• Published 10th Jul 2020
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Howlite Howler 3 - Three Tails

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Chapter 12: So Close, and Yet So Far

For a moment, Applejack and Skippy looked between Shiva and Filthy Rich like they were about to do battle. Celine wrenched herself from Shiva’s side and took refuge behind Skippy.

“Alpha Shiva?” Filthy Rich began. “I know we haven’t properly met, but I know you through our mutual friends at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Applejack,” Shiva replied. He blinked in confusion. “Who is right there, by the way.”

Applejack chuckled and waved at them. Filthy Rich, sensing the tension in the air, gave her a terse nod.

“Mm, well… yes,” he said. “I’m Filthy Rich, a business associate of Ms. Applejack, though it should be said that I’m not just here on business.”

Shiva stiffened, glancing at Celine, whom stayed behind Skippy while the disguised changeling nodded in assurance to her. Applejack glanced between the two with a worried look.

“Okay,” Shiva said, rising up and turning to Rich. The business stallion faltered as she towered over him. “What are you here for, then?”

Rich cleared his throat, and tried not to look like he wanted to bolt from the room. “Well…” He cleared his throat again, and recomposed his face into a firm glare. “Did you… or one of your children… threaten my daughter?”

Shiva frowned, but a glance from Skippy and Celine caused her to sigh.

“Your daughter was pushing my daughter around,” Shiva growled. “My daughter was simply trying to see what Ponyville had to offer. And your daughter felt the need to remind my daughter of the days when diamond dogs and ponies were enemies.” Her eyes narrowed as she finally looked at him. “A time I was led to believe Princess Celestia was interested in putting behind us.”

Filthy Rich’s eyes widened in a panic, but another glance at the changeling and earth pony beside him gave him some measure of strength. He straightened his business suit, and cleared his throat.

“I see,” he said. “Well… my daughter certainly… ‘failed’ to mention that part.”

“She lied to you?” Shiva asked.

Filthy Rich swallowed. “I’m… afraid my business doesn’t… give me much time to tend to her. I-I trust my wife to take care of her, though, and, well…”

Shiva’s brow furrowed. “And where is this wife of yours?” Shiva asked.

“She… felt it better that she tend to her daughter,” Filthy Rich said. “She was quite traumatized, after all.”

Shiva huffed. “A good parent,” she noted with a touch of sarcasm. “Well, I can at least commend her for caring about your daughter’s well-being. Though I’d recommend you teach them both about lying.”

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Filthy Rich said quickly. “To get both sides of the story. Spoiled Rich wanted to call the Royal Guard immediately. But, well… I’ve gotten some colorful stories about my daughter.” He chuckled nervously. “Especially in regards to Ms. Applejack’s family.”

Applejack chuckled herself when Shiva glanced at her. “Just fillies being fillies,” she said. “They’ll grow out of it eventually.”

“I’d still recommend you check on your sister,” Shiva said. “If what Diamond Tiara does with her is anything like how she treated my daughter, I’d be rather worried.”

“E-Exactly,” Filthy Rich said quickly. “So, I just wanted to know your side. See if we could come to an understanding and… find a way past things.”

Shiva’s ears flattened. “What kind of understanding?” she asked suspiciously.

Filthy and Applejack shared a glance. Despite Shiva’s neutral expression, there was still a spark to her body language. Like the wrong word would set a fire that Filthy Rich couldn’t possibly hope to contain.

“Well…” Filthy Rich cautiously ventured forth. “First off… I do apologize for anything my daughter put your daughter through. I do assure you we all want what those awful ponies did to be permanently in the past.”

Shiva’s expression softened by a fraction. “Yes?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said quickly. “A-And as we’re both creatures… er, ponies… um…”

“Animals?” Shiva asked, a bemused tone entering her voice.

“Persons of business,” Filthy Rich clarified with a nervous laugh, bringing out a slip of parchment. “You’ve built quite an impressive trade route through the Crystal Empire, and I own Barnyard Bargains, a rather impressive – if I may say so – chain of convenience stores in Ponyville. I’m curious if I may be able to compensate you for the pain our daughters went through.”

“Oh?”

“What would seem fair?” Filthy Rich insisted, rolling the parchment out. “Perhaps… 20% off all purchases? Maybe a free supply of Zap Apple Jam? Make me a bargain, and I’m sure we can work something out.”

Shiva peered at the parchment, tapping her claw against her chin. After a moment of contemplation, she peered up at Filthy Rich.

“I want you to try and keep a closer eye on your daughter,” she said.

Filthy Rich blinked in confusion.

“I know that it will be difficult,” Shiva admitted. “I more than relate – I have to make sure the diamond dog voice is heard alongside the changelings and ponies in the Crystal Empire. Just… try to find some time for your daughter. Okay?” Shiva gave Celine another look. “Our children are at such an early stage in their lives. They need guidance to become the best they can be.”

