• Published 26th Aug 2019
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The Moaning Top Incident - Visiden Visidane



A tangled weave of stories plunges a festival into historical notoriety.

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The Cobrahns

When the magical power of the Empire of Ophidus is brought into a discussion, the focus is often placed on the coatls, while the cobrahns serve as a side note. For all their power at an individual level, the coatls account for a minuscule portion of the Empire's overall magical might. The bulk of it comes from their rank-and-file cobrahn shamans. A typical ranger within the Southern Barrier Land can spend his entire career out in the field, and have but a single encounter with a coatl, but he will undoubtedly encounter dozens of cobrahns, from their own ranger units or the back lines of their platoons.

The cobrahns occupy a strange position within the Empire. They gleefully lord over the constrictors and the vipren, but, in return, the coatls seem to have a particular fondness for pushing them around the most. A lot of coatls enjoy having a vipren fill in the role of their majordomo, knowing that the cobrahns in their service chafe at such a situation. Nevertheless, cobrahns may occupy smaller roles in name, but in terms of actual duties, they prove themselves invaluable. When it comes to governmental positions, the true pecking order shows. You will find a cobrahn in any middle to even high positions within the Imperial bureaucracy. If a coatl doesn't personally want the job, you can be assured that a cobrahn will fill it.

So, I should be clear by now, that cobrahns are a far more ubiquitous sight in dealing with the Empire. More time should be spent discussing tactics against them instead of constantly worrying that a coatl might show up to unleash a barrage of meteors at your outpost. It is important to also note that it is the cobrahns that lead the Empire's non-magical endeavors when it comes to the use of poisons and disease. When the Empire uses yet another plague on us, you can bet that its origins can be traced to some Imperial laboratory, and a team of cobrahns.

Curiously, while cobrahns are inherently magical creatures, they lack any sort of natural outlet for their magic in the way unicorns do. The closest comparison to a unicorn horn would be their fingers, but we have studied their corpses, and, while cobrahn fingers do contain traces of magic, it is not the same as with unicorn horns. This is as far as body parts are concerned, and where we pay attention to their ceremonial knives.

These knives are constructed partially using the iron within the blood of magical creatures, usually from the cobrahn owner itself. In effect, they effectively function as unicorn horns for cobrahns, allowing them to use their spells as reliably as any unicorn mage. This means that if you can separate a cobrahn from its ceremonial knife, you essentially cut them off from their spell casting. Do not assume you have neutralized them as a threat completely, though. Cobrahns are capable fighters as well, and their bites inject a virulent toxin.

The standard cobrahn spell is cloudkill. I maintain that unicorns have the advantage in this regard as telekinesis has a far greater range of uses as opposed to conjuring a cloud of deadly gas. It should be noted as well that cobrahns, or any ophidite for that matter, are not immune to the effects of their own cloudkill. Despite these limitations, cobrahns are highly formidable with this spell, and insidiously creative with its use. We have lost tens of thousands to cobrahn gas attacks over the course of the our history with the Empire. I guarantee you, every southern legionnaire that has witnessed a concerted cobrahn cloudkill attack has had that nightmare. The mind naturally speculates in dreams. You see that massive gas cloud cobrahns can create, and you imagine what it would be like if an Imperial assault manages to reach Highstable or any major city. The cobrahns lack versatility, but they are very good at extermination.

Cobrahns are also excellent with other schools of magic, with a preference for conjuration and evocation. Despite the nature of jungle fighting, they do have a preference for the flashy. This is probably to differentiate themselves from the vipren, whom they have more animosity towards compared to the constrictors, probably because constrictors form the walls of grunts they like to hide behind. This flashiness and their obvious racial tension can be exploited by a resourceful enough ranger.

-Ranger Instructor Swamp Muck to a class of recruits


As soon as Nefszen saw the first wisps of yellowish vapor, his reflex was to look behind him with a glare, only to realize that he was the only cobrahn in the group. He had worked in cobrahn units in the past, and had to deal with more than one incident when some overeager skink with a hood cast a cloudkill without orders and often too close to the group. This wasn't the case, clearly, but who would cast cloudkill on them? One of the Rondo ponies?

He had a dispersal spell ready. Any cobrahn with half a brain always had a dissipation spell for dealing with errant cloudkills. In his unicorn disguise, however, it would be tricky. He would have to raise his ceremonial knife to cast it. If he didn’t play this right, he would expose himself.

"Cloudkill!" one of the legionnaires yelled. "We're under attack!"

"By our Prince!" another legionnaire shouted. "They must really have ophidites working with them!"

Fortunately, the unicorn with the legionnaires was prepared for such a scenario. Unfortunately, it wasn't a proper dispersal spell, more a gust of wind to blow the gas away. It was strong enough to affect even the heavy vapors of a cloudkill. The problem was that it could only blow the gas in one direction; farther into the cave and potentially towards their fellows.

"Watch out!" the unicorn shouted down the tunnel. "Cloudkill gas blowing in!"

That had to be enough lest the ponies in the tunnel started breathing in the gas. Cloudkill was potent, even from the weakest cobrahn's repertoire. A short breath was enough to rend the lungs like a thousand tiny razors. Even just touching the vapors irritated hide and scales alike, causing blisters and lesions to erupt.

