• 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 25 - Murum Aries Attigit

GAOA Chapter 25

Murum Aries Attigit

That fact that Blueblood, of all ponies, was here worried Tavi all the more; now that he saw what she really looked like, outside of the dim lighting of the cave when he’d found her, did it spell the end of everything? Would he think her as hideous as she felt?

“I tried calling you,” Sunset added, “but your phone was off.”

“Oh, sorry about that—you know I always put it on buzz mode when I’m practicing,” Tavi said, knowing that was a lie. She’d turned it off so she would be left alone. “What’s up?”

“We need to talk for a second. Can we come in?” Sunset asked her.

“Your palace, your rules,” Tavi said as she moved away from the door and gestured to come in. “You’re the royalty here—I’m just the guest.”

Sunset winced at that, and Tavi cursed herself; in her own pain she’d forgotten Sunset’s self-inflicted guilt at indirectly causing all of this. “Tavi, you’re family, not a ‘guest’,” the alicorn stated.

“Furthermore,” added Blu, “given that you’re a descendant of Sombra, that means that you are technically nobility.”

“Blu, that’s probably the last thing she wants to hear about right now,” Sunset chided.

Now it was Blu’s turn to wince. “Right...apologies, Tavi.”

“Believe me, I have plenty of issues right now as is,” grunted Octavia, gesturing to her legs as she sat on the bed, taking the time to sweep her tail out of her way—she partially hated it simply because she had a tail, but at the same time she couldn’t help but think it was cute the way it accented her emotional state. She’d still get rid of it in a heartbeat if she could, however.

“Well, that’s what we’re here to talk about, actually.” Sunset changed back to her human form, and a jealous look crossed over Tavi’s face before she realized that Sunset hadn’t done that to spite her.

Sunset, however, picked up on that. “Tavi….”

“No, I have to get used to that. I was used to that just a few days ago, and I can’t let it rip me apart now. I’m sorry. Go ahead.”

“Okay, then I’ll start with a basic question,” the flame-haired girl said as she sat on the bed next to Tavi. “What’s Zacherle’s policy on accessories and jewelry? I presume they allow that?”

“Yes, but it has to be conservative; that’s why Soni and Ari wear black scrunchies in their school uniforms and whatever the hell they like otherwise. Aside from that, rings, necklaces, bracelets, also must be conservative, too. Can’t look like a blinged-out 80s rapper or something, why?”

“I think we have a way to....” Sunset wanted to say fix, but halted on that—her cousin wasn’t broken. “...heal you,” she amended.

Tavi’s eyes widened. “What? But you said—"

“I know what I said, and it’s true: because this was a strike against you based on black magic and the very fabric of existence—down to the quantum threads—it’s going to take a hell of a lot of research to fix this. At least not until your thirties and I don’t think you want to wait that long.” She paused. “And...it turns out we may not have to. All yours, Blu.”

Blu nodded and then hit his horn. A pale blue flash of light suddenly became an ornate wooden box engraved with glowing runes. Stepping forward, he proffered it to her. “There are some conditions that need to be met, but...I feel that this might be the answer to your problem, at least until the day that Sunset can come up with a more permanent solution.”

Tavi took the box, completely confused; ever since she’d known him, he had never been a stickler for formality. And now, here he was—and it had something to do with Sunset.

“Go ahead,” he said, almost in a pleading tone.

She opened the box and what she saw in it confused her even more. Seated inside the box, cushioned by what had to be the most luxurious velvet she'd ever seen, was a platinum ring, likely the most expensive and exquisite piece of jewelry she’d ever eyed outside of a heavily-secured exhibit in a museum. And in the center of that beautiful work of art was a pearlescent jewel, radiating every color of the rainbow as if it was its sole purpose in life.

“A ring?” She took it out of the box. It looked way too large for any of her fingers, more like it was made with a horn in mind.

Trusting him, Tavi did as requested, slipping the ring over a finger. The band immediately shrank down to her finger and as it did, the stone flashed. She felt herself lifted up by feathers, felt an angel’s kiss and incredible warmth, like the physical feeling of love. The sensation coursed through her for what felt like a pleasant eternity, and when it ended, she felt herself on the ground, as if she fell off the bed.

“What...what happened?” she asked, looking at the faces of the other two as they gazed at her. She then stood back up, pushing off her toes and–

Pushing off my toes?