Filthy Rich licked his lips nervously, but stood straighter. “I will… certainly try to put more effort into that,” he said.

Shiva grinned. “Good,” she said. She peered down at the parchment. “And just to make sure you’re doing that, I’ll need some way to keep an eye on you. Let’s say… putting a Barnyard Bargains in the Crystal Empire so we can keep in touch.”

“Oh… really?” Filthy Rich asked, starting to grin.

“But considering diamond dogs will be building it,” she added. “Let’s throw in a 50% discount for diamond dogs while we’re at it.”

As Shiva and Filthy Rich started working out the details, Celine and Skippy gave each other assured grins. Skippy could feel Shiva’s anger fading. While it wasn’t gone entirely, it had cooled to a marvelous degree, like a raging fire had gotten water thrown onto it rather than gasoline.

With her mother calmed, Celine ventured back out to the party, where she saw Pinkie morosely hanging up her decorations.

“M-Ms. Pie?” Celine asked.

Pinkie jolted, spinning back around to Celine.

“Is it too late to keep the party going?” she asked.

Pinkie’s grin would’ve lit up the dark side of the moon.

#

Back in the Crystal Empire, Kodo paced angrily before the throne. Scorpia and Cadence watched him with worry, while Luke was silently ensuring Shining Armor didn’t try to confront the pup.

“When is she coming back?” Kodo asked. “The ponies should’ve handled those Sirens by now.”

“If something happened, I’m sure Skippy would let us know,” Luke said. But even he looked nervous.

Kodo turned back towards the South. “W-What if it was a trick?” he wondered. “What if…?”

“Twilight’s not going to hurt your family,” Cadence tried to assure him. “Your mother and sister are going to be just fine.”

But none of them could hear the dark voice in Kodo’s head. Whispering where Cadence’s words couldn’t reach.

“That’s just what they want you to think,” The voice purred like a lion. “Even now, Twilight’s probably dissecting them! Peeling their brains open, and forcing them to divulge their secrets. Oh, you should be scared, little pup. There’s no telling what tortures your family is being put through right now…”

#

“So Kodo’s laying there,” Celine recited to Apple Bloom. “And Mom’s freaking out, thinking that my magic display just broke his back.”

“No way!” Scootaloo whispered.

“Yes way,” Celine said. “But out of nowhere, Kodo just pops up and yells, ‘THAT WAS TOTALLY WICKED!’”

Apple Bloom burst into laughter. “Oh, that’s just like the time Scootaloo had us try hang-gliding fer our cutie marks!”

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Sweetie Belle laughed. “I still can’t get on a hot-air balloon without getting dizzy.”

“Tell me all about it,” Celine begged.

As the pup and fillies tittered with each other, Shiva and Applejack watched them with wistful gazes.

“Is this how we could have met?” Shiva pondered. “Had I run into you instead of Beast Breaker?”

“Well,” Applejack chuckled. “I know Twilight would-a been over the moon ‘bout yer powers either way. She’s always so full ‘o questions. Did ya know that she had me ‘n Rarity put on a sleepover party just so she could research sleepovers?”

Shiva chuckled. “I… don’t think I’ve ever done a sleepover either, if I’m being honest,” she noted.

“Huh,” Applejack’s grin faded. “Even back… where ya used to be?”

Shiva shrugged. “My master probably had her own life,” she admitted. “But my life constantly revolved around her. Whenever she’d leave… I’d just feel… empty inside. And then, when she came back… it was the best part of my day. Because there was always that small, tiny part of me that worried… what if the next time she left was for real. Like, never came back.” Shiva shuddered. “It scared me worse than anything else…”

Applejack winced as Shiva lifted her arm. Though the scar had long since healed over, the war paint Shiva had painted across her body ensured she remembered where it had been.

“Then I found out there were far worse things to be afraid of,” Shiva admitted, gazing at her scar sadly.

Applejack turned her gaze back to Celine, as she started to show off her pack link to the crusaders.

“I don’t know if it’ll help,” Applejack said. “But… yer daughter ain’t gonna have to deal with that. We made a mistake, but we’ll be consigned to Tartarus if we make it again.”

Shiva smiled softly. “Thanks, Applejack,” she said. She turned her gaze to the north. “You know… there are still so many diamond dogs that told me to be careful with you guys. But… I’m starting to wonder if they’re worrying way too much. At least in regards to you.”

Shiva froze, waiting for fate to prove her wrong. Her eyes fixed on Celine, wondering if something was about to happen to her. Her eyes snapped to Discord, who was watching the sun set with Fluttershy, both of them looking very oddly relaxed around each other.

