• Published 7th Aug 2018
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Equestrian City: Side Streets - Malcontent

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"Perceptions Can Be Deceiving" (Starlight/SunBurst/Symmetry Dominion)

“Perceptions Can Be Deceiving ”
by
DarkMalcontent
Proofs and Polish by Alisia
Power Consultation by Zap
Editor with Hooves Brawny Buck

****

A steady pace of heels hitting tile echoed through Starlight’s ears, her eyes focused on the doors ahead of her. Passing by several armed guards, their immediate terror or respect was evident from their snapped attention. “Empress,” they each uttered like an echo of the other as she walked by. Starlight took it all in as fuel to her pride. Passing under the Symmetry Dominion’s flag, she glanced at its simplistic yet effective design: an equal sign divided down the middle by a single line.

To the untrained eye it would appear bland, but she knew better. Starlight knew it stood for a single light leading those lesser beings in the dark to prosperity. Popular opinion would tell you it meant equality, but again, she knew better.

Pushing open the two doors of the grand lobby, she walked into the briefing room and adjusted her retracted staff of sameness on her belt. The internal guards snapped to attention as she passed. Decorated with gems and jewels to an almost impractical spectacle, the main room’s briefing table was clearly more style than use. Sitting at the head was her father, the King of the Symmetry Dominion by birth, Firelight. Next to him was Stellar Flare, the mother of the very person Starlight had behind her: Sunburst.

Though not entirely enthusiastic, Starlight enjoyed it when the two came together. Sunburst always seemed to enjoy his mother's presence. Many times in their youth Stellar would be overbearing to a pain in regards to her son, yet Starlight’s birth mother adored her while giving her freedom to breath. Stellar had been the first choice the King had when he replaced her after the trials.

“Hello daddy.” Starlight bowed slightly in the smallest form of respect. “You wished to see me?”

“There's my pumpkin face.” The King smiled, his eyes lighting up as she approached. “You remind me of your dear, departed mother each day I see you.” He rose to greet her, taking her into an embrace that she welcomed and returned. “Sunburst,” he acknowledged flatly over her shoulder in a dull greeting.

“Your Majesty,” Sunburst responded properly and bowed his head before he turned to his mother. She’d been silently watching the exchange, hands clasped in front of her and head bowed down. As the second wife and an apparent heir already produced, she had a degree of power. Just not enough to speak freely before royal blood.

“Now sit down puppy cheeks and let me tell you what news my spies brought me.” The King sat and waved off his guards at the far end of the room. With little more than a quiet grunt, they departed.

“Sounds great, daddy.” Starlight smiled widely, artificially enhancing her grin to almost painful levels. She’d found out long ago that the less she seemed like the daughter he remembered in better times, the less receptive he was to her wishes.

“That's my girl.” Firelight smiled back and waved off his consort and her son. “Stellar and Sunburst, you may get refreshments. That will be all.” Stellar bobbed her head, stood and proceeded to leave with a motion for Sunburst to follow. Sunburst looked to his mother, Firelight and then Starlight before hesitantly he started to follow Stellar.

“But dad, I want my friend here.” Starlight said in a faux whine.

“Not for this dear. You and your...er...friend can play in a bit. This is important.” The King’s smile fell a bit to reflect his stern tone. Starlight reluctantly sat at her spot at the table. Once the pair was out, the doors locked and the curtains drew shut with a magical spell. The center of the table burst to life in front of her with a globe representing the known world.

“Spies have relayed to me a new threat to our world. It comes from within Equestrian City, the largest metropolitan area in the Canterlot Commonwealth.” The King recited as the globe focused on a large land mass to the east of the Dominion. “Normally such super villain antics would be of little concern, but this one has troubling sources.”

“Troubling how, father?” Starlight perked ever so slightly with a genuine curiosity.

“What we’ve been able to determine is the unknown threat moves in the shadows and seems to keep itself well hidden. The intel suggests he uses at least two proxies and one is with him at all times, as a sort of female bodyguard.”

“Then what are you planning to do if this threatens the entire world, father?” she inquired while she drummed her fingers almost impatiently. “Do we plan on helping the Commonwealth?”

“We will do what we can. I've already sent word to allies inside the country to help the local population, both legally and covertly.” Firelight added as the globe spun further to the east. “The real reason I asked you here is this, Pumpkin...” He paused with a smile that made her feel slightly less bored. The map stopped and focused in on a decent sized landmass.

“The Eastern Empire?” Starlight questioned curiously.

“Further into investigation, it's been found that the threat in The Commonwealth has sent a gift to King Sombra.” A picture of Trixie Lulumoon appeared, though it was a rough far shot taken from a distance.

“She’s not much to look at.”

“The girl is merely the packaging.” Firelight stated quickly. “The real gift is what has sealed itself around her neck. This amulet seems to register an eight on the rating scale.”

