• Published 13th Mar 2020
  • 5,056 Views, 1,106 Comments

Skeletor, Master of The Empire. - Hotel_Chicken

A monster was dethroned and a demon was thrusted into a position of power he never wanted. Now, the Displaced Lord Skeletor finds himself in the Frozen North of Equestria, fighting frigid temperatures and an evil king.

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Chapter 21. A Princess' Plan.

A serenade of crickets played their beautiful tunes in the secluded royal gardens of the Canterlot Castle, creating a mixed melody of sounds that held no discernible rhyme or reason. The occasional buzzing of a bee's wing beats would also add to the orchestra or random noise, blending in perfectly with the sound of nature whenever a bee flew by.

The calming breeze of a late autumn’s night brushed against the alabaster fur and feathers of Princess Celestia as she sat in her royal garden, staring up at the moon as it slowly continued its orbit around their planet. Her eyes lingered on the many craters that dotted the moon, searching for any hint that the silhouette of a dark alicorn on its surface, looking for any reminders of her sister’s banishment, when she was forced to send her only remaining relative to the moon for one thousand years.

To her immense relief, the craters that once created the visage of her imprisoned sister were still missing, a wonderful reminder that her sister, Princess Luna, was still with her on Equis.

It had been an odd two years for the solar princess since her sister was freed from her prison in the night sky’s jewel. Sometimes, it was downright horrifying even to an immortal such as herself, and yet, knowing that her sister was there with her made her feel like nothing could ruin her mood. She could handle a goddess of chaos, a swarm of shapeshifting invaders, and the threat of a demon who possessed an alicorn, but the one thing she could never face again was the soul crushing loneliness of her sister’s exile from the planet.

She was so grateful to her student and the other members that made up the Elements of Harmony, not only for saving her sister from the demon that possessed her, but also for saving the entirety of Equestria several times in less than two years.

And in that moment, she was nervous about having to use them yet again to face a great evil that was long forgotten, locked in another dimension outside the realms of time and space that kept the cruelest monster to ever roam Equastria imprisoned. It was a spell of such great magnitude that it took an entire three years for Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to regain their magic, leaving the celestial bodies in the capable hooves of their subjects so that the world could continue to thrive.

For three thousand years, the Crystal Empire’s tyrant and his slaves were exiled from time and space, trapped in an unknown void that would only release them once a being of immense power arrived to free the Empire. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had waited for hundreds of years, receiving reports of noble heroes and foolish idiots who went to the ruined Empire in hopes of being the, “Chosen One”, only to return as failures or become missing ponies who died in the frozen wasteland.

After nearly two thousand years, and far too many graves, the princesses allowed the memory of the Crystal Empire to fade from history, thus putting an end to ponies risking their lives for fame and glory. The immortal sisters held hope that the Empire would soon return, believing that the assertion of Princess Amore’s descendant, the new Princess Mi Amore Credenza, or Princess Cadence as she preferred, was a sign that she would be the one to bring the Empire back one day.

However, it seemed as though fate had other plans for the royal sisters and their new niece. Unknown to anypony, somepony, or perhaps some creature, had summoned the lost Empire before Cadence, and they had sent a book of dark spells to Princess Celestia as a way of telling her. Of course, with the recent chaos that had happened in Canterlot not too long ago, nothing could be done to look into the issue. Nearly a month had passed after Canterlot weathered an invasion from a race of shapeshifting monsters known as changelings. The deceptive creatures used Princess Cadence’s wedding to Shining Armor as an opportunity to strike the heart of the Equestrian capital, replacing the bride to be with the Queen of Changelings herself, Queen Chrysalis.

Once the monster was revealed by the real Princess Cadence and her new sister-in-law, Twilight Sparkle, an epic battle was waged between the ponies and the changelings for control of the country’s capital, ending with the princesses being victorious and causing the remaining changelings to flee in terror at their strength.

