie whistle. It passed out of view behind a row of buildings, before a loud cracking sound joined the panicked noise and a fiery glow sparked to life.

‘Seems like they’re not going easy,’ he thought with a grimace. Taking a moment to get his bearings straight, Rust headed for the south entrance while projectiles continued to rain down upon the city.

On the way he passed groups of terrified civilians fleeing in the opposite direction, guards escorting them towards the chariot landing grounds. Eying the hurried evacuations while he moved past, Rust resisted the urge to scoff.

‘They can’t say we didn’t warn them.’ A stallion with two foals on his back pushed past him, Rust not stopping to berate the pony. ‘They decided to not leave earlier with the others, so they’re no concern of mine.’

He had no time to worry himself over the civilians that had refused to leave despite his directions during the previous week. Right now he was mostly concerned with halting the Crystal Empire attack, and while the Princess had urged that the civilians were to be top priority during such an invasion, he only saw it as a waste of troops that he desperately needed at the frontlines.

Rust looked to his right, a fire blazing in a dress shop. Three guards were attempting in vain to put out the magical flames with buckets of water, but Rust could already see that the blaze was spreading to the stores on either side.

As if on que, overhead another volley of four bolts flew into the town. Multiple cracks rang out and the glow of fires increased, Rust gritting his teeth.

‘At this rate, we won’t even see the enemy before we burn! This is what happens when nobles get to decide if I need catapults or not!’

The courts had decided that their town only needed two catapults for defense, despite the confirmed reports that the Crystal Army possessed numerous ranged war-machines. The fact that incendiary bolts were hammering the town at the current moment only further drove the point home.

Rust could see the defensive line up ahead, and he headed towards the backs of the hundreds of guards. Spears were dug into the ground and unicorn horns charged, the soldiers standing firm for an attack despite the chaos that surrounded them.

Then, temporary salvation came in the form of a light blue bubble springing to life. The magical shield was just large enough to cover the entire town, two bolts hitting the defensive barrier and unleashing their magical payload harmlessly above them. Rust looked back towards the town, a steady glow coming from a group of four unicorns standing atop the highest building.

‘Mage Knights,’ he realised, relaxing somewhat. ‘Good, that will only better our chances.’

It was true, the elite cadre of unicorn guards a welcome addition to any fight. Top graduates of Celestia’s school for gifted unicorns, Rust had served alongside many a mage knight during brief clashes with rampaging monsters.

“Major, it’s good to see you safe!”

Rust returned his attention to the front, Lieutenant Stampson trotting out to meet him. “Quite, I must admit that I didn’t have a very appreciated wake-up.” Stampson didn’t even crack a smile, the Lieutenant only giving him a single nod. Sighing, Rust gestured towards the fires raging behind them. “How bad is it?”

“We managed to get a team of messengers away, and we’ve formed a capable battle line. There’s not much we can do about the fires, but I’ve got five squads working on it. All civilians have been accounted for, and we’re flying them away on chariots as fast as we’re able.”

“And the Crystal Empire forces?”

Stampson frowned. “Nothing but a few scouts we drove off with crossbow fire. Their artillery seems to be located behind that hill,” a hoof was pointed towards a far-off mound in the distance. “Which is very infuriating.” Almost on cue, there was a loud thwack from the left. A large rock shot towards the very hill mentioned, but it only fell short and smacked into the front face. Rust glared, almost envying the Crystal Empire’s weapons.

“They managed to hit a lot of our supply storages and the armory early on, almost as if they knew where to fire,” Stampson continued. “Now we’ve at least got the shield up, but I feel that if a siege were to happen then our chances of victory would be non-existent.”

Rust nodded. “They must have had more spies that managed to escape. Typical changelings, there’s never just one of them.” When no comment came from Stampson, he huffed and refocused on the hill. It appeared as if their enemies were biding their time to strike, even the number of magical bolts impacting against the shield slowly starting to lessen.

“I guess we just have to wait and watch for their next move,” he finished, sniffing at the harsh smell of smoke that was already starting to fill the air.

Reflection shifted in her armour, still staring out at the town they were attacking. Behind her, the artillery batteries were restocking their ammunition from the wooden carts and the soldiers were ranking up in preparation for an advance.

Although the bombardment had been stopped due to the shield, the destruction already done was chilling enough. The shield that had been formed kept in all of the smoke from the many out of control fires, the glow of the flames almost hidden by the murky darkness.

Footsteps behind her caused her to turn her head, Reflection watching Nigel warily while he approached to stand beside her.

“Enjoying the view?” inquired, the small smile he had on his face rather unsettling.

“It’s… certainly something,” she answered, looking back at the town.

“I did warn you, and if you don’t like it then you should have stayed in the city.”

Any trace of her unease vanished, and she frowned. “I’m fine. I’m just wondering why we don’t continue to attack. That shield can’t last forever.”

In reply he scoffed, glancing back at the soldiers behind them. “There’s a few reasons. One, it’s a waste of ammo. Two, we’re letting the fires spread for now. Why spend more time attacking when we can just let the blazes destroy our enemies’ defenses, numbers, and moral? Three, the crystal ponies have some sort of aversion to large bodies of smoke for some reason.”

“It’s because of Sombra.” Strategy trotted up to join them.

“How so?”

“He possessed the ability to turn to smoke, and would often use it to terrify those that displeased him. Every crystal pony alive can remember the stories of a thick cloud of black smoke snatching up ponies from their houses and taking them away forever.”

Reflection shuddered, despite not ever having met the before-mentioned tyrant. Nigel merely scoffed again.

“He didn’t turn to smoke when I saw him.”

Strategy rolled his eyes. “I doubt he expected some human to attack him with a table leg, either.” There was no response to that, Strategy refocusing on the town. “Back to the current matter, I’d prefer it if you’d allow me to resume the bombardment. The Equestrians could have sent for reinforcements, and I’d prefer to have the defenders in the town beaten before having to face a second force. With the shield up, any advance by our troops wouldn’t go very well.”

“I’d prefer to just let them burn,” muttered Nigel with a scowl.

Reflection noticed Strategy briefly close his eyes and take a breath, before the Captain nodded. “Fine, as you wish Emperor.” With that, he turned and trotted back to the main army, Reflection watching him leave while Nigel’s smirk grew.

‘I wonder what he’s up to?’

“You know, you guys really need to cheer up.”

Orthodox grinned while the crystal mare stared at him, the yellow pony leaning against the halberd that was dug into the ground.

“Why?” she replied with a lack of emotion. “The Heart’s gone.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on,” he dismissed. “It’s just some crystal after all. Look at all of the flames!” The mare followed his armoured claw, looking out towards the fire-lit sky out in front. “We’re going to war, pony! Lovely, exciting, war! Just think of all of the fun and loot that is to be had in that town!”

The guard really didn’t seem that impressed, and she let out a sad sigh. “I don’t know. I just want for this to all be over so I can go home.”

Orthodox, halfway through a leap for joy, huffed and flicked his tail. So far all of the ponies he’d talked to had been completely sour, the equines moping about with the dull disinterest that was starting to test his patience.

‘But… war…’ he moped, frowning at the pony before moving on to the next guard in line. This soldier was armoured in snow-dusted steel, Orthodox perking up at the realisation that it was a changeling. They looked evil enough to spark a decent conversation.

“So, this upcoming battle…” he began, the bug-horse watching him warily. “You pumped? Good to go? Putting on the A-game? Ready to rumble? Itching for a lynching? Full steam ahead for a fun-filled session of pillaging?”

“N-no?” the changeling answered, glancing to the crystal pony for guidance. Orthodox glared.

“Why not, you’re a solider aren’t you?”

“Well, yes,” the bug-horse admitted. “But it doesn’t mean I have to look forward to fighting. I fought the Elk and I’m ready to fight Equestria, but a soldier shouldn’t aim to fight just so they can steal stuff.”

“Pfft,” Orthodox waved off with a hand. “Even you changelings are soft.” Frowning, he gave up on trying to get the guards to find some common ground and instead decided to bother Nigel.

‘Or Reflection,’ he thought to himself with a nod. ‘She’s always good for a laugh, and it’s bonus points if I can get Nigel to fight me over it.’

Humming to himself, he started to look around for the two ‘royals’ with mischief in mind. Unfortunately, his searching was halted when Captain Strategy stepped in front of him. “Excuse me, Agent Orthodox.”

Giving him a glance-over, Orthodox took note of the Captain’s equally dour look and expression. For once deciding to not make an insulting comment about how ‘strange’ the crystal ponies were acting, he merely crossed his armoured arms and glared. “What?”

“I need your help.”

“Not happening.” Orthodox smirked and turned away, but paused at Strategy’s next words.

“It involves war.”

That got his attention. He turned and smiled, tail flicking in anticipation. “Oh, in that case do go on.”

Strategy stared at him, before clearing his throat. “Look, I think you’re a violent, irresponsible, bloodthirsty monster-“

“Valid points.”

“-but I do admit that you have a specific skill set that can be useful. The Emperor is quite happy to just let the town burn-“

“He did always like fire…” Orthodox mumbled, Strategy narrowing his eyes at yet another interruption.

“Can you stop that? Anyway, I shed no tears for the Equestrians that threaten us so, but I don’t honestly think that we can win this war. They have vast magic and numbers on their side, as well as any allies they can muster. Therefore, I want this battle to end as quickly as possible.” Strategy paused. “That’s where you come in. I need that shield down and it must be a unicorn powering it.”

“Hold on a sec, you don’t want war but you need me to help you get into the town quicker?”

The Captain nodded. “That’s correct.”

“Ha!” Orthodox chortled. “You’re almost as bad as Chalmers. No wonder why he likes you so much!”

He didn’t notice Strategy’s face harden, the pony taking a step forwards. “Unlike the Emperor, I don’t think sacrificing a bunch of Equestrians that we could use to buy the Heart back with is a good idea. I don’t care about revenge, about humbling Celestia, about drowning Equestria in blood.” Another step forwards. “I care about my city, and while I can see why he wants the Princesses to suffer, I don’t share his desires. All I want is for the Heart to be back, that’s all.”

Orthodox stepped forwards as well, nearly staring at Strategy face-to-face. To the pony’s credit, he didn’t flinch.

“So, you want to capture the town, keep most of the ponies within it alive, then trade them back for your magical gem thingy?”

“Correct. Celestia cares too much about her own ponies to risk them, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.”

Smirking, Orthodox began to circle the Captain much like a shark circles a wounded whale. “Tell me, Captain Strategy. Let’s say I bring this shield down and you rush in with your army and bravely capture the enemy town with their forces surrendering before you. When you have all of the civilians and any remaining guards tied up in the square and Celestia doesn’t take your deal, what do you do to show her you’re serious?” He grinned. “Off a prisoner or ten to show her that you mean business?” The smirk grew. “Because I don’t think you’ve got it in you.”

While he circled, Orthodox kept a close eye on the pony. Strategy was staring out towards the glow in the distance, the stallion hesitating before replying.
“No. I don’t have that in me. Never will I be capable of taking the life of a helpless opponent or civilian to get my way.”

Orthodox chuckled, turning to walk away.

“But I know that you and the Emperor are.”

Surprised, Orthodox turned and appraised Strategy with a nod for a few moments.

“You know what, Pony? I think I like the cut of your jib.” Turning, he smirked to himself before he reached down to his waist and retrieved his helmet. “Give me an hour or so, and that shield will be down before you can say ‘popped bubble’.”

“Please refrain from killing anyone if you don’t have to,” he heard from behind him.