“That's impossible. My staff is an eight. That would mean she’s as powerful as me…” her face fell and slowly her head shook. “That's not possible.” Starlight’s passion bled through her usual calm demeanor.

“The data coming out of the Empire is verified, little one.” He leaned back in his chair. “Once Midnight is done with her, which will be soon, she's to be held as a visitor and guest in Sombra’s main hall.” She watched as he stood, pressed a button on the table and the globe vanished. “You'll be leaving for The Empire in a diplomatic visit. As much as Sombra despises pleasantries, he doesn't want to deal with us and the Commonwealth as enemies.”

“What is my purpose? Garner support?” Starlight leaned back in her chair and stared uneasily at her father.

“Garner support as always. Make nice. People love to see you there.” He straightened his back. “The world loves a state trip.” Firelight turned and walked slowly behind her.

“...And?” she tilted her head to him gradually.

“While there, you are to interact with this Trixie. Get to know her and her amulet. Once you have solid answers like the ones I need...” Firelight rubbed her shoulders softly, making her squirm slightly. “Mainly what he intends to do with her and who gave her that amulet...should you consider it a victory.”

“I'll prepare at once, father.” Starlight stood, breaking contact and clearing her throat. “I'll need Sunburst, of course, and a full company of soldiers and aides.” She crossed her arms and made her way towards the doors she’d entered from.

“I have no doubt you'll do well, chipmunk cheeks.” He praised and walked the opposite direction to another exit. Both sets of doors opened together and slammed shut simultaneously as they left.

***

Outside Sunburst hugged his mother tightly and sighed, a damn of emotion he held back trying to break all at once. Over the years he had learned to keep his feelings concerning Starlight’s actions suppressed. The only outlet was his books and his mother. Looking up to her aged face, he felt comfort from the familiarity of her gaze. “Hello, mother.”

“How’s my special boy?” she kindly asked while she ruffled his hair playfully. Tugging his goatee softly she shook her head. “I just don’t know why you don’t shave this off. It's so tacky.”

“I, er, a lot of people like it.” He awkwardly replied and sat down in a velvet lined chair. “Starlight hates it, says it tickles.”

“I suspect that's why you keep it then?” Steller whispered and smirked, taking a seat next to him. “So, has she been nice to you?”

“She has, er, eased up. I feel more like a trophy than a friend. A lot of times she just uses me as set dressing...” Sunburst adjusted his glasses and looked away. “Or a pillow.”

Steller grimaced a bit but her genuine smile came back as quick as she adjusted his clothing a little. “Well…” she took a breath. “It's all worth it. Imagine if she didn’t take a shine to you,” his mother softly reminded and looked around, then focused on her son. “If not, we'd be working the mines or worse. It was a miracle she asked for you by name after you were ejected from the magic program.”

“Yeah... Luck sure is our friend, mom.” He stared at the his feet and covered himself with a hug. “I just hope he treats you better. Are...you happy?” Sunburst reluctantly questioned and looked up to her. “It's been years now.”

She looked around again for any prying ears and leaned in, lowering her voice as she wrapped her arms around Sunburst in a hug. “The King treats his concubines and their family well.” Stellar paused, listening before continuing as she leaned back a little, rubbing his back. “Part of why I did this was to make sure you were taken care of, Sunburst. As much as you dislike the boring times, remember that on the outside a worker has a lot worse of a day than a concubine does.”

“I'm not a--” he almost shouted but recoiled and leaned forward. “I'm not comfortable having this discussion with you, mother.” He expressed quickly in a hushed voice with a small blush. This brought a small half smile to pull itself onto his mother’s face.

“It's just a way of life now. No shame in it. Does she--” she hesitated and looked at his neck, gently stroking it with the back then palm of her hand. “Ask...much of you?”

A long silence filled only with the fountains around them was all either heard. Sunburst and his mother both glanced around in the beautiful garden. The guards and the attendants, although at a distance, were each a set of ears to avoid when speaking truthfully. Wordlessly they exchanged glances to the other and Sunburst airlessly spoke. His mother’s jaw slightly tightened but relaxed as she retook control of the sudden surge of emotions.

“How have the gardens been? I haven’t made my way here for a good while, because you know how Starlight enjoys her exercise.” Sunburst cleared his throat and turned his attention towards a set of flowering bushes. “She likes it when I'm close to her as she practices combat drills.” He explained for the forced topic change. The orange haired man swallowed hard as his cheeks heated up again. “Nude...” he whispered under his breath.

“The gardens are fine. They bloom even through the worst of weather. No magic required.” She easily took his hint. Standing, Steller’s dress unfolded and flourished gently. She motioned with a hand and he stood, following her to the edge of the balcony. Together they stared at the much larger garden below them.

“They're beautiful...” he breathed with his gaze trailing across the bushes and trees, observing gardeners working on various areas and their respected set ups. He glanced at the walls built up around the entire set of rose bushes that encircled the layout. “Beautiful...but locked away from the world. Trapped.”

“Left alone in the wild, not many bushes survive predators or other threats. The environment works almost against them. It's a wonder any exist at all when you think about it.” She stroked his hair from behind. “We should take comfort in knowing that as ‘trapped’ as they seem, it's only for the best. For their survival,” Stellar softly explained with a somber tone. “One day, a great wind will take new seeds from the older ones.”

Sunburst turned to face her gaze as she continued. He saw a confident glint in her eye. “Then the seeds will be free?”

“To a better place perhaps.” She nodded.

“But what about the vines and bushes those seeds come from?” Sunburst asked in their shared coded speak.

“Life and death are a cycle. One cannot happen without the other. We just hope that the seeds find a better place than their parent bushes did.” Stellar kissed his forehead softly and turned, leaving him alone. “That's all those bushes can hope for,” she whispered under her breath, her head downturned.

Sunburst stared across the gardens again and noticed a set of creeper vines choking out a section of rose bushes. Before he could contemplate more, the sound of Starlight calling his name broke his comfort. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath and turned, answering her summons.

***

“Ugh. Some of these are sooo...depressing!” Pinkie clicked her wireless mouse, the computer screen in front of her loading the next fanfiction. Across the screen header was the name of the site and several pictures, no doubt commissioned for the story. “I know it's supposed to be the setting but some of these get so gloomy.” She finished her thought as she scanned the next story.

“I don't know why you even bother with that stuff.” Dash replied, wondering in with a bowl of popcorn and a six pack labeled ‘WubJuice’, setting it down on the coffee table. Pinkie shook her head softly and double checked that the blinds were closed, as her not-so-blind friend was simply walking unassisted.

“Well, a lot of people think that fanfiction is just a bunch of wish fulfillment.” Pinkie spun around in her chair to look at Dash. “Buncha lonely girls hooking up with the guy of their dreams. Typical adolescent feelings.” She leaned forward, grabbed a handful of popcorn and took a sizable amount in her mouth. “Some are. Nothing wrong with that.”

“Quite a few people disagree based on those comments you read me.” Dash popped the top off her beverage and gave it a sniff. “Huh, what did you say these were?”

“Some sorta new juice from the people who make WubCakes.” Pinkie turned back around and scanned the page that had loaded. “Yeah there’s a lot of fans out there who seem kinda upset if you write a story with someone who is canon sleeping with someone who’s an author insert.” She clicked again and another page loaded. “But the real haters out there are the ones who can’t stand anyone being out of character.”

“Out of character?” Dash propped her feet on the coffee table and leaned back, letting her sonar relax and taking in the darkness around her as Pinkie continued.

“Yeah the ones you end up hearing the most from are so-called “experts” who, for the life of me I can't figure out why they're in the fanfiction section if they actually do hold degrees.” Pinkie popped a few kernels into her mouth and chewed while talking. “But really the entire point of fanfiction is to write what you want to write. Maybe that's not going to be everyone's cupcake.”

“Their what?” Dash perked an eyebrow up at that remark.

“Cupcake. Their thing. Their kink. Whatever it is they like.” She swallowed and turned around to join her friend on the couch.

“Right...” Dash said softly. “It does make me wonder though.”

“Oh? You mean why if someone doesn't like something why they'd take the time to write you a comment that they hated it, but if someone likes something they won't?” Pinkie took another handful of popcorn and picked up the remote.

“Well--”

“Or you mean why if someone who labeled their story alternate universe, why people still compare it to the the real show?” Pinkie asked again in rapid succession.

“No it--”

“Ooo! Why a person is lambasted over an open forum when they decide they want to portray relationships that are contrary to the complainers wishes when it's not even their story to judge or change? Like why would they even care if it's an alternate universe? Part of the fun is seeing “what if” and THAT authors perception of what would happen when--”

“Pinkie!” Dash finally interrupted. “It makes me wonder why you asked me over to watch this show you love sooo much since I'm still actually blind. Sonar is not typically used for viewing televisions.” She flopped her head back.

“Huh.” Pinkie stopped dead in her thoughts. “Y'know you're absolutely right. I'll just have to describe the whole thing to ya!” She said with a happy tone.

Dash raised her eyebrow again and laughed gently. “Alright Pinkie. Let's watch Total Wasteland.” She took a sip of the fruity beverage and leaned back as her friend began describing the scenes in detail.

End of Episode

Author's Note:

Our first real glimpse at the Symmetry Dominion and this universe version of Starlight and the extended family!

We worked hard on defining things but kept careful not to be too descriptive!

Leave us a message or hop on Discord and let us know what you think! Were a nice bunch ;)