Even after weeks of clean up and repair, signs of the recent invasion remained in both body and mind. Ponies of all races now held onto a new fear of the unknown, an inability to trust their neighbors, friends, and even their own families. Nightmares plagued the minds of hundreds of adolescent ponies, and physical scars marked the ponies who were forcefully taken from their homes by the insect like abominations.

Princess Luna had worked tirelessly to ease the dreams of their subjects during the night, while Princess Cadence did her best to heal the physical wounds of the Canterlot ponies with her magic during the day. As they worked to heal the ponies, Princess Celestia struggled to keep Canterlot and the rest of Equestria together, using tax payer money to repair buildings, increase the budget for the guard, and prevent nobles from passing laws that would legalize lynch mobs to target ponies who were suspected of being changelings. With so much going on in Canterlot, such as the guards being spread thin and paranoia plaguing the minds of hundreds pf ponies, the sisters couldn’t investigate the return of the Crystal Empire.

Now, she was sending her adopted niece and her new nephew-in-law to unknown territory in the hopes of finding out what was going on in the Frozen North. It filled her heart with great dread to know that she was sending them to the Empire with only a hooful of thestrals to fly them to the Empire, forcing them to face against a great unknown that made Princess Celestia fear for their safety. She was almost certain that King Sombra was slain by whomever wandered into the Empire, but the fact that they hadn't revealed themselves to the rest of the world caused alarms to ring inside her mind.

If one of their subjects had stumbled into the Empire and proved to be strong enough in body and mind to defeat Sombra, then surely the Crystal Empire would try to contact them at some point. But, for reasons that continued to allude the princesses, the Crystal Empire remained isolated from the rest of the modern world. The fact that somepony had sent Princess Celestia a book of dark spells through the magical dragon fire in the Crystal Empire also worried the princesses immensely. Was it meant as a message to her, a warning? Her mind raced at the implications of the evil tome, creating a thousand scenarios that could spell disaster for Equestria in its current fragile state.

As she imagined the Tartarus-hole that she was sending her niece into, Princess Celestia heard the wing beats of a dark coated alicorn approach her, and turned to see her sister landing near her.

Princess Luna's azure coat nearly allowed the lunar princess to blend into the shadows of the royal gardens as she landed. Her ethereal mane of stars and galaxies danced in a non-existent wind that bellowed through her mane and tail as she stood proudly, demonstrating a sense of regality and power that would easily amaze the ponies who served them. In a flourish of magic, her horn glowed with a light blue aura that caused the shadows in her path to physically move to clear a path of light for her, parting the shadows so that she would stand out from the darkness that enveloped the gardens.

“Feeling theatrical tonight?” Princess Celestia asked jokingly as Princess Luna trotted to her side.

“You never know when somepony is watching, dear sister. If I remember correctly, there is an amusing image of you shoving a cake into your muzzle that could have been easily avoided had you been more careful,” Princess Luna shot back teasingly.

“In all fairness, I sensed those three fillies a mile away. I just didn’t sense the camera they had on them. Besides, it’s a lovely photo.”

“Very true, it is a shame that you will not allow me to hang one in the halls of the castle,” Princess Luna said as she laid down on the grass next to her sister. “So, what brings you to the garden at this time when you should be resting?” She asked.

“I’ll go to sleep in a few minutes. I just thought I’d admire your handiwork for the night,” Princess Celestia replied as she looked up at the constellations in the night sky.

“This night’s arrangement is nothing special,” Princess Luna stated as she scowled at her moon, igniting her horn to see if she could control its orbit.

To her continued and contained outrage, the moon was still severed from her magic, all because of a certain trickster goddess who cut off their ties with the celestial bodies a few months prior when Eris escaped her stone prison. If it weren’t for the fact that the self-proclaimed goddess of chaos had allowed Princess Luna to still have domain over the patterns of her stars then there would have been nothing to prevent Luna from turning Eris’ stone confides into a pile of rubble.

Princess Celestia watched as the moon stubbornly refused to listen to her sister’s demands, just as how Princess Celestia’s sun had refused to bend to her whims. It had absolutely enraged Princess Celestia at first but, after a few weeks of not needing to wake up before the literal crack of dawn, she soon realized that it was nice to occasionally sleep in without worrying about forgetting to raise the sun. Unfortunately, her sister didn’t share her positive outlook towards Eris’ latest “prank”.

