• 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 4 - One More Step

Chapter 4

“One More Step”

“Vinyl!” said Octavia, both surprised and a little concerned. “I wasn’t expecting you to come visit. Like, at all.” She quickly turned to her ensemble of musicians. “Uh, take five, everypony!”

“Yeah, I was planning on sitting this coronation out,” said the electric-maned deejay, trotting up to the gray mare, “but then Lyra came and said you desperately needed the help looking over your music and whatnot.”

Octavia immediately looked over Vinyl’s withers and saw the familiar mint green unicorn approaching from behind. “I take it Sandalwood will not be joining us?” she asked.

“Nah,” said Lyra, “turns out she miscalculated her time off from work at Ponyville Spa, so she’s stuck working there for the next few days. Shame, too; she really wanted to ask the humans more questions.”

While Lyra and Octavia made small talk, Vinyl trotted up to the strange, exotic creature that looked simultaneously like a mostly hairless monkey and yet at the same time, more than just vaguely resembled the gray mare standing not too far away.

“Hey, you played at my venue a few days ago, didn’t you?” asked Vinyl, recollection coming to mind.

“Uh, I guess?” replied Tavi. Truth be told, when Fluttershy had told Tavi earlier in the week that they’d be playing at Vinyl Scratch’s Wubsarena, it had taken quite a few deep, calming breaths in order to center herself. Fortunately, at the time, she hadn’t needed to interact at all with the unicorn mare who was clearly the counterpart of the human version, same occupation and all…and Tavi had hoped that was the last time she would ever need to be near a Vinyl Scratch of any species.

“Well, you and that other, uh, human, who played with you were massive hits! I certainly wouldn’t mind you two coming back. Especially not given I find your music appealing…and you in general…” Vinyl had said that last bit after having trotted past Tavi and casting a glance up at her very fine hindquarters.

“Stop being such a lech,” chided pony Octavia, coming over to reel her friend back in – Vinyl was certainly a hoofful to deal with normally, but given she wore her bisexuality like a badge of honor, it was a miracle she was still going steady with Neon Lights.

“Aw, come on, you know I–”

“You really want the princess coming down on your plot for–” Octavia cut herself off given she realized the unintended double entendre was something Vinyl would very much want happening. “You know what I mean, if you’re here to help, then be an actual help and not a hindrance!”

“Yes, please, I’d prefer not to be treated like a pleasure object, thank you very much,” Tavi growled. She wasn’t sure what was worse – the human Vinyl had seemed friendly enough at first…until she had gotten Tavi drugged up on the mother of all date rape drugs and probably would have gotten more out of her body than just a full on kiss had Sunset not saved her. This Vinyl, on the other hand, was making absolutely no subtlety about finding Tavi interesting and after that chauvinistic fuckstick of a fox prince tried to have her violently kidnapped, Tavi wanted nothing to do with being the object of unusual interspecies affections.

Except… She mentally cut that line of thought off immediately. No, best not to think about the one possible exception.

“Well, you certainly are abrasive,” snapped back Vinyl, “but fine, let me look at the sound system. If this is supposed to play for an insane crowd of ponies, you want to milk the speakers for every last note you can get.”

Mentally bracing herself, Princess Celestia stood before the firmly closed door to Sunset Shimmer’s room. It took every ounce of self-restraint for Celestia not to spend every moment of the day comforting her daughter. Sunset was blessed with a wonderful family that loved her, and that simple fact was the only thing that allowed Celestia to carry on with her royal duties for the day without distraction. But with evening approaching, and the time to lower the sun drawing near, Celestia decided that one way or another, she had to be there for her most precious daughter.

Granted, there were also practical concerns that she had to have as the ruler of the nation as well – Sunset’s coronation was tomorrow and as the monarch, Celestia had to see that her junior princess-to-be would be ready for the event. But Celestia felt guilt about that as well: it had been her “professional mentoring” of Sunset instead of raising her that had set the young alicorn on the path she was on now, and for better or worse, Celestia would never do that to her daughter again. She hated that she had to break that self-made promise to some degree, but the nation had suffered enough already when she’d held her daughter’s well-being over that of her little ponies.

