• Published 28th Jan 2018
  • 3,653 Views, 136 Comments

Stand and Deliver - Gulheru



When plotting revenge, it is good to find yourself a willing and useful accomplice among your enemies. And Queen Chrysalis is... lucky to meet a professional...?

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Of Queens...

In the imposing anteroom of the Imperial Revenue & Customs, the purgatory of poor, unfortunate and oft-indebted souls, sat a mantis green mare of the most harmless, shy look. Appropriate in the dreaded space she had found herself in, devoted piously to the ruinous powers of professionalism and taxes.

She was guarded by two, restless sentinels, who were repaying her in earnest for every attempt at paying attention to their work.

One of the wardens was the constantly and mercilessly ticking clock, keeping its perfect vigil with a tick and a tock, and a tock and a tick of its unrelenting pendulum...

... the other was a perfectly vigilant secretary, keeping to the constant and merciless scribbling in some documents, with a squiggle and a wriggle, and a wriggle and a squiggle of her unforgiving quill.

Despite that, the waiting mare, seemingly here for her final, dutiable judgment, was keeping her composure. Pitying the patience of a hidden hunter against the overwhelming, administrative apathy.

Finally, the fated words brought ominous disturbance to the lethargic atmosphere.

“Miss Ladybug? Mr. Basis will see you know.”

“O-oh! Yes, right!” the trained reply came, melding together worry and timidity.

Chrysalis was, after all, a master of her deceitful craft. She could not be beaten by insidious inertia, nor did she ever become truly nervous.

Impatient, perhaps. Giddy? Oh, certainly, every predator knew that satisfying feeling of anticipation. But nervousness was not hers, no.

That time it was all too easy to feign trepidation, however. To pretend being troubled with the prospect of meeting an official. Hah, ‘twas a clever and convincing act still! Chrysalis was, undisputedly, the most dangerous of hunters, the terrifying and excellent Queen of the Changelings!

... currently low on loyal subjects, but that was irrelevant!

She was here for no other reason than to set in motion the plan to remedy that... inconvenience she had suffered at the hooves of ponies! Step by clandestine step. For she was about to see her, hopefully, new accomplice and pawn – the Imperial Tax Collector.

Making the trot of hers fairly fearful, she crossed the dangerous distance between her seat and the door of this Legal Basis’ office, observed by the two birds of prey – the ticking construct and the scribbling nag.

She took a deep breath and she rapped on the rich wood.

“Enter.”

A confident, calm voice. Betraying conviction.

Oh, this was going to be a wonderful challenge.

Chrysalis timidly crossed the threshold, her eyes resting on her target, in the middle of his little court of mahogany foundations supporting ivory towers of paperwork. He appeared a relatively young stallion, surprisingly an “earth pony”, as those were branded... and a clear upstart, from the looks of it.

Neatly combed, indigo mane. Eggshell white coat. A pair of keen, stoic eyes the hue of impure cobalt... possibly as debase as this pony’s conscience. One could not conquer and occupy the position of a taxpony with such determination otherwise.

“Welcome to the Imperial Revenue & Customs, miss Ladybug. Would you kindly have a seat?”

That felt like a polite invitation... but Chrysalis knew well that ponies of such status were all about stern, peremptory requests, even if those were hidden behind faint, professional smiles.

She complied, of course. She was but a small, frightened mare right then. Besides, the chair was just plush and soft enough to enjoy it, actually.

“H-hello, Mr. Basis,” she mumbled an uncertain greeting, crossing gazes eyes with her prey. “Thank you so much for finding time to receive me.”

She lidded her eyes a smidgen, making herself look small, innocent and in need of aid. For she was fully armed and ready to use all of the tools of her metamorphic trade!

“Regulations demand that each and every petitioner receives an opportunity to present his or her case before the Imperial Tax Collector, ten minutes per capita,” the stallion before her declaimed, his steady tone backed by his polite expression. “Since the business hours are ending in nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds, I would suggest we commence without delaying, ma’am.”

Chrysalis smiled inwardly. He felt like such a stickler! No wonder he made quite the name for himself over the last couple of months. Her information suggested that he managed to effectively double the Crystal Empire’s tax income thanks to his “innovative” approach to the Revenue Act.

She had not have a chance to find out what this “innovation” of his meant, but she was starting to grasp what it could be.

“Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Basis!” she quickly agreed, willing to begin the hunt in earnest!

“Wonderful. Your money or your life.”

... tally-ho...?

“... ex-excuse me?”

The stallion shook his head, his expression never losing that plastered, gracious smile. “My apologies, an old habit – would your case be that of regulating mandatory financial charges and levies... or regarding an inability of fulfilling your legal obligations, putting your economic situation at risk of failing to support the well-being of yours and members of your household, ma’am?”

Chrysalis sat more firmly in the plush softness, quickly regaining her composure after this... strange and interesting bleed-through, immediately patched up by administrative gibberish. “Y-yes, actually, Mr. Basis, my... my case does involve some manner of reimbursement. I-I am searching for the correct way... and pony, to approach the matter.”

“Understandable, ma’am. Would you care to specify?” The stallion was all too eager to help.

How wonderfully nice of him and—

“Unwarranted collection of duty? Erroneously calculated toll? Private vendetta?”

Chrysalis blinked. Twice. Three times, for good measure and better luck.

“... what...?” she heard herself asking.

“Unwarranted collection of duty? Erroneously calculated toll? Private vendetta?” Legal Basis repeated himself, still calmly smiling, with the tone that could have been, very well, asking her about her choice of tea!

What was going on...?

“I... why the last option?” Chrysalis asked the obvious, really, for how else was she going to regain control over the situation?

“Oh, I rush to explain, ma’am!” The stallion leaned forth, joining his hooves on the desk in a pedagogic manner, his zaffre eyes focused on her and her alone. “Although the Revenue, Customs, Tributes and Contributions Act Anno Adamantis 843 is written in a transparent, intelligible and trivial language, and the contained regulations could be considered lenient as far as tax systems are concerned, some of the Crystal Empire’s citizens showcase a rather antagonistic approach towards both the directives and the taxponies. Hence why it is only fitting to foresee all the options as possible reasons for the petitioner’s arrival.”

“Oh...”

That made... a lot of sense, Chrysalis thought. That is, until her inner voice flung her own way a collection of... transparent, intelligible and trivial epithets that reminded her who she was and what she was trying to achieve here!

“I see, Mr. Basis... I suppose there is a... selection of ponies that you find troublesome in such a way?” she inquired. It was high time to be insidious and attempt to read through this paper-pusher!

“Not a marked percentage, but it pays to be prepared, ma’am.”

Without any further warnings and with the most casual of motions, the stallion opened one of the desk’s drawers and produced from it an actual, makeshift club.

Chrysalis’ scheming called for a time-out momentarily, in the presence of an oaken branch wrapped in beige, jute fabric.

“Case in point,” the stallion announced, pointing at the weapon.

... was this still but a series of inexplicable occurrences, or an actual comedy at this point?!

“That’s... unbelievable?”

Legal Basis grinned. “Thank you, ma’am, but it’s but a simple defense measure, of slight sentimental value, no less—”

“Why would you have a truncheon in the desk?!”

Despite her best intentions, that outburst was inevitable.

“A little reminder of my previous line of work, I admit, but surprisingly helpful in the current, ma’am,” the pony responded, his tone unfazed about the exasperation. “So, ma’am, unwarranted collection of duty? Erroneously calculated toll? Private vendetta?”

Chrysalis looked aside and locked gazes with the wall. Almost as if there were a number of individuals behind it, watching her misfortune and laughing. However, she had to keep the charade going strong, despite the mounting confusion. She was a hunter, she could not allow herself to be duped!

“I see you are a... unique individual, Mr. Basis. You stand out from the administrative crowd,” she pointed out, seasoning her words with an amicable, sweet tone.

“That is very kind of you to say, ma’am.”

“It is easy to appreciate a stallion like this—”

Legal Basis raised his hoof suddenly, almost causing Chrysalis to jump from her comfortable seat. “Oh, pardon me, ma’am, I seemed to have forgotten to instruct you.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “Y-yes, Mr. Basis?”

“All manners of influencing my disposition towards a petitioner, such as flattery, adulation, cajolery, fawning, blarney, spiel, fraternization, seduction, up to and including favors of sexual nature shall not achieve the intended goal. The solemnity of my position forbids me from turning subjective,” the stallion recited without blunders, but with that steady, unfaltering smile. “Whilst such attempts are, privately, appreciated, I refrain from mingling my profession with personal angles.”

Now, that was just unfair! Way to disarm her preemptively, and of her favorite set of salacious weaponry! However, that was not an impenetrable tactic and she would not be deterred!

“I... uhm, I was not really aiming at that, Mr. Basis, apologies if it appeared so...” Chrysalis lied through her teeth, “but that seems a rather limiting approach as well, if you don’t mind me saying...”

The stallion simply shrugged. “Pros and cons of one’s position, ma’am, nothing else. However, may we proceed? I would not like for your time to pass before we reach the nature of your case, ma’am, whatever it might be. I am willing to offer my aid and find a solution to the best of my abilities. So... unwarranted collection of duty? Erroneously calculated toll? Private vendetta?” he repeated himself like a stuck music box.

And the music was boring too.

Chrysalis furrowed her brow. On the inside, that is. She was not anticipating a pony of such a... professional approach. Psychotically professional, even. Hmmm... Maybe that was his weak spot after all?

She could play his game. There were many ways to ensure that whatever they would be talking about would never leave the room, if things would go awry. Why not indulge his demented dedication?

“Private vendetta,” she simply stated.

She did bite the side of her tongue, hoping that her instincts were not failing her when her preparation had done so.

The pony’s smile just widened. “I see, ma’am. If that is the case, I will gladly provide a quick and efficient solution. Please, would you kindly rest your head on the desk, this will only take a moment.”

With the utmost politeness of an executioner, Legal Basis began reaching for the club...

... which spawned a rather vehement protest from Chrysalis!

“No! No, no, no, Mr. Basis, it’s not against you, nor your subordinates!” she declared immediately.

He stopped without delay... and yet she continued to eye his hoof, hovering over the blackjack. This was going wayward!

“Let... let me be more precise, Mr. Basis. Safely more precise,” she stated, surprised at the trickle of sweat traversing down her neck. “I am but hoping to find competent and capable aid in the Crystal Empire and I am thoroughly convinced that you might be the pony for the job.”

The stallion’s smile was still, inexplicably perfect as he withdrew his hoof. “I see, ma’am, thank you for clarifying... However, as an official, I am forbidden from discussing details of matters not regarding my duties during my working hours, as you surely understand. Nevertheless, I will gladly hear you out as soon as that time passes... Please, would you remain seated for the next five minutes and twenty-two seconds?”

Suddenly, without even another glance her way, the stallion reached out...!

... for a dossier that was resting to the side of the desk. He opened it, immediately focused on the lecture and not paying her further attention.

Chrysalis was stunned more than after a hypothetical knock on the head with his crude contraption! Was he such a fool, or such a martinet?!

“Mr. B—”

“Five minutes and seventeen seconds, ma’am, please exercise patience.”

“But—”

“Five minutes and fifteen seconds.”

A surge of fury bristled Chrysalis’ fake, green coat. This was unprecedented! A pony acting so... so...! Was there even an adjective that would describe this?! “Psycho-professional”? “Crazy-competent”? “Crazypetent”?! He was actively ignoring her only because her... her “case” was not a Tax Collector’s one and he had to wait until his shift was over? Which was, like, five minutes from now?!

What was going to happen next, he was going to take a tea break after the end of the shift and ask her to politely wait through that too?!

Sigh. Calm, Chrysalis, calm. This was... not a disaster yet. Just a little train wreck. But salvageable. Like that said wreck.

With a deep breath, she decided to sit tight after all.

A minute has passed and Legal Basis was still enraptured in the documents, keeping the contents hidden from her view. She was forced to remain silent, looking about the place of mahogany furniture and ivory paperwork like a bored lapdog on a soft cushion!

And it was such an... austere, puritanical place, this office.

Actually could use some curtains... Right there. Emerald, maybe? And a paint job, definitely, all of this crystal blue was nauseating. Oh, and maybe a potted plant? A ficus would do wonders for the space, whilst maintaining—urgh, how much longer still?!

She clenched her hooves, looking for a clock... only to realize that there was none in the room. Not even an hourglass.

... wait, what? Then how was he...?

“Four minutes still, ma’am,” the stallion announced out of a sudden.

“Mmmmmm...!” She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. Yes, of course, she could have guessed he was keeping a perfect track of time in his mind! Beautiful mind, pfah!

... well, at least the chair was soft. And Chrysalis might have figured out why – to stop petitioners from falling off in moments of utter nonsense!

Four eternities later, or at least after what felt like it, Legal Basis put aside the dossier and rose up from his seat.

Chrysalis actually exhaled in relief. “Oh, good, maybe now—”

“Apologies, ma’am,” he replied, trotting around the desk and reaching for the door.

... for a brief heartbeat, she became terrified. She had been played! Somehow, this pony had summoned guards and they were about to storm the chamber! Or he was just about to call for them!

Oh, she was not going to let him survive that mistake...!

However, Legal Basis’ words were far less worrying. “Mrs. Hunt-and-Peck?”

“Yes, Mr. Basis?” came back the cold tone of the merciless sentinel-secretary.

“Miss Ladybug’s case requires me staying overtime. Close and leave the office.”

“Of course, Mr. Basis.”

“Goodbye, Mrs. Hunt-and-Peck.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Basis.”

Chrysalis felt actually drained after hearing that exchange. There were more edible emotions at a morgue, and that was a stiff company by default...

Despite her initial worries, the door closed without further fuss. Which meant she could finally begin unraveling her scheme and bend this insufferable bureaucrat to her will!

“So, Mr. Basis—”

“Pardon me, ma’am,” the stallion interrupted her. With that constant, polite grin of his, too! “I require a mandatory, five-minute break after my shift before commencing overtime work. Would you like some tea?”

Why that...!

“Urgh!” Chrysalis groaned, resting her forehead on the desk. She almost wished for him to just thwack her with that club of his and be done with this idiocy!

The idiocy persisted, instead, for he thwacked her with that infuriating civility of his. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Would you like a cushion, perhaps, ma’am?”

“Grrrrr!”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”