• Published 15th Jun 2022
  • 3,303 Views, 159 Comments

Changing Expectations: Reflections - KKSlider

The entire course of history can be changed by a single butterfly flapping its wings. So what if an entire war was won instead of lost? What if a King never existed?

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Waning Crescent 1/3

The sound of swords clashing and spears thumping against shields echoed softly off the stone walls of the Palace.

An amber aurora borealis veiled the supermoon that dominated the night sky, the two sources of light illuminating Canterlot almost as much as the sun would have. However, the color felt a bit more hollow and sterile than actual sunlight would have felt.

The stallions and mares of the E.U.P. were training with the changelings of the Fifth Hive and the thestrals of Vallachia. All three factions had been training together for months now and were constantly pushed to the limit by the instructors.

But before they reached that intangible line in the sand, the instructors pulled back and gave them some slack. Over time, I witnessed the transformation; the ponies, thestrals, and changelings couldn’t have come from a more different set of backgrounds, yet now they fight alongside each other like they all came from the same womb. Or egg, in the changelings’ cases.

‘Shame she purged the Royal Guard of many of its veterans.’

The need for such harsh training regimens came from one simple fact: the Night Guard had lost a lot of its top brass and veteran soldiers during its transition from Royal to Night. Many ponies couldn’t be trusted, many spoke out against the shift in power, and others simply didn’t have the chutzpah we needed.

‘I’ll need to ask about this upcoming war. The Griffons are clearly in no position to threaten us, so why, oh why, do we need such a capable army so soon? We’re losing too many recruits to this ridiculous standard we’re pushing.’

The muffled sounds of the weapons clashing came to a halt as the drill ended. Frowning, I watched as a few trainees were singled out for extra physical training. I had to crane my neck to see them run around beneath the Palace window I was peering out of.

The door to the office opened and a changeling entered, closing the door behind them.

“My King,” General Labrum bowed– not that I bothered to turn away from the window to see her bow.

Every changeling bowed to me nowadays; from the Generals to the Infiltrators, they all took orders from me. With Chrysalis’s and Chamberlain Eucharis’s deaths, I was the ling-in-charge. I had to get rid of the ones that didn’t bow, such as the head-Infiltrator, Intelligencer Ocelli.

I couldn’t afford threats.

“General Labrum,” I acknowledged her. “I see our combined forces are progressing well. You could hardly tell that they were all mortal enemies just a few months ago. The ponies are staying in line, I take it?”

Labrum paused for a moment, “... Aside from the occasional issue, yes. The fact that we’ve mostly stayed in the shadows is certainly helpful in that regard. Our reputation precedes us when things get ugly, though; the ponies have a pretty good idea as to what happens to the traitors and criminals who are, ah… secreted away. It is easy to discourage any fighting, but it’s hard as nails to encourage any sort of goodwill.”

“Hmph,” I grunted. “We peacefully gave them back all of Southern Equestria, did we not?”

“Yes, My King. I heard you have just returned from a visit to Locksdale….”

My blood chilled at the name.

“Was everything to your satisfaction, My King?”

I pressed a hoof against the glass, using the cold touch to ground me.

“Mmm,” I grunted. “We can’t stop.”

“.... I understand,” Labrum whispered.

Steadying my breath, I glanced away from the window, “Anything else to report, General Labrum?”

She grimaced for half a second before getting control over her emotions, “... Yes. Following several rigorous investigations, I believe that we have discovered about half a dozen or so problems, My King, but figuring out solutions seems near impossible.”

Labrum took a half-step back, expecting some admonishment– but I was not my mother. good news was good news, no matter how good it could have been.

I stepped away from the window and let the curtain fall over it. My lack of immediate reaction stirred some fear in Labrum, but she stood still under my scrutiny.

I nodded, “That is…. Interesting. I am glad that your efforts have uncovered things that would have gone unnoticed. Tell me, what are these issues?”

“Ah, well… You see, My King, it is difficult to figure out just how the army is going to–”

I cut her off, “I don’t care about that. Just tell me what you have found.”

Labrum hastily trotted past me to her desk and pulled out some papers. Scribbling down some notes, she presented her findings to me. Much to my disappointment, all of her information fit on one single side of a piece of paper. I took the paper by hoof and not by telekinesis. Quickly, I scanned the entire list and committed it to memory.