It was a delicate balancing act, and she wondered how her fellow parents to Sunset – the human Velvet and Night – were able to balance all of this. For Celestia, it had been easy to train students and mentees. Being a parent, however, was something she was still working on.

With that in mind, the princess rapped lightly on the door, calling Sunset’s name. She received no answer, but a quick check confirmed that the door was not locked. If Sunset was really keen on keeping visitors out, such a simple oversight would not escape her. So Celestia cracked the door open, checking to make sure that Sunset wasn’t asleep. Not only was she awake, Sunset was hard at work at her desk. A mess of books lay strewn around her, and Sunset’s eyes were closed in concentration as she focused on casting a spell through the horn of her alicorn form.

Celestia called out to her again, and again received no reply. So the elder princess slipped into the room, carefully stepping around Sunset’s mess of books. A quick glance at the cover of one of them revealed the title: Mysteries of Mind Manipulation Magic. It was a safe bet that the rest of the literature Sunset had gathered around herself covered the same topic, and Celestia guessed with some concern that the spell Sunset was currently casting (seemingly on herself) was related.

Rather than call her name again, Celestia stood back and waited until Sunset was finished casting her spell. In no time at all, Sunset did so, a disappointed frown on her face.

Celestia cleared her throat. “Bit for your thoughts?”

Mildly startled, Sunset turned around and grinned when she saw her. The usually radiant expression was made a tad unsettling by Sunset’s unkempt mane and wild, bloodshot eyes.

“Mother!” Sunset exclaimed, lunging forward in a hug.

Celestia returned it with gusto. “It’s such a relief to see you, my precious little filly. How are you feeling?”

“Better than I was,” Sunset said. Based on what Celestia had heard, that wasn’t really saying much.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here to comfort you sooner. I had my duties, plus your family seemed to have things well in hoof…or well, you know. I didn’t want to crowd you.”

“Mother, we’ve had this discussion a million times. You don’t have to always compare yourself to them,” Sunset said firmly. “Besides, your timing is actually perfect. I could use your help with this.”

“Oh? And what is ‘this’?”

Sunset looked at Celestia with deadly seriousness. “I need you to cast a full Identify spell on me, and you need to go deep. Focus it on locating any residual mind magic or foreign contaminants in my bloodstream. Go down to the mitochondrial or RNA level if you have to.”

Celestia blinked at that; she had no idea what those terms were, but Equestrian researchers had theorized that there were smaller parts to ponies’ genes than what was commonly known. Perhaps humans had discerned that with their science. Celestia reluctantly made a mental note to ask the human Night Light about that later, but then turned her mind back to the more important issue on hoof.

Oh, Sunset… Celestia thought, her heart breaking for her daughter. “Is that what you’ve been doing in here?”

Sunset nodded. “I already cast the spell myself several times and came up with nothing. But since Twi isn’t available and I need a peer review with a magic level around my own, you could probably find something that I missed or….”

Celestia lifted Sunset’s chin with a hoof, and the young mare’s rambling petered out. “Sunset… the doctors already confirmed that the last of the Allucinor venom is out of your body. You have nothing to fear.”

“I...I know, but….” Sunset’s ears folded back. “It doesn’t feel gone, y’know?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t know.”

With a sigh, Sunset got up and started pacing the room. Celestia was silent, allowing her daughter time to organize her thoughts.

“I care about Pinkie. I always have,” Sunset started, her thoughts clearly still jumbled. “I don’t want to lose her friendship. So, I’ve spent today trying to reflect on it. To push all of the ugliness of what happened last night aside and just try to remember the good stuff, y’know?”

Celestia did, and nodded to indicate as such. Then Sunset looked up at her with a hint of fear in her eyes. But this wasn’t the fear of someone who had been through something traumatic. This was the fear of someone filled with uncertainty for the future.

“But when I think about everything we’ve been through together… of all the ways she’s been there for me and shown me that she loves me… I want to go back and experience that again. It was nice, knowing that she would always be there for me. Knowing she loved me. And I want to go back to that because she never heard me say….”

Although the words died on her lips, Celestia heard them all the same. I’ll always be there for her. Because I love her.

