• Published 30th Sep 2022
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Diplomatic Solution - Starscribe

Equestria joins the galactic community to discover an bloody eternal war. They resolve to find a solution in the pony way: diplomacy. All the Young Six have to do is negotiate an alliance with violent, xenophobic aliens. What could go wrong?

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Chapter 13

Ocellus took no joy in deceiving others.

There were many—mostly ponies who had been harmed in the ill-fated Canterlot invasion—who still thought that changelings were creatures born of deceit, with no desire towards honesty. She had grown all her life hearing the whispers of her own inherent, irresistible corruption.

Even in the era of spaceflight, she knew there were still some creatures back home who would always see her that way. It would take generations for those old views of changelings as love-devouring parasites to finally die.

As the Fortuna touched down for the second time on the Zecrin homeworld, Ocellus felt no satisfaction in their successful deception. Even with a close, personal view of their escort, feeling his transition from frustration to disbelief, then finally to betrayal, she felt only calm

When the universe needed her to lie a little to save a whole civilization, she could still manage it. Barely.

"I'll grab our stuff," Gallus said, rising from one of the deceleration chairs, and vanishing out the open door into the hallway beyond.

"Looks like we found somewhere safe!" came Silverstream's voice, over the ship-wide radio. "Outside is a little scorched, maybe from earlier ships. Matches the description we were given of the Halidom."

"You were... given," Ha’luu repeated. He rose from his own chair, shaking himself out with visible discomfort. The seats weren't carefully molded to a single body as on a human vessel—pony ships might have a wide variety of different species aboard.

Even so, none of them had quite anticipated something with his body plan. Dragons were close, but also so tough that the couch was basically unnecessary.

Ha’luu looked nothing like so tough. He wobbled when he stood, stretching that long, thick tail. "This was no accident. You intended to come... where, exactly?"

He made his way to one of the external windows, staring out at the jungle.

Ocellus followed, though not so closely as she might have to a pony or a human. She couldn't feel Ha’luu's emotions with anything close to the same level of detail as a more familiar species. Even what she could sense didn't necessarily combine into a coherent picture.

Would the dinosaur-alien react with aggression? Would he be humble? Or would he try to murder every member of the expedition?

Ocellus couldn't tell the alien planet apart at a glance, it looked basically like jungle to her, with purple bioluminescence visible on the edges of leaves and stems.

"This is the Accursed Crater, grave of the Final Emperor," he looked back, eyes wide. "Watchers’ name and stars sake, why would you come here?"

No reason trying to hide it anymore. "I'm sorry you had to ride along for this, Ha’luu," Ocellus said. "I'm afraid your next few days might be quite uneventful. You'll need to wait aboard our ship while we travel down into the crater and retrieve the scepter."

In that instant, Ocellus learned something else about the reptilian Zecrin; they could feel surprise.

Ha’luu's mouth hung open, exposing both rows of razor-sharp teeth. Yet he didn't lunge for her, he just stared, utterly baffled. "You crossed the galaxy..." he finally said. "You risked the wrath of our fleets, and appeared before the Watchers... all to let your souls burn away in the fire of chaotic magic?"

"Ocellus, we need you!" Gallus called, from just down the hall. "No one else can touch this thing without setting it off. You should carry it."

She kept her eyes on Ha’luu, and began backing away from him. The sooner they got moving, the less likely she would be to abandon this risky plan and leave saving the galaxy to someone else.

"We don't intend to rule over you," she said. "Only to prove a point. The Stellar Compact needs you—but before it can have you, Zecrin need to see that creatures without magic are no less significant than those who have it. Our planet had to learn this lesson too. When all our magic got briefly taken away, we saw that friendship continued. Its power was stronger than anything stolen from us. That's the power we'll use to find the scepter, and the power that will unite the Stellar Compact to fight off the Enti."

Ha’luu shook his head. "You've lost your minds, visitors. Whoever told you that there was any success possible in the crater, they filled your head with lies."

She kept backing away, into the hall. She turned the corner another moment later, and hurried through to the armory.

When they set off on this diplomatic mission, Ocellus doubted they would even need to enter this room. When visiting the planet of a previous hostile alien race, there was little reason to expect a few guns and some armor would make a difference.

Even so, Equestria had given them the best. Princess Twilight Sparkle was not a pony to leave things to chance.

Equestria was well on its way to developing powered-armor designs, like those used by the marines of other Stellar Compact races. The clothing arrayed here was simpler than that, really just knife-proof fabric with some light ballistic plates over vital areas, along with helmets full of sensors.

There were weapons too, both bladed and projectile, with which her friends had almost no experience. They could dress up like marines, but that would not make them into fighters.

On the other hoof, Gallus had already rotated the hidden storage compartment out of the wall, displaying its contents for them all to see. All but one of the strange objects was already removed from its foam casing.

Each race of Equus had contributed something to this mission, a powerful artifact that might serve as proof of power, useful tool in negotiations, or maybe even bargaining currency.

