• Published 10th Feb 2015
  • 845 Views, 12 Comments

Ends of Empire - GreyGuardPony



Much has been lost in the mists of time. The names of heroes and villains, lost treasures and nations, and even the passage of wars. And one such war would leave the world forever changed, and leave a ruler scarred. A Lunaverse story.

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Something begins.

….for it to fade a moment later, revealing an empty stone room as silent as the grave. Blinking, he took in the emptiness, utterly perplexed. Hadn’t he been in the market square just a moment ago? The carved statue that had been at the site of his...punishment? Failed execution? Whatever it was, the statue was set up behind him, on a raised half of the floor. It took a few moments for the saurian to realize where he was. He was in the Zhalast-Zin throne room. A thousand meetings and petitions had played out in this room.

Time had obviously passed. Dirt and other debris littered the floor, the marks of animal tracks visible in some places. There were even a collection of jungle vines creeping their way past the entrance threshold.

Confused, but curious, he strode for the exit, intending to examine the city and discover what exactly had happened to the city and his subjects. Drawing close to the doorway provided him a sweeping view of what was once the richest, most glittering city in the empire. The jungle that once been cleared away from the city had encroached in again, pressing right up against the walls. It looked like fifty years of growth, easily. The streets and buildings also looked quite deserted. The saurians were gone. At least from here. Not that he could really blame them in light of a comet strike.

Still, he needed to discover what happened to his empire, and his very traitorous lords. With the cities of transmutation, necromancy and evocation lost, the nearest city would be Belimara’s. Best to get moving.

But as his leg crossed the doorway, the whole limb...unraveled, falling apart into ghostly mist. He froze, eyes wide. The limb was gone…at least visibly. But he could still feel it. It was still there. He was pretty sure at least. Pulling his leg back, he breathed a sigh of relief as it solidified back into existence.

Glancing back at the statue, he wove a slight enhancement to sense out the magic in the room. Identify the source, identify the type, then deduce the nature of the trap that had him bound here. He could recognize the magical signature of each of his lords on the enchantment. It would figure that they worked together on whatever this madness was. Transmutation was obvious...though he wasn’t sure how it was being used in this context. Necromancy was also present. That was most likely how he was bound to the statue itself. Abjuration to make it supernaturally tough, and resistant to the ages, obviously. The presence of enchantment was rather odd though. Poking deeper into the joint spell, he was quickly able to work out at least part of its nature. He was bound to it, unable to wander too far without...some manner of consequences. The question was what that effect was.

But until he worked out what it was, and how to defeat it, he was stuck in this building. Perhaps even this room.

“...Damn it.”

- - - -

“Two thousand four hundred and eighty five, two thousand four hundred and eighty six, two thousand four hundred and eighty seven…” Xin droned onwards.

Emperor of the Saurians, master of the half the known world, arcane savant, equal of the alicorns....reduced to counting how many bricks were in the walls out of sheer boredom. For the fiftieth time. He had never really considered just how many bricks went into construction a pyramid like this. There were over ten thousand everytime he did the count. He had explored the rooms of the building, just as many times, and found them either empty or half collapsed with rubble.

He had also taken to reciting ancient Saurian poetry, trying to remember every recipe he had ever cooked or eaten and trying to solve complex math equations in his head. Anything and everything to pass the time when he wasn't trying to solve how to sever himself from the statue. Alas, much to his growing frustration, his underlings might have finally surpassed their ruler. For no matter how much he poked at the enchantment, he couldn't figure out how to break the enchantment without killing himself in the process.

He spared a glance towards the doorway. Perhaps it was time to just throw caution to the wind and see what happened when he stepped past the threshold. Certainly, whatever the result was, it would be more interesting than counting the stones for the nth time. Turning away from the wall, he walked to the doorway and looked out at the city again. Still as ruined as the last time he looked at it, the jungle had crept forward some more, pushing its way through the walls and beginning to overgrow the streets itself.

How long have I been here? He thought, squeezing his eyes closed. Years? Decades? Centuries? Is there anyway to tell anymore?

With a sigh, he opened his eyes again, only to blink at an odd sight. Something was moving through the ruins of the city. Curious, he watched from his perch, the shapes growing larger as they moved closer, eventually beginning to ascend the winding ramp of the central pyramid. A smile cracked his muzzle as they came fully into view, stopping just outside the doorway.

It was a group of Saurians. Perhaps about twenty- a mix of swiftclaws and sharpbeaks- tired looking, and battered creatures. But they were alive and their eyes lit up when they saw him.

“Emperor!” The lead of the group- an elderly swiftclaw with pale green scales- shouted, dropping into a hasty bow. “You do still live!”

“In a matter of speaking.” Xin smiled. “You are the leader of this band? What is your name?”

“Shalendar, emperor.”

“It is...good to see you. Truly.” Xin smiled a little wider. “I haven’t seen anycreature since the comet fell. Which city do you hail from?”

“Much has changed, my emperor.” Shalendar winced. “They are all gone. The struggle against the mammals has not gone well.”

That news was...surprising. “We still war against the alicorns?”

“They are...gone. But we have continued against the others! We came to find you! We need our emperor back to lead us into battle once more.”

“And how many saurians await their leader once more?” Xin asked.

Truthfully, he had no desire to fight the mammals. At least, not yet. He needed to get his own house back in order first. And that would involve finding with the traitors that bound him to this statue.

...Oh yes, the statue. They’d have to take that with them, since he still hadn’t found a way to break the binding yet…

“Twenty five, my lord.”

Xin’s head snapped back around at that comment. “Excuse me?”

“There are twenty five back in our village. They are all ready to fight. Right down to the hatchlings.”

Xin stared for quite a while before answering. “A-are you serious?”

Shalendar fell to his knees. “I-I am sorry my lord! The world has changed, and so many of us have died-”

“Then why are you fools still fighting!?” Xin roared. “Twenty-five?! That’s all you have?” He demanded of his now quavering subjects. “Are there any other villages nearby? Prisoners in the mammal lands?”

“We-we do not know!”

“Then forget the war.” Xin frowned, tapping his killing claw off the stones. “We need to consolidate. Bring your people here. The city is safe...relatively. We’ll need to begin searching for other survivors as soon as poss-”

They were staring at him now. Their eyes...accusatory.

“After everything we've fought and struggled for,” Shalendar hissed. “We’re supposed to set things aside?”

“If the alternative is extinction, then yes!”

“You said we’d be conquerors!” One of the younger ones shouted.

“Through the war, you told us never to give an inch of quarter to those inferior gnats!” Another added in.

“I…this...” Xin gaped, stuttering over his words. “We weren’t supposed to lose! How many nations had we crushed before? How many slaves had we brought back?” Indignation turned into an angry screech. “I broke the High Juggernaut of the uintatherium with my own two claws, and bound his people to our service! We built cities, roads, magical constructs the envy of the world! Our legacy can not- will NOT, end with us bleeding out upon the weapons of those unfit to stand as our equals!”

All was quiet, the band of travelers staring up at him with wide eyes. Then Shalendar spoke.

“All of that is gone. The cities are gone. The roads are gone. The legions are broken and the war golems lay shattered upon a thousand battlefields. I haven’t seen some of our slave races since I was a much younger saurian.” He shook his head, sighing deeply. “And I, for one, would rather bleed out, than fade away.”

“I am still your emperor! I am commanding you!”

Each one of them shook their heads, then turned away, beginning to walk back the way they came. Xin snarled, an angry twitch developing in his right eye. “Don’t you walk away from me! I am the Emperor! You are my subjects! YOU ARE HERE TO DO WHAT I COMMAND!”

But they ignored his cries, continuing on their path. Once more, he was alone.

- - - -

Time had once again become a chaotic flow and jumble for the ex-Emperor of the saurians. The jungle continuing is inexorable march through the streets of the once mighty metropolis, with more and more of it swallowed each time he bothered to check. The occasional intrusion by tropical birds, small critters and buzzing insects had become welcome breaks from the monotony of it all.

Visits from a few other groups of saurians had gone much the same as the first. His subjects...his former subjects...all they wanted to do was to lash out in anger. No amount of threats, pleading or begging could convince them otherwise. All of those thoughts clashed with memories of the past as he perched at the edge of the room, taking the count of the of the jungle’s progression this time.