“I care about Pinkie. I always have,” Sunset said again. “But I’ve never felt like this about her before. So you see? There must still be something of the Allucinor Wing left inside me. We need to find it if Pinkie and I ever hope to go back to the way things were!”

“I understand,” Celestia said, her heart growing heavier. And now, she needed to make Sunset understand. “But the fact is, things between you and her can never go back to the way they were ever again.”

Sunset looked at her like the lost soul she was, and Celestia knew there was no turning back. Looks like you were right, Cadance. It was foolish of me to doubt you on matters of the heart. Of course the solar alicorn had known that from the moment her niece had delivered her report, but if there had been any way to spare Sunset the emotional distress she would have to endure….

No. Like it or not, as a mother, I have to let my filly grow, even if that means it hurts to do so.

“Sunset… I don’t think you quite understand how the Allucinor Wing works,” Celestia said.

Sunset tilted her head and looked at her. “What do you mean?” she asked, but it was clear some part of her had already figured it out.

“When Cadance told me about it, I asked her not to mention it to you. I wasn’t sure whether it would help you or harm you. Now I’m sure you need to know.” Just as she had before entering, Celestia mentally braced herself. “The Allucinor Wing… it doesn’t create feelings of love or lust from nothing. All it does is enhance what’s already there.”

Sunset looked at her, utterly stupefied. The truth had been right in front of her all along. Minutes passed. Sunset opened her mouth a few times to argue the point, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t find the logic to dispute her mother.


“That’s not the reaction I expected,” Celestia said with a wry grin.

“This just made everything ten times more complicated!” Sunset exclaimed, her voice starting to break all over again.

Celestia draped a wing around her. “I believe Cadance would say that love is complicated, but worth it in the end.”

“What am I going to do?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. The only one who can make that decision is you.” Celestia then leaned closer and said softly, “But if you want my advice? Perhaps talking things out with Miss Pie would be a good start.”

“You’re right. It’s time I finally confronted this head on,” Sunset said, already sounding far more sure of herself than she had all day. “No more half measures.”

In a flash of light, the young alicorn mare returned to her human from and the teenaged girl threw her arms around Celestia. “Thanks a million.”

Celestia smiled. “What are mothers for?”

After the brief verbal war of words between Tavi and the ever shameless flirt Vinyl, things seemed to be going apace. The two Octavias, with input from Lyra, were refining the orchestral suite pieces while Vinyl singlehoofedly was making sure the amplification spells interfaced with the technology – it eliminated the need for wiring up entirely acoustic instruments.

The same could not be said of the ponies who were part of the orchestra, suffice to say.

“Is it weird that one of those humans that came with the new princess looks just like Octzilla?” whispered Brass Beauty to her next seat neighbor.

“I agree,” said Wahwah Pedal.

“What’s worse is that Vinyl seems to have her flirty eye on her, too – see how she keeps glancing at the human?”

“You know her name?”

“Yeah, we dated for like, two months back when we were students at the Conservatory. I shouldn’t need to explain why it didn’t work out.”

Unfortunately, Vinyl was one who didn’t seem to take rejection lightly. And to reinforce her bad habit of not knowing to take a blatant hint, it had only been her constant advances which had eventually gotten Neon Lights to propose taking her out on a date if she’d simply stop bothering him. And while she did genuinely love him, she wasn’t about to let a fine piece of ass like Two-Legs Octy go so easily. It was weird, given it was so obvious that the two legged, largely hairless version was somehow a different incarnation of the local, four legged furred version, and while the latter Vinyl strictly only liked so far as a friend...the former really seemed to have some kind of gene lottery jackpot since she wasn’t even a pony and Vinyl found her attractive.

And the equipment Vinyl had been tinkering with seemed to have been tinkered with as far as possible, so Vinyl needed something to do. So, she leisurely wandered over to where the Octavias two were poring over copious amounts of sheet music. She donned her signature oversized purple-lensed sunglasses, namely to hide the fact she was stealing glances over at Two-Legs Octy.

“Hey, uh, so your system is good to go,” said Vinyl.

“Well, thank you, Vinyl,” said Octy, not looking up from her work.

However, the other Octavia paid the off-white unicorn a little more attention. “At least you’re helpful, I’ll give you that.”

