• Published 8th Jan 2020
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Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book III: Legacies - BlueBastard

Everything is finally ready for Sunset Shimmer to be crowned a ruling princess of Equestria, but not all is as it seems as the Covenant make their move and the history of Equestria itself is called into question as GAOA reaches its explosive end!

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Chapter 23 - The Slow Parade of Fears

Chapter 23—The Slow Parade of Fears

“Well, that was possibly the most confusing meeting I’ve ever been in,” remarked Razz as she exited the Silent Room along with “Agent Sweetie Drops”, better known to her as Bon-Bon.

“Par for the course with the Agency,” the formerly retired agent replied. “You get used to it after a while.”

“Bon-Bon, I work with arcane secrets of the damned and regularly have to handle information that simply reading them would drive most ponies insane. What just went down in that room ranks among some of the lesser examples of the latter.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, I’m sure the rest of the team appreciates what you had to say and if we need further assistance, we’ll let you know.”

“Sure, though, if I may ask a question?”

“You’re the archmagus; not much you aren’t permitted to know.”

“Why wasn’t Blueblood in that meeting? You’re talking about bringing in the assassin that he himself just helped apprehend and he doesn’t have any say in that? No depositions to give, no questions to ask?”

The earth mare sighed. “The director’s been...tied up with paperwork, trying to figure out new recruiting strategies an—"

“Bon-Bon, I might not be Applejack, but even I can tell when my leg’s being pulled. For something this critical, he has to be present—and yet he’s not. What’s the real reason?”

“I don’t know if I can discuss that.”

“Try me.”

The agent looked down both sides of the hall to make sure they were alone. Finally, she said, “Okay. Blu’s been...distracted, ever since he came back from that SIREN mission. I don’t think I need to tell you why.”

Razz nodded. “Yeah, I think I get the gist.”

“You have to go to even more meetings?” asked Celestia. Following her brief but harrowing experience being a hostage of a pony who was roughly half her height, Sable had ensured that the rest of the evening had been nothing but the two of them in romantic bliss. So it was a shock to her that she woke up to him slipping into his service uniform.

“Even with Tumblehome dead, there still has to be meetings about all kinds of stuff related to the change of command—as the new Sea Lord, Adviso’s probably got her hands...er, hooves full. And she’s made it clear that she wants to talk to her trusted officers, and apparently that includes me. Probably doubly so, since with Sunset now a princess in full, we will likely be heading back home soon.”

“I see….” Celestia seemed a bit distracted in her response, which Sable didn’t like.

“Are you still fretting over yesterday?”

“Sort of. I don’t expect to be taken hostage again, if that’s what you think I’m worried about,” the educator replied with a humorless chuckle. “It’s about that girl, however.”

“It might be for the best you don’t think about her too much.”

“And why not? She saved my life, Sable.”

Sable sighed. “Because that girl was the one calling the shots for the Covenant. She was the one that SIREN extracted from the raid. I was told her name is Chrysalis and she’s been responsible for countless acts of terrorism and violence.”

“And yet she saved me—and Razz certainly didn’t seem all that alarmed about it.” Celestia crossed her arms. “I need to know more and judging from the look in your eyes, Sable, you do too.”

Sable shrugged; no point in lying to a woman who owned his heart. “True, her behavior was not what I would have expected from somebody described as a terrorist trying to fake a ritualistic murder simply for revenge.” He walked over and hugged Celestia. “Look, I gotta go. If I see Razz along the way, I’ll ask if we can thank the girl in person—she deserves that much. And if Razz knows anything else, I’ll ask that she pass that along, too.”

Celestia kissed him. “Thanks, honey.”

The echoes of her hoofsteps sounded off from the walls around her as Sunset entered the sacred Chamber of Memory. She’d rarely visited as a filly, but it hadn’t been until recently that she truly had come to appreciate what the Chamber meant. The Hooves largely kept to themselves and only acted in recognition of their roles as the personal bodyguard service of the princess for rare occasions. To die in the name of protecting the princess, neigh, Equestria itself, was a high honor and yet was expected of every Hoof.

Only once had their eternal vow been broken, in the past seventy-two hours as a matter of fact, and it had brought Sunset no small amount of pride when she learned the renegade Hoof, Lentando Fury, had been brought down by one of Sunset’s own SIRENs. There was some irony in that Whiskey had been that SIREN, given how much the kitsune had been obsessed with trying to live up to a promise no longer expected of her.

But it stood as testimony that despite having been in the service of Celestia for a thousand years or so, only fifteen statues of the most honored of the Hooves had been erected despite there being open spaces for many more. And in front of the latest addition sat Blueblood, looking at the countenance of his late sister as if seeking counsel.

“You asked to see me?” said Sunset, approaching the handsome unicorn. She’d been surprised when one of the Hooves had passed on the message from the prince to meet him here, but after all he’d done for Octavia, it was the least Sunset could do to see what he wanted.

“Yeah, thanks for coming,” replied the Prince, turning to look at Sunset, before glancing around the chamber. “This palace isn’t meant to be used as a meeting room, but the matter I need to speak with you about...I feel Pavane needs to be present as well.” A sad smile crossed his face. “It concerns her wishes for me.”

“Her wishes?”

In response, Blu produced the letter that Pavane had wanted given to him upon her death and let Sunset take it in her magic. He remained quiet while she read the whole thing so she would understand.

“I see...well, you’ve already accomplished one of the three. I heard all about that trial incident. If you two hadn’t already made up, I’m sure saving her plot from the Covenant means she doesn’t want your head on a pike for what you did to her bird.”

Blu smirked. “Yes, Razz and I have been on good terms for a while now. But that was the easiest of Pavane’s requests.”

Sunset nodded. “Right, the other two, well...she wants you to quit your job and then get married to...Octavia?

“The local one, not the human,” Blueblood clarified. “She and Octy were the best of friends and they would have loved to have been sisters-in-law. But obviously that can never be and as my sister notes, Octy and I are too close as friends to be romantically inclined to one another.”

“Then what’s this all about, Blu?”

