• Published 30th Sep 2022
  • 1,917 Views, 174 Comments

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 15

It didn't take long before Ocellus began to see signs of the ancient city. The ruins resembled Zecrin structures they'd seen on their diplomatic visit so far, save for the obvious erosion and decay. They seemed strangely intact, considering how voraciously the rest of the jungle grew. Almost as though something was protecting this part.

They traveled with her chunk of the ancient thronestone open and active, draining the light as they walked. This clearly had a negative effect on the non-changelings present: even entering the jungle and giving up their magic, having the chaotic native power taken away was obviously painful for them.

"Leave it," Sandbar urged, when she stopped to fuss with the container. Of course she didn't have the strength to use her horn or change into something with more dexterity; just because her native magic wasn't being blocked didn't mean she still had it.

The Zecrin Watchers might rule a strange planet with little care for the rights of other creatures, but they had not lied about the dangers of this place. It really had taken their magic away.

"You sure?" she asked. "I can see how much this hurts you."

"Good," Sandbar said flatly. "Look around us. A jungle full of seriously uncool monsters. They like, totally depend on the jungle to make them strong. Now that it's taken away, hopefully they hide and stuff. That makes sense, right?"

"Makes sense to me," Gallus said. He didn't walk with the magic sword already drawn in one claw—but he kept the scabbard close at his side, ready to whip out the weapon within at the first sign of danger. "That's one thing no Zecrin team had before us. They don't have a way to stop magic."

So they walked on, into a yawning doorway only lightly overgrown with vines. They were already relying on human-made headlamps to light their way, since none of the native bioluminescence worked in the presence of the throne stone.

"You think we'll get our magic back when we leave?" Silverstream asked. "I mean—I'm sure my piece of the pearl is fine, but I still feel so... off."

"It came back when Cozy Glow took it all," Ocellus whispered. Before them was a long corridor, the first flat walkway they'd seen in a long time. Unlike the jungle below them, this structure somehow remained flat and stable. "It just had to stop draining us. When we leave this crater, we should heal."

"This is not what angry lizards say," Yona said, not even attempting to keep her voice down. Yet for all her roughness of speech, her movements remained almost supernaturally graceful. She dodged over cracks in the floor and bits of collapsed debris like they weren't even there.

"All who go lose their souls! As though creatures with less magic are less alive! There is so much anger in their heads, they think of nothing else!"

And that's coming from the yak. Their national pass time is breaking things.

"It does seem odd," Gallus admitted. "I've spent some time looking at records for the war. The Stellar Compact has these... big gun things. If they hit a ship, they can make all the magic stop working for a few minutes, kinda like what Cozy did. But it always comes back. Why would this crater be any different?"

They couldn't see it below them, but Ocellus felt it suddenly, reaching out from deep below. It was not a person, or in any way intelligent. This was a powerful self-sustaining thaumic field, exactly like any of their artifacts.

It was strong enough to resist the nullifying effect of the throne stone, even when the rest of the ruins fell magically silent. There was power here, power of a kind she couldn't quite understand.

She pushed the feeling to the back of her mind, that yearning to be the one to hold that power in her own hooves. Clearly the Zecrin who had touched it last had used it terribly, creating this awful crater. But she wouldn't need to repeat their mistakes.

"It's that way," she announced, pointing towards the first stairwell she saw.

"How can you tell?" Smolder asked. She exhaled a little burst of fire into the opening, illuminating a path down overgrown with insect nests. The bugs scattered before the heat and light. Whatever natural defenses they had to turn on attackers, losing their magic had probably nullified them too.

Mostly the bugs just flopped around on the ground, confused and useless. Ocellus couldn't help feeling a little sympathy for them, struggling desperately with their legs in the air.

They would probably poison all her friends if they got the chance—but she knew what that felt like. Sorry little guys.

"The scepter is down there," she said. "I can feel it through the throne stone. Another artifact. Even the Watchers didn't have anything this powerful."

Smolder eyed the ground warily, thick as it was with writhing bugs. "Down we go, then. I can't wait to get my claws all... gooey." She shuddered as she said it, then darted into the gloom.

The others followed, making rapid progress down the stony steps. As they did, the ruin transformed gradually around them. Plain stone became richly adorned, with mother-of-pearl and glittering gold set right into the wall.

The ancient Zecrin favored the same design patterns she'd seen from their modern counterparts, preferring repeating geometric designs along with vividly rendered wild scenes.

There was something strange about the jungle depicted in wall murals, something her mind couldn't quite place. Probably nothing important.

She would've kept going until she sensed the scepter above, then ordered they backtrack—but the steps ended right as she stopped feeling it underneath.

"I think I feel it too," Gallus muttered. He stretched one wing out in the right direction—then squeaked as a pulsing spider landed right across it.

Before Ocellus could blink, he drew the glowing blade, slashing the arachnid’s legs clean off. The dying bug fell to the ground, twitching and spasming in pain.