She immediately looked down, and noticed her equine legs were gone. She did a test wiggle of her toes and they complied; moreover, she could feel it.

She immediately ran into the bathroom, locked the door and disrobed below. The skirt fell easily, no longer held up by wider hips. She pulled the mirror off the wall and put it on the ground, checking her butt for a tail; other than the natural part of the tailbone that all humans had, nothing to be seen. Lastly, she looked straight down and noticed zero hair at all and clean as a whistle.

She blushed; somehow in the process, she’d ended up with a Brazilian.

Slipping the clothing back on, she walked out, her face still red.

Sunset laughed. “Brazilian?”

If Tavi’s face hadn’t already been red beforehand, it now turned a bright crimson. “How’d you—"

“Happened to me the first time, too, though I didn’t know what it was at the time,” Sunset explained. Blu made to ask, but she looked at him and said sternly, “Don’t.”

“Human thing?” he inquired.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she said with a grin before adding, “But we’re getting off-track. You might want to explain what happened.”

“Please!” Tavi cried.

“Sunset and I talked about this, and we hoped it would work. Clearly it did,” Blu stated with an air of satisfaction. “The Signet of Queen Platinum is one of the few artifacts that contains a wishstone, one of the rarest and most powerful objects to have ever existed.”

“Wishstone?”

“Nopony knows what it is,” Sunset explained. “Believe me, during my less-behaved period, I actually looked. Some say it was formed from the...well, I’d rather not talk about that one,” she said with a blush.

“You mean the myth about it being Queen Faust’s tears when she fo—"

“Finish that sentence and I will end you,” Sunset said as she glared at him. “As for the other myth, it’s believed they were created from my mother’s tears after my aunt’s convalescence. Either way, they’re powerful—very powerful.”

“Quantum string powerful?” Tavi asked, hoping the answer wasn’t too good to be true.

“Not quite that powerful, but clearly enough to override the black magic spell. But as I said, there are conditions.”

Tavi, however, wasn’t listening. She was as giddy as a kite, and her grin ran all the wider as she ran her hands all over her normalized legs and feet.

“Tavi, this is serious,” Sunset cautioned. When she still wasn’t listening, the alicorn said to Blu, “Okay, lower the boom.”

“Reluctantly,” he sighed. Taking her finger in his magic, he yanked the ring off. She screamed in pain briefly, then in shock as the change happened again once more.

“What the fuck?” Tavi shouted at both of them. Blueblood winced at the angry and betrayed look on her face, but Sunset merely folded her arms and looked straight at the other girl.

“I see we have your attention.” Sunset’s features softened as she added, “Look, I’m sorry we had to do that, but you were on Cloud Nine and we had to get you to listen—actually listen. We’re talking about serious issues here and I need you to pay attention, Tavi, okay?”

“Fine.”

At that moment, Sunset’s phone rang. “Yeah….” There was speech from the other end of the call for a few minutes, followed by Sunset’s growl of, “Oh, you have to be shitting me! Fine, Dagi, I’ll be there in five minutes.” She looked at the two of them. “Gotta go. Hooves just caught one of Fujitsu’s flunkies trying to break into the dungeon to try to free his master.”

“We’re okay, aren’t we?”

“More like, if he’s okay. Really bad idea to get on the bad side of my SIRENs. Apparently Ushanka was on patrol and mapped him with her DMR. He’ll be okay...but he’s going to wish he wasn’t. Anyway, I need to go speak to the Inariese ambassador, who just got word and is, understandably, terrified that I’m going to go melt half their country or something.” She grinned. “Can’t imagine why.” She turned to Blueblood. “Blu, you got the rest of this?”

He nodded. “Yes. Let me handle the hard part. You go have fun scaring kitsunes.”

She laughed as she teleported away.

“Now then,” he said, turning back to Tavi, “I think some explanations are in order.”

“Thank you for agreeing to this meeting, Luna,” Celestia said to Princess Luna; the pair, along with the human Luna, met in a conference room adjacent to the throne room in order to make it easier for the vicereine’s difficult time. “I know squeezing me into your busy schedule couldn’t have been easy.”

The alicorn gestured to a chair with a wing. “It was no problem. Aside from the contributions of the SIRENs and my niece, we’ve had involvement in multiple cases from your people and as a result, things will change for the better. So we owe humanity quite a bit.”

“I think it’s going to balance out after today,” Luna told her counterpart. “At least, if my sister’s insane plan works out.”

“Rendila diffidente, perché non lo fai?” Celestia, irritated, whispered to her sister.

“Well, sis, I have to admit, you’ve come up with some really big brain schemes before, but you’ve really procc’d the big boofa here.”

Princess Luna sighed. “Ladies, I speak neither the Bitalian dialect nor whatever Luna’s saying, so please, Equish, if you don’t mind?”

That was Celestia’s cue to begin. She launched into what Razz had told them, and then matched it with everything that she’d learned about the life of Crisalide della Lucca. Luna, in turn, covered her sister’s bases and had, at Celestia’s request, did some extra research. That, along with some documentation emailed to both of them by their older sister (who was curious as hell why they wanted that information while on a weekend vacation) and twenty minutes later, while Celestia didn’t have her niece’s training as a lawyer, she figured that she presented one hell of a case for Crisalide.

The princess sat there, looking over the mounds of evidence that had been brought before her. “I must admit...I did not know anything about Chrysalis at all. None of this. I knew that diary existed, but...if this is true, it changes everything we know about her. And,” she sighed. “At the same time, none of it, I’m afraid.”

“Lulu,” Luna spoke, “you said that you yourself were forgiven after everything—"

“I’m an alicorn and a pony,” Princess Luna reminded them. “Yes, it was tough. Took me probably about a full year for everypony to come to terms with it all—and even then, there are still those who don’t trust me—but ultimately I was forgiven because I’m an alicorn and a princess. Chrysalis...has a worse history than I do, a higher body count and has spurned every attempt at reproachment by ponykind. She is looked at, quite rightly, as a monster. And if this news gets out, it could do immense damage to human-pony relations. Remember that even with the legend of the Megan, ponykind believed that humans were monsters as well, until your arrival. And if they find out that Chrysalis is one? It may turn everything for the worse, especially as delicate as things are politically.”

“She is a victim! Of a pony, no less! Sombra did this to her and it’s small wonder she turned to madness!” Celestia cried.

“I know and privately, my heart breaks for her. But I am a ruling princess of Equestria and I cannot allow my personal feelings to interfere with the safety of my people.”

“Please, let me have a child psychologist look at her! Vel can—"

“Dr. Velvet,” Princess Luna sighed, “is Sunset’s human adopted mother and a known close associate of yourself. Any analysis she gives would be biased, and even if we had a pony there with her to corroborate the results, even still, many would not believe it. Chrysalis is known to have powers of mental persuasion. I do not want to seem alarmist, but aren’t you concerned that in a day, you went from not knowing of her existence to completely being on her side?”

“And you should be, too!” Celestia thundered. “She is just a child and she has been put through centuries of hell, by those she loved, trusted and those who should have been there for her! And she was dropped into the lap of a true monster who ruined her, fractured her and turned her into what she became!”

“Be that as it may, I must protect my ponies at all costs,” Princess Luna said. “I’m sorry, but my decision is made and this meeting is over.”

“Lulu, don’t, please,” Luna pleaded. “I haven’t even met her and based on the documentation we have, this would be a strong case in our world for intervention by Vel’s office.”

“Except that we’re not on Earth—and she is not an abused child, but instead accused of terrorism, mass murder and crimes against all sapient beings on Equus. She will be lucky if she sees herself not encased in stone.”

“NO!” Celestia’s face was a mask of cold anger; it had been quite some time since she’d been this enraged and that last time, ironically had also been due to ponies, though she hadn’t known that at the time. I WON’T LET YOU ABUSE MY CHILD ANY FURTHER AND—"

The room fell silent as all three females suddenly realized the words that had come out of the older human’s mouth.

Luna was completely stunned. “Are you out of your fucking mind, sis? You just met this...girl and—"

“No.” Celestia’s face was a visage of stone as her eyes bored into the alicorn’s. “I’m thinking clear-headed as day on this one, Lu. Crisalide has been doomed since day one of her life because she had no one in it who really cared. No one to show her love and to show her there’s more to life than misery, pain and being someone else’s tool.

“Sunset Shimmer was headed down this path, perhaps for different reasons, but the result was the same. As angry as I was with her, I refused to let what I thought was a confused, troubled young woman ruin her life when she had so much to contribute. And now I stand here again at the same metaphorical gates and there is so much more to lose. That child needs someone to be there for her—to love her. And if there is no one, no one else in any world, then it will be me.

“So I don’t give a damn about what your laws say, Luna. That child is human, abused and deserves to be with her kind. To be shown that she has value as a person! So if you want a fight?” Celestia slammed her fist on the table. “Murum aries attigit.”

Panicking, Luna looked at her counterpart. “She didn’t mean—"

Celestia finally looked at her sister and said in a cold tone, “Shut the fuck up, sis, and let me do what I need to do or get the fuck out of the way!”

As the room grew more tense, Princess Luna continued to look at the human resembling her sister in the eyes. Finally, without removing her gaze, she said, “Shining Armor, you’re more familiar with that spell than anypony. What do you have to say?”

A door slid open, revealing the unicorn prince and captain of the EUP Guard. His horn still glowing, he said, “There’s no spell, Luna. She’s legitimately feeling this. And I got copies of all the available evidence from Sunset’s office.”

“And?”

“I...I didn’t know. I’ve hated her all this time, but if she’s just a human filly who was driven insane….” He took a breath. “It’s the Cozy Glow scenario, to a T...but it’s not.”

The alicorn’s hard glare softened. “You’re correct. Thankfully, that’s just a scenario.” She looked at the humans. “I’m sorry that I had to put you through that, but we were afraid that it was a Cozy Glow situation.”

“A what?”

“During the extended Winter, we had an incident in a small, remote mountain town where a single unicorn had taken it over via mind control and coercion. The Bearers, who were already present for relief aid, put an end to it, but one of the after action recommendations was to come up with a theoretical scenario where a single individual could use trickery and mental assault to get to the highest levels of our government so that we could study the issue and come up with countermeasures. We did so, and moreover, based the scenario on a type of individual most likely to not be suspected of such actions. We created a fictional pegasus filly named Cozy Glow as the basis of the scenario, and we’ve had it ready in the event that we ever captured Chrysalis, because we expected the scenario to play out as a result.

“But we never expected this.” She gestured to the papers with a wing. “We never expected her to be a victim, brought to our world against her will and essentially forced into a situation where madness and all that it encompasses would be her only salvation.” A tear slid down the alicorn’s cheek. “It is...something I’m far too familiar with.

“Under the circumstances, we cannot try her for any of this for a number of reasons within our law. But our little ponies may not be pleased with that. With the exception of my niece, Tirek, and Sombra, , the only other individual that merited such hatred was Chrysalis – and unlike Sunset, she is not reformed...and unlike the other two, she is also not dead. The populace may not be so forgiving – and may very well want her life ended.”

Celestia shook her head. “That’s not good enough. All you’d be doing is barring the door to one last chance for her to see the light. And you may not like the results. Ponies might be bringing this down on themselves.”

“And that, my friends, is what I am genuinely afraid of,” Luna said softly.

When Sunset caught up with her SIRENS, Adagio and the members of the ATG that were on duty—Ushanka, Tomahawk, and Ekene—had captured the individual who Sunset had internally nicknamed “Fujitsu’s Flunkie” and were holding him captive in a spare holding cell provided by the Guard. The most striking thing Sunset noted when she entered was that whoever this tod was, he was colored almost identically to the kitsune in her own employ—primarily golden fur with black fur tips, and piercing green eyes. She also noted that the kitsune was not in any position that could be called sitting, but was instead lying on his side and holding a thick cloth to his behind. Also noticeable was the fact that he only had two tails but his dress indicated he was a retainer—which in Sunset’s knowledge didn’t add up given that Inariese retainers were by tradition restricted to three tails.

“So, what’s the story?” she asked.

“We caught this one trying to sneak into the dungeons under the guise of a tree,” said Tomahawk. “Probably thought nopony would notice a jobi tree in a grove of elm, even though jobis only grow in Inari.” She paused, before adding, “And I think there’s a small forest of them on some island off the coast of Trottingham, not sure why.”

“And after Tomahawk pointed it out, I realized it wasn’t a tree at all,” said Ushanka, “so I shot it.”

「あなたは千回以上苦しんで死にますように!」 the kitsune spat, looking indignant that his disguise had been uncovered by a pony’s knowledge of tree types.

“Anybody got a clue about what he said?” asked Sunset. The SIRENs shook their heads.

“I don’t know how to speak Inariese,” said Ekene, who then seemed to focus hard on not trying to say something to rhyme with her previous statement, subsequently succeeded, and then fistpumped.

“Do we have a translator?” asked Tomahawk.

“We do,” said Adagio, “And we’re taking care of that any moment now.”

“Besides,” said a new voice, as Whiskey appeared at the door, “I’d have come anyway as soon as I heard about it.” Her eyes then looked down at the kitsune still cradling what was presumably his injured behind. “Though I wasn’t expecting something so low from you, Kashintsu.”

For his part, Kashintsu seemed surprised that this newcomer even knew his name. 「迅速な死を請うようになります、ばか?」 he stated.

Whiskey replied in Inariese in turn, before turning to Adagio. “Captain, request permission to revert to my original form. Our friend here seems to think even less of me now than he did when we worked together.”

“Oh, so you know each other?” asked Sunset.

“Permission granted,” Adagio told her.

Nodding, Whiskey was consumed by a sudden and inexplicable gust of autumn leaves, which just as mysteriously vanished leaving the golden-furred kitsune standing in her duty uniform—quite an unusual sight.

It certainly surprised Kashintsu, who seemed to visibly change tack when he realized he did in fact know this kitsune by replying in Equish, “So, this is what has happened to the kitsune once known as Kashingo? I’m surprised you even lived, but at the same time...not.”

“What’s he talking about?” asked Ushanka.

“Oh, you didn’t know that you have one of the biggest failures of kitsune kind among you?” taunted Kashintsu, “After all, if she had any honor, she wouldn’t even be standing here—but she’s such a coward that she couldn’t even take her own life no matter how many times she’s failed!”

“She never needed to take her life,” said Sunset, “and now we know that you’re able to speak our language, just who the hell are you?”

“One of the personal retainers of his august lord Prince Fujitsu, long may his tails shine bright and may he reach the ascendancy of his ninth tail,” answered Whiskey in a sarcastic tone.

“Watch your tongue, coward, before I remove it,” the jailed kitsune snarled.

Whiskey ignored him. “He and the other one, Keragio, were technically my superiors and are sworn to loyalty to the noble they serve, but they have a little more room for, um, mistakes, like what landed him here.”

“You’re one to talk about mistakes,” the tod said with a malicious smile. “After all, don’t think it didn’t go unnoticed that the recently shamed ex-bodyguard of the prince somehow ended up in the middle of that exploding restaurant, looking like she’d lost a fight quite badly and with empty scabbards.”

“You only know about that because I bet you were spying on Lady Octavia, for your perverted rapist of a master.”

“Like you would know anything about being worth the prince’s attention,” he spat. “You were always inferior and the prince was even forced to take you on as a favor to your clan. And you know you should have performed jigai since even your ability to service him was, shall we say, lacking, and thus you wouldn't ever reach your third tail.”

Whiskey rolled her eyes. “More verbal abuse from those who think they’re better than me...oh!” She then reached behind and pulled her tails to either side of herself, one in each paw. “Is this why? Because I’ve only got two tails and you’re a three tail? Funny, because looking at your sorry ass, I only see two!”

“Because that baishunpu over there aims worse than a blind, drunken archer!” He accused, nodding toward Ushanka.

“It’s a DMR—would you have preferred to lose your head? Or perhaps your todhood?” said Ushanka in the only defense she needed. “I hit exactly what I was aiming for.”

Whiskey laughed, looking down at the tod who once looked down at her, “Well, you want to talk about embarrassing? Between the two of us two-tails, guess which one can actually grow a third tail—if she even still gave a shit? Because I don’t.

“Yes, I should have committed jigai after the whole restaurant thing, but I couldn’t because as you also noted, my swords were broken. But if it makes you happier, you can think of the poor, broken Kashingo, shame of the kitsune, as having bled to death in the courtyard of Canterlot General. And from that she was reborn as Special Operator Third Class Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Royal Equestrian Navy, Special Initiative Command—a valued member of Princess Sunset’s SIRENs. And I’m not the one lying with a rag over his behind because he failed his master so hard he literally got shot in the ass!”

At that point the regular guard showed up. “Ah, Princess Sunset, we were just about to take the intruder to the medical ward—the doctors might be able to add a stasis spell to the wound until we can obtain a prosthetic tail from Inari.”

“I will not wear such an insult!” the Inariese prisoner spat. “To the nine hells with all of you!”

Adagio laughed. “Take him away, guards—we’re done with him.” She then turned to Sunset. “Anything from the Inariese government?”

“Only that he is now persona non grata as well. The Ambassador revoked his diplomatic immunity and his retainer status,” Sunset said. “As soon as the medical ward is done with him, into the dungeon he goes to await trial—the kitsunes don’t even want him back.”

“Wow, harsh.”

“Nope, he got off easy—losing all this is just the price for crossing my SIRENs,” Sunset said with a note of pride.

“Tavi, you have to understand something: whoever created the wishstone was smart enough to put a major limitation into it. While it practically gives your heart’s desire, it also comes at a huge cost: it drains your magic, and if used too long, starts to drain your life.”

Tavi suddenly looked at the ring as if it was a snake. Her eyes started to water as if her heart had suddenly been broken. “Blu….” she said, her voice quavering.

“It’s okay. Trust me,” he told her and the fact that he didn’t sound like he was in panic mode set her at ease. “Given your ancestry, like I said before, there’s a very good chance that you have a wellspring within you and that you can learn magic. Granted, because your bloodline’s been—and I hate to use this term, so my apologies—‘diluted’ by generations of humans, it’s far smaller than the average pony’s.

“However, Sunset said she would teach you techniques on how to expand your wellspring. It’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to use magic, but it’s a certainty that your wellspring will grow large enough to be able to use the ring.”

“Are you sure?”

Blu rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you have one of the most powerful beings in the universe as your sister figure or anything.”

She giggled. “Point taken,” she said as he floated the ring back to her. A second later, her legs were back to normal.

“However, in the meanwhile, I’d strongly suggest that you only wear the ring when you absolutely have to—and once you start getting tired, take it off immediately. Any longer and….” A worried look flashed over his eyes, enough to make Tavi pause. “In any case, as I said, Sunset will ensure that your training begins as soon as you return to your world. She mentioned something about...yoga, whatever that is.”

Now it was Tavi’s turn to roll her eyes. Figures. “But I do have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.”

“I was expecting them, actually.”

“Well, the first one is that we know that human magic exists. Sunny said she hasn’t researched enough how different it is from pony magic, other than that it is. What if I have human magic instead of pony?”

“I...can’t answer that. However, my best guess is that human or pony, a wellspring is a wellspring—the physical worlds account for both matter and energy similarly, so I would imagine there’s not much difference. In any case, your human magic, assuming that you have any, may be what’s keeping you alive. I’d...rather not think about it any further, to be honest.”

“Me neither.” The girl went silent for a few minutes, then after an uncomfortable silence, continued. “The other question I have I know you can answer: Why?”

Blu sat there for a few seconds, as if digesting the question and formulating the answer. “There’s two answers. The first is the more obvious one: the Signet of Queen Platinum is, regardless of how wishstones came about, a national treasure. It’s also,” he added, “a potential weapon. Many of the nobility would do horrific, inequine things to get their hooves on the ring, and if somepony with a strong enough wellspring did so, it would make the Tirek war look like an Appaloosan pie fight. It needs to be somewhere beyond the reach of potential tyrants and warlords. And on Earth, where magic is all but unknown and within the reach of a powerful alicorn, it will be safe.” He paused. “And so will you.”

“I...don’t like that statement, Blu,” she told him.

“I would never put you in harm’s way intentionally,” he promised her. “But I also had to think of my people and their safety. Which comes to reason two.”

“Which is?”

“When my sister died, her last letter to me stated she wanted me to be happy and my own stallion. She knew I was unhappy with my role as Agency director and the fake persona it’s foisted on me. She wanted me far from that and now, I have the chance. I told my staff this morning that I was resigning, effective immediately, in order to take a position with the Office of the Alicorn of Earth, as Sunset’s intelligence liaison.”

Tavi’s eyes went wide. “What? But I thought—"

He looked at her. “Something changed, just a week ago; something that redefined my whole perspective. An event that I never thought would ever happen to me: I fell in love.” He looked at her, azure fixing on purpure. “It was fate that brought us together, and I….” He chuckled and shook his head. “Figures. Despite my reputation, when it’s the real thing, I have absolutely no idea what to say.”

Tavi wasn’t sure how to take that information. “I, uh...um….”

“Look, I know it’s not the best time to mention it. You’ve been through a lot and...you’ve been through a lot and I’m repeating myself, aren’t I?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I just know how I feel about you, Tavi and the other reason I gave up everything...is for you.”

“Blu, you’re starting to freak me out,” she admitted. “I mean...I don’t know what to say….”

“I don’t blame you. You’re being told that a Blueblood loves you and given your history with my counterpart, it’s probably the last thing you wanted to hear. But I had to tell you, regardless of the consequences, and you had every right to know.” He paused. “And I hope you’ll remember who I am, given what I’m about to do next.”

Before Tavi could say anything, the unicorn conjured up the spell Sunset had taught him earlier. Azure light wrapped around him, and his form began to change. Given that it was a complex spell that he’d never used before, it took him longer than expected, more than enough time for Tavi to have a brief panic attack as the shape of her would-be assailant from a couple of years prior appeared in front of her.

And a second later, Blueblood stood before her. A young man poised before her, still impeccably dressed as the one she knew, but there were differences. The Blueblood she’d had the misfortune of encountering always dressed for success and to impress. This Blueblood, while still well-styled, looked more casual, as if he was comfortable in his own skin (in a manner of speaking) and had no need to look good at all costs.

But then she looked in the boy’s eyes, and she could see the Blueblood she knew now. The fear of her pushing him away. The guilt of having taken a form that would give her nightmares. The hope that she would truly know who he was and move past her worries and cares.

That much, she knew, she could—and would do for him.

Wordlessly, Tavi reached out to him, her lips meeting his instantly. Words were no longer needed to express what they both felt.

That rich spoiled manchild attending Muenchinger no longer mattered to her. She had her prince, and his name was Blueblood.

“Sir, I must protest,” the guard on duty said to Shining Armor. “She is a monster and cannot be trusted! Did you forget what she did to you?”

Shining Armor looked at the barded mare before him. “For one, Corporal, it’s not your position to question my authority. Yes, I’m very aware of what she did to me and my wife—and all of Equestria and even the world. But I have my orders as well. The prisoner is allowed one guest per Equestrian law, and Princess Luna has authorized it.”

“I still think this stinks.”

“You can think it stinks all you want; it’s still going to happen. I will take the watch personally and you may come back in an hour when this is all over.”

The guard looked as though she was fit to be tied; not because of the order but rather because of a monster such as Chrysalis getting any sort of decent, equine treatment.

“Cpl. Caliber, do not make me repeat myself,” Shining told her. “You are dismissed for a break. Do not tempt me to make it ‘relieved of duty’ instead.”

Cpl. Inert Caliber stood there, looking at her captain. She knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t prove it, so she had to depart. Fortunately, there were options.

“Yes sir. I’ll be back within the hour.” She then headed up the stairs towards the break room that the dungeon guards used.

Shining waited for a few minutes after she’d departed to cast his spell. “It’s clear now. You have an hour. And I mean that.”

A teleport flash appeared, and a second later, flanked by two of his most trusted Solar Guards, Celestia appeared, with Aria and Luna at her side.

“I’ll be on standby,” Aria told her, “but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“Thank you regardless,” she told them. “Thank you all.”

“This should be interesting, sis,” Luna said. “I’ll wait here and see what happens next.”

Shining cast the spell to open the dungeon door, and Celestia walked in.

The bright light blinded a girl, who immediately put up her arm to ward off the glare, until her eyes adjusted. “But I...I thought….”

“No. A long time ago—twice, in fact, I had chances to offer a helping hand to those who needed it. Twice...I didn’t succeed. And now, you need it, and you may need it more than any other I’ve ever known.” She walked over and sat on the sleeping cot next to Crisalide. “You’ve only known a life of pain and betrayal. That’s not the life of a normal girl and it never should be. And I promise you, you won’t ever have to live that life ever again.”

Crisalide fixed teal eyes on the woman. “But I….”

“The offer is there, if you want it.” Instinctively, Celestia held her arms open wide. “Tutto quello che devi fare è credere.”

Celestia’s heart broke at the contradiction that unfolded before her. Crisalide’s eyes told the story of a girl who so desperately wanted to accept the unconditional love that was finally being offered her. But her body’s actions were dictated by the years of abuse she had been given instead; she recoiled from Celestia’s open arms like they were instruments of pain. But that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was the look of dawning realization on the girl’s face: she was just as aware of the contradiction as Celestia was, and that awareness brought forth the first of a lifetime’s worth of pent up tears.

“You shouldn’t waste the effort on me,” Crisalide said as she turned away from Celestia, trying and failing to keep her voice steady as she tried (and failed) to hide the sobs wracking her shoulders. “It’s already t-too late for me.”

Part of Celestia wondered whether she was right. How could anyone who suffered and in turn spread suffering as much as Crisalide ever be okay again?

“I don’t think that’s true,” Celestia said, firmly refuting Crisalide and her own doubts in equal measure.

The girl looked back at Celestia, her eyes daring to hope, and Celestia slowly—tentatively—reached out for her with only a single hand this time. Another painful pang ran through her heart as she saw Crisalide’s body tense up, instinctively anticipating another blow from a phantom abuser. But this time she didn’t shrink away from her, and Celestia’s hand rested gently on her shoulder.

“I’ve already failed twice with others like you,” Celestia said, meeting Crisalide’s eyes with a look of kind determination. “I will not let you be my third.”

Crisalide’s sobs returned with a force, and the girl buried her face into her mismatched hands, finally letting her tears run unchecked. Celestia suppressed the overwhelming urge to wrap both her arms around the girl and hold her tight. There would come a day that Crisalide would be ready for that, but they would have to reach it with baby steps. For now, Celestia tenderly rubbed her shoulder, feeling her own eyes getting misty.

Luna herself began to wonder who was cutting onions. Pulling out her cellphone, she took a picture, then immediately started typing out a message to Velvet. The sooner the paperwork started, the better.

Shining Armor looked at the girl sobbing at the first kind touch she’d ever felt in several lifetimes, not sure how to feel. Sure, the girl had once been his greatest enemy as well as...well, he wasn’t going to go there. But if everything that he’d read in the past twenty-four hours was true, then...she had never been his enemy at all any more than a sword was to blame for the foe swinging it.

“Dollar for your thoughts, Captain?” Aria asked him.

“If that filly’s genuine—and I think she is—I hope you can get her the help she needs,” he told the SIREN. “She’s been hurt too often and she’s been used to hurt others, me amongst them.”

“You, sir?”

Shining made to explain...but then recalled Celestia’s earlier actions and thought not to provoke the mama Ursus instinct. “It’s a long, long story,” he said for judiciousness’ sake, “and one best not brought up here, Commander.”

The words were lost in Crisalide’s bawling and the comforting lullabies Celestia gently sang.

Sure she wasn’t being followed, Inert Caliber departed the dungeon, then the palace complex and headed southbound. She had one hour to sound the alarm—Queen Chrysalis, even in her so-called “weakened state”, had found a way into the palace and to compromise Prince Shining once again.

She remembered when the prince had been just a junior ensign—she’d been a schoolfilly at the time and had been there when he gave a recruiting speech to her post-mark class. He had been her inspiration to join the Guard, and when she’d discovered he’d been personally harmed by Chrysalis, she swore a personal oath it would never happen again. Unlike so many others, she’d not lost any family to the changelings, but she had the utmost respect for Prince Shining—and some would say even a crush—and to see him compromised again stung.

Finally, she arrived at her destination: Shoddythread’s, a tailor shop owned by a mare who served the community and enjoyed the respect of all around her. As Caliber walked in, she waved to the mare in question; they knew each other, but she wasn’t here to see the other mare. Instead, she walked back to the storage room in the back of the store, where her real contact was.

Inside the back was Broadfall. A former Navy sailor, he’d been medically discharged, because he’d had the misfortune of seeing Chrysalis directly suck the emotion out of his family until they were nothing but dessicated husks. The mental and emotional trauma had rendered him a saltoholic and had he been human, probably would have been referred to as suffering from heavy PTSD.

But under that saltoholic stare and the help he’d offered his sister—the only jobs he could do now were tinkering and shuttlecock repair—he’d retained enough of a presence of mind to be able to do what he really desired: to jump at the chance to rid the world of a monster for once and for all.

This was a conspiracy, no different than the one the military was currently dealing with. But unlike that one, this one had Equestria’s—and the world’s—best interests at heart.

She looked at him, practically dead to the world and with a half-spent salt lick in his right hoof. Pushing it away, she said, “Pretending time’s over, BF. It’s time the gossamer got cut for once and for all.”

A bloodshot, glazed eye looked at her…

...and then hardened into a battle veteran’s glare of determination.

“I’ll roust the troops,” he told her, no longer in the thrall of addiction. “We strike as soon as possible—before it’s too late.”

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