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

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold - Dropbear

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

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Fourth Time Lucky

“I bet it was Orthodox,” Reflection grumbled under her breath as the four leisurely walked and trotted down the path towards the training field’s smoke plume. “Just as lunch was getting interesting as well, typical.”

“You’re looking a little grouchy there.”

She gave Nigel a glare at his comment, huffing indignantly. “Wow, I can see why you’re an intelligence agent,” she stated with a roll of her eyes. “You’ve got amazing observational skills. Nothing must slip past you.”

His chuckle only served to infuriate her more, although the head pat that accompanied it did help to calm her down somewhat.

“Come on, despite the circumstances a walk isn’t going to hurt either of us. Tell you what, to make it up to you, why don’t we go into the markets after this?” She was about to point out that they had just been in the markets so it was hardly a consolation, but he managed to follow up first. “We’ll look at some of the jewellery stores.”

‘Why that-‘ she narrowed her eyes when he brought up her weakness for shiny things, but she couldn’t rightly fault him for the offer.

“Fine,” she mumbled. “I suppose that can make up for having to go with you to whatever mess your friends have caused.”

“Wonderful,” he replied while side-stepping an upturned cobblestone. “Did you want to invite Sparkling along as well, or make it an ‘us’ thing?”
Reflection glanced behind them, spotting Sparkling and Strategy talking to each other as they trotted a few paces in the rear. Looking back to the front, she shook her head.

“I somehow think she’ll be preoccupied with someone else.”

He didn’t say anything in reply, only a hum with a slight nod. Focusing on their destination, Reflection eyed the rising smoke with a wary gaze. Even though Nigel may have been confident with passing it off as part of the training, she doubted that it was as simple as that.

That suspicion was only confirmed when a single changeling flying out from the target range spotted them and made a beeline towards them. Reflection recognised the soldier as the Corporal sent to talk to the zebras, the female landing before them and raising her foreleg in a quick salute.

“Emperor, Captain,” she addressed to the two in-between pants. “There’s an incident happening at the range, it’s bad.”

“The explosion?” Strategy inquired, moving alongside Chalmers.

The Corporal shook her head. “No Captain, that was just a… demonstration. The problem is-“

“Let me guess,” Nigel cut in with a sigh. “Orthodox blew something up, James lectured him about it, and now they’re locked in a battle to the death. Something along those lines?”

The Corporal was stunned.

“How did you know?”

“Trust me, once you’ve lived with them you can pretty much predict this sort of stuff,” Nigel explained. Waving a hand in dismissal, he tilted his head. “None of you are injured? If not, it’s best to just let them tire themselves out. An occasional brawl is a good way for those two to let off some of their pent-up disagreements and such.”

“Ah, about that,” the Corporal continued with a wince. “That’s kind of what we thought… until Agent Orthodox pulled out the knife.”
Reflection glanced up to Nigel, finding that he had closed his eyes. The Emperor took a deep breath, before reopening his eyes and smiling at the soldier.

“Thank you, Corporal. If you’d please return to the rest of your squad, Captain Strategy and myself will be there immediately to deal with the situation.” The Corporal nodded before taking flight again, Nigel’s smile dropping immediately after. “Bloody Orthodox, always taking things too far.” He resumed his walking, although this time at a faster pace than before. Trotting along to keep up with him, Reflection kept her mouth shut.

Pointing out that she had been right about the problem wasn’t exactly the best idea at the current time.

James glared at Orthodox while dabbing at his cheek with a white cloth, the bleeding gash in his black skin starting to close. His trainees were watching from the sidelines, eyes wide at the scene playing out before them.

“You stupid fucking witch!” Orthodox growled, swinging his combat knife in vain while attempting to fling rocks with his tail. James had him held a metre away, Orthodox straining against the invisible force holding him back. It was essentially like putting a hand on the head of a rampaging short-person, except this way Orthodox couldn’t even attack the arm. The rocks were even less of a worry, James needing minimal concentration to deflect them away. “I’ll fucking cut you!”

“Do you need any help, sir?” Buzz asked, the changeling sergeant hesitantly stepping forwards.

“I’m fine,” James reassured, not wanting him to get hurt if Orthodox broke free. “Just stay there and let me deal with this, and then we’ll resume our training.” He glanced towards the end of the range, the targets utterly annihilated by the energy grenade. Maybe they’d have to rebuild them first.

“James,” Orthodox grunted, armoured feet straining against the ground. “Let me go and fight like a man.”

“No,” James replied, once again dabbing the cut Orthodox had given him. “You’re acting like a tantrum-throwing child.”

“Arsehole!” Orthodox hissed.



“Immature degenerate.”

“Syphilis-infested, pre-ejaculating warlock!”

James had to pause at the sudden inventiveness and increased viciousness in insults.

“… Short-tempered midget.”

Orthodox froze, before resuming his efforts to attack with his mouth almost foaming.

“That’s it! I’m going to gut you like a fish and wear your intestines like party streamers!”

James couldn’t help but smile a smug grin. Despite the new level of rage on Orthodox’s part, there was no chance of him breaking free.

He had the situation under total control.

“Oh come on.”

Nigel sighed when he witnessed the ‘fight’ between his two friends, the both of them standing in the middle of the destroyed target range with the changeling spy squad watching in utter confusion.

“Wow,” Strategy remarked, tilting his head. “So that’s what James can do.”

“This is pretty basic stuff for him from what I gathered,” Nigel explained while coming up with a plan. “When he does big stuff, his armour glows a lot more. Something about the suit systems assisting his mental capacity or along those lines. Damn thing’s even made to keep him alive for hours if his organs fail.” That information caused a collective shudder from Strategy, Sparkling, and Reflection.

“That was something I needed to know,” Strategy remarked without enthusiasm. “All talk about organ-failing aside, how are we going to tackle this problem?”

Grinning, Nigel began to unbutton his dress shirt.

“It’s simple, really. We identify the problem-“

“Orthodox,” Reflection cut in with a low snarl.

“Indeed, it seems,” he granted, giving her a quick pat on the head before slipping an arm out of the shirt. “And once it’s identified, then we tackle it.” The black shirt was removed to reveal his plain white undershirt, Nigel carefully folding up the dress shirt and gently placing it onto Reflection’s back. “Hold onto this for me, will you?” He bent down to give her a peck on the forehead as payment, before standing up and glancing towards Strategy. “Also, all of you let me handle this, things are probably going to get violent.”

“James, you’re dead! Do you hear me!? Dead!” Orthodox’s threat rang out like a gunshot.

“… Okay, more violent.”

With that last sentence he turned, faced his target, and raced off to enact his plan.

Tackle the problem. Literally.

Orthodox was too slow to react, barely noticing the running human before it was too late. Nigel rapidly closed and jumped, spear-tackling Orthodox while narrowing avoiding the swinging tail. Both crashed to the dusty ground with a thump, Nigel using Orthodox to cushion his fall with the knowledge that the scales and armour would protect the rampaging alien from any serious harm.

The impact still shook Orthodox up, Chalmers taking full advantage to first pin down the hand holding the knife, pin the other arm, use his legs to stop Orthodox from using his tail, and most importantly of all using the weight of his main body to hold down the head with the fang-filled jaw.

“What the fuck is this!?”

“James,” he began calmly when Orthodox thrashed and struggled. “Please relieve Agent Orthodox of his knife.” The weapon was yanked out of Orthodox’s armoured claw, James levitating it back into his own and stepping away with a chuckle under his breath. Still maintaining a firm hold on the pissed-off alien, Nigel looked down into Orthodox’s furious eyes. “Now, what have we said about pulling weapons on friends? Either fight with your fists, fairly, or don’t fight at all.”

“Fair?” Orthodox spat on the ground beside them. “He’s got freaky mind powers! I need something to even the odds!”

Nigel sighed. “Well Orthodox, the moral of that story is to not pick fights with psionic operatives.”

“Moral of the story is to finish him when he’s asleep.”

Orthodox’s dark mutterings were of little concern, both he and Nigel knowing that it was nigh on impossible to catch an ISA agent unawares. Still, the thrashing had stopped, and Orthodox had ceased yelling out insults.

“So, you’re good?”

“Yeah,” Orthodox gave up, going limp. “Just… I’m so bored.”

“I thought you had booze… and plenty of my female subjects to try and woo for a night.” He lowered his voice so Reflection couldn’t hear. “Some of my guards informed me that the tavern in the market district is a good place to go for that sort of thing.”

“Meh,” Orthodox grunted. “Not really my type.”

“Pfft, like you’re picky.”

A grumble was the reply, but Nigel was confident that Orthodox had significantly calmed down. Just in time, too. The sound of approaching hooves caused him to look up to meet a set of green eyes. “Having fun down there with your ‘friend’?”

“Hardy-har,” he got up quickly, Orthodox following. “I never pegged you for a comedian, Reflection.”

“I’m also not a shirt rack,” she returned, gesturing with her head towards her back and his shirt.

Dusting himself off before taking his shirt and redressing, he cast a glance towards James. True to form, the psionic agent had made his way back to the changelings and was leading them away from the range like nothing had happened. Strategy and Sparkling followed James, the Captain making sure that Nigel saw the pointed shake of his head. With Reflection’s glare focused on Orthodox, he turned his attention to the midget as well.

“Orthodox,” he began, wincing at the thought of how Reflection was going to react to the next part. “You said you were bored, so did you… did you want to maybe tag along today?”

“What?” Reflection got in before Orthodox even had a chance to protest. “You’re letting him actually near you for a day?”

“Hey, High and Holey, I don’t exactly want to spend the day playing third wheel while you two grind against each other.” Reflection growled and stormed up towards him, Orthodox barely taller than the changeling female. Baring her fangs, she uttered a low hiss and narrowed her eyes. Nigel breathed a deep breath when Orthodox ignored her and looked up at him with a stupid smile. “Heh, you always did like the fiery ones.”

A hoof was stamped on the ground.

“Killer alien or not, I don’t care,” Reflection twitched. “I’ll kick your orange rump, you… you bitch.”

“Ohhhh…” Orthodox taunted. “Do you blow your boy-toy with that mouth?”

Nigel thanked his artificial reflexes, Reflection’s angry hoof caught before it made contact with Orthodox’s face.

“No. Reflection, that’s a bad move.”

“So is letting her near your dick with those fang-“

A swift kick to Orthodox’s gut stopped him from finishing the sentence, Nigel not taking his eyes off Reflection.

“Just ignore him,” he advised, still holding her foreleg to keep the peace. “Focus on me and don’t rise to the bait, and he’ll stop. Okay?”

Pulling her hoof out of his slackening grasp, she maintained her glare. “I doubt that.”

“You should.” Orthodox spoke up from the ground. “That’s if I even want to hang around you two.”

That was the limit, Nigel turning around and beginning to walk back towards the city.


“You can both choose to follow me, or you can both stay here and fight. I’m done. Make up your minds.”

With that, he left them behind.

The sound of hoof beats and armoured footsteps following promised him more trouble to come.


Reflection stared at the amethyst bracelet through the clear glass, the glittering purple gem set into the finely-wrought gold calling to her. Placing a hoof on the glass, she was fixated on the jewellery so much that she didn’t even pay attention to the protests of the store owner until he leaned over the counter.

“Um, Ma’am,” the grey stallion spoke up while adjusting his spectacles. “Please keep your hooves off the glass, if you may.”

Looking up, she gave him a sheepish smile before quickly taking her hoof off the glass. “Sorry, I was a bit caught up with looking.”

“Understandable,” the middle-aged owner nodded. “It’s a very fine piece, very suitable for a noble of your standing.” He pointed to the gold. “I think it would suit you very well, most likely on the left foreleg. The gold will go well with the green of your mane, and the amethyst itself will look stunning when paired with that beautiful necklace of yours.”

At the reminder, Reflection glanced down at the item. At the sight of the pink gem and emerald already sitting on the silver chain, she sighed.
“It is nice,” she admitted. “But, I already have more than I need. Thanks for letting me look, but I just don’t think I should really be getting any more.” The jeweller cast a glance over towards Nigel and Orthodox, the midget-alien trying on, for some reason, a pair of diamond earrings.

“I believe that it’s well within your price range.”

Reflection focused back on the bracelet, biting her lip in thought. It was a valid point, after all she had been inside the treasure vault. The secret one that is, the Crystal Empire didn’t exactly want for wealth so she had no doubt that the main coffers were well stocked.

‘It’s just one,’ she thought to herself. ‘I don’t exactly get paid a salary for the… occasional work I do, so it’s fine to just ask for one. It’s downright generous, really, asking for so little.’

“It would look really swell on you,” the jeweller pressed on, before leaning closer. “It also sets up a nice pairing for a certain, other item for your opposite foreleg in the possible future.” His slight smile grew. “A future which I suspect is very near, if I may say so.”

‘You don’t know how right you are,’ Reflection silently agreed, smiling to herself. Looking back at the bracelet, she tried to think of a way to ask Nigel to pay for it while maximising her chances of a yes. The hand placing itself on her rump distracted her, Reflection smiling when it began to rub up along her back.

“So, you’ve found something I take it?” She nodded at Nigel’s question, still eyeing the bracelet. He let out a low whistle, evidently having noticed her focus. “Jeez, and I was told that you changelings didn’t place much emphasis on ownership or art. Look at that thing, it could probably buy the whole of Equestria.”

Reflection rolled her eyes at the observations and exaggerations, but the humour was evident. Eyeing it hungrily, she nodded towards the gem.

“So… I’ve been good, and I let Orthodox come along with us…”

Orthodox scoffed from his corner of the store, although that was it.

“Surely this one bracelet isn’t too much to ask?” She prepared her long list of reasons. “I mean, I’ve done some work and I’ve-“

“Sure, I don’t see why not.”

Reflection stopped and glanced up, finding a smile in return. “Really? As easily as that?”

“Of course,” Nigel moved his hand to rub her head. “You have been very well-behaved, you’ve been helping out the Empire, and it’s nearly your hatchday anyway.” Looking at the jeweller, he nodded and received a bow from the stallion before the pony got to work with carefully removing the bracelet from the case. “Also, it means that we’re putting more money back into the economy anyway.”

She had to resist the urge to snort at that, after all if that reasoning helped get her shiny things then what was the harm? Almost drooling, her wings buzzed while she stared at the Jeweller placing the bracelet into a padded box.

‘Why does it have to take so long? I’m only going to put it straight on anyway.’

Finally, after what seemed like an age to her, the purple box was passed over the counter.

“I hope it’s to your liking, Emperor,” the Jeweller said confidently.

“It’s not me that it needs to satisfy,” Nigel smiled, before taking hold of the box and turning down towards her. “Although, I think that it’s safe to say that it’s already done its job in that regard. Now,” the box’s lid was opened. “Let’s see how it looks on you, Reflection.”

Sitting her rump down on the wooden floor, Reflection held out her left foreleg while trying to control her swishing tail. She watched with glee as Nigel fumbled with the clasp, before he managed to undo it and guide the bracelet to a spot where it wasn’t overlapping any holes in the leg. The gold touched chitin and the clasp was done back up, Reflection pulling her foreleg away once it was on securely.

Examining the jewellery close up, she had second thoughts. It was big, maybe a little too big, and a part of her felt guilty for getting such an expensive item even though she hadn’t really earned it. Still, it did look very pretty, and her chitin even reflected a portion of the jewel’s glow. Then, Nigel put her doubts to rest.

“I think it looks very good on you,” he bent down before whispering. “It’s more than suitable for an empress.”

Her heart fluttering at the reminder of the upcoming title and circumstances that allowed it, she smiled a wide grin while beckoning him closer. With a hesitant glance to the Jeweller, who quickly and politely adverted his gaze, Chalmers knelt down further to give her an embrace. Snuggling into it, she smiled and gave him a thankful kiss on the cheek.


Both broke apart and turned to look at Orthodox, the armoured creature rolling his eyes at them while a fabulous pair of diamond earrings dangled from his orange ears.

“What a bunch of saps.”

Golden bits fell out onto the wooden table from a cloth bag gripped in a talon, the owner of said talon muttering under his breath while he began to count them. The lone stallion at the bar table, sitting opposite three cloaked griffons, tapped his forehooves together nervously. He was beginning to regret his choice to meet the gruff creatures in the bad part of Canterlot, and he raised a grey foreleg up to wipe a bead of sweat from his brow.

“Hmm,” the leader of the griffons uttered after taking a gulp of ale from a course mug. “A little light, considering what you’ve asked.”

“That’s just the upfront payment,” Hard Line reassured, patting his vest and pulling out a signed roll of parchment. “Upon completion, you’ll be provided with the full reward from the treasury. As you can understand, the safety of your target is of the upmost concern.”

He hoped that the Griffons didn’t know that the entire treasury had almost been completely emptied by a random robbery.

A scarred beak chuckled a low laugh, the two griffon mercenaries at the leader’s side not even flinching.

“Oh, I understand fully. Trust you Equestrians to lose one of your precious Princesses to a single city.” Another gulp of ale was taken. “Don’t worry, we’ll get Princess Luna back all safe and sound. Although, I still wonder why you’re talking to me in this bar instead of using your own army to save her yourselves.”

Hard Line narrowed his eyes at the comment, although his anger wasn’t directed at the Griffon. “My attempts to take action have been blocked,” he explained sourly. “The proposition passed through the court with record support, but I know that the guard Captains are bogging down the process for some reason. They tell me that they’ll be ready in a few months, a few months! The princess could be dead by then, and we’d look like foals thanks to the Crystal Empire.”

The mercenary leader tapped his talon against the table, his dull yellow eyes filled with indifference.

“How patriotic of you,” he snorted, earning a gruff laugh from the griffon to his left. “I’m sure that your sole motivation rests with rescuing your ruler.”

Hard Line glared at the accusation, although he didn’t mention that he owned some stakes in a few vacation businesses that would likely benefit if the Crystal Empire was brought into line. Tapping his own hoof on the dirty table, he continued to frown. “I’m not paying you to be sarcastic.”

The leader waved a talon. “I know, I know. Calm down, we’ve got this handled.” The same talon was raised in the air, continuing to be waved around as the griffon spoke. “We sneak into the Crystal Empire, either sneak or fight our way into the palace while killing as few crystal ponies as possible, find the princess, then escape with her and bring her back to Equestria while mentioning that you were the one who hired us.”

Hard Line winced at the leader’s use of the word ‘killing’. It wasn’t the fault of the crystal ponies in his eyes, but instead he placed the full blame on the supposed ruler who had turned them against their fellow equines. He could still remember the ape-like creature making the horrid scene at the Gala, the brute no doubt only good for violence and violence alone.

It was no wonder that the crystal ponies, a peaceful people and old allies of Equestrians if the dusty history books were correct, had been influenced by yet another tyrant. The presence of the changelings only confirmed the evilness that had befallen the once noble city, although he was secretly pleased that the bugs were not likely to return to Equestria at all.

“I think it would be best if you tried to be subtle,” he suggested. “Harming crystal ponies is not a goal of mine.”

“What of the creatures that you have told us about? As well as the changelings that also inhabit the city?”

Hard Line’s mouth twitched. “With changelings and the humans, do as you will. I care not for them.”

“I myself,” the leader responded. “Also have no love for those shapeshifters. Since you are likely not aware of this, we griffons have had problems with them over the last few decades. I have fought against them, and unless they are in a coordinated large group then they are of little threat.” The talon was once again drummed on the table. “However, I take little pleasure in fighting inadequate foes, so a non-violent path is one that I’d rather take if I can. The thrill of slipping in and out unnoticed will be more than enough.”

“Whatever suits you.” Hard Line coughed into a hoof, growing impatient. “So, you believe that you can solve this problem?”

In reply, the leader grinned while nudging the mercenary on his right. On the cue, the griffon pulled down the top of his cloak, revealing the solid breastplate underneath. Hard Line recognised the spread-wings symbol of the griffon army, as well as catching a glimpse of a sword pommel. His stomach churned when he also noticed that on the breastplate were five lines over crudely drawn griffon-heads, a tally of kills.

“We’re… ex-army,” the leader grinned before finishing his ale. “Me and my boys didn’t take kindly to being stuck guarding a useless fort in a desolate mountain path. Needless to say, our garrison commander and his fellow officers didn’t share our decision to leave, so… measures had to be taken. Sure, we’re now kill-on-site in the griffon empire, but thanks to our new freedom we can help upstanding folks like yourself.”
Hard Line was frozen, the griffon patting him on the foreleg before all three moved out of the table.

“Relax, my good Noblestallion. We’ll have this job done in no time at all. I guarantee it.”

Watching the three walk out of the near-empty bar, he decided to sit in the dark for a few minutes and wait.

“Why does this feel like a big mistake?” he asked himself under his breath.

Luna looked out behind them, the Crystal Empire fading away behind them as the chariot soared through the snowy sky. Looking back beside her she observed that her two guards were both still shaken, understandable considering that their game of chess had been interrupted by her sister and Twilight Sparkle suddenly teleporting atop of the game board.

“Luna, are you alright?” She turned to look at Celestia at the question, her sister examining her with concern-laden eyes. “I’m sorry that you were imprisoned for so long, I did not want to risk anything until I had a solid plan in place.”

Shaking her head, Luna tried to relax Celestia with a smile. “There is no need to be concerned, sister. My captors were fair and just, no harm has befallen my guards or I. I can see why you wished to be cautious, and it was I that decided to take rash action.” Her smile faltered, glancing back outside the window before returning her attention to Celestia. “Although I feel that my rescue will not go over well with my former captors.”

“You mean Emperor Chalmers?” Twilight spoke up from her seat next to Celestia, a shudder going through the librarian’s body. “I bet he wasn’t very nice to you at all, considering how mad he was when we were there.”

“He actually bothered us little,” Luna explained. “Apart from our hostile meeting with him, we saw little of him. Even his cohort, the scientist named ‘Elijah’, eventually seemed to lose interest.”

“Lucky for you,” Twilight murmured. “He’s so persistent… and strange.”

Luna nodded with a frown. “Strange indeed, even amongst his ilk. He told me things,” she shivered at the memory. “Terrible things that I hope I will never have to witness personally.”

“He gave you information?” Celestia leaned forward.

“Far more than I gave him,” Luna confirmed, glancing to her wings. “He was more enthralled with my form than what I was actually saying.” Her face heated up, but she managed to keep from showing a blush. “I must admit, the digits they have are very suitable for the pruning for one’s wings.”

“He touched you?” Celestia’s eyes narrowed, Luna raising a hoof.

“Not inappropriately,” she explained. “They don’t seem to be very knowledgeable regarding the proper treatment of royalty. If anything, it was more…” she struggled to find the right words, Sergeant Lumen stepping in.

“He said we were ‘cute’,” the nocturne grumbled, his wings flexing. “Adorable, even.”

Luna had to hold back a smile at that, the memory of the unstable scientist bending down and making ‘Eek’ sounds like a bat at an attempt to provoke Lumen an amusing one regardless of the insult to her guards. “You were very well behaved, both of you. Despite strenuous circumstances you refrained from worsening the situation.”

Both Lumen and Darkbane perked up at that, sitting straight with pride evident. Celestia relaxed but still remained quiet, Luna glancing to Twilight Sparkle. “Once again, thank you both for our rescue. I just hope that it won’t lead to any violent reprisal.”

“They don’t seem to be the forgiving type,” Twilight shared. “Although now that there are no Equestrians left in the city, we can stop them.” Luna watched with slight concern while her sister’s student looked up determinedly at Celestia. “Princess, give me and the others a chance. With the Elements, we can put a stop to this.”

“How do you intend to approach close enough to put this plan into action?” Luna questioned.

“We can use the same crystal that we did to rescue you.” Twilight was on a roll, gesturing with her hooves wildly. “Of course, it’ll be tricky teleporting the six of us in there, finding our way to the Emperor while avoiding his guards, using the elements on him, then using the elements on the other three aliens, then we’ll-“

“Twilight,” Celestia interrupted, a warm smile on her face. “I appreciate the plan and your willingness to do what is right, and I have full confidence in your abilities, but I’d prefer to not have to take that option unless absolutely needed.”

Twilight’s ears flattened. “Did I make a mistake?”

“Not at all,” Celestia reassured, unfolding a wing and patting her student ton the back. “I have to admit that it would certainly catch them off guard, but I’m afraid it’s not as simple as just getting rid of the Emperor.” An apologetic smile was sent her way, Luna giving her sister a slight nod in understanding. “I made that mistake, and I underestimated his standing amongst the crystal ponies and changelings.”

“That is correct,” Luna agreed. “They see us as an enemy to fight, and they are fiercely loyal to their city and people. They have accepted him as one of them, so any action we take against the Emperor will also be seen as action against the Crystal Empire as a whole.” She shuddered, remembering the outcome of the previous attempt. “We have all experienced how unpredictable ponies can be when they feel threatened.”
There was silence in the cabin, all of them thinking about the issue they found themselves in. Then, it was Celestia who spoke.

“I hope that we can peacefully resolve our differences,” she began. “I don’t just hope, but believe we can.”

Luna nodded. “I share that belief, sister. All we need is to be able to show them that we are not going to fight them.”

“But the crystal ponies and changelings hate us,” Twilight pointed out sadly.

“No, Twilight Sparkle, they do not hate us. They are afraid of us, of what we will do if we occupy them again. The Emperor and his fellows are a different matter, but I know that the Emperor will do the best for his subjects as long as he believes it to be the right path.”

There was silence again, all knowing that swaying the alien ruler was going to be a monumental task. Luna grew uncomfortable after a few minutes, so she turned to Twilight Sparkle and cleared her throat to get the unicorn’s attention. “So,” she began hesitantly. “How is young Spike doing, Twilight Sparkle?”

Reflection strode out of the jewellery shop with her head held high and a smile on her face. The bracelet on her leg glittered in the sunlight, more than one mare glancing at it while they passed. Glancing behind her, her grin widened when Nigel exited the store while still shaking his head, a grinning Orthodox following behind. Reflection fought to keep the smile when she once again saw the large diamond ring on the orange finger, silently reminding herself that Orthodox wasn’t the only one who’d extorted a flashy item of jewellery from Nigel today.

“Well, we now have bling,” Orthodox stated while admiring his ring. “Let’s get food and booze.”

Reflection sighed. “I was hoping to have a nice lunch with Nigel, actually,” she explained while looking up at the mentioned human. “Can’t you just give him some money so he can eat… somewhere different?”

Nigel was about to answer, but Orthodox got in first. “Money? I’ve just been going around and they’ve been giving me stuff.”

“What?” Nigel frowned as he paused his walking. “Please tell me you haven’t just been stealing from the ponies and changelings.”

“It’s not stealing,” Orthodox defended, crossing his arms. “I thought it was like medieval Europe. I know the King, so I get to take stuff from the peasants.”

Reflection frowned at having her fellow citizens referred to as ‘peasants’, but she was confused as to what ‘Medieval Europe’ was. Looking towards Nigel, he seemed just as puzzled.

“Wait… most humans don’t know much about Terra any more, let alone pre-colonial Europe. How can you possibly know about European way of life in the medieval times?”

Orthodox shrugged. “Hey, they had maces and spent most of their time fighting each other, that shit’s interesting.” The midget then muttered to himself. “Damn, now I want a mace…”

“Idiot,” Reflection heard Nigel mutter under his breath. She tried and failed at holding back a laugh.

“Don’t you have a mace?” she teased, earning a smirk from Orthodox. “And I seem to remember you naming it.”

“That’s different,” Nigel huffed. “As Emperor, a mace is needed for me to maintain my image of an upstanding royal.” A hand was placed on his chest, Reflection rolling her eyes.

She knew where this was going.

Not giving him the chance, she shot him a mischievous look before she quickly turned and hurried off into the crowed street. Ponies and changelings parted for her with surprised looks, but she paid them no mind. Checking behind her to make sure he was following, she could see him laughing at her softly while carefully weaving through the street after her. She was so fixated on taunting him further, that she didn’t even see the panting guard before it was too late.

Reflection winced when she made contact with the armoured shoulder, jolting her back while the owner halted with a gasp. “Lady Reflection, I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head to clear her daze and looked at the changeling guard she had run into. The female was staring at her with concern, so she waved it off. “It’s fine, I was the one not looking after all.”

“I wasn’t either,” the guard admitted. “I’m Private Mirror. I was looking for the Emperor with urgent news.”

Reflection didn’t like the way the guard was acting. “Urgent? Is it bad?”

Mirror winced. “Well, it’s about-“


Nigel had finally caught up. Orthodox following alongside while chewing a muffin. Straight away a hand was placed on her back, Chalmers chuckling while dusting down his front. “Jeez, even with that mane you’re hard to spot in a crowd. What’s the deal, anyway?” He focused down on the guard, smiling and nodding after looking at the rank marking on the right shoulder. “Private, forgive me but I don’t recall meeting you before.”

Reflection held her tongue, knowing that he often relied on her to remember the names of all the changelings he’d met.

“It’s Mirror, Emperor,” Mirror answered with a hasty salute. “I’m sorry sir, but I need you to come to the palace right away.”

“Oh? Is something the matter?”

Reflection glanced towards him when Private Mirror lowered her head, the armoured changeling looking like a misbehaved puppy.
“I’m sorry, Emperor,” Mirror answered. “But I’ve failed you and the Empire.”

“What!? Where in the bloody depths of hell is she!?”

Mirror winced while the Emperor shouted at the room he was standing in, the guards watching from outside the door being very careful to not utter a word. Sheen was standing over by the bathroom door with her head bowed, the crystal pony guard accompanied by Lady Reflection.

“The… the Equetrians must have snuck in and somehow teleported out,” Mirror explained while she shook and held onto her helmet, the furious Emperor turning his glare onto her. “I… I was talking to Private Sheen when I noticed a faint trace of magic. It was too quiet inside so we both went in. The room was empty and when I looked out of the window I saw a chariot flying away. I’m sorry, it all happened so quickly.”

She waited for an angry outburst, the Emperor’s fists clenched and his face going a slight shade of red. Ears folded down, she prepared herself to be chewed out and told to turn in her armour. The appeal of being a soldier was a dream come true to a low drone like her, but evidently she just wasn’t cut out for it. Gritting her teeth, she silently cursed herself when she realised that she hadn’t just doomed herself, but had distracted and thusly also screwed over Sheen.

Eyes on the floor, she shifted in her armour while she heard the trotting of hooves and hushed whispering before her. No doubt Lady Reflection was just as disappointed in her, Mirror sniffling at the thought of being ostracized by the respected changeling leader.

“Private…” the Emperor began, Mirror raising her head at the surprisingly warm tone. He was looking down at her with understanding, not the anger that she had been witnessing. “Look, I can’t really blame you and Private Sheen for the Princess escaping. From what you’ve told me it appears as if she had outside help and that it was done with magic, something we honestly lack enough knowledge of. Just… you and Sheen should take the rest of the day off, get some rest and don’t worry about this incident. Okay?”

Nodding her head, Mirror quickly replaced her helmet, stood up, and bowed.

“Thank you, Emperor.”

He waved a hand at her, Mirror deciding to not overstay her welcome. Hurrying out of the room, she was aware of Sheen following closely behind. Both pushed through the group of fellow guards while avoiding eye-contact, eager to escape the prying eyes of their comrades. Exiting into the corridor, they both headed to the stairs and didn’t speak until there was no-one around but a few maids paying them no attention.

“That could have gone worse,” Sheen murmured while starting to trot down the stairs. “I was expecting him to just start yelling at us.”

“How’d you think I felt?” Mirror shuddered.

“I didn’t envy you.” A sigh escaped from the mare’s mouth. “So, I guess you aren’t going to still be going out tonigh-“

“Son of a bitch!”

The yell and sound of shattering wood caused them to both stop and glance back to where they had come from, a mass of guards quickly filing out of the corridor like Cerberus himself was after them.

“How about we talk about that back at the Barracks?” Mirror suggested, before hurrying down the stairs as fast as her legs could take her.

Reflection stared at Nigel, one hoof raised in the air with her mouth open. He was positively livid, his shoulders heaving while he glared at the half-finished chess game sitting on the table. The remains of the wooden stool lay shattered against the far wall, Reflection breaking out of her shock and moving forward so as to preserve the remaining furniture.

“Nigel?” she tried softly, trotting up and touching him lightly on the back of the leg. “Can you calm down?”

“Calm down?” he laughed, Reflection flinching at the lack of humour. “How can I calm down, Reflection?” He turned around to look down at her, his fists still clenched. “As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’ve lost my hostage, apparently the Equestrians can now infiltrate the palace with some unknown means! That means more guards inside of the palace itself, meaning less builders on the walls, less patrols at the edge of the city, less scouts to keep an eye on the Equestrians, less guards to make sure Chrysalis doesn’t try to pull something…”

He brushed her hoof away, sitting down on the edge of the bed with a kick to the table. The chess pieces clattered down, with a few falling to the floor itself. Reflection flinched but didn’t draw back, instead she flew up to sit on the bed beside him.

“Fuck’s sake,” Nigel muttered, eying the second stool. “That’s what I get for getting lazy, leaving this entire Equestrian problem on the backburner.” He drummed his fingers on his knees. “I should just chuck on my armour, gather the guys and go shank Celestia and Luna once and for all.”

Reflection frowned. While she wasn’t adverse to the plan, in her mind there were more important things that he needed to do with his time. Leaning up against him, she gave him a comforting nuzzle before stating her case.

“Please don’t,” she requested. “At least not yet. I don’t want you to go off unprepared and lose because of it, like last time. That’s what they’re probably trying to do, bait you to make you act rashly so they can force you to make a mistake.” She rubbed his thigh with her foreleg, the other one going around to pat the middle of his back.

“I doubt it,” he grumbled, although she could feel him start to calm down. “So far they haven’t made any hostile moves yet, apart from this trickery.”

Another nuzzle, this one rewarded with reciprocation. “But look at their army,” she reasoned. “They’re so afraid of us that they feel the need to try and outnumber us, and even then they’re unprepared. Our soldiers are well trained and prepared, thanks to the work that you, Strategy, and Agent James have done.” A hand went to her side, her wings buzzing when it rubbed. “Equestria is scared of us, and even with their princess back, what can they do? All we need to do is trust our guards, take our time, and plan out our attack.”

Reflection gave him time to think her suggestions over, Chalmers remaining silent.

“Besides, it’s my hatchday in a few days. I’d hate to have it spoiled by not having you here for it.”

“What will spoil it will be if Equestria tries to take this city again,” he muttered. “Except this time they’ll be able to just teleport inside.”

“They won’t,” she told him, continuing to pat his back. “If there’s one thing I know about Equestrians, then it’s the fact that they’d fight only as a last resort. We’ve got them scared, so you can relax.” Rubbing her head against his shoulder, she flicked her tail. “Also, I hate it when you’re tense like this.”

At last she had some success, Nigel’s muscles relaxing and his shoulders slumping while his fists unclenched. “I suppose you’re right,” he admitted. “What can they do, after all? We’ll double the guards and be ready for the next time they try to get in.” He gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry for losing it there, it’s hard to continue the ‘Nice Guy’ shtick with all of this stuff going on.”

She smiled back, waving a hoof in dismissal. “It’s fine, really. I know that you’d never hurt me, so I was more worried about you and the furniture.” He glanced around the room, Reflection quickly using her hoof to turn his chin back around so he was focused on her instead. “Don’t worry about it, okay?”

“Fine,” he sighed, before leaning back on the bed with his hands behind his head. “I guess I’ll just take five minutes.”

Joining him, she made sure to cross her hind legs before turning to lay on her side and face him.

“This may be a bad time,” she pressed, resting a foreleg on his shoulder. “But do you think there will be a time where we don’t have to worry about anything like this? You know,” she shuffled closer. “Just some time where we can spend it together without interruption and more interruption on top of constant duties, and we don’t have to worry about others?” Sighing, she smiled when she imagined all of the things they could do.

“It’s likely,” he answered after a while. “Granted, probably for only a few days at once, but when I’m finally not Emperor any more then we’ll have so much more. I promise.”

“Not Emperor?” she questioned, sitting up. “But… what about the Crystal Empire?”

He smiled at that, briefly rubbing his nose.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he reassured her. “I’ve got someone in mind for the job when the time comes.”

“Soldiers, the mission you’re going on is of massive importance to the Crystal Empire’s security. It’s risky and you’ve only been given the smallest time in which to train, but I believe in you.”

Strategy once again glanced around at the ten changelings lined up before him in the training field, all without armour with a few sporting hats typical to Equestrians. The saddle bags at their sides contained golden bits ‘borrowed’ from a certain alien’s stash, enough love gems to last each two whole months without supply, as well as fabricated personal items to further support each changeling’s carefully rehearsed cover story.

Agent James was standing off to the side, Strategy thankful that the one sane member of the Emperor’s friends was the one who had primarily trained the spies. The black human had his helmet in his hand, the other one tapping the side of his armour.

“You all know your mission,” Strategy continued. “You are to travel in your groups to the town of ‘Haybuck’, blending in with the population and keeping an eye on the guards. According to the scouts it is one of the primary gathering points of the Equestrian army, so if any attack is launched you’ll know about it.” Taking another look at the troops, hoping that it wasn’t for the last time, Strategy cleared his throat. “I’ll repeat that you are to take no action but warn us as soon as possible, understood?”

All ten saluted.

“Yes, Captain!”

He returned it, face stony but chest full of pride. “Excellent. Now, the Emperor apologises that he is unable to be here to see you off.” Everyone, even James, glanced up towards the palace from where the smashing sounds had rung out from. Strategy returned his focus to them, the changelings likewise looking back at him. “I assure you that he wishes you the best, and that he shares my confidence in you.” The ten gave him a final salute, Strategy nodding. “Dismissed.”

In pairs and threes, the soldiers took one last look at their city before their wings buzzed. Strategy watched them all take to the skies, splitting up and flying out towards the south of the city with no pomp or fanfare. His face hardened, while not doubting his soldiers he hated the thought of sending more to their deaths. The memories of the prior battles against the Elk were still fresh in his mind.

“They’ll be fine.”

Strategy looked up, Agent James standing beside him and watching the departing changelings.

“I wish I could be as confident,” he admitted, shifting in his armour. “I hate having to order them to do this.”

“It’s their job,” James pointed out, thoughtfully rubbing his chin with an armoured hand. “And, after all, they are naturally equipped for the task. They’ve been trained, they themselves are confident in their own abilities, and it is a risk that is well worth taking.”

“How so?”

James paused. “What happens if they get caught? Will the Equestrians execute them?”

“No, that’s not likely.” He grimaced. “But there is still a chance. Who knows what the tension will drive them to do?”

James hummed to himself, before placing his helmet back on. Strategy watched as the dull eye lenses glowed a steady blue, the human turning to walk back into the palace.

“Well, let us hope that our confidence in them proves true, just in case. Have a good evening, Captain Strategy.”

Watching the agent walk away, Strategy wondered where he was going to go. The guards had told him that Agent James was a bit of a recluse from what they could tell, the dour human spending most of his free time in his room. Remembering the dinner that he was due to have with the Emperor that night, Strategy raised a hoof.

“Wait, Agent James.” The addressed man halted and turned, Strategy gesturing towards the city. “The Emperor and his advisors were going to have dinner in the city, myself and… a friend included. I’m sure that you’d be welcome to join us all.”

James seemed to consider it. “I’m afraid I will have to decline, Chalmers’ choices in dining venues are… not to my taste.” He went to turn away again, but Strategy could guess as to what the agent was alluding to.

“It’s at the fanciest restaurant in the city.”

That stopped James, Strategy hearing another hum come from within the helmet.

“Very well, Captain,” James farewelled with his walking resuming. “I might as well use the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine. I shall see you there.”

With that, Strategy watched him leave, wondering exactly what had compelled him to extend the invitation.

“This is a mistake, I just know it.”

“Reflection, relax.” Nigel patted the changeling sitting next to him on the back, taking care to not mess up her mane-matching dress. Across from them sat Strategy and Sparkling, the two now not even attempting to be coy about their relationship. “Remember the promise.”

Her frown only lifted by the smallest of margins.

“I expect the full thing, the bath will only be the introduction,” she asserted, Chalmers holding out his palms.

“Okay, understood.”

A giggle from Sparkling led to Reflection poking her tongue out at her, Strategy sighing while Nigel chuckled. Patting Reflection’s foreleg while she lightened up, he glanced around the rest of the restaurant.

It was small but fancy, the owner having placed them on a table on the second story despite his protests. It was empty save for their group and the occasional waiter or waitress, Nigel suspecting that the owner had taking his joke about ‘wanting a quiet dinner for once’ too seriously. Still ,the others seemed to be enjoying it, even Reflection had been enthralled by the indoor fountains and marble walls.

Tapping his free hand on the pearl-white table cloth, he shook his head at the golden cutlery before them. Apparently the establishment was so upper-class that even non-unicorns were expected to use the provided knives, forks, and spoons. Hence, he pitied Sparkling and Strategy, the two already having tried to practice with the tricky devices.

He looked back to them at a cough from Strategy, the Captain wearing a nice tux and black bowtie that looked incredibly out of place on him.
“So, I heard that this place does amazing food,” Strategy shared, glancing towards Reflection with an eyebrow raised. “Apparently they’ve also been experimenting with dishes designed for changelings are well. Are you going to try them?”

Reflection shook her head. “No, I’m just going to stick to the drinks.”

“Oh, come on,” Sparkling goaded with a smile. “You’re going to miss out on the chance to try some actual changeling food? Have you seen this place? If the building looks this good, then just think about the food!” Her smile softened. “Besides, remember the last time you drank without eating? I heard you drank so much that Nigel had to carry you out.”

“Lies and slander,” Reflection scoffed with a hoof to her chest. “It was purely part of my plan.”

“Yeah, your plan to get wasted and to try and show up Cadence,” he reminded her lightly, earning himself a soft slap on the arm accompanied by her laughter.

“Oh, like I was the only one trying to show off,” she shot back. “I remember you going through three drinks in five minutes.”

“Given your state of intoxication that night, I highly doubt your ability to remember.”

“That’s not nice!” she laughed again, her foreleg making to hit his arm again but it was caught in time. While he gained vengeance by tickling the leg-holes at his mercy and making her giggle uncontrollably, he was aware of eyes on him. Glancing up, he stopped teasing Reflection when he noticed the looks that Sparkling and Strategy were giving them.


“Oh, nothing,” his assistant replied with a smile. “You two just make an adorable couple. An alien ruler and a shapeshifting changeling, sitting there like it’s completely natural.” The smile widened, Reflection’s laughter dying down. “So, when’s the wedding?”

Nigel noticed out of the corner of his eye that Reflection seemed to pale, and upon turning to make sure she was alright he witnessed an oddity. Quickly waving her forelegs in front of her, Reflection was very frantic in her attempts to answer the harmless teasing.

“Wedding?” Reflection chuckled nervously. “No, there’s no wedding. What wedding? How did you find out about th- a wedding?”
Nigel shared a look with Strategy and Sparkling, both equally as confused as he was.

“…It was a joke,” Sparkling informed slowly. “I was pointing out that you two are always acting like you’re married.”
Reflection stopped and nervously fiddled with her forehooves.

“Hey,” Nigel decided to step in to save her from the confused gazes. “I take offense to that, we’re happy.”

It took a second for them to get the joke, but then all four laughed or chuckled while shaking their heads.

“That’s not true, surely,” Reflection smiled. “I mean, it’s supposed to be with the one you love above all else after all.”

“Yeah, well I’d think I’d know, considering I’ve gone through three of them already.”

He realised what he had just said as soon as he had said it, the chuckles going dead silent. Reflection had her mouth opening and closing, no words escaping while she stared at him. Strategy was in the middle of raising his hoof to ask a question, while Sparkling was more focused on the shell-shocked Reflection.

It was right then that Nigel wished that the restaurant would hurry up and serve them drinks already. However, it looked like he was going to have to use a different method to cover his slipup.

“It’s a… joke?” He tried, Reflection finally closing her mouth. She stared at him, Nigel smiling back innocently.

“A bad one,” she finally muttered, looking back to the middle of the table and beginning to brood.

‘Well, it could have gone worse,’ he figured, deciding to let Reflection be for the time being. Focusing back on Sparkling and Strategy, he froze when he noticed the look Sparkling as giving him.

The mare’s eyes were narrowed, there being no doubt that she had seen through his charade. Sparkling made a pointed glance towards Reflection, before looking back at him. Nigel shook his head, obviously the wrong response as Sparkling’s frown deepened. Giving him a final glance, she turned to Reflection and went to begin speaking.

“Excuse me, Emperor.” Sparkling was interrupted before she could begin, all four looking towards the stairs. A lone waiter in a black and white uniform was standing to attention, the cobalt crystal stallion bowing his head. “Your final guest has arrived.”

From the stairs ascended James, the agent without armour but wearing a simple white dress shirt and black pants. He made his way towards them, pulled out the chair between Reflection and Sparkling, before sitting down with his hands in his lap.

“Good Evening all,” he greeted. “I must say, the suggestion that this place is fancy is not far off. It’s actually quite appealing.” He smiled at them all, before he noticed the general tension. “Is something the matter?”

“No, not at all,” Nigel was quick to get in, earning stares from the other three who had witness the night’s incident. “Just… not used to such an upper-class place yet. Right?”

“That’s right,” Strategy backed him up, ignoring the look that Sparkling gave him.

“Ah, I see,” James continued with a raised eyebrow. “How are you all liking it? I myself particularly enjoy the beautiful marble walls that they have and-“

“Was Nigel ever married before!?”

The blood froze in Nigel’s veins, even the waiter at the end of the room going stock still. Slowly turning his head, he saw that Reflection had her eyes locked firmly on the psionic soldier. James in turn glanced at him.

“Have I missed something here? That question is not one that is usually so frantic.” He looked back to Reflection. “It is however one that should probably be answered by he alone, truthfully.” James glanced towards Nigel again at the last part, before reaching out a hand to pat Reflection on the shoulder. “I still don’t see how that would change things. I heard that you two were planning something, but I would assume that if it’s about what I think it’s about then I would be sure that he informed you of what it would mean if it went ahead.”

There was silence save for Nigel coughing into a hand, Reflection slowly turning to glare at him.

“Oh dear,” James muttered, before glancing towards the waiter who was still deciding on approaching them at the current time. “Waiter, we may be in need of some drinks…”

“So, she left after I was away for seven months without calling her. Stupid bitch didn’t even accept the fact that I was trapped in a bloody bunker on a bloody planet covered with bloody radiation for like… six out of those seven months.”

Reflection watched while Nigel drained his wine glass, before placing it back down next to his half-eaten salad. Immediately the waiter rushed over to refill it from a fat bottle, before retreating back to his spot.

“Oh…” she mumbled, prodding at her own food with a fork. It was very good salad, apparently cooked with a love gem inside the pot so it made it more appealing to changelings, but his explanation of his past failed marriages had killed her appetite. Her wine glass likewise stood untouched, Reflection feeling guilty that she had forced him into talking about the sore topic.

“Thankfully for me, I’d taken Elijah’s advice and invested most of my paychecks, so she only managed to screw me out of a few million credits. Far as I know, she’s out on some paradise world somewhere enjoying my money.” He stabbed his fork into the salad, before lifting it up to devour the leafy greens. “I feel sorry for the poor sod that gets her next.”

When he paused to take another drink, she quickly glanced over to the others. Strategy and Sparkling were likewise picking at their food, while James seemed unaffected. Still, while the so-far quiet man ate his own meal and drank his own drink, Reflection could see that he was keeping an eye on Nigel.

“And the third,” Nigel began after finishing yet another glass, his eyes unfocused. “Well, we don’t talk about her.” His tone darkened but she could pick up a hint of sadness in it.

“No we do not,” James agreed while removing his glass from him. “For many reasons, as well. Now, I know we’re just on the entrees, but you have already gone through a large amount of wine and-“

“I know, I know. I’m drunk and spoiling it for everyone.”

Putting her hoof out to touch his hand, her magic died out as she placed her fork down. “No, you’re not. I’m sorry for asking the question.”

“Don’t be,” he sighed, pushing the hoof away and standing up from the table. “It was really something I should have told you anyway. Now, I’m going to leave you guys to enjoy the rest of your dinner, just…” he wobbled on his feet before placing a hand down on the table to steady himself. “Let them know to send the bill to the treasury.”

Turning around, he stumbled his way towards the stairs. James sighed and made to get up, but Reflection shook her head at him. Leaving her seat, she waved goodbye to the three remaining before catching up to Nigel.

“Here,” she told him, moving up alongside. “Put your hand on my back to steady yourself.”

“You should be back at the table,” he told her, but his hand was placed where she told him to anyway.

“No, it’s my responsibility to help you home,” she replied, nodding at the silent waiter as they passed and began to descend the stairs. “Besides, the other three will still be able to enjoy themselves. Watch that step there, good.”

It was slow going, but they managed to make it down without any tumbles. Leading him out of the restaurant, she was thankful that it was quiet and the streets were almost clear. The less who saw Nigel in his current state, the better. She made sure that they stuck to the darker streets, and before long they had reached the castle gates.

“Nearly there,” she encouraged, the groups of guards that she passed on the way through the main doors giving them glances but not saying a thing. A pair of guards approached once they had entered the palace proper.

“Do you need any assistance, Emperor?”

Reflection nudged Nigel in the side of the leg to keep him moving.

“No thanks,” she smiled. “I’ve got this. Thank you though.”

“No problem, Ma’am,” the guard nodded, before he and his fellow returned to their post by the door.

She continued on, helping Nigel all the way up the stairs while declining more offers of help from multiple groups of guards.

‘When he said to double the guards, he meant it,’ she acknowledged, guiding the human around a group of six crystal ponies conducting a patrol of the corridor.

At last she made it to their room, shutting the door behind her with a kick. Leading him to the bed, she helped him lie down before she started to prepare for the night.

The silver shoes on her hooves were taken off and placed in their spot in the wardrobe, followed by Nigel’s shoes which she removed for him. Then it was a simple matter of removing her dress and jewellery, the amethyst bracelet going into her drawer while the dress was set aside for the laundry staff to collect in the morning. Her necklace remained on as she climbed atop the bed, as she never removed it unless absolutely needed to.

Not bothering to get them underneath the covers, she snuggled up against his side and tried to ignore the smell of wine. He didn’t make any attempt to move so she assumed he was asleep.

Reflection didn’t fall asleep immediately, instead she was stuck awake by herself. Her thoughts drifted to her upcoming hatchday, only a mere two days away. A smile graced her face at the thoughts of what it would bring, and she wasn’t thinking about the presents or party that had been promised.

Then Nigel, who she had thought was asleep, sloppily moved an arm around her. “I’m sorry for not telling you about that stuff before,” he managed out.

“It’s fine,” she replied with some surprise at the out-of-the-blue apology. “You did say that you couldn’t tell me everything back when we first agreed to date, and I guess that I got a little… well, hurt that you didn’t trust me.” Placing her own foreleg over him as well, she sighed. “I think we both had a moment of silliness.”

“But I do trust you,” he murmured, Reflection sighing again.

“I know, I know that and I trust you too.”

He was silent for a few moments, almost long enough to make her believe that he had fallen asleep again before he continued on softly. “It was orders, Reflection. I did it because of the orders.”

“Huh?” she mumbled back, sitting up to look at him. “What do orders have to do about this?”

It was too late, however. Nigel was out like a light, leaving only Reflection to ponder his seemingly meaningless words.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure that they’ve just overslept and it isn’t a deliberate attempt to avoid you.”

Chrysalis continued to frown at Elijah’s failed attempt to explain the lateness of the Emperor while he knocked lightly on the bedroom door. In just an hour she was due to leave with her loyal subjects to the new land the Crystal Empire had acquired from the griffons, along with all the needed supplies and unfortunately a number of disloyal changeling guards who would be keeping an eye on them.

While she would have loved to have just left already without having to spend another irritating moment with the Emperor and his pet traitor, for some reason she felt insulted at the snub. To think that she, Queen Chrysalis of the Changelings, wasn’t worth the time for them to get out of bed!

‘The nerve of them,’ she thought while grinding her teeth. ‘Considering that I even considered going along with this plan, I’d expect some more respect.’

“Hrmm, Nigel, Miss Reflection?” Elijah tried again with another knock. “You’re late, it’s almost lunchtime and myself and the Queen are leaving soon.”

Chrysalis rolled her eyes at his pitiful attempts, a forehoof tapping impatiently. The so-called scientist in his strange armour would no doubt prove to be a troublesome supervisor, and she was certain that his seemingly-bumbling demeanour wasn’t as simple as she had suspected.

The fact that his priority had been the safe stowage of the containers of dragon heads indicated that he had numerous issues that could prove dangerous.

She even almost felt pity for the drones tasked to carry the morbid boxes during their flight.

Chrysalis’s ears picked up when she heard muffled hoofsteps from the other side of the door. The owner fumbled with the lock and latch, Chrysalis using to time to ask a question that was on her mind.

“Why did the guards not wake them sooner?”

“From what I heard, it was a rather rough night for the pair, so the guards decided that letting them sleep in was better than waking the Emperor and possibly having him grumpy for the day.”

Chrysalis snorted. “And they didn’t discuss this decision with their Captain?”

“Well,” Elijah hummed. “I believe that he was also out with the Emperor last night.”

‘Idiots.’ Chrysalis shook her head with the thought. ‘It’s a wonder as to how this city is still no invaded yet.’

Finally the bedroom door opened, Chrysalis’ frown narrowing when she saw that it was Reflection. The sleepy-eyed traitor looked out at them, Chrysalis wrinkling her nose at the faint smell of wine in her mane.

“Hm?” Reflection uttered sleepily. “What’s the matter?”

Chrysalis was just about to lecture Reflection on respect towards one’s betters, but unfortunately Elijah got in first.

“We’re sorry for waking you,” he began with a smile.

‘I’m not.’

“But I’m afraid that Nigel and yourself are needed down in the west fields. Queen Chrysalis’ group is about to depart, along with me, towards the Griffon lands. I believe that we are to depart in an hour, or to be more precise in fifty-three standard Imperial minutes given the planet’s orbital period.

“The planet’s what period?” Reflection questioned back, for once Chrysalis agreeing with her.

“He means that we’re running out of time, and you and your… Emperor are late.” A glare rose up from the upstart, Chrysalis ignoring it. “So, hurry up.”

“Bitch,” she heard Reflection mutter under her breath, before a fake smile was directed at her. “Oh, but of course Your Highness. I’d just hate to have one of our subordinates leave to our new protectorate without seeing them off, especially when I respect them so much.” The smile dropped. “We’ll be there soon, bye.” With that, the door closed and left Chrysalis and Elijah standing in the corridor.

“Why, that… that…!” Her wings buzzed angrily, eyes narrowed into slits at the slight. “Ungrateful spoiled brat!”

“Just let it go,” Elijah advised, shrugging his shoulders and turning on his heels to walk away. “I mean, you weren’t exactly the picture of civility in that circumstance either. Besides, my dear Queen, our departure awaits and we still have much to do!”

Grumbling to herself, Chrysalis followed him as he marched off back to the staircase, still trying to figure out if he had just belittled her or not.

“Nigel, Nigel wake up.”

Chalmers groaned and attempted to batter away the hooves shaking his chest, but it was a weak attempt that was only rewarded with tired laughter.

“Come on, we’ve each got to take a quick shower, we’re supposed to be saying goodbye to the guards you’re sending with Chrysalis.” Reflection leaned in and kissed him before drawing back again, and upon opening his eyes he was met with her smiling face.

“You look just as tired as me,” he groaned, earing another laugh from her. Despite her half-lidded eyes, it was bubbly and genuine.

“I am just as tired as you, but I know that we really should get up.” Reflection returned to all four hooves on the ground, looking at him from the side of the bed with a sly smile. “Come on, if you get up and have a shower, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Thanks for the offer,” he groaned while wiping his face with a hand. “But we both know that we won’t really have time for that if we’re that late.”

Reflection sighed but nodded. “I suppose that you’re right.” Sitting up on bed with difficulty, he gave her a quick head rub in apology.
“Go on, you go in first and I’ll take second, then we’ll quickly go to…”

“The West area,” she reminded him, pulling away from the rub and trotting into the bathroom.

Nigel listened as the shower turned on, remembering with a smile at how fascinated the crystal ponies had been when he had explained the basic idea of it. Considering they had gone from no indoor plumbing at all to showers, all with only his minimal assistance, it was quite a feat in his mind.

The smile faded when he found that the previous night was blurry, only small snippets making themselves known. He remembered stumbling, Reflection being worried, and something he had said making them all uncomfortable. Unable to puzzle it out himself, he looked across to the open bathroom door and wondered at how to best phrase the question.

“Hey, Reflection, I didn’t say anything stupid last night, did I? I can’t exactly remember it all and I could have sworn that you were worried about something.” He winced, thinking of one possibility. “You aren’t still mad about that whole ‘I’ve been married before’ thing, are you? That’s about all I can remember.”

Her pause in replying was longer than usual, Reflection not sounding too certain when she answered, either. “No, we already sorted that out and I understand. It was… something else.”

“What?” Nigel grimaced, not knowing much that could top the mentioned topic. Whatever it was, it’d have to be major.

“Well…” the shower turned off. “You may have… discussed them. Vividly.”

He froze, before he had to ask. “Even… even the third?”

“No,” Reflection informed him, allowing him to sigh in relief. “Although that’s when James stopped you and you got really… strange. Then we went back, because you’d been drinking a bit more than usual.”

“Ah, righto.”

Well, it explained why he had felt the need to drink so much, and now he was thankful that he couldn’t recall the conversation. Leaving the bed, he began to take off his shirt while the sounds of Reflection brushing her mane could be heard.

He was just thankful that she seemed to think nothing more of it. That was not something that he wanted the relatively innocent changeling to learn about.

Nigel stood at the front of the field, the air alive with the buzzing of wings warming up and the massed chattering of the hundreds of changelings loyal to Chrysalis. Reflection and Strategy were beside him, only the Captain looking fresh and fully alert.

“How do you do it, Strategy?” Nigel asked as a group of forty steel-clad changelings marched past with chests of love-gems between them.

“I don’t drink five bottles of wine the night before,” his Captain fired back, Reflection laughing at the jab.

“Yeah, yeah,” he sighed, rubbing his temples. “I screwed up, was late, all of that. Besides, I’m here now aren’t I?” Nigel looked out at the field, changelings being loaded up with tools, equipment, and raw materials. “Why do you even need me out here anyway?”

“Why, for your troops of course.”

All three turned as Elijah joined them, the scientist armoured up with his helmet on. Nigel raised an eye at the various boxes tied on with ropes to multiple points on the scientist’s body, but didn’t even bother to question it.

“What do you mean?” Strategy asked with his head tilted. “While the Emperor is liked by the guards, he is right in saying that he’s not really required.”

“Ah, but he’s watching over them as they prepare to leave alongside someone they see as an enemy. Chrysalis is not liked by any of them, and by having Nigel here, it’s saying that she is under his eye.” Elijah tapped his own chest. “As their temporary leader on this expedition, it also helps my standing to be seen with their ruler.” To highlight his point, Elijah looked at the nearest group of guards and waved in their direction. The chosen group of seven took a second to hesitantly wave their armoured-hooves back, the pause lost on Elijah as he turned back with a thumbs up. “See?”

It was at that moment in time that Nigel felt pity for his guards.

“You, Elijah.” Chrysalis stormed past a changeling drone, moving to face the scientist. “We are ready to go, but there is one thing that you have forgotten.”


“We’re going to fly there,” Chrysalis reminded slowly. “You. Do. Not. Have. Wings. All of my changelings and your guards are carrying items already.” She turned her mocking gaze onto Nigel. “Some fine planning you have done.”

“Hey,” he defended, using one hand on Reflections head to hold her back. “I had nothing to do with it. It was all Elijah’s area.” A finger was pointed towards Chrysalis. “Besides, you can hardly call yourself a strategic genius.” Chrysalis was just about to bite back if her glare was anything to go by, but Elijah swiftly both defused the situation and answered Chrysalis’ ‘concern’ at the same time.

“Both of you relax. One does not need wings to fly,” Elijah explained, stepping back and placing his fists on his hips. “Not when one has… Science!”

At his shout, two short wings and a small pair of thrusters popped out from his back, another set of smaller jets emerging from the back of his armoured boots.

“You, ah, you still have wings,” Nigel pointed out, but it was brushed off in Elijah’s enthusiasm.

“Wings of science, my dear friend.” Turning to Chrysalis, Elijah swept his hand across in a bow. “Shall we depart, Your Highness?”

“I… I am ready?” Chrysalis answered while taking a confused step back. Glancing up towards Nigel, she was met with a disinterested shrug. “Sure?”

“Very well, good to go!” Merrily, Elijah raised back up. “Stand back, I shall inform everyone that we are leaving.” He nodded towards Nigel, Reflection and Strategy also looking towards him but their looks were ones of confusion. “I shall send word via James of any updates.”

“Have fun,” Nigel replied, sneaking a victorious grin at Chrysalis.

She had no idea of what she was in for.

“Very well. By the power of physics!”

The thrusters glowed a bright blue, before Elijah lifted off with only whine instead of a roar. It gained the attention of everyone present, the scientist hovering up into the sky while spreading his arms wide.

“Attention all, today is a great day for you, me, and discovery!”

Shaking his head, Nigel turned around and began to walk back to the castle.

“Nigel?” he heard Strategy call out after him.

“I’m going back to bed,” he answered without looking back. “My head is killing me.”

"There sure are a lot of guards, I hope the others made it through okay."

Shill nodded at her Sergeant's observation, Buzz looking around the markets and whispering to her while they trotted.

Masquerading as a married couple from Manehattan touring the region's renown beekeeping industry, the two pegasi had generated little attention. Sure, the guards had gone through their bags and questioned them, but thankfully their faked personal belongings, false bag bottoms hiding their love-gems, and rehearsed cover stories had diverted any suspicion.

Besides, they had trotted up from behind the town, not from the north border which the two hundred royal guards were watching like hawks. Having changelings infiltrating such a place was so risky that it appeared to have been pulled off, even the townsponies expecting a frontal assault from the Crystal Empire.

"They'll be arriving in the town over the next few days," Buzz continued, brushing back his long, red mane with an orange hoof. "We've already got an inn room, so we'll get settle and start taking notes on the Equestrian build-up." Both stopped talking when a guard passed by, Shill making a cover.

"So, Heartflame, dear. Do you want to try some of the local food? I hear they do wonderful breakfast."

"That's a great idea." He extended a wing, placing it over her dark-blue back. "Anything for my lovely Raindrops." He leaned in an nuzzled her, Shill maintaining her cool and returning it like a loving mare would. The guard passed without even noticing them, Shill pulling away when they continued trotting on.

"A little enthusiastic there, Heartflame," she commented softly.

"I like being thorough, Raindrops honey," he whispered back, Shill smiling at how easily they had slipped into the facade.
Maybe this assignment wouldn't be as bad as she had feared.

Reflection slowly awoke, grunting while she stretched out her limbs under the soft bedsheets. Cricking her neck, she took notice that the space next to her was empty, odd considering that she had joined Nigel in bed the previous evening. Opening her eyes, she searched the empty room for him to no avail. Figuring that he had already left to do something, she yawned before regretfully leaving the comfortable bed.
Hooves hitting the floor, she ambled over towards her drawer in the dresser. Opening it, she stared at the bracelet inside for a few moments while something clicked in her mind.

‘Bracelet…’ she thought, before her eyes widened. ‘It’s my Hatchday!’

A grin blossomed on her face, giddy at the thought of the upcoming party. She had finished off her secret wedding plans, and the binder was just waiting to be presented to Nigel for his hopeful approval. It took all of her willpower to stop herself from just grabbing it and taking it to him immediately, Reflection forcing herself to calm down and be patient.

Levitating the bracelet onto her left leg, she turned around to leave. A note placed at her eyelevel greeted her, Reflection leaning in to study the yellowed-parchment. On it was an arrow pointing towards the large wardrobe, and upon following it she noticed a second note. Trotting up to the second parchment, she smiled to herself when she recognised the picture of a birthday present.

“He better not be hiding in there naked,” she muttered with a smile, not entirely adverse to the idea.

Slowly opening the door, she found to her slight disappointment that there was no nude Emperor waiting to tackle her into a day of unrestrained carnal lust. However, when she did indeed see the actual present, Reflection forgave him instantly.

Right next to her single green dress and his standard uniforms, hung an amazing dress made from black fabric. Reflection reached out a hoof to touch the tiny, glittering diamonds that covered it. Each one returned a reflection, the symbolism not lost on her as she touched the priceless item.

“How much did this cost?” she murmured in awe, guessing that the Royal Tailor wouldn’t be wanting for much for a while. It was like a starry sky she could wear.

Figuring that it was better to save the dress until her party that night, Reflection closed the wardrobe door and made her way outside of the room.

“Morning Ma’am,” one of the guards outside of the door greeted, the green stallion tipping his helmet.

“Happy Hatchday,” the changeling male on the other side added with a grin. “Are you looking forward to the party tonight? I hear the whole city is invited.”

“Thanks, and yes I am,” she smiled back. “Even if I’m betting that he’s gone and overdone it.”

“The Emperor? Overdone it?” the crystal pony guard chuckled. “Impossible, I only saw them rolling over twenty barrels of cider from the brewery.”

“Only twenty?”

“Well, for the inside of the palace that is,” the changeling joined in. “The rest of us only have, well, I believe the Captain said it was only a few hundred we had to guard tonight.”

Reflection couldn’t believe her ears. “Hundred? Do we even have that much in the city?”

The crystal pony shook his head. “Nah, a shipment of griffon ale arrived last night. Let me tell you, the Emperor went all out on this one.” The smile was once again directed to her. “You’ll have a good time, happy Hatchday.”

“I somehow think I’ll will,” she nodded. “I hope that you two get some time off to enjoy it as well. Bye.”

They gave her a farewell wave, Reflection trotting off with a bounce in her step. It was shaping up to be a hectic day, but she was confident that it would end amazingly well. She was in fact so caught up in the excitement that the trip down to the ground floor was over without her even noticing, Guessing that it was still early going off the lack of activity in the courtroom, she immediately made her way towards the next likely area.

Entering the dining room, she was greeted with Nigel's back to her and the sound of him nosily munching on his breakfast. Grinning, she slinked low to the ground and was careful on her hooves, sneaking around the side of the room while he was focused on what looked like waffles.

A waiter carrying a tray of tea on his grey back stopped as she sneaked by him, Reflection first pointing at the oblivious Emperor before miming with a hoof in front of her mouth for him to stay quiet. The waiter, instead of just obeying, smiled and trotted around to the other side of Nigel.

"More tea, Emperor?"the stallion asked, sending a wink Reflection's way as Nigel was busy selecting a cup.

Smiling back, Reflection ducked under the table and bided her time. Within moments the waiter was leaving out of the door, and she heard Nigel place his tea down on the table.

She had learnt from the last time she had tried this and he had been holding a hot beverage.

Moving forwards again, she eyed his legs just waiting to be pounced on. Stalking up to them, Reflection waited until he leaned back before she leapt up and placed her forelegs on his panted thighs.

"Morning!" she greeted, lunging forwards again to embrace him around the torso.

"Ah, the bir- hatchday girl," he chuckled, wiping his hands off before using them to rub her ears."Good morning to you as well."

Nuzzling his stomach, Reflection pulled her head away and ducked out from under the table. Coming from around the side, she buzzed her wings and used them to help her climb onto his lap, sitting with her hind legs dangling down the sides with her forelegs wrapped around his neck.

"You're affectionate this morning," he observed, waffles forgotten on the table while she kissed him.

"Well, someone bought me a wonderful dress," she murmured happily, licking the trace amounts of honey off of her lips. "You're also a bit more chirpy than yesterday."

A hand went to her back, Reflection melting into his shirt with a sigh as her wing muscles were rubbed.

"My sleep, uninterrupted by occultists and cranky changeling queens, helped restore me to my usual cheery manner," Nigel explained, before taking a sip of tea. "Also, having you there during it made it that much better."

She laughed at that. "We wasted a whole day just sleeping."

"Hey, it made today come faster, didn't it?"

She couldn't argue with that, but unfortunately it brought up a gnawing feeling in her gut. Remembering the reason of the day of rest, her mind went to the question of just why his third ex-wife had provoked such a reaction where the other two were just met with the expected scorn. Reflection was bright enough to not bring it up at the current time, but she couldn't help but wonder if another method was needed.
'Just ignore it,' she told herself, nuzzling his shaven face in an attempt to force the question away. 'Enjoy the day, he's fine so it's all good.'

"So, any hatchday plans?" His sudden questioned jarred her mind away.

"Well, not really," she admitted. "Apart from the party and us spending some 'special birthday time' after, no." At the last part she grinned, shuffling on her seat which only got her an unamused look.

"Tonight, not now at the breakfast table," he told her off lightly. Stopping with a shrug, Reflection tilted her head at him.

"Well, it's my Hatchday. Have you planned any surprises for me?"

"A few," he admitted with a wink.

"Tell me."

"No, it won't be a surprise if I do."

She mock-frowned at him, but both turned their attention away when a panting Sparkling Scroll entered the room with parchment flying.
"Morning," Sparkling huffed, taking a seat at the table and wiping her brow. "Happy Hatchday, Reflection."

"Thanks," she replied with raised eyes. "Are you okay?"

"I'm feeling great," Sparkling wheezed, shooting a glare towards Nigel. "It's not like a certain someone first canceled morning court five minutes after it started, ordered me to reserve a table for you both at that juice place for lunch, requested that I organise official invitations for your party even though everyone will know it's on, asked for a list of all the decorations for said party, then-"

"Waffles?" a waitress offered Sparkling, the changeling female levitating a plate of the honey-drizzled food up to the table.

"Thank you," Sparkling politely acknowledged with a smile, before turning to her plate. Not even bothering with the provide cutlery, Sparkling dived her head in and started munching, shocking both Nigel and Reflection.

"Uh... Sparkling?" Reflection asked with a raised hoof. "Are you okay?"

Waffle after waffle disappeared down pony throat, Nigel letting out a low whistle.

"Damn, Strategy sure can pick them."

Right after Reflection elbowed Nigel in the side for the comment, Sparkling took a breath in between waffles and shook her head.

"No problem Reflection, I just really don't have the time to sit here." The final waffle was devoured, leaving a clean plate and a not-so-clean crystal pony. Sparkling wiped the crumbs and honey off with a napkin before leaving her seat with a burp. "Excuse me, but duty calls."

Hurrying back out of the room, she called back to them. "I'll see you at the party!"

"Okay," Reflection replied, but Sparkling was already gone. Looking back to Nigel she raised an eye. "Please tell me you're not overworking her just to try and make me happy."

He tapped his fingers on the table, sucking air through his teeth. "I'm not overworking her just to try and make you happy?"

She sighed, but still smiled at the attempt. "Good try, but not good enough."

"Well, I'd love to try and bluff you like a professional," Nigel responded while placing down his tea cup. He then gestured for her to get off, Reflection hesitating to leave her comfortable seat. "But I have to go into the city and prepare a few more surprises for tonight."
That prompted her to move, Reflection following his request and looking up as he bent down. She met his brief kiss, the contact filling her with warmth before it was regretfully taken away.

"I'll catch up with you in a little bit," he reassured, rubbing the side of her neck. "And as you no doubt heard, we'll go out for lunch. Okay?"

"As long as it's for surprises, then I'm fine with it," she told him with a grin. He smiled once more before giving her one last ear scratch. Then, he left out of the door with a whistled tune on his lips.

Happy that he was feeling better, Reflection took his spot at the table and sniffed at the abandoned half-waffle that remained. For some reason, she really liked the taste of waffle and honey after that morning.


Reflection whipped her head around, finding the same stallion from before looking at her with the tea set on his back.


"Would you like some tea?" he asked, gesturing to the tea set. "And maybe some fresh waffles, right from the oven?"

Glancing back to the waffle in front of her, she debated the question.

'Well, it can't hurt.'

Reflection took another sniff of the rose garden, breathing in the pleasing scent before entering through the palace's back entrance. All the servants were in the front section preparing for the party, leaving her in relative peace. She planned to make the most of Nigel's absence, heading back up to their room after her nice walk to double-check that her wedding plans were ready to be presented.

Upon making it to the top of the stairs, she came across a curious sight. Orthodox, back towards her, was backing out of his room while dragging a large sack in his claws. At first afraid that he had a body in there, an entirely reasonable suspicion given his character, she then heard the jingling of coins and jewels.

"Oh," she muttered, causing him to stop and turn. "It's you."

"Bugsy," he greeted with a huff. "Happy whatsamaday, or something."

Reflection made an attempt to calm herself, after all he had at least tried. Tilting her head, she nodded at the sack. "What's with the...?"

"I'm just moving my stash," he explained, seemingly surprised that he hadn't provoked her. "I suspect that someone's taken a whole bunch of coins from it, those pretty golden ones. So, I have to hide it all somewhere else." He let the sack go, wiping his claws together. "You? I'd thought Nigel and you would be stuck together considering the occasion."

Reflection held back a frown, hoping that he had meant that he assumed they'd be out together and not the dirtier alternative.

"He's out organising 'surprises'," she explained. "So I'd thought that I'd spend some time getting ready for tonight."

Orthodox grunted in response, before once again taking hold of the sack and moving back towards her. "Yeah, he'll be doing that. Surprisingly, he's actually a charmer when he likes a girl."

While he moved past her and down the stairs with his haul, Reflection debated with herself silently.

His words had reminded her of her question regarding Nigel's reaction to the mention of a third wife, and her brain was working out a way to find out. She couldn't ask Elijah, he was away looking after Chrysalis. James was obviously not going to tell her, considering his words two nights previous. Nigel... seemed to act strange when it was brought up, so that left Orthodox as the last possible information source. Granted, he wasn't exactly her friend, but at the moment her was tolerable.

Moving back towards him, she moved alongside him while he was in the middle of the way down the staircase. "Orthodox, can I please ask you a question?"

"As long as it's not 'are you a dragon' again,' he grumbled, pausing and letting go of the sack. "Damn kids..."

"It's not," she reassured him, wordlessly pleading that he'd be truthful. "It's actually about Nigel."

"My second guess."

She gave him a glare, before refocusing on her task. "Well, why is he so strange whenever his third wife is mentioned?"

Orthodox froze, even his tail ceasing its movement. Reflection took a hasty step back when he approached, Orthodox leaning in with a serious expression. "How did you find out about his third wife?"

His dangerous tone shocked her, Reflection struggling to reply. "He... he mentioned it the other night, before he got real quiet. Later, when we were about to fall asleep, he told me something about orders." Her ears folded, and she scuffed the red carpet with her forehoof. "It worried me, he seemed so... sad."

A sigh came from Orthodox, the alien looking around before pointing back up the stairs. "Come on, I guess I can tell you about it, but in your room only. This isn't exactly something that I'd want someone else to find out about." The sack was abandoned, Orthodox starting back up. Surprised that he had agreed, and even left his precious treasure, she followed.

Upon entering the room, Orthodox shut and locked the door behind them before pointing a finger at her. "Now, just to make it clear, I'm not your friend. I'm not doing this for you, but because you seem like you won't stop asking until you have an answer I'll tell you for Nigel's sake."

"I underst-"

"No Reflection," he interrupted forcefully. "You need to understand this clearly. If you had asked the others, they wouldn't have told you and it would have caused a huge shitstorm, I'm telling you so that doesn't happen. You are not to tell anyone about this, you won't ask any more questions about it, and you can never, ever, even so much as mention it to Nigel. Got it?"

Stunned into silence at his utter seriousness, she nodded at the finger only a hair's breadth from her face.

"Good," he continued. "Now, to make this sharp and quick. As far as I know, Nigel had this girlfriend he picked up on a campaign, right? I forgot her name, something with 'S', but that doesn't matter. So, a few months and all of that, and they marry on this moon orbiting a blue star. So, they're happy for a year, until the higher-ups find out she's a spy."

Orthodox paused.

"And not one of ours, not even a rival departments. No, were talking full on enemy infiltration, so naturally they reacted as suspected." He once again checked the door. "It would be a complete embarrassment if anyone outside of the ISA found out that she managed to slip through. They decided that a quick and easy neutralisation would be the best solution."

Orthodox paused, before moving towards the window. Opening it and looking out, he nodded to himself before returning. Reflection was too caught up in the story to even take notice of the paranoia.

"Given the fact that he already knew her and was trusted," he continued while keeping his eye on her. "The bosses decided that Nigel was in the perfect position to do it, and as a bonus it would mean one less agent would know about it."

Reflection's heart paused for a beat.

"But... but she was his wife. he loved her. How can they possibly have asked him to..." Reflection was unable to finish, shuddering at the thought of being in that situation.

"Sure he loved her," Orthodox nodded. "But that shit doesn't matter. What matters was she was an enemy, and a filthy fucking traitor to him, and at the end of the day all that mattered was the security of the Empire."

"Surely he-"

"He snuck in to their house late at night, after he had told her that he was going to be away on an assignment for a month. She was making something to eat for dinner, some kind of casserole I think." Orthodox continued to stare right at her. "She didn't even notice him. He just went up and blew her brains out all over the stove, then called the Director himself and confirmed that it had been done. An hour later, her body was unfortunately burnt to nothing in a house fire."

Reflection felt woozy, her blood pumping in her ears as she listened to the explanation. She swayed, feeling a scaly hand on her shoulder in an attempt to steady her. Falling down onto her rump, the full realisation of what Orthodox had said hit her. Tears started to fall from her eyes, not wanting to believe that it was true but at the same time knowing that it wasn't a lie.

"We're in a dirty business," Orthodox told her. "We've all killed so often that we've lost track. But I don't think anyone can remain sane after having to do that. I wouldn't be surprised if he can still remember it like it just happened."

Reflection sniffed, the tears carefully wiped from her eyes by Orthodox.

"That's why we don't talk about Chalmers' third wife," he informed her softly. "Sorry to ruin your day, but you wanted to know and it was better you asked me now rather than eventually ask him. Trust me, he's not great when it's out there directly."

"But..." she sniffled again. "But what can I do to help him?"

"You do nothing. You get up, stop crying, I walk out of this room and you never mention it or even think about it again." He lifted up her chin."Trust me, if you do actually love him, forget that I even told you about it. Forget that he even mentioned it and get on with your life as his happy girlfriend. You don't know it, but you're already doing him far more good than talking to him about it ever will."

He waited for a few moments until she had control over her crying, before he patted her on the shoulder and stood up. "I better get back to my treasure, before someone nicks anymore. Happy Hatchday."

With that, he unlocked the door and left, the door shutting and leaving her alone.

At first Reflection tried to think of what to do, before she came to a decision. Getting to her hooves, she used the corner of their fresh bed sheets to dry her remaining tears, and then trotted over to her drawer. Removing the binder from the back, she gave a final sniffle before opening it.

"Decorations," she whispered to herself. "Green and red with a backing of silver..."

"Hey, great hatchday party!"

Nigel smiled while he watched Sparkling and Reflection hug, Strategy standing beside Sparkling in his full armor.

"It was all your work after all," Reflection laughed back, the two separating while the sound of celebration continued on throughout the courtroom.

It had been converted to serve as the main party room, almost full with ponies and changelings in assorted formal ware. Drinks and food was plentiful, and the atmosphere was so relaxed that a number of foals and nymphs were even taking turns sitting on his throne. The guards posted around the room even blended in to the carefree scene, accepting non-alcoholic drinks and various items of food from servers from time to time.

Multi-colored gems set in the ceiling filled the hall with light, music provided thanks to a number of musicians using assorted string instruments. Reflection and he had been busy saying hello to all of the guests that approached, many actually bringing gifts that were beginning to form a mountain behind the throne. Her dress had received much praise, Reflection obviously chuffed with the attention. Despite a strange bout of unease earlier, she had swiftly returned to her bubbly self as the party got into swing.

"I'm sorry we only managed to make it to you now, we've been stuck for hours in all of these conversations."

"Completely understandable," Nigel waved away. "We've been caught up as well."

"It's been fun, though," Reflection commented. "I know I keep on saying it, but it's the best night of my life."

Nigel smiled at that, looking towards the band and nodding at the conductor.

'It's about to get better.'

The crystal unicorn got the hint, the music finishing smoothly. Nigel stood up straight and raised his wine glass, tapping the half-full beverage with a breadstick. The crowd slowly quieted and paid full attention to him, Sparkling and Strategy watching on while Reflection's eyes widened with hope.

"Hrm, excuse me everyone," he began, giving a quick nod to James, Orthodox, and Iron the blacksmith talking at the far rear of the room. "I'm sorry to interrupt the party, but I have an announcement to make." Whispering rose up, and he grinned at Reflection while checking his pocket. Happy that the box holding the two rings was still there, he continued on.

"As you all know, I haven't exactly been the best ruler." At that, a mass of reassurances from his subjects rang out, Nigel waving them down with a hand. "Despite your reassurances, I could have done things better. Now, tonight, things change." A hush settled over the crowd, Nigel withdrawing the small box and flipping it over in his hands. He could see Sparkling's eyes widen with realisation, his assistant quickly keying in.

"Every Empire needs either an Emperor or an Empress," he resumed, gazing out towards the crowd as more ponies and changelings filtered in from the outside party. "My home one currently has an Emperor as well, although it's gone through Empresses as well. I, however, believe that one ruler is just not enough for the Crystal Empire, despite our humble size."

The ring box was held up. "Some days ago, Reflection asked me to marry her. I agreed."

The crowd exploded into excited chatter and cries of congratulations, Nigel gesturing for Reflection to approach.

"Hey," he told her over the noise while placing his hands under her torso. "Just a head's up..." With only that as warning, he lifted her up and gently placed her down on a space of the buffet table next to them. Standing up above the crowd, Reflection appeared far too elated to be embarrassed at all of the sudden attention.

The noise died out to quiet whispers when he opened the ring box, the guests able to see it properly ahhing at the rings it held. "She actually had these made," he continued on, taking out one ring and moving towards her. "Thanks for that, Golden."

"No problem, Emperor!" Golden's voice called out from the crowd, Nigel smiling while placing the ring around Reflection's horn. He made sure it was on snugly, before he held the box out towards her. Her horn glowed and the remaining ring levitated up, so he held out his finger.

"Now, I know you're usually supposed to get a priest or judge to do this," he told them all while Reflection carefully guided the ring onto his finger. "But as Emperor, I suppose that I'm high enough to do it as well." Reflection finally finished, the changeling's giddy grin betraying her utter thrill at the moment. "So, as Emperor, I now proclaim Lady Reflection to now be Empress Reflection." He paused, before turning to smile at the crowd. "Oh, and my wife too, I suppose."

Collective laughter filled the hall, Reflection jumping into his arms with a giggle. Her joy erased any doubts he had about the decision, her forelegs around his neck while she peppered his face with kisses. Twirling around, he returned them with a single long one, Reflection blushing at the attention along with whoops from the crowd.

He swore that he even heard a few wolf whistles.

Breaking it away, he grinned again when Reflection leaned in to his ear.

"Hey, can we go upstairs, I have something to show you."

Suspecting what she wanted, he nodded before pulling away and refacing the crowd.

"Enjoy the rest of the party, folks. I have some Emperor duties to attend to."

Reflection sighed in relief when they finally made it to their room, having successfully managed to dodge everyone offering their congratulations. Nigel sat down on the bed, beginning to unbutton his shirt. "So, what does the birthday girl slash Empress wish to show me?"
Grinning, she trotted over to her drawer, much to his confusion.

"Not anything lewd," she smirked. "At least, not quite yet. It's actually something really important to me, and I want it to be important to you as well." She removed the binder from the drawer, bringing it back over to him and sitting down on her rump. "Here."

She waited while he flicked through it, his eyes locked on the pages within. Tapping her forehooves together, she started to get nervous.
"I know you didn't want a wedding," she blurted out. "But, well, I really like the idea of them. I have everything already planned, including decorations and cake, so you don't have to do anything at all. I'll take care of it, I've even..." She trailed off when she saw his stare, her ears drooping. "Although, I understand if you don't want them."

Given the topic, his laugh surprised her.

"Wait," he chuckled. "You think that I'd deny you a wedding, after all of this effort you've obviously put into it, just because I'm not a fan of them?" She nodded, prompting another burst of laughter. "Oh, of course we'll have a wedding if you want one. It's the least that I can do for a new Empress, after all."

Reflection instantly perked up, jumping up onto the bed and pointing out a picture she had drawn. "Really? You even like the cake I designed?"

"Of course," he reassured, ruffling her mane with one hand while closing the binder with the other. "But, discussion regarding it can wait. I believe that I owe you a final birthday gift, a night of anything you want to do."

"Well, when you say anything..."

Reflection grinned and hopped off of the bed, looking back at him as she trotted into the bathroom. "Hang on, I'll be out in a second."
She left him to undress, a fairly kinky plan in mind to make her first birthday with him a one unlikely to leave the memory.

'Damn, accursed button.'

Nigel struggled with the last button on his shirt, not even having stared on his pants. He paused when he heard the sound of magic flare up in the bathroom, craning his neck in an attempt to see what it was.

"Reflection, are you okay?"

"Sure I am," she replied saucily. "I'm coming out now."

Nigel expected a dress-less Reflection, ready to help him with his shirt so they could both get on with the deed.

What he did not expect was Sparkling Scroll to trot out of the bathroom with a lust-ridden gaze.

"Gah!" He scrambled to cover himself, or at least make a show of it. "Sparkling, what are you doing in here?" He stopped dead when Sparkling giggled, the laugh one he could pinpoint despite her form. "Wait... Reflection?"

"Yep!" she replied, hurrying over before leaping up atop of him. Nigel grunted when the Sparkling-Reflection landed, another bout of laughter coming from her. "We're not called changelings for no reason, you know."

"I know that," he managed, out, Reflection going lower as two pearl-white hooves rubbed his bare stomach. "I just... is this a good idea? I mean, it's kind of an unusual thing to do and-"

He stopped when Reflection skillfully undid his pants clasp with her mouth, piercing purple eyes staring out from a ruby-red mane. Grinning, Reflection sensually rubbed her chin against his panted groin.

"Are you really going to object?" she questioned with a smirk. "We both know that it's just an illusion."

"I know," he began to object. "It's just..." Reflection began to pull down his waistband, pausing with an eye raised.

"Fine," he finished. "Why the Hell not? Just not one word to her about this, or anyone else you plan to copy."

"Done and done," she mumbled back, before she resumed with her task. A grin was plastered wide on her face for the entire time.

"Damn it, I knew she couldn't be trusted. Stupid changeling."

Orthodox muttered to himself, storming towards Nigel's room with his fists clenched. He'd seen Reflection drag him away from the party, and given the previous words he'd had with her it was highly suspicious. So, he had regretfully broken off his rather successful flirtation with a pink serving mare to follow them to ensure that the peace was kept.

It was a price he was willing to pay to prevent Nigel from finding out he had told Reflection about... that.

Unfortunately the crowd had thickened, slowing down his exit. He could only hope that he would make it in time to stop Reflection from spilling the beans.

Upon reaching the door he didn't even knock, turning the handle to burst into the room.

"Hey, I- oh, shit."

Sparkling Scones or whatever her name was, was currently riding Nigel full-on cowgirl. The panting and moaning as she rocked back and forth and up and down confirmed that it was no innocent act, both of the participants too caught up in their own pleasure to notice his slack-jawed figure standing in their open door.

Slowly, Orthodox backed out and quietly closed the door, before turning around and letting out a breath.

"Damnnn..." he muttered to himself. "Cheating on Reflection with his advisor, on her birthday night, right after announcing their marriage and crowning her Empress."

He walked off down the corridor, planning to tell James immediately.

"He really has lost it this time, fucking grade-A off the deep end."

Author's Note:

So, finally I got off my arse and delivered another chapter.

Many things happened, mainly to set up further events later on down the track.

Probably the most important was the fact that a (fairly) well-meaning Equestrian politician hired a disgraced group of griffon soldiers to rescue Luna from Chalmer's evil clutches... although unfortunately for him, Celestia was on the ball and already achieved that.

But hey, I'm sure that those mercs won't be any trouble later on... right?

Other than that, spies have been established, we get some more unsavory backstory, Reflection got named Empress, and Elijah and Chrysalis have set off on their journey to start up a second country.

Fun times ahead, indeed.

Once again, all comments and error-highlighting welcome. Just... don't go and spam it so much that other users attack you, okay?

'Till next time.

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