"They know we're coming, yeah?" one of the legionnaires said. "Let's just get in there, and help out the main group!"

"Brawl Bruvbruv has a point," another legionnaire said. "We're in a bad spot in a tunnel this narrow, let's move in!"

"It's just Brawl Bruv, bruv."

"That's what I said, didn't I? Get a better name then, nag!"

WIth the tunnel clear of vapors, the group rushed in. Nefszen did not miss the trail of yellowish gas coming from a shadowy spot in the tunnel. How odd...was it an enchantment that kept spawning clouds from that source? He recited a quick and simple detection spell.

Nothing.

Even odder. He looked to unicorn legionnaire with them, but the unicorn was too busy anticipating another hostile spell. The spell should, at least, mark the cloudkill itself as magical. Nefszen signaled to Tasimyssa and the others to just go along for now, and rushed in with the legionnaires. With luck, he'll engage Safaszan with a group of angered legionnaires.

"Cloudkill!" someone inside, a mare from the high-pitched shriek, screamed. "The Legion is going to kill us all!"

Nefszen paused briefly at that. What was going on in there? That must be one of the Rondo ponies. Why would they assume that first? One would think that a cloudkill attack would mean ophidites. He had to remember this. Perhaps, when the Empire launched more operations in the Western Barrier Land, they could use this distrust some of Equestria's citizens had for the Legion.

They pushed past into the main chamber, to the welcome of a dozen screams of panic from nearby ponies. For a moment, Nefszen felt as if he was back in Ophidus, raiding some den of slaves plotting a rebellion. Ponies scrambled out of the legionnaires' way, spilling food and drink as they tumbled over each other. His detection spell tugged at him mentally. Safaszan was here.

It didn't take much to pin her down. By the far end of the room, facing the other group of legionnaires was a mare with a golden coat and a mane to match. Such a vain disguise. Even without the detection spell, Nefszen would have been able to pick her out in this chamber. The puzzle now was how to execute his duty with all these ponies around.

"Calm yourselves!" one of the legionnaires that had gone ahead shouted in vain. "We're not here to kill all of you!" Nefszen could barely hear him, and they had already converged into a single group. The panicked cries drowned out his plea before it could even move past his legionnaires. The nearest Rondo ponies and Safaszan must have heard it, though.

Safaszan would not be interested in brokering peace between these hysterical ponies and the Legion. The one close to her should and...

Nefszen's gaze fell on the two colts next to this pony. He had spent plenty of time with slaves. He knew how to differentiate among defiant slaves, newly indoctrinated slaves, slaves pending citizenship, and Equestrians pretending to be slaves. These colts were still in the process of indoctrination; eyes empty, postures timid, minds stumbling for orders. They must have come with recently captured adults, separated from the parents, and started on the process before Safaszan showed up, and grabbed them.

One of them suddenly looked to Nefszen, as if sensing his stare. This one was pale, haggard, and thin-lipped, standing on shaky legs and immediately looking down once it noticed his hard gaze. Safaszan had not been providing maintenance. More likely, she was mishandling the proper drug dosage, if she was even doing that. If these colts were with this pony...

The muddled, desperate look on this pony was enough to suggest to Nefszen that he wasn't going to calm the situation either. He clutched the two colts close to him. "I knew it! The Legion wants to do to us like they did with the Blackmoon Blades! Steel yourselves, Rondo, fight to survive!"

Even as he said that, he was already moving farther back into the cave, towards a shadowy area barely in sight. Nefszen assumed that there must be some hidden exit through there. Rats like this one would not trap themselves in a hole with just one exit.

Unfortunately, his high-pitched shrieking rose better than the captain's shouts for calm. Probably because it was picked up by the closest Rondo ponies, echoed even louder, then followed.

These were not ponies to err on the side of reason. Their eyes were wild and bloodshot. Nefszen knew his substances; a lifetime of befuddling grass abuse, "shrooms", and copious amounts of alcohol mixed with the substances the mind and body produced during mating were not a good mix. They were as living frayed nerves, sensitive and eager to drown in pleasure, but subject to intense reactions when suddenly faced with intense fear. One of them hurled a goblet at a legionnaire and was already scrabbling for other things to throw before it hit. The legionnaire simply hunkered down, allowing the goblet to bounce of his barding.

"By the Prince, these Rondo ponies are crazy!" one of the unicorn magi said. "We should subdue them for now!"

That wasn't going to be an easy job. These legionnaires were armed with enormous blades and spears. Using them for subduing was like bringing a hatchet to a surgery.

"They're degenerates attacking the Legion," another unicorn, the one closest to the captain, said. He looked at the mob with his ice-blue eyes, glaring with disgust as if he had just discovered some rats in his kitchen. "They will pay with their blood!"

"Stand down, legionnaires," the captain said. "We are not attacking these citizens!"

Nefszen braced himself and signaled for his allies to group up. If these legionnaires actually attacked, it would solidify their threat to the Rondo. These panicked, fleeing ponies might turn into a vicious mob. It happened often, when overzealous slavers abused their slaves too freely. Even rats turned vicious when pushed into a corner. The same was just as true with ponies.

