• Published 26th Aug 2019
  • 591 Views, 21 Comments

The Moaning Top Incident - Visiden Visidane

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

  • ...

The Empire of Ophidus

I love dealing with the ponies of Equestria. Of all our neighbors, they are the most reasonable. Certainly, their Legion is a terrible and stubborn thorn in our Empire's side, but look past them for a moment. Look past their rangers skulking in the swamps and jungles, and their walls, and the nasty spells, and their monstrous prince. Past them, you'll find reasonability. True, they may be rather hideous with their hides and hair, but ponies understand the value of gold, and the value of their own lives. With sufficient patience and daring, you can find the right ponies to negotiate with. Look for the malcontents and opportunists: the resentful officers that were passed over for promotion, the greedy merchants that will sell us their own dams for a good price, the fence-sitters always looking to have a hoof on every boat. There's an ophidite inside such ponies just dying to get out. Discerning eyes will find the right ones.

I have a pony contact, if you must know, not even an indoctrinated slave. She scours their slums for the destitute and other garbage, then she sells them at a good price. She says she's helping her country by making use of the poor. That is proper Imperial thinking. I tell you, under that soft, fluffy hide must be the scales of a proper citizen. You won't get that forward thinking from the ursans and wolven. I told her that, here in the Empire, a poor pony or ophidite can always sell themselves as slaves, rather than be strewn about as living garbage. She seemed to like this idea. Even if she is sympathetic, however, she will not agree to become part of the Empire. This is because she knows she will start out as a slave with a good chance of gracing someone's menu. This is an issue to be addressed.

Where is she from? She's from the Western Barrier Land. The West has the largest cities, and therefore the greatest amount of poverty. I must say, long-range excursions do pay off. I sent troops and servants to their western and northern lands, where they are often foolish enough to think that we cannot threaten them from where we are. You can move smaller groups through there if you are careful.

And ponies are so much more useful and pliant. They require far less taming, especially if you get them young. They are suited to a far greater variety of tasks; from pulling carriages, to racing, and cooking. A lot of their recipes are quite agreeable and easily enhanced with meat. They smell nicer too, thanks to a superior sense of hygiene compared to our other neighbors.

The ponies appreciate a good deal. One day, long after my death I'm afraid, we will banish their prince, and break their Legion. Then, we can surely give them a good place in the Empire. Without a doubt, they will rank higher than wolven and ursan citizens. I am certain that, one day, the need to even indoctrinate them will fade, and we will see true loyal citizens. This is why I am for the abolishment of eating ponies, no matter how unpopular the stance may be. The ponies are much closer in progression to achieving a proper place in the Empire. As a race, they should be moved out of the gourmet lists and onto the lowest rung of our society, pending Imperial Citizenship as the base starting point for all slaves, this will greatly encourage ponies to abandon their meaningless need for an independent nation.

—Baron Saifsyth of Ervan Reis's party speech, shortly before being assassinated by pro-consumption coatls.

Nefszen gently poured the vial of oil on his ceremonial dagger, watching the glistening droplets catch the rays of setting sun as they slid down the gracefully slithering curves of the blade. He wiped the blade gently with a piece of cloth, ensuring an even spread. A cobrahn’s ceremonial dagger, once presented after his graduation ceremony, was his most valuable possession. To return to Ophidus without it was to return to certain execution by the Cobrahn Hooded Council. His dagger was hilted with unicorn horn and bound by pony hide, an enhancement only allowed after slaying a unicorn in single combat by spells. A pink and purple tassel hung from the pommel. He didn't particularly like the color combination, but that was the tail color of the unicorn mage he killed and de-horned.

With the dagger cleaned and oiled, Nefszen looked around the camp yet again only to find the same damned forest. He hated this. It had been two days now. Two days of squatting in this wretched mountain forest, waiting for the scouts to come up with a report. He hated the Western Barrier Land, with its high ground and dry air. Why that wretched tikhana fled here, of all places, was ridiculous. The smell of pine tickled his nostrils, the rough, gravelly ground scraped against his scaly feet, the cold dry air clawed at his lungs. He missed the swamps and jungles of the south already. When the Empire finally colonized Equestria, he pitied the poor fools that would be stationed here. Perhaps, in that distant future, the coatls would have come up with spells to make this jagged, freezing land more hospitable.

"Captain Nefszen..."

Nefszen looked up to his second. Tasimyssa had born the long journey with ease, keeping their ponies in line with little incident. Nefszen would have preferred more cobrahns and a battalion of constrictors, instead of three viprens and four ponies. Viprens were quick and cunning, good with bow, whip, and envenomed blade. Like any red-blooded cobrahn, however, Nefszen preferred a living wall of armored constrictor scales and shields to hide behind while he cast his spells. Still, he had to make do. Even a group this size was almost too big to sneak past the Legion. Even with this, they were forced to utilize an attack on a Legion camp as a distraction. "What is it?" he asked.

"Snake Eyes and Fork Tongue have returned from their scouting," Tasimyssa replied. "I have their reports."

Nefszen glanced at the two ponies; a unicorn and a pegasus. These were third generation slaves on a major mission. Success would grant them proper citizenship, and the eager, hopeful looks in their eyes reflected just that. They were deserving, as far as Nefszen could tell. They were eager to please, skillful, and motivated. The Empire could always use such citizens. "Let's hear it then," he said.

"The tikhana has been very careful in hiding her tracks," Tasimyssa said. "We could not find any direct incidents when she was seen. We had to rely on general reports of ophidite sightings in the West."

"I would expect as much," Nefszen hissed. "She is skilled with illusions. She would not be so confident in hiding in Equestria otherwise."

"We have done our best in sorting these stories from wild rumors, to witnesses of other agents in the region, and rogue ophidites," Tasimyssa went on.

That would have to do, Nefszen supposed. Rogue ophidites were exceedingly rare; usually small, patron-less groups of viprens selling drugs or hunting for slaves to auction without dealing with regulations. Even if it wasn't the tikhana, it would be a service to the Empire to bring these groups down. "Safaszan stole a number of colts from the Ervan Reis stable," he said. "Too many just to have a roadside snack. She will try to sell those here, I'm sure. Do we have reports on rogue ophidites selling child slaves to the ponies?"

"Not directly," Tasimyssa replied.

Nefszen smiled. Some good fortune has smirked on him, it seemed. "How so?" he asked.

"There are stories of a group called the Moonlight Rondo supposedly dealing with ophidites," Tasimyssa said.

"The Rondo," Nefszen muttered. "They could just be buying goods from official agents."

This could be nothing. The Rondo was well known in the Empire. They were excellent customers after all, as far as wines and drugs were concerned. Some ophidites appreciated their art, usually paintings and songs. Nefszen wasn't one of them. He didn't particularly care for their moon-worship either. Why they persisted after their precious Princess of the Night abandoned them was mind-boggling. What few imperial tales of her did not impress. The wolven saw her as a beauty. All Nefszen saw in the few Rondo paintings in Ervan Reis was a messy clump of dark hair and feathers with too many appendages.

"Perhaps," Tasimyssa went on. "Here is the interesting part. Their leader is well known for dealing with colts. Safaszan may have unloaded her goods on him in the past. He was caught making propositions to non-slaves by the local authorities, but managed to wriggle free. He clearly needs a fix. The Moonlight Rondo is holding a great festival soon. I imagine he will want specific form of entertainment for himself, and Safaszan can provide it."

Nefszen sheathed his knife, then rubbed his hands together. Well, well...a worthwile lead after all.

"There is a catch." Tasimyssa's tone lowered, her habit when delivering bad news. "The Moonlight Rondo is holding their great festival on Mount Moaning Top. Safaszan is likely to deliver her goods during the festivities to mask the whole process."

Sefszen cursed under his breath. "The damn skink will be disguised, of course," he groused. "And she will disappear for good once she's loaded with money. We have to kill her there."

"There will be a lot of ponies there," Tasimyssa said. She bowed her head preemptively. "I mean no disrespect towards your illusion skills."

"I can disguise us easily enough," Nefszen replied. "They may be gathered in large numbers, but these ponies will be inebriated and befuddled. They'll be lucky to differentiate their mates from their children, let alone imperial agents."

"We will go to Mount Moaning Top then," Tasimyssa said. "I will inform the others."

Sefszen waved a hand dismissively, and concentrated on his repertoire of spells.

His map put Mount Moaning Top farther north, still a good distance away from the Great Delve, but quite definitely deep into the Western Barrier Land. He would have to prepare warming spells. The last thing he wanted was to get killed because the cold made him sluggish.

His opponent was a tikhana; the hybrid offspring of a lust dragon and a cobrahn. This parentage did nothing to bolster her magical prowess, as her dossier from Nazcatania said, but it did grant her significant physicality. She was larger and stronger than even the average constrictor, though her cobrahn physique prevented her from coiling around foes to crush them. She still had powerful claws for hands, however, as the crushed, punctured skulls of her victims in Ervan Reis revealed. She also possessed some degree of magic resistance, typical of dragonkind. She could also fly thanks to the massive, scaly wings she had. He doubted that she would use such a method to escape. The ponies of Equestria would quickly spot her, and tikhana, like their dragon parents, were clumsy fliers. Legion pegasi would quickly hunt her down and turn her into a pincushion.

A pity that the only option was to kill her, though. Tikhanas occupied a strange position in the Empire. They were abominations for sure, and no proper cobrahn would even consider willingly mating with a lust dragon. They were quite strong, however, and there was always use for the strong in the Empire. Unfortunate that tikhanas inherited their dragon parent's solitary tendencies, and they were averse to experimentations. Most of the very rare lot had tried to flee the Empire. Most of those had been recaptured or simply executed. Safaszan had proven herself particularly wily, however. She plagued the Empire with her raids and sheltered among the ponies. This was the first time she had made a mistake. Her last raid ended in casualties and she was forced to hurry away to Equestria by herself.

In single combat, Nefszen doubted his ability to dispatch Safaszan. This wouldn't be single combat though. She should be alone. Her accomplices were successfully arrested in Ervan Reis even if she did manage to carry away some colts. He was confident in engaging her up until his band overwhelmed her.

The pony element was the question. Nefszen looked to the distance, where the jagged peak of Mount Moaning Top loomed. If his scouts found out about these stories, then the Legion likely would have as well. The Legion typically ignored the Moonlight Rondo's antics within Equestria, but a whiff of dealings with the Empire would have them buzzing about like furious hornets.

Nefszen considered a last resort should Safaszan prove too strong. He could simply expose her to the Legion. It might be a good idea to plant some anonymous tip to nearby Legion outposts, just to raise their alertness. They were capable fighters and she would be overwhelmed for sure. Nefszen's unit would likely be captured and executed as well. It was a price to pay for serving the emperor. Like any long-range imperial agent, he had a will drawn up and ready to be implemented at any time he was killed in action. His son was still in school, it would be a shame not to see the boy graduate from Nazcatania Academy, but he had plenty of money stored up to pay for schooling, and the boy would know his father served well. He looked up, shaking away the morose thoughts. He was perfectly capable of surviving this with right calls.

Nefszen looked around one more time. His troops had lined up; vipren up front, ponies behind them. These were good soldiers, all things considered. Tasimyssa had been his second for years; they had killed ponies together and saved each other's lives. Next to her, Kasamyssen and Sohomyssa were also loyal fighters with years of experience. He owed it to the Empire to see them home safely.

Seeing his troop ready, Nefszen gave the signal to move on.