"Hey!" she snapped. "They're not attacking you. It's just losing their magic confusing them. Just shake it off."

They hurried out another doorway, into a lavishly-decorated passage. This one was the most elaborate they'd seen so far, leading to a gigantic, open doorway about a hundred meters down.

There were so many bodies.

Zecrin lay along the path, dozens of them—maybe hundreds. Most were so badly decomposed she could only guess where they had been from their fallen metal weapons and armor, which had resisted the rot of age far better.

Others seemed frighteningly fresh, with intact scales and flesh that was only just beginning to sag with decomposition. Dark scorch marks were seared into the flesh, like it had spent a few minutes on a BBQ somewhere.

"Previous expeditions," Silverstream said, horrified. "Ha’luu said there were others. I thought they would've all been eaten in the jungle. Some made it."

The Zecrin dead ahead of them varied in many respects—in color, in dress, and in equipment. Some had been naked when they died, while others carried heavy packs of gear that had survived the rot. They had only a single thing in common: they were all facing the same direction.

How could they not? Ocellus felt it, far more powerfully than she had when so much stone blocked the path between. She felt the scepter so strongly that it might as well be a voice in her mind, speaking clearly.

"Take the power to remake the world," it said. "No darkness cannot be brightened, no evil cannot be undone. No pain cannot be healed."

Their goal of uniting the galaxy—that was important, sure. But was it even necessary? With an artifact like this, maybe the Stellar Compact didn't even need the Zecrin’s help. Wielding this power, she could force the Enti to go home. Their fleets would be powerless before Queen Ocellus.

"Ocellus!" shouted a voice. Strangely not a voice enraptured by awed praise to the bug who would save the galaxy. How dare they lay a hoof on her!

"Ocellus!" Someone stood directly in front of her—Sandbar. He met her eyes, expression desperate and afraid. "Ocellus, you're walking right into a trap!"

It took incredible effort to pull her mind away from the Scepter's gravity. It was still there, like an ancient song that never stopped. Its promises of power and all she could do with that power were undimmed.

But she didn't have to face them alone. Yona continued to grip her shoulder with a hoof, holding her irresistibly. It didn't matter how much she wanted to force her way through, she wouldn't be able to overpower a yak.

"Yona thinks the stick is doing something to your thoughts," she said. "Try to forget. Remember why we're here. Remember us—saving the galaxy. Twilight depending on us. Don't you?"

She shook her head. Yet with her friends all around her, she could see they were right.

There was a reason there were so many dead Zecrin ahead of her. Each of them had stepped onto strange metal tiles on the floor. They hummed with energy even now, energy that she might've felt lifting her hair if she had any.

Electricity. Most of the floor ahead of her was covered with it, and the scepter wanted her to walk right into it.

"They all did the same thing she's doing," Smolder said. "Greed overpowered them, and they got themselves killed."

"But how do we get around it?" Gallus asked, frustrated. "Lots of us have wings, but we can't fly."

"Ocellus, are you with us?" Sandbar asked, waving one hoof up and down in front of her face. "We could really use your help planning this out."

She stopped struggling, settling down on her haunches. She turned deliberately to the side, so that she couldn't see into the hallway beyond. Through that open doorway was a throne room, as dark as the rest of the crater. Yet she could see a faint glitter of gold at its center.

She knew what it had to be, just as she knew it was the source of the magic calling to her. But if she wasn't watching it, she could ignore its power. "I'm here," she said. "You're right, it's... there. The Scepter is more powerful than I..." She shuddered. "Once someone has it, this should stop. It wants someone to use it. All that power means nothing if it's trapped inside."

"All these tough creatures came this way and died," Yona said. "But it does not work on us, because of... throne stone?"

Ocellus nodded. "Guess it isn't blocking changeling senses. There's nowhere on Equus like this, with its own ways of interfering with magic. No bug could guess how it would react."

"How do we get from out here to in there?" Sandbar asked. He put himself directly between Ocellus and the hallway. There wasn't any point, of course. With Yona holding her, she wouldn't be making any suicidal dash for the scepter.

"What about down?" Smolder asked. She pointed off to the side, where deep cracks had formed an opening in the floor. They continued towards the throne room, though at a sideways angle. They might not connect, depending on how sharply they turned. "Earthquake opened the floor. Maybe we can use that."

"Not an earthquake," Ocellus whispered. She knew it instantly, just as she knew how much power was waiting in the room beyond, demanding it be used. Did they really have to turn it over to the separatists when they finished here? "This was made when the Emperor used his Scepter. I don't know... why, or how. That Scepter is so powerful, it should've been able to do anything he wanted. Why make a magic-devouring crater?"

"I dunno," Gallus said. "But I can't just sit here, surrounded by old skeletons. This is usually the part of the story where they get up and try to attack us. I say we use Smolder's tunnel. either that, or someone tries to fly."

No one volunteered for that, not even the dragon. Together, they started climbing down into the opening.