• Published 9th Oct 2019
  • 1,211 Views, 39 Comments

Legend of the Galactic Horses - MagnetBolt

When nopony else is willing to step up and do anything, Tempest has to confront the shadow of her own past to keep Equestria safe.

  • ...

Heir to the Empire

“Oh wow,” Sunset said, when they walked into the hangar and there was actually something there more inflated than Trixie’s ego. “I really didn’t expect her to be telling the truth.”

“You spent the whole train ride to Kludgetown telling Trixie she was lying, and now you’re wrong!” Trixie grinned. “That means you owe Trixie an apology.”

“We really do,” Starlight said. “But, um…”

“It’s a hunk of junk,” Tempest said, flatly.

The gasbag was so full of patches that it was more like a quilt than an envelope. The hull had clearly broken in half at some point and been nailed back together. The rigging was all knots, where it wasn’t just snapped and lying in rotting coils.

“Trixie decided that taking her act on the road will require something more extravagant than just her wagon,” Trixie said. “This way Trixie can go anywhere in the world! Trixie was very impressed by Tempest’s arrival in Canterlot. It had drama and poise. Clearly arriving by air will make Trixie even more great and powerful!”

“Thanks, I think,” Tempest said.

“Also Trixie registered herself as a Limited Liability Corporation with the ship as her headquarters. Since it’s registered in Maremuda, she can’t be tried in Equestria for complaints about her act.”

“Of course,” Starlight snorted.

“So what’s she called?” Sunset asked.

“Trixie has named the ship… the Trixie! There’s no better name, or else Trixie would be using it herself!”

“That’s very humble of you, Trixie,” Starlight said.

“And it looks like somepony delivered Trixie’s special order!” Trixie said, trotting up to a crate. “Trixie remembered your plan called for explosives and she just so happens to have a fireworks supplier who owes her a few favors.”

She patted the crate.

“So how about it? Glad you listened to Trixie now? Isn’t she just the most valuable and amazing teammate of all time?”

“How did you afford all this?” Starlight asked. “Even a heap like that had to be expensive.”

“Trixie took out a very predatory loan from a very predatory shark,” Trixie said, proudly.

“A loan that you ain’t paid up on,” said someone. A school of fish-people walked around from the other side of the ship. If one was going to describe them all with a single word, it would be ‘thugs’. “Good thing you had that delivery. It let us know you’d be showin’ up here.”

“Trixie?” Starlight looked back at her.

“Trixie already said she declared bankruptcy!” Trixie shouted. “That means Trixie doesn’t have to pay her bills!”

“First, that ain’t how bankruptcy works,” the voice said, from behind the wall of sharks. “Second, you didn’t declare nothing, you just yelled it real loud last time someone came to get the money you owe. Third…”

The sharks parted to let their leader though. It was a steel-grey pony with a white mane streaked with red. He stepped up to the front to glare at Trixie.

“That ain’t how my loans work. You’re past due. That means you got two choices. You pay up now, or else you pay up now and also we break your legs for trying to hold out on us.”

“How ironic,” Sunset said. “Ponies were the real loan sharks all along.”

“Hey, that’s a hateful term,” the pony said. “I ain’t a loan shark, I’m an independent businessman. And these associates of mine? They’re shark people who work in the moneylending industry, but that don’t make them loan sharks. It does make them armed, though.”

They pulled out weapons, mostly iron bars and clubs.

Trixie looked at Starlight, pleading with her eyes.

“I guess we have to save her,” Starlight sighed.

“Come on, girls, we have to give them a chance,” Sunset said. “They should have the opportunity to apologize for trying to threaten Equestria’s three strongest unicorns.”

“Three strongest?” Trixie asked. “So that’s Trixie, Starlight and… which of you two?” She looked at Tempest and Sunset.

“You know what? Just break all their legs and we’ll figure the rest out later,” the loan shark said.

“Starlight, do you remember how I promised not to hurt anypony?” Tempest said.

“I do,” Starlight said. She knew where this was going.

“They’re not ponies.”

“Does that mean you’re going to-- aaaand there she goes.”

Tempest charged in, dodging the first clumsy swing and leap-frogging over the shark that attacked her, landing in the middle of the group with her horn already sparking and pointing in a very unfortunate direction.

