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

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Chapter 4: Sharing the Spoils

Twilight Sparkle stepped off the train with determination in her eyes. Somewhere in the pitch-black clouds ahead was the Crystal Empire. And if Twilight could defend it, she would prove to Princess Celestia she was ready for the next level of her studies.

At least, that’s what she thought. Part of her was slightly worried about the presence of Alpha Shiva and the diamond dogs of Outer Haven being near the Empire. But she pushed it aside. Princess Celestia herself had trusted her with this, and she refused to let the complicated diamond dog get in the way of succeeding her test.

“Ha!” the voice of Rarity cried triumphantly behind her. “And you all made fun of me for packing so many scarves.”

Twilight grinned. Plus, she thought. I’ve got my friends by my side. There’s nothing we can’t overcome together.

“Twilight!” another familiar voice cried, widening Twilight’s grin in response.

“Shining!” she replied back, the familiar figure of her brother appearing from the frosty fog.

“You made it,” he sighed in relief, before glancing around. “We need to hurry,” he said quickly. “This mission is a little more complicated than I thought.”

Fluttershy gulped as they delved into the blizzard. “What do you mean?”

“The unicorn king who originally cursed this place,” Shining explained. “He keeps trying to get in.”

“But Princess Celestia sent us here to protect the Empire,” Twilight pointed out. “If King Sombra can’t get in, then… it must already be protected.”

“Maybe,” Shining said grimly. “But if you saw who was protecting the Empire right now…”

“Ya mean Alpha Shiva?” Applejack asked. “She's protecting this place?"

"Then what's the problem?" Pinkie Pie replied. "Shiva's a little mean, but she's not evil like Sombra."

Before Shining Armor could explain, a black wave of smoke billowed up from behind them. From the darkness, two evil green and red eyes opened, staring down at them hungrily.

Shining stared up at the eyes in fear. “We have to get to the Crystal Empire,” he declared. “Now!”

But Twilight grinned. “Don’t be so sure, big brother,” she said, reaching into her saddle bag. “After the fiasco with Chrysalis, we came prepared.”

Shining Armor backed up as the Mane Six produced the Elements of Harmony. Indeed, Twilight and even Celestia had been worried about bringing their most vital weapon with them. But after how they nearly lost them to Shiva and her dogs, the princess had agreed to keep the powered gems close to their Element Bearers.

As a result, Twilight was able to glare up at the shadow creature without fear, as she and her friends prepared to blast it with the power of Friendship.

But just as their gems began to glow, a strange pulse shot out from the storm. Sombra’s eyes flicked away from them, narrowing in surprise and anger. And as the ponies paused on confusion, Sombra spun away from them… and raced for the source of the pulse, barely regarding them as a threat.

“Yeah, you better run!" Rainbow Dash taunted.

"Erm, not that I want him after us," Rarity said. "But where's he running to?"

"Oh, sillies," Pinkie said with a giggle. "He's not running. He's floating!"

Shining Armor gasped. “He’s heading for the Empire,” he yelped, racing for the source.

“The Empire?!” Twilight stammered. “Girls, come on; we gotta stop him!”

But despite her motivation, the ponies began to fall behind, the shadows overtaking them. Sombra seemed to also realize what the Elements could do, as his shadowy figure dodged back and forth, keeping the mares from being able to line up a shot on him. On impulse, Shining blasted at Sombra, but the clouds easily dissipated away from his spell, and the ghost king continued his relentless streak towards the Empire. As the ponies fell behind, they spotted something white and blue, pulsating brightly between the mountains. Sombra was heading right for it.

“Almost there,” Shining gasped.

“But he’s getting ahead of us!” Rainbow Dash protested. “And we can’t get a hit on him! He’s gonna get there before us.”

Shining Armor’s eyes flicked downward, and a smirk graced his lips. “No, he’s not,” he realized.

Before Twilight could ask what he meant, a barrage of spells slammed into the dark king, forcing his smoky frame back as he bellowed in rage. The mares ducked under his attack, and launched themselves into the blue and white shield the beams of light were coming from.

Warmth hit them, a stark contrast to the ice and snow of the outside. The Mane Six skidded to a halt, panting and tired from the run, but otherwise fine.

“Every pony okay?” Twilight asked.

They all nodded and gasped out general agreement, more focused on catching their breath. Before Twilight could turn to her brother…

“If you’re okay, then help us with the barricade or get into the city,” a gruff voice growled.

A gruff voice Twilight recognized, as her heart dropped into her stomach.

“Oh, no…” she whimpered, turning to find Luke – Shiva’s personal bodyguard – maintaining the barrage of spells that had just saved her and her friends’ lives.

