• Published 20th Aug 2016
  • 924 Views, 181 Comments

When it Rains - GreyGuardPony


Three hundred years since the fall of Equestria, fractured states stand in its place. Now as an old threat stirs Adagio Dazzle and five other mares must face one of the architects of Equestria's collapse.

  • ...
4
 181
 924

1. Tabulations and Noble Nations

Adagio Dazzle’s rose colored eyes glared at the numbers on the page before her with all the venom she could muster as if her raw disdain for the sums would somehow make them jump hundreds of bits higher in fear. Yet despite her best efforts, the amber coated unicorn’s wrath failed to move the collection of ink scribbles one bit. The sums remained what they were and what they were was far too low for her liking. Horn sparkling with crimson light from between the ginger curls of her mane, she lazily reached out with her magic, plucking a hawk feather quill from its resting place in the nearby ink well. Another flick of her magic brought a fresh page of paper over and with a few dabs, Adagio set to her figures.

To any pony that walked in on her now the study that Adagio worked in would have seemed the picture of high class luxury. The walls were paneled with timber hauled from Whitetail Wood, stained and polished to a near mirror shine, from which hung tapestries of colorful geometric patterns and family portraits alike. A plush red carpet covered the stone floor and the furniture- from Adagio’s desk, to the book shelves and cabinets that filled the remaining wall space- was made out of a dark wood that surely came from somewhere beyond the borders.

But upon a second look, that same pony would notice the cracks in the facade. The tapestries were worn and in a few cases threadbare. The paintings, while showing tender family moments, wore cracks and flakes in the paint and even chips in some of the frames. Even Adagio’s desk wasn’t perfect, having a slight rock in it thanks to one leg being slightly shorter than the others. This was the office of a noble family that wasn’t quite the power that it used to be.

Those thoughts weighed down on Adagio as she worked, the light scritch-scratches of the quill joined the scattered birdsong floating through the study’s open windows. It was a brilliant summer day out- not that she could enjoy it- and her workers would be tending to the vines of her manor. For their sake, the harvest would have to be good this year, or many would be finding themselves darkening some other noble’s doorstep for employment.

Aside from worker pay, there was the upkeep for her meager house guard as well. Armor to keep maintained and weapons to keep sharp. Then the basic necessities of life. And finally, her investments. Her family had always grown grapes and sold them to other wine producers. But now, she was getting in on that. Plans to expand the vineyard into full wine production were going slowly but at least the Whitetail Lumber Guild was pulling its weight.

But as she slowly budgeted out every bit and jangle, every gem and crumb of food that passed through her holdings, Adagio couldn’t help but grind her teeth at the increasingly out of kilter numbers. As quickly as the bits flowed in, they flowed right back out. Expenses and taxes. It was always expenses and taxes. Groaning, she leaned back in her seat, rolling her gaze at the largest banner amongst all the others. Still well maintained it hung over the double doors to her study, proudly displaying the insignia of House Dazzle. It was a massive amber gem, flanked by twisting vines.

While the insignia always picked her mood up, in some ways she always carried the house insignia with her, as the amber gem was prominent in her own cutie-mark; the gem and a treble clef. It was a near constant reminder of her duties as the current head of the house.

Weary eyes returned to the ledger, a hoof brushed a wavy lock of orange mane back into place and Adagio’s focus fell upon the largest negative sums on the books. The first set came from her erstwhile mentor, Baron Fancy Pants. The ventures he had talked her into had generally gone bust. And then there was a sizable debt owed to what sometimes seemed like about half of Manehattan. Baroness Coco of House Pommel probably was the largest slice of that pie, followed by merchant Prim Hemline. All because of-

The doors to her office swung open and her scribe and assistant Suri Polomare trotted into the room. The pink and purple earth pony had a tray clenched firmly between her teeth, her head held high to keep a goblet, bottle and a pile of scrolls balanced on it. Her curly violet mane and tail bounced as she neatly crossed the room, carefully slid the whole thing onto Adagio’s desk and finished her task by dipping into a deep bow.

“Some missives for you m’lady, and some refreshment for while you work. I thought you could use some. Bookkeeping really is the worst thing.”

That mare. Her indentured servant did seem to possess an uncanny knack for knowing just what Adagio wanted. She peered at the bottle’s label. Sweet Orchard Hard Cider. From one of the smaller farms her family owned, if her memory was correct. The cork was popped loose and she poured about half the bottle into her goblet, before shoving it towards Suri. The alcohol was slightly cool from its time in the cellar, but Adagio had ways to make it better. A few notes of a song immediately sprang to her lips, her horn glowing as magic bolstered music and vice versa. She pushed the notes low, picturing the starkness of winter and the howling chill that kept ponies huddled in their homes.

From her horn, a winter wind flowed, coiling around goblet and bottle, chilling both to the temperature of a crisp mountain stream. Adagio waved a hoof towards the bottle. “Now, sit, share a drink and maybe you can help me make heads or tails of these numbers while I see who wants what.”

Suri smiled, taking a swig. “Thank you m’lady.”

She took a seat across from Adagio beginning to check her employer’s math. Adagio turned her attention towards the scrolls. It was a large stack, sixteen missives in all.

“Suri, why am I so popular today?”

“Probably because of that one,” Suri said, pointing to one scroll on the edge of the pile.

Its wax seal bore the mark of a chrysalis, a very familiar mark for Adagio. A chrysalis meant that the letter was from Queen Chrysalis, ruler of The Heartlands and her liege. Eyes lighting up with an eager energy, Adagio snatched it up with her magic, the wax seal crumbling under her arcane grip.

Lady Adagio Dazzle,

I hope this letter finds you well. This might seem like a strange fact to open a conversation on but it was pointed out to me that your twenty-fourth birthday was a few days ago.

That was true. Not that Adagio had done much to celebrate it.

Well, I have news that I think will lift your spirits. My husband and I feel that you’ve tutored under Count Fancy Pants for long enough and it is time to take full control of your barony. The ceremony making everything official will take place tomorrow night. May you rule with wisdom and harmony.

-Queen Chrysalis

“Finally!” Adagio shouted, slamming her hooves so hard upon her desk that Suri jumped at the outburst. The desk rocked at the impact, forcing Suri to dive forward again to save the goblet and sending the other scrolls rolling across its surface. Adagio shoved the letter at her assistant’s snout, jumping to her hooves, almost strutting the width of her desk. “No more bowing and scraping to that stuck-up buffoon!”

“Mmm...and good riddance too."

“The ceremony is tomorrow night though. I’ll need a new dress—”

Suri coughed, tapping the budget scribblings with a hoof. Adagio’s face fell. There was clearly no room in her budget for a whole new outfit, at least not on such short notice. But if she showed up in any of her existing ensembles, she’d be socially drawn and quartered by that harpy Fleur Dis Lee. The image of the noblemare's smug face was already flitting about in Adagio's mind, tittering behind her hoof about how the poor House Dazzle couldn’t even afford basic fineries for such an important event.

Suri coughed again. “But ya know, I could always do some alterations with your existing outfits. Mix 'n' match a few different pieces to make something that looks like it's brand new.”

It was sometimes easy for Adagio to forget that Suri had tried her hoof at being a tailor before she had wound up indentured. At least easy to forget when she wasn’t actively looking at the earth pony’s debts that she had taken on. But it was a handy little extra skill for her assistant to have.

“Yes! That will do just fine. I’ll arrive in a full, resplendent regalia and show the court just what I’m capable of!”

But as soon as those words left her mouth, Adagio froze. The court. To counter Fancy Pants’ drain on her coffers, Adagio had been forced to cut deals with half the nobles in Canterlot. Her eyes flicked down to the pile of other scrolls. Grabbing them two at a time, she unrolled them, reading the messages in a sudden burst of panic.

“M’lady? What’s wrong?” Suri asked.

“It’s everypony I promised favors to. Word must have already gotten out and now they’re calling things due!”

Suri jumped to her hooves. “But...what are we going to do? They could tear the house apart-”

“Quiet!” Adagio snapped, holding up a hoof. “Get me a map of my demesne. I am not going to lose everything now!”

Suri scampered over to a shelf, plucking a map from amongst its books and scrolls. It was quickly rolled out on Adagio’s desk, the full extent of her land holdings unfolding before her stern glare. Like the holdings of many nobles, it wasn’t exactly contiguous. Her family’s manor house on the slopes of Mt. Canterhorn was separated from the rest of her barony by Fancy Pants. His lands cut perpendicularly across hers, severing her manor from the political and economic heart of her realm. The barony itself consisted of Ponyville, all of the Whitetail Wood, about one hundred square kilometers of open fields and- much to her chagrin- a small slice of the Everfree Forest.

“What’s the first one?”

Suri picked a random scroll from the pile. “Count Copper Coin. He wants the lumber rights from the Whitetail you promised.”

“I can talk him into investing in the existing guild,” Adagio said, after a moment of consideration. “He’ll get his money, and I won’t have to give up any actual land.”

“What about Marquis Hoity Toity?” Suri asked, grabbing another scroll. “He’s planning a trip to the Lunar Kingdom in a few months. Wants your support on some trade negotiations.”

“I’ve always wanted to visit the Lunar Kingdom anyway,” Adagio declared.

Suri rummaged through a few more bits of the pile. “Sir Tarnished Silver?”

There was a drawer somewhere in the office containing trees worth of poems he had written, praising her beauty in a poor attempt of courtly romance. “Cute,” Adagio said, recalling the stallion’s firm flanks, “but a bit over his head. I’ll just bat my eyes at him and he’ll be tripping over himself to assist a fair maiden.”

And so on it went, Suri sorting through the stack of favors with Adagio deciding how to either grant or defer the request. Eventually, they reached the bottom of the bundle and Suri reached for fresh paper and quill, looking up at Adagio with a silent question.

Adagio nodded back and began to dictate. “Dear Count Copper Coin. I have a proposal for you...”

- - - -

The night of the ceremony came fast. So fast that Adagio hadn't been sure Suri would be able to finish the dress in time. But her special talent had shown through and now they stood in one of Canterlot Castle's cavernous hallways. Or, more accurately, Adagio stood. Suri knelt, furiously attacking a ripped hem that dared to mar her creation.

The stitched-together ensemble, had turned out better than Adagio had expected. A maroon velvet hood rested loosely on the back of her head and neck, mane bundled up in a chignon knot underneath. The dress proper was a two layer affair. A deep green undergarment with an amber trim fell to the tops of her cannons. A maroon over dress, open in the front, dangled just a few inches above the hem of the latter. Adagio did enjoy how the skirt swished when she moved, even if it had gotten them into their current situation. Queen Chrysalis did love her rosebushes and the rush for the castle’s front doors had resulted in the dress getting snagged.

“Suri! Ow! Is that a needle or a sword?” Adagio yelped.

“M’lady, stop squirming! Thish is hard enough without you tryin’ to buck me, m’kay?” Suri spat back, around a mouthful of pins.

Adagio would have snapped at Suri for the disrespect, but now really wasn’t the time. Fuming, she let Suri work and resolutely set her jaw against pricks from the needles. Six of her house guard milled about behind her, their polished armor glinting in the torchlight, including their captain and her personal bodyguard.

Iron Will towered over the rest of them, leaning against the wall as he polished Adagio’s rapier. As a minotaur, he cut an intimidating figure. Most ponies gave him a wide berth. Partially because of his size and muscle, but mostly because of the rumors and stories about his homeland and people. Adagio had counted about eight different ones during her time in court, painting minotaurs as everything from tattooed barbarians that drank the blood of ponies under the dark boughs of forests, to some highly advanced magical super nation.

Never mind that if any of those clucking chickens opened a history book, they could clearly read that the Minoan City States were an island chain in the eastern sea and used to be a satrap state of old Equestria.

Iron Will was older for a bodyguard, pushing into his mid forties. But he had been Adagio’s guard since she was a foal and after twenty-four years of dedicated service, seemed to have no desire to leave. Indeed, despite the lines of age around his eyes, Will remained in excellent physical condition. Muscles that could shatter logs rippled under steel grey fur, his horns were still sharp as swords and his black eyes were still alert. Having become satisfied with his efforts, Will casually strolled to Adagio’s side and strapped the weapon in place.

“A shame about the dress. Armor, that’s what you do a coronation ceremony in! A dress and sword just don’t go together,” he chuckled.

“Doesh kind of ruin the effect,” Suri muttered. Spitting out her pins, she pulled the needle and thread taut, snipping it with a quick bite. “There. It’ll hold for tonight’s event and party.”

Adagio nodded grimly. “Good. Tonight needs to go off without a hitch!”

Iron Will gave her a firm pat on the back. “Just remember Adagio. Visualize so that you can actualize!”

He sure loves those made up words of his, Adagio thought as the great double doors to the throne room opened.

The white coated, sapphire blue maned mare that stepped through them was a familiar sight around Canterlot. Gleaming Shield, both head of the Royal Guard and a pony who could name every member of said guard from memory. She was like some mad wizard had combined a librarian and soldier into one unicorn. Adagio found her and her studious disdain for most ponies she interacted with to be off-putting. Gleaming was annoyed, her clear blue eyes flitting to each of them, a deep frown on her muzzle.

“I trust that everything is in order now and we can proceed without any further delay?” she asked, waving a rolled up scroll at the group.

There was only one answer for Adagio. “Ready.”

Her guard ranked up into two separate lines of three behind her, Iron Will at her right side and Suri at her left. Holding her head high, Adagio strode forward as Gleaming threw the heavy wooden doors the rest of the way open. Canterlot Castle’s throne room was a long, straight rectangle of sturdy granite stone carved from the mountain that gave the city its name. Wide enough that fifteen ponies could comfortably stand side by side, it was now nearly fit to bursting with all the nobles that had shown up for the ennobling. Banners of The Heartland’s major noble houses hung amongst enchanted stained glass windows, depicting important events from the history of the Equestrian successor state. Though, the most important of those events- the fall of old Equestria- was painted on the wall above the twin thrones. A plush red carpet had been laid out, running straight to those twin thrones.

Gleaming Shield unrolled her scroll and read boldly with all the strength of a knight. “Announcing, Lady Adagio Dazzle of House Dazzle!”

Setting off down the carpet, Adagio kept her eyes focused firmly on the rulers of The Heartlands.

Queen Chrysalis was, as always, the picture of inscrutability. The snow white alicorn sat tall in her white crystal throne, her gracious smile not quite reaching her eyes. Like Adagio, she had opted to wear her jade green mane in the chignon knot style, her glittering silver crown tucked into it. A golden necklace held a matching jade green cloak, trimmed with white ermine fur in place. As calm and as cheerful as she looked though, Adagio knew the reputation she actually had at court. Queen Chrysalis the deceiver. Queen Chrysalis the manipulator. Queen Chrysalis, the alicorn that had ascended from nowhere and was surely planning to overthrow The Heartlands someday. She hadn’t experienced any of that personally. Chrysalis had always gotten on well with her parents, before their passing.

Next to Chrysalis was her husband, King Sombra. Sombra, on his black crystal throne, was in many ways his wife’s opposite. In the days of old Equestria, he had been supreme commander of its military and it still showed. He was stern, frowning down at Adagio as she approached. An iron circlet was his crown, held tight against his slicked back black mane. Like his wife, he wore an ermine fur lined cloak, but purple. The color went well with his grey coat.

Reaching the end of her walk, Adagio neatly dropped to her knees, dipping her head in a deep bow. Will and Suri stopped behind her, dropping into their own bows as did her ponies stopping just slightly behind them, lining the sides of the path through the crowd of nobles.

“I who have been summoned, ask what you wish of me,” Adagio said, beginning her oath.

“We wish to know what you offer the throne,” Queen Chrysalis said.

“I offer my service and the service of all the citizens of Ponyville, to the throne,” Adagio intoned. “I will follow you in both war and peace.”

“We accept your service,” King Sombra replied, following centuries old tradition. “In return we offer you our protection and the protection of all The Heartlands in both war and peace.”

The room was so quiet that anypony could have heard one of Suri’s pins drop. Then Queen Chrysalis and King Sombra stood. The alicorns looked over the crowd, their expressions difficult to read. But then Chrysalis spoke, sweeping a wing back towards the mural behind the throne.

“Three hundred years ago, in the second age of harmony, Equestria was watched over by a mighty council of alicorns. They ruled with the principles of friendship and harmony, supporting each other and working to make the land great. Then, one day, a wandering mystic named Scorpan visited the court of Equestria and planted the seed of darkness. Of the council of eleven, six fell to darkness, their hearts chained by Scorpan’s lies.”

Adagio didn’t break the bow, but did roll her gaze upwards to look at the mural that told the story. The fallen alicorns were all clearly displayed, their silhouettes falling into a cloud of shadow that rose from Scorpan’s mouth like the tendrils of some monstrous squid. They emerged from the choking cloud warped and changed into mockeries of themselves. Chroma, the bringer of endless storms. Echinda, the mother of monsters. Bitterroot, reshaper of the land. Harlequin, the dark jester. Luster, princess of avarice. And Midnight, mistress of dark witchcraft.

King Sombra took up the tale now. “Countless died. Whole towns and cities were swept away in the conflict. We are all familiar with this history. We tell it to our foals. We tell it to our friends. We all know that my wife and I, with the help of Princesses Celestia, Luna and Cadance, used the Elements of Harmony, to banish them away. But we also know that Equestria did not survive. Our own Heartlands. The Exalted Solar Prelate. The Lunar Kingdom. The Crystal Empire.” A thunderous crash echoed through the room as Sombra stomped a hoof. “Though they are lesser remains of the former whole, we still and will always hold the ideals of Equestria close to our hearts!”

“Lady Adagio Dazzle. Your sword,” Chrysalis said. Her voice had lost its earlier kind quality and now held an icy sliver of commanding power.

Adagio unhooked her blade, scabbard and all, presenting it hilt first. Chrysalis’ magic took it from her own.

“Dame Adagio Dazzle. Do you swear to abide by the principles of Harmony? To be loyal to your kin? To always show kindness to those less fortunate? To be honest in word and deed? To be generous with your gifts? To always carry joy in your heart? And to always seek and strengthen the bonds of friendship?”

“Upon my word, I so swear.”

Sombra followed with the next set of questions. “Dame Adagio Dazzle. Do you swear to uphold the laws of the land? To honor the duties given to you by your sovereigns and perform them to the best of your ability?”

“Upon my word, I so swear.”

Adagio felt the tip of her rapier tap each shoulder, and then a medallion slipped over her neck. In the center, it depicted her cutie-mark, while the outer ring was inscribed with Chrysalis and Sombra’s cutie-marks, flanked by The Heartland’s motto; Through harmony, we endure. A symbol of her office. “Then rise and greet your peers, Baroness Adagio Dazzle,” Chrysalis said.

She stood, slowly and steadily, taking her weapon back from her Queen. Turning and facing the rest of the nobles in the hall, she gave her rapier a little flourish, clipped it back to her side and began to walk the carpet once more. Her guards turned as one, both lines facing each other. Adagio advanced between the ranks, Iron Will and Suri falling into step behind her. The crowd bowed to her as she passed, observing the tradition of showing due deference to the newly promoted noble. The smirk never left Adagio’s face as she walked, only stopping at the doors.

“The ceremony is now completed! Let the celebration commence in the Great Halls!” Chrysalis declared.

- - - -

The Great Halls were a collection of four previously linked chambers, that had their walls knocked out to form one larger ballroom, in the right wing of Canterlot Castle. They were used almost exclusively for social functions and meetings and in her role as a baroness (even one that hadn’t been fully empowered yet), Adagio had seen more than a few ennobling parties and other celebrations within these walls. And much like all of those other parties, her own celebration was as much a chance for ponies to mix and mingle as indulge on fine food and drink.

Not that Adagio was opposed to the food and drink, of which there were copious amounts. Dishes made from carrots, beets, potatoes, and asparagus were crammed onto long oaken tables, each vegetable cooked multiple ways. Full flagons of mead, wine (her own vintage) and cordials- both strawberry and blackberry- took the rest of the available space. The heady scents of the different dishes rose and mingled in the air, doing their part to make the Halls all the more warm and inviting. Adagio had already helped herself to a few mini-roast potatoes and was wandering through the crowd with a full goblet of the blackberry cordial.

Soft cheerful music floated from a group of minstrels playing near the back wall. They were an interesting trio, made up of the mint green unicorn on the lyre, grey earth pony on the lute and white unicorn on the tambourine. The white unicorn seemed to be particularly enthused, dancing in place to a tune seperate from which she was playing and shaking her instrument like it was a ship caught in a mighty tempest.

“Well done Lady Dazzle!”

“Indeed!”

“You look so regal in your dress m’lady!”

“What are your plans now m’lady?”

“M’lady-”

Yes, most of the compliments and well wishes probably came from ponies below her in rank, now seeking her favor. Not that the comments weren’t appreciated. The praise made Adagio’s blood race. This was what she lived for! Politics was called “The Great Game” by peasants and nobles alike, its currency the opinions of a noble’s fellows and what favors could be won from their superiors. And now that her power was fully realized, this party was the perfect opportunity to earn some points with her fellow court members.

It was just a question of who. Count Copper Coin would surely be in attendance, and earning some more favor with him couldn’t hurt. Baron Spring Fields was another good possibility. Farming was his love and his collection was vast. It was both a money maker and a practical thing to be involved in. Oh and of course, she couldn’t forget needing to find a husband at some point to pass on the family bloodline.

Slowly sipping her drink, Adagio let her eyes wander around the room some more. Queen Chrysalis was chatting idly with a blonde maned, white coated unicorn stallion. A rather handsome looking one at that. She’d have to find out who he was later. King Sombra was also locked in conversation. He seemed to be “talking shop” as it were with Iron Will and Gleaming Shield if their animated gestures were any indication. Most of the rest of the crowd were clustered around in groups, locked in their own conversations. Except for Count Fancy Pants. He was lurking around one of the food tables and speaking with Suri.

Frowning, Adagio slunk her way through the crowd, keeping her eyes locked on the pair as she went. Suri was squirming under Fancy’s intense glare, the unicorn’s mouth moving furiously. Suri looked around, her eyes desperately seeking for help.

“Suri! Fancy Pants!” Adagio smiled, neatly stepping out of the crowd. “Enjoying the party?”

“Yes! Yes, we’re fine!” Suri said. The nervous smile on her face betrayed the fear that was clearly churning behind the mask.

“Really now? Count Pants, you looked... upset. Anything I can do to help?”

Fancy Pants stiffened, his ears slicked back. “Your... servants are disrupting the decorum of the event. She shouldn’t be here and your minotaur is frightening the guests!”

“Iron Will certainly isn’t scaring King Sombra. And Suri? Disruptive? Really Fancy Pants. How is she disruptive?”

“For one, she is an indentured servant. This event is for the court and the houses that support it—”

Adagio smiled, clapping a leg across Suri’s back. “And guests. Suri is my guest. She works very hard for me and could use a night off.”

Truthfully, Adagio hadn’t imagined that there would have been a problem with Suri coming at all. Nobles had their supporters and hangers on. So, there was something else that Fancy Pants was upset about.

“Well, that may be, but her dress isn’t appropriate for the event. ”

So that was it. Normally, as a servant, Suri would have her own uniform. But it was never something Adagio had insisted on. She cared about how well Suri worked as an assistant, not how she was dressed. And in the rush to pull together Adagio’s own ensemble, Suri had neglected doing something for herself. At the moment, she was wearing a checkered scarf around her neck and a pale yellow one in her mane to keep her updo in place. By contrast, every other noble in the hall was wearing clothing. In some cases, multiple layers of clothing, to show off the fact they could afford that much of an indulgence. Even Fancy Pants was wearing a fine pair of his namesake. But Adagio had been forced to bow and scrape to her “mentor” for long enough and this would not stand.

“Well Fancy, as your constant bad advice has left my finances in a bad place, I just didn’t have the bits to get Suri a new uniform.”

“Preposterous! She is a tailor, is she not?”

“And taking care of her own clothes isn’t her responsibility. This mare” —she placed a hoof on Suri’s back— “put her trust in me when she sold me her bond. What kind of message would I be sending if I forced the poor dear to sew scraps together for an outfit?”

“Splitting hairs are we?”

Adagio raised her goblet to Fancy in a mock toast. “You were the best stallion to teach me that.”

Fancy glared at her, Adagio smirked back and Suri nervously looked between the two.

“Already showing such callous disregard for polite society, are we, Adagio?” Fancy Pants smiled. It was the kind of fake, venomous smile that wouldn’t be out of place on a dragon. “I would be careful. You just might find yourself under my banner again.”

When the kingdoms are reunited, Adagio thought. It was a flowery expression, meaning 'never'. “You are making the Canterhorn out of a molehill. Now, this is a party.” she smiled again. “Do try to relax and have some amount of fun.”

She began to walk past Fancy Pants, towards Queen Chrysalis and the mysterious stallion. As she advanced, she gave her mostly still full goblet a little flick with her magic. Blackberry cordial spilled over Fancy’s muzzle and down the front of his expensive shirt. Fancy sputtered in indignation, already dabbing at the growing stain.

“Oh dear! How terribly clumsy of me! You should go take care of that,” she chuckled, before leaning close to the unicorn. “Really Fancy, you shouldn’t go around picking on servants. It might ruin your sterling reputation.”

Fancy Pants cantered off, grumbling under his breath. Petty, but worth it. Adagio smiled as she strode off.

- - - -

Suri Polomare watched the retreating forms of Count Fancy Pants and her own master. Her heart was hammering a kilometer a minute. She was doomed. Completely and unmistakably doomed. There was not a chance that Fancy Pants would forgive such an insult. He’d lash out against both of them and they’d suffer for making him look like a fool.

Already she could feel the eyes of the other nobles in the room on her, silently judging her. With a lump developing in her throat, Suri quickly weaved her way through the crowd and towards the exit. Slipping out into the hallway, Suri slumped against the wall. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took several calming, deep breaths. The sting of tears leaked at the edges of her eyes, threatening to burst forth in a torrent.

“Not again. Not again,” she muttered.

The sounds of the party fell away from Suri as morbid thoughts of being broke on the streets danced through her head. Huddling in alleys to try and avoid the winter chill. Eating only grass or whatever food she could beg for. Never being able to sew or create again. All thoughts equally horrible. She might have sat there and sobbed for hours, had not the soft touch of a wing on her back pulled her from the depths of her misery.

Looking up, she was shocked to find that the wing belonged to Queen Chrysalis. Hastily, she rose to her hooves while trying to dip into a bow at the same time in a clumsy fumbling of limbs.

“Y-your Majesty! I-”

“Calm yourself, my little pony. What troubles you so that you’re out here, instead of enjoying the celebration?”

Suri bit her lip, unsure of how honest to be with the queen. But another thought was right on the heels of that and her eyes lit up.

“I formally request royal permission to be at the event tonight!” She almost shouted it in the rush to get it out before she lost her nerve.

Chrysalis took a step back, an eyebrow raised. “Pardon? Why would you require something like that? Adagio was always allowed to bring any guests she wished.”

“But Count Fancy Pants threatened me! He said that a practical slave like me had no business at the party, and then Adagio insulted him over me and ruined his clothes-”

“Enough,” Chrysalis raised a wing. “Miss Polomare, I assure you that no harm will come to you. Fancy Pants is much more bark than bite.”

“But-”

“Please. Come back to the party. I’m sure you could use the break from your duties. And I can speak with Fancy and Adagio about their behavior.”

Suri sighed. She was trapped. “Okay.”

Together, queen and servant trotted back into the grand halls. The festivities were still in full swing, with no one the wiser to whatever arguments had erupted between Fancy and Adagio. Guided by the strong wing of Queen Chrysais, Suri quickly found herself standing before Count Fancy Pants again. The count was at one of the refreshment tables, back turned to them and angrily snacking

“Fancy Pants. You owe this mare an apology,” Chrysalis said.

Fancy turned to face them now, his angry mood melting away into an ashamed look, before dipping into a bow. “Ah. Yes. Quite your Majesty.” He dipped his head briefly to Suri. “My apologies Miss Polomare. I shouldn’t have taken your master’s inability to give you a proper outfit for the night out on you.”

Liar. Suri thought. She had been exposed to enough faux flattery in her life to know it when she saw it.

Queen Chrysalis looked around the vast chamber, nodding at Fancy’s apology. “Speaking of Adagio, where did she get to?”

“Why, I believe that I saw her walk off with the delegate from the Solar Prelate. Blueblood, I think his name was?”

“Ah. Good. Adagio will need to get used to dealing with foreign dignitaries. ”

Fancy Pants chortled at that. “Dealing with? With all due respect your majesty, is that what you’re calling it these days?”

“What are you talking about Fancy Pants?”

“Surely you’ve heard of Adagio’s tastes around the court? Has an eye for handsome young stallions. And that Blueblood chap is both of those things.”

Suri winced. It seemed that Adagio’s flirting for favors was coming back to bite her. Chrysalis frowned, her wings flaring slightly.

“Rumors, count?”

“Hardly! I’ve watched her string Tarnished Silver along on several occasions! The poor stallion is just trying to honor his chivalric code.”

Chrysalis swung her head around to Suri. “Miss Polomare. Is this true?”

Suri’s first instinct was to lie. While political intrigue was normal at court the unspoken rule was always the same. Don’t make it obvious and don’t get caught. If Chrysalis knew about some of Adagio’s more blatant manipulations she would be displeased to say the least.

“What? Nooo! Of course not. I think that Adagio is actually quite fond of him,” she smiled, hoping that her attitude would be enough to sell the lie. “In fact, she was telling me just a few hours ago that she thought he was cute in an endearing kind of way, m’kay?” She laughed, her chuckle something of a nervous tic in and of itself.

But she could already see from the look on Chrysalis’ face that she wasn’t buying it. She nodded to each of them once, curtly turned on her hooves and stalked through the crowd. Suri watched her go with a growing sense of dread.

Please be good Adagio.

- - - -

Adagio cooed at the touch of Blueblood’s lips on her neck. His forehooves roamed over her back and sides as he pressed her against the wall. Adagio’s own forehooves were exploring Blueblood’s muscled form just as eagerly.

They had started with a conversation, Adagio making small talk, intending to find out everything she could about this diplomat. Perhaps even find something she could use to advance her own house and its standing. But the discussion had quickly grown boring and he was quite the handsome pony. Though he must have thought the same, since he was the one that made the first move.

So, they had spirited away to the far east wing of the castle, to the art gallery. It was a collection of statues and paintings, gathered during the king and queen’s long lives. Famous ponies and events, depicted in paint and marble, made up a maze of artwork. The combination of numerous hidden corridors amongst the grand chambers and the fact that few- if any- came here during official events, as it was on the complete opposite end of the castle from the Grand Halls, made it the ideal place for a bit of fun.

But as Blueblood nipped playfully at her ears, she became aware of wet drops raining down on her head. Blinking, she looked up, to see a shimmering globe of water suspended directly above her head. She barely had time to cry out before the massive sphere splashed down over the pair of them. Adagio sputtered, her now soaked dress like a leaden weight. Blueblood was likewise shocked as he pushed the matted rug that was his mane out of his eyes.

Adagio looked around, ready to glare at whoever thought they were funny enough to do that. But her planned curse died in her throat as Queen Chrysalis shimmered into view, her invisibility fading away. The Queen’s glare was chilling as a winter blizzard and Adagio found herself immediately wondering just who had been whispering lies into her ear.

“Blueblood, I need to speak with my subject alone please.”

“Of course, your Majesty,” he answered, quickly backing away from the two of them.

“And Rector Blueblood? I’d suggest remembering the kind of diplomacy Celestia wishes you to engage in, next time.”

The stallion eeped, his backwards shuffle turning into a full gallop away.

I almost had him forget why he was here? I still got it. Adagio thought, a certain amount of pride swelling in her chest. But Chrysalis' next command demanded her attention.

“Look at me."

Adagio did just that, keeping her face neutral. Chrysalis glared down at her. “I found your servant, Miss Polomare, sobbing outside the Great Halls. She then begged me for a royal pardon for her presence at tonight’s events because she feared reprisal from Fancy Pants. You’ve been a full baroness for all of a few hours and are already picking fights with your mentor!”

“Fancy Pants was completely out of line,” Adagio responded evenly. “Suri hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“And your solution was to begin publicly fighting with him? Adagio, I expect better from you! To say nothing of the talk that’s reached my ears of you stringing stallions along with your charms just for favors.”

“Assuming that such accusations are true, they might have been done just to keep my house afloat. As far as mentors go, Fancy Pants leaves a lot to be desired.”

Chrysalis snorted. “So, that’s it then? ‘I did what I had to do.’ And then content to be a mediocre power broker in a sea of other power brokers?”

“For better or worse is that not the feudal system we find ourselves in?” Adagio frowned. “Besides, harmless flirting and protecting my parents' legacy hardly make me the worst member of court.”

Chrysalis sighed. “Perhaps not. But am I so wrong to think that you could live up to your parents' legacy? They were... great ponies.”

Adagio frowned. “And what would I have to do to live up to that legacy in your mind?”

Chrysalis considered this and a wide smile began to play across her muzzle. “Very well. The Festival of Remembrance will be in three days.”

The Festival of Remembrance was a festival about old Equestria, celebrated on the anniversary of its collapse. For most ponies, it was another chance to unwind and have some fun for a day. But Adagio knew from stories her parents told her that for Chrysalis and Sombra it was more personal. All of the surviving communities of the realms tried to make their celebrations the biggest and best they could both to outshine each other and to impress their monarchs who would visit the festivals on a rotating basis. Rumors were that Ponyville was going to be the destination this year.

“This year, I will be visiting the festival in Ponyville. As Ponyville is your barony, I expect that you shall oversee it, assist in its preparations, and make it a grand event for everypony.”

The news made Adagio pause for a moment but she puffed out her chest and nodded. “I will make sure that Ponyville will absolutely adore this festival!”

Author's Note:

Brand new story, brand new AU!

The genesis of this fic came from two different sources. The first was many long sessions of Attila: Total War. The thoughts of a world not far removed from the collapse of the Roman Empire wormed their way into my mind. The thought of applying that to Equestria and the basic Nightmare Moon scenario became very appealing, the more I mulled it over.

The other half came from Rainbow Rocks. Adagio Dazzle was an entertaining villain to me and the more I mulled her over as a character, another thought popped into my head. What if Adagio Dazzle was a hero? And then I realized that I have enough female antagonists across the collective MLP media to form a Mane Six and well...here we are!

I'd like to thank my pre-readers and editors again. I've been working on this fic for months and their support and feedback has been greatly appreciated. Here's hoping that everyone else will enjoy it!