Princess Luna had tried to reestablish her connection to the moon almost every night, sometimes spending hours attempting to reach out to the crowned jewel of her night sky with no success. Princess Celestia bit back a witty joke about her sister’s attempts at "getting it up," once she noticed the pained look on her Princess Luna’s face.

While she had easily brushed off the concern of no longer being able to raise and lower the sun, her sister had taken the news more harshly. After being exiled for a thousand years, Princess Luna gave herself a small sense of purpose in the modern era by taking up the task of controlling the cycles of the moon and guiding its orbit. But now, that small sense of value and power was forcefully stripped from her by the goddess of chaos.

Princess Cellestia draped a wing over her sister’s barrel and gave her a reassuring smile as she stared deeply into Princess Luna’s eyes. The smaller alicorn released a sigh as she nuzzled Princess Celestia’s neck, melting into her sister’s embrace after her failure.

“How are you feeling?” Princess Celestia asked.

“I’m fine, Tia, I… I’m just still somewhat upset over what Eris did. Regardless, I’ll get over it eventually, perhaps when I lace the bird seed with laxatives and cover her statue in them,” it took a considerable amount of effort on Celestia's part to not laugh at the thought of that. “But that's a plot for another night, and I didn't come here to bore you with plans for revenge. How have you been faring, Tia? You were more silent than usual at dinner tonight,” Princess Luna observed.

“I’ve been better. The nobles of Canterlot are becoming rowdier, and one of them had the audacity to accuse me of being a changeling. Of course, he played off of the fears of the other nobles to gain their sway, but a helpful hoof from Sir Fancy Pants and Blueblood put an end to his scare-tactics.”

“Hmph. Typical, Nobles today, they have no real sense of nobility. Ever since our control over the sun and moon was stolen from us, they’ve grown bolder in their attempts to claim power. What happened after Sir Fancy Pants and Blueblood intervened?”

“Well, the nobles were, ‘convinced’ that I was still the real Celestia, mainly thanks to Blueblood’s connections. Aside from that, nothing too interesting happened today.”

“I see... Are Cadence and Shinning Armor prepared for their journey to the Crystal Empire?” Princess Luna asked as she looked back at the castle, searching the many windows for the one that led do her adoptive niece’s room.

“They'll be fine, Luna. It will only take a few days for them to fly there, and if anything happens, they have a dragon fire candle to send us a distress letter. Then, we’ll simply send the Elements of Harmony to help them,” Princess Celestia reassured her, though in truth, she was just as worried as her sister was. “You still can’t access the dreams of the crystal ponies?” Princess Celestia then asked.

“No, it appears that Sombra’s enchantment is still in place even after all these millennia. Hopefully, Cadence will find whatever relic he enchanted to prevent me from entering their dreams and destroy it. I can only imagine how the crystal ponies reacted once their savior told them of their time displacement.”

“If they told them anything,” Princess Celestia added. “If one of our subjects managed to free them, then somepony from the Crystal Empire should have delivered a message to us by now.”

“It could be that another creature freed them. Perhaps a dragon flew over the Empire, and their presence summoned the Empire again?”

“That is a possibility, the spell never specified that it had to be a pony. But we also failed to specify what qualities besides strength the savior would need. It’s very likely that whomever summoned the Empire back is black-hearted like Sombra was,” Princess Celestia suggested as her thoughts drifted back to the book of malicious spells.

“As possible as that may be, sister, it is just as likely that some kind-hearted soul recovered the Empire and managed to defeat Sombra once and for all. We simply need to hope for the best in these troubling times,” Princess Luna stated as she gazed up at the stars. “Dwelling on the worst-case scenarios will only bring us more suffering. Instead, we should hope for the best from the Empire and focus on the problems affecting Equestrian currently. How have the guards been doing with their patrols in Ponyville?”

