• 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 8

The next few hours were a blessed relief from the pressure of their initial landing. Whatever else might be said for the proclamations of the Zecrin, they respected their own laws. Her group was treated with dignity, led to comfortable quarters near the periphery of the great pyramid.

More precisely, they were led to what Ocellus had to conclude the Zecrin saw as luxury quarters. A single huge room, with domed walls covered in a magical illusion that projected a wild jungle environment. An actual stream ran through the room, and the ground was covered in soil filled with living plants. They coated the walls too, crowding towards a round skylight in the center.

There was some furniture scattered amidst all this—a stone table surrounded by overgrown chairs, a soft patch of slightly sunken mosses that Ocellus took to be a sheltered sleeping spot.

"All can be controlled from here," said the priest leading them, directing them to a stone pillar near the center of the room. Crystal sunken into its surface thrummed with subtle magical power. "Change the time of day, begin rain or a tropical storm. Raise or lower the humidity. For the health of the plants, the room will return to normal when it is not occupied."

"That's amazing." Sandbar crowded close to her, staring at the crystals. "Like a unicorn palace. But why are we outside?"

The priest looked at him like their translation spell had just failed. "Outside? You give a fine complement to our illusionists, but I assure you we’re still within the great pyramid." He bent down, scooping up a pebble with his claws. Still terrifyingly sharp, despite his ceremonial role.

He tossed it hard off into the distance, and it struck something. The wall rippled, and distant forest seemed to fuzz for a second, revealing stone beneath. "You are not outside. There will be no intrusions here, no conflict over prey. In fact, I'm told the kitchen has a delivery waiting just outside. I'll have it sent in when I depart."

Gallus nodded exaggeratedly. "Sounds fantastic. Do we need anything else from him, Ocellus? I could use some time to settle down."

"Why is the inside outside?” Yona interrupted, impatient. "Not even yurt to keep off the sun here. Where is sleeping spot? Yakyakistan understand how to build proper home. This is worse than ponies."

The priest's head twitched slightly towards her. Those black eyes just got deeper. But Ocellus couldn't read any emotion behind them. No anger, at least. "Those with significance understand the magic that permeates all life," he said. "It compels us to live alongside that life, and not to build anything that would elevate us above that life."

"I'm sure we can talk more about our customs later," Ocellus said. "If we want to arrange another diplomatic meeting, will that be allowed?"

"Yes, yes." Ha’luu flicked his claws through the air dismissively. "Tomorrow, tomorrow. Not with the Watchers—you should have a representative chosen by then. Any messages you have will go through them."

Great. Ocellus had at least appreciated the simplicity of the Zecrin way of doing things. Fly in, go directly to the capital, talk to the people in charge. But apparently that was a luxury they would only experience once.

"Thanks for your help," Silverstream said. "And for such a... friendly welcome! It's good to meet new creatures!"

Ha’luu seemed to take that as a dismissal. He bobbed his head in acknowledgement, maybe something like a nod. "There will be guards at your door, for your own protection. You are not prisoners, however. Ask, and you will be taken anywhere you are permitted to go. This includes returning to your vessel, if you desire. But we hope you will choose to stay long enough to get to know each other better."

"We will," Ocellus promised. "We're not going to leave right away."

"Good, good." He turned, then hurried through the simulated jungle, and out a doorway from the room.

No sooner had he vanished than a pair of creatures appeared, carrying a heavy tray of food between them. They wore only golden bands around their necks, and simple cloth wraps for privacy.

They were also humans.

Ocellus and the others stared openly as they walked in. She could feel almost nothing from the group, heads downcast and expressions furiously focused on their work. What she could feel did not suggest sanity. She saw fractured, fragmentary emotions, poisoned with frequent recollections of terrible memory.

"Hi!" Silverstream said, as they set the tray down on the stone table before them. "How's life in the pyramid?"

The two humans—both mature males, though Ocellus could read no more specifically than that—instantly dropped into low bows. They didn't speak, however.

Seconds passed in silence. Ocellus and the others exchanged a few pained looks. The terror Ocellus felt from these poor creatures grew more intense. Had they displeased these guests simply by bringing them food? It started hurting her just being close to it.

"You can go!" she said, gesturing towards the door. "Thank you for delivering to us. We're satisfied with your service."

She'd never seen humans run so fast, vanishing out the door before anyone had a chance to open their mouth.

Only when the door was shut did anyone speak.

"What are they doing here?" Sandbar asked. "I thought everypony said they... blew up the ships that came trying to make friends."

"Maybe they teleported people off first," Ocellus guessed, staring back at the door. Even Gallus hadn't moved to investigate the overflowing tray of food. The mixture of strange smells just didn't reach her stomach the way it had before.

It was hard to enjoy something brought to her on the backs of a slave. "This is what we're fighting," Smolder said, little wisps of flame drifting from her mouth. Anger radiated from her strongly enough to make nearby plants wilt. "They could come to Equus next. Put collars on our friends."

She clawed at the ground, lowering her voice to a whisper. "We should leave, Ocellus. Tell the princess that there's no one worth talking to here. We picked the right side in this war."

Part of Ocellus wanted to agree. There was a time not too long ago, when changelings had labored under a queen who treated them much the same way. Disposable lives insignificant. Only the survival of the swarm mattered.

"Friendship isn't something everypony understands at first," Sandbar whispered. "Sometimes you have to learn. Someone taught the Zecrin that only creatures with magic matter."

"We could try talking to the Enti," Gallus said absently. "They've got creatures here too, the Watchers said so. Maybe we could get them to give up the war. Everyone could make friends, and leave this jungle alone."

It was an alluring idea, though Ocellus had her doubts. Considering how hard the humans had worked to make friends with Equestria, she couldn't think that the Enti wouldn't be given the same attention. They did talk to creatures from outside, to tell them that they were the rightful rulers of the galaxy and would take all they saw for themselves.

They ate in subdued silence, gathered around a tray of strange food. Over half of it was meat, leaving several members of the group to pick at the leaves and decorative vegetables used as garnish.

Ocellus tried it, doing her very best not to think of what creature the meat had been taken from. Besides, Yona and Sandbar needed everything they could get. Sandbar at least had tried the purple foliage of the jungle all around them, and spat it out in disgust.

When they were done, she called him over, gesturing at his saddlebags. "We need to send a scroll to the princess. We delivered our message, and they didn't like it. Now we see what she wants us to do."

"Yeah." Sandbar took the dragonfire scroll along with a human-made ballpoint pen, settling them both down in front of Ocellus. No one else seemed eager to write this message, though they all watched.

She took the pen grimly in her magic, and began writing. She used a code, just in case there was some way for the Zecrin to intercept a message sent by dragonfire. Under the cyphers, she wrote:

"Princess,

We arrived safely on the Zecrin homeworld and delivered your message. They saw the request for a formal non-aggression agreement as an insult to their doctrine, which requires all magical races treat each other peacefully.

This means we failed, though if they obey this doctrine Equestria has nothing to worry about so long as we do not attack them.

I don't know what to do. The Zecrin do not seem very open to accepting other creatures as their friends. They enslave nonmagical races here in their capital, either human survivors or their descendants. Even some of their own people appear enslaved, or else treated so badly there's no difference.

I don't know how to make friends with creatures like this. I'm not sure if they'll be willing to help us keep the galaxy safe from the Enti. They even have an embassy right here in their capital. Is that something you do with someone you're going to go to war with?

Please tell us what to do,

Ocellus"

She rolled up the scroll, before turning awkwardly to Smolder, and holding it out in her magic. "You mind sending this?"

Smolder took it in one claw, tossing it up and down. She didn't even bother unrolling it to read it, and hadn't been watching Ocellus scribble. "You think Equus will keep us here?"

She looked away. "I told them I didn't think we could do it."

"Good." Smolder exhaled a breath of flame onto the scroll, which vanished in a shower of sparks before them.

"Guess the pressure's off us then," Silverstream said. "We did what we came for. Saw a really cool pyramid full of magic, talked to some scary creatures. Then we go home, after we did our best."

They spent the next few hours decompressing after their difficult day. They could only do so much to make a patch of jungle feel like home, but they cleared away branches and piled them into a single wall for privacy around the sleeping spot. At least ponies weren't like humans, they wouldn't mind some communal sleeping if they had to.

Without clear direction of what to do next, no one tried to leave their little prison. Ocellus turned over what she would tell their new official representative, particularly if Twilight told them to go home. They'd need a way to exit this gracefully. Maybe they could invite the Zecrin to build an embassy on Equus and call it a success.

Without intervention from them, the lights dimmed at what she guessed was about nighttime. The jungle continued to glow, a ceaseless purple bioluminescence that pulsed with its own magical rhythm.

The Zecrin might be monsters, but there might be some truth to what they said about magic on their homeworld. Nature overflowed with power here. Was this what led them to think that nothing could be alive without it?

Whatever the native power was, Ocellus barely felt it touch her mind. It was like trying to feed on a negative emotion—power in its own right, but not one she knew how to harness.

Even with her friends beside her in the leaves, she tossed and turned, wishing very much for the human-designed silky blankets on their starship. She'd hung them from the wall into a nice hammock, and almost felt like she was safe in one of the hive's caverns. Who knew what eyes could be watching her from the jungle?

"Hey." Smolder nudged her with a claw, early in the morning. The dragon clasped something, something Ocellus was expecting. Another dragonfire scroll, one stamped with a soft wax seal.

Ocellus rose, already fully awake. She shook it out, drawing some groans and motion from those who were still asleep. Yona kept snoring, as loud as a passing train.

"My Faithful Students,

Since joining with the Compact, I have gained access to tactical information humans were reluctant to share with Equestria before.

If nothing changes in this war, there is nothing Equestria can do. Everything they do is a delaying tactic, buying time for some future innovation they don't think they'll make.

Without a radical shift, the Stellar Compact will lose this war within the century. Equestria will share its talented wizards and scientists, but I don't know if it will be enough.

You must make peace with the Zecrin, and bring them into the Stellar Compact. They have powerful magical ships, the kind that the Compact needs to hold against invasion.

Ten thousand different species are depending on us, and I am depending on you.

You have the full friendship and support of Equestria to make whatever promises we can keep.

Whatever you have to do, make friends.

Princess Twilight Sparkle"