“Don’t blow up the ship!” Sunset yelled.

Tempest tossed her head to the side and fired away from Trixie’s ship, completely missing both the airship and Starlight. Two of the sharks were thrown back by the detonation, one landing safely in a ditch and the other exploring the far side of a brick wall after making his own entrance.

Trixie, being in her opinion the wisest and nearly most well-educated in the party, let the others charge directly into danger and walked backwards at a slow, stately pace without making sudden movements.

“Trixie thinks they have this well in hoof,” Trixie whispered, before turning and running and taking cover behind her crate.

The loan shark was already there, covering his head with both hooves.

“Get your own hiding spot!” He snapped.

“This is Trixie’s crate, and it’s Trixie’s hiding spot!” Trixie yelled. A stray bolt of fire slammed into the crate, setting it on fire.

Trixie glanced at the crate. The crate full of explosives. The crate full of explosives that was on fire now. She took a step back.

“On second thought, Trixie has decided you can have this hiding spot!” She said, quickly, before running. “Starlight, we need to go!”

“Can we wait a little longer?” Starlight asked. “Tempest is having fun. She and Sunset are playing volley-shark.”

Trixie pointed to the crate. Starlight took a moment less than Trixie to recognize the danger.

“Time to go!” Starlight agreed. “Tempest! Sunset! Get on board!”

“What’s wrong?” Sunset asked.

“Hah! Point!” Tempest yelled, as the shark slammed into the dirt between them.

Starlight pointed. Sunset and Tempest looked at each other, then ran for it, following Trixie up the gangplank.

“Get the, um, the…” Trixie hesitated.

“Anchor!” Tempest supplied.

“Right, that!”

Sunset stopped at the railing and spotted at least a dozen more sharks and lizards starting to pour into the hangar, even more well-armed than the first batch. “Hey, we’ve got more company coming,” Sunset warned. “I think it’s the local cops.”

“They don’t have cops here,” Trixie said.

“Well whoever they are, they’re pretty angry at us!” Sunset ducked, and arrows flew over her head along with a rock.

“Pull that rigging,” Tempest ordered. “Then drop the ballast! Prepare for an emergency ascent! Trixie, don’t touch the arrows in the gasbag!”

“But they put holes in it!” Trixie whined.

“The arrows are sealing those holes! If you pull them out you’ll make the leaks worse!”

The bulk of the airship rose into the sky, faster and faster as they dumped ballast.

“It’s kind of surprising that nothing has exploded yet,” Sunset said. “Maybe it was a--”

With traditional dramatic irony, the explosives chose that moment to go off. Smoke and fire filled the air, the sound so loud it wasn’t even a noise. A firm, gentle hand shoved at the ponies onboard the ship, and the deck pitched up, nearly throwing Tempest right over the rail.

She looked down with confusion at the multicolored sparks and bursts of light going off below them. Gravity tugged at her, and she started to fall.

Starlight grabbed her hoof.

“I got you!” Starlight yelled.

“What the buck kind of explosives are these?” Tempest demanded. Romane candles fired up around them, and starbursts and crackling magnesium flares cascaded through the air.

“Trixie was just trying to be helpful!” Trixie yelled from behind the wheel. “Fireworks are basically explosives!”

“She’s not wrong,” Sunset said. “She’s just not right, either.”

“Let’s just find somewhere safe to land,” Tempest sighed. “We need to patch those holes.”

They didn’t have to go far. Which was good because they also couldn’t go far.

“This dock is safe?” Sunset asked.

“It should be,” Starlight said. “It’s owned by a rival gang, so they’ll keep them out just on principle. It’s one of those blood vengeance things so I don’t think we have to worry about a bribe.”

“Good, because we’ve spent all our bribe money on renting this hangar and buying supplies,” Sunset said. “I’m starting to wonder how Twilight can afford to go on friendship adventures every week.”

“Her face is on the money,” Starlight shrugged.

Sunset raised an eyebrow.

“No, really! She’s on the five-bit piece.” Starlight rummaged around in her bit purse and pulled one out. “See?”

Sunset grabbed it and held it up to the light. “That doesn’t look much like her.”