“For now, they haven’t found any changelings attempting to get near the Elements of Harmony, though I doubt the changelings will be content to stay away from our trump card. A few changelings were captured in Manehattan, though any attempts at interrogating them have reportedly failed.”

“I could think of a few ways to make them reveal what they know,” Princess Luna suggested.

“Using torture as a means of interrogation has been abolished for a long time, Luna. Even if they’re our enemy, that doesn’t mean that we have to commit acts of violence against prisoners who can’t even fight back,” Princess Celestia admonished.

While she hated to admit it, the idea of using violence towards the changelings was a very appealing suggestion and it would most certainly help them in some capacity. But, being as long lived as she was, Princess Celestia knew that her decisions would reverberate through history. Should, by some miracle, changelings become part of Equestrian society or evolve into a better kingdom, then her abuse of captured prisoners would only reflect badly on her and her ponies in the future. And unlike her loyal subjects, she wouldn’t be able to escape the scrutiny on future generations through her death.

She knew that some of her ponies held silent grudges against her for what she did in the past, such as when she was once among the many ponies who believed that same-sex relations and relationships between other races were taboo and sinful. Even though her decisions were made from a lack of wisdom and widespread misconceptions, such as believing that different aura colors from love between same-sex couples and interspecies relationships could affect magic when in reality the color had no impact on the energy.

Of course, her opposers would also conveniently forget that Celestia was the one to eventually legalize it, and that Equestria was one of the first countries legalize both same-sex marriage and interspecies marriage.

Back then, her decisions were made without thinking of how future generations would react to her choices and she couldn’t afford that luxury anymore. If she acted aggressively against creatures that were safely locked away, it would only breed hate in the generations that would follow.

Princess Celestia did her best to shield her little sister from the negative views that their history inspired in their subjects and the other nations, but even her greatest attempts failed to dispel the fears her little ponies held towards Princess Luna. Her attempts to hide the true atrocities Nightmare Moon caused by only revealing the demon's plans for an eternal night failed to prevent ponies from silently labeling her sister as a monster. With the combination of their past controversial views and the atrocities committed by the demon that possessed her sister, the majority of the world began to view Princess Luna as the living embodiment of evil.

Even after Princess Luna was purged of the Nightmare demon that possessed her a thousand years ago, she was still subjugated to hated opinions and several assassination attempts by her own subjects. No matter what Princess Celestia did, nothing would fix their tarnished reputation and history, all she could do was protect her sister and attempt to avoid the repercussions that split-second decisions could have in the long run.

She had made sure to teach these values to Cadence when she ascended from a pegasi to an alicorn, warning her of how her public image and her own views would change over her newly obtained immortal life. Princess Cadence properly understood the weight that her decisions held and used her power to travel the world during the first years of her ascension to learn more about the other nations’ and kingdoms’ views and cultures. And now, she was going to the one place that she had never went to see during her years of touring the world, the Crystal Empire.

It brought a sense of joy and sorrow to Celestia, not as a princess but as a mentor and possible mother figure, to know that the once small filly who believed true love and rainbows would solve everything had grown into a capable mare and became a pony worth following. Celestia still missed the spark of naive happiness that her adoptive niece had when she was younger, but the fact that Cadence had grown into knowledgeable mare who dreamed of protecting her subjects made Celestia feel proud of her.

Princess Luna, who had been oblivious to her older sister’s wandering thoughts, interpreted their lull in conversation as something negative and attempted to break the silence with a simple question. “Will you have time to say goodbye to Cadence and Shining Armor tomorrow?” She asked.

It was a simple question that held an even greater weight to it than Princess Luna realized. Even taking five minutes out of her schedule to say goodbye had the potential to prove disastrous for Equestria. The Nobles of Canterlot had grown much more rowdy, willing to throw even their own family members on the train tracks if it could benefit them, and their greed for power demanded her full attention during morning court.

Princess Celestia closed her eyes as she slowly nodded her head. “Possibly, though I can’t say for certain,” she replied.

In truth, the odds of her saying goodbye in person were slim to none. Princess Celestia kept the actual state of affairs of Equestria secret from her sister, not allowing her one other family member to be dragged into the cutthroat world of politics that dominated her life. Nor did she let her sister know about the problems that laid below the physical wounds that were inflicted on their ponies and homes.

Only Princess Celestia and a few of her council members knew the true gravity of the changeling’s invasion. While the primary goal of Queen Chrysalis' plan was to physically feed off of the love of ponies, the cunning queen of deceivers had another plan that had actually succeeded. A great portion of Equestria’s wealth and a plethora of powerful magic relics were stolen over the course of a few weeks at the beginning of the changeling’s subtle invasion thanks to their ability to replace the treasurers, bankers, guards, and other ponies in prominent positions of power. In the limited time that the changelings had successfully infiltrated Canterlot's government, they had nearly drained the nation's treasury of copper, brass, bronze, and silver.

If word got out that Cantrlot’s treasury was robbed for most of its valuables, then the stock markets of Equestria would inevitably crash, causing a recession similar to what the Griffin Kingdom went through after their war with the Zebra Nation. Even after a hundred years, the Griffin Kingdom was still struggling to pull itself back up from financial ruin, becoming indebted to both the Dragon Lands south of Griffonstone and the country of Minotauria as they attempted to rebuild, leaving them indebted to the other nations for the next few millennia at best. While it was likely that Equestria would soon fall into a terrible recession due to its sudden lack of finances, there was one hope that could save Equestria from its financial burden.

The Crystal Empire promised a new source of wealth and income that could rescue Equestria from the threat of bankruptcy. Princess Celestia and her sister had never seen a reason to touch the Empire’s abandoned treasury, but now, their locked vault held the potential to be the one thing that could put Equestria back in the black financially.

“Come now, Tia. I’m sure you could clear some time tomorrow to see them off,” Princess Luna said as she waved a hoof dismissively. “Equestria will not fall if you push back one court meeting.”

Oh, how Princess Celestia wished that were true. “Even if that was the case, you know that Blueblood would throw a fit,” she excused, using the stallion's theatrical attitude as a tool to deceive her sister.

“I swear, that stallion should… Oh, what’s the saying ponies use now? ‘Stop deep throating the stick’?”

Princess Celestia stifled a snort by holding a hoof to her muzzle at her sister's misquote. “It’s, ‘take the stick out of his ass.’ And, while I’ll admit that he can be very anal-retentive at times, he’s still a wonderful council member, and I respect him too much to not listen to his advice.”

“Then he should respect himself enough to take the stick out of his rear-end,” Princess Luna said dryly as she stood up. “Regardless, you won’t be able to attend morning court or see our niece off if you don’t get some sleep. Go to your room soon, Equestria will still be standing when you wake up.”

“I’ll go in a few minutes, have a pleasant night in the Dream Realm, Lulu,” Princess Celestia promised as she turned her attention back to the night sky.

“And you as well, Tia. I’ll see you in the morning,” Princess Luna said as her wings stretched out to let her fly away from the royal garden and return to the castle.

After her sister left, Princess Celestia became lost in the intricate design of her Luna’s stars. Her eyes danced between constellations and galaxies to see the pictures her sister painted in the night sky, momentarily forgetting the problems of their government as she remembered the many nights she stared at the same night sky for a thousand years. Princess Celestia didn’t dare to touch the constellations once her sister was banished to the moon, refusing to sully her sister’s canvas with her inexperience in wielding the stars.

Those painful memories of her sister’s exile soon turned bitter as she remembered the many ponies who stood in opposition to her beloved little sister. She remembered how the astronomers lost their tempers when Princess Luna reorganized the night sky for the first time in a thousand years, the audacity of the nobles started petitions to remove Luna from power, and of course there were the attempts on Luna’s life. It filled Celestia with a violent rage that burned with the fury of a newborn Sun, an immense hatred that she could never point towards those responsible for making her sister’s attempts to reintegrate into society nearly impossible.