As she stepped inside, she heard the glide of metal on metal as Gallus slid the huge sword into its scabbard, set along his back. A strange curved grip emerged, one equally suited to claw or beak. That was the enchanted weapon ponies affectionately nicknamed "Excalibird", not a name the griffons seemed to appreciate.

Smolder had her own object, one classified by ponies as "dark magic." Just looking at the stone directly had a strange effect on the mind, far stronger if one happened to be a dragon. Hence it was wrapped in a thin layer of dark cloth, one that concealed all but its basic shape.

Sandbar's own object wasn't just one item, but six. The ponies wouldn't say so, but Ocellus suspected it was the equal of the others combined—the Elements. No group of total strangers could wield them, but of course they weren't. There were many reasons this particular group had been chosen.

Sandbar wore them in a tight satchel, not visibly different from a pair of saddlebags. But Ocellus could feel the power radiating from within even while it was closed. There was no telling just what the object was capable of, if they had to release the power contained within.

Maybe nothing. Maybe rewriting an entire planet.

Yona's tribe were not a particularly magical folk, and had not contributed anything of such power to this expedition. Instead, they had extracted an ancient favor from the zebras. She wore a strange piece of curved metal wrapped around one of her forelegs, banded of two separate materials that gave it stripes. A large diamond was set into the center, itself striated with imperfections.

Ocellus could not feel anything from the artifact, not at this distance. It was the only one of these objects that only affected its wearer.

Ocellus was not surprised to hear Ha’luu follow her in.

"Listen, all of you. This course is dangerous beyond anything you've considered. I do not know what strange things you have experienced on worlds outside this one, but they have not prepared you for what lies beyond.

"The Accursed Crater contains an artifact of unrivaled power and significance to all Zecrin, you clearly know that. Have you not stopped to think why such an object would not be recovered, given that?

"Many, many attempts have been made. All possible resources have been expended, short of making some infernal pact with soulless beings to retrieve it. Many lives have been spent in this futile endeavor. There isn't a young Zecrin on all Kavaal who does not dream of discovering the secret resting-place of that scepter, and uniting Zecrin. Of ending the period of custodians and stewards.

"But that is simply not possible. There is nothing waiting for you in that crater other than a painful death. Even worse, your souls will not leave to join the chorus that waits within the core of all creation. You will be destroyed utterly, erased as though you had been born an automaton. It would be better that you were born one of the cursed beings that wander this planet, for at least they live in ignorance of what they lack. You would not even have that."

"Don't you get it?" Gallus asked, stomping over to the unarmored ambassador. Maybe all that thick plating made him feel braver—more likely, it was the sword on his back. "We don't agree with your religion. Equus has all kinds of creatures living on it. Some have almost no magic, others have a ton. We don't measure how alive someone is by how many spells they can cast!"

"And we're going to prove it," Silverstream said. She hurried past them through the doorway, over to her armor. There were no artifacts for her to grab—unlike the others, her people relied far too heavily on their object to let it leave the planet.

Besides, if they failed here, the Pearl of Transformation might be the galaxy's only hope to stop the Enti. But that line of research hadn't been one shared with her, so she wouldn’t speculate on it.

Instead, Ocellus made her way to the case, then levitated the object contained within.

It was a sphere of many layers, at least a dozen levels of transparent mesh that sparked and hissed with electrical energy. That was something humans had built for them, all to allow her to bring this object along.

Trapped inside was a chunk of anomalous black stone, suspended over the mesh without touching any of its sides. All she had to do was rotate these layers, and she would release its effects, nullifying any magic that did not come from a changeling.

Humans had been able to handle it without any effect, and produce this little cage. With it, she could carry it around other magical races, without causing the otherwise debilitating symptoms of an antimagic field.

Ocellus dressed in her own armor, then slung the object carefully into her saddlebags. It would either be the most useful thing they had brought, or the most worthless. They would soon find out.

"I can't let you leave," Ambassador Ha’luu finally said, stepping in front of the doorway. "I would be held responsible for your deaths. You've come to our planet as our guests. You deserve protection. Whatever, whoever persuaded you into this self-destructive course... can't be allowed to destroy our peace before it even begins."

"But you can't stop us," Ocellus said matter-of-factly. "Your doctrine forbids one magical race to harm another, doesn't it? You would have to attack us—even if you won, you would be doing an even greater harm to the peace."

The lizard rocked violently back on his sharp claws, shuffling in his elaborate robes. She felt his anger boiling over—was he about to attack? His mind spun with strange plans, but in the end, he only slumped to one knee, stepping aside.

"Once you step into that crater, you will not return as people any longer. If you survive long enough to flee, you will return as chattel, soulless beings. We could not send you back to your home in such a sorry state."

"Unless we have the scepter," Gallus said flatly. "Then we'll prove you wrong. And Zecrin all over your empire will have to admit that creatures without any magic can still have souls. Or... be significant, or however you say it."

He slumped into a nearby chair. "Go then. If you're determined to die, you are correct. I cannot stop you."