“See? You don’t need to be such a hardass!” said Vinyl, who promptly decided to do the absolute worst thing and gave what she would have described as a love-tap by slapping Tavi’s butt.

To Tavi...it was the last straw of sexual harassment.

“That does it!” shouted Tavi, stamping her foot on the ground hard enough that it echoed through the chamber. She wheeled around and faced the diminutive unicorn, the analogue to her would-be rapist. “Of all individuals in how many dimensional realities there are, I have to be saddled with you, Vinyl Scratch! You lecherous, promiscuous, sybaritic WHORE!”

“Uh…excuse me?” replied the unicorn confused and more than a little self aware at how she was now being accused of things she honestly wasn’t.

“No, no excuses!” continued Tavi – she had a lot of animosity and now that the dam gates had been opened, she wasn’t going to stop until she had her say. “Not after what I’ve been through because of girls who want muff instead of a stick and berries! And especially not after getting drugs stuffed into me that have completely ruined my life!”

Now everypony in the auditorium was looking at Tavi and Vinyl.

“Look, it was just some harmless flirting, it wasn’t–”

“I already gave one Vinyl Scratch the benefit of the doubt and I’m still paying for it every single day of my life!”

“Okay, look,” said Vinyl, trying to end the situation amicably, “if you could just calm down and–”

That was the wrong thing to say, though Vinyl didn’t know it, because it had been her human counterpart trying to calm her down in order for the Vibrasnopam to take effect, and as far as Tavi knew, that had been what had brought on Melody. And for this Vinyl to be trying to do the same thing on the surface? It was too much for Tavi. So the teen immediately attempted to rush Vinyl, with every intent of violence.

But she hadn’t even gotten more than a foot before she was immediately surrounded by a golden glow.

“Yeah, no,” said Lyra, clearly not happy herself. “Other Octavia, I’m not condoning what this Vinyl did, but she isn’t responsible for whatever that other Vinyl did, so you need to back the hell off.”

“Fine with me,” spat Tavi, being put back on the ground. “But I’m afraid I can not be of assistance while she is around to make catty remarks about getting me into her bed!” Tavi then spun on her heels and immediately stormed out of the room.

“Does she even know where she’s going?” asked Vinyl, only getting hard stares in response. “What?”

“I told you that your flirting would get you into trouble,” said Octy, facehoofing.

“It wasn’t even my fault!”

“Try telling that to her,” Octavia said. “Clearly she’s had bad experiences with some version of you in the past.”

“But it wasn’t me me!”

“What wasn’t you…you?” asked a distinctly male voice. All attention turned to discover Blueblood had suddenly shown up.

“Blu! What are you doing here?” asked Octy, surprised.

“Thought I’d come and check in on how things were doing, since I have to be in attendance at this bore fest for my cousin not of the bloodline,” he said, looking bored and disinterested – but to the two unicorn mares and the earth pony on stage, they knew he was doing it just to maintain appearances for the rest of the orchestra. “Though, where is that ungainly human I left with you, Octavia? Surely you didn’t abandon her in a ditch somewhere, Sunset would be…well, disagreeable if that happened.”

“No, she unfortunately just ran off in a huff,” said Octy, who then turned to gesture at a sheepish Vinyl, “Because apparently Vinyl couldn’t resist flirting with another version of me and apparently the human me doesn’t have a good history with the human version of her.”

“How was I supposed to know?” protested Vinyl.

But to the surprise of the three mares, learning what had happened to human Octavia seemed to snap Blu completely out of his fake mannerisms. “Oh, no…” he muttered, looking horrified, prompting Octy to wonder if he’d actually known the whole story as well. “Where did she go?”

“She ran off through that door,” said Lyra. She was going to add that she had seemed to be a massive bitch, but she never got the chance – Blu immediately started running off after her. “Wow, he’s never been that concerned about anypony.”

“Yeah, it makes one wonder,” said Octy with a smile, her previous thoughts on the matter only seemingly more confirmed, as weird as they were.

“Somepony want to clue me in here?” asked Vinyl, both the center of the problem and yet completely out of the loop.

Mentally bracing herself, Sunset stood before the firmly closed door of Pinkie Pie’s room in the castle. She had no idea that her position mirrored Celestia’s outside her own room mere hours before. So knowing that the coming talk could no longer be put off, Sunset rapped on the door and called Pinkie’s name.

Unlike when Celestia had done the same in front of Sunset’s own door, Pinkie answered, her voice quiet and un-Pinkie like. “Come in, Sunny.”

Sunset did, and found Pinkie standing out on the modest balcony attached to her bedroom, looking over the breathtaking Equestrian countryside.

“Your mom was just here,” Pinkie said in that same uncharacteristic neutered voice. “Your human one, that is. She was checking to see if I was okay.”

“Are you?” Sunset asked.

Pinkie said nothing in response for several disquieting seconds before she added, “Then your other mother came by. She was the one that told me you’d be coming by.” She then turned to look at Sunset with sunken eyes mirroring Sunset’s own. “Sunny, I’m so so sorry! Everything that happened was my fault! If I was a better Swordbearer – a better partner – none of this would have happened!”

Before seeing Pinkie, Sunset had decided that any intimate contact would be a mistake. Considering what had happened to both of them the previous night – not to mention the clear message Sunset wanted to convey now – she believed that touching Pinkie would only harm both of them all over again. But seeing Pinkie now, so lost and heartbroken, Sunset knew that keeping her distance was simply not possible. Whatever else Pinkie Pie was to her in that moment, one thing hadn’t changed: Pinkie was still her dear friend.

So Sunset went to her and pulled her into a deep warm embrace. Pinkie was hesitant to return it, but did so after only a few moments. Sunset just held her like that for some time, both girls emotionally exhausted after going through so much.

“You don’t have to apologize for anything, Pinkie,” Sunset said. “Everything’s okay, now. I’m okay, now. That means you didn’t fail me, right?”

“I guess….”

“No. No more of that,” Sunset said, pulling away from the hug to look Pinkie directly in the eye. “You’ve spent enough time beating yourself up over this already. This doesn’t help you and it sure as hell doesn’t help me. It’s time to move on.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Pinkie said, sniffling and wiping her eyes. It was more out of habit than anything, as they had dried up much earlier in the day. Then she smiled, and for the first time that day started to look more like her old self. “You’re always right, Sunny!”

If only that were true, Sunset thought. Otherwise I wouldn’t have to put you in the position you’re about to be in.

“Feel like taking a walk?” Sunset asked. “After today, I feel like both of us could use a lot more fresh air.”

Pinkie nodded, and Sunset cast a teleportation spell. The two of them appeared in the castle gardens in a flash of light. Soft lantern light lit the various statues, hedge sculptures and flower arrangements, and the sound of a nearby fountain created a tranquil atmosphere.

“Not sure I’m ever going to get used to that,” Pinkie said, giving her head a couple of shakes.

The two of them started walking along one of the many garden paths side by side. After about a minute, Pinkie reached to take Sunset’s hand, then reconsidered and simply settled for continuing to walk beside her.

“So… what happens now?” Pinkie finally asked.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the rest of this evening,” Sunset said. “Things have changed. We can’t just go back to the way things were.”

“I know.” Pinkie nodded. “Pretty sure I knew from the moment you came to your senses last night.”

“The problem is, I’m still not sure how things have changed yet.”

With a dry smile, Pinkie said, “Well, I guess both of us have a whole eternity to figure it out, right? Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out together!”

Again Pinkie reached for Sunset’s hand, and again Sunset pulled away. Pinkie’s optimistic smile started to fade away. “Right, Sunny?”

With a sigh, Sunset shook her head. “No, Pinkie. I think this is something I need to figure out myself.”

A worried frown now formed on Pinkie’s face, and the girl looked ready to start crying all over again. “Wait… Sunny, are you…?” Pinkie sniffled. “Are you breaking up with me?!”

“No, I’m not breaking up with you, Pinkie,” Sunset said. How can I, when we were never really dating in the first place? Unfortunately, Sunset couldn’t quite bring herself to say it out loud. “However, I think we need to take a break. At least until things have settled down after the coronation. But honestly? I think I’m going to need longer than that.”

Finding the courage to smile again, Pinkie said, “Well, you take as long as you need, Sunny. I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.”

The two of them stopped walking, and Sunset gave Pinkie another hug. A simple, chaste hug from one friend to another. “Thanks, Pinkie.”

The two of them spent a few more minutes following the garden path, which eventually ended at a gazebo at the center of a few artificial streams.

“I’m going to head back to the castle,” Sunset said.

“You go on ahead. I think I’ll stay here for a while.”

Nodding, Sunset bid Pinkie good night and disappeared in a flash of cyan light. Pinkie crossed the small bridge over the smaller stream and entered the gazebo. Another figure joined her in a blue tunic, seeming to appear from nowhere. The two of them stood silently together for a time, just taking in the scenery.

“Hey, the one you once protected… she loved you, right?” Pinkie eventually asked.

“Not as yours doth, but aye,” the other said.

“What would you have done if… if the one you protected no longer loved you?”

The other answered immediately, “Such would ne’er be an occur’nce… for the twain of us.”

“But what would you have done?”

With a shrug, the other replied, “I am that regal lady’s Swordbearer, sworn to defend and serve as long as I shalt draw breath. Coequal anon, millennia after the lady is gone, I continue to fulfill mine oath.” Her gaze then fell away to her own hands. “Unthinkable though ’t may ken, if 't be true mine own liegelady hath lost all love f'r me, such would not moot mine choice.”

With a bitter edge to her tone, Pinkie sighed, “Sounds like a lonely life.”

“‘Tis so. But I endure.” The other woman’s look turned distant and haunted as she continued. “In truth… I fear what I wouldst become were I to give into despair.”

Pinkie looked at her. “What would you become?”

The other returned her gaze, but it was some time before she answered, “I wish not to verse of such things anon. Thy own future still shines. Thou shouldst enjoy it while such lasts. Few things do.”

It didn’t take long for Blu to track down the wayward human – all he had to do was follow the sound of crying echoing through the halls. Sure enough, he found Octavia alone and miserable on a bench in an otherwise deserted hallway, on a floor beneath the main auditorium. It was not dissimilar to how Blu had first really talked with Octavia just a few days prior following her attempted kidnapping.

“Why me?” she seemed to ask no one in particular, her forehead resting in her palms as she was in a slumped over position.

“I’m afraid I don’t know the question,” said Blu.

Octavia gasped, looking up with a frightened expression, but it immediately softened to simply being morose when she realized who had joined her. “Blu!” she exclaimed, practically leaping up from her seat to tackle the unicorn with a big bear hug. “Oh thank God you’re here!”

“What happened?” the stallion asked, wrapping his forelegs around the human and rubbing her back, trying to soothe her. “Was Vinyl being too rough with her flirting? I know she’s been warned about it but…if I’d known she was going to show up then I would have said something earlier.”

“You couldn’t have known,” said Tavi, sniffing, “But it’s just… well, I already told you about my experience with the human Vinyl, and that unicorn…she just has the same hair, the same voice, but just being way more open about her advances? It brought back the trauma.”

“I understand,” said Blu, who then broke off the hug to look Octavia face to face. “After all, you freaked out when you first saw me. Except you initially saw the Bluelood who hurt you in your world. But you have to have known at least through your experiences with me that just because ponies and humans may look and sound similar – barring the obvious differences, of course – that the Vinyl of this world, as much of a shameless flirt as she is, wouldn’t go so far as to really hurt you as the human one did.”

“I’m not seeing where you’re going with this.”

“You told me about how much of a monster my counterpart is, how we even have the same voice, the same eyes, practically everything. But while you can easily tell the difference between me and that plothole from your world, you’re having a problem disambiguating both Vinyls. Why is that?”

Tavi was silent for the longest time. “It’s because you’re…well, Blueblood, but in a way that I guess I both didn’t expect and yet, once had expected.”

Blu suspected that there was something more that Tavi was withholding, which seemed odd – had she been romantically involved with that cur Blueblood at one point? It seemed strange to think of himself in those terms and not be encapsulating the fake persona that he had cultivated over the years. Though he also had so readily dropped it when he had come to fear Tavi might get herself into more trouble when not around trusted ponies – he’d never dropped it before, not like that. But now was not the time to think about that. “Look, let’s get you back upstairs, in case Octy has any more music she needs your help with.”