“Yeah, wish I didn’t have to see you either,” Luke growled.

A further look beyond revealed he wasn't alone; a small army of diamond dogs formed a barricade protecting the city, mirror like shields raised against the demon and magical staffs firing spells into the dark clouds. It took Twilight a moment to realize that not just ponies but – changelings?! - were standing by the diamond dogs side along with what looked like earth ponies, all either firing spells from their horns or from staffs topped with what looked like magic crystals. Twilight wasn’t sure if it was her mind playing tricks on her, but some of the ponies seemed to sparkle like diamonds. Or crystals.

Yet, as Twilight stared at the odd alliance in stunned disbelief, a blast of obsidian threw a section of diamond dogs, changelings and ponies back. Luke swore and raced to the gap, blasting at the obsidian before it could creep into the city.

“Don’t just stand there,” Luke bellowed at the Mane Six. “Something really pissed this guy off!”

Shining glanced at the castle beyond, his eyes narrowing. “Twilight,” he ordered. “Head into the city. Help Cadence and Shiva.” He took the diamond dogs’ place in the gap, flaring up a protective shield. “I’ll keep things stable here at the barrier.”

Without any time to argue, Twilight nodded. Motioning to her friends, they raced into the city. But as they approached the massive castle in the distance, Twilight noticed something white leaving the castle.

“Is that… Shiva?” Fluttershy asked.

Their eyes did not deceive them. The white diamond dog raced from the castle, Princess Cadence and a changeling princess behind her, a massive block of crystal carved in the shape of a heart tucked under her arm. As her paws hit the ground, Shiva unleashed a burst of light that traveled like a spider web through the empire.

“Citizens of the Crystal Empire!” Shiva howled, her voice echoing across the city. “Hear me!”

“No trouble with that,” Pinkie commented, rubbing at her ears.

Shiva lifted the Crystal Heart. “King Sombra has failed! Your Crystal Heart has returned to you!”

What?!” Sombra growled. “NO!”

But the crystal ponies looked back with awe and delight.

“The Crystal Heart is back!” They cheered. “We are saved!”

“Use the light and love within you!” Cadence beseeched.

“Ensure that King Sombra never gets to use it again!” Scorpia added.

As they spoke, Shiva caught sight of Twilight and her friends racing towards them. Emotions flashed like lightning across Shiva’s face – irritation at Twilight, fading into confused hope at the sight of Applejack and Spike. Then, just before Twilight could join them, Sombra let out another bellow. Shiva’s eyes darted behind them, her ears flattened in terror, and she threw the crystal heart into a pedestal that looked made for the relic.

And as the crystal heart spun between two vertical crystal spires, and the entire empire began to glow with a blue light, Twilight heard King Sombra growl, before shifting back from the Empire.

“This is not over,” King Sombra vowed.

And as he shut his eyes and faded into darkness, everything vanished in a burst of white light. Briefly, Twilight noticed Shiva’s arm, which pulsated with obsidian magic, before the crystals were torn away by the power of the Crystal Heart.

#

When the blobs of light faded from Twilight’s vision, she found the Crystal Empire changed for the better. The dark clouds that had surrounded the empire were gone, replaced instead by fluffy white clouds. An aura borealis glowed in the air. And every pony and diamond dog sparkled with crystalized sequins.

“Oh, my goodness,” Rarity cried in ecstasy. “Look at the way my mane is sparkling!”

“It’s truly a sight,” a changeling replied, resulting in all six mares yelping in alarm.

“Easy,” Shiva replied. “These changelings aren’t with Chrysalis.”

Despite Twilight’s suspicions to the contrary, it was hard to refute Shiva. As the diamond dog Alpha approached, flanked by the alicorn and changeling princesses, Twilight had trouble even looking at Shiva. Her pearl and ruby studded armor caught the light from the others, giving her the impression of Celestia raising the sun. The obsidian was cleared from her arm. Even Cadence had one eye covered as she approached the girls.

“Twilight,” she said happily. “Sunshine-sunshine, ladybug’s awake…”

“Clap your hooves and do a little shake,” Twilight replied back. “Cadence, I…” she looked around. “I was told I was supposed to protect the Empire…”

“Well, you can rest easy,” Shiva told them, the light making it hard to see if she was smiling or sneering at them. “The Crystal Empire has been saved from the evil of King Sombra.” She grinned at Applejack and Spike. “Not bad for a reunion, eh?”

The two chuckled, moving past Twilight to embrace the white canine.