Rainbow Dash was napping in the clouds. Pinkie Pie was off at Sugarcube Corner. Rarity was at her boutique, and Twilight and Spike…

Right at that moment, Skippy rushed through the door. “Twilight’s back,” he reported.

Instantly, Applejack, Shiva and the rest of the Mane Six – almost as if Twilight’s returning summoned them - converged around the mirror, as Twilight came through the portal, a satisfied smile on her face.

“Well?” Applejack asked.

Twilight stretched, clearly not used to suddenly being back on all fours.

“Sirens are dealt with, and friendship has been spread,” Twilight replied. Her sights set on Shiva. “Speaking of which…”

Shiva’s tail wagged and she stepped forward. “What’d you find out?” she asked.

“A lot,” Twilight replied, withdrawing a book from her saddle bag. “It wasn’t easy, but I managed to set some time aside to research the land. I found out a lot about their history and their culture and…”

But as Twilight was talking, Shiva flared up a pack link and touched it to Twilight’s horn. Instantly, Twilight’s eyes glowed and her jaw went slack as images flashed between her and Shiva.

Images of humans, signing parchments, founding lands, and arguing in a senate.

Shiva narrowed her eyes, focusing in particular on an image of a newspaper. 'Mysterious Vanishing' was written across the top, and sent a shiver of hope through Shiva's entire being. But before Twilight could try to comment on Shiva's reaction, new images shot acros Twilight’s vision: Four diamond dogs linked together blasting their way through mines. Kodo sending forth lightning bolts that charged crystals with energy. A diamond dog and a unicorn engaging in a beam-of-war. And above all of them, Shiva’s link twining around her family, charging them with what could only be described as the magic of friendship.

Rainbow Dash nearly lunged in to separate the two, before Pinkie and Fluttershy held her back. After a solid minute of Twilight and Shiva being linked, Shiva withdrew her tendril, and Twilight faltered on her hooves. Her book slipped out of her magic grip, and she knelt in a couchant position, panting and rubbing her head.

“Twilight!” Rainbow yelped, flying to her side. “You alright?” She turned to Shiva. “What was that?”

“It… was a pack link,” Twilight murmured.

The ponies turned to her, while Shiva just grinned and walked away.

“Pack link?” Applejack asked.

“Yes…” Twilight said, lifting herself up. “It… she can transfer memories. Almost like a hive mind! It…” Twilight’s eyes began to sparkle. “I can see it all!” she exclaimed. “How her pack link works! How she manages to do magic. I-It’s just like the Elements of Harmony! She bonds with those closest to her, or those forged under…”

Suddenly, Twilight paused. Her face grew pale; her eyes shrunk to pinpricks.

“Twilight?” Applejack asked.

“Twilight, look at us!” Spike yelped, pulling her to his level.

“The… Beast Breaker…” she whispered. “W-What he did to her, I…” Twilight gasped and her wings flared, trying to rub at her back. “She can still feel his whip. I can feel his whip?” She clutched her head. “Oh, Celestia… how could we have let that happen to her?”

And as the mares tried to tend to the suddenly sobbing Twilight, Spike looked for Shiva… only to find her gone.

Racing outside, he caught Shiva with Celine. Celine was waving goodbye to the Crusaders. Despite the pain Twilight had seen in her memories, Shiva still looked so… content. At peace. Especially when she shared a smile with Celine.

“Shiva!” Spike called, racing down to her.

Shiva turned to him, that smile not faltering. “Hello, Spike,” she said. “You helped Twilight take down the Sirens?”

“I… yeah,” Spike admitted. “Yeah, they won’t be bothering anyone again.”

Shiva nodded. “That’s good,” she said. “I wish I could stay…” She turned her gaze to the north. “But I need to see my son.” Her expression turned pained – almost like the pained expression Twilight had. “I need to know he’s okay.”

Spike looked down. “Well… maybe you can visit again?” he asked. “I missed getting to see you.”

“Can we, mother?” Celine asked.

Shiva chuckled at the puppy dog eyes they both gave her. “I’ll think about it,” she promised.

And with that, she took off for the north, Skippy, Celine and Flash behind her.

#

With Kodo mere seconds from a breakdown, Cadence and Scorpia worried that Shiva was going to come back with a sour look; angered by some scheme the ponies had done. Thus, it warmed both their hearts to see Shiva come back with a warm smile and Celine practically bounding in glee.

“Did you have a good trip?” Cadence asked.

“The Sirens are dealt with,” Shiva declared. “And we’re getting a ‘Barnyard Bargain’ for more trade and convenience.”

“And the ponies are… AMAZING!” Celine cried, bounding to Kodo. “You won’t believe how nice they can actually be!”

“Well…” Shiva glanced away with a grimace… which Luke and Kodo locked on.

“Well?” Kodo asked.