“Are you sure? I’m not confident I can stand being around–”

“I’ll stick around – in one disguise or another, since I do have appearances to keep up, as much as I despise myself for it.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t ask you to do that for me!”

“But I am a prince, my dear Octavia, one who doesn’t get to be as princely as he wishes he could be. So please, for my sake, let me indulge in something wholesome for a change.”

Peering at the tons of egg casings in the ballroom, Flambé, the Dragonlands representative to the coronation event, looked at Raspberry Beryl. “Archmagus,” he said with a smile, patting his sizable belly, “Do you realize what this means?”

Instead of Razz, it was the Castellan, Marimba Rondo, that spoke. As the one who primarily oversaw security in the palace, she was checking on the Hooves present that were watching over things. Because of the number of dignitaries present, they had to disguise themselves as typical palace guards, which put the Hooves at a functional disadvantage. “That we have a serious problem?”

The dragon shook his head and looked at both of the ponies present. “No! This is an unprecedented windfall! Dragon Lord Ember has been focused on getting a breeding program for the Allucinors, as they are the only thing that keeps edgemites in check! If the edgemites are not controlled, they weaken dragon eggs during incubation and we end up with….” The dragon’s dark orange muzzle pursed in distaste. “We end up with weak dragons, barely able to fend for themselves.”

“Well, given the potential danger they present to the populace and those present,” Razz told him, “we need to find a way to remove these before they hatch. Currently, as much as we’d rather not, we’re trying to find a way to transport them––”

“Unacceptable!” Flambé insisted. “Transporting Allucinor Wing eggs is extremely delicate, so much so that we dragons have never attempted to do so – and no offense intended, but I doubt you ponies have the ability to do what generations of we dragons have not. The safest way to transport them back to the Dragonlands would be to wait until they hatch, capture them and then transport.”

“We don’t have that kind of time,” Razz told him.

“Make that kind of time,” he insisted. “They are vital to both the ecology of the Dragonlands and to the wellbeing of dragonkind in general. And if you so much as try to move them, Archmagus, as regrettable as it is, I will lodge a protest with Her Majesty Princess Celestia!”

The two stared at each other for several minutes before Razz backed off. “Fine,” she said. Turning to the Castellan, she said, “Please inform the Guard Captain in charge of protecting this room that they are not to be disturbed. However, we expect that a guard liason from the Dragon Embassy will be present to watch over things.”

“You can be certain of that,” Flambé insisted.

“I don’t doubt it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ambassador, I have other duties to attend to.” Giving a quick perfunctory bow, Razz departed before she decided to tell the dragon what she really thought.

“Why did we have to have the one relatively personable dragon as the ambassador?” she sighed aloud. “It’s so much easier to deal with them when they’re being their normal plothole natures.”

“Nature of the beast,” the Castellan told her. “Politics is politics, Archmagus. And speaking of which, since you’re the one assisting us with security because of the issues that have occurred, we just received a report from the Solar Guard concerning the pony arrested for having the initial Allucinor Wing.”

“This was the unicorn researcher that Rarity had arrested earlier in the week, right? Simple Science?” Razz asked. “I had been meaning to have a word with him myself on the matter.”

The Castellan frowned. “Well, you’re gonna have a pretty hard time of that. That is, unless you’ve added necromancy to your repertoire of dark magic.”

Razz whirled to face her. “Wait, he’s dead?!

“He was rushed to the hospital early this morning. Apparently he suffered an extreme allergic reaction to something in the Guard barracks,” the Castellan explained. “The doctors managed to keep him in critical condition for most of the day, but apparently it was a lost cause from the start.”

“Sweet Celestia, that’s terrible….”

“Terribly suspicious, more like,” the Castellan said, and when Razz looked at her quizzically, she said, “Think about it, Archmagus. The only pony who could definitively tell us where the original Allucinor Wing came from just happens to go into critical condition the morning after the incident involving said Allucinor? I don’t buy it.”

Razz thought of the theory she had mentioned to Twilight that morning, but wanted to get the Castellan’s opinion. “I have to admit, that is a suspicious coincidence. Any idea what it could mean?”

“I was hoping you could tell me, Archmagus. You have a better image of the full picture than most of the ponies involved with this case.”

That was certainly true, but Razz was certainly not going to divulge the details of the prophecy of the Scions to somepony not in her inner circle. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the Castellan, but information spread faster the more people knew it.

“This could be the work of the Covenant of Shadows. Sombra did toy with the idea of weaponizing Allucinors during his time. Maybe the incident last night was a sort of field test?”

“There’s plenty of more remote locations to test experimental weapons,” the Castellan said. “No, my instincts tell me this was a deliberate act of sabotage.”

“Well, whatever the case, we won’t know for sure without more information,” Razz said, making to leave. “If you’re liasoning with the Solar Guard on this case, can you have them send a copy of Science’s autopsy report to my office as soon as it’s ready?”

“Of course, Archmagus.”

After thanking the Castellan, Razz left her to her own part of the investigation. In several minutes, Razz was back in her room in the castle and let out a big sigh as she started removing her Archmagus robes for the day. A familiar tap at the window indicated to Razz that her oldest friend was back from his evening flight, and Razz opened the window to let the green phoenix inside.

“I hope your day was better than mine,” Razz said, and Heliodor confirmed as such with a happy chirp.

He’d been spending a lot of time with Philomena of late, the elder phoenix teaching the younger a few things about their particular way of life. Razz had raised him the best she could since she first found him all those years ago, but she could only raise him as a pony. It was good that he was learning more from his own kind.

Heliodor tilted his head and gave her an inquisitive chirp, and Razz sighed, knowing what he was asking. “I’m worried, Heelee. Everything I’ve learned these past few days is making me more and more certain that something’s going to go down at Sunset’s coronation tomorrow, and all I can do is just sit and wait for the enemy to play their hoof.”

In the Badlands, the changeling guards left protecting the main entrance of the hive were doing their best to stay awake, or even look eager to stand around as their job. Instead, due to the ongoing love famine brought on by a complete lack of orders from Queen Chrysalis, they could do barely more than just lean against the walls, brandishing spears in an attempt to look dangerous.

So, it came as a surprise when none other than Queen Chrysalis herself appeared, walking up to the main hive entrance looking like she was dead set on some kind of mission.

“Y-Your Highness!” they stammered in unison, immediately going from a slumped, semi-resting position to at full attention.

“At ease,” she said almost unconsciously, passing them by without a second thought. As she strode further into the confusing network of tunnels, word quickly spread through the hive, both by word of mouth as well as the sensations within the hivemind, that their queen had returned…and she wanted them all to attend to her.

It wasn’t long before the entirety of the hive – well, most of it, those who had reasons not to be there would be informed through the hivemind – was present in front of the Black Throne, the literal seat of power of all Changeling kind as well as having been infused by some dark power that negated normal magic in a radius of about five miles around it. It had the side effect of rendering the area a wasteland but Chrysalis had never really cared about that.

“My loyal changelings,” she addressed the swarm, “I know you’ve all been…concerned…about my recent activities and there has even been talk about replacing me with one of those usurper-would-be-queens like Mandible. Well, I am here to assure you that is not necessary. No, I’ve been away because my plans required a certain…delicacy to the operation that none of you could have handled, intelligence pertaining to the matter only I and I alone am privy to.

“But know this – now is the time to prepare for our revenge on pony kind, for all the injustice done onto us by Canterlot and otherwise!”

“Queen Chrysalis!” exclaimed one changeling. Chrysalis identified him as Pharynx, one of her more loyal warriors. Things must have been bad if even he was now questioning her. “How are we supposed to do that if we barely have enough love energy to even stand?”

Of course, Chrysalis did not care. Her endgame was in sight. After that, nothing else mattered.

“I already have seen to a solution for that,” she replied with a malicious grin. “I’ve secured a substantial amount of love we can drain from a source that, shall we say, wasn’t entirely ready to volunteer the love for our cause. But we shall feed from it nonetheless, and then the dominance of the changelings will be ensured! As it is, now…now we shall begin the final phase!”

Author's Note:

Weekly reminder to shower the TV tropes page with some love!

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