“Can I grievously injure at least?”


“Okay by me,” Orthodox smirked, his helmet going on while his tail flicked. Cracking his back in anticipation, he angled towards the side.

‘About time I had a bout of fun…’

‘Focus, keep it up.’

Glitterbeam gritted her teeth and tried to slow her breathing when another impact against the shield sent ripples of energy back to her horn. It had felt like an age since she and her two fellow knights had formed the barrier, every hit against it draining their collective magic and causing them pain. Her head ached, but she managed to focus enough to open her blue eyes and look around.

Hocus-Pocus seemed to be having just as much trouble, the red-coated stallion digging his armoured hooves into the brick roof they were standing on. She could see the sweat drip from his orange mane, and glanced up at her own grey hair to find the same.

“I’ve always hated this spell,” Starshine muttered from the right, Glitterbeam glancing over at her. The lime-green knight was shaking in her golden armour, the helmet on her head covering her usual short-cut blonde mane. “I don’t know how the Captain does it without much effort.”

“It’s his talent,” Glitterbeam answered, wincing at another hit. “Besides, he’s never… ah! …Never had to deal with magical bolts in the hundreds!”

“We just need to hold a bit longer,” the fourth and final member of their squad spoke up. The brown unicorn trotted out in front of Glitterbeam, horn glowing yellow while she maintained the smaller shield that surrounded them on the rooftop.

“Easy for you to say, Wanda,” Hocus snorted. “You should feel the pure power of those bolts, it’s like having a diamond dog club you on the head every time one hits.”

Wanda snorted, gesturing outside of the shield she was maintaining. There was nothing to see except the thick and acidic smoke that completely surrounded them. “Good luck keeping the shield up when you’re choking to death.”

“Great to see… you can laugh in a time like this.” Glitterbeam shook her head. “We may have a shield up here, but the guards below don’t.”

“They’re tough and can cope,” Wanda dismissed, but still turned to attempt to peer our below. Her voice then lost the trace of humor. “I mean, given what’s coming I doubt that smoke is the top of their list.”

She couldn’t help but agree. They’d all been briefed on the Crystal Empire’s military, and everything about it was scary. They truly were ponies from another age, completely ready to kill without a moment’s hesitation. Granted, she herself was trained and prepared to do that unthinkable act to protect her country and fellow ponies, but it still scared her to even think about how she’d live with it.

Grimacing at another hit to the shield, she paused when she felt something… odd.

“Did you feel that?” Glitterbeam asked her fellows, and was able to see Hocus nod from his spot.


“It wasn’t a hit,” Starshine murmured. “It’s like, a touch.”

“What happened?” Wanda questioned, glancing back out of their bubble. “Is the Crystal Empire trying to break through?”

Glitterbeam thought hard before shaking her head. “No, it was only there for a brief second. Besides, nothing can get through until we let the shield down.”

Of course, as soon as she said those fateful words her left ear pricked up. A dull thud came from the bottom of the tower, almost drowned out by the crackling of fires. It was followed by another, and another, each one getting louder as they drew closer.

“What the…?” Wanda frowned and moved towards the edge of the roof, the knight lowering her helmet visor.

“Careful,” Glitterbeam warned, right before Wanda stuck her head out of the bubble and looked down. “What if it’s a-“

Her words were cut off by a bloodcurdling scream, the large shielding spell nearly cracking when the overly-curious unicorn was violently yanked through her own shield and off the side of the building. The yellow bubble protecting them all from the smoke vanished, the harsh smog immediately rushing in and beginning to choke.

“Wanda!” she heard Starshine yell, before a series of hacking coughs ended the cry. Struggling, Glitterbeam raised a white forehoof to close the faceplate of her helmet. It sealed with a crackle of magical energy, blocking out the smoke and allowing her to breath. What it didn’t help was her sight, murky black the only colour that she could see.
Which only made the following laughter more terrifying.

“One down,” a voice called out, seemingly right next to her. “Only three widdle unicorns left. Are you scared, unicorns?” She whirled around, vainly searching the smoke for any sign of the attacker.

‘How did it get in? What in Tartarus is it?’

There was a yell from Hocus behind her, the only stallion in their squad sounding like he was following Wanda off the side of the building. Glitterbeam’s knees nearly gave out when her magic surged, the loss of one spellcaster easily felt.

“Two down.”

“Where are you?” Starshine growled, her shoes clacking on the roof as she stumbled around. “Show yourself! Beast! Coward!”

There was a bone-chilling hiss.

“How can I refuse?”

Glitterbeam winced at the sound of a sharp crack to her left, followed by the thud of what she assumed was Starshine hitting the floor. Her racing heart nearly skipped a beat when yet more magical feedback occurred, forcing her down to her knees. She could actually feel the shield weaken immensely, her own magic starting to drain rapidly.

‘Need to… hold on,’ she strained, trying to focus on her breathing while her horn sparked and crackled.

Unfortunately, the enemy that was attacking them had other ideas.

All Glitterbeam saw was two glowing orbs of blue come at her through the smoke, before cold metal wrapped around her throat and squeezed.

“Ach!” she wheezed, her armour doing nothing to stop whatever was guilty of the constricting. Her horn began to splutter, the energy it was controlling beginning to die. Then, she was yanked up harshly and brought face-to-face with a black metal-covered dragon.

“And finally, the last little unicorn…” The fiend spoke with obvious joy, before his prepared fist smacked into her forehead and sent her blacking out to join her comrades.

Orthodox dropped the final unicorn, the armoured mare hitting the floor with a rather undignified thump. A loud cracking followed his gift of an unexpected nap, and he looked around when the thick smoke began to rise up. He followed it with his eyes and noticed the faint glimmer of blue above die out, the once-impervious shield now non-existent.

“Shame,” he grunted, despite his task being completed. “That was too quick.”

Completely ignoring the two unconscious ponies he’d violently assaulted, he made for the side of the building with a bounce in his step.

‘Oh well,’ he thought to himself as the first wave of Crystal Empire soldiers charged towards the town, his eyes resting on the mass of Equestrian defenders. ‘There’s lots more entertainment to be had yet.’

“Hold them back! Hold them back!”

Rust shouted and maintained a brave face, but he knew the situation was dire. Barely five ponies were between him and the Crystal Empire lines, fresh guards moving up to replace those injured in the melee at a steady pace. He glanced back towards the second line of defense, wincing at the growing number of soldiers that had been taken out of the fight.

‘At this rate we’ll be whittled down long before the sun will rise.’

There was more crashes and shouts from the front, signaling another offensive by the crystal empire troops. Rust looked up just in time to see a large axe-spear swing down, a preoccupied earth-pony guard in its path. There was a clang, a crunch, and a yell of pain. The guard was down on the ground, however instead of losing his life it merely seemed as if the polearm had sheared off a section of his armour and its side had smacked hard against his hind leg.

It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was a much better outcome than the alternative.

Immediately, the injured guard was pulled up and dragged back by a comrade, Rust grinding his teeth while the pair passed him on the way to the centre square.

‘Down another two guards, we’re losing far too many.’

He coughed violently, waving a hoof to try and clear the smoke from the air around him. While most of it had started to drift off when the shielding spell had suddenly fallen, the sheer number of fires still burning ensured that a unhealthy amount still remained. Trying to figure out what had befallen the mage-knights and interrupted the spell, he also recalled the squad of pegasi scouts he had sent to investigate.

They had yet to return.


Rust re-focused on the frontlines, Lieutenant Stampson rushing out to meet him. His eyes briefly glanced at the blood that covered Stampson’s golden armour, a gash on the left shoulder leaking life-fluid. The wound didn’t seem to faze the Lieutenant at all, although the heavy breathing showed just how hard the fighting was.

“Lieutenant, report.”

“It’s like running at a spiked-wall while it shoots fire at you,” Stampson panted out. “The enemy is making use of large shields to protect their troops, heavily armoured soldiers moving forwards while ones with axe-spears pick off our troops. Changelings are also a big issue, I’ve got eleven pegasi downed outside of the town thanks to magical bolts.”

Major Rust frowned. “Dead?”

“Not from what we can see,” Stampson answered. “Although with the assault and the enemy advance, there’s no chance of retrieval. They’re effectively be dead, and of no further use.”

It was cold but true, they couldn’t afford time to rescue soldiers while their own front was under critical threat of collapse.

“Our chances?” Rust asked.

“We’ve got fires behind us, a far more experienced and better equipped enemy army in front of use, smoke in our eyes and lungs, and reports of groups of changelings lurking around the sides of the town.” Stampson shook his head. “Honestly, without reinforcements immediately, we’ve got less chance of winning than a rabbit picking a fight with a dragon.”

Rust sighed, the clash of metal still continuing ahead of them. Looking at another injured guard limp away from the fight with a crossbow bolt lodged in her leg, he bit his lip.
“It seems as though we are in a very unfavorable situation then.”

Stampson coughed, before lowering his voice. “While I am confident in our cause, Major, please forgive me for this question. In such a hopeless situation, would it not be better to surrender this fight and hope it buys enough time for Equestria to shore up the defenses?”

It was a decent question, and Rust nodded in thought. While the idea of surrendering sat ill with him, he didn’t think himself the breed of noble that would waste the lives of hundreds of guards to keep his ego intact. However, it also raised the question of just how much they had actually achieved.

He was just about to reply to Stampson with the query of how much bought time was enough, when a commotion from the second line of defense drew their attention.
Shouts of alarm rang out, amongst numerous cracks and thumps. Rust didn’t even have time to react before Stampson had his sword drawn and his hooves beating a hasty path.

“Lieutenant!” Rust called out, but Stampson didn’t stop or call back. Instead he charged over the makeshift barricade constructed from the town’s furniture and disappeared behind the other side.

Drawing his own sword with his magic, Rust made to follow with a determined advance…

…A determined advance that was quickly halted when something sent Stampson flying right back over the barricade.

Rushing into action, the sword clattered down onto the street as all of his magic was focused on catching the falling Lieutenant. Rust managed to slow Stampson’s fall, rushing over while the unfortunate officer crashed to the pavers.

It didn’t look good. Stampson’s muzzle appeared to be broken, and the golden breastplate he wore was buckled inwards right in the center. From the looks of things, something had hit him…



Rust bent down low over his fallen comrade, constantly glancing towards the second line of defense. There was no commotion, but the silence was far more threatening.

“Major…” He focused back down on Stampson, the Lieutenant struggling to speak. “Enemy… is behind us, probably the same that… got the mage-knights. I also spotted some changelings taking up positions on the rooftops.” Stampson winced when a bloodied tooth fell out, Rust nervously glancing up at the buildings around them before refocusing. “We’re surrounded, and it won’t be long until we’re completely overrun. Our… second line are all out of action or busy fighting that… that thing.”

There was nothing he could do.

Rust looked up as the clash of battle drew closer, and he looked over to find the lines of guards losing ground to a ferocious Crystal Empire push. Axe-spears drove them back into the square, and he swore that on the rooftops he could see occasional glints of metal in the moonlight. The injured were now just left to get out of the way on their own, and the heavily armoured bulk of the opposing forces showed no signs of slowing down. The crystal ponies were now close enough to be seen properly, impassive eyes staring out from their helmets while the melee continued.

First looking towards his dropped sword, then towards a guard dragging himself away from the fight with a vicious cut in his side, Major Rust sighed.

They had done what they could, and there was still one last option that he had open to him.