‘I shouldn’t be doing this. None of us should. But we have to. She’ll understand. She has to…’

“This is excellent work, Labrum. I definitely wanted more, but this is probably the most I could ask for in such circumstances.”

“Thank you, My King,” she sighed in relief.

“General,” I sighed, “did you really expect me to punish you? This might not be something that Chrysalis would have been satisfied with, but I had hoped that you would have more faith in me than that.”

“Sorry, sir, just… old habits.”

“Well, go help yourself to triple rations tonight. Then, continue to chip away at these problems. The sooner we get them solved, the better.”

Labrum saluted, “As you command, My King.”

I returned the salute before disposing of the piece of paper in the most secure way I knew how. Labrums blinked in surprise when I ripped it apart and stuffed it into my mouth, but snorted in laughter when she came around to my line of thinking.

“You shouldn’t doubt my methods,” I said after swallowing the last scraps. “Heh, I remember being taught how to decipher old military encryptions in a military vessel once. This was one of the ways we disposed of the messages. Not that it was a real message or anything, just a lesson for young… scouts….”

Labrum looked around before asking, “My King? What are you talking about?”

I cleared my throat, “.... Nothing. Nevermind.”

She lifted a hoof, as if to step forward, but held it up, unsure of herself.

“Saint Phasma?” She said my name quietly. “There’s a rumor going around. One that takes a very weird way of explaining your… uniqueness, despite your age. They say….”

“Go on. I’ve heard some ridiculous things during my time in the Hive already, like the idea that Chrysalis ate my father’s head. What you’re going to say probably isn’t as crazy.”

Labrum continued, “.... They say that you are an alien, My King. That you come from another world. It certainly seems to explain some of the things you talk about…”

Though Labrum claimed that she was just repeating rumors, it was quite clear that she believed them herself. You don’t hold your breath when repeating ridiculous questions you don’t believe in…

I raised my head to stare at the ceiling, “.... Do you believe in fate, Labrum?”

“I suppose I do.”

“So you believe that your life is laid out before you were born?”

“Something like that,” she mumbled. “Parts of it, at least. The important parts. The Weaver has a plan for us all. Why? Are you implying….”

My gaze returned to the shorter drone, “Sometimes I wonder if I am free from the chains of fate, or if I am bound up more tightly than anyone has ever been. The idea of fate is very old… Some believed that fate is the measure of one’s life: a piece of string, cut off when one’s life is ended; that your story was weaved before you walked it, and ended with the conclusion of your life. Others believed it to be an infinite cycle, one which can never be escaped unless you rid yourself of all desires.”

Labrum frowned as she tried to discern the deeper meaning in my words. I decided to cut her efforts short and simply give her the answer.

“I definitely believe one of those schools of thought has far more merit than the other, now.”

‘But I sure as hell have no intention of ending a potentially infinite cycle of rebirth if I get to keep my memories. This is as close to true immortality as I can possibly get!’

She stared at me in wonder as the revelation sunk in. I checked the time– and immediately cursed.

“I am almost late for a meeting with the big cheese. Keep up the good work, Labrum. This meager scrap of information is far more important than silence.”

Labrum bowed, “Of course, My King. Good luck with your duties. Before you go, you might want to… freshen up?”

“Freshen up?” I repeated to myself as I stepped out.

My guards formed up around me when I left Labrum’s office and accompanied me across the Palace.

Kicking the door shut behind me, I bought myself a minute or two of reprieve from my duties.

The Palace bathroom I had secluded myself into was unoccupied, a fact I was thankful for. Shuffling over to the sinks, the changeling king that stared back at me through the bathroom mirror was a wretched thing: sunken eyes betrayed the falsehood of the primed and polished black carapace, sparkling adamantium peytral and a simple silver crown that weighed too much, and permanent scowl that ruined any charm an insect could actually have.

I lifted a hoof from the sink and touched the silver crown. It matched my fiancé's: a beautiful burnished silver circlet with one large gem. Unlike hers, mine was a square cut orange sapphire. While I did like the color, the crown felt…. Wrong. It was everything I wanted in a crown but it felt cheap and ill-fitting.

‘Exactly what I want, and it’s not good enough. I’ll be damned if that doesn’t describe everything that’s happened so far.’

“I see what Labrum means. I look like I just crawled out of bed,” I mused.