“One of the benefits of royalty is that they make your portrait look more dignified than the real thing,” Starlight said.

“Are you two going to help Trixie or not?!” Trixie snapped.

Starlight and Sunset looked up. Trixie was hanging from the side of the ship by a rope, painting the hull flat black.

“You’re doing a really good job,” Starlight said, supportively.

“Actually, she missed a spot over there.” Sunset pointed.

“Trixie! You missed a spot!” Starlight yelled. “She knows now.”

“Trixie hates both of you,” Trixie grumbled. “Why is Trixie doing all the work?”

“This is what we decided,” Starlight said. “You paint the hull, Sunset found a bunch of scary spiky stuff we can nail to the sides, and I made a cover for the gasbag with the Storm King’s logo on it.”

“Well, where’s Tempest, then?” Trixie demanded.

“I was getting my armor on,” Tempest said, stepping out of the ship’s cabin. She’d done her hair up again, and the armor still fit her like an iron glove. “You’ve all done a good job. This should be enough to fool the sentries at the Maw and get us to the docks.”

“Not bad,” Sunset said. “I like the whole evil warlord look. You look like you’re getting ready to board a rebel ship and demand they turn over stolen plans.”

Tempest’s expression was already sour, so she had to dig deep down to find the strength to frown even harder.

“I’ve done that,” Tempest said. “You can’t understand what it’s like. I’ve made terrible mistakes, and I’m still trying to redeem myself for what I’ve done.”

Sunset shrugged. “I was a demon once.”

“And I created multiple alternate timelines where Equestria was destroyed,” Starlight added.

“Trixie enslaved a town once,” Trixie said.

“We’ve all done that before, Trixie,” Starlight said. She looked at Sunset. “A demon, huh?”

“It was after I stole one of the Elements of Harmony,” Sunset specified.

Tempest stared down at them. She considered things for a long moment. “Okay. Maybe you do understand what it’s like.”

“Tempest,” Trixie said, while she painted. “All ponies do things they’re not proud of. Trixie’s--” she sighed and paused, her tone dropping a little. “My biggest mistake was hanging onto things for too long. I let a stupid grudge control me, metaphorically. Also I let an evil amulet control me, um, literally. Then I tried doing this whole redemption tour to apologize to everypony, and that almost backfired and got me eaten by a manticore.”

“...Is there a point to this story?” Tempest asked.

“I’m getting to it!” Trixie snapped. “My point is, we’ve all been in the same boat. You don’t have to justify anything to us. What helped all of us was making real friends. I assume.” She looked down. “Hey! Sunset! Did you have a redemption arc with the magic of friendship?”

“Yep!” Sunset winked up at her.

“See?” Trixie smiled. “Now let’s get this show on the road! The sky road!”

“I hate the sky road,” Trixie mumbled.

“It’s your own fault for only packing instant noodles as rations,” Starlight said. “Haven’t you ever heard of scurvy?”

“Nopony gets scurvy anymore,” Trixie huffed.

“That’s because most ponies aren’t only eating cheap noodles.” Starlight poked at her own bowl of cheap carrot broth and cheaper pasta. “It’s only been three days and I’m already starting to have bad flashbacks to college.”

“Trixie couldn’t afford anything better!” Trixie said, very defensively. “Do you know how much Trixie spent on that crate of explosives?”

“Fireworks,” Sunset corrected from the railing. “They were fireworks.”

“Trixie did her best!” Trixie snapped. “They’re basically the same thing!”

“Technically true,” Starlight agreed.

“I don’t know how we’re going to destroy the Maw without some way to demolish the foundations,” Tempest muttered. “It’s not like we can just push it into the ocean.”

“With all of us working together, you never know what might happen,” Sunset said. “Even if we can’t just go and blow it up, maybe that’s okay.”

“How is it okay?” Tempest asked. “What are we going to do, stare at it?”

“It’s technically called reconnaissance,” Sunset said. “We’re not even sure that this place is operational, right? We’re sort of going in blind.”

“They wouldn’t have abandoned it,” Tempest said. “That’s why we have to do something!”