“It’s time for me to move on. I am no longer suitable to be Agency director: Even though this crisis has laid bare all the wounds the Agency has suffered, the truth is that...I’ve taken it away from its original purpose. I wanted it to be a place that did good and protected ponies. But it’s not supposed to be that—the Agency exists to protect our ponies, but it was never supposed to be nice. And my reforms set the stage for what happened.”

“Maybe, but from what I understand, the Agency also prosecuted a lot of cases that the Guard couldn’t tackle successfully. That’s something to be proud of.”

“Not when it makes me a bucket-level Shining Armor,” he countered. “That’s not what the Agency director’s supposed to be. And in any case, as of late, I’ve really been screwing things up, because my mind’s been elsewhere.” He then gave a slight ghost of a smile. “Although, I have to admit, apparently it was crucial in Operation Lost Chord.”

“Yeah, Cadance mentioned something about that. You needed her Strand spell….” The realization hit Sunset like a ton of bricks. “Oh my mom…”

“Yes, I’m in love with your—"

“You’re in love with Raspberry Beryl!”

“Are you sure that she wanted to see us this early?” asked pony Rarity. She had been quite surprised when her human counterpart had tracked her down and requested her assistance. Being effectively the national representation of Generosity itself as well as not particularly having anything planned for the day, Rarity of course agreed—and brought Coco along as she had the inclination she would need the help of another fashionista of equestrian persuasion.

“Well, she didn’t ask me directly,” said Rarity, putting a finger to her lips, “but obviously with her new, ah, ‘body profile’, Tavi is having a massive fashion emergency. Her pants no longer fit and, with no disrespect meant, her hips have gotten wider. I always was of the opinion she should wear slightly less form-fitting pants but she in turn always said that was where Twily’s taste in fashion came in.” She then knocked on the door.

“Ah, yes, that is a good point. I guess it's a good thing that I’ve already gotten some experience with the human form for design work.”

“You do?” asked Coco, surprised. Although she didn’t say anything, Rarity could tell her human counterpart was equally surprised.

“Indeed, darlings, as part of the charm tour, I ended up taking the human Applejack to my store Rarity for You in Manehattan and, well, let’s just say it was quite an experience using her as a canvas for fabulosity.”

Human Rarity’s face took on a look of a socialite hungry for juicy stories. “Oh, do tell,” she purred. However, just then the door opened a jar and Tavi’s head poked out from behind it.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said, relieved. Human Rarity made to reply, but suddenly Tavi’s arm reached out, grabbed Rarity’s, and dragged her in, while the two ponies unceremoniously trotted in behind them before the door was hastily closed.

“Good heavens, darling,” said human Rarity, recomposing herself. “Whatever is the matter now?”

“I was worried it was one of those pony paparazzi,” sighed Tavi, retreating to her bed to get off her hooves as they still hurt. ”It’s bad enough having to try taking a shower in my state, only to learn you need an electric hair dryer and thirty minutes just to dry your damn legs!”

“Speaking of which,” spoke the horrified unicorn, “what in the name of Celestia happened to your legs?! When my counterpart was talking about your clothing conundrum I thought she meant you simply gained a few pounds!”

Tavi shot Rarity a withering glare, to which the human fashionista raised her hands in defense. “Tavi, dear, do you really think I’d ever describe you like that? Yes, you don’t fit into your pants, but anyone can see your hips physically have gotten wider and, well, you have a tail.”

“Indeed, the confusion evidently was all on me,” added pony Rarity, “and I can understand why you’d want this information to be kept to as few individuals as possible.”

“Fine,” relented Tavi. “At the very least getting fattened like an inflated balloon is something I don’t have to deal with. I have enough trouble walking on my hooves as it is.”

“Are your horseshoes ill-fitting?” asked Rarity, raising a hoof to her chin in consideration.

Tavi looked at pony Rarity like she’d asked if she had a third nostril. “Why would I have horseshoes? Why would I even want horseshoes? I’m in enough pain as it is, I don’t need metal crescents nailed into the bottoms of my feet!”

“Why would anypony need nails driven into their hooves for horseshoes?!” squeaked Coco.

“Because that’s how...oh.” Tavi blinked, remembering that ponies in her current context were not entirely the same as the taller but non-sapient ones of the human world. “I guess ponies have something less awful sounding to protect their hooves from splitting or whatever.”

“The equines of the human world aren’t as...cultured, shall we say, as the Equestrians,” the human Rarity noted. “As alarming as it may sound, in the human world they’re pets at best, draft animals otherwise. It’s also probable that biologically, your hooves aren’t the same either.”

“Goodness,” said pony Rarity, who then approached Tavi, “May I take a look at your hooves, then? A proper pair of horseshoes may be just what you need and I know there’s a healthy stock of all sizes at Canterlot Boutique.”

“Don’t see any harm in it, I suppose,” said Tavi, who lifted up her legs for the alabaster unicorn to examine them. Human Rarity in the meantime pulled out a measuring tape she’d brought along as she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get Tavi’s numbers for new clothing.

“Harm? Oh, darling, please, I just need to get your horseshoe size and wha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaa!” Rarity took one good look at Tavi’s hooves and recoiled in horror.

“What?” worriedly asked Tavi, “are they misshapen or something? Can I even get pony horseshoes?”

“Oh, no, no—they look the right shape, if a bit on the big side for mare’s hooves but you humans are bigger. But they are in absolutely atrocious shape—what on Earth did you do to them?”

“They literally were formed out of my toes less than twenty four hours ago and I did nothing but walk on hard surfaces and uneven cave rock floors,” answered an unamused Tavi.

“Ah, yes, of course, how silly of me, apologies.” The unicorn then turned to Coco. “Coco, darling?”

“Yes, Miss Rarity?” replied Coco, eager to serve.

“Go to the boutique and ask Sassy to give you size twelve mare horseshoes, maybe include a size eleven and size thirteen just in case. But first find one of those maids and send them here, as we will need her services for something else.”

“Right away!” chirped the younger pony happily and with Pinkie Pie grade speed dashed right into the door. She stumbled around a bit, dazed, before coming back to her senses. “Uh, yeah, heh heh, forgot the door was closed,” Blushing, she sheepishly opened the door and went through it.

“She is super eager to please you,” observed human Rarity. “Maybe a little too eager.”

“She could stand to be a bit more careful, yes,” admitted Rarity. Just then, there was a knock at the door and before Tavi could ask who it was, Rarity cut her off, “Come in!”

“Miss Pommel said you required a maid?” the pony asked as she came in—Tavi immediately recognized the slight accent and the general colors resembled Piano Bliss, the third member of the Milk and Mint team.

“Yes, perfect timing! We need supplies for an emergency hooficure spa treatment, pronto!”

Bliss laughed. “The castle was stocked with such specifically for hooficure-related emergencies, milady. I’ll be right back.” The maid then turned and left.

“Now then,” said the unicorn, turning back to her human companions, “while we’re waiting for her and Coco to return, let’s get started on some new fashion!”

“Archmagus!” shouted Sable, running down the hall. “Archmagus Beryl!”

Razz’s ears perked up and she turned to face the admiral. She had just gotten out of a meeting with the other military branch heads regarding Adviso’s placement as the new grand admiral of the Navy. Now, the scene of Adm. Loam jogging to catch up with her after the meeting was a curious reversal of their roles the other day. “Oh, hello, Admiral. What’s up?”

“A request from Celestia,” he said, looking a bit unsure—which Razz internally groaned at. “It’s about that girl Chrysalis.”

Razz figured it would be something unofficial, otherwise he would have brought it up during the meeting, and Razz had a sneaking suspicion she knew what it was about. “Let me guess: She wants to give a proper thank you to her?”

“Got it in one,” Sable admitted. “But obviously due to the security risks, I’ll be present.”

“Well, given that she’s a prisoner, right now she’s in Guard custody—we really don’t have much to do with her at this point. That being said, however, Capt. Arrowswift has asked me to consult on the situation, and since you know both of us….”

“I thought it would be best to discuss it with you before trying to pull a favor from Arrowswift.”

“Good idea.” She took a moment to think about it. “I’ll see what I can do. Anything else?”

“Yeah. You can also tell me what she is. She looks human...is she?”

But Razz shook her head. A second later, she summoned an illusion of Chrysalis in the form they typically knew her in. “This is what ponies typically know her to look like. I guess you could say ‘demonic insect pony’, and that’s the typical look for a changeling queen.”

“Okay, so she’s not human then.”

The look in Razz’s burgundy eyes was pensive. “She was.”

Was? As in, not anymore?”

“It has something to do with an investigation that was going on after I returned to Equestria, but before you all arrived here. It’s...well, I don’t think it’s something I can talk about.”

“If it’s about security clearances,” he began.

“No—nothing to do with that. More like crimes against equinity. Or in her case, humanity. A lot of it is tied into Sombra, and what he….” She paused, uncertain if she should say anything further. “Let me consult with Twi and Luna on this, I’m actually heading to a meeting with Luna right now. I have the authority to declassify some of it for your sake, but...given what Chrysalis has been to ponykind, she’s obviously a terrorist at best, and an inequine monster at worst. But now that we know more...the equation’s changed. But I promise I’ll have some sort of answer for you later today.”

“I guess that’s the best I can get,” he groaned. “Thanks.”

“I wish I could do more, but my hooves are tied, even at my rank. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting I need to make it to—my day’s become packed.” He thanked her again, and she walked off towards her destination. In turn, he headed towards the office he was assigned—he had his own mountain of files and records to tackle.

She didn’t make it far before she turned back and said, “Hey, Sable?”

He turned around. “Yes?”

“Celestia’s from Bitaly...or whatever it’s called in your world, right?”

“Italy, yes, she’s from there originally, why?”

“Is there a place called Tusk-ano or something similar? If there is...maybe she’ll know the name Crisalide della Lucca. It might be an important key to solving an ancient mystery.”

A group of doctors all stood around a clipboard, looking at the written results, then towards their charge. All of them had the same thought: This is not possible, even by pony standards!

On the treadmill, running as if she had not a care in the world, was Pinkie Pie. Yesterday, she had been recuperating in bed, barely able to move. And now, she was physically exerting at a level that should not have been humanly possible—hell, if the anatomical books provided by Princess Twilight were correct, the cotton-candy-haired girl was operating at a baseline level that even the most hardy earth mares and stallions could barely keep up.

A groan uttered from the treadmill and the senior doctor decided to save the machine any further misery. “Er, that will be enough, Miss Pie,” the stallion said gingerly.

His colleague, a mare just as equally baffled, asked, “How do you feel?”

Pinkie reached for a towel to wipe herself off, chirping, “I feel great! I mean, sure, yesterday I felt like I was on death’s door, but now I feel like dancing! Or at least dancing with my sweetie! Uh, you guys haven’t seen her around here, have you?”

“No, we have not,” the first doctor said, before turning to confer with his peers.

“Well, I better go find her and let her know!” Pinkie told them. “Need me for anything else?”

“Actually, we need to—" one of the other doctors said, but was waved down by the lead physician.

“No, Miss Pie, that will not be necessary,” he told her as they turned back to their work.

“Okie doki Loki! Catch ya on the flipside!” she said as she headed out, leaving the huddle of ponies to continue their huddling.

The senior doctor, Healing Arts, commented, “This is unprecedented! In two days, she’s healed from the kind of injuries that would take ponies years, if ever to recuperate from!” He pointed at a particular part on the chart. “Do you see this? This is in line with divine discorporation—her body is healing at an accelerated rate! Do you understand what that means?”

The second doctor, Perfect Pulse, looked at him with shock. “Are you out of your mind, Arts? That...thing...is a monster! An unkillable monster!”

“That human is part of the Court of Princess Sunset Shimmer,” the third doctor, Healthy Breath, looked at her. “And if I understand it correctly, one of her closest friends as well, Pulse, so I would strongly suggest you keep your—"

“Look, the Princess could be sleeping with her for all I care and it doesn’t change my mind!” Pulse retorted. “Monsters like humans don’t belong in Equestria! Sunset Shimmer is a fool and undeserving of her crown if she thinks she can tame these beasts and if I had my way, we’d be throwing that pink-maned freak in Tartarus and forgetting the key ever existed!”

“That sounds a lot like something the Covenant would say,” Arts warned.

“Well, maybe they had a point,” Pulse countered, and the discussion soon devolved into an argument, to the point where the ponies’ very voices could not be told from one another, much less understood.

But one soul could—Pinkie, who had been considering asking the doctors why she had healed so fast.

Now she knew.

And for the first time in a while, Pinkie hated herself for it.

Corner looked around the room. Unlike the earlier one she’d been sitting in all this time, this one was blindingly white, sterile and smelled like a dozen antiseptic cleanings had happened here; if she had been a unicorn, she probably would have sensed the traces of cleansing spells as well.

She knew what this room was: an interrogation room. The whole of it was designed to subtly play with the senses and eventually put you off-guard for your interrogator. Enough Covenant members who were turncoat Agency or Guard members had told her about this, and so she was prepared for the whole scenario. She wasn’t going to be turned into some babbling idiot by the dulcet tones of some sweet-talking Agency bureaucrat designed to get her to spill her guts. Nope. Wasn’t going to happen.

And as she entered the room, she wasn’t surprised. There, seated at one end of the table, were a pair of Agency officers in their typical suits and ties. Behind them, wearing the solid black armor of the Agency’s security division, were a group of them, all ready in case she tried something, though she laughed at that thought—she was in hobbles, so what could she do? But the real surprise was the pony wearing a naval flight suit...and Razz.

Corner’s eyes narrowed at Razz’s presence. Her betrayal still stung, even if the unicorn claimed she hadn’t. Well, if they thought her “friendly presence” was going to make Corner talk, that sure as Tartarus wasn’t going to happen.

The older Agency pony pulled out a bunch of papers. “Corner Shot,” he began to read.

“Congratulations—you know my name. Anything else you care to know? Blood type? Favorite color? Favorite food?”

At that, the Agency stallion smirked. “You say that like we don’t already know those things, Miss Shot.”

“Are you sure you want her?” the flight pony commented. It was then that Corner noticed that he had captain’s rank. That meant everypony in this room was likely to be a highly-ranked agent of either the Navy, the Guild or the Agency. At a different time, it would have been a dream scenario for an assassin like Corner—it would have meant a chance to do serious damage to the military command of Equestria. But now, in the situation she was in, it only made things that much more enigmatic...and that much more worrisome.

The pony set down the paperwork. “Look, I’m not going to waste my time and yours—my time is valuable and yours is valueless. I’m going to make you an offer, and you’re going to accept it. Well, that or you’re going to have a very uncomfortable stay in Tartarus, am I clear?”

She leaned back in her chair. “Sheesh, and here I thought you Agency types couldn’t get any stuffier than you already are. At least have the courtesy to introduce yourselves.”

“Fine,” he growled. “I’m Agent Forest Fire and this is Agent Sweetie Drops,” he said, gesturing to the mare. “You already know the Archmagus, and as for the gentlestallion in the flight suit, that’s Capt. Inverted Rainbow from Special Activities Squadron 3—the Nighthawks. He’ll be evaluating you in lieu of Capt. Shadow Surprise, who couldn’t make it.” He then gestured to Razz. “She’s here purely as a courtesy.”

“Some courtesy,” Corner spat at Razz, who winced briefly. Corner then turned back to the others. “And what am I being evaluated for?”

“Being flipped,” Sweetie Drops stated. “Put simply: you’re a potential asset, even though you’re a known terrorist. So we’re going to play a little game. The game is called ‘We own you for a couple of decades, or else you get prime real estate in Tartarus.’”

“That’s not what we agreed upon,” Razz spoke up.

“Archmagus,” Forest Fire stated, “you are here merely as a courtesy for the sake of the prisoner. I would strongly recommend—"

“Nope. That wasn’t what we agreed to. You want my help? We go with my plan,” Razz snapped back. “Because I guarantee the Director will listen to me as will the Captain of the Guard—and both of them I know personally. There’s also the fact that I outrank you, Agent.”

“This isn’t your affair.”

“And yet you asked me to sit in. I’d say that makes it my affair.”

Corner watched the verbal tirade between Forest Fire and Razz and wondered what the hell was going on. Was this some sort of bizarre version of “Good Guard, Bad Guard”? Because if so, she really couldn’t tell what was going on.

“Archmagus, please,” Sweetie Drops intervened.

“My way or no,” Razz stated firmly.

Sweetie Drops leaned over and whispered something into Forest Fire’s ears and while Corner had learned how to read lips, there was naturally a spell that prevented her from doing so—clearly the room designers had thought of everything.

“Fine, though I have a feeling I’m going to regret this,” Forest Fire grunted. Turning back to Corner, he amended, “Okay, you’re only getting this offer once, Miss Shot, so I strongly suggest you consider it. You will work for the Agency for five years as an undercover operative. You will be assigned to Special Activities Squadron 3, where you will be occasionally called to work with Capt. Rainbow and his squadron. Otherwise, you will be an independent asset. If you do this, your record will be cleared and you will be free to leave.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Tartarus for twenty years. Take it or leave it.” Forest Fire got up, and with him, so did everypony except for Razz. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have better business to attend to. I expect an answer by the end of the day. Otherwise this will be void.” Nothing more to add, he departed, leaving the pegasus in the room with the unicorn.

The two were quiet for a second before Corner spoke. “So, is this your idea of mercy, Beryl? Where you get to assuage your heart for betraying me by...well, betraying me again?”

“Is that what you think?”

“Honestly? I don’t know what to think. I honestly expected you to just throw away the key and forget I exist.”

“I can’t. And even if I could...I shouldn’t. We’re all bound together. By family ties, by what we are.” The look in Razz’s eyes was a mixture of sorrow and determination. “You aren’t Sombra. You don’t have to go down his path or be his legacy. We’ve already seen one pony do that, and look what happened to him.” Razz then told her an edited version of the events with Barkeep and his downfall.

Corner scoffed. “Not surprised. That fucker was as batshit as they come. But that’s not the point. The point is: why should I believe you? Why should I believe any of this? I killed...I did a lot of bad things. Things that rightfully would and should get me tossed in Tartarus. And yet if I’m to believe you, you’re just going to let me go as if nothing happened?”

Razz shook her head. “No. You’ll earn your redemption, same as any other. But that’s the difference between you and somepony like Barkeep. You’re still a good pony when the final chips are counted. Nopony can say the same thing about him.

“This is a chance to make something of yourself, to be better than ‘Corner Shot, Pool Player, Assassin and Sombra wannabe.’ You may not think that about yourself, and I don’t, but too many do—and those are the ponies that will decide your fate if you don’t take this offered hoof.”

She went and knocked on the door, a signal to the guards outside she was ready to go. “Take your time and think about it. They’ll bring your lunch here and give you all the time you need. But I’ll be back at sundown to get your answer. Best of luck on whatever you choose.” With that, the door opened and Corner was suddenly left alone in the white room with nothing but the table and her thoughts.

A white room. Blank.

Just like how she felt.

Beneath the gaze of Pavane’s statue, Sunset Shimmer and Blueblood shared a stunned silence. One that made Sunset start to reconsider her kneejerk guess at who Blueblood fancied.

“Raspberry Beryl?” repeated Blu, stunned. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s a pretty mare, but I have my heart set on another. As you know, the only way that The Strand of Love works is if there is a connection between both ends, so before you even say it, I’ve spent almost no time at all with Lockbox or Corner Shot.”

Sunset blinked, before a slow smile started coming on her features. “You know, in the human world, it’s kind of a joke about how all girls want to be swept off their feet by a gallant prince on a mighty steed. It's kind of funny, then, that Tavi’s prince is the steed. Though I have to ask, does Tavi feel the same way?”

“The Strand works off of the subconscious mind, or whatever Cadence said. I never put too much faith in it until recently, truth be told.”

“If you didn’t think much of it, then why did you even rely on it in the first place?"

“Desperation, maybe? The spell itself didn’t work the way it was supposed to, either—normally it just forms a straight line between the two, but this time, it led to the quickest path to Tavi. It was like it was...guiding me to her. And after spending almost all of this week with her...I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to her. And I regret that I still wasn’t fast enough to prevent what happened….”

“It’s not your fault, Blu,” reassured Sunset. “The Covenant was trying to go after me thinking I was the fourth Scion. Tavi ended up being taken instead by pure chance.” Sunset paused, reflecting on her failure. “Look at me, I’m a fucking alicorn and I couldn’t do anything to save her in turn. I can’t do anything now—the kind of magic holding her together is entwined with destiny itself and would require some kind of magic on the level of whatever made the universe to safely revert her back.

Whatever Sunset thought she was expecting, it wasn’t Blu smiling at that information. “Well, at least I have the words of an alicorn to confirm that magic of obscene potency is necessary to help Tavi.”

“Blu, no offense, but this isn’t the time for your bullshit asshole persona to be shining through. Tavi’s never going to get her human legs back and you know it.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong.” He cast a spell and raised a hoof, in which spontaneously appeared an ornate box. Sunset stared as old memories of her less-than-benevolent research into attaining power came to mind as the box was uniquely engraved with runes reflecting the treasure within.

“Is that...what I think it is?” she asked, spellbound, “Why do you even have it?”

“I’m sure you know the situation with Auntie Celestia’s impeachment hearings is not going well, but the reality is even worse.” Blu’s face took on a hard look. “Some of the nobility are trying to use the impeachment to get some of the more dangerous and powerful artifacts that had been requisitioned from their families generations ago. Even before the impeachment, Highfalutin’ herself took an artifact consigned to her bloodline which is basically a compact long-distance teleportation relic and I just know whatever she’s intending for it isn’t good. But this? If any noble got their hooves on it, that would just spell disaster.”

“What does this have to do with…” Sunset’s eyes bulged with realization. “Are you actually…?”

“It's what my sister would have wished of me.”

“So, let’s hear it.” In her new office at Agency HQ, Shadow Surprise, Chief of the Special Activities Section and Commander, Special Activities Squadron 1, looked at her former squadron subordinates, now captains and squadron leaders in their own right. The three of them had been moved from the Navy to the Agency on the basis that they could put three squads into the field instead of just one, and now that was being put to the test. “So, what have we found?”

A stallion ran a hoof of dark gray through a mane of light gray and white; his sky blue eyes showed frustration. “Not so great. Had my eye on this one batpony mare—"

Inverted Rainbow grinned. “Aren’t you married, Conny?”

Contrail glared at his colleague. “Fuck you, Vert. Seriously. Girl could keep up and probably give Rainbow Dash herself a run for her bits. But she just up and vanished, poof, outta nowhere.”

Shadow gave him a disbelieving glance. “Now, look, I know not all the Fleet squadrons were as squared away as Tumblehome would have preferred, but we just don’t lose flight ponies out of nowhere, Conny.”

“Seriously! Ens. Moonblazer just went poof! Off the books. No discharge, no sign of anything. You’d think they’d even have a record here at the Agency, but hell, we’re so new I don’t even know who to ask.”

“Okay, okay, noted. I’ll talk to our boss; maybe Bon-Bon can find this mysterious missing pony for us.” She then turned to Rainbow. “And what about that special candidate I had you check out for me?”

“Well, if you want a pony with a total lack of respect for authority, untrustworthy and shifty as hell, she’ll probably fit in with most of the candidates we’re considering,” Rainbow said with distaste. “But from the way she picked up her drink glass with her wings? I’d give my left testicle to be able to have that kind of vane control.”

“You sure your last fillyfriend didn’t take it for herself when she bailed on your ass?” Contrail teased.

“Yes, but given that she ended up marrying you, she probably doesn’t want to say how much better I was in bed,” Rainbow replied smoothly.

“Okay, enough touchy-feely shit from the both of you,” Shadow said with the grin of a pony long used to their banter. “We’re on the clock right now. Anyway, Vert, you get a hold of Fleet Air Training Command and see if we can borrow a couple of their instructors; I have a feeling we’re going to need to onboard these ponies fast. Conny, I’ll look into this Moonblaze mare, but we still have a ton of other potential candidates, and we’ve got to get these squadrons operational fast, if we’re going to look good for our new bosses. Anything else?” Both stallions shook their heads. “Okay, dismissed. Oh, one last thing, Vert.”


“The new troublemaker will be under your direct command, so no playing ‘hide the sugarcube’, got that? I so much as get the hint that you’re practicing ‘looking in the mirror’ with her, and I’ll bust your ass down to fog collector for the Weather Center.”

“C’mon, Shadow, it’s not like—"

“Merriweather Mist.”

“But she—"

“Carnival Fantasia.”

“But I—"

“Stellar Cavalcade.”

Rainbow sighed. “Fine.”

Celestia’s jaw dropped at the news. “Crisalide...della Lucca?” She sat down. “Mio Dio….” she whispered in her native language.

“Wait—you actually know that name?” Sable asked, surprised.

“Of course I do: she’s both history and fairy tale—La Vergine Sacrificio, the innocent girl murdered by her husband for dark powers.” The woman sat down at this revelation. “But now…. That damn mirror—of course it was magical and linked to this world! The black unicorn must have been that King Sombra everyone’s been talking about.”

“Okay, hon, you lost me. Is this some kind of Italian fairytale?”

In response, she reached into her pocket, pulled out her phone and then brought up the Italian Wikipedia page, then ran that through Google Translate. “It’s rough,” she told him as she handed him the phone, “but read.”

Several minutes went by as Sable digested the information that he read on the screen. After a few minutes, he sat down and looked at her in surprise. “This...this is like saying that Goldilocks was a real person.”

“It’s not without precedent. The French fairytale Bluebeard is based upon the misfortunate wives of Giles de Rais, who was a nobleman,” the educator explained. “In a world where we really don’t know much about magic, obviously we’ll come up with some answers, even if they’re wrong. De Rais was turned into a fictional murderer and everyone thought the Virgin Sacrifice was a victim as well. But now, it’s possible she was a victim of a different type.”

“Well, Razz did say that Chrysalis was human,” he pointed out, emphasizing the word. “But again, how do you know about all this?”

“Well, you remember where Moni works, right?”

Sable wondered why Celestia would bring up her older sister Armonia now of all times. “Yeah, at ECMAH, why?”

Celestia then went over the whole of the Baldassare di Cavalcanti exhibit at ECMAH, with all the various artifacts and artwork on loan from the Museo del Castello Cavalcanti. She went over the discussion of the story and the modern theory that she’d been murdered by her husband, who had an unhealthy obsession with magic and unicorns.

“If I recall correctly,” she added, “the last piece of the whole exhibit was scheduled to be revealed this weekend: one of Crisalide’s hairbrushes, complete with her hair strands. Moni told me the Museo had to do some DNA identification in order to be able to track it should it ever be stolen, so if we can get a hold of that, we can confirm it.”

“Are you sure about this?” he asked her as he handed her phone back to her. “I mean, you know more about this stuff than I do, but I think you’re grasping at straws here.”

In turn, she went to the ECMAH site and brought up another picture. “Take a look for yourself.”

Sable’s jaw dropped. “Well, other than the eyes and the teal hair, she’s a dead ringer for this girl,” Sable pointed out.

“And we already know that eye colors change due to trauma, although it’s extremely rare,” Celestia pointed out. “And maybe she was blonde to begin with, before this magic stuff changed her, somehow. After all, Raspberry did say she was human.”

Sure enough, there was a knock on the door, and standing there was Razz, carrying a small briefcase in her magic aura. “Hello, you two,” she said as she entered. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“No, Tia and I were just talking about what we discussed earlier,” Sable explained.

“I see. Well, I just got out of a meeting with Princess Luna and I explained everything. She thinks that because of what Chrysalis might be, it might be best to bring in a human to represent Earth, because if everything we know turns out to be correct, this changes everything legally.”

“How so?” Celestia asked.

“Because it means she was brought here against her will, turned into the Chrysalis we know and essentially brainwashed. It means that she’s not entirely liable for her actions and that she’s legally mentally incapacitated. We don’t prosecute the mentally incapacitated here in Equestria, and from what I was able to gather on my time on Earth, you generally don’t, either.” She opened the briefcase and handed a paper to Celestia. “I need you to sign this first.”

Celestia read it quickly. “It’s a security clearance authorization.”

“Correct. Since Sable’s is covered by the Navy, you need one yourself if we’re going to bring you in as a consultant for this,” the unicorn explained. “Since you’re technically a foreigner, The Office of the Alicorn of Earth will be maintaining your security clearance. Normally we would just give you one, but I spoke to Sunset and she said ‘that sounds like a paperwork sort of thing’ and that you wouldn’t let her live it down if paperwork wasn’t involved.”

“Looks like I created a monster,” Celestia cracked as she took the pen Sable offered her and quickly signed the document, giving it to Razz. Razz in turn, used a spell on the document, then the document split in two, with the original rolling up and vanishing in the air, while the copy went into Celestia’s body, absorbed by it.

“There you go. Now we can talk,” Razz said, breaking out several folders.

In his luxurious office within Nobility House, Riven Oak sat on the lounge sofas alongside his legal counsel as they continued to strategize the next stages of the impeachment hearings for Sleepy Celestia, as he and his like-minded fellows had started calling her. They had a pretty strong case, in Riven’s own opinion; her dereliction of duty during the winter after the war made up the bulk of their case (even if Riven himself didn’t particularly care if a few farmers starved while Equestria rebuilt; something that was inevitable anyway). Still though, that class-traitor Fancy Pants (Fancy Pants-on-Head they’d started calling him) was doing a surprisingly decent job as Sleepy Celestia’s defense. His counterarguments to their attacks were logical and supported with solid facts, supplemented with just enough of a “shame on you” tone that it gave him and his client the appearance of the moral high ground.

It was lucky, of course, that much of the Noble Senate were his toadies anyway, and would vote the way he directed them to regardless of what they heard from the other side. Still, it wasn’t enough for Riven Oak to impeach Celestia by a narrow margin: he wanted his victory to be decisive.

So, he and his legal team sat around the whiteboard in his office, which was messily filled with a myriad of names, strategies, and possible angles, in addition to the occasional crude doodle of Celestia and her sycophants in a number of compromising positions. The newest addition to the board were the words “Tumblehome death”, which his team were currently in the process of brainstorming over. Already they could make a decent case for Sleepy Celestia’s incompetence being a reason for the good admiral’s death, and they could even win over some of the other military branch heads with the simple question, “Under Sleepy Celestia, are any of you safe?”

Chewing on the sharpie that he held in his magic, Oak said, “Pants-on-Head will likely try to bring up the rumors of Tumblehome dealing under the table as the reason she was killed. Should we try to get ahead of that? Maybe paint her corruption as a symptom of Celestia’s leadership?”

“We’d have to tread carefully if we go that route,” said Contempt O’Court, the somewhat overweight older stallion in charge of his legal team. “If Tumblehome’s corruption becomes pertinent to the case, it will lead to an investigation that could lead back to us.”

“Highfalutin’ assured me that she’d cleaned up any possible links….” Riven Oak started.

“To her,” O’Court interjected. “I’m not willing to stake my career on the hope that she extended us the same courtesy.”

“We could try to spin it that Celestia herself was the one who ordered the hit,” said one of the stallions on O’Court’s team, a reedy white pony named Mens Rea, who had proven to be full of bold ideas. “A ridiculous notion, obviously, and one we couldn’t prove, but it will throw them off-balance. Create enough chaos to distract from the real issues. And enough of the backwater idiots clamoring for her removal will actually believe it, generating more public support for us!”

Riven Oak nodded and added the idea to the whiteboard. They now had several good avenues of attack for the next session of the impeachment trial, but somehow he didn’t think it was enough.

“What’s on your mind, Daddy?” asked his daughter, Heatherfield. She had taken an interest in the case against Celestia and had asked to sit in on their meetings, but thus far had contributed nothing of value. Even now, she was looking up from the trashy magazine she had been reading while the rest of them talked business.

“What we have is good, but...it isn’t enough,” Riven Oak said. “To beat Celestia, we need to hit her where she’ll really hurt. Come after her loved ones.”

“Need I remind you we already tried going after both Looney Luna and Psycho Sunset in the last session?” O’Court pointed out. “It didn’t work. They were expecting it.”

“That’s why you can’t just go after the obvious targets,” Heatherfield said. “We need to try the unorthodox ones. Her nephew Blueblood, for instance….”

“If this is just another scheme for you to get into his bed, you can forget it,” Riven Oak chided, and his daughter gave him an angry, red-faced look.

She does have a point, though, Oak thought, and looked at the Whiteboard again. We need to try something unorthodox. A number of potential avenues of attack had been crossed out after it had become apparent they weren’t viable. Of all of them, one name stood out to Riven Oak immediately.

“Remind me, why haven’t we tried targeting Princess Twilight yet?”

“Firstly, she’s such a well-respected hero that even our loudest supporters won’t touch her,” O’Court explained. “Second, she’s so inactive in politics that there isn’t anything worthwhile we could dig up on her.”

“I think I have something,” Heatherfield said.

Riven Oak, actually surprised that his daughter had spoken up rather than return to her magazine, looked at her blaisly. “What could you possibly have on Twilight Sparkle that my whole legal team couldn’t dig up?”

At that, Heatherfield held up the very magazine she had been reading all meeting. “I doubt your team reads Canter Monthly.”

Riven Oak rolled his eyes. “Daughter dearest, I do hope you haven’t interrupted a perfectly productive meeting to give me celebrity gossip.”

Heatherfield simply started flipping back through the pages of her magazine, her eyes scanning the pages carefully. Riven Oak wasn’t even sure his daughter had heard him until she said, “Gossip is like a good rumor: there’s always a nugget of truth at the center of it. Ah-ha!

She turned the magazine around and held it up for Riven Oak to see. The first thing he noticed was a photo of what appeared to be the Coronation Ball. The image was blown up to the point it was barely legible, but Oak nonetheless picked up Princess Twilight’s purple coat almost immediately. What was more, she appeared to be...dancing with somepony.

Then Riven Oak read the actual article. He only needed to skim it for a few seconds before he had a good idea of what his daughter was suggesting. A grin formed on his face alongside the idea in his head.

“We might actually be able to use this after all….”


A tray of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato bisque was placed in front of the tear-stained girl. Pinkie looked up to see the face of Twilight Sparkle. Not the princess, but instead her friend...assuming they were still that, after the infamous Allucinor Wing incident.

“Why?” Pinkie voiced.

“Sunset got the news that you’d checked out of the hospital early—ridiculously early. She panicked and wanted to go looking for you, but then she got called into a meeting with some ambassador and asked us to do it instead. Rarity found you an hour ago, but figured that you wanted to be left alone. When you didn’t show up for dinner, we asked the chefs to make your favorite and I offered to come out here.”

Pinkie made to speak, but was overruled by her stomach growling. “I guess it’s been a while since I had anything solid,” she said sheepishly, gratefully taking the tray. “Thanks.”

“Hey, what are friends for?” When Pinkie looked at her with surprise, Twily chuckled and shook her head. “Look, you’ve done some seriously stupid things lately, and it feels like you were going out of your way to piss me off, but we are still friends. I mean, if everyone can forgive Sunny for what she did in the past, then who am I to judge?” She paused for a second. “Although, I am going to ask: What the fuck are you doing out of the hospital? You just woke up from a Goddamn coma!

“Twily, it’s a long story.”

The scholar crossed her arms. “We have time.”

“I’m...I’m not human anymore!” The tears began again; after all these hours, Pinkie had thought she’d cried them out. “Look at me! Just days ago, I was stabbed in the heart! That should have killed me, and yet I’m alive! What’s more, it takes years to recover from that kind of injury if you somehow manage to, and after two days, I’m back to normal—no, I’m better than normal! That’s not human!”

“Pinkie...is that what you really think?” Twily asked as Pinkie was about to speak, she added, “No, don’t say anything. Just eat and listen to what I have to say.” The teen sighed as if clearing out her mental space, then began. “My sister was obviously not born a human, and even though she tries, it’s clear she still struggles now and then. But that doesn’t stop her from being her. In her generosity, her kindness, her happiness...she’s probably one of the most human people I’ve met and she’s so...normal, even Shimmy considers her not only human, but her own sister. And...you’re in love with my sister, and that’s someone you know is a completely alien species.

“Applejack and Rainbow have started displaying...magic or superpowers, or whatever you want to call them. In the future, Rarity and Fluttershy might as well—hell, even the triplets and I might, too. Are we no longer human then?

“And…” she paused, gathering her final thoughts, “...you know what happened to Tavi. Out of everyone, she’s been affected the most. Is she no longer human?”

Pinkie looked up at Twilight. “I...I would never think them not human!”

“Then why say that about yourself? Yes, you’re changing, clearly. And while that sounds cliche, like you’re going through a second puberty or something, the fact is, it’s not what you look like that makes you human or even defines the human condition. It’s being who you are, ever looking to the future just like others, living your life just like others, and being a part of the eight billion souls on our world. That’s what being human is, and if you’re not human, well...I daresay there are murderers, rapists and worse back home who fit the definition even less.

“Pinkie, humans love. You love my sister. Do you truly think you’re a monster who couldn’t love?”

Pinkie paused, spoon hovering just fractions of an inch away from her agape mouth. The red liquid in the utensil’s bowl quivered at Pinkie’s reaction and it would have made for a comical scene if Twilight was in that mindset.

Pinkie finally set the spoon down. “I love Sunny. I want to be with her, and I want to be with her always. But I’m afraid that….” She paused, and chuckled. “I guess I’m the dork here. Even if I’m a monster? She won’t ever let me be one. And given what she is, I guess I shouldn’t worry.”

“No, you shouldn’t.” Twilight leaned against the gazebo’s wall and looked at the night sky. “At least you picked a good night for your histrionics, though it looks like it’s going to rain soon. I’m going to go back in and tell the others you’re okay. You coming?”

“No, I want to stay here and process my thoughts a little more. But...please, tell Sunny I’m fine and that I love her.”

The smile on Twilight’s face was a balm to Pinkie. “Tell her yourself,” the plum-haired teen replied as she headed off.

Once a fool had a good part in the play
If it's so would I still be here today?
It's quite peculiar in a funny sort of way
They think it's very funny everything I say
Get a load of him, he's so insane
You better get your coat, dear, it looks like rain”

The tune playing on Celestia’s phone was Empty Sky’s “Madman Across the Water”, a grand irony considered that a light rain fell on the evening sky. Seated in the book nook, the woman closed the volume of a book that Raspberry Beryl had left behind, a book entitled The Rose with the Broken Neck. She had warned them both that the book...wasn’t suitable for normal publication, as it was the personal memoirs of King Sombra himself and that it had something to do with Chrysalis.

The two began to look over the documents, which Razz left in their care as she had to depart for another meeting. Both Celestia and Sable went over the remainder over dinner, until he remembered that he had training with the triplets and the ATG, and that couldn’t be skipped tonight. Celestia assured him she’d be okay and continued reading.

Eventually, her attention had fallen on The Rose with the Broken Neck, and being a voracious reader, Celestia figured she could get through it fairly quickly. As for questionable content, she’d read books by horror authors like Castle Rock and Imajica, so she was sure she could stomach it.

That was hours ago. Now, despite the warmth of the room and that given from a glass of wine she’d been drinking, Celestia hugged herself, feeling as pale and frozen as the moon’s ivory visage. Her eyes were red from countless tears and she threw the book across the room, thinking it as venomous and dangerous as any viper or black widow.

A child—a child of no more than thirteen years, barely into her first blood, and she’d been sacrificed multiple times. By her family, that sought an advantageous marriage and a path to power. By her husband, who sought power at any cost—including his wife’s innocence and chance at life. By a ruthless alien king who treated her worse than a whore and with even less care than a plaything, repeatedly expending himself on her, breaking every connection to sanity she had and even going so far as to ruin her, both body and mind.

She’d been betrayed by two worlds and reached out for the only salvation at hand: madness. And her pain had become this world’s, played out time and time again until only the terrorist was known and not the child behind the screams of rage.

A child, Celestia thought, over and over again, the tears coming anew. Only a child.

Sunset herself hadn’t been much older when she came to Earth and set herself on a similar path. Somehow, she’d reached for her better angels in the end and now showed herself as the result of that: a bright young woman with a promising future the likes of which had never been seen by either world.

Could Chrysalis...Crisalide...have had that chance once? Could she have been saved if someone had offered her a caring hoof, or paw, or whatever? It was a moot point, though: she’d never encountered such luck and her life had become perpetual maelstrom.

A child. Just a child.

A child scorned. A child damaged. A child with a chip on her shoulder the size of California and enough destructive power to set off an earthquake.

And yet...a child that had no reason to help Celestia. And yet she did.

A child...crying out, hoping for one last lifeline? A hand, outstretched, hoping for a final lifeline, a hand to hold, grasp tight and bring her back to the light?.

Celestia looked at the rain and swore she would stretch hers out in return.

Author's Note:

And for those wondering what Tavi fears in terms of 'getting fattened like an inflated balloon' entails:


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