• Published 23rd Jun 2016
  • 3,933 Views, 200 Comments

Night Skies and Butterflies - Daemon of Decay

Fluttershy knows it is her honor to have born into the Lunar Guard. She knows it with all her heart. But sometimes, there is something that doesn't feel right. Sometimes she feels like Equestria is missing a little kindness.

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Chapter 1

We are the Legion of the Night. The Watchers in the Dark. The Loyal Protectors of Equestria.

It was we few Legionaries of the Lunar Guard who stood and fought beside the True Princess.

While the rest of the Royal Guard spit upon their oaths by siding with the Sun Tyrant, we gave our lives that Equestria might be free from oppression and ruination at the hooves of a power-mad monster. Those that called us friend and comrade turned their blades upon us without mercy, but we did not yield.

No spear could pierce our honor! No sword could break our bonds! When the True Princess called, we answered. And we fought – oh how we fought! – in a war that has left its mark on the very fabric of Equestria.

And upon that glorious field of battle we were defeated.


Dreams of snowy clouds and warm sunlight evaporated as Fluttershy rolled over in bed, pulled awake by a constant croaking that hammered at her tufted ears. She unfurled her wings from around herself and sat up, yawning loudly and blinking to clean the sleep from her eyes. Not that it did any good in the empty darkness of her bedroom.

The croaking grew more insistent.

“Don’t worry, little ones, I’m awake,” she answered with more good cheer than she felt. Mornings might be rough, but that was no reason to take it out on her animals, even if they did wake her up early. They were at least doing it far more gently than her jangling copper monster of an alarm clock would have.

I got a little less sleep, but that just means I got a little more time to get ready, Fluttershy thought with forced positivity. It rang true. The morning sermon was at 0700 sharp, which normally gave her just an hour to take care of her chores and get properly dressed. Considering how important it was she not be late again, getting up early wasn’t too high a price. Really, they were doing her a favor by making her get up before she wanted to.

But before she could do anything she needed a little light.

Opening her mouth she let out a sharp double-chirp that echoed off the walls, crafting a sonic snapshot as if the room were illuminated by the noon sun – or at least what she imagined the noon sun to be like.

Using the mental image, she confidently reached out and flipped on the glow-pod lamp beside her bed, casting the room in a pale yellow-green light that just barely reached the stone walls. Fluttershy winced. I really should ask if they could turn it down a little. But I don’t want to be a bother.

She looked around her room as she adjusted to the illumination. Carved from the living stone centuries ago, the ceiling had been left unhewn rock while the walls and floor were smooth and unblemished, as was the style across the Citadel. Still, there wasn’t much wall to be be seen, the stone hidden behind the few precious pieces of desiccated wooden furniture she’d managed to squeeze into the room. When empty it was less than a dozen paces from one side to the other. If Fluttershy stood in the middle and stretched herself out to her limits, her hooves would only brush against opposing walls.

She shivered in indulgent delight. What luxury! Months after moving in, Fluttershy still gave thanks for such expansive accommodations daily. After all, there was no way she could have properly cared for her friends without all that extra space.

There was another croak which was joined by a series of loud, irritated clicks. “I’m sorry for waking you, Angel,” she replied as she climbed out of bed, sparing a glance up at the stalactite in the corner. A small brown bundle dangled from its perch, a pair of bleary eyes staring daggers at the mare. “But it’s time to get up. We don’t want to be late today, do we?”

He grumbled something and tucked his head back beneath his wings.

Fluttershy giggled, revealing her own fangs. Such an adorable sleepy head.

Stretching one last time, her leathery wings spread wide to shake off the last of the early-morning cobwebs, Fluttershy set about her well-practiced routine. First, she whispered her morning prayer, asking for the True Princess’ blessing for the day to come as she carefully slipped the crescent moon medallion around her neck.

Next she made her bed, tucking the sheets in beneath the moss-filled mattress and ensuring there wasn’t a single crease. No matter how faded and worn they were it was still no excuse for a messy billet. It was an axiom she’d never questioned before, and she wasn’t about to start today.

Satisfied, Fluttershy moved to the small chest she’d managed to sandwich in between her dresser and the stand holding her polished purple armor. All three were near priceless, crafted in a distant age from a tree called oak. They’d been gifts from her mother, something intended to be passed down to her own foals in time.

Fluttershy caressed the desiccated wood before undoing the latch with a flip of her hoof. She pulled out a worn leather satchel. It was still dry and rot-free, thanks be to the True Princess.

Careful not to spill any of the contents, Fluttershy flew over to the opposite side of the room and poured the scrounged mixture of fungus, gruel, and cave-wheat into a low stone bowl. She gave a fanged smiled as she announced, “Breakfast time, my precious bundles of joy!”

From out of the shadows crawled, slithered, waddled, and hopped a cavalcade of creatures, and Fluttershy greeted each of them in turn. The millipede sisters, a large blue cockroach, a translucent gecko, a family of moths, a neon slug, an eyeless snake with translucent skin, and one very tired-looking cave toad all took their places at the communal bowl.

It was the last of them that Fluttershy took the most concern with. “Are the tadpoles keeping you up at night, Mrs. Toad?”

The toad gave a tired nod.

“Well, they never said being a parent would be easy. Stay strong. I know you will make a great mommy. I just wish I could get you a bigger pool to raise them in.” She nudged the toad a little closer to the bowl as she leaned down, whispering, “I made sure to get some extra food just for you this time, so don’t feel selfish if you indulge a bit.”

There was a thankful croak as the toad shoved her head into the bowl.

Fluttershy hummed cheerfully to herself as she inspected her little friends, trying not to interrupt their feasting. The gecko’s leg looked to be healing well, but she’d need to change the snake’s bandages after her shift. I am running low on bandages, though. Maybe I could borrow a few old uniforms from the laundry? I’m sure they won’t mind if they’re… just going to… to throw them… away…

“Angel? What are you doing?”

Angel chirped back as he made another close pass in front of Fluttershy’s muzzle, his fangs nipping at her nose.

“Late? It’s not late. I just gave you breakfast.”

He rolled his eyes and took another bite at her, this time catching one of her ears with his needle-like teeth.

“Ow!” she cried out, but the bat just pulled harder, tugging the hovering pony away from the rest of the animals like a pegasus shifting a troublesome stormcloud. “Stop that, Angel! It hurts!” pleaded Fluttershy. The thought of physically removing the bat never crossed her mind.

Spitting out her ear he zoomed around to look her in the eye, chirping madly as he gestured down at the side table.

Rubbing her ear, she stared back at him blankly. “Time? Please, try to slow down, Angel, you’re speaking too fast. Are you upset about getting up this early, because I’m really sorry the rest of your friends were so loud–”

There was the soft crack as he slapped her with one wing before grabbing her muzzle and physically turned her head, forcing her to look where he had been pointing.

Fluttershy blinked as she found herself just inches from her clock.

A clock that read 0716.

“That can’t be right,” she said, picking up the battered copper clock and turning it over. “I must have done something last night when I set the…” Her eyes opened wide, the last word rising up into an unintelligible squeak.

On the back of the clock, the knob for alarm was turned to off.

“Oh no.”


We were impotent in the face of the Sun Tyrant’s treachery. Her magic laid waste to our brave warriors. The True Princess, with her great mercy and boundless love, was hobbled in her fight against her former sister. But the self-proclaimed Queen of the Day had no such moral compass. She banished the True Princess for a thousand years, ushering in a terrible reign that continues to this day.

But her revenge had only just begun.

For the ‘crime’ of holding onto our honor we were exterminated. Our homes were burned, our families slaughtered, our children enslaved.

But the Sun Tyrant was not content to simply kill us. No, she wanted to destroy our very history! Generations of heroism and sacrifice in the name of Equestria were erased as if they had never existed in the first place, leaving us as nothing but a faint stain on the history books.

The Sun Tyrant took heroes and made them into shadows. And in the shadows we linger on.


The Hall of Heroes was itself a monument to the artifice of the ponies who had first created the Citadel so long ago. A vaulted ceiling of virgin stone, stalactites bearing faded flags and moldy banners, gradually opened up into a broad hallway wide enough to allow a dozen ponies to march abreast simultaneously. The walls were criss-crossed with the scars of the picks that had bored out the tunnels, each mark smoothed away by generations of dripping water until they were just another part of the Citadel’s natural skin.

Longer than any other section of the Citadel, it cut directly through its heart and stretched on forever, leaving the grand entrances at either end to drown in shadow. Dozens, maybe hundreds of much smaller doorways opened up at uneven intervals along the great tunnel, linking a traveler to every district and major thoroughfare in the Citadel.

Interspersed between and above the tunnels were small alcoves holding the busts of long-dead Legionaries. Crafted from a gemstone that glowed a faint green in the perpetual twilight, they had a practical simplicity that suited the uniformly dour expressions they wore beneath their identical crested helmets. Rows upon rows of them, they seemed even more endless than the hall itself and lent the fine masonry a slight green hue.

Below each bust a name and a record of deeds had been chiseled into the Citadel’s flesh. A visitor with time to spare could track the fortunes of the great families by seeing which of their members had been relegated to the less noticeable alcoves above, or by studying whose deceased ancestors had warranted the most expansive biographies.

Passing bat ponies kept their voices low and their slitted eyes averted in respect. A thousand years of martial honor was on display, from the most noble lines to the smallest of families. If the Council Room was the Citadel’s brain, then the Hall of Heroes was its soul, and there was no place more sacred to any in the Legion of the Night.

The bang of wood on stone echoed like thunder down the ancient passageway, followed by the rapid staccato of hoofbeats and the pleading of a panicked bat pony trying to juggle all the accoutrements of a soldier while at full gallop.

“Oh no! Oh please oh please!” Fluttershy repeated around the helm grasped in her sharp teeth. Her muscles burned like her cheeks, anxiety etched into her soft features as she galloped down the tunnel as fast as she could manage while attaching her armor. The butt of her spear bounced against the floor again as her leathery wings finished with the straps of her cuirass, only adding to the cacophony of noise she was making.

Despite the racket, there were still ponies who seemed oblivious to the panicked soldier barreling towards them until she was right on top of them. Bat ponies leapt for safety as Fluttershy drove through the group of off-duty trainees with a desperate “Pardon me, good sirs!” She did her best to ignore the barbed curses flung after her, but she still winced at every angry syllable. “Sorry!” she shouted over her shoulder before disappearing around the corner.

What she couldn’t ignore was the mixture of shock and disapproval on the face of every pony she passed. It was her foalhood all over again, a waking nightmare that left her wishing she was back in her room, caring for her animals. Fluttershy hated being the center of attention, but she’d abandoned any chance at dignified anonymity the moment she’d realized just how late she was. She was out of time and the Hall of Heroes was the fastest way anywhere, sacrilege or not.

Finally slipping the helm over her head gave her enough leeway to lift her spear up off the ground. It lessened the racket she was making, but only by a fraction. Dressing in such a hurried and chaotic manner meant her armor jostled wildly on the loose straps, the impact of steel on steel ringing in her ears. The thought of being seen in such a state was mortifying, but it would have to do.

Pumping her legs, she tried to remember the breathing exercises that had been beaten into her – sometimes literally – at the academy, but she couldn’t focus, her educator’s words lost beneath her braying fear. Fluttershy is la-ate! Fluttershy is la-ate! it taunted in the sing-song voice of vindictive foals. The memories of her youth clawed at her. She didn’t need another anxiety attack. Not now. Not when she was so close.

Rounding the final corner, Fluttershy pushed herself until pain gripped her every limb, running to escape herself. Her legs felt leaden. Her heart was going to explode. Just ahead was the large stairwell leading down into the Grand Atrium. For a single moment, she allowed herself to believe that she might just make it in time to beat the worst of it.

The edge of her hoof clipped the roughly hewn lip of the stairwell and she was sent cartwheeling into the darkness with a scream.


We were once the guardians of Equestria. Now we are the unsung, the untrusted, the unwanted. We are stories told to scare fillies, rumors spread with quiet voices, legends safely locked away in myth.

The Usurper changed the past and painted herself a savior while the True Princess was banished into the long night of ignorance.

But we are the survivors. And the truth lives within us.

We do not forget. We survive. We wait. And when the True Princess returns, she will find us ready to serve once again.

We are the Legion of the Night. The Watchers in the Dark. The Loyal Protectors of Equestria

We are the Lunar Guard, and we are eternal!

All hail the True Princess! All hail Equestria!


The last word of the sermon had barely left the General’s lips before the doors were thrown violently open with a loud bang. She watched aghast as a spinning ball of yellow and pink chaos somersaulted into the Grand Atrium, bowling over the back row of soldiers like a set of armored dominoes before coming to a halt with a resounding crash.

The assembled bat ponies spun, weapons drawn, at the sudden violation of their prayers. Yet none of them made a move to help their fellows, each one of them regaining a modicum of self-control when no threat presented itself. Swords were sheathed and spears returned to the at-rest position.

The General stood steady at her podium, watching their muted reaction with pride. It was reassuring to know that even in the most unpredictable of circumstances her soldiers could still obey orders and without panicking like the lesser pony races surely would. They had been commanded to stand at attention throughout the sermon, and stand they did… even if most of them were busy staring at the rear of the atrium… and whispering with their compatriots… and totally, uselessly distracted.

Only a few Legionaries in the front were even aware of the growing grimace on their commanding officer’s face. They will face drills the likes of which they had not envisioned in their darkest nightmares. All of them. By the Moon I swear thusly.

Out of the pile of purple armor and limp bodies rose a familiar Legionary on unsteady hooves, using her shattered spear as a crutch. Only once the mare had managed to get all four legs beneath her without falling over did she glance around to find scores of slitted eyes trained upon her. With a squeak she dropped the spear and dove back into the pile of toppled soldiers, eliciting a pained grunt from somepony below.

The General’s eyes narrowed. The mare cowered against the floor and pulled her helm down lower like a foal trying to hide behind her own hooves. Both were equally effective, and beneath her righteous fury the General felt ice-water trickling through her veins. Of course it would be her. That also explains why everypony is so interested. She winced inwardly. She could already picture the rumors and gossip the different noble families would be spreading.

Spreading her leathery wings wide, the General leapt from the podium. Despite the heavy barding wrapped around her well-formed bulk, her graceful landing made nary a noise. Every strap was pulled taut, every link oiled to perfection. She advanced across the worn floor, taking care to note which of her Legionaries were the first to recover and mentally assigning the slackers to a punishment detail.

Those that were capable stiffened and snapped to attention as the General strode up to them. All throughout the silence was deafening, the only violations the grunts of the concussed and the metallic jitter of the shivering mare’s chainmail.

“Legionary Fluttershy!” the General barked, loud enough to sting the sensitive ears of the nearest soldiers.

To Fluttershy’s credit she did snap to attention at once, although it was all muscle memory, her limbs moving while she cowered mentally. Standing nose to nose with the General didn’t do anything to improve her emotional state. She bit on her lip to avoid an undignified squeak, her fangs drawing a trickle of blood.

The General made no move to ease the young mare’s suffering. “What is the meaning of this disturbance, Legionary? Was being late not enough for you that you had to ruin this morning’s sermon with your antics?”

“I… I… I…”

“Spit it out, Legionary!”

“I… n-no… G-General… ma’am…”

The General leaned forward, staring straight into Fluttershy’s eyes, daring her to flinch. The pink mix of sweat, tears and blood dripped off Fluttershy’s trembling chin. There was nopony in the Legion that could resist the General’s stare – a family trait she’d learned to appreciate over the long years of military command.

“What were you doing that caused you to disobey orders and arrive late?”

“I… I w-was t-t-taking care of my animals… ma’am… I… um… I’m s-sorry…”

“Sorry? Sorry?” she spat, so close she knew Fluttershy could feel her breath on her fur. “Sorry doesn’t cut it, Fluttershy. There is no excuse for this. None! Do you understand me, Legionary?”

“Y-yes m-ma’am…”

Eventually the General relented and turned her attention to the chaos Fluttershy’s impromptu entry had caused. She tallied up the casualties. Three unconscious, a broken leg, and at least three… no, four concussions. And maybe two dozen with whatever assortment of cuts and bruises are hidden from sight. Her expression darkened. By the Moon, the Sun Tyrant should have given Fluttershy a medal by now.

The General pointed at the nearest soldiers. “You there. Take the wounded to the infirmary before reporting to your morning duties.”

The selected ponies saluted and began hefting up the discombobulated soldiers, eliciting a selection of angry wagers about which of the wounded had been skipping drills and hitting the moss cakes a little too hard. A single glare from the General halted such nonsense, and she added a few more names to the punishment detail.

The General rounded back on Fluttershy, causing her to squeak and retreat back into her helmet. “As for you, Legionary, you are to report to my quarters where I shall determine just what I am going to do with you. Understood?”

“Y-yes ma’am!”

The word “Dismissed!” barely left the General’s lips before Fluttershy was scampering through the damaged doors. She tried and failed to mask her sobbing as she fled.

This isn’t going to go well with the Council, the General thought to herself, watching the mare vanish up the steps and back into the caverns. In her wake were the casualty bearers and their unconscious cargo, only underlining the absurdity of it all.

“General Nightshy?”

It took a moment for the General to realize she was being addressed by the Sergeant-at-Arms. Annoyed at her momentary lapse she turned to face him, mask of cool authority reasserting itself with practiced ease.

“Yes? What is it?”

“Ma’am, should I dismiss the Legion?”

General Nightshy swept her gaze over the assembled soldiers still facing the unoccupied podium, somewhat mollified that they had eventually remembered that they were still under orders. Oh, they would still be running drills till they passed out for their disgusting lapses, but she would at least consider letting them have dinner tonight. Maybe. Instead, the General gave the Sergeant-at-Arms a single nod.

“Right away, ma’am!” the Sergeant-At-Arms said with another salute before spinning in place and marching back up towards the head of the Atrium.

General Nightshy strode away, leaving the Sergeant-at-Arms to his task. Her thoughts turned to Fluttershy as she removed her helm and massaged her temple. She could already feel the oh so irritatingly familiar pressure building up somewhere behind her eyes, like a coiled blade in her brain. It wasn’t going away. After a few seconds she dropped her hoof in defeat, accepting her fate. Whenever her niece was involved, a headache was never far behind.


Fluttershy stood at attention in front of the General’s desk, trying and failing to meet the older mare’s stern gaze. She flinched when the General Nightshy slammed her helmet down onto the cavewood desk, jostling the candles that were the room’s sole source of illumination. “What have I told you about this unhealthy obsession with those damnable pests?

“They c-c-cannot interfere with my duties, ma’am.”

Seething, General Nightshy continued to pace back and forth, giving no sign she’d even heard Fluttershy’s quiet response. “I have indulged your ridiculous habits for too long. Far too long, in fact! An army is like a chain: only as strong as its weakest link. And you!” She spun around to point an accusatory hoof at Fluttershy. “You are the weakest member of my army!”

Fluttershy sniffled. “S-s-sorry…”

“At ease, Legionary,” said Nightshy as she dropped into into her chair, the fury fading from her eyes. “Clean yourself up. I won’t have you crying in front of me. Again.”

Gratefully wiping her tears away, Fluttershy gave a thankful nod. “T-thank you, ma’am.”

General Nightshy sighed, tapping a hoof against the desk. “What am I going to do with you, Fluttershy? Our clan was given the responsibility of leading these ponies by the True Princess herself. You’re supposed to be an example for them. An inspiration. But in the year since you graduated from the academy you’ve earned,” she glanced at a file spread open on the desk, “twenty-six demerits.”

“Is that… bad?”

“It’s a Legion record.”

“Oh my.”

Nightshy picked a page out of the file at random. “Last winter you were caught giving supplies to cave toads, despite our very careful rationing.”

“Well, Mrs. Toad just had tadpoles and really need the help...”

“You have misplaced your spear on twelve separate occasions.”

“That’s, um… you see…”

“Two weeks ago you refused a direct order during training to spar with Echo.”

“She was still sick, and it doesn’t seem very nice to pick on a sick pony…”

“A soldier isn’t supposed to be nice!” General Nightshy shouted as she leapt from her chair. “You’re supposed to be a loyal weapon in the service of the True Princess! When a superior officer tells you to fight another pony, you fight! You don’t ask them how they’re feeling and if they need to lie down and how many lumps they want in their tea! Do you think those traitors outside will give you that mercy? No! They will strike you down if you show even a moment of hesitation. Continue acting like this and you will get yourself and your squad-mates killed. Is that what you want?”

“No, I j-just… I… S-sorry…”

“And stop apologizing!” said General Nightshy with a snarl. “I’ve heard years of apologies and excuses out of you, but you’ve shown me nothing concrete. You’re afraid of your own weapon, you couldn’t beat a rookie in the ring, and you haven’t shown an ounce of initiative outside of nursing pathetic little creatures back to health.”

The General paused. “I used to think that if I gave you a simple job I could ease you into soldiering. Something that suited your… sensitive disposition. But even the nurses can’t use you when you faint every time you tried a bloodletting! Nowhere have you shown the progress your name demands. Your mother would be disappointed in you.”

Shame burned Fluttershy’s cheeks. She lowered her head and tucked her pink tail between her legs, fighting to hold back her tears, desperate to hold onto the last pathetic scraps of her dignity. She was failing.

Running a hoof through the dark purple of her mane, General Nightshy glanced back down at the paperwork spread across her desk. She let out another deep sigh. “You’ve put me in a difficult situation here, Fluttershy. I could excuse your obsession with lesser animals if you could pull your own weight elsewhere, maybe even ignore a few minor transgressions here and there. But I can’t go easy on you anymore. You embarrassed yourself in front of the whole Legion. I cannot be seen showing favoritism in my position. The other noble families won’t tolerate it. If you were any other soldier I would just throw you in the brig for a few weeks and let that sort you out. But you? You’re going to require something different. Something special.”

Cold dread worked it’s way up Fluttershy’s spine, her self-loathing replaced with gut-wrenching fear. It wasn’t much of an improvement. “Like w-what?” she stammered, her mind working overtime trying to concoct the worst possible response. She clenched her eyes tight, feeling ill just thinking about it.

General Nightshy sucked on her teeth. “I don’t know yet.”

Cracking open one puffy eye, Fluttershy peeked out from beneath her mane. “Ma’am?”

“Well, it’s not like I can just send you down into the caves to fight quarray eels and diamond dogs,” said General Nightshy. “They’d eat you alive – quite literally.”

Fluttershy whimpered.

“And despite all the evidence to the contrary, I do think there is a good Legionary deep down inside you. You’re your mother's daughter. You just need to find a way to tap into that reservoir of courage and strength your mother possessed.”

The General paused again, mulling something over before lifting out her quill and a blank sheet of parchment. “Until I find something suitable,” she began, scribbling something down onto the scroll, “you are to report to Captain Cache. Until further notice you will be serving on the logistical detail. A little hard labor will do you some good, help you clear your head so you can focus on what’s really important.” Rolling the paper up she sealed it with a dab of red wax before handing it over to Fluttershy. “Give him this when you arrive.”

Fluttershy saluted the other thestral before tucking the scroll into her armor. “Is… is that all, ma’am?”

“Yes. You’re dismissed, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy gave another salute and, turning in place, marched away, trying to hold her head high as she’d been trained. A firm cough brought her up short, halfway out the door. She glanced back around to find General Nightshy giving her an unreadable stare. “Y-yes?”

General Nightshy slowly pointed to the wall beside her. Fluttershy turned to find her spear resting where she’d left it. Grabbing the weapon with a combination thank you and apology, she fled through the doors, leaving Nightshy gently rubbing her forehead.