She could never indulge in the sadistic joy of making those ponies suffer at her hooves, but she could at least find solace in the rare moments that Luna smiled, moments that were becoming more and more frequent as time went on. And, hopefully, her smile would continue to grow once she was surrounded by the loving embrace of the crystal ponies, the only beings on the entire planet who were unaware of Princess Luna’s possession.

It was a place that was free of the opinions of modern ponies, somewhere where the term “Nightmare Moon” held no meaning, a possible safe haven for her sister to travel to. It was exactly what her sister needed, a place where no creature judged her for falling prey to a malicious demon. If all went according to plan, then the Crystal Empire would prove to be a boon not only to Equestria, but also to its long-lost princess as well.

Even though Princess Celestia was optimistic, a small sense of doubt and fear nagged at the back of her mind. Just like a terrible rash, her doubts returned with a terrible vengeance, whispering untold terrors that would befall all of Equestria due to her naive hopefulness and her inability to plan ahead. Her morbid phantasms were thankfully halted by another gentle breeze that brought her back to reality.

"Everything will be fine," she assured herself as she looked towards the horizon.

Far away from the grasp of modern society, under the terrible storm clouds that plagued the Frozen North, a single monster was wandering through the tundra without any sense of direction. Snow pelted the black chitin armor of the four-legged creature, painting its black armor with the frozen tears of the sky as it trotted towards the one beacon of life it could feel in its antenna. Like a moth flying towards a flame, the abomination of magic and biology dragged itself to the largest source of love it could find in hundreds of miles.

The insect like creature was a monster that was born of constant hunger and strife, a beast of burden that drained the love of other creatures by taking the form of a pony. It was the newest enemy to all of Equestria, a boogeyman to foals and a nightmare to parents, a changeling named Thorax.

Thousands of blue ommatidia scanned the surrounding area for any sign of the mysterious source of compacted love. The lone drone had no idea what the immense amount of love he felt was from, or where it came from. Less than three weeks ago, he was happily sitting in a bar in Yakyakistan disguised as a unicorn mare, working under the name Blush Bush in the hopes of getting scraps of love from drunken yaks. After the failure of an invasion that happened a month prior, the changeling species were scattered to the winds thanks to a spell catapulting them across the planet.

For a while, the lonely changeling thought of returning to his hive so he could serve the queen and eat love, but he knew that would be nearly impossible. Only the strongest and most fit changelings would be able to return to eat while all the others would be forced to starve to death so the grubs could live off the meager amounts of love they had saved up in the hive. Returning home would be a death sentence for him since he was a terrible fighter and a horrible gatherer.

With no way of going home, and with Equestria being patrolled by royal guards wherever he went, Thorax sought out refuge in Yakyakistan. It was a rough time for him at first, being a fake pony in a large crowd of yaks made him the prime target of ridicule and verbal abuse from the denizens of Yakyakistan. But, he managed to survive by getting a job and nibbling off of the drunken lust and love of lonely nors who couldn't find a suitable dri. And even though Thorax was disguised as a mare and not a dri, drunken yaks could barely tell the difference between a female yak or pony when they were flirting.

It managed to feed Thorax, but the intoxicated love of yaks would never fully satisfy his hunger. Each day, his stomach roared at him, demanding the love of a pony to fill him for a few hours, and each day his body's pleadings became harder to ignore. Then, just when he thought he was going to lose his mind in a hunger induced hysteria, he felt a sudden surge of love emirate from the south of Yakyakistan. Ever since then, Thorax began walking through the snow under the guise of night, sleeping during the day to conserve energy and hide his true form from any creature that could be going to Yakyakistan.

As he trotted through the cold wastelands of the Frozen North, Thorax could feel his small reserves of love draining more. If he didn't reach the strange source of love soon, he would lose his mind until he found a fresh source of love, and if he couldn't find any love then, then it wouldn't be long until he died of starvation. Thorax briefly considered giving up on any hope of finding the anomalous love and lying down in the snow so he could just starve to death in his sleep. Those thoughts almost immediately disappeared, however, as he saw something that could either be his salvation or his reckoning a few dozen yards away from him.