“I wanna say it’s been too long,” Applejack said. “But…”
“It’s still good to see you both,” Shiva assured them. She grinned at Spike. “You been keeping these guys safe?”

Spike shrugged. “As best as I can,” he replied.

“Shiva!” Pinkie cheered, lunging up for a hug… only to be deflected by a light shield. Yet Pinkie wasn’t dissuaded, clutching the shield as if she could hug Shiva right through it.

“Aw, it’s so good to see you!” Pinkie cried. “Did you miss us? Did you at least miss me?”

Shiva barely glanced at her. “No,” she replied coyly.

Pinkie deflated, sliding down Shiva’s shield in mock disappointment.

“Um… Shiva?” Fluttershy whispered, inching up cautiously. She winced when Shiva’s ear flicked in response to her voice. But Shiva’s hesitation was only for a second, and the grin she gave the yellow mare seemed devoid of anger or suspicion.

“Hello again, Fluttershy,” she said, her voice growing colder when she glanced at the other mares. “The rest of you.”

Twilight deflated, while Cadence rolled her eyes.

“Come on, every pony,” she said. “Shiva helped us with Chrysalis. She’s helped us with Sombra. Do we really have to do this whole song and dance all over again?”

“But I expect they’ll want payment for their services,” Rarity pointed out.

Shiva grinned. “A certain payment,” Shiva admitted, glancing back at the castle with pride.

The others followed their gaze, Twilight’s expression fading to horror.

“T-The Crystal Empire?!” Twilight asked. “Shiva, be reasonable…”

“I’m willing to be,” Shiva replied, smiling at the crystal ponies as they hurried over.

“So… is Shiva going to rule now?” Rose Quartz asked.

Cadence paled. “Well…” she tried to say, but others jumped in.

“She saved us from King Sombra,” another insisted. “I don’t care if she is a Diamond Dog; she’s our savior!”

Twilight blinked. “Well… you know she had help…” she said.

“But the diamond dogs are the ones who helped us first,” Rose Quartz admitted, before sparing a cautious look to Luke. “And not just because of our gems… right?”

Luke chuckled nervously, before Shiva got in front of him.

“It was because you were enslaved,” Shiva said firmly. “A cruelty I will not stand for. Ever again.”

Cadence, Twilight and the rest of the Equestrians were only able to back up in shock as the crystal ponies gathered happily around Shiva.

“Praise be to Alpha Shiva!” they declared. “Empress of the Crystal Empire!”

“That’s, um… going to be Outer Haven,” Shiva tried to correct, as the ponies carted her off, the diamond dogs and changelings right behind them. Cadence and Twilight were left staring at each other.

“We need Princess Celestia,” Twilight declared.

“Oh, indeed,” Cadence agreed, right as the others shot by them.

“A Diamond Dog as a queen?” Fluttershy whispered as she floated after the dog.

“We gotta congratulate Shiva,” Spike said.

“About time someone saw that dog fer the hero she is,” Applejack said.

“Oh, this calls for a ‘Congratulations-diamond-dog-princess’ party!” Pinkie cheered.

“Praise be to Empress Shiva!” several of the ECF ponies added, racing alongside Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Spike as they chased after the crystal ponies. Twilight, Shining Armor, Cadence, Rarity and Rainbow Dash watched them go with dumbfounded expressions.

“Right now,” Cadence added.

#

An hour later, the group of outsider ponies stood outside the borders of the Crystal Empire, awaiting Princess Celestia’s arrival.

“Oh, how I wish the effect was permanent,” Rarity bemoaned, stroking her now ordinary purple mane. “I looked absolutely marvelous.”

The others ignored her. Twilight kicked at the ground morosely, her ears flattening as Celestia’s chariot grew visible on the horizon.

“Twily,” Shining whispered. “You okay?”

“This was my test,” Twilight whispered. “My chance to show Celestia I could be counted on. And Shiva did it all before I even got a chance to help.”

“I’m… sure she’ll let you retake it,” Shining insisted.

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s not like she counted on Shiva showing up and taking over.”

Twilight gazed thoughtfully up at the chariot. “I hope so,” she said.

A few seconds later, Celestia’s chariot landed before them, and the white alicorn stepped off, gazing up at the Crystal Empire with a soft smile.

“You know,” she noted. “My experience with the Crystal Empire truly is limited.” She smiled at the sparkling buildings. “I forgot just how beautiful this place really is.”

Twilight bowed her head. “I wish it had been me who made it so,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t.”

Celestia tilted her head. “What happened?” she asked. She glanced up at their group. “Where… is Spike? And half of the Elements of Harmony?”

Then they heard the cheers… combined with the howls. Celestia’s ears flattened, before she composed herself into a more neutral expression. She strode forward, the others falling in line behind her.

They found Shiva on the steps of the castle before them. Yet, strangely, she wasn’t garbed in robes. She just had the same pearl and ruby studded armor as she always had. Luke and Skippy stood off to the side, looking rather miffed. But not without reason, for their usual spots at Shiva’s flanks had been taken by Rose Quartz and Princess Scorpia.

“The strength of the pack does not come from a single being,” Shiva was saying. “Just as this Empire was not freed by the efforts of a single diamond dog.” She gazed around. “As far as I’m concerned, we all are equal in this land. What we all contribute will benefit the new capital of Outer Haven.” She paused, spotting Princess Celestia cautiously moving forward.

“Princess Celestia,” Shiva greeted, inclining her head in greeting. “Welcome to Outer Haven.”

Celestia chuckled, inclining her head to Shiva as well.

“A pleasure to see you again, Howlite Howler,” Celestia greeted. “Though, I recall this city being known as ‘The Crystal Empire.’”

“Once, perhaps,” Shiva admitted. “Under the tyranny of King Sombra. But he has been dethroned.”

“All thanks to the Howlite Howler,” Rose Quartz added.

Celestia blinked. “Pardon?” she asked, glancing over at Twilight, who refused to meet her eyes.

Shiva chuckled at her dumbfounded look. “Well, I couldn’t have done it alone,” she admitted, before shrugging, a mischevious grin getting onto her face. “But yeah.”

Celestia wilted, shutting her eyes with a sigh.

“And I suppose you have taken payment for your services already, yes?” Celestia asked.

“One particular payment,” Shiva admitted, grinning back at the Empire. Celestia followed her gaze, her lips pursing.

“And… all of you are okay with this?” Twilight asked. “I-I mean… she’s not a pony.”

“She saved us,” Rose Quartz said firmly. “Sombra could’ve re-taken the city when we first awoke. But Shiva stopped him.”

“Well, we showed up…” Cadence offered.

“And how soon would that have been,” Luke pointed out. “After Sombra had already corrupted this place?” Several of the crystal ponies shivered at the thought.

Celestia glanced between her Equestrians and Shiva’s group, the gears visibly turning in her head. Finally, she offered a wing to Shiva. “May we speak in private?” she finally asked.

Scorpia, Luke and Rose fell in behind Shiva. “Depends on how private you want it to be,” Shiva said. She nodded at Cadence and Twilight, whom Celestia motioned to follow.

As the group returned to the castle, Twilight simpered behind Celestia like a kicked puppy.

“Princess,” Twilight stammered. “I-I’m sorry. I tried to get here as fast as I could, and I just…”

Celestia silenced her with a flare of her wing. She glanced back at Shiva, Cadence and Scorpia.

“Go on ahead,” she said. “I must confer with my student.”

Shiva and Scorpia glanced at each other, before reluctantly continuing forward, followed by Cadence. Despite her mixed feelings towards the mare, Shiva still felt a bit of guilt at the worried faces on Applejack and Spike as they watched Twilight and Celestia converse with each other.

“Is she going to be okay?” Shiva asked.

Cadence sighed. “I know you haven’t seen the best side of my sister-in-law, but she truly loves Princess Celestia. Failing the Princess takes a rather large toll on her.”

Shiva hummed, an old memory – feeling like it came from another lifetime – awakened in her mind: disappointing her human master. That shake of the head, and sad eyes that weren’t angry, yet somehow the lack of anger made it worse.

Thankfully, she was able to chase the old memory away when Celestia walked back to them. With a single nod, she led the others into the castle.

“Is Twilight going to be okay?” Cadence asked.

Celestia sighed. “This is a rather… unexpected turn of events,” she admitted, looking to Shiva. “Shiva, please believe me when I said I truly hoped we wouldn’t darken your doorstep until you were ready.”

“But?” Shiva replied. When Celestia tilted her head again, Shiva smirked. “I recall an old saying, ‘everything before ‘but’ likely came from one.’”

Celestia muffled a laugh, while Scorpia ruffled her wings, slightly scandalized. Turning her head to the doors, she shut the doors to the castle with a boom. Celestia turned to the others.

“Now,” she said. “It is imperative that nothing spoken here leaves this room, save for the knowledge that will soon become public anyway.”

Shiva, Scorpia and Cadence nodded, allowing Celestia to gather herself.

“It is noble of you to say you had help,” Celestia admitted to Shiva. “But they have made the truth clear; you found the Crystal Heart, and gave them the strength to do so.” She looked to Scorpia. “And you, despite being part of a species my little ponies will likely never trust again, fought Sombra, giving Shiva the time to find the Crystal Heart."

Both dog and changeling nodded. Celestia’s ears flicked.

“It is clear you have earned their respect,” Celestia admitted to Shiva. “However, our relationship did not have the best of beginnings.” She gave Shiva and Scorpia a hard look. “If you truly intend to keep your dogs here, how can I be safe in the knowledge that the crystal ponies will be unharmed?”

Shiva’s grin faded, but her eyes remained alight with passion. “These ponies have suffered like we did,” Shiva said. “They will be safe here.”

Scorpia stepped forward. “And we are not Chrysalis,” she said forcefully. “The changelings of Vespin Hive have always believed in strengthening both communities, as Shiva and Rose proved in their own alliance to stop Sombra: The diamond dogs couldn’t have repelled Sombra without the magic, yet the ponies wouldn’t have found the strength without the diamond dogs motivating them.”

Celestia gave Scorpia an intrigued look before inclining her head. “I… apologize for any insults regarding the… mistakes my ponies have made regarding your hive.”

Scorpia grimaced, but shook it aside.

“Regardless,” Cadence said, moving to Scorpia's side. “Her changelings have always believed in communities strengthening each other. An alliance would do exactly that.”

Celestia gave Shiva a wry smile. “So… should I start referring to you as Princess Shiva?”

Shiva’s brow furrowed. “I’d rather keep the title of Alpha,” she said. “While I’m sure we can work something out with the crystal ponies… I don’t want any Equestrians to just assume my land is theirs just because we’re willing to be friendly to the Crystal Ponies.”

Celestia and Cadence looked to each other with worry, before Cadence brightened with an idea.

“How about this,” she offered, flaring up her magic and producing a map of the Crystal Empire, drawing below the Empire. “Right now, the ‘Empire’ is a bit of a misnomer; it’s actually little more than a city-state right now. And being in stasis for an entire millennium means it won’t be easy to bring this city up to modern standards.”

Shiva highlighted the crystals. “This city is packed with valuable gems,” she noted. “The houses the ponies live in would be enough to keep them in bread for at least two generations.”

“Then, maybe we can use this city as a trade route between Outer Haven and Equestria,” Scorpia noted, “Gems and crystals for food and supplies.” She highlighted the above ground. “Some of the CEF mentioned crystal ponies that wanted to leave and explore the world. We can set up your diamond dogs in their homes as care-takers, even give them the homes if the ponies don’t plan on coming back.”

“So,” Shiva noted with slight disappointment. “This isn’t a takeover then; the Crystal Empire will remain as it’s own separate nation?"

“Just as Outer Haven will remain its own separate nation,” Cadence agreed, before indicating herself. “Shining Armor and I can stay as representatives of Equestria, and a few of the Crystal Expeditionary Force can stay on as guards and merchants.” She indicated Shiva. “You and your diamond dogs will obviously stay as representatives of Outer Haven.” She indicated both Celestia and Shiva. “And our trade will allow the crystal ponies to catch up with modern times, and working with diamond dogs will speed along the more open-minded reformations that Celestia’s been trying to run in Canterlot.”

By the time she finished her explanation, Shiva and Celestia’s ears had perked up completely. They glanced at each other with approval in their eyes.

“That’s… actually not a bad plan,” Shiva admitted.

“I agree,” Celestia said, a touch of relief in her voice. “Together, you, Cadence and Princess Scorpia can bring back the former glory of the Crystal Empire.”

Cadence chuckled. “And here Sombra likely though that glory was going to be his tyranny spreading across Equestria. He must be rolling in his grave right now.”

#

Meanwhile, inside a dark, warm place, green eyes opened, and a dark laugh emanated.

“Don’t be so sure, Princess,” Sombra vowed. “You may think you’ve won, but I will come back. Your so-called diamond dog ally will be your downfall. And the Crystal Empire will be mine once more!”

Author's Note:

And so, one arc ends, but the show's not over yet. Now that Shiva has to share the Empire with the ponies, will she be capable of maintaining the peace? And how will Sombra affect her plans for the future?

Shout out to MosAnted, who guessed how the Crystal Empire was going to be ruled by Shiva, Scorpia and Cadence. Really nice work there, MosAnted. I so wanted to reply with a coy or excited comment, but I felt it was better to wait until I published this chapter. :pinkiehappy:

Also, hope you guys don't mind the change in canon with Twilight bringing the Elements. I do try to explain it in the story, but please let me know if it doesn't work, or if I can improve it.

Thanks again for being a wonderful audience.
:twilightsmile: