Oskar Osäker: Your Worst Enemy

by Legionary

First published

The third entry into the Viral Unicorn series

[Prototype 2] X MLP:FiM crossover

Emerald Gleaner is now known to the world at large, seen as cruel and heartless at best for the slaughter of the Changelings, she has few true friends in the world indeed. And with every action she takes those few seem to shrink in number. Worse still in an honest effort to seek help Discord brings up an old savagery once thought buried and forgotten.

Can Emerald Gleaner overcome the stress and pressures of openly running a nation and being held accountable for her actions? Or will the darkness of her past rise up to consume both her and all that she holds dear?

NOTE:Thanks goes to Trondason and Nightmareknight for helping me with the planning and editing

Chapter 1: Exposed

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Emerald was sleeping. Normally this was a bad thing, but she was exhausted enough that the only thing unpleasant about it was a lot of violent images and the sound of her mother screaming for her. Still quite bad, but not the worst she ever had. The odd thing however was this odd buzzing sound that started at some point and was growing louder. Eventually it ended up drowning out everything else and Emerald found herself waking up.

The Evolved blinked her eyes as she found herself staring at a familiar ceiling with a blue blur occasionally coming into view. Quickly taking stock of her surroundings, she found that she was in her and Twilight's bedroom. She also quickly realized that the buzzing sound was still present and found it emitting from the blue blur flying around the room.

“Navi?” Emerald asked after tracking the blur for a moment.

There was a trill of delight and the blur shot at Emerald and impacted her cheek with a light smack. Navi buzzed and trilled happily as she snuggled Emerald's cheek. Emerald shifted her form back into her human one before grasping Navi in her hands.

“It worked!” Emerald said happily as she petted a trilling Navi. “Feeling all better now, Navi?”

Navi took off from Emerald's grasp and started flying in circles around Emerald far faster than she ever could before in answer. The virus smiled but quickly frowned as she thought about how she went about keeping Navi alive and healthy; namely giving her an an altered strain of her own virus...

'Crap, she could release a super plague without realizing,' Emerald thought in worry. 'Definitely glad she hasn't really done anything just yet because I can still fix this.'

“Navi, could you come here?” Emerald beckoned to her pet who obediently flew over and lighted down on Emerald's outstretched hand. “Okay, now listen to me carefully. I'm going to do something that will feel really weird, but I need you to trust me and try not to resist it. Okay?”

Navi, in response, tilted to the side in some confusion before giving a trill which Emerald took as an affirmative. At that, Emerald took her pet and went to sit at Twilight's desk before setting to work.

Extending a tendril into Navi's flesh, Emerald began the slow finicky work of extracting lines of genetic code and basically decreasing Navi's viral potency. Even with Navi not fighting it, it was clear this wasn't something the virus in her wanted to happen. Thankfully, her virus didn't react violently. The thing that upgraded her control over her own viral creations aided her greatly here. She could have ended up being forced to basically hold Navi down and wage a microscopic war as she tried to render her pet less likely to accidentally cause a genocide by sneezing on someone.

It was a half hour of solid work later when Emerald finally pried the last of the potent genes from Navi who was looking a little nauseous from what she had just gone through. It may have been quite unpleasant for Navi, and even as a pet it still was a violation of her being, but Emerald viewed it as worth it. Blacklight at the potency Emerald now had wasn't something you entrusted to something with Navi's intellect and naivety. It was difficult to describe just how terrifyingly lethal and unstoppable any virus made by her strain would be. Her cells were capable of the Gray Goo apocalypse, basically. Airborne, waterborne, capable of infecting ANY biological life form and was capable of infecting metals and rock. If Emerald created a virus that did nothing but eat and replicate without any intention of stopping it, no one would be able to stop it before it consumed the world inside and out. Causing Navi a bit of discomfort was far more preferable to entrusting her with this power and hoping for the best.

'Not that she is helpless or downgraded to a lesser viral form,' Emerald thought as Navi took to the air again, not flying as fast as before due to some dizziness. 'She is still Blacklight... just starter Blacklight which is still rather deadly and potent if used smartly. No offense, but I do not think there is much worry there with Navi in the driver's seat. Still, I've not stayed alive this long by being stupid. I'll keep her with me at all times... hmm. Navi's intelligence wasn't exactly impressive before and it wasn't expected to be anything more because she was a little insect that was my pet, but now she's Blacklight. If I wanted, I could give her some stimulants for growth of intelligence...'

“Emerald!” came a shout from below; Twilight's voice. “I'm home! I'd like to talk to you right now!”

'I'll consider making Navi smarter later,' Emerald thought as said bug lighted down on her ear. 'Let's go see what Twilight wants. She didn't look so good last time I saw her and it would be nice to see her right about now. Feels like more and more of the world's eyes are staring at me nowadays.'

With that, Emerald switched back to her pony form and went downstairs to give her girlfriend a warm welcome.

ALPHA

“HELP!? I don't need help!” Emerald shouted at Twilight in anger.

Twilight and Emerald were downstairs in the library, and off to the side staring on in worry and some fright was Spike, Navi and Owliscious. The virus had never been able to give Twilight that warm welcome, for as soon as she arrived in the library Twilight started laying into her about what she did in Canterlot. Emerald who had basically spent most of the day yesterday having people shouting at her for going out of her way to help didn't take this so well and got angry. It got even worse when Twilight started going on about some psychiatry research she had been doing and told Emerald she wanted her to go to therapy to help with her issues. Emerald took this even worse than the criticism of the help she had given Equestria.

“Yes you do, Emerald!” Twilight shouted back, now definitely riled up by the argument. “It isn't normal for anypony to kill others with the ease you do, but I put it aside because I know your past. But causing the death of thousands and being so blase about it? I've got to draw the line somewhere, Emerald! I've done so much for you already, Emerald! Can't you just do this for me?! Is that so much to ask?”

“The last time I did something you asked, I got put away for two months,” Emerald stated.

The silence that followed those words was so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife as Emerald and Twilight stared at each other. Emerald's previous expression of anger was replaced by a blank one as she stared at Twilight who now had a deeply hurt but also guilty look.

“Emerald, you... you KNOW I didn't intend for that to happen,” Twilight said softly as wetness began to appear at the corners of her eyes. “I wanted to help you. That was all that I intended and wanted to happen, but...”

'I DON'T CARE!' was what Emerald wanted to say, but she knew it wasn't true so she kept her mouth closed and continued to stare for the moment, not trusting what may come out of her mouth next in this moment of anger.

“... Navi, come here,” Emerald said and started walking out of the room. The little bug lifted off the top of Spike's green crest and flew over to buzz and orbit around Emerald as the virus was stomping out.

“Emerald, where are you going?” Twilight asked as she wiped the beginnings of tears from her eyes.

“Going to work,” Emerald simply replied.

“But you aren't a model...” Twilight began, but the door slammed behind Emerald so hard it shattered in three pieces and sent some pieces of the door frame flying. “Anymore...”

A moment later, a flash of pink light signaled Emerald's teleport away. Twilight sighed and began fixing the door with some precise applications of her magic as Spike approached with a deeply concerned look on his face.

“Y-you and Emerald aren't going to break up... are you?” Spike asked hesitantly.

“I'd think not,” Twilight said a little confidently. “We've had our arguments before... though none as intense as this... but I think we can move past this easily enough once we've had some time to ourselves. In either case, despite how bad this has gone, I am not done with this. I am going to broach her getting some professional help again. I just need to do a bit more carefully.”

BETA

With an intense flash of light and a bang that made anyone that was a bit too close recoil, Emerald arrived in the Enclave. The virus took the time to reform back into her human form as Navi took to the air before storming off down the street.

As Emerald stomped along almost hard enough to crack the now paved streets, she remembered she forgot to tell Twilight about Navi and specifically what she had changed her into. However, currently Emerald didn't care at all about that little fact and banished it from her mind as she continued along.

'I need something to cool myself down,' Emerald thought as she forced herself to not crack the road with every step. 'I know, I've been meaning to practice with some ideas I've had about re-purposing some magical spells. Testing the destructive potential of ideas should help me calm down.'

With that, Emerald made her next destination somewhere in the Everfree. She didn't have a specific destination in mind; she just planned to walk and find some clearing. Hopefully the walk would help clear her head a bit and calm her down as she didn't intend to do the magical testing purely for stress relief.

With her thoughts otherwise occupied, Emerald failed to fully take in her surroundings. Namely the fact the dogs were treating her differently. Before they'd cheerfully greet their leader and give her smiles but now they were either giving her a respectable amount of space or solemnly nodding their heads towards her. Before, Emerald's fairly lax attitude towards being in a position of leadership made the dogs feel like they had a more personal relationship with her. Some even stopped thinking of her as their boss and more someone who had a ton of good ideas and thus was worth listening to. Emerald putting her foot down seemed to have reinforced the view of her as not only a leader but one that didn't tolerate insubordination, but didn't go to the same lengths as Nidhogg did to punish it. In some ways, Emerald lost something great with the Diamond Dogs and in some ways she had regained something important. It was hard to say if the tradeoff was worth it, but as always, Emerald had only herself to blame. Of course, this wasn't mentioning the Dogs who now had some rather negative views of Emerald due to her recent decisions. They happened to be mostly the few immigrant dogs who were part of the Warhounds, though, and thus were a small group in themselves.

Suddenly, Fenrir appeared wearing his black Warhound armor, jogging down a street having apparently heard that Emerald was back in the city.

“Princeps,” Fenrir said respectfully and fell into a kneeling position on the road before Emerald, taking his helmet off and holding it in the crook of his arm.

“Hn,” Emerald grunted and continued walking past him.

Without missing a beat, Fenrir rose from his kneeling position and fell into step at Emerald's side.

“Would you like an update on the forces still deployed in Canterlot, my lady?” Fenrir asked.

“Don't call me that,” Emerald stated but gestured for him to continue.

“Half of our forces have returned to the Enclave,” Fenrir reported from memory. “All the war buggies have been returned to the engineers and the entirety of the Raptors have returned as ordered. The other half of the dogs are in Canterlot on guard duty under the command of Alpha Tavish Degroot who himself is under the command of Celestia as you ordered. However, I confess that I and the other Alphas have taken liberties to ensure that all the Warhounds that have reacted badly to the battle in Canterlot were the ones to be returned home.”

“Soldiers need to de-stress from time to time. This can be rather important,” Emerald merely stated in reply. “Anything else to report?”

“Yes. I've been told several times by Princesses Celestia and Luna to remind you that tomorrow is the day of the League meeting in which you are to be presented,” Fenrir reported.

“This soon?” Emerald said in surprise and came to a stop to give Fenrir her full attention.

“I am not aware of the full details, but I did make sure to take what little free time I had to myself in Canterlot to do some investigation,” Fenrir stated. “One master Gyatso apparently has connections with the Heron government and managed to pull enough strings to get a majority attendance for an emergency meeting. That combined with the rather high profile invasion of Canterlot and the fact that many of the guests were politicians has managed to get this gathering set up so quickly.”

“...That is actually quite a bit of information you managed to find out. Good work,” Emerald said honestly.

“I cannot claim all the praise, my Princeps,” Fenrir replied with a smart salute, “I've had some advisory assistance from Tavish as well as a good bit of help from our Pony Auxiliary Whisper Wind.”

“My commendations to them as well,” Emerald said, the small hint of a smile just beginning to appear. “Is there anything else?”

“No. That was my full report, Princeps,” Fenrir reported.

“Great. You can go back to what you were doing,” Emerald said, and was about to turn away when she paused. “Is Belvedere back?”

“Yes he is, Princeps.”

“...Tell him the time for our talk will be today if he can spare the time,” Emerald said before walking away.”

“Of course. Right away, my lady,” Fenrir said with a quick bow of his head before replacing his helmet and making his way to follow his new command.

No one else approached Emerald for the entirety of her trip towards the surface and the forest. Before long, the virus found herself crossing over the border of clear cut land that was the surface land controlled by the Enclave and the wilderness that was Sovereign's domain.

Emerald made her way through the forest quietly, her hands in the pockets of her hoodie and Navi buzzing about her head as she enjoyed her now tireless nature to it's fullest extent. Eventually she found what she was looking for; a large open clearing for her to practice her ideas end and wreck some of the landscape without Sovereign complaining.

Coming to a stop in the center of the clearing, Emerald made sure to keep track of Navi's position at all times so she didn't accidentally get hit. With that precaution in place, Emerald readied her first re-purposed spell, the Heat Ray.

The spell the heat ray was developed from was a warming spell meant for keeping one warm in cold temperatures and as well as boiling water and heating up food. Emerald didn't change much from it except for the amount of power that went into the spell and the targets she would be using it on.

Focusing on a patch of grass a few feet away, Emerald aimed at it with one of her fingers for a moment. At first there was nothing, but after a few seconds the grass started to brown and then wisps of smoke rose from the patch. After a few seconds of smoldering, a small flame suddenly leapt into existence on the patch of grass.

'Okay, the theory works,' Emerald thought with a smile as she telekinetically manipulated a handful of dirt onto the small fire to smother it. 'Now let's kick it up a few notches and see what I can really do with this.'

Emerald turned her attention to another patch of grass and pointed at it. This time, the grass practically exploded into flame instantly, putting a smile on Emerald's face. She looked around until she found a boulder of a decent size before unleashing her heat ray spell on it. Since it was a larger target, Emerald also widened the area of effect of the laser which predictably raised the power requirements.

Contrary to popular belief, rocks don't exactly transition smoothly to a molten state when hot enough. The pebbles around the boulder heated up rapidly along with the target before finally exploding with sharp cracking sounds. The boulder itself heated up quietly as the pebbles exploded like firecrackers, but before long there was a loud bang as the boulder split into several pieces from the heat. Finally, after a few more seconds, the boulder went molten as its heat went further above its ability to resist.

Emerald studied the results of her spell for a few moments before using magic to carpet the area around the boulder with dirt, smothering the flames that had sprung up around the partially molten rocks. It didn't solve the problem of the hot rocks themselves, but that was okay as Emerald had another spell she wanted to test.

This spell was one re-purposed from a spell used for constructing refrigerators and other kinds of frozen food lockers. Emerald had called it the Cryo Beam; hopefully she'd find out if the spell was worthy of the name.

Pointing at the pile of partially molten rocks, Emerald unleashed her spell. Like before, Emerald didn't use her spell on full power, wanting to study the feel of the spell as it worked and maybe spot any flaws so she could correct them on the go. Her studying seemed to pay off, however, as the spell worked without fault and the molten rocks started to slowly darken and cool.

Now an interesting fact about the refrigeration spell was how it made things cooler. It didn't use raw power to force things to a different temperature like the Heat Ray did. Instead, it simply moved the heat away from the targeted object or area. Now normally there were heat sinks built into devices that used the refrigeration spell so there was no worry of heating up the surrounding area, but that wasn't the case here. So while the molten rocks were cooling, the heat that made them so hot was being shuffled into the air above it. This wasn't exactly an issue, but it did give Emerald ideas for the heat. One was that she could have the heat be simply moved to a different area of her victim, so anyone she used the Cryo Beam on would both freeze and overheat at the same time. Another idea was that she could simply use herself as the heat sink and use the stored heat to further power her Heat Rays.

Once the rocks were fully cooled, Emerald ceased her spell and turned away, feeling satisfied at how things were going so far. Moving onto one final spell, she walked towards one of the few trees standing within the clearing itself. The final spell she had actually learned from Clock Work. It was the spell they used on the speakers. While Clock Work couldn't use unicorn magic to fix the speakers if they got wrecked, he still knew enough to know how to keep them in top condition until there was no choice to either have it repaired or replaced.

Standing a few feet away from the tree, Emerald readied the spell she had dubbed the Sonic Cannon. Encouraged by the success of the previous spells, Emerald decided to use the Sonic Cannon at the intended power level. There was a loud wail and suddenly a large circle was gouged into the bark of the tree as sound waves ripped at it insistently.

'Hmm... pretty good,' Emerald thought as she ended the spell. 'The thing about sound though...'

A moment after Emerald had ended the spell, there was a loud creaking and cracking sound and the tree started to tilt to the side at the point Emerald fired the Sonic Cannon at. After a moment, the tree started its fall in earnest and crashed to the ground.

'Is that it goes through most things,' Emerald continued. 'So while this spell has a lot of potential, it is also rather dangerous to use in places with non-combatants. The other thing about sound, though, is that it comes in many different forms, so if I want to just incapacitate people I could just change the sound itself and make one that is agonizing and nothing else. Kind of hard to fight when your body is wracked with pain and you feel completely nauseous.'

With that, Emerald was done with the testing she had planned. There was actually one other spell, but it didn't really count when she thought about it. It was just her practicing her skill with telekinesis, moving multiple objects at once or moving said objects at greater speeds.

As Emerald went through her practice, she thought about the actual need of these spells. Technically she didn't need to use her magic for combat as her own physical and viral capabilities were perfectly good and so worked against everything she fought. But that was the thing, wasn't it? So far it has worked, but there was no telling what she may face in the future. She may be incredibly strong now, but really, potentially all it could take was someone with an ability she had not been expecting at all to get the better of her. Magic opened a vast array of ways she could go about dispatching an enemy or nullifying something that made killing them much easier. So the virus practiced her magic and worked on refining it to ever deadlier ends.

Several hours later, Emerald was finally done training her magical abilities for the day. The clearing was completely wrecked to say the least; Sovereign wasn't going to like that. That much was for certain. But the virus was willing to deal with having to listen to the Forest Spirit's complaining so she could let loose a little bit.

Emerald was making her way back at a leisurely pace with Navi perched atop her hat when she stepped on something. The virus wasn't really paying her surroundings much attention again, much more focused on thinking about the plan she thought up for her presentation before the League of Nations. In fact, she wouldn't have noticed she stepped on something odd had it not squawked rather loudly.

Looking down, the virus found a cockatrice with its reptilian tail caught beneath her foot. Utterly surprised at finding the little creature she had set about looking for several years but had since given up on, Emerald lifted her foot up and quickly swiped down with a hand and plucked the little creature off the ground. Ignoring the protesting squawks of the creature, she turned it this way and that, seeing a real cockatrice for the first time instead of a stylized picture in a book. Done with her little examination of it, she squeezed down with her hand.

The cockatrice squawked in pain before turning it's head to face Emerald, it's gaze meeting hers.

GAMMA

Gyatso took in deep, calming breathes as he went through a few positions and forms of his fighting style.

The old heron was currently in the training grounds of the Royal Guards. The grounds were lined with training dummies, but Gyatso wasn't here for that kind of practice as he already gone through the main body of his own personal training earlier that day and was just winding down for the day. Normally, Swift would have been with him doing the same, but Gyatso had decided to take mercy on his beleaguered apprentice and let her have a day out on the town after she asked for the fifth time. No doubt she was enjoying herself very much, Gyatso wondered if she would still appreciate the day off if she knew he'd be working her twice as hard to make up for lost time tomorrow. From all that he knew of his apprentice, he was fairly certain she'd be unrepentant of the break she took.

As Gyatso smiled in rumination of past journeys and adventures with his student, a pony entered the near empty training grounds. At a glance, the old heron recognized the purple armor of the Captain of the Royal Guard himself, Shining Armor. Gyatso was also able to recognize from the stance and the way Armor walked that he was rather angry.

Shining Armor spared Gyatso a glance and kept moving forward towards one of the nearby training dummies. Once he was before the dummy in question, he started striking at it.

Gyatso subtly studied the Captain of the Guard as he beat on the dummy. He was putting a lot of energy into his strikes and he was also shouting and growling with each powerful blow that sent the dummy rattling on its post. It was rather clear that the Captain was only here to blow off some steam and cool a riled temper.

For about a minute, Gyatso let Armor beat on the dummy as he himself went through several forms before speaking up.

“You know, while beating on something does help sooth one's anger...” Gyatso began serenely, interrupting Armor from his stress release. “It also conditions one to search for something to hit every time you get angry. Which can get rather unpleasant if the only thing around to hit is another person.”

Shining Armor seemed to be more irritated by the advice than anything at first, but after a few moments Armor seemed to accept it with a deep sigh. For a long moment, Armor was left standing in place as he wondered what else to do. After watching Gyatso go through his forms and positions for a few moments, Armor decided to follow the Heron Master's lead and started doing a few basic exercises of his own.

For several minutes the only thing that could be heard was the sound of Gyatso's robes and feathers ruffling in the wind as he rapidly shifted position every few seconds and the clinking of the armor Shining was wearing as he went through some stretches. When Armor was about to pick up the pace of his own exercise, Gyatso spoke up again.

“What has troubled you so, Captain Armor?” Gyatso asked calmly. “Perhaps it would calm you further to share your woes?”

Armor stopped his own exercise and seemed very hesitant to answer Gyatso's question. However, there was something about the old heron. His kindly demeanor and the air about him was very sagely. It made the unicorn wanted to trust that all the heron wanted was to help him through his own problems and nothing else.

“It's... about a certain individual, really,” Armor began somewhat reluctantly. “A criminal to be specific. Normally I wouldn't let a simple criminal bother me this much, but nothing about this criminal is normal. Sh-They got away from me many times and now they are out in the open I cannot bring them in as they are basically both physically and politically untouchable.”

“This criminal caused Equestria a lot of grief with their actions,” Armor continued, finding coming clean with his feelings and concerns easier and easier in the presence of the still training but clearly closely listening heron. “Not only did they do that, but their ability to get away from the Guard untouched time and time again has marred the Royal Guard's own reputation and the people's trust in us to protect them.”

“Not only that, but when they finally resurfaced and the chance presents itself to have justice for past crimes be done, I am forced to stand down,” Armor added, his voice dripping with the frustration he felt at his predicament.

“Hmm...” Gyatso hummed thoughtfully as he slowly came to a stop and faced Armor, taking several deep calming breaths. “What is the reasons for letting this criminal be?”

“Well for one, she is really physically... intimidating,” Armor said, now very willing to vent his issues on someone who was willing to listen. “But not only that, my higher ups somehow managed to become personally invested in this criminal. A criminal! Then there are other elements who have even more personal connections with her and would react really badly if any action were to be taken against her. Of all the things to happen, I have to now deal with the idea that there are GOOD and DECENT ponies who are willing to stand in defense of a criminal instead of letting her face justice. How am I supposed to handle this? I am a Royal Guard, not some local bully trying to push around some ponies so they'd do what I say. I just can't understand it! How could she do this?! She...”

“Hmm...” Gyatso hummed again, as Armor seemed to realize he was letting out too many clues to truth of his problem. “Is this criminal one Emerald Gleaner?”

Armor flinched as he realized he really did let out too many clues of the truth. Armor considered trying to salvage the situation and try to deny what Gyatso figured out, but after thinking about it he decided there was no point. He couldn't fool someone who looked as perceptive as Gyatso did.

“Yes it is,” Armor answered with a sigh.

“There is nothing to fear from me, Captain Armor,” Gyatso said reassuringly. “I am already in the know of the situation surrounding Emerald Gleaner.”

“You are?”

“Yes. I know that she masqueraded as the Gray Fox, leader of the Diamond Dogs of Equestria,” Gyatso replied. “Though I suppose it can hardly be called a masquerade if she actually was the leader. If you allow for it, I shall make a few suppositions on your woes.”

“Hmm... while you are legitimately angry about what Emerald did, as is expected as Captain of the guard, it is not the majority that fuels it,” Gyatso said as he slowly started to his exercises again. “No, the majority of your anger isn't born out of the concern you feel as Captain of the guard. It is born out of the concern you feel as Shining Armor, brother to Twilight Sparkle.”

Armor paused and looked thoughtful about what Gyatso said. After a long moment, he had to agree with the heron's guess. Sure he was angry as Captain of the Guard, but as a brother he was very deeply concerned for his sister since she was involved with such a dangerous person.

“What do you think I should do?” Armor asked.

“While you can't do anything about the concern you feel as Captain of the Guard,” Gyatso began. “You can do something about the concern you feel as a brother. You should go to your sister.”

“...Thank you for you advice. You've given me a lot to think about,” Armor said after nodding and digesting what he heard for a moment. Then he turned around and left. While he still felt tense and angry, he felt much better now that he knew he was going to be doing something about it.

Gyatso continued to exercises, but after Armor left he suddenly leapt fifteen feet into the air. The old heron master created a swirling sphere of rushing winds between his wings and sent it flying towards the ground beneath him, where it impacted far softer than expected and settled a foot above the ground. Then he fell as well and landed softly upon his sphere of rushing winds and took up a roosting position.

'Ah Emerald Gleaner, what glorious changes you bring,' Gyatso mused internally with a thoughtful hum. 'Glorious... but terrifying changes to the paths we are made to walk in life.'

DELTA

Emerald tilted her head to the side as she met the Cockatrice's gaze, it was documented that its gaze would turn people to stone but she wasn't... wait she felt an odd numbing sensation from the tips of her toes. Looking down, the virus saw nothing at first but as she focused on her other senses she was able to see that she was in fact turning to stone, just very, VERY slowly. At the rate she was being turned to stone, she would eventually be fully petrified in roughly three minutes. But the thing was that she wasn't exactly trying to resist the process currently.

With a single thought, the healthy cells fell upon the ones turned to stone and rapidly consumed them. Within a few seconds, what little progress the stoning process had made was repulsed completely and what cells that was turned to stone after were replaced far faster than they could be petrified.

Having observed what was happening to her on the cellular level, Emerald hummed and simply crushed the cockatrice with a sickening crunch in her hand and consumed it, taking in it's ability to petrify as well as whatever had allowed it to hide from the viral pulse.

As the Evolved continued on her way back to the Enclave, she considered what was going on with the petrification. She guessed that it had something to do with her now great power, it somehow served as a natural resistance to the Cockatrice's gaze whereas if she had run into it when she arrived she likely wouldn't have been as successful in resisting. This also made the gaze not as useful as it initially appeared. Sure she had another way to deal with normal people but she had tons of ways to kill people by now. What she needed now was something to help against incredibly powerful people like Discord.

'That's another reason why I am practicing my magic more,' Emerald thought. 'So I could have more means of fighting people that are more around my level, rather than trying to beat them with pure brute force... I think I have an idea for a way to fight someone powerful, though the means are rather mundane compared to everything else I have. But I can't deny the damage potential...'

As Emerald continued her thinking, she arrived in a rather small clearing that was shortly before the artificial one that was the Enclave's surface territory. In this clearing, Belvedere was standing against the trunk of a tree with his eyes closed, clearly patiently waiting for her.

“I heard you wanted to have that talk you promised,” Belvedere stated as he got off the tree he was leaning against and approached Emerald.

“Yes, but I'll let you open with your own grievances,” Emerald said as she walked over to a bare stump in the clearing and sat down, Belvedere now standing before her with crossed arms. “Because it's you who thinks there is something so wrong with what I am doing that you must openly defy me when I needed the dogs most.”

“I defy you out of concern for your mental state,” Belvedere said immediately. “The thing you needed us most for was to help the ponies, the very people that have hurt us twice and already betrayed the both of us once. And yet when they were in trouble, instead of letting them lie in their own issues and problems you have us go out to save them. Don't you realize how this looks? What does our loyalty to you even mean? Does it mean anything to you beyond the fact you have servants to command?”

“Bah...” Emerald snorted in some amusement at the idea she held Equestria as valuable and important beyond the few people she cared for who called it home. “You should already know the answer to that question by now, Belvedere. Or did my actions as the Gray Fox drip with care for how the ponies may suffer from me stealing their means of making wealth?”

“And what about Twilight Sparkle?” Belvedere stated heatedly. “The mare you entrusted everything, including secrets you don't tell us about? You told about the Enclave, you told her your own closely guarded secrets and entrusted her with your own heart. And yet after she betrayed all that you are not only willing overlook it but leap to her aid at your own cost when she needs it.”

“That was a personal situation between the both of us and you know it!” Emerald snapped. “Or did Twilight not keep the secret of the Enclave to herself and not even hint at its existence? Because I'm certain sure she didn't.”

“I'll accept that, but you have yet to convince me of anything else about this.” Belvedere stated before pausing for a long moment. “Emerald... don't you trust me?”

“...” The virus sighed deeply at that as she cradled her face in her palms for a moment before looking back up at her unofficial second in command. “...Take a seat over here, Belvedere. What I'm going to tell you will take a while.”

Belvedere hesitated for only a moment before walking forward and joining Emerald on the stump as she moved over to make room for him. The two of them sat on that stump staring at the ground silently for a long moment before Emerald looked up, causing Belvedere to look up as well and meet her gaze.

“Well... my story begins about several years ago in an entirely different world called Earth,” Emerald began.

And so a long hour passed, filled with Emerald relating her tale to a completely silent Belvedere as they sat side by side on that stump. Emerald shared everything in that time, from her early life before the first outbreak in New York with her mother, Adela, to her days on the streets hungry and homeless, to her brief period with the cannon fodder Evolved before becoming Cadre, and finally arriving in this world and all that she had done before meeting the diamond dogs and a few things after that she hadn't told them about.

“... If it wasn't for Twilight and all that she was to me, I'd not be the person I am today,” Emerald said a bit quietly. “In fact, in all likelihood if it weren't for her I would have likely just killed those first diamond dogs I met, I honestly don't know what I would have done with the rest of you afterwards, though. I'm just too different now... maybe I wouldn't have even bothered... “

“Anyway, what Twilight did, locking me away in stone for two months I mean,” Emerald continued with a shake of her head. “That wasn't done with any harmful intention at all. She really did mean to help me and if it had worked instead of... the point is she didn't betray your trust and expose the Enclave, Belvedere. What happened was something personal between the two of us. Besides, it's not like you all suffered in my absence. You did make good use of all that I taught you and made those extra steam generators to fill in for the Storm Sapphire when its store of magic ran out, which we are still using by the way since you all did such a good job of making them.”

“And... honestly, I wasn't exactly being truthful about the reasons why I wanted to deploy the Warhounds to Canterlot and fight off the invasion,” Emerald added after a moment of hesitation. “It wasn't done to make us look like the good guys or good neighbors or anything like that. It... my girlfriend was in trouble. She was in trouble and I couldn't be everywhere at once. Not only that, but my friends were in trouble as well. I needed help and I remembered you telling that there wasn't anything the Dogs wouldn't do if only I'd just ask... so I decided to be selfish and used my army for selfish means.”

“...” Belvedere was still silent and was facing towards the ground intensely, deep in thought. Finally, he turned towards Emerald. “Just answer this question. What do the lives and happiness of your dogs mean to you, Emerald? Because those loyal dogs who really would do anything for you no matter how much they may dislike it are in a terrible place right now. They may not be physically harmed, but emotionally they are in agony and they put themselves in that state for you.”

“Ugh...” Emerald sighed and rubbed her face. “Belvedere, you know better than anyone that healing psychological scars is something I'm still trying and mostly failing to do for myself. Just... just give me a minute to think of something... alright how about... the dogs who are suffering from PTS- from trauma will be given time off to heal and recover. And along with that, I'll also supply some antidepressants to help them through the harsher moments. This is honestly the best I can do, Belvedere. Being with friends and family to heal... I mean it's been helping me...”

“Thank you, Emerald.” Belvedere said quietly. “I'll make sure to let the dogs know about your plans for them.”

“Belvedere... you asked if I trusted you, well you have your answer now,” Emerald began. “But do you trust me? Or... has that changed?”

“Emerald, our relationship wasn't exactly built upon a foundation of mutual trust,” Belvedere replied simply and honestly. “What trust that exists between us has always been a luxury and privilege.”

“Right, of course...” Emerald sighed and rubbed her head.

“But,” Belvedere began with something approaching a grin upon his normally perpetually stoic features. “I do trust you to behave like a traumatized maniac sometimes and I hope you trust me to try to pull you back and calm you down when you do.”

“Uh, wah??” Emerald blinked and stared at Belvedere in surprise. Was that a joke? “... Heh. Sure thing, Belvedere.”

For a long moment the two sat together in what was now a comfortable silence as they both digested what had been said to each other in the past hour. A leader and her trusted second in command.

“Well, since I'm starting this whole being open thing with people who place their trust in me and live in my care.” Emerald began casually. “Celestia told me I ought to prepare to be presented to the League of Nations, a group consisting of nations from all over the known world, since because I was being very public back in Canterlot and there is no real way to return to anonymity after everything that has happened. I plan to be wearing this special outfit I've been thinking about and I also plan to be taking some Alphas with me as my escorts of sorts. Mostly they'll be there so they can see and learn some new things about the wider world, though, and I intend for one of them to be you.”

“Hmph...” Belvedere nodded but huffed at the mention of Celestia's name.

'Hmm? Oh wait, that's right,' Emerald thought in some puzzlement before suddenly realizing. 'Quite a lot of Diamond Dogs are unhappy with Celestia due to her failure to keep Nidhogg contained. And I haven't exactly kept anyone in the loop regarding Celestia letting bygones be bygones regarding the mass burglary of Equestria's goods, sending them into a recession and all the slavery the dogs did in the past. Good thing I've decided to change that now.'

“Just so you know I made Celestia aware of what happened concerning Nidhogg and the Old Kingdom,” Emerald said to the other dog, sharply getting his attention. “She was willing to give a lot to make amends for what had happened in the past and has gone to quite some extents to make sure Tartarus is reinforced to make further escape much more unlikely. My request was for her to let bygones be bygones regarding the dogs' past history of slavery over the ponies and our more recent crimes which drove her kingdom into a recession it is only now springing back from.”

“Hmph, I would have taken her for all she was worth.” Belvedere huffed but nodded in agreement with Emerald's decision. “In any case, I'll let the other dogs know that Celestia was made to pay for her past crimes. I'm sure the vagueness of the statement will let them think up some far more satisfying punishments Celestia had to go through.”

“You know... after learning how much Twilight means to you, I'm surprised you didn't become angry with me over what happened between me and her,” Belvedere stated curiously.

“Angry over what?” Emerald asked. “What exactly happened?”

“She did not tell you?” Belvedere said in surprise and continued unhesitatingly. “When you disappeared for those two months I decided to investigate why you had gone out of contact with us for so long. I went to see Twilight first. ‘If anyone would know what you were up to it would be here’ were my thoughts. When I talked to her and she admitted that she had sealed you away with the Elements, I am not afraid to admit that in my anger I had struck her with my pistol.”

“...” Emerald was silent at that. Her mouth opened and closed for a few moments as her expression looked completely torn between anger and confusion. One of her hands started twitching unnervingly and writhed and throbbed with black tendrils. “You... hit her. I... she didn't tell me about that so... I guess she was fine with it so... god damn it...”

Emerald stood up and paced a few seconds with a calm Belvedere watching her do so. Eventually, Emerald stopped her pacing and turned back towards Belvedere with an expression that brooked no argument.

“I'm going to let this go but if you ever feel the need to strike Twilight again, you to come to me about it, alright?” Emerald demanded.

“Of course, boss,” Belvedere replied and got a sigh from Emerald as she scratched her head. “I believe we've gone over everything that needs to be gone over. I have some work that needs to be done, so I'll see you later.”

“Yeah sure,” Emerald said as the Alpha got up and walked past her before an idea struck her and she called out. “Oh, and Belvedere! I'll entrust you to let some of the Alphas of your own choosing into the know of what we talked about.”

“I already have a clear idea as of who should be told,” Belvedere stated his reply as she walked into the underbrush of the forest.

Emerald continued to pace again, once more feeling the anger that she had just gone to bleed off in the forest start to simmer to the surface. Eventually she felt better and calm again to start making her way back to the Enclave. In only a minute she found herself back in the clearing with Navi having taken to the air about her head again.

As the virus made her way through the area, she looked over to the side where Whisper Wind's cottage was and saw said former thief was with Bluno. The normally perpetually happy husky Diamond Dog didn't look so happy anymore. He was cradling his small legs with his large arms as Whisper rubbed his back and spoke soft comforting words to him.

'Yeah, Belvedere was right...' Emerald thought. 'I really need to do something for my dogs. They need a bit of active kindness from me for once. I’ll just run some quick tests on the big monsters I have in the cages below, then I'll get straight to work on those antidepressants.'

Plans for the rest of the day thought out, Emerald teleported with a crimson flash down below.

EPSILON

The next day found Celestia and Luna already at the kraken that the League Headquarters sat on. The two princesses had been driven a little haggard that morning themselves, surprised at how quickly the League meeting was happening. But they didn't look it at all, wearing their finest jewelry and royal vestments for this. Despite their issues with Emerald, they actually were hoping things would go well for her today.

“What are your thoughts, dear sister?” Luna asked.

“I hope Emerald has a plan for the upcoming meeting,” Celestia stated worriedly. “Her motives may have been noble, but her means were unquestionably brutal. The League members will know this and look unfavorably on her for it.”

“My hopes are the same,” Luna replied. “My student certainly has a history of being tricky and wily. It's possible she has something in place to at least lessen the potential fallout of her actions... though if all goes well and her nation is accepted, what are your hopes for the future?”

“Emerald's nation is clearly becoming ever more increasingly industrialized,” Celestia began. “I'm hoping that the Enclave and Equestria can benefit from a partnership of sorts in the future. Hmm... The Enclave has the industry for profitable trade but none of the trade fleets and caravans. Perhaps a trade agreement can have Equestria act as the middle pony of sorts; the Enclave the producer and we the ones who do the shipping.”

“You believe a nation of barely twenty thousand can produce goods enticing enough for other nations to desire business?” Luna asked.

“I believe Emerald's Enclave has much hidden deep in those tunnels beneath the Everfree,” Celestia answered. “Sometimes I find myself wondering and even fearing a little for what she may think up and build in the solitude and isolation of that dark forest.”

Luna frowned and nodded a little, though she did look look disagreeable on her sister's wording.

Suddenly an intense flash of crimson light signaled the end of any further conversation as Emerald arrived.

The virus was also flanked by three diamond dogs, each wearing the black armor of Emerald's army, but all of them were sans helmets and thankfully they were also unarmed, though honestly Emerald clearly didn't need armed soldier to be absolutely dangerous and lethal. Of the dogs, one was a tall, lanky greyhound, one was a short and stocky terrier and finally one was a massive and heavily massive wolf like diamond dog. However the appearance of Emerald herself caught the two princesses' attention.

It was clear that Emerald was most certainly taking the upcoming meeting with the League very seriously, as was dressed much more formally. She wore pure white dress coat, pants and shoes with a band on her shoulder bearing the emblem of her nation. The coat had golden buttons going up the middle and the clothes in general clung to her form much more tightly than the loose, baggy clothes she wore before ever did. She was also without her hat this time, choosing to go bareheaded. This also revealed the different way she wore her hair. Rather than let it hang loosely, she had gathered most of the back into a neat ponytail, and one could tell just by looking that Emerald made her hair much longer than normal as the pony tail hung down to the middle of her back. One final eye catching detail was a short cape Emerald was wearing that ended at her waist. The cape was just as white as her fine clothes, but underneath was a moving field of stars like a beautiful night sky.

“Hello,” Emerald greeted with a small smile to the two alicorns. “How do I look? Oh, and I hope it isn't too much trouble that I brought a few observers with me, is it?”

“It is no issue at all and I do think you look wonderful, Emerald,” Celestia stated before getting a knowing smile on her face. “Is the cape with the starry night sky on it there for the reason I think it is there for?”

“Well I figured since I am a student of the Princess of the Night, I ought to represent that fact,” Emerald simply stated to Luna's visible delight as she smiled widely at Emerald.

“Well as much as I wish to continue this line of discussion, we'll have to end it for now,” Celestia said as she got serious. “Emerald, are you prepared to be presented to the League of Nations?”

“Yes I am,” Emerald replied solemnly. “It's a bit quicker then I expected it to happen, but I am fully prepared for them all the same.”

“Good. Let's be off then,” Celestia said with a nod towards the building. “The meeting will be starting soon.”

With that, the group walked into the building. For the most part they were ignored, but there was a great deal of whispering and attention from some of the representatives in the lobby and from the people working there, all of them talking about the events in Canterlot and how brutal it was. As expected of this world, though the rumors of what happened were actually more tame than the actual events.

Eventually they reached a point where the three dogs that had accompanied Emerald went off to the observation room while the rest went on their way to the main floor. After some more walking, they entered the large meeting chamber for the League members. Since this meeting was on short notice, there weren't that many representatives present, but a little over half of the desks had people sitting at them, all of them whispering and discussing things to themselves.

During the time taken to walk to and arrive into the main meeting room, Celestia and Luna were doing their best to subtly gauge Emerald's mood to tell how well she was going to mange to gathering. But no matter how hard they studied her, they weren't able to gauge Emerald as anything more than serious and calm in face of the oncoming meeting and first time presentation of the Enclave to the world. Seeing that they couldn't glean anything more than what Emerald allowed to show on her face, Celestia and Luna made their way down to their desk, hoping that everything would turn out well for Emerald. The virus remained at the very back of the room in the shadows, awaiting the moment she'd be called down to present herself.

“Welcome everyone to this emergency meeting of the League of Nations, called for by the Heron Republic, one of our prestigious members,” said the zebra secretary general, who did a good job of vocally hiding the amount of stress he looked to be enduring from his still prematurely aged appearance. “Now, before we move onto the main subject for our gathering, let us take the time to look over a few minor things our other members have taken the opportunity to inform me of. May the representative for the Bast Dynasty ruling Osiran Dune Sea take the floor please?”

And so it was that several minor issues were to be taken care of first. When the feline representative finished her talk about the price of cotton going down, she was followed by another. This went on and each time the speaker was mostly given the attention they desired for the subject they were talking about. Like the last time Emerald was present for a League meeting, it was a rather dull affair overall, but it did get somewhat exciting towards the end, when one member brought up an international incident caused by one of the Minotaur nation's Adventurer Researchers recording something that was actually rather sensitive information for the other nation in question. When this last issue when handled to the benefit of both nations did the main point of the meeting be brought up.

“And now we move on to the main topic for our getting together on such short notice,” the Secretary General announced. “I'm sure by now you have all heard about Equestria getting invaded by a large force of Changelings and that very force being annihilated by an army belonging to a then unknown nation, one calling themselves the Enclave.”

There was a round of low murmuring and agreements at that, though there was also some shouts of surprise as some members managed to miss this bit of information.

“Well now today the Enclave's leader is here to present herself and her nation to the League and hopefully also provide some answers for the questionable actions of her forces in Canterlot,” the Zebra stated before turning his attention to the back of the room where Emerald stood, an action that many others mirrored.

Taking this as clearly being her cue, Emerald began her descent down the stairs towards the floor of the room. The entire way people stared and talked amongst themselves, making their own guesses and predictions on this new face based on what they had heard so far. However, one set of eyes that managed to get Emerald's attention was Master Gyatso who was wearing a very high quality version of his usual robes and hat. The heron was sitting beside the Heron Republic rep and was currently giving Emerald a very encouraging and hopeful smile. Outwardly, Emerald didn't change her expression, but she made a mental note about Gyatso having a lot of political pull for someone who appeared to be just a martial artist of sorts.

Finally Emerald arrived on the floor and turned in place to face all the eyes that were now upon here. In this moment, the eyes of the world may as well be upon her as their representatives’ and leaders’ certainly were.

“Please introduce yourself and your nation before the League,” the virus heard the zebra say behind her.

“Prestigious members of the world renowned League of Nations,” Emerald began, her voice easily heard throughout the specially made sloping room. “I, Emerald Gleaner of the Enclave, do humbly introduce myself to you. We are an isolated nation within the borders of Equestria itself. We reside within the Everfree and as a result of our homeland, we are heavily militarized by necessity. Guarding ourselves externally against the dangers of the wood is not all that we are, however. We are an industrious people that work hard for all that we've gained in the face of the forest and possess an advanced industry mimicking that of Equestria. I come here today in the hopes we'll be welcomed amongst the greater community of the world as friends and neighbors, and initiate trade with those who wish to do so.”

When Emerald finished, there was silence for but a moment and in that moment a hundred people were about to speak out. One person beat them to it by raising a wing.

“The Heron Republic wishes to ask a question of the Enclave,” the heron rep stated after his simple act of raising a wing silenced a good portion of the League members. With this, Emerald realized that the Republic must have at least been up there with Equestria as one of the more respected nations in the world.

“The Enclave is willing to answer any question,” Emerald replied with a nod of her head. “What does the Republic wish to ask?”

“The Republic wishes an explanation for the deeds done in Canterlot,” The rep stated firmly but not harshly.

“I fully expected this question,” Emerald said. “You see, we live in the Everfree and are used to fighting off the monsters there. Unfortunately since we were so used to fighting the large and fearsome beasts that often encroach upon us, we were completely unprepared to fight an enemy that would show mercy and surrender if they couldn't win. The end result of the invasion was a terrible travesty that should never be forgotten and serve as a lesson to any others that may seek violent means to fulfill their goals. However, as the popular saying goes, ‘Talk is cheap’. To demonstrate our penitence, the Enclave is wishing to sell at far decreased cost, our greatest and revolutionary product, meat grown from trees.”

Silence filled the chamber as everyone absorbed that announcement, particularly the carnivorous members of the League of Nations. The largest kingdom of carnivores was the Griffin Principalities at a whopping ten million, an almost impossible number for carnivores to reach if it wasn't for the sheer amount of land the Principalities held and the mega-beasts it could hunt for meat. The idea of being able to farm meat like it was some vegetable was world changing to everyone there. It meant that the normally small populations of carnivorous nations and kingdoms around the known world could potentially grow just as numerous as the herbivore races.

“What you say explains a lot about why events happened as they did in Canterlot, but what you are offering... it is quite surprising,” the heron rep said honestly. “But can you prove what you say?”

“Yes I can,” Emerald answered and held out a hand. With a small flash of crimson light, one of the meat trees appeared on the chamber floor in a large pot. Emerald reached out and plucked a large red fruit from it's branches. “This is a meat tree and one of the fruits it grows. It also comes in several flavors. Can I have one of the prestigious members of the League come down and prove my claim?”

“Peh, I be taste tester!” Emerald heard a thickly accented voice come from further above and heard surprised shouting and some cursing followed by loud thumps. Looking up, the virus saw a large shape coming down from the desks in the rear by leaping from desktop to desktop with little concern for those sitting at said desks.

Finally, with a loud bang, the shape landed on it's feet before her and Emerald took in the sight. The species of the being appeared to be a wolverine; he stood upright on two legs but his head slouched forward along with the upper portions of his torso. He was also very tall, easily taller than Emerald by two feet. Most of the people attending this meeting wore what was clearly finery of their culture, but not the wolverine before her. He wore dark gray armor that was covered with faint scratches and the signs of dozens of hammered out dents. The armor was also two inches thick in some places which very clearly demonstrated the wolverine's strength. Underneath the armor was a tunic made of hardy, scratchy material that was dyed red and upon his head was an eye patch covering one eye.

“Ataman Mikhail...” the secretary general sighed in a long suffering voice. “We have stairs for a reason. Please use them.”

“Da,” Mikhail replied with an absent wave of one massive clawed hand. “You, pass big peach looking fruit here.”

“Here you go,” Emerald said, voice slightly tinged with amusement.

Mikhail grasped the meat fruit firmly, his claws sinking into the flesh of the fruit and causing its blood like juices to ooze out. Opening his maw as wide it would go, the wolverine bit down with gusto, sending a bit of juices flying and dripping down his mouth. The sight of Mikhail's mouth full of razor sharp teeth as well as the unnervingly fleshly interior of the meat fruit caused more than a few herbivores in the first few rows to either go green or pale.

“Hahaha! Is juicy and delicious, just like fresh meat!” Mikhail stated with a loud, hearty laugh before turning rather serious. “I want it, a lot of it. Know many comrades who would enjoy it and sisters back home would make many stews with it.”

“Well said, Mikhail,” the heron rep commented. “Let it be known that the Heron Republic accepts the Enclave's reasoning for the actions in Canterlot and wishes to conduct trade for it's meat fruit as well. Tofu is a wondrous invention by my people, but rather few carnivores can stomach it and I myself hope you have many fine varieties of fish flavors.”

A moment later the chamber filled with shouted agreements with the Heron Rep's statement. After a few moments of a this, a small satisfied smile crossed Emerald's face. That's when a loud voice roared its disagreement.

THE GRIFFEN PRINCIPALITIES WILL SPEAK!!!” a voice roared above the clamor, silencing everyone in an instant.

Emerald looked up towards the Griffin desk and saw two griffins sitting there. One was a severe looking female griffin wearing a cloak that covered most of her body and hid away the dark blue velvet bodice and silken light blue dress; the cloak had a claw made of lightning on the back. The other griffin Emerald recognized instantly thanks to her photographic memory. It was the very same griffin that had been with the Griffin Grand Prince when Celestia showed him her when she had been sealed away.

“Clearly you are all letting your greed blind you!” the lady griffin roared in anger. “Should we dismiss the death and grief of others just because this beast shines a bit of treasure in our eyes?!”

“The Republic protests this overly insulting protest.” The heron rep frowned as Emerald herself frowned thoughtfully as she took in the griffin's words. “And this isn't some treasure. Surely the Principalities can see that? This is a way to end the perpetual rationing of food for all meat eater nations in the world. And surely the process to cultivate the trees and grow this fruit isn't simple or cheap. I for one feel having the price for the fruit being driven to being sold at near cost of manufacture levels more than satisfactory reparations.”

“The honorable Heron Republic can keep its own opinions to itself!” the lady griffin growled in reply. “If no one else will ask for further reparations, then we shall!”

“And what does the Principalities ask of the Enclave?” Emerald stated calmly.

“We demand over half a million tonnes in assorted metals,” the lady replied to the vocal shock of several League members. “Just how many tonnes and the type will be specified at a later date.”

Several people were shouting out loud that on top of the meat fruit price reduction, the half a million tonnes in further reparations was too much. Many also expected Emerald to share this thinking, but the virus remained silent with a thoughtful look on her face.

“The Enclave will fulfill these demands,” Emerald finally answered to the surprise of quite a few. Many wondered would what make Emerald cede to these demands but nothing could be gleaned of the virus' stony expression. “I will await the specific details of the reparations.”

“Expect it soon.” The lady narrowed her eyes, seemingly more angry Emerald agreed without a fight.

“So... we still make deal, yes?” Mikhail asked, having not moved at all from his spot since coming down from his desk.

“You get to go first for being so persistent,” Emerald replied with a small smile, getting a toothy grin from the Wolverine in reply.

Several hours later found Celestia and Luna patiently waiting for Emerald in the lobby of the League Headquarters. The League began dispersing soon after the meeting involving the introduction of the Enclave and Emerald, practically every single one of the carnivorous and omnivorous members of the League staying behind to talk trade deals with the Enclave. The two princesses had observed these discussions at first to make sure Emerald was going to be doing all right. But other then being more than a bit blunt and cutting to the chase when it came to making deals, Emerald seemed to be handling herself well.

“Emerald!” Luna called out the instant she saw the Evolved walk out one of the conference rooms.

“Hello there,” Emerald said with a bit of a sigh. “I'm definitely going to have to expand the meat tree farms by a few magnitudes when I get back.”

“It's all gone well, then?” Celestia asked. “I can only imagine how much more wealthy you'll be when the shipments begin. It would have been so much more had you not had to decrease the price. You could have named almost any price and the meat eating nations of the world would have still tripped over themselves to pay it.”

“Yeah, well...” Emerald began with a bit of a glance around. “Really, the only thing that will cost me anything is probably the shipping. It literally costs me nothing to grow the meat trees or the fruit. I'll be making tons of money from even the fraction of money I would have originally sold the fruit for.”

“Quite the coup, my student,” Luna praised with a wide smile before frowning. “Just what are you going to spend your ever increasing wealth on? I get the feeling how the economy of the Enclave works is different from Equestria's.”

“That's the question isn't it?” Emerald said, rubbing the back of her head. “I've literally got nothing to do with the money other than hoard it in some giant money bin. I mean... I guess I could play the political game and start buying favors left and right but... politics...”

“Is that so?” Celestia stated with a thoughtful hum. “This bares some serious conversation later, but as for right now, I must congratulate you, Emerald. When I looked at you, I saw nothing but one who was calm and in control. It was far better than my own first forays into politics.”

“I...” Emerald began a bit hesitantly. “If it wasn't for my total control over my body, I would have been sweating so bad... my hands felt like they were shaking even though I knew they weren't... all those eyes staring at me... it felt like all the eyes of the world really were looking at me in that moment. And... god fucking damn it, I'll have to do this who know how many times in the future, won't I?”

“Perhaps we should go home and call it a day?” Luna suggested after sharing a look. “Still, I must comment on how wondrous it is that everything worked out the way it has.”

“You and me both,” Emerald said honestly. “I was expecting my meat fruit to get into more than a few peoples' good books, but I was still expecting this to go somewhat downhill after Celestia's reaction to my help. I definitely owe Gyatso severals favors for this one. I get the feeling that without the Heron Rep's open acceptance of my explanations, things would have gone more the way of my expectations. I need to go back to Canterlot with you two. Think I really ought to pay Gyatso a visit.”

“Before we go, let's make sure to collect your dogs, shall we?” Luna stated as she looked around.

“I believe I saw them walking around looking for the cafeteria,” Celestia added and the three of them went on their way.

Off to the side, the Lady Griffin and her Stormwing companion stared after the leaving trio. The Lady's eyes were full of cold fury as she watched Emerald walk away.

“What's next to do, my lady?” The Stormwing asked.

“We take what we are due, then we start building up.” The lady answered. “It makes mistakes. That's how my husband tracked it down. It is an eventuality that such a beast will make yet another one, then we can make sure that all know of how much of a monster it is and we can bring it down like one of the great beasts gone rabid.”

“Shall we... work 'behind the scenes' as well?” the stormwing asked.

“Grrr.” Instantly, the lady rounded on the stormwing with a growl and bared talons. “I will not abandon my honor like you have! The only reason I do not banish you and strike you from the family tapestry is because of how important this information is to me. Your loyalty to family is commendable. Your lack of loyalty to the Grand Prince is shameful.”

“As you say, Lady Villja...” the Stormwing replied, bowing his head shamefaced.

“No. We act not in the dark, skulking like thieves,” Villja continued. “It is the patient hunter that gets its prey and I do not intend to need to strike twice.”

ZETA

Later that evening found Emerald back in Canterlot in her pony form with Navi orbiting her. Some of her Warhounds were still here and the ponies were all staring at her. The secret- at least most of the secret- was most definitely out. They definitely knew about the Gray Fox and her, but they didn't know about the Monster of Everfree; something she and the princesses agreed was a good idea. Some of the ponies were probably brave enough to confront someone they knew to be the Gray Fox, but they most certainly were not brave enough to be near anyone who lead such a dangerous army.

'Definitely not feeling very welcome here,' Emerald thought as she saw ponies either run inside to avoid her or give her a very wide berth as she moved down the street. 'Not that I blame them. I wonder what the Thracians think of me? I haven't seen any so far just yet and they know that their transformation was a side effect of my fight with Discord.'

Ignoring the behavior of the ponies around her Emerald continued on her way to the training grounds of the royal guard. Soon she found herself walking past several rather twitchy royal guards and onto their grounds.

The training grounds were mostly empty. In some isolated parts were Royal Guards making use of the grounds and in the very center was the young pegasus Swift Gale, apprentice of Gyatso. Guessing that the heron had yet to return to his student, Emerald walked over to Swift.

“...Worth it. Was totally worth it!” Emerald heard the young pegasus mutter as she sweated heavily and swung a very heavy wooden version of her sword. “Night out on the town, even as miserable as everyone is... awesome to talk to and have some fun with girls my age.”

“Hello,” Emerald greeted as she neared

“Oh!” Swift jumped a little in some surprise and turned towards Emerald. The moment she did, she gave a big, friendly smile. “Hey you! I was hoping I'd get to see you first!”

“Oh?” Emerald raised a brow. “Did you need anything?”

“You promised Master Gyatso you'd spar with him and I bet you are here now to fulfill that promise,” Swift replied as she walked over to the side where her non-training weapons sat on some laid out cloth. “Well I want a go at you first! Just give me a minute to get ready.”

“Hmm...” Emerald considered Swift's desire to fight her for a moment. While Swift obviously wasn't a master like Gyatso, the fact she was being taught his fighting style definitely would give her a few clues of what to expect. “Sure thing.”

“Glad you agree!” Swift said cheerfully as she adjusted her smaller katana on her hind leg. “Now normally I'm not supposed to use my real weapons in a spar until much later. But considering what I've heard about you, that isn't going to be much of an issue, is it?”

“Yep.” Emerald nodded as she made a show of limbering up a bit and shooed Navi away so she was watching from the sidelines.

“Hmm...” Swift Gale hummed as she took in Emerald's form for a bit. “Y-you certainly look fit... a-anyway! You ready?”

“I am,” Emerald stated, wondering what was up with Swift briefly before focusing. She honestly wasn't expecting Swift to be much of a danger or true challenge, but it was a good habit to take every fight seriously.

“I am psyched!” Swift said as she finished strapping her main katana to her back and walked over to face Emerald. “I can't wait to try out my moves on you! Right, we start when I draw my sword.”

After that, the two stood in silence for a moment. It was obvious that Swift wanted some tense standoff between the two of them straight out of some kung fu movie, the way she was bouncing in place and and how utterly happily excited she looked ruined any such thing however.

Finally, Swift drew her sword in a movement that would have been seen as a blur for a normal opponent; though Emerald was far above normal. Swift charged forward, her speed boosted by powerful wing beats and had her in swinging range of Emerald in a moment. The virus dodged the pegasus' attack by leaning backwards a bit, avoiding the edge of the blade by a few inches.

Just to test the sorts of defenses someone with Gyatso's fighting style would have as well as make sure Swift wouldn't get frustrated by her not taking her seriously or something along those lines, Emerald darted in close and delivered a pulled punch with a hoof. In response, Swift reared, pivoted and twirled away, also managing to just avoid Emerald's strike like she had done hers though it took Swift more effort on her part. With a flap of her wings, Swift was suddenly sent darting to the side, twisting in place to deliver a slash to Emerald's flank.

Emerald leaned away from the strike and managed to dodge it by inches again. Deciding to throw Swift a curve ball, Emerald hardened her tail into a light club before swinging it into the pegasus who was still in motion. The virus managed to catch Swift's widening of eyes and look of surprise, but she managed to barely avoid the strike by sending herself flipping into the air with her wings.

'Okay, so biggest form of defense is obviously to not be in the way of the hit,' Emerald thought as she leaned her head to the side of a vertical strike from Swift. 'Clearly this style of fighting involves a lot of movement and not being in the same spot for too long. Now, other than her own sword fighting style, I've not seen much of her master's offensive forms. Let's see if I can make her use them, hmm... maybe if I test her against the obvious advantage of magic?'

Emerald leapt back from Swift Gale with her horn glowing pink. The virus then concentrated and Swift Gale started to glow pink as she was lifted up into the air. The telekinetic grip on Swift wasn't very strong because Emerald was honestly curious if Swift had a form of defense against being immobilized like this. She couldn't exactly test if Swift had that capability if she had to go up against the raw power gained from consuming Discord's blood.

Swift was initially confused at what was happening but after looking at Emerald's curious gaze she suddenly realized what was happening. With a confident, toothy grin Swift Gale flared her wings and started to spin in place rapidly as she flapped them. A sphere of rushing winds covered Swift Gale and after a single moment there was a flash of light as the magic holding Swift suddenly exploded out.

“See?” Swift said as she posed mid air with a triumphant grin. “Ain't no unicorn countering me! Now let me show you a bit of ‘magic’ of my own!”

Suddenly Swift darted to the ground and made a slashing motion with one of her wings at Emerald. Instantly, a wave of rushing winds form and shot at Emerald.

Emerald made a show of bracing for impact but didn't expect the wind wave to possess nearly enough power to budge her. She was proven right a second later as the wind impacted her and she just felt like she was standing in some strong winds for a brief moment. This didn't discourage Swift in the slightest and continued her barrage of wind blasts. Some of the blasts even appeared to have been formed into blades which likely would have done quite some damage had Emerald not been as durable as she was.

“Alright, time for my ultimate move!” Swift shouted and gained some distance from Emerald.

As soon as the pegasus had said this, Emerald heard a sigh come from the side. Turning to look, she saw that Gyatso had appeared at some point and was observing the fight. Gyatso seemed long suffering currently and didn't appear impressed with what Swift had said at all. Navi was with him, sitting on the very top of his cone hat.

“Swift Gale, it would be in your best interests to not announce your intentions in a fight,” Gyatso advised. “Even in a friendly spar like this, it could cause you to develop it as a habit. Also, I heavily advise you to not use that 'move' of yours.”

Advise?” Swift said in some confusion. “You mean you aren't going to tell me to not use it?”

“Well the area behind Emerald doesn't have anyone you could potentially seriously injure,” Gyatso explained. “And Emerald herself is quite hardy so even if you somehow managed to land the move you wouldn't cause much in the way of injury.”

“I-I can land it!” Swift stuttered in embarrassment as she glanced over to Emerald out of the corner of her eyes. “I'll show you! Right now I'll get it perfectly!”

Now really curious as to what Swift Gale was up to, Emerald stood her ground and waited. Swift Gale stood in place and closed her eyes in intense concentration as rushing winds began to swirl around her. For a long moment nothing else happened until the rushing winds seemed to suddenly focus in on one spot; the small katana on Swift's hind leg. The winds seemed to wrap around the hilt of the sword and after a long moment the blade suddenly shot out of the scabbard.

Swift Gale's intense look of concentration seemed to increase and sweat started to form at her temples as the small katana seemed to brandish itself and spun in midair before aiming itself at Emerald. Then the winds seemed to intensify greatly as the blade suddenly shot forward.

Emerald didn't really react to this move. All she did was turn her head to watch as the small blade shot past her, missing her completely by at least two feet. A moment later there was a small clang in the distance as the small katana sunk into the stone walls of a building all the way to the hilt.

Turning back, she saw Gyatso palming his face with one of his wings and Swift Gale looking utterly humiliated as she covered her face with both of her hooves. Navi was still on his cone hat but was now just running little laps around the edge.

“If it wasn't a magical blade, I'd be shocked it hasn't shattered into a million pieces by now...” Emerald heard Gyatso mutter.

With a thoughtful hum, Emerald focused on the blade now embedded in the wall and teleported it away. It reappeared in a pink flash and levitating beside Emerald's head where she magically held it aloft. She then walked over to Swift Gale who was still covering her face with both hooves and muttering the word 'stupid' over and over again.

“Here's your sword back,” Emerald said and held the blade to her hilt first.

“Th-thanks...” Swift said softly, finally taking her hooves off of her face, showing utterly crimson cheeks clashing with her light blue coat.

“I get the feeling you aren't entirely ready to incorporate these into your fighting style,” Emerald began. “But I also get the feeling there is a good reason you are trying to.”

“These swords are very important to me...” Swift replied as she sheathed the blade in the scabbard on her hind leg. “They're from my family and... well, Master Gyatso wanted to fight you too and you better get to that.”

With that, Swift quickly trotted away, still blushing up a storm. Rather curious if she upset the pegasus, Emerald used her newest ability gained from consuming changelings, namely magical empathy. Technically she was consuming surface emotional energy but it was also a real good way to gauge someone's mood with almost no possibility of getting it wrong.

Reaching out, Emerald felt the trickle of energy as she absorbed emotional energy that was slowly bleeding off Swift as she moved away. The energy felt like embarrassment, some minor self loathing but... there was also confusion matched by excitement caused by being near someone attractive.

'Hmm...' Emerald wondered for a moment before shaking her head then facing Gyatso who was now a few feet away from her.

“Greetings, Emerald Gleaner,” Gyatso said with a small bow which dislodged Navi from her jogging and she took to the air. “What did you think of my apprentice's fighting skills?”

“Well...” Emerald said. “I'm honestly the last person to be asking about gauging someone's fighting ability. But... I'd say she is more then ready for the average persona and can also easily handle other trained fighters... not too sure about how she would do against people you would call elites or other people like her in that they've been training for years in the martial arts.”

“Despite what you said, you've done a good job at analyzing her combat ability,” Gyatso praised. “Swift Gale is rather average at unarmed combat but she shines when it comes to channeling the winds and wielding her blades. She doesn't realize just how skilled she is, however. She keeps overreaching herself trying to accomplish something someone several years her senior would struggle with. It taints her skills in her own eyes when she fails at it but for me the fact she can actually reach for them is a feat in itself.”

“Hmm,” Emerald tilted her head and looked towards Swift Gale who was sitting some distance away from them, cleaning her blades. “So you did a lot to help me back at the League Headquarters. I'm also rather surprised a Martial Artist has so much political pull to their government arrange for this to happen.”

“The Channelers of the Republic have a lot of influence and pull with the Cabinet,” Gyatso answered. “This was a bit on the costly side when it came to pulling strings, but getting to meet you is worth it in the eyes of the Grand Masters.”

“I am going to have to wait until I meet them to find out why they think that, won't I?” Emerald asked.

“Your wisdom belies your years,” Gyatso said with a kindly smile. “It is best we meet you in person. Sometimes knowing something doesn't give the same impact as experiencing it.”

“Of course. Well I most definitely owe the Channelers now,” Emerald said with a sigh. “I will go see them when I am able to. You have my word on that.”

“We are patient. Yours is a young nation and you are a young ruler,” Gyatso stated. “We expected these to be the busy years most of all, but with the advent of your meat fruit we only expect you to be busier still. But enough of this talk, do you wish to spar?”

“That's why I am here,” Emerald said as she took a ready stance. “You ready?”

“I am. Shall we begin?” Gyatso asked with a smile.

“...Yes.” Emerald took a breath before answering.

Emerald expected Gyatso to explode into motion but instead he flowed into an easy stance and started taking long, steady breaths. The virus waited a moment, but unlike Swift Gale, Gyatso seemed content to let Emerald make the first move. After a moment more, Emerald decided to make a move.

She charged forward with greater speed than she used on Swift, but as she expected, Gyatso was much more skilled. However, she didn't exactly expect him to move so fast he practically teleported. The next thing Emerald knew was that she felt several things thud into her head extremely hard and sent her stumbling into the ground.

Teleporting away from the spot on the ground, Emerald just barely managed to avoid a large ball of swirling winds as it tore up the ground like a cannon ball. Gyatso was a few dozen feet away, his head was bowed hiding his eyes under his coned hat. His wings were stretched out and at the ends of his primary feathers were several balls of wind condensed down to the size of marbles.

Emerald teleported away from her spot to right next to Gyatso and struck out with a hoof. However, Gyatso twirled on the spot and sent more wind pellets. Now prepared for the move, Emerald ignored the pellets as they thudded squarely into her head and temples and quickly struck out again with a hoof.

Gyatso dodged yet again, front flipping over Emerald, sending a large ball of swirling wind down at her while she was just beginning to turn to face him again. The ball impacted her, hitting hard enough to make her sink into the packed down ground by a few inches.

Trying to regain the initiative, Emerald teleported again, locating him by her various other senses alone. Emerald swung out with a hoof the instant she teleported, but yet again Gyatso dodged out of the way, moving his body just out of reach of the strike. Starting to get annoyed with not doing anything to her opponent, Emerald changed forms, switching to her human one as she was more used to fighting in that one. Then she started to send magic flowing throughout her body in greater amounts, causing her to grow in speed and strength.

Emerald blurred into motion, moving to the very limits of her ability to control her movements. Despite this, it didn't seem to help much. Gyatso seemed to move the instant Emerald did and the virus couldn't move any faster than this. If she tried, she would lose all awareness of her surroundings as they blurred beyond her ability to comprehend them.

Trying to gain some sort of advantage, Emerald tried to grip Gyatso telekinetically but the heron seemed to have an even more developed defense towards such attacks than Swift. The magical aura seemed to wrap around Gyatso, but he would move around it. For Emerald, the feeling of trying to grasp Gyatso was like trying to keep hold of something slick with oil. It didn't help that Gyatso did everything he could to disrupt Emerald's concentration via sending pinpoint accurate air pellets at her eyes and temples.

This state of events would remain for over an hour of constant sparring as a crowd gathered to watch Emerald and Gyatso fight. Both of the fighters were a perfect counter for the other. Emerald was too tough and was literally tireless for Gyatso to either outlast or wear down and Gyatso was too fast and nimble for Emerald to actually land a hit. Emerald could still win in a single hit though, if she was willing to commit to an attack that would annihilate a large area, but this was just a friendly spar so she wasn't going to go that serious.

So the two fought for a hour straight until Gyatso himself decided to call an end to it.

“Hold, Emerald Gleaner!” Gyatso called out, his breath coming a little faster... if only just a little bit. “It is clear that the only winner that would result of this is the one to resist exhaustion most.”

“Yeah, don't exactly want to win that way.” Emerald replied as she shifted back to her pony form. “Plus fighting for several hours just to win a spar doesn't seem like a good investment of time to me.”

“Indeed, though it proved to be a good workout for me,” Gyatso said with a smile. “I hope you got something out of our spar as well?”

“I did,” Emerald nodded. “I learned that I need to be faster. So I am going to practice my speed in my free time. Just spamming teleport doesn't seem to work as well as it could.”

“Being faster is always good,” Gyatso smiled before giving a small bow. “Thank you for taking the time out of your no doubt busy schedule humor a spar with me and my student. I and Swift Gale will remain in Canterlot until you are able to fulfill your promise to see the Grand Masters in the Republic.”

“It was no problem,” Emerald said and waved over Navi where she had been buzzing in the air. The little bug immediately flew over and landed on the tip of Emerald's ear. Emerald took stock of her surroundings. There were many little groupings of Royal Guards; some were talking excitedly, but most sounded nervous. Over and away from everyone else was Swift Gale, who appeared to be still embarrassed for her showing earlier and looked away with blushing features the moment Emerald met her gaze.

'Should I go home now?' Emerald thought as she took in the setting sun and the slowly appearing stars. The moment she considered going home, Emerald felt a surge of annoyance fill her over what Twilight had said to her yesterday. 'Actually, never mind. I've got plenty of work to do anyway. I'll go back home later...'

With that, Emerald teleported back to the Enclave.

ETA

Several days later found Emerald perched on a ledge in the walls of the ravine next to the Enclave. Navi was orbiting her doing her own little aerial acrobatics. Construction on the hydroelectric dam was continuing. It was about a third of the way done mostly thanks to the dogs' natural skill working with stone. The real important work was the many devices that would be housed inside the dam, however, and those ones were only just being built and installed inside. In addition, the dam was complete enough that some of the river was allowed to flow through some of the completed spillways.

Emerald herself had long since gotten over what Twilight had said days ago and was calm now. A fact the virus made sure Twilight knew after said unicorn had worriedly sent her a letter via Spike asking if she was still mad at her. Emerald hadn't gone back just yet because she had found a ton of work for herself. She was just busy, nothing more.

What Emerald had spent the last several days doing was thinking and experimenting.

One subject had been thinking and self examination of her behavior regarding the changelings and their abilities. She had discovered the changelings mostly because her instincts had alerted her something was up with some of the ponies around her. However, Bon Bon had proven to be a changeling in disguise and she had been around Bon Bon for close to two years without feeling that anything was off. So what was going on? What had been the changelings in Canterlot doing that Bon Bon was doing differently for Emerald to feel that something was off with them? The issue here was that while she had the changelings' abilities now from consuming them she couldn't exactly experiment on herself in hopes of bringing up the same reaction to find an answer, she needed a willing changeling to help her find the answer... and the one changeling that might be possibly willing to help her...

'Yeah... might be a bit awkward to come out of the blue and ask her for help right now,' Emerald thought with a small wince. 'Heard some mixed rumors about her and how she's been doing in the past few days. She stayed home for the first few days before coming out into the open to try to return to some form of normalcy. Sometimes she goes out in her pony form with the armband, and sometimes she just goes out as a normal changeling. Ponies seem to be confused at how they are supposed to react to her. It's still Bon Bon, but the changelings invaded Canterlot, though that fact seems mitigated by the fact the invasion force was massacred. Now ponies aren't sure whether to pity her or sympathize... it's better than outright hatred, anyways.'

Shaking her mind clear of the situation with Bon Bon and other mysteries concerning the changelings she couldn't solve right now, Emerald thought about the next thing she worked on, which was the powered armor designs she was working on. The armor itself was ready and much stronger than even the dragon scale armor without increasing the weight. However, the important parts of the powered armor were the parts that made it powered and not just normal armor; namely the runes. Various runes were being developed; a kinetic energy siphon was one major one and Emerald did get it working. It was just the fact the rune was incredibly energy wasteful and wasn't finely tuned enough to absorb enough energy from kinetic strikes to offset the energy cost of stopping said strike. But eventually with enough bug fixing the rune would be viable. The rest of the runes were ones to maintain an internal atmosphere in the armor and keep the temperature at comfortable levels no matter the conditions outside, and filtering the air out of water. Honestly, she also could also include runes that would augment the strength and speed of the wearer, but she didn't want to make this type of armor that complicated yet, plus this was her first serious foray into the mass use of runes. Trying to make the leap from normal worn armor to power armor might take longer than just taking a developmental stop at powered armor.

However, all this work on the powered armor brought up an increasingly obvious issue. Namely that the diamond dogs couldn't exactly be taught to make or even put together these things. Unlike the guns and the dragon scale armor, this was magic and her own control of biomatter to form nanotubes for the armor pieces, which was clearly something only she could do. Honestly, she could teach some of the dogs to do what she could do, but one involved giving them a way to use magic which would take years to learn how to use, or infecting them with Blacklight which she was never doing again. Even infecting Navi had been pushing it as far as she was concerned. So the issue here was that Emerald's military developments were going down paths that the dogs both couldn't follow and keep up with, which left her as the only one to be able to make and improve upon these developments. At the very least the guns and the buggies were well within the dogs' ability to comprehend and even make a few improvements of their own here and there.

'So what do I do?' Emerald frowned in thought. 'I don't just want to leave them behind and focus on my own things... now that I think about it, it's been a very long time since I've introduced some non-military developments to them. What exactly was the last non-military thing I introduced? It was home amenities, like plumbing, heating, electricity and lighting. Those are pretty big things compared to what they had before but they shouldn't settle for just that. So what to introduce to them next? Hmm... we have electronics here, but other than the production lines and various pieces of automation, we haven't really used it for much else. So I should introduce computers. With the kind of parts we have right now, I can probably throw together a few eighties level ones. Well, other than teaching them computer science, I should also start some projects to increase the standard of living in the Hub even higher. Speaking of projects, that reminds me I need to set up a work gang to carve out several caverns for more meat trees.'

Emerald was about to stand back up to get to work directing dogs when glittering green smoke rushed at her out of the sky. When the smoke got within a foot of her it suddenly formed into a scroll. Quickly snatching it out of the air, Emerald unfurled the scroll and found a letter from Twilight.

'What's this?' Emerald frowned and narrowed her eyes down at the print. 'This doesn't look like Spike's hand writing... is this Twilight's writing? Why is it so messy and why did she write it herself and not dictate to Spike like she usually does? Hmm...'

The Evolved studied the writing, but despite her best efforts, Twilight's excitement fueled chicken scratch defeated her attempts to decipher them. However, she did manage to glean a few parts of the message. Twilight seemed to be incredibly excited about some sort of test Celestia wanted her to take part in, which might be in Canterlot later today. That was the most Emerald could get out of the scroll Twilight had sent her. The virus also wondered why Twilight told her about this. Was she asking her to tag along or was she being a good girlfriend and keeping her in the loop?

'I don't know. It could be either reason,' Emerald thought with a shrug as she pocketed the scroll. 'I'm actually rather curious about just what kind of test Celestia has lined up for Twilight, so I'll head there to both see what's going on and be moral support for Twilight. I mean, from the looks of things, the idea of Celestia giving her a test personally is probably driving her crazy.'

With that last thought, Emerald collected Navi before teleporting away to Canterlot.

-TBC-

Chapter 2: Can't Save Her

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The sound of metal squealing filled the air as a train slowed to a stop at the Canterlot train platform. And almost before it came to a complete stop, off leapt a heavily laden unicorn known to most as Twilight. Close on her heels was a baby dragon who had taken the time to wait a moment until the train had come to a complete stop.

“Come on, Spike!” Twilight shouted as she quickly trotted down the street. “I'll be LATE!”

“Aww slow down a little, Twilight!” Spike called back as he ran as fast as he could after Twilight. “You're at least an hour early!”

“What if the test is starting early then stated as another test!?” Twilight shouted back as she continued on. “There is no way of knowing! We have to get there as quickly as possible!”

Spike only sighed in response and continued to try to catch up to Twilight as quickly as he could.

Later on, Twilight slowed her trot down a bit as she made her way through Canterlot, Spike still trailing some distance behind. It was a rather bright and shining day today, perfect for many outdoor activities. But despite this there was a very noticeable chill in the air as the occasional shiver of passing ponies attested. Twilight also noticed the occasional pony with an armband bearing a pink heart on it. Clearly a changeling; one who seemed rather nervous with the fact that despite being in disguise she was now distinctly known as a changeling.

Shaking her head clear of these observations as she had more important places to be, Twilight looked over her shoulder and shouted for Spike.

“Come on, Spike!” the violet unicorn shouted. “We're halfway to the palace!”

“I'm coming, I'm coming...” Spike grumbled a little as Twilight picked up her pace again, her overladen saddlebags bouncing with every step.

Twenty minutes later found Twilight and Spike arriving and being let into the front doors of the palace. Had Twilight not been so focused on recalling as much of her education under the princess as possible, she likely would have noticed that security for the palace had been kicked up quite a bit. As it was, only Spike noticed this and he knew Twilight well enough that trying to bring it to her attention wouldn't get the intended result. More likely she'd end up thinking this was an esoteric part of another test for her upcoming “exam”.

“Spike, why don't you go find something to do for the next while?” Twilight suggested as the both of them traveled down a corridor. “I doubt this is going to be something for the both of us. I'm likely going to take a few hours if the least of my expectations are correct.”

“Yeah, no problem, Twilight,” Spike answered with a wave. “I'll see you in a while. Good luck on your test!”

“I hope I do well, too,” Twilight answered back as she continued forward. “See you in a bit, Spike!”

With that, the two separated. Twilight continued on her way, quickly trotting through corridors until she finally arrived at the throne room of the princesses where she was quickly let in. Continuing her brisk pace, Twilight trotted into the room and saw Celestia and Luna speaking before the throne, their tone low and inaudible to Twilight at this distance.

Suddenly Twilight noticed a lot of dark colors out of the corner of her eye and turned to look. What she saw made her stop in place and stare.

Windows lined the room; some of them were stained glass windows to commemorate historical events. For instance, there were one such window dedicated to Twilight and her friends freeing Luna from the Nightmare. However, this window wasn't what caught her attention. No, it was two others. The first window had Emerald, Twilight, her friends, the Princesses and Discord. Emerald was in a monstrous black and red form holding a pained looking Discord above her head victoriously while the others stared in horror and recoiled. The second stained window was commemorated to the changeling invasion. Once more it had Emerald in a monstrous form, only this time looming over the entire scene in the window and coming out of a dark rift in the ground. Beside her were several diamond dogs wearing black armor and bearing Emerald's incredibly deadly weapons. Also in this window were a group of changelings looking utterly terrified and running away from Emerald and her dogs.

Twilight stared for several moments, completely unsure of how to feel about how Emerald was depicted in both of the windows. On one hand, Emerald was her girlfriend and she felt like these windows were a little insulting to her. But on the other... well Twilight couldn't exactly say the windows weren't accurate...

Shaking her head clear, Twilight decided to decide how to react to this some other time. She had a supremely important test to focus on right now. She continued her way forward and soon was close enough to begin to hear what Celestia and Luna were saying.

“... It cannot fall again, my sister,” Luna said solemnly.

“She will succeed at her task,” Celestia replied confidently. “And when she does, we'll know that she is that much closer to being ready.”

“Ahem,” Twilight cleared her throat politely to get the princesses' attention.

“Trust me, little sister,” Celestia said to Luna before turning towards Twilight.

“You wanted to see me?” Twilight said a little excitedly, shifting in place in an attempt to make her heavy saddlebags a bit more comfortable. “To give me a test? I brought my own quills and plenty of paper to show my work!”

Twilight proceeded to show just how prepared she was for the test by taking out an exceedingly long list. It unrolled on the floor and kept going until it stopped against Celestia's hoof.

“Ah, sorry!” Twilight smiled nervously and was about to start rolling her scroll back up.

“This is a different kind of test,” Celestia stated as she collected Twilight's scroll herself and replaced it back in the unicorn's saddlebags. “The Crystal Empire has returned.”

“The Crystal Empire?” Twilight repeated in some confusion before quickly looking through books in some panic. “I'm sorry, I-I thought I'd studied. Ooh. I don't think there's anything in any of my books th-”

“There wouldn't be,” Celestia began and walked over to a crystal placed in a glass jar. “Few remember it ever existed at all. Even my knowledge of the Empire is limited.”

Celestia then removed the crystal from its container and levitated it over to the floor just before Twilight. The crystal then began brightly glowing before transparent images starting shooting out of it. After a moment, a hologram dominated the floor between Twilight and Celestia, showing a city of crystal and obvious wealth.

“But what I do know is that it contains a powerful magic,” Celestia continued and began manipulating the crystal to help tell a story. “One thousand years ago, King Sombra, a unicorn whose heart was black as night, took over the Crystal Empire.”

A new image appeared over the hologram of the Crystal Empire; one that was clearly of King Sombra looking the very image of evil and cruelty. Below the holographic bust of Sombra, the Crystal Empire became dark and gloomy, overcome with dark crystals and its once happy denizens enslaved to a tyrant's dark will.

“He was ultimately overthrown, turned to shadow and banished to the ice of the arctic north,” Celestia stated as the holograms briefly showed a battle between Sombra and the two princesses of Equestria. It then ended with Sombra turning immaterial and being sealed away.

“But not before he was able to put a curse upon the Empire. A curse that caused it to vanish into thin air,” Celestia explained as the hologram of the Empire brightened greatly before vanishing in a flash of light.

“If the Empire is filled with hope and love, those things are reflected across all of Equestria,” Celestia continued to explain to Twilight, gaining a small smile and levitating the crystal that had been projecting the holograms into the air, where it sent out bright and colorful lights into the air. The princess then got a serious look on her face as she continued. “If hatred and fear take hold...”

Suddenly toxic looking clouds began to emanate from Celestia's horn and eyes; said eyes were also brightly glowing green. A long dark shadow stretched from Celestia towards Twilight where several tall, dark crystals suddenly exploded out of the floor before the unicorn, causing her to recoil at them. An instant later they were destroyed by what seemed to be a beam of sunlight shot by Celestia, who then smiled down at Twilight.

“Which is why I need your help finding a way to protect it,” Celestia finished.

“You want me to help protect an entire empire?” Twilight said, a shocked look on her face and feeling of being presented with a near overwhelming task beginning to form in her chest.

“It is, as I said, a different kind of test,” Celestia answered as she walked over to place the crystal back in its jar. “But one I'm certain you will pass.”

“...” For a brief moment, Twilight looked uncertain before her features hardened determinedly. “How do I begin?”

“By joining Princess Cadance and Shining Armor in the Crystal Empire,” Celestia answered.

“My brother is there?” Twilight asked, happily surprised.

“He is,” Celestia replied with a small smile. She and Luna began walking towards the entrance of the throne room to lead Twilight out. “And your Ponyville friends will join you there as well. I have every confidence you will succeed. And when you do, I'll know you are ready to move on to the next level of your studies.”

“...But what if I fail?” Twilight asked nervously after taking in the serious look Luna was giving her.

“You won't,” Celestia said assuringly with a soft smile.

“But if I-”

You won't,” Celestia repeated a bit more firmly but confidently.

“But Twilight...” Celestia stated as Twilight stepped out the door. “In the end, it must be you and you alone who ultimately assists Princess Cadance and Shining Armor in doing what needs to be done to protect the Empire.”

“Actually, dear sister...” Luna began with a wondering look. “While we are in agreement that this is a test of young Twilight's mettle, she may not have to undertake it alone. In fact, I am completely certain that no matter what either of us says, she will not be alone in this, as Emerald will likely accompany her on this task.”

Before Celestia could reply to her sister, a voice from behind everyone spoke up.

“I believe I am going to have to agree with Luna on that point,” said a familiar voice from back in the throne room.

Everyone turned to see Emerald standing in the middle of the hall with Navi making leisurely orbits over her head, taking in the two stained glass windows that featured her prominently before turning to face the others with a firm expression that softened when she met Twilight's gaze.

“Emerald!” Twilight exclaimed in surprise and ran back into the room. “I didn't think you'd come to Canterlot when I told you about my test!”

“Well, I got your letter about what was going on. I couldn't exactly figure out what it was trying to say,” Emerald stated to Twilight's embarrassment, as she recalled that she was quite frantic and excited at the time. “I was able to understand you had a test that you were really excited about in Canterlot but not much else. So I decided to come be moral support.”

“Course I realize that some may think my moral support would be questionable now, huh?” Emerald said, turning to Celestia who met Emerald's look steadily. “Nice windows by the way, very... thematic.”

“Great events need their monuments,” Celestia replied. “Especially if they were terrible in their greatness.”

Emerald gave a huff at that, thinking that Celestia might still be more than a little angry over what happened in the invasion. Princess Luna didn't seem to think too highly of her sister's opinion in this matter, either, but all the same didn't comment.

“Emerald!” Twilight shouted. “This is supposed to be my test! I understand you want to help me, but if I don't do this myself I'll fail by default!”

“You don't have to worry about that, Twilight,” Emerald said reassuringly as Navi perched on her ear. “Like with Spike, I won't smother you with protection. I'll be letting you do your own thing. I'll just be there to make sure you don't die. So as long as you survive whatever you encounter on your test, you can lose a few legs or suffer some other disfigurements and I'll just heal you. Sometimes the best lessons are the painful ones.”

“Oh... thanks?” Twilight said with an unsure tone before suddenly growing very concerned. “D-did... did something happen to Spike on his personal quest? Did he get really hurt by the other dragons and you just healed him?”

“Nothing of the sort happened, Twilight,” Emerald quickly replied. “I kept an eye on him at all times but also didn't get in the way. I promise the same for you. I'll be there for you when you need me, but otherwise you likely won't notice me while you do your test.”

“I suppose it's too much to hope for you to just remain behind, then?” Celestia suddenly interrupted with a neutral tone. “That you simply listen to me and remain here with us?”

“Yes,” Emerald stated simply with a steady stare back at Celestia. “I understand that this is supposed to teach Twilight some sort of important lesson and I'll let her take the lead because of that, but I am not going to let her go alone. I'll be there with her, but I promise not to get in the way. I'm just making sure she survives this.”

“Twilight, Luna, could you leave the two of us alone for a minute?” Celestia asked the two, though from the tone of her voice one could tell it was actually a rhetorical question. Twilight and Luna nodded to Celestia's request and quickly left the room. Soon the two's privacy was announced with the soft booming of the large doors.

“I do not do this lightly, you understand this?” Celestia said with a sigh and walked over to one of the windows depicting Emerald. “Send my dear student into peril without great consideration? As much as I would like to just undertake this task with my sister at my side again, it is of great importance that she do this.”

“And why is that?” Emerald asked as she walked over to stand just behind the princess. “What is so important that you have to risk Twilight with such a clear threat?”

“Another test. A very important test,” Celestia replied before looking back at Emerald. “Similar to one that I'm certain that, had you not managed to skip it by reaching the end goal prematurely, you too would be undergoing it in a few years time.”

Emerald's confused look and questioning expression was clear, but Celestia simply turned away and continued to look through the stained window with Emerald's monstrous form looming in it. Finally, after spending a few moments in quiet contemplation, Celestia sighed and turned to face Emerald.

“Very well, you have my blessing to accompany Twilight,” Celestia stated sternly. “Perhaps... perhaps your presence may test the both of you in ways I could never foresee.”

“...You know, as much as I wish to really question you about what you mean by all this, I get the feeling you would just say something cryptic as an answer,” Emerald said with a deadpan look.

In response to this, Celestia tilted her head slightly, closed her eyes and gave a delighted smile. Emerald stared with an unamused look for a moment before mockingly mimicking Celestia's expression for a second before huffing in some annoyance and walking away.

“Emerald,” Celestia called out, halting said virus before she was about to open the large doors to the room. “She is very dear to me as well. Please keep her safe and in one piece.”

“You don't need to ask me that.” Emerald scoffed but gave a small smile back at the princess over her shoulder who returned it happily.

“So, my young protege. What is my sister's verdict on your presence?” Luna asked upon Emerald's appearance through the throne room doorway. Twilight as well looked very hopeful that Emerald's presence wouldn't be in spite of Celestia's wishes.

“Celestia's given me permission to go with Twilight,” Emerald answered. “So, Twilight, when you are risking life and limb being the hero that you are, I'll be there making sure you don't lose, either.”

“Oh... you really think it might end up being that bad?” Twilight asked with a concerned look. “Hmm... perhaps a stop at the local drug store is in order. Get some more specific supplies-”

“Twilight, I'm half teasing you,” Emerald interrupted. “You've done very well for yourself so far and besides, no first aid kit could ever compare to me.”

“If you are to stop for supplies, you have the next two hours to do so,” Luna stated. “It is good you arrived early. You can make preparations for your train to the closest stop to the Empire in two hours. Since the Empire isn't connected to the rail network, or even roads, you'll have to travel the rest of the way on hoof.”

“Well I suppose I can go do a bit of shopping myself. Say get a certain someone new extreme weather gear as well as a treat,” Emerald stated to Navi's very vocal delight as she excitedly flew in circles.

“Oh right, the Crystal Empire is in the far north and Navi is an insect,” Twilight said with a frown. “Here, I'll help you pick something out. Let's head out right away. We'll pick up Spike while we’re at it as well.”

“Be well, Emerald Gleaner,” Luna said as the two walked away. “I'll be here eagerly awaiting news of your success.”

ALPHA

Half an hour later found Emerald, Twilight and Navi walking down a street in Canterlot’s market district, Spike had originally been present earlier, but considering they were just on a shopping trip, he was sent to the train station to look for the others and make sure they were properly prepared as well.

Currently Emerald was carrying a saddlebags filled with things specifically for Navi. The little insect always had been the worst off in the winter, and could barely move whenever she was out despite wearing clothes made specifically to keep her warm... though that was no longer an issue considering that Navi was now Blacklight. It would take far greater temperature differences to make Navi feel uncomfortable. Frankly, Emerald was just using this to both spend some time with Twilight and gauge an “issue” she had discovered soon after arriving in Canterlot. Twilight for her part could feel that Emerald was somewhat tense and wondered if she was still angry over what happened a few days ago

“Emerald?” Twilight asked as said viral unicorn left a store with ever more laden saddlebags. “I just want to say I'm sorry about-”

“It's alright, Twilight,” Emerald interrupted and quickly walked over to an alleyway, pulling Twilight along with some magic.

“Emerald wha-”

“Just wait a minute,” Emerald said quickly as she continued to pull Twilight deeper into the alley. Soon, the two ended up in a sort of clearing between two rows of buildings. Emerald then turned back towards the way they came and stared up at the roofs with a stern expression.

“I know you are there!” Emerald called out. “There is no point to hiding anymore, so come out!”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, with intense bursts of orange flames, twelve viral changelings appeared and the chill in the air that had been present since earlier today intensified. They collectively moved forward towards Emerald and Twilight and the virus growled in response, halting them instantly. They silently looked at each other and seemed to talk without saying a word to each other.

“Well?” Emerald said a little impatiently as she took up position slightly in front of Twilight. “What do you want?”

For a moment the changelings just kept looking among each other. Then, one of them walked forward to speak.

“We have learned you are the one who caused us become what we are now,” the changeling stated with a bit of a raspy voice, as if she didn't use it very often.

“I did not intend for that to happen,” Emerald stated quickly. “If you are here just to state your outrage with me, I will be angry in turn.”

“We know. We do not blame,” the changeling replied softly. Then she looked to the others who seemed to nod at her encouragingly. “Once we were but changelings, trained to siphon the spare love off of these ponies. Once we were loved and trusted by friend and family, valued by kin and Queen. But then came the day of the Red Sky and the black spores rained down upon us. We were changed. No longer mere changelings. We had become something else; something more and something less. We are more, for we could siphon love and all emotion at once, leaving naught but un-nourishing despair, and our connection to the feed was stronger, allowing us to share thought and speech among our own. We are less, for our own strengths and differences separated us from our kind. We could not feed our family and kin with the love we collected, so as we became stronger and our bellies remained full as kin and family starve, so did they grow to resent us...”

“Once we were loved, once we were trusted, once we were valued... no more,” the changeling said with a shudder the other changelings mirrored.

“Oh no...” Twilight said softly, holding a hoof to her mouth. “That's terrible.”

Emerald agreed with that sentiment as her frown attested, but she was also concerned with what the changelings specifically sought her out for. If what they simply wanted was to be returned to what they were before, she could easily do that, but she had a feeling that wasn't the case.

“I can agree with that, but...” Emerald said with a suspicious frown. “What is it that you want from me, exactly?”

We have gained much from our change... but lost so much more...” the twelve changelings said together. “We have lost a family... will you not let us join you? Will you not let us have a new family? Will... will you not accept us, Queen Mother?”

Emerald could not help but wince at the title they called her by and the changelings were quick to assume she was about to deny them. As one, the changelings looked like their hearts were breaking, the chill in the air disappeared and the changelings began to quickly look skeletal. Emerald regretted her initial response immediately but she still felt the same about being seen as a royal figure; even more so a mother figure. The virus couldn't help but feel like she didn't deserve to be either. In her mind, she had to compare herself to Celestia when it came to royalty, or when it came to the idea of motherhood her own mother came to the fore of her mind. She found herself completely wanting in comparison to either of the two examples.

“Now hold on a second. I'm not... I'm not saying no,” Emerald said with a sigh and immediately the chill returned and the changelings regained a healthy form as hope dominated their expressions. “I'm just... do you specifically need love to survive?”

“It is the most nourishing of emotions,” the first changeling from before answered hopefully. “But unlike our former kin, it is not an essential part of our feeding to thrive. We may survive on many other emotions and can prey even on the projected emotions of animals if need be.”

“Well in light of that..” Emerald sighed again. “I'll let you join me.”

“Thank you, Queen Mother!” the changelings happily said as one.

“Wait for me back in Ponyville,” Emerald told the twelve. “I've got something important to attend to at the moment, but when I get back I'll lead you to your new home.”

“We hear and obey, they said and disappeared in bright bursts of orange flames.

Emerald frowned at that, distinctly reminded how she unintentionally changed and brainwashed thousands of people to be instinctively loyal to her. But she also couldn't help but think how this was rather convenient considering how she needed a changeling's help in some research on them and previous interactions.

“I can't imagine what it would be like if the others abandoned me because of something I had no say in it happening,” Twilight stated and smiled at Emerald. “It's nice of you to take them in like that.”

“Well... it is my fault this happened to them, despite the fact I never intended for this to happen in the first place,” Emerald replied. “This is the least I can do for them.”

“The princess told me how you helped some of the thracian ponies,” Twilight commented. “You could always “cure” them as a way of apologizing even further than you have now?”

“...If that is what they want, they can ask,” Emerald answered after a short pause. “Anyway, we should make our way to the train station and get ready for our epic quest. Frankly it's about damn time I went on one of those.”

“And it'll be great to have you along, Emerald,” Twilight answered with a smile. “Let's get going.”

BETA

Little over an hour later found Twilight, Emerald and Navi on the train with Spike and the others as they traveled to the closest stop to the Crystal Empire. Right now, Twilight and Emerald were passing the time reading some books. Emerald was reading a book on myths and legends while Twilight was reading the book on science and technology she had received for her birthday.

Emerald currently was reading up on a passage about origin myths that had been recorded by Princess Celestia herself.

'Father was a being of the fiery passion of life, but Mother was one of the cold finality that awaits all things,' Emerald read. 'For many an age only they two existed, but eventually they grew terribly lonely. They combined their might to create something more, something new to keep them company. They could not create beings close to their own likeness, but a shadow of their glory they could manage. '

'Father instilled a love of good things and passionate emotions so that their creation could enjoy life and the company of others,' Emerald continued. 'Mother gave the need for protection from dangers and a fear of the finality so that their creation would not be decadent and sloth. And so the first living being came to be. However, to their great sadness, Father and Mother could not get too close to their child for it could not stand their greatness and live. Seeing their hopes for company dashed, Father and Mother decided that their creation would not suffer as they do, and created yet more for it to live with and make merry. From that day the world as we knew it would be born, all the while Father and Mother watched on, happy their creations had each other but sad they could not join them themselves.'

'I like this myth,' Emerald thought with a small smile. 'So many pony stories and legends have a bright side or happy ending to it. Mother and Father in this myth didn't get what they wanted and, in the end, could only watch as their offspring achieved what they desired themselves.'

Emerald looked over to the opposite seat where Twilight was happily reading her gift, completely absorbed in its contents. Glad to see that her girlfriend liked her gift so much, Emerald looked to her side to see where Navi was snuggled in one of Rarity's spare scarves, an expected reaction considering how steadily more snowy the scenery outside the train window was becoming.

Twilight for her part was completely absorbed in a section in her book about nanobots. She had never actually finished a single read through of the book, despite having the book for months so far. There were just so many things she found incredibly interesting in the book. She had already done a ton of experiments based on the principals recorded in the book in her personal lab. She already had managed to create some rather advanced computer parts in her lab thanks to things she had learned from the book. She had yet to make a computer just yet from the things she had made, but it was only a matter of time, really. But currently her interest had been completely captured by a section in the book dedicated to the concept of nanobots. Emerald's people had yet to actually create anything useful on such a scale but the few working examples that were included in the book were wondrous in Twilight's mind.

'This is so fascinating,' Twilight thought as she read over the page again and studied the diagrams next to them. 'All the things one could do with machines smaller than a single cell! Really, when you get down to it, hardness, softness, texture, buoyancy and many other traits come down to how things are put together on a cellular scale and even smaller. I could be wearing the softest dress imaginable but with just a few commands it could become as rigid and hard as a diamond or even change into something else entirely. The industrial applications for such things are immense as well, because the nanobots could break things down and put them back together as something else or repair it. They could even make more nanobots, meaning you'd just need to start with one and slowly but surely they'd quickly multiply.'

'It's not all good, however,' Twilight frowned as she looked over to a latter part of the section. 'Gray Goo apocalypse, the end of the world due to nanomachines multiplying without end and consuming everything and everyone in the world. Controls and precautions are a must for such powerful technology.'

Just then there was a small shudder in the train car and the sound of brakes squealing.

“We're almost there,” Emerald commented as she took Navi out from her spot within Rarity's scarf and began to dress her in winter clothes as she took in the view from outside. “That blizzard looks nasty. Walking the rest of the way on foot isn't going to be fun at all.”

“For us, maybe,” Twilight commented with an aside glance. “Miss immune to everything under the sun.”

Emerald just gave a small chuckle in response along with an unapologetic shrug to Twilight and soon the two were following the others out of the train and onto the platform.

'The hell?' Emerald thought as she took in her surroundings. 'What is this train platform even for? There isn't anything around here! Just a random train stop literally in the middle of nowhere. You know what? Screw it. It's convenient. I'm not going to question it.'

Noticing something moving out of the corner of her eye, Emerald looked over to see Shining Armor emerge from the haze of the blizzard, wearing gear made specifically for extreme conditions like blizzards and sandstorms.

“Twilight?” Armor called out as he removed his special goggles.

“Shining Armor?” Twilight said in turn before gasping in delight and running forward to embrace her brother.

“Twily! You made it! And... brought her along, too,” Shining Armor said, happy at first before quickly growing deadly serious.

“Shining?” Twilight said with some initial confusion before remembering he would know the truth about Emerald and their previous 'history'. “Shining, please don't fight her! Now is no-”

“I know,” Armor interrupted, still staring at Emerald who was matching his stare with a neutral expression. “You listen here. Like Twilight said, now is not the time. But later... we are going to talk. Do you hear me?”

“Of course,” Emerald replied cooly, Navi peeking out from within her mane and wearing special winter gear.

“The same goes for you, Twilight,” Shining Armor then said, turning to Twilight. “But later. Right now we really have to get going. There are things out here we really don't want to run into after dark.”

“W-what kind of things?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“Let's just say the Empire... isn't the only thing that's returned,” Armor stated with a deadly serious tone as he began leading the group into the storm.

“Do you have any idea what it is?” Emerald asked as she walked over to just behind the captain of the guard. “It's Sombra, isn't it?”

“That's who we believe it is,” Armor said, keeping his word about leaving conflicts for later and not showing the slightest irritation with the virus. “His attempts to breach the Empire haven't succeeded yet, but they are growing in strength each time he makes an attempt. We really don't have much longer.”

“But the princess sent me to be the one to protect the Empire,” Twilight commented in some confusion. “If he can't get in, then that must mean something’s already protecting it.”

“...Took two experienced alicorns to defeat Sombra before,” Emerald pointed out. “I'd imagine that just one young one would be enough to block his entry.”

“Cadance!” Twilight gasped in realization.

“She's the reason he hasn't broken in yet and ended your mission before it began.” Armor nodded solemnly. “She really can't keep it up for much longer, though. Now come on! We have a long way to go yet.”

The next half an hour was filled with silence, save for the howling of the blizzard in everyone's ears. It didn't take Emerald very long to figure out that the blizzard wasn't normal at all. She could sense an energy to it very much like an interdictor field. She could very likely power through it, but she would be sent off course each and every time which might prove harmful to passengers.

Suddenly another howl filled the air, and this one definitely wasn't the wind.

“Th-That's one of the things, isn't it?” Fluttershy said nervously as her head turned this way and that to find the origin of the howl.

“We have to get to the Crystal Empire!” Shining Armor shouted to the others over the wind.

Suddenly there was a roar and everyone turned to see a pitch black cloud surging through the haze towards them, a pair of green eyes emitting toxic purple smoke shining like beacons in the blizzard.

“Now!” Armor added as he started into a gallop with the others quickly following him.

Emerald was running with the group as well, pausing briefly to pick up Spike who had appeared to freeze in place at the sight of the black cloud. She wasn't running because she thought of what was clearly Sombra as a lethal threat to her as well, but wanted to make sure the others would find safety and shelter first.

After a few moments of frantic running, Emerald saw a brightly glowing barrier ahead and smiled grimly. Armor had also seen this and apparently intended to make a stand so everyone else could run, Emerald wasn't going to let him do that, however.

“Gah!”Armor shouted as he was suddenly magically picked up and thrown back towards the others.

“Huh?” Twilight said at the sight of Armor flying past her and looked over her shoulder to see Emerald skidding to a stop to face Sombra. “Emerald!”

Emerald ignored that shout and stood her ground, glaring towards the fast approaching cloud of black smoke and shadow. Just as the cloud approached and stretched out as if to consume Emerald, the virus reared up and her eyes and horn glowed with the intensity of small suns. There was a thunderclap and shaking of the ground and the cloud of shadow recoiled away from it's intended target.

It was silent in that moment, as even the blizzard seem to still and quieten. On one side stood the Mane Six, Spike and Shining Armor head first into a snow drift staring back. On the other was the shadowy form of Sombra with only his eyes visible as they thoughtfully considered what was before them. In the middle was Emerald, the ground around her fore hooves heavily cracked with the spiderline fractures stretching out and a wide circle of ground visible due to a wide arc of snow being blasted away. Emerald's horn crackled with pink lightning and her eyes glowed softly as she stared down Sombra who continued to remain in place, taking in Emerald with a thoughtful look in his eyes.

“Twilight,” Emerald said, her eyes never leaving Sombra's.

“Yes, Emerald?” Twilight asked as she also stared at Sombra, taking in his large, shadowy form.

“Take the others, go into the Empire and do what you are meant to,” Emerald said. “Navi, go with them.”

Navi gave an agreeing trill and immediately shot out of Emerald's mane to fly into Twilight's. The others immediately started making for the barrier protecting the Empire, but Twilight paused before crossing the threshold.

“Emerald, please be safe,” Twilight called out before diving past the barrier.

“You too,” Emerald muttered softly as she narrowed her eyes and took up a battle ready stance.

Silence reigned as Emerald stood ready and Sombra loomed overhead.

GAMMA

“Ooff,” Twilight grunted as she stumbled her landing on the other side of the barrier.

“Are you okay, Twilight?” Shining Armor asked his sister worriedly as the others closed in.

“I'm fine,” Twilight responded before getting up and turning around facing the way they came. “Emerald...”

“Darling, there are very few things that could actually hurt Emerald nowadays,” Rarity said quickly as she stepped close to reassure Twilight. “I'm sure she is actually, uhhh... finishing up with that cruel tyrant right this moment.”

“Pfft, figures...” Rainbow Dash muttered. “It takes a villain to beat a villain easi- ack!”

“Sugarcube, everything will be right and dandy,” Applejack said after giving a sharp elbow to Dash's stomach. “Now let's get on over to-”

Suddenly the ground seemed to shudder and the barrier nearest the area Emerald had been flickered and revealed the world beyond. Spiraling towers of black crystal stretched towards the sky entwined by viral stalks. There was also fire, a lot of fire as Emerald seemed to cause a massive firestorm intense enough that the black crystals were visibly melting down. After another moment, the barrier regained its strength and returned to a pristine vista of a mountain range.

The group stared in silence for a moment after witnessing this before Twilight got a determined look on her face and turned around quickly to start making for the Empire.

“Come on,” Twilight said as she started into a gallop. “It doesn't look like this is going to be easy for Emerald, either.”

The group quickly began to run towards the city, and for the most part the seriousness of the situation had been hammered in by Emerald being in a fight just outside the city, but they did notice that the city was quite the sight to behold.

“How beautiful,” Rarity commented aloud as she took in the crystalline style of the city itself. As much as she wanted to bask in the beauty of the city, she knew and felt that now most certainly wasn't the time when Emerald was back there in what was surely an intense battle.

The group kept moving forward, galloping through the streets and past crystal ponies who stared after the group running by.

Before long, Armor was leading the group into Sombra's former palace and saw a familiar person looking exhausted.

“Cadance!” Twilight shouted.

“Oh!” Cadance gasped happily as soon as she saw Twilight approaching. She quickly set into a run towards Twilight who was doing the same, They came to a stop a few feet away from each other and began hopping in place.

“Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake!” Cadance and Twilight sang together as they did their special 'handshake'. “Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”

“One of these days we need to get together when the fate of Equestria isn't hanging in the balancec” Cadance commented with a smile before giving a tired sigh and shaking her head.

“Are you okay?” Twilight asked worriedly.

“Cadance has been able to use her magic to spread love and light,” Shining Armor explained as he walked over to Cadance's side to offer support to his wife. “That seems to be what is protecting it. But she hasn't slept; barely eats. I want to help her, but my protection spell has been countered by King Sombra.”

“Actually...” Cadance began after taking a few deep breaths. “The pressure dropped a lot just now. Occasionally it picks up really bad, but it's almost completely stopped.”

“There is a reason for that,” Armor replied sourly, giving a significant look to Twilight.

Cadance frowned at her husband's tone of voice and looked over Twilight before taking in everything else. Initially she was confused, but her eyes widened in realization.

“Twilight, I can't say I know her, but I'm certain somepony like Emerald would be here with you,” Cadance said. “She is outside the Empire right this- Ahhh!”

Suddenly Cadance gasped as, outside, the barrier flickered again. From their place in the palace looking out the windows, everyone was clearly able to make out what was outside the Empire again. The towers of black crystals and viral stalks were there again, but this time the firestorm was larger, almost making a mushroom like shape.

DELTA

Emerald frowned and waved her hoof in front of her face. Fire combined with transmutations of gasses in the air to more volatile forms certainly was destructive, but from the look of things the only thing it did was annoy Sombra. But personally, Emerald considered that okay. Trying to kill Sombra and end the threat here and now was actually a secondary objective. Her main intention here was to keep him occupied and out of the Empire. However, she was honestly going to need to change up her strategy a bit. At this rate, Sombra would just ignore her in favor of attempting to break into the Empire.

Giving a snort of derision, Sombra decided to do what Emerald predicted and moved to float past her to put pressure back on the barrier. Emerald briefly considered what else she could use to hurt Sombra more effectively.

Sombra was about to reach the barrier protecting the Empire when suddenly the most intense screech filled the air. Though he didn't have ears in his current form, that didn't make the incredible volume the screech was happening at any less unpleasant. He gave a roar of rage and pain before seeming to fall apart and sink into the ground.

Emerald smiled grimly and ended her sonic spell. She honestly hadn't been sure if that would work or not considering Sombra's immaterial state, but she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The virus gave a pulse to look for Sombra and turned in time to see said former unicorn reforming some distance away and glaring at her angrily.

“Guh.” Emerald gave a small grunt, more out of surprise than actual pain, when a black spike of crystal suddenly burst from the ground and into her stomach. The virus turned towards the spike and quickly bashed it, and when she had looked away, Sombra then dashed forward. The once tyrant of the Crystal Empire seemed to completely surround and consume Emerald in his shadows, when he gave a shout of pain as an intense sonic screech filled the air, followed by a burst of bright light.

Sombra quickly retreated from Emerald and came to a stop short distance away. Emerald had to admit they pretty much were equals to each other in that they each had a perfect counter to the other. Sombra was too insubstantial for Emerald to even touch and she was too solid for him to hurt. This fact was clear to Sombra as well as he was now settling into place and trying to think up some sort of plan. He also now had a head instead of just being a large shadowy cloud with eyes.

'I probably could actually hurt him,' Emerald thought with a frown. 'I mean, these attacks are just taking nothing out of me to do. I could literally do them all day with the amount of power I put into them. If I put enough power into an attack, he would eventually start really feeling it. But...'

'I can't exactly do that with considering the collateral, can I?' Emerald frowned as she glanced back at the city behind her. 'Sure more power means more likely to actually hurt the guy, but that means more destruction. I might end up causing explosions big enough to start damaging the city if I kick it up too much... let's just keep that as a last resort, shall we? Twilight is bound to find something to one shot this guy in there sooner or later. Just have to give her the time she needs to work.'

“Why do you side with them?” Sombra asked suddenly with a curious expression.

“Huh?” Emerald stated, surprised by the fact he even wanted to talk to her. However, she was also very willing to humor him if that meant more time for the others. “What are you talking about?”

“I'm asking why someone such as yourself would even considering siding with my misguided subjects, Sombra said. “I can feel the darkness broiling inside of you, a sumptuous ball of hate tempered by so much fear. It makes me curious why one such as you would even care for pathetic rhetoric these miserable slaves spew.”

“Because people aren't things,” Emerald answered easily and frowned when Sombra nodded in agreement.

“Yes, they are my things, Sombra stated.

Emerald's hatred for slavery in all it's forms spiked at this and she sent a laser shooting at Sombra. It was a typical laser, in that it was invisible and traveled at the speed of light, so the moment Sombra saw Emerald's horn glowing with the power of her spell it was already far too late; not that he actually needed to dodge in the first place. Emerald put so much power in the laser that it's temperature was hot enough to immediately cause the ground to start going molten and pebbles and rocks to start exploding like firecrackers. Heat waves rippled from the air the beam travelled through and the ground it impacted, and what little newly fallen snow melted for over several dozen meters around the area. Apparently the laser was intense enough that Sombra could actually feel it and he gave a wince of intense discomfort as he sunk in the ground again, coming up a few meters away.

“I take it this is a sore point for you?” Sombra asked rhetorically. “Shame... I could offer my services in getting others to do what you want. For instance, I believe I have an idea of why you are doing this. At first I thought you and that fool unicorn were in union but he is already in one with that equally foolish foal of a Alicorn. Infatuations between the orders always did drag down the best of us to acts we normally wouldn't consider. So if it wasn't a questionable infatuation to fault, it must have been the second worst, love of family.”

“I don't see the resemblance...” Sombra said as he moved to a position closer to Emerald, causing the virus to step back with a low growl. “But I can't imagine any other reason for you to get involved on the wrong side. What is she to you? A loving sister? A close cousin? To get involved in the events that should only concern her betters, she must be quite the troublemaker, isn't she?”

“Shut up,” Emerald stated bluntly, baring her teeth which had elongated into canines.

“I could fix her for you, Sombra said with friendly smile. “Make her so much more obedient; more inclined to remain home safe and sound. All you really have to do is let me pass and by the time I'm done, she'll thank you for helping to improve her.”

Emerald had the mental image of Twilight with a loving smile but dead glossy eyes, ready to obey any and every command she'd give. Almost instantly, Emerald's rage grew to such heights that she acted on instinct for the next action.

Emerald released a magically amplified roar that caused Sombra to rear back with a pained wince, but the tyrant quickly went on the move. The virus sent another laser scything through the air, this time at an even higher temperature that caused the ground around her and near the beam to suddenly burst into flame, not just the area that got hit with it. Sombra released a low growl at this but kept moving before suddenly coming to a stop and spreading himself out into wide cloud of shadow behind Emerald's position.

The virus turned about, her horn alight with pink lightning before arcs of lightning leapt up and created a pulsar like ball of magic in the air. The ball grew to about the size of a small van before it suddenly shot forward towards Sombra; this was when Emerald suddenly realized her mistake. Sombra had moved behind her, and what was behind her? The barrier protecting the Crystal Empire.

With a teleport made in an instant, Emerald moved herself into the middle of Sombra's shadowy form which quickly began to move out of the way. Emerald sent out a magical barrier upwards and sideways. The barrier was half up when the magical pulsar hit her. There was a loud explosion and Emerald felt herself fall as the ground was ripped up from beneath her.

Sombra gathered himself together a bit more closer and reformed his head as he stared down at the dust cloud that covered the impact zone. The cloud cleared and revealed a large crater. The parts of it away from the barrier stretched out several dozen meters and had the depth of at least twenty feet; the side of it nearest the barrier grew short and shallow very quickly, however.

From the bottom of the crater flew out Emerald with a pair of wings with blades instead of feathers. She landed just beyond the lip of the crater and glared up at Sombra, the only sign of any sort of damage from the explosion being some small scorch marks on her mane, which disappeared with one shake of her head.

“I got stupid. You made me mad,” Emerald stated calmly. ”That won't happen again.”

In answer, Sombra narrowed his eyes before smirking.

“We'll see.”

With that, Emerald's horn began to glow as she got a sonic spell ready to fire.

EPSILON

Twilight was currently descending a long, spiral staircase down a secret passage she had managed to find in the palace.

Soon after their arrival, Twilight had gone to the library and managed to dig up some information on something called the Crystal Heart. Initially they had thought a faire was the key to creating a more permanent protection for the Empire, but it was soon after getting the faire itself started that they found out that the crystal heart was actually the key to protecting the Empire. So while Twilight had gone off to find the heart, her friends remained behind to try to keep everyone busy, as well as to keep the fact they didn't actually have the Crystal Heart a secret.

Twilight sighed a little as she came to a stop and looked down the very middle of the staircase; the bottom didn't look any closer. The unicorn looked around a bit before her eyes landed on a loose piece of dark crystal. Magically taking hold of the crystal, she pulled it out before bringing it over the abyss and let go of it. Then she leaned over a little and listened for a moment… then another moment… then another moment. Finally she heard a distant clatter and couldn't help but gulp.

“Spike?” Twilight shouted towards the top of the staircase where she left Spike.

“Yeah?” Came the baby dragon's response after a short moment, the little dot that was his head popping into view followed by a little blue dot that orbited the other.

“Can you see outside?” Twilight shouted back.

The distant little purple and green dot that was Spike at the very top disappeared from sight. A few short moments later, he reappeared at the edge.

“I can't really tell if anything is going wrong or right!” Spike shouted down. “Can't see any of those big explosions, anyway!”

“No news is good news,” Twilight recited to herself with a bit of a worried sigh and began to go back to descending the staircase. Suddenly, with a sharp crack, one of the steps she had just placed a hoof on gave way.

“Ahh!” Twilight gave a short shout before her jaw snapped closed via her chin smacking harshly into the hard steps. “OW!”

The world went spinning for Twilight and she had a difficult time trying to stop her fall or even concentrating enough to cast a spell. This went on agonizingly for several long moments as Twilight seemed to impact every step on the way down to the bottom. However, it had to be said she was incredibly lucky she didn't just fall down the middle to the very bottom.

After hitting almost every step on the stairs, Twilight just managed to stop herself with a telekinetic spell. Looking up, she saw that she had managed to stop herself from hitting the bottom floor; she also saw that she was self levitating. After some struggling and twisting and turning in midair, she managed to right herself.

'I guess sometimes you just need some really good encouragement to learn something new,' Twilight thought with a pained wince as she rubbed her aching head. 'Now where is that heart?'

Taking stock of her surroundings, Twilight gave a happy gasp when she saw a closed door. She charged to it and tried to pull it open, but it appeared to be locked. After a few more moments of struggling with it, however, the door suddenly disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Twilight turned about and saw the door was now on the opposite of the room. She ran towards it and tried to pry it open again, this time more forcefully. Suddenly the door disappeared again and she ended up pulling herself painfully into the wall. Now feeling rather irritated, Twilight looked around again and saw the door back where it was initially.

She bared her teeth angrily at it, deciding that this was probably another case where she had to use the dark magic she had used to discover the staircase in the first place. Toxic black and purple smoke began leaking out from the corners of her eyes and from around her horn, a vile beam of magic shot forth from her horn and impacted the dark crystal at the top of the door.

Almost instantly the door opened and a bright light issued forth from within. Twilight smiled happily and immediately ran in.

Twilight skidded to a stop the moment she crossed the threshold of the door. She looked around in confusion as she suddenly found herself in the streets of Canterlot, though looking back where she came from, she didn't find a door; just another open street behind her.

Just as the violet unicorn was about to panic, thinking that the door in the Empire was trapped to teleport her away, she heard the sounds of a crowd shouting and generally being loud. For some reason she found herself drawn towards the noise despite the fact she should be trying to get back to the Empire. So it was that she walked towards the direction of the noise.

Soon Twilight found herself rounding a corner to see a thick crowd of ponies surrounding something. She couldn't exactly make out what they were shouting, but it was clear from the tone they were unkind words.

Twilight approached the crowd and soon was able to make out some of the words the crowd was shouting.

“Go back where you came from you monster!”

“Murderer!”

“Baby killer!”

“Cannibal!”

…She definitely didn't like what was being said. Twilight felt her heart lurch in her chest as she had a sudden realization of just who the crowd was shouting these things at.

Twilight burst into a run, intent to just bull rush her way through the crowd but for some reason they parted at her approach. She ran through them, shoulders barely brushing past the ponies in the crowd and she came to a stop within the circle. Her perception of the world seemed to warp and twist, then. Buildings that were only two stories at most now towered and loomed overhead, casting a deep shadow and blotting out the sun. The crowd as well seemed to grow immense very suddenly and the initially tight circle they formed around the target of their abuse expanded to an almost arena like size. In the center of all this was Emerald.

She sat in the very middle of the circle the crowd formed. What little light that was still shining was cast down upon her like a spot light, leaving the crowd in an almost ominous shadowy silhouette. Emerald's face was downcast and bore a heartbroken expression as a steady line of tears ran down her cheeks.

“Emerald...” Twilight muttered quietly. “Emerald, don't listen to them!”

The very moment Twilight shouted that, however, the volume of the crowd's jeering suddenly increased to deafening levels, leaving her voice drowned out in the outpouring of abuse. The unicorn turned about in place. Glaring at the crowd, she cried out and shouted for them to stop but her voice just continued to be drowned out. Turning back towards Emerald, Twilight tried to go to her but no matter how hard or how fast she moved, she couldn't seem to get any closer; even a teleport just had her move around the circle but get no closer.

Suddenly the jeering of the crowd grew muffled, as if hearing it from underwater. It was in this moment that the line of tears stopped flowing down Emerald's cheeks. After another moment, the virus rose into a standing position and Twilight could hear the sound of teeth being ground together in intense agitation, suddenly so much louder then the shouting had ever been.

“Emerald?” Twilight said but the virus didn't seem to hear her. Emerald bared her teeth at the jeering crowd and her eyes began to fill with anger, replacing the dejection and sadness that had once been there. Some of the jeering and shouting of the crowd seemed to stop, beginning to be replaced by the sound of worried and concerned murmuring, but the grand majority still shouted their abuse.

It was with a snarl that Emerald seemed to decided that she had had enough of taking abuse and slammed her hoof into the ground. Massive cracks formed and spread out, silencing the crowd instantly as they gave out shocked gasps. Now in her human form, Emerald rose up from a crouch, drawing her fist away from the hole in the road she punched. With dark eyes promising intense pain and retribution, her hands shifted into claws.

“Emerald, don't do this!” Twilight pleaded. “You are better than this!”

“You can't save me, Twilight!” Emerald shouted back, pointing a clawed hand back. “This is what I am! What I was meant to be! What I was always going to be! You can't save me!”

“Yes I can!”Twilight shouted back and ran forwards, this time able to reach Emerald as she reared up and placed her fore hooves against Emerald's chest so that she could get her face closer to the virus'. “Please stop… please. You are a good person, I know you are. I can save you.”

Emerald was quiet for a moment and smiled sadly as one of her claws shifted back into a hand so she could run it through Twilight's mane safely. For the longest, happiest moment, Twilight thought she had succeeded, that she had convinced Emerald to stop.

“...You can't,” Emerald replied softly with a single tear. Suddenly she leapt back away from Twilight and stabbed her claw into the ground. Black viral spikes shot out of the ground within the crowd an instant later and the screaming began. Twilight's voice joined them as she was forced to bear witness to the horror and carnage.

Suddenly she gasped deeply and started to hyperventilate as her surroundings suddenly vanished and was instantly replaced with the bottom of the staircase she thought she had left.

The unicorn continued to breath rapidly and felt hot tears run down her cheeks in little streams as she turned her head about rapidly. She quickly wiped away at the tears as she felt her heartbeat calm down steadily. She started glaring down the door initially, but she started choking up as the tears kept running down her face. She fell to the ground with a pained groan and started rocking back and forth for several moments with her hooves covering her eyes.

She remained like this, traumatized by what she had seen, for several moments filled with the sound of her soft sobbing and the distant thumping of clawed feet. Eventually though, in an action that felt agonizing, she forced herself to stand back up and attempt to shake off the experience.

'Come on, Twilight. The others are depending on you to find the Crystal Heart...' the unicorn thought to herself with a grimace as she began to angrily wipe away her tears. 'You can't break down like this... no matter how much you want... you have to- you have- wait, what's that?'

Twilight's ears twitched as she heard a voice shouting her name and turned just in time to see Spike arrive at the bottom of the staircase.

“Twiliiiight!” Spike shouted as he practically flew down the stairs with Navi swooping through the air just behind him. He came to a stop before Twilight and quickly started to explain himself. “I know you told me to stay up there, but you were down here for such a long time and you weren't answering and I got worried so I came down here and you were just staring at that wall and...”

Twilight initially listened, but couldn't help but turn and glare at the door that had tormented her with that dark vision. She walked towards, it but ducked to the side and behind the open door to stare within and try to magically examine the door more carefully than she did before.

“I was calling your name, but I couldn't seem to get your attention, and-” Spike continued but stopped short when he noticed Twilight wasn't listening. “What were you looking at? I mean... it's just a wall.”

Spike walked forward to just before the blank doorway before suddenly his eyes turned toxic green and opened to their widest extent.

“...Ponyville?!” Spike exclaimed in shock. “Well, how did I get... No! I don't wanna go! Please, Twilight, don't make me!”

Twilight didn't need to hear anymore and quickly decided to end what she knew to be Spike's worst nightmare brought to life by terrible magic. With a kick the unicorn closed the door with a loud slam, and Spike was released from his nightmares the instant she did so.

“King Sombra's dark magic,” Twilight began to explain at his utterly confused expression. “A doorway that leads to your worst fear.”

“We were home,” Spike said softly and sadly as Navi lighted down on his crest. “You told me you didn't need me anymore. You were sending me away...”

“A fear that will never come to pass. I'm never going to send you away,” Twilight reassured Spike as she closed in and pulled him into a tight hug before turning to face the door with a determined expression. “And I'm going to save everyone!”

Considering the still very fresh results at her last attempt at dark magic, Twilight decided that it simply wasn't the answer and probably wasn't one in the first place. She channeled her magic and sent it into the dark crystal atop the door. She began probing the inner workings of the magic surrounding the terrible door. Already she could find weaknesses that allowed her to probe how the door worked and quickly realized that while the door could actually be opened via dark magic, there was so many hidden pitfalls and traps that only someone who made the door or a really advanced user could open it.

Pressing her advantages into the small cracks in the defenses she found, Twilight worked and wormed her way until she got into the central matrices of the enchantment around the door. With the magical equivalent of hammering a spike into the very heart of a lock, the door then flew open.

Excitedly, the unicorn burst through the door.

“What's in there?” Spike called after her.

“Stairs,” Twilight answered with a sigh. “Lots and lots of stairs. Maybe you should come with me this time?”

Spike smiled happily at that and quickly ran after her through the door with Navi taking to air as he did so.

ZETA

Sombra snarled angrily as Emerald shot a particularly intense sonic blast through the space his head occupied. The virus allowed herself a small smile as the shadowy tyrant moved away from the barrier to get away from the noise and pain.

The battle had continued along like this ever since Emerald's initial slip up and allowing Sombra to get to her. Emerald used the fact Sombra experienced pain from incredibly loud volumes and high pitches like anyone else, making him back away from the barrier every time he closed in on it or have to endure intense agony only someone whose eardrums could not be broken could experience. She also shot him with more sonic blasts whenever he tried to talk again and enrage her again, only this time a version so powerful that the sound waves created pulverized the ground into dust whenever it hit it. Needless to say, it didn't take long for him to learn not to try to chat her up again.

Sombra for his part was growing increasingly more angered the longer this fight lasted and got between him and trying to get back into the Empire. He no longer had the confident attitude he had when he talked to Emerald earlier, it having long since given away to fury and irritation. He was also very aware that Emerald was just stalling for time for the others to work and find a means to defeat him once and for all, making his rage and hated ever greater. The fact his attacks practically washed over Emerald and did nothing else did little to make him feel better.

It was pulling back to try to figure a means of dealing with Emerald that Sombra felt something that sent a jolt of alarm through his very core. In the distance, one of the rooms in the crystal palace had become filled with black crystals. Sombra knew this was happening because he had created the spells himself specifically to trap and also alert him of it. He really only had done this for one room in the palace and one room only; the room holding the Crystal Heart. Feeling a surge of desperation fill him, Sombra shot forward towards the barrier to break through it.

Just like before when he attempted to do so, Emerald sent a sonic blast at him that caused him intense agony. However, this time was different. This time the tyrant was truly desperate to get into the Empire. Enough to work through the pain and this time he wasn't trying to bring the barrier down; just get past it.

Because of these two facts, Sombra managed to force himself through the barrier. Unfortunately, there was a reason why he was trying to bring down the barrier before making his way in. Namely so he could work his influence upon the city. As it was, he could only do so on his immediate vicinity with the barrier still up. In his eyes, however, it was a necessary and vital trade off considering that once the Crystal Heart was in place to be used against him he wouldn't stand a chance.

Initially after crossing the barrier, Sombra crashed to the ground in a shapeless dark mass, but quickly gathered his wits about himself and shot through the air towards the palace. Already he could see that his trap was somehow surpassed, as a small shape was being levitated down by the unicorn that had arrived with the alicorn. As he got closer, he recognized the shape as the baby dragon that had gone into the city with the group of ponies that got past him. Said baby dragon was clutching the Crystal Heart as he was steadily being lowered down to the lower levels of the palace.

With a snarl, Sombra shot himself forward as fast as he could. Suddenly, the Crystal Heart began glowing brightly and when the light landed upon him he suddenly found himself back with his physical form again. Sombra had actually been flying purely on the merit he was an incorporeal being and thus when he became physical again he fell. This saved him as an instant later Emerald came soaring through the space he had just occupied.

Sombra snarled in fury as he quickly caught himself with self levitation and teleported a short distance away. Emerald took up position between him and the palace, glaring him down and wordlessly daring him to try something.

The tyrant snarled but honestly that was for show now. He was inside the barrier without his greater influence upon the city. He wasn't able to grab the Crystal Heart when he had the chance and honestly he was rather worried how he would fare against Emerald with his physical body restored. Suddenly he realized it was far too late as the markings around the palace began to glow along with every crystal pony in the city.

'Is this it?' Emerald thought as she took in the ponies in the streets starting to take a crystal sheen. 'Huh... they actually are crystal ponies. I wonder if- AGGHHH OW! What?! What's hurting me?!?'

As Sombra opposite her started to brighten and explode with the energy being poured into him by the Crystal Heart, Emerald looked down at her body and started to see black burns mark appear and her flesh beginning to bubble and boil seemingly from the energy the Heart was outputting.

What Emerald didn't know was that the Crystal Heart wasn't trying to hurt her and simply was trying to crystallize her like the others. However, her strain of the virus didn't take well to foreign substances or energies it didn't instantly recognize as non-hostile and thus fought back against the intrusion. Energized love wasn't as simple to beat off as an invading bacteria, though. The cells resorted to tearing apart the cells that were “infected” and using simple brute magical force. The two energies battled each other and the amount of energy being released in those moments just kept growing and growing. This kept going until even Emerald's incredibly durability was pushed past its limits.

“Uggghhh...!” Emerald released a pained groan as more and more of her body turned to charred flesh.

Down on the balcony, Shining Armor and the Mane Six stood and looked on in awe of the energies of the crystal heart. Suddenly there was a low drone as the palace began to glow brighter along with every crystal building in the city. Everyone's attention was brought to the sky by a bright light growing increasingly brighter and brighter. Suddenly the light that began growing over the palace of the city started to dim. The low droning slowly grew to a high pitched wail as the palace and every building in the city began to dim and slowly turn dark gray. Down below, the people who could see the Crystal Heart were treated to the sight of it becoming as bright as a second sun for a singular moment before rapidly fading, becoming dull and opaque like the fake heart Twilight had initially carved out. The instant this happened, Spike and certain ponies like the Mane Six immediately lost their crystal sheen. In the distance, the barrier surrounding the Empire began rapidly fading and shattered like glass.

The fall of the barrier allowed the snowfall to begin reaching the city. It also revealed the hell scape of shattered crystal towers, viral stalks, molten ground and pulverized earth that was the battlefield Emerald and Sombra fought in.

The very moment the heart lost all of it's light, there was a deafening explosion ringing through the air followed by a horrific scream of agony that ended abruptly a moment later. Everyone began looking around in shock in surprise, trying to find where the scream had come from when a shape suddenly fell from the sky and smashed into the floor of the balcony just before them.

“OHMIGOSH!”

“Dear Celestia!”

“What the hay is that?!?”

Its form was blackened and covered in carbonized flesh, wisps of black smoke rising from it steadily. The lower half of its legs and its head were blackened and skeletal, lips burned away to reveal teeth perpetually in a horrid rictus grin. The little flesh that wasn't burned away into charcoal was raw red and oozing with blood; only the tiniest patches of flesh had what could have been a white coat. This was quite clearly and horribly the body of a pony burned to the worst extents. It was also quite clear from the patches of white coat and what little remained of the cutiemark that this was Emerald.

“EMERALD!” came a horrified scream from above.

Twilight arrived via teleport an instant later beside the virus' burned body. The unicorn grabbed hold of the body, disregarding the ash and the burned chunks breaking off onto her body. Muttering the word “No” over and over again, Twilight began casting the few healing spells she knew; spells more suited for small cuts and bruises than the horrific burns she was looking upon.

“Emerald please... don't die... you can't die. You're too strong. You can heal from anything. You-you...” Twilight said as tears welled and fell in thick drops. “You can't do this! I can save you, you hear me!? I CAN SAVE YOU!!!”

The others stared on at this in horror and shared grief, though strangely Navi just flew sedately overhead with a patient look on her face. Shining Armor couldn't bear to see his little sister like this and walked forward. He came to a stop beside Twilight and let her hold the body and cry for a moment longer before he reached down in an attempt to pull her away when the corpse gave a little wheeze.

“Emerald?!” Twilight exclaimed as she felt the body move and shake in her grasp.

Emerald began to shake her head before coughing and violently retching, spewing forth several large chunks of burned flesh. She then rolled away from Twilight quite suddenly and shakily stood up on her legs. Everyone there was treated to the quite horrific sight of a skeletal burned corpse wobbling about on it's legs for a few moments. Emerald then began to cough again, throwing up clouds of ash and yet more chunks of burned flesh. After a moment of wobbling as she stood in place, Emerald then began to shake herself harshly like a dog fresh out of the water. Ash cloud and chunks of burned flesh filled the air, but when it was done, Emerald stood there looking none worse the wear, save for her pained and exhausted looking expression. Emerald then took a few steps forward before wobbling and falling over. Twilight immediately dashed forward and caught Emerald. The two of them fell to the ground with Emerald laying against Twilight's side as she gave a groan.

“Tha- that sucked...” Emerald stated and looked up at Twilight as Navi darted down and lighted on Emerald's ear. “What the hell burned me?”

“It... it was the Crystal Heart...” Twilight said in saddened realization.

“...And that is?”

“A magical artifact of incredible power and... love,” Twilight answered.

“Ah... great,” Emerald said with a snort. “So love itself decided I'm evil and needed to be removed... that's just... great.”

At this, Twilight held Emerald closer. She was confused when Emerald suddenly went tense but noticed all the pitying looks the others were giving the virus. Deciding it was best that she and Emerald be alone with just each other for a while, Twilight teleported the both of them back up to the room the Crystal Heart was initially held in. Upon arriving, Emerald became less tense and relaxed but Twilight noticed that wetness was beginning to gather at the corner of the virus' eyes. Considering that Twilight could only ever recall seeing Emerald cry once, she grew greatly concerned for her girlfriend.

“Emerald, are you okay?” Twilight asked softly.

“You know I can take the so called greatest forces of good in the world not liking me,” Emerald stated, referring to being sealed by the Elements of Harmony. “I mean, I'm not a nice or very good person when you get down to it... I've killed hundreds of people, caused the deaths of thousands more... so yeah I can take being attacked by something that's seen as a force for good. But... I'm trying to be a better person. I may not be having much success at it, but I am trying aren't I? And I've changed because of being friends with you; because of love for you. Doesn't that mean anything to something that is supposed to be love personified? Or... am I just not allowed to try to be anything more than a monster? Is it some comic crime that I try to be a better person instead of a mass murdering sociopath? Is... is... ohhhhhh...”

Twilight held as Emerald gave a groan of frustration. In her eyes the world seemed to be becoming increasingly unfair to Emerald, but she also reminded herself that it was also unfair to Emerald's many victims that the cause of their pain suffered no justice for what she wrought. So Twilight kept silent and the two of them just stayed like that as the sun slowly began to set in the sky.

ETA

A few days later found Emerald sitting in a train with Gyatso and Swift Gale as they made their way to Vanhoover, all three sharing a single compartment.

After the events of the Crystal Empire, Emerald found all the people in the know of certain details giving her a lot of pitying looks. Rarity, who Emerald had never once grown irritated with over the motherly feelings towards her, found herself doing so when it was kicked up a few notches. Twilight understood enough about Emerald to give her a bit of space and offer her comfort whenever she was the one approached, but she was the only one.

It didn't take long for Emerald to grow sick of this treatment and decide she needed a bit of time away from everyone, so she decided to take up Gyatso on his offer to head to the Republic and meet with the Grandmasters of the Channellers earlier than she intended.

Currently, Emerald was looking out the window as the train began to pass the outskirts of Vanhoover and enter the city proper. Navi buzzed about in some excitement of traveling to a new place that wasn't cold as the virus took in the passing scenery. Just as they were entering the city itself, Emerald spotted what appeared to be a massive collection of tents set up in a clearing next to the city.

'That must be where the poor and homeless are staying,' Emerald thought as she took in the “settlement” big enough to house hundreds upon hundreds of people. 'If this was back home, tent cities would have to move every year or so as the owners of the land would get upset at the decrease in land value, causing the police to kick everyone out. Considering what kind of person Celestia is, though, I wouldn't be surprised if they are all setting up shop on federal land.'

“Poor guys. In more ways than one,” Swift stated with a bit of a chuckle.

“A joke in poor taste,” Gyatso reprimanded lightly along with a swat of his wing at the back of Swift's head, causing the young pegasus’s well kept mane to suddenly go wild from air rushing through it. “Still, I must agree they are quite unfortunate souls. May their future prospects be prosperous.”

“Yeah...” Emerald agree with a guilty twinge in her chest.

Soon the train came to a stop at the platform the group left for the dockyards.

“The Order hired a captain and his ship to await our arrival once I notified them of the situation over a week ago,” Gyatso explained as the three made their way down a street. “He'll take us across the sea to deliver us to a city on the other side.”

“Hmm...” Emerald hummed thoughtfully. “I have a better idea. I can teleport extreme distances. I could fly up and teleport several hundred miles at a time and get to the other continent, then I can teleport back and bring us there.”

“Oh thank Luna!” Swift replied happily. “No being stuck on a leaky tub for like half a year.”

“I don't remember it being that long.” Gyatso smiled at his student before turning to Emerald. “If we can shorten our journey by such an extent, then by all means.”

“Great,” Emerald said before waving down Navi.”Navi, you stay here with these two, okay? If anyone tries to eat you, you have my permission to eat them back.”

With a super serious expression, Navi agreed with a trill, causing Swift to laugh at what she thought was a joke.

“I shall go make sure the captain knows of our changed circumstances,” Gyatso stated as Navi started orbiting Swift's head, who quickly decided to start playing with the little bug.

“Be back in a few minutes,” Emerald said and teleported.

Emerald teleported directly one mile overhead. She then began teleporting westward and somewhat upwards, a hundred miles at a time when she paused. She looked directly upwards and considering going into space to see the world from so far above.

'Why not?' Emerald thought. 'It's not like a little bit of solar radiation will hurt me, and I can tolerate the heat, too. If it gets too cold, then I'll just heat myself up a bit with dragon fire.'

With that, Emerald began rapidly ascending in altitude. Within just two teleports, the Evolved found herself floating silently in space and drinking in the view of the planet before her.

'This is... beautiful,' Emerald thought with a smile as she took in the world. 'That must be the continent across the ocean. I was expecting a sort of Asia-like shape, but that looks nothing like it. Nothing about this world looks anything like earth save the blues and greens this far up... hmm, actually, I think this planet is bigger than earth. Let's see... Canterlot is right there. The nearest coast is several hundred miles over there yeah, from the looks of things, Equus is about... two point one times bigger than Earth. Well at least everyone has plenty of land to expand on. No world wars anytime soon.'

Emerald hung in stationary orbit around the planet she had grown accustomed to calling home for several moments longer, just plain enjoying the fact she was in space.

'Alright, enough enjoying the view,' Emerald thought with a shake of her head. 'Got work to do.'

With that, Emerald began making her way down via several teleports over hundreds of miles in the direction of Equestria's neighboring continent. After another minute, Emerald found herself over a mile in the air again and looking in several directions for a port city marked as an arrival point.

'Alright, if the maps I studied are accurate, there should be a port city just over there,' Emerald thought and adjusted her position with another teleport. 'Yep, there it is; hiding behind that wooded hill. Okay, let's head back.'

With one final, bright teleport, Emerald moved across over a thousand miles of ocean and sparse islands in an instant, arriving back on the docks in Vanhoover. Swift Gale was still there playing with Navi and Gyatso was just now returning back from talking with the captain.

“Just in time,” Gyatso stated. “Have you marked our destination?”

“Yep,” Emerald said as Navi darted over to dive into her mane.

“Good. Let's head over now,” Gyatso said. “We can spend the rest of the day in a local hotel. I'd like to run you through a few things about my homeland and its customs along with some more information of my order.”

“No problem.” Emerald nodded. “Everyone stand close. We'll be arriving in the air, so get ready to catch the wind.”

After a moment of preparation, the group then disappeared in a flash of bright pink.

THETA

It was falling asleep again... it did not want to fall asleep again but it was so very hard not to. It did not know just how long it had been sleeping to cause this, to not be able to be awake for more than minutes at a time before it grew too tired and slumbered unwillingly. Just what had caused this? Who had caused this? It did not know and that was deeply troubling...

“Rain Drops, over here,” called a voice. “This one wandered off again.

“Come on big guy, you’re making us look bad,” another voice said. “Weather schedule says there is not supposed to be a cloud in the sky over this place.”

Those voices... it heard it several times, almost every time it had awakened and each time it could almost remember. Yes, yes now it did began to remember... the little ones... soft little ones... of flesh, horn and magic...

“Uggh!” came the first voice. “Why is this so hard?! It's just a big fat cloud!”

“Big fat troublemaker,” grunted Rain Drops. “Come on, Sky! Push harder!”

They called themselves the masters of the world... laughable. They were truly masters of nothing in the eyes of the elders. And so it was they were humored by their betters as they claimed lordship over their soft fellows and the world. Even as they began seeking a means to enhance and further their control over the world, the elders yet continued to humor and laugh along to their childish achievements. Even... even as they started claiming mastery over the true masters of the world themselves...

“Eeek!” Sky squeaked in alarm.

“Sky, what did you do?!” Rain Drops shouted.

“I-I don't know!” Sky shouted back. “It just turned into a storm cloud for some reason!”

So it was they were ignored... ignored as they crafted their magic and grew in strength. Ignored as more and more of the elder kin began to quietly fade into slumber. When Sun and Moon were chained and slumbering did the danger become clear but too late, far too late...

“I can't make it turn back!” Rain Drops cried out.

“Umm... it's getting bigger...”

They were all enchained. All the elders forced into slumber with naught but youth to avenge the violation of their right. A violation gone without justice... gone without justice... no... NO... NO.

'There will be justice. They will pay... all of them,' rasped a voice cold as ice and sharp as the stabbing winds of winter. 'Hate them, punish them, make them feel pain of the chains they dared place on us. No longer must they go unpunished. They must hurt. They must not get away. Find the others, awaken their fury, awaken them to the injustice. They... they...'

“You...”

“Huh?”

“Uhhh... please tell me that was you, Rain,” Sky pleaded.

“N-noo...”

“Pay... all of you PAY... PUNISH!” came a shrill scream as the winds began to kick up ever faster. Ever stronger. Ever colder. “RAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH”

-TBC-

Chapter 3: One for All

View Online

'I hope Emerald is doing alright,' Twilight thought in some worry as she studied the nanobot section of her science book. 'She certainly didn't seem alright, even several days after.'

Twilight had definitely been in agreement with Emerald when she had stated she needed time away from everyone. The viral unicorn had few triggers that would instantly enrage her, thankfully, but all the pitying looks she had gotten from people who had known or had come to know what had happened in the Empire... well, it was making her temper increasingly shorter by the hour every time she was subjected to it.

'I guess I could simply message her with Spike to ask how she is doing,' Twilight thought as she wrote down some notes. 'But she only just left. I think she'll need more time than that to unwind... all of us should go on a vacation of sorts somewhere. Emerald spends every hour of the day and night working whenever she isn't with me or our friends. That kind of pace can't be healthy at all for somepony's mental state. Of course that just brings it all back to the fact Emerald isn't mentally well. She needs help.'

Twilight sighed audibly and closed her book, her train of thought now firmly on matters apart from science, or rather onto an entirely different field of science. While in theory, the idea of Emerald getting professional help with her mental issues was a good idea, putting it into practice however...

'The psychiatrist who can be trusted to try to help Emerald heal would end up needing help themselves after the first session I would think,' Twilight thought seriously. 'I'm kind of glad I've learned Emerald's past piece by piece. If I had to learn all the pain and horror she had to go through in one sitting, I don't think I'd be able to handle it. In order to ensure that Emerald gets the help she needs, we would need a psychiatrist who can both be trusted and be mentally sturdy enough to withstand what they will be told.'

'Hmm...' Twilight hummed in thought for a few moments before her eyes widened in realization. 'Oh! I know who could help. Maybe P-'

Suddenly a loud but insistent knocking interrupted her thoughts, and before she could call for Spike the little dragon was already on the move, his claws clicking on the floor as he shouted, “Coming!”. Soon the sound of the door opening met Twilight's ears followed by a short barely heard exclamation.

“Twilight, there is somepony at the door for you!” Spike called.

“Who is it?” Twilight called back as she got up from her seat.

“It's Shining Armor!” Instantly Twilight felt a smile form on her face and she quickly trotted out of the library and into the main hall of her home. At the end of the hall she saw Shining entering now. He wasn't wearing his Royal Guard regalia so this appeared to be a casual visit.

“Shining!” Twilight said happily and approached her brother. “It's nice to see you again, especially now that nothing’s at stake.”

“We have only been getting together when things are rather dire, haven't we?” Armor stated with a half hearted smile. “I've decided to visit you and have a nice long talk with you.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Twilight said and turned to Spike. “Spike, could you get some tea ready for us please?”

“Sure thing, Twilight.”

“Let's go to the living room, Shining Armor,” Twilight said to her brother before leading the way.

Soon the two unicorn siblings were seated in the living room.

“This is a nice home you have, Twilight,” Armor commented. “How does it compare to the one from before?”

“Well...” Twilight began. “I've got to admit that I miss a lot of things about the tree house. Everything was shaped into and out of still living wood and having a leaf canopy for shade just outside was convenient. But this place has a homely feeling to it all on it's own. The window in the library is rather nice, but overall it just feels nice for my family.”

“Family, huh?” Shining said with a smile. “Getting pretty serious between you and Emerald now.”

“Y-yeah...” Twilight replied with a blush. Honestly the word had just slipped out, but the violet unicorn couldn't say the mental image of her and Emerald being married didn't bring up a lot of happy emotions. But she also felt that such a step was definitely too soon for her and likely for Emerald as well. It was certainly a happy thought, but not one that was going to be made reality any time soon.

“That brings me to the main reason why I came here to talk to you,” Shining Armor said with a serious look. “Twilight, what do you see in her? Someone who brought so much pain to others and is so dangerous?”

“Shining...” Twilight began with a sigh. “I... it's hard to explain...”

“I'm willing to sit here as long as it takes,” Shining Armor stated firmly. “Twilight, she's dangerous. I'm not leaving here until I understand what it is that makes you stay with her despite all her clear faults.”

“...” Twilight couldn't help but give a bit of a stare at her brother for the wording, but in the end she could understand that he was concerned for her. She also had to admit that once you knew that Emerald was a former murderer you couldn't help but feel concerned with everyone around her. She knew that feeling distinctly as she had driven Emerald up the wall with it initially before coming to trust her. “Emerald never asked to be dangerous to others. When it comes down to it, she was once just a child who was looking forward to becoming a baker like her mother. But evil took away all she held dear and destroyed her life,and after a year of being alone and suffering she was offered a chance to join that same evil that brought ruin to her life. To you or me, the idea of doing so would have been unthinkable... but for Emerald it was a chance to no longer be on the verge of starvation and death by exposure.”

“The decision she made that day, to join the evil that destroyed her life, haunts her and gives her horrific nightmares every time she sleeps,” Twilight continued softly. “I won't mince words or try to avoid it. When Emerald first arrived in Equestria she was without a single doubt in my mind a monster who would kill any for an advantage. She initially became my friend simply as a means to seek a way to dismantle the one true threat to her at the time, the Elements of Harmony.”

“If you know all this...” Shining Armor said with clear confusion. “Then why continue to be her friend? Why fall in love with someone who sought to hurt you?”

“Falling in love wasn't something that happened over night, Shining,” Twilight replied with a soft smile. “Emerald, for all her strengths, for all her ungodly power and durability, is so very frail emotionally. Someone in the right position making the right hit would shatter her in a single blow. She knows it too, but she still wants to be near to me and our friends. She still continues to make friendships with anyone who would give her a chance despite the recent hardships it has inflicted on her.”

“I am not ignoring or forgetting her crimes in the slightest,” Twilight continued solemnly. “I am so very aware of them, probably more so than anyone else. I feel guilt for them just as she does.”

“You shouldn't,” Shining immediately stated with a reprimanding tone. “You aren't the one who did them.”

“Neither have I done anything about them, have I?” Twilight replied with a melancholy smile before shaking her head. “I'm likely just as guilty for her crimes via association and inaction. If she were to serve time, I'd insist on doing so as well, if not in the same cell then at least in the neighboring one… though that would only be in the highly unlikely event she actually would cede to being imprisoned in the first place.”

Shining Armor sighed at that. The biggest issue of bringing Emerald to justice was the fact nothing they had could barely slow her, let alone restrain her; she was just so powerful now. The Elements of Harmony couldn't even be relied on anymore. Emerald proved she was powerful enough that even they wouldn't hold her for long. For all everyone knew, after being sealed by the Elements once, Emerald figured out how to get out faster for next time. Imprisoning Emerald could only be done at her consent, which rather took the point out of it as she would likely get frustrated enough with the situation to leave after the first day.

“...She is still dangerous, Twilight,” Armor said after a moment.

“Not to me, Armor,” Twilight said confidently. “Never to me.”

“You really believe that?” Armor asked.

“With all my heart,” Twilight answered with a smile.

Armor sighed again and scratched the back of his head. After a long moment, he finally looked up and met his sister's smile with one of his own.

“Well, Twilight...” Armor began. “I can't say my views about Emerald have changed, but I'm glad to know you know exactly what you are getting into and the potential consequences. I still want to have that talk with Emerald, though. We still have have a lot to... discuss.”

“Of course, Shiny,” Twilight replied.

“Now enough about this,” Shining Armor said with a shake of his head. “How have you been, Twiley?”

“Oh I've been very well,” Twilight smiled as she and her brother began to play a bit of catch up.

ALPHA

Swift Gale awoke from her bed with a loud yawn. She had yet to master becoming instantly alert the moment she had awoken, so she would be half asleep for a time yet. Looking off to her side, she saw that the neighboring bed was empty and made.

'Odd. Master Gyatso usually kicks me out of bed when he wakes up,' Swift thought with another yawn. 'Oh well. I got to sleep in and he's off somewhere else. I'm going to take the opportunity to take a long shower.'

The previous day had been spent seeking out a hotel to spend the night, after which Emerald and Gyatso spent the rest of the day talking about the heron's country. Mostly to familiarize Emerald with the culture and customs of the land. A bit odd to the heron and the pegasus was that Emerald seemed to anticipate and guess a lot of the culture, even the more obscure facts that only the most well traveled would have known. Emerald also happened to have known quite a bit of languages that were in the Republic, but spoke them with a strange accent that was distinctly not Equestrian, which was intriguing to Gyatso but confusing to Swift. The three had spent the entire day talking about life in the Heron Republic, with Emerald making a lot of oddly accurate guesses before nightfall finally arrived. Then they went to bed... well, Swift, Navi and Gyatso did. They knew Emerald didn't need sleep so they didn't really know what she did in her own room.

'It's hard to remember this person is the one who was capable of bringing Discord down by pure force alone,' Swift thought as the hot water poured over her in the shower. 'The combined might of the ancient Channelers couldn't manage it. The most they could do was annoy him enough that he left to find some place else to mess with. But she managed it, and from the sound of it she made a mess of him. B-beautiful, strong, incredibly smart and brave. Dear Luna she sounds like one of those characters from a badly written book, only she's real. But she can't be completely perfect, can she? What are her flaws? Actually, I know exactly what one of them are...'

As Swift Gale's thoughts drifted to the now infamous Canterlot Wedding, the hot water began to run out, causing the silver maned pegasus to give a shriek as the water turned ice cold.

“CRAPPY HOTEL!” Swift screamed as she threw her shivering form out of the shower. “WHY DO WE KEEP COMING HERE!?”

“Be quiet in there!” came a shout followed by several like minded ones and banging on the walls as several people were awoken from their sleep.

Having been denied her long, hot shower, Swift was mere moments from starting a shouting match with the hotel guests through the walls. She calmed down after a few moments of calm breathing exercises, though. After drying herself off and cleaning up the mess of water she had made after throwing herself out of the shower, Swift gathered her few traveling possessions together and left the room.

Soon, Swift found herself outside and on the search for Master Gyatso and Emerald Gleaner. The buildings of the port city were rather rich looking thanks to said port, gleaming, sloped crimson roofs and shining walls covered in a porcelain like material. The streets were wide and seemingly paved with one long massive, seamless chunk of white marble and lined with planters full of a variety of flowers.

Swift began moving through the crowds and down the street to where she knew were some parks. The pegasus walked past a diverse selection of peoples and races. Bushy coated braided maned ponies from the northern plains, stout gorillas hauling large carts full of grown produce from the heartland, large families of monkeys smaller than ponies each hauling a pack full of goods from the southern jungles, to herons like Gyatso and ponies like Swift.

At one point, Swift walked a past a bit of commotion. A band of gorillas had been hauling a large metal plated statue for installation or transport somewhere when the cart had tipped, spilling the statue where it smashed into the street leaving a massive ugly crack but leaving the statue unmarked. A little monkey wearing a green haori and cone hat bearing white kanji for the word “Earth” arrived soon after. The little Channeler had spent a minute screaming her lungs out at the recoiling gorillas before going into a stance, and with one pushing motion the statue went back onto its cart and with a stomp the crack in the marble road sealed itself. The gorillas were quickly back on their way, almost fleeing the still seething Channeler.

Soon, Swift found herself arriving in the park. At this point it was fairly crowded but Emerald and Gyatso were quickly and easily found, thanks to the fact a crowd of observers had formed and were giving the two a respectful distance. It was a good thing that they did from the looks of things.

Emerald was a blur of motion while Master Gyatso stood calmly. Emerald was apparently trying to land a blow on Gyatso who was using his own speed and senses to dodge her at the final moment. They had been going at it for a while if the steady but audible breathing of Gyatso was anything to go by. Every time Emerald moved, grass and earth was kicked up and churned into an almost mud like mess. By now, a circle of torn up grass and earth had been formed in the area of the park Emerald and Gyatso were moving within.

Swift Gale came to a stop nearby to watch the two in their spar. However, Emerald soon came to a messy stop, kicking up a ton of muck and grass while looking towards her.

“Ah, Swift!” Gyatso said with a smile. “So good to see you have wrestled yourself away from your bed.”

“And I bet you are going to make me regret sleeping in, Master,” Swift replied wryly. “Again.”

“One day this will all be instinctive for you and I won't have to hammer it in.” Gyatso replied cheerfully. “But it's not today, that is for certain.”

Swift Gale sighed and turned towards Emerald, who had stepped forward and came to a stop next to Gyatso. She was in that other form of hers, one that was called “human”. Swift hadn't seen a human before so it looked rather strange to her eyes. It had no coat of fur or feathers like most races and needed clothes to be warm. In fact, the only patch of fur it had was atop its head. Though in Swift’s opinion, Emerald needed better clothes.

“So what exactly were you and Master Gyatso doing?” Swift asked the shapeshifter.

“Speed training,” Emerald answered as Navi darted into view and landed on the front of her hat. “I was working on enhancing my control at high velocities and Gyatso decided to help out. So far I've actually managed to tag him twice.”

“That fast?” Swift blinked. “Wow.”

“Well I've actually been putting in quite a bit of effort into getting better before this,” Emerald replied. “So it isn't that much of a leap, honestly, and it took me several hours of effort to do that.”

“I assure you, my dear, that fatigue did not play a part at all in those successful hits,” Gyatso assured the virus. “You are legitimately getting faster. I'd advise you on working on the amount of force you place into your blows, however. I am certain I am going to be getting some rather severe bruises.”

“Sorry, it's hard to judge how hard I'm going to hit someone when I'm moving really fast on top of my own physical power,” Emerald said.

“Hmm... I've noticed that on the few times you used a teleport they weren't as blinding as they usually are,” Gyatso commented.

“I've been working on that recently as well,” Emerald answered and took a few steps back. “I've been working on the light generated from the use of magic.”

As Emerald said this, she gestured to a lump of earth churned up from their spar and began to levitate it. Almost like when she had initially started to use magic, the earth rose very shakily into the air, however it also lacked an aura of magic around it and Emerald's hand also lacked an aura of magic. After a moment, she let the lump of earth drop back down.

“I can make the aura completely invisible, but I'm currently hampered by the intense concentration needed,” Emerald stated. “I've been working on wingless flying as well, like how Discord does it, but right now all I can do is float.”

“Oh yeah, all you can do is float. Without wings,” Swift commented sarcastically.

“What can I say,” Emerald said with a shrug. “I have high standards for my skills.”

“Not at all a negative trait,” Gyatso said. “Now, since Swift Gale has awoken and joined us, shall we get on our way to the monorail? If we hurry, we can make the morning stops.”

“Alright, let's head out,” Emerald said. Personally, she was rather interested to see the headquarters of the Channelers. No doubts there would be quite a few sights along with seeing the magic of the Channelers in action.

The group went on their way then. Emerald couldn't help but notice with amusement that Gyatso was quick to usher everyone away from the park when some Channelers arrived to repair the turf of the park and soon they were arriving at the monorail station. It was rather close to the ports and the area where their hotel had been, but that made sense when you thought about it. The station was also situated thirty stories into the air with its many tracks stretching out into the distance.

After ascending the stairs, Gyatso left to get a few tickets for their trip. Emerald could have simply teleported the three of them again, but she was interested in seeing the countryside. The virus walked over to the tracks, leaving Navi behind to play with Swift, though once again giving her the advice to eat anything that tried to eat her back which made Swift chuckle again.

There were several platforms for different lines of trains and large catwalks that allowed crowds to cross over tracks easily. Emerald had thought that Republic trains would be a lot like Equestrian ones, but the tracks were rather odd looking, being made completely of stone and had this large ridge sticking out along the middle of the track. Emerald guessed that the train used this to remain on the track and was proven correct when when the train soon arrived.

With the sound of stone grinding against each other softly, the train arrived. A pony and a heron wearing earth channeling robes stood in the front most car. Emerald guessed that they were the ones to make the train move forward and stop since there was no obvious means of locomotion otherwise.

“I have our train tickets,” Gyatso stated as he stepped next to Emerald. “We'll be heading directly to the central monastery of my order. The trip will take roughly two hours.”

“The train will take us past the capital, too,” Swift chimed in, Navi perched atop an ear. “So you'll get to see what it looks like from afar.”

“Sounds good,” Emerald said as she lifted up her hat, letting Navi dart under to snuggle into her hair. “Let's get going.”

The train was made of stone, but the interior was well furnished with soft seats and tables. From the looks of things, the passengers would be offered light lunches later into the trip. Twenty minutes after arrival, the train began moving with a near unnoticeable jolt. The train maintained a steady speed of forty miles an hour inside the city but the moment it passed the city limits it immediately sped up to double that.

Emerald had expected the elevated tracks to lowers back down onto ground level soon after leaving the city. Twenty minutes into the trip, however, it was clear that the track was going to stay suspended three stories over the ground for the rest of the trip. No doubt such a construction would normally take a ton of effort and manpower to do conventionally, but the presence of earth channelers likely made such things rather simple and straightforward. No doubt the Republic had managed to build this in a fraction of time it likely would have taken other nations.

Soon the forests that had surrounded the port city gave way to miles and miles of farm land. With her incredible sight, Emerald was able to spot the farmers tending to their crops as much more than just dots in fields of green. Most of them were gorillas, but that was expected. From what Gyatso had explained of the Republic, the gorillas sounded a lot like an earth pony counterpart. Gorillas tended to be mostly pacifists and preferred to relax and enjoy the outdoors and company of others, so it was distinctly uncommon to see one living outside of the close knit farming communities; even more uncommon to see one living in the bustling cities. Gorillas were in the clear majority here when it came to farming, but it was clear that others took to the career as well. From the other races, the second most common were earth ponies for obvious reasons.

Soon the heron hostess came walking down the main aisle of the train and Emerald found herself pleasantly surprised to see quite a few dishes had meat in them. They were all small stews and soups, and the large majority were still vegetarian, but the meaty cuisine was on clear display. After several years on a mostly vegetarian diet, Emerald was quick to pick out the meatiest soup they had there; a stew filled with pieces of fish from a local river boiled with some shrimp oil with mushrooms mixed in and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.

Despite the fact her soup had been a rather small serving, it lasted Emerald the better part of half an hour as she savored it. When she looked up again, she found that the farmlands had given away to bamboo forests. The virus just enjoyed the trip from there, her vision letting her pick up the distant towns and villages they passed by along with people on their own paths in life. To top it all off, beautiful snow capped mountains lined the far horizon.

'Times like this, I can honestly say I enjoy living,' Emerald thought with a small smile as she leaned back against her seat. 'The only thing that could have made this better was if Twilight was here with me... As much as I want to use this time to think and plan out my projects more, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy myself.'

The next hour passed quietly with Emerald sitting back and watching the world go by. Eventually though, a towering shape appeared on the horizon and soon closed.

“We'll be passing the capital soon,” Gyatso said from the next seat over. “Shangri La is the most developed city in the Republic. There is construction and renovation always going on somewhere in the city.”

“It's really annoying,” Swift said. “The hotspots are always moving all over the place all the time and you have to keep up on local news if you want to know about new places to hang out.”

Emerald considered what Swift and Gyatso said, and it made sense when you thought about it. In a society that had people capable of moving raw materials with the ease the Channelers did, construction work really must be cheap and quick. Only the largest and grandest of buildings would likely take more than a month.

As the train grew closer to the capital, Emerald was immediately reminded of Manehattan due to all the tall buildings. Manehattan's skyscrapers were a lot like New York's, but here in Shangri La, the skyscrapers were all massive buildings seemingly made out of a single block of stone, lined with the iconic asian curved roofs and topped off with points that were capped in gleaming gold. The roofs were all different colors, tailored to their owner's specification most likely. A clear feature of this city however was the fact that every tower had many, many balconies that stretched out from the building. In the air, going to and fro on their business, were thousands upon thousands of herons. It was clear that the civic planners took into account a vast amount of their population were capable of flight.

Emerald gazed off towards the capital for several minutes, taking in the view and everything her powerful eyes could. It was quite the sight to be sure, but...

'I don't know,' Emerald thought with a frown. 'Despite how interesting and different this place looks, I kind of really prefer Canterlot to here. Maybe that city just grew on me after all the time I've spent there now? Damn it, I left to get away from everything and have a break and I'm already homesick? Bah...'

Finding her mood souring a little, Emerald sighed and focused on what would be their destination. The tracks their train was on were leading into the mountains and Emerald could see the peak of a roof showing from just behind the mountains. The train began to ascend a gentle slope as it neared the mountains and towards the tunnel through it. For a long few minutes there was darkness, save for the lanterns lighting the tunnel interior, then the train exited the other end of the the tunnel.

The skyscrapers of Manehattan and Shangri La were big, but the construction the train was rapidly approaching dwarfed those. It was as if someone took the concept and designs of the grand palace monasteries of Tibet and decided to carve half a mountain into one, it was just so massive. Upon closer inspection, Emerald concluded it was probably very likely that this massive monastery really was carved out of the mountain it was built against.

'Yeah they definitely know how to build big around here,' Emerald thought as she stared up at the massive building before narrowing her eyes. 'Wait... why does that part look like it was built normally?'

The grand monastery looked like it was made out of a single massive slab of rock but one portion of the building didn't share this look. It was a massive cylindrical mausoleum like structure made out of large, well made bricks but the fact it wasn't built in the same style as the rest of the monastery... it was very curious to say the least.

“So how do you like it?” Swift asked as she took a seat right next to Emerald. “Big, huh?”

“Definitely,” Emerald nodded in agreement. “I bet you could fit hundreds of thousands of people in there.”

“A lot of future planning went into its construction many centuries ago,” Gyatso stated serenely from his seat. “The Order was but a fraction of the numbers we are now, but even so we have only recently begun to make use of half of the rooms. Granted, we are not all centered in this one location. There are quite a few Channeler Monasteries darting the Republic, each training their own apprentices and housing their masters.”

“What's the story behind that part of the monastery?” Emerald asked, pointing at the mausoleum.

“You'll learn before long,” Gyatso replied. “That place is our ultimate destination.”

“Hmm,” Emerald hummed in response as the train started to slow as it neared the monastery.

The monastery had its own train station and it was much larger than what had been at the port city; much more complicated as well, with multiple levels. Strangely, there was still only two sets of tracks in and out and Emerald briefly wondered how such a place handled heavy traffic, which it obviously had because there were multiple trains in the station. Emerald's unvoiced question was answered when her train came to a stop on a section of track just before the station. A moment after the train came to a stop, the track section it was on began to move to the left, stopping and rising up one level, then the train rolled into the empty platform.

'Ah, that's how they do it,' Emerald thought as she rose from her seat as the train came to one final stop.

Soon Emerald was leaving the train and came to a stop on the platform to take in her surroundings. The station was bustling and if anyone needed proof that Channeler magic wasn't race specific, they only had to take a look around her. Ponies of all three tribes, northern steppe ponies, herons, monkeys, apes, griffins, zebras and even a few wolverines here and there. Of course, herons were still the majority here, but it was definitely clear that becoming a Channeler wasn't something that was reserved for just one race.

'This is really interesting...' Emerald thought as she began to follow Swift and Gyatso, Emerald attracting a bit of attention because she was still in her human form which was a species that hadn’t been seen before.

Initially the crowds were rather thick as they moved through the train station and attached hallways but as they moved deeper into the monastery, the crowds quickly started to thin. Before long, the group entered a large lobby. The lobby was incredibly big and had a ceiling that was five stories up. It was very spacious and in fact would have felt small despite the groups of people here and there if it wasn't for the four large statues in the middle of the lobby. Emerald couldn’t help but stare with widened eyes at the statues as Navi finally darted out from under her hat. Two of these large statues were very familiar looking.

“What are those?” Emerald asked.

“The four known categories of spirits,” Swift answered automatically in a somewhat bored tone. “The windigo, the ifrit, the jotun and the hippocampi.”

Emerald studied each statue Swift Gale pointed out. The windigo was pony shaped; or rather, its upper half was pony like. It was the third largest and its lower half was like a swirling tornado. The ifrit was shaped somewhat like a minotaur, only with a more wiry frame, larger horns and flames leaping from its body, mouth and eyes. It was the smallest of the four. The jotun was the largest of four, easily nearly brushing the ceiling. It was in the shape of a large bear, its legs ending in massive stumps and a collection of dirt, tree roots and boulders made up it's main body. The hippocampi was somewhat pony shaped but much of its body had a crustacean like exterior with a few pincer like limbs here and there. The artist had taken great pains to depict the “flesh” of the being as being made of rushing water. It was the second largest.

“These statues are actually artistic recreations of the originals,” Swift continued in a monotone. This was clearly something she had to go over a lot. “The originals are held in the hall of the Old Masters.”

“Hall of the Old Masters?” Emerald asked, tearing her gaze away from the statues.

“Our destination,” Gyatso answered. “And where our grand masters will meet with you.”

Emerald frowned thoughtfully as Navi orbited above and continued to follow Gyatso and Swift as they led the way. The group soon had the lobby behind them, but that wasn't the end of the interesting sights. The halls they traveled often passed rooms that were currently were being put to use as classrooms, where scores of newly joined channelers were being taught the very basics of their chosen style, though not all of the new initiates were small children. More than a few were fully grown adults and were being trained separate from the children.

'Fire, water, air and earth,' Emerald thought, then added as she spied a master channeler walking past with interesting kanji on his robes. 'AND with the potential to branch out and add secondary elements in later years. Yeah, this is very interesting. I'd love to get the chance and start to learn some of this, but I doubt they'd let me. After what I've done in Canterlot and shown what I was capable of doing to a powerful being like Discord, the last thing any group wants is to make me even stronger.'

Emerald heard a bit of giggling and laughing, and turned towards the noise. Resting on a mat in one of the passing rooms was what could only be a master and their apprentice. The master was a shaggy coated, thick maned steppe pony mare and their apprentice was a very young gorilla. The little gorilla was wearing a white and red haori with the kanji for fire emblazoned on its back, similar to its master’s. The gorilla was also happily grooming the pony's mane and carefully setting it into braids, an action said pony found ticklish and couldn't help but laugh every few moments.

'I bet the apprenticeships end up becoming an almost family like parent and child link,' Emerald thought and gave a wondering look towards Gyatso and Swift Gale. 'That reminds me. Swift Gale was originally from Equestria, wasn't she? I wonder how she ended up becoming apprenticed to Gyatso? Well... it's clearly a story for another time. From the looks of things, were almost there.'

A massive set of double doors lay at the end of the hall the group was now traveling down. It was clearly their destination.

“Well, here we are,” Gyatso said as they came to a stop before the doors. “It's been a long time coming, and I honestly thought it was going to be longer yet before you stood here with us, but the Grandmasters are within. They are waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Master Gyatso,” Emerald nodded at the heron. “Meeting you was an interesting experience and I'm very thankful for the help you've given me in my own personal training. It was nice meeting you too, Swift Gale. The next time we meet, I wouldn't mind having another spar to see how far you've come.”

“Next time you see me, I'll have my best move down pat!” Swift Gale said confidently. “I'll see ya later, Emerald. And see you too, Navi!”

Navi trilled in response where she was now perched on the top of Emerald's hat, a little sad her playmate was going away now. Emerald waved one final time as Gyatso and Swift went on their way back into the depths of the monastery before turning towards the doors.

'Well, no point in keeping them waiting now, is there?' Emerald thought and walked forward to open the doors herself.

At the virus' approach, however, the large doors released a loud groan and began to open outwards until there was just enough space for Emerald to walk through. Giving the doors a glance, Emerald did so after a moment.

The first thing Emerald noticed about the Hall of the Old Masters was that it was taller than the lobby had been. Next had been the lines upon lines of statues lining the cylindrical walls of the halls. Each statue was also different and clearly had been made in the likeness of actual people. An interesting fact about the statues was that some of them were also very clearly dragons. The next thing Emerald saw was the statues Swift Gale mentioned. They were far smaller than the ones that were based on them and were very clearly ancient. All of them were very basic constructions and reminded Emerald of monuments created by ancient humans or primitive tribes. Each statue had a hole in the very center of their chests. The jotun was still very large and had a bulky frame and was lined with straight lines. The hippocampi was a simple construction with no limbs and was almost pillar like and lined with smooth curving lines. The ifrit still had a wiry frame and actually had some basic horns atop the small boulder like head and was lined with sharp zig zags. Finally, the windigo was simply an amorphous form covered in swirls.

“Most spirits haven't been seen in countless generations,” a voice stated and interrupted Emerald's studying of her surroundings. “So most of us don't realize that a spirit's form isn't restricted to looking a certain way. Not all windigos look like ponies, and not all jotuns look like great bears.”

Emerald looked forward and saw seven people standing in the very center of the hall. Their robes looked no different from any of the other channelers, so one couldn't actually tell at a glance if they were Grand Masters of their order or not. Four of them were herons with various kanji depicting their specialty. One of them was a small monkey wearing a white and red haori and cone hat with the kanji for fire on them. Another was an earth pony wearing a white and green haori with matching cone hat with the kanji for earth; rather fitting. Finally was a large gorilla with a white and blue haori with the kanji for water.

“But you are one of the few this century to have met a spirit. It was a jotun from what I understand?” the voice continued and Emerald identified the speaker as the gorilla, female as well from the sounds of it.

“Hmm, yeah he was,” Emerald answered with only a brief moment to considering Sovereign. “He didn't exactly look like a bear, either.”

“A spirit's form is what they desire it to be,” one of the Herons stated. “Though one thing that can be counted on is for the form to made of the spirit's element.”

“Well I met a hippocampi as well a while ago,” Emerald added after a moment. “She did look a lot like the statue back in that lobby.”

“Another sighting?” the pony grand master said in some surprise. “We've always had our suspicions about Everfree being a sanctuary of sorts for spirits. With the confirmed presences of two spirits, I suppose that suspicion is now correct.”

“I was told by Sovereign, the uhh... jotun of the Everfree told me there were quite a few of them living there,” Emerald replied. “Though the hippocampi was the only other one I've actually met.”

“His name is Sovereign, you say?” the pony said in interest. “Is-”

“ENOUGH!” the monkey shouted with a short burst of flame from his mouth. “Let's stop this waffling and get on to the point!”

“Hmph, very well,” the pony said. “Emerald Gleaner, you may wonder how it was we came to know of you? You see, it was during the event in Canterlot that lead to the creation of the 'Thracians'.”

“My fight with Discord,” Emerald said.

“Exactly,” one of the herons said. “So much energy had been released. No matter what we were doing at the time or where we were, we easily sensed it. Initially we had feared that Discord had been released from his prison, for he had troubled the Republic greatly ages ago. But on retelling what we had experienced to several reliable sources, we had realized the released energy was too powerful to be his.”

“You can imagine our worry and wariness when we had found that out,” the gorilla added. “Our ancestors were only able to annoy Discord to the point he left out of frustration, and suddenly this new presence makes itself known and is more powerful?”

“Everyone in the know who wasn't us was too busy soiling themselves to do something productive,” the little monkey muttered with some mirth.

“There is some truth there,” a heron said with a nod of his head. “There was quite a bit of fear when it was made known there was something more powerful than Discord out in the world. Even more so that same thing had beaten him in a fight. However, we decided it was best to see if there was any actual malice in this new power, passive or otherwise. So we deliberated on our actions and whether or not you actually remained in Equestria or had moved on. Eventually we determined you were still in the country and sent someone reliable to seek you out and bring you here to meet with us.”

“Why?” Emerald asked with a curious tilt of your head.

“I for one won't sugarcoat anything. We brought you here to be judged,” the monkey said, his eyes glittering like faintly burning coals in the shadows of his hat. “There is a darkness about you. An easy willingness to violence and calm viciousness...”

“Judged, huh?” Emerald said with narrowed eyes. She couldn't tell if she should be tense and ready to spring into combat or not. Despite the monkey's words, he wasn't exactly looking to leap into action and neither were the others.

“Onoki's harsh words aside, yes,” the pony answered with a sigh. “You were brought here to be gauged and for judgment to be made.”

“Hmm...” Emerald said and brushed off the top of her hat, making Navi take flight into the air. “So what's the verdict.”

“That's what I would like to know as well!” Onoki shouted towards the ceiling.

Emerald blinked at this in some confusion when suddenly eyes of every statue in the room lit up and shined with blinding intensity.

“WE HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT OF HER SOUL. SHE HAS BEEN JUDGED, Many voices filled the air, speaking in perfect sync with each other. “ACTION SHALL BE TAKEN.”

The hair on the back of Emerald's neck rose up as she heard the voices and a sense of alarm filled her as small lights left each of the statues and filled the air. Feeling the sheer magic saturating the air, the virus knew she wouldn't be able to immediately teleport out without a bit of build up. When all the lights suddenly rushed towards her, she instantly called up a magical barrier around her, the strongest she could possibly make it. A spike of fear was driven into the core of her being when the lights ignored the barrier completely, thinking of the time she was hit with the Elements of Harmony.

Emerald Gleaner released a cry as all the lights sunk into her form, a cry that quickly cut off into a choked gasp. The virus spasmed briefly before her eyes rolled up into the back of her head and she back onto the floor where she lied unmoving.

BETA

Missy carefully examined the device before her as she kept glancing to her clipboard for reference.

Currently Missy was in one of the many workshops dotting the Hub, the sole single city of the Enclave. Emerald's plans to make power cables and power stations linking the Hub to the ley line under the old Everfree forest had been completed a day ago. All the stations were running at full capacity and now kept the storm sapphire constantly charged. Not only that, but several charging stations were about to be installed throughout the city. The charging stations would allow the Warhounds with ever increasingly magical gear to keep them charged, plus it was becoming ever more needed with the advent of a certain piece of equipment. A dog wearing said piece of equipment was walking in now.

Missy turned her attention away from the newly installed charge station towards the door of the workshop. A Warhound was walking in, assisted every step of the way by another Warhound while an engineer was making sure his armor was allowing the proper amount of movement.

The Warhound was wearing what Emerald was calling “faux” Power Armor. Missy didn't know what she had meant by that, but Emerald had said that power armor is supposed to boost the wearer's strength along with protecting him, which this version of it didn't. Hence why the Warhound had to be assisted in bringing his currently uncharged armor to a station so the runes would make the armor less heavy. The runes of the power armor also had many effects. They absorbed a certain level of kinetic and thermal energy and turned it into extra power, they made the currently several hundred pound armor a much more manageable fifty pounds and they were also capable of some self repair. The runes that made this all possible could not be seen, however, as they were formed between the outer and inner layers of the armor along with the power crystals that held the energy charge. The armor was very different from the previous generation of armor which was plain black and made of artificial dragon scales; for one, it was more colorful. The armor was mostly white but lined with a deep rich green, while the more flexible spots around the points that needed to bend were a very dark blue. The other thing was that the armor was completely sealed from the outside. One could go deep sea diving or walk in a vacuum without any harm.

Eventually, the Warhound thudded over to the charge station and grabbed one of the dangling cords from the front of the device. With a good bit of fumbling, he managed to plug it into a special socket in the lower back of his armor. After a few seconds of his armor being charged, the Warhound released a relieved sigh and stood with a more relaxed stance, the eyes of his armor lighting up in a soft green glow.

“Even with the bigger muscles this thing is damn heavy when it isn't charged,” the Warhound stated, employing a curse he had heard Emerald mutter a few times.

“How long is the power going to last when it's fully charged?” the other Warhound asked.

“About two weeks,” the armored Warhound answered. “...Roughly, anyway. It depends on how much the runes are in use. The heat resistance runes are supposed to be strong enough to for me to wade into lava but it would end up using a ton of power.”

There was a low rumble and a rev of an engine before a pair of large doors at one end of the workshop opened up. A buggy rolled in and came to a short stop beside a couple of engineers, who then quickly starting to hoist the engine block out to replace it. Several of the others began to take armor plating and started to rivet and bolt them into place. After the new engine block was in and the rest of the armor plates were being bolted into place, the engineers began to install weapons. A heavy machine gun firing a caliber higher than the standard issue rifles was placed in front of the passenger seat while a lighter machine gun was placed in the top of the buggy where it would have three hundred and sixty degree movement.

“What do you think about the new Orion serum the Boss is going to release in a few days?” the armored Warhound asked his companion as they watched the engineers work.

“I'm looking forward to it,” the other answered. “It's supposed to make us even stronger and tougher. One of the improvements is supposed to make our skin tough enough to withstand lower caliber bullets.”

“I wonder if we are going to have to eat even more food after that one,” the armored Warhound wondered aloud.

“I think she was going to fix that so we don't have to eat too much more,” the other replied.

The talk began to wander to other subjects after that, but deeper within the tunnels of the Enclave, Stripe and a small group of raptors were awaiting the birth of the third generation of their kin.

'It's nice that mother trusted us to take care of the newborns without her watching over,' Stripe thought as he patiently lied on the ground. 'I wish I had remembered to bring the books I had borrowed from the library in Canterlot, though. It's pretty boring to just sit here and wait for them to be finished.'

Turning to his side, Stripe saw the others with him were happily playing with a few chew toys and balls they had with them, or just plain play fighting with each other. Stripe didn't exactly know the exact point playing with those toys had started to get boring. He just started to play less and less with them. Likewise, he found that playing with his brothers and sisters to lose much of its charm. He still did play with them, but it was mostly to humor them and out of a desire to make them happy.

'I like practicing our fighting and battle plans better,' Stripe thought. 'It's more exciting and thrilling, especially with or against the Warhounds.'

Ever since the Invasion of Canterlot, Emerald had kicked up the level of war gaming the Warhounds got up to. The ones that weren't still on personal vacations to rest and recover, anyway. Stripe just loved trying to outmaneuver the Warhound Alphas. Each typically had their own styles of command and tactics, but the raptor's favorite opponents were typically Tavish, Fenrir and Belvedere. Tavish had a penchant for odd strategies and attacking from unconventional angles, ambushing and pushing in a brutal surge of aggression to crush the enemy quickly. Fenrir was more open and direct. He often had squads moving within shouting distance of each other, ready to unleash deadly crossfires or to distract an enemy and quickly move a squad to flank the enemy. He typically had a lot of big brawler type dogs in his forces as well, so when it got down to melee it got interesting. Even with the limited use of fire and tail spines, some dogs like the massive rottweiler Padfoot and the slightly shorter Fenrir could often go toe to toe with a raptor. Finally, Belvedere was the most interesting to combat. He took Emerald's words to heart about the art of the hit and run and guerrilla warfare. It was exceedingly difficult to pin down Belvedere's forces while he constantly bled your own forces dry with dozens of small strikes at all times. The challenge of it all... it got Stripe's blood rushing and even now just thinking about it brought up feelings of excitement.

Suddenly there was a fleshy tearing sound and Stripe turned his attention back to the incubation pods that held the third generation of raptors. There were several hundred pods, and there would be enough new raptors to bring the total population to one thousand raptors; enough for there to be almost one raptor for ever two Warhounds. Soon, the newborns were finished tearing holes in their pods and were now stumbling out and releasing their first excited cries.

Stripe stepped over to a group that was having some trouble to get on their somewhat wobbly legs. The new raptors weren't as tall as Stripe. Emerald had decided it was best if new raptors finished their growing outside of their pods. They would also be partially raised and taught several things they hadn't learned while in the pod.

'Spirited little thing,' Stripe thought with some amusement as a little gray raptor with a long blue stripe along her side forced herself onto her feet, snapping and growling irritably at the others that were a little too close. When Stripe himself neared and lowered his head to nuzzle her affectionately she even snapped at him as well, despite the fact she was only little over half his size. 'Heh heh heh, oh yes very spirited indeed. I wonder what those over there will be like when they are finished growing as well?'

Off in the distance and separated from the raptor pods were yet more ones, only these ones were twenty feet high and rather bulky. Emerald had started growing new types of creatures but hadn't told anyone what they would be just like she had with the raptors. Judging by the size of their pods, they would be rather big straight out and might be bigger still if they weren't mature at birth. Stripe was very interested in finding out just what the new creatures were going to be.

GAMMA

Emerald let out a groan as she curled up onto her side, clutching her head. A million faces flashed through her mind, both known and strange. Memories of lifetimes surged and ebbed like a tide of agony in her mind. She didn't know how long she had been lying on the floor like this; the agony made it too hard to think. She could have been here for just a few seconds or several days for all she knew.

After a long moment of lying on the ground, pain crippling her as easily as a broken back for a normal person, eventually the pounding agony began to slowly fade. Emerald began to rise with painstaking slowness as every movement of her head caused a fresh tide of pain. After minutes of rising from the floor, Emerald finally took to her two feet again, her stance wobbly and her hands clutching the sides of her head.

“Are you done crying yet?” a deep voice boomed a question.

Emerald turned around with an angry retort and paused at the sight she saw. The seven grand masters all now had brightly glowing eyes and the faint outlines of a ghost behind them. She barely noticed the forms of the six other ghosts however, as all her attention had been on the towering ethereal shape of a dragon behind Onoki who now had blazing red eyes shining like spotlines. A brief moment later, the ghosts faded but the glowing eyes of the Grand Masters remained.

“I believe I asked you a question, Onoki said with a voice that was far deeper than what he had.

“Oh shush, Icarus, one of the Herons said with a now feminine voice. “You weren't exactly any better when you were gifted with but a fraction of our collective wisdom.”

Icarus gave a disgusted huff at that and looked away sullenly as Emerald stared on with wide eyes. She knew these people... didn't she? It was hard to say now that she thought about it. Memories that felt like her own flowed to the forefront of her mind and she would have accepted them as just that... if it weren't for the fact she knew she hadn't ever been in the Republic before yesterday, let alone lived here.

'Wh-what is my name?' Emerald asked herself and winced when several different names leapt to the forefront of her mind. This was rather bad and was the very reason Emerald avoided absorbing too many or just certain memories into her being. It made keeping track of who she was in the sea of lifetimes extremely difficult. If it wasn't for the fact all the memories were so different from what she had previously, she would be in deep trouble in trying to keep a firm grip on who she was. 'I... I am Emerald Gleaner, formerly Oskar Osäker, son of Adela Osäker. That is who I am and no one else.'

“W-who are you people?” Emerald asked as Navi flew down with a concerned trill.

“Once upon a time we were Grand Masters of the Channelers, dear, one of the seemingly possessed masters answered. “But as all things do, we passed on. But instead of fading away, our spirits lingered and we took the opportunity to advise and watch over the Order.”

“And occasionally mess with them, another added with a laugh that the group shared. “This beats having Alzheimer's, despite the lack of a body, by a long shot.”

“Says you, Icarus growled as he examined his current form in some disgust. “Every dragon that has come after me has never chosen to be a master of fire, or at the very least a hybrid master with fire as one of the elements.”

“You can already breath fire, Icarus,” the female Old Master from before chuckled. “Goodness me, I've always wondered why you decided to be purely fire when it was stupidly redundant.”

“That's rich coming from you, Song!” Icarus retorted. “You live in water and chose to be a master of it!”

“Well it would hardly be useful to master fire when most of the time it would just bubble uselessly now would it?”

“Long standing conflicts aside...” one Old Master said with an aside look to the now bickering pair. “The current Grand Masters lied a little when they said they found out about you when you fought Discord. No, instead we found out about you the moment you set foot in this world.”

“How?” Emerald asked with a frown.

“Little over two centuries ago we discovered the ability to divine the fates of others, an Old Master said with a deeply serious tone despite the ongoing argument right next to him. “This was met with great applause... until it was found that nothing could be done about our fates.”

“If it was fated that one was to die of a disease, then it would happen despite efforts to prevent such, another added sadly. “If a villain was fated to be successful until a certain point, no amount of effort before then would stop them. If a nation was meant to rise while all others floundered and struggled, then no amount of honest, hard effort by the people would change the world. Our discovery of fate itself was recorded and no matter how far we pushed our ability, we could see that none of our efforts would bear fruit.”

“Until YOU arrived, Song said, finally ending her argument with a sullen looking Icarus. “When you arrived, we saw a new path added to the grand tapestry of fate. This happens all the time with newborns, so initially no one truly noticed or paid you any attention... until you killed someone.”

“Uhhh...” Emerald said after a moment. “Just so you all know, that one was an accident.”

“WE ARE AWARE, a great many voices stated in sync.

“It happened as simply and quietly as a long thread being cut short, another Master added as everyone grew serious. “But to us it couldn't have been more of a momentous occasion. A fate that was to continue onward into the foreseeable future interacting with others and living, centuries of path left yet to tread and it was cut short in one instant!”

“You could not understand our wonderment, Song said quietly. “Our awe as we stood before the seemingly unchanging tapestry of fate itself and watched as one action sent ripples down hundreds of others. Hundreds of paths yet to be walked were left behind and those meant to walk them blazed their own path, made their own destinies for the first time.”

“For them our sight failed us, Icarus said. “Before, we would be able to divine their future, but now we were fumbling blindly into chaos, a myriad of potential fates and destinies, decisions that might be taken, people that may be talked to... it was beautiful.”

“And that was with just one action you took, an Old Master stated. “We literally couldn't tear our gaze away from the tapestry of fate for the first three months of your time here. Even the littlest action you took caused disruptions in the tapestry. Sometimes they left only to return to their path, but most of the time they blazed a path into a new, formless future.”

“By the end of your first year here, hundreds of thousands of fates had drifted off their fixed destinies,” Song said softly.Never to return to them. It was then we decided that we must meet with you. That we must meet with the one who could alter fate as if it was a sand mandala.”

“...” Emerald stared for a moment with a frown before shaking her head as another surge of memories flowed through her mind. “What did you do to me? You... you mentioned something about imbuing wisdom earlier?”

“We have imbued you with our combined wisdom and skills, Song answered. “Normally we only gift a month or so at a time but your mind is rather unique, so we took the opportunity to do something new.”

“You have my fire, Icarus stated. “Song's water, Gao's earth and Kang's Air. Along with the wisdom of our lifetimes, both pre and post mortem. What you decide to do with this knowledge and skills is up to you to decide.”

“What?” Emerald said in clear confusion. “Why would you do that? You definitely know about me, about what I've done. Why in the world would you give me more means to be destructive?”

“Other than the fact you would have figured out another means of gaining these powers for your own?” Song replied with a sly, knowing smile and Emerald found herself averting her eyes despite herself. “You are our means to freedom. Before we discovered fate, we were ignorant of the deepers ways of this world. We thought we were all free to chose our own fates and decide our destinies. All that discovering the tapestry of fate did was make us aware of our puppet strings, which we were helpless to remove. But you are our means of removing the strings upon us, of giving us true freedom since time immemorial. And finally, while I would hesitate to call you a being of the light, I would also hesitate to call you one of the dark as well.”

“OF THIS WE ALL AGREE, boomed many voices at once.

“Simply put, you aren't good, but you aren't evil, either, Song said with a smile. “Some may say this makes you a rarity in this world, but the truly wise knows that many we would call dark are often times merely gray.”

“And while you are right what we have gifted you only made you more dangerous...” another Old Master began. “You may also find that you'll soon see the world... differently beyond the mere memories you were gifted with.”

“What do you mean?”

“That... you must discover on your own, Song said as the lights in the eyes of the statues around the room began to fade. “Some things are best experienced rather then told, my dear.”

With that, the Grand Masters' eyes stopped glowing but for some reason they still appeared rather vacant. Upon second look, Onoki seemed to be still possessed if his glowing eyes were any indication.

“In other words, get lost, Icarus said gruffly as Onoki's eyes began to slowly stop glowing. “Go out there, be yourself, shake up the foundations of the whole world, be yourself, spit in the faces of nations and, most importantly, be yourself. That's done a lot of amusing things so far. Life after death go so boring once that cursed tapestry was discovered...”

Finally, the light of possession left Onoki's eyes and after a moment emotion replaced the glassy looks everyone had, though the emotions were one of shock. There was a long moment of silence as everyone absorbed just what had happened in the last few minutes, then noise filled the air as the Grand Masters began shouting and exclaiming.

Emerald stayed standing on her spot for a moment, watching as the Grand Masters seemed to get rather offended at the idea that Emerald was gifted with knowledge. Shaking her head, she decided to ignore them and turn away. She walked towards the large pair of double doors. Normally she would have used telekinesis to open the door, but her current condition changed that, causing her to instinctively draw upon earth channeling to make the stone doors open. Though the massive stone doors let out a loud groan at being opened, the Grand Masters seemed too concerned with arguing among themselves to notice her leaving. As the virus closed the door behind her, she didn't notice Onoki staring after her with an intrigued look, taking out a pair of incense sticks to light on the floor before him.

Emerald continued on, walking down the hallways of the monastery and occasionally stopping to shudder as four incredibly long life times surged in her mind. On one of her stops, Emerald found herself facing a wide open room with one side completely open to the outdoors. The room was filled with initiates being taught the basics of channeling.

'Hmph.' Emerald released a 'tch' of disgust and instinctively placed her hands within the sleeves of her hoodie. 'Look at that fool. She must be brand new. Nothing else explains the mistakes she is teaching those whelps. In my day, we-'

“RAAAAAGH!”

The little children released screams of fear and surprise as an angry roar filled the air followed by the loud cracking of stone. Turning towards the doorway of room they were met with the fading light of a sudden flash and a large chunk missing from a nearby wall. Unbeknownst to them, another flash of light had appeared an instant later on a far mountain.

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!” Emerald raged as she stomped a foot into the ground, causing many avalanches to be set into motion just below her.

'THIS IS WHY!' Emerald thought furiously as she let herself fall into a sitting position on the mountain peak. 'THIS IS WHY I DON'T ABSORB EVERY MEMORY AT ONCE!'

As much as she wanted to waste time wrecking the mountain and just throwing a temper tantrum in general in some way to make herself feel better, Emerald knew she needed to immediately get started on separating her memories from the ones she just received. In all likeness, the desire to throw an ungodly landmark shattering temper tantrum was a part of someone else’s personality, and not purely her own reaction at potentially having who she was as a person being forgotten.

And so Emerald set to work, instinctively folding her legs up and taking up a meditation position. As the virus began the long and tedious work of sorting through her own memories, a curious thing began to happen. There were emotions in the air and Emerald began to passively feel these out and take them in as an aspect of her changeling powers. The air felt carefree and brash, changing and moving as it wished. The rock and earth beneath her tasted of stubborn pride, a stout confidence in what it was. The snow around her felt calm and at peace but below where avalanches raged the opposite feeling irradiated; chaotic fury that could not be reasoned with. Deep within her own own form where her dragon fire would be formed was the dormant emotions of intense passions, directable but never controlled.

Hours upon hours passed and the world moved on around Emerald, but the virus never noticed. Drawing in the feelings of the world around her and instinctive falling into a form of meditation allowed her to work with incredible concentration. By the time Emerald had finished separating her original memories from the new and restoring her personality, it was morning of the next day.

Emerald rose from her crossed legged position with a small smile before suddenly frowning and patting the top of her head. She looked around in some alarm before her eyes landed on her target.

Navi was passing the time by playing in the snow. The little bug had apparently finally discovered that the cold didn't bother her anymore. Dozens upon dozens of tiny snow ponies filled the area as Navi started to roll up another ball of snow for yet another snow pony.

“Having fun there, sweetheart?” Emerald asked her pet with a smile and got an affirmative trill as Navi began putting together her new snow pony.

Emerald turned away and looked at her hands in contemplation. She then took up a stance before motioning with her arms. Flames leapt from her hand and melted the snow before her, then the melted snow quickly gathered together and formed into the crude likeness of a pony before it quickly refroze. Emerald hummed in thought and stepped back to examine what she made before going back into stance and motioning again. Winds whipped around the statue intensely and flecks of ice filled the air as wind blades chiseled away at the statue. With a stomp, a small platform rose out of the ground and then with another stomp small shapes popped out of the front of the platform.

Before the virus was an ice statue of Twilight Sparkle with incredible likeness and detail. 'Twilight' was sitting and giving a friendly smile to the world before her. On the platform it was sitting on were the words 'Twilight Sparkle, student of Princess Celestia. By Emerald Gleaner.'

'Well...' Emerald thought with a small smile. 'Aside from that unpleasantness with having my personality almost rewritten, I think I'm going to enjoy this. A lot. This gives me so many interesting ideas.'

Taking a few minutes to enjoy her work a bit more, Emerald then gathered up Navi. Placing Navi within her mouth, the virus then quickly teleported back up into orbit.

Now back in orbit, Emerald began to consider heading back home immediately, but decided she would like to do something else for a bit first since she hadn't expected to be leaving so soon. Floating in the vacuum of space, Emerald tapped her chin in thought as she considered what to do when she recalled something she learned a while ago. It was during her trip to the nesting grounds of the dragon flight, she remembered being told about a being called 'Eldest' who was supposed to be the 'First True Dragon.' Emerald was quite interested in finding this person now that she had the time to spare for it.

'Hmm.' Emerald hummed in thought as she considered whether or not she should go. 'Well at the most it'll just be another day and everyone was expecting me to be gone a while. Let's go see a dragon.'

With that, Emerald teleported back down onto the planet and instantly found herself back in the nesting grounds of the dragon flight.

Letting Navi out of her mouth, Emerald took in her surroundings. The nesting grounds hadn't changed in the slightest since the last time she was here, save for the fact that it was now empty since the Dragon Flight had long since left.

'Now...' Emerald thought as she looked around. 'I doubt Eldest is close enough to the surface for my sonar to locate him. It's too bad no one really told me just where to start when it came to going to go see him. All they said was that he was somewhere far beneath the nesting grounds.'

Emerald started to walk and wander, content to simply seek out lava ponds to see if there were any sort of clues for the moment. The virus had only begun her walk when she noticed the soft sounds of someone snoring, the subtle movements of scales scraping against rocks. Raising a brow at the thought of a dragon still being here when the flight had long since left, Emerald walked towards the noise.

Soon, Emerald came atop a ridge over a crater to see a massive old dragon slumbering near one of the lava ponds. Wondering why one of the elders of the Dragon Flight decided to remain behind, Emerald walked over to him. Coming to a stop before his snout, Emerald scratched her head. She was still wondering why the elder had remained behind, but since he was here she figured he wouldn't mind being awoken from a nap too much to answer a single question. Reaching forward the virus grabbed hold of the dragon's snout and began to shake him.

“...Hurk!” The Elder snorted and shook his head and released a yawn as he woke up. “Urrrghh...”

“...” Emerald took a moment to just stand and let the Elder wake up from his sleep before getting his attention. “Hello!”

“Hmmm?” The old dragon looked down at Emerald. He lowered his head and peered at Emerald closely with one of his large eyes, then after a moment it widened in recognition. “Ah! It's you. The dragon who wasn't a dragon. I've been waiting for you to return.”

“You knew I'd be back?” Emerald asked with a tilt of her head.

“Sometimes I dream of what will come to pass,” the elder answered. “In our last days in this place I dreamed of you wandering these ponds once more and knew that your intent was to see the Eldest for yourself.”

'Tapestry of fate, visions of the future, ghosts of the past,' Emerald thought with an inward huff. 'I'm really starting to have to deal with some weird shit.'

“Yeah, I came here to see if I could meet Eldest for myself,” Emerald said. “No one exactly told me where would be the best place to head down to him, however. So I was just to wander and look for a clue of where to start.”

“Well good thing I remained behind then, hmm?” the elder said before motioning to the lava pond right next to him. “Many of the ponds here could reach Eldest if you made sure to always keep going deeper. BUT, this pond here is the best for reaching him as for the most part you just have to go straight down.”

“Alright, thanks.” Emerald nodded and walked over to the pond. Emerald crouched down by the pond and dipped her hand in the magma and brought up a handful. The virus watched as the handful of superheated rock quickly cooled and darkened. On her shoulder, Navi gave a questioning trill and Emerald looked at her with a frown. She wanted to bring her along but obviously things would get a bit too hot for the bug even if she was carried inside her.

'Well there is an easy way to fix that,' Emerald thought and took Navi in her free hand while using her heat sink spell to rapidly cool off her other hand.

“Here you go, Navi,” Emerald said as she formed a tiny tablet for Navi to eat in her hand. “This will make it so you don't get burned.”

Navi gave a happy trill and took the pill in her mouth and started slowly chewing it before finally swallowing. Tiny black tendrils surged beneath Navi's skin and when it was over, the little bug gave an excited trill before flying off and diving for the lava. However, instead of diving into it like it was water, Navi smacked into the surface of the molten rock and lied there for a moment before giving off a somewhat pained trill.

“There is a trick to swimming in magma, little one,” the elder dragon said with an amused chuckle.

Emerald agreed with that as Nidhogg's memories certainly attested to that fact. The virus stepped onto the surface of the magma and simply allowed some of her true weight to return. Emerald sunk into the molten rock and waded over to where Navi was getting frustrated with the lava and angrily hopping on the surface to try to sink.

“It's okay Navi.” Emerald smiled at her pet and lifted up her hat. “We'll swim down together.”

With a happy trill, Navi dove into Emerald's hair and the virus lowered her hat. She then turned in place to face the Elder.

“I know how to teleport so I won't be coming back up this way when I am done,” Emerald said. “Thanks for the help.”

“Of course, it is no problem,” the elder said as he rose up from his position and stretched out his limbs. “Now... to catch up with the Flight.”

With that, the old dragon rose up rapidly into the air with a few beats of his wings and began to rapidly shrink into the distance. Emerald turned away and swam for the center of the pond before letting yet more of her true weight return and began to rapidly sink.

Magma was melted rock, not water, so relying on physical sight to find her way down was going to be a problem. Good thing she had other means of visualizing her surroundings. Emerald charged up a powerful sonic spell and let it loose, the ensuing sound waves allowing Emerald to mentally map her surroundings, easily differentiating the solid rock from the molten. The virus then turned herself upside down and started swimming downward, getting a decent speed of descent going thanks to Diamond Dog digging magic, as well as using earth channeling to move the magma out of her way, causing her to be half swimming down and half falling.

This went on for several more minutes. Every few moments Emerald would release another sonic pulse and map more of the surrounding landscape. The elder was definitely telling the truth about this tunnel as many others had connected to it, but those were stretching out and upwards towards the surface.

Eventually, Emerald started “seeing” a massive blank spot when she sent out her sonic pulses. Figuring she found the cavern that the Eldest was staying in, the virus decided to go looking for an entrance before she started making holes in an ancient dragon's home. She found said entrance after a minute of swimming to the very bottom of the cavernous structure.

Emerald pulled herself up and out of the magma onto the crystalline 'beach' of the cavern. The virus briefly attempted to brush off the globs of magma that clung to her form before simply consuming them into her mass. Standing up, she lifted her hat to let Navi out before taking in her surroundings.

The cavern was MASSIVE and was faintly lit up due to the presence of fire ruby formations. Said formations were made up of fire rubies easily the size of a phone booth. Giving some calculations, Emerald figured that at its highest point, the cavern could just house all of Mount Canterlot.

The virus started walking forward with Navi buzzing about in the air above her. This place was just utterly filled with gems of all types, shapes and sizes. Hell, the small mountain range like formation in the distance looked like it was in all one piece, which would make it an amethyst of truly ludicrous size.

'Right. Enough sight seeing. Let's find that dragon,' Emerald thought as she began walking forward. 'He should be big like the Elders, so it shouldn't take too long to find him.'

Emerald started walking and releasing viral pulses to make finding Eldest that much faster. The pulses kept coming from the direction of the huge Amethyst formation so it was likely Eldest had carved out a home in it. The virus could have flown there, but she was rather interested in her surroundings. There was so many beautiful gem formations filling this cavern, some part of her felt rather sad that the dragon living here was eating them.

As Emerald walked by large breathtaking gem formations and the occasional tiny pool of lava, there was a sudden quake that shook the cavern a little. Emerald began to look around when the sight of movement made her freeze. Slowly turning her head, Emerald focused her eyes on the “small mountain range.”

'That's... that's not a huge amethyst...' Emerald thought with wide eyes as said 'amethyst' rose up from the floor.

Eyes of incredible size opened up and shone like beacons in the near darkness of the cavern. Emerald found herself falling onto her back as her face openly expressed her shock at the gargantuan dragon before her.

A low, sleepy rumble filled the cavern, almost shaking the cavern like another minor quake. The dragon that could only be Eldest. The First True Dragon rose up completely from where it had been sleeping. Eldest then turned his massive head directly towards where Emerald was on the ground. With a few steps that had the cavern shaking alarmingly, Eldest crossed the distance between him and Emerald and stopped to stare down at her.

Though Eldest was clearly a dragon, he looked rather different from the dragons Emerald had seen before, apart from his size that is. Eldest was stout looking and bulky, his scales seeming to bulge to their limits from the muscles that flexed and moved beneath. His head wasn't long and narrow like others, he had a short snout and his eyes were somewhat sunk into his face, allowing his brows to hang over them. He was largely a dark, almost amethyst purple with his spinal ridges and belly dark green with matching eyes. The biggest thing about him was the fact he lacked a pair of wings. There wasn't even any scar tissue showing that he lost them in a fight or accident, rather it seemed like he was simply born without them. Overall, Eldest reminded Emerald of some prehistoric beast, an apex predator from the time of dinosaurs rather than a dragon straight out of western fantasy.

“It's been quite a while since I've been awoken by a visitor, Eldest boomed in a deafening voice as he relaxed onto his stomach. “Especially one that wasn't a dragon.”

Emerald really figured she should have replied when Eldest spoke to her but she was distracted by just how massive he was. Nidhogg was huge, enough so he could swallow her with a single bite without any worry of her getting caught in his throat, the same could be said about Eldest if he had decided to do the same to Nidhogg. Also, there was something about his voice... Emerald heard him speak in some dialect that could easily be decided as some ancient and long dead language, but she could still easily understand his words.

“Hmhmhm...” Eldest chuckled as he noticed the expression on Emerald's face. “Even other dragons get that same expression when they come to see me. Don't be shy, little creature. Introduce yourself to me. I relish the chance to entertain a guest.”

“I... I'm Emerald Gleaner...” Emerald said a little haltingly as she rose back onto her two feet. “I've come to meet you and... just talk with you, I suppose.”

“Just talk, hmm?” Eldest stated with a clawed hand scratching his chin. “I'd enjoy that, I think. What shall we talk about?”

“Well...” Emerald began, somewhat feeling like she was being put on the spot. “... I've heard you described as being the 'First True Dragon.' Would you mind telling me the story behind that?”

“I'd be delighted to, Eldest said. “Long ago, in a time before recorded history, before the first tribes, before the discovery of creating fire through flint and friction...”

And so Eldest's tale began at a time that could be considered the equivalent of Equus' Jurassic period. Back then, only the ancestors of modern races and species roamed the world, barely a glimmer of intelligence in their eyes beyond simple beastly instinct. And so it was the same for the dominant race at the time, prehistoric dragons. Dragons were dominant simply for the fact that they were the largest and most powerful creatures in existence, and could eat rock for sustenance if it came down to it. None of them were any more intelligent than the average predator. In fact, by all right, Eldest himself should have died the day he was born, as he was born “disfigured” lacking wings and thus had a massive competitive disadvantage when it came to other dragons. But Eldest's mother was an oddball dragon and had the spark of intelligence in her eyes. She had taken pity on the weakest of her brood and ignored her instincts telling her to cast him aside as a waste of energy and resources.

Eldest spent his early years often picked on by his winged siblings, if it wasn't for the fact his mother made sure to specifically give him food instead of dropping in the nest and letting them all play fight for it, then his growth would have been greatly stunted from lack of nutrition. But his mother took care of him in spite of her instincts, even going as far as keeping him in her nest long past the point she had instinctively driven off her other hatchlings once they reached a certain age. Eventually all things come to an end, however, and Eldest couldn't deny his own desire to leave the nest despite his own clear weakness. And so he had left.

Eldest may have lacked the ability to fly, but that didn't mean he was physically weak. He also had quite the incredible advantage over other dragons in one way. Eldest had inherited his mother's spark of intelligence whereas his siblings clearly took after their father. In fact, he was quicker and more clever than even his mother had been despite lacking her years of experience. Still, initially this meant he only needed to learn about something once rather than having it consecutively hammered in for him to get it. He understood that without wings his chances of holding territory and even attracting a mate were rather slim and so he didn't even try. He stuck to forests and remained on the move, always wary of the open sky.

This didn't always save him. Often times he had to run away and hope that the dragon attacking him would give up chase once he was suitably far enough. Other times he had no choice but to stand his ground and fight. Such a life was often harsh and short for most dragons, but Eldest learned every hard lesson sent his way. Most dragons spent their lives in the air, but not Eldest. His life was spent on the ground and so he grew physically strong and powerful over time. Rare was the dragon that noticed Eldest's powerful muscles over his lack of wings. Rare was the dragon strong enough to leave the following fight without several scars to remind them of their mistake.

Eventually, Eldest laid claim to territory and found himself expectedly swamped with challengers both young and old. But Eldest was clever and cagey. Even century old dragons that decided to test their 'crippled' neighbor found themselves often on the wrong end of a sudden ambush. For while Eldest couldn't fly, he most certainly could jump. The lessons of his youth spent hiding under trees paid off in spades.

Eventually, Eldest had even attracted a mate despite his clear disfigurement. He had several broods with her, somewhat of an oddity since most dragons rarely paired with each other more then once, it was more common to impregnate a female and separate afterwards with both parties seeking different mates later on in their life. But Eldest wanted to take care of his hatchlings like his mother had taken care of him. He liked to think that his mate enjoyed having him around, though it was more likely she took the opportunity to leave the nest in his guard to fly and hunt. Happily and somewhat at the same time, sadly, the hatchlings took after their mother physically and took after Eldest mentally, he had been looking forward to teaching a ground bound child his tricks. Still, the fact that his children were all so very clever and bright made Eldest satisfied with life and for the first time in a long time, he was content and happy.

From there on it had been a downhill descent for any dragon that wasn't of his bloodline. Over the following centuries and millennia, Eldest's children spread and prospered, their intelligence allowing them to overcome rivals and even in some cases their elders. Eldest never had anymore children beyond the first few broods with his mate. None of them or even their descendants had been wingless like he was. While he had been sad he had no one to teach the tricks he learned to overcome a flying opponent, he was also glad none of his children had needed to learn them. He had been happy with his life and his home. His mate hadn't left either, having grown used to having him around. All things come to end, however...

“One day, I had left to see if my mother still lived in the same place, Eldest said. “When I had arrived to her old territory, I arrived to find it being divided up and shared by my descendants. In respect of my power, they let me roam it without harassment. I found my mother's body nearby, and I knew what had happened. Despite her intelligence, my mother hadn't been as smart as me. She still lived on an instinctual day by day basis. The idea that dragons would band together to take the large territory she held and divide it amongst themselves went against instinct. In hindsight, I should have seen what came next coming.”

“Well over a dozen of dragons that were descended from me gather together to take the massive territory I held and divide it amongst themselves, Eldest continued. “After the initial attack, I decided it was best to live than to fight to the end. My mate, however, was still only a normal dragon. She fought fiercely and powerfully, but she was only one, and she fell. I went into a rage and leaped into battle, roaring. I myself was still only just one dragon, but my children had settled nearby. They heard my roars and came to my aid.”

“After that, I decided it was best if I just decided to go back to roaming freely, Eldest said with a sigh. “I wandered the world and watched it slowly change over the ages and eons. Eventually, I decided to retreat from the world fully and dug down to find a place where I could sleep unbothered for the most part.”

“And here we are, Eldest finished. “I spend my time mostly dreaming and occasionally entertaining the odd guest.”

“Thanks for sharing your story, Eldest.” Emerald said as she brushed herself off and rose off the ground. She looked up at Eldest with a considering look. Ever since the dragon had mentioned all of his children taking after their mother physically, Emerald couldn't help but feel he looked rather familiar. Shaking the thought from her head, Emerald motioned Navi over.

“Thank you for your time,” Emerald said as she tucked Navi away under her hat. “I really should be getting home now. See you some other time, Eldest.”

“Farewell, Eldest said with a wave of a massive hand.

'Hmmm...' Eldest thought as Emerald disappeared in a flash of light. 'Such an interesting soul...'

Eldest lied down on the ground and settled in to go back to his slumber. Before he did though, his eyes scanned the roof of his cavern, seemingly seeing things far beyond them.

'The world is growing more and more restless with each passing day,' Eldest thought. 'It's beginning to feel more and more like the world before history... I'm not sure if that's a good thing. I wonder if the Great Primeval Ones will bother to act? Hard to say...'

With that last thought, Eldest closed his eyes and soon his soft snores began to echo throughout the cavern.

DELTA

Emerald arrived in Ponyville in a flash of light. The moment she arrived, she immediately blinked and took in her surroundings.

The streets were a bit of a mess, there was bits and pieces of food, party favors and the like lying everywhere. Ponies were walking all over, cleaning up the town and looking rather angry while they were doing so.

'Something happened again...' Emerald thought with a sigh. 'Something always happens in this town.'

Looking around again, Emerald spotted Pinkie Pie sitting at the outdoor section of a local diner. Pinkie wasn't looking very happy and had her face planted into the table, releasing a loud sigh every few moments. Wanting to know what had happened this time, Emerald walked towards the party mare.

“Hey there, Pinkie,” Emerald greeted as she neared the mare.

“Oh... hi Emerald,” Pinkie said, turning her head on its side to face the virus.

“Is something wrong, Pinkie?” Emerald asked. “You don't seem like yourself.”

“I guess that makes me one of the copies, huh?” Pinkie said with a sad sigh.

Emerald frowned in some confusion at that and was about to speak again when a shout rang out.

“Emerald!”

“Hmm?” Emerald turned to see Twilight trotting down the road towards her. Immediately a happy smile appeared on Emerald's face. “Hey there, Twilight. Another crisis struck Ponyville while I was gone, huh? Mind telling what it is exactly?”

“I can do better. I can show you,” Twilight with a smile at Emerald before turning towards Pinkie with a frown. “Alright you, I need you to follow me somewhere. This will go a whole lot easier if you cooperate, please.”

“Okay, Twilight,” Pinkie said in a mopey tone before dragging herself off the table.

“Is there a reason why you are talking like that to Pinkie of all people?” Emerald asked with a troubled frown, finding herself rather troubled at the sight of Pinkie being unhappy and being picked on in general.

“Just trust me, Emerald,” Twilight said as she fell into step just behind Pinkie, almost like she was herding her somewhere. “I'll show you what's going on.”

“...” Emerald frowned and narrowed her eyes. “Twilight, the last time you said something like that I got blasted with the Elements and locked away for two months.”

Twilight came to a sudden stop and gaped at Emerald with an expression that couldn't look anymore hurt even if Emerald had straight up slapped her. A bolt of intense guilt went through Emerald at this but she refused to attempt to take back what she said. There was surely enough time to give a cliff notes explanation and she wanted said explanation now.

“E-Emerald, th-this isn't at all like that!” Twilight protested as a little wetness appeared at the corners of her eyes.

“Prove it then,” Emerald said simply and calmly, urging Pinkie softly to continue moving forward with a comforting hand atop her head. “Surely there is enough time to give me a short version of what has happened between here and our destination?”

“O-okay,” Twilight said, wiping her eyes dry with the back of her foreleg. “Pinkie used a magical artifact called the mirror pond to create copies of herself. There are dozens of them and they've caused a lot of chaos in town by being themselves. I and others put a plan together to figure out which is the real Pinkie Pie.”

“There, wasn't so hard and we aren't even at our destination yet,” Emerald said simply.

“Emerald... I thought you forgave me for what happened...” Twilight said with a sad look.

“I have forgiven you, Twilight, have no doubt of that,” Emerald stated. “However... neither have I forgotten.”

“Oh...”

The rest of the walk passed in some awkward silence. Eventually the group arrived at the local theater and walked in.

“Alright Pinkie, just stay here in front of the stage,” Twilight said as she hopped up onto said stage. “I'll explain everything when the others arrive.”

“Sure...” Pinkie muttered and started poking at the ground with her hoof.

“So what exactly was your plan to do with all the other Pinkies?” Emerald asked as she stepped onto the stage herself.

Twilight was about to answer when a low rumble sounded followed by a great many excited voices. In through the front of the theater came a massive crowd of Pinkie clones. Emerald raised her brows at the sight of all the Pinkies now in the theater.

'So many...' Emerald hummed thoughtfully. 'I wonder what the limits and side effects are? I doubt there aren't any... they might not live for very long or they could be rather fragile.'

Soon the rest of the Mane Six entered the theater themselves and reacted when they saw Emerald standing on the stage in her human form.

“Emerald, dear!” Rarity said cheerfully and quickly trotted over and onto the stage herself to quickly embrace the virus briefly. “It's so wonderful to see you back again! Did your trip to the Republic go well?”

“It... ended up being rather informative and productive,” Emerald answered as the others also climbed up onto the stage. “I'll tell you the details later. Right now I'd like to know what your plan is concerning handling all these Pinkie clones.”

“Well...” Twilight began, giving a look over at the Pinkies, but they for the most part were were getting distracted by each other. “I've found this spell in the book that detailed the Mirror Pond. If I use the spell on the copies, then they'll be sent back to the pond. The issue, however, is that the spell doesn't differentiate from the copies and the original so-”

“Question,” Emerald interrupted with a troubled frown. “What happens to the clones when they are returned to the Mirror Pond?”

“What? They are basically dispelled and the magic that made them sent back to the pond,” Twilight answered with a tilt of her head. “Why?”

“So... basically when you get down to it...” Emerald said with gaze towards all the Pinkies happily interacting with each other. “You hit them with that spell and they die.”

The silence amongst the group on the stage was deafening at that statement despite the noise from the happy Pinkies. The others were wide eyed and Twilight kept opening her mouth to say something but nothing came out.

“But then what does it matter, huh?” Emerald said softly to avoid the slightest chance that any of the clones would overhear her. “They are just clones. Since they aren't the original their lives are clearly worth as much as the dirt under my foot. So yeah, murder them, get rid of them for the crime of not being the Pinkie Pie. Obviously no one cares.”

“Emerald!” Twilight said with a hissed whisper. “We aren't m-murdering them. We-”

“Then what is it?” Emerald said with a glare. “What else could it be this spell of yours that gets rid of the clones does? Do they just get sent back and have happy little dreams for all of eternity? For fucks sake, Twilight. You are one of the smartest people I know, but then you decide to do crap like this and I feel like I am dealing with a child.”

“And don't think I am just speaking to her about this.” Emerald turned her glare upon the rest of the Mane Six. Dash was willing to meet the virus' stare, but even she looked away after a moment. “What, do all consideration for the consequences of your actions suddenly fly out the window the moment you get a little stressed?”

“Pfft, look who's talking,” Dash muttered angrily.

“Yes, exactly.” Emerald said, making Dash blink in confusion. “I am the killer here, I'm the heartless monster. The last thing I want of any of you is to become like me, a murderer.”

There was long awkward moment of silence after that, but eventually the silence was broken.

“So... what's yer plan?” Applejack asked.

“Quite simple, really,” Emerald said as she walked towards the edge of the stage. As she did that, she sent out a viral pulse but all of the clone Pinkies flashed yellow in her sight. That was expected ,fortunately, and Emerald had a secondary plan ready. “Use her own personality against her.”

The crowd of Pinkies was now growing steadily louder and rowdier as they had fun and played little games with each other. Suddenly, a harsh, high pitched whistle rent the air and made all the Pinkies halt in place and release a startled shout. When the whistle died down a moment later, every Pinkie turned towards the stage where Emerald was sitting on the edge of and looking towards them with a kind smile.

“Hi there,” Emerald said with a wave and got a ton of cheerful greetings in response. “You might already know who I am but I'm Emerald Gleaner. You can call me Emmy. I just want to ask a few questions before I tell you about a super fun idea I just had.”

Almost immediately, most of the Pinkies crowded near the stage in clear excitement. Emerald waited a moment for the excited shouting and chattering to die down before continuing.

“Now, first question. Which one of you is the real Pinkie Pie?” Predictably, the air was instantly filled of shouts of each Pinkie in the room claiming to be the 'Real One'. “Heh, silly question. Of course you are all real people. In fact, I am so very glad you've all come into being this day - and here comes that super fun idea - so glad in fact that I want to celebrate the one who created you. The first Pinkie Pie!”

“Exciting, huh?” Emerald said over the cheering and excited talking. “What I want is all of your help in planning out the biggest and best party for her in the whole world. But first, we need to find her. Can you all point out the very first Pinkie Pie for me please?”

“You got it, Emmy!”

“No problem!”

“Okie dokie lokie!”

The various Pinkies quickly got to work, talking and discussing amongst themselves and quickly figuring when each of them had come out of the pool. After only a minute of the clones talking to each other, one of them starting excitedly hopping in place and waving to Emerald.

“Her! Her! It's her!” the hopping Pinkie shouted and pointed at one surprised looking Pinkie. Plenty of others agreed with her and pointed at said Pinkie as well.

“Good job!” Emerald said with a smile and teleported the singled out Pinkie on the stage beside her. “But I've just realised something! Today is the day you were all created. You know what that means? Today is all of your birthdays!”

Instantly, all of the clones gasped in happy surprise.

“I know, incredible news, isn't it?” Emerald said with a nod. “You know what this means? This means we quickly have to get enough things together to celebrate all of your birthdays before the day is over. Don't worry, I'll help all of you get the supplies, I'll even pay for all of them! Just wait outside for me. I'll be out in a moment.”

“Don't be long, Emmy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of things to get and cakes to cook!”

The crowd immediately surged out of the theater and easily charged down the doors that were locked behind them. Emerald gave a nod of satisfaction at a job well done before turning towards Pinkie who was staring at her with wide eyes.

“What are you planning to do with all of them?” Pinkie asked with intense curiosity.

“Well I plan to interview all of them and see just how close they are to you,” Emerald began with a shrug. “First I have to get through all these last minute birthdays, though. And it's clear that Ponyville can only handle one Pinkie at a time so I need to find places for them, homes to buy, jobs to work. Going to take quite a bit of work and a whole lot of money. Good thing I'm rich, huh? I don't think I can do this on my own, either. Going to need to work with Celestia for a lot of this in order to make things as smooth as possible... probably going to need to spend even more money. Ah well. I've only been building up more and more of the stuff. It's not like I need to buy much of anything.”

“Wow, you're willing to do this much for me?” Pinkie asked with a widely growing smile.

“Of course. You're my friend, Pinkie.” Emerald smiled softly. “All of you is my friend.”

“We're best friends, Emerald,” Pinkie corrected as she wrapped Emerald in a tight hug. “Forever.”

“Won't find me arguing with that,” Emerald said and returned the hug.

The other's reaction to what just happened was a bit mixed. Rarity, Spike and Fluttershy were all smiling happily at this recent crisis getting a happy ending. Applejack looked rather conflicted on what she should be feeling at the moment. Rainbow Dash scowled for a moment before huffing and a blank expression dominated her features. Twilight had a small happy smile on her face before it was replaced with a miserable look. She then took a shuddering breath before turning away and quickly trotting off into the darkness of the theater backstage.

EPSILON

A week later found Emerald in her human form and wearing the uniform she wore during her presentation to the League. She had figured she might as well since she was now known as a head of state and this was a rather public action she was taking part in.

Where Emerald was, was the train station of Ponyville. Currently a train at the platform was laden with a dozen or so clone Pinkies who were happily waving goodbye out of the windows as the train began to move.

What was currently happening was the result of a week of constant effort and working in tandem with Celestia; namely finding homes in various settlements and cities. On top of that was needing to find employment for each of the various Pinkies which turned out harder than initially thought. After Emerald had interviewed each of the Pinkies after their collective birthday party, she realized that not all of them were perfect copies. In fact, only a handful had most if any of the first Pinkie's memories. The rest seemed to be varying generalizations of Pinkie's personality and other traits. Emerald figured this was the result of many of them being a copy of a copy of a copy.

Emerald took a look around and frowned when she spotted the occasional fedora with little piece of paper in it. The press was here, of course. The virus had expected a few due to this being a rather public action on her part and she was a rather controversial figure nowadays. But Celestia had exuberated the presence of the press quite a bit by announcing what Emerald was doing. Celestia's reasoning had been that it was good PR for her, but honestly Emerald could care less about that. She honestly wanted to help Pinkie, and though this was taking time out of her busy schedule for quite a few projects, she didn't mind much.

“Umm... Emerald dear?” a voice said behind the virus.

“Hmm? Oh, Rarity,” Emerald said upon spotting the unicorn. “Is there something you needed?”

“Well, yes...” Rarity began a little awkwardly and pulled a letter out. “I got this letter last week but you were so busy at the time. It was from a stallion by the name of Overlook? He told me I was now the majority holder of the shares in a company called New Paradigm. Considering that you were the holder of said shares I was hoping for an explanation.”

“Well since I am a head of state with my own nation to command, I'm not exactly allowed to own and control the industries that I had here in Equestria,” Emerald answered. “So I had to sell them or otherwise get rid of them. I didn't want to give them to just anyone, however, so I thought about it and decided that you would do a lot of good with the money it would get you. So I talked to Overlook and had ownership of my shares transferred to you.”

“Oh my goodness, Emerald!” Rarity gasped and held the letter close to her chest. “I don't know what to say... except thank you. Thank you so much.”

“It's no problem at all, Rarity,” Emerald waved off as she watched what was supposed to be the last group of clone Pinkies boarding the train that would take them to their new homes.

“I would love to keep talking to you more, but...” Rarity said and turned to look off to the side. “A certain somepony else would really like to talk to you so I better be off.”

Emerald frowned at that and looked towards where Rarity had been looking herself. What met her sight was a rather sad and dejected looking Twilight who, upon seeing Rarity leave Emerald's side, walked towards the virus.

“Emerald...” Twilight said as she came to a stop a short distance away. “You aren't still angry with me, are you?”

“I could never stay angry at you for long, Twilight,” Emerald said before sighing. “I just... I was just rather disappointed at how you were planning to handle the clones.”

“... Was it really murder in your eyes?” Twilight asked as she stared up at Emerald. “What I was going to do?”

“Look at them, Twilight.” Emerald motioned to the last train out of Ponyville. Hanging out many of its windows were clones who were happily waving goodbye to everyone. “They may not have been “born” naturally, but they are still clearly living beings. You using that spell on them would have ended their life. But look, I'm not holding it against you, Twilight.”

“You aren't?”

“No.” Emerald shook her head. “The concept of clones is a rather recent idea, isn't it? And you thought all the clones were just some sort of magical constructs, mimicking her behavior but not truly thinking for themselves. You simply didn't know how to handle what was happening... Twilight, are you alright?”

“Oh I just...” Twilight began as she wiped an eye clean. “I just thought... you seemed so angry at me and your words were so hurtful. I honestly was beginning to think we weren't going to...”

“Come here,” Emerald said and quickly closed the space between them and brought Twilight into a tight hug. “I know we have our rough patches, Twilight, but we always get through them. Look, I'm not going to let one little spat get between the two of us. We're better than that. Do you agree with me?”

“Y-yes, yes I do,” Twilight answered with a nod.

“Twilight,” Emerald said and pulled her head back to stare her girlfriend in the eye for a moment before closing to give her a deep kiss. Twilight's eyes widened at this and her cheeks flushed but she quickly relaxed and closed her eyes. Eventually, Emerald ended the kiss and looked Twilight in the eyes again. “I know what I said was hurtful, but the last thing I want for you is to be like me.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing,” Twilight muttered softly.

“Twilight...” Emerald said seriously.

“You know what I mean,” Twilight said and gave Emerald the telekinetic equivalent of a flick to the forehead via a nudge there. “I don't care how busy you are today. I want you back home tonight, okay? I miss having you next to me.”

“Sure thing, Twilight.” Emerald smiled and rose back onto her feet. “I'll see you tonight.”

“See you there.” Twilight smiled back before walking away.

Emerald stared after Twilight for a moment before her smile faded and she looked back towards the train platform. Sitting at one of the benches lining the platform was one of the clone Pinkies, looking utterly forlorn, looking back and forth down and up the tracks like she was expecting another train. A massively clear indicator of just how depressed this Pinkie was feeling was her completely straight hair.

“Hey there, you,” Emerald greeted as she leaned over the back of the bench. “You don't look very happy. What’s the matter?”

“What about me?” Clone Pinkie said with a sniffle. “Do I get a home to go to as well? Did... did you forget about me?”

“Of course not,” Emerald said with a smile. “In fact, I've got a special place in mind for you.”

“Really?” Clone Pinkie said with some cheer appearing. “Where am I going?”

“You are coming back with me to my own personal city,” Emerald replied. “The people are actually going through a bit of a rut and I was hoping you'd be able to help them out of it.”

“Oh... o-okay. I'd like to help,” the clone said, a little hesitant at the idea she'd be trying to help an entire city.

“Don't worry. You just have to take it one day at a time,” Emerald said reassuringly. “You don't have to try to help everyone at once. I just want you to do what you can.”

“Okay... can we go home now?”

“Sure!” Emerald said with a smile and reached out to place a hand atop the clone's head before the both of them disappeared in a flash.

Off to the side, a certain cowpony watched on with a thoughtful frown before slowly smiling and then walking away.

ZETA

“Now I know you probably aren't very receptive to the idea of her living her,” Emerald said, motioning to the clone who was partly hiding behind her, shyly peeking out. “Cause she is a pony and all, but I am hoping you'd at least give her a chance. I know you gave Whisper a chance but she had to help you all out in a fight and I wouldn't exactly call this little mare here a fighter.”

Currently Emerald was back in the Enclave with the clone. She had decided to set up a meeting of sorts with some of the Alphas to make her coming here as smooth as possible. Bluno was actually here and Emerald took that as a sign of him recovering well. Other than Bluno, only Belvedere, Fenrir and Tavish were there. It made sense since most other Alphas recognized them collectively as Emerald's advisers and the ones to take over whenever Emerald wasn't here. The group was also now situated in one of the meeting rooms. Emerald remembered planning quite a few heists in this room.

“Isn't she one of your friends, lass?” Tavish asked with a scratch of his head. “Why she coming to live here? She didn't get kicked out of Ponyville, did she?”

“Well she is my friend, but she isn't Pinkie,” Emerald explained. “She's a clone, a copy of a person. There was several dozens of her and I spent the last week setting them up in homes all over Equestria. I figured that since all of them have a tendency towards the first Pinkie's traits, the city here would benefit from her presence. In fact, to avoid confusion, we should call her something else... Diane, what do you think of that?”

“...” 'Diane' blinked her eyes at Emerald suddenly deciding to give her a name change. She opened her mouth to say something but stopped and looked thoughtful for a long moment. “... Okay.”

“Such a shy little pony,” Bluno commented. “The Boss said that another pony is living here, right? She can help you settle in too. I'm her friend. I can help you settle in and introduce you to all the friendly dogs.”

“Fenrir, Belvedere? I haven't heard from the either of you yet,” Emerald said. “Anything you want to comment on?”

“If you wish to bring a pony to live here, then I respect your decision, Princeps,” Fenrir predictably said.

“I have just a few concerns, but I think you already know what they are,” Belvedere stated and Emerald nodded. What the concern was, was whether Diane was going to be harassed by the more hateful dogs in the Enclave. In light of that, Bluno and Whisper's help in this would be greatly appreciated. The dogs they knew would be the ones most willing to form a friendship with the clone.

“Right. Now that that is out of the way, let's get you settled into your home,” Emerald said to Diane before looking towards Bluno. “Could I trust you to find her someplace nice to stay for the moment? I figure she wants to live on the surface like Whisper does. But making another cottage up there is going to take a good day or two to get everything nice and set up, so it would be best if you could find her an apartment down here with some nice neighbors.”

“No problems!” Bluno smiled. “Follow me, Diane. I know just the place for you!”

With that, the group left the building they were in. However, the moment they did they heard screams and shouts of excitement coming from above them. They looked up just in time to see a shape falling towards them.

“Woooo!” Flandre the spider cheered along with the Diamond Puppies held in her legs as her silk bungee stopped her a few feet from the road. “You all wanna go again?”

“Hello Flan,” Emerald greeted.

“Hi~!” Flandre greeted happily and all her eyes widened as she caught sight of Diane who quickly darted behind Emerald again at the sight of the spider. “OH! You brought a new pony here! Hi! My name's Flandre, what's yours?”

“...” Diane glanced out at the spider a little shyly. She honestly found the spider rather scary looking, but the excited, happy energy she exuded at seeing someone new hit a few chords within her. So, somewhat nervously, she stepped out from behind Emerald and smiled at the spider. “I'm Diane.”

“Do you want to bungee jump with me?” Flandre asked as she put down the pups and stepped closer to Diane. “It used to be so boring, but it's a whole lot of fun with others.”

“Umm...” Diane began with a look at Bluno.

“Nah, don't worry about it,” Bluno said with a grin. “I can always show you your new digs later. Go on and have fun with the little spider.”

“Okay!”

Emerald smiled as she stepped away while watching Flandre wrap Diane up in some silk cables to hold her since she was too heavy to hang on to with just her legs. Emerald knew that this clone was definitely one of the later ones from how different she was from Pinkie Pie. In all likelihood, she may be so different she won't be able to do too much with the stated reason she was brought here for, but that was okay. Emerald had mostly brought her to the Enclave so she could watch over her. She didn't know much about the makeup of the magical clones and wanted to study her. She was concerned they might have some serious side effects from being what they are and might have a horribly short life span. But the only way to find that out for sure was to study Diane. Hopefully her fears would be found wrong.

As Emerald walked away, she found herself drawing upon her new channeler abilities and began feeling the energy of the city and, more importantly, the Everfree. She had noticed that the natural energies running through the air in Equestria were rather dull and laggard feeling compared to the Republic. However, the energy here in the Everfree... it made the feeling back in the Republic feel also comatose and was even worse when compared to Equestria. Everything was just so alive and thrumming with energy. It had actually taken everything to not just stand and be lost in it for who knows how long when she first arrived here with Diane.

'I don't know why, but this place, it feels- NO, it speaks to me. It says HOME,' Emerald thought with a smile. 'Everfree... home of the forever free.'

Emerald pulled herself out of the feeling the energies, partly against her own will, because she was feeling like something was bothering her. Was she forgetting something? The virus paused for a moment and began searching through her memories, starting with those connected to the idea of Ponyville and the Enclave. She found out what was bothering her almost immediately.

“Damn it, I forgot about the changelings in all the excitement,” Emerald muttered to herself quietly. “Augh... stupid...”

“We are here, Queen Mother,” a voice said from behind her.

It took everything in that moment for Emerald to keep her reaction restricted to just a sudden stiffening of her posture and widening of her eyes. Otherwise she honestly would have given a startled shout and jumped. It was rare that she was so unaware of her surroundings that something could truly sneak up on her nowadays. After taking a moment to calm herself, she turned around and saw one of the viral changelings standing in an alleyway just a few feet from her.

“You... you are pretty damn sneaky, aren't you?” Emerald stated. “When did you get here? Are the others here as well?”

“We are all here, Queen Mother,” the changeling answered. “We've been watching and following you since you arrived in Ponyville, awaiting the command to attend to you.”

“Have you now?” Emerald said and briefly took a look around. She could probably find all of them if she really worked at it, but the fact they were still hidden despite a cursory look, and the fact she never noticed she was being watched in the last week, said a lot about their skills. “I was going to go work on some things, but I think you take a priority. Come with me, I want to introduce you and your own to some people.”

“Of course, Queen Mother,” the changeling said and obediently fell into step behind Emerald.

'How very skilled,' Emerald thought as she managed to spy one of the hidden changelings, though it had taken a good bit of her sense and own significant experiences as a spy to do so. 'And they don't even have the kind of formal training I'm familiar with. They would be quite the force to be reckoned with if they did, though. Let's see about doing just that, shall we?'

-TBC-

Chapter 4: Megalomania

View Online

Emerald stared down at her reflection in the pool of water.

The virus was now in the cavern of the Mirror Pool which was exactly where Diane had told her it was. Kneeling at the edge of the pool, Emerald stared down at the magical body of water with a considering stare. After a moment she began to reach towards it but stopped before sighing and standing up.

'As much as I want to start experimenting and testing this thing out...' Emerald thought as she walked away. 'I've really got too much on my plate already. Medical 'drones', the next generation of Orion serum, further improvements on the Power Armor so that it actually fits the name, figuring out the changelings training regimen and specialized courses, not to mention all the damn diplomatic work and networking I have to do in the League of Nations. I just have no time to give this any attention for now.'

Emerald walked up the path leading out of the cavern. Eventually she came out of the hole on the surface. She came to a stop and looked down at the hole before stomping down with a foot. An instant later, the hole closed up with a smooth wall of stone.

“All good, boss?” Bluno asked as he walked over in his new armor with the helmet held in one of his paws.

“Pretty much,” Emerald answered and turned towards the Alpha who had roughly a company's worth of Warhounds gathered a short distance behind him, all of which were recovering veterans of the changeling invasion. “I'm not going to trust that just covering up the top is going to be foolproof however, which brings me to the reason why I brought you and and some Warhounds here.”

“I want you and your dogs to clear a small area of woodlands around here,” Emerald said, motioning towards an area of the forest. “Then set up some basic fortifications and hold until some engineers come in and set up something more permanent. Afterwards, we'll set up some patrols and a constant watch over the sealed cavern.”

“Right! We'll get right to it, boss!” Bluno said before turning towards the Warhounds behind him. “Come on you lot, time to uproot some trees! I want to see a nice big pile within the hour!”

Emerald crossed her arms and watched as the Warhounds quickly set into a blistering speed, tearing up the landscape and ripping out trees out of the ground through sheer brute force. The virus smiled. It was good to see her dogs getting into their work, especially the ones who had been hurting because of her decision to lead them into a battle. They had been off relaxing for a while and she had figured that now would be a good time to ease them back into work with something simple.

'Nice to see that the augments are coming in nicely,' Emerald thought as she watched one of the larger dogs manage to pull a tree out by the roots and carry it over to place it in a steadily growing pile. 'Going to take more than a week before the muscle optimization finishes, though. Same for the sub-dermal weave reinforcements. The enhanced senses are coming in slowly as well, if only so not to overwhelm them with the super senses coming in all at once. They definitely got about say... a month left before everything will be fully grown in. And speaking of fully grown, I need some dogs with strong wills if I'm going to finalize the final tests for my multi-year project. Need a name for them...'

Emerald watched the dogs working for a few minutes more, their enhanced bodies making the heavy loads easy and their powerful armor making accidents irritating rather than painful. The virus then turned away and teleported back to the Hub. More specifically the very place the Power Armor was being made in.

The room Emerald was now in was very different from how the other factories of the Enclave looked. That was because the factories had metal mechanical devices. While the devices here were certainly mechanical, they were most certainly not metal.

Runic circuitry lined the walls of the room as dozens of organic arms clad in white plastic-like shells went to work. The beginning process was the very first layer of armor that sat against the internal padding. The first layer was applied via special spray heads to a rough approximation of a Warhound. The spray went over every inch as another set of arms used enchanted tools to levitate and move the dummy. Once a layer was finished, another set of sprays moved in and applied a growth stimulant to the viral cells which made the layer quickly grow and harden into a hard plastic like shell. This was quickly followed by three pairs of arms with drill-like heads to shape the joint flex areas of the armor. Then another set of arms swung in and began applying the runic paint to the outside of the shell before a set of arms quickly implanted a series of bio-gems in the lower back. Finally, the sprays swung back in and applied another layer of armor, which was quickly grown and hardened before slight flaws were drilled out. From above came one arm that ended in many tendrils which quickly extended and sought out a socket at the base of the neck. The armor suddenly expanded outwards and forwards, exposing the internals. Another set of manipulator arms then began to quickly attack the internal padding of the armor before the armor folded back up. A set of telekinetic arms up on the ceiling then motioned towards the finished set of armor, moved it into a fetal position before taking up and out off to the side where they were being stored briefly before fitting. In total, the process took ten minutes.

Emerald stared with a self satisfied smile before looking down the length of the room and seeing the process being repeated at twenty other places.

'Always pays to future proof,' Emerald thought before heading out towards the main doors of the room.

Emerald walked out the doors and came to the sight of a courtyard filled with Warhounds, all there to collect their new armor or there to get fitted for their set. Tavish was nearby and was talking with Missy, clearly being walked through how an armor that was more than twice his size was going to eventually fit him.

“So hows this big lump supposed to fit me, lass?” Tavish asked as he kicked the curled up piece of armor. “Ain't looking like it'll be snug if you ask me.”

“It's real simple, actually,” Missy replied and took out a small blade. “The armor is technically a living being, so what I just need is some blood of yours. Then I give it to the armor and it'll start changing itself to suit you and only you.”

“Just a drop, then?” Tavish asked and reached out with a finger when Missy nodded.

“There we go,” Missy said after making a small cut and getting a drop on the blade. “Just need to insert this in the base of the neck, then...”

The moment Missy briefly inserted the blade into the base of the neck, the whole suit started shuddering and shaking for several long moments. Eventually the suit stopped its shaking and returned to its stillness.

“There! Good to go,” Missy said.

“So I can get in now?” Tavish asked.

“Well... not yet,” Missy answered with a shake of her head before looking down at her clipboard. “The armor needs twenty four hours to start and finish the changes it'll make to itself. But once it's done it'll fit you perfectly and feel like a second skin. You might even end up feeling more comfortable in the armor than out.”

“Oh I can nae hardly wait, lass!” Tavish said excitedly. The lenses on that helmet looked rather strong, so chances were he wasn't going to suffer any more eye related injuries.

'Nice and quiet...' Emerald thought as she watched Warhounds moving back and forth in the area. 'Now would be the perfect time to run some experiments on the infected changelings... really have to give them a different name.'

“Changeling!” Emerald called out and got a few glances from some Warhounds before they went about their business.

“Yes, Queen Mother?” said a changeling as they walked to the front of her from behind. “Have you finished our training regimen?”

“Not just yet,” Emerald replied. “I'm still planning out the courses for you. Right now I need your help to run some tests.”

“We are glad to assist, Queen Mother,” the changeling said while bowing.

“Right... follow me,” Emerald said after a moment, crushing down a feeling of intense annoyance from the behavior. Suddenly she decided she was going to make the tests a bit more strenuous than they needed to be.

ALPHA

A female unicorn by the name of Bolt Tuner sighed as she laid down several sections of rails to be hammered in by some of her fellow construction workers.

Currently just outside Ponyville there was a rather large amount of construction work going on. Ponyville's simple railroad system was being expanded upon massively to make room for the equally massive amounts of trade goods that would soon be using them. Already hundreds of miles of railroad had been laid leading to both the east and west coast of Equestria. Outside Ponyville, a new station would be constructed. One meant to manage the flow of trade goods up and down the tracks with an array of switchable tracks and moving platforms to arrange and put together long lines of cargo trains. Even the ports at both ends of the newly expanded railroads were being upgraded to handle the loads they would be carrying, not to mention the cargo ships that would be arriving on a daily basis to load up and leave. One would wonder where all the money to fund this was coming from considering Equestria was still somewhat recovering from an economic downturn, but the projects were widely known to be jointly funded, with a vast majority of the costs being handled by the Enclave and their rather controversial leader.

Bolt was just about to pick up another set of rails to lay down when a loud whistle filled the air.

“Lunch time!” the construction supervisor bellowed.

With a somewhat relieved sigh, the unicorn placed the rails back down on the ground.

“Come on, Tunie!” one of her coworkers said excitedly. “We get a free banquet to eat from today!”

Bolt smiled at that, but honestly she had already packed her lunch and wanted her sandwich over any banquet food. The unicorn quickly went off into an area covered by a tarp that served as a sort of locker room for the construction teams and retrieved her lunch box. Walking out, she went over to an area with many picnic tables set that was quickly crowding with hundreds of construction workers.

“Saved ya a seat, Tunie!” shouted one of the workers on her team, waving a hoof in the air. With a smile, Bolt quickly trotted over and sat down beside her team members.

Bolt quickly opened up her lunch box and removed the three pieces of a sandwich she had packed. Each piece was a foot in length and from a ten foot hero sandwich. Construction was very labor intensive and even unicorns like Bolt often felt starving by the time short breaks or lunches were called. Though honestly, Bolt had to admit to herself she was a bit of a big eater, not that anyone could ever tell from her figure. As Bolt began wolfing down the first of her three sandwich pieces, the sounds of conversation started to fill the air.

“Can't believe she is just going to get away with this...” said a voice from the table behind her.

“From what I heard there are going to be sanctions, so no, she isn't exactly getting away with it,” answered another.

“That isn't enough!” the first voice replied. “That's a slap on the fetlock and you know it! My children were traumatized by what she and her lot did in Canterlot! Tartarus, my wife and I were traumatized as well... that poor changeling...”

“I agree with him. Why in the world are we just accepting these people who choose to live in the most horrific place in the world, backed up by their upjumped slaver soldiers?” said another. “Just because they have something a lot of other nations want, all we little ponies are supposed to just smile and embrace them? It's not right.”

Bolt frowned as she started biting into her second sandwich piece. Honestly, she didn't like diamond dogs too much either, and had a good reason for it being a former slave herself. She had been stuck in one of the diamond dogs’ mines for well over a month laboring every day and given little more than grass to eat, though honestly she could admit she was barely eating any worse than the Diamond Dogs themselves. However, then came the order from what she had thought was the new leader of the diamond dogs, the Gray Fox. All the slave ponies were freed to the surface and no more ponies would be taken captive for forced labor again.

She was rather grateful for being freed after all the work she had to do for that long month and a half. Enough so that when the time came when the Enclave revealed themselves, she was willing to give the benefit of the doubt once it was becoming apparent later on they were making amends for previous crimes anyway.

'The Gray Fox turned out to not be the leader in the end,' Bolt thought to herself as she chewed on the last piece of her second sandwich. 'But later on it turned out that Emerald Gleaner was revealed to be the actual leader. It's also been revealed that she is a shapeshifter of sorts, so was she the Gray Fox as well? Or was the Gray Fox hired by her? Nopony has answered that question yet and it hasn't really been mentioned by either of the princesses. I wonder what had happened to the last leader of the diamond dogs? The Gray Fox said he was down below feeding rats, and considering what Emerald and her armor did in Canterlot... I don't think the old leader is actually alive anymore. And considering what the diamond dogs got up to under his command, I can't find myself feeling too upset about the idea.'

“Hey Tunie, you see this?” a coworker asked, waving a newspaper at her.

“Nope,” Bolt replied and telekinetically brought the newspaper over. “What's going on?”

“There was an accident not too long ago,” came the answer. “Two pegasi got hurt and some land got wrecked. Check it out.”

'Out of Control Storm Cloud Annihilates Area,' Bolt read the headline. 'Two pegasi were found frozen solid soon after a cloud suddenly turned into a storm front and obliterated two square miles of country. The two pegasi weather controllers were safely thawed out but still suffered minor brain damage, losing two weeks of memory on top of any idea of what happened to the cloud that could have caused the accident. The Cloudsdale Headquarters for Weather Control has no comment as of yet, as their own personal investigations into the matter are still ongoing.'

As Bolt began to bite into her final sandwich piece while reading, a low rumble filled the air and the plastic and cups on all the tables started to shake and move noticeably. In the distance there was a small explosion of dust and dirt before figures started to appear in the dust clouds. Soon the clouds parted and revealed what was underneath.

A group of diamond dogs rose up from the hole they had just made, all of them were wearing hardhats and breathing masks to help deal with the dust. They waited a few moments for the dust clouds to settle before heading back to work and cleaning up the edges of the rather large hole they made.

As the sounds of grumbling from ponies and some curious workers washed over her, Bolt stared over towards where the dogs were working. She and the other workers knew that the Enclave was creating a large tunnel and train network of their own to connect with Equestria and would be finishing the tunnel today.

It had been quite a while since she had last seen a diamond dog, and Bolt wasn't sure what she should be feeling right now. After several moments of staring after the working dogs in curiosity, absently chewing on her sandwich, she decided to get up and see what they were doing up close.

Bolt got up from her seat and walked over with her sandwich piece. Her coworkers knew of her history regarding diamond dogs and were wondering if she was going to give them a piece of her mind. Before long, the unicorn construction worker found herself just beside the now rather massive hole that had been created in the ground.

Looking down, Bolt saw that the tunnel was easily fifty feet across and was sixteen feet tall. The path leading down into the tunnel was a very gradual gradient. There were dozens of dogs wearing safety gear in the tunnels smoothing the walls and setting up support columns. Way in the back, the unicorn could spy a group of dogs wearing large tanks of their backs and spraying down the walls of the tunnel.

“Hey,” Bolt said to a nearby diamond dog worker.

“Huh?” The dog looked up and pulled down his protective mask and goggles. “Oh uhh... hello there, uh, pony.”

“What are they doing?”Bolt asked, pointing at the dogs with the large tanks attached to their backs.

“Oh, they are spraying water,” the dog answered. “But the water has tons of mold spores mixed in which will recycle soiled air and pollutants. So we can have trains and the like deep underground without worrying too much about ventilation.”

“Ah,” Bolt stated and returned to staring at the worker who was beginning to feel uncomfortable. “Used to be a diamond dog slave, you know.”

“Oh! Umm...” the dog said with a scratch of his head, looking completely lost. “I'm sorry? I don't know what I can...”

“It's alright,” Bolt replied with a shrug. “Glad you aren't doing that anymore.”

“We never wanted to do that,” the dog said with a sigh. “We would have preferred to dig the gems ourselves. It was much faster. But the old boss was... very mean.”

“Glad he's gone,” Bolt stated.

“Uh... me too,” the dog replied.

“Name?”

“I'm Berkeley,” the dog answered. “You?”

“Bolt Tuner. Friends call me Tunie,” Bolt replied and magically held out the remains of her sandwich piece when she heard the rumble of a stomach. “Sandwich?”

“Thank you, Bolt,” Berkeley said and took a chomp out of the sizable sandwich piece.

“Tunie,” Bolt corrected.

“Tunie,” Berkeley said with a smile before taking another bite.

BETA

“Is... is that... enough, Queen Mother?” the infected changeling asked from where she laid spread eagle on the ground, panting in exhaustion.

“Hmm... for now,” Emerald replied as she got up from her cross legged position. “You may go rest and relax in your assigned quarters.”

“Thank you... Queen Mother,” the changeling panted before disappearing in a flash of orange flames.

Emerald was currently outside on the surface, in the large area the Enclave controlled. Off to the side a new cottage next to Whisper Wind's own home was in the middle of having the finishing touches being placed; Diane's own cottage. Currently, said pony was on the surface as well playing with Flandre and wearing a simple silk dress the spider had weaved for her the previous day.

'She looks like shes having fun,' Emerald thought with a smile before frowning in consideration. 'Now... I've finally figured out the reason for why the changelings made me really aggressive towards them during the wedding and why Bon Bon didn't for as long as I’ve known her. The changelings' training were rushed and they spent many months on rationed love. Even for the military, the amount of food wasn't completely comfortable. When they arrived here, they felt so much love in the air they couldn't help but pull as much as they could into themselves and feast. So much so they started actively pulling on people around them. Somehow I subconsciously knew I was being fed on and was reacting accordingly. This is why I never reacted that way to Bon Bon. She always had a secure and ample supply of love from her best friend Lyra, and never needed to do anything more than absently draw in some love in the air whenever she wanted a small snack. Hmm... good to know I have some sort of instinct for these kind of things, but I wonder how far it goes?'

Emerald's attention was once more drawn to the sound of Diane and Flandre playing with each other. The pony was only a short distance away now, apparently playing tag with the little spider being it. Said spider then gave a large leap into the air and managed to tackle Diane to the ground, the both of them rolling over each other on the ground and coming to a stop just before Emerald.

“Having fun, girls?” Emerald asked with a small smile.

“Yep!” the two answered at once with a giggle and got up onto their legs.

“How are you doing, Diane?” Emerald asked the pink pony as she got up and brushed her mane out of her face, which was oddly straight instead of curly. “Are you liking your temporary apartment and neighbors so far?”

“Yeah, they are all so very nice and friendly!” Diane smiled before frowning and poking her hoof at the ground. “My neighbors are, anyway...”

“Is someone bothering you?” Emerald asked with a frown.

“Well not really,” Diane replied with a shake of her head. “I've just been going around trying to be friendly and make friends with others, but... not all the dogs are very nice to me. Most of them are though, so that's okay...”

“Hmm... Diane, why is your hair not curly anymore?” Emerald asked, deciding a quick change in topic was in order.

“Oh, this?” Diane said, running a hoof down the long curtain of straight pink hair running down one side of her face. “I just... wanted to look different and decided to keep it straight. Keeps getting in my face, though.”

“Ah.” Emerald nodded and went down onto a knee before Diane and reached out for her mane. “Here you go.”

“Huh?” Diane reached up to feel something in her mane and noticed that most of her mane was now out of her face. “A hair clip? Neat! Thank you, Emmy!”

“No problem.” Emerald smiled. “Now go have fun you two.”

“We will!” Flandre and Diane said together before Flandre took off running with Diane in pursuit.

'...I can't wait until all the new born pups are grown up a little more,' Emerald thought as she smiled after the departing forms of Diane and Flandre. 'Those two will certainly enjoy it. They are already so good with the kids we have already. Plus it will do a lot to curb prejudices to have all the little pups playing with a nice, super friendly pony.'

Emerald took a look around her surroundings and simply took in the sight of dogs going about their business, Warhounds training and patrolling. After watching everyone going about their lives for a minute, Emerald decided it was time she finally took a tour of her nation.

Emerald walked and soon found herself standing before the ravine that was next to the surface area the Enclave controlled. The dam was now completed and was providing its own supply of power to the Enclave. The Great Fox was still there floating within the ravine and being maintained by engineers to ensure it remained in usable condition. Down below the virus spotted movement in the water. Looking down, she spied the shy hippocampi who had made a home in the ravine. She was peeking out at her from behind a boulder before she gave a timid wave and dived back below the surface. Emerald smiled at that before turning about and walking away.

After a twenty minute walk, Emerald found herself back below in the Hub. The city was ever expanding as a slow but constant trickle of dogs from the independent packs immigrated to the city. Currently the total population had exploded from a starting number of ten thousand all the way to a hundred thousand, making the Enclave hold a fifth of the total population of the diamond dogs of Equestria. Of course a rather large fraction of that population was made up of newly born children, not just immigrated dogs. At the rate things were going, a decade or so in the future would find the adults being outnumbered by teenagers.

'And wouldn't that be a special kind of hell?' Emerald thought as she spied a group of female dogs carrying some pups who had yet to open their eyes. 'Heh, damn kids...'

The population growth also of course affected the Warhounds and their current number of dogs in training. Currently the Warhounds boasted roughly five thousand Dogs if one counted those that were going through augmentation and boot camp; a little under half of that number were fully trained Warhounds.

'Seriously, the way some of these new Warhounds look and treat me is almost hero worship,' Emerald thought as she came to an area that was crowded with construction work. 'I guess I can see where they are coming from... I did give them a nation again and they no longer have to worry about food, water or getting homes for themselves. Hell if they wanted to they could just lay around and eat and sleep all day. But that would get boring fast, wouldn't it? Diamond dogs like to work with their hands and would get restless at being still for too long. Same goes for a lot of people, really. No one likes doing nothing for long...'

Soon Emerald found herself overlooking a rather vast pit over the center of which had a large hole in the ceiling to let sunlight and fresh air in. This was going to be a vast expansion to the Hub as the city was beginning to suffer overpopulation issues. This place would have buildings made by workers who now truly knew what they were doing when it came to stonework. It would be an expansion that would increase the Hub by its own size and half again. Underground skyscrapers and gardens of fungal growth Emerald had decided to take the time to make, the buildings would be covered in designs and decorative carvings based on the Old Kingdom. The Hub would truly be a city for the people to be proud of with the original sections of it being dubbed the Founding Quarter.

'Only just got the place cleared out, though,' Emerald thought as she couldn't help the proud feeling that bubbled up within her. 'I imagine though that construction work of the expansion will go along a whole lot faster thanks to my newly gained skills in channeling.'

Emerald watched massive crowds of her dogs hard at work, creating pathways and foundations of what would eventually become the beautiful addition to their city in the future. Before much longer she turned away and made for the deeper depth of the Enclave where the more dangerous things were being held and tested.

Eventually the virus found herself entering what was a firing range designed for far longer ranged weapons as well as those possessing a much more powerful punch. At one end of the firing range was an artillery piece Emerald helped design. It was a simple and straightforward howitzer that wasn't as large as it could have been because it was designed to be pulled by hand and moved through tight tunnels. However, while the howitzer wasn't very big it made up for it in magical enhancements. Kinetic dampener runes on the shock absorbers allowed for the howitzer to be fired from the most precarious of locations. Those same runes allowed for lightening runes to be added to the gun's chassis for quicker and easier hauling that didn't result in the gun going flying when it fired. On the barrel itself were a wide array of runes of silencing and acceleration, making the artillery as quiet as an unsilenced gun shot and allowed it to fire far further than its appearance would suggest. It had been designated Magical Artillery Mark 1 or MA-1 for short.

'I should make a special shell for it to fire,' Emerald thought as the gun crew quickly loaded up a shell and fired it off at the target down the range. 'Something much more powerful than a simple high explosive round anyway.'

Turning to the next weapon in testing, Emerald saw a Warhound holding what appeared to be a rocket launcher on his shoulder. And at first appearance that would be correct, but this weapon wasn't just a simple rocket launcher; it was Emerald's first forays into combining computers and magic. It was basically a fire and forget rocket launcher, but rather than try to rapidly advance the dogs into such computer science, she aimed for basic electronics and cover the gaps with magic. The rocket had an electronic scope attached to the side that could lock onto a target as fast as one could push the lock on button. The rocket itself also had a technomagical component that received the targeting information from the scope and sought out the locked on target. The interesting thing was that one could change targets while the rocket was mid flight and if the rocket had the fuel and room to maneuver, it would seek the other target. Emerald was also considering making unique shells for this; better ones than the basic load out of fragmentation and HEAT missiles. The weapon had been designated Fire and Forget Magic Launcher Mark 1 or FML-1 for short.

The final weapon being tested on the range was simple and to the point; it was a sniper rifle. However this sniper rifle was exceedingly large and seemed more like something one would use if they wanted to snipe a tank. With a barrel that seemed more at home atop an armed APC than a handheld gun, this sniper rifle fired absurdly large rounds that pulped and shredded anything it hit. This gun also benefited from runic enhancements. Kinetic shock runes on the stock and most of the rifle’s body allowed one to almost fire it comfortably while standing, while the barrel itself was almost completely covered in runes of silence and acceleration that allowed the bullet to travel many magnitudes faster than it had a right to. Currently this rifle only had rather basic rounds, but Emerald had quite a few ideas for specialty shells since the gun's bullets were certainly massive enough to fit a decent number or runes. The gun's designation was thought up by the weapon testers themselves rather than Emerald, calling it the Dragonsbreath Sniper Rifle due to the noticeable flame coming out of the barrel after each shot.

After watching each of the weapons being tested for a short while, Emerald continued on her way, deciding to go even deeper down into the tunnels. She passed by a facility filled with obstacle courses meant to challenge dogs who now had power armor and help them get used to it. Inside, several dozen Warhounds were making use of said courses but were also sparring in the gyms and even fighting in melee with Raptors. This wasn't Emerald's stop, however, and neither was the cavern holding the growing new viral lifeforms she had designed. No, her destination was a secret room she had made and locked up herself deep in the depths of the world.

Eventually, she arrived. The air was stale and the heat was stifling, not so much that it would kill someone but you'd be quick to decide to go back the way you came before long. Emerald came to a solid wall of rock, seemingly a dead end. With a purposeful step of her foot, however, the walls parted revealing a vast room mostly cloaked in shadow. She walked over the boundary where the wall had been before willing the wall back and stepping forward.

The room was almost completely dark as stated but had many, many tall shapes looming in the darkness and a singular light attached to the very center of the room's ceiling. The sole light bulb in the depths of the world cast a light over a pile of metal parts and machinery carefully placed on a short stone platform. Emerald came to a stop before the pile and studied them for a moment before walking off to the side. She stepped into the deep darkness of the room and kept moving until she reached a far wall. She then grabbed hold of a metal handle and pulled open a trash chute like drawer and reached a hand within before pulling something out. Eventually she returned to the stone platform and the light, revealing the object in her hand to be a sort of strange rock with a black, bubbly like surface texture along with various other rocks floating in the air behind her.

Emerald reached out with a faintly glowing hand and the metal parts on the stone platform rose into the air. The parts began to spin and orbit one another and slowly began to com together one piece at a time until eventually all that was left was a mass of machinery. Emerald had yet to attach what was clearly the metal chassis of whatever she was building which continued to orbit the nearly completed machine. The virus then motioned to the rocks floating behind her and held up the one in her hand.

'The process to making these materials is so long and complicated,' Emerald thought as magical auras surrounded each rock and they all floated towards the machinery. 'Good thing I can cheat and skip directly to the end.'

Eventually the rocks stopped glowing and were now shown to have been transmuted into various metals and specific shapes which began to fit perfectly into certain places of the machinery. When all the transmuted metal had finally been placed, Emerald motioned and the chassis flew into motion and rapidly bolted into place. Only then did the completed piece of machinery settle back down on the ground and Emerald stood back to admire her creation.

For the most part it was egg shaped and black, with one end covered in some odd looking, boxy fins. However, one who knew their history could easily identify this creation as a bomb... specifically the fat man and the little boy nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

'All done,' Emerald thought with a smile before turning towards the shadows shrouding the room. A blinding darkness to anyone else, but to Emerald's eyes she could easily see the dark shapes looming there for what they were. 'And that makes one hundred and one ready to be used. It's an odd number, isn't it? I might as well try one out. They were all made the exact same way so if one works, they'll all work.'

'Right, big guy,' Emerald thought as she levitated the newly completed bomb up into the air. 'Let's find you a nice desert.'

Emerald teleported up into orbit along with her bomb. Briefly scanning the land below her and recalling some geology books, Emerald soon found her desert and teleported directly there. The virus then began to fly about the vast dunes for a few minutes before finding a decently flat and empty area. This desert was actually the Dune sea of the Bast Dynasty. It was incredibly massive and if you wanted to get through it you had to travel the outermost areas of it. One could travel through its heart, but unpredictable weather and harsh sunlight was often the doom of many a traveler.

Emerald set down her bomb and reached out with her magic before flipping an array of switches and setting off mechanisms at certain times and in a certain order. Finally, she stepped forward and opened a small panel. Inside was a basic dial timer along with a big red button and the words “ARM WARHEAD” above it. Emerald set the timer for one minute and hit the button before closing up the panel. She then stepped back before teleporting into orbit. She was actually legitimately curious if she could withstand a nuclear explosion now, but didn't want to try it just yet.

Arriving in orbit, the virus began a mental countdown over the next fifty seconds, a feeling of strangely uneasy excitement broiling in her stomach. As the final ten seconds began to count down, that uneasy feeling only seemed to grow. And for the first time in years, she honestly thought she had an upset stomach.

From this far above, the explosion could be called anticlimactic; a sudden bright light forming. But it was an explosion seen from space, a true weapon of incredible power, first of its kind in this world. One could say they should feel a kind of pride from that accomplishment. But Emerald was far from feeling pride. The uneasy feeling exploded into one of intense wrongness and for a moment Emerald was at a loss for why this was... until it hit her.

'A world that hasn't seen warfare in a thousand years. A world that has known nothing but peace for one millenia and... and what did I do?' Emerald thought, eyes wide and holding her head in her hands. 'I made a nuclear bomb. A weapon made to destroy whole cities and why?! I... I don't... I don't know why. The only thing I can think of... is... is just in case... what am I doing? What the HELL AM I DOING?!?'

For the longest moment Emerald hung there in the void of space staring down at the tiny black spot where a nuclear bomb had gone off. Utterly frozen in shock and horror at the lengths of her own paranoia.

'… Twilight's right, I need help,' Emerald thought with a dumbfounded expression. '… and it only took me setting off a goddamn nuclear bomb to realize it... god damn it all...'

For another moment that felt eternally long, Emerald hung in space, staring down at the world before leaving in a flash of light.

Far below in the Dune Sea, the site of the nuclear explosion was a complete ruin. Several kilometers of sand had been turned black and a vast crater was created at the epicenter of the blast zone. However, Emerald had been correct in how remote the location was. At the very most, a handful of people saw a small flash on the horizon and nothing more. The location of the actual blast zone would likely go on undiscovered for years if not decades. No one would know of what had gone here... almost no one.

In the center of the blackened crater, a small flame began to flicker to life. The flame rapidly grew until it was quite suddenly the size of a small building. The flames then pulled in on themself before coalescing into the shape of a great, horned dog.

The fiery horned hound began to stumble about and shake its head, releasing pained whines for several moment. Then its form began began to surge as the flames that made up its body began to flicker between an intense red and light green. Then, with one final enraged howl, the fiery hound turned an intense and blinding green.

GAMMA

'Ah, truly it is a travesty I cannot enjoy my time at sea longer,' Mikhail thought with his eyes closed. 'The feel of the wind in my fur, the splash of ocean waves. It's such a terrible coincidence I always get the work far away from the coast.'

Mikhail, wolverine and Ataman of all the mercenary armies their people had to be hired, was standing at the very forefront of a large cargo ship.

The cargo ship the wolverine was upon was just one of a merchant fleet of several others. They would be setting anchor for a time at the port in Vanhoover and then would be taking in their cargo of meat fruit when the stock finally arrived to be shipped. While the wolverine commanders had more than enough money to charter the merchant fleets needed for shipping and buy all the meat fruit, it was also clear Emerald wasn't interested in more money. What the newest addition to the politics of the League desired was something substantial, something more of use to her than simple money. The wolverines were an almost nomadic people, families moved where there was work. They had no factories to produce goods and no mines to pull precious metals out of the ground. They rented forges to make weapons and armors but in comparison to Enclave armor and weaponry, theirs was but wooden blades and tinfoil sheets. But there was one resource the wolverines produced everyone wanted. Their soldiers.

“The more the world changes, the more it stays the same,” Mikhail said aloud in his native language. “Is it not true, my comrade?”

After a moment of silence, another figure stepped forward to stand beside Mikhail, a wolverine with a natural glare and immaculately trimmed mustache and beard that ended in short lengths that hung off of his face. He was shorter than Mikhail and also leaner and his armor not as thick, but where Mikhail gave the air of juggernaut of physical might, this wolverine felt more like a tightly coiled spring ready to explode into motion.

“Indeed it does, Ataman,” the wolverine replied. “Newcomers and powerful though they may be, like the rest they too desire the might of the wolverines.”

“Perhaps desire is too strong a word?” Mikhail replied with a musing tone. “I have ruminated, more it seems she simply wanted something that wasn't currency. It makes sense, one who controls such a resources would soon find themselves awash with such offers and begin looking for trade of more useful resources in turn.”

“Yes... such valuable resources...” The wolverine stated with a frown and critical narrowing of his eyes at Mikhail. “And like the addle minded moths we were, we closed in to the flames.”

“This being nothing more than a trap is all that you see, Timujin?” Mikhail asked. “I myself see a bright and prosperous future where our families grow without number and eat without worry. We would be no more dependent on her then we are on our employers’ vast lands of forests and vaults for our food and money.”

“The difference is that our employers had to compete with each other,” Timujin stated gruffly. “Meat is not an easy commodity to come by in this world and all struggled equally to attain sufficient amounts to balance not starving and not angering the far more numerous herbivores. But now the scales of influence have shifted massively, never to be re-balanced. No one could ever match the sheer output of meat she can, not without crossing lines no one wishes to cross. Her position is unassailable and she can set whatever terms she wishes. And when we have grown too fat to fight and too numerous to dare stop eating, we'll have no choice but to dance to her commands.”

“Possibly...” Mikhail nodded, he didn't become Ataman purely on martial prowess and understood the hidden threat Timujin was talking about. But really, when it came down to it, Mikhail didn't really mind the idea of being beholden to another. If it meant if the families of the wolverines became fat and happy, then so be it. “Is there any other thoughts you have on this matter, Timujin?”

“Yes,” Timujin said and turned to stare at Mikhail. “I wouldn't have made such a deal with the Enclave.”

“Yes.” Mikhail nodded. “It is fortunate then that you are not Ataman.”

As Timujin narrowed his eyes at Mikhail's words, said wolverine couldn't help but be reminded of well over a decade ago, when he and Timujin were but both highly renowned mercenaries and often competed against each other for jobs. Though they often lost as much as they won against each other, those same competitions never lost the friendly air, at least until Mikhail and Timujin both competed for support to become the new Ataman of the Wolverine Mercenary Legions. It was a close competition and when it came down to it, the decision was made based on their beliefs and persona. Mikhail was the atypical Wolverine, massive, powerful and joyfully boisterous. Timujin however was almost the opposite. He was wasn't as obviously powerful, used tactics and stratagems that more often than not riled up fellow Wolverine Commanders and often times he was seen as coldly practical. Wolverines were renowned for their soldiering and discipline, but even among the commanders there was talk that his wolverines followed orders partly out of fear. In the eyes of the assembled commanders at the time, the decision was clear. Timujin never got over the fact that Mikhail was chosen for personality rather than competency and their friendly competition was never the same.

“Now is not the time to be sparring,” Mikhail stated, looking forward towards the horizon steadily. “The boat would not stay afloat if we did.”

“Very well, Ataman,” Timujin stated lowly and left.

Mihail looked over his shoulder at the retreating wolverine, seeing the clear disrespect but deciding to do nothing. He could have easily pulled rank instead of simply asking Timujin to leave, but that would have resulted in even greater spite down the line, and Mikhail honestly missed the friendly rivalry the both of them used to enjoy. While Timujin didn't share Mikhail's opinions and agreed with his decisions, he more importantly followed orders despite who gave them as a good wolverine should. As long as that remained the same, Mikhail could deal with a bit of hostility from him.

The Ataman of the wolverines looked over the merchant fleet his people had commissioned. Scattered over the entire fleet was a force of ten thousand wolverine mercenaries, the mighty mercenaries of the west. They would be contracted to the Enclave for an indefinite amount of time and serve as payment for shipments of meat fruit. He himself would go along with them, not to stay permanently but to ensure they would settle in well into their duties and no issues would arise.

Whether it was the lands of the great western continent or the lands across the sea, none would find the mercenaries of the wolverine legions wanting.

DELTA

“Gah!” Twilight shouted as a thick layer of snow fall from above and buried her.

Currently the purple unicorn was in a magical duel with another unicorn. Said unicorn was Trixie from the ill fated magic show she had put on in Ponyville little over two years ago. Trixie had returned not too long ago to avenge herself upon the ponies of Ponyville, Twilight's friends and Twilight herself. So far the duel was going rather well. Nothing Trixie did was too hard to undo, but so far Twilight was on the defensive and was simply casting counter spells.

With a quick heating spell followed by another one to dry herself off, Twilight got rid of the snow she was covered in and had soaked her. After that, Twilight frowned and thought of difficult spell for Trixie to undo when an idea struck her. Horn glowing with magic, Twilight quickly cast a spell and sent a beam at Trixie.

The spell impacted Trixie in the face and with a startled shout the cloaked unicorn started rapidly shrinking. A moment later, standing where the unicorn had been was a plushy replica of her with the now barely hanging on amulet around its neck. Twilight smiled at that as her friends laughed. It was a rather difficult spell to do, but she managed it rather easily now thanks to the magical practices she did with Emerald. Twilight frowned as she stared at the odd amulet with the red gem in it. The spell should have changed it as well, but it didn't. Just as Twilight stepped forward to investigate, there was a bright flash of light and Trixie was back to her original state, amulet now fitting again.

“H-hmph! I a-admit that was impressive,” Trixie said as she quickly tried to shake off the experience of being turned into a plushy. “For a mere novice that is! Snips! Sails! Come forward!”

“Wh-what is it, oh Great and P-P-Powerful Trixie?” Snips said nervously as he and his friend stepped forward and bowed.

Suddenly a crimson aura surrounded the two young ponies and they were lifted up into the air. Everyone stared in worry and concern as the aura grew in intensity. A moment later the aura left and the two ponies fell onto the ground, changed.

Snips, now a small baby, started crying while Snails who had become rather old started to grumble and moan as his fragile body started to ache.

“An age spell?” Twilight exclaimed in surprise. “But... how could you do an age spell? That's only for the highest level unicorns!”

“Well, Twilight? Give up?” Trixie said while examining a hoof, voice dripping with arrogance.

Twilight sighed and stared at the changed Snips and Snails for a moment before fixing her expression into one of intense concentration. Once again Snips and Snails rose into the air as an magical aura surrounded them and Twilight's horn. The others stared up with wide hopeful expressions, fully expecting Twilight to come through in the end.

“Come on, Twilight, you can do it!” Spike said in encouragement.

Twilight gritted her teeth as the light around her horn grew ever more intense. The purple unicorn ground her teeth and exerted an even larger amount of magic into the spell and tried to push on with all of her might. But with an audible sputter, the light around her horn died and she collapsed to the ground a moment later, and a still baby and eldery Snips and Snails fell back to the ground.

“Trixie is the highest level unicorn!” Trixe exalted with smug laughter before turning towards Twilight with a smirk. “And now it's time for you to leave Ponyville! FOREVER!”

Twilight's friends quickly moved to shield Twilight away from Trixie and attempt to protect her, but in the brief silence that followed Trixie's pronouncement, a voice carried far and loud.

“... Emerald is going to be furious when she gets back.”

“WHO?” Trixie shouted at the green unicorn who dared speak up in her moment of victory, far too absorbed in the moment to notice the changeling standing beside said unicorn. She did, however, notice and blink in confusion when suddenly the crowd let out a gasp.

“I believe they mean me,” said a voice behind her and Trixie turned only to be met with the sight of something looming over her.

“Emerald!” Twilight shouted.

The virus didn't initially acknowledge the shout, a bit more busy with looking down her nose at Trixie. She also happened to be wearing her formal regalia, seemingly for added intimidation. After spending a moment freezing Trixie in place with a stare, she disappeared with a flash and reappeared next to Twilight.

“Are you okay, Twilight?” Emerald asked with a frown as she looked over the unicorn. “I caught the tail end of that. She didn't hurt you, did she? God have mercy if she did because I-”

“I'm okay, Emerald,” Twilight said reassuringly. “She didn't hurt me.”

“Good,” Emerald said before noticing Pinkie's currently mouthless state. With an irritated grimace, she quickly undid the spell, a small bolt of pink lightning leaping from her finger to the party mare's face.

“GAH!” Pinkie gasped. “I CAN BREATHE! Thank you, Emmy!”

“No problem.”

“If the rabble is done disrespecting Trixie by ignoring her presence!” Trixie began with a shout, having since recovered from getting glared at. “The matter of the consequences of losing a duel shall be carried out! Say goodbye to Ponyville, Sparkle, because-”

“I highly doubt that claim would stand up in the courts,” Emerald stated simply, standing back up and walking to come to a stop a short distance in front of Trixie.

“Trixie will MAKE IT work!” Trixie shouted, her eyes flashing red in anger. “You dare get involved in the business of your betters, creature!? If you do not mind your own right this instant, you shall suffer Trixie's wrath!”

“Stop talking in third person,” Emerald said in rising irritation, her own eyes glowing orange in response to Trixie's ocular display. “And I'm not surprised you don't recognize me considering how I look right now.”

“Oh?” Trixie said with a raised brow and watched as Emerald magicked up a hologram of her pony form next to her. “Ah, I see. So... skilled enough to use magic to change shape but not skilled enough to not be homeless? Hmm, perhaps Trixie shall show mercy and offer you position as my own personal jester? You are certainly dressed for it!”

“... Have you spent the last few years with your head buried in the sand?” Emerald asked to Trixie's rising anger. “That has to be the explanation, as even the biggest idiot in Equestria would know by now the worst thing you could ever do is mess with Twilight.”

“YOU DARE SPEAK TO TRIXIE IN SUCH A-”

“Shh! You hear that?” Emerald said suddenly, surprising Trixie enough that she remained quiet for a moment. “Nice, quiet, peaceful day. On days like this third person idiots like you... SHOULD SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Suddenly the virus made an underhand slash through the air with her right arm. A wave of pink energy washed forward like a tidal wave at incredible speeds. With a startled scream, Trixie was sent flying through the air. After a moment, though, he unicorn had the sense to catch herself before she hit the ground and set herself upright.

“You dare attack Trixie?!” the unicorn shouted, her eyes and horn blazing red but not more so than her amulet.

“You dare try to kick Twilight out of her home!” Emerald shouted back and slashed sideways, sending the unicorn into an uncontrolled roll onto her side. “Away from her friends and away from me?! I have no idea what sort of incredible retardation you have suddenly been afflicted along with third person, but I'm not complaining! I needed a stress ball to squeeze, anyway!”

“Trixie will not take this abuse!” the unicorn shouted as she got back onto her hooves with her horn and eyes blazing red.

A crimson beam of intense magic tore through the air towards Emerald. In response, the virus jerked her left hand towards the sky. The very front of the beam turned pink and it suddenly turned away from Emerald and towards the sky. Emerald then made a pushing motione with her right hand and once again sent the unicorn flipping through the air.

“Can you feel that?” Bon Bon asked Lyra as she watched the fight. “So much magic in the air...”

“Yeah, she's not even trying to be energy efficient,” Lyra replied as she stared at the 'duel'. “She’s just throwing raw magic left, right and center.”

“What, you can actually see that happening?” Twilight said in surprise and blinked when she got an insulted look from Lyra.

“I went to the same darn school as you, Twilight, before you became the princess's student,” Lyra said with a scowl. “Of course I can see what's happening, jeez... you'd think somepony like you would remember your former classmates a bit better.”

“Oh... I'm sorry.”

“Whatever,” Lyra said and narrowed her eyes as she studied Emerald redirecting another magical beam. “See, look at that! Instead of making a deflective barrier to redirect the beam in a more efficient manner she just crudely grabs hold of the beam directly. It's the same story for what she does when she attacks, too. She just sends out a wave of raw magic to send Trixie flying. Normally this is what I'd call amateur hour in the schoolyard, but... she doesn't even look the slightest bit drained! She is wasting enough magic to exhaust most masters by now and she looks almost bored! The amount of magic she must have is just... unthinkably huge.”

'Is this what I do now?' Emerald thought scornfully as she backhanded a beam into the sky. 'Get upset about something that is my fault and find someone to take it out on? What next, huh? Come home drunk and angry and smack around Twilight?'

“Stay still!” Trixie shouted angrily as she sent another beam and Emerald simply leaned out of the way. “Trixie shall be avenged this day! Nopony will ever laugh at me again!”

“Look... I think we've all made some bad mistakes here,” Emerald said with a sigh and a held up hand. “Just... stop, okay? We don't have to fight anymore. I take responsibility for what happened since I kind of just got violent right away. How about it, huh? We just stop fighting, I get you a large bag of bits to compensate you for lost time and reputation, then we go our separate ways without ever having to deal with each other ever again. So what do you say? Truce?”

For a long moment, Trixie simply stared as Emerald held out a hand with a small, almost hopeful smile. She honestly found the offer extremely appealing; just take a ton of money, turn her back on Sparkle and the homeless, shapeshifting unicorn with the freakishly powerful magic, start somewhere new and never think about this again. But before she could seriously consider accepting the offer, a sudden surge of dark and hateful thoughts overwhelmed her. Suddenly she was insulted that anyone could ever think she'd be so petty as to abandon her righteous revenge just for some spare change.

“You DARE mock Trixie!” the unicorn snarled, her eyes, horn and amulet blazing a blinding crimson as Emerald sighed and retracted her held out hand. “Trixie's revenge will not be denied! SUFFER!”

With a roar, Trixie let loose a beam of magic that was far more powerful than before. The beam was a full meter in circumference and the crowd gasped and shouted in shock as it screamed towards Emerald who simply stood in place. The beam then impacted the virus and suddenly a horrible grinding sound filled the air. Suddenly, the beam began to rapidly lose its mass as Trixie started to finally run out of steam and everyone could see that rather than hitting Emerald, the beam was grinding against the virus' held out hand where a blinding light was held.

After a moment more of pouring everything she had into the spell, Trixie released a gasp and collapsed onto the ground, much the same way Twilight had just minutes before. After a moment spent panting on the ground in exhaustion before opening her eyes to look at Emerald, Trixie widened her eyes when, instead of properly punished as she should have been, Emerald was simply standing in the same spot with a disappointed expression; in her left hand was a crimson ball of magic.

“I thought I told you to stop speaking in third person...” Emerald said softly before motioning to the ball of magic in her hands. “This... this power is enough give one of the princesses a decent fight. Therefore it can't be yours.”

With that, Emerald crushed the ball of magic within her fist and a sharp, deafening crack echoed throughout the air as she walked toward Trixie. The unicorn just continued to lie down on the ground, staring up at Emerald in total shock at the fact all of her power was nothing to her. Emerald came to a stop before the prone unicorn and reached down with both hands to grasp at the amulet. With a sharp tug, Emerald forcefully took the amulet off the unresisting unicorn's neck. She turned about and walked back towards Twilight whilst staring down at the amulet.

'Hmph. Great, another thing to study and research,' Emerald thought before pocketing the amulet. 'I'll put it in some vault for later. I've got more important things to do...'

“Could someone take care of her for a bit?” Emerald asked aloud, looking back over her shoulder at Trixie who was still frozen in shock. “I meant what I said earlier and want to ask her again when she has calmed down a bit.”

“...Sure,” Bon Bon said after a quiet moment of no one saying anything and walked towards Trixie.

The former infiltrator stopped beside a still blankly staring Trixie and tilted her head as she studied the unicorn, likely using her natural abilities to discern her emotional state. She then reached out and gently laid her hoof on Trixie's shoulder.

“Hey,” Bon Bon said softly which got Trixie to turn her head towards the changeling before Bon Bon gently pulled her into a tight hug. Trixie seemed to be shocked by this, but after a moment started to cry softly into Bon Bon's shoulder, eventually turning into a full out bawl after a few moments. Bon Bon simply patted the unicorn's back and held her close.

“Came to Ponyville to find love, but she always did have plenty of it to give out to anypony who needed it,” Lyra said with a small smile before turning towards Emerald with a frown. “I'm still mad at you for what you did to Bon Bon, you know. No pony with a heart as big as hers deserved that.”

“I'm sorry...” Emerald said softly, averting her eyes away from Lyra.

“...” Lyra tilted her head as Emerald looked oddly fragile at the moment, plus the way she was acting near the end of the duel seemed rather strange for someone as unrepentantly protective of loved ones as her. “I'm not the one you should be saying sorry to, Emerald. Anyway, I better get back home and prepare some space at our house. Don't be a stranger, Emerald.”

The virus flashed a strained smile after the green unicorn before turning back to where Twilight and the others were standing, looking rather awkward as Trixie's crying filled the air.

“Twilight?” Emerald said quietly as she stepped close to the unicorn. “We need to talk.”

“Is this about the duel, Emerald?” Twilight asked. “I know I didn't win, but this wasn’t exactly an actual fight so-”

“No, it's not about that. It's just... you were right,” Emerald said with a sigh and got a confused look from Twilight. “You... you were right about me.”

“Emerald, what?” Twilight said with a confused frown. “I don't know what you mean.”

“You said I needed help. Said I wasn't well...” Emerald explained. “And that I needed professional help. I realized you... yes. I-I-I did... I did... you said you wanted to help me and... I know I'm better than I was. I have to be, but I... it's too slow I'm just... not getting better anymore or just not fast enough. I just... I don't know what to do...”

“Emerald, come here,” Twilight said soothingly and Emerald did, shifting back into her pony form smoothly and was pulled into a hug. “You did the most important part already... you admitted you had a problem.”

The virus had to give a snort at that.

“Hey now, I know it's cliche but that doesn't make it any less true,” Twilight said in mock irritation. “You just leave the rest to me, okay? I've got everything handled and planned out from here.”

“Okay...”

EPSILON

“THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!” a great bellow echoed.

Currently, one of the lesser Griffin Princes was meeting with his family's small council. The room they were meeting in had a large crescent shaped table with a large, finely carved elevated stone throne at the head. The table seated eight griffins, but one of them was currently standing before the table for a more central position to vent their opinion. The room was made of oak and one wall opened up to the outdoors, allowing a gorgeous view of a pine forest filled mountain valley and the snow capped mountains themselves looming overhead.

“THIS IS A CLEAR AND PURPOSEFUL SPITTING ON THE HONOR OF THE GRIFFINS!” a large brown feathered and furred griffin wearing a simple jerkin roared, practically splintering the wooden floor from the claws of his hind legs. “SHE WAS TRUSTED TO REPRESENT ALL OF US AND SHE-”

“Calm yourself, cousina” an elderly griffin wearing dark gray robes said with a raised, placating talon. “We all share your fury on this indignity, but what is done is done. Now we must think with a cleared head and decide how to proceed.”

“There is not much that can be done in any case,” a wild looking griffin in battered but polished iron armor muttered. “The Grand Prince hasn't reprimanded Lady Vilja for her behavior and unwarranted demand for harsher reparations. This missive bears the seal of the Grand Prince's court and clearly states his own opinions on the matter.”

Said missive was currently in the talons of the prince who sat in his throne overlooking the small council. The prince wasn't happy, but one wouldn't have been able to tell due to his stony expression. The contents of the missive detailed the reparations that the Enclave would be paying the Principalities and further detailed just how much metal tonnage each house was due. The rest of the missive described how one was to send the Enclave the details of what kind of metals the house wanted and arrangements for shipping.

The prince, after reading the missive over for the tenth time, raised a talon and silenced the room.

“As much as I wish to simply have the whole of our house turn our beaks up at this-” The Prince paused a moment to hold the missive at arm's length. “-blatant and inexplicable schoolyard bullying, we do actually need the metals.”

The burly griffin standing in the center looked ridiculous for a moment as all his feathers became ruffled and his fur stood on end. But after a moment, he calmed down and looked distinctly troubled. It was the same expression the rest of the small council mirrored. The lands and central hold of House Gravor was only a fraction as rich and influential as the middling houses themselves, let alone the Great Princes who ruled from the Great Holds atop the mountains. The place their own hold was situated atop was less a mountain and more a hill top, the grand majority of their traded goods consisted of lumber, furniture and various carved trinkets. A further sign of their near irrelevancy was what the House's Knights were armed and armored with. Most wealthy houses could afford the finest of steel armor and weapons for their knights. The even greater houses went an extra step to show their prosperity in plating their steel armor with beautifully embossed brass. Lesser houses like Gravor could only afford to give their knights iron arms and armor. Honestly, the prince could have easily saved up and tooled up his knights with steel gear, but a prince's duty was to the people he ruled and most of his funds went back into developing his demesne further, rather than upgrading his knights' gear. With metals they could get from the Enclave, they could not only afford to retool the knights, but the common folk themselves.

“I do not intend to just quietly accept what is little more than a demand of tribute, however,” the prince stated firmly, silencing several protests before they could be voiced. “We shall get into contact with the Enclave and ask what they wish of us in return for their goods.”

“Would that not go against the spirit of the reparations?” one council member asked. “Surely the Grand Prince would protest us turning it into a simple trade deal.”

“The Grand Prince has made his thoughts clear by his silence regarding Lady Vilja's actions,” the elderly robed griffin said lowly. “Such skulduggery is unworthy of a Grand Prince. If he is going to behave as such, so should we follow our Grace's example.”

“Hear, hear!” the council said together, raising mugs in agreement.

“Very well,” the prince nodded in decision. “Call the scribes. We shall begin penning the letter immediately.”

ZETA

Emerald was leaning back against a tree.

The virus was currently in her pony form and trying to relax at a local park. It had been a day since the whole incident with Trixie. Said unicorn was still locked away in Lyra and Bon Bon's house and Emerald wasn't sure what to feel. Twilight had spent all the previous day sending messages back and forth between her and the princesses back in Canterlot. Emerald wasn't exactly sure who she’d set her up with to talk to, since almost all of the things she'd talk about would be too intense for a pony.

'Just don't think about it...' Emerald thought with a sigh. 'Just... try to feel something other than numbness.'

That was the emotion Emerald found herself feeling after she somehow managed to confuse herself trying to convey what she meant to Twilight. Just numbness, both within and without. But it wasn't the horrible sort. Not the kind you feel after doing something terrible and before coming to terms with what you just did... it was a good numbing. Like the end of a long and hard workout, the dull pangs of an ache on the edges of the senses but an overall numbing and underlying feeling of having done something good for yourself. Frankly, this feeling was making the virus rather confused about the whole thing and right now she was simply just sitting and waiting for something to knock her out of her current status so she could go about her business.

“Hey there, sugarcube,” said a voice that had actually managed to surprise Emerald, though her response left much to be desired as she currently felt so numb her only response was to blink.

Emerald looked back to see Applejack leaning against the tree with a thoughtful look on her face.

“You're looking more lost then a goose among ducks,” the cowpony commented. “Something bothering you?”

“Uh... I...” Emerald legitimately struggled for several moments, not at all expecting to be having a conversation like this with Applejack ever again. Eventually though, the virus simply sighed and shrugged her shoulders.

“Cat got your tongue, huh?” Applejack commented with a crooked smile. “That's okay. Don't need no fancy words to tell you ain't happy.”

“Oh?” Emerald looked up at the earth pony with a raised eyebrow.

“Even with family, Big Mac ain't much for talkin’,” Applejack answered simply.

“Oh,” Emerald said and looked back out towards the park. The following silence was actually rather comfortable and the two spent a solid ten minutes quietly taking in the sounds of nature, along with the far off noise of ponies going about their business in town.

“View here ain't bad at all, but I know a better spot,” Applejack said and pushed off the tree to stand just in front of Emerald. “How about you let me show you?”

“...Sure,” Emerald answered and got off the ground to follow the cowpony who led the way.

The two traveled through town and soon enough Emerald found herself being lead into the hills covered in apple trees just outside Sweet Apple Acres. Eventually the two came to a stop overlooking the Apple family's property. Applejack motioned for Emerald to take a seat, the virus did and Applejack sat down beside her.

“You know...” the cowpony began, staring over her home. “My family was always full of honest, hard working ponies. Never was an Apple who wasn't proud and happy to be working the fields and making a good, honest living. Matter of fact... I do believe you are the only one who can ever be called a black sheep among Apples.”

“What?” Emerald said with wide eyes. “You mean even after everything you know, you still...”

“Darn tootin!” Applejack said with a toothy smile. “I said it before, I'll say it again. You are an honorary Apple in my books and an Apple never gives up on family. Just took me a while to come to terms with all of everything is all. To be completely honest with you, wasn't completely sure if I still actually wanted you to still be family... but the most important part of family is helping each other when we're down. Ain't no one more down then you, sugarcube, no matter how much you try to hide it.”

“...” Emerald stared for a moment before her eyes started watering and she choked up a little before quickly pulling Applejack into a tight hug.

“Woah!” Applejack said in surprise, somewhat awkwardly wrapping her forelegs around Emerald to return the hug. “Didn't see that coming... you okay there, sugarcube?”

“Yeah... just give me a minute...” Emerald muttered into Applejack's shoulder.

“Sure thing,” Applejack said and waited a few moments, beginning to hum a little to pass the time.

“Okay, okay. You don't need to go that far,” Emerald said with a small laugh and let go of the cowpony while wiping her eyes clean. “I guess this means I can come around the place again and visit?”

“Course you can!” Applejack said with a smile. “Sweetie’s been missing you visiting their little club house over there. Sure she’ll be glad to see you come around again, sugarcube.”

“I definitely will,” Emerald said before looking over Sweet Apple Acres again with a smile, Applejack at her side and enjoying the view and the peace and quiet with her.

ETA

Within the cavern of the mirror pool, things remained the same. The pool continued to perfectly reflect all that could be seen on its surface, its magical power continuing to glow and fill the cave with its soft light and all remained still and silent within the cavern.

Quite suddenly, there was a ripple in the pond. Then a wave of sparks washed over its surface. More ripples appeared and its calm surface soon disappeared as ripples turned into small waves that sent water flying. The glow of the pool rapidly changed from blindingly bright to almost non-existent. Bolts of lightning of every color leapt from the pool, striking the walls and ground of the cavern. After a few moments of chaotic energies filling the air and water going everywhere, the pool suddenly went still and the glow lessened until barely anything could be seen in the cavern.

There was a sound of something moving in the water before a serpentine shape crawled out of the pool and into the darkness of the cavern. There was the sound of exhausted panting as the shape laid on the ground for several minutes. Eventually, the shape rose up onto a pair of hind legs and unfurled a single wing. There were two soft glowing spots on the shape, one on its back and where one of its eyes might be. The shape seemed to study its surroundings for a long moment before gasping and recoiling as it stared northward. After a few moments of silence, a barely there whisper filled the cavern as the being seemed to speak to itself and calm down. After a moment more, it simply disappeared into nothingness.

The cavern of the mirror pool lied dark and silent in the passing of the being who emerged from the pool. The pool itself laid still and ever so faintly glowing, its surface now bearing an oily like sheen. Apart from that, all remained the same with no one the wiser...

-TBC-

Chapter 5: Your Worst Enemy...

View Online

“So do we have a deal?” a bast diplomat asked while grooming the back of his paw.

“You drive a hard bargain,” Emerald replied smoothly, with a somewhat put upon sigh. “But yes, we have a deal.”

“Excellent,” the ocelot sized cat purred.

Emerald was currently back in the Heron Republic but not visiting the Channelers. No, she was purely here for business. She had been made aware of a large get together of sorts being held by the Republic with a great many League members invited. It was mostly a fancy networking party and Emerald was using the opportunity to flex her political skills.

“I'll have your varieties of fish flavored fruit ready by the time your trading ships arrive in port,” Emerald stated. “Be sure to get in contact with Princess Celestia later. We have a deal with Equestria so they handle most of the shipping and cargo loading.”

“Mmm, I look forward to the day they arrive,” the representative said with a lick of his lips before flouncing off, his many jewels and golden adornments glinting in the light of the room.

Emerald chuckled inwardly. A lot of people tended to get insulted by the bast due to their behavior. But they were cats, no matter how much smarter they were than the normal earth type. Cats did as they wished and desired to be pampered and tended to. It also made them exceedingly easy to manipulate when you made them feel superior.

'Well that's all my gold and brass reparations paid for,' Emerald thought before turning about and going on her way. That's what Emerald had been negotiating for; brass, gold and a few other precious metals. The bast weren't particularly great miners or builders, but they had a fine eye for jewels and various gold trinkets, which was good because their lands typically had quite a few large veins of gold and silver. Enough that some buildings were literally coated in the stuff at any case.

'Now... let's see who else I can con into paying for stuff?' Emerald thought as she took in the crowds around her, subconsciously casting aside herbivore reps from consideration. 'Ah, you will do.'

“Fair greetings,” said a large jackal like being who, along with his fellow jackals, gave a respectful bow at Emerald's approach. “And hopefully, fair dealings.”

“I'm certain our dealings will be generous on all accounts,” Emerald stated with a smile. It was rather true. If it wasn't for the League, she'd be charging much more for the fruit. “Any news from your neighbor, if I may ask?”

“Naught but grim tidings,” the gnoll like being said lowly with a wary glance towards the zebra Secretary General. “For what else can be the sight of refugees being caught and dragged back in bindings?”

“Zebrica is trying to keep people from leaving?” Emerald asked curiously.

“We can not say in certainty, only widen our gaze,” the gnoll said a little sadly. “And pray to the old bones that we may spy past their haze.”

“Hmm... let's move on to a more lighthearted topic, shall we?” Emerald asked, getting toothy smiles in agreement. “Tell me, what do your people mine in great quantities?”

Turns out the jackals preferred using a form of shamanism and makings gear and various weapons out of bones, using said shamanism to harden them far beyond the norm. However, the jackals did do some mining to trade the raw ores for what they needed.

'Alright, a bit of the copper, zinc and iron demands have been paid a bit more,' Emerald thought as she walked away from the jackals. 'I wonder if I can manage to get all my reparations paid for by other people from here?'

“Why hello!” the virus heard from behind her. Turning around, she saw several herbivore representative standing there. “Emerald Gleaner, newest member of this august body that is the League. We've been hoping to talk to you all afternoon!”

“Of course I'd be glad to speak with all of you.” Emerald smiled smoothly, inwardly sighing a bit.

“Well I was speaking with my compatriots about getting a newcomer’s perspective on the League,” the pony in the group stated, motioning to the varied other herbivores.

“Some of us have also been wondering if the Enclave has anything to offer the rest of the League?” said a llama. “Or if it's purely meat you have to offer on the table.”

“Well suffice to say, meat is going to be our biggest if not our only export,” Emerald answered.

“Of course, see?” A reindeer chortled to the others. “The Enclave only has meat and weapons. One we have no need of and other I'd doubt they'd part with due to their savage land.”

“Well-” Emerald began.

“Weapons!” the Saddle Arabian representative said in cheerful disbelief. “What a thing to base world trade on. Surely the only ones that would wish to buy such things in profitable quantities would be simple minded thugs.”

“Now that seems a bit-” Emerald started with a tone of disbelief.

“Oh hoh hoh hoh! It makes one wonder if the Enclave has anything to offer the herbivores of the world,” added another representative. “It seems like they as a nation are doomed to simply be the grocery store for the carnivores of the world.”

“The REAL question you should be asking is if any of you have anything the Enclave could ever want,” Emerald stated flatly with a stare. “Frankly, I could simply ignore that any of you exist and neither I or my people would suffer a loss.”

“How rude!”

“No arguments here,” Emerald replied before turning on her heel and striding away.

'And now I remember why I was so hesitant about getting involved in politics,' Emerald thought with a scowl as she stomped out onto a balcony, the aura of her anger and frustration causing all others on the balcony to quickly vacate. 'I just don't have the patience for all this. At least before, back in New York, I'd just be playing a part and not really have to pay any mind to it. I was there to sabotage, kill and then get out. Don't really have that choice here now, do I? I have to stand there and take their rhetoric and don't get to assassinate them afterwards. I mean I could do that, but... well it would be going against what I'm trying to stop doing...'

“Are you feeling well, my student?” Emerald heard come from behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Luna standing there in royal adornments. “You seemed to have lost your equilibrium rather quickly.”

“...” Emerald sighed and looked out over the scenic view of a heron city, the light of the moon glinting off the curving roofs. “I guess I'm taking a lot of emotional blows in the past while. Not as clear headed as I used to be.”

“Even so, I've bared witness to your political skill before, my young student,” Luna stated as she walked forward to stand beside Emerald. “You should have known to hold a frayed temper in check, to excuse yourself to refresh and prepare for another barrage of political challenges.”

“Yeah...” Emerald said with a shrug. “But I don't really see a point in playing nice with the herbivore nations, especially if they going to speak to me with the pure intention of insulting me and my nation. Plus it's not like they were ever going to buy anything from me. Any herbivore nation that also has a decently large minority population of carnivores would be going out of their way to butter me up.”

“Maybe so, but it's typically considered bad form to lose your unflappable stature,” Luna said. “However, I do concede your point on this matter. I shall simply advise you to... wait a time longer before you start being flippant with political adversaries. Wait until your already unassailable position becomes stronger still.”

“Ha, sure thing,” Emerald said with a small laugh, now feeling much better.

“Now on to an entirely different subject,” Luna continued. “You are my student, a student of the Night and yet you know not how to walk in dreams. I wish to tend to this.”

“Really?” Emerald asked with a raised brow. “That's actually a very interesting thing to learn. I'm going to be looking forward to the next time I come in to Canterlot for my lessons.”

“Good! I look forward to it as well.” Luna smiled. “Now, shall we return to the festivities?”

“If we must,” Emerald said with an exaggerated sigh and followed Luna back into the room.

ALPHA

Discord hummed absently as he carried a few handmade sandwiches from his kitchen to a basket in the living room. Being as skilled at magic as he was, Discord could have easily conjured the sandwiches into existence along with everything else he needed, but doing this way oddly felt more fulfilling.

The Spirit of Chaos' home was in a personally made dimension, a place of swirling energies, floating islands that seemed to individually obey their own rules and occupied by creatures of mismatched limbs and proportions. Discord’s own home, seemingly a modest cottage, also reflected the chaotic and mismatched nature of the realm it inhabited, having walls of different colors and materials along with randomly placed doorways and staircases.

'Now where are the crumpets?' Discord frowned thoughtfully as he returned to his kitchen. 'Did I remember to make the crumpets? Yes, here they are.'

Quickly wrapping up the plate of little treats, Discord brought them over to the living room where a picnic basket was and placed them in it. He was looking forward to the picnic with his friend, that much was obvious. Discord sometimes found himself a little bemused at the current state of events. Before, he simply lived for the chaos he caused among the peoples of the world and cared not for what they thought of him in turn. But now he did find himself caring for what one person thought of him. His one and only friend, Fluttershy, who he considered rather dear to him now. But he also was quick to shake off such musings. The current situation was enjoyable and he was happy with it.

'Hmm, should I pack some other- huh?' Discord thought before standing up straight. The Spirit of Chaos sensed another presence enter his realm. Normally this wouldn't be much of a cause for concern, as there were some entries others could use to enter this place. But this was different. Something had simply created an entrance themselves into this place.

'Who could it possibly be?' Discord thought as he focused his senses on the closing in presence. 'Could it be one of the Primals? No, it couldn't possibly be... what? That makes no sense... I can feel... myself?'

Suddenly the presence was at the door and there was a sharp knock. Discord found himself simply staring at the front door, his mind completely empty of all thought, no idea of what to do. This carried on for a long moment until the knock came again, this time more urgent or perhaps more annoyed sounding.

“I'm coming!” Discord called out and walked towards the door. His paw clutched the handle for a moment and he took a breath before throwing open the door. The Spirit of Chaos gasped in shock at the sight that met him as a blue glow shined over his features.

BETA

“Alright, and last one...” Emerald said as she clutched needle that was slowly being filled with blood. “There! That wasn't so bad, was it?”

“Can I have a sucker?” Diane asked as she rubbed the spot the needle had been.

“Sure!” Emerald said with a smile and quickly conjured a large strawberry sucker. “Here you are. Enjoy!”

“Thank you, Emmy.” Diane smiled as the virus healed up the puncture she made before getting off the couch she had been lying on. “I'm going to go finish setting up my house now with Flan, Whisper and Bluno.”

“Sounds like fun,” Emerald commented. “Don't let me keep you.”

“See you!” Diane called out as she left the room.

Once the clone had left, Emerald held up the needle full of blood to her eyes for a moment. She then got up off her own chair and walked over to a counter over by the side of the room covered with lab equipment. A refrigerated container held several other samples of Diane's blood which Emerald had collected in the past.

'Let's see if there are any changes,' Emerald thought as she placed the fresh blood into a vial and extended a small tendril into it. 'Hmm... Nope, no changes. I was rather worried that Diane would have some terrible side effects from being a clone, but I haven't seen anything so far. She appears to be as energetic as earth ponies are supposed to be, she doesn't seem to be any more fragile than anyone else and her aging seems to be no slower or faster than anyone else. Other than the fact she is supposed to be able to be “dispelled” with a single spell to be sent back to the mirror pool, she is no different from anyone else. Best to keep up some exams though, just in case there are actually some long term effects.'

Stoppering the vial, Emerald opened the small refrigerator and placed it in when the door to the room opened. Looking over her shoulder, she spotted Belvedere in his long coat entering the room.

“Hello Belvedere,” Emerald greeted. “What do you have for me?”

“Just some reports,” Belvedere replied as he took a seat on the couch. “The training for the specific dogs you requested is going well. Things were a bit rough at first, but they are taking well to their mounts after some time getting used to them.”

“Fantastic. I'm glad to hear that,” Emerald said with a smile as she took a seat as well. “This project has been two years in the making now. I'm glad the final stretch is going so smoothly.”

“I'm rather confused about why you only requested three instead of four, however,” Belvedere stated in curiosity.

“I'll show you the reason why when I get the new war room up and running in a day or two,” Emerald smiled slyly. “You'll understand then.”

“Hmm… very well. I shall be waiting, then.” Belvedere nodded and stood back, and moved to leave the room but stopped before the door. “Be sure to remember you have an important appointment today, Emerald.”

“I remember, but thanks for the reminder,” Emerald waved off and the Alpha nodded and left the room.

Emerald snapped her fingers and a book appeared overhead before landing on her lap. It was a thick book covered in a dark green velvet coat and stamped with a silver plate that had the title engraved on it. The title read Obscure Science and under that were the words Volume II.

'Twilight hasn't even finished the first book,' Emerald thought with a small smile. 'She'll definitely be overjoyed to have the second volume to look forward to.'

With that, Emerald teleported the book away and shifted into her pony form before teleporting back home to the library.

“Twilight!” Emerald called out from the main hall of their home.

“Emerald!” came the reply and Twilight quickly appeared out of the library. “Welcome home!”

“Happy anniversary, Twilight,” Emerald said and stepped in close to nuzzle the other unicorn.

“Happy anniversary, Emerald,” Twilight replied, embracing the virus. “So, any special plans for the two of us?”

“I was initially planning out a nice evening out at a classy restaurant,” Emerald began. “But while that sounds nice, it's not too terribly fun. Soooo... I figured I'd help you out with that project of yours in the basement, and we'd make a day out of that.”

“Really?!” Twilight gasped in delight. “Just the two of us putting our heads together and creating marvels of science? Oh this is going to be sooo much fun! Quick! To the basement!”

Emerald laughed in turn and quickly took after Twilight who had galloped to the basement door. Soon the virus was descending the stairs into the basement herself. In many ways, Twilight's basement was the same as the one in the old house. For instance, it was one large room and contained a vast amount of magical and scientific equipment, however unlike the old basement this one had walls of bricks and a concrete floor and the magical equipment was a bit more up to date and advanced.

'In hindsight, it was rather dangerous to have the room that would have potentially dangerous magical experiments be made of wood.' Emerald thought as she reached the end of the staircase. Currently, Twilight was busy gathering notes and darting this way and that, preparing the area for who knows how many hours of intense scientific work.

“So I know you are trying to make something based on the book I gave you,” Emerald said. “And that you are having a lot of trouble making a working prototype, but not exactly what you are trying to make.”

“Oh, well...” Twilight began as she quickly got some papers covered in diagrams together and started prepping the tops of various work tables. “I've been doing a lot of studying of the nanobot section of the book you gave me. I found the subject so very fascinating and started looking through some books on the subject of runes and magical circuitry in general. So basically I've been trying to build myself a working prototype of some nanobots.”

“What have you managed to make so far?” Emerald asked.

“Just these,” Twilight replied as she took several examples of past attempts out of cupboards.

Emerald walked over to the counter top. The first one was a series of several little balls with some penciled in drawing of what was going to be runic circuits on them. The next set were a bunch of two inch cubes covered in burns and scores, likely from failed circuits trying to fire. The next set were larger cubes that seemed to have had working circuitry, but glowed very weakly.

“So explain to me your thinking,” Emerald said, looking back at Twilight. “Why did each of these fail?”

“Well for starters,” Twilight began as she walked beside the balls. “These balls were too small and I couldn't figure out how to make the runes small enough to put on them, plus I realized having them round was making working with them a bit of a pain to work with so I moved to a cubic shape. The cubes went rather well, stayed where they were and were easier to draw rune plans on them. But it turns out they were still too small and I'm too new at rune drawing to make them properly at that size, so they fizzled and sometimes exploded. This last batch worked the best. The cubes were big enough for me to start making the proper circuits, so I just need to refine my circuits a bit to make them work.”

“Hmm...” Emerald hummed in thought as she considered the last and most successful batch of nanobots. “Not too bad. Just need some refinement like you said and then work on a control mechanism.”

“Thank you.” Twilight said as she brought up some building materials. “Now let's get to work!”

The two set to work then, spending many hours trying to get a working prototype of nanobots. Emerald could have set one up really quickly, but she would have used biomass to do so and the whole point of this was helping Twilight to make her project. Plus Emerald did enjoy trying to make something really advanced using only magic and some technical know how instead of “cheating” with biomass, and working with Twilight was always fun and interesting.

At some points Spike and Navi came down to visit them a few times, with Spike bringing down a tray with coffee each time. This did Twilight a lot of good as she stayed up later and later, bags beginning to form and eyes starting to get red, but she was so eager to work on this and get it done that she barely noticed, even without coffee. The hours passed unseen to Twilight and Emerald as they worked on the project. It was hours more before they finally appeared to be finished.

“Oh my gosh, finally!” Twilight sighed and wiped her forehead with her hoof. “That took a long time. I hope it actually works.”

“Well our math seems to add up,” Emerald said as she looked over some notes. “Really, the only thing we can do now is power it and try to get things moving.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded

Before them was a large block of wood completely covered in brightly glowing runes. The block was about the size of a washing machine and had some jury rigged jumper cables. Beside the large block was a pile of stacked up little blocks about two and half cubic inches each. Twilight walked up to the large block and telekinetically lifted the jumper cable and attached it to her horn. Closing her eyes in concentration, Twilight channeled magic into the cable.

The large block began to brightly glow and the smaller blocks started to glow and shakily lift into the air. Twilight's face scrunched up in exertion as she tried to command the blocks via the control block rather than directly. Eventually, the small blocks started to smoothly move through the air and placed themselves together to assume several shapes. A house, a dog, a bird and a cart before they dropped and settled to the ground.

“...” Twilight released a deep sigh before turning to Emerald with a wide smile. “It works! Well, barely, but it works. And it isn't exactly small enough to be called a nanobot, but it's a start. I just need to work on getting them both smaller. Oh my... how late is it now?”

“It would be about... six pm tomorrow,” Emerald answered after a moment.

“Tomorrow?!” Twilight exclaimed and seemed to suddenly realize just how tired she was. “If I go to sleep now, I'll be awake so early tomorrow. How am I going to stay up longer?”

“I think I have an idea of how I can help.” Emerald smiled slyly and teleported in the book. “Here's your anniversary gift, Twilight.”

“Oh my gosh, Emerald...” Twilight gasped as she took her book and gazed at the cover. “This is just... thank you so much!”

The unicorn darted in close and gave Emerald a kiss on the lips for a long moment before pulling away and starting to gush over her new book in earnest.

“Now you just have to worry about staying up too late,” Emerald stated with a smile and got a sheepish grin from Twilight. “Enjoy your book and don't stay up too long.”

“Thank you, Emerald. It was a wonderful anniversary.” Twilight smiled before frowning. “I... didn't get you anything.”

“You spent the day with me,” Emerald replied. “I'm rich and could buy anything. Being with you is all I really need.”

“You... you're really sweet,” Twilight said with a loud yawn. “Ugh, I really should go to bed now. I'm sure you're going off to do your own things again.”

“I am,” Emerald said and called after Twilight as she ascended the stairs. “Have a good day, Twilight!”

“You too!”

Emerald stayed a moment and quickly cleaned up the basement with her magic before shifting back into her human form. Then she teleported with a crimson flash back to the Enclave. The virus reappeared in a room filled with some construction lamps hanging from the ceiling. The room was the new war room she was designing. It had a wall covered in large - currently blank - LED screens, and facing this wall were many rows of computer consoles along with a large table that seemingly had a TV screen for the top.

'Normally I'd rather have my dogs do this,' Emerald thought as she lied down on her back and slid under the table to start tinkering with wires and circuit panels. 'But they are only still getting the basics of computer science and engineering. At least I don't have to do the teaching myself too much now, ever since I've hired some ponies from some start up computer companies. Course the issue with some of the dogs not liking ponies is still here. Don't have as many dogs in computers as I'd like, but at least we're getting a steady trickle of dogs from the independent packs who are willing to learn.'

'I could just make an extremely user friendly computer...' Emerald frowned in thought as she sealed up some panels and got up from under the table. 'But I don't want to do that. I want my dogs to understand how to make computers themselves and how they work. Still going to make them user friendly, just not to the point you'd expect an old person to feel like they were being babied.'

Emerald then reached over and pressed a button on the table and the screen started to flicker before lighting up. Suddenly a hologram leapt up from the tabletop. It was a depiction of the Surface area of the Enclave that included the surrounding ten miles as well as below the surface. The virus smiled for a moment until the hologram started to flicker and turn into static before finally flicking out, the table powering done with a loud, alarming pop.

'Right, let's get to work shall we?' Emerald thought before crawling back down under the table.

GAMMA

Whisper Wind pretended to take another picture with her camera as she scoped out an estate for a noble.

What the pegasus was up to was a “live fire” training operation. Emerald had given Whisper a high stakes training mission to help keep her skills sharp. She was currently in Canterlot early in the morning and disguised as a classy photographer, her coat and main dyed white and yellow respectively, with her cutie mark painted to look like an art palette.

'Let's see... got a lot of windows everywhere,' Whisper thought as she zoomed in with the special camera Emerald gave her. 'Looks like some basic locks... I hate picking locks. I'm probably going to have to pop them... huh? What's this?'

Looking a bit over, Whisper spotted a pony right under one of the ground windows. Said pony was an earth pony mare with a yellow coat and white mane. She was also wearing a black toque with a large, dark grey hoodie that covered her cutie mark, though it didn't matter to Whisper because she had a very strong feeling that said cutie mark was a dotted outline of a money bag with an exclamation mark within.

'Is that Clean Sweeps?' Whisper thought as she watched the mare begin to rapidly pick the lock on the window, opening it within mere moments. 'Yeah, that's gotta be Sweeps. She was awesome with all kinds of locks and could get into anything, but she was never that great at being stealthy.'

Whisper watched as Sweeps quickly slid into the now open window and considered what she should do. Sweeps had been her partner in crime before they got caught and had even got sent to the same prison, though they didn't end up being cellmates like they had hoped. But as happy as she was to see her old “business” buddy again, she was supposed to be doing something right now.

'Hmm... adapt to the situation, use new advantages as they appear and don't waste time mourning lost ones,' Whisper recited to herself. 'Aside for an awesome eye for expensive loot, Sweeps is a great lock pick. I just need to watch her and make sure she doesn't slip up and alert the inhabitants of the estate. Course the main issue is whether or not she'd want to work with me. If she doesn't want to work with me, wellI can't risk her alerting the inhabitants by accident or otherwise. I can work with pretending to be someone who saw a burglar and charged in to apprehend them. I don't like it and would be a bit tricky, but I can see how this would work.'

With that, Whisper flared her wings and quickly and quietly swooped into the air before darting through the still open window. She quietly alighted upon a lushly carpeted hallway floor. The walls were lined with expensive looking pictures and had equally expensive looking vases upon marble pedestals. Clean Sweeps was still visible and was only just down the hall, staring contemplatively at the vases before shaking her head and moving on, likely deciding to go after loot she wouldn't have to worry too much about breaking.

Whisper lifted off silently into the air again and flew towards Sweeps who was hefting her still empty loot bag. The Pony Warhound glided in silence until she was just over Sweeps, then let the air spill from under her wings and dived down. She fell atop Sweeps with a soft thump and quickly wrapped her up with her own limbs and muffled her mouth before she could release a shout.

“Shhh, shhh,” Whisper said into Sweep's ear quietly. “Clean Sweeps, it's me, Whisper Wind.”

“Whisper?!” Sweeps gasped as loud as she dared after Whisper took her hoof off her mouth. “Dear Celestia, girl, you almost gave me a heart attack!”

“I had to muffle you,” Whisper retorted with a knowing look. “You were always such a screamer, Sweeps.”

“Well darn girl, you don't have to be so rough,” Sweeps said with a laugh and got up after Whisper unwrapped her legs from her. “What are you doing here?”

“I was scoping the place out,” Whisper answered simply. “And to my surprise, saw my old partner breaking into this place without looking to see if there was anypony around to see her.”

“Well gee, Whisper, you were always a better look out than me,” Sweeps said sheepishly. “So whatcha come here to nab, huh?”

“I've come to get a book,” Whisper stated. “My boss wants it.”

“Boss?” Sweeps said in confusion before bouncing a little in place in some excitement. “That mean ya working for the Mafia, girl? Moving up in the world, fencing for the big bits! Gonna be a Made Mare, soon? I didn't even know they were going to set back up again so soon after the breakout.”

“Something like that.” Whisper smiled. “I know it ain't something glittery and glamorous, but you up with helping me with a heist?”

“Well sure thing!” Sweeps said, tucking away her loot back. “I already fenced enough loot for a week of groceries and some other essentials already, anyway. Come on, girl. Let's go nab us a book!”

Then the two were off. Since this was the inside of someone's home, all the interior doors were unlocked and therefore made Sweep's potential contribution a bit questionable, but it was best to place some controls on an unknown encountered during mission operations. Plus Whisper felt nice to be working with someone else again.

'I kind of wish I was included along with everyone else when the Invasion in Canterlot happened.' Whisper frowned in thought as Sweeps grumbled softly at encountering yet another unlocked door. 'I mean I understand the reasons I guess... don't have the scouts engage in heavy urban conflict. No time for light infantry to move ahead and recon the situation. But I feel like I just got to enjoy a vacation while everyone who might have needed me did the hard work. Bluno wasn't normal for weeks after...'

“So uhh...” Sweeps began quietly as she and Whisper crept down a hall. “Do you actually know where the book is or what?”

“It's somewhere in the center of the estate,” Whisper answered. “That's about as exact as it gets.”

“Eh, we did great on wor-”

“Shh,” Whisper said as she suddenly leapt onto Sweeps' back, wrapped her legs around her and covered her mouth. She then started to pump her wings and brought the two of them into the air towards the ceiling. A few moments, later two maids appeared around the corner looking half asleep but turning down the hall they had been walking up.

'People tend to not look up without a reason,' Whisper recited to herself as she watched the two maids walk past. Once the two had disappeared around a corner, Whisper set herself and Sweeps down.

“Don't know how I ever got by without ya, Whisper,” Sweeps said with an exhale. “Was always so super sneaky. I'm like an angry bull in a fine china shop.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn't really help when I end up making a racket popping locks,” Whisper replied as the two of them continued on their way.

“There is a fine art to lock picking girl,” Sweeps said as she scowled at yet another unlocked door. “Ya can't just stick a pick in there and start waggling it around, hoping it'll open out of pity. Not saying I'm gonna try and teach you again. Ya a lost cause, girl.”

“No complaints here. Now let's go a little faster,” Whisper said quietly. “We've got servants waking up and working. Got to get what we've come for and get going.”

“No probs.” Sweeps grinned back at her old partner.

The two continued on, Whisper having to occasionally pull Sweeps out of sight or keep her from making noise. Having worked with her before, she was used to it already and did it out of almost well practiced habit. Eventually, after several close calls with servants, they arrived in a large study filled with antique books with expensive looking covers. In the center of the room was a desk covered in scattered papers along with several books; some open, some not. Placed against a wall was a wooden case with a glass cover holding a highly stylized and thick book. Whisper closed the door behind them, locking the door while Clean Sweeps let out a gasp and darted forward.

“Oh, oh, oh!” Sweeps said as she hopped in a Pinkie-esque manner towards the case. “Please tell me this is the book! Look at that lock!”

“No, it isn't,” Whisper said as she moved papers around on the desk before picking up an open book filled with numbers and references. “This business ledger here is the target.”

“Awwwwwwwwwwww...” Sweeps groaned mournfully, now leaning against the case and giving it puppy dog eyes and a trembling pout.

Whisper shook her head in amusement and was about to tuck the book away and tell Sweeps to get ready to move when her eyes narrowed. She quickly turned in place and glared at the door just as the handle began to jiggle. As a confused muttering drifted past the door, Whisper's head snapped around to look at Sweeps who was looking around with wide eyes.

“Behind the desk!” Whisper hissed and quickly flew up to the ceiling as Sweeps darted for the desk and ducked down behind it just as the sound of a key being inserted into a lock filled the room.

“Hmm, odd,” stated a unicorn as he entered the study. “I am fairly certain I did not lock this room.”

The unicorn appeared to be the lord of the estate from the expensiveness of his articles of clothing and his own stature. He was a white coated unicorn with a well maintained blonde mane along with blue eyes. Said unicorn was now approaching the desk to take a seat.

“Ah, such a mess,” the unicorn tutted and shuffled his papers around a bit but did not put too much effort into organizing his work area. As he looked through several pages, Whisper, hovering silently above, could see Sweeps mere feet away from him, the edge of the desk being all that stood between her and discovery. Said lock picker was not taking the tenseness of the current situation well. She was on her back, forehooves pressed against each other and offering prayers to any and all otherworldly beings that could possibly hear.

This situation continued on for twenty minutes filled with nothing but the sound of a quill scratching against parchment and Sweeps looking completely freaked out from how close she was to being found. Eventually, there was a small knock at the still open doors to the study. Whisper looked over and saw that it was a maid at the door.

“My Lord Blueblood?” the maid said politely.

“Yes my dear?” 'Blueblood' replied while still writing down some notes.

“The CEO from New Paradigm is here,” she said from the doorway. “He is waiting for you in the main lobby, Lord.”

“Ah. Thank you, my dear,” Blueblood said with a smile and simply placed his new notes atop a pile of old ones on his desk.

“I wish you'd put your ledger away, Lord,” the maid said with a tone of concern. “Something so important and vital to your personal businesses and finances should be kept secure or at least out of sight.”

“Oh, it's not that vital,” Blueblood said with an easy going smile. “I have everything I could ever need about my finances and various businesses memorized in my head. The loss of this book would simply mean I'd have to spend the better part of a day creating another one.”

“Even so, Lord. Such a thing should be kept out of sight where only you can look at it,” the maid stated.

“Ah, what could I have ever done to deserve such bothersome servants?” Blueblood said with a false put upon sigh. “Very well. I shall endeavor to lock away this vulnerable tome post haste. Right this moment in fact.”

With that, Blueblood took the book and opened the drawer with the lock on it. Placing the book in the drawer, Blueblood then closed and locked it before raising up from his seat.

“Hmm... does the new owner of New Paradigm happen to be that detestable gold digger?” Blueblood asked with a frown as he approached the door.

“I am afraid so, my Lord,” the maid answered as she stepped aside to let Blueblood pass.

“How truly unpleasant,” Blueblood tutted with a sigh. “Very unpleasant. Ah well, business is business.”

“Of course, my Lord,” the maid said and closed the door behind him.

There was a long moment of Whisper and Sweeps simply remaining in place, listening to distancing hoof steps. Finally, they both relaxed and released sighs, though Sweeps' was more of an explosive exhale while Whisper let the breath out of her nose.

“Hooo... that was too close for comfort,” Sweeps commented before walking over to the front of the desk, Whisper lighting down beside here.

“Let's get the book and get out of here,” Whisper said.

“Aight, give me a second,” Sweeps said as she looked at the lock before pulling her picks out and starting to work. “This little piggy went to the market, this little piggy stayed home and this little piggy went click!”

With a happy little laugh, Sweeps pulled open the drawer and then took the book out before closing it again. Whisper took the book and tucked it away as Sweeps went to work with her picks again and locked the drawer back up.

“Alright, let's go,” Whisper stated. “Hopefully getting out of here will be easier than getting in.”

Whisper went in a direction opposite from the one she came. She probably should have returned in the exact direction she entered, but the whole point of this was to challenge and sharpen her skills. It was also the reason why she decided to break in, in the morning rather than at night. Of course, that brought up the question why Sweeps was there in the morning rather than at night, but the other mare wasn't so great when it came to planning heists.

Despite needing to fly up near the ceiling several times to avoid servants, Whisper Wind and Clean Sweeps managed to reach the outer corridors of the estate. Looking out the window, Whisper looked to see if the streets were too crowded or not. Thankfully it was still early enough that a lot of ponies were still at home or sleeping. Opening the window, Sweeps quickly slipped through the window along with Whisper. Closing the window after them, the two ponies quickly stepped into the street and started walking casually. Only when they were a block away from the estate did they grin at each other at a job done.

“That was sweet, girl!” Sweeps said with a wide, toothy grin and held out a hoof. “Still got the mad skills to pay them bills!”

“And you can still pop locks like no one’s business, Sweeps,” Whisper smiled at her partner. “It was awesome working with you again. We should do it again some time.”

Whisper began to walk away when she heard that nervous shuffling and muttering Sweeps always made when she wanted to say something but was wondering if she shouldn't.

“Something up, Sweeps?” Whisper asked after coming to a stop.

“Ya not going to lead me back to your boss?” Sweeps asked with a frown as she shifted from one hoof to the other. “I kind of thought... you know... we'd get back together again and have fun like we used to...”

“Sweeps... the boss really doesn't like it when strange ponies they don't know get into the headquarters.” Whisper sighed and, after a moment of thinking, added, “Look, because I really do like you, I'll talk to them for you, put in a good word. Hopefully things will go well and you'll get some work with us.”

“Uh, okay. I see how it is,” Sweeps said with a bit of a downtrodden look but was hopeful as well.

“Where are you staying?” Whisper asked. “If the boss wants to see you, I'll come get you.”

“Oh, it's at the same apartment complex downtown,” Sweeps answered, gesturing her head in the direction of her home.

“Seriously?!” Whisper said incredulously. “You're living in the exact same place as before? How in the world have you not been recaptured?”

“Well... it's not on the same floor ya know!” Sweeps flushed in embarrassment.

“How in the world have you managed without me for so long?” Whisper smiled softly at her old partner.

“... Not that well, Whisper,” Sweeps muttered a bit sadly. “I miss my old buddy, ya know?”

“I'll talk to the boss, okay?” Whisper said. “Hopefully I'll be back soon. In any case, I'll stay in touch, alright?”

“See ya soon... hopefully!” Sweeps shouted after Whisper with an eager wave.

“See you, Sweeps!” Whisper shouted back as she made her way back home and also mentally preparing herself to talk Emerald into taking on another criminal.

DELTA

'Please stop blowing out your capacitors,' Emerald mentally asked with a sigh as she took out yet another burned up piece of electronics. 'This should be the final thing to I have to do at least.'

Emerald was still in the new war room, trying to get it working and only now seeming to succeed after spending an entire night working on it. Getting up from under the holo table, hopefully for the last time, Emerald began to fiddle with the controls on the side when the door opened and in walked Belvedere.

“Looking rather high tech,” he commented as he walked over to stand beside Emerald.

“I was expecting you earlier,” Emerald said as she turned on the holo table and it projected a viewing of the Enclave's land.

“I was actually sleeping for once,” Belvedere answered as he took in the room. “Quite irritating, I know. Maybe you can solve that as well.”

“I'll throw it in with the next batch of augments,” Emerald answered. “So you wanted answer for why I needed only three dogs, right? Come over here.”

Emerald and Belvedere moved over to stand just before the currently blank LED screens. Emerald summoned over the remote and turned them on. Briefly, they remained blank despite being on but Emerald pressed another switch and the rooms they displayed lit up. Belvedere raised his brow at the sight of one of the rooms.

“Well now I know why you only needed three instead of four,” Belvedere commented.

Emerald simply smiled slyly.

EPSILON

“Are you ready to begin, my student?” Luna asked as she stared out towards the rapidly dimming horizon.

“I am ready as I'll ever be,” Emerald replied.

The virus was currently back in Canterlot, specifically in Luna's bedroom where her lessons in dream walking would take place. It was currently late in the evening and Celestia was just now lowering the sun to the other side of the world while Luna was bringing up the moon.

“Now that, that is out of the way,” Luna stated once the moon was fully up in the sky and walked into her room from her balcony. “Let us begin. First, let me conjure a bed for you to sleep in. Then we shall continue our lessons.”

“So how are we starting?” Emerald asked as she slipped into the bed the moment it was brought into existence by Luna. “It can't be as simple as just going to sleep, can it?”

“True, it is not,” Luna replied as she got into her own, larger bed. “One cannot enter the realm of dreams as I do even if they are a lucid dreamer. It requires a purposeful intent along with magic that is my own invention. It is also a spell best learned via experience and sensation. So I shall slowly cast the spell upon us, and you shall concentrate on how the spell feels. Normally I wouldn't be expecting success this early, but you have proven your ability to learn and master skills rapidly, thus I expect you to be quite qualified at this very quickly.”

“Right, no pressure I suppose,” Emerald replied before lying back in her bed.

“Of course.” Luna said with a bit of a smirk before a spell formed around her horn. It shot into the air, hovering for a moment before shooting down towards Emerald and impacting her in the head. The virus felt the effects of the spell immediately and, slowly but surely, she was beginning to fall asleep. She never lost sight of the end goal, however, and concentrated on what the spell was doing to her, doing her best to understand how it was working. A moment later, Emerald found herself standing before Luna in a misty plane.

“So can you replicate what I did?” Luna asked without preamble.

“I... maybe?” Emerald said and felt oddly nervous when Luna raised a brow in reply. “Just... let me wake up. I'll be right back.”

“Very well,” Luna stated and quickly zapped Emerald with another spell, causing the Blacklight being to disappear instantly. The Princess of the Night settled in to wait. After three minutes had passed, she was beginning to wonder if she would have to come back and get Emerald when said virus faded back into view a moment later.

“I made it,” Emerald said with a smile. “Figuring out a spell by feel was rather interesting. I've never actually done that before. I've always had a book and the spell matrix formula to study and reference if I had trouble.”

“While there is written material I could have given you, it would have honestly been harder for you to learn that way,” Luna explained. “There are many sensations that are described that is hard to understand in a written format. It's only when you begin to experience them that you realize how the spell begins to work.”

“Now,” Luna continued and turned about in place, stamping a hoof as she did so and causing many bubbles to suddenly rise up from the ground depicting many different scenes within. “Let us start our lessons together in earnest.”

“I thought there would be much more than this,” Emerald commented as various dream bubbles passed them by. “Or is it too early yet and these are just ponies early to bed?”

“Exactly that,” Luna answered as she lead the way through the bubbles. “Now, what I do as Princess of the Night is watch over the dreams of my subjects. A vast majority have happy dreams, but some end up having nightmares. Normally this is only a one off, but if it persists then there must a deeper problem and I often take the time to help them solve these issues. Most of the time I do my work from afar in the dreams and those who suffer the nightmares never learn of my involvement. However, there are a few rare times where I decide to interact with the pony in question.”

Emerald was listening but she also found herself staring into every dream bubble she passed by. Part of her felt like she was violating other peoples' privacy rather terribly. But she also felt incredibly curious about what other people dreamed about. She was once again reminded of how innocent and peaceful ponies were by how tame a vast majority of the dreams she saw were.

'Come on now, where are all the wet dreams?' Emerald thought jokingly. 'Seriously though, I don't expect to see anything like that here. HA! Imagine just how awkward things would be if ponies were as prone to perversion as humans? No doubt Luna would go to work every night seeing people having fantasies of her.'

“You are smiling rather widely, my student,” Luna commented with a happy expression.

“Oh I, uhhhh, just had funny thought,” Emerald waved off with a badly suppressed grin.

“It is wondrous to see you smiling so, my student,” Luna said. “Especially knowing that it's truly meant.”

“I don't fake my smiles,” Emerald retorted before frowning in thought. “At least not anymore... honestly I find myself being... more emotional than I am used to lately.”

“It is likely because you have been torn at your core, emotionally exposed and making all, whether it be insults or compliments, have that much more of an impact,” Luna stated and, before Emerald could do much more than furrow her brows in thought, switched subjects. “I am curious. Would you dean to allow me to hear of your life with your mother?”

“What?” Emerald blinked.

“I have seen your dreams and have been able to ascertain that your mother meant much to you,” Luna explained as she came to stop. “I wish to know more about you, my young student. What better than to hear about your mother, hmm?”

“Well... okay,” Emerald nodded after a moment, her eyes glazing over as memories surged forward unbidden. “My mot- Adela was a wonderful woman. She had never asked to be a single mother trying to start a new life in a country she had never been born in. But she never had any regret for becoming pregnant with me. She always felt that by having me she got far more out of that one night with my father then he did. I never really knew how the early years went for us. I was simply too young to remember, even as I am now. But my earliest memories have always been of that bakery my mother ran. Somehow she was able to start a business in only a few years and make it a success. We were never rich, but we never wanted for anything, either. Adela was an awesome mother and I... I just wish I... anyway. Is there anything else you want to know?”

“Hmm...” Luna hummed as she gazed down at Emerald thoughtfully, a hoof pressed to her chin. “Is there a reason why you refer to your mother by her given name?”

“I...” Emerald closed her eyes and took in a breath before releasing it in a deep exhale. “I don't deserve to call her my mother after everything I've done. All the people I've killed, the families I destroyed, the hurt and pain I've spread all in the name of self preservation. H-h-how could I ever think of her as my mother after that... I-I-I just...”

“...” For the longest moment, Luna simply stared down at Emerald with considering eyes, and in the virus' viewpoint they felt so judging. “Emerald?”

“Yes?” Emerald said as she averted her gaze.

“Look at me, please,” Luna asked, and when Emerald's eyes met hers, continued. “I want you to think about your mother, to really think about this woman with the will of steel, with a fortitude so intense she put her all into ensuring her child would not suffer or want. I want you to think on this and tell me that such a woman would care that you believe you don't deserve her as a mother anymore, that she would let you leave her behind. Look me in the eye and tell me that your mother, Adela, would stop loving you and abandon you.”

Emerald's face twisted in distraught. This was an incredibly sore subject for her, but she felt far more sad than she did angry. She soon found herself doing as Luna asked and started thinking about the mother she believed she betrayed utterly with her decisions. At first her thoughts were dominated by her own nightmares of her mother's face twisting in horror before turning her back on her, but it was hard to focus purely on that. So much of her life with Adela had been positive and happy, it was hard to bring up thoughts of Adela abandoning her without repeating herself and so very easy to lose herself in all the positive memories. Being that the positive memories felt far better then the memories of the nightmares that plagued her sleep, it wasn't a hard decision to make.

Quite suddenly, Emerald felt herself being picked up and opened her eyes wide to look around. She was back in the bakery, her mother's bakery. The smell of baking dough and freshly made icing filled the air, almost overwhelming her in the intensity. She looked down at herself to find she wasn't a she anymore, but a he. To be more specific, the virus now looked like her four year old self. Looking up at who was holding her found that person to be Adela looking upon her with all the motherly love she had known her for.

“It is a mother's duty to help their child learn and grow,” Luna said as she stepped into the kitchen herself. “With all that you have said of Adela, do you honestly believe she would give up on you?”

“Why are you doing this?” Emerald asked, her expression one of pure confusion and conflicting emotions. “Why are you trying to help me?”

“Because as your teacher, I care deeply for you, my student,” Luna answered solemnly before smiling softly. “And as your designated psychological healer, it is my job.”

Emerald was gaping at that declaration and anything she would have said after that was interrupted by her mother bringing her over to a chair before holding her tightly. Hundreds of happy memories flashed by through her mind simply by the act of hearing her mother hum an old lullaby.

“...Okay, you win...” Emerald said, voice choking a little as she leaned against her mother.

Luna smiled and stepped away from both the realm and the dream the bubble had managed to summon around Emerald. The Princess of the Night stayed a few minutes, watching as eventually Emerald and Adela left the chair and started to work together to bake some donuts together. Eventually, Luna had to move on. As much as she wished to celebrate a promising first session with Emerald, she still had a job to do.

Luna moved on from the freshly made dream bubble Emerald was now enjoying and started patrolling through the vast field of other dream bubbles. It was always so very easy to lose track of time in a dream and Luna found that there was now many dream bubbles compared to before when there was so few. Eventually, Luna found a dream that she immediately found rather concerning.

'Hmm, rather intense for a young filly,' Luna thought as she watched a little orange pony with small wings becoming terrified of her surroundings. 'This is the second time she has had a nightmare of this intensity. I rather wish Emerald was here to watch me work, but there is always another day to do so.'

With that, Luna stepped into the nightmare to help resolve it.

ZETA

“And this is one of the outposts we started building not too long ago,” Emerald said, waving to a large concrete fortification, whilst wearing her regalia and in her human form as well. “As you can see, we are almost finished with construction, with just some of the interior needing work yet.”

Emerald was back in the Enclave now. It had been a few days since that lesson on dream walking with Princess Luna. She had dream walked a few more times with her since then and watched Luna work. Eventually though, the virus had to return as a large amount of guests had finally arrived in the Enclave and she needed to attend to them. Before she had done so, however, she had gone to visit the grave she had made for her mother for the first time since making it. After paying her respects, she had found herself feeling like the other grave she had placed there didn't belong anymore. She hadn't gotten rid of it, but the feeling persisted after leaving.

“Is impressive work,” Mikhail said with nod as he looked over the bustling outpost manned by dogs in power armor and covered in heavy emplaced guns.

“Indeed,” commented the shorter, rather dour looking wolverine at Mikhail's side. “Though the fact that there is so little living quarters above ground paints a poor picture of the living conditions our mercenaries will have to put up with.”

“Bah!” Mikhail waved off dismissively. “Bad bunks is only encouragement for getting up early! A soldier up bright and early is good thing.”

“With all due respect, Ataman,” the other wolverine growled. “Learn to speak the local language properly.”

“I speak it well enough, yes?” Mikhail said to Emerald questioningly before turning back to his companion. “Will learn to speak it better when is more eloquent to hear.”

“Your wisdom leaves none wanting, Ataman,” the other wolverine growled sardonically

Emerald smiled at the two wolverines for a moment. She was about to speak to them further, namely getting down to the business concerning the force of wolverines coming to work for her, when a smoke cloud streaked towards her. The smoke coalesced into a scroll and she quickly grabbed it out of the air before opening it to read it. Written within was an urgent call for Emerald to come to the Palace as soon as possible for an emergency meeting. There was no other details to be had in the scroll, other than the call to Canterlot and that to come as soon as possible.

“Excuse me, but I have to be going,” Emerald said to the two wolverines. “There is an emergency I have to tend to. I'll be back later to settle the mercenaries into their quarters.”

The other, shorter wolverine simply waved her off as he got into a stance facing Mikhail, who seemed to desire a spar at this point. Emerald faced away from them and teleported in a crimson flash. She arrived in the palace an instant later and used her sonar to track down Princess Celestia. When she arrived in the hall the others were meeting in, she found that not only were most of the Mane Six there, so were Luna and Discord, along with Celestia.

“I got your message,” Emerald said as she approached the group with crossed arms. “So what's the emergency?”

“We are waiting for Rainbow Dash to arrive as so that we may begin,” Celestia said to Emerald with a serious look. “Once she is here, we shall begin.”

“Alright,” Emerald said and looked around at the group. Twilight and the others either looked really worried or deeply curious about what the emergency could be. Luna, Celestia and Discord, however, looked incredibly serious. This stood out even more with Discord as it was rare that he didn't have some sort of mischievous atmosphere about him.

“Well look at you, Discord,” Emerald commented. “You look completely serious... for once. It must be the end of the world.”

Discord frowned in annoyance and was about to answer when Celestia gave him a look. The draconequis looked incredibly conflicted for a moment before sighing and simply ignoring Emerald. Now the virus was really interested in knowing what the emergency was. Thankfully, that was the moment Rainbow Dash chose to arrive.

“Alright alright, I'm here,” Dash stated gruffly, swooping into the room wearing a Wonderbolts uniform. “What's so important I had to skip training at the academy and leave my only friend behind, huh?”

“Only friend?!?” Pinkie exclaimed with gasp that the others mirrored.

“Sugarcube, what in the world are you talking about?” Applejack asked with an expression somewhere between hurt, angry and confused. “Did something happen at that fancy academy of yours?”

“Yeah, something happened,” Dash retorted. “I realized who my true friends are! Look at all of you, siding one by one with this killer, this monster who killed my friend! Going out of your way to sweep under the rug what she did just so you can all be friends again. Well I see what's going on for what it is! What if it was me instead of Gilda that was killed, huh?”

“But-” Twilight tried.

“AND DON'T GO SAYING SHE WOULDN'T HAVE DONE IT!” Dash roared in fury, angry tears beginning to stream down her cheeks, her jaw clenched tightly and teeth bared at people she once thought were her friends. “She TOLD us herself that was her plan long after becoming our friend. She told us she planned to undermine all of us, to try to destroy the Elements of Harmony through us. Just because she decided not to go through with it, suddenly it's okay to forget that?! I bet if it was me that had been murdered, it would have been the same darn thing that happened. You all would have been unhappy with her for a while then kissed and made up.” Dash sneered at Twilight who looked incredibly shocked and hurt by the act.

Just as the others were about to speak, Emerald raised a hand and stopped them. She walked over to Twilight to comfort her with a hug before speaking.

“Just leave her be, alright?” Emerald said to the others. “She is very angry right now and hasn't been able to express that anger to any of us in months. More importantly, she has the right to be angry and the right to say these things.”

“SEE?! LOOK AT THIS?!” Rainbow Dash shouted angrily. “Why is the killer acting more like a friend then any of you?! Why are none of you siding with me, too?! How come I only have Lightning Dust as a friend? Why... why... why do I feel so alone in Ponyville...”

Everyone stared in silence as Dash averted her face from them, attempting in futility to hold back tears that refused to stop flowing.

“Now is not the time to be divided by uncertainty and the past,” everyone heard Discord say. They all turned to look at him, only to see him looking down towards the end of the hall. When they looked to see what he was looking at, they gasped and widened their eyes in surprise.

Walking down the hall towards them was... Discord.

Emerald quickly took in the two Discords, one next to them and other approaching them. The Discord that was approaching them had only one eye. The other was a glowing blue void, a horrid tear in his body. From the appearance of another glow from his back and lack of his other wing, Emerald correctly assumed he had another wound like that on his back. Running down his chest was a massive, ugly rope-like scar. But the biggest thing about this other Discord was his expression. It was harsh and gaunt, his one eye seemed to have sunk into his skull and glared out at the world like everything had personally wronged him. It reminded Emerald a lot of the looks people got in the Yellow Zone back in New York, especially more so in the Red Zone.

“Wha... what's going on?” Twilight asked in confusion as she looked between the two Discords. “Why are there suddenly two of you?”

“I shall explain myself,” the scarred Discord stated as he came to a stop before the group. “I am quite simply, Discord from another place and time. An alternate universe, if you will.”

“I am guessing that from the look of you, things didn't go so well,” Emerald said and got a sneaking, terrible suspicion of what the end result of this talk was going to be.

“Yes,” Scarred Discord answered. “I will begin my story now. Please do not interrupt as there is not much time left to explain much.”

“My universe had gone much like yours... at first,” Scarred Discord began as he looked up to the ceiling, his one eye glazing over. “Nightmare Moon was defeated and Luna returned to Equestria. All was well and everyone celebrated. Then the next day, Twilight Sparkle, bearer of the Element of Magic, was found murdered.”

“It was a horrific crime that had sent the community reeling,” the alternate continued, ignoring the shocked gasps of the others but staring Emerald in the eyes. “Both in Ponyville and in Canterlot. In the short time she had been in Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle become a celebrated member of the town thanks to her deeds. Many people who had only known her for a day had attended her funeral bright and early. Celestia would have done so as well, but in her grief her work had suffered and needed time to catch up before she could attend at the proper time. I do not know what would have happened had she been able to attend early like the others. Maybe it wouldn't have gone so horrifically. Maybe it would have been worse...”

“Let me explain that last part,” Scarred Discord said with a shake of his head. “The funeral was going along as expected, except for the part where Twilight Sparkle made her appearance seemingly alive and well. As you can expect, friends and family rushed to embrace her in happiness. Twilight then exploded into blades and spikes and slaughtered them all in an instant once they had done so. This action galvanized Celestia into action. She became harsher and determined to hunt down the creature that had murdered her beloved student.”

“Oskar, however, was one step ahead of her no matter what she did,” the alternate stated, causing the Mane Six to shudder when he mentioned Emerald's old name. “He created little zombie outbreaks here and there, nothing too major, leaving something of a bread crumb trail for Celestia to follow and track. He eventually created a massive outbreak in Vanhoover, leading Celestia to believe now was the time to face him. She left Luna back in Canterlot as she was still recovering her power… but this was what Oskar had been planning for.”

“He went to Canterlot while Celestia had gone to Vanhoover,” Scarred Discord continued. “He ambushed Luna in her room and absorbed part of her power and then became magnitudes more powerful as a result. It's uncertain what else happened at this point, but the end result was Luna nowhere to be found and the palace shattered.”

“With all the chaos happening in the capital, my prison weakened rapidly and I was released,” the maimed Spirit of Chaos said. “I had been confused and unsure what to feel of the bloodshed and destruction that was unleashed upon Equestria, and in that confusion fell back on the one thing I knew to do.”

“I taunted Celestia when she returned,” Discord said, an expression of regret and sorrow upon his face at mentioning this. “Offered to revive her sister and cherished Bearers of the Elements should she pledge eternal loyalty. Expecting to be defied and ignored, I was shocked when she accepted with little argument. I found myself a bit on the spot due to not having revived someone before. It mattered not in the end. Oskar had been watching us apparently and my offer forced him to action.”

“Long story short, he attacked me, gave me a negligible wound, absorbed my power then gave me this wound,” he said, motioning to the massive ugly scar on his chest. “In panic, I teleported away. The last time I saw Celestia alive, she was charging down Oskar with tears in her eyes and pure rage on her face.”

“Ironically, I sent myself to the moon for safety and to heal,” the alternate continued. “For weeks I watched on as beautiful blue and green gem that was our world turn black and red. Oskar, a living, world killing infection given form, spread across the world like a flesh eating cancer. Something changed in me during those two weeks I stood back and watched as he murdered countless millions. Suddenly I felt like I knew. I knew now that this was what true chaos was like, uncaring and snuffing out everything. I couldn't stand by anymore. The moment I was healed, I left the moon and went to face him a second time... I should have waited longer and prepared.”

“I was still so arrogant, still so sure of my power despite the evidence to otherwise having been literally torn into my chest,” the maimed being said, running a hand down the ugly scar on his chest. “Oskar had slaughtered the herons not a week before. He knew their power, their skills of manipulating the elements. But more importantly, he knew of their more esoteric skills. The ability to strike at the spirit of a being itself. When I had troubled the herons eons before, their attacks upon me had only stung. But with Oskar's might behind such blows...”

“Well the evidence is clear to see...” he said, motioning to the rents in his form, where his eye used to be and where his other wing had been. “I ran again, barely alive... my pride and arrogance torn out, never to return. This time I spent several months on the moon. Not healing, but attempting to get used to wounds that healed so slowly I may as well assume they were there to stay.”

“I knew then that my power was never going to be enough, especially now with my injuries.” The alternate sighed. “Once I had grown used to my crippling injuries enough, I traveled the ruined and diseased world Equus had become. I searched through ruins, talked to small communities Oskar never put much effort into annihilating for some reason. I looked the world over for magical artifacts and relics of great power, to find a means of defeating Oskar. Sometimes I found something useful, sometimes they were useless and sometimes all I found was torn up metal, Oskar having beaten me to it.”

“I built up quite the vast arsenal of magical relics on the moon,” Scarred Discord said as he walked over to the window to stare out at the sky. “It wasn't enough. I felt it was close, but not enough... I needed the true, undisputed power in the world to back me up. I needed the Elements of Harmony. But I couldn't get them. They were back in Canterlot where Oskar held them close and heavily guarded.”

“I had begun to despair that my goal was going to never be fulfilled, but then I stumbled upon something that gave me hope,” the maimed Spirit said, turning on the spot to face the group again. “The notes of Starswirl the Bearded. There were many interesting ideas and plans among them. He was truly a genius that comes once an age. One of his notes described the creation of a magical mirror that could breach the barriers of dimensions. Searching for yet more information, I found a book in the ruins of Ponyville about a magical pond. Using my own not insignificant mastery of magic, I managed to reverse engineer Starswirl's creation by using that pond as the mirror.”

“Once I had created my new Dimensional Mirror, I made as many runic protections around as I could to delay any pursuit,” Scarred Discord said and turned to face Emerald directly. “Imagine my surprise when I arrived and found Oskar's unmistakable power here as well? I knew I was in an entirely different world, therefore things must not be the same, but I had to be sure. I tracked down the local version of myself, for if I can't trust myself, who can I trust? But even with his words, I couldn't help the desire to stand back and judge you for myself, to be sure I haven't gone through all this just to make a horrible mistake. I am still not sure, but I am out of time... I have to go on faith now, the hope that I've not doomed this world as well as my own doubly so by combining the threats they faced.”

There was silence for the longest moment as the Mane Six struggled to take everything in. Emerald, however, was frowning over the last thing the alternate had said.

“You said you were out of time,” Emerald said, clenching her fists tightly. “Let me guess... I am going to be arriving very soon.”

“If I know my enemy, he should be breaching the final runes now and making his move through the pond about now,” the alternate Discord answered simply.

ETA

The cavern of the Mirror Pool remained the same since the alternate Discord had changed it and come through. The pool was still without its glow and left most of the cave in darkness... that did not remain the case for long, however.

Bright red lightning began to surge across the surface of the pool. Ripples appeared in the water and soon it began to churn and broil like boiling water. Wisps of red suddenly appeared in the water and grow and grow in number and intensity until the water was a deep, blood-like crimson before turning black. Finally, as the water started to calm again did the pool regain its iconic glow, but this time releasing crimson light through the cave. It was silent for a long moment before a ripple appeared in the water, then another, and another, and another...

Emerging from the waters of the Mirror Pool came a twisted mockery of a pony. Its flesh looked raw and torn, it had little to no hair on it's body. Massive, horrific rents lined its body glowing with orange bio-luminescence. Glazed, bloodshot eyes rolled erratically in their sockets as gasps and moans left its jawless mouth. Upon its rear was its cutiemark, almost mockingly untouched; the image of a basket full of flowers stood in stark contrast to the rest of its form. Other abominations emerged and all of them twisted in their own unique ways. A diamond dog had a grotesquely overdeveloped upper body, its immense muscle mass having broken its legs and forced it to crawl everywhere. A unicorn had dozens of twisted and spike like horns exploding deep from within the flesh of its head and out it's face. A pegasus was little more than a pair of wings and forelegs reduced to splintered bones likely used as claws, its lower body torn away.

The flow of abominations from the pool grew with every second, but one abomination in particular was having trouble getting out of the pool. It was a pegasus, its wings reduced to bones and one foreleg barely anything but bones and one muscle wrapped around it while the other seemed to be caught beneath the water on something. Its faintly yellow eyes rolled in their sockets separate of each other as it groaned in frustration. Suddenly it was sent flying into the air where it impacted the ceiling with a wet, meaty impact before crashing down to the floor below. It twitched for several moments before releasing a death rattle that sounded more like a relieved sigh.

A hand emerged from the waters of the Mirror Pool and grasped the shore, the rest of the being following shortly after. It was Oskar, there was no mistaking this person. He was the spitting image of Emerald before she had abandoned her male human form and name. He looked no different at all. His clothes were just as colorful and he hadn't had obvious viral growths on him like some form of corruption; he simply was.

Oskar took a look at the cavern that was rapidly filling with his infected and frowned when he saw the blocked up entrance above. Looking down, he spied the infected he knocked out of his way which was now dead. With the briefest of frowns, he pointed his hand at it.

The reaction was instant, the infected started to twitch and spasm as tendrils flowed and moved beneath its skin. Eventually, the light of life, the twisted mockery that it was, returned to its eyes. It rose back up with a deeply tormented wail, dragging its massive, tumorous right leg back up right. Blood flowing from its eyes, it began to shamble towards the ramp leading upwards.

'Hmm...' Oskar hummed aloud as Blacklight Brawlers leapt out of the mirror pool behind him, biting and clawing at lesser infected that came too close or just didn't shamble out of the way fast enough. 'Now where did you go?'

With that thought, Oskar pointed his hand at the ceiling and with a massive, deafening explosion, blew it clear away. Rubble and dust filled the air and beams of light shone down on the exposed Mirror Pool. Once that was done, Oskar leapt into the air, reaching cloud height in half a second.

'Doesn't matter where you are,' Oskar thought. 'I know where you would go.'

With a blindingly bright flash of crimson light, Oskar disappeared from sight. Below, his twisted hordes surged and grew as they rushed up from below like the Legions of Hell itself set loose upon an unsuspecting world.

-TBC-

Chapter 6: ... Is Yourself

View Online

There was silence for a brief moment before Emerald scowled and turned about in place before quickly stomping away. The virus reached up to her ear and quickly conjured a radio headset before setting it to a specific frequency.

“Belvedere!” Emerald shouted out and, after impatiently waiting a moment, there was a click and audio streaming in from the other end.

“Boss, Bulto's under attack by things swarming out of that pool he was guarding!” Belvedere said immediately, the sound of dogs talking in somewhat panicked tones in the background.

“I know. Listen, I don't have long,” Emerald said with a deadly serious tone. “Those things are infected creatures. Some will seem like ponies or other races, but they aren't. Don't try to take them captive, just kill them. There will be others, bigger and deadlier creatures. Use everything at your disposal, deploy everyone and everything.”

“Will you be letting the new creatures out of their pods for this?” Belvedere asked.

“No, I was in the middle of adding in more things to them,” Emerald answered. “They aren't ready, but the four definitely are. Get the three pilots ready and I'll probably have the fourth sent along shortly. I have my own part to play in this fight and can't command, so you have full authority here Belvedere. Make me proud.”

Turning off the headset, Emerald turned around to face the others and quickly strode back over, mentally counting every second that passed. She had to because she fully expected every wasted second to be incredibly costly.

“Alright, we practically have no time at all to plan anything,” Emerald said, face twisted in tension. “Discord, if you give anything approaching a damn about Fluttershy, you and your copy better go make yourselves useful. Since he obviously knows what he is talking about, you better listen to your better half.”

“Now just one mom-” Discord began in vexation but was interrupted by his other self placing his hand on his shoulder.

“She is right,” spoke the Other Discord, the glowing rent seeming to stare a hole of its own into Discord. “We must go and fight right now.”

With that, the two disappeared from sight. Emerald then turned to the others. The seriousness of the situation was not lost on any of them and even Rainbow Dash was looking attentively to Emerald.

“Alright, Oskar's target is almost certainly going to be you and or the Elements of Harmony,” Emerald said. “The best we can do is try to head him off and try to stop him from reaching you directly. He can find you all extremely easily, so there is no point in trying to hide. Just try get somewhere secure and get the Elements so we can use them when we can. Do all of you understand?”

“Yes,” everyone replied firmly with nods.

With that, Emerald teleported away, nothing more to be said and dearly hoping to not waste anymore time and try to keep the death count down.

An instant later the evolved was over the area where the mirror pool was. There was now a massive hole exposing the cavern to the open air. The pool itself was now black and releasing pulses of red light, various infected ponies and beings of other species flooding forth from the pool in the dozens every second as the outpost that had been set up a short distance away from the pool attracted most of the infected’s attention. They appeared to be doing well, as most infected couldn't get close before being pulped by the powerful guns wielded by the defenders. The few super heavy machine guns on the outpost in particular were doing a fine job of tearing through the larger infected before they could close as well. Looking up, Emerald could see the two Discords together and observing the situation.

'Where the hell is he?' Emerald thought as precious moments passed by. She sent out a viral pulse before realizing that was a stupid action. 'He most certainly has cockatrice DNA and thus whatever it has that makes it invisible to the sonar. He is being stealthy right now and every moment he goes without notice is one more he has to act on his own and plan... wait, he is me. What would I do here? Well, I would create a dis-'

Emerald's eye widened in realization before she turned in place to face Canterlot in the distance. An instant later, she disappeared in a pink flash.

ALPHA

The Mane Six were currently galloping down one of the many halls of the Royal Palace. There had been a quick debate over whether they and the princesses should stay together, but considering they were clearly going to be targeted by Oskar, it was decided it was best that if Oskar went after the Elements, only the princesses would be caught. If he went after the Mane Six, the Elements were fine. It was a grim decision, but considering the last time they as a group had to face Emerald in a fight they could even try to put up a fight, and Oskar was considered to be stronger... it was the best that could be done. Right now they were trying to go deeper into the palace in hopes that the various magical defenses around one of the special vaults would slow him down.

They were about halfway down one hallway when suddenly a shadow was cast over them from one of the windows and there was a loud crash of breaking glass. The group came to a halt, giving startled shouts as bits of glass went flying and showered over them. Looking over to their side, they saw him.

The Mane Six each had somewhat differing expectations of him. Fluttershy thought he would be big, shadowy and looming over them. Rainbow Dash was expecting a slavering monster, maddened with lust for blood and murder. Rarity was expecting him to be dirty and clearly crude looking. Pinkie Pie was expecting a dreadful fanged smile and glowing red eyes. Applejack was expecting him to be bereft of color and any sort of lightness. Twilight was the only one whose expectations were proven accurate.

Other than a change of gender, different hair color and the fact his clothes fit him better, he looked no different than Emerald's female human form. And for someone who was supposed to be a horrific genocidal killer, his expression wasn't what was expected either, being that of simple, calm determination. Yet Twilight Sparkle found this almost mundane appearance terrifying. If she knew about her friends’ expectations of what they thought Oskar was going to look like and he had somehow fulfilled them all, she would have found that far less scary.

There was the smallest moment of silence as Oskar and the Mane Six stared at each other, their wide eyes meeting his calm, considering gaze. Then Oskar's hands shifted into a pair of claws and Twilight released a startled cry as she suddenly flew forward towards the virus, her form covered in a crimson aura. Oskar raised a hand and caught Twilight by the horn just as she reached him. Twilight gave an agonized scream as the sound of her horn cracking and pieces of it crushing together under Oskar's grip filled the hall.

“LET HER GO YOU MURDERING MONSTER!” Rainbow Dash roared out as she took flight and shot towards Oskar, Applejack not one moment behind her as she released her own wordless battlecry.

Twilight fell from Oskar's grip, not because he let her go but because her horn ceased to exist under his crushing grip. Before she could hit the ground, Oskar lashed out with a foot and sent her flying, the sound of her ribcage cracking and breaking under the blow filling the air along with her pained shouts. The unicorn flew past her charging friends and hit Rarity and Pinkie Pie harshly, sending the three of them impacting the far wall with a meaty thump.

Just as Rainbow Dash and Applejack were about to impact Oskar they suddenly froze in their charge, their eyes widening in surprise and shock as they found themselves unable to move. Almost casually, Oskar walked forward past them. As he did so, he reached over with one claw and idly dragged it across Dash's back. The pegasus released screams of pain, muffled by her forcibly closed mouth, as one of her wings were cut in half and the other was fully severed. Oskar's other claw found Applejack's back as well and his claws briefly tapped her back almost as if thinking of something to do, leaving several cuts every time they did so, before Oskar simply balled it into a fist and brought it down harshly against her back. The cowpony released a pained cry as a sharp, sickening crack filled the air and her back bent in noticeably where she was struck. As the virus then left them behind him, the crimson auras around them left and they both fell to the floor, Rainbow Dash crippled by the pain of her wounds and maiming, and Applejack crippled by her broken back.

“H-H-HOW DARE YOU?!?” Fluttershy growled in barely contained rage, her eyes glaring with such intensity they could have burned holes into Oskar.

Oskar gave her but a moment's glance and there was the sound of stone grinding together before suddenly, in Fluttershy's place, was a perfect stone replica of her. The evolved had petrified her in an instant. Oskar kept moving forward past the now stone pegasus and came to a stop before the still tangled pile up of the remaining Mane Six. He reached down to grab at Twilight.

“No!” Rarity shouted and was immediately up and out from the pile, attempting to place herself between Twilight and Oskar. “Leave her be, you ruffian! Do not-”

Oskar absently whipped the back of his hand at Rarity. There was a wet, meaty impact along with the sound of bones crunching under incredible force. Rarity crumbled over onto her side without another word, her jaw completely broken and most of her teeth sent flying from the impact. Her eyes glazed over as the blow knocked the wits out of her. In annoyance, Oskar looked over to Pinkie Pie to see if she was going to get in the way as well. The pink mare was in no condition to do such a thing, however; both physically and emotionally. She had landed awkwardly on one of her back legs and twisted it badly, though seeing Oskar also completely decimate her friends without any effort took the rest of the fight out of her. She was now lying on the ground under Twilight, her mane completely straight and lacking all curls and volume, tears streaming down her cheeks in steady rivers as she stared up in terror at the virus.

Seeing he wasn't going to be interrupted again, Oskar reached out with his magic this time and levitated Twilight into the air before him.

“This is definitely a mirrored universe,” Oskar commented. “You look exactly like the other one.”

“I-is... is there a reason I'm still alive?” Twilight asked, forcing a scowl through the intense pain of her crushed horn, its throbbing absence like a persistent sledgehammer upon her head. “A-all it wou-would take is a moment to e-eat me and you... you have what you want.”

“Ah, so he did come here,” Oskar stated, one brow raised in curiosity. “How else would you know about that little fact? But why weren't you prepared? You had more than enough time for it. What plan could he have that would include risking the very thing he came here for?”

“Doesn't a-answer my question,” Twilight glared in defiance. “Why am I s-still alive?”

“You sound like you find that fact distasteful,” Oskar commented. “If you must know, he would be more likely to stick around if what he came for was still alive. Course that doesn't mean you have to be in one piece for that to count now does it?”

“You stupid... monster... piece of garbage,” came a strained voice.

Looking over Oskar's shoulder, Twilight saw Dash raise unsteadily onto her hooves, the stumps of her wings and the deep cut across her back bleeding heavily and dripping down onto the floor.

“I thought… I told you...” Dash panted, glaring bloody murder at the virus. “To let her go you fre- guaACK!”

Still looking at Twilight, Oskar's raised a hand with index finger pointed outwards. Behind him, Dash's eyes widened as a bright magical aura coalesced around her tongue. Oskar then twitched his finger towards Fluttershy and with a wet ripping sound, Dash's tongue was torn harshly out of her mouth and flew towards her petrified friend, smacking her wetly in the face before falling to the floor.

“Right,” Oskar began as Dash began to scream horrifically, forcibly stopping every other moment due to briefly choking on blood going down her throat. “I believe-”

STOP HURTING MY FRIENDS!” Twilight screamed in Oskar's face, adrenaline making her completely forget the pain she was experiencing.

“Or what?” Oskar stated rhetorically with a tired tone. “You will stop me?”

“No...” Twilight said as she looked down the hall to her left. “You.”

“Really?” Oskar said with a sigh at the childish response, also not falling for the clear attempt to distract his attention. “That's the best comeback you ca-”

Suddenly Oskar was sent flying via jump kick to the face thanks to Emerald's sudden and thankfully ignored entry. Twilight dropped to the floor and watched as the white and blue blur that was Oskar shot down the hall and impacted the far wall with a deafening crash.

“No really...” Twilight sighed in pain. “You.

Emerald was immediately at her side and examining her wounds before quickly looking over the other Mane Six.

'Broken horn, four broken ribs, six cracked ribs, cracked sternum and some minor internal bleeding,' Emerald thought apprehensively as her tendrils reached out and connected to Twilight and the others. 'Rarity has a shattered broken jaw and much of her teeth along the left side are missing. She is experiencing some rather severe whiplash but nothing permanent if immediately fixed. Fluttershy is an easy fix. Dash is missing a wing and most of the other one. That cut along her back is exposing her spine and there is some minor nerve damage. Applejack has a broken spine but also internal bleeding from bone shards and the jagged edges of the break being forced into the flesh. Pinkie has a badly twisted leg and is in shock and unresponsive. A shot of some chemicals should fix the latter for the short term.'

With but a moment's effort on Emerald's part, the Mane Six were made whole and in perfect health once more. Injuries that would never heal and would have changed their lives forever were undone as months of healing and physical therapy were done within a second and one magically induced condition was reversed. Emerald turned her attention down the hall where she had sent her alternate self flying down. He was already back up as expected and was walking towards her with wide, surprised eyes.

“Twilight,” Emerald said as she rose up to a stand and faced down Oskar's approach with a steely gaze. “Listen to Belvedere.”

“Wha-” Twilight began but was already gone in a bright pink flash along with the rest of the mane six.

There was a moment of silence only filled by the sounds of Oskar's approaching footsteps. The other virus being came to a stop about forty feet away from Emerald and stared at her in surprise for a moment, taking her form in before he calmed and his expression turned neutral. Then there came the sounds of hoof steps rapidly approaching along with alarmed shouts. Emerald simply raised her foot and brought it down, closing off many passages to the hall she was in with newly erected sheer stone walls. The Royal Guard would be no use here.

“When I arrived here, I thought the main thing that made this alternate universe different was simply the fact I wasn't here,” Oskar stated. “Clearly I was wrong and am now trespassing. I don't know how you managed to control them without having to worry about them sealing you and taking unacceptable risks, but it clearly worked... I'd ask how, but it's too late for that. Look, I'm here for one thing and one thing only. My Discord is here looking for a means to get rid of me. I'll gladly make my forces go back through the portal if you just let me hunt him down or maybe even help me get him, then I'll leave and never come back. Okay?”

Emerald just stared back. She wasn't actually listening to him, which was fortunate because were she in a more normal state of mind she'd find the offer extremely tempting. Here standing before her was a version of her that had taken that irreversible decision to kill Twilight and fell to truly horrifying depths of murder and destruction. That fact just repeated itself endlessly in her mind. Eventually her mind cleared a moment and she realized that Oskar was patiently staring at her, waiting for her to say something. She had only one thing on her mind to say.

“Adela... mom...” Emerald said with a depressed look. “...She would be so disappointed in what you became...”

Oskar's eyes widened to their widest extent and he recoiled as if he was painfully struck. Tears instantly formed at the corners of his eyes and his expression twisted into one of guilt, grief and agony. It then twisted again, this time into an ugly visage of rage as tears out of pure hatred poured down his cheeks.

RAAAAAAAGGGHHHHH!!!” Oskar released a bestial roar of pure rage and charged at Emerald with clawed hands outstretched. The roar was such a deafening volume that the windows lining the hallway shattered instantly and the power beneath his footsteps collapsed the stonework of the floor into the ground. Such was his speed that he reached Emerald within a second, but Emerald's reaction time was more than enough to prepare her for his charge with time to spare.

Oskar impacted into Emerald with a ground shaking impact, causing the surrounding structure to shudder and a loud bang to echo. For a moment, Emerald's hands pushed back against Oskar's claws and they met each other equally. The next moment, crimson lightning surged around Oskar's arms and Emerald's arms buckled under the weight of his strength.

Oskar quickly struck Emerald in the face hard enough to turn her about and wrapped his arms around her waist before charging down the hall, Emerald taking the full brunt of the blow as Oskar charged straight through a stone wall.

BETA

“RUNNING LOW!” bellowed a Warhound as she emptied her rifle through the firing slit of the concrete barrier before her.

“Here!” answered a dog pushing a big, seemingly empty cart.

The Warhound quickly reached down and fished out the remaining ammunition and returned to shooting apart infected trying to swarm the outpost. The dog pushing the cart quickly turned about to head back into the basement to load the cart up again.

“AUGH! Piece of shit!” another Warhound bellowed as a twisted, multi-limbed monstrosity that might have once been a monkey squeezed through the firing slit and started clawing at his armor. “Burn in hell!”

The Warhound's neighbor barely twitched as he grabbed the infected and threw it to the ground before stomping it and sending bits flying. Said neighbor was far too focused on shooting to pieces another Brawler that was charging up the slope at the outpost. The Brawlers, for all their size and strength, had next to no ability to resist the extreme caliber of the Warhound's bullets. Every shot that hit tore out large, crippling pieces each time. However... not every one of the lesser infected happened to be a near crippled shambler. Some were highly advanced in their infection and could run just as fast as the Brawlers, which was definitely the case when the Brawler that was just shot to pieces proved to be an unintentional shield for the infected behind it.

“Ugh, ugly things,” the Warhound muttered quietly as several infected suddenly swarmed his firing slit and attempted to force themselves in, their twisted, snarling faces glaring balefully at the defenders within. The Warhound simply responded by swiping the monomolecular blade on the end of his rifle at the lot of them before pushing some of the corpses out of the way.

The outpost was really an outpost in name only. In actuality it was a highly secure fortress in its own right. It was a star fortress type of fortification with five points and had two levels along with a basement and sub-basement. Each level of the fortress was lined with firing slits and each slit had at least one heavy machine gun to be manned. The roof of the fortress was lined with razor wire and crenelations, and none of the infected had managed to reach much farther than the second level so the razor wire was still clean. On the roofs of each point of the fort were small towers topped with super heavy machine guns. Only three of the guns currently could be brought to face and fire on the infected, but by the rate said infected were spreading out, the fort would soon be seeing combat from all sides. There was a bit of an issue concerning the flier infected but they were physically weak and few in number at the moment.

“There is no end to the things,” Bluno said, blasting apart another Brawler with his sniper rifle just as it emerged from the pool. He had gotten said rifle from his friend Whisper Wind who had dropped it off along with a sizable amount of ammunition. He was focusing mostly on the Brawlers who were attempting to charge off into the forest rather than swarm the fort. So far, only a handful had managed to do so at the cost of much of his ammo. Thankfully, Whisper was on the way with another load of ammo for his rifle.

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” Mikhail roared as he fired the heavy machine gun he had taken from the basement, remaining constantly full on ammo thanks to an entire cart of ammo he commandeered for himself as well.

“The Ataman agrees,” Timujin translated snidely as he picked off the occasional infected with a pistol, more focused on observing the situation unfold and advising Bluno on responses. Suddenly he tilted his head to the side and twitched his ears. “What in the world is that infernal whistle?”

Bluno paused a moment to listen as well. He couldn't figure out what it was as well and was about to return his attention to the Brawlers when suddenly a spot on the roof of the fort exploded and pieces of metal shards were sent whistling past. Bluno was completely at a loss at this when suddenly more explosions rang out, but this time most of them among the infected on the ground. Suddenly Bluno knew exactly what this was.

“Belvedere the artillery is off!” Bluno shouted into the radio. “We're getting hit too!”

“Only some gunners have started their training and even then it was only just started,” came the commanding Alpha's calm response. “They are learning on the job now. Be thankful your armor is rated against the fragmentation shells we are using, over.”

“We have wolverines over here!” Bluno replied as said two wolverines hunkered down to avoid flying shrapnel. “Friendly fire casualties is imminent unless they learn to shoot!”

“Noted...” Belvedere sighed lowly. “Be advised that the raptors are fully deployed. Four squads will reinforce your position while the rest forms a cordon around the invasion site. ETA arrival is four minutes. Two battalions of Warhounds are forming up and will be deploying as well within the next five minutes. We'll be seeing a full regiment being deployed to assist within the next twenty. The Wolverine division has already formed up and is on the march. They'll be reaching your position in ETA twenty minutes. Command out... and learn your radio etiquette.”

Bluno sighed and returned to shooting Brawlers as they emerged from the pool.

'Twenty minutes for major reinforcements,' Bluno thought worriedly as his rifle bucked slightly in his grasp. 'Might as well be a week away and who knows what might happen to slow them down... at least the artillery is shooting straight now.'

Far above in the sky watching the battle unfold was Discord and his Alternate. The Alternate was staring down at the pool as if waiting for something and Discord was looking rather restless from simply sitting back and watching.

“This is an utter waste of time,” Discord muttered with a huff. “They can handle this, so why am I even here?”

“Because Fluttershy might die if you don't help,” the Alternate stated bluntly as he continued to stare. “The fact you care for anyone is honestly quite the surprise. It took half the world dying and being destroyed before I started to think of the diluted descendants as anything other than playthings. I suppose I'm a better spirit than I thought I was.”

“Can you no-” Discord began with a scowl.

“There,” the Alternate interrupted and pointed down towards the pool. “Get ready to follow my lead.”

“Wha-”

“Don't worry, you'll pick it up fast,” the Alternate said with a narrowing of his one eye as the pool started to pulse with crimson light. “I know I did.”

The mirror pond started to pulse with crimson lightning and waves were being kicked up. For the moment, the constant stream of infected from the pool halted. Without the constant flow of infected, the fort soon ran out of targets to shoot and it was quiet for a moment save for the crackle of lightning from the pool. Suddenly, the ground started to shake and great cracks formed in the ground around the pool. After a few moments, large pieces of the ground collapsed to the other side of the pool. After the shaking was done, the pool had doubled in size.

Without any warning, a large, amorphous mass of black suddenly shot out from the pool and reached up towards the sky. Immediately the fort opened fire on the black mass, but their shots seemed to pass through it harmlessly. That was because it wasn't actually one being; it was made up out of countless infected parasprites with gleaming red eyes, black bodies and mouths full of shredding teeth. Blacklight parasprites.

“NOW!” the Alternate shouted to his stunned other self and reached out towards the massive swarm of blacklight parasprites.

Instantly a cloud of broiling plasma appeared around the parasprite swarm. Seemingly, the advance of the parasprites came to a stop but the shape of the plasma cloud shifted, changed size as it seemed to bubble. Below, the flow of infected from the pool started again along with the constant surge of black parasprites, this time in even larger numbers thanks to the increased size of the pool.

“Go over to the other side and start manipulating the cloud there,” the Alternate told Discord, his focus completely on the cloud of plasma. “We have to keep this swarm from getting past us in any great number.”

“Uh, right,” Discord replied a little unsurely and teleported to the other side of the cloud. He reached out with his magic and took control of his half of the plasma cloud. At first he was a little anxious at what he was doing, having never really used his power to kill before, but the ease of the action made him quickly relax and grow confident.

'Quite simple,' Discord thought in an almost laid back manner as he shifted the plasma cloud into a smooth, almost cylindrical shape for easier control. 'If this is all I have to do, then-'

Suddenly the plasma on his side bulged out which made him give a shout of surprise as he didn't will it. With a vast splash of plasma that rained down to the ground below and set a section of forest aflame, a massive swarm of black parasprites surged forth. The swarm began to spread out and allowed the impromptu crust heat shield made up of their dead fellows to fall away. Discord panicked and tried to quickly move the plasma around to try to catch the swarm as his side of the cloud continued to weaken and more bulges formed.

Suddenly the rogue swarm was pulled into a small ball a fraction of its original size and tossed into the cloud. The weaknesses forming in the cloud also quickly bubbled over and the cloud lost its neat, cylindrical shape.

“You must adapt to the swarm's attempts to get past you,” the Alternate stated, now at his other self's side. The two rips in his form were glowing brightly and he was beginning to breath deeply from exertion. “If you create a neat shape, they'll simply plow through... you need to learn this fast... my power drains far faster than yours.”

“... Right.” Discord gritted his teeth and started to concentrate.

Down below in the depths of the Enclave, in a building meant to act as a day care of sorts, were the Mane Six. Their sudden arrival had caused a bit of a stir, especially with the conflict currently going on, on the surface. One of the old Matrons had been sent out to inform Belvedere of what happened after Twilight told them Emerald sent them and she was supposed to listen to Belvedere. Twilight had then started to wait impatiently for Belvedere to arrive.

The unicorn was sitting on a couch and looking over her friends. Diana had arrived not too long ago and started talking to and hugging her “sister” who looked more confused than anything right now. Fluttershy was trying to distract herself by playing with the little pups who were in the daycare. As soon as she found out they had tea here, Rarity went to the kitchen to get some for her frazzled nerves. Applejack had apparently felt the same way and went along with her. Rainbow Dash was looking much like a furious cat and sat in the corner glaring at anyone who dared come near. Just as the drugs seem to run their course in Pinkie and she started to cry, Belvedere had arrived then.

“Belvedere!” Twilight called out and trotted over to him before suddenly remembering what had happened the last time they met. “Uhh... Emerald said I was supposed to listen to you...”

“Emerald told me to come to her if I should ever need to strike you again,” Belvedere stated bluntly with a neutral expression. “You do not need to fear me striking you. Now, there is not much time we have to get going.”

“O-oh that's umm...” Twilight said, going into a trot as Belvedere started into a jog. “Where are we going?”

“I was expecting your arrival,” Belvedere answered as the two of them ran out into the street. “Emerald told me she would be sending you along. I'm expecting you to not want to be simply standing by while everyone is fighting?”

“I want to help,” Twilight said, brows furrowed in determination. “I know that I can't help Emerald in her fight, but anything else I can do I will do.”

“Thought so,” Belvedere nodded before he sped up into a sprint. “Let's go.”

Belvedere and Twilight sprinted through the streets of the city. The atmosphere was tense and shouts echoed throughout the city. Everywhere Twilight looked, there was someone rushing somewhere. Some dogs were pushing carts full of ammo or guns as fast as they could without overturning the cart. Squads of Warhounds wearing their power armor charged forward, always in the same direction.

'They are heading up to the fight,' Twilight thought as she followed Belvedere deeper into the Hub. 'Where am I going that I'll be able to do the most good? Don't tell me Emerald intends for me to “guard” some vault holding something highly important to keep me away from the thick of it? No, she wouldn't do that, at least not without including the others as well. So what am I going to do that will help from this far below ground?'

Twilight couldn't figure out the answer to this riddle before she found herself being lead down a large hall carved into a sheer stone wall. Even here dogs were rushing this way and that, but most of them weren't wearing armor, even though they had a highly muscled tone telltale of Warhounds.

Belvedere suddenly came to a stop at a crossroads between hallways. Twilight was about to ask what was going on when a dog suddenly came charging up a hall at them. It was a female golden retriever wearing a pair of goggles and a vest covered in many pockets.

“I have to return to commanding the battle,” Belvedere said and took a headset out of his longcoat. “Here, I'll be contacting you through this in a bit. Right now Missy shall take you the rest of the way to your destination.”

“You're the boss' sweetheart, huh?” Missy ask with a tilt of her head as Belvedere immediately took off down a hall at a sprint. “You don't look like much, but I've been hanging out around Warhounds a lot. Come on! This way!”

Before Twilight could form any sort of reply, the golden retriever had took off at a run down the hall she came up. The unicorn quickly took off at a gallop after Missy and followed her, putting her headset on in the process. Before long she found herself ascending some stairs with Missy waiting for her at the top before an opening into darkness.

“Almost there. Just keep following me,” Missy said as Twilight neared. The unicorn also saw that there was a catwalk stretching out into the darkness and she could just faintly make out the form of a wall.

Twilight followed Missy as the diamond dog walked onto the catwalk and her eyes strained to quickly adapt to the lack of light. She soon realized she was lead into a completely dark opening in the shadowed wall.

“Just walk in here,” Missy said as she came to a stop beside the dark opening and motioned to within.

“What am I going to be doing in here?” Twilight asked as she came to a stop before the darkness with a frown. “I'm not just being put in a vault for my own safety, right?”

“Well... you'll definitely be safer in here than any of the Warhounds fighting on the front lines will be,” Missy answered, seemingly confirming Twilight's suspicions. “But while you are in here you'll find yourself in the thick of it before long.”

“Really?” Twilight said in some confusion before stepping into the dark.

“There will be liquid,” Missy stated as she reached over to touch something on the wall. “Don't worry about it. It's to absorb shock and is highly oxygenated.”

“What?” Twilight said questioningly when suddenly the opening she just walked through seemed to cease to exist.

A moment later Twilight's horn lit up and she found that she was in a completely spherical chamber with several openings in the walls. She almost lost her footing when she felt the room shift and move and the sounds of something heavy being slid into place. After things seemed to come to a halt, there was the sound of rushing water and she looked around to see liquid pouring in through the openings.

“Okay, water is coming in and there is no way out,” Twilight stated as calmly as she could as the water level started to rapidly rise. “She said it was oxygenated so it should be fine...”

Suddenly a soft glow enveloped Twilight and she found herself being lifted up into mid air into the very center of the chamber. The unicorn found herself wondering what else was going to happen just as the water level rose above her snout.

GAMMA

“Ugh!” Emerald grunted as another wall crumbled beneath the force of her body's impact. She immediately flipped up onto a standing position just as Oskar crashed into her again. The two rapidly exchanged blows with Emerald feeling like she was just a normal human breaking her fists on unyielding steel, while Oskar's blows felt like jackhammers into her sides.

Suddenly Oskar's fist shifted into a spike and he drove it into her chest. There was a brief, blinding glow and she was sent flying sans the front of her chest. No doubt if she had them, not only would her internal organs be exposed they likely would have spilled out mid flight.

Emerald's wound healed before she landed and she rolled back up into a stand as she impacted the floor. Oskar was quick on the followup and was already almost on top of her, but Emerald was a bit faster and met his charge with a prepared fist. The other Evolved was sent stumbling back from the force of the blow, but at the same time reached out with his other hand glowing with magical power. A mirrored barrier simply appeared mid air before Emerald as the intense beam of magic left Oskar's palm. The beam hit the barrier and was deflected up into the ceiling where it instantly incinerated everything in it's path to the open sky.

Oskar teleported with a blinding flash of light and appeared behind Emerald, then quickly wrapped his arms around her. Emerald struggled in his grasp futilely for a moment, almost completely failing to fight his grip at all as tendrils stretched out from his arms and tried to pierce into her form.

Emerald suddenly killed the outer inch layer of viral cells in her body and stamped her foot. A pillar of stone shot up under Oskar as he was left holding nothing more than useless skin made of dead cells. Regenerating the lost cells in a near instant, Emerald shifted one arm into a whip fist and shot it at Oskar who was now above her. Almost before the head of the whip impacted, she swung the rest of the whip forward, sending Oskar flying through the air and crashing into the floor.

Emerald rolled to the side as her opponent almost instantly came charging out of the crater he made. As he charged past, Emerald lashed out with a kick and through that limb absorbed as much heat as possible from Oskar's body. Instantly the nearby fabric of the rug started to blacken and smolder as waves of heat rose from Emerald's body. Right away Oskar was almost frozen solid and his body fell over with a thunk onto the floor. Pointing with her other hand, Emerald let loose a super charged Sonic blast that pulverized everything in it's path, shattering Oskar's frozen form and turning the stone of the floor into a fine powder.

Almost as soon as she let off the sonic blast there had been been a flash of light from within Oskar's frozen form and one behind her. Arm shifting into a shield, she turned in time to meet the fall of a somewhat black humanoid shape falling towards her with Hammerfist cocked back to strike. Even with Oskar only as partially formed as he was, his blow still had more than enough power in it to instantly shatter Emerald's shield.

Oskar's punch carried on through Emerald's shattered shield and hit her squarely in the chest, sending her not only into the ground but through it to the floor below it. Oskar teleported again to where Emerald was to land, almost completely reformed with just a brief instant's time. He reached out with his hand to grab Emerald as she flew towards him but the other Evolved teleported just before reaching him. Suddenly she was at his side but also still retaining her previous velocity, delivering a powerful kick that once again was used to absorb all the heat in Oskar's body.

The male Evolved however was prepared for the side effect of Emerald's kick, increasing the natural heat of his body to the point that only a light frost enveloped his form when Emerald kicked him. For her part, Emerald was now hot enough to start turning the stone under her feet molten and instantly set aflame anything flammable near her.

Emerald kept her guard up and readied for Oskar's next charge. In her view, dust clouds billowed slowly and the rubble from her crashing through the floor had yet to reach ground, merely inching closer with every moment. It was clear that neither of them was going full out just yet, mostly because they didn't know what it was like to go full out with their power. This fight was as much a test of their limits and full capabilities as it was a battle for supremacy.

Oskar came charging out at her again from down the hall, the ground bursting apart from the force of his steps, but at the speed he was going they only did so a moment after he stepped off them. Emerald charged forth as well, her fist cocked back to meet his. An instant before they met, Emerald teleported behind him as Oskar punched at the now empty air. However the male Evolved purposely over committed force into his punch, making him flip forwards into the air when he missed. His other hand snapped out at Emerald's grasping hand, which she had intended to use to attempt to freeze him again. Gripping firmly on Emerald wrist, he swung her over and forwards, his arm stretching out as he did so, shifting into a whipfist.

Oskar's whipfist spread tendrils around Emerald's body rapidly, entrapping her as magic filled the air and denied her the ability to teleport out of the hold. Emerald struggled and twisted in her bindings, her expression quickly growing more and more panicked as the moments stretched on. The female Evolved bared her teeth in a pained grimace as the tendrils finished completely cocooning her and started trying to wear away at her.

DELTA

“Status report on the units,” Belvedere barked as he stared up into the tv screens of the war room.

“Err...” began one operator a little unsurely, still struggling a little with his console. “Bio Gear: Canis Rex units one, two and three are fully operational. All weapons are green and missile racks are fully loaded. Power supply and batteries at one hundred percent.”

“Pilots, are you ready to deploy?” Belvedere spoke into his headset.

“SIR, YES SIR!” came three voices at once.

“Ummm... Belvedere?” Twilight said, uncertainty clear in her voice. “I don't... I can't ‘feel’ anything like what you just mentioned. I don't think I have any weapons...”

“Bio Gear: Equinox was the last Bio Gear to be slated for armament,” an operator answered at Belvedere's look. “We had only just finished installing the weapons systems and ammunition on the Canis Rex units when the attack began. Equinox however does have greater magical capabilities than the other units. So there is that at least.”

“You reading that, unit four?” Belvedere said.

“Uhh, yes,” Twilight replied, uncertainty still clear.

“Relax, you still have magic. It's probably for the best you have the one weapon you are used to, anyway,” Belvedere answered. “You'll be guarding the approach to Ponyville and the town itself directly while the other units are deployed into direct combat. We'll call you forward for mop up or emergency reinforcement if it all goes to hell. Do you read me?”

“Uhhh...” Twilight was for a moment conflicted on the fact she wasn't going to go in and help but at the same time she liked the idea of protecting her home and the home of her friends. “Okay, I'll do that.”

“That wasn't a request, unit four,” Belvedere stated. “Alright you all know what to do. Deploy!”

On the surface, the situation had deteriorated. The increased swarm of infected pouring forth from the portal made it so that even the constant hail of gunfire couldn't stop great numbers of infected from getting everywhere. Even a good number of shambling infected could reach the fort now thanks to just how many there were. Bluno couldn't hope to stop Brawlers from getting out into the forest. And as the Alpha had feared, the reinforcements had been delayed due to being bogged down by swarms of infected. At the very least the raptor reinforcements he had been promised had arrived. Their flames and ability to tear through anything the infected had was appreciated as the first level of the fort was threatened to be buried in gore and corpses. Even worse, the few crippled flier infected were growing in number and threatened to swarm the roof.

Suddenly there was a rumble as the ground seemed to shake. Eventually great cracks appeared in the earth which started to balloon upward and outward. With a massive explosion, pieces of dirt and some rock started flying everywhere and a vast dust cloud formed and covered the site of the explosion.

For a moment nothing happened and the swarms of infected kept charging outwards nigh mindlessly. Suddenly, dozens of rockets came screaming out of the dust cloud and landed among the infected, slaughtering great swathes of them. There was the sound of air rushing and something massive moved the air rapidly and the dust cloud was dispersed in an instant.

It was a massive diamond dog, or at least looked like a massive diamond dog completely covered in armor. The massive dog towered over everything at sixty feet. Its armor was dark blue with white highlights, several gatling cannons mounted around its wrists and head with ammo belts leading down into the body, while upon its back rested many missile ports. Large green eyes seemed to take in the world as a deafening growl left its massive maw.

“Bio Gear: Canis Rex, designation Unit One,” the pilot within the massive being stated into his radio. “We have arrived. Engaging the enemy.”

With a roar, Unit One leaped into the air, easily crossing over the mirror pool and the vast indent into the earth it occupied and landed on the opposite side. Many infected were crushed under the Unit's multi ton weight and many more were sent flying into the air from the shock of the impact. Gatling cannons started spooling before their deafening cacophony filled the air. Fountains of dirt shot up into the air as bullets struck it, as was always the case as no infected here had the physical durability to ever hope of withstanding a hit from the massive bullet.

Unit One raised its paws above it's head before bringing them crashing down on the ground. The a ripple seemed to be sent through the earth and hundreds of infected were sent flying. This action seemed to alert the infected of just how big a threat the massive being was and they started swarming it. The lesser infected swarmed the feet of Unit One to fruitlessly beat on its powerful armor, their punches and clawing serving only to really be absorbed by the kinetic function of the armor and power the batteries. The only real issue for the massive being was the Brawlers leaping up onto its form and fliers swarming it, but in the end it was only ever an annoyance as their claws proved to be just as effective as the lesser infected. With a spin of its whole body and wave of its arms, Brawlers were sent flying and fliers were pulped.

From the mere sight of the massive being, the Warhounds defending the outpost cheered and their morale soared as the battle clearly turned in their favor. But that wasn't the end of it.

Suddenly howls filled the air along with the roaring and screeching of countless beasts. Coming charging out of the treeline were hundreds of timber wolves tearing into the infected. The timber wolves looked different now. Whereas before they were clumps of logs and bits of wood fused together by magic, now they were made up of tightly entwined roots. It seemed Sovereign learned from his fight with the Enclave and adjusted his wolves. That wasn't the only thing he had done, though.

Massive bears made of entwined roots were also among the wolves, within their bodies was large boulders held tightly within the woven roots. The bears were massive, easily twenty feet tall and batted at Brawlers, sending them flying like toys.

“FOUL CREATURES!” Sovereign's voice boomed. “YOU SHALL NOT DESECRATE THE EVERFREE! IT SHALL NOT STAND SILENT! I WILL DRIVE YOU BACK INTO THE PIT THAT SPAWNED YOU!”

“Command, this is the outpost... uh, over,” Bluno stated before remembering his radio etiquette.

“Command reading you, come in, over,” came Belvedere's response.

“Yeah, we're getting forest spirit reinforcements over here,” Bluno reported as he spied over the flood of roots and moss crashing against an opposing flood of viral flesh and twisted bone. “You figure out how to stream video from these helmets yet, over?”

“Standby...” Belvedere stated and after hearing some muttering Bluno suddenly saw an image like that of a microphone with little half circles emerging from the top appear in the corner of his view. “Affirmative, we have a strong feed. Hmm... according to the reports, the Wolverines are barely five minutes away. Can you get a visual, over?”

“Standby,” Bluno replied and quickly sprinted over to the opposite end of the fort, leaving Mikhail and Timujin. Upon reaching the other end, he quickly brought up his sniper rifle and tried to spy past the trees and underbrush. For a moment it seemed to be a lost cause till he saw a tree fall over. Adjusting the scope, he was able to watch the tail end of a brutal takedown of a Brawler by a wolverine.

“Command, I have a visual on a wolverine. I am unable to tell if he is a scouting force or part of the main mercenary division.” Bluno watched for a moment longer and saw that the wolverine immediately started backing away. The reason why was made clear as two Brawlers rushed by to chase down the retreating wolverine. “By the looks of it, they are going to be bogged down in either case, over.”

“Hmm...” Belvedere hummed over the radio. “Wolverines are known for their infantry blocks... forest isn't the best environment for it... right, don't expect the wolverines to be there on time. The raptors are forming up and will be closing in soon. Warhound reinforcements will be supporting the wolverines from the flanks. Their push should be easier then... so as long as complications don't arise, this fight will be nothing more then a long slog, over.”

“Hold on...” Bluno stated as his ears twitched. “I think the other shoe is about to drop.”

The husky Alpha quickly ran back over to Mikhail and Timujin who had stopped firing. Skidding to a stop, Bluno saw that the flood of infected had once again stopped, though the constant stream of black parasprites into the churning fire filled sky above didn't slow for a moment. The Mirror pool was charged with crimson electricity and the ground shook and cracked. Once more vast chunks of earth fell away into the portal and the hole widened to the point that parts of the reinforced basement walls of the outpost were exposed.

“Yep... there's that other shoe.” Bluno sighed and loaded a fresh clip before mounting his sniper rifle on the fore battlements. “...over and out, I guess.”

Standing opposite the pool, Unit One punched the ground several times before bringing its fists together in a deafening crash. It released a roar full of anticipation as an almost solid mass of Brawlers poured forth from the portal. Suddenly a grotesque, scaled purple hand the size of a small house gripped the ground beside the portal.

EPSILON

The air in Ponyville was tense. The Diamond Dogs working on construction had suddenly gone into a panic and told the ponies there to go home or find somewhere safe before retreating into their tunnels. By now the ponies of Ponyville had come to realize that for some reason their town just attracted the worst kind of attention. Many had decided to bunker down in their homes though there were still a few ponies here and there on the streets. Needless to say when a massive creature suddenly appeared in the air with a blinding flash before falling to the ground with an earthshaking crash, everyone was quick to panic and run for cover.

“Wait, wait!” Twilight shouted in her cockpit as images of her surroundings flowed into her mind. “I'm here to help! How do you turn the megaphones on in this thing?!”

Bio Gear: Equinox was a bit shorter than it's Diamond Dog like compatriots but made up for lack in size with magical firepower; enough to overwhelm any normal unicorn but not Celestia or Luna. Equinox was covered in purple and white armor. It's large eyes were bright blue and unblinkingly took in the world. In spite of its pony form, Equinox also had a mouth full fearsome looking, flesh tearing teeth.

“Calm down everypony!” Twilight's voice boomed out from Equinox after she finally figured out how to turn on the megaphones. “It's me, Twilight! I'm here to help!”

Shockingly, a deafening voice telling them to calm down didn't result in ponies calming down. Twilight was left trying to stop the panic she caused via her arrival for several long minute. Not trusting herself to be graceful enough to not step on someone's home, the unicorn was left standing out on the outskirts and trying to talk to people.

“Twilight!” Belvedere started barked into the unicorn's headset, startling her.

“Eh, y-yes?” Twilight as she steadied herself from almost toppling over someone's house.

“The enemy has managed to get a sizable force through our cordon,” Belvedere stated, the sounds of alarmed chatter bleeding through from the background. “The majority of their force is made up of highly lethal creatures called Brawlers. Do NOT let them pass you into the town. The death toll will be great, otherwise. They have another creature called a goliath. It’s massive and is likely your equal in size. It's slower than the brawlers by a large margin so if you deal with the little ones quickly you will only have to focus on one target.”

“But I don't have any weapons!” Twilight interrupted, nerves quickly winding up.

“You're fifty feet tall, several hundred tons heavy, covered in the toughest armor in the world and your magical might is amplified ten fold in that thing,” Belvedere replied impatiently as the sounds of trees cracking and bushes rustling arose from the nearby forest. “Do not tell me that the hero of Equestria and Celestia's student can't fight some mindless monsters with the odds ludicrously stacked in her favor.”

Twilight simply ground her teeth and her eyes widened as the approaching enemy seemed mere moments away. Thoughts of the traumatizing brief torture she had been put under barely half an hour ago flashing through her mind.

“...Listen. Emerald fell in love with you for a reason,” Belvedere said with a noticeably gentler voice. “You're a hero at your very core. Protect your home, protect your friends and guard your loved ones. You'll do fine.”

“A-alright...” Twilight said with a deep breath. “I can do this, I can do this.”

The force of brawlers choose that point to burst through the foliage of the Everfree forest. Twilight charged forward, intent to attract as much of their attention as possible and keep the fight as far away from Ponyville as possible.

While the brawlers did have a form of basic sentience to them and had the senses to detect settlements and make a beeline for them, they had little to no sense for strategy or tactics. Thus when Twilight came charging forward in the massive form of Equinox, instead of having some of them engage her and the rest dodge around, the entirety of their horde focused their attentions on the biggest, most obvious target: her.

Twilight for her part proved to be quite the reluctant fighter when it came down to do or die, never having been in a fight where she had to kill her opponent. Her strikes with the hooves of Equinox were almost gingerly done in an attempt to simply incapacitate rather than kill her foes. The brawlers knew no such concept as mercy - Oskar either let them loose or he didn't - and swarmed Twilight's form like monstrous ants trying to bring down a far larger foe.

The unicorn's reluctance to go the full distance in a fight to the death was decreasing by the moment as she felt phantom sensations from Equinox. The feeling of many teeth and claws attempting to get under her protective armor to tear into her flesh was not a pleasant sensation. The last bits of her reluctance disappeared as a few brawlers got onto “her” face and started trying to tear her eyes out.

“Off! Off! Off! OFF!” Twilight screamed in rising panic. “GET! OFF! ME!

Equinox's horn flared like a blazing bonfire and Twilight felt a dim sensation of exhilaration from the simplistic consciousness of her Bio Gear, almost like a small voice in her head was crying “Finally!” with joy. A magical aura surrounded each of the brawlers currently on her body and gripped them so hard most of them were instantly killed by being crushed. Each of the held brawlers were lifted off of her and into the air before suddenly being smashed into the ground hard enough to sink into it. Turning to face the oncoming steady stream of brawlers from the forest, Twilight sent an intense beam of magic towards them.

Brawlers were instantly vaporized as the beam washed over them and burned a deep rent into the earth beneath them. The beam was large, several meters in diameter and the excess energy was enough that the air next to it shimmered with heat as the ground smoldered and was set alight. After turning several dozen into ash, there was only a handful more coming from the forest. Simply bringing the remaining brawlers together with telekinesis, Twilight transfigured the lot of them into oranges before sending them flying into the distance to be squashed upon landing.

'Oh my gosh... oh my gosh...' Twilight thought, taking a shuddering deep breath after the fight was done. 'That was horrific... is this what it's like for Emerald? I don't think I can bear it if I have to fight like this all the time...'

Though Twilight found what she went through yet another horrifying and traumatizing moment in her life among many others since Emerald entered it, there was a part of it she found rather fascinating. Namely the second consciousness she could now feel in her mind. She had been told over radio in a very brief orientation to becoming a Bio Gear pilot that a Bio Gear did not have true sentience. No, Equinox certainly did not have much of what could be called a mind without a pilot, as without a pilot a Bio Gear was dormant as the pilot's own mind provided needed processing power to take the final step into waking consciousness for a Bio Gear. The fact she could feel a second mind entwining with hers would have honestly been quite frightening, if it wasn't for the fact how clearly simplistic it felt and how it wore its heart on its sleeve so to speak. The mind was aggressive and cared only to work with its pilot to fight. In fact, it felt quite frustrated with her in the start of the fight to the point it felt like it was trying to tell her “Don't think! FIGHT!”. The frustration completely disappeared as all of Twilight's reluctance to fight lethally faded.

Twilight's focus returned to the world around her as she felt the ground shake under her.

'Right, Belvedere told me the Brawlers were being followed by something big,' Twilight thought with a grim stare into the forest, the sound of trees breaking and occasional sight of some being tossed aside meeting her eyes and ears. 'I can do this...'

Trees being smashed aside eventually revealed parts of her next enemy before its full form was revealed. From what she could see, it may be a twisted, infected dragon from the scaly cancerous purple skin she could make out. It seemed to have a ridged back as well, though much of the ridges seemed to have rotted away. With a roar that sent vile spittle flying, the beast burst through the tree line and turned to Twilight. It was definitely a dragon, though oddly it's appearance was disturbing her more so than normal and part of her felt like something was horribly off about it.

The infected dragon's proportions were off, many of its limbs bulkier than the other and possessing large, thick viral growths that tore through the scales of its body. One of its arms was almost left dragging upon the ground thanks to huge stone like growth surrounding the right fore arm of the dragon. One of its legs was almost lame in the lack of muscle it had to support its massive weight, while the other was more thickly built and able to handle its load. Its face was twisted and disproportioned as its body, glowing rents lined it and it looked like a long snout had been forcefully grown out but failed in managing it, leaving half a snout and the rest twisted back into a flat mouth. It was as she stared into the bloodshot green slitted eyes that she realized, with such incredible horror that she reeled backwards, what it was about the massive infected she found off.

Spike!?!” Twilight exclaimed through her megaphones in a horrified scream, voice painfully clear in wishing with all her heart she was wrong. “Spike” just gave a choking snarl at her and charged.

Twilight gave another scream as Spike's charge caught her completely unprepared and sent her rolling into the ground, the great form of Equinox tearing up the landscape. She managed to get back up onto her hooves before Spike brought his massive cudgel of a cancerous arm down on where she fell. Equinox raged in the corner of her mind but Twilight dominated the presence with an iron grasp that would have made Sombra proud.

Please stop! I don't want to hurt you!” Twilight pleaded as Spike turned to face her again. “Listen to me. Please, Spike!”

Spike paused and stared at her and, for a brief moment, Twilight thought she had gotten through to him. But reality was that the twisted creature that Spike had become was simply shifting weight onto its stronger leg before charging again. Hopeful as she was that she could get through to Spike, Twilight was once again caught unprepared by the infected baby dragon as he dashed forward.

Twilight gave a startled shout as the infected dragon rushed her and wrapped his arms around her. He then lifted her before throwing her, sending the multi-ton form of Equinox flying through the air before coming to a ground shaking stop alarmingly close to Ponyville. Spike was onto her faster this time and brought down both of his arms onto her prone form.

“Aaaagh!” Twilight gave a shout as the impact shook Equinox's entire body, making the solution she was suspended in ripple from the force. She rolled onto her back and tried to block the next blows, but hooves weren't exactly made for close combat and Spike's next blows broke through easily. Twilight gave another shout as Equinox's body shook more intensely.

“Twilight!” Spike shouted.

Twilight blinked and looked up at her assailant, but the twisted creature was simply readying another blow. Looking over to the side, Twilight saw Spike in the street watching the fight with a horribly worried look on his face, completely stressed out as he watched Twilight steadily lose.

The world seemed to slow then and empty, leaving only her Spike watching on in the distance and the twisted one attempting to kill her bringing a next blow down. The only sound she could hear was her own labored breathing and the deafening pounding of her heart.

“...Protect your home, protect your friends and guard your loved ones...” a memory echoed in her head.

Suddenly the twisted Spike was sent flying as an explosion of magic erupted from Equinox. The massive Bio Gear stood back up onto its hooves as the infected dragon did the same. Its horn and eyes were brightly glowing and, strangely enough, massive surges of magic seemed to be focused around its back. The dragon charge her mindlessly with a roar and slammed face first into a magical barrier which then wrapped around it before it was sent flying through the air again.

Inside Equinox, tears left Twilight's eyes and mingled with solution she was suspended in. After a small moment, the despairing look on her face left and in its place was one of determination.

“I want to save you,” Twilight said lowly as she watched the twisted alternate of Spike rise again onto its legs. “I really do. But I know I can't and I have to make a choice between helping someone I can't and the people I care for. I know you don't have a choice, but you're still trying to hurt people... and I will protect my family!”

“You're a hero at your very core.”

Suddenly Twilight's eyes and horn glowed with an intense bright light.

There was an explosion of magic around Equinox and a beam of blinding light shooting off into the sky. When the light faded, Equinox's eyes and horn were surrounded by a blinding bright light and it had a massive pair of wings made from light that seemed to have burst from its back from the torn armor there.

Spike's twisted alternate roared and mindlessly charged forward but stumbled backward when suddenly an ethereal purple fist struck him squarely in the face. Suddenly another struck him in the back and sent him stumbling back forward. The twisted alternate then found itself drowning under a flood of glowing purple fists rapidly striking him from all sides like rapidly pumping pistons. Suddenly the flood of fists stopped but was quickly followed by a single massive one striking up into the infected dragon's face, sending it stumbling back and it's arms raised into the air to attempt to retain balance. A dozen hands appeared and quickly latched onto Spike's arms and legs, locking him in place.

Beside Equinox hovering in the air was a massive chunk of earth. The chunk glowed bright and began shrinking down rapidly. When the light faded, in the place of the chunk was a long metal spike. Spike roared as he twisted and fought against the grip of the hands holding him in place as a bolt of lightning left Equinox's horn and struck the metal spear.

With a sonic boom the metal spike shot forward and impaled the twisted dragon through the chest and kept on going. In the far distance an impact cloud arose on a mountain.

“Spike...” Twilight said softly within Equinox, closing her glowing eyes as she looked away from Spike falling to his knees.

“Twi-Twillllllight...” Twilight heard and gasped before turning to face Spike.

“Noooot y-your faulllllt...” the twisted alternate spoke with a voice like he had been gargling broken glass. Holding a massive, misshapen hand over the massive tear in his chest, he looked up at Twilight, his eyes silently conveying years of hopeless torment. “Don't bllllllame... y-you...”

Spike then brought his eyes over Ponyville, pristine and untouched and he smiled as best as his twisted features allowed. Twilight knew he was staring at Rarity's boutique in particular and that fact only made this moment hurt more. With a look of being happy for the first time in years, the light left the infected dragon's eyes and he fell forward into the dirt and lied still.

Equinox stood opposite the corpse of its opponent, its horn, eyes and wings glowing brightly and gloriously. Suddenly the light faded completely from Equinox and the wings disappeared, the only signs of their presence being the torn armor where they had erupted from. Wobbling back and forth briefly on its feet for a moment, Equinox then fell to the earth with an earth shaking crash.

Within the cockpit of Equinox, alarms blared about the sudden loss of life signs from the pilot. However, Twilight was nowhere to be seen in the cockpit; the only sign of her presence was the headset she wore floating freely in the solution.

“Twilight!” the baby dragon shouted in worry as he scrambled over to the toppled form of Equinox. “Twilight! Are you okay?! Say something! How do you get this darn thing open?!”

A crowd started forming and made their way over to the battle site and Equinox's form. Suddenly a blinding bright light shined in the sky and everyone gasped as they took in the light that briefly made the sun seem to dim.

ZETA

“Keep pushing!” A wolverine officer roared over the sounds of battle. “These mindless beasts are no match for our skill!”

What was shouted was actually very true. It seemed the brawlers were used to being faster, stronger, bigger and deadlier than anything they were made to face. The wolverines however were known for these very same things and had a finely honed mind and instinct for battle on top of it, while the brawlers had a near mindless, bestial instinct.

“Come ‘ere, scum!” a mercenary roared. Dodging the maddened strikes of the brawler he faced, he quickly darted forward and slashed deeply into the brawler’s neck before putting it in a headlock. The brawler slashed wildly, some of its strikes scraping across the thick armor before its head was popped off its shoulders.

Off to the right, a goliath roared in pained fury, its form covered in wolverines ripping and tearing into its flesh. Suddenly it fell to the ground as someone below managed to strike the weaker leg hard enough to snap it. It thrashed on the ground, managing to kill and wound several wolverines before its head was swarmed and torn apart.

The fighting between the wolverines and infected pouring forth from the mirror pool had grown intensely. The infected were now made completely of brawlers and goliaths. Battling the two types of infected had caused huge collateral damage to the surroundings. Where the wolverines had been battling had once been heavily forested, now it was a mud churned battlefield stretching back to the mirror pool and outpost, covered in broken tree stumps and corpses. The wolverines took this change in battleground to form up their large infantry blocks of muscle, claw and steel, causing brawler assaults upon their position to flow uselessly against them like water over rock. Of course the goliaths would have scattered and bashed apart their infantry formations very quickly if not for the warhound support.

Unlike the wolverines, the warhounds were spread out much wider and divided into smaller units. This was to put their powerful weaponry to full effect. While there had been only a handful of new sniper rifles made, there had been many missile launchers. The addition of missiles to the cacophony of ranged death the warhounds were able to unleash made taking down most goliaths before they could reach the wolverines an easy task. However, while nearly all the brawlers that closed in were killed before they could reach the warhounds, more than a few goliaths were able to last long enough to engage them due to the focus on supporting the wolverines.

“Watch out!” came a shout as a bellowing goliath came charging in, holding its massive, cancerous hardened arm aloft to shield itself from as much damage as possible. Just as it was about to bring the massive arm down atop a bunch of warhounds, a long, black shape came flying out of nowhere and struck it in the head.

The goliath gave a pained roar as a long spear like piece of wood extended deeply from one of its eyes. From behind a pile of twisted logs and branches came a diamond dog holding a monomolecular combat knife. The dog leapt onto the large misshapen arm of the goliath and latched on by digging in their blade. The warhound managed to leap up onto the shoulder by using the momentum of the goliath flinching its arm away from the feeling of being stabbed. The warhound then quickly dashed over to the back of the goliath's neck and started slashing away, the incredibly sharp edge of the blade cutting ever deeper.

In an attempt to dislodge its attacker, the goliath crouched briefly before leaping up over fifty stories into the air. In midair the goliath twisted around to land on its back, but the warhound quickly clambered onto the goliath's chest just as it crashed into the ground. The crash had knocked the goliath senseless but that was not the case for the warhound who quickly started slashing away at the front of the neck.

The goliath started growling and snarling at the wound growing in size, but before it could regain its senses the warhound braced itself against the collar bone and placed its feet against the chin. Pushing as hard as he could, the sound of ripping and tearing flesh filled the air along with the dying gurgles of the goliath. With a loud crack of the spine suddenly giving away, the head suddenly went flying and rolled along the ground.

“Impressive,” Fenrir commented from atop the corpse of another goliath as cheers rose up from the warhounds. “Who is that dog?”

“His name is Ridge, boss,” a nearby warhound answered. “He just recently finished his training.”

“Clearly he has great potential,” Fenrir stated as he watched Ridge quickly return to his squad. “I'll be sure to check up on his training personally in the future. Now...”

Fenrir turned his attention to one of the three Bio Gears in the area. Said Bio Gear was just finishing off one goliath thanks to its powerful gatling cannons before leaping over its falling corpse to lay into another one behind it. The goliath tried to grapple the Canis Rex but the Bio Gear was simply much stronger than it. The Canis Rex overpowered the infected monster before cocking back a massive fist and exploding its head in one powerful punch.

“I have to make a request for one of my own,” Fenrir said with an unseen eager grin before turning to oversee what little of the battlefield he could see. “It looks like we are still winning.”

Fenrir wasn't wrong. While the wolverines and warhounds used tactics along with their own strengths to counter the vast hordes of infected, the Everfree wood golems simply met numbers with numbers. Unlike the infected hordes, the wood golems had a mind behind them and they all worked as one seamlessly. The outpost continued to stand in a defiant, stalwart defense against the infected. Only the raptors had been able to reinforce the outpost and most of the lower levels were buried in corpses, but still the defenders fought unyielding. With the Everfree on one side, the wolverines, warhounds and raptors on another and the outpost in their midst unleashing immense firepower on anything twisted looking, the infected were losing ground as the firestorm caused by the two Discords roared overhead.

Suddenly in the distance towards Canterlot a new sun seemed to suddenly be birthed and blazed blindingly.

ETA

Oskar glared down at Emerald's struggling form, completely cocooned in his tendrils. His attention was fully upon her and she was almost certainly completely at his mercy.

Suddenly with a bright flash the entirety of the three hundred Deinos living in the palace teleported around Oskar. The male Evolved was surrounded by a multicolored aura and restrained as tightly as the collective Deinos could do while a few others simply leapt at him and physically restrained him. Two other Deinos quickly darted away and to the tendril connecting Oskar and Emerald as Sharp Skies and Sparkle Shine set about biting and tearing away at it to release Emerald.

After a tense instant, a crimson aura surrounded the Deinos, they collectively gasped as their chests were instantly crushed and organs forced out both ends of their digestive tract. Spikes erupted from Oskar's form and impaled the Deinos covering him, then he spun in place briefly and sent them all flying. He turned to face Sparkle and Sharp and breathed in deeply. Sparkle leapt in front of Sharp Skies just as a beam of plasma left Oskar's mouth. The moment that the beam spent burning through Sparkle's body bought just enough time for Sharp to finish biting through the tendril.

Oskar ended the beam of plasma and quickly tried to reconnect with the tendril but it was an instant too late. Emerald exploded from the cocoon and delivered a powerful kick to Oskar's chin, sending him flying through the roof with Emerald following him via teleport an instant later. Behind them the corpses of the Deinos twitched and bled out on the floor.

Oskar exploded out of the palace roof and shot into the air as Emerald arrived ahead of him with a teleport and cocked a fist back.

The male Evolved teleported and attempted to do what Emerald did before and use his own momentum against her. Emerald reacted fast and teleported twice, the first time to trigger any prepared strikes from Oskar and the second time to deliver the actual blow. Oskar's hand whipped out and grasped at air and ended up taking a double stomp to the chest before being sent shooting down towards Canterlot.

Landing with an explosion of broken brick and dust, Oskar quickly lept away and faced down Emerald who stood opposite him on the street. The two charged each other, fists cocked back. As Emerald began to swing her fist forward, she teleported. Oskar turned in place to face her only to see her teleport, his head turned to see yet another teleport and he only had enough time to see her fist coming at the corner of his eye.

Pink lightning surged around Emerald's arm and a bright magical aura shined around her. She channeled far more magic than she ever did before and it landed with dramatic results. Oskar was sent flying, a pressure wave emitted from the point of impact, a large crater formed around central point in the road and all nearby windows shattered.

Emerald teleported again, rapidly porting around the male Evolved as he flew through the air to disorient him further before landing another blow, sending him back into the sky. Emerald teleported up and Oskar tried to counter with a teleport of his own but the other Evolved was set to demonstrate her mastery at the spell.

Down below ponies stared up at the sky. They couldn't see anything of the fight. The only thing they could make out was blurs through the air and flashes of light along with what sounded like rapid fire explosions.

Tired of being batted around like a ping pong ball, Oskar unleashed an interdiction spell. In response, Emerald quickly grew a pair of blade wings and sent out her own interdiction spell to cancel Oskar's teleports as well. Oskar grew his own blade wings and for a brief moment the two stared each other down, studying each other and shifting a pair of claws each before they charged.

Emerald twisted in midair away from Oskar's swipe, managing a backhand slash at Oskar's slashing arm as she did so. The female Evolved spun around Oskar, avoiding a downward slash but delivering several of her own slashes while she spun. Emerald then flipped over Oskar's head just as he turned to face her former position. Shifting both arms into one large blade, Emerald slashed down while Oskar was still turning to face her new position. The slash was enough to send Oskar spinning through the air with a massive wound down the left side of his back and left leg.

Wound healing within moments, Oskar turned and faced Emerald with a glare as she was already charging at him. With a grimace, the male Evolved curled up into a ball and hundreds of black tendrils exploded off of him. Creating a thick magical barrier to stop her charge, Emerald quickly burst away as the tendrils shot towards her.

Circling Oskar, Emerald kept her speed up to avoid the tendrils, the number of which increased towards the thousands within moments. She briefly thought up a plan of attack before narrowing her eyes in determination. Emerald sped up even more, flying circles around the floating massive black sea urchin Oskar had become. She flew faster and faster, cutting any tendril apart if any managed to get in her path. Eventually she reached what felt like a barrier but Emerald poured forth ever more magic and pumped her wings harder. With a shout of exertion she swung her fist forward as if to break the barrier with it.

There was a soft boom and suddenly Emerald could barely be seen with naked eyes, only a long streak of pink marking her passage. Oskar's eyes widened as he turned in place and tried to spot Emerald, only to see several pink streaks, signifying she had orbited him several times in the time he took to look for her. A moment later and Oskar felt hundreds of his tendrils being cut away from him at once, barely five seconds later and he found himself bare in the open air, all his tendrils cut and falling away from him. He turned, only to be met with the sight of the bottom of a white sneaker.

A massive deafening sound like that of great volcano erupting filled the air and Oskar was sent flying through at sonic speeds of his own sans a head which had been pulped. A massive pressure wave emitted from the point of impact, almost potent enough to reach the earth below despite being over a kilometer up in the air.

Rapidly regrowing his head, Oskar gathered his power and created a massive energy barrier around himself. A fortunate decision for the male Evolved, for Emerald was flying after him at sonic speeds and would have reached him if she hadn't stopped before the barrier. Bringing himself to a stop, Oskar ceased his barrier and looked up towards Emerald.

Oskar's eyes were wide and he was panting, the anger at what Emerald had done before completely beaten out of him. Emerald was holding position currently in the air and stared down at her alternate with furrowed brows as she readied for further combat. The male Evolved stopped his panting and gritted his teeth, but his eyes were still wide. In that moment the two Evolved knew two certainties about one another.

Oskar was definitely stronger than Emerald and could overpower her every time he could get his hands on her. Emerald, however, was faster... much faster and noticeably more skilled. What the female Evolved lacked in brute force she more then closed the gap with sheer speed and ability. And with that thought in mind, the both of them knew which of them would eventually win in this battle.

The male Evolved raised a claw which quickly gained a glowing edge and an ethereal like after image effect. This immediately put Emerald on guard. She didn't know for certain but could guess fairly well what exactly that claw would do if it hit her. Oskar then whipped his other hand towards Canterlot, there was only a moment of intense crimson lightning surging about his arm to give warning to what happened next.

Within an instant a black sphere with a crimson pulsating core of energy appeared before his palm. The sphere grew to an an immense size within seconds, easily big enough that mount Canterlot could have comfortably fit within. And before Emerald could so much as widen her eyes in alarm at the realization of what he was going to do, the sphere shot towards Canterlot, the male Evolved flying in the opposite direction towards Everfree.

Emerald wasted several precious moments looking between the retreating form of Oskar and sphere before deciding what she needed to do. Cursing the fact the interdiction field was still up, Emerald flew as fast as she could after the sphere.

THETA

Moon Dancer stepped away from the second floor window of the library she was in, her mouth hanging open in silent horror of what approached. A black orb of magic that angrily crackled with crimson lightning soared towards them at speeds no one had any hope of escape. The magic coming off of it was horrifying in its greatness, even the weakest unicorn would have been able to feel it and tremble at the power that pulsed within.

She was a unicorn and had been a graduate of Celestia's school for gifted unicorns, so she more then knew her magic. In a calmer moment and one of pure safety she may have had the mind to analyze just how much power the orb held. As it was, almost as frozen in fear as she was, she could only say it was likely enough to make Equestria a crater.

The sphere almost seemed to slow down mockingly as it approached and in her terror it felt like it was aiming to come down on her specifically. The building around her started to shake, the sound of stone cracking and wood straining and snapping under the strain filled her ears. With a terrible suddenness, part of the roof above her tore away and the orb seemed mere feet away. Tears of terror streaming down her face, Moon Dancer closed her eyes tightly.

'I... I wish I had a friend...' Moon Dancer thought, believing this to be her last moments.

Moon Dancer waited... for an awfully long time for a death that seemed mere moments away but never arrived. Opening one of her eyes slightly, they both snapped open and she gasped at the sight before her.

She had read many articles about her, even managed to get a few books that had been rapidly pumped out about how her presence changed the political landscape forever, therefore there was no doubt in her mind that standing just before her was Emerald Gleaner. She was in that strange bipedal form, seemingly holding back the overwhelming size of the sphere of destruction with just her bare hands, a magical aura surrounded the entirety of her form and pink lightning surged with alacrity.

It seemed her own widely known power didn't seem enough to stop the sphere completely though, as she moved closer and closer to the floor of the library. Before she reached the ground herself Emerald reached down with her foot and tapped the floor once. Loud booms echoed from all around and Moon Dancer could see stone arms shooting up by the hundreds from the city and pressing against the sphere. There was a deafening grinding noise and Moon Dancer could see pieces of stones flying from the palms of the stone hands.

The combined efforts of Emerald and the stone hands she created seemed to have had finally brought the sphere to a complete stop. The shapeshifter lifted down on the floor and sighed before tapping her foot, seemingly causing the hundreds of stone hands to retract back into the ground. Suddenly the sphere pulsed with a bright light and released a low gong like noise.

Emerald stared up at the sphere for a moment as it continued to pulse and release gonging noises. The instant Emerald noticed that the sphere's pulses were growing in speed, her eyes widened in realization. She quickly placed her hands against the sphere and heaved. The sphere moved, but at an alarmingly slow pace as the pulses grew in frequency. With a shout of exertion, a magical aura flared around Emerald and lightning sparked around her arms and suddenly the sphere was sent flying into the sky.

Emerald and Moon Dancer stared up into the sky. The city was strangely silent despite being mere moments from annihilation a second before. Everyone was staring up at what could easily have been mistaken for an exceedingly large and bright star in the noon sky, completely silent and barely breathing. Just as the sphere shrunk down to the size of a marble, the moment of truth came.

It was as if a newer and greater sun had just been born above Equestria. The natural sun seemed to dim and the sky turned crimson from the light of the newborn sun. A few moments after the light of the explosion appeared in the sky came the sound of it. It was low and terrifying, shaking all in its volume. That seemed to be it, but Emerald thought otherwise and shielded by standing in front of her.

The pressure wave from the explosion arrived, far weaker due to the distance traveled, but that didn't make the damage it wreaked any less terrible. The pressure wave could be visibly seen traveling through the air and then along the land when it finally reached the ground. Every window in Canterlot shot at once and every building started shaking down to its foundations, some cracking and even collapsing. Above, once solid and stable rock formations on the side of Mount Canterlot weakened greatly from the abuse and several rock slides were triggered.

Cloudsdale once more suffered the inglorious fate of being completely dispersed and its inhabitants forced to act fast to save one another when the “ground” gave way. Ponyville was fairly nearby but was far enough away that its homes only suffered some structural damage along with shattered windows. Many towns and villages suffered the same fate as Ponyville, only with the structural damage decreasing as the distance increased. Cities on each of the far coasts like Vanhoover and Manehattan suffered no structural damage, but practically had all their glass panes shattered.

After the shaking completely stopped, Emerald looked around to survey the damage before turning to look at the pony she had protected before raising her brows at the sight.

The pony in question was a unicorn mare and had a light yellow coat along with a light red mane with some purple streaks and thick red brows. She was wearing a black woolen sweater with large pink buttons on the front and also wore a pair of glasses, though she was currently magically holding them aloft to examine them sadly as the lenses did not survive. Her cutie mark was of a crescent moon surrounded by three stars and she apparently had a hair tie, but it had been undone and barely hung on to a few locks of mane.

'She... reminds me a lot of Twilight,' Emerald thought curiously. 'Especially with her mane down like that.'

“Uhhh...” Moon Dancer began, unsure of how to thank the equally famed and infamous leader of the Enclave. “Th-thank you for-”

Suddenly there was a loud rumble and the floor under Emerald and Moon Dancer cracked and began to give. Emerald quickly scooped the unicorn up in her arms before teleporting onto the road beside the library. From their new position outside, the two watched as the section of the library they had been in crumbled to the ground in a great heap. Emerald returned her attention towards the mare that was now lying on her back in her arms. Moon Dancer was still staring at the library and Emerald noticed that the unicorn had placed her glasses back on her nose despite the broken lenses. With a thoughtful hum, the Evolved magically took ahold of the glasses, gaining Moon Dancer's attention in the process. A crackle of a spell later and the unicorn's freshly fixed glasses lighted back down on her nose.

“Th-thank you for saving me,” Moon dancer said nervously as she averted her eyes away from Emerald. “A-and fixing my glasses.”

“It's not a problem,” Emerald said and placed the unicorn down on her hooves. “You just get somewhere safe - the palace maybe - the city doesn't seem all that stable after the explosion.”

Emerald turned her head to look off into the distance with a frown as the sounds of screams and shouts of alarm and distress echoed through the air.

“I wish I could stay to help, sounds like it's needed,” Emerald stated with a shake of her head. “But I need to go. You be safe now.”

With that Emerald teleported away, leaving Moon Dancer staring where the virus had been an instant before. The unicorn then quickly buffed her glasses on her sweater before trotting for the palace as suggested.

With a flash of pink light, Emerald appeared over the mirror pool. The battle was still on going with the forces on her side slowly pushing the infected back. Apparently instead of stopping to help, Oskar simply returned to his side of the pool, content to let his forces throw themselves into the grinder in futile attempts to jam it with their numbers. However, Oskar's retreat to his world meant that Emerald was the sole greater Blacklight being here...

With barely a flex of her will, Emerald commanded the infected to halt. All at once the brawlers, goliaths and black parasprites stopped where they were and looked up towards Emerald, ignoring the enemy they had been fighting in the process. The infected suddenly stopping and ignoring them killing them caused the warhounds and their allies to pause in the fighting. Staring down at the infected as they stared up at her attentively, Emerald made a decision and reached out a hand towards them. She uttered one command.

“Die.”

As one, the entirety of the infected literally fell to pieces, then those pieces continued to be broken down again and again until the cells themselves tore themselves apart into raw materials. Down below, the allied forces watched in shock as the infected fell into piles of gore before turning into dust that blew away into the wind. Everyone was confused until someone noticed Emerald floating in the air. Loud cheering followed soon after as everyone realized that Emerald put an end to the fight with her mere presence.

Emerald brought herself down onto the ground. Warhounds crowded towards her but stopped a short distance away so she still had space to herself. Then, as one, they fell onto their knees and bowed to her respectfully. A nearby group of wolverines had their officer barking commands to them and they quickly fell into parade formation and saluted towards Emerald. Taking this all in with well concealed annoyance, Emerald spied Bluno, Mikhail and Timujin standing atop the outpost still.

“Bluno, Mikhail, Timujin. I'm glad to see you are still alive and in one piece,” Emerald stated after teleporting to the three. After taking a look at Mikhail, she added. “Though I'm not entirely sure if you are in one piece there, Mikhail.”

“Ha!” Mikhail barked with a bloody toothed grin. The wolverine commander's armor was covered in deep rents, and more than a few had deep, bloody gashes. His vambraces were barely holding on, covered in a great many scratches and tears. In his claws was a heavy machine gun. Judging by the distorted barrels and the several empty ammo carts, it had seen a ton of use. “Is good fight. Adrenaline not even gone yet. I don't feel any of these wounds yet.”

“Hmm, let's not have you bleed out, shall we?” Emerald said and reached her hand out towards him. “Stay still.”

Several tendrils sprouted from Emerald's forearm and slowly reached for Mikhail. The wolverine only watched on curiously, though his second looked like he sincerely wished to protest. Taking Mikhail's silence as permission, Emerald's tendrils reached for his visible wounds. Releasing numbing agents, the tendrils probed the flesh as Emerald made her diagnosis of the wolverine's condition. Either the armor did its job well or he was simply tough because none of his wounds were threatening. Simply closing the cuts up, she withdrew the tendrils and did the wolverine a favor by magically repairing the damage to his armor.

“Ah! My thanks!” Mikhail said happily as he looked over his repaired armor. “Only need to wash off now.”

“Right, now,” Emerald said turning towards Bluno. “Bluno, radio Belvedere. Tell him to get himself and my friends ready for transport. I and few others are definitely going to need to go over what just happened and our response. Then I want the warhounds and the wolverines to set up a fortified perimeter as quickly as possible around the mirror pool. Got it?”

“Yes, boss!” Bluno said before placing a paw to the side of his helmet.

'Now, let's collect those two,' Emerald thought and looked up towards the two Discords, one appearing to support the other. Before teleporting up, she glanced towards the various wood golems standing in place. 'He is likely expecting an explanation why a rather large chunk of his forest has been devastated. I better bring one of his wolves along before he starts complaining.'

With that, the Evolved teleported into the sky.

IOTA

“Is this all of them?” Emerald asked, standing in her human form.

“Yes... yes it is...” a Xanthos royal guard replied sadly.

Emerald was back at the palace. Things in the city were still quite chaotic and the Royal Guard were doing their best to calm the people. The Thracian members of the Royal Guard had taken to collecting the bodies of the Deinos that died, which was all of them. The Deinos were laid out on the floor before her. Each was covered in some cloth, whether it was a blanket, a bunch of towels or even the curtains off the windows, the Thracian Guard had made sure the bodies were covered. It was a good decision to make, as already several normal ponies who were family of the Deinos had arrived to grieve heart brokenly and the bodies with the least amount of damage still had horrific wounds.

“Good,” Emerald said and reached out her hand towards the bodies. A single large tendril left her palm and soon split into little over three hundred smaller tendrils. Each tendril went for a body and went down through the coverings to the corpse beneath. Barely a second after she did this, the bodies began to twitch and move before the sound of three hundred people taking in a gasping breath filled the air.

'They gave their lives to save mine. Of all things to give up your life for,' Emerald thought as the cries of grief turned to ones of shock then to joy as the Deinos pushed their coverings off. 'Mine isn't worth the cost they paid for it. How could I ever leave them like that?'

Emerald took a moment to observe as some normal pony family of the Deinos embraced loved ones they had thought dead. Her gaze was attracted by one mare in particular. This mare was holding a Deinos tightly, but what was interesting about her was her noticeably extended belly. Considering that it had been more than nine months since the Deinos had been created, it was clear what kind of child the mare must be carrying.

'Interesting...' Emerald thought in fascination when a startled shout stole her attention.

It was two Deinos who had been revived. One was a stallion and the other was a mare she recognized as the overly toothed Sharp Skies. Sharp had apparently gave the shout of surprise, the reason being she was being kissed by the stallion, her orange bioluminescence seemingly glowing brightly out of embarrassment. She wasn't the only one to be embarrassed however, as the stallion realized he was actually kissing her teeth and not her lips.

Emerald tilted her head and gave a frown as Sharp seemed to grow ashamed by her “disability”.

“Eh?” Sharp said in surprise when a tendril suddenly sunk into the flesh of her cheek. An instant later, she felt her teeth shrinking and shifting and before long for the first time in over a year her mouth closed.

“Ohmigosh!” Sharp Skies said as she pressed her hooves to her mouth. “No more drooling! No more messy eating! Thank you so much!”

That seemed to have been the sign the other Deinos were waiting for and proceeded to swarm Emerald, giving her their heartfelt thanks. Emerald could see the barely withheld adoration in their eyes and, though her own discomfort threatened to broil to the surface, she bared through it with a smile.

“I have to go now,” Emerald said after a minute of having the Deinos pour thanks and praise upon her. “There is still a lot to be done about the enemy that hurt you.”

The Deinos gladly parted for her and she made her way to return to the meeting room the others were in. Before she fully left the Deinos however, she spotted Razor Wing smiling up at her. Normally she would have simply continued on, but after what happened...

“Razor Wing,” Emerald said softly with a repentant look. “I'm sorry about how things went in the past.”

“You don't have to say anything,” Razor replied with a shake of his head. “You like mares, simple as that.”

“...Thanks.” Emerald said with a smile and got one in return. With that, she continued on her way. It wasn't long before she found herself entering the meeting room.

It was a simple conference chamber with a large, circular table in the center. At the table was Belvedere, the two Discords, the Mane Six sans Twilight and Princess Luna. Emerald frowned at the absences of Celestia and Twilight.

“Celestia's not back with Twilight, yet?” Emerald asked in clear worry.

Emerald had grown quite panicked when, after talking to Belvedere, he had informed her that Twilight was missing from her Bio Gear. She had gone to investigate Equinox herself. This was fortunate as Luna had sent a message via Spike that Twilight was stuck somewhere and Celestia had gone to collect her. The fact that the two weren't back yet wasn't doing Emerald's nerves any favors.

Suddenly there was a flash of light off to the side of the room. When the light faded, there were several gasps at what met their eyes. It was Celestia and Twilight standing together, but Twilight was different now. All in all, she looked little different from how she was before, save with one incredibly notable aspect; she had wings now.

“Twilight!” Rarity gasped, her eyes sparkling. “You're an alicorn!”

“Yes I am,” Twilight said with a bit of a strained smile, extending one wing out in emphasis.

“As much as I would really like an explanation and to go into this further...” Emerald said as she took a seat at the table. “We really have more important issues to go over.”

Any excitement everyone had at Twilight's apparent ascension into alicornhood was killed by that statement. Princess Celestia and Twilight quickly took their own seats at the table. Emerald took in everyone's serious expressions for a moment.

“The fight isn't over. We are only halfway done.” Discord's alternate broke the silence, leaning forward onto the table. “Oskar will be returning very soon and in greater force. He'll never allow us to catch our breath for long, especially now that he knows we have what we need against him. So we must prepare for his next assault.”

“Yes and no,” Emerald stated. “He knows we have what is needed to beat him and he'll act on it, that is true. He, however, would never risk himself by attacking the enemy's prepared trump on their home ground. He will likely send attacks like the one he nearly decimated Equestria with through the portal in ever greater number and potency. He also very likely knows that I would know this and would try to counter this action by going to him instead of waiting for him to come to us.”

“Yes he would,” the alternate agreed with a narrowing of his one eye. “There likely isn't long before he assumes we are going to go against his expectation and he starts destroying this world from his end of the portal.”

“So what, we gotta go fight where he has the home field advantage?” Dash muttered quietly. “Didn't exactly go so well when it was on our turf...”

That statement caused a shudder to go through Mane Six save for Fluttershy who had been petrified for most of their encounter with the brutal Evolved. Pinkie Pie started to cry softly which immediately got her a comforting hug from Applejack.

“It's either that or he kills everyone by making pot shots from the safety of his end of the portal,” Emerald stated calmly.

“...What's to stop us from simply destroying the portal?” Belvedere asked evenly. “Do we have to fight this-”

“I DID NOT COME HERE TO RUN!” Discord's alternate stated with a voice harder than steel. “I came here to seek a means to win. If I wished to abandon millions of dead to go on unavenged and those still alive to the fate of being at his nonexistent mercy for the rest of their lives, I could have done so long ago. I will NOT let years of effort go to waste in the name of cold hearted pragmatism!”

“I agree,” Emerald nodded and got a lot of surprised looks from people who knew her well, Dash in particular. “Admittedly it would be easier to just break the portal, but... it... it wouldn't be the right way to go about this.”

“In this I agree as well,” Celestia nodded resolutely. “Do you have a plan of action?”

“There is likely only one way of winning this,” Emerald said, nodding at Discord's alternate. “The Elements of Harmony. Oskar and I hurt each other a lot in our fight but we never made any lasting blows... it could be possible that without immense, overwhelming power or a trump, we could end up fighting forever without a real result.”

“This is a fight that simply can't be won with conventional forces,” Emerald said, looking towards Belvedere. “There is simply no way. So it's just going to have to be a small group of us. Me, the two Discords, the bearers, Celestia and Luna. I and both Discords will fight Oskar to the best of our abilities while everyone else waits below, protected by the princesses. We shall try to maneuver the fight in such a way that Oskar ends up open to a hit from the Elements of Harmony.”

There was a long moment of silence at this. Quite honestly, the plan Emerald gave wasn't much of one.

“If you are expecting tactical genius... there simply isn't any to this.” Emerald closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. “There is no special plan to win this, no specific weakness to exploit, no neat trick to ruthlessly use against him. We have one thing we can use against him and he isn't nearly enough of an idiot to get anywhere near it when it starts to go off. We can't trick him into getting hit by the Elements. We can only hope to force him to.”

“... Well, what are we waiting for?” Twilight said with a strained smile. “We've fought against evil before haven't we? Granted, the stakes were never so high as this before but we've always managed to get through it in the end.”

There wasn't any sudden rising cheer and enthusiasm for those at the table. No sudden confidence and grins in face of adversity. Just silence and people nodding their assent to what was to come.

“I shall collect the Elements,” Luna stated and got up from her seat. “I shall return soon.”

“Emerald, I would like you to go to the Crystal Empire,” Celestia said as she got up from her own seat. “I need you to collect someone.”

“Who?” Emerald asked.

“Cadence.”

KAPPA

The Warhounds and Wolverines had done their work quickly. Many logs had been collected and formed barricades and fortifications that completely surrounded the Mirror Pool. Warhounds and wolverines stood completely at attention and fully expecting another force to be appearing through the portal any minute.

“Everyone ready?” Emerald asked evenly.

“I am prepared,” Cadence said as the others muttered their acknowledgment. “I may not be as strong as Celestia and Luna, but after everything you've done for me and then done for the Empire, I'll be glad to help.”

“Right, Twilight.” Emerald nodded before turning to face the newly ascended alicorn. “You okay?”

“I...” Twilight began, her eyes locked on the tiara she was holding before her before finally and gingerly placing it atop her head. “I am as ready as I'll ever be, Emerald.”

“Right,” Emerald said and looked down at the black water before her, glowing with a crimson light. She stared down at her reflection and the reflections of the others soon joined her. The virus took a deep breath before swallowing. “Let's go.”

With that, she stepped forward.

-TBC-

Chapter 7: Mad World

View Online

Emerald came shooting out of the portal on Oskar's end with clawed hands outstretched and magical aura crackling dangerously around her form. Her head whipped about back and forth to take in what awaited her on this side of the portal.

Strangely, instead of the incredibly massive viral defenses and countless hordes of blacklight creatures Emerald expected, she found precious little in the form of active defense. The earth around the portal had been torn away and the harsh edges in the earth pounded smooth from the passage of countless beasts. Viral stalks towered over the portal and cast deep shadows and within their presence she saw brawlers and the occasional twisted pony scurry out of sight.

Emerald lighted down on the shore of the portal with a frown. She could make out the baleful stares of Brawlers in the thicket of viral stalks and dead trees surrounding the area. Closing her eyes, she stretched out her senses. The echoes of sound formed a vivid mental picture in her head. For miles around, viral beasts stood packed in practically shoulder to shoulder but they were moving away. Massive Goliaths lumbered along the packed masses of infected, uncaring of watching their step and squashing a brawler every time they moved one of their limbs. It seemed Oskar realized there was no point in wasting infected on Emerald. Hearing the buzzing of many wings drew Emerald's attention upwards. She saw nothing except for the thick layer of broiling storm clouds that very nearly blotted out the sun far above.

Bending down, Emerald reached back through the portal with her hand and waved everyone through before standing back up and intently focusing on all sources of viral infection. The two Discords floated through first followed by the Princesses, who were quick to cast a barrier around the group, before the Mane Six finally came through.

“O-Oh my...” Rarity said softly as she took in her surroundings. “We've only just arrived and it's already looking quite grim.”

“So this is what you could do if you were evil?” Dash asked as she took in the viral stalks and black storm clouds above.

“Pretty much,” Emerald answered with a sigh as she kept alert. Everyone had come through yet the infected hadn't immediately turned around to try to attack them. Yeah, Oskar definitely wasn't going to bother annoying her with fodder. “This is very likely the tip of the iceberg, though. We'll be seeing much worse when we get out of the wilderness.”

“Just look at what's he's done to the sky,” Rarity stated as she looked up. “Those clouds are just horrid.”

“Those aren't clouds,” Emerald stated.

“Really?” Twilight asked and narrowed her eyes at the sky. “What are they then?”

“You... probably don't want to know,” Emerald answered as she glanced up towards the sky, her powerful sight able to see the distant broiling “clouds” for what they were. Little over two miles up into the sky Blacklight Parasprites buzzed, swarming the skies in their teeming quadrillions, forming vast, thick storm clouds that blotted out the blue sky.

“... I'll just take your word for it,” Twilight stated, memories of asking what a prostitute was once again going through her mind.

“So where we findin’ this evil you?” Applejack asked as she scanned the dead trees and stalks, eyes sharp enough to note the twisted ponies and brawlers staring at them from the distance. “Doubt the fella’s just going to make it obvious.”

“... I don't know,” Emerald said honestly. Oskar was her, an alternate version whose only difference was just one choice. He knew all her tracking tricks and was immune to her most powerful one. If Oskar wished, he could simply sit on the bottom of the ocean on the opposite side of the planet, and even if Emerald searched said ocean, chances were she'd miss him. “I guess we just move forward and hope for the best.”

“Well fortunately for you, my senses are quite sharp when it comes to the matter of the enemy,” Alternate Discord stated simply and raised a hand and pointed. “He is that way, barely ten miles away in fact,; dangerously close. If I was alone, I'd be quietly making my exit right now.”

“Thank you,” Emerald said and took a breath to steel her nerve before looking over her shoulder at everyone. “Let's get going.”

“One thing,” Cadence said, looking at the portal with a worried frown. “What is to stop Oskar from simply dodging past us and attacking our world again?”

“Nothing,” Emerald said bluntly. “However I should point out that for someone like a Blacklight Evolved, it would take just a moment's instant to cause great harm if they had any inclination for it at all. It's even more so the case pf me and Oskar. If Oskar's target was the world on our side of the portal it would have already suffered crippling injuries during my fight with him. I might have been able to stop or maybe reverse anything he'd do, but the damage would be still done.”

“Well that's nice to know,” Cadence stated with a forced smile but couldn't hide the grimness she felt, something everyone save Discord's alternate shared. After that, the group began moving through the thick viral stalks. The stalks soon gave way to some sickly looking trees so it was clear that while Oskar had no reason to preserve nature, he didn't outright seek its destruction either. Before long they began moving into a heavily damaged section that was likely caused by the passage of numerous infected.

'That glow he made around his claw...' Emerald thought as she stared down at her hand as she traveled. 'That must have been a sign of the presence of that attack Discord mentioned, the ability to strike at the very spirit of a being. I know how to do that as well, but I've never had the time or really the need to practice it... but it should be simple enough to get working since I understand the principles of it. You concentrate, focus your senses inward upon your very being. Then you channel the energies that make up your spirit and make it more “real” upon the physical plane.'

Of course it was far more complicated than Emerald was thinking, but said virus also had the advantage of memories of several masters who each mastered the spiritual art. So for her it was rather simple and straightforward due to literal generations spent learning the needed skills. As she walked forward, Emerald's form slowly began to shimmer, her eyes closed as she absently concentrated. Then the odd sensation of an out of body experience began to fill her senses before it focused and moved towards her arm primarily.

'And... there, that should be it,' Emerald thought and opened her eyes. Initially it seemed like nothing happened and her hand looked no different, but upon moving said hand there was an ethereal afterimage that followed her hand movement. 'It works just like I knew it would. Hmm... if I reach out just so, then...'

Emerald then began the mind twisting part of the exercise. She had to move her arm without actually moving her arm. This was where the sensation of feeling like she was out of her body came into play. She had to focus on that sensation and visualize the intent to move the limb through it. Despite the memories, this was her first time actually doing it and it was honestly a little different for everyone so it was rather difficult. Her arm kept twitching instead of resulting in the desired movement for several moments but eventually the out of body sensation moved away from her arm and into empty air. Looking now she could see a ghostly blue apparition of her arm stretching out of her right shoulder. What she found odd about it, however, was the fact her right arm wasn't feeling numb.

'Hmm...' Emerald hummed in thought as she looked down at her right arm and the ghostly version of it beside it. 'It's supposed to feel numb. It felt numb for the other master every time they used the “phantom limb”. What could it be... ah, I'm a shapeshifter and can have as many limbs as I please, therefore my spirit must be able to account for this. Good to know.'

“Interesting,” Emerald heard Discord's voice say. Turning, she saw that it was the alternate who spoke.

“I've seen him use it and I've been the victim of that ability,” he stated. “But I've never seen him use it in such a manner.”

“Hmm... I was given knowledge by the spiritual masters of the Channelers,” Emerald muttered. “They were pretty much ghosts, nothing to eat and consume for knowledge. He definitely only knows as much as the flesh and blood masters knew.”

“A secret weapon to use at its most devastating.” The Alternate nodded. “You are going to need it.”

“I know.” Emerald sighed and dispelled her phantom limb.

Soon the group reached the end of the forest and moved past the treeline. What was healthy green fields of grass and rolling hills in their world was a wasteland here. The constant presence of the overwhelming swarms of Blacklight Parasprites robbed plants of most of their sunlight, leaving what little that did survive brown, sickly and growing in patches. The apple trees of Sweet Apple Acres were mostly dead, withered gray husks in the dirt with the occasional struggling tree clawing to life. Ponyville itself was a slowly crumbling ghost town without a single soul in sight. The biggest reason for why no one had decided to stay and try to retrofit Ponyville into a fortified community was highly visible in the distance.

“Canterlot...” Celestia said softly in horror.

The capital city of Equestria was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a massive viral stalk that in a way was like a twisted mockery of a tree. Half of Mount Canterlot had crumbled onto the fields below, the reason being that the “roots” of the tree dug deeply and thoroughly into it. Said roots also grew outwards along the land and off into the horizon. Orange bioluminescence shined across the tree and its roots brightly. To Emerald's eyes, she could see great boils across the roots and surface of the tree constantly bursting and spilling forth brawlers and the odd goliath. Up in its branches that reached out like great claws were fruit like growths that rapidly expanded before bursting and releasing a cloud of black parasprites.

“I know that he would have destroyed it...” Celestia said, her expression a mask of sorrow and grief. “But to see with my own eyes.”

“Dear sister, we are here to put a stop to this,” Luna said as she stepped close to Celestia and wrapped a wing around the older alicorn. “He will pay for this. We will not fail. Today is the day that this Oskar is brought to justice for all his horrific deeds.”

“I do not wish for vengeance,” Celestia said softly as she shook her head. “I wish for there to be peace and my ponies to live long, happy lives... but theses last few years, it seems like something is insistent upon making Equestria a land of catastrophe.”

Emerald's expression hardened up hearing and focused her sight onward towards the ruins of Ponyville. She simply turned towards Discord's alternate who nodded in reply to her look. Emerald took point, leading the way into Ponyville. Empty buildings with broken windows passed the group by, a horrid, unnatural silence making itself impossible to ignore. There was the occasional scrape of claws upon a hard surface, something tumbling in the distance, all signs of infected creatures clearing out of the way or moving away from the group but apart from that there was heavy silence. That the world could be as silent and quiet as it was now grated on everyone as intensely as nails upon a chalkboard.

Eventually the group found themselves stepping into the very street that Twilight's home should be on. It was the tree house, and the sight of it made Twilight choke audibly. It was a living tree despite being hollowed out as a home and it suffered the effects of the blotted sky just as badly as other plant life, however it was still alive, as its yellowed leaves attested. And standing before this building, staring upon it was Oskar.

The group came to a stop about thirty feet away from Oskar who continued to stare at the treehouse for a moment longer. Then he turned to face the group, taking them all in, his eyes noticeably narrowing in in annoyance at the sight of Cadence before returning to their calm state. Oskar and Emerald stared at each other neutrally for several moments in silence before he finally spoke.

“I've been thinking... about us,” Oskar stated. “About what could have happened to make the both of us different from each other. Why you haven't pacified your world and I have. It didn't take long. After all, the clue that gives the moment away is very obvious.”

At this Oskar waved his hand towards Twilight who flinched at the memory of Emerald telling her how she almost decided to kill her. For Emerald, she found herself reliving the moment in which she decided not to kill Twilight in her mind.

“One choice is all that divides us, makes us any different from one another,” Oskar continued. “We both know that; we both know we are the same. You wouldn't be here if you didn't. And since we already have an understanding in one another... I'm going to make this request again...”

“Leave my Discord behind,” Oskar stated to the alternate's stiffening. “Take you and your own back home. I will not follow you or set foot upon your world again. I will destroy the portal and we both go back to our own businesses. Deal?”

Emerald closed her eyes and took a breath. She was silent for a long, poignant moment that had everyone thinking she was about to accept. She knew Oskar was speaking honestly. If she took his offer, he would remain true to his word and wouldn't bother her or the world on her side of the portal again. At the cost of one life, a threat to countless millions could be pacified and kept from ever threatening her or her own ever again. Now that she was in a calm state of mind, the urge to simply accept the deal and turn around and go home was strong... oh so strong. But...

“No,” Emerald said calmly.

“...W-what?” Oskar said with an incredibly incredulous expression as well as a feeling that he must have misheard.

“...” Emerald took in her surroundings, the empty husk that was Ponyville, the blotted out sky, the half dead world around her, the hideous viral tree that sat upon the half destroyed remains of Mount Canterlot, Twilight's treehouse... “I said no. I will not leave your Discord here and go home. I will not simply just turn around let you continue on tormenting this world, killing its people and keeping the survivors pacified through threat of utter annihilation.”

“This... this doesn't make any sense!” Oskar growled in confusion. “Why?!”

“Once upon a time I would have gladly accepted your offer with a smile,” Emerald said as she seemed to stand taller than she did before and stared Oskar down with a determined stare. “I would have gladly let things go. As long as they didn't bother me or the few people I cared about, why should I make it my business? But now... I understand now. I can't let you go and pretend that the simple act of letting you go wouldn't bother me. I won't let you go.”

“You know better than this... this... naivete!” Oskar snapped, hands clenched tightly and eyes widening before pointing at the Mane Six. “They know now, know what we, what you can do! Do you honestly think they'll stay your friend after this? That they won't eventually decide to betray you and attempt to seal you away with their Elements of Harmony?”

Emerald's expression remained unmoving, looking as determined as ever but the Mane Six winced or cringed in guilt at Oskar's words. This didn't go unnoticed by Osker whose eyes widened in shock as he looked from Emerald to the Mane Six. His mouth opened and his jaw worked, but for a long moment he just stared at Emerald, disbelieving and words refusing to form.

“They... they already did betray you...” Oskar finally said in a quiet voice that quickly raised in volume. “Then why?! How can you possibly still trust them to not betray you when they already have before?!? How could you possibly still see them as your friend!?”

“Because people aren't perfect and make mistakes,” Emerald answered simply before waving to the world around them. “Because their intent behind the ‘betrayal’ was understandable and after everything I've seen here I can't blame or hold it against them anymore. Because it's thanks to them that now I've no longer given up on becoming the kind of person my mother would like me to be... and while I don't believe I'll ever fulfill those exact expectations, I think stopping you is a good first step.”

Oskar stared, gaping at Emerald for a long moment, an expression shared by a certain rainbow maned pegasus.

“It's... it's not fair... IT'S NOT FAIR...” Oskar said angrily before his shoulders slumped and his face became blank of all emotion, his voice becoming almost silent in it's softness. “It's not fair...”

Oskar then met Emerald's gaze and he suddenly flared up like a small sun and moved. Emerald couldn't help the shout of surprise that left her mouth as she stumbled back, her leg kick up into the air. Oskar's speed was incredible, far faster than even Emerald was capable of managing. It was only thanks to Emerald's startled reaction that Oskar's sudden offensive didn't give him the advantage. The male Evolved blurred towards Emerald like a bright blazing bullet and his stomach impacted the sole of Emerald's raised foot. His momentum carried him forward and he was launched into the air thanks to the impact with Emerald's leg. Emerald quickly cleared her mind and teleported after Oskar.

Emerald arrived in the air as Oskar forcibly brought himself to a stop, the both of them quickly grew wings as interdiction fields were raised. Oskar brought himself to face Emerald and the female Evolved barely was able to roll out of the way as he suddenly shot past like a shooting star.

'Fast. How did he get so fast?!' Emerald thought with wide eyes as she was forced to dodge Oskar shooting at her almost faster then she could react. But as soon as he flew past once more, she narrowed her eyes at him. 'Wait, he isn't really maneuvering all that well and his magical aura is intensely bright. He isn't actually faster now, he's just forcing himself to move faster than he is able to control. I can manage this.'

True enough, Oskar was forcing himself to move faster than he could control, giving him extreme tunnel vision and awareness of only what was directly in front of him, plus he couldn't exactly bring himself to an instant stop either. Emerald quickly started moving and kept up a high level of speed. It wasn't as fast as the speeds Oskar was forcing himself to move, but she could actually retain full control.

“Oh what do we do, what do we do?!” Fluttershy asked frantically as two balls of light moved at incredible speeds overhead, one in orbiting circular movements and the other in a zigzag pattern.

“Nothing,” Luna said as she and her fellow Princesses kept up a constant barrier around the group. “Even with the Elements of Harmony, none of you have the capability to assist in a fight of this level. Sadly, the same can be said for us as well.”

“Hey where did those two Discords go?” Rainbow Dash asked as she turned in place. “I bet they ran off.”

“That sort of behavior I've come to expect from our Discord, but from this world's Discord?” Celestia stated and then shook her head. “He would never allow it. I think they are simply awaiting the right moment to strike. Even for them, this fight is extremely dangerous.”

“Are you okay, Twilight?” Rarity asked her fellow unicorn who looked like she was a moment away from nervously chewing her hooves off as she watched the skies above.

“No I'm not,” Twilight answered honestly, her gaze still fazed to the sky. “It's hard just sitting here waiting, hoping that our part in this comes to play. It's horrible to just sit here knowing Emerald could actually be killed here.”

Rarity was about to say more when a deafening boom echoed through the air. Looking up, Rarity saw that one of the balls of the light was shooting up to the skies with the other in quick pursuit.

After orbiting Oskar and easily dodging his attempts to strike her, Emerald had baited him several times in order to attempt to open him up to a hit. She waited for several opportunities to strike before she actually did. timing it just so as he shot past and struck out as she dodged. It worked, though he impacted her so hard that her leg was torn off, an easy enough condition to fix. Her leg was fully regenerated half an instant later as she raced through the air and past Oskar as he shot into the sky.

Emerald flew at Oskar's flying body with a kick, but as soon as she neared the male Evolved's body, he shimmered and spikes suddenly exploded out of his body towards Emerald. Emerald's blow still landed, sending Oskar flying but the instant she felt the spikes sink into her flesh she felt intense stabbing pains where they pierced her.

Emerald came to a stop in midair just before the Black Parasprite swarm, gasping for breath. She had turned off her pain receptors for this fight, yet the pain she felt was still there and it was intense. It was as if someone had turned her into a normal human and then proceeded to stab her several times in the chest. She barely had the presence of mind left to keep herself afloat in the air, so shocked by the pain as she was it was no surprise she didn't see Oskar's followup attack coming.

Suddenly he was before her and she absently realized she had lost control of her interdiction spell. She saw the gleam of a sharp edge and shimmer of an ethereal afterimage before she felt intense agony fill her being.

Oskar had stabbed her, impaled her with an arm shifted into a blade. Her stab wounds from his spikes glowed brightly with a burning orange light reminiscent of the alternate's own wounds. From around the blade entering her stomach and exiting her back an even brighter glow emitted. The pain was horrific and Emerald could not help the tears streaming down her cheeks or the scream that was ripped from her throat. Despite this, however, she still had the presence of mind to strike back at Oskar, snarling through the pain.

The only bit of warning Oskar had was Emerald glaring at him when two ethereal claws erupted from her shoulders and stabbed him deeply in his head and chest. That broke the concentration on his own spirit striking attack around the blade still impaled in Emerald and she easily booted him away from her. The two came to a stop fifty feet from each other, panting and clutching at their wounds, glowing burning orange tears in their very being.

“Horrific, isn't it?” Discord heard his alternate state. “That there should be such beings that can survive such injuries to their innermost being. Even for a Primal such wounds could never be ignored, but just by feeling their energies from here I can tell they are more than ready to continue tearing each other apart.”

Discord and his alternate were rather close by to the fighting and yet they were weren't. The two of them were currently disembodied and resided in a place called the Spiritual Plane, a different layer of reality that also coincidentally happened to be the same realm newly ascended alicorns went. Discord himself merely appeared to be a ghostly version of himself and glowed softly in an ever changing array of colors. His alternate was the same, but his glow was noticeably weaker and his two maiming injuries were far more obvious here, with clouds of burning energies billowing out from the holes in his very being. Said billowing energies seemed to attract a large amount of small parasprite sized lights of various colors. The little “Sprites” gathered around the billowing clouds and seemed to bathe in them and simply fly around them excitedly. The alternate paid them no mind.

Through a complex array of highly attuned senses and a different way of “seeing”, Discord and his Alternate were able to watch as the two Evolved battled and tore into each other from their place on a different layer of reality. Through their sight within the Spiritual Plane, the two Spirits of Chaos could see the broiling clouds of energy practically blasting out of the open tears into the two Evolved's being. So much energy and power was being lost from the open wounds but other then the clear pain from said wounds the two seemed not to pay any mind to the energy loss, which spoke more for the amount of power they must have then any demonstration of power ever could.

“She really is a monster; an alien from another world,” Discord stated. “Just what kind of place can birth beings such as this? His head injuries would have killed even The Fury and I doubt even The End could ignore an impalement like hers.”

“They are hardly ignoring them,” The alternate stated with a considering stare. “But they are adapting rather quickly. This fight will continue in but a few more moments.”

“Should we act now that he is so hurt?” Discord asked.

“No. We must wait for the perfect moment,” the alternate replied. “Despite the rate he is losing power, he still has far more to spare. We must wait for him to grow weaker still or he will likely work to strike the both us down the instant we make our presence known and he still has the power to spare against both us and Emerald.”

“... I haven't felt this level of power in a very long time.”

“It brings back memories, doesn't it?”

Her wounds still ached horribly, but Emerald forced her breathing to come back under control and stood upright to face Oskar. He was doing the same as her, recollecting his composure and likely preparing to continue fighting. He had two small holes in his head and one large rent. The two little holes were in his left cheek and in his forehead. The rent was large and was where his left eye used to be. His torso had several little burning orange holes that glowed as well, five of them from the clawed phantom limb Emerald used on him. Emerald for her part was just as damaged as him, possibly even more so. She had only a few little holes in her body but the massive impalement injury caused by Oskar's blade burned horribly and ached with every movement. The worst part about the injuries however wasn't the pain but the way she felt her power draining through the holes in her like water under pressure shooting out cracks in a tank.

'The... the only saving grace here is that he is likely suffering just as badly...' Emerald thought. 'If I don't e-end this s-soon, this fight will c-come down to who can endure the most injuries without f-falling over.'

Emerald willed her biomass to replicate and fill in the holes that had been turn into her form. It was done simply and easily enough, but the pain remained despite looking no worse for wear. Instead of healing her wounds, it felt more like she was simply patching over the damage. Oskar had done the same thing and his concerned expression at finding out that didn't truly fix the damage was likely as obvious as Emerald's own.

The female Evolved quickly took the initiative. She burst forward in an explosion of speed, her body aching horribly with the surge of magic. She felt herself actually going slower then she was used to and attributed to her new wounds. Thankfully, Oskar seemed to be suffering the same side effects as her. Though he saw her coming, he couldn't move fast enough. There was a massive explosion of kinetic force and Oskar was sent flying through the air. The wave of kinetic force from the point of impact spread out and killed a large chunk of the black parasprite swarm nearby overhead. Hundreds of thousands of black parasprites rained down around Emerald as she shot forward after Oskar.

ALPHA

A large group of gruff looking ponies wearing battered and cobbled together looking metal armor went through training drills, some of them going through a cheaply made obstacle course and many others sparring. Watching these ponies train was a pink alicorn who had more than a few old scars darting her form. She wore scratched and battered looking purple armor that had a pink star on the front as a crest. Despite the condition of the armor, it was clear she took great care in maintaining it, though it was also clear it had to be modified to fit her. Her tail was roughly cut short and bound together with rugged white wrapping, and sticking out of the top of her purple helmet was her purple, pink and yellow mane which had appeared to also be roughly cut short and was a tad spiky looking.

'Cadance' took in her resistance fighters in their daily training sessions with a cool stare. They had all come a long way since their formation several years ago. It wasn't really surprising, they had all lost someone to the monster that now controlled the world, and that loss gave them the determination to push and reach for goals they'd otherwise fail to reach. The same could be said about herself. She had no doubts in her mind if the current her met the her from the very beginning of this nightmare she'd be shocked at the change.

'We've all lost somepony that we loved and cared for...' Cadence thought, an old pain flaring up and she allowed herself a brief moment to close her eyes. 'But their loss is not forgotten, nor in vain. We remember them and the pain of their absence drives us to reach ever greater heights. I will avenge the husband I never had and the mare I never got to call sister.'

Suddenly, the training session was brought to a halt as a low boom seemed to shake the skies. Ponies stopped their activities and stared upwards, gasped and talked, pointing to the black sky. Cadance looked up herself and saw large chunks of the black sky falling away, the countless black insects that made up the black sky dying in massive droves with each sound of a low explosion. The princess turned warrior removed her helmet, revealing her short, spiky mane to stare up at a yellow and orange evening sky that was exposed for the first time in years.

“Commander!” exclaimed a mare. “What's going on?!”

Cadance didn't reply immediately, still not knowing the answer herself but continued studying the skies. Eventually she saw two bright lights darting amongst the “clouds” and impacting against each other every few moments, a low boom resounding through the air every time they impacted against each other. So great was their clashes that great swathes of black parasprites died and fell out of the sky from the impact forces.

“I think... that someone is fighting him,” Cadance said to everyone's collective gasps. “And they aren't losing instantly...”

Everyone watched on in silence of the battle overhead, all knowing that deep down this would decide the fate of their home turned hell. There was another loud boom and one of the lights was sent shooting off into the distance at incredible speeds with the other light chasing after it.

“Whoever you are...” said one resistance fighter aloud. “Please win.”

'Please...' Cadance added her own prayer as she clutched the helmet to her chest.

BETA

Emerald shouted in pain as Oskar's claw raked the side of her face, leaving glowing rents. Shifting a leg into a whipfist, she paid him in turn with a deep stab into his gut. With his own shout of pain Oskar quickly formed a death orb in his palm which grew to the size of a small house and shot off towards her. Emerald recognized this for what it was; buying time to lick wounds a little. Considering she needed it as well, she allowed it. A beam of energy lanced forth from her palm and raked across the surface of the sphere, causing a massive explosion that vaporized the black parasprites around them. The two Evolved were little bothered by it and were simply sent tumbling through the air.

Bringing herself slowly to a stop, Emerald brought a hand up to her face and felt the cuts that burned like someone forcibly rubbed salt into them. She had gained more of them, though none of them were as bad as the massive impalement wound she felt throb agonizingly in her chest. Simple little burning orange cuts in her form, flesh wounds basically. Patching over the glowing rents, Emerald looked towards her opponent who was just finishing doing the same.

Suddenly he shot forward at her and her hands met his. The two tossed and turned, spinning through the air at incredible speeds. Normally grappling with Oskar was simply a practice in futility, but while the cuts made Emerald go ever slower as she gained more, the same could be said for Oskar who grew a bit weaker with each wound he gained of his own. Of course the issue here was that every time one of them got a decent blow on the other with the spirit cutting technique, the other was able to as well. A battle that was grinding the both of them down equally.

Suddenly Oskar's arms froze solid down to his elbows and Emerald brought both legs up and kicked him solidly in the chest. His arms shattered and the male Evolved was sent flying again through the air, the explosion of force ripping apart the parasprite swarm surrounding them. Emerald pumped her blade wings, channeling power to go faster and chase after her male counterpart, all her wounds burning ever more intensely the more power she used.

'I won't beat him like this...' Emerald thought as she quickly spun away from Oskar, barely missing a shimmering claw. 'This is grinding the both of us down... I can't even use the phantom limb, either. All these wounds get in the way of my concentration... I can only do what he does with the spirit cutting technique. B-but... I don't need to win, do I? I'm not alone here... if I can grind him down enough, then the others will be able to fight him without help... hopefully.'

Emerald gritted her teeth as Oskar rushed at her, her hands met his again but she was at the mercy of his momentum now as the surroundings blurred around her.

GAMMA

In the countryside of what was once the Heron Republic, a pegasus sat in meditation. She was a weary looking mare with a blue coat and silver mane. She was wearing a patched white haori with light blue trimming and wore a conical hat. On the front of the hat and back of her haori was kanji that translated into the word 'wind'. Before her laid down upon some slightly dirty looking cloth were two swords, one longer than the other. Some distance before her was a singular wooden post and the telltale sign of a grave. All around her were the corpses of several brawlers and lesser infected.

Swift Gale sighed tiredly as she gathered up her blades and replaced them back in their sheaths. It had been a while since the Channelers had been shattered and their remains scattered throughout the pillaged lands of the former Republic. More than a few had certainly survived, but a vast majority had gone to defend the grand monastery of their order. It was two weeks of solid fighting against a seemingly endless enemy when he arrived and ended the battle within an hour. That was all anyone really knew of what happened at the battle for the monastery. The only survivors were people who managed to get out before he arrived. Some say the ancient masters of the order had gone to face him in battle... it was clear who won that fight if it was true.

'I still wish you hadn't sent me away,' Swift thought as she stared at the white post. 'You were the closest thing to family I had left when Equestria fell. I know I would have been dead too, but... at least it would have been over. There's just nothing left... couldn't even get your body; had to bury your things...'

Suddenly, Swift felt the edges of her senses twinge and turned to look just in time to see and feel an explosion in the sky. She leapt to her hooves, thinking Oskar had come to cleanse the remains of the Republic when her senses caught what was happening. The movement of the wind and changing air pressure acted as a sort of radar to Swift Gale. Straining these special senses to the limit, she was able to feel two figures amongst the parasprite swarms battling.

She watched as one of the battling beings released a massive beam of energy at the other, swiping it through the air and unintentionally annihilating a vast swathe of “cloud cover” as they did so. In response, the other being dodged and ducked around the beam intended for them and got under the other before shooting up into them. Swift watched as the two then rose far into the sky, growing smaller and smaller before they disappeared from sight.

“Looks like you were right after all...” Swift muttered quietly before sending a glance at the post. “There is always hope for the future.”

DELTA

Emerald let loose a barely audible scream of pain before quickly retaliating at Oskar with clawed slashes that managed to bite deeply into his right arm. The female Evolved clutched at the minor impalement wound in her side, right over where her left kidney would have been..

'Fuck that hurts!' Emerald thought with a growl before she quickly moved out of the way of Oskar barreling at her.

Both Oskar and Emerald were now at the very edges of Equus' atmosphere, far away from anything they could accidental damage if either of them were willing to work through the ever increasing pain of using ever greater magic while damaged as they were. The passive drain on their magics increased with every new tear into their souls. Their well of power was immense, but everything runs out eventually. For the first time in years, Emerald was beginning to feel the onset of magical exhaustion. It was very telling that movement at speeds that rendered the two Evolved a blur to the naked eye was now saved for quick assaults upon one another.

'Concentrate. Just concentrate,' Emerald told herself as she twirled out of the way of a beam of plasma. 'You are better than him at magical control. He wastes far more than he uses. The damage is only making that waste even worse.'

Emerald began to fly, dancing on the edges of Oskar's defenses and dodging his ranged attacks with some minor aerial acrobatics. Recalling the sensation of breaking the sound barrier, Emerald channeled power to her blade wings. One moment Emerald was a mile away, dancing around Oskar's probing strikes, the next she was suddenly in his face and burying her claws into his chest.

Emerald forced her claws in deeper, ripping and tearing at Oskar's flesh before ten blades fully impaled him through. However... while Oskar didn't have nearly as much magical control as Emerald had, he more than made up for it with pure, raw power and more magic than he could ever use at his beck and call. Suddenly the male Evolved's body lit up like a flare as he called upon his magic, old wounds and tears into his spirit seemed to blow away viral flesh that had been grown over them as magic blasted out of them like a blowtorch. Realizing she may have miscalculated, Emerald tried to pull away but Oskar's hands gripped one of her arms, his strength as great as it was at the start of the fight. Before Emerald could command her arm to self destruct and disconnect, Oskar shifted a blade and brought it down on her caught limb.

Emerald went spinning away into space, twisting and grabbing at the glowing stump where her arm had been. If it were not for the void, her screams would have been bone chilling to hear. The female Evolved struggled to return her senses and focus on the fight. She saw an intense bright light and for a moment mistook it for the sun. Getting a better look, she saw Oskar at the center of the “sun”, giving a silent roar of both pain and exertion before pointing the palms of his hands at her.

Emerald widened her eyes and pointed her own palm at Oskar, bringing up the strongest barrier she could as the light seemed to rush at her.

EPSILON

“Come on you monster, I can do this all day!” Gilda shouted as she hefted her mace meaningfully.

Raising its massive mitt-like rocky fists in reply, the Juggernaut roared a challenge before charging.

What was happening currently was a rather large battle between Griffin Anvil Knights and a large horde of infected with various viral creatures mixed in. Most of it was the infected, twisted griffins, ponies and various other sapient species that had called the Principalities home. Brawlers and Juggernauts were among the infected, but in place of Goliaths were infected mega fauna that the Principalities were famed for. Thankfully for the Knights, only a few mega fauna infected were in this battle.

Gilda took to the skies the moment the Juggernaut leapt at her, bringing its hammerfists crashing down on the ground she just vacated. She turned in midair and faced the viral creature. She was wearing a plain steel suit of armor, sloping plating with steel chainmail underneath. Her helmet was fairly basic as well; it had ridges over the eyes to deflect blows and sloping armor over the beak as well as camail that hung from within the helm and dropped over the shoulders for extra protection. Her mace was specifically a flanged mace with six pointed sides to it.

The Juggernaut turned in time to see an up close look of Gilda's mace rushing towards it. The mace crashed into its face with a small crunch and tearing of flesh. The viral monster stumbled back, more out of surprise and pain than actual harm, though. The creature briefly pawed its face before quickly turning about to face Gilda and leapt at her into the air where the griffin almost effortlessly dodged it. That was the issue with the Juggernauts. Much of their effectiveness dropped against extremely agile foes, especially ones that could retreat into the air. However, it wasn't like they weren't expendable and literal millions were waiting to be eagerly thrown into whatever grinder they faced. Still, they were quite meaty and for someone like Gilda they proved a tiring opponent to wear down. Gilda, however, never did intend to be the one to bring it down.

Hearing a loud war cry, the Juggernaut turned to see a griffin wearing ornate battered brass armor wielding a spherical spiked mace arching with electricity, his wings doing the same. There was a boom like a thunderclap and suddenly the Juggernaut was without the upper half of its head. It balanced a few moments on its stubby legs, its arms twitching as a final death rattle gurgled out of the hole of its throat before it fell over.

Gilda gave a relieved sigh before looking over the battlefield just in time to see the shooting star that was her father flying through a mega infected like it wasn't there. The massive, unnaturally spindly and emancipated creature gave a groan before it fell over with a hole the size of a minivan through its chest.

Turning away, the griffin looked around to see that her fellow Knights were also on the way to winning the battle despite it currently looking like they were badly outnumbered. The major viral beings like the Brawlers, Juggernauts and Mega Infected were all nearly dead. The minor infected, even the ones with advanced infection, were practically fodder for a seasoned knight to work through so they barely mattered.

It had been a long and harsh constant three years of fighting for the Principalities but it had weathered them as best as they could, standing tall and defiant in the face of threat that constantly overshadowed them. The dedication of this defiance was no more clearer than the fact the large force of Anvil Knights were all battling in the crater of what used to be a mountain. This mountain had been the base upon which a Great Hold of the Principalities had stood but had been rendered into nothingness by Oskar. Still, the Griffins did not kneel in the face of this clear show of power and intimidation. Collectively, the Anvil Knights hardened their wills and raised sword, axe and mace to protect friends, family and innocents from the ravening hordes.

Suddenly it was as if a second sun had been born over head. A bright, blinding light shone through the thick layer of black parasprites. A moment later, a blast of kinetic force cleared away vast swathes of the parasprites, revealing a massive crimson explosion in the night sky.

In a place both near and eternally far away, two ghostly spirits of chaos seemed to stand just before the surface of a sun.

“The moon?” Discord's Alternate spoke. “Hmmm... perfect. You go get Cadance, I shall ready my things.”

ZETA

Emerald vision was one massive blur of black and red. Everything hurt and she couldn't feel her limbs. An instant later and sensation returned, bringing with it even more pain and sense of her surroundings. Equestria seemed to be above her, it was an angrily pulsating ball of black due to the thick clouds of black parasprites, though there was a few clear spots created by Emerald and Oskar's fight. Looking around herself, Emerald saw that she was on the moon in a large crater created by her landing. The female Evolved gave an audible groan as she attempted to get onto her feet before her eyes widened in surprise.

'Huh... there's air on the moon,' Emerald thought as she stood up. 'Pretty comfortable temperature as well.'

The virus released another pained groan and reached down to hold the remains of her arm. The point where the rest of it had been cut off hurt worse then the impalement. And speaking of injuries, all of her “healed” soul tears had been opened up again. That last attack by Oskar had been incredibly powerful, however it had basically been raw magical energy shot in her general direction. She was able to avoid most of it via a shaped barrier. Emerald was about to fill in the damage again when a bright light shined down on her and a roar filled the air.

Overhead, Oskar was charging another attack to blast Emerald with. Bringing up so much magic in his state hurt horrifically, but in a battle to the death he was willing to experience agony if it meant victory. Knowing she only had moments to act, Emerald brought forth her channeling abilities to buy her some time. An instant later, she sunk into the dust of the moon like it was water.

Emerald sunk down quickly, rock and dust rushing past her. Her senses stretched out, her mastery of earth channeling practically made the rock around her an extension of her own body. A moment later she felt it, a blast of heat and energy tearing away countless miles of dust and rock from the surface of the moon. As dust and rock boiled and was incinerated, Emerald dived as fast as she could, feeling like an inferno was chasing her, gaining on her almost faster than she could dive down.

The female Evolved seemed to go down for miles, rock and dust just a few feet behind her turning molten before being vaporized away. Finally, the advance of the heat slowed and eventually stopped and Emerald brought herself to a stop as well. She took just long enough to patch over the tears in her form and regrow her arm before shooting back upward.

The female Evolved burst through a thick layer of molten rock. All around her was the presence of a glowing crater several hundred miles wide and many miles deep. Oskar hung however in the air, suspended by his blade wings. He was panting and his breath came in loud wheezes.

Emerald came to a stop in midair about thirty feet away from Oskar who, despite his wheezing, kept a careful eye on her. Wordlessly, the both of them agreed to a brief ceasefire as the both of them desired to recover. Suddenly there was a pop that attracted the both of their attention. They were met with the sight of Discord's Alternate hovering in midair a short distance away. Beside him was Cadance who was holding aloft a scratched looking and noticeably dim crystal heart. Along with the two were hundreds of clearly magical objects. Everything from jewelry to tools hovered in the air. Musical instruments from horns to harps, weapons from swords to bows and arrows, pieces of armor, specially shaped gems much like the crystal heart but clearly lesser. Every single one of them were aimed toward Oskar.

Oskar was moments away from flying away as fast and as far as he could from the array of magical firepower that was intimidating even for him when he was struck. Emerald came flying at him like a bullet and the two were sent flying into space. They spun rapidly head over heals and grappled and wrestled with each other. Emerald managed to get the upper hand thanks to channeling a ton of magic like he did with her. It was agonizing, but like him she was willing to power through the pain for victory.

With an arm around his neck and another arm around his waist, Emerald forced him to face towards Discord's alternate and Cadance. Knowing that Emerald wouldn't be able to hold Oskar for long, Discord quickly charged up his arsenal, pushing them so hard and fast they would likely be destroyed or too damaged to be used again. Recalling what had happened in the Crystal Empire, Cadance hesitated to use the crystal heart with Emerald in the firing line, but the alicorn knew what exactly was at stake and quickly shook it off.

Emerald felt like Oskar was an instant from tearing himself free out of her grasp when a bright blinding light was all she knew. She felt intense, burning pain and a sudden sensation of movement but that faded quickly. She heard what sounded like screaming in her ears but she was honestly at a loss of whether it was her or Oskar's voice. Emerald's world remained in darkness until she finally realized she had actually lost her eyes at some point. Regenerating her eyes, what met her restored sight was the image of Equestria's moon missing a good sized chunk of it, a third of its visual surface turned into a molten crater. Oskar was still in her grip, but he wasn't fighting against her anymore. Considering he took on the full brunt of the blow, he was likely far more out of it than her. She wasn't naive enough to believe for a moment she was simply holding onto a crispy corpse and nothing else.

Her view started to turn red and heat started to rise greatly. Wearily looking over her shoulder, Emerald saw the world of Equus rushing up at her, the friction of her and Oskar shooting down directly into the atmosphere turning the both of them into a shooting star for anyone below to see. The both of them were flying quite fast, it didn't take long at all for impact to be imminent.

'... Good aim,' Emerald mentally complimented the Alternate Spirit of Chaos as she saw the viral tree and the remains of Mount Canterlot it sat rooted on rushing at them. Oskar choose this moment to gain some sense of what was going on and wiggled out of her barely resisting grip.

Leaving two smoke trails in their wake, Emerald and Oskar impacted the viral tree at two separate points with a massive crash. Despite the fact the tree was probably quite a bit tougher than the mountain it sat on, the both of them tore through it, only losing most of their momentum. The tree shuddered after their passage before slowly tipping over and falling down into the field Canterlot once loomed over.

Emerald and Oskar continued their flight for a couple dozen more miles before crashing down into some plains, their impact separated only by a hundred feet and the both of them created very large craters with their impact. And for several long, quiet moments, the two Evolved lied still in the centers of their respective craters. The exhaustion of their wounds and battle beginning to really catch up to the both of them.

Finally, the two of them got up and started walking out of their craters and towards each other. Reaching the very edges of their craters they stared at each other. Oskar's body was covered with glowing rents in his form, several dozen shallow cuts marked his limbs and torso, several small holes all the way through him also marked his chest and head along with a very large one where one of his eyes had been. Seemingly as a sign of his own exhaustion, the glowing wounds weren't as bright as before. Before, the impalement injuries were completely opaque with bright orange light, but now the light was faded enough to see completely through. The male Evolved released a pained groan as his wounds filled in rather slowly in comparison to what he and even she was capable of. Emerald was actually little better and it actually took her several seconds to close up her reopened wounds and regenerate her arm.

Just as the two were about to charge at each other once more, there was a bang and flash of light and suddenly Oskar was surrounded. The three princesses were around her, their horns aglow with magic and the two Discords were over head pointing the palms of their hands towards the male Evolved. A short distance away was the Mane Six, wearing the Elements of Harmony.

A multicolored magical aura coalesced around Oskar and his arms seemed to be firmly bound to his side and his feet rooted to the ground. Grimacing, Oskar gave a shout of exertion as he fought again the magical bonds on him, his arms quickly rising up. The three Princesses gritted their teeth and closed their eyes tightly as they tried to push back against a force that seemed unstoppable. The two Discords were the same, though they were also countering magical force as well. Just as it seemed like Oskar was about to break free, Emerald dashed forward and around his side before wrapping her arms around his chest and arms. Immediately, the unstoppable force pushing against the others grew far weaker, now reduced merely to something that would eventually break free in a minute.

“Hurry!” Emerald shouted towards the Mane Six as Oskar twisted and writhed in her grip. “Use the Elements! SEAL HIM!”

“B-but the last time they sealed you too!” Twilight shouted in response, her hesitation and worry clear to see. “Emerald we-”

Suddenly Oskar's form glowed intensely, his wounds ripping back open as they released magic like water under pressure. He gave a loud roar and everyone reeled back as raw magic released from Oskar buffeted them. Emerald barely held on to him by the tips of her fingers. Her eyes became almost wild as she looked towards the Mane Six again.

DO IT!” Emerald shouted.

With a look that made it clear that what she was about to do was tearing her apart inside, Twilight nodded and as one the Mane Six rose into the air. Their Elements and their eyes glowed and released ever brighter light as their power charged for release. Oskar's struggles increased in intensity and desperation all the while, pushing everyone who tried with all their might to keep him still to the point of exhaustion and collapse until...

Suddenly Oskar went still as the light from the Elements of Harmony prepared to fire died down. Emerald wondered if something had gone wrong, if the Elements had gone inert due to not being in the right world. But then she started to hear the sound of stone grinding together and backed away from Oskar. She looked at his form to see patches of stone spreading slowly and looked down at herself and felt intense relief to see nothing.

“... I knew... deep down I knew...” Emerald heard Oskar say, his voice so soft it was nigh silent. “That I would end up killing myself... she... she would like you...”

With that, Oskar turned his face up to look towards the sky, cleared by their battle and looked up at the war torn moon. His bucket hat fell off the back of his head and rolled along the ground as he closed his eyes. The sealing ran its course and finished turning his flesh to stone. After a few moments of standing upright on the ground, Oskar tipped backwards and fell back onto the dirt.

Emerald walked forward and looked down at her alternate universe self. He looked... very tired. Not scared or angry that he was sealed, he was just... very exhausted and tired looking. Seeing his cut up and torn hat sitting on the ground beside him, Emerald bent over to pick it up when a wind picked up. She watched as it rolled away on the ground before picking up a strong breeze and flew into the air. She watched it dance on the wind and flew off into the distance, wondering if she should call it to her with her magic for a moment before shaking her head.

She turned away from Oskar's sealed form and walked a few steps away. She reached out with her senses and almost reeled as countless quadrillions of viral lifeforms eagerly reached back to her. She could feel every single viral lifeform Oskar had seeded on the whole world. From every black parasprite blotting out the sky, shambling infected stumbling through ruined cities, towering mega infected and the tiny spores drifting in the air, she felt every single one in her mind. Suffice to say it was a tad overwhelming.

“It's strange...” Twilight began as she walked over to Emerald. “We've won but it doesn't feel like we won. It just feels like... we survived.”

“That's what happens when you save the day several years too late,” Emerald replied tiredly. “And I am not done just yet. There are all these viral lifeforms flooding the world to deal with.”

“What are you going to do?” Twilight asked worriedly.

“Save who I can,” Emerald answered, getting a hopeful look from Celestia which was ruined by what the virus said next. “Kill the rest.”

With that, Emerald gritted her teeth and reached out to the countless creatures that responded eagerly to her prodding. Giving the kill command to the various beasts and monstrosities infesting the world was almost as easy as simply saying the word itself. What proved to be infinitely harder and complex was going through all the infected ponies and other infected sapients of the world and trying to reverse the infection in them. She was able to cure hundreds of thousands of “sleeper infected”, people who did not know were infected and would quickly explode into a monstrosity at a single command. But she was having much greater trouble reversing the damage and “curing” people who had been turned into a shambler. She was able to do it for people who had been freshly turned but for those who had been infected for any decent length of time the infection became too great in their bodies for her to truly reverse. Make no mistake, she could reverse their conditions to a pre-infection state but the issue lied in the brain, by that point the virus had badly corrupted the brain and Emerald did not know nearly enough about the brain for badly gone people to retain any memories. For a tiny lucky fraction they were saved. For the rest... at least they finally got to rest.

All over the world countless beings got the command to commit suicide and had they the emotion for it, they would have done so happily. Instantly, viral creatures fell over dead and rapidly degraded, seemingly rotting away within seconds and breaking down into dust. One instant there was a thick ceiling of broiling clouds of black parasprites, the next the skies were filled with dust and ashes. The remains of the great viral tree and its roots that stretched on and on for miles and miles practically became a tidal wave of dust and any viral creature that happened to be in sight followed suite.

“Woah!” Applejack exclaimed at the transformation to the sky that had taken mere seconds to happen.

“Is it done?” Celestia asked. “Have you managed to save them?”

“Ye-yeah but...” Emerald stuttered as her body started to get uncontrollable shakes, especially her right arm. “Not n-nearly enough of t-them...”

“Emerald?” Twilight stated with great concern as she took in Emerald's shaking. “Are you okay? Emerald? Answer me please... Emerald?!”

Emerald wanted to say she was fine, but her mouth simply moved and no sound left it. She brought up her arm to clutch at her throat only for it to rapidly rot away and expose the glowing stump where her arm had been lopped off. Looking down at herself she saw the wounds she had patched over reopening but glowing far more faintly then they had before. Her vision started growing fuzzy and turning black at the edges.

“Stayed up all night, honey?” Emerald heard a familiar voice say. “It's okay, you can take a short nap upstairs. You can come down later and help out, okay? We'll make some nice cakes.”

“M-mom?” Emerald asked in confusion as she fell down onto her knees before crashing face first into the dirt.

“Emerald!” Twilight screamed and quickly darted to her side before turning her over. She gasped in silent horror at what she saw.

Emerald was completely covered in glowing rents in her form. There was this massive tear in her torso you could see the dirt she was lying on through. One of her arms was half gone, and she had this large hole in her side. There was many deep gashes in her as well. Some was so deep that had Emerald had a bone structure, it likely would have been easily seen through some of the cuts. She had several deep cuts in her face as well, her right cheek was completely shredded and revealed the insides of her mouth. There was another large gash running down the middle of her face and along her nose before ending at her lip. Possibly the absolute worst part at seeing all this was the glow from the wounds. Or rather, how faint it was. If they were anything like Discord's, they should have been so bright you couldn't see the torn flesh beneath. But this wasn't the case currently for Emerald. The glowing rents in her form were still bright but you could still easily see and make out the torn and shredded flesh beneath.

“Emerald stop doing this to me!” Twilight shouted, her heart beating deafeningly in her ears as she reached over and clutched both sides of the virus' head. “Wake up! Open your eyes! PLEASE!”

For a long, horrific moment there was silence, then Emerald released a wheeze and her left eye cracked open a little. Her eye rolled in its socket, taking in the world but not comprehending what was going on. After another moment, the eye slowly closed again.

“No, no, no, no, no.”

“She lives,” Discord's Alternate stated as he stepped over. “As long as those wounds in her form continue to glow, then her soul shall persist.”

“Will she get better?” Twilight asked quickly, her expression practically begging Discord for a positive answer.

“I... do not know,” the alternate answered honestly. “The wounds she and Oskar inflicted on each other in the first few minutes of the fight would have killed me near instantly had I been the one to suffer them. She did not die and continued to take more and more damage to her very soul. Give me a moment to study her.”

With that, the alternate stepped over Emerald and narrowed his one good eye at her, not truly seeing her presence on the physical plane but the one she presented on the spiritual plane. She truly was a horrific mess to behold there. It was a total and complete miracle that her soul simply didn't pop and fade from existence. But as he watched her, he saw her wounds ever so slightly start to glow brighter, the magic she lost through them, as immense as the waste was, still wasn't enough to overcome the amount she was regaining.

“She... should live,” the alternate said to Twilight and everyone else's visible relief. “I am unsure how long it will take her to actually heal from these injuries, but provided she actually doesn't suffer any more damage she should survive this.”

“That's okay,” Twilight stated as she reached over and pulled Emerald into a hug. “I'll take care of her. It's the least anypony can do after what she just went through.”

“So what are we gonna do about this baddy here?” Rainbow Dash asked, kicking Oskar's stone side in emphasis. “Can't just leave him here, right?”

“There is nothing more any of you need to do,” the alternate stated firmly to everyone's surprise. “Oskar has been sealed and his near infinite armies of infected are dead and gone. I can handle the rest here. If I do everything right, then not only will Oskar cease to exist but all of this world's problems from his presence shall be undone.”

Everyone got a confused look on their face at that answer, except for Discord who looked rather thoughtful. He got a look of sudden realization and looked at his alternate with a solemn stare.

“It will kill you, you know,” Discord said. “Even if it were me that did it, it would kill me too... instantly. You would need a lot of help to ensure you had any time at all to do anything truly useful.”

“I know who to ask,” the alternate replied. “She may be completely annoying, but she would want to get things back on some semblance of a track.”

“Discord what is it you two are talking about?” Celestia asked with a frown. “Even if this helps everyone, there must be another way. Self sacrifice is noble, but-”

“Hmph... suddenly I remember why I found you so annoying,” the alternate said, looking down at Celestia but slowly a small smile formed. “I think it's time you all went home now. Don't you think so, my mirror self?”

Discord nodded at that and snapped his fingers, and the group disappeared. The now singular Discord stared at where everyone had been standing for a moment before turning away. He stopped and stared at Oskar's sealed form for a bit and continued on his way.

'You'll be gone forever soon enough,' Discord thought and teleported to Canterlot's ruins.

An instant later, the Spirit of Chaos arrived in the ruins of Equestria's capital. Unlike Ponyville, the ruins here were practically nonexistent due to the fact the viral tree had been sitting atop it. At most there was broken stone outlines of where the homes of ponies had been. Wandering through the ruins here and there were a few ponies who must have had the luck of being cured of their conditions. They poked at the torn ruins of former homes barely halfheartedly, their eyes glazed over saying all that needed to be said of their mental states. Discord ignored them and was ignored in turn.

After a few minutes, Discord arrived at the ruins of the royal palace. For some reason the first floor of the palace existed in some fashion. Obviously the ceiling wasn't there and some of the walls were just gone but the floor was still there along with a good many of the furnishings.

'A trophy of his victory perhaps?' Discord thought as he made his way through the ruins. 'There are so many questions about my enemy. Why did he leave anyone alive? Why did he not put in more effort into dominating resistance? Why did he not destroy the Elements of Harmony? Why did he keep them? So many questions... it doesn't really matter, I suppose. Nothing will in a few minutes.'

Eventually Discord found himself in the remains of the throne room. The walls were barely standing and the glass windows were completely shattered, and where the throne had been was a crater in the ground. Sitting in the very middle of the room were the Elements of Harmony, tarnished and their gems cracked but they remained whole. Discord walked forward until he was only a few feet from the Elements of Harmony and came to a stop.

“Well?” Discord said a tad impatiently. “I'm waiting.”

Instantly the cracks in the gems filled and the tarnish was removed from the Elements of Harmony and they rose into the air. There was a flash of light and a moment later ghostly apparitions of the Mane Six appeared wearing the Elements of Harmony, each one the color of their coat in life. The others stared at him blandly without a single trace of emotion but Twilight had a look of utter scorn.

“Well, well, at long last The Chaos speaks to me directly,” 'Twilight' sneered.

“You know why I am here, Fate,” Discord stated simply. “Or at the very least can approximate it very accurately.”

“Oh certainly, for one who valued chaos so much you are ultimately quite predictable, I'm afraid,” Fate answered honestly. “What was the matter? Was true and total chaos too much for you? Was the truth of order's dark mirror too much to stomach?”

“Does what I intend to do mean nothing to you?” Discord asked with a sigh and closed his eyes.

“... Make no mistake, I more then appreciate it,” Fate answered, her expression turning serene and voice losing all disdain. “I still find you an utterly childish and a poor example of a Primal compared to your kin. But for what it's worth, I shall refrain from further insults in respect of your decision.”

“Good, let's begin,” Discord said.

“Just so you are aware...” Fate began with a interested studying stare at the Spirit of Chaos. “Even with my help, you will not survive.”

“That's fine,” Discord replied unhesitatingly. “...It's probably for the best.”

“Then prepare yourself,” Fate said before she and the other ghostly apparitions disappeared. The Elements of Harmony flew through the air before taking position around Discord. The tiara placed itself directly over him while the five necklaces took orbit around him. As the necklaces started to spin around him faster and faster, Discord drew upon the entirety of his magic, preparing to use nearly all of it at once. He only had one chance to do this right...

ETA

A shade like being hovered over Oskar's sealed form. He wore a tattered black robe with sleeves that ended half way down his arms which were completely covered in bandages, some of which dangled freely in long lengths and flitted in the breeze. His head was hooded and he had a mask over the lower half of his face that revealed his topaz colored eyes and sickly green flesh. In his right hand was a lantern that burned softly.

The shade continue to stare down at Oskar with a considering look in his eyes. After a moment there was the sound of glass cracking and reality seemed to crack and shatter just behind him. Then shards of reality collapsed in within itself and revealed a shadowy realm of total black with a single light. This light came from a patch in the ground just before a tall, bipedal draconic being who was sitting in a stone throne. His head resting boredly upon one of his clawed hands.

“Curse, leave him be or take him, a low booming voice echoed. “Tis a simple and straightforward decision, is it not?”

“Not nearly as much as you think, Curse replied without looking to his companion. “He could prove to be exceedingly useful to our goals, or he could prove to be our downfall if that proves false. The decision to leave him to his fate is far more complicated and possesses many potential consequences.”

“Hmph... make thy choice soon, Curse. Lest you meet the same fate as him.”

The shade wanted to sit and think upon the potential pros and cons of taking Oskar with them more but his companion had a point. He had to make his decision now.

After a moment more spent in deliberation, Curse reached out with his lantern towards Oskar. The sealed Evolved lifted into the air and quickly shot into the hole in reality. The shade followed after him an instant later.

'I can keep him sealed for a time more to think on whether or not I should free him,' Curse thought as the hole closed behind him.'This way I have all the time I need to think.'

After the hole in reality closed, all was silent for a moment until an odd thing began to happen. The dust filled sky started to clear, grass started to fade into existence upon the ground. In the distance the mountain regained its missing upper half and Canterlot started to return back to its destroyed state. Within barely a minute, it was as if Oskar's destructive actions upon the world had never happened.

THETA

Discord was dying. He knew this with total and complete certainly. He could feel the finality of all things reaching out towards him, ready to grab him and pull him into its embrace. He was more than willing to accept this, but not yet. No, he had yet to complete his self imposed mission.

Looking around himself, Discord saw that he was in Ponyville before it was destroyed. He also saw that he was in a ghost like state that could not be seen or heard by the ponies walking along the street he was on now. He was fading more and more as time went on. Any moment now he would completely cease to exist. Turning in place, the Spirit of Chaos saw Twilight's home. Today was the day that sealed the world's fate as the plaything of a viral psychopath. In fact, the next few minutes were likely the fated moment itself if Fate knew what she was doing.

'Just enough time and enough power to do what I need... then it's all over,' Discord thought as he floated into Twilight's treehouse, finding the thought strangely relieving.

As soon as he entered, Discord heard voices from the library and moved towards them.

“I'm a speed reader and possess a photographic memory,” He heard Emerald's voice say.

“Really?!” came Twilight's excited reply.

“Yep!” Emerald replied cheerfully.

Discord floated into the library and saw two ponies sitting at a table and reading together. One he recognized as Emerald's pony form and the other was Twilight. It didn't look like Emerald was mere moments away from murdering Twilight, but clearly appearances were deceiving. Dearly hoping inwardly that it would happen soon as he felt his very being wasting away, Discord began to settle in to wait when a moment later it began to happen.

Emerald stopped her reading to look up and meet Twilight's eyes who caught the look and smiled happily at her newly made 'friend'. The hidden virus took a breath and reached over and pulled Twilight into a hug as said unicorn blinked in surprise. Discord quickly darted over and reached out with a finger, ready to tap her head at the exact right moment. He recognized the moment when Emerald's arms began to tense, ready to flex and snap bones in an instant. Discord's hand lashed out and he channeled what remained of his power into one spell to influence the mind, a spell he was normally capable of doing with abandon felt like he was lifting and moving a several hundred pound weight. Once he cast the spell a feeling of intense exhaustion and feeling of falling away filled him but Discord fought to not fade away just yet he needed to stay a moment more and see that he did it...

The dying spirit relaxed when Emerald relaxed her grip around Twilight's neck with a sigh. He laid back as he continued to watch Emerald continue to hug Twilight, content to spend his last moment watching the changes he brought about as he started to fade away in earnest.

“Twilight?” Emerald said.

“Yes Emerald?” Twilight replied.

“I'm sorry about being testy earlier,” Emerald said with the other unicorn still wrapped up in a hug. “It's just...”

“It's okay. I understand,” Twilight replied with a sympathetic smile on her face. “Such a thing is not something anypony would want to even remember let alone talk about... you know, it's strange...”

“Hmmm?”

“We only just met and I already know so much about you,” Twilight said with a short laugh.

“...Yes,” Emerald's voice held a hidden threat that Discord was able to detect thanks to years spent fighting her. “...yes you do..”

“No!” Discord shouted in alarm as Emerald's arms tensed again and she seemed moments away from killing Twilight. Discord reached out with his power again and... nothing happened. He simply had nothing left to give and his attempt to do something only accelerated his death. With a despairing cry that could never be heard by those present, Discord faded away completely and died thinking he had failed.

The moment he did so, Emerald relaxed her grip on Twilight and let go fully, there was a brief moment where if one was looking they'd see Emerald's face looking disturbed and that she had forced her expression into a credible smile. She then turned her face down towards her book to continue reading, her completely worried expression hidden from Twilight's gaze.

“Ah... Fate is a cruel mistress, is she not?” Fate quoted snidely, her voice silent to any that could possibly hear. “In any case, thank you for returning my world to me my dear Chaos. Working with something still strongly living is far easier than something that is half dead.”

IOTA

“Why will you not let us return?” Celestia demanded as she tried to retain her calm.

Everyone had soon found themselves back on their side of portal and on the shore of said portal. Almost the instant they arrived, Discord created a barrier around the portal and refused to let anyone past, let alone answer any questions. Off to the side, Twilight was sitting by Emerald's side along with quite a few Warhounds. Suffice to say it was an utter shock to see Emerald actually be injured to the point of unconscious, or be hurt at all.

“Because anything you intend to do won't matter before long,” Discord finally said.

“Cease these purposefully cryptic statements this instant!” Luna demanded. “What is the reason for your obstruction of our path?”

Whether or not Discord would have answered the two princesses was interrupted by the portal beginning to flash. The waters of the former mirror pool glowed a bright white and started to bubble violently. Then with a loud bang, the waters instantly stopped glowing and bubbling.

“Looks like it has happened,” Discord hummed and reached out with his senses towards the pool. “Yes it has, the spells that converted the mirror pool into have snapped so badly the pool has been rendered into a simple pond of water.”

As Discord spoke, the waters of the mirror pool turned brown and muddy before sinking into the earth. Within moments all that remained to show that the pool had existed was a large, perfectly circular shallow indent into the earth.

“Explain thyself!” Luna demanded as her sister stared at the muddy hole. “What has happened?!”

“My alternate made the ultimate sacrifice, it seems,” Discord commented with a faraway look in his eyes. “Using what power he had combined with those belonging to the Elements of Harmony, he rolled back time and changed his present. I don't know if he succeeded, but the world on that end has clearly changed enough for the portal there to no longer exist.”

“He did that?” Celestia asked wide eyed before her expression turned solemn and respectful. “I dearly pray that his sacrifice was not in vain. For one to sacrifice so much only for it to fail in the end would be cruel beyond words.”

“Indeed,” Discord answered before looking around and starting to smirk. “Well, well, it appears I am the strongest being left standing. I wonder what I shall do with this fac- AUUUGH! FIRE!”

Discord had been interrupted by a sudden beam of plasma slicing through the air and setting his mane on fire. Over beside Twilight and mostly surrounded by Warhounds, Emerald was partly sitting up and glaring at Discord.

“I might be mostly dead, but if I hear you say something like that again I'll finish what I started last year,” Emerald growled.

“It was a joke!” Discord protested honestly as he struggled to stay still as Fluttershy tried to pat all the flames as quickly as she could. “An attempt to lighten the mood, you violent cretin!”

“...I know,” Emerald said with a slight smirk as she sat up fully before leaning against Twilight.

“...That's it, I'm done for today.” Discord waved both hands in the air before grabbing Fluttershy and putting her under one of his arms. “I did my part, helped a lot, probably saved a world. We're going home.”

With that, Discord and Fluttershy disappeared from sight.

“I'm so happy you're awake,” Twilight said and pulled the virus into a hug, nuzzling her neck.

“You alright there, boss?” a Warhound asked, worry plain in his voice and likely mirrored in the others. “Should I get Belvedere?”

“No, I just hurt... a lot,” Emerald said with grimace as she wrapped her one arm around Twilight. “What happened? Why are we back?”

“The alternate Discord sacrificed himself to revert his world to a state where Oskar hadn't gone on a rampage,” Twilight answered. “He had apparently rolled back time with the use of the Elements of Harmony.”

“Hmm...” Emerald hummed as she gained a deeply thoughtful look on her face. “That sounds like it would take a massive amount of power and control to manage. I doubt he would be able to kill Oskar at a point before he was incredibly powerful, so what could he have-”

“Emerald?” Twilight said at the wide eyed and shocked look on the virus' face. “What's wrong?”

“...Nothing,” Emerald said, closing her eyes as a hollow feeling deep in her soul mingling with the pain before it was ruthlessly washed away by purposeful determination. “Nothing wrong at all with doing what needs to be done. Now! We aren't done just yet. We still have a lot of things to get done.”

“What?!” Twilight exclaimed. “Emerald, look at you! Discord said his wounds healed so slowly they might as well be permanent! You've practically been completely mutilated! You can't possibly be up and doing anything like this! Don't you see? You might never be the same again in our lifetime.”

That gave Emerald pause and she looked down at the glowing tears in her form and her missing arm.

“Discord also said that Emerald and Oskar suffered wounds so severe they would have been instantly lethal even for him,” Cadence said as she walked over. “Emerald is different. She might not need nearly as long to heal.”

“Well... maybe,” Twilight said, biting her lip as she considered Cadance's words. “She should still try to rest and recover, though. She just woke up from spending a few minutes unconscious. That can't be nearly enough time.”

“Whether or not I take some time to rest and recover depends on a single fact,” Emerald stated and looked over to Celestia. “Tell me... are the ponies who died during this going to be put under stasis right away?”

KAPPA

Moon Dancer sighed in some boredom as she sat at a table.

It had been roughly eight hours since the battle between Emerald and the other being that had yet to be officially identified, though there was a rumor going around that it was the same species as her. That part had gotten a lot of people talking, wondering if all of Emerald's species were naturally so strong and if more were coming. Princess Celestia had been quick put those rumors down before a right panic could get fully under way, stating that the being Emerald fought was purely a special case and that an official statement on the situation would be coming soon. All during this, more and more ponies came into the palace seeking refuge, filling the building to the brim fairly quickly.

The bespectacled unicorn sighed again and looked around her. This room was one of the least occupied and it was still fairly crowded. The table she was sitting at had all its seats fully occupied , making her feel like she had no space to herself at all. Suddenly there was a harsh cry of grief that filled the air for a moment and stilled any soft chatter. Frowning uncomfortably, Dancer glanced down the room towards the large double doors leading into a ballroom. There was a reason why this room didn't have as many people in it as the others and it was because the ballroom was where bodies were stored for identification.

'I wish I at least had a book to occupy myself,' Moon Dancer thought as she laid her head down on the table. 'Or even one of those mares I used to talk to back in school, ANYTHING at all to distract me. Not even any new news yet. The fight is over, obviously, but no one has told us anything about what happened afterwards, or more specifically what happened to Emerald Gleaner. The only news we got so far is the fact that Canterlot may need to get evacuated due to the damage to the foundations.'

That was another bit of news that had gotten people almost as worked up as the rumor about Emerald's opponent. Canterlot, the crown jewel of Equestria, one of the most respected kingdoms in the world, to be abandoned? Quite a few nobles and many ponies who had nowhere else to go were practically up in arms over this and had demanded that something, anything be done to save the city. So far any news on that fact was slow coming.

Another shout filled the air followed by many others. Everyone looked up towards the double doors in curiosity. This was because the shouts were ones of shock, relief and absolute joy. A moment later the door opened and in walked Emerald Gleaner. Behind her in the ballroom, ponies began to dance and embrace each other.

Moon Dancer immediately sat up straight and stretched her head up to look over the crowd to see Emerald. The shape shifter was in her formal regalia rather than the odd casual clothing she wore the last time Moon Dancer saw her. She also appeared to be injured as she had quite a few bandages covering her face and one of her arms was in a sling and bandaged.

“Uhh, Lady Gleaner?” an officer of the Royal Guard said as she approached Emerald. “What's going on?”

“I have just revived everyone I could in there,” Emerald said, a statement that rocked everyone who heard to the core. “I want you to spread the word. Every body is to be brought to me so I can examine them and see if I can revive them.”

“O-oh of course!” The officer saluted and quickly rushed away to do as commanded. Emerald then surveyed the room, taking in some bandaged injuries and ponies lying prone on the ground due to the severity of their injuries.

“As you may surmise, I can also heal,” Emerald said, her voice the sole noise in the silent room. “Anyone that needs healing, come here.”

There was a moment where ponies simply stood in place and stared. That soon ended, though. Injured ponies were pushed and helped to the fore. Everyone in the room stared with awe and more than a few cases of adoration as Emerald set to work, quickly undoing any injury that was presented to her seemingly with a touch.

Moon Dancer smiled at this, happy that people were being helped and that her savior was safe and sound, though apparently injured. Looking around, Moon Dancer saw an opportunity to get herself some solitude. As the crowds pressed in on Emerald's location, both to get the injured to her and give their heartfelt thanks, Dancer walked away and towards a pair of glass doors leading to a balcony. Closing the glass doors behind her, Moon Dancer looked around and saw the shattered remains of a statue on one of the sides of the balcony. Transfiguring the remains into a comfy arm chair, Moon Dance made sure it was out of sight before settling into it.

Dancer stared out over the city, the late evening sun shining out from the horizon. The unicorn couldn't help but find herself frowning at the sight. The oranges, yellows and pinks of the sky as it slowly turned to night was certainly beautiful, but it was at odds with the badly damaged city below and the wrongness of Cloudsdale's absence. Once more, the fact that not a year passed without some horrible catastrophe afflicting Equestria made Moon Dancer feel an impulse for possibly finding somewhere else to live.

'I've been here for so long, though. I spent my whole life here,' Moon Dancer thought with a frown. 'I can't possibly imagine ever moving somewhere else. Plus I don't exactly have my own money to make that a reality... I hope my parents are alright.'

Moon Dancer was knocked out of her musing by the sound of a door closing. Looking over, she was met with the sight of Emerald standing beside the door.

“Oh!” Dance exclaimed in surprise. “Uhh... h-hello.”

“Hope you don't mind,” Emerald said and moved over to the banister to lean on it. “Fixed everyone available in there. Decided to take a breather and wait for more people to arrive and other bodies to revive.”

“Uh, not at all, ma'am,” Dancer stated, averting her eyes a little from Emerald.

“It's nice to pay respect to someone but I think we can relax that a little,” Emerald said with a wave. “I'm here for a bit of a break after all.”

“Oh, sorry,” Moon Dancer apologized.

Emerald just smiled at her at that.

The unicorn found herself feeling rather embarrassed as the minutes passed by with just her being the sole focus of Emerald's attention for some reason. Moon Dancer tried to ignore it and focus on the scenery but out of the corner of her eye she could see Emerald looking at her curiously.

“Umm, is there something wrong?” Moon Danced asked after a moment.

“I'm going to make some assumptions here,” Emerald stated. “If you would mind humoring me?”

“Okay?”

“You must like to read, that much I can surmise with a bit of certainty considering where I first met you,” Emerald hummed, her eyes looking skyward. “Your cutiemark can imply a lot about your likes and skills so... you must know a lot about magic. You probably spend all your free time in study and research into various magical fields. I bet your are rather advanced in your theoretical work as well; much further along than your practical work. Am I right on the money? Close?”

“You... you are completely right.” Moon Dancer blinked in surprise. “How did you manage that?”

“You remind me a lot of someone I know.” Emerald shrugged. “So... what do you do for work?”

“Ah... I'm currently... not employed,” Dancer replied in more than a bit of discomfort. She really didn't like to think about her current unemployment and her lack of effort into finding work. The best education her parents could get her and here she was just spending her days at home and a library reading and studying. Her parents were being rather patient with her, probably thinking that her studying was for getting into a difficult field when it was actually her falling back onto the one thing she had confidence doing.

“Perfect,” Emerald stated with a smile. “You see I've been thinking of getting an assistant to help me with various magical projects back in the Enclave. Before, our industries were fairly mundane and easily taught to be built and operated by the dogs there. But now I've started creating quite a bit of fully automated magically powered industries as well as more increasingly magical equipment. I'm currently the sole person in the whole Enclave who can use magic if you discount the ponies I've hired to teach my dogs some computer skills. So... I need an assistant to help me go over various projects, especially when I'm busy.”

“And you want me?” Moon Dancer asked with wide eyes.

“The pay is most certainly great if that is your worry, but I highly doubt it is,” Emerald said with a sly smile. “I've done quite a bit of research and experimentation into fields that ponies have only done theoretical work into. I've even created a brand new branch of spellworks into one such field thanks to my experimentation. Obviously you are going to have some access to this as well. And to sweeten the deal a bit, I'm a leader of my own nation and therefore technically a Princess, so... interested in becoming my student?”

Moon Dancer gaped at Emerald, her eyes wide and staring. The unicorn couldn't help but think about the mare she once wanted to be friends with who was Celestia's student. She also suddenly recalled that said mare was also in a relationship with the very person offering her a job. Moon Dancer felt her gut twist up a bit and wasn't sure what her exact feelings on this matter was. Emerald, however, was taking Dancer's silence as a negative sign and decided a bit of humor would do some good to lessen the tension.

“Come on, this opportunity is practically falling into your lap,” Emerald said with a faux pout before walking over to the unicorn. “Do you want me to beg you? Is that what you want? For me to get onto your lap and beg you to become my student?”

“W-what?” Moon Dance said and boggled when Emerald did just that.

“Well I hope you are proud of yourself,” Emerald said faux haughtily as she settled into her new position on the unicorn's lap. Crossing her arms as best as she could, she continued. “You've now gotten quite possibly the most powerful being in the world, on your lap, while she is injured, begging you to work for her.”

“Bu-wh-I-errr...” Moon Dancer stuttered with a blush before spotting the poorly hidden smile on Emerald's face. Feeling the heat of embarrassment on her face, the unicorn pursed her lips and puffed her cheeks out in annoyance before huffing and crossing her forelegs as well. “Fine, I'll be your student.”

“Fantastic!” Emerald smiled. “Just in time, too. I've got this project I plan to get started and finished right away. It involves getting some specialized transmitters into orbit to get an instantaneous global communication network set up.”

“Really?!” Moon Dancer's eyes instantly lit up in fascination. “That's incredible! How are you getting them into the void of space? I've heard that a few times Princess Celestia attempted to help out with a like minded project but wasn't able to get high enough for anything to remain in orbit.”

“I'm capable of surviving up there myself, plus I'm great at teleportation,” Emerald answered. “A quick teleport is all it will need.”

“I can't wait to get into the details of this,” Moon Dancer smiled for a moment before it faded and grew slightly uncomfortable. “Umm... Emerald?”

“Yes?”

“Can you get off my lap now?”

LAMBDA

A week later found Emerald wearing her regalia again and flying alongside Celestia and Luna as they took their royal Chariot to the latest League of Nations meeting.

'Been quite the hectic week,' Emerald thought and brought up her fully healed arm to look at. 'I'm glad I wasn't terribly injured for all of it. A full twenty four hours and I'm completely healed. I'm glad I don't take decades and centuries to heal wounds to my soul. Definitely want to avoid taking damage like that again, though.'

Over the entire week, Emerald spent her time in near constant work to Twilight's worry and chagrin. The first thing she did was reviving the ponies who died and healing those who were injured, adding in the sick and diseased as well while she was at it. Not everyone could be returned to life, however. It was less the conditions of their body and more their mind. Some ponies suffered such great damage to their brains there was no chance of being little more than small children in an adult body if she healed them. The second thing was helping out in not only repairing but saving the city of Canterlot again. Using her earth channeling, Emerald was able to repair the mostly stone buildings of Canterlot and did the same for foundations of the city that had been rendered unstable. Another thing she started doing to help was offering financial aid to Equestria to make recovering from this latest disaster as painless as possible. It was dearly needed as well. The pegasi of Cloudsdale had decided enough was enough. Not believing that the third time would be the charm, the many pegasi took what little of their things that survived Cloudsdale's destruction and looked for somewhere else to settle. The vast majority of them simply moved to camp outside the nearest settlement which was Ponyville for the time being. With Cloudsdale being no more, the weather quickly started to fall into disarray. Making use of the financial aid and the already present construction companies attracted by the railroad work, Mayor Mare was given royal permission to blaze through as much red tape as needed to get a weather industry built in Ponyville. Everything was still backed up, but people were putting up with it knowing it was getting fixed quickly.

Ponyville was proving to becoming quite the boom town in recent days. The massive railroad networks being constructed which were already being put in use shipping meat fruit, the foundations of the new weather factories being lain. It all lead to the village getting quite the population boost. Already Mayor Mare had to authorize expanding the city limits several times in the past week to account for all the new homes that would be going up in the near future. More than a few people had started grumbling about their “peaceful, carefree” small town life being disrupted by all the new people going to be moving in. No one left, however, despite this. It likely had to do with the fact they would be swarmed by house hunting ponies the moment the intention to leave left their mouths.

Another thing was Emerald's reputation and how it had been impacted by recent events, namely the actions Emerald took to undo as much of the damage of Oskar's attack as possible. Ponies revived from death, the crippled and sickly, all the financial aid; it all came from Emerald Gleaner, leader of the Enclave. Whereas before Emerald was a very polarizing figure with just as many ponies criticizing her as those speaking up in her defense, now you couldn't say anything even approaching critique in earshot of most ponies before they were upon you for daring to say anything about the person who saved and healed friends and family. Needless to say, Emerald's reputation was practically almost as golden as Celestia's was in Equestria thanks to her efforts, though the Evolved was fairly certain it would die down somewhat as time passed. Tons of people were now referring to her as 'her majesty' and Princess Gleaner now. Emerald found this a bit disconcerting but frankly there was no escaping such things the bigger and more important she made herself so she resolved to get used to it.

'Now I just have to handle the address of the League of Nations,' Emerald thought with frown. 'That's going to be a little tricky. The only reason there wasn't another emergency meeting was because Celestia gave her assurances that the situation had been handled. Everyone is itching for an explanation, though. Understandable, really. Massive explosion goes off in the sky that likely everyone in this hemisphere saw, so of course everyone wants an explanation for what happened. I doubt the League wasn't able to get some kind of news, though. I'm going to have to go into this expecting everyone has heard the worst rumors and are relying on those in place of the truth.'

As the sight of the Kraken came into view, a flash of multiple colors appeared in the corner of Emerald's eye. Looking over, she saw an empty ocean and a sky full of clouds. With a hum, Emerald looked back towards the Kraken. Celestia and Luna landed and Emerald followed suit, shifting her wings away.

“Are you ready, my young student?” Luna asked with some concern.

“About as ready as possible,” Emerald said, taking a breath. “I like to believe I'm about as prepared as last time despite changed circumstances.”

“I hope so, Emerald,” Celestia said. “I fear despite my not saying anything official, most representatives here would know most of the story by now. They may not have a very pleasant reaction towards your alternate self and, by extension, you.”

“Yeah that's how it works, isn't it?” Emerald sighed. “Let's get going, shall we?”

The group of three moved into the League of Nations headquarters and immediately the sound of people deep in conversation washed over them. The lobby of the building was filled with workers and representatives talking to each other. As Celestia, Luna and Emerald moved down towards the meeting chamber, people began pointing at Emerald and more than a few people started whispering her name. No more proof was needed that more than a few rumors found their way to the world at large.

The meeting chamber was half full when the three walked in, with many people waiting quietly for the other League members to join them. The three took their seats at one of the many rows, their seats right next to each other due to the nearness of their respective nations. Emerald crossed her legs and folded her hands together on the desk in front of her and settled in to wait as well.

Over the next half an hour, representatives trickled in bit by bit and took their seat. Towards the latter end of the half hour there was a flood of people coming into the room and settling into their seats. Despite the sheer number of people in the room, the noise from the talking did not rise any higher than a low buzz with a lot of people shooting looks at Emerald. The virus for her part remained still and silent, simply waiting for when she had to talk. Eventually the Secretary General, who was looking even worse as time went by, ascended up onto his seat at the very front of the room.

“Can I get silence from this august body, please?” the zebra called out. “Thank you. We have one major issue and many minor ones to go over. Normally I'd like to get the minor issues out of the way, but I believe no one really has the patience for it today. Princesses Celestia and Luna and Emerald Gleaner of the Enclave, if you would stand here and address the League, please?”

“Moment of truth,” Emerald said to Celestia and Luna as they got up.

“Greetings, my fellow League members,” Celestia called out, standing before everyone with Luna and Emerald. “I have no doubt most if not all members of this august body bore witness to the incredible light in the sky. That, my fellows, was a massive explosion.”

There were more than several exclamations of shock and some fear as well as a low buzzing of conversation.

“As to what caused this event,” Luna stated. “It was no natural occurrence. It was caused by a sole, singular being of incredible power who sought the destruction of all who stood in his way. This being was an enemy from another world, one that mirrored this one save for one difference. In his world, he is a heartless being of great apathetic cruelty while in this one... Emerald Gleaner is not.”

There was definitely a lot of surprise there and more than a few angry exclamations drowned out in the cacophony of voices.

“ORDER!” the Zebra Secretary General shouted.

“My alternate self came here and I ended up battling him,” Emerald said after some quiet returned. “The attack you all saw was his attempt to destroy all of Equestria and likely more than a few nearby nations as well. I managed to catch it and send it up into space before it exploded on the surface. Afterwards, I and a select few individuals followed him back to his world and defeated him and destroyed the connection between our world and his.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” a llama representative shouted. “This being was basically you, correct?”

“Yes.” Emerald nodded.

“Then wouldn't it be possible for you to be capable of the same attack he was?” he asked.

“He was far stronger than me,” Emerald said. “Much more magic to bring to bear on massive spells like the one that almost annihilated Equestria, but... with a bit of time and effort? Yes, I am capable of doing the same.”

What followed was a disquieting amount of silence as people stared at her in varying amounts of shock and horror. One could argue that it really shouldn't be such a shock to have someone this powerful around considering just what Celestia and Luna could do. However, the difference here was that the Nightmare Moon event had happened a thousand years ago and everyone was born knowing Celestia was a part of the world and that fact hadn't changed in generations. But here was Emerald coming literally out of nowhere, changing the political landscape, inventing greats scores of deadly weapons and a few wondrous products. People knew she was powerful, but only now did they know just how much.

Celestia and Luna both gave Emerald worried looks as the Heron rep chose that moment to speak up.

“As shocking as this is, I have a question about what happened in the aftermath,” the heron said with a deeply curious expression. “I've heard quite a bit of rumors, but nothing certain just yet. I have heard that you were busy helping Equestria recover in a number of ways. Namely you were healing people who suffered from injury and sickness, but not only that... you also revived people from death. Is any of that true?”

“Yes, all of it,” Emerald answered and instantly the mood and expressions of practically everyone in the entire room changed to disbelief and awe. “You see... fighting against my alternate self, seeing what he was capable of and what he chose to do with his power made me question myself about a great many things. Though we are interacting with the world at large now and engaging in a goodly amount of trade, we are still fairly isolationist. Fighting this battle convinced me that us being isolationist doesn't helps us as much as it helps the rest of the world...”

“So today I am announcing the opening of a hospital, a FREE hospital!” Emerald shouted raising her arms. “One dedicated to healing incurable disease, making the lame walk, and returning life to those who had their lives tragically cut short! Where all are welcome!”

“But that's not enough!” Emerald shouted as people began to cheer and applaud her. “Unicorns have a spell to put the dead into stasis and I can only revive those who weren't dead too long. Not everyone can cast magic like a unicorn. I shall create a special device that anyone can use to cast this spell and commercialize it at cost for all members of the League to use!”

The cheering and applause grew and grew in volume. Celestia and Luna stared at Emerald, shocked and more than a little impressed at how she managed to twist herself into a favorable position in the League once more. Emerald for her part smiled widely and spread her arms wide as if to embrace the accolades the League was pouring upon her.

'Once again I landed on my feet,’ Emerald thought a bit smugly. 'Don't even have to pay people off this time.'

In the rear rows, a certain griffin clenched her fists tightly, tears gleaming in the shadows of her cloak. This announcement was nothing more than a mockery of what she lost, in her mind.

In a place that was both incredibly far away and so near as to be on top of you, several ghostly beings watched on in awe as something incredible happened. Before them was the tapestry of fate, a metaphysical construct that held the life records and ultimate destinies of all beings that live and ever had lived. Countless strands that were once were doomed to end at a determined time suddenly shot forward into the future full of life and purpose.

“It's beautiful...” Song said softly.

“Indeed, we've made the right choice, one of her fellows spoke.

“But... what is that?” Song said, pointing to a nebulous point in the future of the tapestry.

Looking closely, the group saw that an alarming trend, thousands, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of strands ending around this point. Extremely concerned at this development, the Ancient Masters of the Channelers tried to examine the strands to see what caused them to end. But as was the case with all changes to the tapestry, they couldn't get more than impressions from the futures of these strands. But what an impression they were.

Great firestorms scouring the land, tsunamis smashing into coasts, the earth tearing open and swallowing people whole and massive cyclones rending the world around it with the power of its winds. And through each impression of the future the sun and moon both hung in the sky together, splitting the sky in half into day and night.

What could have possibly been the cause for all these cataclysms to ravage the world? The Ancient Masters didn't know, but whatever it was, it was coming in little over a year.

MU

Emerald sat outside the League Headquarters, staring into the sun as it set on the horizon.

It was a rather busy day today, but despite everything it wasn't at all stressful for her. What she had said earlier regarding her thoughts around Oskar had indeed been the truth. What she had seen in that other world had affected her deeply and made her rethink who she was as a person. All she could do now was think of all the times she could have helped people, all the times she practically purposefully put off Twilight's idea of healing and curing people simply because she didn't care for them. Even after stopping all the horrible things she used to do, she was still a terrible person in the end. It was a miracle she had people that liked and loved her at all...

Hearing a flutter of feathers and wings, Emerald turned to see Rainbow Dash settle in beside her to watch the horizon too. The virus opened her mouth to say something, but paused and thought better of it. The two of them continued to watch the sun slowly set into the horizon for ten minutes before someone finally said something.

“So...” Dash began.

“Yes?” Emerald asked.

“I...” Rainbow Dash's mouth opened and closed for several moments, likely intensely thinking of what to say before she suddenly chuckled and shook her head. “Hey, did you know they have ice cream here?”

“Really?” Emerald smiled.

“Yeah. wanna get some?” Dash asked with a grin. “Your treat!”

“My treat...” Emerald said softly. “So basically you are volunteering me to pay for it?”

“Hey you said it, not me,” Dash said and whistled innocently. “Now come on! Let's go get some!”

“...Sure,” Emerald said as Dash took off into the air, following soon after.

In the end, Dash was more of a person who demonstrated her feeling by action rather than words. There was no need to say anything more about what was between them. They were definitely friends again and that was all that mattered.

-FIN-

Note/Epilogue

View Online

Orion sighed in irritation as the image of Sunset Shimmer sneaking out of the mirror and off to steal the Element of Magic filled the massive crystal ball.

“What's the matter?” Astrid asked.

“The next part is extremely boring and predictable.” Orion crossed his arms in a huff.

“I'm not bothering to look ahead, cause I don't want spoilers,” Astrid said as she lounged on her couch.

“It's not about looking ahead, it's merely thinking about Emerald and how she would behave as dictated by how we've seen her act so far,” Orion said with a sigh as Sunset ran off with the Mane Six in close pursuit. “Emerald won't play along here. She'll cut the knot and simply deal with the situation as quickly and simply as possible.”

“Well you don't know that,” Astrid said. “Maybe she'll decide to hang back and see how it plays out for a bit before acting?”

Orion simply stared at Astrid for long moment before waving his hand at the crystal ball, making it fast forward through several scenes before stopping at Sunset Shimmer sitting in class. The door to the class opened suddenly and in walked Emerald in her human form, she looked over the class until her eyes landed on Sunset Shimmer. Suddenly, the Evolved got an amused look on her face from an idea and cleared her throat loudly.

“Sunset Shimmer,” she said and got said girl's attention. “Princess Celestia would like a few words with you.”

“Kay...” Sunset said boredly and moved to get out of her seat when Emerald's wording hit her and she paused. “Wait... you mean Principal Celestia, right?”

With shouts of shock and surprise, Emerald teleported with a flash of light and appeared right in front of Sunset's desk. She leaned into the girl's shocked face with a small smile on her own.

“No, I don't.”

The image on the crystal ball changed as the perspective was shifted to outside the school, more specifically on the windows. One of the windows shattered as Sunset Shimmer went flying through it and went rolling across the ground. Suddenly she was surrounded by a pink aura and flew through the air back into the classroom through an unbroken window.

The scene shifted again. This time it was Emerald dragging Sunset shimmer behind her as she exited through the front doors of the high school with the Element of Magic in hand. Behind her were several dozen students, staring after her and more than a few lain out on the floor after they attempted to stop her. Twilight stood in front of the statue that was their exit, biting her fingernails in worry. Beside her was a purple and green dog and small human child.

“Couldn't you have been a bit more subtle?” Twilight asked pointedly.

“Could have, probably should have.” Emerald shrugged. “Didn't. Doesn't matter now. We got what we came for. Let's just head home.”

“What about them?” Twilight pointed to the teenagers.

“Just barricade the portal for a few days,” Emerald stated as she threw Sunset into the portal. “Simple enough solution.”

“I guess we aren't going to explore a bit?” Twilight asked as Emerald ushered the other through.

“Maybe the next time the portal opens,” Emerald said absently. “Come on, let's go.

With that, they passed through the threshold.

“See?” Orion stated pointedly.

“Okay so it is a bit predictable and short.” Astrid shrugged. “So what? Not like there is anything you could do about it.”

“Nothing I can do? I think you forget what we are,” Orion stated after a moment and changed the perspective.

“I know exactly what we are and I know you don't like interfering more then you need to,” Astrid stated pointedly and sat up as she saw Orion continue to act. “You can't seriously be considering doing more than you already have, Orion!”

“It's just another little push,” Orion stated absently as he narrowed his eyes at the mirror portal Sunset just left. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

“It's more than that. How is she going to get back?” Astrid asked in irritation. “Spent all this time watching her and her actions in Equus only to throw it all away?”

“Hmm... I guess we'll just have to see what happens, shall we?” Orion asked with a knowing smile after waving at the mirror.

Astrid narrowed her eyes in suspicion at Orion before giving a scoff of disgust and lying back on her couch. Orion leaned back in his own, willing a cup of soda into his hand.

“Lights, camera, action!” he said cheerfully.

<>FIN<>

EN: I hate Legionary now. This is fact.



AN2: *Puts cue ball on head* Hehe. Hoho. Haha.



(Treats for anyone who gets the reference)