Satisfied her headache wasn’t going to get any worse she turned her attention to the far corner of her office, where the shadows seemed deepest. “Well? What’s the damage?”

A shadow pulled away from the wall to reveal a pony shrouded in midnight robes. Beneath the hood a pair of golden eyes twinkled in the candlelight, although there was no warmth in them. “The Council knows it was Fluttershy who was involved in this morning’s transgression,” the pony stated, its sibilant voice a mere whisper despite the privacy they enjoyed. It made no sound on the hard stone as it slunk towards the desk like a dark cloud. “In the shadows they gather like rats, scurrying from place to place, gnawing and plotting and scheming where no eyes can track them.”

General Nightshy rolled her eyes. “Spare me the theatrics, Antumbra.”

“I’m not Antumbra,” the other pony said with a playful smirk. “And I am not sure my brother would appreciate being mistaken for a mare. Although I do sometimes have my doubts about him...”

“Focus, Penumbra. We know they’re plotting against me. They’ve always plotted against me. They’ve plotted against our family for as long as any of them can remember. And they’ll keep plotting against us as long as we lead the Legion. It’s in their blood. What I need to know is what this fiasco with Fluttershy will cost us at the next Council meeting.”

“She surely didn’t do you any favors. They’re going to accuse you of favoritism and nepotism and perhaps a few other ‘isms’ as well. All of which are quite persuasive when trying to depict you as an incompetent in need of replacing.”

“They would try to replace me now? Silhouette and Sky Lance can plot all they want, but they don’t have the support to pull off that sort of coup. The Shades have too many enemies, whatever delusions Silhouette might have. Blue Quartz would die before he saw that selfish hag in command.”

“Your fondness for your old Ranger companion is endearing, but it is blinding you to reality. The Crystals are but one clan – a clan for which the bonds of marriage no longer apply. And the other families aren’t as loyal as they once were.”

“Loyal?” Nightshy gave a dry, humorless laugh. “A hydra is loyal too, as long as you keep feeding it. They’ve never been loyal. Just obediently selfish.”

Penumbra gave an indifferent shrug. “The fact remains that your sister was the popular one. You do not command the same respect. Using your niece as a means of tarnishing your image is feasible.”

“The other nobles won’t back a power play on the basis of one mare’s clumsy mistakes. What happened will hurt, but it’s still not enough to change the balance of power.”

Umbra’s fangs glistened in the candlelight as she leaned across the desk. “Not yet, not yet. But every cave-in begins with one rotted beam.”

“I can handle it. I will announce Fluttershy’s punishment during the Council meeting to demonstrate that I am not playing favorites, and the issue will be forgotten before the year is out. At worst I’ll have to promote someone’s idiot cousin early to keep them happy.”

“Do not be overconfident. Until you have foals, Fluttershy is still the clan heir. She is a symbol for the family, and symbols have power.”

General Nightshy hid her blush beneath a scowl. “Yes, I am fully aware. And the issue of my marriage or my future offspring is still not up for discussion.”

“Your sister knew the importance of family bonds.” Penumbra nodded knowingly. “A good marriage could secure your position. Perhaps one of the lesser houses. Or maybe even one of the Lance brood, as a way of building bridges. I have a list of suitable candidates with me, if you wish.”

“I am not going to discuss this with you again. Your fascination with my relationship status is unnerving, to say the least.”

“Tick-tock, General. Tick-tock. There are whispers across the Citadel. The rumors about the True Princess’ imminent return are growing harder to ignore. Even the old families are not immune to it. And how obedient will they be if they believe they might end up going to war behind General Fluttershy?

“That… is a valid point. And a terrifying thought.” Nightshy shuddered.

“As your advisor, it is my job to keep you aware of every horrific possibility.”

“Which you enjoy far too much.”

Penumbra smiled back innocently. “Have you decided upon Fluttershy’s actual punishment? A few weeks of lifting crates and stocking larders will not appease them. This was far too public.”

“I know, I know. I need to find something… martial. Something to help give her the image of a soldier, just in case the worst does happen. And if I’m lucky, she might just learn to act like a soldier, too.”