The town was eerily silent while the last fire was extinguished. The stink of burnt wood and thatch still hung over the area, the last wisps of foul smoke wafting up from the dying remains of smoldering fires. The rising sun was low in the red sky, shedding light upon the devastation that had been dished out to the once-quaint border town.

Reflection shuddered slightly at the sight, half of the town completely burnt down to the ground. To her left a changeling soldier was busy untying the Equestrian flag from the town hall’s spire, the private having not said a word to her while she sat and stared out.

‘To think that he was willing to completely destroy this place,’ she thought. ‘To burn it to the ground with all of those Equestrians inside of it. Just what did this achieve?’

Not able to think of an answer save for ‘revenge’, she sighed and got to her hooves. Careful to keep her hoofing on the smooth stone dome, she buzzed her wings and took off. Flying was uncomfortable in the already unfamiliar armour, but thankfully she didn’t have far to go. Nigel and Strategy, most likely arguing, were over in the center of the town square while the soldiers around them sorted the surrendered prisoners into groups.

Bracing herself to enter the true conflict of the day, Reflection hesitated when she spotted Orthodox slinking around the arguing Captain and Emperor. He had already been on her ‘do not interact with’ list, but the fact that he had played a major part in taking the town only decreased her desire to encounter him.

Needing some time to properly prepare, she cut her flight short and set down at the other end of the square instead. Soldiers around her, both changeling and crystal pony alike, glanced at her while they went about their duties. Putting the lack of reaction down to the fact that she looked no different to an ordinary changeling soldier apart from her tail colour, Reflection began the trot towards the pair at the opposite end of the square.

She couldn’t help but glance at the prisoners while she passed them, blocks of ten guarded by twice the number of armed soldiers. Most only possessed minor cuts and bruises, along with hateful scowls, but the lack of major injuries amongst the roughly two hundred ponies wasn’t unusual. She’d witnessed a huge column of Equestrians and carts leave the town in the early morning, guessing that Chalmers had allowed the wounded foes to retreat back to stable Equestrian territory.

Also missing was any form of civilian, all of the prisoners being Royal guards. Reflection gave four unicorns she passed a long look, all of them looking very dazed with a few broken muzzles shared around. Only spending a brief moment to process the slightly more ornate armour and doubled-up magic inhibitors on their horns, she focused her breathing as she laid eyes on her rapidly-approching destination.

Only to hesitate when she noticed Nigel pointing angrily at an impassive Strategy.

‘Oh no,’ she dreaded, resuming her trotting. ‘What is it now?’

“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! First you conspire with Orthodox to bring down the pony shield, then you attack the town without my say-so, release most of our prisoners without even seeking permission, and now you want to do this? Have you forgotten just who the Emperor is around here? Because news flash, Strategy, I am!”

‘Great. Guess I won’t be getting fed today either.’

Trying to power through it, she came to a stop beside Nigel just as Strategy gave his explanation.

“The new plan is more robust than our current one, Emperor.”

“Oh it’s on!” Orthodox clapped gleefully from his seat on the steps of the nearby restaurant, Strategy fixing him with a warning glare before refocusing on the unmoved Emperor.

“We have managed to swiftly capture this town, and have taken two-hundred and twelve of their soldiers as prisoners. We released many more, most of them wounded, which will only help our case.”

“It’s soft,” Nigel muttered.

“It’s sensible,” rebutted Strategy. “Tending to the wounded and guarding them would have stretched our soldiers to the limit. With only two hundred, we have plenty of soldiers left to secure the town and we lose none of our bargaining power.” He didn’t even hesitate at the next line. “You’re not stupid, I know that you know that it was the best decision we could have made.”


Reflection didn’t even need to go off the dangerous tone of Nigel’s voice to know that the Captain was drawing a very fine line; she could feel the venomous anger in the human next to her. Thinking quickly as Nigel began to clench his armoured fists, she deliberately bumped her metal-covered side against his leg. Chalmers looked down at the clank, not saying a word but she could feel some of the rage die down.

“Emperor, with all due respect, I honestly don’t think you’re in a position to make critical decisions.” Strategy showed no sign of backing down, even faced with the threat of violence from his own ruler. “Celestia cares far too much for her subjects to risk it, and the thought of losing two-hundred is as equally undesirable as to losing eight-hundred. We now have her and Luna over a barrel, they will have no choice but to accept our demands.”

“And if they attack? What then? Do you have some master plan for that, Captain?”

“They won’t,” Strategy answered without wavering. “It is too much of a risk. Thus they are left the choice of accepting our demands.”

“Which are?” Despite her better judgement, Reflection entered the argument with the question. Strategy looked at her and she could feel Nigel glance down, and she shifted in her armour while waiting for a reply.

Strategy looked back up to the Emperor, his face hardening. “We ask for the Crystal Heart back, our captured changeling back, and for Equestria to leave us alone. We can threaten more violence if needed, and even though I don’t approve of this occupation it does show that we mean what we say. In return, they get their prisoners back and we won’t invade their territory any further.”

Honestly, she thought that it sounded like a good idea. While she hated Celestia’s and Luna’s guts for what they did to Nigel, the Princesses were acting scared and nervous. Forcing them into accepting the demands was enough of a victory for her, and it would mean Nigel would be worrying less about war and more about her.

Unfortunately, Chalmers was not so convinced.

“Fuck off.”

‘Rather… blunt.’

“You want me to give those two backstabbers this town and prisoners back just so that they return what they stole from us? Pathetic, I’ll give them nothing except a stab in the heart and then I’ll take the Heart back from their cold, dead, hands… hooves.”

“There, that’s the issue I have!”

Both Nigel and Strategy moved forwards towards each other, Chalmers towering over the Captain while Strategy glared up despite it.

“I see no issue!”

“Your hate for the princesses is going to bring ruin to the Empire! Without the Heart back our city will crumble and we’ll be left defenceless! This is the best opportunity we have to regain the most crucial thing to the city while not losing anything else in the process. We don’t need this town to be happy…” Strategy doubled his stare. “And we, crystal ponies and changelings, don’t need revenge either. You do, and while I understand why with agreement, putting all of those back home on the line isn’t something I can condone.”

Reflection sensed the rage return, preparing to intervene again to stop the two from fighting.

“Captain! Emperor!”

Everyone stopped and glanced over, an unarmored changeling rushing into the square with a detachment of guards right behind her. Reflection at first couldn’t recognise the other changeling, but when she drew closer she identified her as the corporal that had been sent to negotiate with the zebras months ago.

Nigel was evidently confused, the Emperor’s voice containing no trace of anger while he stepped to meet the soldier. “Corporal Shill?”

It was at that time that it clicked. ‘She’s the captured spy,’ Reflection realised, tilting her head and awaiting the no doubt interesting explanation.

“Emperor!” Shill stopped and saluted. “I bring important ne-… Emperor?”

Chalmers was smiling and rubbing Shill’s head, the changeling corporal seemingly half-confused at the reason of the head rub and half-confused as to why it was enjoyable.
“You made it back! Good work soldier, do tell how you managed to escape the clutches of the Equestrians. Better yet, do you know where they are keeping the Heart?”

Noticing Shill wince, Reflection doubted that it was good news. When the Corporal brushed Chalmers’ hand away and sank a little on the spot, that suspicion was only confirmed.

“Well, uh, about that… You see Emperor, when I was imprisoned the Princesses came to speak to me and they asked me to do something for them.” Chalmers’ smile dropped, the Corporal folding her ears back in preparation. “They released me as a messenger, and as a sign of good faith.”

“Really?” Reflection tilted her head, Shill glancing towards her. “They let you go? Even after we attacked this town?”

Shill nodded. “From what I gathered.” Attention was turned back to Nigel. “They intend to meet with you and discuss terms of a ceasefire. From what they told me, Emperor, it will be a deal that will cost us relatively little. In exchange for stopping our attacks and releasing our captives, they will return the Crystal Heart, remove their troops from the border and leave us alone. This is in addition to a request for a modest sum of gold and jewels to pay the mercenaries that stole the Heart, from the sounds of it nothing we can’t… Emperor?”

Reflection turned, eyes narrowing when she saw Nigel walking away.

“No way in Hell,” the human muttered, storming off towards the other end of the square. “Go tell those bitches that the only peace that awaits them is when I bury them both after burning their county to cinders. I’m done with playing nice with them, they had their chance.”

“Nigel!” she called out, raising a hoof. “Don’t just walk away!”

“Emperor, this is a good chance for us to retrieve the Heart!” Strategy joined in, shaking his head when Chalmers ignored them both. They watched while Nigel spoke to some soldiers, the crystal ponies moving off with a likely goal to prepare the army for an attack. “Stubborn fool,” Strategy muttered with a scowl.

Reflection couldn’t help but agree, her temper bubbling up again at being ignored. Huffing, she seethed inside while the uncaring Emperor continued to leave.

‘What a fool! I know he hates them, and I do as well, but why pass up that chance! We can always continue to attack Equestria anyway after they’ve given us the Heart back!’
She stamped a hoof on the cobbled road, Strategy and Shill looking towards her with equally dour expressions.

“Fine, let him sulk like that,” she growled, before turning around and looking back at Shill. “Corporal, please take me to the Princesses. If he isn’t going to do the logical thing, then I will.”


Reflection stared at Shill, her wings giving a slight buzz. “I now possess the title of Empress, making me almost as high up as him. He decided to place me in a position of responsibility, so now I’m going to be responsible. Now Corporal, take me to the Equestrians so I can fix this mess.”

“Yes ma’am,” Shill reluctantly answered, before muttering under her breath. “If you get hurt, he’s going to kill me…”

Overhearing it, Reflection didn’t change her mind or reply. Instead, she buzzed her wings and prepared to take off.

That was, before a hoof placed itself on her back. Turning her head, she stared at Captain Strategy.

“You’re not stopping me,” she said evenly. “I know that you know that this needs to be done.”

“I do,” Strategy nodded. “Which is why I’m going with you. It’s my duty to ensure that you don’t get all of the blame when you return.”

Both glanced back at the same time, just able to catch sight of Nigel punching a potted plant on a porch.

“He’s going to be so mad,” Shill muttered, shuddering as she too witnessed the enraged human.

“Let him be mad,” Reflection scoffed while starting to trot. “At least someone will have have gotten some progress done while he sulks.”

“There you go, that should be fine in a few days.”

“Thank you Princess, the stinging isn’t even there anymore.”

Celestia smiled down as the young pegasi guardstallion bowed his head and limped away, the deep cut on his right shoulder now reduced to a faint thin line thanks to her magical efforts. The smile faded when she looked up and saw the mass of guards being treated by the horde of unicorn army medics, the wound she had healed hardly a rarity.

The wounds were easy to fix, but what was proving more challenging was the issue of moral. Soldiers around her were moping while they rested on the grassy fields in the large encampment, no trace of any positivity to be found. From what she had heard from those she had healed, the Crystal Empire attack had been calculated, relentless, and devastating. Almost an entire town burnt down was unheard of since a particularly bad dragon attack sixty years ago, and it highlighted the dangerous lengths that the Empire was willing to go to.

‘Where is he?’ she wondered, looking out towards the direction of the captured town. It was easily identifiable in the distance, a thick blanket of smoke still drifting over it. ‘Surely he isn’t as short-sighted as to decline a chance for negotiation?’ Celestia didn’t even entertain the thought that her messenger had neglected to deliver the request. After all, the changeling had seemed somewhat eager for a chance for the war to end.

Steps approaching her dragged her attention away from the smoldering town, Levigust walking up while two wary solar guards escorted him.

“I’m starting to get impatient,” the griffon growled, his right talon tapping against his sword hilt. “Your messenger should have returned by now with an answer.”

“Give it some more time,” reassured Celestia with a sigh. “I can expect that the news will be… unexpected.”

“Pah! ‘Give it more time’, ‘Don’t worry, it will happen soon’, ‘We cannot rush these things’! That’s all you say, yet we have nothing to show for it. I think that bug has just gone off and ignored your pathetic message entirely!”

“Is something the matter?”

Celestia nearly smiled again when Levigust went ramrod straight, Luna emerging from behind a medical tent with a frown.

“It’s nothing, Sister. Our griffon friend here is just getting uneasy at the wait.”

“I’m not uneasy,” Levigust muttered back, although he didn’t say anything else as Luna moved to sit beside her on the grass.

‘You should be, as I am,’ she thought but didn’t say.

“It has admittedly been a while since we arrived.” Readjusting a silver shoe, Luna frowned out at the town in the distance. “They may be preparing to attack us instead of negotiating, I would not put it past them.”

Shifting on her spot, Celestia shook her head. “No, they will arrive to talk. I know the Emperor, he will see reason and know that this will only benefit his Empire. Have faith, both of you.”

Luna and Levigust both grumbled under their breaths, but there were no further complaints. The two pegasi guards accompanying Levigust also sat, eyes looking straight forwards but their forehooves rested at the ready on their spears. Returning her attention to the town, Celestia settled down to wait and hope.

Five minutes later, she straightened up when a trio of figures came into view. She frowned at the obviously non-human shapes while they advanced from the direction of the town, straining her eyes to spot any sign of the Emperor or even one of the other humans.


‘Has he not decided to show himself?’ she wondered, standing up and trotting forwards. Luna, Levigust, and the two guards followed, the rest of the army watching them carefully with weapons at the ready to assist.

Leaving the heavily-guarded edge of the makeshift camp, the trio was easier to recognise due to the closed distance. Celestia counted a completely- armoured changeling, an unarmored changeling she assumed was the messenger she’d sent, and a single crystal pony stallion in the unmistakable crystalline armour of the Crystal Guard. The three stopped short on the road, Celestia moving up and stopping a few body-lengths away.

“Greetings,” she addressed with a bow of her head. Looking back up at the lack of response, she tried a smile at the crystal pony. “Captain Strategy, it’s been a while.”

“Not long enough,” the stallion replied with an even tone, Celestia silently acknowledging that she’d trotted right into that one.

“Well, let us get right to the point then. I can see that the Emperor has declined to meet with me, I am to assume that you are here in his stead?”

There was a clank of metal when the unknown changeling stepped forwards, a steel-covered hoof reaching up to lift the helmet visor.

‘Well, this is a surprise.’

The moss-green mane just visible a the sides was a dead giveaway, Celestia growing slightly uncomfortable when she recognised the owner.

“Miss Reflection,” she greeted without dropping her smile. It was met with a glare. “I must say I’m surprised once more.”

“It’s Empress Reflection, actually,” the changeling growled.

‘A third time. My, what a day.’

Princess Celestia, I want no part of your attempts to sugarcoat things. We have your town and your soldiers. You have the Crystal Heart. Let’s work out a deal now before…” Reflection hesitated.

“Before we decide that it’s not worth it,” Strategy followed up for her, but it was too late. Celestia almost immediately clued in, the pieces coming together in her mind. Closing her eyes briefly, she took a deep breath and breathed out slowly.


Ignoring Luna, she focused back on Reflection and Strategy with her smile gone.

“He doesn’t know that you’ve come out here to speak to me, does he?”

There was silence, but it was more than enough for an answer.

“When the message arrived, he likely said something along the lines upon ‘not resting until Celestia and Luna are dead’, I suppose?”

The changeling messenger cleared her throat awkwardly and raised a hoof. “He… he also mentioned ‘burning their county to cinders’, as well.” Both Reflection and Strategy stared at her, the messenger lowering her hoof back down and going quiet.

“The point is, Nigel’s not happy at all with you, and neither am I.” Reflection grimaced. “Still, unlike him, I couldn’t care less if I never had to see you again. Let’s hear this deal that you propose, and I’ll consider it.”

Celestia relaxed, giving a nod towards the foreign ruler. At least there was someone willing to listen to reason, and to be honest she was surprised that it was Reflection of all changelings. Her actions in the past had… admittedly affected the changeling more than had been warranted.

“Very well, to start we are-“

After you show us the Crystal Heart.”

Excusing the interruption, Celestia paused before nodding again. “Very well. Levigust, would you please have your soldiers bring the Heart to us.” Anticipating resistance, she quickly followed up. “That way, we can quickly arrange your payment and you will be able to leave a rich griffon.”

An undecipherable grumble was the only reply, but the griffon turned and left with the guards warily in tow.

It was just the two of them left to face the hostile dignitaries, Celestia maintaining her smile while Luna never let up with her steely gaze.

“So…” Celestia continued while they waited, not noticing Reflection glare at the back of Levigust. “You’re an Empress now. Did you have a nice wedding?”

‘What a joke, does she honestly think I’d ever let her have peace? First she banishes me, then she screws around with my city, and then she takes my magical gem-thingy! No wonder that Sombra guy was such a dick, if he had to put up with those two.’

He was not happy one bit. Storming through the city square, he watched while the prisoners were herded into one space with their guards while the rest of the army prepared for the attack. Captured Equestrians stared as the deadly ballistae were rolled into place, artillery crews quickly loading them and preparing extra ammunition.

He stopped near a changeling officer, taking note of the golden rank markings on the armoured shoulders. “You, Lieutenant, have you seen Corporal Shill? I need information from her.”

The changeling flicked up the visor and looked at him, eyes filled with… nervousness?

“Uh, I have seen her, Emperor,” the female answered unsurely.


“I…” the soldier visually struggled to maintain her nerves. “I can’t you that. I’m sorry Emperor, but-“

“Lieutenant, do I look like I’m in the mood?” Hesitating after his interruption, she shook her head. “That’s right. Now, as I am Emperor, tell me where Shill is.” He hardened his gaze. “If you please.”

The Lieutenant raised her hoof and pointed towards the east of the town, out in the same direction that the siege weapons were aimed. Nigel looked, his face hardening when he realised what was up.

“The Empress, Shill, and the Captain went out to speak with the Equestrians,” mumbled the changeling.

Chalmers gave her a long gaze. “Did Strategy or Reflection order you to not tell me this?” The lieutenant nodded with her head bowed, Nigel’s eyes twitching while he once again gazed at the direction his three little mavericks had taken. “I see. Thank you soldier, at least you obeyed the chain of command.”

With that, he turned and began to walk away.

“Emperor?” the lieutenant spoke up, following and looking up. “If you’re going out, let me lead a guard squad with-“

“No need,” he dismissed with a wave of his hand. Patting his sheathed sword and rubbing the haft of his mace, he focused on his destination. “Secure your positions and await my further commands, I’ve got things under control.” They both passed the group of prisoners, the lieutenant beginning to back off with a nod of affirmation. “Orthodox!”

The changeling at his side and the prisoners all jumped at his harsh shout, Nigel pausing and looking towards the town’s largest tavern. There was the sound of clinking and clattering from the inside, before Orthodox stumbled out of the battered-down door with a bottle in his grasp and an irritated look on his face.

“What the fuck do you want? I’m busy.”

Chalmers ignored his drunken slur.

“Get your shit together and follow me. We have… urgent ‘negotiations’ to attend.”

“Ten-thousand, are you out of your mind!?”

“I lost a large number of my troop-“

“You attacked us, on my wedding night no less, and you expect us to pay ten-thousand gold pieces for the item that you stole!?”

Celestia pursed her lips but didn’t say anything while the ‘discussion’ continued between Levigust and Reflection. Despite facing the griffon who was twice her size, the apparent Empress of the Crystal Empire wasn’t backing down. The sight of the bared fangs caused her wing to itch, Celestia able to vouch that one should never underestimate a changeling under pressure.

“We can raise it to seven-thousand,” Captain Strategy offered from the opposite sideline, the crystal pony keeping a close eye on the four griffons guarding the lifeless Heart. Well, not entirely lifeless, as it would give a brief pulse of light every few seconds.

“Bah! This gem is the most important thing to you; if I was greedy I’d be asking for twenty-thousand!”

Sighing, Celestia adjusted her spot on the grass and idly glanced out towards the captured town, knowing that every minute spent haggling over price was a minute closer to the Emperor finding out.

“You are being greedy already, we’re being more than reasonable!”

“Sister,” Luna whispered in her ear. “How much longer will we tolerate this behavior? Let us just detain the griffons and accept the Crystal Empire’s offer for ourselves, our coffers will thank us for it.”

To be honest, she was fast reaching that same conclusion.

“Luna, it would not be wise to draw ire from both sides… yet. Give them five more minutes, if they are unable to reach an agreement then I agree that we should take action.”

“Fine, but I detest doing nothing during such an important time.”

Celestia nodded, closing her eyes briefly before opening them again.

‘Sometimes, Luna, interference can do more harm than good. The past has taught us that well.’

A brief commotion drew her attention, the two guards standing beside her shifting their grips on their spears. Immediately she focused on the haggling parties, her hopes for an easy negotiation dropping when she noticed Levigust and Reflection circling each other in the center of the road.

The four griffons guarding the Heart looked ready to abandon their treasure and pounce on the changeling hissing at their leader, Captain Strategy likewise taking up a ready stance with his armoured hoof near his sword. More worryingly was the absence of the second changeling, Celestia noticing a brief burst of black chitin before she spotted the messenger sheltering behind a rock with her horn glowing a crackling green.

The entire situation was like a powder keg with a short fuse, the only minor saving grace seeming to be that none of the conflicting parties were even paying any mind to her or her ponies.

“I request that all remain calm,” Luna spoke up, already on her hooves. Celestia noticed the faint glow of magic around her sister’s horn, and stood up slowly in preparation for violent events to be set off.

“Calm!?” Levigust had gone red, his talons digging into the dirt while his tail flicked erratically. “I’m well past calm!” He placed his weight on his forelegs, making himself seem even bigger. “I’ll squash this changeling like the bug it is, then I’ll be calm!”

“Try it!” Reflection growled, her horn glowing green while she slunk low to the ground and prepared for an attack. “You won’t last more than two seconds before I put you down for good!”

“Princess,” one of the two guards whispered to her. Out of the corner of her eye, Celestia could see a mass of solar guard carefully moving out from the camp.

“Don’t get involved,” she warned, both to the guards and Luna. She even took a step back, the guards following suit while Luna stubbornly held her ground. “If we intervene, we risk receiving both sets of ire.”

No more was said before Captain Strategy moved up next to Reflection, a sharp sword being drawn from its scabbard.

“Back off,” he warned Levigust, the Griffon still glaring off with Reflection. “You fight, you forfeit any chance of recouping your losses.”

“Stuff the money,” came the reply, all of the watching griffons but the huge one holding the gem advancing up to stand beside him. “I’ve been jerked around like a puppet on a string, so I say stuff it.” He glared at Reflection, this time with a cruel grin. “Besides, an Empress is certainly enough of a bartering tool to raise my price.”

“You better reconsider that plan.”

Levigust laughed, his talons clenching. “Really, reconsider? Pony, you are out-numbered and out-matched. Do you think a slimy changeling or a soft pony could fight us, Griffons, off?” A claw was pointed towards Celestia. “The Equestrians won’t help you either, in fact I would be almost doing them a favour!”

Celestia watched while Reflection narrowed her eyes, and so she spread her wings to cover Luna and her two guards.

“We didn’t need Equestrians to drive you from our city with your tails between your legs.”

Just like that, the fuse was lit.

Time seemed to slow as the tension that had been building up broke, Celestia watching it all while simultaneously using her wings to shift her sister and guards back.

Levigust’s coiled muscles propelled him into a pounce, the apex-predator slamming his armoured chest into Reflection and sending her crashing to the ground with surprise. Captain Strategy was almost as quick, immediately leaping in front of the downed Empress with his armoured bulk and sword in the way of any follow-up attacks. The three griffons with Levigust took flight, hovering beside him with their claws at the ready.

And, last but not least, a single steel mace flew through the air and landed in the dirt before Levigust with a smack.

The air filled with shouts and requests for orders, Equestrian guards moving up to support their princesses. Levigust and his soldiers stared at the mace that had narrowly missed him, the weapon’s ridged head buried in the ground. Their charge had been halted, briefly interrupting the fight while its presence was puzzled over.

Captain Strategy wasn’t taking his eyes off of them, the fallen Reflection trying to lift herself up off the ground with a foreleg but was evidently stunned. She fell back onto her back with a thump, but the metal that she wore was only slightly buckled from the blow.

A crackle drew Celestia’s attention, and upon turning her head towards the sound she noticed the changeling messenger with her horn ready to fire a deadly bolt of magic.
The main point of attention was the mace, however. The griffons stared at it, confusion evident all around.

“A mace?” one muttered. “Where did...?”


Everyone looked towards Strategy, the Crystal Empire Captain maintaining a determined face while he talked.

“Now you’ve gone and done it.”

“The flying feath-“

Levigust, and everyone else in the area, missed the sound of heavy footfalls before it was far too late.

Celestia’s heart nearly skipped a beat when a fully armoured and helmeted human dived through the bushes on the side of the road and spear-talked the completely unprepared Levigust to the ground. Steel collided with iron as the two combatants tumbled over in the dirt, the human winding up on top of the griffon with a fist raised in the air.

“You fucking piece of shit.”

With that, the melee once again kicked off.

A crunch was heard when armoured fist met griffon face, the attacker not even bothering with the sword at his belt.

Two griffons rushed forwards to tackle the human off of Levigust, their combined weight pushing him to the ground before they were beset upon by a flurry of punches.
The third griffon flew right for Captain Strategy, although he quickly had to dodge the green magical bolt that narrowly missed his head. The messenger that had fired the bolt ducked down behind cover, gathering energy for another shot.

Strategy prepared to meet the charge with his sword, remaining as a barrier between the oncoming griffon and the still-dazed Empress.

The forth griffon, the largest of them all, unceremoniously dropped the Crystal Heart in the dirt and bounded forwards towards the fight with a war-cry from his beak.
Lastly, a dragon-like creature in black armour stepped out from the same bush that the Emperor had dived through, lazily tossing an empty wine bottle to the ground before placing his helmet on.

“Back, now,” Celestia commanded, her guards immediately following suit. “Back up!”

Luna stayed where she was, but the guards approaching from the camp immediately obeyed her order and ceased their advance. There was confusion, but they all backed up and lowered their spear in preparation despite of it. Confident that her guards were as safe from harm as they could be, she turned to Luna while simultaneously preparing a shield spell for the four of them.


Her sister ignored her, Celestia giving up and instead casting the spell to protect herself and the two guards from any attack.

The wild melee continued, blood flying as talons punched through armour joints while metal clattered together with piercing clangs.

A gurgled death scream rose up from one of the griffons when Captain Strategy expertly dispatched his foe, the crystal pony pulling his sword from the hybrid’s neck as the griffon’s grip on his helmet slackened and then failed. The fallen fighter slumped to the ground and promptly died, Strategy not even pausing before refocusing on the main fight.

Celestia noted the stallion’s complete lack of emotion at having just killed another living being, apparently not even paying any mind to the thin cut on his forehead from where the griffon’s talon had weakly scratch in its death throes.

“Orthodox!” the Emperor yelled while continuing to beat Levigust senseless. “Kill them!”

One of the griffons attacking the Emperor, a talon firmly dug into an elbow joint, was shaken off and flung towards the side of the road. Fresh blood coated his talons which smeared the grass when he made to stand up, but it was the last minor victory the poor soldier would ever experience. Quick as a flash, the previously uninterested alien in black pounced, knocking the griffon soldier to the ground and wrapping an armoured tail around his neck.

“My pleasure,” the short soldier replied over the din of battle, straddling the back of the griffon as he pulled the hybrid’s upper-half towards him with his claws and tail. The Griffon’s shout of alarm was cut short and his eyes bugged out when a sickening crack made itself heard over the noise of the battle. Celestia regretted watching it all play out immediately, the unnatural way that the Griffon’s back was arched causing even her to grimace.

A second snapping sound, this time from the neck, heralded the end of the side-fight and the departure of another griffon from the mortal coil.

While the merciless killer was getting to his feet after his vile act, another cry was heard. Looking back in time to witness the Emperor snap the wing of the third griffon, Celestia watched as the unfortunate mercenary was flung off. Luckily for the merc, he landed on the opposite side of the road across from his now dead comrade and at Luna’s hooves.

Celestia’s breath hitched in her throat when the merc made to rise, fearing that he’d turn on Luna in his battle lust. Evidently her sister had the same concern, Luna’s horn flaring up with magic. The tip was touched to the back of the merc’s head and there was a short blue flash, the griffon swiftly falling back down to the ground thanks to the sleeping spell.

To be honest, it was probably a blessing and likely saved his life.

Her concerns about Luna’s safety were put on hold at the sound of a vicious war cry.

The last griffon standing, the absolute hulk of muscle and talons, had moved behind the Emperor and retrieved the mace from the ground. Currently the weapon was swinging towards the back of the Emperor’s head, the bulbous end set to smack dead-on at the back of the helmet.

Quickly sizing up the situation, it was quite dire. The Emperor was too busy wailing on Levigust to notice the on-coming danger. Captain Strategy had darted forwards with sword at the ready, but wasn’t going to make it. The changeling behind the rock was trying to line up a shot, but seemed to be wary of taking it with the high chance of blasting her own ruler. Orthodox was in the middle of going through the pockets of the griffon he had killed.

Celestia’s horn flared again, her face hardening as she prepared a stun spell that would hopefully floor the griffon long enough for the Emperor or his allies to respond. A part of her mind questioned why she was helping Chalmers, the creature that intended her and her ponies great harm, but the rest of her was resolute for one simple but important reason.

‘If he dies, any chance of resolution with the Crystal Empire will be non-existent.’

The golden bolt of magic was for naught. Just before her spell completed, there was a sharp green flash and the large griffon fell silent and stiffened. All of a sudden the battlefield was silent once more, even the Emperor having paused his assault.

The mace toppled from a twitching talon, the griffon sinking to his knees right before he keeled over onto his side with a thump. Along with the slight uprising of dirt at the impact, a small wisp of smoke wafted up into the air.

Celestia wrinkled her nose, able to smell the stench of burnt feathers… and flesh.

“A… are you alright?”

Everyone, even the Emperor paused to look towards the speaker. It was Reflection, weakly supporting herself on one foreleg while her horn smoked from the tip.

The Emperor immediately got off of his victim and hurried towards the armoured changeling, ignoring the rest of the carnage. He even passed by her and Luna without even looking at them, leaving Levigust to cough weakly while he tried to get up and pursue. Celestia took note of the numerous lines of blood leaking out from his armour, mainly centered around where griffon talons had found weak points in the joints.

“Hey,” Chalmers said with a soft tone that in no way matched his earlier disposition. “Sorry, I was preoccupied and didn’t even check on you.” He knelt down to help her to her hooves, Reflection shakily struggling to stand.

“I’m fine,” she reassured without much confidence. “I just took a bit of a hit and it rattled me.”

“I saw,” the Emperor nodded, removing Reflection’s helmet and giving her head a cautious once-over. “Although everything’s a little fuzzy after that, I must admit.” Evidently everything was in working order, and he carefully placed her helmet back on. “Are you okay to stand?”

“I should be.” Celestia saw Reflection glance at her before lowering her voice. “Please don’t be mad at Strategy or Shill, I-“

“Not an issue at the moment. I’ll sort this out then we will discuss what happened, okay?”

Reflection nodded meekly.

“Good. I have other things I need to take care of.”

Celestia froze when he turned towards her, before he strangely ignored her once more and returned back to Levigust. The battered griffon was half-way off the ground before the Emperor suddenly lashed out with a steel boot, Levigust letting out a weak groan before collapsing back down. The Emperor nudged him onto his back and then bent down, hands armoured in steel that was almost as cold as their owner’s heart quickly wrapping around the mercenary leader’s neck.

No resistance was put up save for futile thrashing, the blows bouncing off armour plate while the unrelenting grip was tightened.

She couldn’t bear to watch it, taking a step forwards and reaching out a hoof in an attempt to appeal to the Emperor.

“I wouldn’t.”

She paused and whipped her head around, the dragon-creature standing beside her while lazily picking his teeth with a griffon army knife.

“He just needs to work off some steam,” the being continued on, unperturbed while Luna and the guards hurried to prevent him from doing anything hostile. Celestia maintained her stare, while he continued to watch the brutal execution with a sick sense of normality. “You let him kill that prick, and I’ll bet my tail that he’ll be far more willing to make that deal with you.” There was a scoff. “Besides, life as a merc comes with this sort of risk. Dude was stupid enough to let Chalmers catch him after he stole his gem-thing.”

She considered her words, and realised that it was likely the truth.

“But I can’t just stand here and watch it,” she replied softly, right as Levigust let out a particularly loud choking sound.

The emotionless, blue glowing eyes focused on her.

“Then look away,” he suggested with a shrug, before returning his attention to the horrid sight.

“Sister.” Luna trotted in from her left, hissing softly. “Sister, are we to act? Sister!”

There was no response, save for a single tiny tear.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she silently apologised as the sounds began to die down. ‘But it was a choice I had to make.’

The sounds of the strangulation ceased and there was a satisfied sigh, before the clinking of armor could be heard. Celestia forced herself to look, able to see the Emperor leave the motionless body of Levigust and move over towards the gem resting on the ground. He picked it up with both hands before he returned to the awaiting Captain Strategy and the two changelings.

He passed the gem over to Strategy, the Captain adjusting it on his back, before he promptly turned and faced her with an even gaze.

“I’m bored of this,” he mentioned without any real emotion.

She returned his gaze, not willing to voice her opinion of the situation lest it set him off again.

“Then return my subjects and cease your invasion. You have your gem.” Her face hardened. “And there is no longer any need for gold.”

“I also want the town,” he countered. “No point giving it back, is there? But fair’s fair, I’m sure we can arrange a monetary sum in return.”

Celestia nodded. “Fine. Just never set hoof in my lands again.”

“I was planning the exact same thing.” He made to turn and leave. “I’ll send out some gold in the next week. I hope you enjoy it.”

And with that, he walked back to his group. The five didn’t even look back as they walked away back to the town.

Peace had been brokered, abet on yet another bloody battlefield.

Celestia, despite it all, let out a deep sigh of relief.

“Is it really over?” Luna asked, standing beside her and watching their enemies walk away. “It was that short and simple? No threats of harm?”

“I guess it is, Sister. Despite all that has happened, I guess it is.”

Both stood silently in thought while their guards looked to them for guidance, wary glances still given to the withdrawing quintuplet.

Neither was prepared for the large metal object that descended from the sky to block out the sun.

Reflection stopped and looked up as a massive shadow suddenly covered them all, the others pausing as well. Her eyes widened when she saw the large blocky…thing, that loomed over them menacingly.

It was larger than the Crystal Palace, with a huge grey body that looked like an angled rectangle. The dull grey was broken up by sections of deep blue, in addition to the large white star that seemed to be some kind of logo. Also notable was the large blue glow at the back end of the thing, the rectangular device seeming to scorch the sounding air with unimaginable heat.

“Well, well, well,” Chalmers grinned, glancing back at the frozen Equestrians behind them. “Reinforcements have arrived, it seems. Guess we won’t be needing any shoddy peace agreement anymore.”

The news that the sky monster was affiliated with them gave Reflection a means to relax, her heart rate slowing and her fear quickly turning to wondrous curiosity. “What is it?” she whispered, eyes taking in every little detail while the loud booming sound in the air drew closer.

“Military landing craft,” Nigel answered, more focused on enjoying the reaction of the Princesses rather than the ‘ship’ itself. “They’re used to deliver troops and equipment to planetary surfaces when the main starships are too large or too unsuited to land themselves.”

Almost on que, another two of the landing crafts could be seen descending from the clouds and heading towards the Crystal Empire.

“Starships?” Strategy breathed, also gazing in wonder. “Like the ones you were telling us about?”

“That’s right,” Nigel confirmed, before pointing at the Equestrians and chuckling. “Ha! Look at them stare! I can’t wait to see how badly they freak when they realise that these are just the small ones!” He continued to laugh, the craft overhead angling towards a nearby set of empty fields as it descended. Small things of bright blue lit up on its underside, and the thing seemed to slow drastically.

“Uh… Nigel?”

Reflection turned her head at Orthodox’s voice, with Strategy, Shill, and Chalmers following suit. Orthodox was backing away, his helmet hiding his expression but still she could feel that something was… off.


“That’s not a military landing craft…”

Nigel looked back at the ship with a frown, his eyes narrowing as he gave it a closer look. “The hell…?”

“Bolt!” Orthodox yelled, taking off in the opposite direction as fast as his little legs would carry him. “Space Bacon!”

‘Bacon?’ Reflection wondered, looking towards Nigel for clarification while Orthodox continued to make his escape. He seemed just as confused, his face no longer one of gloating joy.

“Why are the cops here?” he muttered to himself. “Of all places, here?”

“Cops?” Shill asked with a tilt of her head.

“The police,” clarified Nigel, all of them watching as the large craft went for the empty fields. The blue glows died out as it got close, the landing craft making a surprisingly gentle and graceful landing for its size. “But I find it hard to believe that they’ve somehow managed to find us before anyone else has.”

“I guess if they’re just your law enforcement, then they can’t really do much against Equestria then?” Strategy frowned while he spoke. “Not that they have any need to, considering we just made peace with them, Emperor.”

“You haven’t seen our cops.”

That was all the information that was provided, and any attention was quickly stolen by the loud rumbling sound.

A section at the back of the landed ship slid open upwards, a large metal ramp moving out to set down upon the grass. All of them save for Nigel drew back when, from within the unseen belly of the metal beast, twenty blue-armoured forms stormed out with black weapons at the ready. Reflection uneasily took in the badges each wore on the upper lefts of their chests, the shining gold matching the colour of their reflective faceplates. They looked more akin to a military unit than to law enforcement, but that was far from the largest surprise.

She quickly darted behind Nigel’s legs when four grey objects zoomed out from the opening of the landing craft, the long and sleek things drawing close to them. Shaped slightly like a blunted ballista bolt, they each held two fully armoured pilots and emitted a slight blue glow from their rear and undersides. Decorated with blue stripes and the same white star logo, the most bizarre decoration was the flashing red-and-blue lights on the front nose and sides.

One of the humans in the lead craft pointed out towards the distance, Reflection following it with her eyes and realising that the human was pointing at…

“The fuck has Orthodox done now to bring the cops all the way out here?” Nigel cursed, shaking his head while the four smaller vehicles zoomed off to chase down their fleeing quarry.

Descending down to the ramp to follow them came yet more armed and armoured police on foot, two more boxy vehicles with six wheels and seven more cops each, and last but not least a final tracked monster of a thing with three large barrels poking out from a separate piece on the top. All had the same colour scheme and logos as each other and the craft, even including the numerous flashing lights and wailing sirens.

All but one of the vehicles chased after Orthodox, one of the six-wheelers breaking off to head over towards them. As it came to a halt a few body lengths away, Reflection tried to spot anything besides armoured humans through the strange tinted windows. Her efforts were in vain, the four large metal doors swinging open and disgorging their occupants into the field.

Bulky black and grey weapons were raised to armoured shoulders and pointed towards them as the humans moved to surround them in a semi-circle, one even operating a larger weapon on the top of the transport.

“Whoa, easy fellas.” Nigel held his hands in front of him, palms out. “I work for the same side, no need for the guns.”

“Weapons on the ground,” was the harsh reply from one of the faceless cops in the middle. “The horses’ ones as well.”

Reflection and Shill watched while Nigel carefully and slowly removed his sword and mace to set them down gently on the ground. Strategy did the same without complaint or question, and it was only with a nudge from Shill that she remembered about her own weapon. Deciding against using her magic in front of the wary humans, Reflection clumsily removed her entire scabbard and let it fall to the grass.

The human who had spoken moved forwards and kicked the weapons away with an armoured foot, before giving them all a careful visual examination. Then, after a few moments he moved back towards the vehicle and knocked on the metal side.

“They’re all clear, sirs.”

A shiny black boot stepped out onto the grass, before the owner pulled himself out from the armoured interior and brushed himself down.

Reflection examined the new human, not protected by armour but instead wearing a fairly plain blue suit. Instead of the star icon that she assumed was a symbol for the police of Nigel’s people, this newcomer had an icon of some sort of weighing scales. Shifting an item that looked to be almost the same as Elijah’s annoying ‘electronic tablet’ to his right hand, the human ran his left through his spotless blond mane with a grin.


She glanced over at Nigel when he uttered the name like a curse, before looking back in time to see ‘Peterson’ smirk with a perfect smile.

“My, if it isn’t the much venerated Commander Chalmers, oddly enough running into me again.” Peterson took a step closer, ignoring the glances that the police shared with each other. “Armoured in archaic armour, and present once again at a scene of a major crime. I can hardly say that I’m that surprised.”

“Cut the bull,” Chalmers bit back, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “What are you doing here, and why have you felt the need to bring an entire police battalion with you?”
Another human stepped out of the police vehicle, armoured much like the others save for the four stars on his shoulders. Weaponless save for the small black object holstered at his side, the helmeted figure moved to stand beside the smiling suit.

“Well Chalmers, what sort of Litigation-Inspector would I be if I didn’t let you in on the charges? Myself and the very helpful Captain Riccardo here,” Peterson gestured to the human beside him. “Are currently pursuing three criminals who are guilty of stealing a certain item from a military base, something I’m sure you know about. Now, normally such a matter would be in the department of the military, but a certain General owed me a favour and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to aid our Empire to solve such a pressing matter.”

Nigel frowned. “I still see that your hard-on for the ISA is still as stiff as ever.”

The silent Captain standing beside Peterson let out a strange sound, suspiciously akin to a poorly-repressed snicker. The man in the suit glanced towards him, before he refocused on Nigel with a raised eye.

“Eloquent as always, but I must admit that backgrounds certainly were… a matter of concern for my colleagues and I. With the rather sordid reputation of your department, I’m sure you can understand.” Attention was finally turned away from Nigel, a look of distaste crossing Peterson’s face when he looked at the rest of them. “What is it with you and surrounding yourself with the strangest of things?”

“You’re not exactly normal yourself,” Reflection muttered before she could stop herself, a cold gaze from two blue eyes turning on her.

“Rude as well, it seems.”

Instead of replying, she glared despite the risk of danger. Peterson didn’t flinch, meeting her stare and curling the edge of his mouth at her attempt. “Cute, it thinks it’s intimidating.”

“Sir,” the human captain spoke up, before either herself or Nigel could form a rebuttal. “With all due respect, please remember that we are required to maintain diplomatic protocols when dealing with unaffiliated locals.”

Reflection gathered that it translated to ‘stop insulting them’.

Peterson glanced at the Captain for a long moment, before waving his hand and rolling his eyes. “Fine, give me a status report then.”

Captain Riccardo straightened, touching a hand to the side of his helmet.

“Suspect three is currently in the process of being subdued. He attempted to escape custody and has so far incapacitated three officers with non-lethal force, but I have been informed that his detainment is imminent.”

Almost on que, the sound of electricity zapping could be heard from the direction of Orthodox’s escape path. The Captain continued on without pause.

“Detachments Bravo and Charlie have made landfall and are preparing to arrest the remaining two suspects. Their resistance is expected to be somewhat less pronounced due to personal histories.”

“Very good,” Peterson smiled, before looking back to Nigel with his smile souring. “Fortunately for you, Chalmers, I have no legal precedence nor orders to arrest you. The ISA’s policy on unexplained absences is fairly lax from my limited understanding, so I suppose that you are safe for now.” Giving a final huff, Peterson turned back towards the police vehicle. “However, I am also not obliged to give you a ride back to civilised space so you can remain absent for all I care. Come along officers, we have prisoners to oversee.”

Just like that, the weapons were lowered and the humans began to load back up into their transport. Reflection continued to glare as Peterson stepped in, but at least the Captain gave them a shrug that came across as apologetic.

“Emperor, are all of your kind as rude as that one in the suit?” Strategy asked, the irritated crystal pony not seeming to care if he was overheard.

Unfortunately for all of them, he was overheard by the wrong human.

“Hold it!”

Peterson remerged from the car after his order, the police all looking towards him as he stared at Strategy. “You, Equine, what did you just call Chalmers?”

Captain Strategy was wise enough and clued in, the stallion keeping his mouth shut with a defiant stare. Corporal Shill, however, proved to be far rasher.

“You should have some respect,” the Corporal lectured, completely missing Chalmers shaking his head and making a ‘stop’ motion with his hands. “Emperor Chalmers has done really well by us, and just because your another human doesn’t mean that you can talk down to him like that.”

Peterson’s smile had morphed into a toothy grin worthy of the most vicious dragon, his hands rubbing together with glee. Shill quickly stopped speaking, but the damage was already done.

“Emperor?” he looked like he was struggling to hold in a bout of laughter. “Why, but that would break some very serious laws if that was true, wouldn’t it?” Peterson began to circle them, eyes never leaving Nigel. “Masquerading as a ruler over a bunch of primitives, even going so far as to bestow the title of ‘Emperor’ upon oneself, which would mean that a spot of treason has occurred I believe? A very serious and deadly charge indeed, one that I am of course obligated to rectify. Would you care to deny these allegations?”
Nigel remained silent, Peterson somehow grinning even wider.

“Just as I suspected. Officers, please arrest Mr Chalmers with all due haste.”

Two of the armoured police moved towards Nigel, one of them unclipping two grey cylinders from his armour.

“Now come on,” Nigel finally protested, taking a step forwards. A finger was pointed towards the smirking Peterson. “You’re going to listen to this Twat pencil-pusher?”

“That’s resisting arrest,” Peterson tutted before waving his hand. “You better stun him to ensure compliance.”

“Sorry sir,” one of the officers apologised to Nigel, right before he raised his weapon up and shot him in the face.


Reflection darted forwards while he fell forwards, her hooves straining to roll him over onto his back. With a heavy heart she stared at his face, a single scorch mark left in the middle of his forehead. He didn’t look injured, but when she desperately tried to open his eyes she was met with no response.

“What did you do!?” she yelled, whipping her head around to glare at Peterson while she cradled Chalmers’ head In her forelegs. “He’s not moving!”

“He’s just stunned,” came the irritated sigh in response. “Although I must admit that your reaction raises some strange questions and-“

“Just shut up!” she yelled, pointing a hoof at him. “He didn’t do anything wrong!”

“He broke the law,” Peterson shrugged. “Such is life. You shouldn’t be too concerned, scum like ISA agents deserve anything they get. He’s lucky the officers here are intimidated so, otherwise I would have ordered them to just shoot to kill and have been done with it.”

As he was speaking, the officer with the suspected hand-cuffs and the one who had stunned Nigel got closer, Reflection lunging forwards to shield the fallen Emperor with her armoured form. “Leave him alone!”

“I’m sorry, we have orders,” the human with the handcuffs apologised with a female voice. “He won’t be harmed and will get a fair trial.”

Even though the information sounded genuine, Reflection still shook her head. “I can’t let you take him.” Sniffling, she gathered her will and stood up, turning towards the approaching officers and baring her fangs at them. “If you want to get to him, you’re going to have to go through me first!” She hissed for good measure, but all it did was prompt an unperturbed shrug from Peterson.

“That’s fine by me. Officers, that is a count of obstruction of justice and a count of threatening violence against an Official of the Law. Arrest her as well, with a good stunning to ensure compliance.”

Reflection watched the officer with the weapon hesitate before raising it to point at her, the smaller barrel underneath glowing a bright blue. First glancing at Nigel, she quickly looked back towards Strategy and Shill.

The Captain, Crystal heart still on his back, looked more depressed than she had ever seen him. Shill was likewise, but had more fear in her eyes while she stepped back. Strategy looked up and met her gaze, the Captain’s look saying more than enough.

‘You and Sparkling will do fine,’ Reflection thought, right before there was a sharp jolt in the side of her head.

The last thing she felt was that she was falling down in a heap beside Nigel, and her eyes closed right before she hit the grass.

Strategy stood and stared at his two fallen rulers, his mind racing up to comprehend what had just happened.

‘Nigel’s friends did something illegal according to their Empire. Not entirely unexpected. Said Empire sends out their police force, led by someone with a dislike of Nigel, to arrest them. Very unexpected. Reflection decides to get arrested as well, leaving me holding the Crystal Heart and likely in charge of the Empire. Downright insane.’

Still, as he watched the armoured humans place the strange cuffs on both Nigel and Reflection, he knew that there was really one course of action.

Attempting a rescue would be like poking a dragon while armed with a pin, and would once again place the Heart at risk. Bargaining or pleading for the pair’s release was certainly out of the question, as the creature in charge was very resolute in his arrogance.

“All right people!” the one named ‘Peterson’ shouted out while re-entering the armoured cart that the humans had arrived in. “Bring everyone in and return to the ship, we’ve got a trial to run!”

All of the officers mounted back up, final glances the only attention paid before the wheels on the vehicle came to life and propelled it away. It turned to head back to what Chalmers had called a ‘Landing Craft’, evidently everyone deciding that he and Shill were unimportant.

“Captain?” the Corporal spoke up with a whisper. “What just happened?”

Strategy adjusted the Crystal Heart on his back, turning around to continue back on to the town.

“Come on Corporal, there’s nothing we can do save for getting the Heart back to the city.”

With that, he started the slow trot back to the town, Shill only pausing to pick up the dropped weapons with her magic before following.

‘Ah, I love my job.’

Peterson sighed happily once his two prisoners were secure in the containment boot, the rest of the cops soon piled into the transport with him before the doors were shut. Then they were off, the heavy wheels tearing up the grass while they made their way back towards the landing craft.

“Sir, ahead of us.”

He frowned when he felt the car slow, and he sat up in his seat and peered past the two officers in the front cab.

Two horned and winged horses, one white and one blue, were standing in their path. The white one was waving a forehoof, and Peterson noted that she had a fair amount of golden jewelry on her.

“Great,” he muttered. “More horses, just what we need. Driver, pull up beside them.”

The officer to his left wound down the window, the white horse poking her head inside cautiously before looking around. The blue one stayed well away from the car, eyes narrowed with a suspicious stare levelled at them.

“Yes?” He made no attempt to hide the irritation in his tone, the equine looking at him before attempting a smile.

“Hello,” she greeted. “I am Princess Celestia of Equestria, and this is my sister, Princess Luna.” A nod was given towards the blue horse. “I’m terribly sorry for interrupting your journey, but I would be very grateful f you could, well, explain just what exactly is going on?”

Peterson leveled a cold, hard stare right at her, before he scoffed.

“I’m sorry, but I am unable to discuss official police business with civilians. Good day.”



The Princess quickly withdrew her neck as the car shot forwards once more, lucky enough to not have her sparkling mane catch and drag her along with it. Turning, Peterson looked out of the back through the gap between another pair of officers.

The two apparent Princesses were left standing shocked on the road, coughing as they tried to shake off the large amount of dirt that had been thrown up onto them.

‘Yep,’ Peterson thought happily, once more re-facing the front and relaxing. ‘Love. My. Job.’

“Alright, alright. Keep calm officers, I’m willing to go without trouble, but first I just need to have a final word with this city’s administrator.”

“Make it quick, any escape attempts and it will be added to the charges.”

Sparkling Scroll stood firm and tried to keep her cool while James walked up to her. Standing behind the agent with weapons at the ready were ten blue-armoured and very scary humans. Twenty more were arrayed around the throne room, weapons trained on the small number of unfortunate staff that had been present upon their arrival.

When the large thing of metal and fire had flown over to land in the square, she had at first been excited to witness it from the palace balcony. When Agent James had reassured the guards and informed them that the ‘landing craft’ was friendly, she had felt hope that additional aid had arrived to help retrieve the missing Crystal heart.
Unfortunately, despite the passive welcome they had received, the new humans had only one goal in mind when they had rushed out of their ship and into the palace:
The detainment of Agent James.

Having burst in with shouts and bellowed orders, no resistance had met them. Agent James had walked in from the upstairs stairway with his armour and equipment ready, the mass of soldiers immediately focusing on him.

Now, she was at a complete loss as to what to do, her position not having nearly prepared her for such an event.

“Miss Sparkling,” James’ voice focused her, Sparkling nodding quickly with a hurried glance to the observing aliens. “Please do not be afraid, no harm will come to you or to the city. These Gentlemen and Ladies of the law are here because of a certain violation of protocol that my companions and I committed to reach your planet. They will take me away, but I am more than confident with leaving the city in your capable hands. Or rather hooves.” He reached out his armoured hand, Sparkling hesitating before reaching out her own hoof.

Standing up after shaking it and releasing, James nodded. “It’s been a pleasure, I wish you well for the future.” With that, he turned back to the other humans and held out his arms behind his back. “Officers, that is all.”

Immediately he was surrounded, grey objects going over his armoured arms while his helmet was removed and a glowing blue collar was snapped tight around his neck.

“Is that really needed?”

“Regulations sir, given your-“

“Yes, yes,” James sighed. “I understand. Now if that is all, let’s make all haste towards our craft. We might as well get this out of the way as quickly as possible.”

With that, he was promptly escorted out of the room and into the main hall, all of the armoured humans moving to follow.

Sparkling watched them take James away, her heart pounding at the thought of how the Emperor would react upon his return to the city.

‘What could I have done?’ she silently tried to reason, right before a mass of citizens flooded into the throne room with hundreds of fearful questions that she had no hope of being able to answer.

“No, no, no, it’s not Necromancy, it’s Necrotech, two completely different things.” Elijah sighed, twirling a finger in the air while he tried to think of a way to explain it to the Queen in terms she’d understand. Enjoying their daily tea and ‘being-good-reminder’ meeting, the topic of conversation had quickly turned to the magical arts.

“Okay, it’s like this,” he continued, Chrysalis remaining quiet and sipping her tea. “Necromancy is like an orange sponge-cake, and Necrotech is like a soufflé. Both are food but…”

He paused, turning his head around and looking up at the roof of the tent. “Say, do you hear that?”

Chrysalis carefully set down her tea cup. “Hear what?”

“That rumbling.” Waiting a few seconds, he held a pointer finger straight up in the air. “Hmm, yes. Resnar Corperation engines, four class sevens, arrayed in a horizontal configuration at the rear. Going off that, it’s likely an armoured landing craft of a small-to-medium size.”

“What?” Chrysalis asked, frowning at him. “What are you babbling about?”

He fixed her with tired look, shaking the finger from side to side. “Tut, none of those words, we talked about this.” She sank back down in her chair with a barely-audible apology. Elijah sighed, he regretted that his time to help her was already over. Standing up, he walked over to her and gave her a pat on the head. “However, you have definably improved I must admit. As of such, I must ask a favor of you.”

Before she could even lift her confused gaze to look at him, he was already whirling into action and rushing around the large tent.

Electronic tablets were stuffed into hidden compartments in his armour along with scrawled notes on parchment. Anything that he couldn’t fit into compartments went into a large cloth bag that he had loaned from the Crystal Empire soldiers, the notes soon joined by numerous shiny rocks that had been found in the mines, and one very important medical cooler-box.

“What favor?” Chrysalis inquired, her voice heavily laden with suspicion. “Are you… leaving?”

Elijah ignored the trace of hope in her tone, instead occupied with shoving the cooler into his bag. The muffled thumps and yells from within were paid no mind, and it was soon quickly inside.

All the while, the slight rumble had turned into a loud booming.

“And just what is that infuriating noise!?”

“I have some… acquaintances that are here to give me a lift back to familiar space so I may square away some unfinished business.” The sounds started to die down, the ground beneath the tent shuddering slightly. “Given a strict timeframe I cannot carry everything I have collected from this world, so I must politely ask of you to just watch over it until I return.”

With that, and fully-loaded bags underneath his arms, Elijah strolled out of the tent and into the morning sunlight.

Just in time for a changeling to smack right into his legs.

Looking down, Elijah smiled warmly when he recognised Enigma, the Lieutenant rubbing the scar on his snout before glancing up.

“Sir,” the changeling panted, glancing at Chrysalis while she trotted out behind him. “A large metal… thing has landed down near the mine entrance. It flew down from the sky on blue fire! What do we do? I have the soldiers moving to surround it-“

“Not needed,” Elijah dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Do not worry, Lieutenant, they’re just here to pick me up for a short trip back home.”

He resumed his walking, already able to spot the large grey-and-blue landing craft settled down next to the mine entrance.

‘Police?’ he thought to himself, the two changelings following behind him. ‘Not military, but civilian? My, what an unlikely turn of events this.’

He quickened his pace upon seeing the crowd of inquisitive changelings that was starting to gather around, the UIP police force not known for its patience.

He managed to reach the ship just in time to witness three police tanks power down the ramp with their turrets at the ready. They were followed by squads of fully armed and armoured officers, the changelings instantly finding themselves looking down the barrels of many guns.

Acting fast, he broke into an awkward run and made a bee-line for the ramp.

“I’m here, I’m here!”

Immediately all attention turned to him, multiple tank barrels and energy rifles drawing a bead.

‘It’s almost as if they are somewhat intimidated,’ he thought without his smile dropping, Elijah walking up the ramp with no-one moving to stop him. He made a bee-line towards the highest ranked officer based on the armour rankings, police surrounding him with wary looks towards their superior.

“Lead Researcher,” the head officer began with a surprisingly mellow female voice. “You are under-“

“Shh! I know, I know, keep it down!” he hissed, moving forwards and placing his bags on the metal floor. “Listen, I’m quite willing to go with you fine officers, I just need you to do me a nice favor and just make it look like I’m not being dragged off by my own people.” He moved beside her and pointed back out at the very nervous Chrysalis who was standing some ways from the bottom of the ramp. “Et nay, convincing Changeling Queen-ay, keep in lin-ay. Okay?”

All he got was a silent stare from the reflective visor, Elijah sighing and smacking his own forehead. “I need ten seconds.”

He took a few steps back from where he had come, standing at the edge and raising his hands towards the whispering crowd.

“My apology to all of you, but urgent business calls me away back in my Empire. However, I doubt that you need me much as you’ve all gotten quite settled and are in the very capable hooves of steadfast Lieutenant Enigma and the beautiful Queen Chrysalis. Upon my return, I theorise that you will have all transformed this camp into a thriving town. My best wishes go to all of you.”

He looked out for what was likely to be the final time, and noticed Lieutenant Enigma glancing uneasily at the Queen.

‘Ah, might have to do something about that.’

“Oh, and in addition,” he continued, two officers moving up in preparation to pull him away. “If I hear of any unrest, I shall devour the guilty parties’ souls with the upmost gusto upon my return.”

All whispering suddenly died out, a thousand pairs of terrified eyes staring at him. Elijah ensured to make eye-contact with the suddenly pale Chrysalis before saying his final words.

“Ha, of course I merely jest! Until next time, friends!”

He stepped back out of sight just as the ramp began to close and the two officers grabbed his arms.

“See?” He shrugged, the entire force of nervous cops keeping their gazes on him. “It’s all in the humor.”

There was a slight bump and a clinking sound, the movement encouraging a certain changeling to shift on her spot.

“Ngh,” Reflection grunted, trying to get more comfortable. Unfortunately, it felt like she was sitting upright on a surface that was hard and cold. Slowly beginning to wake, she tried to raise a hoof up to rub her throbbing head. When it refused to move she opened her eyes despite the harsh light and looked down.

Her armour was gone, two long cylinders made of white metal were around her forelegs and hind legs, and the air tasted really strange. A grey metal slab jutting out from the wall served as a, very uncomfortable, seat. Her head still throbbed, Reflection glancing up at a bright light of some kind before wincing and immediately staring back down at her own legs.

“Good afternoon.”


“Ah,” Nigel continued from her left, Reflection still not willing to fully open her eyes and look around. “Don’t worry too much, it’s pretty bad the first time.”

She grimaced, his bright tone not helping things.

‘Why does he get to be all happy?’

“Doesn’t seem to have much effect on you,” Reflection mumbled, only to be met with a chuckle.

“It’s far from my first time getting hit with a stun, even at that close a range.” He paused, before she could hear him moving on the bench they shared. “The headache should be gone in a few minutes, I’ve been assured that they only used a light blast on you.”

“It felt far from light.” With the mutter, Reflection raised her head and blinked rapidly. Things started to focus, and after a few moments she was able to look across at him.
Nigel met her gaze with a slight smile, and to be honest his lack of concern was very out of place.

“What do you mean ‘they reassured’ you? I thought they were arresting you?”

“They have,” Nigel nodded, before gesturing to the wall opposite them. Reflection followed it and noticed the three police officers sitting across from them, the faceless visors looking right at them while weapons were kept ready to be used in a moment’s notice. “However, since I am of an upper-middle rank in a fairly notorious department, the kind officers are quite happy to afford me some small favors. For instance, we get to share a cell instead of being stuck in a separate one like the other guys.”

Taking the time to actually examine the surroundings, Reflection realised that they were far from familiar territory.

Everything was a dull, metallic grey. They were inside a fairly small area that was roughly the size of the throne room minus the tall ceiling. On closer inspection it seemed like a dungeon of sorts, ten ‘cells’ taking up the entire room save for a walkway leading to the door that she could see through the five empty cubes to her left.

The cells themselves had no stone walls or iron bars, but a see-through material that looked like a hard, white glass. Instead of the bars, a thin blue barrier was in place at the end of each cube, Reflection assuming it was some kind of magical shield. The three armoured humans were sitting opposite them on another bench outside, all of them keeping an eye on both her and Nigel.

Looking to the cells opposite her on the right, she spotted James and Elijah each occupying one with their own assigned guards. Both of the familiar humans were out of their respective armour but appeared to be relaxed, Elijah even flicking through a vast pile of parchment while James relaxed on his cell’s simple cot.

However, there was still one missing…

“Mphmph! Mumphumph!”

Taking a closer look at the cell next to them on the left, Reflection’s eyes widened when she noticed its lone occupant.

Orthodox was naked (Reflection actually glad that he had his much boasted ‘internal genitalia’) and firmly secured to the solid grey wall by solid metal clamps. The same kind of strange hoof-cuffs that she had were doubled on the lizard-alien, and most strange of all was the white-metal muzzle that secured his jaws shut. The tail was secured with wall-clamps as well, and she had to admit that they had taken no chances with restraining him.

Judging by the way Orthodox’s bloodshot eyes glared angrily at the surrounding police officers in the room, he did not appreciate the efforts.

‘Well, at least that’s one positive thing about this,’ she thought to herself, before she looked back towards Nigel and lowered her voice.

“How bad is it? I heard that guy in the suit mention treason.”

Nigel frowned, letting out a sigh. “Honestly, I’m not that worried about any punishment. I’m more concerned about my boss, the Assistant Director will hand me my arse since I’ve missed a few months of work.” He paused for a few moments, before turning his head towards her. “What about you? They still haven’t told me exactly what it was that you got arrested for.” He frowned. “Please tell me you didn’t bite someone again.”

“I didn’t bite anyone, I refused to let them take you away and so they claimed that I was impeding your arrest.” Taking a second to fix the guards watching them with a stare, Reflection looked down at her dangling legs and softened her gaze. “I’d always hoped that you’d be able to take me with you when you had to leave, but now it’s hardly as amazing as I’d thought.”

Nigel didn’t say anything at first, so she glanced up towards him with hope for some form of reply. He seemed to be considering something, before a smile crossed his face and he looked out towards the officers watching them.

“Hey, Gents,” he called out, gaining their attention. “Could you do me a solid?”

There was no reply, just faceless stares.

“All I want is a small thing,” he continued. “Do you mind lowering the viewport shield and allowing the lady to move for a few seconds?”

“We can’t do that sir,” the middle guard answered, with the other two giving slight nods. “It’s in the regulations.”

“Sure you can,” Nigel pressured. “Look, I’m hardly going to pull any tricks while I’m still cuffed.”

“The answer is, respectively, no.”

“Excuse me, Officers,” Elijah suddenly spoke up from his cell. Reflection watched while the scientist stood up and moved towards his cell ‘door’. Curiously, she noted that he was still wearing his lab coat and wore no restraints at all. Also of note was the way that every single police officer in the area, without fail, appeared to nearly jump out of their armour at his entrance into the conversation. “I believe that the Commander merely wishes to allow Miss Reflection a view which her species has never seen nor guessed at.”

The officer who had denied Nigel’s request glanced towards his fellows for guidance.

“I do seem to recall your Captain mentioning that I was to be kept, what were her words, ‘placated and cooperative’? Given that, I’m sure she’d understand you lowering the outer plate of a single and unescapable window?”

There was another moment of decision making, before a sigh of defeat could be heard even from within the Officer’s enclosed helmet. Watching him briefly raise his hand to his helmet and go still for a few seconds, Reflection jolted with surprise when the cuffs holding her in place suddenly deactivated and allowed her to move.

“You’ve got ten seconds,” the cop informed, Reflection glancing up at Nigel for direction.

“Lap,” he directed, Reflection scrambling up and getting comfortable. With a relieved smile, she put her forelegs around his neck and hugged him with a nuzzle. “Ah, Reflection, that’s a bad-“



She jolted when her hind legs and forelegs were once again locked together again, Reflection wincing when she realised what she had just down.

“Oh, sorry Nigel.”

He grumbled, before his head popped out to the side of hers and he looked at the three police officers. “Hey, any chance-?”

“We gave you t-ten seconds!” The human’s attempt to stifle his laughter was for naught. “Guess you’ll just have to manage like that, it’s only another few minutes until we reach the frigate.”

She heard Chalmers sigh, before he glanced over at Elijah and James.

“Don’t look at us,” James returned with a smirk.

“Indeed, such a circumstance is admittedly rather amusing.”

“Such great help,” Nigel muttered while almost everyone in the area chuckled at his misfortune.

Reflection however had ceased to pay attention, her eyes widening as she noticed the movement behind Nigel’s head.

Part of the wall was sliding down, slowly revealing a see-through section and the majestic wonder that lay beyond. “Woah…”

There were stars, thousands of them, all speckled in the blackness of space. It was vastly different from staring up at the night sky, Reflection’s breath hitching in her throat while she comprehended that fact that she was currently traveling through a vast void that far outshone the worst that the Badlands had to offer. There was nothing but stars for as far as her eyes could see, that was until she caught sight of something from the far right corner.

Turning to look, she froze at the splash of green, blue, and yellow. It was almost like looking at part of a map, most of Equestria and some of the badlands visible from where they were.

‘I can even see the night and day,’ she thought with surprise, the separation clearly evident with half of the planet under the cover of night. ‘I thought the Equestrian Princesses controlled that stuff?’

“Enjoy the view while you can.” Glancing down, she tilted her head at Nigel. “For the next few weeks, it’ll be nothing but a windowless containment cell deep in the bowels of a police frigate.”

Glancing back at the planet that was growing increasingly distant, she thought for a few moments.

“Will we be sharing a cell again?”

“Most likely,” he sighed.

He had no way of catching the smile that grew on her face. Shifting to get more comfortable, a fairly restrained task due to her cuffs, Reflection settled down and rested her head on the top of his head.

“Look on the bright side,” she mumbled while continuing to look out at the wonders of space. “We may be stuck in a cell, destined to face your peoples’ courts, and possibly facing even more punishment in the future, but…”

Reflection sighed happily, relaxed despite the situation.

“At least we’ll finally have some time to ourselves.”

“Of course you’d think about that,” he grumbled, before sighing himself. “Still, I imagine that this whole thing has left the city in quite a panic.”

“They’ll be fine,” reassured Reflection with a nod. “Strategy and Sparkling will get things under control. All we need to worry about now is us.” To finish, she resumed nuzzling the top of his head as further reassurance, only pausing when muffled speech interrupted.

“Mpph! Muph murpphuph!”

Looking back up, she met the irritated gaze of Orthodox. Smiling at the restrained alien, she stuck her tongue out at him before settling back down amid his continuing (and thankfully muffled) expletives.

‘Not even you can ruin this now,’ she thought, right as her view of the stars outside was quickly blotted by a huge tunnel of cold grey metal.

Author's Note:

Just a heads up in case people miss the other notifications (because apparently that's a thing) that there are two more chapters released straight after this one.

So... this chapter happened.

That's pretty much it.

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