I splashed some water on my face and rubbed my eyes, trying to wake up a little bit. My little break would last as long as I could reasonably make it, but that would not be very long. Especially since I did not have the excuse of actually using the bathroom; changelings only needed to empty their bladder. The plumbing wasn’t equipped to deal with the highly coagulative and cohesive bonding gel that we regurgitated.

The petulant thought of clogging up the toilet anyway brought me a small amount of amusement before I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. My reprieve was cut short when the sound of voices past the door.

Sighing heavily, I pushed away from the sink and opened the door.

“–you in here was a mistake,” a well-dressed gray pegasus was saying as I stepped out of the bathroom.

The mare’s eyes widened in horror when I appeared over the shoulder of my guard, glaring down at the sour pony.

“Is there a problem here?” I asked, my loud words shook the pony as I towered over her, making it quite clear that there weren’t any problems.

“N-no, not at all, Your Majesty!” The noble stammered, hastily bowing before me. “I w-was just, uh….”

“Insulting me,” my lead guard, Praetorian Oestridae himself, offered.

“No! I was… j-just….” The pony stammered.

I snorted, “Shut up. I have neither the time nor inclination to bother with punishing you. Get out of my sight and if I ever hear about you insulting my changelings ever again, there won’t be a next time.”

‘Not that I’ll put in the effort of remembering who you are.’

The pony bowed and backed up, “Yes, Your Majesty! I am sorry, Your Majesty!”

My guards and I watched her leave, before starting on our own journey through the Palace’s hallways.

I turned to Oest, “Some people lack any sense of self-preservation,” I commented. “Did she really just spot you and started slinging insults, Oest?”

Oest grunted, “Yes. It was…. Awkward.”

Another Praetorian piped up, “I do not know how a pony like her has survived the caustic environment of this damned pony-hive.”

I shrugged as I walked– not an easy task for a quadruped, “She’s probably got enough family members or friends in high places– not to mention enough money– to skirt by. Money can’t buy common sense, however.”

“No, it can not,” Oest agreed.

We made the rest of the way to the war chambers in quiet conversation, which ended when we arrived at the guarded doors of the war room. They saluted and opened the doors for me. Oest followed me inside while the rest of my guards took up positions outside.

The war room was pretty small, only containing a large wooden table surrounded by a row of eight chairs on either side and two at the far end. There were some cabinets around the walls, near the large glass windows that overlooked the Palace’s gardens, but I honestly had no idea what they could possibly contain.

The chairs were all occupied save for the two at the far end. The ponies sitting in them were from all four tribes: earth pony, unicorn, pegasus, and thestral. All of them held positions of power and esteem within our newly formed empire. They acknowledged my entry by standing up to attention.

I strode across the room to take up one of the empty seats, “Please, sit,” I commanded them all.

Oestridae took up position in the corner closest to me and stood as still as a statue. As the ponies sat down, one of the thestrals started a conversation with me. She wore a black suit with red interior fabric, a tall collar, and a silk scarf tied around her neck that was pressed down by a gold comet necklace.

“King Phasma,” she greeted me. “I see you actually put some effort into looking presentable today. Did Her Majesty hire hoofmaidens to finally fix your lack of modesty?”

“Elder Sanguine,” I returned the greeting. “I see you’ve found a new cliché vampire outfit to wear. Did you find it buried in a closet, forgotten from when you purchased it centuries ago, or did you see a vampire flic and decide to steal their look?”

Sanguine smiled, “Quite interesting things, these movies are. I did take up your suggestion; I found Nosferatu to be completely enjoyable! I fully intend on finding more like it.”

“I’m sure you are,” I muttered.

“You’re quite lucky, you know,” Sanguine switched topics. “If you were the only one late…”

My ears flattened in annoyance, “I know. Don’t remind me.”

Sanguine gave me an odd look. Much to my discomfort, she didn’t stop staring at me.

“What?” I broke the silence. “What are you looking at?”

“You know,” she whispered, “if you are afr–”

The doors to the room were opened, and all of us rose as my fiancé, the Alicorn of the Moon, strode into the room. The Princess was taller than all the ponies and drones, matching only myself in height. Her purplish-blue armor and its silver embellishments glinted in the torchlight as she stopped and scanned the room. After looking at each of the other ponies in the room, her slitted blue eyes rested on me.

“Moon,” I greeted her.

“Phasma,” she nodded. Then, she acknowledged everyone else in the room, “Sit.”

Nightmare Moon commanded and we obeyed.