Through the thick curtains of snow, Thorax could see the silhouette of several well-lit carriages being pulled by armored ponies. He saw the glistening iron armor that they wore, reflecting the light like a beacon in the night. A brief hint of confusion played through his mind as he noticed their armor and, for a moment, he wondered why a group of cosplayers were trotting to Yakyakistan before a sudden pang of fear bought him a second of clarity. It didn't matter why there were cosplayers in the Frozen North, what mattered was that they would undoubtedly report him to a royal guard or attack him if they saw him in his natural form.

Everypony in Equestria had heard about the changeling army's failed attempts to topple the Equestrian Diarchy, and the royal guards of Canterlot had made it their primary mission to hunt down any changeling that they could find. There was no way for Thorax to defend himself against such a large group of guards, especially given his current fatigue and weakness, so he decided to do what any changeling would do in his situation; he hid in plain sight.

Once Thorax closed his eyes, emerald flames danced across its chitin as black armor turned into soft azure colored fur, the gnarled horn and mangled wings retracted into his body, new fur then covered the gaping holes in his legs, and his many ommatidia's turned white and blue to give the illusion of normal pony eyes. A blue vase appeared on either side of his flank to complete the disguise, allowing the monster to look like an average earth pony stallion.

After giving his disguise a once over to make sure that it was alright, Thorax nodded to himself and prepared for the group of cosplayers to see him trotting towards them. A red stallion with a white mane and tail, wearing iron armor that had hints of purple accents, noticed Thorax first out of his group and stopped pulling his carriage.

"Who are you?" The burgundy stallion asked.

"I'm... Thooo-rite. Thorite... Hoof...” Thorax said.

“Thorite Hoof?" The odd cosplayer repeated as he sheathed his blade.

"Y-yeah! I’m Thorite Hoof, it’s nice to meet you,” Thorax replied as he held out a hoof to the other pony.

"What are you doing outside of the Empire? It's dangerous out here."

"Oh... I uh... Got lost. I was heading to Yakyakistan when I got turned around."

"Now what would make you do something so stupid like that?" The red stallion asked as he felt the bellowing winds of the North become more forceful for a few moments. Thorax did his best to pretend to feel cold, shivering like a small dog on a cold winter's night. "Look son, I know things in the Empire are scary, alright. I'm trying to fix it, so you don't need to run away, alright?" The stallion assured him.

"Um... Okay?"

"Good. We're gonna set up base and hunker down for the night. When the sun rises, I'm sending you back to the Empire with Red Flag and Cole," he told him.

"Wait, does that mean we're off the mission?" Another pony, presumably Red Flag or Cole, asked as they poked their head out of the carriage.

"That's right. It'll take too long for you two to meet back up with the group, and we can't afford to sit on our tails out here and wait a whole day for you two to come back. Take him back tomorrow and head to the Crystal Castle afterwards. Tell Colonel Kernel what happened and then return to your regular duties. Now, let's set up camp, everypony! Move it! On the double!" The red stallion commanded, causing the others to set up their carriages against each other to make three makeshift walls.

A large tarp was then thrown onto of the carriages to make a roof for the ponies, protecting them from the continuous assault of winter that fell from the sky. The earth ponies worked quickly to set up a campfire for the night, using a bag of twigs to fuel the fire while the red stallion and another pony built a forth wall out of snow. Thorax stood out of their way, pressing himself against one of the carriages and overhearing the idle chatter of the ponies who stayed inside the carriages. The still sheltered ponies spoke about some type of "ruva" kingdom that Thorax had never heard of before, and quietly debated the principles of science and magic, a discussion that completely went over Thorax's head.

Thorax wasn't sure what Empire they were talking about, and he briefly wondered if it had anything to do with the abandoned kingdom that he passed through a week ago. With any luck, he'd find the strange source of love in the "Empire," and if not, then at least there would be a good number of ponies to take love from. So long as he didn't stick out and acted like he belonged, then he had nothing to worry about.

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