“Why ‘well?’” Luke demanded.

Shiva sighed. “We had one run-in with some spoiled brat that needed a serious catch up on history.”

“Wait… what?” Kodo demanded. “A… spoiled brat?”

“B-But it turned out okay,” Celine insisted. “Shiva talked to her parents, worked things out… and it was fine from there.”

Kodo still almost backed away before looking her over.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Are you okay? What did they do? Did they hurt you?”

“Kodo, I’m fine!” Celine insisted.

But Kodo’s inner voice was going into overdrive. Some pony hurt her! She must be hiding it because they forced her too! They did something to them! Brainwashed them! Tortured them! Do! NOT! TRUST!

As he held onto Kodo, he was barely aware of Shiva still speaking.

“Believe me,” she was saying to the others. “I’m not going to let some schoolyard bully get in the way of what we’ve built.”

“Of course, Shiva,” Cadence assured her. “We’ve made a good thing with the Dog and Pony Alliance.” She indicated Scorpia. “It’s thanks to our trade and barter that we’ve managed to help another Hive pull themselves from complete poverty.”

“Another Hive?” Celine asked.

“Caritatin Hive,” Scorpia explained. “They lost their queens a few centuries ago, but we’ve been helping them get back on their hooves.” She smiled at Shiva. “And it’s thanks to the alliance we have with you. If some schoolyard bully was capable of tearing down all the work we’ve put into this place, Sombra shouldn’t have been able to hold the Empire for as long as he did.”

Shiva nodded, unaware of Kodo grimacing.

Careful what you say, Princess, he found himself thinking as he and Celine followed their mother back to Diamond Dog territory. If a schoolyard bully holds the key to taking back to my throne, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

And I think I know just how to make it work for me.

#

Stupid ponies,” the diamond dog couldn’t help but think, watching the pony he had just traded with make off with a crate of sapphires. “Taking nice, shiny gems.”

He glanced semi-sated at the medicine those sapphires had bought, and started to drag it back, before a dark pack link wrapped around his head.

“Did you hear the news?” Kodo’s voice asked.

“Huh?” the diamond dog asked.

Some pony brat got away with bullying Beta Celine,”Kodo reported. “A ‘Diamond Tiara’ thinks ponies are still better than diamond dogs.”

The diamond dog started to growl, before Kodo spoke over him.

Ah, but be careful Shiva doesn’t let you hear,” he cautioned. “The princesses’ brainwashed her. Made her accept the whole thing with a smile.”

“What?”The diamond dog turned back towards the departing pony with a growl. “Should kill them now!”

Soon,” Kodo promised. “Be patient.”He grinned as he spoke. “The Iron Paws have protected the diamond dogs since Shiva’s rule. Now, it’s time for the Iron Wolves to do their part.”

#

Meanwhile, in Canterlot, Celestia got a letter from – surprisingly – not Twilight. But Cadence. As she gazed in shock at the pink seal with Cadence’s cutie mark rather than Twilight’s, Celestia eagerly opened the letter, her eyes sparkling as she read what Cadence had to report.

“Sister?” Luna asked, wandering into the banquet hall.

Celestia turned to her with a smile that could’ve replaced the sun.

“She did it, Luna,” she whispered. “Celine saw easily the best side of Ponyville!”

Luna blinked, before taking the letter. Her eyes narrowed.

“It… says she ran into a ‘minor inconvenience,” she noted.

Celestia’s grin faded, as she looked at the letter.

“Yes,” she admitted. “But the fact that Shiva didn’t overreact, and overall said the experience was still positive is a start.” She folded the letter. “I’ll ask Twilight to find out who this bully was. To… ‘encourage’ them to not risk driving those diamond dogs away.”

Luna winced. “Encourage?” she asked.

“We are closer than ever to winning Shiva or her daughter over,” Celestia said, gazing to the north. “If I must protect my little ponies from themselves, then so be it. We cannot let anything ruin this.”

#

As night fell on Ponyville, no one was aware of the worm signs creeping into town. The trails of something burrowing its way into town.

The Mane Six had left on another adventure. And everyone still in town was too tired to greet these newcomers.

But they weren’t there for welcome parties. As the first of the diamond dogs popped out of their holes, they set their sights on Filthy Rich’s Barnyard Bargains.

“Claw Pack, you focus on the store,” Kodo growled. “Fang Pack, with me.” He inhaled the various scents, his head slowly turning as he picked out the scent of the Alpha, and began to follow it. “This ‘bully’ is going to regret messing with my sister.”

They’re all going to pay, the dark voice whispered, chuckling ominously in Kodo’s head.

Author's Note:

Oh, Celestia. :facehoof: If only things truly acted the way you wanted them to.

Thank you guys again for reading. Hope you enjoy. :twilightsmile: