• Published 10th Jun 2014
  • 20,187 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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Romans, It's Always Romans

“Heads up, there’s something moving out to the left.”

Corporal Shift looked to where her sergeant had indicated, her helmet’s clear visor remaining frost-free thanks to the numerous enchantments on her heavy suit. Her fellow ten guards peered forward, the mix of changelings and ponies preparing their halberds and crossbows. The Sergeant, a dour crystal pony named Quartz, gestured her forwards with a wave of his grey foreleg. She followed the order, trudging through the snow to stand at his side.

“See there?” he told her, Shift leaning forwards. Through the light snowfall she could see a mass of black objects heading towards them, the shapes roughly the size of a changeling.

“There’s hundreds,” she observed, most of the incoming things in small groups traveling in a huge line. She turned to Quartz, tilting her head. “Your orders?”

“We need to get closer,” he advised, waving the rest of the squad forward. “I need you to be ready, however; if things go bad and they turn out to be hostile then we’ll be hard pressed to fight them off.”

“Understood, sir,” she acknowledged before locking her large shield into place. Quartz nodded and advanced with the others, Shift following them as fast as she could. They angled their approached so that they were coming in from the left, and when they drew into visual range she blinked her eyes in disbelief.

They were changelings, and there were hundreds of them. Her fellows were equally shocked, even Sergeant Quartz pausing when he saw what faced them. Granted, the fact that they were faced with almost the same amount of changelings as the current population of the entire Crystal Empire was staggering.

“What do we do?” Corporal Meta whispered, the changeling soldier shifting in his plate armour.

“Meta, head back and alert the Captain and the Emperor, and fetch Advisor Reflection as well.”

“Yes Sarge,” and with that Meta was galloping off back towards the dome that protected the city.

“The rest of you, support me while I try to see what’s going on.”

“Do you think they’re just here to join the city?” a pony stallion asked when they started to move again.

“I hope so,” Quartz answered. “However, we can never be to careful. Shift, if things get heated then I want you to act as a warning.”

Shift hesitated before nodding in understanding. While the thought of fighting her own was unpleasant, she reminded herself that a violent confrontation was very unlikely. After all, everyone knew that the Crystal Empire welcomed changelings readily.

She was broken from her thoughts when the buzzing of wings filled the air. Looking up, a mass of changelings were swarming towards their squad. She braced her armoured hooves in the snow when she recognised the blue chitin armour that marked them as soldiers, her horn lighting up while she peered out through her shield. Her fellows did the same with their own horns or weapons, Halberd points pointing out towards the oncoming foes.

Sergeant Quartz stood beside her and watched while the twenty changeling soldiers flew around them in a circle. Shift started to power her horn, the narrowed eyes and scowls of the other changelings a fairly good clue that they weren’t exactly friendly. She felt power course through her as the crystals in her armour did their work, and she prepared to defend herself.

“You are trespassing on the lands of the Crystal Empire!” Sergeant Quartz announced. “If you come in peace then stand down and keep your distance!”

The changelings didn’t listen, and they drew closer with their horns glowing green.

“Shift,” Quartz ordered. “Warning shots.”

She responded immediately, her horn letting lose with a barrage of magical bolts. They shot through the air, passing over the heads of the flying soldiers in front of them. The changelings scattered in the face of the barrage, diving to the ground to evade the attack. She lowered her aim, preparing to fire another salvo while magic continued to course through her.

“Halt!” a voice from behind the changelings called out, and the soldiers still flying stopped and landed.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Quartz mumbled, his sword still at the ready. Shift nodded and watched as another changeling soldier advanced through the snow. This one’s armour was shiny and tinged with gold at the tips, and he possessed an aura of command. Remembering seeing soldiers around the hive like that when she was just a drone, she realised that she was looking at a high up officer. The officer looked down at them, his blue eyes gazing upon them all.

“Changelings with ponies?” he questioned with a tilt of his head. “Is the rumor true?”

Shift realised what he much have been referring to, Quartz catching onto the same thing. “You are referring to the rumor that the Crystal Empire includes changelings?”

“I am,” the changeling officer answered, before stepping forwards. Shift kept her aim on him, and it wasn’t long until he was barely three body lengths away from them. He glanced towards her, Quartz remaining still like the rest of their squad. “Your weapons and armour are impressive,” he complemented, before looking towards the soldiers watching him from the sides. “I apologise for the less than friendly response, but we can’t be too careful.”

“I can understand that, and you can see that we think the same,” Quartz replied, before peering behind the officer. Shift followed his gaze, spotting the mass of changelings watching them. She spotted normal drones interspersed with yet more soldiers, but what was shared was the lean frames and worried looks. “You all seem to be hungry, are you here to join the Empire?”

“No,” the officer answered, his mouth twitching. “I'm still loyal to my Queen.”

‘What?’ Shift wondered. ‘Chrysalis… is still alive?’

“I hope that wasn’t a jab towards my soldiers,” Quartz stated, his eyes narrowing.

“Of course not, I’m just not willing to swear allegiance to anyone but my Queen.”

He appeared truthful to her, and she could understand his reasoning. Still, if the new were still loyal to Chrysalis, then how would they be able to integrate with the empire? She knew that Lady Reflection was not a fan of Chrysalis, and how Emperor Chalmers would react was a mystery.

“That is… something that we will have to work around,” Quartz informed the officer before gesturing back towards the city. “However, I can see that you all are in need of food. If you agree to cooperate for now, we’ll let you move inside the barrier and feed. The Emperor will have to talk to you after though, he’ll have the final say on whether you’ll be allowed to stay.”

The changeling officer thought for a few moments before nodding his head. “That will work.”

“Good, I’m Sergeant Quartz.”

“Commander Clicks.”

‘This will be interesting,’ Shift thought to herself, wondering how the fact that the officer shared the same rank as the Emperor would change things. Such questions were for a later time however, Quartz pausing before turning around back to the city.

“Okay then, Commander. Lead your people behind us and stay in a group, the Empire is not very keen on unexpected visitors at the moment.”

“We’ll follow your lead.”

“Very well.”

With that, Shift turned with her Sergeant, and their small squad began to lead the newcomers back to the city. Hopefully, there would be no more tense confrontations between them all.

Captain Strategy knocked lightly on the door to the Emperor’s bedroom, two guards waiting behind him. He received no answer, and due to the circumstances he opened it anyway. Trotting in, he let out a small sight before moving towards the bed.

The Emperor was lying on his back, fast asleep with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Lady Reflection’s front half was resting on his chest, the changeling’s back legs twitching every now and then while she slumbered. Disappointed that he had to disturb the two, he stopped within a meter and cleared his throat.

“Emperor, Lady Reflection.”

The first to awake was Reflection, her light snores cutting off before she groaned and looked towards him. Her lidded eyes widened when she realised who he was, and she quickly sat up on the bed.

However, that also had the result of waking the Emperor in a sudden manner.

“The Hun!” Chalmers shouted, bolting up as soon as Reflection moved. Strategy backpedaled at the yell, Reflection falling off the bed in surprise and landing on her side with a thump. The Emperor paused and looked towards him, before pointing a finger. “Wait… you’re not Attila.”

Strategy dismissed the behaviour as a result of the recent head injury, and instead returned to the task at hoof. “No Emperor, but we do have another problem that needs your attention,” he started, before glancing down at the recovering Reflection. “More changelings have arrived in the city.”

“Great news,” Chalmers replied.

“Maybe not, at our last count there were six-hundred and sixty-three of them.”

The Emperor continued to smile. “Even better, more workers for the walls and smithy.”

“Well Emperor,” Strategy dreaded this last part. “They might not feel the same way. They have their Queen and are hesitant to become a part of-“

“Queen!?” Reflection rose to her hooves, her expression a mix of shock and worry. “Chrysalis is alive!?”

“As far as we know,” Strategy informed with a wince. “We weren’t able to get a good look, but it appears as if she is injured and unresponsive.” He watched while Reflection turned to Nigel, the changeling’s eyes narrowed.

“Nigel, you can’t let her stay,” she told him, Nigel cocking an eyebrow. “She’s a terrible leader, and she’ll ruin everything!”

“Now hold on,” the Emperor told her. “We still don’t know what’s going on yet, how about we go down and see what’s going on before we start banishing people?”

“You can’t, the doctor said you needed rest.”

“And rest is what I’ve had,” Nigel reassured, before he swung his legs over the side and stood up. Strategy let them sort it out amongst each other, he was wise enough to not interfere.

“You haven’t had enough, I’ll sort this out.”

“Reflection, I appreciate the offer, but I’m not confident that you won’t go and start a fight with this Queen.” Nigel brushed his clothes down before patting his scowling changeling on the head. “Relax, if it means anything I’ll let you do most of the talking as a compromise.”


“Yep,” Chalmers replied, Reflection dropping her frown to trot belong side him. Strategy waited for the pair to leave the room before he followed, the two guards also falling into line. “Just don’t go and insult the Queen.”

“I’ll try,” Reflection huffed. “I warn you, Chrysalis was never easy to get along with. She’ll likely try to take over the city if we help her.”

“But don’t you want to help your fellows?”

Strategy continued to listen as he trotted behind, Reflection pausing before continuing. “I do, but you don’t seem to understand the danger. She won’t accept you as an equal or anything like that, she’s convinced that she’s the most important being in the world. If we let her stay, then she’ll ruin everything.”

A hand came down to rub her on the head, the Emperor chuckling with a smile on his face. “Reflection, you think everyone is out to ruin everything,” he told her. “Relax, I’ll fetch Elijah and James, then we’ll work something out with this queen. See, we hold all the cards in this deck. They need food and likely protection, and we can provide that. Everything will work out for the best. Isn’t that right, Strategy?”

He jolted, not expecting to be questioned during the two’s conversation. “We are prepared for any violence, I’ve already placed the guard on high alert.”

The group continued down the corridor, heading towards the room that Strategy knew housed the captured Equestrian princess. Two guards outside the door looked towards them while they drew closer.

“I hope we won’t need it,” Reflection turned her head to tell him. “Do you think-?”

“I trust in you and the Emperor,” Strategy reassured, not even stopping to consider his words. Any response was cut off when they reached the door, the two guards nodding towards them.

“Emperor, Captain, Lady,” they greeted while shifting their halberds and saluting.

“Soldiers,” Nigel returned, before glancing at the door. “I take it that Lead Researcher Elijah is inside?”

“He is,” the mare answered, giving them all a sheepish look. “I feel like I should warn you, he seems to be rather…”


“Yes sir,” the guardmare answered quietly.

“That is not unusual,” Chalmers informed, patting the soldier on her helmet. “He’s… special in a few ways.”

“More like insane,” Strategy heard Reflection mutter.

“Reflection, stay nice,” the Emperor advised with a flick of her ear. He turned back to the guardmare. “Well then soldier, touchy or not, I require his assistance for a certain matter. Could you please inform him as such?”

“Certainly,” the guard replied, before opening the door and entering the room. While they waited, Strategy trotted up to the remaining guard.

“Corporal,” he greeted, the subordinate nodding his head.


“Any trouble from the Equestrians?”

“No sir,” the soldier informed. “They seem to be content to follow instructions, and haven’t made any attempt to escape. They’ve even be willing to put up with the Lead Researcher and his… questions.”

“Keep it up soldier,” Strategy whispered. “Hopefully something else, preferably outside the city, will draw his attention soon enough.”

“I’m hoping for it,” the Corporal agreed. “It’s certainly an experience dealing with his eccentrics.”

Strategy only had time to nod in agreement before the door opened again, the guardmare trotting out with Elijah following behind. Strategy had enough time to spot the three prisoners glancing out at him before his vision was filled with unstable human. He stepped back when Elijah smiled down at him, a glowing pad held in the white-armoured hand.

“Nigel, I hear you need me for something,” Elijah tapped on the pad while he spoke, Chalmers nodding in confirmation.

“Indeed, you’ll be happy to know that a further six-hundred changelings have shown up.”

“Really? My, what a number. But I still don’t see why it should concern me, I already have plenty of changelings to question as it is.”

“I think Nigel wants your help because of their queen, Chrysalis,” Reflection jumped in with a look of distaste.

“You don’t like her?”

“She’s let us down far too often,” Reflection answered. “You’ll find that a lot of changelings won’t trust her anymore.”

“We were just about to grab James and then we were going to meet with the new arrivals,” Nigel continued, beginning to head towards the stairs. Everyone except the door guards followed, Elijah matching Nigel’s stride. “Apparently their Queen is injured, so I thought-“

“That I’d assist medically?” James clapped his hands together. “Of course I accept, allow me to fetch my things and I’ll met with you outside.” With that, he was off strolling merrily down the corridor. Strategy watched him go, before looking up at the Emperor.

“On a scale of one to ten, how badly is this going to go?”

“I think eleven should cover it,” Nigel informed, before shaking his head. “Ah, what the hell, at least it’ll be entertaining.”

Clicks paced back and forth nervously, his eyes darting towards the lines of crystal ponies and changeling defectors watching them all.

He was having serious doubts about accepting their help, and looking at the forces surrounding him sent his nerves racing. The soldiers were all heavily armed with their intimidating axe-spears, the weapons likely more than capable of cleaving through simple chitin armour. Also of note were the crossbows possessed by both changelings and crystal ponies, the tips of the bolts tipped with pointed crystals instead of metal.

The large war machines aimed towards their group were also a matter of alarm. They looked like gigantic crossbows, the large bolts longer than his entire body length. He had been in charge of the Canterlot invasion under the Queen’s personal command, and the Crystal Empire was obviously much more war-like than their Equestrian cousins.

There were some good points that supported his decision, though. Sitting down on the grassy field while looking towards the glimmering city, every single changeling was able to drink in their fill of energy. The amount of ambient positive energy in the air amazed Clicks, and it appeared to be never-ending. A part of him was wary of the changeling defectors, but the other was envious that they had managed to find a place to live where food seemed to be a non-issue.

Taking his eyes off the opposing soldiers standing vigil, he turned and trotted amongst the lines of weary changelings. He weaved around fellow soldiers, nurses and drones with a gathering of elite guards his destination. A loose nymph darted out in front of his path before disappearing into a mass of nurses, Clicks paying it a passing glance before returning his eyes to the front.

The guards parted to allow him through, the sleeping Queen resting upon the stretcher. Click examined Chrysalis, observing how the Queen appeared considerably thicker than before. Her chitin and hair was starting to regain some colour, and her numerous bruises had started to fade. He breathed out a sigh of relief at the signs, hopefully she would just require some energy to recover fully. At the current time, he had no intention of having to lead the band of survivors by himself.

“How is the Queen recovering?” he inquired to the single nurse drone by Chrysalis’ side.

“Very well, sir,” the nurse replied with a bowed head. “Her injuries are improving, her heartbeat is stronger and her breathing is returning to normal. She is still unresponsive, but there is definite improvement in her condition.”

“Good,” Clicks told her, before glancing towards the left. He could make out a section of the Crystal Empire troops heading towards him. “Inform me if she wakes up.” Without waiting for an answer, he started to trot towards the oncoming ponies. Five of his soldiers joined him, all alternating their gazes from the approaching beings to him. He continued on, before he saw what approached and paused.

Three tall, bipedal beings were moving with the crystal guards. One in an all-encompassing suit of black armour, another in smooth white armour, and the strangest one of all was wearing what looked like a black suit. The latter creature had a changeling, a fellow noble judging from the mane and eyes, trotting alongside it. He also took note of the fact that the forty crystal guards mostly seemed to be changelings, all of them wearing the full suits of plate armour with the exception of three who were clad in the suits with large frontal shields.

He stopped and waited for them to approached, the two bipeds with fleshy faces looking towards him with smiles. The one from the suited creature was warm and welcoming, while the other… well, the best word he could think of to describe the white-armoured creature’s smile was ‘chilling’.

“Greetings,” he began, hoping to maintain some control over the upcoming conversation.

“Afternoon,” the lead biped returned. Clicks guessed that he was the leader, considering that the majority of the guards were surrounding him. The presence of the three bipeds was an oddity, Clicks unable to shake the feeling that there was more going on with the Crystal Empire than first appearances made apparent.

“I am Commander Clicks,” he introduced with a nod. “Servant to Her Royal Majesty Queen Chrysalis.” Clicks couldn’t help but notice a shudder from the direction of the female noble, and he noted with shocked surprise that she pressed her side against the lead biped’s side.

“Well, how interesting indeed, Commander. I am Commander Nigel M Chalmers, however I am the current Emperor of this fine… empire.” His first thoughts about the leadership structure were proved correct, however the fact that not just two but three races were coexisting was a surprise. “To my left is Agent James, and to my right is… Elijah?”

A shiver went up Clicks’ spine, a tapping sound coming from his helmet. He whipped his head to the side to find that the white-armoured biped was right next to him, one of its strange frontal appendages poking against his helmet.

“Elijah, no,” the Emperor lectured, rushing up to grab the arm of his fellow. Clicks backed away from the two, watching them while his heart raced. He hadn’t even noticed the biped approach, and judging from the looks on the faces of his soldiers they hadn’t either. “You are to not touch people without their permission.”

“Hypocrite,” the being named Elijah retorted, before shaking his arm free. “Besides, I wasn’t touching the Commander, I was only admiring his helmet.” Clicks found the eyes of the ‘Elijah’ turn on him. “Speaking of which, what is that material that it’s fabricated from? It does not appear to be a metal.”

“It’s hard chitin,” Clicks informed warily. “It’s specially created to form armour.”

“Fascinating,” the fiend nodded. “So it’s made from the improved substance that makes up your bodies, no doubt biological in nature. Another question, does the make-up consist of-“

“Elijah, enough,” the Emperor ordered, Click looking towards him. The Emperor nodded down towards the changeling by his side, the female taking a second before smiling towards him.

“Hello, Commander,” she greeted, her confidence appearing to grow rapidly. “My name is Reflection-“

“Lady Reflection,” the Emperor reminded, much to Reflection’s chagrin.

“Fine, Lady Reflection,” she rolled her eyes, Clicks watching while the Emperor flicked one of her ears with a digit. He also examined the necklace she wore around her neck, decorated with two shining jewels with the largest glowing red. “I’m the minister for changeling affairs,” she told him after a smile towards the Emperor. “So, I’m going to be in charge of helping you all.”

Remembering what the initial pony soldiers had said, Clicks guessed what manner the ‘help’ would be. “I thank you for the offer,” he told them, keeping an eye on Elijah. “But I cannot swear allegiance to you, my Queen-“

“Chrysalis, I’ve been told,” the Emperor interrupted, peering over towards the main mass of changelings. “Can we meet her? Maybe she’ll be willing to hear us out and make that decision.”

Brushing off the interruption and implication of the Emperor’s words, Clicks shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but Her Majesty is currently very injured and needs her rest.”

“I can assist,” the biped named Elijah offered eagerly, stepping forwards. Clicks jolted when a whirring blade in the shape of a toothed-circle popped out of the armoured forearm. “I am a Doctor, and well versed in the matter of fixing medical calamities.”

“More like well-versed in causing them,” Clicks heard the final biped mutter. Thankfully, the seemingly deranged creature turned his attention to his fellow, the saw retreating back into its housing.

“Now James, that is uncalled for,” Elijah defended. “You can hardly claim innocent when it comes to the matter of causing bodily harm.”


All arguing was cut off, Lady Reflection shaking her head at the both of them. Stepping forward, the female changeling advanced towards him with narrowed eyes. Clicks straightened and held his ground, his own blue eyes staring back into hers.

“Reflection-“ The Emperor started, before Reflection cut him off with a raised hoof.

“Commander,” she addressed with her tone strained. “I’m trying very hard to remain civil here, but you don’t seem to understand the situation. You, in service to Queen Chrysalis, are on our lands to feed off the Crystal Heart. A lot of changelings in the Empire, myself included, don’t like Chrysalis after what she did.”

Clicks narrowed his own eyes in response. “Regardless of any… mistakes that Her Majesty may have made in the past, she is still your ruler,” he informed. “She is the one that allowed you to be hatched, she is the one that led us, and she also decided to allow you the privilege of being her own offspring and as such granting you your status.”

“Wait, so you’re technically a princess, and this Queen is your mother?” The Emperor inquired towards Reflection, before she once again silenced him with a hoof.

“I couldn’t care less if I was born to Chrysalis or a drone,” Reflection hissed. “She is no longer my ruler, I have zero respect for her and that will not change.” Her snarl was replaced with a cruel grin. “Besides, this Empire already proves that she is terrible ruler. If we can stand against Equestria, then how did she fail with over ten-thousand at her command?”

‘Now that is just not on.’

“I’ll have you know that I was in charge of the Canterlot attack,” Clicks informed her. “Despite the Queen’s insistence that we attack the way we did, we still managed to take the city. It was only because of the pony magic that we were repelled. Something I’m sure you already know.”

With bared fangs she opened her mouth to respond, before the Emperor finally took action. Striding up to her, he placed his frontal limb atop her head. Reflection glanced up at him with a frown, but the Emperor continued on regardless.

“Now you two, arguing like this is helping no-body,” he lectured.

“Quite right,” the human in white armour agreed, inserting himself back into the conversation. “Why, you are all changelings, aren’t you?”

“We are,” he replied hotly, his flanking soldiers nodding their heads. “However, forgive me if I dislike being talked down to by traitors.”

“Why you!” Reflection started, before making a visible effort to control herself. Clicks should have stopped there, but the months of built-up stress were starting to come out. He turned his attention to the Emperor, the biped’s face expressionless while he rubbed the head of Reflection.

“What do your people do to traitors?” he pressed, spotting the corner of the Emperor’s mouth twitch.

“We execute them,” the Emperor replied coldly, a glint appearing in his eye. “Although, if you are even thinking of-“

“None of this is helping,” the last biped stepped in, his face absent under a helmet of metal. Clicks noticed the Emperor stop and take a breath, stepping back to allow his companion to take the focus. The biped, Agent James if Clicks remembered correctly, looked around at all of them with the Emperor and Reflection included. After the glance, he turned his attention towards the Emperor before continuing.

“Nigel, I don’t think the good Commander was implying anything of the sort.” The Emperor remained silent while the blank gaze was turned onto Reflection. “And you, control that temper. You’re not exactly keeping things civil with all of that arguing.”


“No buts. Now for you.” Clicks found himself the new target. “I can actually understand where you’re coming from. You’re obviously in need of food and energy, you’re leading hundreds of your people without your actual ruler, and you’ve arrived in this city to be met with fellows that have, in your opinion, sold out your Queen and race.” The biped started to pace, no-one else speaking while he kept on explaining the situation. “And to be fair, that is quite true.”

Clicks kept his eyes on the creature, the intimidating being stopping a bare body length away from him. “I get where you are coming from, all of us humans here are quite versed in dealing with traitors after all.” He looked towards his two comrades, receiving a nod from Elijah and a grunt from the Emperor. The blank faceplate turned back around, the unseen stare unnerving Clicks. “However, after having the opportunity to spend a large amount of time with the changelings that Nigel seems to have won over, I question just what their motives are, and whether you can really consider them traitors.”

“They abandoned the Queen.”

“From what I understand, they didn’t have much choice in the matter,” James informed. Clicks winced at the memory of the crushing defeat, but his stony face returned a split second later. “After being separated, they either found their ways to this city or were released from Equestrian prison cells in trades.”

Clicks raised his ears at the information, his soldiers muttering to themselves. Had these ponies really negotiated with Equestria to take in captive changelings?

“It’s true,” Reflection told him, still appearing bitter. “Nigel forgave me for trying to steal the Crystal Heart, and allowed us to stay. He and the crystal ponies then helped the others settle into the city. We even had to meet with Celestia and work out the release of everyone. Now, we can finally live somewhere where we can actually walk the streets without a disguise.”

“Reflection has hit it right on the head,” The Emperor picked up after she was finished. “Your race, thanks to the efforts of the first changelings to arrive, now can live in the Empire without ever needing to lie or hide to get food. All you have to do is-“

“Agree to obey the laws and assist us with a few construction projects,” James cut in, glancing towards the Emperor before looking back towards him. “You help us and don’t cause any trouble, we’ll allow you to stay within the confines of the dome and eat your fill. We’ll provide your Queen with any medical attention needed, and we’ll keep the option of citizenship open.” James turned to the Emperor a final time, receiving a nod in return.

He found himself seriously considering the idea. To be honest, the terms were probably the best they were going to get, and if he was lucky the Queen would soon recover and then she could take over this nightmare of diplomacy. There was one question nagging at him, though.

“What kind of work do you expect us to do?” Clicks questioned, the Emperor taking control of the conversation again.

“Building a wall, helping set up farms, constructing houses and roads.”

“And mining as well, possibly,” Reflection added, a glance being sent towards the Emperor. Clicks detected some subtle facial movements shared between the two, but the Emperor continued on before he could question it.

“That’s further into the future, and there will need to be plenty of planning regarding it. Anyway, Commander Clicks, to break it down even further: You new arrivals work for us, and we’ll give you safety and sustenance. Deal?”

He mulled it over again, biting his bottom lip before sighing and nodding. “I guess we really don’t have much choice. Fine, I accept your terms.”

“Wonderful,” the Emperor beamed with a clap of his hands, before looking up towards the darkening sky. “Hmm, almost time for dinner. You should join us Clicks, and we’ll discuss finer details of our agreement in a more relaxed setting.” The Emperor looked down towards his soldiers, in particular a pony stallion in ornate crystal armour. “Captain, do you mind-?”

“I’ll ensure that some shelter is provided,” the pony answered.

“Very good, although you should join us as well.”

“Yes Emperor, I’ll try my best.”

With a nod, the Emperor finished his conversation and looked back towards him. “Well Commander, I’ll let you inform your people of what’s happening. When you’re finished, my guards will show you to the dining hall. Good luck.”

With that, the creature turned on his heels and strolled away, Reflection trotting alongside while whispering to him. James waved a simple goodbye before following, the last biped nowhere to be seen.


Clicks nearly jumped out of his chitin as the quiet voice sounded in his right ear. He turned his head, laying eyes on the last biped.


“Oh, I just wanted to remind you that my offer to heal your Queen is still on the table,” the human smiled, before leisurely following his fellows. Clicks watched him leave, making sure that he was well out of range. The crystal pony soldiers trotted away to their lines, their Captain giving him a final warning look. The changelings were left alone, and Clicks began to head back to the main group.

“Commander,” one of his soldiers began. “Forgive me for questioning you, but was accepting their deal-“

“There are no other options,” he replied with a shake of his head. “With their apparent military strength, they could easily repel any attack we could make.”
“And there’s something… wrong about those three creatures,” another soldier added. “Especially that one in the white armour.”

His soldiers nodded in agreement, but Clicks wasn’t convinced. Sure, the creature known as Elijah was creepy, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the eccentric biped wasn't the only hidden threat out of the three. Even the articulate and well-spoken one in black armour seemed to possess a hidden danger. They would have to tread lightly, one wrong move and they could be in great peril.

“I want none of you to repeat anything that was said,” he ordered. “I also don’t want any talk of the three creatures, no matter how many ask you. Is that clear?”
“Yes Commander,” all replied, before they reached the main group.

“Good, ensure that the Queen is looked after,” he added, the soldiers returning to their tasks without complaint. Facing the crowd, he waited for silence. The chattering quickly died out, all eyes focusing on him.

“Now, brothers and sisters,” he addressed. “I’m sure you all want to know what’s going on, so here it is…”

Shining watched on with concern while Celestia paced around the dining room, the Princess fuming behind closed doors. Cadence, her coat and mane already growing back well thanks to some magical treatments, kept her foreleg around his back before coughing into her other hoof.

“Auntie, what’s wrong?”

Celestia stopped at the question and sighed.

“I’m sorry for spoiling dinner, but I can’t get over the plain ignorance of most of the nobles towards the Crystal Empire. Do you know what Green Paper asked me in court today?”

Hesitantly, Shining and Cadence shook their heads. A notorious businesspony, Green Paper wasn’t known for his grace or tact.

“He asked me, actually asked me, why we didn’t just ‘invade the Crystal Empire again, we won the first time’. I mean, does he not realise that the Crystal Empire is arming itself to the teeth with deadly weapons while receiving guidance from lethal aliens? Does he not realise that an invasion will only create another bloody war?”

“Besides, they have Auntie Luna as a prisoner.”

The three looked towards the door, Blueblood sheepishly sticking his head in. Shining instinctively went for a glare when the prince made to sit down at the table, but held himself back. To be fair, Blueblood seemed to be acting more subdued and less arrogant as of late. He had certainly become one of the more rational nobles, something that Shining had never thought he’d admit.

“Luna made her own choice,” Celestia nodded, a frown on her face. “Now that we have the Elements, we have a larger chance.”

“What are you going to do?” Shining asked, Celestia finally sitting down at the table and relaxing.

“For now? I’ve ordered for the border defenses with the Crystal Empire strengthened with troops from the Griffon border.”

“A good choice,” Shining agreed. “That post breeds tough soldiers, I’m sure the guards will soon be whipped into shape.” He clasped a hoof around a water glass, Shining frowning before taking a sip. “Still, we should avoid confrontation at all costs.”

“Those humans are certainly violent,” Cadence muttered, Shining shaking his head.

“The Emperor and his… friends, are certainly a concern,” he explained. “However, we can’t just dismiss the Crystal Guard. They’re well trained, well equipped, they include changelings in their ranks, and most of all they’re experienced in combat. We can’t ignore the fact that it’s not just Chalmers who’s fought and killed, but they have as well.”

“And they are incredibly loyal to him,” Celestia lamented, tapping her shoed hoof on the table. “As useless as it was, the suggestion that we try to turn the crystal ponies against him is never going to happen. He did defeat Sombra and free them, and the changelings are equally in debt to him.” The hoof paused. “Not to mention the matter of his changeling consort, that would have secured him a lot of favor with them.”

“Reflection,” Cadence hissed, Shining holding his tongue while his wife fumed at the memories. It was never something he’d tell Cadence, but he didn’t hate the changeling as much as she did.

“Well, I sure am starved!” Blueblood chuckled nervously, Shining inwardly smirking when he considered the Prince’s haste to change the subject. The quick topic change didn’t escape Celestia’s notice, and the sun princess raised an eye at her sweating nephew.

“Indeed,” she agreed. “A nice, relaxing dinner is likely welcomed by all.”

As if they had been silently summoned, four palace servants filed into the room with covered tray on their backs. They made multiple trips to prepare the table for the meal, plates and golden utensils adorning the pearl white tablecloth. Shining waited politely until Celestia had eaten a dainty forkful of a pasta dish, before he started on his own humongous bowl of salad. Beside him, Cadence commenced dining on her own bowl of pasta, Blueblood clearing his throat between mouthfuls of fine puff pastry.

“So, how have you two been coping?” he tried, Celestia raising another eyebrow in his direction. Shining nearly choked on his mouthful, Cadence fixing Blueblood with a stare.

“We’re going well,” she stated evenly, Blueblood thankfully wise enough to not continue down that line of questioning. Celestia took another bite of her meal, before sending a small smile towards the Prince.

“How is that nice mare in the court records going?”

This time, it was Blueblood that nearly choked. Celestia, Shining and Cadence grinned while he spluttered, for a split second it felt like everything was back to normal.

That was, until Celestia finished her meal and sighed.

“I’m sorry to ruin this all,” she apologised while standing up. “But I must prepare to lower the sun and raise the moon.”

With that reminder, the laughter stopped and they watched while Celestia left them alone. The doors shut with a thud, a servant rushing out of a side entrance to collect the leftover plate.

Shining picked at his salad while Cadence frowned and pushed her plate away. Neither had much of an appetite left any more.

Clicks stared at the plate of pie in front of him, his utensils untouched. He was completely stumped as to why he was served solid food; the energy in the air was more than enough. Looking up at his hosts, his eyes passed over the Emperor’s advisor before landing upon the Emperor and Lady Reflection.

The pair’s conduct during the dinner had been… questionable. There was now no doubt in Clicks’ mind that Reflection was Chalmers’ consort, the two constantly muttering to each other while exchanging backrubs and nuzzles. It certainly complicated matters, technically he would outrank Reflection but with her standing and bed-partner he knew that he held no power over her. The good things that came out of the revelation was that little attention was paid to him and evidence that the Empire obviously accepted changelings whole-heartedly.

Picking up his fork in his magic, he absentmindedly prodded the pie to at least make it look like he was interested in it. On his trip to the palace, surrounded by over twenty crystal guards of course, he had been treated to some peculiar sights. There was the large wall that was obviously under construction still, a large amount of new city blocks also being worked on, and most importantly of all was one particular suburb.

Clicks didn’t doubt for an instant that he had been taken through the changeling suburbs as a deliberate way to show just how great life in the Empire was. Sure, he’d been surprised that changelings and ponies were living side-by-side, and apparently with, each other in peace. The houses looked far more comfortable than the cramped space of a hive, and reminded him of stories of the west lands where changeling cities were rumoured to exist.

“Is the pie not to your liking?”

He looked up at the female voice, the Emperor’s advisor tilting her head at him from the other side of the table. Clicks took a moment before replying, the crystal mare was stunningly beautiful and even gave him pause.

“I just haven’t eaten solid food much,” he explained, placing his fork down on the table. “It lacks energy and it’s not worth eating normally.”

“Try it anyway,” the Emperor suggested after looking up from Reflection. “It’s rather good, and I know that changelings can still taste food. Reflection can’t stand food, apparently, but it can’t hurt to try.”

“I don’t hate it,” Reflection explained lightly, her mood much more improved now that she was cuddling the Emperor’s side. “I just don’t see the need.”

“For that taste,” Emperor Chalmers repeated, moving his fingers to his lips. “You know, bellissimo!” While saying the strange word, he kissed his fingers and moved them away. Clicks took a second look at his pie while Lady Reflection erupted into giggles. Hesitantly, he picked up his fork once more and secured a piece upon it. Staring at the pastry-covered purple insides, he raised it towards his mouth and popped it in.

Chewing, it wasn’t that bad to be honest. The berries, whatever they were, tasted quite nice and the pastry was crisp. He swallowed, but it still didn’t possess the satisfaction of drinking in a burst of love.

Although, it wasn’t like he was starved at the moment.

Thankfully, attention was once again turned away from him, the door down the end of the room opening with the Captain of the Guard trotting in.

“Ah, Strategy, good to see that you could make it.” Chalmers greeted and pulled out the free seat beside him.

“Thank you, Emperor,” the Captain replied, before politely shaking his head at the offer of the seat. The Emperor raised an eyebrow and everyone watched while the Captain trotted past and instead headed for the free seat beside the Emperor’s advisor. Not a word was said about it, however Clicks noticed the two crystal ponies share a look.

“So, how did it go?” The Emperor inquired, returning his attention to his pie.

“Very well,” the Captain replied, a crystal pony servant rushing out to place a plate of pie in front of him. “Temporary shelters were provided, and we’ve instructed them to use one of the nearby wells.”

Clicks noticed the Emperor shoot him a sideways glance. “They co-operated?”

“Yes Emperor,” Captain Strategy answered, looking straight at him. “The soldiers complied with all instructions without complaint, and there were no issues.” Strategy paused. “Well, there was one problem, sir. A number of the populace were attempting to… greet the new arrivals.”

“…Ah,” the Emperor nodded. “I see.”

“What happened?” Reflection asked, a tinge of worry in her voice.

“Nothing bad, we just informed them that they should return to their homes for the time being. However, we can’t keep them away forever. Sooner or later a changeling or pony will find their way into the camp, and then we could have a serious problem. We all know how some changelings might react to the news that their Queen is here.” The Captain looked towards Reflection, who narrowed her eyes and looked back towards Click.

“How is the Queen doing?” she forced out through clenched teeth, Clicks quickly placing another piece of pie on his fork.

“She’s recovering well,” was all he told her, quickly taking another mouthful before she could continue. Reflection turned her attention towards the Emperor at her side, but not before an annoyed huff was released.

“I still don’t want her here,” she muttered, the Emperor rubbing her on the head while finishing a mouthful. “Stupid Queen Chrysalis…”

“Hey,” the Emperor reassured after he was done, his fork placed on the table. “Relax, we’ve got it under control. And we still have to have that talk as well.”
Reflection’s brooding only increased, Clicks watching on with interest. Any information could be useful, and knowing what was going on with the Emperor and nobility was likely to come in handy. He continued to eat his food while they continued to converse, the four not really paying him much attention. That was something he was okay with; there wasn’t exactly much to talk about after all.

“Emperor,” the advisor spoke up, dabbing the corners of her mouth with a white cloth. “You do remember the date tomorrow?”

The Emperor and Reflection stopped fussing over each other, both freezing. “The Griffons,” Chalmers sighed while rubbing his temples. “I forgot that they were supposed to be coming tomorrow.” He leaned back in his chair. “We have to organise food, drinks, gifts, a tour, extra guards-“

“Already done, sir,” the advisor informed, glancing towards a list beside her plate. “We’ve also arranged for some music and entertainment,” her mouth formed a smile. “Some of which I think you’ll enjoy immensely.”

“Sparkling, you are a lifesaver,” Chalmers breathed out. “With everything that has happened, I guess I just forgot about it all.”

“On that topic, what are we going to do about the new changelings?”

All four sat and thought, Clicks still wincing after the mention of griffons. It was safe to say that changelings weren’t held in very high regard by the Griffon Empire, the straight-forward hybrids despising the way they hid and deceived. Thankfully an idea entered his head, hopefully one that would help them all.

“Do the griffons know that you have changelings here?” he inquired, Captain Strategy nodding his head.

“They do,” the stallion answered warily. “A changeling messenger was actually the one to invite them. They seem to be okay with the Empire helping changelings.”

“Well, how about this,” Clicks suggested. “We… pretend that we’re new citizens of your Empire, newly arrived from hiding in Equestria. I’ll tell everyone to say that, so if the griffons ask…”

“What about the Queen? Surely she’ll be a big giveaway that you’re not loyal to us.”

“Strategy is right,” Chalmers nodded. “I mean, we could always hide her in a house for you,” he smirked. “But of course, there would be certain conditions.”
Clicks didn’t like the fact that the Emperor possessed a mischievous grin, the others looking to the ruler with unease. Did Emperor Chalmers not fully realise what would likely happen if the Griffons found out about Chrysalis’ presence and weakness? Or, did he indeed know the danger and was using it as a way to further his own ends. He doubted it was the latter; the Emperor didn’t seem to be very cunning.

“What conditions?”

“First, your presence at the dinner and meeting with the Griffon Emperor would be nice, just so you can get a feel for how we run things around here.”

Him? Present at the meeting with the Griffon Emperor? Was Chalmers insane? Didn’t he realise that he wasn’t a part of his Empire? Judging by the looks of the other three, Clicks came to the conclusion that they were thinking the same thing. A conclusion that was soon confirmed.

“Nigel, is that wise?” Strategy questioned with another glance towards him. “Commander Click is not a citizen after all, so can we trust him around a foreign ruler?”
The Emperor waved a hand in dismissal. “Relax, I’m sure that Clicks will behave himself. Besides, he’s technically the leader of the new changelings at the current time, so it can’t hurt to have some friendly relations.” The Emperor turned his attention to him. “What about it Commander?”

Clicks winced, before nodding slowly. “If that is what it takes.” To be fair, the Emperor did make a decent point and the comfort of the Queen was paramount. “I have to ask, however. What are the other conditions you wish to lay down?”

“Oh, it’s not too much,” the Emperor reassured. “They just address some more security concerns and that, small details.” The Emperor leaned back in his chair. “Speaking of which, Strategy, I need to ask a small favor…”

Strategy spared a glance towards the full moon, wondering what was taking them so long. Pacing in the door way, he looked towards the four guards waiting in the living room. The three crystal ponies and one changeling had already set up their sleeping quarters in a side room, and Strategy’s own belongings had already been moved to the palace.

“Captain,” the changeling mare nodded, Strategy looking back towards the street at the gesture. A mass of guards were approaching the house, Strategy trotting out to meet them. Drawing closer, he could see that the guards were escorting a number of unarmored changelings carrying a single stretcher with them.

“Guards,” he whispered, a Sergeant nodding at him while she gestured for the group to move into the house.

“Captain,” she replied with an equally subdued voice. “As you can see, we’ve arrived with the VIP.”

“Any issues?”

“None, sir.”

“Good,” Strategy sighed with a smile. “No-one saw who it was?”

“Not a single pony or changeling, to my knowledge. I believe that we managed to make it here without anyone noticing.” She frowned. “The new changelings were restless at our departure, there is widespread concern about what we are going to do with her. It is known to them that our changeling citizens don’t have much sympathy for the Queen.”

“What about Commander Clicks, didn’t he reassure them?”

“Yes sir, but that only did so much.”

Strategy frowned in irritation. Nigel had been coy as to why he was imposing these conditions upon the new changelings. He knew that it must have had something to do with trying to convince them to join the Empire, but Strategy couldn’t see how sheltering the Queen in his house was really going to do anything.
‘I guess that we’ll soon find out if it will pay off,’ he thought to himself, before looking back towards the house. The guards, save for the four assigned to guard the Queen and her attendants, all filed out and nodded towards the two officers before leaving down the street.

“Well sir, permission to head back towards the barracks?”

“Permission granted,” Strategy told her with a salute. The Sergeant returned it before rejoining her troops. With that done, he returned to the house and walked through the door. Passing the four guards in the lounge room, he peeked his head into the master bedroom.

Four changeling nurses were just finishing putting bed sheets over the sleeping Queen, Strategy examining the unresponsive ruler for the first time. She looked larger than other changelings, Strategy guessing that she could probably almost match the Emperor for height. Like Reflection, she possessed a mane, however hers was the colour of teal instead of green. Before he could see anymore, one of the nurses noticed him.


“I was just making sure that you are all settled in,” he explained, the other three looking at him as well. “The Emperor wishes you to stay here until the Queen recovers, so you may as well be comfortable.” He glanced to another door towards the side, the nurses following his eye line. “That room is where you can stay, and the guards have already been instructed to provide you with anything you require within reason.”

“Thank you Captain,” one of the nurses, Strategy assuming that it was the leader, acknowledged with a bow of her head. “You do seem to know a lot about this house.”

Strategy smiled slightly. “Up until tonight, it was mine and a friend’s.” With that information, he left them in peace. Trotting back out, he gave his troops a passing nod before leaving the house with the palace being his destination.

Hurrying through the moonlit streets, he made good time. A few patrols passed him on the way with little greeting, everyone focused on their tasks thanks to the new arrivals and the impending griffon visit.

It wasn’t long until he had reached the palace and passed through the front guards. Seeing the empty throne room, he made his way towards the Emperor’s bedchambers to make his report. Climbing the stairs, he trotted down the corridor until he reached the royal bedroom. Seeing that the door was ajar, he knocked three times before pushing it open and looking through.

He shook his head upon seeing that the Emperor and Reflection were fast asleep on top of the covers. The Emperor was clothed in nothing but his underwear, and Reflection had curled herself up against his side. Figuring that his report was less important than interrupting their sleep, especially considering the tiring day, he quietly shut the door while backing out into the corridor.

Strategy searched for his own room, remembering where it was from the move earlier that evening. Trotting along, he eventually reached the quarters where he had requested to stay. Pushing open the door, he was met with light breathing and a darkened room. His eyes picked out someone already in the large four-poster bed, so he proceeded as quietly as possible.

Slowly shedding his armour and placing it on the nearby stand, he carefully climbed onto the bed and slipped under the covers. Pausing to give the snoozing Sparkling Scroll a peck on the cheek, he settled down for the night.

He would no doubt need a good night’s sleep for the impending chaos of tomorrow.

“Sleep well, your Majesty.”

Cherish, Nurse number three-hundred and seven, finished tucking the Queen into bed. Her task complete, she stood up and trotted over towards the door leading into the lounge room. Peeking out, she saw the four crystal empire guards sitting down on the chairs with books in their hooves. Turning back towards the room the pony captain had set aside for the nurses to sleep in, she headed towards it.

Entering through the door, she saw four mattresses on the floor with bedding, and her fellow three nurses crowded in a circle in front of a dresser whispering to each other. With a tilted head, she advanced on them and looked over their shoulders.

One of them was holding onto a framed photograph with both hooves, Cherish’s interest peaked. It was a changeling drone and a crystal pony mare smiling at the camera while sharing some sort of drink at a restaurant. The drone had the mare’s pearl-white hoof in his own, and the pony was rubbing her ruby-red mane against the side of his face with a wide grin.

“I wonder who they are?” another nurse wondered.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cherish told her, looking towards a clock on the dresser. “It’s late, and we’ll need to be up early to tend to Her Highness. That photo likely belongs to that pony that this house belongs to, put it back where you found it and don’t touch it again.”

“But it was behind the dresser,” the nurse holding it explained. “I think it must have fallen down.”

Cherish sighed and took it from her hooves, using her wings to fly up and place it on the top of the dresser. She paused after setting it down, noticing the dust on the wooden top. Multiple rectangles free of dust were on the top, Cherish guessing that there used to be other photos here as well. Fluttering back down to the floor, she fixed the other nurses with a gaze.

“You three, I don’t want any more messing around, it’s time to go to sleep.” They grumbled but complied with the instruction, laying down upon the mattresses provided. Cherish settled down upon her own bedding, resting her head atop the provided pillow. Briefly thanking the fact that at least she was able to get a good sleep for the first time in months, she quickly closed her eyes and dozed off.

Clicks tossed and turned, the supplied military cot doing nothing to help him get to sleep. Giving up, he sighed and rolled off the bed, his hooves landing on the canvas tent floor. He glanced towards the armour sitting on the floor beside the cot, but figured he had no real need for it. Pushing through the door flaps, he trotted out into the night air.

Shaking his head, he brushed the short-cut blue mane back into place before resuming his journey. He looked around while he headed towards the edge of their camp, tents pitched on the grass all around. To be honest, he doubted they really needed the shelter thanks to the calm conditions under the dome, but he appreciated the gesture.

A part of him questioned if maybe it was more than just kindness.

Reaching the end of the camp, he looked out through the edge of the dome. Snow was falling heavily on the other side, and he knew that if they had been caught out in it then they would have perished for sure.


Clicks leaned forward and squinted, a shape approaching through the snow. He couldn’t quite make it out, at least until it drew closer. He froze, his mind blanking at the sight.

“Sup,” the creature greeted while it passed him, a large sack bulging with gold and jewels dragged along behind him. Clicks didn’t reply, he could only watch as the short armoured dragon walked past him and headed towards the city. The creature continued on without pause, Clicks standing still for what seemed like an age. Soon it passed out of sight, and it was only then that his legs started to obey him again.

He turned around with haste and hurried back towards his tent. Rushing through the flaps, he hurriedly put on his armour and dived onto his cot. Memories of the stories about dragons the nurses had told him when he was a nymph flowed through his head, in particular the ones about entire pony settlements and changeling hives being incinerated at the claws of the scaly monsters.

Covering himself with a blanket, he hoped that the dragon would focus on the city instead of their camp.

He wasn’t going to be getting much sleep tonight.

Reflection groaned and opened her eyes, running her tongue over her teeth before raising her head. Nigel was still sleeping beside her, so she considered waking him up with her. Glancing out of the window, she saw that the sun still hadn’t risen yet. The first morning rays were peeking over the horizon, so it wasn’t that far off.

Yawning, she decided to just let him be for now. After his…‘accident’ the previous day, perhaps it was wiser to let him sleep. Her hooves hit the floor and she trotted towards the door, opening it and exiting the room while rubbing her eyes with a hoof. She traveled down the corridor before noticing an open door to her left. What was strange was that it was the room set aside for Orthodox, Nigel’s rude friend. With a frown on her face, she looked inside to see what was going on.
Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight she found.

Orthodox, minus his armour, was curled up over a huge amount of treasure. Reflection saw gold coins, shiny necklaces, glittering crowns, and gleaming gems. The orange dragon breathed heavily while he slumbered, Reflection’s frown turning into a grin.

She knew that it was unlikely to have come from the Crystal Empire’s treasury, as she could see that the coins were all Equestrian bits. That meant that, somehow, Orthodox had stolen from the Equestrian treasury. That also meant that any jewels were fair game.

Reflection spotted a pair of beautiful diamonds lying at the base of the treasure pile, both almost identical.

And both ripe for the taking.

Crouching down low, she slinked forwards stealthily. With her eyes on the prize, she ignored the sleeping alien and continued on. Moving closer and closer, she reached out a foreleg and snagged the two diamonds with her hoof. Not wanting to risk using her magic and possibly waking Orthodox, she maneuvered her hoof so that the two diamonds fell into a hole and stayed put. Slinking back, she froze when her hind hoof touched the door and caused it to smack against the wall.

“Hmmm,” Orthodox groaned while rolling over onto his back in his sleep. Reflection stayed absolutely still while his tail stuck itself into a pile of coins. “You like that, don’t ya bitch?”

She didn’t say a word, Orthodox snorting before resuming snoring, muttering to himself with a grin. After a few moments of waiting, and silently thanking that he hadn’t woken up, she looked behind her before backing out into the corridor. Hurrying down the hall, she headed to the stairs with the diamonds still in her leg and a smile on her face. She galloped down the steps, the underground vault and Golden Ring on her mind. Reflection knew for sure what she wanted to use the diamonds for, and she needed the unicorn’s help to make it work.

Reaching the bottom, she paused at a mare’s laughter coming from the dining room. Wondering who could be up that early, she trotted into the hall and looked at the table.

Sparkling Scroll was sitting at the table with Captain Strategy, both of them nursing cups of tea and plates of fruit. Strategy wasn’t wearing his armour for once, and Reflection could see that their hind legs were rubbing under the table. She smirked; their relationship was no secret to her. Feeling mischievous that morning, she moved quietly behind them with her destination being the stairwell leading downstairs.

“Morning you two,” she greeted with a grin. “Having fun I see.”

She smirked when she was rewarded with a thump, the sounds of Strategy and Sparkling scrambling apart soon drowned out by the clack of her hooves on solid crystal. Trotting down the stairs with her mood high, Reflection reached the bottom and followed the passage towards the treasure vault.

The presence of four heavily armoured and armed guards in front of the giant door proved that her memory was correct, the soldiers standing up straight when she approached.

“Lady Reflection, good morning,” a pony stallion greeted.

“Good morning,” she returned with a warm smile. “I’m wondering if Golden Ring is in yet.”

“He is, Ma’am,” the guard confirmed, before frowning. “It’s strange though, I never see him in there but he always comes out for his lunch. Come to think about it, the other unicorns always seem to be in and out as well.”

“Oh, I’m sure that I’ll find him,” she reassured, knowing about the secret room. “Do I need the Emperor to enter?”

“No Ma’am,” the stallion answered, gesturing towards the others. At the silent command, the other guards opened the heavy door. “I believe that you have permission.”

“Thank you.” She trotted into the vault, the horde of wealth glittering around her.

“Tap three times on the door when you’re done,” the guard told her, before they shut the door behind her and locked it. Reflection continued on, ignoring the treasure and heading towards the secret door. Her horn glowed and her magic tipped the torch, the door shimmering open. She trotted into the secret room, the workspaces empty save for the one at the back. A golden-coated unicorn was hunched over a bench with a human standing by the side looking over the pony’s shoulder. She recognised them as Golden Ring and Elijah, and she hoped that they would have time to help her.

“Oh, Lady Reflection,” Golden Ring greeted when he turned around and noticed her. “You’re up fairly late.”

She raised an eye. “It’s early in the morning, the day’s just begun. Have you two even gone to bed?”

“Hmm, no we haven’t,” Golden thought with a nod. “Elijah was kind enough to share with me these wonderful things called ‘stimulants’, I haven’t slept for four days and I feel great! The amount of work we’ve managed to achieve is amazing!”

“Indeed!” Elijah confirmed while turning around, Reflection wincing when she noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and more crazy than usual. “The amount of science had been astronomical! We invented a crystal that instantly cleans any number of dirty laundry in an instant!”

“That’s… great?” she replied.

“Correct!” Golden nodded enthusiastically, before he tilted his head. “Did you come down here for a reason, Lady Reflection?”

She glanced down towards her leg, the two diamonds still secure.

“Actually, I was wondering if you could make something for me and the Emperor.”

Orthodox snorted and returned to wakefulness, grunting when the sun’s rays assaulted his eyes.

“Stupid sun,” he muttered, rolling over and scratching his bare back with a claw. “I’ll blow you up like the last one…”

Rolling down the pile of coins, he cleared his throat and stumbled to his feet. Flying on early-morning autopilot, he stumbled over towards his untouched bed before removing the sheet from it. Lazy draping it over the pile of wealth, he continued out of his room with his treasure safely hidden from any possible thief. Pausing at the doorway, he looked back at the pile with tired eyes.

Strange, he could swear that it somehow seemed… smaller.

Shrugging, he continued down the corridor without bothering to re-armour. A servant mare, dressed in a maid uniform, was coming from the other way. She paused and gave him a strange look when she passed, Orthodox winking at her and making a clicking nose with his tongue. She hurried on past him, a red blush strong on her green cheeks. He chuckled to himself and spared a glance over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of her cute rump disappearing into a doorway.

‘Eh, maybe spending some time here might not be too bad.’

With that thought, he grinned and continued down the stairs. His stomach grumbled and he headed towards the kitchen, eager to get himself some food after his tiresome journey. He doubted that these ponies would have or eat bacon, but he had seen that the changelings had fangs and sharp teeth so there was still the possibility.

Scratching his taut and toned gut, he waltzed into the dining room and right into a surprised stallion. The crystal pony backpedalled and almost dropped the tray of dirty plates he carried, but he managed to maintain his balance. Orthodox ignored him and moved to the other side of the table, three occupants already there.
Nigel cocked an eye at him when he climbed up onto a seat, Orthodox not bothering with pleasantries and instead going straight for a plate of buttered toast. The pony Captain and the pretty advisor watched on amazed as clawfuls of food disappeared down his gullet. Nigel tittered and leaned back in his chair, Orthodox rolling his eyes and preparing for a lecture.

“You do realise that we have concerns about a food shortage?”

“Pfft, like you can talk,” Orthodox countered before annihilating a slice of bread with his razor-sharp teeth. “You haven’t exactly been going easy, either.”

“I, Orthodox, was trapped in this planet’s Hell for a month.”

“I, Nigel, have just finished terrorizing a country.” He paused again, tilting his head. “Which you haven’t even asked me about.”

Nigel took a sip of tea. “Oh, I heard about what you did. I mean, unleashing a Spirit of Chaos?”

“I didn’t know what would happen,” he retorted. “Besides, Discord wasn’t a bad guy, just naive when it came to the finer arts of wealth generation.”

“You mean ‘thieving’.”

“Same thing.”

Chalmers snorted with amusement, Orthodox looking around the table again. Pony Captain was watching him warily while eating his own toast, while Pretty Pony was tapping her hooves together nervously. “Say, Nigel, where’s your girlfriend?”

“I don’t know,” Chalmers shrugged. “She wasn’t in bed when I woke up, so I guess she was up early and has gone off to do something.”

“Um, Emperor,” Sparkling asked, glancing towards him. “Regarding your friend here…”

“Oh, that’s right,” Nigel seemed to remember. “Orthodox, I have another favor to ask. Before you guys arrived, we were attacked by some Diamond Dog raiders. We wiped out one lair, but they mentioned a larger pack before dying. Do you mind-“

“Cracking some skulls?” he finished, grinning at the thought of more entertainment. This time, it sounded like he was free to not hold back.

“In a nutshell,” Chalmers answered. “If you could possibly try to-“

“I’ll leave right away,” he announced, shoving a last slice of toast into his mouth before belching loudly. The mare at the table looked away while the Captain frowned, but Orthodox paid them no mind and jumped off his seat. “I’ll get dressed and then I’ll leave, I should be done in a day.”

“Oh, don’t feel rushed,” Nigel called out behind him, Orthodox licking the remains of his breakfast off his claws while he left the room.
He had a feeling that today was going to be a good day.

Sparkling Scroll tried very hard to hold back any criticism as she watched the yellow-orange alien exit the room. Such rudeness, not only to Strategy and her but towards the Emperor as well, and Chalmers considered him a friend? Not only that, but Orthodox seemed quite happy for the chance to kill something. She shuddered, but thankfully a hoof resting on her left leg broke her from those thoughts.

“He’s certainly a character,” Strategy mumbled to her, Sparkling glancing at the Emperor sitting away from them. Chalmers was finishing off his cup of tea, and he seemed preoccupied.

“I can think of plenty of better terms,” she whispered back. A spluttering interrupted both of them, the pair focusing on the Emperor. Tea had gone all over the table, the ruler rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Hrmm, excuse me, went down the wrong way.”

“That’s okay sir,” she reassured while he started to clean up the tea with a napkin. “Good work with keeping Orthodox out of the city for the griffon visit, by the way.”

“Why, Sparkling, whatever gave you the idea that I wish for the utterly delightful company of Orthodox to be absent for a meeting with the Griffon Emperor? He’s a very skilled diplomat, you know.” His grin at the end of the sentence clued her in, Sparkling giggling with Strategy joining in soon after. He laughed with them, before waving a hand. “I take it that I can count on you two gracing the dinner and meeting with your presence?” Another grin. “If you want, I can arrange a table in the corner with two seats.”

Sparkling and Strategy both blushed at the same time, and she nodded her head. “Of course, although I still have to organise everything for tonight.” She gave Strategy’s side a quick rub and left her chair, the Emperor receiving a smile while she gathered her lists and quills. “I have already organised most of it, so I’ll hopefully be done early.”

“I’ll have to try and work things out with the new changelings,” Strategy explained, also leaving his seat. “With permission sir, I’d like to show Commander Clicks our training field today. Hopefully he’ll start to warm up to us soon.”

Chalmers sat and tapped his fingers together, before he nodded. “Good idea, and it’ll also reinforce our troops’ military prowess at the same time. If they don’t want to join the Empire, then I’ll be happy if they continue to remain civil.”

“On that note,” Sparkling asked. “What are we going to do about the Queen? All the changelings I’ve talked to said that she is cunning and vicious.”

“And I’m a perfect picture of niceness and honesty?” Chalmers joked, before shaking his head. “No, despite Reflection’s and the others’ opinions on their former ruler, she could be a powerful ally against Equestria.”

“Did someone say my name?”

All of them turned to see the mentioned changeling emerge from the staircase at the back, a bounce in Reflection’s step.

“Oh, I was just saying that I hope you behave tonight,” Chalmers lied. Instead of the expected objection, Reflection instead smiled and nuzzled the side of his leg lovingly.

“Don’t worry about me,” Reflection told him. “I’m wise enough to not pick a fight with a massive griffon Emperor.”

“Does that also apply to his wife?”

Reflection froze, Sparkling able to see the corner of her mouth twitch. “He’s bringing along his wife… an Empress?”

“Now don’t be so down,” Nigel asked, picking Reflection up and placing her in his lap. “You’re more than an Empress to me.” In return, Reflection’s frown lifted but she still didn’t look as happy as before. Sparkling glanced to her left, Strategy nudging her in the side and tilting his head towards the Emperor and Reflection.

“We’d better be going,” she told them, getting Strategy’s hint. She and him quickly trotted out of the room, Sparkling pausing at the door. He looked at her, and so she waved a hoof for him to go on.

‘I hope they’re not going to fight again,’ she silently hoped, looking back to check up upon her two friends. Her fears were quickly waylaid, catching a glimpse of the Emperor sharing a kiss with Reflection before she gave him another nuzzle. Another two cups of tea were poured, and Sparkling was satisfied that they were getting along. Leaving with a smile on her face, she began to mentally go over what she had left to organise.

Clicks shifted from hoof to hoof, the weight of the borrowed armour an unusual feeling. Strategy had explained that he was to masquerade as a senior guard officer for the Crystal Empire, and to pretty much observe the evening. Clicks was okay with that plan, he had no issue with staying out of the way.

He glanced around the entrance hall, lines of crystal guards awaiting the arrival of the griffon forces. The outside night was lit up by a huge number of illumination crystals, the crystal entrance hall glittering. Red and blue banners decorated the ceiling, and tables lined with all sorts of treats and drinks were accompanied by a band consisting of antique stringed instruments such as lyres and harps.

Footsteps and hoofsteps caused him to turn to the other side, four beings approaching. There was the Emperor in a fancy black suit, his changeling wearing a flowing green gown, Captain Strategy with his full armour, and last but certainly not least was Advisor Sparkling Scroll in a dress matching her mane. Clicks had to admit that one thing the crystal ponies weren’t lacking was beauty.

“Nervous?” the Emperor inquired.

“A little,” he admitted as the four moved beside him. “Griffons aren’t really known for their love of changelings.”

“Relax,” the Emperor reassured. “He’s coming to make a deal with me, and the changeling messenger I sent returned in one piece. Just act like you’re one of the Captain’s officers and you’ll be fine.”

Clicks wasn’t so sure, but he guessed it was better than nothing. Looking back to the sky, he peered up at a speck.

“There’s something coming,” a guard pointed out, an armoured hoof pointing at the incoming dots.

Everyone peered up, guards snapping to attention. Out of the side of his eye, Clicks could see the Emperor grin.

A red and gold chariot flanked by ten griffons in armour descended through the top of the dome. It touched down in front of the palace, wheels touching cobbled stone. Two griffons opened the chariot door and stood to the side. A griffon with wearing a white toga with gold trim exited the transport, the greying griffon adjusting the laurels on his head with a ring-covered talon. He stopped and turned back to the chariot, reaching out a claw to someone inside.

With the Griffon Emperor’s help, a beautiful griffoness exited after him. Like the Emperor, she was also wearing an expensive toga and enough jewelry to buy a mansion. Unlike the Emperor, she looked like she was barely twenty-five years of age. With the two royal griffons out of the chariot, their guards shut the door behind them and moved back into line. Clicks straightened when the Emperor approached, two of the griffon’s guards moving with him.

“Emperor Augustus, a pleasure to finally meet you,” Emperor Chalmers greeted, his hand outstretched.

“Emperor Chalmers,” Augustus returned, looking up at the human with raised eyes. “You’re taller than I imagined.”

Both Emperors were silent for a moment, Clicks afraid that offence had been caused.

Then, both Emperors exploded into laughter at the same time. Guards and onlookers from both sides stared as their respective rulers wiped tears from their eyes. The Griffon Empress and Reflection both stared at their rulers, both females completely stumped.

“Ahaha, oh, I haven’t laughed like that for a while,” Augustus announced. “I’m glad that we both share the same sense of humor, it seems.” Clicks wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn that the Empress’s eyes briefly widened with worry.

“It’s a good start,” Chalmers agreed, re-extending his gloved hand. It was met with a talon, the two rulers shaking frontal appendages. “I’m glad that you were able to make it. I know that you were expecting a meeting, but you’ll have to forgive me as we’ve decided to prepare a small banquet to start things off.”

“Forgive you?” Augustus chuckled. “Why would I have to do something like that? I love a good party!” Augustus made to rush into the hall, but a coughing at his side stopped him. The griffon turned and saw his wife tapping her talon with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, silly me!” Augustus laughed nervously. “Emperor Chalmers, allow me to present my darling wife, Empress Cornelia.”

“A pleasure,” the Empress greeted with a dainty voice while she shook Chalmers’ hand.

“Indeed,” Chalmers returned, before placing his free hand on Reflection’s back. “Allow me to introduce my significant other, Reflection.” Both Augustus and Cornelia stared at Reflection, before the blushing changeling held out her hoof. It was soon met by both Augustus and Cornelia, and soon all four rulers had made their introductions. “Also, let me introduce Captain Strategy, my advisor Sparkling Scroll, and Major Clicks.”

“Wonderful,” Augustus said while nodding towards all three. He turned back to Emperor Chalmers. “Excuse me for my rudeness, but it was a long flight and…”

“Of course,” Chalmers agreed while stepping to the side, sweeping a hand towards the entrance hall. “Please, come in and enjoy the food, drink, and entertainment. I just have to attend to a small matter; I’ll be right in to mingle.”

“I understand, matters of ruling and all that.”

Emperor Chalmers grinned and nodded, before gesturing towards the griffon guards. “And by all means, your soldiers are more than welcome to join in as well.”
Augustus grinned before nodding to his wife and soldiers. All of the griffons filed into the hall, Strategy receiving a nod from the Emperor before following them with Sparkling. Clicks watched the griffons enter the palace while Emperor Chalmers walked outside. He could follow one and the other, the human or the griffons.

It was a hard choice.

Clicks hurried into the entrance hall and headed straight towards the drinks table. Earlier he had spied some crystal ponies preparing some barrels of wine, and he couldn’t think of a better time to try some of this ‘alcohol’ he had heard tale of.

Reflection stormed after Nigel, her mind utterly confused. Why had Nigel felt the need to rush out and lie about having something to do? She knew for a fact that he had solved all matters before the evening.

Rounding the corner, she found Nigel leaning up against the wall of a house. A spike of worry shot through her, was he sick or hurt? Maybe his head was acting up after the previous day? Her silver shoes clacked on the road when she ran to him, and she only slowed once she had reached him. Tugging franticly on his pants leg, she looked up towards him with eyes filled with concern.

“Nigel, Nigel what’s wrong!?”

His chest was heaving, and she held her breath as he turned around…

Only to find that Nigel was not hurt… but laughing so hard that he couldn’t speak. She was shocked, so there was nothing she could do but wait for him to calm down.

“Re… Reflection!” he managed out between chuckles. “Oh my… Reflection! It’s so funny!”

“What is it?” she inquired, the maniacal look in Nigel’s eyes freaking her out. “What’s so funny that you’re acting like this?”

“They’re Romans!” Nigel laughed while slapping his knee. “The Griffons are fucking grade-A Romans! Elijah is going to lose his shit when he sees them!”

In a comfortable bed, underneath a warm set of blankets, a figure stirred. Slowly, a set of luminous green eyes opened.

“Nggh, why do I feel like I walked into a door?”

Author's Note:

Well, it's about to go down.

Will Chrysalis be pleased about the current situation?
Will Orthodox find some dogs?
Will the Griffons seal a deal with the Crystal Empire?
Will anyone get the end joke?
Will Elijah 'lose his shit'?
What the fuck happens when Elijah loses his shit?

All this (and more if I get my lazy arse into gear) next chapter.

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