Even at the lead pony's admonishment, most of the Rondo backed away at the sight of such well-armed ponies. A few at the front, however, took the words to heart. The one who threw the goblet hurled a good-sized rock at the blue-eyed unicorn.

The response was immediate and vicious. The rock stopped mid-air, enveloped by blue light. It shifted, then flew back towards its original thrower at incredible speed, smacking into the poor pegasus's head with a sickening crack. The pony fell into a heap, his eyes wide and staring, blood pouring from his head.

"Chill Gaze!" the captain shouted. "I said stand down!"

"I was," Chill Gaze replied flatly. "I just defended myself."

"Wine Press!" a mare cried out from the back. A pink unicorn mare ran forward from the back of the crowd, her red and white mane disheveled, and tears streaming from her eyes. She cradled the fallen stallion, brushing his brown mane back tenderly. His head merely lolled, and his stare saw nothing. Blood poured from the massive gash across his skull, pouring down one side of his face, and dripping on the cavern's floor.

The mare let out a long, anguished wail so loud that it cut through the commotion. Several ponies looked to her direction, and saw the fallen stallion.

"Monsters!"

"The Legion has no place here, get out!"

More objects flew through the air, pelting the legionnaires. They had formed a ring to cover each other, deflecting rocks and cutlery with their forelegs.

"We're under attack now, Skirmisher Captain!" Chill Gaze shouted. "Fight back, or we'll be overwhelmed!" His horn flashed just in time and several rocks bounced off a translucent globe that had formed around him. Another flash, and large shards of ice formed above his head.

More screams erupted from one side of the chamber as another yellowish cloud billowed out. The Rondo yelled about Legion extermination. The legionnaires shouted on about ophidites in the Rondo. Several ponies dropped including a couple of legionnaires that strayed away from the main group.

This wasn't going well. Nefszen needed these legionnaires to focus on Safaszan, not this mob of drunks and addicts. Sure enough, Safaszan was trying to sidle out of the cavern amidst the chaos. More cries of pain and panic as Chill Gaze sent his ice shards flying.

Nefszen cast his dispersal spell on the second cloud, dissipating it into harmless vapours. It was no actual Cloudkill, but similar enough for his counter to work. "Their leader is trying to escape!" he shouted, pointing at both the Rondo leader and Safaszan.

The Skirmisher Captain was still at a loss. Nefszen grunted. Why did they appoint someone so young anyway? The foolish pony was likely too scared to attack his fellow ponies.

Nefszen raised his "horn", in reality his ceremonial knife, and cast his second spell. A bolt of lightning flew from the knife, past Safaszan and towards the top portion of the passageway she was about to take. The energy struck with enough impact to shake loose a good bit of rubble, partially blocking the passageway. Safaszan looked behind her, a vicious glare marring her disguise's elegant face.

"Skirmisher Captain!" Nefszen shouted. "That one is the ophidite collaborator! Don't be fooled by her disguise!"

Fortunately, the Skirmisher Captain had noticed the flash of lightning, and heard him above the din. "How can you be so sure?"

"The Southern Legion has equipped us with specific detection spells for our quarry," Nefszen yelled without missing a beat. "My detection spells point to her!"

The Skirmisher Captain looked to one of the legionnaires who had been in the group Nefszen had come with, who nodded. "Legionnaires!" he shouted. "Focus on those two!"

Finally, the legionnaires drew their blades and advanced on the Rondo leader and Safaszan. All well and good. Nefszen went along with them, his "horn" crackling as he held the charge of his next lightning bolt.

The sight of armed legionnaires advancing on her only worsened Safaszan's scowl. Here was where her other weakness was about to betray her. Nefszen did not just know that she was a tikhana, but what sort of tikhana.

"I have had enough of these little games and dramas," Safaszan the pony said with a hiss. Though she wasn't shouting, her voice was loud and commanding. The dragons she was related to were well known for their roars.

"Sassy!" the Rondo leader cried out. "Do something! Save me!"

Safaszan didn't hear. She reared up and cast her spell. The image of a golden pony shimmered into a blurry, bright blob of golden light. The pony shape distorted, then grew, it reached twice the height of a good-sized stallion, already dwarfing any legionnaire around them, and kept going. The hind legs of a mare twisted into a cobrahn's bipedal limbs, the swishing pony tail turned into a long, reptilian one that touched the ground to provide balance. The front hooves separated into long, slender fingers with pointed nails, and the petite mare's head broadened to a large, hooded cobrahn's.

Safaszan spread her wings and let out a loud hiss. She was well over fourteen feet tall from her snout to her tail, with powerfully muscled arms and legs, and a barrel-like torso to match. More spectacularly, she was covered in blindingly bright golden scales, outshining the puny torches and braziers that lit the cave. On her right hand, she clasped a ceremonial knife, though hers was big enough to be considered a sword. The sight of her sent the Rondo ponies shrieking in terror.

"If this is the game you wish to play, vermin..." Safaszan hissed. "Then die!"