Sunset held up her hooves. “I know. But hear me out -- maybe we can’t do anything right now. Maybe. We’re all smart ponies and we could probably figure something out, but even if all we do is fly in to look, we can get an idea of how big the problem is. It could be anything from a few stragglers to a whole army, right?”

Tempest nodded.

“If it is a whole army, we can go back to Equestria and you can tell them it’s a serious threat. If it’s just some holdouts keeping the lights on and selling anything that’s worth a few bits, maybe we don’t even need the explosives.”

“I…” Tempest hesitated. “Maybe.”

“You know, there’s a third option,” Starlight said. “You were one of their leaders, Tempest. You might be able to talk some sense into them. If you tell them to stand down, maybe there doesn’t even have to be a fight!”

“They won’t listen.”

“You listened,” Starlight pointed out.

“I should have listened sooner. I almost didn’t listen at all.”

“If you’re done being sad, that storm on the horizon is getting closer,” Sunset said. “I think we’re heading right into it.”

Tempest took a deep breath. “We are.”

Starlight stood up to look. “I thought you knew a safe passage. That just looks like a solid storm wall.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a secret entrance if anyone could find it,” Tempest said. She smiled a little. “Do you see those two rock spires on the ground?” She pointed. “They’re shaped like the Storm King’s logo on purpose. Fly us between them, and keep low.”

There was a long pause.

“That means one of you has to take the wheel,” Tempest clarified.

“But Trixie already set up an autopilot,” Trixie said. Tempest looked at the wheel. Trixie had tied a few ropes to keep it more or less on a straight course.

“That’s too bad, I was hoping to see Captain Trixie in action,” Starlight said.

“Captain Trixie?” Trixie asked, with sudden interest.

“Yeah, but if you’d rather let me or Sunset be the captain, I guess that’s fine,” Starlight said. “I’m told the position comes with a hat, though.”

“Are you trying to bribe the Great and Navigational Trixie with a hat?” Trixie scoffed. “Because it’s working. Also you all have to call Trixie Captain Trixie!”

“Aye aye, Cap’n!” Starlight said, saluting.

Trixie dove into action, running to the ship’s wheel and untying her autopilot, spinning the wheel dramatically.

“Watch in awe as Trixie--”

“As Trixie pilots exactly the course I tell her to,” Tempest said. “Otherwise this ship will hit wind shear that will tear it apart. Even a decent ship would have to be careful. Since the hull on this ship is largely being held together by several layers of paint, I wouldn’t want to test it.”

“Trixie will pilot the course more accurately than any other pony could,” Trixie said, somewhat more subdued, which still left her more bombastic than the average pony.

The ship edged toward the storm, a swirling mass of clouds reaching all the way to the ground. Spray from the ocean below reached up to meet it, and the boundary between sky and sea was all but invisible.

“Are you sure we’re not flying right into Tartarus?” Sunset asked quietly.

“Bear a little left or we’ll be going there next,” Tempest ordered. The ship slowly turned, a spire of black, razor-edge rock passing by underneath like a claw reaching up from the mist. “Lower the forward speed by half.”

“Did the Storm King make this place?” Starlight asked. Canyon walls closed in around them, and the stormclouds formed a roof on the world. The sun and moon disappeared, and the only light was a kind of diffuse glow from above punctuated by flashes of lightning.

“If he had that kind of power he wouldn’t have needed alicorn magic,” Tempest said. “No, this has been here for a long time. It has something to do with the height of the mountains, magma just under the water making the sea boil, and arctic wind from the north.”

“The sea is boiling?” Sunset asked.

“That’s steam coming up under us, not just spray and mist,” Tempest explained. “Don’t fall in or you won’t come out.”

“Good tip,” Sunset said, stepping back from the edge.

“Captain Trixie sees a fork up ahead,” Trixie called out.

“Go left,” Tempest said. “Watch for the next right. There’s a safe path, but if we go the wrong way we’ll either find a dead end or we’ll enter a corridor where the winds have broken through and we’ll get smashed into the walls.”

“This deal is getting worse all the time,” Sunset muttered. “A few pegasus ponies would have been helpful here to keep the weather away.”

“It wouldn’t have helped much even if you had everypony in Cloudsdale pitching in.” Starlight said. “How did the Storm King even find a safe path through here?”

“If you throw enough bodies at a problem, nothing is impossible,” Tempest said. “There are crashed ships all over these canyons. Some of them were converted into guarded checkpoints. It’s why we needed to disguise the ship.”

She pointed.

“The first one is up ahead. Keep your distance, but don’t look like you’re keeping your distance.”

“So… fly casual?” Trixie asked.

Tempest rolled her eyes and didn’t bother answering. They crept towards the guard post. It looked like an airship with the gasbag deflated and turned into ragged tarp roofing. Steel girders had been driven through it like huge nails, securing it to a rock spire and turning it into a tower hanging over that boiling sea.

“Bring us a little closer,” Tempest whispered. “Maybe no one is there…”

“That would be good, right?” Starlight asked.

A spotlight erupted to life, pointing right at the ship and flash-blinding them.

“No such luck,” Tempest said. “I was hoping it would be abandoned. It would be an indication they lacked discipline or had manpower problems.”

The light flashed on and off a few times.

“Is that a code?” Sunset asked.

“They’re requesting my confirmation code,” Tempest said. “Get the light.”

“What light?” Starlight asked.

“The signal light. All airships carry one.” Tempest looked around and found a distinct lack of signal lights. “We need to respond quickly! Is it below deck?!”

“Stop panicking,” Sunset said. “We’re unicorns. We basically are signal lights.” She lit her horn and created a bright cone of light, pointing it down at the guard post. “Tell me what to do.”

“Okay. Just repeat what I tell you. Long flash. Short flash. Short flash…” Tempest watched the post as Sunset relayed the code. They weren’t doing anything yet. “...and one last long flash.”

The spotlight was quiet for a long time, then flashed three shorts. Tempest sighed, almost collapsing against the railing.

“They accepted the code,” she explained. “I wasn’t sure it would work. They’re supposed to change the codes every so often.”

“These people just lost their leader. They probably haven’t bothered.” Sunset said. “You’re probably on the money about discipline starting to slip. Everything you’ve told me makes the Storm King’s army seem like a real cult of personality, and they tend to fall apart after their figurehead gets taken down.”

“Should Trixie keep going?” Trixie asked.

“If you’d be so kind, Captain,” Tempest said. “If nothing else we’ve learned one important thing - there are still troops here. Enough of them to ask for clearance codes instead of abandoning their posts.”

“So what’s the next part of the plan?” Sunset asked.

“Next, we infiltrate the most impenetrable fortress ever designed,” Tempest said. “With almost no useful equipment.”

“We’ve got a bunch of Trixie’s magic show stuff,” Starlight said. “Crates with false bottoms, fake swords, rubber snakes. That’s got to be good for something, right?”

Tempest stood at the bow of the ship, keeping herself as visible as possible. It was important to be seen, to give the troops here a look at her, someone known to them, who they might think twice about shooting at. This was important because despite their efforts to disguise Trixie’s ship, it was still ultimately a hunk of junk. Clouds and mist had helped sell their disguise before, but that wouldn’t work in the center of the maw.

The little ship broke through one last wall of swirling mist and into the clear.

“We’re here,” Tempest said. “Stay back and stay low.”

They’d piled a few of Trixie’s trunks and assorted junk on the deck to provide the three other unicorns at least a little cover. Trixie refused to give up the wheel, so she’d been given a cloak instead, something made out of patchy colorless ground tarp instead of her usual stars and bangles. She hadn’t liked that either until somepony had pointed out that if she was camouflaged she wasn’t going to be shot first.

Tempest had seen the Maw before. She knew her blueprints and diagrams and maps didn’t really capture it. Nothing could really prepare a pony for what was ahead of them. It was the eye of a hurricane, trapped by the earth and lashing out in every direction. The sky was a roiling vortex, and waterspouts reached like blind, groping fingers of some caged beast. Smoke poured out of the water, and the light rain shifted to what Starlight thought was hail at first until she realized it was tiny stones.

“Is it always this bad?” Starlight asked.

“It’s why the Storm King’s ships are all so heavily armored. This is why I said the fortress couldn’t just be besieged,” Tempest said. “Without a guide, it’s impossible to get in.”

“Right now I’m more worried about getting out,” Sunset said.

“We’ll be fine,” Tempest said. “Just remember to follow the plan when we dock. It will work but you have to play your parts, even if they’re…”

“Humiliating?” Starlight asked.

“Mm.” Tempest nodded. “Sorry.”

The huge dome shape of the fortress made sense now. It was like a huge shield turned towards the sky to protect what was inside it from the fury of the storm. Lightning strikes and tornadoes simply rolled off of the thick bunker walls, keeping what was inside safe. The fact it would do just as well against an attack from more conventional targets was just a bonus.

The armored edge of the fortress passed over them like an umbrella, and the torrent of stones and rain was cut off. The ship itself seemed to sigh in relief. This was concerning for a great number of reasons, not the least of which was that the gasbag couldn’t afford any extra holes.

The docks were hanging catwalks, raising and lowering on pulleys to service airships of all shapes and sizes. Tempest waved to the dockworkers, and they threw down ropes which Tempest tied to the mooring points, tugging at the line once they were secure.

“Trixie, cut the engines,” Tempest said. “They’ll pull us into place.”

“There must be two dozen airships here,” Starlight whispered. “Look at the size of that one!” She pointed across the hanging web of walkways and rigging to a ship big enough to be a cruise liner and with the weapons to conquer a small city. Which it had, if Tempest remembered its service history correctly.

“Think we can trade up when we leave?” Sunset asked.

“We might have to,” Tempest whispered back. “We were lucky enough to make it here in one piece. Does everyone remember the plan?”

“It’s not exactly complicated,” Starlight joked. “Still not a huge fan of your idea, though.”

“Of course not,” Tempest said. “Just let me do the talking.”

“MOVE, YOU USELESS MULES!” Tempest roared, yanking on the rope connecting the other three ponies. They shuffled along, hoofcuffs keeping them from moving quickly enough to avoid being screamed at.

Tempest huffed in annoyance and shoved the rope into the hands of the first soldier she saw. He fumbled for it, dropping his spear at her hooves with a resounding clang.

“Did you just drop your service weapon?!” Tempest snapped. “What is your malfunction?!”

The soldier made a series of sounds in a language Tempest had never bothered learning because she’d never cared about the answers they had to give. Part of her regretted it now, but she couldn’t let it show. It bent down to reach for the fallen spear and Tempest bucked him in the face. He collapsed, more surprised than hurt.

“I didn’t give you permission to pick it up! Especially without saluting me first!” Tempest yelled.

The yeti gave a shaky salute from the ground. Tempest nodded.

“Better. Now pick up your spear and fall in. I don’t know who thinks they’re in charge around here, but it’s obvious that they’ve been slacking off.”

“Is that-- it is! Tempest Shadow, my cute little morsel! You’ve come back to me!”

Tempest froze up at the sibilant, seductive voice, every word like steel and silk. The storm creatures parted as something much larger slithered through the gathering crowd. If somepony only saw her front half, they’d think they were looking at a deer grown as tall as Celestia, with the metallic gleam of copper from her backswept antlers and cloven hooves almost beautiful enough against her pale green coat to keep somepony from seeing the mouth full of fangs, or the eyes like solid black orbs.

She reared up, her back half a massive snake with pitted iron scales like they’d come out of an alchemical crucible and been nailed in place on a serpent large enough to coil comfortably around a small house.

“Euryale,” Tempest said. “Ah, I didn’t know--”

“Well of course not, morsel!” The gorgon lunged forward. Before Tempest could do anything, she was swept up in a gigantic, bone-creaking hug. “I missed you so much!”

“I missed you too,” Tempest said, with what little air she had available.

“I’ve been positively bored stiff without you,” Euryale sighed, releasing Tempest from her grip. Tempest sucked in a few breaths while she could. “Worried, too, of course. But mostly bored. After all, I haven’t had my tiny cute marefriend!”

“You dated a gorgon?!” Trixie blurted out.

“Shut up, prisoner!” Tempest snapped, trying to look professional despite the way her cheeks burned like coals.

“She did,” Euryale said. Her forked tongue flicked at Tempest’s ears. “You know what the worst part of this whole thing has been? Aside from the paperwork, I mean. I’d much rather be in the lab than having to tell these idiots what to do, and writing reports on it? Awful.”

“Yes, it must have been… awful,” Tempest agreed.

“But not as bad as learning the Storm King fell,” Euryale said. “He will be… well, not missed, but he rubber-stamped my expense reports, and that was easier than trying to do the budget myself. And that’s still not the very worst part!”

“What was the very worst part?” Tempest asked.

The gorgon lifted herself a little higher, looking down at Tempest. “The very worst part was learning that my marefriend or, rather, my ex-marefriend, decided to turn her back on everyone and turn traitor!”

“...Oh,” Tempest said, taking a step back. “You heard about that.”

“I heard about that,” Euryale agreed. The tip of her tail whipped around, catching one of the soldiers and flinging him off into the abyss below. She didn’t even watch him fall.

Tempest ran, like she could have done anything to actually catch him, and Euryale moved to block her.

“You betrayed him. More importantly, you betrayed me. That really hurt, my little morsel.”

“I did what I had to do,” Tempest said. “You can make the same decision I did. Leave all of this behind. We could go to Ponyville or Kludgetown or anywhere you want. We don’t have to enslave anyone or aggressively market Storm King merchandise! Maybe we could even use this stuff for good - Kludgetown could use a police force to keep the gangs in control, Equestria could use a competent military force, you could be heroes instead of conquerors!”

“That’s so cute,” Euryale giggled. “I know what this is! This is the famous Equestrian ‘magic of friendship’, isn’t it?”

“It can be,” Tempest said. She decided to ignore literally everything she knew about her marefriend and lie. “You’re a good creature, Euryale.”

“I’m not, but that was a nice try,” Euryale sighed, slithering away. “I’ve got an even better plan than taking early retirement like you. I’m going to crush Canterlot with my new weapon, conquer Equestria, and sell their land to the highest bidder.”

“New weapon?” Tempest paled. “What new weapon?”

“You should feel honored. I made it because I was thinking about you!” Euryale turned and smirked, her tongue flicking out mockingly. “You spent so much time conquering cities that we only had a few nights to spend together.”

“How does that even work?” Trixie asked. “She’s really big, and a snake--”

Starlight shushed her.

“I wanted to build a weapon that could turn a whole city full of ponies into stone in an instant,” Euryale said. “Imagine it. One launch from a catapult and you have the world’s largest statue garden! And the best part is, all the buildings and valuables will be left right where they are, ripe for the picking. I call it the Sun Crusher, since it was going to help us defeat Celestia.”

“You can’t do that!” Tempest shouted.

“Please,” the gorgon rolled her eyes. “Don’t pretend you’ve changed. You brought three ponies in hoofcuffs here to be slaves! Kneel, beg me for forgiveness, and I’ll allow you to serve as my right hoof. I promise I’ll be more fun than the Storm King.”

“They’re not just ponies,” Tempest said. “They’re two of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria.”

Trixie cleared her throat.

Tempest sighed. “Three of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria if it stops them from complaining when I’m trying to be dramatic.”

A beam of coherent force lanced past Tempest’s shoulder, close enough to make her coat stand on end from the static discharge. It slammed into the assembled guards and threw an entire squad into the rigging of one of the docked ships, the ropes tangling them like a spider’s web.

Tempest looked back.

“What?” Starlight asked. “I’m allowed to shoot, right?” She slipped off Trixie’s rigged hoofcuffs, the restraints as fake as Spoiled Rich’s mane color.

“Of course you are,” Sunset replied. “Just don’t knock them into the water!” She grabbed two guards and slammed them together, bouncing them like a ball a few times before bowling them through the crew of one of the nearby warships and down into its hold.

“The hard way, then,” Euryale said. She ducked to the side like a striking viper, avoiding another one of Starlight’s force-bolts.

“For her next illusion, Trixie will show the guards the power of the magical binding rope!” Trixie said. The rope wrapped around her, Starlight, and Sunset pulled away without even having to be unknotted, looking like it had simply passed through their bodies. Trixie tossed her head dramatically and the rope caught the guard nearest to her, binding his hands and legs. “Unlike Trixie’s hoofcuffs, that’s going to be pretty hard to get out of. I’ll give you some tips once we’re done.”

Euryale slithered around a line of guards, disappearing from Tempest’s view. Tempest crashed through them like they were just cardboard cutouts, and found the other end of the catwalk empty.

“Where--?” Tempest asked.

A shadow loomed over her, and she threw herself to the side. Euryale’s tail slammed down where Tempest had been standing. Tempest rolled to her hooves and looked back. The gorgon was wrapped around the heavy chains holding up the platforms like a snake climbing a vine. Tempest blasted one of the links, and the whole platform lurched, tilting to one side before the others picked up the strain. Euryale scrambled to keep herself from falling, just barely catching herself.

“Give it up,” Tempest said. “I won’t let you destroy Equestria!”

“I never asked for your permission, morsel,” Euryale hissed.

“It’s over. I have the high ground,” Tempest said. “I don’t want to have to hurt you, Euryale.”

“You have the high ground, I have a hostage,” Euryale said. She pointed.

One of the soldiers was holding Trixie.

“I suggest all of you stop before I do something unfortunate to your friend!” Euryale shouted. Sunset and Starlight stood down, backing up from the soldiers closing in around them. Tempest paused, then started charging her horn again.

“She’s not really my friend,” Tempest said.

“Hey!” Starlight shouted.

“You’re setting a very bad example,” Euryale teased. “Give it up, Tempest. I always knew somewhere inside you was still that soft little Fizzlepop that I met as a foal.” The gorgon climbed back up onto the catwalk, smirking down at Tempest.

“I…” Tempest growled and looked away, the sparks from her horn fading. “Promise me you won’t hurt Trixie.”

Euryale sighed and patted her head gently.

“That’s why Equestria deserves to be conquered. You can’t make the hard choices.” She reared up like a cobra to address the soldiers. “Put them in restraints! Hoof and horn. I don’t want them able to cast anything! And- no, don’t use the hoofcuffs they brought! They’re not real! I swear if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Tempest seethed as the restraints were locked around her limbs and horn. The other ponies were marched over to stand next to her.

“You put up a good fight,” Euryale assured her. “And these two did seem quite powerful. Maybe I’ll find a buyer for them somewhere. Ponies might be an endangered species soon, after all!” She giggled.

Trixie cleared her throat. “All of us are powerful.”

Euryale rolled her eyes and snatched Trixie’s hat off her head. “I’m amazed your ego can fit in this. You’re so weak I can’t imagine why my dear morsel brought you along.” She shook the hat, and a dozen cards, all of them the three of clubs, fell out, along with two doves, a flask of whiskey, and parking validation for Trixie’s wagon.

“Give Trixie her hat back!” Trixie snapped.

“You won’t need it,” Euryale said. She took a deep breath.

“No!” Tempest yelled, knowing what was about to happen.

The gorgon exhaled, not at Trixie but at the guard holding her. Green gas poured across his face and the storm creature turned to stone, his hands locking around Trixie’s forelegs like concrete shoes.

“I promised I wouldn’t hurt your friend,” Euryale said. “Oh, wait. I never actually promised that! How silly of me. Oh well, when life gives you a pony strapped to a boulder, make lemonade.”

She shoved the petrified guard over the edge, and Trixie fell with him, bound and attached to a boulder and shrieking in terror as she vanished into the mists below.

“Trixie!” Starlight screamed.

“Here, you’ll want something to remember her by.” The gorgon put the hat on Tempest’s head. “If you behave yourself while you’re in the cells, I’ll let you watch me conquer Canterlot in one stroke with the Sun Crusher. We’ll look back on this and laugh about it someday!”

“We won’t,” Tempest growled. “You just killed--”

“Somepony who you said wasn’t even your friend,” Euryale said. “Really, which one of us was the bad guy here? Me, obviously, but I’m sure you and your real friends will want to discuss the subtle philosophical points.”

Tempest glanced at Starlight and Sunset. She wanted to say something defiant. She wanted to say they’d find a way to stop the gorgon. When she looked at them though, all she could think of were apologies and none of them were good enough.

She lowered her head and let the guards lead them away to the cells.