Rise of the Phoenix Empire

by kudzuhaiku

First published

Set after the events of 'The Alicorn Academy' this story tells the tale of the rebirth of Equestria, Out of the flames and ashes comes new life.

Hoodwink, Minerva, Ivy, and Brimstone return in this story. The Crystal Empire has been sacked, the enemy has control of the Crystal Heart and the love that it radiates, and those within the Crystal Empire are feared lost.

Can four foals make a difference?

Reading Mail Order Orphan and the Alicorn Academy are very much encouraged. Otherwise, you might be a little lost.

Chapter 1

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A large fierce creature prowled the Everfree. Long, serpentine, it moved from tree to tree effortlessly, swinging between branches, sometimes gliding through wide open spaces, never touching the ground. It moved swiftly, carefully, an arboreal creature. After some time, it stopped, high in the trees, hanging from a long serpentine tail many many times the length of its body. It paused, looking down at a village nestled in a small clearing found within the woods.

The creature’s name was Climbing Ivy, this was her wood, and she was the master of all things found within. The wood was given to her, by Princess Celestia herself, so that Ivy might heal it. The wood had become Ivy’s demesne. Her domain. The Everfree was now a fiefdom found within the Phoenix Empire. Ivy had healed many of the trees, drawing out the magical poison that had tainted them, and earth ponies worked to restore the ground. Like those earth ponies that Ivy was now watching, counting, carefully pointing to each with one wicked looking claw. Earth pony hooves had magic in much the same way unicorn horns did, and the earth ponies were Ivy’s greatest resource, her greatest treasure, her most valuable asset in her entire domain.

Save one thing, which Ivy hoarded entirely to herself and did not share.

At the edge of the village, lying along the treeline, was an immense green dragon. Ivy watched it for some time, and then ran down the broad tree trunk without ever once slipping.

Ivy dropped from her tree and landed gently upon the dragon’s back. She carefully made her way up the immense creature’s spine, gently avoided a scarred over stub that had once been a wing, and continued to tiptoe up the sprawled out creature’s neck.

“Hello Jadefire.” Ivy said, gently roosting upon the dragon’s broad head, looking down at the eyeless blind dragon with a withered mutilated face. “Are you in much pain dear friend?” Ivy said, her voice full of concern. Ivy’s tail coiled lovingly around one of the dragon’s pitted horns.

“The pain isn’t so bad.” Jadefire said in a smoky grumble, through cracked and split lips, his mouth one gaping slash in a faceful of scars.

“You are a terrible liar friend.” Ivy said, gently patting the dragon’s head. “One dragon.” She counted.

“Bad enough I’m crippled, but to be counted as part of your hoard?” Jadefire groaned.

“Cheer up Jadefire. Zecora will be by soon with something to help you feel better and to dull the pain. And the foals need you.” Ivy carefully checked over the dragon, examining his face, checking for scale growth as she spoke.

“And now I am a playground for foals.” The dragon muttered.

“You love those foals. If something was to harm one hair in their manes…”

“I would rip them limb from limb!” The dragon interrupted with sudden violence, remaining wing fluttering, three remaining legs now twitching.

“Be calm Jadefire. Please, keep my ponies and foals safe.” Ivy said, her voice somewhat musical.

“Till the end of my days, and long after you are gone Ivy.” The dragon said, settling down somewhat. “I have a special lesson planned today for school.” Jadefire said, smoke pouring from his maw.

“Do you now?” Ivy asked, looking curious.

“Today I plan to teach the foals why we are now called the Phoenix Empire. In detail.” Jadefire said. “And all those who made sacrifices so Equestria could rise again from the ashes.”

Ivy looked sad, her emotions flooding her features suddenly, her always fickle and sometimes chaotic emotions that shifted so quickly from one mood to the next.

“Like you, dear friend. They will see. And know.” Ivy said, once again gently patting the dragon upon its head. “I must go. The count must continue. I must make sure that all are safe and accounted for within my wood. And today is a special day.” Ivy said, smiling broadly, multiple rows of teeth visible.

A zebra stood nearby, watching the two dragons, one immense, and one not so immense. As she watched, Ivy leapt from the dragon’s head, spread her mismatched wings, and soared to a nearby trunk, colliding with a loud thump. She scurried up the trunk and was gone in seconds, vanishing from view.

Elsewhere, at the edge of the wood, a tall graceful figure stood on the edge of a path. She appeared to be made out of crystal, a unicorn, with an odd horn. A crystal horn, triangle shaped instead of round, long, slightly curving, with a strange split at the end that formed into two tips. She stood, paused, waiting, as the wood around her moved and things crashed through the underbrush.

Four large timberwolves came into view, two on each side of the path, watching her. They were immense, frightful looking creatures, big enough to gobble a pony in just a bite or two. Wolves made from wood and leaves.

Minerva Silvermane watched the wolves, feeling slightly irritated. Ivy’s hounds unnerved her. Sure, they watched the wood and obeyed her every command, and were completely harmless to ponies, but they were still rather scary. Much like Hoodwink’s statues.

“Shoo!” Minerva said to the wolves, hoping they would go away.

One wolf approached her, the sound of wood creaking as it walked, leaves rustling, large paws thudding against the earth. When it stood in front of her, it flopped over and presented its belly, looking up at her hopefully, waiting.

Minerva Silvermane snorted in irritation as she had to scratch the wolf’s belly. It was the price of admission it seemed.

Deep within the wood, Ivy moved along the treetops, along the edge of a water filled crater. It was vast. The trees here had been especially sick, many weeping blood. Ivy had restored them. The land, once a blister upon the wood, filled with bad magic, was peaceful. Calm. Serene. Ducks filled the lake. And it had been stocked with fish.

There was another dragon she had to deal with, and she was mildly irritated.

Eventually, she came to a clump of rocks not to far from the lake, scanning the ground below, looking for an annoying troublemaker. It didn’t take long, she saw her target, close by, sunning himself on a long fallen log.

She leapt from the tree and landed on the ground, her tail slashing, frowning. She hurried over to the sunning dragon to give him a much needed piece of her mind.

“Snaggle!” Ivy shouted.

The dragon was more than three times Ivy’s size. It rose from the log in a genuine panic, cringing, falling from the log, crashing down into the ground, where it cowered. Snaggle was red and yellow, the colour of a bed of coals.

“Snaggle! You shame your shell! You spooked my ponies! What were you thinking?” Ivy scolded.

Snaggle rolled over on his back, supine, showing his throat, tilting his head back. He cowered. His claws trembled and his lip quivered. He closed his eyes and curled his long tail up over his broad chest.

“I’m sorry.” Snaggle pleaded. “I didn’t mean to spook anypony. I just wanted to be a chicken.”

“What?” Ivy said, suddenly more confused than angry.

“I wanted to be a chicken.” Snaggle repeated. “I saw the chickens in the village and it looked like they were having fun. So I thought I’d join them, running around, clucking, and flapping my wings. And bobbing my head. Like the chickens do.”

Ivy scowled. “A chicken?” She said incredulously.

“Being a chicken looks like more fun than being a dragon.” Snaggle said in a very low voice.

“Snaggle,” Ivy began, “I don’t know what goes through your mind, but you have to think before you act. I can’t even imagine what a dragon your size running around and acting like a chicken might look like, but it scared the villagers something awful. And your wings! You did damage.”

The dragon began to sob pitifully and Ivy’s demeanour softened slightly.

“I’m so sorry, please don’t banish me.” Snaggle begged. “I don’t belong anywhere else. Other dragons hate me.”

Ivy sat up, balanced on her haunches, feeling a twinge of pity for the juvenile dragon. “Jadefire doesn’t hate you.” Ivy said, her tone now one of comfort.

“Yes he does.” Snaggle retorted.

“No. He does not. Jadefire becomes irritated with you when you do stupid things. Like pretending you are a chicken.” Ivy reached up and scratched an antler. “You have one dragon that tries to be patient with you and accept you for what you are. Do not continue to try his patience.”

The large juvenile dragon sniffled, snorting smoke. “Thank you for taking me in. I’ll try to not be so stupid.” The dragon promised, still sobbing softly.

Ivy moved forward, reached out, and patted the dragon lightly on its exposed throat. “Two dragons.” Ivy counted.

“I’m still your trinket?” Snaggle asked, his voice hopeful.

“I never throw out my valuables.” Ivy said. “The count must remain the same or go up. But never down. Not allowed.” Ivy said.

“Thanks Ivy.” Snaggle said. “I’ll go and apologise in a few days, when the ponies aren’t so angry with me.”

Minerva walked the familiar path along the wood, feeling the breeze, watching the sunlight filter through the branches. She saw faces occasionally in the in the brush, along the trees, earth ponies working industriously, planting new growth, tending old growth, and reconditioning the soil with each hoofstep. Along the path, some of the trees had been shaped, with inviting open hollows just big enough for a pony to crawl inside and rest, to take shelter from storms, or to simply crawl in for a nap. The trees obeyed Ivy’s whims, grew under the touch of her guiding claws, and the nooks and hollows added to the warm sense of invitation the Everfree now had. Ivy could shape wood in much the same way that her father, Discord, could shape clay, Minerva mused. Ivy had tamed much of the Everfree, and each day, she reclaimed a little more, obeying Celestia’s wishes, as well as fulfilling her own whims.

Minerva saw foals in the distance, darting through the trees and underbrush, giggling, playing, safe. She thought of her own time as a foal, those tumultuous times, the times she had found her friends, and, more importantly, found her self. Ivy’s wood was full of orphans. It was the price of living here, in this wood, this shelter, this place of safety and abundant food, and all a pony had to do was look after Ivy’s growing hoard of little tiny ponies. One ran out on to the road in front of her, a little filly foal, looking up at her, the foal’s face full of curiousity.”

“Hi.” The foal said shyly. “I’m Thicket. You’re pretty.”

“Thank you Thicket.” Minerva said warmly. “You are very beautiful as well.”

“You’re the librarian of Ponyville I think.” Thicket said.

Minerva nodded.

“You took over for Twilight Sparkle.” Thicket added.

There were cries from the treeline.

“I gotta go!” Thicket said. “I can read now. Maybe I’ll come and check out some books.”

“That would be nice Thicket.” Minerva said as the foal ran off.

Minerva continued forward, watching the darting foals, wishing that she could join them in their game, whatever it was they were playing. But she was expected, so she continued onward, through the winding wood, into the heart of Ivy’s domain.

It wasn’t long until she picked up on a familiar smell. Rotten eggs. She inhaled deeply, treasuring the rancid stink, feeling sentimental. Sure, she had only been gone for a few weeks, but she still missed her friend and loved him dearly. And she knew he was nearby. She hurried forward, towards the smell.

Minerva froze in awe, as she always did, upon seeing Ivy’s home. A dozen trees had been woven together, braided, entwined with one another in a fond embrace, Ivy’s magic melding them together, shaping them like clay, creating rooms, nooks, hollows, walkways, stairs, balconies, everything that a house was, all shaped from the intertwined trees.

A tall dingy yellow unicorn with a pea soup coloured mane walked towards her, a broad smile upon his face.

“Brimstone!” Minerva said, smiling, her heart filling with joy. She trotted forward with almost a fillyish sense of glee, a faint giggle escaping her mouth.

Brimstone kissed her warmly on the cheek and then stood, looking at her.

“So glad you made it Minerva. Welcome. I’m so glad to see you.” Brimstone said, his crimson eyes glittering.

Minerva couldn’t help but notice that the anger that Brimstone always had as a colt was gone. He had grown up and matured, and was now a happy well adjusted unicorn. Well, as well adjusted as any of them could be after everything that had happened, but Brimstone was happy. And for good reason…

“Where is Ivy?” Minerva asked.

“Off counting.” Brimstone said.

“Oh.” Minerva said with disappointment.

Elsewhere in the wood, Ivy swung through the trees, leaping from branch to branch, moving with graceful speed, in a hurry home. Time had slipped out of her claws again. She moved with purpose, never missing a step, never slipping, never falling.

These were her woods. She knew them well.

She stopped when her home became visible. She saw two figures down below, way down below, both of them ponies that Ivy loved. Ivy began to run down the tree, silently, claws not making a single sound as ran down the trunk. She eased her body out on to a branch, careful to not make a sound, as silent as could be while hunting her prey. She dangled down by one hind leg, her claws wrapping around the branch, and stifled a giggle as her tail shot downward…

Brimstone smiled at Minerva, his smile more of a smirk. He said nothing, and kept eye contact.

Minerva shrieked as something snaked around her barrel, writhed around her body, coiling all around her, and then snatched her violently upwards. She was a large solid adult unicorn mare, and she was lifted and carried away quite suddenly, much like dandelion fluff in the breeze. Her cry echoed through the woods.

“One crystal unicorn!” Ivy counted, pulling Minerva up and clutching her close to her body, squeezing.

Minerva struggled to breathe, feeling Ivy constrict all around her in a very predatory hug. It intensified, feeling like at any moment Minerva’s bones would become jelly. Just when she thought she couldn’t take a second more, Ivy’s coils relaxed. Minerva sucked in some much needed air. “Ivy!” She gasped.

Brimstone stood chuckling down below, his chuckles ceasing suddenly when Ivy’s tail snatched him as well.

Ivy clutched them both in her grasp, squeezing them, rubbing her cheek against them, feeling them against her skin. She loved them both dearly. She hung by one clawed foot still, not struggling in the slightest to hold up her weight and the weight of two full grown unicorns.

“One delicious smelling unicorn.” Ivy counted.

As the three hung in the tree together, Minerva remembered another time that they had huddled together, clinging to one another for comfort and strength.

Chapter 3

Minerva could not believe what she had just heard. She sat there, clinging to Ivy for support, her mind reeling, tears stinging her eyes. Ivy hugged her as tight as she dared, both of them clutching wildly at one another. After a moment, there was another pair of forelegs in the hug, and then another.

The four foals huddled together, none of them believing what they had heard.

Celestia and Luna stood close by, stunned looks still upon their faces.

“What about Sparky?” Ivy begged, reverting to the private nickname for her teacher in her inconsolable state.

Celestia choked, unable to reply.

Luna cleared her throat. “We must assume that Twilight is lost to us, as is the Crystal Empire. Twilight is in a fragile state. I doubt the changelings would allow her to live, given all that has happened.”

Ivy let out a shriek that shattered every window in the chamber, causing her companions to fall away from her, clutching their ears. She fell to the floor and lay limply, sobbing, consumed with grief.

Luna stumbled forward, lacking her usual grace, and collapsed onto the ground next to Ivy, pulling her close. She felt three other foals crawling over and clinging to her for comfort. Luna lay, there, in shock, unable to say or do much else. Ivy squirmed within her grasp, reaching out, and pulling Brimstone close to her. She lay on the floor with the foals, blinking, feeling their grief.

Celestia raised her head. “I am sorry sister, but we have work to do. We must marshal our forces and reclaim what is ours. Time is of the essence. Perhaps things are not as bad as we feared.” Celestia’s voice wavered, she was stricken, filled with rage and sorrow at everything that was transpiring. Strange magic swirled along her horn, not the usual golden glow, and a faint green haze began to drift from her eyes.

“Yes.” Luna said. “Yes, there still may be time. Shining Armor is resourceful.” Luna said, more for the foal’s benefit rather than her own. She fostered no hope in her breast, fearing the worst. She rose, unsteady.

“The guard are assembled your Majesties.” A pegasus said, his feathered wings fluttering. “We are ready. We have a contingent of unicorns ready with wing spells as well. Canterlot will be left well defended, we go forward with two thousand troops, one thousand of which are lunar pegasi.”

Luna looked up at Savage, Nightfisher’s mother. “Guard my students.” Luna said.

“Of course, my Mistress.” Savage said in a throaty rumble. “My life for them.”

Luna nodded. She looked down at Brimstone. “I love you Brimstone.” Luna said. “And you as well Ivy. Keep each other safe. I love each and every one of you, and I am proud to have you as my students.”

Celestia could spare no such platitudes and remained silent. She strode from the chamber, leaving her throne room, saying nothing at all, trailing wisps of purple green smoke from her eyes.

“Celestia is hurt beyond measure.” Luna explained. “When we return, I will have her apologise to all of you. I know that she loves you. Please forgive her.”

And with that, Luna turned and left, leaving the foals clutching to one another, trembling, full of fear and anguish.

“Stay safe mother.” Brimstone said, his voice faltering, as Luna departed.

“That was dark magic.” Minerva said, her voice faint, and full of fear.

The companions sat in silence, still huddled, a breeze flowing through the chamber now that the windows were gone.

After quite some time, they had recovered a bit, still close, now in their room. The room had changed slightly. There were now four beds. Brimstone’s cubby had been emptied. The Twilight stuffy paced the table, watching the foals, seeming concerned.

Brimstone kissed Ivy lightly on the cheek and tried to console her. She lay limp his in forelegs, her head against the table, her tail coiled tightly around his body.

“What if they come here? While Celestia and Luna are gone?” Minerva said, saying what everypony was thinking.

“The guard will protect the city.” Brimstone said.

“I will protect the city.” Hoodwink said, her voice cracking with sudden anger. “I will find a way. I will do something.” She spat and sputtered as she spoke.

“Anger won't help us now.” Minerva said gently. “Look what it did to Celestia.”

Hoodwink hung her head, looking ashamed. Minerva hugged her.

“I want my mama.” Ivy said. “And my daddy.”

“I think we all do.” Minerva said in a comforting tone.

“I don’t know where my mother is.” Hoodwink said. “I hope she is safe.”

Minerva rose, needing fresh air. She went towards the balcony. She peered through the window, looking down. She gasped.

Brimstone winced.

“Ponyville is burning. I can see it from here.” Minerva said, her voice small and scared. She looked down at town, far below Canterlot. A lurid orange glow rose into the night.

“No!” Ivy begged. “The other Elements. Celestia and Luna are gone. Where are the guard?”

“I dunno, I can’t see anything like that. Just the orange glow.” Minerva said, her voice almost a sob.

Ivy squealed in panic and frustration, writhing in Brimstone’s forelegs.

“Enough of this.” Hoodwink said, her voice oddly calm and collected. She rose to her feet. She cleared her throat, closed her eyes for a moment, composed herself, and then reopened her eyes. “Minerva. Can you get us to Ponyville through a door?”

“I don’t know.” Minerva said.

“Yes or no.” Hoodwink said, asserting control.

“Yes.” Minerva said, finding her confidence.

“Then we are going. On your hooves. Make ready. Ivy, Brimstone, no holding back. We’re going to do something.” Hoodwink said, her voice authoritative, and sounding very much like her mentor.

Minerva gathered her magic, concentrating.

“We are going to be in so much trouble. But I don’t care. I can’t sit here and do nothing.” Brimstone said, squeezing Ivy one last time before letting go.

“I don’t know where we’ll be popping out, but somewhere down in Ponyville.” Minerva said. “I’ve touched a door that I think is down there. Or in that direction.”

Ivy was on her claws, flexing, making ready, her face still stricken with sorrow. She opened her mouth, flexing her jaw, revealing her teeth.

“I don’t know how much use I’ll be. I don’t want to gas ponies.” Brimstone said, worried. “I can try to summon up sneeze gas or sleeping gas. I really hope I don’t have an accident.”

“You won’t.” Hoodwink said, her voice confident. “You will do as I instruct. And I am instructing you to remain calm and in control of your senses Brimstone.”

Brimstone nodded.

“Are we really going to do this?” Minerva said, her horn glowing with a bright silver light.

Her companions nodded.

“Then let’s go.” Minerva said, touching her horn to the doorframe of the balcony door.

Ivy stepped through the door first, being the most suited for dealing with any surprises. She stepped through the glowing doorframe, feeling her skin tingle, an odd feeling in her claws and teeth.

And found herself in a place oddly familiar. She heard shouting. Angry shouts. She smelled smoke. There was a dull roar and crackle coming from somewhere. She looked around, feeling Hoodwink shove her forward, Ivy struggled to get her bearings.

She had stepped out of Canterlot and into the Apple family home.

And it was burning.

Ivy rushed forward, heaving voices, shouts outside. The room was filled with smoke. She had just stepped out of a closet. More smoke trailed into the room from under the door. Her companions emerged behind her.

“Apple farm.” Ivy said. “Trouble. My aunt is in trouble. Let’s go.”

Ivy dared not open the door. She looked at the window. She scurried over and lifted it with a claw. The angry shouting grew louder. She heard familiar voices. She crawled out the window and out on to the roof. She heard hooves clattering on the roof behind her. She looked around, peering into the darkness, and saw figures over by the barn. A group of unicorns stood in a half circle around a strange shape blocking the barn door.

“You come to my home.” A familiar voice said, but somehow very strange and different. “You threaten my family. My friends. You threaten everything I hold dear.” The voice was full of malice and rage. Ivy looked down into the yard and saw several dead unicorns.

No, not unicorns. Before her eyes, one changed. Winking with a green light, becoming insectoid.

“Last warning…” The familiar but strange voice said.

A massive gout of fire filled the night, the flames burning pink and white. The air filled with cries. Flames crackled.

“HOW DARE YOU!” A voice bellowed over the flames.

Ivy knew that voice. She lept from the roof, gliding to the ground, coming down in a rough landing. Half of the group was engulfed in flames, the other half surged forward, pressing their advantage. Ivy moved, quickly, her claws tearing at the ground.

She lept at one of figures, catching it off guard. She landed on its back, sinking in her talons, and kicking and shredding with her hind legs. Her claws tore through a chitinous shell with ease, the illusion vanishing. It collapsed under her.

Ivy stood there, standing over her kill, her chest heaving. She saw her father staring at her. Nothing moved around them.

“Sprout?” Discord said, his voice suddenly more familiar. He was slightly bloodied in a few spots, but seemed mostly okay. “How?” He said, unable to say anything else out of surprise. His claws were covered in green goo.

Ivy hugged her father, coiling around him, both of them entwining in a way that only draconic entities could. She squeezed, tears falling, her claws still covered in green ichor. The barn door opened. Faces peered out. Ivy felt herself being tackled roughly by a yellow blur. The family clung to one another for a long time.

Eventually, she pulled away from them. “I can’t stay.” She said.

“I know.” Fluttershy said. Discord nodded. “I want you to stay so bad. I don’t want to let you go. But you are here, somehow, and if you made it here, you clearly have work to do. Please stay safe Ivy. I can’t lose you.” Fluttershy begged.

Ivy nodded. All around her fearful faces loomed, faces she knew. Friends. Family. Her hoard. Applejack was in the barn, squirming, looking at her, Applejack’s face full of pride and fear.

Ivy’s companions stood by, having made it off of the roof.

“We’ll tell ponies to come here. Keep them safe father.” Ivy said.

“Oh, I plan to.” Discord said. “I’m without magic, but I am far from helpless. Sprout, if you don’t stay safe, you and I will have words. Lots of words. Of the unpleasant variety. Now go on, go out there, wreak havoc, cause chaos, show them what you are made of.

A round of tearful goodbyes were said and the four companions headed off to Ponyville, nopony actually wanting to let them go. Many of the Apples wanted to hold them back, keep them safe.

A brief while later…

As they approached the town, the companions could only gasp in horror. Behind them, Sweet Apple Acres burned, the farmhouse now completely engulfed, and before them, much of Ponyville was burning. Overhead were furious aerial battles between guards and changelings.

Minerva raised her spell mirror, suddenly covered in a shimmering soap bubble. Brimstone stood near Ivy. Hoodwink moved ahead slightly. “We stay together this time.” Hoodwink commanded. The companions nodded.

Ahead of them was a mint green unicorn having it out with a few changelings.

“Lyra!” Ivy cried, moving forward. She whipped her body around, pointing her backside at the bugs. Her tail coiled at the tip, becoming a handy targeting reticle. Ivy took careful aim…

And blasted the bugs with a purple blue inferno that shot forth from her backside. Flames crackled. There was an odd hissing screech. A loud “SKREE!” sound. The blazing changelings ran around in a circle, dying, writhing in agony.

Minerva surged forward, her horn glowing…

Chapter 4

“Minerva?” Ivy said, worried.

Minerva shook her head slightly. “Sorry Ivy. I don’t know what came over me.”

Ivy carefully lowered Minerva to the ground, and then Brimstone.

“You seemed troubled.” Ivy said.

“I think we all are sometimes.” Minerva said. “Given everything that has happened.”

“I know something that will make you feel better.” Ivy said. “Come on. I’ll show you.”

Ivy dropped to the ground, her long sinuous body arched, a proud look on her face. She strode forward, towards her home, climbing up the living treehouse, urging Minerva onward with her tail.

Minerva had to take time to climb the steps. She hurried upward, watching a fitful Ivy, whose body writhed impatiently. Her hooves clopping on the wooden steps. She finally reached a door, and Ivy urged her inwards.

Minerva stepped into Ivy’s home, the central chambers, Ivy slithering past her slinkily and calling her forward. Minerva stepped into Ivy and Brimstone’s bedroom.

In the corner was a wrought iron brazier. In the dish there was a pillow. On the pillow, three eggs sat. Ivy touched each one gently with a claw. “One, two, three. Three eggs.” Ivy counted, clinging to the wall, her long body draped around the items in the room.

Minerva gasped. She turned to Brimstone. “You are the bravest stallion I know.” She said.

“What?” Brimstone asked, caught off guard.

“You… You and Ivy have been busy. Very busy. And you have to be brave or crazy or just crazy brave to have done what you did to make those eggs.” Minerva smiled. “Fire comes out of that end.”

Brimstone blushed furiously. Ivy turned and giggled. “I laid the last one three nights ago. Every two nights, one came. This is why I’ve asked everypony to come here.”

Minerva sat down in a chair, looking at the eggs, her eyes wide with wonder. “Brimstone, you are going to be a father.”

Brimstone’s blush intensified. “It was a lot of fun making those eggs.” Brimstone said in a hushed whisper.

“I could imagine.” Minerva said with a wink.

Ivy tittered, still clinging to the wall.

“Ivy and I have been dancing around the issue for a long time. She had a cycle not too long ago. We talked. And decided that it was the right time. Ivy has been caring for all of those other foals, and providing for them, and she really wanted something of her own to cuddle. Not that it matters. Ivy cuddles anything.” Brimstone said with a sly grin.

“Brimstone and I spent a lot of time practicing so when my cycle came, we knew just what to do.” Ivy giggled. “All that practice paid off. Those eggs are live. They’re warm. Almost hot enough to burn you.”

Minerva felt herself blushing. “I am so happy for both of you.” She said.

The eggs were metallic. Smooth. Perfect. Flecks of glittering gems encrusted the shells. On a shelf were several false eggs, all sitting on a pillow, guarded by two dolls. A yellow flannel pegasus and a stuffed draconequus.

Chapter 2

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A blue unicorn trotted along the mooring wing of Canterlot Fortress. She was bright blue and had a purple-blue indigo mane that stuck out in all directions, waving crazily in the breeze, her mane known by all as “Celestia’s Bane.” No force of known magic in the universe could tame it. She nodded, looking around at the various ships docked, admiring the new rigid shell design, the armored and improved version that had replaced the old gasbag models. The explosive gas was now gone as well, and the shells were filled with super-compressed cloudstuff, made by pegasi cloudmasters. It kept the ships afloat, but produced an abundance of electricity.

Which was fine, really. It powered the electro-cannons and allowed the crew to fire lightning bolts at anything that ventured too close. One kick with a pegasi hoof or a properly enchanted earth pony or unicorn hoof and the cannons would spit streams of lightning. The lightning bolts were powerful enough to stun even a good sized dragon, and multiple lightning bolts from the clustered cannons were devastating.

At the end of the mooring was the nearly finished Hailstone class dreadnaught, the new pride of the fleet. It was large. The largest airship ever built. Over a thousand cannons, all little pointy metal antennae looking things with metal balls on the tips, they didn’t look like cannons at all. It could also hold a crew of five thousand. It was immense, and for good reason. The psychological factor alone was a great deterrent against any threats against the Phoenix Empire. And there were still threats...

The massive dreadnaught was swarming with life. Pegasi, griffons, unicorns and earth ponies with sticky hooves spells, all swarming over the hull and the shell, working. Bright sparks glared. A large dragon was lifting a steel strut into place, the dragon standing on the ground far below. It was a big dragon. His name was Tiny, because he was reputed to be the runt out of his hatchmates. As large as Tiny was, the airship dwarfed him.

Hoodwink stood on the mooring, watching the work taking place, and nodded approvingly. She hoped that she could do her job and leave, as she had places to be. She checked off her checklist. Check on airships. Check. She was now free to go. Before she winked, she saw the figure of a white alicorn standing on the exposed deck, watching the work.

Hoodwink popped into the center of Ponyville with a thunderous crack, causing several ponies to spook with alarm. Two large stone ponies turned their heads at her, gazing, and then resumed their pacing, guarding the town against any and all intruders. The stone guardians were immense. And alive. Hoodwink had created them herself. Immense, tireless, always pacing, always on guard, patient, they were perfect guardians. And the townsponies of Ponyville could communicate instructions from the guardians with ear language, which is how the guardians spoke.

The townsponies calmed, seeing Hoodwink, watching her. A few smiled and waved. Hoodwink looked around her. Ponyville had grown. It was larger than it used to be. Many ponies lived here now. Much of it had burned to the ground during the war. And now it was rebuilt, much as it had been, with thatched roofed buildings and homes. Ivy had grown new trees, and some of the trees had homes shaped into them.

The library had survived. it has been damaged, but it had survived.

And it was now Minerva’s place of residence, a crystal pony far from home. The living tree had grown larger, thanks to Ivy. It had more rooms. More books. There was an entire wing of defensive magical spells, free for public perusal, allowing good unicorns to defend their home.

And there were many good unicorns. Hoodwink knew for that certain. She thought of her students and the classes she taught. The bright little faces, all of them curious. Attentive. Ready to learn, eager to learn, ready to make a difference.

The war had shown that even foals can make a difference. Hoodwink’s mind wandered as she thought about the night that four foals made a difference, long ago…

Lyra had said a tearful goodbye to Bon Bon and Snickerdoodle, sending them towards Sweet Apple Acres. Lyra’s magic was exceptional at exposing changelings, so she had opted to stay. Other unicorns had begun to join them as they pushed into the town, pausing only so Hoodwink could enchant a few statues, animating them under her control. They were pushing into the town now, further and farther, striving to reach Sugarcube Corner, where Lyra had said that Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash were holed up, along with quite a number of Ponyville’s militia.

They were almost halfway to Sugarcube Corner when Ivy fainted dead away, without warning, suddenly comatose. Her eyes were open, but she was limp and unresponsive.

“Spell?” Brimstone asked, worried.

“I don’t know.” Sparkler, a unicorn, said.

Minerva lifted Ivy with her magic, struggling to concentrate in the chaos. She had lifted Hoodwink once. It took a few tries, but she felt comfortable with her ability. “I have her.” Minerva said.

Lyra exposed a fresh batch of changelings hiding in plain sight, posing as cowering ponies trying to flee from the chaos.

The statues made short work of them.

Sugarcube Corner lay ahead, besieged. A vast number of changelings encircled the building, spells of all colour firing from their horns. Spells were lobbed in return from the windows.

“Changeling magic is usually green.” Lyra said. “Something has changed. I don’t understand it.”

“Looks like unicorn magic.” Sparkler said. “Nothing good will come of this.”

The group took cover behind the remains of a crumbled wall, ducking under spells. Hoodwink willed her statues forward.

Brimstone peered over the edge of the wall, his eyes narrowed, a look of intense concentration on his face.

His horn glowed with a nauseating green twinkle.

A small cloud of gas appeared within the changeling ranks. They began to cough and sputter, gagging, and falling over.

Brimstone rubbed the side of his head, closing his eyes for a moment, his face creasing in pain. “Ow.” He muttered. “Hurts letting it out after holding it in for so long.”

There was a roar and the crackle of flames as another thatched roof caught on fire. The companions sat, huddled in the rubble, watching as everything fell down all around them. Hoodwink animated a few tables and chairs found in the rubble, sending them towards the changelings ahead, to join the statues.

“Hold on Ivy.” Minerva soothed. Ivy said nothing, but continued to stare vacantly ahead, limp.

A wing of lunar pegasi were making landfall around the bakery now. A cheer was heard from inside. Hoodwink pressed her advantage, moving forward, getting closer, ducking down behind an overturned wagon. Brimstone moved to follow her, while Minerva and Ivy stayed back in the rubble.

Ahead, a table stomped a changeling under its legs, and a changeling blasted a chair with a stream of golden magic. The lunar pegasi were swarmed, a dozen or so lunar pegasi buried under a wave of dozens and dozens of attackers.

Brimstone gassed them, knowing that the lunar pegasi were immune. Swarms of the enemy died. Bodies began to pile up.

“Brimstone?” A voice said. “You little fart stain! What in bowels of Tartarus are you doing here in Ponyville?”

Brimstone didn’t cringe. “Doing what is right!” He shouted in return.

Mare Nectaris pressed her advantage, leading her wing against the remaining bugs encircling Sugarcube Corner. Brimstone broke from cover and ran forward, rushing towards Mare Nectaris.

He found himself in the middle of the battle, not the outside. Black shapes rushed him in the night. He didn’t panic. He simply let go. He strode ahead fearlessly, enveloped in a cloud of strangling gas, causing things to drop dead as he cut a swath through the crowd.

“Something is wrong with Ivy!” He shouted to Mare Nectaris over the din of battle.

More lunar pegasi were landing now, pressing the advantage, securing the front side of the bakery, with was now blazing brightly, flames soaring from the roof and into the night.

“We have injured ponies!” Rainbow Dash cried, her head protruding from the door as more lunar pegasi began to secure the area. “Really glad you showed up when you did!”

“I don’t want to die! I want to have my foal!” Pinkie Pie shouted, her voice coming from indoors.

Hoodwink willed the tables forward towards the door. They stood waiting, table legs tapping impatiently. Hoodwink pushed her way forward, through the crowd, through the mob, reaching the door of the bakery.

“Load up the injured.” She commanded. The tables in the bakery began to twitch as her horn glowed. “Now.” She said gently, her voice cutting through the chaos. “We’re falling back to Sweet Apple Acres.” She explained, her tone commanding. “We’re going to need escorts.”

Lunar pegasi were securing the airspace around the bakery, and the battle had retreated around to the rear. Brimstone returned to the front of the building, his face grim. Mare Nectaris trotted beside him, grinning broadly, looking pleased with herself.

A young lunar colt landed and saluted. “Area is mostly secure.” He shouted over the noise. Mare Nectaris nodded, looking upward at the battles still in the sky. The front of the bakery was secure, the attackers now driven off, holed up in crumbled buildings nearby, others retreating around the rear.

“Quickly!” Hoodwink urged. “Load the injured. The tables are quite sturdy.”

Minerva laid Ivy upon a table, her horn going dark, her magic exhausted.

“Hoodwink, what is the plan?” Mare Nectaris asked.

“We fall back to Sweet Apple Acres. I’m going to need escorts. And maybe some strong backs to help carry the inured.” Hoodwink said, staggered by the sheer number of limp bodies being brought forward from all around, not just the bakery, but from nearby buildings as well.

“I want every member of the Ponyville Militia still on their hooves ready to move out!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “We’re falling back to let the guard secure the rest of the town. We’ve got ponies to guard. Now let’s get organised!”

“I can’t even begin to imagine the trouble you four are going to be in when Celestia and Luna return.” Nectaris said. “But I want to be there to watch.” She smiled, looking down at Brimstone, her muzzle bloody, her fangs and teeth pink. “I’m proud of you.”

Brimstone nodded, saying nothing.

Wagons were brought forward and more lunar and solar pegasi dropped from the sky. A chariot full of guard unicorns landed, towed by lunar pegasi.

“We’ve seen a line of refugees heading toward Sweet Apple Acres.” A unicorn reported. “We’ve sent troops over there to make sure the area remains secure. Discord had secured the area and is its primary defense. More troops are inbound, and we are securing the road as well.”

“Casualties?” Mare Nectaris asked.

“Many.” The unicorn replied. “We lost over twenty solar guard and four lunar guard reclaiming the hospital. It was a costly victory, but we’re going to need the supplies.”

“The hospital is in the hot zone.” Nectaris said. “Start moving those supplies to the apple farm. Quickly. Secure a few chariots. Airlift. Turn whatever is left of the apple farm into a field hospital. And I want that farm SECURE!” Nectaris bellowed.

The unicorn nodded.

“Minerva, if you have any magic left, I want you to open a door between here and Canterlot, if you can. I’m going to send a message to the castle. We’re going to need doctors, nurses, medicine, and getting them here might be tricky, the skies are actively hostile. Think you can open up a portal for easy transfer?” Mare Nectaris looked hopeful.

“I might need a while to rest, but I think I can do that. I can still feel the balcony door in our room. But we’ll need a secure door at this end.” Minerva nodded, thoughtful, her voice confident.

Mare Nectaris heaved a sigh of relief. She turned to Hoodwink.

“You!” She barked at Hoodwink. “You are in charge of making sure the injured get back to the apple farm. Do not disappoint me.”

Hoodwink nodded.

“Brimstone?” Mare Nectaris said.

Brimstone looked at her attentively.

“Look after Ivy.” Mare Nectaris said.

Brimstone nodded.

There was a roar and a crash as the upper roof of the bakery collapsed.

Chapter 2

A purple dragon snapped Hoodwink from her memories. She paused, clearing her mind, trying to reclaim her thoughts, as the dragon began to squeeze her foreleg. Spike was much the same as he was, small, young, having only grown slightly over the years, a little taller, a little longer, a little broader.

“I’ve missed you.” Spike cried.

“Come to Canterlot.” Hoodwink said. “Pay a visit.”

“I have to watch the library.” Spike said, blinking.

Hoodwink smiled gently, pulling the dragon in for a hug, pressing him against her. He was warm and smelled faintly of smoke. “You are a good dragon, watching over Twilight’s library.”

Spike began to sniffle, and then gave a grunt. “Minerva does a great job as librarian. I think Twilight would be happy.”

“I am sure she would be.” Hoodwink said, her voice gentle, soothing, sounding very much like her mentor.

“I gotta go. Ponies need books.” Spike said, lingering for a long moment.

Hoodwink watched him go. Spike was so serious now, dedicated, devoted even to preserving the library. It was all he had. He had channeled his grief into something useful, like so many others had done. Hoodwink turned and began to walk down the lane that would lead her to the Everfree, Hoodwink enjoying the chance at a leisurely stroll.

She saw the rebuilt Sugarcube Corner in the distance and shivered slightly, that night still in her mind, the smoke and the burning. The doubt. The fear. She had done her part. She pushed those thoughts from her mind, picking up her pace, moving swiftly through town. Several smaller stone guardians passed by her, always prowling,

It wasn’t long until she reached the Everfree, the wooden trees shaped into an inviting arch over the pathway. Something lumbered in the underbrush, and Hoodwink suspected that she was about to be visited by Ivy’s hounds.

Elsewhere, Minerva sat in a comfortable chair, sipping tea, taking comfort in spending time with her dear friends, reveling in the pleasant news. “Motherhood suits you Ivy.” Minerva said, blowing on her tea.

Ivy lounged upon the bed, resting her long body. Brimstone sat in a chair nearby. Ivy was holding a teacup in her claws, taking the occasional sip, not bothered in the slightest by the hot liquid. Ivy nodded, hearing Minerva’s words.

“Does your family know?” Minerva asked.

Ivy shook her head no. “Not yet.” She said, smiling. “I wanted to let you know first. And then I was going to invite family over and tell them. A few at a time. In small numbers. So it isn’t overwhelming.”

“So when are you going to settle down Minerva?” Ivy asked, getting right to the point.

Minerva choked, nearly spilling her tea. “Oh I don’t have the time. Research. The library. Teaching class in Canterlot and Ponyville.”

“And I manage this entire wood.” Ivy said. “I found the time.”

Minerva gave a sour scowl.

“The count must go up Minerva. One crystal unicorn isn’t enough. It is like a really bad itch that I can’t scratch.” Ivy said, pleading with her friend.

“I’m not ready yet.” Minerva said, her voice low. “But eventually, I do plan to make time for my self.”

“Fair enough.” Ivy said.

“Minerva?” Brimstone asked, his voice low and concerned.

“Yes?” Minerva replied, brows furrowing.

“How is the Crystal Empire? You’ve returned a few times. Ivy and I haven’t. We rarely leave this wood anymore. I’ve been wondering.” Brimstone’s tone was almost apologetic.

“It is slowly being rebuilt. The crystal structures are being regrown. Crystal ponies work hard. Rebuilding is slow. Amazing that any of it was left at all…” Minerva trailed off. “Poor Cadance.” Minerva said weakly. She let out a cry as she was snatched from her chair suddenly, whipped through the air, and deposited on to the bed with Ivy, who hugged her.

“We’ve all lost something.” Ivy said comfortingly, squeezing.

“I haven’t lost my stink, so the important things stay the same.” Brimstone said helpfully.

Elsewhere, within the wood, Hoodwink walked down the shaded path that lead to Ivy’s home. Like Minerva, she saw the comfortable hollows shaped into the trees, and the earth ponies working in the wood.

Unlike Minerva, she kept looking up, waiting for something to snatch her, remembering the long ago lesson from Luna, in the library with the book owl. There was no sign of Ivy or her troublesome tail.

It wasn’t long until she stood near a clearing, looking up, her breath caught in her throat as always. While Canterlot was beautiful, Ivy’s arboreal home was breathtaking. There was a loud howl from somewhere, a creaking sound like wind through branches, and Hoodwink saw familiar figures appear high above her. She saw Ivy leap, soaring through the air, gliding on mismatched wings, landing on a tree just behind her. Hoodwink braced herself for the inevitable tackle…

And sure enough, within moments, she was being constricted by an Ivy hug. She felt a kiss on her cheek, and, just when she thought she would die from needing air, Ivy relaxed her hold and let go, gently setting her upon the ground.

“I have something to show you!” Ivy said, excitedly.

Chapter 3

“How?” Hoodwink said in awe, looking at the eggs.

“Well…” began Brimstone, “when a pony loves a strange pony lizard creature, the strange pony lizard creature snatches the pony and hauls him up into a tree where she coils around his middle in a special way…”

“No!” Cried Hoodwink. “Just no!” She interrupted. “No no no!”

“Lizard?” Ivy said, hissing, flicking out her forked tongue at Brimstone.

“...and then she squeezes him until…”

“No!” Hoodwink cried, shaking her head.

“Really, this should be catalogued.” Minerva said.

“...something biological happens which fertilises the eggs and makes both the pony and the strange pony lizard creature feel really good!”

“Sure does.” Ivy said, smiling, looking at her eggs.

“But fire!” Hoodwink said.

“Oh yeah, the butt fire is dangerous.” Brimstone agreed. “We had to apply industrial grade grease to Ivy’s scales to prevent…”

“BRIMSTONE!” Hoodwink begged.

“...any accidental sparks…”

Hoodwink shook her head, her eyes closed, waving her forehooves around wildly. Her cheeks were as red as apples.

“...because all of that motion and squeezing and jiggling caused a lot of farting from Ivy’s backside.”

“Fascinating.” Minerva said.

“And Ivy was a LOT of fun covered in industrial grease. Slippery. Wiggly. Slithery. She was on me like a second skin.” Brimstone said, nodding.

Hoodwink shook her head. “I’m telling Celestia.” She said, falling back on the only threat her friends understood.

“Oh, Celestia knows what we’ve been up to I’m sure. She doesn’t know about the eggs yet though.” Ivy said. “She gave us helpful advice. And so did Luna.”

“Oh that was embarrassing, discussing that at dinner. How to safely mount a dragon.” Brimstone recalled. “My mother knows too much about this subject. The books she reads. But those are all dragons that shoot fire from the other end. I risked incineration for my lust.” He stroked his chin. “The really important part was the foreplay so the armored section would relax and open up, so I wouldn’t be torn to shreds against flesh rending scales that interlock and form a fire-proof protective barrier seal. Ivy has to be willing, oh so very willing, cause there ain’t no getting in there otherwise.”

Ivy began to fan herself with her talons. “I’m feeling a little willing right now…”

Hoodwink winced and looked like she was going to faint.

“Celestia almost died of mortification when Luna discussed draconic orgasm at length with the Griffon ambassador, who was also quite knowledgeable.” Ivy said, nodding.

“This was a formal dinner?” Hoodwink said?

“Yes” Ivy said. “The griffons desire to send a diplomat here, to my wood. And possibly a colony.”

Hoodwink broke down completely and sank back in her chair. She sat silent for several minutes, eyes open and closing, and then sat up. “Wait.” She said. “Why are there no griffons here?”

“There are some problems with the rules.” Ivy said, shaking her head and looking irritated.

“And the rules cannot be broken.” Brimstone added. “We do what we do here for a reason. Our rules are absolute. Celestia gave us autonomy. Our word is law.”

Hoodwink sat there, confused.

“The price for living here is simple.” Ivy said. “Do something to help care for the many foals living here. The griffons felt that their diplomat was not a foal sitter.” Ivy paused, remembering Cadance’s lesson so long ago.

“Ivy, please forgive me, but I still don’t understand your logic at times.” Hoodwink said, concerned.

“Her logic is simple.” Brimstone said. “After the war ended, Ivy nearly died, burning herself out trying to grow enough food to prevent the famine.”

“Which I failed to stop.” Ivy said sadly, trembling.

“Not your fault Ivy.” Brimstone said. “Ivy’s talent works best with earth pony helpers. Like here, cleansing this wood of its dark taint.” Brimstone continued. “Ivy considers the earth ponies the Everfree’s most valuable resource. You live here, you look after the resources.”

“That makes sense.” Minerva said, making a gesture with her hoof.

“I couldn’t stop it.” Ivy said. “I felt my self buckling under the pressure.”

“Stop Ivy.” Brimstone said gently, worry on his face.

“I couldn’t stop it from happening and so many died.” Ivy said, beginning to tremble.

“Ivy, stop.” Brimstone pleaded.

“I felt my mind slipping, just like that night in Ponyville, when it started to sink in just what I had done. All of the horrible things I had done. With my claws. With my fire.”

“Ivy!” Hoodwink said.

“I don’t like death.” Ivy said in a small wavering voice, her eyes brimming with tears.

“We know.” Minerva said, gently. “But those deaths cannot be blamed on you. Things happen. A lot of ponies died. You’ve kept your word that you would never kill sentient life again Climbing Ivy.”

Ivy nodded, sadly. “I still feel responsible. I just couldn’t grow enough food.” Her chest began to hitch.

Brimstone tackled Ivy fiercely, snapping her out of her funk. He squeezed. “We’re going to have lots of eggs.” He said. “We’ll make more life. We’ll fill this wood.” He kissed away a tear on her cheek.

“More ponies would have died if you had done nothing. We fought the war Ivy, you rebuilt the empire. We all had our parts.” Minerva soothed.

“I still think about that night.” Hoodwink said.

“I think we all do.” Brimstone said, clinging to Ivy.

“I remember carrying Ivy through the town, not knowing what was wrong.” Minerva said. “And the long march back to Sweet Apple Acres. I remember all of the crying and the pleading to make the pain stop, coming from so many ponies.”

“I remember the ponies in the orchard eating apples.” Hoodwink said. Those first few days, we didn’t even know what was really happening yet. I remember waiting for Celestia and Luna to lecture me for making all of you go to Ponyville.”

“That lecture never came.” Brimstone said.

“No it didn’t.” Hoodwink said, shaking her head sadly.

The four companions sat together at the end of a table. Savage was with them. So was Nightfisher and Sunflower. Moonshine sat close by the foals.

“I don’t know how to tell you this.” Moonshine said, her face contorting in discomfort, her ears twitching.

“Don’t coddle them.” Savage growled. Moonshine shot her a dirty look and returned her attention to the companions who sat in a miserable clump together.

“We’ve lost contact…” Moonshine’s voice died off. She cleared her throat and tried again. “We’ve lost contact with Celestia and Luna. And nothing, nothing at all has returned from the Crystal Empire. We can only assume that Celestia and Luna have been subdued somehow.”

Ivy, still a fragile state, began to cry. Hoodwink and Minerva tried to comfort her. Brimstone sat in silent shock. “Gone?” He asked. He shook his head no, stammering.

“Yes.” Nightfisher said. Nightfisher was withered, still missing patches of her pelt, and covered in scars. “We cannot reach them now.” The burned mare somehow seemed even more majestic and noble with her coat a fine latticework of scars.

“And there are bigger problems.” Savage said. “Like leadership.”

Moonshine nodded.

“Sunflower and Nightfisher have been made stewards, according to the princesses’ desires, should an event like this ever happen. And then there is you Brimstone. The magistrates do not recognise your authority.” Savage growled slightly. “But we do. The lunar pegasi will do as you ask, provided you are reasonable. If you are unreasonable, you will be scolded until such a time that you learn your place and how important your reason is to us during these times.”

“Sunflower and I will take what you say into consideration.” Nightfisher said. “Even if we cannot do so in a public manner.”

“Ivy, we need for you to be in contact with the dragons.” Savage said. “We need allies.”

Ivy nodded, tears still flowing. Her tail coiled around Brimstone.

“We can only assume that the changelings have been feeding from the crystal heart and have grown exceedingly powerful.” Sunflower said. “

“More of my kin are coming.” Savage said. “I hope nothing attacks Canterlot before their arrival. We’re in a bad spot.”

“We’re crippled. We have no ports of importance left. Our means to make manipulation shoes are gone, hobbling our war efforts. Most of our army just vanished, all of our princesses are gone, and there is chaos everywhere.” Nightfisher said. “We stand on the brink. One well timed push, and we will go over. We are in a precarious position.”

“We must come together.” Hoodwink said. “Like the founders of Equestria did. That night. In that cave. The Collective drove us apart, or tried to. We were weak. And we’ve fallen down. But we can still get back up. Together.”

Savage nodded. “Our kind survives because of extreme cooperation.” She paused for a moment, her eyes narrowing. “We also take our young to war. Maybe not always into battle, but the young have to learn sometime and somewhere. Going into Ponyville was brave. You did right by our standards. Other ponies can get stuffed. I hope they can see where soft living has brought them.”

“The magistrates will never agree.” Sunflower groaned. “They like their soft living, their soft thinking, and want to preserve their soft way of life. They will never understand the logic or necessity of allowing foals to go into danger. I’m not sure that I do my self, but I understand that these are desperate times, and we must resort to desperate measures.”

“We have a lot of unicorns right here in the school that could be useful in this war effort.” Savage said. “These are extreme times. If need be, I’ll take steps to remove the magistrates, if they hinder our cooperation.”

The room fell silent. Had it come to this? Sunflower thought. Apparently, it had. He looked at Savage, and then at Nightfisher. Nightfisher was a lot like her mother. He knew which side she would take. “I’m in.” Sunflower said. He looked at the burned mare, whom he still loved. He saw no scars, only beauty.

“We’re committing treason!” Moonshine said cheerfully. Our own stewards are plotting to remove the law of the land, making themselves dictators.” She smiled broadly. “Care to join us?” She asked, looking at the foals. “One of you is the only lawful leadership I’ll acknowledge.” She nodded. “You filthy fart stain.”

Savage shook her head in disgust. “You should not mock Luna’s foal.”

“If Moonshine didn’t call me a fart stain, I’d know for certain that the world had ended. Or she was a changeling.” Brimstone said.

“We will only do what actually needs to be done.” Savage said. If the magistrates hinder our war effort, I will have them black bagged.”

“What is black bagged?” Minerva asked, her voice faint.

“Well, a pony wakes up in the middle of the night to discover a black bag is over their head, and then they just disappear.” Savage said. “Phantom was a master of it.” Savage shook her head sadly. “I loved him like he was one of my own. He suckled at my teats with Nightfisher.”

Nightfisher squirmed with sudden embarrassment. “Mother, please.”

“Don’t ‘mother please’ me you little teat biter.” Savage said. “So we are all in accord.” She stated.

There were nods around the table, including the foals.

“Come foals. We have something in the skunkworks for you. Down below. Something we’ve been working on. Luna’s idea.” Savage said, smiling.

A short time later, down below, in the depths of Canterlot, the four companions stood around the table, looking at something they didn’t understand. Masks. Odd bug like masks. With glass coverings over the eyes and a long strange snoot that ended in a big bulb.

“What is it?” Minerva asked.

“Luna called them gas masks.” Savage said. Moonshine nodded. “You wear them over your face, and then you can’t smell Brimstone anymore, which is pleasant. And they protect you from the strangling gas. Which is even nicer.” Savage grasped a mask in between her grasping digit and her central knuckle, and then slowly placed it over Minerva’s head. She then did the same for Hoodwink.

“Brimstone!” Savage said, “Gas.”

Brimstone looked panicked. This was a small room. Hoodwink and Minerva were the only ones susceptible to the gas… But he didn’t want to risk it.

“Brimstone, do as I say, trust me. And trust in your mother. She was clever, and saw a need for it.”

Brimstone took a deep breath and then filled the room with gas.

Hoodwink and Minerva stood in the middle of the lethal green funk, looking like bugs, wearing the strange masks.

Nothing happened.

Brimstone took a deep breath, as did Ivy.

“We’re working on manufacturing them in real numbers.” Savage said. “When next we go to war, we do so under the cover of a cloud of green gas.”

“Can’t talk with the mask on.” Brimstone said. “Everypony is going to need to learn ear language if these masks are going to be used.

Chapter 3

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A tiny creature cautiously prowled the Everfree, darting from shadow to shadow, ducking into nooks and hallows, trying to avoid being noticed. It moved, silently, very nearly invisible, a faint shimmer of light being the only thing that gave it away. As it ducked from place to place, it left behind droplets of green goo that glowed faintly in the shadows.

There was a howl, much like the sound of a tree creaking in the wind, and the small creature froze, terrified, its spell nearly failing. It abandoned caution and began to run.

The wood was suddenly alive with activity, more howls following the first, and then joined by horns blaring. There was a flare of white light, and the shimmering bubble of invisibility was gone, revealing a chitinous black creature. On its back were several green and black lumps. There were cracks in its shell, and green ooze trickled out. It ran towards the center of the wood, Ivy’s hounds hot on its tail.

Ivy was startled by the sudden howling, her claws flexing. She disengaged from Brimstone, who was on the bed with her and was out the door in a flash. Minerva and Hoodwink followed, and Brimstone rolled out of the bed and was on his hooves in a hurry. They all heard shouts outside, horns blaring, and more howls.

Ivy ran down her tree home at breakneck speed, reaching the ground quickly. Unknown invaders were always a concern. She waited, pacing, prowling back and forth on the ground, her tail lashing the air, producing the occasional supersonic crack.

Her companions joined her, standing on the ground, Brimstone very close to her side. “My wood, my rules.” Ivy said, reminding her friends who was in charge. The companions waited, impatient, pacing. The howls drew closer. The hounds had caught something.

There was a gasp as the timber wolf entered the clearing. In its jaws it held something small and black, grasping it by its head, dragging it along, mostly unharmed but subdued.

“Changeling!” Minerva cried, her horn glowing.

Hoodwink’s own horn began to glow orange.

“Mercy!” The changeling cried.

“YOU WHO HAVE NO MERCY FOR OTHERS!” Minerva shouted, nearly spitting, the Silvermane family spell mirror popping into place around her. Heat radiated from her crystalline body.

“ENOUGH!” Ivy roared, the sound audible all the way to Ponyville. Her companions fell back, cowering. “Why are you here, in my wood changeling?” Ivy asked, her voice filled with malice.

“Mercy…” the changeling pleaded, “I have not come to do harm.” It cowered, hanging from the timber wolf’s jaws.

Ivy made a gesture and the timber wolf dropped the changeling. It fell to the ground and cowered, green goo oozing upon the leaf covered soil.

“Why are you here?” Ivy asked, her voice commanding. “I do not want more violence, but I will allow it to happen if I do not like what you have to say.”

The changeling nodded. It took several deep breaths, staring at Ivy with a pleading look. “We are nearly exterminated.” The changeling said. “You have been a terrible foe. It was a mistake to anger you.” The changeling said, its voice quavering.

Minerva could barely contain her rage; she sputtered, unable to form words, her horn growing even brighter, the crystal spire on her head beginning to crackle with energy, the two tips arcing back and forth from one another.

“That is enough Minerva.” Ivy said. “Do not make me say so again.”

“How can you listen to this creature?” Minerva spat. “After all of the death. After everything we have lost?”

“There has been enough death during your time.” Ivy said forcefully. “It is my time now. Now be silent!”

Minerva fell silent, dancing on her hooves, pacing and angry. Hoodwink stood at her side to comfort her.

“You come to my wood and ask for mercy. Why?” Ivy asked.

“I come asking for more than mercy.” The changeling replied. “I ask for succor. I ask for a second chance. I ask that you give us life.”

Ivy stared at the changeling. Minerva remained silent. Brimstone stepped forward.

“You are covered in eggs.” Brimstone said softly. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I bring you my last hope.” The changeling said. “A gift. My time grows short, I am nearly starved and coming here was dangerous.” The changeling took a deep breath. “I have come, asking you, Climbing Ivy of the Everfree, to raise these eggs that I was sent to dispatch. I want my race to survive, but not as we once were. A change is needed. I implore you to see reason. Raise these eggs. Give them life. Teach them something better. Find a way to allow them to live in peace. You are known as the peacemaker. I am the only one of my kind who sees wisdom in this. It was difficult to break away from the hive mind and come here.”

“Celestia will never allow this.” Hoodwink said.

“This is not Celestia’s wood.” Ivy replied.

“But Celestia will make you answer for what you do. Aiding the enemy is treason.” Hoodwink warned.

There was a crunching sound from the changeling, and blue juice began to dribble from its mouth. It collapsed, and, as it did so, a crushed seed pod rolled from its mouth. It twitched a few times, and then remained still.

Ivy stood there, doing nothing for several minutes, her face thoughtful, her companions also silent.

She stepped forward, looking over the dead changeling, a strange look of pity on her face. She silently began to pluck the eggs from the changeling’s shell.

“You can’t be serious.” Minerva said.

“They should be destroyed.” Hoodwink said. “See reason.”

Ivy whirled on her friends, her forelegs full of sticky eggs. “That is quite enough.” She hissed. “My wood is a refuge for ALL who ask for it and orphans of all stripes are welcome here. I would advise you to be silent, before you anger me dear friends.”

Minerva and Hoodwink fell silent.

“Ivy.” Brimstone said, his tone careful. “I trust your decision, but I have some concerns.”

Ivy turned her angry gaze upon her mate.

“Can we properly care for them? And by we, I mean you and I. I get the feeling that Minerva and Hoodwink won’t be joining us.” Brimstone said patiently.

Ivy calmed a bit.

“Hoodwink, Minerva, we did our part in the war. And Ivy never questioned what we did or how we did it. She stood with us in tough times, even though her pacifist views conflicted with our own. We owe her the same respect. She has rebuilt where we have destroyed.” Brimstone said, his voice gentle, his eyes pleading.

A guilty look settled on Minerva’s face. Hoodwink dropped her gaze and stared down at the forest floor.

“Ivy?” Brimstone inquired.

“Yes?” Ivy replied, her tail twitching, allowing her to keep her balance bipedally.

“I am grateful that one of us escaped the war with a soft heart.” Brimstone smiled sadly as he spoke.

Ivy nodded, still clutching the eggs.

“Any idea how to care for these eggs Ivy?” Brimstone asked, Minerva and Hoodwink still silent.

“Changelings.” Ivy said. “I suspect that all I need to do is love them.” She gave her load of eggs a gentle hug. “And when they hatch, they will continue to be loved so that they will not know hunger. Perhaps they can learn not to be predatory. If they are provided for, there will be no need for deception and lies. If we treat them poorly, if we treat them as lesser creatures, if we cause them to be desperate, perhaps we deserve our foes.”

“You are a better pony than I am Ivy.” Minerva said bitterly, not able to meet Ivy’s gaze.

“I am just as hurt as you are Minerva.” Ivy said, her voice now calm and gentle. “We all have our troubles. Besides. I am not a pony.” Ivy added. “I am Ivy. My mother checked the box marked ‘other.’”

“Filly of Fluttershy.” Hoodwink said, her voice sad. “I just realised that Fluttershy would be doing exactly what you are doing right now.”

Ivy’s hounds began to disperse, back to prowling the wood.

“Yes she would.” Ivy said. “And I can live with everything that’s happened, as painful as it might be. I can’t live with my mother being ashamed of me. That is a pain I cannot bear.”

Chapter 2

Trixie Lulamoon rolled down the road, heading towards Ponyville and Canterlot, planning on a surprise visit. Her wagon creaked. Her wagon was enormous, the size of a small house, and it was being pulled by a large stone pony. She sat on a seat, watching the countryside go by as the wagon slowly moved forward. The wagon rocked back and forth, causing Trixie to sway. It was entirely to relaxing, and Trixie often struggled to remain awake as her wagon traveled from place to place. The sun was warm and soothing. Her leg, which had once been broken long ago, ached dully, but the sun was comforting. Her head bobbed, her eyes closing, her hat slipping down over her features.

She awoke with a loud snort.

“Trixie is not sleepy.” She murmured to herself. “No.” She shook her head, trying to rouse herself from her near slumber. “Must see precious Hoodwink.”

Even though she struggled not to, Trixie began to doze, and as she did, she began to dream of an earlier time…

There was a loud thump on the roof. Trixie awoke inside her tiny wagon, feeling very alarmed. Things were not safe lately. There had been an attack on Canterlot. Word was spreading about violence everywhere.

The road, which had always had some danger, was now even more dangerous.

She eased herself out of her bed, her horn glowing, spell ready. Twilight had taught her a few new spells after her ordeal down south in the desert. She gently pushed open the door of the wagon. She trotted away from her wagon, her horn glowing, the night air on her pelt causing her to shiver.

“Who goes there! Trixie demands to know! Speak now or face Trixie’s wrath!” Trixie said with a hiss.

There was no reply. Trixie backed away a little more, trying to see what was on top of her wagon. Something was up there. Slumped. Motionless.

Trixie felt a lump in her throat when she saw a familiar looking magenta highlight in the bright light of her horn.

“Twilight Sparkle?” Trixie said, her voice hopeful.

There was a faint groan from the top of the wagon. Trixie winked to the wagon roof.

She stood over Twilight Sparkle, who looked awful. An IV remained in her leg, the tube coiled around her body, connected to nothing. She didn’t move and her breathing was ragged.

“No…” Trixie said softly. “No. Twilight, what has happened to you? Trixie has you. Trixie will keep you safe. Like you kept Trixie safe.” She gently touched Twilight with her hoof. “Trixie should get you to Canterlot.” Trixie said, thinking out loud. She gently lifted her friend in her magic and winked, appearing inside the wagon. She put Twilight into Hoodwink’s bed, wrapping her in blankets. She gently pulled out the IV.

“Cadance is there any place safe left to send me?” Twilight said, her voice feeble, barely audible.

“You are safe Twilight Sparkle.” Trixie said, trying to reach through to her friend.

“Bugs Cadance. The bugs came back for us.” Twilight said, her eyes moving behind closed lids. “I told you they would. Cadance, I can’t feel my brother’s magic anymore. He’s gone Cadance. Gone. They’re coming Cadance. I love you Cadance.”

Trixie frowned, feeling powerless. She realised Twilight must have felt the same emotions about her, when Trixie had crawled out the desert and had fallen ill.

“Cadance?” Twilight asked.

“Yes Twilight?” Trixie said, struggling to hear her friend’s voice.

“I’m thirsty.” Twilight replied.

Trixie moved about the wagon, looking for something to drink. She found a bottle of grape juice. She cracked off the lid, stuck in a straw, and held it up for her friend to drink.

Twilight sipped at the straw weakly, coughing and spluttering a few times, spraying grape juice all over Trixie. Trixie did not care. She was too caught up in her concern.

“I’m cold Cadance.” Twilight said, shivering, her lips and tongue now stained purple. Trixie, not knowing what else to do, crawled into the narrow bed with Twilight, under the blankets, and pulled her in close, trying to warm her.

Twilight mumbled something about a foalsitter and went silent, going limp. Trixie cuddled her friend, trying to warm her, holding her close, in much the same way that Twilight had once done for her. A slow realisation also sank in, as she felt Twilight’s somewhat rounded belly, feeling something, a twingle in her horn, a unicorn’s intuition. As Trixie had once been when Twilight had sheltered her, Twilight was with foal.

Twilight began to warm and go still, no longer shivering and twitching. She murmured wordlessly, her eyes still moving behind her lids, her horn occasionally glowing faintly. Her wings fluttered weakly.

All of this brought back terrible memories for Trixie, and everything that had happened in the desert. The angry mob. Their vicious assault. Crawling out of the desert with a broken leg. The long slow process of healing, her feminine bits never quite being the same. The long and painful pregnancy. And finally, Hoodwink. Who had made everything worth bearing. But those memories were too much now, with Twilight lying limp beside her in the bed. Trixie bit down on her lip, trying to hold everything back, and failed.

The wagon was filled with her anguished howls.

Chapter 3

Celestia stood next to a bed, her lower lip protruding slightly, and her ears perked forward. The lump under the blankets wasn’t moving, and nothing she had tried could raise the sleeping figure, buried under blankets and pillows. She poked the lump again with her hoof.

There was no response.

“Twilight, if you do not get out of that bed at once I shall have to scold you!” Celestia said, making the worst possible threat that she could.

There was no reply, but the lump moved slightly.

“Come on Twilight.” It is late afternoon. There is no excuse.” Celestia heaved an impatient sigh.

The lump began to grumble and kick around under the blanket, and let out a protesting squeal.

“Twilight Twinkle, I am losing my patience with you!” Celestia said, her dreaded scolding tone now in play.

“I’m a pony of the night.” A small voice said from under the blankets. “Take your sunshine and get stuffed.”

Celestia pulled the blankets from the bed, revealing a small foal, dark sooty purple, with a three tone mane. Even darker purple leathery wings fluttered slightly, and one slitted violet eye opened to stare at her.

“I’m telling auntie Luna.” Twilight Twinkle said, sticking out her tongue. After blowing a raspberry, she jammed her head under a pillow.

Celestia heaved another sigh. She had known a lot of foals in her long life. She had taken many students. This foal vexed her something awful.

“Twilight Twinkle, I know you are a lunar pegasus, but they do go out into the daylight.” Celestia said, trying to recover her patience. “There are important things to do in the day.”

“And if every other pony jumped off a bridge, should I do the same?” Twilight Twinkle said.

Celestia bit down on her lip and squeezed her eyes shut. This foal… Celestia stifled a scream. No foal had ever been so successful at mashing her buttons like Twilight Twinkle. All of the intelligence of her mother, none of the humble meekness nor eager to please mannerisms.

The foal wrapped her wings around her head and body, trying to block out the light. “Go away. Lemme alone. I was up late trying to hunt and catching rats down in the depths.”

“Twilight Twinkle, please tell me that you did not eat rats. Again.” Celestia begged.

“Okay. I did not eat rats. Again.” Twilight Twinkle said, still wrapped in her wings. “And Ivy and I do not eat bugs together when you are not looking.” She added.

Celestia gagged, loudly, feeling her stomach churn violently. “I can’t imagine what you and Ivy do together.”

Twilight Twinkle, hearing weakness, pressed her advantage. “You know,” she began, “bugs are a lot like those candies you like. Hard crunchy shell, sweet creamy filling that squirts when you bite it. The gooey filling sticks to the roof of your mouth.”

Celestia gagged again, feeling her gorge rise.

“I kiss you with buggy lips all the time.” The foal said with an evil giggle from under her pillow.

Celestia fled the room and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door. Twilight Twinkle covered herself up with a blanket and went back to snoozing. She kicked and squirmed, getting comfortable, feeling rather pleased with herself. She heard retching sounds.

A few moments later, the door slammed back open and Twilight Twinkle found herself ripped from the bed, being hauled through the air by magic, being carried back into the bathroom.

She may have went a tiny bit too far, she reflected silently, not wishing to dig the hole any deeper.

She opened an eye, looking around, and heard the water tap being turned. Oh no! Water began to flood the tub. Twilight Twinkle could smell soap. She was suspended in the air, unable to run, the bathroom was too well lit to even attempt to shadow dive, not that she could do that just yet anyway.

“I’m sorry?” She said, hoping there would be mercy.

“You will be.” Celestia said, feeling no mercy.

Twilight Twinkle sighed. She had certainly stepped in it now. She opened her other eye and looked at the tub. It was getting full. Of hot water and bubbles. She felt a small rush of panic. “I think you are over reacting.” She stated in a matter-of-fact voice.

“No.” Celestia said, scowling. “No my little rat hunter I am not.”

There was a loud splash as Twinkle was dropped into the tub, still held in place with magic. An army of scrub brushes descended and began their assault.

“Ow! Hey! Watch it!” Twinkle cried. “Ow, my filly bits, careful back there! Hey, I have to sit on that!”

Celestia ignored the protests. She had heard them all before.

“This is uncalled for, this assault upon my hmmmllllurphlglarblephef!” Twinkle’s protests were cut off by a toothbrush loaded down with toothpaste being jammed into her toothy maw.

After what felt like a brief eternity, the assault with the toothbrush ended. Twinkle spat into her own bathwater, spitting several times in a row, pulling her lips away from her fangs and spluttering.

“Celestia?” She said in a small voice after enduring several minutes of scrubbing in silence.

“Yes my little Twinkle?” Celestia said, a faint smile returning to her features.

“Will I still be staying with Ivy over the summer? I know I’ve been a little rotten lately. Nightfisher said she would teach me how to catch fish. I can’t stand this castle. I hate it here. I can’t play, or hunt, or do anything without getting in trouble and making you mad. And I don’t want you mad at me anymore.”

Celestia sighed, feeling a twinge of sadness.

“Actually, I want to stay with Ivy for more than the summer. I really hate it here.” Twinkle said, daring to look Celestia in the eye as she spoke. “I hate being indoors. I feel bad all the time because you stay frustrated with me because I’m just a tiny bit obstreperous.”

Celestia looked down at Twinkle in shock.

“It was in the crossword puzzle in the paper the other day. Luna and I tackled it together.” Twinkle explained.

Celestia smiled. “You will be leaving to stay with Ivy shortly. I don’t know about staying with her after the summer though.” Celestia said, causing the soggy sudsy foal to smile.

“I know Ivy will let me stay.” Twinkle said, smiling.

“She probably would, but I don’t want you turning feral. You have responsibilities.” Celestia replied, causing the foal in the tub to scowl. “You have school.”

“What about staying with Minerva in Ponyville? She can teach me.” Twinkle pleaded.

“You honestly do not like it here, do you?” Celestia said. “Why?”

The foal’s face went blank. She stared up at Celestia with slitted violet eyes, a brief look of anger flashing on her face and then vanishing.

“You can tell me anything.” Celestia said, her voice soft and encouraging.

Twinkle took a deep breath. “Fine.” She said. “Here goes nothing.” She took another deep breath. “Everypony in this horrible castle calls me ‘the foal of Twilight Sparkle’ and nopony ever mentions me for who I actually am. Twilight Twinkle. I am sick of living in my mother’s shadow.”

Celestia recoiled as though she had been slapped.

“I just want to do normal foal things. Any time I do something wrong, it is never ‘Twilight Twinkle did something wrong.’ No. Never that. Always ‘I can’t believe the foal of Twilight Sparkle would do such a thing’ and it always hurts and nopony seems to care that they are hurting me.” Twinkle said, her eyes filling with tears. “I HATE IT HERE!” She slammed her forelegs into the water, causing a large splash, sending suds and water everywhere.

Celestia stepped backwards several times, the brushes dropping into the tub with a clunk, her magic extinguishing.

“My mother is gone. Forever. I will never see her ever again. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being reminded how horrible I am compared to her.” Twinkle buried her face into her hooves and began to sob.

Celestia slipped in the soapy water and fell to the floor with a splat, landing on her backside.

“Ivy never compares me to her.” Twinkle sobbed. “And Minerva knows all about living up to family standards.”

Celestia stared down at the inconsolable foal, unable to say anything.

“And you, you can’t even talk to me.” Twinkle said, beginning to gasp from sobbing, her chest hitching, her wings flapping, sending water splashing.

“I do not know what to say.” Celestia said after a long moment filled with sobs.

“Probably something like ‘Twilight never acted this way’ or something.” Twinkle said, turning away, snot starting to dribble down from her nose.

“I knew you were a little unhappy here.” Celestia said. “I didn’t know that you were this unhappy. If you believe you will be happier elsewhere, we can talk about what to do.”

“And there you go, giving up on me, ready to send me away, because I am a problem foal and I am nothing like your faithful student!” Twinkle screamed, her sobs intensifying.

Celestia felt her heart being pulled apart. “You asked to be sent away!” She shouted, her own deeply repressed emotions beginning to bubble out. “I thought that this is what you wanted!”

“You gave up too easily. I don’t think you really wanted me at all to begin with.” Twinkle sobbed.

“You… You are impossible!” Celestia shouted. “I can’t believe you are the foal of Twilight Sparkle!”

Twinkle’s sobs ceased suddenly, there was only laboured gasping as the foal sat in shock, struggling to draw breath.

“I didn’t mean that.” Celestia said, realising just what horrible words had escaped her lips. Something in her chest tore open wide and it felt terrible. She felt a lump rise in her throat. “I didn’t mean that…”

Twinkle shot out of the tub, still covered in suds, and took off running as fast as her little legs would carry her, trailing water and bubbles as she fled. She begal to howl horribly as she ran, her cries echoing off of the walls, grief stricken keening wails pouring from her throat.

Celestia sat there in the bathroom, suddenly alone, unable to give chase, cursing herself, her heart broken.

“I didn’t mean that…” She said again to the empty room.

Chapter 4

“Ivy, I owe you an apology.” Minerva said, looking up at her friend. “I said a few things. I lost my temper.”

“I did too.” Hoodwink said, looking ashamed.

“No worries.” Ivy said. “I try to not hold grudges.”

“We know.” Hoodwink said. “And that makes me feel even worse.”

Ivy shrugged and looked at the changeling eggs, already feeling oddly protective of them. She touched each one, counting again. “Seventeen eggs.” She announced. “Seventeen changeling eggs.”

“If Celestia takes this badly, I’ll do what I can to get her to see reason.” Hoodwink said.

“Oh, Celestia is going to take this badly.” Minerva said. “Get your defenses ready Winkie.”

“If worst comes to worse I could bring up the wing issue.” Hoodwink said. “That would certainly distract her.”

“You’d take a pair of wings for me?” Ivy said, her eyes brimming with tears.

Hoodwink scowled and grumbled. She threw herself down into a chair and began to rub her nose with a foreleg. “I don’t want wings. I’ve given enough of my self throughout all of this. I’ve seen what happens to alicorns.”

“Hoodwink, you are the embodiment of enchantment.” Minerva said. “You can create life where none exists. And being a unicorn is holding you back.”

“I want to be held back!” Hoodwink snapped. “We all know what happened. I’ve given everything I’m comfortable giving. I don’t want the responsibilities a pair of wings brings.”

The room fell silent for several minutes.

“I wouldn’t mind a pair of wings.” Brimstone said. “I’m the embodiment of egregious stink.”

“That’s awful Brimstone.” Minerva said, holding back a faint smile.

“I could be the Prince of Putrescence.” Brimstone said, his lips curling into a grin. “My mother once threatened to do so to Celestia when they were arguing about Hoodwink.”

Hoodwink groaned. “I swear, I am ready to abandon Canterlot.”

“That bad?” Minerva said.

“Every single day Celestia manages to find some new and creative way to bring it up.” Hoodwink said, her muzzle crinkling in anger.

“She only brought it up to me once.” Minerva said. “I created a door and fled far, far away. I don’t want the Crystal Empire, I don’t want to take my place among the Silvermanes, and I don’t want to be Sombra’s heir. I like being a librarian and a school teacher.”

“I have wings and two horns.” Ivy said, looking at her own eggs, all three of them she noted. Three.

Brimstone grinned faintly. “Yes dear. You have such fine antlers.”

Ivy shot him a look, waiting.

“Such a lovely rack.” Brimstone said.

Ivy rolled her eyes. “Later, when we are alone, I am going to make you sorry. I am going to squeeze the foal batter right out of you until you squeal for mercy.”

“I look forward to it." Brimstone said.

“The alicorn issue grows tiresome.” Hoodwink said.

“I can sort of understand.” Ivy said. “The count must always go up, but never down.”

“And we are two down.” Minerva said, her voice sad.

“Not exactly.” Brimstone said, causing his companions to look at him.

“Celestia wants to abdicate.” Hoodwink said, causing her companions to gasp. “I trust I have your silence on this issue.”

The companions nodded.

“Celestia wants to step down. She’s tired. Of everything. And she’s very insistent about having Luna take over, with me taking up a spot under Luna, learning how to be a proper monarch.” Hoodwink said. “And every day, she ramps up the pressure, hoping to draw me in, so she can have a way out.”

Minerva blinked several times. “I had no idea. I wonder what she was up to when she offered me the choice.”

“Probably no good.” Hoodwink said. “Celestia just wants to fade into the background and raise Twilight Twinkle.”

“I can understand her position.” Ivy said, reclining on the bed, wrapping her long body into a coiled loop. “I am merely the monarch of this wood. I can’t imagine trying to run all of Equestria. I constantly feel overwhelmed. So much depends on me and everything I say or do.”

“I am certain that if Celestia becomes desperate, she’ll try to enlist you.” Hoodwink said, causing Ivy to frown.

“I abdicated any claim I had to the Throne of Equestria and became Ivy’s consort.” Brimstone said. “Seems I made a good choice.” He climbed into the bed and flopped into the nest that Ivy’s body formed. “The lunar pegasi still see me as one of their council though. Can’t seem to escape that as Luna’s heir. I like being Ivy’s consort.” He buried his muzzle into Ivy’s belly, causing her to giggle faintly.

“She never offered Twilight an option. She just snatched up Twilight’s tattered ethereal remains and converted her, releasing her full potential. I suppose it was because Twilight was an ash pile on the floor of the library and there wasn’t much choice.” Hoodwink said. “I guess she’s giving us an option because we live. I really hope I don’t have an accident or end up as an ash pile, because I think I know what Celestia would do.” Hoodwink shivered, causing her teeth to clack together a few times.

Minerva nodded.

“Just imagine how much worse I would smell if my full potential was released.” Brimstone said, smiling broadly.

“I don’t think I could live with it.” Ivy said. “I still find myself drooling at times.”

“You two have this whole sickening fairytale romance thing going on. It is nauseating.” Minerva said.

“An Ascended Brimstone would certainly repel our enemies. And everything else, right out of Equestria. We would never face invasion again.” Hoodwink said.

“I wonder what my offspring will look like.” Brimstone said, suddenly changing the subject, staring over at the eggs. “I hope they’re like Ivy.”

“Gag inducing.” Minerva said, causing Brimstone to shoot her a look. “You two really are so sickeningly sweet together. I remember watching you two make out when you were younger.”

“And you were jealous.” Hoodwink said, winking.

“I was not!” Minerva said. “I just said that Ivy was lucky to have found a perfect stallion and snag him from such a young age.”

“Sounds like jealousy.” Hoodwink said.

“Maybe it is.” Minerva said. “I just wish I knew what it was like to be so completely and utterly in love. I’ve only ever been infatuated a few times.”

“Love is confusing.” Hoodwink said.

“No it isn’t.” Ivy said. “That’s not true. Love is a choice. You either love or you don’t. You love and then to work to make that love happen, and keep working to keep that love burning. It really is very simple. So simple you can just fall into it.”

“Ivy, I suspect that you love everything.” Hoodwink said.

“So what if I do.” Ivy said.

“Like those changeling eggs.” Minerva said.

“Leave my eggs out of it.” Ivy said, a faint growl present in her voice.

“I didn’t mean anything bad.” Minerva said, reclining in her chair. “Just amazes me that you could do that, that’s all. You love so easily. I guess I complicate things.”

There was a yelp as Minerva was pulled out of her chair by Ivy’s tail and hauled over to the bed. She flopped down next to Brimstone.

“One crystal unicorn.” Ivy muttered, mostly to herself.

“Ivy?” Hoodwink asked.

“Yes, dear friend?” Ivy replied.

“Do you mind if I stay here awhile? I am sick of Canterlot.” Said Hoodwink.

“Can you foalsit?” Ivy replied, smiling.

Chapter 4

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Two mares and a stallion slept in an enormous bed. It was an odd sleeping arrangement, and one that caused a lot of ponies to talk. There was always gossip, no matter the age you lived in, or what empire. Gossip was a constant presence. They slumbered together, unable to sleep apart, taking comfort and getting what little sleep they had by sleeping in a pony pile.

Moonshine snorted fitfully, and then buried her head into Nightfisher’s neck. Nightfisher, who slept in the middle of the bed, moved a little closer to Sunflower. It was daylight, even though one would never be able to tell, not in this room, and the sleepers continued to sleep fitfully, comforted by the total darkness.

And one more had joined them, a sooty purple filly with a tear stained face.

When Twilight Twinkle cautiously crawled into the bed with them, Moonshine stirred briefly, her lips moving, eyes fluttering, her ears flickering. Twinkle carefully cuddled against Moonshine’s side, causing Moonshine to calm, her breathing a bit more regular.

There was nothing quite so comforting to a troubled equine as a pony pile. Post war Equestria gave way to unusual sleeping arrangements of all kind.

Luck. It all came down to luck. Moonshine had made her discovery due to luck. Not long after the battle for Ponyville, she had been on solo patrol in the skies over the general Canterlot - Ponyville region. She had been in shadow form, drifting around, invisible to all but those with the most powerful of magics.

And as she had drifted overhead, she had seen it, down in the canyon below, a shimmering of magic, a burst of light, and then darkness.

A secret door in the canyon wall, hidden with spells, covered by illusion. She prowled around the hidden entrance, remaining in shadow form, debating her course of action. She chose not to go and find others, instead, she chose to infiltrate.

She slipped in through the cracks around the door, easing her way in. It was dim and dark. The very air stank of wrongness. Smells she could not identify assaulted her nostrils. Ahead of her, she saw two changelings, and something else. It was a unicorn, but not a unicorn. Something seemed off.

She drifted along the ceiling, in the shadow, an incorporeal cloud of slick shadow-stuff. She drifted through the complex, unseen, unnoticed, moving through rooms and hallways, taking it all in.

She halted when she came to a lab. Inside, there were tables, and, on each table, was a pony in various stages of dissection. On the table just below her was a unicorn with a bisected head, and, where the unicorn’s brain should have been, there was a changeling egg. The egg was connected by thick green strands directly to the base of the horn.

Moonshine feared she would never get a restful sleep ever again.

Ponies with missing brains, changelings eggs where the brain should have been, it was almost too much to take in. All around the room were various experiments.

She had also found some of the missing foals from the school she assumed. Some were stored in changeling cocoons, locked in magical slumber, and many of them had a small round hole in their skull in various stages of healing. Others were on the tables, cut open for study.

On one table, she didn’t know what she was seeing. It was a pony on the outside, but on the inside, it wasn’t pony at all. It was more… Insectoid. Moonshine reeled in horror. Was she looking at pony-changeling hybrids? She didn’t know. But something was off.

She was getting tired. She needed to become solid again, to rest. To be out of this nightmarish place.

In the corner of the room, she saw a familiar figure. She drifted along the ceiling, nothing more than shadow and smoke, moving over. On the table beneath her was a lunar pegasi foal, cut open, mind exposed.

Moonshine had to go. Not wanting to risk falling out of shadow during her exit, she shadow-winked, going from one dark place to another.

She popped back into reality deep in the depths of Canterlot, suddenly very solid, crashing down to a well cushioned floor made just for moments like these. The room was dark, magically dark, and had a beacon for shadow-winking lunar pegasi to be pulled home to.

She lay on the floor, breathless, her mind troubled, and needing a drink, which became her first priority. The second priority was to find Nightfisher, Sunflower, and Savage, and then tell them what was going on. After that, more drinking. Lots more drinking.

She emerged from the room and into a long hallway that connected to the landing strip below the castle. There were ponies around, filling the hallway.

“Hey! You!” She bellowed impatiently to a passing lunar mare. “Seen Savage?”

The mare nodded. “Situation room.” The mare said, continuing her business.

Moonshine hustled off to the situation room, her heavy hooffalls echoing off of the hallway walls. Passing ponies gave her a wide berth, her reputation clearing traffic. She hoped that Savage would have something to drink on hand.

She turned a corner, continuing through the warren, picking up her pace. The horrible images of what she had scene burned into her brain, buried, infesting her thoughts, in much the same way that the changeling egg had taken over the brain of the unicorns she had seen.

Moonshine felt sick. It was really settling in now. Everything she had seen, it filled in the blanks, answered so many questions, and caused so many more questions.

There were unicorns all around Equestria with changeling eggs inside their heads, doing the will of the Collective. The reports of changelings using unicorn magic made a little more sense… Clearly they had figured out a way to channel pony magic instead of the usual changeling green glow.

Moonshine felt as though her legs were going to buckle.

She didn’t bother to knock, she kicked open the door with one large hoof, causing Savage glare at her. She didn’t care. She glared back, causing Savage to give an annoyed whicker. Savage punctuated this with bared fangs.

Everything in Moonshine’s head began to spill out of her mouth, a long stream of words rushing forth, sometimes stammering, trying to explain everything she saw. Savage, an old mare who had lived a long life of hardship and war, cringed from the words, her ears sagging, until she finally slumped down in her chair with a defeated gasp. Moonshine finished her report, holding herself together, desperately wanting a drink. She ended with a description of the dissected lunar foal.

“I don’t know how to fight this.” Savage said after several minutes of silence, once Moonshine’s report had finished. “It is all too much. We don’t know where the princesses are, we don’t know who or what is currently moving the sun and the moon, and now you tell me that we have ponies that might be running around with bug eggs inside their noggins.”

“What?” Said a voice.

Savage turned towards the door, seeing Brimstone. She sighed heavily.

“You asked me to come down.” Brimstone said, looking concerned.

“How much have you heard?” Savage asked.

“Enough.” Brimstone said, shock settling onto his features.

“Get over here Fart Stain.” Moonshine said, gesturing at Brimstone.

He did as he was bid, nearly running to Moonshine, who took him to a hug, crushing him to her barrel as she sat upon her cushion. She wrapped her wings around him, feeling tears beginning to boil just behind her eyes, her breath becoming laboured.

“I will post warnings at once.” Savage said. “Intelligence will have to come up with ways to detect the infected. Who knows how many thousands we might have running around in society, stirring up trouble, inciting riots, dividing us, making us fight one another as those damn bugs gain a hoofhold.”

“I don’t understand how the body functions without a brain.” Moonshine said, shaking her head, still crying, clutching Brimstone.

“Like that matters.” Savage grumbled. “Just what we need. Some new horror. Hey everypony, the changelings can lay eggs inside your skulls now and take over your bodies!” Savage spat. “This isn’t going to be a war I’m afraid. I suspect we’ll be fighting for our very survival. Damn parasites have found a new way infect us. Do you know how much panic and paranoia this is going to cause? There will be pure chaos in the streets by dawn.”

“I guess I will not be getting lessons tonight.” Brimstone said in a faint whisper.

“What in Tartarus do you think this is?” Savage snapped. “Remember this night Brimstone. This night marks the end. We may survive what comes, but we will never be the same. Our society cannot handle something like this. I do not know what comes after, but, mark my words, this is the end of things as we know them.”

Brimstone began to sniffle.

“If we force all unicorns to submit for testing, this will only further drive a wedge in between the tribes.” Savage said, thinking aloud. “Many will resist. There will be more protests. If we acknowledge that the unicorns may be a threat, we indirectly acknowledge their supposed superiourity over the other tribes. The changelings are using unicorns for their magic.”

“Then we test them without telling them. For the greater good.” Brimstone said, his voice soft. “We may have to forgo individual rights. They are a luxury that we cannot afford.”

“You sound so much like your mother.” Savage said in reply. “It would be an awful thing to have to do. I suppose we’ll start by getting our best shadow agents to attempt to enter the minds of sleeping unicorns, to establish whom we can trust. Worm our way in while they slumber, check and see if they have a mind. After we have a body of wizards we can trust, we work on some way of making a detection spell. Something passive and that isn’t likely to be noticed.”

“Make it feel like a changeling detection spell. Nopony would dare protest a simple dispelling of illusion. Those that do would likely be viewed by others as changelings.” Brimstone said. “This is bad. I can see how this is going to destroy the trust we have in one another. How will we endure this?” He nuzzled Moonshine, trying to comfort her, comforting himself in the process.

“The simple answer is, we do not.” Savage replied. “We will have to rebuild after the war.”

Moonshine awoke, once again in the future, her breathing ragged. She felt bodies all around her. Nightfisher. Sunflower. And somepony else. Something small and warm.

Twilight Twinkle.

She squirmed in the bed, trying to become comfortable again. After several minutes of squirming, she realised sleep was impossible. She shadow dove, freeing herself from the pile without disturbing others, and then reformed beside the bed. She turned and left the sleepers, going off to have a nice soak in a tub, hopefully with a nice drink.

Four companions sat, watching the sun settle into the tree tops, the day ending. Ivy planted a kiss on Brimstone, and then, as an afterthought, Minerva and Hoodwink as well.

“You are welcome to stay Hoodwink.” Ivy said.

Hoodwink nodded, leaning onto Minerva, watching the sun settling. “Stay with us Minerva, for a few days.” Hoodwink begged. “I’ve missed you. We should all be together for a while. We don’t spend enough time together.” Hoodwink rubbed her cheek against Minerva’s neck. “I remember how we used to sleep in the bed together when we were little. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

Brimstone glanced at Ivy, saying nothing, and Ivy replied with an almost imperceptible nod, her tail twitching. She raised an eyebrow at Brimstone, a faint smile upon her lips. He gave a faint nod in return.

“Both of you are staying until such a time I choose to let you leave. We could all use some time together.” Ivy said.

Minerva began to protest, and then realised how useless it would be. “Spike can handle the library.” She muttered.

As the two mares leaned upon each other, Ivy wrapped herself around Brimstone, getting comfortable on the platform near the top of her tree home, planting one more kiss on Brimstone’s ear.

The companions lapsed into silence as evening approached…

“Ivy?” Brimstone said, looking up at Ivy hanging from a branch up above him.

There was no reply. The four companions sat in the Royal Gardens of Canterlot, surrounded by guards, the four foals under watch.

Brimstone tapped Minerva with his hoof and then pointed upward. Minerva nodded, saying nothing, her horn igniting, and Brimstone felt himself growing lighter. He began to rise.

Ivy was wrapped in her leathery wing, a private cocoon, her head and neck folded against her body, hiding from the world.

Brimstone tapped her gently, hoping to see her grey eyes and know that she was alright. The wing unwound from around her body. She gazed at him, floating there next to her as she hung upside down. With remarkable speed, she shot out all four of her legs and snatched him, pulling him close, first wrapping her feathery wing around them both, followed by her leathery wing.

Brimstone found himself hanging upside down with Ivy, the blood rushing to his head. He was clutched in her legs, wrapped in her wings, feeling her warmth. There was the smell of smoke. Brimstone understood at this moment, this was a very intimate situation. He felt himself blushing, either from the blood rushing to his head or his close proximity to Ivy. The wings had surrounded them in a private curtain, shielding them from the world.

“Hi Ivy.” Brimstone said, his nose inches from hers.

Ivy said nothing, but continued to squeeze.

“Ivy, tell me, what happened in Ponyville? I’m worried.” Brimstone whispered, his nose tickled from Ivy’s smoky breath.

“I felt my mind slipping.” Ivy said, her voice faint, wisps of smoke coming out as she spoke.

Brimstone fought back a sneeze.

“I realised what I had done.” Ivy said, her voice strained. “The shock wore off, the anger went away, and I realised that I had done something bad. I never wanted to hurt anything. Ever.”

“I know.” Brimstone said. “We all know. We’ve been worried Ivy. You’ve shut us out.”

“I’m sorry.” Ivy said sootily. She pressed her nose up against Brimstone’s, enjoying his closeness. “Once it started to sink in, I couldn’t function. I don’t know what happened. I could see everything. Hear everything. I just couldn’t respond. I don’t want to kill anything ever again. I can’t bear these feelings.”

“I know Ivy.” Brimstone said, wrapping his forelegs around her neck. He clung to her tightly, partly out of need to comfort her, partly out of the knowledge that he was high above the ground and Ivy was the only thing keeping him from falling. He kissed her gently on the snout. “You don’t have to kill again Ivy, if you don’t want to. Focus on life instead. We’ll find another way for you to fight, perhaps something more defensive.”

Ivy pulled Brimstone tighter still. “I’m glad you’re not upset with me.” She said.

“Why would I be upset with you?” Brimstone said.

“We’re at war and I don’t want to kill things.” Ivy whispered, brushing her muzzle against Brimstone’s.

Brimstone realised with an embarrassed blush that blood was flowing to other places. He squirmed uncomfortably. This had happened before, always when alone or in private or a place he could hide it, but never when pressed up against Ivy. “Oh geez, I’m sorry Ivy.”

Ivy said nothing, but continued to hold Brimstone close.

“I, uh, can’t help it.” Brimstone explained, wondering if this was going to be a journal entry. The young colt tried to think about other things, hoping to make the growing problem go away. He felt Ivy breathing on him, the warmth of her body, the hot humid air filling the air trapped under Ivy’s wings that were wrapped around them. Ivy’s smoky breath. He could feel Ivy’s heart beating. The ripple of her muscles in her serpentine body as she pressed against him. It was almost too much.

“Shush.” Ivy said at last.

Brimstone fell silent, but continued to squirm. The squirming made it worse, he concluded, entirely too late. He sighed, and then tried to settle in, hoping he wouldn’t make this awkward moment any worse. They hung there, together, Brimstone feeling most grateful for Ivy’s wings wrapped around their bodies.

Ivy wasn’t giggling and that somehow made this moment even more awkward. Brimstone had tried to comfort Ivy, and now he was pressed against her with a sizeable problem of his own, wishing he could die from embarrassment.

Below, Minerva and Hoodwink sat reading, listening to the occasional words up above, sometimes stealing a glance upward to check on Brimstone and Ivy.

“I feel a little jealous sometimes.” Hoodwink said.

“So do I.” Minerva said. “Does that make me a bad friend?”

Hoodwink shrugged. She set her book down, marking her page. The book was about advanced magical theory and energy channeling. It was something that most adult unicorns would never be allowed to read, not without proper clearance. Minerva was reading about magical kinetics, the effect of a moving body during levitation and the various means to amplify transference of energy. Or, as Minerva had put it, how to throw a pebble and make it feel like a mountain had been thrown.

Savage had insisted that the foal’s reading material be made suitable for the task at hand, the task being war of course.

Minerva closed her eyes, setting down her own book, and tried to settle into that spot where the magic flowed, hoping to become at one with everything around her once again. She levitated a ball of water from the fountain nearby, trying to hold it within her magic, not allowing any water to leak out. There were leaks, little pinholes in her magic field, but they were small now. She rolled the water ball around, causing it to slosh, trying to make her magic field as solid as possible, getting it to the point of perfection where no water would leak out. It was something Twilight Sparkle had shown her.

Above them, Brimstone was still suffering from the most awkward moment in his life, trying not to think about what was pressing into Ivy. His eyes were closed. He was listening the sounds of Ivy’s breathing, the dawning realisation that friendship could forgive almost any embarrassment between friends.

“Ivy…” whispered Brimstone, “what about your roar?”

“What about my roar?” Ivy replied.

“Your voice can shatter windows. I know my mother gave you lessons. Perhaps you can use your voice to stun your enemies, scare them, drive them away. “ Brimstone pressed his nose against hers, planting a gentle kiss on her lips, his mind painfully aware of the problem still tucked between them.

“Maybe.” Ivy replied, kissing back lightly. “If I had to. I could try it.” She inwardly reflected about how much she sounded like her mother with those words. “Brimstone?” She asked, her voice a faint whisper still.

“Yes?” Brimstone replied, feeling his heart flutter in his chest.

“Help me make some life someday. When we’re older. Help me make up for what I’ve done.” Ivy said, her voice a faint hissing whisper. “Or else I’ll tell Hoodwink and Minerva all about your problem you are having right now.” Ivy didn’t giggle, but there was a faint smile.

“That’s… That’s…” Brimstone stammered.

“Fighting dirty.” Ivy finished. “Someday, you and I are going to pick up where we leave off, in a tree, just like this. When all of this is over, I will help rebuild. And I want you there with me.” Ivy said. “I know we are young, and it is a lot to ask, but I want you with me forever.” She pressed her muzzle against Brimstones, opening her lips slightly, kissing him softly. “A lot of bad things are going to happen. And I can’t face them unless I know there is something worth waiting for on the other side.”

“You have my promise.” Brimstone said breathlessly.

“I know you’ll keep your word.” Ivy said. “You found a way for Gala. I hope there is a way we can reach her soon and try to teach her the ear language.”

Brimstone nodded, his lips still brushing up against Ivy’s. “Ivy?”


“I’m probably going to have to do a lot of bad things. Please be waiting for me on the other side. I am going to have much to atone for.” Brimstone said, feeling his nostril brush up against Ivy’s.

“Brimstone?” Ivy said?

Brimstone’s head jerked, he snorted, clearing the cobwebs of his mind, pulling himself out of the past. His mind had wandered. The sun had dropped below the trees.

“Brimstone… You have a problem.” Ivy whispered. “You’ve sprouted the most impressive sapling.” Ivy tittered.

“I, uh, was thinking about that day in the tree. When we held each other. And made those promises. And uh…”

“And you squirmed and dry humped me for the first time?” Ivy said in a faint private whisper in Brimstone’s ear.

“I wasn’t trying to do that!” Brimstone said, cringing. “It was uncomfortable and I was worried you’d be upset and…”

Ivy silenced Brimstone with a talon placed carefully on his lips. “I am going to fix some food. Stay up here with them.” Ivy said.

A winged figure circled over the Everfree as the day ended and night took over. Dark, shadowy, the figure moved silently through the sky, dropping in altitude, eventually soaring just over the treeline. She soared through the air, just over the trees, heading for the tallest cluster of trees in the Everfree. She saw her destination, a platform with three figures silhouetted in the night, the platform made for visitors just like her.

Luna, Princess of the Night, landed gracefully on the platform, hooves clattering lightly, her wings barely folded when one of the figures tackled her with an embrace.

“Mother!” Brimstone shouted. “This is unannounced.”

Luna nodded. “I had to get out of Canterlot. I ask your permission for refuge.”

“Mother, I wish you’d stop that. You don’t need to ask.” Brimstone said.

“Protocol.” Luna said, just before being tackled by two mares. She was very nearly toppled from the platform, now buried under three ponies, all squeezing.

“There is much to tell you mother.” Brimstone said, thinking about two very different types of eggs.

Eventually, the three let go and allowed her to catch her breath.

“I had to get out of Canterlot as well.” Hoodwink said. “I’m going to be staying here for a few days.”

Luna gave a knowing nod. She shook out her wings and then carefully folded them back into place, settling her feathers.

“You are in for a shock.” Minerva said, not meeting Luna’s gaze, causing Brimstone to scowl in irritation at her.

“Come.” Brimstone said. “Everypony down stairs. There is much to discuss.” He took off down the stairs, three mares following him, Hoodwink and Minerva both beginning to look more than a little alarmed, knowing what waited down the stairs.

Ivy hugged Luna when Luna came through the door, squeezing the alicorn with reckless abandon, causing Luna’s eyes to bulge wide, her tongue lolling out, and an audible crackle coming from her spine.

“Ooof Still no respect for your mother in law!” Luna gasped.

“No,” agreed Ivy, “I guess I don’t.” Ivy planted a loud kiss on Luna’s cheek.

“Mother, before anything else is said or done, there needs to be a long talk.” Brimstone looked at his mother, a faint twinkle of fear in his eyes.

Ivy scowled, reaching up to scratch an antler. “We’ll talk over dinner.” Ivy said, flouncing off into the kitchen in a huff.