As these things were considered, however, the former emperor felt a strange tugging sensation upon his being. He looked to the horizon, the sensation seeming to call him in that direction, urging him to take the plunge and leap from the room and see what effect leaving the building would have. Would he fall apart completely? Be a hidden spirit for the rest of existence? And would that somehow be worse than what he was now?

After sitting there and considering these questions for what felt like quite a while, he got to his feet took a deep breath, and stepped through the doorway. There was the flush and tingle of magic upon his body as he became insubstantial, and invisible. But he still felt...there, for the lack of a better term. Unable to be seen, perhaps, but still quite present and able to think. Facing the horizon, he nodded to himself and with a thought, rushed through the sky towards whoever, or whatever was calling him.

The world passed by under his ghostly form in a blur, the miles melting away at the sheer speeds he was traveling. In what would have been a few heartbeats before, he was on another continent, near a bustling seaside village in the waning hours of dusk. Landing silently, he walked into the town, observing the buildings intently as he walked. Built with rough stone walls and quaint little roofs of thatch, they made him wonder what exactly had called him here. At least, until he saw one of the doors open and its resident step out.

For a moment, he thought that he was looking at a young alicorn. She certainly had the horn, and the requisite picture on her flanks; hers was a dolphin, that stood out clearly from her light blue coat. But her muzzle wasn’t the right shape and no wings marked her body.

“What are you?” He muttered, following close behind as she trotted her way towards the shore.

Following along behind her, the sound of music filled his ears the closer to the shore they drew. Stepping onto the beach, he paused at the massive festival that was unfolding on the sand before him.

Long poles had been driven into the ground, running all the way down to the water line, with just as long strings of paper lanterns run between them. Tables loaded with the bounty of the earth and sea were set in a line along the edge of the beach. What probably stood out the most, however, were the three giant ships that were sitting just barely out of the ocean, obviously ready to be launched. The...not-alicorns- he guessed- were dancing and celebrating their accomplishment.

He strode amongst the equines, sneering at their joy. A race of beings that didn’t even exist in the world before were getting to enjoy a festival, while his own race had faded away into the mists of history?

“What kind of supreme power would condone such irony?” He bitterly sighed.

A winged not-alicorn was clambering onto a sizeable boulder that rested in the middle of the party grounds, raising his hooves above his head to grab the crowds attention.

“My fellow ponies,” he began, proving that the permanent translation charm Xin had woven on himself had survived his ghostly transition.

But whatever the pony was going to say, for whatever purpose they had constructed these boats, Xin would never know. For the land rumbled and convulsed in one sudden movement, knocking ponies to the ground, and toppling the lantern poles. Another rumble followed right on the heels of the first, louder and stronger this time.

Xin recoiled- more out of instinct than anything else- from the earth that was unzipping behind him. A wall of rubbery flesh exploded from the ground, going up and up and up, as it reached for the stars above. Xin stared, slack jawed, as he took in every inch of the bladed tentacle that whipped through the night sky.

In his long life and role as the emperor of the saurians, Xin couldn’t remember once being scared. His power, his skill at weaving magic, the fact that he had just gone on and on, ever living, never slowing. All of those things made him powerful, and that power had left him quite unshakeable. Even the all mighty alicorns, with their raw magical might hadn’t been able to drive fear into his heart.

But here, despite his incorporeal nature, he felt the icy grip of dread. For he knew that he was staring at one of the elder things that gnawed at the roots of the world. One of the monsters that was already ancient when he was just a hatchling. And in that moment, his antipathy and hatred towards mammal kind was forgotten. He spun about, staring at the ponies who were just as locked in fear as he had been a moment ago.

“RUN!”

He had no idea if they actually heard him, or if they had just come the same conclusion but with a mass shriek of panic, they took off, running every which direction. The tentacle toppled backwards, a whole row of houses shattering to matchsticks as its bulk slammed to the ground. Another round of screams rose from the ponies, being matched by others further down the beach.

More tentacles were joining the first, punching their way from the ground and sea in showers of sand and saltwater. And each one would then coil inward, wrapping their putrid flesh around the land. And as they pulled tighter the land began to sink, the sea rushing forward to swallow the island whole.

The panic grew, ponies rushing back and forth between the tentacles and the sea. Growling, Xin faced the nearest tree like appendage, spell power arcing from claw to invisible claw. He may have hated mammals, but this...thing was horrific.

The magic grew and doubled, Xin twisting and forging it into a spell of destructive power. A meteor swarm would do the trick for an opener. Burning chunks of rock shimmered into view above his head, the crackling roar of their flames dancing in his ears. Throwing his hands forward, he launched the spells at the offending appendage.

Fire and concussive force swallowed the tentacle, the raw magical power raining down upon the monster. But the wide grin that had formed on his muzzle vanished as quickly as it appeared when the light faded. The tentacle was untouched. The sand around the tentacle wasn’t even disturbed! With an enraged snarl, he rained more magic down upon it, throwing spell after spell in a flurry.

But each spell was as useless as the last, the beast continuing to pull the pony island into the sea. In desperation, he turned towards a group of the panicking ponies and threw his magic forward again. Coiling it into a loose shovel shape, he tried to gently scoop the ponies up and out of harms way. But just like the attacks, his efforts passed right through them.

“So,” he whispered. “That’s what they did to me.”

The ponies were rushing to the boats now, others flipping over tables, grabbing pieces of wreckage. Anything that could float in an attempt to escape. Xin blinked, watching their desperate flight for a few minutes. Then he turned away. There was nothing he could do. Here or anywhere.

Leaving the ponies to their fate, he turned and flew over the horizon.

- - - -

He took to wandering after that.

He wasn’t even sure why, really. He visited the sites of the former cities of his empire, but there was nothing there, of course. It was easy to lose track of time and he quite often found himself staring at the night time sky, wondering just how many days had passed since that horrible display at the beach.

Eventually though, the tugging sensation from before returned. He steadfastly ignored the niggling itch in the back of his head...at first. But as he stood on the empty grass hill where Alaza’s city once rose, his curiosity began to win out. There wasn’t anything to see where he was now, after all.

The world once again flew past in a blur. The sheer speed at which his ghostly form could travel was one minor perk of the state, he was forced to admit, and within a short matter of time a picturesque valley came into view. A line of brightly colored creatures were slowly making their way inside, so he dropped down to take a closer look.

He was somewhat surprised to see a collection of the same pony creatures from before. Carrying everything they had on their backs, or in crudely constructed sleds, they wound their way out of a scattered tree line, plunging into the lush landscape ahead of them. But what stood out to him all the more, was the pair sitting under one of the nearby trees.

The first was another one of these pony creatures. A pale violet in color, she was one of the horned ones. A happy smile played across her muzzle as she watched her fellow ponies trot into the valley. But sitting next to her was the real shock.

A swiftclaw, bowed and stooped from age, sat there. Time had left his formerly red scales pale and dulled, his flesh and skin pulled tight across his bones. A pipe was clutched in his claws. Claws that shook slightly, even when he was sitting still. But, despite his run down appearance, the old saurian seemed happy, smiling just as wide at the other ponies.

“Have I thanked you yet?” The pony asked.

“Only a dozen times.” The saurian croaked. “And you still don’t have to. I was happy to help.”

“Oh yes.” She laughed. “The old timer, leaving his hut, leading us over hill and dale to a new home. Perfectly normal.”

They shared an appreciative chuckle at that joke, but the unicorn couldn’t help but glance at her companion’s shaky hands.

“You really shouldn’t have though. I know that it’s been a strain-”

“Bah.” He waved a dismissive claw. “What else was there to do? Sit in my hut until I waste away? Waiting for another one of my kind to show up?” He shook his head. “No. At least this way, I got to see the world one more time.”

“You sure you don’t want to come with us?”

“These old bones are fine where we are.” The saurian smirked. “Now go.” He waved a claw. “Your people need you. Follow the river for a bit. We scouted out the area for another city before the war. Should still be good.”

“Thank you, Zaltic.” The pony smiled. “We’ll remember you, write about you-”

“Please don’t.” He snorted. “There are no more saurians anymore. Just...let the memory fade.”

“But...what should we say about you?”

“Lie.” Zaltic shrugged. “Leave me out. Say I was a pony. Call me a dragon for all I care. Just let the saurians pass.”

“You’re a crazy, stubborn old fool.”

The proclaimed stubborn old fool reached over with a shaky hand, lightly bopping the unicorn on the head with his pipe. “I’m over a hundred and fifty years old. I’ve earned that right. Now, you fool of a pony, off with you. Ponyland will rise again but only if you’re willing to put in the work.”

The unicorn sighed, horn glowing as magic lifted a bag of supplies. “I’ll come back later, okay?”

With that, she trotted off to join her fellows, leaving the old saurian to slowly pack tobacco into his pipe; though the shaky nature of his movements disturbed the efforts, leading to great clumps falling to the ground.

“Blast.”

But as he reached for the spilled tobacco, it was suddenly lifted into the air by a golden light. While the fibers were neatly tucked into the his pipe, Zaltic turned towards the treeline, where two creatures that Xin couldn’t have wished to see less were standing. Alicorns. The light and dark colored sisters from the war. It was the white coated one who was filling the pipe, providing an infuriatingly motherly smile.

“Thank you Zaltic.” She nodded. “My sister and I appreciate your assistance.”

“The pleasure is mine.” He responded, holding his pipe up. “But might I trouble my arch nemesis for a light?” He smiled.

With a twitch of her eye, a spark leapt from alicorn to pipe. Zaltic took an appreciative puff, holding the smoke for a moment, before exhaling a large billowing smoke cloud. “Ahh...much appreciated.”

The dark coated one cast her gaze at the retreating forms of the ponies. “It is good to see them safe again.”

“You could have come out and lead them yourselves you know.”

“We...aren’t sure if it is the right time for us to reveal ourselves.” She frowned, wings twitching. “We...thank you for being our intermediary.”

“It’s quite already. Lucky that you two knew about this valley.” Zaltic commented, taking another long drag. “Heh. ‘We scouted the area out.’. That was a good one. Xin just decided where we set up cities, the dead fool. Least that’s what my grandfather told me.”

“Careful.” The light coated one tisked. “Aren’t you speaking treason?”

“And if Xin can pull himself back from beyond death to strike me down for that, then more power to him, if he was ever real in the first place. Though, if you are-”

A series of hacking coughs interrupted his rant but in an act of supreme defiance, once he caught his breath, he went right back to chewing on the pipe.

“Feh. It’s not like I’m going to be alive much longer anyway. Glad I could go out doing something...good. Now,” He grunted, sitting up a little taller. “Don’t you immortal types have more important things to do? Other creatures to save? I’m just going to sit here and smoke.”

The white coated alicorn frowned, staring out across the valley. “Are you quite sure that you don’t want to look for more of your kin?”

“Celestia...Luna, I searched for half my life,” He grunted. “Never found a thing except for legends from those we oppressed. ‘Don’t go past the village after dark, or the shining ones will get you.’ ‘Don’t back talk your parents or the shining ones will get you.’” He shook his head, giving another derisive snort. “It’s over. We had a...good run, I guess.”

Again, the old saurian returned to puffing on his pipe. “If you should be looking for any lost creatures, shouldn’t you be looking for your own kin?”

Celestia- at least Xin assumed the sun marked one was Celestia- chuckled with an infuriatingly ethereal quality. “I believe that, in our case, if our alicorn brothers and sisters do not wish to be found, they will not.”

Quiet settled across the group again, Xin shooting his angriest glare at the back of Zaltic’s head. What did he know about what he had to deal with as Emperor? Everything he had done for his subjects? But none of them could see his fuming, and the alicorns nodded.

“Very well,” Luna commented, spreading her wings. “It is your decision. Farewell, last of the saurians.”

Both alicorns took to the air, rapidly putting the valley behind them as they vanished over the horizon. Xin glared at them as they left, before sighing and looking back at the- supposed- last of the saurians. The old timer continued to puff away on his pipe, seeming rather content to watch the scenery and the world pass him by. Everything that had been part of his civilization was gone and he was happy.

He watched the saurian sit and smoke for hours, a few hacking coughs interrupting his efforts every now and again. It was approaching late afternoon by the time he finished his rather impressive supply of tobacco. Then, he slowly, shakily and resolutely cleaned out his pipe with a stick, the scraping sounds echoing through the edge of the forest. With a few experimental puffs to clear the remaining soot from the instrument, Zaltic carefully- almost reverently- placed the instruments on the ground next to him.

He leaned back against the tree, a tired sigh escaping his muzzle, his eyes beginning to flutter closed. Another cough wracked his emaciated form, his limbs growing slack and falling to his side. Laughing, he looked to the sky and the warm sun that was beginning to slip over the horizon and spoke once more.

“Luck to you all...you crazy, crazy world.”

With that, the eyes of the last saurian closed and he exhaled once more, his body growing still. Xin stared, a burning, empty sensation settling over him. This was how it ended, it seemed. The last of his kind, dead on a hill, while the mini-alicorns trotted off to start all over again. Part of him wanted to scream at the indignity of it all. How it was unfair that these ponies had managed to survive the destruction of their homeland, but the saurians hadn’t.

But...he couldn’t.

No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t call forth the rage and resentment. The empty feelings that had settled on him earlier were like a smothering blanket, quashing the anger before it could get going. Because, as much as he wished to deny it, as much as he wished it wasn’t true, there was one fact echoing in his head that just would not go away.

This is all my fault.

He was the one who had pushed the alicorns into responding with his expansionist practices. He was the one who had called down the comet. He was the one who had pushed such “all or nothing” worldviews upon his creatures, that most had been unwilling to stop fighting. He- not the mammals he had sought to add to the Empire, nor the alicorns that had fought to stop it- had been the one that killed his race.

Looking back to Zaltic’s still form and the peaceful smile that, even now, was still locked on his muzzle. There was no real reason for him to be here anymore, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave the body outside like so much garbage, either. There had to be some way-

The sound of hoof beats on the ground signaled the return of an equine, the unicorn from before running straight through Xin’s incorporeal form.

“Zal! You were right! It’s a perfect spot!” She cheerfully called, rushing to his side, seemingly oblivious to his fate. “We already started building and-”

It was then, upon placing her hoof on Zaltic’s shoulder, that she realized his condition. Her whole body sagged with sadness, even her ears and tail drooping to match the somber expression that played across her face. Without a word, her horn glowed, the magic engulfing the dead saurian in its pale pink light.

Turning, she made for the valley and presumably the burgeoning settlement her kind was constructing.

“You poor old hermit,” she tisked, pausing only to wipe at her eyes. “Well, I’m not going to leave you like this.”

Xin watched them go, the pair disappearing deeper into the valley. For a few moments, he hesitated, mind torn between returning to his empty pyramid and seeing what they were going to do to Zaltic’s body. Eventually, however, the latter desire won out and he flowed after the unicorn.

The settlement was hardly impressive. No more than a few half completed buildings tossed up near the lazy bend of a river, and a collection of tents that served as the main shelter a few feet away from them. A large group of the ponies were sitting before the tents, watching the sun set and relaxing from a long days work.

“Get the shovels.” The unicorn called out. “We have a burial.”

“Twinkleshine? What-” One of them began, only to fall silent at the sight of what she carried.

“Come on.” Twinkleshine snorted. “We owe him a proper grave at the very least.”

A group of ponies- lead by a pair of strong looking stallions- got up from their rest, grabbing tools before swarming after Twinkleshine. She made for a small hill perhaps a dozen yards to the north west of the buildings, Xin following along again. There, the ponies set to work with shovel and pick, while another one began to carve words upon a plank of wood taken from their camp. The hole grew with great speed from the number of hooves working on it, becoming a proper grave in short order.

The one called Twinkleshine was saying something as Zaltic’s body was slowly laid to rest, but Xin couldn’t hear it. He was more shocked at how disappointed and sad the ponies looked. What had the old saurian done to earn their devotion? There had to be more to it than just leading them to a new home. The question swirled about in his mind, slippery and elusive like an eel. It wasn’t until the ponies began to break up that he snapped out of his reverie.

The carved board had been buried into the ground, forming a crude headstone over the fresh grave. Xin floated forward, peering closely at the words etched into the wood.

Stalwart Spirit
A True Friend

Xin gazed at the gravestone for a long time, before finally turning and flowing away.

- - - -

Returning to his ruined city and his pyramid, the flow of time continued to weather upon the ghostly saurian emperor. He had lost track of the era by now, given up on counting the bricks or reciting or anything else. Every day he just sat in the empty throne room, alone with his thoughts, analyzing and re-thinking every decision he had made during his long life.

Which, in many ways, was easier said than done. Xin was- to his knowledge at any rate- immortal before being bound to the statue that now served as his prison. The steady march of the years had done its job making his youngest life and the details surrounding it a blurr.

For example, he truly had no idea why he was so much larger compared to other swiftclaws, or why his magic power far outstripped his kin. He also had no real idea why he had never encountered an equivalent to himself among the sharpbeaks or leatherwings. He had theories, admittedly, but as those had lead him down the “immortal god ruler” path. And that had worked out so well. And now, as was perhaps inevitable for a creature as long lived as he, things were becoming all the more muddled; harder to separate details from general impressions.

“What...are you?”

And now he was hallucinating. A great grey beast stood in the open doorway, two lines of three knobby horns set over a tusked maw. It was one of the uintatherium. One of his empire’s slave race that had, somehow, managed to survived. If it was real, which Xin was quite sure he wasn’t. It stared at him in confusion, which just infuriated the former ruler all the more. With a surge of motion he lept across the room, screeching as loud as he possibly could.

The uintatherium turned tail and ran back out the door, Xin grinning as he stalked back to his moping point.

“My, this is unexpected.” Came a new voice from the doorway. He turned, seeing a white coated alicorn hallucination.

“What diseased corner of my mind are you supposed to represent? Mammals coming to torment me?”

The alicorn blinked, but seemed more bemused at his stance than anything else. “Last I checked, I was not a...hallucination.” She commented, voice light and cheerful. “Luna! I found somepony.”

A moment later, she was joined by a dark coated alicorn whose mane flowed like the night sky. An alicorn that triggered dark memories in the back of the emperor’s mind.

“You,” he growled, pointing a shaky claw at Luna. “I remember you...both of you! We fought...in the mountains.”

Luna stomped forward, wings flared wide, magic already flickering to life around her horn. “A fight that I am quite prepared to fight again! We do have unfinished business, do we not?”

A wicked grin crossed the emperor’s muzzle. Yes! This was something he could focus on! Something to do besides mope about the past! Spreading his arms wide, magic began to dance from hand to hand, coiling and twisting around his claws.

“That we do, Luna! I shall flay the flesh from your bones! I shall reduce your miserable hide to ash! I am the first and only god-king of the Saurian Empire! All are like gnats compared to my power! You have made a grave-” But as fast as the euphoria had surged, it drained away. He let his spell end, arms falling to his side. “Oh, just forget it.”

Luna, who had already been preparing to attack, stopped mid rear. She shoot a glance towards her sister that almost screamed “now what”, as the emperor stomped back over to his statue. Celestia gave a shrug, just as confused as her sister.

“Well?” He waved a claw. “Get on with it. You’ve come to destroy me, right? I certainly won’t bother to stop you.”

Luna’s eyes narrowed. “This is a trick.”

“I don’t have the energy or desire to throw any traps right now.” The emperor snorted. “So, either do the deed, or kindly piss off and leave me to my misery.”

“As you wish.” Luna responded with a curt nod, the glow returning to her horn.

“Luna…” Celestia interrupted. “Perhaps you could check on our guests? I would like to speak to the Emperor.”

“Sister?”

“Trust me.” She smiled. “Please?”

Luna’s eyes flicked from saurian to alicorn, before she let loose a snort. “Very well.” She leaned in very close to the ghost emperor’s muzzle. “But a fair warning. If you hurt my sister, the agonies I will inflict upon your being will make you beg for death.”

With that, she turned on her hooves and stomped out of the room. Celestia chuckled, her own horn glowing. A collection of cups and a simple warm kettle appeared with a poof, the alicorn sitting down across from the emperor. Maintaining her aura of grace, poise and kindness, she poured two cups of warm golden-brown liquid.

“Tea?” She offered.

“....Are you mocking me?” The emperor’s eyes narrowed.

“No. I’m offering you tea.” She commented, giving her own cup a slight sip. “You should have some. It’s really quite good.”

“I’m a ghost.” He deadpanned.

“It’s still a matter of hospitality.”

“It’s my pyramid!”

Celestia smirked. Xin glared.

“It appeared,” She continued. “That you just tried to commit suicide by alicorn?”

“Maybe.”

“Why?”

“Don’t insult me with that question!” Xin snapped. “Everything I have ever built, every creature I ever looked over and protected? It is all gone!”

“Ah.” Celestia blinked. “So that’s what you called it?”

“What?”

“The war where you attacked every creature around you. Protection.”

“Oh, please.” Xin rolled his eyes. “Civilization requires order. Order leads to stability, stability leads to civilization, civilization leads to culture! It’s a simple idea! Even hatchlings in the empire understood it!”

“What about the foals and calves of the races you enslaved?” Celestia countered. “Your words, while containing a certain logic, are just that. Words. You conquered and enslaved.”

“It was-”

“And please,” she snorted, before stealing another sip of tea. “Spare me the ‘It was our birthright.’ argument. For all your vaunted superiority, you’re the one who broke the world.”

“What do you want then? To rub it in?” He hissed back. “I’ve had a great deal of time to think about it!”

“What I want, is to ask you a question.” Celestia stated. “Are you sorry?”

“...What?” Xin asked, recoiling.

“It’s a simple question. Are you sorry for what you did? Do you regret your actions? Even a little bit? For I have met some of your kin that were quite noble. Your actions have done them a disservice.”

The would be emperor frowned, focusing in on a particular flower on one of the cups. He supposed that Celestia was correct. It was a simple question when one stabbed to the heart of the matter. Was he sorry?

His mind wandered back towards the emaciated saurians he had seen cheering his own fate. They had been so...happy, to see him fall. And then there were the others, in other cities, who never heard how he was behind their decline. The ones who had probably cried out many times for their Emperor to come and save them. But no help had ever come, and they had passed into the realm of mist and legend.

“...Yes.” He sighed, after a long pause. “Yes I am.” Rubbing his head with a shaky claw, he continued. “I would give anything to bring my subjects back. They...they didn’t deserve what I did to them. I...as a sovereign...failed.”

Celestia watched him, considering his words, before finally nodding. “Admitting that you made a mistake is the first step on the road to recovery.” She smiled.

Xin tilted his head. “Recovery? What?”

“I am offering you a second chance.”

“Why?” He gaped, completely baffled by her kindness.

“Hasn’t there been enough death between our races?” Celestia asked, getting to her hooves. “Walk with me, if you please.”

Xin followed her to the edge of the room, where he stopped, looking out across his city once again. More members of the ancient slave race were mulling about the city, beginning to clear brush away and carve the trees away.

“They are the last of their kind.” Celestia explained. “Luna and I discovered them during our travels.”

“They weathered the end better than my people did.” He grumbled.

“Perhaps. But they need leadership and guidance. For all the mistakes you did make, your empire was glorious in many ways. Can you help them?”

Xin watched them work, clearing away undergrowth with a flurry of movement and rapid strokes of blades or- in some cases- using their raw strength to just rip the trees out of the ground. They threw themselves into the work with a great deal of vigor, seeming ready and willing to drag themselves back from the brink with their own four hooves.

It was...admirable, in a way.

“Why don’t you and your sister do it?”

“We have our own charges to watch over, alas.”

“Oh, please.” Xin snorted. “You aren’t actively ruling over them? How busy can you really be?”

Celestia shuffled her hooves. “Perhaps. But I am still offering you a chance to step away from the ruin you left behind. Will you take it?”

Xin considered the situation again. It would be nice to have purpose again. To see if he could avoid the mistakes he made before.

“Very well, Celestia. I’ll do what I can.”